Notes: This is a bit of self-indulgent sap for my favorite pairing. It was written a while ago, but I'm just uploading a bunch of stuff now. No warnings, unless you're the type who can't stand het... ^^;;;

An Ordinary Man

It was somewhere between 2 and 3 am when he decided that he really, truly was in love with Karen Kasumi.

It had been sneaking up on him for quite some time now, and he'd been pushing it down for just as long. He'd been filing it all away in the back of his mind and trying to forget it was there, the fluttering within him when she flirted with him, the way a smile or a brush of fingertips could set his mind completely off track, the way he thought of her almost as much as he thought of his own family....

He liked her. He respected her. He'd trust her with his life. He supposed that was a form of love, but it was a perfectly innocent and non-romantic love. And if, sometimes, her hair caught the light in such a way that it shimmered beautifully and he was unable to look away, well, that didn't mean anything. She was a lovely, charming woman, and he was a man who'd been away from his wife for too long. It was understandable, nothing to worry about. Perfectly ordinary.

At least, that was what he'd been telling himself. But now, some divine revelation (or perhaps just the natural passage of time) had come upon him, and he knew he couldn't lie to himself anymore. He had dreamed about her. It wasn't the usual sort of dream men had about women they were attracted to, largely made up of illicit fantasies; in fact, he couldn't remember any particular events at all. He couldn't remember anything but her. It was more of a simple memory than a dream, a memory of her eyes, her hair, her smile, her voice. And he had awakened with her on his mind and an overwhelming feeling of...

Of what? Was this really love? The uncertain, exhilarating, terrifying feeling rising within him, was that love? It had never been this way with his wife. His feelings for Shimako had never been anything but stable, a steady, calmly burning candle that lit the way for both of them in life. This, though... this was like an inferno, building, growing, threatening to take over completely. It was confusing, frightening, unneeded, unwanted.

He was enjoying it.

The realization didn't alarm him as much as he would have thought it might. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he was dimly aware of the fact that this was wrong, in a moral sense. But the conscience that usually could not be silenced was subdued, simply a whisper, easy to ignore.

Because it didn't matter-- not now. Because they were two people standing on the precipice of the end of the world, and everything that had mattered before suddenly didn't anymore. He knew he hadn't stopped loving his family, though. Not even for a moment. But somehow he also knew that this was a different kind of love, and that perhaps he needed both to survive. He did not pause to wonder which was the truer love-- that didn't matter either.

She mattered, though. The thought brought a faint smile to his face and a warm feeling to his heart. She mattered to him-- and maybe, just maybe, he mattered to her too. He loved the way she seemed to need him; not in a clingy, desperate way, but just enough to make him feel as if he meant something.

And now, he needed her.

Driven by some force he couldn't quite fathom, he climbed silently out of bed, wrapped a robe around himself, and padded quietly down the hallway to the room she was staying in. Her door was open, as he knew it would be. She claimed it was because she was always so tired when she got home from work that she just collapsed into sleep, not bothering to worry about such things as closing doors, but he thought he knew the real reason. It was her maternal instincts, the need to be able to hear if someone was crying or hurt or sick, the need to be available if someone wanted to talk or needed help in any way. He smiled again, and left the door open as he slipped silently inside.

He'd been in her room before, had shared countless cups of tea with her here, but never while she was asleep. It was strange, the peace and tranquility, when he was so used to hearing this room filled with her laughter and cheerful voice.

It wasn't bad, however, he mused, looking down at her. She looked different in sleep, but that wasn't bad either. Without her golden eyes open and sparkling with wit and experience, she looked younger... vulnerable... innocent. Soft red curls gently fanned out around her face, contrasting with the purity of the white sheets and her pale skin.

She was still beautiful, but in a different way. The woman he knew was exactly like the flames she controlled, impossible to trap, impossible to hold for more than a second without getting burned. As soon as he thought he had her down, she'd dance out of his fingertips and do something else to shock him, shake him out of his convalescence. She never tired of shocking him. Admittedly, it never took very much, not in the heightened state of nervousness he always seemed to be in when he was around her. Sometimes a smile, a wink, a blown kiss was all it took. And on the days when he was feeling bolder, she'd always take it one step farther and manage to coax that reaction out of him anyway, slipping her arm around his shoulders or whispering in his ear or playing with his hair until he would delight her with a blush and a stammer. She was extraordinary, a mystery, and no matter how close he got, he could never get quite close enough.

But this woman, this girl, who was lying calm and silent in slumber, without the crackling flames in her eyes and layers of subtle seduction in her voice... he had a sudden overwhelming instinct to protect this girl, wherever she fit into the puzzle that was Karen Kasumi. He didn't fool himself into thinking this was her true self; she'd seen too much for that, had lived through too much to be truly innocent. He wasn't even sure if he wanted her to be so naive. Her life had somehow taught her kindness, love for all humanity, and he wouldn't dare to take that away from her.

All the same...

She stirred in her sleep, and he tensed, wondering how he'd explain the fact that he was standing here staring at her if she woke up. But with a soft exhalation of breath, she settled back against the pillow and back into a deep sleep. He smiled gently.

Extraordinary. She really was. Strikingly beautiful, incredibly kind and caring, loving and playful and wise. So ironic that he would be the one to fall in love with her, he who would be utterly mediocre and normal and ordinary if he wasn't involved in the end of the world. She was special, and he just wasn't. She often told him he was good-looking, but he wasn't sure if she really meant it or if it was just another way to bring out a reaction from him. He knew he wasn't particularly intriguing; he wasn't a person who turned heads on the street, as he knew Karen was.

But perhaps... perhaps if he could turn just this one head...

He leaned forward, bending over her, and just barely cupped her cheek in his palm, fingertips fluttering against the warmth of her skin. She moved again, breath escaping in a soft murmur, and he was fairly sure she was going to wake up and he was going to be caught in a very odd position, but somehow he didn't care. To his surprise, she didn't awaken, but simply leaned into the gentle touch, and he imagined that he saw the faintest hint of a smile cross her lips.

It was enough. With affection in his eyes, he withdrew his hand from her cheek, pausing only to shift a single curl of reddish-blond hair out of her eyes. He gazed at her for a moment longer, then closed his eyes and softly brushed his lips across her forehead.

He left the room then, returning to his own. His thoughts were still running in circles, but for some reason he felt an underlying mood of peace beneath all the confusion. As long as they were both living, both loving life, there to lean on each other, it would be all right.

Would anything ever come of this? He didn't know. He couldn't even begin to understand the sudden complexity that had deepened their relationship. He didn't even know if she had any feelings for him at all, beyond the strong bonds of friendship.

Could extraordinary and ordinary ever join as one?

Maybe he would find out, and maybe he wouldn't. He closed his eyes, and the last thought he could remember before slipping into a deep and restful sleep was that as long as she was there... as long as she was there, it would be all right.

And in the room across the hall, the one with the door left wide open, the extraordinary woman smiled in her sleep as she dreamed of an ordinary man.

The End