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friends, actually

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There's a third pair of shoes by the front door but Kaito doesn't notice. He’s too busy dumping water out of his own boots all over the entryway floor.

"You can stop time but you couldn’t turn into an umbrella?"

"M-master Kaito, it's not so much stopping time as—”

“Did I ask?”

“W-well, you see, Master Kaito, you did create m—”

“Get a towel before I create something actually useful out of your scrap parts.”

The robot stammers out an apology and zips off, leaving Kaito wringing his coat out while cursing the sudden deluge of rain. Maybe it’s because he’s soaked to the bone and no longer wearing a coat, but it feels far colder in the house than it should.

“Haruto,” he calls out, squelching his way into the sitting room and leaving behind a river in his wake, “did you adjust the thermost—”

He comes to an abrupt stop at nearly the same time Orbital 7 rushes around the corner with an armful of towels.

“You’re home late, big brother,” Haruto says, turning his head, but it finally registers to Kaito that there was an extra pair of tacky boots by the door that didn’t belong to him and were too small to be Faker’s anyway but he hadn’t noticed until he walked in on his brother kneeling at the coffee table dueling…

…with Mizael.

“Why are you here?”

Haruto gives Kaito an appraising sort of look, the way that grade school boys might give someone when they finally learn what sass is and want to be the cool kid on the playground. Kaito has a shrewd idea of who is responsible for this. “I live here.”

Kaito ignores Orbital, who is trying his damndest to dry Kaito off with three towels at once, and storms over to the coffee table. “Two things,” he says after gathering his composure and kicking Orbital away, “Haruto, you aren’t to speak with Ryoga Kamishiro ever again, and as for you” –he plucks a card off the table and brandishes it at Mizael— “Fusion? How dare you corrupt my brother with this trash.”

“If you get my deck wet,” Mizael says in a bored voice, “I’m going to head into the bathroom and give Photon Dragon a wheelie.”

“A swirlie,” Haruto offers, and Kaito is overcome by the irresistible urge to kick Ryoga Kamishiro’s ass.

Since Ryoga isn’t there to take out his frustration on, Kaito drops the Fusion card back on the table, grabs the towel Orbital left on the sofa arm, and begins furiously drying his hair off. “We don’t bring Fusion into this house.”

“Nice hair,” Mizael says, and Kaito leaves the room.

Half an hour and a pair of pajama pants least likely to elicit a terrible joke from Mizael later, the three of them are sitting in silence in the living room, eating leftover takoyaki from probably five nights ago while Haruto sifts through that Fusion deck that Mizael dredged up from somewhere.

“Nobody uses Fusion,” he offers between bites.

“No harm in being prepared,” Mizael says, grimacing at his dinner.

“Prepared for what?” Kaito holds up his empty plate and Orbital obediently whisks it away (not without barely concealed monologuing about how Kaito didn’t appreciate it). “You think any Fusion users that actually exist in any meaningful numbers are going to be worse than—”

He pauses, then, because he was about to lapse into sensitive territory and judging by the way Mizael’s jaw tightens and Haruto shoves two takoyaki into his mouth at once, everyone knew it.

“Anyway,” Kaito continues with some of the edge off his voice, “it’s not like we’re going to wake up one morning and find an army of Fusion users burning down the city.”

Haruto tries to offer an agreement but his mouth is full so Kaito chooses to imagine that his precious little brother doesn’t know slang like “damn right.”

“I don’t mean some external threat,” Mizael sniffs, setting his half-empty plate on the table, “but if Haruto wants to learn to duel, he should be ready for any kind of deck.”

Oh.

“We’re not all soldiers, Kaito.”

The look Mizael gives him over the top of Haruto’s head carries the weight of a hundred galaxies’ worth of guilt.

Kaito can’t look at him.

“Nobody uses Fusion,” he says again, prodding at his last takoyaki ball.

“You’ve used Fusion before,” Haruto says unhelpfully, either not noticing his brother’s rival’s meaningful looks or choosing not to notice.

“I’ve made a lot of bad life choices,” Kaito mutters. “Are you going to finish that?” he adds, gesturing toward Mizael’s half-eaten dinner.

Mizael waves his hand and props his head on his elbow, which is resting on the coffee table. He doesn’t say anything for nearly ten minutes while Kaito finishes Mizael's dinner, though Haruto is going on and on about different strategies Mizael taught him (as if Kaito had never shown him foolproof ways of summoning high-level monsters in one turn before) and how Mizael had become deeply invested in watching some television series about a fantasy world about a wall and ice zombies and lots of snow and a woman who somehow gave birth to dragons, and wouldn’t it hurt to have dragons in your tummy?

(Kaito had given Haruto many talks in his life but damn it, Faker and his imaginary Ph.D were the ones who were going to explain the reproductive system to Haruto.)

“Okay, Haruto, you need to get ready for bed,” Kaito interrupts, and Haruto predictably sighs.

“Can’t I stay up for a little while longer?” He gives Kaito his cutest smile and clasps his hands in front of his chin.

It’s Kaito’s turn to sigh. “Okay. You can stay up and watch a movie but then you’re going to bed. But brush your teeth and get in your jammies.”

Haruto mumbles about how Kaito shouldn’t use the word jammies anymore, I’m too old for that now, but obediently marches to the bathroom, Orbital following to make sure he brushed long enough and flossed every tooth.

It’s three minutes where he’s sitting in the living room across from Mizael with too many questions and not enough time and fifteen seconds pass before he breaches the silence.

“Isn’t there incest in that show?” he says conversationally, picking up the Fusion deck and flipping through it.

“Don’t worry,” Mizael responds wryly, “I didn’t mention that bit to Haruto.”

It’s surreal, sitting here facing the man whose first appearance in that forest, in that sphere that nearly broke Yuma, had been terrifying in one way and thrilling in a hundred more—a thrill Kaito had never felt while hunting Numbers, a thrill he’d never felt from a duel with anyone else before or since—who now sits in his living room in a generic band t-shirt and too-tight pants, teaching the little brother of the man he had once tried to (and successfully) killed how to play a card game.

“We have a very strange relationship,” Kaito says, setting the deck on the table before moving closer to Mizael.

Mizael looks up at him. The blue in his eyes stands in stark contrast to the red marks on his face. “Are we… friends?”

Kaito plays with a loose strand of still-wet hair. “It’s been a long time since someone asked me that.”

“Hm.” Mizael stares at the bare walls in the sitting room. Once, there were family pictures. Maybe there will be again, someday. “I think of them as friends, in many ways. People I can count on. People I can trust.”

“The other Barians?”

“Durbe, Nasch, Merag. Even Alit and Gilag, simpleminded as they may be on occasion.”

“Vector?”

“If I’m reborn five million times more, I will want to kill Vector every time.”

Kaito lets the smile stay on his face. “That’s a friend to you? Someone you can trust, someone you can count on?”

It must be nearing the end of Haruto’s bedtime ritual—Kaito can hear Orbital imploring him to wash his face properly—but Mizael contemplates the question for nearly ten seconds.

“I suppose I… yes.” Mizael squints his eyes contemplatively. “Maybe there’s something missing in what I have with them that—”

“Master Haruto, please wash your hands!” Orbital shrieks as Haruto skids back into the sitting room. Mizael looks away, face taking on color. Kaito’s aware enough of body language to know that Mizael had been on the verge of saying something embarrassing, or perhaps baring some emotion to Kaito that he’d spent a long time prepping himself to say. Maybe this conversation was the reason he’d come over in the first place and Kaito suddenly wishes he had thought to ask that question more seriously from the beginning.

“Are your hands clean?” Kaito says in his best stern parent voice as Haruto flops on the sofa and grabs the television remote.

“Clean enough to watch a movie,” Haruto replies sagely, and Mizael snorts.

Kaito turns on a movie that Haruto probably has memorized by now, but Haruto sits up straight and sings along to the opening credits as Mizael situates himself on the opposite end of the sofa and Kaito sits next to Haruto.

“Sing with me, Mizael!” Haruto says, grabbing Mizael's hand excitedly before launching into the next verse, and Kaito is about to tell Haruto that Mizael probably hasn’t seen this movie before and doesn’t know the words but is proven wrong again when Mizael deadpans the lyrics in a terribly off-pitch voice and Haruto is positively delighted.

“You’ve got a friend in me, you’ve got a friend in me, you’ve got your troubles, well, I’ve got them too, there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for…”

He trails off when he catches Kaito staring at him and folds his arms defensively. “It’s Durbe’s third favorite song,” he mutters as Haruto keeps singing loudly.

Kaito lifts an eyebrow but turns back to the television and prepares for Haruto to reenact the entire next scene, voices and all.

(He does.)

About ten minutes in, content that Haruto is fully engaged in the movie, Kaito chances a look over the top of his head toward Mizael, who notices Kaito looking at him again.

What? he mouths.

You never told me what happened to you, Kaito mouths back slowly.

He’s not sure at first that Mizael could read his lips, but a strange look crosses Mizael’s face—not one of confusion, but a half-smile, a little head jerk and a glance at Haruto, and he mouths two words back.

You did.