Chapter 1: Place Your Bets
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.
Chapter 2: In the Air
“Hey, you gonna eat your snack?”
Fuyuhiko looked down at the tiny bag of trail mix he’d been turning over in his hand and, after a moment of consideration, chucked it blindly at the aisle seat. He surmised from the angle he’d thrown it that it probably hit Kazuichi in the face. He didn’t care. He didn’t look, either.
“Thanks!” Kazuichi called from the side, before the otherwise silent area around their seats was consumed by the sound of him tearing into the bag.
Fuyuhiko frowned and reached for the plastic shade that partially covered the window. He’d started the trip by having to switch seats with Kazuichi because apparently the closer the mechanic sat to the window, the more motion sickness they both had to battle, in the sense that Kazuichi had the motion sickness and had leaned over Kuzuryuu complaining that he was going to puke until the solution of switching seats had been settled on.
Loud, smacky crunching noises emitted from his left told Fuyuhiko that Kazuichi was fine now. He let out an exasperated sigh through his nose and slammed the plastic window cover shut.
“So when we get there, what’s the first thing you’re gonna do?” Kazuichi asked.
Fuyuhiko watched a crumb from the trail mix land on the floor in front of him.
“What am I gonna do? I’m gonna go the fuck to sleep, dumbass! It’s an international flight!”
He looked over at Kazuichi, who was in the process of wedging the empty bag of trail mix into the pouch of the seat in front of him. “Hey! I’m just asking!” the mechanic protested.
“Just stop asking. We’re going to be on this plane for at least another three hours and I don’t wanna be any more sick of you than I am now.”
Kazuichi seemed to be contemplating this when a voice piped up from the seat in front of him.
“That long? Are you serious?”
The passenger in the seat turned around and Fuyuhiko realized it was one of the girls from the other class. This one was an athlete or something like that. She turned to her seatmate, a large, muscular, intimidating woman, and uttered in a tone of voice that almost made him feel sorry for her, “Is that true, Sakura-chan? Are we really going to be on this plane that long?”
“I’m afraid so, dear. It is an international flight.”
The girl who had spoken first let out a soft whine and puffed her cheeks out, “I can’t sit that long! I need to run!”
“Maybe you should get up and stretch…” the girl named ‘Sakura’ suggested.
“Can I do that?”
Kuzuryuu looked up at the panel above his head, “The seatbelt sign is off, so yeah…”
The girl looked back at him for a second, then at her seatmate, then gleefully rose to her feet and began stretching in the aisle. She waved her hands about the space, stretching them over her empty seat, then Kazuichi, then the girl in the aisle seat across from Kazuichi, who had been hunched over her tray writing something on a stack of paper and clearly didn’t appreciate having the other girl’s appendages in her space.
The girl paused in the middle of her stretches and looked gleefully to Kazuichi and Fuyuhiko, “So, you guys are from the other class, right?”
“Yeah, we are…” Fuyuhiko answered before Kazuichi could. He normally would have huffed at a question about something so obvious but with the bet he’d made hanging over his head, he didn’t want to close any doors on himself that he might need later.
“Cool! I’m Aoi Asahina!” she gestured to the large woman who sat next to her, “This is Sakura Oogami!”
Sakura turned, as much as she was able in the small space, and waved politely at them.
“What are your names?” Aoi asked brightly.
Fuyuhiko opened his mouth to answer but was cut off by a complaint emanating from the girl in the other aisle seat.
“T-this isn’t a cocktail party! S-Some of us are trying to concentrate!”
Fuyuhiko craned his neck around Kazuichi to get a better look at this girl. She was hunched over her papers again, this time looking like she was trying to cover them up, with her eyes flitting angrily between Aoi and himself. Fuyuhiko thought to say something about how she should mind her own business, but Aoi, evidently used to this kind of reaction from the girl from her class, opted to strike up conversation instead.
“What are you writing, Fukawa-chan?”
Byakuya Togami, whom Fuyuhiko had been aware was in the window seat on the other side but had purposefully chosen to ignore, spoke up, “She’s a romance novelist, and that idiot morals committee member seated her next to me… That should be more than enough information for you deduce the subject matter she’s chosen.”
A brief flash of ‘I-didn’t-ask-you’ crossed over Aoi’s face, only to be replaced seconds later by the same friendly demeanor as before.
“Are you writing a new novel, Fukawa-chan? I’ll bet it’s really good!”
Fukawa dismissed this with a jerky head motion but Fuyuhiko thought she looked at least somewhat pleased with the compliment. “Tch,” she sniffed, “Of course it is. I don’t turn out substandard shit like those light novels or any of those other abominable wastes of paper…”
Aoi almost seemed to zone out, “I kinda like those…”
For some reason the romance novelist data point resonated with Fuyuhiko in a way that nothing in that conversation had as of yet. Now he remembered a little more about who this girl was—the prodigy who had sold the world on some stupid story about a fisherman, among other things.
But hell, if she had done that, maybe she had some insights as to how he might be able to win his bet. Either that, or she’d be enough of a romantic that he could maybe convince her to go out with him, at least for a while.
But then again, from this conversation she was shaping up to be almost as much of a jerk as the guy she was seated next to, so… maybe not.
Aoi turned to Kazuichi, “Hey, do you mind if I stretch here?”
“N-No!” Kazuichi stammered, “Go right ahead!”
The words had just left his mouth when Aoi kicked up her leg and planted the heel of her sneaker on Kazuichi’s left armrest, in the process exposing to the three of them a rather generous expanse of leg.
“Thanks a ton,” Aoi breathed, “I usually move all the time so sitting still like this is really hard for me, y’know?” She folded her hands across eachother and slowly bent at the waist as she moved them down her leg, and Fuyuhiko suspected Kazuichi seemed to have temporarily abandoned any thoughts of Sonia as this motion provided him with an improved view of a couple of Aoi’s physical assets. Even Fukawa, who had previously appeared about to say something nasty, silenced and stared for a second before uttering some type of unintelligible noise and returning to her writing.
Aoi switched legs and Fuyuhiko geared up to punch Kazuichi in the arm once he caught sight of how badly he was gaping at the athlete, but a second later, the fasten seatbelt sign came on with a loud ding, diverting Kazuichi’s attention and stopping Aoi in her tracks.
“Oops! I better sit down, huh?” Aoi said, “It was nice talking with you guys!”
“S-Same here!” Kazuichi spit out, “and feel free to stretch back here anytime!”
“Pervert…” muttered Fukawa without missing a beat, and Fuyuhiko chuckled in spite of himself.
Around three hours later, Fuyuhikko sat with his face all but pressed to the window. He had the shade up and was scanning the view outside for any sign that they were about to land, but all he could see was darkness and cloud cover.
He closed the window shade and resettled back in his seat just in time to feel a large weight on his left shoulder, followed immediately by strands of pink hair floating into his view. If that wasn’t enough, the sound of snoring and the wet sensation of drool on his sleeve accompanied the other sensations. He shifted so that he could look down and see the zonked-out face of Kazuichi, who had his mouth open as he slept and was most definitely drooling on Fuyuhiko’s shoulder.
“Get off, bastard!” He gave Kazuichi a shove, forcing him back to his own side. Sakura turned around to see the commotion. Aoi did not, but Fuyuhiko had known for some time that she was wearing headphones. He cleared his throat and apologized gruffly to Sakura, “Sorry-- Asshole was drooling on me.”
Sakura didn’t seem to have much of a reaction to this—good bad or indifferent. She simply stared for a few more seconds, then turned back around in her seat.
Kazuichi rubbed his head and slowly opened his eyes.
“Did we land?” he mumbled.
“No..” sighed Fuyuhiko. “We’re still up in the clouds.”
Kazuichi shrieked and clapped his hand over his eyes, “Don’t tell me that! I might puke for real!”
“What was I supposed to say? Yes, we’re on the ground, go ahead and step out the emergency door?”
Kazuichi didn’t answer, instead opting to hold his hand over his eyes and breathe loudly through his nose.
“You really are gonna be sick, aren’t you?”
“Could you find me a bag? Just in case?”
“There’s one in the seat in front of you…”
“I mean one I can put over my head while we’re landing, so I don’t see anything.”
“Are you serious?”
Kazuichi evidently was, for he didn’t answer again, and opted to cower against the seat with his eyes pinched shut.
“Fine,” Fuyuhiko hissed. “Move your legs so I can get up.”
Without opening his eyes, Kazuichi turned to the side and pulled his legs up onto the seat, clearing the way for Fuyuhiko to get out into the aisle. He felt the blood rushing to his knees as he got up, not realizing how long he’d been sitting down, and carefully sidestepped his way around Kazuichi to the center of the cabin.
He stood for a second in the middle of the aisle, trying to figure out where on earth he was going to get a bag large enough to fit over Kazuichi’s head. Maybe he could ask the flight attendants? He didn’t see any of them around, though.
He looked down at Fukawa, whom he could tell was pointedly avoiding eye contact with him as she continued to write. He looked over at Byakuya, who would’ve appeared to be asleep to the untrained eye, but Fuyuhiko recognized the body language of someone pretending to nap while actually keeping all their senses closely trained on their surroundings.
He sighed to himself and proceeded down the aisle. He decided he would swallow his pride and ask Mahiru for a bag, since she was typically well-prepared, and once she heard why he needed it her compassion would probably kick in.
He strode past a kid with red hair who kept trying to adjust his seat back and forth, next to a kid who continued to apologize to the pair behind them as this went on. He passed the biker Mondo Oowada -one of the only people from class 78 he already knew the name of- and found him actually sleeping with his arms folded over his chest, next to ‘that idiot morals committee member’ as Byakuya had described the student in the window seat. The latter set eyes on Fuyuhiko and promptly informed him that they would be landing soon and he should get back to his seat before they did. Fuyuhiko muttered a rather strong expletive under his breath and moved on.
He passed Peko, who looked up briefly from the fashion magazine she had spread out on her lap, only to obediently return her gaze to the periodical which seemed to have something in it that was cause for confusion. The Goth Lolita girl next to her sat neatly with her ankles crossed and was also pretending to be asleep. Fuyuhiko craned his neck over just a bit as soon as he was behind Peko, to try and get a look at the page she was on, only to be equally confused by the images on the page.
Who put makeup on their chest?
He didn’t have long to think about it, for he soon arrived at the row where Mahiru and Hiyoko were sitting. Hiyoko had her tray down and it was completely covered in gummy candy wrappers. She popped a yellow gummy into her mouth and stared out the window with an agitated look on her face.
Mahiru looked up from some magazine as Fuyuhiko approached.
“Can I help you?” she said softly, drawing the attention of Hiyoko, who looked at Fuyuhiko with no small amount of disgust and irritation in her face.
“Yeah uh, listen, I wanted to apologize for earlier… and... I was wondering… you don’t happen to have an empty bag, do you?”
Mahiru tilted her head to the side, “What do you need a bag for?”
“Souda’s being a dumbass…” when this wasn’t enough, he elaborated, “He’s got motion sickness and he thinks he needs something covering his head while we land…”
Hiyoko snorted, “Figures-- That’s his problem, not ours.”
Mahiru’s face softened, “I usually carry a small tote, but I’m afraid not this time, sorry…”
Another voice gently cut in from behind Fuyuhiko, “Will any bag work?”
Fuyuhiko spun around to see a girl who, after he realized he could recall her name, he remembered sat nearly in the back of his class on the other side of the room.
“As long as it can fit over his head, I guess…” he said. “You got one?”
She didn’t exactly answer, only leaned down with one hand still pressing buttons on the game console she held, and reached into the duffel under the seat in front of her. She retrieved from it a large pink tote that had the features… of a cartoon pig.
“This is all I have,” she said. This was punctuated by a loud drooly snore from the dreadlocked guy in the window seat next to her.
Fuyuhiko stared for a minute. He hadn’t been able to recall this girl before, but something in the combination of that she’d come to his aid just now, and that she seemed to be rather calm, deliberate, and soft-spoken, was a winning combination.
He gave her his best smile and took the bag from her outstretched hand, “It’s perfect. Thank you.”
As he folded the lightweight tote under his arm, something inside clicked and he realized he may have found the girl he was looking for.
Giving Kazuichi a cartoon pig head was just going to be a bonus.
The girl blinked sleepily at him and nodded before returning her full attention to her handheld game. Fuyuhiko didn’t dare push his luck at this moment so with a brief nonverbal acknowledgement of Hiyoko and Mahiru, which the former responded to by sticking her tongue out at him, he departed down the aisle back to his seat.
He found Kazuichi bent over his tray, actively scribbling away on a blueprint of some sort.
Fuyuhiko announced his presence with an aggravated growl.
Kazuichi looked up, “Hey! Did you get it?”
“Yes,” Fuyuhiko emphasized, “and I thought you were gonna spew all over, or I’d have made you get up.”
Kazuichi shrugged, “What can I say? As soon as you left I felt better and then I got an idea for how I’m gonna modify the vending machine I sto- I mean that I’m borrowing from the school.” He finished the sentence with an absurd grin and his hands behind his head.
“Whatever. Just let me in.”
Kazuichi quickly folded up the tray and stood so that Fuyuhiko could get through. As he was doing so, there was a loud ding above his head and he just barely got into the seat before the plane began to shake.
The captain’s voice came over the intercom, “Attention Passengers, this is your captain speaking. We will soon be landing in Rome. The local time is 8:46 pm…”
The rest of the message was drowned out by Kazuichi making a strangled yelping noise and pulling the pig bag on over his head. The plane began to shake more furiously as it descended into the clouds and Fuyuhiko could hear Kazuichi’s breathing get louder even through the pink nylon fabric.
He hoisted himself out of his seat and braved one last look behind him at Peko and then Chiaki, and then as his eyes rolled back over Fukawa an idea began to form in his mind.
Maybe he could win this bet yet.
Fuyuhiko was exhausted by the time they arrived at the hotel. He realized once he was standing before his hotel room door that he could scarcely remember getting the key or walking up the stairs except for a few scattered images that told him he’d opted to do the latter after the elevator had gotten too crowded.
Likewise, he’d waited in a corner of the hallway until most of the class had found their way to their rooms and then approached his door.
He put the card key in the slot and the door clicked open. To his surprise, the handle turned on its own a second later, prompting him to jump backwards with some ideas running through his mind of how he would fight back against an assailant, should one emerge. A part of him realized that was just how his tired mind responded to things he didn’t expect. Another part wondered if maybe he shouldn’t have ordered Peko to stay with her roommate.
A round face framed by straw-colored hair peered out at him through the crack in the door. He relaxed.
Relaxing, however, didn’t mean he couldn’t blow his stack, “What the fuck, Mitarai? Don’t scare me like that!”
“Sorry,” came the flat reply. “Did you need something?”
The hall monitor or prefect or whatever he was who had been delegated the responsibility of handing out the keys and room assignments had told Fuyuhiko at the time who he’d been assigned as a roommate but the name had gone in one ear and out the other.
“I… this is my room…”
“Oh,” Ryota said softly. The door closed, eclipsing his face, and there were some scraping noises on the other side before it reopened, at which point Ryota held it open and stepped as far as he could to the side, “Come in.”
Once inside, the first thing Fuyuhiko noted was that Ryota had already claimed the bed by the window by way of piling a bunch of unopened food containers upon it and the suitcases that had been set near it. However, these items seemed to have been respectfully piled up only on one side of the room.
Ryota followed his gaze, “Did you want that bed?”
Fuyuhiko shook his head, “Nah.” Truth be told, he wasn’t a huge fan of sleeping directly by any windows. He dragged his suitcase to the foot of the other bed and cast a wary glance at the window. “Does it open?”
“No, it doesn’t,” answered Ryota. “Unfortunate, because it seems quite a bit stuffy in here.”
“It’s fine, I was just curious, is all,” Fuyuhiko responded idly. He paced over to the side of the unoccupied bed and flopped down on it.
He heard the crinkling of plastic wrap and looked over to see Ryota clearing himself a space amongst the food items. He then seated himself upon the bed and reclined with a magazine in one hand and a bag of cheese puffs tucked under the other arm.
Fuyuhiko yawned and folded one leg over the other.
“I don’t suppose you saw where the rest of our classmates went?” he asked Ryota.
Ryota shrugged, “I suspect they’re all around us... the guys anyway. It’s my understanding that the girls are all upstairs.”
Fuyuhiko looked at the ceiling.
“So you didn’t see anyone else or see who got paired with who?”
“No,” said Ryota, “I was the first up here. I like to be alone to get my bearings when I’m in a new place.”
Fuyuhiko cupped his hand over another yawn. His eyes traced the ugly brass dome lightfixture on the ceiling. He kicked his shoes off onto the floor beside the bed.
“Yeah, I could understand that…”
He leaned back and closed his eyes, telling himself he was just going to rest… that he wasn’t going to sleep just yet…
A loud knock at the door caused him to sit bolt upright in bed, at which point he blinked away the blur in his eyes, looked frantically around the room, saw the sunlight peeking in around the curtains, and realized it was morning.
He looked down at his fully-clothed body on top of the bedsheets and was able to hear a general stirring and voices in the hallway. The loud knock came again.
“All right, hold on you bastard I’m coming!” he shouted, fumbling for his shoes on the floor. He cast a brief glance over at Ryota, who was presently a large, breathing lump of blankets in the other bed.
The knock came a third time as Fuyuhiko was racing to the door, still pulling one of his shoes on, and a choice string of threats bubbled up in his mind as he reached for the knob.
He didn’t have a chance to utter them as he was nearly bowled over by the prefect-monitor-whatever from the other class barging into his room. He marched to the space between the beds and held a clipboard out in front of him, from which he proceeded to read aloud.
“Room attendance check! Fuyuhiko Kuzuryuu and Ryota Mitarai are you present and in the correct places?”
Fuyuhiko stared back and forth between Kiyotaka Ishimaru, who he managed to remember the one guy’s name was, and some taller, nondescript brown-haired kid who stood in the doorway, looking like a half-witted participant in the former’s business.
“I do not wish to repeat myself!” Kiyotaka exclaimed, looking at his watch, “Fuyuhiko Kuzuryuu and Ryota Mitarai, identify yourselves!”
“I’m Fuyuhiko Kuzuyruu, asshole… what’s the idea of barging in here at the crack of fucking dawn?”
Kiyotaka stared at him, waiting to speak until a loud snort from the still-sleeping Mitarai punctuated the silence.
“Please mind your language! I am only performing a room check as I have heard that many of our peers are engaging in the unsanctioned activity of trading rooms and roommates!”
Fuyuhiko froze, “Not… not with the girls?” He could just picture somebody like Teruteru Hanamura trying to maneuver his way into one of the girls’ rooms and, though he was reasonably sure Peko could protect herself, well… the idea didn’t sit well with him.
Kiyotaka shook his head and tapped the papers on the clipboard he was holding, “As far as I know there is no inter-floor trading going on, but it seems many of our classmates are displeased with their assignments and are attempting to trade rooms ‘under the radar’ so to speak.”
The boy in the doorway spoke up, “If the arrangements are making people uncomfortable, then maybe they should be allowed to trade?”
“Do not joke, Hinata-kun!”
“I… wasn’t joking.”
“It is important for the safety and efficacy of our experience that we stick to the pre-ordained procedures designed by our superiors! They have only our safety in mind!”
Mitarai chose this moment to sit up in bed, rubbing his eyes. The movement scattered a few snack bags, including an open, half-full bag of deep-fried pea pods, onto the floor.
Kiyotaka stared at the refuse for a second, then made a note on his clipboard.
“Who are you guys?” Ryota asked softly, once his eyes were fully open.
Kiyotaka gasped, “Ah! Forgive my lack of manners… it has been a rather... difficult morning. I am Kiyotaka Ishimaru!” He gestured emphatically to the doorway, “This is Hajime Hinata of the Reserve Course!” Fuyuhiko took notice of the pained expression on ‘Hinata’s’ face as he was introduced. “We are conducting an attendance check of all rooms to make sure there is no illicit activity going on!” he brandished the pen he held at Ryota. “Are you Ryota Mitarai?”
“Excellent! Then it would appear everyone here is in their place!”
Fuyuhiko grit his teeth and glared at Kiyotaka, who seemed oblivious to his irritation. Hinata, however, was not.
“I think we woke them up,” he said.
“If that is the case, then please resume your slumber! I will continue checking the rest of the rooms so you can sleep soundly…”
“I don’t think that’s possible, now…” grumbled Fuyuhiko.
“Hey Kyoudai?” Mondo Oowada asserted his way in front of Hinata to stick his head in the doorway, “That Tanaka kid locked Yamada out of their room again. What do you want me to do about it?”
Fuyuhiko realized now that the low hum of disgruntled voices he’d heard in the hall when the door had first been opened had since evolved into a loud chorus of distinct, angry utterances.
“Dude, give me back my underwear!”
“Get away from me, you weirdo!”
“I’ll have you know, the longer I’m out here, the more I’m leveling up!”
“I have to shiiit!”
The irritation Fuyuhiko formerly held towards Kiyotaka began to dissipate as he realized just how much he’d have his hands full if he was to insist on being the one to maintain order. It was enough to fill him with the nauseating combination of overwhelming pity and bitter amusement.
“I’d say break the door down,” Mondo offered casually. “Mostly because I think they got all the keys from the front desk already.”
Kiyotaka shook his head, “That won’t work, Kyoudai… We will have to talk compassionately with Tanaka-kun and get him to see the error of his ways.”
Mondo shrugged, “Okay, but that’s not really my thing… maybe somebody else can do it?”
Fuyuhiko knew this was going to turn the conversation towards him before Kiyotaka turned his direction, at which point he hastily spit out, “Try Sonia Nevermind.”
“The princess?” Kiyotaka rubbed his chin in thought, “Yes! Excellent idea, Kuzuryuu-kun! I am sure she is well-skilled in the art of diplomacy!”
Fuyuhiko shrugged, recalling the reason he’d actually said it as images from his memory of the two together circulated through his mind, “Well, that and for some reason that thick-headed bastard tends to listen to her…”
Mondo looked thoughtful, “I’ll go get her, then.” He seemed genuinely concerned as he looked to Kiyotaka, “You gonna be okay handling things down here until I get back?”
“Barring unforeseen events, yes…” answered Kiyotaka. “But do be quick!”
Mondo nodded and departed with a grunt, the tails of his coat swirling behind him as he moved.
“Can we leave now?” asked Ryota. “I’d like to get breakfast.”
Kiyotaka blanched, “Y-Yes, of course!” He motioned for Hinata to move out of the way. “We will not take up any more of your time!”
Fuyuhiko watched as Ryota slipped through the door, past Hinata, and out of sight.
This left him alone with the other two in an uncomfortable silence, which Kiyotaka finally broke.
“You two are welcome to go and get breakfast as well! Sustenance will be important for the learning we are to do on this trip!”
“What about you?” said Hinata.
“I thank you for your consideration, Hinata-kun, but I must remain here to watch over this floor!”
He sounded to Fuyuhiko like he was being a bit overzealous, but then the sound of something shattering permeated the hall and he was reminded of the chaos that had to be unfolding around them.
If this guy wanted to step into the crossfire, Fuyuhiko wasn’t going to stop him.
“Dude, seriously! That’s the only pair of underwear I brought!”
That wasn’t to say he was going to help, either.
Fuyuhiko excused himself to the elevator and rode down to the kitchenette where the complimentary breakfast was being served. Once there, he loaded up a plate with a modest amount of food and settled himself in the corner of the eating area, facing the elevator, to watch the others arrive. He thought about how he might tackle the plan he came up with yesterday and made sure to keep his eyes peeled.
Right off the bat, he found Ryota in the opposite corner corner, happily picking away at a heaping plate of what appeared to be crepes or something, but it was a while before anyone joined them.
The first person to arrive had been that girl in the Goth Lolita clothes who looked like she’d put on an especially fancy dress for the occasion. She paced around the breakfast bar, eyeing the food, before seating herself a good two tables away from Ryota with nothing in front of her.
Next, another girl in a miniskirt dragged a girl with short black hair out of the elevator, complaining loudly about how the city of Rome was “so been-there-done-that” and talking about how she wanted more excitement from the trip. She grabbed an apple from the breakfast bar and bounced it back and forth in her hands while her companion loaded up her plate with breakfast sausage, eggs, bacon, and a piece of dry toast.
The next time the elevator doors opened it was Aoi and Sakura. Aoi spotted him immediately and waved to him, bouncing along, as the two made their way over to the breakfast bar.
Akane poured out of the elevator behind them and raced in front of them to take as much food as she could possibly load up onto one plate. Aoi frowned and looked to Sakura, who smiled gently and reached over Akane’s head to grab two doughnuts from the pastry bin. She handed them both to Aoi before gently reaching around Akane again to load up two plates with a modest amount of food, comparable to what was on his plate.
When the elevator doors opened again, it was so that a large kid with an orange tie could disembark, followed by Mondo Oowada, Kiyotaka Ishimaru, Nagito Komaeda, and Hajime Hinata.
Fuyuhiko overheard Nagito apologize for his luck making the elevator stop on every floor.
He rolled his eyes.
He still hadn’t seen Peko, Chiaki, or… whatever Fukawa’s first name was... but any one of them would have been a welcome sight at this point, and he was counting on the latter to help him advance his plan.
She didn’t know that, yet, but he would be open about it.
Peko finally emerged from the stairs near the elevator after a few more elevator loads had come and gone. She met eyes with Fuyuhiko and he smiled briefly at her but also swept the side of his head…
Just to reassure her…
He resolved that he would approach whomever got off the elevator next, be it Chiaki or Fukawa, and try to get the trip off on the right foot by offering to sit together at breakfast. As he glanced to the breakfast bar again and saw that Akane was now loading up her third plate, it occurred to him that he might want to take some food to share while there still was some.
He grabbed his plate and made for the end of the breakfast bar by way of the space by the elevators. As he grabbed for some fruit -one of the only things Akane had left behind- his attention was drawn to the elevator as he spotted Chiaki exiting it, not looking up from the game she was playing.
His adrenaline spiked, mostly likely coinciding with the thought that this was his chance. He hastily took off from the breakfast bar, plate in hand, and made a beeline for Chiaki --as much as he was able with all the other students in between them. She had paused a few feet from the elevators and was busy doing something that involved tapping the screen on the gaming device.
He stopped before her.
“Hey uh, Nanami?”
Nanami glanced up from her game, but Fuyuhiko noticed her fingers didn’t stop pressing buttons, “Yes, Kuzuyruu-san?”
“I was wondering…”
He ceased to finish, however, for at that moment, the doors to the elevator opened and a pair of students from the other class emerged, leading a small girl who had her hands in front of her face and was sobbing loudly.
“Fujisaki-kun!” cried Kiyotaka Ishimaru, racing up to the small girl with Mondo Owada close behind. “What is wrong?”
The girl peered up from behind her hands, revealing eyes red from crying. Fuyuhiko frowned, immediately feeling sorry for the girl and angry at whomever was responsible.
The girl was flanked by a shorter brown-haired boy and the other purple-haired girl from the 78th class. After a moment passed and Fujisaki didn’t respond, the boy knelt down next to her.
“Go ahead, Fujisaki-san…” he prompted gently.
The girl nodded, then spoke slowly, looking up into the faces of Mondo and Kiyotaka with big sorrowful eyes, “I-I’m worried about Fukawa-san… She locked herself in the bathroom and won’t come out… and that was some time ago…” Fuyuhiko felt a tremendous pang of sympathy as he watched the girl tear up, “I’m worried it was something I said.”
There was a collective sigh from the two guys.
“Don’t beat yourself up, kid…” sighed Mondo, “Fukawa’s… tough to deal with. Sorry you got stuck with her.”
This didn’t really stop Chihiro from crying, “I just… she stopped answering me… what if something happened to her?”
“Like, she’s not saying anything at all?”
Chihiro nodded. Mondo and Kiyotaka exchanged glances. Hinata chose this unfortunate moment to approach the spot where Chiaki stood.
“That may be something of concern, Fujisaki-kun! Oowada-kun, Hinata-kun and I will investigate!”
“Do I… really have to?” Hinata deadpanned.
Mondo scratched the side of his face, “She’s either snuck outta there looking for Togami, or somethin’ happened to her… Either way, we’ll find out.”
While Fuyuhiko partially agreed with Fujisaki’s concern, based on what he’d seen of Fukawa, assuming she actually was okay, Fuyuhiko couldn’t imagine it going over well when those three came barging into her hotel room.
“Hey, you know what? Don’t do that. I’ll go check on her.”
Plus, going up there might give him a chance to get some of the information he needed.
“You will, Kuzuryuu-kun? While that is very noble…”
“Look, I may not know her very well, but if I had my guess I’d say you three going in there guns blazing is just gonna piss her off and she’s never gonna come out.” A thought occurred to him and he added, “Specially since like, she could be showering or some shit…”
Fujisaki’s eyes widened.
“Ah! You are right, Kuzuyruu-kun, but I still demand you take someone with you!”
Mondo folded his arms, “Preferably someone who can bust the door in if worse comes to worse.”
“I know somebody,” Fuyuhiko said cooly.
At that moment, Fuyuhiko was perhaps unreasonably aware of the stares on him, most especially those coming from Kiyotaka and the purple-haired girl, but he pretended it didn’t bother him and continued staring straight at Kiyotaka.
After some time, Kiyotaka spoke, “Very well, Kuzuryuu-kun! You are hereby tasked with the retrieval of our classmate!
I'm thinking this might have to be an AU... serves me right for starting a story before the Zetsubou arc of DR3 is finished... ah well.
Chapter 4: Strike a Deal
Fuyuhiko had to admit, he was feeling a little smug as he boarded the elevator. He watched with satisfaction as the doors closed on the menagerie of stunned, grateful, and confused faces he was leaving in the breakfast area. He pressed the button and the elevator hummed to life, ascending to the fourth floor.
He wasn’t superstitious or anything, but he did wonder who had thought to put all the girls up on that particular level.
The doors opened and he swiftly disembarked, sucking a breath in as he rounded the corner. He stopped with one foot into a long, narrow hallway and it dawned on him that he hadn’t thought to ask where Fukawa and Fujisaki’s room was.
He stood in one place, gaping at the empty hallway before him. From the looks of things he could surmise that all of the girls had made it down to breakfast already, so there wasn’t going to be anyone to ask. Just as he was trying to wrap his brain around a solution, he was startled by a voice immediately behind him.
He spun around, “I told you not to call me that!” His eyes met Peko’s strikingly intense red ones and he faltered, though her expression was neutral.
“I checked to make sure there was no one around,” she said.
“That’s not…” he sighed, “Are you sure?”
“Positive,” Peko affirmed, “I keep a headcount of all our classmates at any time. It’s a part of my…”
“Yeah yeah yeah… I got it.”
“I noticed you departed breakfast rather quickly and without finishing your meal. I assumed there was something of urgency for which you might need…”
“It’s not urgent, Peko. Or at least it’s… “ He thought about how to phrase it and decided to be as succinct as possible, “That writer girl from the other class locked herself the bathroom and I told those guys I’d go get her.”
Fuyuhiko couldn’t meet her eyes this time, “Fuck, Peko, it just so happens I got some questions to ask her, alright?”
“Oh,” Peko said. Fuyuhiko’s eyes flew to her face, trying to determine what her reaction was to this, but if anything had shown on her face he may have just missed it.
Fuyuhiko sighed. “But I could use your help…” he uttered reluctantly.
It may have been his imagination, but he thought that Peko brightened at that. “Of course,” she said, “It is my duty to…”
“Don’t…” Fuyuhiko breathed, “Just… Do you know where the room is?”
Peko stared for a second, then pointed at the second door down on Fuyuhiko’s left.
“Perfect,” he sighed, giving the door a once-over.
“Is there any other way I can be of use, Bocchan?”
Fuyuhiko thought to take issue with the title again, or maybe it was with the way she phrased the question, but then Mondo’s words about busting down the door came back into his mind. At the time, he’d been bluffing, obliquely alluding to Peko when he said he “knew someone,” but his intention had been to go alone. However, allowing Peko to help him just this once could provide him an advantage and a good head start in winning the bet, and once he had a scrap of his own independence in the form of that car, maybe he could start to pay her back.
He swallowed. “Yeah, actually… There’s a chance that those assholes could come up here looking for her…”
“…and, for reasons I can’t explain, I can’t have that happening, okay?”
“What do you want me to do?”
Fuyuhiko cast one last nervous glance around the hall before issuing the quiet order to Peko, “I want you to stand in the hallway, not in front of the door but near it, and if anyone comes up here looking for her… or me… you send them the wrong way, got it?”
Peko nodded sharply, “I understand.”
“Good,” Fuyuhiko said, reaching up and tightening his tie. “Oh and uh… on the off-chance that I get in there and something goes south… I’m gonna whistle and when I do, that’s when I want you to come in, okay?”
“But don’t come in, hell, don’t even look in the direction of the door unless you hear that, got it?”
“Okay,” he said, “So…” He turned around and eyed the door Peko had indicated. “She’s in there, huh?”
There was nothing especially unique about the door, but one of the things Fuyuhiko noticed was that, unlike the doors to the left and right of it, this one had no light peeking through the crack underneath it. He wandered closer and looked it up and down once before reaching out and rapping his knuckles on the door.
He tried again.
This time, the doorknob turned and the door slid backwards, gradually revealing the face he recognized from the plane, complete with shaky glare and distrustful eyes.
“W-What do you want?” she hissed.
Fuyuhiko might have answered the rude inquiry with some similar sentiments but, remembering why he was really there, he choked back his irritation and responded with as much politeness as he could muster.
“I uh… are you okay?”
Fukawa stared, her face an almost ghostly apparition peering out from the dark void that was her room.
“I’m fine,” she said blankly, only for her anxiety to evidently ramp up, “Y-you didn’t answer my question! W-What do you want? Who sent you up here?”
Fuyuhiko grit his teeth for a second before forcing his face to relax, “Your roommate…” he said, “who is really worried about you, by the way…”
Fukawa gave a dismissive toss of her head, “Tch. S-she’s probably just worried she’ll get in trouble… A-As if I would bother to blame her…”
It was getting harder for Fuyuhiko to keep from showing his frustration, but this time he thought he heard an opening in her statements.
“Blame her for what?”
He tried to make his tone as neutral-sounding as possible but evidently this question was still cause for her to feel threatened. Her eyes immediately narrowed and she looked, from her body language, to be ready to retreat back into the room.
“I d-don’t believe you, you know…” she spat. “I-I’m not going to fall for whatever you’re plotting… and if you come any closer…”
At this point, Fuyuhiko was swimming, mentally, in two separate impulses. One thought was to scream, filling the hallway with idle threats that he mostly just wanted to get out of his system at this point. The other thought, which basically involved doing a tactical about-face, was the one he ended up going with.
“Okay!” he threw his hands up, “You got me…”
Somewhat surprisingly, this didn’t cause Fukawa to slam the door in his face. Instead, she remained dead still, staring at him with an expression that could only be described as ‘venomously curious.’
Before she could say anything, he made sure to speak, “I just wanted to ask your advice on something…”
“W-What would you possibly…”
“You’re a romance novelist, aren’t you?”
“So that’s it. I wanted to ask you for some advice on… like… romance stuff…” he could feel his face heating up as he finished his statement, and he couldn’t quite look up.
“Romance… stuff?” her tone sounded like she was mocking him, which she probably was.
“Yeah, so that’s all…” he said. He was starting to lose patience and though he had specifically ordered against it, he was sure Peko had to be looking at him. “If you don’t want to help me, that’s fine. I just thought, you know, maybe you’d know enough...”
He was shocked, but not completely surprised, when the door shut in his face. He took a half-step back, swearing internally, before the door handle turned and Fukawa hesitantly emerged from the room.
She stepped out, and stood in the hallway, silent but still eyeing him dubiously for a second before she spoke.
“I-I s-suppose I could help you,” she said. Her eyes began to flit around nervously, “B-But we can’t talk here…”
He nodded, “Okay… so where?”
She brought a hand up to gnaw on the side of her thumb. She was silent for so long he was just about to blurt out something in exasperation when she spoke, “O-Outside… in the garden, by the sauna.”
“A-and don’t get any ideas! I o-only chose that location because it would be easy to talk without anyone getting the wrong impression! My heart belongs only to Byakuya-sama! I have no interest in you!”
He threw his hands up again, “Okay! Jeez! I got it!”
She glared at him, then curled in on herself and looked to the side, eyes distant.
“You gonna go eat?” Fuyuhiko asked, mostly to break the tension. “The guys downstairs were kinda wondering where you were…”
She continued staring into space for the most part, “Tch. T-They don’t care about me...”
Fuyuhiko thought that what he’d encountered downstairs at least partially disproved that idea, but he didn’t say anything. At this point, without so much as saying goodbye, Fukawa departed for the elevator, passing him with no acknowledgement, and Peko with only a vague glare in her direction.
Fuyuhiko grit his teeth and shook his head.
After brushing it off when Peko asked him what he’d needed to talk to Fukawa about, and instructing her in a roundabout way to stay with the upstairs group, he headed downstairs and out to the back where there was a small enclosed area packed tightly with trees, a sauna building, and a couple of hot tubs built into the ground. While everything was nicely maintained and very ornate and decorated, the fake jungle atmosphere the place seemed to be going for wasn’t his favorite thing.
He sat on a bench outside the small sauna building, feeling tense as he scanned his surroundings for anyone coming and going. He was looking mostly for Fukawa, but also Chiaki, Peko, Kazuichi, and anyone else who he might not want to overhear his conversation.
He could just see far enough inside from where he was to be able to watch some of the goings-on. Hiyoko and Mahiru stood by the elevator, and every time the elevator would try to depart up, Hiyoko would push the button to open the doors and then turn around, pretending like she hadn’t done anything. At one point the doors opened and he watched Gundam and Sonia emerge from the elevator for the first time he’d seen them all morning. Sonia was talking excitedly to Gundam, and gesturing in the direction of where Fuyuhiko was pretty sure the food was located. Shortly after this, Nekomaru went racing onto the elevator, only for Hiyoko to open the doors again, causing him to exclaim something loudly and Hiyoko nearly to collapse laughing. Fuyuhiko watched as several students passed by the door, but only the girl in the other class with the purple hair, whose name he didn’t know yet, seemed to notice him where he was.
After what felt like a good hour, Fukawa appeared in front of the doors. She stood by herself at the edge of the vestibule and inched towards the back doors, keeping her eyes on the crowd and jumping whenever one of the other students would run by. For someone who was going virtually unnoticed, she seemed to be taking her time to slip away.
She had evidently been waiting for the area by the door to be completely clear, he realized as she finally exited the building. She saw him and shot him a venomous look as she was closing the door behind her, which he chose to interpret as just her way of greeting people, so as not to let it fuel his temper.
She slowly wove through the fake jungle-garden that was between them and arrived in the small, painted tile clearing where he sat, all without looking at him. She stood, appearing to be admiring one of the larger plants nearby and he was just about to lose it when she turned, abruptly, to face him.
“W-Why did you ask me for help?”
“D-Don’t bother saying it’s because you thought I was an expert…” she looked miserably down at the ground, “Y-You have to have noticed… Everyone has… I’ll bet you just did this to mock me.”
“What do you mean?”
She didn’t speak for a long time, and when she did it was with a sad kind of resolve, “I-If you’re serious, I can offer you some advice… I-It’s nothing groundbreaking, but…”
“What is it?”
She recoiled as soon as he spoke. “H-Hold on!” she cried, “B-Before I tell you anything, I want proof that you’re not just doing this to set me up! H-Helping you would mean d-divulging information I consider sacred!”
Fuyuhiko stared boiling underneath the surface with an emotion that was akin to aggravated disbelief, “What do you want me to do?”
He was highly aware of her movements over the next few seconds, in which she turned around and stared blankly at one of the upstairs windows for a moment, swallowed, and then turned back to face him with one arm folded over the other.
“I-I need some things… They may seem simple, b-but I can’t get them myself.”
“So you want me to bring you these things?” He groaned internally, wondering if this was really going to be worth the trouble, “and what do I get if do?”
“I-If you show me t-that you are serious by bringing me these things, t-then I will act as a romance c-consultant of sorts for you… b-but you can’t let anyone know I’m doing it, or everyone will want me to help them…”
“I wouldn’t,” said Fuyuhiko. “But how do I know you’re not just going to go back on your word once you have all the shit you want?”
Fukawa stared, as if the thought hadn’t quite occurred to her, or at least not in such blunt terms.
She looked off to the side, “I a-assume you want my help because you have a specific person that you… want…” Her eyes landed on him, “I-If you d-describe them to me, I can give you some advice now…”
Fuyuhiko felt himself tense and he eyed the courtyard quickly to make sure no one else was within earshot.
“Sure,” he said. “She...” he tried to focus on Chiaki and think of adjectives that described her, “She’s quiet, and nice…”
“Tch. I-If that’s all you’ve got, I can’t help you.”
Fuyuhiko struggled, “She’s someone you can depend on… and she always knows what to do…” His mental image of Chiaki was starting to blur a bit, but he kept going, “She’s smart, and strong…”
Fukawa sniffed, “From the depths of those adjectives, I’d say you have little more than a schoolyard crush on this person…” she sighed, “but I’ll help you, anyway.” She gave a small half turn, back towards the bush she’d been examining earlier. She seemed deep in thought for a moment, but eventually began to speak, with a profound air about her, “She’s probably someone who is used to taking care of things herself. She doesn’t look around for romance with the same thirst as the rest of us, and she probably doesn’t have any idea of your intentions.”
Fuyuhiko’s heart skipped a beat as he realized this could describe both Peko and Chiaki. His mind swam in a blur of curiosity and some warm feeling he couldn’t place.
“Yeah? So what do I do…”
Fukawa’s eyes narrowed at him, “O-Obviously you have to do something to let her know y-you feel that way!” she shook her head, “Or she’ll never know.”
“B-But don’t be stupid about it! You can’t just come out and say it… Y-you have to figure out how she wants you to show her…”
“Yeah?” Fuyuhiko almost-whispered, hoping there was more.
“Yes…” Fukawa said in a matter-of-fact tone. “T-That’s all I can tell you for now…”
Fuyuhiko realized too late that he probably didn’t conceal the disappointment on his face.
“So what were these things I was supposed to get?”
Fukawa suddenly looked unduly nervous. She appeared to be picking at her index fingernail as she responded, “For one, I need a pair of shoes.” She looked at him, “w-with stiletto heels.”
“M-My reasons are not part of the deal!” she hissed, jabbing a finger at him, though behind that she looked more fearful than angry.
“Okay, fine!” growled Fuyuhiko, forcing himself to calm through the last syllable. “What else?”
Fukawa made a strange whine and looked away, only to turn back a second later and level a dead-serious face at him, “I need a dress… a-and not just any dress… one that makes me look like those women they put on the covers of those shit romance novels they sell in grocery stores.”
Fuyuhiko was inclined to ask ‘Why do you want to look like that?’ but thought better of it.
Fukawa continued, “I need makeup, and a scarf, and…” she hesitated, “a wig.”
“You planning to run away or something?”
“D-Do you want my help or not?”
Fuyuhiko sighed, “Fine.” He extended a hand, “Do we have a deal?”
She stared at his hand.
“I’m not going to shake your hand,” she muttered.
“B-But yes, we have a deal.”
Chapter 5: Beg Borrow Steal
Fuyuhiko’s mind was barely on the scenery as he stared out the rec room window. He rubbed his forehead, thinking back to his conversation with Fukawa, and committed to memory the items he was supposed to retrieve. Winning the bet had much to do with how quickly he was able to exchange them for the information he needed, and it didn’t help that he had next to no idea where to start.
The stuff she’d asked for was all the kinds of things that could be easily bought in a store, which raised some questions about why she wasn’t able to get them herself. The only thing he could conclude was that she didn’t want anyone seeing her with them.
Not that that helped him in any way.
He looked at the clock on the far wall. It was just after ten o’ clock now, and he knew the classes were scheduled to head out to some museum at one. He knew they were supposed to get some free time to roam around outside the hotel at some point, but he didn’t know if that included going to the areas where the shops were. Besides, on the chance that he lost the bet, he wasn’t crazy about spending much of his travel allowance on these items. He would have to get them some other way.
He turned his back to the window and scanned the rec room. It was mostly fitness equipment with a couple of parlor games wedged in. Sakura Oogami and Aoi Asahina were the only other people in the room besides him, with Aoi presently setting a rather brisk pace on one of the treadmills. Fuyuhiko would’ve expected Akane and Nekomaru to find and dominate the room for one of their training sessions, but somehow their exploration of the hotel hadn’t brought them there yet.
He sidestepped the weight bench he’d been standing behind and headed over to talk to Sakura and Aoi. Aoi didn’t notice him nearly as quickly as Sakura, who greeted him warmly when he approached.
“Hello, Kuzuryuu-san, would you like to work out with us?”
“Huh? Oh… nah… I mean, no thanks. I was uh… just wondering something...”
“What would that be?”
Fuyuhiko bit his lip. He realized It would probably be tactless and lead to a lot of unnecessary questions if he were to just come out and list off the items he needed for Fukawa. He would have to pick just a few and casually weave them into the conversation, but he wasn’t even sure that Aoi or Sakura would know where to find them. He was only acting on the logic that they were girls and all girls presumably had to know at least a little bit about where to find the kind of girly stuff he was after.
He knew at some level that he was wrong, but he was feeling desperate.
“Do you… Do you know if there’s gonna be like a group shopping trip any time soon?”
“I hadn’t heard of anything like that,” said Sakura. “It’s my understanding that this trip was to focus on educational outings.”
“Do you need something?” chirped Aoi, turning so she could face him more, which then had her running backwards on the treadmill.
“I uh… I’m supposed to pick up a dress… for my sister…” he lied. Though, he thought he could probably make it kind-of-not-a-lie and pick up a dress or something for Natsumi anyway.
“Oh,” said Aoi. “Well, I don’t think we’re going to any dress shops or anything… I could ask some-“
“That’s ok,” Fuyuhiko said a little too quickly. “I’ll just buy some shit when we get back and tell my sister I got it here.” He forced a chuckle into his voice, “She’s just being a brat again… She knew we weren’t going shopping.”
Fuyuhiko caught sight of the frown this put on Aoi’s face and decided to quickly bow out of the conversation. He sidled off around the treadmill behind Aoi and slipped out of the rec room, marking down in his memory that that had been a bust.
He sighed. He had to widen the scope of his search. After all, the dress wasn’t the only thing he was after. He needed makeup, shoes, a scarf and a wig besides that. His eyes traced the floral designs in the carpet as he made his way down the hall. Maybe he could think outside the box and persuade some of the others to give him some of these items.
A loud voice permeated the hall suddenly and got exponentially louder as the door in front of him to his left opened and a girl in a decorative miniskirt ensemble backed out into the hallway. “Geez! Will you hold still?” she called into the room she had just emerged from. “It’s just mascara, sis! Nobody’s throwing daggers at you!”
Fuyuhiko recognized the girl speaking as the same one who had been complaining at breakfast about Rome being ‘boring.’ Fuyuhiko was about to pass by with only a curious glance and an inward growl when the word ‘mascara’ rolled through his consciousness and it was like a puzzle piece slid into place.
He stopped where he was. The girl in the hall took notice and addressed him with her hands on her hips, “Oi, what are you staring at?”
Fuyuhiko blinked and ignored what he recognized to be a loaded question, “Are… you doing makeup?”
A second girl, the one with the short black hair, joined the first in the doorway.
“Yeah… my sister’s…” the first girl sighed, “Only it would’ve turned out a lot better if she’d just held still!”
At this point Fuyuhiko noticed the watercolor-like splotches of makeup in various places on the girl’s face. There were large smears of black pigment around her eyes and a long trail of what he guessed was red lipstick across her school blouse.
“Junko…” said the girl. “When you’re in battle and something comes at your eyes, you move.”
‘Junko’ tutted and waved a finger in the other girl’s face, “But you’re not in battle anymore!” she said with a fake-pout. “You’re with your dear sister who’s just trying to do your makeup!”
“You almost put that pencil in my cornea…”
Junko looped her arm over the other girl’s shoulders, “It’s called tight-lining, sweetie!”
Fuyuhiko almost thought better of interrupting, but he was on a deadline, “Hey, do you suppose I could uh… borrow some of your makeup?”
He tried to smile, but was pretty sure it came out a grimace, as he waited for their reaction.
To his surprise, Junko’s face split into a warm grin and she abandoned her hold on her sister to clap a hand on his shoulders instead.
“Sure!” she cried, a second later crouching down to meet him eye to eye, “But sharing makeup is gross… I’ll just give you some I haven’t used! I don’t really need it, after all!” She let out a bubbly laugh that somehow unnerved him and released her grip on his shoulders. “Come on in!”
Her hips swayed in front of him as she marched back into the hotel room. Her sister folded in the door shortly behind her.
The first thing Fuyuhiko noticed when he walked in the door was the overwhelming mesh of fragrances that came over him a big wave. He looked around, trying to find the source of them, only to be thrown off by the multicolored lights strung around the room, the stuffed animals hung from the ceiling in a variety of poses, and the animal print blankets draped over nearly every surface.
“This is such a boring hotel…” Junko moaned. “First thing I did when I got in here was decorate, you know? Liven the place up!”
“Yeah, it’s nice…” Fuyuhiko managed. Again, mostly a lie.
Junko meandered over to the dresser and Fuyuhiko just barely averted his eyes before she stooped down and yanked out one of the dresser drawers.
He kept his eyes on the side wall until he heard her voice next to him, “Here. These are my dupes.”
He turned and started a little at how close Junko was now. She happily held out a large zippered animal-print bag in his direction.
“I am totally in favor of guys wearing makeup, by the way.”
“That’s not…” he started to protest, but realized he’d probably have to explain his deal with Fukawa and possibly Kazuichi if he did. “I mean,” he sighed, “don’t tell anybody, yeah?”
“Don’t worry, I won’t say a word!” Junko nudged him with the bag and he seized it hesitantly. Once he had taken it, she held up her hand, “Bear’s honor!”
“That’s not going to mean anything to him,” her sister cut in.
“Okay, uh, thanks…” Fuyuhiko spit out, not quite sure what else to say.
Junko cocked her head to the side, a grin plastered all over her face, “If you stick around, I’ll even teach you how to use them!”
“That’s okay… I’ll uh… figure it out. Thanks again.”
“Okaaay!” Junko called after him as he backed out the door, “If you get super good you should totally do video tutorials! You got a cute face—and then maybe my sister can learn from you!”
Fuyuhiko grit his teeth and walked quickly away from the room, feeling his face heating up at the mention of his ‘cute face.’ Any other day he might have dropped his prize and turned around to give Junko a piece of his mind but, as he reminded himself, he’d gotten what he needed and he couldn’t afford to do that now.
He tucked the leapord-print bag under his arm, angling it away from any open doorway he passed. He picked up speed and made an almost-dash for the elevator, desperate to stow the bag before anyone saw it and asked what he was doing.
Thankfully there was no one in the elevator when the doors opened, and he made sure there would be no one else by pressing the ‘door close’ button within seconds of being inside. The doors still closed too slowly for his liking, but they did close, and he descended to the third floor.
The doors opened on his floor and he stepped out, nervously clutching the bag to his side. He quietly made his way to the bend in the hall at the end of the elevator bay and peered around the corner towards his room.
The only two souls in the hallway were Mondo and Kiyotaka, the latter of which was currently banging loudly on one of the doors on the opposite side of the hallway.
“Tanaka-kun! This is unacceptable behavior! Open this door at once!”
After assessing the scene for a few seconds, Fuyuhiko concluded that the two were probably too absorbed in what they were doing to pay much attention to him.
He resettled the bag under his arms and made his best attempt to walk cooly down the hallway and to his room. Mondo briefly eyed him but didn’t say anything and Kiyotaka didn’t turn around at all. Fuyuhiko swiped his card key and slipped into the room.
He blanked when he saw Ryota lying on the bed near the window. His roommate lowered the manga he was reading from his face and peered at Fuyuhiko with a look of confusion, “What’s that?”
Fuyuhiko looked down at the bag.
“I uh… forgot some stuff when I packed so I had to borrow it from one of the girls,” he tried. “What’s it to you?”
“That’s a rather large toiletries bag, isn’t it?” Ryota commented. “I can usually make do with a toothbrush, shampoo and deodorant.”
“I didn’t ask…” grunted Fuyuhiko.
Mitarai stared and blinked, but didn’t seem too offended. He nodded and went back to reading his manga while Fuyuhiko dropped the bag to the floor and kicked it under his own bed.
There was one thing for Fukawa taken care of.
He turned and sat on the edge of his bed for a minute, thinking about the remaining items on the shopping list he’d been given. He thought about the dress and the shoes and nearly burst out in a string of curses at the revelation that not only did he not know where to find them, he didn’t know what size Fukawa was.
He leaned forward and sank his head into his hands. He tried to focus. Maybe if he just got one more item this way, he could buy the rest in town. Maybe. What were the other things? A scarf and a wig. He groaned inwardly at the last one, resolving to come back to it later, but a scarf didn’t sound too hard.
However, the more he thought about it, the more he realized he only really knew one person who wore a scarf, and if that person was actually willing to part with one of his scarves, it would probably be full of hamster fur or some shit and he’d have to find a way to clean it.
If that was the case, then he’d better get going.
Chapter 6: Meeting of Minds
shorter chapter this time, but that's because the next good breaking point would have been a long ways away
If Fuyuhiko had to list the things that most surprised him when he walked in the the door to Gundam’s room, the first would have to be the presence of Sonia Nevermind, seated in a wingback chair near the bathroom, facing the entry door. The second would have to have been the giant furball of a hamster that ran by his feet. The third, would be the presence of a very large anime character plush peering at him from the bed Gundam wasn’t currently reclining on.
Neither one of them spoke upon his entry, which left him to come up with something to say. He realized he didn’t really know them that well, and a pleasant salutation evaded him completely once a high-pitched squeaking met his ears.
“You brought your hamsters on the trip?” he asked, as another one of the rodents ran across the trip of his shoe.
Sonia spoke up, rather than Gundam, “The Four Dark Devas of Destruction are quite comfortable here.”
“Obviously…” said Fuyuhiko. He side-eyed the built-in hotel room cabinet and noticed another hamster was chewing at the base of the fridge compartment.
“Do not disrespect beings who dwell on a superlative plane to yours. State your business and be done,” Gundam bellowed from the bed, stretching out with his arms behind his head.
Fuyuhiko grit his teeth behind closed lips. The first half of Gundam’s sentence was lost on him, but he could certainly ‘state his business.’
“I just wanted to borrow something… if you got it.”
Gundam raised an eyebrow and rocked forward, casting his legs over the side of the bed to sit up. He extended a bandaged finger in Fuyuhiko’s direction, “Before you taint this temporal dwelling any further I demand to know of your alliances with the bearers of light!”
Fuyuhiko decided he wouldn’t bother to parse out that one. He tiredly looked to Sonia.
Sonia smiled and pressed her fingers together, “Gundam and I wish to know if you were sent in here by the ones outside?”
“You mean Ishimaru and them? Fuck no.”
Sonia gave a small nod of approval, “In that case, with what can we help you?”
Fuyuhiko sighed, “I need to borrow… a scarf.”
Gundam’s eyes narrowed and Sonia drummed her fingers together, nodding thoughtfully.
“Well,” said Sonia, “I am sure either Gundam or I could provide you a scarf… but may I ask what it is for? It is quite warm here.”
Fuyuhiko eyes widened a bit and he quickly averted his gaze to the ceiling, “I got this… friend… who wants a scarf.”
He kept his eyes desperately fixed on the ceiling light fixture, pretending to be stoic, certain that if he looked down, something in his face would give away what was really going on.
Sonia spoke softly, “I see… is this perhaps a romantic gesture you wish to extend to this person?”
Fuyuhiko’s face twisted in on itself. He held back the reflexive answer ‘no,’ thinking of Fukawa, just long enough to form some sort of vague connection between her, Chiaki, and Peko that would allow him to feel better spitting out, “I uh… sorta… You know… she likes scarves.”
He looked down to check if his mild fib had landed only to see Sonia stand and clap her hands together excitedly, “Ah! How wonderful! I knew you had it inside you, Kuzuyruu-san!”
He felt an unpleasant jolt course through him, “What are you talking about?”
Gundam nodded, “It is a noble thing indeed.”
“What are you guys talking about?”
Sonia paused, then turned and tapped her chin with her finger, “Forgive me, Kuzuryuu-san, but… I saw you out in the garden today…”
The hair on the back of Fuyuhiko’s neck bristled.
“You were clearly waiting for someone… I assumed it was a rendezvous that was romantic in nature…”
“But then I saw the writer, from the other class, exit out the door.”
“You- you did?”
“Oh! Please, do not be ashamed, Kuzuryuu-san! From what I’ve heard Fukawa-san may be rough around the edges but on the inside she is quite…”
“It isn’t Fukawa!” Fuyuhiko blurted out a little too quickly. He regretted the outburst once he had to take in Sonia and Gundam staring back at him with concerned looks on their faces. “I mean yeah, I was talking to her but… the scarf is for… Nanami.”
He didn’t like that he was gradually becoming more adept at flat-out-lying as this went on, but he also didn’t want to spill his entire circumstances to any one person, and the answer seemed to satisfy Sonia and Gundam, at least for the time being.
Sonia beamed, “Oh! Nanami!” she sounded like she was tasting the last name as she pronounced it. “That is wonderful, Kuzuryuu-san! I am sure that either Tanaka-san or myself can furnish you a scarf for the occasion… right, Tanaka-san?”
Tanaka nodded, but crossed his arms, “Indeed, but reparations must be paid for such a sacrifice.”
Sonia nodded in thoughtful agreement.
Fuyuhiko looked back and forth between the two of them, feeling agitated, “Yeah? What do you want? Money?”
“Feh!” Gundam spat, rising from the bed. “A being such as I would have no need for tokens of temporal affluence!”
Sonia cut in, quickly, “We were hoping you might be able to convince Tanaka-san’s roommate to trade with a roommate of our choice.”
Fuyuhiko stared, “You… you know that’s against the rules, right?”
Sonia shrugged, “If you are concerned about Ishimaru, I assure you, I have ways of persuading him, but until the agreement of both roommates is secured, I am afraid I am unable to leave this room.”
Fuyuhiko mulled this over for a few seconds, “Okay, so… assuming I do the legwork and get -whoever- to agree to the switch… which I’m not saying I’m going to do… If I do that… then I can have the scarf?”
Sonia and Gundam nodded in unison.
“Can I at least know why this is so important?”
Sonia placed her hands in her lap and looked to Gundam, who had a foot up on the bed and was intently gazing at the far wall with folded arms.
“It would seem the one I have been paired with is of a lineage that has long been engaged in conflict with my own. The longer I spend with him in this room, the more I can feel my energies being drained. That, and the fool almost took his own life by attempting to encase one of the Four Dark Devas of Destruction.”
“Okay… fine… so who’s the other guy I’d be asking?”
Sonia laced her fingers together, and responded with a calm that actually kind of bothered Fuyuhiko, “I wish for you to ask Ibuki Mioda.”
Fuyuhiko erupted, “Are you serious? You know there’s no way in hell anyone is going to let a girl trade into one of the…”
“Kuzuryuu-san…” Sonia interrupted him and her voice suddenly became a lot more forceful, “as I believe I told you, securing permission would not be your concern… I have ways of persuading anyone I need to in order for this to happen.”
Fuyuhiko wasn’t quite sure what it was in Sonia’s voice and mannerisms that infected him at that point, but he nodded, “So all I have to do is get Yamada and Mioda to agree to this?”
Fuyuhiko elected to ignore Sonia’s word choice and instead focused on processing what he’d been asked to do. He didn’t like that he’d made so many promises in such a short amount of time, but another part of him felt like he’d never see the light at the end of the tunnel if he didn’t keep going.
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll do it.”
Sonia almost squealed with delight, and Gundam gave an approving nod.
“Excellent, Kuzuryuu-san!” Sonia exclaimed, rising from the chair and rushing over to clasp his hand in hers.
“I mean, I can’t make any promises, but I’ll try…”
“I am certain that both parties will agree to the terms once they learn all the details!” said Sonia. She sidestepped Fuyuhiko and made for the door, which she opened and stood expectantly beside it, using her foot to block one of the hamsters from running out.
Fuyuhiko interpreted that as his cue to leave, and was proven right when he stepped out into the hall and had the door closed very quickly behind him.
While staring blankly at the hall wallpaper, Fuyuhiko took a moment to reflect on what he was doing. His conversation with Sonia and Gundam came in as a blur, and he could scarcely remember agreeing to their plan, but he knew he had.
Why was he doing this again? For a car? He frowned. It wasn’t just for a car. If he wanted, he could get in that car and drive as far as he could away from everyone and everything. No more of his parents’ enemies, no more of the bullshit expectations, no more screaming matches at one in the morning… Shit.
He imagined himself in the car. It was dark inside because he was driving at night and all the windows were tinted. He had his hands on the wheel and could see the red stitching in the black leather and when he turned the wheel it steered like a dream and there was a really nice stereo and when he looked over in the passenger seat…
…there was Peko.
His throat felt dry. He realized if he did this, then maybe he really could run, and he could take her with him-- away from his idiot parents and everyone in their employ who had raised her to think she was only his tool. They could be together—no more fear, no more confusion, no more hiding, no more shit for her to save him from…
…no more “bocchan” in his ear.
He felt his heart speeding up in his chest and a small, hopeful smile crept onto his face, but he banished it the second he thought he heard someone coming, and opted instead to race down the hallway to the elevator.
He figured Ibuki would be easier to convince than Yamada.
Chapter 7: Conditions are Met
Come on, come on…
Fuyuhiko swore he could hear footsteps behind him as he urged the elevator doors to open. He bounced on his heels and pressed the elevator button a few more times before the doors finally parted.
He had been hoping for it to be empty, but two students waited for him—the two from earlier who had been escorting Fujisaki to the breakfast area.
“Oh, hello, going down?” the brown-haired boy asked once he saw Fuyuhiko. Fuyuhiko noticed one of his hands hovered over the door threshold, keeping the doors from closing.
Fuyuhiko hesitated, a little too aware of the searching gaze that fell upon him from the purple haired girl on the boy’s left.
“Y-yeah…” was all he could manage. At that point, he could have sworn he heard the footsteps again, which prompted him to quickly board the elevator.
Once inside, he turned around and scanned the hallway for a second before allowing the brown haired boy to close the doors. He realized he hadn’t been able to identify the source of the footsteps, and that didn’t sit well with him.
“Which floor?” the purple-haired girl prompted.
“Ground...” Fuyuhiko muttered. He looked up at the girl, trying to give off an intimidating stare to get her to leave him alone, but if he had even been able to muster one, it had no effect whatsoever on her. She merely stared at him for a few more seconds, expression unreadable, and then turned away.
There was silence in the elevator save for the usual elevator noise and the tiny ding of the bell with every floor they passed. Fuyuhiko breathed deeply, and was attempting to refocus on the task at hand, when the brown-haired boy cleared his throat and turned to his female companion.
“Kirigiri-san? The reason we’re doing this… it isn’t because of your father being on this trip, is it?”
Fuyuhiko looked up. Kirigiri? Until now, he hadn’t been able to place the girl before, but now he remembered she was the daughter of the principal of Hope’s Peak and, if memory served, a rather prominent homicide detective.
Her facial expression didn’t change at all as she spoke, furthering the conversation as if Fuyuhiko wasn’t even there, “What brought you to that conclusion?”
“Well, I started thinking about it the last time… I mean… he was right there and…”
“Do you think I would place you in a compromising position?”
“I guess not…”
Kirigiri sighed lightly and angled herself a little more towards the other boy, such that Fuyuhiko could no longer see her face, “Naegi-kun, while your concerns are valid, I can assure you that my father’s attendance on this trip has little to no bearing on my request.”
‘Naegi’ smiled and rubbed the back of his head, “I believe you, it’s just…”
The bell rang as the doors opened, and Kirigiri stepped out into the lobby, leaving Naegi, who gestured politely to Fuyuhiko to go first, which he did, but only because he was in a hurry.
He was vaguely aware of Naegi scrambling to catch up with Kirigiri as she headed in the opposite direction. His only thoughts right now were on finding Ibuki and getting one step closer to heaving the whole mess he’d gotten into this morning behind him.
He had no intention of seeking her out himself, however, so once he entered the breakfast area he made a beeline for the table where a recognizable figure in an apron sat across from his former homeroom teacher and the principal, Jin Kirigiri.
It only occurred to him to slow down once he was a few feet from the trio, and he figured he must have looked pretty conspicuous going from the awkward speedwalk he’d been doing before to an equally-awkward and slow meandering up to the table.
The adults didn’t really seem to notice or pay much attention, though Chisa might have if her back hadn’t been to him at the time.
“So, will your daughter be joining us?” Fuyuhiko overheard Chisa asking as he approached.
“I don’t think so— I actually haven’t seen her all morning.”
Koichi, to Jin’s left, tipped the brim of his hat and gestured with his head in Fuyuhiko’s direction, “It looks like we have company.”
Fuyuhiko froze as Chisa turned around and all three of the faculty members’ eyes locked on him.
“Do you need something, Kuzuryuu-san?” she asked brightly.
Fuyuhiko’s eyes darted between the three, apprehensive, “I uh-- was looking for Mioda. Do you know where she…”
“She’s in the garden,” Chisa answered over the end of his sentence. With a smile, she added, “I told her the breakfast area was not an appropriate place for her to practice her guitar—so she’s outside.”
Given what Fuyuhiko remembered of Ibuki’s solo performances, he wasn’t sure anywhere on the hotel property qualified as an appropriate setting, but nevertheless he thanked Chisa and sidled backwards away from the table, choosing to ignore the vague look of concern on her face as he did so.
He walked quickly out of the breakfast area and then broke into something of a jog to reach the back door. He wove through the building crowd of tourists pouring out from the elevators and nearly rammed his knee into a potted plant before making it to the iron door that led out to the back enclosure.
He checked once over his shoulder, and then pushed through the doors out into the garden.
Three seconds in the garden area and he started to feel a bit foolish because he realized if he’d been anywhere near a window he probably could have figured out where Ibuki was. Harsh notes from an electric guitar blasted out from somewhere to his right. When he looked, he saw Ibuki standing at the edge of the pool, hammering away on the strings of her guitar with several electrical cords laced around her feet and weaving around precariously close to the water’s edge. He could have sworn he saw the water rippling from the vibrations, fanning out from where Ibuki stood.
Fuyuhiko took off, racing for the pool and the guitar player, the latter of whom turned just as he reached her—just enough to drag one of the cables within inches of a large puddle. Fuyuhiko leapt over the cables and when he reached Ibuki, grabbed the neck of the guitar to prevent her from turning any further.
He stood in a rather uncomfortable position, straddling three cables that continued to slink along the pavers as Ibuki moved. Ibuki stopped playing and looked to him, probably mostly just because his hand on the neck was stopping the strings from vibrating.
“Ehh?” Ibuki cried, “Fuyuhiko-chan is here? But Ibuki was in the middle of practicing!”
Fuyuhiko realized that he was still stretched out rather dramatically over the cables with his hand on the guitar and resettled himself so that he stood off to the side instead.
“Yeah, uh… listen… can you stop practicing for a minute? I need to talk to you.”
“Has Fuyuhiko-chan come to declare his love for Ibuki? If so, Ibuki already has a special someone who…”
“Then Fuyuhiko-chan came to practice!” Before Fuyuhiko could contradict or stop her, Ibuki stripped off the guitar sash and thrust the guitar she’d been playing into his hands. “You can have this! Ibuki wants to play the electric triangle now!”
She turned around and started digging in a large suitcase that lay open off near the hedges.
“No wait! I didn’t come here for that! I came here to ask you if you would trade rooms!”
Ibuki stopped digging in the bag and seemed to freeze in place. A moment later, she slowly stood up to her full height and turned around.
It was hard to tell what her exact emotion was, but Fuyuhiko decided ‘confused’ had to be pretty close.
“Fuyuhiko-chan wants Ibuki to trade rooms with him?”
“N-No, not with me…” Fuyuhiko stammered, “with Tanaka’s roommate. Sonia sent me to…”
“Ibuki would be rooming with him?”
“Yeah, you would be… Listen, if you don’t want to, I can just tell Sonia…”
“Grraaaghh! Ibuki loves the idea!”
Fuyuhiko was surprised, and more than surprised when Ibuki ran over to him and threw her arms around him in a jovial embrace, pinning the guitar to his chest in the process.
“Of course!” she yelled across his shoulder, “Ibuki’s roommate sleeps all the time! Ibuki would be happy to bunk with Gundam-chan!” She released Fuyuhiko from the hug. “Ibuki will get her stuff and move up there now!”
“O-okay, I just need to…”
Before he could finish, however, Ibuki ripped the guitar out of his hands and raced away, yelling something about music at night which Fuyuhiko doubted Gundam would be that thrilled about.
It then occurred to him that he would need to find Yamada and fast.
Fuyuhiko rushed back into the building, into the breakfast area, which was becoming increasingly crowded, and scanned the area for Yamada. He noticed that the three faculty members he’d spoken to earlier were still at their table, so he guessed he probably had some time before the whole group would be leaving.
Still, he couldn’t help but feel that he should have done things in a different order when he remembered that Ibuki was on her way up to a hotel room that, as far as Yamada knew, he still occupied.
Fuyuhiko grit his teeth. That would have to be where he went next.
He sidestepped the remaining students at the pastry bar and, as quickly as he could move without being too conspicuous, slipped out of the breakfast area. Once out, he made something of a dash for the elevator, only to see it close on a full load of hotel patrons moments before he got there.
He veered away from the bank of elevators and nearly leapt onto the landing of the curving staircase nearby. He knew by now how he had to look, but continued to move as quickly as he could manage up the stairs, swearing and fuming internally as he counted off each floor. When he finally got off at the third, he caught sight of Yamada, just before the 78th class student disappeared around a corner.
Fuyuhiko put on a burst of speed and aimed to hug the corner, hearing his footsteps get louder as he pounded the floor in an attempt to move faster.
“Yamada!” he called out. He reached the apex of the turn and pivoted…
…only for his face to collide with something soft which launched him backwards and had him tumble onto the hallway carpet.
“Shit!” he cried out once he realized what had happened. He reached out, fumbling to get his hands beneath him so he could get up.
“Why were you running?” came a voice that he knew too well.
He froze in the middle of pushing himself up, and rolled over to face the person who had spoken. When he did, he was met with Peko’s red eyes boring into him from above. Beyond her, Yamada, having probably turned around to react to the commotion, stood a few feet down the hall.
Fuyuhiko was out of breath, so all he could manage was to point at Yamada and utter, “Him… I came to talk to him…”
“Me?” Yamada clapped a hand to his chest. “What words could Fuyuhiko Kuzuryuu-dono wish to have with me?”
Fuyuhiko ignored Peko’s outstretched hand and forced himself to his feet.
“It’s about your fucking roommate…” he spat. It came out a lot harsher in tone than he’d wanted it to, but that was in part because he was still winded and also because he felt mildly embarrassed from the run in with Peko, which he still hadn’t really addressed.
“Oh…” Yamada’s face clouded with animosity. “I don’t want anything to do with him.”
“Well that’s good, because he doesn’t want anything to do with you, either,” Fuyuhiko returned. “Matter of fact, he and Sonia sent me to come ask if you would trade.”
“The fiend! To kick me out of my safe zone? My customizable space?” Yamada shrieked. “You tell him…”
Panic and anger and a good ‘fuck you’ that Fuyuhiko had been holding back for a while threatened to pop out of him all at once, but he choked them back, settling for the possibly more productive answer, “I’m not telling him shit! Look, you both hate eachother and they were hoping to work out a trade, but if you really want away from him you’ve got like ten seconds to grab your shit and move upstairs!”
“Did you not hear me? Yeah, upstairs! Ibuki Mioda is coming down here with her shit and then you’re gonna need to decide if you’re gonna move upstairs or fight it out with Tanaka.”
“Upstairs?” Yamada repeated, voice quivering. “W-With the girls?”
Fuyuhiko’s face fell. As Yamada’s facial expression melted from one of anger to one Fuyuhiko recognized and didn’t like, he felt a sinking in his gut.
“Shit… you know what, never mind… I’ll tell them the deal is off.”
“No! No! T-There’s no need for that! I-I shall humbly accept defeat! Just let me collect my inventory and I will be on my way!”
“Forget it…” grumbled Fuyuhiko. “You’re probably a fuckin’ perv… I don’t know what Sonia was thinking..”
“No no! Fuyuhiko Kuzuryuu-dono! I assure you, I have no interest in the female form aside from that which exists within the realm of 2-D! There is no one safer to be entrusted with the coed assignment than myself!”
Fuyuhiko arched an eyebrow, “Really?”
“I swear upon the highest authority known to fandom!”
“Fine,” Fuyuhiko breathed. He looked to Peko, but she didn’t give any indication as to what she might have been thinking. He turned back to Yamada, and loudly proclaimed, “But you gotta promise that whatever girl you get a room with you treat her right, you understand? Or else you’ll have to deal with me.”
“Understood, Fuyuhiko Kuzuryuu-dono!”
With that, Yamada raced off down the hall, heading toward what evidently was soon to be Gundam and Ibuki’s room. Fuyuhiko took a deep breath in, and resolved that he would go collect the scarf later. He was just too tired now.
Fuyuhiko jumped and both he and Peko turned to see Chisa Yukizome emerge from the elevator bay. She strode towards them with her usual confidence, but some type of concern in her facial features.
“Kuzuryuu-san, I need to speak with you…”
Chapter 8: Means and Mercy
Chisa stood, facing Fuyuhiko with folded arms. She hadn’t said anything the whole time he’d been following her up to the fourth floor, and now she was just staring at him as they stood outside the door to what was evidently her room, at the far back of the hall on the girls’ floor.
It was a far less than ideal situation, but Fuyuhiko tried to play it cool. He cleared his throat, “So, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?”
Peko had tried to follow, but Chisa had asked her to go down and get ready for the day’s outing, something Fuyuhiko had seconded for the sake of possibly smoothing things over with Chisa. Peko obliged, and that exchange marked the last words Fuyuhiko had heard from Chisa, until now.
Chisa shook her head, “Kuzuryuu-san, I’m sure you know that trading rooms, or arranging such a trade, is an out-of-bounds activity on this trip.”
Fuyuhiko swallowed, “Y-Yeah?”
“I overheard your conversation with Yamada-san, and I must say, I’m disappointed…”
Fuyuhiko couldn’t think of much to say beyond, “Yeah, well… am I in trouble or something?”
Chisa’s face fell and she folded her hands in front of herself, apparently in deep thought. Fuyuhiko bit the corner of his lip as he waited for an answer.
“No,” Chisa finally said.
Fuyuhiko started, and opened his mouth to issue something that would have probably been somewhere between a protest and an ‘are you sure?’ type of statement before Chisa held up a hand to silence him.
“I will not report you… However, I wish to understand something…”
Fuyuhiko nodded, feeling his throat going dry.
“Normally, when I observe you, you keep to yourself, you act unfriendly towards your classmates, and are reluctant to be acknowledged when you do something to help…” She frowned, “Running around doing favors for your peers and taking on the role of mediator doesn’t line up with your usual mode of behavior, Kuzyuruu-san.”
Fuyuhiko tried a weak half-smile, “Well w-what can I say? Maybe something in this city’s gotten to me…”
Chisa raised a finger and tapped her chin. “Maybe,” she murmured. She then leveled an empty gaze at him that he found startling, “Or maybe you have something else to gain?”
“Kuzuyruu-san!” came an excited voice from behind him, which he recognized to be Sonia. He noticed that Chisa’s gaze had departed him to focus on what was probably Sonia approaching and, internally grateful for the break in the conversation, he turned to see Sonia jogging lightly up the hall with a piece of folded fabric in her hands.
She slid to a stop right in front of him, beaming, “Kuzuryuu-san! Thank you evermuch for the favor you bestowed on myself and Tanaka-san this morning! As promised, we have been able to provide you with the scarf you requested!”
Fuyuhiko was mildly alarmed that Sonia would spell out as many details as that with Chisa right there, but didn’t have a chance to voice his concern as the mint-colored fabric clump was shoved into his open hand.
In addition, Sonia grabbed his remaining hand with both of hers and raised it up to her chest-level, suddenly taking on a relatively serious demeanor as she spoke, “and as well, if you ever find yourself in need of a space to be alone with your special someone… let me know and I will personally see to it!”
Fuyuhiko almost choked.
She released his hand and brightly concluded with a wave, “See you downstairs Fuyuhiko-san, Yukizome-sensei!”
Fuyuhiko watched as Sonia almost-skipped away down the hall. When she disappeared from view and he finally turned around, Chisa’s knowing facial expression was almost too much to bear.
“All right,” he growled, “I did a favor for Sonia and Tanaka because they said they had a scarf I could have… is that against the rules?”
“No,” said Chisa in an unfittingly pleasant tone.
Fuyuhiko had been expecting more, and the lack of confrontation served to throw him off, “So yeah, that’s it…”
“And the scarf is for Fukawa-san?”
That question, which Chisa pronounced like she was asking him what he’d had for breakfast, tore Fuyuhiko’s resolve to pieces. Before he could really get a handle on what he was saying, he found the words tumbling out of his mouth, “So you know everything, huh? Yeah, okay, shit! Fine! The scarf is for Fukawa, who said she’d help me if I got her all this weird shit like a dress and a scarf and some shoes and shit and yeah, that’s why I’ve been running around like a fucking madman all day and trying to…”
“Kuzuryuu-san, it’s all right…”
Fuyuhiko froze where he was, which happened to be in a partial crouch with his fingers curled in a gesture of aggravation.
“Wait here, please…” Chisa said.
With that, she drew a card key from the pocket of her apron, and swiped it on the lock to her room. Fuyuhiko heard the door unlatch and he watched as Chisa slipped inside, closing the door behind her.
For a moment, while she was inside, he debated running for it, but he wasn’t sure what good that would do… and she had said she wasn’t going to report him, right?
While he was mulling this over, Chisa emerged from the room, carrying a pair of black stiletto heels with her fingers tucked into the back. She held them out in front of him with one hand and tucked the key card back in her apron.
“W-Wha- What are you doing?” he sputtered, eyeing the shoes with a mixture of confusion, hesitance and opportunistic hunger.
“Give these to Fukawa-san,” Chisa instructed.
Fuyuhiko looked to her with uncertainty.
Chisa nodded, a stern look on her face, “They will fit her, don’t worry.”
Fuyuhiko shook his head, “I-I- can’t…”
“Take them,” Chisa emphasized.
Reluctantly, Fuyuhiko rearranged the scarf so that it draped off his forearm, and then reached up and took the shoes with both hands. He stared at the shoes for a while, taking in their construction, and noting their solidity. Then, his gaze fell to the ground below the shoes in what he supposed was an emotion akin to shame.
“Why would you help me?” he blurted out.
There was silence for a while before he looked up to see Chisa smiling, “I was your age once, Kuzuryuu-san. While I will refrain from further stating what I believe is going on, I’m glad to see you interacting with all your classmates the way you have, and I think you will learn something from all this.”
Fuyuhiko swallowed, and opened and closed his mouth, not quite managing any of the things he meant to say.
“Besides, if I am also correct about what is happening with Fukawa-san, there’s a lesson she needs to learn herself.”
Chisa nodded, “But that’s not a conversation for now… You’d better get ready to get on the bus-- we’ll be leaving soon!”
“I uh… yeah… right…” Fuyuhiko stammered, before forcing out the words, “Thank you.”
“Do not worry about it, Kuzuryuu-san…”
That was evidently to be the last word, for while he was still standing there, Chisa stepped around him and made her way off down the hall, humming jovially and loudly enough that he could hear her for some time after she was out of view.
He looked down at the things in his arms and decided it would be a good time to stash them in his room.
Back down on the fourth floor, Fuyuhiko had the hall mostly to himself, and guessed that most of his classmates were already down waiting for the bus, as Chisa had suggested. He didn’t see Yamada or Peko and took that to mean that the former had finished moving his things out of the room or whatever he’d been going to do, and that Peko…
…well, he could always find her on the wait for the bus, he supposed.
With what he recalled as more than half of the items collected, he was beginning to feel something in the way of accomplishment. He only needed one more item and he would be able to turn the items in to Fukawa.
With these thoughts rolling around in his head, he almost blew by Nagito, who was standing in the middle of the hallway, staring at a large piece of wine-colored fabric draped over his arms. Fuyuhiko saw him and didn’t think much of it, deciding he had probably just taken out the drapes in his room or something, until he got closer and noticed that the ‘drapes’ had fabric straps and a bit of embellishment on one end.
He stopped in his tracks.
Nagito continued to stare at what was most definitely a dress draped over his arms. Something about the scene rang back to some things Fuyuhiko had heard about Nagito’s talent, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on why the scene seemed so fitting.
That was, until he braved the question, “Hey uh… where did you get that dress?”
“Hmm?” Nagito looked up, acting as though he genuinely hadn’t expected Fuyuhiko to speak to him, “Oh you mean this one?”
“Yes…” said Fuyuhiko through gritted teeth. “You got another one in your pocket or something?”
Nagito laughed warmly, “A witty comment, Kuzuryuu-san.”
“Seriously, where did you get that? You steal it from one of the girls or something?”
Nagito shook his head and sighed, “No, unfortunately, I don’t know whose dress this is.”
Fuyuhiko’s face fell.
Nagito continued, “The airline lost my luggage… which, is pretty normal for me, actually… I’m very unlucky… but this time, they tried to correct it… only they sent me someone else’s instead.” He looked up at the ceiling, thoughtfully, “It did look like mine from the outside, so I can’t blame them, but I wish I could send it to the right owner…”
Nagito shook his head. “It seems the luggage tag had been cut off.”
“That’s uh… that’s too bad,” Fuyuhiko offered. He leaned in, trying to get a good look at the dress. From what he could see, it looked to be about Fukawa’s size.
Nagito shrugged, injecting a spritely laugh into the conversation, “Guess I’ll have to wear this outfit the whole time, then… I’m sure I can wash it in the sink.”
“They have a laundry here…” growled Fuyuhiko, “So let me get this straight, you got a suitcase full of clothes you don’t want?”
“Yeah…” sighed Nagito. “To be honest, I’d love it if someone would take them off my hands.”
Fuyuhiko took a quick look around the hallway to make sure no one was listening in before speaking, “I mean, fuck, I would…”
Nagito was evidently surprised by this, “Hmm? You mean it, Kuzuryuu-san?”
“Sure, I mean, why not.”
Before Fuyuhiko could do anything, Nagito raised the dress over the pile of things he was carrying and dropped it on top of the scarf and the shoes.
“I’ll be by with the rest once my roommate lets me back into our room!” Nagito called, dashing away, “Thank you very much, Kuzuryuu-san!”
Fuyuhiko waited until Nagito had gone, and then sprinted back to his own room, haul in hand.
Relatively speaking, he was on top of the world when he burst in the door to his hotel room—to the extent that he really didn’t care that Ryota watched from the armchair in the corner as he threw all the things he’d gathered across his bed and proceeded to count them out aloud.
“Okay, I got the shoes, and the makeup, and the dress…” He was almost giddy as he moved his index finger from one item to the next. “I got the scarf and…”
His finger hovered over a bare spot on top of the bedspread where something ought to have been.
He’d forgotten the wig.
With all the effort and branching out he’d gone through that morning, when that realization hit it felt like something had splintered inside him. He screamed in reflex, curling in on himself with his head in his hands as he roared with frustration that faded into desperation.
“Fuck! Fuck! Shit!”
Though a multitude of other thoughts were rolling through his head, it seemed the profanities were the only things that would come out of his mouth. How could he have forgotten the wig? It wasn’t like he had time to go get it before they left for wherever it was the class was going, even if he could, by some miracle of chance, figure out where to get one in this hotel.
Soft footsteps signaled Ryota’s approach behind him, and Fuyuhiko forced himself to stand and face him. When he did, he was moderately surprised by the concerned look on Ryota’s face.
“What’s the matter?” he asked, voice taking on a noticeably more forceful tone than Fuyuhiko was used to hearing from him.
Fuyuhiko shook his head. “It’s nothing,” he panted. “Forget it.”
“I don’t usually hear anyone exclaim like that…” Ryota commented. “Something must be very wrong.”
Fuyuhiko waved his hand in Ryota’s direction, “I just… forgot something, okay?”
“I noticed you race off at breakfast, and then I watched you meet with Fukawa-san in the garden, and then go out there to get Mioda-san. Abandoning breakfast is serious enough, but with all the running around you’ve been doing, it’s possible for you to plunge into caloric deficit…”
“You got a point to this, jackass?”
Ryota tilted his head back, “All I’m saying is it seems like you’ve taken on something that is more than you can handle alone. If you are willing to share the problem, then maybe I can help.”
Fuyuhiko took a breath, staring out the window. As discrete as he thought he had been, Chisa, Sonia, and Ryota, at least, had somehow been made aware of most of what he’d done that day. He was worn out, confused, and would have probably tried to punch the next person that offered to trade him or bet him something. Ryota’s offer of help, in contrast, fell rather melodically on his ears.
“Fine. I need a wig… Do you know where I could find one?”
Desperate as he was, he was not really expecting the question to yield an actual answer. He mostly thought it would cause Ryota to think for a while before ultimately admitting that he had no clue where to get something like that, and in so doing, make Fuyuhiko feel a little better.
What happened instead, was that Ryota looked at the ceiling in thought for a few seconds, retreated to his own luggage, undid the latch, and reached inside just far enough to produce a large green wig still in its original plastic wrappings when he withdrew his hand. He brought it over to Fuyuihiko and laid it rather unceremoniously on the bed next to all the other items.
“All you had to do was ask.”
Fuyuhiko speechlessly glanced back and forth between Ryota and the pristine wig laying on the bed.
He meant to say ‘thank you,’ but managed only the flustered question, “W-Why did you have that?”
Ryota shrugged, “It’s a cosplay wig for when I go to conventions. I brought it just in case.”
A small smile crept onto Fuyuhiko’s face. He ran a hand along the plastic surrounding the wig.
“Thank you, Mitarai. I owe you one.”
“Don’t mention it, Kuzuryuu-san.”
Chapter 9: Listen and Learn
Fuyuhiko tried to conceal his smugness as he made his way back up to Fukawa’s room. What he didn’t bother to conceal, mostly because it would have been impossible at this point, was the rather conspicuous pile of clothing and other such items cradled in his arms.
He decided that anyone who thought to say something at this point could shove it.
He arrived at the room he remembered to be Fukawa’s, and managed to juggle the pile in his arms just enough to free one hand, which he used to knock on the door.
He waited in silence for a moment. When no one answered, he tried again.
A voice from within bellowed at the door, “All right, I’m coming!”
Fuyuhiko withdrew his hand and resettled it under the pile, supporting the makeup bag and the shoes on top of it. He could hear the sound of feet slamming on carpet on the other side of the door before the lock clicked open.
Fukawa’s face appeared in the crack of the door, “What? What do you want?”
Fuyuhiko grunted, hoisting the pile up higher, presumably so she could get a better look, “It’s me. I got all the stuff you asked for.”
This was only met with silence while Fukawa’s gaze gravitated to the pile he held. The lack of a response would have further irritated Fuyuhiko, had it not simultaneously been setting off an alarm bell in his head.
“Remember? Our deal?” he emphasized, feeling a very minute note of panic welling up from his core to join the frustration.
Fukawa snorted, “Of course I remember. Give me a second, will you?”
The door was forcefully shut in Fuyuhiko’s face and then opened again a second later. Fukawa stood to the side, holding the door open by the handle. Something in the way she was looking at him gave him pause.
“What’s the matter? Are you coming in or not?”
Fuyuhiko snapped to attention and found that the uneasy feeling he’d been struggling with more-or-less vanished as he did. He nodded and stepped forward, diving into the darkness that was behind Fukawa.
If he thought it was dark in there before, it was twice as dark once she closed the door behind him. Fuyuhiko eyed the room dubiously. He didn’t like that the curtains were drawn. He didn’t like that the lights were all off. He didn’t at all like that Fukawa remained behind him.
He spun around to find her leaning against the wall by the door, propping herself up on her elbow with her hips jutting out to the side. Though he had had few interactions with Fukawa on the trip, and even fewer before that, it did not escape him that this was a very un-Fukawa-like posture.
“What are you doing?” he spit out, partially unnerved from the room being so dark and closed-off.
She shrugged, “Just getting a good look at you. I mean, I have to come up with love interests for my novels all the time and I could use the inspiration, you know?”
“Are… are you… hitting on me?”
She snorted, “Hardly. You may be easy on the eyes, but you’re still a shrinking violet compared to Byakuya-sama.” She shifted her balance onto her other hip and removed herself from the wall, eyeing the load in his hands. “You can put that anywhere you like.”
He watched her as she passed by in a kind of strut and seated herself in the desk chair at the far end of the room.
He turned and surveyed the area, trying to decide where to set the items he’d brought. Of the two beds in the room, the one that seemed the most inviting was the one closer to the door, which was neatly made with the covers tucked in and a laptop sitting squarely in the middle of the bedspread. The other, which was closer to Fukawa and the window, was unmade, covered in a menagerie of papers, and seemed to have the unpleasant smell that was characteristic of Fukawa emanating from it.
He deposited the items on the made bed in a neat pile and then turned to face his ‘host,’ who was presently rifling through some of the papers on the desk in front of her.
“So that’s it? Aren’t you going to help me?”
At this, Fukawa sat up and blinked a couple of times, as if remembering something. She then pivoted, rocked forward in the office chair and planted both feet a generous width apart on the floor. The indelicacy of the posture did not evade Fuyuhiko, and he was fairly certain, had Fukawa’s skirt not been so long, he would have been looking straight up it after that action.
“I never said I wasn’t going to help you…” she said. “But you need to tell me… who’s the mark?” Her voice became somewhat lower and growly.
“You didn’t need to know that earlier…” he said, tensing. “All you said was that if I got you that stuff, you’d tell me what I need to do to get a girlfriend.”
“Of course, of course…” Fukawa said, nodding. “So park it somewhere and I’ll give you my twelve-step program.”
Fuyuhiko nudged the pile to the side and sat down on the edge of the bed facing her. She crossed one leg over the other and propped her fingers against eachother in a tent shape, watching him with what he could only describe as a ‘floating’ stare.
Though he knew something was clearly off, he listened raptly as she began to speak.
“So the first thing you need to know is most girls are suckers for one of two types of boy…” she tilted her head to the side. “You got your really dominant kinda mysterious man, and your puppy-like sensitive, emotional type...” She paused, evidently for effect, because a second later she snorted with laughter and burst forth with the declaration, “You’re neither of those, so I’m gonna give you some too-good-for-the-tabloids type tricks to use, instead.”
“Tricks?” Fuyuhiko repeated.
“Yeah, you know… the little things… stuff that’ll rile her up and get her thinking about you more than she does now,” she jabbed a finger at him, “Beyond that, we’re in theoretical territory… I could give you my thesis, but let’s see how far you get, first!”
Fuyuhiko nodded carefully, but with a smile on his face, “Okay.”
Fukawa cleared her thoat, “So first tip is… make sure you’re next to her a lot… follow her if you have to…”
Fuyuhiko was confused, “You mean so we can talk?”
“No! Ugh, that’s so lame! Just stand there—I mean it!” she cut him off as he was trying to interject. “Haven’t you noticed in all that anime with the ensemble casts how people push together the characters who are caught standing next to eachother the most? It’s like, Psychology! Stand next to her and she’ll have no choice but to notice you, but don’t talk to her while you’re standing there or you’ll blow it… You want to preserve the mystery.”
Fuyuhiko nodded, thinking this over carefully.
There was a sharp glint in Fukawa’s eye and she crossed her legs back over the other way, “Also, Make sure you give her plenty of opportunities to check you out.”
“Really? You think she…”
“Trust me, people don’t give us girls enough credit… and if you’re worried about whether or not you got the assets to pull it off, you do… I wasn’t as-good-as-engaged to Byakuya-sama, I’d be all over you myself!”
“Don’t mention it.”
“But how do I…?”
She waved a hand dismissively, “Oh, you know, bend over when you don’t have to and stuff…”
Fuyuhiko could feel his face heating up as he plotted that out in his head, “S-Seriously?”
Fukawa shrugged, “Sure, it gets soo tiresome watching you guys be all bland and stoic and always hiding your body shapes. I say—show ‘em off!”
Fuyuhiko reached a hand up and rubbed his forehead, “I uh… don’t know if I could do that.”
“You take yourself too seriously. That’s a turn-off, by the way-- Be fearless, she’ll appreciate it.”
Fuyuhiko mulled this over, sucked a breath in and nodded, “Okay…”
“So yeah, what else? I guess you could play the whole ‘chivalry-isn’t-dead’ angle… be all gentlemanly and do stuff for her… but you gotta be careful with it… too much and you look like a grade-A wimp.” She shook her head and laughed heartily, “and any girl who’s worth a shit will eat you for breakfast.”
Fuyuhiko blinked, utterly perplexed by the harsh change in demeanor he was seeing out of Fukawa, but he couldn’t deny that this advice gave him insight he wouldn’t have had on his own.
“Okay, I think I got it, thanks.”
She leaned forward out of the chair and nodded vigorously as he stood up.
“No problem uh… what did you say your name was, again?”
“Fuyuhiko Kuzuryuu…” he answered, too busy parsing through what she’d said to determine whether he’d introduced himself by name already or not.
“Right, right, okay Kuzu… you better get out of here… no doubt some stodgy do-gooder will come looking for us, soon… Probably my roommate if I had to hazard a guess.”
Fuyuhiko stood and made his way to the door, made somewhat self-conscious by the fact that he knew Fukawa’s gaze was on him. He thanked her once more before he left, and then skirted out the door.
With nothing left to do that he could recall, Fuyuhiko made a dash for the elevator, thinking as he jogged along about the possible merits of Fukawa’s advice. He reasoned most of it was worth a shot anyway—you didn’t get into Hope’s Peak as a romance writer without knowing a thing or two about the topic.
When he emerged from the elevator on the first floor he nearly walked into Chisa Yukizome.
“Kuzuryuu-san,” she said, leaning into his face with her hands on her hips, “I know you have a lot going on right now, but your classmates have been waiting for you.”
“They’re all on the bus already?”
She nodded, “They are. You’d better hurry up and find a seat.”
He was fairly sure he nodded in agreement, but his mind was admittedly elsewhere. He tried to quickly and politely sidestep Chisa and put on a burst of speed as he headed out the front doors of the hotel.
He could get started on his newly refined plan if he could just get a seat next to Chiaki, but it sounded like the bus was pretty full. The odds of that working were slim, but maybe if he was lucky he could get a seat near her, or something.
As luck would have it, that was not what happened.
Chapter 10: At the Museum, Part I
“Don’t worry, I understand not wanting to sit next to trash like me.”
Fuyuhiko grit his teeth. He was far less than thrilled with the fact that his seatmate on the bus ride was Nagito Komaeda, but he supposed that wasn’t actually gnawing at him as much as the distance he’d inadvertently put between himself and Chiaki by getting on the bus too late. He sat in the second-to-last seat at the back of the bus, flanked on all sides by students who seemed to be trying not to fall asleep, a contrast to the more vibrant bunch towards the front. The only person who had gotten onto the bus later than he was Fukawa, who had been dragged on at the last possible second by Chisa and forced to sit up in the very front next to all the teachers due to there being no room left—something she didn’t look the least bit thrilled about.
Chiaki sat a few rows back from the front, next to Ibuki Mioda. She had her head down and Fuyuhiko guessed she was concentrating on another game. Ibuki was sitting on her knees, leaning over the seatback and talking animatedly to Ryota. Fuyuhiko noted that Peko sat about halfway back on the opposite side, next to some red-headed kid who was leaning into the aisle and trying very obviously to flirt with the idol from the other class.
“Dumbass,” hissed Fuyuhiko under his breath. Besides the fact that he didn’t think she looked interested, that wasn’t how you were supposed to go about getting a girl’s attention—well, according to Fukawa.
“Hmm?” said Nagito. “I’m sorry?”
Fuyuhiko looked at him and sighed, “I wasn’t talking to you.”
“Oh…” said Nagito, possibly disappointed. He was still for a second and Fuyuhiko thought maybe he would find something else to do, until he piped up, “That reminds me! When did you want the rest of those clothes?”
Fuyuhiko was still watching the boy next to Peko, who threw his arm back to balance himself when the driver had to brake, nearly hitting her in the face.
“I don’t know… shit… whenever.”
Nagito didn’t seem fazed by the hostility in his tone, “Okay, I’ll be sure to bring them over as soon as I can get my roommate to let me back into the room.”
“Don’t you have a key?”
“I should, shouldn’t I? But I lost two within the first ten hours and my roommate keeps the last two on him so they won’t get lost.”
Fuyuhiko was only halfway processing the conversation-- if it could even be called that when Nagito did most of the talking. As it was, he was far too preoccupied with his own problems to pay too much attention to this detail from Nagito’s situation.
“You know,” said Fuyuhiko with a shrug, “I would have thought with your luck you’d have gotten a room to yourself or some shit.”
This returned a warm chuckle from Nagito, “Even if I was that lucky, I’d refuse. I find it deplorably antisocial to take a room that was meant for two all to myself.”
Fuyuhiko only grunted and nodded. His gaze rolled around the bus again. Fukawa was curled in on herself, tugging at her braids while Chisa tried to talk to her. That red-headed kid had both legs in the aisle and was trying to show the idol something that involved a deck of cards. Kiyotaka Ishimaru was yelling something at the students near him that got drowned out at the back of the bus where Fuyuhiko was.
Fuyuhiko shook his head and internally reprimanded himself to refocus. He hadn’t gone to all this trouble so that he could sit here and not beat Kazuichi.
Speaking of Kazuichi, Fuyuhiko realized he hadn’t the slightest idea where he was. He hastily scanned the bus again, and zeroed-in on a head of pink hair in the aisle seat just a couple rows ahead of where Peko sat. Fuyuhiko’s immediate thought was that Kazuichi looked abnormally happy and when he realized why this was, it felt like a brick dropped into his stomach.
He was sitting next to Sonia Nevermind.
Fuyuhiko leaned forward, trying to get a better look at what was going on in that seat. He couldn’t really see Sonia’s expression from here, but Kazuichi seemed to be having an actual conversation with her, as evidenced by the fact that he would actually pause intermittently and nod before speaking again.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
Based on what Fukawa had told him that morning, that alone put him a good step-and-a-half ahead. So far, Fuyuhiko wasn’t certain that Chiaki was aware of his existence beyond the fact that he was her classmate. Visions of the car driving away without him flickered in and out of his mind.
He had to step it up if he was going to win.
“Hey Komaeda?” he braved, still looking ahead.
“Do you… Do you know where we’re going?”
“I believe we are going to a museum.”
Fuyuhiko nodded. That he could work with. Museums came with lots of things to stop and look at and that would give him plenty of time to position himself next to Chiaki. With that setting and armed with Fukawa’s advice, he figured he stood a decent chance of getting a leg up on Kazuichi after all.
Minutes later, the bus stopped at an offshoot that would have led to a narrow street. Chisa Yukizome stood up and whistled, which silenced the chatter on the bus long enough that she could make the announcement that they had arrived. She instructed the classes to disembark in a single-file line-- a direction that was ignored by the majority of the students once all the administrators were off the bus.
Fuyuhiko rose to his feet and watched as the aisle clotted up with students. Being as he was in the back of the bus, it took him a long time to get to the front, and by the time he had stepped out onto the sidewalk, Chiaki was nowhere in sight.
He sighed. So far, this was not going well.
He sighted the rest of the students, moving together en masse towards a building where Koichi Kizakura appeared to be directing them through an archway—or maybe he was leaning on it—underneath two large, blue, vertical banners hung on the side of the building. Fuyuhiko didn’t want to run, but he did try to inject a bit of speed into his walk so that he could catch up with the rest of the class.
He found a nice spot between Sakura Oogami and Akane Owari and filed in behind them as the class funneled through a corridor, tightly packed until they spilled out into a large, ornate courtyard with statues all around.
The class came to a halt just into the courtyard. Fuyuhiko could just hear Chisa Yukizome over the murmurs of the crowd. She was saying something about how the place they were in used to be a palace and the sculptures on the ground floor had been a part of some family collection until they were purchased by the Italian state…
Had he not been wedged at the back of the group and severely distracted, Fuyuhiko might have listened more intently. He was trying to locate Chiaki within the mass of bodies around him when Chisa announced that they would be allowed to freely explore as long as they met back in the central courtyard in an hour.
Without his immediate goal hanging over his head, an hour of doing nothing in a museum might have seemed like too much, but with him depending on the time to enact what semblance of a plan he had, the time seemed almost cruelly short.
The crowd dispersed at the end of Chisa’s announcement and Fuyuhiko caught a brief glimpse of Chiaki’s backpack in between Byakuya’s elbow and Chihiro’s shoulder. He was just about to follow in that direction when someone whispered in his ear.
Fuyuhiko’s heart shot into his throat and he spun around, just barely restraining himself from crying out in surprise.
“What? What do you want?” he spit out, partially trying to downplay the adrenaline rush he was dealing with at the moment. He looked around quickly and noted that nearly everyone had departed the area and no one who remained seemed to be paying much attention to them—something Peko must have calculated beforehand.
“I just wanted to ask about your mission this morning.”
“I stayed away as you instructed, but sometimes I would see you and observe that you were rushing.”
Peko’s brow furrowed, “I suspected that you had taken on something of importance, and I was going to ask if there was some way I could be of use to you.”
Fuyuhiko caught himself trying to parse out what exactly Peko knew, and at that moment wires crossed somewhere in his brain, giving him the realization that he wasn’t thrilled with the idea of Peko knowing he was pursuing another girl.
He swallowed, “Uh… you know what? There is something I need you to do…” He frantically scanned the area and spotted Kazuichi walking backwards through a doorway, talking to Sonia Nevermind. Gundam trailed a few feet behind, along with Ryota.
His gut filled with adrenaline and bile as he overheard the mechanic saying, “You really speak fluent Italian? That’s amazing, Sonia-san!”
He gritted his teeth and pointed with his head towards Kazuichi and Sonia as he addressed Peko, “That rat-bastard Souda-- You follow him and tell me everything he says and does today.” As an afterthought, he added, “But don’t tell me about it until we’re back at the hotel, okay?”
Peko nodded, “I will not let you down.”
Fuyuhiko sucked in a deep breath and gave a curt nod, to which Peko responded by departing to follow the group as he’d directed.
Fuyuhiko only had time to breathe a sigh of relief that became strangled once he realized he had completely misplaced Chiaki. He swore a blue streak, but realized he couldn’t stop to dwell on his apparent misfortune, and made a beeline for the door nearest him, figuring he’d just work his way through the museum and eventually he’d find her.
As it happened, he wandered through room after room finding different sets of classmates gazing at elaborate roman statues, old paintings, and sometimes collections of coins and things like that.
In one room, he entered to find Kiyotaka Ishimaru and Mondo Oowada standing in front of a very large statue of a man holding what looked like a sword or a large knife over his chest, while clutching the arm of a dying woman with his other hand.
“Man, something about this gives me the creeps…” Mondo said, eyeing the statue with his arms folded over his chest.
Kiyotaka chuckled heartily, “Why Kyoudai, surely you thought to read up on the statues in this museum before we arrived? This is the statue of Gaul Killing Himself and his Wife, also called ‘The Galatian Suicide!’”
“’Galatian Suicide,’ huh?” echoed Mondo, still eyeing the statue with discomfort.
“Indeed!” continued Kiyotaka enthusiastically, “It is a copy of a Hellenistic statue circa 230-220 BC, commissioned by Attalus I in the wake of his victories over Galatia!”
Mondo nodded thoughtfully, “Ok, so this guy beat the Gauls and then he had this statue made… like a trophy?”
“Well not this particular one, Kyoudai, because this is a Roman copy, but you are learning!”
Fuyuhiko realized he had been half-staring when this exchange resulted in a particularly long glance between the two of them, and he felt compelled to avert his gaze and exit the room.
Before he left, he overheard Mondo gruffly utter, “You’re not going to test me on this… are you?”
In another room, he found the headmaster’s daughter, Kirigiri, and Naegi having another conversation while looking at a painting on the wall. Unlike Mondo and Kiyotaka, however, they weren’t talking about the piece they were viewing at all.
“I thought the offer sounded nice,” Naegi said.
“Hmm,” Kirigiri replied.
“You could still go. I won’t mind if you…”
“I’m not interested.”
Fuyuhiko was mostly scanning the room to see who was in it, but the tone in her voice gave him slight pause. He shifted and pretended to be reading a placard on the wall as they continued behind him.
“Are you sure? I think your father was…”
“If he really meant it as an affectionate gesture, he would have extended it himself, not sent Kizakura to do so.” There was a pause before she added, “Besides, I meant what I said. I have other things to attend to.”
The shift in tone told Fuyuhiko that something about the conversation had abruptly changed. Worried they had gotten wise to him listening, he hesitantly turned and attempted to watch them out of the corner of his eye, but Kirigiri had her face angled away and was blocking most of Naegi’s expression as well.
“We have to stop talking now,” she said bluntly to Naegi. A turn of her head to make pointed eye contact with Fuyuhiko told him the jig was up.
Almost defiantly, Kirigiri reached out and took Naegi’s hand in hers, and then used it to drag him out of the room through the door where Fuyuhiko had come in, only ceasing to glare at Fuyuhiko when it would have proved impossible to do so.
Fuyuhiko still wondered, several rooms later, just what he’d almost overheard.
He finally found Chiaki in a room full of Egyptian artifacts. She was standing by a display case near the far corner of the room, looking over the top of her handheld game into the glass.
Fuyuhiko exhaled, probably audibly, and headed over to the corner of the room where she stood.
Chiaki didn’t seem to notice his approach, which was both good and bad. It did allow him to feel less self-conscious about what he was doing, but it also didn’t bode well for what he was trying to achieve.
He sidled up next to her –just close enough that he figured she could have probably seen him out of her peripherals- and pretended to be thoroughly engrossed in studying the items in the display case. He stayed in roughly one position as what had to have been several minutes ticked by, all the while hoping she would look over and see him looking stoic.
He had nearly memorized every detail of the artifact directly in front of him when a bunch of electronic beeps and clicking sounds made their way to his ears. He looked over to see Chiaki curled over her gamegirl, pressing buttons with a distant expression on her face.
Fuyuhiko bit his lip and tried to recall the rest of Fukawa’s advice. He wasn’t supposed to let her know, at least directly, that he was there—but maybe he could do something to attract her attention?
Thinking of another one of Fukawa’s directives, or rather her rant about how men always kept their bodies covered up, he slowly brought his hands up to his jacket buttons. He fumbled slightly with the top button, but found that it slid through almost too easily. He moved on down the line, undoing the buttons until he had loosened the blazer enough that he could roll his shoulders back and slide it off—at least until it got stuck on his elbows. He sighed. Trying not to flail, he reached his arms back behind him and tugged aggressively on the sleeves until it slid all the way off.
He quickly realized, once it was off, he didn’t know what to do with the jacket. He tried holding it in a few different places, but realized each time that this blocked a significant amount of the ‘view’ he was trying to give Chiaki. He was just about to cast it away in frustration, when he recalled a magazine spread he’d seen where some brooding model stood with his legs apart and jacket slung over one shoulder.
With no small amount of hesitation, Fuyuhiko decided to try and mimic the posture. He started by tossing the jacket over one shoulder and holding it there. Next he told himself not to blush as he adopted a wider stance. He was still trying to play it cool and not look directly at Chiaki, but to his dismay, even out of his peripherals he found she didn’t seem to be looking.
He thought for a second, trying to recall what kinds of poses might have looked appealing and slowly altered his so that his back was arched a little and his chest puffed out. This pose was a bit difficult to hold, mostly because it restricted his ability to take deep breaths, but he held it and waited.
Suddenly, Chiaki moved, and she seemed to be looking in his direction. His heart jumped and he waded through his thoughts, skimming through what he could remember at the moment of Fukawa’s other advice, but nothing was coming up…
It was then that Chiaki raised her hand and yelled, “Yamada-kun! Over here!”
Chapter 11: At the Museum, Part II
really only like a third of this actually takes place at the museum, sorry, you guys...
Eight minutes into a conversation between Hifumi Yamada and Chiaki Nanami, and Fuyuhiko wasn’t bothering to conceal that he wasn’t looking at the display case anymore. Rather, he had put his coat back on and taken a couple steps back and was watching Chiaki and Hifumi in disbelief.
For their part, they continued to converse excitedly-- chatting about videogames, mostly. Neither gave any sort of acknowledgement that they knew he was there.
“No way!” Chiaki said, shaking her head. Despite her tone, she was smiling. “I’ve played through that game eighteen times and I’ve never seen that level!”
“Oh-ho! That is because, Chiaki-Nanami-dono, it is a custom build I had constructed for me in exchange for several high-quality and time-consuming commissions! As a result, I am the sole owner of the only 2D game where it is possible to co-op with Princess Piggles!”
Chiaki beamed, “You have to show it to me when we get back to the room!”
Yamada tapped the side of his glasses, “Ordinarily, I would refuse to allow anyone else access to my most prized possessions, but for you, most trusted roommate, I conclude that your gaming prowess makes you one of the few worthy souls!”
Chiaki tapped her chin, “Hey, by the way, were you able to get your displays set up in the room?”
“I suspect I know what you are going to ask, and I think you will find I am two steps ahead!”
Fuyuhiko watched as Yamada reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. He tapped at the screen a few times and then held it out to Nanami, proudly.
“Chiaki-Nanami-dono, it is with the greatest pleasure that I unveil… the character designs for what is sure to be the greatest RPG of all time!”
“Those look great, Yamada-kun! Though, that’s a lot of cleavage…”
“O-Oh? I-I can rework the designs to be perhaps a bit more modest… I’ll admit it’s just not my forte…”
Chiaki shook her head, “Let’s worry about that later. There are some more things in the museum I wanted to see…”
Fuyuhiko had deduced that, though Hifumi had unwittingly become direct competition for Chiaki’s attention, he wasn’t, as it stood, Fuyuhiko’s romantic rival. That wasn’t to say that couldn’t change, if Fuyuhiko wasn’t careful, so when they departed the room, he made sure to lag behind a good ten feet, but followed them nonetheless.
Stealth was not something he’d thought himself to be good at, but all things considered, he thought he did a pretty good job following them without looking too conspicuous. He’d stop at the occasional artifact or painting and briefly scan the plaque or something, stretch and look around to make sure he hadn’t lost them, and then continue on. This technique didn’t leave him much opportunity to get close to Chiaki, but he did try. Eventually, however, he found himself following them out one door into the center courtyard and when he saw all the students gathered there he realized too late that he had missed his window and the hour was up.
He froze several feet out from the group of students. A few rushed by him to join up with their peers. He watched as Chiaki and Yamada were joined by that reserve course student, Hajime. He saw Peko emerge from another door behind Sonia, Kazuichi, and Gundam—the latter of whom, Fuyuhiko was able to notice for the first time, was glaring rather vehemently at the back of Kazuichi’s head. Peko sighted him immediately and he swept his hand through his hair, hoping it would suffice in lieu of telling her that she didn’t need to come over to him.
Fuyuhiko refocused on the trio before him. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and carefully picked his way through the crowd, heading for Chiaki. He had just arrived near the group when someone whistled loudly and they ceased conversing to turn in the direction it had come from.
Fuyuhiko couldn’t see the source, due to Aoi Asahina riding on Sakura Oogami’s shoulders in front of him, but quickly determined it to have been Chisa, when he heard her voice rising up over the muffled din of the crowd. He didn’t listen to her beyond the first couple sentences where she detailed how they were to exit the museum and get on the bus, opting instead to study Chiaki.
What else could he do? He was sure he was losing ground as he just stood there. Fukawa had said it was okay to do nice things for her, a tactic he preferred to the one he’d been trying which had done nothing but make him feel like a creep. He would just be careful not to go overboard with it. That couldn’t hurt, right?
That was, except that she didn’t seem to need any help, and right now, it seemed more likely that either Hifumi or Hajime would jump in first. He had to get to her when she wasn’t with them, to talk, or be chivalrous, or whatever the fuck he planned on doing.
The crowd began to move and Fuyuhiko reluctantly moved with it. He kept his hands crammed in his pockets and his gaze down at the pavement, mostly. Occasionally he would brave a look at Chiaki, or look for Peko, but neither one was looking at him. He wasn’t sure if he was thankful for that or not.
This time, when they boarded the bus, Fuyuhiko watched to see where Chiaki sat. Being they were almost last in line, she took one of the last seats at the back of the bus and plunked down into the chair by the window, already switching on her game. Fuyuhiko aimed for the open seat next to her, only to nearly collide with Hajime, who had stopped directly beside it.
Fuyuhiko quickly recovered from this. “Tch. Watch where you’re going, bastard,” he quickly spat, before plunking down into the aisle seat on the opposite side.
Hajime looked mildly surprised, but said nothing, and quietly sat down in the seat next to Chiaki.
Fuyuhiko groaned inwardly. He wasn’t quite ready to admit defeat, though the idea was tempting at this point. He scanned the bus once again, first finding Gundam curled up against the window a few seats ahead, glaring at Kazuichi still, who sat with Sonia still a few more seats towards the front. Fuyuhiko had to boost himself up to see over Naegi and Kirigiri’s heads in front of him to find Peko, who was in a seat at almost the very front of the bus. Just as he was about to lower himself back down, he watched Byakuya Togami rise from his seat somewhere near the front and make a beeline directly for the back of the bus.
He didn’t look happy at all.
Fuyuhiko dropped into his seat and steeled himself in case he was about to be confronted. He had given all those things to Fukawa, after all, and for all he knew this could have set in motion something that had him on a crash course with Byakuya, though he couldn’t conceive of why.
He didn’t have to worry about it for too much longer, for once Byakuya reached the back of the bus he pivoted so that he faced the seat where Kirigiri and Naegi sat, and brandished an envelope in the former’s direction.
“I just received another one. I want a report,” he ordered, eyes narrowing at Kirigiri in particular.
She didn’t seem fazed. “You only entrusted me with the case this morning,” she said with what Fuyuhiko thought to be an impressively even tone. “It will take longer for me to conduct a thorough investigation.”
Byakuya’s eyes flitted angrily between the two of them before Naegi spoke up.
“Togami-kun? Are you sure it’s not…”
Byakuya’s eyes flashed, “It’s not her, or her, if that’s what you were about to imply—and someone of your place in life should think better of talking to me as though I’m so simplistic I couldn’t easily rule out the most obvious answer.”
Naegi opened his mouth to say something, before evidently deciding against it and turning away to face the window.
“Someone else is paying me this insult and I will find out who with or without your help, Kirigiri…” Byakuya concluded. He stared down at them for a few more seconds before turning around and storming away, back to his seat.
Asshole, Fuyuhiko thought.
It had just occurred to Fuyuhiko that the seat next to him was still empty and he was wondering who would fill it when he heard Saionji yell from somewhere up ahead.
“You’re going to make us late, you pukey-pig!”
Mikan Tsumiki came rushing into view, nearly tripping over herself several times as she raced down the aisle.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” she wailed. She turned around several times at the back of the bus, before sighting the empty seat next to Fuyuhiko.
She dropped to her knees in the aisle.
“C-Can I… Can I please sit next to you, Kuzuryuu-san? I’m sorry I’m late I’m sorry….”
Fuyuhiko winced at her begging and cut her off, “Yeah yeah, whatever… just… take it.”
Mikan flushed and looked like she’d just won a small fortune in the lottery.
“Oh thank you Kuzuyruu-san! Thank you!” She babbled several more “thank you’s” and the like as she scrambled past him in haste, in the process giving him a generous view of her upper thighs and more when her skirt pressed against the seat fabric in front of them and started to hike up.
“Oi, watch it!” Fuyuhiko cried out, blushing and covering his eyes.
“Uwwaaa… How embarrassing…” whined Mikan, pulling her skirt back down and plunking down dejectedly in the window seat.
The bus rumbled as the motor started up and Fuyuhiko felt the pull backwards as they departed from where they’d been parked. The cabin immediately boiled up with all types of murmurs and chatter. Fuyuhiko leaned into the aisle and rolled his eyes as he noted the baseball player was at it again. He could vaguely hear the excited conversations around the bus, but there was no sound more distinctive and more consistent than Mikan’s utterly pitiful sobbing from the seat next to him.
He turned to his right to see her curled in on herself, repeatedly wiping her eyes and whimpering.
“H-Hey…” he tried.
This only resulted in Mikan jumping in her seat and looking at him with an expression of absolute terror.
“I-I’m sorry! I’m sorry I was late, and about my skirt, and…”
Fuyuhiko noticed a lot of stares, mostly accusatory, were presently on him.
“You don’t have to apologize…” He tried to crack a smile, “It’s not a big deal.”
Mikan watched him, wide-eyed, and sniffed.
He tried adding, “I should know, I was one of the people who made us late this morning.”
Mikan roughly wiped a tear from her left eye and let out a meek giggle. “I-I’m sorry about the skirt…”
Fuyuhiko shrugged, “That kinda shit isn’t your fault, so don’t even worry about it…”
One final sniff and a small smile finally spread across Mikan’s face, brightening her otherwise cloudy countenance.
“You’re too kind, Kuzuyruu-san...”
Fuyuhiko didn’t bother to give any acknowledgement to Mikan’s compliment, as it made him bristle. He turned back around in his seat and stared straight ahead for some time, mostly zoning out, but sometimes cautiously braving a glance at Chiaki to find her engrossed in her game, or talking to Hajime.
Fuyuhiko shunted his elbow into the back of his own seat in frustration.
There had to be some way to get Chiaki’s attention—something to let her know, as Fukawa suggested initially, that he was interested, without being too obvious, as Fukawa had both times advised him against.
As Fuyuhiko’s brain leapt onto the discussion between Byakuya and Kirigiri about the note earlier -realizing that Fukawa had to represent at least one of the “hers” mentioned by Byakuya-- the answer dawned on him.
He would write a note.
That would work, wouldn’t it? It would be a secret admirer note too, so there would be no confusion. He could ask her to meet him somewhere and then if that didn’t work or something went south, he could bail out of there and pretend he never wrote it.
It was so perfect he seriously wanted to kick himself for not thinking of it until now.
As he was contemplating this shift in strategy, his attention was diverted by a loud scream from the front of the bus. He sat bolt upright and glanced into the aisle to see Kazuichi frantically climbing out of his seat, furiously patting at different places on his body.
“Get them off me! Get them off me!” the mechanic shrieked, and as Fuyuhiko squinted and looked closer, he could see that there were no less than five hamsters racing all across Kazuichi’s jump suit.
Fuyuhiko wasn’t aware of any thoughts actually going through his head during the next few seconds when Kazuichi made it to the aisle, slipped on something, and took a tumble all the way to the front of the bus.
Chapter 12: The Second Deal
Unlike his classmates, Fuyuhiko didn’t get up to see what had happened after he saw Kazuichi roll to the front of the bus. He was aware of the bus pulling over to the side of the road and a lot of commotion up at the front, shortly before Aoi came running to fetch Mikan.
Fuyuhiko stood to let Mikan out before she could scramble across him again, and she and Aoi disappeared into the crowd. As he wasn’t able to see anything anyway because of his height, Fuyuhiko stayed seated and waited for some indication of what would happen next.
Some time later, Mikan returned to her seat and the bus departed from where it had been stopped. Fuyuhiko asked her what had happened. She told him that they believed Kazuichi had broken his leg.
That evidently was enough to bar them all from going on another outing that day, and about an hour later, when they were back at the hotel, a conversation with Peko, held in a secluded corner of the garden, helped him fill in a few more of the gaps.
“I know you only instructed me to report on Souda,” she told him, “but I noticed that Tanaka was behaving strangely as well.”
Fuyuhiko glanced over the row of bushes next to them, making extra sure no one was around to hear their conversation.
“Bastard was jealous, huh?” he kicked the ground so that it scuffed under the sole of his shoe. “Figures. Shoulda known something was going on between them. Do you have any idea what Souda was even doing with Sonia in the first place?”
“I do not, Bocchan…”
Fuyuhiko nodded solemnly.
“Bocchan, if I may ask, why did you need to know these things?”
Fuyuhiko wasn’t sure what it was—maybe he was tired of lying that day, or maybe he just didn’t want to lie to Peko— but he ended up blurting out before he could calculate the consequences of doing so, “Ah, Souda and I have this fuckin’ bet going.”
He froze then, realizing that Peko was now staring at him rather wide-eyed.
“What kind of bet?”
Fuyuhiko thought he recognized some form of alarm in her tone, and he scrambled to put together what might have been going through her mind.
“It’s- not anything you have to worry about, okay? It’s just a stupid bet...”
She seemed confused, “What would Souda have had to offer you, Bocchan?”
Had it been anyone else in the world, Fuyuhiko would have been quick to snap and let the insults fly –mostly out of wanting to hide what he’d been doing.
He opted for the truth, “Don’t laugh, okay?” he grunted, “He’s… gonna build me a car… if I win, I mean.”
He looked up to find Peko staring back at him. She seemed to be in deep thought, if her facial expression was anything to go by, but overall, she gave very little away.
He felt obliged to continue, or rather, to justify, “It’s gonna be cool. Fast as shit…. I know I can’t drive yet, but when I can I’m gonna take it for a long drive.”
Peko’s expression remained unchanged.
Fuyuhiko cleared his throat, “and to be honest, I’m probably gonna use it to run away, and when I do… I want you to go with me.”
Peko nodded, “Of course. It is my duty to follow wherever…”
Fuyuhiko closed his eyes, “You know that’s not what I mean.” He breathed a long sigh and reopened his eyes to look around the garden, thankful that it was empty at the moment. He returned his gaze to Peko, searching her face desperately, surprised at himself when he managed, “I’ve told you, you’re not my tool… and if we left… I’d make sure no one ever called you that again.”
Peko had frustratingly little reaction to this, save for maybe drawing her shoulders back a bit.
Fuyuhiko continued emphatically, “Think about it, Peko... You- We could have a whole new life! We could… we could be…”
He froze, realizing that what should have been the next part of that statement wouldn’t make it off his tongue. He couldn’t actually bring himself to say what he meant.
In the resulting silence, Peko spoke, “I would not be your tool?” Despite the deadpan with which she pronounced it, Fuyuhiko thought he caught a disapproving undertone within her speech.
He chose to ignore this, “No! Peko, you’d finally be…”
Peko lowered her gaze, though there was a softness to her expression, “If I am not your tool, then I do not have a purpose.”
The blunt, dismissive version of reality she delivered with this statement was enough to crush some part of him inside.
Still, he tried to argue, “No Peko, you would be…”
Peko closed her eyes, “I am sorry, Bocchan… but I am a tool. If there is something you wish for me to do, I will do it, but I cannot abandon my purpose.”
Fuyuhiko stared, and everything he would have said at that point disintegrated into nothing.
Later, back at his hotel room, what he could have said instead bounced around in his head while he ignored Ryota’s presence and continued staring at the same spot in the wall. The conversation with Peko had collapsed into wordlessness and left him with an aching sort of disappointment inside him. He recognized the tiny note of anger and frustration present somewhere in the mix, but really, he wasn’t angry at anyone.
He just should have known better.
He was aware of Ryota staring at him from the chair across the room, but since he’d initially asked what was wrong and Fuyuhiko had dismissed him, he had simply retreated to the chair and cracked open a comic book, glancing over the top of it occasionally.
This cycle would probably have gone on much longer, if not for a knock at the door, which Fuyuhiko was not in the mood to answer.
Ryota waited a few seconds, then called out, “Who is it?”
A familiar voice drifted through the crack in the door and caused Fuyuhiko to freeze mid-punch, “It’s Chiaki Nanami. Is Kuzuryuu-kun there?”
Fuyuhiko spun around, heart jumping in his chest. He met eyes with Ryota, who seemed to interpret this as his cue to get up head for the door. Fuyuhiko bit his lip, inwardly volleying between whether he wanted to allow Chiaki into the room or tell Ryota to pretend he wasn’t there.
Before he could decide on either, Ryota yanked open the door and answered for him with a decisive, “He’s right over there.”
Fuyuhiko was suddenly aware of the throbbing in his left hand and he quickly tucked it behind his back as Chiaki moved into view.
He cleared his throat, “H-Hey, Nanami…”
Chiaki studied him for a moment, and it dawned on Fuyuhiko that this was the longest he’d had her attention all day.
She turned to Ryota, “Mitarai-kun, do you mind if I speak to Kuzuryuu-kun alone?”
Ryota seemed stunned, but nodded, “Uh… I guess not?”
Chiaki gave a gentle, apologetic smile, “I’m sorry. It’ll only be a minute.”
Just as a mounting sense of dread at the unknown prompted Fuyuhiko to wish Ryota would refuse, the animator took one last look at him and shook his head, adding as he backed out of the room, “That’s okay. Take as long as you need. I’ve been meaning to grab an early dinner.”
With that, the door closed behind him, and Fuyuhiko found himself encased in silence inside the hotel room with Chiaki staring at him.
She didn’t speak for several more seconds, and when she did, the bombshell of a question she dropped was more than enough to solidify Fuyuhiko’s anxiety about the situation he suspected he was in.
“Kuzuryuu-kun, why were you following me at the museum today?”
The stream of tense thoughts Fuyuhiko had been battling up to that point dried up and left him speechless, which was unfortunate given that at this point he really would have liked to be able to explain himself. Instead, he was dimly aware of his eyes widening and his jaw going slack behind closed lips.
Chiaki didn’t look like she was angry, but she didn’t look happy either—not that she really should have been at the news she was being followed around.
She elaborated, “Hinata-kun and Yamada-kun pointed out that you had been following us throughout the museum. Hinata-kun even said you tried to sit next to me on the bus.” She looked thoughtful for a moment before she turned back to him with wide eyes, tugging on her backpack straps, “I’m sorry I didn’t notice, but If you need something, you should ask me… I think.”
“Do you have something to ask me?”
Fuyuhiko was grinding his back teeth against eachother in a kind of nervousness he would never admit to having. He could have told Chiaki to go away, but he, perhaps thankfully, had the foresight to realize that she had presented him with the exact opportunity he’d been seeking, and was unlikely to come by again, especially if he pushed her away now.
“Yeah… I uh…” he wasn’t exactly sure how to say it. “I was gonna ask you out, I guess.”
Chiaki’s eyes widened ever-so-slightly. She stared at him and blinked.
Her silence caused Fuyuhiko some internal panic, which came out externally as him backpedaling, “I mean, you know… because… actually, never mind… It’s stupid and I…”
Chiaki shook her head, “It’s not stupid.”
“I would go out with you… I think…”
Despite the hesitance in her vocabulary, Fuyuhiko felt an immense sense of relief. He felt like a weight had been lifted off his chest, until Chiaki spoke again and most of it came crashing back down.
“I just thought you liked Pekoyama-san…”
Fuyuhiko sputtered and backed up into the fragile nightstand between the two beds. If he’d ever been able to manage a poker face, it was failing him now. He could feel his face heating up, “W-Wha? What makes you think… I mean… how did you?”
Chiaki shrugged, “It just seemed obvious. So why aren’t you asking her?”
Fuyuhiko shook his head, “Whoa, hold on! You don’t just get to change the subject like that!”
Fuyuhiko paused, took a breath, and bowed his head, “Just… don’t tell anybody, ok?” He looked to the window. The buildings across the street went out of focus as he thought aloud, “Peko is… I dunno if she’s gonna understand, you know? I thought maybe if I could have something of my own… get her out of the shit we live in back home it might help…” He shunted his heel back into the nightstand and it thumped against the wall, “So I made this stupid deal with Souda, and he was gonna make me a car and shit if I showed him I could get a girlfriend while we were on this trip...”
He could not bring himself to look at Chiaki, but his mind conjured up a decent facsimile of the angered expression he imagined she would have had.
He cleared his throat, “Yeah, so… Sorry… I’m a bastard.” He forced himself to turn back to her, only to find her face startlingly blank.
She spoke a moment later, “I see… So you’re really doing this for Pekoyama-san.”
“Yeah, look, I’m sorry I bothered you, and I know it’s pretty shitty that I was just asking you out to win a bet and…”
“Don’t worry. I’ll help you,” said Chiaki.
Fuyuhiko froze, then did a double-take, then looked at Chiaki, who was smiling, and spit out, “You… will?”
The word came pouring out of Fuyuhiko’s mouth, “Why?”
“You may not act like it sometimes, Kuzuryuu-san, but I believe you are a kind person. Like this morning when you were nice to Tsumiki-san. Your title demands something different of you than who you really are… I think.”
Fuyuhiko stared. He had no emotion in his repertoire that felt appropriate to respond to someone assessing him so precisely. He swallowed and gave a small nod instead.
“You clearly care a lot about Pekoyama-san, and if that’s the case, then I will help you win the bet by pretending to be your girlfriend.”
Fuyuhiko stared. He opened his mouth to try and thank Chiaki, but before he could manage any words, she raised her hand, stopping him.
“I can only do it for the rest of the trip, though… I do have someone I’m interested in, and after we get back to school, I’d like to maybe talk to them about going out.”
Fair enough, Fuyuhiko thought.
“Y-Yeah, totally!” he breathed. “A-And you wouldn’t tell anybody, right?”
Chiaki shook her head ‘no,’ “I’m certain that would void the bet, wouldn’t it?” she asked.
Fuyuhiko’s eyes fell to the floor. He hadn’t really thought about it in those terms, but it probably would.
“Yeah,” he said. “Thank you, Nanami. Thank you…”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Seriously though, anything you want… name it… Once we’re back home, I can…”
Chiaki raised her hand again, “I don’t want to initiate another sidequest for you, Kuzuryuu-san. I’m happy to help. In fact, I have an idea.”
Fuyuhiko took this in, then slowly smiled, “Okay… So what do we do first?”
Chiaki tapped her chin, “If you want Souda to agree to the terms of the bet, we should probably make sure to appear as a couple in front of him when he gets back from the hospital tomorrow evening.”
Fuyuhiko nodded, “Y-Yeah? Okay!” A part of him felt sorry for Souda, but the other part was just as inclined to rub his victory in his rival’s face. “That’s great. Let’s do it.”
Chiaki nodded, “I need to head back upstairs, but we should meet by the elevators on this floor at eight tomorrow, okay?”
Fuyuhiko nodded, “Yeah, sure.”
Chiaki stuck out her hand and it took Fuyuhiko a moment to process that she was going for a handshake. He took her hand and shook it firmly, but not so hard as to crush it, and they separated.
Without another word, Chiaki exited the room. Once she had gone, Fuyuhiko let out a triumphant yell and jumped onto the bed.
As he stared up at the ceiling, he folded one leg over the other and proceeded to plan the next few hours, which soon bled into the next few days.
Maybe he’d tell Kazuichi he wanted blue stitching on his steering wheel.
Chapter 13: First Day In
Fuyuhiko woke the next morning to something tapping him on the side of the face. Still in a dreamy haze, he tried to roll over and ignore it, only for it to follow him when he did.
After he put a hand to his face and the tapping resumed on his hand, he sat up in bed.
“What the hell?”
As the room came into focus, he was aware of Ryota standing a few feet from his bedside, holding the phone from their shared nightstand out to him.
“Call for you from the front desk,” he said.
Too groggy to manage a ‘thanks’ or anything else he might have felt like spitting out, Fuyuhiko simply grunted and took the receiver from Ryota, who departed as soon as the exchange had been made.
Fuyuhiko cleared his throat into the speaker, “Kuzuryuu here…”
To his mild surprise, the voice on the other end was Chiaki, “I’m sorry if I woke you, Kuzuryuu-kun, but I wanted to invite you to breakfast with Hinata-kun, Yamada-kun, and me.”
“You wanted… to invite me to breakfast?” Fuyuhiko repeated.
“Yes,” said Chiaki, “I already told them that we are dating, but you should probably be with me at breakfast to make it more convincing… I think.”
Fuyuhiko was dimly aware of Ryota looking at him quizzically from across the room.
He threw the covers off and slid into his slippers on the floor, “Yeah, yeah right… I’ll be right there…”
“You don’t have to hurry,” offered Chiaki. “We’re down in the breakfast area at the third table by the windows. See you soon.”
Fuyuhiko was about to say ‘okay’ but realized that Chiaki had already hung up. He set the receiver back in the holder and rubbed his eyes, blinking away the blur this created seconds later to glance around the room.
“Nanami-san invited you to breakfast?” asked Ryota from where he reclined at the desk chair, with a tone of voice Fuyuhiko would have described as ‘irritatingly casual.’
“Yeah…” Fuyuhiko leaned backwards, balancing on the balls of his feet as he cracked his back. “We’re uh… dating… so…”
He wasn’t sure exactly how one was supposed to go about making that kind of announcement, but he figured a throwaway inclusion stemming from an unrelated thought was good enough.
“Oh?” said Ryota, sounding a little too surprised for Fuyuhiko’s liking.
Fuyuhiko met his gaze, almost defiantly, “Yeah. Matter of fact, we’re an item now.”
Ryota only nodded.
“Fuck… where are my clothes?”
Ryota turned a page of the comic he was reading, “You crammed a bunch of them into the bottom drawer of that dresser before you went to bed last night.”
“Shit, that’s right… thanks.”
Fuyuhiko ran to the dresser and found that, sure enough, all his clothes had been wedged into the bottom drawer. He selected an outfit comprised of what clothing items he was able to first determine were a shirt, a vest, and a pair of pants. He cast his old clothes aside and and threw them on as fast as he could manage, all the while working his way towards the exit.
Once he was fully clothed, he dashed to the door and yanked it open.
Before he could throw a casual goodbye over his shoulder at Ryota, he was greeted by the -at the moment quite unwelcome- sight of Nagito Komaeda cradling a large red suitcase in his arms.
“Good morning, Kuzuryuu-san! I brought the rest of the luggage contents! Where should I…”
“Wherever,” Fuyuhiko grunted as he pushed his way past Nagito- a feat which wasn’t easy with the enormous suitcase in the way.
Not bothering to look back, Fuyuhiko broke into a jog halfway down the hall and practically dove through the elevator doors as they were closing.
After an uneventful elevator ride down to the breakfast area, Fuyuhiko arrived at the table where Chiaki, Hifumi, and Hajime were sitting.
“Hey, sorry I’m late! I…”
He was very much surprised when Chiaki stood up from her seat at the table and wrapped her arms around his shoulders and neck. He flinched, and was about to fly backwards, possibly screaming obscenities, when it dawned on him that this was a hug.
Chiaki’s next statement, uttered across his ear, helped drive home what she was doing.
“I’m so glad you could make it!” she said excitedly, and loudly. She released him and turned towards the table, gesturing in the direction of Hajime and Hifumi, in turn. “I don’t know if you’ve been introduced, but… Hinata-kun is a friend of mine, and Yamada-kun is…”
Yamada quickly rose from his seat to introduce himself. He thumped his chest and proclaimed, “I am Chiaki-Nanami-dono’s roommate and, as of recently, companion on the route to RPG greatness!” He leaned forward and adjusted his glasses, “I must thank you, Fuyuhiko-Kuzuryuu-dono, for having the foresight to arrange such a fortuitous match!”
Chiaki’s glance from this told Fuyuhiko that she hadn’t heard this bit of information before.
“It uh… was Sonia Nevermind’s idea.”
Chiaki nodded, and then stunned Fuyuhiko by wrapping her arms around his elbow, “Well, whatever the reason, I’m glad we could all be together for breakfast this morning!”
Fuyuhiko could feel his face burning a bit from the contact, and he hoped it wasn’t obvious. “Y-Yeah, same here,” he tried.
Hajime, who sat across the table to Hifumi’s right, glanced back and forth between Fuyuhiko and Chiaki for a moment before speaking, “So, when did you two start dating?”
Chiaki turned to face Hajime, and Fuyuhiko was relieved when she gave the explanation.
“Kuzuryuu-kun just told me last night he was planning to ask me out,” said Chiaki. “I accepted.”
Hajime fixed Fuyuhiko with a glance that he found surprisingly, and then infuriatingly, skeptical.
“Y-Yeah, that’s it!” he asserted, making sure to stare Hajime dead in the eye.
The intimidating glare he tried to muster through this had some effect on Hajime, but not as much as Fuyuhiko would have hoped. “It just… seems a bit… sudden, doesn’t it?” he asked.
The smile Fuyuhiko had been trying for at that point may have briefly morphed into a scowl—he wasn’t sure. He wanted to fly into Hajime’s face and tell him to mind his own damned business, but thought somehow that might jeopardize the situation completely.
Also, Chiaki didn’t seem to be particularly concerned.
She shook her head, “It’s not sudden. We’ve been classmates for a while now, Hinata-kun.”
“That doesn’t necessarily…”
Fuyuhiko felt Chiaki grip his arm harder, “I think it’s sweet that Kuzuryuu-kun waited to say anything, but it’s still important that he did… I think.”
Hinata said nothing this time, only bit his lip. Hifumi seemed to be actively looking back and forth between the three of them.
“Right,” Hinata said finally, in what Fuyuhiko interpreted to be a ‘defeated sigh.’ “I’m sorry,” he stood and extended a hand to Fuyuhiko, “Congratulations to both of you.”
Fuyuhiko took his hand and shook it, “Don’t worry about it, and thanks.”
Chiaki released his arm and plunked down in her seat. Hajime seated himself shortly thereafter. Chiaki looked up at Fuyuhiko and gestured to a full plate of food at the seat next to her that Fuyuhiko was surprised he hadn’t noticed until now.
“I went ahead and got your breakfast for you. I hope you don’t mind?”
Fuyuhiko forced a laugh and seated himself in front of the food, “Why would I mind?”
The answer came to him when he looked over the plate and found it populated with a stack of pancakes, along with a scone, some bacon, a banana and off to the right on the table…
… a tall glass of milk.
He swallowed, “Thank you, this looks… great!”
Chiaki actually appeared pleased with that, so for the remainder of the meal, Fuyuhiko contented himself with sampling a generous portion of everything but the milk while listening to the conversation around him. Occassionally he would ask a question, and then while everyone else was busy thinking about it or answering, stir around the food on his plate to make it look like he’d eaten more than he had. However, the glass of milk sat still, taunting him in his peripherals, for most of the meal.
Chiaki’s plate was almost clean when she spoke up, “Aw, I’m still hungry…”
Fuyuhiko grabbed the still-full milk glass and gestured to the breakfast bar, “Do you want me to get you something?”
“Sure, but… you don’t have to do that.”
Fuyuhiko bolted out of his seat, glass in hand, “It’s no problem. I need to stretch my legs anyway!” he grinned awkwardly.
“Okay… then could you maybe get me a scone? If there are any blueberry ones left…”
“Sure thing! I’ll be right back.”
Fuyuhiko caught one last glimpse of a smiling and nodding Chiaki before he turned and headed for the breakfast bar. So far, Chiaki had done an amazing job of pretending to be his girlfriend, including covering for him where he might have otherwise screwed up – and he was eager to return the favor.
Getting up also gave him the opportunity to pour the milk down the nearest drain, which turned out to be in the base of the juice dispenser, and once that was taken care of, he found himself in even better spirits.
He made for the pastry display where the scones were kept, folded up a napkin, and used it to pick out the nicest blueberry scone he could find. He was just about to rush back to the table for a victory lap, when he turned around and was forced to freeze in place as the elevator doors parted…
…and out stepped Peko.
Some variation of shit shit shit ran through Fuyuhiko’s head during the split-second in which he realized he couldn’t return to the table. Somewhere in the spontaneous terror that struck him at that moment, came the impulse to duck beneath the counter opposite him, which he did.
As he sat curled in on himself against the wooden cabinets, on the floor, with a scone held out in front of him, it occurred to him for reasons he didn’t fully understand, that he really didn’t want Peko witnessing his pseudo-relationship with Chiaki. He also didn’t know but what Chiaki would decide to kiss him next, to keep up appearances, and if that was the case, that was something he definitely did not want Peko to see.
He realized, on the other hand, that ducking probably hadn’t done him much good, as Peko had always been rather observant. He decided, when he remained hidden, it was mostly so if Peko did find him, he could have a conversation with her, in isolation, without the others coming over to disrupt it.
He waited several minutes, but Peko never did come over to the breakfast bar. Cautiously, he stood, and peered over the top of the counter.
Though he had previously been sure Peko had been on her way over to the tables, now she was nowhere in sight. He breathed out through his lips and backed away from the counter. He gave the area one last scan, and then made a rather quick jaunt back to the table.
Once he got there, his three breakfast companions were getting up to leave.
“We’re going up to play games in the hotel room,” Chiaki explained. “You’re welcome to join us if you want.”
“Uh, yeah, sure…” Fuyuhiko agreed, without really thinking about it. He was still looking around the dining area in a wary search for Peko.
“Cool,” said Chiaki. “Let’s go.”
Fuyuhiko bristled when Chiaki took his hand in hers, but seeing as he couldn’t spot Peko anywhere, he reasoned it was probably okay.
Besides, he and Chiaki were supposed to be a couple, and that kind of stuff was what couples did, right?
Later, in Yamada and Chiaki’s hotel room, after Chiaki had beaten all of them at least once in a bunch of games Fuyuhiko had barely heard of, he sat next to Hajime on the floor, almost autonomously pressing buttons on the game controller as he took his character through the same motions for what had to have been the hundredth time.
“You could try another level,” Hajime suggested, breaking the silence after Fuyuhiko’s character fell from a high platform, nearly losing all of its health upon impact. “Nanami-san has unlocked the entire game.”
Fuyuhiko sputtered and tilted the controller as if he were steering a car. “I just- want to get through this- what the fuck?” he cried out as his character was attacked by an enemy on the ground.
A loud sigh came from Hajime, “Here, there’s a shortcut.”
“Huh? Where?” said Fuyuhiko, just managing to dodge the latest attack from the enemy that was still trailing him.
Hajime reached over and scooped the controller up out of Fuyuhiko’s hands. Before Fuyuhiko could verbalize much of a protest, he witnessed Hajime casually disarm the enemy and sprint off towards a pile of rocks. The character launched into the air and jumped on the rocks, pressing one down and opening what was evidently a secret door in the landscape.
“God Dammit…” hissed Fuyuhiko.
“Nanami-san showed me that,” said Hajime.
Fuyuhiko leaned back and cracked his back against the foot of the bed, “You two… play a lot of games together?” He asked, carefully choosing his words.
“Sort of,” said Hajime, not taking his eyes off the screen, “We used to meet up after school…”
“Well, since you two are dating…”
Chiaki’s voice cut across Hajime’s, “Kuzuryuu-kun, can I talk with you in the hall for a moment?”
Fuyuhiko turned and spotted Chiaki standing with her hand on the doorknob, looking at him with an unreadable expression.
“Huh? Uh, yeah, sure…”
He got to his feet and followed Chiaki out into the hall, somewhat aware of Hajime watching them while pretending to still play the game.
“What’s up?” he asked once they were out in the hall.
Chiaki pulled the door shut firmly and turned to face him. “I think we need something… for tonight,” she said.
“Oh yeah?” He scratched his chin, “What would that be?”
“It occurred to me that if we’re going to visit Souda-san after he gets back from the hospital, we should bring him a present.”
“You’re kidding,” replied Fuyuhiko flatly.
Chiaki shook her head, “I think it is important to bring something as a gesture of goodwill… even if we are there as sort of a winner’s highlight.”
“I’m not totally thrilled with the idea, just so you know.”
“I know,” Chiaki said, “But it gives us a reason to be there… more so than just wishing him well as a couple.”
Fuyuhiko breathed in and exhaled loudly through his nose. “Okay…” He said hesitantly. “So where would you propose we get a gift for the bastard?”
Chiaki shrugged, “I would just go down to the gift shop and pick something out. It doesn’t have to be big… but I can’t do it, because I promised Yamada-kun I’d work with him on our RPG…”
“So you want me to do it?” Fuyuhiko tried half-heartedly to conceal his exasperation.
“I’m sorry,” said Chiaki with a warm smile, “The next time there’s an errand to run, I’ll do it.”
Fuyuhiko rubbed his forehead, “Yeah? Just… fine…” he sighed. “Any idea what I should get him?”
Chiaki shrugged again, “Maybe a stuffed animal? I think everybody likes stuffed animals.”
Fuyuhiko somewhat doubted that ‘everybody’ liked stuffed animals, but he supposed that was at least a good enough idea for Kazuichi.
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”
“Take your time,” said Chiaki, “and here…” She grabbed his hand and placed a small stack of Euros in it. “I’m not going to use my traveling allowance, so you should use this to buy the gift.”
Fuyuhiko frowned and tried to hand it back, “I’m not taking your money.”
Chiaki didn’t respond to his outstretched hand. She merely turned and headed back inside, calling over her shoulder, “I’ll be here if you want to come back to the room, otherwise we can meet at the elevators like we planned.”
After the door was shut, Fuyuhiko’s fingers slowly curled around the money in his hand.
Chapter 14: At the Door
Fuyuhiko figured he wasn’t in a huge hurry to get downstairs, so he took what was a leisurely stroll down the hallway until he happened upon that kid with the brown hair, ‘Naegi’, backing directly into his path from one of the girls’ rooms.
“Well, then do you know where I could find some?” Naegi said, addressing someone inside.
Fuyuhiko stopped as Naegi paused directly in the middle of the hallway. He was about to snap at him to move, when Junko Enoshima arrived in the open doorway. She sighted Fuyuhiko, and he somehow knew to bristle before she had even pointed at him.
“I gave my last extra bottle to him,” she proclaimed loudly, jabbing an index finger with a bright red nail at him, and Fuyuhiko knew instantly she was talking about the makeup, “so if you want some, that’s who you’re going to have to ask.”
Naegi turned to Fuyuhiko, who froze where he stood.
“Kuzuryuu-san?” Naegi scratched the side of his face. He let out what Fuyuhiko recognized as being a nervous chuckle, “I hate to ask, but… Do you still have that concealer?”
Spending an entire morning having to think on his feet hadn’t made Fuyuhiko any better at doing so. Instead of lying, he spit out, “W-What do you need concealer for?” outrage infecting his tone. He glared at Enoshima, but she only eyed him with raised eyebrows and an interminable smirk on her face.
Naegi winced, “W-Well, I…”
Enoshima cleared her throat over him, “This former goody-two-shoes is having trouble covering a hickey. Do you, or do you not, still have the concealer in the makeup bag I gave you?”
Fuyuhiko grit his teeth. The truthful answer would have been ‘no,’ or more precisely ‘no, I gave that to Fukawa,’ but didn’t want to lead them onto anything that might expose the multiple bets and deals he had going. Consequently, while the true answer hovered on his lips, he forced himself to answer in the affirmative.
“Yeah, I got it.”
“Great,” breathed Naegi, “Do you mind if I borrow it?”
Fuyuhiko’s eyes rolled over Naegi and onto Enoshima. He figured that somehow, the latter would probably challenge anything he tried to give as an excuse as long as he stood there, but as for Naegi…
…Naegi he could probably ditch between there and his room.
“Yeah, sure, I just need to go to my room to get it,” he lied again.
“Do you mind if I follow you?” asked Naegi. He grinned and scratched the back of his head, “Sorry, but I’m kind of in a hurry.”
Fuyuhiko swallowed his resentment, and answered with a curt, “Yeah, sure.”
Junko seemed to take this as her cue to make an exit. She took a deep step back into her room and shut the door, leaving Fuyuhiko alone in an uncomfortable silence with an awkwardly smiling Naegi.
Fuyuhiko breezed past Makoto, partially hoping on some subconscious level that he would be able to leave him behind, only to be moderately dismayed when he heard Makoto’s footsteps echoing behind him in the small space.
They reached the elevators. Fuyuhiko pressed the ‘down’ button and waited.
“So what-“ Naegi started to speak, but Fuyuhiko cut him off.
“Don’t you dare ask what I was doing with the makeup, bastard.”
Naegi seemed taken aback. “I wasn’t! I…”
Naegi was cut off again, this time by the loud ding from the elevator as it reached their floor. Fuyuhiko thought he might have continued talking, except that the elevator doors opened to reveal a relatively agitated-looking Byakuya Togami. Ignoring Fuyuhiko entirely, Byakuya stepped out and promptly proceeded to get in Naegi’s face.
“Naegi,” Byakuya barked, looming over his shorter classmate, “I want a progress report, now.”
As Naegi backed up into the wall behind him, Fuyuhiko seized his chance. Eyeing the two of them, he inched toward the elevator and then ducked inside. Without wasting a moment, he slammed his fist into the ‘door close’ button and looked up just in time to see Naegi’s eyes widen as he peered around Byakuya.
The last thing Fuyuhiko heard before the doors closed all the way was Byakuya hissing something to the effect of “don’t try to distract me.” Fuyuhiko smiled to himself, feeling a certain relief as the elevator descended to the first floor.
There was one crisis averted.
Now, he thought, he just had to get to the gift shop, pick out a stupid gift for Kazuichi, and get back up to the elevators in time to meet Chiaki. The last part he expected to be fairly easy—it was still hours from their agreed upon meeting time.
Hopefully Naegi would have given up the pursuit by then.
The gift shop turned out to be a tiny room, with glass doors but no windows, wedged in a corner of the hotel near the lobby. The merchandise, which wasn’t clearly visible from the outside, consisted of an assortment of snacks, postcards, toiletries, and, oddly enough, stuffed animals.
Fuyuhiko hung around a large rotating display stacked tall with an assortment of stuffed animals-- the main representation of that kind of item in the store. As he gently turned the wire rack, he noted that most of the animals seemed to be the types one might find in a zoo, and that they were all relatively expensive. He settled on one – a less-realistic, medium-sized yellow duck with floppy limbs- and, after checking its price tag and finding it to be about a third less than anything else he had found in the store, rushed to the counter and bought it with a portion of the bills Chiaki had given him, pleased that he would have some left over to give back to her once this was done.
He made it all the way back to his room with the duck tucked haphazardly under one arm, finding no trace of Naegi along the way—a fact he was not going to complain about any time soon. He ambled in the room, threw the duck up against his pillow, and sat down on the mattress to see Ryota standing in front of a large pile of clothes heaped up on his own bed.
“You sound short of breath,” Ryota commented without looking at Fuyuhiko. He appeared preoccupied with examining a pair of pantyhose which he held at arms-length. “Did you run here?”
Fuyuhiko stared, “Just down the hall…” he answered idly. “What- what are you doing?”
Ryota’s brow furrowed, but he didn’t look up, “I took the liberty of parting out the suitcase Komaeda-san delivered this morning, since you didn’t seem that interested in it.” Only after he had delivered this statement did he lock eyes with Fuyuhiko, “I hope you don’t mind.”
“Yeah sure, do whatever you want,” Fuyuhiko spit out, leaning back on the bed. “I don’t have any use for that shit.”
“Hmm,” Ryota nodded, “By the way, how was your breakfast?”
“You mean with Nanami?”
“Eh, it was-“
A knock at the door cut Fuyuhiko’s not-fully-formed recollection of events short. He bolted upright on the bed, feeling it bounce underneath him. He exchanged glances with Ryota as a second knock, more forceful this time, pierced the silence.
Ryota slowly set the pantyhose down on top of the pile and made his way towards the door.
“If it’s for me, don’t answer it!” ordered Fuyuhiko, but he didn’t get much of a response from Mitarai.
Fuyuhiko remained on the bed, unable to see around the corner, but he heard the door open, and a moment later a female voice met his ears.
“Ryota Mitarai,” pronounced the voice, soft but unquestionably firm. It took Fuyuhiko a minute to place it, but he succeeded in recognizing the voice of the headmaster’s daughter just as Mitarai chose to address her by name.
“Kyoko Kirigiri,” said Ryota, “and Makoto Naegi?”
The hairs shot up on the back of Fuyuhiko’s neck.
“What brings you here?”
A steady forcefulness accompanied Kyoko’s next words, to the point where Fuyuhiko suspected that failing to give her an answer would result in something neither he nor Ryota would want to face.
“Where is Fuyuhiko Kuzuryuu?” she asked bluntly.
“I can’t be certain…” braved Ryota, “But if I see him, I can give him a message for you.”
Fuyuhiko heard Makoto whisper, “That’d be okay, wouldn’t it, Kirigiri-san?”
“No,” said Kyoko, flatly.
Fuyuhiko flattened his hands against the bedspread, aware that his palms were sweating. He didn’t dare move, for fear of making the bed creak, or something else that might give him away.
“It is our understanding that he has some makeup items from Junko Enoshima,” Kyoko explained, “In particular, we require the use of the bottle of concealer she has given him.”
“I see,” said Ryota.
“Furthermore, he took advantage of an interruption to evade Naegi when Naegi was trying to retrieve the concealer earlier.”
“I see…” repeated Ryota.
“If he has something to hide, he should know it will be discovered. It’s only a matter of time.”
Fuyuhiko realized he was grinding his teeth against eachother. He forcibly unclenched his jaw and tried to breathe out his nose.
“He should also know that time will be extended if we leave here with the concealer, and shortened if we leave without…”
Had Fuyuhiko not been accustomed to an environment rife with blackmail, he might have been stunned by Kyoko’s choice of words. As it was, they almost made him furious enough to leap off the bed and blow his cover.
“Well, it would be difficult for me to produce Kuzuryuu-san, I think…” said Ryota thoughtfully, “But if it’s concealer you want, I believe I know where that is kept.”
Fuyuhiko ceased steaming and froze in place, wondering just what Ryota thought he was doing.
“Wait here, please,” said Ryota calmly.
Fuyuhiko heard the sound of the door shutting, and watched as Ryota ambled into view. He passed by with only a gentle smile at Fuyuhiko, and stooped at the corner of the other bed. He reached under it and pulled out the suitcase Nagito had delivered earlier, unzipped the main compartment and plunged his hand into the depths, from which he retrieved a small bottle of light-colored liquid. He resealed the suitcase and returned to the door without speaking another word until it was opened.
“Here you go,” said Ryota to Makoto and Kyoko.
“Thank you, Mitarai-kun!” exclaimed Makoto cheerfully.
“Will that work?”
“It will,” said Kyoko, “and you may tell Kuzuryuu as much.”
The door was then closed, and Fuyuhiko released a breath he hadn’t known he’d been hanging onto.
Ryota reemerged from around the corner, appearing none the worse for wear.
“You’re okay now,” he said. “They’re not going to look for you anymore.”
“I uh… thanks,” Fuyuhiko barely managed.
“If I may ask, what did you do with the makeup from Enoshima?”
Fuyuhiko turned towards the wall and scowled, “I uh… gave it to someone.”
There was silence for a moment. Fuyuhiko removed the duck from the pillow and cast it to the foot of the bed, placing himself up against the headboard.
“How did you evade Naegi?” Ryota asked a minute later, tone indicating he was possibly amused or simply thought it would be a good conversation topic.
Fuyuhiko crossed his arms over eachother, mildly irked at the question, but since Ryota had just effectively gone to bat for him with Kyoko and Makoto, he figured he at least owed him a couple of half-decent answers.
“I ditched him at the elevators,” he said with a yawn, “When that prick Togami just happened to show up and get in his face.”
“I see,” said Ryota.
“What are you going to use all those clothes for?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“For my anime- It’s nice to get a good sample of different fabrics, to see how they behave.”
Another knock at the door made the blood stop up in Fuyuhiko’s veins.
“God dammit!” he cried, bolting up from his resting position. “Who the fuck is it now?”
“It’s me,” came Chiaki’s familiar voice through the door, and Fuyuhiko realized just how loud his prior interjection had been.
Ryota paused for a moment, then moved to get the door, but stopped when Fuyuhiko threw a hand up and scooted off the mattress.
“I’ll get it,” grunted Fuyuhiko.
He hurried to the door and pried it open, to find Chiaki staring calmly back at him with her hands on her backpack straps.
“H-Hey sweetie…” he tried, almost choking on the words as they came out.
Chiaki smiled, “Hi Kuzuryuu-kun… Did you get the gift?”
“Yeah,” Fuyuhiko turned back to glance at the duck, limply draped across the foot of his bed. “Got a stuffed animal, like you said. Hope the bastard likes it… Oh, and here!” He reached into his pocket and gathered the change from his earlier transaction, which he held out to Chiaki. “I have some left…”
Chiaki held up a hand, “That’s okay. You can keep it. Are you ready to go?”
“Go? What? Now?”
Chiaki nodded, “They brought Souda-san back early. He’s in his room now.”
“Uh… okay…” Fuyuhiko sighed. “So you want to head there right now?”
“I think it would be best to deliver the news early… before our whole class gets there…”
Fuyuhiko struggled with the mental image of the entire class rushing to go see Kazuichi, but he nevertheless nodded. “Okay, sure… just let me grab the thing and we’ll head out.”
Chiaki nodded approvingly, and Fuyuhiko shut the door. He stuffed the money back in his pocket, reasoning he’d ask her to take it back later, stomped over to the bed, grabbed the stuffed duck, and headed back to the door.
Despite how comforting a person Chiaki was, he somehow found himself swimming in a welling sense of discomfort as they walked side by side down the hall.
“Should… Should we hold hands or something?” he said as they approached the door he supposed was Kazuichi’s room, even though he’d never actually bothered to figure out which one it was for himself.
Chiaki shook her head, “Not right now.”
“Are you okay?”
She smiled, “I’m fine, Kuzuryuu-kun.”
“Are you sure?”
Chiaki stopped a few paces before the door and tapped her chin, “Have you ever played one of those RPGs where you have to explore a cave?”
“No,” Fuyuhiko answered truthfully. “Why?”
Chiaki shrugged, “I was going to make an analogy, but if you don’t know the feeling…”
Fuyuhiko and Nanami turned to see Sonia Nevermind and Gundam Tanaka approaching. Gundam trailed slightly behind Sonia with his arms folded across his chest, which Fuyuhiko supposed came from the fact that Sonia cradled a bouquet of yellow and orange flowers so large and cumbersome it stuck out into the space next to her that Gundam might have otherwise occupied.
“Are you here to visit Souda-san as well?” Sonia asked.
“We are,” said Chiaki. “Isn’t that right, Kuzuyruu-kun?”
“Y-Yeah…” affirmed Fuyuhiko.
Sonia nodded, then turned and whispered something over her shoulder to Gundam, who nodded.
“Excuse me,” Sonia said, turning back around. “Please do not think me rude if I have it wrong, but are you two here… together… as a couple?”
Fuyuhiko felt a bit of heat under his collar.
Nanami was the picture of calm as she answered for both of them, “Yes, we are.”
Sonia gasped and a large smile slowly spread across her face. Behind her, Gundam gave an approving nod.
“Congratulations! I am officially tickled for you!” She leaned forward, clutching the flowers to her chest as she told Chiaki, “Kuzuryuu-san told me he was interested in you! I think you two will make a wonderful couple!”
Fuyuhiko felt like he was rooted in place and something inside him made him feel like what was happening was somehow very wrong.
Chiaki squeezed his hand, “I think so, too!” she said.
Feeling obliged to change the subject, Fuyuhiko spit out, “So, what’s with the flowers?”
Sonia looked at him, and then to Chiaki. Her smile fell just a little, and something in her eyes made her almost look sad, “We are… here to apologize to Souda-san. Right, Tanaka-san?” She clutched the flowers tighter to her chest, “After all, it is… our fault he was taken to the hospital.”
Gundam cleared his throat, “It… dishonorable… If I truly wanted to engage the petulant one I should have waited until we were on a suitable battleground and able to duel properly.”
Sonia nodded in agreement.
“Truthfully,” she said, “I am glad you two are here. I was… using Souda-san to distract the faculty… and I think he took it too seriously. For this, I owe him more apologies than one, but I do not think I would have the strength to make them if not for Tanaka-san and you two being here.”
Fuyuhiko cracked a forced, awkward smile, “Well, we’re here…”
Chiaki nodded, “We’ll be right behind you, Sonia.”
Sonia smiled and nodded, and with that, approached the door just behind them and rapped on it. Gundam folded in behind her.
Fuyuhiko tried to ignore the nauseous, churning feeling in his gut.
Nagito opened the door and greeted them warmly.
“Ah! What a pleasant surprise!” he said, eyeing the four of them. “I take it you are here to see Souda-san?”
Sonia squinted uncomfortably, “Yes, we are. Thank you, Komaeda-san.”
Nagito stepped aside and gestured for them to come into the room. They poured in through the doorway and were greeted by the sight of what was an almost enviably large suite with a few extra chairs in addition to the two full beds—plus a small, ornate loveseat which sat by the window.
“It’s a nice room,” said Nagito over Fuyuhiko’s right shoulder, as if reading his mind. “Shortly after Souda-san was taken to the hospital, a pipe burst in our old room, so we were transferred to this one.” He punctuated his explanation with a breathy sigh, “It’s not quite as cozy, but it seems spacious enough to accommodate Souda-san in his recovery.”
Fuyuhiko said nothing. He sighted Kazuichi on the far bed, reclining with his foot in a cast, and propped up on a stack of pillows. Mikan Tsumiki hovered nearby, anxiously fluttering around the foot of the bed as she reached in occasionally to tweak something or otherwise tend to Kazuichi.
Let’s get this over with, Fuyuhiko thought, now vaguely dreading the interaction Chiaki had previously described as a ‘winner’s highlight.’
Sonia tentatively moved forward, flanked by Gundam. Fuyuhiko felt a hand close around his elbow, and realized that Chiaki was pulling him forward as well. He somewhat begrudgingly allowed himself to be moved and the four of them arrived at the far bed where Kazuichi sat.
Kazuichi was clearly delighted to see Sonia, exclaiming “Sonia-san!” as she approached. His expression only darkened as it fell on Gundam.
“What’s he doing here?” he whined.
Taking this more seriously than Fuyuhiko would have ever anticipated, Sonia knelt by the bed and somewhat dramatically bowed her head, clutching the flowers to her chest.
“Souda-san, Tanaka-san and I have come to bestow on you our most humble apologies.”
Kazuichi’s eyes lit up, “You don’t have to apologize, Sonia-san!” His eyes again darkened as he turned to Gundam, “You didn’t sic a bunch of rats on me.”
Gundam’s eyes flashed with anger at the word ‘rats,’ but he did not speak. Instead, he stayed still, allowing Sonia to continue.
“I am afraid,” Sonia said, “Tanaka-san believed to be acting on my behalf…” she sighed, “and I feel that makes your injury at least partially my responsibility.” She reached forward and set the flowers across the end of the bed, in the empty space before Kazuichi’s feet. “Please, except my apology.”
Kazuichi scratched at the side of his face, looking utterly indifferent to this bit of information, as well as the flowers that had been placed at his feet.
“Yeah… ok….” He sighed. His eyes rolled over to Gundam, “Are you gonna say anything?”
Gundam closed his eyes for a half-second, and then opened them and cleared his throat.
“It was a show of cowardice for me to have engaged in such a petty act. I have misused my powers and the strength of the Devas and Generals… For this, I am prepared to make reparations.”
Fuyuhiko wasn’t sure if the look on Kazuichi’s face in the following second was the result of skepticism or having to translate, to some degree, what Gundam was saying.
Gundam’s voice boomed and he took a large step forward. “As penance, allow me to perform a healing spell…” he held his arms out over Kazuichi’s cast. Kazuichi’s eyes widened, understandably, in Fuyuhiko’s opinion-- for it looked like Gundam might have been about to clap his hands down on the cast, and he cried out preemptively.
“No! That’s okay!!” Kazuichi screeched, waving his hands around. When Gundam withdrew the gesture and backed away, he calmed, “Geez! Thanks but no thanks!” He let out an aggravated sigh and pulled his beanie down partially over his brow, “I forgive you guys, I guess…”
Gundam bowed his head and Sonia squealed and clapped her hands together at this, instantly looking much brighter. She rose to her feet and moved off to the side of the room with Gundam, leaving the area by the bed open for Chiaki to move into—a motion Fuyuhiko only realized he should mimic after he noticed both she and Kazuichi were staring at him.
He stepped forward and stood at Chiaki’s side. Kazuichi’s eyes fell on the duck he was carrying at his side. Before he could say anything, Fuyuhiko held out the stuffed animal and clarified with something between a fumbling explanation and a terse grunt, that it was a gift for him.
Somewhat to Fuyuhiko’s surprise, Kazuchi’s eyes lit up. “Really?” he breathed.
He took the duck and pulled it back to himself, turning it over and examining it with a sparkle in his eye. Fuyuhiko frowned.
Chiaki smiled, “Do you like it?”
Kazuichi nodded, “Yeah! I mean, I never really got stuff like this growing up...”
Fuyuhiko felt a pang of guilt, or something similar, at Kazuichi’s statement. While it wasn’t a sentiment he couldn’t totally relate to, he didn’t like how it made him feel even more conflicted about the news he was there to deliver.
“So what’s the deal?” Kazuichi said suddenly.
“What?” barked Fuyuhiko instinctively.
Kazuichi gestured vaguely to him and Chiaki, “You run into eachother in the hall or something?”
Fuyuhiko swallowed, waiting and somehow knowing that Chiaki would drop the news before he could.
She did. “Kuzuryuu-san and I are a couple now, Souda-san.”
Kazuichi’s reaction was instantaneous, but Fuyuhiko could recall every detail of it. First, his eyes grew wide and Fuyuhiko could hear him inhale. Presumably, that was so he could next cry out with a full-body recoil, “You’re… WHAT?”
Before Fuyuhiko could either hush or answer him, Kazuichi lost his balance from the recoil and his foot rose off the pillow, only to thump back down on the bed next to the stack.
“Aaaooww!” Kazuichi cried.
Fuyuhiko felt a body brush by him with enough force to push him slightly to the side, and was surprised to see Sonia rush in alongside Mikan to tend to Kazuichi. She, Mikan, and, to a lesser degree, Gundam and Nagito, hovered around Kazuichi for the next few seconds— with the girls and Nagito breaking into a string of inquiries about his well-being.
Fuyuhiko felt a tug at his arm.
“We should stand back,” Chiaki whispered in his ear.
Fuyuhiko allowed himself to be directed to the edge of the room, and he and Chiaki stood over by the bay of windows. He watched Chiaki survey the scene at the bed for a few moments, before she turned to him.
“We should wait until it calms down here, then say goodbye… I think,” said Chiaki.
However, as it turned out, it never really ‘calmed down’ in the room. Mere moments later, a loud noise from the doorway alerted them all to the presence of Kiyotaka Ishimaru and Mondo Oowada. The former somehow managed to free a hand from under the large stack of laminated papers he was carrying and wave animatedly at Kazuichi.
“Greetings, Souda-san!” bellowed Kiyotaka, “It is good to see you are back from the hospital! I trust you are doing well?”
“I…” Kazuichi looked like he was about to deny that he was ‘doing well,’ but Kiyotaka continued speaking.
“Since you will be absent from the remainder of our planned outings, I have taken the liberty of collecting the educational materials from all of the sites we will be visiting! That way, you won’t fall behind if your instructor presents you with a test on it upon our return!”
He stepped forward and set the stack of laminated materials on the bed beside Kazuichi, whose eyes rolled over the pile with supreme disinterest.
“Gee, thanks…” he deadpanned.
The sarcasm in his tone evidently went over Kiyotaka’s head. “You’re welcome!” he gestured to Mondo, who seemed to anticipate what he was going to say and almost shrank back a bit. “I couldn’t have done it without Oowada-kun to escort me around the city!”
Fuyuhiko snickered at the thought of Mondo trailing behind Kiyotaka as they visited every tourist destination in the city on a quest for ‘educational materials.’ He couldn’t imagine it had been Mondo’s favorite outing.
“Don’t mention it,” grunted Mondo.
That was largely the end of that conversation. However, as Fuyuhiko began to inch towards the bed with the intention of saying goodbye, Kyoko Kirigiri and Makoto Naegi appeared in the doorway, and his heart felt like it froze in his chest.
He backed up against the loveseat by the window and made brief eye contact with Kyoko, before she and Makoto headed over to Kazuichi at the bed. Makoto shook Kazuichi’s hand and spoke to him in a low voice, with a face full of so much sympathy Fuyuhiko thought he was going to be ill.
Their conversation only lasted until the door opened again, and Aoi Asahina bounded in with Sakura Oogami in tow.
“Hiya everyone!” called Aoi, before her eyes flitted to Kazuichi on the bed, “Is he doing okay?”
Fuyuhiko suspected from the look on Kazuichi’s face that he was starting to enjoy, at least in some respect, the attention from all the people pouring into the room—and pour, they did. The very next time Fuyuhiko thought about getting up to say goodbye, he looked over at the door to see Mahiru, Hiyoko, and Mikan arrive in a trio, all with gifts that took some time to unwrap. Next, the redheaded baseball player, whom Fuyuhiko was soon able to learn was named ‘Leon,’ strode into the room, flanked by Sayaka Maizono and Chihiro Fujisaki. Akane and Nekomaru arrived together, adding their gifts to a growing stack of health supplements started by Aoi and Sakura.
Soon the room was bursting at the seams and had evolved into a de-facto party of sorts, with more bodies added to the space as more classmates filed in either to wish Kazuichi well or simply to check out what all the commotion was about. At some point, someone switched on some music from a stereo Fuyuhiko hadn’t noticed being brought in, and some people began bobbing along with the beat while Kiyotaka tried in vain to shout over the increasing noise level for them to be quiet.
At any rate, no one seemed to leave, and the ‘dust’ certainly didn’t settle.
Fuyuhiko sat on the loveseat by the window with Chiaki, slumping towards her as he watched Akane doing the splits in the middle of the floor—cheered on by an enthusiastic Leon, Aoi, and Yasuhiro — with the first of the three recording her on his phone. He rolled his eyes. The door to the room was subsequently thrown open with a loud BANG and the crowd that had been standing near it parted slightly to allow someone entrance.
“Oi Oi Oi!” cried a familiar voice.
Fuyuhiko craned his neck and peered around the crowd to get a better view of who had entered this time. Junko Enoshima strode into his limited view, waving a gift bag over her head. “Who’s idea was it to start a party without us?”
Fuyuhiko shook his head and reclined against the back of the couch, nearly leaning on Chiaki. Junko pushed her way through the crowd, followed by Mukuro.
“When I say ‘us’ I mean ‘me’ of course! Everyone knows I’m the lifeblood and soul of any party! Sis is all right… but she’s kind of frumpy. Oi, Naegi!”
Junko paused just to the side of Leon, who still stood with his phone aimed at Akane, and waved a hand at Makoto.
“You ever get that concealer?” Junko asked, tone casual but voice exceedingly loud.
Fuyuhiko swallowed. Makoto seemed stunned, and didn’t speak fast enough.
Mondo piped up from his resting place in a corner, “Oi Naegi, what do you need concealer for?”
Fuyuhiko bit his lip.
Junko rolled her eyes, “His hickey, of course.”
No single reaction was audible in the next second over the swell of reactions which seemed to come spilling forth from every single person present. When the room finally quieted down, several students still saw fit to debate the situation.
“A hickey? My my… that doesn’t sound like you,” pronounced the goth-lolita girl, whom Fuyuhiko noticed earlier had taken the only armchair on the other side of the room.
“Who gave it to you?” Leon cried over the music, holding his phone camera on Makoto as if he were some kind of reporter about to get a valuable confession.
Makoto flushed and scratched the side of his face, “You know, that’s not really…”
Leon pointed at Aoi, and subsequently turned his camera on her, too, “I bet it was you, right?”
Aoi’s face turned bright red, and Fuyuhiko thought he couldn’t have been the only one who noticed her inching towards Sakura Oogami. “No!” she cried, “It wasn’t!”
Leon furiously scratched his head, “Then who was it?”
“Perhaps one of the girls from the other class?” offered the goth-lolita girl again. “Many of them do seem the type.”
This caused Mahiru to turn on her, yelling over the music, “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Guys…” Makoto tried.
“Who was it, Naegi-chi?” asked Yasuhiro, waving a bottle of something in Naegi’s direction.
“You gotta tell us, man!” pleaded Leon.
“Who was it, Naegi-kun?” demanded Kiyotaka.
The single-syllable utterance from none other than Kyoko Kirigiri served to quiet the room, save for the music which was finally fully audible for the first time in minutes, and continued to be so as she took three precise steps into the center of the room and pivoted to face Makoto.
There was audible hitching of breath in the room exactly one second before she reached up and grabbed Makoto by the shoulders. There was a brief glance between them and a strange glint in Makoto’s eye. Following that, in a movement so quick and fluid Fuyuhiko could scarcely recall it later, she wrapped her arms around his torso, and pressed her lips against his.
“K-Kirigiri-san!” Kiyotaka exclaimed from where he stood by the wall, “T-That is…”
He silenced, and his silence evolved into a noise a little like a shriek as the simple kiss rapidly grew more aggressive-looking. It instantly occurred to Fuyuhiko that this was a demonstration of something the two had done enough times for there to be a kind of unspoken line of communication running through their actions. Over the gradual build of excited murmurs and assorted commentary in the room, Kiyotaka could faintly be heard protesting what all of them were witnessing. Kyoko moved so that her leg was between Makoto’s legs, and her chest flush against his, at which point Makoto hesitantly caught her waist with his hands. Kiyotaka stormed forward out of the crowd and stopped just short of them, looking like he was greatly hesitating at, but also seriously considering, pulling them apart. Fuyuhiko snorted under his breath, but also eyed the apparent couple warily as they seemed to take turns plowing their way into each other’s mouth. It took a few more seconds for Fuyuhiko to notice that Leon was recording the whole thing on his phone, and he wondered if Kyoko had in any way taken that into consideration.
When order was restored, several minutes later, the two separated and were instantly given a blustery lecture by Kiyotaka that Fuyuhiko didn’t bother to listen in on. The room was still buzzing with excitement and from what few conversations Fuyuhiko was able to hear, it sounded like some of their classmates were placing bets on how long this had been going on.
Shortly the conversation turned in a predictable direction.
“So, what’s going on? Are you two a couple now?” Mondo asked, scratching the side of his face.
“I… really don’t know,” said Makoto with a sheepish grin. “Kirigiri-san?”
Kyoko was silent for some time before she answered, “I suppose so.”
Makoto seemed almost surprised by this answer, but nonetheless thrilled, “Kirigiri-san!” he exclaimed, breathlessly turning to Kyoko.
“You’re not going to propose to eachother or anything, are you?” whined Hiyoko from the far corner back by the door, “That would be super gross.”
Fuyuhiko chuckled and shook his head as Makoto went red and sputtered that he hadn’t been planning on doing anything like that. Kyoko said nothing and her face remained a placid mask.
“Well congrats anyway, you two,” grunted Mondo. “You treat her right, Naegi, you understand?”
Sonia piped up from the other side of the room, “Speaking of new couples,” she said, “I do not mean to take the limelight away from Kirigiri-san and Naegi-san…” she gestured over to where Fuyuhiko and Chiaki were sitting and Fuyuhiko bristled slightly, “but I am very pleased to have learned that Kuzuryuu-san and Nanami-san are also a couple, and I believe some congratulations are in order for them, as well.”
Fuyuhiko was at that point aware of nearly every eye in the room turning to him—or at least, it felt like just him. Unlike what had happened with Kyoko and Makoto, however, there didn’t seem to be much shock at this announcement. There might have been some mild surprise at first from the members of his class, but all that was quickly replaced by smiles and nods of approval.
Before too long, the goth-lolita girl drummed her fingernails on the chair armrest and smiled mirthfully, “Are you going to treat us to a show, too?”
There were mixed reactions to this, and Fuyuhiko was dimly aware of Makoto going very red in the face and turning away to face the wall, but eventually an odd sort of consensus welled up out of the croud.
“You know what’s weird?” mused Akane, starting it off, “I don’t remember seein’ them together before this all that much.”
“Yes, but I do believe Kuzuryuu-san was keeping his feelings a secret…” said Sonia. “He told me a few days ago, but was very reluctant to do so.”
“That’s shameful,” sighed Mahiru, and Fuyuhiko grit his teeth. “After all, you two make a cute couple…”
The rage that had started to build in Fuyuhiko halted its course to be replaced by surprise as Mahiru stepped forward with her camera. “Would you mind if I snapped a quick picture of you?”
At some level, Fuyuhiko did mind, but sitting next to Chiaki, surrounded by a crowd of relatively enthusiastic onlookers, and with Souda sitting on the bed a few feet away, he felt inclined to not only agree, but perform.
He threw an arm up around Chiaki’s shoulders, and reclined against the couch back, “Yeah sure, I’m cool with it… How about you, babe?”
Chiaki nodded, “It’s okay by me.”
“Okay,” said Mahiru, “Scooch closer together, okay?”
Fuyuhiko hadn’t thought of the two of them as being particularly far apart, but he obliged, and so did Chiaki.
Mahiru frowned, “You don’t look like much of a couple…”
“What do you mean?” Fuyuhiko asked, trying not to snap.
“I don’t know,” said Mahiru, “I can’t put my finger on it, but I’m used to a certain amount of spontaneity in my portraits and you two just look… stiff.”
There was a bit of stillness in the room at that. Fuyuhiko wasn’t sure how he was supposed to respond, but while he worked on a retort, the stillness filled with a chorus echoing off one potent suggestion.
“You two should kiss!” cried Junko, to be seconded by a few voices and then, before Fuyuhiko knew it, what seemed like the entire room.
“Yeah! Break the tension!” cried Leon, whom Fuyuhiko sort-of registered was pointing his phone camera at them as well.
Fuyuhiko turned to Chiaki, who stared back at him with a small smile. She gave a tiny shrug, which Fuyuhiko took as permission to appease the chanting crowd. He leaned in, and with some relief, noted that she did as well. Their faces met clumsily in the middle, with lips brushing eachother at first and then colliding almost with a second try. Fuyuhiko waited with his eyes closed, feeling the sensation of their lips pressed together. It wasn’t bad, he decided, but it also wasn’t particularly good, though he couldn’t have said for sure what ‘good’ would have felt like in contrast.
They pulled apart a few seconds later and Fuyuhiko wondered if maybe something had been wrong. He relaxed his grip around Chiaki’s shoulders, and turned back to Mahiru and the crowd.
“There,” he grunted with a wry half-smirk on his face, “You happy now, you-“
He froze, horrified, as his gaze flew over the top of Mahiru’s crouching form and met a familiar face and two wide, red eyes. Peko stood, a few feet behind Mahiru, but nevertheless visible near the back wall. Fuyuhiko’s heart pounded in his ears and the rest of the scene faded away aside from Peko’s expression, which was something Fuyuhiko couldn’t name, but was reasonably sure he had never seen on her face before.
“Peko!” he cried, releasing Chiaki and bolting up from the couch. The crowd seemed to back up a few feet, and a few people turned to follow his gaze.
Peko instantly averted her eyes from him and bolted backwards through the crowd, shouldering her way past several students whose existence Fuyuhiko barely registered as he dove through the crowd, chasing after her. “Peko, wait!”
He was aware that people were talking to him as he muscled through the maze of bodies, but he didn’t care, and he didn’t stop moving. With as much strength and speed as he could muster, he writhed through the tangles of students and squeezed out of the crowd, ejecting himself from the room out into the hall.
He looked to his right, down the hallway, just in time to see Peko duck into the elevators, and he took off running.
“Peko!” he cried after her, feeling his feet thump on the carpet below him, but unaware of anything else. “Wait, Peko, please!”
The last utterance had been desperate, but it was desperation he felt. He skidded to a stop by the elevator just as the doors closed, and he wasted no time in slamming his fist repeatedly into the button, inwardly begging the door to reopen.
When the elevator doors opened again, Peko was not inside.
future chapters might be really slow, but they're coming!
Chapter 16: Peko and Fuyuhiko
I was severely burned out on this fic for a good long while there, so this fic stayed on hiatus for a long time, but so help me I am going to finish what I started. That said- enjoy the KuzuPeko!
By the time the unbearably long elevator ride had ended and the doors opened on the girls’ floor, Fuyuhiko wasn’t bothering to conceal any emotion. Panic-fueled rage pushed him down the hallway as fast as he could go and also caused him to skid to a halt once he realized he couldn’t see Peko anywhere. He was desperately afraid of what might be going through her mind, having seen the kiss, and this was amplified by the image, frozen in his mind, of her expression seconds before she’d exited the room.
His eyes darted around an empty hallway. He guessed most everyone must have been in the room downstairs by now.
“Peko!” he cried out in desperation, “Peko, please, wait!”
He bowed his head following the exclamation and shut his eyes. He hadn’t truly been expecting anything to come of it, but when he heard a door click open at the end of the hall, he allowed it to get his hopes up.
Eyes wide, he slowly moved down the hall. “P-Peko?” he called, quieter this time.
He couldn’t quite see inside the door that had opened, try as he might, so he kept inching forward, craning his neck as far as he could around.
“Peko?” he called.
A slight turn of the handle suggested to Fuyuhiko that the door was about to close, and this induced a panic in him that caused him to pounce on it, jamming himself in the doorway while grabbing it with both hands.
“Just stop, ok? I wanna talk to you!” he called into the crack of the door.
“Peko’s not here…” purred a voice Fuyuhiko recognized and instantly came to detest.
“Fuck off, Hanamura!” Fuyuhiko shunted his shoulder into the door and forced it open, knocking the source of the voice onto the carpet and causing the door to slam into the inside wall. When the dust had cleared, Fuyuhiko was standing over Teruteru, who sat up on the carpet with a trickle of blood running out his nose which Fuyuhiko chose to assume was the result of the door hitting him in the face.
“My my, Fuyuhiko Kuzuryuu, I didn’t know you were capable of such force…” Teruteru growled, making Fuyuhiko’s stomach churn. “Does this mean you like it rough?”
Lividity injected itself into Fuyuhiko’s speech, “I don’t… have time… for your shit, okay? I’m looking for Peko, bastard… so tell me where she is or I’ll turn you in for… whatever the fuck you were doing up here.”
“I was going through the girls’ panties.”
“You were…” Fuyuhiko stalled out, caught himself, then glared into Teruteru’s face. “If I wasn’t in a hurry, I’d kick your ass.” With a disgusted shiver halfway up his spine, Fuyuhiko turned to leave, only to stop when he felt a firm tug on his sleeve.
“If you wish to find Pekoyama-san so badly, I am sure I can assist you…”
“I told you to fuck off…”
“I did see her not that long ago…”
Fuyuhiko froze, swallowed, and forced himself to turn around. He instantly regretted it once he saw the look on Teruteru’s face.
“Okay… so tell me and I’ll…” he cursed himself inwardly, “…pretend I never saw you.”
“While I appreciate your candor, Kuzuryuu-san… I’m afraid this info is a bit more priceless than that.”
Fuyuhiko didn’t like that Teruteru could evidently sense his desperation, but he’d long since lost his ability to mask it or bluff. “So what do you want?”
“Your underwear,” said Teruteru with a shrug, in a manner akin to requesting something for breakfast.
Heat flooded Fuyuhiko’s face, “The fuck for?”
“I like to think of myself as a connoisseur…” purred Teruteru, not quite answering Fuyuhiko’s question.
Fuyuhiko stared in disbelief, feeling his face get hotter still. He could almost feel the time passing as he wondered where Peko had gone, and it made him nervous enough that he, with one last loud exhalation, decided to bow to Teruteru’s absurd demand.
“Fine, bastard, they’re downstairs. Just let me get some and I’ll…”
“Oh there’s no need for that…”
“You’re in a hurry, aren’t you, Kuzuryuu-san? I’ll gladly take the pair you’re wearing,” Teruteru gleefully informed him, again with the same intonation as if he were ordering food.
“That’s all I ask, honest. You can even change out in the bathroom if you’re shy…”
Fuyuhiko took as long as he thought he could spare to grapple with the terms that had been laid before him. Ultimately, moments later, he emerged from the nearby bathroom with his underwear balled up tightly in his fist. Red faced, he stormed forward, shoved them into Teruteru’s hands and demanded the information while being careful to block the doorway.
“Where… is… Peko?”
He tried not to pay attention to the way Teruteru twirled his underwear around one finger and only to the answer, “I saw her go into room four-ten and heard her lock it behind her.”
“I suspect she was upset about something…” Teruteru mused, dragging a finger under his chin.
Fuyuhiko only grunted in response, and tore off out of the room, into the hallway. He counted the doors and realized he’d already gone past door 410, and that, if Peko was in there, she must have already heard him screaming for her, then yelling at Teruteru, and decided to remain hidden.
That didn’t sit well with him.
He softly approached the door with the corresponding number on it and gave a hesitant knock. He bowed his head. When there was no answer, he thought about giving up, but forced himself to knock again.
Some time passed and he was deliberating between knocking again and going to take his underwear back for the misinformation, when the door slid open and a familiar half-a-face appeared in the crack.
“Peko!” he cried out in relief.
Her expression was, unfortunately, unreadable—and it stayed that way as he tried to explain himself out of fear that she would shut the door in his face.
“Holy shit Peko… I’m so sorry you had to see that… I just… look… I was trying to win that bet… and if you let me in I swear I’ll explain everything!”
Peko scarcely blinked, and when she eventually spoke, her tone was eerily level—like nothing was wrong at all.
“All-right,” she said.
She backed away from the door, and once it had opened enough that Fuyuhiko could fit, he practically dove through the threshold and into the darkness of the hotel room.
He quickly managed to piece together that this was Peko’s hotel room, shared with an unspecified roommate who appeared to be similarly neat. Peko briefly addressed him, apologizing for something in the state of the room, before retreating to sit on the neatly-made bed closest the door.
Fuyuhiko studied her, trying to divine some type of clue from her posture as to how she might be feeling, but despite knowing her since childhood, the only thing he was able to pick up on at this moment was that she was holding herself in a bit stiffer posture than normal. Her face was practically frozen –a steely mask—unreadable and still.
“So listen,” he tried, clearing his throat, “That thing you saw up there… I mean… just so you know… that wasn’t real.”
Peko nodded, but Fuyuhiko noticed she didn’t look at him.
He took a step closer, “That was also the first time, you know… me and Nanami… I swear I haven’t done that before… It was just that one that you saw…”
“I saw you with her before then,” Peko answered suddenly, voice monotone.
“You did?” Fuyuhiko could feel his throat tightening. He could only guess she was referring to the breakfast ‘date’ that had happened beforehand. “Well, we were… I mean…”
He paused to look at her again and noticed her hands slowly balling into fists on her knees. Beside this, she remained motionless, staring like a statue at a point in the floor. If Fuyuhiko hadn’t known her for his entire life, he might not have known what part of this was abnormal.
He was about to spill his guts when she surprised him.
“I’m sorry,” she breathed, then closed her eyes.
“For what?” he injected a nervous chuckle into the question.
Peko’s hands clenched into tighter fists—to the point where her knuckles paled, but it was the unmistakable shine of moisture beading into her eyelashes that caused Fuyuhiko to dive to her side in a panic.
“Peko! What is it? What happened?”
Peko opened her mouth and he could tell she was trying to force her normal tone of voice but was thwarted by a sudden, sharp inhalation that usually preceded someone crying.
“I have no right,” was all she said.
“Peko…” Fuyuhiko’s voice rose just slightly above a whisper. He eyed her hands on her lap and, in an act of desperation, took one of them in his.
Her eyes shot open, presumably in response to this, and now Fuyuhiko could see the gloss that indicated she was, in fact, fighting away tears. A hasty apology that Fuyuhiko hadn’t been expecting poured out of her mouth, undercut with pained tones, “I’m sorry, Bocchan… I shouldn’t be like this.” She shook her head, “You should have the right to pursue whomever you wish. You should not be held back by having to console a mere tool. Please, discontinue trying to appease my emotions, and if you will, forgive me for my failure to....”
“Forgive you for WHAT?” Fuyuhiko cut her off, rising to his feet, hands balled into fists at his sides. “For having a perfectly normal goddamn reaction to something?”
Peko seemed shocked, though Fuyuhiko would have had to have stopped at ‘seemed.’ He knelt again, slightly, and reached out to cup her chin, but stopped once he realized what he was doing, such that his hands hovered, shakily, on either side of her face.
He could hear the same pained creep into his own voice as he spoke, “For God’s sake, Peko… My whole life… I’ve waited for you to tell me you want something… Do you have any idea how happy I would have been if you’d told me… you wanted me?”
Peko looked like she might have been struggling to understand.
“You’re not a tool…” breathed Fuyuhiko. “You’re my best friend. We grew up together! You don’t have to hide things from me! I swear I’ll understand if you just tell me…”
He trailed off, eyes widening as his gaze absorbed hers. When he couldn’t finish the thought, and she didn’t speak, he reverted to thoughts of his prior predicament.
“Please Peko… I didn’t mean to hurt you, and if I did, I’m sorry…” when Peko’s eyes widened and she opened her mouth he hastily injected, “Don’t tell me not to apologize… I was wrong, I hurt you, and I’m sorry. I was just… trying to win a bet… to get you out of there… maybe… I don’t know… fuck…”
Peko’s stare bored into his, and Fuyuhiko was aware of the slight shifting of facial muscles indicating different emotions as she processed what he was saying.
He reached out, took her hand, and raised it to him where he cupped it with two hands, “Peko…” he could feel his voice trying to crack as he spoke, but he pressed forward, “I love you.” Her face contorted into a distinct expression of shock at this declaration, only to still a moment later.
“I… I…” Peko spoke, so low it was almost as if she were only mouthing it. “B-B-Bocchan?”
Fuyuhiko felt hopeful, but also like his heart was cracking inside his chest, “I love you, Peko…” he repeated. “Everything I’ve done on this whole fucking trip was so I could be with you… I-I know it’s kind of a fucked up way to go about it, but… shit…” He stared desperately into her face, “Peko, please say something.”
Peko’s eyes searched his face, then flew down to their hands, cupped together, then back up to meet his eyes with a particular kind of intensity Fuyuhiko wasn’t sure he’d seen before.
“You… love me?” she echoed, not quite flat, but not quite ecstatic. Fuyuhiko heard fear in her voice, but also something sweet, gentle, hopeful.
“Yes, Peko,” he braved. “I do…” He swallowed. “D-Do you think… I mean…”
He watched a pained look flash across Peko’s features.
“I know it’s a lot… but… I was kinda hoping you might like me back.”
Peko’s face stilled and he willed himself not to panic. His gaze fell to the floor, and he dropped her hand forced out the rest of the words on one last breath.
“Yeah so that’s it… I was faking a relationship with Nanami so that I could be with you… the kiss and everything were all fake… I hope you at least maybe don’t hate my guts… even though I could understand why you might.”
There was a stillness in the room that made Fuyuhiko want to run away, but at the same time he felt rooted in place.
Nothing in that whole day, or that whole trip, could have surprised him like the next thing to come out of Peko’s mouth.
“Fuyuhiko…” she breathed, and his gaze flew to hers.
“P-Peko?” he braved, a warm feeling of joy and one of cold uncertainty rising up within him. “A-Are you…”
“Forgive the informality… but I thought it wouldn’t be appropriate to the situation to address you as I have… previously.”
Fuyuhiko cracked a small grin, “Previously?”
Peko’s brow furrowed slightly and her eyes flitted about for a moment before landing on Fuyuhiko, “Seeing you with Nanami-san was… surprisingly painful…”
“But it was important for me to know… that I do feel something… for you.”
The statement, and the accompanying sense of elation it brought, hit Fuyuhiko like a ton of bricks. It was the first time in Fuyuhiko’s life that he thought he could describe something pleasant hitting him that abruptly.
He crouched so that he could look up at Peko, and smiled weakly. She smiled in return.
“I don’t think I can say what you wanted me to say… However, I was curious about your declaration…”
Peko visibly hesitated, but as she spoke a small smile spread across her face, “I know you enough to know how sincere you are, how kind, how deeply you feel every emotion…”
“I uh…. Yeah?”
“I’d like the chance… to feel what you feel… to experience your emotions.”
It took Fuyuhiko multiple seconds to process this, “Peko, are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
A warm smile accompanied a nod from Peko, “If it’s all-right, I would like to try… to be in a relationship…. With you, Fuyuhiko…”
Fuyuhiko grinned, “You mean a real one?”
“I believe so.”
Fuyuhiko rose to his feet and wrapped his arms around Peko, who took a second to reciprocate the embrace, but did so nonetheless. He held her tightly, in a way he hadn’t done since they were small and he hadn’t really been conscious of his actions, enjoying the feeling of the closeness and Peko’s warmth against him until his back started to hurt and he had to sit down next to her.
He found himself spitting out, “So… you’re sure about this? Right? Like, I don’t want you to be in this because I want it? Okay? If you want out at any time… just say so... or hell, if I’m doing anything you don’t like you just tell me and I promise I’ll back the fuck off.”
“I appreciate your concern.”
He didn’t get to finish his question, for in the next second there was a knock at the hotel room door. Peko and Fuyuhiko exchanged a glance before Fuyuhiko stood and made his way to the door.
He wasn’t sure what to expect, but for some reason, he hadn’t been expecting to see Chiaki Nanami on the other side. She stood close to the threshold, leading Fuyuhiko to back up a bit to maintain personal space once the door was opened. It took an awkward second for either of them to speak, and in that time Fuyuhiko noticed Hajime Hinata standing back a ways to the right, watching with a lukewarm smile on his face.
“Are you all right, Kuzuryuu-kun?” asked Chiaki.
“Yeah... Yeah… I’m, great, actually…”
“That’s good. I’ll get to the point, then… I came by to say I want to end our agreement.”
Chiaki nodded, a warm smile on her face. “Please understand- I don’t mean it as an insult, but after I saw how you reacted to Pekoyama-san witnessing our kiss, I realized how much you cared about her and… I think it would be better for both of us if we stopped pretending.”
Fuyuhiko nodded, “Yeah… Yeah I agree…”
“I realize this means you might lose the bet… but I hope you can find a way to let Pekoyama-san know how much she matters to you… without the car.”
Fuyuhiko let out a sheepish half-chuckle at this and rubbed the back of his head, “Yeah, uh… I mighta beat you to that.”
Chiaki’s eyes widened slightly, and then a knowing smile crept across her face.
“I knew you had it in you, Kuzuryuu-kun,” she stepped back and gestured vaguely to Hajime. “Hinata-kun and I are going to join our class outside… If you and Pekoyama want to join us.”
Fuyuhiko gaped until his understanding of the situation caught up with him, and then he turned and eyed Peko over his shoulder. She rose from the bed, and nodded.
He beamed at Nanami, “Sounds great, thanks, we’ll be there.”
Chiaki only nodded, then stepped back and looked at Hajime. Wordlessly, they turned and strode off down the hallway, and Fuyuhiko noticed that once they were a considerable way down the hall, Chiaki reached out and took Hajime’s hand.
Chapter 17: Out at Night
The night was especially beautiful, Fuyuhiko thought. As he and Peko trailed just slightly behind the meandering group of students traversing the streets of Rome, he alternated glances between his surroundings and Peko, stealing glimpses of her face he was honestly partially hoping that she noticed. Despite the traffic, obstacles, noise level from the clamoring students ahead, and a slight chill since he’d forgotten to bring a coat, Fuyuhiko felt like he was floating around in a big, shiny bubble of bliss, and he and Peko might as well have been the only two people in the world.
They walked in silence, mostly. Fuyuhiko wasn’t sure what exactly to talk about anyway, given that he surmised from how quiet Peko had been, she was probably still working through the interaction from the hotel room. He decided to give her the space to process what he’d said, but his heart still leapt out of his chest every time she spoke from next to him.
After some time, the class had arrived at a very large fountain. Fuyuhiko initially had no interest in the fountain but after looking up at the sky and being mildly frustrated that he couldn’t see any stars, an idea came to him.
“Hey Peko,” he said, reaching into his pocket for some coins. “Wanna make a wish?”
“What would be the purpose of that?” Peko asked, fixing the coins he produced with a perplexed stare.
“I dunno,” shrugged Fuyuhiko, “Just thought it might be kinda fun…”
“I see,” said Peko.
“It was a dumb suggestion, forget it.”
“No…” Peko said softly, placing a hand over his. “I’d like to.”
Fuyuhiko blinked for a second, then beamed and gleefully turned over his hand to let Peko take some coins, “Help yourself!”
He was expecting Peko to grab a couple or even two, but she surveyed the pile in his hand for a moment before selecting just one, then turned and walked over to the fountain with it. She stood in front of the fountain for some time, face indicating she was deep in thought, before casting the coin rather unceremoniously into the water. She then returned to Fuyuhiko.
“What did you wish for?” Fuyuhiko asked.
His enthusiasm was not matched by Peko, whose brow furrowed, and whose lips drew into a thin line at the question.
“I mean… you can tell me if you want to, that is… no pressure.”
“Peko placed an index finger on her chin and looked up at the sky. “If it comes true… then I shall tell you.”
“Okay,” Fuyuhiko replied, quietly disappointed.
“What about you?” asked Peko. “Are you going to make a wish as well?”
Fuyuhiko shrugged, “Nah.” Off Peko’s surprised expression he reached out and took her hand and stared earnestly up into her eyes, “I uh… think I got my wish.”
Peko stared for a split second, eyes widening as a fiery-for-her-standards blush spread across her face.
“Oh,” she said, turning her gaze away, but Fuyuhiko could see her lips curl up very slightly into a small smile.
Fuyuhiko looked down and realized he was still holding her hand.
“Sorry,” he quickly grunted, releasing it.
Peko stared at him with a furrowed brow, but said nothing.
Then Mondo moved away from the fountain and stood near them.
“Okay everybody, we should probably start heading back,” Mondo called over the noise of the crowd.
“Agreed, Oowada-kun!” exclaimed Kiyotaka, “We have a curfew to be mindful of!”
Mondo sighed, “Yeah, that and someone had the bright idea to reschedule our afternoon tour to six in the morning tomorrow...”
A ripple of groans nearly drowned out Kiyotaka protesting that six in the morning was a fine time for a museum tour, that it had been the only time the museum had an open slot, and that it left more time for going back over the things they’d learned in the afternoon. The crowd began to fold in on itself and file in behind him and Mondo as they headed off down the path from which the group had come.
Fuyuhiko started after them but was stopped by a hand on his shoulder.
“Fuyuhiko,” whispered Peko, and Fuyuhiko spun around to see Peko leaning in.
He jumped, feeling his heart flutter in his chest. Instinctively, he closed his eyes and pursed his lips, leaning in to meet the distance where he imagined Peko’s face to be.
After a confusing moment of feeling nothing but the breeze around his face, he opened his eyes to see Peko’s shoulder, and realized what was going on as she whispered in his ear.
“I do not wish to alarm you, but that strangely-dressed woman has been following us.”
“Who? What?” A certain amount of anger crept into Fuyuhiko’s tone. He took a step back and looked to Peko’s face to see that her intense gaze had locked on a spot to their left. He traced her gaze just in time to see a woman with long green hair and what he would have described as angry eyes stumble out of an alley.
Instantly, something clicked in Fuyuhiko’s brain as being familiar about this woman, but he wasn’t able to connect the dots until she stopped directly in front of them and uttered in a low growl, “W-What are you waiting for? Get out of here!”
Fuyuhiko stared. Had she not spoken, Fuyuhiko would have had a hard time registering that the woman before him was Fukawa. However, as his brain filled in the gaps, he recognized the wine colored dress he’d taken from Nagito, and the scarf from Sonia.
“Y-You two need to get out of here! Y-you’ll ruin everything!” she spat, eyes flashing with rage behind the bangs of what Fuyuhiko felt a little stupid for not initially recognizing was the green wig from Ryota. However, to be fair, it appeared Fukawa had done everything possible to avoid being recognized. She had pinned, and seemingly padded, the dress in several places to make it fit in a way that disguised her thin frame. Her face was sans-glasses and had makeup caked on such as to even obscure the mole at the base of her chin. The makeup itself, though Fuyuhiko couldn’t say he had any idea what makeup was really supposed to look like, didn’t seem to have been applied all that well, other than having been done in quantities he would certainly have described as “too much.” However, if the aim was to make her look like someone else, she had certainly succeeded.
“What the fuck, Fukawa?” He looked to Peko, noting the position of his former bodyguard’s hand at the base of her sword. He gave a slight shake of his head and she relaxed her stance and grip on the blade.
“Y-you two can’t be here! I didn’t go to all this t-trouble and nearly r-risk my life getting to this place to have you two screw things up!”
At that moment, watching her eyes angrily dart between them but never appear to focus, it dawned on Fuyuhiko that Fukawa probably couldn’t see, or at least not very well.
“Did you walk all the way here without your glasses?”
“D-Don’t try to distract me!” Fukawa’s voice broke and curved into a whine, “If you’re not g-going to leave, at least hide! H-He c-can’t see you with me or he might think…” She stopped mid-sentence and her eyes widened as she sighted something over their shoulders. As she stood, seemingly paralyzed with a set of emotions Fuyuhiko couldn’t recongize, he turned and traced her gaze to the opposite side of the fountain, where none other than Byakuya Togami stood, glaring directly at them.
Touko backed away hastily, muttering to herself, “Oh no… I s-should have known he’d be this early… so p-punctual... I h-haven’t had time to set things up...”
Fuyuhiko didn’t want to respond to his name, especially given the way in which Byakuya said it. The night had been going so well, he really didn’t want to fight.
“I should have known someone like you would be pathetic enough to assume our families were on even ground.”
...but he would if he had to.
“The fuck are you talking about, bastard?” he called back.
Byakuya stormed across the courtyard at them. Out of the corner of his eye Fuyuhiko saw Peko draw her shoulders back and stand at her full height.
“Your usual vulgarity and insults will not get you out of this,” Byakuya hissed, arriving in front of them, “If you intended to embarrass the Togami family with this,” he produced and brandished what appeared to be a folded letter in Fuyuhiko’s face, “I promise it will be the mistake that ruins you.”
Despite his irate behavior, Byakuya let Fuyuhiko snatch the letter out of his hand. Fuyuhiko opened it and read aloud:
My Dearest Byakuya,
I know you want to find out who I am. If that is true, I will be waiting for you at ten o’ clock tonight by the fountains four blocks from your hotel. I have green hair and will be wearing a green scarf.
As Fuyuhiko read the last sentence aloud, it dawned on him what Fukawa had been doing all along. Unfortunately, a similar realization seemed to dawn on Byakuya when he sighted Touko, who stood frozen a ways behind Peko with her back turned to them.
“You,” Byakuya hissed. He shunted his way past Fuyuhiko and Peko and stood so he towered over Fukawa. “You had better have an explanation for this. Turn and face me.”
“Hey man, leave her alone.”
“Stay out of this, Kuzuryuu, and tell her to stand down,” his eyes darted to Peko, who had been moving to stand between him and Fukawa.
“Whoever this is, she has something to answer for,” Byakuya asserted. “I won’t let her make me into a fool.”
“Look, sometimes… people do crazy things when they’re in love.”
“That’s not what this is, I assure you,” hissed Byakuya, eyes narrowing.
“If you could just give her the fucking benefit of the doubt!”
“Stand aside, Kuzuryuu...”
Fuyuhiko was about to retort when Fukawa, absolutely rigid, slowly turned around so that she was facing Byakuya. She said nothing, and simply stood with wide eyes staring up at him.
Two heartbeats passed before his eyes widened and his former venomous expression was replaced with one of shock.
The woman in question did not bother to deny the assertion. Byakuya’s eyes widened and he took a step back. The startled expression only lingered on his face for a moment before it was replaced by a definite glare, and that only stayed in place for a moment before he turned on his heels and stormed away.
After he had gone, Fuyuhiko and Peko both looked to Fukawa, who’s seemingly devastated expression at seeing Byakuya storm off then morphed into a still, blank one-- one that somehow made Fuyuhiko feel even worse for her.
“Aw geez… I’m sorry…” he groaned. “Don’t take that too personally, yeah?”
Fukawa didn’t respond, or move.
“We should escort her back to the hotel,” suggested Peko.
“You’re… You’re right…” sighed Fuyuhiko. He carefully approached Fukawa, “You want us to walk you back?”
Fukawa didn’t say anything.
Fuyuhiko sighed, “Come on, buck up… maybe it’s not a loss… I mean, if you think about it, what kind of dick gets a love letter and automatically assumes someone’s fucking with him?”
Fukawa moved her gaze to the ground in front of them.
Fuyuhiko scratched his head, “Okay, so you were kinda fucking with him… with the disguise and all… but…
Fukawa continued staring at the same point, barely moving.
“You gonna say anything?”
She tottered a bit on her heels and a bizarre glimmer appeared in her eyes seconds before she spoke.
“H-He recognized me…” she breathed finally, “Just from my eyes.”
That was just about enough for Fuyuhiko to abandon his offer of walking her back to the hotel, but he and Peko nevertheless made good on their promise of escorting her back, which mostly consisted of acting as physical buffers against obstacles and people since she refused to be steered by touch, but also couldn’t exactly see. She walked along with a giddy grin and blush on her face and a distant look in her eyes. At some level Fuyuhiko had to admire her resilience, but that didn’t mean that her behavior didn’t occasionally get to him.
As he watched Fukawa struggle in the heels across a set of cobblestones, he was about to make another comment regarding the Byakuya incident, when Peko spoke up.
“We are here,” she said.
“Finally,” Fukawa grumbled, “I c-can’t wait to get out of the dark…”
Fuyuhiko shot a glare that Fukawa wouldn’t have seen anyway at the back of her head as she brushed by them and picked her way up the steps to the hotel front entrance.
“Those two fucking deserve each-other,” he growled, shaking his head.
“I know this isn’t the most opportune time, but…”
Much more to Fuyuhiko’s surprise, Peko leaned down further and placed her hands so that they hovered on either side of his face. At first, he was confused as to what she was doing but then it became clear.
She cleared her throat, and spoke carefully, “With your permission, I wish to experience... a kiss.”
Because of the wording, it took Fuyuhiko a second longer to process what she was asking for than it otherwise might have, but once he had, he lit up like a beacon.
Needing no further prompting, Fuyuhiko rocked forward onto the front of his feet, pursed his lips, and closed his eyes. He could feel the warmth of Peko’s hands on his face, and the cold of Peko’s glasses against the bridge of his nose, seconds before their lips touched.
It felt nothing like kissing Chiaki.
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.
...and that's it! took me a long enough time, but I didn't want this to go unfinished. Thank you so much to everyone who read this fic, left kudos, and commented. I'm really honored. I hope you enjoyed this weird little story!