Black Lily

Afterword

Written By | Series: Devilman Lady

Disclaimers and Notes: The characters of Jun, Asuka, Kazumi and the basic idea was and is the property of Go Nagai, Dynamic Planning, ADV and other entities of which I am unaware. The character of Akami, and this specific story idea are mine and mine alone, bwahahahahah!

This is a spectacular series -  run out and buy lots of copies of the DVDs, toys, posters, etc. They’ll make great gifts for me. ;-)

Devilman Lady was shown at Yuricon 2003, because Yuricon is *the* place to enjoy yuri and shoujoai. Visit the Yuricon Shop for great yuri manga in English and Japanese.

Worldshaking Fanfic supports the Fanfic Revolution, because shoujoai and yuri fanfic do not have to suck, either. I thank all of the folks at the FR profusely for their assistance with this story – it was alot of work for all of us and I cannot thank you guys enough for your help.

If you enjoy this story, please email me and let me know! I’m always gratified to learn that someone else enjoys my work, other than me. LOL

 

Afterword

 

Chapter 1

Steam rose from the cup, dissipating delicately into the cool air of the coffee shop. Jun watched it intently, waiting for the moment it was absorbed into the ambient ether – no longer hot steam, but cool, moist air.

The coffee taunted her from its place on the table; its smell was rich and bitter, its color the same brown as her eyes. Jun leaned over the cup and was able only to make out her silhouette in the reflection on the liquid surface.

She turned her head away to watch the street. Two teenaged boys strutted and posed in front of the shop, their ears twitching visibly, giving away their true state of mind even as they sought to appear outwardly composed. She smiled slightly as each of the boys swiveled an ear towards the same direction. The two girls came into sight a moment later. Jun watched as the courting dance became more elaborate; boys distant and cool, girls alternately coy and suggestive. The four walked off smiling, tails lifted, ears pricked. She looked back down at the table, and the coffee that mocked her with its ordinariness.

Jun’s eyes closed against the image of the young lovers on the street. Love wasn’t always sweet.

It hadn’t been that long since her world had been destroyed by a single madwoman with a twisted messianic dream – for love. Jun could still remember the piercing blue of Asuka’s eyes as she had said, “You love me, don’t you?” Jun shook her head to clear away the image. It wasn’t love that had driven Asuka to cause the mutations. It wasn’t love of anyone else but herself, she corrected.

The coffee steam rose, carrying its scent to Jun’s sensitive nose.

She thought back on the changes that she had seen – her country, ripped open by its own fear; people and places razed to prevent the very thing that might save them – the Beast Progress. Asuka had manipulated them all, caused one government after another to panic over what their own research had spawned; a genetic mutation in nearly every citizen, which had caused regressive DNA to become dominant. Jun gazed at the passers-by, noting horns, animal and insect eyes, tails and a host of other signs of the Progress.

All done in the name of research by a crazy woman – all done out of a self-loathing so infinite that only by becoming a god could Asuka have absolved herself from it.

The coffee was cooling now, the steam lower over the surface. She couldn’t put it off any longer. Jun lifted her arm and laid her hand heavily on the table.

It looked natural, it moved naturally. It was natural. It was her arm – the arm she had had before her arms had been wrenched from her body by an insane goddess. The very same research that had been used to remove her from the humanity she had saved; the same research that had destroyed her life, her love, her home, had given her back her arm. And she hated it.

She stared down with loathing at the thing. Gingerly, she pointed towards the mug, warmth radiating over the skin of her fingertip. She curled the alien hand around the cup and felt the warmth grow, felt the heat spread until it became too much and she had to pull her hand away. She looked down at the palm – it was red and angry. As if it were real.

Still not convinced of the hand’s reality, she plunged a single finger into the coffee’s depths, and pulled it out again as the liquid quickly scalded the skin. Without thinking, she stuck it into her mouth to cool it, then pulled it out again in repulsion.

This hand, where there had been none. This arm, where there were no arms. The thought elated and disgusted her…a feeling that seemed familiar somehow, until she remembered when she had felt it first.

Asuka, dressed in a very business-like yet provocative suit, crossing her legs, drawing Jun’s attention to their length, their smooth, pale skin – even as her words – her filthy words – implied that she knew Jun’s innermost soul. A feeling made even more horrible by that fact that she had been quite correct. Asuka had known what kind of woman Jun really was all the time.

Jun cast her mind back once again, remembering the trembling, the repulsion and attraction that she had felt every time Asuka’s eyes had traveled her body, every time the blonde had referred to Kazumi as her lover. Every time they had spent a moment in each other’s company. Jun shivered in the cool cafe at the memory of Asuka’s touch.

And she remembered too that the physical attraction heightened as her form changed, as her body – truer to her instincts than her mind had ever been – reacted to Asuka’s scent…that inviting, sexual scent. And dear, sweet Kazumi, so close that Jun could almost taste her; and Aoi, and Hitomi and all the other women who had wanted her, or that she had wanted, over the years – she remembered every nuance of their scents even now. Her sense of smell had been animal-sharp, long before the rest of her body had joined it.

Reflexively, Jun threaded her fingers through the handle of the mug and lifted it. It was cool enough to drink now. She leaned forward, ready to accept the sacrament, her lips nearing the rim.

“Fudou-san? Fudou Jun-san?” The voice startled her and the mug slipped from its place in mid-air down to the table with a messy thump. Coffee spilled over the edge, not enough to burn or stain, just enough to signal disruption.

“Oh no! I’m so sorry!” A hand reached out for a napkin and mopped up the spreading puddle. Jun looked up, ready to comfort the voice…and stopped.

“Ka…zu…mi?” Jun’s voice was hoarse, her surprise forcing itself out with each of the three syllables.

She realized her mistake instantly, even before confusion had begun to spread across the girl’s face. Of course it couldn’t be Kazumi – Kazumi was dead. Kazumi was dead and they had hardly been together before they were torn apart forever.

“I’m sorry,” the girl said, again. “I’m sorry for interrupting you, startling you…”

Jun found her voice and manners and smiled a polite little smile. “That’s fine. I was just surprised.” She looked carefully at the girl now, seeing her as a separate person, not an extension of her memories. She had short hair, the color of sweet chestnuts; a rich, dark red-brown. She looked like Kazumi in a superficial way – short hair, wide and pleasant eyes, her face young, but not naive. Jun could not help notice the crimson eyes that looked sharply back at her; regarding her with the same measuring gaze she was herself giving the girl. Her smile relaxed a little.

Jun waved her arm, gesturing at the other chair. The sheer normality of the gesture made her dizzy. “Please, have a seat, um…”

The girl seated herself quickly, neatly. “Akami.” She gave no family name. Jun didn’t inquire.

“Akami-san,” Jun repeated. So, she had been born with those eyes. They were not a sign of the Progress. Or, were they? Maybe this was a new name, taken in defiance of her appearance. Or was the reference to her red-brown hair? Jun could not help pondering the many mysteries this stranger presented.

“I’m sorry to disturb you,” Akami repeated. “I…I am…was…a big fan of yours before…” the girl’s voice petered out and Jun realized that she was staring at the hand that pressed itself into the table surface. Self-consciously, Jun pulled her arm back and curled the hand into a fist in her lap.

“Before the Fall.” Akami finished quietly.

‘The Fall.’ That was what people were calling it. Jun kept wondering if it were the descent of angels from heaven that they referred to, or humanity out of the Garden of Eden. She had never asked – she had no one to ask.

“I see.” Jun spoke quietly, politely. “Well, thank you.”

Akami blushed, but Jun didn’t notice. Her eyes had strayed once again to the window. Akami turned to share what Jun was looking at. They watched in silence as people passed by the window in pantomime. Jun felt the awkwardness of an aging star – instantly recognizable, but with no recent credits to her name.

“You were so beautiful.” Akami said, affirming Jun’s own thoughts of her past career. Those days were long gone – days of modeling, shoots in glamorous clothes, mentoring Kazumi…

Kazumi.

Akami was like her, and wasn’t. Kazumi had had the many beauties of her name…Jun was startled out of her reverie by Akami’s voice, low and throaty.

“When you fought over the city, my friends and I tried to get as close as we could, because we thought you were so beautiful.”

Jun stared at the girl in obvious confusion, but Akami was still looking out the window.

“We were all members of your fan club.” She smiled that inner, embarrassed smile that one does at one’s childish habits. “But when you became the Devilman…it was like we all knew that it was right. You weren’t just beautiful, you were strong too – you would save us.”

Jun was no longer listening. Her eyes closed, she could see her foes, one after the other; their pain and alienation turned to rage and destruction. Her own sense of being different made manifest in that bestial form – the strength she lacked as a woman, as a model, as a lover, come to life in her muscular body. She could feel herself becoming excited as she remembered the one good thing about the Progress – the sense of raw power.

Her memories cast her into the familiar welter of emotions. Power as her body gained a strength unthinkable in her anemic youth; loss as she killed beast after beast at Asuka’s bidding; strength as she came to realize her own truth; terror and grief as she was banished from the world into a hell of her own making; joy – deep, immense joy as she took Kazumi at last into her arms, both of them admitting what they had never before been able to admit…and loss once again, as Kazumi dangled off her enemy’s arm, dead. In mere hours she had gained and lost the love of her life. And here was this specter, this ghost risen with Kazumi’s face and voice… and her scent. The girl smelled of cinnamon and pepper and of desire. Jun’s skin quivered as she recognized the smell consciously.

“Fudou-san,” the girl’s voice pleaded, “where do we go from here?”

Jun opened her eyes, opened her mouth in shock. Where did they go from here? Did she realize what she was saying? They had barely met!

Akami was still watching the crowd pass by the shop window. Without turning to face Jun, completely unaware of the older woman’s reaction, she said, “Where do we all go from here?”

Jun took a deep breath, relieved…and just a little disappointed. She turned once again to the street. “We celebrate,” she answered. “We celebrate being alive. We celebrate our diversity – we celebrate…” she lifted her arm, a deliberate movement to bring the girl’s attention back to her, smiled into the girl’s eyes pleasantly and finished, “we celebrate my new arm.” A moment later, Jun realized that she actually meant it. It was a celebration – today she once again had an arm. After months of being completely dependent on others to be dressed, to be fed, to be washed – today she was once again alive on her own terms.

Akami opened her mouth to speak, but Jun broke in by calling the waitress over. After they had ordered more coffee and some cake, they were left alone.

Akami was smiling now, cheerful, hopeful. Her crimson eyes lit with pleasure as she found herself in the presence of the object of her hero-worship.

“Fudou-san,” the girl began, but Jun corrected her. “Jun-san, what was it like, being a supermodel? Was it really all hard work and long hours – or was there any glamour at all?”

A normal question, Jun thought. Two normal people going about their normal lives. “It was both.” She smiled at the waitress and picked up the fresh cup of coffee. She brought it to her lips and sipped at the hot liquid. It burned as she swallowed it. A good feeling, a real feeling.

“I love that one shoot you did for Kiki,” Akami was gushing, “where they had you dress like a Queen. You looked very regal.”

Jun ducked her head in royal acknowledgement. She smiled at the girl’s giggle. It felt good to be around this girl – she made Jun forget the darkness. Akami’s ruby eyes held a kind of fire, a joy of life, which warmed Jun in its glow.

They sat there, eating cake, drinking coffee and laughing. It was all so normal, all so very average, that Jun was choked by it.

It was late – the sun had gone down long ago, and Akami kept looking at her watch.

“You don’t need to keep me company, you know,” Jun laughed. “I can get home on my own.”

Akami blushed. “I have somewhere I have to…I’m sorry, I really have to go.” She stood and made a stab at her pocket, pulling out an unruly wad of money. Jun waved it away. Waved, like she’d always had a hand with which to gesture.

“My treat.” Jun felt happy in a way that seemed unnatural to her. Giddy, almost high. “Thank you for your company.”

Akami stuck the money back in her pocket, then looked down at the table. When she looked back up, her eyes were so full of mischief that Jun practically recoiled – too much Kazumi in that glance. Only trouble lay there, and Jun had to stop herself from running.

Akami held out a hand. Jun stared at it, but it took a moment for the point to set in. She raised her arm and put her own hand into the girl’s – they shook, solemnly.

“Thank you.” Akami’s voice was warm. Jun could feel the heat pass from hand to hand and pulled her own back.

“Thank you,” Jun said, not able to infuse her voice with coolness. It was too late – she had begun to thaw.

 

Chapter 2

The door closed behind Jun, loud in the silent apartment. She shrugged her coat off one shoulder, then remembered with some embarrassment that she could hang it up herself. By her own request, no aide would be there tonight. No one to bathe her. No one to pick up clothes. For the first time in months, Jun was completely alone.

And she was glad for that in ways she would have been hard put to describe. Once upon a time, her apartment had been her refuge. When the world had been too much for her she had been able to come back and revel in the silence, the emptiness that matched the emptiness inside.

Then Kazumi had joined her and she had wanted, desperately wanted, to come home to the girl, to her cheerful voice and her stories. But something always dragged her away.

No, not something – someone. Asuka knew, had always known, long before Jun had ever admitted it to herself, what Jun felt for Kazumi. That evil child, the Devilbeast boy had known, too – they all had known. Even Kazumi had known. Everyone but Jun herself.

Jun stripped her clothes off carefully. First a bath. No, a shower. No more soaking in a tub like a child. She would wash herself and then sleep.

The water was hot. It felt so good that Jun sighed out loud – which felt good in its own right. So she sighed again. With each sigh, a weight lifted from her, and she felt lighter. Soap, shampoo, loofah; everything made her feel good. It was the best she had felt in so long she was suddenly afraid to turn the shower off. What if the feeling swirled away down the drain with the water?

She wrapped a towel around herself somewhat awkwardly, smiling wryly at her misty reflection in the mirror. So, she didn’t have the hang of it yet. That was alright. It would come with time.

The doctors at the Institute had offered to replace both arms, but she had refused. One was enough. They couldn’t understand that the ragged, ugly wound on her shoulder was all she had left of Asuka. She couldn’t bear to lose it. As much as she hated and feared the woman, she owed her everything. Without Asuka to create her, Jun wouldn’t have been born.

“Goddamn you, Asuka Ran.” Jun whispered to the ether. “I hope your hell is even more horrible than mine.”

Jun leaned heavily against her hand, thinking of the hell she had ruled, if only for a few hours. She had reigned in hell, while Asuka had reigned in heaven. Her eyes closed and her skin crawled with the memory of Kazumi, dear, sweet Kazumi, reduced to a grotesque part of that horrific vision of mutated humanity. Kazumi, whose last request was that Jun wouldn’t turn around and see her….

Jun stripped the towel from her body and stumbled back into the shower, sucking in steam, trying not to vomit, burning her skin with water too hot to tolerate. She scrubbed her body until it began to bleed.

She had reigned in hell.

The fit passed, as it always did. For the second time, Jun shut off the water, but left the towel on the floor. Naked, she lurched drunkenly into her bedroom. The nurse’s cot was still there – a testament to her second infancy. In disgust, she dragged it to one side of the room, as far from the bed as possible. She threw herself down on her bed with vehemence.

The bed rose up to meet her, soft blankets and plush mattress soothing her. She pushed her face into a worn pillow with burn marks on the edge and breathed in. The faint scent was barely detectable. Her nostrils widened to take it in, cinnamon and pepper.

She rolled onto her back, spreading her limbs across the large bed that she had never shared with Kazumi. Instead she had run from the girl and, not trusting herself, had bought bunk beds. She wondered, not for the first time, what would have become of them if she had bought a double bed like Kazumi wanted. Would they have had nights of passion or would she have laid there, trembling with desire, not saying a word, not moving?

Jun smiled horribly up at the ceiling. Would it have been so bad? Jun couldn’t stop the tears from coming, she never could. At least this time she could wipe them away herself, and not have to bear the consoling voice of the nurse, who thought she was in pain. Well, she was, but it was nothing she would share with the woman.

Jun ran an angry arm across her eyes, then did it again, because it felt impossibly good to be able to do it. She draped her forearm across her face, then ran her fingers through her hair. It was coarser than she remembered – but then, it had been months since she had had it done professionally, or even with anything other than institutional soap. She decided firmly to make an appointment with a salon. She took a long look at her hand and grimaced. As soon as her nails grew a little longer.

She let her hand move slowly down her face, feeling eyelids and ears carefully. You take them for granted, she thought, but they feel different on each person. Skin, like scent, is unique for everyone.

Her cheeks were warm, her mouth wet, her teeth hard. Her chin was weak – it had always been, but feeling the bone beneath the skin was reassuring.

Carefully she moved her hand to her wounded shoulder. The scar was healed long ago, but there would always be a sensitivity that was as much emotional as physical. She ran her fingers along the uneven skin, a little nauseated at the sensation. This is where tendon and muscle had shredded, then parted. This is where bone had been broken away.

Her hand moved off her shoulder and across her collarbone, with its soothing solidity. Then down to her chest. The skin of her breasts was softer than she remembered, but looser too. Age, stress, lack of exercise, they were all taking a toll on her body.

As her hand passed across her nipple, a sharp sensation traveled through her body, followed by a terrible realization. It had been…how long…since she had had sex? Long enough ago that she couldn’t remember. Before Asuka had come into her life, before Kazumi, before becoming a Devilman. And all those months of heightened awareness, of hormones and raging animal instincts and being surrounded by women she wanted more than she wanted food.

Her hand passed along the outer edge of her aureole; the feeling of need that she had suppressed for so long intensified quickly. She squeezed her nipple, enjoying the sensation of the heat between her legs.

Jun gasped out loud as she rolled the nipple between her fingers. It wasn’t a question of lust and there wasn’t any way to put it off – this was pure physical exigency. She didn’t bother with preliminaries; she needed to come, and quickly. Lowering her hand, she parted her lower lips, only vaguely aware of their softness, of the hair that surrounded them, but very aware of her own smell, and the feeling of the blood coursing through her body, singing along her spine. It had been too long – longer than anyone should have to go without this.

Her spine arced against the bed as she touched herself. Need and desire sped through her entire body as her new fingers passed back and forth across her center. For a brief, amused moment, Jun wished for a second hand, but then her climax was upon her and she couldn’t think of anything else as her muscles bunched beneath her. Her gasping was loud in her ears, but she was too caught up to be embarrassed. Her orgasm was long, but not long enough, not enough to fill the emptiness she knew she’d have to face now.

Now that she was alone. Now that she had no reason not have a life again.

She relaxed back on the bed, breathing heavily, her body covered in a sheen of sweat. It was good, but it wouldn’t be enough. Jun knew that after a few days, or a few weeks, she’d have to give in, to prowl dark bars until she found someone who would give her the release she couldn’t live without.

Her own need scared her. She remembered how, as a high school student, she had run away from Aoi, who had so clearly desired her. She had run to a nameless place, a bar full of bitter, self-involved people, desperately trying to forget things. And she had thrown herself into the arms of a man she couldn’t remember, whose name she had never learned. Lost her virginity in a drunken stupor, all to save herself from being kissed by a woman who wanted her so much. It had terrified her more than Aoi had been able to understand. She hadn’t wanted to admit the truth – the truth about herself that had been so obvious to Asuka.

And then there were the months before…before the Fall. Jun had been driven mad by her attraction to Asuka, and to Kazumi. Asuka scared her, but not as much as her longing for Kazumi had. Months of living with and working near, women she wanted so badly her body would shake with longing…

Jun let her fingers play in her own wetness, remembering the feel of Kazumi’s body the day they had finally allowed themselves to admit their love. She could feel her muscles tighten again, remembering the sound of the girl’s voice, the scent of her skin, and the smell of her lust. Jun came a second time, remembering the taste of Kazumi’s lips.

Jun slept deeply that night, as she hadn’t slept for months.

 

Chapter 3

 

There was a knock on the door – a soft, tentative knock. Jun drew a robe over her pajamas and left her tea on the counter. She walked over to the door. There was a time when she would have hesitated, worried. There was a time when she had lived in fear.

“Hello?” she called out.

There was a movement outside the door and a sharp noise, followed by a cry of pain. Jun wrenched the door open to see what was happening and was amazed to see the girl from the cafe the day before. Akami was holding her foot in one hand and bouncing in place, a grimace of embarrassment and discomfort distorting her young face. It was obvious that she had stubbed her toe against the doorjamb; Jun suppressed a grin.

“I’m sorry!’ she gasped and gingerly placed her foot on the ground. Jun watched in amusement as she limped in place. “I didn’t mean to disturb you!”

Jun couldn’t help it – she laughed out loud. “That’s what you said yesterday, too.”

Akami blushed angrily. “I was just…I was nearby and I thought…”

“Why don’t you come in?” Jun didn’t disguise her entertainment at the girl’s antics.

Akami limped in behind Jun and stood uncertainly inside the apartment. “What a beautiful place,” the girl said politely. Jun knew it was a lie – the apartment looked dumpy and worn.

“Would you like some tea?” Jun gestured towards the kitchen. “I was just about to have some.”

“Thank you, that would be lovely.” Akami stepped in, her head swiveling back and forth as she took in the decorations, the knickknacks…the scattered memories of an interrupted life.

Jun waited until they were both seated at the low table, tea and snacks in front of them, before she inquired, “So, what brought you here today, Akami-san?” Her eyes lingered on the girl’s face, her manner bolder than the previous day. There was no reason to run from herself any more. There was no reason to hide what she was from this girl.

“I…was in the area, and…”

Jun smiled tightly, “So you said.” She wouldn’t help. She wouldn’t easily acquiesce to another’s commands ever again.

Akami’s face turned that angry red once again, and she looked away. After a moment the girl’s eyes widened, and her lips parted in a slight intake of breath. Jun turned her head to see what had elicited the reaction, and found that Akami was looking at a framed photo.

Jun stood up and lifted it gently off the shelf. She dusted it with her sleeve, then turned back and handed it to the other woman.

Akami stared down. “This is who you thought I was at first?”

Jun nodded, sipping her tea. The photo had been taken by a friend, a photographer, at the height of her modeling career. She and Kazumi, back-to-back, smiling, pretending to be on a shoot together. Jun looked away until the tears that threatened had receded.

“She’s cute.” Akami’s voice was ironic.

“Yes, she was.” Jun answered.

“Oh. I’m sorry.” Akami laid the photo down gently. She seemed about to say something, but thought better of it. After a sip of her tea, her jaw set and she said, “I came by because I wanted to see you again.”

“Really?” Jun couldn’t keep her voice cool; it was impossible with this girl. She had too much energy, too much possibility in her. “I’m glad.”

The blush returned to Akami’s face. Not angry this time, or embarrassed. Jun could smell the excitement coming off the girl’s skin and could feel her own body react to it.

“I wanted to know more about you,” Akami admitted, looking away. “You don’t seem…well…I don’t know. I thought you’d be more swaggering, or powerful, more confident. But you seem like a regular person. You seem so gentle.”

Jun stood abruptly and walked away, taking the teapot with her.

Akami leapt to her feet, hand over her mouth. “I didn’t mean that! I meant…”

Jun turned back quickly, her hair whipping across angry eyes. “You meant that I don’t seem like a monster?”

Akami stepped back in the face of the older woman’s quiet fury. “No! I mean yes! I mean,” she took a shuddering breath and willed herself calm, “I mean that Jun-san seems like a nice person.”

Jun turned away, but now her voice *was* cold. “I’m not, though. I’m not nice at all.” It hurt her to hurt the girl, but this was like every day she had lived through her whole life. People kept seeing in her things they wanted to see, not what was truly there.

“Please, Jun-san, I didn’t mean to offend you, I just wanted…”

Jun turned around, a nasty smile on her face. “You wanted to what? To be in the presence of the woman who was a Devilman? Or was it the supermodel who you thought was cool?”

Akami looked at her feet while Jun spoke. Her body shook, but she didn’t answer.

“You wanted what everyone always wanted from me – to bask a little in reflected glory, to use me, then cast me aside, to…” Jun choked on her words, vaguely aware that she was crying now. “To take from what would best suit you – a little fame, a story to tell your friends, maybe even, what, sex? Do you want that – to be able to say that you slept with Fudou Jun? Or maybe the Devilman Lady herself?”

Jun leaned on the counter, suddenly exhausted. “I can’t be that for you, Akami-san. I am consumed…my entire existence is consumed with the energy it takes just to be me.”

When Jun stopped speaking, she glared at the girl who was not Kazumi and waited for her to bolt.

But Akami hadn’t moved. She shook where she stood, her hands clasped tightly in front of her. Jun watched with annoyance, then surprise as she realized that girl was laughing.

Akami lifted her eyes and her smile was so genuinely delighted that Jun’s own mouth began to quirk, despite her irritation, despite her tears, despite her self-pity.

“I’m sorry, I really am. What a horrible fool I’ve made of myself!” Akami’s laughter abated, and she wiped at her face. “You’re right – I was being selfish. I wasn’t thinking clearly at all. Can you forgive me?”

Jun ducked her head and turned away to reheat the water. Why hadn’t Akami run? Why wasn’t she scared? What did she want?

“I was just star-struck, I guess,” Akami continued. “I knew about Devilman Lady and I forgot, I guess, how much it cost you to be that.” The girl turned her head towards the photo on the table. “You lost her in the Fall, didn’t you?”

Jun made a non-committal noise.

“I lost my lover too.”

Jun’s head whipped up at the so-casual admission. Akami hadn’t turned back, but spoke looking over her shoulder. “She wasn’t like you – she was dark and soft, like nighttime. They took her away in the first roundup.”

Jun’s hand clenched into a fist.

“She was like, like…a wolf. The first time she changed, we were both so frightened. And then the army came and we were separated and I never saw her again. I tried to find her – I prayed that she had survived, but…” she turned back to Jun, unanswerable questions in her eyes.

Jun let the silence lengthen until it was unbearable. What could she say to comfort the girl? That God hadn’t been listening, because she had been preoccupied with causing it all in the first place?

“Kazumi,” she grated out the name, “didn’t change until almost the very end.”

“But you saved the world for her, didn’t you?”

Jun nodded. Akami took a few steps towards the older woman.

“I guess you don’t realize, because no one ever told you before, but you’re not the only one like you.” Akami’s voice was gentle, as if Jun was the child here. “You’re not the only woman to want a woman…you’re not the only one to have lost everything in the Fall…you’re just the woman that saved us all.”

Jun laughed despite herself. “That’s all?”

Akami smiled bitterly. “No, but you’re not alone.”

Jun grabbed the boiling water off the flame and refilled the pot. Gesturing towards the table, she walked past the girl and seated herself.

“You think you understand,” Jun said quietly. “And I appreciate that. But you don’t. You can’t.” She didn’t say, “You can never understand what Asuka did to me.”

Akami put a hand out and gripped Jun’s robe. “That woman, that woman who became the angelic creature, what did she do to you?”

Jun stared at the girl. Could she read minds? “She made me.”

Akami didn’t blink. “She was the cause of everything – we know that now. She made us all. What did she do to *you* that she didn’t do to the rest of us?” The girl’s tone was sharper, more pitiless, perhaps, than she intended.

Jun looked at her hand, which was clenched around her refilled cup. “She did it all for me. So I could rule over hell for her.” Jun looked up and met Akami’s eyes.

Akami let go of Jun’s sleeve and covered her mouth with her hand.

Jun looked hard at Akami and let her have it. *You want to know what she did? Well, I’ll tell you, little-girl-who-is-not-Kazumi.* It was her turn to speak without pity.

“She made me her dog. She made me kill the first woman who had ever loved me, and all the women who had loved me since. I killed a businessman who had been fired and was desperate for his family. I killed innocent people by not being around to save them. Three men died because they believed that they loved me. Kazumi died because she did love me – all because Asuka wanted me to reign over hell for her, so she could be the queen of heaven.” And she let Akami see the horror of it all in her eyes.

“Oh god.” Akami’s broken voice was a mere whisper.

“You think,” Jun continued remorselessly, “you thought I was cool, because you didn’t understand what I was. I wasn’t just another beast. I was human – all that time. I knew what pain felt like, what killing smelled like, what the cries of mourning sounded like. My body was strong, but my will was so weak, I couldn’t stop. Night after night I came to Asuka’s whistle. I had to kill her to free myself.”

Jun closed her eyes. *There, now you know. Your adolescent fantasies blown away by the truth of a weak, ugly, horrible life.*

Jun didn’t move when Akami’s arms encircled her. Or when the younger woman stroked her hair. It wasn’t until she said, “My poor Jun,” that the last wall of resistance cracked and she laid her head on Akami’s chest and cried.

“How alone you’ve been,” Akami whispered into her hair. “And no one knew – we all thought you were a hero.”

Jun kept crying until the tears simply stopped coming and the shaking was over and all that was left was a horrible rawness, and that cinnamon-pepper scent in her nostrils. Jun fell asleep a moment later, carried away by a fatigue she hadn’t known she felt.

Akami let her sleep for a little while, then lowered the other woman’s form to the ground. She left silently a moment later.

 

Chapter 4

 

Jun rarely had nightmares. Her waking life had been so horrible, so unspeakable, for so long; there was nothing her unconscious mind could have thrown at her that could have been worse.

This time she dreamt of the Progress, something she hadn’t dreamed of in a long while. Her dreams were usually haunted by the faces of the people she had killed, not by her own horror. In the dream, her body once again became that of the Devilman; naked, muscular, with stripes of fur on her torso, arms and legs. Her tongue felt sharp against her teeth and she smiled at the scent of blood on her hands.

Her eyes had been open for some time before she realized she was awake. She was staring at the legs of the table in her living room and, for a moment, she was completely disconcerted. Then she remembered how she had come to be here.

She looked around, willing her stinging eyes to focus, and was surprised to find that the light in the kitchen was on, although the rest of the apartment was dark.

Jun lifted herself up, taking in the open bag, the ingredients spread over the kitchen counter. She rubbed her eyes. Slowly, she also became aware of a soft noise that she could barely hear – a noise that had punctuated her dreams. A pleasant voice was humming quietly.

Akami looked up from the cutting board. “Did my humming wake you?”

Jun shook her head, bewildered. “I don’t think so. How long have I…?”

Akami turned away, stirring something in a pot. “A few hours, I guess. I had to go out and buy some food and came back a little while ago. You don’t keep much in the apartment, do you?” She shot an easy smile over her shoulder, which Jun returned unsurely.

“I haven’t had much occasion to cook recently,” Jun’s voice was gentle, but the girl responded by flinching.

She laid the knife down and lowered her head.

“I’m sorry, Jun-san. I keep forgetting.”

Jun struggled to her feet. “It’s alright. I do too. It seems too unreal to have happened anyway.”

Akami nodded and returned to the meal. As the fragrance of sauce and meat and vegetables reached her, Jun realized just how hungry she was. As if in confirmation, her stomach growled audibly.

Akami laughed. “This will be ready any second. Why don’t you sit down? If you want some wine – I bought a bottle.” She gestured at the table.

Jun wondered how she would open the thing, but it stood all ready to pour. She filled two glasses with the ruby liquid and seated herself at one of the set places. All this and she had slept through it.

“You must have been silent as a mouse,” Jun said, as Akami approached, bearing two plates, heavy with food.

“Not really – you were sleeping very deeply. You didn’t even move when I dropped one of the bags.” The girl looked at her hard, her eyes glinting with questions.

“I didn’t realize how tired I was,” Jun shrugged, unwilling to delve into the deeper reasons for her exhaustion. Maybe it was as simple as fatigue from using her arm for a full day. Jun lifted a forkful of vegetables to her mouth and breathed in the aroma. “It smells delicious. Thank you.”

Akami said nothing, but her eyes sparkled with pleasure.

Dinner tasted wonderful. Jun had forgotten that eating could be so satisfying, that all five senses could be engaged with such a simple act. She ate with concentration, not wanting to distract herself with speech, and Akami followed her lead.

When plates and leftovers had been cleaned up, they returned to the table and sat over their wine.

Jun was content to sit in silence. She had always been a quiet, private person. Her short sojourn with Kazumi hadn’t changed that – perhaps it had even intensified it, as she had found herself with so much to hide from the girl. But she knew that silence placed pressure on other people, so she glanced up and addressed Akami. The younger woman was apparently lost in thought and Jun had to repeat herself before she came out of her reverie.

“Tell me about yourself, Akami-san.”

Akami’s face changed color quickly; that self-deprecatory flush that gave her away. “There’s not much to say, really. I’m no one special.” She shrugged.

“Everyone is someone special,” Jun said warmly. “Please.” All of a sudden she was desperate to learn more about this girl – to make her a separate person from the ghost likeness she wore too well.

Akami shrugged again and shifted in her seat. “I was in college when the Fall happened. I was majoring in,” she grimaced, “economics. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, you understand, but my guardians insisted on something in business.”

Jun smiled, encouragingly. “My parents let me come to Tokyo and be a model because they thought I’d fail at it and come home soon.”

Akami looked at her in some surprise. “Really? But how did they feel when you succeeded?”

Jun shrugged. “We never talked about it. They never said what they thought and I never asked.”

“Did they…are they alive?” Akami settled on the least painful version of the question she could find.

“No.” June shook her head. “But they have been gone for a while.” Thank the gods for that little blessing; they were never alive to see the final humiliation of their only child become a beast, fighting at another’s command. Jun flinched internally. What was modeling, though, other than performing at another’s command? She began to understand, a little, why her parents hadn’t really wanted her to succeed.

“I don’t remember my parents,” Akami said. “My aunt and uncle brought me up, and gave me enough money to go to college. But my uncle changed when I was at school one day and I came home to…to…” her face was pale and her eyes closed.

Jun was reminded, yet again, that hers was not the only loss. She cut in quickly. “At the beginning, when I was still new to being the Devilman, I had to fight the beast that killed my friend’s parents.” She didn’t say, “in front of her – while she watched.”

“I bet she was grateful that you saved her life.” Akami said, generously.

Jun didn’t respond. “So,” she forced herself to smile, “you know all about me…tell me your likes and dislikes, your dreams…you know, all that interview stuff.”

Akami grinned back. “Well, my favorite color is red.” She gestured at her eyes. “If it weren’t, I’d walk around all the time clashing with myself. My favorite food is…hmmm…chocolate, I guess. I like nighttime better than day and I want to be a chef.” She turned shy eyes to Jun. “I’m in cooking school now.”

Jun raised her half-empty glass. “I have every confidence that you’ll do well as a chef. Dinner tonight was the best I’ve had in a very long time.” Her own voice was rich and low and it surprised her. Maybe she’d had too much wine, but it felt good, drinking, eating, in the company of this young woman.

“It wasn’t very good,” the girl demurred politely, but then the mischief returned to her eyes. “If you want, Jun-san, I can come back and make you a real meal. Something special!” Her voice and body were animated with the idea. “Maybe a homemade dessert…and something fancy, like a carpaccio…”

Jun watch with pleasure as Akami took her acquiescence for granted. Why wasn’t she fighting back, insisting on her right to choose her own path? What happened to her resolve not to do another’s bidding?

How had this girl insinuated herself so thoroughly into Jun’s life, so quickly?

It was very late when Akami finally left. Jun had insisted on calling a cab for the girl. There was no point in letting her walk home alone. The streets were safe from monsters of one kind – but there would always be monsters hidden in the dark places of the world.

Jun lay in bed, questions pounding in her head like drumbeats. But the one question, the one that gave her a horrible anticipatory shudder, and more than once caused her to lick her lips without realizing it, was this: did Akami ever change? What animal lay behind those gleaming red eyes?

As she lay there listening to the sounds of night, Jun whispered, “I have to know.” Which made her wonder why.

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