Disclaimer: I do not own Full Metal Panic or any of its characters. I am not profiting in any way from writing this fanfiction. Full Metal Panic! is written by Shoji Gatoh and illustrated by Douji Shiki and the anime is produced by Gonzo.

Intermission

By Starzki

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It had been another hard battle with few survivors. Luckily, Sousuke was barely physically harmed, but the images of his slaughtered comrades weighed heavily on his mind. Their dying screams echoed in his ears. He feared what his dreams would hold.

As was becoming his custom upon returning from assignment, he went straight to Kaname Chidori's apartment. Ostensibly, it was to relieve whatever replacement bodyguard, located in the shadows around her apartment, had taken Sousuke's place. But really, he wanted to see her and make sure she was alright. He wanted to see the warmth and kindness and innocence still in her eyes, aspects wholly missing from the people he met during his missions; aspects he'd grown to miss. While it was late, after the time Kaname usually ate dinner, but before the time she usually got ready for bed, Sousuke didn't want to wait until the next day to see her.

Kaname rejoiced at the knock at her apartment door. She had been expecting it for the past couple of days. Every hour she didn't hear it, she would become increasingly worried for Sousuke's well being. At the knock, cool relief spread through Kaname's body.

She jumped up and raced to the door. But before opening it, she straightened out her clothes and smoothed down her hair. She liked to appear her best whenever Sousuke came home. Kaname took a calming breath. She also didn't want to appear as worried as she had been, nor as excited as she truly was that he was home. She didn't want to let on how much she liked him, and she also knew that after his assignments, Sousuke was often even more subdued and guarded than he usually was. She would see the ghosts of recent experiences clutching at him with stubborn tenacity.

Kaname knew that Sousuke just wanted to make sure that she hadn't been hurt or kidnapped while he was gone. He'd be more receptive to her enthusiasm and forceful personality after a good night's sleep. She didn't mind. She liked that he cared and she loved even the quiet times they shared, just being contented that the other was safe.

On the other side of the door, Sousuke ran a hand through his unruly hair. It was dirty. He could even see flecks of the red dirt indigenous to the war-torn country he had just escaped. He frowned, instantly remembering the stink of the soil as it exploded around him and how the blood of the fallen turned the red dirt black. Sousuke chided himself for not cleaning up before coming to Kaname. She didn't need him bringing any part of the horrors he'd endured, especially the dirt, into her apartment, into her life.

It was too late to clean up now, though. The lock hissed open and the knob turned. Kaname's door opened.

Sousuke stepped in, not intending to go further than the entryway to her apartment. She was silent, but beaming at him, searching him for new injuries and scars. He couldn't quite handle looking at her directly, yet. Not with the images of red turning black because a decent man, but a careless soldier, had let down his guard. Instead, Sousuke surveyed Kaname's apartment, making sure she was still following his advice regarding security. Everything looked normal. He could still smell the battlefield. The war still waged behind his eyes.

"Sousuke, how are...?" Kaname asked, but the words died in her throat. He wasn't really listening. His eyes avoided hers, looking a thousand miles away at some devastation. She felt for her friend. Kaname bit her lip, unsure of what to do. Dropping her gaze from his face, she noticed a deep scrape on the back of his left hand.

"You're hurt!" Kaname accused. She hustled to the bathroom to get her first aid kit.

"It's not a problem for me," answered Sousuke just a tick to late, betraying his divided attention.

"It's a problem for me," replied Kaname, grabbing Sousuke's uninjured hand and leading him to her couch. She settled on the floor in from of where Sousuke sat.

Kaname set out her tools: antiseptic alcohol, cotton swabs, antibiotic ointment, and bandages. As she commenced cleaning the wound, her attention diverted, Sousuke felt he could finally risk looking at her. Lovely as always, Sousuke was sometimes shocked by the beauty that existed in the world after being surrounded by such ugliness for so long. She had such beauty in the liveliness and expressiveness of her eyes that it almost hurt to look. After being surrounded by mercenaries for the past ten days and the cynicism expressed by even the best of them, seeing the insuppressible spark in Kaname's eyes sometimes felt like looking into the sun.

Sousuke was relieved she was safe. He was glad she had been in the relative safety of Tokyo for the past ten days. He was, above all, thankful that she hadn't seen, would probably never see, the things he'd just witnessed. He couldn't help thinking about what he would have done if she had been there with him. He winced, realizing that he might not have been able to protect her. He'd barely survived, himself.

"Did that hurt you?" Kaname asked, confused. She'd caught his wince as she finally placed the bandage on his hand.

Sousuke, pulled from his violent reverie, looked directly into Kaname's concerned brown eyes. He saw such concern and empathy that he was embarrassed for letting his guard down and letting his mind wander in such and unprofessional manner. It wasn't her job to look after him.

Kaname was barely able to contain a gasp when Sousuke focused his slate gray eyes on hers. He looked utterly lost. His eyes were searching hers for something, Kaname couldn't quite figure out what it was, though. What had they done to him? What had they made him do?

Sousuke always seemed to others to be expressionless and deadpan. But Kaname thought Sousuke had the most expressive eyes she'd ever seen. And right now it frightened and angered her to see the usual warmth and concentration turned to a kind of unfocused despair. She'd do anything to help Sousuke, she just had to find out what.

"Sousuke?" she asked softly, gripping his hands.

Sousuke knew that his eyes had betrayed him. He was too tired. He hadn't slept in almost 48 hours. He was too weary to fight Kaname's grasping hands and leave. So he simply shut his eyes to her inquisitive stare. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, and willed his mind to empty and some strength to return.

Kaname was glad that Sousuke didn't leave as she guessed he might after showing such vulnerability. Instead, he just sat with his face a dozen or so inches from hers, eyes closed.

She took in his appearance more carefully. He looked exhausted. His muscles were bunched and tensed in odd places for him. Dark circles indented the skin beneath his eyes and the lines of tension on his face were highlighted by an unusual red dust.

Kaname released one of Sousuke's hands and used her right thumb to smooth out the worry lines in Sousuke's forehead, erasing the red dirt they contained. After a few gentle strokes, the lines eased and disappeared. Sousuke began to look slightly more at peace.

Refusing to question her own actions, Kaname rose on her knees to bring her face to Sousuke's. She pressed her own forehead into his, hoping that he could pick up on the feelings of gratitude, respect, and genuine admiration she felt for him and his role in her life.

Though Kaname refused to admit it out loud, she loved Sousuke. He exasperated her on so many levels, but even that was a plus because she loved the challenge of him. Also, there was no doubt she'd be dead or insane if he hadn't come into her life. If there was anything she could do to repay all he'd done for her, she'd do it in a heartbeat. So she just continued doing what felt natural and right in these quiet moments.

Whatever she was doing, it seemed to be working. Sousuke was matching her grip on his hand. Encouraged, Kaname again let instinct drive her next action. She gently ran a fingertip over the scar on his jaw before cupping his cheek. With the slightest pressure, she tilted his face upward to hers. Then, she brought her lips to his in a light kiss.

Sousuke didn't move his lips or respond to the soft, gentle pressure of her mouth. But he also didn't startle or move away. Both Sousuke and Kaname let her long, lingering kiss say what she had no words for.

After long seconds of the kiss, Kaname pulled away with a small smile. After a pause, Sousuke sighed and shifted forward and rested a heavy head on Kaname's shoulder. His breathing was deep and meditative. He seemed to be absorbing all of the kindness, compassion, strength, and friendship that Kaname was radiating.

Kaname moved the hand that had cupped Sousuke's cheek to the back of his neck. Her index and middle finger made slow circles and caresses in the short hairs at the bottom of his hairline. She relished the rare opportunity to just be close and be themselves. She knew Sousuke probably not had many comforting and safe places that were consistently soft and warm and welcoming. She wanted to create that for him for as long as he would have her. Whenever he needed it, she'd make him a soft place to land; he could always come home to her.

After a few more minutes, Sousuke lifted his head. He blinked at her sleepily, releasing her hand. The lost, forlorn look was gone from his eyes. Now, they only looked dark with exhaustion. He wasn't exactly sure what had just happened – well, he had felt the gentle touches and the kiss, but it felt so simple to have affected him so – but he felt a hundred pounds lighter. The images behind his eyes, the noises those images made over and over again, had all faded into the ether. Now, all he saw when he closed his eyes was Kaname's face, her eyes full of light and beauty and unquestioning acceptance.

Sousuke rose. "I'm sorry," he started. "I am very tired and I need to rest." He made his way to her door. "I didn't mean to take up so much of your time so late at night."

Kaname felt tired just watching him. "It's really no problem, Sousuke."

She once again reached out and grabbed his hand, making him turn to face her. "I mean it," she reiterated. "You can come by whenever you need to. I'm glad you did tonight."

Sousuke nodded and regarded their still-linked hands. "Thank you for the bandage," he said. Then, surprising her, he squeezed her hand warmly. "And also, thank you for everything else. I was not looking forward to my dreams tonight. But now, I don't think that they will be a problem."

Delighted, Kaname once again beamed in happiness. Sousuke took one last look at her face before turning and leaving her apartment.

Feet dragging with fatigue as he crossed the street to his own apartment, he couldn't help an inward smile. Surviving battle held so much more meaning now that he had something, someone, to live for.

That night held no nightmares for Sousuke Sagara.

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Author's Note: I'm not sure what it is about Sousuke and Kaname, but they get into my head and refuse to leave until I give them something to do in a story. I have enough real life stuff to worry about that I really tried not to write this story, but holding in such a sappy little one-shot took more energy than I realized. So out it came. I appreciate all thoughts and comments.