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 2 - Antithesis

From the day Nancy Makuhari had started her relationship with Yomiko Readman, the more ease she felt in the quest of finding her past self.

Ever since she had woken up and found herself in the hospital, with no memory, it was like there was a heavy curtain drawn over her most of her mind.  And she had to pull it with a rope- no, a string.  The only thing she had to do to recover herself was to open a heavy veil with a fragile thread.

It was such a delicate link within herself.

A small part of herself tried to grasp at that thread, but never get a hold on it.

When she had met Yomiko, she had that thread in her grasp and all she could do was pull to open the curtain, but even then, the effort to do so was so difficult.  Every night, inside herself, she would pull and pull, only to have her efforts vanish as soon as she woke up.

All she could hold on to were the glimpses past the sparsely parted curtain.

She felt that it wouldn't be easy.  She might not like what she saw on the other side.  It wouldn't matter anyway, not at all.  But she hoped that she'd have Yomiko beside her, and that the bookish girl would stay by her no matter what, just like before.

What was "just like before"?  What was before?  Many years of friendship, or a few days acquaintance?

It felt like both... so much confusion going on in her.

Annoyed, or to at least distract herself, Nancy pinched at the black leotard she took to wearing every time she was to begin training.  Training for a couple of weeks on end for what, she didn't know, but the prospect of such a thing immediately made her focus herself with excitement.

It was so strange; she had a natural finesse when it came to gymnastics, with amazing flexibility and agility that brought out her fancy.  Well, she wanted to bring out her fancy when she had such aerodynamic grace, but lately, something in her pushed it all aside.  Extreme concentration for what was ahead was needed, and no frivolous ideas would get in the way.  Cartwheel in a straight line?  Done.  Try to tumble and spin as much as you can while in the air?  Done.  Backflip in a straight line from along the edge of the seaside cliff?  Done.

Nothing big about dancing on a razor's edge.

She stretched languidly, feeling the dark second skin slide against her, and proceeded to do a few warm ups.

For the first few days, she had fun learning (or was it relearning?) the basics, the techniques.  She caught on quick, and within a week, she had stuck to a strict regimen of practice.

Outside of the mats, she didn't feel so much as lighthearted as she was around her friend Yomiko.  She was growing more and more serious, yearning to learn more than just gymnastics.  Not because she would enjoy doing more than that, but because she felt like she had to do more.  And not a "fun" activity, but more of a hard activity, a challenge.  She was interested in fighting, and so she asked Yomiko to teach her how to fight.

Of course, the bespectacled girl didn't really seem like the fighting kind; Nancy should've known better.  But Yomiko was more than happy to help anyway; she did say that she had a friend who could teach her.

Confidently, she strode out of the changing room into the recreation area.  They were indoors again, considering the outside exercise along her and Yomiko's favourite spot was a refreshing respite.  The rec centre still had its mats neatly arranged on the floor, but waiting by them were Yomiko and the instructor that was to be expected.

"Nancy!  I want you to meet-"

"Drake Anderson," the man beside her interrupted, making his own introduction.

Nancy looked him over.  He was a tall man, quite more than a head taller than Yomiko.  He had a wide, very muscular physique; it made him look quite bulky and burly, especially in his limbs and torso.  A serious expression was etched into his features, made clear by his tied back blonde hair, and the black skullcap that hugged close to his head.  He took to wearing a dark sweater and cargo pants, the military type greens of his clothing fitting him quite well.

Yomiko continued to smile, despite his rude interruption.  "Yes, Drake-san will be working with you today on hand-to-hand combat!"

The man still kept a serious look, but his gaze was wary of his student for the day.  "And if you survive, I'll be your sparring partner.  Now normally, I don't take to hitting girls," commented Drake.  His mouth said one thing, but his hands proved otherwise: he balled his hands into fists, tensely cracking his knuckles.

Yomiko nervously chuckled.  "Ah... you'll make an exception for Nancy-san, yes?"

The burly blonde man shot Yomiko a gruff look and grunted.  "Hmph."

"I... ah... take that as a no?"

Drake sighed.  "Let's get started."

A brooding silence was prevalent deep within the glowing green bowels of the hidden I-jin facility.  Deep in its core, the sickening glow of green was more invasive, more dully blinding.  The almost silent hisses of escaping steam emanated from the ubiquitous pipes.  Such an old-fashioned energy system was now utilized to top efficiency, running with a little boost from some nuclear power.

So much to power... especially the revival tanks.

The Tokyo Rose and The Paper Cut walked down one of the narrow aisles that separated the endless rows of metal and glass cylinders, artificial wombs ready to bring forth more power.  They browsed their fellow visionaries, the many great minds and bodies who were fateful enough to have their names etched into the world's history.

The Oriental beauty turned to her sparring partner, smiling with good news.  "Paper Cut, I know that there is someone you must be excited to meet... Your chances of being paired up again are quite good.  You worked so well before, why not now, and for the I-jin?"

She stopped and turned to her partner, her lips caught in an almost gasp.  "You can't happen to say..."

"Look up, she's here."

And there was the Mata Hari, floating submerged in the glowing green tinged liquid. 

A delicately pale hand touched the glass, trying to caress the face on the other side.  Her hand stopped at her cheek, settling to affectionately cup Mata Hari's face.  Then she flattened her palm and spread her fingers, sliding it ruefully across the glass, as if trying to wipe the image of the face from her mind.

"She will be of no use to us," Paper Cut rasped.


"I said the Mata Hari will be of no use to us," she repeated through her clenched jaw.

"Why is that, Yomiko?"

"Don't say that name!  She... she is an abomination to the I-jin!  She betrayed us once, she will betray us again, no matter how many million different Mata Hari's you create.  She is an outright failure, and is an aberration... a blight on our perfect world."

"What makes her so?" inquired Tokyo Rose.

"Because... because!  The Mata Hari gave up greatness.  She gave up on our ideals becoming reality.  She chose to leave the world in its despicable state..." Paper Cut spat venomously.

Tokyo Rose looked at her sparring partner, brooding against the cylinder glass, bathed in the absinthe light.  She understood, as all the I-jin knew and understood the impatience and weariness they all shared.  "I understand.  I am I-jin because the world is wrought with injustice, and I seek to correct it.  The masses scatter about like mindless insects; parasites, really.  A den of filthy parasites that only follow a constant buzz, blindly following it, no matter what it says.  They're very stupid animals, the rest of them, quick to relentlessly hound and persecute because they're directed by that misleading chatter that always lingers in their ears.  They are insensitive to orphans, not seeing that they are still lost and innocent children, but rather see that they are only the children of their enemies."

She sighed, her eyes gazing far off and inwards, reflecting on the wrongs of her past life.*º  The wrongs committed against her and the propaganda that damned her from receiving any fair treatment or trial.  Her friends and people who knew the truth had been turned against her, her efforts in the fight for the Allied side and to bring comfort to those stranded and imprisoned as she was were ignored and distorted.

"The only way to correct such injustices and lies is with the truth.  To be true and show humanity how flawed it is and correct it.  We are the chosen ones, we are the truth.  Shin," Tokyo Rose breathed out the Japanese word for truth.  "In order for them to do realize it, we must make sacrifices.  Some, even all, must die."

The Paper Cut brooded on the last word.


The very air was punctuated with the thudding of flesh landing on leather and stuffing.  Two spectators watched the student's progress as she practiced on the punching bag, but neither of them was evaluating her.  Both of them felt like they were racing the clock, for some unspecific reason, all they knew was that they had to be ready before their enemy.

Yomiko turned slightly to her back-up, gently placing a hand on his crossed arms.  "Drake-san... I hope you-"

He quickly held up a hand to silence her.  "I've been debriefed and classified.  You can trust me on this.  Though, I don't know why I should help you, or her, for that matter.  She's I-jin."

"She was I-jin, Drake-san, was."

"You are too trusting, Yomiko."

"But Joker-san and Mr. Gentleman... They're supporting me on this!  They do want her to remember; it means that they must believe that Nancy-san can help us."

Drake looked over at the smaller, mousy woman and snorted.  "I'm surrounded by bad luck then.  Those pompous, arrogant..."

"Don't speak like that.  You can trust her to help us.  She'll remember and she'll join us, just like before!"

"Yomiko, I'd be lying if I said that I haven't been soured towards that woman.  I'm skeptical towards the wisdom of keeping her around; she might revert, she might not.  All I can say is that it will be very difficult for all of us, even if the world is at stake.  But then again, isn't this why we joined Special Ops?"

The Paper blinked at him, unsure of what to say.

He stared intently at her, his voice serious.  "You are, surprisingly, the Library's top agent.  I trust your judgment, The Paper.  If you believe that Makuhari here won't disappoint us, I'll go along with it.  I'm willing to help you in this... though I think I'm going to regret my words."  His corner of his lip curled up for a mischievous smirk.

Yomiko took a sharp intake of breath, ready to say something back.

"But don't convince me otherwise yet," Drake roughly interrupted.

Nancy was now approaching them, meaning that it was time for some one-on-one field practice.  "I'm ready," she announced to the two of them.

"I was wondering when you'd finish freshening up," Drake replied sarcastically as he accompanied her to their specified area.

They were to spar on the mats.

Both of them stood in place, taking a ready stance.

After circling each other for a while, Drake lunged forth at the lithe woman.

Quickly, Nancy ducked under his reach and tried to trip him.

He may have been big, but he was quick.  Nancy could use his size against him, but she needed to hang in a little more before she could take advantage of any opening he presented.

Yomiko watched intently as her fellow agents sparred against each other.  Her thoughts dwelled on Nancy's progress in fighting.

They had started with the basics of some hand-to-hand combat.  Punches, kicks, blocks, trips... She was an adept learner, frighteningly so.  Whereas Yomiko was able to teach her a few non-lethal moves, she picked up on the knowledge of a few final finishers as well.

The woman was naturally cunning, if her gymnastics were to prove anything.  Though she had grown more serious lately, it seemed more of her cleverness shone through, with a quick wit and humour displaying itself when she was more playful with Yomiko.  She was beginning to resemble the woman that she once was when she was with Yomiko.

Drake lunged forward at Nancy again, but she ducked and rolled past his legs.  She didn't even notice that, as if on instinct, she rolled through his legs.  Springing back up, she stood behind him.

The former Mata Hari saw his back to her and her hand shot out, intending to push him over.  But her hand passed through him.  There was the sickening squish of her arm and hand hitting against his organs.

A grunt, the strained expel of breath that came from him meant that one of those organs was his lungs, literally knocking the wind out of him.

She blinked.  An image flashed behind her eyelids, of someone's hand doing the same thing...

A black glove had burst through her chest, sending blood flying in front of her eyes accompanied by the sharp pain and difficulty to breath.  She had collapsed forward, knowing she had been betrayed...

"No!" she cried as Drake lurched forward onto the mat.

She looked at her hand, still raised and put forward, dripping with blood.  His blood.  She continued to stare, oblivious to Yomiko's screaming.

It was fortunate they were in a hospital, for immediately, nurses and paramedics burst through the door, at the ready as soon as they heard the commotion.  DIET was very particular to hire such a quick and hop-to staff in all their departments.

Nancy wasn't in for the fight of her life against the burly man she just met a scant few days ago, but she didn't mean to do that to him... she didn't even know how she could do such a thing as that!

"Drake-san!  Drake-san!" cried Yomiko again and again.  She ran to her back-up muscle's side, with him as the paramedics hoisted him on up to the wheeled gurney.  Holding onto a meaty arm, The Paper hovered over him in concern.  "Drake-san!  Please, please, I'm sorry... Gomen, gomen ne!"

"You... are... terrible luck..." muttered Drake as he was strapped in securely.  He managed to give off a shadow of a smirk as they carted him off.

Yomiko bowed her head, the very brunt of the scene rushing at her.  Drake was hurt just so that Nancy could make another step in recovery... Surely the man would heal and bounce back, good as new, but the words he said earlier... She was even more determined to make sure that he didn't truly regret those words.

She looked back at Nancy, who had crumpled to the floor, still staring at her hand and the blood dripping from it.  The woman was frozen, mortified at what she had just done.  Something within her was remembering, as her lips moved slowly.

"I did this... and yet, I didn't... There were two of me.  Two... But there's only one Nancy-san in this world..." she softly quoted.

Yomiko was beginning to feel her own regret for the events she had put into motion.  She took off her trench coat and gently approached the confused woman, draping it over her shoulders.  Helping Nancy to her feet, she guided her outside, to a place that she felt could calm her.  Yomiko took out a paper napkin and gingerly held her friend's hand to wipe the blood off.

"Nancy-chan... let's go outside and sit on our bench.  I have to talk to you about something..."

"So you say that Miss Makuhari was involved while The Paper supervised.  Tell me what happened."  A long pause ensued, hanging over the office.  "So he sustained only minor injuries then?  You can contain the internal bleeding; that's good to know.  Yes, yes.  Thank you.  Update me on Mr. Anderson's condition as it progresses.  We need him in tip-top condition.  Good bye."

With that, he put aside his cellular rotary phone.

The Joker sighed and rubbed his fingers against his temples.  He had immediately received word from the hospice about Drake's condition as well as the incident concerning Miss Deep.  She would have to temper her powers... Maybe The Paper could apply the lessons she learned from her mentor to her new charge.

There was no doubt that the poor girl was torturing herself over all this.

This was an interesting development indeed.  An unfortunate one, but the blonde man seriously hoped that it would immediately be balanced out by Miss Deep's recruitment into the Royal Library's Special Ops.  He would have to send word to Mr. Gentleman so that he could push forward her pardon to make such recruitment possible.  She would be a very useful agent as her past record would prove, and any ill will would be purged if she proved herself with this new chapter.

This new one would only become all the more interesting...

But, there were more pressing matters at hand.  His attention returned itself to the papers and photocopies that were before him.

Ever since the mention of Soldats several days ago, their resources were mobilized towards finding the connection between that word and the I-jin.  All that they had learned was the word belonged to an underground crime syndicate based in Europe; Mr. Gentleman conferred that syndicate was a trifling word for Soldats, as he added that Soldats was the world.  Soldats originated from an obscure ancient society in medieval France around the turn of the first millennium; the only remote occurrence related to them in the world today was the most obscure and savage razing of a feudal based village near the border of Spain and France.

"The ten-hundreds, the eleven hundreds..."  He pondered on that time.  It was the Dark Ages, and though the Royal Library was vast in its resources, many things pertaining to such a time were limited.  His thoughts crossed over from one to another, trying to recollect all the manuscripts in their possession.  Something jolted him, and Joker turned to his desk dispatch.

"Elias, have you found Langon's Manuscript?"

"I'm one step ahead of you, Joker.  We're looking at it right now."

The Joker thought some more about the text he had just named.  "I thought that there were no more copies of Langon's Manuscript; that the last one was lost in a fire somewhere in Austria."*²

"We thought so too until The Paper's first mission."

A reminiscent smile pulled at the man's lips.  "Ah, yes.  My addled and overworked mind must be slipping.  I remember The Bibliomaniac.  We raided Marihara Kazumi's private library when it was over; or rather, what was left of it.  Red Hot was not merciful."*³

"I wouldn't be surprised if The Bibliomaniac hired her to loot it from the private library in Austria.  The building was burnt down..."

Joker dismissively waved his hand at the thought.  "Well, it's pointless to speculate on past connections and coincidences, Elias.  Can you tell me what you've gotten so far on the manuscript?"

"It's a translation of a much older text; the original text is definitely from the eleventh or twelfth century.  It seems to have outlined Soldat's manifesto, as well as something called Noir."

His interest was piqued.  "Noir, you say?"


He stroked his chin pensively, his brows knitted in recollection.  "Noir is an ancient name, and it belongs solely to the underworld.  I have heard rumours about Noir resurfacing in the world, but that's a matter that I believed only concerned such unsavoury types.  Nothing that the Royal Library would well associate with," The Joker said in his cool, collected English manner.  "Well, I believe that one secretive faction should be able to look over shoulders and monitor another, don't you?  Look into any recent occurrences that may involve Soldats and this Noir."

"Yes, sir!"

The Joker smiled inwardly.  There would be more mobilization, rushing to meet the I-jin threat.  The sources were ready, the materiel were ready, but were their main warriors ready?  As a man that always trusted in the ability of calculated planning and a little bit of luck, he leaned back and felt that now he would have to suspend his disbelief and trust Fate.

It was time to draw back the curtain again, to take hold of that fine thread and unravel that curtain of her own clouded subconscious.  Every pull of the thread became a strong tug that yielded wider glimpses, longer glances into what was held back.  She couldn't wake up, not that she wanted to; the sedatives circulating in her system made sure of that.

Her mind was drifting back to that fanciful partial explanation that Yomiko had given her, right before the nurses and orderlies came to find them outside, on that bench overlooking the sea.  They didn't force a needle into her; rather, she simply requested it, so as not to hurt anyone.

She had phased.  Right through him.

But how she could commit an act so gruesome as if it were reflex... it baffled her.  It scared her.  And yet, part of her wasn't scared.  A small piece of her embraced the brutality... but her conscience immediately stamped out that savage glimmer.

It was a matinee in her mind's eye, playing fragments of memories of an all too short existence.  Too short, but fully lived.  These were things she couldn't comprehend, for they moved too fast, were too outrageous for any one sane person to believe.  Was she driven mad in her former life?

No, her reactions, her feelings towards such things, the demeanour she displayed said otherwise.  From flying a paper airplane through New York to outrunning India's Ganges River to even the metallic mega fortress; cool and calm under fire, barely a hint of bewilderment, like it was business as usual.  It wasn't a tall tale from some cheap storybook.

Nancy played these images of memories again and again, pieced together like some surreal action movie, trying to process all of this.  Gaining some footing on finding the truth.  It wasn't whole, but it was mostly there, blatantly staring her in the face, but she couldn't understand it all.

Like a clearing in her thoughts, the image of Yomiko alone came to her mind's eye... And the storm inside her mind calmed, and everything seemed to be held together with her.  Though things still didn't make sense to Nancy, she felt that with Yomiko, they just did.

What was it that she felt for her friend?  All that she knew up until now was that she had deep friendship with her... but with these memories surfacing, she felt a glimmer of something more, a love not fully formed.

"I want to be loved, yesterday and today... I don't know how many times I've admired you... You, my life, keep on loving me..."

Those words struck at her heart, pulling at those emotions, almost forming them.

Emotions that made her want to open her eyes wide and stare into Yomiko's face with amazement.

Her consciousness began pushing past the drug-induced haze, as her eyelids struggled to lift themselves.  How could she be wrenched back into this world?  She wanted to retreat into the darkness and try to piece together that unfinished puzzle in her mind, but as her sight came into focus, she thought it better that she stay awake.

Hovering by her bedside was a ragged Yomiko.  The bookworm's hair was a mess, with clumps of it tangled together and sticking out at the top of her head.  Concern and heavy fatigue were evident all over her face, but the brightness in her eyes, magnified by those ridiculous glasses, didn't fade at all.  The sterile white ceiling and bright lighting behind her almost made her seem like an angel - her clumsy, daffy guardian angel.

A sense of déjà vu passed between the two of them; that they were in a room just like this, placed in the same positions, in the same scenario.

Yomiko's relieved smile and building high sigh were so familiar.

With the way the sunset filtered inside the tiny square and sterile room, it reminded Yomiko of that tiny hospice in India, where Miss Deep recovered from that nasty bout with Genjo Sanzo and magic bo staff.

She focused her sky blue eyes intently onto that pair of sunset pink ones.  "You were sleeping for two days straight.  You had me so worried, Nancy-sa... er, Nancy-chan..."  The Paper blushed at the trip up in her words.  She almost expected to greet the same woman she knew in that vivid memory.

"Call me the first one..." the navy bluenette requested wearily.  

Yomiko wanted to let the very name and honourific jump out of her mouth, yelling it again and again.  She was recovering more and more already!  But it was so hard to tell to what extent at this point, she yearned for it to happen fully and instantaneously, to make things the way they were before.  But her life wasn't a story with convenient plot twists, it was complicated, and she forcibly reminded herself that this was an uphill battle for the two of them.


At that name, those pink eyes stared back into those blue ones, recognition sparked within them.  A blaze of subdued bewilderment and confusion was projected back at her, those emotions screaming out how lost she was on her search for her sense of self.  She was one of two, that much she knew already... how much more did she recover in the time she was asleep?

"Yomiko... tell me a story," Nancy asked, her voice small as a child's, just like on the very day they met again.

The Paper knew what story it was she would have to tell.  She wasn't finished explaining everything to Nancy while they were at their bench, but she was given plenty of time to think it over, readily rehearsing her words during her bedside vigil.  Any fatigue that Yomiko felt was washed away as she fondly reminisced and recounted everything as vividly as she could to her friend.  She did her best to retell the memories enough so that both of them could relive it through her words, to create a story that weaved a tangible and sensual experience, like all of her favourite books did.

Nancy listened, she listened long and quite hard, while instantaneously any and every scrap of her memory was being called up like catalogue cards and cross-referenced to the things Yomiko said.  She wanted to sit up and talk to her about this recollection, but she struggled against something heavy on her chest and arms.  With a resigned gasp, she plopped back down, looking up at Yomiko, whose face held renewed concern.

She looked down, to her hands and chest to see heavy straps restraining her where she lay.

"That's right... This is for my own good.  Drake... I killed him..."  Her head rolled away, averting her gaze, anguish washing anew over her.

"No!  You didn't do such a thing!  He's fine... he's fine... Really, he is..."  Yomiko's tender hand reached out, resting over hers, fingers slipping around and clasping gently.  "Drake-san is feeling better.  He's very strong, you know; it's because he has someone to hold onto, he has his daughter Maggie to keep living for."

Nancy continued to stare out the window, at the sun that was just threatening to sink below the horizon.  "He's very lucky then."

"I think that you need someone to live for.  Let me be that person... please?"  She gave Nancy's hand a soft squeeze.

"Do you still want to be?  Even after all you know about me?  You seem to know more about me than I do at the moment."

"Of course I do!  I want to, no matter what.  I want to help you remember everything about yourself!  I don't care if it's a dark and ugly past.  I didn't care about that... only you.  I..." She blushed deeply.  "I care for you... a lot."

Nancy slowly turned her head back, cautiously looking at her partner.  She could only see the truth in what she was saying in those eyes.  She trusted that woman, the one who showed her there was more to the empty love she knew of.  She felt flush, her cheeks slightly reddened.

"I care for you too... But, I can't go back to that woman you knew, the one you loved.  I'm not the same now."

"No, you're not..."  Her expression darkened to that of yearning for a moment, quickly replaced by an optimistic smile.  "But no one is ever the same person for too long."

"You're right."  A shadow of a smile was mirrored on the Mata Hari's face.  "What if I wanted to become partly that same person then?"


A long pause settled between the two of them, both of their minds skimming over the segue that had been given to Nancy at the bench before this moment.  Why they were doing all of this training, what connection it had to her past, then beginning to retell her past.  Up until their interruption by the hospice staff.

The blue haired woman's lips moved slowly, letting the effect of what she was to say work itself into herself and Yomiko.

"Ie... call me, Miss Deep..."

The Paper was overjoyed at what she was hearing.  Realistically, she couldn't have the perfect replica of the Nancy she knew; to create a conveniently refreshed version would make her just as worse as the I-jin.  A girl could dream, and though it was nice to dream, she remembered a conversation she shared with the woman long ago.

"In real life, love takes a different course than those books you read... Which do you prefer?  Real love with all its complications, or a perfect storybook romance?"

The Paper smiled as she had made her choice then, and renewed her choice now.

"Nancy-san, Miss Deep, rest well and heal up... We're going on our first mission soon."

Those sunset pink eyes blinked.  "Already?  To where?"

"To Paris, France."

The Parisian skyline was so beautiful, so crisp, so clean.  It looked pristine and perfect, but below, one could see that its streets, the little avenues and alleyways that built this beloved city were just as dusty and dirty as any other paved surface.  The sidewalks were riddled with cracks and imperfections, much like the inhabitants of the houses that lined such walkways and the residents who traveled along them.

People shuffled idly in the sunlight, paying mind to the day, but not to each other.  Save for one girl.  Small and lithe.  A messy cropped mop of black hair atop her head.  A face set with delicately soft and subtly sullen features.  She could've been mistaken as a street urchin, but her casual, clean, nondescript clothes kept her from that category.

Her entire being subtly twitched as she heard the far off crumple and drop of paper on pavement.  Stopping in her tracks, she leaned down and picked up the non-offensive white litter to dispose of in the nearest trash bin.  Her brown eyes darted about, finding no such facility in sight.  Murmuring, she pocketed the litter to dispose of at home.  Mireille would call her silly for paying mind to trash, but then again, her partner was used to her little notions that held some unseen importance.

She continued to stroll through the streets, reaching the less slum-like planned housing square.  Passing by amongst all the almost identical houses, she finally reached the one that was her home with her partner.  Climbing up the stairs to reach the top apartment that was theirs, she entered using her key, being quite audible about it so as not to agitate Mireille and to show that she wasn't an intruder.

Mireille didn't need such signals, she rarely did lose her cool and calm demeanour, but it was good to make a change, even if it was seemingly unnecessary.  Such small changes in their lifestyle, little adjustments that other people took for granted, such as the casual sudden "turn-click" of a door knob, or the seemingly soft footfalls down a hall.

The girl entered, and looked up to see her partner sitting in her usual spot in front of the pool table that doubled as her desk.  She was still seated in her chair, staring in front of the flat screen computer.  Without looking up, she spoke.

"Kirika.  Welcome back."

"Mireille..." she responded.

She still didn't look up.  "Did you get more tea?"

"Ah... no.  I went out for a walk, that's all."

"You're getting out more.  That's good."

An unsaid thought was left hanging between them.  Maybe it was about how that's a good change for Kirika.  Indeed, there was a drastic change between the two of them since they tried to walk on a path of light.  Nothing that any other person could detect, but something that only the two of them could sense.  They did know each other's hearts better than anyone.

The lost undertone in Kirika's voice was gone, giving way to the type of tone and inflection that any was more grounded and assured, something any other girl her age would possess.  The sad look in her eyes would never disappear, but it dimmed.  The sorrow etched in her face would never leave, but when she kept herself still, she looked more serene than sullen.

Mireille was just as outgoing as she usually was, but she was rarely so paranoid of the people she met.  One could say her overly cautious and business-like demeanour had mellowed; she wasn't forming immediate suspicions of new people she met.  Everyday occurrences didn't always come under suspicion as set-ups of Soldats, and if they were, they didn't so much as bother her.  She was intent on proving Soldats wrong.

They would always be Noir.

And though they no longer felt the cold and gripping thrill of executing a hit, that was a sacrifice they would have to deal with in order to passively defy Soldats.  But they were still lost when it came to their future, together.  There would have to be an adjustment to the life of the mundane, of mingling in the upperworld, where light shone and where there were normal people who sinned daily, but not so deeply as those in the Underworld.

The thought had now passed, and Kirika spoke up.

"Would you like me to get some tea?"

"No, we'll make due with what we have now."

The brunette walked over to her blonde partner, still planted at that computer, clicking and staring at the screen.  She stood behind her, peering over her shoulder.

"What are you looking at, Mireille?"

"Our account."

"But there's plenty of-"

"We may be set for life, but I wonder how we can put this money to use.  We must start making a living instead of sustaining ourselves through these scraps of blood money.  We may retire ourselves as Noir in name and profession, though we will always be Noir, but I see no need in keeping any reminders of it.  It's a gross and excessive waste."

Kirika could merely nod.  She knew what her partner was talking about, but the girl wasn't interested in financials.  Speaking of waste, she reached into her pocket and pulled out the ball of crumpled paper.

She leaned over, maneuvering around Mireille in order to drop the ball into the trash bin.

Her sharp eyes kept their gaze on the pure while ball, and her thoughts drifted to her sketchbook.  Not of the drawings in her sketchbook, but looking forward to opening the cover to find a canvas of white awaiting her.  There was something mesmerizing about a simple page today.

Mireille's lips twitched into a small smile, knowing what was going on.  She looked down beside her to see the paper ball perched atop many so similar to it.

"You're not the only one who's fascinated with paper today."

Without looking, the blonde navigated her mouse around, clicking pointedly, but not looking.  The hum of the printer started up, and its grating buzz processed another sheet.

Snatching the print-off from its cradle, Mireille flipped it at her partner, who caught it with a deft hand.

Kirika wordlessly read it.

There are two hands required to read as there are two hands required to kill.
Noir, please, warmly receive your guests, La Papier et Madame Profondément.
- The British Royal Library Special Forces

Nothing was said between them as they felt the pull of the red thread of fate, calling upon Noir once again.

To be continued...

Author's Notes:
*0 - When Tokyo Rose talks about the orphans, it relates to her on-air name of Orphan Ann and refers to the injustice that she suffered in her life.  The powers that I bestowed upon this Tokyo Rose are those of sound and radio wave manipulation.  The following sites can give you a better understanding of the woman who this character is loosely, and I really mean loosely, based on, just like the Mata Hari was for R.O.D
· Sayonara, "Tokyo Rose": Hello Again, "Orphan Ann"! - www.dyarstraights.com/orphan_ann/orphanan.html
· EarthStation1.com: Orphan Ann ("Tokyo Rose") - www.earthstation1.com/Tokyo_Rose.html
*1 - "Shinde" means die.  If you remember the scene in the third, and last, episode when Mata Hari (the clone) held up a gun right up to The Paper's face, she says "Shinde."  The subtitles at the moment read as "Die."  So, I thought I'd bring up again in this little word play of truth and death.
*2 - Langon's Manuscript is mentioned in Noir episode 19 "Both Hands of Soldats"
*3 - This is another slight reference to the Read Or Die manga, the first issue again.  Marihara Kazumi was a bibliophile who was obsessed with Yomiko's favourite author, Nenene Sumiregawa.  Though he was a bibliophile, he didn't have paper manipulation powers, though he made up for it with his vast fortune.  Using his fortune, he bought many many books (among them numerous copies of Sumiregawa's works), constructed a vast library/fortified stronghold, and hired numerous henchmen to do his dirty work.  Among the hired henchmen was Red Hot, a girl whose powers were fire manipulation.  I'm only using this information as a bit of background to tie the two worlds of R.O.D and Noir together.
You guys might notice, in general, my usage of switching back and forth the honourifics when it comes to Nancy.  By -san, Yomiko slips up and means to address the woman that she knew before the amnesiac; and -chan is to address the Nancy that she knows now.  Or as I will allow myself to say, the new Miss Deep.  This is just a mannerism, a stylistic tweaking of how Yomiko sees her partner, and wants something more.  Heh, I think I'm so clever, but I'm not... ^_^