Afterword, Part 2

 

Chapter 5

The day dawned brightly. Jun woke refreshed, with the surprising feeling of being hungry. Clearly, she was using much more energy now that she had an arm again than she had during all those days of near-immobility.

After the Fall, she thought, then corrected herself - it was too easy to get caught up in media buzzwords - after she had defeated Asuka, after her wounds healed, after the sun once again rose on her city without screams of pain echoing through the streets, she had walked around a little. She had watched as the children played, blessedly unaffected by the fear that had nearly destroyed the world. And she had smiled as she saw tails, horns and wings add a fetching new component to the raw beauty of youth.

But then the reality of it all had set in. The death toll figures had mounted, and mourning had begun for real. And the darkness that had lifted from Tokyo had settled firmly over Jun, when she realized that her arms would not come back, and neither would any of the multitudes she had killed. Kazumi would never come back. Jun had lain down in her bed and simply ceased moving. While the city rebuilt and humanity continued, Jun had stopped.

Samuelson Laboratories had sent a nurse to care for her – Jun supposed they felt partially responsible, and she had been content to let them feel that way. It was not her job to give them absolution for their role in the spread of the Devil Beast Progress. They had flown her to America once a month for tests, for more tests, then for training and treatment. Then for surgery - and therapy, both physical and psychological.

Jun had gratefully accepted the physical training, but had declined to speak at all to the counselor they had provided. It wasn't out of reticence...she had declined to speak out of pity. She had believed that no one should have to hear about the things she went through - no one should have to share that kind of pain.

She pulled the blinds aside and let the morning sun into the apartment. Dust became immediately apparent in the air, caught mid-motion in the sunbeams. Jun watched in fascination for a short while, then turned and surveyed the room.

With a kind of trepidation, she took in the grungy surfaces of her desk, the table, sideboard and the undusted photos and books. She sighed heavily and turned to look out at the sparkling morning.

*If I'm going to be alive then I had better begin right here,* she thought. It was time to clean the apartment.

 

Many slow hours later, after kitchen and bathroom, after three loads of laundry carefully and laboriously folded, after many windows, Jun was ready to crawl into her bed and sleep for three days. The shadows were long and the sun on the other side of the building. Her apartment was cool and dark...and clean. She sank onto a chair with a loud, self-satisfied groan.

The phone rang.

Jun stared at it in mingled amusement and annoyance. It was a wrong number.

The phone rang again, then a third time: Jun watched it, half hoping that whoever it was would give up, or realize they had the wrong number. No one knew this number - no one local. And there was no reason to be receiving phone calls from America at this time of day.

The phone rang again and Jun stood, slowly, unsure of why she was even bothering to answer it.

One the fifth ring she lifted the receiver and spoke into it quietly.

"Fudou-san?" The voice was male, energetic, pleasant. "This *is* the phone number of Fudou Jun? Hello? Hello?"

Jun jumped. She had been so shocked to hear her name, she hadn't responded. "Yes, I'm Fudou."

"Fudou-san! I'm so glad this number worked. I don't know if you remember me, my name is Kandagawa, I work with Ommi, the sister publication of Kiki..."

The words blurred in Jun's ear. She wasn't able to handle the noise. Her head hurt all of a sudden and she began to shake. "I'm sorry," she interrupted the voice, "I don't think I can help you."

"But Fudou-san - just an interview and maybe a picture or two..."

"No," she said, her voice quiet, but firm. "I don't think that would be a good idea. I don't model anymore."

This last sentence seemed to have gotten through. Kandagawa hemmed a little, then said, "Okay, no photos...maybe just one, for the article...or maybe the cover...and an interview."

Jun shook her head in irritation. "I don't think, Kandagawa-san," she said coldly, "that your readers would want a picture of me these days."

There was a prolonged silence, then Kandagawa said, "Fudou-san. I think you're wrong." His voice was intense. "And I think I can convince you of that. Will you agree to meet me at least? For tea or coffee somewhere - your choice?"

Jun considered for a moment, then surprised herself by saying yes. She had nothing to lose - nothing to gain, perhaps, but a reason to go outside.

"Great!" The energy was back in his voice. "Tell me where and when and I'll be there - no camera this time, but with a tape recorder if it's okay, and we'll talk a little." He paused for a moment. "I don't think you realize how popular you are, Fudou-san. More than you ever were in the old days."

Jun laughed a little at that. "Yes, I can tell. My agent has to beat the interview offers off." But the smile slid from her face at the thought of her late agent.

Kandagawa's voice lowered conspiratorially. "That's because they didn't know where to find you. Mark my words, Fudou-san, your phone will soon be ringing off the hook."

Jun shook her head at the misplaced optimism, but chose a place and time for the assignation. It couldn't hurt, could it? She had done so many before - and after all, wasn't she the aging star? Magazine interviews were the inevitable result of a past career. She finished with the usual formalities and put the phone down in its cradle.

The phone rang.

Jun's gaped at it. Kandagawa's prediction coming true? The phone rang several times before Jun picked it up.

"Jun-san?" Akami's voice flowed over Jun like warm water. She found herself smiling into the receiver as the girl talked. "I'm sorry to call so soon, I'm sorry to call at all, but I had an idea about dinner and wanted to know if you thought...well, if you'd like to come over." Akami's voice sounded breathy, rushed, as if she was afraid she might be cut off before she was done. Or as if she were scared she might not be able to get it out at all, Jun supposed.

"I thought you might prefer to come to my place, because then you won't have to clean up and I have all the right tools and you don't have a big kitchen and I don't want to impose on you." Jun could hear the girl take a deep breath and tried not to laugh audibly.

"That sounds nice." Jun hoped she kept the smile out of her voice.

"Really? Well, good. Then, could you come over tomorrow, maybe like six o'clock or so?"

"Akami," Jun said suddenly. "Thank you."

"What? Sure! I mean, I said I'd make you dinner..."

"No," Jun interrupted, "not for that. For...bringing me back to life."

There was silence on the other end of the phone. Jun worried that she had scared the girl, but then Akami's voice came again, and this time there was something new in the tone, something deep and full of longing and sadness and maturity. "Did I? I'm glad, Jun."

And suddenly there was nothing more to be said, so they rang off.

Jun sat back down in her chair, and looked with pride around her apartment, then thought of tomorrow, for the first time in months - or was it years - without dread.

That night, when she slept, she did not dream at all and when she awoke, the pillow with burnt edges was on the floor.

 

Chapter 6

 

Jun looked around the restaurant with both anticipation and fear. There was a time when her agent would have had this set up for her - the interviewer prepared and vetted, with a list of subjects that Jun would and would not discuss. She idly wondered what some of the "would not discuss" subjects had been. She suspected that her love life was frequently on that list.

A young man leapt from his seat at a corner table as she entered the room. She approached him with a smile and held out her hand to shake his. It was a conscious decision and she watched with some satisfaction as he took in the gesture, then grasped the hand warmly.

He waited for her to sit, then seated himself. Jun found herself liking this Kandagawa, despite her initial concerns.

"Thank you for coming on such short notice," he said with a cheeky smile, but his face became serious almost at once. "Fudou-san, I want to assure you that I am not a tabloid muckraker, nor do I wish to create scandal or controversy. I admire your modeling work, and I admire you - and so do our readers. Last year you were voted most popular celebrity in every poll we ran. This interview is meant to be serious and sensitive and if anything I ask is even remotely offensive, I beg your pardon in advance."

Jun inclined her head a little in acknowledgement. "I will do my best to answer your questions, Kandagawa-san."

The young interviewer was as good as his word. The questions focused on her career, her plans, the past, but in such a general and mild way that Jun began to relax. Nothing along the lines of "What was it like being a murderous mutated monster?"

Kandagawa took a deep breath as Jun finished answering a question. He leaned forward and turned the tape recorder off, closed his notebook and sat back. "I have one more question, Fudou-san, but this is entirely off the record. And please don't answer it if you don't wish to. It is entirely for my own personal curiosity and is incredibly rude."

Jun felt her muscles clench. What would it be? The possibilities whirled around her brain, each more horrific than the last.

"My question is this," Kandagawa's voice shook a little, as if he feared the response he would get. He leaned forward with an intense expression. "Can you...can you still become the Devilman?"

It was at that point that Jun noticed that what she had thought was a strangely textured coat, was in fact, a pair of wings, tightly furled against Kandagawa's back.

Jun looked him in the eyes and said, "I don't know."

He released a deep breath, as if he had been holding it, and sat back. Something in his eyes seemed disappointed, but he smiled to cover it up and thanked her repeatedly for her time. She watched him leave the restaurant; his recorder and notebook tucked tightly under one wing.

Jun leaned back and closed her eyes for a moment. It was true - she had no idea if she could change anymore and all of a sudden it struck her as odd.

 

Jun felt like a complete fool. She was pretty sure she looked like one, too. It was twilight and the streets were crowded with people returning home after work and school. Jun moved slowly through the throng, amazed once again at the resilience of humanity. Here they were, mere months after a national emergency that had affected them all and killed many; stopping at shops, buying food, rushing home to loved ones.

Those that had loved ones to return to.

Jun shook herself out of the impending melancholy - she would not return to the darkness today. She smiled at a child who bumped into her, and ran off, her hooves clicking delicately on the sidewalk.

Her hand was clutched tightly around a bouquet of spring flowers, and the fragrance of a garden on a sunny day filled her nostrils. The sky was filling with stars, visible again in the city now that so many of the buildings whose lights had hid them were gone. She felt her cheeks warm a little, as she thought once again of her ridiculous behavior.

After the interview with Kandagawa, Jun had wandered the streets for a while, watching the people, visiting places she hadn't had a chance to see in a while. Her old apartment building still stood, but was being rebuilt. Her agency was no more than a pile of rubble. Eventually her meanderings had landed her in a rebuilt shopping area, in front of a new dress shop.

Jun had watched the dressers tweak folds into place on a mannequin's shoulder. She remembered clearly what it had been like to be the model everyone wanted...and before she could stop herself, she had stepped into the shop.

An hour later, Jun had a new outfit. She had gone home and spent the next hour showering, dressing, doing her hair and makeup in a way that caused her to blush every time she thought about it.

And now she looked down at the flowers in her hand and blushed once again. She was acting like it was a date - there wasn't any way around it. A giggle escaped her lips, and she clamped her mouth shut before she could draw too much attention to herself. But it was too late; the giggle welled up and pushed past her will to tumble from her mouth. People near her edged away, but she couldn't take offense. She was too happy to be upset at anyone. She was going to have dinner with a virtual stranger, and the night was crystal clear and beautiful. The smile never left her face as she walked.

 

Chapter 7

 

Jun looked down at the directions in her hand and checked the name against the plaque on the wall. This was the right place, only...

The front of the restaurant was dark, but a light shone from the back. Jun pushed the door open and entered the building. It had once been, she noted, a small noodle place. Now the tables and chairs stood in varying stages of decay. Equipment had been ripped out of the walls and the shelves were denuded. Jun looked up as a light snapped on and she heard footsteps on the stairs.

"Jun?" Akami's voice came from above. "Go through into the kitchen, the stairs are on your left. I'm sorry I can't come down, I don't want the asparagus to overcook...come on up." Her footsteps retreated and Jun followed the directions into the ruined kitchen. The stairs were there, or at least most of them were. Enough to climb, if one was careful. Strange, somewhat unpleasant stains covered the walls and Jun kept her hand clutching the flowers in front of her. The hall was dingy, but delightful smells wafted down the drafty stairwell and drew Jun forward.

The door to Akami's place stood ajar and Jun could see directly into the small apartment. It had been a two-bedroom place, tight for a family, but precious in this over-populated city. Someone had pulled down the walls at some point, leaving the raw wood of the supports exposed. Jun could make out a futon folded into one corner and small personal items laid out around the space - but the bulk of the apartment was taken up by the kitchen. Or it might be more accurate to say that the kitchen had taken over the rest of the apartment. Multiple stoves and refrigerators and freezers stood in stiff ranks along two walls, and a large, makeshift work island filled the space between. An amazing array of pots, pans, woks and utensils covered every surface, laid out on racks and shelves all around the strange room. What space remained was filled with dried ingredients, spices and herbs and jars.

Akami was moving around comfortably, adding a pinch or two of something to a pot, slicing garnishes with quick flicks of her wrist and laying the food out neatly on chargers.

A small table crouched as far away from the enormous kitchen as possible, as if afraid of the large appliances. Jun instantly sympathized with it.

Akami looked up with a smile, "I'm sorry - I got kind of caught up in this. It'll be a few minutes. Would you like something to drink?" She gestured towards an overfull rack of wine. "Come on in and pick something."

Jun removed her shoes carefully and entered, swinging past what appeared to be a large freezer, as she entered the crowded room. "I brought you these," she said a bit haltingly. "Do you have a vase?"

Akami's face scrunched up in thought, "I think I have a few in the dark cabinet near the second refrigerator - over there." She waved a hand that held a whisk towards one of the appliances. Jun found a vase easily - it looked like something a restaurant might have had on a table - and arranged the flowers neatly. She placed the vase on the low table, then returned to watch the girl move about the kitchen.

"Thank you for the flowers." Akami's hair covered her eyes from this angle, but Jun could hear the pleasure in her voice. "They're beautiful." She looked up with a quick smile. "And so are you. I feel completely frumpy in comparison,"

Jun waved away the compliment, but inwardly felt warmed by the words. "Is all this...stuff...from restaurants?" she asked to draw attention away from herself.

"Yeah. My uncle was an okonomiyaki cook before he...before." Akami poured out a pale yellow sauce into a gravy boat. "Afterwards...after Naru was gone and my aunt and uncle, I used what we had in the shop downstairs. But things got worse and food was getting hard to find, then they started to round people up..." Akami sighed. "Anyway, I had decided by then that if I survived I'd become a chef. So I started taking stuff from ruined restaurants – sometimes, one piece at a time. And now it's home." She shrugged, a slightly embarrassed smile on her face. "My uncle ripped out the walls when he changed, so I just left it."

She fell silent, then very obviously perked herself up. "So, um, dinner is ready, if you're hungry."

Jun nodded. "Can I help with anything?"

"Carry this to the table - pick some wine, I'll be right over." She handed over the gravy boat and turned away to open a refrigerator. "I couldn't find any good meat, so I made a poached salmon. I hope that's alright?"

Jun could hear her stomach grumble and smiled. "It sounds lovely."

Akami hustled back and forth, placing freshly blanched asparagus on the table next to the cold salmon and salad. At last the two women settled in for their meal.

It was exquisite and Jun said so - repeatedly.

"I've never had anything like this," Jun said, for the third time. "This is simply incredible."

Akami's face was flushed with pleasure. "But you were a supermodel," she protested. "You must have eaten at fancy restaurants all the time."

Jun laughed derisively. "A boxed lunch at roughly 3 in the afternoon, as part of a 12 hour shoot. Yes, I ate only the best." Her smile was genuine as she continued, "Models aren't encouraged to eat too much anyway. Since...since I stopped modeling, I'm afraid I've gained a lot of weight."

"I think it looks good on you," Akami protested. "You always looked, I don't know, hungry, before."

Jun watched the girl in fascination. She had been hungry, in a sense. Jun had seen, once, an old picture of her from Kiki, the magazine that had made her famous. Her eyes had been enormous and full of longing - her face almost sick with need. The picture had made her feel queasy. What had people seen in her?

"I was, in a way," Jun admitted. "I wanted something badly, something that I couldn't have." She laid her fork on her plate and leaned back. "That was so good, I think I might die."

"You can't die before dessert," Akami said firmly. "I made a cheesecake. I had a recipe I wanted to try anyway..." she stood up and began to clean off the table. She waved off Jun's offer of help. "Stay, you're my guest tonight." She turned away as she spoke, but there was a sparkle in Akami's eyes that made Jun shiver.

Lost in thought, Jun paid only scant attention to the sounds of Akami cleaning up the remnants of dinner, of water boiling, of coffee being made. Despite her fullness, the bitter aroma of the coffee made her mouth water. When Akami returned, Jun looked up.

"I hope you like cheesecake," Akami said lightly. "If not, don't tell me - I don't think I could take it," she joked.

Jun smiled. "I love it - and the coffee smells wonderful, too." She watched Akami walk away and return with two cups full of dark brown liquid. "How long have you been cooking like this?"

Akami took a deep breath and looked away into the middle distance. "Well, let's see...I cooked for my aunt and uncle, because by the end of the day they were so sick of cooking that they wouldn't eat if I didn't. I guess, since I was a kid."

Jun reached out her hand, laying it gently on the other woman's arm. "You have real ability, Akami. Follow your dream and become a chef. I know you can do it." She kept her voice low and gentle and inwardly, steeled herself for the girl to flinch away. But Akami only laid a hand over Jun's and squeezed briefly.

"Thank you. That means a lot to me." Akami laughed at herself, then. "Funny how that is. I just met you yesterday and I feel like you're already a very important person to me." Her eyes widened as she realized what she had said, then that blush crept over her face and she pulled away slightly.

Jun could feel the heat in her own face and spoke quickly to lighten the tension. "I did an interview today...with Ommi."

"Really? That's great!" Akami said, as she laid a huge slice of cheesecake on a plate and set it in front of Jun. "Are you going to model again?"

Jun stared at the girl. "How could I?" Her voice came out as a harsh croak.

Akami looked up quickly, her eyes burning. "Because Jun is beautiful, that's how!" Jun quailed before Akami's anger. "You're not horrible, Jun - you lost your arms *saving* us! People everywhere think you are cool, and important and beautiful. You don't have the right to hide from everyone." Akami leaned on the table and took a deep breath, trying to calm herself down. "We need someone to believe in. We need you."

Jun's hand shook too hard to pick up cup or fork, so she clenched it in her lap and said nothing.

"I'll make you a deal," Akami said, the mischief back in her voice. "I'll keep following my dream to be a chef, if you follow yours."

Jun hung her head down, thinking over the patent absurdity of the statement. She was past her prime - a broken doll...but Akami was still young. She had dreams she had to follow and it wasn't right for Jun to keep her from those. "Okay, it's a deal," Jun lied with an easy smile.

Akami smiled back and seated herself, gesturing at the cake. "Tell me what you think."

Jun picked up the fork, very conscious of crimson eyes upon her. What did those eyes remind her of? She sliced off a small piece of the cheesecake and put it in her mouth. Its texture was so creamy and light, Jun could hear herself moaning with the sheer pleasure of it.

"This is incredible," she said, and cut herself a second piece. The fork had just left her mouth when Akami pressed her lips against Jun's. Her mouth was trapped, slightly open, the confection melting on her tongue. Akami's tongue flicked into Jun's mouth mingling with the cheesecake. Jun's nostrils were filled with the cinnamon pepper smell of the girl, even as her arm convulsively clutched at her.

The kiss went on forever. Jun, having been taken unaware, was completely incapable of pulling herself away. Desire exploded in her body like a magnesium flare - it was too much to control.

At last Akami pulled away, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand like a child and grinning, not at all repentant. "I suppose I should say I'm sorry, but...I'm not." Her grin took on a fierceness, as if she was challenging Jun to deny what she felt. "I'll only be sorry if you get up and leave now." The question was manifest in her gaze, in her defiant tone. But Jun didn't even notice.

Jun put a finger to her mouth, where she could still feel the warmth and pressure of Akami's lips. Her mouth was filled with the taste of cheesecake and Akami. Her eyelids drooped, veiling her eyes, then opened widely with a sharp jerk. Jun's nostrils flared and Akami's scent, still on her hand, contained an unmistakable invitation.

Jun lifted her head and smiled. She could see triumph blaze in Akami's red eyes, along with something else, something animal, something primal.

"I'm torn," Akami said, her voice shaking with emotion, "between asking you to finish that cheesecake and demanding that you leave it there."

Before she could stop herself, Jun had reached out and taken the girl's arm in her hand, then pulled her close. Her eyes closed as she pressed her lips onto Akami's, every muscle tense with conflicting emotions.

Jun broke the kiss off sharply. "Akami," her voice was hoarse, "if you want me to leave, say so right now, because I don't think I'll be able to in another minute."

Akami responded by throwing her arms around Jun's neck and clinging to her. "Don't leave," she whispered. "Please, don't leave."

Jun brushed the chestnut hair away from Akami's face and stared down at the girl. Her body screamed at her, fire racing through her veins, but something in her hesitated. Jun ran her hand through Akami's hair again, and then laughed softly. She pushed the red-brown hair back to reveal a delicately pointed ear, with a small tuft of fur at the apex. Jun stared in fascination.

An embarrassed blush colored the girl's cheeks. She removed one arm from around Jun's neck and brushed her own fur-tipped ear. "I was born with these eyes, but we didn't know until the Fall about the rest." Akami sat back, her words breathy, her chest rising and falling as she sought to cool her own need, as Jun so obviously was controlling her own. "I think it's called a...I think I'm a bush baby."

Smiling gently, Jun played with the fur on Akami's ears. She lowered her head to rub her lips softly across their surface, allowing her breath to blow across the younger woman's ear. Kissing her way down the curve, Jun lingered at the lobe, reaching out lightly with her tongue. Akami sighed faintly.

Jun stroked the other woman's cheek softly with a finger. "When I was young, I was very sick – anemic. Whenever I became excited, I would pass out." She placed her lips softly on Akami's brow. "It made me feel horribly different from the other girls. They were not all unkind, but I could never feel close to them."

Akami's eyes closed. "You've always felt alone, haven't you, Jun?"

Jun nodded, never taking her lips from the soft skin beneath her. Her own eyes filled with tears; but she would not cry, not now.

A hand cupped her cheek gently, and Akami moved away to be able to look up at her. "You're not alone now," she said. Jun watched as Akami's lips moved closer, then brushed softly against her own.

Some part of Jun's mind was filled with song, a sweet, sad, glorious melody that sang of life and death in choral magnificence. This was what she had waited her whole life to feel – not just sexual desire, not even love - but a sense of completeness, as if the final piece in her puzzle had at last been found.

But she did not really think of that right now – not when her senses were filled with the experience of a young, lovely woman in her lap, covering her mouth with wet kisses, the smell of sex coming off her in waves. Jun clenched her arm around Akami's slim form and kissed her deeply.

Akami felt so good against her that Jun nearly cried out; her skin was soft, her hands everywhere. Jun could feel the patterns Akami traced on her skin burn themselves into her memory, sure that she would be able to see them in the morning.

They made love on the floor among the monolithic appliances, their clothes scattered around the room.

Eventually, they made their way to the small corner where Akami slept. Jun was laid out upon the futon, and Akami touched her slowly, deliberately, acquainting herself with every inch of the older woman. When, at last, she reached her center, Jun cried out, a sound as much of triumph as of pleasure.

For Jun, Akami was a revelation. The younger woman had freckles on her shoulders, which were impossibly attractive. Jun had to laugh when she discovered that the girl was ticklish under the ribs, and very sensitive above. The sound Akami made as Jun brushed fingertips over nipples made her lips pull back in a feral smile.

And the sensations Akami brought out in her own body made Jun's head spin. Nothing in her life had made her feel this way – she had never even imagined that anything could feel like this. For all her tortured nights, all her repressed fantasies, this night was her first as lover to another woman. Jun nearly crowed with joy.

The night stretched out before them, and their lovemaking settled down from frantic need into a slow luxuriating in each other's bodies that took them into the small hours. At last, they fell asleep on the small futon, Akami curled into the crook of Jun's arm.

 

Jun awoke with a sensation that took her a long time to place. She could feel Akami's body pressed against her own, curled up as she slept. Her mouth and nose were filled with that familiar cinnamon pepper scent and with a start, Jun realized that what she felt was contentment. Something she had been without for so long, she had completely forgotten what it felt like. She wondered, then, if she had ever felt it at all.

She sat up carefully, making sure she did not disturb the younger woman. The night was dark and clear, with no moon. Jun pulled back the curtain to stare out at the night world. She could hear small creatures moving in the alleyway behind Akami's building, and smell liquor and human sweat. Nonetheless, she stood naked in front of the window.

It was then that Jun realized that she hadn't thought of Kazumi – or Asuka – in hours. Just Akami: Akami's hair, her eyes, her hands, her taste and scent and the feel of her inside and out. Jun's eyes closed and she sighed, reliving the sensations. She smiled and opened her eyes. It was hard to believe that this was actually the first time that Jun had made love with another woman. It was as if all the torment she had lived through, all the tension, and unfulfilled need, all of Asuka's raw sexuality, and Kazumi's innocent love had never been. Jun let the curtain fall, and bowed her head. She couldn't bring herself to ask Kazumi for forgiveness – she knew the girl well enough to know that Kazumi would only have gotten angry at the request.

*Kazumi – may your spirit rest in peace...and love,* she prayed silently, but with fervor. *Thank you.*

"Jun?" Akami's voice was rough with sleep and Jun could feel her nipples harden with excitement at the sound. She turned to face the younger woman.

Akami sat on the futon, her eyes droopy. "Are you alright?"

Jun smiled softly. "I'm fine. Did I wake you?"

"No," Akami shook her head and rubbed her eyes. Jun thought it a charming gesture. "What are you doing?"

Jun held out her hand towards the younger woman. "I want to take you somewhere. Will you come with me? Do you trust me?"

Akami stood abruptly in answer, her naked body gleaming palely. Jun's nostrils widened as she approached. This girl made her every sense tingle and it felt so good Jun could barely keep it contained.

Jun gathered the younger woman in her arm and squeezed her close. "Hold on tightly." Jun whispered and, with a single silent invocation, let herself go. *Asuka,* she thought, *thank you, you damnable bitch, thank you for this moment.*

Her hair gathered itself together and drew up, shaping wings on her head. Muscles filled out her arms and legs, and as she smiled down at Akami, fangs gleamed. "Do you trust me?" she repeated, her voice lower, gruffer.

Akami's only answer was to link her arms around Jun's powerful neck.

Jun slid the window open and carried Akami onto the balcony. With the slightest grunt of effort, Jun manifested her wings and leapt out into the night sky.

Wind filled Jun's ears, and she was aware only of the movement of air across her skin, and the little, warm, lithe body against her.

She flew over her city, around the Tower that still stood despite everything, and around the bay. They passed over the area where Jun's apartment building stood, and her modeling agency had been. They flew over great gouges in the ground where buildings were being rebuilt, or had been completely destroyed. With each new reminder of the destruction of her city, Jun relived the horror of it all, but as each sight passed away behind her, she could feel the burden lessen.

The night was passing, and the sky was grey with impending dawn when Jun landed once again. She let go of Akami with a kiss, laughing as the girl purred slightly and ran her tongue over a fang.

Jun looked down into red eyes. Akami smiled up at her. Jun could see the tiniest tip of a sharp incisor and caught it on a fingertip.

"Jun," Akami whispered, as she held Jun's hand to her face. "Let's go inside."

Jun shook her head. "I want to stay here and watch the sun rise."

"But..." Akami looked at the ground, trying to avoid Jun's eyes.

"I want you to see me – the true me." Jun held Akami tightly, pulling her closer. "Or, are you afraid of me?"

Akami eyes blazed as she met Jun's gaze. "I think you are the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," she said fiercely, and the incisors were gone this time. But Jun willed herself to maintain this form, as the sun broke over the horizon. As the light stained the buildings around them in shades of rust, Jun stood firmly in the rays of the rising sun. She looked down at her body, the muscular physique, so unfeminine, the fur, the claws. With determination, she watched as, for the first time, this form saw the light of day...and the light of day saw her.

With some hesitation, Jun turned to look at Akami, hoping that the girl wasn't too embarrassed to be seen with her. Red eyes were watching her closely, with something more than just attention.

"Let's go inside," Akami said again, and this time, there was more in the sentence, a huskiness which made Jun growl low in her throat in answer.

They stepped back into the gloom of the apartment, and found each other once again, lips meeting lips, and tongues touching. It wasn't until many hours later that Jun realized that she hadn't shifted out of her Devilman form once. Akami looked up at her, nose quivering, skin twitching and Jun noticed with no special surprise that the girl had a light fur coat over her whole body.

"You're beautiful," she said, so matter-of-factly that Akami laughed out loud. And hearing that laugh, so natural, so normal, so happy, Jun smiled.

 

Epilogue

 

"Okay, great! That's fine. Great work everyone!" The photographer waved casually at the crew and turned away. Jun heaved a sigh and stretched slightly, twisting her spine.

Kandagawa ran up, a broad smile on his face. "Fudou-san, that was spectacular! I've never seen someone so natural in front of the camera. I'm honored that you allowed us this privilege."

Jun smiled pleasantly at the young man. "It was my pleasure, Kandagawa-san."

The reporter flushed in the face of that smile. Jun had noticed that recently, when she smiled, people flushed. With that thought, she glanced around. Kandagawa was still speaking, something about a reception to which she was invited. But Jun had found what she was looking for and turned back to the effusive young man.

"Thank you for the invitation," she said graciously, "but I have a date tonight that I cannot break."

Kandagawa pulled up short. "Oh? Anything interesting?" his smile was supportive, if puzzled.

Jun reached out her hand, as Akami joined her. She smiled down into bright red eyes, then back at the journalist.

"Yes," she said firmly. "Very interesting."

 

The Beginning

 

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