Building Bridges

 

Connections

 

The first day of class after break was, as far as Fushimi's experience had proven, largely a waste of time. Really, if attendance wasn't a mark that could be used to drop someone from a class, he wouldn't have bothered going. As it was, he'd spent about half of the time his three lectures that day made up fine-tuning his data collection device, and the other half absent-mindedly trolling cell phone games that tried to appear skill-based when they were really pay-to-win. Most of them were ridiculously easy to circumvent, but it almost wasn't worth even that minimal amount of effort any more.

It's about as pointless as coming to class is. Fushimi pulled out the chair at his desk in Munakata's office, lowering himself into it. There was no one else in the room, which was probably kind of careless considering the door had been unlocked, but that wasn't his problem. Most things in this place are, though.

Most... not all.

Yata had left before Fushimi had gotten out of bed for his first class, so there hadn't been time to rile him up before the day got started, which was a little disappointing. But it couldn't be helped; trades programs generally seemed to start early and end late. Getting his rush for the day would have to wait until after he returned to the dorm in the evening.

It would probably be worth the delay, though. Fushimi felt the smirk building on his lips and didn't bother to put in the effort to suppress it. Something about Yata's reactions made his heart race and his blood pump faster and fiercer in his veins. Even thinking about it now was enough to give him a small taste - a tiny preview of what being alive truly felt like in the endless, bland plain of his existence.

The irritation of a roommate - even such a loud, obnoxious one - was starting to seem like a small price to pay.

"You seem to be in a good mood today," Munakata remarked, from beside him. When Fushimi turned his head, he offered a small, almost amused smile. "Did something happen recently?"

Fushimi clicked his tongue, peeved to have been caught off-guard. "Nothing important."

"I see." One small point in Munakata's favor - despite being disturbingly perceptive and unapologetically manipulative, he never pushed back against even the most obvious lies. "Well, regardless of the source, that mood will come in handy as you're grading the pop quiz I gave this morning."

The reminder of just what was waiting in that stack of papers sitting on the desk in front of him was enough to sour what was left of the good feeling. "Right."

A pop quiz on the first day of class... What an unpleasant way to start the semester.

"This is from the introductory calculus class," Munakata pointed out, following his gaze. "As such, I'd think you should give an eye to potential aptitude rather than results. The method should be examined for partial marks even if the conclusion is faulty."

"Whatever you say." Pointless. Fushimi reached for the stack, more irritated at the prospect of having to look closely at every idiot in the class's half-baked calculations. If they couldn't manage to find the right answer, it was better to just say they were incorrect rather than give some credit for 'trying', or something stupid like that.

"I'll leave it to your good judgement, then."

Fushimi watched his boss step back to his own desk - the room was cramped enough that there wasn't much space between them as it was, and they had to work facing each other, which was moderately unnerving - and then turned back to the papers in front of him.

His relationship with Munakata was a bit unusual, if he was thinking about it honestly. The previous year, Fushimi had taken one of his classes (a requirement for the degree he was working towards) and for whatever reason, somehow he'd managed to catch his professor's eye - although he wasn't entirely sure if it was because of skill or attitude. It was only after he'd been asked for his opinion on the course material, the style of teaching, and the progress of his fellow students that he'd been offered the TA position, and he sometimes had to privately wonder if Munakata just wanted to see what he'd do once he had some control over other people's grades.

Why the hell anyone would give this guy tenure, I don't know. True, Munakata was intelligent, and he seemed to be a patient enough instructor, but he did a lot of things for reasons that Fushimi thought might be really pushing the line of what was appropriate.

Well, not that he cared in the end.

The stack of paper was still sitting in front of him, untouched - Fushimi resisted the urge to click his tongue again, and pulled the red pen from the holder at the side of his desk.

Might as well get started, then...

Unfortunately, as he'd more or less suspected, 'introductory' meant a class full of idiots who had no clue what they were doing, with one or two exceptions scattered here and there. There were a total of forty quizzes to grade, and by the end of the first fifteen or so, his mood had already gone down a few notches. The only small measure of satisfaction came in printing the failing scores at the top in big bold numbers.

I don't know how you got into college in the first place. Fushimi put aside the latest quiz sheet - a new all-time low score - and reached for the next one.

"Excuse me - Fushimi?"

The voice wasn't familiar - not that he'd taken the time to get to know that many voices at this school. Fushimi turned his gaze on the speaker, an equally unfamiliar young man with dark hair that partially covered his face and dark eyes to match. "What?"

He got a small, polite smile in return. "Did Professor Munakata say when he would be back?"

He left? Fushimi glanced up at the desk opposite his - empty. He clicked his tongue, turning back to the visitor. "No, he didn't."

"Sorry for the interruption, then." The smile inched up a little, gaining a rueful appearance. "Is it all right if I wait here for him?"

How irritating. Fushimi turned his eyes back to his work, resisting the urge to sigh. "Do what you want."

"Thanks - and sorry for the trouble." Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the other man moving to study Munakata's bookshelf, before pausing to add, "By the way, if you don't remember me, I'm Akiyama Himori - I was the Professor's TA last year."

Which means what, exactly, to me? Fushimi eyed him without turning his head. Now that he looked, there was something vaguely familiar about Akiyama. He hadn't paid a lot of attention to the TA back then. "And?"

"And... well, I just thought I'd mention it." Akiyama shrugged, his smile turning a bit awkward. "I'm working with campus security now, so we'll probably run into each other a few times here and there."

Fantastic. And it wasn't worth a response. Fushimi purposefully picked up the next paper from his pile, hoping Akiyama would take the hint.

He did, which was a point in his favor, at least. Not that it mattered. Fushimi turned his full attention back to the quiz sheets, blocking out the additional presence in the room. At least this one isn't aggressively trying to make friends.

Luck really wasn't with him, though, as it turned out; after only a few moments, there were more footsteps approaching. "Akiyama?"

Is it always like this, with all these interruptions? A quick glance to the doorway showed the same brown-haired security team member who'd approached him after the meeting. Even better. How does he get any work done with this many visitors?

Not that Munakata was even there to do work in the first place...

"Sorry, Hidaka," Akiyama was telling the newcomer, with a sidelong glance at Fushimi, "I'll be a few more minutes. I think the Professor just stepped out of his office for a moment - he'll probably be back soon."

"Right. Well, no rush." The brown-haired man - Hidaka, apparently - also looked quickly towards Fushimi - which was kind of annoying. He wasn't a tourist attraction. Couldn't they have their conversation in the hallway? "The rest of us are going to go on ahead to the cafeteria, so did you want to just meet us there?"

"Sure, no problem."

Hidaka hesitated for a moment, and then turned a bit. "Did you want to come too, Fushimi?"

He could already feel the top right side of his mouth going up in an incredulous sneer. "No way."

"There's no need to hold yourself back on my account, Fushimi-kun." At some point during the exchange, apparently Munakata had returned; he offered a beatific smile from the other side of the doorway when all gazes were drawn to him. "This is the first day of classes, after all - I think it's only fitting that you should spend some time acquainting yourself with some of your fellow students and colleagues."

"I still have quizzes to grade." It was a useless argument, and he could already see it, but sifting through feeble attempts at calculus equations sounded infinitely less painful than forced interaction with a group of people he didn't care about.

I am never signing another contract again after this.

"They'll still be here for you tomorrow," Munakata pointed out magnanimously. "It's far more important to form connections, wouldn't you say?"

Fushimi clicked his tongue. "Fine," he muttered, setting down his pen, and shot a glare at Hidaka, who blanched a bit.

"I'll catch up with you." Akiyama smiled in a way that looked somewhat sympathetic as Fushimi got to his feet and pushed his chair back in. "Save a seat for me, all right?"

"Uh - sure." Hidaka turned from the doorway, shot an anxious look in Fushimi's direction, and turned to head back out.

There was a long, tense moment of silence between them as they started off down the hallway.

"So... Fushimi." Hidaka's tone, when he finally decided to speak up, was a bit tentative. "What's your major?"

Small talk. Great. Fushimi clicked his tongue. "Computing Science."

"Oh, really? That's cool." There was an edge of hope in Hidaka's voice that would have been laughable if the situation wasn't already so absurdly annoying. "I'm actually still a student, too - my position on the security team is part-time. Kind of like yours, right?"

"Do you have a point?"

The question seemed to catch him off-guard. "Ah - well - "

"Oi, Hidaka!" At the end of the hallway, another guy was leaning in through the entrance to the building. "Hurry up, so we can get seats before - geh!" He make an almost comical expression of surprised dismay on spotting Fushimi.

"Fushimi's going to join us," Hidaka announced, hastily and with a certain emphasis. He glanced back and forth between the two of them, a bit awkwardly. "Fushimi, this is Doumyouji - he's another one of the student part-timers, like me."

Doumyouji's apprehension was plain on his face when they approached, but he seemed to shrug it off easily enough. "Yeah, good to meet you. Anyway, though!" He turned his attention back to Hidaka as they pushed through the doors. "We're going to hit the dinnertime rush if we don't hurry, so come on!"

"I think we've still got a while." Hidaka shrugged, tossed Fushimi an apologetic smile and waved a hand at the three others waiting just outside. "This is Enomoto, that's Fuse, and that's Goto." He indicated each one in turn, as if there was some reason their names would be important. "The rest of the student part-timers on the security team."

"Yeah, apparently the full-timers have better things to do than catch dinner with us juniors," Doumyouji complained, tucking his hands behind his head with an overly exaggerated sigh.

"Most of them are working," one of the others - Goto, according to the introduction - reminded him.

"Akiyama came with us, though," Enomoto added, somewhat diffidently.

"Akiyama's different!" Doumyouji asserted, as they started moving away from the building. "He was more like one of us last year, so he's not in full-timer mode yet."

"He wasn't even on the team last year," Fuse responded. He was eyeing Fushimi with a skeptical sort of frown. "Usually Munakata's TAs end up at our meetings, though, so I guess you could argue otherwise."

This is pointless. Fushimi ignored the vague probing in the comment, deliberately slowing his steps so that he could hang towards the back of the group as the rest of them chatted about useless, small things. If he had any luck at all, this would be a one-time event. But it was more likely that Munakata would push it on him again in some form or another. Fushimi wasn't sure if he was more fascinated or disgusted by his boss's uncanny ability to delicately nudge others into doing whatever he wanted them to, like placing chess pieces on a board.

Not for the first time, he wondered what part he was expected to play.

It probably didn't matter, in the end. This was just a year of his life, and once it was over, he could leave the job without consequences and these people would all fade into the background, becoming vague memories and half-remembered annoyances, like every person he'd come into any kind of contact with.

... with the exception of that man, but that wasn't worth dwelling on.

Yata's face rose up to the surface of his thoughts, sporting an intense stare that could have been anger or... Well, it was anger. Fushimi shut his eyes for a moment, feeling his skin prickle and his pulse quicken, and wondered if this was something that he would lose when the year ended as well.

Maybe not. You didn't easily forget someone you hated, after all.

"Hey, hey, did you guys hear about the guy who tried to hit on Awashima-san today?" Doumyouji asked loudly, glancing around at all of them with the air of an overly enthusiastic gossip. "I heard she actually slapped him - poor guy." The wide grin on his face gave away the level of sincerity in those words.

"Awashima-san's pretty scary, huh?" Hidaka scratched the back of his head almost nervously.

"I was there, actually - and, well, I don't know if he deserved it, but he definitely was persistent." Enomoto looked thoughtful for a moment. "I think I recognized him from last year. He was in the welding apprenticeship program, if I've got the right person."

"Welding?" Fushimi repeated, before he'd fully processed the conversation. He silently cursed his tongue when the all five of them turned to look at him with some surprise. "What?"

Enomoto blinked. "Nothing..."

"Well, it makes sense that you'd hear about welding, being Munakata's TA, right?" Hidaka offered a shrug and a half-smile. "I mean, you've probably already run into Suoh-san..."

Fushimi frowned at him. He remembered the name, of course. Suoh Mikoto - Yata's 'Mikoto-san'. For some reason, the thought of this man he'd never even met before was irritating. "No, I haven't."

"Oh." Hidaka seemed at a loss for words; he scrambled for a moment, before forging on stubbornly. "So... do you have a friend who's in the program, maybe?"

'Friend', huh? Fushimi huffed out a brief, derisive laugh, turning his eyes forward again. "Not a friend. My roommate."

"Huh, so your roommate's apprenticing with Suoh-san..." Hidaka frowned thoughtfully.

Fuse barked a laugh. "That's one hell of a coincidence."

"Maybe it's got a deeper meaning - or something." Doumyouji tossed that comment off carelessly, then grimaced when he met Fushimi's gaze. "Well, then again, maybe not..."

"It's a small world, I guess," Enomoto remarked.

What the hell are they going on about? Fushimi could already feel his lip curling with distaste, and clicked his tongue, shifting his gaze away from the group. Whatever - it wasn't worth trying to piece together the cryptic clues. "It feels a lot smaller when every idiot on the planet is discussing your personal business."

He could almost feel the atmosphere growing cold at that.

"Ahaha... so... Goto, weren't you telling us about that new poseable figure you ordered the other day?" Hidaka said with a hint of desperation, obviously trying to move the conversation past that rough spot.

"Oh, right!" Goto actually brightened up. "I think it'll make a great centerpiece - and, actually, I was going to ask you about that. See, I'm running out of space on my desk..."

"What? You're not thinking of bleeding your stuff over onto my side, are you?"

"It'd just be a little... it's not like you're even using most of that space, anyway!"

"No way!" The hesitation had gone from Hidaka's voice. "That weird collection of yours gives me the creeps! Keep it on your own side!"

"Hidaka's pretty stingy," Doumyouji chimed in, lightly.

"Huh? I am not!"

Back to the pointless babbling, then. Fushimi did his best to tune out the conversation, already planning out the quickest way to fulfil this ridiculous obligation. He could just eat a small dinner and leave as soon as he'd cleared his plate. It wasn't like he was particularly hungry. The less time spent with these annoying idiots, the better.

Should I go back to the dorm after? It wasn't something he'd had to think about, before. Fushimi frowned, considering it. What were the chances he'd run into Yata versus having the room to himself for a few hours?

Honestly, he wasn't entirely sure which he'd prefer, which was slightly annoying. Classifying his so-called 'connection' with Yata was a lot like trying to hold a slimy, struggling eel with one hand - and about as appealing. His roommate was loud, annoying, and had approximately the same level of intelligence as a brick. He was so many of the things Fushimi found irritating, it was hard to reason out why the idea of seeing him - arguing with him - getting a reaction from him - provoked such strong feelings.

Well, I won't think too hard about it. He'd just go back to the dorm; if Yata was there, then Fushimi could probably rile him up until he stormed out. And if not, it was only a matter of time until he was.

The anticipation was enough to make his skin prickle up again; Fushimi pushed his doubt back into the farthest corner of his mind and firmly locked it away.

 

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