Chapter 3: Jeanne's Love, God's Protection

Chiaki opened his eyes.

The world was still bathed in soft white light. He was floating before Maron – no, Jeanne – her hand still clasping his and her eyes closed in concentration. He wondered dazedly what happened to the kissing.

Access was floating beside them, looking both pleased and worried.

"Hey Access," Chiaki mumbled, his voice slightly slurred, "did I invite you to my private heaven?"

Access rolled his eyes and hissed, "Shhh! Just watch!" He stuck out his tongue at Chiaki and made a face.

Coming a bit more awake, Chiaki realized that his strength was returning and his side no longer ached. He touched his ribs gingerly and found the skin whole and unmarred. He stared at Jeanne's floating figure in amazement. "Maron," he whispered.

In the warm light, she looked like an angel. Caught halfway between Maron and Jeanne, she wore a simple white dress and her long golden hair was unbound and billowing gently around her shoulders. He tried to draw her towards him but his hand slipped from her grasp.

As they fell apart, the light coalesced into something glowing brightly between her hands and the transformation to Jeanne completed itself in a flurry of pink ribbons. Jeanne opened her eyes and stared at the object she was holding.

"A rosary…"

The light faded, leaving them standing in the abandoned amusement park again.

Access studied the new rosary excitedly. "Born from your strong feelings and devotion, Jeanne. Wow, way to go Chiaki!"

It took a moment for his words to sink in, but Chiaki's grin slowly turned predatory and Jeanne blushed. Her transformation faded away leaving Maron glaring at Chiaki over folded arms. The effect was ruined by her flushed cheeks and the way her eyes darted to check Chiaki for injuries.

Still grinning slyly, Chiaki slid an arm around her waist and quickly pulled her towards him. "Chiaki, wha-" she began before he claimed her lips.

It was a few moments before he realized she wasn't resisting. He actually broke the kiss in astonishment.

Maron's face was even a brighter shade of red and she looked away in embarrassment. "D-don't think this means you can do it whenever you want!" she threatened.

"How about whenever you want?" Chiaki purred, then flinched in anticipation of a slap. Impossibly, Maron blushed still more but after a moment she gave a very tiny, barely noticeable nod.

A delighted grin split Chiaki's face and he leaned in to kiss her again, but a silky voice interrupted, "I wouldn't do that if I were you."

In an instant, Chiaki had shoved Maron behind him and was scanning the shadows for the source of the voice. He didn't have to wait long. Demon Knight Noin Claude slid forward out of the shadows, one inky black blur becoming two. Chiaki's eyes narrowed. "You!"

Maron stepped closer and whispered in Chiaki's ear, "Who is that?"

"Kusakabe Maron," Noin intoned, ignoring the exchange. Maron jumped as the demon's eyes bored into hers. "How does it feel to know the one you loved betrayed your trust?"

Chiaki felt Maron stiffen behind him. He wanted to turn and console her, try to explain, but there was no way he was taking his eyes of Noin. He was startled when she stepped around him suddenly. "Maron, don't-" he began…and then he saw her face.

Her expression was curiously blank, but something about it made Chiaki swallow and nearly take a step away from her. "I can explain," he said weakly.

Maron shook her head, her gaze focused on Noin.

A small smile appeared on Noin's lips. "You have something to say to me…Jeanne d'Arc?"

"Just Maron," she replied crisply. Noin looked taken aback by the sudden heat in her voice. "I don't need Jeanne's power for the likes of you!"

Noin's smile melted into a frown. "Keh…we'll see about that!" He raised a hand and waves of black energy shot towards Maron with lightning speed. Chiaki moved to grab Maron but there was no time. A bright light washed over them and-

Wait, a bright light?

Chiaki and Noin both stared in astonishment at God's barrier glowed brilliantly around Maron. The barrier had grown in both intensity and size, large enough to include Chiaki in its protective light. Chiaki stared at the barrier, for the first time ever, from the inside. Was God protecting him? Or was it Maron? Or was it because of Maron? The warmth seemed to reach inside him, touching his heart, and he found himself beaming at Maron with a love-struck expression.

From the other side of the barrier, things were not looking so wonderful. Noin, seeing that his attack was completely ineffective, drew back a step with a frown. He had planned to winnow Jeanne's strength by revealing Sindbad's identity to her, but instead she had grown even stronger. Worse, God's barrier now seemed to include her former adversary as well.

Maron glared at Noin. Noin glared at Chiaki. Chiaki was blissfully unaware of any glaring as he thought how lovely Maron looked when bathed in the heavenly light.

Time to retreat, Noin admitted reluctantly. In a swirl of dark energy, he vanished into the night.

Instantly, the light of the barrier vanished, leaving Maron to blink hastily as her eyes readjusted to the night. When she could see again, Chiaki was staring at her with a peculiar expression on his face. Maron sighed. "Chiaki…we need to talk."

In a flash he was in front of her, a hand on her waist as he leaned forward deliberately. "Why talk when there are so many more…interesting…ways to communicate?" he whispered huskily.

Maron pushed him away stubbornly and stomped toward the exit. "Honestly, it's not safe to be around you," she muttered.

Chiaki hurried after her and slipped an arm around her shoulders. She glared at him suspiciously but didn't move away. Chiaki beamed.

They left the park peacefully, to the sound of Access's wolf whistles and cries of "Go for it, Chiaki!"

Alone amidst the broken carousel horses, Noin Claude watched the happy couple leave. His voice was a shadow in the darkness.

"Next time, Kaitou Sindbad…next time."