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... okay so maybe I'm smiling.

asuka_sensei in narukorp

Mistletoe Shenanigans [Asuka, Kureno] [rp log]

With the holidays swiftly approaching, pretty much everything was getting busier in the civilian sector - stores hastily serving their customers as quickly as possible, restaurants struggling to keep tables empty for possible patronage. Even the yakiniku joint was busy this time of year, and for a place that was pretty dang laid back, that was saying something.

So to have their typical (or what had become typical) spot at the bar counter taken wasn't really such a low blow; it would have just been harder to work with if they'd shown up at separate times. But they'd shown up together, out on a date, walking in quiet company to the restaurant and bar they'd frequented a couple times a week for going on six years now (well... excluding a few notable months here and there), to be greeted at the door by one of the servers who pretty much knew them by first name at this point.

"Happy holidays!" Etsuko said cheerfully as she greeted them, a twig of mistletoe in her dark hair to match the Christmas decor of the White Birch. "C'mon, guys, let me get you a table."

Asuka gave Kureno a wry look before following after the girl, who was heading straight to the smoking section without even asking. Oh, the holidays.

Kureno, normally, wasn't much of one for the holidays. He'd come to mellow out about them over the majority of the past decade however; before that he'd really been something of a Scrooge. It was because only within the past ten years he'd found people who made celebrating them really worthwhile. Still, the pushy crowds that filled the shopping districts could be annoying to deal with, which usually he wouldn't deal with if not for the fact that a lot of his favorite places were down on that end of town.

However, there was something a little different about being surrounded by people on the street and then surrounded by people in a restaurant. The noise inside wasn't one of hustling and bustling and "get out of my way". It was more a warming sound of good company and good memories that he hadn't always appreciated. There were still some things about the holidays he could really like.

"Here you go!" Etsuko sing-songed, placing menus on an exactly two-persons-only table against one of the far walls. Being one who always had an eye for the atmosphere of the places he ate (and because it was closer to his eye level at his height), Kureno noticed it was only lit by a dim-bulbed light.

A dim-bulbed light that had its own sprig of mistletoe attached to it.

Kureno blinked at it before turning to see if Asuka had noticed it as well. It didn't look like she had, although Etsuko certainly looked like this was all according to some plan of hers, judging by the smile and wink she gave him. "I'll be right back to take some orders~!" She gave Kureno a small pat on the shoulder, adding in a quieter but no less playful voice, "Good luck~!" And then the girl was skipping back off to other tables.

...Yes, Christmas was definitely something he could warm up to.

It was not exactly dark at this corner of the restaurant, but dimmer; a little more private, maybe. Not that it especially bothered Asuka, since as a ninja you learn to eat in all kinds of situations, light or no light, but it was noticeable enough. Particularly with the energetic way Etsuko (who was, honestly, always energetic) bounced up to Kureno and all but whispered something up at him before heading off on the rest of her duties.

She almost regretted that she didn't catch what the girl said. Her hearing was almost abnormally good, but the pitch of the server's voice was lost in the quiet murmur of the other patrons. With that not-quite-sour look on his face, though, it was bound to have been something good.

Asuka slid into her seat, lacing her fingers together on the tabletop and raising a brow at her dining partner.

"Did she become a fangirl while I wasn't looking?" she asked, infinitely dry. Of course, these days that question deserved a qualifier - of us or of you - since it had slowly started to get around that these dates had more meaning behind them than just a drink and a sandwich. Asuka chose to leave the qualifier off, though, preferring to let him think that by 'fangirl' she meant the squealing group of nurses and young women who lusted after him like he was a rock star or something. Stupid things.

Kureno's attention snapped back to Asuka. "Huh? Oh." It took him a moment to realize she was talking about their server. It was Etsuko for crying out loud, she was always like that. "Oh, she was just...uh." He almost looked back up at the mistletoe again but stopped. Asuka hadn't seen it yet, and while he was looking forward to putting it to good use, he suddenly didn't want to give up his control over the timing he had. He had, after all, the choice to pick the "right moment".

"It's nothing," he decided, slipping into his own seat.

The other ninja's reaction wasn't quite 'please shoot me now' enough for it to be a case of fangirl-itis, it seemed, but the obvious dropping of the subject made it apparent that something was up. And Asuka, who took quiet delight in tormenting the hell out of Kureno, didn't feel the need to drop the subject herself. After all, he liked tormenting the hell out of her, too; it was only fair, really.

"She's cute," the kunoichi continued, glancing across the open room of the restaurant, taking in the view of the diners. "Perky. Certainly energetic. And pays attention." To her patrons, at least. Asuka slid a glance sideways across the table, the faintest hint of a grin kicking up one corner of her mouth. "She can probably cook, too."

Kureno slid a flat stare back in her direction, aware of her ribbing. It seemed Asuka still couldn't pass up a chance to remind him of his unwanted fanclub; apparently it was hilarious.. However his retaliation was delivered quickly and smoothly enough as he opened his menu without really looking at it.

"She sounds nothing like you," he remarked, then arched an eyebrow. "Clearly not my type, don't you think?"

Well, yes, there was that, and Asuka had been well aware of that when she'd started building Etsuko up into dating material. (Which the girl certainly was, if she wasn't taken already.) But this was less about discussing Kureno's preferences in dating, and more about winning, because Asuka was in a good mood of a kind that had been very rare for the last few... uh, years.

She leaned an elbow on the table, her chin in hand, and raised her brows at her dinner partner. "So I'm not cute and perky?"

A second too late Kureno cut off a scoff-like chuckle. The corners of his mouth didn't quite relax entirely so he tried to hide them a little by bringing a hand up to thoughtfully slide across his lips.

"Perky? No, not so much." The comparison almost made him chuckle again. "Cute... I wouldn't describe how I'm attracted to you as 'cute', although..." This time he didn't bother hiding his smirk at all. "You are quite cute when I make you blush."

Right on cue, Asuka blushed. Damnit.

It had been several months since they'd started 'dating' - although she still wasn't quite sure exactly what constituted a date - and while Kureno had been remarkably patient with her hesitance about the whole thing, he also hadn't been terribly shy about his attraction and interest in her really making up her mind. And with every little step towards feeling confident about this that she took, he in turn got less shy about flirting with her. It was still something she was getting used to (so many years of never getting a single flirt out of him and now this), as tame as it usually was, but it still never failed to get some kind of blush out of her. Precisely because it was Kureno, she knew; had it been anyone else, she wouldn't have cared enough to have a reaction.

That didn't mean she liked blushing.

"Am not," she shot back in embarrassed amusement, definitely feeling the loss in the win she'd thought she'd had a few seconds ago. "I look like a tomato."

Ha, got her. The fact that he'd succeeded in his intention to get her face to flush just then only made him grin wider. He knew full well she didn't like turning so shy and red in front of him, but the longer she dragged out her decision, the more he took an unrepentant delight in doing it. Patience wasn't so much a tolerance as it was finding the right outlet.

"Well that's alright," Kureno replied, setting his menu flat on the table and crossing his arms on top of it, leaning in. "I like tomatoes. And you're certainly a very cute one."

That was just ridiculous. There was no such thing as a cute tomato. And you couldn't really like the way a tomato looked, just the way it tast-

Asuka choked a little on that thought and sat up straight, now blushing furiously and demanding the bad thoughts leave her brain posthaste. It wasn't working too well.

"Let's change the subject," she suggested, unsuccessfully ducking her head to try and hide her flush. "Like back to me teasing you about fangirls and you getting pissy about it."

The smirk reached his eyes briefly before he sat back up himself, perfectly composed as if nothing other than complete innocence had passed between them. "Etsuko has not become a fangirl--thank goodness. As for the rest of them, I'll only get 'pissy' if they were here and interrupting our date. Any other ideas?"

"Any annoying Christmas cards?" she suggested, perhaps a touch desperately. "Risque presents? Mistletoe?"

He couldn't help his eyebrow quirking up at her mention of mistletoe. The sprig poised above them hadn't been forgotten and he wondered if she'd finally noticed...no. She was just looking for anything to take her mind off being embarrassed.

...Too bad for her he wasn't feeling that nice.

He leaned back in on one arm, beckoning her closer with a curl of his fingers as if to impart a secret of sorts--he even baited her with a sour look that he knew she'd be hoping for. "You want a story with mistletoe? Alright then, here's one." One finger pointed to the ceiling. "Look up."

Oh, good. Something to distract her from the embarrassment. Asuka leaned forward obligingly, settling her elbows on the table to support her, and then looked up when he indicated to do so.

... shit. Bad thoughts recommencing in three, two -

He didn't bother keeping it as innocent as a peck on the cheek, but neither did he go as far as making out with her right there in the middle of a restaurant. Eyes were kept on eyes and lips kept on lips, confidently pressed and well hiding the way his heart pounded loudly in his chest. It wasn't as brief as he meant it to be and he pulled away rather slow, which was probably due to the way she didn't seem to terribly mind so much near the end. For all their dating, Kureno didn't kiss her that often, and not nearly as often as he wanted to, so when he did, it always felt like quite a significant accomplishment.

"...There," he said, quiet and his tone more of a breath. "How was that one?"

Perhaps she shouldn't be calling them 'bad thoughts'. Perhaps, instead, she should be referring to them as good thoughts (very good thoughts), just not thoughts one would want to have in public. Very public public, where -

"Here you go guys!" Etsuko's perky presence broke back into their awareness along with two cups of hot rum. "This one's our holiday special, on the house for two of our favorite customers!"

- anyone could see them.

Asuka jerked back to her side of the table as though she'd been burned, turning her face away from their server to make as though she was pulling the cigarettes from her pocket. It was the best cover she could come up with on such short notice, and terribly obvious, though thankfully it prevented her from seeing the wink Etsuko dropped as she set down the rum.

She was going to die. She was going to die from mortification and melt out of embarrassment right under this table, and she wouldn't even get a proper kiss out of all of this teasing. Damnit.

Kureno managed to look back up at Etsuko with a polite nod and thanks for the drinks, all the while praying the dim light was making it hard to see his own flushed cheeks. In hindsight, he probably should've looked around to see if anyone was familiar, looking at them, heading their way...or if any such interruptive/embarrassing-natured things were coming before deciding to kiss Asuka in public. He got away with holding her hand more often than not these days, but that was easier to hide than two faces suspiciously close to one another. Bold as he got with his flirting sometimes, Kureno still remained a private person himself. This had been rather out of character for him.

He blamed Asuka's cute tomato face.

"Sooooo, is there anything in particular you want tonight~?" Etsuko asked with no small amount of mischief.

"I think the usual will be fine," Kureno replied, figuring of the two of them, he was the one able to answer without choking. He'd give his companion something she could answer non-verbally. "Sound fine, Asuka?"

Asuka nodded wordlessly (and somewhat brainlessly) and concentrated on digging through her mostly-empty pocket. It looked like an obvious ploy to keep from having to face Etsuko, but damnit that hadn't been fair. Couldn't the girl have at least waited one more minute until they could have, you know, looked a little more natural about the jerking-away-from-each-other thing?

At least it wasn't necessary to especially explained what precisely the 'usual' was. They'd come here so often that -

With a grin that was almost unnaturally large, Etsuko gathered up their menus, assured them she'd be back soon, and bounced back off to her duties. Too fast for Asuka to consider rescinding that order, because 'the usual' meant alcohol, and she'd been very good about not drinking around Kureno lately, and... well... now she had hot rum and an order of sake on the way.

And mistletoe hanging over head.

A part of her was feeling a little doomed. The rest of her was just wishing they weren't in public.

After a moment to gather herself, the kunoichi finally pulled out her cigarettes and battered silver lighter, setting them both on the table with an exhale obviously made by a woman who felt she'd just had a close call with extreme embarrassment. At least her flush was doing a little better now that she'd had a moment to breathe.

"She has terrible timing," Asuka said finally, awkwardly amused and really wanting to break the silence.

"Terrible," Kureno agreed, the grin ghosting back onto his face as he took the opportunity to find some satisfaction and entertainment in Asuka's reactions. "You alright?"

"Yes." The grin she gave him in return had its own level of amusement, but it was far less at herself and more at the irony of the situation. "Just mortified beyond belief." Her eyes drifted towards their 'holiday special', faintly steaming by their elbows. "Although at least she brought me something convenient to drown myself in..."

Kureno made an agreeing sound as he picked up his own hot rum. "Yes, it was quite adorable to watch," he teased before blowing on his drink and taking a sip. "Mm, good. Go slow though. Sorry, I'd forgotten about minimizing the alcohol when I asked for our usual." It hadn't remained a secret after all that Asuka had obviously been watching her liquor intake since their initial date. And he hadn't argued, not wanting to provoke any regrets--or temptations that would later be blamed on a lack of sobriety. She wanted to remain careful, he wanted to remain real.

"Oh, shut your face," she muttered. Couldn't he, you know, come up with a compliment or something to embarrass her with, rather than how 'cute' and 'adorable' she was when she was flustered? Looking like a tomato was not -

- okay, no more tomato thoughts for the night.

Asuka cleared her throat and decided now would be a good time for a cigarette. For all that she had been trying quite hard to keep her intake of nicotine down, she thought she deserved a little extra today on the basis of... well... because she said so. And because it was safer than alcohol. Which she was strongly considering actually drinking tonight, because...

Asuka glanced up at the mistletoe as she lit her cigarette and slid the ashtray to her side of the table. "How safe do you think it is to leave that up there?" she asked aloud, though the question was mostly aimed at herself.

Kureno glanced up at the sprig attached the light without tilting his head. "Unless it bursts into flame I don't think it's going to hurt anyone." He paused over his drink and looked at Asuka. "...Or did you mean safe for us? I can behave if you want me to."

He probably should help her out by complimenting her sincerely, but...well, this outlet was part of the key to his patience.

That was a dangerous question. Asuka inhaled a calming lungful of nicotine and held it, glancing away back out into the crowd.

It had been a rough couple of months since she'd reluctantly agreed to try dating him. Mostly because of her... well, 'insecurities' was probably the kindest way to put it. Most of them she'd worked out since, not the least due to his incredible patience with her, but there were still some that gave her issues. Namely being shy, an odd enough issue to anyone who knew her. Asuka was anything but shy about most things in her life, but this wasn't something she was used to. Dating and all the stuff that went with it. She'd really never dated in her life (at least, not the kind of dating Kureno was insisting on) and it was all new and uncertain and made her all kinds of shy and awkward. Especially in public.

And it wasn't like either of them needed mistletoe as an excuse to kiss (rarely as they'd done that much). But... with as far as they'd come and the alcohol to boot, it seemed a bit dangerous to be sitting under in it public.

Her response, when she exhaled and looked back to him, was apologetic. But really, it was for both their own sakes and sanity. "Yeah. Let's take it down and... keep it for later or something."

Keep it for later? Kureno arched an eyebrow at that, and if there had been any disappointment in the decision to take it down, there certainly wasn't any with that kind of suggestion laid in mind.

After a quick look for any watching management, he stood up and quickly snapped the string keeping the mistletoe in place. It was a little warm from having been next to the light, making him wonder if he hadn't been too far off the mark when he talked about it bursting into flames. "Here." He slid it across the table at her while sitting down. "You hold onto it until...later."

There may have been another grin on his face--maybe--but it was soon lost behind his glass of rum.

Asuka didn't need to see a grin. This was Kureno - he never let you see anything if he didn't want you to. That didn't mean the innuendo wasn't still in his voice. It was definitely the embarrassment of Etsuko walking in on them - so to speak - that made her flush act up again. Certainly not the innuendo.


"I can't take you anywhere," she muttered around her cigarette, reaching out to take the mistletoe and make sure it was out of his reach. She didn't need him pulling it out and teasing her with it, especially not with him being taller than her, so this was just for... precautionary measures. Yeah.

Kureno just gave a light chuckle-like noise in response, finishing off the last of his rum. His first rounds always went rather quickly, and this had been particularly tasty. He may have to ask Etsuko to bring him another one to savor later.

"So speaking of holidays and 'laters'..." She was cute when she blushed. "Do you have any plans for Christmas this year?"

She decided to take that seriously and literally, ignoring any possible innuendo. If there was any, and she decided (quite firmly) that this time there was not. It was better for her sanity to think that way.

"Not yet." Asuka ashed her cigarette, and tested the rum with a finger on her free hand. Hmm, not too hot. She stuck the tip of her finger in her mouth and rolled her eyes up the ceiling, thinking. "I don't really know this year. I mean... I don't really see team ten dropping in on me. I haven't... talked to them in a while. And I don't know what Konohako's going to do. I think she normally spends it with Ebisu, but since Ebisu is still gone..." She shrugged. "Maybe she'll spend it with Moegi. I'll have to ask."

Kureno nodded appropriately, amazingly enough considering how distracting watching her suck the rum off her finger was. All women knew what sucking on their fingers caused men to think about, right? And looking up as she did was... So she wouldn't possibly be mean enough to make him think about that kind of thing without any hope, right? Right?

...All women but Asuka, who remained completely clueless about what she was doing to him. It should be a crime to be that oblivious. Cruel and unusual torture.

'Focus, Yuuhi. Stick to the plan. Pure thoughts. Picture a calm, river stream flowing evenly and full of COLD water...'

He himself was surprised at how well that ended up working.

"If you're free then," he asked without giving away any sign of what his thoughts had just been, "I was wondering if you'd want to spend the day with me."

Not that he'd been given a lot of reason to expect the contrary, but somehow Kureno's breath still hitched a little, hoping for her to say yes.

Spend the day with Kureno?

Back into the mists of time, the night before Christmas was almost always spent with him. (Notable exceptions being the year she was out of the village during the holidays). They'd drink and watch horrible Christmas special into the late hours of night, then one or the other would stumble home for a few hours of shut-eye before their teams descended on them. Most of the time she didn't see him on Christmas day itself, reserving that for team shenanigans.

Only this year... there probably weren't going to be any team shenanigans. Oh, there was Konohako and Moegi and Sachiko, but Konohako and her really only barely got on, and Moegi was really only polite to her because that's how he was raised, and Sachiko... and it had been a long time since she'd had any contact with team ten, leading her to believe that they'd finally gotten tired of her shit and cut the ties like she'd been hoping she could get them to do. It really was for their sake, in the end. She just hadn't expected it to be quite this lonely.

After so many years... Asuka had to say, she didn't want to start spending Christmas by herself again.

"I'll talk to Konohako," she said finally, and reached for her glass. "If she's taken care of, I think I'd like that."

Her return offer was considered before he came up with another of his own. "If she isn't, I wouldn't mind her joining us." Because really, he'd always felt he wanted to encourage Asuka to become closer with her family. Losing her mother had been harder on her than most people could tell, and now all she had left was her niece. From his point of view, he would have thought that would have encouraged Asuka all the more to make amends and cherish what she had left while she had it, but if anything, almost the opposite had happened. Getting to know Asuka on a much more personal level lately had begun to make Kureno think that her insecurities about losing people she cared about wasn't just applied to romantic interests. But maybe if he were to give himself a better chance at getting into Asuka's heart, he had to open it up to more than just himself.

"We'll just keep everything G-rated," he added on a more sly note, and also for her reassurance that there didn't have to be any pressure on making such big plans.

She wished she hadn't taken that moment to taste the rum. More of it went up her nose than down her throat.

The flush was returning. Yup, definitely returning, and not just because she'd choked on her rum. The glass was hastily discarded in favor of a napkin, her cigarette nearly forgotten in her haste. Oh hell that burned.

"...mean," she managed to croak out after blowing her nose. He was trying to kill her tonight out of embarrassment, wasn't he?

"Sorry," he chuckled, rather unrepentant, and handed her another napkin. "I guess that was a little mean, but it's your fault."

She accepted it with a pouty look, more embarrassed than angry. At least she hadn't sneezed the rum all over him (or her cigarette). THAT would have been a lot worse.

"My fault?" She wiped at her eyes (alcohol up the nose, buuuuuuuuuuuuurn) and crumbled up the two napkins, voice petulant. "You said it. I've been nothing but good, you're the one teasing me."

There was a pause from him as she cleaned herself up.

"Well maybe it's your fault for not being aware enough. Maybe I'm teasing you because I don't want you being so good." It was one of those sentences that would have been yet another tease if he didn't sound so...serious. And he was. Somewhere in that pause the mischievous glint in his eyes had dimmed into something altogether more sober--more piercing. Something that was rather difficult to look away from.

Which is of course why Etsuko decided to return with their orders at that moment.

"Here you go, folks!" A bottle of shouchu and sake were placed on the table along with appropriate cups. The waitress beamed at Kureno who was suddenly very seriously observant of the salt and pepper shakers on the other end of the table. She turned to smile at Asuka who was looking as red as...well, a tomato. Clearly the mood had changed since she was last here. "Um, anything else I can get for you...?"

Cold water, Asuka wanted to say. No, ice. To dump down his pants and give her enough time to regain control of her sanity before he came at her with those one-liners again.

She cleared her throat and turned to Etsuko. "Edamame, please." And privacy. But there was no way they were going to get that here, not even with dimmed lights and a table in the corner.

It wasn't that she wasn't interested in Kureno; after a lot of thinking and some talking with Rin, Asuka had finally decided that she did have some interest in Kureno. But that didn't mean any overnight love affairs or wild passionate flings, and getting up the gumption to explain to him why precisely she was still hanging back instead of throwing herself at him was... well, hard, especially when she kept catching him looking at her like that. It would end up being one of those Big Important Talks, and she had no idea of how to start it or how to accurately explain herself. And there was the embarrassment factor, too.

Asuka waited until Etsuko was at least half-way across the room from them before turning back to her cigarette... which had burned almost all the way down in the middle of her rum incident. With a sigh, she took one last pull off it, smashed it out, and pulled out a new cigarette without thinking.

"I'm not ignorant," she muttered in her defense.

Kureno's guarded stare moved from the shakers to Asuka without the interruption of a blink. Outwardly his mood had turned very quiet as it sometimes did; the kind of quiet that wasn't easily moved by banter or flattery. His thoughts, however, hadn't grown that distant yet from his feelings in that moment, and were currently berating himself for provoking these thoughts, and worse, saying them out loud. But it was too late really to pretend it hadn't been said, especially with her reply hanging in the air. Kureno still didn't want her to see his uncertainty however, his pride not wanting to keep losing like that all the time; and as Asuka knew, when he didn't want you to see something, you didn't. (A majority of the time anyway.) So guarded his stare remained.

"Oh really. Then what are you?" And he managed to bite back in time the words, 'Other than stubborn.' Even if she agreed with that, it would be a less pleasant truth if he said it.

...oh. Damn. Maybe she shouldn't have said anything at all. Then she wouldn't suddenly be caught having to explain herself, which she still wasn't sure she could do.

Asuka took the time to light her cigarette and pull her glass of rum back, determined to finish it while it was still warm. Maybe after she had this in her stomach she'd be a little more coherent... or more stupid, which was far more likely of the two. Man, how did tonight turn into this so fast?

A number of adjectives ran through her mind, some more accurate than others but also more embarrassing than others at the same time. She took a swallow of rum - this time it did make it down her throat - to fortify herself before she said, "Inexperienced."

...That was what she'd worked herself up to say? "I kinda already gathered that," he replied dryly, looking down to pour himself a shot of shochu. "And to be honest, I kinda consider myself to be too, but..." He quickly drank the alcohol and didn't finish his sentence. Instead, he started a new one as he let the slight burn of the liquid run down his throat and give him something else to concentrate on before re-looking at his attitude. It came out sounding tired.

"Sorry." He thought about saying what he was apologizing for, and telling her why it got to him. Instead he poured another shot.

Sorry? Please. It almost didn't matter what he was saying sorry for - it was stupid to apologize for anything, and also stupid to think just apologizing fixed the problem. Neither worked, and all it succeeded in doing was make Asuka puff up a little in further defense.

"You are not," she replied, a little stung that he'd noticed, but duh, of course he'd notice, it was only plastered across her face every time she glanced in his direction. "In comparison to me, you know exactly what you're doing. And you're getting frustrated that I'm not responding the way most chicks would. It's not because I'm ignorant or uninterested or anything, it's just that -"

She stopped, eyes flicking away from him to her cigarette. Her brain felt like it was flipflopping in the decision making process, alternately wanting to get up and leave or talk to him or hide under the table or ask if they could talk somewhere more private and then do it or chicken out and go home... too many options, most of which involved running away. Running away sounded very tempting. ... but she'd promised him she'd try. And they hadn't been friends for years for nothing; she knew him, she could trust him. What she was going to tell him was possibly something he already knew but hadn't thought about or considered as applicable to the situation, anyway. It wasn't that big a deal.

Except for being horribly embarrassing.

Asuka took a drag off her cigarette and gave him a look, one caught somewhere between 'I'll kill you if you break this promise' and something far more uncertain. "Don't laugh at what I'm going to tell you," came the demand.

It took several reassurances from Kureno before she was finally satisfied, though part of her (the part that just wanted to leave) never would be. Even if he didn't laugh or think it was something to laugh at, it was something he now knew was a button or an embarrassment - a weak spot. Asuka's knee-jerk reaction to protecting weak spots didn't want to allow for this. But she made herself anyway.

Clearly her throat, she seemed to almost hunch in on herself, shoulders turning in protectively as she hovered over her cigarette and glass of rum. Even someone on the other side of the room, who couldn't hear the conversation, would know she was about to engage in something extremely uncomfortable to her.

"I'm not used to touching people," she said - or really muttered - at the tabletop. "Or people touching me. Unless it's a fight, or something medical. It took a while for me to stop braining Inosuke when he'd jump on me. I'm just not comfortable with it. And - " here her blush returned, almost as furiously as before, and her voice lowered as though she was worried someone would overhear " - it gets in the way of... of, well. Pretty much every other time I've slept with someone, it involved getting plastered and picked up at a bar."

His eyes stayed on her, listening--not cold or distant or expectant--until a little after it became clear she was done speaking, then they dropped down the table to begin the thinking process. He was quiet as he let it sink in, quiet and still, remaining respectful (almost reverent) of the obvious difficulty it took her to tell him that. He thought about what it really must be like for her, having a perspective, a feeling like that. It wasn't too hard to imagine. He compared himself and Aki to her and Inosuke, needing the time to adjust to someone rather clingy. But at the same time he knew he couldn't really compare, because he'd had training and...she hadn't. That probably made a big difference.

He also stayed quiet because he needed time to think of what he was going to say. Because, "So you are thinking about sleeping with me~" was not the right answer. Etsuko came back with Asuka's edamame, lingering uncertainly before Kureno waved her on with a reassuring look. He wished he'd felt so sure.

"...I wasn't lying when I said I was sorry," he began after the waitress was gone. "It wasn't my best delivery, and...maybe I wasn't feeling the full sincerity yet, but I knew I would be. I do every time I lose some of my patience with you, especially after we started..." Could he call this a relationship yet? Dating? 'Trying'? He just left that sentence alone and continued. "Because I know I shouldn't, because it is new, and you are trying, and it's only fair you have all the time you need when I've taken the last two years to put it together myself. So I just have to tell myself to sit back, calm down, and give you a little more time because it's what you need. It's what you deserve. And sometimes it works, and the night goes fine. ...And some night's it doesn't work so well, and I..." Kureno glanced up at Asuka for a moment before pouring himself another serving.

"You're right when you say I get frustrated because you don't react like other...women," he reworded after the alcohol had made its way down. "But I like that about you, how you're not like others. But it is frustrating because..." Now it felt like his turn to blush a little, though he didn't reach Asuka's previous levels by a long shot. "...Because that's pretty much the only way I know how to do it. So you say I'm more experienced, but it really doesn't feel like that. Most of the time anyway. Not that I'm trying to blame you, because if you did start acting like a fan club member I wouldn't be as interested. I just... On those nights when telling myself to be patient doesn't work so well, those are the nights I really feel like I'm not doing anything right. Yeah, I'm frustrated, but I'm also worried that..." He looked up again and this time managed to not look away.

"...That this is the closest I'll ever really get to you."

That he didn't laugh was a really good start to this. ...not that it made the conversation any easier, but it was a start.

Asuka took a long moment (and the rest of her cigarette, which honestly wasn't much) to try and cull his words down to the very heart of the matter: that he knew he needed to give her time, but that didn't make him any less frustrated. Which... felt like her confession hadn't really helped any. Or at least it didn't sound like it - didn't sound like it did anything help him better get why she kept shying away.

She sighed heavily, grinding out her cigarette. Back to square one, as usual.

"I can just get drunk, if you think it'll help any," she replied after a moment, a note of defeat in her voice.

Kureno's face went into his palm, sighing a bit in frustration that ended up sounding almost like a laugh. "That's not what I meant. And I'm not laughing, I'm just... I was just sharing back. You were telling me what your problem was so I felt like telling you mine. I hadn't actually really begun the solution part yet. And no, getting you drunk is not an acceptable solution. I don't want you--" He couldn't help from blushing a little when he realized they were actually talking about this seriously. "--drunk, I want you...to be able to tell me to stop if you want me to. And yeah I get frustrated when you want me to, but at least I know what I have--what we have done is something you've wanted and not just...gotten carried away in."

Speaking of frustrated... Kureno took two consecutive shots of his bottle to help settle himself, half tempted to just reach across and finish her rum for her. A few calming breaths later he looked back up.

"Just to go back a little here and make something official...you did just admit finally that you are interested, right?"

For a moment there she was strongly tempted to suggest maybe they just get him drunk. Asuka had no idea if it would make things better or not - anymore than she knew if getting herself drunk would make things better - but for a second there it sure looked like it was on his list of things to do tonight.

But... it was nice to hear that kind of... care out of him. It was and wasn't what she was expecting to hear (was because it was Kureno, wasn't because, well, that wasn't in her realm of experience), but... it was still nice. Nothing to make her all warm and fluttery or anything, but... reassuring. That was the word.

And then of course he had to ask that question. Nothing she wanted to answer, of course, but since the trend of the night appeared to be honesty, she wanted to keep to it. "Maybe," she admitted shyly. At the very least, a deeper attraction than friendship would explain why she was so dependent on keeping him in her life. "I'm still figuring out how much. I just mentioned the drunk thing because... well, because you've been teasing me about sex a lot."

... yeah, way to go to insinuate the guy was only after tail, Asuka.

Kureno sat back, a knuckle pressed thoughtfully to his lips, again more to help hide some of the heat that he felt rise to his cheeks. She had a point, and he supposed right now she deserved an explanation. ...Of his choosing.

"I suppose that's because I know that'll embarrass you every time, and frankly...it feels like a little payback. Justice really, for the effect you have on me."

The effect she had on him? Uh-huh. Asuka very deliberately chose not to ask what that effect was. For both their sanities.

"Now you're making me sound like a prude." She finally turned to her rum for real, even though by now it wasn't much more than just warm. "Give me a little credit."

Kureno made an ambiguous sound that was neither agreeing or disagreeing. More of a 'I could say something right now, but I think it best I not.' Wouldn't want her drowning in her alcohol again. It had looked rather painful the first time. Instead, he let her drink in peace while he thoughtfully chewed on an edamame.

"But you are okay with most of the kissing and holding and what touching we already do, right?" he asked when she wasn't at risk for drowning. "You just need time getting used to it all the time, and aren't ready for...more of it yet, right? I mean, you're not just humoring me...are you." The way he ended wasn't quite like a statement.

That was something that had taken quite some time for her to figure out herself - if she was really interested in him, or if she was just doing it out of a sense of obligation, that she owed him. She'd recognized that if her reason was really obligation, it would only hurt both of them in the long run... but the problem was figuring out how she really did feel.

The talk she'd had with Rin hadn't completely cleared up her feelings on the subject, but had helped her figure out that no, she wasn't doing this because she felt she had to. There was no obligation or humoring going on over on her side of the fence. She was doing this because she did want to - or at least did want to try, even if she wasn't sure yet how far she wanted to let this go.

So it was with a firm, decisive tone that she responded, "No. I'm not humoring you."

Man, it was nice to feel certain about something again.

That hadn't exactly been a direct answer to his real question, but Kureno had the feeling she'd continue to avoid giving one if she could. For now he'd just assume that no, she didn't mind, and take the reassurance that came in her confirming that everything they had done together had not just her full consent, but safe to say her approval as well. (Which was quite a significant reassurance indeed.)

"Good." Because if she were he didn't know if he could... Anyway. "I can give you all the time you need, Asuka." Not the easiest thing for him to do perhaps but if she asked it of him, he would give it to her. "But in the meantime, maybe we could try some things to help you get more...used to me?"

Asuka gave him a quizzical look over the edamame pod she was sucking the salt off of. That was kind of conflicting - first saying he'd give her all the time she'd need, then suggesting maybe they speed it up a little? She automatically gave him the benefit of the doubt and assumed that wasn't what he actually meant, but he sure could have come up with a better way of wording that statement. One or the other alone would have been fine, but the second on the tail of the first not so much.

Out of respect that they keep this night nice, she chose not to point it out or further confront the subject, instead tossing the now-empty pod and replying, "That's what we're doing already. I am trying, Kureno. I've already promised you that."

"No," he replied with a slight shake of his head. "I know, but I mean something else. Things that aren't as...pushy but still intimate." Her confusion wasn't surprising and he looked for a better way to explain it, but found it difficult to do so.

"It's hard to describe what I mean. It's really more something I'd need to show you. ...Not here, of course, but..." Kureno paused. "This is sounding a lot more suspicious than it actually is, but trust me, it's not something hot and heavy. It's just an idea."

He was darn right that what he was saying sounded like he was talking about something hot and heavy. It was hard not to be dubious even when he was trying to correct himself. But she could give him the benefit of the doubt; after all, she could trust him, right?

...she'd probably be a lot more willing if she finished off the rum first, though.

"Later," she agreed, and turned to her alcohol.

Later was all he could do right now anyway, so Kureno simply took her agreement as encouragement and let the subject change.

"So what would you like for Christmas?"

"I dunno," came the amused reply. Time for the figure-out-Christmas-gifts conversation, huh? This one was a far more comfortable subject than the first, but not any easier to answer. Really, what could she want for Christmas? She had everything she needed. Honestly, Asuka couldn't think of a year in which she really had wanted anything. This year wasn't any exception.

But to indulge him, she could come up with something silly. "How about socks."

"Socks?" he echoed cynically. He glanced down at her sandal-clad feet and back. "When do you ever wear socks? Come on, be serious. I'd like to get you something you really want."

Darn. Would have still been funny if he'd gotten her socks for Christmas. Especially when she complained about the cold so much and then went out in sandals, like he'd just pointed out.

She mused over her meal for a bit, if rum and edamame could be called a meal. Edamame certainly couldn't because she could feel the alcohol slowly but surely bubbling its way up to her head. To be careful, Asuka decided to switch back to food over drink for a few minutes.

"I don't know," she replied back honestly. "I don't really want things. You've seen my place, I'd swear Konohako has more stuff in it than I do, and I've lived there for years. Surprise me?"

Well that had been a futile prod into finding the perfect gift this year. Looks like he was winging it again. Surprise her, huh. ...Hmmmm.

Kureno didn't really smirk, but there was something that passed over his face that made you able to tell that he was feeling mischievous or smug. It was one of those things you read more in his eyes than on his face. "Alright," he agreed. "But just remember that you asked me to."

"Nothing dirty," she warned, pointing a bean pod at him. Asuka was no fool - she'd realized what she'd said as soon as it had popped out of her mouth, and she definitely hadn't missed that subtle shift to his features. She especially didn't miss his warning. "Nothing I can't show to underaged minors. Remember you offered have Konohako over for Christmas."

Nevermind that she didn't want to have to deal with those kinds of questions (having to go through puberty questions for the third time was really too much by itself); if anything, Asuka just wanted Christmas to be nice and relaxing, no matter who she spent it with, and free of the anxiety and nerves that came from spending time with Kureno lately. Maybe she should have asked him to be good for Christmas... that would have been a good present.

One she wouldn't have to ask for now as Kureno responded by promising, "I'll be good. Although you really should think up these conditions when I first ask you what it is you want. So." He mercifully changed the focus of subject. "Have you gotten my gift yet?"

.... uh.

The guilty look on her face was answer enough. Although of course there was no reason to be guilty - she had least two more weeks! almost three? she wasn't sure - and thus had plenty more time to come up with a gift. Really, it wasn't so much that she hadn't gotten him a gift yet that she didn't yet know what to get him for a gift.

"What sorts of things would you like?" came the counter - which, after a pause, was followed with: "...that aren't dirty."

"Now you're making me sound like a pervert. Give me a little credit." Seriously, was he being that bad? ...Well, maybe, but it was all just teasing. Mostly.

Kureno seemed to thoughtfully sip on another drink, like he was giving her question some new thought. Honestly though, he'd pretty much already made up his mind a while ago. "So what else did you say you could make besides rice balls?"

Asuka wisely chose to say nothing in response to his first statement and turned instead to the last.

"Frozen and microwave meals, ramen, scrambled eggs, pancakes, sandwiches, canned soup.... easy stuff, mostly. Stuff with three or less ingredients."

Frozen-Microwave anything was out of the question. Ramen he wasn't the biggest fan of. Scrambled eggs weren't really a whole meal. Pancakes, sandwiches and canned soup sounded like the best possibilities. Although soups in cans generally also weren't appealing to him, and he was afraid he might get stuck with peanut butter and something if he asked for a sandwich. That left one choice then.

"How about you make me pancakes this time then? ...Wait, how much of it is premixed batter?"

She gave him a blank look over the last of her rum. "Aren't all pancakes made with premixed batter?"

"You know what I mean," he said flatly. "Homemade or store bought mix?"

"Store bought."

Kureno tried not to make a face. He wasn't surprised to hear it, and upon confirming his suspicions, he supposed it had been too much to hope Asuka could make something from scratch. (Sandwiches and rice balls didn't count, those were easy.) Still, how nice would that have been? But regardless, he'd been ready to eat dry cereal she made for him if that's all she'd offered. This was clearly just another evidential sign that he was in love.

"Well, still make me some for Christmas. As my present. Maybe some scrambled eggs too." At the least, he could make a good fruit salad to go with it.

She saw the face and ignored it. You got used to it after a while - Kureno was such a picky eater it was no wonder he was skinny. He turned his nose up at half the food out there - how could he put on weight if half of it he wouldn't even eat?

But still. That's all he wanted for Christmas, a meal? Asuka would have thought he'd ask for another night out somewhere fancy if he wanted a meal. Ones that she made were usually fraught with danger although unlike Kakami there WERE quite a few things she could make without killing someone else in the process, or at least were not anything special. Pancakes for Christmas?

... then again, he'd just wanted rice balls for his birthday. Maybe it was seeing her barefoot in the kitchen that was the present as opposed to the food itself. He would enjoy something like that, wouldn't he.

After a moment she finished off her rum and nodding, giving him a little smile. "Pancakes and scrambled eggs for Christmas. Just remember, you asked for it."

Recognizing his own warning being thrown back at him, Kureno gave her a small chuckle. "I'll remember that. Let me know if Konohako will be joining us with enough time to allow me to get her a present too."

"I will." In fact, she'd ask Konohako what her plans would be tomorrow, since tonight when she got home would probably be too late. To be honest, Asuka wasn't entirely sure she wanted to share her relaxed-and-have-fun-time with a kid that frequently put her nerves on edge, but... she'd kinda gotten used to having the brat around. They'd found a way to get along - which primarily involved avoiding each other where-ever possible - and didn't really fight much anymore. If Konohako didn't have anywhere to be Christmas morning, she supposed she could find room to spend time with her, and keep her from having to spend the day alone.

Or maybe it was the rum talking. Maybe she should ask tonight, before the buzz wore off.

Asuka finally broke open the sake, pour a cup, and lifted it in a toast. "To having happy holidays this year. With pancakes and scrambled eggs and socks."

Not having been fully ready for a toast, Kureno quickly retopped his cup and lifted it with hers. And for the sake of having a peaceful night and not putting himself in a bad spot by teasing her while she was buzzed, he didn't add on anything suggestive to her proposal. Man, maybe he was turning into a pervert.

"I'll drink to that," he simply said right before making good on his own word. He watched her drain her own cup as well, eying the now open (and therefore non-refundable) sake bottle. "Are you going to want help with that, or will you be taking most of it home?" Because she was being rather loose with her alcohol tonight, compared to every night since their first date. It was odd, but strangely...reassuring.

The kunoichi rubbed her mouth with the sleeve of her jacket and considered the bottle. It wasn't that much, honestly, but all of that on top of a cup of rum was definitely more than the limit she'd placed on herself over the last few months. (That is, no alcohol at all.) But the rum was settling warm on her stomach and tickling the back of her skull, but she certainly wasn't too far gone yet, right? If she made sure to eat all the edamame (or, well, what Kureno didn't steal), she'd have enough on her belly to help absorb the rest of that sake, right?

"... I'll take it home," she decided finally, and reached for another pod. ... in my stomach.

Not being able to read minds all the time, Kureno nodded and snitched another edamame himself. After all, if she were taking it home, there wasn't much need for her to "pad her stomach" to any great extent.

"And while I probably don't need to ask, I'm still going to ask... Are we back on for New Year's? I mean, we have missed the past couple..." Not that he was making that anyone's fault, although the last one was definitely his own. But he'd just as well avoid talking about it if he could.

"Of course!" New Years was a tradition, one that she'd frankly gotten not a little upset about missing out on, both because of a mission the one time and... stuff... the other time. Like spending Christmas Eve with him, spending New Years Eve with him was an important tradition that shouldn't ever be broken. The dinner out, the watching of the fireworks, the exchange of ever-more-cheesy cards, occasionally even the eating of noodles and heading out to a shrine (though not usually)... it was Important, with a capital I. Asuka didn't want to have to miss it again, for any reason.

Her reply was expected, although not quite the level of certainty that came along with it. It caused Kureno to blink, and then maybe-smile. "Just making sure," he said simply, and realized he was pouring the last of his shouchu into his cup. He contemplated if it was worth asking Etsuko for another hot rum or not, depending on how much farther it looked like Asuka was going to take it with her sake.

She refilled her cup as he refilled his, making a dismissive gesture with her free hand as she did so. 'Just making sure' seemed a silly excuse for a silly question. "Why wouldn't I spend New Years with you? I always do, unless, you know, crap happens. I don't see crap happening this year. I'm sure Konohako will be wanting to spend it with Moegi, and even if she does stay home, well, sucks to be her. This is tradition. You don't break tradition."

Kureno thought about what more there was to say to that when Etsuko suddenly appeared at their table again with two more cups of hot rum. Kureno blinked up at her, wondering why she looked a bit uncertain presenting them. And not in that did-I-already-do-this way, but more concerned about reading what the atmosphere at the table was. Viewing her uncertainty like that and considering how the mood between him and Asuka had been going that night, Kureno concluded that her hesitance probably wasn't surprising at all.

"Hey guys, either of you want another round of the house holiday special?"

This was probably even her way of trying to keep them cheerful. Sweet kid. "I'll take one." Kureno turned to look at Asuka. "You?"

She'd already had a cup of rum. She was planning on finishing off a (small) bottle of sake. Asuka knew very well that she was toeing the limit already, and that this could very well make for an uncomfortable walk home if Kureno didn't keep a lid on his libido. The last thing she should do was have another cup of warm, delicious rum.

"Sure!" she replied cheerfully.

...Okay, either Asuka was in a very good, comfortable mood and enjoying it, or she'd lost count and was about to plunge beyond the buzz stage. Realizing that didn't quite make Kureno stop her, but he did ask Etsuko--who looked rather relieved to find their mood a good one again--to bring them some water and maybe some bread of some kind. If Asuka was going to drink, getting her to eat and hydrate herself would be helpful to keeping her somewhat sober. And it would be a good thing if Asuka remained sober, especially after what she'd said tonight about "needing" to be drunk to relax.

"Are you really sure you can handle that?" he asked, indicating to the rum now in front of her and her levels of sobriety.

"Of course," she replied around a soybean pod. Which, naturally, is what anyone should say when confronted with free alcohol - not just once in a night, but twice. One should never turn down free alcohol. "I'm eating, too. That'll help."

"Of course," he echoed in agreement. And surely the extra appetizer he ordered should help even more. Still, this was turning into unusual behavior for her. ...Well, actually, it was normal, but Asuka hadn't been entirely "normal" since they'd started dating. Again, it was a nice change of pace and Kureno didn't want to discourage her from it, but at the same time he couldn't help but think he needed to keep on his guard. (Or at least his very best behavior.)

But it still couldn't stop him from mentioning, "You certainly seem to be in a good mood right now."

And it was true. Asuka had come out here in a good mood, rather than the semi-nervous-uncertainty that had plagued her around Kureno for... a while, now, and even though they'd had a bit of a hiccup in the middle, it had smoothed out and everything was fine again. It never even occurred to her that the alcohol might have helped that fact, but even if it had, it wouldn't have stopped her from drinking more.

"I am," she replied honestly. "I like spending time with you. It makes me happy - except, you know, when we're fighting. I hate that."

Had she been any more sober, the filter that governed nearly everything she said wouldn't have allowed such an honest statement; her words would have been hammered down to a much more pithy, 'Yup,' and left at that. Unfortunately (or, perhaps, fortunately), the alcohol speaking for her demanded nothing less than complete honesty.

And that was something Kureno's guard was not very prepared for. The easy way she said and confessed such a thing further convinced him that her sobriety was indeed slipping, but...even if she was a little influenced by alcohol, he couldn't bring himself to doubt the words. Or maybe he just really didn't want to. ...What reason did he have to doubt it? Sure Asuka was a little hard to get close to, but hadn't she said once already that he was a very important person to her like she was to him? And they did like sharing each other's company, a truth that had become less and less shrouded under excuses over the years. So really, there was no reason to doubt her words at all, and that made him all the more pleased to hear them. Kureno even smiled--a warm, gentle thing--as he accepted it.

"Me too. On all of that. I like being with you, and I hate fighting with you. ...Sorry if I'm ever too difficult. I'll try harder from now on."

"I'm a punk sometimes too," she admitted. Though it really wasn't much of an admission; everyone and their uncle knew she was difficult. More than difficult even - a pain in the ass. It didn't seem so much like a fault right now, though, as just the way she was and nothing to be repentant for.

She took the time to pour out the last of her sake into the little cup, careful to get every last drop and equally careful not to spill any. "I'm trying to better with you though. Promise."

"I appreciate that," he replied honestly, and softly too, making him sound rather humble even though he too was aware of her pain-in-the-ass-ness. But he'd known that part of her from the beginning, even before he became attracted to her. The fact that he'd fallen for her despite it was just another piece of evidence to him that his feelings really weren't going to be rationalized away. All the less reason to fight them.

No matter how difficult they made things for him sometimes.

And the part of her that was happily enjoying the effects of alcohol but would still remember this in the morning was also appreciative of his efforts... no matter how much he teased her at the same time.

Asuka lifted her cup in a toast, waiting until he'd lifted his as well. "To trying to be better."

"To trying to be better," he repeated in agreement, tapping his glass lightly to hers, careful to not spill the sake she poured with such concentration. And he couldn't help but silently add or hope to himself, 'And to trying to be more.'


And it was wise indeed that he chose to keep that particular thought to himself - in her current state of definitely-not-drunk-yet, Asuka would have probably asked some uncomfortable questions about that.

Instead they enjoyed the second round of rum (with Asuka's double-thumbs up now that she was drinking it, you know, warm), keeping to pleasant or at least not unhappy topics: their teams, their work, funny stories about work (Kureno mentioned the porn story that had somehow made its way into his paperwork, but definitely not the triple-X coupons), the weather and any chance of it snowing this year. Wisely, they declined a third round out of the holiday special - Asuka with obvious sadness - but at this point any more alcohol would tip the balance in the favor of out-right drunk, and somewhere she still recognized the need for sobriety. Or... well... some kind of sobriety at least.

The chill outside when they finally left didn't quite bring full sobriety back, but it did help a little. She crossed her arms over her zipped jacket and stuck her hands in her armpits to keep warm.

"When're you free next?" she asked as they made their way down the lane, still populated even when the clock was pushing midnight.

"I have a little tomorrow evening. More the next," he replied, watching Asuka protect herself from the night air. Maybe he should get her a new jacket for Christmas, as that one looked like it didn't offer as much protection as she was currently wishing it did. He purposely walked closer to her to lend her some of his body heat, although refrained from actually putting his arm around her or anything like that, as was an unspoken rule that lingered in their tentative exploration into a relationship.
Asuka did - honest! - briefly consider her obligations and compare them to his in that moment. But not with much detail; most everything she needed to do was done by two in the afternoon, if not by noon itself, so her evenings were almost always free. Surely if she'd planned something to happen in two days it would occur to her, right?

Luckily for everyone involved, she didn't. Otherwise she'd soon be learning a painful lesson in why she shouldn't make plans when not in full possession of her mental facilities.

"We should go out again," she suggested. Their arms brushed as they walked, Asuka unconsciously shifting a little closer to absorb that much-appreciated heat. "You think they'll still be serving the holiday special in two days? Or maybe we could call take-out and just hang out at your place. .... it's not getting too cold for your fish, is it?"

"They've already begun hibernating. They'll be back up in the spring," he said, inwardly happy to hear her anxious for his company. There was almost undoubtedly some influence making her say as much, but if she hadn't said it he would've made the plans himself. It was nice to have her make them for once. He also made sure not to move away when she walked a little closer to him.

"But if you don't just come over to see the fish, then why don't we just have dinner at my place."
A soft mou of disappointment escaped her, but it was good to hear that they were okay. She'd be much more unhappy if they'd died from the frost.

"That sounds like a good plan," she replied after a moment. "When will you be home? I can get takeout and come over after you get out of work."

He told her, falling into step with her and walking her home without offering to since by now that was just something that went without saying. They made their plans and a little small talk all the way up to her door. While the mood was rather ideal for sneaking a goodnight kiss from her, the last time he'd done that after she'd "had a few" had made things very awkward for them indeed the weeks following. But since then they'd kissed like that again without putting her on a buzz, so maybe...

Screw it. Why not? He'd just make sure it didn't get out of hand. Yet.

There was that inevitable lull and pause right before she went in and they parted ways. Kureno filled that gap of conversation by leaning in and leaving a gentle, lingering kiss on her lips.
As they walked and talked and shivered from the cold (...okay, so that was just her), Asuka did slowly sober up from the alcohol she'd imbibed earlier. Not, that was to say, that she became sober, just more so than earlier. More so than the first date they'd gone on, certainly. But not so sober that her defenses snapped up - like they usually did - whenever he made a move to kiss her. In fact, it seemed like the very thing to do at the moment, and maybe even something that had waited far too long. After all, hadn't she entertained thoughts about getting a proper kiss back when Etsuko had interrupted them under the mistletoe?

Now, she thought, seemed the perfect time to get that proper kiss.

Asuka leaned up into the kiss, returning it with a touch of hesitation, but mostly interest - shy, almost chaste, but definite interest.

And it was enough to encourage him for more, just...not tonight. Not now, not under any opportunity for doubt to be present the next day after all the alcohol had been slept off. He knew Asuka was afraid she'd let him get away with too much if she were really drunk, which is why she'd been so wary of her intake the past couple months. But the truth was Kureno wouldn't let them get that far if she were. She wanted to keep her control over herself; he wanted her to too. He just also wanted her to willingly give some of that control to him for a while, and not let any influence other than him cause it to slip from her grasp.

The fact, however, that she still showed some hesitation caused him to believe perhaps she was more sober than he'd thought, and that going on a little more might be well within her own willingness. ...But he didn't go on. Instead he stepped back, giving her one of his small, genuine smiles.

"Goodnight, Asuka."

The kiss didn't last nearly long enough in her estimation (and she hardly even got any tongue, damnit), but she managed to restrain herself from making any noises that signaled her disappointment. Instead she just took a small step back herself, giving him a shy smile as she reached behind her for the doorknob. "'Night."

And then she slipped inside and pulled the door shut quietly behind her, the room dark and Konohako's bundled, sleeping form obvious on the couch. Which was good - Asuka didn't want to have to field any questions tonight. Instead, she just wanted to head to bed and sleep - and maybe if she was lucky, dream~