Chapter 1: A Deviation from Pattern
Watari had won the bet.
It was an obscene amount of money, all told — the stakes had been rising astronomically for over a year and most of them had been feeding a weighty percentage of their monthly salaries to the cause. Watari, personally, had been placing his bets almost automatically whenever one of the GuShoShin appeared to collect (they could be trusted with bookkeeping in the event when Tatsumi wasn’t in the know — and he wasn’t, of course), never really expecting to see any of the money again.
Then Wakaba, sweet soul that she was, had walked in on Bon kissing Tsuzuki behind the flimsy shield of the water cooler in the break room and instead of keeping it to herself as a more crafty person would have done (to disclose upon a day of her own choosing), had run immediately to the lab to pay her part to Watari and inform him the great stalemate of the Shokan division had been broken while hugging him and jumping up and down.
So Watari had won the bet and had the profound pleasure of collecting his winnings. Yuma and Saya paid easily enough — they seemed every bit as moonstruck as Wakaba and in no mood to put up a fight. The chief grumbled but paid, there was an envelope from Hakushaku when Watari poked his head into the lab at midday, as well as one all the way from Okinawa, and when he stopped by the library, the GuShoShin delivered not only their part but the part of the staff in Supply, the cleaning lady, and at least five more from various others who Watari had not even been aware were involved. Terazuma growled that he had never wanted any part of this to begin with and tried to cheat him until Wakaba kicked him under the table with a stern “Don’t you dare, Hajime-chan.”
When he had received his money from the last of them, he swept through the bullpen with a flourish, ignoring the glare a very flushed Bon was sending his way (he knew, of course, but wouldn’t dare say anything aloud). Tsuzuki didn’t seem to care, though he also had to know the secret was out, as it were. He only grinned and waved at Watari, for which the scientist decided to buy him cake with a portion of his winnings. It was only just, after all.
But when he got back to his lab and actually sat down to open the envelopes and count the money, he had to blink and do it again, and then a third time just to make sure. 003 was fluttering around his head, clearly bored and annoyed that her human was wasting so much time on scraps of paper. When he finally ascertained that the sum was indeed correct, Watari looked up at her with wide eyes. “We’re filthy rich, 003.” She hooted in response. “Of course I know what to do with it,” he replied, turning back to his money and starting to gather it into piles. The piles kept falling apart because he was making them too tall. “There’s about a hundred things for the lab I haven’t been able to wring out of the department the good old-fashioned way,” he continued. She hooted disdainfully. “No, I am not planning on blowing them up as soon as I get them,” he snapped at her. “Honestly, 003, you’d think I blew it up on purpose!” Hoot, hoot, hoot. “That was only once, and anyway, that was the penguin’s fault, if you recall…”
He looked around the disastrously messy lab, realizing it was actually quite quiet. More than a few of his birds were sleeping on various perches he had pushed against the walls. One of the highest perches was being occupied by his toaster — that was mildly worrying and probably needed to be looked into as soon as possible. “Where did the penguin go?” he asked, deciding the toaster could wait and returning to his money, settling for stuffing it into his lab coat pockets and his pants pockets and just about any other pockets he could find while 003 launched into a hooting tirade.
“Oh for the love of… 003, you’ve made your feelings on his subject perfectly clear!” he finally interrupted. “That doesn’t mean we can let him wander around. You’re the one saying he’s an idiot, and I fully agree with you. Just think what…” he listened for a moment, then shook his head. “That’s cruel, 003,” he chastised. “Why would I give him to Yuma and Saya to play dress-up with? Besides, all the clothes they keep around are mostly Bon’s size. They wouldn’t fit him.”
Just then, as if sensing the conversation was about him, the large penguin stuck his head out from behind a towering pile of papers. “Oh, good, you’re here,” Watari said, then promptly forgot all about him. 003 looked like she wanted to go over there and turn her tirade into a confrontation, but he snagged her out of the air. “Come on, we’re going. Unless you want to stay and baby-sit?” That was enough to quiet her.
He headed out of the lab, tugging his overcoat over his lab coat, realizing he couldn’t button it because his pockets were stuffed too full. “Would have been too easy to pay in large bills instead of small change,” he muttered. The thought that Tatsumi would have, simply because it was the more efficient thing to do, came unbidden when he nearly ran into the secretary just outside of his office. Which was silly, because Tatsumi didn’t know about the bet, or he would have killed them all.
“Watari-san,” Tatsumi said.
“Hiya, Tatsumi!” In vain, he tried to close the buttons of his coat again.
Tatsumi did that thing he did with one raised eyebrow and a glance over the rim of his glasses that was half curiosity and half disdain. “I realize it’s cool out, but I didn’t know you needed that many layers. Were you planning a trip to the Arctic?”
“I’m always cold,” Watari said, wondering just how overdressed he looked. He patted his pockets nonchalantly. “Better safe than frozen. Did you need something?” On the usual run-of-the-mill day, he would have been more than happy to waste time bantering with Tatsumi in the hallway—that was sadly rare as it was. But he realized, too, that he couldn’t afford questions about the contents of his pockets, in the most direct sense of the verb. He wasn’t about to give up his winnings and disclose the office secret.
Tatsumi continued watching him for a moment, almost as if he was aware of just how much Watari wanted to escape him, then finally asked, “Are you neglecting to tell me something?”
“Wherever did you get such an idea?” This was definitely, definitely not good. He wondered if he could get 003 to bite the other man — as a manner of distraction, of course.
“You’re the only one who hasn’t been by my office today to request funding.” The rest of the sentence, unspoken, was obvious: And usually you’re the only one crazy or brave enough to hang around my office every day and beg for money.
Watari couldn’t help grinning when he realized that was all it was. Bon’s the one who reads minds, not Tatsumi. Fortunately for me. He supposed the rest of the staff would be feeling the press on their expense accounts for a while. He must have really cleaned them out thoroughly if they had gone to Tatsumi for help—only Watari and Tsuzuki were ever really comfortable in his office, and Watari had a notion he was the only one not afraid of the strict secretary, and that included Tsuzuki. “Oh, that. I don’t need funding today.”
He tried to slip past Tatsumi and out the door, but was stopped by the other man’s hand on his shoulder, even if it was quickly withdrawn when 003 finally roused herself enough to try biting him. We need to work on that timing. “Watari-san, you always need funding.”
“Would you have found me any, if I’d asked after all the others?” Watari queried with amusement in his voice, turning to face Tatsumi once again and giving 003 a look that promised chastisement later. The question seemed to take Tatsumi aback, enough that Watari could cheerfully bulldoze over any answer he could have given. “Of course not, meaning it was rather efficient of me not to ask. Since you’re all about efficiency, that should please you. Besides, I don’t need funding today. See you!” With that, he brushed past the secretary and escaped from the building before Tatsumi could ask any more questions. Only once outside did he permit himself to laugh.
11:08 am. Exactly eight minutes later than Watari ever was for their morning battle of wills. For someone who appeared so scatterbrained, the Shokan division’s arguably mad scientist was actually almost fastidiously punctual. Kurosaki might wander in ten or fifteen minutes early to stare blankly out of the window until the beginning of shift, and the days Tsuzuki was actually on time were as rare as rain in Meifu, but one could set one’s watch by Watari. Tatsumi appreciated that about him; however chaotic and incomprehensible the blond was, at least his timing had a pattern.
This morning, however, Tsuzuki had come in early, grinning from ear to ear, followed by Kurosaki, who for once wasn’t glaring at anyone at all. The boy had gone to the coffee machine and Tsuzuki had meekly sat at his desk and pulled out a file and a pen, going immediately to work. Ten minutes before the beginning of shift. Without whining about it. And was still mostly on task two hours and twenty minutes later. And to add insult to injury, Watari was now nine minutes late for their scheduled bargaining session.
Something was grievously wrong in Meifu.
Unable to stand it anymore, Tatsumi stood with a jerk from behind his desk, pushed his glasses habitually up on his nose, and headed to the lab to ascertain that Watari was still breathing and functional, as well as to hopefully find some scrap of normalcy in this decidedly abnormal day. As Tatsumi passed through the bullpen, Kurosaki looked up at him absently with something vaguely reminiscent of a smile before going back to his work.
Bizarre. Everything was just bizarre.
He found Watari in the lab, humming tunelessly under his breath and examining something through the lens of a top-notch electron microscope which Tatsumi knew had not been budgeted. An animated stick figure was diligently stirring a beaker of something violently green that was boiling on the Bunsen burner with a pencil, and a small hawk was ripping into one of the two sealed boxes stacked precariously on the counter with abandon. It had already torn off the label, which hung limply from the corner of the box — it seemed to be a detailed list of chemicals included within. A large penguin was trying to do the same with what looked like a cake box, with considerably less success. New supplies hadn’t been budgeted this month, either.
Tatsumi tended to stay out of the laboratory for the simple reason that here, insanity and chaos reigned. He had never understood what possessed Watari to set up a veritable aviary in his space, though thankfully he managed to keep the birds confined to the lab, his small owl excluded. The birds weren’t the only living things here, either: the moving stick figure was actually a fairly common sight, and on occasion Watari would manage to animate something a little more solid. The results of that were invariably disastrous. Most recently, Tatsumi had received a complaint from Torii about a clawed toaster that seemed to double as a paper shredder, though that may have just been a new way to get an extension on paperwork. In any case, there didn’t seem to be a toaster anywhere in the room when Tatsumi looked. He tried to remember if the lab had had a toaster.
That wasn’t as easy as it should have been, since the lab was always a royal mess, with stacks of papers that were usually too tall and ended up tilting drunkenly and eventually sliding onto the floor with no hopes of ever getting them back in order. There were sticky notes in neon colors scattered all over the place. Tatsumi had tried to make sense of them once, but even though he hadn’t considered himself to be entirely helpless in science, the one he had once found stuck to the bottom of his shoe had given him a headache deciphering it and ended up looking more like a cookie recipe with explosives replacing flour—which was probably why the lab had blown to high heaven the very next day. That was the largest part of the reason to stay away from here, of course: the birds and the mess and the animate objects that should have been inanimate aside, the place was the more combustible than the rest of Meifu put together. At least, Watari blew it to pieces with an alarming regularity. Anyone who willingly ventured within was putting his or her immortal afterlife in grave peril.
Surrounded by all this chaos, the blond scientist was in his element. He wouldn’t even have noticed Tatsumi’s entrance if the small owl perched on his head hadn’t tugged sharply on a lock of golden hair that had escaped its ribbon, causing Watari to curse and jerk his head upwards. “003, I’ve told you and told you not to pull! Would you like me to start yanking out your tail feathers?” Then he looked at his watch, muttered, “Eleven-fifteen,” under his breath, and looked up at Tatsumi, who was standing in the doorway, with a cheerful smile. “Five minutes later than I thought,” he said, tucking the errant lock of hair behind his ear and walking over to the Bunsen burner to check on the stick figure’s progress. The pencil it was using as a stirring stick seemed to be melting, but that didn’t appear to bother Watari. “What can I do for you, Tatsumi-san?”
You can start by telling me why everyone’s gone mad around here. First everyone but Watari — the chief, even! — in his office the day before demanding additions to their expense accounts or an advance on their salaries — even Kannuki, who was so tidy with her accounts and never asked for anything! — and now fifteen minutes past Watari’s morning begging session and the second day that the scientist hadn’t demanded anything at all, and he had the gall to act like nothing was amiss?
Despite all of these thoughts, the only thing Tatsumi voiced was, “You didn’t come by my office this morning. I was just ascertaining that you were alive and well.”
“I’m dead,” Watari reminded him cheerfully, folding himself into a chair beside the computer terminal. It was an old joke and painfully easy, but the younger man never seemed to tire of it. “I’m quite well, however, thank you for asking. Did you want some tea? Pull up a chair.” He jumped up because not being in motion went against his nature, and used a towel with singed edges to pull a second beaker off of its burner. This one was full of a dark amber liquid; when the smell hit his nose, Tatsumi realized it was Earl Grey. From somewhere in the chaos of his cabinets, Watari produced two mismatched mugs. The owl, looking miffed, fluttered to one of the perches near the window, fluffed her feathers, and turned her back.
Tatsumi never took tea breaks in the middle of the morning just because, but the desire to find out what was going on was strong enough to have him silently moving a box off of the second chair. It was heavy, and a glance at the label revealed that it contained a neutron scale, as yet unassembled. His eyebrows rising, Tatsumi set it on the floor and sat down, accepting the mug of tea the scientist pushed set at his elbow. “What is all this?” he asked curiously.
“Oh, bits and pieces,” Watari said, waving his hand dismissively and taking a sip of his tea. “A few renovations for the lab; I haven’t had a new microscope in ten years, you know, and the old one was so obsolete it was painful. A restock of chemicals, a set of test tubes since I keep breaking them, and so on. Well, the cake isn’t for the lab, it’s for Tsuzuki. I’ll give it to him at lunch.”
“But where did it come from?” Tatsumi said, striving for patience.
“From a bakery, obviously. What, did you think I had made it myself? Don’t worry; I didn’t make any alterations in the recipe. About the only side effect it will have is making him bounce off the walls, but that’s nothing new.”
I am going to develop a nervous tick dealing with him. Tatsumi took a sip of tea to calm his nerves; to his surprise it was extremely good. “I do not mean the cake, Watari-san,” he said slowly. “Where did the rest of it come from?”
The look of complete innocence in the golden eyes behind the protective lenses of Watari’s glasses was nearly as well-developed as Tsuzuki’s — and as deceiving, Tatsumi was sure. “Why, from Supply, of course.”
He was definitely going to start twitching any moment. “And how was it paid for, Watari-san?”
The smile on Watari’s face was so sparklingly innocent that if Tatsumi hadn’t known any better (and had not had many years of dealing with Tsuzuki under his belt) he would have been completely convinced of Watari’s simplemindedness. “Tatsumi, I do believe you missed me this morning!” the blond man exclaimed delightedly. “What a nice surprise. I had thought it would be a relief to not have me underfoot begging for an advance on my allowance.”
“Watari-san.” Tatsumi’s voice was a warning, low and ominous.
Watari lifted his hands in front of him and waved his innocence, chuckling. “I didn’t acquire any of it in an illegal or amoral way,” he said. “I didn’t even threaten anyone with having to be my guinea pig. I’ve been good.”
“Why do I doubt that, somehow?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea, Tatsumi. I’ve never given you a reason to distrust me.”
“I assume that was meant to be sarcasm?”
“You know me so well, Tatsumi. It warms my heart.” Tatsumi had a pithy reply all ready when the little owl in the corner suddenly fluttered off of her perch to land on the edge of Watari’s mug and address a series of hoots and screeches at him. The blond man, as always, seemed to understand and sighed heavily. “003, go back to your nap. Haven’t we discussed this, or are you playing stupid on purpose today?” The owl only argued back, then jumped onto his shoulder and began wreaking havoc with his long hair, screeching her displeasure as Watari tried to get her to let go, looking rather like a ruffled golden bird himself.
Feeling inexplicably irritated, Tatsumi looked at his watch to realize he had spent nearly a half hour of good work time drinking tea and arguing with his coworker. He stood. “I’ll leave you to it, I suppose.” Whatever ‘it’ was.
“Don’t worry so much, Tatsumi!” Watari called behind him as he walked towards the door to the lab, stepping gingerly over the box he had set on the floor. “Relax a little!” Tatsumi didn’t consider that to merit a response.
Shutting the door behind him, he headed back to his office. Kannuki started giggling when he passed her in the hallway. “What is so funny?” He knew his voice was clipped, but he had this sneaking suspicion everyone was making fun at his expense, and that made him irritable.
“You have a…” Kannuki trailed off and reached up to pick up something off his shoulder. It was a feather; Tatsumi didn’t even know which of Watari’s birds it had belonged to, nor when and how it had ended up on his shoulder. Somehow caught on its stem was a long, waving golden hair which was almost invisible until it caught the light from the window. “Here,” the girl said with another giggle, holding it out to him.
“I don’t want it,” he said, feeling hopelessly like the whole world had gone crazy.
She only shrugged and tucked it into one of the knots of pink ribbon holding her curls from her face. “Smile!” she suggested. “It’s a lovely day!”
Tatsumi barely held back a growl as he covered the rest of the ground to his office and closed the door between himself and the spreading insanity.
She and I need to have nice long talk about her possessiveness. She seems to have forgotten our last one.
He had finally gotten the elusive secretary to come to him for a change, and to forget everything else, even if it had only been for half an hour and based on curiosity and the possible fear that Watari had robbed a bank or done something equally ghastly. But he had come, and 003, silly jealous bird that she was, had decided that simply couldn’t be and had promptly ruined what had been doubtlessly a step in the right direction. A small step, but a step nonetheless.
“Stupid female,” Watari muttered loud enough for her to hear as he gently removed the cake box from the penguin’s reach, waved the hawk irritably off of the box of supplies, and got back to work.
It wasn’t as if he was asking for much, he thought. Was it really that difficult to get the blasted man to look at him? Yes, apparently. Eyes only for work and for Tsuzuki.
It was probably the challenge of that which had appealed to him initially, that and the ridiculous daydream of seeing what the dark-haired man would look like with mussed clothes and hair, maybe his glasses crooked on his nose, and something other than cool indifference in his eyes. A little breathless would be best, perhaps even a bit off balance. The daydream had quickly sprouted something that edged perilously close to an obsession as, no matter what Watari tried, Tatsumi seemed completely immune.
I’m as bad as Tsuzuki. Except Tsuzuki had worked out his issues with Bon, whereas Watari was no closer to finding a solution to the tantalizing problem of Tatsumi. “Stupid,” he repeated in 003’s direction, because it was easier to blame someone other than himself. He watched the beaker’s contents slowly turning a sickly shade of orange and made a note on the clipboard he had set next to it, ignoring her.
She seemed to feel properly ashamed of herself a few minutes later, as she fluttered back to him, landing on the lab table and proffering the hair ribbon as a peace offering. She hooted consolingly as he gathered his hair into a messy ponytail. After a moment, Watari gave up on glaring at her. It’s not her fault Tatsumi isn’t falling obligingly into my arms. Mostly.
“You’re right,” he said a little later when she was perched in her usual spot on his shoulder, clearly trying to cheer him up. “At least he missed me when I didn’t come.” He had made it a point to be in Tatsumi’s office every day at exactly the same time, cajoling funds out of him, though with how much leeway Tatsumi gave him (he was stingy but not entirely unfair) every day was certainly not necessary. Once a week would have sufficed. Even Watari’s pockets didn’t have metaphorical holes that big, but it was a good excuse to be an eyesore for a little while without taking risks he wasn’t quite ready to take. Surely Tatsumi had to have realized by now that Watari came more to see him than to haggle over a few extra yen.
Apparently not, however.
003’s warning screech had him turning and rushing to take the beaker off of the burner just as it threatened to boil over. It was giving off an odor reminiscent of week-old garbage and began to crystallize the moment Watari removed it from the flame, something it definitely wasn’t supposed to do. Another failure.
“I’ll get it yet,” Watari said with a cheerful doggedness as he picked up his notes and flipped back a few pages to see where he could have gone wrong.
He wasn’t talking only about the potion.
Chapter 2: Hair Ribbons and Humidity
When the going gets tough, the tough make hair products.
Before Tatsumi quite knew what was happening, they settled into another pattern. At eleven-thirty, plus or minus a few minutes, he somehow seemed to find himself heading to the lab day after day when he realized Watari wasn’t coming around to beg. Invariably, Watari would be busy at work on something, but just as invariably, there would be tea freshly brewed in a beaker on the counter, and the mugs were no longer hidden in the depths of the cabinets. So, waiting for Watari to wrap up his work, Tatsumi would pour tea and take a seat, because there was invariably a chair free for him now. The second time, he had come to try and get some of the answers he hadn’t gotten the first time around, and when he didn’t get them that time either, he returned a third and fourth time. By the end of the week he no longer expected the answers, truth be told — the strange places their conversations seemed to lead were interesting enough in and of themselves to keep him turning his steps towards the formerly forbidden zone of the laboratory, just as Watari turned out to be interesting enough to distract him from asking about the things he really wanted to know.
He didn’t fully realize what he was doing until one morning about a week after this all had started, when Kurosaki passed him in the hallway. “Tatsumi-san, could you please ask Watari where he bought that cake last week?” the boy asked in passing.
Tatsumi stopped. “Why?” he asked.
Kurosaki shrugged, blushed, and looked generally uncomfortable. “Tsuzuki wanted to know. He really liked it.”
“I mean, why are you asking me to ask Watari-san?” Tatsumi said slowly.
“Because you’re heading into the lab anyway?”
Since he was in the hallway just outside the bullpen and could be headed any number of places, this struck him as odd. “What gave you the impression I was going to the lab?”
Again something almost like a smile on Kurosaki’s face, and that was the fourth time he had seen it, and it continued to disturb him because it just wasn’t normal for him to be in such a good mood, and for so long on top of that. “It’s eleven-thirty,” the boy replied, as if it was the most normal thing in the world. “Excuse me, Tatsumi-san.”
He arrived in the lab as usual, stepped habitually around the penguin trying to get out and quickly shut the door—and realized this was, in fact, all rather habitual, the penguin trying to get out into the hallway and the stacks of papers and the bright pattern of sticky notes on the wall and the colorful mugs waiting for tea to be poured, as well as Watari at the computer terminal, holding a notepad and typing one-handed. “Be right with you,” the blond man murmured, his eyes never leaving the screen. “Just let me save this.” So Tatsumi headed to the Bunsen burner to pour the tea, because what was there to do, really?
When Watari at last looked up from the computer, whatever he was seeing on Tatsumi’s face made him choke down a laugh. “Good morning,” he said, maneuvering his wheeled computer chair around the mess on the floor to sit across from Tatsumi and pick up his mug. His hair was in a loose braid over his shoulder, but because it wasn’t tied off it seemed to be rapidly unraveling from the bottom, the tip a spill of color in Watari’s lap. Unbidden, the thought came that it would be best loose around his face instead of restrained—even barely, the way it was now. Restraint in anything didn’t suit Watari particularly well… and the thought was the clear product of a confusing, surreal week and nothing more. Because he had the sudden desire to reach over and shake the hair out of its plait, Tatsumi clasped his hands tightly around his mug instead.
“How long have you had the doorman?” he demanded, as the penguin waddled across the room to disappear behind a particularly tall stack of boxes.
Watari’s eyes laughed over the rim of his mug. “A few months. I’m sorry he hangs around the door like that; he knows you’re coming and it’s his only chance at escaping to explore since he can’t fly out the window like the rest of them. 003 says he envies them dreadfully. I was thinking of modifying a doggie door for him when I realized we were on the second floor. Maybe I’ll build a ramp, too, but I’m not at all sure of his mental capacities; he might never find his way back here…”
Never mind Kurosaki. Watari’s birds know what time I come to see him. There was something terribly wrong with that—definitely a pattern. He, the embodiment of reason, had fallen into a pattern of going to a place he habitually avoided to waste time and drink tea for half an hour a day with a man who was chaos incarnate.
“You look like you have a headache,” Watari said while he was still processing all of this. At Tatsumi’s blank look, he explained, “You get this little line just… there.” There was the brush of a cool fingertip just above the bridge of his nose, but before he could stiffen and snap at the man, Watari’s hands were back where they belonged and well away from his face. The offending hand reached up to tuck a few stray locks back into the messy braid, and once again Tatsumi found himself wishing it was loose around the scientist’s face and shoulders as it usually was. It would be heavy and warm with sunshine and tangle in his hands if he just reached out to undo the braid… “Did you want something for that?”
“For what?” He needed to stop thinking about Watari’s hair and how the light from the windows glinted off of it. Why was he thinking about Watari’s hair?
He realized he no longer had a headache, though one had been building. “I don’t need anything.” It was as well that the headache had vanished as quickly as it had appeared—he was intelligent enough after a few years of communal work to seriously doubt Watari’s practical medical skills. He was much readier to trust him with complex curses and magical maladies than a headache or indigestion.
Watari only shrugged. “As you like it,” he said lightly. “I fixed Terazuma’s computer again, by the way. Barely. You might want to tell him that pounding all the keys at once when it doesn’t respond quickly enough to suit him is not the best way to get it functioning. It’s ancient; of course it’s going to lag. Even with my brilliance, I can’t keep resurrecting it forever; it’s already running more on magic than on mechanics, and that’s a surefire recipe for disaster.”
Tatsumi had heard all of this already—about computers disliking magical interference (though Watari could never properly explain why or even how they knew the difference) and veiled hints at the fact that the department was running on obsolete electronics. “I’ll let him know,” he said dryly. Not that Terazuma would listen, because even Tatsumi had the urge to hit the computers on occasion when they hiccupped, and he was a great deal more patient than Terazuma. “Actually, if you keep being a model employee and refrain from destroying anything for a while longer, the division may be able to swing an upgrade.” It would be tight, but without money constantly being filtered out to fix Watari’s cabinet doors or his counter or his window, it might be possible.
“Ah, and then the entire office will owe me a favor.” For some reason, Watari seemed to find this incredibly funny—he chuckled for a good minute before he could once again drink his tea without snorting. He shook his head, causing his braid to unravel a little further. For the first time he seemed to realize just what a pitiful state it was in. “Damn it, where do my hair ribbons go?” he asked no one in particular. “I swear someone hides them.”
Not the worst of ideas. That thought was enough to have him standing and heading to the door with an abrupt, “I need to get back to work.” Falling into pattern was one thing—and bad enough—but this ridiculous fixation had to go.
“See you tomorrow, Tatsumi!” Tatsumi didn’t turn as he walked out of the lab, or he would have seen a self-satisfied smile on Watari’s face as he tied off the end of his hair with a ribbon from his lab coat pocket.
Watari and Wakaba shared the same arch-nemesis.
Because no one else would listen to either of them whine about it (not even 003, which was terribly unfair considering Watari let her complain at length about any number of things) it was only normal that on the first rainy morning in months, Watari found a very unhappy girl waiting for him in his lab at the beginning of shift, feeding cookies to the small flock of birds gathered around her. When she saw he had come in, she wished him a good morning, followed immediately by an apology. “I’m sorry; I stole one of your hair ribbons.”
Because she looked as miserable as he felt, he only patted her on the shoulder as he headed past her to look out of the window. “It’s all right; I have others. You look like you need it.”
“I hate rain.” She joined him at the window and handed him a cookie. Though she had pulled her hair back as severely as she could with the borrowed ribbon, there was a nimbus around her face that clearly refused to be tamed. Because his own hair was also a bush that looked like he hadn’t combed it in days (never mind that he had taken a good hour forcing a brush through it this morning before braiding it—as had she with all likelihood) he completely understood the tragedy.
“We all hate rain,” he told her sourly.
“No, only the people cursed with curly hair,” she disagreed. “Hisoka-kun likes the rain. And Tsuzuki-san doesn’t even bother with an umbrella. He walks around letting himself get soaked and he doesn’t care at all. Even Hajime-chan doesn’t understand.” That last seemed to weigh heaviest on her mind, though Terazuma was definitely the least compassionate of the three.
“The world is full of stupid people with straight hair,” Watari told her consolingly, “who might be intelligent otherwise.” Well, not Terazuma, but adding that would hardly be kind when the girl was suffering. “At least you’re not in the field today.”
She smiled up at him. “That’s right; I should be thinking positive!” She lacked her usual spunk, but that was normal when one’s hair decided the only three directions it wanted to go were left, right and up. She smoothed her hands over her bangs (a futile gesture) and said, “I’ll let you get back to work. I don’t usually keep ribbons in my desk drawer and this was the best place I could think of to find one. Thank you.” She knelt to scratch the penguin under his chin.
“Anytime.” He felt better, as he was sure she did, simply by virtue of having someone to gripe with, but his mood was still sour. “Come by at lunch if you like.”
“I might. After Tatsumi-san, though.” Her smile seemed to regain some of its usual cheer. “Thank you, Watari-san!” She left with a wave.
Once she was gone, Watari headed over to the lab table and began to get out ingredients habitually. I really should be working on this at home, but desperate times and all that. At the least, he knew this recipe by heart and it wouldn’t take more than an hour.
Or it wouldn’t have until he decided to see if he could improve it.
He quickly became so engrossed in what he was doing that he didn’t even notice the clock nearing eleven-thirty, especially when the work refused to go the way he wanted it to. There was no tea prepared, one of the mugs was half-full of toxically pink foam which he was adding in tiny increments to the viscous mixture simmering under his critical gaze, and he didn’t even notice Tatsumi until 003 hooted a sleepy greeting from her perch on Watari’s head.
“Please tell me you don’t think I’m going to drink that.” Though Tatsumi’s voice was habitually polite, the sarcasm shone through.
Watari looked up at the other man (impeccable as always, and that was really starting to get on his nerves, especially on a day like today) blankly for a moment before he understood. “This isn’t for drinking.” He carefully poured the rest of the foam from the cup and set it in the sink for rinsing. He couldn’t believe it was already so late. “I’m sorry; I haven’t made the tea yet. Sit down.”
But Tatsumi, after looking at him a little oddly, turned around and headed towards the cabinet in the corner. “I’ll do it. You keep the tea somewhere around here, I believe?”
“Third shelf, red canister,” Watari said, turning back to his work and hiding a smile. A week ago, he might still have just walked out of here. However he had managed it, Tatsumi was too accustomed to their daily chats after two weeks to break pattern, and wasn’t that wonderful? Almost wonderful enough to make him stop caring that it was raining, but not quite wonderful enough to distract him from his all-important work.
“You should invest in a teapot, Watari-san,” Tatsumi told him in a few moments, having located the tea and filling a large beaker with water.
“I used to have one, but it broke,” Watari said, shrugging. Annoyed, he tossed his frizzy braid over his shoulder when the tip threatened to get into the mixture he was stirring. “Maybe I’ll shave my head,” he said ominously. He could only hope none of his hair had fallen in to ruin it.
He actually saw Tatsumi’s hands falter for a minute before they returned to thoroughly rinsing out the mug he had been using. “Oh?” The single word seemed loaded with meaning.
Watari left his potion to fend for itself for a while and picked up the mug of tea Tatsumi had poured him. The back of his neck itched because of unruly hairs that refused to stay in the braid and were trying to get under his turtleneck, and he was irritated. “Well, why not?”
There was an expression on Tatsumi’s face that was very close to confusion for a moment. “It would certainly be… a change.” His face remained mostly impassive after that brief flash of emotion, but the vocabulary choice made his opinion on the matter clear: Tatsumi didn’t approve of changes.
“Maybe,” Watari said again, because he was feeling disagreeable.
There was silence for a few moments. Obviously uncomfortable with it, the secretary suddenly spoke up. “It’s a pleasant day. It rains too rarely.”
Watari shoved down the desire to glare. “I’m glad someone thinks so,” he said, trying not to sound peevish.
Again, silence for a few moments. “What… ah… is this?” Tatsumi gestured at the simmering mixture.
“A powerful weapon against a formidable enemy,” Watari replied evasively.
“…It smells like chamomile,” Tatsumi pointed out, his eyebrow raised as he regarded the simmering pink stuff with distrust.
“Among other things.”
“And it’s pink.”
“Good observation,” Watari said dryly. He really didn’t feel capable of holding up his end of the conversation. He had a potion that never worked as well as he wanted it to, a bird’s nest on his head (both literally and figuratively) and it wasn’t as if he hadn’t tried to tint it another color—it just wouldn’t take.
Now there was definitely confusion on Tatsumi’s face, and then he set aside his mug. “I’ll let you get back to it, then.”
Watari waved at him absently because the stuff was threatening to become too thin—again—and it needed his full attention.
When Wakaba popped into the lab an hour later, he was just capping off a plastic bottle filled with the cooling, creamy mixture. “Here,” he said, handing it to her. “It’s better than the last one, though I can’t say by how much.”
She took it with a radiant smile. “Every little bit helps,” she said fervently. Then, “Tatsumi-san lets you make hair products on company time now?”
Watari filled the second bottle standing in wait for the remaining conditioner. “This is war,” he told the girl, and worked up a bit of a smile, though the fact that he still couldn’t manage a perfect cure for humidity rankled. “And what Tatsumi doesn’t know can’t hurt him.”
For that, most of the office would say I’m very brave or very stupid. The thought made him grin. Or maybe very sure of myself.
Even as Tatsumi raised his eyebrow and looked up at the blond man derisively (no one dared sit on his desk, not even Tsuzuki) he realized he was unduly relieved to see Watari’s grinning face, and that he had actually missed having him in the office.
Watari seemed entirely immune to the glare, though. He seemed to be in a better mood than usual today. As Tatsumi opened the folder to check through the documents contained within, he noted absently that something (probably Watari’s lab coat) was faintly giving off the same soothing chamomile odor he had smelled in the lab the day before. “Thank you for finishing this promptly, Watari-san,” Tatsumi said. Not only was it prompt, he knew it would also be accurate and painstakingly detailed. If only Tsuzuki made half the effort, his job would be so much easier… He stopped on the last page. “You forgot to sign this.”
“Did I?” the blond man asked. “I’m not too surprised; I’ve been distracted… damn, where’s a pen?” Before Tatsumi could offer one of his, the blond reached behind his head and yanked a pen out of the messy knot his hair was pulled into. Apparently, the pen was the only thing holding it up, because the moment Watari had it in hand the knot unraveled, causing his hair to swing forward, and Tatsumi was the one distracted. Watari leaned over the desk to bend over the papers and place a scrawling signature on them, and Tatsumi found himself much closer to the other man than he had ever been previously.
He would probably have gotten a mouthful of hair if he opened his mouth to speak. That same sweet smell tinged with chamomile was everywhere and there were heavy locks of hair that had fallen to rest on his hands which were folded on the desk, as if daring him to turn his hands palm up and check if it felt the way he thought it did. He couldn’t help himself, and it turned out he had been right—the gold strands were warm and soft and heavy sliding over his palms and fingers—but all of this insanity lasted only moments, because once his name was signed on the page Watari looked up and they were almost nose to nose. And I really should say something, like, “Are you planning to get off of my desk anytime soon, Watari-san? Now would be appropriate.” But despite knowing that he should, Tatsumi couldn’t seem to manage to say that, or anything at all. For some reason he felt rather dazed.
Amber eyes full of good humor regarded him for a moment, then suddenly the man perched on his desk shifted, and there was a cool hand resting on Tatsumi’s forehead. “...Not too warm,” he finally said, not hastening to remove his hand, though. “You’re probably just tired. I’ve never seen you collapse from exhaustion, but even you must reach your limit sometime.”
The everyday, simple phrase and the altogether obvious breach of personal space of the hand resting lightly on his face (never mind that he himself had been on the brink of gripping onto his co-worker’s hair) somehow snapped Tatsumi back to his usual self, and he was able to look coolly up at the scientist and inform him wryly, “I doubt I’m anywhere near my limit, Watari-san.”
The hand on his forehead was immediately withdrawn to reach up and gather the messy spill of blond hair across the desk. It slid easily through Tatsumi’s fingers and out of his hands. “No, that’s a silly assumption, I suppose. You just seemed off for a minute. Maybe it’s me who’s off.” He hopped off of the desk and was once again a respectful distance away. “Did you want anything else?”
Because a few of the answers that came immediately to mind were hardly work appropriate, Tatsumi forced his face into an expression of polite indifference. “No, thank you, Watari-san.”
If the cold tone affected him, Watari showed no sign. He only shrugged with his usual cheerful smile. “See you at eleven-thirty then!” he said brightly, and left the office with a very unprofessional wink and a wave.
After a few moments of sitting and staring blankly at the closed door, Tatsumi shook himself out of… whatever it was… and got back to work. When he left the office a few minutes later to head down to the bullpen with the intention of demanding Tsuzuki’s reports for the past two months, he wasn’t thinking about anything that wasn’t strictly work-related—at least, until he noted a scrap of red satin on the floor near Kannuki’s desk which he immediately recognized as one of Watari’s hair ribbons.
No one is hiding them, he’s just dropping them everywhere. He picked it up, absently sticking it into his pocket to give back later that day, then continued on his way.
Watari looked up to see Wakaba in the doorway of the lab. 003 immediately fluttered off of his shoulder to say hello to the smiling girl—and she was smiling, and brightly, despite the apology. “That’s all right,” Watari told her. Something told him he wasn’t going to be tying his hair back for a while, anyway.
“But you know, Yuma told me something strange earlier this afternoon,” the girl continued gaily. “She says she saw Tatsumi-san pick it up and put it in his pocket. He probably gave it back to you already.”
A smile to match hers grew on Watari’s face. “Oh? He was here earlier today, but he didn’t say anything.”
“Isn’t that strange?” Wakaba mused, tapping a finger against her chin and looking for all the world innocent as an angel. It seemed everyone in the office was an adept at that look. “Well, I hope you recover it soon.”
“I’m sure I’ll get it back eventually,” Watari said. “Thanks, Wakaba-chan!”
She nodded and left with a wave. 003 fluttered back to Watari’s shoulder and hooted amusedly right into his ear. “Yes, he is rather hard to crack, isn’t he?” Watari said to her. “Well, that’s all right, I’ll get it in the end.” The owl, clearly agreeing, took off, and landed on the tip of one of the Petri dishes sitting on the edge of the lab table. “Good idea!” Watari responded. “It’s been a while since I destroyed anything... I’m going to have to make sure to ward the new microscope, though—I really wouldn’t want to lose it...”
003’s chirp sounded remarkably like a giggle as Watari set to work. Time for stage two.
Chapter 3: When All Else Fails
Fun with explosives.
Evenings in the Shokan Division always passed roughly the same way. About half an hour before end of shift, Tsuzuki would find a “legitimate” reason to leave just a little early, unless his partner fixed him with one of his patented “I’m so sick of you” glares, in which case Tsuzuki would stay, looking like a kicked puppy, until exactly one minute past shift before rushing out. Tatsumi mostly let him get away with this, whether out of fondness or simply the realization that it was futile to make Tsuzuki work so close to closing, anyway, no one really knew. Lately, however, Hisoka’s glares had become much less frequent, and the two of them generally left together as close to shift’s end as Tsuzuki could manage. Tatsumi continued to pretend he didn’t notice Tsuzuki’s lack of productivity, so evenings had become much more peaceful.
Wakaba always took an extra long time packing up her things once the clock read six, Terazuma and the Hokkaido pair usually left just a little before her, and about an hour past them, the chief also headed out of the door.
Tatsumi was invariably the last one in the office, going over finance reports, organizing paperwork, or doing whatever else he seemed not to get to until the office was blissfully quiet. He occasionally left considerably past full dark, and even then, the windows of the laboratory which looked out onto the cherry grove were often lit. Watari, for his part, had long ago started keeping a futon in his lab for the nights he couldn’t be bothered to head home. Frequently, he would watch the tall, shadowy figure head out, striking through the line of cherry trees as the quickest way home. Recently, the figure would pause and Tatsumi would look up towards the lit windows. Occasionally, Watari pretended he didn’t notice; sometimes he lifted his hand in a wave. It appeared yet another seemingly innocent pattern was forming, and Watari couldn’t have been happier about it.
The blond scientist considered himself a master of timing, and so he wisely waited to implement the second stage of his plan. That Thursday, an exhausted Saya and a half-hysterical Yuma had stumbled in just before closing with the results of a disastrous case that had spectacularly blown up in their faces. It hadn’t really been anywhere near as bad as some of the things he and the others had had to deal with, but such things were rare in the girls’ sleepy region, and Watari took the custom-made opportunity to inform Yuma authoritatively that she would take a sedative and go to the infirmary, or else allow someone to take her immediately home. Her partner volunteered, and led her out with an arm around her shoulder, leaving what paperwork was finished on Tatsumi’s desk in a slightly bloodied, disorganized heap. The bespectacled secretary didn’t even sigh—he seemed to take it philosophically enough as he sat back down at his desk to take care of it for them.
Everyone else left in the usual order, Wakaba making noises about baking something or other to take to the Hokkaido pair, and Watari retreated back into his laboratory hiding a smile, knowing very well that Tatsumi would be at the paperwork for hours to come. So he returned to the work at hand, knowing Yuma and Saya would take care of themselves (and would probably thank him for saving them the paperwork) and fully intending to take care of overworked Tatsumi himself.
It was ridiculously late — midnight anyway — by the time he really began getting tired as he worked over the project he had started putting together the moment he had gotten back from sending the girls home. He knew hypothetically that it was probably not going to work again — he wasn’t quite there and he was aware the formula was missing a few things (that might make it a little less dangerous) but, hey, anything in the name of science, right? Besides, in this case, his goal was for it not to work, which meant, theoretically, by not doing what it should it would be doing exactly what he wanted it to do, for a change. That was enough to keep Watari’s mood lifted, even while he was attempting to destroy something on purpose (which he hadn’t done in a while).
Surprisingly, however, the mixture was behaving quite tamely. “Just my luck if the one time I want it to react it decides to come out right,” he muttered, brushing his hair out of his face and leaning over his beaker-
He was blown backwards by the blast, felt the wave of burning heat hit his face even as he flew into the wall and sprawled painfully on the floor as whatever it had been smoked around the hole in the wall-
“Or maybe it could explode after all,” he said, more to 003 (who was indignantly flying around his head and complaining about singed feathers) than himself. The birds who had been sleeping on their various perches had awakened noisily, joining 003 in her complaints. The smaller hawk took off with a screech through the hole in the wall that was letting in the cool spring night. There was slimy green stuff splattered all over the walls and the counter and a few small fires had started where it had managed to hit something combustible. The air was quickly filling with the smell of burned paper and burned feathers and what was left of the Bunsen burner was releasing a column of acrid smoke to be carried away on the convenient wind. The new microscope stood proud and undamaged in the middle of the wreckage, though, testimony to the only ward that had activated as it should. “Ouch,” Watari added for form, because it was actually quite painful, even if it was ridiculously funny. He couldn’t remember the last time he had willingly done something this ridiculous. He began to laugh helplessly at himself and the situation at large.
He had really gotten going when the door to the lab flew open and Tatsumi, looking equal parts angry and concerned, appeared on the doorway. He stopped in mid-step, letting his gaze sweep over the ruined remains of the recently remodeled laboratory, over sooty Watari sprawled on the floor with his leg bent at an unnatural angle being actively chewed out by the enraged ball off fluff that was his owl and laughing hysterically, and over the smoking hole in the wall, at least large enough for him to walk through without having to watch his head. After a moment, the fires went abruptly out, quenched mercilessly by shadows, and Tatsumi’s voice, cold as winter and without a hint of emotion, remarked, “I really shouldn’t be surprised.” When Watari’s laughter showed no signs of stopping, he enquired testily, “Watari-san, are you all right?”
Watari was trying as hard as he could to stem his laughter, but it kept coming even as he lay sprawled against the wall covered with burns, his hair singed, and his ankle probably twisted at the very least from the fall — all of it was starting to heal itself anyway. “I’m still not a girl,” he managed plaintively between gales of laughter. “And there’s a hole in my wall.” For some reason, that set him off again, and he continued laughing, having forgotten just how good it felt to do something crazy just for the sheer hell of it.
Tatsumi shook his head faintly, glancing to the hole before looking back to Watari. “I’m surprised there’s not a hole in you,” he replied dryly, obviously relieved to see there didn’t seem to be any serious damage done.
That didn’t help Watari stop laughing any. “There... might have been,” he choked out. “It hurts like hell, actually.” The owl landed on his head and pulled at a strand of his hair-considerably shortened by having been on fire for a few moments. “Oh damn it, that I did not intend,” he said as 003 brought this fact to his attention, but he was still chuckling as he tested his no-longer-hurting ankle and used the wall to get himself standing.
“One would hope, Watari-san, that you did not intend any of this,” Tatsumi said testily as Watari stood. His eyes widened despite his best efforts when he realized most of the singed-feather smell was actually coming off of the scientist and the greater part of the waves of golden hair was gone. Discounting a few strands that had escaped the worst of the fire, it had burned jaggedly to a length just past his shoulders. “You look like death warmed over.”
“Well goodie, at least that’s close to the truth,” Watari muttered, trying to get the mess that was his hair into some semblance of control. At last he got it into something resembling a knot at the back of his head and stuck a pencil he picked up off the floor into it to keep it that way until such time as he could unearth a hairbrush and survey the damage. He wiped at the soot on his face, then looked at the clock on the wall (which was surprisingly still functional). “What do you know, it’s overtime,” he joked, still rubbing at his face and looking at the mess he had managed to create. I really have to give myself the overachiever award for this one.
“Unfortunately, I don’t believe this would qualify as overtime, Watari-san,” Tatsumi replied, his eyes flicking briefly to the haphazard knot on the back of Watari’s head.
“Why not?” Watari asked, trying out his variation on Tsuzuki’s kicked puppy look. He knew he wasn’t anywhere near as good at it as the other man, but it was bound to have some effect. “I was working, diligently and silently, late into the night. Until all my work blew up in my face and left me with a ruined lab coat and hair that looks like death warmed over and... damn, I bet I still have soot on my face, where’s a reflective surface when you need it...”
Tatsumi’s expression softened ever-so-slightly at the look. “Working diligently and silently on something that was or was not supposed to explode like that?” he questioned. “And I think that toaster over there has a clean spot you could use as a mirror,” he added.
“It’s supposed to change the drinker’s gender, not explode on them, in theory,” Watari offered, heading over to the toaster, hoping it would stay knocked out long enough for him to use it as a mirror without getting bitten. He managed to find it in him to appreciate the fact that the toaster had come back before it caused any irreversible damage wherever it had been wandering without his supervision. “It just keeps coming out not... quite... you weren’t kidding, I really do look like death warmed over,” he said, using his already-ruined sleeve to clean his face as best as he could, then straightening his glasses. They were slightly cracked, though fortunately it didn’t impair his vision any once he had cleaned the soot off of them. His hair, though, that really was an unforeseen disaster. He knew he would probably be mourning the loss of it later, but Tatsumi was here and in front of Tatsumi was not the place. This really hadn’t been part of his plan, he had meant to blow up the lab, not himself in it, but it couldn’t be helped...
Tatsumi crossed his arms, but remained in the doorway, clearly wary of walking into the lab, probably against getting dust and soot and green potion remains on his immaculate suit. He pushed his glasses up on his nose and continued to watch Watari. “I wouldn’t joke about that in these particular circumstances.”
“Oh, who knows,” Watari responded. “First time for everything, and we all hope we don’t look quite as bad as we do in such moments.” He grimaced. “And I liked this lab coat. And I really liked my hair. And I liked that wall, too, but not as much...”
The corners of Tatsumi’s mouth twitched up for just a moment in amusement, and Watari found it difficult not to stare. While Tatsumi was often smiling politely, a real smile that wasn’t carefully, aloofly guarded was a rare thing. He had only ever seen it directed at Tsuzuki. “I think you’re smiling,” he said, his astonishment barely masked. “It may actually have been worth burning my hair off.”
Tatsumi raised both eyebrows at Watari’s statement, the smile quickly vanishing. “I think you’re seeing things,” he replied wryly. “Perhaps you’ve hit your head harder than usual?” he suggested.
“Hey, leave me my happy delusions then, will you?” Watari responded good-naturedly. “Besides, you were too smiling. You haven’t even yelled at me for destroying my lab again at,” he looked at the clock again, “an unholy hour of the morning when we should both be at home in bed.” His home and his bed would be the best solution all around, but of course he was too cautious of scaring off his intended prey to say so.
If Tatsumi caught the obvious double entendre, he didn’t react to it. “Home and bed being preferable to cleaning this, of course,” he said with something resembling a sigh. “And yelling doesn’t do any good; it’s wasted energy.”
Watari gave Tatsumi one of his practiced pained looks. “I really don’t feel up to… this tonight,” he said, waving an arm to encompass the wreckage. Now that the smoke was dissipating it looked even worse than he had expected. “I’ll start on it now if you prefer, though,” he finished meekly. Heroically, he began picking through pieces of plaster, glass and green goo on the counter. “If you’re staying to work, why should I be any different?” And if offering to clean this mess right now wasn’t love, what was?
“How hard did you hit your head?” Tatsumi asked suspiciously, clearly distrusting Watari’s sudden submissiveness.
“Hard enough to scramble my brains, I imagine, and give me a monstrous headache and sudden work-ethic.”
“No one’s going to pay you overtime,” Tatsumi felt the need to point out.
Watari only sighed heavily and continued cleaning.
“Watari-san, you should go home,” Tatsumi said more firmly.
“Are you going home?” Watari asked, looking at him suspiciously through sooty, cracked glasses.
“I have to finish Torii and Fukiya’s write-up. I’m nearly done,” Tatsumi responded, sounding as if he was trying very hard to sound like he wasn’t justifying himself.
“If you’re staying to work, I’m staying to work,” Watari said stubbornly.
“Watari-san…” Watari didn’t dare look up as Tatsumi lapsed into silence. Finally there was a sigh and the sound of retreating footsteps. Only then did he allow himself a little smile. His cleaning was halfhearted at best once there was no one to oversee it, outside of removing things one of the dumber birds might try to eat out of their reach. And stage three begins.
One couldn’t expect miracles, after all.
But the illegible glitter pen (he really needed to start enforcing the blue or black ink rule) aside, he really had been on the verge of finishing when he had heard the explosion, but after coming back from the ruins of the lab nothing seemed to be fitting together anymore. He sat over it for a while, went back a few pages to check his facts, and soon realized the awful truth: he just couldn’t concentrate.
It’s just that it’s very late. He sighed, reaching into his pocket in search of a handkerchief to wipe his glasses with. Instead, his hand came out with a scrap of red satin. He stared at it blankly for a moment, recognizing one of Watari’s ribbons that he had found and somehow never gotten around to giving back, possibly because without hair ribbons Watari showed up to work with his hair loose. Of course, he would have no need for the thing now, because he had been an idiot and burned his hair short.
Tatsumi’s thoughts proceeded a little further in this vein, leading to a complete ruination of his mood. It wasn’t just late. It was late, he would have to do another budget overhaul to pay for lab repairs, and Watari had burned off his hair, getting rid of Tatsumi’s recent unhealthy fixation and thus neatly undermining his ability to concentrate.
With this last revelation, Tatsumi grimaced and stood from behind his desk, striding out purposefully towards the lab. He wasn’t entirely sure what he was going to do once he got there, but it was clear to him that until he did it, he was not going to finish the paperwork and therefore not go home for an unforeseen amount of time. He realized just in time that he was clutching the sad little scrap of red ribbon like some sort of weapon and stuffed it back into his pocket before he opened the lab door, because after having kept the thing so long he didn’t care to try explaining just why he had done so.
He needn’t have bothered. The blond scientist was quite dead to the world—it appeared he had sat down for a short break in his cleaning and fallen asleep in an uncomfortable-looking position, perched on a chair that only had three legs left and his head resting on his arms, which he had folded on top of the stretch of counter that hadn’t been completely decimated in the explosion. One of his ubiquitous stick figures was playing with the few strands of hair that had managed to escape the worst of the fire. It appeared to be braiding them.
Tatsumi took in this scene, idly wondering if the Shinigami healing abilities might extend to getting Watari’s hair to grow back quicker. There was really no reason why they should, since it wasn’t as if Tatsumi or any of the others in the division had needed daily haircuts since their death, but Watari’s hair was such an integral part of his being that surely…
And there went that ridiculous circle of thoughts again. One would think that with it gone, this would no longer be the case. One would be mistaken.
After another moment of contemplating the sleeping scientist, Tatsumi walked over to him and placed a hand on his shoulder to shake him lightly. “Watari-san,” he said, trying to keep an edge in his voice. “Wake up. Didn’t I tell you to go home?”
Instead of being cooperative and waking up, Watari only sighed and muttered, “Five more minutes, 003. I swear I turned off the reactor before bed.”
“Watari-san,” Tatsumi repeated, feeling wildly out of his depth and therefore irritated. “You can’t possibly be planning to spend the night here.”
“Are you gonna take me home?”
The secretary’s hand froze. “What are you saying, Watari-san?”
Slowly, Watari’s eyes came open and he blinked up at Tatsumi owlishly a few times. Blurry with sleep, his eyes were darker than their usual amber, almost a deep brown. “Wha…? Tatsumi? Why’re you… oh, lab, right. Damn, this place is a mess.” Watari closed his eyes again and snuggled his head deeper into his arms as if hiding from the light. “My head is killing me,” he informed Tatsumi in a barely intelligible murmur. “Going back to sleep now.”
“Watari-san, you can’t sleep here,” Tatsumi said, feeling even then that this argument was futile, a fact reinforced by Watari’s mutter about sleeping here half the time anyway, thank-you-very-much. “Watari-san, there is a hole in your wall and toxic substances all over the room. If you do not get up and go home I am going to cut your pay.”
This golden argument which had never once failed him yet was responded to with, “Fine, good, wonderful, can I sleep now?”
Never once had Tatsumi imagined that waking Watari could be this difficult. He could only shudder to imagine the man in the mornings: he probably hid his head under the pillow to escape the sound of the alarm and threw things at his owl when she tried to rouse him. Besides which, Tatsumi had the distinct impression that the slumbering scientist hadn’t heard a single word he had said, outside of an annoying rumbling keeping him from going under again. Tatsumi gave his shoulder one more hard shake, Watari made a miserable noise bordering on a moan, and Tatsumi, completely undone and beyond frustrated, repeated his earlier question: “Oh for… How hard did you hit your head earlier?” This being punctuated with another shake, it earned him another whimper, but at least Watari lifted his head out of the cradle of his arms.
“Hard enough,” Watari said, clearly a bit more conscious and not liking it. “What are you doing here? I thought,” he yawned, “thought you had gone home already. Isn’t it late?”
Tatsumi sighed, really taking in the bedraggled, rumpled figure before him, as well as the disaster area that surrounded them. Watari watched him with sleepy eyes that held no small amount of annoyance. He winced, yawned again, and absently rubbed his temples with a grimace. He had lost the pencil from his hair and what was left of it was a snarled mess. The stick figure had barely gotten away when Watari sat up or it might have gotten tangled in it like a spider’s web. His glasses were once again crooked on his face. He looked like he had been through war. “Perhaps you hit it a bit too hard,” Tatsumi said. Knowing nothing short of extreme measures was going to get Watari out of his chair, he tacked on, “Are you sure you’re going to be all right on your own tonight?”
Watari’s eyebrows rose almost to his hairline, but at least he was listening. “Is that an invitation?”
Even Tatsumi was aware of the color this conversation was taking, so he snapped back, “That was a ‘get up, or I will be forced to stay here as well and wake you every hour to make sure you remember your name, the year, the emperor’s name, and the periodic table of elements.’ I hear that’s what they do with head trauma patients.”
The eyebrows didn’t come down, but something like a smile appeared on Watari’s face. “I guess it’s an invitation,” he said. But at least he stood, and stretched, rubbing at the doubtlessly knotted muscles in his shoulders. “Does that mean you’re going to take me home like a bird with a broken wing, after all?”
Too late Tatsumi realized that now his choices extended to: go back to Watari’s apartment with him and spend the night there, or, bring Watari to his apartment and put him on the couch. Being intelligent, he was slightly wary of any place someone like Watari might live, which left him with only one choice, really — even if it was something he would never have offered in any other circumstances, considering his current fixation. “Someone needs to take care of you when you’ve outdone even yourself.” He tried to sound like his usual dry, snippy self even while all of his instincts were telling him this was not the wisest course of action. He watched as Watari tried to smooth down his rumpled and burned lab coat in a futile gesture. “Don’t you keep a spare change of clothes in here? Considering how often you blow yourself up, not to mention the nights you claim to spend here, it would only make sense.”
“Of course I do.” With a half-smile filled with sheepish amusement, he pointed towards the corner where one of the worst fires had broken out earlier. “It was in that cabinet.”
“Why am I not surprised?” This was more comfortable than their earlier conversation, at any rate, and Tatsumi easily slipped back into their usual rhythm.
“I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s because you’re getting used to me.”
…Someone help me, but I think he’s right. Tatsumi hid the discomfort that provoked under a glare. “Never mind, I’ll find you something. It’s one in the morning and we have to be back at work in under seven hours, so I would really appreciate it if we could get going.”
“Whatever you say, Tatsumi,” Watari said, following him obediently out of the lab and turning out the light. There was that abnormal meekness again and it made Tatsumi suspect, just a little too late, that he may have been played for all he was worth, though he couldn’t quite put his finger on how. At this point, there really wasn’t anything to do but let Watari follow him home. These thoughts were interrupted, as they turned into the cherry orchard, by Watari’s quiet, “Thank you.”
Not paying the least amount of attention to what he was saying, Tatsumi only sighed and replied, “Anytime.”
Chapter 4: Between Theory and Practice
Watari takes a risk, and Wakaba will soon be raking in the cash.
Though they had worked together for years, Watari had never been inside Tatsumi’s apartment before. It was laid out in straight lines, filled with severe furnishings and muted colors, as well as meticulously neat — typical Tatsumi, really, just like Watari’s own home was a riot of color and books and strange things that might have been alive hiding under the coffee table. After all the chaos he had become accustomed to, this place seemed almost sterile in comparison. To Watari’s eyes it barely seemed lived in. “Thank you for having me,” he said, looking around curiously as he removed his shoes and, after a moment’s thought, his ruined-anyway coat. The air was cool without it; he was always cold everywhere he went.
Tatsumi slipped his own shoes off and took Watari’s coat. After looking at it dubiously for a moment, he hung it in the small closet near the door along with his own. He watched Watari oddly for an instant, then turned abruptly away. “Make yourself at home,” he said moving further inside and turning a few more lights on. “I’ll go make some tea. I don’t suppose you’ve eaten.”
“No,” Watari agreed. “It’s too late to eat. Tea would be good, though.” He walked into the living room after Tatsumi disappeared into the kitchen. Watari entertained the idea of following him, then changed his mind. The apartment was much smaller than Tatsumi could afford; he must have picked the size for its efficiency. The kitchen was bound to be narrow and that was not his choice of places to corner the secretary. “Where’s your bathroom?”
“Second door on the right,” came Tatsumi’s voice from the kitchen. “Help yourself to anything you need.”
The bathroom was all sparkling white tile and shining chrome and made Watari feel very sooty and ragged. He washed his face and hands thoroughly, then searched in vain for a proper hairbrush. All he could find, though, was a fine-toothed comb — some people were so lucky to need just that. With a bit of water and a few torn out knots and grimaces, Watari managed to work the comb through the wrecked, shortened mass hanging to his shoulders. It was going to decide to start curling any moment, he knew it, but there was no hair ribbon in sight to pull it back with and avert that disaster. He still looked like death warmed over and that was a rotten shame, considering this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity he couldn’t afford to waste. He settled for grimacing at his reflection before turning out the light and returning to the living room to settle on the couch, tucking his legs up under him. There was a knitted throw folded neatly over the top of the couch — he wrapped it around himself and felt a little warmer.
A few minutes later, Tatsumi reappeared with a tea set arranged neatly on a tray, a far cry from Watari’s Bunsen burner and mismatched cups. In anticipation of Watari’s tastes, there was a bowl of sugar cubes, though Tatsumi took his tea plain. “It’s decaffeinated,” Tatsumi said as Watari picked up the small teapot to pour for both of them.
“If I’m tired enough, caffeine ceases to be an issue,” Watari said. “Very little could keep me awake at this point.”
He thought he didn’t imagine a flash of something like disappointment on Tatsumi’s face, though when he spoke, he was agreeable enough. “It is very late,” Tatsumi said. “Drink your tea and I’ll make up the couch for you. It’s nearly three and we still have work tomorrow.”
“Isn’t it Friday?” Watari said innocuously, knowing very well it wasn’t.
“It’s Thursday, Watari-san,” Tatsumi said. “Or very early Friday morning, if you prefer.”
“Really? I was so sure… well, that’s really too bad,” Watari said with a grimace. “Just think, if I had gone home alone, I could have used it as an excuse to skip work. I wonder if Tsuzuki has tried that one? ‘But I thought it was Saturday!’”
“You really did hit your head,” Tatsumi said, looking at him sharply. “You’re not usually this absent-minded.”
“Probably,” Watari said agreeably. He stirred sugar into his tea and took a few scalding swallows. “On that note, aren’t you supposed to be taking care of me?” he asked, the humor in his voice evident. “I’m supposed to be injured. You said you would.”
Tatsumi gave him a long, piercing look, and for a moment Watari was sure he was about to be called on everything, but Tatsumi only said very slowly, “And what exactly am I supposed to be doing?”
“You’re the one who said you knew what to do with head trauma patients, and you’re the one who offered,” Watari pointed out, very well aware that he was testing how far he could push Tatsumi’s patience. “I theoretically have a head injury, so theoretically I could have forgotten everything I ever knew about being a doctor.” His smile was sweet as honey. “Besides which, I recall you saying it’s a miracle I haven’t killed anyone, again, considering my lack of practical medical skills.”
“If you remember that, I doubt you’ve forgotten much,” Tatsumi replied dryly. “And a lack of practical medical skills would theoretically imply there wasn’t much to forget anyway, don’t you agree?”
“Yes, but that’s all theory, and theory means nothing at all until we put it into practice,” Watari said blithely. “So while in theory I could probably deal with my own injuries, in practice I’m refusing to do it.” He grinned. “Science is wonderful.”
Tatsumi carefully set down his teacup when the tea proved too hot to drink. “Watari-san, are you playing with me?” he said testily.
Watari felt his grin get wider. “Why yes, Tatsumi, I think I am,” he said.
“Don’t you think it is perhaps a little late for games?”
“Nonsense,” Watari disagreed. “It is never too late to enjoy yourself.”
“Are you really sick at all?” Tatsumi demanded helplessly.
“You think I am. We’ll say I am, in theory.”
Tatsumi glared at him from across the table. “Then here’s my diagnosis as temporary doctor,” he said. “I believe, Watari-san, all you need is a shower and a good night’s rest and you’ll theoretically be back to normal.”
Watari adjusted the throw that was slipping from around his shoulders. “That’s one theory,” he said, with a casual half-shrug that clearly said that wasn’t his top choice of theories to test.
“Indeed,” Tatsumi replied, hiding his face behind his tea cup, blowing gently on the liquid before taking a small sip. “Do you have a better one?” he questioned.
“Of course I have a better one,” Watari responded after watching him a moment, his expression faintly wicked. “I specialize in ridiculous, interesting theories. If I didn’t, I would blow things up half as often.”
Tatsumi raised an eyebrow skeptically. “What is it then?” he questioned, setting his cup back on the table.
Watari watched him for a moment, then decided, hell with it. “Theoretically, you don’t know how two elements will react until you put them together,” he said lightly, but he leaned forward over the coffee table, dramatically decreasing the distance between himself and the other man — and the innocuousness of the statement. “Wanting to find out has been driving me to distraction for a while.” He propped his chin on his hand, his smile never wavering. “So, in theory, I could use this custom-made opportunity to find out. I like that theory better. It’s a lot less safe, but that’s the sort of thing that tends to yield better results.” He chuckled. “Or an explosion, depending.”
The funny part of it was that Tatsumi had had a fairly good idea where this game might be leading the moment Watari cheerfully admitted to playing it. He had, in fact, been aware he was playing into Watari’s hands and allowed it due to the fact that he, good at word games as he might be, wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to play this particular one. But the truly funny part was, though he knew exactly where the conversation was headed, a proposition such as the one he has just received was still managing to blank his mind, and the only thing he could think of to say to it was, “That hardly sounds medicinal.”
He cursed himself for it a moment later, because Watari returned to his original sitting position to stretch and lean back against the couch. There was nothing like hurt on his features, as Tatsumi had once had from Tsuzuki, but rather calm nonchalance — nothing like the predatory smile of moments ago, and hardly the intended effect of the banal phrase. “Nor safe,” he said lightly. “Which was why I sincerely doubted it would suit you. May I have some more tea, please?” He didn’t sound hurt, which bizarrely made it worse.
“No, I don’t think so,” Tatsumi said, and had Watari’s undivided attention once again when the latter blinked at the unexpected response.
He raised his hand to tuck his short hair — since when did it curl like this? — behind his ears and regarded Tatsumi curiously. “Why not?”
“Because you won’t enjoy getting it out of my carpet when you spill it,” Tatsumi told him. He removed his glasses and raised a hand to rub at his temple. “You’re exhausting, were you aware? I recall saying only that your theory didn’t seem particularly remedial to your concussion. I do not recall saying it didn’t sound interesting.”
If Watari was a little wide-eyed, it was hardly noticeable as his grin returned and he set his empty teacup aside. Tatsumi had only a moment to contemplate when he had managed to lose his common sense before he found himself toppling to the floor under the weight of a very enthusiastic head trauma patient, at which point common sense ceased to be an issue.
“Not something one likes to hear in this situation,” Watari said sleepily, not bothering to open his eyes. Everything would be blurry without his glasses, anyway, and he could hardly find the energy. They had made it into bed — eventually — and he was too comfortable to move just now, despite being half-pinned to the pillow. There were long, elegant fingers in his hair and he felt like a relaxed feline being stroked to sleep.
Tatsumi managed to sound a cross between amused and frustrated. “I don’t mean-”
Watari chuckled. “I know.”
Tatsumi sighed; Watari could feel the rise and fall of his chest. “Burning off your hair was not the most effective course of action in what I can only assume was a half-baked plan towards seducing me.”
“Bizarrely enough, it seems to have worked,” Watari pointed out. He could tell Tatsumi was caught between a stern (and completely useless in this case) reprimand never to try it again and something bordering on a laugh. When Tatsumi’s sigh came out on an almost-chuckle, Watari grinned into the darkness. “It grows back quickly, you know.”
The hands in his hair stilled a moment. “Do you mean to tell me you really did this on purpose?”
“Of course not,” Watari blithely lied. “I’m fonder of my hair than that,” he added, in an attempt to be a little more truthful.
Watari found he had the energy to move after all as he laughed and propped himself up on his elbows. “Oh please,” he said. “That’s not what someone who’s been stealing my hair ribbons should be calling me.”
“Wakaba-chan saw you,” Watari informed him.
“I was going to give it back,” Tatsumi snapped, but there was more desperation in his voice than anger.
Watari fell back against the pillow, laughing uncontrollably.
“You talk entirely too much,” Tatsumi informed him in clipped tones, and set about shutting him up.