First, I'd like to thank all of you who have been reading my story over the last year. I've had so many great conversations with many of you, and have been happy to share in our mutual passion for writing. It's kept me going to the finish line. A special shout out to three fantastic writers, Dear4Life, Aerysa, & Sakabatou77, who have been a constant inspiration since I joined this community. Arigatou gozaimashita.

PEACE, LOVE, & FANFICTION!

~Destinies Entwined

Without further ado...


Chapter 14: The Heart Grows Fonder

Steam hung heavy in the air, clinging to the glass and accumulating in thick droplets that streaked down toward the floor. It burned hot in their lungs with every sharp inhalation. Fingers smoothed easily over slick skin as the water pattered rhythmically against the ceramic tiles. Misaki's drenched mane clung to her soft curves as Hei held her in a passionate embrace. His tongue dragged slowly and deliberately along her collarbone to the base of her neck. The taste was an enrapturing blend of slightly salty water and her sweet essence that he was so enthralled by.

A groan rumbled deep in Misaki's throat. The sound shot straight up Hei's spine and in a kneejerk reaction, he sank his teeth lustfully into the crook of her neck and savored her with lips, teeth and tongue. Her knees wobbled beneath her, and her arms around his neck gripped tighter. Hei leaned her back against the shower wall and pressed himself eagerly against her. With a new steadiness found, the unraveled brunette ran her fingertips down her dark lover's beautifully defined chest and over the ripples in his abdomen. She was made well aware of his burning desire as he pressed his pelvis to hers. Her whole body tingled. There was a sense of desperation and urgency in his actions; an unquenchable need for communion.

The hot water reflected off Hei's back relentlessly as he practically devoured her. And unlike her aggressive behavior the night before, Misaki wanted him to envelop her, and just take her. For the first time she completely indulged her feminine side and let him take control. She gasped his name as he slid fingers down along her most sensitive place. The aroused brunette instinctively matched his gesture and wrapped her fingers around him. Those midnight blue eyes drifted shut as her hand maintained a firm and calculated movement. He exhaled and his head came to rest on her shoulder where his mouth had previously been, panting against her for a long moment. For those few seconds, Misaki had thought the tables had turned and that her Black Reaper was suddenly turning to putty at her touch.

She thought wrong.

With a low growl, he lifted her up, forcing her to release her grip on him and return her arms to wrap around his neck. In one swift motion, he was inside of her. There was nowhere to move between his flexing muscles and the wall, except with the opposing forces of gravity and Hei's thrusts. The moisture that clung to them and the walls abated much of the friction of their motions. Her weight against his unrelenting hardness brought on waves of pleasure she had yet to ever experience. It was a whole different sensation that washed over her.

Hei obeyed the rush of blood in his veins. The overwhelming need to be ultimately connected to his woman, buried in her most sacred place. Her whimpers stoked the raging fire within him. He felt so possessive in that moment, like he had claimed her and she submitted to him completely. A side of her she kept well-hidden, except now for him. He ached in his heart, as if there was some way to get closer and more connected. It was an emotion he had never felt in his life. He uttered his claim on her love in a content moan.

"Misaki…my Misaki…"

Hei pressed his mouth to hers, entangling their tongues in a fervent kiss. She groaned into him and claimed his bottom lip with her teeth. They continued in their unyielding cadence to yet unknown heights. A flame ignited within Misaki and the tingling heat spread throughout her body as every muscle in her body seized up in pure ecstasy. Hei followed shortly after, feeling her tense up on him, the full weight of him securing her in place as he succumbed to their passion. He returned his head to rest in the crook of her neck as they caught their breath. After a long minute, he lifted his head and slowly slid her back to her feet. She stayed in his embrace a moment and rested her head on his chest.

"I am…" she murmured. She looked back up to him with a soft smile. "I am your Misaki."

He heaved a sigh at her admission and held her tightly. As he released her, he kissed her gently and turned her toward the spray of the shower. He handed her a washcloth, took the other in his own hand and lathered it up with soap. They spent a few more quiet minutes under the falling water, taking turns tenderly caressing away the sweat and salt of the day from each other. There could not have been a more soothing end to an emotional day than the gentle touch of lather in a lover's hand.

They eventually retired to his bedroom and easily slipped under the covers and into slumber curled up together.

O.o ^_^ o.O ^_^ O.o ^_^ o.O

Misaki awoke to the sound of a knife deftly chopping away and things boiling and sizzling on the stove. The smell of breakfast permeated the apartment, causing her stomach to grumble. Lazily, she rolled out of the comfort of his bed. She sighed, knowing this would be the last time for a while she would experience this moment. She looked around in the morning light, making mental pictures of her surroundings to keep close at heart. She thought hard about how hard it was for him to let go of so much pain and strife since she last saw him. Observing how calm everything around him had now become.

Would he ever be truly ready to leave this comfortable space? she wondered.

The college station was playing their Sunday morning jazz program as Li happily prepared a feast. He turned when he heard the gentle sliding of his bedroom door. They smiled at each other as she came out, once again, unabashedly in her underwear and one of his black tank tops. She padded over to him and wrapped her arms around his waist from behind. "Ohayou, koibito," she said with a kiss on his shoulder.

Li chuckled and looked over his shoulder at her and replied, "Ohayou."

She was quiet a moment as she watched him cook. He caught a little smirk on her face as she did so. Curiosity got the best of him. "What's that face for?"

"Just thinking about how much money I'm going to save on eating out if we cook all the time…" She caught herself, retracting her words a bit with a blush, "I mean…whenever you decide to come to Tokyo, that is…no pressure."

He chuckled softly, knowing full well she wanted him to be with her as much as he did. He had already been sorting things out in his head the past couple days, and had already begun planning a course of action. How long it would take to work out, he didn't know.

"By the way," he said, suddenly changing the subject, "I'm going to get out and buy a cell phone, so I can keep in touch."

"Perfect," Misaki said with a grin. "I'll leave you my info." She paused a moment in realization. "I can't believe I haven't given it to you yet."

"You haven't needed to," Li teased lightly.

They didn't rush their morning meal; relishing every moment, every bite. The girls' plane wouldn't leave till mid-afternoon, so they planned on grabbing lunch all together near the airport.

O.o ^_^ o.O ^_^ O.o ^_^ o.O

When they arrived back at the hotel, they found Kanami trying to cram an overstuffed suitcase. She was leaning into it with the full weight of her body, yet it refused to close.

Misaki laughed at the spectacle. "That's what you get for being a shopaholic."

She grabbed her own suitcase and methodically folded and packed every little loose article. She had room to spare, and alleviated Kanami's luggage enough for it to shut.

Meanwhile, Li sat on the futon quietly as the girls readied themselves. He considered how these last six days had been a revelation. He had spent the last few years grieving and recovering from half a lifetime of turmoil and loss. He had found solace and peace in the hum and rhythm of normal life; he had found healing in meditation and music. And now…

It had seemed strangely longer than a week. It had churned up a whole wealth of emotions that he'd yet to fully allow himself to experience, along with numerous truths and new sensations to process. She had awoken them. The former police chief, Misaki Kirihara, who had been searching for him and waiting for him, took everything he'd been harboring in his heart and turned it on its head. In a matter of days she had made him feel like a whole new person: one that was both his old self and his new self, with something incredibly invigorating that he'd never felt before. A word came to mind that he was hesitant to repeat aloud, until he was absolutely sure of it.

He observed her as she went about her routine, oblivious to his trained gaze. He pondered returning to Tokyo, and how he would be received by the remnants of Section 3 and Madame Oreille. His stomach still turned slightly at the idea of working with that woman again. However, if Misaki trusts her motives…He realized that she probably had more inside info on events before he fled the city than what Kobayashi had given him. Part of him wanted to learn more about the truth. If Misaki knew it, he would follow her.

In flashes, he began to imagine what it would be like to work by her side every day. He noted mentally to someday train Misaki to use grappling wires and such. She's light on her feet and pretty strong…She would do well with it. He considered how Tokyo's environment has probably changed since the American occupation, and how it would affect him and Misaki living an inconspicuous life. These thoughts gave him more to consider in how much care he would need to take, but it would take much more than caution to deter him from reassuming his destined role.

It had been over five years since that fateful day that, after destroying the Saturn System, he overheard Horai blast her for choosing a third path, in defiance of the Syndicate's credo. In that moment, Hei had saved her life, acting on a gut feeling. Now more than ever, he was glad he did.

He was brought back to reality by a soft hand combing through his hair. He closed his eyes, succumbing momentarily to the comforting gesture. Suddenly her breath tickled his cheek as she spoke softly close to the side of his face.

"Ever the deep thinker…" She sighed, kissing his cheek and eliciting a crooked smile from him. He merely nodded, giving her a knowing sideways look... She placed one more kiss, this time to his temple, before standing to continue her final room check.

It was nearly time to depart, and Michio arrived with a luggage cart. After having loaded all the girls' baggage and advised them as to the checkout procedure, they all headed down to the lobby.

O.o ^_^ o.O ^_^ O.o ^_^ o.O

Daisuke met them near the airport for lunch, insisting on a place called Furawādainingu Juniwa. With it being a beautiful midsummer afternoon, complete with pleasant offshore breeze, they sat outside in a well-manicured garden in the shade of a tree.

Once again, it seemed the gregarious restaurateur knew quite a few people at the establishment, and they knew where to seat them and what to bring them without even looking at a menu.

Yet another meal of beautiful plates of food, decorated with floral accents. Anything from sushi, salads and hors d'oeuvres to beef, seafood and vegetable dishes bore their trademark of edible flowers. The bright colors and intense flavors artfully combined to give the diner a new kind of experience. The girls ogled every plate placed on the table. Things smelled and tasted as delicious as they looked.

Unfortunately, this last meal together wouldn't last as long as others they had shared. The time of departure was drawing nearer. As they finished their desserts, a somber silence hung in the air, as they avoided the farewells that would soon follow. No one spoke at first, until Misaki cleared her throat.

"You know…I almost didn't come on this trip," she said flatly. There were raised eyebrows all around the table, inquiring further explanation.

"Kanami of all people would know, and even Li can attest to this, that I am very involved in my work. But…" Misaki paused as a sentimental smile eased its way onto her lips. "I am glad I put the work aside for once. This is the first vacation I have taken in over a decade. Kanami's like my sister. I couldn't say no to her on her birthday. And now…" Her eyes looked from Kanami to Daisuke and finally to Li. "My life is forever changed."

She looked back to her best friend, who had gotten misty-eyed, and said, "Thank you."

Kanami gave her a hug and giggled, "You're welcome…and maybe from now on, you'll listen to me a little more often."

A warm hand grabbed Misaki's as she settled back into her seat.

"In that case, I'm thankful you got her to come with you, as well," Li said humbly.

"Cheers to that," Daisuke replied. "What a lovely happenstance!"

They began to gather their belongings as Daisuke turned to Li. "You know, Li, I'll be heading to Tokyo for a conference a month from now. You're welcome to come up there with me for a few days and visit the ladies."

Li smiled and politely refused him, "Unfortunately, September gets quite busy with the university students returning and the beautiful late summer weather. Taking time off will be really difficult."

"That's too bad, Li," Daisuke replied with a slight grimace, though it quickly dissipated. "But you have my number, so give me a call if you change your mind…or just to hang out. Don't be a stranger."

Kanami chimed in. "No worries, we'll be back for the Fall Matsuri and Misaki's birthday."

"Well…I'd like to. It all depends on work, of course."

Kanami heaved a loud sigh as she shook her head.

Misaki felt a hint of rage ignite as the stress of her job conflicting with her personal life was an issue for the first time in her life. "You try working as a private investigator and ask for two weeks off in two months! Of course I want to come back, but do you really think it's going to be that easy? Criminals don't take vacations, Kanami!"

As the frustrated brunette glared at her friend, she felt a pair of hands rest on her shoulders and give them a light squeeze. "Oi…Misaki…I'll be happy to see you whenever you can get here. If not October…then maybe for the winter holidays…" He smiled and leaned in from behind her and kissed her cheek. "We have to spend New Year's together."

Misaki's stress was quelled almost instantly, assuming that the underlying message meant his aim was the end of the year. That's a lot sooner than I thought.

She nodded as her features softened. "Sorry, Kanami. You know I'm under a lot of stress. I don't think I ever realized it until I knew what a real vacation felt like."

Daisuke laughed, "Sounds like you need a new line of work, Kirihara-san." He looked at his watch and his smile faded. "Time to go, my friends."

They hopped into Daisuke's Mercedes and they headed over to the airport.

They pulled up in front of the terminal, amongst the hustle and bustle, to unload the luggage from the trunk and say their goodbyes. The four of them simply stood there speechless for a moment, until Daisuke spoke up and broke the silence.

"Kirihara-san, it has been a lovely time, and I have you to thank. If it hadn't been for you and Li-san, I wouldn't have met this amazing woman. I look forward to seeing you again soon."

They shook hands, and Kanami stepped forward to Li and surprised him with a big hug. "I am so happy we ran into you," she said under her breath. "Misaki is a new woman, thanks to you. She's finally found the man of her dreams."

She pulled away and gave Li a knowing smile to counter the mild shock on his face. Li couldn't help the sneaking suspicion that Kanami now knew the truth. But her words and smile were genuinely kind, assuaging any fear. If she does know, I doubt she'd ever tell.

Daisuke gave Kanami a big hug and just held her a moment, kissing her temple as he pulled away. "I'll be seeing you in a few weeks, my dear," he affirmed.

She nodded and replied, "I'll be giving you a call when I get in this evening."

Li and Misaki just stood facing each other, both hands clasped in the others'. They couldn't help but contemplate the last week in this final moment. Misaki realized that a grin had spread from ear to ear on her face. She let loose words bubbling from her overflowing heart. "Finding you has changed my life…I am so glad."

Li smiled back and hummed in agreeance as he kissed her forehead and let it linger a moment to inhale her scent.

She had to ask the question once more. "So, do you believe in Fate?"

Li laughed lightly as he pulled her into his arms. "I think I'm giving 'Fate' a second chance."

"Good."

He pulled out of the hug and kissed her softly on the lips. "You've spoiled me this week. My apartment's going to feel so empty now."

"Well, at least we can keep in touch. Go get that phone and text me. I'll call you when I get into Tokyo."

"Sure thing, Misaki." He stopped and whispered, "Damn, I'm going to miss those lips."

He leaned in for another, slightly heated kiss, much less chaste than the last. Misaki gently pulled away, "As much as I don't want to go…" Her eyes searched out the terminal entrance and then returned to those deep blue eyes she loved so much.

"I know," the dark-haired contractor sighed. He gave her a squeeze and released her to grab her suitcase.

With a final wave as they walked away, the two best friends left their men behind them.

O.o ^_^ o.O ^_^ O.o ^_^ o.O

A few hours later, after they landed at Narita, Misaki was eager to turn her mobile back on. Sure enough, the phone beeped with a message notification. She grinned as she opened the message as they made their way to the luggage bay.

"Here's my number. Can't wait to talk to you. ~Ai"

Misaki was tickled by his use of "Ai". The character he used was not that of "love" but of "indigo". How clever…and adorable at the same time.

She sighed aloud, "Oh, Li-kun."

Kanami watched the whole thing and couldn't hold back her curiosity any longer. "So did he message you already? I mean, doesn't he have to be careful about communicating in the first place, never mind with you?"

"Yes, and yes," Misaki replied, showing her the phone. "See?"

Kanami shook her head and chuckled, "Are you sure he's who you say he is. He's so sweet, my teeth hurt. It's a cute little wordplay, but so obvious!"

"Oh, come off it, Kanami. It's only obvious to us because we know," she replied as she texted Li back.

"True…but it's still super sappy," Kanami said with a giggle as she grabbed their bags off the conveyor belt.

O.o ^_^ o.O ^_^ O.o ^_^ o.O

Misaki had settled herself in at home and began to unpack her suitcase, when her phone rang. She smiled and hit the green button to answer.

"I couldn't help myself. I got your text earlier, but I got impatient," the voice on the line said smoothly.

"It's alright; I am just getting myself situated. Your timing is perfect, koibito."

"So desu ka! Well, I've been thinking about something. I know you spend a lot of time with Mao…"

"Yeah, speaking of the fur ball, I'm surprised he hasn't come scratching at my patio door yet. He usually comes by when he knows I'm going to be home. I'll feed him and let him sleep on the papasan."

"Well, I was thinking at first you shouldn't tell anyone about us…but I do trust him. And I'm sure he'd like to know I'm all right."

"I'll make sure he knows to keep it quiet for now, especially since we'll be breaking the news to everyone else when you eventually come to Tokyo."

"Exactly. No one else needs to know for the time being." Hei's voice drifted off.

"You okay over there?" Misaki asked sensing his hesitation.

"I'm keeping my fingers crossed for your birthday."

"Me too, but if I'm going to consider my current case and stay in Kobayashi-san's good graces without arousing suspicions, I can't promise anything. But, I will try my best."

"It's the nature of the beast. Well, I have to get back to work. I'll talk to you later, Misaki."

"Okay. Call whenever you want. Goodnight, Ai."

There was a light chuckle on the other end before he replied, "That goes the same for you…Oyasumi."

She ended the call and just stared at the phone with a sigh. "This is going to be a long couple of months."

Misaki made a quick call to Kobayashi to let him know she was back from her trip and that she would be in the next day. It was an easy and unassuming call, putting her back into business mode. Despite that it was getting late, she began sorting through her files, spending over two hours organizing what she'd be working on for the week and getting her head back in the game.

…Until there came the familiar scratch at her patio door.

Misaki went over and let Mao in the sliding door. "Were you in the neighborhood?"

The feline contractor stretched, making himself at home. "Yeah. I knew you were coming back today, but when I heard from Kobayashi that you had called…"

"You figured some air conditioning would be amazing," Misaki replied with a smirk.

Mao stumbled over himself, slightly surprised by her uncharacteristic jesting. "Well, yes…but, of course I wanted to see how your trip was and whatnot."

"Well, it was definitely relaxing. Kanami and I went out everywhere. We went shopping, of course. There was a day at the beach and a beach party another night. We ate at a lot of nice restaurants…soaked in the hot springs, did some drinking…danced at the festival…" her voice floated off with her mind as she recalled dancing to the beat of the daiko with her eyes trained solely on him.

"Oi, Misaki!" Mao called out, startling the pensive brunette.

"Eh? Sorry, I got lost in my head for a minute there."

Her phone beeped with a message. Knowing who it was most likely from, she checked her phone.

"Definitely got spoiled. Miss you. Hope you are sleeping well."

Misaki's cheeks got warm as she giggled nervously, trying not to give away her feelings too easily.

Mao cocked his head to the side. Misaki's acting strange. Well, for her, anyway…

"Do you mind if I stay here in the AC tonight, Misaki?" Mao tried to redirect the conversation.

"Of course you can, Mao. I was just giving you a hard time before," Misaki replied while mindlessly playing with her star necklace that she had worn all day.

Mao noticed the necklace. "That's a very pretty necklace. One of your souvenirs, I assume?"

"O-oh, yes, I bought this on Tuesday. It's hand-made."

Mao just shook his head. "It's a star, eh? I don't even need to ask why you bought a star pendant… Seriously. You are not yourself. What is going on with you?"

Just then, it hit Misaki as how to break the news to her friend and associate.

She feigned a sigh. "The truth is, Mao…I met a guy in Matsuyama."

Mao stepped back in shock. "Wait. You, Miss 'Career-First', who doesn't have time for relationships…?"

"Yup. He's really nice." She nervously repositioned the pillow on the papasan, avoiding his scrutinizing stare.

"Well, he must be something amazing to catch the attention of the woman obsessed with the world's most notorious contractor."

Misaki blushed hard, laughing. "He's a chef, actually…and a part-owner of a ramen stand."

"What? That's it? You fell for a ramen chef? Really, Misaki, I know the way to your heart is food, but I expected more of you…" Mao shook his head. "What's his deal, then?"

"Well, he's about one-meter-eighty tall, thin but very muscular…Chinese, with dark shaggy hair and dark blue eyes; and has one hell of an appetite."

Mao's eyes grew wide. His mouth hung agape as the description was all too familiar. "No way…that sounds just like…"

Misaki grinned deviously at him. "A guy by the name of Li? Loves the color black? Great kisser? That's him all right."

Mao was completely flabbergasted. "Y-you found Hei?!"

"Shhhh!" Misaki quieted him. "The walls have ears. But, he wanted you to know. We just can't say anything until he's ready to come back to Tokyo."

Mao was dizzied by the information he was trying to process. "Wait..so you and Hei…"

"Are together? Yes." The former police chief answered his inferred question. Mao was still frozen, unable to wrap his mind around what he'd just heard. Misaki patted his head, bringing the contractor back to reality.

"Sit, I'll grab you some water and explain the whole week to you…"

Misaki eventually took a seat next to Mao and explained everything, from their chance meeting, to Kanami unknowingly roping him into coming out, as well as eventual confessions and attraction. She told him about what Hei had been through since and why he had disappeared into obscurity.

"So, let me get this straight," Mao began, "Yin has died, as we had suspected. He buried her and moved southward and came to stay in Matsuyama-shi." Misaki confirmed with a nod and blew on her hot tea. The black cat continued to think aloud. "It's just… Meditation? Jazz music? That doesn't sound like the Hei I knew. The ramen stand, on the other hand, makes complete sense."

Misaki agreed. "He's obviously been taking time to heal. Having been through a half-lifetime of turmoil, I can understand why he took that opportunity to get the hell away from it all."

Suddenly it dawned on Mao, what she had said earlier. "Wait, so you had said something before about Hei coming back to Tokyo."

Misaki sipped her tea before replying. "He wants to come back…to be with me," she admitted with a blush. "And also to come back to stand up for the justice we both believe in."

Misaki felt the hot tears form in her eyes as she reflected upon everything that had led up to the present situation. "Mao…I was right this whole time. I followed my instincts…and they were right."

She laughed as they fell from the corner of her eyes, "Hell, he calls me 'koibito'! How crazy is that? Hahaha!"

Mao just looked at her in this oddly emotional state and shook his head, "You are losing it, Misaki. Although, I must say that is quite an uncanny turn of events. So…when is he coming back?"

"Not sure yet, he has to work out some details concerning the business from what I understand. He can't just up and leave. Besides, I think he still needs time to process uprooting once again and returning to all the chaos. It's an internal battle I can't help him fight without bias." She wiped the streaks off her cheeks and stood to bring her empty mug to the kitchenette.

"He's going to come and work with us? I didn't think he'd ever work with Madame Oreille again, after what she put him through," Mao mused as he followed her and jumped up on a counter to be more at face level. "How are you going to break it to Kobayashi?"

"That's the thing, Mao. You can't breathe a word until he comes back and we go to Goro to talk to him," Misaki stated firmly.

"You have my word. Just keep me in the loop," Mao promised. He jumped back down to the floor and wandered back to the papasan. "You know…Hazuki-san will not take that news well."

Misaki snorted at the comment and waved him off as she headed for her bedroom, "Goodnight, Mao."

O.o ^_^ o.O ^_^ O.o ^_^ o.O

A few weeks passed and it was now mid-September. Daisuke had come and gone for his conference and Kanami was being inducted into the organization as the new supervisor for their doll network. She had been looking for a new job when Kobayashi had approached Misaki about acquiring someone more qualified to work with the dolls. One night, after her first meeting, Mao and Kanami had returned with Misaki to her apartment for dinner.

"Wow, Misaki. That chick has the hots for you! What's Li gonna say?" Kanami teased.

Mao laughed at the idea of those two duking it out over the officer-turned-rogue, "Oh, they have already met. It won't be pretty."

Misaki ignored the comment as it made her realize something more important. "Oh, by the way, Kanami, Mao was on Li's team when he worked for the Syndicate…so you both know all about it."

"Oh, so Mao knows you're 'Mrs. BK-201'," Kanami said slathering her words with melodrama.

"The last time I was that shocked by something, I had awoken to November 11 completely in the nude," the cat recalled with a shudder. "But I'm relieved to know that he's alright."

"Oh, he's more than all right, now that she's, ahem, taking care of him," Kanami drawled.

"I did not need to hear that!" Mao groaned.

"So, speaking of Hei," Misaki said, quickly changing the subject as she turned to the two of them, "I'm still not sure if I'll be able to get down to Matsuyama in a few weeks. This new case is killing me. If I don't get JS-712 into our custody before then, I'm not going anywhere for my birthday. But he already knows that the situation is really iffy."

"Well, you won't have to make that judgment call until a few days before your birthday," Kanami encouraged hopefully.

"Is it sad that it's only been a month, but I feel like it's been forever?" Misaki asked wistfully.

"Don't you talk to him almost every day?" Mao countered.

"That's exactly why it's pitiful," Misaki said making her point.

Mao sniffed, "You emotional beings are all the same."

O.o ^_^ o.O ^_^ O.o ^_^ o.O

"I'm sorry Li, this case is far from closed. We've been so close twice already, but the perpetrator manages to evade us just in the nick of time. I'm having flashbacks of some of your great escapes, let me tell you!" Misaki didn't bother to hide her frustrations from her sapphire-eyed contractor on the other end of the line.

"Well, if anything changes, let me know. I have a present that I'd rather not wait till New Year's to give you."

"But there's only four days left…Maybe I can take a birthday rain check, and come down when everything's said and done."

"I'm fine with that. Things are looking good down here, by the way. Things on my end with the business should be settled by the end of the year."

"So we will ring in the New Year together," Misaki confirmed with a sigh of relief.

"It's a date." Li chuckled softly. "Good luck with the case, Misaki. I wish I were there to help."

"Hah! I could just imagine the ass-kicking they'd get. You are the best, you know."

"You're pretty vicious yourself, when you want to be. Don't ever forget it."

"Thank you for that," she said, a smile plastered onto her face.

"Anytime…Goodnight."

The other end went silent and she sighed. I'll have to teach JS-712 not to screw with my birthday plans. Misaki couldn't help but laugh aloud at her own thoughts. But Hei's pep-talk had definitely helped her resolve.

O.o ^_^ o.O ^_^ O.o ^_^ o.O

The next few days went by uneventfully, Misaki spent them following a few leads, but nothing had turned up. She came home in the early evening, knowing that Kanami wanted to take her out for the night. It was her thirtieth birthday after all, and a Friday night. It was already getting dark as she cracked a bottle of her favorite plum wine and began sorting through the dresses in her closet. She hadn't even had time to think about wardrobe, and everything new she owned was for warmer weather. It was the first week of October and the autumn chill settled in the air after sunset.

Misaki found a dress from years ago, that she had worn to the PSB annual gala. She wondered if it still fit. She was pleasantly surprised when the little black cap-sleeved dress with a crimson sash-like belt still fit like it had so long ago. She smiled and took it off to take a shower.

Another half an hour or more later, she was putting the finishing touches on her hair and makeup when her phone rang. She was expecting it to be Kanami, but it was Li.

He's probably on break, she assumed.

Misaki hit the green button and didn't even wait for a 'Hello'. "Hey there! I was hoping to hear from you today!" she said cheerily. "I was beginning to think you had forgotten."

"Hah. You know me better than that."

"You're right I do. So, what, are you on break right now?"

"Yeah, I've been swamped all afternoon. And I refuse to wish you a Happy Birthday in a text," Hei explained.

"Well, thank you, koibito. It's been a long day. I'm just getting ready to go out with Kanami. She should be here in twenty minutes or so."

"I see. So, I sent you your present yesterday. Have you gotten it, yet?"

"Oh! I didn't check the mail. I'll go check in a few minutes."

"Alright, call me when you get it. Have fun tonight."

"Thanks. I will. Jaa…"

She ended the call to put on her lipstick and matching red heels. With one last look in the mirror, knowing Kanami would approve, Misaki decided to go see if Li's gift had arrived.

As she opened her front door, she nearly stumbled over two black suitcases, one larger and one smaller, with a big red ribbon tied to them like a present.

"What the he-"

"I should have bought you a new telescope for your birthday," said a familiar dark voice from behind her. "You need to upgrade."

Misaki spun around to be greeted by the man in the white mask, her man: The Black Reaper, standing in the open balcony door across the room. Her smile grew brighter as she approached her lover. Though overwhelmed by the pleasant surprise, Misaki knew exactly what she had to do next. She reached up to his face and gently removed the mask, revealing an impish grin.

"Happy Birthday, Misaki," he reached out and touched her cheek. "I'm here…to stay."

Those warm amber eyes grew wide as it dawned on her. His arms snaked around her waist, pulling her into him as her arm's wrapped around the back of his neck. Like they had been long-parched with thirst, the lovers drank of each other's lips. It was a long moment before Misaki released his lips to look into his face, as if to be sure it wasn't all a dream.

"But I thought you…"

"Weren't coming until December? Surprise!" he said, gesturing with a sheepish shrug. Suddenly his expression softened and his eyes glinted with yearning. "I couldn't wait any longer."

The dark and handsome contractor ran his hands slowly up and down her back. "I came to this conclusion the day you got on that plane…"

He ceased his motion to catch her stunned gaze with his blue eyes, as if trying somehow to reach into her soul. "I love you, Misaki."

Misaki's heart stopped and her breath caught at his declaration. The look in his eyes told her there was more he needed to say. "The last two months made me realize how much I need you by my side." Hei's lips came to rest gently upon her forehead, and were soon exchanged for his own forehead so that they were nose to nose. "We have too much to live for…To fight for…together."

Misaki's jaw had gone slightly slack as she fought to find words just as eloquent to respond with. Where her mind had failed, her heart took over.

"I love you, too, Li." She paused to process how those words felt rolling off her tongue. "Until two months ago, I was sure that you…here…would only ever be a dream. But this…this is really happening, isn't it?"

He confirmed with a hum as he tightened his embrace once more and kissed her slowly and deeply. Their lips separated with a soft, moist pop. He smiled at her and released his arms from her waist to take off his long black coat, revealing he was dressed and ready to go out in a black and grey suit.

"Don't even tell me! You've had this planned the whole time, and Kanami knew?"

Hei merely raised a brow at her, neither confirming nor denying anything. Misaki laughed as her phone beeped. Hei pulled the luggage inside while she read the message with a smile. Kanami had arrived and she was downstairs.

"Perfect timing," she declared with a smirk. Misaki grabbed her purse as Hei extended his arm and took her in his stride.

"Always," he replied. He smiled down at his beautiful companion and shut the door behind them.

"Now, let's go celebrate."

**FIN**

O.o ^_^ o.O ^_^ O.o ^_^ o.O


PS... If you didn't already know... There's a sequel I'm already working on. There's entirely too much more to be told, and the plot bunnies are getting antsy.

See you soon!