Wintry Solace

Disclaimer: I do not own nor profit from any of the ideas, characters, names, etc that I have used from Until Death Do Us Part. Any original aspects of this fiction have spawned from my imagination, thus I'm rather attached to them, so would prefer if others don't nick off with them without referencing.

A/N: I originally intended to write this fic as a Christmas special, but I finished it a lot sooner than I thought I would, so I'm posting it up now. Take it as a spin-off from my Thorny Path story. It happens roughly during the timescale of that fic, which is set 6-7 years after the manga, though this one-shot definitely departs from the story. The only similarities are the location and time period. No further associations between the two fics should be made.

Do not expect much of a plot here. Do expect fluff... well, as much fluff as you can get around Mamoru, and perhaps a little angst. ;)

Warnings: Lemon (If you don't like that sort of thing, don't read). Some swearing.

Haruka trotted down the stairs, a long, narrow box under one arm. She felt like a child again. The excitement, the apprehension; she hadn't experienced a feeling like this for so many years. As she reached the bottom of the staircase, she slid the cardboard box into her hands and leant it against the wall. Straightening her hurriedly donned halter-neck top and light trousers, she tried to calm herself.

Why was this year so special? She smirked to herself. That was a pretty silly question. She knew the answer straight away. She may have left her childish ways behind her, but she couldn't allow the joy that had overcome her to slip away. This was the first Christmas in many a year that she was able to spend with Mamoru. Alone.

Lifting the box once again, she padded into the living room of the modest sized house. It was empty, save for the meagre furnishings. She smiled. At least the lack of clutter allowed her plenty of room to decorate the place into her version of Christmas.

She set the box on the carpet and flicked open the lid. Scraggly green branches sprung out from the cardboard container, reaching for freedom. It was only an artificial tree, but she was more than happy with it. She pulled the top part, the twisted branches and solid trunk, from the box and set it aside, followed by the base. Decorations sat in small plastic bags; shiny baubles, ribbons, swinging lanterns, they were all there.

She lifted the remaining accessories from the box and scanned over her mission for the evening. It shouldn't take too long, she hoped. She delved into her task straight away, propping the base up and attaching the trunk of the fake tree to it. The thick carpet probably wasn't the best of places to do it, but she was too excited and eager to be able to figure out a more stable surface.

As she straightened out the contorted branches, she glanced down at the decorations that had come with the tree. She frowned slightly. They probably wouldn't be adequate for how she imagined a Christmas tree should look like. She shook her head, she would manage somehow. She was good at improvisation.

The stubbly green 'thing' was looking more tree-like now and she looked around, seeing if there was a good stand to put it on. The lack of furniture in the room certainly didn't make the search easy. She eyed the corner unit where the semi-working television was stood. Perfect!

Haruka carried the tree over to the corner and set it to one side. Getting the television off of the unit and stored away would be a more challenging matter. She wrapped her arms around the bulky piece of equipment and heaved. It slid part way off of the polished wooden stand and she had to dig her feet into the carpet to stop it toppling onto her. She bent her knees and slowly lowered the television onto the floor. The power cable, which she had completely forgotten to unplug, caught and she sighed irritably as it prevented the contraption from sitting properly on the floor.

Letting go of the television carefully, she reached around the back of the unit and removed the plug from the socket, keeping the device propped up with her knee. She proceeded to drag the TV across the carpet to the opposite corner of the room, deciding to leave it there for the moment. Brushing dust off her hands, she returned to the Christmas tree.

She settled it onto the now empty unit, turning it a few times until she was happy with the angle. Grabbing the bags of decorations, she began to slide the baubles onto the branches of the tree, followed by the mini-lanterns. After she was finished emptying the plastic bags, she took a few steps back from the tree and, placing her hands on her hips, inspected her work.

She cocked her head to one side. It was still missing something. Of course! Tinsel and lights! She rushed out of the living room and up the staircase, taking the steps two at a time. She entered the master bedroom and plopped down onto the bed, rustling the mass of shopping bags that were sitting on it. She and Mamoru had spent the better part of the morning and afternoon in the city, browsing stores. She had practically had to drag the swordsman out of the house, begging and pleading. It wasn't too much of a surprise that he hadn't seemed the least bit interested in doing anything special for Christmas. Yet, she was a bit disappointed that it had taken right up until Christmas Eve to persuade him to allow her to have this little bit of fun. She was determined to not let that dampen her mood though.

Eventually finding the bag which contained the remaining decorations, she headed downstairs again, to put the finishing touches to the tree.

* * *

Mamoru sighed as he entered the house through the side door, dropping the few bags he was carrying onto one of the kitchen units and resting his cane against the wall. He closed the door and rubbed his hands together. It was getting damned cold outside.

He had left Haruka a few hours ago to sort out whatever it was that she had been so excited about. He really couldn't understand the fascination with Christmas. It was just some western tradition which had been overly commercialised to empty the pockets of the gullible masses. Yet, here he was joining their ranks. He groaned inwardly. Damn Haruka and her infectious enthusiasm.

Adjusting his sunglasses with one finger, he walked over to the refrigerator, opening it and peering inside. It was pretty full from their earlier shopping excursion and he had to rearrange some of the items to make a sizeable space. Delving into one of the bags he had deposited on the unit, he removed a large square box and slid it into the fridge. At least something good came of this holiday. He licked his lips at the thought of the box's contents. Straightening up, he hurriedly closed the refrigerator and grabbed the remaining bags from the kitchen unit, heading into the hallway.

As he neared the door to the living room, he heard shuffling noises and a muttered curse. He raised an eyebrow. Just what was she up to? Before he could enter the lounge to check, Haruka's head peered around the side of the door.

"Stop right where you are! You can't come in yet."

"Eh?" was all Mamoru could manage at the unexpected outburst.

He frowned at her. "You're telling me I can't walk around my own damned house?"

She grinned sheepishly at him. "Just for another fifteen minutes or so."

Resisting the urge to sigh, he turned on his heel and walked up the stairs instead. Entering his small bedroom at the top of the staircase, he sunk onto the mattress, depositing the bags onto the floor. Removing his sunglasses, he rubbed his eyelids with a thumb and one finger. It was always such a relief in a way when he removed his glasses. The constant stream of data became a strain after a while. Placing the sunglasses on the bed beside him, he leant forward, feeling for the shopping bags. Eventually finding the right one, he pulled out a small, cube-shaped item.

He felt along its edges. The box could fit in his palm easily and was wrapped in thin paper with a silky ribbon, tied into a bow, encircling it. He shook his head slightly. Igawa had gone a bit overboard with the wrapping. He briefly wondered what kind of expression Haruka would have when he gave it to her and then frowned at his own thoughts. It was for practical reasons he was giving her this, nothing more.

He stood and slipped the gift into his jeans pocket as he heard movement from downstairs. Shrugging off his jacket, he turned to where he knew the chest of drawers to be for a quick change of clothes. He was wearing a heavy sweater to help counteract the cold when he had been outside, but it was much too warm for the well-heated house. He grabbed the bottom hem and pulled it up and over his head, dumping it in the general direction of the bed, shivering slightly at the sudden loss of warmth. He reached forward for the top of the chest of drawers, missing the handle the first time around. As he pulled open the top drawer he heard Haruka ascending the stairs. He grabbed the first t-shirt that his hand made contact with and, feeling around the collar to make sure he was putting it on the right way, pulled it over his head. He was just tugging the item of clothing past his abdomen when he heard Haruka enter the room.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realise you were changing," came her hurried apology.

"It's fine," he mumbled, somewhat absently.

"Oh, okay. Well, I've finished in the living room, so you can come down now." Mamoru could hear the smile in Haruka's voice.

"How kind of you," he retorted, sarcastically.

An awkward silence ensued, causing Mamoru to slide over to the bed, searching for his sunglasses. He hadn't heard Haruka move either. He found his glasses where he'd left them and slipped them on, turning back to the door. She was still standing there, watching him silently.

"What?" he asked her, a little gruffly.

She shook her head suddenly as if she had been deep in thought. "Nothing,"

She smiled and began to head out of the room. "Come on. I want you to see the miracle I've worked in the living room."

Mamoru restrained a groan and followed after her. Fine, he could humour her, he supposed.

They descended the stairs and stopped in the doorway to the lounge.

"Welcome to my den of Christmas cheer," Haruka exclaimed, swinging her arms wide dramatically.

Mamoru peered over her shoulder. The furniture had been rearranged so that the two sofas were now sitting against the back wall and the armchair was slotted in next to the door. The television was nowhere in sight, its position on the wooden unit in the corner of the room was now taken by what looked like a scraggly tree, leaning ever so slightly to one side due to the weight of numerous objects hanging off its branches. Paper thin decorations hung from the ceiling and walls and small ornaments were lined up on the coffee table that had been pushed to the side of the room, opposite the armchair. For the life of him, he couldn't think why adding more clutter to the room would make it more 'cheery'.

"Well...?" Haruka drawled. "What do you think?"

He eyed the overzealous woman for a moment. What did she expect him to say?

"It's..." he paused briefly, considering his words. "Different."

She turned to face him, crossing her arms over her chest. "Well, aren't you a regular Sherlock Holmes?" she huffed.

He scowled at her. "What do you want me to say? You know I don't care about any of this. It's nice. There, happy now?"

"Ecstatic," she muttered, dryly, uncrossing her arms and walking to one of the sofas. She sat down on the edge of one of the cushions, leaning her elbow on her knee and resting her chin on her palm.

Was she sulking? Mamoru felt a slight twinge of guilt nudge at him in the back of his mind. He took a few more steps into the room, looking about him.

"So... What now?" he asked her, not having the slightest clue about what was expected of him.

Haruka glanced up at him, a slow smile spreading across her face.

"Take a seat. I know of at least one thing that you'll like. I'll be right back." She stood and, pushing him gently in the direction of the sofas, she passed him and left the living room.

He raised an eyebrow but did as he was instructed and dropped languidly onto one of the settees. He leant his head back and closed his eyes. He wasn't sure how much more of these 'festivities' he would be able to take.

He heard the clatter of dishes from the kitchen, followed by the banging of cupboard doors. Food? Was she making food? His stomach growled as if in response to the thought.

* * *

Haruka carefully set out the plates, making sure everything was pristinely presented. She was pretty sure Mamoru wouldn't really appreciate her attention to aesthetics, but felt the need to try anyway.

She tapped a finger against her bottom lip as she viewed her work of art. Her mind kept drifting back to the box in the fridge. It was clearly a cake container and was something she hadn't bought. Mamoru must have brought it in with him earlier. She wondered what type of cake it was, and if he would be upset if she served it now. Tossing caution to the wind, she removed the container from the fridge and set it on the unit. Opening it carefully, she peered inside. Her eyes widened in awe at the spectacle before her. It was a huge, round sponge cake topped with excessive amounts of whipped cream and large pieces of fruit. Mamoru sure knew how to pick out good cakes.

Grabbing a serving plate from one of the cupboards, she placed it beside the cake box and gently transplanted the delicate sponge onto the dish. She nodded in satisfaction as it all stayed in place. She walked over to the unit next to the hall doorway and lifted the two plates containing various savoury foodstuffs, heading for the living room.

She ignored Mamoru's curious look as she set the plates on the coffee table, turning to head back to the kitchen again. She paused at the doorway as Mamoru shifted in his seat.

"Don't touch any of it yet," she waggled a finger at him. His eyebrows furrowed together and she smiled innocently at him as she left.

She grabbed a knife from one of the drawers and slid it onto the plate with the cake, lifting the dish and carrying it through to the lounge. As she entered, she saw Mamoru rise from the sofa slightly.

"Is that my cake?" he asked, darkly.

She set it down on the table next to the other plates.

"What? You weren't going to share it?" she replied, incredulously.

He slumped back into the seat with a snort.

She straightened up and stared at him. "It is a Christmas cake, so it should be eaten today. I won't have any of it, if you're going to insist on being that possessive."

"No, it's fine," he grumbled, avoiding eye contact.

What was wrong with him now? He wasn't usually a petty person. She gazed at him for a few more moments, as if looking at him hard enough would somehow allow her to figure him out. She shook her head before sighing.

"I'll just go get the drinks," she said, leaving the room once more.

As she grabbed the sparkling wine from the fridge, her shoulders sagged a little. Even though she was trying her hardest to stay cheerful, Mamoru's attitude was slowly starting to drain away her resolve. She knew he wasn't intentionally trying to drag her mood down, but she thought he might have tried a little harder to play along with her. She had made her opinion about this particular holiday very clear. Christmas was a time of year that was supposed to be spent with family, the ones you loved. Mamoru was the closest thing she had to a family. She took a deep breath and pressed her lips into a firm line of determination. She would get a smile out of the sourpuss even if she'd have to damn well die trying.

She walked back into the living room, the bottle of wine and two glasses in her hands, with a lighter spring in her step. Putting the glasses on the coffee table, she offered the bottle to Mamoru.

"Can you open this for me? I'll probably end up spilling most of it."

He glanced up at her before leaning forward and taking the bottle. She watched as his strong, but supple fingers nimbly felt their way around the top of the neck, finding the edge of the foil and tearing it away from the glass. The cork was held down by a wire mesh which he twisted and pulled off. Pointing the top of the bottle away from them, he eased the cork out with his thumb. It suddenly shot out of the bottle with a loud popping sound and hit the wall near the door, dropping behind the armchair. The wine bubbled and foamed out of the top of the bottle for a moment before settling back down. He held it away from his body and towards Haruka as if it was something poisonous.

She smiled and took the burdensome object from him, pouring them each half a glass of the wine.

"Thanks," she said as she passed one of the glasses to him.

He grunted and took the proffered wine. She sat down carefully next to him, so as not to jostle him.

"Well, you can dig in whenever you feel like it," she said, motioning to the food on the table.

He nodded slowly and took a sip of the wine. He wrinkled his nose slightly as his fingers stuck to the stem of the glass. Swapping it to his other hand, he absently licked the wine that had spilled from the bottle off his fingers. Haruka watched the motion of his tongue, her lips parting slightly.

She had obviously been all too entranced by the sight. Before she had realised it, Mamoru had turned towards her.

"What?" he asked her, flatly.

She felt a blush creep up her cheeks. "It's nothing," she replied hesitantly.

He leaned towards her, and she suddenly wished she hadn't chosen to sit so close to him.

"You're not drunk already are you?" His face was much too near her for her comfort. "Your breathing's gotten faster."

She spluttered. "No! I-I haven't even touched the wine yet!"

Abruptly he pulled away and turned his gaze from her. Pushing himself up from the couch, he padded over to the coffee table, setting his glass down.

"You'd better eat before drinking any of that stuff, anyway. Don't want it going straight to your head."

He grabbed one of the plates and returned to his place on the sofa.

"Yeah, you're right," Haruka agreed, getting her own plate, thankful that the spotlight was no longer on her.

They sat in silence, nibbling on pieces of cooked chicken, marinated fish and deep fried vegetables. She glanced surreptitiously at Mamoru from time to time, watching him eat and wondering what he was thinking about.

"If you've got something to say, then say it," he said abruptly, startling her.

"Huh?" She blinked at him.

"You hold your breath every now and then as if you're about to say something, but then decide against it."

She cringed inwardly. Damn him and his ability to read people so easily.

"Um... well, I was just wondering..." she trailed off and paused briefly, before spotting Mamoru's impatient expression. "I was wondering what you were thinking, that's all."

He raised an eyebrow at her, before glancing down at his almost empty plate. "The food's good. That's what I was thinking."

"Oh," she chuckled lightly. "Thank you."

He smirked slightly at her and she had to suppress a grin. Well, it wasn't exactly an honest smile, but it was a step in the right direction!

Feeling a little happier, she pushed herself to her feet and trotted over to the table, putting her plate down and scooping up the cake knife.

"Well, how about you do the honours then?" she grinned at Mamoru, holding out the knife.

"Damn right. It's my cake after all," he snorted, moving over to the table and taking the blade from her hand.

She watched as he crouched beside the coffee table and with a precision that only Mamoru could perform, he quickly cut the cake into eight pieces. Using the knife as a cake slice, he dished out two pieces onto the mostly empty plates.

Straightening up, he passed one of the plates to Haruka and took his own back to the sofa, where he sat down and stared at the cake intently. She watched him with a bemused smirk on her face.

He frowned. "This will get messy without a spoon or something."

"Oh!" She had completely forgotten about that. "I'll just go get some."

She dashed through to the kitchen, plate still in hand, and grabbed two forks from one of the drawers. Returning swiftly, not wanting to delay Mamoru's cake time any longer, she stuffed one of the forks into his waiting hand.

"Thanks," he muttered as he delved straight into the slice in front of him.

She sat down next to him once more, folding one leg beneath her, and propped her plate on her other leg, gazing at Mamoru. It was always entertaining to watch him whilst he was indulging in his sweet tooth habit. He had a certain range of facial expressions that he only used during this time. He closed his eyes slightly as he took his first bite. Bliss might be a good description of what passed across his face.

He made short work of the piece of cake and, as the fork clattered against the empty space where it had just been, he glanced over at her. He licked his lips, removing a trace of whipped cream as he raised his eyebrow at her.

"Not going to eat that?"

She hurriedly looked down at her plate. "Yes, I was just savouring it." She picked up the fork, demonstrating her intentions.

She broke off a bite-sized piece of the cake and slipped it into her mouth. The mixture of sponge, cream and fruit was just right. It wasn't sickly sweet, nor too tart. As she neared finishing the slice, she felt Mamoru's eyes on her. She resisted the urge to look up, a little embarrassed as to why he would be staring at her. She finished the rest of the cake, trying her best to hide her nervousness. She could feel the heat of the flush on her face.

Without looking at Mamoru, she stretched over to the coffee table and slid the plate onto it, grabbing her untouched wine and relaxing back into the sofa. She took a large mouthful of the sparkling liquid and swallowed loudly. She closed her eyes briefly, wondering why she was acting nervously in front of Mamoru so suddenly. They had known each other for years. They should be comfortable around each other by now, surely?

She had also known about her feelings for the swordsman for a very long time, had come to terms with the fact that he might not reciprocate until some undeterminable time in the future. Admittedly, it had been different when she was a child. Recently, alongside that aching love she felt deeply in her chest, she had also felt the stirrings of lust. Mamoru exuded a sense of confidence and control that had her stomach tying itself into knots and left her feeling flushed all over.

She wasn't entirely sure if he still viewed her as that not-so-innocent child he had initially met, or saw her as a fully fledged woman now.

She jerked as Mamoru's fingers brushed against her knee as he stood. He grabbed his glass and eyed her suspiciously.

"Why are you so edgy?" he asked, looking down at her.

She finally made eye contact, chewing on her lower lip.

"I was just lost in thought. You surprised me."

"Oh?" he asked, slumping back onto the sofa, jostling her. "Thinking about what?"

She peered at him for a moment, before replying. "You."

His eyebrows furrowed together. "What about me?"

"How should I put this?" she mused, glancing away briefly. "What do you think of me, Mamoru?"

"Huh?" His eyebrows shot up, the frown disappearing in surprise.

"How do you view me?" she clarified.

"Uh..." he shifted in his seat. "You're... you."

"And?" she pressed, completely dissatisfied with that answer.

"I'm not sure what you want me to say..." he said, somewhat hesitantly, his usual calm evading him.

"The truth," she stated simply.

His lips pressed together as he gazed at her. "You're my charge. I'm your guardian." He let out a sigh. "I can see where this is coming from. Serves me right for getting soft, I suppose. I finally gave in to your requests about this Christmas thing and what...? Did you get the wrong idea?"

Haruka's eyes widened. She opened her mouth to say something, anything, in reply, but words eluded her. How could he say such cruel things to her, and with a straight face. She could feel the sting of tears beginning to well at the corner of her eyes. Rejection hurt.

"I-" she had to stop as her voice cracked. She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry to have brought it up."

She stood stiffly, fighting back the tears, and walked rigidly towards the living room door, depositing her glass on the table on her way. She needed a minute to compose herself. She was damned if she'd break down and start crying in front of Mamoru.

"Shit," she heard Mamoru mumble behind her just before his footsteps began thudding across the carpet.

No! Don't follow me! Leave me alone! I don't want you to see me like this! She knew her mental urging wouldn't do her any good. He was getting closer. She squeezed her eyes shut as she passed through the doorway and felt Mamoru grab her arm, spinning her around to face him. His free hand clasped around her chin and tilted her head up to look directly at him. She refused to open her eyes though.

"Look at me," he said, his voice holding an icy tone to it.

Reluctantly, she slowly opened her eyes, her vision a little blurred by her stray tears. He looked angry, his eyebrows furrowed and his mouth set into a grim line. She saw his jaw clench as he ground his teeth.

"Fuck, Haruka. Why do you have to do this to me?" he hissed between his teeth. "Being the bad guy all the fucking time gets tiring."

Her bottom lip trembled as she gazed up at him in confusion.

"The last thing I wanted to do was upset you on a day you seemed so excited about," he paused, taking a deep breath. "But you really don't seem to get it."

"Get what?" Her voice sounded hoarse, even to her own ears. Her mind was a jumble of uncertainty, conflicting emotions waging war against each other. Mamoru's close proximity certainly wasn't helping matters. His breath was brushing against her cheek, causing her skin to heat there.

"I know how you feel about me, Haruka. I'm not stupid. But you and me, that can't happen."

"Why not?" she croaked, fresh tears threatening to overflow.

His expression softened as he sighed, his grip on her chin loosening. "You see me through rose-coloured glasses, Haruka. I'm an asshole, and I think you're the only person who doesn't see it. I live for one thing. To hone my skills. Anything else is just excess baggage. And you... you're just too pure. The things that you've seen may have taken your innocence from you a long time ago, but in a way you're still pure. Me, I'll just taint you."

Taint her? A bitter laugh almost escaped her lips. It seemed they both had skewed views of each other. Her hand slid up and clasped the wrist of the limb that was still gripping her chin.

"I'm excess baggage?" Her voice was now steady, accusatory. "If that's the case, why did you bother helping me in the first place?"

A smile pulled at the corners of his mouth, but it contained no mirth. It sent a shiver up her spine.

"You brought exactly what I needed straight to me. How could that not be convenient?"

So, the only reason he protected her was because of the people who were after her? She was bait, to aid him in practicing his swordsmanship? She didn't believe that was the only reason for one minute.

"Convenient?" she echoed, shaking her head free of his hold on her. She pulled his hand down, taking a step closer to him, their bodies touching. "You can lie to me, Mamoru, but stop lying to yourself."

His eyebrows furrowed further together in a deep scowl. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but she cut him off.

"You have this defensive wall up continuously when you're around me. Sure, it's there with other people, but not to the same extent. You're trying your damnedest to keep your distance. You're scared, aren't you?"

"Bullshit," he growled at her.

In a fluid movement, she slid her arms over his shoulders and around his neck, pulling herself closer and pressed her lips against his, effectively cutting off any more of his denial. He tensed suddenly beneath her, his hand on her arm tightening. He stood rigidly for a moment as she pressed herself further into him, revelling in the sensation of his firm, toned body and his taut lips.

She knew that she had to savour the moment. The walls would clamp down in full effect after this. He wasn't returning the kiss, which spoiled the experience to some extent, but she would make do with what she could get. She had to. Before he could push her away she abruptly backed off, sighing slightly in the back of her throat at the loss of contact. She took another step away from him and peered up.

"Merry Christmas," she said, somewhat bitterly, as she pointed towards the mistletoe hanging from the doorframe above their heads.

Mamoru didn't follow her gesture, simply staring at her like a deer caught in the headlights. She had obviously shocked him.

She turned away, deciding it would be better to leave before he recovered. She took a step towards the staircase, but stiffened when she heard Mamoru speak behind her.

"Haruka." His voice was coarse and she couldn't quite decipher the tone.

She turned and her eyes widened slightly as he walked towards her, the expression on his face completely unreadable. He was moving fluidly, slowly, deliberately, like a prowling cat, causing her to take an involuntary step back.

His arm snaked out, gripping her shoulder and guiding her to the doorframe. Her back made contact with the wood, making her gasp in surprise. It was as if it was all happening in slow-motion, yet her brain couldn't keep up. He took one step forward, moving well into her personal space.

His fingers brushed lightly against the skin of her shoulder as his hand trailed to the back of her neck and tangled in her hair. She shivered, her breath quickening in anticipation. What was he doing? She couldn't wrap her mind around it. He leaned closer, but stopped just shy of making contact, his breath skittering across her lips.

"You wanted this, right?" His free hand clamped firmly onto the wall beside her head, making her jerk at the unexpected motion. Was he trying to scare her? She let out a shuddering breath, meeting his gaze through his sunglasses.

"Yes," she replied, doing well to control the tremble in her voice.

Without another word, he closed the remaining distance between their lips, crushing her mouth beneath his. The kiss was forceful, rough, nothing like the tender one she had given him. His tongue slid out between his lips and pressed against her own, demanding access. She complied, somewhat hesitantly, and he pulled briefly on her hair, tilting her head further back as he explored her mouth.

Their tongues slipped and slid against each other and Haruka found her breathing becoming more difficult to control as jolts of heat made their way through her gut. Mamoru's exploration became more urgent as he pressed his hips against her. Her breath caught in her chest as she realised he was reacting to this just as strongly as she was, and she couldn't help the throaty moan that escaped from her lips into his mouth.

Slowly, he pulled his head away, licking along her bottom lip as he did so. She gulped down a mouthful of air, trying desperately to regain control of her body. His tongue traced a line from her mouth to her jaw and onto her neck, leaving a hot, wet trail. Her heart thudded in her chest as he mouthed at the tender skin around her throat.

"Mamoru..." she breathed, weakly. He was coaxing reactions out of her body that she hadn't known was possible.

"Hmm?" he replied, absently, nibbling gently at her skin. "Want me to stop?"

The question sounded more like a taunt. She let out a small whimper as the hand that had been planted against the wall slid down her back, sending a shiver up her spine.

Abruptly, his arm encircled her waist and he heaved her off the floor. She yelped as she fell forward against his shoulder, wrapping her arms around him for support.

"Mamoru?!" she cried, completely flustered.

Wordlessly, he turned and carried her across the room, depositing her rather roughly on one of the sofas. She bounced against the cushions briefly and gaped up at him.

He lifted a leg and straddled her hips. Leaning forward, he gripped both of her wrists, pinning her arms by the side of her head. With his knees, he nudged her legs so she was lying flat out on the sofa.

He towered over her, his hair falling forward. "If you want me to stop, you'll have to tell me."

She squeezed her eyes shut. She didn't want him to stop. Why was he putting so much emphasis on that? Did he think she was scared? How little he knew of her true desires.

Her eyes fluttered open and she stared determinedly up at the man holding her down. He gazed down at her, unmoving for many moments, his breathing steady, albeit harder than usual.

When she didn't reply, he shifted his body weight and tilted his head forward, capturing her mouth with his once more. This time, her lips were already parted, allowing him immediate access. His tongue flicked against hers as he slowly released his grip on one of her wrists. His fingers brushed along the length of her bare arm, stroking her collarbone, before slipping under the strap of her halter-neck top, sliding under the material to the swell of her breast.

She arched instinctively into the touch, her breath hitching slightly. He pulled away from the kiss, reaching behind her neck with the hand that had been exploring under her clothes to nimbly untie the knot that kept the top in place.

Releasing her other wrist, he pulled the loosened material down, exposing her breasts and stomach. She flushed, not entirely due to embarrassment. She felt strangely vulnerable, especially under Mamoru's intense gaze. He may have had limited vision, but it certainly didn't feel like it at that moment.

Tentatively, she reached up with both of her arms, causing Mamoru to glance up at her movement. She took a hold of his sunglasses.

"What are you doing?" he asked, somewhat hoarsely.

She bit on her lower lip, before replying. "Please, take them off. I want to see your eyes."

He blinked at her, before lowering his gaze again. She took it as a positive response and slid the glasses from his face, placing them on the floor by the sofa and dropping her arms onto the cushions.

His fingers skated along her sides, gliding over her ribs, his calluses feeling slightly rough against her skin. She suppressed a small shudder as his thumbs brushed against the underside of her breasts. He lowered his head again, kissing and nibbling at the skin around her collarbone. The dual sensations of his hands and mouth on her body were sending waves of dizzying heat directly to the pit of her stomach, and lower.

From the way he had leant forward, the lower half of his body was pressing into her, and she could clearly feel his arousal, firm against her pelvis. The thought that he was enjoying this as much as she was only excited her more.

He cupped her right breast with his left hand as his mouth trailed lower, his thumb flicking over her nipple lightly. She gasped in surprise. Mamoru, obviously encouraged by her reaction, shifted his mouth even lower, enveloping her other nipple with his lips.

A moan emanated from the back of her throat as he teased the sensitive bud, nipping it between his teeth gently, sending delightful little jolts through her body.

Her breath was becoming pretty erratic, and she had to slide her hands into Mamoru's hair, the feeling of his silky locks between her fingers helping to ground her somewhat, as arousal threatened to overtake her senses.

She gasped again as he gripped her right nipple between forefinger and thumb, rolling it lightly, flicking the other with his tongue as he lifted his head. His free hand stroked the flat planes of her stomach until he reached the hem of her trousers. With a quick twist of his fingers, he undid the button and proceeded to pull the zip down.

Her hands slid out of his hair as he leant back on his knees, re-positioning himself further down her body. She watched him as he slipped his hands into the waistband of her trousers and pulled them down her hips. He leant against the back of the couch as he felt his way down to her ankles. She lifted her legs a little as he efficiently removed her footwear, then tugged the trousers from her, dropping them on the floor.

As her brain started functioning again due to the small pause, she felt a little awkward. She hadn't imagined that they would go this fast and the knowledge that she wasn't sure of Mamoru's intentions wasn't helping at all.

All thoughts of voicing her concerns soon vanished as Mamoru pulled his t-shirt off over his head and tossed it to one side. He was certainly a sight to behold. She watched the toned muscles of his chest and stomach ripple under his skin as he shifted position, half-lying beside her, propping himself up on his elbow. She placed her hand over his heart, having the urge to touch him, to feel him. The steady, but fast beat of his pulse thudded under her fingers.

He took a hold of her hand and gently pulled it away from him, laying it on her stomach as he leaned over her slightly. His fingers left her hand and drifted lower, sliding under the material of her underwear. He stroked over the fine hair he found there until he found the sensitive cluster of nerves and massaged lightly with one finger.

Haruka's hips jerked at the initial contact and she inhaled sharply. Her hand shot down to grip at his arm reflexively. He paused in his ministrations.

"Should I stop?" Both his voice and his actions had become gentler somehow, more tender over the past few minutes.

"No..." she breathed. "No, don't stop."

She slowly let get of his arm, instead burying her fingers into the sofa cushion. She tensed as he moved his hand, a second digit sliding alongside the first as he rubbed with deliberate, circular strokes. A gradual steady throb built up under his attention and she arched her back slightly, burrowing the back of her head into the sofa as she let out a moan.

His fingers roamed yet lower as he pressed his body tightly against her hip. She struggled to gain control of her breathing, feeling flushed all over. Please be gentle, she mentally urged him. He stroked her labia briefly before pushing his middle finger inside her. Her lips parted at the unfamiliar sensation.

She felt his finger slide slowly out of her and back in and she groaned at the delicious frustration he was evoking within her. He slipped one of his legs underneath hers and nudged her knee upwards, bending it, affording him better access. A second finger joined the first and she had to clutch at the sofa as she felt herself being stretched.

All thoughts of keeping her ragged breathing under control and less audible were lost as Mamoru built up a steady rhythm with his fingers. She opened her eyes as she felt his lips against her shoulder. She hadn't even realised she'd closed them.

She raised her left arm and cupped his cheek, pulling his head up towards her. Their lips met and their teeth clashed briefly as she gasped into his mouth at a particularly forceful thrust from Mamoru. He half-groaned, half-growled in response, sliding his fingers out of her and pulling away. She instantly felt the absence and a disappointed, slightly frustrated moan passed her lips.

Her eyes followed his hands as they dropped to his waist. She noted the wetness on his fingers as he hurriedly unfastened the button of his jeans and unzipped them. She flushed further, if that were at all possible, at the realisation that it was her wetness.

He awkwardly slid his jeans and underwear down his hips, which was more than a little difficult with the way he was half-lying next to her. Haruka didn't really notice though. Her eyes were focused on Mamoru's straining arousal. Without thinking, she reached out, her right hand brushing against the hot, hard flesh. He jerked at her unexpected touch, following with a throaty groan as she wrapped her fingers around him. He was more aroused than she had thought. As she slid her hand up and down his shaft, she felt him throb against her.

She glanced up at his face as she continued her rhythmic motion. Her lips parted at the sight. He had closed his eyes and leant his head back slightly, the muscles of his neck taut. He looked more at ease, in a way, than she had ever seen him before. His mouth opened a little, his breath coming more quickly, his fingers feeling along the sofa until he found her hair, curling into it tightly.

She squeezed her fingers together a little more as she kept up the steady pace, but Mamoru suddenly grabbed her arm and pulled her hand away from him.

"Fuck," he growled, breathing heavily, lifting one of her legs and slipping between her thighs. He took a hold of her hips and lifted her easily, sliding her further down the couch, so she bumped into his legs. She let out a slight squeak, taken completely by surprise. Towering over her, he put his weight on one hand by the side of her head, catching the underside of her knee with his shoulder, bending her leg.

His free hand slid down her stomach, catching on the fabric of her underwear and sliding them down her thighs. The cool air hit her and she suddenly realised how wet she had really become. She sucked in a deep breath, holding it as his fingers stroked over her vulva, teasing around her moist entrance.

His fingers left her skin and she let out her breath in a shuddering exhale. She peered down and saw his hand wrap around himself, stroking firmly twice before lowering his hips towards her.

Her hands slid up the solid muscles of his arms and gripped his shoulders tightly as she felt his hardness pressing strongly against her. She bucked her hips a little in frustration as he paused. A fleeting thought passed through her hazy mind. She knew she should probably be a little scared right now. It was her first time, yet that feeling had been completely dampened by the overwhelming need to feel Mamoru inside of her.

"Take it easy," he hissed at her as she bucked her hips again. "I'm trying to be gentle. You're not making it easy."

Her breath hitched as she took in his clenched jaw muscles. He was restraining himself, she realised.

"Please," she gasped. "I need you." She panted for breath briefly. "I need to feel you-"

She moaned as she felt him slide inside of her with a slow thrust, obviously not needing any more encouragement. He pulled out without entering more than halfway before thrusting back in again. She could feel him stretching her as he pushed further inside, but it didn't feel uncomfortable, far from it.

Her fingers tightened on his shoulders as he settled into a slow, steady rhythm, her knuckles whitening. He was sending small tremors of pleasure through her groin and into her gut.

She arched into his touch as his hand glided over her breast, stopping at her nipple to tease and squeeze it between two fingers.

His thrusts began to pick up speed, combining with a sense of urgency. His hand dropped away from her breast, planting itself on the sofa to the side of her ribs as he leant forward, his head resting against the crook of her neck. She could feel his hot breath panting against her skin as he drove into her deeply. She gasped and instinctively met the thrust with her hips.

He seated himself fully inside her again, and again, eliciting half moans from her lips. She felt sweat beading on her skin as she gasped for air. Her mind was a complete blur, unable to form coherent thoughts, only able to focus on the very real, very vivid sensations she was experiencing.

She pried her fingers away from his shoulders, sliding them under his arms and over his back, feeling the way he moved as he thrust harder into her, faster now. One hand drifted lower, over the curve of his rear, the muscles firm beneath her touch.

He groaned into her neck, sending shivers skittering across her skin. Arching her back, she pushed into his movements, wanting to feel more of him. Their bodies slipped and slid against each other, the slapping of skin against skin and their stifled moans and groans, the only sounds in the room.

The sensations he was coaxing out of her were intensifying and she wasn't sure how much longer she could take it.

"Mam-" she had to pause, gasping for breath as he thrust into her just as she spoke. "Mamoru, please..." She had no idea what she was even asking for.

Mamoru seemed to know though, as he shifted his weight more onto his hands, affording him better leverage to pick up his pace. He had lifted his head and she was now staring deeply into his slightly narrowed, sightless eyes.

Her vision soon faded as her eyes fluttered shut, feeling her body tense against the frenzied onslaught. She soon adjusted to the change in speed, matching his thrusts with ones of her own, letting out little moaning gasps every time she felt him jar against her.

It didn't take long for the delightful feelings of pleasure to start spiralling out of control. She knew her climax was coming swiftly and she gripped onto Mamoru tightly as he sent her over the edge. A guttural sound rumbled in the back of his throat as she felt every one of her muscles snap taut and she jerked against him. She had never felt anything quite like the sensation that washed over her. It felt as if all of her nerve endings had shorted out, like her body would no longer respond to her commands. She shuddered uncontrollably as several more waves of ecstasy surged through her.

Her eyes opened slowly and, as the blanket of white began to recede from her mind, she realised she was still clutching onto Mamoru tightly, probably painfully. He didn't seem to notice as a hiss escaped through his teeth and he jolted abruptly, pulling out of her. She felt his muscles contract beneath her hands and a low, deep moan passed over his lips, his eyes closing. His chest heaved against her own as a tremble shook his body. She gasped a little in surprise as she felt an unexpected warmth spread over her stomach.

His head fell to her neck again and he panted against her, relaxing slowly. Her own breathing was beginning to slow down as her climax ebbed away, leaving a dull throb around her groin. She relaxed her hands and slid them up Mamoru's body, entwining her fingers in his sweat-dampened hair. His body radiated warmth, matching her own.

She realised that his arms were shaking ever so slightly, that he was still supporting his weight on his hands. If he felt anything like she did at that moment, like a mass of jelly, then it was taking him a considerable amount of effort to stop from slumping against her. She tried shifting underneath him, to allow him to lie down, which was more difficult than she had imagined, with him still pinning her leg with his shoulder.

She managed to twist onto her side slightly, nudging him towards the back of the sofa. He half-rolled, half-slid off of her, releasing her leg, which she straightened with relief. Her hand shot down between their bodies as she felt wetness streaming down her stomach towards the sofa cushions. She wrinkled her nose slightly as she intercepted the semi-viscous fluid before it pooled onto the material of the couch. She was far too satiated and exhausted to feel embarrassed after realising what it actually was.

Deciding to keep her hand where it was, she looked over at Mamoru. His eyes were still closed as he lay next to her, his breathing becoming more steady. After a moment, he pulled the arm that was still splayed across her, back towards himself. He paused briefly as his fingers drifted across the skin of her face. They lingered on her cheek and brushed softly against her bottom lip before his hand returned to his side.

They lay there, next to each other, for a while. Haruka wasn't too sure how much time had passed. She had felt her eyelids getting heavy, and they had actually closed once or twice, before she caught herself and opened them again. She felt utterly worn-out, but it was a good sort of tiredness and she didn't particularly want to fight against it.

She opened her eyes, realising that she had been dozing off again, when she felt Mamoru move beside her. He carefully stretched over her, placing his foot on the floor in front of the sofa, shifting his weight and pushing himself to a standing position. Her eyes followed him as he pulled his jeans up his hips and fastened the button, then the zip. She rolled over to face him and he glanced in her direction.

"I thought you were asleep," he said in a hushed tone.

"No..." she replied, groggily.

He crouched down and his hand felt along the carpet until his fingers came into contact with his sunglasses. He slid them on.

"You're getting better at masking your body language."

"Masking?" she echoed. "It wasn't intentional."

He straightened up, gazing down at her, sliding his hands into his pockets. He frowned slightly.

"Oh, yeah." He pulled one hand from his pocket, holding a wrapped box. "This is for you."

He held it out towards her. A gift? With a good deal of effort, she pushed herself to a sitting position, swinging her legs off of the sofa, thankful that the evidence of Mamoru's gratification had mostly dried already. She took the small box from his extended hand, peering at it. The white glossy paper was a little dishevelled and the gold ribbon that was wrapped around it was fairly squashed, but that didn't stop the smile that spread across her face.

"What is it?" she asked, not really expecting an answer. It was one of those questions which automatically slipped out in a situation like this.

"I'm not too familiar with this present thing, but I reckon opening it would help to answer that."

She rolled her eyes at him before slipping a nail under a fold of the paper and running her finger along the seam. It tore at the corner and she continued to unwrap the gift, sliding a velvet covered box from the opening she had just created. She raised an eyebrow. Jewellery?

Carefully opening the lid of the box, it snapped to an upright position, revealing a delicate looking necklace. Her mouth dropped open. It was beautiful. The slender chain looked to be made from white gold and the ornament that hung from it was in the design of a Journey Pendant. She glanced up at the swordsman. Mamoru had actually bought her a Journey Pendant?

"What?" he asked her, as she continued to stare at him.

"Um... I'm a little speechless."

"Don't take it the wrong way. I got it for practical reasons."

"Practical reasons?" she asked, her eyebrows arching.

"Yeah. It has a communications device embedded into it, so you can contact me in emergencies. Like those glasses you used to have."

She peered back down at the necklace. She couldn't see anything that looked out of place, but then again if Igawa had designed the technology, which he more than likely would have, that wasn't all that surprising.

She returned her attention to Mamoru. "But... the design?"

His lips twitched slightly as he knelt down in front of her, placing his knees on either side of her legs. He took a hold of the necklace and lifted it from the box. Unclasping it, he held it before her.

"I thought it was fitting. Giving it to someone you've already spent years with helps remind them of the times they've been through, both the good and bad. It also represents a commitment to the future."

He reached around behind her neck and fastened the two ends in place, gently freeing her hair from the chain before leaning back again.

"What were the words you used? Until death do us part, right?" A smile pulled at his lips. It had the hints of one of his usual, cheeky smirks, but it was definitely an honest smile.