“Explain this to me,” Izumi says. He’s laying upside down on the couch, facing Kyousuke as he’s sorting books off the shelf. “How are we supposed to set up pincer attacks now?”
Kyousuke stacks the books before putting them into a box. “What do you mean?”
“Well—” Izumi slips down a little too far and hits his head on the ground. “Ah, shit—” The rest of his body crumples sideways until he’s completely sprawled on the couch. “So in the past, you and I would come in from each side to set up the pincer, and then Tachikawa-san would finish them off once they’re distracted by us. How am I supposed to do a pincer by myself?”
“You could spread your bullets out so that they’re on all sides of the enemy,” Kyousuke says, so calm that it’s infuriating. “You could also set up the pincer with Tachikawa-san, I’m sure he’d be able to handle that. You could look around the new C-rankers to see if there are any new recruits that show promise and mentor them—”
“Okay, okay,” Izumi holds his hands up in defeat briefly, and then sits up. “Fine. Then who’s going to back up Tachikawa-san if I have to bail out?”
“Kunichika-san will back up Tachikawa-san.”
“What if the enemy has broken into Border Headquarters and is holding Yuu-san captive, and I become a hostage too once I’ve bailed out? Who’s going to back up Tachikawa-san then?”
“If the enemy has broken into headquarters and are holding operators and agents hostage, one can only assume that Shinoda-san and the others will have to take care of it themselves.”
Izumi flops back down. “Fine. You can leave us, then.”
Kyousuke stops packing. “You know that that was already decided, Izumi-senpai.”
“Well, now I’m giving you my blessing.” Izumi rolls off the couch onto the plushies that Kunichika had left strewn all over the operation room.
“I don’t feel blessed.”
Izumi throws a plushie at him. “How dare you? Even as I’m gracing you with my presence?”
“Aren’t you only here because we have defense duty soon?”
“You know,” Izumi says, pushing himself into a sitting position against the couch, “maybe I don’t really like your personality after all.”
That makes Kyousuke crack a smile. “I didn't realize you liked it in the first place.”
“I do hope you make a better Tamakoma agent than a liar,” Izumi remarks, taking Kyousuke’s hand when offered. “Is it time to go already?”
“No, not yet,” Kyousuke says, going back to the bookshelf. For some reason, Izumi follows him. “I just wanted you to pack with me.”
Izumi raises an eyebrow. “Are you asking for my help?”
Kyousuke is already back on the floor, organizing all the books he had pulled out. “Not if it requires me to grovel, though. I need to exit with some dignity intact.”
“You never grovel,” Izumi grumbles, even as he’s taping another box together. “Why do you have so much stuff here anyway?”
“These are mostly Kunichika-san’s,” Kyousuke explains. “Her old school stuff that she didn't end up using. I figured my siblings would get good use out of them.”
“Want mine?” Izumi gestures to the notes that are next to Kunichika’s.
“Hasn’t Miwa-senpai been using your notebooks to teach Yoneya-senpai the exam material the past few months?”
“Ah.” Izumi forgot about that. “Yeah, you’re right. Might as well toss them then.” He looks at the sheer volume of notebooks that fall under the category of were borrowed by Miwa and Yoneya and returned in less than pristine condition. “Eh, future Izumi can deal with it.”
“So in a year when I visit you, I assume that those notebooks will still be here?” Kyousuke asks impassively.
“You’ve become more insufferable with age,” Izumi informs him. “It’s very dangerous Kyousuke, what if this just ends up being who you are?”
“I hope you won’t miss me too much once I’m gone,” Kyousuke says, as straight-faced as ever. He closes up the box he had been working on, pushing it out of the way. “Maybe Tachikawa-san will get you a pet instead.”
“A pet? Why would he get me a pet?”
Kyousuke tilts his head. “You won’t miss me enough to get a pet to replace me? I must not be as beloved to you as I thought.”
“I can’t wait until we go on defense duty so I can accidentally shoot you,” Izumi says holding open the top flaps of the box as Kyousuke stacks books inside. “It was the only way to keep the town safe, Shinoda-san, I swear! I had to blow everything away, including Karasuma!”
“Our last defense duty together as Tachikawa Unit, and you threaten to kill me,” Kyousuke muses. “Seems fitting.”
“All we did this summer break was defense duty,” Izumi complains. “It was like, exams, defense duty, one day rest, defense duty, solo rank wars, defense duty, training with Ninomiya-san, defense duty, finding out that you’re leaving us, defense duty, you packing, defense duty.” He tears the packing tape with his teeth, regretting the action immediately. Now there’s something sticky on his lip. “That’s literally it. We didn’t even get to go to the beach, or whatever people do during summer break.”
“You also did your homework,” Kyousuke reminds him.
“Kyousuke, you are not helping.”
Kyousuke shrugs. “I’d say we should go to the beach, but I have to work most of next week. And finish some paperwork at Tamakoma once I get there.”
“You’re not even going to offer to give me a tour of Tamakoma?” Izumi asks, as he tapes this box closed. “I heard it used to be the old headquarters before the base was built.”
“Don’t believe everything you hear, Izumi-senpai,” Kyousuke says. “You know how Border is.” He cuts another piece of tape with the scissors that Izumi didn’t see, to tape the top flap of the box shut. “But yeah, that’s true.”
“Is that a yes on the tour?”
Kyousuke sighs, but Izumi knows he doesn’t mean it. They didn’t spend all that time together for nothing. “Only if you promise not to kill me today during defense duty.”
“But Kyousuke, how else will you train your trion organ if not actual combat?” Izumi singsongs, darting out of the way to dodge the box that Kyousuke pushes at him. “Fine, okay, I promise not to kill you on purpose. If you get in my way that’s not on me.”
“Have I ever been in your way? Izumi-senpai?”
Izumi pushes the box back at him. “You’re literally in my way right now.”
Instead of moving, Kyousuke stops the box coming at him with a hand, expression unchanged. For a second, Izumi wonders if he’s mad, even though he can’t think of a reason Kyousuke would be. But Kyousuke has been a little more pliant today than he usually is, and he is leaving, whether Izumi likes it or not.
“We should go,” Kyousuke says, straightening up.
Izumi starts. “Go where?”
Kyousuke stares at him. “Defense duty, Izumi-senpai. We were just talking about it? How you’re going to kill me?”
“I thought to get that personal tour, I was going to have to spare your life,” Izumi grins. His trigger holder is in his pocket, so he takes it out, flipping it in a hand the way Kazama-san hates. He’s had to train himself to do it only when Kazama isn’t around to avoid being lectured. “Better watch your back, Kyousuke. Don’t get in my line of fire.”
“Won’t be a problem, Izumi-senpai,” Kyousuke says, stacking the boxes on top of each other. “I’m used to cleaning up after you and Tachikawa-san.”
Izumi glances around the operation room, which will inevitably accrue more and more personal paraphernalia now that the only member who was responsible enough to clean is leaving. He’s actually leaving, Izumi realizes, after this defense duty. It’s not just a meeting that Tachikawa-san had had with the higher ups and relayed to Izumi and Kunichika, it’s something that is a very near reality.
To Izumi’s pleasure, the clouds from earlier have cleared up. Kyousuke scores the best spot of shade in their area, leaving Izumi half in the sun across the street from him. If he squints, he can pretend that the heat overhead is the same as that above the beach. If he closes his eyes completely, he can pretend that they are actually at the beach.
Five minutes before the end of their shift, Kyousuke narrowly escapes Izumi’s bullets aimed at the trion soldiers above him.
“That doesn’t count,” Izumi yells, as he redirects his remaining Asteroid at the survivors. “You owe me a tour. Or we’re going to the beach.”
“Sure, Izumi-senpai,” Kyousuke says, as he stops shooting. In front of them, the last trion soldier collapses. “I’ll move my entire schedule around just to go to the beach with you.”
“That’s a promise.” Izumi covers his eyes against the sudden wind in their direction. The dust swirls up, carried to the level of his elbows and then above. “I’m holding you to that.”
They do not go to the beach.
Instead, Kyousuke brews him tea, which he steeps for too long and is too hot to drink in the weather anyway, and brings him to the roof of Tamakoma’s building.
“Are you trying to hurt me right now?” Izumi asks, when he almost burns himself picking up the mug.
“I would never want to hurt you, Izumi-senpai,” Kyousuke says, sitting on the edge of the roof. He’s facing the river, and Izumi copies how he’s positioned. “It’s nice up here.”
“It looks like Riverside A,” Izumi recognizes. “I wonder if the engineers modeled it after here.”
“Maybe,” Kyousuke says. “It's hard to know with Border.”
Izumi shrugs. “That’s fine with me. As long as Tachikawa-san’s my captain I don’t have any complaints.”
“So you don’t have any complaints about me not being your teammate anymore?” Kyousuke asks.
There is absolutely no way to know if Kyousuke is being serious or not, so Izumi elects to not take him seriously. Except when he opens his mouth, he says, “Even if I complained about that, nothing would change.”
Kyousuke turns to look at him, a rare look of surprise evident. “I didn’t think that you cared so much, Izumi-senpai.”
“Cared about what?”
“I don’t know,” Kyousuke admits. “Me. The team. Tachikawa Unit.”
Izumi feels stupid, because he does care, and it feels more like a rock in the hollow of his belly than anything else. He brings the mug up to his mouth. Whatever Kyousuke gave him is incredibly bitter, but he manages not to spit it out into the river.
“How’s the operation room?” Kyousuke asks.
Izumi resists the urge to gag at the aftertaste of the tea. “What do you expect? It’s a mess.”
“You all must miss me so much already,” Kyousuke comments. He almost sounds self-satisfied, the jerk.
“Maybe you’re the one who cares,” Izumi shoots back. “More than me, at least.”
Kyousuke takes a sip of tea and immediately chokes. Izumi tries not to laugh too hard, taking the mug from Kyousuke as he recovers, coughing into an elbow.
“Very nice,” Izumi tells him. “I wish I got that on video.”
“I’m glad you didn’t,” Kyousuke says. “I can’t believe you drank that tea. Does yours taste bad?”
“No, it doesn’t,” Izumi lies. He puts down Kyousuke’s mug, and holds out his own to him. “You wanna try?”
To Izumi’s absolute disbelief, Kyousuke actually does take a sip, and almost drops the whole mug down into the river. Kyousuke has to turn around so he’s not in danger of falling off the side of the building as he coughs again. Izumi pounds him on the back.
“I can’t believe you did that,” Izumi laughs, doubling over. “Why would you believe me? And why would my tea taste any different from yours? You made them exactly the same.”
“I’m never trusting you again,” Kyousuke heaves out, face red. “Never, ever again.”
“I know you don’t mean that,” Izumi teases, once he’s sure Kyousuke is not in danger of dying. “After all, how could you doubt such an amazing senpai?”
Kyousuke looks like he’s contemplating pushing Izumi off the roof. It’s highly unusual that Izumi can see what he’s thinking etched so clearly on his face, that it catches him off guard. He almost resembles a different person, one who might be a stranger to Izumi.
“Kyousuke,” Izumi says.
Izumi swallows, which turns out to not be the best decision. There must still be some dregs of tea left in his mouth. “Was I right?”
“Right about what?”
“You,” Izumi says. “That you care.”
Kyousuke’s eyes widen, but then his expression softens, so quickly that Izumi would’ve missed it if he’d blinked. “Of course you are.”
“Then—” Izumi frowns. “Why did you leave?”
“You know I can’t answer that, Izumi-senpai,” Kyousuke says, his voice already even again.
“But they must have given you a choice, right?” Izumi presses. “They must have offered you something. Like a pay raise or better defense duty hours or a really big pay raise. Or—” Me, he thinks, stunned. Did you have a problem with me?
“There was no pay raise.”
A seagull swoops down on them, cutting off the end of Izumi’s sentence. It divebombs the tray that Kyousuke had used to carry the tea out, snatching a pastry that Izumi had forgotten about. Izumi is so surprised that he doesn’t even make an effort to scare the bird away. As it’s flying off, he swears that it smirks at him, clearly pleased by its catch.
“They’re really far inland,” Kyousuke observes, brow furrowed. He turns to look at Izumi. “We’re basically at the beach now. That would’ve happened if we went.”
“Are you really expecting me to thank you for giving me the full beach experience without having to travel?” Izumi asks. “Like that’s something I should be grateful for?”
“We can also sit out here for a few hours so you get sunburned,” Kyousuke offers. “Today’s my day off, so I can do that.” He turns back around so his legs are dangling off the roof. “Were you about to ask me something?”
Izumi hesitates. The very last of the tea is unpleasantly familiar, the pit of his stomach curling in on itself as he looks out at the water. He knows it would be faster to jump into the river and float downstream to the nearest ocean, than to try to get a straight answer out of Kyousuke. Part of it is simply the life they live: Border is an organization whose secrets have secrets, and Kyousuke is not an exception. Izumi has known that for as long as he can remember, but never has one of those multilayered secrets sat next to him like nothing was happening at all.
He thinks about Kyousuke, about dying, bailing out, and Kyousuke. It must mean something that he cares this much about Kyousuke leaving. After all, none of his other friends wear the same long coat as him and Tachikawa-san and Izumi doesn't have a problem with that. He thinks about the empty spaces on the shelves in their operation room, his own notebooks that are very much still in place, and the solo rank wars that he’s missing to be here with Kyousuke now.
At the rate he’s going, future Izumi will be very busy, sorting through all this. As daunting as that may be, it still sounds better than the jumping-in-the-river plan. So Izumi runs a hand through his hair, and says, “Go a couple rounds with me, Kyousuke.”
Izumi would smile, except he thinks Kyousuke can see right through him. It’s weird to think that that is something he will miss. Then again, it’s unbelievably convenient to have a teammate who can read everything about him, without even trying to. “If it’s allowed, yeah.”
“It’s my first week here, and you’re already asking me to bend the rules for you,” Kyousuke sighs. His tone is dry, yet fond. “What an irritating senpai.”
Spending the last two years in Izumi’s somewhat-constant company must have tempered Kyousuke a fraction more reckless than he had been originally. Izumi himself also must be losing it a little bit, because in the distance, he can hear a wave crashing on the shore. The sun is starting to set, and Kyousuke makes no move to go back inside.
“Kyousuke,” Izumi begins, fully aware that he has no intention of following through with this. “I thought we—”
“Aren’t you going to say something?” Kyousuke interrupts. He’s never done that before. It’s almost like the Kyousuke in front of Izumi is actually a stranger, who is Kyousuke. “To me?”
Izumi almost laughs. “I was just talking, you know.”
Kyousuke looks at him, so matter-of-fact that Izumi almost regrets overthinking and pushing it off. He has spent so long defending Kyousuke’s back that he knows he won’t ever forget how to. Whatever uniform they wear, that fact won't ever change. He can’t explain how, but he knows the sentiment is mutual. Izumi hadn’t thought of this as a secret, until he realized that Kyousuke must think of it as one. It hasn't mattered to him in the least that there are people at headquarters who consider Tamakoma agents their enemies; Izumi follows orders but there are lines that even he wouldn’t cross. But instead of voicing the words, Kyousuke stands, picking up the tray.
“I want more snacks,” Izumi calls after him, as he gets ready to follow. “Did you see that seagull stealing my food? And you just let it go.”
“Of course, Izumi-senpai,” Kyousuke says, and he looks so familiar that Izumi’s chest involuntarily tightens for a heartbeat. “Do you want to come browse the selection of rice crackers that we have? I think Jin-san just went shopping for limited edition flavors.”
“Lead the way, Tamakoma agent,” Izumi says. But he lingers a moment where he is now, when the breeze picks up.
Is it still considered a secret, if it’s this transparent? If Kyousuke is so bad at hiding it, that Izumi is the one seeing right through him? If they both already know where their places are, present and future?
It could all be part of his imagination. Or it could be all so terrifyingly true, that it will threaten to overwhelm future Izumi. The only thing that’s certain is that if Kyousuke plummets off a six-story building in the VR room, Izumi will let him. But in every other scenario involving falling off a six-story building, Izumi will know that he is needed. All that’s left for him to do is answer his cue to action.