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A Series of Firsts

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It had been a long shift and Emu’s back was sore. He was thinking about what to order for dinner as he exited the elevator and made a bee line across the CR conference room to his locker, but stopped short at the sight of Kiriya asleep on the red couch. 

It wasn’t just that it had been a while since they’d last said more than “hello” to one another, although it had. Apparently Kiriya’s vaccine project was making progress over at the Genm building where he had most of a floor to himself and his research team of programmers and scientists. Things being as they were, working both pediatrics and CR shifts and making time for Parad at home, Emu had never gotten around to calling or visiting, and he suddenly felt a bit ashamed of that. Kiriya had done a lot for him, supported him in so many ways. Also, he looked kinda awful.

Emu moved closer and saw that Kiriya’s eyes were sunken and dark, his skin paler than normal. He looked exhausted and possibly sick. Actually seeing him sleeping was strange, although maybe he did sleep like humans did since he hadn’t always been a Bugster. A little blip of guilt that Emu had never asked how he was getting along with his condition, had never asked a lot of things. 

Bugsters needed a bit of sleep, a few hours every couple of days. Parad slept in the notebook computer Emu had gifted him when he first came home, although he had a much more powerful PC these days. He said it was comfortable. He complained about sleeping in a physical form, although usually it was because his neck hurt from falling asleep on Emu’s small couch which was not designed for a man over 185 cm tall to lie down comfortably. Kiriya probably didn’t have the same problem.

Kiriya was slumped with several large document envelopes clutched to his chest. A cord trailed out of the bottom of his loud aloha shirt to somewhere. He didn’t respond when Emu said his name, chest rising and falling evenly with his breath. He jerked awake, wide-eyed, when Emu gently took his shoulder and called his name again. Kiriya rubbed his eyes and pulled his documents together, sitting up straighter on the couch.

“Geez, Emu. Try not to give a dead guy a heart attack.” Kiriya’s eyes were bloodshot. He put his envelopes down beside him and gave the cord a jerk, the micro USB end of a charger popped out from under his shirt. “Just topping up my charge.” He said and started to roll the cord up, as though that explained everything.

“Are you… okay?” Emu hesitated over the words. It felt like such a rude thing to ask, especially since he hadn’t really held up his end of their friendship. “You look um…”

“I feel like shit, apparently it’s starting to show.” Kiriya winked at him and shoved the phone charger in his pocket. “Big breakthrough. Been pulling all nighters to keep it moving as fast as possible.” That revelation only deepened Emu’s worry.

“When was the last time you slept?” Emu asked. “I know you need to.” He added, in case Kiriya attempted to claim otherwise. Kiriya closed his eyes and his lips moved silently for a long moment.

“Mmm. Thursday night. LAST Thursday night.” Kiriya said, and Emu winced. It was Saturday evening, which meant Kiriya hadn’t slept in about 9 days. “And before you lecture me, I know I’m overdoing it and I took tomorrow off already. The last thing I need to do is brief Director Kagami and then I’m teleporting straight home. I can’t ride my bike like this.” Kiriya rubbed his face and slapped his cheeks as though to wake himself up.

“But how’ve you been, Ace? It’s been too long.” Kiriya smiled at Emu and the question that had been rattling insistently at the back of Emu’s mind launched itself out of his mouth, now that the immediate concern weighing it down had receded.

“Do you wanna go on a date?” Emu blurted out, and panicked a little. “I-I mean, if you want to. Or we can just get some food, as friends. I uh…” He jumped as Kiriya grabbed his shoulders, staring intensely into his eyes.

“Yes. I absolutely want go on a date with you.” Kiriya said with uncharacteristic seriousness. “That’s what you said, right? I’m not hallucinating from sleep deprivation?” His eyebrows rose inquisitively.

“No. Yes. No, you’re not hallucinating. Yes, I said that.” Emu stammered. “You really do?”

“Emu, I have thought you were hot from the moment I laid eyes on you.” Emu’s mouth moved silently, Kiriya threw an arm around his shoulders and continued. “Feel kinda stupid now cuz I had myself pretty convinced I missed my shot with you. Didn’t seem like the time when we were trying to stop Masamune, and then you were all wrapped up with your own bugster problems. Is he gonna be ok with you dating? I was not exactly his favorite person when he was stuck down here, and I kinda thought you two might have something going on…” Kiriya trailed off.

“No, it’s not like that. You saw the rice video?” Emu asked. Kiriya nodded. “It’s a little complicated? We’re physically affectionate but it’s not a romantic thing, not really.”

“I see, I see. Makes sense.” Kiriya nodded.

“He doesn’t really hate you. He was really jealous then because I was happy to see you when you came by, and he could feel that.” Emu paused. Kiriya sat back down on the couch and Emu followed. A little overly cautious, he put his hand over Kiriya’s and Kiriya smiled as he turned it and laced their fingers together. They smiled at each other.

“I need to talk to him about this, but I think he’ll be ok. He’s been making a lot of progress.” Emu continued. His heart was fluttering and the warmth of Kiriya’s leg against his felt so nice. “We’ve got the whole psychic thing under much better control, too. I’m blocking him out right now, so he doesn’t panic about my heart pounding.”

“Well that’s good, don’t need your huge bugster popping out of thin air looking to fight me.” Kiriya was smiling that genuine crooked smile that dimpled his cheeks and made his tired eyes sparkle, Emu melted a little even as he laughed.

“I have to- I’m sorry.” Emu started. He raised his free hand before Kiriya could ask why. “You’ve done so much for me, especially while Parad was stuck in the CR offices before the hearing. I feel terrible that I haven’t made more of an effort to keep in touch, I haven’t seen you at all since that vaccine trial a few weeks ago and I’m not even sure before that.”

“Babe,” the term of endearment rolled off Kiriya’s tongue and dropped into Emu’s brain where it felt warm and sparkly. “That vaccine trial was three months ago.” Kiriya raised his own free hand to stop Emu’s apology. “And, you have nothing to apologize for. You’re pretty much working two full time jobs between pediatrics and CR, and you’re looking after your needy Bugster at home. I’ve only been pushing myself this hard recently, you’ve been going non-stop for the better part of a year.” Kiriya squeezed Emu’s hand as he spoke. “So don’t beat yourself up over me, okay?”

They sat in mutual silence for a minute as Emu mulled over the words. Kiriya was definitely right, despite Emu’s instinct to blame himself for being a bad friend. New Bugster virus cases had continued to dwindle over the past year since they’d defeated Gamedeus, so CR wasn’t as busy as it had been during the peak of the outbreak. Still, staffing was necessary for the steady trickle of cases that came in each month. He and Hiiro shared the responsibility for being the doctor and Kamen Rider on-call, along with their regular duties. It was consistently a lot of hours for both of them, and he spent every day or half day off with Parad. Both because Parad sought his companionship and approval and because he cared very deeply about the Bugster and enjoyed his company.

“Okay.” Emu heaved a deep sigh and his head tilted back until he was looking up at the ceiling. “You’re right, and I promise to try not to beat myself up over it.” Saying it reminded him of Parad’s therapist, who was frequently reminding the Bugster there’s a difference between working towards restitution and wallowing in guilt. He let his head roll to the side, so he was looking at Kiriya again. They smiled at one another, basking in the warmth of this quiet moment together.

“Soooo, what’s this breakthrough that’s had you up all week?” Emu asked, a hint of tease in his voice. 

“Mmmmm,” Kiriya closed his eyes in thought. “I probably shouldn’t say anything detailed yet. We found a way to read something we previously were unable to read and it might open up a lot of doors, is probably the simplest way to put it. Don’t spread that around though, it’s still very secret right now.” Kiriya raised his finger to his lips in a sarcastic ‘shhh’ gesture. “Other than that, not all that interesting. 90% of what I do is translating between the programmers and the pathologists, so they can communicate effectively, the other 10% is going over interminable simulation results.” Kiriya hadn’t pulled back, and Emu swallowed nervously. They were so close he could feel Kiriya’s breath, it would only take a tiny movement to close that distance. Hardly anything at all…

“Would it be alright if I-” Kiriya’s hand came up to brush Emu’s cheek but as he spoke, he was cut off by Emu’s lips. The kiss was eager and clumsy, their hands coming up to grasp at each other. Kiriya pressed back, pulling Emu closer as his hand cupped his face tenderly. Emu’s hand was tangled in his hair. It had been a long time since Emu had kissed anyone, or been kissed, and at this moment he was deliriously happy. The feel of Kiriya’s lips on his, the teasing scrape of teeth on his lower lip, the scent of Kiriya’s favorite cologne that reminded Emu of a cool ocean breeze on a hot sandy beach, it was all bliss.

They parted, breathing heavily. Emu could feel the flush in his cheeks.

“Ah, I’m ready for you now, Kujo.” Director Kagami’s mild voice dropped Emu’s stomach somewhere in the vicinity of his knees. Kiriya had to cover his mouth to suppress his laughter as he collapsed against the back of the couch. “Sorry that took so long.” The Director said, and Emu was intensely grateful he’d already shut out Parad. If his anxiety and excitement hadn’t upset him the shock of cold fear he’d just felt definitely would have. Kiriya rose from the couch, gathering his classified materials that had started to slide between the arm and the cushion.

“Relax, babe.” Kiriya said, and Emu gulped. “It’s not the first time Mr. Director’s seen me like this, right?” 

Director Kagami hesitated, but with a shrug he nodded as though saying ‘Unfortunately, Yeah. Yeah, I have.’

“Oh my god.” Emu groaned into his hands, embarrassment driving the flush of heat he could feel climbing up his cheeks. Haima steered Kiriya by the arm towards his office, Kiriya was holding his hand to his ear in the shape of a phone and mouthing “call me” back at Emu. Despite the fatigue his grin was bright and unfailing.

“I do expect you to behave professionally, while at work.” The Director said, more to Kiriya than to Emu. The door closed behind them.

In the silence of the conference area Emu let out a long breath and sat back. He closed his eyes while he gathered up his motivation. He needed to put his coat and things away, retrieve his bag, clock out. And when he got home, have a talk that was probably going to be awkward at best with Parad.

Emu heaved himself to his feet. The sooner it was all done the sooner he could sleep. He’d get takeout on the way home, from that new beef bowl place on the same block as his apartment. He let the bubbly feeling of having finally done it carry him, trying not to focus on what an embarrassing goblin the man he’d been hung up on for almost two years was.