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One day at the time

Chapter Text

It’s late –no, early, three in the morning early- when Atsumi’s feet clacked loudly on the floor, stumbling slightly. The mission she had set out for herself had been a success, but she was beyond exhausted and, just her luck, her apartment is on the other side of the city. Fortunately for her, recently she mostly stays at Prevention anyway.

Her fingers fumble as she climbs off the desk, numb and clumsy from lack of sleep, quickly taking off her mask before she even takes a good look around the room.

“no, no. it’s not like some of us are sleeping” Craine’s voice startles her as she moves to remove her support item on her right wrist, and she realizes all too soon that she had mistakenly digitally reformed herself into his room instead of hers like she had intended.

His eyes are half-lidded when she turns to look at him, his voice carrying that deep, husky tone from sleep that never fails to send shivers down her spine –except for now, because the only thing on Atsumi’s mind is sleep, but he doesn’t appear too upset, playful sarcasm in place even after just being awoken.

“sorry,” she murmurs apologetically, even though she really isn’t.

There’s a shuffling sound as he shifts onto his back, and she can’t help but look at the bed in envy, because it looks really inviting right about now and she has no qualms about curling up right next to Craine…

Atsumi blinks at her train of thought, surprised that, really, she’s honestly considering it. He wouldn’t mind… right?

“we’re partners, could even consider us friends, aren’t we, Craine?”

“I should hope so, by now. If not, you’re impossible to impress,” he snorts, and she can see his lips quirk upwards even in the near darkness of the room.

Ignoring the rapidly dwindling part of her rationality that says no, what you are about to do is not a good idea, girl, her feet quickly close the gap between the two of them.

“in that case,” she whispers more to herself than to Craine, her words trailing off as she practically collapses along his body. She puts just enough care into the action so as not to wind him, even though her body feels as heavy as a cartload of iron.

Craine’s reaction is instant; there’s a laugh rumbling in his chest as one of his arms first hesitantly but then firmly wraps around her middle, and she can hear the smirk in his voice when he speaks.

“I’m not one to complain when a lady drops herself onto my lap, but are you-”

“m’tired. Sleep. Craine,” she moans, cutting off his words as she presses her face into the side of his neck. He smells fairly nice, she notes absently, leather, ozone and the last traces of his aftershave, spicy and masculine and pleasant.

Of course he doesn’t, because he’s Craine and that would be much too easy on her addled brain when he could continue to tease instead.

“does this mean I get to share your bed with you the next time I find myself near your place?”

“sure,” she mumbles, shutting her eyes, “course.”

She can feel him smirking as the pull of his stubbly cheek brushes against her forehead, but she merely cuddles closer, curling up like a cat along the length of his body. She doesn’t know whether or not it’s because she hasn’t slept, but Craine is quite comfortable to lie on and she can’t help but be surprised. He shouldn’t be, considering the man is mostly hard, toned muscle, but he just is.

“I’ll hold you to that, bytelet.”

“m’sure you will.”

Questioning her sanity will be the first thing she does come morning- later this morning, preferably not until at least noon, especially since she knows she’ll wake up to Craine grinning and endless teasing. At the moment, though, Craine’s steady breathing is doing a miraculous job of lulling her into a state of semi-consciousness, and the blanket that he drapes over the two of them, combined with his natural body heat and the way his hands start to rub soothingly down her spine and shoulders to kindle some warmth into her chilled body, feels so absolutely delightful she couldn’t care less. She hums sleepily, and, too far gone, she’s not sure if the feeling of soft lips pressing against her forehead is reality or a dream before sleep finally claims her and she dozes off peacefully.

Chapter Text

An old saying claimed that meeting someone once was an accident, twice in a day was a coincidence, and meeting someone three times in a day was a sign that their destines were crossed.

Craine first met the elf by sheer accident, bumping into her as he tried weaving his way through the crowded streets of Zasea.

Disoriented at first, the blonde elf blinked at him a few times, then smiled, all grace and exotic appearance, and before Craine could apologize, the other had disappeared in the crowd. Craine had to shake his head to clear it before chasing after Seven’s back, not willing to get separated in the masses.

The second time they met that day was by a stall in the market. Seven had been talking about taking up tailoring, and was looking for decent but affordable materials to train on. Craine was bored even before they arrived at the stall but he had promised his friend to come with him, and he kept his promises. Still as Seven chatted with the merchants to find the best deals, he stayed in the background and occupied himself with some apples he had bought earlier while watching the crowds around the stall.

Many people came from far away to attend the monthly market in Zasea. Though most of the crowd were human, there was the occasional dwarf, gnome and elf, diehard players who already had enough reputation to enter the city, weaving their way through the masses like everyone else. Two elves had approached the stall at some point, looking at the many fabrics and conversing silently in their own language. Both were high elves, dressed in spell casters’ robes and with jewellery that glowed in time with their eyes. One was very comely female, with long silvery hair and whose garments left little to the imagination, many eyes were on her.

One of her many human watchers stood out to Craine, he had an odd dark energy about him, his piercing red eyes focussed on the female elf.
He wore a sword, unlike the two at the stall, and his expression was one of protective pride as he watched the elven woman.

A movement at his side drew his attention, and Craine turned his head to see the elf he had bumped into earlier lean against a post with an amused smile on her face, eyes on the two elves and the human. Her eyes met Craine’s, and she nodded in acknowledgement. Apparently they were the only two around not staring at the silver haired unholy enchantress.

Craine sort of wanted to speak to her, but the crowd around them were too loud for conversation to come easy, and in any case, these players had a certain hardcore gamer air about them and those weren’t exactly known to talk to average players that much. Their level and experience meant they were often haughty towards others. This elf though, didn’t seem particularly arrogant or dismissing to him, though.

On an impulse, Craine held one of his apples out to the elf, who accepted it with a raised eyebrow and a small smile. Their fingers brushed against each other as the fruit was passed over, a brief but warm touch.

All too soon, the moment was over, as the elven necromancer and unholy enchanter disappeared into the crowd. Their Knight called out, and the Rogue went to join him, apple still in hand.
Soon, they had also disappeared into the crowd.

Sighing a little, Craine waited for Seven to finish his own purchases.

The third meeting was later in the evening. By the time Seven had finished all his errands, and they’d gotten the supplies for the quest he’d originally come for, it was too late to travel back out the safe zone, so they’d taken a room at one of the city’s many inns. Seven had met up with some other players and had been whisked off to help plan a surprise for another friend, leaving Craine by himself. He was pretty satisfied with that. With all the crowds that had been all over the city all day, it was nice to finally have some peace and quiet.

The inn they’d chosen was a smaller one, more affordable than the large and luxurious ones but less crowded than the cheapest inns. It didn’t have that many people in the common room, and Craine had managed to find himself a table in a corner, settling down to do some inventory and let his character recuperate, he had chosen Warrior, maybe not completely his style. But he insisted on taking up the engineering profession, and with that came mining, so Seven reassured him having a plate armour based class would be best.

He was so caught up in his plans that he didn’t notice that he was being approached until someone sat down at the other side of the table.

Looking up, he found himself looking at the blonde rogue for the third time that day, this time up close. She was strikingly attractive, as was often the case with elves, with lightly tanned skin and hair that seemed to have a mind of its own. There was an amused smile playing on her lips, and she had a glass of wine in one hand, dangling it carelessly.

“you don’t mind the company, do you?” she asked.

Craine shook his head. “not at all.”

They spoke for a while, about little things. The elf’s name was Azaise, Craine learned, and she was here with her friend, her friend’s princess and the princess’ friend, to visit the market and the royal library of Zasea before travelling on to visit Eleylens, the Underground Sanctum.
Craine told her about his own errands in town in return, and about Seven, by his ingame name of course. Azaise, as it turned out, had a sly sense of humour, explaining that they did have rooms at one of the larger inns, but that she’d rather not spend the night in the company of the purple haired male necromancer, as he was apparently the kind who stayed up all night reading and didn’t share her sense of fun.

“you seemed more interesting,” Azaise offered, waving a waitress over to order another glass of wine.

It had been a while since Craine had spent time just talking with someone. He did so with everyone in prevention, and then there was little Inasa, (not so little anymore though), but he didn’t have many true friends.

Azaise was easy to talk to, which surprised him, because Craine was never quite at ease talking to people he found attractive, and he’d have to be blind and deaf not to be taken with the elf’s natural allure.

Of course he knew that nothing would come of it, and he kept such things to himself, but he was till greatly enjoying spending time with Azaise, talking to her seemed almost automatic.

As the evening passed, Craine had to admit he was drunk, or his Warrior was. The immersion was certainly one of the things that made him pick it up when Seven asked him to play.
With the ingame tolerance system he would likely feel fine in the morning, but he was definitely feeling the effect of the ale he’d been drinking. If Azaise felt the same effect from her wine, she hid it well, but she’d pulled her chair closer and leaned near as she talked, creating an illusion of intimacy that felt almost too natural.

He’d probably never see her again after that evening, Craine thought, and that thought sobered him up a little. Just because he felt so much at ease with the elf didn’t mean the other felt the same way, and he should probably stop drinking and go to bed and log out before he got his hopes up.

At least he didn’t sway as he got to his feet, and he took that as a good sign, as he somewhat hastily bade her farewell and headed upstairs.

He pauses in the hallway on the upper floor and leaned against the wall, taking a deep breath. Most of all, he wanted to go downstairs and talk to Azaise more, just to spend more time in her company, and it wasn’t the most pleasant of feelings. He was sure he was good company to pass some time with, but he had little to offer an elf apart from that brief respite from boredom. Better back off now than to feel even worse later, or so he supposed.

Sighing again, he turned to go down the hall to the room he shared with Relapse.

A hand on his wrist stopped him.

Azaise moved far too silently for someone who was almost as tall as Craine and wearing mail armour.

“is everything all right?” she asked, what seemed like concern on her face. It was hard to read the glowing blue elf eyes properly.

Craine nodded. “I just…” didn’t want to miss her more than next day than he was already going to. He had no idea how to explain it, because he couldn’t explain to himself why Azaise felt so familiar to him.

The elf nodded slipping her hand down from Craine’s wrist, entangling their fingers. Her hand was warm in Craine’s, warm, surprisingly strong, and alarmingly real.

Carefully, Craine looked down at their clasped hands and pulled Azaise a little closer. Standing like that, they could both feel the heat from each other’s bodies. It was nice.

The sound of someone else coming stumbling up the stairs ruined the moment, and for a moment, they just stared at each other in bewilderment, before Azaise tugged on Craine’s hand, dragging him down the hall and to a door, which she unlocked with some difficulty. Craine let her pull him inside, closing the door behind them.

Still holding onto his hand, Azaise pulled him over and pressed their lips together in a fast, chaste kiss.
Afterwards they both burst out laughing, relief flooding Craine’s body as he did. Azaise’s head dropped to his shoulder as he laughed, her left ear tickling Craine’s neck. Craine wrapped his arms around her and just held on until they had to catch their breath from laughing too hard.

When they both calmed down a little, Craine mirrored Azaise’s earlier move, lifting her face up so he could kiss her.

It worked a lot better, that time, an unmistakeable feeling of rightness filling them both. Once they pulled apart this time, Azaise sat down on the bed, inviting Craine to join her. Craine didn’t need to be asked twice.

Like their meetings, their third kiss was better than both the previous ones, and from there on, the kisses just kept improving.

None of the kisses were as good as team ups and future quests they did together.

Chapter Text

“If you’re right that means we know exactly where he’s keeping her.”

Virus hums, things have been going smoothly ever since she and Craine created a truce to work together for the time being to find the missing girl, Shiro.
With her speed and inside prowess and his experience and guidance the information needed came in like a steady stream.

Now if only Craine would stop being so stubborn…
“Craine your inputs are slowing down significantly again…”

“I can stay awake! You may have to give me a tap if you see me nod out from the pills…”

Virus allows herself a long exasperated sigh inside her head, “I can tap you awake all I want but it won’t do anything if the combination of alcohol and heavy duty painkillers kick you unconscious. Can’t you stop drinking for a while?”

“No I’m not going to stop drinking it helps me think.”

“Helps you think, maybe you should take regular breaks, allow your body to rest. You’re clearly overworked.”

“And why do you think I’m overworked, Virus?”

She was about to press her point that the combination of the painkillers with alcohol could not only cause him to pass out but also make him extremely nauseous when she noticed he had disconnected the headset microphone function.

“Is he just going to ignore me?” she thought angrily until she saw through the various camera feeds that he was talking to someone, a sidekick maybe.
The two had some very slight similarities, nothing too noticeable, but it was there. And it kept her distracted long enough that Craine could finish talking with the teen without her disrupting them.

“Virus?”

She decided to drop it for a little longer, “I’m here, finished the program, you ready as well on your end?”

“Yeah, I’m ready. If this works we’ll have some free time. Maybe we should discuss why you’ve been trying to hack into my computer in the first place?”

The program got launched without a hitch and Virus allowed herself a moment to just float around for a second in the quiet that followed.

“Alright, why are you being such a mean lady and hacking in things you really shouldn’t stick your nose into.”

“Excuse you! Mean!? I’d be a lot nicer if you just give me what I want.”

She could hear his groan, it seemed that this subject has drained away all the energy he previously had.
“Tell me exactly what info you want and maybe I’ll just let you have it. Mariella is tired, I’m tired.”

Virus hesitates for a moment, but she won’t pass up a golden opportunity if it so readily presents itself, “… very well, alright then, I have various leads that KidNova is stuck in an abusive relationship but everything about it is-” meanwhile she pulled up all the evidence she had and send it over, probably covering up some video feeds in the process, “-and Cold Sparrow is filthy rich in too short of a time period, when I looked into that I found-” she didn’t allow herself to take a break in her ridiculous info dump of evidence, thankful that Craine wasn’t interrupting her, “-and I think it’s just disgusting that DragonLoom is still walking around but that probably sounds too personally biased so feel free to ignore that-” file after file gets pulled out until Virus realizes she’s at the end of what she currently has, “so that’s … at least 10 pro’s that really should have their licenses revoked at least. But who are getting away with it because there are still things really wrong in the system.”

For a moment it’s quiet and Virus get gradually more nervous, until she realizes that Craine is actually speechless.

“I… what, where did you get all this?”

“I think you should know after six months that I am very good at what I do Craine.”

“We’ll definitely get on top of this, these things are serious.”

Relief washes over Virus like warm water “finally someone who gets it. I know this info is all acquired illegally but I’m sure that won’t be much of a problem for you guys.”

She can almost hear the man think, and eventually sees him reach for the bottle of Bourbon.

“dammit Craine, I’m serious about the bad effects of mixing alcohol and painkillers, stop drinking that.”

“I’m going to drink it.”

“You need to stop.”

“Make me.”

Now that’s an invitation if she ever heard one.
The tingling sensation of static electricity that comes with reforming never gets old. And she’s somewhat aware of how she must look, half crouched over his keyboard.

She could have done this sooner, when they made the truce and they stopped attacking each other, the alarms had gone down. She could still prod the system to make error messages pop up and those would keep him awake but the usual defences were down.
This wasn’t really how she had imagined it going, and it certainly wasn’t how she sometimes dreamed it would go…

Nonetheless she’s there now, glaring at him, though the glare is gradually turning into something smug the longer he’s quiet.

She lifts her mask up and lets her glasses reform on her face, her pupils dilating somewhat once he’s visible to her.

“There you are, it’s a pleasure finally meeting you in the flesh, Craine.”

Chapter Text

Virus sighs as she thinks about the two young girls she finally properly met a moment ago.
They are young, and she doesn’t know what their history is within this top secret hero department but she does know that they are shaken up.

Despite the two not knowing her at all they certainly didn’t hesitate to cling onto her when she finally reappeared.
She almost felt guilty for vanishing. Though she knows she had no other choice.

She had felt something, hot on her heels, it had been unnerving, and something she had never experienced before. She prided herself in being untraceable; it’s one of the main reasons why she’s so good at what she does. It felt like it took forever. But she got rid of it.

And now she found her way back to them. There is Nine, content to ignore her for now, And Virus understands. Virus is pretty sure there is another one as well, an older man, Four she believed. And lastly there is the young adult that she thought was a sidekick, but turns out to just be related to Craine. “His nephew,” her mind helpfully supplies.

Inasa was kind enough to introduce himself before bombarding her with questions. And she had felt guilty that she couldn’t really provide him with any more answers than the others. Shiro was very important to him. “I wonder if she realizes that, I hope she does,” she thought after answering his questions with what little she knows.

That’s when he tentatively asked about her. She could see the curiosity in his eyes. To him she must be the thorn in his uncle’s side for the past half year, and suddenly everything turns out different. She can’t help but feel uncomfortable though, she always made sure to keep Virus and Atsumi separate from one another, to protect herself, and she feels like everything is about to crumble to pieces.

Her paranoid thoughts vanish the moment she’s suddenly swept up in a tight embrace though. She’s grateful for her high heeled boots otherwise she’s certain she’d be straight up lifted from the ground right about now. There is one last squeeze before she’s suddenly let go of.

She can’t help but feel disappointed, but the way Craine profusely apologizes for his actions makes her forget about that too.

“Were you that worried about me? I wasn’t anywhere near the fight thankfully enough”

“No, I mean yes, I mean-”

She materializes her favourite Rubiks cube and hands it to him.

“You’re giving me a puzzle?”

She grins, “it’s also a hard drive, allow me to show you” she takes it back and solves it in 20 moves then turns it to show the now visible uncovered USB port, “there you go.”

For a moment he just looks at her and suddenly she’s hyper aware of the fact that she’s no longer wearing her mask, the cybernetics of her cheeks must shine embarrassingly bright, but thankfully there is no way Craine know the reason behind that.

“Uhm… thanks.”

“Anytime” she hopes she doesn’t look as nervous as she feels, as she hands the cube back to Craine, “oh now that I think about it, you might want to check up on your nephew as soon as possible, I trust everything regarding Shiro has worked out well.” Otherwise surely they wouldn’t be here right now.

“Virus, a moment of your time please” came a high pitched female voice, and suddenly she’s nervous again, she has delivered the priority intel back to Foresight, so she was certain that whatever Relapse wanted to talk about with her now, it couldn’t be bad, right? They weren’t going to screw her over for her whistleblower practices now that everything was said and done, right? “Yes, what can I do?”

"Alright Virus, or do you prefer Atsumi?”

“Virus, calling me Atsumi is maybe a little too…”

Very well, Virus, it seems like you're just the type of person we need here. And although your method of interview was a bit...chaotic, I have to say you've impressed already."
"Had you even considered that you had in your possession every bit of Prevention top priority classified information? Not only that, but you were left alone with it for hours that you couldn't be monitored or guarded. You could've run at any point and we'd have been helpless to stop you. I do apologize for the... Inappropriate contact." She shoots a glare over to Craine who blushes lightly and turns away, "but to be honest we're all genuinely shocked that you didn't run off."

"I... to be completely honest, it didn't even cross my mind to do that. Perhaps it was the severity of the situation, or the fact that something did in fact try to come after me..."

"Something came after you. And you're sure of that?" Relapse turns to Craine who starts mumbling to himself. "Most of the programmed robots stopped attacking at 02:37 at the moment of the man's death, were you still being pursued after that time?"

"I remember it suddenly stopping, I'm afraid I didn't check the time when that happened."

"That's quite alright. We haven't trained you in the proper procedure for such matters... Though as it stands currently, you know too much to simply be allowed to leave." Takes a cruelly long pause before continuing "So we have a few options. You work with the police officially. But this information doesn't seem like it was collected by the police. Is there a reason you aren't working on these cases officially?"

Virus scoffs "they won't let me into investigations, I have gotten some training in the field when I first expressed desire to pursue that direction in the force but the higher ups eventually decided that my talents were better used in the archives."

"Archives?" Relapse and Craine both scoff in genuine disgust.

"Well that's incompetence if I've ever seen it." He says with crossed arms.

"So, is it safe to assume that you are unhappy with your current position?"

"To a degree," she grins, "it hasn't stopped me from pursuing the truth. But I do feel it's- that they are holding me back." she sighs, "there are a lot of things I'm unhappy with, my current position isn't the only issue."

"Wonderful!" Relapse brightened up like only a 21 year old girl could before straightening herself a bit at Craine’s unamused staring. "Well, as you can tell our Prevention department is in a bit of a rebuilding phase."

Craine straight up laughs.

"As we rebuild, I've decided that it would likely be best to keep our servers away from the main agency. This means a third satellite office, and with that come a need for... Staff." Relapse ruffles around in her briefcase and pulls out a huge folder of papers. "Do you think you'll be able to get your license with a few months of training?"

"You skipped a part, Re." Craine huffed from the corner.

"Oh, yes, I suppose I did." She turns back to V, "Would you like a new job? It'll be much harder but I can promise you that you won't be stuck doing something as menial as archives." She scoots the folder over and flips it open. The top page is an NDA and employment paperwork. "It won't be an easy job, but you'd be able to continue your work with my full support."

"Our." Craine chimed in.

"Really?" she looks at Craine then back at Relapse for confirmation. For a split second a 'is she carrying those files around wherever she goes?' before she dismisses it. "It would be an absolute honor to help and work with all of you."

"Oh that's wonderful! I much preferred you joining us to the other option." Relapse says with a haunting grin as she hands over a pen to Virus. Craine shifts uncomfortably before quietly exciting the room. "Now though everyone in this department is under me, you'll be working directly under Craine as his sidekick until we get you licenced. Are you opposed to living on site until that moment? We are nervous about your safety now that you've potentially been spotted as a transporter of classified information. The last thing we want is you to get cornered on the street with no means of legally defending yourself. "

"... Other option?" Virus side-glances to the door that Craine left out of before taking a deep breath and deciding just not to bother with thinking too hard about that, "I do not mind living on the location, however I do have a couple necessities in my apartment that I wish to have with me, that also includes a pet... I rather not leave him with a friend for that long" and she thinks to herself that Shagaru would probably not agree to that in a thousand years either.

"That's perfectly fine. We can go collect any and all necessities for you tomorrow when we go collect Shiro for her debriefing. As for the pet..." Relapse zones out in her classic fashion before continuing, "...What kind of pet is it?"

"Dog, little Labradoodle, he's about a year old now" materializes a couple pictures, "he has a quirk of his own by the way, wind related. But I have been to several training courses with him and he's quite well behaved."

"It's a puppy!" Relapse can’t help but squeal as she half-snatches the photos out of her hand. She stares and makes some loving noises before remembering that she's in a business meeting. "The dog should be fine as long as it's well behaved with the twins. They can be a bit exhausting ... So the dog will need lots of patience."

Virus smirks "he's not a dominant dog, I'm sure there won't be issues, and he's young with lots of energy, maybe they'll tire each other out."

Relief washes over Relapses face. "Well that would be nice for everyone then." She stands up and is somehow shorter than she was sitting, "Welcome to the team. If you could fill out all that paperwork and leave it here on the desk that would be lovely. I'm going to have Sister prepare a room for you near Craine's so the two of you can get on rebuilding the mainframe while I secure our next site. Just pop your head out when you're finished. Hopefully dinner will be done by then and we can get you properly introduced to the members of the team that are here today." She starts to exit the room. "Ask Craine if you need anything."

"I will, thank you."
Virus twirls the pen she was given and goes through all the papers, and despite her excitement she makes sure to read every single one of them carefully. Though there are a couple pauses in which she spaces out about the fact that from now on she'll be working closely with Craine.

Chapter Text

“it’s alright”

“it’s not.” Craine is gasping the words around sobs, an arm around Atsumi’s shoulders. He has her tucked against his chest but he’s hunched over her. Protecting her from the rain that’s began to pour over the two of them. He’s murmuring her name, cradling her back and forth, his forehead against hers as he murmurs fruitless apologies.

“stop that.” It’s a fight for her to speak. Craine is squeezing one of her hands while her other one lies limply at her side. It’s cold, growing colder still in the early evening chill. Her mask lies just out of reach. A flimsy shield to protect her identity. But that all feels so pointless now.
“it’s… it’s alright.”

There’s so much more that she wanted to say. So much more that she should say, that she wish she could say. He’s vainly attempting to use their entwined hands to slow the blood that’s oozing consistently from the fatal wound on her chest; he hadn’t noticed, he hadn’t, and a small tired part of her is almost grateful she’ll be dead soon if only so she can forget the look on his face as he’d finally realized.

How things had changed, how slowed down everything had become after the quick pace and frantic defensive movements she’d fought with. Taking down her enemy but getting that fatal injury none the less. How distraught he’d become, how terrified, how horrified, how quickly he’d reached for her, how quickly he’d abandoned the mission in favour of scooping her into his arms.

He’s still trying to shield her from the rain.

“it’s alright.”

“it’s not!” he’s angry now – at himself? At her? At their enemies? He sighs her name; his eyes are watery and red, his bottom lip trembles. “why didn’t you flee?”

“would… you have?”

His answer is a distressed closing of his eyes, a hastily muffled sob as he drops his face on Atsumi’s shoulder that tells her the answer to her question more than words could.

“I can fix this,” he whispers next, though his voice shakes with uncertainty and pain. He can’t fix this. “I can fix this.”

It’s growing colder and darker. She tries to shake her head but she hardly has the strength, she wishes she could say his name and only his name; instead she buries her face in his chest and manages to slowly lift her hand from the ground to weakly caress his face. It’s nothing more than a ghostly brush of her fingertips against his stubbled cheek and jaw, nothing that would have any effect on his any other time but now it has him hitching his breath and fighting a sob.

“it’s… alright…”

“I’m sorry,” he murmurs, his lips against her temple now. He presses a kiss full of warmth and love to her hair; his tears are warm against her cheek, the blue cybernetic lights there had dulled to a freighting hue. Her fingers manage to curl int the fabric on his shoulder; she can feel the engraved design of the Prevention department on his shoulder.
“I’m so sorry, my love.”

A shuddering inhale of breath is her answer. The words are stuck in her throat. She still can’t say his name, no matter how much she ache’s to. “…it’s…”

She thinks of the underground bunkers, of warm evenings with the others and warmer nights with his hands on her bare skin. She thinks of lazy afternoons messing around in the systems in an attempt to get him to take a break with her. She thinks of early morning before the sun graces the sky, of dreamlike kisses pressed against her lips as he slips from bed to start the day.

He’s always been warm and comforting.

She’s so tired.

“no, no, no, no.” he sounds so far away now, feels so far away. She doesn’t feel his warmth nor his comfort. “stay with me. Don’t- ! Open your eyes!” he’s gently shaking her, his insistence annoying to her now. She wants to sleep, to lay down the burden.
“Open – your- eyes!”

She can’t.

Her lips barely move as she finds the words to speak. “…it’s… alright…”

He’s shaking his head; she can feel it. “it’s not…” he squeezes her shoulders, bundles her closer one final time. When she closes her eyes , she recalls midnights spent close to him, his steady heartbeat in her ear lulling her to sleep.

It’s steady even now, even as he screams his throat raw and rocks her back and forth in his arms.

Chapter Text

Everything is going wrong.

Atsumi’s ride has bailed on her with a quick, completely unsympathetic text, and she’s so far out of the city that it will take hours to walk back.

An exaggeration, she thinks, but it just started raining and she’s miserable and alone and if she thinks it will take hours, there’s no one around to disagree with her anyway.

But even if she’s miserable and she feels like she’s going to cry any second, she’s never been one to back down from a challenge, so she started walking.

Just in time for the rain to fall harder, for the wind to pick up and start battering her from every side, and when all of this is over she’s going to have caught a cold or a flu and it’s all Stephano’s fault.

“Who agrees to give someone a ride,” she mutters angrily, but she can hardly hear herself over the howling wind, “and then backs out at the last minute?”

Stephano apparently.

She remembers there was a station not too far down the road – but then not too far, roughly translates to fifteen minutes by car and she’s walking so who knows how long that will take? – and she’s starting to formulate a plan when a car speeds past her.

She can hardly believe it at first, but then she remembers that she’s Shimizu Atsumi and these things always happen. On top of being cold and miserable, she’s now soaked to the bone and getting wetter, and there are curse words on her lips and daggers in her eyes and right when she’s about to shout her frustration another car zooms past and she’s drenched again.

Tears finally begin to fall, though she can hardly feel them against the rain that pelts her face, and she rubs her hands up and down her arms, seeking warmth that she can’t seem to find in this ungodly weather. Why, oh why, did she think it was a good idea to leave without a jacket?

Oh, yes, because she was supposed to be getting a ride back!

She sniffles and wipes fruitlessly at her eyes, wishing she could pull herself together and wishing that she had better friends, or that Shagaru came back from his vacation. He wouldn’t ditch her like this. She’s really tired of the plans she’s set in place for weeks being suddenly dashed to pieces and she’s tired of accepting less than honest apologies from those she calls friends. They never mean it, after all, and she’s so afraid of being alone that she accepts it anyway.

Another set of headlights pass her by, another car zooming past her without a care.

She can’t seem to find it in herself to walk fast in this weather and at this rate she won’t be home until late evening – she’s not even sure what time it is now and she’s shaking so bad that she doesn’t think she’ll manage to get her phone out and check. It’s late afternoon, at least, she thinks, because while it’s dull and grey, it’s not dark, not yet, so she has some time to get into the bright lights of home before it’s too dark for her to see anything. Or worse, before it’s too dark for the cars on this road to see her.

That would be the perfect end to her day, she thinks, to be hit by a car in the middle of the night because they couldn’t see her. If she doesn’t freeze to death before then.

God, she sure is a cheery soul, isn’t she?

But then, to be fair, there’s not really much to be cheery about, is there?

The car that pulls up besides Atsumi five minutes later is sleek and black, with tinted windows and she’s seen enough thriller movies to know that accepting a ride from whoever is within will only end badly for her. She’s content to keep walking, despite how badly she’s shivering, because everything about the vehicle practically screams ‘don’t trust me’ and then the door opens and someone steps out.

It’s a man, tall and broad-shouldered, with dark hair and deep blue eyes and she’s tired and miserable and frightened and ready to scream because he’s just stepped out of the scary car and he might be about to kill her.

“are you alright?” he asks instead, and there’s caring tone his voice that she didn’t expect and a gentle look in his eyes that she recognizes but can’t place.

she shrugs shakily – because even if something familiar tugs at the back of her mind – she’s still not sure if he can be trusted. There’s something about the way he’s looking at her in turn though that gives her a pause – he seems to be considering something, frowning as he lifts a hand to shield his eyes from the rain.

And there is something about this stranger that makes her consider him in turn – namely that he doesn’t feel like a stranger. There’s something about the gentleness of his gaze that reminds her of a boy she knew in school; snotty Yoarashi Ryoichi, with the spotty barely there moustache and the eyes of the ladies on him always. She could never understand it, what they saw in him, and she got along well enough with him (even during his moments where he’d obsessively talk about his computer setups. And Atsumi was interested, but it wasn’t always the right time) and had even nursed a tiny, festering crush on the boy.

After graduation he’d left to work for some company with his brother – she couldn’t recall the name – and then there had been rumors about him and she’d heard nothing else.

The wind howls and Atsumi blinks rapidly to clear her vision as the rain starts to fall heavier. In the distance, thunder rumbles and she doesn’t want to be out in the open if there’s a storm coming. She’s not sure how for she has managed to walk; a quick glance of her shoulder shows no station in sight like she’d planned, and if this strange man is offering her a lift, she thinks she’s not really in any position to refuse.

That would be an interesting story too, death by lightning because her friend couldn’t be bothered to come pick her up as promised.

The familiar stranger starts to speak and is cut off by another female voice from inside the car, cultured but high pitched.

“Ryoichi, do be quick about this,” she says, “you’re getting the upholstery wet.”

It takes Atsumi a few seconds to understand what’s been said and she blinks owlishly at the man – Yoarashi Ryoichi, the very same boy from school who never seemed to notice her – and she can see it now; he’s broader, stronger than he was in school, and she has no doubt that he’s been in plenty fights since leaving, his entire physique practically screams it.

“Ryoichi?” she repeats, loudly, over the wind, and she can see the wariness on his face, see it transform into delighted recognition, and wow, that’s confusing, she didn’t think the two of them were that close.

“Atsumi,” he says, sounding as elated as he looks, and then he’s shedding the heavy looking coat he wears and approaches her, setting it over her shoulders. She starts to protest – she’s absolutely soaking, after all, the jacket is so nice, she doesn’t want to ruin it, but he has none of it.

“you’re shivering,” he says and with an arm around her shoulders he guides her to the car.

The inside is just as impressive as the outside and across from her sits the lady who seems to somehow matches the voice she heard – with very long dark hair and comfortable yet still expensive looking clothing, watching Atsumi curiously as she studies her warily, with eyes that seem to look into her soul.

She inclines her head to her indifferently and as soon as Ryoichi closes the door the car moves, smoother than any vehicle Atsumi has been in before.

Ryoichi provides quick introductions and she learns that the woman across from her – who has turned her attention to the tinted windows, disinterested – is his boss.

That’s a surprise – she had heard of Foresight and she can’t help but think Ryoichi seems to have done alright for himself to be working for their CEO, especially when all he could talk about in school was working with his brother… what’s his name?

Atsumi grabs Ryoichi’s jacket and tugs it a little closer to herself, feeling colder now that she’s in the warmth of the car, and her hair drips onto the seats and her already sodden clothes. The shoulders of Ryo’s shirt are damp just from a couple seconds without his jacket and his hair drips just like hers.

“how have you been?” she braves asking, wary of the silence in the car and of the (in)famous CEO across from her. The woman exudes authority but when Atsumi’s eyes dart nervously towards her, she can see her lips quirked up in amusement. She doesn’t turn her gaze away from the window, nor the passing an uneventful scenery.

“Er, good,” replies Ryoichi. The awkwardness of the atmosphere isn’t lost on either of them, it seems.

“Good”, she says because she has nothing else to really add.

There’s an uncomfortable silence that stretches for longer than she likes, broken only by the Woman clearing her throat and asking for her address.

Alarmed, she says, “oh, no, that’s really not necessary. Just drop me off at the nearest bus stop-”

“nonsense,” says the CEO, as though the very thought itself is intolerable.

Atsumi looks helplessly to Ryoichi but he seems to agree with his boss, and she reluctantly tells her her address. She presses a button and behind Atsumi’s head the screen descends. Atsumi is so amazed by that that she doesn’t even pay attention to the conversation; she’d never been in a car this fancy and professional before and when she turns her head she finds Ryo watching her with some amusement.

A flush creeps across her check at being so blatantly caught and meekly she murmurs a ‘thank you’ to the woman and pray that she doesn’t see anyone she knows when she gets out of the car. That’s something she doesn’t need; emerging from this car will demand answers to questions she’s not sure she’s willing to give.

After all, she’s still trying to wrap her head around the fact that she let Ryoichi guide her into this car in the first place – and that his boss had let her stay at all. From what she had heard of the CEO, she’s not known for being nice.

Well at least she has something to tell Peppy. After all, it’s not every day that she’s rescued by an old – friend? – school acquittance and his boss and driven home in said boss’ super cool and fancy car.

It will make a good story, if a little unbelievable.

“what were you doing so far from home?” asks Ryoichi and she swallows nervously.

“I – errr…”

In such company as this, she feels whiney admitting she had organized a get together with her friends, which was then ditched by said friends with little notice, adding to her shitty day – but she’s doesn’t want to lie and honesty is the best policy, isn’t that the saying?

“I got ditched,” she says quietly and hopes that’s the end of it. She doesn’t want to talk about it after seeing how well Ryoichi is doing for himself and she’s already cold and miserable, she doesn’t want to add bitter to that list too.

Ryoichi, thankfully, seems to pick up on her tone.

“ah,” he says.

She nods because she has nothing else to add, as if her social situation wasn’t bad enough, she’s pretty sure she’s going to be unable to make the next payment of her rent, which will then lead to her being evicted, which will then mean she’s homeless, which will mean she’ll starve-

She swallows and grips the sleeve of Ryoichi’s coat in a white knuckled grip, trying to keep at bay the tears that had stopped when the car pulled to a stop besides her, trying to stop herself from thinking those thoughts that have given her so many sleepless nights. Worrying isn’t going to get her anywhere; she needs to act. Sitting on her ass and crying about her problems isn’t going to provide the solution.

The car rolls smoothly to a stop and she can’t help but feel that it’s completely out of place in the neighborhood, her neighborhood, and god forbid her nosey neighbor poke out their nose as she emerges from the car; she’s so not in the mood to deal with anyone now. She really just wants to take a nice hot shower, cozy up under her duvet, stick on a film and eat some ice cream.

She really just wants to nurse her wounded ego after the mess that has been that day and try again tomorrow.

She mutters a quiet thank you to the lady in front of her – and there is no way she’s going to be able to look at articles about her now without thinking that they don’t do her justice in the slightest – and slides slowly from the car. She’s still wearing Ryo’s jacket but when she turns to hand it back, she finds that the man himself is exiting the car and striding towards her.

It’s been a while since she had this kind of attention from anyone and it’s… nice.

He escorts her to her door, ever the gentleman she remembers him to be, and she’s waiting for some part of the eccentric, nerdy, slightly flirty boy she had known from high school to come through. She’s waiting to be disappointed, she realizes.

Instead the man before her is nothing but considerate and thoughtful and, dare she say it, mature.

“it was nice seeing you,” he comments, and the rain has eased up some, catching in his dark hair like specks of glitter.

“and you,” she returns. Conversation feels easier now that she’s out of the car, away from the intimidating look of the short woman. She swallows and gathers what little courage she has to say, “we should grab lunch sometime. Catch up.”

She tries not to think about the fact that she doesn’t really has the money to grab this lunch she’s offering.

His answering smile is perhaps the only thing that hasn’t changed in the years since she seen him. Now that she’s out of the car and not quite so worried about his boss, not quite so cold and miserable, she can finally really study him, and try to find some aspects of the boy she once knew.

His hair that was once so shaggy and a bit longer, that gave him a boyish and mischievous air, has been trimmed and there is a slight attempt at taming it, now it looks effortlessly messy in a roguish kind of way. Age and experience has had an impact on his gentle expression, and she wonders what his job actually is that got rid of it, but there’s a twinkle in his eyes as he quirks his lips.

“see something you like?”

And there is the flirting she remembers from high school.

“you haven’t changed in the slightest,” she returns, and the lie doesn’t leave her lips easily. Her voice shakes and she turns her gaze to the ground at her feet, wishing that it might swallow her whole. Of course he has changed – they both have.

She’s pretty sure something like this would have never happened in high school, after all.

“well, I know that isn’t true,” quips Ryoichi, with a wry smirk. “you hardly recognized me.”

“hey,” she says and there is a smile across her face that she thinks hasn’t really been there in a long time, “you didn’t recognize me either.”

“true.”

He casts his eyes towards the car once more, as though waiting for his boss to ask he returns to the car, but a tinted window doesn’t roll down and there is no indication that he should hurry back.

“make it dinner,” he says. At her vacant look, he adds, “instead of lunch. Dinner.”

That definitely would have never happened in high school.

For a moment all of her woes are forgotten because she had never imagined this happening.

The last time the two of them had seen one another had been graduation and he’d been so preoccupied with his brother that he’d barely paid attention when she offered her well wishes for his future. It’s a surprise for Ryo – who she’d crushed on forever in high school but equally kind of hated because he was attractive but also painfully oblivious and sometimes a bit of a tool – to ask her so blatantly when she had always been sure he didn’t see her that way, didn’t see her like some other women he’d taken out to dinner and possibly other things…

so she doesn’t sound particularly sure of herself when she agrees to it.

Lunch she can do, lunch she can afford but dinner between friends, a split down the middle bill – that she’s not so sure of. As much as she’d love to do this – and her high school self would never forgive her for turning this down – she just can’t afford it in her current situation.

He start to mention days of the week, looking for her input until eventually the two of them decided upon a night and she’s still struggling with the fact that she’s agreeing to something she doesn’t think she can afford.

“ah, er-”

“my treat,” says Ryoichi, with that infuriating and gentle smile. “or, well, her treat-” he says side eying the car for a split second. “-but,” he lowers his voice to a whisper, “she doesn’t need to know.”

Atsumi’s laughter is light and surprised – she doesn’t remember Ryo being so good at reading people before and she’s looking forward to conversation at dinner (that she can go to now that she knows she doesn’t have to pay for it). There are questions in her head already, begging for answers, and she’s so distracted by him and the aura of mystery that surrounds the nerdy easy-going boy she knew in high school.

He leans forward and presses a kiss to her cheek and she flushes scarlet again and wow, the her from high school is shrieking like a five-year-old right now) and before she can think of anything to say, he’s striding back to the car, leaving her standing on her doorstep as she digs for her keys.

The car doesn’t leave until she’s inside, leaning against the door and grinning like a fool, and still wearing his jacket.

Chapter Text

Perhaps she thought she could follow her own advice.
Proximity kills crushes, that’s what she knows, it had happened before. Many times in fact.

Tokemi probably fell out of love with her before Atsumi did. And tried to compensate the unsureness by becoming clingy and doubting Atsumi’s affections. But for some reason, Atsumi can’t find it within herself to dislike Tokemi for what she did. They just didn’t match, and it came to light after time and proximity.
And… well… it had been fun for as long as it lasted.

Atsumi is sure that whatever interest or affections she has for her new colleague will go right about the same way. Eventually they will know each other well enough and the feelings that her affection starved brain is mistaking for romantic interest will be recognized for what they truly are. Simple friendliness. After that it’ll be like every other colleague interaction. And he’s technically her superior right now anyway.

Right now she thinks it’s a shame but… she knows she’s not a good girlfriend, she’s a far better colleague and regular friend. Shagaru and Stephano are living proof of that, and Craine would fit right in that list.

She would never forgive herself if she let things with him accidentally slip down the same route as her relationship with Tadao did.

---

Proximity did not kill her crush at all though. It seemed that with almost every interaction he became more interesting, funnier, smarter, even more admirable. Like seriously, this guy is through and through a hero. For some reason Atsumi had accidentally gotten a little bitter about heroes, disillusioned perhaps, after hunting down a lot of undeserving scumbags. But Craine did an amazing job in rekindling her faith, A trust that she didn’t realize she had lost.

It was frustrating, but sometimes more time was needed, she wasn’t around for that long yet. And she couldn’t count the six months in which she was a whistleblower for obvious reasons.

More time and maybe a little less proximity would fix everything, but being cooped up in a high security hero office was making the proximity thing a little difficult and having to stay put was starting to get slightly stifling. She didn’t realize how many times she went out for drinks with her friends until she suddenly couldn’t do it anymore, but thankfully she could still chat with them.

---

Eventually she figured that she could get rid of her pesky affections by focussing on all the negative stuff, starting with the alcohol. And it worked for a little while, the fact that he was alright with drinking while heavily doped up on painkillers really rubbed Atsumi in the wrong way. But then she noticed all the little things he did so his excessive drinking wouldn’t be an issue for the others, of course he was thoughtful and aware of his bad habits.

Then she focussed on his workaholic tendencies but that backfired completely. It just made her want to take care of him. She noticed what she was doing when she realized she was preparing too much food, it reminded her of when she helped out her friends during a vicious wave of the flu, swaddling Peppy in a quilt and leaving behind prepared soup that he only had to microwave.

Shagaru never got sick because of his quirk but Atsumi dragged him away from his medical studies every once in a while.

She was doing the same now with Craine, checking up on him and telling him to get proper rest nearly every evening when she went to bed herself and he was still working. She really hoped she wasn’t coming off as annoying. Or god forbid controlling. Tadao had hated it… but Tadao had hated a lot of things.

She tried considering his excessive knowledge about computers to be a bad thing but she really couldn’t fool herself there, it was one of his biggest appeals, he knew more about them than she did and he was always willing to help, going so far as to offer doing the horrid cable work for her.

And then she tried to dislike him for pushing her so hard, training was beyond exhausting sometimes.
But… she kinda needed that hero license to do her new work properly. And god knows she needs someone to pretty much force her to train because she has a hard to doing it on her own.

This was unfair honestly…

---

She had more time to spend with her dog now, and he was very distracting, with his quirk and all that. So besides the workouts and the study sessions and her regular work now, she would put all her free time in working with him.

Sadly that didn’t fully work out the way she had thought it would, because people would just come to her instead.
She’s working with her dog, of course they would, her pup is adorable and everyone wants to see the little idiot trip over it’s own paws listening to her and trying to follow her instructions.

So the others would come watch and sometimes try to do certain exercises themselves. Her pup loved him of course, well her pup loves all of them. They are good people, her dog could sense that. But this meant that her dog was not a good distraction either… her pup would bound over to him and demand his attention the moment he showed himself, when ether he did on purpose or on accident, he couldn’t escape the little guy the moment he was spotted.

It was illegally adorable.

---

After a while she’ll have to face it, the moment she accepts that she has developed those pesky romantic feelings will also be the moment where she can really settle into hiding them. And just be a good close friend and talented colleague with a nice attitude.

She’s good at hiding things, she kept Atsumi and Virus completely separate for years. She’s sure she can not compromise things here.