The Calculation

"Urgh. Do I have to keep stirring it like this?"

"Yes. Otherwise it will go solid again, and melting it to begin with would be a waste. You don't want to waste any of your hard work, do you?"

"Ihihi… Well, I guess that makes sense. But it's such a pain."

Ushiromiya Battler sighed, wiping sweat off his brow with his free hand. Melted chocolate goo was transferred from his fingers to his forehead as a result, but he didn't notice. It wasn't like it made any difference away, given the melted chocolate already stuck to his cheeks, chin, and even the tip of his nose. What was the point in cleaning his face when he'd only get it dirty again later?

Ihihi~ Wasn't that the kind of mentality little kids used when they didn't want to take baths?

Well, whatever. It wasn't like anybody in the kitchen was going to judge him for his appearance. The annoying seven stakes were off terrorizing the innocent (Mammon) or playing with stuffed rabbits (Asmodeus), or any other 'wholesome' activities that fell in between. Beato, meanwhile, was sipping tea with Virgilia. The only other person with him was Ronove- and Ronove was one of the few people in the meta world tactful enough to avoid needlessly insulting Battler's bedraggled appearance.

Irritatingly enough, however, Ronove himself was completely chocolate-free. Even though he had been stirring the melted chocolate himself for about five minutes, before he let Battler clumsily take over, he looked as pristine as always. Battler had been stirring (more like fighting) with that damn melted chocolate for five moments, and already he looked like something dragged up from the bottom of a swamp.

Tch.

Ronove was such a show-off.

Suddenly, Battler was struck with a childish urge to take the plastic bowl of liquid chocolate and tip it over Ronove's head. Ronove was always so composed, so Battler was interested to see what kind of face he'd pull if something like that happened. It was a childish curiosity- the same sort that'd gotten Battler into serious trouble when he pulled girls' hair in kindergarten and, later on, tried out those cheesy English pick-up lines on them from his old man's movies.

Battler's fingers twitched slightly, gripping the edge of the bowl. If he picked it up now…

But no.

It was probably best to avoid acting on impulses like that. They'd only end in tears.

And dumping all that chocolate over Ronove's head would be such a waste. Battler liked chocolate, damn it; Ronove wasn't good enough to cover in it. Maybe, if it was Beato, or one of the big-boobed sisters, and he got to lick it off later…~ Ihihi… …~

That'd be fun.

Unfortunately, that happy mental image wasn't quite able to dispel the ache running up and down Battler's arm. His grip on the wooden spoon slackened slightly, and his stirring motions became slower and slower; more labored.

He groaned.

"This is such a pain."

"I know, I know. You've already said that."

"Have I?"

"Several times."

"Gah. The monotony of stirring this must have driven me mad. I think my brain's about the same consistency as this now," said Battler. He lifted the spoon from the pot, letting ropes of melted chocolate trickle off the end of the spoon and back into the bowl. "Damn it, I'm so bored!"

"Patience is a virtue, Battler~"

"Heh. You're one to talk about virtues, being a demon."

"Yes, but I strive to be a rather polite one. I try not to conform to the common demonic stereotypes," said Ronove brightly. "Don't give up, Battler. I thought you were far too stubborn to let a bowl of melted chocolate defeat you. And we must suffer to please those we love, yes?"

"Well, I don't know about love, exactly. I think you're getting a little ahead of yourself."

Ronove bowed his head in apology, though that teasing smile didn't waver. "I'm sorry. Purgatorio-"

"Purga-what-now? I always called this place the 'meta-world'."

"A fitting name, but not the correct one. However, I like yours'… I think it's quite suitable. Anyway, as I was saying… The events in the meta-world, as you term it, are quite static, being a world removed from human company, customs, etcetera. Few interesting things happen. I was rather hoping for an incredible tale of romance to be spun between you and one of the lucky maidens you will be handing these chocolates to, pu ku ku~"

"Man, you're just as bad as Kumasawa; always gossiping about other people," said Battler, grinning. "If you're that desperate for scandal, go and read a trashy magazine. You're not getting any sordid stories out of me."

"But reading magazines isn't nearly as entertaining as talking to you. You're far more interesting."

"Ihihi. You sound like a whiney little kid now."

"Well, I do spend a lot of time with Beelzebub… Perhaps her style of speech is rubbing off on me…"

"Now, that'd be pretty creepy." Battler pretended to shudder. "You'd start squealing and calling everything 'adorabubble' next- and that totally doesn't match with your image at all. Urgh… Just thinking about it makes my skin crawl."

"Hoh?~" Ronove tilted his head to one side in curiosity, just like a bird about to peck up seeds from the floor. "And what does fit your image of me, Battler?"

"Being an annoying pervert."

Ronove laughed. "Aah, how cruel! I assure you, I'm a gentleman through and through. I'm even offering to help make your White Day gifts, am I not? Surely you could offer me a few words of thanks?"

"I could, but I get the feeling I'm going to owe you for this. Demons don't help humans for free, right? Even if that 'help' is only in the kitchen."

"Well, the common perception of a demon is that they would steal human souls in exchange for advice… But I find that rather trite and cliché; and it doesn't suit my particular idiom." Ronove smiled; getting just a little too close to Battler's face for his liking. "My reward for helping you is simply being able to spend time in your company."

"N-ngh… Gaah…"

Battler should've known there'd be a catch like this when he asked Ronove for help. That damn creepy bastard.

Then again… Battler was still thankful towards Ronove, even if he was more proficient at invading people's spaces than those 8-bit aliens from the Atari 2600 game. After receiving chocolate from Lucifer and Beato on Valentine's Day, Battler figured it was only proper to give them something in return on White Day- even if they'd both lied and claimed Ronove's chocolate was theirs'. Battler didn't want to quibble over the details. According to Ronove, Lucifer and Beato had never celebrated Valentine's Day or White Day before, so even if their chocolate wasn't hand made, Battler still felt he should pay them back.

If he didn't, they'd get a nasty surprise when they didn't have any gifts in return; just like kids on Christmas day who had eagerly anticipated opening their presents, only to find stockings full of coal.

Battler couldn't betray their expectations like that- and he certainly didn't want to make them cry.

If a guy as incredible as Battler didn't return a girl's feelings, the poor maiden would probably be heartbroken! And when Beato was heartbroken, she- according to Ronove- got even angrier than usual.

In short, Battler didn't want to be riddled with holes from Beato's shoulder towers. Making Beato a present had nothing to do with any genuine feelings of concern, or faint amusement/flattery that she'd given him a (stolen) gift to begin with at all, a-and Battler certainly wasn't indulging in her White Day fantasies because he cared about her; certainly not!

This was all for self-preservation- and he was giving chocolate to Lucifer, too.

Battler didn't like Beatrice at all.

The thought was laughable.

Unfortunately, Battler didn't know what to get Luci or Beato for White Day. He didn't know of any shops that specialized in presents for witches and demons. In the end, Battler had settled on chocolate. Beato and Lucifer had given him chocolate; it seemed fitting he'd give them chocolate in return.

Because Luci and Beato had stolen their chocolate, technically they had put 0 effort into getting him a Valentine's Day present. By that logic, when White Day rolled around, Battler had to repay their effort by three- but 0 x 3 was, of course, 0. Therefore, Battler really didn't have to get them anything at all. But he would repay them all the same. If he recalculated it, taking into account the efforts made by Beatrice and Lucifer to hand him that chocolate in the first place, despite fears of being rejected (not that Battler could imagine Beato being fearful of anything), maybe their effort levels rose to about 0.33. Multiply that by 3, and you got 1- more or less. So stolen hand-made chocolate multiplied by 3 equalled chocolate that had been properly hand made in return.

…At least, that was what Battler's convoluted string of strange calculations (he'd never been good at math) eventually gave him.

That meant his White Day gift would, naturally, be hand made chocolate.

Too bad Battler wasn't all that good at cooking. The most experience he had with it was baking lumpy cookies that tasted vaguely of washing up liquid with Ange. Making chocolate to placate the hearts of fair maidens was a little bit different than that, and required a more delicate hand.

And that was where he needed Ronove.

Maybe asking Ronove to help was cheating. Battler should've been doing all the work himself; especially as he'd berated Beato for lying and saying she made 'her' chocolate herself. However, at least Battler was actually trying to do some of it on his own.

But, gaah… Now, given Ronove was getting so damn close, Battler thought he might have been better off doing it by himself.

"Get out of my face! I-I'm not going to get anything done if you keep distracting me!"

"Hm?" Ronove smiled mischievously. "This distracts you…?"

"Of course it does! Haven't you heard of personal space?"

"Well, I've heard of it, surely, but I never thought to apply it… Pu ku ku~"

"G-gaah! D-don't touch me!"

Battler picked up the first object on the table he laid his fingers on. It just so happened to be the chocolate-coated wooden spoon, resting in the bowl of melted chocolate he'd been stirring.

He moved so quickly not even Ronove, a demon of hell, saw it coming.

Thump!

And the chocolate-coated spoon collided with the side of Ronove's face.

Ronove instantly backed away from Battler- and Battler heaved a sigh of relief as he did so. For whatever reason, he'd found himself holding his breath when Ronove got a little too close like that.

'Gentleman'.

Yeah, right.

Well, Ronove certainly didn't look much like a 'gentleman' anymore, given the look of unabashed surprise on his face, and the melted chocolate goo streaked across his cheek.

At least some small part of Battler's earlier fantasy had been fulfilled. Now, he wasn't the only messy one, and he didn't feel quite as incompetent.

It was quite a nice change, actually, seeing Ronove looked so rumpled for once~ Ihihi~

That wide-eyed look of surprise kind of suited him, actually~

"…You totally had that coming," said Battler, after a short pause. He grinned. "Ihihi. I couldn't have a guy like you trying to usurp my innocence when two hot girls like Luci and Beato are waiting for me, you know? If they found out you were flirting with me, in that weird and twisted way of yours, they'd stake you in the chest and tear you limb from limb."

"Aaah… So this-" Ronove gestured towards his chocolate-smeared cheek, "-was because you wanted to protect me from Milady's wrath?"

"Hey, no, that's not that I-"

But Ronove cut through Battler's flustered words easily. "Thank you very much. Yes… I'll have to remember not to get too close to you. Milady might get jealous."

It looked like Ronove had recovered from being attacked with a wooden spoon already. Laughing to himself, and still making no move to wipe the chocolate away, he said, quite cheerfully, "Oh my… Look. Now we match."

"Huh? What do you mean?"

And with that, Ronove leant forwards, and gently ghosted the tip of one finger- free of their usual gloves- against Battler's cheek.

"H-hey, what are you-"

"Look."

Battler looked at the end of Ronove's finger- and found it, like his cheek, was covered in melted chocolate.

Ronove smiled.

"You're covered in chocolate, too."

"W-what?" Battler's eyes widened in alarm. "I didn't get that messy, did I?"

"Well, 'messy' is putting it politely… I think there might be more chocolate on your face than in the bowl, pu ku ku…~"

Battler groaned. He made to run a hand through his hair in despair- but, remembering Ronove's earlier words, he relented, and instead held his fingers out before his eyes for closer inspection.

It was as Ronove said.

They were stained with chocolate.

He'd been this close from dragging those chocolate-covered fingers all through his sexy red hair.

"Oh, great." Battler sighed. "If I looked that stupid, why didn't you tell me about it so I could wash my face?"

"You were so rapt in making the chocolate I didn't want to distract you~" said Ronove lightly, teasingly. "I was only trying to be considerate. And you look quite cute like that, you know."

"I-I'm not cute! I don't need your weird compliments! That's totally not why you're here!"

"Oh my. I'm sorry to fluster you; I'm just trying to make pleasant conversation."

"Like hell you are! You know exactly what you're doing. You wouldn't know 'pleasant conversation' if it kicked you up the ass."

"Pu ku ku. How charming~"

"I canbe charming, actually. I just don't want to waste it on you! Bleh!"

And with that, Battler stuck out his tongue.

Ronove only smiled. "Evidently. I can see that. But I think your unruly nature only makes you more endearing."

"S-shut up!"

Battler wasn't used to being flirted with guys; even if it was rather light-hearted. Ronove's banter, though fun to listen to at times, did unnerve him on occasions like that- and he wasn't able to hide his embarrassment very well. That was probably why Ronove did it so much.

It was fun teasing people if they reacted violently.

That was why Battler always used to pull the hair of girls when he was young, to see what faces they'd pull. He'd stopped pretty quickly after Jessica- who'd always been stronger than him when he was a kid- had punched him in the face, though.

Maybe that was the way to shut Ronove up; punching him.

But it'd be a kind of dickish move to make, hitting somebody who was- despite being incredibly irritating- actually helping him.

Battler would have to hit him later, and see what happened.

Face flushed light pink with embarrassment, Battler stomped off to the other side of the kitchen, and began to clean his face by the sink. He scrubbed at his cheeks a little too hard with the flannel, and he didn't wash all the soap off properly, leaving his face feeling strangely stiff, and red raw. It didn't help improve his temper.

"And what about the chocolate on your face?" Battler snapped, in a manner eerily reminiscent of Natsuhi when she was scolding the servants. "What are you doing? Aren't you going to go clean that off?"

"Hm? Oh yes, I forgot about that," said Ronove absently. He smiled. "But, you know… I have a more interesting idea."

"Interesting…? It's never a good thing when you say that."

"Ah, you have so little faith in me. It's quite hurtful; especially as I'm helping you purely out of the goodness of my own heart."

Battler raised a brow. "You keep saying that, but I'm beginning to think you're using it as a bargaining chip. But, I'm not really surprised. Aren't demons meant to be sly bastards?"

"Ahaha, you wound me… I was merely going to suggest…" An enigmatic, unreadable smile flitted across Ronoce's face, which looked rather more dangerous than the small, earnest expressions he had previously been giving Battler. Leaning in just a little too close once more ('D-didn't you learn your lesson last time?' 'Nope~'), Ronove said, voice soft and almost… seductive?... "Would you care to take care of this-" a gesture towards his chocolate-stained cheek, "-for me? With… your tongue?"

Battler's whole body tensed. His eyes widened. He opened and closed his mouth several times, but no words came out.

Maybe that was for the best- because most of the words running through his head were curses.

W-what the fuck was that?

'Would you like to lick it off with your tongue?'

D-damn…

Damn!

T-that pick-up line was almost as bad as 'can I staple myself to you', damn iiit!

All of a sudden, Battler felt very, very unclean; even more so than he'd felt with his face covered in chocolate.

Ronove smiled teasingly at Battler's obvious distress (bastard), and gently prodded him on the tip of the nose. "It is, after all, your fault I'm like this… And I ambeing nice to you. I would like some kind of reward too. Not even I am above being selfish, it seems… Pu ku ku."

"Okay. I don't know who taught you that atrocious pick-up line, but never use it again. A lesser person than me would faint."

"Hn?~ It was really that bad?"

"Y-yes it was!"

"You don't wan to lick it off?"

"What do I look like, a cat? Of course I don't! And besides, I-I thought you said being with me was enough 'payment' for your help, anyway!" said Battler- fully aware of just how corny that sounded. His face turned red. "Look, stop bugging me, and let's get this finished with!"

"Mm? But… it's really quite cruel. You're working hard on making gifts for Milady and Miss Lucifer- and I commend you on your kindness and maturity for that, really, but…"

"But?"

A small sigh; one that Battler couldn't quite decipher. Was it serious or not? Most things about Ronove were so difficult to interpret Battler generally didn't bother. It wasn't like he cared what Beato's butler was feeling. But… that sigh seemed important, somehow.

Maybe, despite the smile on his face, it was rather more meaningful than it appeared.

"Perhaps you'd forgotten that I was the one who made their chocolate to begin with. And yet, you're giving them gifts for work they didn't create. It seems unfair to me… So… Maybe I'm a little hurt."

Battler looked at Ronove in confusion.

Was Ronove saying-

No, he couldn't be…

But, it sounded like…

Voice incredulous, Battler asked, "You mean, youwanted a White Day present, too?"

But Ronove didn't try to deny it.

Instead, he nodded- ever so slightly.

"I've never celebrated it before, so I was merely curious. I wanted to take part in this human custom as well." Ronove smiled; maybe a touch self-deprecatingly, if Battler cared to pinpoint the correct emotion to that fairly enigmatic smile. "Certainly, my anticipation of White Day had little to do with the fact I would, potentially, receive a gift in return from you. It wasn't as if I was looking forward to it or anything, so please don't get the wrong idea."

There was a small pause.

And then...

"Ihihihi~"

…Battler began to laugh.

Ronove pouted, in a manner that was at once reminiscent of Beelzebub. That expression didn't suit a composed guy like Ronove. Maybe he was right, and he had been spending too much time with the twin-drill'd demon of gluttony.

"Why are you laughing at me? It's so hurtful; especially after I exposed my innermost feelings to you."

"Sorry, sorry, it's just… Ihihi… 'Don't get the wrong idea', huh? 'It's not that I want a present from you'? Have you been taking lessons from Beato or something now?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, stupid, that Beato's really, reeeaally good at doing that whole 'i-it's not because I like you or anything!' act, too. I mean, she totally took me in during the third game. But…" Battler grinned; peering up at Ronove's face, which was slightly less unreadable than usual. "Maybe you're actually being serious?"

"Maybe just a little…"

"Aww. How cute. I didn't know you had a side like this, too!"

"Certainly, I can be jealous as well; but I rarely have cause to feel that way. But, now I'm in the company of an attractive person such as yourself…" Ronove smiled; turning his head away slightly, perhaps in embarrassment. It was almost dizzying to the roles reversed so suddenly. "I can't help but feel slightly envious of Milady and Miss Lucifer for monopolizing your affections."

"Yeah, well, they're both hot girls, and you're… you."

"Point taken."

"And White Day isn't a holiday where guys give otherguys presents, you know," Battler continued. "You got it all wrong from the start. You shouldn't have given me chocolate you made; girls are meant to hand out chocolate. And even if you were working by Western standards, where it's more common for guys to give gifts, then you shouldn't want to celebrate White Day at all. They don't have White Day in most Western countries. So I don't owe you anything."

"I suppose that's a fair assessment, yes. I didn't fool myself for a moment that I stood a chance against Milady and Miss Lucifer. They're both female- so they're more your type right from the beginning. I was just being hopeful. Oh well." Ronove sighed; though the small smile didn't flicker from his face. "I suppose I'll continue to be lonely and unappreciated."

And yet, despite his light-hearted tone of voice, Battler couldn't help but wonder. Was that smile being used to hide another, rather more embarrassing emotion? Maybe, just maybe, despite his constant teasing, there was some truth behind those words after all.

They did say, when little kids teased others dreadfully, it was because they actually lii~iiiked that person.

Was that… actually the case here?

True, Ronove had made numerous flirtatious comments about Battler before, and he did tease him a lot- but Battler had always assumed he was just joking. Maybe… it wasn't as much of a joke as he'd thought.

Was it possible…?

Maybe he was just flattering himself.

… …The thought that Ronove might have had some weird kind of crush on him was pretty disturbing, to the point where it made Battler feel ill.

But, no matter how disturbing it was- maybe it was… kind of funny, as well.

And... maybe a little endearing.

Battler's smirk softened into something more friendly, less malicious… and, prodding Ronove in the side to get this attention, he started to talk once more.

"Of course, technically, I don't owe you anything. Certainly not for White Day; regardless of what your mathematics gave you. The 'times three return' rule only really applies when guys have received gifts form girls. But… My masculine pride would never let an act of kindness like yours' go unrewarded. Besides, I hate being in your debt. Knowing I ate so much of your Valentine's Day chocolate was making me feel sick. I thought you might try and steal my soul for payment, ihi~"

Battler was to pleased to note there was a genuine look of surprise on Ronove's face; one that was very difficult to procure, given the enigmatic smiles he so often to wore.

"Battler…?"

"This isn't a White Day, present, okay?" said Battler sharply, folding his arms. "Don't get any weird ideas about that. I'm just returning a favor. This is a gift I just so happened to give you on White Day; the date doesn't have any real significance."

"You're… giving me a gift? You, Ushiromiya Battler?"

"That's right."

"But… Ahaha; I wasn't being serious, you know. I didn't expect you to-"

"Yeah, well, I did, so shut up and stop complaining."

"Ah, um… Alright."

"Okay. Close your eyes. I'll be right back."

"Oh? So this gift is a surprise?" Despite his slightly flustered state, Ronove was- finally- able to force his expression into something more unreadable. With a small smile, he said, "You put that much thought in this gift? How touching. But… I can't help but feel slightly cynical. You aren't planning on punching me in the face when I can't see, are you?"

"Well, that's a good idea, but… nah. Too obvious." Battler reached forwards, and gently brushed the tips of his fingers against Ronove's eyelids; forcing his eyes closed. "Don't be paranoid. Just sit there and wait."

"Yes, master~"

"M-master?"

"Oh, I'm sorry. I'm just playing along. Pu ku ku… I think I enjoy this forceful side of your character. It's pretty stimulating~"

It was a good thing Ronove's eyes were closed, or he would've seen the faint blush that spread across his cheeks.

"S-shut up, or I really will punch you in the face!"

Too bad his flustered state was clearly evident in his words. That slight stutter gave him away completely- and Ronove began to laugh softly to himself.

"Teasing me like that… It's so childish," Battler muttered, eyes narrowed. "I thought you were meant to be a 'proud demon' or whatever."

"Well, even us demons are children at heart, pu ku ku."

"I guess, no matter how polite you talk or how many big words you use, you never really grew out of that hair-pulling and name-calling stage from childhood, ihihi~ I hope I've left that behind, at least."

"Well, perhaps, despite appearances, you are more mature than me. I could never stop making fun of you. It's too much fun~"

"Ahaha, I was right before; I was totally right!You reallyare a pervert. I don't even know why I tried so hard to… Aargh, never mind."

And with that, Battler stormed across the kitchen, and pulled open the door of the fridge.

He really had no idea why he'd made that damn demon a gift. It wasn't like Battler had any real strong feelings towards him or anything. True, he was thankful Ronove was always (well, most of the time) cordial and fairly fun to talk to. Ronove had never fed him to the goats like Beato, or reduced him to a pile of meat like the seven sisters, or betrayed him with a really creepy look on his face like Virgilia. Ronove, despite his disturbingly flirty comments and ability to get right into his face without actually touching him, was… a pretty okay guy.

As far as demons seemed to go, anyway.

So… maybe that was why he'd done it. 'Cause Battler felt grateful to have somekind of semi-sort-of ally in this messed up world; even if it was only Ronove.

Not that Battler would tell Ronove all that, of course.

Just because he enjoyed his company (sometimes), that didn't mean Battler trusted him. But… because it was White Day, and because Beato had suspended her game for a few moments, Battler supposed he could relax- and allow himself to enjoy the light-hearted spirit of the holiday.

And, really, he could hardly have given Beato and Luci chocolate without trying to repay Ronove. Even if guys didn't give other guys gifts on White Day.

But it wasn't a White Day gift; not at all.

He was just being polite.

Battler reached into the back of the fridge, pushing away all the other random foodstuffs he'd cunningly used to hide his pre-prepared gift. Why there were so many vegetables in that fridge was a mystery to Battler, given the inhabitants of the meta-world only ever seemed to eat Ronove's cookies or cake. It was a miracle Beelzebub was able to look so attractive, given she alwaysseen eating, to the point where cookies appeared to be an extra extension of one of her hands. Still, no matter. What Battler was searching for was something not even Beelzebub, the Stake of Gluttony, would have eaten.

Not unless she wanted to make herself sick.

But, even so, Battler had put all his heart into making it. Even if it tasted terrible, he'd done his best. And, in that sense, maybe it worth even more than the chocolate he was making with Ronove for Beato and Luci.

Gift in hand, Battler crossed the kitchen so he was by Ronove's side once more. Beato's butler had his eyes closed, as Battler had instructed, and Battler had a sudden urge to push him over, just to see what would happen. However, Battler wasn't that mean, or that childish.

He'd grown out of that stage looong ago.

It was cowardly pushing your opponent over if they couldn't see you. Battler would never try to fight in a dirty, underhanded way like that.

"Hm…? This seems to be taking a rather interesting turn, pu ku ku~"

It was a good thing Battler had seen that remark coming from a mile away; otherwise he might have blushed (again). Instead, he coolly rolled his eyes (not that Ronove could see it), and said, "Yeah, nice try, but a cheap comment like that won't get a rise from me anymore. Now shut up and do what I say."

"Or else…?"

"Hm… Well then. In that case, I suppose I'll have to do what you say."

"Huh? You're actually listening to me? You don't even listen to Beato, and she's your 'lady'."

"Oh, I will."

And with that, Ronove compliantly opened his mouth…

"A-aah? Urgh… … Bleh…!"

…only to have his taste buds assaulted by a rather burnt, lumpy, foul-tasting substance that nearly made him choke.

"Koff, koff, koff!"

No- there was no 'nearly' about it.

It did make him choke.

It was some kind of food… but Ronove had no idea what, exactly, it was meant to be. It was a blend of different flavors and textures all mixed up together- and some of them might have been nice on their own, but not all together! It was difficult just trying to swallow it- and if it wasn't frowned upon by most societies (even demons had standards when it came to eating food), Ronove probably would've spat it back out onto the floor.

W-what on earth was that?

Ronove's eyelids flickered open in alarm, a look of horror on his face. It was so unabashed, unveiled, that… Battler couldn't help himself, really.

It was impossible.

It was impossible not to laugh.

Maybe he should have been offended that his present procured such an extreme response from a person who was usually so difficult to interpret- but the look on Ronove's face was so perfect he couldn't bring himself to be offended at all.

He'd known right from the start he wasn't cut out to be a cook, anyway. It wasn't like it hurt his feelings or anything.

Ronove, through coughs, managed to choke out, "T-that… That was an example of your cooking?"

Battler smiled, slightly abashed. "Um… Yeah. I woke up real early to make that and everything- and you know how difficult it is for a lazy teenager like me to get up!"

"Indeed… If I recall correctly, Milady has awoken you many times by throwing water over you."

"Yeah, well, it was different this morning. I had to get up early to have the kitchen all to myself- even if it nearly killed me. I was trying to make semi-edible chocolate by myself for two hours. It took me, like, three attempts… and it still sucks. But that batch sucks remarkably less than the first lot. I think that chocolate actually grew legs and tried to run away, ihihi~ It was such a paaaain. But I didn't wanna be upstaged by you and your chocolate- even if I guess, at the end, I kinda gave up. I think my cooking experience was a total failure. But it's a good thing Belphe is such a nice girl and likes to help people, or I never would've got the kitchen cleaned up before the others woke up."

Ronove didn't say anything for a few moments- apparently stuck speechless.

His mouth opened- but no words fell from his lips.

However, after a while… he was finally able to say; "You mean you woke up two hours early to make hand-made chocolate, all by yourself… … for me…?"

"Well, I guess." Battler smiled sheepishly, scratching his cheek with one finger. "But don't phrase it like that. It sounds so sappy."

"I-I…" A genuine, but very confused… smile. "I think it is, quite; especially for a person such as you. I never imagined you would… Ahaha…"

Ronove stared down at the floor; seemingly embarrassed. Battler had never seen Ronove so flustered so before. Even though he wasn't blushing, he was definitely trying to avoid meeting Battler's eyes.

"Aww. You really do have a cuuute side~" Battler said, voice teasing. "I mean, that evasive look'd be even more adorable if you were a hot girl, like Beato or the stakes, but I think a smile like that suits you pretty well too. Ihihi~"

"T-thank you, ahaha… I… Oh dear." Ronove shook his head, laughing at himself. "I'm afraid I don't know what to say."

"Well, that's a first."

"It's a new experience for me as well…"

Battler rolled his eyes. "Oh, please. This is getting kind of embarrassing. I didn't imagine you'd be so gratefulover something that, obviously, tastes so terrible. Just tell me my chocolate's disgusting and let's leave at that, okay? You're making me feel kind of embarrassed, too!"

"Well…" Ronove smiled- and it was such a warm smile, worlds apart from his usual expression, it actually made Battler flush. "I've never received a gift like that before from anybody. So… I admit, I'm a little at a loss. And yes, though it might be cruel to say this, I'll be truthful. The chocolate you made isterrible. But… I'm very flattered all the same- and I'm sure you tried hard to make it. And it's the trying that really counts, rather than the taste at the end. I'm sure Beelzebub would agree."

"She would? That picky brat?"

"Yes. Beelzebub and I have very similar opinions on food. Even if the end result tastes terrible, it's the feelings that went into the cooking that makes it special. If the person who made the food did so with love, then it can make even the most terrible food taste wonderful. I imagine that's why Beelzebub dislikes tinned food so much; because there's no effort in it, or… any love. Pu ku ku…" Ronove laughed; hesitantly meeting Battler's eyes with his own. "Do forgive me for talking to such an extent about 'love' and 'feelings'. I believe I spend rather too much time in the company of helpless romantics, like Asmodeus. I'm being foolish, but… I'm probably more flattered than I should be."

"Yeah, totally. You're acting just like a lovesick girl, ihihi! I bet, if I gave Beato chocolate like that, she'd say 'urgh, it's terrible!' and just throw it away!"

"I don't think Milady would say that. I believe she would cherish anything you made."

"Ihihi, well… She's not getting any of my hand made chocolate. She didn't bother to make my Valentine's gift herself, so she doesn't deserve my best solo effort in return. I'm only giving these weird, lumpy, misshapen freaks of the chocolate world to you, okay? If you like them that much, eat them all and make yourself sick. I don't care. I really don't care, okay? I'm just repaying a debt."

"If that's the case, then I'm very happy to accept your payment. I'll definitely eat those chocolates, no matter how terrible they may be. I owe you that much. Besides… The image of you fretting over your cooking, and making saucepans explode, is really too cute~ Pu ku ku~"

"Heh. And you know what I'm finding oddly cute right now?"

"What?"

Battler grinned… and then, very slowly, reached forwards- and let his fingers graze against Ronove's cheekbone.

"B-battler…?"

When Battler drew his fingers away, they were tipped with melted chocolate.

"You were so enamoured by my incredible gift you completely forgot about that melted chocolate stuck to your cheek. Mm~" And with that, Battler licked his fingers clean of chocolate… a challenging smile rising to his face. "And this tastes a lotbetter than the stuff I made, too. I guess Beato and Luci won't have any complaints about their chocolate."

The slightly flushed, openly embarrassed look on Ronove's face really was kind of sweet.

Teasing those big-boobed sisters and Beato might have been fun… but maybe Battler had miscalculated, slightly.

Sometimes, on rare occasions… something like this could be fun, too.