Crawford emerged from the bathroom, still buttoning his shirt. While he was showering, Ken had spread a pile of clothes across the bed. He must have emptied the drawers.
“What are you doing?” Crawford retrieved the tie he had folded over the mirror. Ken shrugged. “Sorting stuff out for next week. Wanted to make sure nothing needs washing.”
Crawford was about to commend the preparations for their upcoming holiday but something caught his eye.
“Not jeans, Ken, it’ll be much too warm.”
“Yeah, I know.” A small amount of irritation crept in. “I’m going to take that lot.” Ken pointed to the pile on his right.
“No you’re not,” Crawford replied swiftly, recognising several faded teeshirts and some scruffy shorts. “You’ve had those as long as I’ve known you.”
“They’re my summer clothes,” Ken said flatly, as if this was explanation enough.
“They were your summer clothes in Weiß.” Crawford threw the words over his shoulder on his way downstairs. “Take some money out of the safe and go get something decent. You wouldn’t let the boys dress that badly.”
The boys were having breakfast on the terrace when a furious Ken followed Crawford outside to the car.
“So I’m embarrassing you now? Is that it?”
“You’ve embarrassed me for years, Ken. Get your hand off the door.”
Ken tried to oblige by slamming the car door shut but Crawford was of course ahead of him. He closed the door himself while Ken fumed on the tarmac. Ken leaned into the window as soon it rolled down. “You don’t tell me what to wear, Brad. I’m not your fucking wife.”
“Are you sure about that?” Crawford said nastily, and hit ignition.
“Crap,” Shige swore, as Ken stormed back into the house. Kaoru stoically continued to work his way through a bowl of cocoa pops while Shinji looked like he was on the verge of a million questions.
Keigo went to the heart of the matter. He picked up his tennis club phone and pressed the second button on his predialled list. “Bring Fuji,” he instructed as soon as Tezuka answered.
“Fuji?” Shinji echoed.
“You can bring your mad scientist too if you like,“ Keigo suggested grandly. “I suspect we’ll need strength in numbers.”
Back in the house, Ken was taking out his frustration on the washing machine. And the dishwasher. And the dishes. The boys left things just long enough to avoid more personal damage. And then.
“He’ll make you pay for breakages,” Shige warned.
“It can come out of the fucking safe then,” Ken snapped back.
“And the swear jar,” Shinji muttered matter of factly behind him.
“You know we love you as you are, Ken,” Keigo interrupted smoothly when Ken swivelled around. “None of us would ever want to change you and we definitely don’t condone Crawford for, well...”
“Anything?” Fuji suggested helpfully from the sidelines. (Tezuka would have taken his time arriving but his best friend absolutely adored the Hidaka household.)
“Your dress sense is shit,” Shige finished, seeing Ken’s openly incredulous expression. “And we really really like clothes shopping. Well, me and Keigo,” he amended, with a sly wink for Kaoru.
“It’s been a while since we did anything as a group,” Kaoru recited dutifully.
“Although this is really for you,” Keigo insisted.
Ken’s bad temper stared down Keigo’s iron clad ego for several long seconds.
“There’s a lot of money in that safe,” Ken eventually said, in a tone both tentative and vindictive.
“We know,” Shige trilled.
Crawford’s temper, when he arrived at his office, was much the same as Ken’s except that he’d spent the interim time running back through his justifications and generally winding himself up. After an hour of rejecting papers he had no interest in, failing to concentrate on email, and slamming the drawers in his filing cabinet, he buzzed his secretary.
“Cancel today’s meetings,” he instructed tersely.
“You have Mr Takatori at 11.”
“Christ,” Crawford swore, although he managed to mute the phone first. Unmuted. “Especially that one.“
Ken and the boys returned home at nine in the evening, laden with bags. Laughter turned to hushed if snickering undertones when they were greeted by a stone faced American.
“It’s a school night,” he reminded them coldly as they crowded into the hall.
“I’ve got homework,” Kaoru said quickly, detouring towards his bedroom. The others followed with various degrees of prompting. Ken dropped his bags at the bottom of the stairs and walked silently past Crawford into the kitchen.
“I came home early,” Crawford complained, two minutes later, when he stalked through the doorway.
“Coffee?” Ken asked, checking the filters.
“You already know,” Crawford realised.
Ken maintained a clear distance between them while he topped up the percolator and pulled some mugs down from the cupboard. “Omi rang,” he said briefly. “Apparently you cancelled your meeting because of a family emergency. He was freaked.”
“I should have been more specific with my secretary,” Crawford replied, after a brief pause.
“Jesus, Brad. The girl does have a name.”
“Fine. I should have been more specific with Raina.”
“You really should,” Ken agreed, taking a seat at the breakfast bar. Elbows on the table, he propped his chin on his hands. “Schuldig rang after to ask what the unexpected family emergency was. He was shitting himself laughing.”
Crawford sighed heavily, and pulled out the seat facing Ken. “I suspect he rang me first and then tried you for the real story. I wasn’t very forthcoming.”
“I told him to fuck off,” Ken admitted. “That’s when he rang Shige.”
“But you didn't come home,” Crawford pointed out.
“We were busy.”
“Some of the time,” Ken said casually, turning to check the coffee progress. “Then we had dinner and went to see a movie. As I was reminded this morning, it’s been a while since we did anything as a group.”
“A group which doesn’t include me?”
“Not today, no. Here.” Ken slid a mug of fresh black coffee across the table, followed by the sachet of sweetener he fished out of the jar. Crawford tore the end off the wrapper and poured the contents into his drink.
“Your things were gone, when I got home.” He observed quietly. “Did you do that?”
“Fuck no,” Ken laughed sharply. “The brats went to town on me. Ain’t nothing stops Keigo when he’s on a roll.”
“I found the recycling bags behind the garage.”
Ken looked up at him curiously.
“Of course I knew you hadn’t left,” Crawford forestalled him. “Even our lives aren’t that melodramatic. It did make me consider how it would feel.”
“So what do you think it would be like then?” Ken asked, still studying the older man intently.
“Truthfully,” Crawford replied, sitting back in his chair. “Relief was my first thought. And then I rather enjoyed having the house to myself. I don’t remember the last time it was this quiet. Obviously, that was before the phone started ringing. You should, by the way, have notified at least one of the schools.”
“We were playing hookie,” Ken said lightly.
“So I dealt with that for you, then I decided to spend some time in the gym. And then I beat the holy crap out of you, metaphorically speaking, because you weren’t there. It’s very strange.”
“It’s not that strange,” Ken disagreed. “I want to beat the crap out of you quite a lot too.”
“That’s not really what I meant,” Crawford said, before lapsing into silence.
Ken ran a thumb around the rim of his coffee mug, letting a few seconds tick by. “So you’d miss me but you’re still too anal to say so.”
“I might had said so if you’d come home a few hours earlier,” Crawford deflected. “But you missed the moment.”
“You are really fucking annoying, do you know that?”
“It’s what you love about me.” Crawford drained his coffee and stood to dispose of the empty mug. “Actually I did have another thought on the subject.”
“Can’t wait to hear that one,” Ken muttered behind him.
Upstairs in Kaoru's bedroom, four teenage boys huddled breathlessly around a wireless device. Kaoru's lessons with Uncle Nagi had not been wasted although he himself had attempted to remain aloof from their application.
"I'm not sure what that means," Shinji said.
"Shut up Shige," Kaoru snapped before the blond could enlighten him.
"I can't believe Crawford's that stupid," Keigo said.
Kaoru and Shige both turned to look.
"You can't stop someone leaving by marrying them," Keigo explained patiently, more worldly wise than the others when it came to affairs of the rich. "That just means they can leave with half your money."
"Dad wouldn't touch it," Kaoru said firmly.
"You said that this morning," Shige pointed out. "And that's when the only designer label he'd ever met was Adidas. We might just have created a monster."
"Your children are talking about us," said Crawford, still tying the belt on his robe as he emerged from the bathroom.
Ken was flaked out on the bed wearing nothing but his jeans. "Funny how they always become 'my kids' when they're trying to use secret surveillance equipment."
"If they were mine, they'd be succeeding," Crawford pointed out reasonably. He removed the towel he'd draped around his neck after washing his hair, and folded it over the back of a chair. "Those jeans aren't new."
"They're comfortable," Ken said, turning the page of his magazine. "I think Keigo wanted the shop to take them off and burn them but I'm not giving up everything I like."
"They're full of holes." The mattress dipped as Crawford sat down.
"So nothing," Crawford replied, hooking his finger through one of the tears. "I'm sure we can compromise."