Fuyuhiko sat in happy contentment in the airport terminal, where the entirety of the 77th and 78th classes had congregated after finding their flight home to be delayed. While the others groaned, mumbled, and eventually settled into various means of entertaining themselves, Fuyuhiko had been more than happy to recline in the waiting area seats with his feet propped up on his suitcase, reflecting on the trip’s events and occasionally stealing glances to his left at Peko.
The remaining days of the trip, since his conversation and kiss with Peko had felt like a blur. He remembered them fondly, but the time had felt entirely too short, and he had mixed feelings about returning home. He looked down at his left hand, currently cupped around Peko’s in the space between them, and ran his thumb in gentle circles across her knuckles.
As if sensing his thoughts, Peko returned his actions with a reassuring squeeze and they met eyes for a moment, communicating in a silent language far more nuanced than the hand gestures he used to tell her not to attack.
That was, until Peko’s eyes darted up, over Fuyuhiko’s head, and an unexpected declaration reached his ears.
“So I’ve been thinking about your car,” came Kazuichi’s voice from somewhere to the right, muffled slightly by what Fuyuhiko found out, once he turned his head, to be a small sub sandwich that Kazuichi was in the process of shoving into his mouth.
Without waiting for an invitation, Kazuichi seated himself to Fuyuhiko’s right, dropping into the seat and promptly tearing another bite out of the sandwich with his pointed teeth. Fuyuhiko’s nose wrinkled as he watched crumbs scatter onto Kazuichi’s lap and the threshold between their seats.
Undaunted, and with a full mouth, Kazuichi continued, “Figure I can get it done in three weeks, maybe four if the parts don’t come in on time...”
The statement stunned Fuyuhiko so much it took his mind off of the especially large bread crumb that had just made contact with his own trouser leg. He stared, wide-eyed, at Kazuichi.
“You’re… still going to build me a car?”
Kazuichi shrugged, wiped some mayonnaise from his lower lip, and said with a nod towards Peko, “Eh, you won fair and square… I mean, you cheated first… but then you won fair and square.”
In his brief glance at Peko, Fuyuhiko thought he saw a glimmer of amusement in her eyes, which would have been great because it would have meant that she and Kazuichi were both taking the events of the trip in good humor.
Fuyuhiko shook his head, “Forget it. I’m not going to make you do it.” He straightened himself in his seat and with a smile on his face, extended an open hand to Kazuichi, “Let’s call it a draw, okay?”
Kazuichi paused in the middle of sucking the mayonnaise off his own fingertips to glance suspiciously at Fuyuhiko’s open hand.
“You sure?” he said after a moment, “It wouldn’t be that hard.”
Kazuichi seemed to think this over for a few seconds before nodding, “Okay, if that’s what you want. I almost had the plans completely drawn up in my head, though. Was going to be one sweet ride.”
“You sound like you wanted to build it, bastard,” Fuyuhiko said with a grin.
Kazuichi finished cleaning his fingers and discarded the empty sandwich container into the empty seat next to him, “Well, you gave me kind of a challenge. Super fast, but without having to stop for gas all the time? I could do it, but it would’ve been a stretch even for someone like me.”
“Yeah well, I’ll figure something out,” Fuyuhiko cleared his throat, “But thanks anyway.”
Kazuichi shrugged, “Sure thing.”
There was silence for a few seconds and Fuyuhiko thought Kazuichi might get bored and leave, but he didn’t.
“So why’d you want it to be so fast, anyway?” he said, turning to them quizzically. “Honestly, it makes me kinda sick just thinking about riding in it.”
Fuyuhiko stiffened, but did his best to answer with civility, “It had… kind of a specific purpose.”
Kazuichi’s gaze flitted back and forth between them for a moment, then, after some time, his eyes widened with a kind of understanding.
“Things are kinda hard for you guys at home, huh?”
It was a breathless, solemn utterance, matched with a kind of searching gaze that suggested to Fuyuhiko that the guess was based partially on Kazuichi’s own experiences.
“Yeah, you could say that,” Fuyuhiko answered, slowly, feeling his chest tighten.
Kazuichi nodded, taking this in, then his expression shifted into one of a bizarre kind of resolve. He plucked one of the unused napkins from the bottom of the sandwich container and proceeded to wipe the remaining oil from his hands as he spoke, “Maybe I’ll keep the plans on the backburner, anyway. I mean, who knows? Could be a good road-trip kinda car. Maybe I’ll make it a van – that way we can take a road trip together, maybe as a double-date kinda thing.”
Fuyuhiko struggled to process this train of thought until the last words hit him.
“What? What do you mean ‘double-date’?”
“Well, Sonia-san doesn’t want to go home to Novoselic after we graduate, so Gundam and I got to talking and we were thinking about a trip after graduation,” he nodded heartily, and Fuyuhiko, to his surprise, could detect no irony in his words. “Since this trip worked out so well.”
“So wait, does that mean you’re..?”
At the sound of his name, spoken by an approaching Sonia with Gundam in tow, Kazuichi sat bolt upright and then scrambled to clear the seat next to him of his sandwich remnants. As soon as he finished sweeping the last crumbs off of the vinyl, Sonia pivoted and seated herself, delicately, in the cleared-off chair, with Gundam taking up the seat on her opposite side.
“Hey, Sonia-san! I was just telling Kuzuryuu and Pekoyama about our graduation trip!”
“Oh?” said Sonia, leaning forward to look around Kazuichi and get a better look at Peko and Fuyuhiko. “Is joining us something that would ‘tickle your fancy?’”
“I dunno,” said Fuyuhiko. He turned to Peko with a grin, “What do you think, Peko?”
Peko squeezed his hand tighter, a soft smile playing on her face, “I would love to travel again with you.”
Sonia pumped a fist into the air, “Then it is decided! Kazuichi shall prepare our vehicle and we shall journey the depths of hell together as five adventurers on a road trip!”
Fuyuhiko raised an eyebrow at “depths of hell,” but was in far too good of a mood to question Sonia. That, and seconds later, Ishimaru stood up on one of the benches and proclaimed loudly that the plane was entering the airstrip and they would no longer be delayed.
“Please, find your seating partners and prepare to board in an orderly manner!”
Fuyuhiko frowned. That meant he would be spending several hours next to Kazuichi again, while he would have much preferred spending that time next to Peko. He looked down at their still-intertwined hands and idly stroked her knuckles with his thumb.
“Are you okay, Fuyuhiko?” came Peko’s voice from above his head.
He looked up with a smile, “Yeah, just thinking about the flight, is all.”
“Oh yeah…” Kazuichi cut in. “You’re sitting next to me again, huh?”
Fuyuhiko noticed that he didn’t sound all that pleased about it, either.
“Perhaps a trade?” Sonia suggested. “If we could convince Peko’s seatmate to trade with Kazuichi that might resolve the issue.”
Fuyuhiko groaned inwardly at the word ‘trade,’ remembering how much trouble that had been for him before, but this trip had also proven to him just how much he was willing to do for Peko.
“That could work,” he said slowly, “Worth a shot, anyway. Peko, do you see your seatmate anywhere?”
“She’s over there.” Peko quickly pointed into a small crowd of students from the 78th class, assembling as if they were sheep being herded by sheepdog Ishimaru barking orders as he wove between them. The girl Peko was referencing sat on a large suitcase with her lacy skirt fanning out around her and a hand on her chin.
“I’ll go talk to her,” said Fuyuhiko.
“We shall all go talk to her,” announced Sonia, and Fuyuhiko smiled.
When they approached the girl from the 78th class, they initially found her to be ignoring them, save for Sonia. It was nearly impossible to gauge the facial expressions of the girl, who insisted on being called “Celestia Ludenberg,” as Sonia explained the trade request. When Sonia finished, however, a tiny eyebrow twitch seemed to signify her interest had been piqued.
“It sounds as though it could be a mutually beneficial transaction,” the girl said surprisingly agreeably, propping her chin on folded fingers. “I would agree on the condition that I am to give the final sign-off on my replacement seatmate.”
“You’d have to be joking to think I would take just anyone as a replacement for Pekoyama-san. Though she may be a bit dry in humor, there are still others who would be -how shall I put it?- Much less desirable to sit next to.”
Once he put two and two together behind what she was saying, Fuyuhiko had a hard time responding with civility, “You’re saying we need to find a seatmate that’s good enough for you?”
Celestia didn’t respond to him, which he’d almost gotten used to by now, and instead traced a line with her gaze over to the terminal vestibule, where Byakuya had just emerged from the entrance to some elite flyer’s lounge that none of the rest of them had been allowed to enter.
“Perhaps Togami-kun?” Celestia offered as Byakuya approached his gathering classmates, “After being paired with Fukawa-san for all this time I suspect he’d be interested in swapping...”
Byakuya arrived and stood at the edge of their group, eyes narrowed. “Don’t attempt to speak for me,” he snapped, “As it happens, Fukawa and I have things to discuss.”
Fuyuhiko’s brow furrowed at the mention of Fukawa and he wondered how he’d missed Fukawa slinking along a few feet behind Byakuya, avoiding everyone’s gaze while clutching a lumpy maroon backpack to her chest. Had she come out of the lounge, too?
“Choose someone else,” ordered Byakuya.
“Very well,” sighed Celestia, unwavering. “Perhaps someone fashionable and of the female persuasion?”
“Sonia-san is with us!” Kazuichi cut in a little too quickly.
“I did not mean the princess,” sighed Celestia, “I was thinking more along the lines of… Maizono-san?”
“Me?” piped up Sayaka Maizono from nearby. Her apparent surprise at this did nothing to dull her smile, “Aw, I’d be happy to, Celes-chan, but then who will sit next to Naegi-kun?”
“Perhaps Kirigiri-san?” Celes offered, not bothering to hide her amusement at this idea.
“I would be happy to trade,” Kyoko interjected calmly, stunning the nearby students and possibly irking Celestia. “However, I am seated next to my father, so whomever takes my place would be seated with him.”
“Next to the headmaster?” Souda whined. “No thanks…”
“Bite your tongue!” exclaimed Ishimaru, “It would be… an honor.”
“Are you volunteering?” mused Celestia.
“Do not get me wrong-” said Ishimaru, “While I do not condone the actions taken by Naegi-kun and Kirigiri-san at our makeshift ‘get well’ party…” he sighed deeply and as he spoke next, sounded like he might have been about to cry, “I have been very glad to see the bonds that have formed so deeply on this trip between our classmates. If there is to be any trading of seats at all, I wish to facilitate it so that it makes those bonds grow ever stronger!”
There was a bit of an awkward pause following this statement in which Fuyuhiko noticed some of the members of the 77th class had begun to gather in the same area as well.
“Thank you, Ishimaru-kun,” said Makoto finally.
“I believe we have our solution!” Sonia exclaimed happily.
Fuyuhiko felt like his head was starting to spin, “So Ishimaru trades with Kirigiri, who trades with Maizono, who trades with Peko, who trades with Souda?”
There was a slow cascade of affirmative answers as members of the group in question each worked through this line of reasoning in their own minds.
“Great. As long as we get to sit next to each-other,” said Fuyuhiko, glancing up over his shoulder at Peko, who looked down at him with a sweet, reassuring smile.
The speakers in the ceiling above them crackled to life with the announcement that their flight would be boarding soon. The door in the wall opposite them swung open and moments later, a crowd of passengers departed the exit ramp. The members of the 77th and 78th classes, save for Byakuya who boarded separately with the first boarding group, filed into a line and slowly made their way through the gate.
Fuyuhiko looked up at Peko, who stood next to him in the queue. To his surprise, her gentle smile was accompanied this time by her holding out her hand. He took her outstretched hand in his, and they moved forward towards the gate, Fuyuhiko excitedly anticipating the rest of their adventures together.