—~—

I stared blankly at the young blonde girl in front of me as she devoured the burger that I had given her. It was a bit of a comical sight. Her tiny hands were barely enough to hold the burger together. Her mouth wasn't even big enough to take a proper bite, but it didn't stop her from messily tearing into it, making sounds a girl her apparent age shouldn't have even known how to produce.

I wasn't certain what to think about her. The last time I had seen her I had been facing down Raynare. She'd been kind to me in a sense, though at the time I suspected it was more out of self-preservation than anything. Even now I wasn't certain what to think. She'd been surprised to see me when she had woken up, but she hadn't been hostile in any sense of the word.

It was hard to equate the girl in front of me to that haughty fallen angel that had threatened to do unspeakable things to me. For starters, she'd ditched the ribbons that had held her hair up and instead it hung limply around her head. She wore the same gothic lolita outfit as she had before, though it was now dirty and crumpled. The bottom of it had flared out before but now it looked wilted, limp and dirty.

Eventually through sheer force of will, she managed to wolf down the last of the burger. She let out a sigh of relief and closed her eyes, relishing the moment. "I thought I was going to starve to death," she said, her voice rueful.

She opened her eyes again and offered me an appreciative smile. "Thanks…uhm… Harry, wasn't it?" She asked awkwardly.

"That's right," I said, unable to help but smile at her. She'd made a mess of herself. Her lower face was smeared in a mixture of ketchup and mayo. "Your name's Mittelt, right? I never forget the face of someone who threatens to rape me," I told her casually.

She looked like a deer caught in the headlights and her face rapidly flushed. "Ah—I," she stumbled over her words and fell silent for a moment. "Sorry," she said feebly, squirming in place.

"Water under the bridge," I said to her, amused by her reaction. "By the way," I said and pointed toward her mouth. "Got a bit of a mess there."

A relieved look settled on her features and she gave me another small smile before she lifted an arm up and wiped her face clean, straining the already dirty dress even further.

"Now, not to be blunt, but… what are you doing here, and looking like…" I grimaced and gestured at her clothes.

A brief defiant look appeared on her young features, but a second later it devolved into a look of utter defeat. "I don't want to talk about it," she said softly, her gaze dropping to the ground. Her hands on her lap bunched up her dress in their hands tightly.

"Okay," I said kindly.

"Are… are you going to tell anyone that I'm here?" She asked, her voice quiet as she glanced up at me. I could see the trepidation in her eyes. She was utterly terrified that I'd let someone know she was here.

The smart thing to do would have been to tell someone that a Fallen Angel had taken up residence in the church again. On the other hand, Mittelt didn't look like she could hurt a fly at this point. She was dirty and hungry and was holed up inside a condemned building. That didn't scream 'threat' to me.

"I won't tell anyone," I told her after a moment.

A relieved look passed over her features and I watched some of the tension drain out of her shoulders and she fell silent.

I wasn't a detective by any stretch of the imagination, but I was smart enough to start putting two and two together.

She looked like she hadn't had a shower in a month. She was hungry, weak and every so often, when she thought I wasn't looking, she had the most defeated look I'd ever seen on anyone, like she'd given up on living.

None of it really made sense by itself.

She was a Fallen Angel, after all, she wasn't a normal human. If she wanted to she could simply waltz into any house she wanted to, kill its inhabitants and have a nice long bath and help herself to their pantry.

But for some reason, she hadn't. I wasn't naive enough to think that she wasn't capable of killing. Yet, for some reason here she was, holed up inside an abandoned, derelict church. So why was she here? The simplest answer was because she didn't have a choice.

"You're hiding from someone." I said quietly and ignored the flinch she gave as I continued. "You're hiding some someone that scares you enough that you haven't set foot outside this church in who knows how long. Someone that scares you enough that you'd rather hide in smashed up church in a city run by people who would kill you on sight."

With every word I spoke she shrunk further and further in on herself, looking more and more like a scared child. I started to regret pushing the subject.

Mittelt gave a shaky laugh and looked up at me. "I didn't even want to get dragged into this stuff in the first place," she told me. "I was ordered to by… by him. To follow Raynare and do whatever she told me. That's what he told me to do. That's what he told all of us to do."

She fell silent and began to fiddle with the ruffles of her dress. It was a while before she spoke again, and when she did she sounded sombre. "After you kicked Raynare's butt, Kalawarner and I found Dohnaseek and took him back to headquarters. We went to… him to tell him what happened and…" She clenched her fists tightly. "He killed them," Mittelt said, her shoulders shaking.

She looked up to me again. Her bright blue eyes were watering. "I really hated Dohnaseek," she told me, her voice wavering. "I really, really hated him. He was always bossing me around and he always wore that stupid grey suit. But I didn't want him to die, I didn't want Kalawarner to die either, that… that stupid big chested bimbo."

I kept my face impassive as she spoke and couldn't help but notice above all else that she refused to say 'his' name, whoever he was. She was absolutely terrified of whoever it was that she had been reporting to.

"Do you want a hug?" I offered awkwardly.

She gave me a strange look followed by a watery smile. "I'm not a kid you know."

"Looks can be deceiving," I said back to her mildly, earning a brief glare from her followed by a brief look of gratitude. "How did you get away?" I asked her, unable to keep the curiosity out of my voice.

"I'm a weakling," Mittelt admitted softly. "I was never a fighter. The only thing I'm good at is running away." She drew her arms up and wrapped them around herself. "The moment I saw Dohnaseek die, I ran and I never looked back."

A bitter look crossed her features. "I don't even know if I actually got away. For all I know he could be watching me in amusement as I stew in my own filth." She lifted a hand up and gestured around to the ruins of the church around us. "Fallen Angels can't look inside the houses of god," she told me. "It's impossible for even the Cadre to peer inside without being physically present. Combined with the devils in the city and not even…" She shook her head. "It's such a dumb place to hide that it's perfect."

"Except for the lack of warmth, food, running water and," I glanced around. "Walls."

"To be fair the last bit is your fault," Mittelt pointed out wryly, casting a sideways look at me.

"What can I say? I put the Cool in Collateral damage."

The fallen angel beside me stared at me blankly. "…You actually think you're funny," she said after a few seconds. "Don't you?"

I grinned at her. "Think? I know it. You just aren't old enough to get my sense of humour."

Mittelt puffed her cheeks out and glared at me briefly, before a smile touched her lips. "…Are you going to eat that?" She licked her lips and glanced down at the half unwrapped burger sitting between us.

I really wanted to. My stomach was starting to give me pangs of hunger, but I buckled down and endured it. "No, you can have it," I told her.

Before I even finished speaking she had already reached down, picked it up and begun to tear into it. She made another of those awkward noises that shouldn't have been coming from her and swallowed. "So," She said between bites. "Why'd you come here?"

"Same reason as you," I admitted after a moment. "I thought that this would be the last place that anyone would look for me."

She gave me an expectant look.

I frowned. "I don't want to talk about it."

Mittelt frowned and swallowed. "I told you and I didn't want to but I still did," she pointed out before stuffing her mouth full of burger again.

She had a point, but I'd only just managed to beat down the anger and fury that I had been feeling. I wasn't in the mood to remember why I had decided that spending a day inside a condemned building was a better option than staying at school.

On the other hand, I was unlikely to find someone else I could talk to about my situation who wouldn't be bias.

"Last night I had sex with a girl," I told Mittelt. "This morning I found out that the only reason she slept with me was to try and break off her engagement. Then her fiancé showed up and offered a chance to break off the marriage if she agreed to stop talking to me."

At some point Mittelt had stopped chewing and had just stared at me, her brow furrowing more and more as I spoke.

She swallowed her mouthful. "That sucks," she said with a frown. "I hope you didn't take that lying down."

"I left without saying anything to her," I said and folded my arms across my chest. "I mean, what do you even say to something like that?"

"I think you did the right thing," Mittelt said to me. She sounded almost introspective or reminiscent. "Cut your losses and move on. If you live long enough you realize that you can't win them all and in the end if something goes on for too long you've already lost it."

I frowned and stared down at the young blonde girl. "You sound awfully pessimistic for a midget, you know?"

Mittelt gave me a dirty look before she perked up. "Look on the bright side," she said. "At least you got to have sex, you should be happy about that!"

I stared at her dumbly. Hadn't someone said that to me recently? A wave of Deja vu hit me followed by suspicion a second later. "Has someone named Bob been here recently?"

Confusion registered in the fallen angel's eyes and she shook her head before biting into the burger again chewing for a few seconds. "You're the first person I've seen since I've been stuck here," she admitted.

She hesitated for a moment before lowering the burger in her hands down. "To be honest," she said. "I'm not entirely sure I haven't hallucinated this entire conversation, and that I'm not going to wake up on that awful mattress again, starving and alone."

"…Damn you're depressing." I said with a frown and reached over, pinching the girl's cheek.

"Ow! Ow ow ow ow!"

I grinned down at her and let go of her cheek.

She pouted and looked up at me and had to set the burger down so she could rub her cheek. "You're mean," she told me grumpily.

"Maybe," I admitted. "But you know you're awake now, don't you?"

Mittelt blinked rapidly. "…I guess," she admitted reluctantly.

We fell silent for a few minutes and the blonde fallen angel picked up the burger and continued to nibble on it.

I found myself wondering what I was going to do. A part of me wanted to pack up and just run away. Find some place where there were no wizards or devils or anything but regular old humans. I knew that it wasn't possible though. Serafall would find me no matter where I went and drag me back kicking and screaming if she had to.

Another louder part of me wanted to storm back to school and confronted Rias and do an unhealthy amount of yelling at her until I felt better. It sounded good in theory. Get everything off my chest and dump all the emotional baggage in her lap. If only it was that easy.

In the deep depths of my mind there was yet another voice. A dark voice that told me that I should go back and ruin everything for Rias. Make it clear that I wasn't going anywhere and ruin her one chance to get out of her situation. To inflict the pain I was feeling right back on her and then some.

I blocked that voice out and shoved it deep, deep down where the sun didn't shine.

Rias may have hurt me, but that didn't mean I had to stoop to her level. For everything that she had done and said, she hadn't done any of it with malicious intent. She may have used me and lied to my face about it, but she had done it for a reason.

I wanted to strangle the voice of reason that was producing those thoughts. I didn't want to feel sorry for Rias. I didn't want to understand her motives. All I wanted was for her to know how much she hurt me.

I wanted the same of Elaine as well.

I wanted to find her and demand she answer for the pain that she caused me.

More than anything though, I wanted to get it through my thick head that nothing good came from girls. The heartache and lingering pain wasn't worth it. What I really needed to do was learn how to sleep with a girl and not fall in love with her.

I clamped down on that thought down with prejudice. I didn't like what it implied at all.

"You look like you're deep in thought," Mittelt said to me. "What are you thinking about?"

I looked up and found that she'd finished off the second burger and was licking her fingers clean.

"Do you want the truth or something a bit more simple?" I asked her with a bitter smile.

She didn't answer straight away, instead she looked like she was actually considering the question. "The truth, I think," she finally said, dropping her hands down to her dress and wiping them clean.

She wanted the truth, and I wanted an unbiased opinion, so I told her.

To her credit she was patient and listened to everything I said. I wasn't in the habit of unloading my problems, and it took me a while to form my thoughts into words, but eventually I got there.

When I finally finished telling her I fell silent and waited for her response. I felt nervous and anxious, and I found myself wondering why I had even told her. I didn't even know her, and we were technically enemies. Sure I had gone out of my way to help her this time, but that had just been because of her circumstances. I wouldn't have been able to sleep at night if I hadn't offered her some form of help.

At some point while I hadn't been paying attention to her, Mittelt had developed a small frown on her lips. It looked like she was taking the time to think about what I had said. For the briefest moment I hoped that when she spoke she'd be able to say something that would magically make everything better, if only for a moment.

"Devil's are the worst," Mittelt told me, her face utterly serious. She took a moment to consider before adding, "Present company excluded."

I rolled my eyes. "That's such great advice, thanks," I told her.

"The best advice I can give you is to not sleep with devils." She folded her arms across her chest and gave me a pointed look. "Sex is a wonderful thing," she told me, and I found myself once again reminded just who I was talking to. "Sex is a good way to connect with another person, to relax and to bond."

A disgusted look crossed her features. "Sex isn't a currency or a weapon. No matter how much humans or devils treat it like it is."

"Please stop saying sex," I asked her with as much politeness as I could muster.

Mittelt gave me a grin, but none the less relented and reached over, patting me on the leg. "There, there, one day you'll find the perfect girl for you." She gave me a sly, sideways look. "Who knows? Maybe you've already met her." Her hand squeezed my thigh.

I'm not proud to admit that my reaction to that was less than manly. "W-wait a second!" I panicked and pushed her hand off my leg before all but leaping up from the pew and putting distance between us.

Mittelt burst out into delighted laughter at my reaction, a great big smile of amusement on her features.

It took me a few moments to process what had just happened. "…You— you…" I found fumbling over my words, unable to get them out.

She just kept smiling at me and stopped her hands to the pew to steady herself. She began to kick her legs back and forth, acting every bit the child that she looked like.

"I…am going to leave now," I managed to say, unable to deal with the sheer duality of the fallen angel in front of me. What she said, what she looked like, what she knew and what she acted like mingled together in a mind-numbing ball of confusion and disturbing innuendo.

I don't know what I expected to happen when I said it, but I certainly didn't expect the reaction she gave.

"No!" Mittelt's eyes widened in abject terror and she jumped off of the pew. "You can't leave!" She cried out and crossed the distance between us before I could react. An instant later, I found her wrapped around my waist in an iron grip. "Please don't go!" She begged. "I-I'm sorry, I was just kidding around! P-please don't leave!"

I found myself frozen in place, shocked and confused by the obscenely strong reaction. But, as I thought about it, as I remembered that she had been stuck here for however man days by herself. She had no one to talk to, no food, no water, nothing except for a crummy old blanket and a lumpy mattress.

I lifted my arms up slowly and wrapped them around the short girl's body as best I could, and hugged her gently. "…It's alright," I said after a few moments as I felt her body quiver and shake. The top of her head barely reached by belly button and made hugging her awkward, but I did it anyway.

"I'll come back," I reassured her, my voice gentle and as kind as I could make it. "It's just best if I go for now, otherwise someone is going to come looking for me, and I don't think either of us wants them to find you." I lifted one of my hands up and carefully ran my fingers through her grimy hair.

Slowly by slowly I felt the shivers that racked her body slowly subside, and eventually she lifted her face up from my stomach and looked up at me, with those big blue eyes. She looked like she was trying to hold back from breaking out into tears. "P-promise?"

"I promise," I said. There was no way I couldn't come back now. If my sense of common decency hadn't been enough to guilt me into it, the look on her face would have never let me walk away without killing my heart. "I'll be back tomorrow," I told her. "I'll bring some stuff to make it a bit more… bearable."

Her arms tightened around me once more and her lip wobbled. She buried her face on my stomach again and murmured something incoherent into my shirt.

I kept running my hand through her hair soothingly.

After a few minutes she finally let go and stepped back from me, offering me a weak smile. "…Thank you," she mumbled, glancing away shyly.

"I will be back," I repeated firmly. "I'll bring back some food, clothes, sheets, and…" I sniffed the air briefly. "…soap, lots of soap."

She gave me an outraged look. "How dare you!" She exclaimed.

"You know you stink right?" I shook my head and picked up my bag. "I'm bringing you an entire box of soap and you're going to clean yourself up, even if I have to force you."

The outrage died away instantly and was replaced with an almost playful, teasing look. It was at that point that I knew I said the wrong thing.

I didn't give her a chance to say anything back to me. I turned away and all but fled the church before she said something I didn't want to hear—at least that had been the plan. I almost made it through the church doors as well.

"Seriously though, don't sleep with devils, they'll fuck you," She called out to me, forcing me to roll my eyes.

The worst part was that she wasn't wrong.

I closed the church doors behind me despite the pointlessness of it, and made my way back down the hill. As I walked I began the process of trying to figure out how I was going to deliver on my promise to Mittelt.

Food, clothes and blankets. That seemed simple enough, except for the whole 'I'm basically broke' bit. I got my money from Serafall every few weeks, technically she was supposed to drop off my allowance the other night, but we'd been side-tracked.

It was three days until she would be back to take me to America to see the White Council. Three days until they wanted me there to explain what had happened and why I had killed Justin, or rather, to prove that I hadn't killed him in cold blood.

I shoved those thoughts to the back of my mind. There was no point worrying over them yet, I had days before it was an issue. Instead I could worry about how I was going to keep my promise to Mittelt. I could always do the dumb thing and knock over a bank, or steal from a supermarket.

Or perhaps I could wander into the bad parts of town and trick some gang members into starting a fight. At that stage losing their wallets was the least of their concerns. In fact, I'm certain that if given the choice between getting broken bones and giving away money, they'd choose to give every time.

My musings came to an end when I found myself arriving outside the gate of Sona's house. The door was shut and the windows were still closed, as expected. It was barely past mid-day, Sona was no doubt still at school diligently attending classes and working her butt off taking care of student council business.

I unlocked the door and headed inside. I kicked off my shoes, dropped my bag in the hallway and made my way to the lounge room intending to sit down on the couch and take a moment to relax.

"Good afternoon Harry," Sona said as I stepped into view.

"Jesus—ah! God—dammit! Fuck!" I clutched my head in agony as lances of pain shot through my brain with each word like hot needles. I kept still for a few seconds until it passed.

Unfortunately, Sona was still there, sitting on the lounge with a book in her hand and a pencil in the other. She was staring at me through her red-rimmed glasses, a single eyebrow raised. "Are you finished?"

I grimaced and made a mental note to learn how to figure out if she was home in the future. "Yeah, sorry," I said to her.

She calmly set the pencil against the inside of her book and shut it before setting it aside. "Would you like to tell me why you left school at the start of the day?" She asked, her voice calm and polite, and utterly intimidating.

I toyed with the notion of being honest.

"I felt sick so I went to the doctors," I told her, lying through my teeth without a hint of hesitation.

A faint frown formed upon her lips. "What did they say?"

"Nothing," I answered. "They were far too busy, I couldn't get in."

"You should have waited until they had an appointment available," Sona said to me.

For a second I actually thought she believed me.

"Since it cannot be helped, I will assist you," Sona told me, her violet eyes regarding me critically. "Undress and I will do a medical check-up on you."

I stared at her for a long moment, unsure if I had heard her correctly. It made far more sense for me to be getting audio hallucinations from hunger. "Uhm, could you repeat that please?"

"My family territory in the Underworld is famed for having some of the most advanced medical facilities in both the Human and Underworld," Sona informed me, her lips slowly working their way into a smile. "As such, I've learned a significant amount about the human body as well as various treatments for common and uncommon ailments, it should be simple to assist you, now strip and I will take a look at you."

I couldn't help but stare at her blankly, a stare that she matched with equal patience for every part of disbelief.

"…You know I'm lying," I said to her. "Why insist on 'examining' me?" I demanded to know. "You've already gotten a few free looks over the past few days," I accused her. "What more do you want?"

Sona didn't rise to the bait. I hadn't really expected her to, but it would have been nice none the less.

"Either you're sick and you need treatment, or we can discuss why you left school early today." She told me, her voice level and firm.

"So what? Either I talk about what you already know about or you put on a latex glove, bend me over and tell me to cough?" I said to her sarcastically and folded my arms across my chest.

Sona blinked once, just once and then she slowly smiled. "That sums it up quite nicely yes," she said. "Though, I assure you, I do not require gloves."

I watched in utter horror as she lifted a hand up and water began to draw out of the very air itself, slithering around her dainty fingers until they were fully coated in a thin veneer of water.

Intellectually I knew that she was joking, yet I still felt my butt cheeks clench out of instinctual fear.

"I don't need to tell you anything," I flat out told her.

"No, no you don't," Sona agreed quietly, her expression softening a fraction. "But all the same, I would hope that the hospitality I have offered you over this past month would mean enough to you that you would be willing to oblige me on this request."

I grimaced. Sona hadn't asked for a single thing from me in the entire time I'd stayed at her house. Sure she'd been firm with the rules and had insisted that I endure her 'take' on breakfast, but she'd never flat out demanded anything of me in exchange for housing Asia and I.

I let out a sigh and stepped over to one of the lounge chairs and dropped myself into it. "Fine," I said, doing my best to express my displeasure in my tone.

"Thank you," Sona said to me politely. She folded her hands upon her lap and regarded me for a long moment. "Let's talk about your test results first."

Once more I found myself staring at Sona blankly. "Why?" It was a stupid question, I already knew her answer.

"School is important," She told me, her voice utterly serious.

"Is that why you're skipping school today as well?" I asked her, unable to help myself.

"I've already completed the course work for the remainder of the year," Sona said to me as she adjusted her glasses.

If it had been anyone else I would have called them out on it, but since it was Sona, I had no trouble believing it. I had no shame in admitting that she was flat out smarter than I was.

I glanced down at the notebook that she had been writing in. "If you've finished all the work then what were you doing with that?" I asked.

Sona glanced down. "I'm finishing my final dissertation for my doctorate," she admitted.

"…Why are you even still in school if you're at university level?" I asked her, unable to keep the disbelief out of my voice.

"We're straying from the subject at hand," Sona told me, but none the less she answered my question. "I'm learning the intricacies of the public school systems."

"Why?"

Sona fell silent and became introspective. "That is a bit of a personal question," she told me and she regarded me with her violet gaze. "I suppose, if it's you, my sisters knight," she said more to herself than me. "My dream is to one day open up a school in the Underworld to teach low-class devils and reincarnated devils about the Rating Game."

Sona was always a strict and stern person with a certain amount of intensity. It was in that moment that I found the full weight of her attention on me. I slowly realized that she was waiting for my response, and more than that, she was anxious about how I would respond.

"That sounds awesome," I told her honestly. "If new devils are as confused as I am half the time then it'll be a really handy thing to have."

Sona smiled at me. I mean she actually, openly, fully, genuinely smiled at me. It only lasted for a second, but it made her look stunning.

She must have realized that she was smiling, because a second later she brought a hand up to her mouth and cleared her throat politely.

"Yes, well, I believe it is a worthy goal for the future." She dropped her hand down to her lap again.

"Regarding your test. You didn't do as well as I would have preferred due to some incorrectly written kanji, however the basis of your knowledge is coming along well considering you've only been in Japan for a month," she told me. "I'll be personally overseeing your tutelage from now on in regards to your studies. I've already spoken about it with Akeno."

I wasn't certain what to say to that. At least with Akeno if I didn't want to study I could just pretend she didn't exist. I was fairly certain Sona wouldn't put up with the same treatment. "That's… awesome," I finally said after a few seconds of silence.

Sona nodded, pleased with my response before she got serious again. "Before we begin the next discussion, I wanted to preface it with the following statement."

"I do not approve of what Rias did," Sona said to me, her voice utterly serious. "I do not condone intercourse between school students as the Student President, and as the heiress of the House of Sitri, I do not consider what she did to be honourable or just."

I listened to what Sona said, and more importantly, I listened to what she didn't say.

"And as Rias' friend?" I asked, keeping my voice as level as possible.

Sona's eyes slowly closed and she took a moment before answering. "Despite how much I did not approve, that does not change that Rias is my friend. I am incapable of helping her directly. Any manner in which I could act that would directly influence the situation would risk causing political conflict between the Sitri, Phenex and Gremory."

"Last night, when you found Asia and I standing in the hallway. You weren't surprised at all that she had been there. The only thing you were surprised by was that the maid had been there. Not that I blame you, she terrifies me as well."

I gave her a chance to say something, but Sona remained silent.

"You gave her permission to enter your wards," I said to Sona, my voice quiet. "If she hadn't had permission then she would have had to force her way through, like Grayfia did, and I would have felt it."

"I gave her permission to enter my wards with the intention that she would use it to visit me, as a friend would," Sona spoke carefully, choosing her words carefully. "What Rias chose to do with that was entirely up to her, and the consequences rest on her shoulders."

That was as close to an admission as I was going to get from her. "Can she still just travel through your ward?"

Sona shook her head. "No, after last night I removed her access again."

I didn't know what to say to that. On one hand I was furious that she had admitted to helping Rias with what she had intended to do. On the other hand, I could understand helping someone you cared about, even if you knew you shouldn't.

"That's a very fine line to walk."

"I do not regret helping my friend," Sona said. "I do regret that in doing so I have caused you pain."

I let my eyes close and let out a soft breath, trying to release the tension building up inside me, before I opened them again. "Is that all?"

"No," Sona admitted. "I wanted to talk to you about Rias' situation, with the hope that you might understand it a bit better."

"No, I get it. She didn't want to get married to that creep Raiser and decided that if she fucked a Satan's knight she'd be able to break it off. And when they failed, she threw me under the bus to make sure she got out in one piece."

Just thinking about it made my blood boil again.

Sona grimaced. "Despite what the rest of the academy would like to have you believe, Rias is not perfect. She is capable of making mistakes as well as anyone. She is only—"

"—Human? Is that what you were going to say?" I finished for her, unable to keep the deep seated sarcasm out of my voice.

Sona gave me a reproachful look. "She's only a teenage girl. She believes she is doing the right thing."

I frowned and didn't let myself speak. It was a lot harder to be angry at Rias when it was presented like that.

I'd seen teenage girls do some stupid stuff—and I meant really stupid. I'd seen them unintentionally tear other guy's hearts to shreds without even realizing it. Never meaning to be malicious, but causing pain as well as if they had. Even Elaine hadn't been immune from it.

"That doesn't excuse her," I said, feeling the anger drain out of me until only tiredness was left. "It doesn't mean she gets to do what she wants."

"It does not give her carte blanche to do as she wishes, no." Sona agreed. "No matter the outcome of the Rating Game, she is going to have to live with the consequences of her decisions, one of which is, however unintentionally, hurting you, someone she has come to care about."

"I'm not forgiving her," I told Sona even as I slumped back again the lounge chair beneath me.

"I am not asking you to forgive Rias. That is between you and her. All I am asking, is that you do not interpret the naivety on her part as malice."

I hated that Sona was being logical about this. It made me feel as though my anger at Rias was misplaced. I mean, sure no one forced me to have sex with her, and it was true that I had been the one to make the first move. Rias had never said a relationship either, had she? I'd been the one to despite to become emotionally invested and I was the one who decided that she had betrayed me.

The more I thought about it the more I realized that maybe I had overreacted a tiny bit. It didn't mean that I had forgiven Rias by any stretch, but I wasn't ready to pack up and leave any more.

I gave Sona a tired smile. "You're pretty smart, you know that?"

A ghost of a smile found its way to Sona's lips. "I've been told that one or twice," she acknowledged without hubris.

I chuckled. "I suppose you know what this is all like then, being an heiress yourself?"

Sona's lips pursed together briefly and she nodded. "I have declined forty eight proposals since my fifteenth birthday."

My eyebrows rose to meet my hairline. "Wow, someone's popular," I teased her, before falling silent and frowning. "Why couldn't Rias do that? Just decline the marriage?"

"It is not as simple as saying no," Sona told me. "Outright rejection is both impolite and unbecoming of an heiress." She told me. "When I was younger I decided that I would not marry someone who was not smarter than I was. To that end for all my suitors I have proposed a simple challenge; if they can beat me in a single game of chess, I would have happily marry them."

"Why didn't Rias do that?" I asked, unable to keep the curiosity out of my voice. "It sounds a lot easier."

"Rias is many things, and talented in many ways, but she is not truly exceptional in any of them. There is no single skill that she possesses that exceeds all potential suitors." She considered. "Additionally, the arrangement between the Gremory and Phenex has been in place for many years. I do not believe it is applicable to her situation."

I didn't speak up again and I found myself falling into a moment of introspection. The day had been an emotional roller-coaster and it was barely halfway over.

What I really wanted to do, more than anything, was to talk to Rias privately. I'd started the day angry, and when we had talked, before Raiser had shown up, we'd come to an understanding. I knew that it was impossible to talk to Rias, and it would continue to be for the next month.

Technically I could. I could go over there right now and pull her aside. That is, if I was willing to sacrifice her one chance to break off the engagement with that blond bastard—which, despite how badly she hurt me, I wasn't. The more I thought about it and put aside my feelings, the more I could understand why Rias had immediately accepted the condition to not talk with me.

She'd said it from the very start, hadn't she? There couldn't be an us until everything was over. I know she hadn't been lying when I asked her if she'd stop me kissing her. I could endure a month of silence from her.

I had faith in her. I believed she could beat Raiser. I may not have been able to talk to her, but neither she nor Raiser had flat out said that I couldn't be involved at all.

The stipulation had simply be that I not see Rias until the Rating Game had been decided.

"Sona, what can you tell me about that prick Raiser?" I asked suddenly. "Does the Underworld keep track of Rating Games?"

Sona's violet eyes stared at me, curiosity in her gaze. "I can tell you many things," she admitted. "And yes, they do. However, that will have to wait." She reached beside her and lifted a notebook that I hadn't seen as I had come in and handed it to me.

I accepted the book with confusion and glanced down at it. "What's this?"

"The work you missed out on today," Sona informed me. "I had Tsubaki go to your teachers and collect copies of their lesson plan for today for you to study."

I stared at her. "…You're kidding."

"I am not. If you require assistance to understand, then I will help you."

For a brief moment, I considered arguing, and then realized that there was no point. I could either catch up now, or catch up tomorrow when I went back and deal with twice the workload.

I gave a sigh and flipped the book open to the first page. "We'll talk more about this stuff later, right?" I asked her, glancing aside.

"We will," Sona agreed and picked her own notebook up again. "In between tutelage sessions of an evening, I will also begin to teach you about the Rating Games. You will be my first student. It will be educational for both of us."

I could hear an almost invisible note of excitement in her voice, and couldn't help but smile faintly. Leave it to Sona to be excited to learn something by teaching someone.

"That sounds… interesting," I said diplomatically before glancing down at the book in my hand and resigning myself to reading it.

The quicker I got through it the quicker I'd be able to get to the good stuff.

It was just like old times— except keeping my nose down in the book turned out to be a lot harder than I had anticipated. Every few minutes I couldn't help but glance up at Sona. She never once looked up, instead she kept her eyes on the book in front of her, making notes every so often.

Eventually, through sheer force of will, I managed to get through the stack of notes that she had handed me. The material was dry, but it had been presented clearly, which was more than could be said for the actual lessons that the teachers gave.

"I'm done," I declared and set the notes down. "Now what can you tell me about Raiser Phenex?"

Sona didn't look up straight away, and instead was still for a moment before jotting down another thought in her book. Eventually though, slowly and patiently, she closed the book and looked over at me. "Alright," she said. "What would you like to know?"

I considered the question. I don't think 'How do I get away with murdering him' would be the appropriate question to ask. "What do you think I should know about him?" I finally asked.

Sona gave a look of approval and nodded. "To begin with, I will tell you about his family. The Phenex Clan is one of the remaining 72 Pillars which can still boast a pure bloodline." She told me. "The current head of family is Raiser's father, who holds the rank of Marquis. The next in line for control of the family is Raiser's eldest brother, Ruval Phenex."

I opened my mouth to say something, but one pointed look from Sona convinced me otherwise.

"The Phenex are famous for their significant control over fire. Their pyrokinesis is unrivalled in the underworld. They are, in many ways the opposite of the Sitri, who are unparalleled in the ability to control water." Her lips quirked. "As repeatedly demonstrated."

I bit back a snarky comment and found myself inordinately pleased with myself, apparently I could learn.

"On the other hand, they are infamous for their power of immortality—"

Wait, what?

"What are you talking about?" I demanded to know, unable to help myself.

Sona's lips pressed together and she gave me a look of disapproval before continuing on as if she hadn't heard me. "The Phenex are vaunted for their superior regenerative abilities, they are capable of regenerating from wounds that would be fatal to other devils."

That sounded familiar. When I had hit Raiser and broken his nose, it had lit up like a bonfire and when the flames had vanished, it had been as if I hadn't hit him at all. "How extensive is it exactly?" I asked, not sure if I wanted to know the answer.

"In the games that I have viewed involving Raiser, I have seen him regenerate whole sections of his body and even fatal damage to his head." Sona admitted reluctantly. "As far as defensive abilities go, it is a significant hurtle to overcome."

No kidding, how was Rias supposed to win against a guy if she couldn't even keep him down? No wonder the bastard had been so amused at the suggestion of a Rating Game and hadn't batted an eyelash.

"It isn't however impossible to overcome," Sona told me after seeing the look on my face. "Their regenerative abilities rely on their internal stores of demonic power, once it is sufficiently depleted they are unable to utilize their regeneration." She bit down on her bottom lip. "With that said, I have never witnessed it happening inside a Rating Game."

I let out a long breath and slumped back into my seat. "Alright, so fire and the ability to not die," I muttered and then a vague sense of familiarity hit me. I'd heard of a creature that boasted those abilities. I looked up to Sona again. "Are they related to the Phoenix from Greek mythology by any chance?"

"Very good," Sona politely praised me, nodding her head. "The origin of their bloodline comes from the Phoenix of legend. Whether the original Phoenix was a devil, or one of the primordial devils laid claim to its powers is something that was lost to history."

"Now we are getting off track. The final notable power that the Phenex have is the ability to produce Phoenix tears, a liquid that is capable of instantly healing injuries. It is a highly valuable medical aid in the Underworld and is solely produced by the Phenex."

I didn't know how to react to that. Not only were they capable of regenerating from any injury, but they could give that ability to others? That was the most unfair thing I'd ever heard. "How is that even allowed? There has to be some kind of rule against that!"

"Phoenix tears are restricted in Rating Games," Sona admitted. "There is a strict limit of two per team. They are not entirely restricted because the Phenex are in the business of selling them for exorbitant prices, and thus anyone can access them, as long as they are willing to pay."

"So," I began after a moment. "All Rias has to do is kill an immortal fire chicken wannabe, deal with the devils carrying the phoenix tears and that's it? Why don't they just declare Raiser the victor and be done with it?" My voice was dripping with so much sarcasm that I was worried that I might drown in it.

"There are two more things," Sona said after a few seconds. "Each member of Raiser's peerage is capable of wielding the fire to some degree of proficiency. Raiser's Queen, Yubelluna is particularly skilled and is known as 'the Bomb Queen'." Sona hesitated before adding on. "Additionally, Raiser is not the only Phenex that Rias will have to deal with. There is also his sister, who is a member of his peerage."

I had no words for that. This was looking more and more hopeless by the second.

I pushed those negative thoughts away and thought back to the morning when Raiser had brought in his peerage to show off.

When Raiser's peerage had first appeared, my eyes had been drawn to a tall purple haired beauty with an impassive expression upon her face. Buxom and decked out in jewellery and finery. I would have been willing to bet my arm that she was his Queen.

I also recalled a young girl standing near the front wearing a fancy purple dress. Fair skin, blue eyes, blonde hair done up in fancy curls on either side of her head. She might have been cute if she hadn't had such a stuck-up look on her face at the time.

"You mentioned that Raiser wasn't the heir, that his brother Ruval was," I said suddenly. "What can you tell me about him?"

"Ruval, as you said is the heir to the House of Phenex. Unlike his brother, Ruval is known to be just and noble in his actions." Sona said. "He is one of the strongest devils in the Underworld, and is one of the top ranked in the Rating Games."

Sona went silent for a moment, and when she spoke she seemed distracted. "I have watched Rating Games for both brothers, and without any form of bias, I can say that Ruval is superior in every facet to his younger brother." Her lips compressed into a thin line. "With that said, the only two times Raiser has ever lost in a Rating Game was because he surrendered out of respect for his opponent."

With that said, Sona fell silent. I didn't blame her. What else was there to really say?

Rias' opponent was an immortal asshole who had never lost a game without forfeiting because his daddy told him to.

"Be honest and level with me," I asked Sona, my voice quiet and remote. "Realistically, what chance does she have?"

"I believe that Rias has the potential to defeat Raiser," Sona told me after a moment of considering. "Raiser has made a significant tactical error. He has given Rias time to prepare her peerage against him. If Rias utilizes every resource available to her, she has a chance to come out of this the victor, however slim that may be."

Sona looked toward a clock on the wall. "That will be all for today," she said to me and stood up, collecting her things. "The school day is over, but I have other responsibilities that I need to attend to."

As Sona left I turned my head toward her. "Thank you," I said to her, offering her a brief smile.

Sona inclined her head toward me and without another word left, leaving me alone in the house with my thoughts.

My initial anger at Rias had spluttered out and died and the talk with Sona had put the final nails in its coffin. I was far from happy with Rias, but there were more pressing matters to deal with, like how I was going to help her kick her fiancé to the curb.

I couldn't directly help her by doing something like beating Raiser to death, partially because he was apparently mostly immune to death, and partially because I was certain that Sona would give me a stern talking to.

I had a month to plan. A month to prepare. A month was an eternity for a wizard. I couldn't directly help, no. But that didn't mean I couldn't give them something that would help.

What was a wizard without fancy magical toys? I had no idea where to begin with eliminating Raiser's ability to heal, but there was another power that he had that was more on my level, a power that I was more than able to deal with.

Fire.

Fire was something I could work with. I'd never been forced to craft defensive talismans in the past. There had never been a real need to—or perhaps Justin had thought that it would be best if I had no experience in the discipline before he managed to put the mental whammy on me.

Experience in the subject was unimportant, not when I had an all-purpose magical library at my disposal. As far as money went, Serafall had point blank told me that if I needed something to make a magical toy then she would happily fund it. That gave me a practically limitless amount of money to spend, except for the caveat that she would want to be involved from start to finish in whatever it was I made.

That wouldn't even be a bad thing. In fact she might even have some ideas of how to deal with Raiser's regeneration. She'd already helped me with my staff, I couldn't imagine that she wouldn't have other ideas as well.

After all, you don't get to become one of the four Great Satan's by collecting bottle caps.

My musings were cut short as I heard the front door open.

"Afternoon Issei," I called out from my seat a second before she stepped around the corner, unable to help myself.

I would never get sick of the dumbfounded expression on Issei's face every time I did that. That kind of expression was one you rarely found on girls.

"How do you do that?" Issei demanded to know as she turned toward me sharply, causing her skirt to flare out. I caught a brief glimpse of smooth thigh before the skirt thankfully settled back down.

"Magic," I answered, unable to hold back my smile.

Issei huffed and dropped her backpack as she walked over to the lounge beside me and collapsed down on it, sprawling out on it in a very, very noticeably manly way that rendered the skirt she wore absolutely pointless.

I sighed and reached up, rubbing my brow. "Issei, you can't sit like that."

Issei blinked and looked up at me from her position on the couch. "Why?" she asked, confused.

"Because I can see up your skirt." I pointed out.

Issei rolled her eyes and pulled herself up into a more respectable position. "You know," she began to say. "Back when I was a guy I'd have killed to be able to look up a girl's skirt." She folded her arms across her chest and stared at me. "If I hadn't found out that you slept with Buchou today, I'd have started to wonder, you know?"

"Also, why didn't you tell me!" Issei cried out in rage, slamming her fists down onto the lounge beside her. "What was it like? You have to tell me everything!" She stared at me intensely, waited for me to apparently tell her.

I considered it for a moment, before deciding that the better part of chivalry was messing with Issei. "I don't kiss and tell," I told her, "And we did a lot of kissing, so I can't tell you any of it."

Issei stared at me with a shocked look, as if she couldn't believe what she was hearing. As if the thought that I wouldn't be willing to tell her what had transpired between Rias and I was unthinkable.

"I'm shocked!" Issei exclaimed. "I can't believe you're not going to tell me what you guys did, that's unthinkable!"

Apparently I could read Issei's mind. That was mildly disturbing. What was more disturbing that Issei immediately went silent and looked like she was thinking furiously.

"I've got it!" She suddenly said and grinned at me. "Tell me all the juicy details... or I'll take my top off!"

I raised an eyebrow at that. "I think you meant to say and, not or." I told her. "And bribing me won't work."

"I meant what I said." Issei's grin widened and she turned toward me, her hands drawing up and beginning to unbutton her shirt from the top.

It took me a few seconds to actually process what Issei was saying and a few more seconds to get over the mental blank that followed.

"Don't do that," I warned Issei.

"Why not? If you want me to stop then tell me what you did to Buchou! Did you touch her breasts?" Issei's eyes glimmered excitedly as her fingers continued their work— I could already see a hint of something white and lacy.

"Issei, stop," I said firmly, holding a hand up. "I told you to act like yourself when we're in private, you don't—"

"But I am acting like myself," Issei said, a hurt look appearing on her features as her grin vanished. Her fingers stopped midway past her cleavage. "Before, when I was still a guy, I mean. I used to always think that if I ever had breasts I'd definitely show them to my best friend."

I watched as Issei's fingers fiddled with one of the buttons nervously. I could already feel another round of drama heading my way. One that I really didn't want to deal with. On the other hand…

"Did you just say I was your best friend?"

Issei bit down on her bottom lip and nodded sheepishly. "Y-yeah, you're the only one I can… talk to about stuff like porn and you always listen to me complaining." She glanced up at me almost shyly. "Does… does that mean you don't think of me as your best friend?"

I found myself staring at Issei like a deer caught in the headlights. Of all the possible questions that she could have asked me, that was not one I was prepared to answer.

"I'm not really a great guy to have as a best friend, Issei," I managed to say after a moment. "I really don't have a lot of experience with… well friends." I admitted. "My best friend before I became a devil was my girlfriend who I grew up with."

"You already had a girlfriend?" Issei asked, her violet eyes wide in wonder. "What was she like? I asked Buchou if she knew anything about you before you came here, but she said not to bring it up with you because you had…" she trailed off.

I frowned. "I had?"

"You had a traumatic past," Issei said after a moment. "…she said that everyone in the peerage has a bad past and that if they want me to know they'll tell me." She fidgeted.

Somehow it didn't surprise me that Kiba, Koneko and even Akeno had pasts they would prefer not to talk about. After all, no one becomes a devil because everything is going perfectly in their life.

I wasn't in any mood to talk about what happened with Justin, and I doubt I ever would be happy to just chat about my life before I became a devil. Everything my life had been was gone. Justin was dead, Elaine had run away from me and the house had been burned down.

"It's not something I'm happy to talk about, Issei," I told the dark haired girl after a moment. "But, that doesn't mean I'm never going to confide in you. If you want to be friends—"

"—Best friends," Issei corrected me quietly.

I nodded slowly. "If you want to be best friends, I'm happy to. Some stuff I'll never be happy to talk about, and some stuff is a bit too personal to talk about."

Issei frowned. "You mean like your old girlfriend?"

"That's right." I took a moment to collect my thoughts. "The… the Rias stuff, I'm really raw about that right now," I told her. "Maybe after this is all over I'll be more open to telling you about what happened."

"Man to man," I added at the end.

Issei's eyes snapped toward me, wide open in surprise. "R-Really?"

I shrugged a shoulder. "Why not?"

Issei looked like she was about to fly apart with how excited she was. She was bouncing in place on the couch, as if she could barely contain herself. It also had an interesting effect on her chest that I had to force my eyes away from.

My struggle did not go unnoticed and Issei grinned, bringing her hands up to her chest and squeezing down over her shirt. "They're really, really nice you know!" she all but gushed. "Are you sure you don't want to look at them? If you want I'll even let you touch them!" She tried to say tantalizingly.

For the briefest fraction of an instant, I actually considered it.

"Thank you, but no thank you," I finally managed to force myself to say to the dark haired girl in front of me, trying to sound polite about it.

Issei frowned and her eyes narrowed. "…Why not?"

"Look, Issei," I began. "It's already hard enough to remember that inside that noggin of yours, that you're actually a guy. I don't need you shoving your tits in my face, however nice they might be. That just makes things harder for me."

Issei blinked and gave an honest to god giggle. "Make things hard," she said, her voice holding a note of teasing. A second later she shook her head and thankfully, she dropped her hands down from her chest. "I don't see what the problem is," Issei admitted. "I mean, we've already kissed, haven't we? What's a bit of fondling on top of that?"

I stared at her in confusion. "Pardon? Issei, we've never kissed."

"Sure we have, it was…" Issei trailed off and frowned as she thought back and a second later she shook her head. "I must have dreamed it," she admitted sheepishly, before her eyes widened. "I mean, I don't dream about kissing you! That would be weird!" She gave off a forced laugh.

She may have been laughing it off as a joke, but I couldn't let myself take it as anything less than serious. When Issei had first woken up after the incident in the church, she'd recalled things that Raynare had done, such as when she had kissed me.

Those memories had apparently vanished over the next few days. I had assumed that Issei had just repressed them, but maybe she hadn't intentionally. Maybe something else was going on inside that pretty little head of hers that would explain the strange behaviour that had begun happening more and more often.

I couldn't help but think about the lectures that Justin had given Elaine and me about the consequences of the dangers of human transmogrification. It had mainly been about human to animal transformations, but he'd gone to great lengths to reinforce how bad of an idea it was.

A human mind was never meant to exist in anything but a human body. For example, if you shoved a guy into a wolf, initially he may have been able to retain his intelligence, but eventually the imbalance between the mind and the body would degrade and they would begin to lose themselves in the animal's instincts.

Was that what was happening to Issei? Had being shoved forcefully into the driver's seat of Raynare's body started a mental degradation? It may have been something as simple as the psychology and physiology not meshing and Issei struggling to deal with how her new body worked.

The alternate possibility was much more concerning.

"Are you alright?" I finally asked, offering her a kind smile.

"Of course!" Issei responded quickly, sending me another brief smile. "I'm fine!"

That didn't sound good at all. "You know you can tell me anything right?"

Issei hesitated for a moment before admitting. "I've been having weird dreams over the past week." She set her hands onto her lap and began to fiddle with them.

"Do you want to talk about it?" I offered. "I'm all ears for you."

Issei gave me a brief smile and shook her head. "No thanks," she said politely. "They're just weird dreams."

"Alright," I said after a few moments, not wanting to push her on the subject.

"Anyway!" Issei suddenly exclaimed, "Have you heard yet? We're leaving tomorrow and going away for a month long training trip! A month without school, can you believe it? I'm super excited!" She punched her hand into her palm.

"You are?" I blinked. "You mean the club—Rias' peerage?" This was the first I'd heard of it. It explained why Sona had suddenly decided to take over my tutoring, Akeno couldn't really do it if she wasn't around.

Issei nodded seriously. "That's right, Buchou wants to get us trained up to kick her fiancés butt!" She shuddered. "Did you see the way he looked at me? It was totally gross! Buchou said that she's going to train me up and teach me how to fight properly!" She grinned viciously for a moment before it wilted away. "…Actually, I'm a bit nervous. From the sounds of it everything rests on me being able to summon light."

I frowned. "I thought you couldn't do that."

"I can't," Issei admitted reluctantly. "But Buchou thinks with enough training I might be able to. If I can do it we'll definitely be able to win though!" She finished firmly.

"I'm glad," I said after a few seconds, offering her a brief smile.

"…Are you alright, Harry?" Issei suddenly asked, and I found her violet gaze resting on me.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, when you left this morning… you seemed very angry, and you weren't in class so…" She trailed off before admitting. "I don't know exactly what happened, but it's obvious that something happened between you and Buchou. I didn't understand fully at the time but, I want to."

"It's complicated," I told Issei. "It's not something that you have to worry about, it's just… miscommunication," I settled on.

Issei looked like she didn't believe me, but didn't push the subject.

"Anyway," I said, pushing myself up off of the lounge I'd been on for the better part of a day. "I'm going to go lay down," I told Issei. "Why don't you get packing?" I suggested. "A month is a long time."

Issei's eyes widened. "That's right!" she exclaimed. "I have to get ready!" She jumped up onto her feet. "Thanks for everything Harry!" she chirped happily and began to walk away.

Suddenly, without warning she cried out, "Surprise attack!" and launched herself at me, flinging her arms out and wrapping them around my waist, catching me off guard with a hug and unintentionally— or intentionally, squishing her unbuttoned chest against my stomach.

I stood there for a second, blinking before snorting and dropping my hands around Issei, giving her a brief hug before forcing her away. "You're a weird one," I told her seriously.

She just grinned up at me and stepped away. "Are you going to watch me kick ass in the rating game?"

"Of course," I agreed. "I'll even give you a good luck charm before it starts."

Her eyes lit up. "Really?" she said excitedly.

I nodded. "It's going to be a magical good luck charm," I told her lightly.

"That sounds cool!" She said excitedly, before shaking her head. "I have to go pack!" she gushed before turning and fleeing toward her room with a bounce in her step.

I shook my head in amusement and felt my stomach rumble. I was starting to regret feeding the starving fallen angel just a tiny bit. I headed to the kitchen and made myself a sandwich before heading to my room.

I pushed open the door to my room and stepped inside before shutting the door behind me and taking a bite out of my sandwich. I realized that there was something wrong as soon as I laid my eyes on my room.

My eyes roamed over my room until finally they came to rest on my bed, which was suspiciously tidy and tucked in. Asia must have straightened out the sheets when she had woken up. I'd have to thank her at some point.

"Hey Bob," I greeted my faithful, perverted, and bodiless companion through a mouthful.

"Go away," Bob grumbled, his eyes coming to life. "Bring back the cute girl from before."

I rolled my eyes and dropped down into my seat. "You're just a big bag of sunshine, aren't you?" I took another bite out of my sandwich. "I need your help."

"You always need my help," Bob complained. "What about my needs?"

"Serafall let you out for a night and you got to talk to a cute girl last night, what more do you need?" I said critically. "What I need to know is how to make a fire protection talisman."

"Just use a shielding spell," Bob said dismissively.

"It isn't for me to use," I told Bob bluntly and with reluctance, began to explain the deal with Rias and Raiser.

By the time I was finished, Bob seemed to be in deep thought. "Well, first of all. I called it," Bob said, inordinately pleased with himself. "Secondly, why even try and help her? Seems like it ain't your problem anymore."

I didn't answer him straight away. "I have my reasons," I said finally. "I'm not asking you for the moon, I'm just asking you to teach me what to do."

Bob gave an exaggerated sigh. "Do I have to?"

I rolled my eyes. "The other option is you tell me how to kill an immortal," I told him dryly. "Which would you prefer?"

"Actually," Bob said suddenly. "The first thing you said sounds better. I wouldn't know where to begin with that other thing you just said."

I blinked slowly and stared at Bob. "…Just like that you're on board?" I asked suspiciously.

"Making a fireproof blanket is a lot easier than trying to kill an immortal," Bob informed me seriously.

I found the sudden shift in attitude suspicious, but I wasn't one to push my good luck. "Cool. We're getting started tomorrow when everyone leaves." I said to him before frowning. "Actually, I wanted to ask you about something else as well. What do you know about the effects of putting someone's mind insid—"

It was then that there was a knock at my door, and the lights in Bob's eye sockets snuffed out like a strong wind had rolled through.

I sighed and glanced over my shoulder at the door. "Come in," I called out.

I expected Issei, but to my surprise I found myself looking at Asia as she poked her head into the room. "Good afternoon Harry," Asia said with a tiny smile.

"Hey Asia," I greeted her with a smile of relief. "How's it going?" I asked.

Asia opened the door and stepped in before shutting it behind her. She was still in her school uniform. She walked toward me and smiled, before looking to Bob. "Good afternoon, Mr Skull," she said politely, bowing slightly. "How are you?"

Bob's eyes flickered to life again. "Hello Kitten," Bob all but purred.

Something clicked in the back of my mind. "…Where's the cat?" I asked suddenly, looking at Bob.

"How should I know? It escaped the room at some point when one of you opened the door," he mused.

Asia blinked slowly. "…Kitten?" she echoed, confused.

I gave her a brief smile. "Don't worry about it," I told her with a smile. "Did you want something, Asia?"

Asia nodded and after a moment a nervous smile appeared on her lips. "A-ah, yes, w-well…" she trailed off and drew her hands together, fiddling with the buttons on her corset. "I… that is, Buchou asked if I would uhm… accompany them for a training trip."

Somehow I shouldn't have been surprised. I watched as she continued to fiddle with the buttons and after a few seconds it dawned on me why she was telling me. "You don't have to ask me permission to go," I told her with a smile. "If you want to go then you should. I'm sure they'll be really thankful that you're there to help them if they get hurt."

"Are you sure?" Asia asked hesitantly, her green eyes looking at me worriedly. "I mean… it doesn't sound like you and Buchou are—"

"—It's okay," I reassured her with a warm smile. "That's between Rias and me, it isn't important. If you want to go with them and help Issei out, I'm more than happy for you to go." I told her.

I hesitated a moment. "But…" I grimaced, not knowing how to put my thoughts into words without being accusatory.

"If…Rias starts to pressure you…"

Asia stared at me, her lovely eyes uncomprehending what I was trying to say, but none the less smiling and attentively listening.

I shook my head. "Never mind, just do what you think is right, okay?" I said to her. "You're perfect the way you are."

Asia nodded slowly, not quite understanding what I was saying but none the less trusting what I was telling her, despite my failure to articulate my concerns.

"Then, if you're okay with it, I'll go," Asia decided with a nod before breaking out into another beaming smile. "Thanks Harry!" she said happily, before her expression dwindled. "Ah… that means I'm leaving tomorrow morning," she murmured more to herself than me.

She glanced over at my bed and then back to me.

It didn't take a rocket scientist to realize what she wanted to ask. "Do you want to sleep in my bed again tonight?" I asked her.

She blushed a pretty pink colour and bobbed her head. "Is that alright?" She asked embarrassedly. "I've never slept with someone else before it's… nice."

Suddenly, without warning, my door was flung open and I found myself confronted with someone unexpected.

Sona stood there in the doorway, staring at me. Her face stern and expression clearly irritated. It was then that I noticed that she was holding something in her hand. A grey something that was squirming and trying to wriggle free.

I felt the bottom of my stomach drop out.

"…What is this, and why was it sleeping on my bed?"

—~—