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As the sun set behind the trees, Tsukasa patrolled the perimeter of Emperor Tenshouin’s palace. Every so often, he gave his horse a gentle pat when all seemed clear.

Tsukasa was one of the new guards that the Emperor had hired just before casting out the former samurai that had been in charge of protecting the palace for quite some time. Tsukinaga Leo had been an eccentric fox that was good at his job, but Tenshouin had recently changed how he wanted his palace protected after a vicious assault.

As it was now, Tsukasa usually got the night shifts, and it would be that way until he had proved himself capable and trustworthy. He didn’t mind, however, because sometimes these nightly watches led to chance meetings with someone he was having trouble denying his feelings for now.

A twig snapped somewhere in the trees in front of him, and Tsukasa stiffened, rapidly nocking an arrow in his bow and dragging the wire back. He waited until he heard another rustling to pinpoint where it was coming from before releasing the arrow.

In the dying light, he saw it bury itself deep into a young tree, just a few centimeters away from a certain fox’s big, soft ear. He relaxed when he recognized the visitor and spurred his horse over to him. He reached down yanked the arrow from the wood, a frown on his face.

“Lea- I mean...L-Leo, what are you doing here? You know that if you’re caught by anyone else here, you’ll be killed.” Tsukasa’s small red triangle ears shifted forward just slightly, and his banded red tail thwacked against the side of his horse with a worry he could not quite convey with words. He wasn’t used to calling Leo by his first name, but it was such a minor thing at this current time that he tried not to worry about it too much.

“But Suou! I just had to see you~! It’s been a week and I haven’t seen you!” Leo hardly seemed affected by the fact that he had nearly been impaled with an arrow.

“Well, whose fault is that…? You’ve been showing up too early or too late all week.” Tsukasa sighed, putting his bow down and the arrow back in his quiver. “And...haven’t I already told you that you can call me by...my first name?” He shifted his gaze away as his face reddened a little.

“Eh? When did you say that?” Leo tilted his head, ears tilting in a manner that showed his bafflement.

“When you told me to do the same?” Tsukasa frowned. Had he really forgotten, or was he just teasing? Sometimes it was hard to tell, but he was getting better at reading him. “Well, either way...I’m glad you’re here.” He slid off his horse and hesitantly went over to Leo.

Leo immediately wrapped his arms around Tsukasa in a hug, his puffy orange tail swaying back and forth in a pleased manner.

He really was too much for Tsukasa to handle sometimes, but not in a bad way. A small smile crept along his face and he could not help but return the hug, feeling himself relax in a way that he hadn’t since the last time that they had met.

“Why don’t you just ditch this place and that blockhead emperor and come live with me?! Then we won’t have to sneak around like this and keep it a secret!” Leo asked suddenly, reaching up to tug gently at Tsukasa’s red ears.

“Because you live in a tree and eat whatever you find on the ground like a grubby raccoon! Maybe if you get a house, I’ll come to live with you.” Tsukasa huffed.

“Hey! I’m a fox! And anyway, who are you to call me a raccoon, you big meanie?!” Leo let go and began to sulk. “You’re the raccoon!”

“Excuse me, but I am not a raccoon! I might have a striped tail, but I am clearly a red panda!” Tsukasa was offended. He was the one being compared to a raccoon?! Leo was the one living like an actual raccoon!

Leo stuck his tongue out at Tsukasa, putting his hands on his hips. “Whatever you say!” He didn’t want to argue about it. “Just ditch for tonight! I want to spend actual time with you! It’ll be a secret just between you and me!”

Tsukasa sighed. He wasn’t sure he could justify ditching, but he had missed being close to Leo, and as much as he tried to deny it to himself, he wanted to curl up with Leo and watch the sun set and then rise again.

“...fine. But you need to help me come up with an excuse for disappearing all of a sudden, alright?” He relented finally and gave him a small smile.

“Yes!” Leo impulsively pressed his lips right against Tsukasa’s and grabbed his hand, dragging him into the woods.

Tsukasa couldn’t help but laugh a little, even as his face reddened. He was happy to have this little secret with Leo, but hopefully soon, he could make it not so secret.