the footsteps of love @gealbhan
Chapter 17 chapter cws: some mentions of violence/death/etc near the beginning, otherwise nothing too major i don't think.

A phone is ringing.

It is a quiet sound, a small default hum, but in the small, near-silent meeting room, it cuts clear through the afternoon, interrupting the crisp sound of Hirotsu’s voice. He stops mid-sentence with surprise, something that has almost never happened in Kouyou’s presence before. His eyes dart from corner to corner before, at last, landing on Kouyou, as do the other pair in the room.

In the same instant, she realizes that the phone ringing is hers. Kouyou’s body seizes with concern and irritation (mostly of the self-aimed sort), but she maintains her composure. Not so much as an apology leaves her as she reaches for her phone and, without glancing at the caller ID, turns it off.

In the absence of both the notification and the conversation, the room goes silent. Kouyou settles her shoulders back, leans back in her seat, and wills Hirotsu to move on and continue his train of thought.

Fortunately, the only other person in the room is Chuuya, whose reaction—to shift upright, raise an eyebrow, and look unsubtly askance at her—is more visible than Hirotsu’s, but who doesn’t outright comment either. No doubt there’ll be comments about it in a private setting later, whether from him or Dazai, but the professional, respectful air is at least maintained here.

Under Kouyou’s pointed look, Hirotsu clears his throat. “As I was saying, boss…”

Close as they’d been to the conclusion of the meeting already, the remainder passes in a flash, Hirotsu’s brisk speech only interrupted on occasion with questions or concurring comments. Beyond his summary of the Black Lizard’s recent interception of a group of smugglers encroaching on their territory, he expresses some concerns about how they found out about the Mafia’s shipments to begin with. The numbers he presents earn Kouyou’s backing, as does his assurance that Gin will handle things as soon as there is undeniable proof of treachery.

All three of them carry on as though the phone incident had never happened, but some part of Kouyou’s brain, drowned out by the rest, mulls the call over all the same. Only a handful of people have that number, and at least three would never call her around this time unless something was very wrong.

Unease curls in her gut, but she keeps her focus sharp. Were it so easy to distract her, she wouldn’t have held this position even half as long as she has. Part of her thoughts are distant all the same; though she’s sure Hirotsu can tell, he carries on as usual, getting out a few minor concerns while he has the opportunity.

The topic of Ace comes up, as often happens in such a context, and already tensed up, Kouyou’s shoulders tighten further than ever at the mere mention of his name. It is a natural subject to flow to after discussing the reporters sniffing around some of their casinos as of late as well as recent anti-gambling legislation being whispered about, and it becomes even more pertinent when Hirotsu mentions that Ace had requested the Black Lizard’s presence at The Jewel King in two days’ time. Or at least, requested is how he phrases it; demanded is what Kouyou hears.

Her teeth gnash. “How difficult would it be, truly,” she ends up asking, “to simply get rid of that man?”

The unfortunate consensus is that the physical task would be easy enough—as Chuuya expresses with a crack of his knuckles—but his unclear political connections make it too risky. Either way, Hirotsu agrees to only send a few men to the casino. The only thing to hope for there, really, is that Ace won’t take his inevitable wrath out on Kouyou’s subordinates. If he does, though, he might get one of those personal meetings with her he’s always dogging her about.

Everything else, it seems, is running smoothly enough that it doesn’t necessitate conversation, or otherwise it is not something that falls under Hirotsu’s purview and thus cannot tell her about. Most of his blind spots, however, ought to be covered by Ariwara, with whom Kouyou is to meet in an hour.

A few more brief exchanges, and Kouyou calls the meeting to a close. She dismisses Chuuya to see to his own duties; with a quick dip of his head, he does, snatching his coat off the back of his chair and taking his leave. In his place, Hirotsu sees Kouyou out, walking with her toward the elevator.

Although their combined presence isn’t quite as intimidating as hers and Chuuya’s, it is impactful all the same. People clear out of their way with little more than glances and bows. This being the part of the job that had grown on her more than anything else, Kouyou appreciates it, keeping her head held high and her back straight as they continue down the rapidly emptying hallway. She tosses out a few idle comments, digging into the percentage of her rule that is followed by genuine respect rather than fear, but for the most part stays silent.

When they reach the elevator, a man is already waiting outside. At their footsteps, he looks over his shoulder with a greeting or complaint half-cocked—when, instead of a more adjacent colleague, his eyes fall upon the Mafia’s leader and one of her top men, any color in his face vanishes, and his jaw hangs open for a few seconds before he manages to snap it shut. He hurries into a bow and darts off toward the stairwell instead.

Amused, Kouyou crosses the remaining gap between her and the elevator. The doors slide open just as she reaches them, and without so much as stumbling, she steps inside. Hirotsu follows.

More often than not, Kouyou does take the stairs, but she supposes it shall not kill her just this once, and Hirotsu seems grateful for it. He is skilled and spry for his age—there is a reason he has survived to it, let alone maintained his position and even climbed further under her leadership—but he is his age all the same.

They descend, word of their presence likely spread from the lack of stops along the way. A calm silence settles beneath the mechanical hum of the elevator. Kouyou’s and Hirotsu’s hands both stay behind their backs rather than reaching for, respectively, a phone or a smoke.

After a few seconds, Kouyou notices the gaze almost burning into her. Hirotsu’s careful stare upon her is not odd, but it is strange for it to be so blatant, and doubly so when it is akin to a stare he might give a businessman down the table or an enemy leader with their hands chained, however much it lacks the contempt and wrath he wields in such circumstances. The curiosity that accompanies his respect, though, is just as thick.

He clears his throat. Kouyou turns, smiling. “Yes, Hirotsu-san?”

“It is nothing, boss. Only…”

Considering how quick-witted and good at thinking on his feet Hirotsu is, the hesitance must be at least partially calculated. “You may speak as freely as you wish,” Kouyou tells him all the same. “In terms of experience, you well outrank me.”

Hirotsu gives a low chuckle. “I’m not sure that’s true,” he says, mild, but nods all the same. “I was merely thinking, boss, that something about you has seemed… lighter as of late, perhaps. I mean it as a positive, of course; aside from today’s incident—” his mustache quirks “—you’ve certainly not let it influence your work, and if anything, you appear more focused. Forgive me for overstepping, but whatever it is you have found, I wished to offer my congratulations.”

Kouyou stares at her own face in the warped metal of the elevator doors. With the distortion, she cannot quite discern what type of an expression she’s wearing, nor can she determine which she thinks she should. “You have my gratitude,” she says lightly, and nothing else.

Inclining his head again, Hirotsu accepts this. When they step out at the base level of the building, they exchange not another word; Hirotsu bows, Kouyou nods, and they smile at each other before parting ways.

The lobby is far more vacant already than the hall several hundred meters above had been, but still Kouyou sweeps through it with her usual speed and posture. She smooths down her sleeves as the automatic doors part. Outside, several twentysomethings in neat suits loitering on the sidewalk jolt apart for her. Kouyou’s thankful nod is absent, and without so much as a second glance she steps toward the curb and climbs into the car waiting for her.

Kasa greets her and confirms the route. Kouyou says as much as she has to, fastening her seatbelt and settling back as the engine picks back up and they start on their way.

In the relative security of the backseat, Kouyou pulls out her phone and turns it back on. Neither a voicemail nor another attempted call meets her. That is more or less expected, but her lips purse with thought all the same; if there had been no further efforts to contact her, then it shouldn’t be anything urgent—or, on the other hand, it is on the opposite end of that scale.

Kouyou’s nails tap against her thigh in a brisk pattern. It can’t be anything related to Kyouka, but it had been important enough at the time to warrant a proper call rather than the advance messages Kouyou is used to. The situation with Q weeks prior had been an outlier, but it, too, had ostensibly not counted as an emergency. It had to some extent seemed like one, but it had ended up taking two days for Kyouka’s scrapes to heal up enough to ditch the bandages. Yet it had necessitated a call all the same, and Kouyou had been grateful for that. Had she not had the time to pick up then, would Yosano have tried to call again?

The car slows to make way for traffic and an upcoming crosswalk. By contrast, Kouyou’s pulse and possibly blood pressure begin rising.

She arranges her feet carefully against the floor. In her lap, her phone screen continues to glow in an almost taunting manner. Hirotsu’s cautious words hover at the back of her mind; with a breath, she shunts them aside for the time being and makes a call.

It’s picked up within the second ring. Her mouth parts, but Yosano beats her to it: “Oh, hey.” The inhale Kouyou had taken in seconds earlier rushes from her at the sound of Yosano’s voice, calm and unbothered. “Sorry about earlier—I assumed you would be free, but I suppose I shouldn’t assume anything with you.”

“It is no trouble,” says Kouyou. The fingers of her free hand curl, idle, into her palm. “It is partially my fault, I believe, for leaving this phone and its volume on.”

“Ah,” says Yosano, amusement stifled. “Did it cause any problems for you?”

“Fortunately enough, none too grievous. You ought to think highly of yourself—never before has something brought a room here, let alone one with myself or my brother in it, to such an utter standstill.”

“Sorry, then.” Despite the genuine bit of remorse in her tone, Yosano isn’t able to swallow the slight laugh under her words this time. It’s all Kouyou can do to stop herself from echoing it. “I take it that you’re not busy now, though?”

“I won’t be for—” Kouyou pulls her phone away from her ear to check the time “—another twenty-odd minutes, no. Was there something you wished to discuss?”

The answer to that is clear enough, but Yosano’s lack of immediacy and steady, even laidback manner leave what that something actually is ambiguous. To make plans for a date? To ask about her or Kyouka in general? Just to talk? It isn’t as if they’ve gone an extended period of time between interactions; they had spoken last weekend at Kyouka’s Sports Day, of course, and they’d exchanged texts several evenings this week. That brand of clinginess at this stage of their relationship—or from Yosano at all—seems improbable.

“Actually, yeah.” Kouyou’s focus returns to Yosano’s voice. “Will you and Kyouka be free next weekend?”

Kouyou blinks. She… supposes she had anticipated something along those lines, but not in the form of that exact permutation. “I believe so, but I would need to check. What for?”

“Well,” says Yosano, the slightest uncertainty now present in her voice, though thin and almost inaudible, “I wanted to invite the two of you to dinner next Saturday. Dinner at my apartment, specifically.”

“Ah,” says Kouyou, reflexive and neutral. She shifts in her seat, sparing a glance for the red light they’ve just hit; Kasa is strumming her fingers along the steering wheel to the tune of the song playing on the radio. The thought filters through her mind, processed again and again but meaning still not draining from it. “I see.”

When she says nothing beyond that, still formulating a response, Yosano clears her throat. “You don’t have to say yes, obviously. It’s a bit of a leap from multiple angles. And it doesn’t have to be here—the main part of was meant to be, believe it or not, Kyouka’s presence.” Despite herself, Kouyou finds her lips quirking at the thought. “If either of you would be more comfortable with it, I’d be happy to just meet you two somewhere, or if neither of you is ready the two of us can just meet for dinner. Or you can fake some kind of sudden event that’ll keep you busy until midnight that day, and I can act like I believe you and never bring this up again unless you do first.”

“I would not go that far,” cuts in Kouyou. “If I am uncomfortable with or uninterested in something, I won’t resort to such juvenile tactics. I will profess it openly and without issue.” This does not always apply in the other direction, as can be seen from the first steps of her and Yosano’s courtship, but that isn’t what she’s talking about now.

“And?”

“And what?”

“Are you uncomfortable with the thought of this? Or uninterested in it?”

For a moment, the faint purr of the engine and lull of the radio are the only sounds in the car. Then Kouyou sighs and says, “No.” Before Yosano can speak, she hurries to add, “However, I will need to discuss it with Kyouka, and I would prefer to do that in person, so I cannot currently give you a concrete answer.”

“Oh, of course.” A soft laugh carries over the line; Kouyou chooses to hear it as one of relief rather than derision. “I didn’t mean to make it sound like you had to give me an answer as soon as possible, sorry. That’s totally fine—even if you do both end up agreeing, I’d be open to pushing these plans back another week or two. Hell, a couple of months would probably work. I did kind of spring this on you, I realize, so—”

“And while I am in a moving vehicle, at that. Just be glad I am not the one behind the wheel.”

“—I understand if you need more time to prepare,” finishes Yosano, ignoring Kouyou’s interruption save for another chuckle. “But, just to make sure—in theory, you’re not opposed to the idea?”

“I am not.” Kouyou brings her free hand up to rub at the bridge of her nose. “Kyouka likely will not be either, but I would still like the opportunity to confirm that.” She glances up front—from their current pace, it seems they will be arriving at their destination earlier than expected. “May I call you back later? Business calls, I am afraid.”

“Sure thing.” Yosano’s voice is half-resigned and half-vindicated. “I look forward to hearing from you then, no matter what your answer ends up being. Good luck with business.”

The lilting tone she maintains has Kouyou tamping down on another smile. “Goodbye, sensei.”

The line goes dead. The dial tone buzzes in her ear for a few seconds before she lowers her phone; this time, she makes sure that it has been turned off before she puts it away. Silence hovers throughout the car as they press on through traffic, Kasa weaving around as many side streets as possible to make the ride a smoother one.

“Is everything all right, Kouyou-sama?” she asks, eyeing Kouyou in the rearview mirror.

Kouyou sighs, and if it sounds more like a laugh neither of them acknowledges it. “Everything is fine,” she says, twisting her face toward her window, and neither of them speaks again for the remainder of the drive.

*

“Dinner next weekend?” repeats Kyouka, blinking up at Kouyou from across the table.

“Yes,” says Kouyou, unsurprised that that is what she has chosen to fixate on. “With Yosano-sensei. At her home. Is this something you would be amenable to? There are no concrete plans just yet, including in regards to that specific date, so any answer is perfectly acceptable.”

Kyouka continues to look at her for a long moment. Perhaps bringing this up near the tail end of dinner tonight was a poor decision on Kouyou’s behalf, but it had dogged at her all through the evening; regardless of Yosano’s lack of any hurry, it had seemed best to come up with a response sooner rather than later.

“What day?”

“Saturday was her initial proposal,” says Kouyou, though she’s not sure it makes much difference. “And it is, like everything else, liable to change.”

“When?”

“We did not discuss a time, but since dinner was the primary plan we discussed and given our schedules, presumably it would be some time from six to eight, and we would remain there for an hour or two.”

“Have you been there?”

“To Yosano-sensei’s apartment?” Kyouka nods. Somewhere, Kouyou feels as though this conversation is payback for all of the interrogations she has met Kyouka with over the past two years. “No, I have not. This will be just as new an experience for myself as it will be for you.”

In more than one way, she realizes, when she considers how long it has been since she has been in anyone else’s home at all. She had sometimes had dinner at Oda’s years ago, but only during the year Dazai had lived there, and she’s somewhat certain that the only one besides the two of them to ever set foot in Chuuya and Dazai’s apartment is Oda (and barely at that, since he’d just helped transport what furniture Chuuya hadn’t been able to alone when they’d first moved in). By the time the Izumis had died, it had been years since Kouyou had visited their house. Anyone else in her circle is far too distant.

Across the table, Kyouka is silent, staring into her tea. Her expression isn’t an outright uncomfortable or opposed one—Kouyou knows all too well what that looks like—but she does look thoughtful.

“I can inform Yosano-sensei of your food preferences,” offers Kouyou. “She is rather gracious when it comes to that sort of thing.” Still Kyouka says nothing, and Kouyou’s mind works for what other information she can provide. “She has a roommate, but with any luck he will either be absent or on his best behavior. And once again, the time, date, and activity are more than flexible. Her aim was simply spending time with both of us, so if you are opposed to the location or need more time to prepare, then that is perfectly fine.”

“I’ll go,” says Kyouka.

Kouyou pauses, waiting for the catch, but Kyouka just picks up her tea and sips from it, apparently moving on from the conversation without fanfare. “You will?”

Kyouka swallows and lowers her tea by a couple of centimeters. “Yes. I want to.”

“You… do.”

“Yes.” Beneath her bangs, Kyouka squints at Kouyou, cup still close enough to her face that her exhale ripples across the tea near its rim.

Her expression is neutral, perhaps a bit concerned at Kouyou’s tone, but Kouyou feels the need to intervene all the same. “You needn’t put up with something like this for my sake, Kyouka. If it is not something you are interested in—”

“It is, though.” Kyouka sets her tea down. “Do you not want to go?”

“No, that is—I do.” Kouyou clears her throat. “And even if I were not interested, I would not use you as an excuse to get out of it.”

Kyouka gives her a suspicious look, but she doesn’t contest this statement, which Kouyou consciously considers correct. Had she not been interested, she would have said that much to Yosano and not ended up broaching the topic with Kyouka at all. The list of things she would stomach for Kyouka is long enough to sweep this entire room and then some—a date with her present is not among those bullet points.

“So having dinner at Yosano-sensei’s apartment next Saturday is acceptable?”

Kyouka nods. Kouyou nods back, pondering as to whether Kyouka will respond with something profound, or perhaps some more questions at last. What next leaves her mouth, though, ends up being: “Are you going to eat your gyoza?”

“Hm?” Kouyou’s eyes drop to her place setting; she’d almost forgotten that she’d even had any food left. She has no appetite left, though, so she supposes it’s all for the best. “Ah, I suppose not. Would you like them?” she asks, knowing as much as Kyouka that it is a pointless question, considering Kyouka is already nodding and Kouyou is already pushing the platter across the table toward her.

Without hesitation, Kyouka resumes eating. Kouyou watches her, thinking that should they go through with this, it has the potential to either be one of the best evenings of all of their lives or one of the worst.

For now, though, she’ll limit her expectations, she decides as she begins mentally drafting what she’ll say to Yosano.

*

An apartment door has never before seemed so daunting.

An apartment door has never before seemed so anything, as a matter of fact. Much as her bearing would suggest otherwise, Kouyou is not fearless; she hardly makes it public knowledge, but there are some things that shake her. Something so mundane is so far beyond her average worries, however, that she finds herself stilled more by the surprise of it than the initial discomfort itself, staring at the door before her and Kyouka as they linger in the hall outside.

Kyouka looks up at her, sighs, and knocks with a steady fist. Under Kouyou’s side glance, some blend of gratitude and petulance, she shrugs. “We were already buzzed up. She knows we arrived.”

These are objective facts that Kouyou knows and cannot disagree with. She presses her lips together at having them laid out like that all the same, returning her gaze to the door and tracing the individual whorls in the wood.

“Be there in a minute!” calls a voice, muffled by the door, and both Kouyou and Kyouka stiffen with attention.

Another objective fact is that Kouyou looks fine. She had had an eye on herself in the rearview mirror for the entirety of the drive here, and though she looks more casual than she would allow in any other situation, the nature of this one had swayed her into donning a less intricate kimono and keeping her hair in a lower, looser style. Not a single curl had fallen out of place, nor is there a single visible wrinkle in her kimono. All the same, she finds herself standing as still as possible to suppress the urge to smooth out any nonexistent imperfections.

Kyouka is giving her that look again. Kouyou isn’t sure how to respond to it, so she doesn’t, only flexing her wrists and twisting her folded hands in minute increments.

Footsteps sound. To Kouyou’s relief, Yosano is the one to open the door and not her roommate, whom Kouyou isn’t sure she can come face-to-face with again without ample warning and preparation (although, to be fair, Yosano had mentioned that he would be home tonight, so perhaps that is all the notice she gets). Still, she stops for a single breath to stare forward.

Yosano’s hair is pulled half-back, with her bangs still styled over her face, hanging over the rims of her glasses. She’s more casually dressed than she has been for the majority of their dates up to this point, but she still has a neat button-down and slacks on under a floral-print apron. The picture is, though expected in retrospect, domestic enough to be startling.

A bright smile smooths over Yosano’s similar split second of surprise. “Hey, good evening,” she says, warm. “It’s nice to see you. Hope you got here okay.” She tips her head up, glances Kyouka’s way, and then flicks a wide smile up toward Kouyou. Before Kouyou can do much more than curl a hand over her return smile, delicately coughing into her palm, Yosano is brushing back a stray lock of hair and turning her cheerful expression on Kyouka. “You too, of course, Kyouka—how have you been doing? Oh, here, come in first.”

She backs up, leaving Kouyou and Kyouka room to step into the entryway. Kyouka steps out of her shoes and into the hall—there are two sets of guest slippers along the step, but she bypasses them. Kouyou, with no such inhibitions, replaces her sandals with the larger pair. She straightens in time to catch Kyouka’s response to Yosano’s question.

“Fine,” she says simply, feet pressing inward. “Busy. I’ve had a lot of schoolwork recently.”

“Yeah?” Yosano, it seems, decides not to point out what else Kyouka has been busy with in the past several weeks. “Are you handling it all right?”

Kyouka half-shrugs, half-nods. Kouyou sees fit to step in, resting one hand on Kyouka’s shoulder and the other over her chest. “She’s doing wonderfully,” she boasts, all but glowing. “Her work ethic and drive are as powerful as ever, and her grades as of late are stellar as well. She could stand to ask for help a bit more—” she gives Kyouka a look out of the corners of her eyes; Kyouka averts her gaze “—but all in all, Kyouka continues to be a model student.”

“That much I did know already,” says Yosano, though Kouyou’s pride seems to have spread to her from the gleam in her eyes. “Keep up the good work, then. Midterms are coming up pretty soon, you know.”

“Yes. I have been studying hard.” Kyouka lowers her head in a full nod—after a beat, she sniffs and perks up again, eyes darting across the room. “Is that mapo tofu?”

“You have quite the nose on you too, hm? It is—I thought something healthy and fairly light would be best, and Kouyou mentioned that you like tofu a lot.”

“I do.” Kyouka’s eyes are nearly glowing—if she hadn’t already thought of Yosano as, Kouyou recalls, cool, this would have settled things.

“That’s good. I hope you enjoy it, then. You too,” adds Yosano almost as an afterthought, glancing up toward Kouyou and adjusting her glasses with a sheepish smile. “Admittedly, I didn’t factor in your food preferences much.”

Kouyou waves a hand in reassurance. “I am not quite as fond of tofu as Kyouka is, but I certainly don’t dislike it.” And even if she weren’t, she doesn’t add, she’d be able to stomach it for Kyouka’s (and now Yosano’s) sake.

“Ah, great. There are plenty of sides, and I have sake for the two of us, too—Dewasansan, if that’s acceptable.”

“More than.”

Yosano’s smile broadens. “The mapo tofu isn’t quite done yet, but when it is, we should be good to go.” She pulls her phone from her apron pocket and clicks it on, then tucks it away again. “It’s still got a few minutes to simmer—that’s fine, though, since there was actually something I wanted to take care of first.” Kouyou opens her mouth, but before she can speak, Yosano turns and calls: “Ranpo! Come here for a minute, will you?”

A pregnant pause, then a distant call of “Fine, fine!” Then comes the sound of a door opening somewhere down the hall, and the man Kouyou had met this summer comes trotting out, hands in his pockets and shoulders low to complement the disgruntled expression on his face, just as youthful and bespectacled as the first—and until now only—time Kouyou had seen him.

“I was right in the middle of tearing apart all the plot holes in Poe-kun’s latest big idea,” complains Edogawa, drawing one hand free to rub at the back of his neck. “Couldn’t it have waited?”

“I’m afraid not, and you would have made the same complaint no matter when I asked.” Edogawa clicks his tongue. Yosano smiles and sweeps a hand toward the entrance, just beyond which Kouyou and Kyouka are standing still, Kouyou with a thinly veiled grimace and Kyouka blinking in quiet confusion. “We have company.”

“I heard.” Edogawa’s head swivels a centimeter toward them. “I’m not sure why it has to involve me, though. I already ate, and what you’re making isn’t even done yet, is it?”

“You know as well as I do that that’s not what I called out here for.” He doesn’t protest or complain, just sighs. The corners of Yosano’s lips tug higher up. “Ranpo, you know—however vaguely—Kouyou and her adopted daughter Kyouka.” He nods, shifting his weight and turning his head all the way toward them. “Kouyou, Kyouka, this is my roommate and close friend Edogawa Ranpo.”

Kouyou presses her hand to her chest and lowers her head in greeting, toeing the line between respect and a complete absence thereof. Kyouka bows deeper and says, “Hello.”

Edogawa’s bearing toward her is considerably more gracious than it had been toward Kouyou; he nods back, although the only thing he graces Kouyou with is a sharp look and a sharper smile. “Nice to meet you,” he says, the vast majority of his focus on Kyouka. This is reasonable, since he and Kouyou have already met, and Kouyou will tolerate his disrespect if he at least shows some esteem toward Kyouka, but seconds later he turns back toward Yosano. “Is that all you wanted?”

“Yes, yes.” She waves a hand. “You can go back to your Skype date now.”

Edogawa gives her a shrewd look. “You’re younger than me—”

“By less than two months,” interrupts Yosano idly, as though the information doesn’t have Kouyou’s eyebrows shooting up.

“—so you have no excuse for saying that,” he says, ignoring this. “No one uses Skype anymore.”

“Whatever it is, then, you’re more than free to return to it. Tell Poe I said hi.”

“Sure, sure. He’ll probably say hi back. Bye.” Edogawa raises a hand in farewell, reaches over to pat Kyouka twice on the head—which Kyouka blinks at but doesn’t seem bothered by—and then turns on his heel and starts back toward his room.

“It was a pleasure to be properly introduced,” says Kouyou. He pauses for a half-second to wiggle his fingers before continuing on his way. Once his door shuts with a distant click, she says, “Hm.”

She doesn’t elaborate, but Yosano still leans against the wall with a sigh. “He does live here,” she says, “and he would eventually end up being relevant even if he didn’t. Hopefully you can adjust to each other enough to not be at each other’s throats.” The onus of that adjustment, Kouyou takes it, is to be split between them both—as someone who has been made to make a show of tolerating others for decades now, though, she supposes she can accept her share. “You’ve already met him anyway, haven’t you?”

Kyouka, too, lifts her gaze to Kouyou, who gives a pained nod. “Hardly in a conventional manner,” she says, holding herself back with great force from grinding her teeth. “He referred to me as obaa-san for almost the entirety of the conversation.”

This startles a laugh out of Yosano. She claps a hand over her mouth at the sour look on Kouyou’s face, but the damage has been done, and a few giggles still slip free. The sound has Kouyou struggling to maintain her expression, even if it’s at her expense.

Yosano clears her throat, regaining some of her composure but still grinning. “Yeah, he didn’t tell me much about that exchange. All’s well that ends well, right?”

“I suppose.” The slight tension that had built in Kouyou’s chest unspools, replaced with a muted, blooming version of the kind of contentment she’s grown to associate with quiet evenings at home and leisurely afternoons not shirking but basking in the warm light of the sun or the fixtures of a restaurant. She glances at Kyouka out of the corners of her eyes to find her staring forward with a food-geared intensity. Finding it as golden an opportunity as any, Kouyou nudges her shoulder. “Kyouka, would you mind waiting in the dining room for a moment?”

Kyouka startles somewhat, more at the contact than the words, but she nods—and then glances toward Yosano, who’s blocking half of the doorway.

With little more than a blink, Yosano steps aside. “It’s straight in through the kitchen—or living room, if you’d prefer to go that way,” she says, gesturing behind her. “The table’s all set and everything already, so just make yourself at home. We’ll be with you in a moment.”

At the casual we, Kyouka’s eyes dart back toward Kouyou. Because she is polite and possesses some level of tact, unlike some people Kouyou could name, she doesn’t wink or anything of the sort, just nods again and strides off.

Yosano, tilting her head just enough to the side to watch Kyouka’s shape disappear farther into the apartment, waits until they can no longer see each other before turning back toward Kouyou with a relaxed smile. The angle of the hallway doesn’t give them a massive amount of leeway in terms of privacy, but Yosano still leans up to press a brief kiss to the corner of Kouyou’s mouth. She rocks back down before Kouyou can so much as blink.

“Hey,” she says.

“Hello,” returns Kouyou, tilting her head.

Yosano’s hands come to rest on her arms, one thumb sliding in an absent pattern against her sleeve. The contact itself isn’t all that warm, and her grip isn’t tight, but it is firm and grounding in a comforting way Kouyou doesn’t expect.

They stand there for a few prolonged seconds, not speaking but simply taking in each other’s presence. After a beat, Yosano clears her throat and drops her hands, turning around and gesturing for Kouyou to follow along.

“I’d offer you and Kyouka a tour, but there’s really nothing too special about our place besides who lives here.” Yosano gestures around as they step forward. No walls separate the main room, but it is arranged into distinctive sections all the same, with the kitchen and dining room clear on one side and the living room on the other. Yosano points them each out in turn. “Mind the floor,” she adds. “Ranpo spilled some sort of taffy or something a while back and I still step in it half past midnight sometimes.” She tugs on Kouyou’s arm to steer her away from the dubious stain in question, which Kouyou takes with an appreciative hum.

Despite Yosano’s dismissiveness, Kouyou glances around as best she can as they pass through. The living room is bare for the most part but does show some signs of being lived in, with the couch cushions rumpled and a few books—ranging from puzzle compendiums to medical textbooks to what seems, judging from what of the covers Kouyou can see from here, lesbian manga—flung onto the coffee table and tucked into shelves. A few knickknacks line the TV stand, and a glimpse of the rows of DVDs within shows taste just as eclectic.

The kitchen is similarly spartan, if not more so. A few bright towels and a couple of plants perched on the windowsill are more or less all there is in terms of decorations. Steam is flowing up from the stove, upon which two pots sit. The scent of rice and doubanjiang hangs in the air—Kouyou’s steps stutter as she takes it in, Yosano having to let go of her arm so she can pause. When she comes to a halt, it’s in front of the refrigerator.

Yosano doesn’t pull her away, and Kouyou takes the opportunity to look her fill. Years span the width of the refrigerator, captured in context-less snapshots overflowing with light and affection. Most are just of Yosano or Edogawa or both, but others feature faces Kouyou doesn’t recognize—and some include others she does. One shows Yosano at what must be her university graduation, dressed in a traditional ensemble and exuding pride and joy as she holds up her diploma. A few are of a much younger Edogawa and Fukuzawa, no less stern but lacking a handful of the lines his face now showcases, and one or two are of Fukuzawa alone, holding cats or young children with a gentleness at complete odds with his expression. Kunikida is present in several, as is Aya. One from a photobooth shows Edogawa crowded against a lanky man with dark hair covering his eyes and—Kouyou squints—a raccoon on his shoulder. Edogawa’s smile is wide and warm, and the other man’s is more timid but no less fond.

A shopping list is slapped over the next photo Kouyou’s eyes drift to. Yosano and Edogawa have both written on it, their individual handwriting quite easy to pick apart. Kouyou’s focus only lingers there for a second before she prods the list up to see the picture beneath.

“Oh, my,” she says, almost laughing. “When was this taken?”

Yosano, who’s been half-watching her from the stove as she checks on the food, sees what she’s looking at and huffs. “I think we were in high school. Second or third year, maybe, so… at least seventeen or eighteen years ago? Dear God,” she adds under her breath.

Kouyou shares the sentiment, though not with the same tone. The picture is of Yosano and Edogawa, again younger, in a Ferris wheel car. They’re dressed in school uniforms, and Yosano is holding Edogawa back by his shirt collar as he tips dangerously far forward, something fraught but joyous about the framing. The shot is blurry with motion.

“Fukuzawa-sensei took us to Cosmo World for acing our exams, if I remember correctly,” says Yosano, closer than Kouyou expects. She glances over to see Yosano standing right beside her, gaze wistfully amused as she reaches up to touch the aged photograph.

Kouyou blinks, glancing again over the pictures of Fukuzawa and Edogawa. She recalls Yosano mentioning having known Fukuzawa for a while now, and Edogawa saying that he’s known her a long time, but she hadn’t taken that to be quite to this extent. “You knew them even then?”

“Yeah. I met Ranpo in junior high—” Yosano traces the line of another photograph half-hidden by the photobooth picture “—so that wouldn’t have been too long after Fukuzawa-sensei adopted him.” That spurs further surprise from Kouyou, who makes a soft startled sound. Yosano’s smile widens. “It was a pretty similar situation to Kyouka’s, actually—his biological parents died suddenly, and they were acquaintances of Fukuzawa-sensei’s, so he stepped in. The details aren’t mine to share, but I did figure those two would get along.”

“Tragic orphans must have some sort of magnetic pull to one another.” If how often Kouyou has been in rooms surrounded by them hadn’t given that away, this would have. She shakes her head. Yosano laughs but winces with some degree of grim agreement. “So the two of you have known each other for that long? It is no wonder, then, that you are so close now.”

Yosano hums. “I know he can be difficult,” she says, and Kouyou scoffs under her breath, “but he really is my closest friend, and I owe a lot to him and Fukuzawa-sensei.”

Kouyou waits, watching her, but Yosano doesn’t seem inclined to elaborate. She stares at the photographs for a moment longer, as if seeing them in a new light now, and then she startles out of it with an apologetic cough.

“Anyway,” she says, nudging Kouyou’s side, the shock factor and the person behind it making it actually move her, “I still have a few last-minute touches to take care of, but I’ll be out in a few minutes. Go wait in the dining room with Kyouka, all right?”

She phrases it like a request, but the way she shoos Kouyou (who’s too impressed to be offended) out of the room speaks otherwise. Kouyou acquiesces, and steps into the adjoining area, taking the seat beside Kyouka’s. Kyouka, in the middle of playing a game on her phone, looks up and nods.

Kouyou nods back and settles into the chair. “Quite a nice place, is it not?” she asks in a low tone, not actively trying to keep Yosano from overhearing but trying to avoid distracting her.

“Yes,” says Kyouka, a bit distracted; her attention has wandered toward the kitchen. “The mapo tofu smells good.”

“Indeed it does.”

Absent agreement aside, Kouyou leans back in her seat. Her eyes wander across the subtle touches of decor around the room: A few more pictures on the wall, printed illustrations and framed professional shots rather than lower-quality sentimental photographs; another plant in the corner, leaves spilling out of its boxy planter; candles perched along the table, likely not a mainstay. Kouyou reaches out to smooth her finger along the air beside one small, bobbing flame.

It sways a millimeter too close, and she draws her hand back, unburned but warm. She glances at Kyouka to find her staring at the kitchen with an almost impressive intensity, phone gone from view.

As promised, it only takes another minute or two for Yosano to emerge. The number of plates she’s toting raise Kouyou’s eyebrows—she and Kyouka both offer to help but are rebuffed, despite the fact that it takes Yosano two more trips to carry in all of the side dishes and sake alone.

“Light, you called this?” says Kouyou.

“Comparatively speaking, it is.” Yosano laughs and drops into her seat. “For Kyouka’s sake, let’s just get started, shall we?”

Considering Kyouka is almost vibrating in her seat, eyes wide and glowing as she stares forward rather than at her plate with some deep-seated willpower, Kouyou finds that agreeable enough. Yosano pours some sake for herself and Kouyou, sets the bottle down at the head of the table, and sits back. Kyouka’s ramrod-straight posture starts to droop, and when given the opportunity she dives right in.

The awe that fills her gaze upon her first bite is of an intensity Kouyou thinks she’s only seen displayed toward the yudofu at the restaurant they frequent. It surprises her enough to pause, mouth parted, before attempting to step in.

“Now, now, you ought to pace yourself.” Kyouka glances sidelong at her, not quite withering but not too far off, and Kouyou clears her throat. “Is such a meal not to be savored?”

“I did make enough for seconds,” cuts in Yosano, lifting a hand. When Kouyou looks at her in betrayal, she grins, own plate ignored as she watches Kyouka eat with the speed and ferocity of a vacuum cleaner. “I must say, it is flattering to see someone eat my cooking so passionately. The most I get from Ranpo is a thoughtful hum and a request for more sugar, and Fukuzawa-sensei and Kunikida just nod. And sometimes critique my exact blend of spices, in the latter’s case.”

Only now does Kyouka pause, swallowing in between bites so she can say, “It’s really good.” As soon as it leaves her, she continues eating, as though she can’t bear even a single second without a mouthful of mapo tofu.

“Thank you.” Yosano reaches toward her chopsticks like it’s an afterthought, her grin softening around the edges. “I’m glad you like it—it was made mostly with you in mind.”

With a minute shake of her head, Kouyou turns to her own dish—and finds her eyes widening at the first bite, unable to chide Kyouka for her fervor. “This truly is delicious, sensei.” She sips from her sake before she can forget that it’s there. “How often do you cook?”

Yosano shrugs, still smiling at Kyouka and Kouyou’s expressions. “Maybe a couple nights a week? Ranpo and I eat a lot of takeout, admittedly, and I don’t do anything this extensive too often, considering my job. I bake a little, too, but nothing that big there either.” She gestures over her shoulder toward the kitchen. “I’ve actually got a bit of leftover castella from a few days ago in the fridge, if either of you want some afterward.”

Kouyou casts a worried glance at the amount of food already surrounding her. “We shall have to see,” she says, though Kyouka’s eyes are shining even brighter beside her.

She continues with her food, finding little need to talk when she could be eating. Kyouka and Yosano follow suit. The three of them settle into a quiet, comfortable rhythm, Kyouka’s single-minded determination evening out to something more lax but no less palpable—nor any less contagious.

A few minutes in, laughter from down the hall—Edogawa’s, Kouyou registers, and quite sincere at that—has Kouyou’s head lifting. On sheer instinct, she looks toward Yosano.

“Oh, I interrupted him in the middle of calling his boyfriend earlier.” Yosano rolls her eyes, then pauses to explain further: “He lives in America. They met a few years back when he was in Japan on business—he’s a writer, so apparently he was discussing translations with an acquaintance here or something to that effect. I’m not entirely sure how they started dating, because Ranpo is Ranpo—” Kouyou can’t help a soft laugh “—and is an avid critic of Poe’s writing, and Poe seems kind of withdrawn, but since Poe still spends most of his time in the States they video-chat pretty much every other night.” She sweeps a hand in the general direction of the bedrooms. “As they are now.”

“He lives in the United States? What time is it for him, then?”

“Good question.” Yosano fumbles for her phone, taps a few things, and then huffs at whatever she finds. “He just woke up, I assume. Or was already up—he might be nocturnal, from what I know about him.”

Kouyou hums, vague, and then recalls one of the photographs on the refrigerator. “I take it he is the one with the raccoon, then.”

“Raccoon?” asks Kyouka, half-muffled but still intelligible.

Yosano snorts. “Yeah, that’s him. I think he’d be happy about being recognized as that, actually.” At Kyouka’s continued blinking, Yosano adds, “That’s his pet, Karl. He’s pretty cool, for a raccoon.” Her voice trails off partway through as though she’s realizing how inane that sentence sounds, but she smiles all the same.

Kyouka nods, wonder still glinting in her eyes, and then goes on eating. Kouyou is still only halfway to coming around on the concept of Kyouka getting a rabbit at some point (which they have agreed will only happen, if it does—and, in all frankness, it will, because Kouyou is incapable of denying Kyouka’s earnest requests—when Kyouka is in high school), so she winces at the idea of Kyouka proposing the idea of a pet raccoon.

A moment later, as she’s taking another bite of mapo tofu, Yosano’s words catch up to her. Kouyou, chewing slowly, spares a thought of shock for the notion that Edogawa of all people is in a steady relationship, let alone a long-distance one. She shakes her head in dismay.

They don’t broach the topic again, though on occasion Kouyou still hears Edogawa’s distant laughter. Rarely do they speak at all, in fact, consumed—in a very literal sense—with the food before them, and when one of them—most often Yosano, considering she’s proved to be the most sociable person at the table—does speak up, any exchanges only last for a few sentences before lapsing back into silence. There’s something companionable and easy about it, reminiscent of more than a few similar scenes with different participants. Kouyou doesn’t follow that thread any further than she has to, putting the bulk of her focus into the meal before her.

It feels as though it’s both far too soon and like it’s taken far too much time when Kouyou swallows her last bite and reaches for a napkin to dab at her mouth. Beside her, she realizes, Kyouka has long since set all of her utensils aside and has her hands in her lap and an expectant look on her face.

Kouyou raises an eyebrow. She had registered when Kyouka had finished up her food, tackling every bite before her with ease, but not consciously enough to know now when. “My, Kyouka, you were hungrier than I anticipated.”

“It was good,” defends Kyouka.

Kouyou can only smile in acquiescence. “Yes, Yosano-sensei is quite the chef.” She glances toward Yosano, who’s sipping the last of her sake with a tiny smile. “She mentioned something about seconds, yes? Did you want anything else to eat?”

Kyouka’s eyes rest on Yosano. “You mentioned castella.”

“Sharp memory, this one,” says Yosano, lowering her cup; she can’t hide her smile any more than Kouyou can hide the pride when she nods. Kyouka’s hands press closer together in her lap. “Yes, I did. I’ll fetch some after I’ve cleaned up here. Are you two both done?”

Kouyou glances at Kyouka, who nods, and then nods herself before reaching for her plates. Kyouka starts sliding hers together, too, to start clearing them.

Yosano waves her hands. “No, no, you’re the guests. I’ll clean up.”

“But—” Kyouka is the one to say.

“Hey, hey, no buts. My kitchen, my rules.”

“I do not think it is exclusively yours,” points out Kouyou, even as her hands recede to the very edge of the table.

“If you think Ranpo cooks, the only one you’re kidding is yourself.” Kouyou has no argument for this, and so only presses her lips together. With a congenial spread of her hands, Yosano stands and steps over to gather up their empty—and all but licked-clean in Kyouka’s case—dishes. “Relax. I’ll let you help next time, if it makes you feel any better.”

The notion of an inevitable recurrence of this sets off several feelings within Kouyou. Rather than acknowledging them, she inclines her head, a bit stiff, and asks, “If you don’t mind me asking, where is your restroom?”

Yosano doesn’t seem offended; she doesn’t hesitate before gesturing toward the hall. “Ah, just down that way. It’ll be the first door on the left.”

Kouyou inclines her head, then rises and steps away, patting Kyouka’s shoulder—and inadvertently prompting her to straighten—as she passes by. As she turns the corner, Kouyou hears Yosano strike up a conversation. She stops in the bathroom doorway just in time to hear Kyouka begin to respond. Their exact words aren’t quite audible from here, between the distance and the sound of the kitchen sink beginning to run, but the intent still has Kouyou meeting her reflection with a smile.

Allowing them their conversation, she takes more time washing her hands than she really needs to. When she steps back outside, a throat clears.

Kouyou stops in place, still shaking some water from her fingertips, and her eyes snap to the closed door just across the hall to find Edogawa leaning against it. His glasses are pushed up to his forehead, leaving his bangs askew.

Under her narrowed gaze, he tilts his head with a cheerful smile. “I’m glad to see you decided to follow up on my advice, Golden Demon-san,” he says. “Of course, I knew you would, though.”

“I’m displeased to discover you are always this smarmy and grandiose.” Kouyou tilts her chin up. Edogawa isn’t much shorter than Yosano in the physical sense, maybe only a few centimeters so, but it’s easier for Kouyou to look down on him—for all the good it does, considering he doesn’t react to her posturing at all. “Did you wish to discuss something with me? I regret to inform you that Fukuzawa-sensei already offered his congratulations and warnings, if that is your intention.”

Edogawa snorts—Kouyou twitches on instinct, but it seems to be genuine, albeit far from the bursts of laughter she’d heard during dinner. “If anyone is going to hurt you for hurting Yosano, it’s going to be her,” he says, waving a hand. “So I think you know better than that. She really likes you, you know.” He says it in his usual flippant tone, but the look he fixes her with is almost piercing.

“…yes, I do. And I suppose you already presume to know how I feel for her.”

“I don’t just presume, I do know,” says Edogawa, affronted. “But you’re not that stupid, so I don’t think I have to let you know.”

For the sake of not starting a fight with Yosano’s roommate, closest friend, and honorary brother in his own apartment, Kouyou takes a deep breath and opts to view this as something akin to a compliment. She still intends to move on from this exchange without another word, though. She starts toward the living room—

—and is stopped by a tap to the elbow. Kouyou’s arm jerks as she turns, but Edogawa has already drawn his hand back to press a finger to his lips instead. He nods in the direction of the dining room.

If she strains her ears, Kouyou can hear Kyouka and Yosano’s voices. The sink is no longer running, so Yosano has either finished washing the dishes or is pausing in that process, but without the interference their words are discernible even from here.

“—known each other a long time,” Yosano is saying. Kouyou stops, frozen in place—it feels invasive to listen in like this, but she can’t bring herself to take the few steps and interrupt their conversation, since it sounds like they’re getting along. “When did Kouyou adopt you again?”

The sound of her name has Kouyou stiffening against the wall. Kyouka’s response is quieter, prompting Kouyou to lean closer, but self-assured and unhesitant: “Two years ago. The anniversary was in July.”

Yosano’s whistle rings out through the walls. “Somehow, that both seems like not that long ago and like an eternity ago.” Either Kyouka replies without words, or Yosano doesn’t wait for her to, because she’s soon moving on. “What was that like?” Beneath it, there’s another question, not quite overshadowing the other but audible all the same: What was she like?

Silence ensues. The expression on Kyouka’s face must not be a very forthcoming one, from how Yosano clears her throat.

“You don’t have to tell me anything if you don’t want to, of course,” she adds. “You’re especially not obligated to share anything that personal; I was just curious. We can talk about something else if you’d like, since Kouyou seems to be taking her time.” Kouyou can almost feel the look directed at her. “Like, ah—”

“It was hard, at first.” Kyouka’s interruption stops them both in their tracks. “For both of us. She was trying, but I still—we still…” She trails off, and Kouyou isn’t sure what’s more at play there: That she’s not sure how to put their early days and the emotions accompanying them into words, or that she just doesn’t want to under the circumstances. “But it’s different now,” she says firmly.

“Two years can change a lot of things,” agrees Yosano, her voice almost as soft as Kouyou’s ever heard it. “Counseling eased that along, I imagine.”

A brief moment passes; Kyouka nodding, perhaps. “I have changed,” she says. “We both have. Light has shone on us both.” The wording has Kouyou’s shoulders raising, something in her bristling, but the confidence and hope in Kyouka’s voice lower her hackles. “This is where I belong now. It hasn’t always been, but now it is, and that is what matters. I was without that light for so long, but now that there is so much of it in my life, and I can see and grasp it… I can’t let go of it.”

“I’m glad to hear it.” The smile shines through in Yosano’s tone as clearly as if Kouyou were looking at her face. “And hey, for what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure Kouyou feels the same way. She adores you, and even if she must wish it were under better circumstances, she’s very happy to have you in her life—she’s more or less told me as much, but she wouldn’t have had to for me to tell.”

Another pause. Kyouka has to know this by now, but she seems startled by having it laid out there all the same. “Thank you,” she says, quiet, as though it’s the only thing she can think of to say.

“Hey, it’s just the truth. I don’t need to be Ranpo to see how deeply she cares for you.”

Kyouka is silent for another second, considering that, and then: “She likes you a lot. She told me so.”

“Oh?” Yosano’s mischievous—but beneath that, surprised and fond—laugh rings through the air. “Well, I do return the sentiment in full. What else has she told you about me, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Not much. Mostly just that. Sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologize for anything like that.” Yosano sounds a touch sheepish. “I’d hardly expect you to be the one Kouyou confides that sort of thing in. I’d hardly expect anyone to, actually.”

Kyouka makes a vague sound of agreement, which Kouyou supposes is fair—it is true, after all. “It would make her happy if we liked each other,” volunteers Kyouka.

There’s yet another beat of silence—and then Yosano laughs again, this time gentler. “I like you just fine, Kyouka. You wouldn’t be sitting in my apartment like this if I didn’t, right?”

Though Kyouka must at least be distantly aware of this too, surprise still shines through her tone when she says again, “Thank you. Kouyou-san will be happy, then.”

That is, Kouyou believes, her cue. She glances to the side, but Edogawa has slipped back into his room without another word or sound at all, and his muffled voice floats out through the door. Kouyou huffs and makes her way back into the dining room.

The creak of the floorboards announces her return, and Kyouka and Yosano lift their heads automatically. Were there not already a smile on Kouyou’s face, the synchronicity would have pulled it from her. Kyouka is still seated, her hands folded in her lap and a two-thirds-empty glass of water still placed in front of her, and Yosano is standing to the side with her hip resting against the edge of the table. Kyouka’s shoulders stiffen as her gaze darts between Kouyou and Yosano.

“Hey, welcome back.” Yosano flashes a reassuring smile. “Kyouka was just telling me about some of her coursework—and her self-defense training.”

They had probably talked that over, and probably at Yosano’s prompting at that, if how she’d led the part of the conversation Kouyou had heard is any indication, but Kouyou’s smile still widens at the cover. “Yes, she’s doing quite well in both of those areas. I would encourage her to display some of what she’s practiced, but I fear that would be a poor decision indoors.”

“Unfortunately, you’re probably right. I’ll just have to see her show off as part of the kendo club next year, then.” Yosano turns her grin on Kyouka, who drops her shoulders but flushes at the exchange, though she still nods. “Anyway—now that you’re back, Kouyou, how does dessert sound?”

“Thank you, but I am afraid I will not partake. Dinner was filling enough.”

“Shame, but that’s fair. Kyouka?”

“Yes,” says Kyouka almost instantly. Then, remembering her manners and ducking her head, she adds, “Please.”

Kouyou is close enough to pat Kyouka’s head, so she does, somewhat impressed at how quickly and easily she’s ignored for the promise of castella. Yosano’s grin sharpens at Kyouka’s eagerness, and she ushers them off to the living room while she prepares.

Considering the pleasantly bustling atmosphere of the apartment until now, the calm quiet of the room when they step into it takes a few seconds to get used to. Kouyou takes a seat near the center of the couch, and Kyouka slides in between her and the armrest. They sit in that silence for the couple of minutes it takes Yosano to join them.

When she does, it’s with two plates in hand. The one she hands Kyouka is topped with the considerably larger slice of the two; Kouyou gives Yosano a side glance, but it isn’t returned, since Yosano is busy sliding into the space left on Kouyou’s other side without dropping her own castella. It is a bit awkward to be sitting between two people with food when she has none herself, but Kouyou is far from hungry, so the feeling is a dull one. Her hands settle in her lap.

Yosano flicks on the television, which is turned to what seems to be some sort of crime drama, only a few minutes into the episode from how credits are still popping up. By Yosano’s lack of a reaction, Kouyou deems it appropriate enough to not ask for it to be changed.

Yosano adjusts the volume. The final setting is low enough to not overpower their voices but still loud enough to, Kouyou presumes, be heard over her and Kyouka’s chewing. “Ranpo will be upset he’s missing this,” she says, settling back.

Kouyou eyes the awkward camera angles and shoddy costume work. “He enjoys this?”

“Nope, he can’t stand it.” Kouyou and Kyouka give her twin looks of bemusement. “He likes to make fun of it,” Yosano clarifies with a laugh. “It’s a weekly event. We chuck popcorn and candy at the TV when the writing and camera work get especially bad.”

“I see,” says Kouyou, though she doesn’t particularly. She eyes a few small cracks visible in the screen and rests a finger in the crook between her lower lip and chin.

Edogawa, in fact, doesn’t miss that much of the show at all, because within the next five minutes he’s joining them, apparently done with his call for now and lured by the siren song of bad TV dramas. He appears without an announcement or advance notice. Kouyou stiffens, but he doesn’t so much as glance at her, let alone hint at the encounter they’d had earlier.

Without blinking, Yosano starts to scoot closer to Kouyou to make room for him beside her. He instead perches on the arm of the couch, one leg dangling off the edge and the other folded up to press against it—Yosano pauses, not seeming too surprised, but doesn’t move back to her former position. Edogawa rests his head against the back of the couch.

Twenty-five seconds after fixing his eyes upon the screen, he announces, “It’s the rookie cop. Ten thousand yen on it.”

“Don’t take him up on that,” says Yosano, as if Kouyou had planned to. “He’s always right.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Edogawa complains. “I’m a gift to the world.” Yosano smiles but doesn’t disagree. A crinkling sound has Kouyou glancing toward Edogawa—she finds him cradling a bag of konpeito against his chest, popping it open and tossing a few stray pieces into his mouth. Muffled by a full mouth, he asks, “Want some?”

Yosano doesn’t react, just shifting her gaze to the side, so Kouyou assumes it’s directed at her. “No,” she says.

Edogawa gives her a disgruntled frown. “Not you. Kyouka-chan.”

Kouyou fixes him with an unimpressed stare before turning her eyes to Kyouka, who blinks in thought and then says, “Sure.”

Given the space between them, Edogawa has to accomplish this by flinging an arm out in front of both Kouyou and Yosano, and for it to come close enough to Kyouka he has to lean far enough to the side that Kouyou fears he’ll fall into her and Yosano’s laps. Once a handful of candy has been deposited into Kyouka’s hand, though—with a firm statement of “Keep in mind, that’s all I’ll giving you; at your age, too much is bad for you, you know”—he pulls himself upright with catlike ease. Kyouka’s plate is already all but licked clean, so she nibbles at her candy.

By the time the culprit Edogawa had pointed out appears again, Kyouka sits up, wiping her fingers on the edge of her plate. “It’s him? How?”

“How is it him,” asks Edogawa, idly twirling some konpeito between his fingers, “or how do I know?” Kyouka shakes her head at the former and nods at the latter. His resultant grin is blinding. “I’m a great detective with amazing skills of deduction, naturally! And detectives never tell their secrets.”

Yosano hums. “I thought that was magicians.”

“Deduction is a special kind of magic,” says Edogawa breezily. “Anyway, can you figure it out on your own? If not, I guess I can share my secrets with you, but I’m not just going to give it away for free yet.” He shoves the konpeito in his mouth and chews in a somehow smug way.

Kyouka doesn’t respond, but her brow furrows, and she watches the television with twice the intensity as the episode proceeds.

Kouyou has little interest in the show itself—it’s clear that it’s every bit as bad as Yosano had expressed, and she doesn’t take the same glee out of this that Yosano and Edogawa seem to—but Kyouka’s investment is pleasant enough, as is Yosano and Edogawa’s occasional banter. To her relief, Edogawa for the most part ignores Kouyou now. She responds in kind by only glaring at him for a couple of obnoxious comments rather than all of them.

When she’s finished her castella, Yosano reaches down to set the plate on the coffee table. (Kyouka, who finished hers ten minutes earlier, keeps hers in her lap; she doesn’t even seem to notice the weight by now.) As she’s leaning back, she’s struck with a yawn. She tries to suppress it for half a second before giving in, one eye falling shut as she stretches back—when her arms go limp again, one falls neatly around Kouyou’s shoulders.

It seems like a genuine accident, all things considered, and Yosano even startles for a split second. She doesn’t make to move her arm, though, and her eyes glint as she glances up, a challenge and invitation all in one. Kouyou freezes for half a second before sighing and leaning back into the half-embrace. Kyouka doesn’t seem to notice; Edogawa surely does, but his only reaction is to chew twice as loudly.

The episode trickles away, minute by excruciating minute. Kouyou is left with a vague feeling of having wasted her time, but with a glance to either side of her, she supposes that any time spent in this position is worthwhile. All the same, the instant the credits roll, she can’t help but echo—to a more reasonable extent—the exaggerated sigh of relief Edogawa gives.

“That was a particularly annoying one.” He tosses his empty bag of candy aside, hops from his precarious seat, and stretches his arms up with a few unsettling crackling noises. After a single step toward the hall, he pauses and looks at Kyouka. “Well?”

The meaning is lost on Kouyou for a beat—and then it clicks, and she too turns to Kyouka with a raised eyebrow, unsure if she recalls as well. Kyouka presses her hand to her chin.

“He knew the last two shots were fired after the first,” she says, slow, brow furrowing as she thinks. “And they’d just found her, so the only way he would know that would be if he was the one who did it. One of his shoulders was injured, too, and there was skin and blood under her nails.”

Edogawa all but glows. “Ding ding ding! We have a winner!” he announces with such exuberance that Kyouka jumps, stiffening further when Edogawa sweeps in to clap her fiercely on the shoulder. “There were a few things you didn’t notice, but overall, not half-bad. Maybe you’ll be a great detective yourself someday. Probably not quite as good as me, though.” He pats her on the top of the head, at once encouraging and condescending.

Kyouka doesn’t seem to know how to react to any of this—in the end, she just nods. Edogawa seems satisfied; he gives her one final grin before trotting off toward his room with his arms stretched behind him in a yawn. His languid exit reminds Kouyou of a house cat.

Having observed with only a small smile, Yosano pulls her arm from behind Kouyou’s shoulders—prompting an askance look from Kyouka—and stands. She too takes a moment to stretch, rubbing at her lower back with a slight wince. Then she gestures for Kyouka to hand over her empty plate. Kyouka blinks down at her lap as though, indeed, she’d forgotten its existence, but she follows through with it.

“I’ll be back to see you two out in a minute,” she tells them, smiling but with a bit of weariness in her face, one that Kouyou thinks she and Kyouka are mirroring.

Kouyou nods, and Yosano heads back into the kitchen. In her absence, Kouyou glances down at Kyouka, who seems somewhat more alert after her and Edogawa’s exchange but still looks drowsy, head drooping forward the slightest bit. Kouyou bumps her shoulder against hers. “How are you holding up, child? Is there anything you need before we go?”

Kyouka shakes her head. “I’m fine,” she says, then gets to her feet in a motion quicker than tearing off a bandage. Not a second later, she turns to Kouyou as if compelling her to do the same.

With a thin curve of a smile, Kouyou does rise. As she stands, she smooths out the folds of her kimono and adjusts her hair. With one hand, she pulls her phone free and sends a quick message to Kasa; by the time the faucet turns off in the other room, she and Kyouka are just hovering in front of the couch,

When Yosano steps back in, she pauses for an almost imperceptible instant as she looks at them. Then, smile returning, she leads them back to the entryway, where Kouyou and Kyouka don’t hesitate to gather their shoes and bags.

As she’s fixing her sandals into place, Kouyou glances up. “Thank you for having us tonight, Yosano-sensei. You were quite the gracious host, and we both enjoyed ourselves a great deal.”

“Thank you for coming,” returns Yosano. She rests her side against the wall, arms settling in a loose fold over her chest. “Tonight wasn’t exactly anything super fancy, but it was important to me, so I’m glad it was to the two of you as well.” Her gaze settles on Kyouka, and her smile softens. Since she does the same herself often enough, Kouyou can’t find it in herself to complain. “It was nice to properly meet you outside of school, too, Kyouka.”

“You too.” Kyouka picks at the ends of one ponytail. “The food was good. Thank you.”

“I’m glad you thought so—it was made mostly with you in mind, after all. And you and Ranpo seemed to get along.”

Kouyou scoffs under her breath, but Kyouka lifts a shoulder in a noncommittal shrug.

A certain tension rises in the air as silence fills the space between Kouyou and Yosano. On any other date as of late, this would be the moment to exchange—as Yosano had put it once—proper goodbyes. With Kyouka’s presence, however, any possible words are trapped in Kouyou’s throat. Kyouka eyes Kouyou out of the corners of her eyes as if asking when they’re going to leave. Yosano arches an eyebrow as if in another challenge.

Kouyou’s decision is swift and decisive: She presses a hand over Kyouka’s eyes and leans over to catch a mid-laugh Yosano in a brief but firm kiss.

It’s only a few stilted seconds before Kouyou leans back and withdraws the hand from Kyouka’s eyes, but Kyouka still looks distinctly unimpressed, a light flush of embarrassment in her cheeks. She manages to nod toward Yosano anyway. Yosano, adjusting her hair where it had fallen forward, nods back.

“Goodnight, Akiko,” says Kouyou with a slight dip of her head, and then she turns to nudge Kyouka out the door, leaving Yosano’s pleased call of Goodnight behind them.

After the warmth of the apartment, both literal and metaphorical, the chill of the evening is a bit startling, but not necessarily unpleasantly so. It still takes a moment to get used to, and Kouyou pauses for a heartbeat as they exit the building. A look from Kyouka is enough to have her exhaling and moving on.

They walk in silence to the small lot where Kouyou had messaged Kasa to pick them up. One of Kouyou’s hands rests on Kyouka’s shoulder, and the other hovers inconspicuously above one of her obscured weapons. It should only be a few minutes before the car arrives, but it never hurts to be cautious.

The silence is calming and not uncomfortable, but after a moment or two Kouyou finds herself glancing down at Kyouka. “You did enjoy yourself tonight, yes?”

There’s a pause—and then Kyouka pulls a single piece of konpeito out of her sleeve, says, “Yes,” and promptly pops it in her mouth and starts chewing.

Kouyou smiles and leans her side against Kyouka’s. “You may have a rabbit in a couple of years, as we discussed,” she says, close enough to feel Kyouka pause, “but I am afraid I draw a rather firm line at the prospect of keeping a raccoon. My apologies.”

For a moment, Kyouka’s jaw freezes. Then she chews one last time and swallows. “A raccoon would probably smell bad,” she says in stolid acceptance. “And get into things.”

Kouyou smiles. “I appreciate your understanding,” she says, and then turns to track the motion of headlights near the entrance to the parking lot.

thanks for reading! see you monday! as always, if you have time to spare, thoughts are appreciated~ twitter: @chuuyasyndrome
1. Chapter 1 7533 0 0 2. Chapter 2 9781 0 0 3. Chapter 3 7942 0 0 4. Chapter 4 7673 0 0 5. Chapter 5 7397 0 0 6. Chapter 6 8166 0 0 7. Chapter 7 11242 0 0 8. Chapter 8 14519 0 0 9. Chapter 9 7769 0 0 10. Chapter 10 10079 0 0 11. Chapter 11 8041 0 0 12. Chapter 12 11189 0 0 13. Chapter 13 11128 0 0 14. Chapter 14 8922 0 0 15. Chapter 15 9885 0 0 16. Chapter 16 8226 0 0 17. Chapter 17 12887 0 0 18. Chapter 18 8330 0 0 19. Chapter 19 15146 0 0 20. Chapter 20 17299 0 0 21. Chapter 21 18177 0 0 22. Chapter 22 8794 0 0 23. Chapter 23 13959 0 0 24. Chapter 24 10162 0 0 25. Chapter 25 12723 0 0 26. Chapter 26 8403 0 0 27. Chapter 27 24347 0 0 28. Epilogue 3365 0 0