"I'm afraid there's a problem," said Arima.
Kinshiro regarded his companion coolly. He truly did appreciate Arima's devotion to him, not to mention his ability and willingness to do more or less anything in the interest of keeping him happy. That was, after all, the whole reason why he had brought Arima on this particular trip instead of doing it all himself. The flip side of this was that Arima took his duties to Kinshiro extremely seriously, and tended to regard any small failure as an unforgivable offense on his part. "There's a problem" could mean anything from "They gave us rooms across the hall from each other instead of adjoining like we asked" to "The hotel roof is currently on fire."
"What sort of problem?" he asked.
Arima looked deeply uncomfortable. "It seems that someone made a mistake when I booked our rooms. I said I wanted adjoining rooms, connected if at all possible, but there was apparently some miscommunication."
Kinshiro felt a sinking sensation as he realized what Arima was trying to tell him. "They put us both in the same room, didn't they?"
"I'm afraid so," said Arima. "I'm so sorry. I tried to get us a second room, but there seems to be an event in town this weekend, and there are no free rooms left. I could try to get us a place at another hotel..."
"Don't bother," said Kinshiro, making a face. He knew from prior research that this was the only five-star hotel in town, and he was not prepared to downgrade his room just because someone on staff had made a mistake. Oh, he'd give them a stern talking-to, and probably get his money back, but he wasn't going to leave. Even a single room here would be large enough to share. Besides, if this expensive, exclusive hotel was booked solid, chances were that the lower-grade hotels would be busy as well. Better to keep to a room he had already booked and paid for than to spend the entire night trying to find two unclaimed and probably undesirable rooms.
Arima must have been making similar calculations in his head, and arriving at the inevitable conclusion.
"I'm sure I'll be fine sleeping on the couch," said Arima, with a faintly wistful sigh. "After all, it's only for one night."
That much was true. The only reason the two of them had come here at all was because Kinshiro was getting ready for college, and this was the city where the school he'd decided to attend was located. That was to say, this was where the school Atsushi had chosen was located, and the rest of the group had fallen in line like ducklings after their mother, with Kinshiro and En following Atsushi and Arima following Kinshiro. Of course, Kinshiro had no intention of living in a dormitory like everyone else, so he and Arima were shopping for a place where they and their companions could spend their next few years in comfort. Arima had already prepared a nice list of houses for sale or rent that they had mutually agreed were likely prospects, but Kinshiro wanted to look at them all in person before reaching a final decision. Tomorrow he would tour them, take a few pictures, and return to Binan to discuss his options with the rest of his soon-to-be housemates. All that was really necessary tonight was a quiet place to put his head down.
At least the room they'd ended up with turned out to be a comfortably spacious one. It was actually a suite, which included a bedroom, sitting room, bathroom, and even a little balcony overlooking the hotel's elegantly landscaped courtyard. Probably they would both feel more appreciative of it all in the morning, after they'd slept. As things stood, it was already late and they were both too tired to think of much of anything but changing into their pajamas and getting some rest.
"Are you sure you're going to be all right there?" Kinshiro asked. Arima was settling down on the sofa, tucking a spare blanket over himself.
"I'm fine," he said. "It's quite comfortable here."
Kinshiro nodded and said nothing. Arima being who he was, he probably could have settled down on a bed of nails and said he was quite comfortable if he thought that was what Kinshiro wanted to hear. Still, it was a large and fluffy sofa, so Kinshiro didn't think it could be that bad.
"Goodnight, then," he said. "Get some sleep and be ready to go in the morning. I want to make sure we get an early start."
Arima agreed that he would, and Kinshiro turned to head for his own comfortable bed. Behind him, he heard the click of Arima turning off his lamp, and the light behind him went out. A few minutes later, he'd settled down under his blankets and turned off his own light, and the room became completely dark.
For a while, Kinshiro lay perfectly still, eyes closed, waiting to fall asleep. This was a good hotel, and the walls were thick enough that if his neighbors were doing anything next door, he couldn't hear it. He should have been able to drift off almost immediately. It had been a long day, and he was tired, with a lot of work ahead of him. Still, this hotel was in the heart of the city, and he had grown up in an isolated house in a small, sleepy town. The night noises of cars and people outside were foreign to him. Even the whirrs and ticks of unfamiliar appliances bothered him. Every little noise jolted his mind back to alertness. He found himself open-eyed, staring at the ceiling. His mind was whirling with plans for tomorrow, with thoughts about moving out of the house and the town he'd always known, leaving behind his beloved Binan High for a school he knew little about and where no one would know him. He hadn't had a lot of friends in Binan until he'd reconciled with Atsushi and the rest of the Earth Defense Club, but he'd known every last student in his school - which classes they were in, what clubs they belonged to, what grades they made. People respected him there. Now he was going to have to start all over from scratch. He'd never been one to shy away from work, but he had to admit that the idea was a little daunting.
Frustrated, Kinshiro turned onto his side to glare at the alarm clock on his bedside table. The luminous numbers told him it was nearly one in the morning. He snarled.
"This is ridiculous," he muttered.
Scowling, he turned on his lamp and kicked off the bed covers. He stalked into the living room. Arima was snuggled deeply into the sofa cushions, apparently untroubled by any thoughts of the future. Why should he be? He did what Kinshiro told him to do; it was Kinshiro's job to worry about what would become of him. A comforting philosophy, that. Well, let him deal with the ramifications of it.
"Arima, wake up," he commanded.
"Mm?" Arima muttered. "What's wrong?"
"I can't sleep," said Kinshiro.
Arima, still looking bleary-eyed, sat up and blinked a few times. He fumbled for the lamp.
"Go back to bed," he said. "I'll take care of it."
Kinshiro was not exactly one hundred percent certain what Arima thought he could do about a case of insomnia, but he did as he was told anyway. Arima was nothing if not reliable. If there was a way to help Kinshiro sleep, Arima would find it.
Before Kinshiro had even settled himself on his bed again, he could hear the sounds of Arima rummaging through his suitcase. Then there was the comforting, familiar noise of him rattling around in the suite's kitchenette. It was almost enough to make Kinshiro laugh. That was Arima all over: when in doubt, make tea. Still, it was soothing just listening to the familiar ritual. How many times had Kinshiro listened to just such sounds as those back in the student council room: Arima making tea while Kinshiro went over the school's daily business and the soothing sounds of after-school student activities drifted through the windows? Kinshiro settled himself cross-legged on his bed, eyes-half closed, letting his mind follow these calming paths.
A few minutes later, Arima came shuffling in, still sleepy-eyed and tousle-haired, carrying a cup of tea and a saucer. There were even a few rosemary shortbread cookies tucked around the edges - not as dramatic as the extravagant iced cakes Arima would sometimes bring to council meetings, but still elegant, tasty, and far more portable than cake. Kinshiro nodded his approval as he accepted the offering.
"What is this?" he asked, peering into the depths of the teacup.
"Herbal tea," said Arima. He seated himself on the far edge of the bed, where he could keep a solicitous eye on Kinshiro. "My own blend. Mint, lavender, rose petals, a few other things. I grew it all myself."
Kinshiro nodded. The shortbread looked homemade, and he was willing to bet that the rosemary had likewise come straight from Arima's garden. That was as good a guarantee of quality as he'd ever heard of. He raised his cup, took a moment to savor the scent, and found it pleasant. He took a careful sip. The brew was faintly sweet and wonderfully soothing. A smile spread slowly across Kinshiro's face as he felt his tension melting away.
"Arima, you are a magician," he said.
Arima positively glowed at the praise. "I'm happy to be of service."
Kinshiro favored him with a slightly broader smile and settled in to the serious business of enjoying his tea and cookies. Arima made himself more comfortable on the other side of the bed, leaning back against the pillows while he watched Kinshiro for signs of needing anything else. Kinshiro didn't particularly mind. Normally he didn't care much for being stared at, but he didn't mind when it was Arima. If there was one person in all the world he knew he could trust absolutely, it was him. Kinshiro couldn't have been happier that Atsushi was back in his life, he was fonder of Akoya than he would have wanted to admit, and he had even come to terms with the rest of the Earth Defense Club, but not even Atsushi could have taken the place that Arima filled. He was Kinshiro's right-hand man - always there, always watching, always ready with whatever Kinshiro needed most, sometimes before he knew himself what he needed.
I shouldn't be worried. Everything is going to be fine. He may not know what was ahead of him, but he knew he wouldn't be facing it alone. That was why he was making this trip now, wasn't it? Because he was looking for a place that would accommodate not only himself, but the friends who would be there with him. He wasn't isolated anymore. He just had to learn to trust the people he'd have on his side.
Kinshiro cast a glance at his self-appointed guardian. Arima had started out more or less sitting up, but he'd slid downwards while Kinshiro was enjoying his tea, and was now nearly horizontal, and obviously asleep. Kinshiro looked down at his empty cup and the saucer full of crumbs and considered his options. Propriety demanded that he wake Arima, tell him to wash up the dishes, and send him back to his sofa. He looked at Arima again. He must have been truly exhausted, to fall asleep on duty like that. There were shadows under his eyes. No surprises there - he'd been up since dawn getting everything organized for this trip, and it was now well past midnight.
Kinshiro shrugged and put the cup and saucer on the night stand. Someone would take care of it eventually. That was what hotels had staff for, wasn't it? He gently pulled the blankets up over both of them and turned off the lights.
For a while, he just lay there in the dark. He could still hear the night noises, but they didn't bother him so much now. It was very dark in the room with the lights out and the curtains drawn, but he could hear the gentle sound of Arima's breathing. Somehow, even after traveling all day, he still managed to smell clean. He'd mentioned once in passing that he liked to take cuttings from his favorite plants, dry them, and put the resulting dried herbs in cloth bags that he could stash in his closets and dresser drawers, so that even in the middle of winter he could enjoy the scents of his garden. Now Kinshiro lay in the warm dark room, taking deep breaths of that soothing perfume. Somewhere between one breath and the next, he slipped into sleep. All night, he dreamed of gardens, of lush green places full of sunlight, tended by gentle hands, and nothing worried him at all.
Arima turned off the alarm clock before it could ring. It took him a few tries to find it - he didn't seem to be in his own room, and even as instinct told him it was time to get up, his conscious mind couldn't quite remember where he was and what he was doing there. His questing fingers finally found the travel alarm and switched it off, leaving him free to lie wherever he was and take stock of his surroundings. Where was he? Ah, right, the hotel. They had gone to look at houses, arrived late in the day, checked into a hotel, only there hadn't been enough rooms...
His eyes snapped open. He wasn't lying on the sofa. He was supposed to be on the sofa - he'd gone to sleep on the sofa, but now he was lying in a bed. He was lying on Kinshiro's bed, and it was dawning on him now that there was a warm body resting against his side. Very slowly, he turned his head just enough that he could see his situation. Kinshiro was lying next to him, still sound asleep. He had turned onto his side with his head resting against Arima's shoulder and one arm twined around his. His sharp-featured face looked softer in repose, all traces of his usual hauteur wiped away, and his usually sleek hair fell untidily over his forehead. With the sunlight that slipped through the curtains gilding his face, he looked like a sleeping prince from some sort of fairy tale.
There were things Arima could have done. He could have disentangled himself and gone back to his sofa and pretend nothing had happened. He could have gotten up to clean last night's tea things and call room service to make sure Kinshiro would have breakfast ready when he woke up. He didn't do either of those things. For so long, he had devoted himself to doing everything he could to make sure Kinshiro was safe and happy. To be completely honest, he'd been afraid that once Kinshiro and Atsushi had reconciled, Kinshiro wouldn't need him anymore, and he treasured every reassurance he could get that he still mattered to the one he'd chosen to devote himself to. Maybe it was selfish to enjoy this, but oh, how good it felt. He let the minutes tick away, not moving, breathing slowly and softly, and feeling utterly content.
It couldn't last. Gradually, Kinshiro began to stir. Arima sighed a little.
"Good morning, Kinshiro," he said. "Did you sleep well?"
Kinshiro gave him a measuring look. "Tolerably well, thank you."
"That's good. I'm glad to hear it," said Arima. He slid out of the bed and began gathering up the tea things from last night.
Kinshiro was still watching him warily. "It's past eight already. Why didn't you wake me?"
"You had a restless night last night. I thought you'd be tired," said Arima. "Forgive me, but it seemed better to let you rest."
"I see," said Kinshiro. He narrowed his eyes, clearly weighing Arima's motives. Arima kept his expression bland. He could have told Kinshiro that he didn't need to worry. He knew how things worked. He belonged to Kinshiro because that was what he had chosen, but Kinshiro didn't belong to him. Arima would treasure any small crumbs that might fall his way, but he would never demand more than was offered to him.
Kinshiro slid off the other side of the bed and began rummaging in his suitcase for a change of clothes.
"Have breakfast sent up," he said. "I'm going to take a shower."
"Of course," said Arima, relaxing. Kinshiro wasn't going to scold him. "I'll see to it."
"Good," said Kinshiro. He gathered up his things and started for the bath.
And that should have been that, but just at the doorway, he paused and looked back over his shoulder. His expression was faintly uncertain.
"Did you sleep well last night?"
Arima smiled. "I slept very well, thank you."
Kinshiro almost smiled back. "Good. I'm glad to hear it," he said, and slipped through the door.
Arima hummed to himself as he began cleaning up last night's tea things. Today, he thought, would be a good day.
It had been a very long day, but in the end, everything had gotten done.
Arima lay in bed in his new room and thought about the future. Today they had all moved into the house that Kinshiro had arranged for them, and which he was mostly financing. All their things had been dragged in and more or less unpacked (Kinshiro's room was immaculate; En's room was stacked with boxes that might never be opened). Now it was night, and everyone was getting settled into their new places.
Arima liked his new room. It was the smallest of the four - originally an office and not a bedroom at all - but it had windows on two sides that looked out on the lawn. The house had a very nice lawn, nearly half an acre in back and a narrower scrap along one side. It had originally belonged to a wealthy businessman with a large family, and the lawn had been for his children to play in. Now there was nothing left but grass and a few scars where playground equipment and a sandbox had once been. Kinshiro had promised Arima carte blanche in turning the empty spaces into a new garden. One day soon he'd be able to look out these windows and enjoy gazing down at the results of his labors.
The other good thing about this room was that, aside from being accessible from the hallway, it also had a connecting door to the master bedroom. That door was ajar now - closed enough to offer privacy, open enough that he could listen to the comforting sounds of Kinshiro moving about in his own room. It was reassuring to know that if Kinshiro needed him at any time of day or night, Arima would be able to hear him.
Arima sighed, as content as he'd ever been in his life. He was going to be, finally, living the life he'd chosen for himself. The others had readily turned responsibility for the household staff over to him, making him the butler in truth if not in name, and tomorrow, there would be gardens to plan. Life was good. Already his desk was strewn with potential plans. There would be an herb garden near the kitchen door, flower beds, perhaps a few ornamental trees... perhaps a greenhouse? He would have to ask Kinshiro if he would be allowed to have a small greenhouse tucked away in a far corner somewhere. Of course, he'd want to leave a little empty space, some cool grass where they could all sit and read or study (or in En's case, nap). And perhaps he'd put in a path. Yes, definitely a path, where one could take a leisurely stroll and look up at the stars. These days, there was little Kinshiro loved more than to look at the stars...
He was nearly asleep when a sound woke him, the softest of creaks as someone opened his door. He half-sat, turning to stare into the darkness. In the pale moonlight that slipped through his windows, he could see Kinshiro standing in his doorway.
"Did you need something?" Arima asked.
"I'm not used to the noises this house makes yet," said Kinshiro. "I can't sleep."
"Don't worry," he said. "I know exactly what you need."