Ragna stared up at the ceiling. There was nothing he could do at the moment; he was too ensnared by the turmoil of his mind. What Jubei had meant by him being the 'Destroyer of the World'. The fact that Saya was the Imperator. Rachel withholding such information from him. And… Tsubaki's fear of him. To his surprise, he found that while the other concerns certainly drilled into him, the fear of losing her seemed to burn his very soul. He wanted to leave this accursed hospital bed and talk with her, see how she was doing. His fear of how she may regard him kept him from doing so.
For hours, he lay there, not moving. A knock on his door, light but like a bomb in contrast to the previous silence, made him jump. "Who's there?"
"Me." The last person he wanted to see at the moment. "May I enter?"
"...What the hell ever, Rabbit."
The door swung open and Rachel entered, her familiars trailing along behind her. She came to a stop at his bedside. "You are aware that is polite to at least look when one has a guest."
"Well, considering that I'm rather pissed at you right now..."
"And what exactly have I done to deserve such treatment?"
"...Why? Why didn't you tell me?"
"Tell you what, exactly?"
"Don't bullshit with me, dammit, I ain't in the mood!" Ragna stormed into a sitting position on the edge of the bed and leaned in as close as he dared to Rachel's face, teeth bared. "How about the fact that my sister, the chick I've been trying to find for years, is the goddamn leader of the Library? Why the hell didn't you tell me that?"
"I did not believe it was something you needed to know. At least not for a-"
"The hell? Not something I needed to know? Are you insane?" His hand rose, and Rachel braced for a blow that never came. "How the fuck did you come to the conclusion that that was something I didn't need to know?"
"Do not speak to the princess like that!" Nago bared his teeth at Ragna's choice of language. "A filthy peasant such as you has no right to address her in such a manner."
Gii nodded with his entire body. "You are out of line!"
"Silence!" Rachel administered vicious slaps to both familiars. "Ragna is entirely justified in his anger, for once in his pathetic life. What exactly do you wish to hear from me? An apology?"
"An explanation." Ragna considered her words for a moment. "Although that would pretty damn nice as well."
"I feared knowing your sister's status would adversely affect your war on the Library, perhaps ceasing your attempts to destroy the Cauldrons altogether. I am loathe to state this as such, but Jubei and I could not afford to lose your support. And before you turn your anger in Jubei's direction, as I have no doubt you will, he was oblivious to your sister's status as well."
"...So, in other words, you didn't want to lose your little weapon. Nice to know you're on the same level as Terumi."
"There is no need for such accusations; my motives are noble, even if you find my methods suspect." She sighed. "However, I do extend my apologies for not revealing such information."
"...You know, I'm pretty sure that was the first time I've ever heard you apologize." His anger cooled, although he knew it was likely to spike back up with his next question. "Now... the whole thing about me being the Black Beast..."
"Is almost irrelevant, assuming you maintain control of your grimoire."
"Uh, I think something like that is pretty god damn relevant. And that's no reason to keep it from me."
"Nor did I claim it to be so. I... feared for what may transpire should you attain such knowledge. For both the world and your psyche. Would you seek to remove the grimoire, perhaps by taking your own life? Or would you see such an occurrence as a chance to gain power and thus doom us all? I debated with myself long and hard before concluding that it was safer to keep the truth from you. Again, you have my apologies; I failed to anticipate the events of last night."
"...Well, at least you were kinda thinking of me there. Still ain't happy about it, but..." He glanced over at the door. "But don't you think that's just a little unfair for anyone traveling with me? Someone I actually care about? Like, maybe, Tsubaki?"
"I could never have anticipated Miss Yayoi's devotion to you, Ragna. Had I known of your relationship earlier, I would have informed her."
"Whatever. Anything else about me that she should know?"
"Nothing comes to mind." Despite her irritation with him, Rachel smirked. "And is it possible that Miss Yayoi has become the pinnacle of your concerns?"
"Yes. She has. I doubt a heartless creature like you would understand, though."
"On the contrary, I do understand the emotions involved quite well. I merely choose to abstain from such relationships. May I ask exactly how you feel about her, Ragna?"
Ragna's anger left in a heartbeat. Instead of enraged, he looked miserable. "She's... after the shit we've been through, what she's done for me, I'd fight to the death for her."
"Dare I say you have fallen in love with her?"
"I... She cares about me. I mean, yeah, you and Jubei kinda do too, but...well, she doesn't think of me as a weapon to wield against Terumi and actually respects me, unlike others I could name. I..." Ragna stood up and brushed past Rachel. "I've gotta talk to Tsubaki."
"...I understand. Do mind your temper, unless you wish to lose her."
"Don't remind me, dammit." Without looking back at Rachel, he left the room, the left sleeve of his jacket billowing behind him.
After reaching out to grab and twist Gii, Rachel stared at the ground. It would seem a chance has been lost. "I am truly sorry. Perhaps you are not such a fool after all, Ragna."
Tsubaki sighed, noting that she had just read the same page of her novel for the third time and digested none of it. She wanted to be by Ragna's side; she had ever since they had rendezvoused at the clinic a day ago. But Kokonoe, in a foul mood that Makoto assured her was normal, had forbade her from leaving her medical bed. Linhua had stated Tsubaki had suffered internal injuries of unknown severity before presumably going off to cry herself to sleep over Litchi's defection. Tsubaki was left with two options: read a book, or talk with her squirrel-like roommate. Makoto slept at the moment, however, leaving Tsubaki to worry about Ragna's state of mind while staring at meaningless pages.
The door opened, and Tsubaki jumped at the abrupt sound. Ragna stood in the doorway, traces of his ire still etched on his face. "Um... is it okay if we talk?"
"I think that would be best, yes." After putting away her book, she gave him a bright smile. A mask to conceal her anxiety. "I was wondering when you were going to stop by."
He nodded, dull, and took a few steps towards her. His sudden, nervous halt heightened her concern. Is he scared to talk to me? After moving to the bed's edge, she patted it, summoning him to sit beside her. "Come on, Ragna. Let's talk."
Once he came close enough, she took him by his arm and pulled him to her side. As an arm wrapped around his waist to draw him in tight, Ragna stared at the ground. "Um... okay, I'll be blunt. I just wanna say that if you don't anything to do with me anymore, I'm not gonna hold it against you. You've been too wonderful to me for me to get mad if you wanna leave me. I just wanna say that..."
Words formed in his head, but his mouth refused to utter them. He hunched forward and tilted his head to look into her face. "That you've been the best friend I could've ever hoped for. I've never been so... I dunno, happy around someone before. So, yeah. Thanks for everything and sorry that-"
"Ragna..." Her other hand reached over to caress his cheek. "Why do you think I'm leaving you?"
"Uh, because I'm the Black Beast? The destroyer of the world? I think that's a pretty good reason."
"You're not the-"
"Okay, so I'm not yet. Don't mean I won't be." He shut his eyes, grimacing at cutting Tsubaki off. "Listen. I'd love to have you with me, but there's a real chance I'll lose control and... well, you can guess what'll happen. I don't want anything happening to you, especially if I cause it, but I'm not gonna be an asshole and tell you what to do. So, if you wanna stick with me, go right ahead."
She already knew what her decision was, but she still had to know... "Hypothetically, if I was to choose not to follow you—that's not my decision, by the way—would you really be alright?"
"As bad as this shit with Saya and me being the Beast is, I ain't depressed or nothing. I'd just keep fighting Terumi and the Library, until the very end..." He sighed, only able to mouth the word 'alone'. "But you actually wanna stay with me?"
"Until the end, whatever that end is." Her lips brushed against his cheek as she spoke in whisper. "Remember how you told me you'd follow me anywhere, even into the Boundary? That you'd do anything you could to help me? I am going to do the same for you, Ragna. You can't win this fight alone; you need someone to act as pillar of sorts to lean on and anchor you."
She punctuated the proclamation with a soft kiss on his cheek. He turned his head to stare into captivating blues eyes and reached his remaining hand over to clasp her shoulder. "Tsubaki... you aren't scared of me?"
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared. Terrified, even. For both your sake and for what might happen." When she saw his face fall, she moved her hand from his hip to run fingers through his tangled hair. "But I'm not going to turn my back on you in yet another dark hour for you. I want to help you through this as much as I can; that revelation didn't change my feelings for you. And... well, I'm glad to hear that no matter what I do, you're going to keep fighting."
After a somber nod, he leaned against her, forehead against her shoulder, mind poisoned by the burden his grimoire lay on him. "Why do you care about me so much? I mean, there's a damn good chance I'll end up killing everyone because this piece of shit arm. Even you. So, why be so kind to someone who's probably gonna become a monster?"
"The way I see it..." Tsubaki shifted over a bit, wrapped both arms around his head and pulled it against her chest. She rested her chin atop it. "Anyone can become a monster in their own right. None as destructive as what you might become, mind you, but monsters just the same."
"Except for you."
"Oh, I don't know. I have... emotional baggage."
"Then I'm doing a good job of hiding it, aren't I? Well, anyways, I'm not about to judge you for what you might become. All I care about is what you are now."
"...And what do you think I am?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean... well, Rachel sees me as both a weapon and a verbal whipping post from what I can tell." He snorted. "Oh, and Tao apparently thinks I'm a blank check for her to buy lunch with. And you..."
"Oh. Well, I see you as a very good man who has been cast about the worst lot in life I could imagine."
Ragna snorted. "Just because I'm fighting a just fight doesn't mean I'm a good person. I'm not.""
"Will you stop denying your own virtues already? It's really annoying."
He stared down, trying to fight back his anger. Tsubaki was the last person he wanted to yell at. "Virtues, huh? Whatever."
"Yes, believe it or not." She prodded his chin with a hand and forced him to look her in the eyes. Eyes that held a smoldering inferno. "Both of your living relatives want you dead, you bear the burden of the Azure Grimoire, you are despised the world over... yet you refuse to succumb to darkness, instead choosing to fight for those who hate and fear you. Even if you are a bit profane... and ill-tempered... and have the tact of a drunken pirate..."
"I get it, thank you."
"Case in point. Anyways, no matter what you say to the contrary... you are really one of the most caring people I've ever met."
"...Okay, how the hell do you figure that?"
"Your refusal to let Noel die. Your dedication to helping Tao after Arakune attacked. The fact that even after all that Jin has done to you, you still want to help him. And..." Tears glistened in her eyes at the memory. "When you saw a confused girl run off to cry in an alleyway, you followed to comfort her, knowing that she hated you at the time."
"I... I was just..." Ragna's stuttering died as Tsubaki kissed him full on the mouth. He sank into it, all protests fading. It wasn't very long before Tsubaki broke off, tears still dotting her eyes.
"Ragna, I'm... I'm terrified." As she broke into sobs, she pressed herself against him; suspension wires couldn't have been as tight as her embrace. "W-What happened to Jin... Terumi winning even though we saved Noel... and, well... the truth about your grimoire... I've never been so scared, or felt so helpless..."
Ragna did his best to return her embrace, wishing more than ever that he still had his other arm. Her sobs were dirks piercing his heart. "Tsubaki... you know, as much I'd love to say everything's gonna be fine... I don't think you're naïve enough to blindly believe that. So, I'll just say that all we can do is keep fighting. We can get Jin back. We can stop whatever crap Terumi, Relius and... Saya are cooking up. We haven't lost this yet. I can't promise we're gonna get a happy ending, but I can promise this: I'm gonna fight by your side, not as some world destroying monster but as a human being... as your friend... until the very end. Because that's...that's all we can do."
"The very end being the absolute destruction of the Library."
Ragna took a moment to respond. "You hate them that much, then?"
"An organization with such evil at its head does not deserve an iota of my loyalty. I will fight until it has been dissolved entirely." Noting that tears were in his eyes as well, she took a deep breath as she prepared to utter words she had been too shy, too reserved, too unsure of her feelings to say to Jin in their academy days, an eternity in the past. "Ragna... I just want to say that if you still feel guilty about anything from before we met, I forgive you for all of it. I mean, after all we've gone through together, all we've done for each other, I... well..."
"Just spit out that you love him already! Sheesh!" Ragna and Tsubaki both jumped and turned towards the other bed's lone occupant. Makoto glanced between the two before blushing. "Oh, um...don't mind me. Carry on."
Ragna quirked an eyebrow. "How long has she been here?"
Tsubaki frowned, easily the most annoyed expression he had ever seen on her face. "The whole time. I thought she was asleep, though."
"Oh, I woke up about the time you were saying something about baggage, Tsubaki. Are you two going somewhere?" Makoto paled at the fire glowing in Ragna's eyes.
"Get the hell outta here, you damn voyeur... squirrel... thing!"
"...I think you mean 'damn voyeur squirrel beastkin', personally."
Makoto bolted from the room; the door did not shut all the way. Ragna closed his eyes, his temper simmering. "...Sorry for yelling at your friend."
"Don't worry about it; I had much harsher words in mind."
Ragna smirked at her, a return to normalcy in his demeanor. "Harsher than that? What, did that stick up your ass loosen enough to allow for profanity?"
Her fist collided with his right shoulder, just soft enough to be considered playful. "I do not have a stick up... never mind. And I suppose I was exaggerating."
"That's what I thought..." He tried to reach up with his hand to rub his shoulder. After a few attempts, he realized his arm wouldn't bend that way. "Ah, screw it. And the hell's up with our nice little moments getting ruined like that? First Luna, now squirrel chick..."
Tsubaki closed her eyes, solemn. "Surely, we're cursed."
After several seconds of awkward staring from Ragna, both broke into light laughter. Laughter which quickly escalated. It settled after a few moments, and Ragna shifted around to lie down. "You know, you really need to joke more often."
"Eh. I suppose I could stand to lighten up. Especially around you." She clambered over to lay to his right and rested her head against his chest, smiling as his arm coiled around her. "I am going to try and do something about your tact, by the way. Or rather, your utter disregard for it. Oh, and I'm going to drill it into you that, all things considered, you're not a bad guy in the least."
"And the other crap you mentioned?"
"Your anger isn't something I can corral, but I can deal with it. And your language... well, it actually amuses me more often than it offends me."
As he traced his fingers along her shoulder, Ragna sat in silent enjoyment of her company for several minutes. Her arms took him as Tsubaki pulled herself snug against him. He did not even tense up, as he was wont to do, but just smiled as her eyes closed. She murmured, quiet enough for even the buzzing of a fly to drown out. "You're cuddly."
"I'm what now?"
"Cuddly. I like holding you, therefore..." She opened her eyes to a look of utter bewilderment on his face. She couldn't help but giggle at it. "Well, you are."
"If you say so..." In the face of such glee from her, he couldn't help but join in with a small chuckle of his own. Suddenly, he remembered something. "Hey, didn't you have something you wanted to talk to me about?"
Tsubaki blinked. "Oh, right. Um, it's actually not that big of a deal... I mean, I was mostly seeing if you were alright..."
"Nah, I wanna know what you had in mind."
"Well, um, it's... actually about my family."
"Your father officially disown you or something?"
"I still haven't heard. However, even if he decided to support my defection from the Library...which would never happen..." She sighed, mind working to figure how to state the issue. "Well... the Yayoi family has strict rules in terms of partnering..."
"Such as not dating violent criminals?"
"...Uh, that's not quite it. Um, in the name of blood purity..."
"Oh. Oh." He couldn't help but wonder how far into the future she was already thinking. "So, what does that mean for us?"
"It means that if it comes down to me choosing between you and my family, I'm sticking with you, Ragna." After casting a nervous glance at the corner of the room where her weapon rested, Tsubaki shivered. "Oh, and my weapon, Izayoi, might make me go blind if I use it too much. Or possibly worse. Probably should tell you that."
Ragna stared at her. "You're getting a new weapon."
"No, I'm fine. Really. I'm being careful; my eyesight hasn't been affected in the slightest. As long as I don't overuse it, nothing bad should happen to me."
Shaking his head, Ragna closed his eyes. "If you say so. Once again, I'm not gonna dictate what you should do."
"I wouldn't let you, anyways."
"Yeah, true." He turned, a wolfish grin on his face. "Well, we're alone. Wanna make out?"
She gave him a deadpan stare. "Subtle. Unfortunately, Kokonoe made it quite clear we're not to do anything that might upset my injuries."
The grin widened. "And since when did we give a shit what Kokonoe says?"
"Since she gained the power to ban you from leaving your bed until she's made you a new arm, thus preventing any further visits from you. And before you say anything, she's already forbade me from leaving this room."
"...Damn her." In spite of his words, Ragna tilted Tsubaki's head closer to his. "But what she doesn't know won't hurt her. Wanna?"
She sighed, temptation drawing her in. With her body turned towards him, her leg moved to rest on his stomach. "I swear, you're gonna corrupt me at this rate."
"And you're gonna... I dunno, do whatever the opposite of corrupt is to me."
"Doubtful. I'm not exactly punishing you for your transgressions."
Holding back a giggle, she reached over to flick his forehead with a finger. "Whatever kind of idea is floating around in your head at the moment, kill it now."
"Done. And you still haven't answered my question."
"...I suppose I can oblige you. At least to some degree, as long as it's quick."
"Quick works." No sooner had the words been uttered than their lips locked and Ragna pulled Tsubaki atop him. Moaning from the feeling of his hand running through her hair, Tsubaki rubbed along his chest. A hand, gentle for Ragna, gripped one of hers and moved down his body to tuck her hand under his shirt; after a moment of hesitation, she moved it up to trace his muscles with her fingers. Squirming a little from the contact, he reached over to rub her back.
After a short while, Tsubaki pulled away, face flushed. "Like I said, quick."
"You know, you really are a damn angel. That was..." Something behind Tsubaki made him trail off and move his head to the side. The sight of Kokonoe, camera in hand, made him blanch. "Oh. Crap."
Tsubaki turned to see what was wrong and squeaked when she saw the professor. After pulling her hand out of his shirt, she swung over to the side and sat cross-legged while she tried to comb her tousled hair with her fingers. Naturally, she failed at looking like a proper lady in the slightest. Like I said, cursed. "Um. Hi!"
"Hi. I was wondering when you two would realize the door was open." With a wicked grin, Kokonoe juggled her device in one hand. "But hey, I got some great footage here. Perfect for blackmail."
Ragna sat up and wrapped his arm around Tsubaki's waist. "Yeah, you're stupid if you think that'll work on me."
"I don't mean you, I mean the goody-goody noble with the stick up her ass. I'm sure your father would love to see this."
Head buried against Ragna's chest as though that would protect her from Kokonoe's barbs, Tsubaki felt her face burn. "I-I don't have... um... please don't..."
"Tch. You sound like that crybaby Noel." With a sigh, Kokonoe walked over to them, pocketing her camera. "Okay, fine, so I only saw the tail end of your face sucking session and decided to screw with you. I didn't actually record anything. Now, Ragna, get the hell out of here."
Ragna blinked. "Why?"
"Because since Linhua feels too much like shit to take care of her duties, I'm stuck giving Tsubaki a full medical exam here. That involves her stripping ass naked. No, you can't watch."
Ragna and Tsubaki shared a glance and Tsubaki said, "Um... can't we just get, like, five more minutes?"
"Fine." Somewhat uncertain of what he was doing, Ragna leaned in to kiss Tsubaki's cheek as she gave him one more embrace. "See ya later, Tsu."
He rose and left, giving Kokonoe one last glare before the door slammed shut. As he didn't watch where he was going, he almost ran over Makoto. "Gah! The hell did you come from?"
"I was just waiting for you." The beastkin led him on; it took him a second to realize she was headed for the clinic's kitchen. "Um, I just wanna run something by you, since I doubt Kokonoe has."
He rolled his eyes. At the moment, he didn't want anything to do with anyone from Sector Seven. "And what would this something be?"
"Well, I don't know if you know, but me, Tager and Noel are gonna start actively fighting the Library together. Most of Sector Seven refuses to help us, though. So, um, assuming you're going back to blowing branches sky high..."
"I'm not traveling with anyone besides Tsubaki, and there's no way in hell I'm joining Sector Seven. I ain't gonna let anyone order me around, especially not Kokonoe."
"No, no, no, that's not what I mean. I was thinking that maybe we could coordinate our attacks. Like, say, you and Tsubaki destroy one branch while we destroy another at about the same time. Confuse, destabilize and piss off the Library like that."
Ragna closed his eyes, rubbing his chin. "...That actually doesn't sound like too bad an idea. How's this; run it by Tsubaki next time you get the chance, and I'll go with whatever she decides. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm tired and a little pissy. So, see ya."
Arms crossed to form a pillow under his head, Ragna allowed his eyes to close. His new arm, born from the regeneration tank of Lambda-11, felt natural. Tsubaki had agreed, which was more than enough for him to be content with it. The shade of the tree made him feel weary, and Tsubaki had been gone long enough to justify him getting some shut-eye. It was not to be. "Howdy, Ragna. Been lookin' for ya."
He opened his eyes and glared at the oversized feline before him. "Hey, master, mind letting me get some rest? Me and Tsubaki are heading out today, you know."
"Which is why I was hopin' to catch ya now. I still got a little business here in Kagutsuchi." Jubei stood before him, smiling. "So, where's Tsubaki?"
"Out shopping." Ragna rolled his eyes at what he perceived as absurdity. "She says she's getting important stuff, but..."
"Heh. Have some faith in her, kid. She's got a good head; I'd listen to her. Glad ya ain't stoppin' her, though." Sighing, Jubei sat down. "Listen to me, Ragna."
"I once had someone, too. Konoe. We went through an entire war together, much like you 'n Tsubaki are 'bout to do. We fought together, never leavin' each other for long." He chuckled, although Ragna could see tears drip from the memory. "Hell, even had a daughter, even if she is a bit unruly."
"But I screwed up. I wasn't there one day, and now she's gone, killed by Terumi." He stared Ragna straight in the eye. "And Terumi'll be lookin' to do the same to you. As much as ya can, don't let her outta yer sight. If ya make the same mistake I did, if ya fail to protect her, all the pain you've already suffered ain't gonna be nothin' compared to the hell you'll feel."
"Why would I-?"
"I'm serious, Ragna. I'm drillin' this into ya for a reason. Yer about to go on a long journey with her; it ain't gonna be some walk in the park. Yer gonna be at each other's throats here. Ya let it get to ya, yer not gonna get a happy endin'."
Ragna nodded. "I understand. I ain't gonna let anything happen to Tsubaki."
"All right, good." Jubei stood up to leave. "By the way, I'm sendin' Tao with ya once she's recovered."
"...I guess that's fine. Just make sure she realizes this is a war against the Library, not some cuisine-from-around-the-world tour."
Jubei chuckled. "Course I will. Well, I better get goin'. Got stuff to do 'n all. See ya, Ragna."
"Later, Jubei." No sooner had Jubei disappeared than Tsubaki, clad in a black t-shirt and pants, arrived. Ragna arched an eyebrow at the two cylindrical black bags slung over her shoulder. "The hell did you buy?"
"Just some stuff for the journey. A bit of food, canteens and, obviously these bags." Panting, she hurled the bags to the ground beside him and collapsed into his arms. "Oh, and a couple changes of clothing for both of us."
"Why did you go and buy clothes? Did Noel come with you or something?"
"One; it would be a good idea for us to mix up our image a little, considering we're both wanted. Two; you aren't traveling alone anymore, and wearing the same shirt and hakama for days on end isn't going to fly with me. And Noel has already left with Makoto and Tager for Wadatsumi."
"...Fine." He frowned as she left his arms and pulled out a map. "So, I guess we should go ahead and get this crap over with. I still say we should be doing this in some noisy restaurant; if someone's close enough, there won't be anything to keep them from overhearing us."
"No, this is safer. The fewer people there are, the less chance we'll be overheard. Chatter doesn't quite work that well as a filter." She pointed to the map. "So, here's Kagutsuchi. And way over here is Kazamotsu. Our destination, according to Makoto's little plan. You've done this kind of stuff before. How do we get to Kazamotsu in five days?"
He pointed to a series of dots near Kagutsuchi on the map. "Simple. See these little towns and villages? Totally outside of the Library's jurisdiction, and most people there hate the Library. We just visit them in turn until we find someone with an Ars Magus vessel who's willing to fly us as close to Kazamotsu as possible. Even if we have to bribe them or something."
She nodded, frowning. "Are you sure it wouldn't be easier just to stow away on a public transport?"
"Did it once, almost died, not doing it again. Now, the nearest town looks to be about a day and a half away. Once we find a lift..."
"We let Tager know that we're in position, and Makoto reveals the rest of her plan." Tsubaki's frown deepened. "I just hope it isn't too harebrained. She can be really smart, but she really tends to go for flash too much. And forgets critical details, such as what Ars me and Noel can—and can't—perform."
"Eh, we'll deal with it when we can." After scooping up the map, Ragna stuffed it into a pocket. "Oh, by the way, where's your Zero Squadron uniform?"
"I burned it."
"Partially because I refuse to be seen in it any longer. And partially as a pseudo-ceremonial severing of ties with the Library."
He looked up at what capped her head. "I see you kept that eyed hat thing, though."
"Why does this matter?"
"Since we're gonna be going outside of the weather control Ars' range, it's gonna get pretty damn cold. Way too cold for a damned t-shirt."
Tsubaki paled at his words. "I... didn't even think about that..."
Ragna stared at her and fought down a groan. "Let me guess; when buying clothes, you didn't think to buy a jacket or anything, did you?"
"S-sorry! I don't know how that slipped my mind! I-I'll go and-"
Even though annoyance bubbled inside, Ragna eased her panic with a hand to the shoulder. He slipped off his jacket. "It's fine, don't go wasting your money. This is your first time doing something like this, right? Ain't gonna expect perfection. Here, take this."
He shoved the coat into her hands and she blinked. "Um... are you sure, Ragna? I mean, what are you gonna do?"
"I can deal with it. I'm probably a lot more used to freezing winter weather than you. And you look pretty freaking awesome in that, too."
After accepting the crimson garb, she reached out to hug him. "Well, thanks."
"No problem. Oh, by the way, Jubei's gonna send Tao to join us when she's ready. Hope you don't mind."
As she rested her head against his chest, she smiled up at him. "Well, we're just going to have to enjoy our solitude while we can, won't we?"
He smiled back at her, although Jubei's warning echoed in his mind. "Pretty much, yeah."
As she pulled back, he yawned and stretched. "Well, I figure we've got a couple hours before we gotta get going. Wanna do something?"
Tsubaki didn't have to think long; the growl of her stomach gave her an answer. "Wanna go get lunch? I'll pay."
"Sure." As he stood up, he looked over Orient Town. There, not too far away, was a rather familiar restaurant. "Hey, what do you know. That one place is right there."
"What 'one place'? You mean where we met?"
"Yep. Wanna go there? I mean, I kinda owe them for doing the impossible and getting me a girlfriend."
Chuckling, she rose to her feet and threw on the jacket. "They'll probably be shocked; I can't imagine that their little special has a particularly high success rate."
"Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if we're the only couple to be born from it." Ragna hugged her from behind, making her giggle. "So, wanna go ahead?"
Smiling, Tsubaki leaned back into his embrace. Yes, a war loomed before them, the uncertain future looked bleak, and their enemies seemed to hold all the cards. However, for now, they had nothing to worry about but enjoying the few hours they had left together before their battles continued. "Yes. I'd love to."
A/N: Well, there we go. Took a bit longer than I expected, but I actually finished something. That has to be a harbinger of the apocalypse or something.
Okay, so. What did I do well, and more importantly, what could I improve on next time I give this whole shipping thing another go?
Yes, I realize that there are a few plot threads that weren't resolved. Namely, Jin. That's because I am going to be writing a somewhat lengthy story following my changes to canon, so I decided to go ahead and sow the seeds for it in these last few chapters. It probably won't be up anytime soon, however; I'm going to take my time planning this out. Expect it in August at the earliest. In the meantime, I have a few short projects in the works.
Thanks to all my readers and reviewers, and see ya for now.