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Red String Theory

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.*Tough Love*.

“Hnnn?” It was a pensive sound, starting low and rising steadily. “You’re tellin’ me this is what them westerners eat?” Cho brought the plate closer to his face and his nostrils flared. The rectangular-cut dessert was a rich brown and, though not unpleasant, carried an unusual scent.

“Mm.” At his side, Officer Tsukamoto stood with his own helping and nodded in agreement. He used a pair of chopsticks to break a corner off his slice. “I tried it for the first time when I took my family to Yokohama this weekend. It’s kind of strange at first but we all ended up liking it very much so...” A kind smile crossed his features. “I thought to bring some back for the station.”

“Guess I know who’s eyin’ promotion ‘round here. Though, that’d never work with my friggin’ boss.” Cho looked up, watching his colleague slide the morsel into his mouth. “And you say they call this…what again?”

“Mmph.” Tsukamoto nodded once more to fill in for the silence as he chewed. “Chocolate cake. Try it!”

“Chocolate cake, huh? Well!” Picking up his chopsticks, Cho cut his piece in half. “Here’s to eatin’ like a westerner, then!”

The first bite was…he frowned, wrinkled his nose, and snapped his face to the side, swallowing quickly.

“Eh?!” A laugh erupted. “You should see yourself! It isn’t poison, Cho.”

“What…the hell…is this? It’s so…”

Still chuckling, Tsukamoto supplied, “Sweet? I thought so too, but you get used it to real fast.”

“More like unbearably sweet. And…” Cho chewed on nothing several times to kick up the taste in his mouth again. “…strong. Weird.” He shook his head. “Hey, look, I appreciate it but nah. This ain’t me. Hell, I wouldn’t even give it to my—” he trailed off as an idea formed.

“Your…?”

With a smirk pulling out to Cho’s cheeks, his chin lifted. “On second thought, never mind.” He gave a friendly shove to Tsukamoto’s shoulder. “Thanks, man! Think I’ma take the rest to my desk.”

“I told you you’d get used to it!” Tsukamoto called after him in a jovial tone.

“Haha, yeah!” Cho waved over his shoulder and when he was out of earshot, muttered beneath his breath, “Get used to it, my ass.”

He wasn’t cut out for this kind of decadent indulgence, with his preference for a bland diet. But he also wasn’t the only one around these parts who enjoyed so-called boring sustenance and in fact, compared to plain kake soba, Cho thought his meals were quite fancy.

That’s how the idea formed to use this sweet chocolate cake to serve up some equally sweet revenge. Saito had been exceptionally dickish in the last two weeks—constantly hovering over him, bitching about this and bitching about that. He hadn’t said even an inkling of a nice thing since this latest case broke and it was getting on Cho’s nerves.

Your attention to detail is severely lacking. (I stayed up all night doing this shit, asshole.)

You’re late. Again. (By five whole minutes, oh wow!)

The deadline was moved up by two days. After hour work is required. (Yeah, because I ain’t got no social life. Yep. You got it, Fujita.)

Get out of my office unless you have something important to say. I don’t have time to idly prattle with you. (I was just askin’ about your weekend. Damn.)

Don’t ask me to explain things you can easily find out on your own. (Why are you like this?)

It was really more of the same business as usual, just in heavier doses, but Cho was more put off about the potential explanation of Saito’s recent extra irascibility.

Rooster-head hadn’t been around lately and the lack of his presence seemed to be directly correlated to Saito being in the worst mood of all time. He was inapproachable at best, and the number of smoked cigarettes built higher and higher over the hours until the ashtray was holding a small mountain by evening.

Figures. Cho had long suspected something was going on between them and while this development would satisfy his curiosity as solid evidence (and even be amusing gossip), it annoyed him more than anything. Why should he have to shoulder the brunt of their fallout, after all? He just worked here, damn it.

As Cho strolled down the hall, he sucked his teeth. Leave it to the fuckin’ rooster to get involved with such a demanding, thankless hard-ass, who had ice in his veins and never smiled if not for sarcasm. Hell, those qualities were the exact reasons Cho had wanted—more than once—to punch Saito square in the jaw, especially over the last few days since they seemed to have amplified three-fold.

Unfortunately, such an option was out of the question because that would've meant he’d also be out of a job, but this sugar-laced weapon in hand would allow him to annoy Saito in a way that appeared entirely innocent.

As Cho approached the stairs, he could see the situation unfolding:

Ey, boss! I just ate this really, really delicious thing from Yokohama and it was so good that I had to bring you some! Here, try it. It’s amazing! You will to~tally love it.” Wink wink, nudge, nudge.

Sawagejo. I am an absolute asshole who will not thank you for such a kind act. But I’ll accept your offer anyway. Because I’m a dick.

Then, Saito would take a bite and be so totally shocked and horrified that those stupid antenna bangs would stand straight up and his perpetually serious face would contort into something hilarious. And with due justice delivered, the triumphant Cho would exit his office to go laugh his ass off.

‘Good! It’ll serve him right!’ Cho thought as he started descending to the landing separating the first and second floors. However, between being both too smug and overly eager to achieve his vengeance, he managed to miss a step halfway, lost his footing, and began to stumble.

A snapshot of the situation flashed through Cho’s mind. The plate was in his right hand. That’s where the banister was, too. He managed to pivot and swing his left arm toward it so he could regain his balance, but the floundering put the railing out of reach and with a shout, his eyes shut tight as he fell backward. The dish crashed against the floor and tumbled in a clamor: a prelude to the pain that Cho’s body would also experience.

…only, it didn’t.

He remained flinching.

…because he landed somewhere soft.

The realization slowly dawned.

…as in, half bridal-style in someone’s arms.

At that, Cho’s eyes snapped open to find Saito’s golden ones boring into his and his body went rigid. Unblinking, he stared blankly as a million observations hit him at once; perhaps, it was from all the adrenaline coursing through his system, but whatever the reason, he was suddenly extremely aware of several things.

Those long black bangs didn’t appear so awkward from this angle and the hard lines of Saito’s face no longer as threatening. Up close, these features were actually…quite handsome. Cho could feel breath spilling across his skin, could smell cigarettes and soba and a trace of mint. Saito’s arms were strong and warm and they’d caught him effortlessly and…

Holy shit, he has nice lips.’ Another most unfortunate intrusive thought.

“Sawagejo.”

“Hn!” A kneejerk reaction had Cho attempting to surge himself forward without success, and Saito simply pushed him back up on his feet.

“Be more careful, you moron.”

“D—” Cho cleared his throat and pressed his back to the wall, gathering himself. “Don’t talk to me like I’m rooster-head or somethin’!”

Saito’s brow merely twitched and he then pointed to the mess. “Dare I ask?”

“Uh, yeah. Tsukamoto bought somethin’ called, uh, chocolate cake from Yokohama and…”

“Cht. You’ll eat anything, won’t you?” Tossing his face to the side, Saito turned to the stairs and began to climb. “You really are like him.”

“H…hey!” Cho called, the fire all but gone from his voice by this point. “I’m nothin’ like rooster, y’hear?”

A heavy, sarcastic sigh fell from Saito. “Right.” Then, he disappeared on the second landing.

Blinking, Cho's attention fell to the sad sight of cake on the floor. He may not have liked or even wanted to eat it, but after spending too many days of his childhood starving, he hated seeing food go to waste. His whole plan for petty vengeance was looking more and more ridiculous by the second, because it was clear that Saito wouldn’t have taken the offer to begin with. Cho should’ve known.

And as for Saito…

Cho swallowed, not feeling much like revenge anymore. In fact, he was more confused and terrified than anything because he’d totally just realized his boss was attractive…and his boss had totally just compared him to his ex. …Or his presumed ex.

With a hand coming to up his mouth, both of Cho’s eyes widened.

Holy shit.

Did Saito have a type, and was he it? His heart fluttered.

This was not good.

~

Several ideas marinated overnight and by morning, Cho decided that, yes, there were some glaring similarities between himself and that damn rooster after all. Saito had always been prodding Sano and trying to whip his ass into shaping up when he’d been around; it was the same treatment Cho received.

It was logical to assume, by these facts, that the boss did, indeed, have a type.

...And if Sano was it, then so was Cho.

He slammed a hand on his desk at that thought, startling a nearby colleague, and began drumming his fingers. How could he have gone from never seeing Saito to seeing Saito within the span of five seconds?

Landing in his arms had something to do with it, along with getting a glimpse of his lips up close and being inundated by his scent...not to mention having the impression that Saito actually cared more than he let on, but…Cho groaned and rubbed furiously at the sides of his head.

Don’t think about it, don’t think about it!

He continued to think about it.

This was not good at all.

~

There hadn’t been any reason to go into Saito’s office, but Cho found himself shuffling down the hall anyway. Halfway there, he scowled and wondered what he was even doing. That’s when he heard a familiar voice.

“Aw, c’mon. You know you missed me! I bet you spent all week brooding and pining while I was gone.”

“You are ridiculous.”

“Uh-huh…”

Cho peered into Saito’s office to find Sano halfway through the window from outside, leaning on his forearms and wearing a huge satisfied grin. Saito stood facing him, tobacco in hand.

“By the way, I got you somethin’, old man…” Sano sang. He reached down and reappeared, extending a large peach in Saito’s direction. “For makin’ you wait so long for me to come back. You can have this one now.” His voice lowered. “And the other one later.”

Saito huffed. “Aho.” But he did accept it. And Cho was suddenly aware that there was endearment in his insult. In fact, Cho had begun to realize that every time Saito had ever said something he’d presumed as offensive, it had carried with it backward encouragement or some kind of tough love.

Tough love.

Holy shit. That’s what rooster-head saw in him. And because it was so cleverly disguised, no one else noticed.

“You’d better go,” Saito said. “Stay out of trouble.”

“Yeah, yeah! See you tonight.” Sano winked and lowered himself slowly to his feet. Lingering for a moment more, he fluttered his eye lashes, smiled, and disappeared from the window.

Cho watched as Saito turned, regarding the peach—and simply wasn’t ready to see those shapely lips curved into a tiny smile. An actual smile.

Saito placed the fruit on his desk and then glanced up. Cho’s back straightened when their eyes met and he shoved himself out of sight.

“Sawagejo.” Cho heard from inside and his stomach dropped. “A suggestion.”

Slinking back into the doorway, he swallowed and looked up. “…Yeah, boss?”

“Lurking outside your superior’s office doesn’t look good.” Saito cocked his head ever so slightly. “So, unless you’re here for a reason, I would immediately get back to work.”

Nodding, Cho held his hand up and forced a laugh. “I wasn’t—I mean.” A piecing gaze sized him up. “Yeah, lemme go do that. The analysis is almost done, so I’ll just...” He pointed down the hall. “Yeah.”

Using the frame, he hurled himself out of Saito’s view again and stalked back to his desk with his cheeks burning. How stupid could he have been? All Saito cared about with Cho was work getting done, but when it came to a damn rooster-headed idiot, it was all accepting peaches and smiling softly and...ugh, fuck it all.

When Cho slumped into his chair and flipped to the page he left off at, the sudden sound of the Chief’s voice surprised him.

“Ah, Commissioner Kawaji! This way, Sir.”

Kawaji?! Cho threw himself back into his task, making sure he looked busy as the two of them passed by him and when they turned the corner, he gazed over his shoulder. The commissioner was someone who made the sound of even Saito’s criticisms similar to a kitten’s purr. If he’d seen Cho just standing around outside his boss’s door, it wouldn’t have gone over well.

…Had Saito been looking out for him just now? Surely, he’d known Kawaji would be around today.

Cho blinked. Was that more tough love? Possibly… But the toughest thing about this all was that he’d begun falling for someone who he couldn’t have—at least not without a fight.

With a groan, he rubbed at his face, but when Cho peered over the tips of his fingers, his eyes were determined.

“Hope you’re ready for war, Sagara...”

The Great Score of Broom VS Rooster was about to get intense.