1

The papers are spread in a sprawl across the table in front of Cabanela. He ignores them, leaning back in the chair, idly twirling a pencil. He knows them by heart, scoured through them all for every last unchanging detail.

It's plans cycling through his mind. Seeking answers they don't yet have. Fine tuning details. Make sure everything is right, nothing missed.

Five years seemed an unending stretch and now it's come down to a few short weeks.

Twirl, twirl, snap.

He stares down at the broken pencil and it's as though it breaking has snapped something in him. It falls from a suddenly slack grip.

The Professor comes up from the basement and freezes in the doorway. The Inspector is hunched, face buried in his hands. He thinks he detects a quiver in that coat, sees his shoulders heave, lock into place, lose that battle, and heave again.

He backs away silently. Let him have his moment, one that was a long time in coming, the professor suspects. He's no counsellor and some things are best left alone.

When he comes back up, Cabanela is preparing to leave. The unflappable Inspector. The bright and shiny hero, yet the professor can see he's not all there. His gaze is distant, already in the future ticking down a seemingly endless list.

He stops him leaving, fills a thermos with the remaining tea and thrusts it at him. It's cold out. An exchange of looks.

I know.

No words need to be spoken.

2

The professor is used to the quiet solitude of the maintenance office - used to it and welcomes it. So, it was with a certain surprise that he came to not mind the explosive disruptions that were Cabanela's visits.

Usually.

Cabanela has a way of filling the room. Now he's in a towering temper. He doesn't yell, though he wouldn't be surprised if that was coming, but his jaw is set and his eyes flash. Seething, fingers drum impatiently. A day gone badly and his anger radiates to fill the room.

The professor is feeling ready to chew him out or at least shoo him out. Exchange of information can wait and the man can throw a fit in his own home. Seeming to sense both her professor's irritation and Cabanela's irate mood, Lovey-Dove flutters off to land by Cabanela's hand with a soft coo.

Cabanela scowls and the professor is about to call him out – yell at him, fine; he has no issue with dealing with the ridiculous man, but leave Lovey-Dove out of it – when the scowl fades a bit and he reaches out with almost exaggerated care to pet Lovey's head.

The little bird isn't a cure-all, but the professor makes a mental note to figure out some way to thank her for her ability to diffuse white coated bombs.

3

"Sooorry I'm late prof," Cabenela announces as he enters the maintenance office and stops. The professor is asleep at his desk, head in his arms, glasses askew. It's an unusual sight. Though Cabanela would never outright admit it, the professor is generally better at knowing and keeping to his limits than he is. Still, he's not getting any younger and between his junkyard duties and avid research he's working the equivalent of two jobs.

A few light steps carry Cabanela silently over to the table. Lovey-Dove is nestled nearby and lifts her head at Cabanela's approach. He holds a finger to his lips: shh, no need to risk waking the man. He slips his hands around the glasses and carefully lifts them off the professor's nose to set them aside.

He steps back thoughtfully. Desk sleeping is not the most comfortable, nooot that he has too much experience in that, of course. The office is always on the cool side; the small stove on the other end of the room doesn't do a lot for the rest of the building. It's been a long day – longer than it was meant to be – and he has nowhere else he has to go. He slides his scarf off and loosely wraps it around Lovey-Dove in a makeshift nest.

"Take caaare of that for me, will you my feathery friend?" he whispers. She cocks her head at him then with a little wiggle settles in more comfortably.

His coat, not needed here, is shrugged off and he gently drapes it over the professor's shoulders.

Then he quietly returns to the other side of the room where he stokes the fire before tossing himself into the chair to settle in.

Only the crackling of the small fire fills the comfortable quiet of the office.

4

The coat hangs as a reminder and the all too familiar sight catches his eye at every visit.

He knows he is exhausted, but it doesn't seem to weigh on him the way it might have done once upon a time. He is used to it. Fatigue is a regular companion along with the growing anxiety in his chest. He has learned to work with it. Caffeine helps though comes with a price. Sheer determination (or the stubbornness of a daft bull as the prof has so kindly put it) carries him through the bad times. Sleep comes as it comes, often unwanted, but just enough to recharge and start again.

The coat is a flag, a symbol.

It isn't ideal he knows, certainly not wise, but the deadline looms ever present, overshadowing all else. His constant companions will never be enough to drive him away from his end goal. Only success is acceptable. The possibility of less isn't granted even the barest of considerations.

He will see him wear that old coat again. The pair of detectives. Top of the top. Old friend.

There's a soft coo and Lovey-Dove settles on his shoulder as a comforting weight. The professor follows close behind and stands beside him.

"There's food," he says with a short nod toward the table. Cabanela nods as well and pulls his gaze away from the coat to follow the professor to the table.

They settle with Lovey-Dove and a warm kettle between them. They are a family of three and they will get their fourth back; that is a certainty. For now, they share the meal and speak of other things.