Iron Maiden Jeanne sighed audibly for the nth time, soliciting a frown from the blond-haired guardian cum right-hand of her former cluster.

"Are you feeling sick, Jeanne-sama?" he asked, brows knitted in its usual seriously serious way, something she finds funny…er, strange. She had been wondering whether Marco was not taught how to not frown all the time, that smile itself is against his dogma of solemnity and reverence to God.

Oh, and to her too, of course.

But the shaman fight, the X Laws, and Hao Asakura were now but part of a history three months old. She had not heard anymore of the Asakura devil, so she had disbanded the X Laws for good.

However, good ole Marco still insists on respecting her like she was a deity.

But I'm not divine. I'm human too, she thought, biting her lip.

All her life, no one treated her like that. She was Jeanne-sama, the Iron Maiden, and she deserves no less than the kind of respect Marco and the rest of the X Laws gave her—especially Marco.

And she had been perfectly contented with that. At her young age of nine, she thought that was really how life works.

That is, until she met Lyserg Diethyl.

The Londoner who respected her too, just as Marco did. Though in the end, he chose to be with his friends, he didn't forget to say thanks and goodbye to her. It was that respect she was longing for.

Not to mention that brief smile from him…she couldn't forget it. How could she, when that smile started the labyrinth of emotions she fought with for the last four months?

How she couldn't stop thinking of him, wondering what happened to him. She heard that he declined the offer of his friends to stay in Funbari with the others. She wanted so badly to ask him where he was planning to go, but shyness overwhelmed her. Besides, he wasn't part of the X Laws anymore. His affairs weren't part of her concerns anymore.

Right?

So what else then could the explanation be for her imagining that Lyserg Diethyl was just here awhile ago?

She thought she sensed his presence, and in her eagerness, she rushed towards the foot of the stairs leading to the hut where she earlier heard a sound of something crashing down.

But she found no trace of anyone or anything.

Well, save for a shoe. A shoe that might have easily dropped from a garbage bag or something.

She sighed audibly. No point in raising her hopes too much.

For in the first place, why in the world would Lyserg want to see her when he was not part of the X Laws anymore?

"You're not listening," said Marco, an eyebrow shot up. He looked mildly irritated, a man just fighting for his temper.

She blinked, then giggled. That was one of the rare times she saw something else on her guardian's face other than a frown.

"I'm so sorry," she said. "What were you saying?"

Marco went back to his usual poker face mode. "Lyserg Diethyl. Did you see him today?"

"W-Why, no!" She started getting nervous again. "I-Is he here?"

"As a matter of fact, he went to see you, or so I think." Marco frowned worriedly. "He looked like the devil was chasing him when I met him again." He crossed his arms. "If you haven't told me that you didn't see him, Jeanne-sama, I would have suspected that he did something…unhonorable and disrespectful to you."

"Lyserg is the last person to do such thing, Marco," she couldn't help but remind him. In her eyes, Lyserg Diethyl could do no wrong except to think that he was wrong.

"I trust your word, Jeanne-sama," said Marco, nodding. "But it just seems peculiar that he would run off wildly just like that. I wonder…"

Something clicked in her mind. The crash…the shoe…and running Lyserg?

She immediately rejected that possibility…that he was running away from her. Whatever could be his reason to do that anyway?

She was just being absurd by imagining that Lyserg did come to see her.

Right?

One year and a half had passed.

Lyserg Diethyl could not believe that it had been that long since he last set foot in the soil of Japan. He had been so busy working out the detective agency he most ardently dreamed of ever since he was a child. Together with his classmates in the university, they were able to form a small, independent group of private detectives tapped by the friends of the close friends of his classmates' parents and relatives.

But still, he wasn't satisfied; he was not contented with what he had reached so far in life. Ironic, when back then, having the chance to work in a detective agency was one of his most ultimate goals in life.

That, and serving the Iron Maiden.

He groaned inwardly. For the past year, he had tried to not let his thoughts tread on that line; ever since that windy afternoon, guilt and shame forced him to take the cowardly way out…out to London, that is.

I mean, how am I supposed to face Jeanne-sama after what happened? After what I saw?  His face reddened once more with the memory of the white cotton panties with small red polka dots, as well as the pair of creamy flesh hidden beneath her skirt.

He groaned. He had seen Jeanne-sama in her other outfit, but he felt nothing sexual about it.

So what the hell had gotten him started into this filthy pervertedness?

He didn't know, but one thing was for sure…it was bad. And it must be suppressed.

Jeanne-sama did not deserve his earthly evilness.

The Iron Maiden, the most Holy Girl Jeanne.

Stop thinking of her, you fiend! He scolded himself. She's just eleven years old! Eleven! Good lord…

Ooops.

The second commandment: Thou shall not use God's name in vain.

He heaved another sigh before he carried his suitcases. He still had a long travel before him. Yoh and Anna weren't in Funbari, and the note they left on the house said that they were taking a vacation in Izumo indefinitely.

Friends. Company of guys would take her off my mind.

I hope.

"Hey Mr. Dowser!"

Lyserg smiled, relieved. He had been going around the town in circles for an hour already since no one wanted to tell him where the Asakura clan lives, let alone confirm if the Asakuras do exist in this town. His only evidence was Yoh and Anna's letter, and the two were the last people he had in his mind that would play such trick on anyone. "Horo Horo! What a relief. I thought I got the wrong address."

Horo Horo quickly motioned for him to sit. "Glad you found time to visit us. How are London and its girls?"

"Typical of you, Horo Horo," he said dryly. "The girls are fine and London is still London-"

"Tough. No lovelife then?"

Lyserg blinked, wondering how the topic shifted so quickly to that matter. Horo Horo grinned at him innocently.

"I'm too busy studying," he admitted. "I want to form my own detective agency."

"Cool!" exclaimed Horo. "And I'll visit you! As long as your refrigerator is always fully-stocked…and I won't interfere in your lovelife."

He sighed exasperatedly. "Why does it always end up with my lovelife being discussed?" He slammed his hand on his forehead. "Oh yeah, you're Horo Horo after all. Ren told me that even before you learned how to walk, you already knew how to annoy people."

"I'm very good at it," smirked the Ainu. "As good as I am in breathing. But heck, why are you changing the topic?"

The dowser was incredulous. Now he was the one changing the topic! He decided that the only way for him to get out of the boy's interrogation was to turn the interrogating table. "Wait, do you have a lovelife?" he asked pointedly at the Ainu boy.

"Yep," came the blue-haired shaman's response. "I'm in love with casseroles and roast beef and clubhouse sandwiches. I'm also in love with my snowboard, and if it was a girl, I would marry it at this instant."

Lyserg sighed. "Oh." What had gotten him into thinking that Horo Horo was capable of having a love affair with anyone other than his snacks?

"And you?" he asked swiftly. "I'm not counting on Morphine though, and only one significant female person figured in your life so-"

"She's just a child!" he said defensively. He knew it. Just one look at Horo Horo's face and he knew where he was heading for.

"I wasn't naming names!" Horo Horo said cutely. Too bad he didn't find it that way. He was irritated with how the Ainu was pushing him into a very awkward position.

"Well, you're obviously pertaining to her-" He stopped when he realized that he was just digging himself his own hole.

"Her? As in Jeanne-specific?" said the ice shaman triumphantly.

He could feel his face heating up –damn, why was his self-control going to waste every time Jeanne was being mentioned? "W-We have long parted ways…" He decided to say instead, and for a moment, he remembered again that he was not able to say goodbye to the doncella properly. Strangely, the Ainu quieted down.

"Horo-kun, why are you so noisy-" Tamao stopped when she saw the guest. "A-Ah, Diethyl-san! W-What a pleasant surprise! I-I'll call Master Yoh and Anna-okami. They must be in the forest, training right now-"

"Training?" Lyserg was bemused. "But the shaman fight is no more."

Horo answered for Tamao. "The itako says Yoh couldn't rest on his laurels, although with the way Yoh is training constantly, his laurels could have long withered off already."

The dowser laughed. "Ah well, if they say change is the only constant thing in the world, they should meet Kyouyama Anna." He looked around the kitchen. "Your sister, Horo Horo?"

"Playing with Kororo, probably. And I think Ryu is in Funbari. Ren is in China while Chocolove is in…who cares?"

Tamao giggled and slammed her hand on the Ainu shaman's back. "Really mean, Horo-kun." She then noticed Lyserg's puzzled gaze. She blushed, then mumbled something about looking for Yoh and Anna.

Lyserg smiled, sensing that maybe, just maybe, Horo Horo wasn't immune to love affairs as he originally thought.

And he needed something to distract him anyway, and maybe his friend's lovelife would suffice for now.

He looked down at the table covered with white linen, and the red mark of the bottom of the glass catsup bottle on the table.

He groaned inwardly again.

tsuzuku