After the graduation ceremony, Sousuke and Kaname walked hand in hand back to her apartment. Neither of them had spoken a word since leaving the school, as if opening their mouths would break down the dam and drown them both in all of the things they had been storing up for the last year. Instead, they just squeezed each other’s hands as they walked, both of them unable to let go now that they were finally together again. The combination created a tension that was so thick it was almost suffocating.
When they reached her apartment building, she didn’t ask if he wanted to come in with her. Somehow, even unspoken, they both understood that he would be coming inside and he wouldn’t leave until they had both said everything that needed saying… even if it took days. It was the only way they would ever really be able to move on and start a life together, and there was nothing in the world she wanted more than that.
They boarded the elevator, but the moment the doors shut, leaving them entirely alone, Kaname had to force herself to stay calm. All she wanted was to throw her arms around him, to bury her face in his neck and cry until she had no more tears left. Could it have been just this morning that she was forcing herself to move on, still in shock over his death? Was she really with him now, or had she finally snapped from all the recent events in her life? His hand in hers felt real enough, but she wouldn’t be sure until she was curled in his arms and listening to what had happened to him during their separation.
The moment they were inside her apartment and had closed the door, she jumped into his arms, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and her legs around his waist. She had been dying to do just this for months now, and finally he was here, and she was here, and they were together. Sousuke didn’t hesitate for a minute in wrapping his own arms around her and holding her tight. Their kiss in the school yard earlier had been a perfect moment, but this closeness had been what they really craved, and now that they were together she didn’t want to let go… and it seemed to her that he felt exactly the same.
“I thought you were dead.” She buried her face in his shoulder as the words escaped with her tears. “I thought I would never see you again! It’s been hell, Sousuke.”
He squeezed his arms tighter around her, pressing a kiss to the side of her face. “I’m here, we’re together. It’s finally over.”
At his comforting words, the sobs began. Her whole body shook with the relief that he was really here, with her, that their own private hell had finally come to an end. She moved one hand to his hair, tangling her fingers in the messy locks she loved so much. He felt so real, so alive. The sobs grew harder until they were wracking her entire body, shaking them both with the force of it.
He rubbed her back with his hands, trying to comfort her as he carried her over to the sofa. He laid them together, side by side, so that his hands could cradle her face as he whispered words of apology over and over. “I should have been stronger, I should have never let him take you in the first place! I’m so sorry, Kaname. I’m so sorry I couldn’t protect you, that I wasn’t able to keep you safe. I’m sorry that my words on the island hurt you… I didn’t mean them, but it was the only way I could think of to bring you back! Dammit, I don’t even deserve your forgiveness, but I’m still so sorry…”
She put her hand over his mouth to stop him from continuing the self-flagellation. “Sousuke, stop. You aren’t the only one at fault, remember? I left with Leonard on my own. I’m the one who betrayed you. You never stopped looking for me, trying to save me and bring me back home. We both need to forgive each other for what happened. We can’t hold grudges against each other or ourselves! Don’t you understand? We’re both alive. I never thought it would happen, but we are. We’re alive and we have each other. It’s more than I dreamed would be possible.”
He crushed her to his chest, pressing a bruising kiss to her forehead. “There are just so many things to say. So many things have happened! I don’t want to keep any of them from you, but I don’t know where to begin…”
“Then let me start,” she suggested. “My story is bound to be shorter than yours.”
He looked like he wanted to argue with her, but he finally sighed and just leaned his forehead against her chest. “Can I ask something first?”
What was he thinking? “Of course you can.”
“When… when you left with Leonard, was it because you were scared of me?” The words were stilted as he spoke them, as though he didn’t really want to know the answer, but had to ask.
Her chest ached as she thought back to that day, to the moment she had stepped up and told Leonard that she would go with him. She had done it to save Sousuke, to keep Leonard from killing him. She had promised to forget her feelings for him and let Leonard win her over… but it had never been possible. Even then, as terrified as she was by the amount of people that Leonard said Sousuke had killed, her heart still belonged to him. She had never had a choice in the matter.
“He resonated with me,” she whispered into his hair. “He showed me the AS battle the two of you were having and he said that if you kept fighting you wouldn’t last long. I knew that it was a betrayal of your trust, of your feelings for me, but I had to save you. If I had lost you then…”
Kaname’s body shook as she thought about it, about how suicidal she had already been after betraying him. If she hadn’t saved him, if he had died and then Leonard took her, how much worse would it have been? She doubted she would have had the strength to keep living with herself.
“You weren’t trying to get away from the monster you thought I was?” He sounded surprised.
“No!” She pulled his face up to hers, forcing him to look her in the eyes. “Sousuke… no. It wasn’t like that. I can’t say I wasn’t scared by what he had said, but I was more terrified of losing you. Nothing could be worse than knowing I’d never see you again. Nothing.”
She was staring into his dark gray eyes, begging him to understand how she felt. Just this morning she had been struggling to come to terms with the loss of him, and hadn’t been able to do it. Even knowing there was no way he could have survived, she still couldn’t make herself accept his death or move on. How could it be that he couldn’t see what a mess she was without him?
Sighing, he dropped his eyes from hers. “I wish I could change my past for you, Kaname, to be the kind of man you deserve. I’ve done terrible things, things no human being should ever have to do or see. I’m not trying to ask you to forgive me for them, I’m just hoping you can accept that I’ll try to become the man you need.”
Tears filled her eyes and splashed onto her cheeks in fat droplets. It was just like him to take everything on himself, even when she was the one with the problem. She knew that she could have changed his past, could have made everything the way he wished it was… but she hadn’t wanted that. If he had just been a normal boy in her class, if he hadn’t been so strange and protective, he wouldn’t have been himself. Their experiences together meant more to her than anything, but how could she tell him that without explaining what had happened in the Taros? It was probably time to get it all off her chest, but where to start?
“How much time do you have here with me?” She supposed that was the most important question to get out of the way. When would he be taken from her? When would Mithril need him again and send him somewhere she couldn’t follow?
He shrugged, a half smile on his lips. “For the first time in my life, I have all the free time I could ever want.”
“What?” Surely she had misheard him. Sousuke was always on a schedule, always had a duty to fulfill. Was he teasing her? “Did Mithril give you leave because of everything that happened?”
“I’m not a mercenary anymore,” he said simply, wrapping his arms tighter around her waist. “Mithril no longer exists. I have no job, no place to live, no future. I’m just an ex-military nut who wants to graduate high school at your side.”
Her eyes were wide at his admission. He really wasn’t going back? Somehow she hadn’t expected that answer.Sousuke had always been so focused on his mission, his duty. Who would he be without all of that? Would he still be the same boy that stole her heart? Would she be enough to keep him happy? His announcement had given her too many questions and not enough answers. She didn’t even know how to respond.
“Are you sure that’s what you want? Any organization in the world would be desperate for someone with your skills…”
He shook his head and cupped her face in his hands. “All I want is a life with you, one with no weapons or war. I want to watch over you for the rest of our lives.”
“But…” His words were exactly what she wanted to hear, but they didn’t sound like him. Could he really be happy living a boring, peaceful life with her? It scared her to think just how much she wanted all of that, how much it would hurt if it wasn’t enough.
Narrowing his eyes at her, he pulled away as much as the sofa would allow him without falling off the edge. Sousuke swore and clenched his jaw, a look of agony crossing his handsome face. “That isn’t what you want, is it? I can’t believe I didn’t realize it. You’re relieved that I’m alive, but…” He hesitated, a frown pulling at the corners of his mouth, “you don’t feel the same way about me anymore. Do you?”
She blanched, confusion filling her head with fog. What was he talking about? “I don’t understand what you mean...”
“Just be honest with me, Kaname. Are you holding me so tight right now because you feel guilty about everything that’s happened, or do you need to hear what I have to say because you want a life with me? I need to know. You said after our kiss that you wanted me to stay by your side… was that out of guilt or love?”
Pain shot through her like a sucker punch to the gut. Did he really believe she could ever stop loving him? He was as integral to her as breathing. It was why his death had been so hard on her, because she was forcing herself to move on, even knowing she was dead right along with him.
Of course, she couldn’t really blame him. Months ago, back when they were in Russia, he had finally come out and actually said to her face the words that she had been waiting to hear, that he loved her. Immediately after hearing it she had shot Tessa and then turned her gun on him as well. It hadn’t exactly given him any reason to believe she still loved him. Especially coupled with the way she had always treated him… how could he have believed she had ever loved him to begin with?
But even though she knew what her answer was, she couldn’t seem to make herself say the words. Besides, what was love anyway? After what they had been through together, did that word even mean anything? What she felt for him was so much bigger than a single word. He was her protector, her hero, the man who had gone to the literal ends of the Earth to make sure she had a normal life. He had killed countless people to save her, had died himself and come back who knew how many times. What word could possibly encompass the entirety of what he meant to her? He was every good thing in her life, because he had given his for hers selflessly. All she knew was that a life without him was empty, and she was terrified to ever take her eyes off of him again. She just wanted to spend the rest of her life in his arms, letting him protect her and the family they would someday have together.
When she didn’t answer him right away, when the minutes trickled by in silence, she felt him stiffen beside her and he let out a pained sigh. “Right, I guess I understand. We’ve both been through a lot, we’ve both changed and maybe it was never meant to be. I’m sorry, I won’t bother you again, Chidori…”
Her brain struggled to catch up with what was happening, to keep Sousuke at her side as he was untangling himself from her. “No, wait! Don’t go! I’m… Sousuke, I’m trying to find the right words. Just give me a minute.”
“If it’s this hard to say, I already know the answer.” The pain in his voice was palpable, she could feel it clawing at the inside of her chest, suffocating her. She held him tighter in order to keep him with her. He couldn’t leave before she explained herself!
“You don’t understand!” Tears streamed down her cheeks as she clutched his wrist in her hand, her nails digging into his skin. “My father ‘loved’ my mother, and he was never around. ‘Love’ is a stupid word that anyone can say to someone they have the barest feelings for and it doesn’t mean anything! What I feel for you… there isn’t a word for it. When I was in Mexico with Leonard? I was suicidal. I didn’t want to live knowing that I had betrayed you, that you would never protect me again. I didn’t feel like I had any right to judge the things you had done when I was such a cruel, heartless person myself. When I knew you were coming, that you were so close to me, that you had come to rescue me… I actually shot Leonard in order to see you. I was willing to kill someone to be with you again! How can a word as common as ‘love’ define that?”
Kaname was hoarse when she was done. She had all but screamed at him in her desperation for him to understand what he meant to her. If she lost him now, what was the point of everything they went through? They had only shared one kiss, but she knew without a doubt that he was the only man she would want for the rest of her life. She wanted to marry him, to have children with him, to share every single up and down moment of their lives together. Would her words be enough to make him understand that?
She sighed, letting go of his hand now that she had said her piece. “Look, Sousuke, even knowing all of that, I was still going to try and move on without you after I thought you had died. I was determined to make your sacrifice worth it and not give up. The thing is, I could have lived without you, but it will be so much better if I can share it all with you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
She had barely finished her admission when Sousuke pressed his lips to hers and began kissing her in earnest. It took her off guard for a moment, but she didn’t waste time in kissing him back. Her fingers slid into his hair and held his head to hers, moving her lips over his with a fierce passion that matched her words. His hands moved to her hips and brought her against his body, until they were as close as they could be without crawling inside each other’s skin. She sighed in relief and joy, this was what she had been waiting for. His warmth, his touch, his all consuming love… it was what she had always needed and never realized.
When he finally let her go, he leaned his forehead against hers, letting his breathing slow before he spoke to her. “Kaname… you may not need me to have a full and fulfilling life, but I do need you. To me, there is no point to a world without you. Even if you’re right, and what we have isn’t love, it’s the only word I have to give you. I love you. You aren’t just the most important person in my world, you are my world. Nothing else matters to me, not even the horrible things we may have done in order to get here. As long as you promise to stay by my side for the rest of our lives, I don’t care if the world falls apart around us. So please… even if you think that love isn’t enough to describe what we have, I still need to hear you say it. Please, tell me you love me, here, now, when the world isn’t ending and it’s finally just us.”
Her heart clenched in her chest and she tightened her grip on him again. How could she deny him when he put it like that? Maybe someday she would find the right word to describe exactly what he meant to her, but for now she couldn’t let him doubt that she was devoted to him. “I love you, Sousuke.”
He let out a ragged breath and kissed her again. “Don’t scare me like that again. I’m not as strong as I used to be.”
“Were you that wounded during all of this?” Her breath caught in her throat and she moved her hands over his chest as if she could feel his scars.
“No,” he said, grabbing one of her hands in his, “it’s not like that. Being in love with you softened my edges, made it harder to do my job. Loving you and protecting you is who I am now. If you had turned me down, I don’t know what I would have done.”
She couldn’t stop the smiled that bloomed on her face, or the tears that swam in her eyes. When had he gotten so romantic? “Trust me, Sousuke, I’ll never let you go. All I want is for us to be together. I’m sorry that you thought otherwise. I just… I’m worried a peaceful life with me won’t be enough for you. I don’t want you to be bored with me.”
He laughed, a sound she had never heard from him before. It was hearty and filled with warm amusement. It suited him in a way she hadn’t expected. “Kaname, a life with you could never be boring. It doesn’t matter if you can’t hear the Whisper anymore.” His fingers brushed against her face, making blood boil under her skin. “You will always make my life interesting.”
Well, in that case…
She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him so close that their lips were almost touching. “Will you kiss me again? The rest can wait a little while longer.”
He smiled and whispered her favorite words against her lips: “It’s not a problem.”
Hours later, as the sun was rising and they spooned together in Kaname’s bed, Sousuke placed a kiss to the side of her neck. They had only just finished catching each other up on the events of the past year, and they were both hoarse and exhausted. They had talked all through the night, him about his travels as he fought to save her and bring her back home, her about her time with Leonard and Sophia. There had been tears as he discussed Nami and his brief consideration of giving up his search for Kaname and staying with her, and even more tears as she had talked about Sophia and what Kaname had done while inhabited by her, but through it all they had held each other tight, refusing to let the past ruin their new future. It had been a painful night, but now it was just another part of their past, and they were ready to move on.
As they watched the sun climb over the horizon and shine its rays on a new day, it was finally still and quiet. Kaname leaned back in his arms, threading her fingers through the hands that rested on her stomach. Sousuke trailed his lips over her neck and shoulder, a lazy, sleepy kind of thing. It was the kind of moment that she hoped they would share every day for the rest of their lives.
“You know, when we were separated, sometimes I would just lie awake and miss you. I would look up at the ceiling and picture us lying in your bed, just like this.” He whispered the words against her neck as he kissed her. Kaname didn’t mind though, this was a different sort of memory than the ones they had spent all night discussing.
“I missed you too. It was hard not knowing where you were or if you were safe,” she admitted with a sigh, feeling sleep start to close in on her.
“It was even harder for me,” he reminded her. “Protecting you is the most important thing to me. Not being able to do that and knowing you were in the enemy’s hands? It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever faced in my life. More terrifying than any mission I’ve ever had. This will probably end up being the best sleep I’ll have had since I lost you.”
That sounded like he was getting ready to leave… she didn’t want that. She wasn’t ready for him to let go of her yet.
“Do you have to go?” She asked with a yawn, hoping he would want to stay and hold her as she slept.
“I haven’t arranged an apartment yet,” he reminded her, pulling her a little tighter against him. “I came straight to Tokyo from Okinawa. I don’t have anywhere else to be.”
“Stay here with me. Move in with me.” The request was barely audible as she balanced on the cusp of sleep. “You promised to stay by my side from now on.”
A long moment of silence followed her words, but before she fell asleep she heard him whisper in her ear: “I’ll never leave you again.”
She nodded off with a smile on her lips.