In the late nineteen-seventies, there had been a lovely girl named Rei in the Shokan division. She had been particularly fond of 003, sneaking her little snacks and treats and ribbons to chew on. When 003 had noticed the looks Rei-san was casting toward the handsome young man with crinkly eyes who served as the liason from the Records division, she'd gotten to work.
Of course 003 wasn't human, but she'd been created by one, and she had a first-hand view of their many foibles. A little reconnaissance revealed that Akira-san usually kept a snack at his desk, and often snuck a few peanuts or chocolate candies in his front pocket. From there it was simple.
"003," Rei-san chided sweetly, as 003 attacked Akira-san's shirt pocket in search of the peanuts she knew were hidden there. "That's very rude!"
"Oh, it's all right," Akira-san said, "she must've smelled my snack. You can have them, little one."
Owls can't smell, but 003 was used to humans ignoring basic facts. Besides, the peanuts looked very large and fresh.
"She's usually such a good little bird," Rei-san said. "I'm not sure what got into her."
"Is she yours?"
"Oh, no," Rei-san said, "but we're friends, aren't we, 003?"
003, peanut in beak, nodded her head vigorously.
"She's never come up to me before," Akira-san said. "I thought she was shy."
For the next two weeks, Akira-san brought peanuts in his pocket every time he visited the Shokan division. He and Rei-san would laugh and flirt, and after a month, they had moved in together. Three years after that, they had moved on, holding hands and promising to find one another in the next life.
003 still considered it to be her greatest success.
Her creator was an entirely different story.
It wasn't that Watari was lonely, exactly; he had plenty of humans to talk to, and 003 knew her master relied on his animals and experiments for company. But he was still alone, and 003 wondered sometimes about the glances she saw aimed at Watari's co-workers; the pretty girl who had worked in Hokkaido in the eighties, the division secretary, a short, handsome bodybuilder who was sometimes at the gym when Watari swam. But none of it was clear or definitive, and 003 was hesitant to poke her beak where it was unwelcome, or might cause Watari problems. She loved him far too much for that.
So the decades passed by, slowly and pleasantly, and they enjoyed a generally peaceful existence, aside from the occasional demon attack. Staffers came and went, usually pleasantly enough, and while from time to time Watari's bed was warmed by a guest, no one stayed.
Hisoka-bon's arrival was a tremor, followed by a series of earthquakes, then fire. The night that Tsuzuki and Hisoka-bon almost died, Watari spent an hour pacing between the infirmary and his lab, aimless, exhausted. 003 stayed with him, trying to reassure him, but she was of little help.
Tatsumi entered the lab at some point, a cup of steaming coffee in each hand, and sat at the far end of the lab in one of Watari's rolling stools. For a long time, neither of them spoke. After a while, Watari sat in the stool next to Tatsumi. 003 fluttered over to the filing cabinet and rested there; all the flying was starting to fatigue her.
"What do you want, Tatsumi?" Watari asked, very quietly.
"You're not shouting this time."
"I want to know."
003 didn't catch what Tatsumi said in reply.
"You should check on them, 003," Watari said, and she flew away to the infirmary. Hisoka-bon and Tsuzuki were still sleeping, Hisoka slumped in the chair next to the bed, bandaged but whole. 003 settled on his shoulder and checked his temperature and pulse; he was fine, just young and exhausted. The height and rhythm of Tsuzuki's monitors were unchanged, which was, Watari had said, as good as things were going to be for a while.
When 003 fluttered back to the lab, Tatsumi and Watari were still talking, heads close together, coffee cooling in their mugs. The light in the lab was dim enough to bring out all the varied shades of gold in Watari's hair.
She left them to their conversation.
Tsuzuki recovered, and the offices were slowly rebuilt. 003 hardly realized anything significant had changed for the longest time. But one afternoon, they had left work early, and joined Tsuzuki, Tatsumi, and Hisoka-bon for a picnic underneath the cherry trees.
Everyone was happy, and the mood was relaxed and comfortable. As the meal was winding down, Tsuzuki had reached out, just for a moment, and touched Hisoka-bon's shoulder. And that was when 003 finally saw how solid the thread connecting them had become.
She saw something else as well; Tatsumi, who had too often looked on Tsuzuki's flirtations with what seemed to be physical pain, smiled gently to himself. Hmm, 003 thought, and groomed her wing.
After that, she kept better track of Tatsumi. His routines hadn't seemed to change, and he still carried the sadness she was accustomed to seeing in his eyes. But he spent less time staring aimlessly at Tsuzuki. Once, promisingly, she caught him checking the lab, to see if Watari's light was still on. (He didn't go inside, but 003 believed progress was progress.)
One night, when she was performing her customary check of the office perimeter, Tatsumi called to her. He extended his palm to reveal a few morsels of cat food (the cheap kind, she noted, though she was too polite to refuse a gift). She fluttered over and carefully took the kibble from his hand.
"You've been around quite a bit lately," Tatsumi said. "Is your master trying to tell me something?"
"He would never do such a thing," 003 huffed indignantly. "And he's not my master, anyway."
Tatsumi reached out and scratched at her ruff, which made up a bit for the insult.
The cat food never improved in quality, but Tatsumi got into the habit of leaving a small dish of it at his desk. Quantity counted for something, 003 decided. Watari took note of the new habit as well. "Is he trying to butter you up?" he asked one evening, when she'd accidentally dropped some on his mousepad. "Or does he want to destroy my lab once and for all?"
003 had no real answer to that; looking at it from that perspective, both hypotheses seemed plausible. The lab did cost quite a bit of money to maintain. Though slowly wrecking the lab through dropped cat food wasn't a particularly practical strategy, Tatsumi always had placed 'cheap' over ' practical.'
"I've gotten used to things the way they are," Watari continued. "Things don't change very quickly here."
That was true enough.
It was three more months of cat food before Watari paused at Tatsumi's office door, just as 003 had begun eating. "I'd hate to think that cat food was coming out of my budget," he said lightly.
"I assure you, your funding is secure."
Watari smiled, bright and sweet. "I didn't know you'd grown so fond of 003."
"She's a very pleasant visitor." Tatsumi's voice was uncharacteristically smooth. "Better-behaved than most of our staff."
Watari laughed. 003 had always found his voice delightfully musical, and she noticed the corners of Tatsumi's mouth threatening to pull up.
There was something sweet between then now, a long, happy moment that threatened to stretch into awkwardness. 003 tried to eat as quietly as she could.
Tatsumi's phone beeped, and 003 jumped with surprise. Tatsumi chuckled. "I'm sorry to startle you," he told her, and checked the number. "Speaking of our ill-behaved staff," he said.
"Everything all right?"
"Tsuzuki's credit card has reached his limit," he said dryly. "I suppose it depends on your definition of 'all right.'"
"I'll leave you to it," Watari said, the white sweep of his lab coat following him out of the office.
Tatsumi frowned at his phone and went back to work. 003 settled down next to the cat food dish and took a nap. When she woke, Tatsumi was still working, writing carefully on one of his many sheets of scrap paper. "You're awake," he said cheerfully. "Good nap?"
"It was a very nice one, thank you," she said, and began grooming her feathers; they always got a bit ruffled after she'd slept.
"It's been nice having you visit. Things are changing around here," he continued thoughtfully. "Aren't they?"
She watched him carefully. He looked back at his paper. "I'm not very good at this," he said, and crumpled it up. It landed on a stack of similar balls of paper in the recycling bin. "You'd think at my age, I'd have learned."
003 couldn't read, so she was unsure of what Tatsumi had written, but it seemed important; he almost never wrote in longhand any more. On instinct, she waited until he was fully engaged in the task, then fluttered over to the recycling bin. She grabbed the paper on top with her beak, and flew out of the office.
Watari was in the office lab, dancing with the toucan while he waited for his experiment to end. "Hello, 003, did you bring me a present?" He danced in her direction and snatched the paper out of her beak. "What is--"
His face softened as he read, his swaying hips slowing down and finally stilling altogether. "You shouldn't have brought me someone else's recycling," he said gently. "It's snooping."
"He threw it out," 003 said in her defense.
"I suppose he should've shredded it, eh?" Watari winked broadly at her and put the paper in his own recycling bin. "Well," he said. "This is done in another two minutes. I suppose we should take a walk to Tatsumi's office after that."
Watari walked; 003 rode on his shoulder. Tatsumi was still working in longhand; he looked surprised to see Watari, and quickly folded his work over so no one could see what he was writing. "Watari-san?"
"I'm leaving for the night," Watari said, as 003 fluttered to her dish. "Do you want to have dinner tomorrow? I'll cook." At Tatsumi's surprised expression, he quickly added, "Or we can order in."
"No, no," Tatsumi said. "That would be fine. Tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow is fine." Tatsumi paused for a second, then stood up from the desk, his chair rattling slightly as he shoved it back. "Watari-san--"
"You wrote me a letter," Watari said.
"I didn't send it," Tatsumi said, walking closer.
"003 must've stolen it from the recycling," Watari answered.
Tatsumi pressed his lips to Watari's. 003 thought he might have intended to kiss Watari gently, but Watari ripped his glasses off with one hand and took the back of Tatsumi's head with the other, and there was nothing gentle about what happened after that.
When they parted, they were both slightly out of breath. Tatsumi straightened his glasses; Watari slipped his back on. "So," Tatsumi said. "Tomorrow."
"I'll cook," Watari said.
"We'll order in," Tatsumi said.
Watari hummed on his way out of the office. 003 flew at his shoulder, whistling along.