=================== Improfanfic Presents Magical Girl Hunters Part 44 House of Cards By: Aaron Peori Edited by: Philip Barkow Created By: Aaron Shattuck =================== I arrived at the office in what could best be described as a sour mood. If by "best" you mean "radically understated". I did NOT like being woken up in the middle of the night and called to the office for some sort of "emergency." Veracity knew how to take care of herself, that was what we gave her that uzi for after all, and I was sure she had another gun or two stored in her desk somewhere. She also knew how to dispose of the bodies of any unwanted visitors. So it was that I stormed into the office smelly, unclean and with the frazled look of someone who hasn't finished sleeping yet. When I say Styx I almost pulled my gun but a quick look at Veracity and I lowered my hand. There was something in those eyes I had never seen before. A kind of unreasoning fear that shock my confidence slightly. I'd seen Veracity afraid but always before it had been normal logical fear of death. This was animal fear. When you stare into the faces of enough girls barely past their first periods who realize they are about to die you learn to recognize it. "Styx," I said softly and glanced beyond her. Four fukus. Great. "To what do I owe the pleasure." She opened her mouth and spoke but it wasn't her voice that came out. It was hollow and emotionless, like those digital voices you used to hear computer otaku getting all worked up over. It also echoed within her throat, the words bouncing around inside her as if being shouted into an empty warehouse. It made it very hard to make out half of what she was saying. "Yoi Kurasaka," she said, "I have come to offer you employment." "I thought we already talked about this," I reminded her stiffly. I had a sneaking suspicion that I was not talking to Styx but I wanted confirmation first. She smiled but it wasn't a smile with any humanity in it. It was cold and mechanical, like someone glanced at a picture of a smile in a magazine and just replicated it. In fact, all her motions were the same. They didn't quite seem to fit for some reason. I looked beyond her to the four fukus. They were as still as statues and some instinct told me they weren't all there. Maybe that was why I could so easily overlook them. "We have not discussed anything in the past," she echoed solemnly. "This shall be our first negotiation. I wish it also to be our last." "I don't work for people I don't know the names off," I growled. "Especially people who can apparently possess just about anybody they want to. It must take a lot of power to subvert Styx like that." Veracity gave a slight whimper in response to that. "This is a suitable host for the moment," the voice said. "Her and these four others are chaotic, random, messy beings but they are more predictable and addicted to patterns than most of your ilk. They made natural hosts." "You didn't answer my question." "You did not ask one." "Okay," I rolled my eyes. "Who are you?" "I am not a 'who'," the voice replied. "Then what are you?" I growled. I was getting impatient. Every since I had started this campaign to see which of the cosmic forces had the best dental plan I had been getting jerked around. Well, more so than usual. "The question is misphrased in my case but I will answer it," the voice replied after a second. "I am The Order." "The order?" I ran that through my head a few times. That could mean a great number of things. "It's Order Yoi," Veracity spoke up. "The principle Order of the universe. The source from which all organization and pattern comes." She shuddered slightly. "They say it hates our existence, thinks we're too chaotic and wants to destroy us." "I wish to evolve them past this messy existence Veracity," the Order said. "Much like I did to you those many years ago. I was very disappointed that you left before I could finish the process." Veracity shrank back into her chair and I stepped between her and Styx's body. I carefully filed away that bit of information for later analysis but I had bigger fish to fry at the moment. "You came to see me big shot," I informed it. "Now give me your offer and I will consider it." "You will not consider it," the Order said, "You will obey Order or you will be eliminated." "I don't respond well to threats!" I spat. Immediately the four magical women behind him began to walk forward. I didn't think, I reacted. My gun practically flew into my hands and I was already aiming at the second fuku before the first bullet hit. My shots weren't perfect, but then desperate shots never are. Still they did the job. A gut wound isn't as fatal as one to the heart or head but it will stop someone. I shot two in the gut and a third in the head before I stopped. The bullets had NOT stopped them, at all. The woman with the head wound was staring at me out of the ruins of her face with little bits of gray matter dripping out of the wound. But she kept walking. I stepped back and began to reach for a bigger gun but I didn't have to worry. As soon as I stopped firing they stopped moving. They fell into passive silence like before and Styx stepped forward. I hadn't hit her despite sending a bullet in that direction apparently. "That is not a threat Yoi Kurasaka," Order said. "That is a statement of fact. These bodies are simple and nothing for me to support beyond the damage you do them. I can take over a hundred of them to kill you if I wish. More than that I think would jepordize my plans in this sector of existance." "What do you want?" I said with a frog in my throat. My hands were shaking like hyperactive butterflies. For some reason I knew, down in that dark reptile pit of my brain, that it was telling the truth. This was one person I did not want to make an enemy off. "Order demands little," it said. "You must not serve Chaos. That is all. All other options are open to you but you will not serve Chaos. You have done a great deal of damage to the patterns of this world already, more than you know. I do not care about that, for you still serve a kind of order in your insanity. Chaos is absolute however and can not be allowed. Soon you will face a choice between Chaos and Order and you will NOT choose Chaos. If you do you will die." And then it was gone. I knew that somehow before Styx staggered forward or Veracity sighed with relief. I was still quavering when the wet slap announced the collapse of one dead magical women's body on the floor. A stereo of pained groans accompanied it as the other two I had shot collapsed with her. I drew a deep breath and steadied myself. It wouldn't do to show weakness in front of the enemy. "When am I?" Styx asked in perplexion. She looked at Veracity then at the one unwounded fuku, who was busy doing something involving neon pink light to one of the fallen women. "Get out," I said. "Yoi?" she responded and looked at me in obvious surprise. "When did you leave?" "Out," I gestured with my gun. "Now." Styx spent a half second processing that and then with a snap of her fingers her and the three living fukus disappeared. I glanced at the meat on the floor and sighed. The least she could have done was take that with her. It was going to put -another- stain in the carpet if I didn't deal with it soon. I holstered my gun and looked at Veracity who had seemed on the verge of regaining her composure. "Well?" I left it hanging. "I'd rather not talk about it." "If what you just told me is correct I just got threatened by God," I spoke softly and calmly in my 'dangerous' voice. "I would like to know a bit more about how to deal with it." "You don't," she said with a hint of venom in her voice. "You do what it says and you try to remain insignificant in its eyes. Apparently its taken an interest in you. I'd suggest doing what it says and leaving it at that." "You don't mind if I check into other alternatives do you?" "Mind, me? No," she chuckled wryly. "Order won't even mind, if it did it would have told you. You won't find any alternatives... but feel free to waste your time." I turned away quickly to keep myself from throttling her on the spot. I felt a deep churning certainty that she was right. It pissed me off and I wasn't sure if I wanted to take that out on her just now. "Clean that up," I spat over my shoulder as I left. Okay, maybe I was a little sure I wanted to take that out on her. I never claimed to be a saint. *** I went home to find that Aika had woken up in the night. She was spending the night with me now. Get your mind out of the gutter. We weren't doing anything, I was even sleeping on the couch (which could have contributed to my mood earlier I admitted in retrospect). She was here because she literally had nowhere else to go. At least, nowhere she felt safe. I couldn't blame her either. If I had walked into my house at her age and found both my parents shot from point blank in the back of the head I would be a little scared too. And I didn't even -like- my parents all that much. The first thing she had done after finding her parents was to call me. It had taken me almost an hour to calm her down to rational. After that I convinced her to hang up and call the police. Then a few phone calls later a friend of mine at the phone company had erased all traces of the call and I breathed a sigh of relief. Thanks to the fight at the high rise a few weeks back this body had a warrant attached to it too now and I didn't need the cops connecting me to a domestic killing. As long as I stuck to Magical Girls my clients pull with the local governments would usually keep me out of jail. This was a different matter, and in Japan slayings with guns did not go undealt with. I don't consider what I did callous. I wanted to comfort Aika but for right then it was better for both of us if the police didn't have any way to connect the two of us. I tried to kill time after that but I couldn't find any way to do it with any success. I even went to talk with Murray but the vulture flew the coop, no pun intended. That stirred up a healthy knot of suspicion in my gut but I was frankly too worried to deal with it. I spent most of the day passing back and forth in front of my phone and sick to the stomach. It only took me a few seconds to realize it was Aika I was worried about. She had just started on the road to recovery from her... treatment at the hands of Captain Kawaii when this happened. It gnawed on my insides to think of her in some cold police station without anyone around to comfort her. It was near ten when she showed up outside my door. With a police escort. That set my heart to pumping but then I saw that she was carrying an overnight bag. Aika introduced me as her aunt and I responded to the deception with practiced ease. The worried concern and crushing embrace I responded with were not faked however and that certainly helped convince the officer I was on the up and up. I'm not sure if Aika appreciated it however. After the police left and I had put her bag in on the bed I took her into my cramped and, miraculously, recently cleaned living room and sat her down to talk about it. She responded with monosyllables and truncated sentences and I recognized the Itami-speech she had used shortly after the incident with the Balancers. That worried me a lot more than crying would have. If she followed past precedent than in under a week she'd be back to relatively normal... on the surface. But she would be hiding all the pain underneath until it exploded once again. The last time her explosion had been associated with her past trauma... this time it was death and if she crumpled in combat she'd be dead. She called me a lot of nasty names that night but I eventually got a few tears out of her and even managed to get the whole story. It was pretty basic. She had been on her way home from the psychiatrists when she had found them. Then followed the phone calls, the police and a few hours of questioning. The reason it had taken so long is because she had been forced to conceal her affiliation with us as well as her magical girl nature. The police must have pushed hard for a motive and seen it on her face but been unable to pry it out. No police officer on the planet liked a motiveless crime. I put her to bed around midnight, she having cried herself to sleep in my arms. Then I set in for a short sleep, which was interrupted by Veracity and that's were we came in. "Good morning," I said as I stepped into the apartment and took off my trenchcoat. She stood in the doorway to my bedroom wearing only a tank top and a pair of my boxer shorts (hey, they make them in women's sizes too). I dragged my mind out of the gutter and tried to remind myself that she was a scarred, fragile kid and I was a pedophile to even be considering such things. "Were did you go?" she asked with a hint of accusation in her voice. "Something came up at the office," I replied with a shrug. "I had to kill a few people, wound some others and nearly throw out my back hauling bodies around. Typical night of my life." "Why didn't you wake me up?" I looked at her long and hard right in the eyes. "You aren't Itami," I answered levelly. "You aren't ready to go back to business yet. Tomorrow I take you to the psychiatrist so you can work out some of these issues." Oh god, I sounded like a self help book. "I don't need a psychiatrist!" she turned around and walked with a sulk into my room and slammed the door. "If you don't take advantage of it I'm cutting off your medical coverage," I threatened. "You didn't -give- me medical coverage!" she replied from behind the door. "Then look at it this way," I spoke calmly and coolly. "If you don't go I never take you on another case again." "That's cruel!" "I can be that way sometimes. It's part of my charm." The only response was a hostile silence. *** The office building where Aika's psychiatrist held office was only three stories high and was built in that style that was supposed to make it look old and distinguished but only managed to make it look like a face food place in my opinion. It was on a back street in the Akoda district and was surrounded on both sides by a run down geisha house and a pawn shop. The bottom floors of the building were devoted to the almighty god pornography and access to Doctor Reinrix's office was via a wooden staircase that slipped around the back of the building. It wasn't the kind of place one would expect a psychiatrist to hold office. Reinrix specialized in what one called "special cases". People with secrets to hide and prying eyes to evade that wouldn't have felt safe coming to a fancy building in the middle of downtown. Reinrix was also famous as the only shrink in town who worked with Magical Girls. Most just tried to institutionalize them with charges likes "aberrant psychotic delusions and disassociative disorders" or some such. Even so he didn't do a brisk business seeing as how most Magical Girls were so screwed up they didn't even think there was anything wrong with them. I had meet him almost a year ago when a girl that had escaped one of our hits had come to him for treatment. He seemed a little put out with me walking in his office and shooting his client but he got over it when I sent Aika to see him. After all, I had money, unlike most Magical Girls. Aika and I were dressed in casual clothes. Which for her was a light jacket meant to keep of the cooling weather over a pleasantly snug fitting dress in pastel shades. For me it meant I'd bathed and was only carrying two guns. Aika wasn't happy about being dragged here but I kept reminding myself it was for her own good, no matter how many hurt puppy looks she gave me or how shrill her voice got. She usually quieted down when I reminded how much those made me relent on our usual jobs. Aika entered first because I wanted to stay unobtrusive in the background. When she stiffened I knew something was very very wrong. I pulled her out and stepped inside with a gun drawn. The body slumped over the desk wasn't very old. It hadn't begun to bloat or show any other signs of decay but the blood on the desk had dried up. Probably dead no more than a day. She wasn't the only one however. There were three other people in the waiting room too, all of them dead. I thought I recognized the human form of The Almighty Alcoholic among them. Pity, that magical girl had actually been kinda fun at parties. I felt more than saw or heard Aika transform behind me and enter the room. I looked over my shoulder and saw her surveying the damage with an inhumanly calm demeanour and one nasty looking gun in her hands. I swore the barrel was five centimeters across. She was handling this was calm but I wondered what she was feeling inside. Still I didn't have time to deal with that right now. "Stay here," I told her. "Make sure no one comes in and don't touch the bodies." "I know what I'm doing," she snapped back. I didn't have a response to that so I walked up to Reinrix's door and opened it. I noticed right away that the man had been taken by complete surprise. He was still sitting in his chair with his notebook in his lap and his head over the back of the chair. I looked around and rolled my eyes slightly. The place was a stereotypical shrinks office, right down to the couch and the bookcases. A quick examination of the door showed that it hadn't been forced or locked. It also didn't take long to determine his cause of death. Bullet wounds to the forehead are fairly hard to miss. I stepped back a moment to think. Whoever had done this was long gone by now, these bodies had probably been sitting here all night. I looked around but no other clues sprang immediately to eye. I almost wished I had read those detective books mom had bought for me now. Still I had a pretty good theory as far as I was concerned. It was possible that the doc had been with a patient who had somehow snapped and shot him in the forehead, then went on to kill the rest of the patients and the secretary. It seemed plausible but this whole thing was a little to close to the killing of Aika's folks for me to shrug off as coincidence. I strolled over and picked up his notebook, hoping to get some clue as to who he was with when he was killed. I sighed as I realized that the thing had snapped shut upon falling to his lap. That was a minor hurdle however. I opened it and began to scan through the pages. It didn't take me long to discover why the man was the only one in town who worked with Magical Girls. The entire thing was filled with drawings, very naughty drawings of little girls. I skipped past most of it and came to near the end. It didn't take me long to spot a few pictures of Aika. The man was a very good artist, I had to give him that, being able to so accurately portray attributes that were covered with clothes at the time was quite a skill. I could personally attest to how accurate they were... well, from the waist up anyway. I skipped through it to the last page with a drawing on it and saw that the sketch was only half completed. It was also of Aika. My heart caught in my throat for a second but then I realized that didn't mean anything. It took hours (last I heard) to do a drawing and he might have been working from memory during another clients session. Still that meant that whoever it was had been very shortly after Aika's session. I felt my blood running through my veins and my heart seemed to beat slightly faster. That safely put this out of the realm of coincidence I thought. It also meant somebody was going to enjoy a slow death. I'd let Itami think it up, I might be merciful after the first week after all. I slipped the notebook into a pocket and went to his desk. The day planer had already been removed and I didn't have any more success at the fiel cabinent since a few files, Aika's among them, had been removed. After checking for cameras or bugs, not that I expected any, I stepped out into the waiting room. Aika was watching the door with a stern expression on her face. I cleared my throat and she turned to face me. Her eyes were like sharp crystal. "They were all killed professionally," she said, "One bullet per person to the head or the heart. Most were probably dead in the first few seconds." She gestured towards the two nearest the door, one of which was sprawled on the floor. "Those two were likely last, they look like they were trying to leave when they were hit." I grunted in my own best Itami impression and stepped over to the secretaries desk. I moved the body with another grunt and rifled the desk. No schedules or day planers here either. The rolodex was still there and I took that. They didn't have a computer, records like that were too easily copied for his clientele. "Who knows that you came here?" I asked her bluntly. "I'm not sure what you mean." "Did you tell anyone you were coming for counseling here?" I asked again. "Besides us I mean." "My parents knew," she said after a moment. "You didn't tell the police?" "No," she shook her head, "I just told them I was with Kasumi that afternoon. She can vouch for me." "Anybody else," I pressed on. "Patients you talked to, did he have another secretary?" She paused and walked over to the body of the secretary and picked it up by the hair. She looked at the face for a second and then let it drop. "This was the one that was here my last session," she said after a moment, "But I think another one was here my first visit." I grunted and looked around. "Go to the car," I said, "Get out the red canister and a few rags." I patted myself down. "And some matches." "What are you going to do?" "Burn this place down," I replied indifferently. "It isn't the best thing I can come up with but everything else takes too much time. Just do what I ask." "Oh no problem," she said with a vicious smile. "Can I light it?" I looked at her and cocked and eyebrow. "Why?" "I never liked this guy," she glared at the office. "He's a freak. All he does is ask generic garbage questions and write in his notebook. And his eyes..." she shuddered slightly. "I swear I felt like they were trying to stare right through me at times." I wisely avoided mentioning the notebook at that point and ordered here outside again. Once she was gone I fell to work making sure that everything would burn up clean. Once I was done and she had returned I let her light the fire and we ran down the stairs to the car in a hurry. We were around the corner before the flames became visible. As we left Aika turned to me with a question on her lips. "No," I responded. "I don't care if the porno store will burn down too. Hazard of the job, with all the heat and all..." She hit me at that point and in retrospect I think she was right to do so. *** It was almost five hours later and we were all gathered in the office. I took a quick look around to note off all the faces and evaluate them for a second. We were all in casual clothes, which varied from person to person. For Veracity it was a stunning outfit that looked vaguely like a skirt-suit spun with diamond thread. She was really pouring on the beauty juice as I had come to call it however and giving me slightly disgusted looks. Itami was unshaven and frumpled but not visibly armed, which was sometimes when he was most dangerous. H had redesigned her outfit a bit. It was not made mainly of black vinyl that fell around her in folds. It was cut in such as way that when she moved it seemed to shift around her like a second skin and reveal bits and pieces beneath however. For some reason she was constantly moving... mainly her neck across Itami's shoulder. Aika was back in her pastel dress, minus jacket and I was only carrying one gun (the other was on the desk). "We have a situation," I informed them all evenly. "Again?" H asked archly. "What is it this time, Ultra's long lost golden retriever puppy come back from the dead to kill us all?" "Be serious H," I drawled at her. "Have you heard about what happened yesterday." Itami grunted softly and H cast a strangely sympathetic look at Aika. I sometimes forgot that the reason H was the way she was because of trauma she had experienced around Aika's age. That brought, all unbidden, an image of Aika in H's outfit that made me feel equal parts unreasoning terror and unreasoning other thoughts I wasn't comfortable with at the moment. I tore my mind back to the present and the problem at hand. "I trust I don't need to go into too many details then," I said with a look at Aika. She didn't look like she noticed but then she was back in her "Itami Mode" and that meant she probably wouldn't have acknowledged it if I shot the ceiling full of holes. "We aren't letting the police handle that?" "No," I growled. "Especially not after today. Aika and I just came back from her shrink's office. He was killed, assassinated by someone who was a very good shot." Itami unlidded his eyes and I gave that a few seconds to sink in. "Also Murray seems to have left quite suddenly and without notice. He even left his vaults half full of cash when I checked them." "Somebody has it out for Aika?" Veracity asked. "I don't believe in coincidence anymore." "Suspects?" Itami added. "Too long to list," I waved my hand back and forth. "Aika herself hasn't pissed off anyone major but she works for us and we have. However whoever it is started this fairly recently as well. After I began to look around for job offers as the Fateless." "So you think it's tied to that?" H pursed her lips thoughtfully. "Yup, and there were six major players in that bidding war," I responded. "We took down Kaneko and one of the 'real' Ramsbottom's so that leaves only four." "Who's fourth?" Itami's eyes were strangely intent. "Well, we have Kyo and Mai but this isn't their style. Styx seems to have joined up with the Magical Women in Kaneko's place but this is too sloppy for her work. That leaves the Koi Ramsbottom and the next one. Order." "Order?" H asked. Veracity shuddered. "We got a visit from Styx last night, but it wasn't her." I went on to explain the meeting last night in as much detail as I could remember but I left out a few details such as my argument with Veracity afterward. I also filled them in on the trip to the doctors and everything I found there and my theories, though I left out the notebook in that case. When I was finished Itami took out a dagger and began to trim his beard with it. H was looking thoughtfully at the ceiling and Aika was staring at me with a slightly hurt look in her eyes. Veracity was quiet and had retreated behind her desk as if it were a castle. I pointedly did not look at her. "This is the real deal Yoi," H said after a moment. "I never listened to those lectures at the Magical Women's seminars very much... but I do know that only the actual Order could have enough power to take over Styx. This isn't a some minor Youma general or flunky Yoi. It isn't even an avatar like Ultra and Ramsbottom. It was an actual Cosmic Being. Capital C. Capital B." "Make my day why don't you..." I muttered. I wasn't willing to admit how much last nights interview had unnerved me yet. Not even Ultra had had the presence of that beast. "Example," Itami grunted and nodded to himself. "Come again?" Itami's face struggled for a moment and then he spoke. "The patient, who killed him. It could have been a Magical Girl Order possesed and had kill the doctor. Then had her kill Aika's folks." He fell silent again with a visible look of relief. "Nice theory love," H said, "But I think it has a few holes in it." "It is a good one though," I mused aloud. "Why would a Magical Girl use a gun," H pointed out. "Where would one even -get- a gun. They don't need them after all so they don't have the connections." "True," I admitted, "But lets not throw away the theory yet." "Leads?" Itami grunted again. "Just one," I said and pulled out a card from the rolodex. "This is the home address of Reinrix's other secretary. I want you to track her down, give her some light surveillance. She if she knows anything. If the police come asking around after her make sure they don't find her." Itami held up his dagger and looked at my inquisitively. "No," I shook my head, "I want her alive to answer questions if I decide to ask them." "I'll go with him," H smiled at me. "It's not a good idea to do survelliance alone." "Just keep your mind on the job." "All work and no play, Yoi." "Itami," I said in exasperation. "Trust me," he replied and H sighed. The motion did interesting things to her outfit. "What about you?" I took a moment to let it sink in that Itami was showing a lot of interest in all this. I looked at him hard and long and saw that twinkle in his eyes. That twinkle that said someone was going to pay a great deal. I snapped my eyes at Aika quickly and looked back. He grunted and I had my answer. It appeared I wasn't the only one who had taken a liking to her. That made me feel better for some reason. "I'm going to track down Murray," I replied finally. "The flying weasel must have gotten wind of all this somehow and knew that if someone was out for Aika he would be on the list. I want to know what he knows." "What if he's already dead?" Aika hadn't spoken in so long that it startled me slightly. She was stripping one of our assault rifles in the corner at the moment. "We'd have a body," I said, "Whoever this is doesn't seem to go for hiding evidence. Besides, I think you'd feel it. Magical Girls and their familiars are linked somehow." "You have no idea how much joy that brings me," she murmured in a barely audible voice. "I want you to stay here," I said bluntly. "You're the target of this campaign and I don't want you wandering around with the rest of us. Veracity should provide you decent backup." "No way!" she glared at me. "I'm coming with you, whether you like it or not!" "Okay," I relented and kept a straight face with a great deal of effort. "You can come with me if you want." *** We dropped H and Itami off a half hour from the secretaries house and then drove off for the other half of town. I only had to stop to fuel up first, but that was okay. I had plenty of money that I had cleaned out of Murray's office. "So how do you plan to find Murray?" Aika asked from beside me. She was still in her casual clothes but now carried a holstered Colt .45 and a AK-47. "You can't feel him can you?" I asked hopefully. "No," she shook her head. "Not really... Maybe." "Oh well," I shrugged. "Don't worry. I have a plan." "I'm so glad to hear that. I thought maybe you just planed to drive around in circles until you spotted a buzzard." "Be nice," I muttered and pulled out a cell phone. "Since when did you have enough money for a cell phone?" Aika asked as I began to punch in numbers. "I don't," I said calmly. "I swiped it out of Murray's stuff." I spent the next few minutes making calls and as I asked questions Aika began to give me more and more curious looks. When I was done I smiled at the last persons response and turned the car. "What did you do?" "I made some phone calls," I shrugged absently. She gave me a level look and I sighed dramatically. "Murray is a buzzard, that means he has very particular feeding habits. There are only so many places one can get access to corpses in the city and I know that Murray is much too lazy to try and find them in the city. Especially since he's grown flabby off the corpses I fed him. I know the numbers of most of the morgues in town, don't ask why, and I made some calls to see if anyone was missing a few. I struck paydirt." The neighborhood I drove us too could probably be described as "run-down" if one wanted to be polite. It was even worse than my neighborhood and I knew why. This was where the Koreans lived after all. I parked in a back alley and paid off a few local thugs to look after my car. Then flashed my gun at them in case they got creative. I pointed out the funeral parlor to Aika and we started over. The man who met us at the door was barely out of puberty and had the kind of hair one called "short" for lack of a better term. He spoke in a nasal coralto and had an attitude that reminded me of those geeks at school who spent all their hours in cram school and lording it over the rest of us who didn't get into university. I resisted the urge to slug him and paid him for the information. Apparently Murray had paid him a handsome sum to have a cadaver delivered to a back alley apartment. I paid him a bit more money for the address and left quickly. When we got back to the car I payed off the thugs again after checking to make sure everything was in the car and gave them a free tip about the brats new found wealth before I drove off. Yes it was petty, but I'm like that sometimes. *** The door gave in after the third kick and I stepped into the room with my gun drawn. The place was a shabby room with a couch that was more coil then cushioning and it smelled like a sewer. The only light came from the door I came through and the two windows high up on the wall filled with smoky glass and rusty iron bars. The wallpaper peeled and the floor was made of warped wood. I quickly stepped to the side to get my silhouette out of the doorway and winced as I came down on my foot. I had to remember I wasn't as strong in this body, otherwise I would keep getting painful reminders like that. Aika came in next, in Pretty Deadly mode commando style. I thought it was kind of pointless, Murray had obviously left in such haste that he hadn't had time to hire anyone worth mentioning in the personal protection field. The buzzard wasn't in the first room, so I indicated the backdoor and Aika strode over and smashed it in with one kick. I contained my jealously at that and went in first again. Murray was trying his best to wiggle out a window much too small for him. It was rather humourous actually and I let him struggle for a few more seconds before I grabbed him by the legs and yanked him unceremoniously to the floor. He landed in a dirty heap and spun to sqwuak at me in anger... until I pointed a gun straight in his face. "Murray," I began pleasantly, "How nice to see you again. You left with only a note, I hope you know how much that hurt my feelings." Murray backed into the corner of the dirty, smelly room and looked about like a caged rat. When his eyes feel on Aika his body seemed to tense and a glimmer of fear ran through his strangely human eyes. "Yoi," Murray said with a nervous kind of bird laugh. "Good to see you too." I sat down crosslegged in front of the bird and looked him square in the eyes. "Somebody is out there picking of the friends of one of my people Murray, and you know something you didn't feel needed sharing with the rest of us. I say you should come clean about now. They say confession is good for the soul after all." "Yoi," Murray spoke with a kind of sub-nasal whimper in his voice. There was something different about the bird. Then it hit me, he was really truly scared for his life. The carrion eater had always moved about with a sort of smug superiority that almost begged you to kill him most of the time. But now he was really scared. The animal part of his nature was showing through as he began to bob his head jerkily. "Yoi this is very bad. I can't tell you about it. I'll be killed!" "Whoever they are isn't here," I informed him coldly and cocked the hammer on my pistol before I inserted the muzzle into his collarbone. "I am. Worry about me." "You wouldn't!" "Try me." "Please Yoi," he said with a genuine plea in his voice. His eyes darted to Aika over and over again as if fascinated by the gun she carried. "I won't get out five words, you have to believe me." "Nobody is here buzzard." "Do you know that for sure?" "Aika," I called over my shoulder. "Go outside and clear out the alley. Make sure that no one is near this building." "But..." she began. "Please don't argue Aika." "Alright," she said in a resigned tone. Once she was gone Murray relaxed visibly and I felt that it would only be polite to remove the gun from his neck. I didn't put it away however and I stepped out of range of his beak should he feel the need to try something foolish. "Well?" I supplied. "Yoi," Murray hissed. "I mean it, I'll be killed. She'll kill me... she's not like she used to be..." "Slow down," I ordered flatly. "Who isn't like they're supposed to be?" "I can't tell you..." "This is getting tired Murray," I said and decided to throw civility to the wind at that point. I stood up and kicked him firmly in the wing. It snapped with a pleasing sound. Oh man how I had wanted to do that for the longest time. I waited a few seconds for the sqwuaks of pain and curses to quiet down then cocked my foot again. He shut up and began to nurse his wing with his beak at that point. "Tell me what I want to know or learn why hollow bones aren't noted for their sturdiness." He gave me a hard stare for a few seconds then sighed and nodded bleakly. "Lousy fleshbag," he muttered, "I'll tell you." "Go on," I prompted with my gun. "I left in such a hurry because I felt it happen Yoi. You already know who's been killing Aika's people. It's..." "Stop! You there!" It was Aika's voice, coming from somewhere outside. I heard it distinctly through the window in this room. I looked up and that was perhaps all that saved my life. I saw the gleam of metal and threw myself back as the room filled with lead. I took a slug in the arm anyway and collapsed to the ground with the gun flying from my limp hand. Murray wasn't half as lucky. He was obviously the main target because he took enough shots to cause him to explode in a cloud of bloody chunks and feathers. It wasn't pleasant and much of it landed on me. Aika gave a sort of shriek of pain and then there was more gunfire. I heard the sounds of bullets hitting wood and then a running footsteps retreating down the alley. Hot in pursuit another pair of footsteps approached the window. When they got there they slowed and Aiki looked in. Her face drained off blood when she saw me laying on the floor covered in blood. "Yoi!" she called. "I'll live," I growled and forced myself to my feet. "Get after them! Don't let them get away!" Aika's expression wavered and her eyes flitted from me to the alley and back again. "Go dammit! You're a professional, do your job!" Aika's face froze and then she was up and running again. I meanwhile was not running anywhere. I hissed slightly as I gingerly touched the wound in my arm. The bullet had gone in about halfway between my elbow and shoulder. It wasn't a clean wound, having not gone through but it seemed to have missed the bone and any major artieries. Still it bleed like a bitch and hurt like hell. I gingerly leaned over and picked up my gore splattered gun with my free hand and walked out of the apartment and up the stairs into the alley. The alley was only a slight improvement over the apartment, filled with overflowing garbage bins and with some unidentified liquid running down the center. My car was parked about ten meters away and I walked over streaming curses all the way. Inside I had a first aid kit and a few other essentials. I'd never been very good at this medicine shit, no where near as good as Itami was. Maybe it was all that info he had on how to best slice up people to kill them that helped him heal too. There was probably something profound in that but I was in no mood to contemplate it. I liberally doused both the wound and my mouth with scotch then set to work. Digging out the bullet was the hardest part, but it was accomplished with a small knife and a pair of tweezers. After it was over I was bleeding even more but at least that bullet wasn't in there. I applied another dolop of scotch to sterilize and began to wrap a bandage around it. I was just finishing up when Aika returned. She was running and that caused interesting movements that helped distract me from the pain for a few moments. She had a slightly chagrined look on her face and ran up to me. She immediately began in with the worrying and fussing over my wound but I cut through that as quick as possible with a few fines and a reminder that the sooner we got out of here the sooner I could get some decent treatment. "I take it our friend got away?" She nodded mutely. "Did you get a good look at him?" "No," she sighed. "He was dressed in some sort of cloak, I couldn't see a thing. I couldn't even tell if it was human." In our line of work, you had to eliminate all the possibilities. "Whoever it was used a gun," I replied immediately. "That points to a human. Youma and Magical Girls don't use guns very much." "What did Murray tell you?" "Nothing," I sighed. "He spouted some nonsense and before he could get to anything significant he was bird bits." I looked at her. "Why did you yell?" "I felt him die..." she looked down. "Well, not really, but I knew he was dead suddenly and I felt this kind of wrenching pain in the back of my head." She looked at me. "So this was a dead end wasn't it?" I grunted but nodded, not feeling up to speaking. Aika cursed for me for a few seconds, and I was slightly impressed at the versatility and proficiency of her dialogue. Finally she calmed down and looked at me critically. "Okay," she said in a commanding voice. "Get in the passenger seat. I want to get you back to Veracity so she can take a look at that arm." "Aika you don't know how..." "Now!" I sighed again. "Yes ma'am." *** "Sit still," Veracity said coldly. Upon seeing me enter she had calmly told me to strip to off my shirt and sit down. With Aika's help she had bullied me into doing it so I sat down and pulled off my shirt and handed the wounded arm to her. Now I was sitting in a rapidly cooling room with wearing only a sports bra above the waste and Veracity was probing my wound with what felt like an icepick. Aika was sitting on the desk watching me with a twinkle of amusement in her eyes. "What did you dig that bullet out with? A backhoe?" "Something about the size of whatever it is you have stuck in my shoulder," I growled and winced as she worked on me. "I told you to be still," she pulled back and examined her work. "We wouldn't want the wound to get infected now would we?" I mumbled unintelligibly and she rolled her eyes. Then she set to work on with the needle and thread. Some days I wished I was into drugs so I could be safely doped up on heroin by now. Veracity may not have much of a bedside manner but she was a quick and efficient field medic when she needed to be. In a few short minutes I was stitched up and given a fresh bandage. "I want you to lay off using that arm," Veracity informed me as I stood up. "Not happening," I replied. "This is my trigger arm." "If you rip those stitches in the middle of a firefight and suddenly drop your gun from the pain don't blame me," she shrugged. "Go clean up while your at it," she added. "You're covered in gore." I mumbled something impolite under my breath and went to the bathroom. The bathroom at are office was not what one called neat or attractive. It only had one naked bulb dangling from the ceiling on a wire and the walls were yellow. It was clean however. Both Itami and I had decided early on to clean the thing at least once a week, taking turns. I may be a slacker most of the time but even I didn't like a putrid bathroom. I looked at myself in the mirror and began to search for the gobs of Murray that were stuck in my hair. I winced as I realized what a mess I was, covered from head to toe in blood and other unmentionable things. I started with my hair, rinsing it out in the sink repeatedly and combing out the gore. That took me a few minutes and then I started with a wash cloth to the face. It wasn't long before I'd cleared off all the blood. Blood was remarkably easy to get off skin when it was still wet. It was when cloth that it sunk into like a bad habit. Still, my face looked a mess even after I had taken it out. I stopped suddenly as I replayed the last few seconds in my mind and realized something. I hadn't even shown a bit of surprise when I'd seen my face. Granted it still looked a bit like my old masculine face but there were notable differences none-the-less. My heart sank and I forced myself to admit that I was so used to this body now that I barely even noticed it anymore. It appeared you really could get used to anything in time. Hell, it had been so long that my last period had only been a nuisance in my eyes. As I looked back I realized that I had broken a lot of the promises I had made to myself back when this had started. I had begun to take a more active concern with my looks for one thing. I hadn't even shaved daily before this. I also winced as I recalled that I had dressed up as a woman not once but twice. One of those times had been for no better reason than to try and seduce that incompetent Ootaki. I was sick when I realized that I had pulled that off at the time with barely a qualm. I began to see a crazed look in my eyes and all sorts of wild fears began to plague me just behind my conscious thought. It was no time for me to get officially desperate about getting my manhood back. Neck time I saw an opportunity I would take it, even if it involved a trip to the gates of hell. I suppressed a shudder and went back to cleaning myself. It only took a few minutes to clean off the rest of me. Most of the blood had been on my clothes not my body. Still I had to strip down to my underwear and pull out a spare suit from where we kept them under the counter. It was while I was pulling on my pants that I looked in the mirror and saw Aika standing there. I had no idea how long she had been there and I silently gave her a few points for stealth. Then again, I may have been distracted by my own problems a few seconds ago. She was leaning against the closed door and had on an expression I found impossible to read. I cursed silently as I remembered that she was going through her own hell at the moment and my little problem (poor choice of words! I swear!) didn't really stack up. I smiled my most charming smile at that point and looked at her in the mirror. "Did you have something to tell me," I said aloud, "Or did you just come to watch?" "Yoi..." she began with a slight tremble in her voice and I turned around quickly. I saw tears welling up in her eyes that the foggy mirror had hidden from me and I stepped over to her quickly. She didn't say anything else, she simply collapsed into my arms sobbing like a child. I clenched her perhaps a bit too tightly, pressing her against my body and trying to smoother her with my warmth. She didn't say anything, only cried like a hose onto my shoulder. I kissed her on the cheek and mouthed platitudes I knew from past experience were not, strictly speaking, true. I've mentioned in the past that I am not good at the comfort game but I guess a bit of practice had made me better at it. Aika calmed down to the point that she was only moaning and the tears fell in spurts after a few seconds. I don't want to sound like a heel but I was really glad to see this. It meant that Aika wasn't repressing the pain this time and that maybe it wouldn't blow out of her all at once like last time. I smiled to myself and felt kind of proud of her. It was then I realized I loved her. This was different from just a sexual attraction, or a sentimental attachment. It was different even from the feelings for Reika. I knew that if this tiny, slightly psychotic, girl was hurt then I would feel whatever she felt a thousand fold. I know it sounds like garbage, but it was the way I felt and at the time I was probably even ready to listen to few speeches on the subject. Short ones. And no songs. Finally her sobs died down entirely and I pushed her away a little and tilted her chin to look at me. I was only slightly taller than her. I looked her straight in the eyes and smiled. "We'll get this bastard," I said simply, "And when we do you get to decide when they die." She smiled at me and I saw that fierce predatory look in her eyes which nearly caused me to laugh. I kissed her on the cheek instead. Then I kissed her again, on the lips this time. Then we started to get fairly serious. That was when H showed up. I swear the universe has it out for me or something. "Yoi You'll never... oh," H stopped and stood in the doorway with a rakish smile on her lips. "I see." Aika and I flew apart like bullets and ended up on opposite sides of the room. She was looking more than a little shamefaced and I was feeling a tad pissed off. I tried absently to cover my chest with my arms. "Don't you ever knock H?" "And miss all the interesting things I see?" she laughed a naughty little laugh. "You have got to be kidding." She looked me up and down and I saw her smile knowingly. I felt heat in my cheeks and cursed myself for blushing. H would never let me live that down. "Well don't let me interrupt, this can wait you to can pick up where you left off." I glared at her and Aika found something intresting to look at on the wall. H looked at us both speculatively for a moment and then laughed naughtily again. "Don't tell me... don't tell me I interupted the first time!" Her laugh did intersting things to her costume I noted in passing. "Itami and I thought you two had been at it for at least a month now," she breathed between laughs. "If you want I can give you some instructions on how to make the first time -very- memorable. It gets a little confusing with two women right at the start but once you get going..." "H!" I practically screamed. "Yes Yoi?" she asked innocently. "Did you have a reason you wanted to speak with me?" I kept my voice fairly level, all things considered. "It can wait." "H!" She sighed melodramatically. "Very well," she smiled at Aika who was blushing like a four alarm fire. "I just thought you might like to know that we found where Koi is hiding out is all." I nearly kissed her, but given the circumstances wisely decided against it. *** The shrine was fairly famous around this part of tone. They said it was consecrated to every single one of the shinto kami. Which must have been quite a feat, considering how many of them there were. Still it wasn't famous on a national level. It was too small for one thing. And the neighborhood didn't attract tourists. The fences were a little run down looking and the yard a little weed choked as a result of the poor money flow as a result. It wasn't the beauty that made it famous around here however, but the fact that the monk inside had a few rooms he rented out no questions asked and the police never thought to look in a holy place. I was on the roof across the street, scanning the premises with a pair of short range binoculars. The other three were scattered about on the remainder of the roof in their work clothes. H had even changed her costume back to the tight leather contraption she preferred to work with. I couldn't see anything below but that wasn't surprising. If Koi had half my instincts he wouldn't walk around in such a sniper friendly zone unless his life depended on it. As I watched I ran over H and Itami's story again. They had followed the secretary easily enough but then had been surprised when she ha transformed into a Magical Woman and gone to the rooftops. H had no problem following her however and she came here. It was in the doorway that she met one of the Ramsbottoms. H snuck in and listened at the window for a few minutes while they talked. Koi revealed his identity in the discussion and they discussed the "new campaign" to get at me. My fingers tightened on the binoculars at the images that called up. H had prudently left at that point to go fetch Itami and report back. After the incident in the bathroom and a quick explanation I had set out on a plan. It was time I eliminated Koi once and for all, or more accurately that I give Aika a chance to do it herself. I mean, it all fit together. Koi was one of the forces arrayed against me, he not only knew how to use and get guns but if he was anything like me would have preferred them. The only niggling part was that this wasn't his, or my, style. We killed our marks, not their family. Still even if he wasn't directly responsible I wasn't about to let him go this time. I patted my pocket and the special gun that Murray had wiped up for me before he left this plane. No, not the pudding gun. That was only useful on beings like the real Ramsbottom. This was designed specifically for Koi. I put down my binoculars and walked across the roof to the others. "So what's the plan?" Aika asked intently. "Same as we discussed in the office," I said. "You and H make a distraction out front while I slip in back." I paused. "Slight change of plans. Itami comes with me instead of providing back up for you. We grab Koi and the two of you finish off any guards he has. Then we leave with him and have a nice long discussion." "Crude," Itami criticized. "I don't have time to make a good plan," I hissed. "Koi could disappear down a rabbit-hole if I took all night to cook one up. If he is behind all this he knows I'm after him by now." Itami grunted and nobody else saw fit to comment at that point. "Let's go," I said simply and we did. *** There was no backdoor to the shrine but Itami took care of that with a few swings of his katana at the bamboo fence. Bamboo was a wonderful material but not the strongest stuff in the world after all. We snuck in quietly, sticking to long sunset shadows. The noise from out front was a cacophony. Explosions, gunfire and the sizzle of burning ozone told me that H and Pretty Deadly were fully engaged by now. I looked around and up the small hill to the shrine proper. Nobody was around so I signaled a run from Itami and we started up. The shrine itself was a one story building build along traditional lines. The front was a roofed porch with a long shrine to all the various kami the place was consecrated too. The back, I knew from experience, was three rooms against the back wall, each with a window and connected to the main room by ricepaper screen doors. Itami boosted me up and I looked in one of the windows, seeing it was clear I slipped through and dragged Itami up after me. I made a mental note to ask him to lose some weight. I heard voices on the other side of the screen and I recognized Ramsbottom's voice. The other was a girl and I didn't know who that was. "...don't care if they are magical girls," Koi was explaining. "They're trying to kill you, so I suggest you fight back." I recognized the tone he was using. It was the one I used when I wanted someone to understand I was on the verge of killing them. "R-right," the girl replied and quickly left the room. Apparently she had recognized the tone too. I didn't want to waste time however. If Koi was ordering off all his flunkies then he was getting ready to bolt. What I did next was very stupid but I was too angry and desperate to care at that point. I leapt through the screen, my special new gun drawn and began to look for Koi. He wasn't there however. Instead what I saw in the middle of the room was a tape recorder set to play. I had a second to curse and then I felt someone push me roughly to the floor. The concussive blast of the bullet came to my ears the same moment I hit the floor. I was already up and rolling, dodging another bullet that gouged the wood where I had been sprawled. I saw the Koi Ramsbottom stepping out of the front with a glock in his hands. Then I cast a quick look over my shoulder to see if Itami was covering me. He wasn't. He was on the floor. He was bleeding. A lot. My breath caught in my throat but I couldn't see where he had been hit or how badly. His back was too me however. It came to me that I had stopped, and that would have been my last fatal mistake if I hadn't heard the breath catch in Koi's throat. I spun and leapt, bringing my new gun to bear on him. He responded instantly and also brought his gun to bear. It was a face off, just like all those scenes in the John Woo movies I used to watch as a kid. "This can kill you permanently Koi," I told him. "So can this," he replied with a little wave of the glock. "Don't do that!" I roaredand tightened my finger on the trigger a bit. His eyes narrowed and he tightened his own until we both relaxed a bit. He didn't move his gun again. "I'm going to make sure you take a few weeks to die Koi." "I didn't mean to hurt Itami," he explained. "I thought you were coming in the back alone." I wasn't in the mood for explanations. Besides Koi was me and he knew damn well that I didn't like to go into a firefight without back-up. "Shut up," I growled. "I don't have anything to say to you. Not after what you did to Aika's life." "That wasn't my idea," an expression of chagrin crossed his debonair english face. "She did the actual killings herself, except Murray of course. But neither of us liked Murray." "Who?" "And spoil the surprise?" he actually laughed tightly. "You know me better than that. Secrets are Ramsbottom's stock and trade after all." "Bastard..." "I suggest you let me go Yoi," he said with a sudden deadly seriousness. "Itami is bleeding to death over there and I really didn't intend to kill you anyway. It was a gut wound, meant to cripple you. She wants you alive." I struggled with my conscience for a few seconds. Trying to get it to see the right of killing Koi here and now but it finally got on my case about how many times Itami had put his neck on the line for me and how this was all my fault anyway for charging in like an idiot. I uncocked the hammer of my gun and lowered it. Koi did the same and then with a wink he stepped outside and was gone. *** "How is he?" Aika asked as she stepped into the room. She held up a styrofoam coffee cup which I took and drank from greedily. The waiting room was like that of any hospital. Spartan, sterile and a disgusting shade that seemed designed to make sure that if you didn't come in sick you would be soon enough. The chairs were standard, black and about as comfortable as sitting on the floor. Aika sat down next to me and looked across the way to Kasumi for a second then back to me. "The doctors say he'll live," I spoke with a hollow voice. "The bullet was lodged in his kidney and they had to operate to get it out. He'll likely lose the kidney. It should be a week before he's back on his feet." "Yoi I..." she trailed off. "Did Kasumi calm down?" "Once we got her to change back from H she did," I said with a dull voice. "I probably should have let her go after Koi. I needed her here however." I had felt kind of guilty when I had smacked her in the face with the fact that she needed to protect Itami since I would be busy to get her to come with us, but that was life. "She'll get over it," I spoke again. "It was only a wound." I left the "this time" unspoken. "Let's get you home," she said finally. "You need some sleep. You can decide what to do about this in the morning." We left at that point and I noted on the way out a small irony. This was the same hospital Itami had been taken too after he had been beaten up by Captain Kawaii. I thought back and smiled wryly as it came to me that I could probably safely say that all this shit began to happen when Ultra hired me to take out that little psychopath. *** It was late and I couldn't sleep. Aika was conked out in my room again and I was one the couch. That wasn't the reason I couldn't sleep however. Visions of this evenings engagement kept running through my head and I kept trying to rewrite it to make it seem right. I knew it was all my fault that Itami had been hurt. And this coming on the heels of my encounter with Order left me feeling strangely powerless and alone. I growled and smacked myself in the head. I couldn't afford to begin to feel sorry for myself. Now more than ever I needed a cool head. I took out the gun Murray had made for me and examined it to keep my mind from wandering back into dangerous territory. The gun was a simple deal, a single chambered pistol small enough to be hidden inside your socks or somewhere else nconspicuous. It may have only one bullet but that was all I could afford. I opened the chamber and looked at that bullet with a certain amount of pride. It was covered in etched symbols, all mystical in origin. The bullet was designed to send the soul of whoeever it hit straight to Hell. That seemed a fitting end for Koi, especially after that ambush. Then I remembered that ambush and something Koi had said came back to me. He had expected me to come in the back alone. But he was me, and knew damn well I didn't go anywhere without back-up. The only time I had considered it was back in the office when we were making plans and I was still too pissed to think very straight. I'd wanted Koi all to myself. But Koi had set that... trap with just me in mind. That started the gears rolling and things began to fall into place. I remembered a lot of the things people had been saying the past few days. Koi's mysterious she, the woman Murray had been pointing to. Even a couple of incidents in the past where our operations had gone sour for no reason I could think of. A cold lump formed in the pit of my stomach as an explanation surfaced. Somebody in my office was a traitor. And had no idea who. I needed a drink at that point and so I went to the fridge and belted back a half a beer in one gulp. With that pleasantly out of my way I wandered back to the couch with another one in hand. I looked around and saw my recently stained trenchcoat hanging on the hook. I suddenly remembered the notebook inside and went to go have a look. I skipped to the back and the half-completed picture of Aika and began to try and think of who could have been in after her. Try though I might I couldn't come up with a way for either H or Veracity to be there, for various reasons. Then I noticed something, the drawings were only on the front of the page. There were notes on the backs of them. I skimmed through it and noticed some pretty thorough notes describing people's various mental maladies. Then I began to read through Aika's notes. Call it need-to-know information at that point and privacy be damned. What I read wasn't pleasant. Reinrix had only had three sessions with Pretty Deadly but he had managed to get some amazing insights in that time. He knew about her gun fetish for one thing, and about how she was a magical girl not by her own choice and how that still rubbed the wrong way most of the time. There was one interesting bit of information, and that was that Aika was a very confirmed heterosexual. Apparently she'd talked about our relationship a lot and it had come out that she wasn't really comfortable with my new body but was reacting to me almost despite herself. Somehow that made me feel a little better. Their were half-completed notes on the back of the final page and apparently the doc had finally begun in on the incident with Kawaii. It was pretty standard stuff until about half-way down the page where it ended abruptly with the letters "MPD?" scrawled in big letters. I frowned at that and tried to remember where I had heard the words before. "Yoi you're still up?" I turned to Aika with a guilty look and dropped the notebook to the floor. Trying to look casual I kicked it under the couch. Aika was siloheutted in the back light from my bedroom. "Yeah I couldn't sleep." "Hmmm," she said and stepped forward. "Maybe we both need a bit of comforting now." As soon as she stepped out of the backlight I noticed two things. The first was that the buzz from my beer was just coming on. The second was that she was completely naked. My breath caught in my throat as she walked over and leaned down over me. "I think so, don't you?" "I..." words escaped me at the moment. She gave me a fairly serious kiss and began to wrap her arms about me. Instinct began to take over at that point and I tried valiantly to fight it off. "I don't think this is a good idea..." "Yes," she said simply and kissed me again. This time it lasted long and went deep. She tasted like strawberries. "I think it isn't a good idea too." Then she was kissing me again and her hands were sliding the shirt off my back... *** I will only say that H was right. It was a little confusing at first but once we got the hang of it... well, I wasn't exactly aching after my manhood for a while there if you catch my drift. I got the impression Aika was pleased with the way things turned as well. *** The next day was raining and cold and miserable but I didn't particularly care. Aika and I drove to the office together that day and talked back and forth about meaningless subjects. At the very least I was more cheerful today and could even manage a smile or two despite the circumstances. Veracity looked at us both critically when we came in and a knowing twinkle entered her eyes. I didn't even blush but instead gave her a long wink. She rolled her eyes and I sat at my desk. Aika began to strip and clean our weapons cabinet and I tore my eyes away from her long enough to get to work. I needed to think of some plan so I began to play darts again. My mind jumped from topic to topic like a hyperactive grasshopper however and I don't think I was going to get very much done that day. Veracity told me I had an appointment that morning and I latched onto that. I told her we weren't taking clients but was a little surprised when she told me who it was. "What do those two want with us this time?" I grumbled. "I'm sure they'll tell you when they arrive." "It better be good," I sighed, "I thought our business with them was done when we killed of Kaneko and the last of the evil Ultra extended family." "They apparently don't think so." They arrived a half hour later and I was waiting for them. I even had the special gun on my desk just in case. I wasn't particularly worried, Kyo and Mai may not like what I do but we had a sort of professional respect going and we stayed away from each other unless our interests coincided. I wasn't all that sure I wanted to know what would happen where our interests started to conflict. It was inevitable, but that was another problem. The half-breeds came into my office and I knew immediately that Mai was in a near rage. I knew also from Kyo's expression that it wasn't at me. The both were dressed in androgynous white business suits. Apparently heaven didn't take to cross-dressing during official business. "To what do I owe the pleasure?" I drawled as an opening. "You've gotten our feathers in the fire again Yoi," Mai accused. "It isn't his fault Mai," Kyo placated. "Care to explain?" "Night before last you had a visitor," Mai said simply. "Oh Order you mean? Yeah, he dropped by for a talk," I kept my voice steady and casual with some effort. "The problem is that he took Styx to do it," Kyo explained. "She complained to the management about it, it was very bad manners from him." "And how does this effect me?" "The management doesn't want Order directly involved in this so they sent us to make sure that you didn't piss it off," Mai explained with a frown. "We were just minding our own business when He showed up and gave us our orders. We're supposed to give you whatever you want to come work for heaven, He doesn't want you out of his sight now." "He?" I asked. Mai gave me a long steady look and it suddenly came to me who she meant. I blinked. "You mean..." they nodded. "Uh, technically I don't believe in Him you know." "I'm sure that breaks his heart," Mai snapped. "Well Yoi," Kyo said simply. "That's it, you've won. Heaven will give you anything you want to contract with them. Name your terms." I leaned back to think this over. It sounded too good to be true. Which meant it probably was. "Let's start simple then," I said. "I want to be a man again." "Uh..." Kyo looked down. "Actually that's the one thing we can't do." "What?" I snapped. "He explained it to us," Mai said with a certain smug grin. "Apparently you still technically count as a Magical Girl and he won't remove that from you. He said something about you solving your own problems first." My eyes were flinty and my voice level as I replied. "Technically a Magical Girl?" "Well," Kyo said, "Yes and no. The soul of a magical girl is tethered to your own and until you get rid of it you will never be able to become a man again." "Whose soul?" "It's..." The next few seconds went by in a flash. I heard Aika transform and then yank me to the side. Then her hands grabbed the gun off my desk and raised it to point at Kyo. She pulled the trigger with military precision and the bullet leapt from the chamber. It hit Kyo full in the face and it she seemed to dissolve in a spray of blood and brains. I feel to the floor and then rolled to my feet and looked at her in shock. She was cursing a blue streak and trying to shot Mai but the chamber was empty. Something was happening to Kyo and I looked to see a sort of blue light escaping from her body. Then as it was in the process of rising it stopped and was sucked back into her wound where it flashed red and disappeared. Aika had just sent Kyo's soul to Hell. Mai screamed out his sisters name and fell down next to her. I looked at Pretty Deadly who had turned to look at me too. "What?" "You still haven't figured it out?" she said then smiled. "Maybe this will help." Then her costume changed and I realized with a shock that I recognized it. I also knew what soul was tethered to my own. "Captain Kawaii..." I breathed. "Nice to see you again Yoi," she smiled and pulled out a bigger gun. "You don't mind if I kill Mai now do you. I need her gone so I can take your body. This one is okay but a little young for my tastes. Oh, and you're as good in bed as I thought you'd be." Then everything clicked and I began to curse. I even invented a few on the spot.