The first thing I did was go into the kitchen and see if I had the ingredients needed for spaghetti with marinara. I did. My fridge was always well stocked with foreign foods thanks to my benefactor, who was currently living somewhere in Europe. He rarely called me, but he liked to send me a lot of food.
The second thing I did was call Azazel.
“That was fast. It normally takes you at least a week to call me back after I’ve given you a task.”
“Fortunate was on my side this time.”
With my cellphone being held between my left shoulder and ear, I filled a stock pot with water, set it on the stovetop, and turned the heat onto its highest setting. While waiting for the water to boil, I grabbed a saucepan and put it on the other stovetop before adding a tomato soup base.
“So, what was the disturbance?”
“A devil girl. She was being attacked by a large number of lesser demons.”
I went back to fridge and pulled out some fresh basil, peeled tomatoes, garlic, cloves, and thyme. Then I went to the cutting board. Azazel spoke as I went about chopping the ingredients and putting it into the saucepan.
“This girl must be pretty important if someone’s sending a lot of lesser demons after her. What does this devil girl look like?”
“She’s around my age, has dark red hair, red eyes, and–”
Before I could continue, a noise in the background made me pause. “What was that?”
“What was what?”
“That noise. It sounded like a person.”
I’m not sure I under what you’re talking about. Anyway, please continue.”
“That’s all there is, really. I mean, aside from that, the only thing that stands out is she’s really pretty.”
“Oh-ho! Pretty, is she? I’m guessing that means you rescued her.”
“Of course I did. She’s also one of my classmates. I couldn’t not rescue her.”
“A classmate, huh? I’m assuming you plan to protect her.”
After I finished adding all the ingredients to the saucepan, I washed the cutting board and placed it on a drier. Then I went back the stove. The water was boiling, so I turned the heat down to medium and added the pasta. After that, I began stirring the sauce.
“If she needs it.”
“Well, I won’t tell you how to live your life. Part of our agreement was that you help me, and I allow you the freedom to make whatever choices you want. Just be careful. If this girl finds out what you are, it could cause problems for everyone.”
“I know that,” I muttered.
“By the way, what’s this girl’s name?”
“Alicia, huh? No surname?”
“She didn’t give one.” Before Azazel could reply, the sound in the background came back louder than ever, and I realized what it was with a start. It was a moan, passionate, lustful, and filled with wanton desire. “That was a woman’s voice, wasn’t it? You’re having sex while you’re talking to me, aren’t you?”
“What would you do if I said yes?”
I hung up the phone and curled my nose in disgust. That damn fallen angel. I could see why he’d been expelled from heaven. While I had heard that Azazel had fallen because he was promiscuous and bedded many a human woman, I had never seen evidence to suggest that he was sleeping around. Well, I guess the evidence was pretty clear now, at least.
The food was soon ready. I turned off the stove, grabbed two plates, and filled them both with food. For a moment, I worried that I might not have forks. When I checked the cabinet near the sink, I was grateful to find that I did have some. I was just about to pull out a tray for Alicia to use, when the girl in question entered from the hallway.
She must have just finished showering. Her hair was still wet. She was wearing my shirt and boxers again, and a towel had been thrown over her shoulder.
“Uh…” I tried to think of something to say, but my brain seemed incapable of helping my mouth produce any words. In fact, I could have sworn I heard a loud beeping inside of my mind, followed by an intense sizzling. That must have been the sound of my brain frying.
Alicia smiled a bit. Her cheeks were tinged red. “Um, is dinner ready?”
“Erm.” Somehow, I was able to restore my mental faculties.Shaking my head, I said, “Yes, uh, I just finished. I was about to bring it to the bedroom for you.”
“Why don’t we eat it at your table? I mean, I’d hate to get marinara sauce all over your bed sheets.”
“That’s a good idea.”
Since it sounded like she was offering to eat dinner in the living room, I guessed the tray wouldn’t be needed. That was too bad. I had been looking forward to finding some use for it.
Grabbing the two plates, I brought them into my living room, which was another small room. There wasn’t much furniture. A small kotatsu sat in the room’s center, and a flat screen television that Azazel had given me rested on top of a shelving unit. To add some ambience noise, I turned the TV onto the news and lowered the volume until it was just enough that I’d hear if something important had happened.
As I set the plates on the kotatsu and Alicia sat down, the redhead sniffed at the food, her stomach gurgling.
“Hungry?” I asked.
“Just a little.” Alicia’s pink cheeks darkened as she breathed in the food again. I noticed how she discreetly placed a finger on the plate. Demonic energy surged through her fingertips, and a magic circle appeared underneath the food. “But it’s mostly because this just smells good.”
“I’m glad to hear that.” I sat down on the opposite end. Since it was nearing summer, June 12st, I didn’t turn on the kotatsu. “I’m pretty confident in my cooking skills.”
“Do you cook all your meals?”
“Of course. I live on my own. I kind of have to cook my own meals if I want to eat.”
“You live on your own too, huh?”
“My own, too? You also live alone?”
Alicia nodded as she took a bite of her pasta. She paused for a moment, and then she took another bite, and then another and another. I watched as, pretty soon, she was cleaning off her entire plate.
“Do you mind if I have second’s, please?” she asked, holding out her plate.
I stood up, grabbed her plate, and went into the kitchen, where I served up a second round of pasta. Alicia began talking while I did this. “I’ve been living on my own for about three years. I don’t know what happened to my father or my maid.”
“It must be tough.” I wandered back into the living room and set the plate in front of her. “Did something happen to separate you two?”
“I’m sure you can tell that I’m a devil,” she said, gesturing to herself. “My father is a… a political activist in the Underworld, what humans call Hell. Some of his policies aren’t very popular with the more radical factions. A few of them joined forces and attacked my home while Father was away. They tried to kidnap me. I managed to escape, but I don’t know what’s happening in the Underworld right now. I don’t know if my father or Matilda are even alive, and I have no method of going back to the Underworld.”
I nodded my understanding. “Then I’m gonna go out on a limb and say those lesser demons were part of the radical factions group. Do you think they were coming here to try and kidnap you again?”
Alicia shook her head. “If that were the case, they wouldn’t have injured me so much. I’m pretty sure their goal was to kill me this time. I shudder to think about what might have happened to me if you hadn’t been there.”
Perhaps it was because of my own burdens, but I felt like I could understand where Alicia was coming from. She’d been forced to leave her home, and now she was on the run, constantly dodging people who were out for her life. Yes, I could understand that quite well. I really had to admire this girl’s strength. It must have been difficult living on the run, yet she was still alive, still unwilling to surrender. Compared to me, who had all but given up, she was amazing. She hadn’t thrown in the towel like I had.
“Do you have a place you can return to?” I asked after a moment.
“Not anymore.” Alicia closed her eyes, and her shoulders slumped as though she was suffering from exhaustion. I felt guilt and pity for the girl before me. “They somehow found out where I was staying and ambushed me. My apartment was destroyed during the battle, so I don’t have any place I can go back to.”
This news made me close my eyes. The pity I felt increased, but at the same time, I couldn’t help but admire Alicia. Here she was, on the run and without a home, yet she didn’t act distressed, didn’t appear displeased. That kind of strength couldn’t be faked.
At the same time, I could sense the brittleness in her words. She’d already been through a lot. This recent loss of a home would likely hit her hard once her mind had settled down, and I wouldn’t blame her.
However, since it had come to this, there was something that I could do to help. It might not alleviate her pain, but it was the only thing I could think of.
“Then you can stay here,” I said, opening my eyes. “You’re free to live with me for as long as you want.”
Smiling sadly, Alicia shook her head. “Thank you for the offer, but I can’t put someone else in danger on my account. You’ve already done more than enough. I’m not going to let you put yourself in more danger for me.”
I wondered if she was expecting me to give up. Then again, had the situation been different, had she not been in danger, I might have given up once she said no.
“I don’t mind being placed in danger. Besides, it’s not like I’m not getting anything out of this.”
“People don’t like me. I’m sure you noticed it in class, but a lot of people go out of there way to avoid me. Even you are wary of me, aren’t you? While you tried to be discreet, I noticed the spell you cast on my food. You were checking for poison, right?”
Alicia turned her head. “I’m sorry… I want to trust you. After all, you did save me. It’s just–”
“You feel wary.” She nodded. I sighed. “I understand how you feel. If it makes you uncomfortable, I won’t force you to stay here. At the same time…”
I paused. Could I do this? Could I ask for something so selfish from someone I didn’t know? While I said it was to protect this girl, the truth was that I merely wanted someone to be with me. I was tired of being alone, tired of not having any companionship. I wanted a friend.
Perhaps I had not given up as much as I thought.
I continued. “At the same time, I would like some company. It’s lonely living by myself. Since you have nowhere to stay and people after you, I figured it was a win-win for both of us. You stay with me, and I help protect you.”
Alicia was silent. She seemed to be deliberating. Her brows furrowed as she contemplated him as one might a potential enemy. I bore with her gaze, waiting until she came to a decision.
“Okay,” she said at last. “I’ll live with you. It’s getting boring living by myself anyway.”
It felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I couldn’t stop the smile that stretched across my face. “Thank you.”
“I should be thanking you,” Alicia corrected, and this time, the smile that appeared on her face was not filled with bitterness. It was genuine, real, and easily the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. “Please take care of me.”
“Yes.” I smiled as I responded in traditional Japanese fashion. “Let’s both get along.”