12/03/12

Disclaimer: The characters in this fic, such as Johnny, Shania, etc. don't belong to me; they are property of Nautilus and Midway, so don't sue! ;.;

Dedications: God, my friends, my readers, my RP buddies, Aruze for gracing this magnificent RPG with yet another installment, X-SEED for localizing this game, and finally, all the fans that are still devoted to this series after so long.

Shadow Hearts III: Introduction To Flirting

By Tiger5913

All right! Another real case!

There was a visible bounce of excitement in his step after the young detective hung up the phone and immediately headed for the staircase to tell his partner. A quick glance around his room told him she wasn't there – and then he remembered that she had recently come back from shopping for clothes. He had gone along with her, but the shopkeeper insistently shooed him out, exclaiming that it wasn't proper for men to look at women while they were changing. His mouth outright fell open at her brazen accusation, and if his girlfriend hadn't quietly urged him to return to the agency, he definitely would have stayed there and fought for his innocence. Apparently, the neighborhood lady that once accused him of being a Peeping Tom had shared her opinion with everyone else… and he was just investigating a love affair case at the time, for goodness case!

He heard some shuffling noises coming from the room downstairs next to his study, and realized she must have decided to try on her new clothes. Of course, he was curious to find out what she bought from the shop, considering her unique style of fashion during their journey together – her chosen outfit was for practicality purposes, she had told him long ago. It also had some kind of cultural significance, he could tell, by the design and its similarity to her former guardian's default attire, while differing from that of the tribe in Gada Village. What she wanted to wear was really none of his business, but seeing other guys in the neighborhood leering at his girlfriend and calling out crude comments… that pissed him off to high hell. Had they not been regular, defenseless, albeit stupid humans, he wouldn't have needed to conceal the deadly red light that flared up from his hand whenever he witnessed their vulgar behavior.

In the end, the Garvoy priestess decided to get some new clothes that were "more acceptable to his society" as she had so bluntly stated, though he was quick to protest her intentions. She had pride in her heritage as a Native American, and he didn't want her to feel like she would be forced to discard her identity just because they came from different backgrounds. It didn't help that their status as a couple occasionally turned heads whenever they walked through certain neighborhoods, although the innocent teenager really had no idea what their damn problem was. The concept of interracial relationships didn't make him bat an eye or think twice, as he saw no reason for that to be a factor in preventing two people from being together. His butler, after all, had caught the (possibly romantic) attention of a few ladies in the neighborhood, and they weren't of the same ethnicity either.

Regardless of the underlying stigmata, he was determined not to let something like ignorant intolerance get in the way of the happiness that he shared with his girlfriend. If they said anything of the sort to either of them, he would get all fired up and tell them exactly where they could shove their prejudiced views. Oddly enough, the spiritualist seemed somewhat complacent to the whole thing, choosing to brush off such comments rather than confront the speakers, like he did. The blond teen initially thought he would have to hold her back, stop her from going after them with her tomahawks brandished in fierce intent, and yet, she was the one chastising him for being reckless and impulsive. Her laidback attitude baffled him in this regard, but that was just another fragment of the enigma that made up her entire person, a puzzle of mystery that he needed to continue unraveling over time.

Still beaming with excitement in the present, the vibrant detective stepped off the bottom of the staircase and bound over to the changing curtain in the living room, soundly knocking on it to announce his presence. "Shania, it's me. We just got called for a job over in Harlem. They said there've been monsters attacking at night, and they want us to get rid of 'em. Let's go check it out tonight."

"All right," came her calm response, "I'll be ready by nightfall."

"Okay. We can make a stop in Times Square if we need to stock up on anything."

He was about to turn away and head straight upstairs to start checking on his gear, when he suddenly heard her calling, "Johnny. Can you help me with something?"

"Yeah, sure," he answered quickly, but then hesitated, "Just let me know when you're done changing…"

"No, I need your help right now. Come around the curtain."

"Wh-what?" An obstruction suddenly lodged itself into his throat. "B-but aren't you…?"

Her voice sounded impatient as she bluntly proposed, "Would you rather I ask Lenny instead?"

Johnny Garland frowned and bravely puffed out his chest, all the while mentally commanding himself to get it together – if Shania needed his help, then he was going to do whatever he could for her, state of undress be damned. No way would he let his butler do something like this in his place.

"Heck no!" He boldly declared, trying not to betray his timidity, "All right then… I'm coming in."

Thank goodness they weren't at the clothing store, or that nosy shop lady would have definitely said something about this being inappropriate…

In spite of his valiant claim, Johnny purposely positioned one hand over the top of his eyes as he stepped around the curtain. Not that he really wanted to shield his potentially-naked girlfriend from view, but she might become angry with him if he got too distracted ogling her. He kept attempting to convince himself that it was no big deal, even if he did happen to catch sight of Shania only partially dressed. She didn't consider nudity to be shameful – probably an attribute of her culture – and she obviously trusted him not to act like a horny idiot that would pounce on her if given the opportunity. Not that Johnny had only pure thoughts centered on her, but he was careful to keep himself in check so she wouldn't find out about certain needs and desires that he buried deep down inside.

Shania was standing in front of the full-length mirror, glaring at her reflection with annoyance as her hands were behind her back, clearly fumbling. His first inclination was to ask her what was wrong, but it took only a couple of seconds to divert him from that intent.

The lithe blonde was clad in just her underwear.

Oh, man…!

Johnny immediately turned his burning face away and pressed his hand more tightly against his forehead as his eyes squeezed shut on instinct. Too late, the image of her almost nude body was now permanently etched into his mind, eager to emerge behind his closed twin lids as a deliciously amorous distraction. Even though the fierce priestess often stripped off her clothes to fuse with her spirits back when they were journeying together, he had been so involved in the fights that he didn't get a very good look at her. With nothing else to distract him at present, his imagination was already starting to run wild from that brief glimpse alone – and just her backside! Naturally, he had to wonder about her front side as well, especially certain areas that he felt drawn toward, since their initial meeting…

How in the world was he supposed to continue sleeping platonically beside his enticing girlfriend, without giving into one of countless urges to touch her?

Get a hold of yourself… Johnny silently chastised, shaking his head for much needed emphasis. It's just underwear… That's right, Shania asked for help…

A long while passed before he exhaled and finally opened his eyes to hesitantly shift his gaze in her direction, quickly realizing that Shania was struggling with something. As both concern and curiosity took over to replace his timidity, the young detective stared and mused in silence, while his hand gradually lowered from his forehead. Strips of red lace ran down her shoulders and across her back, and he chanced a brief glimpse into the mirror to catch sight of two cups covering her breasts, with a very tiny and short strap in the middle. This foreign article didn't look anything like her usual chest binding; rather, it was some kind of wired undergarment that women used for supporting their bosom, a growing fashion trend supposedly originating in France, from what he had recently read.

Johnny tried not to appreciate the view for too long before he voiced in inquiry, "H-hey… What do you need help with?"

"I'm trying to figure out how to put this thing on," she replied, her hands moving around behind her back, "the lady at the shop said, all women should wear this garment during the day. It's supposed to hold up my breasts and provide support for my back."

Pink dashed across his pale cheeks at her forward statement, despite his own brash nature. Even for as long as he had known Shania, witnessing different facets of her personality throughout their journey together and afterward, her bluntness still surprised him from time to time.

…Actually, pretty often, now that he thought about it.

"Uh… yeah, I've heard that too," the blushing blond responded, awkwardly scratching the back of his head, "I think it's called a bra? Something like that…"

"She called it a brassiere," she answered in an offhand manner, "Maybe that's a shorter name. Really, they should've just designed the enclosure to be in front…"

"Right, they should have," he agreed absently, "So… umm… You mind if I take a closer look?"

She shook her head and her hands fell away.

Johnny swallowed nervously before stepping toward his girlfriend, and leveled his gaze with the long, broken horizontal strap that ran across her back. He guessed that the two ends were supposed to meet in the middle and close together somehow, but he couldn't decipher the mechanics just by sight alone.

He started to reach toward her, thought about it, and paused to ask, "C-can I touch it?"

The tentative teenager could swear that he detected a mischievous smile in her tone when she granted permission, "Yes."

Johnny couldn't decide if he was really lucky, or royally screwed.

"Okay, let's see…" he picked up both ends with trembling hands, and then carefully inspected the undersides, quickly discovering, "Oh, there are some hooks on this end. And the other side has holes in it…"

Through the reflection of the mirror, Shania watched him with curiosity, but stayed quiet as he continued working out the foreign mechanism. His attention now fully focused on the task instead of admiring her bountiful assets, he hooked the two ends together and then undid them, repeating the process several times to get the hang of it.

"Huh… So that's how it works… Cool." He grinned; fortunately, his fingers had stopped shaking after his mind shifted gears. "Hey Shania, gimme your hands. Reach back here."

She complied, slender fingers blindly bumping into his forearms. "Like this?"

"Yeah," he answered as he carefully placed her hands where his had just been, and then started demonstrating while reciting instructions, "There're three hooks on one end, and three holes on the other. You hook 'em together like this… or move them apart like this, when you wanna take the bra off… and that's it!"

Johnny took a step back to assess the situation, feeling rather proud of himself for figuring out a contraption that apparently stumped so many guys, from the talk he had heard while wandering through some neighborhoods. What was the big deal? Undoing a bra wasn't hard at all. They were either dumb, or never even got the chance to see one before, despite their claims of "scoring" with this girl and that girl. His relationship with Shania was no secret, and other guys always seemed to assume that they were already having sex, citing her clothing choice as the main reason. On more than one occasion, he had tried to explain why she wore that particular outfit, but they accused him of making excuses. Honestly, he was just waiting for the day when an idiot or two stepped out of line, so he could shut them up in the only way that they were capable of understanding.

"You got it?" He piped up curiously, while watching her fingers tightly grip onto the ends.

She mimicked his actions, and nodded after a few successful attempts. "Yes. Thank you."

Still grinning, the blond teen casually waved a hand. "No problem. Well, uh… Guess I should get going, then…"

"All right. I won't take much longer," his girlfriend assured him as she bent down to retrieve something red-colored from a bag on the floor, "I just want to try on this one dress."

"A dress?" He echoed, unable to keep astonishment out of his voice. From her tough-as-nails exterior, he really didn't think she was the type to wear frilly or dainty articles like dresses… not that he would object to it if she wanted to, of course. "You got a dress, Shania? Wow. Can I see it?"

"If you want," she replied in an eased tone, and further revealed, "I bought several dresses from that shop. It was the most common choice of clothing for women. I noticed the majority of women in your culture wear dresses, similar to my tribe."

"Unless they were hunters, right?" The attentive youth eagerly inputted in recollection of the conversation they once had on the subject, "Because dresses aren't easy to move in."

"Mmm," the Garvoy warrior confirmed with a slight nod.

Even as a grin creased his lips at the intriguing prospect, Johnny still bashfully turned his head away for a few minutes, out of respect for her privacy. When he heard a light swoosh of material gliding down over bare skin, he waited a moment longer, and then turned to face her expectantly.

Just to have his mouth promptly drop open.

Shania was now wearing a negligée.

A flowing, partially sheer negligée with a delicate pattern of lace and beads that did absolutely nothing to hide the generous curves of her body – it was more revealing than her usual combat outfit, and much more damned distracting to boot. Hungrily, his gaze scoured along her form at a leisure pace, bright green eyes sharpening with acute awareness as he absorbed each titillating trait. The straps that encircled her shoulders were thinner than the ones from her bra, with the red color nicely accentuating the dark tone of her skin. The bottom portion of her gown was a lighter shade of rosy tint, and billowed around her lean thighs, the bottom edge ending just above her knees. Apparently oblivious to his reaction, Shania had her head down and was busily smoothing out the wispy material, occasionally picking off small pieces of stray threads.

Her natural beauty was undeniable, but with this… she could tie any hot-blooded man around her finger, wearing an outfit like that. For a few fleeting seconds, Johnny saw himself crouched down on his knees before her, in shameless worship of his goddess.

Holy… cow…

After finally coming to his senses, the stunned blond reeled back in pure shock and ran right into the changing curtain, falling right down on his butt with a surprised yelp. His clamorous reaction instantly drew Shania's attention to him, and she dashed over to his side, looking concerned.

"Johnny?" She knelt by him and reached a hand toward his shoulder. "Are you all right?"

He winced and rubbed his head, grumbling with mild annoyance, "Yeah, I'll live…"

"…"

Then he realized just how close they were to each other, his girlfriend still donning that very enticing thin gown, and he immediately scrambled back to hit the hard curtain behind him, once again. "Ow! Son of a-!"

The priestess frowned in confusion. "Is something wrong?"

"N-no!" He frantically waved his hands at her. "I-it's just… Ah… Shania, why the heck are you wearing that?"

Her stern expression quickly deepened with clear displeasure. "Do you not like seeing me in a dress?"

"Th-that's not a dress! It's lingerie!"

Shania tilted her head slightly and repeated the foreign word, sounding mystified, "Lawn-ger-ray…?"

Johnny wasn't finished with his heated outburst, continuing to gush, "You weren't thinking of wearing that outside, were you? Hell, if those other guys saw you in this, they'd do more than just yell out catcalls! They're probably gonna slip and crash on their own drool!"

She crossed her arms over her chest, now seeming exasperated. "Johnny, there's no need for histrionics. If you don't like this dress, just tell me, and I'll get rid of it."

Oh, crap. Shania was getting mad, and for all the wrong reasons. Her confusion really wasn't her fault, but he honestly doubted he had enough knowledge to explain this particular subject to her either, considering his own inexperience.

Then again… who else could tell her? Random housewives in the neighborhood? The other guys who lusted after her? Not a chance. Lenny? Natan, if he actually knew about this aspect? It wasn't very likely. Johnny had satisfied many of his curiosities through reading, and observing others, although there were still many things he didn't know. He could completely empathize with Shania's understandable bewilderment, and didn't want to leave her in the dark, like he had been, for the longest time. People often commented on his innocence, as if it was some marvelous miracle to live in New York City and not carry the same murky cynicism as most others. He wasn't stupid or uneducated, and yet, could easily come off as ignorant with regards to some of the seedier topics that were passed around in whispers.

Determined to shine some light on the cultural enigma for his girlfriend's sake, the blond teen took a moment to exhale heavily and steel himself for the incoming awkward conversation. "No, wait. It's not that I don't like it. You look… uh…" he hurriedly grasped for a praise that wouldn't offend her, "really pretty."

By her expression, Shania didn't appear to believe him, and evidently chose not to respond to his compliment.

He raised his hands in defensive surrender, while fervently praying he wasn't digging himself even deeper into the hole. "Just hear me out. This… kind of dress isn't for outdoors. It's supposed to be worn inside a house, at night. Like, for… sleeping."

Sleeping. Right. Maybeafterward

Johnny had to chase those licentious thoughts away from his overactive imagination, before they could fully form.

"…Is that it?" There was still tension on her face. "So, this is a nightgown. It's nothing to get all excited over. Why did you react so strongly?"

He groaned inwardly and cursed the shop lady for not being forthcoming about the intent of that particular type of attire, thereby taking advantage of his girlfriend's cultural innocence. And excited – Shania just had to use that fitting word, didn't she? Worse yet, he had to go into further explanation now.

Awaker grunted with disdain inside his mind, clearly not understanding all the unnecessary fuss. His helpful suggestion was to push the voluptuous female down onto the floor, shove that flimsy gown up around her waist, and rip off the little red nuisance blocking the way to–

Shut the hell up-! Johnny heatedly shot back in reply, and then waited another minute or two to carefully gather his thoughts together.

"Because lingerie is… a special kind of nightgown," he began hesitantly, "Women usually wear it to… uh…"

"Wear it to do what?" She prompted with impatience, obviously urging him to stop stalling.

"T-to… seduce their men, their lovers…" he finally croaked out, feeling his throat inexplicably tighten after uttering one specific word.

Grimacing, Johnny looped a finger into the collar of his shirt and tugged outward, trying to loosen the invisible restriction that was steadily increasing his unease. How did the room get so damned hot all of a sudden? It had to be his jacket – he felt like he needed to shirk the heavy article soon, or he would suffocate.

Shania quirked a curious brow at him. "Really. Seduction?"

"Y-yeah…" his voice was barely higher than a whisper by this point, "l-like, something to turn… um, something for the guy to… enjoy, and get him in the mood to… h-have sex…"

Her tone softened with realization as she murmured, "I see."

On the other hand, the blond teen had both palms splayed across the floor beneath him, and he kept his eyes level so he could purposely refrain from looking somewhere questionable. Where his line of sight currently lied, he was only able to see her legs, which didn't rouse his hormones as avidly as… certain other areas of her body.

"…"

The slender spiritualist straightened back up, and then reached her hand down to help pull him to his feet in suit. He stumbled briefly, but settled his balance after a moment, all the while remaining consciously aware of the distance between them.

"So, lingerie is used for sexual appeal," Shania clarified once they were both standing, her expression appearing completely calm in contrast to his own panic.

Johnny just nodded in response, still unable to find his voice, as he chanced a glance at her face, but then his gaze started to descend, quickly sliding past the smooth concave of her shoulders. God help him, he could see the crevice of her enticing cleavage right through the sheer material, pushed together by her new bra. He swallowed hard, finding the sight too irresistible to turn away, in spite of his mind fervently trying to issue that command, only to meet defiance. He shoved twin curled fists into the pockets of his jeans, which made him become acutely aware of how tightly the denim material closed around his lower form. His body was going to react before long, and if Shania find out exactly what he thought of the way she looked right now, she might accuse him of being a pervert, or possibly worse, like forbid any kind of contact between them…

"The shopkeeper didn't tell me that," she continued on, apparently oblivious to his state of stupor and inner turmoil, "I just thought this dress seemed acceptable when I tried it on. The material isn't heavy, and the skirt doesn't restrict too much movement."

"Uh huh…" the bashful teen mumbled distantly in agreement, trying to look everywhere else except for his attractive girlfriend wearing a very sexy negligee that tested his self-control.

They had been in a relationship for over six months at this point, and took that precious time to steadily strengthen their emotional bond by going out on dates, whenever they weren't busy with a case. Even then, he was still learning new things about her through those simple interactions alone, such as watching how Shania talked to their clients, and the diligent effort she put into accomplishing their assigned tasks. Just being with her was enough for him, whether they were training to hone their fighting skills, or peacefully sitting together on the living room couch as Johnny diligently helped his girlfriend improve her reading skills in English. One attribute he had noted with interest was that, apart from them holding hands while strolling through various neighborhoods, they didn't express gestures of affection very often, outside of bed.

The physical part of their relationship progressed at a conspicuously slower pace. Content with kissing, Johnny hadn't pushed for any further intimate contact… even though, admittedly, he wanted to, but didn't feel that it was his place to decide. He had stopped sleeping on the couch downstairs ever since the first time his girlfriend invited him to share the bed together, up in his room – which was quickly becoming their room. Snuggling under the blanket with her felt really nice, especially on cold nights, and lying down, he could wrap his arm around her shoulder without having to worry about their difference in height. However, it was getting harder for him to simply fall asleep after exchanging many heated kisses with her, particularly more so whenever he ghosted his hands across her curves that hid underneath her clothes, a constant temptation to breach the barrier…

Shania made a "tsk" noise with her tongue just then, drawing him out of his deep reverie. "I'll have to return this to the shop and get something else."

He nodded again, bright green eyes still skittishly averted.

"Unless…"

Johnny finally looked up at hearing that, curious enough about her intentions to discard some of his timidity for the time being. He blinked rapidly when he saw a familiar teasing smile suddenly curving over her lips, one he quickly recognized.

Uh oh.

"…you want me to keep this?"

He felt his cheeks beginning to heat up yet again, in response to both her words, as well as the seductive lilt of her voice. Seriously, he had to stop blushing, or he was going to pass out from blood loss. "Umm… Ah…"

"What do you think, Johnny?" She asked, and then slowly spun in a circle to show the full display, her fluid motion vividly resembling the delicate grace and elegance of her ocean spirit. "Is this… lingerie… sexually appealing?"

Oh, God…

How in the world was he supposed to reply to that? It would be an outright lie if he claimed that she didn't look the least bit enticing, when he was making so many conscious efforts not to act perverse… plus, he might insult his girlfriend, and possibly even hurt her feelings.

But then, if the truth came spilling out instead…

"Y-you know… I'm really not the best person to ask about stuff like that," he answered vaguely, keeping his gaze focused on the ground as he tried to figure out some way to make a quick exit before things got even more awkward between them. He couldn't very well tell her his real opinion regarding her current appearance. "I mean… if you like it, that's all that matters… right?"

"But you are my man." Shania stepped closer to him, which caused the nervous teenager to retreat in turn, albeit reluctantly. "I need to know what you like, or I won't be able to seduce you."

If his brain wasn't so slow to process information right at this moment, Johnny would have been thrilled to acknowledge the fact that she actually referred to him as her man – and not a boy! But that vibrant burst of elation took an immediate backseat to her revealed intentions.

"What?" His bright green eyes were wide open with shock. "W-wait a sec… A-are you trying to seduce me…?!"

The lithe blonde maintained their locked gazes as she wordlessly persisted, and he kept backing up until his shoulders eventually hit the wall behind him. There was little space separating them now, and her expression kept intensifying as they continued to stare at each other in silence, adding to the thick tension that lingered between them with each passing minute. Shania was looking at him in an amorous way that he had only imagined in his dreams, but when confronted with reality, he didn't know how to react. A smoldering fire lingered in her deep blue eyes, thoroughly captivating him and paralyzing his muscles, even as he wondered if he could possibly be the source of those ardent flames. Feeling his jaw tighten, Johnny turned his head away in search of an escape route, but before he could act, she moved first and planted both hands by the sides of his face, effectively trapping him in place.

"Sh-Shania…?" He managed to stammer out, his tongue clumsily tripping over her name alone.

"What if I am trying to seduce you, Johnny?" The short distance separating them was depleted even more as she boldly drew closer to him, her warm breath fanning directly over his cheek. "Would you try to resist?"

His hormones spiked sharply at her provocative suggestion, never mind the obvious lack of physical contact. If Shania continued to tempt him, he just might lose it and give into one of countless urges hiding beneath the surface. "G-guh…"

She leaned down all of a sudden to gently kiss his neck, and then whispered in question against his trembling skin, "Do you want me to stop…?"

Johnny knew the right and proper answer to give, but was it truthful? Not in the slightest, to be perfectly frank. At the start of their relationship, Shania had asked him not to lie to her, and he certainly didn't want to, but how would she respond to his honesty in this particular moment…?

While he was pondering over that difficult dilemma, his girlfriend slowly laid a trail of kisses up his throat, and then along his jawline, her soft lips teasing his sensitive skin with the promise of more. When his focus began to waver, he instinctively reached out to grab a firm hold of her shoulders, but abruptly froze as he tried to decide between pushing her away, or tugging her right up to him. A flash of red temporarily blurred his vision and disrupted his concentration when he closed his eyes in an attempt to grasp onto control, feeling his body becoming overwhelmed with rising heat. Impishly adding difficulty to his inner struggle, his malicious counterpart started to actively stir inside of him, clearly wanting to get out, and Johnny knew that if he let his guard down at the wrong moment…

Shania pressed her lean body against him without any apparent hesitation or worry, and he could feel the wispy fabric of her gown whispering across his bare arm. She was truly oblivious to the conflicting turmoil boiling inside of him as she peppered kisses all over his cheek, and deftly curled her arms around his neck. His hands fell away from her shoulders to clamp down around her waist, quickly feeling heat from her lithe form burn into the pads of his fingers, right through the wispy red fabric. The delicate negligée was such a weak barrier that would be so easy to push aside, and if he discarded her underwear as well, then her raw beauty would finally be bared to his eager eyes. Unbidden, his lips curled in a peculiar smirk when his mind was suddenly flooded with the memory of her nearly nude body standing before the mirror.

A dark urge to dominate and possess her tried to seize control of him, causing Johnny to shudder with whimsical restraint and release a low growl. He was being shoved precariously close to the edge, and he didn't know how much longer he could hold onto the reigns. Making one final attempt to defy his devious desires, he pushed off of the changing curtain and immediately whirled around to slam his girlfriend up against the nearest wall. His abrupt action pulled a gasp from her lips, and his ear keenly absorbed the noise that sounded unusually submissive for the headstrong woman. Once again, he was tempted to strip her naked and claim her right then and there, so she would be his, and belong only to him. Every lustful gaze that was sent her way in an attempt to steal her attention and lead her astray… he had the power to stop them.

"…Johnny?"

Her breathless inquiry had the effect of cutting through his dreary red haze, stunning him momentarily with stark confusion.

What the hell…? What was I…?

It took a great deal of effort for Johnny to resist fulfilling one of his deepest yearnings. He bit down on the inside of his cheek, and the brief burst of pain brought him back to awareness at present, long enough to suck in a shaky breath and gradually slow his whirling mind.

"Shania," he warned her in a gravely serious tone, his grasp deepening with pressure, "Don't test me. You don't know what I want to do to you."

"…"

Shock was the first sight that greeted him when he finally retracted, and then he peered intently into her clear blue eyes, only to see his own deadly expression reflected within them.

"My God," he muttered remorsefully in realization, and instantly released his tense grip on her, "I'm so sorry… Did I hurt you?"

The bewildered blonde frowned, but shook her head. "I'm fine. Are you-"

"Sorry," he apologized again, cutting off her inquiry before she could finish it, and after giving her a long look, he turned away to hide his shame; "I'm sorry… I-I gotta go… I'll be upstairs."

With a slight wave of his fingers, Johnny ducked around the curtain and swiftly bound up the staircase to his room, his gaze listlessly staring into blank space. He kept walking forward until he was standing next to the window above his bed, where he tugged off his jacket and carelessly dropped it on top of the covers. Letting out a sigh, he closed his eyes and tipped his chin to let his forehead idly rest against the wall, feeling a blissful chill of mild relief. A fresh onslaught of mental images rushed into him, reminding the conflicted teenager of his dark desires that he worked to suppress, so he wouldn't frighten or harm his beloved girlfriend. He fervently hoped the surrounding tranquility would calm his roused libido, and if not, then he needed a very cold shower that would likely end in a coughing fit from staying in there too long.

Damn…

He had gotten hard, and all Shania did was kiss him. It was happening more frequently lately and much faster each time, much to his dismay. Granted, her body had been pressed up against him, but that wasn't a new sensation, since they usually lied very closely together in bed. Though, his hands did get bolder at roaming around whenever they kissed for a long time, particularly with her lying on top of him, her hips shifting and moving in a way that demanded his attention. If Shania knew how often he got aroused from kissing and touching her, she never commented on it – he was extremely lucky, in that regard. His body, however, wasn't happy at being forced to stop without ever fully reaching the peak of passion, always feeling tense from unfilled desire, which continuously fed his dissatisfaction.

He did his best to act like a respectful gentleman around his girlfriend, but he wasn't made out of stone, for God's sake. Would his sexual needs keep getting worse until he finally exploded from frustration and just took her, without any regard for her consent?

No.He declared firmly inside his mind. He couldn't let that happen, no matter what. He had promised to protect Shania, and he would see that through, even if it meant denying his own desires.

Johnny didn't know how much time had passed since his abrupt ascension to the second floor, but all of a sudden, he heard footsteps creaking up toward his position. Even though he knew exactly who was approaching him, he remained facing the window, not quite ready to face her yet.

There was a still moment before she spoke to his back; "Johnny, did I upset you?"

The stationary youth stayed silent for a while, slowly sorting through all the thoughts swimming around inside his head so they could resemble some sort of sensible order. Shania wanted him to be honest with her, and he had to figure out the best way to articulate himself.

"You were just… messing with me, weren't you?"

The volume of her voice lowered, adding a solemn edge to her demeanor. "What do you mean?"

A shrill sigh drifted free from him. "Look, I know you like teasing me and all. It's just… I can't tell when you're being serious about what you're saying, or if… you're playing around with me."

"…You don't like when I tease you," she concluded quietly, "If you want, I can stop."

He turned back now, gazing at Shania with a look of earnest confusion. She was still wearing the negligee, so he made sure to keep his eyes on her face. "It doesn't bother me all the time, but… Why do you do it? Is it 'cause you think I'm a little kid?"

Even after her initial assurance at the start of their relationship, he couldn't help occasionally wondering if his physical age bothered his girlfriend. Mentally, they were pretty compatible, although Shania behaved in a serious manner more often than him, whereas he was frequently eager and enthusiastic. In spite of what his birth certificate read, he was biologically sixteen years old – seventeen next month, thankfully – while she was twenty-one, or possibly even twenty-two, depending on whether or not her birthday had passed. She was used to being around older men that were bigger and stronger than him, considering her former bodyguard and that one chief from Gada Village… was he still considered her fiancé? Johnny had been pondering over that for some time now, but didn't quite work up the nerve to ask her just yet.

Her brows creased downward as she pressed her lips together tightly in a visible gesture of displeasure. "No. I already told you, Johnny. Your age doesn't concern me."

"Then, why?" He persisted stubbornly, determined to get the full story from her.

She crossed her arms over her chest as the remainder of her expression darkened. "Consider it… a sign of affection."

With a slow blink of surprise and bewilderment, he muttered in awe, "Affection…?"

The tall blonde nodded briskly. "Have you ever seen me tease anyone else?"

He hesitated in deep thought, and then shook his head after a short period of silence. "No… Not even Natan. Then again, he really doesn't seem like the type to joke around…"

Except the one time when Natan had "helpfully" supplied a name for the last knife that he had acquired toward the end of their journey, the disgruntled teen recalled, frowning a little at the memory.

"He isn't," Shania declared knowingly, her lips still pursed with notable strain, "but even if he was the type, you shouldn't automatically assume that I would tease him. My relationship with Natan is different from the one you and I have."

From the beginning of their journey, there were instances when Johnny regarded the obvious closeness between those two with some suspicion, but he had long since realized their affiliation didn't carry any romantic ties. Natan treated the Garvoy princess like a younger sister that he was determined to protect, and had followed her unconditionally, even if he didn't necessarily agree with all the choices she made. Their loyalty to each other was unwavering, and considering how few true friends Shania had, Johnny knew how important it was for her to hold onto that long-lasting bond. Despite the distance that lied between them now, they still maintained contact through letters, which the young detective encouraged in earnest. He himself had written to Natan on occasion, and their latest exchanges were finally going a little deeper than the superficial layer of polite small talk.

Different, huh…? That single word of notable significance echoed inside his mind.

"So, you tease only me because…" his cheeks flushed a pleasant shade of light pink at the hopeful possibility, "you like me?"

"Yes, Johnny," she replied in a firm tone, "I had thought flirting was expected in a relationship."

Flirting? She had been flirting with him? How in the world had he missed that…?

Johnny consciously tried to slam down on the brakes, at the risk of having his heart accelerate right out of his chest from the sudden increase in blood pumping avidly through his veins. His earlier bout of lust had been replaced with the dizzying sensation of wonder, drawing out the emotions that hovered within his chest. He wanted Shania to like him, and one day, even love him, the same way he felt toward her; he knew that wouldn't happen overnight, but he was willing to wait. It just made him all the more determined to prove he cared deeply for her, that he was a man worthy of her affections. Every smile and kiss they exchanged, the warmth from their snuggling in bed, and even the simplest brush of their hands grazing… he cherished all of those gestures, because he had experienced them with Shania.

"Besides, your reactions can be very amusing," she continued, allowing the ghost of a smirk to briefly skim across her lips before it disappeared completely, "But, I won't tease you anymore, since you don't like it."

He shook his head fervently, not wanting his girlfriend to maintain that misguided belief. He had gotten the wrong impression from her teasing, but now that he knew her intent behind it, he wouldn't have to feel so unsure or insecure about where he stood with her.

"Shania," he stepped toward her and placed both hands over her crossed arms, "I don't mind being teased, if it's coming from you…"

She turned away, breaking their eye contact, but didn't withdraw from his touch, to his great relief. "I don't like upsetting you, Johnny. I wasn't testing you, when we were downstairs. But seeing how you reacted… I must have hurt your feelings."

A vivid grimace accompanied his reply, "It wasn't that…"

Her gaze returned to him, though her brows were now knit together. "…What did you want to do to me?"

Oh… crap, he cursed silently while recalling his words, after having thrown her up against the wall in a lust-induced haze. Maybe Shania thought he had been threatening her.

"I was… trying to warn you." Johnny revealed tentatively, the volume of his voice dipping lower as he continued with, "I can't always… control how I – how my body reacts to you. When we kiss and… stuff like that."

"React?" Her arms slowly drifted down to dangle by her sides, taking his hands with them. "You mean, sexually."

He nodded, his face looking completely somber while he willed himself to maintain eye contact in proof of his sincerity. At this point, the mood was too serious for him to get flustered so easily.

"Johnny," she addressed while edging forward, her rigid expression starting to soften as she assured him, "You don't have to control your body's reactions. I'm not afraid of you."

Maybe you should be.

Johnny internalized those words with cautious care, knowing he couldn't tell her about Awaker constantly lingering in the back of his mind, just waiting for the chance to come out again. Shania made her feelings on the subject of Malice crystal clear, and considering her arduous experiences with it, he really didn't want to cause her anymore distress. She hadn't expressed any fear or disgust toward him, but he would never forget the incident up at the apex of Uyuni Salt Lake, where he viciously struck her, and also knocked out all of his other traveling companions. If his malicious counterpart was driven by instinct, like people had hypothesized, then he probably wanted to hurt Shania – maybe because she possessed the fierce power of the sun spirit.

On reflex, his fingers curled tighter around her arms; he was still plagued with uncertainty and a twinge of fear at not knowing how to resolve the problem if he ever lost control again. He had to tell Shania about that one day, just in case, so she could either try knocking him back to his senses, or at the very least, have the chance to get away safely…

"But… what should I do?" came his inquiry, uttered in a timid tone, "Just let it keep happening? I mean, wouldn't that… bother you?"

Her head tilted slightly to one side, her intent gaze searching his face. "No, it wouldn't. There isn't a valid reason for me to get angry if you become aroused. You shouldn't feel ashamed of it."

Her bluntness, while much appreciated, was beginning to make him feel flustered again. Shania was taking everything in casual stride, way better than him, and he honestly envied her for that air of confident tranquility. Maybe it was because of her maturity, the wisdom that came with growing up.

Speaking of which…

"Hey, Shania? When's your birthday?"

His question took her back. It was obvious that she didn't expect such an abrupt subject change, but he desperately wanted to get his mind away from the other topic for a while. He hadn't completely cooled down just yet, and her current attire could distract him too easily.

"April 23rd," she replied after a short pause, "I turned 22."

"April? That was just last month!" Johnny let go of her to fling out both arms in protest. "Why didn't you tell me?"

She shrugged slightly. "The subject never came up. When is yours?"

"Next month – on the 24th," he answered in a careless, dismissive manner, and then persisted, "All right, next week, we're going out to celebrate your birthday. We should be done with this case by then."

Shania hooked a hand on her hip and gave him a look of mild amusement. "Johnny, that isn't necessary. My birthday already passed."

"So? This'll be a make-up celebration!" He declared with a hearty grin, excitement aligning his cheerful tone. "C'mon, we need to take breaks and have fun once in a while, right? It doesn't have to be a huge party or anything, but we should do something."

"…What would you want to do?" She finally asked, after staring at him for a short period of silence.

"Let's see…" Johnny mused thoughtfully while resting his chin against the crook of his fingers, "Have you ever watched a play before?"

A single shake of her head gave him her answer.

"Well, that old theater down in Chelsea got renovated recently," he recalled, "I think Lenny said they opened it back up a couple weeks ago. The ads say they're showing a play called 'Phantom of the Opera.' I've got the book, if you wanna read it. The story's pretty cool! Kinda sad, though…" he paused briefly to shake his head; "Anyway, do you want to go watch it?"

"Hmm." Shania hummed lightly in consideration of his idea, and then a small smile quirked up the corner of her lips as she replied, "All right. If that's what you want."

"Hey, it's for your birthday," he reminded her, "We don't have to go see the play, if you'd rather do something else. It's up to you, Shania."

"No, that's fine. It sounds like it might be an interesting experience." She crossed her arms over her chest. "Is there anything I should prepare, ahead of time?"

"Oh, yeah. There is a dress code for the theater, so we'll have to follow it," Johnny scrunched up his face for a moment, "No t-shirts or jeans, casual stuff like that. Dunno if guys have to wear suits… but I'm pretty sure girls gotta wear dresses." A brief bout of hesitation ensued as he regarded his girlfriend in her current attire; "…A different kind, something more formal. We'll have to get a new dress for ya, before we go…"

With a slight smirk creasing her lips, Shania shrugged one bare shoulder in his direction. "Don't worry. I won't wear this lingerie out in public. Not after your explanation."

His gaze gradually made it back up to her face, where a knowing look greeted him, making the bashful teenager clear his throat at his attentiveness being acknowledged. Despite his noble intentions, he couldn't help staring at her, and for some miraculous reason, she didn't seem angry with him.

"So, uh… Are you… gonna keep that?"

Her smirk widened, although she didn't seem to be teasing when she answered in a soft tone, "Since it's for your enjoyment… I'll let you decide, Johnny."

"M-me?" Johnny stared down at the ground and stayed silent for a long while, contemplating, before he finally resumed speaking, "Ah… I was being serious, you know. What I said earlier, about how you looked in it."

"You said the lingerie was 'really pretty'," she recalled, uncurling her arms from her chest to let them idly settle down by her sides.

"Yeah, but… you're more than just pretty. Actually, wearing that makes you look… even hotter than usual," he confessed quietly, his cheeks turning pink yet again.

Shania emitted some noise that he couldn't decipher, and he timidly lifted his gaze just then to catch her glancing down at herself. "Hotter? That's strange. This material isn't very thick…"

"No, not like that," he attempted to clarify, shaking both his head and his hands, "Hot meaning… sexy. Seductive. It's… slang."

"Oh," she realized, looking back up at him, "I see."

A simple nod was returned to her, while most of his concentration focused on keeping his eyes from wandering once more. Even if his girlfriend was too classy or forgiving to call him out on his ogling, he didn't feel like continuously pressing his luck, and above all, he really didn't want to disrespect her.

"Hmm…" she mused in contemplation, and looked at him with softness in her clear blue eyes, "Then, I guess I won't return this after all."

His cheeks darkened in color at hearing her decision; he didn't know how to respond. Could she possibly be implying that she would try to seduce him in the future…? Even knowing what kind of effect she had on him, wearing that lingerie? Then again, he hadn't told her everything… just the obvious part.

"Well, I need to go change out of it, for now," Shania calmly continued, conveniently derailing his train of thought, "This type of clothing wouldn't provide good defense against monster attacks."

Johnny mutely shook his head in agreement, his line of sight still locked directly onto her face.

"You should start checking your equipment, Johnny. I'll come back up soon."

"O-okay," he finally managed to vocalize an answer, the single word coming out in a nervous and slightly broken squeak. He had completely forgotten about his original intention, after the prospect of their new case was swiftly overshadowed by his girlfriend's brazen request for help.

A faint smile briefly played over her lips as she started to turn toward the staircase, the beads on her gown reflecting a brilliant shine from the thin beam of sunlight stretching out across the room.

"Shania…"

When her attention went back to him, the blond teen blinked rapidly, feeling astonished by his own unexpected utterance. But he got over it, and gave into a burning desire that had been nagging his urges for a very long time; he stepped forward and reached out to grasp a hold of her arms to pull her to him. Carefully, he angled his head so that it pressed more to her side than directly into her chest, but to his surprise, Shania intentionally moved him, pillowing his cheek with the smooth swell of her breast, which caused red to swiftly fill his vision from the thin material, and the bra that lied underneath. His initial response was to stiffen with uncertainty, and Johnny considered retracting until he suddenly felt her arms encircling his neck. After a brief moment of hesitation, he willed himself to relax, and simply enjoy the warmth of their embrace.

Before today, he had never hugged her directly from the front, figuring their positions would be too awkward with the difference in height. The very first time, he had tried embracing her on the side, only to have her arm get in the way when she was caught off-guard by his unexpected attempt, and it just earned him a strange stare. Right as he caught sight of her expression, he had mumbled some nonsensical excuse and speedily took off before she could voice a question. He was willing to settle for the close cuddles they shared in bed, but considering Shania's recent carefree behavior… he thought maybe, just maybe, she wouldn't mind something like this, after all. Johnny had not, of course, expected her to take it a step even further and actually let his face come right into contact with her chest – most likely, she was using that action to make a point.

"I've been wanting to do this for a while," he admitted quietly, breathing out a light sigh, "It feels… really nice."

Keeping one hand on his back, Shania lifted the second to idly sift her fingers through his hair. "Did you think I wouldn't let you?"

He responded with a nod, while furtively enjoying the brief sensation of her soft breast rubbing against his skin when his head bobbed up and down.

Her melodious giggle of amusement drifted into his ears, and then she cupped his cheek within her palm to bring his gaze up. "You can hug me anytime you want, Johnny. And we don't have to be in bed for you to do this, either…"

"Do wha-"

Shania leaned down and interrupted his question with a kiss that set off a familiar sensation of warmth flooding through his system. There was an initial twinge of restraint as the concerned youth tried not to let himself get too riled up again, but she gradually coaxed him into a more relaxed state by keeping the pace slow and steady. That still didn't stop his hands from trembling against the narrow span of her waist, as his fingers curled around her curves and firmed their hold on the sheer material. When she lightly nipped at his lower lip, it caused a tingle to shiver down along his sensitive nerves, and he responded by pressing back harder. If they didn't have an important case to take care of, he definitely wouldn't mind staying in for the rest of the night, huddling with his beloved girlfriend and sharing more hugs and kisses…

After they finally pulled apart, Johnny felt his face burning from enflamed passion, and for all he knew, it might even be the same shade as her negligée. He didn't need a mirror to tell him that he was staring at Shania like an awestruck, lovesick kid, but in all honesty, he couldn't help it.

"You're still tense," she remarked bluntly as her cool blue eyes filled with concern, while she briefly brushed her fingers over his bangs in a soothing gesture, "Try to save some of that energy for the hunt."

He nodded in agreement, acknowledging the nature of their new case with unspoken gratitude. Eliminating monsters was a pretty effective method of relieving stress and tension. They would have to find them first, but that particular trait was his specialty.

She stared at him for a moment or two longer, and then pivoted to walk away, heading for the stairs, with the love-struck youth watching her in unabashed silence. The shimmering fabric of her negligée swayed with each casual step, drawing his attention to her long legs, where his gaze locked on, and then began to ascend until she disappeared from view. Subconsciously, Johnny licked his lips at the sight, the brief chill of moisture a stark contrast to his parched throat; shaking his head to try and clear his mind, he avidly focused his attention on his stash of supplies. When Shania returned a few minutes later, he was counting the number of restorative items in possession between them, and then quickly got into a discussion with her on what kind of inventory they might need for the first night.

It was time to get to work.


After they completed their case, Johnny let a couple more days pass by before he reminded his girlfriend about getting a new dress. He was determined to stick by her side this time, no matter who tried to deter his efforts, although he didn't intend to go back to the same shopkeeper that had tricked Shania. Fortunately, amongst all the new outfits that she had acquired, there were a few conservative ones she could wear in public, and she did so, whenever a suitable opportunity came up. They strolled down Times Square together in search of other clothing stores, and soon enough, he recognized a certain woman sweeping outside of her store. He quickly considered his options, and decided to stop and have a word with her; even considering the nature of business, he still didn't think it was right for her to fool her customers.

"Hey, Shania," he called her attention, releasing her hand from their union to briskly head off in a different direction, "Give me just a minute. I'll be back."

Confusion briefly flickered across her face, but she nodded without dissent, and turned to peer through the window of a nearby shop.

The blond teen approached the shopkeeper, who stopped sweeping to look up and greet him in a polite demeanor, "Good morning, Mr. Garland."

"'Morning," he returned dutifully, but then crossed his arms over his chest to emphasize his stern exterior.

"I trust your lady is satisfied with her selections? I see she is wearing one of my dresses."

"Yeah, about that… Some of them are fine, but it's the other ones that I gotta talk to you about. First off, I'm not a pervert, okay?" He stated firmly, with a slight frown marring his expression. "So don't go around telling people anything like that. I was just trying to help my girlfriend. She's kinda new at this."

She smiled pleasantly at him. "Certainly. I wouldn't dream of insulting my clientele."

"Uh huh, right…" Johnny answered dismissively, quirking a brow to express his obvious disbelief, "What's with the lingerie, anyway? My girlfriend thought it was a dress to wear outside. You should've told her what it's really used for…"

A head tilt of curiosity; "Were those garments not to your liking, Mr. Garland?"

"Wh-what?" He stammered, bright green eyes widening a little with surprise. "Why are you asking that?!"

Geez, are you serious…? Yeah, seeing Shania in that lingerie just made me wanna grab her and throw her down on my bed. That's all. His mind inputted, heavily sarcastic.

"Your lady asked me to match her with clothing that would please a young man," she replied, "I simply followed her wishes."

"Please a…" flushing a little, Johnny continued, "Wait a sec… she said she didn't know…"

The shopkeeper brought a hand up to cover her mouth and chuckled softly behind it. "About the intent of the gown? No, she did not. But if it meets both her satisfaction and yours, then that is what should matter. Wouldn't you agree?"

Shania was trying to please me…? His mind was still stuck on that amazing concept, and it took him a moment to acknowledge the recent utterance.

The contemplative youth uncrossed his arms and scratched the back of his head to regain focus, feeling much less aggravated than before, when their conversation first opened. "I guess…"

Another smile was sent his way, along with the candid inquiry, "Well, then… Do her clothing selections please you, Mr. Garland?"

He glanced at Shania, who was still keeping her distance from them while she continued to look through large display windows. Her current attire was a simple flowing one-piece in a light blue color that complemented her skin tone, held up by straps that encircled her shoulders, just thick enough to conceal a different pair of straps underneath. She maintained the same hairstyle of the intricate braids running down to the short ponytail in the back, along with the thin red headband and two feathers of the same shade on one side. A passing breeze caught the long skirt of her dress and made it flutter whimsically around her lower body, drawing immediate attention to her long legs. Shania seemed oblivious to the appreciative stares that surrounding teenage boys and men were giving her – either that, or she was purposely ignoring them.

"Yeah," he finally responded, "but honestly, I think she'd look gorgeous in anything. I want her to be happy – and comfortable. That's what's most important to me."

The shopkeeper's smile brightened. "Hehehe… I can see why she is fond of you."

Johnny glowed with pride at hearing those words, and felt a smile forming over his own lips. "Uh, thanks…"

"You are most welcome, sir. If your lady is ever in need of more attire in the future, I would be happy to offer my services again," she extended in unabashed invitation, "Each of the evening gowns in my shop was personally sewn by my hands. In fact, I could even customize a unique design for her, if she wishes."

"Really? Wow… that's so cool!" Quickly recalling the intent of their outing that day, he chimed in with, "Well, we're going to Erick Theatre next week to watch a play, and she does need a new dress for that…"

"Then please, invite your lady to come in, and we can determine which style would be best for her."

"Okay, sure. Can I stay this time?" He asked without missing a beat.

She nodded while reaching for the handle of the door. "Of course, Mr. Garland. So long as you remember to act like a proper gentleman, first and foremost!"

"Oh, c'mon, not that again-!" He groaned in response, but the sound lacked actual ferocity.

As the woman entered her store, Johnny hurriedly dashed over to his girlfriend's position, and grabbed her hand before instantly reversing direction. Not even bothering to conceal his eagerness and excitement, he told her about the shopkeeper's ability to design and sew dresses, which seemed to catch a bit of Shania's interest.

In spite of their awkward moments and his fumbling embarrassment from her previous shopping expedition, at least he had learned how to unhook her bra. That little tidbit of knowledge might come handy in the future…

The End

Author's Note: Wow. I think this is the longest one-shot that I've ever produced. O.O Just like its predecessor, this story completely took off from a seemingly simple idea… I hope the scenario was convincing enough! I've always thought Shania would be cool and calm about most things, while Johnny flails a lot more, since he's such a spaz. Although, despite being a teenage boy, he acts pretty mature. I can't see him getting along too well with other teenage boys his age, because they'd think very differently. At least he has the patience to learn how to unhook Shania's bra without manhandling her. XD Maybe he should put that skill to practice sometime? Mwahaha…

As always, thank you so much for reading! I really hope you enjoyed this story! I am eager to know what you thought of it, so please leave a review!

With love for my fans,

Tiger5913