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Fiona had said it was a cozy lunch, but he couldn’t help eying the table skeptically when he walked into the room. How could anyone talk to each other – shout down it? Only the corner they were using had settings, and there were still more forks and spoons than Aoba knew what to do with. If one of the glasses hadn’t already been filled with water, he wouldn’t have know which one was which either.

As the soup came – it looked like the first of many fancy sets – Dio gave him a sidelong look and said, “You can use whichever; it’s only us here.”

Was he that obvious?

Dio making Fiona laugh mostly at Aoba’s expense let him stared blankly at the spoons, chasing down the blond’s memories in his head for all the pesky little details on dinner etiquette. The girl looked happier than she had when they had just walked through the door, so he didn’t mind it too much.

He wasn’t exactly going to take a beating lying down, though.

“At least I didn’t roll out of the bed and fall on my face in my first night-time battle drill,” Aoba teasingly cut into Dio’s story, and the blue eyes narrowed at him. Fiona looked surprised, like it was the first time she had heard of it, but she indulged him with a quiet giggle.

“Because your basketball reflexes would have saved you,” his Buddy said flatly, clearly not believing it.

Aoba shifted in his seat to face Dio, defending more out of principle than anything. “My reflexes are good!”

“They’re not when I have to wake you up in the morning.”

“I’m not used to how you do it,” he said honestly, and the blue eyes avoided his gaze. Probably remembering those mornings, but Aoba wasn’t sorry; there weren’t many opportunities to kiss the blond, and Dio leaning over him to shake him awake was too good a chance to pass up.

“If I had to yell until you got up, I’d lose my voice.”

“Tsubasa did it every day and she was fine, you know!”

“It’s a bad habit.”

“It is not,” Aoba insisted, but at a questioning noise from Fiona, they both straightened in their seats. When had he started leaning forward, anyway?

“Is ‘Tsubasa-san’ a family member?” There was only had innocent curiosity in her voice.

“Yeah, I have a younger sister. She should be around your age.” He glanced at his Buddy for confirmation, but the blond’s attention was elsewhere.  Somehow, without disturbing anyone else, the butler had stepped forward and was speaking quietly to Dio. Maybe the old man of the house was paranoid enough to hire sheath operatives for the house staff; Aoba wouldn’t be surprised.

Dio nodded and stood up as the man withdrew. “Father wants to speak with me. It shouldn’t take long,” the blond added in response to the worried look his sister was giving him.  

There was a tense set to his Buddy’s shoulders that he doubt Fiona would have missed either, and Aoba found himself standing already when he said, “I’ll go with you.”

“Don’t be such a busybody. Stay with Fiona,” the blond added over his shoulder as he walked through the doorway. “You’d probably get lost here.”

“My sense of direction is fine!” Aoba flopped back into the chair and watched the butler close the door with a flourish. He was almost tempted to follow just to prove that he can navigate a posh, overly large mansion, thank you very much –

“Aoba-san,” Fiona started quietly, and he shifted his attention from the door. She was carefully choosing her words, and he took a sip of water just for something to do when the silence stretched, “are you and Dio… in a relationship?”

He choked. “How did you know?” he managed when the spluttering subsided.

“Anyone can see it if they paid attention,” Fiona laughed.

“Is it that obvious?” He rubbed at the back of his neck; this wasn’t how he had imagined breaking the news.

“I think it’s wonderful that Dio has found someone.” The green eyes dropped to stare at her hands, and her smile faded a bit at the edges. “Ever since the incident, I’ve always felt that he thinks he doesn’t deserve to be happy. I’m really glad he’s moving on. Aoba-san,” she looked up, eyes pleading, “Dio isn’t very good with expressing himself with words, but I can tell he cares a lot about you. Please,” she trailed off, like she wasn’t sure how to continue.

Aoba smiled gently. “Yeah, I know.” Fiona nodded gratefully, but she didn’t seem completely at ease. The green eyes keep straying over to the door unthinkingly, worried. Making up his mind, he stood up, the motion causing the girl to turn to him in confusion. “Let’s find Dio.”

“But he told us to stay here.”

“No, he told me to stay with you,” he grinned. Fiona only hesitated a moment before nodding, and Aoba wheeled her out of the room. She didn’t have to guide him for long before they heard the loud voices from inside the study, easily carrying through the wood.

“Watase Aoba has nothing to his name!” It could only be Dio’s father, deep and angry. “Nothing noteworthy. Nothing about his past apart from a ridiculous story about time travel!”

He stopped them in front of the room; it didn’t seem like a good idea to walk in. Fiona looked back to him with concern, but he only shook his head.

“He did come from the past,” Dio hadn’t really raised his voice, but it was that familiar angry tone the blond used when he was particularly worked up, “I have seen it–”

“Seen it in that time you ignored direct orders not to perform a Coupling that could have killed you? Listen to yourself!” Aoba frowned at the direction the argument was taking, and he found his hand on the knob. “You’re a good for nothing who can’t choose your own Buddy, and now your judgement is compromised! There is nothing for you in the military.” He never knew if Fiona’s hand on his arm had been meaning to stop him, because at that point he had already thrown open the door.

Dio whirled around, eyes wide. “Aoba!” The blue eyes flickered down to his sister briefly before spearing him with a glare. “What are you–“

“Setting the record straight,” he cut in hotly, his own temper flaring as he stalked into the room. “You,” he met the cold gaze of the old man, and something about the whole set up – behind the desk, with Dio standing, like it was a business meeting – rubbed him the wrong way too, “haven’t seen Dio in battle. He’s the pilot for Bradyon because he worked his ass off.”

“And thanks to you, whatever career he had is ruined,” the man said callously.

“I–”

“You’re not helping, Aoba!” Dio had moved to stand in front of him, probably to get him to back off, but he just stepped around the blond to put himself between the old man and his Buddy.

“I won’t leave Dio,” he said with absolute conviction, feeling his hands clench into fists at the thought he was going to voice, “but it’s not a hundred percent certain that retraining won’t revert his waveform. If anything happens to me–” Dio’s hand slapped over his mouth so fast he thought it was going to bruise.

“That’s enough,” the blond hissed. “Don’t sound like you’re planning to get yourself killed!”

Aoba pulled the hand away, changing his grip to hold it and letting their linked hands fall to their sides as he turned to his Buddy. “Of course not!”

“Then stop trying to pawn me off to someone else!”

“I’m not,” he said fiercely, and he reached up with his free hand to brush a strand of blond hair out of Dio’s face, “But your old man can’t keep blaming you for something you can’t do anything about!”

“That isn’t the point–“

“You can do better than this, Dio.” There was only disappointment in the man’s voice, and Aoba realized he had completely forgotten where they were. The way the stern gaze flickered to him told Aoba that Dio’s career wasn’t the only thing alluded to with those words. “Your mother did not raise you to be like this.”

“Mother would have wanted me to be happy,” Dio shot back immediately, but then the blond caught himself, continuing in the clipped, flat tone that Aoba recognized as the one his Buddy used to hide his feelings, “We’ll be taking our leave, Father. It was nice being able to talk to you again. Your show of concern is much appreciated.”

Dio started hauling him out of the room by the hand, nearly pulling Aoba off-balance when he was spun around.

“You–”

“Father, please!” Glancing back over his shoulder, Aoba could see Fiona had grabbed onto her father’s sleeve, and the man looked down at her, furious, before stalking back into the room.

“Dio, wait,” he said as his Buddy led him unerringly through the maze of halls, but he only got an irritated sound in reply. “You can’t just leave like this.”

They were already outside, though, the servants whose sole job seems to be manning the front entrance closing the large wooden doors behind them. Their car seemed to materialize out of nowhere, the valet bowing smoothly before vanishing around the corner. If he wasn’t so occupied with Dio, he would have been amazed by how many boring jobs were around the mansion.

“He won’t listen to me right now.” The blond let go of his hand and got in the car, and the blue eyes that met his were surprisingly calm, if hurt. “I’ve said what I needed to say, anyway.”

Aoba gave in to the impulse, leaning down over the car door to kiss Dio, chaste and quick but with no less feeling. When they parted, he said, “I’m here.”

His Buddy sighed. “Get in, idiot.”

He wasn’t letting the blond go so easily; once he settled into the seat, he reached over and laced their fingers together. The car started smoothly on course back to the Cygnus, and the mansion retreated behind them. Dio didn’t look exactly relaxed, but the blond’s fingers curled to return his hold, and that was something, at least.

***

Aoba didn’t know what to expect when he answered the door to his room and found Dio there; he had sort of assumed that Dio would need time alone after what happened, but his brain had sputtered to a stop at seeing the blond in a t-shirt and shorts. He stepped aside automatically to let his Buddy in, and got a whiff of soap and shampoo as Dio brushed past.

“Don and the Captain asked me to tutor you,” the blond said, which explained the tablet in his hand. The blue eyes landed on a pile of clothes and narrowed.

“Why now?” he said, sitting down on his bunk and kicking off his boots.

 “This is the only break we have together,” his Buddy answered him in a tone that implied Aoba should have already known this. Which he should have, but he was just so used to seeing Dio throughout the day anyway.

At least there was an advantage to the Cygnus’ small and narrow rooms; it was a simple thing to wind his arms around the blond’s middle and pull him away from the poor harassed clothes. Getting Dio to settle back against him on the bed took more coaxing, gentle touches and feather light kisses against slender fingers, but he had gotten better at reading his Buddy’s moods.

Aoba buried his face against the blond’s neck, and as he breathed in the scent of shampoo and soap and Dio, he felt tension he hadn’t even known was there melt away. He didn’t plan on letting go of his Buddy’s waist anytime soon. “Aren’t you tired from today?”

A beat of silence. The words were quiet, when they came. “It’s not the first time Father and I fought.”

“I know. I just think that if you want to talk, you should,” he mumbled against Dio’s skin. His Buddy’s left hand trailed along Aoba’s arms until it found his right, interlocking their fingers and giving them a reassuring squeeze.

“If I promise to call him by the end of the week, will you stop being an idiot?”

He lifted his head, and it surprised him that it wasn’t the I’ve-caught-his-stupidity face, but the most unguarded expression he had seen yet. Just seeing it made him smile. “Yeah,” he said, contented, and he closed the distance to seal their lips together. His Buddy shifted slightly in his embrace for a more comfortable position, free hand coming up to bury itself in his hair. Aoba could feel his heartbeat pick up as Dio melted back into him, the blue eyes sliding closed.

Just as he was about to deepen the kiss, he felt Dio pull back. “You’re supposed to be studying, Aoba.” The words were completely at odds with the flush darkening pale skin and the way the blue eyes dropped to his mouth before flitting away.

“Can’t we call it a day?” he asked, hook his chin over his Buddy’s shoulder, “You can drill it into me tomorrow morning.”

Dio snorted. “You’ll never get it in that amount of time.”

“Then tomorrow night, too. Or the whole week; I get to spend more time with you.” He paused, but there wasn’t a reply. “Dio?” Aoba craned his neck, but the blond was hiding his face.

“Fine,” Dio sighed at last, and Aoba caught a glimpse of that I’ve-caught-his-stupidity expression before the blond hit the lights without needing to look at the switch, “Don’t complain when we have to run through twice the material tomorrow.”

Smiling, Aoba pulled them both down to lay on the bed, and he tugged the blanket out from under them and tossed it over their tangled legs. It was surprising how easy it was for Aoba’s right arm to take up the space between Dio’s shoulder and the pillow, and his other arm never really left the blond’s waist. “I won’t.”

“You better not,” the tone was a promise, but the grumbled, “And don’t kick me,” was all sulking.

Hiding a grin in the soft hair, Aoba bit down on a laugh. “I don’t kick.” Not that he knew of, anyway. He curled up closer, pressed his lips briefly to the nape of Dio’s neck. “’Night.”

There was a sleepy hum in reply as his Buddy relaxed against him, the slender fingers of the blond’s left hand intertwining with Aoba’s own, and then a quiet, “Goodnight, Aoba.”

It was almost scary how ridiculously easy it would be to get used to this closeness.

***

Every sortie could be their last, but it was never really a worry in the forefront of Aoba’s mind – he just did what he could to protect everyone. He knew Dio thought differently; the blond didn’t go from the first out of the change room every time to loitering until they were alone just to kiss him on a whim. Even he could tell there was meaning behind it.

As he carved up the Nectorium cannon with Dio, there wasn’t time to think about Hina’s memories; if they failed, there wouldn’t be a future to worry about. But tumbling into the Time Tunnel again, the Coupling cut off forcefully, Aoba realized what he had to do, and it hit him that maybe he had just been avoiding it. The possibility that he would lose Dio. The reality that he had to go back to his time, grow up, start the cycle again.

It wasn’t much of a choice. He would do this a thousand times over, than to have never met Dio.

Somehow, he managed to keep his voice steady as he said his goodbyes, eyes riveted to the com screen between him and his Buddy. The last thing he would see of Dio was the helmet and tears, but asking the blond to look up just so that he could see those blue eyes again seemed so selfish. He did his best to smile at the way the blond was scolding him for running off, but it felt like it showed more pain than he intended. “So long, Dio.”

On the other com, Hina looked at him with a question in her eyes, and he nodded resolutely back. Karura’s engine quieted, and the Time Tunnel began to pull them in more quickly, the world gradually being engulfed in yellow.

Aoba had turned back to the knot of Valiancers with the thought of seeing Dio one last time, and his eyes widened at seeing Bradyon break free from the others. The machine came at them with full thrusters, mechanical arm reaching out for them.

“Dio, you idiot!” he called out; there was no way they could get him out of the gravitational pull of the singularity now. He frantically tried moving Luxon to try and catch hold of Dio’s machine, but whatever forces existed in the Time Tunnel made piloting the Valiancer difficult, like he was swimming against rapids.

“Who’s the idiot!?” the blond’s voice was wavering, the tearful sound that his Buddy couldn’t hide cutting into his resolve, “You’re the one trying to leave behind your best friend.”  

Things began to stretch and shake around him, and Aoba tried harder, pushing Luxon beyond its limits because hell if he was going to lose Dio in some random time period. The mechanical hand finally found it’s mark, closing around Bradyon’s outstretched hand, and Aoba reeled the other in despite the joints straining and groaning. “I’m not the one jumping through time to follow!”

Hina’s laugh startled them both. “I did say he was waiting for you.” She looked unabashedly amused, and it took a second to register that he was seeing her stand there without using the com. Their machines were coming apart in the turbulence like all the other times, and then – “I’ll be going ahead. Don’t lose him, Aoba.” Hina smiled, the light eclipsing her form, and then she was gone.

That made him whip around, half expecting Dio to have vanished too, but the blond was staring wide eyed back at him. Aoba jumped out of his seat before it could lose its solidarity completely, thrusting out his hand, and understanding flickered in the blue eyes as his Buddy mirrored him.

It couldn’t just be his imagination that the distance between them was growing instead of shortening, but the two of them wouldn’t butt heads so often if they weren’t equally stubborn. Straining harder, as if that would counter the physical forces working on keeping them apart, Aoba stretched his reach just a little more.

Their fingertips brushed against each other, once, twice, but before Aoba could grasp Dio’s hand, there was a blinding light, and then darkness.