Partners

He should have been relieved. Shibuya was saved, the Game had been fixed, the Composer's faith in humanity had been restored. It was a happy ending - one that almost everyone had come out the better for, even the so-called 'villains'. It was the optimal solution - something he believed with his whole being. Believed enough to sacrifice himself for it.

But Sanae Hanekoma was still anxious. It had been two weeks since the end of the Game, and WildKat still hadn't been opened once. He only just yesterday finished putting the place back together - though not for lack of trying. It had simply been impossible for him to focus on the task. And it showed - every single table and chair, even the walls and the windows were almost covered in half-finished doodles from when his mind started to wander.

Even now he stood leaning over the counter, a lit cigarette hanging limply from his lips as he sketched in permanent marker on his countertop. He paid no attention to the falling ash. The drawing was scattered and messy; his hand was shaky from how much caffeine was in his system. Which was saying something, considering how much coffee he drank on an average day.

"Smoking inside, Sanae? No wonder you never have any customers."

Sanae was used to people simply appearing in the cafe - hell, even in his apartment. When your boss is someone like Joshua, you have to be. It was a testament to how on edge he was that the marker jerked, sending a thick line through the figure he was drawing. He took a drag in a futile attempt to calm his nerves before capping the marker and straightening up. "Well, not all of us have had the privilege of being 'F'ed by the Prince of Ennui."

Ken Doi rolled his eyes, already unpacking the food he'd brought. "Good food is what keeps people coming back, not celebrity endorsement. The kids have already moved on to some new fad." He set a bowl of ramen on the counter; he knew that Sanae was terrible about remembering to eat - especially during those rare times when the Producer was stressed.

Sanae stared at the bol for a long moment before putting out his cigarette. Shoyu, even. He ate at the counter in silence while Ken took a seat at a table and fiddled with some pins. Tin Pin wasn't as popular in this universe, but the game was still one of Ken's private hobbies. He was the reason Gatito pins were as good for the game as they were - Sanae just didn't have the head for it.

After finishing, Sanae lit another cigarette and sat at the table across from his old friend. Ken wrinkled his nose at the smoke, but said nothing. Sanae normally had no issue with silence, but right now it was stifling. The edict regarding the Fallen Angel had been issued almost a month ago; the Council was still investigating the Game. Sanae didn't regret his actions and was fully prepared for the consequences. But the waiting was killing him.

As Shibuya's Promoter, Ken had to have been asked for a full report.

Sanae stared his fellow Angel down with the unblinking gaze of a panther. He watched him fiddle with the pins for what felt like hours before the words jumped out of their own volition. "It was me, Ken."

Ken didn't even look up. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

For a brief moment, Sanae felt like he could have exploded from frustration. It was only centuries of self-control that allowed him to reign himself in. "Ken, don't play dumb." They were far too old and had known each other far too long to play these games with each other. "The Taboo sigils. I-"

"Hey. I'd like to keep my plausible deniability, thanks. Besides-" Ken finally set his pin down and met Sanae's eyes. "You're not as good at hiding things as you think you are."

There was an edge to the chef's voice that Sanae hadn't been expecting. In hindsight, it wasn't all that surprising. Ken's role was even more behind the scenes than Sanae's was - things like leaving gifts to assist Players and Reapers, aiding in the overall refinement of Soul. Even the Composer wasn't privy to the identity or even existence of the Promoter. Ken and Sanae had always worked hand in hand.

Except in the last Game. Sanae had done it all on his own, and never breathed a word, specifically to give Ken that plausible deniability. There was no point in taking his friend down with him.

Sanae slumped in his seat. "I did what I had to do, and I don't regret it."

"I'm the last person you have to defend yourself to, Sanae."

The barista gave a soft smile in acknowledgement, but it didn't last. "They haven't even taken me in for questioning. I can't figure out what's going on." Sanae's tone took on a desperate edge. "Hell, I know I didn't cover my tracks well - I wasn't really trying to get away with it. The Council hasto know it was me. Even if they don't, someone else had to have figured it out and turned me in. It makes no sense."

Ken frowned and furrowed his brow. "For someone who likes to know everything, you really don't give us enough credit."

Thatcaught Sanae off guard. "What do you mean?"

"You didn'tcover your tracks well. Everyone, includingthe Council, knows it was you. But they can't try you because no one will testify against you. They can't find proof because every single Angel in Shibuya is covering for you."

Sanae was absolutely dumbfounded. If what Ken was saying was true, the entirety of Shibuya's High Ground was guilty by association. "But, if the Council finds out-"

"But nothing." Ken leaned back in his seat, arms folded across his chest and eyes closed. "We all saw the same things you did. The Game was broken, and rather than fix it, the Composer was going to destroy all of Shibuya. Just because the rest of us didn't act as directly as you did doesn't mean that we aren't just as willing to help." He opened his eyes to look at Sanae, his expression softer. "We're not going to offer you up as some sort of sacrificial lamb. If, by some miracle, the Council doesfind proof and tries you, I'll be standing by you. And I'd be willing to bet that I won't be the only one."

A knot formed in Sanae's throat at Ken's words. They made his coffee-fueled little heart swell. They really did. But they also gave him a deep feeling of guilt. "I'm not going to drag you - or anyone else - down with me, Ken."

"Sanae."The ice in Ken's tone was almost palpable. "Not that you need the stroke to your ego, but everyone is well aware of the fact that you are the only reason that brat of a Composer didn't destroy Shibuya out of negligence the second he got his hands on it."

Sanae had to interject. "You're forgetting that I set him up to become Composer in the first place."

"No, I haven't. The Game might have been broken, but Shibuya has never shone brighter. Because of you. You've personally mentored every Angel to come out of Shibuya since you Ascended. You turned down only god knows how many promotions that would have led to a seat on the Council, just so you could stay in Shibuya. No oneloves this city or has done more for its betterment than you have. Even the Council knows that. This investigation? Perfunctory. Yes, you broke rules. And if it ever comes to light, you'll be punished as an example, because if anyone butyou tried something like this, it would blow up in their face. But no one, not even the Archangel herself, wants you to go to trial. And if you did? We would all stand by you. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if Shibuya herself personified to testify on your behalf."

With a 'harumph', Ken gathered his pins and stood. "So quit moping, get your act together, and for god's sake, air this place out. It reeks of paint fumes and smoke."

Slowly, ever so slowly, Sanae's characteristic smirk showed itself for the first time in two weeks. "Knew there was a reason I decided to work with you all those years ago."

Ken returned it with a smile. "Yeah, because no one else wanted to team up with the resident insane vagrant who fancied himself an artist."

"Their loss."

Rolling his eyes, Ken made his way to the door. "Definitely did not need to stroke your ego."

"Ken?" Sanae's eyes flickered down to the table before looking up with a serious expression. "Thanks. For everything."

Halfway out the door, Ken glanced over his shoulder. "Anytime, Sanae. Partners then."

Sanae smiled. "Partners now."


this is an old one i found in my notebooks. no idea what i never posted it it. it makes me warm and fuzzy :3