Chapter 1: Popping the Question
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.
Chapter 2: Awkward conversations and exploding Bugsters
Emu has an important and slightly uncomfortable talk with Parad, complete with delicious spicy bribes.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Parad’s head jerked up when he heard someone fumbling with the door knob. He’d paused his game and was a step away from answering the door when Emu opened it from the outside. Parad’s brow furrowed, that wasn’t right. He should have felt Emu at the door… he ‘reached’ towards him but felt nothing. Like touching the wall between apartments to see if your neighbor was home.
“Sorry. I did something I was really nervous about today and I didn’t want to alarm you.” Emu said as he thrust the bag of beef bowls into Parad’s hands. Emu’s body language was tense and didn’t alleviate Parad’s concern at all. “I got you the extra spicy and an extra cup of pickled ginger.” Last time he’d had the extra spicy Emu had gotten such strong echoes of the heat he couldn’t even taste his food until they’d blocked each other out. They’d compromised on Parad only ordering the regular spicy in the future.
Something was definitely up. This was a bribe. A delicious, spicy bribe that would make his eyes water. With extra ginger.
“C’mon, I’m going to tell you. Please put the food down first, okay? I’m exhausted and starving.” Emu gave him a plaintive look and Parad sighed. He set out the food while Emu hung up his bag and jacket.
When Emu turned around Parad was standing next to the table, still with that cold worried look fixed on him. Parad really had made so much progress, but he was still clingy. Still, afraid of being abandoned, not quite able to shake the idea Emu would get tired of him eventually. And Emu understood. They’d shared a large part of a lonely childhood and the strange connection that let their emotions flow across the distance between them was a source of security for Parad. With Emu’s side ‘shut’ he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. He wouldn’t try to push it open, but he was afraid.
Emu envisioned it like two houses a few feet apart with windows that faced each other. When both windows were open the ‘sounds’ in one house easily carried to the other, and they could even lean out and touch if they wanted to. It didn’t make total sense but that mental image had helped Emu get the hang of controlling it. He took Parad’s hand gently and opened his ‘window.’ He’d grown accustomed to their connection, and the carefully restrained anxiety and curiosity that rolled over him was welcome. The absence of Parad’s presence at the back of his mind had felt strange and slightly off.
Parad clutched Emu’s hand tight as the doctor’s emotions rushed through him. Anxiety and something similar but different, like anxiety with a happy core, a faint undercurrent of fear, a bigger splash of joy, and honest affection for Parad. Emu pulled him into a hug just as the tension started to leave his body and he returned it tightly, squeezing Emu back. A hand smoothed his hair back from his forehead the way he liked, a gesture that had been so rare in their childhood it had stuck with both of them but was now common and every day.
The small apartment was quiet as they held each other close. Their emotional connection was like a murmuring conversation without words, understanding without details. The warmth of physical contact, the comfort of touch. They were pieces of each other, slowly resolving what that meant to each of them. The past year had been difficult in many ways, but they’d achieved a state of stability.
And Emu was about to chuck a big rock in that carefully stilled pond. He took a deep breath and gently pulled away from Parad.
“Ok, so. What happened tonight was I saw Kiriya and asked him out. On a date.” Emu said, feeling the murky muddled feelings welling up in Parad. He let the tall man’s hands go and sat down to eat his neglected food, he was starving after a long shift.
Parad hesitated but sat as well and opened his meal. Just the steam coming off the bowl made Emu’s eyes water from across the table. Sometime during their separation Parad had developed a taste for spicy foods. Emu didn’t have a lot of tolerance for heat but liked sour snacks like pickled seaweed that Parad couldn’t stand. The exception was pickled ginger, he loved pickled ginger especially on a beef bowl. Emu ate a few bites in silence, Parad stirred his own dish and poured most of the ginger on top to spread into an even layer.
“So…” Parad started. “When are you going on this date?” His tone was cautious and guarded. He kept fiddling with his food while Emu swallowed the bite he was chewing.
“Dunno yet. We got a lot to talk about first.” Emu said, looking contemplative. “You and me, and me and Kiriya. I am very interested in him, but I made you a promise I intend to keep. I said I won’t let you be lonely, and I meant that. I know I’ve fucked up before but you’re important to me, and that won’t change if I date.”
“Mmm.” Parad felt the truth in Emu’s words. He had no intention of abandoning him. But still, he felt uneasy. Jealousy burbled up, and a sense of ownership. Recognizing those made him feel selfish. But still. “Can’t I… be enough?” His voice was a little plaintive.
“Ah, do you have those kinds of feelings for me?” Emu’s eyebrows rose, but he kept himself steady. He hadn’t gotten that feeling before, but Parad could be full of surprises. Parad fidgeted with his food some more before answering.
“I… don’t know.” He said, finally. “Would that be bad?” His feelings were so murky and muddled it was hard to pick anything out.
“I don’t think it would be bad.” Emu said evenly, his tone gentle. “I don’t think anyone has been what we are. So, we have to decide what we are and I don’t think any answer is really wrong. I haven’t gotten the feeling that you have romantic feelings for me before, so I’m a little surprised. But if you do, I want to talk about it.”
“I don’t… I don’t know.” Parad was tense. “Maybe I’m just being jealous.”
“Your feelings are still important and I want to work through that with you.” Emu said gently. “We’ll talk about it, we can go see Dr. Tadokoro together if you’d like.”
Parad nodded slowly, then began shoveling down his cooling beef bowl to put off anymore uncomfortable discussion. Emu’s feelings felt warm and gentle, and he was grateful for that. Even when he was afraid to trust words, feelings didn’t lie. Sometimes they didn’t make the whole picture, but they were never outright false.
They ate in silence for a few minutes. Parad finished his beef bowl and was chasing a few errant shreds of onion around the bottom of the take out bowl when Emu started to speak again. “I, uh. Kinda had the impression you weren’t really into humans.” He started. “You know, sexually speaking.” He looked a little embarrassed. Parad stared and Emu could feel the wave of startled inquiry, if you could pronounce a line of question marks it would sound how Parad felt right now.
He was definitely feeling the heat of the spices in Parad’s meal, not quite as strong as if he’d eaten it himself but there was that burning feeling in his mouth and throat. His face felt warm and his forehead was starting to sweat. He sniffed to keep his nose from running. ‘Well, at least he can’t tell if I’m blushing talking about this.’ He thought.
“Well, before we were separated we blew off everyone who ever asked us out. And we had really different tastes in porn.” Emu soldiered on through his rambling explanation even though he felt silly. “I didn’t know why suddenly my old favorite stuff wasn’t that exciting. Like a switch had been flipped and suddenly regular stuff with two humans was better than the robots and A.I.s and stuff I was into before. And when I learned about you a lot of stuff I had no explanation for suddenly made sense. Including that.” He scraped together another bite of his dwindling meal. Parad still didn’t say anything.
“So… I kinda figured it was something that left with you. Like, I just didn’t feel as strongly that I needed to win every game anymore either, and that could be something else like that. Like the stuff I’m pretty sure you liked was always about people that are not quite human? So maybe you were looking for someone that was like you. Since Bugsters are people, but they’re not human. If that makes sense.” He sniffed and wiped his nose with a napkin.
Parad put his empty bowl aside and started eating the remaining scraps of ginger out of the cup. “You really thought about this a lot.”
“It’s weird finding out you were two people for a long time. I’ve thought about a lot of things like that, since we met properly. That particular topic didn’t seem like something we needed to talk about so far, though.”
Parad’s face was also a little pink, and Emu could feel a little touch of embarrassment. It was probably mostly the spicy food, though. Parad loved spice and had a much higher tolerance for hot food than Emu did. If the Bugster ever blushed, he’d never seen it. They could both blame it on the spicy food.
Parad scraped the last bits of ginger into his mouth and took his dishes to the sink. Emu finished off his own meal while Parad washed out the take out dishes and put them in the correct waste bins. He took care of Emu’s empty dishes as well, then took out bowls and served what was left of a pint of ice cream.
“Oh, ice cream. You’re an angel.” Emu said when Parad set the bowl in front of him. Parad smiled at him. “I should’ve thought of ice cream…”
“Yeah. Guess the spice got you this time, too.” Parad ate a big bite of his ice cream and let it melt in his mouth, Emu could feel the heat of the food fading away within moments. There had been a couple incidents that they were aware of. Parad had barked his shin on the coffee table getting too into a game and Emu had almost dropped his coffee when he felt that sharp pain in his own leg. And the last time he’d gotten the extra spicy beef bowl, and Parad had drowned it in some scary sounding hot sauce on top of that. They’d had to shut each other out just to finish dinner. Parad had been red and sniffly like Emu was today, Emu had been nearly purple and in agony from the secondhand effects of his Bugster eating that concoction.
“Sorry about that, you can just get me the milder one next time. It’s still good.”
“This much isn’t so bad, especially with ice cream right after. And I wanted you to have something you enjoy.”
Parad was fidgeting a little like he wanted to say something. Emu looked at him, Parad took a deep breath and blurted it out. “Human sex is kinda gross.”
“Bugster sex is way better.” Parad’s voice was confident, but he wasn’t looking directly at him, embarrassment swirling in his gut.
“Wait,” Emu started, brows pulling together like he was concentrating on a particularly difficult math problem. “What Bugsters have you had sex with?”
“Just Graphite.” Parad answered. It felt a little strange speaking so frankly about sex with Emu. Neither of them had really brought it up since being reunited. Although they’d shared a body for ten years, including puberty and all that entailed, it still felt a just a touch uncomfortable to broach the subject.
Emu rested his chin in his hand, thoughtful. “Okay. I guess that makes sense. I knew you were close, but… Well, doesn’t matter.” His other hand fiddled with his spoon in the empty bowl. “Will you tell me what makes Bugster sex different from human sex? I mean, if you’re ok with that. You don’t have to.”
Parad looked pensive for a moment before he spoke again. “Alright, um. Well when humans have sex they get all sweaty and gross, and there’s semen you have to clean up. Well, maybe not for women but that’s a little different.” He paused briefly.
“Ok, I’m following. I do sort of remember feeling gross when I cleaned up after getting off when I was a teen.” Emu said.
“Right. So, with two Bugsters? When you explode the mess just goes poof. It’s like you’re one creature for a little bit and it feels amazing. Humans can’t do that, and then you pull together and reform and you’re nice and clean and cuddling. Nobody has to get up and find a towel or anything.”
“So when you say ‘explode’...”
“Mm. When you come and it’s really good and it feels like your brain shuts down for a little bit? We kind of stop being able to hold our physical forms together so all the viral particles just fly apart.” Parad made hand motions like something blowing apart, his embarrassment having faded as his explanation went on. “And if you both do it at the same time it feels amazing because my virus and his virus are all mixed up with each other.”
“Do you think Kiriya does that?”
“...I don’t know. Maybe. I’m not sure if it’s different because he was human first.” Parad made a resigned face and crossed his arms. “You really like him, huh.” It wasn’t a question.
Emu looked down a little, a smile crossing his lips. “Yeah, I really do.” The warm feeling that drifted gently across their link was familiar to Parad, a feeling that used to make him absolutely furious not so terribly long ago. Back when he was cooped up in the CR offices trying to be “good.” Barely keeping his frustration and boredom in check, the connection between the two of them overwhelming and out of control. When Kiriya had shown up every week Emu’s attraction to him flared and Parad boiled with resentment.
For all that intensity, it felt silly now. Kiriya had avoided him and given him space. Had even been very nice to him the few times they were in close proximity, despite Parad’s burning coldness towards him. Emu wanted this, and more than anything else Parad wanted Emu to be happy .
Parad let out a dramatic groan and flopped across the small table, hands nearly hanging over the opposite side. “I GUESS it’s fine if you date Lazer. I’ll just be at home DYING OF LONELINESS while you’re out having gross human sex.” He flapped his hands petulantly, pouting.
Emu collected the bowls that Parad had pointedly not knocked over with his theatrics and took them to the sink. “Thanks, I knew you’d be reasonable.” He smiled over his shoulder as he set the dishes in the rack to dry. “I think I can make time for you AND a little gross human sex now and then.”
Parad smiled back. He had a lot of feelings he still didn’t quite know what to do with. But for now the connection between them was warm with affection, and he was happy.
Emu dried his hands and ruffled Parad’s black curls. “C’mon, you big dork. I recorded the new Laundry Rangers Kikuchi and I want to watch it before I go to bed.”
“Are we still going to the arcade tomorrow?” Parad asked hopefully as he stood up to follow.
“Of course.” Emu said, paging through the DVR for his show. “I’ve been looking forward to it all week.” He glanced up just in time to be mashed into the couch by Parad flinging himself over the end table.
“EMUUUUUUUU.” Parad cried, aggressively snuggling into Emu’s chest. “I love you!”
Emu wheezed as he tried to catch the breath that had been knocked out of him. “Love you too, buddy.” He said, patting the other man’s back.
What if Faiz was a laundry themed Sentai team headed by Keitaro and all the Orphnoch drama was happening on the periphery? That's Laundry Rangers Kikuchi.
Chapter 3: First Dates and New Beginnings
Emu and Kiriya have their date, Parad seeks out the company of an old friend
Kiriya picked Emu up on his new bike promptly at 4 pm. He’d enjoyed showing the vibrant red machine off, but not as much as he enjoyed Emu’s arms around him as they rode towards the theater. It was a low-key first date plan. An early movie and then a nice leisurely dinner.
Emu had spent the morning with Parad, who was still clingy and a little strange about the whole “Emu dating” thing. Splitting the day between the two of them was Emu’s way of trying to make Parad feel more secure, even if it meant making an earlier night of it because he had to work tomorrow morning.
Kiriya thought that was fine. He’d resolved to take this slow anyway, and Emu’s kindness was one of the qualities Kiriya most admired. It’s easy to be kind when it’s your nature, but he knew enough about Emu to know maintaining that smiling face was often an effort. Parad and Emu were practically attached at the hip when Emu wasn’t at work, gently easing the Bugster into spending a little time apart was probably best. He didn’t think Emu knew that Parad had visited him at work a while ago, maybe a week after Emu had asked him out.
A knock on his office door had turned out to be Parad with a GenmCorp visitor’s badge clipped to his coat. He wanted to talk. So Kiriya bought some drinks from the vending machine and they talked for a while. Mostly, Parad peppered him with questions. Questions about how he felt about Emu, about feelings in general, some surprisingly frank questions about sex. The Bugster was fidgety, but restrained. Clearly thinking hard about something.
After twenty or maybe thirty minutes Parad had bowed deeply, thanked him for both now and “back then,” and told him to please take good care of Emu. Kiriya was even more mystified when he left than when he arrived. Parad using such polite language felt vaguely wrong, and he wasn’t sure what “back then” referred to. His play to get the Muteki Gashat back maybe? That didn’t seem right. Parad seemed to be satisfied with whatever he’d taken away from their meeting, at least.
Emu pressed up against his back felt so nice. It was with a hint of regret he pulled into the parking lot of the theater. Taking Emu on a long ride sometime would be a nice idea, a quiet road with some nice curves and hills so Emu would squeeze him tighter. They parked.
Emu handed his helmet over. “That was really fun, I’d love to go for a longer ride some time.” He said, smiling like the sun and shaking his disheveled hair out. Kiriya smiled, his chest tight with emotion. He was absolutely stupid soft for Emu and he mentally kicked himself for falling so hard.
“Just what I was thinking, babe.” Kiriya winked, easily slipping into flirting. Emu boldly grabbed his hand and they strolled into the theater with plenty of time to get snacks before the show.
Parad deliberated over the assortment of items on the kitchen table. He needed his handheld game console, of course. The cake he’d finally selected after twenty minutes of dithering and questions at the bakery sat in it’s pristine white box. He’d grabbed some disposable plates and forks from the convenience store. And, while he wasn’t one hundred percent certain it would be welcomed, a big plush dragon that had caught his eye in a shop window stood next to the box as though waiting to be served. It was black and looked rather like a very round version of the dragon on the cover of Drago Knight Hunter Z, wide mouth full of pointy plush teeth comically agape.
This definitely wasn’t all going to fit in his pockets. Possibly he could carry the cake and utensils in one hand and the toy under the other arm, but that would be a bit unwieldy. He needed a bag.
He found one, folded neatly on the top shelf in Emu’s closet underneath a very fat Mighty plush. It was a large canvas shopping bag with Mighty printed on it, probably won in a promotion. The cake fit neatly in the bottom, plates and forks on that, and the dragon just fit with his goofy face peeking out between the handles.
He folded his arms. He was ready to go visiting. Probably.
Researching visiting etiquette suggested you should bring a gift when visiting someone’s home. He had cake, and it looked like a very nice cake, which he was very certain Graphite would like. And the dragon. He was less sure of that. Graphite had never shown an inclination towards soft toys, but he did like dragons.
Well, if he didn’t like it Parad could always keep it. And he would definitely like the cake. He left the apartment and headed out for the Genm Corp building, goodies in hand.
Emu had let Kiriya pick the restaurant, and was a little surprised to pull up in front of a tiny family owned looking place. The sign boasted about the “authentic taste of the Philippines”. Kiriya greeted the hostess in a language Emu wasn’t familiar with, and she laughed and seated them at a table.
Emu perused the menu filled with unfamiliar names of dishes, unsure what would be good to order.
“What language was that?” Emu asked, keeping his voice down.
“Tagalog. I’m pretty bad at it, though.” Kiriya replied. “She was laughing at my pronunciation and said to order in Japanese. That’ll teach me to try to show off.” He was grinning, cheeks dimpled. Emu stifled a laugh with his hand.
“Maybe you should show off more, I keep learning new things about you.” Emu’s voice was full of amusement and his eyes sparkled. Kiriya melted inside, he was incredibly weak to Emu’s smile when it reached his eyes like that. But still, he was trying not to be a sappy idiot right off the bat.
“See anything you like, Ace? Or I could order for us. You don’t like it too spicy, right?” He’d picked that tidbit up from Parad. Emu grinned, resting his chin in his hand.
“You know so much about me, but I feel like I hardly know anything about you.” Emu sighed. “I’ll trust you to order for us, but you gotta tell me something about yourself.”
“Oh, I think I can handle that.” Kiriya continued the teasing tone of the conversation. “But not everything, don’t want you to get bored of me too fast.”
“I can’t see that being an issue.” Emu laughed into his hand again.
“Well. I’m old, short, and dead. Gotta milk ‘mysterious’ for all it’s worth.”
“That’s terrible! Don’t talk about yourself like that.” Emu scolded, but he was holding back laughter.
“Ok, ok. My mom is Filipina, we visited there a few times when I was little but she didn’t speak Tagalog much at home so I never got very good at it. I don’t think her parents were very happy about her marrying someone Japanese.” Kiriya stopped, watching Emu’s face carefully.
“Wow. Sucks about your grandparents but it’s cool you speak another language, I barely remember the English I learned in High School.”
“Oh, English is no problem. Mom insisted it would be useful in any career so we spoke English and Japanese about equally.”
The waiter came and Kiriya ordered. Emu didn’t really know the names of the dishes but he was trusting Kiriya to steer him right.
“So is it? Useful for your career, I mean?”
“Mmmm, I don’t think it’s an essential skill but it’s nice to be able to read papers in English. Autopsies are a lot more common in the west, so there’s a lot of forensic research being published in English first.”
“Ehhhh, that’s really cool.” Emu’s voice was tinged with a little bit of awe.
The food was amazing. They shared a dish of lumpia, fried rolls with a savory vegetable and pork filling in a flaky wrapper with a sweet-sour sauce for dipping.
The next dish was a slice of tender milkfish in a sour broth called paksiw. The flesh flaked easily off the bones under Emu’s spoon and he savored the flavors.
The main dish was fried rice noodles and vegetables topped with whole shrimp and sliced boiled eggs, green onion, and a smoky flaked fish topping.
“This is fantastic, what did you say it’s called?”
“Pancit. This kind with the thick noodles is called luglug. My mom didn’t cook that often but when she did she made it like this.”
“It’s really good.” Emu swallowed another bite of food. “It’s nice talking like this, too. So, what’s your dad like?”
“Ehhh, I dunno if I want to talk about that right now.”
“That’s fine, I won’t pry. I’m not close with my parents, haven’t talked to them in years.” Emu paused, thoughtfully. “But the way you talk about your mom is really nice.”
“How about a story from med school? I got a funny one from third year.” Kiriya offered, steering to a hopefully less sensitive topic.
They chatted as the dishes slowly emptied, Kiriya regaling Emu with a silly anecdote that took place in locations he was largely familiar with as they’d both gone to Seito University Medical School. Kiriya wasn’t as forthcoming with details about his past as he had been talking about his mother, but Emu got the feeling that had been a big leap for him. No matter how friendly and sociable Kiriya acted, there was always part of him that was guarded. There were topics Emu wasn’t entirely comfortable sharing, and he felt as though Kiriya had specifically let him inside those defenses.
Not entirely, not opening himself up to the core and laying his past and his traumas bare, but a start. And a start was perfect, this was their first date. Maybe that was a bit silly considering Kiriya had literally died for him, and he still had nightmares about that, but it was enough. He didn’t need to dive headfirst into a relationship right now. If they could both be honest and get to know each other better, that would be great.
“Wait,” Emu stopped with another spoonful of the cold, sweet, purple ‘ube’ dessert halfway to his mouth. “You’re the reason Enchante has a desk lamp in that one booth?”
“They still have it? Nice.”
“They did last time I was there, I think it’s epoxied to the table.”
“I’d like to see that.” Kiriya mused. “Maybe you and I could stop by there for a drink some time.”
“Fishing for a second date, already?” Emu scraped the last traces of sweet potato custard from the dish and licked them off the spoon. “Well, I’d love to. It sounds like fun.” He teased.
Kiriya just smiled and paid the bill.
Parad followed Graphite through the tent flaps into the attraction he’d claimed as his home. All the Bugsters residing in Kamen Rider Carnival had staked out a personal space, and Graphite’s was this tent. Parad wasn’t sure what it used to be, but now it was a dark space very dimly lit by warm yellow lanterns dotted around the distant ceiling. Dark wood steps ascended into the highest part of the tent, radiating out from the huge central support pole that looked more like a massive tree than anything man made.
“Next time, don’t ring the bell. You can just come straight in.” Graphite said, starting to ascend the steps. The plush dragon was tucked casually under one arm.
“Ah, sorry.” Parad said, a little chagrined. “I just thought maybe I should because I don’t live here, so…” He’d rung the bell. And the first out to see who it was was Burgermon, who had been delighted and insisted they have a party to welcome him. Salty, Alhambra, and Revol had been excited to hear what he’d been up to in the human world and talk about life in Carnival. It had been nice, even if Graphite was grouchy about dividing his cake up six ways instead of two.
“The sign says ‘Humans please ring bell and wait’. You’re a Bugster.” Graphite had reached the top of the stairs and stepped up onto a wide platform. The odd lanterns were clustered about the trunk-pole thing up here, casting a warm light. “Also I had to share my cake with everyone, next time just bring it straight here.”
“Haha, I will.” Parad said. He looked around curiously. Those looked like branches stretching up into the darkness, sporting lanterns like sparse fruit. He peeked over the side of the platform, the floor looked so distant. “Is this a tree fort? Was this tent this big?”
“Nope,” Graphite replied. “I made it bigger on the inside.”
“Coooooool.” Parad marveled. Theoretically it wasn’t much different than the room he had in his laptop, or Poppy’s room in the arcade cabinet. But it was on a much bigger scale, more complex than a simple square room.
“You can look around if you want,” Graphite said, “Or join me.” He was lounging in a big hammock suspended between branches. Long swathes of fabric draped down from somewhere up above, dividing the space haphazardly. The soft lights in the dark cast deep shadows, an almost chiaroscuro effect. A word Parad didn’t actually know, he’d never really dug into fine art or cinema. It was a little unearthly, but somehow it suited Graphite perfectly.
Parad let his boots pixel away into nothing and climbed in, stretching out and getting comfortable. He’d always loved the suspended feeling of lying in a hammock. Looking up into the dark that stretched out above them was almost like looking up at an alien night sky, brown-black speckled with warm yellow stars.
“Oh,” He said softly, “It’s really pretty.”
“Thank you,” Graphite said, “I wanted to make something really comfortable and relaxing. Like being under a wide open sky, but also cozy like a nice cave.”
“I think you nailed it.”
“Hopefully Kuromaru will like it, too.” Graphite said. Parad turned to look at him, the round plush dragon was sitting on the Drago Knight Hunter Bugster’s chest. It’s face was looking up at the false stars just like they were.
“Do you like it?” Parad asked. “I thought you might think it’s silly, but he reminded me of you a little…” He trailed off, uncertain what he wanted to say.
“He’s cute. I like him.” Graphite answered. “And I’m happy you were thinking of me while you’re living out there with your host.”
Parad could see Graphite’s arm draped around the fat toy dragon, holding it like any human might.
“I suppose. It’s natural to change with the circumstances, though.” Graphite’s deep voice was pleasant as he mused. “Don’t you think so?”
“I… I guess so.” Parad felt adrift, out of his depth. “It’s really hard, though.”
“Are things not going well with Ex-Aid?”
“His name is Emu.” Parad corrected. “It’s… it’s good but it’s complicated? I still don’t understand everything I’m feeling, I don’t know how to tell what it is so I can say ‘it’s this’ or ‘it’s that’ and then we can talk and work things out. It’s… frustrating.” His voice was tight with emotion.
“I wish we could go back to being one person, sometimes.” He continued. “But we’re too different now. I could take his body but I’d just be shoving him down and doing everything myself and it wouldn’t be the same at all. He loves being a doctor, he loves using Ex-Aid to help people. And I was getting used to life being us again, even if it wasn’t the same as it was before. But he likes Lazer and he wants to date Lazer and when he feels all warm and mushy about Lazer I want to… I don’t know.” Parad sighed heavily. “I don’t want to share him.”
“I’m sorry. For not visiting for so long and then making you listen to my dumb problems.” Something large and soft impacted Parad’s chest, he found himself looking up into Kuromaru’s plush maw.
“We’re friends, aren’t we?” Graphite asked.
“Of course. Always.”
“It hasn’t been entirely easy to adjust here. The humans could pull the plug at any time and we’d be on the run again. But I lost a fair and satisfying battle and this game is a quiet and pleasant place to live. The humans announce their presence and wait for us to come to them. They keep modifying the game and transferring it to more powerful hardware, adding features we ask for. It’s a little difficult to accept living like an exotic pet sometimes, but I’ve come to believe they’re sincere in their efforts to coexist with us.”
“So, if it helps to talk about your troubles then tell them to me.” Graphite continued, meeting Parad’s gaze with his own. Parad held Kuromaru tighter. “I believe the saying is ‘that’s what friends are for’ isn’t it?”
“Graphite…” Parad’s voice was strained with emotion. His eyes stung. He didn’t want to cry here, but his feelings were so damn strong . He’d felt like he didn’t deserve to be here, that he’d chosen the humans, chosen Emu, over his closest friend and… Graphite still wanted him. Still cared.
Graphite caught Parad as the tall Bugster flung himself across the small gap between them. The hammock lurched and swayed with the motion, rocking them gently as Parad sobbed quietly into Graphite’s shoulder. Kuromaru flopped back and forth with the motion of the hammock, gently slapping against Graphite’s side. He patted Parad’s back in a manner he hoped was comforting.
After a while Parad lifted his head, sniffing and rubbing his damp eyes with his pink arm warmers.
“Sorry,” he said with a sheepish smile, “I’m just really happy.”
“You’re always welcome in my den.” Graphite smiled up at his friend. “Especially if you bring cake.” Parad laughed and shifted to lie alongside Graphite instead of smothering him.
“I’ll brings lots!” he exclaimed, then sighed. “I kinda miss when it was just the two of us, squatting in some gross industrial building for the electricity and causing trouble. Things seemed so simple, although I guess they were more complicated than I thought.”
“And Genm lied to us.” Graphite chimed in.
“That asshole.” Parad agreed.
“Some things,” Graphite said, “May still be that simple.” His arm around Parad’s shoulders slid down, pulling him close as the other hand came up to tangle in the tall Bugster’s hair. Parad leaned into the kiss, grabbing a fist full of Graphite’s drapey over shirt.
It was all so familiar. The damp velvet texture of Graphite’s powerful tongue in his mouth, the faintly earthy scent he carried, the feel of leather on his cheek when the hand with the leather gauntlet cupped his face tenderly. It felt like so long ago they’d last done this, kissing and touching with no hurry or care for the outside world. A lifetime ago, before Masamune had taken over Chronicle and sent them running for their lives, before they’d both died and returned.
It didn’t seem real that it could have been only a year since it ended. But right now it was almost like they’d never parted at all. Graphite pulled away, tenderly nipping Parad’s lower lip as he broke the kiss.
Their foreheads touched, breathing heavily. Parad made a soft frustrated sound. Graphite kissed his forehead.
“Do you want to do this with your Emu?” Graphite’s voice was warm and low with a hint of gravel.
“Mmmmmm, I don’t knooooooow…” Parad whined.
“Do you want to do it with me?”
“SO much, yes.” Parad sighed. He met Graphite’s lips eagerly, exploring each other’s mouths, letting his hands roam through the dragon warrior’s complicated clothes.
“If Emu can have a boyfriend, why can’t you?” Graphite purred. He lowered his head, kissing and biting at Parad’s neck. Parad squirmed against him, making delighted sounds in his throat.
“Ah,” Parad gasped, “You want to be my boyfriend?”
“If you’ll have me.” Graphite murmured into Parad’s neck, tugging the collar of his jacket open for better access to his neck and shoulder.
“Yes.” Parad pulled Graphite up again, diving in for another kiss. They rolled together, tugging at each other’s hair and clothes.
Graphite came up on top, straddling Parad. One hand groped blindly next to him until it found the half-forgotten soft toy. He pulled away long enough to set the dragon on the floor, facing away from the hammock.
“Don’t watch, Kuromaru.”
The temperature had dropped sharply while they were eating, and the ride back to Emu’s apartment building was cold. Emu had clung tightly to Kiriya’s back the whole way, collar turned up against the cold, and they’d barely separated on the way up to the 3rd floor.
Huddled in the doorway, they only parted when Emu needed to breathe. Cheeks pink in the cold night air, trading kisses, reluctant to say goodnight. This was fine, Kiriya had told himself he’d take it slow, but he really didn’t want to walk back down to his bike alone right now.
“Do you want to come in?” Emu’s voice was a little husky, and the way he was looking through his eyelashes made Kiriya melt instantly. God yes, he wanted to come in.
“I’d love to, but your roomie-”
“He’s not here.” Emu blurted out. Kiriya’s heart skipped a beat. “Ah. He texted me during dinner, he went to see Graphite at Genm, and he’s staying the night.”
“Do you,” Kiriya swallowed nervously, “want me to come in?” It definitely didn’t count as taking it too fast if he just let Emu lead.
Emu’s hands came up to cup his face, pulling him in for a deep kiss. He leaned into it, head tilted up just a little because of the height difference. Emu’s hands roamed lower, squeezed his butt and ground their hips together with a breathy sound.
“I really want you to come in.” Emu breathed, just above a whisper. It sent a thrill shivering down Kiriya’s spine.
“Ace,” Kiriya teased. “Keep using that voice and I think I’d agree to anything, right out here.”
Emu grinned and his key clicked in the door. They entered the dark apartment together. Sometimes things don't work out the way you expect, sometimes it works out better than you dared hope for.