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It's funny, in the way that makes Kaito seek time away from everyone -- even Haruto, even Orbital -- how their lives have come together again. His father has pretended that nothing happened, except for guilty looks, for being too permissive, for telling Kaito how much he means to him, every day. Yuuma continues to be his ever buoyant, puzzling, self. He blathers away at any given opportunity, chatters at Kaito, bounces and backflips and spends time with the crowd of ex-Barians. It's only because Kaito knows, and because Kaito spent years on the same precipice -- the one that you get to when you know that everyone who matters in the world could disappear in a second -- that he spots the way that Yuuma holds someone's, everyone's, hands too tightly at times.

Things changed and they didn't change. It had been a promise not to erase who they had become, over time, together. He's not entirely sure it really works, but it is as good as an apology as he will ever get to give to Haruto, who informed him that he had watched Kaito die on the moon. Kaito thinks this is another strike against Dr. Faker, but never brings it up. He doesn't have any urge to see his father make weak gestures towards parental love and have to forgive him for it.

He only half expects Chris to seek him out, first. It's really more of a wishful thought, because Kaito knows better.

Ryouga, at least, is easy to deal with. There's no pretending that nothing didn't happen but since Kaito stole Ryouga's soul that one time, the betrayal that almost destroyed the world doesn't seem that bad. Kaito's been balancing his own moral books on an individual impact for years, anyway. Sometimes they bicker, like they did when their first met. Ryouga is full of irritating traits, prone to outbursts and has an odd attitude where he swaggers a little bit as cover for his weaknesses. Even when Kaito is on his best behaviour -- and, well, he's older by several years, if they don't count the Barian part -- he always ends up poking or prodding at something.

Solitude affords him some time. It became, after they all came back, bizarrely difficult to hold conversations with Haruto. Kaito knows that he's jumping at shadows, that somehow things being all right mean that he's always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Knowing that the insane Barian, Vector, hasn't exactly gotten less insane even if he's better behaved with a second chance makes Kaito wonder -- just how much got rewritten? Was everything fine with Haruto or would they wake up some day and his brother would be staring off into nothing and asking again for a banquet of screams?

It's unfair to think that of Haruto. Kaito hates himself every time he does and for some reason Orbital seems to be most perceptive about it. Whinging on about it and trying to be reassuring, but at least the robot will give him peace when he orders it.

And with time comes inventions. Kaito doesn't think of himself as a master inventor, or at times, even an inventor at all. It had always been something to quiet his busy mind, to focus, something with a purpose that kept his hands busy. Orbital had been a success and the consequent robots after that had been easy. Faker said -- says, on occasion when he wants to repeat his fatherly affections -- that Kaito was a genius inventor. Really, that just makes him want to invent less.

It's not the fact that they were all given second chances. The fact that they were all brought back from the dead or even the fact that the world was now saved and people could pursue their own lives -- outside of past lives, insane fathers, worlds colliding and so forth. Instead, it's the fact that Kaito was working on A.I. that meshed with doctors' databases that Chris came by.

He doesn't give Kaito any time to prepare, it probably didn't occur to him. Because while Chris is a storm on Kaito's life -- each and every time, a presence that disturbs and draws him closer -- Kaito isn't so sure that he has any impact on Chris's. That, he knows, at least.

"Interesting project." Chris says.

"True machine learning always is." Kaito's answer is stock, almost flippant. It's something Chris knows, of course. There's a difference between robots programmed to do a certain task, even learning within parameters. And then there's beasts like Orbital that are truly A.I. given personality and the ability to overcome their basic parameters. The trick is always balance, and a robot to help with Numbers hunting is far different than one that might be helping in a hospital. Kaito had never had to worry much about collateral damage, even if some of that was balanced by Orbital's original nanny programming.

"Mind if I sit in for a while?" Is asked, but Chris is already there. Chris is already there and Kaito has years of simply moving around him -- or at his direction -- that they both know the answer is, will be, always, that it's fine.

"That's fine." Kaito says.

Paradoxically, he forgets Chris is there but everything he does is different, once he arrives. When alone Kaito is never sloppy but there's a looseness to his gestures. It's because his privacy is important to him and he never rests well, so being alone, at motion, is the same as a nap to him. Or something like that. Both Orbital and Haruto would probably comment on that, so he's never told them.

Chris is quiet. Chris watches him work and Kaito is all stiff conservative movements that will probably make him sore, the next day. It's mostly tinkering with code, but sometimes he tinkers with design, shifting pieces here and there to try and shape the best robot for the job. Something that wasn't frightening, was comforting, but nothing too human -- he doesn't like it when robots pretend to be human. It's only when he stops for a break, three hours later, that Chris's hand finds his shoulder.

Kaito leans into it, just a little. He exhales.

"Coffee break?" Chris asks.

"Join me?" Kaito replies. He thinks, for a moment, that Chris will refuse. There is a vague thoughtfulness on Chris's face, delicate and difficult for Kaito to read. "It would be nice." Kaito adds. He almost winces, what a stupid thing to say, really. They have never had a relationship that hinges on nice. And, if Chris goes with him then he won't be able to relax, not really.

"Yes, that would be nice." Chris agrees, unexpectedly, his smile shows some of his teeth and Kaito's heart skips two beats.

Over coffee Chris questions Kaito about his project. They also talk about Heartland plumbing, of all things. It ends up being much more like a presentation than it does coffee with -- an acquaintance. Kaito knows that his shoulders have drawn up, back straight, he's raised his chin and whenever he speaks he takes care to enunciate carefully.

It burns his pride, but he searches for approval in Chris's calm face. And, when he doesn't get it, he looks down into his empty coffee cup. He feels again, thirteen, fourteen, every age where the fact that he was Chris's junior -- in everything -- heating the back of his neck and his cheeks.

Chris laughs, softly, then.

"This is just coffee, isn't it?" Admonishment.

"Just coffee." Kaito agrees.

"I'd like to hear more about your project, sometime."

"Come by, any time, Chris." He means to say it warmly, and perhaps it was said as warmly as he can, outside of talking to Haruto. Chris's lips quirk up, a private smile that's not meant for Kaito but for himself.

"I'll take you up on that offer."

It's only after he leaves that Kaito drops his shoulders and slouches, a little. Somehow, he feels even more lost.

Chapter Text

Chris comes by, again.

Kaito has switched projects, by then. One prototype set aside, his fingers eagerly set on to another one. It's as if Chris knows that he'll be doing something different -- and maybe he does. Chris knows all of Kaito's habits, as if he wrote the code for them himself.

"What are you working on now?" Chris asks. Briefly, Kaito thinks it should be obvious -- there's a sharp reply hovering on his tongue as his fingers keep moving. This wire here, that to there, thumbs brush over the smooth metal on the cover. But something in the back of his mind muffles the sharpness and instead, he answers smoothly.

"Flight."

The arched eyebrow isn't judgmental, it isn't even you could do better, worse than that it's simply expectant. There's nothing like encouragement in the gesture and Kaito twists one of the wires, stripping it of the soft cover to expose the insides.

"For Haruto," Kaito clarifies. Which would explain why he's still working on it, why he's recalibrated and recalibrated and still isn't done.

"Sometimes children need to learn to fly on their own," Chris comments. He doesn't mean anything by it. It strikes a nerve anyway and Kaito's shoulders roll back, he sits up a little more at the work bench. Solders, slides the cover back in place, checks the balance program.

"It's not a project you're interested in."

"No, not really."

The numbers come up on the gauge testing the balance. Kaito stares at them, blinks, tries to read them again. Satisfactory. Like the last seven times he checked it. He could have been done with this, two days ago, but there's still a deep curling fear in his stomach. But, after the way Haruto coveted Ryoug's motorcycle (of all things), this would be far better than the alternative, he's sure.

"Then why did you come by?"

"You did invite me, Kaito." The warmth in Chris's voice isn't fake. Kaito knows him well enough to know that everything about Chris, right now, is genuine. From the way that he truly doesn't care about what Kaito's doing, to the honest answer that he came because Kaito invited him, to the measured distance between them. Four feet. Four and half feet, probably. "We have things to catch up on, as well."

"Do we." Kaito wants to be colder than that, but he's sure the eagerness in his voice isn't as buried as he would have liked. "I would have thought it was well-settled."

"You do know better than that." Admonishment, again. "It would be in our best interest to clear the air, I decided."

That stops Kaito. Stops his breath, his work, his thoughts. Clear the air. Something about it is ridiculous and Chris talks as if it is literal laundry that needs to be taken out and set in the sun and breeze.

"What do you mean by that?" He's cautious, more so than he's been in recent months. Lessons from Chris were an education he would never forget, probably, but experience had also taught him wariness.

"Us." He thinks, that's affection. There's a vague pain and quiet beeping in his hand and Kaito realizes he's gripping the device in his hand hard enough to send the meter's gauging numbers off the charts.

"Coffee, again?" He asks.

"Let's do dinner, instead," Chris corrects him. And, of course, Kaito has to agree.

Dinner with Chris is pleasant, and empty. They talk about nothing in particular but Chris seems to approve and Kaito is appropriately warmed.

They continue like that for some time. It's another pattern that becomes familiar. Chris comes by when he wants, comments on Kaito's work -- and, if it interests him sufficiently, pushes him on it. They get dinner or lunch, sometimes Chris seems content to just sit and watch.

It seems, entirely, not at all like clearing the air.

And then, there's Dr. Faker. Kaito hadn't noticed him, at first, hovering around the edges of his meetings with Chris. There was something infuriatingly transient about Dr. Faker, as there always was. About his father.

"Byron's son," Dr. Faker greets, announces himself one evening when they return from dinner. Kaito feels awkward and compromised, his hand almost laced together with Chris's -- but not quite, because they don't do things like hold hands -- became angry.

"Dr. Faker." Chris says with familiarity, pleasantness, a sort of deference that Kaito doesn't really understand. Especially not to Dr. Faker.

"It's good to see you again, I hope you've been taking care of my son."

"We've been taking care of each other. Have a good night."

It's short, their exchange. Kaito didn't say anything to it, of it, didn't interrupt even though his anger came with his father's words and went with Chris's.

"You're unneeded." Kaito says, after Chris leaves. Dr. Faker flinches, dramatically, visibly. Kaito watches his father's jaw work, words not being said, a swallow. "Don't even bother."

"Kaito, you're my son, of course I'm going to bother."

"You're not too late for Haruto," Kaito scolds. He won't say it, not directly, that Dr. Faker is out of time when it comes to Kaito. They won't ever be anything other than adults with an uneasy alliance, and he's fine with that. There's no need to clear the air between them. But Haruto is still young enough to forgive, Kaito thinks.

"He's not right for you, Byron's son."

"I said, you're unneeded." It's colder than he ever manages to sound with Chris, but it's not what he quite wanted to say either.

"Kaito, please."

"This conversation is over." He cuts him off, turns away. The worst part is, some small part of him agrees.

His father no longer haunts the meetings with Chris. Kaito's not sure if Dr. Faker gave up because of their conversation or if he doesn't want to watch anymore. Not that there's much to watch, not until Chris asks a question about void matter. About whether or not they could harness that, the oscillations of the birth of the universe, compacted down into solid-not-solid spaces between actual matter.

It's intriguing.

"Sounds impossible," Kaito says, but he feels his duelist's smile come over his face. It's a comforting expression, though, he has seen it in the mirror once and he knows it's aggressive. Chris doesn't have a face like that, instead it's the same old implacable calm -- but there's interest in his eyes.

"There's always a way," Chris's confidence -- or simply, lack of doubt -- is one of his most attractive features, Kaito thinks. There's a certain way that Chris is exacting, demanding, without any of those hesitations or shadows that Kaito feels plagues himself. Even, when he had watched Chris's back walk away from him, there had been something admirable in it. "Let's find it."

And, of course, Kaito can't refuse.

Chapter Text

“Do you believe in new beginnings?” Chris asks. They’re taking a break from working, the table between them is covered in papers and tablets, calculations and numbers and ideas. Among them is a perpetual motion machine that captures the energy of miniature big bang.

“What kind of new beginnings?” Kaito knows he shouldn’t take it as an attack or accusation, but he doesn’t know what to expect from Chris, not anymore. When Chris was his teacher, it was easy. Then, when they were enemies, it was even easier. Kaito has always found conflict easier than peace — probably because it’s less fragile. If he knows that he has to do something, has to act or protect then he can plant his feet firmly and face whatever comes. Peace comes with too many doubts.

And, Chris won’t make it any easier on him, not once has he verbalized his expectations, as of late.

Chris steeples his fingers. Then he drops his hands to the tabletop and sifts through the papers. He comes upon one — a joke, almost — about creating enough energy to rock a theoretical timestream, time travel.

“Rewriting old beginnings,” Chris offers and then smiles, “Or, leaving experiences as they are and trying again.”

Kaito has never liked what ifs. The idea of: what if Dr. Faker hadn’t used Haruto, what if he hadn’t sacrificed Chris’s father, but the path always, always, came back to what if Dr. Faker hadn’t tried to save Haruto at all.

“Impractical, really,” which is an excessively Chris-like answer.

Chris surprises him by laughing — the kind of laugh that Kaito feels he hasn’t heard in years. He might have last heard that laugh the first week he had met Chris. Sometime between worry and training and trying to understand the difference between giving up and pushing forward there had been a moment of shared time. Kaito had fumbled his deck and sent the cards spilling all over the floor and cursed — before looking around, expecting to be scolded and Chris had laughed.

“I thought you grew up more than that, Kaito. You really are my little brother.”

“I grew up plenty, Chris.” Kaito responds, immediately.

“Are you saying the role I gave you isn’t good enough?”

“What kind of question is that, Chris?” Neither of them is listening to the other so Kaito pushes his chair back from the table and stands. “I’ll see you out.”

It’s Chris who is surprised, this time. Kaito feels something shift in his gut, and he’s embarrassed. It feels a bit spiteful, a bit too much like he’s made a big deal out of something he shouldn’t have — even though nothing was particularly said. He’s reminded far too much of his current father, who slinks away at any harsh word from Kaito, apologetic and knowing that their roles will never match-up as they once did.

“I’ll say this, then, I want to start over.” As Chris heads for the door he stops and takes the time to enunciate properly, like a command.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Chris.” Kaito says, almost like an echo.

The next day, it’s as though they didn’t speak. Something has fitted itself into place between them, a comfortable reminder of how they could be. Kaito feels as though a weight was lifted off of his chest and he’s able to greet Chris with a sideways smirk.

“You left everything such a mess, last night. You used to be so meticulous, can you really keep up with me?” He’s able to toss out, like a challenge even though the topic is ridiculous.

“Cleaning up after me, Kaito? Doesn’t that mean it’s you who’s lost your touch?” Chris’s reply is easy and Kaito is able to laugh it off.

“Let’s start, then.”

The work goes quickly, even if they’re without direction their rhythm maintains a steady pace. It is an impossible task, the perpetual moment generator, the idea of time travel, the recreation of the birth of universes; they both enjoy it.

It’s purely hypothetical and won’t go anywhere, but they both pretend the progress is real.

It’s because Kaito remembers, weeks later, that Chris had said I want to start over that he feels comfortable leaning into him when they look over a possible design for a compact engine that could harness the power of a star. Their hips brush and then Kaito lets some of his weight rest on Chris. There’s no reaction but Chris doesn’t move away either and the brief string of tension Kaito feels evaporates the longer they stay touching.

“Dinner,” Chris mentions, after an hour passes and they’re still comfortably close.

“Dinner?” Kaito echoes, having once again become absorbed in the work. “Do you mean, now?”

“Why don’t we take a break and go together?”

Of course Kaito agrees. Chris mentions, off-hand, that he’s gotten himself a place — moved out of the family home that his father and his brothers live in. Chris also mentions that he only stays there sometimes — adults need privacy and peace, after all.

It occurs to Kaito that Chris has never truly been a brother to him and if they are starting over then the standards that siblings hold doesn’t apply. (But, Kaito also thinks, it would be difficult to live in a different house than Haruto.)

“I’m glad we’ve gotten closer again, Kaito. It’s like old times,” Chris says, over reheated pasta and sauce out of a jar. Chris doesn’t even own a rice cooker, really, and Kaito’s far better at picking up carry out than he is cooking. It’s ridiculous, too, because Chris doesn’t have much furniture so they eat on the balcony, plates balancing on their knees and overturned pots.

“Better than old times,” Kaito says, with some amount of confidence. “This is much better.”

The stars can’t really be scene, in the Heartland sky, because of the lights from the city. There isn’t enough off-glow to see without other lights on and so they leave the overheads and the outdoor lights on. After they do the dishes — neither of them thinks to leave them for the following day, there’s a clean efficiency about the evening, Chris doesn’t ask and Kaito simply starts to wash them. Chris dries them and then they end up on the balcony again. Chris sits on the single chair and Kaito stands next to the railing.

“This was nice,” Chris says.

Kaito snorts and looks up at the sky. He appreciates the Heartland lights more, now. “We should do it again, sometime.”

“Kaito.” It’s said in the kind of voice that means come here and Kaito doesn’t need to think, he just obeys. Chris’s expectant look, the beckoning motion of his hand and — probably — a thin thread of hope in Kaito’s chest leave him standing less than a pace away, only barely resisting the urge to lean closer.

He wants it to mean something, this time.

It is not a short kiss. They both fumble it, because Kaito is hesitant and Chris is strangely unyielding. There are too many teeth and Kaito is sure that the ground is shaking over and it’s only the way that Chris anchors him that keeps him upright. They both kiss like they are trying to get to know each other, as if Chris could seek out any secrets Kaito is hiding from him with his mouth and as if Kaito could finally rid himself of apprehensions.

“Aa, let’s do it again, sometime.” Chris agrees, later.

Chapter Text

Kaito only hears in passing from Yuuma, who of course heard it from Mihael, that Chris will be out of town for a while. He half-laughs to himself and says: If he takes too much time off, I’ll surpass him in no time.

It’s just unfortunate, really, that Chris didn’t care enough to tell him that himself.