“Oi! Reserve kid! Wait up.”
Hajime paused in the halls mid-step, turning to face whoever was making a fuss. There was nobody else in the halls; him having come out of a meeting with the Steering Committee after class had started for the day. It was close to lunch, if he remembered the time right.
He stopped cold.
Surprise widened his eyes and choked his breath.
Two main course students strode up to him from the end of the corridor leading outside, both exuding a dangerous aura so subtle he almost missed the way the hairs at the back of his neck rose.
“What’s up?” Hajime said, trying not to back up from the short male with far too much of a resemblance to Kuzuryu Natsumi to be canny. Behind him, a tall female stood poised with the strangest pale hair, red eyes and a sword strapped to her back. Hajime was so shocked he almost missed the black fedora that seemed to come out of nowhere and hook perfectly on the shorter boy’s head.
“We need directions. This place is a fucking maze.” The short boy griped, swinging an arm up to tip his hat in annoyance. The girl seemed to hover like a shadow, silent and scary in every way.
“U-uh, sure. Where do you need to go?”
“Not sure about the exact room, but do you know Kuzuryu Natsumi?”
Hinata felt the sudden urge to facepalm. His stomach twisted into nervous knots.
Of all the days to meet the Ultimate Yakuza…
He showed none of his inner turmoil as he nodded absentmindedly.
“Yeah. She’s in my class. I can take you there, now.”
Hajime didn’t wait to be told to move. He twisted around and went on his way down the familiar halls and up a set of stairs to the second floor.
By the time they’d reached the last step, an alert rang over the loudspeakers for lunch. Doors snapped open one by one, students filtering out. Some stopped to stare as Hajime led the Ultimate Yakuza and what had to be his Ultimate Bodyguard or something toward his classroom at the end of the hall near the next set of stairs going up.
Harsh whispers followed their every step. Eyes marred with awe and jealousy trailed after them.
The two ultimates behind him said nothing as he stopped in front of his classroom’s cleared entryway, peering in as raised voices piped up between the gossip.
“You don’t belong here. Hell, I’d bet you don’t belong anywhere. That’s why you’re here and not with your brother in the main building.”
Hajime stiffened. His eyes took in the scene by the window where he usually sat in class.
Natsumi must’ve been waiting for me…
“He must be so embarrassed. I bet nobody would even care if you just disappeared.” Sato hovered before Kuzuryu-san, a scowl making her features look jagged and old.
Kuzuryu-san’s cool smirk seemed close to cracking.
“That’s enough!” He fit himself between the two girls, his back to Kuzuryu-san so he could take whatever hits Sato dished out. He looked Sato right in her shocked violet eyes. For the first time, when Hajime looked at her, he felt like he was looking at a stranger. He felt betrayed, somehow. He felt…
He felt angry.
“You can’t just say that kind of stuff.” He almost growled, barely stopping himself from cussing. Sato didn’t seem keen on listening. Her eyes hardened and she directed her hateful words in his direction.
“It’s true, though. Nobody cares about her. She should just give up. She’ll never get into the main course.”
“You’re wrong!” Hajime could feel the eyes of all those who remained in the classroom to watch the scene. He felt them judging him, rolling their eyes as they watched what was effectively the latest show.
It wasn’t like the teachers were keen on stopping it.
“Just because you don’t care about someone, it doesn’t mean others don’t.” He thought he heard Kuzuryu-san gasp behind him. He ignored it. “How about you try being nice for a change? Instead of just wailing on people you don’t like all the time.”
Without waiting for a response, Hajime took Kuzuryu-san’s hand and pulled her toward the entryway where her brother was waiting tense with one of the most murderous expressions he’d ever seen in his entire life. The girl behind him had a hand raised above her head, clutching the hilt of her bamboo sword. As Hajime ducked past them, Kuzuryu-san didn’t pull away.
With numb legs, Hajime led the group up to the rooftop, where only a few other students mingled in far-off corners. His head felt too full, eyes hazed with red.
He felt like breaking something.
He stopped walking only when the hand in his pulled sharply to get his attention.
“Oi, loser! You listening to me?” Kuzuryu-san’s voice cut through the haze like a hot knife through butter. Hajime turned, hand still tightly grasped. She made sure their eyes made contact before continuing, voice much softer, face a little flushed. “You can let go, now, dumbass.”
Hajime’s brain stalled, then kickstarted as he took in their still-held hands. He blinked, then flushed, dropping her hand like he’d been burnt.
“U-uh, s-sorry! I didn’t mean anything by it!”
He wished the floor would swallow him whole. Kuzuryu-san glanced away, looking like she had similar sentiments.
“Jeez, I know that, already. You’re too much of a nice guy to be that forward.” She flicked her hair. “You didn’t have to do that. She’s a bitch.”
“That’s why I did that. You don’t deserve that kind of treatment.” Hajime said it with more conviction than he felt. He was still embarrassed from holding her hand for so long.
Jeez, what a mess…
“Is anybody going to explain what the ever-loving fuck I just witnessed?” Kuzuryu-san’s brother growled, huffing as he sidled up to his sister. He looked about ready to murder someone. The shadow-girl appeared out of nowhere, looking equally pissed.
“Would you like me to deal with her?” The girl said, voice soft as silk but heavy with purpose. Her eyes were sharp in both focus and barely-concealed emotion.
“Ugh, don’t bother.” Kuzuryu-san responded. “She’s not worth the hit.”
“That was fucking bullying.” The short boy raged. “I don’t give a damn what she’s worth. There is no way you deserve that shit!”
It took Hajime an embarrassingly long time to figure out what they were talking about.
“You’re not thinking about killing her…” When nobody responded, he let his eyes wander. None of them looked like they were joking. “Right?”
“Fuyuhiko-nii, meet Hinata-kun. He’s painfully naïve.” Kuzuryu-san rolled her eyes.
“So, what? He your boyfriend or something?” Fuyuhiko—Kuzuryu-kun drawled, fingers nudging his fedora above his brow.
Hajime choked on his own spit.
Kuzuryu-san seemed to do the same.
“Oh my God, what the fuck, big bro!?” She seemed to get out, while Hajime barely managed to stutter a single ‘n-no!’. Both their faces looked sunburnt. Kuzuryu-kun didn’t seem to care much; even appeared bored with the conversation.
“You guys don’t have to act like it’s such a big deal. Jeez. It’s almost as if you really are dating.” He rolled his eyes as Kuzuryu-san and Hajime simultaneously internally died of embarrassment. He shrugged their reactions off as he nodded once to the pale-haired girl. She brought out a wide bento box from a shoulder-bag that seemed attached to the sword at her back. In both hands, she presented it to Kuzuryu-san, surprising the embarrassed girl into silence.
“You forgot your lunch. Didn’t want you to starve.” Kuzuryu-kun’s voice was mumbled, as if showing care for someone else were awkward for him. It was a gruff kind of affection that put the previous aggression to rest.
“T-thanks, big bro.” Kuzuryu-san mumbled, equally awkward as she accepted the bento box and shuffled on her feet in a rare display of hesitation.
“It’s nothing. Just tell me if you get anymore trouble in class. I don’t want nobody picking on you, got it?”
“Yes, sir.” Kuzuryu-san teased, a smirk curling her lip upward. Kuzuryu-kun nodded once, then turned on his heel and walked down the stairs. His shadow followed close behind.
When Kuzuryu-kun was fully out of sight, Kuzuryu-san tilted her head in Hajime’s direction.
“My big bro’s the best.” She said it so smug. After everything that just happened, all Hajime could do was snort. A small smile pulled at his mouth.
“I left my lunch in my desk. You wanna meet up at the fountain and eat there?” He offered, feeling maybe the girl needed some alone time after all that. By the miniscule narrow of her gaze, Hajime could tell she knew what he was implying.
“Sure. The fountain seems better than this hellhole.”
“Great. I’ll see you there.”
The smile on Hinata’s face matched the lightness in his step.