It was past noon on Sunday – the final day of the challenge contest that had captured the attention of two separate workplaces – when a familiar pair stepped into Homra, setting off the familiar door chime. Kusanagi looked up with a smile already on his lips, knowing exactly whom he’d find there. “Welcome,” he offered anyway. “The others are already in the back, if you’d like to grace us with your company.”
“Indeed we shall,” Munakata responded, his smile and eyes reflecting his good humor. “Please forgive us if we’ve kept you waiting.”
“Not at all.” Kusanagi shrugged, moving to lift the counter, and offered a smile to the woman at his side. “I hope you made good use of that information I gave you last time, Seri-chan.”
“Of course.” She raised an eyebrow at him as she passed, as if to express exasperation that he even felt he had to ask, and then smiled faintly. “All things considered, it might have been better that I had to come here to collect it.”
“You might be right about that.” He’d heard the story already, of course. Kusanagi followed them through the door to the back, waving to Fujishima to keep an eye on the front.
Anna and Totsuka were already waiting in the break room, the wheelchair pushed up snugly against the armchair that Homra’s young owner was perched on. They looked up as the group from the front approached, smiles forming.
“Welcome, Reisi, Seri.”
“Hey there, spy team bosses!”
Seri let out a soft, almost inaudible sigh at the cheerful greeting. “Good afternoon.”
Munakata pushed up his glasses. “This appears to be all of us – bar one.” It didn’t need to be mentioned where that ‘one’ was – or, at least, where he should be. Not that Kusanagi thought that Mikoto was out wandering the streets just yet. Getting proper sleep had never been an issue with him, even prior to his extended hospital stay. “Shall we proceed?”
“I think now’s as good a time as any.” Kusanagi glanced around in case of objections, but it didn’t seem like anyone in the room was going to offer one. “Well, then, let’s get to it – we’ve got a challenge contest about to finish, and a pair of troublemakers to judge.” He offered a rueful smile. “Though I expect they’ve sorted things out for themselves about now.”
“We can hope,” Totsuka chimed in, and smiled. “Shouhei was kind enough to agree to be our lookout, so we’ll know soon enough.”
“Misaki and Saruhiko will be fine,” Anna added, quiet and sure.
“At this point, I would have to agree.” Munakata nodded politely at her before directing a sharp-eyed gaze at the others. “I must admit, I had not predicted the direction our little… distraction… would take. It is fortunate that such splendid improvisations could be made.”
Not predicted, huh? Kusanagi felt his fingers twitch, and resisted the urge to go for a cigarette. It was years ago that Yata had confided in him about his preferences, and he still hadn’t expected the exact outcome of the very clear chemistry between him and Fushimi.
At least, not until after that ice-cream challenge.
He didn’t believe for a second that Munakata hadn’t at least had an inkling of it prior to that, though. His sense is too sharp for him to have missed it. Would’ve saved them a lot of last-minute hassle coming up with appropriate challenges if he’d just shared that little piece of information.
Well, it’s not worth complaining about at this point. “I’m not sure if splendid’s the word I’d use for some of those,” Kusanagi commented instead, shaking his head. “Either way, I think we can all agree we’re probably looking at a tie outcome – am I right?”
Totsuka chuckled. “I don’t think either of them were feeling up to taking on King’s last challenge, hm?”
Munakata made a small, disapproving ‘hmph’. “As with his first challenge, it was quite disagreeable.”
Kusanagi let out an amused huff. “Says the man who encouraged those boys to wear women’s clothing at their workplaces.”
He received an untroubled smile in response. “Merely indulging a curiosity of mine, Kusanagi-kun.”
“Is that what it is?” The lack of guilt in that smile was a bit irritating, to be honest. “How’d you find the actual experience, Seri-chan?”
“I didn’t have any particular trouble,” she responded with unruffled cool. “It’s only fair for me to assist in that sense, seeing as how I had no part in writing any of these.”
“You could have written one or two if you’d wanted.”
Seri smiled at him, small and sharp. “I don’t think I could top ‘plan an amazing date’, do you?”
Kusanagi raised his hands in mock surrender. “Ouch.”
“But,” Anna put in quietly – when he glanced over, she was frowning as if in deep thought, “mine was criticized.”
“Ah.” There wasn’t much he could say to that. Put your foot in it without knowing, huh, Yata-chan? Not that he could exactly be faulted, considering which challenge that one happened to be…
“Please rest assured, Kushina-san,” Munakata said smoothly, “we have all received our share of criticism.” His smile took on an amused edge. “Our Fushimi-kun has quite the cutting tongue, as I’m sure many of you have noticed.”
“He’s an interesting one, that’s for sure,” Totsuka remarked with good-natured cheer – and then blinked as the phone in his lap buzzed. “Ah – I wonder if that’s Shouhei now…”
“Are you going to continue the challenges, Tatara?” Anna asked him, leaning forward a little to watch as he swiped open his phone.
“That’s a good question.” Kusanagi aimed a rueful grin at his younger friend. “It was yours before any of this started, after all.”
“Please accept our apologies for appropriating the board,” Munakata put in without a trace of actual remorse. “However, it seems to have served its intended purpose well.”
“Hmm…” Totsuka smiled absently, keying into his phone. “I haven’t made up my mind just yet. Oh, but!” He lifted his head, eyes brightening. “I was thinking of daily quotes instead – what do you think, Anna?”
She leaned forward even further, reaching out to tap at his phone meaningfully. “Tatara.”
“Ah – right. Sorry for getting distracted, everyone!” He straightened, turning the phone outward so that the image on its screen was visible. “Here we are – courtesy of our own Akagi Shouhei!”
They all had to step in a little to see it, but once he’d caught a good glimpse, Kusanagi leaned back, shaking his head as the corners of his mouth tugged up again. In public, even – seriously, you two. “Anna,” he said gently, directing her attention away from the close-up of their two competitors kissing in the middle of a public sidewalk.
She obediently sat back, but he noticed that she was smiling too. “It’s fine, Izumo. I’ve already seen the photo from the amusement park.”
Kusanagi shot an arch look at Munakata, who let out an amused hum in response. “I can assure you, that was not my doing.”
Kamamoto, then. He was going to have to have a talk with those boys – again – about what it meant to be a part of bringing up a young lady. “Well, I think it’s safe to assume the final challenge was a success.”
“I would say so,” Seri commented, and smiled faintly.
“Mission complete,” Totsuka agreed, lowering and turning the phone with a certain amount of satisfaction. “Congratulations, Yata-chan. Fushimi-kun.”
There was a murmur of agreement from all around – and with that, the meeting adjourned.