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hold at bay

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“Hey!” Barok shouted as he took off after the fleeing figure. Normally, he would leave the running and other such physically taxing tasks to the Yard, but the man had just taken something from the crime scene—the actual scene of the crime according to Mister Naruhodou, which was not the location where the body was found and the one the Yard secured. Who knew what vital piece of evidence could be taken and disposed of in the time it took to contact the police, and so Barok ran after the man, Naruhodou following not far behind.

The air grew heavy with salt and the sound of waves drew near; the man had led them to the nearby port. Thoughts of the man escaping by boat or disposing the evidence in the water went through his head, and Barok pushed himself faster as he pursued the man into the winding labyrinth of cargo boxes.

Barok made a sharp turn and suddenly realised he made two mistakes: the first was not realising how close he was to open water; the second was not noticing the toppled barrel until it was too late, its content already spilled across the ground turning it shiny and slick.

Barok flailed rather ungracefully as he suddenly lost traction, his previous momentum propelling him forward. He flung his arms out in an attempt to stop himself, and to his utmost surprise, he succeeded and stopped just shy of the edge.

Barok was staring at his own wide-eyed expression reflected in the water as he processed his near miss when he heard a yelp from behind him. It appeared his narrow escape was not to be. Resigned to his fate, Barok closed his eyes and took a deep breath just in time for Naruhodou to barrel straight into him, sending them both splashing into the water.

The cold water was a shock to his system, but perhaps due to the split-second of mental preparation, Barok regained his bearings quite quickly. With one hand on the ledge, he hauled himself and a still-spluttering Naruhodou out of the water. He wiped the water from his eyes, and spotted the man standing not too far away—he must have stopped to witness their spectacular dive into the ocean. Barok pushed himself to his feet and ran after the man again.

This time, the man fled into a warehouse, door swinging open with a bang. Barok skidded to a stop and kept watch by the door until Naruhodou caught up, coughing and panting heavily.

“Mister Naruhodou, there appeared to be only one way in or out of this warehouse. I shall go inside while you wait here, and together we should be able to catch him.”

Without waiting for an answer, Barok slipped into the warehouse. He could make out wooden crates here and there. Aware that the man could be hiding behind any of them, ready to lunge out, Barok moved forward cautiously, keeping one hand on the hilt of his sword. His waterlogged boots squelched with each step, so it was unlikely he could sneak up on the man. But perhaps he could use the noise to his advantage and herd the man straight to Naruhodou like a hound flushing a fox.

Suddenly, Barok caught movement out of the corner of his eyes, and he jumped back with a shout just as a box crashed down in front of him, followed by the sound of several more boxes hitting the floor. Barok approached slowly as he scanned the area. With how cunning the man was, it was possible this was merely a diversion.

Footsteps—someone running towards him—and Barok swung around, sword sliding out of its scabbard and—

“Prosecutor van Zieks, are you okay?”

Barok stilled his hand. It was only Naruhodou.

“Mister Naruhodou, what are you doing here?”

“I, uh, I heard the crash and I got worried, so...”

Wait, if Naruhodou was here, then—

“The door!” Barok shouted, already turning. He managed to catch a glimpse of a silhouette backlit by the light from the outside just before everything went dark. The sound of the door slamming shut echoed through the warehouse, followed by the deafening click of a lock.

They were locked in.


After going around the warehouse for the third time, and still not finding a way out, even Barok has to concede defeat. Naruhodou was the one to say what they had both been thinking. “We’re stuck here, aren’t we?”

“It would appear so.”

“Susato should come looking for me when she notices I’m still not back, so we shouldn’t be here long.”

True, Barok did recall seeing Miss Mikotoba with Naruhodou at the scene. She had left at some point, so he and Naruhodou were the only ones there when the shady character showed up.

Naruhodou continued, “Prosecutor van Zieks, while we wait, we should take off our clothes. I-I mean! Because they’re wet! And we might catch a cold if we keep wearing wet clothes...”

Barok stayed silent just to hear Naruhodou spluttered a bit more, but he did raised a fine point. Now that the adrenaline was wearing off, Barok was becoming aware of how his cold, wet clothes clung to him. Not to mention his boots were still squelching every time he so much as shifted.

“You are right.” Barok said as he began to strip himself methodically, wringing out as much moisture as possible before laying each item on top of a crate to dry: gloves, coat, boots, socks, even his sword was unsheathed and wiped dry before he placed it alongside his clothing. It took longer for his shirt and trousers, his fingers too clumsy from the cold to properly grasp the buttons, but eventually he managed to get them open and off.

Bare skin exposed to the frosty air, Barok began shivering in earnest, and he rubbed at his own arms as he debated whether to keep his smallclothes on or not. On one hand, they would dry soon enough, but on the other hand, it was uncomfortable, and with the warehouse as dark as it was, there was little need to preserve his modesty. Still, it would not be the least bit awkward if he were the only one naked.

Barok contemplated how to best phrase the question, and finally settled on “Mister Naruhodou, are you completely bare?”

“Hm? Oh, yes.” Naruhodou answered, and then, “...Should I not be?”

“No, that is quite alright.” Barok finished stripping, and climbed onto a crate, its wooden surface merely chilly instead of frosty like the floor. Barok lay down and curled up to conserve body heat. Now that he was no longer on the move, he was acutely aware of how tired he was, the chase and the cold having sapped most of his energy. So even though the wooden crate was far from comfortable, Barok closed his eyes, curled an arm underneath his head, and tried to get some rest.

“Um, pro-prosecutor van Zieks?”

“...What is it?”

“It-it’s cold, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” Barok said dryly.

“Uh, ne-never mind, for-forget I said anything.”

“...”

“...”

Barok sighed, “Mister Naruhodou, I could hear your teeth chattering. Come here, we could share body heat.”

“Th-thanks!”

Barok heard more than saw Naruhodou made his way over. There was a scrambling noise as Naruhodou climbed onto his crate, and then they were pressed back-to-back. Naruhodou was still shivering, and every few minutes, he shifted and pressed closer to Barok ever so slightly.

London was cold at night, and bound to get colder as the night went on. The warehouse might have shielded them from the elements, but having been built to house wares and not people, it lacked insulation. So, not knowing how long they would be here, it made sense to conserve as much body heat as possible. It made sense, Barok told himself, as he rolled over and slid an arm across Naruhodou’s chest, pulling him flushed against himself and tangling their legs.

Naruhodou made a surprised noise, and Barok quickly said, “We would conserve more heat this way.”

And it was warmer. A few minutes in the new position, and Naruhodou has stopped shivering completely. Warmth radiated from every point of contact, and holding onto another person was infinitely better than holding onto cold, empty air.

Strange, Barok mused, how Naruhodou managed to fit in his arm. He knew Naruhodou was physically smaller than him, most people were. But Barok was used to seeing him across the court, where his confidence and his poise had made him seemed bigger, like an equal to him in every way. And now, with Naruhodou tucked against his side, something was welling up in his chest. A feeling he did not recognise. Barok was still mulling over this strange feeling when the day’s events caught up with him and he fell asleep.


Barok woke up to the sound of distant barking. The air was chilly against his back, and Barok instinctively burrowed into the warmth at his front. He was still tired, and sore from sleeping on a hard surface, so he would very much like to go back to sleep, thank you very much. Unfortunately, the barking got progressively louder. Barok muttered an objection and tightened his arms, and then someone echoed his sleepy objection.

What?

Barok blinked blearily at the darkness, for a moment not sure when or where he was. Then, a metallic click resonated through the space, followed immediately by a door swinging open and light spilling into the room.

Barok snapped awake at the same time as Naruhodou, and they stared wide-eyed at each other. Barok realised two things at once: one, someone found them; and two, they were both stark naked. Barok watched the same realisations hit Naruhodou, and then they were both scrambling to put their clothes on.

Thankfully, their clothes were more or less dry, if not a bit stiff from the salt. They got dressed just in time as their rescuers came into view.