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Nothing Was My Own (Before I Loved You)

Chapter Text

The nerd’s going to be trouble.

He squints at the paper, mouth scrunching up into a skeptical wrinkle. “Dean Haruka signed this?”

Obi leans back, all casual like, hooking a corner of his mouth up into a smirk. “You got some reason to think he didn’t?”

It’s not like this kid has a degree in Haruka’s fucking handwriting, but even still, he shouldn’t have any problem with it – the dean signed it himself, happy to help get Little Miss Gold Digger off campus.

Or well, as happy as Haruka ever got. Less irritable, maybe.

“I don’t know, Shiira,” says the blond, shrimpy kid. His hands fist nervously on his lap. “This doesn’t feel right.”

God, shut the fuck up, freshman. The adults are talking.

Shiira shrugs, tossing the letter on top of his inbox. “Just seems weird, barring someone from the building. She goes here, you know?”

“Yeah, yeah, I get you.” Obi flashes some teeth, makes his smile real nice. “There’s just been a clusterfuck with her transfer. Something about how her GPA hasn’t rolled over or whatever. Makes her not really at this school. I’m sure it’ll all get worked out.” He lays an hand on the kid’s shoulder, real friendly. “It’s just temporary. For legal reasons, right?”

Defiance goes out of him like he’s a balloon with a fast leak. “Yeah, I mean, that makes sense, I guess.”

He turns back to his computer, calling up some official-looking HR mumbo-jumbo. Obi stares, trying to commit the path to memory. If Haruka’s gonna keep him on a leash like he suspects, he best get real acquainted with how to screw around with the Student ID system.

Shiira doesn’t make it look hard; just a search for her name and a toggle on one row and suddenly the Damsel In Distress is locked out of her tower.


“Yeah,” freshman says, puffing up his chest. “So you can go now, or whatever.”

Obi grins. “Nerds really don’t have any sense of hospitality do they?”

“You got what you wanted,” Shiira blusters, like he doesn’t have the physical presence of a twizzler. “Kai’s right. There’s no reason for you to hang around.”

Obi nods to the CCTV screens over on one screen. “The dean told me to wait. He wants me to explain things all nice-like when she shows up for class.”

This is apparently stretching credulity. “You can’t just send her an email?”

He lets his teeth show, makes it real clear that he’s happy to eat engineering nerds for breakfast. “She’s got class in five minutes. Seemed more direct to do it this way.”

Shiira swivels in his chair, rebellion clear on his face. “Then you can just wait outside for her. You don’t need to –”

Blond kid jumps, limbs flying out all helter-skelter. “There she is!”

It takes a minute for his eyes to sort out the noise, but finally they fix on the right square, and he’s watching in bleached technicolor as Zen Wisteria’s future mistress flashes her card in front of the scanner and pulls.

Nothing. He grins.

“Shouldn’t you go tell her now?” Shiira’s looking at him like he’s some sort of snake. Good, kid’s finally caught on.

“I will in a second,” he says, leaning over the desk to get a closer look. She’s trying again, and from this angle he can see the confused pout on her face, the way her eyebrows furrow stubbornly. “Just gotta make sure it sticks.”

“It’ll stick,” Shiira snaps. “Go talk to her.”

He’s turning to argue with him when he sees her stare straight at the camera and pull out something from her pocket – a phone, one of those old flip ones – and –

“What is she doing?” he mutters, leaning closer. Calling in her prince to rescue her, if he was going to –

Freshman’s phone rings. They all stare.

“She has your number?” Obi asks, shocked. Little Miss sure gets around.

“I just – I –”

“Fucking answer it,” he snaps. “Put it on speaker.”

Freshman fumbles, but does as he asks, yelping, “Hello?”

“Hi, this is…Kai, right?” She steps to the side, just out of the range of the camera. “You’re rushing Phi Sigma Pi right? Special dispensation because you already had college credits?”

He glances at Obi, but – fuck, it’s not like he knows why she knows all his rookie stats here. “Uh…yeah.”

“Zen gave me your number,” she explains, a little breathless. “He said I might have some trouble with my student card the first week, and I –” she laughs – “I am! He said you worked in the lab, so could you – ah, let me in? I’m sorry to ask, I just don’t want to be late. I’d owe you one.”

Kai stares at him. He lifts an eyebrow. “I-I don’t think I can? Shiira got a letter from Haruka saying there was a problem with your transfer –”

Haruka.“ Her voice is so cold it has wind chill. “Listen, Kai, I really need to get to class –”

“Oh, fuck this.” Shiira does some gesture with one hand over his keyboard, and everything lights up green. “Done.” He spins to face Obi, face a mask of rage. “And you can tell Haruka he can personally eat my ass –”

“Thanks!” Shirayuki calls out, and then there’s the distinct sound of the phone snapping shut. When he looks up at the screen, the door is already starting to close.

Fuck. Fuck.

“Well, gents,” Obi drawls pushing off from the desk. He’s halfway to the door before either of them can react, messenger bag in hand. “It’s been a real slice –”


He’s never seen her this close before; she barely comes up to his chest, and her face is flushed the same apple-red as her hair.

“Me?” he answers weakly.

“You.” An accusing finger waggles as she steps closer. “I should have known! You’ve been following me.”

He glances back at the boys. Smug faces all around, No help from that quarter. “Now, now, Miss. Following is such a strong word –”

“Don’t you ‘miss’ me!” she snaps. “Every time something goes wrong this past week, I turn around, and there you are.”

She draws herself up to full height. “You should be ashamed of yourself! I haven’t done anything –”

“Yet,” he corrects sharply. “You haven’t done anything yet.”

That gets her on the defensive. “Excuse me?”

“How polite you are,” he drawls, stepping close. He can see the way her eyes are a dozen greens all mixed into one. “Does that impress him? Is that what he likes? A polite little girl who knows her place? Someone he can spoil?”

Her eyelashes flutter, flustered. “I-I don’t –”

“Don’t try to fool me, Miss.” He grins, all sharp points. “I’ve seen it before. Poor little girl who needs to be taken care of. Bat your eyelashes a few times, tear up in the right place, and suddenly you’re set for life.”

He runs his eyes over her, makes it real clear what he’s looking for. “What’s your angle, little miss? You don’t seem like the mistress kind. Not enough hip for that. Maybe you’re in trouble.” She flinches. A hit. “Maybe Zen Wisteria’s just a convenient shield against whatever you ran from.”

Her cheeks flush red like he slapped her, and she surges forward, sending him back into the cabinets to escape her. “Don’t you dare pretend like you know me.”

He laughs. “Oh, maybe I don’t know you, but I know your kind. You –”

“Don’t.” There’s something in her voice that makes him stop cold. God, she’s good. “You think you know everything, but all you do is take money from Haruka and make trouble for me. You probably don’t know anything about me besides my name and my face.”

“I thought I was following you, Miss,” he snaps, challenging. He sees the spark in her eyes, the way she responds. Something in him jumps, something in him flares to life. He wonders if Wisteria’s ever seen a look like that on her. “I know how you take your coffee.”

Her cheeks puff out, like some adorably angry blowfish. “I don’t –”

“Right,” he purrs and – ah, that’s a little…much. “You take cocoa instead. Extra whip.” He bends his head down, mouth right at her ear. “It’s a drink, not a dessert, Miss.”

Oh, she’s flustered now. Too bad he’s not much better.

Ah, fuck, now’s a real inconvenient time to find out he’s attracted to her.

“You think you know everything,” she says, softer now, stepping back. “But you’re just – a meanie.”

“A meanie?” he echoes. Is that – is that what she’s got?

“All you know is what you know.” She leans down, swiping the letter off the top of Shiira’s inbox. “And not everyone is you.”

“Hey, what are you –?”

“I may not have a price,” she tells him. “But I know other people do. And I’m not above assuring good behavior.” She stops, grinning. “I taught pre-K at Sunday school, after all.”

He grinds his teeth, annoyed. None of that should be working for him, but it is.

She turns to flounce out the door, only to leap back with a squeak.

“Ah, Miss Shirayuki,” Haruka says, so civil. “I’ve been looking for you.”

Chapter Text

Obi’s been to frat parties before, but it hasn’t been like – like this.

Phi Sigma Pi’s All Hallow’s Eve Monster Bash is the first one he attends as a brother, and when the caterer shows up with canapes, he’s suddenly aware he’s in a whole new world of living. He cracks open a cooler before guests – that’s what Zen called them, guests – start arriving, and he can’t find a single Coors or dubiously aged Corona anywhere. Instead, they have an array of local brews, most of them pumpkin-flavored.

(”It’s seasonal,” Mitsuhide protests, when Kiki looks over his selection with palpable disdain. “It’s a Halloween party!”

Kiki’s mouth pulls tight. “You’re not allowed to buy alcohol without a chaperone. You need an adult to make decisions for you.”)

Rich people, man. He didn’t even know Oktoberfest came in cans. It’s the only name he recognizes in the chest, so after getting brave on four of them, he picks one out via the tried and true method of whichever one has the stupidest name. Pumple Drumkin wins by a mile.

(The method holds. He’s also pretty sure this has more booze in it than normal booze. Man, rich people get the booziest booze)

He’s not drunk, or at least not drunk-drunk, you know? But – happy, as weird as that sounds.

Mitsuhide insists happy’s a phase between tipsy and drunk, which sounds like some weird Canadian bullshit like curling, but that’s where he’s at right now, and it’s – it’s nice. He could get used to happy. In a non-alcoholic way. Like happy as a state of being. Like –

Okay, he’s a little too drunk for deep thoughts.

He’s got one leg kicked up on the porch rail, guiding the swing into a gentle rock while he watches Kiki dominate at beer pong. There’s tables set up tournament style on the lawn, and Kiki presides over one of them, dressed up like some sort of Viking. She’s all braided hair and chainmail, the wings on her eyeliner so sharp she could cut someone. Anytime Mitsuhide fucks up a throw, she looks like she could single-handedly storm Valhalla.

“’M fine,” he hears from the house, followed by a scuffle of footsteps.

“I’m walking you home.” It’s Zen’s voice, gentle yet firm, and Obi can’t help but grimace, wondering if he can’t just jump off the porch before –

“I can make it back jus’ fine.” Shirayuki’s tiny form stumbles onto the porch, the harsh light casting her into strange shadows. Zen follows, and they both look more like a woodblock print then real people, all their rounded edges becoming sharp, defined.

“I didn’t say you couldn’t.” They make a strange picture in their costumes; him a prince, her cloaked in red. He’d always thought Red Riding Hood was one girl that never needed a prince. “I just –”

“Hey, Zen.” Ulkir sticks his head out. “There’s a situation with a Delta Nu in the bathroom –”

Zen’s grimace looks sharp in the light. “Can it wait?”

Ulkir coughs, rubbing at his head. “N-not really.”

“Give me a sec,” he sighs, shaking his head. “I’m sorry.”

“I can get back on my own,” she tells him, patting his arm. “It’s just a straight walk through the –” She steps wrong on a board, and she topples, only just catching herself on Zen’s chest. “– woods.”

Zen exhales long and loud through his nose. “Hey, Obi.”

Obi bites back a grimace. He didn’t think – he didn’t think Zen had known he was here. “Yeah, chief?”

Shirayuki startles at the sound of his voice, instantly righting herself so she can glare warily as he approaches.

“Do you mind seeing Shirayuki back?”

There are a thousand reasons that’s a terrible idea, but he just says, “If she doesn’t mind.”

Her mouth pulls into a long line, but she nods. “Yeah, I guess – for safety.”

He grins, and she rocks back a step. “Yes, miss. For safety.”

She’s silent as they walk down frat row, but she hangs close with each house they pass, shrinking under the hood of her cloak. There’s a story there, but he can’t tell if she’s too drunk or not drunk enough to share it.

“Nice costume,” he says instead. God, it’s awkward. They’ve talked a handful of times since The Incident, and it hasn’t been bad, but he’s pretty sure that’s because she’s too nice to chew him out again. This is sort of stretching the limits on social niceties. “I like your beer girl outfit –”

“It’s a dirndl,” she snaps, pulling the cloak tighter around herself. “It’s traditional.”

It’s cute is what it is, a black dress with red flowers creeping up the hem and a little apron over it, but he knows better than to say so. “How’d you get your hands on a traditional costume then?”

“I had it.” She hesitates. “My grandparents were part of the German-American Association, back home. We had to dress up for stuff.”


Her lips stretch as thin as the silence between them. “…Like Oktoberfest. It’s not just drinking!” she protests, when his mouth quivers at the edges. “I mean, it’s mostly drinking. But there are games! And food!”

“All right, all right,” he says, holding up his hands. “I believe you.”

“What are you supposed to be anyway?” She eyes the hood over his head. “Some kind of wolf?”

“A werewolf,” he says, gesturing widely at his ripped jeans and flannel shirt. “I’ve got clothes on.”

(He had to wheedle the flannel out of Kiki. “You don’t have one yourself?” she asks, incredulous.

His look is immeasurably flat. “Well, I’m not trying to fuck a Canadian.”)

“That hat is cute,” she tells him, clearly before she can think better of it, since she slaps her hand over her mouth and meeps from embarrassment. “I mean, with the ears?”

He pulls it off; it’s a furry hood with a large pair of wolf ears, and he knows for a fact that it is adorable because Mitsuhide literally awwed when he put it on. He flicks back her hood and drops it on her, and –

Well, shit. He really didn’t need to know how cute she was with a fuzzy wolf hat on. It’s worse, since she’s looking up at him with her big eyes, all dark in the moonlight and – jeez, that was stupid.

“My miss, what large ears you have.” He gives one a flick, and she scrunches up her nose, batting away his hand.

“Why do you call me that?” she complains, pulling away his hand when he goes for another pass. “You know my name, don’t you?”

He shrugs. “Just being polite.”

“It’s a little late to pretend you’re poli – oh my gosh, I’m so sorry.” She flushes brightly under the streetlights. “That’s so mean. I’m sure you’re – um – lovely?”

She stumbles a bit, tipping into his side. “How many have you had?”

He mouth dips into a frown. “Only three.”

“Three what?”

“Three, uh…” She mimes something like a can. “Three of those.”

“Three beers?” He stares. “Are you a lightweight or something?”

“Uh.” Her whole face matches her cloak. “This is, um, my first time. With stuff. With booze.”

He scrubs a hand over his face and sighs.

Shirayuki reaches up, pulling his hand back. “No, no, don’t – don’t tell Zen, okay? He’ll just be –” She grimaces. He can’t help but agree. “So you – oh.”

She’s still holding onto his hand, her slender fingers slightly chill against his skin, and she frowns. “Your hands are so big.”

God, what an opening. He’s so tempted to take it but –

“Your feet are big too, right?” It’s like she’s lining up his shot for him. “You know, that’s like, a thing. With genetics. Like the size of your extremities compared to your actual height.”

He blinks. She’s…something else. “All your extremities?” he drawls, waggling his eyebrows. He’s only human.

Her mouth puckers in thought. “I dunno. I like turtles better.”

She stumbles again and he laughs. They’re on the final stretch to her dorm, a side path through the woods, and he hunches down in front of her.

She balks, confused. “What?”

“C’mon, drunky.” He rolls his shoulders, trying to loosen them. “You’re hardly upright. It’ll be quicker this way.”

He watches her feet scuffle on the pavement. “Are you sure you can –?”

He casts a measuring glance over her, from the tips of his wolf ears down to her sweater-knit stockings. “You weigh what? A hundred pounds soaking wet?” He turns back, holding out his hands behind him. “Come on, of course I can – oof.”

She slumps onto him, wrapping her arms around his neck, and he grasps her legs under her thighs, hoisting her up higher. His hands slide along the thick knit of her stockings, trying to balance her, and then they – they are not, because it’s just skin.

“Are you wearing thigh-highs?” he blurts out, because what? He shouldn’t know this. This is – this is Forbidden Knowledge. This is stuff he can’t unlearn.

The worst part is there is no earthly way he can tease Zen about this.

She makes a distressed noise and buries her face in his neck. “They’re the warmest ones I have!” she protests, though it’s muffled by his skin, and – that is not helping, not at all. “Tights are too thin.”

Obi’s ripped enough tights to know that’s the truth. He’ll give it to her.

“Your back’s so broad,” she says after a long moment.

“Is that some genetic thing too?” he prompts, when she doesn’t offer anything else.

“Mm.” Her hand meanders over his shoulder. “Probably.”

“That wasn’t where you were going with that?”

“Nah,” she slurs, a second late. “I jus’…was observing. Your back. And shoulders. And stuff.” Her fingers trace a triangle where he assumes his deltoid is. “You’re very strong.”

“Oh.” He shouldn’t sound so breathless. “That’s…good.”


She’s silent as he brings her up to her dorm, and he can only hope she’s fallen asleep. He really doesn’t need – this. Whatever it is. It’s just…complicating things.

“Oh, damn,” he grunts, looking at the door. “Do you have your card?”

“Mm.” She shifts, peering over his shoulder at the keycard machine. “Yeah, somewhere.”

He sighs, setting her down. “Do you know where?”

Shirayuki nods. “Oh. Yeah.”

It’s a lie, because she starts just patting herself down randomly, and that’s – that’s not going to get them anywhere.

“Here, where do you think it is?” He flicks her cloak over her shoulders, trying to get a better look at her dress.

“Um, a pocket?”

He tries not to make a face. “Great. Yeah. A pocket.”

He skims his hands over her skirt, trying not to linger on her hips, or think about the way her stockings just end under it, but he can’t find a single slit that looks like a pocket, even in the apron. His hands slide up to her waist, up to her chest, and her breath starts coming in short bursts.

“Your eyes are yellow,” she tells him suddenly, cheeks flushed. His hands pause, splayed over her ribs, and he stares. “They’re pretty.”

He doesn’t dare to breathe for what feels like a whole minute, because her gaze has fallen straight to his mouth, and he’s no longer sure what a bad idea looks like.

Obi takes a long breath through his nose. “Miss.” He licks his lips nervously and tries not to notice how her eyes track the movement of his tongue. “Is the pocket in your cloak?”

She nods.

“Yeah,” he breathes, finding it on the first try. “Of course.”

“Obi,” she sighs, stepping into him. He’s bent enough that their mouths are too close. “Could you –”

It’s good he’s so close, because when her eyes roll back and she slumps into him, he’s already ready to catch her.

“Unbelievable,” he mutters, his face hot as he runs the car. “Just freaking great.”

Chapter Text

Obi doesn’t think about karma.

Not lately, at least.

When he was suck in a hospital bed, listening to a machine chirp each time he made it through another heartbeat he was never meant to, there’d been loads of time to think about it. All the time in the world to wonder how he got there, medical bills mounting, instead of being rolled into a oven, yet another body nobody cared to claim, ashes shoved inside a shoebox to molder.

But it comes swiftly to mind now, when his music fucking skips.

He stares down at his phone – top of the line two years ago, just like all his stuff when he had blood money to pay for it – and gives it a sharp, four-lettered review of its behavior. This is something people in like, medieval times had to deal with, back when they listened to CDs and had to walk around with discmen clipped to their pockets. It’s fucking – effrontery that he has to suffer it now.

Obi takes a step off to the side of the path to fiddle with the app, half standing in the landscaping to leave room on the pavement. There’s not many kids out on the campus since it’s the middle of a class period, but – well, he’s not a fucking animal.

Nothing’s obviously wrong, and a good shake doesn’t stop the smooth play of Nothing But Thieves – I think I better go before I try something I regret, slips though his ears, and boy, if only he’d heard that a few weeks ago maybe he’d be in a better place – so he shoves his phone back into his pocket, hands not far behind.

Still, that little buzz of agitation has him on high alert, wary – what’s it they said in psych? Something about how everyone’s just an amalgam of their experiences. A bunch of learned traits, that’s what make up a whole personality. That’s his little learned trick, the legacy of his childhood – once he’s on, he’s not easy to shut off.

It’s the only reason he spots him, a too-short figure hurrying around the campus pond, dark head angled so his gaze is just on his shoes, not what’s in front of him. He’s got that too-big sweater too, dusky blue, and Obi can’t help the way his mouth ticks up in the corner. Ryuu.

He doesn’t know the kid well – a thirteen-year-old wunderkind doesn’t typically gravitate toward former delinquents old enough to legally drink – but sticking close to Doc has put them in the same circles. He’s the third partner in their physics lab; Doc does all the science, Ryuu – afraid to touch the fancy equipment – does all the math, and Obi is the muscle.

Or the mouth, depending on who you ask.

In any case, Obi likes him. Maybe not enough to shout across campus, but enough to start walking at his full stride to catch up. His pulse picks up as he gets closer to that tiny back, trying to figure out what to say –

He’s too busy trying to pick out something that says friendly but also not a sexual predator and age appropriate to catch it in time: a bunch of kinesiology majors turn the corner, one of them walking backwards to really bring his story about keg stands to life, and between a tiny genius and a guy who thinks creatine is a food group, there’s no competition. The kid bounces off him like he’s a public school hotdog, papers bursting into the air. It’s such a production they might as well have been fireworks.

Tom Brady’s idiot twin twists his head to gape; all his thick-necked friends rubberneck at the site of the crash.

Ryuu sits, eyes wide as the papers blow around him, and says, “Those were mine.”

Uglier Eli Manning goggles. “Uh,” he says eloquently, eyes darting to see if there’s anyone watching. His eyes slip easily right over Obi. “Whatever.”

They hurry away, and it takes everything he has not to stop them, not to make something of it. Who the fuck knows, three years ago that could have been him, more worried about a number of a scale and a bottom line than who he happened to step on along the way.

Starting something isn’t going to solve anything. He may not learn easy, but that one lesson that’s stuck.

“Hey!” he calls out instead, picking up his pace to a jog. “Little Guy!”

Ryuu doesn’t even look. He’s not – not someone who really gets nicknames, Obi’s realized over the past few weeks.

“Ryuu!” he says, closer now. The kid looks up, and he thinks if there was anything in this boy that could cry, he’d be doing it. As it is, he just looks lost, mouth quivering in a way that makes him think the little guy’s holding back a bad habit.

Obi ducks down, plucking papers out of the dirt. If anyone gets something about bad habits, it’s him. “Hope these weren’t Gazalt’s last test.”

“No.” The kid doesn’t move, just watches him with those big, blue eyes. Obi can feel him thinking from here. “I’m not allowed to bring those out of the office. It’s just thesis work.”

Obi feels his face go bloodless. “Jesus, kid. There’s no just about something like that.”

He doesn’t answer, just sits there with his brow furrowed, staring at he ground like it’s got answers. “If you want me to tutor you, you should know I’m not very good at teaching people.”

Obi’s jaw drops, fingers frozen over a page. “Wha?”

“I have a very low rating on the school tutoring forum.” The little guy clears his throat. “The lowest, actually.”

“Fuck.” He stares. “Am I doing that bad?”

Ryuu blinks at that, lifting his gaze so their eyes don’t quite meet. “What do you mean?”

“I mean…” God, he thought he’d been doing good in that class. At least okay. Solid C+ territory at the outside. “You see me, and it’s the first thing you mention? Like it’s a visual association game. See Obi, first thought: needs tutoring.”

“Oh.” His eyelashes flutter as fast as his fingers at his side. “No that’s not what I meant. It’s only, there’s no other reason for you to…”

Ryuu stops, his mouth closing with a click.

Right. Wunderkinds might not hang out with delinquents, but red-blooded college kids don’t hang out with pre-teens either.

Obi makes a show of collecting the last of the papers, turning his back to give the little guy some privacy. He remembers how it was, how his pride only hurt worse when someone was kind to him, when someone offered him a hand up. It’s pity; it’s a sign everyone knows you’re weak, and –

And, well, he’d certainly gotten sick of it. You can only be the forgettable foster kid with his head shoved in a toilet so many times.

“Okay,” he says a minute later, grin firmly cocked as he holds out a stack of dirt-smeared notes. “Is this all of them?”

“No.” Ryuu looks dolefully out at the pond, and – well, shit. There’s three pages just floating there, gently soaking.

“Tell me you write in pencil.”

And here it is; the first time this kid has looked him full in the eyes, and it’s to stare at him like he’s an idiot.

“Well, at least you just have to fish ‘em out.” Obi shrugs. “That’s gonna be unpleasant, but doable.”

The kid ducks his head, murmurs something into his sweater.

“What’s that?”

“I…can’t swim.”

He stares. “You can’t do what now?”

Ryuu puffs out his cheeks, flushed red like a slap. “My parents thought physical activity would only take away from my mental acuity.”

What the actual fuck.

“Well,” Obi hums, watching the gentle spiral of papers. “Fuck.”

Shirayuki is not late. She’s just…not the amount of early she prefers. Garrack’s office hours start at three and go until four, but if she shows up fifteen minutes before, she can ask her about that reptile study she mentioned during class, the one that –

She stops dead, hands trapped under a horde of text books, and frowns.

It’s him. Obi.

He’s standing just outside the science building, jeans rolled up to his knees, flip-flops dangling in his hands, looking like ten different types of trouble –

But she shouldn’t think that. He’s been a good lab partner, at least, if…chatty. And Kihal told her he’d brought her all the way back to her room when she passed out on Halloween. She should be more kind, more charitable –

Ryuu pokes out from around him, worried, and her well of good feeling promptly dries up.

Her hands snap out of her bag, pushing up the sleeves of her cardigan. If that man thinks he can do anything to Ryuu –

“Sorry again about your pants,” Ryuu says, louder than she’s ever heard him speak. Obi grimaces.

“It’s fine, they’ll dry.” She can see it now – his pants are soaked to mid-thigh, and his feet are covered in…goodness. She hopes that’s algae. “Who throws used condoms in a pond, though? Come on.”

“College students.”

He sighs, shrugging a shoulder. It makes…interesting things happen to his shirt. “That’s fair. Definitely gave the bottom of that pond a…texture.”

Ryuu lets out a snort, and – and Shirayuki can only stare. That’s the closest thing she’s ever heard to a laugh ever come out of him.

She must make some noise; Obi looks up, and as soon as he sees her, his grin splits his face. “Hey, Doc!”

She scowls. “Didn’t I say not to call me that?”

His mouth curls up at the corner, showing a hint of teeth. “Sure thing, babe.”

Her cheeks burn as she smothers a squeak. “Doc is fine.”

He leans toward her, savoring strongly of pond water and duck poop. “Need someone to walk to you class?”

Shirayuki’s mouth pulls flat. “No.”

“It’s Garrack’s office hours,” Ryuu offers, “she’s probably here to try to impress –”

“Ryuu!” she snaps, feeling heat flare just under her collar. “Don’t you – aren’t your office hours soon, too?”

“Oh, well.” Obi does not need to look so smug as he swaggers toward her. “I see someone is getting her teacher’s pet points.”

Her whole face is hot, and it’s that which makes her snipe, “Shouldn’t someone be hosing you down?”

He lifts an eyebrow, like he’s – amused. “You offering, Doc?”

“Obi!” Ryuu frowns. “I already said I’d help you.”

That makes him step back, eyes wide. “Ryuu, I didn’t –”

“Shirayuki, it’s fine,” the boy assures her, distressed. “You don’t need to bother. It’s my papers he fished out of the pond.”

She stares.

“Listen.” His skin’s gone a dark hue, and right at the tips of his ears, she thinks there’s a bit of pink. “It wasn’t –”

“If you don’t smell like pond in a half hour…” She bites her lip. This is…a bad idea. Just because he does one nice thing does mean he’s…that he…

His amber eyes are so round, so strangely hopeful. She sighs.

“I’ll be studying orgo in the library.” She can’t bear to look at him, not when he’s…doing that with his mouth. Smiling. “If you want some help.”

“Oh, fuck –” His eyes dart to Ryuu. “Heck yes.” He tosses her a grin as he ambles away, back toward the frat. “It’s a date, Doc.”

She groans, scrubbing a hand over her face. She’s going to regret being so nice, she can just feel it.

Chapter Text

Shirayuki is tired of wearing black.

Oma took her to see a play when she was in middle school, all the way in Philadelphia. It might as well have been a different world for how far it was from home. When she watched men in tight waistcoats and even tighter pants bow to ladies with pretty dresses and hourglass figures, it was the closest thing to magic she’d seen, like opening up a wardrobe and falling through the back into Narnia.

(Only with a lot less talking animals)

She went around spouting off its most ridiculous lines for weeks, driving both her grandparents up the wall as well as a their guests. But the one line she remembered most is one she never said, one that even then made her sick to think of, even as it had made her laugh.

To lose one parent, a grand old woman had said, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.

It’s funny how that’s what she thinks when she stands next to her grandfather’s ashes, watching as no one will meet her eyes.

“It’s all right to cry you know,” Mrs. Kino tells her, laying a withered hand on her shoulder. “There’s no need to be strong.”

She wants to say it’s not that; she’s not trying to be strong, she’s not trying to show everyone that she’s bearing up just fine – she’s not. She’s scared, she’s broken, but there’s nothing left to give. She cried her tears out a week ago, when they turned off the machine that kept Oma breathing. Big, wet drops had run down her cheeks when she stood next to Opa, thanking everyone for their kind words because he could not, because all he could do was stare at the vase that held the woman he loved and try to keep himself from flying to pieces.

She’d sat with tears winding down her wrists as they went through photo albums, trying to pick a place to scatter her ashes, trying to find something that would make Opa’s eyes light up, that would make him come alive once again.

She sobbed packing up her things, worrying about leaving Opa alone for school, but she had to go, she had to. Her voice had cracked as she asked Pavo to check in on him once and a while, to let her know if she should come back for a weekend. She was only supposed to be gone for a month, just until Columbus Day weekend, when she’d have the time to make the three-hour drive.

She was back after less than a week.

“He’s not breathing,” Pavo sobs, his harsh breaths making the phone line spark with static. “He’s cold.”

Her grief and terror are muted, smothered by cold pragmatism. “Let me e-mail my professors. I’ll be home tonight.”

“Died of grief,” she hears someone murmur. It’s hard to tell who; she’s known everyone in this room since practically birth, but it all fades away into a sea of grief. “That’s what they say.”

“It happens sometimes with older folk,” says another, closer by, “when they really love each other. One of ‘em dies, and the other just fades away…”

“What about the granddaughter?” It’s strange, being talked about like this. She’s at the center of the room, everyone can see her, and yet it’s like she’s not there at all. “What will happen to her?”

That’s the question, isn’t it?

“No relatives,” someone whispers, “no one to take her in. She’s got no one left in this world.”

The two urns sit side by side, and she wills herself to feel something, feel anything but this cold.

“What about me?” she finally says, and it’s a relief to be so angry, to feel guilty for it. “Why couldn’t you wait for me?”

She glares at Opa like even now he could give her answers. “My whole life you say you love me, you say I’m your world, and then –” She wants to cry, it would feel right to cry, but still nothing comes out. “Why wasn’t I enough?”

It’s strange to be mad at a dead man.

“What are you going to do with the B&B?” Mr. Muller asks, bagging up her groceries.

“I don’t know,” Shirayuki answers, numb. She needs to know; her grief leave ends in a week. She has to get back to her real life.

“You aren’t going to shut it down, are you?” Mrs. Weber asks, pressing a hand to her heart. “It’s the tourism that keeps this town going. If you close it up, everyone’ll go to the Holiday Inn on the freeway.”

It burns as she swallows, but still no tears fall. She can’t keep it; even Opa and Oma knew she didn’t want it, didn’t want to run an inn her whole life. But it’s what everyone’s been asking. She sees the worry on their faces. They don’t care if she’s miserable, they just want things to go on like they are.

She drops her cash on the counter. “I don’t know.”

She sells it, in the end. Pavo’s mom has apparently always wanted to try her hand at a B&B.

“You’re welcome to stay any time,” Mrs Kruger promises, “free of charge.”

What Mrs Kruger doesn’t want, she sells. Everything else goes into storage. Even Oma and Opa.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers, setting them on top of a wicker table. “It’s temporary. Until I know what to do with you.”

She doesn’t have a home.

It doesn’t bother her at first; the dorm is enough, and the time until Christmas break is long enough that she’ll get up the courage to ask Mrs. Kruger about a place to stay.

And then Raj happens.

She spends the whole bus ride to Clarines running the numbers through her head. How long can she stay above water? How long until the money she got for the B&B is all gone?

She needs answers, needs solutions, but with every passing mile, all she has is more problems.

Kihal tells her a few weeks after she moves in, they kick you out during winter break.

That’s when it all catches up with her.

“Hey,” Obi says, nudging her awake. “I know this stuff is boring, but poor kids have to pass tests, you know?”

Shirayuki grunts, nodding. “Yeah, sorry. I just…didn’t sleep well last night.”

Obi goes so still, hands splayed out on their study table. “You know,” he starts casually, “Kihal mentioned, uh, before everything that you –” he clears his throat, awkward – “you, you know, hadn’t been sleeping good for a while.”

“Oh.” There’s not a lot to say. She hadn’t realized Kihal had noticed. She hadn’t really even realized it was that bad, not then.

“Is, uh…” He clears his throat. “I know I’m not your boyfriend, Doc, but, um…” His finger drum nervously on the tabletop. “Do you need to talk to someone about it?”

She flicks her gaze up to him, and – and he looks concerned.

For her.

She licks her lips, taking in a deep breath. “I don’t have a home.”

It’s strange, how much better she feels, saying that, letting it breathe. He stares at her, gaze intent as he searches her face.

Satisfied with what he finds, he sits back, nodding his head. “Okay. What did you get for twenty-four?”

“Hey,” Zen says, giving the quad a surreptitiously glance before twining his fingers through hers. “If you need year-round housing, what about joining the frat?”

“Oh, yeah.” Something in her chest eases, makes her feel lighter than she has for months. “I think I’d like that.”

Chapter Text

The chapter house is a crooked, sinking old pile, the left side noticeably lower than the right. Solo cups litter the lawn, and the front porch smells faintly of beer, vomit and piss. He’s got an LSAT practice test waiting for him back home, but Mistuhide would still rather be there than here.

“I can’t believe you were going to join this trash heap,” he mutters under his breath, his shoulders so tense they ache.

Obi grins. “There is no amount of dick I will not suck for a full scholarship, Big Guy.”

He coughs, surprised. He should have known Obi would say something crass, but still. “Even Tau Lambda Rho?”

Obi’s grin turns sharp, his weird eyes glinting in the streetlight. “That’s the thing about being poor, Tim Horton. You can’t afford standards.”

“Are you two done?” Zen snaps, lingering at the edge of the walk. “It’d be great if we could focus here.”

He’s stressed; Mitsuhide’s known him long enough to see all the signs. Defensive, snappish, and slouched: quintessential Zen with his back to the wall.

It doesn’t take long for Lambda Rho’s brothers to realize they aren’t alone on the lawn, and two of them break away, sauntering up to them in boat shoes and plaid shorts, hats twisted backwards. It’s November, but Mitsuhide has it on good authority that douches don’t feel cold.

“Hey, Wisteria,” one of them calls out – he hasn’t bothered to remember any of their names. He thinks this one might be…Blake? Aiden? Who knows. “Finally come to party with the big boys?”

“Sorry,” says the other, “we’re not looking for a sausage fest. But Kill Bill back there can join us. She fine.” He winks for good measure. Mitsuhide briefly contemplates homicide.

Kiki’s mouth pulls tight, baring teeth. “I’d rather pop an ovarian cyst than spend five minutes with you guys. But if I’m ever looking to be a cornucopia of venereal diseases, I know where to go.”

Mitsuhide coughs, covering his laugh. Obi doesn’t bother.

Maybe-Blake squares his shoulders, scowling, and his friend does the same. Typical. An intimidation tactic. “So what are you here for anyway?”

Zen clears his throat. “You’ve been bothering some of our freshmen.”

Shuuka flashes in his mind, his boyish face marred with a bright red welt; Kai’s as well, mottled purple stippled around his eye and over his nose. Mitsuhide’s fists clench, and he breathes out the tension. They’re here to talk, not start a fight.

Probably-Aiden smirks. “What are you going to do about it shorty?”

There goes that.

Zen surges forward, fists at the ready. Mitsuhide grabs for him, but Obi is already there, his hands locked around Zen’s elbows.

“I got him,” Obi mutters, and Zen bucks in his hands.

“I don’t need to be gotten,” Zen growls, trying to shake him off. Obi may be wiry, a little underfed, but his tendons pull tight and it’s like trying to pry iron bands off your body – doable, but you’re going to hurt yourself in the attempt.

“We didn’t come here to fight,” Mitsuhide reminds him, though he’s sure Zen came hoping for a tussle. Still, he hopes it might reign him in some, calm him down – which it does, but –

“Hey, next time you losers come around here you should bring that red head pledge too.” Maybe-Blake’s smile turns sharp. “I heard red heads are wild in bed, but –” he whistles – “she must be a real good fuck if you’re giving her a full ride.”

Mitsuhide can only watch as Obi’s hands carefully – purposefully – release Zen. He’s still staring at Obi, when Zen’s fist connects with Maybe-Blake’s jaw.

“Oops,” Obi says, not sounded the least bit sorry.

“Really?” Mitsuhide shakes his head. This was not what he wanted to be doing tonight. He swings his head to talk to Kiki and –

She’s grinning. Of course she is.

There’s a chorus of ‘woahs’ from the Lambda Rho brothers as Maybe-Blake gets back to his feet. His face has turned nasty, just like the red bruise on his chin will be in a few hours.

“You’re gonna regret that, half-pint,” he promises. He pulls back his fist –

It does not hit Zen.

Mitsuhide can’t even remember Obi moving, but he’s there, face turned over his shoulder. He sees his grin right before Obi slowly turns his head back and it’s – it’s not anything he’s seen on Obi’s face before. It’s almost…cruel.

“Goodness me,” he says, a parody of his own lilting voice. “How unexpected.”

There’s something in his eyes that makes Maybe-Blake and his friend take a stumbling step back. Mitsuhide can’t see his face, but he sees the casual menace in his stance, the almost languid hostility in the round of his shoulders. He knows Obi – he trusts Obi – but even he’d be reluctant to go toe to toe with this.

“W-what?” Probably-Aiden asks. “You fucking her too?”

“Why…” Obi cocks his head. “It looks like you’re spoiling for a fight.”

Maybe-Blake’s eyes cast about, reading the mood of his brothers. He can’t back down, not without losing face.

“Yeah,” he spits. “Bring it.”

Mitsuhide has never seen a man move so fast. Obi’s hips square and his fists come up in front of his face and then –

Maybe-Blake hits the ground, clutching his nose.

“Oh my.” Obi rolls his shoulders. “I guess I just don’t know my own strength.”

Probably-Aiden stares down at the groaning mass that is Maybe-Blake. “Holy shit.”

“Holy shit, guys,” shouts one of the other brothers, “we gotta wreck that dude!”

Things get…hazy from there.

Shirayuki presses a bag of peas to the side of Zen’s face. “It was stupid to get in a fight.”

“They started it,” he protests. Mitsuhide grunts in warning. He won’t sell him out, not in front of the girl he likes, but he doesn’t think Zen should get in the habit of lying to her either.

“That right, Chief?” Obi chuckles darkly. He’s only got that welt on his cheek from Maybe-Blake’s punch. Somehow, no one else managed to land a hit on him, even by accident.

Shirayuki must read the truth on Obi’s face, because she turns back to Zen, disappointment dripping off every feature. “Zen!”

“I can explain!” he promises, following her out of the room.

Kiki’s gone to her fencing studio – to work off her excess energy, she had told him, smile sly – and it leaves him and Obi alone in the common room, nursing bruises with frozen vegetables.

He clears his throat. “Hey, Obi.”

Obi groans, flopping his head to the side to look at him. “Yeah, Big Guy?”

He thinks of the precise way Obi had thrown his punches, how he had moved faster than he thought possible, how he had grabbed some of those guys and trashed them and – “Where did you learn to fight like that?”

Obi is still for a long moment, then turns his head away.

“I dunno,” he says. “Around.”

Chapter Text

“We should probably get up into the lab,” Shikito says, adjusting the thick rims of his glasses.

“Oh!” Shirayuki glances down at her watch, the small hand lingering threateningly by the two. “I didn’t even realize! I – I guess I lost a little time, there.”

“It’s all right,” the tech assures her with a soft smile. “Me too. I always lose track when people get me started on water conditions.”

Obi snorts from where he’s leaning against the building; she can’t see his eyes through his mirrored shades, but she knows he’s rolling them. She’s half tempted to ask about his attitude, but he’d probably say something about nerds flirting, and – and a half a dozen more embarrassing things, if how he is in front of Zen is any indication.

Gosh, it’s like people can’t be friendly anymore.

“You’re right though!” She holds up the plastic boxes with her tubes, plus Kihal’s master mixes. “These samples won’t test themselves.”

Shikito grins, running a hand through his hair. All it does is rumple charmingly, making him look even more like a science hipster, and just – she likes this guy. Trusts him. He may work for Brecker, and Brecker might – emphasis on might – be a river-polluting scumbag like Kihal says, but she doesn’t think the guy who just spoke passionately about mercury parts per million in local fish populations for a half hour could callously poison them.

“Great, let’s head up.” He holds open the door. Obi doesn’t move.

“Aren’t you coming?” she asks, sending a nervous glance toward Shikito.

Obi tips down his glasses, amber eyes slanting toward their tour guide. “Hard pass, Doc. I think I’ve had as much nerd mumbo jumbo as I can take.”

She’s about to remind him that all that nerd mumbo jumbo is his major too, when he adds, “And I’d hate to get in between you two love birds.”

He is just – too much! God knows why she thought she was starting to like him.

“If that’s what you want.” She wishes she was more like Kihal; then she’d just be able to strut past him, as if he was about as interesting as the dirt on her shoes, but – but –

She’s just herself, and she scuttles like a bashful crab after Shikito, face flushed.

“The testing lab is up at the top of the building,” Shikito tells her, leading her to the stairwell. “It’s only three floors up, but of course we made the installers haul the delicate machinery up two flights, and put all the offices on the first two.”

“Classic lab protocol,” she laughs. “I think them chem people put their NMR on the 12th floor.”

He grimaces. “Jeez. At least they were able to use elevators though.”

“You say that,” she teases, springing up the stairs beside him. “But you haven’t been in the chem building elevator.”

He laughs. It’s…nice. “That’s fair.”

She lets them be silent a few steps before asking. “So, do you like working for Brecker?”

Shikito shrugs. “I actually was hired on by Izana Wisteria. He owns the building, and the labs, but Brecker is the one with the patents for the testing equipment.”

“Isn’t that weird?” She bites her lip, unsure of how to put her thoughts into words. “I mean, he’s the one who made the test to detect his own factory pollution. That seems like a conflict of interest.”

“Or he’s just environmentally conscious.” Shikito tilts his head thoughtfully. “I can’t really say though. I don’t work for Brecker directly. Most of my reports go straight to Wisteria. I can’t say I’ve ever seen inexplicable results though. Just…normal river fluctuations.”

“That’s good.” Still, Shirayuki can’t shake Kihal’s theories. “I mean, at least with this, we’ll be certain.”

“Exactly!” Shikito ushers her through the door to floor three, and down the hall. “We’ll either find there’s something hinky with the tests, and we can fix it, or we’ll find out nothing was wrong in the first place. Neither thing is bad, just – science!”

Or it means Brecker’s been lying about his testing prototype, costing Wisteria Holdings millions of dollars and ransacking protected waterways both in Massachusetts and the Caribbean, but – sure. She’d feel like Obi trying to take away Shikito’s level of optimism.

Besides, she thinks as he opens the lab door, everything could turn out fine.

“Mr. Brecker?” Shikito’s gaze darts to Shirayuki, as if she might know something about his employer mysteriously appearing in the labs. She shrugs; Izana hasn’t told her anything.

Brecker stares out a bank of windows lining the wall, a panorama of fall foliage where it looks out over the other side of the river.

“It’s beautiful this time of year, isn’t it?” he says in his sonorous voice, every inch the commanding CEO the magazine covers have painted him as. “I’ve always liked New England in the fall. It reminds you how fleeting this all is. Ephemeral.”

“I…yes?” She may not know much pop culture, but she’s seen all the Sean Connery Bond movies – must watches, according to Oma – and this is all starting to feel very…moon base. “I should really…get started on these tests.”

“Shirayuki.” He turns to her, sudden, blocking her attempt to get to the bench. “Let’s make a deal.”

She takes a step back, pulling her samples against her chest. “W-what?”

“Come now,” Brecker drawls, confident. “We’re all adults here. I’ve heard of you. You’re a transfer at the university. Major in biology. Focus undecided.”

Her skin crawls as he looms closer. “H-How –?”

“You’re a friend of the younger Wisteria. Zen.” He smiles, a cold, snake-like thing. “It must be rough, keeping up with that crowd, isn’t it? Wisteria, worth hundred of millions. Seiran – that’s billions there. Didn’t know that, did you? Even that boy, Lowen – his parents make six figures each, and neither of them begin with a one.”

He laughs. “Not quite the sort of crowd for a girl who came here with dollar bills shoved in her backpack.”

“T-that’s –”

“Izana doesn’t approve, isn’t that right?” he oozes, driving her another step back. “It will be hard for you to keep up your…acquaintance with Zen if big brother doesn’t agree, won’t it? After all, they’re so close…”

Her back hits the windows, cold even through her dress.

“I can change all that. Money. Opportunities. I can give you them all.” His smile is as much a warning as a rattle. “All you have to do is make sure your samples test clean. It won’t be so hard –”

Her hands clench on the plastic. To think, this is – this is what they think of her –

“I won’t tamper with test!”

“W-what?” He rears back, like she slapped him. “You think you can refuse –?”

“Of course! What was the point of all this if it’s all faked anyway.” Now it’s her turn to advance, driving him toward the benches. “I didn’t come here to be bribed. I came here as an impartial party, to do these tests because you thought Kihal would be too biased and skew the results!”

“I brought you here to –”

“To do my job!” she snaps, rattling the box in front of him. “The river will pass if your factories are as clean as you promise. And if it doesn’t –”

“That won’t happen!” Brecker shouts, his face a rictus of rage. “Because there is no way I’ll let you run them!”

He grabs the box from her hand, shoving past her.


“Mr. Brecker –”

He opens one of the windows, wrenching the handle, and tosses it down into the churning waters of the Connecticut.

Shirayuki stares. “You – you –”

“What now, Miss –?”

“You son of a – a bitch.” She throws herself past him, and it’s good she’s small, good she never got as tall as Opa because –

Because she fits through the window perfectly.

Chapter Text

The door clicks shut behind Doc and the Quintessential Berkshire Hipster, and not even five minutes later, Obi feels like a total, utter tool.

God, what was he even thinking? He came to make sure nothing happened to her – because Chief asked, not because of…of any other stuff – and what does he do? Fucking let her walk right into Brecker’s building with some guy they met in the parking lot.

And for what? All Doc did was look like she was enjoying having a conversation with some guy she didn’t have to talk Baby’s First Biology Class to. And he –

Obi lifts his aviators, rubbing the heels of his hands over his eyes. He felt stupid. Suffered. Maybe even a little –

No. He’s not – there’s nothing to even be jealous about. He doesn’t – they’re just friends, if that. He likes being just friends for once, he’s not going to go fuck that up, by –

Whatever, it’s not worth thinking about.

He shoves away from the wall, slouching over to the doors. It’s a very cool slouch, definitely one that does not make him look like a dog that just pissed on the carpet. There’s no card-swipe for the external doors, but when he gets to the lobby, there’s one to get to the elevators.

His phone weighs heavy in his pocket, and god, he will just go wait outside if it comes to that. He is not going to scratch at the door to be let in, thanks.

He turns, trying to see if there’s some sort of guest swipe system for Saturdays or whatever, and sees the stairs.

No card reader. Great security Brecker has here.

Not like he’s complaining.

It takes nothing to slip into the stairwell, taking the first steps up. The whole thing in encased in glass, and if he looks out towards the back, he can see the whole Connecticut stretching out to the other shore –

And the red head falling into it.

He stares. God, that girl is something else. “What the shit.”

He’d only gone up a flight, and the screen and hinges on that window had come out pretty easy when he’d applied a boot to it – spared no expense there either, huh, Brecker? – so he’s got about ten seconds to really feel how fucking stupid he is before he hits the water so hard his teeth rattle.

Oh, fuck, it is cold. And this current is no joke.

He surfaces, gasping for air, just catching Doc’s, “–bi!”

“What the fuck!” he shouts, not because he’s mad – I mean, sure, he’s pissed, but like, not a priority when this river is freezing, Jesus.

“Are you okay?” she calls out, her fingers latching onto his sleeves, pulling him close. She cannot be doing well, small as she is, getting kicked around by this current, but here she is, asking about him.

“I’m – I’m fine,” he lies through his definitely not chattering teeth. “What are we doing?”

“Brecker, he –” she gulps at air like there’s none in her lungs, panting against his neck – “he threw the samples in the river!”

“Brecker?” He stares, tracing the line of the river behind them. “God, they could be halfway to Connecticut by now.”

“No,” she gasps, fingers gripping at him. “I – I put them in one of the weighted boxes. The one with the magnets.”

Obi gapes. “Garrack says those are like…four hundred bucks!” He lets out a laugh, shaking his head. “She’s going to murder you.”

If they don’t die in the river, of course. That’s really the limiting factor here.

“I couldn’t find another one!” She shakes her head. “That’s not the point! It’s that – that –”

Her gaze fixes on the water beneath them and – “It sunk. You’re saying the box sunk.”

“Yeah.” She nods, brow furrowed. “Near the building, I think. We could –”

“We can get more samples!” She’s shaking in his arms, soaked through and halfway to blue. “We’re going to die if we sit around in here, and we –”

“No!” Her gaze fixes on him, that stupid, earnest green “Brecker won’t let us back, and then – then we’ll never prove Kihal was right, not enough for Haruka, and she’ll –”

Obi sighs, tipping back his head. “Doc –”

“I have an idea,” she says. worryingly.

He sees her hand grip at her neck, leather cord peeking out either side, her eyes fixed on the water.

The necklace. A gift from Kihal. Hematite.

Magnetic Hematite.

“Doc –”

“Just give me a minute.”

And then she’s gone, diving beneath the river’s surface.

This is dumb, so dumb. He shouldn’t be letting her just – just try to kill herself for water samples, trying to find a needle in a haystack with a magnet –

The box bursts out of the water first, Shirayuki not far behind, mouth spread wide in a grin. “I found –”

He’s got an arm hooked around her in a second, crushing her to his side. “Yeah great. Let’s celebrate by not dying of hypothermia.”

“Oh!” She stares down at her hands like she’s never seen them, like she didn’t even notice she’s giving cadavers a run for their money when it comes to blue skin. “I – yes. That’s…yes.”

Chapter Text

There’s a leaf on the river, yellow against brown, wobbling in the current. Its edges rumple and curl, pulled at by tiny eddies, invisible from the shore. It’s soothing to watch, swirling and swerving through the water, defying odds as it keeps afloat.

A rock sits right in its path, the river angrily splitting around it. The leaf splashes up against the side, and for a moment Shirayuki thinks it might be safe, might just be stuck to stone –

But it sinks, the force of the river sucking it under. It doesn’t come back up.

That could have been her. That could have been her.

She hasn’t stopped shivering since Obi shoved her out of the river, since she pushed the samples into Shikito’s arms with shaking hands and –

And it’s not just the cold. She’s not – she’s not good at this, at feeling things, but she knows what happens when adrenaline wears off. Fear hits her like a wall, like geyser, something that just keeps growing and growing, completely out of her control.

Something drops over her shoulders, warm and heavy. Her hands fly up, soft cotton wimpling beneath her grip.

“It’s a good thing I’m not having kids,” Obi says with that familiar sardonic lilt, “it’d be flipper babies from here on out.”

It’s the green one, deep and vibrant against her white knuckles. “Don’t you need this?”

His teeth flash between his lips, white against bronze. “Nah. The cavalry will be here soon, and I’m sure they got some of those sweet, sweet shock blankets.”

Her fingers trace the zipper, uncertain. “If you’re sure.”

Obi nods, sharp. “Help yourself. There’s not much to you. If we’re not careful you’ll become a doc-sicle.”

She pulls it tighter around her shoulders, hunching into its warmth. It doesn’t stop all her shivers, but – it’s nice. It helps. It smells like sandalwood and leather, just like she thought he might, if she was ever close enough to get more than a quick sniff of his scent.

“But seriously,” he says, clearly not as he holds out a hand. “What’s the over-under on flipper babies?”

She takes it, letting him haul her to her feet. “I thought you weren’t having kids.”

“Oh, Doc,” he laughs, fluttering his eyelashes coyly, “what if I meet the right girl?”

Her hand lingers in his; it’s not fair how he still feels warm after being in the river, same as her. “What are your feelings on adoption?”

His lips twitch. “I wonder.”

“There’s a half million kids waiting for permanent homes in foster care,” she offers.

Something strange happens to his face, a shiver of something beside mocking humor, but it’s gone as quick as it came. “You don’t say.”

There’s a cavalcade of doors closing in the parking lot, so loud that she can hear it over the river.

Obi raises his eyebrows, mouth slanting into a smirk. “Sounds like their highnesses have arrived.”

She risks a peek. around the corner of the building. There’s a half dozen uniformed officers swarming the lot, mixing in with a glut of men in business suits. Shikito is standing in the center with print-outs, pointing at graphs that take up whole sheets of A5. There’s a van pulling up too, ABC 5 it reads on the side, dish dominating the roof. Two more pull up behind it, and –

And there’s Izana, shining like a beacon in a linen suit, hair pulled back from his face, already holding court and giving statements.

Her heart pounds in her chest, so hard it nearly chokes her. She can’t do this. Not again.

“Hey.” Obi’s bumps her shoulder with his, so soft she wonders if it was an accident. “I’ll hop down there, yeah? Let our boss’s boss know you’re here.”

There’s a half dozen things she wants to say – no, I should go, or, don’t let Zen hear you call him that – but what trips out is, “Thank you.”

He slips on his obnoxious glasses, grinning beneath her double reflection. “Don’t thank me yet, Doc. I’m gonna let you do all the talking.”

Obi saunters down the hill like he has all the time in the world, like he’s spent the afternoon sunning himself on the lawn instead of dragging himself out of the Connecticut. She doesn’t know how he does it, how he makes every disaster seem like it’s as inconvenient as getting milk in a soy latte, but she –

She’d like to be like that too sometimes, just aviators and a smile. It might be easier than this, than caring so much she throws herself out a window.

He stops halfway down, raising a hand, but she doesn’t know who he sees, not until Zen bumps past him, beelining right for her.

“Zen –” she starts, but never finishes, can’t finish because – because –

Because he hooks his fingers right under her chin and lifts her up, right up on her toes, and puts his mouth right over hers.

Oh. Ah. Hm. Huh.

Her hands flex at her sides, and she –

She feels brick catching her hair, the warmth of him against her skin, the way her shivers stop, and – and –

And the way the fresh mint and musk of his scent mixes with the leather and sandalwood, and –

“Oh!” he gasps, stepping away. He stares, suddenly uncertain. “I didn’t –”

Didn’t mean it, she fills in, and oh, how she doesn’t like that mix of disappoint and relief, how that only makes this more – more.

“I didn’t ask!” he blurts out, hands dropping from her. “I’m – I’m sorry.”

Her lips still tingle, still feel warm from his, and she – she doesn’t know what to say, just stands there, dumb as he run a hand down his shirt, making the buttons lay flat.

“Shirayuki.” This is – this is worse, the way her looks at her, the way he’s so serious that it’s like – like the air’s gone thin. “I won’t touch you like that again without asking you. And I –” His pale skin blushes then. “And I hope at that point, you can tell me how you feel too.”

Her stomach clenches tight, tying itself in knots. How you feel, he says, and she – she –

“I – are you all right?” Zen tilts his head, caught somewhere between embarrassed and concerned. “Should I…call for someone?”

She shakes her head. How you feel. He wants to know how she feels.

He laughs, light and awkward. “Well, all right. I just – I should get back to my brother.”

He walk away from her, stopping to give Obi a wave, to clap him on the shoulder. Over his, she sees Obi’s eyes flicker up, meeting hers, and she – she doesn’t even know what she sees there.

Tell me how you feel, he says.

She just – she thought they were friends. She thought that was enough.

Her hand presses to her lips, and her stomach gives a sickening drop, like she’s on some amusement park ride, and maybe –

Maybe it isn’t.

Chapter Text

If he’d been asked mere hours ago, Obi would have said, does algae even have a fucking smell?

But now, as he cranks the heat to max – no recycling the air, thank you, car – he knows intimately the fishy-but-not-fish smell of algal bloom. By the time he’s out of the industrial park, he’s an expert, a connoisseur.

Ah yes, Connecticut River, Berkshire Region, circa 2013. A fine vintage. Oaky, with faint undertones of three-eyed fish.

God, Dirty River is just going to be his constant companion until this car goes to the great junkyard in the sky.

“So,” he hums, flexing his hands on the wheel. Right now they’re the only part of him dry enough not to squelch when they move. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

Doc hiccups, squirming in the passenger seat. She’s all eyes when she looks at him, the rest of her swallowed up in the robe of towels she’s made herself trying to save his seat, like some sort of adorable cross between a jawa and an ewok. “W-what?”

He slides his gaze back to the road, glad he has an excuse not to look at her. This whole ‘having feelings’ thing is getting real inconvenient. “I know you’d hate to leave Big Guy’s car smelling like fish shit, but I bet he gets the car wash to deep clean.”

She goes pink, stammering out, “I can – I have some money, if you need to –”

“No,” he coughs, trying to cover his laugh. Like he isn’t intimately aware she’s in the same boat he is. “That’s not what I meant.”

She settles back into her seat, a little line furrowing between her eyebrows, dangerously cute. “Oh.”

“I just thought you might rather be riding in some luxury.” He grins, waggling his eyebrows. “You know, since you and the Chief –”

His stomach clenches, no warning, so hard it knocks the breath out of him. He shouldn’t – it’s not –

He came into this whole mess because Dean Haruka thought she was on the fast track to being Zen Wisteria’s gold-digging girlfriend, keeping him from better, more acceptable relationships. It’s not like it’s some surprise that Doc and Zen are…something.

It’s just…easy to forget sometimes.

The silence gets too thick, too oppressive, and he reaches out, trying to hit the volume knob, but –

But his hand knocks into a smaller one, and it’s just instinct to grab, to wrap his hand around bone and hold

God, Doc’s hands have no right to be so hot. Touching her is like being burned.

“Ah, shit,” he hisses under his breath, pulling back. “Sorry. I…didn’t mean to.”

“No,” she says. “It’s…it’s okay.”

His hand flexes on his thigh. “Cool.”

Whatever, silence is fine. Golden, even.

The dorms are in sight when he hears her lips part, hears her sharp inhale, and –

“Obi,” Doc says, and the car’s so silent his name feels – enormous. Monumental. It makes something unpleasant happen in his chest area. “Do you…?”

Her silence goes way longer than a pause. “What’s up?”

She shakes her head, retreating further into her towels. “It’s nothing. Never mind.”

Obi’s not the sort of guy who talks about emotions, about the sort of feelings that don’t originate from his dick. There’s no trauma he can’t bottle up, no elephant in the room he can’t ignore. He’s a damn expert at minding his own business.

He just wishes it was easier to remember that, now.

He steams off at least the first two layers of his skin in what is the world’s longest and hottest fucking shower; even after a good scrub down and using that flowery, expensive bodywash Kiki gets imported, he still feels a thin sheen of scum lingering on him. Still, it’s better than before. He’s probably going to have to burn his clothes, considering what they have on them.

Towel slung around his hips, he steps out of the bathroom into madness. There’s no two brothers that aren’t scrambling in the halls, trying to fulfill the requests Chief is shouting up from the landing.

His room’s the opposite way, but curiosity gets the better of him. He ambles over to the grand stair, affecting a casual lean on the banister. Chief is frantically typing away on his phone, stopping only to ask Big Guy to google something on his own, or shout up another half-demand, half-request at some frantic freshman.

Obi can’t help himself. “There a sale at Burberry or something?”

To his immense pleasure, Zen full-body flinches, nearly launching himself down a flight of dramatically historic stairs, like some sort of clumsy Scarlett O’Hara. It’s only quick thinking on Big Guy’s part that keeps his bones at their proper two-hundred-six.

Chief rights himself, agitatedly straightening his polo in a fit of composure grooming before opening his mouth –

To say exactly nothing while he gapes at Obi’s towel. It takes him a full minute to drag his baby blues past the Mason-Dixon line, and every second just makes Obi grin wider.

“If you think this is good,” he purrs, “you should have seen me at my fighting weight.”

Zen scowls. “Shikito just emailed the data,” he explains, snappish.

Every muscle tenses, but Obi’s not a kid anymore. There’s no need to give away how his heart is pounding in his chest. “What’s it say?”

Zen casts a look at the Big Guy, who just stares back. “Uh,” he starts, “…well…”

Useless, the both of them.

“Let me look.”

Chief and Big Guy stare at him, and it takes him a moment to realize – he’s the one that said that. He’s the one who…who could understand this, maybe.

“Yeah, I mean, come on,” he laughs, tugging at his shoulder. “I’m the bio major right?”

“Right,” Zen says, so slow that Obi can see the way his mouth wraps around each letter. “Just give me a second.”

hay so
those flipper bbs, rite?

There’s 428,000 kids in foster care.
I just googled it.
For unrelated reasons.

I’ll kp tht in mind doc

Kihal’s always been easy on the eyes, but she’s on the bright side of radiant this morning. Obi’s never seen her smile like this, so wide and – and – open; the sun behind her look dull in comparison, a lesser star in her system.

And Doc’s right behind her, trying to look like a red dwarf to her blue giant.

Suck it, Professor Luigis. He was paying attention in class.

“I can’t believe this,” Kihal breathes, clutching at Doc’s hands so tight both their fingers blanch white against the bone. “You mean it?”

“Yeah.” Zen tosses his head, trying to throw some of that baby-blond out of his eyes. It’s a nervous gesture, and Kiki sighs next to him.

“Keep him away from poker games,” Obi mutters under his breath. “And politics.”

“Tell Izana that,” she grunts, head tipping back against the wall. “Maybe someone else saying it will make it stick.”

“He has the plane waiting at the airfield,” Zen continues. “Direct flight to San Juan. You have all the data?”

“I’ve been working on it all night, ever since you – since your brother had Shikito send me the files.” Her hand drops Doc’s, coming up to brush some of the hair from her face, to twist it around a finger. “I just – I can’t believe it.”

Freed from Kihal’s grip, Doc shies back, eyes darting from the Chief’s shoes to anywhere else, anywhere that isn’t him.


“Hey,” Obi ventures, flipping through the itinerary Kiki hands him. Direct flight to Puerto Rico sounds great right now, considering how he spent yesterday in a freezing river. Too bad he’s not on the short list. Corporate heirs only on this pleasure trip. “Do you think Doc’s been acting a little weird since yesterday?”

“Hm,” Big Guy grunts, fingers drumming on his knee. “But Zen’s been the same as usual.”

Obi sets the papers on his lap, swiveling to look at them. “That’s the weird part, right?”

“Zen said or did something,” Kiki says, “I’m sure.”

“Wha?” Obi leans in, just as Mitsuhide asks, “Did he say something –?”

Kiki favors them with a flat look. “Women’s intuition.”

“Do you need time to pack?” Zen asks. “I can call –”

“No, I actually got a bag ready after he sent the email.” Kihal flushes. “I just – I really didn’t think he’d keep his word. He doesn’t even have properties there.”

“Yet,” Obi coughs. Big Guy shoves an elbow into his side; it lends some unplanned realism into the ruse. So helpful, Canadians.

Sois gentile,” Kiki says, a corner of her mouth lifting.

“I’m always nice,” Mitsuhide mutters back.

“He’s very serious about helping fix the situation,” Zen assures her. “Bad partnerships reflect poorly on our brand.”

Big Guy hums. “Is Shirayuki – did she leave?”

Now that he mentions it, a splash of red is missing from this picture. Obi frowns.

“Huh.” Kiki’s mouth pulls flat.

“Well you know,” Obi starts, voice pitched low, “they did –”

Two sets of eyes slide toward him, and he chokes the words off. Apparently that was some…need-to-know information.

He’s not really sure why he needed to know, but – he can keep a secret.

“Never mind,” he coughs. “Hey, you guys will bring me back souvenirs right?”

Have you studied for physics yet?

where did u go?
u wer here lik 1 min n gone girl the next
omg dont rlly gone girl
most f tht sh1t is illegal af

Is that a yes? Or a no?

i ddnt bring my books

We can share.

“I’m just saying,” Obi continues, voice lifting over Niel deGrasse Tyson’s explanation of multiple universe, “faking your death is really frowned on by the government.”

Doc ducks her head into her textbook, back shaking. “It sounds like you’ve thought a lot about this.”

“Well, you know.” He shrugs a shoulder, struggling to keep the smirk on his face. “Sometime you burn your bridges, and people just swim the river.”

That doesn’t get a laugh out of her. She doesn’t even manage to look at him.

“Obi –” She sighs.



“I still have your sweatshirt,” she says, finally. “I’ll – I’ll wash it before I give it back.”

He’d pretty much forgotten about that. “Don’t worry about it.”

“No, I –” Her lips press together, so tight they go white. “I’d like to do this.”

He stares down at his hands, at the silver and red that crisscross his knuckles, that will always be there.

“Okay,” he chokes out. “Whatever.”

Chief and company have been gone two days, and Doc has started more conversations than she’s finished.

“Which, I mean, that’s – that’s worrying right?” Obi paces the rug by his bed, rubbing at the knot in his shoulder. “That’s something normal people would worry about?”

“I didn’t know you were trying to be a normal person,” Kiki replies, voice even flatter through the phone. “You’re a few months early to turn over a new leaf.”

“More like a few years too late.” he mutters. “And I’m not – this seems – serious. I’m really…really not good at serious.”

Kiki goes quiet for a long moment. “Has she told you what happened, back when she went to Tanbarun?”

His heart nearly chokes him. “No.”

“Well then, I’m not going to tell you.”


“Now tell me,” she says, all business now. “Have Kai and Shuuka fucked up the bathroom yet?”

“Hey, Doc.” Obi crowds her as their last lecture lets out, one hand wrapped around the strap of his messenger bag. “Whatcha up to?”

Her hands clench around her notebook, white at the knuckles. Her fingers flex, purposeful, and she slips it into her bag. “Not much. I volunteered to help Professor Gazalt with some of her work after her office hours.”

It’s impossible to keep his mouth from curling at the edge. “Oh, of course. Extra credit.”

“Stop,” she admonishes, but it’s half-hearted, follow by a huff that might be a laugh. “Besides, you don’t get research positions just by getting full marks on homework.”

“Ooh, mercenary, Doc.” He winks. “I like that in a woman.”

“You would.” She hesitates, gaze flicking warily over him. “You wouldn’t…want to come, right?”

He’s not sure what the right answer is here, but after a few months with Doc, he’s learned to just ask. “Do you want me to?”

“It’s…” She stops herself, the set of her jaw going from worried to – decisive. It’s a good look on her. “Yes. If you don’t have anything else to do. It’d be nice.”

He really shouldn’t care that she likes his company. They’re friends, sure, but she’s – she’s got something going on with someone else. He should be shrugging this off, be making excuses about how he’s got other things to do –

But he doesn’t. He’s never been as good at hiding his heart as he’s supposed to be.

“C’mon Doc,” he teases, “who else am I gonna hang out with? The Hero of Hyrule?”

Her mouth falls flat. “He has a name you know.”

“Link, right?”

She hikes her backpack up on her shoulders, and if she were any less of a saint, he swears she would have rolled her eyes.

“C’mon,” he cajoles, nipping close to her as they walk. “Who doesn’t want to wield the Master Sword?”

“After the stunt you pulled, I think Kai would consider you calling him ‘sir’ an insult.”

“Okay, you have a point.” He grins. “But Shiira definitely smiled when I called him Impa.”

“I really don’t know what you’re referencing,” she admits, and he can’t help but duck his head to hide his smile. It’s unreal how much she doesn’t get. “But I’m sure that didn’t happen.”

“Hey, Obi.”

He startles, nearly dropping the book he is definitely not reading.

“Jesus, Doc,” he breathes, had pressed to his chest. “You are firmly gonna be Navi if you keep this up.” He hesitates. “Though you did ride on my back, so maybe you’re more Mid –”

“I didn’t –” She shakes her head. “I just – I wanted –”

He closes his book, leaning close. Garrack may seem like she’s buried in her work, but well – Obi knows that trick. All she needs is a pair of headphones, and she’s practically doing the Obi Eavesdropping Special.

“If someone…” Doc flushes so hard it swallows up her freckles. “If you…”

“If something’s wrong, Doc,” he says, “you can tell me.”

She stares at him like he’s a new kind of turtle. It’s…nice.

Too nice.

“I’ll believe you,” he promises. “Even if you say Chief scolded you –”

That was a dumb thing to say.

“He didn’t –” Doc huffs out an impatient breath, swiveling back to her work. “Never mind.”

“Shirayuki.” Ryuu breaks the silence in his usual way, as if he hasn’t noticed the oppressive weight in the office of everything Doc doesn’t want to talk about. “Once you’re finished filing those, we’ll be done.”

“What?” she yelps, papers nearly spilling out of her hands. “Already?”

“Yeah we’ve done more than enough for today,” Ryuu tells her, oblivious.

“B-but…” Doc practically matches her hair. “If i don’t concentrate on something…”

Obi lowers his book. Across the room, Garrack catches his eye.

“It’ll be…bad,” she finishes lamely. “I mean..”

Ryuu’s face furrows in confusion. “What will?”

“Ah…” It’s painful to watch her flounder. “S-something will…”

Ryuu hesitates a long moment, his toes dragging thoughtfully against the floor. “Shirayuki, if you’re worried about something…”

Obi leans forward, straining to hear what soft wisdom this wunderkind is going to impart.

“…You should write it down,” he finishes, turning back to his laptop.

Doc, for her part, just nods, before turning right on her heel and walking out the door.

“What…” Garrack stares at the door, brow furrowed. “The fuck.”

“God,” he mutters. “Mood.”

It’s hard to say it’s quiet without the Chief – not when there’s still a half dozen people in the house, all trying to share three bathrooms – but he can firmly say, as he finishes putting a band-aid on yet another sophomore, that it at least feels like three days of babysitting. No adult contact. Never has he missed the Big Guy more.

He’s putting away the first aid kit – back in the drawer; where it goes, as the Big Guy would say – when he hears the knock, soft and tentative against the door.

He pulls it open, catching it against his hip. “Doc! To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Oh, I…” She shuffles on the porch, cheeks pinking up in the way that makes him want to pinch them. She shoves her arms at him. “I just – I finally finished cleaning your – the hoodie. So I thought I might…”

Words abandon her, and he just…can’t tell Chief’s girlfriend to keep his shit. That’s not…good. Definitely along the Shitty Friend Spectrum.

“Great.” He grins as he takes it, stepping aside to let her peek into the kitchen. “Thanks, this one’s my favorite. Did you…want to come in?”

She peers past him, eyes darting warily.

“It’s just me,” he promises. “Well, me and like, five idiots who somehow survived to adulthood.”

“Oh.” Her shoulders sag with relief, like she’s finally been asked to set down whatever she’s been carrying the last few days. “Yeah, that would be…nice.”

She brushes past him, taking a seat at the tiny table that’s usually just a staging area for leaving the house or projects too big to be taken in one go. She – she really shouldn’t look so right there, a tiny girl sitting at a table with red check and green-painted wood. Big Guy’s been threatening to sand the thing down and prime it, return it to its natural grain, but Obi’s got a half a mind now to tell him to nix it if it makes Doc look like she fits anywhere inside his life.

Hng, this is…a problem.

“Something on your mind?” he asks, sliding into the seat across from her. It wibbles alarmingly.

Okay, he’ll let Big Guy put a shim on the legs. But that’s it.

“No.” Her eyes dart up to his, then back to her hands. “Yes. I mean…maybe. I just…”

He waits. She’s got a million gears turning in there, and it takes a while for them to change direction.

“Do you think, if…” Her hands twist together. “If something happens, if you don’t know – can you, before even knowing –?”

He laughs. “Don’t hurt yourself, Doc.”

She huffs out a breath with a smile, her shoulders drooping. “I just – is it real, if you don’t feel it until it happens?”

God, he is exactly the wrong person to be coming to for this sort of life advice. “I think…if it feels real to you now, it’s enough. Right?”

Her hand presses flat on the table between them. “I don’t know…”

He can’t help but stare, but look at that pale hand against red checks and think – it would be better, if he held it. If he gave her some sort of comfort –

The front door opens with a bang. “Obi?”

Doc startles like she’s heard a gunshot. He does too, snatching his hand back, because – god, what the fuck was he thinking –?

“Obi!” Chief calls out, closer now. “We’re back.”

Doc looks at him, and there is no part of her that isn’t quivering with fear. He gets up, so calm, and flips the lock.

Fuck. Fuck.

“Go,” he says. “I’ll stall him.”

She looks so grateful he wants to puke. What the fuck, what the fuck.

Zen tries the knob the second she’s down the stairs, bolting toward the university greenhouse like she’s trying to set a record.

“Obi?” he calls out, annoyed. “Why is the door locked? What are you –”

“It’s fine,” Big Guy murmurs through the door. “I have the keys.”

There’s a jingle, and soon he’s standing face to face with one pissed off corporate heir, staring at him like he’s a puzzle he’d like to break over his knee rather than take his time with. At least, until his eyes slide over his shoulder, and – god, of course she didn’t remember to take her bag –

“What –?”

Obi slides on his most disarming smile, hooking his hands behind his head. “She ran away, huh?”

Zen glares, shoving past him. “Because you told her to!”

“Me? Oh no.” He lets his smile sharpen to teeth. “You’re the one who made her want to run, didn’t you, Chief?”

There’s something not friendly in the way Zen looks at him, that makes him wonder if he’s about to see what being expelled feels like. Whatever. Worth it.

Zen’s eyes dart over his shoulder. “I’ll be back.”

His steps sound like thunder down the porch, and Obi know, he knows he should go after him, should tell him to leave Doc alone but –

But he can’t.

A hand claps down on his shoulder. “Come on,” Kiki says, steely. “Help us bring in the bags.

With one last look at the door, he caves. “Yeah,” he coughs, ambling after her. “Sure. Whatever.”

Chapter Text

The doors of the greenhouse tremble as Shirayuki tumbles through them, wibbling angrily like disturbed ducks.

“Sorry,” she yelps, guilt nipping at her heels. She’s not heavy, not by any stretch of the imagination, but a hundred-plus pounds hitting anything can’t be good for its hinges. The south greenhouse is an antique; if the iron cracks on an unrestored hinge this winter, she’s not sure how she’ll survive it.

The doors serve to break her speed, too; she stumbles into the tropical room, hand coming up to brace herself on a tree at the pond’s edge. A breath shudders out of her, hitching when she hits the limit of her lungs. The water burbles next to her, currents manufactured by a series of pumps and vents she can’t begin to fathom, and –

And it’s hard to keep up the same level of anxiety with the white noise.

“What am I doing?” she pants, forehead tipping to smooth, segmented bark. “I wasn’t even thinking…”

Just the sound of Zen’s voice had been enough to send her to her feet, to make her skitter like a deer after a gunshot, but Obi –

She might not have been thinking, but Obi was.

He’d been so calm when he’d looked at her, when he’d crossed the kitchen in three steps in turned the lock. Run, he said, like he was used to thinking it.

God, what must he think? Not that she was just bad at things like this, bad at knowing how to say no or when to say yes, bad at knowing what she wanted –

But he’d done it anyway, whatever conclusion he’d come to. He’d trusted her, been on her side and – and –

And it’s been a long time since someone’s done that.

The greenhouse door opens with a squeal, and she’s sent skittering again by the voice shouting, “Shirayuki!”

She needs a place to hide – any place anywhere to keep from having to think

“Shirayuki, wait!” He might get teased for his height, but Zen’s taller than her, with an exercise regimen that isn’t just ‘however many steps it takes to get to the science building.’ He closes the distance between them like it’s an annoyance rather than an obstacle.

“I – I can’t face you right now,” she shrills, ducking across the bridge. Her footsteps are loud in the empty building, and she could kick herself for thinking hard wood would be better than soft ground.

His footfalls stop. “Shirayuki. I won’t – I’m not going to chase you. So just…stop.”

His footsteps echo as they start again, hard soles on hard wood. They stop a good distance behind her, boards creaking under his shifting weight.

“Sorry.” It’s a good thing this room’s supposed to be a rainforest; anything dryer and the heat from her face alone might set it ablaze.

“Why are you apologizing?” He lets out a laugh, and she can tell by a creak of wood that he’s leaning on the bridge’s rail. “I should be the one who can’t face you right now.”

“N-no,” she stammers, turning to him. “The…that surprised me, but…”

“So it was the part after that.” He blinks at her, like it’s only now hit him. “When I said to tell me how you feel next time?”

The words hit her like a slap; she flinches back, cheeks so hot she’s sure matches her hair. He’s being gentle about it, mouth spreading into a knowing smile the longer she can’t make words, but –

But it is that. She’s not – she’d not ready to have to talk about things like this, to have to – to say yes or no to an entire future she never even thought about, never even thought was on the table. He’s not trying to be, but it’s – it’s –

Unfair. He’s known about…about these feelings so much longer, known what he wants to do with them, and she –

She just wants that time too. Gosh, it sounds stupid, thinking about it like that. How is she going to say anything when everything’s so –

“Hey,” he laughs softly, tipping back his head, “weren’t you hiding the first time we met too?”

Her heart stutters. It’s not…unpleasant. “Hiding is sort of a strong word –”

His eyebrows lift, and she remembers that same look as he stared down at her from the singer/songwriter aisle, tugging playfully at the cord that tripped him. “Is it?”

“Well I wasn’t hiding from you.”

That was a dumb thing to say.

He – he laughs. “No. You weren’t.” Zen hesitates, for once looking unsure of himself. “I didn’t –”

Water drips down onto his face, onto her hair, spattering their clothes. He frowns. “What –?”

“It’s one o’clock.” A giggle slips out of her, nervous. “They have artificial rainstorms three times a day. Because –”

Zen laughs, scrubbing a hand down his wet face. “Because it’s a rainforest. Right.”


The tensions between them sags under the ridiculousness. Huffing out a sigh, Zen holds out his hand. “Come on, follow me. No use getting wet.”

She doesn’t even hesitate; some part of her is always reaching out to him, and it’s natural to slip her hand into his, to be towed along until they duck through some shrubs, right into a small grove made for two. He pulls her in, seating her across from him – next to him, really, for how small the bench is – and for this moment, for now, it’s as if there’s only the two of them in this whole building, in the whole university.


“The talks went well,” he says, startling her out of her thoughts. Even just like this, with only their knees touching, her heart races in her chest.

“Really?” Is this the way she should feel? She doesn’t remember feeling like this before. Maybe she’s…she’s nervous. “I’m glad.”

“Izana’s making a group that will be looking into it,” he continues blithely, though she can see the stress in the lines of his face. It hasn’t been an easy trip. “He wants Kihal on it. He’s doing some – some thing with her credits, and there’s some…accelerated scholarship program, I guess? In any case, she’s not –”

“She’s not coming back.” She finally looks at him, square in the eyes for a full second. He’s so worried, she just wants to – to –

Touch him. Lean in and put her lips to the worry lines on his forehead, to tease him about getting wrinkles, like Oma did for Opa –

Her eyes skitter away. That is not – not just friendly. Not entirely. “She called me yesterday, and explained the whole thing. It sounds super exciting. I’m happy for her.”

He grins, tense. “Right. Of course.”

There’s a pause, terribly awkward, and she blurts out, “Do you come here a lot? I mean,” her hands clench on her skirt, “I’ve been in here a lot and I never noticed…”

“Hm? Oh, yeah. A lot.” His mouth rucks up in one of this self-deprecating smirks, the sort it always does when he talks about his childhood. “I came here a lot for a break. Donor dinners. Meet and greets. All that stuff. Not really interesting as a kid.”

“I guess not,” she giggles, watching his face.

“But once I started going here…not so much.” He shrugs. “It wasn’t much of a getaway, only getting, what? Fifty feet away from the frat.”

“I see.”

His smile softens, thumb rubbing over the ridge of her knuckles. “It’s different with you though.”

He sits back, hand still holding hers, tilting his head over the back of the bench, just – just being, like he hardly ever does, and –

And she likes this face, the one he’s only ever shown to her. The person he is when they’re alone.

“Oh gosh,” she blurts out, “I like you.”

And, since that is clearly not embarrassing enough, her eyes water and tears start pouring down her cheeks. It’s not soft and beautiful, but big heaving sobs that chase after them, like the ones that wouldn’t come for Opa, and she wonders if this is what people mean by don’t bottle ‘em in, because it feels like everything is all fizzing out, every emotion she’s had the past two months that she’s tried desperately not to –

“I like you so much!” She can’t stop, now that she’s started. “You’re so nice to me, and – and I respect you so much, and I want to be – be helpful for you, but –” a big sob hiccups out of her – “now I see that it’s – that I like you.”

“Shirayuki –”

“I don’t know what to do,” she admits, the part that hurts the most. “I’m not – I’m not ready for this, but I don’t know if that’s – that’s okay, or if i shouldn’t – if I’m not allowed to look at you like I did before…” She laughs through the next sob. “Oh gosh, I don’t think that even makes sense –”

His hand squeezes tight around hers. “It does. It does, Shirayuki. I –” he laughs too, shaking his head. “Jesus, I – I like you too. Obviously, I guess.”

“A little,” she offers, smile watery.

“I don’t know if I…” His lips press together, tight. “I don’t know if being with me like…like that will be…good for you. For either of us, I guess, considering how strongly some people feel about it.” He casts her a wry look and makes a giggle bubble out of her, right over a sob. “And I can’t – I’m not going to pull down any more of that on you. Not right now. I don’t think…I don’t think either of us are ready for that sort of…of attention.”

“Yeah,” she agrees, relieved. “Or, we could just keep making friends out of them. That seems to have worked so far.”

A laugh bursts out of him, so hard he covers his own mouth to muffle it. “Jeeze, Shirayuki,” he pants out. “I like you so much. So much.”

His hand squeezes tighter around hers. “You always know how to make everything better.”

Whatever has been trapped in her chest the past few days, masquerading as her heart, makes a joyous bid for freedom. She aches and feels whole, like a…a more happy version of bittersweet.

This must be what this is supposed to feel like, falling in love.

“Hey.” His other hand cups her cheek, brushing away the tears on her eyelashes. “Could I kiss you?”

She blinks, meeting the warmth of his gaze, the depth of his fondness. “I…yeah.”

He leans in, lips softly brushing against hers, and it’s –

It’s so much better this time. A cool hint of mint against her lips and the warmth of his breath against her cheek, and then –

It’s over.

“We should get back,” he says softly. “Let everyone know you’re okay.”

“Oh!” She thinks of Obi, of the fear in his eyes as he flipped the lock. Oh my, that would…that would be embarrassing to explain. “Yeah, we probably should!”

“You’re okay?” he asks when she stands up, smoothing out her skirt. “With everything, I mean?”

There’s no plan to this, she knows. There’s no wikihow about how to navigate being together-but-not, no flow chart she can make for the decisions they’ll have to make, but –

But Zen likes her. And she likes him.

It’s enough.

“Yeah.” Her fingers squeeze tightly around his, earning her one of his rare, full-faced smiles. “I think I finally am.”

Chapter Text

The door rattles in the jamb, and the first word that rises in Shirayuki’s mind is earthquake.

That jolts her into waking, into trying to remember the all of the disaster preparedness she’d learned in elementary school. Of which, about five seconds were dedicated to earthquakes. Not like rural Pennsylvania is a hotbed for seismic activity, really.

(Though it used to be, she’s sure, just back before the last ice age. Don’t get mountains like those without –

– she should really not be wondering about the geologic history of her hometown when she’s in an active disaster situation).

Stay away from things that can fall on you: check. Everything in this room is bolted to the wall.

Get under something: no check.

She stares at her comforter a long second before deciding that no, eiderdown does not make sufficient cover, no matter how fluffy it is. It’s not going to save her from anything more solid than a falling poster. Even Mr Bear could concuss her with enough force through a blanket.

It’s not until she’s half out of bed that she realizes – the bed isn’t moving. Neither are any of her plants, peacefully sitting in their painted pots. The only thing that’s experiencing concussive force is the door, and it’s loud enough to wake the dead.

Kihal, then. She must have locked herself out when she went to the shower.

Shirayuki’s halfway opened the door when she remembers – Kihal doesn’t live here anymore.

“Hey, Doc.” Obi’s just aviators above a smile, like always, leaning against her jamb like he belongs there, like his home is one step behind every door she decides to close, waiting. “Good to see you lookin’ bright eyed and bushy tailed this fine morning.”

“Wha.” Her brain is not awake enough for any of this.

He pushes through, slim enough to barely move her or the door at all, and beelines right for her cubby. “We got places to be today, babe.”

The way his mouth wraps around that endearment sends a shiver zipping down her spine, wakes her up enough to say, “Isn’t that on the do-not-call list?”

“I like to think of that more as a guideline than rules.” His arm thrusts out a pair of light blue boyshorts through the curtain, dotted with cute emoji planets. “Gotta say, really finding the selection back here out of this world.”

“It’s definitely rules!” she squeaks, snatching the underwear from his fingers. “What are you doing back there?”

“Helping.” His head ducks out, aviators still firmly in place, though the smile’s shifted to a smirk. “You have the morning off, right? Perfect weather to go look at carved butter. Now,” he says, mock-serious, “do you have any farming-themed underwear? Remember, this is for posterity.”

“No. Wait. What?” She blinks, her brain groaning as it tries to catch up. “We’re going to where?”

“The agricultural fair.” His voice is muffled in the cubby. “It’s a thing out here. Because I guess Six Flags is too bougie. Take a picture with Yosemite Sam and suddenly you’re a sellout. Do you honestly own pants, or am I looking in vain here? Help me out.”

None of this is even orbiting sense – agricultural fair? Selling out? Obi is oblique on his best days, and this is certainly not one of them. The only thing she’s getting is that –

That he’s taking her out. Somewhere. There will probably be cows.

“I have shorts. I wear them over tights sometimes,” she blurts out before she can help herself. “And – what are you even doing back there?”

“Picking out your outfit. Also –” she can hear drawers being closed desultorily – “a pair of jeans is a wardrobe necessity, Doc. Don’t you ever watch What Not to Wear? They have marathons.”

She stares at the ducks on her privacy curtain, stymied. “I can do that myself.”

“I know, you’re pretty cute on the regular. “ His head pokes out, aviators slide down his nose so she can see every inch of the slow drag his gaze rakes up her body. “But I’m a guy. I know what we like.”

She squirms. Is he–? “Who says –?”

“Please.” He tosses his head, knocking glasses back into place. “Like I can’t see that spring in your step. You’ve got someone to impress.”

His eyebrows waggle, suggestive, and heat creeps right up her neck. “Er…”

“That’s what I thought. Don’t worry, Doc.” He disappears back into the cubby. “You’re in good hands with me.”

Despite Obi’s dire warnings as they walk to the lot, his Cherokee only smells faintly of stagnant water. With a quick spray of Febreeze it’s practically out-of-the-dryer fresh, smelling like a spring breeze with a hint of lemon.

“It’s not gonna stay that way,” he grumbles as they merge onto the highway. “This baby’s gonna bake in the sun today, and when we get back it’ll be swamp ass with a twist of citrus.”

She tilts back in her seat, grinning at his scowl. “You can just say ‘thank you,’ you know.”

He lets out a huff. “If anyone is going to be saying thank you today, it’ll be Chief to me, because you look great.”

Her fingers twist in her skirt, the gauzy material scratchy against her palms. Of course it was too much to ask that Obi wouldn’t know. He saw them kiss. She nearly – nearly told him – everything. It wouldn’t be hard for someone as clever as him to put all the pieces together. Non-Anxious Shirayuki + Satisfied Zen = Vague Relationship Pact.

“I don’t think that will happen.” He’d have to see her first – not likely, when she’s spending a whole day with Obi looking at…steer? – and Obi would have to survive the retelling of his escapade in her closet. Neither one seems probable.

“Well, it should.”

“I’m not wearing anything special.” She stares down at her hem, hitting her just over the knees when she sits. She’d expected him to prod her into her smallest dress in the closet, to ask where scissors were to expose leg and back, to at least try to manufacture another cup size worth of breast, but – “These are all my normal clothes.”

“Well, he already likes you.” She flushes, hearing it put so baldly, but – she likes it too. “I’m just helping things along. Putting your best foot forward.”

“And what exactly makes this my best foot?” There’s nothing about this outfit she wouldn’t have picked for herself, save not throwing a sweater over it. It’s tall boots and slouchy socks over tights, a floaty dress over that, and –

“Your shoulders,” he says, a little halting. She stares at her freckles, brows drawn tight. Still – “The whole like, strap-plus-sleeve combo, with the bare skin. Guys like that, seeing a bit of skin they think they shouldn’t. A naughty shoulder, if you will.”

Excuse – “The dress is just made like that. You’re supposed to see my shoulders! They are morally upright!”

“Of course,” he allows, magnanimous. “It’s just the illusion of naughtiness.”

“Great.” Shirayuki sighs, settling back. “Now I’m going to be worried about the moral judgement people are making on my shoulders.”

“Nah.” Obi grins at her, all teeth. “Don’t worry about it. They’re –” his eyes drift down, and his breath stutters, just barely – “cute.”

She doesn’t – doesn’t know how to deal with the warmth in her belly when he looks at her like that, when even behind those stupid glasses he looks – he looks like –

He looks at her like she’s something special.

“T-thanks,” she manages, pushing her mouth into a smile. “I can live with…cute shoulders.”

“Yeah,” he laughs, rubbing at where his seatbelt chafes his own. “That’s good. Seems like one of those life-long conditions, you know.”

She rolls down her window, trying to get some air. “Right.”

“Great,” Obi says when they’ve stepped through the gates, hands freshly stamped, “looks like we’re all here.”

Shirayuki twists back. “We’re all–?”

“Hey!” She stumbles over the mulch at the sound of that voice, heart pounding. “Shirayuki!”

“Z-Zen?” The sun catches his hair, making it look silver instead of gold, and –oh. Oh, she was just – really not prepared for this today.

His brow furrows as he comes closer, eyes darting toward Obi. “What’s with that reaction?”

“I didn’t know you were going to be here,” she blurts out, cheeks flushed. “Obi just told me we we should come here.”

“You didn’t even bother to tell her we were meeting up?” Zen snaps. Obi, for his part, just grins under his aviators, lifting a hand to scratch at his neck.

“Well, you know, I thought the whole thing could use a little mystery.” He shrugs. “You lack an appropriate sense of drama.”

An appropriate sense of –”

“Oh, is this why you picked out my clothes?” The last hour starts to make sense, what with the allusions to Zen thanking him for the outfit, the naughty shoulders, the –

– the strange level of attention to her underwear –

She blushes.

“He did what?” Zen cuffs him on the shoulder. “I said, text her, not show up and raid her closet.”

“Hey!” Obi’s expression is a study in offense. “You trying to say I didn’t do a good job?”

Zen opens his mouth, but then his gaze slips back to her, lingering on the bare skin of her shoulders and –

“Shut up,” he says, turning away. “Don’t change the subject.”

For what amounts to a first date, Doc sure isn’t taking it seriously.

“Oh!” she hums, darting forward in the middle of a story Chief’s telling about business law. Obi can’t say he blames her. “Is that a fiddler?”

And then she’s gone, slipping down the fairway with the Big Guy and Kiki trailing after her, the only two people prepared for her to just – bolt. He should know better, honestly; he left her alone for fifteen minutes and she went and jumped off a three story building.

“They need to make those bungee kid harnesses, just in adult size,” Obi mutters. “Ten bucks says she finds some grave injustice to solve.”

“No deal,” Chief tells him with a grin. “You know these people don’t get dental.”

“Better call the boss right now,” he warns, “ask him how he feels about owning an agricultural fair.”

Zen groans. Obi feels that on a spiritual level.

“Hey so.” Obi slows his steps, Chief following suit. There’s no weird tension in the air between them, not even after – after the whole kitchen thing, but still, he’s never been good at leaving things well enough alone. At not probing the sore tooth. “Do you know why Doc bolted a couple days ago?”

Something stiffens in the way Chief holds his face, the way his smile sits on his face. They haven’t – they haven’t talked about this. About how Shirayuki came to him, how she bolted the second she heard Zen, how Obi flipped the lock on him –

About just how quick he was willing to believe his friend was a fucking asshole. Haven’t really talked about any of that at all.

“Do you think something happened before she came here?” he asks lightly, trying to seem…casual. He makes a real show of browsing through the kitschy key chain display at a stall, looking to see which of those little license plates comes closest to Obi. He’s got one that says Opie somewhere, a sweet find in one of the Carolinas.

And it’s not like – not like Chief did anything beside knock Doc into an anxiety spiral, and that’s not – not great, but Obi’s done that just by mentioning a reading she forgot to do. It’s not damning.

He flicks past Ollie. “Maybe in Tanbarun?”

“What makes you think that?” Chief manages, haltingly.

God, this kid needs to never play poker. No Atlantic City bachelor party, that’s for sure.

“I dunno. Kiki mentioned something,” he lies, turning over one in that says Owen. “Thought maybe you might know something.”

“No.” The answer comes quick, guilty. “But there are idiots everywhere.”

“For real.”

“It’s too bad she’s, you know, so skittish.” Chief says, wistful now. “She’s so pretty. It’d be a shame if one of them did something to make her feel like she had to be…shy. Of people.”

Obi’s fingers hesitate over Oxford. He practically has to bite his cheek from snapping, it’s a real pity her trauma might get in the way of you macking on her, but –

But that’s not how Chief means it. He knows that, even if it feels like his teeth are vibrating in his mouth from the effort, from him thinking her shyness is a shame because she’s pretty when –

When pretty isn’t even the first thing that comes to his mind when he thinks of Doc. Brilliant, that’s up at the top; kind, the next in line; reckless – well, there’s something that should give him pause, but that just makes him like her more.

Pretty doesn’t even make the top ten. Adorable Enough I Want to Kiss the Freckles Off Of Her sits somewhere on the list, but that’s –

That’s a personal problem. And not in the top five. Doc is so much more than just – just a cute girl. She’s –

Whatever. Not his. That’s the important part.

He needs to get a hold of himself. This isn’t about him, it’s – it’s about Doc. About what she wants.

About who she wants.

“So.” He stretches his mouth to a grin, practically creaking from the effort. “When are you gonna make this more…date-y.”

Date?” Obi might as well have asked what color his boxers were. “I’m not – this isn’t –”

“C’mon, Chief.” He winks, sauntering beside him. “You gotta get her alone, right? Buy her something she’d like.”

“Like what?”

Seeds. Three stalls back. They had a handful of orchids he hadn’t seen in the greenhouses.

“How am I supposed to know?” he drawls. “You’re the boyfriend here.”

“I’m – I’m not!”

“Well, not with that attitude, you aren’t.” He flicks his glasses down his nose. “But listen to me, and you could be.”

Chapter Text

The fiddler’s last note warbles on the air, lingering even as his bow pulls from the string. There’s a breath of silence – a loud silence, an expectant silence – and the small crowd breaks into applause.

Shirayuki suddenly remembers how to breathe.

“Wow.” She settles back on her heels, neck aching. What she wouldn’t give to be as tall as Mitsuhide – or at least Kiki, who doesn’t have to get up on her toes to see over a wall of onlookers. “Wasn’t that good?”

Kiki’s mouth lifts at the corner, fixing her a soft look makes her stomach flutter, like she’s a butterfly garden and Kiki’s smile is the dawn. “Very.”

“I haven’t heard someone try ‘Madam Neruda’ like that,” she blurts out, bobbing alongside Kiki’s shoulder as she starts steering them out of the crowd. It’s easy with Mitsuhide to her other side; everyone just parts to let him through. Another perk of being tall: everyone knows where you want to go, and they’re eager to get you there. “Never just – out in a crowd like that. Like it was easy!”

Kiki lifts her brows; on anyone else it would look wry, half-insulting, but on her it’s just – inquisitive. Direct. “I didn’t know you liked the fiddle so much.”

“My grandfather used to play. For fun!” she blurts out. “Not professionally. But he was really good.”

Kiki’s mouth softens, like it does before she smiles – a real smile, the kind that reaches her eyes even if it doesn’t exactly show teeth – and Shirayuki feels her heart bang up against the cage of her chest –


Mistuhide’s tone is so dire, so unexpected that she jolts, head swinging to stare up – and up, and up – at him. There’s a strange sort of tension in his face, eyebrows dragged together, and that makes her heart pound faster, louder.

“Zen told us,” he says, and then his whole face is transformed, eyes crinkling and smile wide. “He said that he’s going to walk by your side, for as long as he can.”

Kiki snorts, mouth curled wryly. “You know how he is. Dramatic.”

“I think it’s romantic!” Mitsuhide protests, face flushed. “I know that things are complicated with – with things, but the sentiment is, you know, there. Earnest.”

“Shirayuki.” Kiki peers down at her from the corner of her eyes. “Is that what you want?”

“I…” She licks her lips, nods. “Yeah. I want to – to be a help to him, whenever he needs it.”

“Great!” Her head practically rattles when Mitsuhide ruffles her hair, jostling her every which way. It’s – nice, in a strange way. “I’ll be rooting for you. We will I mean. Me and Kiki.”

Kiki’s eyebrows lift as she drags her cellphone out of her pocket. “Tu parles pour moi, maintenant?”

Mitsuhide goes white as a sheet. “I – I d-didn’t mean –”

“Zen wants us to meet him at the State Pavilion,” she says like he hadn’t even spoken, flicking off her screen before slipping the phone back. “Apparently Obi’s worried about the lines getting too long. He wants one of everything.”

Mitsuhide huffs. “He would.”

“It’s not gluttony, Chief,” Obi tells them imperiously over a veritable mountain of food. “I’m trying to judge fairly. How am I gonna do that if I don’t have something from every state?”

Shirayuki can’t help but agree, staring at the stuffed quahogs from Rhode Island, the fried scallops from Massachusetts, the clam chowder in a bread bowl from Connecticut, the lobster mac and cheese from Maine. New Hampshire’s got something wrapped in bacon and savoring strongly of maple, and Vermont’s a thick wedge of cheesecake, blueberries swirled in. She stares down at her own sad cup of soup, the only thing that didn’t make her stomach flip which she considered the price plus a water. The fair isn’t expensive, not like how some of the places Zen takes her are, but it’s not like she has some sort of – of renewing income, and –

Obi slides his feast just to the left, situating it just between the both of them. “We’re sharing all this, right?” he asks, so casual. “Don’t think I could eat this all on my own.”

“O-oh!” She blinks, eyes suddenly stinging. “I didn’t – are you sure?”

His teeth flash, white against his skin. “C’mon, Doc, where am I gonna put all this?”

She does not say, your muscles, but it’s close. It’d make him laugh, but –

He’ll be insufferable too. She can only imagine the drive back, him flexing so much the car practically swerves, asking, do you think this is the quahogs, Doc?

She daintily reaches out and pops a scallop in her mouth instead. It practically melts on her tongue.

“There we go,” he laughs, shoulder jostling hers, “that’s my girl.”

Her teeth freeze mid-bite, her hands clench at the table. Her eyes sting again, and there’s just –

There’s a warmth in her chest, right by her heart. That’s my girl.

“Isn’t ‘girl’ on the do-not-call list?” she says, a little woodenly. She reaches out her spoon, taking a swipe of stuffy to keep herself from having to say anything more.

“C’mon, what did I say?” he says, undeterred. “Guidelines.”

“Speaking of seafood!” Mitsuhide interjects, loud outside their whispered conversation. “Zen used to think that Legal Seafood was the only place you could get seafood legally.”

“What!” Zen squawks, head swiveling toward him as Kiki smothers a laugh into a napkin. “Who told you that?”

“Legal Seafood?” Obi lifts an eyebrow, crunching into his bacon-wrapped something. “Isn’t that a little pedestrian for your crowd?”

“It’s not – I didn’t –” Zen huffs like he wishes he could blow steam. “Only in America! I knew it was legal other places!”

“Ah, there it is,” Obi laughs, “Richie Rich shows himself.”

“Izana told me,” Mistuhide admits, mouth twitching at the corners. “Apparently it was fresh in his mind when we first met, because of that whole eighth grade gradu–”

“Okay!” Zen squeaks. “That’s enough – enough storytime.”

“Mitsuhide,” Kiki breaks in, fixing him with a meaningful look. “There’s a show-riding exhibit in the ring. We should go.” Her eyes cut to where Obi sits. “You too, Obi.”

He blinks, stiffening besides her. “Oh, sure! That sounds like it could be fun. Never really seen people ride horses up close before.”

“Did you want to come too, Ze – ow!” Mitsuhide grimaces, rubbing at his shin, shrinking under the glare Kiki gives him. “I don’t –?”

“No,” Zen says quickly, eyes darting between the two of them. “I think maybe I’ll just…walk around. If you’d like that, Shirayuki?”

The shape of things finally solidifies in her mind. “Oh!” she breathes, heat pricking at her cheeks. “Y-yeah, that sounds – nice.”

“Great.” The bench screeches back when he stands, holding out his hand to her. “Let’s get –”

“Can I finish my quahog?” she chirps, digging in for another spoonful. “It’s really good!”

“Oh!” He slumps back down onto the bench, flushed. “Right, yes. Sure! Whenever you’re ready.”

Obi elbows her as she digs in, taking a spoonful of his lobster mac. “Your quahog, huh?”

“Eat faster, if you don’t want me to finish it!” she huffs. “You’re the one that wanted to share.”

He coughs, spearing a particularly large bit of meat from the stuffy. “Yeah, I’m having some real regrets.”

“Are you sure?” The air between her and Zen buzzes as they walk away from the group, full of – of potential. It makes her hands tremble, makes her wish she had pockets to hide them in. “Show riding seems like it might be interesting! I’d hate to keep you –”

“It’s fine,” he assures her quickly, almost terse.

“I don’t mind –”

“Shirayuki,” he laughs, half-exasperated. “I’d rather it just be the two of us.”

She stares. “Oh.”

His hand reaches down, fingers twining through hers. “If that’s okay?”

“Y-yeah.” Her face feels like it might set a stall on fire, but she squeezes back. “That – yes.”

“Are you enjoying yourself?” he asks after a pause, wandering close enough to jostle her hip. “You know, going out with everyone?”

“Yeah!” She smiles up at him, heart fluttering in her throat. “So much! Thanks for inviting me.”

His mouth curves, soft and shy. “Anytime.”

They wander through the vendors, pondering over a few stalls with wish stones or scarves. She did the same with Obi earlier, complete with commentary, but –

But Zen is quiet, only giving an opinion when he’s asked to, otherwise content to just follow her.

“Hey,” he says, low and urgent, as she pulls off to a small side alley to tuck her purchases more firmly into her bag. “Can I – can I ask you something?”

“Oh!” She hesitates. “Yeah, sure! Ask away.”

“About Tanbarun.” Her blood runs cold, hands frozen in her bag. “What happened with Raj. It has something to do with – with why you ran, doesn’t it?”

She licks her lips. “Yes.”

He’s silent, expectant. He doesn’t say a single word, but the well? is implied.

She’s having a good time today; she hasn’t thought about that since – well, since a few days ago, and it just –

It’s just that she doesn’t want to do this now. Maybe not ever. She just wants this to be a thing that is – that isn’t something she has to say, something she has to explain. She doesn’t mind him knowing, but –

But she doesn’t want to talk about it.

But it’s not like there’s anyone else to tell him. And if he wants – if they want –

She can’t just keep it from him. It’s – it’s a little too close to lying for comfort.

“A – a friend took me to a party the frat was having in Tanbarun,” she says, biting back a wince. “He put something in my drink.”

Zen’s silence in thunderous.

“Nothing happened.” Nothing besides a month of litigation she neither wanted nor could afford, but he already knows about that, made that all go away for her even if he didn’t quite know why. “I found out before I drank it, but…it was a lot, realizing that someone – that you – wanted to…” She grimaces. “You know.”

“I see.” He lets out a long breath, looking anywhere but at her. “Thank you for telling me.”

“Ah, of – of course.” Her hands tremble against her side, and she makes herself busy smoothing down her skirt. “It’s really –”

“Shirayuki,” he says, and she looks up, right into those blue, blue eyes, and feels the air disappear around her. “If anything like that ever happens – if anything ever makes you feel unsafe – just tell me.”

“Oh,” she breathes. “Really, it’s okay. My grandparents –”

His eyebrows raise. “Your grandparents?”

“Yeah.” She nods. “They always taught me that – that everyone feels helpless. Even people you think are strong. And that – and that no matter how many times it takes, I should never give up, because I’m not ever helpless, not if I don’t let myself be. That –” she takes a breath, remembering the creak of Opa’s voice and he knelt before her, as he gave her braids a little tug – “That the only thing that makes you helpless, is letting yourself believe you are.”

“Well,” he says a moment later, tearing his eyes away with a laugh. “That explains a lot.”

She huffs. “What do you mean by that?””

“You’d rather go it alone than rely on others,” he says, “because you were raised to think you can only rely on yourself.”

“That’s not –” She hesitates. “I knew I could rely on my grandparents. They would always be there for me, until –”

Until they weren’t.

“And now, I know I can rely on you too.” It surprises her how much she means it, how much she knows she can rely on him. “I don’t really…know when I knew that, but it’s true.”

“Good,” he says, a little breathless. “Because I won’t let you down. None of us will.”

She nods. “I’m glad we came here, Zen.”

He steps closer, and suddenly the space isn’t so – so platonic between them. “I’m glad you said that –”


He jerks away, head swiveling to the fairway. MItsuhide bursts from the crowd, Kiki in tow.

“I, uh…” He coughs. “We lost Obi.”

“It’s not like he could go far,” Zen sighs, trailing after Mitsuhide, standing so close to her their arms brush. “He’s got to be in the fair somewhere.”

It would take nothing to tangle their hands again, to hook her pinky around his, and –

“It’s the ‘somewhere’ we have to be worried about,” Kiki mutters, mouth pulled flat.

– But if he had wanted that, wanted all his friends to see it, he’d be doing it already, and –

“Oh, osti de marde!” Mitsuhide sighs, head swiveled toward the alley behind the show ring. “Of course that’s where he is.”

Zen turns the corner before her, catches a glimpse of whatever Mitsuhide has, and –

“Oh, mother– really?” he hisses, livid. “A fight club?”

Kiki’s mouth twitches. “Western Mass is so quaint, isn’t it?”

Shirayuki rushes to turn the corner, to see what they’re seeing and –

And there’s a crowd of people – mostly men; guys their age or a little older, all cheering on two men in the center of their lop-sided circle.

“Hit him already!” one of them shouts above the other jeers. “Not paying to watch you girls dance!”

The crowd parts just enough and –

And it’s Obi in there, arms up, a shield in front of his body as he ducks and weaves around the other man’s punches. They’re not practiced, sloppy even, in Shirayuki’s less-than-expert opinion, but he’s a big guy; they’d hurt if he managed to do much more than hit air. But –

But Obi’s tight, coiled and cool, like a man used to seeing fists fly at him, and she – she can’t help but think about a few weeks ago, when the whole lot of them had traipsed back into the frat bruised and bloodied, and Mitsuhide had leaned in into Kiki, had whispered, that guy’s a monster

His leg whips out, and she heads the crack before she sees where it’s hit; she’s still guessing when the man crumples to the dirt, only knows by the shift in his stance, by the way his opponent clutches at his head as he sits up. That’s not – that’s not School of Hard Knocks fighting.

That’s experience. That’s training.

Another man swoops in, and her heart pounds before he grab’s Obi’s arm, until he lifts it up and shouts out, “Win for Nanaki!”

“What was that?” Zen’s fit to be tied, and Big Guy looks about one quippy remark away from his own fire-and-brimstone, but really, Obi can’t help himself.

“I wasn’t joking about my fighting weight, chief!” he laughs, feeling lighter now that his wallet is heavier. “Besides, now I can pay you back for that gym membership.”

Chief could stand to be happier about it. It’s like he hasn’t said anything at all. “And what the fuck is a Nanaki?”

Obi’s shoulder twitches; he digs his fingers into the muscle, trying to work out the tension. “Ah, you know how it is. More fun with goofy names. Would have worn those Groucho Marx glasses if they let me.”

Big Guy frowns. “Obi –”

“Um!” Doc nearly thrusts herself bodily into the conversation, her whole face a painful pink. “I just – I didn’t want to just wander off, after, um…” Her gaze darts to him. “Well! I just – have to go to the bathroom, so –”

“You shouldn’t go alone,” Chief tells her, gravely serious, like it’s life or death instead of a pee break. “Maybe Kiki –”

“She could,” Big Guy interjects, uncomfortable, “but the bathrooms are back at the States’ Pavilion. Izana is expecting us back in a little over an hour for the dinner meeting.”

“I don’t mind,” Kiki insists, “a little browsing time isn’t –”

“Don’t worry about it, Ms Kiki,” he drawls, waggling his eyebrows, “it’d be my pleasure to show Doc to the facilities.”

Zen frowns. “But you can’t –”

“Doc’s a big girl,” he tells him, smile all teeth, “don’t think she needs help to pee. Maybe a lift up on the pot, but –”

“I’m fine!” she squeaks. “I don’t need any – it’s fine if Obi takes me!”

Zen gives them both a dubious look. “If you’re sure. We’ll just browse around here until you get back.”

The conversation takes more time to happen than the actual event. Well, the walk is a little bit of a hassle, but Obi pays for another wedge of cheesecake while he’s waiting – maple swirl this time, and worth even cent of his hard-won dollars. By the time Doc emerges from the bathroom, he’s tucked it all away, no one the wiser.

“All set?” he asks, sidling up next to her. “Didn’t fall in?”

“Ah, no!” She flushes; it’s too cute for safety. “That doesn’t happen!”

He hums, unconvinced.

“It doesn’t!” she insists, mouth pushing into a little pout, and –

And a breeze sweeps through, carrying that crisp fall air, and she shivers. The rest is just – instinct.

He doesn’t even know his hoodie is off, not until she’s looking up from under it with eyes that put that hunter green to shame.

“You looked cold,” he explains lamely. “Don’t make a big deal about it.”

Her eyelashes flutter, eyebrows pulling down in confusion. “But won’t you get cold?”

“Nah.” He gives her a bicep flex. “I worked up a sweat. You know how it is.”

Her mouth pulls thin, in that way she gets before she’s going to launch into one of her, be kind to yourself, Obi, talks. “No. No, I don’t.”

He lifts an eyebrow. “You trying to tell me you never got in a fight, Doc?”

Her eyes suddenly find anything else to be interested in rather than him.

He can’t fight his grin, pressing a hand to his breast, scandalized. “Doc.”

“Well,” she murmurs, the corners of her lips twitching. “I did do field hockey in high school.”

It’s easy to fake a stumble, to clutch at his chest. “Oh, Doc, go easy on my heart.”

“Cut it out,” she giggles, teeth peering out from beneath pink lips. His heart flutters in his throat. “It was only one year.”

“Everyone knows field hockey girls are the hottest,” he tells her, jogging to catch up with her. “The skirts, you know –”

“Is that so?”

His life flashes before his eyes. “Ms Kiki. Didn’t see you there.”

Her grin is all teeth. “I could tell.”

“Well,” he yelps, shuffling Doc between them. “As you can see, I’ve brought the precious cargo back. Not a ding on it.”

“Hm.” Zen steps toward her, gaze skating over her newest accessory. “Where’d you get that?”

“Oh!” Doc fingers the cowl, like she hardly remembered he had it on. “Obi said I looked cold.”

Chief’s mouth pulls thin, like the ice Obi’s clearly on. His eyes dart up, and they’re unreadable, just dark blue that holds him fast, makes him forget he could be using his legs to bolt

“Thanks, Obi,” he says, smile too sincere for comfort. “That was decent of you.”

“Oh, well, you know,” he drawls, relieved, “that’s what I strive for now. Decent.”

Zen turns back to Shirayuki. “You look better in it than he does.”

“I know you think that’ll make me mad, but cute girls look good in everything,” Obi says, grinning. “Especially my clothes.”

“W-well,” Big Guy sputters, “I think it’s time to be going.”

Shirayuki watches the three of them disappear into the crowd, heart strangely heavy.

“C’mon,” Obi says, “don’t you want to look around?”

Her brow furrows. “Should we? Haven’t we seen everything?”

Obi lights up, like she’s given him the best present at Christmas. Or maybe that he’s going to give her the best one. “Midway games.”

She stares. “Mitsuhide says they’re a swindle.”

He flashes her white teeth. “Good thing I’m a swindler then!”

“Obi –”

“I’m going to get you the biggest, most embarrassing plush of all time,” he promises, jostling her shoulder. “So what say you? Big pink bear? Floppy puppy?”

“We are not calling him Sir Prance-A-Lot,” Obi grouses, shifting gears with more force than he strictly needs. “Discussion over.”

Shirayuki grins into her shoulder, watching him shove the horn out of the way so he can back out of the lot. “I don’t know, he seems like a sir to me. And you said you like knights –”

“Pick a good name,” he sighs, put-upon. “C’mon, try again. I didn’t win a rigged game so he could get saddled with some terrible porn name.”

“What about Mr Horny?”

His jaw sets. “Okay, naming privileges are revoked. Forever.”

Chapter Text

It’s not odd for Doc to skip dinner.

Zen starts fretting the instant she isn’t in front of the DC at their usual time, convinced it must mean that something is wrong, that somehow his brother or Haruka or this Raj kid have somehow kept her from eating dinner promptly at five. Obi considers it a public service that he doesn’t roll his eyes.

But ten minutes later she’s still not answering her texts. She’s not picking up her phone, even when Kiki’s the one who calls. That’s when he starts to worry, starts to feel something gnaw away at his belly, something that feels like fear.

“Don’t worry, Chief,” he says with a grin, clapping him on the shoulder. “I’ll go get her.”

Zen’s eyes narrow. “How are you going to get in? You don’t have a card for her –”

“Oh trust me.” He winks. “I’ll find a way.”

It sounds more glamorous than it is. All sneaking into a dorm takes is good timing and a smile, which says some pretty damning things about the security at this school. Considering how he managed to lock Doc out of the science building with little more than a wad of twenties, he isn’t overly surprised.

Doc lives on the fifth floor of seven, but he’s far too wired and worried to wait for the slow-ass elevator to mosey on down to the lobby. Instead, he sprints up four flights, barely feeling it until he hits the last landing. Her dorm’s not far from the stairwell, just around the corner from the lobby where it and the elevator come out to, but each step feels like a slog. His legs are jellied after that climb; tomorrow he’s going to wish he’d been kinder to his quads.

He turns the corner, rubbing at his neck – god, he’s twenty-two, he shouldn’t be getting cricks and falling apart at seams like this from a little jog – and his heart nearly drops through to his stomach.

Her door is wide open – a habit of hers that is more common than he likes – but instead of sugar-sweet lady songwriter crooning out lyrics about forests and mountains and other metaphors for love over twangy acoustic guitar, there is silence. Total, deafening silence.

His mouth makes to wrap around her name, but it shatters on his tongue the moment his gaze falls to the jamb. One pink terry-cloth sleeve splays across the floor, spilling into the hallway. His whole body tenses, adrenaline running through his veins with a roar. If someone has hurt Doc – if they’ve even touched her – they’ll be lucky if there’s something left of them to find.

Obi knows he can handle himself, knows intimately the way he can shithouse a person, but he’s not some idiot ready to fling himself into the fray sight unseen. He creeps up, silent – thanks, shitty childhood – and nudges her door open with the toe of his boot and –

“Oh my god,” he says, loud enough to make her look up despite the music blaring in her ears, “it looks like a girl exploded in here.”

“Obi!” Her voice is entirely too loud for the room, and he must flinch, since a moment later she pulls out her earbuds. “What are you doing here?”

He leans against the doorway, reaching so hard for casual despite his pounding heart, tugging at a shoulder as he shrugs. “Chief says it’s dinner time.”

“Oh.” She blinks. “You could have just called.”

“We did.”

“You –?” She glances down at her phone, shaking it awake, and grimaces. “Ah. I, um, was really focused.”

He looks down pointedly. Papers are scattered in a ritual circle around her, laptop cast off to the side with a mind-bending amount of tabs dotting the browser bar, and a large three-fold poster board lays splayed across the floor. It’s covered in graphs and large paragraphs of small text; he can’t help but think it looks familiar –

He crouches to get a better look, tilting his head with a squint to read the tiny text. “Is this Kihal’s data?”

She rocks back, running her hands through her damp hair. “Yeah. It’s for Tanbarun. Garrack says she’s confident that she can get Massachusetts to adopt the safety measures, but that’s nothing if we can’t get Connecticut to do something about it at the source, and if that doesn’t go through…”

Doc doesn’t look at the other half of the room, desk empty and bed neatly made, but she doesn’t have to; the weight of Kihal’s absence presses on them all the same.

“It’s not your fault, Doc,” he reminds her. He would know, he was there. “I’m sure the charges will get cleared even without this whole meeting shindig.”

She shakes her head, fingers knotting deep in her hair. “I don’t know. I don’t want to chance it.” She looks up at him, her bright eyes watery. “You know, she was the first person in her family to go to college? I can’t even imagine what she’s feeling right now. All because she wouldn’t take Brecker’s bribes.”

He can’t believe he hears himself say the words, “Just because you do the right thing doesn’t mean everything works out, not right away. It’ll take time.”

Like he has any room to talk. The his chest itches madly, and he pulls at his shoulder instead. It eases, just the slightest bit, becomes something he can live with.

“How long do you have?” he asks, letting his knees rest on the carpet. “Is anyone helping you?”

“No, I just —” she sighs – “Mitsuhide’s going to drive me down, but it’s not like he can help with any of this. He’s just there for, you know, moral support and transportation.” Her shoulders set in a tense line. “And you know, any of the stuff with Raj.”

Right. There’s a whole bunch of history there he’s only seen the tip of the iceberg for. Now’s not the time to dig.

“I could, um –” he needs to stop himself, needs to stop the words coming out – “help maybe? I mean, I’m in most of your science classes right? I can probably talk about, uh –” he catches the title of one of the pages – “salinity of the Connecticut River?”

She stares at him, eyes huge and wet with gratitude. “Do you – do you meant that?”

He nods, too late to back out now, big mouth. “Yeah sure.” He grins. “One condition though.”


“You come down to dinner.” He stands up, offering her a hand. “I mean what happened here? It looks like you exploded.”

She grips his hand, letting him pull her to her feet. A flush works up from the base of her neck, turning her an intriguing pink. “I just – I came back from the shower, and then…got into my comfiest clothes and started working. I didn’t really have time to put things away.”

He laughs, sweeping his eyes over her to find something to tease her about – it’s hard, even with her fuzzy mismatched socks, with her flannel pajama pants covered in owls with cartoonishly huge eyes, with –

With –

“Is that –” He stops to swallow. Get a grip. Get a grip. “Is that where my hoodie went?”

She turns an even darker red, and that’s – that’s so much worse. She knows it’s his. She thinks it’s comfortable. She just – she is –

She’s wrapped up in his clothes like he wish she would be in his arms, and it’s awful, awful knowing she likes it.

“I can give it back, if you want,” she offers weakly. The red of her hair sets off the green of the fabric and she is just – she looks –

She’s perfect. She’s too perfect.

“Nah,” he says, dropping her hand, striving for calm. “Looks better on you anyway.”

Chapter Text

thanks for giving this opportunity to Shirayuki
even if you’re doing it to be a dick

You’re welcome.
Even if you’re unappreciative.
But it was just good business sense.

I don’t think she should stay with the frat

I disagree on this point.

there’s history there
it will make the company look bad

I appreciate your attempt at manipulation, but you are, after all, a novice.
Her stay is necessary.
Shenezard is still feeling the fallout from that whole business.

Raj tried to roofie her


you think shirayuki is LYING about that???
why would she make something like that up?????

I think the truth is a complicated business.
And not profitable enough for us to speculate on.

he could try something while she’s there!!!

And regardless, you’re sending someone with her.
I expect your people to be ready, conflict or not.

Zen shoves a hand raggedly through his hair. This whole Tanbarun situation is just…complicated, and dealing with his brother is impossible, even at the best of times. And this is definitely…not that.

Sure, Izana’s the CEO’s son, heir apparent to Wisteria Holdings Ltd., but –

Come on, he’s got to have come through some kind of workplace sensitivity training. This whole maybe a woman doesn’t want to work with her attempted rapist thing shouldn’t be flying over his head. And yeah, sure, Shirayuki’s agreed to doing it, but that doesn’t mean she wants to, and Mitsuhide –


He’ll never admit it, but he smells Obi before he sees him. He’s easy to pick out; a mix of Head & Shoulders and Kiki’s stolen bodywash, something chemical with a hint of floral that warns Zen even before he looks up that, oh yeah, he’s fresh from the shower.

God, at least he’s clothed this time, for how much good it does.

“Yo.” He doesn’t look at him more than a second – just enough to catch basketball shorts, wet hair, and a shirt so thin it’d be transparent if it didn’t have 2008 Regional Champs scrawled down it with a somewhat cross-eyed cougar next to it. “Something up?”

He expects a no, expects some equivocating before Obi works himself around to the point, but not –

“Yeah,” Obi pushes himself across the threshold. “I think I should be the one that goes with Doc.”

Zen only just clamps down on his NO.

He sits back, trying to look – casual, hopefully. His head is anything but; it’s like some sort of WWII air raid in there, klaxons blaring and a voice yelling all hands on deck. “Yeah?”

Obi coughs, hand rubbing at his shoulder. “Yeah.”

It’s not that – not that he doesn’t trust him. From a couple week’s distance, he can appreciate how much spine it took to slam the door in his face, to flip the lock on a guy whose net worth is practically made out of theoretical dollars, but –

He doesn’t trust him.

(Obi is lean and dangerous limned in the lights of the frat, teeth glinting in his death’s head grin.

Goodness me, he lilts, Zen’s gut twisting at the tone, oh, is it not that time for – for that. How unexpected.)

It’s not that Shirayuki wouldn’t be safe with him; Zen saw him at that fight behind the horse barn – Obi could dismantle a guy, if he put his heart into it – but –

But as safe as Shirayuki would be, that’s no guarantee for him. All it would take is Obi thinking he’s no good and –

Well, he sure got a taste of that.

His phone buzzes on the table

Izana: Who are you sending with Shirayuki.

He doesn’t even know his teeth are grinding until his jaw clicks, echoing in his ear.

“Sit down,” he says, gesturing to the seat across from him, where white sits. “Let’s play for it.”

Obi stares warily at the board.

“You know how to play?”

Obi nods, fingers working at the meat of his shoulder. “Yeah. Enough.”

If Mom was here, she’d rub his back, she’d sigh into his hair and tell him, It’ll all seem like a bad dream when you’re older. Nothing lasts.

But she isn’t, because they can’t tell her, not at all, and instead he’s left with Izana, whose ego takes up more of the limo than he does.

“There’s no use sulking,” he says scrolling through his phone. “That won’t change anything.”

Zen doesn’t bother to lift his head, probably even couldn’t if her tried, just says into the leather upholstery, “I’m not trying to change anything. I just want to disappear.”

Izana’s thumb hesitates on the screen. “What would be the point of that?”

Zen sulks loudly. His brother hesitates, sets his phone next to his thigh.

“You made a mistake.”

Zen startles at the softness, dragging is face off the seat to stare. Izana’s a tense line, but the sunlight comes in from the back window and he looks –

Soft, human. Someone who might possess something close to empathy.

“That’s human.” Izana tells him, halting. “But mistakes exist to be learned from.”

He stares. “And what am I supposed to learn from this?”

His brother frowns, hands folding over his lap. “Who you can trust.”

En passant?” Zen asks, setting up his pieces.

Obi blinks. “I’m not the Big Guy. You know that, right? I’m missing about four inches, a La Fleur jersey handed down to me from the Old Country, and a propensity for Scooby snacks.”

“Are you describing Mitsuhide or a Great Dane?”

“Is there really that much of a difference?”

Zen elects to ignore the question. “It’s a kind of way of playing chess. En passant. It changes the way the first few turns are played.”

“Then no.” Obi hesitates, a ghost of a smile passing over his lips, like he’s remembering something. Maybe someone. “’Only rich men and cons play en passant.’ And I’m definitely not the first one, and I’m trying not to be the other.”

“Izana likes it.”

“That follows,” Obi observes with a grin. “He’s both.”

Zen glares.

“So if I beat you.” Obi’s fingers are nimble, lingering around his queen’s crown. “I go instead of Big Guy.”


“So…what do you get if I lose?” Obi’s watching him close now, that eerie gold burning into his skin.

“I…” He hadn’t even considered it. He’s too used to playing Izana to think he’ll win, but –

But Obi isn’t his brother.

“How about if I win, I go…” Obi mouth quirks, wry. “And if you win, we fuck your brother’s plans and I help you sneak off with her.”

There isn’t enough air in the room. “Deal.”

Obi smiles, all teeth. “Might make up for getting caught playing with a kid like me, at least.”

Zen’s attention catches. A kid like me. Make up for it.

His hands clench.

(No one’s unique, Izana tells him over ice cream. Everyone has patterns. Figure that out, and you’ll know who not to trust next time.)

Last bell is a sigh of relief; it’s a refuge that looks like a quiet room with no chess club, no upperclassmen to make fun of his plays, or how his long game could be beaten by a five-year-old. Just an empty classroom with the chairs put on desks, just clean fluorescent lighting and white and black, his homework spread out over the tables as he just gets to breathe, to be.

But not today. Today someone’s here.

He’s hunched over one of the desks, not even looking up when Zen walks in, just a head full of dusty blond hair staring down at the pristine surface of the desk. Zen recognizes him; he’s the new kid, always wearing a scowl. He’s heard the rumors – a scholarship student, not someone from money like the rest of them, not destined to last. Scholarship kids can never keep up.

“Hi,” he says lamely, biting his cheek. He doesn’t need to make friends with a hopeless cause. He has trouble enough already getting people to talk to him.

“Fuck off.”

His mouth pulls flat. “That’s not very friendly.”

“Ask me if I care.”

He shouldn’t even be trying, but – “My name’s Zen –”

“Wisteria, yeah, everyone knows.” He finally looks eyes, dark eyes trained on him. “Richest kid in school, besides maybe Kiki Seiran.”

“It really depends on the stock market,” Zen says delicately. “A lot of the money is speculative.”

“Doesn’t make much of a fucking difference, does it?” he snaps. “You’re rich. And you belong in this prison.”

There’s not…much to say to that. Not anything that won’t start a fight, and he’s not looking forward to explaining away another black eye to his brother. “Hey, you want to play some chess?”

The kid stares.

“This is the chess club room,” Zen points out. “I can teach you, if you’ve never played.”

“I’ve played,” the kid snaps. “Poor kids play chess too. It comes with checkers.”

Zen has never seen a board that came with checkers. This seems like a bad time to mention it. “Great.”

“Cool.” He kid stands up, chair screeching. “As long as you think your reputation can survive playing someone like me.”

Obi’s confident when he moves his pawn at D2 to D4. It’s not a bad play; not anything to wow or confound, but solid. It’s a move that could start a hundred plays, and Zen’s sure he knows them all. When he slides his own pawn up, D7 to D5, he’s curious. You can’t judge a man on his first move. But his second –

C2 to C4. Zen feels his mouth twitch, caught between a frown and a smile. Queen’s Gambit. A beginner’s ploy.

Think like your opponent, Izana say, as if it weren’t an impossibility to think like him. Then you’ll know his play.

He doesn’t know anything about Obi, not really. He’s here on scholarship. He doesn’t like being tied up, doesn’t like being blindfolded. That doesn’t seem like something that applies to chess, but –

You think your reputation can survive me?

It’s pouring, and this guy – Haruka’s social assassin – just is…

A garbage fire. A real tire fire of a human being.

“Come on,” Zen sighs, holding out a hand. No one needs to be in a literal dumpster, not even this asshole. “I’ll take you back.”

“Nah, nah!” The guy giggles, head weaving and bopping, slapping away his hand sloppily. “This is my home now. I belong here! I’m sure your girlfriend would agree!”

He takes in a breath, long and calm. “I’m double parked. Let’s go.”

The guy hesitates, staring at his hand.

“Well,” he drawls, eyes sharp as they meet his, “if you think your reputation can survive me, Chief.”

Zen lets his mouth curl at the corner. E7 to E5.

People are patterns.

Atri’s opening is quick. Two pawns out, trying to free his queen. It’s child’s play, a beginner’s gambit. Zen follows with two black in kind and –

Pawn takes pawn on D5. Zen can’t hold back a grin.

“Queen takes pawn,” he gloats, slipping the piece down the board. “Your move.”

“Whatever,” Atri grunts. His knight rises up over his pawn, B1 to C3. He has to count out the squares.

“Queen takes pawn,” Zen tells him again, glee sitting high in his chest. He’ll win this one, just as thoroughly as Izana wins theirs.

“That’s stupid.” Atri’s grin is all teeth. “Queen takes queen, or whatever.”

“Pawn takes queen,” Zen tells him.

Atri stares. “What the fuck.”

It’s all downhill from there.

Zen readies himself; pawn takes pawn, queen takes pawn –

Obi hesitates, gaze fixed on the board, and then picks up his pawn.

It’s not the right one.

“Taking pieces is good, right?” Obi asks, knocking over E5 with a bit more enthusiasm than pawn-taking-pawn deserves. “That’s the whole game?”

“Less pieces for your opponent is better, yes,” he says, strained, as he pushes up D5 a single square.

Obi stares for a long time at the board. “I guess horses are good,” he says thoughtfully, developing his knight to F3. “That’s how it moves right? It’s been a long time.”

“Yeah,” he says faintly, “and they’re called knights.”

Knights, right,” Obi laughs. “Always did like them. Never move where you expect them to.” He grins. “And I like to keep people on their toes.”

Atri never gets good at chess.

“It’s stupid,” he grumbles, “just some stupid rich kid game.”

“Well, you do go to a stupid rich kid school,” Zen laughs, rummaging through his gym locker. There’s deodorant here somewhere. “You’ll have to eventually get used to stupid rich kid things.”

“Like squash?” Atri pulls a face. “You guys even have a competitive golf team. You’re parodies of yourselves.”

“Someone’s trying to start up a quidditch league too.”

“See?” He steps out from behind his locker. “Are you guys allergic to football? Not even a lacrosse team?”

“You’re so bent on getting crushed.” Zen reaches out, ruffles his hair. “You’re smaller than me, how do you think that you’ll –“

Atri ducks under his arm, dodging close, and –

And his face is right in front of his, gaze dropped to his lips.

“What can I say?” he murmurs, leaning one arm above him.

Their lips meet for one brief, glorious second, and then he’s arm’s length away, grinning. “I keep people on their toes.”

“I’m not Mitsuhide,” Obi says, watching him contemplate his next move. “That’s what the problem is.”

“What do you mean by that.”

“I’m not your faithful canine companion,” he explains, gaze trained on him warily. “You think I could hurt her. Or something.”

“No, of course not.” Obi’s rough around the edges, sure, but he’s downright soft with Shirayuki. He’d just as soon hurt Ryuu as her. “You’d never.”

Obi hums, unconvinced.

Zen doesn’t know what to say, so he settles for the wrong thing. “And Mitsuhide isn’t – he’s loyal.”

“Ah,” Obi sighs with a grin that looks more like grit teeth. “Right. That’d be it.”

“T-there’s a mistake,” Zen stutters, the pictures splayed out in front of him. “There’s no way Atri…”

Izana is infuriatingly calm, hands folded on the table. “Are you sure?”

Zen knows all too well how that sentence should end, how his brother holds back, because that’s not what the evidence says.

It’s just – it can’t be. What between them, it was – good. Perfect. Secret.

Atri had never complained, had always been the one to say to keep it on down low – he’s the new kid after all, and Zen may have nine zeroes in his bank account but they know that won’t protect him either, not from rumors and not from –

From the press.

There’s one of them holding hands – come on, Atri had said, no one is looking – and another of them tangled up together on the lawn, head in their books, not salacious until paired with the last and – and –

(I just want to be brave for once, Atri breathes against his lips. And pretend it wouldn’t matter if anyone was watching.

Me too, Zen sighs as he pulls him closer, me too.)

“I wish you had told me,” Izana says, so much softer.

It’s not what he wants. “So you could cover it up? Find me a nice girlfriend to –”

“No.” He doesn’t raise his voice, but the force makes Zen pause, makes him see the strain on his brother’s face. “There were better ways to present this, things we could have controlled, but I –” his gaze meets his, unwavering – “would never make you hide.”

Heat makes his eyes sting, and Zen drags his gaze away.

Izana sits back, crossing his legs at the knee. “I hear one of Luigis’s sons is gay. I can ask him –”

“It’s not –” Zen honestly would rather die than talk about any of this – “I’m not – I like both. Or really just – I like girls, but…it didn’t matter with Atri. I just liked him.”

Izana raises a brow. “So if Zac Efron –”

“That’s not a fair question, and you know it,” Zen huffs. “Who doesn’t like Zac Efron?”

“Not interested.”

The words echo inside the locker room, and Zen stills, his hand still on the shower knob.

“Come on, you’re Wisteria’s friend, aren’t you?” a voice wheedles. “I just need a sound clip. For a show. You can talk him up.”

“How about ‘fuck you, I said no.’” Obi’s voice is hard, not even like it was at the frat, but something more dangerous. “That sounds really catchy. Bet your viewers will love it.”

The silence is hostile, angry. “You know, there’s rumors he had a boyfriend, back at prep school. Wisteria pushed it down, of course, but you hear things when you keep your ear to the ground.”

“Great. You can get some Adobe Digital-quality on my footsteps walking away, then.”

“We’ll pay, you know.” There’s a rustle, like someone’s leaning close. “We know Wisteria’s set up some…scholarship for you, but we can –”

“Pay for my next cup of dippin’ dots? Don’t think so.” He can practically hear the grin Obi’s giving. “How about you clear out before you get real on my nerves?”

It’s a disaster. The closest thing to a route.

He’s down to his king and a bishop, chasing Obi’s king and pawn around the board. He’ll get it, he thinks, it’s just – time.

And then Obi moves his pawn.

“Trade for queen,” he says. “That puts you in check, right?”

Zen stares. They’ll be chasing each other forever and –

“You win,” he says, firmly.

Obi stares at the board. “No, you’re not –”

“I’m not going to beat you like this,” Zen tells him. “We might come to a draw, but – you played better.”

“I…” Obi can’t stop staring, like he never saw this outcome. “I didn’t…”

“I hope you like Connecticut,” Zen tells him with a grin, texting three letters to his brother. “I hear their quahogs suck.”

Chapter Text

“You try anything, and I stab you in the intestines,” Obi tells Tall, Pale, and Jacked, flashing the guy’s knife at him over the center console. It’s not holding a knife to his ribs, but the SUV this guy drives isn’t exactly bodily-threat friendly. “I just passed Anatomy and Phys, so I can tell you, it will fucking suck. Sepsis will be a real problem.”

“I’m aware,” he grunts, pulling off the park’s service road. “You know if you do that, I’ll lose control of the car. We’ll crash. Won’t be pretty.”

“A big guy like you, slowed down by a little stabbing?” He eyes the scar running thickly down one side of the man’s face. “I don’t believe it.”

“You telling me you’re happy risking this thing getting wrapped around a tree?” His gaze cuts to him as they shift through traffic. “Passenger side always gets it the worst. Don’t usually walk away from things like that.”

“Don’t you worry about me, big guy.” He snaps the strap across his chest. “I’m wearing my seat belt.”

Seal Team Six gives him a dubious look. “That seat belt gonna protect your legs?”

“I’ve seen the commercials for Escalades.” Obi jerks a thumb towards the dash. “Steel safety cage. We’ll be snug as bugs.”

That gets a grunt out of him. Obi settles back, hooking his hands behind his head. Damn, these seats are plush. To think he chose to go to school when rent-a-thug has so much more swag.

Big boy’s hands flex on the wheel. Obi makes a show of not paying attention; does one of those big-dick sprawls in the passenger seat, eyes shuttering enough that he’s just peeping out through his eyelashes. Behind his head, his knuckles turn white.

Mister Evasive Maneuvers jerks the wheel, starting a controlled spin out.

He only gets about a quarter turn. Four inches of well-honed steel against his neck really dampens his enthusiasm over it.

“Uh-uh,” Obi scolds, wagging a finger. “None of that, unless you want me to help you get rid of that five o’clock shadow.”

He’s a bit rusty with knives; blood ekes over the edge of the blade, jerking across the steel like it’s afraid someone will see it out of place. Obi clucks disappointed as he pulls the knife away. Too easy to forget how thin that skin over the jugular is.

“I hope you understand the situation better, Joe,” he adds, secreting the knife away.

The guy watches him, wary for once. “Yeah,” he says, too even, “I think I get it now.”

Rainbox Six isn’t much of a talker, but to be fair Obi isn’t feeling all that loquacious either.

“Not gonna ask why we were gonna take her?” The man finally grunts as the park at the marina.

“Not my problem right now.” He hangs close, trying to remind Jason Bourne here that he’s not free yet, that he’s still one bad decision away from a fatal prognosis. “After all, if someone just up and kidnapped someone from you, right under your noses, that makes you – what? The smallest dicks in the locker room?”

“Fuck you.”

“The feeling’s mutual.”

He honestly doesn’t expect a house boat.

“What the fuck is this?” he mutters, picking his way up the gangplank. “Some weird ass joke?”


Obi doesn’t jump, instead swiveling his neck to get a better look at the man sitting on what loosely could be called a porch. It’s not easy; he’s deep in the shade of an awning, shadows clinging to him like a tactical suit, even though it’s a crisp November day.

He leans forward, letting the sun hit the whole of his face. “At least, in some kind of way.”

The man doesn’t look like he’s dangerous, not at first glance; he looks like he’s someone’s dad, knitted up in a snug-looking sweater and some corduroy, reading glasses perched on his nose as he skims the sports section. But there’s something about the way he moves when he folds his specs up, slipping them into their soft leather case; something about the clean, efficient movements of his hands and the good posture says military.

From the look of this outfit, ex-military.

“Don’t get too ansty now,” he says, leaning over his knees. “I told the snipers to stand down.”

He frowns. “Is that supposed to be funny?”

“I don’t know, boy,” he says with a killer’s smile. “Is it?”

The man doesn’t give him time to answer. “From what Itoya says, the Claw got a hold of Kazuki and your girl.”

Obi’s gaze darts to his side. So that’s big boy’s name. Itoya.

“Knowing them, they’ve probably been tracking Kazuki since he touched down.” The old man’s face stays calm, but something in his eyes flares as he speaks. “Probably been waiting to get him back, all this time.”

He turns to one of the men up at the top of the gangplank, every inch a commander. “Get some boots on the ground, and I want some eyes too. Not possible they didn’t hit a traffic camera in this town.” He cuts a glance to Obi, giving him a lackadaisical shrug. “Connecticut. What a cesspool.”

“Sir!” The men move out, already on phones and barking orders. Itoya doesn’t move.

“What about you, Commander?”

The man hauls himself to his feet with a groan. “There’s a place I want to check. You’ll come with me.”

“Yes, sir.”

“How about you, Fighter?” The Commander lifts his eyebrows, running an assessing gaze over Obi. “Itoya told me about you, after that first scuffle. Gonna run back and report us to the dean?”

The question’s a joke, made to sound ridiculous, but Obi knows how to read between the lines. They want to know if he’s going to bring the cops in. Hell, if he’ll bring Shenazard in, along with all his corporate money and private bodyguards.

“I can’t take my eyes off you, can I?” he growls. He’s not leaving anyone alone with Doc, not after this. Someone will take her again over his dead body.

The Commander gives him a thoughtful look. “Good. You can ride in the back.”

Chapter Text

The door rattles open, panels clinking like the world’s cheapest garage door, and –

And this must be what people opening tombs feel like, because, damn, that is some stale air.

“Climate controlled my ass,” Obi coughs as he steps inside. “How long ago did you last open this thing?”

Doc hesitates. “Three months ago.”

“Well, it feels like –” the words shrivel on his tongue as he glances back at her, every line of her rigid and hunched, like a deer that knows it’s about to get mowed down by an eighteen-wheeler – “we’re about to invoke a mummy’s curse.”

Cool, great. Real sensitive. Just missing his Miss Congeniality award for that one. God, he should just stick to what he’s good at – lifting things and shutting up.

Okay, well, he probably needs to get better on that last one, but – whatever.

“Well…” Her voice is muffled behind the cowl of his hoodie, and that’s – that’s also a problem. A bigger one now, but it’s not anything he can solve. Not without fucking up their relationship, and her and Chief’s relationship, and his and Chief’s relationship, and probably just – everyone he’s every known or come to care about in the last three months.

Take home: keep it in your fucking pants, Obi.

She huffs, ducking further underneath the fabric. “There are, you know, remains in here.”

He bobbles the box he’s holding. What.

“There’s what?”

“That’s, um…” She coughs, pink peeking over the cowl. “That’s sort of what I’m here for.”

He can do this. He can play it cool. This is definitely not the first time he’s been in the room with a dead person. Probably. “Oh. Great!”

“I mean, it’s just – just my grandfathers ashes!” she’s quick to clarify. “And my – my grandmother’s. I just…I didn’t know what to do with them after – after everything. So I thought I’d just…keep them here. Until I do.”

“Oh.” He shoves his hands into his pockets, enthusiasm for this whole clean-out thing waning sharply. Not that he’s not going to do it – god, he’s too stupid for her not to – but you’re supposed to talk about the skeletons in your closet before you ask your friends to help you clean it. “So you…know what you’re doing now?”

“No,” she admits softly, shoulders rounding. “But it doesn’t feel right to leave them here. Not when I’m not really sure….”

If I’ll ever come back. She doesn’t need to say the words, not when every line of them is written on her face.

“Right,” he says, turning back to the mess. “So, what are we looking for? Urns? Decorative vases? Sand art? Shoe boxes? Give me some help here, Doc.”

“Um.” If anything, she turns more red. “A peanut butter jar.”

That holds him up. “A what?”

“Not like – not jiffy or anything!”

“Of course not, Doc,” he grumbles, picking up a stack of shoe boxes. “Only the freshest, most cruelty-free peanut butter jar for Pops, sure.”

“No, I mean –” Her hands fist on her hips, cheeks blown out. He really needs to stop finding that so cute. “It’s a tin. A – an antique. My grandfather never wanted us to spend money on him, and would say, just cremate me and bury me in a peanut butter tin, that’s all I need.” Her shoulders hunch. “I didn’t – I didn’t know what else to do.”

“Hey.” He doesn’t know he’s reaching for until cotton’s already under his palm, until he feels the birdlike brittleness of bone under his fingers. She really needs to eat more. “You did your best. That’s all you can do.”

She looks up at him, eyes watery, and nods.

“Right.” He gives her a squeeze before he lets go, because he’s a glutton for punishment. “Peanut butter tin. And your grandma?”

“An – an urn? It’s nice.” Her hands flutter, flustered, at the stack of cardboard. “I think I put it in the same box?”

“Cool.” He nods. “Let’s get started.”


He cranes his head up, blinking away the dust swirling in the air. “What’s up, did you find them?”

“No,” she says, frozen over a shoe box. “I just – I didn’t realize I had packed these away.”

He gets up, knees creaking. God, he’s really getting out of shape with all this fat living at the frat. “What is it?”

“My sand dollar collection.”

She barely glances up at him as he steps up beside her, just leans back. Her shoulder brushes against his sternum, and over the must of the unit, he can smell the lavender of her shampoo. Oh, he is just – in trouble. With all this.

“We lived an hour and half from the ocean in any direction,” Doc tells him, sand dollars clinking as she shuffles through the box. “So we never got to go to them that often. But when we did, we’d always find a sand dollar and bring it back. Like a lucky charm.”

She pulls one out – small, the side of the center of her palm – and he – he –

He can’t breathe.

“This one’s from Virginia Beach,” she says, distantly. “Isn’t that where you said you were from?”

Fuck. Fuck.

Doc looks up at him, smiling, and – and –

He knows her.

He’s nine. Obi remembers that, if not a lot else. Nine is when his whole world fell apart.

It’s complicated when your mom dies. There’s – feelings, and funerals, and well-wishers, and –

And it’s even worse when you’re a kid, and it’s your last lifeline out of foster care.

He’d known she wouldn’t get better; at the age of six he’d already learned words it would take a lifetime for other people to understand – chemo, radiation, overdue, metastasize, fatal, palliative, opiate – but still, still

He was young enough to believe in miracles. To maybe even believe in a dad that showed up at the eleventh hour, with soup and sandwiches and clean clothes, that said the magic words, I’ve been looking for you.

It was so much easier to hope for a fairy tale, to hope that maybe he was Rapunzel and his mom was an evil witch, raising him in a tower. That one day someone would come and say – and say –

“Do you mind moving over?”

He blinks, staring into the biggest, greenest eyes he’s ever seen. “What.”

“You’re taking up the bench,” the girl pipes. For one, ridiculous moment, he thinks she looks like a muppet – tiny, pink, with a bobbed haystack of unbelievable red for hair, eyes taking up half her face. Like Zoe, or maybe Prairie Dawn, just – red. “I just wanna sit down.”

“Oh.” He cranes his neck around, looking at all the other empty benches, and just – scooches. “Sure.”

She beams up at him, so bright he almost needs to squint to look at her. Instead, he looks away. “Thanks! Did you get lost too?”

That makes him stare at her, this tiny thing with knobby knees and freckles just…everywhere. He’s not really good at guessing ages, but she can’t be over five. Six, at most. “Something like that.”

It takes him a good minute to realize she’s waiting for him to clarify, that this is her bid for conversation.

He jerks his head across the street. “You see that building over there?”

She squints. “Uh-huh. It’s big.”

“Right.” He’d thought that too, when he’d first saw it. It wasn’t a big skyscraper, not like some of the other ones that surround it, but – it’s got that feeling of bigness. Of being a place where people have their lives decided. “Well, the grown-ups in there are trying to decide what to do with me. And apparently it’s not good for me to know, so I’m out here.”

“Ohhh.” She nods sagely. “Did your momma die too?”

He mouth works, and the only thing that comes out is, “Too?”

She nods. “My momma died a while ago. And they couldn’t find Daddy, and I had to go stay with some people for a few weeks.”

He licks his lips, hands clenched on his lap. “Well, I’ve been with some different people for a few years. All over the place. I’m used to it.”

The girl nods, like there’s no difference. “I didn’t like it. They were nice, but I wanted my momma. And then my grandparents came!”

“You knew them, though?” he says, adrift. It’s like he’s in some alternate reality where, like, the Power Rangers are in the ocean instead of in space, and adorable muppet-girls just pop out of nowhere in parks.  “Your grandparents?”

She shook her head. “They said they’d seen me when I was little, but I didn’t remember them. Not really.”

“That must have been scary,” he offers, not sure why. She’s just so tiny.

“A little,” she admits. “But I’m happy now! We went to the beach yesterday!”

“Oh,” he manages. “Wow.”

“Yeah, we always find sand dollars, and I collect them!” She digs into her pockets, pulling out tan little discs. “I found two this time!” She shoots him a shy look from the corner of her eyes. “Would you like one?”

“Oh!” The girl holds one out, expectant. “No, I would just – I’d break it.”

“It’s fine,” she tells him. “It’s for you. You can break it if it’s yours.”

His hand shakes as he takes it. Something happens in his chest too, but it aches, and he doesn’t want to think about it. “Thanks.”

“Now we both have one from Virginia Beach!” She leans in with a grin. “I bet that means something good will happen to us there!”

He laughs. “I’m not –”

“Shirayuki?” a voice calls frantically. “Shirayuki!”

She grimaces. “I better get going. Good luck!”

“Thanks,” he murmurs, watching her scamper off to an older couple. Her grandparents, probably. They look relieved to see her, worried too, and –


His hand grips the dollar hard, its edges cutting into his fingers. “I’ll need it.”

“Obi?” Doc’s hand brushes his, startling him. He can still feel the sand dollar in his hand, fingers aching where it had dug in. He knows her. He knows her. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah!” he coughs, turning so he can’t – can’t look at her. Doesn’t give away everything with his dumb face. “I’m just – I’m good. Let’s keep looking.”

Chapter Text

Shirayuki stands in the snow outside the chapter house, just her boots and a shawl around her shoulders to keep out the chill, when Zen presses a kiss to her mouth. It’s quick, just a dry brush of his soft lips over her her chapped ones, but heat streaks through her, straight down to her toes.

“Sorry,” he says against her mouth. “I wish I had more time.”

Not for the first time, her ninetieth-percentile vocabulary fails her, and she just lets out a squeak. Oh, what she wouldn’t give to be even the slightest bit experienced in things like this.

He steps back from her. “I know that we – I mean, the jet is waiting for me on the runway. Me and Kiki. So I can’t really – this wasn’t really –” He flushes, smiling helplessly. “Sorry.”

She wants to tell him to stay, but she knows what it would look like now; she knows he would think it’s because of that; that she wants another taste of what they did at the river, months ago. But it’s not that, she doesn’t – she likes this all just fine, but what she really wants, what she needs, is – is –

She doesn’t want to be alone. Not tonight. Not today. She’s never been before, and if she is now, if this is the first time –

“Have a nice flight,” she tells him instead, hoping her smile seems real, that he doesn’t see how fragile it feels. “I hope the Alps are nice.”

She’s not the girl who needs to be held up. She’s got a spine all her own, and she – she doesn’t need to forget just because he would make it easy.

He squeezes her hand. “Merry Christmas, Shirayuki.”

“Yeah.” Her chest hurts, not from the cold. “Merry Christmas, Zen.”

She wakes up just as dawn filters through her windows, cutting through the thin material of her blinds. It seems cruel that today the sun shines; she doesn’t want to wake up, she doesn’t want to feel sunny. She wants to wrap herself in her blankets and sleep through to dusk when the radio stops playing Christmas songs, and the TV stops advertising Christmas specials.

This used to be her favorite holiday, the one she’d scrimp and save for; she’d stay up late wrapping gifts, making her own tags, wrapping them just so. She’d watch It’s a Wonderful Life until her eyes blurred, and then flop into bed between her grandparents, tucked tight between them, the way she was in her earliest memories.

She doesn’t want to wake up alone. If she wraps herself tight enough, maybe she can convince herself the warmth isn’t her own trapped in the blankets, but instead from either side of her.

If she buries her head in the pillow, it’s like she’s not even crying.

A soft rap at her door startles her out of sleep.

She blinks up at the ceiling. She doesn’t even remember falling back asleep, doesn’t remember tipping into oblivion, but her clock reads sometime after ten and that is definitely not four a.m.

“Are you decent?” Obi’s voice is loud and brash, even through the door, just like always. “Not that it would stop me, but I want to gauge my excitement.”

“Oh, um?” She glances down, peeling away her comforter to take in her t-shirt and flannel pants. Nothing’s visible that shouldn’t be. “Yeah, come on in.”

The door bumps and wibbles – it’s a little sticky, Shirayuki tries not to think of why – but it eventually shivers open, letting Obi shuffle through. He has two plates balanced on his arm, just like a server in a fancy restaurant; the smell wafting from the doorway is divine.

“Ohhh, Doc,” he croons, playing at disappointment, his eyes flicking over her mussed hair, taking in her slightly askew pajamas. “I was really hoping for –”

“Is that food?” she asks, stomach clenching with a forceful reminder of how hungry she is.

His grin softens, a shadow of something self-deprecating haunting his smile before his lips spread wide and he proudly displays his wares. “It’s breakfast.”

The smell of cinnamon and vanilla is delightfully overpowering, her tummy growling as he sets a cinnamon bun the size of her face on her lap. He’s clearly spent time on presentation; there’s fruit and whipped cream and an icing drizzle, like something she’d see at an expensive brunch.

“Oh, wow, Obi,” she breathes, hardly daring to touch it. “This looks amazing.”

“It tastes amazing too,” he promises. “I, uh…taste-tested one of them before I came up.”

She stares at him, wide-eyed. “And you’re going to have another? These are huge!”

He grins at that, tossing her a wink. “I’m a growing boy, Doc.”

Shirayuki hasn’t known Obi long in a temporal sense, but after Tanbarun, she thinks she knows him as well as he’ll let anyone know him, and – and there is just no way to answer him without him making a dick joke. She shakes her head, settling for pulling a fluffy piece of cinnamon bun off her plate and putting it in her mouth, and –

“Oh, Obi,” she moans, “that’s amazing.”

His hand is frozen halfway to his mouth, jaw hanging agape, and she swears he’s gone a shade darker than normal.

“I, um,” he starts, his gold eyes fixed on her as she happily gulps down more of the breakfast he’s made. “Thanks. My mom used to make them.”

Her whole body stutters. Obi had never mentioned his parents, or – or really anything about himself that wasn’t in regards to his (self-proclaimed) perfect physique.

“O-oh.” She slips a berry between her teeth to give her a few seconds to think, to come up with anything to say.

“Well, eat up, Doc,” he says brightly into the strange silence. “Because the hits keep coming today.”

She blinks. “Oh, really? What –?”

“Uh-uh.” He waggles a finger with a wink. “Don’t ruin the surprise.”

Shirayuki stares down the hill, following the slope to where it abruptly drops three feet into a parking lot.

“But we don’t even have a sled,” she protests, though she wishes it wasn’t the case. The hill’s right outside her old dorm, and over the last few weeks she’s watched other kids race down it on tubes and sleds and a dozen other, less-safety approved snow vehicles and it – it looks fun. They had a big hill back home, and she would – she would –

“Oh, don’t we?” Obi asks, so arch, before opening the rear hatch of his car and pulling out two deep red trays.

She stares, knowing exactly where he would have procured his prizes. “Did you steal these from the DC?”

“Is it really stealing if it’s built into your tuition?” he asks guilelessly, handing her one.


“All I’m saying is that one of these is worth the two plates I won’t pilfer.” He winks, incorrigible as always. “Just getting my money’s worth.”

She calls out weakly, “You shouldn’t steal any dinnerware,” before following after him into the snow.

Like all good sledding hills, this one is treacherous. There’s the good side, where it just goes down and down forever, gently sloping towards the lower part of the campus, far longer than the momentum of an adult on a tray can get you. And then, there’s the other side.”

“I think I saw at least ten people get concussed,” Shirayuki tells him. “It snowed one weekend.”

“Then make sure you stay on the safe side,” he shoots back, wiggling on his tray. “I’m going to go down first; it’s hard if you don’t get a good track going.”

Her heart’s in her throat as she watches him, but the slope is gentle, and if there’s one thing that Obi knows, it’s how to control his body. He skirts close to where the hill suddenly drops, but a deft twist sets him back on course, his momentum petering out somewhere halfway down.

He scrambles up, taking a hard look at his handiwork, and shouts up. “Okay, I think I’ll make a, uh, less dangerous path for you.”

Both layers of her tights are nearly soaked through, and her legs are dying from hiking what seems to be a quarter mile at least uphill through knee-deep drifts. Her cheeks hurt as well; she’s not sure she’s smiled so much in months.

Well, the last few at least.

“Once more?” Obi asks, face flushed with exertion, mouth split wide in a grin, and –

And she’s never had a friend like him. She’s known him for a little over two months, but already it seems like forever. In a good way.

Well, most of the time.

“Yeah, okay,” she laughs, leaning into his side. His arm goes around her shoulders to steady her, and it’s easy being with him. Safe. “Once more.”

The trays make the snow slick, and they’ve already been down the hill a dozen times, winding tracks through each other. They had a run of two where they’d dared each other – stupidly – to come as close to the drop as they could, and more than once they’ve ended up tearing down those tracks when they didn’t mean to, always having to bail before they fly off the edge and into the tree conveniently placed a jump away.

(Shirayuki can’t decide if that was poor planning, or whether Clarines considers those sorts of accidents thinning the herd. She can see Dean Haruka staring at that exact spot, glancing back up at the top of the hill, and thinking, that will solve a few problems before spring semester)

They set their trays close to each other, and she can tell by the glint in his eyes that he has no intention of playing fair, that this will be kicking and shoving all the way down. The second they set off, she cuts to the chase, swinging her hips so that her tray sets his askew, and he grabs hers to drag her along with.

They’re gaining momentum, even with the foul play, and it’s not until she shoves at him, knocking him onto one of their older tracks that she realizes how close to the edge they’ve come, how she’ll just narrowly miss an ugly jump, and – and –

Obi will not.

“Obi!” she barks out, but he’s too distracted, trying to slow her by setting her spinning, but he’s gaining speed, getting further away, and – and –

She doesn’t think, just launches herself at him, sending them both tumbling into the snow, their old tracks making it slippery and slick beneath them. They roll and roll, earth and sky going end-over-end, and all she can do is pull him close, shriek into the rough fabric of his parka, and –

They stop. She can feel where the snow ends at her back.

“Jesus Christ,” Obi hisses, hauling her over him, away from the edge. “What – what were you thinking?”

She splutters, pushing herself up to stare at his face, knees bracketing his hips. “You were going to go off the edge!”

Shirayuki,” he says, as if he’s running thin on his infinite patience. “I was just going to ditch.”

“H-how was I supposed to know that?” she snaps. “You’re from the South, aren’t you? You don’t have snow there!”

Virginia, Doc,” he sighs, eyes fixed on the sky above her, hands running at his forehead. “I’m from Virginia.”

His breath huffs over her lips, and that’s when she realizes she’s close to him, so close that she sees the veins of bronze running through the amber of his eyes and she – oh my –

She sits back on his hips, cheeks flushed.

Okay,” he says, a little too loud.”Great talk, but –”

His hips twist beneath her, and she tips with a yelp flat into the snow. He scrambles to he feet to loom over her, grinning. “Let’s head back now.”

The air is running full blast in the car, vents angled toward her lap as she tries to brush large clumps of snow from her tights. The fleece-lining kept her warm, but the snow sticks like burrs to the weave, and she’s left using her fingers to pick at a layer that looks like cracked, ashen earth each time her legs tense.

“Hey, you know, Doc” Obi drawls, leaning over the center console, “you’re my savior.”

He says the word in a little sing-song, and her mouth pulls flat in anticipation of whatever joke is coming next.

“That means you get a reward, doesn’t it?” His voice drops down into this low register that makes a shiver go down her spine.

“Don’t,” she protests weakly, cheeks flushing. She’s not sure what he’s getting at, but there’s a part of her that wants to know what is, a part saying do. “You wouldn’t have been anywhere near there if I hadn’t shoved you there.”

“No, don’t try to squirm out of this, Doc,” he laughs, turning his head back to the road as the light turns green. “I clearly owe you. I prefer if you ask for payment in se –”

Her hand claps over his mouth, and she tries to remain entirely serious. Her mouth twitches. She feels his own do the same under her palm. “Don’t even start.”


Obi disappears while she’s doing the dishes.

Shirayuki doesn’t notice, not at first. His phone is on the counter, playing music she’s never heard off one of his playlists. It’s so catchy she finds herself tapping her toes and bobbing her head along, mouthing the choruses when she picks up the rhythm. Her belly is full – she’s stuffed, honestly, packed to the gills with the dinner Obi spent the last two hours cooking, not letting her do anything more than chop vegetables and grate cheese. She’s freshly showered, warm, and in her comfiest clothes, and she’s just – content. The sort of bone-deep satisfaction she hasn’t felt since she stopped spending half her summers up a tree with just the birds and a book for company.

It’s the quiet that makes her aware he’s left. He usually hangs around while she washes; he likes to tease her when she’s elbow deep in soapy water, reminding her that they have a dishwasher for a reason. And she gets it, she does, but –

She likes doing them. It’s meditative. And, well – there’s something about having a home-cooked meal that makes her want to do them. Obi prepped and planned and made ravioli by hand, and –

And it’s a sign of gratitude to do it this way. To do it right.

She’s lifting a dish to dry when it’s plucked out of her hands, placed on the drying rack.

(They only have one because Obi convinced Zen that no move in is complete without a trip to Target – said tar-jay, of course, with only the smallest hint of his fabled accent coming out. They weren’t there for more than five minutes before Obi turned to him, face grave, and informed him it was their duty to accommodate her unfortunate eccentricities before dumping the fanciest dish rack into the cart)

Shirayuki glances up, the crown of her head whacking into his shoulder as she stares right into Obi’s amused smile.

“Hey.” Hid voice is hoarse; hers is a little too. They’d both had a little too much fun on the hill this afternoon. “I got something to show you.”

He hooks his pinky through hers, giving a gentle tug. Her toes curl on the tile floor. She shifts her weight, suddenly shy, gaze dropping to where their hands meet. “Ah…okay?”

“It’s for fun,” he tells her with a grin. “I promise.”

He tugs on her a bit harder, drawing her toward the common room by their interlocked fingers. It looks ridiculous, and she can’t help but giggle, clamping her lips around her teeth to smother them. He shoots her a curious look, but as soon as he catches a glimpse of her he’s laughing as well, shaking his head as he pulls her through the darkened archway.

Her eyes adjust, and her laughter dries up in her throat.

“You…” She turns to him, eyes wide. “You lit a fire?”

The chapter house has a huge fireplace – a big statement piece from back when the valley was the textile capital of Massachusetts, and this house owned by some big mill boss, long before it was gifted to the university. She’s been telling Zen they should light it since she first laid eyes on it; at home they’d just had a woodstove for when the winters got real cold, but this – this is the real deal. They could roast marshmallows over it, or pop corn in a kettle or something, anything but let the wondrous thing languish.

(Neither Kiki nor Zen seemed moved by the idea; Zen, confused, said, it’s just a fireplace.

Obi laughed when she told him later. Rich people really don’t know what they have)

Obi hasn’t dropped her hand, but with his one free one he rubs at his neck, flushing. “Ah, yeah.” He coughs. “I, um, got marshmallows too.”

He bobs his chin at the floor, and – and there’s a nest of flannel blankets, just like the ones her grandparents’ had thrown over the back of all their couches, had folded at the end of every bed; the same sort of soft plaid that lines her earlier memories, and she – she –

She does not sit so much as drop, her knees making a muffled thud as they hit the floor. Obi kneels beside her, wrapping a blanket around her shoulders, just like how Oma did –

“I miss my grandparents,” she tells him. Her eyes are fixed to where red and yellow lines meet on the flannel below her. “I didn’t want to be alone today.”

“I know.” He speak so softly it hardly sounds like him at all, like the brash boy who locked her out of the science building, who jumped into a river after her, who decked Itoya as he leaned out of a van. His hands are huge, swallowing her shoulders as he slowly rubs his hands over her arms. “That’s why you weren’t.”

He planned all this. Stores are closed today, and most were yesterday, but he’s had the making of a feast for every meal, scrupulously presented in the most down-home way he can. None of this was – was a coincidence.

“How did you know?” Her breath is little more than a gasp. “I hadn’t –”

“Well, I know about your grandparents.” An understatement; he helped her scatter their ashes. And dodge campus security after. “And i can do math, so…” He shrugs; she feels it against her back. “It’s shitty spending your first Christmas without your people.”

She stares. Of course he knows. He doesn’t talk much about his past, but kids don’t end up in foster care by having a big, happy, living family.

“I…” There aren’t words. “Thank you.”

He looks at her then, and he has this way of seeing her that makes her heart race, that makes her think the gold of his eyes is endless, that if she forgets to hold back she’ll fall into them forever –

“You don’t deserve that,” he tells her. “All the shittiness. So..”

He gestures to the nest around them, but she knows he means everything, all of it. “Merry Christmas, Doc.”

She reaches out, laying her hand over his. “Merry Christmas, Obi.”

Chapter Text

When Shirayuki first moves into the chapter house, she’s relieved to find that her room is next to Obi’s.

It doesn’t last.

It starts over break; it’s just them in the house, and she keeps waking up at odd hours, her heart racing until she realizes where she is, realizes this is her room now. It’s not – not temporary.

That’s when the moaning starts.

What’s honestly the worst is that she doesn’t even have time to remember that it’s just them in the house, but she still knows it’s him. There’s something in the timber of it that’s his, a sound certainly being torn from his throat and she –

She remembers asking Kiki what the worst part of living in the house was, and Kiki –

All the jacking off, she says without hesitation, not the slightest bit embarrassed. I can’t go ten steps without tripping over porn and furious wanking.

Shirayuki flips to the cool side of her pillow, trying to alleviate the heat in her cheeks. He can’t possibly – not knowing she’s right next door! But –

But he probably thinks she’s deep asleep. Which she should be.

It cuts out a few moments later, and she expects to hear him shuffling around – you know, cleaning up – but instead she hears the soft, lulling hum of his snore. Must have really knocked him out.

At least someone’s sleeping.

It happens almost every other night for a week, and there’s – there’s no good way to bring up like, hey, I’m glad your hand is working out for you, but if you could keep the sound of one hand clapping down

He looks haggard too, bruises lurking underneath his eyes when he comes down for breakfast. She almost wants to say something, because he has no right to look worn out when he’s the one interrupting her sleep three times a week, but –

Again, not exactly the easiest topic to broach.

Shirayuki wakes up, heart pounding, and this time it’s not moans but shouts that greet her, and it’s not – not pleasurable ones, that’s for sure. She rolls out of bed, already out of her room and at the threshold of his before she stops to think about what she’s doing.

She’s never been in there before. She’s not even sure anyone’s been in there since he moved in.

“Obi!” she yells, banging her fist on the door. “Obi, are you alright?”

The shouting cuts off with a sudden thump, followed by a faint noise, like a groan, before the door swings open.

He leans casually against the jamb, arms crossed over his chest. “Hey, Doc. What’s a girl like you doing up at a time like this?”

Words trip on her tongue; he’s just in boxers, muscular thighs stretching the fabric, a dark trail of hair leading from the dip of his bellybutton to the elastic of his waistband, but –

But what she notices are the scars, tight and shiny over the cut of his muscles, a long, angry pink one cutting diagonal over his collarbone. She doesn’t know much anatomy, not yet, but she knows enough to know it could have killed him.

Obi doesn’t sleep well, Kiki told her once, right before she left for vacation. Just fyi.

Yeah, she just bets he doesn’t.

“Do you have night terrors?” she blurts out, and his strange eyes go wide.

“I, um.” One of his hands grips at his shoulder, right above a star-shaped scar. “Sometimes.”

She remembers the moans. “Sleep paralysis too, right?”

His jaw clenches. “A bit,” he says finally. “If I get on my back, I guess.”

“Oh.” Great job, now what does she say? “Cool.”

His eyes narrow just slightly, like he’s sure he’s misunderstood her, and – of course, she just said it was cool he had sleep paralysis, what was she even –

“Hey,” he says, sucking in a breath. “It’s gonna be a while before I can fall asleep again. I was thinking of watching some stuff. If you wanted to you know –” He scrubs a hand over the back of his head with an almost shy grin. “If you weren’t going to go back to bed right away.”

“Oh, um.” He steps aside, and she realizes – he’s inviting her in. “Yeah, it always takes me a while to get tired.”

She steps across the threshold, chancing a glance up at his face. He’s smiling. “What were you watching?”

He blinks, like he’s surprised she’s still there. “Uh, ever heard of Gintama, Doc?”

“Is that some kind of foreign film?”

His mouth spreads wide. “Oh, something like that.”

Penile break?” she asks, her head resting on his arm.

“C’mon, Doc, didn’t you know?” She can feel his chest vibrating against her cheek. “It’s all the rage in snow boarding.”

Chapter Text

Shirayuki wakes up in Obi’s bed, alone.

It’s not a surprise; its the fourth night out of six that she’s heard him whimper through the walls, and now that she knows it isn’t – that it’s not furious wanking, she finds she can’t quite bring herself to let him suffer it alone. It’s not that she – that he even talks about it or anything, not after that first night, but she’ll knock on his door, mention that she’s having trouble falling asleep, and then three episodes of Gintama later she’s out like a light.

It’s honestly the best sleep she’s gotten in six months.

She doesn’t hear him puttering around on the first floor – odd, since usually he raids the kitchen for breakfast first thing – so she crawls out from under the covers, snatching his hoodie off the back of his chair before padding down the stairs.

A glance down the hallway tells her what she already knows: the kitchen is empty. She hears the faint whistle of the electric kettle and shuffles out anyway, letting two mugs steep as she tries to locate her wayward frat brother.

She doesn’t have to go far; it’s freezing in the valley now, but there he is, sitting out on the porch swing with nothing but sweats and a thermal shirt. There’s still three inches of snow on the railing, but he’s out there like it’s a balmy day in June.

Slipping into her thickest, fuzziest slippers, she steps out, a mug in each hand.

“Hey,” she ventures, holding out the mug to him. “Good morning.”

“Hi, Doc.” His eyebrows raise when she takes a seat next to him, but he slows his rock so she can get settled. She tugs her knees up against her chest, wrapping both her hands around her mug. “It that my…?”

She waits to see if he plans to finish the sentence, but he doesn’t, instead sipping at his tea. She’d give it back, if he asked but – it’s warm. And it smells…really nice. Like sandalwood and spice. She wonders if that’s fabric softener or deodorant. There’s no way a person smells like sandalwood naturally.

They settle into a companionable silence, but he tugs at his shoulder – a gesture she’s coming to understand the layers of more and more – and she decides it’s better to just rip off the band aid. “Do you want me to ask?”

He doesn’t insult her by asking about what. “Do you want to know?”

Steam curls up from the mug in her hands, creating whirls and curlicues in the air. “I don’t want to know anything you’re not comfortable with. But…” She bites her lip. “I don’t want you to not talk to me, just because stuff is…unpleasant.”

He grunts; she thinks that might be agreement.

“You know I’m older, right?”

Of course she does. Like he doesn’t remind Zen every three seconds that he’s his esteemed elder. “Well, I…didn’t go to college at eighteen like everyone else did.”

“So why’d you do it now?”

He blinks. “You aren’t going to ask what I was doing between now and then?”

She shrugs. “I mean, I’m curious, sure. But it just seems like…” She doesn’t know how to put it into words. “It just seems like that’s not really the story. I mean, it is, it’s part of you, but – whatever you did, whoever you were then…”

She lifts her gaze up to his, feels that same frisson she felt the first time. “It’s not who you are now. You’re…whoever made the decision they wanted to come here.”

“Oh,” he says after a long moment. He clears his throat. The cold must be getting to him, because she sees a pale flush high across his cheekbones. “I see.”

Shirayuki waits, and her patience is rewarded and he haltingly begins to speak.

“I…fought a lot. My whole life.” He stares down at his mug, serious. “There was a time where things got good. Real good. And I don’t think…I don’t think I was ready for that. So I went and did what I thought I was good at.”

“So you fought…for money?”

He nods, his mouth parting in a humorless grin. “Yeah. For a few years. It pays well enough, if you don’t have any habits you needed to keep. I thought I’d do it until I couldn’t anymore.”

She nods. “And then you changed your mind?”

“No, I just…did something stupid. Really stupid.” His fingers itch at the center of his chest. “I got…really hurt. And I had a good long time to think about where I was at.”

“Obi…” She reaches out, folding his hand in hers. “I’m really glad you did.”

He blinks.

“I mean, not that you got injured,” she amends. “But that you, you know, chose to do something different. It’s not easy.”

He grins, tilts his head, staring down at their entwined fingers “I guess out of everyone, you would know.”

She laughs. “Yeah, I guess. I’m just….” She squeezes his fingers. “I’m just glad you realized you had more to offer than punishing yourself for money.”

“I…” He squeezes back, his voice tight. “Yeah, I’m glad I figured that out too.”

Chapter Text

The winter air feels like relief on Mitsuhide’s skin, cooling the heat clinging to him even beneath his parka. It lasts until he’s in sight of the chapter house, where it finally settles into his overworked muscles, making his quads feel heavy and his delts just – fried. Can muscles be fried?

Who knows? Not him.

(Probably Shirayuki)

He spots Shirayuki as he comes closer; a dark, puffy figure lingering on the lawn, knee deep in snow, chin canted up towards the stars. For a moment he stops, appreciating the sight. She’s a little thing, full of vim and vigor and mulish stubbornness; the perfect match for Zen, if only because she keeps both her feet on the ground even as she looks forward. He needs someone to steady him, to focus him, and Shirayuki does it like it’s as easy as breathing.

Too bad Izana doesn’t like her.

Mitsuhide grimaces. He’ll come around.


She must hear him coming; her eyelashes flutter, and her gaze drops slightly to meet his. “Mitsuhide! How was practice?”

“Good! Though I don’t think I’ll be lifting anything for the next few days.” She laughed, and he glanced up at the sky above them, trying to guess at her interest. “What are you doing out here, anyway? It’s freezing.”

Her cheeks flush. “Oh, NASA said on twitter that tonight you can see the aurora borealis from our latitude, so…”

She lets the implication linger, and Mistuhide can’t help but smile. Shirayuki is a pragmatic soul, but it seems Zen’s flair for the romantic can happily fit alongside her rational mind so long as they meet in the middle.

“That sounds nice,” he tells her. “I’m sure Zen –”

“Alright, Doc, I have the liquid heating ele –” Obi hauls up short on the porch with a steaming mug in each hand, seeing Mitsuhide on the walk. “Oh, hey, Big Guy! I think you’re the last one in. You mind if we shut off the light?”

“It’s to see better,” Shirayuki explains. “We’re sort of on the edge of it.”

“Uh.” He blinks, looking between her hopeful eyes and Obi’s quirked eyebrow. This is…not exactly what he imagined when she said us. “Yeah. I don’t see why not?”

“Great!” The yard goes dark, and Obi trudges through the snow to hold out a mug to her – it has some joke about pipettes on it that Mitsuhide just does not get. “Here take this one.”

“Did you do something to it?” She stares dubiously at the whipped-cream-topped cup, taking a swipe of it off to reveal a marshmallow bobbing underneath. “Tastes normal,” she informs him around her finger, taking the mug from him.

Obi stills, only for a moment, before his mouth stretches into its customary grin. “Oh, Doc, I wouldn’t do anything to yours.” He waggles his eyebrows. “But mine is cocoa plus.”

Shirayuki stares at him quizzically. “Plus? How can you improve on cocoa?”

“By making it mocha.” He leans toward Mistuhide, hand covering one side of his mouth, and loudly whispers, “And adding Amaretto.”

Shirayuki slaps him on the arm; he hardly flinches. “Obi!”

“What can I say?” he drawls with a shrug. “I like a cocoa with a little bit of experience.”

“I’ll just…” Mitushide gestures to the porch. “Leave you both to it?”

Shirayuki’s already lost interest in terrestrial things, her eyes narrowed up at the night sky. Obi gives him a nod of acknowledgement before saying, “Oh yeah, by the way, Kiki’s on the phone.”

It’s a strange piece of trivia to leave him with, but Obi gives it with a meaningful amount of gravitas, his eyes slipping pointedly to the front door. “Just eff-why-eye,” he adds, and it sounds like a warning.

He knows why the second he steps in the door.

Dad,” he hears, followed by a frustrated huff. “Father, if you’d just –”

Mitsuhide grimaces, peeking around the arch to the living room. Kiki glances up from where she’s pacing, and he’s pierced by how helpless she looks. Her hair’s breaking free from the tight turns of her ponytail, and the furrows along her scalp tell him she’s run her free hand through it at least once, leaving her looking much less like the Kiki-with-hospital-corners he knows.

“I you’d just give me a minute to –” Her mouth twists as she settles back on her heels, and if he didn’t know her so well she would look calm, only slightly put out. As it is, he can tell she’s two seconds from tearing out a chunk of hair.

“Yes, Father,” she starts, words clipped. “I know I’m suppose to run –”

Mitsuhide flutters his hands wildly, trying to communicate, are you okay? as well as should I stay? and I need a shower. Kiki shakes her head, waving him on. He’s never good at picking apart her words, but he speaks her body language fluently: this won’t take long, you probably smell.

He hesitates, even as she turns her back to him, but she’s gone monosyllabic now, trying to deflect her father’s lectures with varying sounds of derision and agreement. Mitsuhide knows better than to get involved.

He’s freshly showered, smelling much more like a pine forest than a gym, when he finally pounds down the stairs.

(Obi’s the one who insists on pine; Mitsuhide’s pretty sure if he asked why he’d say something about him being from the Great White North and then something unnatural about which of his parents is the moose which is the bear and – it’s only been a few months, but Mitsuhide has just learned not to ask)

There’s no yelling, no sharp hisses of disagreement, no agitated pacing coming from the direction of the living room, but instead a low, steady droning. He veers that way, his gaze sweeping out to check for any signs of life.

It takes him a single pass to find Kiki curled up against the arm of the couch, watching the TV at almost the lowest volume, engulfed in an afghan.

It’s playing some reruns of some fashion competition; Kiki lives for the first three seasons of any of those shows, before they sell out and fans begin to compete. Heaven forfend if there’s an all-star season; Mitsuhide doesn’t quite get the concept of a hate watch, but Kiki at least provides a good example.

He’s not stupid enough to think she’s watching it; her eyes are glazed and her mouth tense, classic angry Kiki.

“Hey,” he says, his voice suddenly too loud for the room. “You mind if I sit?”

“Sure.” She curls her legs underneath her. “As long as you don’t mind that this season ends in a terrible miscarriage of justice when Seth Aaron wins.”

“Oh.” He slipped onto the couch, hip leaning against the end, arm extended over the back. “So this is the season where we’re rooting for…Emilio?”

Emilio Sosa,” she corrects. “It’s one of those names you really have to say all together.”


They sit there for a long while, through at least two commercial breaks, before Kiki breaks the silence to say, “My father doesn’t want me to get my MBA.”

“I thought he was all for that,” Mitsuhide says, surprised. “I thought he said it was, you know, good for the company.”

“I told him I was getting it for Public Relations,” she admits slowly. “He accused me of wasting my time so I could work for Zen.”

“Isn’t he sort of right?” Kiki turns her gaze on him, piercing. “I-I mean, not that you’re wasting your time, but you are – you’re getting it to work for Zen, aren’t you?”

She hums, neither an agreement or disagreement. “Maybe, for a short time.” Her gaze carefully slides back to the screen before she asks, “Isn’t that what you’re doing too?”

“Yeah, but it’s not like my parents run some law firm I have to run back to.” He grimaces. “I’m not trying to tell you not to. I – I –” Her eyes sweep back to him, and he swallows nervously. “I’d love to work with you, Kiki. But I think maybe…if you don’t want to take over your dad’s company…maybe you should…tell him?”

“I do want to,” she insists, defensive, “just…not now.”

He hums in agreement, eyes fixed to the screen, pretending to find fabric printing fascinating. Someone is trying to make their initials into a pattern; he can’t help but think that sort of egoism needs to be earned by more than having access to photoshop and a printer.

Kiki sighs, throwing her head back against the couch. “It’s not as if he’s retiring soon, or ill, or – has any real reason at all to tell me to come work for him. I might as well get experience elsewhere, and when the time is right, bring a fresh perspective back to Seiran International while he’s still CEO.”

Mitsuhide hesitates. Kiki is not someone that really talks about her family – this is probably the most she’s said about her dad since the first year he’s known her, when she said I don’t have a mom, just my dad – and one wrong word will send her skittering back behind her walls.

“Have you tried…” He grits his teeth, takes a deep break. “Have you tried saying it like that?”

Her pause is even longer. “I should, shouldn’t I?” Her eyes drift shut as she groans. “I’ve just sounded like a teenager being told I can’t go out with my friends.”

“It happens to the best of us,” he says, smiling even though he knows she isn’t looking. “Give it a few days, and then try again. Your dad’s a nice guy, a smart guy. He’ll see your point.”

“Don’t sound so pleased with yourself,” she huffs, mouth twitching at the corners. A moment later, she adds, “He likes you, you know.”

Mitsuhide practically chokes. “Your dad?”

Her eyes crack open, dark in the lighting of the room. “He says you have a good head on your shoulders. When you use it.”

“Yes,” he laughs, rolling his eyes, “a glowing recommendation.”

Her chest quakes with her smothered laughter, and for a minute he’s arrested at how – how Kiki she is, with her side-looks and hardly-quirked lips. He likes her more than he should, but it’s hard to be upset about it when she looks like this, so utterly and completely herself. He doesn’t even mind that nothing will ever happen, so long as he gets to keep this, the small slivers of time she lets herself be real.

He’s too busy basking in her to notice that she’s moved until she’s snug against his side, spreading the afghan over both their laps.

“You looked cold,” she explains, settling under his arm. “There’s only one blanket.”

“Oh.” Every muscle in his body is tense. “Sure, I –”

“Shut up,” she tells him. “Tim Gunn is talking.”

He wakes up later to a warm weight on his side, a crick in his neck, and the cloyingly strong scent of vanilla and cinnamon. He opens his eyes.

“Is there a reason you’re lighting a scent candle right under my nose?” he asks blearily, already half returned to sleep.

Obi waves his hands in a dramatic, jazzy fashion. “Ambiance.”

“Oh, crisse,” he groans, settling his arm tighter around Kiki’s shoulders. “I’ll deal with you in the morning.”

Chapter Text

There’s no warning – there never is – just a “Mr Wisteria!” and a mechanical click and Izana is blind, blinking away afterimages as he turns to the shadow leaning over the barrier, enigmatic smile at the ready.

“Mr Wisteria,” the shadow calls out, resolving into yet another member of the press, their photographer just barely visible behind a camera. “How are you finding Miami?”

An utter disappointment, but he’s not naïve enough to say something like that to a reporter. He can leave scandals and public relations gaffs to his brother.

“Charming,” he drawls, conscious of his angles, trying to make sure there’s at least one picture with the maker’s mark on it. No one asks a man who he’s wearing on a carpet, but Izana knows business above all else; if a man gives him a suit, he’ll make sure that the best picture he gives has that trademark V front and center, even if it’s just a cuff-link. “We don’t have weather like this back in Boston.”

The press at the barrier titter out a few laughs; regional humor always comes off well with the local crowd – northerners like to hear how southerners take the snow, and southerners like the hear how the northerners melt in the heat. It makes suffering the mundane more bearable; after all, not everyone can live in San Diego.

He’s about to turn, to keep walking, but one of the reporters surges forward, the partition that separates the moneyed from the masses – the wheat from the chaff, his father would say, delicately covering his mouth, coating his hands with sanitizer – wibbling between them.

The shit from the flies, Zakura says, which is the exact reason he’s waiting back in the car instead of heading this detail. God forbid someone see Izana Wisteria laugh.

“Mr Wisteria!” The man is practically breathless, like he’s elbowed his way through half the press. “Is it true you’re partnering with Bergstrom Holdings to expand your interests into Miami?”

His smile settles into a rictus on his face. “Well,” he manages, forcing his mouth into a more natural configuration. “I certainly hope so.”

Izana is the first to admit, the Wisteria name comes with certain…perks. Benefits that other men, with less of a pedigree, might never experience.

There’s history for one, a reputation. There’s an expectation that a Wisteria will deal fairly, will never renege. A Wisteria does not make mistakes.

It galls him that he might be the first.

He spies the bastard across the ballroom, half-obscured by a patriotic, if abstract, ice sculpture. Bergstrom looks as out of place here as he does in the boardroom; nearly head and shoulders taller than the local politicians he’s charming, with shoulders that would look more at home with a fur mantle than a designer suit, and a face that should be commanding longships instead of schmoozing the crowd. Izana had liked that about the man when they’d first met, had liked the charisma coming off him –

Now he’s on his last, fraying thread of patience, and if this weren’t his best chance at corning Bergstrom where he couldn’t throw a personal assistant between them, he’d be contemplating the value of a Viking funeral for some of the yachts down at the marina.

Bergstorm must feel eyes on him; he looks up, gaze meeting Izana’s across the floor, and he –

He smiles. Lifts his champagne glass like he’s amused.

Izana grips his flute so hard he nearly snaps the stem. No one finds a Wisteria amusing.

He drops the glass on a passing tray and starts across the ballroom, gaze fixed on his quarry. A Wisteria is not to be ignored. A Wisteria is not to be laughed at.

He draws up short, silver tray crowding his vision. “Canape, sir?”

Izana blinks, and in that moment Bergstrom is gone disappeared into the crowd.

His hand clenches at his side. He should cut his losses and run; the deal had seemed promising months ago, when he’d first been searching for places to build, but now –

Now he’s being stonewalled at every turn. For all Bergstrom’s enthusiasm for the project in public, he’s a ghost when Izana calls.


He shakes his head, waving off the server. “No. Thank you. I’m quite all right.”

“Are you sure?” A slender hand slips a napkin off the tray, nails glimmering shell-pink under the chandeliers. “The Ocho is known for its hors d’oeuvres. The phyllo is made fresh.”

Izana blinks, following sun-kissed skin to a shoulder, to a glittering strap, to – ah, cleavage. Tall then, for a woman.

His eyes course correct, lifting up to her face, but – it’s far too late. Her mouth curls at a corner, far too amused.

“Wisteria isn’t it?” she asks, voice deep and smooth, with the sort of confidence that betrays the fact she already knows the answer. “I’d hoped to talk to you tonight.”

He knows her, he realizes. Or at least, knows of her. It’s Bergstrom’s daughter. Haki.

Goodness, five-nine is different on the page than it is when he’s standing next to it in heels.

“Miss Bergstrom,” he says with a polite smile. “I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure.”

Her pictures haven’t done her justice, especially when her lips part, when she shows off the work of good genes and a couple thousand dollars worth of orthodontics. Or when her soft skin slips under his fingers and gives him a handshake stronger than half the billionaires he’s met.

“You haven’t.” Charming, just like her father, though she looks like her model mother. “But we live in a modern age, Mr Wisteria, and I thought I might take the initiative. No need to wait for a formal introduction when I could have you right here.”

There’s nothing on her face but friendly interest, but he wishes he hadn’t his champagne get away from him, if only to solve this dryness in his mouth.

She’s a forward thing. How intriguing.

He considers her. Pretty, a little thicker than the current trend of starlets, but not out of fashion. Her dossier had said pre-law, some local university, good grades, but also the sort of girl who hung out with her circle’s It Girls until they inevitably found themselves at Promises, or whatever discreet rehab their parents could find to take them. A good girl, though the company she kept said she liked fun – so long as it was on the right side of the law.

“I’m always happy to make myself available to the enterprising,” he drawls.

No relationships. At least none that made it into the press in the last five or so years.

His eyes flick over to where Bergstrom disappeared. It would be one way to get his attention, using his playboy smile on the daughter, but –

A risk. She’s either aware of his reputation and won’t fall for his lines, or she’s too naive to avoid it. The first could lead to ridicule, the second –

A complication.

“You won’t get anything out of my father.”

He blinks, finally letting Haki resolve fully in his vision. Her smile is still warm, but her eyes are focused, direct. “Excuse me?”

“You’re here because of the deal,” she tells him, voice deceptively light, body tipping towards his in a flirtatious lean. “Because my father is dragging his feet, and you can’t figure out why.”

At some point, he’ll figure out how to do more than stare. “Perhaps.”

She steps in toward him. “I can help.”

It won’t be today. “What did you say?”

“Come here.” She turns her back to him, nodding her head toward a set of balcony doors. “Follow me.”

He lifts a flute of champagne off a passing tray and follows after her, lost. It’s not as if heiresses haven’t tried to throw themselves at him, haven’t tried to undermine their fathers and get into his bed, but –

But there’s no swinging of hips, no scandalously low-cut dress. Haki’s gait is feminine but – confident, and her dress dips low in the back, but not to anyplace tawdry. If this is a seduction, it’s like none he’s experienced.


The heat is oppressive the moment he steps out onto the balcony; for as much as his red carpet answers were a performance, Izana isn’t used to the humidity, especially not halfway through March. He’s been able to ignore it until now, just passing from air conditioned car to air conditioned building, but –

But in Boston, there’s still snow on the ground. It’s unnatural to be sweating this time of year.

Haki, of course, doesn’t feel it. She even shivers, just slightly, in her sleeveless dress.

“Stand close,” she tells him with a welcoming smile, though her tone edges toward commanding. “Pretend I’m captivating.

His gaze lifts for a minute, surveying the empty balcony, the expansive grounds. Secluded – or at least, it gives the impression of it. He knows better than to doubt the ability of a good telephoto lens to capture a moment.

“Oh no.” He closes in on her, hips edging her against the balustrade. “What a hardship.”

An intriguing pink tints her cheeks, and for a moment she’s quiet, just a fluttering of eyelashes to mark that she’s heard him at all. Ah, so – she’s flustered.

It’s a good look on her.

She recovers quickly, her hand slipping up his chest as he comes close, pressing right over his heart. It would be impossible to tell, even with a lens, that it wasn’t an intimate touch, that it was merely her keeping space between them.

She cants her head coyly, eyelashes batting artfully against her cheeks. “I assume you know about the Olin maris?”

“The shimmering jewel of the keys,” he murmurs, reminding his heart that this is – is business. His body seems to have forgotten, with a woman so close. “It’s a turtle, right? We had to have the wetlands surveyed for them. Extremely endangered, if I remember correctly.”

She nods, jaw suddenly firm. “They’re on the property.”

What.” He nearly jolts away, but she covers his hand on the balustrade, keeps him close. “I saw the survey results myself–”

“It seems they’ve started nesting there recently,” she tells him. “They used to be in another marsh, a few miles away, but they had been dying off inexplicably. Something with the water – it was starting to kill off the fish there too, some salamanders.”

He brings his other hand to her back, just above where her dress begins. “And now it’s happening on our land too.”

“My father is trying to wait for the situation to handle itself.” The smile stays on her face, but there’s something in her eyes that disapproves, that is disappointed. “He thinks he’ll clean the water up after somehow.”

“And meanwhile keep me in the dark.” He fixes his gaze on her. “And what do you get out of this, Miss Bergstrom? Is this some sort of rebellion?”

She lets out a huff of a laugh. “Hardly. I’ve seen how you run your business, Mr Wisteria.” She leans in, smile coy. “A few turtles won’t scare you off. But you will try to find out what’s going on.”

He lifts a brow.

“And it will be easier for you to do it, if your new girlfriend is showing you around,” she tells him. “Wouldn’t it?”

His hand presses flat against her back, and her gasp is very – satisfying. “You haven’t answered my question, Miss Bergstrom. What do you get out of this?”

She giggles. “Mr Wisteria –”

Her voice gives out suddenly as his thumb rubs over her spine. “I’m afraid, Miss Bergstrom, that I do insist on honestly with my paramours.”

Haki hesitates, and her face turns serious. “I’ve watched men ruin the land down here, kill entire ecosystems because they had the money to. If you’re about to get in bed with my father, I want to see for myself that you’re the sort of man you pretend to be.”

He backs her against the balustrade, fingers splaying across her lower back more firmly. “I do believe you were the one inviting me into your bed.”

“Ostensibly.” Her voice shakes on the word, even if she shrugs. It is..not from fear. “For the cameras, at least.”

His hand moves, just the slightest bit lower. There’s no protest; she just yields to his touch, her thigh brushing against his. This close, he can smell her perfume, something floral and fruity, freesia and – something else.

He’s becoming a bit too distracted with this game. “Because you want to keep an eye on me.”

“I’ve heard promising things about you, Mr Wisteria.” Her fingers are blessedly cool against the skin of his neck, leaving sparks trailing down his spine where she touches. “But I’m tried of being disappointed.”

“Oh,” he rumbles, amused. “I don’t disappoint, Miss Bergstrom.”

There is hardly any space left to close between them, but Izana does – he’s drawn to, to brushing his lips against hers, to see if she tastes as tantalizing as he finds her.

There is no hesitation in her; she surges into him, nails dragging through his hair, pulling him down so she can open her mouth beneath his, so she can press herself softly against him, let him feel just what it might be like to be able to hold her –

He pulls back, pleased with her flush. “I think this could be a mutually beneficial partnership.”

She stares for a long moment, mouth just slightly swollen.

“Ah,” she murmurs, leaning just slightly back, nails turning back to fingertips as they retreat to the safe space of his neck. “Yes.”

Her hands slide down his chest, and the smile she gives him is nearly wicked. “Let’s just hope you perform as well in the weeks to come, Mr Wisteria.”

He grins, letting her slip through his arms. For now.

“Izana,” he calls after her, leaning on the balustrade. She turns back, just briefly.

“Izana,” she agrees, breathless. “I suppose we should go inside, now.”

He steps up, hand on her skin. “I do think we gave enough of a show, darling.”

Her mouth curls up at the corner. “Yes. And we do need someone to clean up the mess.”

Izana follows her gaze, grimacing when he sees the shattered flute on the tile. He’d…quite forgotten he’d been holding that.

“After all,” she drawls, eyebrows raised. “I’d hate for someone to cut themselves.”

Chapter Text

It’s the shriek that wakes her up.

Yuzuri pitches right off the torture device made to look like an easy chair – how do they make something stuffed with batting so hard? – and narrowly misses the corner of the très modern metal table. Instead she tumbles right onto the scratchy, geometric carpet, her arm flung out belatedly to catch herself, but instead just slapping hard on Suzu’s face.

Of course. Perfect. Things already going just great.

He wakes with a snort. “Huh? What’d I do?”

“Did you hear that?” she hisses. He blinks at her lazily, and she just wants to slap him again for looking this good waking up on a library floor.

“Hear what?”

She stares. “Someone screamed.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t an auditory hallucination?”

“Oh my god, what?”

“People can get them sometimes when they’re waking up.” God, he’s serious. “Do you get sleep paralysis often?”


“It’s a factor in –”

“No! Fucking – Suzu, it sounded like Shirayuki.” She levers herself to her feet, stumbling on her wedges. Ugh, fuck her for trying to look nice while researching. Next time it’s sleep shorts and flip-flops. “I’m going to go check on her.”

She hears Suzu clamber up behind her, as subtle as a golden retriever on linoleum, but she doesn’t worry about it, not now, not when making a racket could help scare off whoever was –

Being hugged by Shirayuki, apparently.

She can’t see his face; his back is to her, but he’s tall, just a few inches shorter than Suzu. And, if the way he fills out that tank top is any indication, goes to the gym way more often.

“Oh, Yuzuri!” Shirayuki peeks her head around her tall, jacked friend, smile wide and bright. “Suzu! Good you’re all here.”

“Uh, yeah.” She wishes she had taken like, ten fucking seconds to put her hair into something nicer than sleepy-chic; this is no way to meet a potentially hot guy. “We heard you scream, or something?”

Shirayuki lets out a squeak, cheeks flooding with pink. This girl is honestly too fucking cute; it’s a good thing she has a boyfriend or whatever back in Massachusetts, otherwise it would be a real pain in the ass trying to –

Tall dude turns around. Holy hot boyfriend, Batman.

“Yeah, that would be my fault.” This guy doesn’t smile, he smirks, and – holy shit, when Shirayuki mentioned a boy she had a thing with back at school, she thought like, preppy, clean-cut, unironically wearing flannel. Not –

Not I probably own a motorcycle hot. He’s six feet something of gold skin cut with silvering scars, and he just – he looks dangerous. Like Suzu might have some reach and some shoulder width on this guy, but Mister Boyfriend would pummel him in a fight. No contest.

“I couldn’t help myself,” he says with a wink. “She snores like a kitten.”

“This is Obi!” Shirayuki cuts in, giving him a look, Jesus, this really has to be a boyfriend. Or something. A boy thing.

No, boyfriend. Shirayuki doesn’t do vague boy shit. Shirayuki has it together.

Yuzuri narrows her eyes at – at Obi. He looks like the sort of guy who does vague girl shit.

“Hi, yeah, I’m Yuzuri.” She grabs the hand he holds out extra hard, to let him know this is a I’ll fuck you up if you fuck her up situation. Sure, Shirayuki’s known this guy for months and Yuzuri for only days, but Yuzuri doesn’t need time to know this is one of those life-long friendships. She will fuck this dude up if he’s an asshole. She knows all sorts of ways to ruin leather upholstery.

Obi, for his part, looks charmed. “Right, of course. I should have guessed. Doc said you had great taste in shoes.”

Oh no. No, no. He’s not allowed to be cool, too.

“I do,” she manages, frowning as he leans over to shake Suzu’s hand.

Ryuu shuffles into the fray, rubbing at his eyes in a way that makes Yuzuri’s ovaries melt – like, okay, she knows he’s thirteen, but he’s like the size of a ten year old. Sue her.

“What’s –” His eyes blink wide and blue. “O-Obi?”

Something goes soft in boyfriend’s face, goes warm. “Hey, Little Guy. Surprised?”

Ryuu flushes, ducking his head. “No. Shirayuki said you might be coming when Higata couldn’t.”

“Damn,” Obi teases, mouth softening into a smile. “Thought I might get you this time.”

Her hands flex at her side. Ugh, this guy is actually – he’s –

He might actually be good enough for Shirayuki. Unlike that Lowen guy or whatever. Fuck.

“Oh my gosh!” Shirayuki grabs his arm, mouth upended in a frown. “Obi! Did you come here right from the airport?”

“Oh, uh…” He coughs, rubbing sheepishly at his neck. “Yeah, I didn’t really know where the dorms were, and you said you’d be at the library all night, so –”

“Come on!” She fusses around him, trying to pick up his backpack only for him to take it, long-suffering, from her hand. “I’ll take you, and then we can – can pick up food or something. You must be hungry.”

“I’m hungry,” Suzu offers.

“Right!” She gets that determined look on her face Yuzuri likes so much. “We’ll pick up something for everyone.”

“Okay, Doc,” Obi sighs, like she’s twisting his arm over it. “But it has to be fried –”

“Fast food is so bad for you, Obi –”

They disappear through the doors, lights illuminating them as they step onto the pavement, and – and Yuzuri sees it. The way Obi looks at her like she’s his world.

“Well,” she sighs, rolling her eyes. “They’re going back to fuck.”

“Aw,” Suzu scolds, “nah, I bet he’s a make love sort of dude.”

She glares. “Don’t you dare –”

“He’s so cool though!” Suzu grins. “I’m gonna be his best friend.”

“Oh my god, Suzu.” She walks past him, chucking his shoulder. “He’s so out of your league.”

He sighs, wistful. “I know, right?”

“Ughh.” She shakes her head. “Come on, let’s get back to work. I want to have something before they get back.”

Chapter Text

Obi’s just finished laying out their blanket, weighing down the corners with the biggest stones he can find – he suspects that these are really just smoothed out chunks of concrete, probably from when they jackhammered out the original path to put in more eco-friendly boardwalks – when Shidan’s undergrad whips open the cooler and shows just what sort of liquid refreshment he thinks is appropriate for a turtle watch.

Obi goggles. “Is that all beer?”

“Hell yeah, bro.” The undergrad – Suzu, he remembers; he’s really only heard his name shouted across the suite by Yuzuri – pulls out a fancy-looking bottle. “Funky Buddha Morning Wood. And well, some Coronas. I only had enough budgeted for a six pack of the good stuff, so like, I took a page out of the Good Dude’s book and got something top-shelf to start with, and then some weak shit for when we’re too blitzed to care, right?”

Obi doesn’t know where to start with this. Is he supposed to get shitfaced off three beers? Does this guy get shitfaced off three beers?

“The Good Dude?” he says instead, trying to keep his face blank.

“You know.” Suzu shrugs. “Jesus.”

What. The. Fuck.

“Okay,” he says, because what the fuck. “Okay, but I thought we were supposed to be…turtle chaperones, or whatever.”

“Yeah, yeah, I mean…there’s a whole bunch of bottle water on the bottom too.” He waggles his eyebrows. “Gotta stay hydrated, you know.”

“Oh good,” Obi drawls, “at least I know we won’t have to get our stomachs pumped.”

It annoys him how great the beer is.

“I know right?” Suzu reaches out, plucking the empty out of his hand and replacing it with a new one. “Can’t go wrong when you pick ‘em by them stupidest name, right?”

“Right,” Obi echoes, and it’s – it’s weird, the way he feels when that kids says it, when he says something Obi’s thought a thousand times in the safety of his own skull. His heart feels strange, feels full, and he doesn’t even know this guy but…

But maybe he’s okay. For an idiot.

“Where’d you even get all this?” he asks, “Aren’t you underage?”

He turns the bottle over in his hands, just for something to do, and –

Woah, this stuff is twelve percent alcohol by volume? No wonder he’s starting to have feelings and shit. He’d start liking Mihaya after two or three of these.

Suzu waggles his eyebrows, grinning around the lip of the bottle. “Yeah, bro. But I got the hook-ups. Sweet hook-ups.”

“Right, cool.” He’s trying not to laugh at how proud this kid is, but like, what even. “But you know I’m over twenty-one right?”

Whaat?” Suzu blinks at him owlishly. “Bro, you gotta – you gotta list that among our assets, man!”

He can’t help his grin. “What, a birthday before 1992?”

“Yeah, man!” The guys slaps him on the back, shaking him in a friendly way by the shoulder. “That’s freaking rad, dude. What do you charge? Like ten percent of sale? Fifteen?”

“What, you mean to buy booze?” College is honestly the weirdest place he’s ever been, it’s like a parallel freaking dimension for how much it makes sense on the regular. “I don’t charge friends, man.”

“What? Oh my god, bro,” Suzu gasps, hand tightening on his shoulder. “This is like a paradigm shift, man.” He shakes his head. “If only I had known! I could have gotten a twelve pack.”

They’ve broken into the Coronas when Suzu asks, “So like, if Shirayuki, Garrack Gazalt, and Yuzuri all proposed to you, who would you marry?”

“What like, all of them at once?” Everything’s a little blurry around the edges; the moon looks like one of those fuzzy pictures on instagram, like with the lights, the Christmas shit –

Bokeh. Yeah, bokeh. Everything’s all bokeh, or whatever.

“Sure, whatever, man.” He runs a hand through his hair, now all matted with sand from when they ran into the ocean two beers ago. “Wait, does that make sense?”

“Is this supposed to be like fuck, marry, kill or something?” Obi asks, though he’s really just buying himself time, trying to wait long enough that he doesn’t just blurt out how much he wants to marry Doc, how much he wants to press her into his mattress and fuck her until she can’t see straight, until she walks with a fucking limp because of how many times he’s made her –

“Yeah, like that, but I mean,” Suzu’s face scrunches up with distaste, “I dunno killing someone seems harsh, you know? How about like…wed, bed, behead?”

“Dude,” he laughs, shaking his head, “you know that beheading kills people right?”

“I dunno, didn’t Robespierre say it was more humane?”

“That’s specifically the guillotine. And I feel like zero people should take life advice re: murder from Robespierre, dude.”

“I feel like we’re getting side tracked from the original question, though,” Suzu says a half hour and another two Coronas later. “Garrack Gazalt, Yuzuri, or Shirayuki?”

Shirayuki. Always.

“For what?” he asks. “We’re calling it what? Wedding, bedding, and wishing a very nice night?”

“I guess…wedding?” Suzu shrugs and nearly falls over. “I mean, isn’t that the same as bedding? Like wouldn’t you be like, I dunno, fucking your wife? Or does that not count because you’re more like, making love –”

“Suzu. Focus.” Obi tries to snap his fingers, but he can’t seem to make them touch. “What about you, who would you pick?”

“Oh, dude, Shirayuki, totally.”

Obi tenses. Right. Okay. Friendship fucking cancelled.

“Oh,” he says, so light, so casual. “I didn’t realize you liked her.”

“Oh, I don’t,” Suzu replies easily, flopping down like a starfish in the sand. “I’m super fucking into Yuzuri, honestly. But Shirayuki seems like she’d be a good wife you know?”

He wants to punch him for giving him a literal heart attack, but then Suzu adds, so soft, “She seems really nice. Like she’d take care of you. I bet she’d be a good mom.”

“Yeah,” he agrees, hardly able to lift his voice above a whisper. “Yeah, she really fucking would be.”

“Oh, bro,” Suzu shouts, whacking his shoulder. They’ve moved onto the waters, trying to sober up before dawn. He’s not sure how long away that is, but it’s probably going to take most of the waters in the cooler to recover, so –

“Yeah?” he groans, rolling onto his belly. “Why are you hitting me, dude?”

“Over there, do you see them?” Suzu points, waving his arm unhelpfully. “It’s the baby turtles, man!”

He almost snaps that it’s not like he can see where he’s pointing if he flails about like that, but then – then –

He sees them, slowly flip-flapping down the sand, the moon full and bright on the ocean and –

And they don’t need them, not tonight; every one has this clear journey down the slope, tumbling with a brave sort of glee down to their ocean home.

“They orient by the moon,” Suzu tells him, voice hushed in wonder, “so like, the brighter it is, the more it reflects, the easier it is for them.” Even lower he croons, “Come on little buddies, you can do it! Get home, turtle friends!”

“That’s amazing,” Obi finds himself saying. “That’s fucking amazing.”

“I know right?” Suzu claps him on the back. “That’s why we do this right? Miracle of life. Making sure little turtle babies keep hatching, keep making this planet one cool rock to live on.”

Obi squints up at him, taking in the kid’s grin, and he finds himself saying, “I really like you, dude.”

Suzu whips his head around, and Obi’s ready for – for, that’s gay, dude; or maybe, what, are you some kind of –

“Oh, bro, same. You are fucking rad, man.” He grins, goofy and full. “I feel like I gotta tell you I mean that in a totes platonic way, man. Like if I was into dudes I would one hundred percent be into you, you are like a totally hot guy, but boobs are where it’s at for me. Lady thighs. So top shelf.”

Obi laughs. “Same. I mean – lady thighs are fucking great. That part. Not the not into dudes part. I’m, er…”

It strikes him he’s never actually done this. The whole talking about it thing. It’s not like guys at the gym were going to be thrilled about it, and it just never came up at Clarines. But six hours on a blanket with this idiot and he’s just…spilling out his guts.

“You like both, I get it.” Suzu eyes go wide, and he grips Obi’s shoulder hard. “Dude, is the Danny Ocean series like the best ever thing for you? Like in the second one you got George Clooney and Catherine Zeta Jones, and Brad Pitt –”

He buries his head in his hands, laughing. It’s not that funny, but – but –

God, he’s just…relieved. “Yeah, it’s – it’s pretty great, I won’t lie.”

Man,” Suzu groans, “I’m so jealous. I always feel like I’m missing out on like half those movies, you know?”

“I can imagine.” He watches as another turtle tumbles into the surf. “I can’t wait to show Doc this.”

Oh,” Suzu sighs, pulling the sound long. “So that’s it.”

He looks up, confused. “That’s what?”

“I was just thinking how this is like, a totally romantic thing right? Moonlight, watching the amazing miracle of nature right before us, the night is perfect.” Suzu sends him a sidelong glance. “I was just thinking about how awesome it would be if I did this with Yuzuri…and then you mention how you want to so Shirayuki, so, via transitive property…”

He should be afraid, he should be seizing up, but instead he just says, “Yeah, I…I like her a lot.” He swallows. “But she’s into my friend so…”

“That’s rough, buddy.” Suzu pats his back. “For what it’s worth, I think you two would make really cute babies together.”

Obi laughs into the sand before rolling up to his knees. “Okay, I think you need another water, man.”

Chapter Text

Shirayuki shifts on her feet, shrinking into one corner of the elevator while it creeps up the lab’s side. She should be enjoying the panoramic view of campus; after all, there’s only this paper to finish and a plane to climb on and they’re done. With Lyrias. For forever. She should just…be drinking this all in.

Instead she stares at her shoes – ballet flats, which are the only pair she’s brought with her that are not either open-toed or utterly destroyed – and asks, “Do you think they’re going to be mad?”

Obi’s slouched against the corrugated metal, head tipped back, but he drops it down to stare at her, face crinkled with incredulity. “About what? That you got a phone?”  

“No! I mean, yes, but –” she bites her lip, trying to gather up these thoughts, trying to put anxieties into words – “we left them with all that work! We should really have been writing too, it’s not fair that we –”

Obi holds out a hand, stop. “Doc. We all watched as your canoe legit tipped into dirty estuary, saw your ancient reliquary of a phone pull a Jack from Tatanic, and then – I mean if that wasn’t enough to earn you a new phone – no fewer than three of us saw Loretta eat it.”

“I mean…” She shuffles in her corner, heat creeping up her neck. “I don’t know if Loretta really eats –

“She did.” His hand lands her shoulder, long fingers spanning over the wing of her scapula. It’s – nice. Comforting. “Listen, the worst that’s going to happen is that Kazaha will think your phone is too mainstream. Let yourself breathe a little, Doc.”

She thinks about Yuzuri, thinks about sitting over empty take-out containers the night the boys were on Turtle Watch, thinks about the way she said, take up some space, Yuki. Stop apologizing for being human.

Right, she can – she can be selfish for once. Do something for herself. That’s – that’s allowed. A little, at least.

“Okay,” she murmurs as the doors open. “I’ll just – do that. Breathe.”

His hand drops from her should to press over the open doors, nodding her through. “Good. Oh, hey, looks like it was the Chinese truck that was outside today.”

The breakroom is just ahead, the whole lab gathered around with Styrofoam containers and wooden chopstick, shoveling noodles into their mouths. She misses them already.

“Great,” she says, wishes she felt as strong as she sounded. “We should – should go check in.”

They’re barely in the door when Yuzuri jams a hand out, flicking her fingers in the clear sign for gimme.

“Okay, enough teasing,” she huffs. “Show us the goods already.”

Shirayuki blinks, confused, but there’s Yuzuri, gimme gimme, and half the lab perks up from their lo mein with varying degrees of interest. Even Ryuu’s looking, big eyes staring up at them owlishly, flicking between them.

Obi rolls his neck, hands falling to his belt. “Well, all right.”

It jingles once, tongue slipping in one liquid movement through the buckle, before Yuzuri shrills, “I meant the phone! Clearly.”

“We could look at both,” Suzu offers, with a speculative glance toward where Obi stands, grin tilting his mouth.

“You two can send each other your weirdly platonic dick pics later.” Yuzuri heaves a sigh, hand thrusting out farther over the table, toward Shirayuki. “I want to see the merchandise.”

“Again,” Obi drawls with another meaningful jingle, “could mean either –”

I want to see the shiny new tiny computer,” Yuzuri snaps, giving him a flat look. “There, is that clear enough for you?”

Obi hums, sinking into the seat across from her. “Crystal.”

Yuzuri rolls her eyes. “Great. Now come on, girl, don’t keep mama waiting.”

Shirayuki hesitates, reaching into her bag to pull out the phone. It’s so new she hasn’t even really taken all the stickers off; it feels like she could break it just by holding it too long.

“Thank you,” Yuzuri says, with a cloying look toward Obi. “At least someone here isn’t trying to show me their equipment. I mean, honestly.”

“Hey, it’s a common request,” Obi shrugs, leaning back. “I’m a hot item.”

“You wish.”

“Again, i wouldn’t mind,” Suzu puts forth.

Yuzuri spares him a disgusted look as she flicks through the screens on Shirayuki’s phone. “You don’t count. No one else wants to see dick while they’re eating noodles.”

“I don’t know,” Izuru hums, sending a speculative look over Obi. “How old are you, undergrad?”

“Old enough to buy beer,” he assures her.

She nods. “Yeah, okay, then I wouldn’t mind –”

“Could everyone please get out more?” Yuzuri sighs, tapping through some – apps? Is that what they’re called? Oh, she really – she really isn’t savvy enough to have something like this. “This is a sweet little piece though, I gotta admit. I figured you for something sleeker, but I’ve heard nothing can kill these Nokia things.”

“That was the draw,” Obi tells her with a grin. “Chief wanted to see if he could get one of those new iPhones, but…”

Yuzuri stares at her. “One of the sixes? They haven’t even announced them yet!”

Obi shrugs. “Our boss’s boss has connections.”

Yuzuri’s gaze swings to her, half-accusing. “And you said no?”

“The scholarship is supposed to be paying for it!” Shirayuki protests, rounding her shoulder. “And besides, it looked flimsy…”

Despite not strictly being on the market or existing, the salesman had known enough about the model to hit key points, each one making Obi nod and Shirayuki shrink. Glass screen. Lightest phone on the market. State of the art circuitry…

All she could think of was the helpless bloop her battered little flip phone had made as it sunk beneath the water, and the unearthly crunch when Loretta had taken her giant maw to it.

“I don’t know,” she murmurs, shifting in her seat. “Even this one has a lot of – of buttons. And screens.”

Yuzuri pauses, giving her a searching look. “Well sure. But you know, you can program actual songs as ring tones, right?”

Shirayuki stares. Actual songs… “As in, the midi file, or –?”

“Real songs.” Yuzuri looks far too satisfied with herself. “Here, let me just –” her fingers fly across the screen, and in less than three minutes, she’s handing it back, pulling her own out.

“Now don’t answer,” she warns her. “It’ll spoil the effect.”

Yuzuri picture pops up on the screen, and –

The opening bars of “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” ring out in the meeting room.

“Oh,” Shirayuki breathes. “Huh.”

I don’t want it to be so complicated, Doc had told the guy at the counter as he tried to push product, eyeing the black card on the formica like it was his own personal Jesus. I’m not good at…at computer stuff.

Hard for Obi to see any of that now, her red hair falling in a curtain around her as she bends over that phone, eyes squinted at the screen, and just – what a load of shit that is. I’m not good at computer stuff. There isn’t a single thing Doc isn’t good at when she puts her mind to it.

She settles back, heaving a sigh and rubbing at the curve of her back, and he reminds her, “You know you don’t have to have a custom ring tone for everyone, right?”

“Well, yes.” She rubs at her eyes, shaking her head like she can clean afterimages like an etch-a-sketch. “I just – I want to. For the aesthetic.”

For the aesthetic,” he laughs, setting his computer aside. “You’re going to need glasses if you keep squinting that hard.”

She wrinkles her nose, and hmm, he’d like that, he thinks. Cute frames that are little too chunky to be pretty, but –

But he really needs to get his shit together. They’re flying back tomorrow morning, and – and he needs to get used to there being other people around. Other people who know Zen. Other people who are Zen.

“I only have a few people left.” She blinks up at him. “I haven’t picked out yours yet. Do you have any suggestions?”

This is far too much power. She has zero pop culture grounding, and something like this is just – asking for Rick Astley. Or Tom Jones. Something awful.

“Ever heard of ‘The Bad Touch,’“ he tries instead. He doesn’t expect it to work – sure, Yuzuri calls her a woodland fairy creature or luddite wood nymph – but she’s alive, everyone’s heard –

She blinks. “No?”

PRANK THAT KEEPS ON GIVING flashes through his head in big, neon letters. and he – he can’t not do it. It’s just too much temptation for a flawed, human man. “Here, let me see if there’s a good clip of it.”

It takes no time at all, like the planets are aligning for this one sweet prank, a file that specifies second verse with intro. Perfect.

He’s not sure how he doesn’t give it away when he hands the thing back; his grin is hardly contained by his teeth, and his hands are probably shaking, but she just smiles at him and –

And he should probably feel bad. He does, for a moment; for that whole second it takes for him to call her phone and the music to start –

Doc nods along to the beat, looking a little confused, but pleased. “Okay, that’s pretty nice!”

She stops it before the words can even start. It’s a sign. This prank is meant to be.

And who is he to stand in the way of the universe?

“Great,” he says strained, trying to swallow down his grin. “Perfect.”

Chapter Text

“This health food thing has gone on long enough.”

Obi bangs around the cabinets blearily, scowl pulling his mouth long, tossing aside small crinkling packages that read whole-grain quinoa and flaxseed, to rummage in the deep recesses of the kitchen. Mitsuhide watches distractedly, sipping at his protein shake and hardly even noticing the chalky taste.

Don’t worry, Dad. Even now he can see that slant to her smile, the way her lips seemed to be holding secrets at bay. I’ve got the husband thing handled.

“Look at this!” Obi holds out a shimmery bag at arm’s length. “Kelp. Not even seaweed. But kelp. She puts this in her cereal, Big Guy.” He presses a hand to his chest, scandalized. “All I want is to find a freaking box of Cocoa Puffs the first time through, and I find this. You know,” Obi is warming to the topic now, dropping his voice to a loud whisper, “she brought bran muffins to study group –”

“Obi.” Mitsuhide’s hands pale where he grips at the counter. “Can I talk to you?”

Obi so stands abruptly he clips his head on a shelf, the whole cabinet rattling with the force of it.

“Ah, fuck,” he hisses, rubbing at the back of his head sheepishly. “Yeah, sure. What’s –” Obi’s voice stutters when he turns, finally looking him in the face – “up?”

He laughs, nervous. “That’s some look, Big Guy.” His hand comes up, rubbing at his shoulder. “I haven’t even done anything yet –”

“No, no.” Mitsuhide shakes his head, trying to force his mouth to smile but – but he doesn’t feel it, not now, not when –

I’ve got the husband thing handled.

“That’s not it,” he grits out, his hands in tight fists on the countertop. “I just wanted to ask you about…about something personal.”

Obi stares at him wide-eyed, and really – no one is more surprised than Mitsuhide himself that it’s come to this, that there’s no one else he trusts more about this kind of stuff than someone who thinks kid’s cereal is a meal.

“Please,” he says, eyes fixed to where his knuckles have gone starkly white against the formica. “Don’t tell anyone else.”

“I –” Obi bites off whatever he was about to say, turning his head away and pulling hard at his shoulder. “Yeah, sure, Big Guy. Your secret’s safe with me.”

“Do you know if…” Crisse, he can’t even look at him. This isn’t any of his business, and it’s even less of Obi’s but – “Do you know if Kiki is, ah…seeing anyone?”

Obi stares dumbly for a long moment, the only movement on him the slow blink of his eyes and the incredulous huff of his breath.

His mouth crooks, his eyes narrow, and Obi sits back in his hips, letting his hands drop to the island. “Well, I guess you’ve found us out, Big Guy.”

There is literally nothing about this that he trusts. “What?”

“Me and Kiki have been fooling around for a while now,” he drawls airily, flashing him some sharp canines. “You know. Friends with bens. Eff-dubya-bee.”

He winks.

“Fine,” Mitsuhide sighs, shoving away from the counter. “Don’t take this seriously.”

This problem set is going to be the death of her.

Kiki is excellent at crisis management – a savant really, which is good because Zen can be a public relations nightmare without even leaving his bedroom – but she’s six problems into a ten page set, and she’s about ready to strangle CEO B (head of a Fortune 500 company) with nothing more than the drawstring of her hoodie. He’s the issue owner of every gaffe for the past five problems, and honestly, if she didn’t think Professort Luigis would take points off, her solution to ‘how do you resolve the issue?’ would be arranging for CEO B to have an accident in his thirty-fourth floor office. Namely taking the fast way down to the lobby.

“Uh,” she hears from the doorway. “Kiki?”

Her papers are strewn across the coffee table, spilling off the edge onto the floor and creeping up the couch. She’s not sure how long she’s been there, but there’s a stale taste to her mouth that says hours at least, and her tea’s gone cold in her thermos. God, what is she even wearing? Not a bra, that’s for sure. Fuck midterms, honestly.

She looks up, and of course, of course it’s Mitsuhide. Not that she minds, he’s seen her vomiting before (unplanned, a stomach flu that took her hard her first week in the chapter house), but they haven’t talked in days, and she likes leaving him a more…put-together image over long periods of time. Something to leave him thinking about.

Fine, she likes to look hot, like a flannel-wrapped dreamboat that he wants to peel his LaFleur jersey off of. Sue her.

“Hey,” she says, so cool. She’s aware she’s on the floor in sweat pants she’s stolen from him, pegged up to her knees because any lower and they unroll, with a sweatshirt that has a ketchup stain (not hers, and only from this morning. One day Obi will learn to use his huge hands to not squirt condiments all over the table, but today is not that day).Sexy.

“Did you need the couch?” She hopes her eyes convey that she would very much like him to come sit behind her. Maybe even massage her shoulders a little with his huge, strong hands, and – “I could move my stuff.”

“No.” He lingers nervously at the archway, face troubled. “I just…saw you and thought, er…”

That he’d come manhandle her? C’mon, let that be it. There’s a crick in her neck and she has been a very good girl lately.

“Obi said something the other day,” he admits, like it pains him. That in itself isn’t strange; Obi is about as pleasant as a hernia on a good day.

“Obi says a lot of things,” she replies, raising her eyebrows. “Did this involve me somehow?”

“You could – yes.” He grits his teeth, and she’s interested now, turning to face him. “He said that you…um…that you were…” His voice drops; she has to struggle to make out, “Sleeping together.”

What. She tenses her eyelids so she doesn’t blink in confusion, doesn’t give away the game. Across space and time, she hears Obi say, trust me.

Well, at least this will be funny.

“Oh yeah,” she lies, “like three times a week. Regular orgasms really clear the head.”

His jaw drops. “Wha – Obi? Why?”

She smirks, leaning on her problem set, so casual. “Come on, Mitsuhide,” she croons, “have you seen those hands? Mm.”

Is there a reason Mitsuhide thinks we’re fucking
A good reason, I mean

its fkn hilarious lol
bside that?

That is the question

he wanted 2 no if u were cn any1
it ws lik angels cam dwn 2 giv me th sweetest prank f all tim
wat ws i suppsd 2 do?
dnt tell him
its funnier this way

All right
It is pretty funny

its lik th prank that keeps n givin

Snow still lingers on the grass, but the day is warm, and Shirayuki finds an extra spring to her step when she bounds up the walk to the chapter house. Her presentation went well in art history – even though she’s not sure she could tell the difference between Titian and Carvaggio without her copious notes (painstakingly reviewed and corrected by Zen and Kiki the night before) – and to celebrate, she veered through the campus conservatory, letting the humid air and floral scents wash over her. She’s not sure she could be in a bad mood if she tried.

Mitsuhide is on the veranda, slowly rocking the swing with one foot, creak-creak-creak. They’ll have to oil it come spring, otherwise Zen will complain about the sound all through finals.

“Hi, Mitsuhide!” she chirps, bounding up the steps. “Nice day, isn’t it?”

He shakes himself, like he’s waking from a dream, and blinks owlishly up at her. “Huh? Oh, Shirayuki. Yeah, nice, I guess.”

Her mouth pulls into a frown. Mitsuhide’s been like this for at least a week now; sullen and distracted, almost listless. She would blame it on the weather – it’s hard to keep cheerful when schoolwork weighs heavily on you like this, and the days are so short – but the past few days have been hinting at not only spring but summer, and his mood has only grown worse.

“You know,” she starts, drawling the words uncertainly. “If there’s something bothering you, you should talk about it.”

“What?” He jumps, eyes darting wildly toward the door before skittering across the lawn. “No, nothing’s wrong. I’m – I’m fine with…everything. Things are good. I’m just –” sweat beads at his brow – “I’m just minding my business.”

“Okay,” she says, wide-eyed. “Great.” Her hand falls onto the front door, grasping the handle. “I’ll just –”

“I wouldn’t,” he blurts out, hand outstretched. “You don’t – it might not be safe.”

Her heart pounds at his words, and she drops the handle as if it scalds her. “Not…safe?”

She cradles her hand against her chest, breath coming is short bursts. She must be misunderstanding, there’s no way – Clarines had been the safest place she’s ever know and she can’t – it can’t –

“Obi and Kiki are in there,” he explains dully. “You shouldn’t – you don’t want to interrupt them.”

She can suddenly breathe again. “Oh,” she laughs, bracing herself against the door. “Are they fighting again? Someone should probably stop –”

“No, not fighting, they…” Mitsuhide sighs, scrubbing a hand over his face. “Obi and Kiki are sleeping together.”

Shirayuki’s not even moving, but she stumbles. That’s what happen when the rug is pulled out beneath you.

“What?” she breathes, fingernails scratching against paint. She has to will her hand flat again. “No way.”

“Yeah, it’s, uh…” He grimaces. “A casual thing. Friends with benefits.”

There’s something clinging to her skin, something that makes it crawl and drip and drag, and she – this isn’t – “Kiki? With Obi?”

She could have sworn – Kiki always said –

Mitsuhide nods, slow, painful, and – and he wouldn’t say something like that if it wasn’t true. He didn’t lie, and he wouldn’t spread rumors, so – so –

“I, uh.” Shirayuki shuffles away from the door. Her breath comes harshly, comes raggedly, and she shouldn’t – she doesn’t have any reason to feel like this. “I have something to do. In the library.”

She scurries down the front walk, drawing her cardigan around her, and wonders where the nice day went.

Obi’s not sure how it happens, but their late-night anime watching turns into before-bed anime watching, Doc curled against his side as they lay on his narrow bed, one leg thrown over his and head cradled in the curve of his shoulder. She’s warm against him, comforting, and it’s not really a surprise how easily he find himself slipping towards sleep when they’re like this, when she acts like he’s – he’s –

Normal. The sort of guy you let yourself fall asleep next to, in a platonic way.

God, he needs to not fuck this up. This whole friendship thing.

Two episodes is usually enough to make her go soft against him, to send her slow, even breath curling across his collarbone, but tonight she is rigid beside him, her legs firmly crossed over each other instead of his. He peers down to see her worrying at her lip, mouth tipped at the edges into a thoughtful frown.

“Hey,” He squeezes her playfully, making her look up at him. “You okay, Doc?”

Her eyes dart away from his for a moment, and he’s lost at what to do, how to even go about asking her what’s wrong, when she blurts out, “Do you want me to leave?”

He blinks. “What?”

“I…” She squirms against him, as if she isn’t sure whether to push away or press closer. “You don’t have anything you’d rather be, um, doing?”

Besides giving them another reason to be falling asleep in this bed? “Should I?”

“I…” She lays her head against his shoulder, and it strikes him that she’s sad. “I just though you’d rather be with Kiki, because, um…”

“I like having my ass kicked?” he laughs, eyebrows raised. “That’s like a once a week thing. My pride can only take so much, Doc.”

“No, because…” She gives a little frustrated moan, burying her head in her hands. “Because you’re, you know –” her voice drops into a whisper – “having sex.”


Doc jumps, hands clamping down on his shirt to keep her from flailing off the bed. “I just…” Her eyes are wide, earnest. “Mitsuhide said…”

“Wha-what?” He should really, really think before he opens his big mouth sometimes. “No, that’s – gimme a sec.”

Zen is finally home, comfortable in his flannel pants; buried deep in the common room’s best easy chair, feet kicked up as Captain Holt says boNE in varying degrees of incredulity, when Kiki’s phone loudly interrupts.

He grunts, annoyed, and she rolls her eyes. A glance at the screen sends her eyebrows up to her hairline, and she flicks back a simple answer.

“Hey, Mitsuhide,” she says, bemused.

“Mm?” he groans from his place on the floor, half asleep over his law books.

“I’m not fucking Obi.” Zen stares, but Kiki is straight-faced, serious, like she’s pulling off a band-aid. “It was just fucking funny to make you think so. But joke’s over.”


Zen closes his laptop, sighing with regret as he levers himself out of the chair. “I’m just going to go…not be here for this, thanks.”



Chapter Text

“It’s getting late.” Zen yawns, rubbing at his eyes. “Is there any other chapter business?”

Kiki’s mouth settles into a thin line. Something unpleasant, then. “We need to set the date for the auction.”

“The –” He grimaces. “Do we – do we have to do that?”

“It funds the Rush Week events for next semester,” she tells him, pragmatic as always. “And it’s Traditional.”

She always says it like that, capital-t Traditional, so he knows just how little choice he has. Zen tilts back his head, lets out a loud groan. “Can’t we just ask Izana for a larger donation this year? We’ve already waived half our traditions anyway, between you and Obi.”

Kiki waits.

Fine,” he sighs. “Who can we sucker into this?”

Shirayuki can’t stop staring. “It’s so much money.”

“It’s peanuts compare to the stuff Zen and the others are used to throwing around,” Obi says, shoving his paycheck into the zippered pocket of his messenger bag. “This would probably pay for a pair of socks.”

“Four hundred is a lot of dollars,” she murmurs, running her fingers over the ink. “I can’t believe Garrack is paying us this much for grading papers.”

“And feeding turtles,” he reminds her, though that’s a gross oversimplification of their job. They’ve earned every penny of it, and Garrack would have paid them more had the department’s budget allowed. “Besides, this is like the cost of one chemistry book.”

“I know, I know, just –” She looks up, blushes. “Oh, um, Zen!”

Obi swivels his head around, grinning as he takes in the illustrious president’s flushed and harried countenance. “Chief, meeting us out on the lawn? I didn’t know you missed us that much.”

Zen gives them both a quick once over, but his gaze settles on Obi. “I need to talk to you inside.”

“O captain, my captain.” Obi presses a hand to his chest, his smirk turning smug. Zen regrets everything. “I would be honored –”

“Shouldn’t Kiki and I be doing this too?” Shirayuki asks, brows furrowed. “If it’s for the frat –?”

“No,” Kiki says at the same time he says, “I’m not comfortable with that.”

Kiki’s shoots him a warning look, and she says, “Creepers exist.”

Obi’s face tenses for a moment before it smooths over, smile firmly in place. “I only regret I won’t get to see the both of you ladies in dresses.”

Shirayuki frowns. “But I always wear dresses.”

“Fancy dresses,” he clarifies. “Not the same thing, Doc.”

“Wait,” Mistuhide says, staring at the hanger. “What do I need to wear a suit for?”

“I’m doing what?” Mitsuhide flushes, and Zen hopes it isn’t in anger. Not that – not that it’s common, but – he supposes Mitsuhide could get mad over a thing that wasn’t hockey. You know, one day.

“What’s the matter? Afraid I’ll rake in more money than you, Big Guy?” Obi grins, straightening his tie. As much as Zen hates to admit it, it’s a likely scenario. Girls love Obi for some reason. They were fifteen minutes late getting here from the dry cleaners because three girls tried to chat him up on the way to the car.

“No.” Mitsuhide wrests the jacket off the hanger. “Not at all.”

The bidding is almost sedate, at first. Kai and Shiira pull in a little over a hundred each, Shuka close to one-fifty, but it’s polite. Almost friendly.

Zen steps on the catwalk, and it all goes sideways.

Shiryauki keeps up until the bids get over three-hundred – this is not the way she wants to blow her first real paycheck. There’s a squad of Delta Nu girls with rolls of hundreds screaming unreal dollar amounts over each other until it settles out at six hundred. Zen goggles down at the winner, a leggy blonde with a Valentino dress, and Shirayuki tries not to grin.

“He is going to have a terrible time,” Kiki says with no little glee. Shirayuki concurs. He’ll probably have to drive with her out to Boston, two hours both ways, and she can’t wait to hear about it.

Mitsuhide stands awkwardly at the end of the runway, looking like he’d rather be watching the Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup than listening to the bids climb into the eight-hundreds. The Delta Nus are responsible again, this time a shorter brunette in Zac Posen, and when she calls out eight-fifty, waving a handful of bills in the air, he smiles kindly down at her.

“A thousand,” Kiki says, impossibly loud beside her. The Delta Nus turn to glare, but one glance at their competitor sends them hastily back into their seats.

“Please,” Kiki murmurs when she catches Shirayuki’s look. “Like I was going to let anyone else get him.

Obi struts out onto the walkway, jacket already tossed over his shoulder, sleeves rolled up to his elbows, and Mitsuhide sighs, “Osti de marde, he’s going to strip.”

Of course he is. Leave it to Obi to make a spectacle.

He tosses the jacket out to the Delta Nus, who have already put their cash away – all the valuable bachelors and trophy husbands having already been purchased – and Higata, clearly in on his plan, pulls up some remix straight from one of those movies Kiki’s so fond of as Obi’s fingers go for his vest.

Shirayuki claps a hand over her mouth, trying not to let out a shrieking laugh. Kiki is practically vibrating beside her, and only stops when she shouts, “Take it all off, pledge!”

He throws her his vest with a wink, and Mitsuhide mutters, “I’m going to go talk to Zen.”

“I hope he gets his shirt off before they stop him,” Kiki says with a grin. “That’ll really get some good bids.”

It’s already pretty good. The girls who want him aren’t as flush with cash as the Delta Nus, but his price tag is steadily climbing from twenty-five to a hundred-twenty-five. He’s unbuttoned half his shirt when it hits three hundred.

He pulls it off, and it’s like the room mutes. The steady bass of the music thrums behind her, and the girls to either side of her squeal – including Kiki, who has just used her superior height to snag his shirt from midair – but she hardly hears it.

She knows he’s built. Not that – not that she’s seen it up close, but she lives with him, she’s seen him wandering down the hallway after a shower, or playing shirts-and-skins soccer out on the lawn with the rest of the frat. She knows he’s cut; not cut like Mitsuhide, of course, who takes off his shirt and the clouds part and angels sing, but – toned. Kihal once took a look at his arms and declared them drool-worthy. So it’s not like she doesn’t know that he’s attractive.

But there’s something very different about seeing it all under stage lights, him flexing to put himself at the best advantage, just a long expanse of rippling bronze skin so defined that she could use him for an anatomy model.

“Four hundred!” she hears herself saying, only for another girl to shout out “Four twenty-five!”

That’s fine. It’s good. If she wasn’t going to blow her paycheck on the boy she’s kissed twice and wants to kiss again, she probably shouldn’t do it on her best friend either.

Kiki slips her a hundred from her roll. “Pay me back later.”

“Five hundred?” Obi’s next to her when she signs the check, passing it to Higata with a hand that only just trembles. He’s still shirtless, sweating from the lights, and it’s all a little much. “Didn’t know you had that kind of money to shell out for a date, Doc.”

She doesn’t, not really, but Kiki stays silent behind her so she just shrugs. “Well, that’s all I have. So you’ll have to treat me to both dinner and a movie.”

“Oh, Doc,” he purrs, leaning close. He really shouldn’t be allowed to be half naked and smell so good. It’s overkill. “I’ll do a lot more than that for five hundred.”

A nervous giggle bubbles out of her. “Good thing you know I won’t take advantage of you.”

He tenses a moment, then pulls back, easy smile on his face. “Yeah, good thing.”

Kiki slaps the bid down on the table, ten hundred dollar bills, and tells Mitsuhide, “I expect you’ll make it worth my while.”

He stares at the cash, then back at Kiki, and swallows hard. “Yeah.”

Chapter Text

Izana does not expect the sticking point to be an overnight bag.

He’s in town for a series of meetings that stretch over the weekend; it’s an inconvenience to spend so much time away from the office, but it is an opportunity to invest more attention to this arrangement with Bergstrom’s daughter.

They eat lunch her favorite spot: a small yet upscale taqueria with a terrace that would be delightfully private if it weren’t for the two dozen or so paparazzo hiding in the bushes. He would normally have security take care of them – no one needs to know whether he prefers pork or beef carnitas – but as Haki is quick to point out, being seen is the point.

“Do you think Medina will take your deal?”

He knows he must be staring; not how Zen stares, all slack-jawed and obvious, but the way Haki’s mouth curves around her straw tells him she’s noted his surprise. “You have a meeting with him on Monday, don’t you?”

“Yes.” She never ceases to surprise. It should unsettle him how much she knows of his schedule, but instead he is – pleased. “And I don’t know. After the incident with the Olin maris, I don’t know if he’ll think we’re committed to the area. He might try cutting corners, thinking we won’t be paying attention.”

She props her chin in her hand and looks out over the ocean view. She’s the very picture of privileged idleness: fashionably slender and sun-kissed, beautiful and bored. The paps agree, by the number of clicking shutters.

He can’t read her expression, not with her Louis Vuitton sunglasses obscuring half her face, but he knows she’s mulling it over, devising a solution. As much as their arrangement is a scheduling nightmare – Haki is too clever by a half, but she cannot make more hours in a day – this has almost made it all worth it. It is…nice, to not be the only one thinking three moves in advance. To have someone in his corner, watching over him.

“I think it’s time that you stayed over my place.”

He startles, nearly upending his sparkling water. “Excuse me?”

“We’ve been together for a month or two now, haven’t we?” As if she does not have an accurate count down to the day. “By this point it’s probably surprising that you’ve not.”

Izana takes a sip from his glass, stalling for time. He should know better than to cede any sort of territory to her by now.

“Pack an overnight bag.” She runs the pad of her finger around her glass’s sweating rim. He swallows. “Let yourself be seen coming into my building with it.”

“I don’t think I’m the sort of man who brings an overnight bag.” His image is more the discreet playboy; he has any number of women willing to attest to having infrequent but intensely satisfying sex with him. None of them would vouch for his qualities as – as a boyfriend.

Haki’s mouth twists up in displeasure – a warning sign he misses. “And so I must be the kind of girl who gets taken to charity balls to be fucked in the toilets?”

He flinches; a loss of ground. “I didn’t say that.”

“Then what exactly are you saying?” Her mouth pulls into a bright smile, playing it up for the cameras, but he doubts it reaches her eyes. She has spent most of her life cultivating her public persona; she’s the good girl, the doting daughter, seen with all the young socialites someone her age should be seen with, but never close enough to their inevitable falls from grace to let her own halo to be tarnished. It would be so easy to spoil that, to make her just one more girl he’s used and discarded.

It would take a scandal to ruin him, but all it takes is the lack of an overnight bag to ruin hers.

“I could be seen entering your building,” he offers, far more calm than he feels. “I don’t see the need for a bag.”

The bag is planning. It’s commitment.

Haki’s lips curl up at the edge, playful and almost sultry. “The bag is the point,” she tells him, voice low. Her hand smooths over his, her fingers tracing the hard lines of his bones, and he find it hard to follow her logic.

“Is it?” he asks, so even.

She leans close, head tilted coyly. “If Izana Wisteria, consummate bachelor, is seen entering the building of Axel Bergstrom’s daughter with an overnight bag, what do you think that says about his commitment to the area?”

Her glasses have slid down her nose, just the smallest bit, but he can see the brightness of her eyes, the way her eyebrows lift in expectation, aren’t I so clever?

And she is, she is; he’s a man that looks at the world and sees a chessboard, but sitting here he sees an equal, an ally, maybe even a –

He tilts his head, closes the distance. He’s kissed her before for a number of reasons, but never have her lips felt like this beneath his, soft and full and pliant with surprise. Time stretches painfully in the single moment it takes for her to respond, but the way she presses up into him is so sweet he hardly minds the tightness in his chest.

When he pulls away, her eyes flutter open, her whole face wide with wonder. “What was that for?” she asks him, breathless.

He watches her fingers brush over her lips. Because I wanted to.

There are some things even he can’t say. Instead he smile, the same disaffected playboy smile the paps love, but – more. Or maybe this time, less.

“Do you suppose I should pack for the night?” he asks, leaning back. “Or have the young lovers planned for a weekend?”

Her smile curves into something far more sly. “Pack for one night.” She settles back, her foot brushing against his leg in a move that has more purpose than an accident. “It’ll be more meaningful, I think, if our bachelor gets carried away.”

Brilliant. “What would I do without you?” The words are teasing, even if the message is true.

Her eyebrows raise behind her sunglasses. “Not get this deal, for one.”

For the first time, Izana wishes he excelled at opacity as much as he did obfuscation, if only so he knew that there was a possibility that she could truly see him.

Chapter Text

As promised, Izana brings an overnight bag.

He also brings a small mountain of work; papers spread out across his lap and spill out onto her sectional. Haki knows the stakes on this meeting, knows how much convincing Medina to come around means to Wisteria Holdings, but – still. This is not exactly what she expected, not after that lunch.

Her lips tingle, and she smothers the heat in her with annoyance. “Do you plan to cede any part of the couch to me tonight?” she asks, arching a brow at him skeptically.

For once, he seems surprised, shaking off his focus to look at her. His gaze flickers over the bottle of wine in one hand, the large bowl of popcorn held against her hip with the other. It lingers on the silk of her boxers, and his lips part, just for the barest of moments.

“Did you need it for something?” he replies, with the sort of calm she wishes she could reach. He’s too handsome, and, more dangerously, he knows it. He knows how his long legs look stretched out on the chaise, how his calculatedly disaffected slouch makes him seem both approachable and unachievable.

She lifts her eyebrows. “The TV isn’t a conversation piece.”

He stares at it like he’s never considered the idea. “Oh. Of course. Let me just –” He places his laptop on the coffee table, collecting his scattered papers. A space emerges for her near the opposite end of the couch.

Well, not exactly what she was hoping for. The night is young.

She sets down the bowl and bottle, clicking the TV on as she returns to her kitchen, retrieving two wide-rimmed glasses.

“Do you want some?” she asks, pouring her own. Izana glances at the bottle, nods.

“It tends to make the numbers go down easier,” he tells her. She grins, not for show.

“So I’ve heard.” The sound of pared-down marimba music pours from her surround sound, and Izana’s face screws up with an level of a distaste even he can’t hide.

“Really?” he drawls, hands stilling on his keyboard. “Real Housewives of Miami?

Haki plucks a kernel from the top of the bowl, popping it into her mouth. “Not all of us find a need to work every moment of the day.”

His mouth pulls down at the corners, the closest she’s seen him come to a scowl. He starts tapping away at his keyboard, and she thinks that’s it, it’s just mindless entertainment and red wine from here on out –

“Don’t we know some of these people?” he asks crossly, gaze pointedly fixed on his screen.

“Of course.” She shrugs, her shirt slipping down one shoulder. “That’s the whole point.”

“Couldn’t you just –” he stops, eyes riveted to the woman on the TV – “Is that Medina’s wife?”

“Oh,” she says, so innocent, “is it?”

Izana closes his laptop.

She’s not quite sure how it happens, but she’s pressed into his side, Izana’s arm wrapped around her as he uses his other hand to take notes on his phone. Medina has been on this episode at least three times, and his wife constantly talks about the state of his business.

“You’re brilliant,” he tells her when the show shifts to another housewife, candid no doubt from the wine.

She knows, though it’s nice to hear from someone besides her brother. “Oh, me? No I –”

“Don’t do that.” He isn’t speaking with his regular voice, all sharp edges and hidden pitfalls. This is – real. Kind. “Don’t downplay yourself to flatter me.”

She’s speechless, left with nothing to do but stare at the way his eyes shift color in the light. She’s always liked his eyes, so deep and blue, but up close they are endless, an ocean with no horizon.

“Why did you kiss me?” she blurts out. Damn the wine. It must be why she’s flushed now too. “At the restaurant, I mean. You haven’t kissed me now. Not yet.”

His lips curve into a grin. “Is that an invitation?”

Her breath catches in her throat. “Yes.”

Their official look is professional, serious, and sweet. PDAs are limited to held hands and lingering kisses.

This is not that.

His hand cups her jaw, draws her mouth to his, and then it is heat – a subdued one; hands above clothes and breathy gasps, but – heat. His mouth slants over hers, and she opens to greet it, his tongue gently sliding over the tip of hers. She whines, just slightly, and his arm tightens like a band around her waist, pulling her so that she is half in his lap.

His hand drops to her thighs, fingers skimming over the backs of her legs, tracing over the hem of her shorts. Her thighs quiver under his touch, and she pulls away, just enough so that their eyes meet.

“You never answered my question,” she tells him, trying so hard not to melt into his hands, to not give him more ground than he already has won.

He hums inquisitively, dipping his head to lay an open-mouthed kiss on her bare shoulder.

Oh, he is not going to make this easy for her. “About why you kissed me.”

His mouth lingers on her shoulder. She suspects he is trying to weasel his way out of answering, but then he trails his nose along her collarbone, burying it in the crook of her neck, and he inhales.

He is not avoiding her, she realizes, but savoring her. Her skin is unbearably tight, her mouth terribly dry.

“I kissed you,” he murmurs, fingers trailing down her spine, up her thigh, “because I wanted to.”

That should – should not make her so hot. “Oh.”

“I thought maybe,” he continues, and here his fingers stutter in their path, as if he might be anxious. “You might consider taking breakfast with me tomorrow. Privately.”

Privately. No Paparazzi. Not for show.

“Yes,” she says, because that is what she’s wanted since she met him, has wanted since she was sixteen and saw a college boy flip his floppy hair and talk to her father like he was a child. “Please.”

Izana pulls back and – and for a brief second she think he smiles.

It must be a trick of the light.

“Oh, there’s Medina’s wife again,” he says, and she expect him to evict her from his lap, to tell her to stop obstructing his view.

Instead he shifts her just slightly, cradling her to one side so that his arm and the couch hold her firmly upright. She curls against him, cheek pressed into his shoulder, letting herself relax. Beneath her hand, she feels his chest stutter.

Dry lips brush at her hairline. This is it, she realizes. This is – him. It’s real. She leans into his touch.

A moment later he is back to taking notes.

But still, his heat lingers.

Chapter Text

“What are you wearing?”

Obi jerks back, head catching painfully on the closet jamb. Some pointed four-lettered opinions pour out of his mouth about it before he glances over his shoulder. Kiki’s perched on his bed, practically lounging, and for a minute he’s glad people can’t breathe smoke because he’d be steaming.

“Why does everyone say I need a bell when you exist?” he grouses, turning back to his task of unearthing his duffel bag from the mount of crap that litters the floor. One good yank gives him nothing but a crick in his back, and he has some real words about that too.

“Because,” she drawls, one eyebrow raised at his struggle, “people want me to catch them with their dicks out. Now, what are you wearing?”

“What, like, now?” He looks down, assessing his gym shorts and half-zipped track jacket. Strictly doing-sweaty-chores material. Real laundry day couture. “Why, Ms Kiki, I could be wearing nothing but a pair of boxer-briefs and a smile, if you just say the –”

Kiki makes eye rolls look as easy as breathing and as elegant as waltz. “I meant for your date.”

“Oh.” He yanked at his duffel strap again, trying to have some reason not to meet her eyes. The thing won’t budge. He rubs his neck. “You mean the bid thing.”

“No.” The word is all edges, made to cut. “I meant your date.”

Air burst from him, like he’s been hit. She might as well, if she’s going to be – be like this.

“I don’t know.’ He twitches his shoulders, as close to a shrug as the tension in his muscles will allow. “Any of your places got a dress code? I think I have a sports jacket somewhere.”

“You mean that awful thing you wore to the frat banquet?” She wrinkles her nose. “Absolutely not. The only thing that’s fit to be at is it’s own viking funeral.”

Annoyance nips at him. “Well, it’s what I have.”

“Get something better.”

She says it so easily, and of course she does – Kiki Seiran has never had to sit down at her kitchen table and decide whether she gets a new pair of shoes or eats for the rest of the month. She doesn’t look at a hole in her jeans and wonders if she can soak the cost. Her net worth is estimated in the billions; she could wear her designer jeans once and throw them out every day for the rest of her life, and still never worry about whether she can Christmas in the Alps.

“It’s what I have,” he grits out, wondering if there’s any amount of emphasis that can break through that level of affluence. If her face is an indication, this isn’t enough.

She unfurls from his bed, eyebrows lifted with impatience. “Let’s go, you can’t bring that and – what is that, a skull tie? – on your date.”

There’s no amount of breathing that can get rid of the tension in his back now. “I don’t have the money for that.”

She shrugs, like the fact that some people have finite resources is a speed bump, not a road block. “I’m paying, then.”

“You already did your rich thing to get us the dinner reservation.” His hands fist in his lap. “And you’re paying for the hotel.”

“I’m not paying for the hotel,” she tell him, pedantic. “Seiran’s don’t –”

“It’s the same thing!” He doesn’t mean to raise his voice, but she just – she won’t listen. “It’s too much. You’re doing everything –”

“You’re paying for the –”

“That’s not what I mean,” he snaps, getting to his feet. He can barely stand to look at her. “You can’t just – fix everything for me. I’m not a charity you donate to so you can feel better about yourself.”

He’d swear the temperature drops ten degrees. “I didn’t say you were.”

“Yeah,” he chokes out. “But you all act like it.”

She’s silent for a long, long while.

“Fine,” she says, but the word is flat, roadkill on the highway. “I didn’t realize you felt like that.”

He lets out a breath. “It’s hard not to.”

“Never –” She bows her head, lips pressing together. “Never mind abut the shopping. What ever you have – it’s fine. I’m sure.”

Relief hits him like a wave. “Good. It’s what I have.”

“Don’t worry, Obi.” She smiles at him, lips parting to show teeth, and – and it’s not real. He can count on his hands the amount of times he’s seen Kiki smile – really smile – and this is limping next to that. It needs to be taken out behind the shed and put out of its misery. “Whatever you have is enough.”

She closes the door, leaving him alone in a room so cold it might as well be haunted.

“Well,” he mutters to himself. “That went shitty.”

Kiki is definitely upset.

She can’t just say it, of course not, but Obi knows how to tell. There’s no miraculous second smoothie out of the blender at Starbucks when she meets him for kickboxing in the evening. She doesn’t stop by his room to tell him when she’s done with the shower, leaving him to practically have to step on Kai and Shuuka to get in there before they mess it up. Texts he sends her no longer get a k in response, just…silence.

He knows he’s in trouble, though, when she’s not waiting at the bottom of the stairs Wednesday morning.

“What the fuck,” he tells the carpet. “It’s leg day.”

He pads into the kitchen, thinking maybe she’s – running late, or something. But instead of Kiki and a bowl of kashi, Zen is pouring syrup on a stack of Eggos, blinking at him owlishly as he peers around the corner.

“Jesus Christ,” he mutters, capping the bottle. It’s in the shape of a maple leaf; Mitsuhide’s family taps it themselves. Because if you’re going to be as Canadian as Mitsuhide is, you might as well go big or go home, or something. “Are people actually awake this early?”

“Dude, you know Mitsuhide.” The man is more regular than a rooster when it comes to getting up at dawn.

Ooh, he’ll have to remember that one. You get up more regularly than a cock is sure to get some quality glowering out of the Big Guy. “You seen Kiki?”

“She already left. To meet you, I thought.” Zen squints, taking in his gym shorts and tank. “Hey, are you guys having a fight or something? It’s just been…weird around here, lately.”

Obi lets out a hopeless sigh. “Fuck if I know.”

Zen’s head nods sagely. “Yeah, she’s like that. What do you think it was?”

“I don’t know.” That’s only half a lie, but – Zen’s trying to help. Obi braces himself. “I don’t know, a little while ago she was asking me about like, what I was gonna wear to t-t–”

Oh, goddamn it. Maybe he really needs to talk to Mitsuhide about this.

Zen’s eyes suddenly focus on him, not wary but – watchful. “To your thing with Shirayuki,” he supplies, casual.

“Yeah. My…thing.” He scrubs at his face. His stupid fucking feelings need to just – stop. It’s getting inconvenient. “And I said I had, like, a sports coat –”

“Not the one you wore to the banquet right?” Zen pops a soggy piece of waffle into his mouth. “Because that thing belongs in the garbage.”

“Oh my god, let me live.” Obi tugs at his hair and just – is there some sort of magazine rich people subscribe to so they can be so out of touch? “Anyway, she said she’d take me shopping, and I just – I tried to say no, and she pushed and I said –”

He’s not dumb enough to repeat that part. Not to Zen.

“– No, only…not nice.” He lets out a dry laugh. “Ish.”

“Ah,” Zen says, like it explains everything.


“Yeah, it’s just…” He chews thoughtfully, fork end tapping at his chin. “Kiki doesn’t know how else to be friends.”

Something ugly twists in him. That can’t be right. “She thinks friendship is just…spending money on people?”

Zen’s shoulders twitch. “Yeah. I mean, Seiran International is worth something in the order of billions. Everyone at our school was in the one-percent, you know, but Kiki – I mean, I don’t even know how small that decimal has to be. And just – some people were more…inclined to take advantage of that than others.”

All his joints feel stiff, petrified in revulsion. “You mean some people were her friends because she would spend money on them? Kiki put up with that?”

Chief’s eyebrows furrow, mouth bent into a frown. “Middle school and high school is rough for everyone, no matter how much money you have. Her mom had just died, she was an only child – I mean, we were friends but like – I don’t know, rumors would start up whenever we were together.”

“So you just left her to deal with it on her own?” What the fuck kind of friendship was that?

“No! Of course not.” His cheeks are flushed, angry. “She hated them too. We wouldn’t talk in school, just after, and only when there weren’t cameras around to catch us. So she had to find other friends, and it just –” he shrugs, uncomfortable – “it made things easier for her. To think she had control over it like that.”

“So now she thinks that I don’t want to be her friend?” God, people this rich are from another planet entirely.

“No, it’s just…” He shakes his head. “She knows you’re friends. But I think you made her feel weird. You took something she thought was good and made it…not. If you get what I mean.”

Strangely, he sort of does. “I pretty much told her I didn’t appreciate her caring about me.”

“Yeah, sort of like that.” Zen coughs, awkward. “I’m not saying you should just…let her. You don’t like it, and it’s probably not good for her to keep this up. But…” He sighs. “Maybe just…be gentler about it.”

“Yeah.” He runs a hand through his hair. “Yeah, I – I got you.”

She’s there when he gets in, face flushed as she pumps her legs on the machine. He drops his towel down on the next bench, watching her ignore him.

“Thanks for waiting,” he says, a little pettier than he means to start with, but, well – fuck it. His feelings are hurt too. “You really need a spotter if you’re going to do that much weight.”

Her legs shake. “I’m fine.”

“Yeah, yeah.” He steps by the machine, just like how he’s used to, watching the way she won’t look at him. “You always are.”

“Glad you know the score.”

“Hm.” He rubs at his neck, scrounging for words. Or confidence. he could do with either right about now. “So.”

Her legs stutter in her rep. “So?”

“If I let you dress me up,” he starts haltingly, “I still get final veto power, right?”

At the bottom of her rep, she hesitates. “Depends. Who picked out that blazer?”

“I did.”

Her mouth splits in a grin. “Then no.”

“I was nineteen. It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

“That’s the whole problem.” She pushes at the weighs again, gaze darting over to him before fixing on the ceiling. “You can have an opinion. I’ll listen to it. Probably.”

“That doesn’t seem like a compromise at all.” He’s missed this. There’s a grin on his face he can’t keep down. “I feel like I should get a vote, at least. I’ve dressed myself just fine since.”

“Tell that to your shorts.”

These,” he sniffs, “were five-ninety-nine at Target. It was thrifty.”

“You get a vote but don’t get to ask the price.” She turns her head just slightly to look at him. “Final offer.”

“Fine. Deal.” She puts the weights in their starting configuration, curling upright. “That’s your set?”

“Yeah.” She wipes down the seat. “Pleasure doing business with you. Your turn.”

“So gracious.” He lays down his old towel, strangely comforted by the heat her body has left behind. “Also, Kiki…”

She’s changing the bolt to his preferred weight, but she looks up, interested. “Hm?”

“If something’s important to you, just tell me.”

Her gaze darts away, but her hand lingers, squeezing around the knob. “It was important to you too. And you weren’t…as wrong as I liked.”

“Kiki.” He waits until she’s looking at him, until he’s sure she sees him. “You are what’s important to me, okay? Just…say something.”

Her eyes shift away, but a smile lingers at the corners of her lips. “Yeah, I’ll…keep that in mind.”

Chapter Text

When Kiki said, I’m taking you shopping, he’d thought – Brooks Brothers, Men’s Warehouse, something that sent out circulars where guys were wearing boat shoes with a blazer, or unironic argyle socks, not –

Not an actual designer, complete with private consultation, 180 degree mirror, and – and freaking tea service. This dressing room is nicer than his first apartment – and the second one too. Nicer than any place he’s lived, except maybe one.

Kiki had passed on the consultation, despite the personal promise – tendered passionately over the phone by his personal assistant’s personal assistant – that Mr Bailey himself would be happy to fly out, if she’d only give him a few hours and possibly dinner (to catch up, the poor woman had said, flustered).

(”Don’t let him trouble himself. It’s for a friend,” she says, mouth curling in a smile that makes sweat bead at his hairline.

“Mr Bailey would be happy to dress any friend of Miss –”

“Oh, don’t worry.” Teeth peek out from between her lips. “I can handle this.”)

Instead she subjects him to an endless stream of high-end clothes, brought out by simpering sales associates, eager to help Miss Seiran with her next purchase. They barely spare a glance for him once she tells them it’s on her account, and even then, he suspects it’s to guess his size.

He lasts an hour before it hits, before it feels like the walls are closing in and all three of his reflections are judging him.

The tie is mulberry silk, spun by only the snootiest, most free range of caterpillars, and it feels like a noose around Obi’s neck.

“I can’t do this,” he says, fingers knotted in his collar.

“What? Tie a tie?” Kiki glances up from her magazine, bored. “God, don’t tell me that thing you wore to the banquet was a clip-on.”

“No, not –” He meets his own eyes in the mirror, but sees – someone else. Someone who can afford two hundred dollar ties and whatever vulcana wool is. Someone who doesn’t have a scar bisecting his chest, who only takes pain killers recreationally, not for chronic, searing pain. “Not that. The rest of it.”

Kiki stills in her chair, then sets the magazine aside. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t date.” He yanks at the tie, trying to get some air. “I don’t – I don’t do dinner.”

She stares, a steady blue that meets his gaze in the mirror. He used to think Kiki was inscrutable, that she wore nothing on her sleeve, but – but he doesn’t think that now. Her expression isn’t blank, it’s – thoughtful. There’s no knee-jerk comfort with Kiki, no platitudes, just – solutions.

He likes that about her.

“You don’t have to do dinner.” She says finally, gaze sliding back to her magazine. “I like the aquarium idea, but Quincy Market is right across from –”

“No, I – I want to do dinner. Doc deserves dinner. I just –” He puts his hands against the mirror, trying to steady himself. Three Obis stare back, and that is – not helping. “I don’t date.”

Her face furrows, thick with skepticism. “I’m supposed to believe you never –”

“No.” His breath is coming fast now. “That’s it. I don’t date, I just – fuck.”

“Oh.” Her chair squeaks as she shifts, one leg crossing over the other. “So do you not want to fuck Shirayuki, or–?”

He summons enough annoyance to send a glare over his shoulder. Kiki doesn’t deign to notice. “I wonder.”

“Good,” she says, “I wasn’t sure you knew it.”

He stares.

“It’s possible. She’s in your bed three nights out of seven.” She shrugs. “Sometimes there’s a disconnect between dick and brain.”

“Your boyfriend would know.”

“God, would he.”

That makes him laugh, at least. “What the fuck am I going to do with this?”

“With what?” Kiki lifts an eyebrow. “With dinner, or – the rest of it?”

The whole feelings thing, she means. Obi rubs his head against the mirror. “I don’t know. Everything.”

“Do something,” she says, as if it’s so easy. “If you really want her.”

“I do, it’s just –” He stands up, scrubbing a hand down his face. “She doesn’t feel the same way.”

“Really now.”

“And I just…it’s fine.” He shakes his head. “I’d rather just be friends. I haven’t really –” He hesitates. “I’m not good at friends. It’s nice to…to have that.”

Kiki is silent for a long moment. “I’ll pick the place.” He opens his mouth to object, and she amends, “I’ll help pick out the place.”

“You don’t need to do that.” He sighs, turning to face her. “You're already paying for the hotel –”

“It’s fine –”

“It’s not.” She bridles, her jaw setting in a way he’s only seen before she punches guys named Blake. He steps down from the weird dais…thing, taking the chair next to her.

“Chief told me about how things were in high school. And maybe that’s a violation of privacy!” he adds when she looks like she’s going to start punching guys with the name Zen, and also maybe Obi. “But I don’t want to be that for you. I don’t want to be someone you think you have to buy to keep around. That’s all.”

“Obi.” His heart jumps when her hand lays over his. “I know. That’s why I’m doing it. Because you wouldn’t ask, and you don’t expect it.”

“I don’t make friends well either.” Her fingers lace through his, her palm to the back of his hand, and she squeezes. It’s…nice. Reassuring. “And the ones I do, I take care of.”

“Thanks.” He surprises himself by meaning it. “But I don’t need –”

“Please,” she scoffs, lifting an eyebrow as she turns back to her magazine. “I saw you at the banquet. You need all the help you can get.”

He stands, running a hand through his hair. Three Obis stare back at him dubiously, looking like they got frisky with a pillow for ten hours.

“Okay, that’s – fair. Just –” He stares down at his pants. “No vulcana wool. What even is that? Is it a sheep? Some sort of llama–?”

“That’s it,” she sighs, lifting a leg and shoving him back up to the mirrors. “I’m just going to cut all the tags out of what we buy.”

Chapter Text

It’s not quiet in the house, not this close to the start of the semester, but there’s a silence in the shape of Obi’s voice, and Shirayuki can’t help but try to fill it.

She knows where he’ll be; there’s only one place he goes to think, rain or shine, day or night, and so she swings by the fridge to pick up a Seagram’s before stepping into the golden glow of evening.

He’s there of course, one foot up on the banister as he gently swings himself, sipping at what looks to be a #9 in one hand. He doesn’t look up, just keeps staring out over the lawn; the light paints him in such nostalgic sepia tones that he could be straight from a Norman Rockwell painting, Boy on Porch at Evening.

She slips in next to him, curling her legs up to her chest and leaning back to enjoy the last dregs of summer. In two weeks they’ll be in Florida, knee deep in turtles, but right now they’re just here. Together.

“Excited about our date?” he asks, breaking the silence. He’s being wry, teasing, but for no reason at all her heart flutters in her chest. A date.

A real, fake date.

A distressed grunt breaks out from her mouth, and his lips split open in a grin. He leans close, eyes hooded, and purrs, “Oh, don’t worry, Doc, I put out on the first date.”

She laughs at that, putting her palm flat on his face and pushing him away. “I’m excited to spend time with you,” she says, shaking her head. “Though you’re giving me second thoughts.”

Obi lets out a low chuckle, letting them lapse back into a comfortable silence. But now that he’s brought up the date, her skin feels tight and her ribs too small, and she can’t help blurting out, “I don’t know what to wear!”

He stares.

“I mean, you haven’t really give me, a, uh –” she flounders trying to find the word – “dress code.”

His eyebrows raise. “You want a dress code?”

She lets out a helpless whine. She’s not good at things like this. “I’d like a guide.”

“I guess, um –” he clears his throat, his cheeks turning a shade darker – “nice? Dress nice. Nicer than usual. Like…a dress. But not fancy, or anything.”

She hums, casually raising a hand to cover her smile. It’s almost endearing how awkward he is; he’s got to have had a dozen girlfriends, and yet here he is getting tripped up by their date. “What are you wearing?”

“Um.” He’s flushed enough that he turns pink, even under the bronze of his skin. “A shirt and tie. And, um, pants. Not jeans.”

She nods. “Okay, I can find something.”

He picks up swinging again, his leg guiding them gently back and forth. “So…any other concerns? Since we’re talking about it?”

“No,” she says, pulling out the word. “Not really.”

He slants a wry glance her way. “That sounded convincing.”

“I mean, it’s just…” Ugh, this was – stupid. It was going to sound stupid.

She glances up at him, trying to decide herself, and – and he’s just sitting there, patient, like always. Never pushing.

“We know each other well, right?” she blurts out. “We’re – we’re friends, right? Good friends?”

He blinks, recoiling in surprise. “Yeah,” he agrees, bewildered. “Of course. You’re my – we’re close, Doc.”

“I know, it’s just…” She sighs, resigning to the fact that this is weird. “But now we’re going out on a-a date, and it feels weird that I don’t know, like, facts about you.”


“You know, like…what’s your favorite color?” She throws up her hands, only just remembering the bottle in one of them. “Or…what time of day you were born. Stupid stuff.”

His shoulder shakes against hers, and she realizes he’s laughing.

“Ugh, I know, it’s dumb.” She lays her head in her hands. “Just forget I said anything –”

“No, no.” He pulls her hands away with one of his. “It’s – here, why don’t we play a game?”

“A game?” She’s known him a little under a year, but that’s enough to know that a game usually mean a trap.

“Yeah. You ask me a question, I ask you a question.”

She wants to tell him that’s a conversation, but she’s not about to throw away her chance due to semantics. “And you’ll be honest? Really?”

Doc,” he admonishes, mouth canted slyly at the corner. “What is it you said to Ryuu? I may joke, but I never lie.”

The look she gives him is thoroughly unimpressed.

“Here, I’ll start,” he says, so magnanimous, arm curling around the back of the swing. “My favorite color is black. What’s your middle name?”

“Maria. What’s your favorite color that’s an actual color?”

Doc.” He tries to sound affronted, but he’s giggling too hard against the mouth his bottle. “Black is a color. It’s all the colors.”

“Right.” She leans back, feeling the heat of his arm along her neck. “It’s the same as saying you don’t have a favorite. So what’s your actual favorite color?”

His chest shakes next to her shoulder, but he is oddly straight-faced when he stares down at her and says, “Green.”

She’s not sure why something so simple feels so significant, but – but –

He lifts his gaze, watching the street. “Name of your first pet?”

“Mr. Bear.”

He lifts an eyebrow. “And he was…?”

“That’s two questions. When were you born – the time of day, Obi!” she amends quickly, even as she sees his mouth open, mischievous glint in his eye. “Play fair.”

“I never promised that,” he tells her airily, but she sees him relax, feels him settle in beside her. “Sometime after midnight. I don’t think I ever knew when exactly. Now what was he?”

She was a cat.” She valiantly ignores the way he bends over to laugh, arm rolling off the back of her swing and resting around her shoulders. “Where were you born?”

“Annandale.” His hand curves around her arm as he leans in to explain, “That’s in Virginia, Doc. What street did you grow up on?”

Her eyes narrow at that. There’s something familiar about his questions. “Schneewittchen. What was your favorite subject in school?”

“PE. What was your mother’s maiden name?”

She ducks her head, giggling into his arm. “Are you trying to commit credit card fraud? Is that it?”

He grins. “Well, this is sort of a speed date isn’t it? I figured –”

She smacks him on the chest, her hand making a hollow thunk when it hits his sternum. “Come on, take this seriously.”

“All right.” He leans in with a leer, crowding her, and, oh, does she have regrets. “Who was your first kiss?”


He gives her an innocent look, but doesn’t retract the question, because of course he wouldn’t. She asked for this.

“Eighth grade with my neighbor.” He starts making interested noises, and she groans, shaking her head. “Pavo. It wasn’t – I kissed him because I was tired of everyone talking about boyfriends. It was –”

She must make a face, because he laughs, squeezing her shoulders. “That doesn’t count, Doc. A real kiss.”

“Oh, uh…” She feels her cheeks heat and she finds something, anything to look at that isn’t Obi. “Youwerethere.”

“I was –?” He stiffens. “You mean, at the river? That kiss?”

If she could just disappear that would be great. “Yeah. That one.”

“That – huh.” He shrugs, body falling back into its casual sprawl. “Okay.”

“What about you?” she pushes, more than a little irritated. “Who was your first kiss?”

He stills next to her. After long moment, he forces out a laugh. “Can we pass? Did we make rules for passing?”

“Ah, oh!” She shakes her head, patting his shoulder. “You don’t have to – don’t answer anything you’re not comfortable with! It’s fine. I can –”

“I was fourteen and it was more than kissing.” He hesitates, mouth opening and closing like he’s about to speak, and then finally he says, “Anyway.”

“Um, right!” she squeaks. “You can, um, ask your question. To me. Um.”

For a moment she thinks the game is over, that she’s finally pushed him to a place he doesn’t want to come back from, but then he says, “What was your mom like?”

“I-I don’t know,” she admits, a familiar ache settling under her breast. “I was young when she – when she passed.”

“Ah, cool.” His fingers clench on her arm, like he’d be tugging at his shoulder if she wasn’t right there. “I just – I mean, I’ve met your dad, and you talk a lot about Oma and Opa, and –” He shrugs a shoulder. “I dunno, I just…wanted to know something about her too.”

“She sang to me,” she offers softly. “I don’t really remember her face except from pictures, but – but I remember her singing. She knew a lot of weird old songs. Americana, you know? Stuff they’ve been singing for centuries.”

She takes a deep breath, ignoring the way it shudders out. “She had my eyes. Or I guess I have hers? People would tell me that all the time. They said I – I had hear heart too, and sometimes I wonder –”

She presses her lips together to keep the words from falling out; he didn’t ask for this, he just wanted something cute to file away, something to bring up when they sat just like this in the silence of twilight, not –

He makes an inquisitive grunt, and that’s all it takes –

“I wonder if I’m making the right decisions,” she blurts out, the words stinging as she tears their claws out of her heart. “Every time I do – I do anything really, I wonder whether I’m choosing to be like her. Or not. And then I wonder what I want. Do I want to be her? I don’t – I don’t remember enough.” Her vision blurs, and she thanks all her lucky stars that she at least doesn’t sound weird and watery yet. “I wonder if that’s the closest I can ever be to her, being her copy.”

“Shirayuki,” he breathes, his hand running over the bare skin of her arm. “For what it’s worth, you’ve only ever been you, as long as I’ve known you.” He lets out a small, self-deprecating laugh. “If that makes sense.”

She turns to him, watching him a long moment. She doesn’t know how he can be so close to her, and yet so far away. She doesn’t know how to break that distance, how to bring him to her, how to tear down that space until it’s just them without anything between.

“Obi,” she says, her voice hardly above a whisper. “How did you get that scar?”

He doesn’t insult her by asking which one.

She watches the way his body expands and contracts with each breath, one moment larger than life and the next as small as a child. He’s not much older than her, but it feels as if he’s lived twice as much. She knows a vague sketch of what his life was like before, and she just – she imagines it happens to a man that looks like him now, because thinking about it happening to someone hardly older than a child –

“I was asked to throw a fight,” he says, voice hoarse, pained. “And I was – I was young and dumb. Some kids get into the ring for the fame. They take a dive because it means they’ll get a big pay out later. But I –” his smile is a knife slash, a wound-- “I fought because I liked it. I was good at it. I wasn’t going to pretend I was shit to make some other guy a buck.”

She tries not to think of how long ago this was, but it’s impossible for a mind like hers not to do the math. He came to college at twenty-one, had to have taken entrance exams, gone through rehab –

“They sent guys to convince me. Money guys at first. Told me to be smart.” He shook his head, his arm squeezing her shoulders. “I told them to get fucked. The next guys – they weren’t coming to talk. I was walking out of the gym and –” He laughs, bitter. “I brought fists to a knife fight. Doesn’t really matter how good you are when some other guy’s got an edge like that.”

– Six months at least, if he did it all at the same time –

“They left me there.” His knuckles turn white around the bottle in his hand. “Didn’t bother to finish the job. Just left me to bleed out.”

– He was twenty. Maybe. As old as her now, left to die for hours.

“It’s only because some girl saw me that I’m here at all,” he tells her, dispassionate, like it happened to someone else. “On her way back from some evening service. I guess I’m just always relying on good people to – ah!”

He just barely manages to brace himself, his whole body flinching as her arms wrap around his middle, face pressed into his chest. Beneath her cheek she hears it, she feels it: the steady lub-dub of his heart. She’s always taken it for granted, letting it lull her into sleep, but – but –

She could have missed this; she could have missed this and never known.

“I’m glad,” she says, and now she doesn’t hide how watery it is at all. She’s not ashamed for him to know how much he means to her. “I’m glad someone found you. I’m glad you’re –” With me. “Here.”

Under her hands she feels him relax, his arms winding around her. “I’m glad I’m here too, Doc.”

Chapter Text

Zen is the first.

“It looms like the Sword of Damocles,” he mutters. “I just have to get it over with.”

A week after the auction, he and Coco – her name is legally Coco; Obi will never get over rich people – spend an evening at Mohegan Sun. He’s tight lipped on the details, but doesn’t skimp as far as Obi can see: a limo picks them up, Zen is dressed to the nines and holding tickets to some concert.

“Really going all out, huh, chief?” he drawls, watching as Zen buttons and unbuttons his suit jacket, posing with a dramatic hip-pop in the hall mirror. He could be out of whatever catalog rich people order their clothes from.

Do rich people order their clothes from catalogs? A mystery.

Zen sniffs. “I do have a reputation to keep.”

Kiki looks up from her laptop. “With who? Delta Nu?”

He grimaces. “You know. People. Expectations.”

“The last time I heard anything about your reputation, it was that you were expected to not have a date at prom.”

“Don’t. Help.” Zen grounds out. Obi draws blood trying not to laugh.

Mitsuhide waits until after finals. “It’d be a fun way to relax,” he says, looking the least relaxed Obi’s ever seen him.

Kiki’s mouth curves into the slightest of smiles. “Sounds like fun.”

Mitsuhide looks like he’s going to collapse from relief. “I-I thought we might go to Boston. Since there’s nothing out here, really.”

Her mouth parts, showing a flash of teeth. Obi feels a flash of concern for the Big Guy. It’s the same sort of look prey items see before their neck snaps. “Let’s make a day of it. I’ll handle accommodations.”

“But I’m –”

“You’re planning everything else,” she says smoothly, as if she’s practiced. “I can get this. One night?”

Obi hears the spring of a trap when Mitsuhide says, “Yes.”

They leave Saturday morning. Kiki is wearing a skirt.

“Be safe, kids,” Obi calls out when he hears the door open.

“Don’t worry,” Kiki calls back wryly. “I packed plenty of condoms.”

The door’s too thick to hear Mitsuhide’s response. He’ll have to ask about it tomorrow.

They come back on Tuesday. Kiki is wearing a Canadien’s jersey five times too large for her.

She’s also holding Mitsuhide’s hand.

“I should take notes,” Obi teases when she walks past. She stops, gives him a long, considering look that makes goosebumps breakout over his skin.

“You should,” she says, thoughtful.

Obi knows what Zen means about the sword of Damocles. Whatever that was will be hanging over his neck for the next forever.

Summer’s almost ended when Kiki approaches him.

“You know money is exchanged for goods and services,” she says, apropos to nothing.

He’s halfway into his closet, trying to dig out his swim trunks – if he’s not going to use them at Lyrias, when is he going to use them? – and his laugh echoes in the corners. “I think between the two of us, Ms Kiki, you are not the one to lecture me on how money works.”

She’s silent a moment. “Shirayuki paid for a date.”

“No,” he says slowly, finding it balled up behind his dress shoes. “She paid for you guys to get good beer for Rush Week. It just so happens that I was who she bid on.”

Kiki grunts, disgruntled. “You should do it. I’m sure she’d like the excuse to spend some time with you.”

“She’ll be spending all her time with me in Lyrias.”

“I think she’d like an excuse to…be away,” Kiki tries again, her tone carefully removed. He sits back on his legs, and she shoots a pointed glance down the hall. Toward Zen’s room.

The chief has been…clingy isn’t the right word.


“Yeah, okay,” he says finally. “I guess you got a point.”

“Why don’t you go to the city?” she suggests after a moment. “It’ll be your last chance for a while.”

“Yeah.” He nods. “That’s a good idea.”

“I know.” She waits until he’s poked his head back in the closet to say, “You should make a day of it. I can handle your rooms, if you like.”

“That’s not –”

“I insist.” Her tone leaves little room for argument. “I’d like to treat you both. As a gift.”

His instinct is to ask what her game is, just what she thinks she’ll be getting from all this – but he tamps down on it. These are his friends. They care about him. He’s got to remember that.

“Thanks,” he says instead. “That’d be nice.”

“Great.” He looks back, and she’s actually smiling. “I’ll handle it.”

He’s buried in the back of the Cherokee, trying to figure out a way to hang his shirt that doesn’t have it settle on the floor, getting creases and shit – ah, fuck being so tall – when a shadow falls over him.

“I thought you said you were wearing a tie,“ Shirayuki says, so abrupt he whacks his head on the roof.

Wow, yep. Good thing this is a fake date, because he’s doing so good thus far. Haven’t even left the driveway and already he’s halfway to concussed.

“Oh!” she yelps, diving toward him as he ducks out, her small hands coming to cradle his head. “I’m sorry, I didn’t – oh, let me look at it, Obi! It looks like it hurt.”

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” he assures her, but he’s only a good guy, not a great guy, so when she sinks her hands into the bristle of his hair, seeking out where he’s bruised – well, it feels nice. There’s no real reason to stop her.

Of course, that’s when he realizes what she’s wearing.

“Oh,” he breathes, though he doesn’t know how. he’s used to seeing her in floaty boho dresses, but now she’s in this retro sundress, blue and white polka dots and – “Wow.”

She stills, her whole body pressed along the length of his to reach his bowed head. It looks a little ridiculous, her crisp cotton polka dots next to the ribbing of his tank top, like something out of greaser movie. A nervous giggle bubbles out of her, but she doesn’t step back, just continues to inspect him for damage.

“Ah, yeah,” she hums shyly, “you said you were wearing a tie, so I um…feel overdressed.”

“N-no, I, um.” He steps away now. She can’t be that close to him, looking so cute and wholesome. It makes him want to…rumple her. “I am. It’s just hot, and the Cherokee’s air is busted, so…”

“Oh!” She nods, emphatic. “All right! I was just going to ask if I should change, but –”

“Aw, c’mon, Doc.” He gives her a grin, winking at her behind his sunglasses. “Don’t go changing, I like you the way you –”

“Right,” she sighs, stomping around to the other side of the car. “I’m picking the music.”

“Aw, c’mon –”

“The rules are simple,” comes her muffled voice. “Lame music jokes lose you privileges.”

“But –”

“Do you want me to get Kiki?”

The drive to Boston from the valley takes two hours, but with her it passes like nothing.

He’s shrugging on his button-up in the parking garage, when she finally realizes where they are.

“We’re going to the aquarium?”

If it was anyone else, that would be incredulous, petulant, but with her, it’s – elated. She’s excited. He looks up as he tucks in his tails, and she’s got her hands clasped in front of her chest, all starry-eyed, and he –

Oh, wow, he just…he has a real problem here. “You been yet?”

He knows the answer, but it gives them something to talk about while he rolls up his sleeves, gives him something to think about other than opening up the Cherokee’s hatch and showing her what kind of things he usually does with girls.

“No!” She’s breathless. Good, now they match. “But Garrack says it’s laid out well. You can mostly follow the evolution of vertebrates, as long as you don’t mind that they can’t, you know, get a coelacanth.”

“Is there an aquarium that has one?” he teases, tightening his tie. “Someone page Dr Erdmann –”

“Oh, hush,” she says, slender fingers wrapping around his forearm. Her fingers a pleasantly cool against his skin, even in the dead of summer. “Come on, I want to see the penguins first.”

“Aren’t they the most derived –?”

“Did I pay extra for teasing?” she laughs, dragging him behind her. “Is that why you’re so expensive?”

“We’ve been over this,” he says, ignoring the sound of his heart pounding in his ears. “It’s because I put out.”

He lets her lead, dragging him from the penguins to her one-woman tour of vertebrate evolution – complete with commentary about how the tanks could be laid out in a more logical manner – but they end up, as he always knew they would, at the ocean tank.

It’s huge; twenty-three feet from bottom to top, a ramp tightly spiraling around the glass. It’s crowded – that’s what he gets for taking her out on a Saturday during summer – but they find a place between two concrete struts, right up against the glass, and – and –

Doc looks like heaven.

It’s dark on the lower levels, just the track-lighting and tank for light, and she’s painted in scintillating blues and greens, shadows passing over as the bigger animals rotate past, carried by the current. They’ve both got one hip pressed to the ledge, facing each other but not; she’s practically pressed her face against the tank, eyes and mouth open in wonder and –

And oh wow, this is a problem. This isn’t – he doesn’t just like her. He – he –

“Obi, look!” She grabs his arm, pointing with her free hand. “That’s Myrtle. She’s their green sea turtle. And there’s two loggerheads somewhere in here.”

He takes another moment to take her in, to commit the way she looks to memory, and turns to look up at the tank.

It’s strange to see one swimming from this angle; he’s always looking at them from the surface, but he’s watching her move from all angles, seeing every way she articulates –

“Wow,” he breathes. He’s a world away from where he was two years ago, just getting out of PT, throwing his Vicodin in the garbage, feeling weird about going to school with kids.

“Amazing,” she sighs, smile wide and wistful across her face. “Can you believe it? That is what we’re going to study.”

He can’t, not really, not when a year ago he’d been Undeclared, thinking about quitting, wondering if he’d ever find a place he’d fit for even a moment, and now –

Now he’s here. He has a major. He has a life. He has a purpose.

And he knows who to thank for it.

He opens his mouth – to tell her maybe, to admit just a small portion of the gratitude he has for having met her –

When suddenly she is flush against him, her breasts pressed to his ribs, hips aligned with his, hand gripping his shirt while his own clutch at her waist.

“Sorry,” says some kid, half their height, barely looking at them as he crouches to see a shark through the rail.

Her breath skitters over his chest. “Sorry,” she murmurs, and it takes him half a minute to realize she means him.

“No prob –” His words stutter when her hand runs down his tie, straightening how it lies over his shirt. “N-no problem, Doc. Always a pleasure to have you fall for me.”

She groans, pushing him gently, and he takes the opportunity to put some space between them, to catch his breath.

Anyway,” he says, “we should get going. Don’t want to be late for dinner.”

“Oh.” She blinks. “We aren’t going to eat here?”

“Please, Doc,” he laughs, tugging her by the hand. “I know you would have ordered the fish, and then someone would have said something about slow learners –”

You would say that.”

Someone,” he insists with a grin. “And then you would have sat there with your cute pouty face, trying to bum some of my rice pilaf off of me –”

“Oh,” she sighs, her voice wavering with laughter, “heaven forbid.”

Obi doesn’t do dates.

He’s never needed to. All his experience with woman has been girls who know what they want, and it’s seven minutes of quality time on the nearest flat surface with his dick. Sometimes he’d go back to their place, spend a few hours doing things right, but – no staying for breakfast. No midnight snacks. He didn’t even accept a power bar that one time a girl offered it to him, saying you need it after that performance.)

So going to an actual food serving location and sitting there for an undisclosed amount of time and making conversation? Not something that’s been at the top of his list to do. He wouldn’t know where to start.

”That’s why you have me,” Kiki says, lounging on his bed as she flips through options on her phone. “I will make you look like less of a loser.”

“Hey,” he laughs, throwing a pillow at her. “Girls love me.”

She doesn’t even flinch, just grabs it out of the air and tucks it under her arm.

“Fine.” Her mouth slants to one side, giving him a flash of teeth. “I will make you look like less of a horse-dicked loser.”

The place Kiki picks –Water Line, just down on the next pier – is nice. Swanky.


Obi’s intimately aware of the balance in his checking account; he sees it hovering in his vision when he looks at the prices on the menu. He knows that thirty dollars for an entree – especially seafood – isn’t extravagant, but it’s also not – not –

Affordable. Not for a college kid who just started his life over.

He breathes through his panic. He can do it; he doubts Doc could eat enough to break the bank. Even still…goodbye to that that oil change he was going to do before they left.

“Oh my,” Doc murmurs, slender fingers pressed to her lips. She’s gone two shades paler just perusing the appetizers. “It’s so expensive here. I can just get some – soup? I think soup is cheap…relatively…”

“Hey.” His hand shoots out, grabbing the one she’s laid on the table between them. “It’s fine. Get what you want.”

Her teeth sunk anxiously into her lower lip. He forces down the urge to lean over, to catch it both of his and soothe away the worry marks with his tongue. Ugh, not appropriate.

“Are you sure? I don’t –”

He gives her hand a squeeze, palms touching. “C’mon, Doc. you dropped a whole bunch of cash to get here after all.”

Her eyes narrow, searching his face, but she nods finally, giving him a shy smile. “Well,” she says, fidgeting with the napkin in her lap, “I had heard that you put out.”

“Oh, I see.” He can’t fight his grin. “The truth comes out. I see right through you, Doc, you just want me for my –”

“Excuse me.” A waiter reaches between them, tipping both their wine glasses upright, and then he’s popping a bottle of red –

“Uh,” Obi starts, suddenly at a loss for words. The edge of the bottle’s label is peeling at the edges, and that seems like something – expensive. “I don’t think we ordered that –”

The man smiles, pouring the rich red into their glasses. “Compliments of Miss Seiran.”

Thx 4 vino

You’re welcome.

gv me a hrt attk
but v cool
doc sez “it’s nice”
“i feel warm”

Glad to know it’s being enjoyed.
Dinner is on me by the way.

wat no wai
thats too much Kiki esp w the hotel & everything
im supposed to b paying for this thing

I want you two to have a good time
And you won’t if you’re thinking about how you have $304.08 in your checking account.

How do you KNOW that

Think of this as a farewell gift.
If it makes you feel better.

Thank you

Thank me by enjoying yourselves.

Doc has a little too much over dinner. Not enough to be drunk, but she’s leaning into him as they walk along the pier to the hotel, hand wrapped in his.

(”It’s a date, isn’t it?” she asks when he blinks down at her. “People hold hands on dates.”

God, is his mouth dry. “R-right.”)

When they get to the front desk, he’s a live wire, so aware of how Doc is curled into him that he hardly listens to the concierge when he repeats the room reservation. It feels like everyone is staring, that everyone there knows she isn’t his, she’s for someone else, and – and even still he can’t push her away.

All he hears is “Under Seiran?” and he squeaks up, “Yep!”

So he really shouldn’t be surprised. Not when Kiki made the reservation. He’s sure somewhere in their nine months plus of friendship, he has earned this particular prank.

“Obi,” Shirayuki slurs, face emerging from his side, “why is there only one bed?”

The suite is huge, it’s got a living room and a dining room and a balcony and just – it’s super swanky. Better – and bigger – than every apartment he’s ever lived in. So when he sits in the bathroom, staring at his phone, he knows he’s not going to text Kiki. This isn’t a mistake. Kiki knew exactly what she was doing when she booked the world’s most swankiest suite with only one – albeit enormous – bed.

He takes a deep breath and walks back out, running smack into Shirayuki and her neat little bag of toiletries.

“Ah, sorry, Doc,” he sighs, stepping aside to let her past. “I didn’t – this is my fault. I could –”

“It’s fine, Obi.” She sets down her bag a little too precisely. “It’s not like we’ve never slept in the same bed.”

Right, that’s true, but – but there’s a different between passing out from too much anime too late, and planning to share a bed. Planning to share a bed that was covered in rose petals when they arrived.

She shrugs, nonchalant, though he can see her hands tremble in the mirror. “I mean, it’s either this or you sleep in the tub.”

He stares, watching her brush her teeth. “Or, I mean, the couch. Couches exist.”

“You’re not sleeping on the couch,” she tells him after she spits. “That’s stupid.”

“You’re right,” he says, sauntering back into the bedroom, Doc trailing along behind him. “I’m the one not paying for this room for both of us. I get the big fancy bed.”

He flops showily onto the mattress, throwing the sheets around his hips. Oh god, they’re silk.

She’s been hanging around him far too much, because she gives him the flattest, least impressed look, and says, “Am I honestly supposed to believe you’d let me sleep on the couch?”

“Alright,” he sighs, opening the covers for her. “Get up here.”

She giggles, slinking shyly towards him in her pajamas – just some sleep shorts and a t-shirt – and curls into bed beside him. The moment her hands touch him his heart pounds, and he thinks he’ll never sleep, just lay up being consumed by his own desire, but –

But she lays her head on his chest, breath evening out, and he just – just passes out.

Best sleep of his life.

They come home the next morning, her wearing his hoodie, not holding hands.

Kiki frowns as he walks past, drowning in one of Mitsuhide’s shirts. “You’re a disappointment.”

“Hey,” he says, grabbing his coco puffs from the cabinets. “I’m a gentleman.”

Chapter Text

Halfway through their first month at Lyrias, Shirayuki finally gets put on what Shidan’s lab affectionately calls Turtle Watch.

“Oh, finally!” she sighs, running her finger down the schedule. “I was sad I didn’t get to do it last time!”

“Who’d you get paired with?” Yuzuri asks, sliding her chin over her shoulder. “Ooh.”

“Oh.” She blinks. “Just with Obi.”

She doesn’t like how Yuzuri grins. “How romantic.”

Obi puts her in charge of snacks.

“You’ll just complain if I do it,” he says when she balks, pouring coffee into a thermos. “Because funyuns ‘aren’t food.’“

“They’re really not,” she insists. “They’re just empty calories.”

He shrugs. “You say potato, I say part of this complete breakfast.”

She lets out a long-suffering sigh. “I worry about your digestive health.”

“Well, Doc,” he says with a grin, “that’s a new one.“

Shirayuki packs a cooler full of water and an organic form of Gatorade she finds at Whole Foods; Obi sighs when he sees them sitting in the kitchen, telling her it’s just not as fun if they aren’t all unnatural colors that might give him cancer. On top of their drinks are painstakingly cling-wrapped snack bundles; carrot sticks and ants-on-a-log, thick-cut slices of block cheese and grapes sliced in half to be paired with the low-sodium triscuits in her bag, slices of apple tossed in lemon juice and lightly sprinkled with cinnamon to keep them fresh, and at least a half-dozen clementines.

Obi opens the top and says, “I have regrets.”

“I have protein bars too,” she offers sweetly, fluttering her eyelashes in the most innocent way she can manage. “And some trail mix.”

He wilts. “Not even one bag of chips?” he whines, half-heartedly poking at the bags, trying to peer under them. “Not even a cheese-it? A coke?”

She covers her mouth, but she can’t help it, not when he looks so pathetic over her healthy smorgasbord of snacks. A giggle slips out, and he looks up at her with a look of complete betrayal.

“Well, I mean,” she starts, fiddling with the zipper on her backpack. “I did bring these.”

She pulls out a plastic bag, still warm, and tosses it to him.

He gapes, holding it like its precious. “You made me cookies?”

“I know chocolate chip isn’t your favorite,” she admits, her stomach fluttering with nerves. “But I thought they’d keep well since we’re outside.”

He nods, silent, and there’s a strange tension in his body, like he’s not sure whether he should move or not. “Uh, yeah,” he says finally, clearing his throat. “Thanks.”

It’s weird how easy this is.

Not the Turtle Watch – that she expected. The hatchlings don’t usually emerge until the moon is high and bright, and even then they’ll only need to interfere if one gets turned around – but being here, spending this many hours alone with someone who isn’t her Oma or Opa.

Not that she thought it’d be tough to spend time with Obi; they’ve done enough late-night projects and marathon studying to know that conversation would be easy. When she finds herself in need of company, she knows who would be her first choice – but that’s when they’re doing something. She tried to spend time with Zen – no expectations, no schedule, no comfortable friend-buffer, just being together – and the conversation had come in fits and starts, leaving awkward silences that stretched between them like a gulf.

But when she’s laying here with Obi, the conversation fades after the first hour or so into a thoughtful silence. There’s no expectation in it, no impetus to fill it; she is able to just be, watching as the moon rises above them. They’re so far down the coast that there’s no lights out here besides the stars, but it almost bright as day with the moon hitting the water. It’s so quiet, so peaceful, that the only noise she can hear over the waves crashing into the surf is her own heartbeat. Sometimes she likes to imagine she can heart Obi’s as well, a soft lub-dub over the lulling tide.

“This is really romantic,” she sighs, leaning back on her hands.

She hears the warm rumble of a laugh caught in Obi’s chest. “That’s what Suzu said.”

She grins at that. “Were you carried away by the ambiance?”

His chest shakes with laughter, and he groans. “I want to joke about it, but I had a confession moment and everything.”

“With Suzu?” That’s not a bad picture. “Should I be worried he’s going to be sending me jealous looks tomorrow?”

“Not like that,” he scolds her with a grin. “I, uh….told him. About, you know…”

“That you’re bi?” she supplies, watching his face carefully.

He grimaces. “Yeah. That.”

Her heart flutters in her throat. She believes in Suzu, she does, and nothing has seemed weird, but it’s so hard to know how people will react. “And?”

“He asked me if the Ocean’s movies are the best movies ever, because I can appreciate everyone.”

“Oh my gosh,” she snickers. “That is so Suzu.”

“Isn’t it though?” He sounds pleased, at peace, and something settles in her, soft and warm, at the sight of him so contented.

“I’m glad, Obi,” she says, letting herself be serious for a moment.

She doesn’t know everything about his life before Clarines, but she can’t imagine that underground fighting rings would be the kind of place where someone would want to be out, and he – he deserves to be able to trust someone with this. Someone more than her.

So soft she hardly hears it over the waves, she hears, “Me too.”

“This would make a really good date.”

The words fall out before she can stop herself, and she wonders if maybe he didn’t hear them, that maybe she can pretend they were never said, but she glances down at him to check, and he –

He’s staring at her, wide-eyed, frozen like a deer in headlights. She doesn’t know how to explain she doesn’t mean them, that in general it was a good date, that other people would probably like it –

“N-not that I would know,” she says, which is just worse, and she only makes it more so by adding, “I mean Zen and I went out on d-dates, but like, group things, and it’s not really a date if you’re all there.”

He hasn’t stopped staring.

“And the only other date I’ve been on is with you.” Something about that makes her stomach twist, makes her think that’s something she should think on, but she can’t right now, she can’t. “You know, for the auction. Though that wasn’t a real date –”

His mouth bends into a mildly offended frown.

“I-I mean, it was great,” she assures him, her ribs feeling too small for her heart and lungs both. “Definitely the nicest date I’ve been on. But you didn’t, you know, mean it –”

Obi stands up, sand spraying across their blanket. He fists a hand in his shirt, pulling it up and off his body.

“W-what are you doing?” She flushes as his hands start fiddling with his belt.

“Going for a swim,” he says lightly, pulling the catch open. “Night swims are the best, you know.”

“What?” She blinks, scrambling to her feet. “But there are sharks –”

“I’ll be fine, Doc.”

“We didn’t even bring bathing suits,” she frets, “how are you –”

He shoves his jeans down, stripping down into just a pair of soft gray boxer-briefs. She suddenly needs to take a gulp of her water.

“O-oh,” she breathes, averting her eyes from the way it clings to him, even now. “But we’re supposed to be waiting for turtles –”

“We have time,” he assures her, winding down to the shore. She trails behind him, unsure. “They don’t tend to come out until after midnight. And besides, you’ll holler if you see some, won’t you?”

He tosses her a wink, diving into the surf.

“Obi!” She doesn’t mean to sound so frantic, but – sharks exist! Here specifically!

He surfaces not far from shore, his smile blinding in the moonlight. The waves are just above his waist, and he walks in a little until they sit at mid-thigh, and –

Oh my. That just leaves nothing to the imagination –

“Okay!” she yelps, turning back toward shore even as he laughs. “I’m going to just – read, I guess! Have a nice swim.”

He’s still laughing as she walks away, and he calls out, “Feel free to enjoy the view, Doc!”

She doesn’t realize the real problem with his plan until he emerges from the water, dripping and shimmering in the moonlight.

“You can’t put your jeans back on,” she tells him, so serious. “I-I mean, you’ll get them wet.”

“Of course not,” he agrees blithely, “I wasn’t planning on it.”

She thinks about that, about Obi sitting there wet and glistening and her trying to use word-things –

“You’re just going to sit in your underwear?” Oh my, she hopes not.

“No.” He shrugs, laying out on the blanket. “I’m gonna air dry a little, and then take these off, and then put my clothes on.”

“Wha –? Where are you going to change?” Her skin feels hotter just thinking about…that.

“Here.” He grins up at her. “You promise to peek, don’t you, Doc?”

“You mean promise not to peek, right?”

He waggles his eyebrows. “I wonder…”

“You must have done this a lot, right?” Shirayuki asks, if only to keep herself from thinking about how Obi is wearing nothing under his jeans. “I mean, you were near the beach weren’t you? So you could have, you know, taken girls out.”

Silence seems to stretch on forever. “No,” Obi answers finally, his voice strangely hoarse. “I, uh, didn’t take girls to the beach. For dates.”

She blinks at that. “Really? But I thought you were –” her chest tightens strangely; she feels a little sick – “I thought you were popular. You know. When you were a teenager.”

“Oh,” he laughs, his voice so deep. “I was. But I didn’t – I didn’t date.”

“Then….” She frowns, confused. “How were you…?”

“Doc.” There’s something serious in his tone, something that makes her look down into the gold of his eyes. “I’m not the sort of guy girls date.”

Unbelievable. Had he looked different as a teenager? She can’t imagine there would be a girl who wouldn’t want to be his girlfriend. “Really? Not even once?”

“Well…” His voice drops, soft. “You. There was you.”

There’s no reason for her heart to flutter like this, for the air to thin feel so thin and insufficient.

He laughs, awkward. “But that doesn’t count, right, Doc?”

Never has she wished she could take back something so much as that. She had thought – if she had know that he – that it had meant something to him too –

He takes a deep, shuddering breath and adds brightly, “I guess neither of us have been on dates!”

She just barely manages to get out the word, “Right.”

A long moment later, he adds softly, “But you’re right. This would make a great date.”

Words fails her, like always, and she cast about for something, anything to lift this strange mood from between them and –

“Obi!” she gasps, making him spring upright, wary. “The turtles!”

She points into the distance, where impossibly tiny turtles push up from the sand, wriggling down to the surf. He shuffles closer on the blanket until they are shoulder to shoulder, and he grins.

“That is never not cool,” he sighs, leaning back on his hands. “But, it’s really missing something, you know, not having Suzu’s commentary on the precious nature of life.”

“Oh god, shut up,” she laughs, leaning her head on his shoulder.

She can feel his body shaking beneath hers, holding in laughter, but it fades with time, until it seems like it is only them two in the world, watching turtle babies follow the moon home.

“Obi?” she says, so soft.

“Hm?” The sound rumbles under her ear like thunder.

“I’m glad I’m here with you.”

He stiffens beneath her. A moment later she feels him relax, and the fluffy bristle of his hair tickles her ears as he lays his head over hers. “Likewise, Doc. No where else I’d rather be.”

She wakes up with the sun in her eyes. The familiar growl of Obi’s car shudders around her. She must have fallen asleep on the beach. She tries to blink her eyes open, tries to gain her bearings –

“No, no, go back to sleep,” Obi murmurs soothingly. She feels one of his hands close around her thigh, giving it a squeeze. “We’re almost home.”

She’s tired, so tired, and that must be the only reason she thinks, I already am.

Chapter Text

This is definitely going to be their last Christmas at Clarines.

It’s not that Shirayuki doesn’t love seeing everyone. She does – it’s the first time she’s gotten to see Zen in months – but they’ve been driving for eight hours today, and they drove for twelve yesterday and – she’s tired.

She pulls at her face in the mirror, her skin sickly pale under the harsh fluorescent, eyes seeming deep and bruised. The verdict is in: she looks exactly as rough as she feels. Unless Obi suddenly wants to hop on a plane next year, it looks like they’re going to have a palm tree for Christmas.

She leans against the bathroom door, using the weight of her body to open it; even pushing with her hands seems like too much effort. She hopes this place has mozzarella sticks; she’s the sort of soul weary that can only be bolstered by fried cheese.

The sign outside said pub, but the dim lights and vaguely hostile atmosphere definitely make it a dive. It takes longer than it should for her to locate Obi, especially with so few people at the bar, but –

He’s there, the line of his shoulders rigid, his back rounded. Shirayuki’s never seen him so poised to run, so ready to retreat, and she can’t figure why until he shifts and –

There’s a woman next to him, older, her smile a slash of red in a bronze face that’s only just begun to crack. There’s something familiar about her, about the tilt of her head, the cock of her hip, the way she stands like her very presence is a challenge.

It’s Obi. She stands like Obi did a year ago, leaning up against the science building. It’s too bad you can’t get in, Miss. Maybe you’re not in the right place.

“O-Obi.” She walks up to him, fingers hooking around his elbow. “I’m done now. We can – we can go?”

He stares at her, eyes so wide she sees white all around, and that’s when the woman swivels her head to look at her, fixes eyes on her so similar to his. Her mouth crooks up at the corner. That’s Obi too, she knows, but it’s never looked like this – it’s never looked so mean.

“Already, Obi?” the woman drawls, her voice low and dark, smooth. “We’ve only just started catching up.”

“We’ve got a long drive,” he says, his forearm tensing beneath her hand. She doesn’t miss how he won’t look at the woman, how he only looks at her. “Can’t stick around.”

“Long drive?” the woman presses, eyebrow raising in mocking question. “Where have you set yourself up now, Obi? You haven’t said.”

His fist clenches. “Don’t.”

Her eyes blink wide, innocent. “Don’t what, Obi? Can’t a mother care about where her –”

“You are not my mother, Tevta,” he snaps, and now he’s looking at the woman, eyes burning. “Not even close. C’mon,” he says to her, “there’s nothing here I want.”

“Not even going to introduce me to your friend there?” Tevta calls after them. “I got some stories I’m sure she’d love to hear. C’mon, honey, don’t you want to know what Obi’s really like?”

He stops, eyes screwed shut, shaking his head like he has a song in his head he’d like to get unstuck, only – more. Like he has a whole person in there he’d like to evict.

She can take a guess who it might be.

Shirayuki slides her fingers through his, squeezing his palm. “Come on, Obi.”

His eyes flick open, gaze fixed on her. She tugs him toward the door. “Let’s go home.”

His brow furrows. “You aren’t going to –”

“Obi.” She ducks her head, meeting his eyes. “I already know who you are. Anything else…” Her fingers brush over the back of his hand, comforting. “…I’d rather you tell me.”

The air rushes out of him, like he’d been holding his breath for a lifetime. “Okay.” His palm squeezes hers. “Let’s go home.”

Chapter Text

“Holy fuck.” Yuzuri practically peels off her bolero, grimacing as the crochet sticks to her shoulders. “I don’t think I’ve been so bored in my life.”

Shirayuki takes two steps and follows suit; her cardigan had looked smart and suitably demure over her dress, back in the ballroom where the AC was set to glacial, but the second she’s out of the building the knit sticks to her like glue. Even when she pulls it off, her shoulders itch, like there’s still wool-blend fibers stuck to her skin.

“The donors seemed…nice,” she offers lamely, earning an incredulous look. “I only mean – Haki’s pretty nice, and they’re her friends, so…”

“They’re not her friends,” Yuzuri snips. “They’re the people she pumps for money because they won’t give it away for anything less than a couple hundred dollars per plate.”

“Still.” It’s hard to think of people with net worth in the billions as nice people, but she’s willing to give it the good-old college try. “They’re giving money to the project.”

After all, some of those people probably don’t even know what a living wage looks like, much less how to give one to an employee.

Nope, not working.

“Listen, Haki’s okay,” Yuzuri allows, magnanimous. “The Bergstroms give away money hand over fist, and she seems decent for someone who probably doesn’t even know the price of a banana, but all the other people in there – probably white collar criminals.”

“But the food was good.” Obi counters, the hard soles of his shoes clacking as he huffs down the stairs.

She’s can count the number of times she’s seem him dressed up on her fingers – and on one of those occasions she spent far too much money to see it again – but as nice as he looks all done up in a suit coat, it’s like this that she likes him best: coat discarded, tie half undone, sleeves rolled up to the elbow. It’s just – more Obi that way.

“And it was an open bar,” Izuru points out, just after him, slipping out of her shoes with a grimace. “Though it’s, you know, weird to drink in front of professors. And you know, important people.”

“I know.” Yuzuri shakes her head. “I got like, one cocktail, and then kept thinking about how Forenzo is there, and he probably has like, a wall of shame for students he catches drunk. Just endless Polaroids of undergrads dancing on tables.”

“Oh, he definitely does,” Izuru assured her.

“Not even in a sexy way,” Kazaha sighs. “Just to remind you he knows. He remembers.”

Yuzuri shivers, even in the heat. “Glad I didn’t try out more of that cocktail menu.”

“It’s a trap,” Izuru agrees.

“We should still celebrate,” Shirayuki offers, and she means – dinner, or maybe an unwise amount of appetizers split between them and drinks to go with, maybe even just going down to the ice cream stand just off campus in their fancy clothes and getting sundaes, but –

Yes,” Yuzuri hisses, fist pumping victoriously. “We should go clubbing. And get wasted.”

Oh no. “That wasn’t –”

“Come on, we can take my car.” Yuzuri jerks her head toward the parking lot.

“I don’t think we can all fit!” Shirayuki tries. “I can just –”

“We’ll all get cozy,” Yuzuri tells her. “Come on.”

“But I don’t really….”

She doesn’t know how to explain that she’s never been clubbing, not to a veteran like Yuzuri, who can come up with a top three for every city she’s been in whether she was legal or not. There’s no way to say everything I learned about clubs I learned from the Matrix before I fell asleep, not to someone who already tells her she’s a forest nymph, who already thinks she’s – she’s way under experienced in everything

“Hey .”Yuzuri slings an arm around her. “It’s fine. I know just the place. It’s safe, close by, and you’ll have tons of fun.”

“Nope.” Obi swings his head, hanging back. “Absolutely not. I’ll wait outside.”

“Don’t be a stick in the mud,” Yuzuri cajoles, pulling at him. “It’s so fun. And lacks in creepers.”

“I don’t dance.”

The Velvet Rope?” Suzu’s eyebrows hit his hairline. “Isn’t this, the um…ah…”

“The local gay club, I believe is the designation you are looking for,” Kazaha says. “Very nice. I heard the bathrooms are clean here.”

“Is that a concern?” Suzu asks, not a little nervous.

“Have you ever seen the men’s room at The Cage?” Kazaha shivers. “I don’t even want to think about what happens in there.”

Yuzuri bounces up to the door, stuttering short as she sees the marquee. “Oh no.”

“What is it?” Shirayuki asks.

“It’s eighties night.”

“Oh.” Obi executes an eyeroll that would a perfect score, if there was some sort of Olympics for sarcasm. “Perfect.”

“It’ll be fun,” Yuzuri insists, though she doesn’t sound as sure of her plan as she did in the car. “I promise.”

“I’ll wait for you guys at the bar,” Obi sighs, letting himself be dragged. “You can find me on the way out. I’ll be the one having a terrible time.”

“How are you so heavy?” Suzu groans, stumbling as he takes on more of Obi’s weight, draping him half across his back. Shirayuki’s spine aches just looking at them; she just has to carry herself, and already the stairs swim in front of her, barely staying level.

“Hnnng,” Obi replies eloquently, glitter shedding off his chest and onto – everywhere. The stairs, Suzu’s shirt – it’s all fair game. Their shower will probably sparkle for days after this.

“I mean like, where are you keeping it, dude?” Suzu presses, letting Shirayuki steady him on one side. Or, well, as steady as she can be with the world tilting like it is. “I know muscle is dense, but like, come on.”

“Mrrg,” he replies, sound muffled by Suzu’s back. “Hgggn.”

“Is this his shirt?” Shirayuki asks, finally noticing the pink tinge to it, the way the buttons seem to only just meet where they hastily tried to close it. “I don’t think it is.”

“Just be glad we found one,” Suzu grunts, heaving him around a landing. “We’re lucky they didn’t convince him to take off his pants too.”

“Oh, they did.” Yuzuri stumbles up after them, laying a slap on Obi’s ass that echoes. It only makes him giggle, insensible, before he slumps back onto Suzu. “His boxers have chili peppers on them.”

“I thought he said he couldn’t dance,” Suzu grumbles, waving her away. “I got to say, that was some advanced dancing up there.”

“I don’t think anyone in that club will think of Come On Eileen in the same way again,” Yuzuri agrees. She pats Obi’s cheek, and he grins sloppily at her. “You’re a mess, champ.”

“I am,” he manages, leaning hard into the wall as they lean him there, letting Shirayuki fumble with her keys. “There’s so much alcohol in cocktails.”

“And you were very popular,” she tells him brightly.

Shirayuki nearly drops her keys, the way he smiles, all liquid and – and warm. “I was.”

“You should have done what Shirayuki did,” Suzu tells him. “Onion rings. They were delicious.”

“I just didn’t need more than two drinks!” She’s barely standing upright as is, and anything past this just feels unpleasant. “And everyone was so nice, I just thought appetizers would be better!”

The door opens, letting out a blast of cold, filtered air. For once, it’s refreshing.

“No one is faulting your logic there,” Yuzuri tells her as they heave Obi onto the couch.

His eyes flutter shut, and he sinks into the cushions with the ease of the completely unconscious. Shirayuki sighs, rolling him up onto his side with as much ease as picking up a gangly cat. She always forgets how much limb there is to Obi.

“But you should definitely call one of those girls. My personal recommendation is the one with the blue hair.”

Shirayuki flushes, but there’s just – just no good way to say I’m still sort of with Zen, not when Yuzuri will be sure to have an opinion on it. “Oh, really? She did seem nice.”

“She seemed like she could make you scream, that’s what,” Yuzuri decides, plopping down on the floor. “That girl knows where all the erogenous zones are, and has even discovered new ones.”

“Aren’t girls like that in general?” Suzu offers, toppling into a chair. “I mean you all know where like…your stuff is right? And what it feels like? So it’s applied knowledge.”

“The fact that you call it your stuff really is illuminating why you don’t have a girlfriend,” Yuzuri tells him. “I’m concerned about your sex education.”

“I did get it in Texas.”

“I think…” Obi’s head lifts jerkily, like the start of a zombie movie she’ll never watch. “It’s less havin’ all the same parts, ‘n more that girls are typically more invested than dudes.”

“What the fuck, dude,” Suzu shrills, curled up on his seat. “Weren’t you dead?”

“We’re talking about sex.” Yuzuri rolls her eyes. “ It’s the only thing that could bring Obi back from the dead.”

Obi points at her and nods, right before his head drops back down to the couch, like it’s too much effort to hold it up and talk at the same time. “I’m jus’ sayin’. Anyone can figure out that stuff. Jus’ gotta be observant.”

Yuzuri raises an eyebrow. “What, are you trying to say you’re like…sexy Batman? You have a plan to have sex with everyone you meet?”

“Batman is already sexy,” Suzu hisses, scandalized.

Yuzuri stares at him with the sort of look that implies restraint. Also that he should be glad she’s exercising it. “Everyone knows what I mean. The important thing here is that Obi thinks he has all our numbers.”

“I don’t have a plan,” Obi drawls, belligerent, eyes still closed. She’s never heard him like this; he’s usually so careful, his accent so neutral that she can believe he’s from anywhere, but the alcohol’s pulled it out like salt water taffy, vowels suddenly foreign in his mouth. “I jus’ know what people would like. It’s not hard.”

Yuzuri crosses her arms over her chest. “Fine, guess what –”

“Hair pullin’ and dirty talk.” Obi sighs, settlign deeper into the couch. “Give me a hard one.”

Suzu lights up. “Ooh, do –”

He holds up a hand. “Bro, do not make me embarrass you by exposing how easy you are.”

“Maybe I have hidden –”

“You don’t.”

Suzu slumps. “No, I don’t.”

Shirayuki hasn’t realized how quiet Yuzuri has been since Obi’s guess, not until she says, flushed and grinning, “Fine, if we’re so easy…how about Shirayuki?”

She stiffens, like she’s been caught in headlights, spinning to face him on the couch. “No, you don’t have to – I don’t even know –”

“ I don’t think you’d be so hard to figure out, darlin’.” His eyes slit open, gold molten under the fringe of his eyelashes. “Doc wants to be teased.”

“Oh my,” Yuzuri giggles, rummaging around somewhere behind her, and Shirayuki feels her whole body flush. That’s not even close to –

“Jus’ have to know where to touch. Bein’ direct makes you feel put on the spot, but an accidental hand-touch, someone gripping your hip, a breath along your neck – that’s what would get you started.” The room feels too hot as he looks at her, unwavering. “You’re a squeezing hips, neck-kissing girl, aren’t you, darlin’? ‘N they’d have to touch you soft, jus’ fingertips dragging over your body. Kissing too, but not – not the filthy kind, not yet, not ‘til you’re skin against skin ‘n you forget yourself.”

He’s not touching her, but she – she feels hands all over her body, the electric raise of the hair all along her skin. This isn’t – it’s not fair

“You want to be coaxed, all slow-like,” he drawls. “Driven crazy. Isn’t that right, darlin’?”

She can barely breathe, let alone talk. “That’s – you –”

He grins, far too certain of something he should just – know nothing about. “Right.”

She wants to say something – to do something, but her hands are all knotted up in her cocktail dress, not sure whether she wants to slap him or – or –

His head drops to the couch, and he’s out.

Yuzuri lowers her phone with a grin. “Well, he’ll enjoy hearing that little clip tomorrow.”

Obi groans as hands push at him, throwing his feet to the floor. “Wha?”

“Come on, time to get up,” Yuzuri sing-songs, pinching his thigh. “I want to sit on the couch, and breakfast is almost done.”

His mouth feels like it hasn’t seen water in years. “What happened last night?”

Yuzuri grins, whipping out her phone. “Why, I’m glad you asked.”

Chapter Text

Kiki may be a New Englander through and through, but she will admit: there is something deliciously perverse about sitting poolside in March, barely wearing anything more than a bikini.

“So, now that the lightweights have gone home–” a lethally green cocktail plops down next to her, stuffed to the brim with tiny umbrellas– “shall we go for another round, Ms Kiki?”

Obi’s three drinks relaxed, his vowels stretched long to a more musical miz. She’s heard of this phenomenon before; his first year in the frat, Obi had spent Halloween getting entirely wasted on craft pumpkin beer, and Mitsuhide had told her somewhere around three in the morning he’d slurred out a drawled ‘suh’  as he rolled him into bed. Charming, he’d called it.

“Just one more,” she agrees, shifting her knees so he can slide in next to her. “But only if we follow it up with water. I refuse to spend my first night in paradise holding your hair over a toilet.”

“Aww.” He wiggles in his chair, pleased. “You’d do that for me?”

“I just said I wouldn’t.”

His teeth flash white in the night, as quick as a meteor. “If you say so, Ms. Kiki.”

He sprawls out, long legs stretching out across the brick, letting loose a sigh so heavy he might as well be Atlas.

“So.” She arches a brow, settling back to match his slouch. “You’re dressed nice.”

If she had blinked, she would have missed how his shoulders tense, how for a brief moment his grin becomes a grimace.

“Oh, princess,” he drawls, recovered, “had I known you’d be down here I would have dressed to the nines.”

“But you didn’t and you’re not.” She sips at her cocktail, enjoying the sour citrus burn as she swallows it down. “So who did you take out?”

“Ahh-hah.” He squirms in his chair, shoulders hunched. “I can’t believe you guessed.”

“Obi, you’re wearing aftershave.” The coconut is a nice touch, but she’ll die before she tells him it mixes nicely with the sandalwood. “I can smell it from over here.”

His jaw drops, and she can see the moment he tries to smell it himself, where he wonders if it’s too strong or just enough – and then he shakes his head. “It doesn’t matter. There’s not going to be a second date.”

Oh, curiouser and curiouser. “Is that so?”

“There’s not really much of a point.” His eyes dart to her, a flash of gold in the moonlight, before tilting up. “Not when I’m in love with Shirayuki.”

Kiki stares. It’s all she can manage for a handful of seconds, just staring at him as he stares at the moon.

“Oh,” she manages, “are you drunk?”

He flicks a flat look at her. “No. I just thought it was fair because, you know, Big Guy aired all your dirty laundry tonight. With the whole…”

Obi make a spiral-type gesture with his hand as he lifts his own glass, a clear invitation to fill in the blank he can’t bear to.

“Break up?” She shrugs. “We’ll see how long that lasts.”

He nearly chokes on his Hurricane. “Miz Kiki.”

“He has a lot on his plate right now.” Kiki hesitates. It’s– it’s hard to talk about this. There’s no one who knows Mitsuhide like her, not a soul, and she’s confident she knows what all this taking a break talk is about, but –

She’s Kiki Seiran. Cold. Unemotional. Reasonable. And out of any other mouth, this would sound like…denial.

But Obi leans in, attentive, not a hint of doubt or judgement on his face, and she just…lets go of all of it.

“It’s not about me,” she tells him, never feeling more like a high school girl in this moment.

“Of course not.” There’s not a hint of mocking in his voice, just simple earnestness. “Just look at you.”

Her mouth slants into a smile. “Thanks for the vote of confidence. But I mean…” She heaves a sigh. “This is about what happened with…”

She doesn’t have the words to explain it; this is about business and duty and a whole bunch of people Mitsuhide feels like he’s letting down, starting and ending with Zen, and–

“Touka Bergatt,” Obi supplies with a nod. “That whole shitshow.”

“Yes,” she sighs. “All that. He’s worried he’s failed, and now…”

“Now he’s throwing rocks at you because he loves you, I get it.” Obi presses a hand to his chest with a rueful smile. “I think we all know I get that better than anyone.”

A laugh barks out of her. “At least you’ve had the grace to outgrow it.”

His gaze drops to his drink, mouth stretched to a rictus grin. “I wonder.”

This is the problem with being Kiki Seiran: cold, unemotional, reasonable– she doesn’t know how to handle things like this, how to grab someone else’s hand while they’re drowning. If money can’t fix a problem, she’s as helpful as a gawker on the beach.

“Besides,” she murmurs into her drink, letting the alcohol numb the sting of her awkwardness, “if he doesn’t come around, Hisame’s got a nice ass.”

Obi gasps, scandalized. “He does not.”

She lifts her eyebrows.

“Absolute not,” he insists, “his booty is distinctly not banging.”

“Mm.” She takes another sip. “This rating sounds biased.”

He presses a hand to his chest, wounded. “Miz Kiki, my taste is unimpeachable.”

“Your taste is adorable red heads who throw themselves into bodies of water,” she reminds him. “Which I suppose only proves your point.”

“Exactly,” he sniffs waspishly. “And don’t forget it.”

She giggles, smothering it with her drink, and in the pause she watches Obi’s face go on a journey. It lasts less than a second, but it’s clear: content to tense to concern to resignation, all culminating in the too-earnest gaze he turns on her.

“I meant to thank you,” he blurts out, fingers white around the stem of his glass. “For being a good friend. I mean, I’m glad we’re friends.”

She blinks. “Are you sure you’re not drunk?”

He sends her a half-hearted glare. “Kiki.”

“I’m just…” At a loss. Obi doesn’t really do emotions. It’s why she likes him so much. “Did you kill someone? Do I need to make it disappear?”


“Is that why we’re talking about–” she waves her hand– “feelings?”

No.” His whole body is shaking, and it takes her a mull moment to realize– he’s laughing. “I just wanted to say you’re a good friend. Not just to me, but…” He hesitates, considering. “But you know, to Doc too.”

Ah, yes. That would be what mattered to him. “Obi, you know that Shirayuki is the single easiest person to love.”

He shakes his head with a huff of a laugh. “Don’t I. But I meant…” His mouth pulls into a grimace, like his words are a briar patch he needs to pick through. “She thinks a lot of you. Some people would be…weird about it. But you’re not. So…thanks.”

This is singularly the most confusing conversation she has ever been a part of, and considering how her close acquaintance involves Izana Wisteria, she feels like that says something. “It’s not a problem. I think a lot of her, too.”

“No, that’s not–” he sighs, running a hand through his hair– “I mean, she really thinks a lot of you.”

Oh. Oh. That. “Huh.”

“And even though you don’t think of her quite as much,” Obi continues, as if somehow this was a less awkward way of discussing this, “you don’t– get weird about it. Or take advantage. And lots of people would. Lots of people have.”

Kiki can only stare. She’d like to know some of those names. For reasons. “It’s a compliment that someone like Shirayuki likes me. After all,” she smirks, “it’s not like she’s Hisame.”

They share a grimace. She may not be wrong about his ass, but she still remembers what Obi had said after he’d met him again, after he’d heard how helpful he had rendered himself–

Oh, well. Obi’s grin is still bright in her memory. Since he’s decided to drink his Respect Women juice today, I guess we should all trust him forever.

“I know that,” he says. She wonders how it doesn’t kill him, watching her have so easily what he only wishes he could have.

Or well, what he thinks he could only wish to have. She’d seen how Shirayuki had looked that summer, waiting for Obi to take her to Boston for their date, an how she’d looked at him tonight when he’d offered to walk her to her room. Unlike Obi, Kiki isn’t blind.

“I mean…it’s good that you’re nice, even though you don’t like girls.” His face crumples, thoughtful. “Unless you do? You know, we’ve never really talk about this, so I guess you could, but then–”

“Oh my god, don’t hurt yourself, Obi,” she laughs. “Yes, I like men. Just men.”

He leans over the table, huffing out a relieved sigh. “Oh, good. Yeah, me too.”

It takes him a full second to realize what he’s said, to jolt upright and frantically clarify, “I mean, not just men. I mean that’s I’m, um–” oh god, he’s clearly torturing himself– “you know–”

“Into both?” she offers as he blurts out, “BISEXUAL.”

She blinks. “You used your words. That’s unprecedented.” She casts a dubious glance at his drink. “Are you sure you aren’t drunk?”

Kiki,” he whines, pained.

Oh, of course he’d torture himself about this too. “I know you are, Obi.”

“What?” he squeaks. “Since when?”

“I didn’t mark it in my calendar.” He makes a sad puppy whimper, and she sighs. “I don’t know…probably not the first time I met you, but not too much after.”

Obi glances down at his lap, wide-eyed, like he’s never seen himself before. “But how?”

She gives him the flattest look she can summon with such short notice. “No one cares about Mitsuhide missing leg day so much unless they want to fuck him.”

“You did!”

“Then I guess the theory holds,” she deadpans. “If I knew that you were hiding it, I would have said something sooner.”

“I wasn’t hiding,” he insists, defensive. “I just didn’t think– why didn’t you–?”

She shrugs. “I just thought it was so obvious that you assumed everyone knew. I mean, you talked about everyone’s asses.”

He lets out a honk that wouldn’t be out of place on a dying swan. “Do the Chief and Big Guy know?”

“Please,” she scoffs. “They can’t even find their own dicks, let alone yours. Besides,” she continues, mouth twitching into a smirk, “if Zen had known, he would have done more than eyefuck you for an entire year.”

Obi’s jaw drops. “W-what?”

She raises a skeptical brow. “What, did you miss it while you were busy flirting wildly with him?”

It’s not the first time she’s seen Obi blush, but this is definitely the most satisfying. “I did not!”

“I think I could count on one hand the number of times you did not walk around half the house with just a towel on after you showered when he was home.” She grins. “Flirting.”

He frowns. “Yeah, well, I could count on one hand the number of times you didn’t bend down in that field hockey skirt right in front of Mistuhide.”

Kiki gives him a pitying look. “That must have seemed like a much sicker burn in your head.”

“Yeah, that really would have worked better if you hadn’t, you know, ended up fucking him.” He cradles his head in his hands with a moan. “But Mitsuhide…”

“Obi,” she sighs. “I literally had to have his dick in me for him to realize I liked him, that is where Mitsuhide’s personal powers of observation are at.” She lets out a laugh, “He thought I walked into the shower with him by mistake.”

He stares at her, mouth twitching. “I really don’t know who I feel sorrier for.”

“It’s me,” she informs him. “Listen, if you don’t tell him something, he doesn’t know. So you don’t need to worry about that.”

Obi tips back his head, letting out a relieved sigh. “Right, good.”

“But you should.” He glances at her, brow furrowed. “Tell him, I mean.”

He tenses, shoulders hunching, his whole body retreating in on itself. “I don’t know…”

“Obi.” She presses her lips together, gathering her courage, and puts her hand over his. He jolts, fixing it with a wide-eyed gaze. “I know we don’t do…feelings. But–” she squeezes his hand– “we’re here for you. Especially Mitsuhide. You’ve always been who you’ve been, and telling us who you are won’t change any of that.”

“Right.” he nods, quick, terse. “I…I know that. I do. It’s just…a hard habit to break, you know.”

“Yeah,” she says with a bitter laugh. “I know.”

He hesitates. “Chief will freak out, though.”

“Oh, almost definitely,” she agrees, settling back. “But he’s got…baggage. After the initial shock, he’ll come around. He’s just got to get over himself first.”

Obi rolls his eyes, a faint grin lifting his lips. “Yeah, and–” he peers over the edge of the banister– “did Chief just throw Big Guy in the ocean?”

“What?” She peers over, watching Mitsuhide resurface before Zen begins to lay into him. “Oh, Jesus. Let’s go get them before they kill each other.”

“Aw, Miz Kiki,” Obi drawls, following behind her, “but Jolly Green wouldn’t hurt a fly!”

Kiki grunts. “Not who I’m worried about.”

Chapter Text

Lines blur and dance on the page, and Shirayuki knows she should try to – to focus, to make them into something, to force them into her head, but all she does is clench at the leather binding, fingernails digging in like it’s flesh beneath her and –

Everything stopped making sense a long time ago.

Maybe she needs to take a break. Ten minutes, just to clear some space in her head. Let out some of this clutter –

You’ll be coming back soon, though. It’s not even a question when Zen says it, his inflection just as sharp in her memory as it was when he said it. The guilt stabs just as deep, weeks later.

She should have said no, said, I told you a year ago I was applying to Wilant, but – but –

But Shirayuki doesn’t know how to have that conversation, doesn’t know how to have a conflict with her – with whatever Zen is to her. Whatever this whole confusing not-really-dating-but-having-expectations thing is.

God, maybe she should have started there. Stopped him when he pulled her down, stopped him when he kissed her, and just – just asked what they were doing, what any of this meant. Anything but letting him do it, grasping at straws to find that flip in her stomach, that clench in her chest she used to feel. Anything but trying to find the reason she was doing this at all.

Okay, maybe – maybe a break is not a great idea.

“You know.” A sharp chin digs into her shoulder, the bristle of Obi’s hair tickling her ear. “No matter how hard you stare, it isn’t going to make you remember it more. I learned that in undergrad.”

The words finally focus on the page, her own neat handwriting looping endlessly on blue lines.

“Oh.” Her stomach shivers with nerves; not only is she going to have to tell Zen about the PhD program, but – oh god – there’s Obi on top of it. That, once again, they decided to do this together, and – and didn’t tell him. “I was just…thinking.”

His head tilts, eyes narrowing slyly. “Do you ever stop, Doc?”

Her cheeks puff out, and she’s not quite sure what she’s going to say, but she isn’t going to let him just tease her, for free

“Hey, shouldn’t you get going?” He vaults over the couch – like she’s told him not to – and lands next to her with a sprawling thump. Puberty may end for men at twenty-two, but she swears he has more limb every time she sees him. “If you’re going to take the bus. And not the car I’ve so generously left –”

“The bus stop is right in front of the apartment,” Shirayuki informs him, primly turning her knees away from the sprawl of his legs. “And you know I’m not getting in that thing until the brakes get replaced –”

“—that was a fluke –

“I don’t care if they work now, Obi,” she snips, “that they didn’t work once is enough to be concerned.”

“Anyway, as I was saying – bus?” He jerks his eyebrows towards the door. “Unless you want to be –” he drops his voice – “only fifteen minutes early.”

That makes her sit up, makes her jerk her eyes to the Felix clock swaying over their oven, and – and oh, he’s right. She has three minutes to make it down the stairs, and –

“Oh my,” she whimpers, throwing everything she can reach into her backpack. “I just – oh no.”

Obi slouches back on the couch, watching her frenzied packing with a bemused smile. “I should expect you back for dinner right?”

“Yeah, but I’m –” she hauls her backpack on – “I’m going to the store afterward. I ran out of hair elastics.”

He grins. “How. There’s twenty of them to a pack, Doc.”

Because she left them in that – that hotel they were in, too distracted by what Kiki said to her to remember her neatly organized package of hair bands on the bedside table, are you sure that Zen’s your only option? –

“They’re small,” she insists, wishing she didn’t blush so easily. “Call me if you need anything else. I don’t think I’ll hear it otherwise.”

“Will do!” he calls out after her, voice chasing her back. “Break a leg, Doc!”

“O…kay.” Izuru hefts herself up with a sigh, brushing off her jeans. “I think that should do it. Can you hear us, professor?”

Garrack grins from the screen, wires dangling through the ash-blonde of her hair. “Loud and clear. Finally. How about on your side?”

“Unfortunately,” Lata drawls, looking like he’d rather be having a root canal than be in this meeting room. Obi says that’s his – his default look. He suspects that behind that long-suffering façade, there’s a man who is actually, begrudgingly, having fun. “Now we’ll have to listen to barely peer-reviewed turtle drivel.”

Shirayuki has her doubts.

“Oh, Lata,” Garrack sighs, wistfully. “How I’ve missed your unnecessary and unsubstantiated commentary. It’s too bad you’ve been banned from –”

Well, Shirayuki,” Shidan breaks in, comfortably harried, “I’m sorry this all has taken so long. But she still have –” he glances at his watch, grimaces – “fifteen minutes to discuss your thesis.”

“Right,” she breathes, wishing she could sound…in control, at least. Like forty-five minutes of wrangling with technology hasn’t made her anxiety spiral until her whole body itches, and that distilling her thoughts into a quarter of the time planned isn’t just…going to turn into a mess of word vomit.

She can do this, she can. Obi’s been having her work on her elevator pitch, talking about real-world applications, about the sort of funding she should be eyeing to keep the project going –

She’s ready. Whether she believes it or not. Just a deep breath, in and out, and –

And of course – of course – that’s when her phone rings.

It’s muffled by her backpack, but she hears the goofy, dated intro of Obi’s ringtone. She doesn’t hear it much – he’s more of a texter, not a caller – but she knows those first few seconds by heart, feels that excited jitter she gets when it plays, or hears his voice call out he’s home, or the quick blip of his text notification. It’s – soothing, almost.

“Sorry,” she says, flashing them an apologetic smile, hand fishing around her backpack, “I just have to turn this –”

Love, the kind you clean up with a mop and bucket –

Her arm stutters to a stop, hand brushing against the bottom, and just – what on earth?

Like the lost catacombs of Egypt on God knows where we stuck it –

 Oh. Oh no. This was – she’d never listened to the whole clip he’d given her, never had the chance to even get through the intro, hadn’t even known it had words

Hieroglyphics, let me be Pacific –

“Do you need to answer that?” Garrack asks, all too helpful, knowing smile twitching the corners of her lips.

She looks over to Shidan, who is – unhelpfully – covering his face. His shoulders shake.

“N-no,” she manages, hand finally clasping around her phone, fingers clenching until the music stops. “It’s just – Obi.”

“Of course it is,” Lata sighs, and oh – oh that’s just, worse. “If we’re done with the diversions, you had something you wanted to present?”

“Hey.” His voice is breathless on the recording, strange, but her empathy is buried under a solid block of embarrassment and rage, impossible for a few disembodied words to get through. “It’s me. I know you said I should, uh, call if I thought of anything else, and we’re – well, you are out of shampoo I guess. Because I stole the last bit. So you might want to pick that up too –”

Shirayuki flicks out of her voicemail, teeth gritted. She can’t do this right now. Not when every syllable reminds her of how she is going to climb him and strangle him. He told her to put that song on her phone two years ago and he never, in all this time, thought to warn her?

Her fingers jerk over the chrome button, and in a second she’s typing bad touch lyrics straight into YouTube.

The next four minutes and five seconds of her life are the most embarrassing she’s ever had.

So put your hands down my pants and I bet you’ll feel –

– she’s been carrying this song around for – for years. One of the first songs she’d even programmed into her phone, and – and –

yes I’m Siskel, yes I’m Ebert, and I’m giving you two thumbs –

– and he knew. He’d been waiting for her to slip up, to let this come out during a lab meeting, or in the movie theater, or god forbid, while she’s teaching class

Shirayuki is going to strangle him.

Her head rests on her knees, cheeks hot where her hands are clapped to them as the song fades out, and – and she’s a glutton for punishment, because she sets it to repeat.

Again. Again. Maybe this will stop being so abjectly mortifying if words lose their meaning.

She loses track of how many times it plays; the ride is only twenty minutes, but traffic bunches at every light, stretching it longer and longer, and she just…can’t bring herself to look at anything, not even the time. If she looks up, someone might see her, and every moment of this day feels written on her face, like anyone who looks at her can tell that she’s been carrying around explicit lyrics on her phone, and –

And it’s just…safer to stay like this, like an embarrassed little snail.

Still, as the song loops around for another play, there’s a part of her that’s…impressed. It’s catchy, something she might have laughed at if she hadn’t first heard it in the middle of a committee meeting. Something she could have – have liked. Parts of it, at least.

She recognizes the part that’s Obi’s – or, well, the part he gave her, not really his – and this time she tries to listen, tries to actually pick out the words. Like somehow that might give this whole embarrassing interlude reason.

But I got this notion that the motion of your ocean means small craft advisory

– and it’s the verse that she might like the most. The ocean metaphor is maybe, um, expected, but there’s something about it –

so if I capsize in your thighs, high tide, B minus five –

–that is – is sexy maybe. That makes her squirm in her seat, thinking about how it feels to have someone there, between her thighs, gasping in her ear, only thin rims of gold going hazy as he leans down to kiss her –

She jolts upright, thumb flicking off the recording.

OH. Oh.

That is – she shouldn’t – she doesn’t know why – why it would be Obi. That’s not – that’s not how they are. How anything is between them.

…But it’s not like she hasn’t, you know, heard things. Coming from his room. Knows maybe how his breath would pant out of him if he did, how he would groan as he slid against her –

Boneless fingers drop the phone back into her bag, her heart pounding too loud in her chest.

That’s, um, enough. Of that. Forever.

Shirayuki has every intention of giving Obi a piece of her mind when she steps off the bus.

Every step between the sidewalk and the apartment, she’s composing her words, using the furious rhythm to punctuate her point, to give her rant the cadence it needs to inform him she is very annoyed, and that he can expect – expect retribution. Maybe two years ago he thought she’d take this meekly, just blushing painfully as it played out in front of their friends, but –

But she’s not that Shirayuki now. He’s got only himself to blame for that.

She’s got a good seethe going even at the door, yanking it open, pulling in air to call out –

But he beats her to the punch, bursting out of his room before she’s even got her shoes off, and he looks – rough, hair all askew, like he’s been dragging his fingers through it. Chest heaving like he’s run a mile. Jaw slack like he’s been breathing all ragged, and –

And she can’t help but wonder if he was maybe –? If he had been –?

If maybe he’d been taking advantage of the empty apartment while she was gone.

“Oh, you didn’t go to Target?” he asks, breathless, the way he might if he had –

It’s on her lips, the whole thing; how angry she is, how embarrassed, how she’s seconds away from jumping up on him and – and –

Somehow, strangling the life out of him is not the first idea that spring to mind.

“Dinner,” she says firmly. “I’m gonna – dinner.”

“Oh.” He has no right to sound that – that raspy. “Yeah, sure. Sounds great.”

They’d had plans for dinner. To celebrate, he’d said when he’d shown her the fresh shrimp and scallops, waggling his eyebrows. You know, how much of an over achiever you are.

It doesn’t feel safe now, being in this kitchen with him, being pressed up against the counters as they try to cook in the same space. It’s something she likes – something she loves, being able to be with him like that, being able to tangle up limbs as they both reach for a drawer, or being hip-to-hip as he sautés and she stirs, but –

There isn’t enough air in this kitchen right now for them to share it.

“I’m tired,” she calls out lamely. “Do you want to get some Thai?”

“Sure.” She can feel the hesitation in his voice. “Long day?”

Her fingers hover over her screen, hesitating over the message, replace file?

“Yeah,” she sighs, giving it a tap. “It definitely was…more than I expected.”

“Go ahead.” He sounds more like himself now. “I’ve had a killer day too. You know what I like.”

Her teeth grit down. It’s fine. Everything is going to be just like it was. Tomorrow.

Back in Black is a perfectly good song. A safe song.

She hopes.

Chapter Text

The first nice day in April finds Obi out on the fire escape, elbows braced against his knees to keep his hands from shaking.

His phone has one contact pulled up, his thumb hovering over the call button. He’s paralyzed; every time his gaze catches on the name, it’s like being punched in the gut. Not like when he was in the ring, prepped and tense, but like when he was just some undersized foster kid, someone who would be leaving soon, someone no one would remember if you stuffed them in a locker or shoved them head-first into a toilet. Something he can never be prepared for, no matter how many times it happens.

Home, it reads.

He has no good reason to still have the number. He must have gone through four phones in the seven years since he’s lived there, but it’s somehow followed him through each other. First the pre-paid brick they gave him so his social worker could contact him; then the pay-as-you-go one he got to blend in at the gym; migrating into his first for-real, honest-to-god smart phone that he bought with his own money, with an actual service contact and everything; and finally his current phone, bought to replace the last when he dropped it in the Everglades and a very satisfied looking gator snapped it up.

Joke’s on him, that shit wasn’t even 4G.

He should have lost it somehow; he’d had to manually type in all his contacts between the first two, using just the number keys – that particular transfer predated interchangeable SIM cards, and migrating data was a laugh and a half. When the gator took his last one, he though that’d be it – turns out you can’t migrate contacts from gator stomach even if it gets service – but the number had flown from his fingers, easy as if he called it every day still.

And here he is now, wishing he had managed to forget it. Or, well, not really, he wants to do this, it’s just – he’s just –

Nothing about this is easy.

Obi takes a deep breath, head between his knees, and fucking calls. Because he’s got to be an adult at least once in his life, and even if – even if they hate him, they deserve better than wondering if he’s dead in a ditch somewhere.

It rings enough times for him to have second thoughts. Who says they want to hear from him after all this time? They were probably glad to be rid of him after all the trouble he caused –

The line picks up. “Hello!” a woman answers brightly, like she’s been interrupted mid-laugh. His eyes water just hearing it. It’s just how he remembered. “Hello?”

“H-hi,” Obi manages, breathless. He’s missed this; he never realized how much he’s missed just this.

The line is silent for a long moment. “Who is this?” she breathes, and she can’t possibly know him, not just from his voice, not after all these years.

There’s not enough air to breathe, like three floors up the air is as thin as Everest. “It’s Obi.”

“Mother Mary and Joseph,” Gayle gasps, “Obi.”

He’d be sure she hung up, if he couldn’t still hear her breathing.

“I, uh.” God, he should have actually planned on saying something. “This was – if this is a bad time, I could –”

“No!” He jerks away from the phone from how loud it is. “No, don’t go anywhere. I just –”

He hears another line pick up. “Obi,” a man says, firm yet calm. “How are you doing, son?”

He lets out a shaking breath, relief opening up his lungs again. Trust Bob to act like they talked days ago, instead of years. “I’m, um, good. Really good.”

“Good to hear.” There’s something in his voice that’s steely, something that clamps like a vice. “Where are you?”

“Florida. An hour south of Miami,” he says, and it feels just like he’s sixteen again, asking Bob to come get him from the woods at the edge of town because he’s too drunk to get home.

Bob lets out a chuckle. “I thought we raised you better than to end up in Florida.”

He huffs out a laugh at that. “I’m going to school here,” he explains, and now he remembers how words work, now that he’s gotten to the part he meant to call about. “I, uh, study turtles. Biology. I’m – I’m just finishing up my undergrad, but I’m going to get my PhD.”

“That’s great,” Gayle gushes, watery, and he feels his own eyes tear in response. God, who let him have emotions, what a pain. “Are you with anyone?”

“I live with my –” He knows the situation is simple; they’re friends, they’re roommates, but it somehow seems unfathomably difficult to explain. “With Shirayuki. She’s in the same program.”

“How long y’all been together?” Bob asks, in that same tone he’d get with any of the other kids when they brought friends home from college.

“Uh, we, um, met sophomore year.” He almost blurts out that she hated him, that he’d locked her out of the science building and he’d been coerced into joining all her classes as penance, but – he wants them to think he’s doing well. Giving them backstory is just going to make Gayle worry. “She’s really nice. She’s from Pennsylvania.”

Wow, what a stupid thing to say. Of all her good qualities, he chooses Pennsylvania.

“I love Pennsylvania,” Gayle offers earnestly, even as Bob smother a laugh on his line. “She sounds lovely.”

It occurs to him that maybe he’s given them the wrong impression, but – who could it hurt? It’s not like they’ll meet her. He’s just calling to tell them he’s alive. That’s he’s good because even though he didn’t stay, they never left him.

“She’s great,” he agrees, maybe letting too much show. It’s fine, they’ll never have to know that he’s in love with a girl in love with someone else. “I know this is a little out of no where, but I, uh, I just wanted you guys to know I’m okay.”

“We’re both glad to hear it,” Bob tells him. He lowers his voice, like he’s telling a secret. “Gayle’s a little overcome right now.”


“Ah, it’s fine.” He shakes his head, even though there’s no way they could see. “I should keep this short anyway. I gotta get back to – to Shirayuki.”

“Of course you do.” He can hear the sly smile, the look that must pass between them. “How about you call back a little later? We’ll have a real talk then. Catch up.”

“I…” It’s hard to talk around the lump in his throat. “Yeah. That would be…nice.”

“Great.” He hears pages flipping. “How about…Wednesday? Doesn’t bump into anyone else’s day, I don’t think.”

“Y-yeah, that’s…that’s good for me.” His hands shake. “Until then.

Chapter Text

Horns rattle from the tinny speaker, and the briefest bass guitar, before abruptly cutting off. Shirayuki frowns as she scoops up her phone, flicking the screen on – that clip is so unsatisfying, she really needs to fix it –

r u done?
im done
im dooooooonnnnne

She glances up from the mixer whirring away, catching the bookbag slumped against the wall of the vestibule, abandoned the moment she walked through the door.

I just got back
Obi still has one more though

ugh ofc
tell him hes an overachiever and he should b ashamed


(He’s been sitting like that for almost fifteen minute, pointer hovering over Add Class, his designated selection time bleeding out, only fifteen more before the juniors gets to start picking their classes too –

“I shouldn’t bother,” he says, toneless. “You have to apply for it.”

She tucks into his side, laying her head on his shoulder. “So does everyone else. You have just as good a chance as anyone.”

“You’re not doing it.”

She blinks, tilting her head up. “I’m not the one interested in informatics.”

“It’ll be over my credit load,” he tries instead. “I’d need permission from the dean –”

She tweaks his elbow, just hard enough to make him squirm. “Good thing he’ll be your graduate advisor.”

It takes a bit for him to blush – or at least for her to see it – but there’s pink just under bronze on his ears, and that’s enough. “That’s not – that’s only if Admissions all goes temporarily batshit and lets me in.”

His chest shakes, breath coming quick, and she slides her hand down, covering his. “You should do it,” she says, studiedly casual. “What’s the worst that can happen? They say no?”

His breath steadies, but not easily. “Right. Yeah.”

The click is less than a second. “Fuck ‘em, right?”)

i don’t think i’ll tell him that

suzus been done since yesterday bcuz hes a slacker
when obi is done we should celebrate
like unreal amts of booze celebrate

It’s – it’s not that her heart pounds, it’s just – quiet, now that the mixer is off. Everything is more – noticeable. Now that she – she’s –

She’s thinking about the last time they got drunk at Yuzuri’s behest, looming over them as she poured more and more shots, telling them it’s a celebration, everyone has to drink

– I don’t think you’d be so hard to figure out, darlin’. Obi’s drawl is liquid in her memory, pouring over her like honey. Just have to know where to touch –

uh sure
I guess?

u guess?
is there some sort of problem?

She thinks of Obi, chest heaving, slack-jawed, eyes wide – if I capsize in your thighs, high tide – of what he’d look like with swollen lips, panting down her body, spreading her legs –

Ugh. She shakes her head. The whole thing is just – just – a pop-up she can’t shake, an ad that keeps playing over her day at odd intervals, only instead of it being for something like experimental allergy medication or Cialis, it’s for Obi, like she suddenly needs to be reminded every few minutes that he’s attractive and also experienced, like maybe she should consider –

everything is fine!

It will pass. It always does.

…whatever the ideas r percolating ill let u know what we decide but like def booze

This isn’t – it isn’t a problem. Everything is fine – very fine, the most fine.

All her papers are written, revised, and already sitting in drop-boxes, her only final is a multiple choice test about European History, most of which she learned just from living with Kiki for a year. If anything, she is set, living her best life –


Her whole body flushes, toe-tip to hairline, and she’s so busy trying not to think of skin under her lips, of hearing that in an entirely new context, that she nearly misses the slam of the door.

Obi tilts a long-suffering look toward her as he leans against the wall, toeing his shoes into the tray. “I’m glad that’s fucking done.”

There isn’t a problem, because whatever this is, it’s just a phase. Something that will definitely pass.

It just never takes this long.

“Did your test go well?” she asks, clearing her throat, like it might expel the images her mind is supplying as he saunters around the corner, shirt already pulling up taut torso, sun-bronzed abs on display.

“Hope so,” he sighs, balling his T-shirt up in his hand. “Otherwise Lata’s going to give me a few more of these for putting off our action plan.”

It takes her a whole minute to realize what he’s pointing at, to see the thick silver sprawl of scars across his back and not the way his muscles ripple beneath the skin, the way his shoulder blades make his whole back look like an anatomy model.

She frowns. “Professor Forenzo would never –”

“I know, I know,” he says, waving a hand at her as he crosses into his room. “Gimme a minute, I gotta get out of these clothes. It’s killer out there.”

“Right,” she replies, faint, definitely not noticing the way his hands settle on his waistband, definitely not thinking about his skin shining with sweat –

She doesn’t have a problem, it’s just – just that she hasn’t figured out a way to get him back, to close out this prank so she can – can stop thinking about that stupid song, and capsizing on thighs and what it might feel like if he –

plans decided
we gonna go C L U B B I N G

Shirayuki’s teeth grit down, her hands bracing against the counter. This is fine. They’ve gone before, a nice little place above a bar in downtown Wilant; it’d been all 80s songs and they’d all had a little more than they’d bargain for, and Obi –

you’re a squeezing hips, neck-kissing girl, aren’t you, darlin’? –

Ah, maybe she…shouldn’t think about that. He didn’t even remember it in the morning.

“You all right, Doc?”

She jolts, watching Obi settle on the couch, bare feet kicked up on the coffee table, arms sprawled out over the back, remote in hand. Her hands tighten on the counter, trying to ground herself, trying not to have her knees go weak as she traces the delicate bones in his feet, the strain of his t-shirt over his biceps –

if obi gives u shit tell him its obligatory
this is the price of fucking friendship okay

“You might not want to get too c-comfortable,” she stammers, stacking cookies, trying to look like she’s doing something in the kitchen, and not just – ogling him. “Yuzuri says we need to go out and celebrate.”

His head turns toward her, just slightly. “Celebrate what?”

“Being done with, you know…school.” It sounds weak, even to her own ears, and the grunt that comes from him tells her he agrees.

“We’re all going to grad school,” he huffs out. “We’re not going to be done with school for the next decade, if Lata has anything to say about it.”

“Well, it’s the end of undergrad,” she presses, feeling flushed. “And the end of our thesis work –”

“And just what is this version of celebrating going to entail?” he asks with a sigh. “I already have my sweat pants on.”

I’ve noticed is not the right thing to say. Neither is dumbly standing there, thinking how good he makes them look. “Yuzuri says we’re going clubbing.”

“Oh, no,” he says, firm. “No. I don’t dance.”

“She wants me to tell you it’s a non-optional social convention.”

“Is that how she’s getting Suzu to go?”

“Probably.” Her shoulders twitch in a shrug. “You know how she feels about this sort of thing.”

His eyebrows lift. “That there’s no better way to celebrated scientific achievement than to get trashed and grind on strangers?”

“Yes.” Not quit how she would have put it. “That.”

His look turns incredulous. “And you went for that?”

“It’s what she wants to do,” Shirayuki insists, because – because it’s not like she cares. It’s not like she’s thinking about the way he was dancing with anyone who showed interest the last time, wondering if he might –“She’s been here longer. Maybe this is the best way to celebrate. When in Rome, you know?”

“That is the exact opposite of an attitude you should have in Florida. Never do what people in Florida do.” He rolls his head along the back of the couch to give her a flat look. “It’s like you’ve never seen the internet.”

She returns it with a look of equal flatness. “We made it so the Olin maris can be bred in captivity. We’ve saved an entire species. We can spend one night doing what Yuzuri wants to do.”

“Yuzuri wants to get sloppy drunk and see if she can get Suzu to breed in captivity.”

“And we should support that.” She sighs at his incredulous look, padding out to put the plate of cookies in front of him. “Besides, I’ve seen you dance. You seemed – fine.”

That is definitely a word. That she can use. Safely.

“We danced at a gala,” he protests, “I wore a suit. You stepped on my feet. That is not this. This is – swampy club dancing. It’s a circle of hell, not an activity.”

She refrains from mentioning the other time; she doesn’t think he’d appreciate remembering just how good he dances drunk to Come On Eileen, no matter how impressive it was.

“I think you just need to get excited.” She’s too used to his stare to shrivel under it. “You know, uh – get pumped.”

“Are you even planning on drinking?”

She grimaces. “No.”

“That is such a waste, you can’t even drive.”

She frowns. “I have my license now.”

He gives her a pointed look. “You can’t even drive.”

She stares at him for what must be a full minute before it hits her, grin breaking out across her face. “I have just the thing to get you in the mood.”

“Aw, c’mon,” he moans as she pulls him upright. “I’ve got so many Cutthroat Kitchens to watch. On this one, they cook spaghetti and meatballs and someone takes some lady’s garlic.”

“Look, you already know what happens!” She grins at him. “So now you can do my thing instead.”

He grimaces when she pulls out her phone, when he sees her bring up her music library, pleading, “No, don’t –”

Why do you build me up –”

“I’m honestly concerned,” he mumbles over the tinny piano. “Do you know what kind of music they play in clubs?”

“–Buttercup, baby–”

“This is to pump you up!” she tells him, trying to guide him into a bobbing two-step, one he follows with the enthusiasm of a man walking to the gallows. “Get your blood flowing!”

“Oh my god,” he sighs. “Of course. This is your pump up music. Motown.”

“It’s uplifting.”

“You listen to Angel of the Morning when you get up, don’t you?”

Her mouth pulls thin. “That’s not Motown –”

“That’s not a no.”

“See,” she tries instead, “you’re getting more lively already!”

There’s a flash of teeth behind his lips, but he hides it in his shoulder. “Whatever, the song is ending. How about you put on an actual club song?”

Her finger hovers over her screen.

“This decade.”

Fine,” she sighs, scrolling past her collection of 80s music. “I can do that.”

“Uh-huh, I’m–”

Shawty had those Apple Bottom Jeans, boots with the fur –”

He stares. “All right, I’m concerned you don’t know what year it is.”

“They still play this!” she insists, starting to bop to the beat. “It’s on plenty of club mixes.”

“All right,” he sighs, taking her hands. “This is physically painful, Doc. No one dances like that at a club.”

“Plenty of people do,” she insists, leaving out that most of her club experience is seeing them on CSI reruns. She’s got a feeling he already knows.

“Come here,” he guides her closer, until their hips are almost touching. “Let me just – show you. End the embarrassment.”

“I’m not –” Embarrassing gets swallowed along with her tongue, because his hand hooks over her hips, her own right beneath, guiding her into a slower swing that barely involves feet moving at all. He’s not – not touching her anywhere else, but he’s so close he might as well be, and she’s just – aware. Of all of him.

He smells nice.

“Oh is this – grinding?” she squeaks. “I’ve heard about that before –”

“No.” His voice is entirely too deep. “This would be grinding.”

His hands tug on her, yanking her forward until his knee is between her legs, until every shift on her body brings her right down on his thigh and –

Oh, that is – that’s not –

Okay, maybe this is a problem.

Oh,” she breathes, jolting away, right back into the wall. That should be it, end of moment, but she – she doesn’t let go of his hands, and then he’s crashing into her, just catching himself on the wall, her hands still twined in his –

“Sorry.” He swallows; she’s so close she can hear it. She can see it too, and the way his eyes are all dark, mostly pupil with a thin rim of gold. His leg is still between hers, and her hands press up by her shoulder, and he’s just – so, so tall –

If he’d just bend down a little, maybe she could –

“Eep!” she yelps, pocket buzzing. “That’s just – I think Yuzuri –”

“Oh,” he breathes, pulling back. “Right. Her clubbing thing.”

r u guys gonna be ready soon?
i wanna b drinking already

Obi’s already wandered away, back to the couch, and she –

i think our night is already spoken for
obi wants to stay in
but let’s do breakfast tomorrow

but i get to pick the place

Chapter Text

“There’s so many people here.”

Bob nods, as much good as it’ll do him with Gayle’s eyes everywhere but on him. “It’s a big school, hon.”

They need a stadium to hold all of the loved ones that have come for graduation. He knows it doesn’t mean much – this isn’t their first graduation by any means – but it’s nice to think Obi’s been surrounded by people like that. People who have families who love them, enough to fill a football stadium. He’d like to think the boy’s gotten to see at least that much these past seven years, even if he didn’t have them.

“I know, but how can you find anyone in this crowd?” She shifts nervously on her cushion, swiveling her head about. If he knows anything about his wife, she’s mapping the best route to their boy. There’s no way she’s not going to get her hands on him, not now that he’s finally let them back in, now that he’s let them see him.

“Darlin’,” he slides his hand into hers, giving it a good squeeze. Even after fifty years, it still feels as perfect as the first. “He’s not gonna run away. Not this time. He woulda just told us not to come.”

“But he didn’t ask us either,” she frets, fingers gripping him tight. “What if he changed his mind? What if he –”

“I’m sure his girl will keep him honest,” he assures her with a grin. “After all, mine always does.”

“Oh, you.” She rolls her eyes, but her cheeks blush a sweet pink. “Do you see them?”

There’s a sea of graduates, all the same in black gowns and caps. The program says biology is on their side of the field – they chose seats closest to it, in hope of seeing him – but picking out a man he hasn’t seen in six years seems like an impossible task. “Did he say what he’d be wearing?”

He doesn’t need to see her to know what look Gayle is giving him. “Don’t forget, honey, there’s a couch in our hotel room.”

“Mm.” He bites back a grin. “It’s a fold out.”

“That’s not an invitation to misbehave, Robert.” She squints at the field, adjusting the curve of her visor. “I think he said Shirayuki has red hair? Bright red.”

There are plenty of girls that have red hair, but his eye catches fast on a girl whose hair is vibrant, gesticulating happily to a tall man beside her and –

“I think I found them,” he says around the lump in his throat.

“Where?” Gayle leans into him, trying to trace his gaze.

He doesn’t trust his voice, just points. Her breath hitches, she stills against him.

“He looks so happy,” she says finally, her voice tight and watery. “Oh Bob, he’s happy.”

He squeezes her hand. “Of course he is, darlin’. He’s our boy.”

Chapter Text

The recessional area is a mess.

This isn’t like her high school graduation, where everyone knew everyone and was put into neat orderly lines by last name, and they practiced processing and recessing until it looked nice. No, this is forty-thousand veritable strangers being shunted off a football field, volunteer staff trying in vain to funnel them away from the door before their families flood out of the stands.

Suzu and Yuzuri have disappeared; Suzu’s parents wanted him to show his sister the campus – she’s supposedly thinking Wilant for her own undergrad – and Yuzuri’s sisters had been snapchatting her selfies from the stands the whole ceremony, threatening to return her graduation gift if she didn’t show them all the good bars after their parents went to bed.

Ryuu, for his part, declined to walk. They’d already had a smaller ceremony for the department the day before, and he wasn’t about to sit out in the hot Florida sun getting sunburnt, dazed after taking half a xanax so he wouldn’t have a panic attack on the field, just so a man with a funny hat could wave vaguely in the direction of his major and tell him he graduated.

It’s fine though, because she has Obi.

She turns to him with a smile. “Well, now that the orphan club is in session, what should we –?”

He’s lifted his sunglasses, scanning the crowd, his hand hovering just at his shoulder.

“Obi,” she whispers as softly as she can manage and still be heard. “Obi, is something wrong?”

“Huh? Oh, um,” his cheeks tint a little darker, “no, nothing wrong. It’s just that I – I mean, I might have –”


They both turn, and at the next set of fire doors she sees an older couple, arms linked together. The woman waves. “Obi, over here now!”

He lifts a hand with a weak smile, studiously not meeting Shirayuki’s eyes. She wants to ask what is going on, who these people are, how he knows people with fanny packs, but –

“Oh, Obi,” the woman sighs as she comes close, throwing herself around him. She’s taller than Shirayuki by a few scant inches, but she’s got to reach up and up and up to hug Obi.

“You’re so big now,” the woman says with a sniffle, pulling back. “Still on the skinny side, though.”

Something about Obi relaxes, let’s his smile tug into a grin. “C’mon, you’re just saying that because you aren’t feeding me.”

“Doesn’t he look skinny?” the woman prompts her – husband? He’s standing a few steps off, fiddling with his camera, but he nods. “See, even Bob thinks you look skinny.”

“Downright malnourished,” he chimes in absently, fingers flicking over buttons in a way that makes her think he doesn’t know how to work it at all. “In need of a good, home-cooked meal.”

The woman rounds on Obi, hands on her hips. “See?”

“Gee, thanks, Bob,” Obi groans, still grinning.

“I know which side my bread is buttered on, son.” He looks up finally, holding out his hand. When Obi takes it, her pulls him in, claps him on the back. “Good to see you, son. You’re looking good.” His wife gives him a meaningful look, and he coughs. “If a bit skinny.”

Obi laughs. “Thanks.”

The man’s gaze sets on her, smiling warmly. “This is your girl, right?”

Her skin prickles, and – and it’s natural to like the way that sounds, isn’t it? To like being called someone’s, even if it’s not like that. It doesn’t mean anything –

“Shirayuki,” Obi corrects firmly, his arm coming to wrap around her shoulder. That’s – she can’t remember the last time he called her by her name, not Doc, or kid, or honey, or the rare and mildly embarrassing babe.

She’s forgotten how good he makes it sound.

“These are, um…” He struggles to put the words together. “Bob and Gayle.”

Shirayuki blinks. Bob and Gayle. He says the names like he wants her to play along, like he wants her to tell them she’s heard so much about them, that it’s been only good things. Like she doesn’t know who they are.

Obi hardly talks about him past, even now, but what he does say she remembers as well as her own name. She hoards away the little bits and pieces, putting together the puzzle of where he’s come from and where he’s been, because for some reason he thinks telling her in full would be a burden, that the only person who should know how completely he’s suffered should be him.

Of course she knows who they are. It’s the only part of his past he’s talked about with a smile.

“Hi,” she says, so much more shyly than she means to. “I’ve heard so much about you.”

“Oh, honey.” Before she can take a breath, her arms are full of Gayle. Her embrace is full-body and tight, warming Shirayuki down to her toes.

So this is who taught Obi how to hug. She feels like she should send a thank you note.

Gayle pulls back, running a hand over her hair just like Oma used to, and it – it feels right. “Even if I didn’t know every last thing about you, I’d know you have a good heart just by looking at you.”

Her eyes sting, and Obi’s arm snakes back around her shoulders. “Enough of embarrassing her, thanks.”

“She’s coming to dinner, right?” Gayle clasps her hands over Shirayuki’s. “You’re coming to dinner?”

“Dinner?” she repeats faintly. She’d thought they’d do dinner themselves, but that was back before she knew his fosters were here, and maybe he’d like to catch up, have them all to himself –

“Don’t be shy, now,” Bob says, his smile warm and sly. “You don’t want to leave Obi alone and at Gayle’s mercy.”

Obi chokes. “What about you?”

“Oh, come on now, you know I’m no help.” He winks at her. “I just take pictures.”

“I-I suppose I could.” She glances up at Obi. “If you don’t mind.”

There’s no earthly reason for her heart to pound like that when he smiles at her. “C’mon, Doc,” he says, squeezing her close. “As if I don’t always want you around.”

Chapter Text

It takes them two hours to decide on dinner; Bob and Gayle are far too accommodating.

“So are you,” Obi sighs, when she’s frantically sent off yet another reply, assuring them that neither her nor Obi are particular about where they eat.

After all, she adds, appending a very happy smiley face, we eat here all the time.

Gayle, with a friendliness that would put Mitsuhide to shame, assures her that they are there for the company not the cuisine, and just take us to wherever you two normally like to go out.

There’s no good way to explain that they’re more the order-in, fall asleep on their couch over Thai sort of people, so Shirayuki suggest they take them to a Cuban restaurant just down the street from their apartment. She’s hardly finished airing the thought out loud when Obi blurts out, “No!”

“Too much spice,” he tells her meaningfully. “They’re almost seventy.” He then suggests Applebees.


“Were you raise in a barn?” she blurts out, shocked. “They drove almost three days! We are not – you don’t take family to Applebees.”

He stares. “Sorry,” he says finally, the word prickling with sarcasm. “I didn’t realize Applebees killed your parents.”

They spend the next hour bickering if Italian is too spicy – it’s got a lot of black pepper, Doc – and eventually Mulligan’s is the closest they can come to inoffensive cuisine that doesn’t ship in prepackaged containers.

Shirayuki slips out of the Cherokee, patting down the edge of her skirt to make sure the hem is lying flat, that it hasn’t some how gotten tucked up into her biker shorts or rucked up to show gray cotton or pale thigh. She might be…overly thorough; chiffon never lays flat, the bound edge always curling, the floaty layers always clinging with static to the stretchy base one, but she’s sure if she just keeps fussing –


She looks up, and Obi’s just there, hovering just at the edge of the parking space, body half turned toward with keys still in hand and – it’s weird how this is how she pictures him in her mind. Button-down rolled up at the sleeves, tie loose, patient expression – he doesn’t even dress like this often, but everything about it is so quintessentially Obi that she she is flooded with fondness.

He arches an eyebrow, gaze dropping to where her fingers are smoothing the hem between them. “Problem?”

“I don’t want it to ride up,” she admits, feeling the slight heat on her cheeks.

He stares at her in confusion, brows drawing together. “You have shorts on though.”

“I just want to look nice.” She smooths her hands over her skirt. “I want them to like me.”

“Doc,” he sighs, mouth parting into a soft smile. “Who wouldn’t love you?”

Something warm turns over in her stomach, and when he holds out his hand, she slides her own into his, butting her head against his shoulder affectionately. Her childhood wasn’t lonely, not with Oma and Opa and their ever rotating guests, but – but she’s never had a friend like Obi. She’s never had someone who reaches out to her the way she does, someone who has sunk his hands into her never let go. Someone who knows when she’s needed a hand up or hand to hold. He’s –

He’s her person. She’s not really sure what she’s done to deserve him.

That’s not what matters, Oma would say when Opa told her the same, rolling her eyes. What you deserve is not yours to decide. You can only try to be worthy of what you have.

That’s what she thinks as he helps her over the concrete block separating them, laughing when she hugs too close as she steps down. It’s not about what she deserves. It’s about being a person worthy of the trust he has in her.

All she can do is try.

Mulligan’s is no more packed than usual on a Sunday, most of the graduation crowd having decided to brave Miami traffic to take their families someplace more impressive. It’s a homey place, made for the local crowd rather than visitors, Marlin memorabilia crowding the walls with pictures of Ireland and, for some reason, Cuba.

“Shirayuki!” Gayle waves from the booth, smile breaking wide as they come close. Shirayuki’s smiling too, relieved to have finally made it to dinner and glad to see them –

Until she sees that they’re not sitting next to each other but across, that she can’t just slide into seat next to Obi, she has to choose between two people she doesn’t quite know, and –

“Come here, honey,” Gayle says, patting the leather next to her. “You can come sit by me.”

Obi makes a distressed grunt, and that’s really what decides her, sweeping in next to the older woman with a sly grin. He hesitates, just slightly, frown tugging at his lips, and slips in beside Bob.

“So,” Gayle starts, genuine smile from ear to ear. “Obi says you’re from Pennsylvania?”

He coughs, skin going a shade darker. “Gayle.”

She bridles. “What? You talk about her so much, I thought I might start with something simple.”

“Gayle!” Obi looks like he’s hoping those sink holes in South America might come north and swallow him whole.

“Really?” Shirayuki grins, reveling in the way he squirms. “Just how much does he talk about me?”

Don’t answer that,” he pleads, but it’s too late, Gayle’s already said, “Oh goodness, that boy goes on about you all the time.”

He huffs, sitting back in the booth, folding his arms over his chest. Bob valiantly raises his menu, muffling a chuckle.

Oh my, was this going to be fun.

“So how did y’all meet?”

Shirayuki nearly spit out her drink. It takes a Herculean effort to keep it on the right side of her lips. She glances at Obi, but he just stares back with rounded-eyes, just as frozen as she is.

“W-what has he told you?” she asks, because if he’s invented a much more palatable start to their friendship for his parents, she’s not going to ruin that. It was hard enough trying to explain it to her Dad, and he’s – well, he doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on, as far as introductions go.

“Oh, he’ll never say,” Gayle scoffs, tossing her a wink. “Always says it’s embarrassing.”

“Oh, er, well.” She coughs, looking to Obi for help, but he’s hidden himself behind the drink menu. The apple doesn’t fall from the tree, it seems. “We didn’t actually…like each other that much when we first met.”

“Is that so?” Gayle sharp look lances through Obi. It is a palpable hit; his shoulders rounding as he squirms under her gaze. She doesn’t say it, but the better not have been anything you’ve done hangs in the air. Shirayuki takes a sip of her tea to keep from giggling.

“No, no,” she assures her, when she thinks the fit is under control. “It was all just…a misunderstanding. It didn’t take a long time for us to be friends after that.”

Obi stares at her, the gratitude clear in his gaze. It makes something wiggle inside her, makes her heart flutter beneath her ribs. What else could she have said? That he was bribed to get her to drop out? That she had reamed him out in front of half the science building?

And it’s – it’s true, really. It had taken no time at all for her to like him, to trust him. Shorter than she ever would have thought, after Raj.

Gayle lets out a relieved breath. “That’s good to hear. Obi’s always been…”

“Prickly?” offers Bob, avoiding his wife’s warning look as he peruses the dessert menu stuck into the condiment holder. “Would you look at that? Pecan pie. Thinks they’re Southern, the poor things.”

Gayle frowns. “Cautious.”

Obi coughs into his coke. “I think Bob was closer.”

The corners of her mouth pull deeper. “You’re a good boy, Obi. When you want to be.”

If Shirayuki didn’t know any better, she’d think Obi was blushing. “Well,” he drawls, ducking his head. “You let me know when that happens.”

Obi –”

“I don’t know,” Shirayuki sighs, leaning her chin on her hand. “I thought when you dove into river to save me was pretty heroic.”

Doc,” he growls, but it’s too late, both Bob and Gayle are at the edge of their seats.

“Dove into a river?” Gayle echoes, eyes darting between them.

Obi’s gaze is speaking volumes about the amount of payback she can expect, but Shirayuki forges on. “Right out a second storey window.”

“Isn’t that something,” Bob says, a proud look passing between him and his wife.

She’s never seen Obi this flushed. “What’s she’s leaving out is that she jumped out first.”


Shirayuki tries to wave off Gayle’s impressed look, heat building in her own cheeks. “I didn’t have a choice, really.”

“You totally did.”

“I didn’t.”

“You did, if you decided your life was worth more than some water samples.” He turns to his parents. “Did I forget to mention? She did this to save data from being destroyed.”

“Oh my.” The force of Gayle’s smile makes her feel like she needs to evacuate. She’s flushed and something beneath her ribs is two sizes too big to fit in her chest, but she can’t run from Obi’s parents. “You both seem like downright heroes.”

“That’s not –”

“I wouldn’t –”

“I think,” Bob says, setting his sweet tea down on the table. “You both need to start from the beginning.”

It’s a game of one-upmanship; the both of them trying to tell stories about each other, trying to prove which of them is the most good. It starts with the river, but she jumps in to tell them about him carrying her home via piggyback, only to be cut off with him telling them about the Olin maris, which leads to her telling about him jumping over police tape, and –

And one moment it’s friendly, it’s just the two of them laughing as always, some audience looking on, and the next –

The next she’s thinking about what it would be like to feel his laughter under her lips, about how he would keep laughing, keep teasing, until she pulled herself into his lap, until she took his head in her hands and pulled him down to her –

Oh god.

Her giggle falters, and he gives her a worried look, instantly aware of the change in her and –

And it would be bad if it was just that, just the attraction, but it’s not. It’s the way he leans back in the booth when he’s watching her talk, the way his cheeks flush when she compliments him, the way he comes alive when he talks about her –

Oh no. Oh no. This is not – she’s not –

She wants this. She wants him.

“Anyway.” His voice cuts through her thoughts, brings her back to the table where he’s watching her warily. “I’m gonna go to the bathroom. Before the drive home.”

She blinks. “We live ten minutes –” He’s already disappeared into the back. “–away.”

She’s barely more than a tumult of emotion contained by flesh and bone at this point, but he’s left her with his parents. The backs of her knees prickle with sweat.

The silence that stretches between the three of them is not awkward but measuring. She shifts in her seat, wishing Obi had given her something, anything with what to expect, but before today all she’s known is that they existed, and –

“You two really love each other,” Gayle says, eyes shining in the dim light.

Her breath catches, and for a minute she’s pure panic, right down to her flip-flops, but –

“Yeah,” she says, and oh god, it’s not anywhere close to a lie. This is not what his mom is asking about; she’s just saying that in a platonic way, as two people who have known each other a long time, but – but– “We do.”

Gayle nods, beaming. “I can tell. You two look at each other and the room’s a little brighter.”

“I-I…” That isn’t –there’s not much to say to that. “Thank you.”

Obi slips up beside her, arm slung over her shoulders. She startles, just slightly, and oh god, what if he heard.

“All right,” he says, squeezing her shoulder. She risks a look at him, and he’s just looking at her as he always does. It’s…fond. “We’re all set.”

Bob blinks. “We haven’t gotten the check yet.”

Obi’s shoulders tense, she can feel his hand trembling. He’s nervous. “I handled it.”

Gayle gasps, hands coming to her hips. “Obi!”

“We were going to treat you both.” Bob’s eyebrows drawn down in consternation. “A graduation gift.”

Obi holds up a hand like he can ward off their generosity. “No, no, you both drove all the way down here. It’s the least I could do.”

Bob reaches down, pulling his wallet from his pocket. “At least let me –”

“No.” Obi’s hand clamps down over his, his smile brittle. “Please. Let me do this much for you.”

Bob hesitates, laying a hand over his, and squeezes. “Of course, son.”

Gayle’s more than a little watery when they part, pulling both her and Obi into her arms. “Don’t be strangers,” she tells them.

“Gayle,” he laughs, prying her arm off from around his neck. “You call me every Thurday.”

She gives him a reproachful, if teary, glare. “And you better keep picking up, boy.”

They slip into their sedan, leaving Obi and her idling at the curb under the lamplight. It’s strange how everything feels different, and yet still utterly the same. It’s only different for her; she’s the one that changed, the one that looked up and saw what was right in front of her, and she doesn’t – she can’t imagine how she’s going to live with this, this wanting –

Obi hops down, turning back with a grin. “Ready?” he asks, holding out his hand.

She hesitates. Lets a breath draw in and out.

“Yes,” she says, her fingers curling around his palm. “I am.”

Shirayuki lets herself fall.

Chapter Text

Haki would like the record to show that despite what some people might say, she was not trying to start trouble.

She’s just so bored.

Introductions have been made (this is Haki, my daughter, her father says with an open gesture, as if she’s one of the Gould up on the wall; you remember my fiancée, Izana drawls, hand warm on the small of her back, right above where the deep vee of her dress ends, Haki), and she’s summarily abandoned at a cocktail table as her father and fiancé work the room. She presumes her purpose must be to spice up that particular corner, which only holds a sad potted plant nearly her height and what she assumes is a modern sculpture, but looks like an uncooked, oversized, marble piece of penne.

She’s not the only one to have been abandoned as table dressing; there’s more than a few women standing around like cosmopolitan-drinking gazelle, left by their much more important dates to go gladhand and make money. She sees Medina’s wife among them, holding court with a bunch of doe-eyed girls that can’t be much more than eighteen and are probably here on visa. She should try to talk to them, she knows; that’s her job, to winnow information from wives and girlfriends, to smile in all the right places, leverage all the right friendships. She knows this. She was raised for this.

But she can’t be that person, not tonight. Makiri’s face keeps surfacing in her mind, hair shorn to a finger’s worth of bristle, his features grainy on the SATphone’s display. He’s happy now, but she remembers when this was a problem that needed fixing, when every phone call was we need to talk about that brother of yours. Tonight he’s just a talking point for when someone asks after the American flag pinned on her father’s lapel.

That’s the thing about Pandora’s Box, isn’t it? Once you let something out, it never fits back in again.

She needs a minute, Haki thinks, catching Izana’s back as he traverses the room, deep in conversation with some of her father’s associates. She just needs to get herself collected.

The bathrooms at the venue are spacious private stalls, complete with well-lit vanities. She wants to splash water on her face, but she spent an hour making her face look photoshop-flawless; its the sort of effort that can’t be recreated in a public bathroom, no matter how nice. Instead she digs into her clutch, pulling out her phone, connecting dots to get through her lock screen.

She’s not supposed to use her phone at these things; it’s been drilled into her since her father bought her a rhinestone-studded Razr for her thirteenth birthday that a girl who drags out her phone at a formal function for entertainment is vapid and petulant – two things that aren’t part of the persona they’ve agreed on. But she’s not a child now, and if she wants to feed small virtual kitties in the privacy of this public stall to retain some of her chill, she’s going to fucking do it.

Or at least, she is until she sees she’s got a missed text.

u gt th thing rt?

Haki blinks, trying to translate garbage into human speak.

Sorry Obi
I meant to send you a thank you email
I can definitely use that

She doesn’t expect an immediate text back; the timestamp places it a few hours ago, and Obi is mercurial in his texting etiquette, but she’s hardly put it down when the phone begins to buzz against the marble.

n e q?

She stares at the text for a moment longer than she has any earthly reason to, and groans.

Only why you text like a garbage person


Your aesthetic is the garbage?

i prefer to think of myself as a performance artist and terrible garbage texting is my medium

It certainly engenders the same feelings as when I view modern art

rage at your own mortality and frustration at the futility of life?


His only response is a line of indecipherable emoji – she thinks half of them are semaphore flags –and she assumes she at least made him laugh.


She turns at the unfamiliar voice, smile bright on her face even though she just missed the bacon-wrapped scallops again. It’s an older man she’s never spoken to, but she recognizes him from Izana’s notes as one of the men he’s courting for investment capital.

DeLeo, forty-five. He’s into sustainable living closed communities.

“That’s your name, isn’t it?” he asks, suddenly unsure. Humility is charming in a man with a nine-digit net worth. “I heard Izana introduce you.”

“It is.” She smiles. Even without the notes, she’s familiar with his work. A fan, even. She’s been trying to get her father to look into his designs for the past year. “I don’t think we’ve met.”

He hurries to put out his hand, wincing when he realizes how firmly he’s gripped hers. “Mark,” he says, “Mark DeLeo. I’m –” His eyes run over her once before he settles on. “I’m an associate of his.”

It’s only training that keeps her mouth from going rigid. “You build sustainable communities, don’t you?”

His eyebrows go up at that, like he’s surprised to see she can do more than stand around and look nice. “I do. Has Izana talked about my work?”

He pitches forward, curious, but she sees the lift at one side of his mouth and – ah, that’s his game. He’s hoping to get information out of the girlfriend. He wants leverage, wants to know how bad Izana needs him.

“No,” she lies smoothly. “I just read about your work in Wired. I liked your idea for recycling water for hydroponics.”

“Oh.” He pulls away, disappointed. “You don’t happen to know where he is, do you?”

She feels her smile pull tight. She’s not the one with the money, she reminds herself, there’s no reason for him to want to talk to her.

“Of course,” she says, so cordial. “I think he just ducked onto that balcony.“

Now that she knows there could be a text waiting for her, she feels more of an impulse to check.

She’s stealthy at least, making sure neither Izana or her father are looking when she slips around the corner to the bathroom.

speaking of
dont tell me youre staying in tonight
are all your besties at promises?

Haki coughs at that, wishing she hadn’t chosen that moment to try to sneak a drink of water.

Please, no one goes to Promises anymore
It’s like you don’t even read the gossip column

vile slander
i know all the hot celebrity goss
i even know which olsen twin is which without googling
that’s why im shidan’s favorite

I didn’t realize he was such a fan
I’ll get him an autograph the next time they’re in town

okay but only mary kate
shidan says ashley is a hack
she was really phoning it in on it takes two

“Haki,” croons one of the women by the bar. All of them are looking when she turns to them, but it’s Medina’s wife that continues, “Are you all right?”

“Chantal.” She keeps her voice even, almost friendly. Medina is old enough to be her father and Chantal is close enough to her age to be her sister, but that’s not her business. “I’m just fine. Thank you for asking.”

She hopes that’s the end of it, but of course it’s not. You don’t get on a reality show by being the sort of person who doesn’t create conflict.

“I just see you’re going to the bathroom a lot.” She leans in, mouth canted smugly. “And out with that fresh new fiancé of yours.”

Haki can’t help the way her gaze shifts to him, deep in conversation across the room, DeLeo and Medina both gesturing with some passion. What she wouldn’t give to trade place for even a moment.

“Maybe you’ll need to consider letting out the waistline of your dress.,” Medina’s wife presses. “Or maybe buying in an ivory?”

She has been drinking champagne half the evening, but this is what Chantal comes up with? She scans the crowd for cameras – usually there’s paperwork if they’re filming, but there’s no reason to take the chance – and Haki gives her a smile that is all teeth.

“Oh, Chantal don’t worry,” she coos, laying a hand on the woman’s shoulder. “I’d never wear something that looked so fake as a white dress.”

Haki plucks the cosmo right out of her hands and downs it, handing her the empty glass with a smile. “It looks like we have a good bartender tonight, doesn’t it?”

She’s eyeing her next opportunity for escape when she feels a hand at her back, a warm breath in her ear.

“Are you feeling all right?” Izana asks, sounding as if she could be bleeding on the floor and he would still be flagging down the server for a canape.

“Perfectly,” she purrs back, flashing him a smile. “Is something wrong?”

“No.” His tone very clearly says yes. “It’s only that Chantal was saying she’s seen you taking frequent trips to the lavatory.”

Chantal Medina is not getting a Christmas basket this year. “Oh no. Just a little too much champagne.”

The look he gives her now is earnestly concerned, his hand sliding around to palm her hip soothingly. “If you don’t feel well, we can leave.”

“No, no.” She flashes her teeth at him. “I’ll just switch to water.”

The balcony is the safest place, as long as she stands just beside the doors, obscured by fronds.

And just where are you tonight
If you’re judging me for my plans

under my roommate
not as exciting as you would think
also youre at a GALA of course im gonna judge that shit

Under your roommate?
If you’re texting me then you’re really good at what you’re doing
Or excessively bad

wouldnt u like to know

A picture loads on screen of a red head buried in his side, both of their legs tangled on the couch. Haki’s half tempted to tell Izana to break out the champagne, since his devious plan is well on its way to working.

Not to be crass
But perhaps you should consider waking the girl with your clothes on
And suggesting she give them back

intriguing idea
but still not interested

Come on, didn’t they teach you how to handle girls in your boyband days?

yeah but all those chastity agreements really harsh the whole player vibe

Just bend down in front of her
I’m sure everything will work itself out
You have that Park Jimin ass

how dare u utter the name of my bitter rival
Park Jimin has MY ass

She hesitates.

You two look cute, though



“Ah,” drawls a voice right next to her ear. “Here you are.”

She stiffens guiltily, but the phone is already being lifted from her hands. Izana thumbs off the screen, not even glancing at its content. His smile is wide and fake; he must think someone is watching them.

He slips her phone back into her clutch, palm brushing against her waist. “You don’t want your father catching you with that.”

She shakes her head, watching him with wide eyes. She doesn’t think she’ll ever quite be used to how he talks low like that, how he makes her breath come short.

His fingers band around her wrist, gentle but stern. “I think,” he says, with no humor at all, “That you and I should have a talk. Privately.”

Chapter Text

For a single, perverse moment as Izana leads her down the hallway, Haki wants to balk.

His grip on her wrist is firm but yet light; if she set her mind to it, she could easily break his hold. He’s not forceful; he is just a man who does not expect to hear the word no.

And she is a woman who likes make him.

She doesn’t though, for no other reason than she likes the feel of his fingers pressed against the thrumming beat of her pulse, that she wants to see just what her fiancé plans to do with her. Most likely give her a gentle yet firm talking to, the low whisper of his voice sending chills down her spine and straight to her –

Ah, perhaps she may have had one too many flutes of champagne.

She expects him to pull her off into one of the many side offices, but instead he opens a frosted glass door of one of the single-stall bathrooms and –

As soon as the door is closed he drags her into him, her back pressed to his front, one of his arms banded around her middle, and his mouth –

Izana,” she gasps, bracing her herself on the counter. The half dozen bracelets on her wrist rattle from the force of her palm hitting the marble. She feels him grinning against her nape, right before his teeth scrape over the bone there –

Haah-aaah,” she moans, helpless against him. He pulls her more tightly to him, hand splayed over her stomach, her ass pressing right against his half-hard erection.

His other hand snakes down while he devours the sensitive skin across her shoulders, his palm curving roughly over her hip, fingers hooking around the hem of her dress and dragging up, up, until it catches on the bottom of her ass, until she can see the slightest hint of her black panties.

“Izana.” She’s trying to gather herself in her haze, trying to remind herself that this is public, the door is only frosted glass. “Izana, someone could – ooh!”

His fingers drag down her hips, bringing her panties with them. He doesn’t bother taking them off, just lets them tangle midway down her thighs, using his knee to push her legs open just enough to –

Oh god,” she gasps, hands scrabbling blindly at the marble to keep her knees from buckling as he puts his fingers in her.

His other arm cinches tight, holding her upright, making it so – so –

So she can see him – see him in her, working his fingers at a tortuously slow pace between her legs, thumb brushing over her clit. She should tell him to stop, tell him they could get caught –

He sucks just behind her ear, and she slides her legs wider with a whine, rubbing against the front of his pants. He laughs against her neck, but he’s hard behind her, not so unaffected as he’d like to pretend.

She’d like to use that knowledge, try to make him rue ruining her in this way, but – but she can hardly do more than arch into him as the pace of his thrusts quickens, the slick sound of him sliding in her echoing in the cavernous stall.

His other hand cups one of her breasts, Izana growling with frustration when he feels the foam of her bra instead of the the stiff peak of her nipple. The moan she lets out nearly rattles the fixtures, and – and, oh, she is so unbearably close, so near the edge as he shoves down the front of her dress, as she watches him peel back the adhesive cup to tease at her nipple.

God, that will never stick right again, but she can’t find it in her to care, not while she has a front row seat to how good he looks getting her off, not when he’s biting her neck just like that, and her breath is coming out in plaintive mewls, and –

And she can’t resist when his fingers curl into her just there, can’t stop herself from tumbling off the precipice she’s on, not bothering to stop the moan pouring out of her because clearly that is what he wants, and how can she say no when he has made her feel so amazing

When she comes back to herself, he is – haah – pulling his fingers from her, eyes meeting her in the mirror and he – he –

Lifts his fingers and sucks.

He’s no longer holding her so tightly, and she tumbles against the counter, trying to fight down the surge of desire that rushes through her. She wants him again; just having his fingers in her was no where near enough, and if he wants to bend her over the counter and fuck her right here she will give Chantal’s camera crew the sort of show producers have wet dreams for –

She hears water running, and when she glances up into the mirror she sees him fully dressed and washing his hands. His smirk is unbearably smug.

She’s confused, but she shimmies her panties back up her thighs and her hem back down them. She’s trying to get her bra to restick when he finally says, in that deceptively soft voice, “I trust you’ll be more attentive the rest of the evening.”

Her hands freeze on the flesh-colored foam. “Excuse me?”

He doesn’t answer, just reaches for the drying cloths in the corner.

That just – god, that is just like him. “Did you finger fuck me in the Ladies’ because I was on my phone?”

His eyebrows raise slightly. Good, she’s shocked him. “We’re here to network. You can’t do that if you’re looking down at a –”

No.” It’s – it’s too much. “You and my father are here to network. I just got parked in the corner for inconvenient girlfriends.”

She tries to breathe out some of her anger, but she should know better; oxygen only fans the flames. “Don’t you come to me saying that I’m not being attentive because you left me there like a jacket at a coat check. If the only conversation I can have is about Chantal Medina’s labiaplasty, you should expect I’m going to find someone more stimulating elsewhere.”

For a moment he looks like he’s been slapped, flushed and open mouth, but she blinks and it’s gone, replaced by his most calm mask. “Did you not say that Haki Bergstrom would prefer to talk with…significant others? I left you thinking that you would do better with wives and girlfriends without a doting fiancé at your side.”

It infuriates her how reasonable he sounds. “I know,” she admits, words coming out as easy as pulling teeth. “But I’m not getting a law degree to sit around and pretend that a multi-level marketing company isn’t just spin for a pyramid scheme, and I’m –”

She feels breathless from her anger, choked by it, and the way he is staring at her, so calm, so attentive – it isn’t helping. “You can’t tell me I’m clever, that I’m brilliant, that I’m everything, and then expect me to be all right with this.”

And there’s the crux of it, isn’t it? When it was just her father, she felt a duty to be like this, this was how she was useful, but with Izana –

But with Izana she wants to be more.

“I don’t want to spend my life being known as my father’s daughter, only to trade that for being known as your wife.” She wishes she was having this conversation in a dress that wasn’t still rumpled from the way he had ruined her in a public bathroom. “I want to be me. I want to be your partner.”

A silence falls after she speaks, and she wonders if this is it, if he’s going to ask for his family ring back and she’ll have to go back to scrolling through eligible bachelors. Only now it will be harder, only now she’ll know what it’s like to be valued, even if it was only for a moment –

“Haki,” he breathes, stepping into her, his hands framing her face. “Of course you will be. I –” His lips pulls shut over his words, and he tries again. “You only had to say.”

Her eyes water, and she’s embarrassed, knowing how her eyes always redden, how everyone will know she cried in the bathroom. “All right.”

He rubs a thumb over her cheekbone. “Do you want to finish out the night, or should I just take you back?”

She stares up at him, at the concern in those pale eyes, and she wonders how she ever thought he ran cold. “We should go back.”

He nods, pulling away. “I’m sorry –”

Her hand grasps around his tie, yanking him back. His lips hover a breath above hers, and against her hand she feels the pounding of his heart. Izana Wisteria pretends he’s so unaffected, but here they are, not even kissing, and she knows he’s as high strung as a kid on prom night.

“We should head back,” she clarifies, feeling his gasp against his lips as she sidles closer, “because I don’t think we’re done with what you started.”

Chapter Text

~ 0 ~

Obi seems…stressed.

“You could just tell everyone I died,” he offers, changing his shirt for the third time. He’s convinced he doesn’t have a single one that matches a tie.

All of his button downs are black.

“You die, and then I still decided to go to the department’s Christmas party?” Shirayuki leans on the island, drumming her fingers against the formica. “That seems likely to you?”

“You’re right,” he says after a long moment, nodding seriously. “Then everyone would know you did it. You’re too smart for that.”

Obi.” She lets out a sigh, smoothing down her skirt. “Come on. You know you love these things. You get to look nice, and then the undergrads get drunk and tell you how much they like your muscles, and then you and Suzu get tipsy and make bets on stupid things you win nine times out of ten.”

“I do like it when people tell me they like my muscles,” he admits, mouth still bent in a frown. She sees his eyes linger on the motivational kitten calendar she has up on the fridge; three days from now is circled in red, the word Virginia scrawled across it in big block letters. His face pinches in distress, and one of his hand comes to hover just over his shoulder.

“I’ll DD,” she blurts out before she can think better of it. The offer’s out there now; she can’t take it back.

Obi blinks. “Really?”

It’s telling that he doesn’t say no, that he doesn’t tell her they can get a cab if he ends up drinking. “Yeah,” she says, doubling down. “You guys can have whatever you like. I wasn’t really in the mood for much anyway.”

He considers for a moment. “I think I have a better tie in the back of my closet.

~ 1 ~

“Dude,” Suzu says by way of greeting, thrusting a beer into Obi’s hands. His arms are full of her coat and his, but Obi manages to shift his load easy enough to accommodate. “There’s a real bartender here.”

“Well,” Obi drawls, taking a long drink before setting the bottle down on the nearest table, “it is a bar.”

“First off.” Suzu takes a sip from his highballer glass; its variegated like a candy cane. “It’s a pub, and second, I mean the dude knows how to make drinks. I told him to surprise me, and he made me this, yo.”

Shirayuki stifles a laugh as Obi bends down, taking a sip from Suzu’s tiny straw. His face goes blank with shock.

“And you brought me a beer?” he says, betrayed.

Suzu shrugs. “Pregaming, or whatever.”

Obi sighs. “You’re such a nerd it pains me.”

“Shirayuki!” Yuzuri flies through the crowd, assaulting her with an enthusiastic hug. “You look so pretty! Is that new? Obi –” Yuzuri sends him a sly look – “doesn’t she look pretty?”

He hums, gaze fixed toward the back of the room. “Where did you say this bartender was?”

~ 3 ~

“I thought you said you’d DD,” a voice rumbles in her ear and down her back.

Shirayuki leans back, letting his arm catch her as she meet Obi’s gaze. “Yuzuri was offended by the idea.” She raises her glass; it’s pink and tastes like sugared cranberries. The sort of drink Oma would have told Opa was good for her digestion before giving Shirayuki a wink. “I’ve been nursing this for the last hour. I don’t think she’s noticed.”

He takes the drink from her, taking a thoughtful sip. His stance is loose; she can tell he’s a couple in already, but he’s not tipsy. Happy, Mitsuhide would call it. It’s a good look on him.

He tugs at his tie when he hands it back to her, and oh, maybe having a drink herself wasn’t wise, not when he’s popping the top button of his collar, and has his sleeves rolled up to show off his forearms, and oh

“Not bad,” he tells her, licking his lips. Oh my, that is – that is worse. “A little soda water and grenadine and you could make her think you’re drinking all night.”

She grins, crossing her legs for balance as she curves in closer. He’s warm and the way his hand rubs gently down her side makes her skin buzz with anticipation. “That was the plan.”

“Clever.” His gaze drops for a moment before jumping back to meet her own. “By the way,” he says, almost reluctant. “You look very nice tonight.”

She fights back a flush. It’s not that she was hoping he’d notice, but –

But she didn’t pick something with a low back and skirt at mid-thigh so strangers would comment on it.

“Thank you,” she says, a little breathy for her taste. Sure, she likes him, but he’s never done anything to make her think he wants her as anything more than his roommate, any more than a friend.

“Anyway.” He clears his throat, rubbing at his neck. “If you need a refill on that, honey, you just let me know.” He grins. “The bartender knows my face now.”

Her heart stutters in her chest, but she covers it by narrowing her eyes. “Just how many have you had, anyway?”

He averts his eyes to the crowd. “Hmm, I think I hear Suzu calling.”

~ 6 ~

No one should be able to line up a shot this drunk.

Obi leans over the table, his body an easy line, and sinks another striped ball. She’s beating him still; she’s only got the eight left on the table, and he’s got another three balls to clear before they’re tied, but still. He has to be cheating.

I mean, she’s sure that flex was on purpose. She could have sunk the eight in her sleep, but he just lifted his shirt to wipe away sweat she’s sure never existed –

And, well, here they are. Shirayuki has failed her inn-girl heritage because one look at Obi’s abs sends her into a swoon, and now Obi’s got a turn.

He swats her hip with a hand. “Move over, babe.”

He says the word deep in his throat, a casual sort of growl, and she just grips the table as heat rushes between her thighs, unable to move. It’s like her legs have petrified; she’s unmovable even when he lays a palm flat against her ass and pushes.

“Well, this is a new way to cheat, Doc,” he laughs, so close she can feel his abdominal muscles flex against her arm.

His fingers linger, drifting down, skimming over the floaty material of her skirt. He grips a tulle layer between two of his long fingers, the one closest to the sheer pattern on her tights, and he rumbles, “I really like this dress on you.”

She’s been waiting for an opening like this all night; she told herself if it came she’d take it, she’d say, I bet you’d like this dress even better off of me, but here she is, heart fluttering too hard in her throat for words, and – and why could this not have come three drinks ago when he was at least sober

“Hey, Shirayuki,” Yuzuri calls out, far too close for her volume, “you wipe the floor with him yet?”

She flinches back, and Obi takes the opening, pushing her to the side and taking his shot.

It goes wide.

Shirayuki grins. “Not yet.”

~ ??? ~

It’s getting late – or, well, early – and Shirayuki winds her way toward the bathrooms. Just one last safety trip for the road, and then she can try to collect whatever alcohol-soaked puddle Obi’s turned into. She’s almost sorry there was an open bar; whatever Obi drank alone is probably enough to beggar the department.

The door to the men’s is catty-corner to the ladies’ and it swings open as she passes, making her jump back against the wall to avoid a nasty whack.

“Ah, sorry –” Obi starts, until his gaze catches on her dress. His mouth curls, eyes slowly raking up to meet hers, and he purrs, “Doc.”

“Oh, good,” she sighs. That saves her some trouble. “I was looking for you.”

He does not so much lean as fall, one of his hands landing just above her shoulder, his body braced only that single arm-length away. “Is that so?”

It’s not fair that he can drink half the bar and still smell so good, that he can be almost three sheets to the wind and make her forget. The only way she knows is from the way his words unfurl into a half-drawl, some of his vowels pulled out long like taffy and some hauled up short. He’d be embarrassed to know his accent’s peeped out again; he tries so hard to hide that part of himself.

It’s hard to focus when he talks like that, hard to think of anything but the way his mouth fits around his words. “Y-yes. I just wanted to know when you wanted to go home.”

His hand curls around her hip, thumb brushing over the flare of her pelvis. “Just say the word,” he murmurs, the space between them stifling as he lifts his gaze from her hip to tangle with hers. Every part of her feels alight, feels like it’s reaching out for him even as she tries to stand oh-so still. “I’ll take you home anytime you like, darlin’.”

She bites back a gasp, but she can’t help the way her spine curves toward him, trying to press her closer. “I think I’m the one taking you home, Obi,” she says with a nervous laugh, far too breathless.

He’s so close now, breath fanning across her lips. “I ain’t particular.”

It’s not her fault; he smirks, and her eyes drop to follow its curve and – and –

That’s enough.

He’s on her, hand hauling her hips to his and lips slanting over hers, opening with a groan that sends heat straight between her legs when her tongue flicks over his bottom lip. She presses up into him with a whimper, her fingers scraping at his shoulders just to be holding on to something. The way he kisses makes her feel adrift, makes her feel like she is being pulled under and he is her only safe harbor.

His other hand buries in her hair, cupping her scalp, holding her firm against his mouth. Terrible mewling noises drag from deep in her throat, one of her hands knotting in his tie to keep him close. A whine tears out of him, and the sound alone makes her squirm, makes her feel empty, makes the idea of losing her virginity in the dim hallway of a bar seem enticing.

She’d thought she’d known how passionate kisses could get. Years ago Zen had kissed her after they hauled her from the river, and she’d thought that was it, the meeting of two souls but –

Oh God, it pales in comparison to this, to the way his hands knead at her thighs, the way he gasps into her mouth as she lets him press her into the wall, as she lifts her knees to hug at his hips –

“– I guess I could just come back,” Suzu offers, mildly put out.

Obi doesn’t seem to want to let her go; he groans as she wriggles down his hips to stand on the floor, as she pulls away to swear Suzu to secrecy

Right before he turns around and promptly vomits.

“Huh,” Suzu says, bemused, watching as Obi rolls to his side, making a whole different set of groans. “I just wanted to say we’re calling a cab. Also I have to pee.”

Chapter Text

Yuzuri and Suzu, to their everlasting shame, don’t kiss until after Obi and Shirayuki do.

It doesn’t happen LONG afterward, but still. After the weekend (The Weekend, Yuzuri says, like there should be a holiday just because their friends banged and didn’t come up for air until they had a pay check to attend to) Obi ends up having a meeting with Shidan over lunch, which leaves Suzu alone with Yuzuri and Shirayuki (Ryu, seeing which way the wind was blowing, decides to eat in his cube). With infinite patience, Suzu listens to Obi’s dick being described in loving detail for a full thirty minutes. And like – he doesn’t think it should take 30 minutes to describe a single dick. Like they are not complicated. He could describe ten in like a minute. NOT HARD.

(Please note, this takes 30 minutes because Shirayuki is dying of embarrassment and needs every detail coaxed from her, and Yuzuri will only be happy with the purplest of prose and the most precise measurements. She has a ruler ready)

So Suzu is perhaps not in the best mood. I’m so tired of your dick, dude, he tells Obi when he gets back. Obi looks almost hurt. What did my dick ever do to you, man?

This conversation is clearly going no where, so Suzu just says, nothing, never mind, and goes back to work. He watches the tracking data on an Olin maris they call Loretta, the biggest, meanest mama turtle he’s ever met (Loretta is Obi’s favorite; the first time they tagged her she had been fighting a male for no earthly reason, and he painted a big mean red stripe down her back with limited addiction and told her she was the biggest, meanest, baddest motherfucker he had ever seen with such fondness that Suzu honestly wonders what his childhood was like, I mean jeez). She’s just swimming around in big, wide circles, like she doesn’t know what she’s doing with her life, and Suzu feels that, man. He feels it.

Even the biggest, meanest, baddest motherfuckers have those days too, huh? he asks the screen, and it makes him feel slightly better. Like he’s happy that Obi’s dick is great or whatever, but it would really help just the slightest bit if he didn’t have to watch Yuzuri pant over it; like that would just be great, thanks.

Yuzuri’s driving them home when she asks, apropos to nothing, Suzu, what is your major malfunction today?

What’s your major malfunction? he fires back, which is just – it’s stupid. That is stupid. He wants to save scrub this whole day and try again. It’s nothing. Like, it’s stupid.

Dude, she says, glancing at him as she downshifts. You’re stupid. But that doesn’t mean your feelings are stupid.

He scrubs a hand over his face. That really shouldn’t make him feel better. Thanks.

Yeah, no problem. She drums her fingers on the wheel. But for real, what is your fucking problem.

He honestly doesn’t even mean to say anything. But some dude honks behind them, and like honking is so rude man, like it is the sign of a man without options, and it just harshes the last of his chill enough to make him say, I don’t know, I guess I just wish I didn’t have to hear about Obi’s dick like all day or whatever.

I thought you’d love to hear about Obi’s dick, Yuzuri says, surprised. You love hearing about Obi.

And the thing is that she’s so right. Like he’s honestly really happy for him? And seeing his girlfriend – the girl he’s wanted since forever, the girl that made him decide sex was only worth having if it was with her – talking for thirty minutes about how great sex was with him, and how she can’t wait to do even more stuff – like it could not happen to a better dude. He’s so hyped that Obi got his girl he can barely stand it, but it’s like that happiness is at the bottom of a poisoned well, and the only way he can get to it is drinking all the grody water, you know? Only the grody water is the girl he wants panting all over his best dude’s dick and it sucks. It’s like ten times worse than some random dude, because at least he knows she doesn’t care about them.

God, he is the fucking worst. He is just like, a mess, and everything today has been like, hey bro, you are a mess. And it’s like, thanks, universe. Like he didn’t fucking know.

I just didn’t need to hear about how much you liked his dick, he says, because he has no brain-to-mouth filter today on top of being a train wreck of emotions.

Yuzuri’s fingers still on the wheel as she pulls them into their parking space. I don’t like his dick. I mean, I like how it sounds, in theory. Like dicks are great, but not like – I’m not like into it.

He should honestly just leave it alone. Just shut up, Suzu. It sounded like you were into it.

Yuzuri kicks one of her legs up into the dash, like she does, right by the wheel. Her dress falls down her leg, and it’s just one smooth, sunkissed column of skin from ankle to hip. Kill him. It’s be more merciful than this.

Suzu, she says thoughtfully, turning her head toward him. Are you jealous?

He has no real answer to that, so he just stares out the window pointedly, hoping she gets the hint.

She laughs. God, Suzu. You are such a moron.

Yeah, he knows. She doesn’t have to rub it in.

The car creaks, and he turns to see what she’s broken off of it today, but instead he just has a lap full of feisty geneticist. He’s so close to her he can make out the DNA patterns in the velvet of her dress.

Suzu, she says again, and it’s lower this time, different; other parts of him are starting to pay attention. You really shouldn’t be jealous of anyone.

He’s about to ask for clarification, but she’s quick to give it – she leans down, fisting his shirt in her hands, and pulls him to her; her mouth already open and slanting over his, licking at his lips.

Oh jeez, he says when she pulls back, breathless. You want my dick.

She laughs, leaning her forehead against his. Yeah, I mean that too.

Too? He’s not really sure what’s happening here, but all the parts of his body agree it must be good stuff.

Uh yeah. She ducks her head. I, um, really like you too.

She looks up at him through her eyelashes, like she’s shy, or something, and he realizes – she thinks he might not want that. Like he’s just not crazy about every weird part of her.

Oh shit, he says instead of anything approaching cool. Yeah, I mean, I really like you, Yuzuri. Like that is – that’s really good, because I am really just like, all about you.

Obi will be so jealous, she says, wry; she’s grinning.

He laughs, leaning up to kiss her again. I really think he’ll get over it.