Tsumugi has a hard time realizing he’s actually awake at this very moment. A dream feels like the only logical explanation to one Ibara Saegusa sitting across him at his usual place in the public library, his smile soft but as dangerous as usual. A few minutes after acknowledging each other and noticing Ibara’s worrying lack of books besides a thin survival manual, a nervous Tsumugi feels the need to clear his throat before addressing him.
“So, Saegusa-kun…” He manages, his voice a lot less steady than he’d like, but a whisper to respect his surroundings. “I didn’t take you for the bookworm type.”
“Oh, there’s just a lot you don’t know about me.” Ibara says, his tone eerily friendly. “I’m afraid you might even have a bad image of me with how little we’ve met.”
“No, that’s just the thing…” Tsumugi clarifies, smiling apologetically. “You’ve actually made pretty clear what kind of person you are with all of our previous little meetings, so I can’t help but feel a little wary of your being here.”
That makes Ibara laugh hard-- or at least hard enough not to actually draw any attention towards himself.
“Gee, and here I thought his majesty was blunt!”
“Right, right.” Ibara smiles slyly. “Aren’t you observant.”
It’s incredibly hard to tell when Ibara compliments and when he’s being patronizing, so Tsumugi doesn’t really bother replying to any of it. In fact, his guard is higher up now, frowning as he attempts to read the redhead’s intentions.
“What can I do for you today, Saegusa-kun?” He asks, cautiously. Ibara considers his answer around a pleasant hum.
“Nothing much. I just felt like coming out to play, you see.”
“At the library?”
“I just felt like it.” It seems like he’d usually leave his explanation at this, but then Tsumugi finds himself suddenly locked into the very telling and unmistakable stare of a pair of intense blue eyes. “The fact that Aoba-san would likely be here made it an even better option, though.”
...Okay, now Tsumugi is really lost about Ibara’s intentions. Something about his attention feels wrong--like it’s too much, and he can’t even make himself hold his glance for too long before looking away with a little huff.
“...Alright.” He goes, looking down to find the point of a text he’d long forgotten he was even reading before Ibara approached him.
Though there’s not much of an interaction before Ibara leaves Tsumugi by himself save a subtle little touch of his hand as he offered to take some of his books away, the nerves and discomfort his words brought him linger in the air like a stench. Tsumugi feels oddly defeated, like this is the one thing Ibara had been attempting with his sudden visit; to plant seeds of something into his mind.
Only time would tell what that was going to grow into.
The only reason Tsumugi can forget about Ibara’s strange advance is because an occurrence just as bizarre happens the very next day:
This time he’s out at the mall. The kind of fabric he needs for his next handicrafts project isn’t the type of thing he can get at an everyday store, after all. On his way out the store, a familiar voice calls out his name.
Though Tsumugi can guess who it is based on just the very specific tone he uses to greet, he’s still surprised to see a very excited Hiyori Tomoe walking up to him.
“Ah, Hiyori-kun.” He greets, his small smile and polite. “I didn’t know you did your shopping over here.”
“It’s more like sight-seeing, really!” Hiyori assures, waving casually. Tsumugi nods his understanding; the mall is a little too public and on the cheap side for the likes of the rich kids he knows; he can afford shopping here, after all. Hiyori notices his bag and points.
“I see you’re the one who just finished treating himself just now, huh?”
“Um--not really, no!” Tsumugi laughs, almost sheepish. “Just some materials I need for new clothes.”
“Ah, crafty as ever!” Hiyori coos, his hands clasped together in delight. “If that’s the case, you’re probably all spent for the day, aren’t you?”
It’s always so embarrassing to talk about money with wealthier folks. Tsumugi swallows his embarrassment to nod, though, being very careful not to actually say how little he spent to still end up with an empty wallet. Hiyori seems even more overjoyed to hear just this, though, quickly grabbing onto Tsumugi’s arm to yank him forward. Just the contact is enough to get Tsumugi to yelp, but Hiyori doesn’t even seem to notice this, more concentrated in moving than anything else.
“That’s perfect, then I get to treat you for your hard work!” Hiyori declares, linking their arms together. Despite being at pretty much the same height, Tsumugi finds himself looking the slightest bit up from his stumbling, red-faced and unable to actually reply. Hiyori notices as much, and winks to add, “So tell me honestly what you like, okay? You don’t get to say no.”
Tsumugi is barely able to say anything other than the name of the nearby cafe he likes, and the giggling, scandalized look of young girls around the area doesn’t help his cause at all.
Earlier that week, Eden’s group chat was particularly active.
The whole thing already sort of belongs to Hiyori and Ibara, for context; Jun gets too exasperated with the constant notifications to keep it unmuted for more than an hour, and Nagisa can barely be bothered to remember his passcode to unlock his phone without help. So it is certain that the constant buzzing of the conversation can only mean one of two things:
Either Hiyori and Ibara happen to be planning a performance, or they’re arguing over something petty.
This time it was the latter, but the argument was over something pettier than usual; a topic that even Jun and Nagisa had to cut into their respective roommates to talk about.
“Ohii-san,” Jun had called Hiyori out-loud after the conversation had ended, staring at the ceiling from the top of their bunk bed. “This got a little out of hand. Are you seriously going through with it?”
“Of course I am!” Hiyori had called back, his darling little Bloody Mary carefully nestled on top of his chest. He’d mindlessly been petting her hair the whole time he talked to Ibara and Jun. “Do you think I can’t?”
“That’s just the problem. I’m pretty sure you both can.”
“Pfft,” Hiyori clears a stray lock of hair behind his ear, confident and easy. “You’re overestimating our bratty competition. I’m the one who actually knows him, so it’s obvious I know what I’m doing. We just have to make sure neither Eichi-kun nor anyone from his new unit notices, or we’re as good as dead.”
On a different dormitory, not too far from Hiyori and Jun’s, Nagisa touched Ibara’s shoulder with a firm hand to catch his attention.
“Ibara,” He’d called. He put his phone right in front of his roommate’s face, open on the most recent Eden chat. “Explain this to me.”
Instead of finding the sudden demand the least bit troublesome, Ibara laughed to himself as he gently shoved the phone back to Nagisa.
“Just as your majesty reads.” He smiled. “We have a little contest upon us, and I’m planning to win it.”
“Hiyori-kun has advantage.”
“ Hiyori-kun has looks and a pretty shallow excuse of a relationship with him, so I’d say we’re on pretty even grounds.” Ibara retorted, saying the name almost mockingly. “In fact, I’m even better off because of all my individual intel on Switch. I can win this without breaking a sweat.”
Though Nagisa seemed to have gotten lost midway the explanation, he squinted and huffed to express his distaste in the entire ordeal.
“Mm...Maybe you’re right. You will win, but only because Hiyori-kun won’t mean it.”
The seriousness of the statement actually made Ibara chuckle--like he expected this to be the one thing that actually concerned Nagisa. He smiles up at him, reassuring.
“None of us will, if that’s what bothers you.” He confirms. “Like I said, it’s just a competition.”
That much softened Nagisa’s face, if only a little.
And that was the last seal of approval needed for the race to start; one over poor, unsuspecting Tsumugi Aoba.