Building Bridges

 

The Roommate

 

It was hard to say if the light streaming into the campus security's base of operations - which was really just one of the regular club houses, and calling it a base was idiotic - was fuelling Fushimi's insistent headache, or if it was Awashima Seri's disgustingly crisp voice as she reported on the past week's activities.

In the first place, it was pointless for him to even be there. Fushimi typed absently on the device in his hands, purposefully not paying attention to whatever she was saying. He was supposed to be working as a TA, not a security guard. Munakata's sponsorship of the campus security program should not have had anything to do with him.

Attending an irritating club party shouldn't have had anything to do with him either, but he'd been forced to do that, too.

Fushimi's fingers clenched on the device; he ground his teeth against the urge to click his tongue. That stupid party... It was the reason for the headache, and he was beyond irritated with himself for his own poor judgement. The plan had been to make an appearance, take in enough of the place to be able to accurately report to Munakata that, yes, he'd been there, and then leave after the required hour was up. Bad luck had stuck him with a loud-mouthed idiot who couldn't handle something as basic as a door without breaking it, but drinking any of that wine had been his own mistake.

And then afterwards...

"Fushimi-kun." Munakata's smooth, unaffected voice cut into that thought. When he raised his eyes from the device to the professor he'd signed a contract with just recently, he found himself faced with a thoughtful gaze and a small smile. "You attended the rugby club's welcoming party last night, correct?"

He did click his tongue at that, and didn't even bother hiding his irritation. "Yes."

That would teach him to properly read his contracts before signing them. Going over it again after being issued that particular command, he'd been grudgingly impressed by how much the vague wording of the terms actually covered. Apparently, "TA" translated to something like "personal manservant" in Professor Munakata's view of the world.

Fushimi was definitely quitting after the year he'd signed for was over. No amount of spending money was worth this. If there hadn't been a chance that he could lose his scholarship over it, he'd have already dropped the whole idea, contract or no.

"Well, then," Munakata was saying now, folding his hands beneath his chin and leaning forward in his seat with an air of expectation. "What were your impressions?"

What do you think? "The music was too loud, there were too many people, and they didn't even bother to check whether or not the idiots getting drunk were underage."

Awashima shot him an exasperated look from across the table. "The point was to check that they were following the school regulations for use of the property," she pointed out, with that same cool, business-like voice. It probably made her perfect for her job as head of the security team, but her tone set his teeth on edge.

"I'm sure Fushimi-kun would have mentioned if he'd noticed otherwise," Munakata countered easily. He was still smiling placidly at Fushimi, but there was a calculating sort of look in his eyes.

Then again, there always seemed to be that look in his eyes. Fushimi respected the man's intelligence, but it was unsettling the way he seemed to look right through you. It made him feel too transparent. "I'm not a security officer. You could've sent someone who's trained for that kind of thing if you really cared that much."

Several of the men at the table visibly blanched at his response, and Awashima drew herself up as if to reply, but Munakata waved a hand at her as if to forestall it. "I thought you might have an observation outside of what we'd expected from a trained officer," he explained. "Did anything out of the ordinary happen?"

Some small, irrational part of Fushimi was starting to be suspicious of just how much Munakata actually knew about the night before. His boss had taken an unhealthy amount of interest in him from his first day in Advanced Calculus the past year, to the point of actually offering him the TA position - which he'd initially rejected, obviously out of some well-honed instinct. It was his own fault that he'd foolishly ended up silencing it after he'd thought more about how useful the extra money might be. He honestly wouldn't put anything past the man now, given his knack for ferreting out secrets that he really didn't need to know about in the first place.

There's no way he could, though. Fushimi frowned back at Munakata, mentally going back over the details. It was possible that someone might have seen him in the storage room. They might've even known he wasn't alone in there, and that the door handle was broken (although if they knew that much and hadn't bothered to open it, he would really like to track whoever it was down and make them regret that choice). But as for what happened inside...

No. There was no way anyone could have found out. The only person who would possibly know would be Yata Misaki, and if Fushimi was lucky, he would take that knowledge to the grave. He'd been drunk too, after all.

A sudden unwanted mental image of a flushed Yata with fiery want in his warm amber eyes flashed into Fushimi's head, and his headache seemed to intensify by a multiple of ten.

"I didn't notice anything," he responded, as blandly as he could, forcibly pushing that memory to the back of his mind.

It was better if he forgot quickly. He didn't know why it affected him so much in the first place. There was nothing particularly special about Yata; in fact, he was the kind of person who normally irritated Fushimi. The idea that he'd actually gone so far as to kiss him was especially disgusting. Who knew where that mouth had been? Yata seemed like the kind of idiot who'd licked metal poles in the winter just to see if his tongue got stuck. The idea of kissing him should have been revolting.

But it wasn't, and that was the part that was really annoying about this.

"I see." Munakata seemed satisfied with that response, at least. "In that case, Awashima-kun, I think we can bring this meeting to a close. Unless" - at that, a gleam seemed to appear in his eye - "someone would like to suggest a game...?"

The table cleared almost immediately.

One of Awashima's officers managed to intercept Fushimi before he was able to make his escape out of the house. "Wait - Fushimi, could I ask you something?"

How annoying. He nearly said it out loud, but decided against it at the last minute, clicking his tongue instead. "What?"

The officer - a tall, brown-haired man whose name Fushimi hadn't been given - looked a little taken aback by his tone, but continued on anyway. "There's a group of us going to the food court later on for dinner - did you want to join us?"

Behind him, one of his friends started to cough loudly; someone else made a hushing motion.

This kind of thing, huh? Fushimi let his gaze slide from the earnest expression in front of him to the ridiculously conspicuous group staring at them from a short distance away. "I'm not interested," he responded shortly, and started to turn back towards the door.

"Wait - " The brown-haired man started to move forward, as if he was going to grab Fushimi's arm - a sharp glare was enough to freeze him in his tracks. "I mean, you're going to be part of the team from today, so we should try to get along, right?"

"That doesn't have anything to do with me." As if he wanted anything to do with their 'team'. Hopefully Munakata wouldn't drag him here often; he was already annoyed with the place. "I'm a TA, not a security guard - don't expect me to work with you."

The determination on the brown-haired man's face wavered a bit, but he still seemed inclined to keep trying. "Still, though - "

"Hidaka." One of the other officers put a hand on the first one's shoulder, and then turned to Fushimi with an apologetic little smile. "Fushimi, we'll see you at the next meeting, all right?"

Like it's a given that I'm going to be there... Hopefully not. He offered a non-committal shrug in response, and turned to leave. This time, nobody stopped him.

'Part of the team'. What a half-assed reason that was. Fushimi curled his lip derisively. Anyway, it was clear from the reactions of that guy's friends that this was a sentiment that wasn't shared. It wasn't any different from being in middle or high school, in the end - there were always those fakers who wanted to think of themselves as friendly or inclusive; who would go out of their way to try and be nice to the stragglers just for the sake of feeling good about it.

That kind of self-serving nonsense was disgusting to watch; worse when it was pointed at him. I don't need that kind of thing.

Yata's face pushed its way back to the front of his thoughts again, with its stupidly earnest expression. "I'm interested in you." The simple honestly was disconcerting; he didn't think it had been faked. Actually, Yata seemed too stupid to fake his emotions - doubly so when he was drunk.

So, he's just an idiot.

An idiot that Fushimi had kissed - repeatedly, and open-mouthed, which was gross on a number of levels, but still somehow didn't seem that way when he allowed himself to think of what he'd actually done with Yata. The reminder soured his mood even further; he clicked his tongue again, scowling at the neatly maintained line of hedges along the path back to the university buildings.

"Something bothering you, Fushimi-kun?"

The quiet inquiry caught him off-guard; Fushimi glanced to his right, where Munakata had apparently fallen into step without him noticing. "Nothing important."

"Glad to hear it." His boss turned his attention to their surroundings again as they came around the corner, within sight of the Fine Arts building across the small, single-laned street. "I'll be counting on you to grade the initial quiz sheets this week."

At least that actually fit his job description. "Got it."

There was a silence between them that felt a little bit awkward to him - although Munakata showed no sign of discomfort. Fushimi wasn't sure if that feeling was what prompted him, but after they'd crossed the street, he found himself asking, "Do you know a welding instructor with the name 'Mikoto'?"

He wasn't sure if he imagined it, but it seemed like Munakata hesitated for just a split second. When he turned his gaze, though, there was a definite spark of interest in his eyes. "I assume you mean Suoh Mikoto?"

"I have no idea." It was a stupid thing to even ask. He wasn't sure why he was curious about it in the first place - it wasn't like he cared about Yata's life or his school curriculum. The way he'd talked about 'Mikoto-san' was vaguely irritating, too. "Never mind."

"It's no trouble. As a matter of fact, I do know Suoh." It was hard to place the little smile on Munakata's face - but if Fushimi had to guess, he'd say that it was amusement over some private joke. "What prompted you to ask about him?"

Fushimi clicked his tongue, suddenly annoyed with the conversation. "Nothing. I heard his name in passing, that's all."

"I see." Munakata seemed willing enough to take that at face value. "Well, perhaps someday your paths will cross." He looked up at the junction in the sidewalk ahead of them. "I've got a few things to take care of in my office, so I'll leave you here."

"Sure." Just as well - he wasn't sure how much more painful this could get.

"I'll see you tomorrow afternoon, then." Munakata raised a hand in farewell as they separated.

That soon, huh? "Yeah."

The walk to the dorms from there wasn't a long one. Fushimi took his time despite that, feeling the headache from before - which had somehow subsided while he was talking with his boss - flare up again. Last year, there had been a drop-out, and as a result, he'd had a room to himself. He'd signed on to keep it all the way through the summer, winter, and - most recently - spring breaks, not having any other particular options - it wasn't like he could ask that woman to provide him with a space or anything (whatever legal obligations required her to take care of him would have ended quite some time ago; it was probably only some kind of social expectation that prompted her to pay for his high school entry and boarding fees). In any case, this year he wasn't going to be so lucky; his roommate would be moving in some time today.

The perfect finishing touch on this already terrible day.

He'd handle it, though. The high school he'd attended had included dorms, which was one of the main reasons he'd chosen it in the first place when that woman had impatiently raised the subject. He'd had to deal with all levels of stupidity and annoyance from fellow students - blackmail was usually a handy tactic; almost everyone had a secret or two they didn't want to share with someone - so it shouldn't be any different now. The only unfortunate part was that he'd have to find another private space to work if the roommate was going to spend any length of time in his room. But that was a hurdle he was confident he could overcome.

Hopefully I don't get some loud, obnoxious idiot.

Another vivid memory of Yata's laughing face shoved its way to the front of his thoughts. That again... Fushimi clicked his tongue, deliberately putting the mental image aside. He was going to have to work harder on covering up those unnecessary memories.

Fortunately, they were in completely different programs - nearly on opposite ends of the school grounds, in fact. That should be enough of a separation to ensure their paths didn't cross.

If he was lucky, he wouldn't have to interact with Yata Misaki ever again, and this whole thing could be safely forgotten.


In the end, he took a detour to the Activity Center and picked up painkillers, a few bottles of water, and some energy bars. If his timing was right, the new roommate would already be moved in by the time he returned, which at least would mean he could avoid the commotion. The bothersome prospect of an introduction loomed in front of him, though, and he wanted to avoid it for a short while. There were some outdoor tables by the cafeteria, which was actually not far from the dorms, so he stopped for a moment to take some painkillers and drink some of the water. It was late enough to be past lunch but still too early for dinner, so the area was mostly empty.

Once he'd gotten himself settled and downed two pills, Fushimi reached into his pocket for the data collection device that was his current project.I should check the background refreshing functionality first. Opening the program, he went back to his previous searches to bring up an old result.

The cafeteria had a hidden wifi connection for its employees, which included a custom welcome page and links to the rough outline for the next few weeks' menu, as well as some limited employee profile information. The pages were only on the local network, so he didn't have access to them once he was out of range, but they were fully cached for easy access later (it was possible space would become a concern in the future, but he was planning to add options for easy deletion and beyond that it would depend on how much data he really needed to save for later). Just recently, he'd added an automatic refresh that should take place in the background once the application was launched and the applicable network was detected, so this was a good opportunity to check that it was working.

Yata Misaki's profile from the public student database was still up on the results listing. Fushimi clicked his tongue, deliberately scrolling past it before he went for the keyword search. At least there wasn't a picture - although his brain apparently had no qualms about summoning up an image to go with the name.

I'll code in the deletion option next.

The refresh functionality was working well - not that he'd predicted any problems, given how simple it was to add. A brief scan of the employee profile page showed a few new workers who didn't yet have their information filled in - student part-timers, most likely. Fushimi glanced over the other listings briefly, noting with some derision that they still contained contact information. It was pretty stupid to have it out in the open like that. Sure, the network was hidden, but they hadn't bothered to protect it beyond that, even with a simple password. Anyone could easily gain access if they knew what they were doing.

Well, it doesn't concern me. The first thing he'd done after accepting the TA position was verify the semi-private teachers' directory to ensure his own information wasn't being published. Munakata's listing contained only the name of his TA and a link to Fushimi's profile in the student database, which was fine.

Unfortunately, the battery life on the device was starting to get low. He hadn't ended up having much time to charge it between coming back to the dorms from the party and then having to leave again to make it to the meeting, and he'd been using it to relieve boredom at both events.

Fushimi clicked his tongue, turned on sleep mode, and stored the device back in his pocket. There wasn't much choice but to head back to the dorms now - if his roommate turned out to be a nuisance, he could at least grab his laptop or cell phone and look for a quiet place to kill some time. The dorm had been a convenient escape last year, but in the end he really only needed to use it for charging his electronics and sleeping.

Still, it's annoying. At least the headache was starting to clear. The idea of eating still made him feel mildly nauseous, but he had the energy bars in case his appetite returned later. Fushimi drained the rest of the open water bottle before standing, and tossed it in the bin on his way out.

Time to check the size of the next thorn in his side.

The dorm buildings were on the southern end of the campus, near enough to the edge of the island that some of the rooms had a decent view of the ocean out of the small window that was in each one. Fushimi's room was one of those, not that he usually took the time to look. There was no parking near the buildings; student and staff parking was in the underground lots, and guest parking was only around the Activity Center. Fushimi didn't have a car, but he had to appreciate the setup, since it meant that there were less annoying vehicles near the dorms. This time of year, though, with students moving in, there had been a fairly steady influx of cars and moving vans crowding as near to the front entrance as they could get.

Fortunately, the busy time seemed to have passed while he was out, though, because the front entrance was clear again when he reached it. The current dorm manager, an anxious-looking woman with wide glasses and messy hair, offered a nervous greeting, which he ignored in favor of heading directly for the elevator.

His room was on the fifth floor, which made the stairs a feasible option when there were too many people crowding around the elevator, but it was nice not to have to bother with that. The remains of his hangover still lingered, and the idea of walking up five flights of stairs wasn't pleasant. The elevator and stair entrances were side by side on each floor, in the middle of the hallway. Fushimi turned to the left and made his way to the second doorway on his left side, hesitating for only a second or two before deciding that it was idiotic to delay the inevitable and trying the door handle.

Not locked. One point against his new roommate already.

That barely had time to register, though, because as he swung the door open, he could already hear said roommate's voice.

His loud, annoying voice.

Loud, annoying, familiar voice.

What. For a moment, Fushimi felt frozen in place, too shocked to process just how terrible his luck was, even as he took in the back of the person he'd been certain he would never have to meet again.

" - wait, hold on, I think my roommate just walked in." That person was already turning, lowering the phone from his ear as he did, an unassuming smile forming on his face. "Hey, I'm - "

In some other situation, Fushimi thought it might have been amusing just how quickly the color seemed to drain from his new roommate's face, that smile freezing into a kind of horrified grimace even as his phone slipped from nerveless fingers, hitting the carpet with a soft thud.

"... Yata?" the tinny voice on the other end of the line questioned, sounding confused.

This was the universe's idea of a joke, Fushimi decided, recovering enough to loudly click his tongue and twisting his mouth into a disgusted scowl. He could feel the vague pounding of the headache starting up again at the back of his skull, and looked away, thoroughly disgruntled now. Of all the people...

"You!" Yata blurted, recovering enough to back up a step and point an accusing finger at Fushimi. "Why the hell are you here?"

Isn't it obvious? Fushimi clicked his tongue again, stepping into the room and dropping his bag beside the desk that still held his laptop and textbooks. There were a few boxes stacked haphazardly in a corner by the beds, and he wondered idly if Yata was going to be a messy roommate or if he'd just not had time to finish unpacking. "I live here."

"Don't 'ch' at me! Of course I figured that much out!" Yata's ears were turning red, and it wasn't obvious whether it was anger or embarrassment. "Are you seriously going to tell me you're my roommate?" He'd lowered the finger, but his eyes were wide, hands curled in front of him as if to demand some explanation. "How is this for real?"

"You're telling me," Fushimi muttered, under his breath. This had to be the worst development of the day. His drunken mistake and his annoying roommate - one and the same. Perfect. "The top bunk and this desk are mine. My clothing is in that closet there." He nodded sharply at the cheap standing wardrobe on the other side of his desk. "If you're too loud and annoying, I'll report you to the dorm supervisors."

Yata stared at him incredulously. "The fuck? That's all you have to say?"

Somehow, that response was making him feel a bit better - an angry Yata was easier to deal with than... the alternative that he didn't want to consider. Fushimi crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow condescendingly, deliberately trying to draw out more of the same. "You were hoping for something specific, then, Misaki?"

"Don't call me by that name!" Yata's glare was deeply satisfying, too. It was like he put every fibre of his being into it. "It's creepy as hell!"

Being able to elicit such a reaction was strangely exciting. Fushimi felt his heart pounding, and wasn't entirely sure what to make of that. "What?" he drawled, trying to brush it aside. "You hate that name, huh? Misaki?"

"Shut up," Yata growled, with fire in his eyes, and it was hard to deny the way that look made Fushimi's body tremble and his breath catch in his throat.

"I'm interested in you."

For how long, I wonder...

There wasn't really a chance to examine that line of thought, though. "Damnit! I can't believe this!" Yata reached down to snatch up his phone with obvious frustration. "Why do I have to share a room with you of all people? And after something like that happened, too..." The last bit came out in an embarrassed mutter; there was a noticeable line of red across his nose.

The reminder was enough to turn the mood awkward. Fushimi felt an odd sort of sinking feeling in his stomach, as if he'd just been let down, and covered it by turning his face deliberately away, clicking his tongue. "How should I know? Don't bring up unpleasant things like that."

He could see Yata scowling at him at the far edge of his vision. "Th-That should be my line!" he blustered. "Unpleasant is right! Just seeing your face right now gives me the creeps!" That seemed to be enough of a push to get him moving towards the door. "There's no way I'm going to hang around with you - I'm out of here!"

"Fine with me," Fushimi responded darkly, just before the door slammed shut in his new roommate's wake.

In the silence that followed, it was possible to detect the world shifting on its axis, just slightly.

Fushimi could feel the racing of his heart and the pumping of blood through his veins with a stark clarity that was both thrilling and a little overwhelming. He sank down into the chair at his desk, still shaking a little in reaction to the unfamiliar emotion.

It was strange, but he couldn't deny that it felt good. Like the night before, but safer. This was acceptable, being the focus of Yata Misaki's hatred. All that energy poured directly at him. Fushimi leaned against his seat and let his head fall back, a giddy feeling bubbling up from the core of his stomach. He felt as if he'd been brought to life out of a half-dead existence; it was so intense and so real that he almost couldn't breathe.

The way he looks at me... Not fake, and not distant or looking down on him. Like I'm the only thing in the universe at that moment. It was as if something in his life would change; the boring, insignificant existence of doing things for the sake of doing them would end.

Fushimi closed his eyes and breathed out slowly. The image of Yata's flushed, angry face didn't leave his head, but this time it was fine.

 

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