Tough Love

Disclaimer: I don't own anything.

XXX

Evangeline stood in front of the door, hand raised up to knock, but for some reason not moving.

There was no Nagi, no Thousand Master – the man she loved – behind the door. However, behind it, his wife, as well as their child, still remained.

She'd given up on making the easy-going man love her, she was resilient and stubborn, but even she knew when it was time to give up. Besides, Arika was not a woman she could really compete with.

Sighing softly to herself, she knocked on the door.

It didn't take long before it was opened, revealing a beautiful woman behind it. A beautiful woman who didn't seem all too pleased at seeing her there.

"Ah, it's you." The fallen queen regarded her with a sort of grudging acceptance.

It wasn't that Eva couldn't beat her in looks as much as it was that she couldn't beat her in looks without aging – which wasn't really something a vampire could actually do.

"I'm here to see Negi."

Arika looked at her for a moment, looking absently displeased, before nodding and motioning her inside.

The house was not the kind of house that you'd really expect from a fallen queen and the hero of the magical world. Unless you remembered that the fallen queen didn't actually have any funds left from her equally fallen kingdom, and that the hero had always been surprisingly good at spending any rewards he got at local bars and the like.

It was perfectly logical that their home would look so normal.

But when the vampire entered the child's room, she was forced to resist the sudden urge to break down laughing.

She'd heard the tales from Rakan, but to actually see it with her own eyes was something different entirely.

Nagi, in an unusually responsible move, had decided to decorate the room by himself – though he'd called in help from the rest of the gang to avoid overworking himself all too much. Responsible move though it was, Nagi was not an especially handy man. He was a more 'blow shit up in a hilarious explosion' kind of man.

The result of this was a room that looked… for lack of a better word, unruly. It was clean – though she guessed that was Arika's work rather than that of her husband – it had a sensible color scheme – probably due to one of the Ala Rubra's suggestions – but it still managed to look like a tornado had been swept through it in an unusually enthusiastic way.

Recovering from her bout of withheld laughter, Evangeline's attention focused on the crib in the middle of the room.

The child of the man she loved and another woman. The realization stung, but she'd anticipated it.

A tuft of red hair was sticking out of a small bundle of cloth and she found herself reaching out towards him for no reason in particular. She guessed that it was related to a distinct need to get confirmation that the infant truly was real.

Her hand was caught.

Glancing down in surprise, Evangeline found a tiny hand with even tinier fingers gripping her pinky with a warm, soft, and surprisingly decisive grip.

Feeling both peeved and fascinated by it, she found herself trying to get a good look on the boy's face. Which was easier said than done considering the amount of red hair that seemed to obscure it from view.

The attempt wasn't made easier by how one of her hands had its movements severely restricted by the boy's almost stubborn grip.

He looked just like his father.

The thought made her pause, simply staring at the boy's face, and the small, innocent, and strangely content smile that graced his lips in his sleep.

Time seemed to move oddly as she watched him, but at some point, Arika brought her a chair.

XXX

"What?" Evangeline stared at the man in disbelief.

Nagi looked at her with a big grin – he never went far without one – whilst Arika looked somewhat apologetic.

"Please take care of him while we're away."

"How the hell did I get stuck with being the baby-sitter!"

"Well, he likes you, you like him… I don't see what the big problem is." Nagi scratched his head, looking suitably confused.

"But I don't know anything about taking care of a child!"

"Don't worry, I'm sure you'll be able to figure it out." Arika interjected.

"She has a point you know, I mean, even I figured it out." Nagi grinned happily, completely disregarding the fact that he'd just insulted his own intelligence.

"Why can't one of you stay behind, and then I can go out and hunt whatever it is that you're hunting!" Evangeline was starting to feel like she was grasping at straws.

"You don't know what we're looking for." Arika pointed out.

"Then tell me!"

"There's still a big bounty for you, you know." Nagi pointed out.

"Yeah, well, she's supposed to be dead!" Evangeline pointed accusingly at the taller woman.

"Which means that they won't be looking for her." Nagi smiled happily.

"That's a stupid reason and you know it!"

"Eva, you of all people should know that my husband isn't smart enough to know that." Nagi's smile slipped a little as he looked torn on whether or not he should be protesting that point.

"But why can't one of you stay!" Arika sighed.

"I wouldn't trust Nagi with the household budget for five minutes," Nagi actually managed to look a little indignant at her lack of faith in him, until he remembered a certain time when she had actually trusted him with it, "and I wouldn't trust him to keep track of what we're looking for. So, basically, I'm not letting him out of my sights."

"I-… I guess that… kind of makes sense…" She hesitated for a moment. "But still, why can't somebody else do it!"

"Would you want Rakan to do it?" Arika looked at her with a critical expression.

A visual shiver went through the three of them.

"No." The vampire finally admitted. "No, I wouldn't."

"Eva, please take care of our son." Arika smiled at her with a pleading look, and Evangeline found herself nodding reluctantly.

"Don't worry, I will."

"Oh yeah, I almost forgot." Nagi turned towards her, "Here, give this to him once he graduates... or he drops out... whichever." He placed his staff in her hands.

"Nagi! Why are you assuming that he'll drop out!" His wife seemed to be seriously annoyed at the prospect.

"I'm not! I'm just saying that even if he does end up sharing my dislike to studying, he should still get it!"

Arika opened her mouth to argue, but it turned into a pout.

Finally, they waved their goodbyes and turned around, leaving the vampire standing in front of their house.

The last thing Evangeline Athanasia Katherine McDowell saw of the two of them were their backs as they disappeared into the distance.

XXX

Almost four years had passed since she'd waved them off at their doorstep, and during this time, Eva had come to realize a few things about children.

Anything that can go wrong will, at the worst possible time, in the worst possible way.

If she ever got her hands on that Murphy, she'd rip out his spinal-chord and beat him with it. Repeatedly.

She'd also realized that Negi was a very unusual child in many ways.

Ignoring his studious habit of practicing magic relentlessly ever since he'd heard who his father was, the small boy had a few different types of 'trouble' that he'd get into.

There was the childish sort of trouble in which she'd left him alone for maybe five minutes and, not only would he somehow get his hands on something sticky, he'd decide that he wanted to try and repaint the room with it – or glue himself to a wall in an attempt to learn to walk on the ceiling.

There was the trouble of him forgetting to eat for hours on end because he was busy reading a book – something she was quite certain he'd gotten from his mother's side of the family.

And finally, there was a third, much more unpleasant sort of trouble that usually resulted in him running away from angry dogs and the like.

The first one he'd given up on quickly, the second she doubted would ever leave him, and the third she was hoping – quite desperately – was a phase of some sort.

She'd also learned that he enjoyed her cooking, which she found to be somewhat absurd, because she was only now finally learning how to not burn down the kitchen when making toast.

Muttering to herself about the boy's taste-buds being shot straight to hell, Eva exited the shop, trying not to drop the bags filled with ingredients. Her problem was not that they were heavy, she was hardly weak, her problem instead lay simply with trying not to overbalance due to her small size.

There were many things in life that served to frustrate the small vampire, but few things could really top the fact that she was stuck inside of a ten year old's body. Sure, she could use her illusion to work around the problem, but after her time with Arika and Nagi, the thought of returning to that form made her stomach twist in a distinctly uncomfortable manner for some reason.

It was snowing today. Large, white flakes falling endlessly to the already snow-filled ground.

As she made her way towards the place that she'd been calling home for the last few years, Evangeline couldn't help but feel as if something was very wrong.

While she frowned slightly, unable to place the feeling, she almost ran straight into a huge, dark shape.

Stopping short of the dark form, Evangeline peeked over her bags, silently wishing that the thing in front of her dropped dead in that casual way that any sensibly evil vampire would wish the death of anyone in front of her in the line to the cash register.

The demon glanced down at her with a wicked smile.

Evangeline blinked, for a moment too stunned to think properly. There was actually a demon that wasn't terrified of her.

Then she realized how she must look to the big ugly thing in front of her. A small, blond-haired girl, just returning from shopping. She must look innocent enough to be classified as material for one of those ridiculous 'magical girl' series that that creep, Al, would always watch.

The thought actually made her smile right back at the demon in front of her. She supposed that some exercise would be good for her. After all, she wouldn't want to become rusty.

She wasn't quite sure what the last thoughts that went through the demon's head were, but she was quite certain that they were in some way related to surprise and disbelief. Unfortunately, she couldn't really tell the expression for certain, since she'd split the thing's face in two.

Cursing a little at how she'd be forced to run her errands again after this was done – she was good, but she wasn't good enough to kill off an army of demons whilst lugging around those bulky shopping bags – Evangeline began stretching her legs.

The villagers barely had time to raise the alarm when the demons started to cry out in fear.

The Apostle of Destruction was here, and she slaughtered them with a joy-filled glee that can only really be traced to someone who's finally remembering the joy of the hunt.

The villagers seemed somewhat confused at the prospect, because why in the world would the evil mage be on their side?

Some of the demons seemed to have been able to set fire to a few buildings, but they soon faded away as Eva's ice quickly devoured the heat of the flames.

It was winter, it was snowing, the world was basically filled with as much ice as she could ask for, and Evangeline really felt like letting out some pent up frustration.

The result was all too obvious for the demons.

She wiped the floor with them.

Of course, once she was done with this, she found herself surrounded by villagers on all sides.

They knew her as 'Eva', they knew that she was a friend of the Thousand Master, and they knew that she was taking care of his son, they also knew that she could glare down a pole without batting an eye, and that she wasn't the friendliest of people.

They did not know that she was the Dark Evangel, also known as the Queen of Darkness, the Puppet Master, or the Undead Mage.

They were understandably uncomfortable with the revelation.

Sighing to herself and making a mental note to try not to ruin her reputation as an evil mage all too much from this point on, she turned towards the crowd that had gathered around her.

"Has anyone seen Negi?" Her response was some unsettled shifting, before a certain old man finally appeared, holding a certain small boy, who looked as if he'd just seen something amazing, in front of him.

"Don't worry, he's alright."

"Eva?" Negi looked at her with admiring eyes that sort of made her heart a bit jumpy.

"What is it?" She was used to keeping her cool, or faking it, whichever.

"Can you teach me to do that?"

Eva looked at him for a moment, blinked, and then continued looking at him, before finally asking him in a disbelieving voice.

"Are you an idiot?" He might've flinched if it wasn't for the fact that she'd been asking him variations of that question for as long as she'd known him, it was basically how they greeted each other, he said hello, she called him names.

She was quite certain that he'd been writing down some of the better ones – in an attempt to try and follow her example – until his cousin found out and burned the small book, giving her a very long lecture about what not to say in a child's presence. Eva had ignored her, and explained to Negi that she was allowed to say such things because she'd worked part-time as a super villain. His cousin's reaction had been to frown, a lot, but since the boy had accepted it and returned to his normal, sweet, and very polite language, she'd allowed it to slide.

Evangeline wrote that down as a victory. She'd then stuck out her tongue after her, and explained to Negi that that was also a 'previously part-time super villain'-exclusive.

She'd probably miss his ignorant innocence once it was gone and she couldn't fool him with those kinds of things anymore. So she'd made sure to take full advantage of it for as long as possible.

Negi continued looking at her, pleading eyes digging into her in a surprisingly effective manner.

"After you become a magister, I might consider it. Until then, the answer is no." He looked a bit disappointed, but then he lit up.

"So you'll teach me as soon as I become a magister?"

Eva looked at him for a moment, then grumbled something about her and her big mouth.

"I-I'll consider it. But that's it."

It was only now that she realized that the villagers were still there, looking nowhere near as nervous as before, in fact, quite a few of them were smiling.

She sighed, her reputation as an evil mage was clearly going to go down the drain.

XXX

Eva had very sharp ears, sharper than most other vampires in fact, and so it stood to reason that she often heard things that she wasn't supposed to hear – something that had often turned out to be quite useful over the years.

Therefore, she wasn't surprised at hearing Negi's classmates talk. Until she listened to what they were saying, that is.

Apparently, the common belief was that she was the red-haired mage's sister, something that she couldn't really dispute all too harshly if she still wanted to remain relatively incognito.

She was known as nothing more than 'Eva' here, and she wanted it to remain like that for as long as it took Negi to graduate. The boy was isolated enough for being the famed Thousand Master's son, she didn't want to add the fear of him being raised by the Dark Evangel to the equation.

Of course, she didn't support the rumors of them being siblings either, and since they didn't look alike, a few people had let their imaginations run wild entirely. According to the newest theory, she was his fiancee coming from some rich and powerful family that had been close to the Thousand Master – the rumors varied to the point were some said that it's been a political maneuver to try and placate the great hero, though these tended to be quite vague on the subject of why her family would need to placate him in the first place.

The thought that she'd been married off made her sincerely doubt the intelligence present in the average human, but she hadn't really paid it much attention. After all, Negi was too busy trying to cram as much knowledge into his head as physically possible, and she only visited the place to make sure that he didn't forget to eat.

Which was why the implications of such a relationship had sort of gone over her head. Two people, not related, of the opposite sex, at the same age, living together alone. Apparently children of today had access to a surprising amount of information about what might be going on in such a situation, and Eva found herself blushing as she made her way to the boy's table.

It wasn't that the things they were talking about were anything new to her – she'd suggested far more daring and elaborate things to the boy's father – but it caught her off guard. She could still remember Negi learning how to walk as if it'd happened yesterday, she hadn't really even considered seeing him in that kind of light.

Grumbling under her breath about young people today, she sat down across from the boy, finding him – as usual – submerged in a book. He definitely took after his mother.

Though it wasn't a lie to call him isolated, he wasn't really alone either. The red-haired girl next to him looked over at her with a pleading expression. Making the boy eat when he was like this was hard work.

"Negi, put the book down before I shove it down your throat." Eva was quite pleased with her tone, it was the kind of tone that made kings shake in their boots.

"Hello Eva." The boy didn't even flinch – not that she'd really expected him to, she'd used the tone a bit too often around him for it to be effective.

Throwing subtlety out the window, Eva grabbed the boy's hair and slammed his face down into the book. The book in itself might not have hurt, but the table under it easily fixed that small issue.

"Ow!" Negi looked up at her with a confused and hurt expression as he rubbed his nose.

"Eat." She commanded him simply, knowing full well that complaining about his lack of attention would lead to nowhere – he didn't actually do it on purpose, it was just the way he was.

Anya looked a bit sympathetic about the boy's pain, but it faded quickly. She knew that the brutal methods that Eva opted for using was one of the few things that actually worked. The others were Armageddon – they didn't have any solid proof that it'd work, but since the book might catch on fire, they suspected that it ought to at least distract him to a certain degree – a long painstaking process of holding the book out of his reach – something which had become much more difficult as his arms had gotten longer – and setting his cousin Nekane at him.

Eva still didn't understand how the motherly girl managed to tear him away from his books, but she'd given up on trying to figure it out, women should be allowed a few secrets of their own after all.

XXX

Ten years old, and he'd already graduated.

Eva supposed that congratulations were in order. Not that Anya and Nekane didn't have that one covered already.

"So, what does it say?" There was no need to go all mushy on the boy.

Anya looked a bit peeved at her lack of compliments, Nekane rose an eyebrow, but seemed to be too curious about it herself to scold her, and Negi was smiling, already used to her style of unvoiced praise – the boy had become startlingly good at reading people as a result of it.

Still smiling that small smile of his, he unrolled the scroll.

"It says that-" an eyebrow rose on his face, "I'm supposed to work as a high school teacher in Japan."

This announcement was met with confused looks all around. The boy was bright, no arguments there, but to make him a teacher?

Nekane immediately hunted down the Magus, demanding an explanation for it, Anya was quick to back her up. Negi looked like he was concentrating, and Eva found herself smiling.

"Japan, huh? Haven't visited that place in years..." Negi blinked and glanced over at her. "I suppose I could use a vacation."

The rest of the surroundings turned towards her with confused expressions and she grinned evilly at them.

"What? Do you think I've got a reason to stick around here once the boy's left the nest?" the Magus seemed to be chuckling, Nekane looked a bit jealous, Anya simply looked confused, and Negi was looking at her curiously.

"So you'll help me?" Eva rose an eyebrow at the question.

"Whatever gave you that idea? I suppose I might drop by to check on how you're holding up every now and then, but you'll be on your own for this one." Nekane opened her mouth as if to argue about that, but Negi's chuckle cut her off.

"Ah, I see. Yes, that seems a lot more fitting for you."

Their eyes met over evil smiles – the boy seemed to have learned to copy the expression at some point in life – and then they turned away. They couldn't stand around all day after all, they had things to pack.

XXX

Japan had changed a lot.

Eva knew that the place had been severely affected by the advancement in technology, but to see it in person was still quite stunning for her.

Negi was looking around with sparkling eyes, trying to see everything at once, and look at it a second time, just to make sure that he hadn't missed anything about it.

Eva did not look at anything with sparkling eyes, but she was having a tiny bit of trouble with looking in the same direction for too long. She did however, not run around in a childish display of amazement. She was above such things.

Even if this was kind of cool.

Resolutely shaking that thought out of her head, Eva tried to make sure that she didn't lose the boy in the crowd.

He was supposedly going to be teaching at an all-girls school. And Eva could've sworn that Nagi was currently cursing his own bad luck for reasons not even known to him, wherever he was.

Having already decided to find a place close to the school from which to keep an eye on him, Eva had contacted the annoying old man of a dean, and found that he'd already made room for her in a small cottage on school grounds.

She'd been somewhat hesitant in accepting his offer – mainly because she didn't trust him for a second – but she'd relented once he mentioned that she'd have her own personal, live-in maid, for no extra-charge.

That didn't mean that she wasn't suspecting him of plotting something, but rather that she felt quite confident that she'd be unable to get away from his plots regardless of where she stayed and might as well enjoy the service.

She still hadn't been able to ascertain where Negi would be staying, and she suspected that this might be related to the previously mentioned plotting.

Grumbling to herself about annoying old men that should just keel over dead already, Eva got on the train.

She quickly discovered that the carriage was filled with girls, and that the boy standing next to her with a gigantic backpack was actually the only male in it. She also berated herself for ever forgetting how annoying teenage girls could be.

First, they'd been more or less mistaken for a couple – to which all onlookers cooed happily – and then someone had mentioned that it looked like they were running away – an idea to which all listeners had immediately latched on to, making exaggeratedly scandalized faces as they tried to suppress their obvious attempts to cheer them on for daring to fight for love even at such a young age.

By the time they'd reached their stop – a stop which they shared together with most of the other passengers – Eva and Negi had been spun into a bizarrely dramatic story with a distinct romantic flair that could've nailed all the soaps watchers across the country to their seats for years to come.

It was complete and utter lies the whole thing, but the vampire was guessing that it wouldn't really matter as most soaps rarely – if ever – had even a grain of truth in them.

Negi looked quite pleased with leaving the train, though Eva was wondering if that was because he wanted solid ground under his feet, or if he simply didn't want her to snap and go ballistic on innocents – something which hadn't happened because of her own immense self-restraint, and was as such not in any way related to Negi whispering soothing nothings in her ear while she tried to struggle free of his grip in order to tear out the annoying girls' vocal-chords.

Ignoring Negi's relief, and the barely diverted genocide – that would never have happened – the two of them made their way onto the Mahora campus.

The place was immense.

Eva paused for a moment to simply admire the sheer size of the place. She'd seen many impressive things over the years, true, but a sight like this was rare and she'd been staying off the roads for the last ten years. She supposed that she'd gotten somewhat used to the small towns, bland food, and lots of rain, that made up her personally experienced view of Wales.

As Negi seemed to be marveling at it all in an honestly amazed way, she found herself caught in something of a grudging respect of it. Whether this difference in attitudes were down to personalities or experience, she couldn't really tell.

Smiling slightly to herself, Eva waved the boy off on his own business, as she began to make her way to where she'd be staying for... the time being.

XXX

Eva had fallen in love with the small cottage instantly – not that she'd ever admit that to anyone, ever – and had spent the first hour in her new home to make herself comfortable.

But when the maid showed up – having apparently just finished her classes – Eva began to seriously wonder at just what she'd missed while she'd been taking a ten year long vacation from the world.

Her maid was a robot.

Now, Eva had never been one to judge technology as something bad – in fact, she'd been quite welcoming even of the potential destruction that it might bring mankind – but the thought of having an actual robot that seemed completely sentient... well, she was finding herself kind of stunned.

Then she simply smiled evilly and began ordering her about, she was her maid after all, and she herself was far too small to be forced to move around all those heavy-looking furniture until they suited her needs.

As the robotic girl worked, Eva found herself somewhat fascinated with the way that she moved. There were no wasted movements, which was to be expected from a robot she supposed, but she was moving with a casual smoothness that could only be described as belonging to a human.

Of course, humans weren't very good at moving, vampires were both faster, stronger, and more agile. But considering the ease at which she lifted some of the heavier furniture, her strength far surpassed a human.

She was a masterpiece, and Eva was left feeling somewhat giddy as she watched her move across the floor.

She'd been collecting puppets for years, perfecting them, and making new ones. But this 'Chachamaru' in front of her... well, color her intrigued.

This place might be a lot more fun than she'd originally thought it'd be.

XXX

"He's trapped on library island?" Eva regarded the grizzled man in front of her with a raised eyebrow.

Takamichi chuckled to himself and ordered another drink.

"The dean figured that he'd need some help with getting the 'baka-rangers' to study."

"And trapping them in a library would be a good way to aid him? I suppose that even senile old men can still get decent ideas, every now and then." Eva smirked and took another sip of her own drink.

Though, unlike Negi, she'd never gotten overly close to the drop-out wizard, going out for drinks together had at some point become something of a tradition for them. And, despite their many differences, he'd proven to be reasonably comfortable to speak with. He'd also had a tendency to laugh at her more morbid jokes, which was a definite plus.

They'd been in the country for a few weeks, and Negi had already managed to strip half of his class, half of another class, sneak into one of his student's bed, bathe with his entire class, and get himself trapped overnight at a library – something which she'd always suspected was a personal dream of the boy.

It'd been a hectic few weeks, and if Nekane or Anya ever got wind of it he'd never live it down. The same could probably be said for his parents, though the reasons for those two would be separate – Arika would probably be properly scandalized, whilst she suspected that Nagi would be an odd mixture of jealous and proud.

Ten years old and already a magister magi, a part of her was wondering exactly how much he'd actually grown since the time when he'd first picked up a wand.

Pushing that thought aside before she turned sentimental on someone, Eva found herself asking just how long she was planning on staying by the boy's side.

He was already a grown up – despite still being a minor – and he could take care of himself, most of the time, even if was still just a kid. How long would she be standing around making sure that he got back up again whenever he fell?

Cursing herself for going sentimental anyways, the vampire took a deep swig of her drink, already knowing that it wouldn't really have any effects on her.

XXX

If there was one thing that Eva truly, absolutely resented about her own body, it was the fact that it had a tendency to act up around summer. Sure, she complained endlessly about how she was stuck in a ten-year old's body, but it at least that had its uses.

She groaned in a way that made her feel oddly reminiscent of that puppy that she'd kicked way back in the days. It'd been looking at her funny. It'd flown well, and it had taken gravity a long time to finally bring it on a slope downwards. It might've been an astronaut in a previous life. Eva had never been to the moon, but she'd heard Nagi say that there were bunnies on it. Or a bunny. She wasn't sure.

Sitting up made the room's lighting flicker on and off. They really should get to installing a new sun, this one was clearly on its last legs.

She glanced towards the clock, which seemed to be trying to dodge her eyes. She made a note to kill it at a later date, when she wasn't feeling so horrifyingly heavy. The clock stood still long enough for her to notice that classes had started. Which meant that Chachamaru wasn't here to fetch her that glass of water that she'd been considering.

Bollocks.

She carefully swung her legs over the side of the bed, not wanting to provoke the world to tip over at an inopportune moment.

The floorboards were cool against her bare feet, which was a nice improvement. It seemed as if someone had been trying to cook her alive in her blankets.

Of course, just as she finally stood up, the floor decided to try and throw her off of it. Apparently it didn't enjoy having her step on it.

Stupid floor should know its place. Stomping her way towards the door to her room, doing her best to keep her balance as the floor protested loudly against her attempts to tame it, Eva came to the conclusion that there was something a little off about her thought process. She was then faced with an annoyingly complicated door-handle that kept on darting its way around the door, and was as such forced to concentrate fully on the task at hand.

By the time the door swung open, she had forgotten what she'd been thinking of.

She'd just made it to the stairs when the door to the cottage swung open.

"Eva?" his voice wasn't especially loud, but it was still urgent. A worrying kind of voice.

He'd die from worrying too much one of these days. Definitely took after his mother.

Eva opened her mouth to tell the boy not to worry so much, and not to run indoors, since that was poor manners, and that only she was allowed to do that since she'd worked part-time as a super villain.

What came out was a cross between a comforting cooing and an annoyed groan. The noise made her throat burn as a bone-chilling shiver went through her.

And then she was suddenly in his arms. Carefully lifted with a soothing gentleness that only Negi could hope to pull off.

His father was amazing in many aspects, at least when it came to the more physical aspects of things. But whilst the man could be soothing, careful, and gentle, he had to make a conscious effort to do so, and he could only really do one of the aspects at a time. Negi, on the other hand, just did it. There was no thought to it, it was simply who he was.

He was also fascinatingly warm.

Happily snuggled into his arms as she was, she found herself back at her bed far too soon.

He disappeared for a moment, but returned quickly, carrying a very welcome liquid to soothe her aching throat.

He'd pulled out a book from somewhere, and soon his soft voice filled the room with some boring mush that sent her right back into the warm darkness of sleep.

When next she woke, he was sleeping by her bedside, his head upon his arms and his glasses askew.

It didn't take her long to realize that he must've skipped out on work in order to come and see her. It also came to her that she was probably the envy of about half his class. At least. The thought made her smirk.

She reached out for him, for a moment entertaining the thought of combing her fingers through his hair, but then, dismissing the impulse, gently shook him awake by the shoulder.

XXX

So she'd provoked him by messing with his students, she wasn't going to apologize, she'd had a good reason. Well, a kind of almost acceptable reason... if you were a villain.

Regardless, by the way the ermine was going at it, you'd think she'd stolen his hidden supply of panties. Which was just silly, she'd just mentioned that ermines could fit into small spaces. The fact that one of the girls happened to have found such a place when she'd casually gestured towards it in demonstration, and that this had actually been his secret heaven, was a complete coincidence.

Besides, the little fur-ball was a pervert, no jury in the world would convict her. Okay, not true, but no jury in the world would convict her for this. The fact that they might try to convict her for the heinous crimes of the Dark Evangel was utterly irrelevant.

Anyway, her reason for playing a bit with Negi's students was her attempting to make the boy perfectly serious. None of that silly holding back because he cared, or any gentlemanly crap about not hitting a girl.

Her only real issue with the plan was her maid's insistence on bringing up her bizarre theory of Eva being jealous of the crazy class who kept stripping their teacher whenever he let his guard down.

She was not jealous. Sniffing at the very thought, Eva landed lightly on the large roof of a building she was fairly certain she wouldn't get into trouble for blowing up. Serious trouble at least. They might not fine her horribly. There was a slight possibility that she could threaten to sue the dean for sexual harassment of a minor and get away with only a warning.

She didn't really like the old man, but at the same time she had to admire his resilience, she was pretty sure that his personal secretary had been poisoning his tea for years in retaliation towards his perversion. The old coot just wouldn't die. It was fascinating, extremely morbid, but fascinating nonetheless.

As Negi flew into view on his staff, she couldn't help but smile.

This was going to be fun.

XXX

The sky was filled with stars, pleasantly glowing lights stretching from horizon to horizon.

Eva would hardly classify herself as humble person, but when faced with the endless sky, knowing that the countless stars covering it were suns to rival their own, she didn't feel all that great in comparison.

A breeze passed her by, playing with her long hair as it went.

It was a cool night, and she could see her own breath hanging in the air for a brief moment before fading back into the night air. The humans below were hunkering up in their beds, trying their best to stay warm during the blackout.

Nagi would undoubtedly be proud of his son. The son who'd accidentally blown up the school's power-grid during their fight.

In hindsight, maybe she shouldn't have dodged that blast. Then again, seeing the boy's face when he realized that he'd just destroyed school-property was priceless. Absolutely priceless. She smirked at the thought.

He wasn't even close to her level, but he was clever, adaptable, and showed an extreme amount of promise for a ten-year old. Hell, he'd actually forced her to get a bit serious and still managed to sort of land a hit on her. Even if it was mostly because of his extremely timely sneeze.

She'd still beaten him senseless, but that was only to be expected. He still had a long, harsh road ahead of him if he wanted to enter on the stage of the monsters that had been Ala Rubra and their enemies, but the fact remained that he'd already started walking.

XXX

There might be a clue to his father's whereabouts in Kyoto, but Eva decided that it wasn't her place to search for them.

The Dark Evangel, the Undead Mage, decided that she didn't want to look for clues. Not because she didn't care to find them, but because she was afraid of what she would do once she'd found them.

Would she rush after those two, desperately hoping that they would be alright? Or would she simply declare it not worth the effort?

Eva had seen many things in this world, and she'd grown cold to most of what it could throw at her. Which was why the broken heart that Nagi had sent her way all those years ago had left her reeling. It was also the reason for why she might've glared a bit, potentially bit her lip hard enough to draw blood, and just generally tried very, very hard not to notice whenever the girls in Negi's class would try to get closer to him.

She knew that if she ever admitted that out loud she would never live it down – even if she were to outlive the entirety of humanity – but she also knew that he was the only one currently truly occupying her heart.

Sure, she still remembered the friendship that she'd somehow acquired with Ala Rubra and Arika, but that was a long time ago. Negi was... she... the thought of not having to force-feed Negi whenever he got lost in studying, the thought of watching him return to a 'home' that she did not share... it hurt. It hurt a lot.

It wasn't difficult to recall her anger, pain, and heart-shattering frustration of realizing that the Thousand Master was already married. But in comparison to what she felt for Negi, she might as well have stubbed her toe.

There wasn't romance between them, it wasn't anything like that. Negi was family. Whether as a little brother, a son, or a weird nephew, it didn't matter. He was family. And, despite having spent centuries wandering alone, she couldn't imagine life without him.

So, in the end, the only reason she could find for rushing after any clues, was to drag them back to him, so that he wouldn't risk his neck when running out to meet them himself.

Eva looked up at the sky, contently perched under a tree just a bit out of reach of the far too cheerful sun.

Negi would have to stand by himself, and the sooner he learned to reach for that the better.

There might be a clue to his parents whereabouts in that house, there might not be. Regardless of which, he would have to find them himself.

XXX

Eva stared at the headmaster in disbelief.

She'd absentmindedly ignored the risks involved in Negi's travel to Kyoto, but that was mainly because he tended to be really lucky when it came to things like these.

But that was before she'd learned of exactly what they were facing. Of who they were facing.

Suppressing the urge to kill the old man on the spot, because that probably wouldn't make it better, Eva ground her teeth together to keep herself from snarling.

"Where is he?" She asked in a deceptively calm voice.

"We're attempting to locate them, but there seems to be some sort of interference." The headmaster stated in an equally calm voice, though it was easy to see the stiffness in his expression. His granddaughter was out there, and he was just as worried as she was.

It took them far too long to figure out an approximate location, and then there were still a few barriers left to deal with before anyone could step into the fight.

Dragging Chachamaru along for the ride with as much firepower as she could find, Eva stepped into the shadows.

He was hers, and she'd kill anyone who dared to attempt taking him away from her.

XXX

Training Negi was... interesting.

He was inventive, sneaky, driven, noble, stupid, strong, predictably unpredictable, and just generally fun to tease.

The fact that she declared the payment for her lessons to be his blood, well, that was just a bonus.

A very large bonus.

The kind of bonus that made her drool a little when she thought about it.

Not that she'd ever tell anyone that. She had a reputation to live up to.

Still, once his class found out, they wanted to join.

Most of those turned out to be overpowered morons, but she'd dealt with Rakan and nobody could ever compare to that man in sheer moronic behavior. So that wasn't too much of a problem. Even if it was annoying.

Sighing to herself, Eva looked up at the morning sky.

He wouldn't be around for several hours still.

"Haha! Master is lovesick!" Came the happy cackling from Chachazero.

Her response had been trained into her marrow months ago.

She blasted her through a wall.

XXX

She looked down at the demon, happily sipping her booze.

Apparently, she'd missed one of them on that winter day.

No matter, it was time to see how the kid's training had improved.

So she watched silently as he fought side-by-side to that idiotic mutt. She watched him argue with what seemed to be his first male friend. Ever.

Eva paused, trying to figure out if she should be feeling guilty about that, what with being the one who raised him and all.

She shook her head, nope. Not her fault at all. He'd simply seen too much, aged too quickly.

Much like the mutt, actually.

The difference was that whilst the mutt had been forced to fight in order to live, Negi had sought acceptance onto the stage that his parents had once occupied. The stage which Eva still stood on.

Kotaro had been pushed by survival. Negi had been pulled by admiration.

The question, she supposed, was whether it was for his parents, or the Undead Mage.

XXX

The festival was in full swing. Which, like most of the things considering Mahora, was saying something.

She'd seen all manners of foods, crazy inventions that couldn't possibly be considered normal – not even including the magically and scientifically created robot walking next to her – some interesting martial art styles, and a haunted house that made her wonder how anyone of Negi's students could be failing when it was so obvious that they could so easily reach new heights just from a tiny bit of effort.

Then again, the fact that they'd been trying to undress their teacher... maybe they simply weren't focused on what the mouth was saying as much as what the mouth couldbedoing.

Eva groaned. She really needed to kill that ermine. His spontaneously general perversion seemed to be rubbing off on her.

Not that she really needed any help on that subject, already knowing most of the things the pantie-thief kept mentioning. It was just that she was still having difficulties seeing Negi in that kind of light.

She remembered his potty-training for god's sake.

Shuddering at that memory, Eva dedicated herself to finding something distracting.

She found a stand centered around pie-throwing at teachers and random 'volunteers'.

Takamichi winced when she asked if she could get three pies. He winced even harder when she asked if she could be held accountable for breaking his nose with a supersonic pastry. But she was willing to bet that that was mostly because they shook their heads.

Smirking evilly, she could see him sweating from all the way over here.

Unfortunately, the pies proved to be far too soft and awkward to be thrown in any truly harming manner. He still looked highly uncomfortable when she considered getting a fourth pie, just to make sure that it really couldn't be thrown like that, though.

Having successfully scarred the man's mind with nothing but pie and a few dismissive inquires, Eva continued on her way, a sadistic grin still playing on her lips.

Then someone burst from the crowd.

Red hair that seemed impossibly cheerful, tall form that moved unconsciously smoothly, and a face that she would never be able to forget for the life of her.

"N-Nagi...?" She stared at him with wide eyes.

The man stopped, instantaneously freezing at her voice.

"Eva?" Gentle eyes met her own, and she blinked.

Negi. It was Negi. His father didn't have those eyes. Only Negi had those eyes. It was Negi. A grown up Negi.

He looked... she wasn't really sure how he looked. She was caught somewhere between swooning, and dragging him off into the bushes. Damn, but he aged well.

Of course, she just blinked once more, trying to fit spontaneously aging five or so years into an afternoon.

Then she noticed the illusion.

Ever so slowly raising an eyebrow in his direction, she voiced her question.

"This is that ermine's idea, isn't it?"

"Eh, well, actually-... Chamo kind of just helped-..." He made a motion towards the young man standing next to him.

"So it's the mutt's idea, huh? No matter." Kotaro looked a bit upset at being called a mutt, but it didn't look like he was going to try and argue the point. "I'm guessing that you will be joining the tournament?"

Negi nodded his head carefully, as if worried that any careless movement would make him lose it. Which was a perfectly rational fear, considering their training sessions.

"I see, well then. I believe I shall also participate in it." Negi blinked, his mouth moving in a way that suggested that he was going to protest this. "I'm curious as to how far you've come since I began training you, and there's really no need to worry, I promise that I will not use any magic in our duel." She smirked at his relieved expression. "Of course, if you actually manages to lose despite that... well, I think accompanying me for a day in that shape would be a good enough punishment, wouldn't you agree?"

XXX

Eva blinked when she heard Negi swearing vehemently at the trouble Chao had brought along with her, which was probably the smallest reaction from the surrounding people.

"Negi," The boy glanced her way, "did you actually manage to memorize that book of yours before Nekane burned it?" Negi blushed, and after a few moments, finally nodded.

The rest of them looked if possible even more confused by this exchange.

"Just... do me a favor boya, don't ever let your mom hear where you got your vocabulary from..." Eva was struggling somewhere in between laughing herself half to death, and fearing for her life – she was strong, but Nagi would probably end up on his wife's side due to his dislike for sleeping on couches, and she'd have difficulties against even one of the boy's parents.

XXX

She was going to kill that perverted bastard for this.

Eva glared at the smiling idiot who was holding up a pair of cat-ears, clearly creeping out several of the girls in the group.

Not only was he interfering in her testing of Negi, he was also pissing her off on a more fundamental level. Namely, he was still breathing.

Suppressing the desire to rip him into very small shreds, she sighed and stepped back. She could test him later. Let him meet his father, at least once, even if it was only for a few minutes. Even if he could never answer his questions.

Still, once it was done, she'd kill Al for this. Damn pervert.

XXX

The brief glimpse of his father had left both Negi and herself in a very somber mood as they arrived at her resort.

Negi seemed more determined than ever to go out and find the man, and Eva was left remembering that day when they'd left her with their single most precious thing.

Sighing softly at the memory of the usual banter going on between them, she sat down next to Negi, resting her head onto his shoulder as they both stared out at the waters. Not really seeing it, but lost in memories.

"Stay safe Negi." She finally said, feeling the boy go stiff at her quiet words. "I miss them, true. But stay safe."

Negi was silent for a moment, apparently trying to discern exactly what she meant by this.

"You're letting me go?" Came his final question, just as quiet as her request, but still echoing his surprise.

Eva nodded slightly, burying her face into his shirt. "Come back safely."

Silence stretched out between them as he draped an arm around her shoulders, and Eva was just starting to realize just how badly she would miss him, when he opened his mouth once more.

"I will. I promise."

XXX

She'd already said her goodbyes, and so there were no tears between them as Negi finally set off towards the Magical World.

That didn't mean that Nekane and Anya didn't cry enough for both of them, or that the rest of his class hadn't shown up and was now being left without decent explanations, or that Negi hadn't tried to sneak into the Academy's forbidden library one final time before leaving.

Eva almost smirked at the memory of the boy being inches away from getting himself into serious trouble with the teaching staff for that stunt.

Still, despite the lack of tears between them, even if they'd already said their goodbyes, when their eyes met for the final time...

It would be the start of a legend, she was sure. And when he came back he wouldn't be the same.

But, even so, Evangeline AK McDowell, the Dark Evangel, wondered, just for a moment, what it meant that her greatest desire at that one moment. Was not to grab him and never let go. But to kiss him.

Then he leaned in, faster than she could react to, but as his lips settled on hers, there was a softness that shouldn't have been possible to achieve at such speeds. Their teeth didn't clash together painfully – like she would always comment was actually happening in those soaps that she watched to pass the time – and she could feel the warmth of it spreading like warm shivers through her bones.

Making a muffled sound halfway between a whimper and a moan, Eva pulled him in closer. Her walls were crumbling, her fingers buried themselves in his hair, and she honestly didn't give a thought to the stunned and madly blushing girls that were surrounding them both.

He was hers. And she was his.

The world seemed so utterly simple in those precious, few moments.

XXX

A/n: I once told someone who wrote to me, that I was working on a longer project involving Eva and Negi, and claimed to be certain that it would be out before Christmas – I said this six months ago.

Regardless of my laziness, I hope that you've all enjoyed it.