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And then there was a cat.

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Mamoru ran into a brick wall.

Well, that's what it felt like, anyway. As he crumpled, he could hear footsteps behind him; Nagi. Of course.

"I tink you broke my node," he said.

"Are you retarded?" Nagi snapped. "What the hell were you doing in there?"

"What was I supposed to be doing?" Mamoru could feel blood pooling around his fingers. "Standing still while I got killed?"

"It's my job to--"

"He had a machine gun."

Nagi sighed. "You didn't have to be so dramatic."

"It worked," Mamoru said.

"A knitting needle?"

"It worked," Mamoru said again. The knitting needle had been at hand, metallic, and sharp. Really, he couldn't have asked for a better weapon. He took his hands from his face and tried to measure his current rate of desanguination.

"I didn't hit you that hard," Nagi said. "What were you thinking? You're supposed to have the bodyguard, not be the bodyguard, remember?"

Mamoru's eyes met Nagi's for a moment. "Then where were you?"

Nagi rolled his eyes. "Just be careful, Bombay."

"It's not Bombay any more," Mamoru said. "You have a handkerchief or something?"

Nagi handed one to him and they walked back to the meeting room.

 

Nagi had an office in the castle, which always felt surreal. Assassins weren't supposed to have offices. But of course, Nagi was a security officer now. And Mamoru was a politician. None of it was right. None of it, if Mamoru permitted himself to think about it, made much sense.

Nagi was typing at his laptop when Mamoru came in; there was a black kitten on the desktop, watching his progress intently.

"What are you doing with a cat?" Mamoru asked. There was something familiar about the cat; Mamoru stared at it, trying to place it.

"Office was boring," Nagi said, not looking up. "Needed a cat."

"Are cats in your lease agreement?"

"Probably not," Nagi said. The kitten turned its head to stare at Mamoru for a moment.

It had yellow eyes.

A Bombay.

That bastard. "What are you going to name it?"

Nagi shrugged. "Haven't decided yet. Are you here on business or did you just want to stare at the cat?"

"New intelligence from Kritiker." Mamoru held out the dossier. Nagi took it with his telekinesis; the kitten batted at it with an oversized paw as it floated to the top of the desk. "Might lead to something this time."

"Even a broken clock's right twice a day," Nagi said cynically. They had both learned not to trust anything from Kritiker without at least a dual layer of confirmation. Kritiker's agenda was murky at best, and their information network even more dubious. "Is that all?"

"Yeah," Mamoru said, and turned to leave. "Just don't name it Omi, okay?"

"It's my cat," Nagi snapped. "I can name it whatever I want."

Mamoru rolled his eyes. Still, the cat was an improvement; Nagi's office normally looked like a collection Ikea had rejected for being too bland. Something living would cheer the place up.

He tried very hard not to think of the bodies that were Grandfather's idea of home decor and failed, miserably.

 

"Should I redecorate the office?"

Rex looked at him like he'd suggested a third eye. "Why would you want to?"

"You know, make things more modern. Increase efficiency." Make one more room in the castle something other than incredibly creepy.

Rex bit her lip and thought about it. "The 5S principles are quite popular, now. An evaluation might be in order. Should I speak with your grandfather about it?"

"I don't think it's necessary. After all, it's only one room."

Rex smiled in agreement. "I'll call in a consultant."

"We could do your office too, if you wanted."

Rex's smile widened.

 

They painted. They sorted. They filed. Mamoru's desktop became as clear and uncluttered as the surface of a mirror, and almost as polished.

Rex kept most of the files in her office; Mamoru moved his photo of Weiss to a further wall. It was still visible if he looked for it, but not quite as convenient for self-flagellation.

He spent a few hours on the Internet and bought some prints; Kita Yoshiaki for himself, and Inagaki Tomoo for Nagi. Rex chose some European Art Nouveau pieces. Grandfather would probably throw a fit, if he bothered coming into the office at all.

Sometimes being deemed beneath notice had its advantages. Mamoru had certainly known it before in his old life with Weiss.

 

"Have you seen Mumbai?" Nagi asked one afternoon, irritated.

"Mumbai?"

"The cat."

You bastard, Mamoru thought. "No."

"Dammit."

"I thought he stayed in your office," Mamoru said, allowing a note of reproach into his voice.

"He's supposed to," Nagi said. "The little son-of-a-bitch snuck out."

Mamoru raised an eyebrow, making an effort to hide his amusement. "Grandfather won't be pleased."

"Yes," Nagi snapped. "I'm aware."

Mamoru shrugged. "If I see him, I'll bring him back."

"Thank you," Nagi said, exiting the office as hurriedly as he'd entered.

 

Mamoru was half-asleep when he heard the noise; something quiet, soft. He took the crossbow out from under the bed and pointed at the darkness.

And then the solid thump of a cat's weight on the bed. "Mumbai," he said, and reached out to touch the cat's furry head.

Mumbai purred and rubbed against his fingers. Mamoru grinned.

"You can stay here tonight," he murmured. "I'll bring you back to Nagi in the morning."

 

In the morning, he calmly deposited the kitten on Nagi's desk. "He pissed in my bathtub," he said. "I'll be docking your salary for cleaning fees."

Nagi just shrugged his shoulders and pretended to ignore him. Mamoru noted with some satisfaction that he'd hung the artwork.

"I'm not coming to the meeting this afternoon," Nagi said. "That lead from Kritiker panned out; there's something I need to see to."

"Do you need backup?"

Nagi looked at him like he was an idiot.

"Fine," Mamoru said, and left.

 

Rex handed him the folder, thick with meeting notes. "How late are we now?" Mamoru asked, keeping a quick pace down the hallway. He'd woken up next to Nagi's cat again; putting the extra litter box in his bathroom had been a good idea.

"Twenty minutes," Rex answered, checking her watch. "Naoe-san was instructed not to begin until you arrived."

"They're probably climbing the walls by now," Mamoru said.

Instead, they heard laughter as they approached the room.

Rex leaned in and put her ear by the door. "They're telling jokes," she said, her face curving into a frown.

Mamoru listened. Yohji had told him this one years ago. He pushed open the door.

Suzuki was leaning casually back in his chair at the conference table. "And then he said--"

"'I don't know,'" Mamoru calmly interrupted, "'but if you find my keys, I can drive us out of here.'"

Half of the men laughed nervously; the other half stared in shock.

"What?" Mamoru said, feigning disinterest. "It's an old joke." He took his place at the head of the table. "My apologizes for the delay, gentlemen. Shall we begin, or--?"

"Yes," Nagi said curtly, pushing a stack of papers over to him. "We've wasted enough time."

 

"Things paid off well," Mamoru said, sliding a sheaf of documents onto Nagi's desk. "Good work."

Nagi nodded.

Mumbai wasn't in his usual place on Nagi's desk; it was curled up in the cat bed Mamoru had never actually seen him sleeping in, looking bleary-eyed and confused. "Is it okay?" Mamoru asked.

"Will be," Nagi said. "Just got back from the vet's this morning."

Mamoru winced in sympathy and walked over. "Hey, boy," he said. "You okay?"

Mumbai sniffed at his fingers.

"Oh, sure, he still likes you," Nagi said. "He's been pissed at me ever since he woke up."

"I'd be pissed at you too if you cut off my balls," Mamoru said cheerfully, scratching Mumbai under the chin. Mumbai purred at him, and he let the cat rub its face into the palm of his hand.

He felt Nagi's gaze, and for once turned his face to meet his eyes. Instead of the faint amusement or disdain he expected, there was something else in Nagi's eyes. He was smiling at Mamoru with something disconcertingly like affection.

Mamoru swallowed, and Nagi quickly turned his attention to the papers on his desk.

Mamoru was smiling to himself as he walked, confidently, into Nagi's office door.

 

Nagi brought him ice. "You're not going to have a nose left at this rate."

Mamoru, sitting on the edge of the desk, winced as he put the cold bag up to his face. "Maybe. That was really stupid, wasn't it?"

"Yep."

Mamoru shook his head. "What kind of employee are you?"

"Contracted."

Mamoru laughed. It hurt. Mumbai wobbled over and rubbed his ankle, and Mamoru laughed harder, and it hurt more.

"Stop it," Nagi said, "you're bleeding through your ice bag. It'll get on the carpet." He was grinning as he steered Mamoru into his desk chair, though. "How did you do that?"

"You were smiling at me," Mamoru said, through the blood. It sounded pretty lame when he said it.

"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard," Nagi said, which was fair enough. Mamoru leaned down and balanced his elbows on the desk. He tried not to drip blood on any of the papers. Nagi reached out and ruffled the back of Mamoru's hair. "I smile at you all the time."

"Do not."

"Do so," Nagi said, and leaned down so low Mamoru could feel breath on the back of his neck. "See? I'm smiling right now."

"You're a jerk," Mamoru said, taking the ice away from his face to check the bleeding.

"Yeah," Nagi said. "Ask the cat."

"Just promise you won't cut my balls off if I get on your nerves," Mamoru said, reaching back and finding Nagi's hair.

"Okay," Nagi said, and kissed the back of his neck. "Well. Probably."