Lavish interior, scarlet velvet soaked with inky blue between what little gold shone by moon and flashlight - one of the best parts of this line of work had to be the image. Teshima couldn't remove his gloves, but spun his fingers along expensive furnishings regardless.
"Not like they'll have it much longer," he chuckled, under his breath.
Maybe as many as six years back, they'd all learned it was smarter not to come in with comms attached - too easy to track and tap, regardless of model. No one would respond, and he needed to set to work. Twenty minutes was as many as it took to end a lifetime, so much as four rounds of patrols to survive. He'd figured that part out himself. Putting his money where his mouth is was the least he could do. Casing buildings, playing every part it took, dressed down in suits and hats and careful masks of camera versus paper, it was all the more of what sparks of fun there were to steal. Usefulness.
"You're leaving so soon?"
Bright mornings set aside seaside apartments. Teshima had twisted his hair up, still dripping, even then barely tamed by the elastic tie.
"You know how it goes." He was more at ease, wearing starry worn t-shirts, slouching half a pace behind sensibility. "Business is always calling."
"Oh," Onoda had said. "Yeah! I know. I was just hoping I could get you to go with me to the theater this weekend! If I'd known, I would have gotten us there sooner ..."
"You already know this place well enough for that?" This season, Onoda was living off Hiroshima's furthest coast. He still had a hard time believing it - everywhere they went, on call and retrieval. Their ever-modest smile never left their face, no matter how many times it happened. "Last time you took me out after moving, we got stuck in a host bar on gratuity."
They always puffed up into a flustered mess.
It was as simple as it had ever been, growing up together, apart, back again.
Just because a wall of glass and ocean stood at his back, alongside the rising sun -
Merely because the moon shone down over him as he slipped out wires and cables, metal clicking against his teeth, deep past midnight -
Didn't mean anything had changed with the closest thing to a cousin he had left.
"All you need to do is hook up the tap to the main system." Memorized, spoken over and over again, a dozen familiar voices - reminding him not to make a mistake - reminding him how easy it was for someone like him to do just that. "We're not asking for much."
"I'll see if I can negotiate more out of them," Makishima had said, nervous tic, fingers winding through hair even with the assured words. "I don't like you risking yourself for this little."
"I couldn't turn it down," Teshima - laughed.
He couldn't replace fingers with better accouterments. He didn't have the iron for it, no matter how quickly he knew others could break in and out. Keeping normal skin, he'd just have to know his computers better. Teshima spun those nails through all his pouches, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the touchpad faintly blocking the moonlight threatening above.
If it was a matter of sneaking into a server room - he wouldn't have liked it much better, but it would have been a simpler matter, less suspicious, more places to hide than an open office with windows on every side. He hadn't had a grappling hook since his disastrous third mission. Despite the height, despite broken bones, hiding in shadows made him miss the agonizing ease of free-falling.
The desk at the center of the room hid the real target - behind an easy sheet of rubber and plastic masquerading as wood stood the hard drive. Practically a part of the desk itself, they'd gotten better at masking it, over the years. Hiding all the most important information in plain sight of everyone and everything. It was easy to access - simple to be caught. His eyes flickered up, glancing to windows, expecting them to come down with impossible bars and lasers in an instant. But nothing happened, and he went on with tracking where it stood through the thin sheet of protection.
Teeth wouldn't slice rubber. It would have made him feel better if they would. Everything should have been the perfect size in the first place. The need to fix on the move only made every next second more dangerous. Falling back to the miniature blade sticking at his thumb, he could do this. And he would. And eventually, when he surfaced for a simple breath of normalcy, it would feel like he'd done something good.
Slipping out a touchpad, he started digging. They had safeguards - more than he'd realized.
"You should stay in safe, anyway." His mind always wandered, breaking down over-familiar walls - it was just more chains, more code, more numbers. "Haven't you heard about those thefts going around the country recently?"
Onoda most often ate cereal in the morning. When Teshima visited, he stood over an underused stove, spinning spatulas and spoons to the side, listening to them quietly apologize for an understocked refrigerator.
"Um," the usual unsure stutter. "What do you mean?"
"Those cyber thieves!" A wide enough grin to take up a room, if he could have ever beaten them in sun or smiling. "Next thing you know, they'll be hacking into theaters to play all their favorite films, and you'll just have wasted your money."
"Oh! No, no, no, there are all kinds of safeguards against that sort of interference, and even if they took every screen, the company would probably give refunds, and ..." Onoda explained everything with shining eyes, but here they had paused, a tiny frown surfacing. "But why would they do that?"
"Probably because they got bored," he laughed.
"I'm sure there's better things they could do with their time! Skills like that could do a lot to help!"
"That's not really what they're thinking about."
Furrowed brow and rice, furtive laughter and over-priced rolls, morning was easy absurdity.
Teshima grit his teeth together - could feel the cold sweat beginning to rise to his head - code knitting back together behind him, a tension heavy enough to cause the whole system to fire up in alert. They'd been waiting for this. Planned for just this kind of quiet digging through. At this point the best he could do was escape - but that had never once been an option.
Better than him, then.
All he had to do was set the tap into the system, and make sure no one else would notice the bug quietly copying away. There was nothing more he had to do to complete the contract. Being part of a next mission had only ever been a quiet dream, any time he started a new one.
He'd seen plenty of cities at this point. Kept track of so many more people than he had the right to. If doing this was what it took to have had the chance for any of that - a dozen times over, the friendly almost-family of someone who could hardly bring themself to use a given name, it seemed good enough.
Surprising them, at every open door, with a grin and a wave, the ever-unexpected visit and house warming gift. "I got the new address from Makishima," ever-lasting excuses. "Did you really not know where the apartment would be until now?"
Alarms going off in these kinds of places weren't building-wide. They weren't anything others would notice. It was all quiet, in ears, phones, precise guided notifications as pinpoint as a sniper.
All he knew was that in one moment, the room was little more than inky sea - the next, lit fire by the single spark of an open door. He didn't even have time to put away his touchpad.
The same words as ever.
Something in him wanted to run to jump through the only window in the room, even this many stories up.
"It's lucky we end up working around the same parts so often!" Onoda had said, once. Only once.
"That's miracles for you," Teshima said, through tight one-armed embraces. But he always said that.
Hey, he could remember saying to them - laughing, grinning, always looking forward to another rare spark of genuine goodness. Are you ever going to settle down? I don't think I could keep up with all this moving forever.
His eyes refused to adjust.
But blurry as Onoda was, he could imagine the words on their lips. He didn't need to be told.
One hand moved - but not to a taser - not to anything. The closest he could tell was the sight of a piece twisting off their ear, knocking their glasses off balance.
"I knew it..."
He couldn't speak.
"We need to get out of here." It was a whisper - somehow carrying all the same spirit and nervous excitement as every greeting, each apology, all the goodness they'd ever given him. "There aren't many other people around right now, but they'll get suspicious if I'm up here for too long."
Dragged up, there was no barrage of questions, no gunfire flaying flesh, just - the muted thump of heels against carpet. Onoda looked just the same as they ever did, even dressed out between security and code - suit jackets couldn't do anything to make them look older. In instants, between the stress crushing his lungs and the truth of the situation, it felt like he could almost breathe.
"Hey," he tried to speak - coughed behind a hand, realizing how tightly they were holding the other. "Hey!" They didn't stop. "Onoda." Brusque and distant.
It was little more than the shift of light, but it was their glasses as they glanced back, finally.
"So, uh." It was a slower pace, no easier for it. "Just wondering what it is you're doing here, you know how it is." He couldn't force it all out. Teshima couldn't bring himself to say the truth.
"I'm really sorry!" Onoda spun around for an instant, hands held up around his. "I don't think we really have time right now."
"You do realize -" Pulled as he was out of his words with their jerk forward, down halls he didn't know - windows and roofs the extent of his knowledge - he still pushed forward. "Just who you're aiding and abetting, right?" He hadn't known he was so desperate as it sounded.
"I'm helping a family member get to safety," they answered. Clear eyes barely visible in a glance back, they said, as though it was so simple - "That's what I'm here for!"
"We're supposed to be enemies, you're a -," and he slapped a hand over his mouth, too loud, always. Instead, he hissed, "I'm not going to let you ruin your future for my sake!"
Three stories and they passed the elevator, bouncing down stairs, past vents, pressure and - he shouldn't have wanted to smile, here. Just because they were pulling him forward again. They shouldn't have been here. Ground floor, they paused, just outside the door. Watching them fix their tie and hat, straightened out, only made him more aware of his ridiculous get-up.
The day they met, it had been raining. He felt just as self-conscious as he had then, offering an umbrella he desperately wanted to keep. It would have felt worse if he hadn't.
"You can turn me in," he muttered. "It's alright."
He thought he'd been prepared for this. Being shot down would have been better, in comparison. Onoda hardly had any friends, when they'd met. Teshima had ruined half of his. Every easy act of kindness became a wave rather than a trickle, in the face of that. Just once in his life, he needed to do something that measured up to everything they deserved. Maybe that would be enough.
But Onoda said, "You always tells me about miracles."
His scoff echoed, disconcertingly loud in the stair case. For someone so soft, they shouldn't have had such an overwhelming determination behind small smiles. But that was how it was, every time. Stronger with a hand to hold onto.
"We can make our own sometimes, right?"
Teshima remembered he was wearing contacts as his eyes burned. He wouldn't cry. "Actually," he said - his voice cracked, in halves. He pushed through and pulled on what he hoped was a grin. "It's more like we have to."
Their hand was shaking in the first step forward and he squeezed as best he could. He couldn't do much of anything for them. But they held on as though that meant the world.
"Onoda, where have you been?"
Despite how Teshima stood right next to them, everyone looked at Onoda with fond smiles, when they awkwardly laughed.
"I'm so sorry, I was just meeting with my cousin!" Before anyone could ask, any possible derails, anything that led toward the truth - they said, "We were supposed to go see a movie tonight, but I completely forgot how late I'd be staying ..."
Understanding nods. The murmur of - "You have just started working," the hum of agreement between so few people left, "Graveyard shift is rough this early on."
But one person said, "Why's he dressed like that?" It wasn't suspicious - but it caught in his chest, genuine curiosity as it was.
"It's cosplay!" Onoda's eyes were already sparkling. "I really wanted to get something together myself, the two of us always go to premieres in matching outfits! We have for as long as we've known each other!"
"Oh -" So easily accepted. "It would be, wouldn't it." Soft. "Onoda's such a geek." Laughter. "But not so bad about it, at least." As though he wasn't there, as though he wasn't a criminal in plain sight. "That outfit's pretty cool, too." As though his own coffin wasn't closing around them as well.
"Huh," someone too close for comfort. "You two really have the same eyes. That's family for you."
"Right?!" Onoda beamed brighter than the sun.
He should have confessed on the spot.
If he was strong, he would have.
"Yup," instead. Drawing an arm around their shoulders, grinning. "Just about as close as you could be."
Breakfast set by the rising sun, a wall of glass and ocean.
Onoda ate just the same as they ever did. As though nothing had changed.
Teshima stared down at the sauce drawn out in a smile over his food. The two of them had taken four months to perfect it, once upon a time. Stylish food versus cute food. The cheerful battle shouldn't have been so close to all of this - touching every side of an ever-enclosing box.
"Did you like the movie?" they asked, dragging him out of his head.
"It was ..." He rubbed his eyes. "Really colorful."
Through his fingers, they were still smiling at his weak answer.
So he said, "I think I'd be better suited to answer if I slept? Probably."
"Oh! Yeah, that's true," Onoda hummed from behind a cup. All the lights turned out, everything was pink and orange. It fit them. As open and empty a place it was, they had better timing than anyone he'd ever known. "I thought you'd have a sleep schedule like mine! I shouldn't have assumed..."
"Nah, it's my fault. I just sort of ... sleep whenever I get the chance." Teshima forced his hair back, tighter, till his eyes watered. "I didn't realize you were working nights." The closest he had gotten to honesty yet.
"Sorry I hadn't told you sooner!" They never stopped apologizing. "I wanted it to be a surprise, just in case."
That caught him, though. "...You mean you didn't want to tell me anything that could have made me suspicious.."
When he'd call them out - every time - no matter how honest or gentle or kind he was - Onoda would turn bright red. Eyes hidden behind the glare of the sun, all he could see was the fidget of their shoulders and twitching nose.
"You knew," Teshima said.
"...Yes. I'm -"
"Don't apologize." He wanted to grind his fingers to dust, but instead - reached out over the table. Carefully set palms flat, quaking too obvious. "It's alright. I don't mind."
They kept their gaze down. "That's not true ... is it."
If he was a good person, it would have been. "Sorry," he said, holding just as much hypocrisy. "I'd rather you not know about all of this."
"I only know about parts." Their hands rose to the edge of the table. "The companies that hire me don't tell me everything. But ... there's a lot I learned from Makishima. And you." All the tracks he could cover, but there were things he'd left behind in spades. "It was really obvious, when I saw it."
He was such an idiot. No one in the trade took on anyone like this. A kid with starry eyes too focused on people - the exact kind of person to find out things they weren't supposed to know. It had always been a dangerous game. But for more than just him. Everyone else always seemed to know so much better than him.
"And ... you know!" Despite it all, they looked up, and smiled. "Everywhere I went, something was bound to happen! So it made a lot of sense."
"It's kind of illegal." Sordid grin back, because he couldn't not when it was them. "In case you hadn't heard."
"I know, but ..." Awkward. All the good in the world. He remembered just how much they'd wanted to protect people, growing up. Wanting connections, wanting friends, wanting - "I couldn't throw away the chance to do what's right."
"We're not even related," he laughed. "I ..." He should have made his own way out. Shouldn't have needed any of this. The only way he could help them now was if he stayed and it shouldn't have been the right thing to do. And yet it was. "Why?"
Maybe that question laced everything that kept the two of them together.
Years had passed, in absurd normalcy, and he'd accepted it all this time. Even when they could see through him. Even when what was fair - what was right and good was never what they were supposed to be doing. But neither of them had ever asked.
"It's easy to miss miracles," and they took his hand. Took a breath. Took all the time they needed, before saying the obvious - "But you taught me where to look."