Building Bridges

 

With Friends Like These

 

"First day back..." Bandou sank down onto the grass with a sigh. "It's both good and bad, you know?"

Yata lowered his chopsticks, frowning in return. "What kind of attitude is that? Training under Mikoto-san doesn't have anything bad about it!"

"Says the newbie first-year," Dewa added, raising an eyebrow when Yata turned the frown on him. "Not saying Mikoto-san isn't awesome or anything, but... yeah, give it a month or so."

"School is school, in the end," Chitose agreed easily, from his other side. They were all sitting in the sun outside the trades building, with boxed lunches that had been brought over from the campus cafeteria - one of the nice things about having a close friend who worked there full-time. "Besides, this will be a job one day - and the best part of any job is hanging out at the bar afterwards."

"What the hell? Can you guys really say you're Mikoto-san's apprentices with that kind of half-assed outlook?" Yata irritably jabbed an elbow into Kamamoto, who was sitting next to him. "Say something, dumbass! You're with me on this, right?"

Kamamoto shot him a slightly injured look from over his lunch. "Yata-san..."

"First-years." Dewa sighed, exchanging a glance with Chitose.

"Don't lump me in with him," Eric muttered, without glancing up from his meal.

"Shut up!" Yata clenched his chopsticks in his fist, waving them fiercely. "Are you guys seriously trying to tell me that you're not excited to be working with Mikoto-san again? I had to wait a whole year for this!"

"Yata seems kind of tense today," Akagi said in an undertone to Bandou - as if he thought somehow his voice wouldn't carry to the entire group. "Did something happen?"

"No idea." Bandou shook his head. "It's probably just Yata being Yata."

That really pisses me off... He opened his mouth to call them out, but was interrupted by Fujishima's quiet voice. "Did everything work out okay with your roommate last night, Yata?"

The reminder was enough to make his eyebrow twitch. "That bastard..." he growled, fingers tightening around the chopsticks. It had to be the worst luck the world that landed him with Fushimi as a roommate. The snide comments, the condescending attitude, the way he looked down his nose at Yata...

And then, worst of all, there was that stupid night at the party.

I can't believe that asshole was my first kiss. And second, and third, and - yeah. It had felt good, too; even now, the memory was pretty vivid. Fuck.

"'Bastard'?" Akagi repeated, leaning in curiously. "What'd he do?"

Yata stiffened at that, feeling heat rise to his face. Like hell I'm telling them... "H-He's just a fucking asshole, that's what!" He turned his glare back down to his meal, muttering, "And his face seriously pisses me off."

It wasn't like any of them needed to know that he'd rudely hung up on Fujishima after not bothering to explain anything about his blow-up with Fushimi at the dorm. And they definitely didn't know that he'd spent the next few hours at the Homra bar on campus, complaining to Kusanagi - and Totsuka, who happened to be there as well - about stupid smug assholes who thought they were better than everyone else. It hadn't helped that they'd both seemed more amused than sympathetic. And the evening was pretty well capped off when he came back to the dorm in hopes of sneaking into bed while Fushimi was sleeping, and found him still awake and at his desk. An offhand comment about the fact that he'd never grow any taller if he stayed out late every night instead of sleeping had started them sniping at each other again, and when he'd finally rolled into his bunk with aggravation, it had taken ages to calm down enough to fall asleep.

In short, his current situation sucked, and it was all Fushimi's fault.

"His face pisses you off?" Chitose raised an eyebrow at him. "What are you, a thirteen-year-old girl with a crush?"

"Shut up!" The hot, unpleasant prickling on his neck and face got worse at that.

"Do you guys have history or something?" Akagi asked, tilting his head with a kind of unassuming curiousity.

Yeah, maybe if 'history' meant 'way too familiar with the inside of his mouth'... Yata sputtered, pushing aside that unwanted thought. "O-Of course not!"

Dewa rolled his eyes. "That reaction's pretty suspicious, you know."

Yata whipped his head wildly to face him. "Wh-Wh-What's suspicious? You're just mouthing off over nothing!"

"Totally suspicious," Eric murmured, still bent over his food.

"I'm not suspicious!"

"Calm down a little, Yata-san." Kamamoto patted his shoulder. "You don't need to explain anything to us."

"There's nothing to explain!" Yata let out a frustrated huff, slumping back and scowling down at his lunch again. "My roommate's a fucking asshole - there's nothing suspicious about that. It's just annoying as hell!"

The really annoying part about it, though, was that as much as Fushimi pissed him off, he didn't think he could argue that he actually hated his roommate. He didn't understand Fushimi, but some of the things that still stuck in his memory from the night before - stuff he'd said, looks they'd exchanged - made him feel restless, like he should be doing something but couldn't figure out where or how to direct that energy. Fushimi was definitely an asshole, but Yata was drawn to him in some weird way that he didn't know how to deal with.

I don't know what the hell his problem with me is, either...

"Well, don't take it out on us," Chitose responded, with both eyebrows raised just enough to match his frown. "It's not like we're the dorm managers. Go bitch at them if you have a problem."

"I know that," Yata snapped at him, bending over his lunch to shovel his food in savagely. He wasn't sure what kind of complaint would be needed to switch rooms, but he had a feeling 'I hate this guy's stupid face' wouldn't count. And 'we made out at a party and now we can't stand the sight of each other' was probably even worse (not that he wanted to put that one out there in the first place).

Whatever. I'm not letting him ruin my first year apprenticing to Mikoto-san. He'd had to do a whole year of supplementary lessons after graduating in order to qualify, while Kamamoto and the older friends he'd met through Kamamoto decided to go ahead with the whole apprenticing thing without him. And the whole time, he'd been able to see Suoh Mikoto in action, just itching to finally start learning from him and maybe - just maybe - becoming someone half as awesome, and now it was finally happening. There was no way he was letting some random jerk who kissed him at a party and then happened to be his roommate wreck that!

"Hey, so, did you guys see the campus security lead this morning?" Bandou made an appreciative hum. "She's even more of a hottie this year!"

"And an ice princess," Chitose added, waving his hand dismissively. "I like girls who will actually give you the time of day, ya know?" He grinned. "For example, most of the ladies in the music department..."

"... are probably going to piece together that you've been flirting with all of them one of these days," Dewa put in, drily.

Chitose looked a little chagrined at that, but seemed to recover quickly enough. "Well, maybe I'll start hanging around the academics building instead. Plenty of hotties around there."

"Didn't you say literature students were snobs?" Akagi shrugged with a bit of a smile when he got a flat stare for that. "Just pointing it out..."

"There's more than just literature in that building, you know," Chitose responded, loftily.

"Is that where they do computing stuff?" The words were out before Yata had a chance to fully think them through.

"Huh? Computing? No idea." Chitose raised an eyebrow at him. "You really think you could bag a woman who's into computing? You can barely talk to girls in the first place."

"Th-That's not why I asked!" Actually, why had he asked? It wasn't like he really cared where Fushimi went to class... Okay, maybe he was a little curious, but still. Yata turned back to his meal with a scowl, feeling flustered. "Forget it, never mind!"

"The computer labs are in a separate building," Fujishima pointed out, in that quiet, even tone of his.

"I said never mind!" He shoveled another bite into his mouth, fiercely.

There were several long seconds of silence.

When Yata looked up again, the others were all watching him. "What?" he demanded, crossly.

"Yata-san..." Kamamoto expression was a mix of concern and apprehension. "You've been acting really strange today."

"And yesterday," Dewa added, drily. "But you don't have the excuse of a hangover today. Better not let Kusanagi know about that, by the way, or he'll skin you a new one for underage drinking."

"How much did you even drink, anyway?" Bandou asked him, shaking his head.

"You never made it back to the dorm," Fujishima added quietly.

"Suspicious," Eric tossed in, almost off-hand.

"Hung over, stayed out all night, and now he's acting like he's got something to hide." Chitose checked off the items on his fingers, and then raised his eyebrows. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say Yata got some action at that party."

All heads immediately swiveled back to gawk at him.

Fuck.

"H-HAH?" That hit uncomfortably close to the mark. Yata could feel his face flushing again, and scrambled for a response. "Wh-Why...? I-I didn't... D-Don't just assume..."

"Bingo," Eric murmured, with infuriating certainty.

"Wh-What the hell do you know, anyway?" He shot back a glare and a scowl, which were completely ignored. "You guys fucking ditched me, and I ended up trapped in a storage room with a complete asshole all night!" He narrowed his eyes then as a thought occurred to him. "Hey... none of you even went looking for me, either, did you?"

Bandou scratched his head, laughing a bit sheepishly. "He's kinda got a point there..."

"But," Chitose cut in, leaning forward over his forgotten lunch box, "if you got some action, then it should be worth it, right?"

Dewa gave him a sideways glance and then sighed, rubbing a hand over his forehead.

Chitose blinked at him, looking startled. "What? What'd I say?"

"Why didn't you call one of us?" Akagi cut in, earnestly, ignoring that little exchange.

Yata scratched at the back of his head under his beanie, feeling embarrassed. "I forgot my phone."

"Isn't that your own screw-up, then?" Eric pointed out.

And that was enough to piss him off again. "It wouldn't have been a problem if you assholes hadn't all ditched me!" His fingers clenched around his chopsticks again. "You were supposed to have my back, goddamnit, and instead you all left me alone to get drunk and make out with a random... fucking..."

Shit!

"Heeeeh?" The smirk that spread across Chitose's face was annoyingly smug. "This sounds interesting. What was her name?"

'Her'... "N-N-None of your business!"

"What? Come on, don't be so stingy!"

"That's great, though, Yata-san!" Kamamoto clapped him on the shoulder, beaming like an idiot. "It's a big step to overcoming your fear, right?"

"Never thought I'd see the day." Bandou shook his head.

Yata's gaze darted back and forth between them, a vague sense of panic stirring in his gut. "Sh-Shut up! It's nothing! Just forget I said anything!"

"Seriously, though." Chitose brushed off his protests. "Who was she? Maybe I know her."

"Nobody! It was nobody, okay?" Yata blurted out desperately. "You don't know that... that person, so stop asking!"

"You'd be surprised how many 'nobodies' he knows," Dewa remarked, drily.

"Well, he doesn't know this one!"

"What?" Chitose looked mildly affronted at that. "How can you be so sure? Is she a first year? I met some of them over the winter break, you know. It's not like I had to have scored with her just to talk or anything, if that's what you're worried about."

"I'm not worried!" Yata's heart was thundering in his ears; it felt like his blood was running hot. Fucking drop it already, goddamnit! "You haven't met this person, it's nobody, so stop asking already!"

"Am I the only one who's actually way more curious now?" Bandou commented, grinning like a completely asshole.

"Guys..." Akagi held up his hands placatingly. "Maybe we should just drop it, huh?"

"Huh? Where's the fun in that?"

"'That person'," Eric said suddenly; when Yata jerked his gaze in that direction, he got a sharp-eyed stare in return. "'This one'. 'It's nobody'." A pause, then, "It's not a girl, is it?"

The world seemed to screech to a halt with that.

HOW THE FUCK? "Wh-Wh-Why would you - ?"

Eric actually had the gall to smirk at him. "Bullseye, huh?"

Shit. Shit shit shit shit SHIT. Yata could feel the chopsticks straining as his thumb pressed against the end with his fist still clenched tightly around them; he glared desperately down at his food, feeling his face burn. The silence stretched out, speaking a lot louder than he could've managed.

Someone - Kamamoto, maybe - coughed lightly, and that was enough of a trigger to bring Yata's head back up. He fixed them all with the fiercest scowl he could muster, and demanded testily, "What? If you have a fucking problem - "

"Heh." Eric turned that same smirk around at the others. He held out his hand, palm up, and wiggled his fingers meaningfully.

Almost as a collective, the rest of them let out groans and reached for their wallets.

Yata blinked, not quite trusting his eyes. "Eh...?"

"Goddamnit," Bandou sighed, staring mournfully at his empty wallet. "I'll have to owe you."

Chitose deposited his cash into Eric's waiting palm with a rueful look. "Well played, Surt."

"I guess it was a 50-50 chance after all," Akagi added with good-natured resignation.

Yata stared around at them with growing horror. "You... you guys..." His eyes caught on the unexpected sight of Kamamoto pulling a few bills from his wallet. "Even Kamamoto..." The reality of the situation seemed to click into place; for a moment, he was frozen in place.

They were all taking bets on... on...

The chopsticks snapped.

"What the fuck?" There was red encroaching on his vision. "You guys call yourselves my friends, and - and - " Up to that point, he hadn't even known it was possible to literally sputter with rage, but there it was.

"Ah, sorry." Akagi held up his hands, with a bit of a sheepish little smile. "It was just a friendly bet."

Bandou shrugged, unapologetic. "Seriously, though, with the way you run for the hills every time a girl comes near, who wouldn't wonder?"

Yata could actually feel his hands trembling with rage. "You... you..."

"It was kind of weird," Dewa commented.

Chitose sighed. "And here I thought just a little practice would help you out. Guess my efforts were wasted there, huh?"

"Efforts, my ass!" Without thinking, Yata jumped to his feet, spilling the remains of his lunch across the ground in front of him. "You fucking left me to fend for myself at that goddamn party! This is all your fault!"

"Yata-san!" Kamamoto's voice was almost comically concerned. "Your - your food..."

Eric snorted. "Right, because Chitose was holding a gun to your head forcing you to put your lips on some guy."

"Shut up! You abandoned me just like he did!" His knuckles were starting to ache with how hard he'd clenched his fists. "I wouldn't have even gone to that fucking place if he hadn't been so goddamn pushy about me learning to talk to girls! I have to live with that stupid asshole, and now things are all weird thanks to you!"

"Eh? 'Live with' him?" Chitose raised both eyebrows, looking mildly surprised. "Seriously? This guy turned out to be your roommate?"

"That explains what I heard," Fujishima commented quietly, looking thoughtful.

Fuck, he hadn't meant to give that away, either. Yata felt his eyebrow twitch. "G-Got something to say about that?"

"Not me." Bandou shook his head vigorously. "That sounds pretty damn awkward."

"Good luck with that," Dewa added, unhelpfully.

Chitose frowned thoughtfully. "It sucks, but... y'know, you could turn it around." He actually looked serious when he met Yata's aggravated stare. "Any chance of a repeat? You'd have unlimited privacy; pretty ideal for casual fucking - or, y'know, dating." Almost as an afterthought, he tossed in, "I don't really recommend dating assholes, though - it can get messy."

Yata stared back at him incredulously. "Are you fucking kidding me? C-C-Casual f-f-fuck - ?" The embarrassment that came with the words was too strong; he gave up trying to finish. "Th-There is no goddamn way I'm ever doing anything like that with that fuckhead!"

He didn't even want to think about it. Seriously. That meant his brain could stop trying to shove images of Fushimi's flushed face into his thoughts. He did not need those images. And he definitely didn't like them, either!

"Done eating?" The familiar slow, deep voice had him spinning around almost immediately, all thoughts and the threads of previous conversations coming to an abrupt halt. Mikoto stood a short distance from where they were all gathered, without concern for the school guidelines around how far from a building his lit cigarette was actually allowed.

The lack of regard for rules just made him that much cooler, in Yata's opinon. "Mikoto-san!" Immediately, the day seemed brighter; he grinned back at his instructor, bringing his fists up with enthusiasm. "I'm ready to get back to work any time you are! Just say the word!"

"First-years..." Dewa muttered behind him, almost too quietly to be heard.

Mikoto didn't seem to have noticed. "That so? Then let's go back." He turned back towards the building without either rushing or waiting.

So cool! "All right!" Even with that whole stupid conversation, he was pumped for an afternoon of working beside the person he looked up to most. "Let's get to this!"

There was some shuffling behind him as the others started to move.

Perfect timing - that means I can go ahead and forget this whole thing ever happ -

"By the way... Yata." Mikoto plucked the cigarette out of his mouth without turning, dropping it to the ground and stepping on it even as he casually kept talking. "You still have to use protection when it's between two men."

"Mi... koto... san...?" Dimly, Yata was aware of his friends laughing behind him; he could see the back of his idol as Mikoto strolled lazily back towards the trades building. When he sank to his knees, though, the roaring that echoed around his head as his life crashed to the ground around him blocked out everything else.

 

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