Disclaim or Die: Read Or Die (R.O.D) is copyrighted by and the property of Hideyuki Kurata, Akitaro Yamada, Studio Deen/SME, Sony, and currently licensed to Manga Entertainment.  Noir is copyrighted by and the property of Ryoe Tsukimura, Bee Train, Victor Entertainment, Inc. and currently licensed to ADV Films.

Ripped From the Pages
Chapter 1 - Exposition

Nothing but books.  An immense catalogue of almost every rare book imaginable.  It was a great achievement for the Royal British Library.  And the acquisition of such priceless tomes wouldn't be possible without the Division of Special Operations.  The search for knowledge was what this division was here for.  No matter how rare, or how dangerous, or obscure... it was all part of the history of the world.  Any little bit and scrap, a glimpse into another time from which one could now learn from.

Joker looked around the vast and full stacks that surrounded him.  It was impressive.  A breathtaking sight of the wisdom and imagination of the ages that was all around him.  He didn't think anyone appreciated such a place any more than he.  Well, actually, one person outclassed him in such a respect.

"Joker-san!  Joker-san!"

He looked over to the source of the cries, and found The Paper working her way past the diligent DIET workers, the ubiquitous travois trailing behind her.  Every single one of the personnel stopped or stepped back in their paths to let her pass.

"Good morning Yomiko!" cried Wendy to her favourite agent.

She continued past the blonde girl to her superior.  She stormed up to the man and asked:

"Where did you find her?"

Joker looked down at her.  "The Paper; calm down.  Whatever are you talking about?"

She grabbed the lapels of his green blazer.  "Nancy-san!  Where did you find her?!"

"You must ask the person in charge of the I-jin base search team," he coolly replied.

Yomiko's voice rose, and she began to pull at his lapels.  "Then take me to them!  I want to know if we have the right Nancy-san!"

The Joker gripped her hands with his to stop her from shaking him.  He cast his eyes about the room to see everyone's heads turned to the little scene.  He cleared his throat loudly, a signal to return to work, and to quiet Yomiko.  He removed her hands on him and stepped back.  Casually, he straightened himself and glanced over to Wendy.

"Wendy, get the files and bring them to me."

The blonde nodded curtly, knowing exactly what he meant, and set off on her way.

Then he waved his hand at Yomiko.

"The Paper.  We shall see the Gentleman.  Come along."

He led her surely, past the bustling workers, all with stacks of papers in their hands.  They parted for him and The Paper.  But the latter, even with a clear path before her, brushed and bumped past each of them, uttering timid apologies.

The Joker ushered Yomiko into the private head office that belonged to the man in charge of the library force.  He closed the door and then stood before the large oak desk, before the frail yet powerful man that sat behind it.  The room was dim, even though the sun shone brightly through the blinds, but what little light was permitted inside, they could see they were surrounded by books again.

"Mr. Gentleman, The Paper is here to discuss our former associate," Joker started with all formality, respect, and severity.

The wizened and ancient face leaned forward a bit, out of the covering of shadow, and looked at the two of them.  Behind those aged eyes, even the one hidden by the elaborate monocle, there was a glimmer of knowing.  Though the Gentleman looked quite old, but there was still a youthful spirit within him as his thin lips smiled slightly.

"It's about Miss Deep," he stated.

Yomiko jumped at the mention of her code name.  "Hai!  Nancy-san!"

Joker sighed at what he'd have to tell her.  Why did she have to know?  Now of all times, if not at all?  Maybe he underestimated her.  She was always so perceptive; not blinded by books, but rather, given clearer eyes because of them.  One of the defining qualities of a Paper Master.

"The Paper, please.  We knew this day would come, but we didn't think it would be this soon.  We were unsure about how we should disclose this information to you, or rather, to anyone else."

The quiet knocking and the click of the doorknob alerted them that Wendy had arrived with the files.  She handed the semi-thick folders to Joker.

"Wendy, please make us some tea."

"Yes sir!" the secretary answered as she left the room.

Opening up the folders, Joker placed them diligently on the desk.  He motioned for The Paper to come closer and see for herself.

Pictures: nothing but pictures of the ocean, the stray papers that littered the vast liquid's surface, and the marring I-jin base in the middle of it all.

Such memories nearly brought Yomiko to tears.  She held back the drops forming in her eyes, bringing herself to pore over each one.

"Where did you find her?" she asked again as she sensed the blonde man take a step closer to her.

She could hear him take a heavy breath, trying to think up the proper explanation.  "We found the first body below the countdown tower.  She was face up in the water; well, not exactly as you see in this picture."

Both of them were staring at the morbidly comical picture of Mata Hari's body floating in the water, chest up.  Amidst the dank and twisting pipes and concrete, there was the water and her body.  Her glassy eyes looking up from underwater as with the rest of her body, save for her breasts and stomach.

Joker continued.  "We did try to revive her, but she was submerged for far too long.  We were unable to-"

"But you said memory loss due to asphyxiation..."  Her quiet words cut through his explanation, temporarily deflating him.

He looked over her shoulder, and placed a comforting hand there.  But he still spoke as her superior.  "We were unable to bring her back.  I'm very sorry, but we couldn't."

Yomiko turned her head to look up at him.  "Then how do you explain the Nancy I see in the hospital?"

"While you and Drake were sent back here for recovery and debriefing... the rocket's flight path degraded."

"It fell."

He released his hand on her shoulder, and smoothed back his slick blonde hair.  "Ah... yes, it fell.  The clean up and observation teams left behind tracked it a few kilometers from the I-jin base and quickly salvaged it.  We were quite fortunate to find her inside."

"But you said memory loss due to asphyxiation," she stated again.

"The atmosphere is very thin at the altitude the rocket had reached, and there was the open escape door... the air got thinner inside and outside of the rocket.  She didn't have much oxygen left to breathe up there."

Yomiko continued to look down, her hand now on the photo taken of the scene inside the rocket.  Her finger just mere millimeters from Nancy's prone form, lying by Ikkyu's body.  The ruined piano cables and the dead maestro littered the background.

"You found the true Nancy-san and kept her from me."

The Gentleman looked at the girl; he had known her when she was a young budding Paper Master, and she was still as true as ever.  He gave her a paternal nod, and in a guiding fashion started his explanation.  "Yomiko, we didn't tell you about this because of how much you care for her.  You would want to help her remember who you are and all of your time together.  It's quite probable that she won't have any recollection of it at all, and where would you be then?  It would be quite painful to never bring back the one you love, the way she once was.  But if she does recover those memories, and even fully at that, she'll also remember the things that she did before that period as well.  Every single act that she did for the I-jin; in her allegiance with them, she'll have to stand trial for her crimes against humanity."

A sniffle.  "But it isn't fair."

"No, it isn't, The Paper."  Joker looked at her pensively.  "How can she redeem herself?"

"She made her choice when it mattered.  She chose to save the world.  Isn't that enough to clear her of her crimes?"

"It may or may not be."

The Gentleman smiled again, a clever glint sparkling in his garnet monocle.  "We will let things run their course.  Yomiko, you may continue your visits to Nancy Makuhari.  If during any time she is in your presence that there is a partial or even full recovery of her amnesia, she will immediately be diverted to your charge.  The Paper, you will help rehabilitate Miss Makuhari into a productive member of society... and a top agent for The Royal British Library's Division of Special Operations."

Yomiko sniffled again, then let the words sink in.  She brightened.  "Sh-she's pardoned?"

"Not yet.  But I will do everything in my power to see that she is.  She is too valuable of an agent to loose."  Mr. Gentleman backed his wheelchair away from the desk, back into the shadows.  "Hopefully, we have bought ourselves time to let her remember on her own.  And you will be with her every step of the way."

Joker nodded in agreement.  "Indeed.  You both make an excellent team.  When she does recover, only you will teach her, The Paper, and you alone.  If you need assistance, choose to do so at your own discretion."  He picked up another file folder buried under the photograph one.  "In your care, all that everyone knows about Miss Makuhari is that she's still in the institution.  No one else must know about her rehabilitation, lest we give ourselves away to our enemies... and to our allies."

Yomiko nodded slowly, a smile creeping towards each ear.  She nodded happily, knowing full well the seriousness of such instructions and their implications, but still having a chance to be with her Nancy-san.  "Hai!  Hai!  I promise to do my best!  I'll keep it secret!"

Joker couldn't help but let out a small smile and knowingly opened the door, allowing Wendy to carefully trot inside.  She had arrived with their tea, and was making sure not to disturb the silver tray and chinaware in her hands.  Despite her little stumbles and the nervous rattling of the cups, she managed to set it down with great delicacy on a clean table.

The suave higher up of DIET swept a hand over the arrangement.

"Thank you Wendy.  Shall we have some tea?"


It had been days since Yomiko last visited, when she left so abruptly.  Nancy still waited for her to return, every day.  She sat at their usual bench, the one with the beautiful view over the ocean.

There was something about the last visit that saddened her.  She had upset Yomiko-chan somehow.  If only she knew how much she missed her.  She sat with her brushes by her side, ready for plaiting, and colourful origami paper to play with and bring to life.  She even had a new book to share!

The young woman shivered at the ocean breeze and gathered her legs up, wrapping her arms around them and bunching them to her ample chest.  She rested her cheek on her knee, hoping to feel some warmth against the chill.  Somehow, she did, a slight warm tingle; how thin the hospital garment was, it felt as if she were touching her own skin.

"Yomiko-chan... please come back..."

Sighing and looking out over the waters, she focused on the silence around her.  Oh, how gloomy it was without her friend, Yomiko.  The hospital always made her uncomfortable, and she felt like she'd been there before.  Most of the staff regarded her as an over-stayed patient, someone they had to care for until she could be shuffled out of the facilities.  And the way some of the nurses looked at her, a mix of pity and caution.  But Yomiko always seemed to brighten things up; she never looked at her like that, only with the greatest of enthusiasm.

If she closed her eyes and imagined real hard, maybe Yomiko would be bounding towards her, ready for another day of sitting on their bench and reading...

"Nancy-chan!  Nancy-chan!"

Just like that.

Her head shot up attentively, exposing her warmed cheek to the air again.

She smiled.  Oh yes, even the slight tinny clattering and rattling of her travois as she brought it along with her everywhere.

It would get closer, and stop just as she was in front of her.  Then, Nancy could open her eyes and look up, and there'd be Yomiko's beaming face, looking down at her...

Why, there she was.  Oh, how this must be a powerful daydream.  If she could just reach out and touch her-

"Nancy-chan!  What are you doing?  Why are you poking me, hm?"

Gasping, the blue-haired woman pulled her hand back.  "Gomen ne, Yomiko-chan!  I... I, ah, didn't think it was actually you... You left so suddenly last time, I didn't think you would come back so soon..."

"Nancy-chan, I... I left because I forgot about my work!  I had to get an assignment.  You know how forgetful I am."  It was merely a half-truth, and Yomiko smiled reassuringly for the woman.

Her lips curled up slowly, soon mirroring her friend.  "Oh, hai!  You can be quite forgetful!  Just as long as you didn't forget about me, ne?"

The Paper giggled as she took her usual seat on their bench.  "Never, Nancy-san, never."


Hands neatly tucked into his pockets, The Joker looked about him, at all the hive-like activity that was going on in DIET headquarters.  All employees, droves and droves of brown vests and black pants or skirts, were moving about the stacks, taking books and calling to and from each other at every piece of information they stumbled across.  Then again, there would be a great cacophony of chatter if such a thing was to happen, and so many of them were equipped with radio headsets.  Only a small handful of them were forced keep with the informality and that would rather give their vocal cords (and lungs) an exercise.

Joker shook his head as he witnessed a bout of miscommunication between two bridge, rather, book bunnies.  He sighed and ran his hand through his hair.  They really should have taken the headsets.

But then again, this time, the Library was actually short of them for such a massive mobilization.

Of course, such a pace was needed now that so many things were happening at once.

The Paper's discovery that one amnesiac Nancy Makuhari was the true Miss Deep was among those things.  Maybe the rush for her rehabilitation was another.  There was probably no definite trigger for all the research that was being done at this moment, but such incidents skillfully coincided with the DIET's preparations.

But in any case, too many concerns were arising, namely centering around the I-jin.

A majority of the British Royal Library Force felt that all was settled after the suicide song and rocket incident.  The war council had assumed that was the I-jin's only plan, and now that it was thwarted, all would return to normal.

The Immortal Beloved, the kikou books, they were to remain the safety of the Royal Library's custody.  The Library of Congress could do without them, for in the official report, all of them were destroyed.  Besides, the books were more important to them, for they needed to be skimmed in case the I-jin should arise again.

The probability of that was only a niggling worry for the war council, but Mr. Gentleman wasn't convinced.  Of course, he didn't say it out loud, not even in his duties as leader.  He was wise and knew when he should voice such concerns.  He was subtle enough to extend the post-investigation of the I-jin and keep it going in case something should ever arise.

Something just did.

From the corner of his vision, he could spy Wendy trotting towards him with another armload of papers.

"Joker!" she cried.  It seemed urgent.

He turned quickly to face his personal assistant.  "What is it Wendy?"

"Paul and the others in research team thirty-seven found something concerning the kikou books."  She nearly tripped forward, but stopped herself, saving face.  A hand fished around the pile of folders and sheets in her arms and surfaced with one paper in hand.  "Here it is!"

Joker briskly took the paper from her hand and let his eyes scan over it.

"Wendy, there's barely a thing on it."

"Yes... I know, Joker.  But it's the one word that has been appearing again and again in all of the kikou books.  Paul surely thought it was important."

He reread the word and subconsciously shivered at it.

"Joker?" came Wendy's worried voice at his reaction.

He paid no mind to her and kept his stoic gaze on the word before him.  A neat black mar of ink on the pure white page in his hand.  There was something about this word that disturbed him, something distant and old, and worth finding in the stacks.

Soldats.


Spacious, sterile white.  Nothing but that blinding and constricting colour all around, and that stale medicinal smell in the air.  Soon, that bleached appearance and scent faded, and was replaced with something not so unnervingly bland.  From out of the institution's halls into another room, one quite spacious and somewhat a little more vibrant.

Nancy looked around, still quite put off by the room's appearance.  One corner was padded, floors and walls alike, and that frightened her a bit every time they came in here.

"Yomiko-chan?  Why are we here again?"

The Paper gave her friend a reassuring smile.  "Nancy-chan!  In all your time here at the hospital, you haven't been to the recreation centre?"

"Ano..." Nancy meekly replied, her fingers fiddling around, knotting and untwisting together.  "I-I haven't been here often.  I've always spent my time outside, and with you..."  She blushed, quite abashed.  "Until now."

Yomiko continued to smile.  "Well, then this is another place for us to spend time in, ne?"

"Ah... Hai!"

"Let's play, hmm?"

Nancy ran into the spacious room, and gleefully executed a perfect cartwheel on the matted floor.

The Paper couldn't help but smile even more widely at the sight.  Though she would have preferred another quiet afternoon of reading and sitting out on the bench, any time spent with Nancy was worth recovering any ground.  Nancy-san's skills were still latent within her.  The physical training ahead would be quite easy in reacquainting her with the basics... but as for the memory department, she prayed that her former partner would soon remember.  It would be quite awkward to have her prepared as an agent without knowing any reason why she was involved in such a program.

"Yomiko-chan!  Why don't you join me?"

With a curt nod, she kicked off her slippers and shrugged off her trench coat.

Yomiko readied herself and took a running start towards the mats.  Quickly springing into the air, she executed a frontward flip.

Turning... turning... Nancy-san before her, the floor rushing up to meet her and-

"Oof!"

Nancy winced at the tangled pile that was Yomiko.

"Ano... maybe you should sit this one out."


There was nothing but the dismal radioactive green and the dank shadows formed from the endless array of pipes and gaskets that composed the current surroundings.  High feminine sounds of exertion echoed through the spacious and yet constrictive space, synchronized with the shadow play of two people.

Two shapely figures were sparring intensely, one armed with a roll of paper ribbon and the other with a short baton.  It didn't seem fair, considering the entire baton was small enough to be enclosed in her hand.

But whenever the paper would strike down upon her opponent, she would counter by holding up her baton in a defensive sword-like position, blocking the ribbon's path.  A low pulse and a ripple in the surrounding air parried with the paper rapier, showing that the simple baton wasn't so useless.

"You are I-jin, The Paper!  What is your purpose?"  She pushed hard, sending her opponent reeling back.

"My purpose is to bring about perfection!  Hah!"  The copied Paper continued her assault with her sword.

"What of your previous life?"  And her opponent continued to counter effortlessly.

"It was a foolish one.  I helped to defend a world that was not great..."

"Why is that?  Yah!"

The two women clashed weapons with great force that pushed them back, sending them to opposite sides of the area.

Paper Copy regarded her sparring partner and thought of her next move, as well as her answer.

Her blue eyes traced over the feminine form on the other side of the room.  The baton in her hand, it was no more than a microphone, looking like one of those old radio types.  Her eyes worked around, scanning her clothing.  A strange hybrid of some dirndl skirt and a kimono, sans sleeves.  A long robe made up for the sleeves, imitating the long flowing ones of a kimono.  Her face was delicate and radiated Oriental beauty, and her hair done up in a slight pompadour, held in place by the headband of her headset.

Colour wasn't important, the ubiquitous shadows and green glow only drowned them out.

"There is too much idleness and idiocy.  The world no longer loves books and would rather have the data in their hands go straight to their heads with television and computers... Instead of reading books, instead of working to obtain such knowledge and etch it into their minds."

She smirked.  "You speak ill of technology... It holds so much more than a single page ever will."

"Such a thing is artificial!  It isn't real, only an illusion that gives cheap gratification!  It's nothing compared to the majesty and sophistication of books, those which exercise the mind and the imagination.  They are real, and they have revolutionized the world far longer than such technology ever has."

The two slowly circled each other, waiting for an opening of attack.

"You are right, The Paper.  Books are better than technology."  She paused again, another snide smile playing on her lips.  "A book does a better job of holding up an uneven table than a laptop."

The copy clenched her fist, letting the ribbon in it go lax.  She studied the arrogant expression on her opponent's face, sensing that her guard was down.  With blinding speed, she lashed the ribbon out like a whip.  With a flick of her wrist, the ribbon reared up like a snake then struck forth, wrapping around her opponent's wrist.  The Paper Copy pulled back, sending the mike clattering to the ground.  With another jerk, she sent her opponent to her knees.

Satisfied with winning this round, The Paper Copy uncoiled the ribbon and let it wind back up into a neat roll in her hand.

Dusting herself off and picking up her fallen weapon, she got back on her feet and walked towards The Paper Copy.  She held her hand out, to which The Copy accepted for a shake.

When they released hands, her opponent licked the blood that was starting to flow from the small, slim wound on her arm.  She gave her a grim smile.

"You gave me a very enlightening session today, The Paper... or shall I call you Paper Cut now?  Either one, I thank you."

"Paper Cut will do for me now."  The clone bowed.  "You're very welcome, Tokyo Rose."


Love.  Lust.  Hatred.  Ambition.  Pride.  Guilt.  Pain.  Love.

All those things were streaming through her mind, coursing through her veins.  A volatile cocktail of emotions that made her body writhe between the sheets and a cold, clammy sweat break on her skin.

She wanted out.  It was too much.  More and more too much for her.  She was drowning in it all.  Building up from each night of her recovery and meeting with Yomiko.  It came at her, faster and faster, hitting her harder and harder.  Like she was being smothered, suffocating from these emotions while a sledgehammer of images and memories were driving themselves into her brain, into her mind, into her heart.  Things she knew and didn't know were wrapping themselves around her, trying to get in.

"Yomiko!" Nancy cried out as she bolted upright in her bed.

She sat there, panting, her eyes darting around in the dark.  The blur of darkness all around her, but only the faint glow coming from her body.  She could feel the slight tingling from those areas of her body which the light emanated from.

Nancy looked closer, to see her sheets once again halfway through her body.  The matter of her legs and nightclothes once again weaved together with the thin blanket she covered herself with.  She reached to pull the thing off her, but her hand merely passed through the material.

She stared at her errant hand.  She closed it and opened it.  It felt solid...

Nancy Makuhari.  Mata Hari.  Ikkyu.  I-jin.  DIET.  The Paper.  Yomiko.  Words, people, organizations, concepts were running in a haze about her brain as she stared at the phenomenon her body was creating.

Sight was registering itself at the foremost, and the strange thoughts ran in the background of her mind.  Strangely, sight and thought were connecting, sparking off each other, giving her faint comprehension of this... this thing... this phase.

Phasing.

It was only the first time she experienced it, and yet it felt like she had done this many times before, that it should be nothing to her now.  It was so new, and so old, to her.

What was this?  What was she doing?  What were these things that were hidden away in her head?

She was beginning to feel new.  No, more like she was growing, growing inside.

Every thought ended in Yomiko-chan.  Tomorrow, maybe tomorrow, she might provide some answers.


As Yomiko entered the hospital's rec centre, she felt a rush of air and saw a flesh-toned and black blur whiz by her.  Dropping her grip on her travois, she waved happily in time to see Nancy finish her series of flips, which she executed with near blinding speed.

The amnesiac was clad in a curve hugging black leotard, reminding any observer of her former uniform.  She nodded shyly at her friend and prepped herself for another routine.

The Paper felt a slight tap on her shoulder and turned around to find her superior, Joker.

"Joker-san!  Ano... what are you doing here?"

"I'm here to see what kind of progress you've been making," the older man informed her.

"It's barely been a couple of weeks, Joker-san... please be patient."

"Yomiko, I do not want to put you on a schedule, but we must be on our toes and at the ready.  The I-jin could be mobilizing at this very moment... It, well, it could involve the kikou books..."

"But all the kikou books were recovered... along with The Immortal Beloved..."  She gave an embarrassed blush at the mention of the book.

Joker suppressed the urge to roll his eyes, and instead ran a hand through his hair, a mannerism that he developed in his exasperation and nervousness.  He could keep a fully neutral and unreadable poker face, but that habit always betrayed him.  "It's been reconstructed and rebound.  We made sure to gather every page.  And I do mean every.  You may read the rest of it as soon as this is all over."

With that mention, Yomiko's face lit up.

"There is another 'but' to all of this.  The kikou books are part of a completely different plan than what we originally thought.  At first, the journals could have been used to track down where the copies of The Immortal Beloved were and find out how to piece together Beethoven's suicide symphony.  But why hold onto them still after they were able to retrieve the book?  Maybe they were used to weed out more great minds for the I-jin to clone, but there isn't enough sufficient information in those books; they're merely traveler's journals."

"Joker-san, what are you getting at?"

"Those journals, The Paper.  They could lead the I-jin to something greater in their quest for their vision of utopia.  We're unsure of what, or rather, where it is the journals will lead them.  All the researchers at DIET are doing their best to analyze every bit of information we have."  He sighed, having to get to business.  "I'm afraid that if Miss Deep isn't recovered, Mr. Gentleman may not be able to obtain her pardon; we may have to seek outside help."

"Ie, Joker-san.  Don't worry, I'll do my best to take care of things before the I-jin strike."

"I trust you to, The Paper."  With that statement of motivation rather than reassurance, Joker turned to leave the area.

Yomiko glanced behind her, to see Nancy unsurely walking towards her and the now retreating Joker.  She clapped her hands in delight and complimented her growing skills.

"Nancy-chan!  You're doing so well!  You've been practicing while I've been away, haven't you?"

"Ah... hai.  I have been practicing quite hard... But I don't know if I want to continue."

"Eh?  Why is that Nancy-chan?"

The young woman looked at Yomiko, regarding her, and then looked away.  "I-I've been having some terrible dreams lately."

"Dreams?  What do you dream about?"

"I dream of disturbing things... I dream of this green light, and, it just feels like it's full of evil.  And there's a man, who comes and promises to love me, but doesn't mean it.  But then I dream of happy things, like flying, with you..."  Nancy paused to glance back and blush, but then turned her head again.  "Usually I wake up, and I can't remember everything, I think... they're just bits and pieces.  It's so much of a big blur..."  Her head lowered, as did her voice.  "Once... I woke up, and found... I found my sheets halfway through me.  It... It was like they were in and out of my body!  At the same time!"

Yomiko couldn't contain herself from the flutter of joy she felt inside.  She was beginning to get her Nancy-san back.  Not that she didn't love the sweet amnesiac girl, it was just that there were too many memories attached to her to forget what she felt for the former Mata Hari.  Blushing, she touched her glasses*, a mannerism considering how special they were to her.

"Yomiko-chan?  Wh-what do you think?  Please don't tell me that I'm crazy; I don't want to stay here any longer than I have to."

"I don't think that... Ah... What I mean to say is..."  She paused and breathed deeply, gathering her words.  "You're not crazy, Nancy.  I think you're just remembering who you are.  I can't pretend that I know what it is you'll be remembering.  The things you might recover will be frightening, and they might be too much to take at times, but no matter what, know that I'll be with you every step of the way."

A look of confusion seemed to pass over Nancy's face for a moment, but then her features smoothed themselves over again as a glimmer of understanding lit up from her eyes.  She reached out and clasped her friend's hands, and on impulse, she leaned close to peck a kiss on Yomiko's cheek.  "Arigatou, Yomiko-chan."  She smiled brightly and then returned to practicing her gymnastics and acrobatics.

Blushing and smiling as well, the bibliophile gently rubbed her contacted cheek with one hand while the other touched her glasses again.  "Hai... every step of the way."

To be continued...

Author's Notes:
*1 - That is a slight manga reference.  It's not important, but just a note on this mannerism I play up.  Yomiko is very defensive of who touches her glasses.  She cherishes them as a keepsake from her first true love, Donnie Nakajima.  For a bit of information, he's like a male Yomiko, save for the fact that he's a little more mature and cognitive of his surroundings.  He's a bibliophile and he was also a Paper Master like her.  Keep in mind, I said was.
As anyone can tell, this will become a crossover in the next chapter.  If anyone has any suggestions or comments/criticism, then feel free express them!  Read Or Die is my favourite anime, Noir coming in a close second, and I would like to know if I'm doing a good job. ^_^