Makoto wasn't sure he was in the right place. It was the address the detective in leather had given him, and the sign for the detective agency matched the one he'd been told, but everything about the building screamed “pool hall.” He supposed the only thing to do was knock.
Nobody answered, so he walked in, thinking the door to the office itself must be farther in. Clearly, he'd entered the wrong place. There was a woman chasing some guy around, smacking him over the head with a slipper every time she caught up and a kid way too young to work at a detective agency (cute, though) obsessing over something in his book. Makoto was about to back out before his intrusion was noticed when he caught sight of the detective who had sent him here from the police station watching everything from the corner.
“You!” Makoto pointed at the man. He was pretty sure the slipper woman and the guy were staring now, but that didn't matter. “Do you even work for the police? Did you just send me here to make yourself money?” And now the man was laughing at him? “That isn't funny! You're a horrible person, trying to take advantage like that! I can't believe-”
“Sorry, I don't work here.” The man said.
“-you would... what?” Maybe this actually made some kind of sense and it was just the stress of his situation getting to him, Makoto thought, but he was pretty sure that this really just made no sense.
“I don't work here. I was just visiting my girlfriend over lunch,” the man said, nodding at an untouched bowl of ramen sitting in front of him. “I'm sorry to have confused you. If you take your case to the chief, I'm sure she and the detectives will be happy to help.”
“Terui, we're already on a case,” the chased man pointed out. “We can't guarantee we'll be able to work on another right now.”
“I know about the Bar Bacchus case, Hidari.” The policeman – Terui, apparently – said. “I sent this kid here because I'm pretty sure he could help with it, actually.”
“K- Kid? I'm nineteen! You might be an old-”
“Old man? That's hardly accurate,” Terui pointed out.
“You kind of act like one,” needled... Hidari, was it?
“Hidari, stay focused. The case-" Terui paused, then turned to the girl "Chief, why didn't you correct Hidari?”
“Shotaro... kind of has a point.”
“But I like it! You wouldn't be my Ryuu-kun if you didn't act the way you do!” Terui didn't seem pleased. “Besides, it helps keep Shotaro in line, having someone more mature around.”
“Akiko!” Shotaro yelled, but she just smacked him with her slipper. “Ow...”
“You call your girlfriend Chief?” Makoto asked.
“Don't ask questions.” Terui replied. “We're talking about the case!”
Something clicked. “Wait, your case involves Bar Bacchus?” Makoto asked the chief, who nodded. “That's where I work!” Shotaro “subtly” moved towards the kid with the book. Interesting. “Do you think it might have something to so with why my boyfriend has been acting strange lately?”
“It might,” the chief said, as the boy looked up from his book. “Even if it doesn't, we should be able to work on your case at the same time.”
“Boyfriend?” asked book boy. “But you're a boy too.” The astoundingly pained look Shotaro was completely failing to hide almost distracted Makoto from his annoyance.
“There are plenty of boys with boyfriends.” Makoto pointed out. Before he could continue, the boy suddenly stood up, declared he needed to research this, and rushed off to a back room. The other three shared a look.
“It's...” Terui started, “It's a long story. He was unbelievably sheltered before he came here.”
“I can believe it,” Makoto replied. “So, do you need my story now or something to work on the case?”
Shotaro and the chief were communicating... something, in overblown looks and gestures, and didn't seem to have heard his question.
“Come on,” Terui said, “Let's go for a walk. I can pass on what you've been through and they'll get back in touch.”
Before the door even shut, Makoto heard the two shouting. “You mean he didn't even know?!” “Nobody told me about this!” After that, the door was shut and it was all muffled. He and Terui stood awkwardly for a moment.
“This is a very odd detective agency, Terui.”
“Odd, yes, but they'll solve your problems, no question.”
So he'd told Terui about how his Takuto had been acting weird lately. His personality had just shifted in little ways, he was getting borderline possessive, had stopped using the nickname he liked, sometimes failed to respond to his own name, and he seemed to be forgetting inside jokes. Makoto left out the part where he wasn't the same in bed, because you just don't tell strangers that, but it was still unusual. He'd also caught his boyfriend staring at his arm like something was missing, a couple times, and when he said that, things seemed to fall into place for Terui. Maybe the agency did know what it was doing.
Not that Terui worked there, apparently, but Makoto suspected that was just a technicality.
He heard from the agency that night while he was at work. He'd just finished serving a couple drinks when he heard the door jingle. He turned to greet the newcomer, but was surprised to be greeted with a “Makoto-sempai, hiiiii~!” instead.
“Queen! Elizabeth! I wouldn't have expected you here. I must have missed a lot since graduation.”
“We're here on business,” Queen said.
“But we'll probably stick around after,” Elizabeth added, smiling.
“True,” replied Queen, “but business first.”
“That would depend on the business,” Makoto said. “I can't have you disrupting the bar.”
“Can you keep serving people while we ask some questions?” Queen asked.
“Because Shotaro sent us here.” Elizabeth added.
“That should be fine,” Makoto said. “Shotaro couldn't come himself? Seems to me he'd fit right in.”
“Ugh, you want to watch him angst about Phillip? No thanks.” Elizabeth said.
“He may be half-boiled,” Queen said, “but even he knows better than to come here and mope at you.” She laughed. “Well, he does now that we told him so and made him stay home.”
Elizabeth nodded. “Besides, Phillip seems to have finally found the right keyword, so we want to make sure Shotaro's there for him when he figures things out.”
“And we can bill Akiko for our expenses tonight,” Queen grinned. “Like the cover charge.”
“But there isn't one,” Makoto pointed out.
“Akiko doesn't know that,” Elizabeth singsonged.
“So you have questions?” Makoto asked.
“Yes,” Elizabeth replied, “but drinks first?”
“Aren't you too young?”
Makoto sighed. “If you get caught, I didn't serve you.”
They asked about the regulars, which ones stood out, which were maybe creepy, narrowing things down until there were only a couple on their shortlist for whatever it was they were trying to figure out.
“So out of these three, have any been acting strange lately?” Queen asked.
“Well, he's gotten a little more handsy in the last month or so,” Makoto said, pointing at one of the names, “but then Alata hasn't even been in here over the last week and he's almost never gone.” The girls crossed the other names off. “What does this have to do with my boyfriend?”
“You'll see,” Queen said. “Just give us time to set things up.”
“You might want to find someplace to stay, away from your boyfriend.” Elizabeth added.
“Just to be safe?”
“What do you know about my boyfriend?” Makoto asked, as the schoolgirls left the bar.
“Nothing yet, just possibilities!” Queen said, heading out the door.
Elizabeth poked her head back in. “Stay safe!”
When he got home after the rest of his shift, Takuto was staring at his arm again. He hadn't been noticed yet, so he slipped to his room, grabbed a change of clothes, and figured he'd head to the agency if they wanted him staying somewhere else that badly. He was seriously worrying about his boyfriend, and maybe it would be good to get away, even though he didn't think it was unsafe here.
Suddenly, Takuto was behind him, hand on his shoulder. “Are you going somewhere? You just got home.”
“Yeah, I-” Takuto spun him, pushing him against the wall.
“Where could you be going this time of night, hm? Meet someone?”
“I left my phone at the bar, is all,” Makoto lied. “I'll be right back.”
“Then what's the bag for?” Takuto's grip tightened.
“I had it on when I got back. Sorry for not immediately taking it-” His phone rang.
“Left your phone at the bar, huh?” Takuto said, tearing open his bag. “Then what's it doing- Clothes? You were taking clothes with you?” Makoto tried to at least move to the door, but Takuto had him too tight. “Were you leaving? Aren't I good enough for you?”
And then Shotaro burst through the door, right into Takuto. Makoto grabbed the remains of his bag and what he could of the contents and ran, Shotaro following.
“My bike's right outside!” Shotaro yelled. “I'm getting you out of here!”
“You were cheating on Takuto?” Takuto yelled, chasing after them, before hurling a string of slurs at Makoto. He and Shotaro made it to the bike before Takuto made it outside, and as they pulled away, all Makoto could think about was why Takuto would have spoken like he was someone else.
As it turned out, he was.
“Gaia Memory?” Makoto asked Shotaro as they stood outside the agency.
“Yup. It's a device that gives its user power. Usually it turns them into a Dopant-”
“A monster, basically. Your stalker Alata used the Mirror Memory, which let him trade bodies with Takuto.”
“So Takuto is in that weirdo's body?”
“Probably,” Shotaro replied. “He might be stuck as Mirror Dopant with no idea how to undo the transformation.”
“Shotaro!” The chief admonished from the doorway. “Stop traumatizing the kid and come inside.”
“Come inside,” she ordered, raising a slipper. Shotaro sighed and headed inside. Makoto followed, but the chief stopped him. “We still need to go over some things, without his half-boiled explanations.”
“Akiko!” Shotaro turned around, but the chief shut the door in his face.
“It's possible your boyfriend is stuck as a Dopant right now, but it's not likely. As far as we can tell wanting to go back to normal is all it takes to undo the tranformation. He... is still stuck in another body though. He's either too freaked out to go anywhere, or Alata planned ahead and has him stuck somewhere so he can't interfere. Ryuu-kun has been looking into it since Queen and Elizabeth passed things along.” Akiko paused for a moment. “Also, Takuto probably isn't stuck in that creep's body.”
“But you just said-”
“That they swapped places. They did, but I don't think Alata was in his own body when they swapped. The Gaia Memory port stays in the body it was in to begin with when the user swaps out, and there's been a whole string of people swapping back out of the original user's body.”
“Wait, that's why you were already investigating at the bar, isn't it!” Akiko nodded. “I was wondering, actually.”
“Yep, and we'd gotten stuck, because we'd lost track of the chain of swapping and couldn't get Phillip-kun the right keywords. It's a good thing you showed up when you did.” Makoto smiled. “Your boyfriend being stuck somewhere while Alata uses his body is awful, I know, but thanks to you we've got a handle on it now, okay?”
“That's certainly better than things could have gone.” Makoto shuddered, imagining. “And even if you can't fix things, you let me know what had happened, so thanks.”
“Well, figuring out what happened is a detective agency's work, after all.” Akiko smiled a him, almost leering. “Now the talk we really need to have.”
“Is it about payment?” Makoto panicked, pretty sure that his wallet had been left on the floor when he'd fled with Shotaro.
“A little,” Akiko said.
“But don't worry,” Akiko added quickly, waving her arms in an attempt at a soothing gesture, “it's not about money! You and your having a boyfriend broke things here, so as payment for taking your case, you have to fix them.”
“Fix things? What am I supposed to do, set Shotaro up with that bookworm he has a crush on?”
“Bingo. You introduced Phillip to the concept that boys can have boyfriends. Except for when we pried him away to do a lookup for this case, he's been researching that since you left. He does this. Once he's finished with his research, he is going to be absolutely obsessed with putting it to use.”
“But,” Makoto said, trying to wrap his mind around these strange people, “isn't that good for Shotaro?”
“No, you idiot! Shotaro had finally gotten comfortable with how things were! He and Phillip might not be a couple, but they're partners and Shotaro was apparently satisfied with at least being in the closest relationship Phillip had with anyone. Now he's worried that Phillip is going to introduce being boyfriends into things just to explore the concept, or worse, find someone else to be his boyfriend.”
“Oh. I suppose I should-”
“No,” Akiko grinned. “You will.”
Which is how he found himself in a room full of metal and whiteboards trying to cheer up a kid who had apparently just beamed the entire history of gay people into his head and was reeling both from the awful parts of that history and his realization that didn't just love his partner, he was attracted to him.
Well, it was something to distract him from his boyfriend being stuck in a creep's body.
“Can't you just do one of those lookups to see that Shotaro is totally into you?” Makoto asked.
“NO.” Phillip replied, horrified. “How could he trust me if I ever did that?”
“Then take my word for it! It's incredibly obvious, you know.”
“I would have- Well.” Phillip paused. “I'm aware that I miss things sometimes. Often. But I wouldn't have missed that.”
“What about your chief?” Makoto tried.
“Aki-chan thinks so?” Phillip looked up, curious.
“Yes. Queen and Elizabeth too,” Makoto added. “And they know what they're talking about, right?”
Phillip chuckled. “If that's the case, I suspect Terui Ryuu sent you to the agency just to make me understand. They care for Shotaro and I, you know, Terui Ryuu and Aki-chan. We're like family.”
“Lucky,” Makoto said. “Mine doesn't want me. I'm supposed to give them grandchildren, y'know? They can't get past that, I guess.”
“You'll find one,” Phillip said. “If I could get a family after losing the one I had...”
“Do you miss them?” Makoto asked.
“I do. But the family I have now is better. It's just a 'what might have been,' I think. I don't worry about it so much, anymore.”
They sat with their thoughts for a little while, until Phillip asked if he could have some privacy to talk to Shotaro.
When Makoto returned to the main room of the agency, Terui was there along with Takuto in some total stranger's body, which was super weird. They worked out a plan to trick his Alata into letting Takuto back into his own body, in case defeating Takuto as Mirror Dopant didn't undo the swap.
Turns out he'd just solved the Kamen Rider's problems. That was kind of awesome.
Still, after what that man had done while in Takuto's body, Makoto just couldn't deal with living with him anymore. It sucked, but Takuto understood, so at least there was that.
He started sending some of his patrons to the agency. They had a reputation, after all, for solving odd, hard-to-solve cases that the police department really couldn't handle, but Makoto saw to it that, at least in some parts of the city, they also had a reputation for handling the cases that some within the police department wouldn't handle, because they involved, well, the people who would show up at his bar.
Eventually, he started doing some investigation for the agency. After all, people trust the barkeep. Sure Queen and Elizabeth had a place in the bars, but it really wasn't their beat, and he could keep his ear to the ground more subtly.
The next time Christmas rolled around, he talked the owner into letting him reserve space in the bar cheap, and the agency had their party somewhere else for once. Shotaro and Phillip were kind of stupidly in love, still, but Terui and Akiko had just married and managed to beat them out. (Queen and Elizabeth were still Queen and Elizabeth, and Santa-chan and Watcherman, thankfully, weren't seeing anyone. Makoto wasn't sure how he'd feel if he were single and they weren't.)
Makoto wasn't sure he'd found family yet, but having agency and especially the Irregulars was close enough for now.