All the hype and the travel brochures that had been shoved in his face hadn’t made Fuyuhiko any more thrilled about this class trip. He’d openly voiced his desire to abstain from going, only to be somehow convinced otherwise at various points by his teacher, Chisa Yukizome. Despite backing down and agreeing to attend on multiple occasions, including signing his name in a hurry onto one of the required forms, he was still in partial disbelief that he had actually been roped into going.
He sat a handful of rows back from the front of the bus that had been chartered to take the 77th and 78th class to the airport that day and watched with a growing anxiety as the doors sealed. He tightened his tie in a gesture of nervousness he hoped no one would see, and glanced around to take note of where everyone was sitting.
Nekomaru and Akane were easy to spot at the back, mostly because Nekomaru was so big and Akane refused to stay fully seated. Mahiru and Hiyoko sat in front of him and there had been a big stir as Nagito had boarded the bus and been treated to a chorus of frustrated utterances from his classmates which eventually came to arrive at the consensus that because he was so late he would be forced to sit with the reserve course student who, for whatever reason, had been selected to go on this trip as well.
He scanned the cabin until he met eyes with Peko. At his request, she had seated herself a few rows ahead in the aisle seat. He gave a tiny nod and she resumed facing forward, glancing occasionally to her seatmate— the girl from the other class who wore nothing but that Goth Lolita stuff.
The other girl didn’t seem to be interested in interacting with Peko, which made Fuyuhiko feel a little aggravated on her behalf, but he supposed he would have preferred it to the seatmate he was stuck with.
“So this’ll finally be my chance to get with Sonia-san, don’t you think?”
Fuyuhiko would have resisted answering if not for Kazuichi’s persistence in remaining turned towards him. As it was, the more he kept staring forward, the closer Kazuichi leaned into his personal space. He knew that the mechanic didn’t like being ignored, and he could almost smell the desperation on him as he wasn’t met with an answer, along with the gear oil and the smell of onions on his breath.
“I think you’re a fucking idiot,” Fuyuhiko finally answered. “She doesn’t want anything to do with you.”
Kazuichi seemed only slightly offended at the first comment, but was completely taken aback at the second.
“You don’t know that!” he cried, “S-She could just be playing coy, and hard-to-get and all that stuff!”
Fuyuhiko smirked and kicked the leg of the chair in front of him, which caused Mahiru Koizumi to turn around and shoot him a dirty look. “You don’t know shit about women,” he asserted.
“And you do?” Kazuichi returned, a high-pitched whine bleeding into his voice. “I’ve never seen you with anyone!” The whining faded as a pleasant realization seemed to dawn on him. “Come to think of it, I’ve never even seen you look at a girl…”
The comment made Fuyuhiko bristle, and without a thought he turned to the mechanic and grabbed him by the collar, shouting so that the next two rows on either side could probably hear him, “Just what are you implying, bastard? I’ll have you know I could have any one of these bitches if I only just…”
Mahiru’s voice drifted over to him from the seat forward. Somehow Fuyuhiko had forgotten she hadn’t turned around, “Both of you need to realize how disgusting you’re being. Women aren’t prizes to be won, you know.”
Fuyuhiko could feel his temple pulsing and he turned to Mahiru still with a firm grip on Kazuichi’s collar, prepared to let a fraction of his rage go in her direction, when Hiyoko popped up from the window seat next to her and leered down at them.
“They’re just overcompensating and stuff. Neither one of them could get a girl if they were the last two boys on earth.”
Fuyuhiko released his grip on Kazuichi’s collar in favor of rising from his seat, ironically so he could be level with Hiyoko, who, despite his best efforts, seemed far less than intimidated. “You wanna say that again, bitch?”
“Why?” Hiyoko sneered, “Are you hard of hearing along with being stupid and ugly?”
“I’ll thank all of you to lower your voices,” came a voice Fuyuhiko only barely recognized. He turned towards the aisle and looked up into the unpleasant stare of someone he knew only distantly, but enough to hate him without much provocation.
“Fuck off, Togami. This is none of your business.”
“I see your vocabulary adequately reflects the small one’s assessment of your intellect,” Byakuya drawled, adjusting his glasses and affecting an expression of disinterest that made Fuyuhiko’s blood boil. When Fuyuhiko opened his mouth to respond, he added, “Don’t bother with the threats. We both know how an interaction between our families would turn out. I only came to tell you that I could overhear every detail of your conversation from four rows back and I expect that to cease.”
There was a deeply unpleasant, partially-stunned, partially-tense silence for a few seconds after he concluded his statement, interrupted only by what Fuyuhiko recognized as the school’s glorified prefect from the 78th class running up to them as fast as the moving bus would allow.
“Togami-kun! It is unsafe for you to be standing while the bus is in motion! Please return to your seat!”
Byakuya briefly let his eyes roll over his approaching classmate, only to return his gaze to the four of them.
“Do we have an understanding?”
Fuyuhiko grit his teeth, tossing around an argument in his head over whether it was worth it to get up and fight for his pride. As he was considering what his first move might be at the same time he was inwardly bemoaning the fact that Kazuichi’s dumb assertions about Sonia had led to this, he caught Peko looking back at him from over Ishimaru’s shoulder and it felt like a brick had dropped into his stomach.
“Yeah,” he sighed. He reached up and smoothed back the hair between the shaved spots on his head, a sign to Peko that everything was fine. He felt a surge of relief as she turned back around.
Without acknowledging anyone in the vicinity any further, Byakuya turned and strode back to his seat. Ishimaru was presently engaged in a conversation with a purple-haired girl from the other class a few rows ahead.
“Oh I know what’s crawled up his ass!” Hiyoko giggled once Byakuya was out of Fuyuhiko’s sight. “He has to sit next to that weird bitch that follows him all around all the time!”
“Hiyoko…” sighed Mahiru.
“No look!” Hiyoko laughed, “I can see them and she’s like literally staring at him while he’s just reading a book! That’s hilarious! Whoever put them together is a genius!”
Fuyuhiko rolled his eyes and proceeded to try to tune Hiyoko out. The first thought that bounced into his head was about Kazuichi’s comment that he had never so much as ‘looked at a girl.’
His eyes landed on Peko.
He supposed this was only accurate due to a combination of factors. For one thing, though he would have probably had to kill anyone who drew attention to this fact, he was actually far too bashful to let his attention linger on a girl long enough to betray that kind of intention.
He forced his gaze to the ceiling.
The second, was that the girl he thought the most about typically sat behind him.
His gaze resettled on the back of Peko’s head. She sat with her hands on her knees looking straight ahead, not bothering to entertain herself in any way. Fuyuhiko inwardly cursed at himself, thinking that maybe he should have instructed her to bring a magazine or something and at least pretend to read it. Maybe he could text her or pass her a note or something, and tell her to buy one at the airport.
He was pulled from his thoughts by a jab in his side.
Of course it was Kazuichi.
“What?” he spat, turning to find Kazuichi leaning a little too far into his personal space once again. He tolerated it mostly because he was thrown off by the next thing his seatmate had to say.
“Do you wanna make a bet?”
Fuyuhiko stared, dumbfounded, for a second, before he found the resolve to ask, “What kind of bet?” He wasn’t necessarily planning on doing it, but he couldn’t deny he was curious.
“You know, about girls? Like we were talking about earlier?” He balled up his fists and bounced slightly in his seat as he elaborated, “We’re going on a trip to one of the most romantic cities in the world! One of us should be able to get a girlfriend by the end of it!”
“Hey, I just thought it would make it more interesting! But if you’re too scared to…”
“Fuck you! I’m not scared…” Fuyuhiko hissed, “I just think you’re being stupid again. What is it you want?”
Kazuichi suddenly looked like a kid in a candy store. His eyes sparkled as he whispered, “I have this automated car I’ve been dying to test out, but it’s eh… hard to get street-legal…”
“What? You want me to get it legalized?”
Kazuichi paused, eyes wide, “You can do that?”
“What did you want, bastard?”
Kazuichi shrugged, “I just wanted to test it out… It’ll go like a buttered rat if it gets a long enough runout… I thought maybe you could get your guys to close a street or something.”
Fuyuhiko had to shake off the ‘buttered rat’ analogy in order to respond, “You’re lucky that’s only the third-dumbest thing I’ve ever heard come out of your mouth… So what do I get if I win?”
Kazuichi folded his arms and gazed at Fuyuhiko with the smuggest expression that had ever, in Fuyuhiko’s recollection, graced his face, “You like cars?”
“Yeah, I guess… who doesn’t?”
“I know, right? Anyway… I can make you a custom car… all the parts and all the labor on me! Well, and the school…”
“You’re gonna make me a car if I win?”
“Yeah! Any design, any materials… right down to the stitching on the seats! You name it!”
Fuyuhiko suspected, based on Kazuichi’s tone, that this was something he took great joy in doing, and wouldn’t have been much of a sacrifice for him, not like him asking his parents to close a street so his classmate could race a self-driven car… However, he couldn’t exactly deny the appeal of having what, coming from Kazuichi, would no doubt be a well-oiled, well-crafted machine. It would also mean finally having something of his own, crafted exactly to his specifications, that didn’t come to him because his parents had ordered it, and that only came with one string attached.
“So if I can get a girlfriend by the time the trip is over, then you’ll build me my own car?”
Kazuichi nodded, eyes wide and shining.
“But if you manage to get Sonia to date you first, then I have to find a way to get a street closed off so you can race your car?”
Kazuichi nodded again, this time practically shaking.
“Fine, bastard… You’re on, and you’re gonna lose.”
Kazuichi grinned, showcasing all of his pointy teeth, “All right! Sonia-san is going to be so impressed with my driving!”
“Did you not hear a word I said?” Fuyuhiko barked.
His mind, however, was elsewhere. More specifically, he was scanning the bus as he tried to concoct a strategy. He supposed he ought to decide on the girl he would pursue now, and if he could angle to sit next to her on the airplane, it would give them plenty of time to get to know one another and for him to do… whatever it was that people did when they were flirting…
He tried to shake off the sinking feeling of doubt that thought had brought with it, and returned to scanning the bus. Though he ached a little inside at the notion, he knew he had to rule out Peko. Pursuing her, let alone having them date among these gossip-mongers would have people questioning their connection and it was likely they would eventually learn the unfortunate way she’d been brought up.
He desperately wanted to rectify that, but he couldn’t figure out how, and now wasn’t the time to be thinking about it.
He drummed his fingers on the armrest and craned his neck to look around again. From where he was sitting, he didn’t see any girls that he thought would be interested in him. He sat back in his seat and mentally checked off a list of all the girls in his class, figuring it would be easier to connect with them since he at least knew them by name. If he really wanted to be an asshole to Kazuichi, he could try to woo Sonia… but he knew she liked Gundam, and he wasn’t about to step into the middle of the ring of chaos that created between the three of them. His brow furrowed as he thought that Akane could probably withstand being within his social circles, but then again, she was a bit of a hothead, like he was, and she could easily cause more trouble than the temporary solution of dating her would solve. Ibuki was a possible candidate, but she was loud and grabby and something told him she wouldn’t be that interested. Mikan was too fragile and, he thought, would probably collapse upon learning she’d been used, and the thought of dating, or even giving the appearance of dating Mahiru or Hiyoko made him want to vomit.
He was reasonably sure that he was forgetting someone, but then again, he’d spent so much energy so far insisting that he didn’t want to be friends with anyone in his class that he wondered if they wouldn’t quickly see through his sudden desire to date them.
He might be forced to choose one of the girls from the other class, but since he didn’t know any of them by name, he would have to make a snap decision and then maneuver to sit with them on the plane if his plan were to work.
He decided he would pretend to stretch and then use that as excuse to look around the bus cabin, but just as he began to climb out of his seat, the bus came to a halt and he was thrown forward so that his head butted against the back of Mahiru’s seat.
“Shit!” he cried, falling back into his seat with both hands on his head. He could almost feel Peko’s eyes on him from there.
After a moment he removed his hands from his forehead and looked out the window. Beyond Kazuichi’s shoulder, he could see that they had stopped at the airport entrance.
“Attention students! May I have your attention please?”
His attention was drawn to the front of the bus, where Chisa Yukizome stood, presently addressing all the students.
“Attention class 77 and 78! We are about to disembark for the terminal! Remember, the partners you had on the bus are the same partners you will have on the airplane!”
Son of a bitch.