Sure, Kaname knew that she cared for Sousuke. If nothing else, her despair and loneliness during the Amalgam incident had taught her that. But she had always tried to avoid analyzing exactly how she cared for him. She certainly loved him, just like she loved Kyoko-- the way one might love any close friend. She liked spending time with him on those precious occasions in which he relaxed and let himself be a teenager instead of a warmongering idiot; she liked sitting next to him on the train, and walking home with him, and helping him with his school work. She especially liked making him food; seeing him eat and enjoy what she made let her feel as though she was healing some of the old trauma he had suffered.

And yeah, she had let herself idly wonder how it would feel to hold hands with him as they walked home. He had nice hands: they were warm and strong and slightly rough from many years of hard living. She had even admitted to herself that he was handsome... and brave... and strong... and utterly loyal-

This line of thought was interrupted by someone banging on the stall door. "Kaname," Kyoko called "are you OK? Did you throw up?"

"Ah, no, I'm fine. Just a sec." Kaname rubbed her face hard with her hands, and tried to pull herself together. Why was she so shaken? She saw Sousuke every day, had in fact seen him shirtless before, and hadn't been affected like this. She thought back rapidly over the time she had known him, trying to remember every moment she had felt herself drawn to him, every time they had shared something that others might call romance. There was the time after they had both finally returned to school, and she had collapsed sobbing in his arms... when she had cut his hair for him... when he told her she was beautiful as they stood by the lake... that time, now seeming so long ago, when they had stood in the rain, surrounded by enemies and with Kurz bleeding and unconscious on the ground, and she had truly understood exactly what Sousuke was. Even before that, when he had first transferred, she had thought him cute in a stern, weird sort of way. He had relaxed so much more since then, and hopefully would improve even more now that she was helping him--

Kaname had a sudden, sinking realization that deflated her romantic fantasies mid-bloom. Sousuke could barely manage normal everyday human interactions. He was definitely not ready for the minefield of dating. She wasn't even sure how she felt about it, and she had grown up normally and had had boyfriends before. Sousuke had barely had anyone to care if he lived or died, much less someone to teach him about emotions and how to react to them. Until now. She could do that for him, and if it meant hiding how much she wanted him, well, she had the willpower to control herself.


Her willpower was tested almost immediately after gym class, when Sousuke settled into the seat behind her in Japanese Lit. It was nothing new--he always liked to maintain a line of sight (in his words)-- but today, knowing that he was there behind her, looking at her, thinking about her even, made her very jumpy. She felt as though she could hear every breath, feel every sigh against the back of her neck, and it completely ruined her attention for the lesson. She was so distracted that Kyoko had to throw an eraser at her head when it was her turn to read out loud.

Her hyper-awareness of him continued through the rest of the day, and she felt restless and unsettled. It was strange how one brief moment of clarity could completely change everything, and she didn't quite know how to deal with the change. Eventually she gave up on trying to pay attention to her classes, and instead made mental lists of activities and plans to further her Sousuke-improvement efforts. He desperately needed lessons on normal human interactions, especially among families and friends. And, if she managed to slip in some tutoring on more romantic subjects, all the better.

Kaname's persistent distraction did not go unnoticed. As they walked home after school she kept running over ideas in her head, and tried not to let her awareness of the boy next to her show. Sousuke shot her questioning glances, confused by her unusual silence, but didn't say anything until she almost stepped right in front of a moving truck.

"Kaname!" He shot an arm out to stop her, and she stumbled to a halt just as the truck went roaring by. "What are you doing? You might have been killed!" Suppressing shivers from her near miss (and from Sousuke's touch) Kaname shook her head mutely. She let him hustle her away from the street corner and onto a nearby bench.

Sousuke squatted in front of her so he could look into her face at eye-level, carefully checking for signs of fever or illness. "Are you feeling unwell? Has anyone given you something strange to eat or drink in the last several-" She cut him off.

"No, Sousuke. I'm fine. Really. I was just distracted by something. Sorry." She smiled at him reassuringly.

"No need to apologize, Chidori. Just please be more careful in the future. Several hundred people in Japan are struck by vehicles and killed each year."

"Okay, okay, I know. I'll look both ways next time. Anyway, I was thinking, do you want to go out to eat tonight? So we can work on your social lessons a bit?" She gave him a winning smile to entice him.

"Is that why you were distracted? I do not know a good place to eat either, I'm afraid... Ono D mentioned a ramen shop, but I don't know if you would like a place like that..." Sousuke frowned to himself as he looked around at the nearby businesses.

"Oh, it doesn't really matter where. We're mostly going to be people watching, so maybe a busy place would be better. Why don't we try that fast food joint across from the station?"

"People watching? As in, surveillance?" Sousuke looked intrigued.

"Something like that." She let him pull her to her feet. "Just not the kind of covert ops you're used to. C'mon, I'll give you a mission briefing on the way."