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He’s handed things over to Himura on the early shift, filled him in on that call they got earlier about a potential ‘suspicious character’ slinking around a few blocks over, made the usual jokes about not getting paid enough to deal with actual crime. He’s stretching the stiffness from his neck, uniform jacket slung over his shoulder as he stands outside the station, breathing in the sharp morning air. When his phone buzzes he doesn’t even think to check the caller ID before answering.
 
“Now, don’t let it get to your head,” says the voice on the other end, without so much as a greeting first. “But I could possibly use your assistance with something.”
 
He can feel his eyes widen. Something tightens in his chest. “Tendou?”
 
“Who else would you expect to be calling from my number?”
 
“Wh – I didn’t – you’re back in Japan? Since when?”
 
“A day ago.” A sound reminiscent of metal being unceremoniously ripped apart quite nearly drowns out his last word, and Arata jumps at the sudden loudness, bobbling his phone, pressing it back to his ear in time to hear: “I’m not really in the mood for catching up right now, Kagami. Just get here as quickly as you can. Your Zecter will show you the way.”
 
Sure enough, that familiar blue shape swoops down out of the greyish pre-dawn sky with a drone of wings, holding his belt between its pincers and dropping the thing right into his hands. He blinks down at it for a moment before everything finally snaps into place in his mind.
 
“Oh, you gotta be kidding me. I just got off work, y’know,” he protests, but Tendou, predictably, has already hung up on him.
 

 

 
The location turns out to be an abandoned factory some miles into the city outskirts, tall grass growing around and through the links of the now-rusted exterior fence. The building itself is grimy with age. He pulls his bike up to the gate just in time to watch an entire wall explode outward in a burst of rubble, and after his pulse has slowed he squints into the sky, able to make out the telltale midair sparks that must mean a Clock Up battle. He hops off his bike; ducks under the gate and tries to follow the trail left behind by this ‘afterimage’ –
 
Clock Over.
 
Kabuto lands next to him with a catlike grace, just as something else slams into the earth twenty feet away with violent force, raising up a cloud of dust.
 
“I’m glad you could make it.” Kabuto’s eyes glow brighter as he speaks.
 
Arata squints at the creature that’s staggering to its feet in the distance. “The hell is that?”
 
“A Worm, but. Not quite. Seems to have evolved in a strange way. It’s much more resilient than the others.” His helmet tilts to the side as he looks at him. “Are you going to help me beat it or not?”
 
Arata rolls his eyes. “What, like I’m gonna say no after you dragged me out here?” he mutters, holding up his hand to beckon the Gatack Zecter down. He can’t quite conceal his smile, though, as he slides it into the belt, as the armor settles into place around him.
 
Maybe he missed this a bit. Fighting side-by-side with Tendou.
 
(He wonders if that feeling goes the other way.)
 
The creature is remarkably strong. Or maybe tenacious would be a better word, not powerful as much as able to get back up again and again and keep coming. Not something that either of them could win against alone. It requires landing a blow in unison to finish it, and when the thing has finally burned away into turquoise-coloured flame, Tendou slips the Zecter from his belt with a small sigh, the gleaming plating of Kabuto fading from his shoulders. If he’s at all winded from the exertion, he doesn’t show it. “I’ve been chasing it for four days now,” he says distastefully. “Good to be done with it.”
 
He turns, and –
 
Arata stops, having just canceled his own transformation, holding Gatack loosely as he stares.
 
Tendou looks tired. Not a hair out of place, of course, his outfit perfectly put-together, a fashionable black scarf thrown over a tailored beige jacket. He’s as annoyingly beautiful as ever. But there are actual dark, bruise-like circles beneath his eyes, which themselves have a glassy, unfocused look to them.
 
Arata takes a tentative step closer. “Are you… okay?”
 
“Of course.” The reply is terse.
 
“No, like. Seriously. How long has it been since you slept?”
 
Tendou arches an eyebrow, a gesture lacking its usual sharp effect. “I just told you, didn’t I?”
 
He frowns as his mind plays catch-up. “Wait. You… You haven’t slept in four days?”
 
“I’m not in the practice of letting my quarry run off without me, Kagami.”
 
It’s right as he says his name that he falters and sways on his feet. It’s subtle at first, like a tree in the breeze, until a moment later when he pitches forward, and Arata moves with a quickness that surprises even himself as he darts in to catch him, one arm circling around him while his other hand holds on to his hip. He’s so light, he finds himself thinking. Shouldn’t a person this important be more substantial?
 
He expects Tendou to pull away instantly, and yet. After a moment of hesitation he leans into him instead, with a small sound almost like relief in his throat, the line of his body warm, his forehead falling to rest against Arata’s shoulder.
 
“Uh,” Arata says. He licks his lips. He can feel the steady rise and fall of Tendou’s breathing as he presses his palm against his back, Tendou’s hair tickling his neck. They stay like this in silence for a time, Arata hardly daring to move. He feels very much like he did the day he befriended a particularly aloof neighborhood cat, cautious that the slightest motion might scare it off again.
 
“I’m not sleeping, I’ll have you know,” Tendou says finally. “I’m resting my eyes. There’s a difference.”
 
Arata can’t help but laugh at that, some of the nervous tension leaving him. “Yeah, alright. I really think you should be sleeping, though.” He frowns as he considers his options. “If I put you on the back of my bike you won’t fall off, will you?”
 
Tendou pulls back to give him a subtly displeased look. “I have my own bike, Kagami.”
 
He tries to shrug away, but Arata grips him by the arm, frown deepening into a scowl. “No way. You’re about to pass out any second. Just leave it, will you? Nobody’s gonna steal it out here in the middle of nowhere.” When Tendou looks like he’s about to interject again, he snaps: “You called me to help you, right? So that’s what I’m doing.”
 
He grabs his wrist and begins to tug him along towards the factory entrance.
 
Now this, he thinks, is a pretty inexplicable situation. Tendou simply allowing himself to led. It makes him feel like the Earth has been tilted on its axis, like something has shifted in the very fabric of reality. He keeps expecting to hear a grandmother quote about how the sun cannot be moved from its decided path by any mortal being, and yet there is nothing but quiet acceptance from behind him.
 
He even allows Arata to reach up and secure the bike helmet over his head for him, which somehow feels far more intimate than any full body embrace. Arata’s hands drift down haltingly to linger on his shoulders as Tendou blinks at him, his tired eyes appraising.
 
“Sometimes,” Arata says quietly, “I think you forget that you’re a human, too.”
 
A derisive ‘hmph.’ “Nonsense. I pride myself in my humanity. I merely happen to be in the top .01 percentile in terms of quality.”
 
Ah, he thinks drily. There it is. And so the world’s balance is restored.
 
“Whatever you say.” He turns away; swings a leg over his bike and motions for Tendou to do the same. “Hold on tight, okay? Try not to totally fall asleep until we get close to my place.”
 
“I’m not sure you’re in any position to be giving me commands,” Tendou says, but it seems more like a reflex than anything, as a moment later he does as instructed despite. The sensation of his arms sliding around him, knees brushing the backs of his thighs is – also strange. Pleasant, but startling. The tips of Arata’s ears feel a bit warm as he kicks the stand, revving the engine to life and pulling out on to the road, right as the first real morning sunlight breaks through the otherwise overcast grey.
 

 

 
He wakes to the smell of food cooking.
 
It takes him a second to remember why that might be. When the thought ‘oh right, I brought Tendou back home with me’ hits, it hits like an electric jolt, and he sits bolt upright on the couch, eyes gone from bleary to wide open in an instant.
 
Tendou is here in his apartment. And there’s no one to blame but himself.
 
Actually, when he thinks about it, it’s surprising that it’s taken so long. All of the familiar places that Tendou has willfully barged his way into and yet this isn’t one of them. Was he waiting for an invitation all this time? That idea strikes him as somewhat… cute.
 
“Are you finally awake?”
 
Arata glances over to find Tendou peering at him from the kitchen, a ladle in hand, his expression mildly exasperated. He’s dressed in the comfortable traditional clothes he often wears around his own house, and Arata blinks. Did he go home to change? And then came back?
 
“How long did you sleep for?” he asks, hauling himself off the couch.
 
“Six hours, of course,” Tendou says. He gives him a significant look before turning back to stir his soup. “It’s the optimal amount. Any more and you’re wasting precious daylight.”
 
Arata peers out the window to find that the afternoon is growing late, long shadows reaching their fingers across the street below. He’s not sure ‘wasting daylight’ is really applicable when you work the night shift like he often does.
 
“I think when you’re sleep deprived you can let yourself have a couple more than six,” he suggests, but Tendou seems to pointedly ignore him. “Wait.” He stops in the kitchen doorway, staring bewildered at the gleaming stainless steel pot simmering on the stove, the expensive-looking rice cooker on the counter. “Is this stuff mine?”
 
“Obviously not. Everything I found in your cabinets was poor quality, so I brought my own.”
 
“Right, yeah,” Arata mutters. “Obviously.” He steps closer to peer at what’s cooking, but Tendou swiftly wields the ladle in his direction like a weapon, slicing through the air.
 
“It will be ready soon,” he says. “In the meantime I suggest you get freshened up a bit. In fact, you will be barred from the table until you do.”
 
“It’s my table, though,” Arata grumbles, but wanders off to do as ‘suggested’ all the same.
 
He returns with a washed face and a clean shirt to find an elaborate meal for two set out and waiting. Isn’t this all kind of… domestic? The thought sticks in the back of his mind as he takes a seat.
 
He closes his eyes and feels a contented sound rising in the back of his throat upon taking a bite of the fish – flawlessly cooked mackerel, a light yet many-layered taste to it. The miso soup, too, the pure note of its flavors so elegant and simple that it feels naturally occurring, almost, something not made but instead pulled straight from some ancient source.
 
“It’s so damn good,” he sighs. “I really missed this.”
 
He opens his eyes again to find Tendou smiling at him from across the table. Fond in that unguarded way that’s usually reserved for his sisters, eyes soft, chin resting on his hand. His hair is still long, he finally registers, still curling around his ears and falling over his eyes, as if he’s purposefully kept it that length since they last saw each other. Arata swallows hard; opens his mouth to say something else, something more meaningful, though he’s not sure what it is he wants to say –
 
“Has no one been feeding you?” Tendou asks, averting his eyes as he reaches for his own chopsticks, whatever moment just transpired ending in an instant. “Hiyori hasn’t?”
 
Arata shakes himself back into the rhythms of everyday conversation. “That’s – she’s not gonna cook for me for free,” he mutters. “We’re friends, but she doesn’t like me that much. And I’m a neighborhood cop now, remember? Don’t have the money to eat out all the time.”
 
“Hm,” Tendou says, giving him a quick once-over. “You do look thinner than I remember you being. A bit less healthy all around. That’s no good, you know, Kagami. Grandmother said this: ‘The quality of one’s work is only as good as one’s meals.’ Having the town policeman faltering on the job would be very unseemly.”
 
Arata levels him with a weary look over the rim of his rice bowl. “I’ll keep that in mind, thanks.”
 
“Well, clearly I’ll have to take it upon myself to do something about it,” Tendou adds, taking a prim bite of his pickled vegetables.
 
Arata frowns. “I – what?”
 
But Tendou has already launched into a complicated story about a literal princess he met and cooked for while traveling across France, and Arata soon forgets about everything else as he struggles to follow the apparently romance novel-esque series of events, involving an arranged marriage and a jealous ex, all of which unfolded as a result of the “exquisite bouillabaisse” that he served her.
 

 

 
He wishes they’d stop assigning him day shifts when he’s only just gotten used to the patterns of working at night. He always ends up running on fumes during these odd daytime hours, having barely gotten enough sleep to function, nodding off a bit behind his desk as the afternoon wears on. Doesn’t help that there’s not much to do on lazy days like this – a lost child, a minor pickpocketing incident, an irate auntie complaining about noisy neighbors. All trivial enough that, even as he throws himself wholeheartedly into helping them, there’s little for his thoughts to hold onto.
 
He’s starving, too, now that he thinks about it. Dashed out of his apartment without breakfast this morning. It gnaws at him, a hollow feeling in his stomach as he sits there staring unseeingly at the report he’s meant to be filling out.
 
A cloth-wrapped parcel is placed in front of him.
 
He starts, glancing up to find Tendou standing in front of his desk, a hand on his hip. Today’s simple black shirt and red blazer look even more fashionably expensive than usual. He’s wearing rings, too, several gold bands glinting, and Arata finds himself staring at them, at his long, beautiful fingers.
 
“As stated previously,” Tendou says, “it would be unbecoming for you to put in poor quality work due to not being properly fed. Now, please continue protecting the peace, officers.”
 
He inclines his head to Koudai at the other desk before turning on his heel and vanishing through the doorway and out of sight.
 
They sit in silence for a moment.
 
“Uh,” Arata says.
 
“You… know him, Kagami?” A flicker of realization passes across Koudai’s face. “Wait, don’t tell me that’s the – the ‘path of heaven’ guy you’re always talking about?”
 
“Got it in one,” Arata mutters. “And I don’t… always talk about him.”
 
He definitely doesn’t. Does he?
 
He unwraps the parcel to find a striking black lacquer bento box tucked inside, a pattern of red flowers painted along its side. It’s so well-polished that he can see himself reflected on its surface. When he opens the lid Koudai, who is leaning over his shoulder, makes a small, awed sort of sound.
 
Everything is just so – immaculate. He shouldn’t have expected anything less, he supposes. The rolled omelette, the nimono, the croquette, all arranged as if they were a work of art instead of a lunch. Arata almost doesn’t want to touch it. Almost.
 
“You said he was a chef, right? So he just like… made this? For you?”
 
“That’s… yeah?” An odd, not-unpleasant feeling prickles along his spine. “I guess?”
 
Himura, having shown up to relieve Koudai of duty for today, steps out of the back room with a yawn as he adjusts the cuffs of his uniform; halts in place as he also cranes his neck to peer at the delivery.
 
“What the hell, Kagami, since when d’you have the money for fancy meals?”
 
“Nah, get this: someone made it for him. For free.”
 
Himura’s laugh is sharp and startled. “Seriously? You got a girlfriend?”
 
“Wh – no,” Arata says quickly. “Just a friend.”
 
Himura gives him an exasperated look. “Well she definitely wants to be your girlfriend if she’s cooking something like this for you, man. C’mon. Use your brain.”
 
Arata mouth works wordlessly, whatever retort was there in his throat suddenly absent. Koudai is saying ‘this is a guy friend, dumbass, it’s not like that’ but those words sound strange and distant as he turns back to stare at the box of painstakingly prepared dishes. He picks the umeboshi out and munches on it, thoughtful.
 
“Grandmother said this,” he says softly. “‘Cooking is never a chore when done with love.’”
 
That’s one that always stuck with him.
 
He’s not sure why he’s remembering it now, though.
 

 

 
It keeps happening, is the truly surprising part. Bento materializing on his desk partway through every shift. Sometimes Tendou will actually accompany it, giving his usual brusque “work hard, officer” before disappearing again, but there are other days when Arata will look away only for a moment, glancing back to find one sitting there in front of him, seemingly having popped into existence out of the ether. (Is he using Clock Up to deliver lunch? He supposes it’s been used for sillier reasons.) Even in the middle of the night – he opens his locker in the back room to find one waiting for him on the upper shelf.
 
After a week he’s grown used to it, and so feels unmoored when there is nothing one day. A man adrift on an empty sea of hunger. He munches forlornly on some curry bread he grabbed from the corner convenience store. The problem with eating Tendou’s cooking day after day is that everything else begins to taste flat and unappealing by comparison.
 
His phone buzzes where it’s lying against the table, and he flips it open mechanically.
 
You will come over for dinner tonight at seven sharp, the text from Tendou’s number reads, and he freezes with his bread halfway to his mouth.
 
Right, he thinks wryly a moment later, huffing out a quiet laugh. So that’s it. Two homemade meals in a single day would be spoiling him or something, probably.
 
“‘You will,’ huh?” he reads aloud. He can feel himself smiling. So he’s got no choice in the matter, then.
 
Isn’t that the way it always goes with Tendou?
 

 

 
Juka throws the front door open before he can even ring the bell, grinning brightly, jumping out to catch him in a forceful hug that nearly knocks the air out of lungs. He pats her on the back awkwardly in return.
 
“I haven’t seen you in like, weeks, Mr Kagami,” she says, an excited bounce to her step as she leads him inside, through the entranceway and into the living area.
 
“Yeah… Oh, I did see you, actually. The other day, from across the street. You were walking with a boy – ah.”
 
He realizes his mistake as soon as the words leave his mouth. Juka freezes in place, wincing, and a split second later Tendou’s head pops out of the kitchen, his expression aghast.
 
“A boy? Who is he? Give me his name immediately.”
 
Juka sighs, putting as much drama into it as she can muster. “Masaru is just a friend, onii-chan. He likes the same tv show I do so we talk about it sometimes. Is that a crime?”
 
She gives him an expectant look, and Tendou’s eyes gradually narrow.
 
“Hm. I suppose not. If he is ever untoward or rude towards you, though… You will tell me. So that I may… speak with him about it.”
 
He slides back out of sight like a bizarre, beautiful kitchen spectre.
 
“Sorry,” Arata mutters. “I didn’t think.”
 
“No, it’s okay,” Juka says with a laugh. “He really is just a friend. Actually… I dunno if I even like boys that way.” Her face scrunches up as she seems to contemplate this. “My friends talk about how cute guys are, but I don’t really get it. Girls are just way prettier, right? Is that mean to say? No offense, Mr Kagami.” She glances over at the clock and her eyes brighten. “Oh, my show’s on soon! I’ll be back down when it’s over!”
 
She gives him a rather adorable salute before spinning around and padding into the hall and up the stairs. He stares after her.
 
It’s like getting caught up in a whirlwind, sometimes. Interacting with the Tendou/Kusakabe family.
 
Hiyori, at least, he can always count on to be the one exception. (He thinks. He hopes.) She gives him a sidelong look and a small quirk of the lips as he steps into the kitchen. Her hair is pulled back in a messy bun, sleeves rolled up to her elbows as she chops a radish quickly and efficiently.
 
“Still haven’t learned not to blurt people’s business out to anyone and everyone?” she says drily.
 
“You guys are hardly ‘anyone and everyone,’” he grumbles in return. “She’s your sister, even. And hello to you, too.”
 
“Hello, Kagami.”
 
Tendou doesn’t pause in pouring soup stock through a strainer as he asks, “Well? How was your day? Get any dangerous criminals off the streets?”
 
Arata leans against the wall, arms folded over his chest. “What do you think?”
 
“It was worth asking. Did you assist the general public, at least?”
 
He chews on his lip as he considers. “I got some kid’s cat out of a tree.”
 
Tendou looks at him, then, his smile gentle. Indulgent. “There you go. That’s plenty for one day, I think.”
 
The gears in Arata’s mind seem to grind to a screeching halt as he stares back at him. Something goes funny with his heartbeat. Again, he thinks. It’s just like before. He doesn’t know what to –
 
The doorbell chimes distantly, and Tendou’s usual nonchalance snaps back into place in an instant as he says, “ah, that must be the delivery I’m expecting,” lowering the heat on whatever it is he has cooking and reaching back to untie his apron strings.
 
When it is only Arata and Hiyori in the kitchen, he swivels around to hiss at her:
 
“Hey, d’you think he’s been… weird? Since he got back?”
 
She pauses in her chopping to give him a wry look. “You might want to rephrase that question.”
 
“Right, yeah. I mean like. A different kind of weird than usual? He’s been… really nice? By his standards? He keeps making me food for no reason?”
 
Hiyori looks genuinely pensive for a moment. “I think he missed us, Kagami,” she says finally. “I think maybe he missed you most of all.”
 
He can feel his mouth twist into a frown as he attempts to process this.
 
“Didn’t you miss him?” she continues, arching an eyebrow.
 
“Wh – yeah, obviously,” he mutters. “Not that I’m happy about it or anything.”
 
It makes sense for him, doesn’t it? Tendou is by far the most interesting person he knows. And no matter how aggravating it might be, at times, to live with him… Living without is something else entirely. The space left behind by his absence is like a yawning chasm.
 
But it’s hard to fathom that Tendou would miss him in return. Who would spare a thought for some average neighborhood policeman while they’re off playing personal chef to princesses in Paris?
 
“If you’re going to be in the way, could you do it elsewhere?”
 
Tendou is behind him in the kitchen doorway, then, a small wooden crate in his arms, and Arata obligingly steps aside to allow him to deposit in on the counter.
 
“Always best to get seafood as straight from the source as possible,” he says, prying off the lid to reveal what seems to be freshly-caught sea urchin packed in ice. “Now. Who would like to help me prepare this?”
 
Arata and Hiyori exchange a glance.
 

 

 
He’d assured Tendou that he could at least handle washing-up duty on his own, but he seems to be oddly protective of some of the dishware (heirlooms from grandmother, maybe?), and thus is assisting him with the drying while keeping a watchful hawk-like eye on his every move. Over the running water and the clink of cutlery drifts chatter from the living room – Juka informing Hiyori about all the latest drama at her school.
 
And then, above that, the sudden ringing of Tendou’s phone. It’s sitting at the end of the counter as if he’d been expecting a call, and Arata cranes his neck to get a quick look at the lit-up screen, at the contact name displayed there. ‘Maxime,’ it reads, and then Tendou is saying “I’ll be back in a moment,” snatching it up and heading through the door to the garage to answer it in private.
 
Maxime. He assumes that has to be someone he met overseas. But he doesn’t know enough about French names to say if that one belongs to a man or a woman. A woman wouldn’t be anything to worry about, he’s relatively certain, but a man –
 
He stops. The water continues to pour in rivulets over his hands, gone still against the plate he’s scrubbing. Worried about what? What would it matter, if a man from across the world were calling Tendou? Someone… close enough to be in his contacts, getting in touch at a previously arranged time…
 
The more he thinks about it, the more it feels as if something were being wound tight and taut in the space between his ribs.
 
Tendou is speaking French into the phone when Arata pushes his way into the garage. He turns; gives him a wholly unimpressed look and proceeds to try (as far as he can tell) to wrap the conversation up early, a dry laugh and a few murmurs of assent before saying his goodbyes. He snaps his phone shut.
 
“Do you often a make a point to try and eavesdrop?”
 
“Not like I can understand anything you’re saying,” Arata protests, though he’s already feeling a bit embarrassed over his own lack of manners. Tendou’s trademark expression of haughty disdain for anything or anyone he deems ‘discourteous’ never affected him much before, but now… Suddenly it’s remarkably powerful.
 
“…Sorry,” he mutters. He scrubs a hand down his face, feeling oddly tired. Like whatever energy had possessed him has fled just as quick. “I just. Are you… going back soon? To France?”
 
Tendou seems to consider this, arms crossed, leaning back against the seat of his parked bike. “No,” he says finally. “I don’t believe so. As the man of the house, I cannot keep leaving my precious little sisters alone. It’s unbecoming.”
 
Arata has a very clear vision of Hiyori rolling her eyes in this moment.
 
“And,” he continues, glancing aside to stare at the wall, “someone has to continue making sure you eat a balanced meal now and then.”
 
Arata opens his mouth and closes it again. Gradually, warmth begins to prickle up the back of his neck.
 
“Tendou, you… You get it, right?” His own voice sounds stilted. “The whole making me lunch every day thing… I’m not complaining or anything, but. It’s not really something that – that a friend would do, y’know? It’s more like. Like a dating or marriage thing.”
 
Tendou’s posture stiffens, then. His eyes narrow, lips thinning into a hard line. He almost looks – hurt? But that can’t be right, can it, what sense would that make –
 
“Are we not dating?” he asks.
 
A long silence follows as Arata blinks back at him.
 
“What,” he says.
 
“I was under the impression,” his voice is clipped, “that an embrace of that sort was a dating activity. Sharing a motorcycle seat in such a close manner as well.”
 
“I – that’s – ” He feels like some wire has been abruptly severed, sparking uselessly in the back of his mind. “I mean, they are! Sometimes! But you – you have to – ” He makes a broad, helpless gesture as he steps closer. “To ask, usually! To see if they actually want to date you, too!”
 
“Are you implying that you don’t wish to?” The genuine arrogant incredulity undercut with the tightness of his voice makes for a combination of emotions that probably shouldn’t be possible. That’s a lot of what Tendou is, he often thinks. Impossible contrasts.
 
“That’s not what I’m – ” Arata breaks off, taking a breath, slowly running a hand through his hair. How in the hell is he having this conversation? “Do you seriously… like me that way?”
 
“Yes,” Tendou says simply.
 
“…Right. Okay.”
 
“I made a friend during my time abroad,” Tendou continues. “Two, in fact.” He seems to be trying and failing to hide how pleased he is about this. “Which allowed me to see that my feelings for you are quite different.”
 
“Uh.” Arata’s hand slides down to palm the back of his neck, a fluttering in his chest, a nervous laugh in his throat. The beginning of a flattered smile tugs at his mouth. “Wow. That’s like… I mean obviously I was pretty sure you were into guys but I w – ”
 
“And you? Do you reciprocate?”
 
He freezes.
 
Does he? It’s a jarring thought. Like being rattled down to the bone. “Friends” is one thing, but trying to apply any further ideas has always seemed – off limits, almost? Tendou isn’t someone you’re meant to feel things like that for. Not unless you yourself are also someone remarkable. Tendou is a curiosity. He’s sometimes only half-real. The type of person you aren’t allowed to actually touch for more than a fleeting moment.
 
But then. He already has, hasn’t he?
 
Clearly his silence is not going over well, as there is an almost imperceptible downturn of Tendou’s lips.
 
“No, listen,” Arata says quickly. “You’re just. You know you’re not exactly normal, right? I don’t even know what… to think, sometimes…” He trails off. Makes a frustrated noise. “Okay, forget it. Let me just. Try something.”
 
He reaches out haltingly to press the tips of his fingers to the slope of Tendou’s neck.
 
He tenses up at the touch, just for a beat, but then he leans into it, a shockingly contented set to his face as Arata slides his palm back, fingers curling into the soft hair at his nape. Arata swallows hard. Just dash forward. Straight ahead without thinking. That’s what Tadokoro and Misaki would tell him.
 
Easier done in battles with his life on the line than in situations like this. He thinks he might be stuck here in this in-between moment, until Tendou’s hand reaches out, with a hesitation he’s never seen before, to grab hold of his sweater, looking at him through his eyelashes, and it’s – cute? It’s cute. Startled by that thought, he cups his face in his palms and steps in to kiss him.
 
He gets the impression that Tendou hasn’t done this very much. Which isn’t shocking, exactly. The idea of it. It’s that it would be so apparent that takes him aback. Isn’t Tendou supposed to be good at everything, in some innate, heavenly way? And yet. The press of his mouth is uncertain, oddly reserved. Again he thinks it: cute.
 
They’re both breathing a bit hard as he pulls back, his hands still resting there along his jawline. He can feel it as Tendou clears his throat.
 
“Well. I’d say that most certainly counts as a dating activity, even if the others did not.” He says this primly, but his fingers are still curled, even more tightly now, into the fabric of Arata’s shirt.
 
A moment ticks past, and then – Arata laughs, abrupt and loud and a little shaky, his smile lopsided.
 
“Yeah,” he says. “I guess there’s no way to be mistaken about that one.”
 
(Hiyori, who has taken over the last of the cleaning-up in his stead, gives them a piercing look as they step back inside. Assessing. He feels like he’s on trial, in those few seconds before she turns back to wiping down the counter, muttering something under her breath that sounds suspiciously like “about time.”)
 

 

 

 
“Um, so it’s. It’s silver,” the woman says. She stops to bite her lip, fingers twisting the hem of her shirt in her lap. “The – the band is. Silver. The gems are… Two are purple, and the other is white-ish.”
 
“Right. Got it.” He tries to keep his smile optimistic. Rings hardly ever get found, but he’s not about to tell her that. If he goes out to search the area she’d mentioned as soon as he can, there might be a sliver of a chance –
 
“Is this what you’re looking for, by any chance?”
 
They both turn their heads. Tendou’s outfit seems more eye-catching than usual today – artfully faded black jeans, embroidered white jacket over a brightly patterned floral shirt. And the silver ring with inlaid purple gems he’s holding between his fingertips is fairly eye-catching, too, he supposes.
 
She hugs him, in the end. Cries on him a bit. He looks perturbed by this for only a few seconds before smoothing it away into his usual magnanimous self-satisfaction, patting her on the back delicately.
 
Arata leans back in his chair with a sigh once she’s gone, giving him a flat look. “Aren’t you the one always asking me if I ‘helped people today’? And now you’re going around doing my work for me?”
 
“You wouldn’t have found it,” Tendou says breezily as he places today’s wrapped bento on the corner of the desk.
 
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
 
“I have all the confidence in the world in you.” He says this offhanded, and yet the subtle weight behind it makes Arata go still, pen stopping mid-tap, something warm settling in his chest. “However you will soon be very busy, I believe, with no time for searching for lost items.”
 
He frowns. “What? Why?”
 
“Because of the burglary-in-progress happening right now at the Oozora residence. I happened to witness the initial break-in on my way here.”
 
Arata stares at him for a long moment before leaping to his feet, chair hitting the wall behind him. It’s rather a blur, what happens next, as he frantically radios in for Uemura and Koudai, grabbing everything he thinks he might need and some things he absolutely doesn’t from his messy desk drawers. He’s scrambling for the door when Tendou catches him by the arm.
 
“Good luck, officer,” he says with a smile, and leans in to press a kiss, chaste but inexpressibly tender, against the corner of his mouth. “Stay safe out there.”
 
Wide-eyed, Arata somehow manages a nod.
 
He finds himself grinning as he swings a leg over the seat of his bicycle and pushes off in the direction of the Oozora’s, and has to steel his face a second later, offering up a mental apology to them. He is absolutely not excited about the prospect of their house getting robbed. Or of criminal activity in this neighborhood in general.
 
There’s just something so appealing about hearing his boyfriend say the words ‘stay safe.’
 
It should be a joke to him, probably, after the things they’ve been through. The life-or-death fights. The times they’ve been at each other’s throats.
 
But maybe that’s why, he thinks. Why the normalcy of it hits him so hard.
 
Maybe that’s the real path of heaven. Getting from there to here.
 
He huffs out a laugh that gets snatched away by the wind; shakes his head as he reaches the top of the hill. God, that sounds like a grandmother quote.