Standard disclaimers apply.

Kanpeki no Partner – A Perfect Partner

It was graduation, they stood in front of the school gates in their uniforms for the last time, crowded together and smiling for the camera. Even Sousuke mustered up a twitch of the lips that might pass, after an elbow and growl from Kaname. Ceremony over, the neat group dispersed as students sought out their friends for hugs, well wishes, and discussing celebration plans. Dutifully, Sousuke followed Kaname around as she visited her friends, grateful that they shared friends so he wouldn't get distracted by Onodera and Shinji and not be able to watch her. Crowds made him uncomfortable, even now, even though he knew these people after two years with them. In such a large crowd, someone who did not belong could easily sneak in, so he kept himself close to his charge, despite her obvious aggravation.

For her part, Kaname tried to ignore him. She knew nothing she would say would make him stop, and if it magically did, without him being nearby he would do something drastic if someone so much as moved to hug her. Better to keep him near where she could discipline him. Finally, parents started to pull their kids home for family celebrations, and the students made plans to see their friends for one last hurrah in a few days' time. Neither having anyone there for them, Sousuke and Kaname started the walk home together from Jindai Municipal High one last time. When they sat on the train their thighs pressed together, when they walked their sleeves brushed together, and there was a nervous tension between them that neither could understand.

They had walked home together plenty of times. Sousuke was going to be staying by her side, it was not as though this was the last time they would see each other. Something felt odd though, something was drawing them closer together than they had ever been before. Standing outside their apartments, they both glanced forlornly up at their own, then the other's, then at each other. Blushes crept across their faces, and Sousuke looked away nervously, shuffling his feet as though he had something uncomfortable to say. Getting worried, Kaname brought a hand up to tug on his sleeve, "Sousuke?"

He had frozen when she grabbed him, and did not move for several moments longer. Finally, just as Kaname was about to let go and walk up to her apartment alone, his hand lifted to rest on hers and he turned to face her with a serious expression on his face. Her ears burned at the feel of his rough palm covering the back of her soft hand, and the contrast really hit her. Sousuke squeezed her fingers reassuringly, though who he was trying to comfort neither of them could guess. He switched his stance to face her directly, and brought up his other arm to gently grip her shoulder and turn her. The only times they had ever been so close were when he was saving her, and they both swallowed against the anxiety of being so near.

"Chido-," he started, and then glanced away as though angry at himself. He coughed, clearing his throat and steeling his nerves, then turned back to her again, his face turning scarlet and his body trembling but his expression as focused as ever.

No, more focused than ever. Kaname's teeth worried at her lower lip as she realized his intense attention was focused solely on her, and she began to shake as well, mind racing. Was this it, finally, the moment she had been waiting for so long? Or would Sousuke ruin it by saying something stupid that he found important? If he said anything about Mithril, or Merida, or Tessa, or Amalgam, or… anything otaku at all! she would beat him almost to death and leave him in the street after getting her so excited with this odd mood between them. It was scary, wondering what might happen if he leaned down and kissed her.

With how charged the situation was just how much more might it lead to?

Sousuke drew in a deep breath, bringing her full attention back to the steel gaze fixed on her and out of the gutter. His jaw worked as he opened his mouth to speak several times, some odd noises finding their way out of his throat before real words began to form. "Kaname," oh that almost did it. Her knees weakened and she had to exert all of her willpower to keep herself from falling and ruining the moment with an over-protective Sousuke abandoning whatever he was about to do or say to see to her. "Will you marry me?"

Her heart skipped a beat. Two beats. Her mouth hung open in complete shock. What did he just say?! She was completely taken aback. They had never kissed, never gone on a date, never admitted their feelings to each other except through random acts of kindness that could have just been taken as thanks or apologies between friends… What was this all of the sudden? It made no sense. Well, no, in some ways it made perfect sense. Sousuke was always on the extreme side. He also certainly had no idea about courtship. Still, though, what should she say? She was at a complete loss. Stammering, she muttered some apology or another, turned on her heel, and ran up the steps to her apartment and away from him.

Sousuke stood in the street, looking at the spot where Kaname had just been standing, unsure of what had just happened. It was several long moments before he finally went up to his own place, feeling numb. A 'no' he could have understood and dealt with, a 'let me think' he would have expected, but… running away? He sighed as he sat heavily down on his bed, hanging his head in defeat. Had he just driven her away from him completely? He rubbed his face with his palms, muttering under his breath before lying back on the bed and staring absently up at the ceiling.

"What a stupid thing," he grumbled. "I shouldn't have said anything."

Kaname slammed her door behind her, leaning against it and staring wide-eyed at the floor. She was in complete shock and at loss for a reaction or response and so… she had run away. Slowly, she took off her shoes, took a shower, got changed, and started cooking dinner. Cooking was where she felt calm, it was where she could feel comfortable and really stop to think and consider what had just happened. And come up with something to say to Sousuke. She wouldn't be able to avoid him forever, certainly not without feeling massive guilt.

She took out what she would need for her dinner and started attacking vegetables with a knife. Her mind was not on the task at hand however, thoughts drifting back to the sidewalk outside her apartment. Marry him? She finished the preparations and moved on to the cooking, the heat of the stove stinging her face as she stirred and hardly concentrated. She should have been scared. She should have been nervous. Maybe she should have even been offended, asking her without even taking her on a date as though he were so sure of himself. But she was… considering it. That was the strangest thing of all, she felt.

But then, when did anything about the two of them ever make sense, what was ever conventional about them? Finished, she sat down to eat, blowing on the steaming food thoughtfully before munching on it. She was surprised to find it had come out all right despite her absent-mindedness. Finding her answer, Kaname hurried to finish eating, packed up her left-overs, threw on shoes and ran outside. She hurried down the stairs, across the street, and up another flight of stairs. Breathless, she stood in front of the door to Sousuke's apartment, hunched over and panting for air. Collecting herself, she wiped her brow, tugged on the hem of her shirt, tossed her hair over her shoulder and knocked on the door.

She tapped her foot impatiently, about to knock again before she finally heard rustling on the other side of the door. When Sousuke opened it, she didn't give him time. No time to be surprised, no time to look at her sadly, no time to rip away her resolve. She shoved her arms to him, putting the packed up dinner into his hands and resting her own on her hips now that she was free of her burden. She grinned at him, pushing down her fears and the incredulous feeling that she was actually doing this, "Tomorrow. Take me out to dinner. Then ask me again," on impulse, she leaned forward and stood on the tips of her toes, kissed him on the corner of the mouth, then was gone.

He stood there dumbly, bento in hand, trying to figure out what had just happened. Shifting the meal to one hand, his now-free hand lifted to press against where her lips at just been, his eyes unblinking as the shock very slowly worked its way out of his system. When it finally dawned on him a small smile crossed his face and he turned back into his apartment with a light-hearted air. He locked up, ate the food she brought for him, and then sat down at his desk, deep in thought. Take her out to dinner… he had learned enough to assume she meant someplace nice. Thoughtful, he opened up his laptop and began searching for places he could take her. After looking around and a few phone calls, he went to bed satisfied and hopeful.

"Kwee! Kana-chan, wake up! Kwee! You'll be late!"

Grumbling, Kaname reached out, feeling around for her alarm clock. She muttered under her breath as she came up empty-handed, lifting her head and glaring sleepily across the room. Finding that it seemed to have migrated to the dresser against the far wall, she hoisted herself from the bed and stumbled over, slamming her hand down to shut it up. Yawning and stretching, she made her way to the bathroom to shower and clean up then returned to her room.

Opening her closet sleepily, she blinked and tilted her head in confusion. Where was her uniform?

Oh. Right. She graduated yesterday. The memory of the night before came back to her in a rush, her cheeks turning a rather deep shade of pink. Sousuke. Sousuke had asked. THE. Question! Before she could lose herself completely to giddiness there was a knock on her door. Quickly shedding her towel and tossing on a robe, she got to the door as another set of the familiar tapping pattern ended. She yanked open the heavy door to see the object of her thoughts standing there sheepishly in fatigues and a sweat soaked shirt.

"Sousuke, it's six-thirty in the morning, what could you possibly want!? I should be asleep you know!" She wanted to be annoyed with him. Normally she would tear him a new one for knocking on her door so early in the morning, awake or not. Her heart wasn't in it though, no, it was too busy being a faint maiden's heart and swooning over the dashing knight before her.

The dashing, sweaty knight.

His muscles glistened in the dim light of dawn and she swallowed thickly against the thoughts that took to racing through her mind. This was the last thing she needed! Her face was red with excitement and embarrassment, and as she lifted her head to look him in the eyes she saw that his jaw was moving, and realized her incredibly inappropriate thoughts had kept her from catching his response.

"Ahaha, sorry Sousuke. What was that?" she turned impossibly brighter, ducking her head at the expression he had on his face. It was obvious he knew something was up, even if he didn't know what exactly. His own cheeks were pink, and it wasn't a flush from whatever he had been doing earlier.

He cleared his throat, turning his darkened gaze away, trying to get a grip on his own thoughts. It wasn't as though he hadn't seen her in further states of undress, but things were different now. Everything had changed the night before, and he found his usually under active imagination to be suddenly extremely vivid when it came to the raven-haired beauty before him. The way her eyes had roamed over him did nothing for his tenuous grasp on self-control. His morning work out had been more intense than usual as he tried to clear his mind of things he'd only ever heard of before – usually from Mao and Kurz. Especially if they were drunk.

And it had been working.

Until now.

Warily turning his eyes back to Kaname, he hoped he could keep the traitorous thoughts at bay long enough to speak. Looking into her large amber eyes, curious and embarrassed and staring intently up at him, he took in a deep breath to steel himself. "I-I, er, that is, I was wondering if you'd like to accompany on a jog and for breakfast!" He had wanted to ask her normally, had even managed it the first time around. His nervousness caught up with him though, and he found himself at attention, barking out the question in a rush.

"I… I would… like that," she blushed, wondering if she was ever going to manage a normal expression around him again. "I just need to get changed, okay?"

He nodded stiffly, fighting against the bizarre urge to say 'no.' That- That was not something he would say. Why did he even think it!? She offered him to come in, but he declined, preferring instead to stay outdoors where the cool March air might help calm his nerves. And his hormones.

She turned to run inside, stomping about as she rushed to get ready, trying to convince herself it was because she didn't want to be rude and keep him waiting, rather than that she was anxious to be out there with him again, enjoying more and more time together. She did not want to think herself so, well, needy. How had so much changed in so short a time? Kaname still couldn't believe everything that was happening!

It wasn't long before she was out the door, locking it up and looking up at Sousuke with a smile. "Alright! I'm ready!" she shouted enthusiastically, pumping a fist in the air. There were two ways that one Chidori Kaname dealt with anxiety: Beating the thing that made her feel that way or fighting the emotion with excitement. It was about time Sousuke was spared a lashing and allowed a chance to watch her attack the situation head-on with an undefeatable optimism. The pair walked down the steps in a comfortable silence, content smiles on their faces. Once down to street-level they took off at a light pace, Sousuke leading them in the direction of a park.

As they jogged through trees and along slopes, Kaname stole glances up at him from time to time. Though they weren't talking, it still felt like Sousuke was sharing something with her. He was a rather solitary man, content being alone rather than in a group. Yet here he was, inviting her along to be company for what was usually a private time of peace and quiet for him. It was his time, but he wanted her there with him. A gentle smile graced her features, and she stared at him with a softened expression of fondness.

Slowing to a halt, Sousuke looked at her confused. Stopping a few steps after, she turned around to face him. Seeing his expression, she flashed him another smile and shook her head, "Don't worry about it, all right?"

He tilted his head to the side before nodding and shrugging, realizing that whatever it was, was not a problem. "All right, Chi- Kaname," they both turned pink at his use of her given name for the second time. "Are you hungry now? Would you like to find someplace to eat?"

"Sure, that sounds nice, Sousuke," she allowed him to lead the way, bringing them to a place that served American food. It reminded her of some of the older-style diners she had gone to in New York with her mother, and she could not help but to smile a little sadly at the memory. She was happy that she was standing behind Sousuke at the time, so that she would not have to explain the expression. If it weren't for the fact that they were in public, she just might have actually been willing to.

Seated, they looked over their menus, putting in their drink orders as they decided on what they wanted. Setting down his menu, Sousuke watched Kaname's animated expressions as she looked over the items. "Get whatever you like, Kaname. I'll pay."

Frowning, she tilted the menu down so she could peer over it at him, "But, Sousuke, you-,"

"It's not a problem. I want to, please," she couldn't argue with that. Nodding at him, she glanced over the list one more time before making her decision. They placed their orders and then stared at one another over the tabletop, awkwardness finally setting in.

Shifting uncomfortably, Kaname lowered her eyes for a moment before looking back up at him. "So, uhm, any plans for today?" She was quite curious about what he might have figured out for that night, but it felt somehow rude to ask outright.

It was Sousuke's turn to fidget, dropping his gaze to the cup of coffee set before him. Coughing nervously, his eyes swept over the diner in a quick security check, a habit he always indulged in when feeling anxious. "Ah, well, not until tonight, no." They both glanced downwards as the awkward tension increased. Squaring his shoulders, he mustered up some peace of mind, just enough so that he could continue on and answer her unspoken questions. "I managed to secure us dinner reservations for, ah, seven in the evening, at Baika, if that is all right with you, Chi-," he sighed and shook his head. It was going to take some time to lose that habit. "Kaname," he finished determinedly, fixing her with a forcibly steady gaze.

She couldn't stop herself from whistling softly, impressed by the place he had chosen. Yet another blush stained her cheeks, and she nodded meekly, speaking in a subdued tone, "That sounds lovely, Sousuke. Isn't that place really expensive though?"

"Money is not an issue, Kaname," there. He managed to say her name without a slip-up. Hopefully he could keep it up.

"Oh," turning to look out the window, she propped her hand on her chin thoughtfully. "I need to buy a dress," she murmured softly to herself. She wondered if Kyouko would be able to join her, although explaining just why she needed the dress might be interesting. She wondered if her friend would understand. It was a rather odd situation, and even she didn't fully understand it.

Sousuke followed her gaze, curious, before realizing she wasn't actually looking at anything in particular. He barely caught her quiet statement, and wondered if he should say something. When she seemed to settle and come back to herself, he spoke up, "Ah, Kaname, if you would like me to purchase your attire for you, or-,"

"Thank you, Sousuke, but it's all right. I have money saved up, and this something I should buy myself, okay?"

"Very well," if she said it was how it should be then he was going to take her word at it. He was in uncharted territory, and she was his guide there. He would gladly follow her lead. "Ah, is there anything that I should provide?"

She blinked, surprised, then shrugged her shoulders with a small smile. "If you want, Sousuke. It's not necessary. Flowers are always nice." Teasingly, she grinned and thrust out her finger at him with a wink, "A ring might be a good idea."

Flowers he was able to understand, but, "Ring?"

Giggling, she shook her head, propping her chin up in her hands, "An engagement ring, silly." His face fell and she reached out to pat him on the arm. "It's not important to me, Sousuke, really."

"I see," he relaxed somewhat, and she could see he was thinking about it.

"Sousuke, I was just teasing you. I don't need it," she chuckled softly. "If you were any other guy, I'd probably upset at your presumption! But," she continued on gently, "you're not 'any other guy.' And I like that," she finished up with another dark blush, meeting his eyes through sheer force of will. She did mean what she was saying, and she needed him to understand that.

Nodding his head in acceptance, he smiled at her, leaning back as their food was placed before them. "Thank you," his voice was uncharacteristically soft, and she almost missed the low statement because it was so unexpected. That blush was never going away at this rate, she lamented, as memories of when she had cut his hair flooded her mind. For the first time, that memory did not come with the overwhelming sense of fear and loneliness it was prone to, and instead she just remembered all the good things in the moment instead of the intense hurt that followed. The way her chest had tightened painfully when he had thanked her in that voice strained with unidentifiable emotion... Not for the first time, she wondered what might have happened if she had said what she was thinking at the time.

"Hey. Let's kiss."

Coming to herself, she realized Sousuke was looking at her oddly, and when she took a bite of her meal, eyes locked on him curiously, she realized why. Lifting her napkin to her mouth, she spit out her food with a grimace. She had put entirely too much salt on her eggs and, upon glancing down, she realized there was ketchup on her pancakes. Covering her face with her hands, she shook her head fiercely, mortification in her every move. She froze as she heard a completely unexpected sound, looking up with eyes about to flood with tears at her embarrassment to see Sousuke with his fist pressed against his mouth, body shaking.

He – Sousuke was laughing!

Shame completely forgotten, she stared at him in gaped-mouth surprise. It was the first time she had ever heard him laugh. Hell, she was convinced at that point it was the first time anyone had heard him laugh! It was hoarse and ragged, but it was laughter! She no longer cared about her blunder. No, at that point she would proudly eat her meal. The price of dealing with the taste was nothing compared to this pay-out. Chuckling herself now, she shook her head and grinned ruefully at him. Sniffing theatrically, she shrugged her shoulders and stuck her nose in the air, putting on a playfully offended air. "You're sure taking a lot of pleasure in my misery, you know. That's hardly considerate!"

Coughing to clear his throat, he assumed a serious expression, "My apologies. It won't happen again," he reached out and switched their plates without her noticing as she slammed her fist on the table.

"It had better happen again, dammit! I've spent two years working on you. It's about time you did something human!" she took another defiant bite of food, blinking when she realized it wasn't some unholy union of uncomplimentary flavors. Glancing down, she noticed the switch and reached out to yank her disaster back.

He held tightly to it though, shaking his head calmly, "It's not a problem."

"It was my mistake, Sousuke."

Smiling at her rare admission, he shook his head once more, decisively. Realizing he wasn't going to budge, she sat back reluctantly, carefully grabbing the syrup bottle and salt, carefully watching the amounts she applied, before throwing that caution to the wind and digging into her meal ravenously. How Sousuke managed to eat that mess without so much as a twitch, she would never know. She did not think she wanted to know, given what she was aware of.

It wasn't long after that they had finished their meals and began the walk home. The first time she felt his hand brush against hers, she thought it was an innocent accident. They were walking quite closely to one another, after all, their sleeves brushing. The second time gave her a small shiver at the tingling sensation left at the gentle tracing of calloused fingertips along her soft palm. The third time –

Glancing down, she felt her ears heat up when she spotted her hand wrapped in his, a warmth spreading through her body as though he held much more than just the one small extremity. And, oh, did she want him holding more. Her face turned a darker shade as she thought that thought, with the added bonus of their bodies as naked as their hands. Damn her teenage hormones! She wanted things to go right with him, slowly, steady, smoothly! She bit down hard on her lip, thinking of other things to be done, slowly, steady, smoothly. And really, what part of engagement before dating was slow!?

"Is everything all right, Kaname?" She turned her gaze up to him curiously, her fingers twitching in his grasp as she tried to gather her scattered thoughts. Realizing he needed to elaborate, Sousuke squeezed her fingers gently, concern in his eyes, "You were moaning. Are you in pain? Ill-?"

Before he could go any further, she shook her head roughly. "No," she groaned, glancing away. "No, no, nothing's wrong Sousuke. I was just… thinking," she winced. Thinking, right, more like fantasizing, and in broad daylight no less! "Sorry for worrying you."

"As long as you are okay, it's all right," he looked at her, his face completely serious and sincere. Certainly not for the first time that day, she felt faint and lost her thoughts in a sea of memories. When she had visited that rich boy's house and said Sousuke was a pervert after her, putting him through all of that trouble when he was just concerned for her welfare… As they floated down from the cliff side, he had said the same thing then. That was all that seemed to matter to him. He didn't care that she had purposefully caused such tribulations for him, just so long as she was safe and happy at the end of the day he would be content.

Really, was there a more loyal and devoted man out there? A more perfect man for any girl? She was incredibly lucky to have him, she really, really, realized that just then. To be on the short list of people that Sousuke had loyalty for, that he would protect to the best of his rather impressive abilities, it was an honor. She briefly wondered what it would take for those few people to be kicked off the list. Could she do anything to be? Somehow, she got the impression that Sousuke would forgive her anything. As long as she was safe, as long as she was healthy, as long as she was happy, he could forgive her for anything. It was a powerful feeling that crushed her chest with intensity.

And if that wasn't true love, then what was?

Stopping suddenly, Kaname tugged his arm after he'd walked a few paces, thrusting up onto the balls of her feet to press a kiss against his lips, tears in her eyes at the overwhelming emotions brought up by her train of thought. She leaned against him, and while it took him a few moments to recover from his shock, he was soon enough wrapping his arms around her and holding her in a crushing embrace. And it was his turn for warmth to spread through his body, and for his mind to run back into the gutter full-tilt. She tasted so sweet and he was addicted. He wanted – no. He needed more, and his tongue pressed against her lips searchingly. Her mouth opened in invitation and he immediately seized upon it, delving his tongue awkwardly into her mouth, his body taking complete control of his actions from his mind. If it hadn't, he would have realized that the streets were not exactly the best place to initiate a heated make-out session, and it was likely she was in the same boat as he.

Now he knew exactly what her earlier moan had meant as he swallowed another of the delicious sound elicited from her. He tilted his mouth in an effort to deepen the kiss impossibly further, grunting as he was pushed roughly from behind. Instinctively, he tightened his grip around her waist with one arm while the other reached for the gun at the small of his back. Pointing the weapon at his assailant, he stared into the eyes of a defiant young teenager who was keeping a wary eye on the firearm.

"Hey, look man, I just don't want to be seeing you and your girl going at it on the streets, okay? Get a hotel or something, shit," the kid shoved his hands into his pockets, trying to meet Sousuke's eyes though his gaze kept wavering to the gun. "Didn't mean to mess with no yakuza though, man, sorry," that was the extent of the boy's courage, and he went off at a mad dash, putting distance between him and the Glock.

Holstering the weapon, Sousuke looked sheepishly down at Kaname, her face burrowed into his shirt as another intense wave of embarrassment washed over her that day. Oh, her low blood pressure was nothing now, nope, plenty of blood found its way to her head through all of these events! – Or so she thought, wryly. Clearing his throat, he carefully shifted the arm secured around her waist to instead grip her hand, renewing their trip home without a word and pointedly ignoring the staring crowd. When they reached their apartments, he apologized softly, looking at her with remorse.

Shaking her head, she offered him a small, brave smile, and reached a hand up to cup his cheek. "I-It's okay. It's my fault anyways, right? I kissed you."

Returning the smile, he nodded, though surprised by her words, and decided to toe at the line he'd always stopped at before. Hesitantly, he joked in a cautious voice, "Fault has never stopped you from punishing me before."

Turning red again, she smacked his shoulder and laughed in surprise. "Here I'm trying to be nice to you! And in return you take advantage and make fun of me! Fine! If it's going to be that way, then I'm bringing my harisen tonight!"

Grimacing, he shook his head, groaning out, "Please, not the harisen." His head still hurt from beatings received the days before.

"Why, are you already planning on making me angry?"

"I never plan to, but if you have it, you'll be tempted to use it-."

"Don't quote me on what I've told you about your guns!"

"-my apologies."

Kaname's fist pressed against his cheek in a mock punch, and the two stared at each other, bright smiles on their faces at the exchange. It was the usual, of course, but it felt somehow different. Oh, they were being so sweet that it was sickening, surely. Dropping her arm and wringing her hands behind her back, she rocked heel-toe shyly. "Well, I need to go shopping for tonight, Sousuke. What time should I be ready? Am I meeting you there, or-?"

"No, I'll come over at eigh- I mean, six-fifteen, to accompany you there. Is that suitable?"

"It's perfect, thank you Sousuke. I'll see you at eighteen-fifteen then." She winked at him, reaching up to press a chaste kiss to his cheek before running up the stairs to her apartment, hoping Kyouko would be available for some dress shopping.

"So, Kana-chan, you still haven't told me. What do you need a dress for so urgently?" Kyouko asked with a sly grin as she laced up the back of the most recent dress her friend was trying on. In the corner laid a heap of dresses deemed unsuitable by the unusually extremely picky Kaname. She looked amazing in everything she had tried on, and there were many that perfectly matched her tastes and yet they had been discarded anyways.

Spinning in front of the mirror, Kaname made a face and shook her head. "It's no good. Let's go to a different store, Kyouko."

Sighing, Kyouko shrugged and set to work righting the garments while Kaname changed back into her streets. "All right, but you know, if you just told me what you need it for then I could help you better."

Kaname took in a deep breath as she slipped her arms through her bra straps and righted the cups. "Well, you see…"

"Yes, yes?" the smaller girl adjusted her glasses, watching her friend with sharp eyes.

"Sousuke is taking me out to dinner tonight, and…"

"There's an 'and'?" she asked when it seemed obvious that Kaname wasn't going to continue without prompting.

"Promise you won't make a huge deal?"

"Kana-chan…?" That was an unusual question, and she could see her friend was wavering with uncertainty as to whether or not to continue.

But continue she did, and Kyouko immediately realized why there was the hesitation, "He's asking me to marry him."

"…What!? Hey! Have you guys been dating, and you never told me!? Not fair! And how do you know he's asking?"

Pulling her shirt over her head now, Kaname sighed and mentally prepared herself for the conversation to come. "I know because he asked me last night, and I told him to ask again over dinner tonight. And… no, Kyouko. We haven't been dating. This was all completely out of the blue."

Placing the dresses on a rack, they left the store and went in search of a new place to check. "Kana-chan, I know you two have liked each other for a long time, but are you sure this is the right decision. You guys haven't told each other before. You should really date before making such an important decision."

"I know, Kyouko, and I've thought about all of that. But, well, when I think about marrying him, being with him for the rest of my life, it just feels so right. I really can't explain it. It defies all logic, and it's exactly the kind of thing I would mock others for, but I fully intend to say yes. He's a war-obsessed moron with no common sense, he completely lacks tact and social grace, he drives me insane, makes me furious daily…

"And I can't imagine a more perfect man. He's loyal, devoted, protective, understanding, patient, and not to mention handsome. I love him Kyouko. I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt. And while he hasn't said as much, I know he feels the same. I really don't think I'm making a mistake with him."

Kyouko shook her head, glancing side-long up at Kaname, "Well. If you're really sure, Kana-chan. I just don't want you rushing into a decision that you might later regret."

"I know. Thank you, Kyouko," she smiled down at her friend before pushing open the door of a new shop, the hunt for the perfect dress resuming.

Knocking on the door to Kaname's apartment, Sousuke swallowed against his nervousness, cursing himself. He was a battle-hardened soldier, he'd faced down foes more numerous and more powerful than he! Yet here he was, defeated before the battle began, by an untrained girl, his fear sealing his fate. Oh, but she wasn't just any girl, no, she was the one person he would fight through hell and back for.

And she was taking too long to answer the door.

Knocking again, he flinched when she shouted out at him, saying she needed another minute. When she did open the door though, it was worth the wait. His eyes widened and he could do nothing to keep himself from staring at her. She stood there, her make-up done in subtle tones that brought out the best of her features, his eyes momentarily locking on her lips that looked so plump and inviting. Her hair was pulled into a stylishly messy half-bun with her mother's decorative comb stuck into it. The rest of her hair flowed down her back and over her shoulders, curling along the long lengths, the black seeming even more silky and smooth than ever before. His fingers twitched in anticipation of running his hands through it, but he did not want to ruin her hard work. Not yet, anyways.

And her dress! It nearly killed him! Now that would be quite interesting, what would Kalinin think? Sousuke Sagara, assassin since four years old, defeated by a length of cloth. But it wasn't just any length of cloth, it was a garment wrapped perfectly onto the beautiful woman's body, accentuating her ample curves, making her lightly tanned skin appear absolutely radiant, perfectly complimenting her every gorgeous feature. And the teasing glimpse of cleavage made his body shake and sweat pour down his face as he gulped, tearing his eyes away lest he receive a beating. The dress seemed to have been made just for her, and he could hardly believe the sight before him. Usually he did not find such attire appealing, it seemed to serve no function what-so-ever. Kaname had just given him a lesson he wasn't likely to forget on just what function it was meant to serve, and he closed his mouth when two fingers gently pressed up on his dropped jaw.

A faint blush stained her cheeks, and she shifted her weight from side to side under his intense gaze, which hardly weakened after her gentle touch. From thick lowered lashes, she let her eyes roam over him as well while he recovered. He was dressed in a well cut black suit, shoes, and belt. His shirt was a rust color that went well against his sun-beaten dark skin, his tie black with a subtle pattern of varying earth tones, including that rust of his shirt. The silver dress watch was new, he usually didn't wear anything ornamental at all, and she blushed as she realized the effort he'd put into his appearance for her. Sure, his hair was the shaggy mess it always was, but she loved it, and if he'd slicked it back or anything she may just have ordered him to wash it out!

"You, ah, you look… very, ah, beautiful," he broke the silence with the stammered words, his own face turning several shades of red and he was still unable to tear his eyes from her.

"Ah, thank you," she felt giddy at the compliment, hardly ever receiving them from the man, and this time it required no prompting! "You don't look half-bad yourself," she spoke with more confidence than she felt, winking at him as she stepped over her apartment's threshold and locked the door behind her, effectively ending the awkward stalemate. "Well, shall we?" she lifted her hand expectantly, not surprised in the least when Sousuke looked at it in confusion before taking it in his own. Giggling, she shook her head, gently pulling her hand free and wrapping it around his arm to rest on his bicep.

"Ah, oh, sorry," he mumbled, glancing down at the gorgeous lady hanging onto his arm. Other than for the fact that he had survived for so long, he'd never felt particularly lucky before. Now though, walking carefully down the steps and to the train station, with the only person whose life he truly cherished holding onto him tightly with an expression of total content and happiness –

He was the luckiest man alive.

Sitting on the train, he looked down at her with a twinge of remorse. He realized now that he should have arranged transportation, especially with those shoes that she was wearing. He resolved to ensure the trip home would be better, and that he would find a way to make it up to her later. When they arrived at the restaurant, Kaname took her seat with a grateful sigh, taking the offered menu and smiling at Sousuke after the host left them.

"This place is beautiful, Sousuke," she looked around in awe, afraid to open her menu and see the prices of the meals.

Nodding in agreement, though he really didn't think much in the way of the aesthetics of his location as she did, he opened his menu and started looking over the options, not so much as batting an eye. While Kaname did cringe at the prices, the meal went rather uneventfully otherwise. The two were happy just to enjoy each other's company and the excellent food and service, very little actual conversation taking place. While they were waiting for dessert, Kaname excused herself to use the facilities. When she returned, she was left completely speechless as Sousuke got out of his chair and onto one knee before her.

Now that was unexpected!

She had thought he would ask on the way home again! Never in a million years did she think she'd see the day Sousuke would get down, take hold of her hands, and look up at her with such an intense expression. Other people might look at him and think he was emotionless, but she could see every trace of a myriad of feelings on his face.

"Chidori Kaname, would you do me the honor of marrying me?" he even managed to keep his voice steady, though it was deeper and raspier than usual, and sweat was starting to pour down his face. The poor man was so very far out of his comfort zone, she was almost afraid the gun would come out at any moment just so he could steady his nerves! And wherever – whenever!? – did he learn what to do, what to say?

It took her several long moments to realize that she'd never actually answered him, and the moment she noticed she tossed etiquette out the window and tackled him, wrapping her arms around his neck and rubbing her face into his chest. "Yes! You idiot, of course, yes!"

Despite the painful and choking grip she had on him, a large smile spread across his face and he hugged her fiercely before digging awkwardly in his pocket. "Ah, I forgot," he blushed as she pulled back, taking hold of her hand and slipping an engagement ring onto her finger.

"Sousuke…," she looked at the ring in awe, marveling at the simple but gorgeous design. "Oh, Sousuke, you got me a ring. And it's perfect," tears welled up in her eyes and she held her hand loosely fisted, knuckles up, close to her heart, smiling at him and glancing down at the ring, then back to him.

The waiter came back, placing their dishes on the table. With a smile, he gently coughed to get their attention. "Congratulations to the two of you. Might you be wishing to take up your seats again?"

"Oh!!" realizing they were still on the ground, in the middle of so fancy a restaurant, Kaname scrambled to her feet, grateful when Sousuke steadied her, keeping her from toppling over face first. Seated again and blushing, Kaname smiled shyly across the table. Buzzing with excitement, she had a hard time finishing her dessert, distracted as she was by the shiny new ornament on her finger.

When they left, Sousuke hailed a taxi so she would not have to walk so far again. He saw her to her apartment door, and they stood there, staring happily into each other's eyes. Sliding his hands up, Sousuke awkwardly held her by the backs of her upper arm, smiling tenderly down at her. "Are you happy?" he asked softly, voice hoarse with emotion.

"Of course, silly. Isn't it obvious enough?"

"I just wanted to be sure. Kaname, is it all right if I, ah-," he glanced away nervously.

Curious, and no small amount nervous herself, she tilted her head to the side, almost afraid of what he might say. What if he wanted to come in, or to spend the night? Was she ready for that? She had no idea what she might say! The way her body shivered pleasantly at the thought, though – no! Bad hormones, sit! "I-If you…?" she cursed herself for pushing further when she was in no way ready to answer.

"May I, ah, kiss you?"

Blinking up at him, her cheeks flushed as she felt silly, realizing she had been so nervous over nothing, and had been making such wild assumptions. No, Sousuke was a perfect gentleman, as always. She cursed herself again when she realized she was actually disappointed by this! Smiling for him, she nodded, realizing she'd made him wait an awfully long time, "Of course, Sousuke. I'm your fiancée now, right? You don't need to ask permission to kiss me."

"I see," he smiled at her, wrapping one arm around her waist to draw her close, lifting the other to gently cup her silky smooth cheek with his calloused palm. Bending down, he pressed his rough lips against hers softly, kissing her oh-so-sweetly. Her knees went weak and she fell against him, enjoying the feel of being enveloped by his strong arms, the feel of his lips pressing awkwardly but firmly against her own – oh, they would need to practice that. Yes, lots of kissing practice was in his future. She would make it his mission. Already she was shivering with delight, merely the anticipation sending jolts through her system.

Ooh, his fingers trailing up her bare spine just might have had something to do with that as well. Groaning when he pulled away, she tried to chase after him, but he shook his head. "I should go, Kaname," he spoke in a strained voice, as though he didn't want to speak those words. "I can't handle much more."

"So come inside," she whined, trying to kiss him again.

Choking, he shook his head again firmly, "You don't know what you're asking. Please, Kaname. I'll come over tomorrow morning?"

Realizing just what it was Sousuke was talking about now, she blushed, grateful that at least he was able to manage reigning in his hormones and keeping a cool head. Grateful, and a little jealous. "Yeah. We can go jogging again?"

Smiling, he nodded and bent to kiss her forehead. "I would like that."

"Great. It's a date, then."