[Shattered] Children 25

Interlude Eight: Heaven’s Not Enough

“Hurry, catch it!”

A shout. Laughter. Breath puffing in cold air. Feet skidding over gravel and dead grass, brown with the onset of winter.

“To the left! The left!”

The sound of a ball falling into someone’s hands filled the air and a rousing cheer echoed from the children gathered.

Loz grinned, shooting them all a thumbs up. “Great catch,” he said, nearly out of breath, wiping a bead of perspiration from his forehead. “Now toss it here. I’ll throw it again.”

“Okay, Mr. Loz!” One of the neighborhood kids, a chubby-cheeked brat with curly hair practically sparkled at him with pride. He heaved the ball as hard as his chubby little arms could manage, which actually wasn’t very far.

Luckily, Loz had guessed the trajectory well, and managed a fancy looking catch that saved the both of them from looking like fools. And well, even if he had to skid across the ground in a slide to do it, the children were entertained. For some reason, the dirtier he got, the more amused they were.

Rising to his feet, Loz dusted himself off, spitting out a small clump of grass. The children’s grins were infectious as they scattered, waiting to see who he would throw to next. But before the ball could even leave his fingers, Junon’s great clock rang loudly, announcing the time.

High noon. Lunchtime for kiddies, especially during winter break. Sounds of disappointment echoed through the park, children turning with slumped shoulders and trudging back towards their homes.

“Eat well!” he called after them as a series of small hands waved goodbye and a chorus of “Bye Mr. Loz!” and “See you later!” and “Thanks for the game!” followed in their wake.

Loz couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed himself. He lifted his shoulders and raked a hand through his hair, dislodging a few bits of dirt and ice that had gathered there. His rumbling stomach decided he should probably head home as well.

Tucking the ball under one arm, Loz snagged his abandoned jacket from the ground and jogged out of the park, still full of restless energy. He supposed he had Hojo to thank for that. Nothing was ever enough. Not play, not food, not anything. He felt as if he were spending his existence constantly searching, and never finding anything.

The park was only a block away from their shared apartment, a little rundown and far from comfortable, but the only thing they could rent at the time lacking suitable identification. That had since been remedied by Yazoo’s computer hacking skills but at the time, housing had been a first necessity. Loz didn’t personally care himself, only glad that the apartment looked nothing like their sterile, cell-like quarters in the lab, and that he didn’t have to face countless painful tests everyday. He was too enamored of his freedom to care what package it came in.

He took the stairs rather than the elevator, passed the kind elderly couple from the first floor that liked to bring them baked sweets, and juggled his keys out of his pocket. Only to find that the door was unlocked. Loz frowned. He’d told them time and time again to keep it locked. It didn’t matter that they could protect themselves or that they really didn’t have anything of value, it was the principle.

A wash of warm air smacked him in the face – Yazoo always did complain of being too cold while Loz and Kadaj sweltered in misery. “Oi! You guys didn’t lock the door again!” Loz hollered, stomping his feet to clear out the mud before kicking off his boots.

“That was your fault!” A voice called from one of the rooms down the hall – Kadaj’s, he was sure. “You were the last one to leave.”

Loz pondered, slinging his coat over the rack. It was possible. Bah, he let it slide. “What’s for lunch?” he asked instead, peeling off his sweater too. He was already feeling the immense heat.

Yazoo appeared in the doorway to the kitchen, tossing a pack of instant ramen at him. “Have at it,” Yazoo said, vanishing back into the kitchen.

“Awww.” Loz looked forlornly at the package of chicken-flavored noodles. It was never enough, not one or two packages. He wanted meat, not powdered seasoning. “I’ll just cook something myself then.”

“Stay out of the kitchen!” came Yazoo’s surly response and Loz cringed, the sharp note of annoyance in Yazoo’s tone enough to cause him to back away slowly. Very well then, on to the rest of the apartment.

He passed by Kadaj’s room, where his youngest brother was propped up in a chair reading a book that looked way too boring for Loz’s tastes. “He got hit on by a man again today,” Kadaj said without looking up, blandly flipping another page. “I had to clean up another mess.”

Loz scratched at his chin. “That explains the ‘tude.”

“Kadaj, shut up!” Yazoo hollered from the kitchen.

“Cut your hair and maybe they wouldn’t mistake you!” Kadaj shouted back with a smug grin, smirking behind his book.

No answer came, but even Loz could tell that Yazoo was fuming. It really would be best if he stayed away from the kitchen for the moment, despite his growling stomach.

Kadaj’s eyes flickered to him. “Playing with the children again? You’re too old for that.”

“Not like I ever got to be a kid before,” Loz reminded him, a conversation they’d had many times before.

Besides, he liked children. There were innocent and pure, knowing nothing of strife. Loz often felt that spending time with them helped leech out the darkness inside of him. He thought that in another life, he could have been a teacher or something similar. Though with the way his thoughts sometimes disconnected such a thing was impossible now. His brain simply wasn’t up to it.

Loz promptly banished those depressing thoughts. They were only an invitation for that bitch to stick her fingers in his mind and he liked thinking for himself. Even if it was only fleeting.

“And what about you? You’re going to ruin your eyes if you keep reading like that.”

Kadaj snorted, flipping another page. He was probably just skimming since he’d already read that book before. “If that were possible for us, I might actually welcome it,” he replied quietly, and Loz noticed the way his hands tightened in their grip on the book.

Of the three of them, Kadaj heard her the most, and suffered the worst. Loz knew it all too well, and he wished there were actually something he could do about it. He was supposed to be the eldest, but most of the time, Yazoo and Kadaj looked after them. He had big hands but they were useless. He was helpless in front of her. All of them were really, but it was always Kadaj who held out the longest. He was her favorite and Loz didn’t envy him for it.

He wished he knew the answers.

Loz shifted uncomfortably in the doorway, words failing him as they usually did. He didn’t know how to comfort Kadaj because he didn’t know how to comfort himself. He didn’t know the right words to make it better. Or the right actions.

Kadaj sighed and glanced at him over the top of the book. “It’s fine, big brother, no need to cry about it. Go eat something. Your rumbling stomach is scaring me.”

“I’m not crying!” Loz retorted sharply, eyebrow twitching. Geez, lose control of his emotions one time and neither of them would ever forget it!

Still, he was relieved when that induced a small smile from his youngest brother. Practically the only time he resembled his age. Kadaj really ought to smile more.

“Whatever. Leave me alone so I can finish this chapter.”

“Hai, hai. Whatever little brother commands,” Loz said cheerily and turned away from the door, idly scratching at an itchy spot on the back of his neck. Some mud flaked off, reminding him that he needed to bathe. Perhaps he should do that before he ate.

His belly rumbled again. Or maybe after. He was really hungry. Even if all he had to look forward to was a cup of ramen.

Loz decided to brave the kitchen and crept towards it. Pans clattered. Water ran. And Yazoo muttered under his breath, ripping open a bag of rice and pouring it into the pan. Loz winced at the outright violence in the motion. It really bothered Yazoo when he was accosted like that. Some would say he should consider it a compliment, but such actions went hand in hand with memories of Hojo and tests and utterances of “failure”.

Yazoo was too pretty. Too delicate. His body, while fast and sleek, agile and flexible, simply couldn’t take the same kind of beating that Loz’s could. And he lacked an intimidating aura. Of the three of them, he carried an artist’s spirit, and Hojo had wanted a warrior. Yazoo had been trash, even before Loz had been.

And it didn’t help that at the moment, Yazoo happened to look very girly. He had his hair pulled up with some sort of bright red scrunchie that bared the nape of his neck. And that apron! Loz had to cover his mouth before he burst out laughing. Still, a chuckle slipped by him and Yazoo whirled at the sound, spatula raised.

That was it. Loz snickered loudly, unable to help himself. Of course, that didn’t help Yazoo’s temper either.

“Want some advice from your big brother?” Loz asked, pushing his way into the kitchen to dump some water on his ramen. “Don’t ever go out like that in public.”

Yazoo rolled his eyes. “Great pearl of wisdom there. I’ll lock it away with all the other ones I’ve gathered in the past few months.”

A few beeps and he popped the noodles into the microwave. Loz tried to peek into whatever Yazoo was cooking, but apparently, he wasn’t allowed to see yet because he was quickly intercepted.

“You’re just in the way,” he muttered, elbowing him out of the way.

Loz grinned, reaching up and poking his brother in the cheek, though it was a lot like tugging the tail of the tiger. “You know, you really look like some kind of parent right now.”

Yazoo smacked his hand away. “And you’re the child I never would have wanted.” Finally, his younger brother looked at him and made a face. “Playing with kids again? You’re filthy.”

Loz laughed again as the microwave dinged.

“Shit!”

Both Yazoo and Loz turned towards the door where Kadaj flew past it in a flurry, nearly stumbling over his own feet as he careened down the hall. Arching a brow, Loz ventured back into the corridor to see Kadaj struggling to pull his hair back into something relatively presentable. Yazoo followed him, peeking out the doorway.

“Where are you going?” Yazoo called out as they watched Kadaj grab his coat from the pegs and throw it over his shoulders.

“Out,” Kadaj answered shortly, tugging on a scarf as well though he didn’t reach for his gloves. Souba was noticeably left in its sheath by the door and not attached at his side.

Loz grinned, leaning against the wall. “Oh? To do what?” he asked, crossing his arms over his chest.

“None of your business,” Kadaj snapped, his cheeks flushing, and for a moment, looking like the teenager he really was. “I’ll be back later.”

And the door slammed behind him.

“Aww, he’s really growing up,” Loz cooed, amused at Kadaj’s reaction.

Wouldn’t it be nice if they could spend the rest of their lives like this? Like real people? Without worrying about the dark presence slithering in the back of their minds? Loz thought about that sometimes. He never voiced it aloud, because that was too much to hope for, but sometimes, he wondered.

Yazoo rolled his eyes and stepped back into the kitchen where he was in the middle of burning their dinner. They had insisted on splitting the duties, but really, Loz was the only one could cook anything worthwhile. Still, Yazoo tried and Loz let him because he thought it was kind of cute.

“Take a bath. You’re dirty,” Yazoo muttered, and it was soon followed by the sound of running water and the fan over the stove clicking on.

Shaking his head, Loz stretched his arms over his head and realized that yeah, he was pretty dirty. He wondered how long this freedom was going to last as he wandered back to the bathroom. Just the three of them. This tiny apartment. A city large enough to get lost in. And Jenova hovering in their psyche, like a scar that would never heal.

And Loz honestly, desperately prayed to whatever god would listen for fate to have some mercy on them. For Kadaj’s pure heart and Yazoo’s gentle spirit if anything else. And maybe, if there was a bit left over, spare some for him as well.

Paperwork, paperwork and more paperwork. Archer wasn’t sure when he signed up for all this, but he was damn tired of looking at it. He scribbled Reeve’s signature onto another document and shoved it aside, hurriedly reaching for the next. His eyes glanced at the clock and he cursed under his breath. He would never finish at this rate.

A hand came down in the middle of his paper, blocking where he was supposed to sign. “You seem to be in a hurry,” Reeve stated jokingly, looking ready for a hard day at work with his sleeves rolled up and his tie loosened. “Hot date?”

Archer stilled, as the description was and wasn’t accurate. He didn’t dare call this a date, but it wasn’t something he wanted to miss either. “Something like that,” he answered, and didn’t meet Reeve’s eyes because the president was far too adept at garnering the truth.

Reeve arched a brow, skeptical. “Really?” he prompted, keeping his hand in place and preventing Archer from continuing his work.

Rolling his eyes, Archer poked his pen at the tanned hand in his way, leaving an ink mark behind. “Kami, Reeve, you make it sound like I’m some kind of eunuch!” He tried to nudge the paper out from under the president’s hand. It threatened to tear.

Finally removing his hand, Reeve flicked fingers at him, dropping behind his desk and into his own chair. “For a while, I almost thought you were.” He snorted. “Go, get out of here then. Maybe this ‘hot date’ will help that surly disposition.”

“Thanks, boss,” Archer retorted sarcastically, and was out of his chair in a flash, grabbing his coat and slinging it over his shoulders.

There was a stack of papers remaining but Reeve could get Reno to sign those if he really wanted. No one was as good at forging as Reno. Good thing he was on their side.

Reeve waved off his gratitude, already immersed in his own stack of important documents. It didn’t really pay to be the president of a major company. Especially at times of mergers and funding requests and rebuilding and all that not-fun stuff.

He reached the door in record time, but it was opened by another before he managed to grab the handle, and Archer encountered a very pregnant Reis. He scrambled to get the door for her, Reis casting him a grateful look, one hand placed over her bulging belly.

“Thanks. That door just keeps getting heavier.”

“It’s not the door, it’s your stomach,” Archer teased, wincing as she smacked his arm playfully, practically glowing with pride. “Not much longer, ne?”

She grinned, looking relieved. “Two more weeks,” Reis returned and entered the room behind him, waddling all the while. She looked near to bust; it was hard for Archer to believe there was just one baby in that belly.

“Good luck!” Archer called after her and practically sprinted down the hallway, glancing down at his watch. He was already running late, and he prayed to some deity that his date wouldn’t leave.

The fact that he was rushing to see a teenager bothered Archer on several levels. He knew that there was a line there, and he shouldn’t cross it. To be honest, he hadn’t. They’d done nothing more than chat with each other since the moment they had met for a second time, bumping into each other randomly. It had been Kadaj to suggest they meet again that time, and Archer had been unable to find sufficient reason to deny him. Or, to be honest, a part of him hadn’t really wanted to.

Kadaj was beautiful, and strong, and there was a look in his eyes that spoke of loneliness, that screamed to be saved. Archer was drawn to him inexplicably, as though the youth exuded some type of pheromone to draw him in. It was wrong, so very wrong, and he needed to stop this before he got in too deep. Yet, here he was, careening down the hallways of the WRO, frantically pressing buttons on the elevator, and plunging into the cold streets of Junon, still tugging on both gloves and winding his scarf around his throat.

They had promised to meet at the fountain in the middle of Junon, one of the few places the both of them could recognize that wasn’t directly near the WRO building. Archer mentally apologized as he pushed his way through the crowd, fighting his way to the fountain. A few protested, but Archer ignored them.

He heard the fountain before he saw it, a steady stream of falling water above the noise of traffic and hundred of people crammed into wide sidewalks. And when he broke through the crowd, he spotted Kadaj immediately, that head of silver hair pretty distinguishable. Something inside Archer sighed in relief, even as he noticed that many were giving Kadaj appreciative looks that he didn’t seem to notice.

The soft spray of the fountain suited Kadaj, giving him an almost otherworldly looked as he gazed into the distance. He was burrowed in a thick coat, appropriate for the winter weather, his hair pulled back into a short ponytail. He looked unaccountably young at the moment, and lost as well, a deep sadness in his eyes.

Man, he was such a kamibedamned sap sometimes.

Sucking in a deep breath to calm his rapid-fire breathing, Archer slowed his frantic pace to a more refined walk and stepped into the courtyard. His breath puffed out in front of him, and a glance to the sky proved that it could possibly snow at any moment. Something to look forward to.

Kadaj seemed to sense his approach, because he looked up, those startling eyes instantly focusing. “You’re late,” he said, rising to his feet and scowling.

“We adults do have work you know,” Archer returned, and then grinned, idly loosening his necktie – a must when working with the president of the WRO. “But I see you waited. I thought you said you wouldn’t.”

The cute spots of color on Kadaj’s cheeks made him feel all squirmy inside and Archer fought to dampen the utterly wrong reaction. “I was about to leave,” Kadaj retorted sharply, tucking his coat around him. “You’re lucky I didn’t.”

“Yes, yes, very lucky indeed.” Archer waved him off, trying his hardest not to grin. “So how about lunch? It’s too damn cold out here.”

Kadaj shrugged, drawing alongside behind him and garnering the two of them some very varied stares. “I don’t mind the cold.”

“Somehow, I thought you would say that.” Archer had always gotten the feeling that Kadaj was much like winter. His pale skin, his silver hair… and seemingly cold on the inside.

Those eyes looked at him questioningly and Archer lifted his shoulders. He couldn’t explain himself if he tried. At least, not without sounding like an utter pervert. And though a part of him couldn’t deny Kadaj’s attractiveness, his rational and moral side had planted a big, fat “Keep Away” sign on the teen’s forehead.

“Never mind. I know a shop down the way. Small and out of the way, but it makes the best soup.”

Kadaj shot him another look, his lips twitching. “What? An old man’s bones can’t take winter?” he teased, walking alongside Archer as they braved the crowds and the slick sidewalks.

“Hey! I’m not that old yet,” Archer argued, each little reminder of his age like a tiny stab to his moral fiber.

“True. You certainly don’t seem like a fort-”

“Shh! We don’t say that around here,” Archer insisted, and glanced around pointedly, this routine something they go through every time. “I’m still four years away from that mark.”

In all honesty, he hated admitting that he was almost forty, unmarried, and childless with not even a lover to his name. And what had he done in the past four decades? Saved the world a couple of times? Big deal. What did that net him for his future but a life of loneliness, surrounded by happy friends and a bunch of children who weren’t his own but would call him “uncle” all the same. It sounded incredibly lonely and Archer didn’t relish the thought of it at all. But he didn’t want to seek a lover for that reason alone either.

Kadaj lifted a brow. “Delaying the inevitable, Kyle?”

“Only where it counts.” He winked slyly, a small tease that never failed to get a rise out of the other man. “And what do you do with yourself all day while I slave away at paperwork and whatever master tells me to do?”

“Is that what you call the president?”

He noticeably lowered his voice. “When he’s not looking.”

Kadaj shook his head. “You’re more of a child than I am.”

“It’s what keeps me young,” Archer joked, shoving his fingers into his pockets as a gust of wind stirred, blowing icy air over him. “Well?”

Kadaj sighed, shrugging dismissively. “Not much. Mostly looking for the occasional odd job and such to help out my brothers.”

“School?”

“I don’t need something like that.”

“At your age-”

Green eyes cut at him, Archer’s words ending mid-thought. “If you’re going to start with that kind of adult bullshit I’ll just walk away now. I’ve heard it enough.”

“Okay, okay.” He held up his hands in surrender, moments like these enough to make Archer ask himself why again he was doing this. Why he was letting this boy crawl under his skin and into his life. Why he wasn’t just walking way before he was in too deep.

“Fair enough. Then why do you want to spend time with a geezer like me.”

“Nothing better to do?” Kadaj returned teasingly, a hint of lazy nonchalance in his tone.

Archer blew air out of his mouth. “Smart ass.”

“Hey, you asked.” The youth tucked a stand of hair behind his ears, his hands uncovered by gloves and giving Archer a glimpse of them.

They were rough, calloused, not at all like he would have expected. More of the mystery surrounding Kadaj’s existence. Archer made a mental note to subtly inquire into the missing persons database for anyone fitting Kadaj’s description. There had to be someone out there who missed him. There had to be.

“Besides,” Kadaj continued. “Not everyone can say that they get to spend time with a hero.”

Archer snorted before he could stop himself, Kadaj unknowingly stepping on a landmine. “I was just along for the ride, Kadaj. It’s not like I did anything special.”

“Hmm, I’ll bet your friends think differently.”

As if they had the time to worry about a bachelor such as myself,’ Archer remarked internally. But he was not a bitter person at heart, so he shoved those kinds of thoughts away, to the deepest pits of his subconscious. He knew it was just jealousy over their happiness, jealousy over the fact he couldn’t seem to gain any of his own.

He hunched his shoulders against the cold, somehow suddenly stronger to him. “So… do you think it’ll snow today?”

Kadaj twisted his jaw, making a noise of discontent. “Oh, smooth there Kyle. A subtle way of changing the subject.” He tilted his head back to look at the sky, bangs falling to frame his face. “I’ll let you slide this time since you seem so depressed over it.”

“Depressed!” Archer practically spluttered in indignation. “Che. What would a child know of that sort of thing?”

He meant it as a joke, as a tease, but it was clear from the look in Kadaj’s eyes that he’d taken the words as something else. “More than you would think,” Kadaj murmured, and gray-jade took on a sheen that made a slight chill run through Archer that had nothing to do with the weather.

There was a coldness there, a harsh, stark reality that echoed too much of the same look he occasionally caught in Sephiroth’s eyes. Ones that had seen too much in a short span of time. Things that Archer himself would never bear witness to, that brought nightmare upon nightmare, strong enough to drive a man mad.

“And I’m not a child,” Kadaj added quietly. “I’m not sure I’ve ever been one either.”

Archer looked at him, taking in his youthful expression, his face a cast of darkness. “You’re only sixteen-”

“Seventeen tomorrow,” the youth corrected, possibly even softer than before, as if admitting it by mistake alone.

He blinked. “What? Really? Why didn’t you say anything sooner?”

“Or we could have done something? Is that what you were going to suggest? Or do you still celebrate your birthday at your age?”

There was a sense of aggression in Kadaj’s words, and Archer had the feeling birthdays were never something to be celebrated in Kadaj’s life before. As if they meant something other than joy. And once again, Archer was struck with the thought that this boy might be more similar to Sephiroth than just in looks. He had a feeling he was already in over his head.

He dragged a hand down his face to clear his thoughts. “And this would fit in the realm of topics for you that should be subtly changed,” he muttered quietly, watching Kadaj from the corner of one violet eye. “Moving right along.”

Kadaj went quiet for a moment, his gaze determinedly set on the crowd around them as they meandered towards the shop. Archer would admit that they were taking the long way around, but only to himself. There was a shameful part of himself that wanted to extend how much time he spent with Kadaj. In just a short while, the boy had crawled under his skin.

“I think it really will snow,” Kadaj said after a minute, taking a deep breath of the crisp, damp air. “Smells like it.”

And Archer couldn’t help it, he chuckled, his own mirth causing a small smile to tug at Kadaj’s lips. “Aye, that it does. Snow and perfume and far too many restaurants crowding a narrow strip of sidewalk.”

Kadaj laughed softly, a sound that Archer wouldn’t mind hearing again and again, his insides doing a strange flip-flop, warming reaction. “And here I thought I was the pessimistic one.”

“I just hide it better.”

“So I see.”

The sound of Archer’s cell phone ringing cut through their conversation, managing to both make a loud noise and vibrate annoyingly in his pocket. Archer wanted to ignore it, but feared the repercussions of doing so. Kadaj cast him an askance look as he pulled the device out of his pocket, grimacing at the readout.

“Important?”

“Maybe. It’s the boss,” Archer replied, going through a quick internal debate about answering it once more. Well, Reeve knew he had plans, so it had to be important since he doubted Reeve would interrupt for anything that wasn’t. “Do you mind?”

Kadaj shrugged, waving him off as they moved out of the pedestrian traffic and to the side of the walk. He leaned against the side of a building as Archer pressed a button to answer the call.

“Yeah?”

What came next was a garbled string of words, all said too quickly for Archer to identify them. Reeve didn’t sound like himself at all, words in a rush, frantic and excited both.

Archer winced. “Reeve, calm down. Say it slower.”

He literally heard the president take a slow and long breath. “Reis has gone into labor,” Reeve stated carefully, speaking each word as if it were Archer’s fault he hadn’t understood the first time and not Reeve’s.

A surge of excitement rippled through the engineer even as he fought down a stab of jealousy. “That’s great,” he replied, and he meant it. “So-”

“We’re taking her to the hospital now but you know Reis, she’s being stubborn about it.”

Archer still wasn’t entirely sure why Reeve had called him. “Well, she is a doctor, I think she would know these things. It can often take hours for a baby to be born, Reeve. Especially for first timers.”

There was a moment’s pause where he could practically see his best friend’s eyes narrowing in accusation at him. “And how would you know?”

Archer sighed. “Reeve, would you just tell me what you need me to do. I’m kind of in the middle of something here.”

From the corner of his eyes, he caught sight of Kadaj pulling out a piece of paper and scribbling something on it. He tossed the boy a questioning look but Kadaj just shook his head, focusing on his writing.

“What’s more important? Your date or my daughter?”

“Reeve, she’s your daughter. Not mine. I can come later, can’t I?” he asked, wondering why the proud papa demanded that everyone be present. He was pretty sure the waiting room would be chock full of their friends. They didn’t need one more body.

There was a noise of a phone being fumbled, and then Reno’s voice poured through the receiver, sounding only marginally more composed than Reeve’s. “Are you saying you don’t want to be here when your cute niece is born, huh? You’d rather have some floozy?”

Archer, never in his life, would have thought to ever hear Reno use a word like floozy. In fact, the very thought of it was laughable.

At the moment, Kadaj appeared in his field of vision, one hand grabbing Archer’s free one and pressing what felt to be a piece of folded paper into his fingers. Archer looked down at it, confused, when suddenly a pair of hands – cold from the weather – grabbed his face and pulled him down to meet a set of very warm lips. Soft and pliant as they pressed against him, insistent and wanting. The scent of Kadaj surrounding him, something like juniper and honey, sweet and seductive.

And then Kadaj was drawing away, something a bit like mischief dancing in his eyes. “Rain check, hmm?” he murmured, and turned on his heels, vanishing into the crowd before Archer could utter another word.

He glanced confused at both the paper, his lips tingling as heat flushed his entire body. What… the hell? Not that he was disappointed, but… did people normally kiss others they just met and walk away like that! Archer glanced at the paper, unfolding it carefully.

There was a phone number listed there, pretty much a blatant invitation for him to call Kadaj once more. Perhaps he had sensed from the conversation that Archer would have to reluctantly end their plans.

“Archer!”

He blinked, coming back to himself. “I’m here,” he responded with a sigh, already turning back towards the WRO headquarters and the adjoining hospital. “And I’m coming. Though you owe me.”

“Yeah, well, put it on my tab,” Reno drawled. “See you in a minute, buddy.” And the line went dead.

Archer rolled his eyes, tucking the phone back into his pocket. And then, on second thought, pulling it back out to store Kadaj’s number in it. Just in case.

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