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The Heart of Conflict (or How Communication Solves Problems)

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Exam cram was intense.

As soon as Chie, Yukiko, Kanji, Rise, Naoto and Teddie sat down at the designated study table at the Junes Food Court, they immediately sensed something was off. Yu and Yosuke were already seated, but not together. They always sat side by side, projecting themselves as the joint-founders of the Investigation Team, a unit, a team.

Currently, the two partners were at opposite ends of the table, like bickering bookends, trying to keep everything together for the sake of the kids, but the distance was still there. All of that observation before touching on how the best friends were behaving.

Their leader, Yu Narukami, surrounded himself with scribbled on pieces of paper, his face furrowed in concentration. It was an unusual sight, disorganised chaos even, from the normally neat student, which alone set alarm bells ringing. There was also the matter of just how tired he looked, like something wore him down in the past few hours, and he wanted to declare it a day when it had barely begun.

And Yosuke was a mess. He even had his headphones on, something he only did in public when he was stressed and trying to blank the world out. He barely wrote anything down, instead tapping his pencil intensely against the table. Compared to Yu, Yosuke was a ticking time bomb, trying to ignore something that clearly irritated him, but to no avail.

The occasional hard look was shot Yu’s way, revealing red eyes.

 

The gang looked at each other, all thinking the same thing. Whatever this was, it was worse than they thought.

As the others joined them at the table, Chie whispered to Yukiko, “Trouble in paradise, much?” Her best friend shrugged, sitting by Yosuke and gazing at him with a surprisingly tender look.

“Good morning, Yosuke,” Yukiko greeted him, placing her exercise book on the table. “Have you been waiting long?”

Yosuke shook his head, his unwavering look only focused on the boy across the way from him. There was a sudden edge to his voice. “No. Glad to have some pleasant company.”

Suddenly, Yu rolled his eyes, clearly subjected to this countless times before, as if the whole thing bored him.

Big mistake.

That only set Yosuke off more, the frustrated teenager slamming his pencil down hard on the table, glaring at Yu.

 

The cool Naoto took one look at Kanji to her left and Rise to her right, then calculated one undeniable fact.

Something happened between these two and things were coming to a head fast.

Determined to defuse the delicate time bomb, the Detective Prince calmly set down her pencil and spoke. “Senpai, may I ask what’s troubling you? I - That is, we, only ask because we are concerned about you two.”

Without missing a beat, itching for this sort of intervention, Yosuke barked, “Why don’t you ask him?”

Yu sighed, already done. “Grow up, Yosuke.”

Teddie gasped, already drawn into the drama. “Sensei! Yosuke! That’s no way to talk to each other!”

Kanji nodded, unable to believe he was agreeing with the bear. “Ted’s right. Whatever problem you two have, you can fix it. You’re best friends, ain’tcha?”

 

The Former Partners hardly conveyed the strictest confidence in Kanji’s sentiment. Yu lay down his worn pencil to rest with a weary sigh and Yosuke slouched in his seat, arms crossed.

Well, they weren’t bickering anymore.

Determined to get to the heart of this mystery, Naoto leaned forward, adopting a speculative pose. “Senpai, perhaps you could enlighten us as to the reason behind your disagreement? Then perhaps we can assist in your reconciliation?”

A dark look passed between Yu and Yosuke. Yu shrugged, gesturing for Yosuke to take the floor with a By-All-Means-Because-I-Know-You-Really-Want-To face. The silver haired teenager was just done with their whole affair, worn down by verbal conflict behind closed doors.

Once more slamming his hands down onto the table, drawing even more am early attention to himself, Yosuke spat out an angry “Fine!” before hurling an accusing finger at his former best friend. He did not even care about airing his dirty laundry in public, at his place of work no less; he was too absorbed in his own hurt.

 

“Narukami betrayed me!” Yosuke’s words caused Yukiko to gasp. No Partner, no Yu, nothing. Just Narukami, who barely seemed phased by it all. “He hurt me in the worst possible way and I can’t forgive that!”

Suspecting something far deeper was at play, Naoto turned to Yu. “Senpai, your response?”

Yu simply furrowed his brow and his jaw tensed. “You’re exaggerating things, as always.”

That casual dismissal only enraged Yosuke more. “ Exaggerating?! Are you being serious right now?!”

Yu turned to the others, his expression read See-This-Is-What-I’m-Talking-About . Chie cringed, sensing that everyone present was intruding on a private matter and that stirring the hornet’s nest out of intellectual curiosity was not the wisest course of action, Naoto .

The Detective Prince carried on regardless, raising a hand in an attempt to quell the hostility. “Please, Senpai. I am certain we can come to an understanding, but first-”

 

The entire time, Rise sipped her soft drink, letting Naoto attempt to sort out this mess and watch the inevitable fireworks. Besides, she knew Yu and was confident that this little lover’s tiff wouldn’t be permanent.

As she watched Naoto, and even a flustered trying-so-hard-to-be-sweet-for-his-Prince Kanji, try to settle the conflict, the former Idol smiled, expecting something relatively straightforward to be at the heart of the matter.

Fighting over a girl? Possibly.

Typical rowdy boy fighting? Definitely.

Asserting Alpha status? Highly likely.

Savouring her delightful diet soft drink, Rise managed to suppress a cheeky giggle before turning back to the squabble, opening her mouth, ready to say her piece.

 

It was my first time, Partner!

 

Yosuke’s sudden declaration forced an awkward silence across the entire food court. The clatter of someone’s fork and a mortified gasp were telling reminders that they were not alone. Wide-eyed, incredulous stares focused on their cluttered table, including two Junes employees, who didn’t get paid enough to deal with this nonsense from one of their own co-workers.

The Investigation Team themselves were taken aback by the heartbroken outcry.

A flustered Kanji, embarrassed on his Senpai’s behalf.

A shocked Yukiko and Teddie, sporting matching wide eyes and open mouths covered by hands and paws respectively.

A slack jawed Chie, trying to form words but failing miserably.

A morbidly curious Rise, toying with one of her pigtails as she leaned closer, with a smile?

And Naoto, poor Naoto, tilting her cap downward to shield her embarrassment.

 

“I do not… excuse me?” She sounded unsure of the situation and her own skills in this complicated matter, taking completely by surprise. Her Senpai’s words grew her deductions into a direction she did not anticipate, and she was not alone of the reactions of her friends were anything to go by.

She sighed, contemplating where to move on from there before Yosuke - high on self-righteous outrage - continued, his voice broadcasting throughout the entire food court.

“What, you think I do this with anyone? You were my first and you cheated on me! Abused my trust in you! I’d never do what you did!”

“Sure,” Yu sighed, “Make me the bad guy…”

“Of course you’re the bad guy!” Yosuke slammed his hands against the table for the third time before letting it out. “YOU SHOT ME! RIGHT IN THE BACK!”

 

Naoto, the only gun wielder in their group, raised her eyebrows, the very face of confusion. The expressions of their friends ranged from highly alarmed to plain confused and even Rise was not smiling anymore.

The entire table turned to Yu Narukami, pleading with him to give a non-violent explanation for Yosuke’s accusation. The leader, as stoic as always, said his piece.

“Yosuke, you know for a fact I didn’t shoot you in the back. You know I’d never do that to you.” Before the sighs of relief set it, Yu finished. “I shot you in the chest.”

 

Absolute chaos reigned.

Yukiko fainted and Chie clambered out of her seat to help her, crying out with concern. Rise finally displayed shock, staring at the boy she crushed on as if she did not recognise him anymore. Kanji went pale, the colour draining from his face. Teddie blubbered, darting over to Yosuke and crying his name as he tugged up the teenager’s shirt to reveal…

...nothing.

As shocked diners nearby tried to decide whether to stay and watch the event unfold further or flee for their lives, Naoto, who remained quiet this whole time, spoke as the yen dropped. “What video game were you playing?”

Another silence rippled across the entire court as Naoto’s question sank in. The gang stared disbelievingly, the two instigators of disorder having the audacity to act surprised. They stared at each other before Yosuke pouted.

“No Way Out. Duh.

 

It took every fibre of self-control Kanji Tatsumi could muster not to knock his stupid Senpai clean out. He trembled, clutching at the table, something to ground him, as he absorbed the situation.

“You’re telling me - you freaked the eff outta everybody - over a video game?”

Yosuke, still very much feeling victimised, hissed at Yu. “I knew they’d take your side!”

Kanji barely suppressed a snarl. “We’re not takin’ anyone’s side! I’m sayin’ you’re both actin’ like jackasses!”

Chie pipped in, equally as infuriated from her place by Yukiko’s side. She patted her best friend’s hand, attempting to rouse her. “Yeah! Seriously, you two! All this over a stupid game?”

Yu sighed. “This is exactly what I’ve been saying this whole-”

 

Suddenly, a sob drew everyone’s attention. It was coming from Yosuke, red faced and teary eyed. A complete contrast to his angry self earlier.

“It’s not the game!” he cried out, rubbing his eyes and feeling thoroughly pathetic. “It’s our friendship! When you shot me in the game, it’s like you shot me for real! If you could do that so easily, it’s like… our trust blew apart.”

Softened by the sight of his best friend in tears, pouring his heart out, Yu relaxed, realising how childish they had been. He sighed. “That wasn’t my intention, Yosuke. I thought that if I made the difficult decision, you wouldn’t have to. And I know how much your gaming achievements are to you. Those trophies-”

Yosuke interrupted, his voice cracking with emotion. “To hell with the Platinum, dude! The only platinum I want is our friendship!”

“Seriously?” Kanji muttered, nursing an impending headache with his fingers.

If Yosuke heard him, he elected to ignore it. “I’d totally deal with one less trophy if it meant keeping our friendship together. I just thought we’d got down together, us against the world, y’know?” His gaze softened. “But I almost ruined everything over a dumb game anyway. Maybe… I took it a little too seriously.”

“Y’think?” Chie murmured under her breath, slowly assisting Yukiko into a seating position.

“And maybe I didn’t take your concerns seriously enough.” Yu’s smiled in light of the snort that sounded suspiciously like Rise. “...I’m sorry, Yosuke.”

Yosuke returned the smiled. “Me too, Partner.”

 

Without hesitation, Yu and Yosuke met halfway around the table, re-establishing their friendship with a firm handshake that turned into a hug. Teddie clapped, cheering at the sight, while the others sighed, relieved that the whole ordeal appeared to be over.

“Now that the matter is settled,” Naoto affirmed, unable to hide a small watching Yosuke eagerly gather all the belongings in his study area to sit next to Yu. “I believe it is about time to begin study time. First subject?”

Balance was restored. Kanji and Naoto shared smiles with one another. Chie assisted Yukiko into her chair, and Rise smirked, amused by the whole entertainment. Yosuke was the cheeriest he had been since yesterday, giving his Partner a warm grin, and Yu returned the gesture with a private smile of his own.

Teddie, meanwhile, tilted his head, still confused. “So… when are we taking Yosuke to the hospital?”

And Yukiko snorted, followed by a peal of shameless laughter.