[Word Count: 3691]
Good news, 1 more chapter till Chainsaw Man proper starts.
Less than good news, if you're reading these as they come out new chapters will be every other day rather than daily unless I feel like otherwise, if you're not reading these as they come out keep scrollin'.
As Leo, Jeremy, and Richard arrived back at the warehouse, James was already waiting for them. He looked up from his work as they entered, a curious expression on his face as he noticed Leo's bloodied suit.
"What happened to you?" James asked, his eyes widening in surprise.
Leo sighed, but before he could answer, Richard butted in. "Oh, you won't believe this, James. Second Boss here is apparently a Yandere!"
"What's a Yandere?" James asked, raising an eyebrow.
Before Richard could launch into an explanation, Leo quickly interjected, "No, no, no! We're not doing this bit again, not while I'm here!"
Richard and Jeremy couldn't help but snicker as Leo made his way further inside the warehouse, leaving James perplexed.
"Don't worry, we'll explain it to you later," Richard chuckled, still amused by the situation.
As Leo returned to the main area of the warehouse, he was no longer dressed in a bloody suit. Instead, he had changed into a fresh set of clothes, his usual composed demeanor back in place.
Seeing the three Blokes still laughing, Leo's eyebrow twitched. "Are you done now?" he asked, pretending to be unbothered by their amusement.
Jeremy, James, and Richard tried their best to stop laughing, but their giggles just wouldn't subside. Jeremy even had tears forming in his eyes from laughing so hard.
"What's up with them?" Joey asked as he and his brothers came up from the basement.
"Bloody children," Leo remarked before turning to the three brothers. "Where's Ryosuke?"
"Ryosuke?" Ian asked, standing near Leo.
"The guy I interrogated," Leo clarified.
"Ohh, that guy," Ian said, remembering. "He's dead."
"What?" Leo asked, confused. "How?"
"Well, Uncle Jeremy kept raving about car batteries as a useful interrogation tool, so we thought we'd give it a try," Aldo explained.
"But, we underestimated just how much voltage a car battery can produce, and, well, we ended up frying the poor bloke," Joey added.
Leo stared at the three blankly, clicking his tongue. "I distinctly remember telling him I wouldn't kill him," he remarked blankly.
The three brothers felt beads of nervous sweat form on their brows as an awkward silence followed.
In an attempt to resolve the situation, Aldo quickly spoke up. "Well, technically, you didn't kill him... Joey did."
Joey's head turned dramatically as his brother threw him under the bus.
Leo continued to gaze at Aldo before shifting his attention to Joey, who avoided eye contact and fidgeted uncomfortably. The tense atmosphere lingered as Leo contemplated the situation.
Leo's expression remained impassive as he stared at Joey blankly. After a long, tense moment, he finally spoke, releasing a sigh.
"I guess that's true," he said.
Joey let out a sigh of relief, feeling grateful that Leo didn't seem too upset about the unfortunate incident. As the tension eased, Aldo went in for a fist bump with Joey, but his attempt was swiftly smacked away by his brother.
With the matter seemingly resolved, Leo walked away, leaving the three brothers to process the situation.
"Give him a proper burial or something, and I'll consider things even," Leo said casually over his shoulder.
"Of course," Joey replied, feeling a sense of responsibility weighing on him. His brothers echoed in unison, "Yes."
On his way out of the warehouse, Leo bid the Blokes farewell, their laughter finally subsiding as they wiped tiny teardrops from their eyes. The crisp night air hit his skin as he stepped outside. The dark night quickly gave way to the brightness of the afternoon sun as Leo walked through a glass pane.
Taking a moment to adjust to the bright light, Leo began making his way back to his family. Today was a special day; it was Ai's birthday, and later she would be performing at the dome.
Upon returning to their apartment, Leo's keen eye immediately caught sight of a single pair of shoes placed near the doorway – a pair of familiar heels.
"Ai must have left for practice after dropping off the kids, meaning..." Leo pondered thoughtfully. "Miyako must be here."
Feeling the day's weariness seeping into his bones, Leo let out a tired yawn as he carefully removed his shoes, opting for the comfort of a well-worn pair of Crocs. With each step he took, a soothing sense of relaxation enveloped him, the feeling of being truly at home.
As he entered the living room, its inviting ambiance welcomed him, and there was Miyako, busy setting up decorations for Ai's upcoming birthday celebration, which would take place after her performance at the dome.
"Oya? Are you working hard or hardly working?" Leo playfully remarked, making his way toward the couch.
Miyako looked up from the tangle of party banners, her expression filled with annoyance. "And where's your present?" she asked, giving Leo an appraising glance.
"Present?" Leo feigned innocence, sinking onto the couch.
"For Ai's birthday – your fiancée's birthday," Miyako retorted, her irritation evident.
"Isn't my mere presence a gift in itself?" Leo teased.
Miyako rolled her eyes and let out a dramatic sigh, setting aside the tangled banners. "If you're not going to be of any use, at least help me with these banners," she grumbled, lifting a mass of twisted banner strings.
"Can't," Leo responded lazily, reclining on the couch and gazing up at the ceiling.
Miyako's frustration was palpable. "And why exactly can't you?" she inquired, placing the tangled mess down.
At that precise moment, Leo's phone began to ring, interrupting the conversation. "Busy," he quipped with a smirk.
The melodious ringtone echoed through the room, and without skipping a beat, Leo pushed himself up from the couch. Miyako shot him a deadpan look as he headed out of the living room, her exasperation apparent even in the depths of her silence.
"Honestly," Leo exhaled with a touch of annoyance, "at some point, they really need to step up the training for these rookies."
Seated on a park bench, Leo's gaze swept across the macabre tableau of mutilated corpses, scattered like grotesque art across the once serene surroundings. The leaves of the surrounding trees had started their transformation, shifting from vibrant green to a dying orange hue. This changing foliage, combined with the stark red of bloodstains, painted an unsettling symphony of colors across the park's ground.
Among the disarray, the devil responsible for this carnage lay in pieces, adding to the gruesome scene. Leo was no stranger to blood-soaked battlegrounds, yet this time, the juxtaposition between the brutality and the natural beauty seemed oddly harmonious.
Over the faint sound of leaves crunching, a presence drew near, approaching Leo as his focus remained fixed on the grim spectacle.
"Amusing to find you here," a velvety voice remarked as its owner settled onto the bench beside Leo.
"Is it?" Leo shot back. "Word has it you've been rather active lately. Almost as if you were hoping for this encounter," he mused, a sly grin touching his lips as he turned to face the red-haired figure beside him.
Makima's gaze mirrored Leo's contemplative stance, absorbing the scene before her much as he had done before her arrival.
"I wouldn't deny that I've been hoping for our paths to cross again," Makima confessed, a subtle smile gracing her lips. "Since your unexpected disappearance, tracking you down, let alone getting close, has proven to be quite a challenge."
"Doesn't surprise me," Leo scoffed, his gaze still fixed on the tableau of destruction. "Not like there's much worth discussing in my book."
"Isn't there?" Makima's tone carried a playful edge.
"Hardly," Leo replied, reclining more comfortably on the bench.
"What exactly do you seek, Leo?" Makima's inquiry cut through the air, and she shifted her position to face him directly. "What compelled you to position yourself as an adversary to the bureau?"
"Not exactly the most daunting adversary," Leo responded with a nonchalant tone, suppressing a yawn.
"You didn't answer my question," Makima responded sweetly.
Leo momentarily tore his eyes away from the grim tableau before him and met Makima's gaze. Her practiced smile was as false as he remembered, a stark contrast to someone he knew who sought to craft authentic smiles. The sight of Makima's feigned expression left a bitter taste in his mouth.
"Who knows?" Leo's response was nonchalant, his gaze returning to the scene of carnage.
"Hmm," Makima hummed thoughtfully, her eyes back on the blood-soaked landscape. "And do you believe you can win?"
"Sure," Leo replied promptly, his confidence unwavering. "Do you?"
Makima's response was as cryptic as her demeanor. "I think battles are often won before they even begin."
Leo's lips curved into a small, sardonic smile. "So, you're confident that you hold the upper hand already."
Makima's eyes gleamed with a hint of amusement. "I have my strengths, just as you have yours. The question is, Leo, what are you willing to sacrifice to secure your victory?"
Leo's expression remained composed, his gaze unwavering. "Everything that matters."
Makima seemed momentarily lost in thought before she leaned in slightly, her voice lowering. "Even if you were to sacrifice everything, could you ensure that you'd win...? Even against me?"
"It would be tricky, but I'm sure I can find a way around your semi-immortality," Leo replied casually, his confidence unshaken.
Makima's eyes widened, taken aback by his response, but before she could respond, Leo continued with a cool demeanor "You can brag about your placement but you're simply over-rated by the simple vacant-minded who were swindled by your promised greatness."
The breeze carried a moment of silence, stretching the tension between them. Makima's eyes remained fixed on Leo before she chose to break the silence.
"I must admit, you have a way of making things interesting," Makima's gaze intensified, studying Leo's face as if searching for hidden truths. "Out of all the dogs within the bureau, you're the last one I ever expected to revolt in the way you did."
"People often create their own storms and then complain about the rain," Leo's words held a sense of detachment. "Things rarely ever go to plan, mistakes are bound to happen. That's why I'm always two steps ahead."
A moment of silence ensued, punctuated by the rustling of leaves. Makima's gaze remained locked on Leo, her curiosity deepening. She chuckled softly, a glimmer of fascination in her eyes, as she leaned back further.
"In any case," Leo declared, rising from his seat. "This was a lovely conversation but I have places to be."
As Leo was beginning to leave, Makima grabbed his wrist, her touch smooth and deliberate. Slowly, her fingers traced patterns on his palm until she grasped his thumb. Looking back, she and Leo made eye contact as Makima slowly brought his thumb to her mouth. The process was tantalizingly slow as his thumb brushed against her bottom lip.
Before she could bite down on his thumb again, Leo's index finger went under Makima's jaw, his touch gentle but commanding as he cupped her chin between them. A charged silence hung between them as they exchanged glances. Makima's eyes remained enigmatic, showing no emotion, while Leo's expression held a hint of controlled disdain.
"Unfortunately," Leo sighed as he started speaking. "I'm a different kind of sinner. In another time, I'd probably find myself raw-dogging the decline of man, but fortunately, I found my little slice of happiness elsewhere."
Now having said his peace, Leo released his hold on Makima as he started to walk away with Makima's gaze watching him intently with every step he took.
Makima's gaze remained locked on Leo's retreating figure, every step he took widening the chasm between them. Lifting her hand, she extended her index finger, directing it towards Leo's vanishing form. A chain swiftly materialized from her fingertip, its metallic links glinting in the sunlight, as it shot forth toward Leo with an almost predatory speed...
Yet, before the chain could reach its intended target, an unseen force yanked it back with a sudden and irresistible pull. The chain recoiled with a sharp metallic sound, returning to Makima's outstretched hand just as abruptly as it had been unleashed. Meanwhile, Leo's stride remained unhindered as he continued to walk away, seemingly unbothered.
Makima's gaze remained fixed on her hand, her expression remaining stoic, though hints of frustration could be glimpsed in the subtle narrowing of her eyes.
But as the moments ticked by, time slipped through her fingers, and when her gaze returned to where Leo had been, he had vanished into the horizon. The world around her seemed to regain its normal rhythm, yet the enigmatic encounter lingered.
"How scary..." Leo mused quietly to himself, a sardonic smile dancing on his lips.
The unmistakable sound of a rushing chain grazed his ears, but he paid it little heed, his focus fixed on more pressing matters at hand.
Namely, the task of selecting the perfect gift for Ai's 20th birthday, as well as a suitable token to celebrate her impending performance at the "dome." The concept of jewelry held a certain allure, yet the specifics eluded him. Should it be an elegant necklace gracing her neckline, or perhaps a delicate ring adorning her finger? The array of choices left him contemplating the ideal expression of his affection.
Turning his attention to the arena event, he contemplated an appropriate celebratory offering - perhaps the age-old gesture of alcohol. Yet, even there, the myriad options lay before him, each with its own distinct flavor profile and history. His lips curved in a wry grin as he weighed the possibilities.
"Tsk, decisions, decisions," he murmured, his voice carrying a trace of amusement as he continued on his path.
In the final analysis, Leo's discerning choice settled upon a regal purple necklace that elegantly complemented the hue of Ai's eyes. An exquisite star design, reminiscent of the sparkling constellations that danced within her gaze, adorned the pendant's center. While the gem itself was no extraordinary stone, it was fashioned from a unique material - glass synthesized from Leo's very own skin, an artistic nod to his contract with the Glass Devil.
A wry thought passed through Leo's mind, a subtle self-awareness of the potential peculiarity of gifting parts of oneself. "I'm sure it's romantic somewhere to gift your significant other parts of yourself somewhere, right?" he mused, a touch of anxiety mingling with his contemplation, as he carefully placed the exquisite gift within its box.
Yet, Leo knew well that discretion was often wiser than revealing the truth. When asked, he could easily claim the centerpiece was a dyed diamond, a white lie to avert convoluted conversations and uncomfortable stares.
Interrupting his thoughts was Ruby, who tugged at his pants, her presence irresistibly endearing.
"Papa," Ruby chimed, her big, radiant red eyes fixed on him.
Leo crouched, lifting Ruby with a tender smile. "What's on your mind, little one?"
Giggling, Ruby pointed to the television screen.
Displaying captivating highlights from Ai's remarkable performance, the TV simultaneously displayed a title card, chronicling the casualties of the devil Leo had vanquished earlier in the day, just before his unexpected rendezvous with Makima.
"When I grow up, can I be as strong as you, Papa?" Ruby's innocent voice piped up.
Leo considered her question for a moment, his gaze softening. "I doubt it," he responded in his usual casual manner, though his eyes held a certain tenderness. "But I do not doubt that you'll become someone far more unforgettable than I could ever dream to be."
Ruby's heart skipped a beat at his initial response, a fleeting pang of disappointment. However, her father's subsequent encouragement warmed her, coaxing a genuine smile to blossom across her lips.
As Leo and the twins settled into the backstage area of the dome where Ai was performing, the final notes of B-Komachi's performance gradually faded away, leaving the stage in hushed anticipation.
Following a flurry of farewells and expressions of gratitude to her fans, Ai made her way off the stage, Ichigo and Miyako flanking her sides. Their destination was clear: they were about to reunite with Leo and the twins backstage for a celebration in honor of Ai's birthday.
"Mama!" Ruby's voice burst with excitement as Ai entered the backstage area, trailed by Ichigo and Miyako.
Leo loosened his hold on Ruby, allowing her to wriggle free from his arms. Aqua, momentarily distracted by his book, raised his gaze, placing a bookmark in his spot before focusing his attention on the scene unfolding.
Observing Ruby's exuberant reunion with Ai, Leo's expression retained its usual neutral demeanor. His gaze shifted from Ruby to Ichigo and Miyako, assessing their dispositions. Ichigo seemed unfazed, but Miyako bore a despondent aura. Leo suspected her downcast mood was linked to the fact that she had spent a considerable portion of the day adorning Ai's apartment with birthday decorations, only to discover later that the festivities were moving to the dome after B-Komachi's performance.
Leo's mind meandered as he tucked his hands into his pockets, a speculative gleam in his eyes. "I wonder whose job it was to tell her," he pondered silently, a hint of dry amusement playing on his lips.
As the festivities commenced, Leo assumed the role of an astute observer, his posture relaxed yet his senses finely attuned to the intricate tapestry of interactions unfolding before him. Every fleeting moment etched into his memory, he chose his involvement judiciously, often becoming an active participant when Ai and his children playfully pulled him into their celebratory orbit.
The infectious ambiance of the occasion gradually worked its magic on Miyako, dispersing the clouds of despondency that had lingered around her. Yielding to the conviviality around her, she sighed away her previous gloom, allowing herself to become a part of the joyous atmosphere. Equipped with her camera, she began capturing candid moments.
When the time came to unwrap the carefully adorned presents, Leo positioned himself behind a couch, a silent sentinel to Ai's delight. He watched as she delicately untangled the ribbons and paper, a small smile gracing his lips as Ruby and Aqua flanked her, their excitement palpable as they peeked at the treasures concealed within the colorful wrappings.
The twins exhibited a mix of bashfulness and excitement as Ai reached their respective gifts. Ruby's offering, a drawing imbued with childlike wonder, held a touch of macabre charm that echoed the distinctive essence of their family dynamic. The artwork portrayed the family unit, united and standing strong, while a defeated devil lay fragmented in the background.
Aqua, in contrast, presented a more pragmatic yet heartfelt gift – a meticulously crafted homemade ribbon. Its simplicity resonated with the thought and care he had poured into the gesture.
As Ai praised their gifts, the twins' reactions diverged. Ruby embraced the limelight, soaking in the appreciation with an unabashed grin. In contrast, Aqua's bashful demeanor shone through, as he quietly reveled in Ai's acknowledgment.
Amid the joyful exchange of gifts, Leo observed the scene with a hint of amusement. His gaze shifted from the twins to Ai, capturing the genuine warmth in her eyes as she interacted with their children. It was moments like these that reminded him of the fragile yet precious bonds they had built.
As the final gift of the evening was unveiled, Ai's fingers traced the edges of the small box, her anticipation growing. The intricate purple ribbon had been tied in a lazy yet endearing manner, a signature Leo touch that needed no tag to confirm its origin.
With a gentle pull, the lid lifted, revealing the breathtaking treasure within. Ai's eyes widened as they met the radiant glow of the purple necklace nestled within the velvet interior. The centerpiece, adorned with a star-like design, seemed to hold the secrets of the universe itself, its brilliance casting a soft, enchanting aura.
Ai's fingertips danced along the contours of the pendant, her touch delicate and reverent. It was as if she held a piece of stardust, a tangible connection to the celestial wonders that adorned the night sky. The pendant's intricate details invited her to embark on a journey through the cosmos, each facet a portal to a world of dreams and possibilities.
"Woah..." Ruby breathed, her young voice filled with awe.
With a contented smile, Ai delicately closed the box, holding the necklace close to her heart.
As Ai's gaze shifted back to Leo, she couldn't help but notice the self-satisfied expression on his face as he watched their reactions with a grin. Ruby met his expression with an impish grin of her own, a clear sign that she was well aware of his silent triumph. On the other hand, Aqua's unamused gaze conveyed his disbelief at their antics.
Interrupting their shared moment, Ai enveloped both Ruby and Aqua in a warm and tender embrace, pulling them close to her heart.
"You know, I've been thinking," Ai began softly, her voice carrying a hint of contemplation, "maybe Ruby has a future as an idol. Her performance at the festival was truly remarkable." As she spoke, Ai leaned back slightly, Ruby and Aqua still held securely within her arms. "and if everything goes well, we could have a parent-child starring event, and maybe Aqua can be an actor. Man, how fun would that be."
A radiant smile illuminated Ai's face, her eyes alight with the vision of the beautiful journey that lay ahead for their family.
"I want to witness both of you growing up," she whispered tenderly, her gaze lifting to meet Leo's with unwavering affection. "By your side, every step of the way."
As her grip on the twins eased, Ai's attention shifted to Ruby and Aqua, her words soft yet brimming with sincerity. "Ruby, Aqua," she murmured, allowing them to gaze up at her, "I love you. I'm sorry it took me this long to say it."
In that tender moment, surrounded by the bonds of love, a sense of unity and understanding permeated the air. The weight of unspoken emotions lifted, and their hearts were united in a shared embrace of love and acceptance.
Ruby's and Aqua's eyes glistened with unshed tears, their hearts swelling with a mixture of joy, relief, and a newfound sense of belonging.
Leo observed the poignant scene before him, etching each precious second into the canvas of his memory.
Stepping closer, Leo became an integral part of the heartwarming tableau, enveloping Ai, Ruby, and Aqua within the sheltering embrace of his arms.
Within the cocoon of their collective warmth, time appeared to stand still. The shadows of past uncertainties and hesitations were gently swept away, replaced by an undeniable clarity and unity of purpose. As the family held onto one another, a profound sense of beginning anew washed over them, like the turning of a page in a story yet to be written.
1997, Six years later...