L-chan's notes: This is a new fandom for me, and I'm still trying to find my way with the characters, so I'd appreciate some feedback and concrit. Thanks for reading.

Title: Operation Vulnerable Guy


"It looks like Operation Sexy Anise has failed again."

Guy had his head in his hands and only looked up as Natalia joined him on the garden bench. "Is that what that was? She was blinking and giggling so much, I thought she was having some kind of breakdown. I finally sent her inside to get a glass of water."

Natalia crossed her arms and ankles, creating as much space between them as possible. Her precautions were an unnecessary habit, as he hadn't even flinched at her presence. "A wise move, although she's just going to use the time to plot a new strategy."

He sighed. "Apparently you know something about this?"

A good friend would keep Anise's confidence, but a good friend wouldn't let Guy suffer in the dark, either. "She's decided you should have the honor of being her first kiss."

"Oh. Oh, no." Maybe it wasn't her place to tell him, but if Anise had time to strategize, then he should have time to think of a gentle let-down. "Why me?"

Natalia smoothed her skirt and examined the folds as she considered speculating. If she had revealed that much, she might as well tell him the rest. "She's fifteen now, and she spends so much time studying that she never has a chance to be a regular girl and meet boys her age. There's Florian, of course, but…."

"But she's concerned that she'd just be projecting her feelings for Ion onto him," he guessed, and she nodded. That was the conclusion she'd reached, too. "Yeah, I get that."

"So that leaves our gallant Gailardia." The choked sound he made was somewhere between a laugh and a groan. "What are you going to do?"

He shook his head. "You know, Anise is great, and totally scary, and I'm flattered that she wants me to be her first kiss, but I don't…." There was a long pause before he said, "I don't want her to be mine."

"Oh." It should have occurred to her. It made sense, after all, but she simply hadn't thought about it. "You never--"

"Don't get me wrong. I've had opportunities," he continued, lest she be unaware that almost every woman on the planet would line up for the chance. "Pere once warned me that the duke's maids had a long-standing bet going as to who could get me first. I spent most of my teen years ducking into closets and behind furniture."

She remembered, and she shouldn't have laughed, but it was rather funny. Her own maids had a similar goal and would look for excuses to accompany her to the duke's manor. "I'm sorry. That had to have been difficult for you."

He only shrugged, not offended by her amusement. "Yeah, well. It was my own fault." He folded his arms behind his head and cocked an eyebrow at her. "So, what about our lovely Natalia?"

His casual 'our lovely' sent a quick flush of pink to her cheeks, despite the fact that she'd described him with similar words herself moments ago. "What about me?"

"Well, you don't have a complex like I did, and you don't strike terror in the hearts of men like Anise does, so you must have a first kiss story. Let's hear it."

She did. A first and only kiss story, but a precious one just the same. "It was my ninth birthday," she answered. She lowered her eyes and smiled sadly at the memory. "I told Lu--Asch that instead of a present, I wanted a kiss." It wasn't often she made that slip, but that day, he'd been Luke, and that was how she remembered him. "He'd tried to act so cool, like it was no big deal, but his face turned as red as his hair."

"Ah," he nodded. "Yeah, I remember."

"He told you?"

"Not exactly, but he went around with this moony look for days. A kiss from a beautiful princess would do that to a guy." He laughed and glanced away. "You know, I'm kind of jealous."

Those two statements collided in her mind. "Jealous of Asch...." He was jealous that she kissed Asch?

He shrugged again. "It's just another reminder that he got to have a normal childhood, and I didn't." Now his eyes came back to hers, sheepish and guilty. "Except his only lasted a little longer than mine did, really. I guess none of us got anything that could be called 'normal'."

"No, I don't suppose we did," she replied quietly.

"It's funny. Everything seems fine, and then bam! Life changes in an instant. Everything's turned upside down. Everything we know is wrong. Everything we have is gone. Everything we are is different."

It was true. So much had happened, altering the world beyond her wildest imaginings. The people she'd loved, or fought, or never known at all, each of them touching her life in ways that changed her forever. How many more times would that happen? How many more people would she lose?

Silence settled over them for a few moments, and then he spoke again. "Sorry. I didn't mean to get so melancholy. I don't like to live in the past, but I can't just forget it, either."

"I know."

"Anyway, what I meant to say is Asch was lucky to have you, and if he didn't know that, then he's a bigger idiot than I gave him credit for."

"Guy…." He'd been there for her so many times over the past few months, even years. He'd encouraged her, comforted her, raised her spirits when she'd needed it most. When it came down to it, she was lucky to have him and his friendship. She knew that, and she wanted him to know it, too.

Before she could think better of it, she leaned over and kissed him. Her lips touched his so briefly he barely had time to react, but she could feel his body tense as she pulled away.

It was an impulse, and now that she'd done it, perhaps she should apologize. Even if he had become more comfortable with her, she had still gone beyond the acceptable boundaries of friendship. A first kiss should be special, and she'd taken that from him.

But his blue eyes weren't angry. Surprised, yes, and maybe… curious.

Everything was still and quiet. She couldn't even breathe. Her heart didn't know whether to stop or race with anticipation as his gaze held hers.

It was quite a different thing, kissing a grown man instead of a little boy. Her curiosity was piqued now, too.

"Boo, Natalia!"

It took everything Natalia had not to jump when Anise reappeared like an angel of judgment. The younger girl stood before them with her hands on her hips and an exaggerated frown. "You stole my plan. Boo!"

"I'm sorry, Anise." Part of her was grateful for the distraction. She almost didn't notice that her lips were still tingling with his warmth. Almost. "But he unleashed Operation Vulnerable Guy, and I was helpless to resist." Now, that was unfair of her. It was a good ploy to deflect attention from her actions, but she was throwing Guy to the wolf.

"Uh-huh," Anise answered, skeptical as always.

Guy had yet to defend himself, dumbstruck either by her kiss or her excuse, so Natalia continued. "He said he was jealous that Asch got to kiss me when we were children."

That got his attention. "No, what I meant was--"

"Aw, that's so adorable, Guy!" Anise latched onto this piece of information just as Natalia knew she would, and now her focus was on Guy's discomfort instead of Natalia's flaming cheeks. "And kind of pathetic, too. Jealous of a little kid?"

"Now, wait a minute."

As long as Anise was preoccupied with teasing, and Guy was preoccupied with salvaging his non-pathetic reputation, neither of them would notice Natalia putting her fingers to her lips, marveling at what she'd done.

All these years, she'd never thought about kissing him, but after one life-changing instant, all she could think about was kissing him again.