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And the other Level-Up present!

So I was writing TWO things for Becky's birthday--partially because they had nothing to do with what she asked for and partially because they were based on a conversation we had. I didn't finish them both in time for the day but that's okay! Becky is awesome enough to have TWO days of presents.

And if she doesn't like them, I shall simply do better next year. ♥




French Revolution

He supposed that it was because they were both at loose ends without Worm and Tendou there to take up their time. He also supposed that there was more to it than that, but he tried not to think of Tendou too much or too often or, when he failed at that, too deeply. But even without thinking about it…

"What is that?" Yumiko demanded, pointing at the pan on the cook-top.

Kagami looked at the contents dubiously and then at Renge and then back at his boss. "I'm teaching Renge to cook," he told her. "She still wants to learn. So. I'm teaching."

"Mm-hm," Yumiko traded a look with Hiyori. "And which of these messes is yours and which is hers?" she asked, pointing to the other pan.

Renge put her hands on her hips and considered. "Mine caught fire," she reported, "and Senpai's kind of exploded."

"Due to the heat!" Kagami defended himself. He could cook. "From your fire," he added to Renge.

"Facts are facts, Senpai," she returned.

"Facts are that both of you need to get out of this kitchen now," Yumiko interrupted. "Out of this bistro entirely. And open the windows on your way."

Kagami blinked. "But then who--?"

"Juka is going to stop by. She can bus tables until we close," Hiyori said peacefully.

"But she's not trained," Renge said.

Kagami looked at Hiyori and then Renge and then Yumiko and then back to Renge. "Let's go," he said. "We'll go to Kagami Arata's School of Modern Cooking. Classes meeting nightly at seven-thirty."

"Okay, Senpai!"


Renge and Kagami stared.

And stared.

"Senpai—"

"Yeeeeeeah," Kagami admitted. He sighed. "It's been a while since I've cooked at home."

"Before our next class you should probably go to the market," Renge informed him.

Kagami cocked his head and stared a little more. "I should probably call in a ZECT squad before I open the fridge again," he deadpanned.

"Eh?"

"Never mind," he laughed, shutting the refrigerator door. "Let's go get a hotdog."

Renge's head jerked up. "Hotdog?"

Had she never—? Kagami wondered. "A hotdog. It's this…I guess you'd call it a tube shape…a tube-shaped piece of meat, big about like this...and it's in a—"

"I know what a hotdog is!" Renge protested, folding her arms. "But Shishou—"

"Is in Paris. He's probably walking around with a bowl of tofu as we speak."

"—said that to prepare your body—"

Kagami knew what Tendou said about food and the body and the mind and being prepared. Kagami had heard it at least once a day as they'd cleaned up the remaining Worm. "Renge," he said. He put a hand on her shoulder and waited until she looked at him. He looked her square in the eye. "Sometimes you can plan everything out and you can plan for all the possibilities but the more you do it, the more you just think in circles until you forget what the goal was. Sometimes," he said, giving her shoulder a gentle shake, "you just have to live in the moment, think on your feet, and have a hotdog."

Renge looked at his hand and then at him, her face fractured. "But Shishou says—"

"You used to eat dry boiled rice."

After a moment Renge nodded. "All right. Let's go eat a hotdog."



"Aren't we supposed to sit down?" Renge asked, looking from her paper-wrapped hotdog to the wide sidewalk around them.

There was a bench but Kagami ignored it. "Live a little," he invited as he unwrapped his own hotdog, the hot smell of mingled ketchup and mustard sharp in his nose. He took a bite and spoke around it. "Experience it."

"You're not normal, Senpai," Renge told him, catching up to him and unwrapping her food. She sniffed it suspiciously.

"Dry. Boiled. Rice." But he was quiet about it because she'd taken a bite and her eyes had gone wide and he was, in that moment, genuinely fond of her.



"Senpai!"

Kagami stopped at the end of his hall. Renge was standing at attention by his door. "Renge!" he greeted her, shifting his bag of groceries to his other arm. He wondered what she was doing there as he reached for his keys to unlock his door.

"Class is at seven-thirty, right?" Renge asked, standing to the side.

Oh. He hadn't really meant anything by the whole 'School of Cooking' thing but it wasn't like he had anything else to occupy his time. He was still trying to figure out what he was going to do now that Gatack had gone. "Right! Sorry I'm late!" He opened his door and bowed her inside. "I had to get a few things!" He lifted the bag in demonstration.

Renge nodded. "Good, because I called ahead and had Bright come and clean out your fridge."

Kagami was afraid for the state of his kitchen until he caught sight of the smile playing at the corner of Renge's mouth. "Did you just make a joke?"

Renge knocked him on the shoulder. "I can do that," she said. Then, "I don't trust Bright; I got Shadow. Funny, right?"



His kitchen was so sanitized he didn't even recognize it.

The food they managed to cook in it was edible. Mostly. They were eating it, at any rate.

"We probably shouldn't eat this," Kagami said, looking from his plate to hers. He wasn't sure which of them had messed up more. He was sure that Tendou would have probably given them both the same slow blink of disappointment.

"If it doesn't kill us, it can only make us stronger," Renge said, tucking into her meal.

Kagami closed his eyes and took a bite of his own. "I really can cook okay," he said after he choked it down. "I promise."

Renge looked at him and he was struck by something about her. He knew her best as a slightly-scary ass-kicking warrior woman with a really nasty piece of wire but she looked almost…gentle. "I'm sure you can, Senpai," she said as she took another bite.

He distinctly heard something crunch where it wasn't supposed to. "Tomorrow I'll make it up to you," he told her. "Show up early for lessons, okay?"



It had taken him all day to find, purchase, and bring home Renge's pre-class make-up surprise. "Chocolate island coconut ice cream," he said, setting the small bowl down in front of her. "This is the richest, fattiest, most delicious ice cream in the whole city. I checked." He sat down across from her and took a spoonful from his own little bowl. "If it's not sinful, we're returning it because it was expensive." He lifted his spoon in salute.

She saluted back before putting her spoon in her mouth and.

And for a moment Kagami was sure that he was witnessing something very personal and very private. "Uh." It was good ice cream but he wasn't sure it was THAT good. At least his own wasn't. Maybe Tendou would understand, he thought wildly. "Um, Renge?"

"Senpai this is—" she took another bite and closed her eyes. He could have sworn that he saw her shiver.

"Renge?"

It took her a moment to open her eyes. She looked blissed out and drugged. "Senpai?"

He had to laugh. "You went from dry rice to Tendou's cooking and you're acting like this is some sort of revelation to you. It's like with the hotdog. Like it's something new and—" and wait… "Wait, did you go from school canteen food to dry boiled rice to Tendou's cooking and that's it?"

"Yes?"

Kagami looked at his ice cream and then at Renge's. "Change of plans," he told her. "Hiyori can teach you to cook." And if not Hiyori, Juka. Kagami would bribe them both if he had to. He would take over the entire dining room at La Salle if he had to. "You and I are going to have…let's call it Curiosity Club…instead."

Renge made a questioning noise around her ice cream. Kagami pushed his bowl at her.

"Instead of making a hash of things in here, we're going to go out and we're going to try all sorts of food—good food, bad food, cheap stall food, fancy restaurants that require a reservation two months in advance food.

Renge licked her spoon and then shoved it into his bowl. "Why do you want to do that, Senpai?" she asked, digging up a huge blob of ice cream.

He wasn't sure why. Not really. It just struck him as wrong that Renge had next to no experience with something as simple as food. It tasted bitter on the back of his tongue thinking about it—like thinking about her training. Renge was just a kid and yet… "If you like Tendou's food best," he said, "shouldn't it be because you've tried everything else?" And saying it reminded him of Tendou. It sounded like something he'd say. Or something his grandmother might say.

Mouth full, Renge looked at him with solemn eyes in her young face. "That makes sense," she allowed thickly.

Except Kagami was on a roll. "And more than food, we're going to go out and do things." Who knew what else she was missing out on? "We should—where do you work? Can you get time off in the day?" He thought she must have been able to—she was at Bistro La Salle a lot lately.

"I train all day right now," Renge said, scraping at the bottom of the bowl. "ZECT hasn't officially disbanded but with no Worm there's nothing to do so I train. I can't lose my edge."

That definitely settled it. "You should know what you like to do," he told her, "when you've got nothing else to do. Tomorrow, noon, at the stadium."

Renge saluted him.

He slapped her hand down, grinning. "You're president of the Curiosity Club," he informed her. "I'm just the planning team for now."

"All right," Renge seemed to consider it. Then she nodded. "Tomorrow, at noon, meet me at the stadium."

Kagami saluted her and laughed.


The sunshine was bright and warm, a perfect day. Kagami was waiting for Renge, standing at home plate.

"Senpai?"

He turned and hurled the baseball mitt at her, completely unsurprised when she caught it. "Nice," he said. "Put that on and I'll show you how to tighten the laces."

Renge turned it over in her hands. "Baseball?"

"You'll love it," he assured her. Then reconsidered. "Well, you'll be good at it." Since she was baffled he showed her how to put the mitt on. "Like this," he said, holding the laces in his teeth and tugging. "See?"

She watched. "It's easier and has better leverage that way," she said, biting at her own laces.

"It's gross and traditional," he told her, spitting his out. "Tastes like leather and glove oil." She just nodded, tugging at the laces. "Renge?" When she looked up he made an exaggerated face. "Make the face, okay? It's part of it."

Pulling a face, Renge finished tightening her laces. "Now what."

"Now, you stand stay there and I—" he walked toward the pitchers mound, picked up the ball he'd put there earlier, and turned, throwing it at her. "Shit!" he yelped, ducking as the ball came hurtling back at him so fast he had to wonder how she'd even managed to have time to catch it, let alone build up that kind of speed.

"Senpai?" Renge asked.

Kagami stared at the back wall by the stands. There was an obvious hole. "I am buying you a baseball bat," he told her seriously. He looked over his shoulder and smiled, somehow surprised at the way she beamed back at him. It reminded him of…but no. Renge's smile was completely her own and her sharing it with him was just that.


Kagami filled in his days around his La Salle schedule with Renge and exploring the city around them. They rented a tandem bike and nearly killed themselves. They found every Purikura booth in the mall and took pictures in all of them. They ate at the worst-rated noodle cart they could find. For three days they did Muay Thai boxing and for a week they took ballroom dancing lessons. They went to the movies. They went formal wear shopping.

"Are you sure?" Renge asked, paused outside the display window. Her hand had lifted fitfully at the glass, like it wanted to hover.

He reached out and took that hand in his own. "Yup. I got us a table a month ago and it's definitely black-tie. That means you need a gown and I need a tux." He tugged. "C'mon. We'll make it fun."

Kagami had it easy. All he had to do was put on a tuxedo, tie a tie, and have shiny shoes. Tendou probably would have taken less time and come out much fancier but Kagami was just himself. "You can match your pocket square to her dress," the woman in the shop told him. "Whenever she chooses."

He wandered over to the ladies section. Renge was standing among the dresses, still in tee-shirt and black skirt and knee socks. "Did you find one?"

"None of these is good for fighting in or stealth," she fretted.

Kagami grinned. "Nope. They're all good for looking beautiful in." He pulled three off the rack at random and shoved them at her. "Go put on a fashion show."

She did. Once she had one dress on she couldn't seem to stop, trying on just about every dress Kagami could hand her. Royal blue, delicate pink, sunset orange, lemony yellow, white and black and purple with sparkles. "I can't pick," she said, poking her head out of the dressing room later. "I don't know which one looked good."

Kagami smiled crookedly at her. "You looked good in all of them," he told her. But he could see where it was maybe overwhelming. HE was overwhelmed and he didn't have to wear any of them. He looked around. "How about this?" he asked. He went to a rack and pulled off a dress in brilliant red. It was strapless but the bodice was decorated with a pattern of brilliant crystals, scattering down to her waist. The skirt was wide and full, gathered up here and there with more crystals in a cascading tier. It was beautiful and elegant and adventurous. "This one," he said, holding it up to her.

Renge took it with a questioning look. "Try this one on?" she asked.

"No." He shook his head. "That's the one." He was sure of it.


He was even more sure of it the next night when she walked into the restaurant. He stood up, stunned. "Renge?" Somehow it was totally unexpected, her hair up in big curls and pinned with sparkly things, the red dress making her look like a rogue princess.

She was blushing, too. "Senpai," she said. She almost didn't wait for the waiter to lead her to their table.

Kagami was so stunned that he held her chair for her without thinking, pushing her in gently when she did sit, after staring at him for a moment. "Wow," he told her.

"I feel stupid," she said. She wasn't looking at him.

Privately he thought that she felt girly and pretty and out of her element. "You look amazing," he said. "Just one thing…" He reached across their tiny, candle-lit table and took her hand in his, unfastening the black leather glove she habitually wore. "This has to come off."

Renge pulled on her hand. "No! I need that!" She fished down her cleavage and pulled out her garroting wire. "See?" she demonstrated holding the spool in her ungloved hand and the wire at the palm of the other, held safely away from her skin by her glove.

Kagami took it away and tucked it in his pocket behind the square he'd got to match her dress. Then he went back for the glove, catching her hand before she could yank it away. "Don't be such a tough girl," he told her.

"But—!"

He stroked his fingers over the back of her hand. "Tonight, you can just be the pretty girl. If a Worm turns up, I'll give them back."

She looked torn. "Without them…"

He knew how she felt, he figured. Without the rider belt, without Gatack…he felt naked sometimes. Without Tendou there he felt…not lost, but something. "Without them, you're still Renge. I'm still pretty afraid of you," he confessed.

"Senpai," she muttered, looking down.

"I am!"



There wasn't Worm that night. But there was a traffic accident right outside the restaurant. "Renge," he said, on his feet in an instant.

"Right!" she said, also on her feet.



"Thank you, sir," the police officer said. "Sorry to ruin your night out."

Kagami shook his head. "No, it's not a problem. It's nothing."

The officer smiled. "Hey, we're both cops. I know how hard it is to come by a night off."

"Ah! I'm not—"

"Senpai." Renge was at his side, her hand on his arm. The officer smiled and tipped his hat, then walked away.

Kagami frowned. "My father," he said, "is a cop. Was a cop. Something. The chief of police." And the head of ZECT. He rubbed his eyes. "I'm not a cop. This was just—" Reflex, instinct. He scrubbed a hand over his face.

"Senpai," Renge said and he noticed that she was the one leading the way, in her rumpled and dirty dress. "Maybe you could be."

"My father would love that," Kagami sighed. "Born to be a Rider. Born to be a cop. I just—"

"Senpai," Renge said firmly, "chose to be a Rider. You were partnered with the God of Battle. He only would have chosen you if you'd chosen him too."

"Renge."

"If you choose this, wouldn't it be the same?"

"You don't understand," he told her, thinking of his brother, of the things they had both lost.

"I don't," Renge agreed. "You were always somebody who stood up for the weak. Even when you were weak, you did. I read your files, you know, when I studied Shishou's. And tonight wasn't any different," she told him. "So why aren't you doing something like this?"

"Because I—" he didn't know why. "I've never done anything different, you know."

"Yes you have," Renge disagreed. She gave him a tasking look. "Curiosity Club is about finding what you like to do. Tonight, you did. Tomorrow you can go and see about it." She led the way around a corner, under a bright splash of streetlight. Like it was settled.

"Renge!"

She smiled at him, brilliant in the light. "I'm club president, right? So you have to listen."

Kagami would have liked to have claimed that it was all action and no thought but he had to walk a few feet to catch her under the light, he had to turn her fully and take her into his arms. He had to touch her face, angle it up, and lean in…all before he could kiss her. Her lips were soft under his, pliant, her whole body lax against him but for the hand that landed on his shoulder and fisted in his expensive tuxedo jacket.

And then she was gone, out of arms and striding off down the block like a soldier on a mission. Shit. "Shit! Renge, I'm sorry!"

He nearly ran into her as she stopped. "Are you?" she asked quietly.

Something about her voice made him think before he could spit out another apology. Was he sorry? "Not for doing it," he said. "But if you're upset, then I'm sorry about that."

Nodding, Renge set off again. "Let's go play baseball, Senpai."



Kagami watched her drill balls over the backfield fence and into the street for half an hour before she spoke again, the bat resting on one bare shoulder as the last ball disappeared into the night. "I thought…I thought Shishou…" she said at last as Kagami kicked the empty ball-basket over.

Oh god. Oh no. "You're in love with Tendou," he said. He wasn't sure what that feeling in his gut was.

Renge's eyes went saucer-wide. "No!" She shifted the bat to her other shoulder. "YOU. I thought you and Shishou…"

For a moment, Kagami thought about it. Thought about it more deeply, in the way he tried not to anymore. The look in Tendou's eyes at the airport. The feeling of his hand in his own, the final shake. The feeling in his chest, the thoughts in his head. "We never," he said softly with a shake of his head. "We never talked about anything or said anything."

"But you still felt that way. You feel that way?"

He didn't KNOW anymore. That was the problem. "Whatever there is there…is in France now. And we're here and right now," he said slowly, "I like being with you."

Renge nodded. "Okay. But tomorrow you're still going to the police station."

"Being president sure goes to your head," he told her as they left the ballpark.



Kagami was accepted within five seconds of walking in the door and a minted officer by the end of the day. Apparently his ZECT training was currency at the academy. He didn't realize until he left, in his new uniform with his new badge and assignment, just how late he was for his job.

"SHIT!" he yelped, racing toward the bistro. "Yumiko, Hiyori, I am so—Renge?" he skidded to a stop and let Renge push him into a seat. "What?"

"Renge told us where you were and why," Yumiko said, coming out of the kitchen. "So we fired you and hired her."

"Congratulations," Hiyori said, bringing him a bottle of beer.



Renge walked him home afterwards and Kagami told her about his new status, his new assignment, his new training. He stopped when they reached his building. "You don't have to work at La Salle," he told her. "They can hire on Juka for the rest of the summer until they can find somebody. You don't have to—"

"I want to see if I like it," she interrupted.

Then she kissed him on the mouth, up on her tiptoes against him, arms around his neck.

Kagami kissed her back, right in the middle of the street and directly in front of the door to his building, kissing until he needed air and the taste of her was in his mouth, bright and tartly sweet. "Okay," he said breathlessly.

"See you tomorrow night for Curiosity Club," she told him, letting go and stepping back, wiping the corner of her mouth with the edge of her thumb.

Kagami shook his head and was surprised to find himself laughing. "Okay."



The Curiosity Club continued, worked out around both their new duties. They went out to eat habanero peppers at a Mexican restaurant and they hung tanabata wishes at Bistro La Salle. Kagami took Renge to the beach and Renge took him to climb Mount Fuji. Renge showed up at the end of the day to march the last of the kids across the street, Kagami turned up to bus tables at La Salle. In so many ways it was exactly what they'd been doing before with the addition of some kissing.

And some touching.

Until the day Kagami invited Renge over to practice traffic stop hand signals and ended up asking her if she wanted to shower.

She looked at him like she had that first night, with the hotdog, and for one wild moment Kagami thought he was going to have to explain and then kill himself from the embarrassment. But she nodded. "Okay."

He brought her his robe to wear and handed it through the cracked-open bathroom door. Her hand was warm and damp when it touched his. "I'll just," he said when she slipped out, bundled up in his clothes. He thought about taking the fastest shower on record but decided that she deserved better than that. She was sitting on the edge of his bed, flipping through his CPR notes when he made his way to his bedroom, towel wrapped at his waist. "This is kind of awkward," he said apologetically.

"Is it supposed to be?" Renge asked, she scooted back until she was in the middle of the bed and folded her knees up to her chest. She looked vulnerable and for a split second Kagami almost thought of somebody else, somebody who had once let himself be seen that way. But then he blinked and it was just himself and Renge and the moment. "Or should it be more awkward?"

She was, without a doubt, one of the weirdest people he knew. "I have no clue," he told her, following her. "So if it's really bad, just let me know," he instructed as he leaned forward to kiss her.

"Okay," she said into his mouth, kissing him back.



He took it slow because he wasn't an idiot; he knew what this was and what it meant. And Renge meant something to him. She'd become somebody important to him. He wanted to focus on her and give her something she would never regret. He touched her with gentleness and with surety. He watched her face and listened to her breathing grow ragged and thin, learning what she liked from the way she moved against him and how her fingers twisted painfully in his hair as he found her.

"Senpai," she moaned as he slid back up her body, his own body demanding hers with stunning ferocity.

But.

"You can probably call me Arata," he said as he positioned himself against her. "Or at least Kagami."

Renge arched against him, her arms coming up around his neck, hands in his hair. "Wouldn't that be weird?" she managed around a whimper as his hand brushing against her turned into a deliberate touch.

Weird? He could still taste her. She had one thigh over his hip and was squirming beneath him. Wouldn't that be weird? He slid his arms under her, lifting her against him in a hug even as he slid home inside of her. "Maybe."



He woke up to her sitting beside him in the bed, naked in the moonlight, the sheet pooled in her lap. "Renge?" he mumbled.

She tilted her head as she looked down at him. "Am I supposed to leave quietly or stay?"

What a question. He laughed into his pillow for a moment. "What do you want to do?" he asked when he lifted his face again.

She pulled a face. "I guess I'll stay but I don't want to cuddle."

He laughed out loud and patted the spot beside him. "Got it." She curled up, her back to him and he couldn't resist running his hand down the long line of her spine, curved with silver light. She twisted and glared at him, filthy-dark stare. He laughed. "Now I've got it," he assured her and he lay down too, back to back with her, warm.



As the Curiosity Club, they went to a nightclub, to Tadokoro's soba shop, to the pet store to look at fuzzy animals. They drank Discabil-family wine until they were drunk and, in an effort to sober up, drank strangely colored health drinks made from a powder that they had found in a mail-order catalog. Renge made him try her specialty dishes at work. A little girl asked him where Tendou was and he smiled as he told her, already seeing Renge coming up the street toward him. They bought roasted sweet potatoes from a truck vendor. They played American football in the crunch of maple leaves at the park.

They were terrible at football. Kagami because he couldnt remember the rules and Renge because all she did was tackle. Hard.

"You're awful at this," he told her as he gasped for air, looking up at her sitting on his chest, framed by the bright blue sky.

"So are you," she shrugged, hopping off of him and holding out her hand. "Again?"

He knew for a fact she could do it all day. "No."

"You need to build up endurance, Senpai," she lectured. He sat up and grinned at her, lazy and slow and she pinked. "Oh."

He laughed and tackled her into the leaves, shoving them messily in her hair before running, running, and getting tackled in return.



Sometimes they had sex, long and hot and slow. Sometimes it was rough and fast, one of them pressed up to the tiled wall of the shower. Sometimes he left her with a kiss goodnight, sometimes she slept over. He wasn't sure what he was doing or what he thought about it, really. He tried not to think about it too much or too often or too deeply, tried not to think about it alongside anything else. Tried not to think about somebody else who had unfolded with him, around him, made him unfold himself.

"Hey," he caught Renge's face in his hands and kissed her. "Why so solemn?"

They were naked and in bed and she looked so…serious. She reminded him of the old Renge, the first one he'd met. Steely. He poked her side. "This is supposed to be fun, too, you know."

"Senpai…" She pursed her lips.

He wriggled his fingers against her belly and she twitched. So he moved to her sides, light fingers. She laughed and slapped at him. He touched her neck in a spot that made her squirm in an effort to get away, tickled at her armpits until she shrieked and retaliated.

He wasn't sure when they went from laughing to moaning, pressing into each other, but it was worth it.

Outside his window, the snow fell; just a flutter of flakes, just enough to say 'it's time, it's time, it's that time once again'.



She wasn't big on cuddling, Renge. It was an occasional thing. Kagami kissed the back of her neck and then her shoulder. "Hey, I got a present for you." He ran his nails down her back, scratching lightly. "It's in the drawer in my nightstand."

Renge gave him an inscrutable look. "The condoms?"

He flicked her on the forehead. "The other drawer."

When she sat up to get it he sat up too, wrapping his arms around her waist as she dragged the small present into her lap, the silver-blue paper shiny in the lamplight. "Is…is it a Christmas present?" she asked.

He honestly hadn't thought of it that way. He'd seen it in a window and had got it for her on a whim. But he'd surely known that Christmas was approaching. It was only two weeks away, after all, and the advertising was impossible to miss. "It could be?" he offered.

Renge twisted and looked up at him. "Senpai, is it okay if we stop being the Curiosity Club?" she asked.

He blinked and his arms went slack around her. "I. How do you mean?" Did she want to stop going out and exploring? Did she want actual dates? Did she want—

"Shishou is coming back next week," she said, watching him closely. Studying him.

He had known that Tendou was coming back. It wasn't like he hadn't been in touch with Tendou at all while he'd been in France. There had been e-mails, brief phone conversation over Juka's phone. There had been contact. "Renge," he said now, at a loss. He tightened his arms around her middle. "Is this because of…the night I kissed you, you said—"

"When Shishou comes back, he'll bring back all those things with him, that's true," Renge nodded. She looked at him. "But the Curiosity Club is about finding things you like, right? Haven't you found it by now?"

"You matter to me," he told her honestly. "You're kind of crazy but it's good." He liked her. He did. And if she had feelings for him, after all of everything, he'd never betray them. "Whatever he brings back…you're still Renge."

She smiled at him. "Senpai takes care of other people, even if they don't need it," she told him. "You can take care of Shishou. He won't need it but he'll think it's funny, too."

"Renge…"

"I want to stop this for me, too," she said bluntly. "I like you a lot, Senpai, but…" she fidgeted, the sheets making a whisper against the present in her lap.

"Sometimes," Kagami said slowly, realizing, "you just have to go out and get a hotdog." He smiled at her and kissed her cheek. "Open your present anyhow. It's a break-up present."

"I didn't get you anything for breaking up," she said as she opened the paper. She lifted out the present nestled inside: a black-and-white striped cat-ear hat with long scarf parts that ended in mittens. With little felt 'claws' on the end, the words 'scritch-scratch' written all over the back. She gave him a very significant Look.

Grinning Kagami took it from her and put it on her head, lifting her hands to put them in the paws. "Now you have," he told her.

The hard punch to the gut was worth it, he thought as he collapsed on top of her, winded and laughing. She was laughing too, a sound he almost never heard. "Senpai?" she asked as they wound down.

"Hm?" he kissed her shoulder again, the feeling friendly and warm, like this was the last time he'd be like this with her and he knew it. Because it was and he did and it was still good, they were still who they were. "You want to stay tonight?" he asked.

She nodded and he reached out over her and turned the lamp off.

Before he fell asleep he had the thought that Tendou wouldn't approve of the hat or the wrapping paper still being in the bed with them…but that maybe Tendou wouldn't mind so much everything else that was in there.





Tiny Epilogue:

Kagami's breath fogged in the chill winter air as he waited to make sure that there were no more children coming to cross. He was waiting to hear the distant sound of the school chimes. He was listening and so he heard the sound of footsteps in the snow behind him.

"Renge told me you taught her to eat hotdogs," Tendou said to him.

He smiled up at the sky. "I also taught her to play baseball."

"May the gods of mercy look with favor on the city," Tendou said dryly.

Kagami turned and looked at Tendou, saw him for the first time in a year. And he could see that Tendou was laughing with his eyes, a rich and silent sound. Maybe they'd talk, finally settle things between them one way or the other. But for now, he thought, he just liked being with him. "Welcome home."

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
lazulisong
May. 3rd, 2011 11:14 pm (UTC)
well, I love you.
still_ciircee
May. 15th, 2011 12:50 am (UTC)
*clings* This knowledge is all that keeps my heart beating.
missmollyetc
Feb. 21st, 2012 07:09 am (UTC)
Hello!
I just found this LJ-surfing after seeing the show, and I just had to tell you how much I love this story. It's so wonderfully nuanced, and fragile with growing up and hope for the future. I love the way Renge and Kagami relate to the world around them, each other, and Tendou's influence on their lives.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )