As he drew in ragged breaths, Sousuke could see that the man in front of him was dead. But despite that, his face was twisted into an insane, grinning death mask as his one visible eye stared at him, unblinkingly. Then, unexpectedly, Gauron's mouth began to move.
"There you go, Kashim," the corpse jeered. "Now, was that so hard?"
Sousuke shot out of his sleep with a silent gasp, beads of sweat creeping down his forehead that he didn't bother to wipe away. Ever since the night Sousuke had finally killed the man who had haunted his life so tirelessly, Gauron had begun to haunt his sleep instead. The nightmares were getting more and more intense, and if he didn't do something soon, the Sergeant was pretty sure he was going to crack at this rate. He was holding out against the exhaustion as best as he could, but the fact remained that even if he was a soldier who could pilot an AS capable of destroying a city block with a thought, he was still human. His body had its limits.
At times like this, Sousuke found himself envying the Arm Slaves.
Life must be so much simpler for them, he thought, not having to worry about any of our problems.
'Incorrect,' the Sergeant imagined AL's voice statically replying in his head, and a weary chuckle issued from Sousuke's lips. 'You humans are our pilots, and an integral part of the symbiosis that makes us function. Without you, we are nothing; therefore, your problems are our problems.'
"Always with the nonsense," Sousuke sighed, rolling out from under his bed and standing up lethargically. His face assumed its perpetual frown as he looked critically into the mirror; his lack of sleep was starting to wear down on his alertness, and it pissed him off. If he got sloppy, his enemies would only start striking that much harder.
Bitterly resigning himself to not getting any more sleep tonight after two more attempts to do so ended in utter failure, Sousuke flipped on his room's main light and sat down in front of his new laptop, busying his thoughts with typing out a report for Mithril. The precise, military language marched across the screen like a platoon coming to his rescue, and the Sergeant let himself sink into the familiar rhythm of the report as his fingers moved across the keys practically by themselves. As much stress as his job gave him sometimes, Sousuke had to admit that it had its own, small comforts.
He'd lost track of the hours that had melted away sitting in front of the softly-glowing LED screen when Sousuke was suddenly jolted back to reality by a series of short, impatient knocks at his door. He was immediately up and reaching for his pistol, making sure it was loaded and primed before he flattened himself up against the wall next to the door and slowly moved his head to look through the peephole. When he saw who it was, Sousuke lowered his gun and holstered it, exhaling shortly.
It was Kaname Chidori, and she was in her pajamas for some reason. It didn't look like she'd been taken hostage and paraded over here, though, as she'd brought something with her in a bottle: Sousuke assumed any kidnapper wouldn't have given her time to bring along anything before trying to use her as bait to get to him. The most likely danger out of the way, he opened the door and was promptly pushed roughly out of the way as Kaname walked into the interior of the apartment like it was hers.
"What're you still doing up, Sousuke?" she asked him in a clipped tone as she sat down at the table, facing him from across the room. "I know tomorrow's Sunday, and we don't have class, but you still need your rest."
"I could ask you the same thing," the Sergeant answered in an equally curt tone as he walked over and sat down across from her, his steely eyes glancing suspiciously at the bottle Kaname had placed on the table before returning his attention to her.
"And why did you come over here this late, and dressed like that?" he continued, slivers of his worry slipping through the holes in his emotionless mask that had been carved by his fatigue. "If anyone had seen you in such a vulnerable position—"
"They would have been in for a nasty little surprise," Kaname finished, shifting one of her arms behind her and pulling out a taser from the waist of her pants with a smile.
"I think this is yours, no?" she asked, putting the small weapon down on the table between them. "Thanks, by the way," Kaname continued. "It helped me out of a tight spot."
"Good," Sousuke replied, "then it performed its function satisfactorily."
Kaname sighed, reaching for the bottle and opening it before taking a swig of the pale liquid, which Sousuke recognized from its smell as tea.
"Geez, sometimes I just don't get you, Sousuke," she said after a few moments. "Even when you look completely exhausted, you still manage to be as rigid as a plank of wood."
"I'd prefer being rigid and alive to being relaxed and dead."
"See what I mean, Sousuke?" Kaname shot back. "You say that like those're the only two options."
The Sergeant raised one curious eyebrow at the statement.
"I was unaware there was a third, Chidori."
"Of course there is, you idiot!" Kaname snapped, before catching herself and taking in a calming breath. "You could act relaxed and not worry about winding up dead because of it, Sousuke. Like normal people do."
"I'm not 'normal people', Chidori. I have a rocket launcher hidden behind the false wall behind you, in case you'd forgotten."
"Well, I'm not exactly normal, either, and you don't see me acting paranoid all the time!" Kaname countered, before she paused to think over Sousuke's words.
"Wait," she said slowly, as if she was having a major epiphany, "did you just… make a joke?"
"I guess not, if you had to ask," he answered, and Kaname almost fell out of her chair. Sousuke following up a joke with a sarcastic quip was a sure sign that either A) the world was coming to an end, or B) Sousuke was finally losing it. And since no pigs were flying past the window, Kaname went with the latter.
"What's wrong, Sousuke?" She asked softly, all of the usual abrasiveness gone from her voice and replaced with sincere concern.
"You still haven't answered my question from before," Sousuke deflected, doing a blatantly horrible job of it but beyond caring. "Why did you come over here so late?"
Being stonewalled when she was showing genuine worry made Kaname's anger finally spill over, and her reply flew out of her mouth in a fierce shout.
"Because I was worried about you, you moron! I saw your light was on and you were sitting at your computer and I thought that something was wrong; that maybe, just maybe, you might want some company to talk about what was on your mind like an actual human being! But I guess that was expecting too much!"
Kaname let her anger carry her to her feet and towards the door, too hurt and enraged to see straight, let alone try to deal with Sousuke's thick-headedness.
"I have nightmares, Chidori."
The emotionless words coiled themselves around Kaname's feet and rooted her to the ground, stopping her escape in an instant. Turning around, her amber eyes softened as she realized how much it must have taken for Sousuke to make a confession of weakness like that. Returning slowly to the table, Kaname sat back down across from her hunched-over bodyguard and spoke.
"Tell me about them."
Sousuke said nothing for several heartbeats, but when he finally replied his eyes still didn't rise to meet hers.
"I'm talking with Gauron," he began, his voice robotic as he walked back down the hall of his nightmares and back into the room with that psychopath. "He taunts me about my weaknesses, about how you've changed me. And then… and then he tells me you're dead, and I snap. I shoot him again and again, but it doesn't stop there. He opens his mouth again and speaks. He's proud of me.
"That sick bastard is proud of me, Chidori. Proud of what I can do, of the only thing I can do. And then I'm alone. I'm completely alone."
Sousuke kept his eyes down, not lifting them from the table until he felt a warm pressure close over his right hand. Looking up, he saw that Kaname had taken his hand in both of hers, a sad smile on her face.
"You're both wrong," she said. "Gauron might have only seen the killer in you, Sousuke, but I know you're capable of much more than that. You've proven it every time you pulled my ass out of the fire; you just have to believe it yourself.
"And you're also not alone, you idiot," Kaname continued, her grip on his hand tightening ever-so-slightly.
"I'm right here, Sousuke."
His eyes finally rose at that, his mouth curling into a small, but real, smile.
"Thank you, Chidori," he said, but instead of brushing it off or calling him an idiot like usual, she got up, the grip on his hand compelling Sousuke to rise with her.
Wordlessly, she led him over to his bed and pushed him insistently down onto it. Before he could ask any questions or do anything else to ruin the moment, Kaname slid quietly in next to him and shifted him on to his side to face her, closing the distance between them and placing a gentle kiss on his forehead before she lost her courage. Smiling to herself as she felt Sousuke heat up in what she assumed was a fierce blush, Kaname wrapped her arms around his shoulders and moved her mouth to rest right by his ear.
"Go to sleep, Sousuke," she whispered softly. "I'm not going anywhere, I promise."
Kaname's internal smile spread across her face as Sousuke relaxed against her with a sigh, and she let his calm, measured breathing carry her off to join him in his dreams.
A/N: Well, not much to say, except that I hope you enjoyed it! This is my first FMP! fic, so I hope the characterizations were up to snuff. Concrit is appreciated.