Daimon exhaled sharply as his glance fell on an Oedo Cops 2 ad. There he was, patrolling the streets of his section, trying in vain to divert his thoughts from her, when her beautiful, determined face suddenly confronted him as if she herself were daring him to admit the truth. The truth? He laughed mirthlessly. What was the truth? That he had been weak and foolish enough to allow himself to become emotionally attached to someone—and a human, at that? He was sworn to protect humans, and he couldn't let sentiment get in the way of his duty. Sentiment was impractical, inconvenient, and just plain dangerous. He took his job very seriously and he knew it was essential to keep a clear, rational head at all times. And was there anything more irrational than love? Especially when that love was for one's own partner….

Partner. He thought about that word and all its connotations. Tocho had been so impressed by her heroic defense of the Oedo Line that he'd promoted her to a full-fledged member of their team and made her Daimon's partner. Daimon had never had a partner before. He had always worked alone—it was better that way, wasn't it? Yet somehow he'd been pleased to hear his boss's pronouncement. Narrowing his eyes, he wondered if there'd been another reason for it…had sharp-minded Tocho seen into his heart? He remembered the brief interrogation that had taken place after the Black Station incident…

"Daimon, why did you help her steer the boat? You were instructed to leave that task entirely to her."

"I know, boss. But she was nearing the bank and I thought she might crash. I couldn't risk it." He'd locked eyes with Tocho and added, "I'll accept a demotion if you feel I deserve one."

But Tocho had only smiled enigmatically and replied, "That won't be necessary. You clearly had your reasons and acted as you saw fit. Well done, Daimon."

A faint tinge of color swept his cheeks as he recalled the sensation of leaning over her, feeling her hair against his skin…. Stop it, he told himself fiercely. Don't you dare lose your head. He was grateful for the dark glasses that shielded his eyes. He'd taken to wearing them not only as a protective measure against sunlight, but also as a means of concealing his face (and accordingly his thoughts) from the enemy. "The eyes are everything," he used to tell the other stations. "Keep them hidden and you'll keep the upper hand." Now he pushed his shades even farther back into place in a Tocho-like gesture, as if to defy the challenging stare of Makoto's image. Deep down, he knew she was worthy of being his partner in every sense of the word. She was truly his equal in physical prowess, in character, in intellect...and she could be counted on to back him up, both as a cop and as a person. As far as he was concerned, the diagram itself could shatter into a million pieces before he'd ever let any harm come to her; but that was all the more reason why he couldn't damage their professional relationship by confessing his feelings. It was a bad idea to begin with, and it would place an unfair burden on her. And was there any guarantee that he'd even see her again? Not unless she came to his station…and she probably wouldn't.

Of course she wouldn't.

That's it, he said to himself. You've got to let her go.

His eyes lingered on her image for a full minute after this resolution, but with a final effort he tore himself away and turned to face the street.

There, walking toward him with a purposeful stride, was Makoto.

She waved as she caught his glance and with a few quick steps cleared the distance between them. "Hello, partner. It's nice to see you again."

"Likewise, partner," he replied, trying to sound calm and detached and hoping she hadn't seen him staring at the ad. "So what brings you to the area? Are you shooting here today?"

She laughed. "Believe it or not, they actually let me out of my cage every once in a while. Today is my day off."

"Oh?" he said, and the syllable hung conspicuously in the air. He was never any good at small talk.

She pressed her hands together and looked up at him. "Um, listen…I guess you're on duty right now, but sometime…if you'd like…maybe we could grab a cup of coffee or something?"

Her invitation was so unexpected that the breath caught in his throat and he choked as he tried to force himself to say no.

"Daimon-san! Are you all right?" She rushed to his side and grasped his shoulders.

The nearness of her beauty was too much for him. "I'm fine, Makoto-san," he said so sharply that she released him at once, though concern still furrowed her brow. He stiffened and backed away from her.

"Daimon-san," she pleaded, "partner—won't you tell me what's wrong?"

For a moment neither of them spoke or moved.

Finally he broke the silence. "Makoto-san," he murmured, "how do you feel about me?"

She drew closer to him. "I respect you," she said earnestly. "I admire you, I trust you, and I—" her voice softened "—I love you. I want to be your partner in all things…do you understand? I came here to tell you that…."

She loves me? His heart leapt at her words even as he struggled against them. "I can't have attachments. I can't get involved with anyone, don't you see? I've got a job to do. I can't expect a woman to put up with the uncertainty, the sacrifices…. I'm not easy to love."

"And what if you met a woman who would walk that road with you? Someone who would love you for your dedication, not resent you for it?" She pointed a playfully accusing finger at him. "Someone every bit as tough and sweet as you are?"

He smiled in spite of himself. She had him pinned. "If I met a woman like that…if I did…then…I…."

Slowly, deliberately, he removed his shades.