Disclaimer: I don't own Highschool DxD.

If All the Cards Will Treat Me Well

"Are you trying to kill me through debt?" Agnes asked him, eyes narrowed. "Because I thought you were kinder than that, Joshua. At least have the decency to stab me and get it over with. Or blow me up with magic, whatever you might prefer."

"Someone's in a dramatic mood," he commented, giving the Director a flat look.

"You realize that the service you are offering me would, by itself, at least double what I owe you, right?" she asked, just as dryly. "No matter how you try to word it, this is a huge favor for me, my people and my organization. I can't just let you tighten the leash around our necks more than you already have, no matter how nice a bait you offer us."

"Agnes, I've told you, I literally don't care-"

"But I do," she said firmly then, her expression losing its levity as she stared at him. "I do, my people do and the world would. It looks terrible on me if I just let you put our association, my association under your thumb."

"And I've told you," he repeated, growing a little annoyed. "I don't care for any of that. We can pretend this never happened. Nobody would even know except the two of us."

"That's the thing about our world, Joshua. People know, no matter what you do. It might take a bit more or less time, but it happens, it always happens," Agnes told him with a wry smile. "It's better if you learn that quickly," she added and he didn't know if to take that as a threat, a warning or just advice.

Joshua guessed that, in a sense, she wasn't wrong about that. Most truths about him had come out eventually. When he'd learned magic, the Hunter had known. When he'd been in Khaos territory, they had known. When he knew how to do something, people learned about it. When he did something, they found out, even if most of them either didn't believe or didn't get the whole truth right away.

Even his relationship with Yasaka and Serafall, or his pseudo-adoption of Kunou, had been known, if not entirely just yet.

So, he supposed he could get it, in a way. The problem was that he wanted to do what he had in mind. Hell, one could say that it was a necessity. If only he could think of something to have her do for him so it'd be more justified.

As he tried to come up with something, he continued absently staring at Agnes while tapping his fingers on her desk from where he sat across her. The woman didn't look very comfortable with the arrangement at the moment, but Joshua's mind was on other things. Mainly trying to find a suitable option so that she'd let him do what he wanted.

Which was improving the defenses on the main building of her association, which was where he worked.

Territorial Imperative, the new Perk he'd gained, buffed him while under "heavily Warded areas". After some testing and quick trips, he learned that the System's definition for that was "warded by him" and when it said heavily, it meant it. Joshua had only really sensed the difference while at his own home, Kuoh, and then at the Hunter's House after he updated the spell array there.

Yasaka's place, Sairaorg's territory, Church bases – he might have had to sneak into those but he'd helped ward those places in the first place – and anywhere else he might have cast wards over didn't seem to count. Which he found weird, especially in the first case. After all, he knew the place was warded to hell and back. That was how he figured that the skill only counted his wards, not wards in general.

Also, heavily didn't mean just number of wards, otherwise he could just spam a bunch of weak wards until it was considered "heavily Warded". He'd tested that out and either he needed ridiculous amounts to make up for something or it just didn't work that way. The Perk needed serious wardwork to work, evidently, so he set out to try and make that happen.

At least, in the places that he thought he needed to. Yasaka's place for one, had received a very thorough tune up on a bunch of defenses, some redundant, some new. He'd also polished on some of the already existing wards, taking them down and setting them back up in his own style. It was a good thing that there were a number of those defenses that weren't ancient and provided by her pantheon, or it'd have been much more troublesome to pull that off.

As it was, the gathering of magicians from some time ago hadn't been the only time some new defenses had been cast over the place.

'I got sidetracked,' he thought, mentally shaking his head. The important part was that he wanted to make House of Water's main building a "heavily Warded area". He didn't put it past Khaos to try to attack there at a time when he was teaching classes. He was actually kind of surprised it hadn't happened already.

Other than that, he never did quite go anywhere else with any consistency, so he should be more or less covered.

"Look, Joshua, I'm really sorry and I know it looks stupid, but I really can't let you just do this for free. Please, understand," Agnes said and he didn't even need to use Life Sense to notice that she was kind of scared of having to tell him no. It made sense, he supposed. She almost never failed to bring up how she was indebted to him, so her telling him no on something he wanted to do was kind of… awkward, to say the least.

The problem here was that what he wanted to do would drive her further in debt, since it'd mean him doing some heavy work on her wards.

"I do understand," he replied to her and he saw the woman deflate as she relaxed. He wasn't pleased with that though, and he didn't want to let the matter drop. He wanted to be prepared and for that he needed this kind of thing to be set up. So, he needed to think of something that she could do for him.

She was already running information gathering for him but that barely scratched the surface of her debt. He needed her to do something of actual value for him. Something that'd hold value for her, at least. Because information was great and all, but it didn't cost her much unless it was very detailed and very thorough information, which wasn't what he'd asked for.

He couldn't really go for that either, since he'd never go through that much information, especially with how busy his days were. Hell, he still had things to go through from some of her reports. He guessed it could work in a pinch, but that'd feel like a bit of a waste. 'Think, Joshua, what else could you need?'

First things that came to mind were Project Awakening and Ascension, but he already pretty much had all that he could ask for in regards to those, direct from Azazel and Gabriel. As for his other projects…

"I have just the thing you can do for me, Agnes," he said then, startling the woman, who had been growing restless once more at his prolonged silence. He grinned at her and that, for whatever reason, didn't seem to set her at ease as he thought it should.

Regardless, he might make some more progress in a project or two of his if things went well.

"And I might have more ideas on the way," he added, his smile widening. Because he still had to speak with Ravel about this, he supposed. He'd kind of forgotten, but, in his defense, he was still getting used to her.

[}-o-{]

"You are a very subtle person, has anyone ever told you?" he asked, giving the person across the table from him an unimpressed expression.

"Not that much, strangely enough," Serafall answered, taking on an exaggerated thinking expression, lips puckered and tapping her index finger to her chin. "I wonder why."

"Truly a mystery," he replied dryly as he glanced to the side. Across the street, he saw a bunch of devils taking pictures of them. Yeah, subtle was not what he'd call Serafall. She could be so when she wanted to, but generally speaking? She was far from it, that was for sure.

Case in point, they'd decided to go on dates without illusions or any such precautions anymore now. First place she took him to? Lilith, the very Capital of the devil side of the Underworld. They'd barely been at that cafe for about half an hour and he'd seen entirely too many people taking pictures. Fortunately, nobody seemed inclined to actually approach them, which was great.

"Well, you were the one that left things to me," Serafall reminded him, which he acknowledged with a nod. She wasn't wrong about that. He really would rather not deal with the whole announcing thing, but alas, he'd chosen problematic partners. If it could even be said that he chose them that is. It was more that they chose him, really, he supposed.

"Better than a stuffy party, I guess," Joshua replied with a grimace of a half-smile.

"You really didn't like it, huh?" Serafall asked, looking more than a little amused before she brought her sickeningly sweet drink to her lips.

"I don't do well when around people I don't know, or lots of people in general," he explained with a shrug. "Least of all for extended periods of time," he added before taking a sip from his cup of tea. He didn't feel great admitting that, but there was no use lying about it. Besides, he rather doubted he could lie to Serafall of all people. At least, not without involving spells and such.

There was also the fact that he didn't want to lie to her.

If he couldn't tell the truth to his partner, then what was the point?

"Something for me to keep in mind," Serafall said then, directing a soft smile at him, one that had nothing to do with her hyperactive act of Levia-tan. "Sometimes I'm scared of not acting," she admitted then out of nowhere, looking down at her cup and Joshua instantly expanded his senses.

Sure enough, nobody was close enough to hear them and there was the smallest twinge of magic around too.

"I started back at the war, because everyone thought I was too young, too inexperienced and so on, so I decided to put on the act to reinforce that idea. It got others to underestimate me and it was… a valuable tool. Still is, really, but I've been acting like this for so long that it feels off when I'm not doing it," she explained then, a sad smile on her face.

"I think I get it, a little bit," he replied, running his fingers through his hair. "I think I feel sort of the same in regards to being under my spells. It feels off whenever I'm not, like everything is much more dangerous, even when I know it's silly to think so. It's like… a safety blanket, I guess."

"Exactly," she agreed with a much happier smile. "Although… it feels nice to act like myself at times," Serafall added then. He wondered if she meant that she'd done so at times with him. Sure, she had her moments when she wasn't in Levia-tan mode around him, but that didn't mean the mask was off… Or at least he didn't want to assume.

The intent stare she was directing his way said something else though.

"If you are saying what I think you are saying," he mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly while smiling happily, if nervously. "Then I guess I'm happy to hear that."

"To be direct," she said then, mirth clear in her voice and her expression. "I'm very happy that I can stop acting around you and not feel vulnerable."

He smiled at her and she readily returned the gesture.

"For as much as I like being on my own, even I can have too much of that," he admitted, not quite following from where she left off. That is, until he continued. "So, I'm very happy to have people I can be with and not feel bad."

Surprisingly, Serafall responded to that with a pout.

"Mo, that's unfair, Joshua. We are supposed to spend the day out on a date. You can't just make me want to drag you back home so soon!" she protested, to which he blinked.

And then he laughed.

"I'll try my best."

"You'll try your best… to what?" Serafall asked, eyes narrowed.

As an answer, he just kept his silence and smiled.

"Confident Josh is hot, have I told you?"

"You might have."

[}-o-{]

"They had a betting pool, did you know?"

"I did," he answered, looking at the youkai servant that had left the food for Yasaka and him walk away. The woman had been all smiles and so chipper it was almost exhausting to witness. All the servants he'd seen so far had been acting that way, really. "They weren't exactly what I'd call subtle," he added with a roll of his eyes.

Because really, those days, he had sensory spells up almost at all times around himself, on top of Magic Sense and Life Sense. They hadn't stood a chance at hiding their bets from him. Then again…

"We weren't very subtle either, I guess," he admitted with a chuckle. "Were we?"

"I suppose we weren't," Yasaka agreed, glancing to the side. Joshua followed her eyes to find the seat that Kunou would have occupied if it weren't just the two of them at the moment. With a smile on his face, he closed his eyes for a moment.

"She's having fun," he told his partner. "Jeanne is spoiling her with snacks right now."

"Hopefully not too many," Yasaka replied with a raised eyebrow. To that, he could only shrug. He could give his sister a call, but it wasn't really doing any harm. "You spoil her too much," she added, giving him an unimpressed expression to which he responded with an unapologetic smile.

"I just can't tell her no, I guess. I know it's a bad thing, but everytime I try, I remember that… Well, she gets scared and sad very easily and I hate seeing her like that," he explained himself. He knew he wasn't doing things well in regards to being a parent with Kunou. He could be the nice father alright, he supposed, but anything close to being strict was much harder at times.

"She might have had a… hard time at times in the past, Joshua," Yasaka said then, somehow managing to mix fondness, exasperation and sadness in a single smile. That had to be some kind of youkai skill, right? "That doesn't excuse poor behavior. You are allowed to chastise her when she's acting out. She reacts badly because she's afraid she'll ruin things, annoy you or worse, push you away. You just have to prove to her that's not the case."

"I guess," he replied, bringing a hand up to the locket hanging from his neck and rubbing his thumb over it. "I just… Doesn't matter. I'm sorry for making things more difficult for you."

"Far from it," she reassured, waving him off. "It might be a little troublesome to deal with a slightly spoiled Kunou, but that's nothing compared to dealing with her when she was closed off and hiding behind a mask," Yasaka told him with a fond smile. "Nevermind the fact that you've helped me free much more time to be the mother my daughter needed all this time. The positives far outweigh the negatives, don't you worry."

"I'm… happy to hear that," he said, a grin on his face. After all, he had a great time with Kunou, always did. However, that didn't mean he didn't stay up at night sometimes, wondering if he was doing things right or if he was making everything worse. Dealing with people was definitely not his thing, after all, so there was always the very real possibility that he was screwing up somehow without even knowing. "Speaking of helping you. You don't have an excuse anymore not to let me help you more," he added then, drawing an uncharacteristic groan from the woman across the table.

"Of course," she grumbled, even though she sported a grin on her face. "The overhaul of my place's security wasn't enough of a courting gift from you?" she asked him, both amused and annoyed. He just grinned at her.

"Nothing would ever be enough of a courting gift for you, pretty sure," he replied with a chuckle. "So, no, if there's anything I can do, just let me know. I feel like I'd mess up if I try to look for something myself. Maybe Serafall would help me though."

"You are…" she started before trailing off with an exasperated sigh. He saw her lips twitching into a smile though and a slight pinking of her cheeks. Joshua took those as signs of a victory. "You are very unfair, Joshua."

"Because I want to spoil my partner? I guess I might be," he replied with a shrug and an unrepentant smile.

"Not what I was talking about," Yasaka told him, now more amused than anything. "You are very lucky you are cute."

"... Eh, I'll take it," he said, chuckling. "Gotta have something going for me if I managed to make you like me."

"Love you," she corrected then, casually, as if it weren't… She'd said that once or twice and so had he back or even first. However, Joshua wondered if he'd ever not feel his heart twitch at the word.

"I'm the luckiest," he said with a grin. "And I love you too."

"So long as you are aware," Yasaka told him with a satisfied nod.

He really was the luckiest.

[}-o-{]

"You don't have to do all this, you know?" he asked, looking at the whole almost cafe-like experience that Gabriel had provided during his visit to set up a new defense array at one of their bases. There were two tables for everyone that was around, which included, Jeanne, Irina, Xenovia, Griselda and even some cushion seats for his familiars.

Of course, there was another pair of seats for Gabriel herself and him.

Furthermore, it seemed that they'd had some of their staff – or members, whatever – prepare drinks and snacks.

All of that had been set up while he worked on setting up the first part of the whole thing. It seemed that they'd wanted to fill in the space between parts. It… made some sense, Joshua supposed. For the most part, in other instances, they'd just stood around for a bit talking and such.

"It doesn't cost us anything and it's the least I can do. I can't tell you how much your wards have helped us," Gabriel replied, smiling appreciatively. "Things are running much more smoothly now and conflicts are slowly being taken care of. Moreover, I have to say, instructors and trainers are also really appreciating the training arrays you set up," the angel told him, her expression shifting into something exasperated, especially when he grinned at her.

"That's good to hear," he mused, taking a sip from the tea they had provided. 'If there's one benefit to being important is that you can get great tea made,' he thought to himself, slightly amused. 'Certainly doesn't make up for the headaches though,' he added, setting the cup down. "No way I can help more?" he asked, and he'd almost swear Gabriel's features formed an annoyed expression for a second, but that couldn't be, right? She was too nice for that.

"And I've told you, we can't ask for more from you-"

"It's not asking for more if I literally am offering it freely, is it?" he pointed out and now she definitely seemed miffed, at the very least. "I think of it like this: If I help you, then you are stronger. If you are stronger, you can help even more against Khaos."

"Be that as it may, whatever you do would remain with us even afterwards, wouldn't it? Unless you are planning to take down things after that organization is dealt with, in which case we'd be more open to setting something up," the angel said, making him blink.

"Why'd I take things away though? Even if Khaos is dealt with, there's always something that can go wrong. I wouldn't feel right-"

"Exactly," Gabriel interrupted, an exasperated smile on her face. "You are too kind for your own good… and maybe for others'."

"That's… I'm not sure if that's a compliment or not."

"I'm not either," the angel replied, her smile turning more amused. "Maybe we should talk about something other than work."

"Sure thing," Joshua agreed easily. "Although, to be fair, I don't know you that much, do I? I don't even know what you do when you are not working."

"I guess that's on me. I might have… focused too much on what needed to be done," Gabriel admitted, looking a little sheepish. "There was so much to do… Regardless, I guess I could start saying that, as the one in charge of foreign affairs, I get to travel a lot and I… enjoy it. I enjoy visiting new places, seeing new cultures and appreciating new sights. Even with as long as I've lived, the world is always changing, there's always something to appreciate."

"You sound like you'd get along with Jeanne," he commented, glancing to the side where his sister was at another table, talking with Xenovia and Irina. "She really likes traveling. I've seen her planning out trips whenever we have the time for it. I like doing those things too but… Well, not quite like I think you or her do, I guess. I find the places interesting, sure, but I'm not in awe of them. For me, they just… are."

"Hm, that's understandable. People have different likes and dislikes and sometimes it's to different extents. That just happens," Gabriel replied with a smile. "What is it that you enjoy then?"

"I like… I guess I just like a calm life. I like having my routine, where there's nothing to worry about, being at home and just spending time with my family and friends. I like having my time to myself, studying or spellcrafting or doing something else that I might feel like doing. I like… comfort, I guess you could say. I'm a simple man," he answered with a smile. "And a boring one, I guess."

"Nothing wrong with enjoying the little things," Gabriel told him. "Although, I can't say you have chosen a simple path, considering all that you do, and some of your choices I've been hearing about," she continued then, drawing a curious tilt of his head. "So, that rise in reputation was to be able to approach Yasaka and Serafall? Can't say I'm surprised. I did see some things during our meetings."

"To be honest, we already were in a relationship. We were just keeping things low," Joshua answered with a shrug. With someone else, he might have tried to keep up the story, but with Gabriel? She was too nice to worry about what she'd do with that information. "We decided to go for a more public thing now because it was causing trouble for Kunou."

"Yasaka's daughter?"

"Our daughter," he corrected, a wide smile on his face. "It's not official or anything, but I basically adopted her some time ago. Before I even started being in a relationship with Yasaka, believe it or not. And she was having a hard time considering what happened with her father so… We had to take some measures."

"And by "we" you mean you?" Gabriel asked, raising an eyebrow.

"It's not like Serafall and Yasaka did nothing, but yeah. I was the problem there, so I had to do something to fix it," Joshua answered with a chuckle. "Seeing Kunou sad was the worst."

The angel's only response to that was a hum and sipping from her cup of tea as she stared at him.

[} Chapter End {]

Hey guys! How's it going?

This time it might not be as obvious as some other times, but I want you guys to know that my characters screwed me over in this chapter. Am I telling you this just because I want to complain? Yes, yes I am. They are assholes, the lot of them.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the chapter.

As always, if you can't wait until next week for next chapter, there's up to three new chapters in my Pa tre on:

P a treon . com (slash) AdrianKing

Discord Link: discord .gg/UTDransjJZ

Random Question: Where do you think the characters messed with my plans in this chapter and how?

See you.