I'm sorry this took me months after months to update. I seem to have lost my touch on writing, and my muse… Enjoy!

Summary: "This taste…" Toshiro winced. It was not a good sign. Never a good sign this led. And he prepared himself for the inevitable, "peculiar."


Chapter 4


As the whimsical moon revolves around the clandestine sun, he sleeps. As the inky blackness of night replaces the bright radiance of day, he sleeps still. A blissful haven, located deep within the threshold of one's subconscious. A mindscape of retreat for imagining figments upon figments of one's own creation, of epic tales and fantasy, of desires and fancy; these wish-fulfilments never could be adulterated in the world of unconscious minds.

Yet dreams, despite their lucid realities behind closed eyes, never seem to transpire from such deep slumber.

There was a time when he had dreamed, truly dreamed. Often a rare happenstance. But when he did – when he swayed himself to dream; when the promise of altered scenarios and what-ifs were at the reach of mere finger tips – it lingers. It stays.

Dreamt of the lucid past Toshiro would. Dreamt of the life and family he should never left. Dreamt of the things he cannot have. It was a play of memories – the happy childhood of his younger self, the warmness of the small community of their church he loved, the old man he held in great wonder and admiration – that keeps playing on repeat. His moments with the flowers were the most treasured. The moment in time when he was truly innocent, untainted and naïve.

I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm –

The presence of flowers became a constant in his dreams as of late. Their faint fragrance, pithy to a point, once succinct, had become sharp. A tang of rich earth and a hint of wet dews of fresh grass and soaked petals. It quelled the sorrow, the guilt and the shame that fight to become one, clawing and scratching closed doors. The flowers held the inner monster at bay. Put back together the crumbled walls as creeping vines 'til it mends itself into a sort of webbing, traps and prevents its release into the open it could.

There is none of that this time around.

Toshiro could not put a finger. Something was different, he knew for certain. Thought too much, too little. He would not point aimlessly in the dark. When the pendulum did swing and the penny was dropped, things suddenly began to click into place: His dreamscape was changing.

Toshiro found himself not in his usual mindpalace. The precious backyard garden of their humble District Six home, exposed to sunlight and water and air, he built from remaining memories. It was replaced. In its stead he was inside a garden of sorts. Indoors. Cool. With plants and trees, the humid air, the cold night and, and… and life.

He is back. Back in the Seventh District's greenhouse.

It was just as he remembered. Just as he had left them pure in memoir. The same disc moon, full and bright and round, hung in the sky. The moonshine shines those under its grace. Leaves evergreen and glistening in the night air falls and rains. And yet it did not. Any sort of semblance ends there.

The leaves hovered over the stagnant landscaped. As if glued to the horizon, as if in controversial between touching and brushing than swiping everything in its path by the pull of gravity. Therein is the absence of thereof. Defies the rules of physics, defies the rules of Earth. Time as if frozen.

A vista preserved in a way such remarkable mural should grandly be displayed within the mind's walls. It is an adequate term for it, Toshiro thinks. And Toshiro will stare at it, this work of art of its own volition. Name it and claim it. Memorize it and ingrain it as something valuable even beyond price.

Because this is his, his and his alone. To see and to have. Until someone breaks the unreality he believes to be real. Bona fide. But then everything came apart and crashed like shattering cosmos. Like the break of a fragile teacup.

Someone had broken the spell.

Transcendence resumed: Leaves fall, wind blows, and the moon wanes along with the shifting gray clouds. It marked an arrival, the coming. For in his dream, he saw a man.

With hair white as snow and eyes astute and dull, Toshiro nearly mistook the man with Ayanami. There was this uncanny resemblance, analogous – the unusual hair and dazzling purples that seem to bore through his soul. Alas the similarity ended there. The man standing before him is not the daunting Black Hawks leader. He is not Ayanami-sama.

Lavender and flowers, Toshiro recognized immediately; a scent he have become acquainted quite too often. There was no mistaking it. He smells of lavender and flowers.

Everything suddenly fit together all nicely. The missing pieces, the gaping hole. Even in this illusory, vivid dream, the flowers reacted so strongly. This man the one man the flowers held in high regards. The man they bowed their heads in respect. They slithers towards him, pulling them like moths to the flame. And it rips him.

Dread and distrust tugged at his chest. Toshiro felt just a shy of betrayal spark at their public affection, intimacy. It was too paltry however to ever be the beginnings of a bad dream, much less a nightmare.

A name sprung – Profe. Beautiful Profe. It was hard to forget what with the flowers chanting it almost a prayer, drilling it into his head, every so often.

Toshiro doubted it was this man's true name. Profe rang out with the semblance of a title, a term perhaps, or maybe an honour. Yet he donned a suspiciously-looking attire, the silvery night emphasizing its dark and feathery outlines. The way he carried himself had the patent grace of a bishop's – a bishop from the church then, Toshiro assumed.

Or perhaps not.

He was, to put it in words, otherworldly.

The man looks squarely at him. His gaze implies sadness despite the blank and dead flat stare. Full lips moved and mouth quirked to form words. Toshiro could see it, could understand it. Yet hear it he could not. Too faint, too hushed. It seemed urgent. It seemed important. It–

Toshiro was pulled back forcefully to the living world, his abrupt awakening not a pleasant one. The pale blond panicked in the blackness, his unknown surrounding all dark and alien. The feeling of being restricted makes the situation worse – the need to struggle and thrash urgent.

Where's Father?

Where's Mother?

Where's Tori-nii?

Toshiro felt like falling, drowning… sinking. When he finally came back to his senses, he blinked. His face was soaked with cold perspiration.

Tiny beads of secreted saline crown along his temple caused sallow tresses to curl like a miniature halo stuck upon his forehead. His breathing soft and ragged before it evens down. Relief was allowed to sweep over him, grip him, then, after he finally heaves a sigh. Deep and heavy. And Toshiro closed his eyes, willing them to hide the fear and bloodshot teals under strained eyelids.

Well. This is new.

'Not home,' Toshiro tells himself. 'I am alone. Inside Ribidzile. With the Black Hawks.'

Somehow, that bitter fact was rather… reassuring.

It took Toshiro a few bats of the eyelashes to process his state. Tangled in sheets he found at the attempt to get up. He must have fallen asleep.

The pillows were too damn soft and fluffy, the bed fucking-temptingly inviting. He had a short moment to debate as to why there was only one bed in the room when he entered. Hyuuga and Konatsu shared a room. They might as well share a bed too. He shrugged the possibility at that time.

Look what indifference had gotten him in to.

Perhaps he should blame his body for eagerly surrendering to the softness of the plush mattress for clouding his reasoning.

With effort and some twists and turns, Toshiro finally freed himself. He rubs his face with his freed hand and stopped dead. He felt slicked warm skin on the edge of fingertips than the feel of a cold plastic frame.

The absence of glasses where upon his awakening should have gone askew transpired naught. Strange. Was sure he had not taken it off some time ago. It baffles the blond to see them placed on the end table when he turned instinctively to his side. He sighed in relief as he lied back.

At the very least, he didn't damage his glasses in restless sleep. Such accident would leave him unwarranted difficulties.

Then, something suddenly wiggled in Toshiro's uniform. Made itself be known as it worms upwards, tickling against sensitive skin and leaving ghostly traces of its trail. It sent shivers and raises hairs. Toshiro tenses. Though soon relaxes as he recalled evergreen vines purposely curled and hidden under long sleeves.

"…Is something amiss?"

Even without seeing Toshiro could feel the life vine's non-existent bout of worry bore into him, as they uncurled to completion, intense and disquieting. The smooth touch to his face was gentle, the brush to his cheek caressing. As though he was the epitome of a being too precious. Flattering really. Toshiro considers protesting however. Their depiction of him as something… delicate was dissentaneous. Whether intended to or not, the life vines always meant well.

In silence the blond did not speak at their probing. Instead he leans, leans into the touch. They soothe him.

"Rest, Kind. Sleep," the wiry vines gently sang. "Return to your repose and allow sleep to bestow you."

Toshiro desist his root of comfort, aware. Something was wrong here. Their usual whispers, chiming and lilting, was rather squeaked in this instance. He refrains from commenting.

Amongst other things, sure, he had no idea where these extra sheets of linen possibly came from. Toshiro could have sworn he passed out cold with the enthusiasm belies that of a sack of meat. He ponders a bit, mind too sluggish to even fathom out everything. Refusing sleep Toshiro decidedly got up and sits, weight sinking slightly into the mattress.

It felt hours had gone by. His state of mind hasn't fully recovered. He was not a heavy sleeper by far, at best, but his worn body needed rest in sleep. The clock however showed that he had slept for a mere four hours. The habit, he believes, of staying up late at night until dawn approaches had something to do with it.

He would have read his books for such occurrences. Hold his little flashlight or nothing at all but the dim lighting from the moon during his time at the Academy. Pass the time by until sleep laden him, or wait the early sun rises – whichever comes first.

This time, it seems, neither would wait for him this time around.


Surely late and dark outside, as stars and comets dances in the still night bund, Dawn has yet to come. Meanwhile, a rather pacing Toshiro made his way down the narrow corridors.

Back and forth the Recons unit boy went, and back and forth again he goes. Should have taken the alternate route to this, should have stayed until morning came. But no. His self be damned. He could not, is not, able to make himself comfortable on a bed, much less a room, which is not his own.

Familiarity was one thing the pale blond needed. And the flowers, his non-human, evergreen companions, were being of no help at all.

Retracing back his steps, Toshiro tried to remember his way back. Surely the break room cannot be far ahead.

He went from section to section, platform to platform; opened many doors and entered countless rooms. When Toshiro finally did found it, had chastised himself for forgetting the bridge, more than half of the task force already turned in for the night. Heck. He could count the remaining others less than ten fingers. They must be waiting for the people that came to replace them at the end of their shifts.

Toshiro entered, the door closing behind with a swish. It alerted those within, for their fixed attention upon the screen shifted onto him. A sudden silence so intense soon followed. Grim looks of uncertainty and chary, pity even, was directed at him – none too subtle either – now that he was without the company of the Black Hawks.

They looked at him strangely. Nothing was said and none was voiced, but their body language, their attitudes towards him, contradicts their very action. It was in their eyes.

A fish in a tank full of sharks. A lone guppy swimming in an enormous body of water too big.

Toshiro understood not why they view him as such. An ignorant newcomer indeed he is but an oblivious one he is not. He nevertheless made his way suavely past them. Polite greets to simple acknowledgements of a nod, more or less, was exchanged and received. He went up the stairs then.

None were in the break room it seems, Toshiro soon discovers. Had the place all to himself. Disappointment however overrode what pleasant delight he had little within him. For the break room was in disarray.

Haphazardly stacked cups, relatively empty and used, not to mention stained, were strewed upon the glossy planes of smooth countertops. Only fools thought saucers would make a good job at balancing the threatening downfall personified. Toshiro advances still, face already contorting in palpable disgust. He could smell the bitter taste of stale coffee. At the sight of mugs, half-filled and untouched, the colour quickly drains from his already pallid face.

What horrid deed- Debasing such bittersweet nectar of life…! Becoming a waste to all that is glorious caffeine… It was poorly made too! I-is that… Is that sludge?

Toshiro took a deep gulp of calming air, remembering to breathe proper then. He was overly exaggerating this. He considers preparing tea. A distraction. Something to wither away the heartbreak. One should take on the good – salvage anything, may it be a speckle of crumb among dust and dirt, that could be saved – and leave behind the bad. Not all is entirely lost after all.

Unbuttoning golden trimmed cufflinks, Toshiro removes his jacket. Wouldn't want it to be wrinkled in the midst of work. Draping it over a chair, Toshiro began to clear the disarray. Carefully he detaches the crude tower of cups and saucers into the sink and threw away the disgusting slops down the drain that remains. The break room seem bearable now once the cleaning was done.

Toshiro scours the break room for teabags afterwards, toeing cupboards and bending to reach cabinets, only to find the ship was left with a selection of low quality blends and instant coffee to choose from.

Tea was clearly out of the question. He would have to make do for the night.

Waiting for the water to boil Toshiro walked up to the very end of the platform. He watched as the very people who made Ribidzile work.

It was quiet at night, slow and lulling. Yet the occasional press and push of the buttons and the rapid typing of commands kept everyone at wake. Though the tapping of fingers drumming along whatever surface it can touch mostly implies that person was impatient, borderline irked, at their replacement long since awaited.

Toshiro leans back on the rails, careful enough not to warrant an accidental fall over. He hopes to see celestial stars and ice-dust particles of fabled comets when he looked up the high ceilings. It was wishful thinking, he knew. Still. Longing for the cosmos above, in a way, is an escape. An escape he would like to partake more often than once. If allowed.

Imagine lying on the soft grass on serene nights, gazing at the moonlit stars as the evening wind gently brush and caress tender skin. Nothing but darkness being the only company you will ever need. Not to be alone. But to feel wanted, accepted, special.

Toshiro closed his eyes. He could see himself in that – being a kid he was once upon a time. Growing up donning cotton white robes as if it was second skin to him, remain happily ignorant of the world under a sheltered life. He belonged there. Regrettably, all of that would have to crumble once he opens his eyes.

But it's okay though.

The life he lives is more than what he had bargained for. Strayed too far ahead than the original plan in fact. He made unexpected friends in the face of rivalry and kindness. He became a soldier for the empire, was even presented the chance to meet the Black Hawks. He had not believed it possible to work under them, with them, much less joining their ranks. And yet, here he is.

Here he is indeed.

Toshiro welcomes the change with open arms of course. He had put great amount of effort in achieving this, gone through a lot to get here. Be here, stand here. The future, the wide road of many endless possibilities, seemed clearer than it was before. Almost.


"Is there something that you're trying to hide from me, Lab?"

They were in the gardens, Labrador and he. As Castor would have easily found him. The night ever silent since the invasion.

War attacks which happens to lead to the eventual capture of the hidden Eye of Mikhail, Teito's leave; all these events triggered in the follow-up. On a simultaneous effect, as well, Frau's absence left a peaceful bout in the church.

None asked the disappearance of the blond bishop too eagerly. His choice of wordings, language, so to speak, rather lacking, was not questioned. After what felt over more than ten years of hearing freely spoken profanities shamelessly said in holy grounds – whispered, muttered, said – perhaps, many would agree the church has return to its former glory: Of concord and piety and veneration. Not the voice of curses nor swears, but the music of prayers and praise for the omnipotent Chief of Heaven and his Seven Ghosts.

Different is to be said by the younger generation within the church however.

Frau is well-liked by the orphans, adored as equally amongst the children of the church's care centre. Castor was aware of this. With his absence the children would wonder. They do not voice it now, but they will. Sooner or later.

Of course this could be resolved by simply explaining the blond bishop was on a job, given an important duty to accomplish by the church. Such should further the respect and admiration upon the bishop through unassuming eyes unfortunately.

…Which currently leads Castor to the now.

Omissions aside, a sudden influence had been imposed upon Castor. The inquisitive side of him he held in check. It is beginning to falter as of late. Due to matters concerning Labrador especially: Particularly, the boy. The one Labrador was so intent on dealing it himself. This person his fellow ghost is apparently protecting.

The russet haired values privacy as much as the next person does. It was better to not ask questions, easier even to let it go.

He respects Labrador's. Would not dream of ever meddling in the pretty man's affairs too. It was important to him and Castor shall wait. Wait until Labrador could finally be able to tell him, confide in him. Be patient enough and will himself to abate the slipping compulsion with force. But Castor could not wait.

No. Oh no. He was curious.

Oh so curious of this boy.

"…Labrador?" Castor ventured on when the other did not answered.

The situation itself is getting more and more troublesome than all it is worth. Far, far less than his liking. Castor must know before matters become complicated, or worse. Before he could not. And so here he was at present. Confronting Labrador. Coaxing him to share his worries.

He tried again. "If this is about-"

Labrador stood before Castor could finish his sentence. The other did not turn to face him, favouring the night sky over Castor. He hung his head low – intentional – lest tell-tale signs of disconcert shows on his face. No need to alert the man by any means of course.

"I had a dream."

Castor met Labrador's gaze. Actually, he let him.

Labrador settled back to look at his garden then, pausing before he could say more. Castor understood it as consent, permission on the receiving hand, from him. That grants the other to continue. A safe word unsaid, if it could be called that. A simple gesture only they would convey to one another.

The russet haired studied the bishop, eyes deeply calculating. A dream. They do not dream: Ghosts do not dream. Remembering their past they could. Only, Castor chose to bury them – as most of them would – in exchange for the now. With his puppets, with Razette.

With Labrador.

"What is it?" Castor gently inquired. As have a gentle hand caress tender skin would. No more than he could bid but his feelings for the older man. He offered his company instead. Because through this, somehow, the heat and warmth that felt nonexistent, absent, before is shared between them. And he waits close by, spread through the coldness combined.

Labrador closes his eyes, sighed a puff of air. "Different," he breathed, finding words to properly express the flashbacks of a dream still fresh in his mind, clear, "compare to the others. More lucid. Stagnant." A sudden pause. "I think he came to me."

There was a fine nuance within the subtext. Only, it barely registered as fast as it should have. It was then, as the seconds tick by, Castor realized this was about him.

"No. That's not right." Labrador furrowed his brows amidst closed windows of the soul. "To him. I came to him," he corrected. "He… allowed my presence."

Full lips clamp together, a fretful frown forms.

"His heart was in distress, calling for someone to soothe the ache. The poor soul. And he called for me, his subconscious; on an unwitting whim."

Castor should have seen it as he had had. This child. He erected walls, built forts – solidified forts – to shut himself in. Against a great darkness that threatens to came over him. Perhaps a smart decision on his behalf if not for one, small crack of his defences: The corruption itself. The outside influence that came in waves upon corroding waves.

Like a hollow puppet before breathed by life itself in its purest form, he needs its strings. To move him, to aid him; dictate those useless limbs to functionality and control it without pretentious abet no more.

…But strings are not always made strong.

He dangles on thin lines prepared from ghostly trails. There is no rising threat should the dainty threads snapped by chance. For below him lies a path of safety, made strong as it feeds the hopes from the lives that ensures his survival. Made concrete so he could cross over. That protects him. That wants him alive and well and safe.

However.

Underneath the conduit is the irrefutable void, vast and profound. In truth it is deceivingly shallow. It hides the exterior: A smooth surface, slippery and coarse at the same time, of glistening scales that seems to stretch to no end.

There is no ending: There is no beginning. Only two heads resembled that of serpents on one tip to another, each, connected as one coiled body.

Should he fall, should the path disappear, the gaping mouth of silhouetted fangs awaits him. Either to consume, wraps itself around the human child, or let him walk along their side, is yet to be seen. It is disparaging, destructive, all the same. One means to eat one's own self.

Castor felt a slight tug of unease at that. A sudden discomfort, practically festering. It was certainly unwise – absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt – leaving Teito in Frau's sole care. His reservations for the blond despite, unending and perhaps a tad personal, Castor trusts Frau. Trust him enough to let the two ventured without Labrador or he.

But the boy…

"We shouldn't get involved," Castor warns. He considers Labrador for a moment before adding.

"The way I see it he appears to have rejected you, considering the two of you never met before. Thinks you're an imaginary person by best. But he acknowledges that you're real, Lab. That he isn't alone."

Castor frowns when he was not answered. He remark further not, letting the subject drop. "Let us pray Teito-kun will find him soon in your stead. Until then," he patted Labrador's shoulder, replacing the frown with a smile. "Get some rest. It is getting rather late."

Labrador hums. "Perhaps," idly he said.

He said no more when a hand, small and delicate, joins his.


Home had always been near. Whether he intended to leave or not.

Toshiro did not wander too far away when he left home. It was the right time. The time when boys reaches that certain stage of their childhood, that heightened peak where regression will hit them senseless after before stabilizing, into the next step of becoming an adult. Into an entirely different world.

It, although premature, marked his. His coming of age.

He would be his own man; a man who makes his own decisions, a man who carve his own path, live his own life, without anyone telling him what to do or not do. Not just a brat that is refused to be taken seriously by adults. Where finally everything make sense.

He would have made it off easily on his own. After all, he concocted plans. Well-structured and plain and simple. Limited the loopholes, narrow down the gaps; he thought it through down to his inevitable ostracism. For the sake of joining the army life he was sure he belonged to.

Intervention ensued when it was least desired however. Because Fate, apparently, does not side with a boy at the tender age of six. Even if said child has a mind of a matured adult.

Which led Toshiro to believe that the situation had never been in favour of him since.

Blinking shuttered the reflection at the click of a switch. Toshiro pulls his body forward unsuspectingly. He nearly stumbles back. Could have jumped right out of his skin at the sheer shock. Instead, Toshiro widens his eyes. He honestly believe he would be alone, encountering none that he knew, and have a moment, a moment of bearing for him to accustom and adjust.

Oh and how he was proven wrong in the worst way possible.

"…A-Ayanami-sama?"

Toshiro bit his tongue at the all calculating eyes seeing through his jittery. For the other's name came out more like a whisper. He gulped, no time to mutter curses under his breath, and tried again. This time properly and steadily. Less hesitant.

"Good evening, Ayanami-sama," Toshiro greeted with a bow.

The door closed with a swish once the man stepped out. The chief of staff considered him, indifferent as ever. He gave one final look of appraisal before nodding in acknowledgement.

Toshiro stayed rooted, only made his movement then when Ayanami finally took his seat. It seemed awkward, something wrongly placed, with him there. Obviously Ayanami was unfamiliar with his way around the break room. Unlike speculations, it is difficult to imagine the silver haired in a place so common, so out of place, without some concrete of a proof.

Toshiro took a shaky step forward at another click, unmistakably now by the kettle. He fetched two cups and saucers and one small pot as he headed for the counter. Concentrated on working the task at hand silently rather than ogling the other from the corner of his eye more than what is socially accepted. It was to calm his nerves, or so he tells himself.

He poured the steaming water into the pot and stirred the dissolving powder into a deep darkish brown colour. He sets it on the tray then along with the selected china. He brought the tray to the only clean surface devoid of the heinous immorality none would possibly understand that the countertops had been done great injustice upon.

"Would you care for a coffee, sir?" Toshiro asked politely, deciding to take on the initiative of small talk. "I happen to came across this particular blend not long ago," he added, placing the salver down. "It would be opportunistic to share the experience with company."

Enigmatic heliotropes pore over him top to bottom. Toshiro could feel the stare under his skin, intense and definite, than being granted the pleasure of seeing it. It would have been sufferable. Much, much more. He tried not to fidget under the scrutiny.

"I see." Ayanami responded to his semi-explanation with such a small phrase, though Toshiro could see amusement flickering behind those unique eyes. "That is very convenient," he said, surprising Toshiro than a single sentence, "but perhaps it would be decent for us both that you be in proper uniform before you should join me."

Toshiro opt to crease his eyebrows as he set the china for two. "I am wearing my uniform," he argued, fixing his eyes on the other then. "Why would y-"

He looked down; stilled as realization belatedly dawned upon him.

Cuffs were yet to be fastened. Sleeves, initially long and ironed to perfection, were rolled and wrinkled. Open at the collar, a button or two undone, revealed sparse skin, fair, slightly tanned and rather smooth to the touch if one squints hard enough.

"I don't suppose you're an exhibitionist by any chance."

The black overcoat, the symbol and pride of a Barsburg soldier, draped and abandoned seemed to mock its wearer for leaving it stretched on a mere chair. Not being donned with decorum and dignity as it should be. There will be reckoning for such ignominy; it was satisfied at the felony paid full in the face of a humiliation agreeable.

"I... I apologize."

Toshiro excused himself from the table to grab his jacket, buttoning and ravelling and smoothing all in its place, before facing the immaculate man at arm's length. "I was cleaning…" was muttered after. He schooled his mortification into modesty, meekness of a sort.

'Damn. Damn, damn, damn!' cursed the other voice in his head. 'You fool. You damn fool, Toshiro! Ayanami-sama… Did he …? He did, didn't he? Stupid, stupid, stupid.'

He resumes his cadence later on with masked struggle. Tried very hard to ignore the smirk playing on upturned lips and act neutral. Toshiro would not give the silver haired the satisfaction. Ayanami was making things difficult to revert everything back to normal however.

"Would you like to add sugar or cream?" Toshiro asked out under the influence by the walls of civility both are in. He poured a cup of brewed coffee for the other, aware of the ever sharp intent gazing at him. "Or perhaps milk, should I find any."

"No need." Ayanami paused, considering. "Thank you."

Toshiro nodded in response before pouring for himself. He sets an acceptable distance between them to end up sitting down two chairs away. Fuck it if it showed fear or disgust, most likely both, for the man.

Seated, Toshiro stared down at his cup critically. The smell of roasted beans, a heady yet an unpleasantly not odour, grinded to powder for how long, caused his nose to twitch at the onslaught. Evidently, coffee is not his cup of tea.

With that in mind, Toshiro turned to watch Ayanami took a measured sip. He gulped. Anticipation he had no idea where it came from suddenly tugged his chest at the silence.

"Sir?" Toshiro started carefully. Watches the man's Adam's apple move as he swallowed. "Is it not to your liking, sir?"

There was this odd sensation, this need to know the other's opinion. He was uncertain whether he should be ashamed for lacking this sort of knowledge so common. He waited with bated breath.

"This taste…" Ayanami remarked, looking at him from the saucer, "peculiar."

Toshiro winced. It was not a good sign.

"I have never –" He tensed. Never a good sign this led. And he prepared himself for the inevitable "– tasted this brand before."

"Pardon?" was what Toshiro thought but a dumb "Huh" left him instead.

Toshiro took a careful taste himself. A spontaneous maneuver to mask his unpremeditated rudeness, while inwardly incredulous at the praise he was given. He found himself easily agreeing with the other's insight. Though drastically different from tea, there was a natural sweetness to it. It was wise to add nothing. Adding artificial seasoning would only ruin this sublime experience.

"What ingredient did you put? Do you make it a habit of brewing coffee?"

With his jumbled thoughts thrown away to the side did Toshiro return to the present. "No," he recovered, "I do not. I have my share of experience in the art of drinking." It earned him a raised eyebrow. "Not of alcohol, of course. In the matter of brewing coffee. It is an inaccurate conception however."

"Oh?" Ayanami took another sip, resting the cup on its saucer. "Then what is your fancy?"

Toshiro smiled. "Tea," he replied simply. Must have been obvious by the change, despite a millisecond, on the others' features. If he hadn't known any better, he might have heard a laugh. A soft hum. Doubted it was anything scornful.

"It is an old custom, yes, though I much prefer it to be a constant in my daily proceedings."

"I see." Again with that small phrase. It sounded simple than what was said. "I look forward to it."

With that, Ayanami stood.

Toshiro stared numbly at the chief of staff's back before he disappears behind the closed door. A click, a swish, and then… Nothing. He was left alone to deal with the restless thoughts that came encumbering him too early this late at night.

Ayanami-sama looked forward to… What did he meant by that, Toshiro pondered. It could wait – whatever it may be.

Toshiro gathered the saucers and cups after he finished his, pausing short to notice the chief's cup empty and drained of its contents. He stared dumb. A strange feeling, not entirely unpleasant, crept. Warm. He couldn't hold the grin from budding.

'You finally outdid yourself, my dear boy.'

No, Toshiro shove the elation down. It was only a small feat. An insignificant, trifling feat. That, and the fact Ayanami seems to love his coffee. But Toshiro differs. He should start understanding the insides of Ribidzile as soon as possible. Getting himself lost for the third time is a thought too dire to pay no fret of.

There was the clink of mugs and china. The tap was turned and water gushed from its faucet. He waits. Turns it off then once the clear liquid filled the clogged sink. One hand reaches for the sponge, the other grabbing what was near.

"I should just have asked him…" was mumbled before the silence was accompanied by nothing but the sounds of typing and the clinks and clanks of drink wares; the buzzing of an engine and the Ribidzile dragon's breathing.