Hello again, mah Peeps!


I meant to have this up right away, but no sooner than I got my spirits up about finding a new job, than I once again was left without employment. (TTxTT I hate being jobless.) Anyway, that dropped my inspiration levels several notches and built up a serious block for a long while. But that was a couple months ago now, so I felt really, really, REALLY bad about leaving you guys hanging.

Sorry about the delay. Things are still pretty erratic—I write better when I'm working—but I was finally able to finish part one of the continuation.

And with that said, ONWARD!


~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~


~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

01 -

"A Shared Breath" [A Short Distance]

Everything is always crowded at the airport. Because there are so many people coming and going, worn out by their travels, trying to find their luggage and the right exit, no one really cares to notice what else might be going on around them.

Even so, there were a few who happened to see them. A child hanging off her father's arm. A tourist waiting for his flight home. A flight attendant coming in to work. Their eyes simply strayed in the right direction to see them.

A young woman, not yet twenty years old, of Japanese descent stood before a tall man dressed all in blue. The man stood two heads taller than the girl and looked European—maybe—with greenish-blond hair with a black fringe. Small hair beads hung from the ends of his hair and shimmered gold and silver when they caught the light. Overall, seeing them together was a rather odd picture.

But as they stood there, neither of them said a word. They just looked at each other, eyes never leaving the other's face, and remained totally silent amidst the racket of the airport.

It wasn't that they didn't want to speak to each other, the people who saw them had a sense they had a million things to say. But rather, they didn't need to say anything at all. That even silence between them was enough to express themselves.

Side by side, they left the airport. The girl hefting her large bag, the man carrying nothing and not offering to help her.

Not once did either of them say a single word.

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

Yako dropped her bag by the door with a relieved sigh as she entered the office.

Jetlag was always the worst part of travelling, in her opinion. Normally, she collapsed once she reached home or the office and wouldn't move for a couple hours. Afterwards, she would eat something and catch up on anything she had missed while away.

But with the familiar, 'Not Human' presence beside her, Yako felt more calmed than ever before in her three years of traversing the globe. Not that she expected the sensation to last very long, considering it was a real Demon trailing after her. Not just a Demon, but none of than the 'Brain Eater' Neuro.

Yako remembered before he left that Neuro had mentioned the difference of the time axes in Hell and the Human World. She vaguely wondered how long it had been for Neuro, as he didn't look the slightest bit older or changed in any way, but quickly decided not to dwell on it. He was a Demon, after all. Things like the passing of years didn't necessarily apply to someone like him, even if the time axis was the same as hers.

Crossing the room to the loose piece of wallpaper on the other side of the office, Yako took the small braid of bleached hair from her grinning hairclip and returned it to the body embedded in the wall. Almost like a snake, the braid slithered back to the head, returning to its original length and ebony color to rest and recuperate.

"We're home, Akane-chan," Yako smiled to the lightly waving braid. "You rest up for now. I'll text Mom and everyone that I'm back, okay?"

Surprisingly, she no sooner said this than her phone rang. Pulling her touch phoned from her pocket, sliding the screen to answer the call, she smiled at the sound of her Mother's voice. "Heya, Mom. Yep, I just got back to the office. No, everything went just fine…"

As she went about recounting her trip, the blue-clad Demon noted the slight changes to the office. Moved furniture—the sofas and coffee table had been pushed further to the left—additional furniture—Akane's desk was bigger, and the TV and computers were up to date—the new color of the walls—no longer that off-grey color, now a very pale, almost-white blue—and the many plaques and medals that hung on the wall to the right of the blood-red desk, Troy. Interested in some of his Human's accomplishments, Neuro moved to read the awards and found not all of them were from Japan. There were a few from the British, the French, American and even Spanish governments.

Looking back to Yako, visibly older and slightly more polished, Neuro felt the slightest brush of approval that she had been able to gain recognition from all over in the world.

But that was soon overcome by boredom. Now that he was settling back in, the bland atmosphere needed some spice. Fortunately, Yako had been kind enough to lay plenty of rather heavy objects throughout the office. His green gaze immediately spotted the items atop Troy: A smooth paperweight of clear stone, embedded with a blue rose; a big, black coffee mug; a stapler.

Deciding on the stapler, a familiar tool for his purposes—pleased that it was slightly heavier than his older ones—the Demon tossed it straight at the unsuspecting young woman talking on the phone, currently standing with her back to him.

Neuro would never admit to the genuine surprise he felt cross his face. His eyes widening, making the green of his gaze more prominent than the black, and the slight pallor to his face from the shock. All of it was missed by Yako, so he doubted that she would later ask about it.

But the head of wheat-gold hair tipping to one side, avoiding the stapler meant for her skull, was not so easily dismissed.

She hadn't seen him, with her back so foolishly offered to him. But she hadn't reacted to the stapler hitting the wall. She didn't pause in her conversation. She hadn't even turned to look at him.

It was a fluke. She had probably seen something small and insignificant—possibly shiny—that had caught her attention, and hadn't even noticed the projectile sailing past her head. That was all.

Opting for the coffee mug this time, Neuro put some force into throwing it directly at Yako's head.

Again, she slipped to one side at the last minute, narrowly avoiding the ceramic death that ended up smashing against the wall.

And still, she went on talking as if nothing had happened. No reaction to the sound, no cut in her banter at all. Though this time Haruka had heard the crash over the phone and must have asked about it, because Yako laughed. "Oh, I just bumped something and knocked over a coffee cup. I think it broke…"

As she reassured her Mother of a simple accident, Yako finally turned to look right at Neuro. And meeting his other-worldly gaze, she smiled at him. It wasn't like her friendly smiles, her uncomfortable smiles, her forced smiles, or even her fearful smiles. This was a smile he was not used to seeing on her face, but was very familiar with.

This was the teasing smile of someone who was amused by the antics of child.

She smiled that way at him. And then had to audacity to turn her back to him again. Dismissing him as if he were anyone.

Eyes aglow, teeth flashing within a wide grin, Neuro picked up the heavy paperweight and hurled it straight at her.

"Mom, I gotta go," Yako said, pulling back to avoid the object and letting it smack the wall. "I'll see you tomorrow when I come home."

Ending the call, she turned just as Neuro threw one of the plaques on the wall. She just barely managed to block it with her arm, but he finally managed to hit her.

"How rude, Yako!" Neuro chided smoothly. "Ignoring me for so long. And on top of that, you even had to gall to deliberately dodge!"

Picking up the plaque—hissing at the pain in her arm—Yako passed the Demon to return it to the wall. She didn't say anything in retort. She hadn't really said anything to him for the past ten hours. Admittedly, most of that time he had been hanging on the outside of the plane and she had forced herself to ignore him, but even so she had yet to say a single thing to Nougami Neuro.

It was so strange. Seeing him again, hearing his voice after so many years. Even his odd scent was so familiar and strange, she wasn't entirely sure what she should say or what she should do.

When they had stood across from each other at the airport, she had been at ease. They hadn't said anything because they didn't need to. It was like that moment in the back of Godai's truck, all of three years ago. Perfect understanding passed between their eyes and they just knew.

Now, back at the Katsuragi Yako Detective Agency, things didn't feel so clear-cut.

It had been three years. What should she say? How should she act?

She decided to check the mail to buy some more time. A few utility bills. Two or three letters from friends outside of Japan. Junk mail. Food coupons. Nothing of particularly importance to warrant much thinking.

Certainly less important than the revived Demon watching her every move, but she found herself struggling a little to settle in and chose to overlook him. She was certain she couldn't do that for much longer, it would get dangerous all too quickly.

Leaving everything on Troy, Yako headed back for the door and picked up her bag. "Akane-chan. I'm feeling tired, so hold any calls or requests, okay?"

The black braid waved lightly from the wall, excusing her boss as Yako left the office.

"Going home already?" Neuro smiled peeking his head out the door. "Planning to leave me to my own devices so quickly?"

"No, I'm too tired to head home. I'm going upstairs," Yako replied as she headed for the end of the hall.

Curious, the Demon saw no harm in following her. Taking the stairs rather than the elevator, passing a couple doors to one in particular, Yako unlocked it and stepped inside.

Neuro recalled that most of the building was empty rooms left in assorted conditions of disorder, ranging from being simply bare to completely unusable. But this particular room was made up into a sort of apartment—there was a small wardrobe of Yako's clothes and a cork board littered with photos and newspaper clippings. There was a small bookcase with several books ranging from fiction to law books, as well as a laptop on the bed. The small fridge in the corner likely contained more than it looked, considering the Human's appetite. There was TV at the far end of the room, and a bed closer to the door.

"Were you kicked out by your Mother?" The Demon asked. "Too many men come calling late at night?"

"No," Yako replied dryly as she dropped her bag by the bed. Grabbing the remote off the bed, she turned on the TV and changed the channel to see the weather. "I tend to keep pretty busy. And since I started to travel around during school vacations, sometimes it takes too much effort to get back home after a long trip. So I converted this room into a small living space for when I can't find the energy to make it back home."

Accepting that as surprisingly sensible for his Human, Neuro let his eyes wander throughout the room. As it was a living space only at odd times, he knew there would be nothing important—no real personal effects beyond the clothes, the pictures on the board and the laptop. It was enough for a Human to get by in. 'Cozy' Neuro supposed would be the right word.

"Do you bring many men up here?" The Demon grinned. He could only smell Yako throughout the room, but saw no harm in getting a rise out of the girl. "Two or three at a time, maybe?"

"I think only my Mom, Kanae, and Godai have been up here—they helped me move everything in," Yako replied, easily dismissing the inquiry as she sat down on the edge of her bed. She sighed gratefully as she finally slipped off one shoe and just let herself relax before fighting with the other shoe.

Neuro was steadily growing bored with Yako's easy flow and flexibility. While he was gone, perhaps she could have adapted and learned some martial and diplomatic skills for her own protection. But her general lack of reaction was starting to irritate him. He wanted to see some explosion of emotion, watch her thrash about as helpless as a fish on a line. Indeed, he didn't have too much at his disposal with all of his traps dismantled—as per her promise to do so—and she was proving to be far too balanced to upset as easily as before.

But he decided that finding new triggers should prove to be a little fun.

It was when Yako stepped out of her other shoe with a sigh, standing up to stretch, that the Demon noticed something funny.

"You've grown."

She looked up, not incredibly surprised to find Neuro standing right in front of her. "What was that?"

Neuro smiled, raising his hand to the top of her head and measuring her height. "You've grown taller. About 5.3 inches."

Yako was a little surprised that the Demon cared to notice something like that. But she couldn't help smiling a little, knowing that she had grown in more ways than one. Intellect, relations, reputation, so much had grown with her over the years. She would have proudly said as much…

…Had Neuro not ever so lightly tapped her chest with his knuckles, as if knocking on a door. "Though I can't say you've grown any bigger."

"You ass!" Yako threw one of her shoes as his head angrily. She just became even more upset when he easily dodged it. As happy as she had been under his vague praise, she was fifty times more enraged that he still felt the need to pick on her about certain things.

"I'll have you know that a lot of women would kill for my figure!" She said hotly, wielding her other shoe as a weapon as she pursued the Demon across the room. "I have maintained a perfectly healthy lifestyle and have an even weight! And plenty of people have told me that I am thin enough to make a life as a Model! So don't you dare poke fun at my bra size, of all things!"

And she had, too, grown down there!

Neuro laughed a little as she chased him with her shoe, fully intending to beat him to death with it. That she thought she could actually harm him in any way with such a mediocre weapon was hilarious. But what he truly found delightful was the familiar rage coming off his Human, directed solely at him.

Now he had her full attention. What to do with it…?

Catching her by her arms, he stopped her murderous chase. Pulling Yako forward, trapping her against him, Neuro held her head firmly in place. From another vantage point, it might have looked like he was holding her to him kindly. But from where Yako was, he was practically smothering her against his chest.

"Now, now, Slug…" He chided amiably as he held her head in place. "Don't be so self-conscious. It's just some strange occurrence, with some women, where their breasts don't grow past a certain point." Neuro chose to ignore the patting against his arm. "After a while, your breasts will start to sag, but being so miniscule to start with, no one will really notice." Yako's patting became an incessant beating as air became scarce in her lungs. "After all! One can't mourn the loss of something that was never there."

Yako tilted her head back and took in a desperate gulp of air. Of course, being around the Demon, the oxygen she took in had the distinct odor of sulfur as well as something unidentifiable. As she fought to breathe, Yako couldn't help remembering a similar moment, three years ago, when he was too weak to stand up and instead pulled her down. Back then, she had almost been afraid that he would break under her hands. Now, she could once again feel that terrible strength that was beyond imagination. The 'Brain Eater' Neuro was back again. And whether that meant Hell in her future or not—not that she thought anything but Hell awaited her—Yako would live with it.

"I hate you…"

Neuro's familiar, shark-at-midnight grin spread across his face at her words. "Three years you waited for me, and still, I am unappreciated," he sighed dramatically. "It hurts my poor heart, something dreadful."

"Liar," muttered Yako. Accepting that she wouldn't break free of his embrace any time soon, she awkwardly returned it. She didn't let her arms go all the way around his middle, but she felt an odd comfort just holding him. "Knowing you—however long you were actually in Hell—you spent more time worrying about missing all the trouble I was getting into more than actually worrying about me."

"That is very much untrue," the Demon said. "I was too preoccupied with a whole other matter entirely to be concerned with either of those things." He noticed Yako's pointed stare from within his arms. There was a momentary silence. "Well…perhaps there was one very minor thought about you, leaning more in the direction of what you could get into without me around."

"Just one," the young woman smiled, satisfied that she had made a very small victory against her Demon. "Well, that's fine, too. At least you thought about me."

Neuro found Yako's thought oddly amusing. "Why, slug… It almost sounds as if you missed your Master."

"I missed my Partner, Neuro," she said, managing to pull back just a bit as his arms relaxed. "Huge difference."

The Demon wondered if she would remember. He was pleased, but also tentative with the fact that she had. He doubted she understood the full implications that word had now. He doubted she would be aware of everything that had to be done, what had to happen between them. He doubted she would actually realize how significant she was to his survival, his being able to eat and his freedom. He doubted that she would comprehend just how important she was.

So he decided then and there that he wouldn't tell her. Less trouble for them if they just carried on as usual.

"There are customs to greeting each other in this realm, aren't there?" Inquired Neuro, his voice dark and pleasant as he leaned his face closer to Yako's. "Some sort of contact between two people who have not seen each other for a good while?"

"You're already hugging me, Neuro," the young woman replied flatly.

Had he not been holding her, the Demon might have missed the quickened pace of her heartbeat due to her mild expression. His smile became sharper at the new rhythm and he held her closer. "Then you can do something else."

Yako tried to ignore the warmth that spread through her, because she knew exactly what he was demanding. For him, it might not have been very long at all since they last saw each other. But for her three years had gone by without him, without his constant demands of her attention and his inconstant kisses. She saw little point in trying to withhold it, but she wasn't about to just give in.

Leaning forward just a little bit, Yako kissed the Demon lightly on the cheek. She was a little startled to feel the small shock of electricity from the cool metal of his Demon Batteries against her own cheek, but was glad that the sensation wasn't not wholly unpleasant.

Of course, the 'Brain Eater' was hardly satisfied with just that and grinned pitilessly at her. "You can do better."

"Now that, I wouldn't know," Yako mused wistfully. "Since you left, I've only ever kissed one other person. Lovely trip, last year. London—"

She had noticed the very slight rise to the Demon's hair before his hold on her tightened. He was still smiling, but his obvious displeasure made the expression dark around the edges. But unlike many times in the past, Yako wasn't about to roll over and apologize.

"London is really pretty around Christmas time," she went on with surprising ease. "It was a mistletoe kiss, but not bad, I suppose. Considering the one I got it from. I don't have anyone to compare to but—you… But—"

This time, the pressure on her small body was too much to ignore. She vaguely wondered if she had pushed it a little far, but in the end decided it didn't matter. She wasn't going to apologize, and even if she did, he wouldn't likely accept it.

"Oh, so my little Human has been off gallivanting about the globe, seeking pleasantries with strange men," Neuro sighed dramatically. "How sad. I thought I trained you better than that."

"So… You wouldn't have much to say if I actually did bring men up here?" Yako asked, with some strain, as he had yet to relinquish his hold. "You have problems with my foreign relationships more than my local ones?"

"And in what way shall I interpret that, louse?"

"Oh, I'm 'louse' again, am I? I thought I was promoted to 'top slug'."

"You didn't seem pleased with that title," said Neuro. "So I felt that something more familiar and lower level would make you feel better."

Really, the Demon was displeased that his Human actually had formed relations of the more physical type. It was fine for him to tease her about it—he had been looking forward to her reactions—but it was disappointing to discover that some faceless male had touched his property. With her consent, no less.

"Right. Yeah. Sure." Yako finally sighed, realizing he wouldn't let her go without some sort of request for forgiveness. "Neuro, my ribs were cracked a couple months ago and you're making them hurt again. Could you please loosen up, just a little bit?"

Neuro was immediately interested, even if he didn't relax his hold. "Going about the globe doing battle, bread-crust?"

"Pretty much, yeah," she sighed. "Yakuza and jewel thieves in Japan. Serial killers in France. Vampires and Grim Reapers in Europe. The occasional guerilla group in Brazil. Regular stuff. There's generally more 'negotiator' business than detective business, but—"

"Vampires and Grim Reapers?" The Demon's look was skeptical, but amused all the same. "Really?"

"I'll introduce you, if you're polite," Yako offered.

"Not interested," Neuro replied evenly. He wasn't about to be distracted from the disloyalty of his Human actually kissing someone that was most certainly not himself. And as she had yet to greet him properly, he was entitled to some compensation for his return.

He finally released Yako from his hold and she felt her body relax from the strain. But she had little time to rejoice in the proper use of her lungs before her air was once again cut off. This time, however, she felt his hand go all the way around the back of her neck as he pulled her forward and caught her lips with his.

It was so sudden, and it had been such a long time, she couldn't help letting her eyes shut. But she still fought a little as he attempted to deepen the contact between, keeping her mouth as firmly shut as her eyes. The feel of him under her hands, the smell of him all around her was strange and familiar. She couldn't remember if it had felt like this before, but she had the sensation that she would have clearly recalled if it had been.

It felt as if he was trying to hold her even closer than before, but it wasn't restricting or painful. It actually felt good to be in his arms. She was itching to let her hands wander up his shoulders, and had to fight to keep them on his chest, gripping the front of his perfect-blue coat. She was sure that she had the weirdest look on her face as she struggled against him. And in turn, she found herself wondering what sort of expression the Demon made while doing something like this.

Gathering her courage and her strength, Yako opened her eyes. She was startled to find his green eyes already wide open and watching her with a look so intense, she couldn't withhold the gasp that flew past her lips. This allowed Neuro to deepen the kiss, forcing his way inside her mouth and reveling in the taste of his slightly bigger, little Human. No matter the time axis, it had been far too long since he had last experienced this flavor.

Yako gasped at his intrusion. Then sighed. And finally letting her arms go around his neck, she was all to glad to return his attentions. She could not remember ever feeling this weightless before. It was a brand new sensation that danced across her skin and clear through to her bones.

Needing to breathe, Yako managed to pull back just far enough to take in air. But in that brief moment, Neuro leaned down to actually bite her neck. It wasn't so hard that it broke the skin, but she felt all the points of his sharp teeth against her throat. There was the briefest flash of fear—he could rip out her throat or crush her windpipe in a single bite if he wanted—but it was quickly overcome by the oddly pleasant feeling of his mouth on her skin. There was the lightest sting from his saliva, but somehow, that actually made her feel even better and even weaker under his teeth.

She held on to the Demon tightly, gasping as she felt his hands move down her shoulders and span her back, holding her closer. She felt his long, spider-like fingers grasp the edge of her shirt and start to pull it upwards. When his gloved fingertips touched the skin of her lower back, she bit back a moan.

But when she felt the back of her leg touch the edge of the bed, her eyes shot open and she started to comprehend exactly what was happening. The kiss had gone far out of control, and was looking to go even further, if she didn't stop.

With some difficulty, she managed to take her arms back and quickly pulled her shirt down before it could go any higher. "O-kaaaayyy! That's…a good place to stop! Stopping now! Yes! Stopping would be very, very good!"

Neuro was somewhat displeased at the sudden distance put between them. Admittedly it wasn't very far, considering her bed was at her back, which prevented her from going any further. But he could still feel her draw away from him as she avoided his eyes.

The air started to cool down and her heartbeat and breathing settled into an easy rhythm.

While it had certainly been pleasing, the Demon was hardly pleased to have it brought to such an abrupt halt. He would have said as much, and more than, had one of the batteries holding his black locks of hair suddenly spark to life.

A Puzzle. Food.

He was willing to set the matter aside for the time being.

"I detect a Mystery, louse," he announced pleasantly. "I am famished, so we are going to go and solve it."

Yako would have loved to object. She was still dead tired from the flight home, and needed to catch up on some much needed sleep. But considering how hot things had been just moments ago, she was willing to admit that work and a calming walk would help settle the air. Besides, she knew better than to argue with the Demon.

Pulling on a much more comfortable pair of sneakers—as well as a red scarf to hide any marks on her neck—Katsuragi Yako set out with Nougami Neuro on their first case in three years.

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

Neuro hardly had to do anything at all.

He took note of everything the police had found and missed. But it was Yako's simple observation of the glitter from one woman's make-up that was also found on the victim—as well as her seemingly weak connection with the man—that solved the Puzzle within the matter of hours. As the Demon enjoyed his first meal in a good while, he watched his Human see to loose ends with the other Humans. Her manner was collected and civil with the authorities, and kind and caring with the victim's family and friends.

While most of the people involved had been doubtful of her procedures, many others had stood by in avid interest. She had clearly become a well-known figure in the public eye. The police had been courteous and much more helpful than they had been when Neuro had first started training Yako. And she had been completely at ease while standing amidst the crime scene, holding tightly to the attention of everyone.

Yako had grown into a sturdy woman in the three years she had been without him. She had kept her word and was shining for all the world to see.

"Not exactly a gourmet meal, but it was prepared rather promptly," Neuro grinned as they moved down the street to return to the office. "Not bad, slug."

"And I'm 'slug' once more," Yako laughed, tired and pleased at his light approval. "Are there any other Puzzles we can sort out tonight? Preferably something nearby?"

The Demon allowed his senses to stretch out, but caught nothing of exceptional interest. "Nothing that can't be dealt with tomorrow," he said. "But I'm curious as to why you would ask, louse. Eager to please your Master? Or perhaps, you have a dinner date waiting?"

"I just thought my Partner would like to eat," she sighed, helpless to dissuade him from any of his playful insults or his attempts to get a rise out of her. She was still careful to emphasize the last word and label. Perhaps he had chosen to disregard the last title he had given her before he left the Human World that dark night. But she certainly wasn't about to let him forget it.

"Yako, I want you to marry me."

The young woman froze, watching him drift further ahead before he also came to a halt. She couldn't move. She stopped breathing, even as her heart started racing. Her eyes were glued to the perfect-blue fabric that covered his back.

Expecting her stunned silence, Neuro carried on without prompting. "I don't think it would be too much of a scandal if it is found out. In fact, weddings are something of a kick in publicity, no matter where you are. Your popularity will likely increase, allowing for the increase in Puzzles and Mysteries to come through. Furthermore, the amount of money and various gifts that a bride and groom can receive is quite amazing! We would receive more funds as well as an assured stability that comes with marriage. This occurred to me while I was away. And knowing that this will provide a legitimate front, I want you to marry me."

The Demon smiled back at his Human, confidant and collected that he had won her consent. He knew what he wanted, and he always got what he wanted.

However, not even the great, 'Brain Eater' Neuro could withhold his shock and awe at the single word that escaped Katsuragi Yako's lips.


A very small part of his brilliant mind wondered if he hadn't misheard her. But he knew his hearing was perfect and he had no reason to question it. So the mistake must be what had come out of her mouth. Clearly, Yako's small Human brain had shorted out with his simple offer of marriage and she had said the wrong thing in reply.

But when he turned to face her, there was no shock or confusion or panic visible in her features. Her face showed only perfect clarity and confidence. There was the slightest trace of hurt in her eyes, but her orbs were otherwise clear with something Neuro couldn't identify.

"Neuro, do you love me?" Yako asked, steady and serene.

The Demon scoffed lightly. "I very much doubt that I am capable of recognizing such a concept, let alone actually experiencing it."

"I Love You."

Once again, Neuro's face opened with sheer astonishment at Yako's words.

The young woman smiled at his expression, as well as the ease she felt at actually saying those three simple words. It had been some time since she had come to the shocking realization of her own feelings. It made virtually no sense—he was terrifying, he was devious, he was cruel, he was brilliant beyond compare and he knew it. He wasn't even Human.

But for all that, Yako had come to realize that her feelings for the Demon went deeper than her fear and simple admiration of him. She often wondered if it was some strange animal attraction, but really she couldn't simply explain it away as she at times hoped she could.

Now, facing Neuro and telling him, she felt liberated and incredibly sad. She was no longer weighed down by the doubt of stepping around the truth. But she was sad, because she knew for a fact that he would not and could not return her feelings. It wasn't in his nature, or ability to love her back.

"Like you said," she finally said, "there would be plenty of advantages to marrying you. Publicity and the like. But because I love you, I can't just accept marrying you for reasons as empty as that."

Neuro gathered himself carefully and quietly. "You will endure all other things—my teasing and my torture—but actually accepting me is far too appalling for you to accept?"

His voice was cool, but held the burning traces of a deep rage.

"It might be it. It might not…" Yako mused thoughtfully, unafraid. "But honestly? I don't feel we're on equal footing right now. It wouldn't be fair to either of us if I was to accept. However long it's been for us, it doesn't feel the same as it did when you left that night."

The Demon thought about that. Really, it hadn't been that long for him. Yako had waited for three years, working and growing to live up to her promise to him. But in his absence—no matter how long or short the time it had been—the name of 'Partner' that they had called each other had changed in meaning for them both.

"We're close to the train station," Yako suddenly piped up. "And it isn't that far to my house. So if you don't have any more outings in mind, I think I'll head home for the night."

Neuro wondered if he should reprimand her for not technically asking his permission to leave. But feeling dissatisfied—in spite of his most recent meal—he dismissed her with a simple wave of his hand. "Be into the office early tomorrow. I want to get started as soon as possible."

Yako accepted his terms with a nod, then turned and left for home.

Rather than leave for the office, the Demon waited and watched her until she turned the corner. Neuro still felt a peculiar unpleasantness over the exchange. It was a sensation that he could only vaguely identify. It was as if he had lost a game.

But that was ridiculous. The only one to ever beat him at anything was his Father. Whatever had just happened had most certainly not finished—on the contrary, it had only just begun. So he would most certainly win this odd game that had started between him and his Human.

For the sake of his freedom and for the sake of his being able to go on eating, he had to win.

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

Thank you all for your patience and support!

I can't guarantee that I'll be posting regularly, but I haven't forgotten my promise to continue. Please review, your kind words keep me going.

Thank you! And thank you again!