Author's Note: This one is from Kazehaya's point of view, because what with the manga being mostly from Sawako's point of view, we pretty much know where she is emotionally...and because this was one place where I think that Kazehaya's mental state is way more fun to play with. ^_^

Warning: Spoilers up to chapter 71.

Christmas Eve: Precious

By the time that Shouta remembered that breathing was a little bit important and maybe he should pull back, he had lost track of how many times he had pulled away and kissed Sawako again. He couldn't remember deciding to kiss her in the first place—just that he'd clearly been doing everything wrong, and hadn't known what to do except what he'd been trying so hard to stop himself from doing.

"I-" Shouta swallowed and looked away, because with her eyes heavy-lidded, her lips swollen and red, looking at her was like submitting to the gravity that was Sawako and would inevitably lead to more kissing. "I'm sorry, I-"

"No, I- Sorry?" There was alarm in Sawako's tone, and Shouta looked back at her. Her eyes were wide and he wondered how anyone was able to look at her and think of anything but her.

"I mean- I didn't mean to-" He stopped and looked at her.

Sawako blinked, her eyes still wide and maybe a little bit frightened. Shouta closed his eyes briefly and tried to recall the conversation that had led to this situation.

"You..." He opened his eyes and stared at Sawako incredulously. "You thought I didn't love you anymore?"

"Well...I..." she was looking anywhere but at him, fidgeting and wringing her hands—a picture of guilt. Regret sliced through Shouta.

"I think I need to sit down for a minute." And sit down he did, in the snow at the side of the road.

"Um...Kazehaya-kun?" Sawako was staring at him. Shock was better than guilt, Shouta decided.

"I'm sorry," he apologized. "Just—give me a moment. I need to...to get things straight in my own mind."

As far as Shouta was concerned, everything had been perfectly alright between them except for his unreasonable desire to hold Sawako, to touch her. And so in order to avoid temptation, he had...

Ah. But Sawako couldn't have known that he was avoiding temptation, so it would have seemed like a withdrawal, wouldn't it? How had he missed that? Right—he had been avoiding temptation. Which hadn't exactly worked out in the end, either.

He looked up at Sawako, who was peering down at him nervously and looking as though ten worst case scenarios were running through her head at once.

"First things first," Shouta said. "I love you. More than ever."

"Oh," said Sawako, and the blush which had been receding from her face came back in full force. "I- I love you too."

Her words combined with the sincerity of her expression made Shouta's heart skip about three beats, and he had to look away to catch his breath.

"I'm sorry I made you worry," he continued, meeting her eyes again. "I'm really, truly sorry—I know that it's no excuse, but I was all caught up in my own problems and it didn't even occur to me... I should have considered your feelings. I'm sorry I made you feel alone. I never wanted you to..." he trailed off and looked away, feeling like a complete jerk. What kind of boyfriend was he, to be so completely incapable of considering what his girlfriend must be feeling?

"I love you," he said again, somewhat desperately, because it seemed like the most important thing to get across. More than anything else, it irked him to know that he had let her believe that his feelings were diminishing. It was unforgivable. "I love you, I love you, I love you!"

Sawako's face turned a darker and darker shade of red with each reiteration, but after the last one, all at once her face relaxed and she offered him one of her brightest smiles. Relief washed over him so intensely that he was thankful he was already sitting, or else his knees would almost certainly have given out. Sawako knelt in the snow beside him and bowed her head.

"I'm sorry I doubted you," she said seriously, and Shouta hastily protested.

"No! No, you have nothing to apologize for! This was all my fault—I was..." He licked his lips and swallowed, and then pushed forward. "I wanted to treasure you."

Sawako looked up at him and blinked. "Treasure...me?"

"Yes! I wanted to love you without imposing kisses or touches or... But I was tempted whenever we were alone together, so I was trying to avoid that."

Sawako was staring at him, and Shouta had to avert his eyes. After a moment's silence, he heard her shift in the snow.

"Is kissing and touching not treasuring that person?"

The question was so sincere, so soft, that it threw Shouta for a loop and it took him a moment to put himself back together enough to find an answer.

"Well...it can be? But I mean...I didn't want to pressure you. I wanted to go slowly, savoring each step..."

"I felt very treasured just now," said Sawako, and when Shouta looked at her she was smiling again. "Your k-kisses were...gentle, and careful, and loving, and with each one I felt more loved. When you told me you loved me afterwards, it was—I mean, it was wonderful, to hear the words from you, but your kisses felt...more. And it's not like you- I mean I- I wanted you to kiss me..."

Shouta's heart was trying to beat its way out of his chest, and he was certain that his mind was twisting that somehow to interpret it the way it was.

"That makes me want to kiss you again," he said carefully, watching Sawako's expression for any hint of unease.

But for all that her blush deepened again, her whole expression seemed to relax. "Please do," she replied, her face flaming.

Shouta brought his hand to her cheek and leaned across the gap between them. Their lips met again, and Sawako's hands came up to grip his shoulders. He pulled away briefly and this time she leaned up to kiss him again, and Shouta responded for a few moments before pulling away and resting his forehead against hers, his thumb stroking her soft cheek.

"I know I said we wouldn't do Christmas alone...but would you like to do it tomorrow?"

A tear leaked out of Sawako's eye, and Shouta brushed it away with his thumb. His heart was in his throat: it was too late now, she would do Christmas with her family-

"I can probably come out in the afternoon for an hour or two," Sawako said. Shouta's heart leapt. "Would that be alright?"

"Yes," said Shouta, and pressed his lips to hers again, briefly. "Yes, that's more than alright. I'll make up for making you feel alone, I promise."

"Just seeing you for a few minutes tomorrow would be enough for that," said Sawako shyly.

Shouta jolted to his feet. He reached out a hand and helped Sawako up as well. Without a word he led her down the road homewards. He was afraid that if he started kissing her again they might spend the rest of the night kissing by the side of the road.

"I'll give you your present tomorrow," said Shouta after a moment. "I want to give it to you with a happy memory."

"Tonight is a very, very happy memory!" Sawako insisted. "I learned how much you treasure me, and how much you were trying for my sake. I don't need any other Christmas present; I'm already so happy that I think I might drown in happiness."

"Please don't," said Shouta, but some of his guilt had just fallen away at those words. "And I want to give you your present anyway. Just—tomorrow."

"Then I'll give you yours tomorrow, too," smiled Sawako. Shouta squeezed her hand a little tighter—and she squeezed back.