Author: Ninja
Description: Sometimes it takes a bit of loss and a lot of road. Sometimes you just... understand.
Timeline: Pre and Post Episode 28
Characters: Deckerd and Shadowmaru. May contain traces of D/S if you squint.
Rated: K+


Rain pelted against the glass of Deckerd's windshield and painted his world in streaks of gray.

His motion sensor was alight with a cascading fuzz of input that ebbed and flowed with every fresh wave of rain. His heat sensor was similarly affected, the edges of its tracers blurred by a veil of moisture. The world about him seemed to breathe slowly, blanketed in sheets of mist that were swept beneath the spin of his tires.

For a moment he understood why many humans found rain to be bothersome. It was inconvenient. It wasn't enough of an inconvenience to affect his performance but the afternoon looked like it was going to be peaceful regardless, and for that Deckerd was thankful. The steady thrum of droplets against his armor was sort of soothing in a strange way. It was... familiar. The hum of a jet engine trailing after him wasn't.

Shadowmaru had been an official member of the Brave Police task force for precisely one week now.

One week.

One week since Shadowmaru's existence had been revealed to them. One week since a developer went rogue. One week since a flurry of impossible life or death choices. One week since one of Deckerd's own kind had been lost. One week since Deckerd had seen what loss could really be. One week since Shadowmaru had been pulled from the depths of the ocean and inducted into their ranks.

One week.

This was the first time the two Braves had really been alone since their first encounter on the freeway, before the ocean and the death and the other hard choices that had come with it. It was a strange parallel. Like then, Deckerd was now cruising in patrol car form along the asphalt. Like before Shadowmaru was above him in jet mode, his engines thrumming. Unlike before it was raining and everything was quiet and Shadowmaru wasn't trying to bump him or otherwise harass Deckerd into a righteous fury.

In the wake of the empty air between them Deckerd found he was actually starting to miss that.

The patrol car shifted his attention back to the shapeshifter. "Quiet today," he began conversationally.

"Mh," Shadowmaru answered, his voice soft. Deckerd wondered if he'd interrupted some deep thought.

There was a beat of silence. Deckerd experienced a flash of disappointment. Maybe Shadowmaru wasn't interested in talking to him after all.

"Perhaps the criminals are all inside staying dry," the violet jet continued with a chuckle.

Deckerd perked up. The jet was talking. Progress! "You think?"

"Oh, sure. That would be the smart thing to do."

Something told the patrol car Shadowmaru was having a dig at him. Deckerd huffed and sped up slightly, spraying a fresh sheet of rainwater across the highway behind him. Shadowmaru continued to trail in his wake. The sleek arcs of his armored plating left streaks of mist tracing from the tips of his wings through the air above.

At least Shadowmaru was willing to have a conversation...sort of. Maybe the ninja had been waiting for an opening? If that was the case then Deckerd needed to keep offering them. The Brave Leader checked his speed and fell into another cruise, his processor whirring with ideas of things to talk about. He wanted to know more about Shadowmaru – really get to know him on a personal level. It was an exciting prospect. Shadowmaru was the only mech other than Deckerd himself who wasn't part of the Build Team. Deckerd had never encountered another independently operating unit before and felt, for some reason, happy that there was someone else around he could befriend outside of the tightly knit trio.

Someone like me...but not like me at all. Different. The same. His A.I. poured over the paradox.

"Do you like your desk?" Deckerd asked after a moment.

"It's nice enough," Shadowmaru answered. His words were spoken with slow, rolling consonants, as though he was being careful with his word choice. "Can't say I've ever had one before."

"I almost never see you use it." Deckerd hadn't considered that Shadowmaru had never had a desk before. That could explain why he was so rarely seen at it.

There was another beat of silence. "I'm still getting used to it."

"Ah."

The conversation flagged. Deckerd resisted the urge to wilt on his tires. He couldn't let this moment slip away from him. It felt too... too important.

Shadowmaru cleared his vocalizer. "It's a little...big."

More progress! "Big?" Deckerd prompted.

"That side of the room. It's a bit empty, isn't it?"

"The Build Team were in charge of the Decker Room's construction," Deckerd explained. "They thought it was a good idea to add extra seating since there was so much floor space left after they changed the schematics."

"A wise choice."

"You think it feels empty?" Deckerd hesitated. "Is that why you don't like it?" It sounded like a silly question at first, but a split second later Deckerd's A.I. chased the stray thought down to a rather sobering possibility: Maybe Shadowmaru felt strange sitting by himself. Maybe the empty seats reminded him, all too clearly and all too soon, of the loss he had suffered.

Kagerou.

"Ah, no," Shadowmaru was saying. "It's fine."

"You could sit with me," Deckerd offered.

Shadowmaru made an amused sound. "No thank you. That's a little too esteemed for my kind."

"I wouldn't mind. I told McCrane he could share the desk but he prefers sitting with his team mates."

"Good on him. But no, I have to decline. That's a seat for a lieutenant. My current desk is fine."

"If you insist," Deckerd relented. McCrane functioned as his second-in-command. Maybe Shadowmaru just didn't want to sit next to him. Did the violet mech even like him? It seemed like it, but...

The soft whine of jet engines lilted overhead. "Besides," Shadowmaru continued, "it would be too easy for you to keep an eye on me."

Deckerd experienced a moment of alarm. "What? Why?" Why would he-? What would Shadowmaru have to hide? Confusion welled within him. "I would never look at something confidential-"

"It was a joke."

"Oh." Confusion was fast replaced by relief. Deckerd resumed the casual bounce of his tires as pavement continued to blur beneath him. And then, for some reason, he heard himself chuckle. It started out as a low sound that gradually emerged much louder than he'd anticipated.

"Sir?" Shadowmaru said, sounding a bit confused now himself.

"Sorry," Deckerd chuckled while feeling simultaneously embarrassed. "I don't know what came over me."

"A bit late to be tickled by a bad joke," Shadowmaru pointed out. There was a smile in his voice.

"I'm not very..." Deckerd tried to think of a word. "I'm not very good at things like that." He was never entirely sure when it was a good time to laugh at something and when it wasn't. It was something he was getting better at, sure, but until now there hadn't been anyone in the team who possessed a sense of humor like Shadowmaru seemed to.

"Nothing wrong with that."

"You know," Deckerd continued, feeling a bit more confident, "I can still see you from where I sit."

"True enough. I'll try to keep busy."

"I don't think that will be a problem."

It wasn't a problem. Shadowmaru was constantly working on something, whether in conjunction with one of the other Braves or on special request from the commissioner himself. Maybe Deckerd had been used to the likes of Power Joe, who had taken a little while to throw himself into the daily grind (and arguably still had trouble doing so,) but the tenacity Shadowmaru had shown in integrating himself into the workload was nothing short of admirable. The patrol car also suspected the ninja's intense regimen was his way of proving himself as well as keeping his mind occupied.

Deckerd couldn't blame him. He'd found himself working more feverishly of late as well, as though the extra wear would keep him from remembering... Well. A lot of things, like his part in everything that had happened. That entire case had been too shocking. He still needed time to digest the full gamut of his reactions to what had occurred.

It wasn't like other cases – the kind you solved and then tucked into a file somewhere to be archived. It seemed to follow him like a shadow. There had been consequences. Deckerd had done things he hadn't thought possible.

He had disobeyed Yuuta. He'd disobeyed Yuuta because, in one singular moment, he had empathized with a monster.

Not a monster.

Deckerd sighed through his fans.

One week.

"We're lucky to have you," he heard himself say.

"Hey now, I can't give you an excuse to kick me out," Shadowmaru replied. "Not after I promised Miniboss I'd stay."

"Still insisting on calling him that?"

"It suits him."

"Because he's small?" Yuuta would be annoyed to know he'd said that. Not that it was any big secret.

"Because it's cute."

Deckerd heard himself chuckle again. Okay, he had to allow that one. "Not the most respectful way to greet your boss..."

Shadowmaru tipped his wings and drifted off to the side, his thrusters burning bright against the gray clouds that swathed the horizon. "I do seem to have trouble with that," he acknowledged, his amusement palpable.

"I noticed," Deckerd muttered, his sensors relighting on the drifting jet in case Shadowmaru tried anything. "Just a little greeting" indeed. He'd had a giant scuff on his aft for days until one of the engineers had buffed it out.

"In my defense, you weren't my superior at the time."

"I was going to be."

"Best I got it out of my system early then, hm?"

"And that's supposed to excuse it..."

Shadowmaru laughed. "Now now, why don't we leave all that nasty business behind us? Such things always benefit from the value of hindsight."

Deckerd's headlights squinted at the violet smudge wafting at the corner of his visual feed. "What are you trying to say?"

"Oh, nothing."

They traveled in silence for a few minutes. This time the silence was more companionable and Deckerd found himself pleased that his earlier optimism hadn't been misplaced. He normally did his routes with Yuuta but had asked the boy to stay behind today so he could get in some one-on-one time with Shadowmaru. It was good to see the sacrifice hadn't been in vain.

But there was still something he needed to know.

"Shadowmaru."

"Yes?"

"How are you holding up?"

The rain had since lightened. Deckerd re-calibrated his sensors and waited for them to reboot while Shadowmaru took time to answer.

Sun peeked through the clouds. Cars fell in behind Deckerd as the highway continued to stretch onward, the lights of the city glittering faintly in the distance.

"Have you ever wanted to laugh and cry at the same time?" Shadowmaru asked at last.

Whatever response Deckerd had been expecting, well, it hadn't been that. His processor churned the question over and over in his head.

Laugh and cry... laugh and cry...

The Braves couldn't cry – not physically – but the meaning was clear. A memory file flashed along the circuits of Deckerd's A.I.

"That's it! When I grow up, I'll become a policeman! Then we can meet again!"

It had been raining then, too.

"Yes," he answered. The words felt small coming out. "I...I think so."

"Then you understand," Shadowmaru said, his voice quiet.

He did, Deckerd realized. Maybe he was the only one. The rain stopped. Orange light bathed Deckerd's windshield in color as the sun broke through.

That same quiet voice spoke up again. "Dekkado?"

"Yes?"

"Thank you for asking."

If Deckerd had possessed lips he would have smiled.

"You're welcome."


Their next joint patrol was in much fairer weather. So fair, in fact, that they took the coastal route in order to enjoy a bit of sight-seeing. Deckerd didn't make a habit of getting too involved in admiring the scenery – it tended to distract from whatever issue he was currently mulling in his mind, or whatever conversation he was currently carrying on with Yuuta at the time – but Shadowmaru appeared to enjoy it immensely. Deckerd supposed someone as mobile and fleet as the shapeshifter would find something attractive about the freedom a bit of road tripping could bring.

Deckerd's radio was tuned to every distress wave in radius but as before it seemed it was going to be a quiet afternoon. Shadowmaru was flying much higher overhead than usual, as though he was enjoying soaking up the sun that glinted off his metal plating. Deckerd observed a small family walking along the sand not far from the road and flashed his lights in greeting when one of the young children noticed him and waved. He watched the group of humans grow smaller in his rear-view and smiled to himself when the children looked after him with wide eyes.

A shadow passed overhead as Shadowmaru tucked into a roll that brought him back to Deckerd's side. "Showing off, are we?" he tittered. "Not everyone has such fancy lights to say hello with."

"You're one to talk."

"About what? Showing off?"

Deckerd side-eyed Shadowmaru with his headlights. The shapeshifter laughed and pulled away, flashing his undercarriage as he peeled off and dropped out of sight.

"Someone's in a mood today," Deckerd observed.

"I'm not the one trying to pick a fight," Shadowmaru replied from somewhere behind him. It was a little unnerving. Deckerd had no way of sensing where the ninja mech was at any given time. To have him drop off his visual grid played havoc with Deckerd's systems when he knew for a fact the other mech was present. It was one of the drawbacks of Shadowmaru accompanying him in jet form and of the ninja's stealth systems in general.

"I'm not trying to pick a fight," Deckerd said, a little alarmed at the idea.

"Figure of speech."

"Oh." Deckerd tried to discreetly slow his speed and change lanes in an attempt to figure out where Shadowmaru was located in the sky. He angled his mirrors but saw only clouds and patches of blue.

A sudden loud shifting of parts brought Deckerd's attention snapping back to the road. An unmarked police car clad in violet pulled up in the lane alongside him. Its siren flickered in silent greeting.

"You could have warned me," Deckerd said. It wasn't a real reprimand. On the contrary, Deckerd was quite pleased to see another car alt on the force. Driving side by side like this felt like solidarity.

"My apologies," Shadowmaru responded. "I thought this would be more polite than sailing over your head."

It felt like another dig. Deckerd huffed through his intakes. "I don't mind."

"Maybe not, but it's nice to stretch my tires." Shadowmaru hesitated and drifted a fraction before pulling back into the center of the lane. "I'm not making you uncomfortable, am I?"

Deckerd flicked his headlights and let a car pass before matching the other mech's speed (though not before checking to ensure said car was still obeying the speed limit.) "Of course not," he answered and didn't bother to disguise his bewilderment. "Why?"

An awkward silence fell. "Kagerou also had a car mode," Shadowmaru said at last.

It... seemed like a strange parallel to make. "What does that have to do with anything?" Deckerd asked.

"Bad associations."

"Why would it make me uncomfortable? It's two separate things."

Shadowmaru slowed down unexpectedly – so unexpectedly, in fact, that Deckerd thought the shapeshifter must have seen something in the road. The Brave Leader ran a quick sweep with his sensors but came up with nothing before realizing that Shadowmaru had simply been taken off-guard by the answer. Deckerd eased on the gas but Shadowmaru had already corrected himself and pulled back up alongside the white-armored police car.

"What is it?" Deckerd asked.

"Nothing," Shadowmaru said. "I...hmm."

Deckerd waited for the other mech to continue. Shadowmaru made another thoughtful noise before he did so.

"...I'm still getting used to a world without him," the ninja admitted. "We were always compared."

"You've proven yourself," Deckerd said. "As an individual and a member of the Brave Police."

"That easy?" There was a smile in Shadowmaru's voice.

It felt like one of those special questions. What were they called? Ah, right – rhetorical; the kind of question that went without an answer. Deckerd wasn't sure he was content with that. On the contrary, he felt a sudden flare of conviction so potent it almost made his fuel bubble in its tank. "Yes," he said. "Though I don't think it was easy for you."

The Brave Detective got the feeling Shadowmaru hadn't quite expected that, either.

Deckerd continued, "Or any of us." The hot flare of feeling simmered to a slow burn. It left him feeling a bit flustered – easier to hide in his car alt, thankfully – as it usually did when the blue mech felt like he had stepped beyond the boundary of The Leader and into a space that was more personal. Shadowmaru had been good about indulging him so far, but Deckerd was still unsure where the lines were and he was desperate not to offend his newfound companion with his awkward bumbling.

He shouldn't have worried. Shadowmaru...laughed.

"No," the stealth fighter said. It was a small laugh, soft and just a trace sad, but not lacking warmth. "I guess not."

Deckerd beamed. Shadowmaru was receptive to talk about what had happened, at least in general terms. Deckerd tumbled a couple of topics through his A.I. in a bid to figure out something he could say about that before his opportunity to comment on the matter closed. A number of vehicles passed them and barely clicked on his scanner.

"That day on the docks... Yuuta was glad to see you." Yes, Yuuta was always a good lead-in. Even when the boy wasn't present he still served to make Deckerd feel awash with comfort and purpose.

"I was glad to see him as well," Shadowmaru replied. "For a moment there it seemed like I might not see anyone again."

Deckerd's A.I. fired off a painful pang. "From the time I inducted you, you were one of us," he said. "And before then, too. That was just a formality."

"Doghouses," the violet mech mused. Dog rolled out of his vocalizer like it tasted bad. "Very formal."

"I had no part in that," Deckerd defended.

"I recall you trying to hide behind your hat," Shadowmaru tittered. "It didn't work that well."

The Brave Detective flushed. "Um..." Yeah. He, uh, kind of had tried to hide behind his hat. He hadn't expected his formal induction of Shadowmaru to be co-opted by the Build Team and a well-meaning Yuuta, but it had all worked out in the end. He looked upon the memory with fondness; the entire Brave Police team against the sunset, laughing and egging each other on like a... well, like a family, he supposed.

"You tried," Shadowmaru consoled.

Deckerd considered asking Toudou for a bigger hat.

"If-" Deckerd stopped mid-sentence once he realized what he'd been about to say. Then he felt self-conscious about not finishing the sentence he'd started and decided honesty was the best policy. "If Kagerou had lived, I would have welcomed him as well."

Shadowmaru was silent. Deckerd hoped he wasn't bumbling again.

Now committed, the Brave Detective continued, "Like you, he was always one of us. I'm..." What could he say? Nothing could change what had happened. Deckerd decided to resort to honesty once again. "I'm sorry."

"Danna," Shadowmaru murmured with a shuddering vent. "Master Dekkado, please. You have nothing to apologize for."

"I know. But it seemed-"

"And I believe you." Shadowmaru's voice grew firm and his tires seemed to grip the asphalt with more friction. "You never – when things were still uncertain, you never cast blame."

"That wouldn't have helped anyone," Deckerd said.

"No. Least of all Kagerou."

"Shadowmaru-"

"You had the chance to end it. You could have shot him."

Deckerd remembered that moment well. He could still see the struggling, puppeteered frame of Kagerou pulling itself upright in the middle his targeting reticule. He could still feel the internal struggle that had erupted within him at the sight – the way his finger on the trigger had twitched but not pulled down. Yuuta's face filled his mind.

"I couldn't," Deckerd sighed. He felt his armor bunch. It felt like something weak – like some horrible admittance, but as before, it was the truth.

"I know," Shadowmaru replied in that quiet way of his. "That's why I believe you."

No one else had hesitated. Deckerd had. At the time it had been an alienating feeling, but now that he thought about it, Deckerd was grateful he had followed his heart. Shadowmaru seemed to appreciate it. Maybe that was the moment they had found a connection amid the flurry and the confusion and he'd only now come to realize it. Maybe that was why Shadowmaru didn't seem to mind talking to him. Maybe Deckerd really did understand.

It was nice to be understood.

"Well then," Shadowmaru said after a moment. His voice was light. "All those hats you hid behind in order to get me on the team... I will remember their sacrifice. And try not to disappoint you, master."

"I'm not worried." Deckerd sped up to pass a row of civilian vehicles. Shadowmaru trailed after him, weaving through the caravan with ease. "Why do you call me that?"

"What? Master?"

"Yes."

"Why wouldn't I?"

And that was that.


Deckerd grumbled and straightened a pile of papers with more force than was necessary. This resulted in the edges of the documents bending against the unyielding metal of his palms which then resulted in the Brave Detective making a horrified sound (which came out as something between a "Nnnuh?" and a "Auuhn!") and trying to right his wrong. He bent over his desk and attempted smoothing out the creases with the flat of one of his fingers. One of the corners of one of the papers kept flicking back up in defiance. Deckerd glowered at it. He didn't think he could take much more defiance today.

"Bad time?"

"Hmm?" Deckerd was too engaged in his task to be shocked at the voice that resounded from nowhere. It took a few seconds before he came to conclusion that someone was in the room with him. He looked up and met Shadowmaru's gaze. "Oh, uh. No."

The violet mech stood at attention at the side of his desk. How he got there was a mystery that was not a mystery at all. Shadowmaru just had that ability to appear wherever he pleased. Deckerd gave the ceiling tiles a cursory glance. At least he hadn't been doing anything embarrassing.

Shadowmaru's green-lensed gaze slid down to the papers and the fingertip firmly wedged on the corner of just one.

Deckerd cleared his vocalizer and shuffled said papers off to the side. The corner flicked back up. "Is there something you need?"

"No, but I was wondering if we were still scheduled for a patrol today."

The blue mech blanched. "Oh, right. Let me..." He maneuvered his chair around so he could access his console and the roster saved somewhere on it. Shadowmaru said nothing but Deckerd could feel the ninja's gaze studying every move he made. When Deckerd glanced over to see if Shadowmaru had moved his optics met the familiar green with a suddenness that was no longer surprising.

"Is something bothering you?" Shadowmaru asked when Deckerd turned his attention back to the console with a frown.

Was it that obvious? "It's nothing. Here, let me look..." He pulled up the week's schedule. Shadowmaru permitted him a moment's silence to scroll through the data.

"Not to be nosey," the ninja began, "but I suspect this has something to do with Gunmax?"

Deckerd set his jaw.

"Am I right?"

Deckerd sagged. The corner of the paper continued to salute him from the side of his desk. Shadowmaru's engine rumbled quietly.

"I thought so."

The Brave Detective turned to face the mech currently observing him with what looked to be concern. "He's difficult," Deckerd grumbled. "But we'll work through it."

"You don't have to convince me, master," Shadowmaru chuckled. His expression grew serious again. "How long has it been? Three days since the Hourglass?"

"He's still adjusting, that much is obvious," Deckerd acquiesced. He rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "But does he have to be so..." Ugh. There were too many adjectives that were far too appropriate. "...Difficult?" Yeah, that was a good one.

"The commissioner has a big announcement to make the day after tomorrow," Shadowmaru said. "Everyone is a bit on edge." That much was true. You just never knew with Saejima.

Deckerd paused. Something about the way Shadowmaru had said it... "You know what it's about."

The ninja's lips quirked in a mysterious (if smug) smile. "I'll be out of town when it happens."

"I guess asking won't do me any good."

"I'm afraid not." Shadowmaru gestured toward the console. "Well?"

"We're scheduled," Deckerd confirmed. He sighed and rubbed at his nose again. Were they capable of getting headaches? He felt like maybe he had one, or at least the ghost of one. It was what he imagined a headache might feel like, anyway. "Getting out might be a good idea."

"I enjoy our outings," Shadowmaru said in a soft voice. "They're good for me as well."

Deckerd felt himself smile. The other mech's optics glowed in turn. "Alright. I'll leave a message for Yuuta and Drillboy when they come back."

"Would you like for me to wait outside?"

"If you'd like." Deckerd proceeded to tidy his desk. "And, ah, thank you."

Shadowmaru had been in the process of heading toward the door. He stopped and swiveled at the sound of his leader's voice. "For what?"

Deckerd's optics flickered. He... wasn't really sure what he'd been thanking him for, now that he thought about it. "I don't know," he said before he could stop himself.

Shadowmaru blinked. As much as they could blink, anyway.

The urge to hide behind his hat was strong. Deckerd groaned. "Today is..."

"I understand," the violet mech said. He sounded amused again. "If you'd like, we can discuss it while we drive." It sounded a lot like Gunmax.

"Maybe." Yeah, maybe voicing his frustrations would help. He always had nice conversations with Shadowmaru when Shadowmaru wasn't a jet and prodding at his bumper. Maybe...

"I know of a restaurant down the road that caters to persons of our stature," Shadowmaru continued. "We can talk over a bowl of soba."

"Bowl of-?" Deckerd had forgotten that he was in the middle of stowing away papers and resumed doing so. "Can we eat that?"

This time Shadowmaru laughed. "You've never tried?"

"I – no. Well, one time Yuuta's sisters fixed us cookies, but we didn't..." Deckerd frowned. "You were on that case, and we didn't think..."

Shadowmaru's brow arched. "The lovely Miss Tomonaga made you cookies... and you didn't eat them?" He sounded downright offended. Considering his relationship with the sisters he probably was.

"...No."

The other mech exhaled a gusty sigh. "What a shame."

"I did feel bad about it."

"We all start somewhere. Perhaps you're more of a katsudon fellow?" Shadowmaru scrutinized the awkward standing mech.

"I guess we'll find out," Deckerd relented. He hoped he wouldn't regret this.

Shadowmaru smiled. "I'll meet you outside, then."

"Likewise."

He really did look forward to these drives.


It was dark out. The veil of night claimed everything and everyone; the one great equalizer. The presence of darkness gave Deckerd a strange kind of comfort. He felt harder to spot, as though he were somehow disguised. It wasn't that Deckerd was trying to hide – on the contrary, he was on the public roads and touring all his favorite haunts, though his sirens were silent. It was a silence that was at odds with the cacophonous clamor of the thoughts that whirled through every node of his A.I.

No, he wasn't trying to hide. He just didn't really want to be seen. It was the illusion of privacy in the open air that he wanted most, and for the moment he had it.

He also had someone to watch over that feeling for him. Somewhere out of sight Shadowmaru was trailing him, the shades of the shapeshifter's armor blending into the palette of night with frightening ease. Deckerd knew the ninja was close – he'd never go far – and dutifully watching his back while Deckerd simply...drove.

He'd been driving for a good twenty minutes now. He didn't know how much longer he would need.

Almost a week.

Streetlights flicked by overhead and flashed against the polished white of Deckerd's hood. They were in the suburbs now. It was quiet there. He would be heading to Yuuta's house soon, but for the moment he was carrying on the charade of completing one last patrol before he quit his shift for the night.

Deckerd came to a turn and slowed, his engine humming quietly. Shadowmaru stopped too, though the Brave Leader couldn't see or hear him. He just knew he had.

The Brave Detective had long grown accustomed to the feeling. While Deckerd's sensors still grew confused at the disparity between hard data and intrinsic knowledge, Deckerd no longer found such things unsettling as they once had been. The phantom presence was comforting instead – a silent guard, quiet and untraceable, letting him feel alone when he needed to without letting him be alone at all.

Almost a week...

When Deckerd didn't take the turn a violet car melted from the shadows and glided up alongside him. Deckerd fiddled with his gears and switched to neutral before swapping back.

"How are you holding up?" Shadowmaru asked after a minute of idling. It was the first thing he'd said since they'd left the precinct.

Deckerd didn't reply immediately but instead resumed his usual cruise speed. Shadowmaru kept close behind and drifted enough so that Deckerd could keep him in view using his mirrors. The time for illusion appeared to be over.

There was no easy way to articulate the question that brimmed to the forefront of Deckerd's processor. He decided to wing it as best he could. "Shadowmaru, do you resent me?"

It was a silly question. Of course Shadowmaru didn't resent him.

"Resent you?" The ninja sounded simultaneously bemused and a little put off. "Why would I do such a thing?"

Deckerd hadn't realized he'd eased off the gas and was falling back until he felt Shadowmaru's hood nose his bumper. Startled, Deckerd's tires leaped forward and he made an embarrassed noise.

"Eyes on the road, sir," Shadowmaru teased.

"Sorry."

More lights flicked across his hood. The air registered as cool against his armor. Deckerd remembered the warmth of the sun; how he had enjoyed it so freely just the day before with two of his companions by his side. They'd done their best to draw him from his indoor shell. Now he seemed to have found another one outside.

It was still preferable. Deckerd held onto the memory. It warmed him from the inside.

It'd been almost a week since...

"Is this about your resurrection?"

Of course Shadowmaru would cut to the heart of the matter.

Deckerd shifted his visuals and watched houses pass on either side. "Sort of," he replied.

"'Sort of'..." Shadowmaru hummed. "What does all that have to do with me?"

Honesty had worked in the past. Deckerd didn't have many options left. "I got a second chance," he said after struggling with arranging the words in his head. "Or more. And..."

A pause.

"Kagerou never did. Is that it?"

Deckerd sank on his tires. It was all the confirmation Shadowmaru would need. The ninja was quiet for a few moments, the idle vibrations of his stealth engine almost audible.

"To resent another for regaining their heart..." Shadowmaru drifted up alongside him. "Isn't that a bit too sad, master?"

"I thought so." This whole thing felt ridiculous now. They should have had this conversation earlier but the thoughts crept on him with little warning. He dealt with them as they came. Sometimes he just...remembered. And when he did sometimes he'd realize –

It's only been a week since you regained your memory. Since they ran you through.

Shadowmaru shifted on his tires. "If you recall, I got a second chance as well."

Deckerd hesitated. It was true. The other mech should have died a long time ago, consumed whole in the sunken grave of the Abyss. He didn't like thinking about that. Imagining the team without Shadowmaru was...

"Thank you for allowing me on the team," Shadowmaru said suddenly.

The expressive glass of Deckerd's headlights dipped in a blink. "What?"

"Thank you for making me a part of the Brave Police. I don't think I've said that until now."

Deckerd's system flushed. "I don't understand," he said, perplexed by the sudden gratitude.

Shadowmaru's tone was part playful when he explained, "Imagine if you hadn't come back. I wouldn't have gotten the chance to tell you that." His voice dipped an octave. "I would have resented that more than anything."

The logic of it tumbled through Deckerd's A.I. Before he knew it he was chuckling, which then escaped as a short, honest laugh that felt...really nice to let go of after a long night of reservations. "You're a piece of work, Shadowmaru."

"So Mr. Toudou tells me."

"I don't mean your engineering."

"Oh?"

"Now you're doing this on purpose." A pause. "Shadowmaru?"

"Hm?"

"Thank you for asking."

Shadowmaru gave Deckerd a friendly bump in the side and flashed his single siren when the Brave Leader made a disgruntled noise. "You'd best head home to Miniboss. I'll head back and clock out."

"You're sure?"

"Of course. Go tuck in. I'll have coffee ready for you and Miniboss in the morning, bright and early."

They didn't have a coffeemaker that big. Well, they didn't when Deckerd last looked. You just never knew with Saejima. "Just what Yuuta needs..." The sugary orange juice was bad enough.

Shadowmaru laughed and peeled away, his unmarked form fading between the pools of light lining the street. Deckerd headed toward the Tomonaga residence and passed many of the same houses he'd already driven past once that night, only this time with a much lighter conscience.

It'd only been a few words; a short exchange. Sometimes... sometimes it worked that way.

He didn't mind.

The message came later, just as Deckerd was safely back in Yuuta's garage and just beginning to doze off.

/You're welcome./

Sleep was easy after that.