The soft thwack of file folder hitting the surface of the desk beside him pulled Fushimi’s attention from the code on his screen; his fingers paused on the keys, concentration broken. When he shot an irritated glance at the intruder, Akiyama offered him an apologetic smile.
“Sorry for the interruption.”
If it had been anyone else, he might not have choked back the acidic remark that came to mind immediately in response. “It’s fine,” Fushimi replied instead, turning back to his screen. “I take it the documents were there, since you’re back so soon.”
“Exactly where you said,” Akiyama reported, polite and professional as always. “Since you’re already on the next assignment, I’ll contact the client and let him know. Thank you for your hard work.”
It’s not like there’s any need to thank me. This was work, after all – but it was satisfying to have hit the target dead center. Those long days of going through records and interactions and whatever else they could scrounge up to find hints to where those papers had been stored paid off, after all. “Yeah,” Fushimi acknowledged, in a non-committal tone, and offered his own concession, “Good work.”
Retrieving those things couldn’t have been a piece of cake. Akiyama could be relied on in terms of both force and diplomacy, depending on how things played out, so it wasn’t like Fushimi had been worried, but… Well, he wasn’t going to deny credit where credit was due, that was all.
“Any time, Fushimi-san,” Akiyama responded with the kind of warmth that suggested a smile came with it. Fushimi nodded a vague acknowledgement, already pulling his mind back to the adjustments he was making to the script that would bypass his latest target’s security measures.
Ever since the shift to a physical base of operations, it had become one of life’s inevitabilities that something would interrupt Fushimi the instant he’d managed to become thoroughly engrossed in what he was doing. It wasn’t that he hadn’t physically worked with everyone on Munakata’s payroll at least once while they were still operating out of the tiny rented office and their various personal apartments, but having everyone gathered in a shared space – with a secondary business being run on the side – provided far too many opportunities for distractions.
On the other hand, it was useful to have people on hand when he needed them, rather than trying to reach a particular person through an instant message or an email. Despite the various irritations and the initial chaos on setting up, he had to admit that things were running much more efficiently than they had been.
That really shouldn’t have been a surprise. The most ridiculous and whimsical-seeming decisions still managed to work in Munakata’s favor once executed.
… Even when some of those decisions were made in desperate circumstances, grasping at straws…
There’s no point in dwelling on that, though, is there?
The handset at Fushimi’s belt buzzed to life, and Hidaka’s voice came through clearly. “Fushimi-san, there’s a delivery for you.”
The word ‘delivery’ brought up the still-vivid memory of firy amber eyes glaring up at him that Fushimi had been successfully suppressing up to that point, and something in his chest stirred at the reminder. He clicked his tongue, not bothering to hide the irritation in his voice when he brought up the handset to respond. “And? You can go ahead and distribute them without my help, if that’s what you’re asking.”
There was a moment of what felt like awkward silence, and then Hidaka responded, “No, um… I mean, one of these is for you.”
Fushimi blinked, momentarily taken aback, and then frowned. “What?”
“It has your name on it.” Hidaka sounded confused. “You didn’t order this?”
“No.” It was pointless to be having this conversation through the headsets. Fushimi sighed, pushing himself away from his desk and up. “Never mind – I’m coming out.”
If it wasn’t a mistake, then it was probably some sort of gift from Anna or Kusanagi – a good will offering for the start of this new business arrangement, maybe. It didn’t quite make sense – why would there not be a drink for Munakata or Awashima, if that were the case? – but the possibility was there.
Maybe it’s an apology for having to deal with a loud-mouthed idiot. That thought was a little bit satisfying. He wondered if Yata was still there, waiting in the entranceway with drink trays in his hands, lips turned down in a frown and expressive eyes studying the room with undisguised curiosity.
Fushimi didn’t notice that his pace had increased until he was pushing through the door, and clicked his tongue with annoyance. It wasn’t like he was particularly interested in Yata. He was easy to rile up, which was good for a few minutes of satisfaction, but that was it. That was really all there was to the tiny thread of anticipation winding behind Fushimi’s chest. Yata was loud, obnoxious, an obvious idiot, and just in general the kind of person Fushimi preferred to avoid.
He also wasn’t at the front entrance.
A small churning of something like disappointment snatched and dissolved the anticipation from before. Fushimi deliberately pushed that feeling aside, crossing the room to where Hidaka was still standing at his post. “Let’s see it, then.”
“Right here.” Hidaka handed over the Homra to-go cup.
Fushimi turned it in his hand, quickly finding his own name scrawled roughly on the side. It didn’t look like Anna’s tidy printing, or even Kusanagi’s hasty handwriting – but that didn’t particularly mean anything. Anyone at that place could have made the drink, even if it was ordered by one of them.
I still don’t know why they’d bother.
There was a little edge of white against the dark brown sleeve – Fushimi shifted the material until a small square of folded paper was revealed, and he could pull it free with his fingers. Unsurprisingly, it was a note – and, in the same rough scrawl from the cup, it read, ‘Double Americano. This one’s on me. Don’t thank me too much.’
It was signed ‘Yatagarasu’ and there was a crudely drawn picture of a monkey face with ‘x’s for eyes and its tongue sticking out near the top.
Somehow, that earlier hint of anticipation surged back up in immediate reaction, and Fushimi irritably pushed it down, frowning at the cup and note in his hand. What is he playing at? Less than fifteen minutes ago, Yata had been glaring at him and throwing crude insults – was this meant to be an apology?
If that was the case, it left a bad taste in his mouth. I don’t need anything like that. Fushimi caught his fingers tensing against the cup, the urge to crush it in his hand a little too strong for comfort, and forcibly restrained himself. He was beyond this.
It had been a surprise to hear the old, familiar ‘monkey’ insult come up again. No matter how many years had passed since that man’s death, he could still hear the voice in his head; still see that grin full of malice and mischief – and, more than anything, he could remember the unpleasant churning of fear and frustration and helplessness he’d felt as a child in the custody of such a person. It wasn’t something time could erase.
Oddly enough, hearing it from Yata’s mouth – in that hostile tone and with those eyes fixed on him, full of serious anger – was something of a relief. He was already fully confident that Yata was an idiot, and whatever had triggered the link between his name and the insult that had been tossed at him was undoubtedly something stupid. It wasn’t the mocking, malicious taunt that haunted his memory, reminding him constantly of the origin of his name and the joke hidden behind its unusual but innocuous-seeming composition. Somehow, the fire in those eyes pushed the old voice back, overpowering it with the rough, obnoxiously loud bark of this dumbass delivery boy he’d barely known for a week.
The whole thing was stupid, but even thinking of it now eased his nerves a little.
If anything, that only made this unasked-for apology more irritating than before. “I’m going out,” Fushimi said abruptly to Hidaka, barely catching his co-worker’s startled expression as he brushed past his post. “If anyone asks, I’m returning an unwanted gift.”
“Uh… right…” Hidaka sounded more than a little dubious, but he didn’t push it.
Not that there was much of a chance; the front door was already closing behind Fushimi as that response came.
The transition from the managed temperature to the damp feeling of not-quite-summer outside was noticeable. This time of year was the worst in Fushimi’s opinion – it wasn’t cold enough for jackets, but the infrequent showers forced you to have one with you regardless. It was a pain. His body didn’t handle cold well anyway, and he momentarily regretted leaving his own jacket behind, briefly considering going back for it in case the wind picked up or it started to rain before deciding it wasn’t worth the delay and continuing down the street instead.
He was starting to get used to this daily trek – the bus that would take him back to his small apartment had a station just beyond the Homra Coffee House, and if he took it early enough and then left work late enough, he could usually manage to avoid the worst of the crowd. A couple of times, when he was feeling particularly irritated with the world, he’d skipped it altogether and just taken a taxi straight to the building instead.
Like he had this morning, after waking up in a cold sweat with an unsettled feeling prickling through his skin and vague memories of green spreading across his computer screen. The echo of a hauntingly familiar chuckle and the sound of unhurried footsteps approaching his door had felt disturbingly real.
Honestly. Fushimi clicked his tongue, frown deepening as he increased his pace. He was confident he’d put those things behind him for the most part, but the fears – old and recent alike – were still never quite ready to leave him alone.
Well, it couldn’t be helped, and he was fine with that. At least he had things to occupy himself with: work that could be challenging, co-workers who weren’t complete useless idiots, and a person whose ideals were worth pursuing standing in front of him with unshaken purpose despite everything that had happened. In the end, that was enough.
Fushimi was never so lost in thought that he failed to observe what was around him, so the standing sign placed just on the edge of being in the way of traffic on the sidewalk caught his eye as soon as he started to draw close to it. Mainly because his memory was all but flawless under ordinary circumstances, and that sign definitely had not been there the night before. Moreover, the shop next to it was unoccupied, so there was nothing for it to advertise in that particular spot, which struck him as odd.
It’s not really my concern, though.
Still, it had his attention, so he couldn’t really avoid catching the message on it – and from there, something clicked immediately in his head; he stopped in his tracks, gaze automatically shifting to the coffee cup in his hand.
So that’s it. It made sense. A hot-headed idiot like Yata would definitely be drawn in by something as simple and obvious as a “daily challenge”, and considering how they’d spoken this morning, “someone I don’t get along with” wasn’t exactly a leap.
The majority of the tension he’d been carrying with him since he’d opened the note eased off, and Fushimi took in a slow breath. It was just something that simple, huh? He really should’ve known. The corners of his mouth edged up and he let out a soft huff, caught between amusement at the childish mentality on display here and irritation with himself for giving Yata way more credit than he obviously deserved. I should’ve known a stubborn idiot like that wouldn’t back down from a grudge that easily.
Still, despite the relief, for some reason he felt strangely unsatisfied.
He’s probably feeling pretty full of himself right now, huh? That thought was kind of annoying. Fushimi frowned at the sign. There was no way he had any interest in something as pointless as a daily challenge – but he wasn’t particularly keen on giving Yata any kind of satisfaction out of this, either. It left him feeling restless and irritable.
Still, all he did was offer up a free coffee – it’s not like that’s anything worth boasting about.
In fact, he could already think of at least a dozen ways to fulfill the challenge much better…
It might even be worth seeing the look on Yata’s face when he realized how badly he’d been outdone at his own game.
The thought was incredibly petty, but considering the person he was dealing with, Fushimi didn’t really feel any remorse over it. The tiny smile from earlier was widening on his face, a kind of anticipation building behind it. As he turned to make his way back to work, he was already turning over a few ideas in his head, the details falling into place mentally and his pace increasing as he thought about how to put things into motion.
He folded open the flap on his coffee lid almost absently while walking, and when he raised the cup to take a drink, somehow it tasted better than usual.
It was just past the noon rush when Fushimi made his way into the Homra Coffee House, and the place was mostly empty. He’d specifically taken a late lunch with that in mind – if he left this too late, Yata might leave for the day, but if he came too early, there would be a crowd to deal with. Once he was on break, it was a simple enough matter to do what he needed to, with plenty of time left afterwards to deliver the results.
Their last order had been dropped off shortly before he’d taken his break, and based on the level of traffic in the early afternoon, he didn’t expect there to be another one any time soon – so Yata should be at his workplace. It could’ve caused a lot of annoying problems if Fushimi presented this at his own workplace anyway, so… Homra it was.
He’d managed to get the timing right, too – the shop was deserted other than some guy in an apron cleaning the tables, a customer in a wheelchair sipping coffee and reading a book, and his target behind the counter, bent over and clearly struggling to reach behind the espresso machine.
The jingle of the door had Yata straightening hastily, an automatic and way-too-enthusiastic “Welcome!” already out of his mouth before he’d even pulled back and turned – and then he caught sight of Fushimi, and the half-formed smile immediately dropped into a suspicious frown, eyebrows coming down. “What do you want?”
There was something a little bit satisfying about being able to trigger an instant, strong reaction in someone on sight. “Your customer service skills could use some work, Misaki,” Fushimi responded, stepping up to the counter and meeting that narrow, heated glare straight on.
“Shut up! And quit using that name already!” The frown had shifted into a full-on scowl. Yata’s lips had a natural downward curve to them, and the way his eyes were set in his face gave them an intent look that probably carried through in his normal resting expression – if he even had such a thing. Everything about him seemed to be a combination of extremes. His size, too – it wasn’t even just his obvious height deficiency that made him seem so small. He was built slender, and his pointed chin and wide cheekbones gave him a younger look.
If you cared enough to think about it, that was probably the obvious reason for the brash attitude. Compensation, huh?
It didn’t account for the amount of passion and energy that he always seemed to be bursting at the seams with, but it wasn’t like that was important either way. Fushimi ignored the demand, instead responding with, “I don’t think you’re going to get much repeat business if you keep snapping at your customers.”
“You…” Yata set his hands on his hips, glaring across the counter. “You don’t count as a customer! Anyway, you’re not even here to buy anything, are you?” He paused for a beat, seeming to have some minor dumbass epiphany, and then his expression took on a bit of a smug edge. “Oh, that’s right – you’re here to thank me for earlier, huh?”
How annoying. Fushimi clicked his tongue. “That’s not it.”
That mulish scowl set itself back onto Yata’s face. “All right, so why?”
“Here.” Fushimi dropped the thin stack of paper in his hand down onto the counter carelessly. “Take it.”
Yata’s eyebrows furrowed, his eyes darting down to the papers and then back up to Fushimi’s face, a kind of wary puzzlement overriding the irritation. “What is it?”
Of course he was going to be tiresome about it. Fushimi sighed. “Your unpaid traffic tickets.”
“My – wait, what?”
Well, if he wasn’t going to bother to look at the paperwork anyway... “Six months ago, a violation for skateboarding in a pedestrian-only zone. Four months ago, commercial property skateboarding violation. Also four months ago, another pedestrian – ”
“What the fuck?” Yata slammed his hands down on the counter, gawking at Fushimi with an almost comical mixture of rage and incredulity. “Where the hell did you get these, you bastard?” he just about snarled, one eyebrow twitching.
Fushimi reached up to push his glasses further on his nose, staring back evenly. “Classified.”
“Classified my ass, you – you – ” Yata actually seemed to be literally sputtering with rage, an angry flush spreading across his cheeks as he floundered for words. It was a strangely fascinating sight. “This is like… like invasion of privacy or – ”
A low whistle interrupted him; when Fushimi glanced to the side, the man in the wheelchair was watching them with keen interest. “Yata, you got into a little trouble, huh? Pedestrian zone violations?”
“Th-those signs are really hard to see, okay?” The fury in Yata’s voice had shifted to a note of defensive protest. He straightened, seeming to draw up his indignation again. “Anyway, that’s not the – ”
“There are four in total,” Fushimi cut him off, “for the same area.”
The other man tutted lightly. “Ah, is that so…?”
“That area is huge, goddamnit!” Yata was looking murderous by now, his eyes flashing as he glowered across the counter at Fushimi. “Stop trying to change the subject! You totally just – ”
“It doesn’t matter.” There was no need to point out the fact that he’d had to do far more questionable things in service of Scepter 4 – with Munakata’s implicit approval – than dip his virtual fingers into the public sector. “They’ve all been taken care of.”
“There’s no way – eh?” Yata’s angry tirade cut off in belated surprise. His eyebrows eased up, eyes going a bit wide as he stared at Fushimi. The startled expression was vaguely endearing – if you were interested in that sort of thing. “Wait – taken care of – you mean…?”
“You don’t need to pay them.” Fushimi tapped a finger lightly on the top sheet of paper. “Have a look for yourself.”
Yata’s eyes flickered to the papers briefly, and then back up to Fushimi’s face. He blinked slowly – once, twice – as if processing what he’d just been told, and when he spoke, there was a strangely tentative note in his voice. “You – you mean – you paid these…?”
“Of course not.” Fushimi didn’t bother to keep the derision out of his own voice, raising an eyebrow in return. “They’ve been voided out.”
“Huh?” Yata blinked again, that stupidly endearing look back on his face. “But – hold on…”
The corners of Fushimi’s mouth were already edging up into a smirk, and he didn’t bother to hold it back. “It’s a better response to a ‘do something nice’ challenge than a free coffee, huh, Misaki?”
The light of recognition was starting to dawn in Yata’s eyes; he stared back for a moment, face blank, and then it seemed to hit him all at once, and his expression shifted to incredulity. “AH! You – the challenge – but – wait – wait, fuck you, it’s not better!” The fierce glare was back, along with the scowl; Yata actually leaned forward, as if he were trying to get close enough for his anger to burn into Fushimi. “Mine was actually something nice – yours is just stalking and – hold on.” His eyebrows scrunched forward, eyes narrowing further. “Is this legal? It’s not legal, right? You did some kind of hacking or something, didn’t you?” He lowered his voice, the rest coming out in what sounded like a furious attempt at an undertone “What if I get arrested over this?”
Fushimi raised an eyebrow in return. “Don’t underestimate me.” It was a little irritating, to be honest, although the idiotic reaction was sort of amusing, too. “Anyway, even if you could, I’d consider that possibility to be more of a perk than a defect.”
Yata’s eyebrows twitched. “How the hell is that something nice then, you goddamn monkey?”
He clicked his tongue in response, frowning back. “It’s nicer than free coffee.”
“No, it’s not!”
“It’s more than ten times the cost. Not to mention the skill involved…”
“That’s not the point!” Yata glared at him for another brief second, then abruptly turned to face the tables again. “Totsuka-san! Settle this for me! What’s better, free coffee or hacking away someone’s traffic tickets?”
His voice was loud. Fushimi felt his own eyebrow give a tic. Weren’t you the one worried about getting in trouble over this?
That name, though…
“Eh?” The man in the wheelchair blinked at them, an unassuming little smile on his face. He tilted his head, seeming to mull it over. “Hmm… which one…?”
‘Totsuka-san’, huh? So then, this would be Totsuka Tatara. Fushimi remembered the name from the brief explanation of Kusanagi’s financial situation back when he’d assisted with Anna’s inheritance, but he didn’t know the details of what had happened to him. The face that went with that name was not at all what he’d have expected considering the expense report that listed his surgery and physical therapy treatments, though. Totsuka looked young and kind of frail, yes, but he seemed unreasonably cheerful considering his circumstances.
Well, it wasn’t like this was any of Fushimi’s concern, either way. His involvement in that whole business was peripheral at best.
Totsuka gave a careless little shrug. “Ah, well… I guess I’d say the traffic tickets.”
“How can you say that?” Yata actually sounded like he’d just had his trust betrayed. “I could go to jail over those stupid things!”
“Your friend said you won’t, though, right?”
“He’s not my friend!” Yata shot back – at the same time as Fushimi muttered, “I’m not his friend.”
They exchanged a startled glance.
What a pain. Fushimi clicked his tongue. “You heard him, Misaki. Accept your loss gracefully.”
“It’s not my loss, monkey.” The insult was spat out with a certain amount of venom, Yata’s scowl deepening with resentment. “We both did the stupid challenge, remember?”
“According to your friend over there, I did it better.”
Yata’s answering glower was furious; he leaned back over the counter again, eyes seeming to burn into Fushimi’s with that overflowing energy he’d noticed so many times during their brief acquaintance. “Fucking… fine,” he growled out, and then drew himself up as much as possible. “Then I’m gonna do tomorrow’s challenge, and I’ll do it better than your sorry ass ever could!”
Fushimi raised an eyebrow in response, trying to cover his rising annoyance at that assumption and the stupidly confident expression that came with it. “You really think that’s possible for you, Misaki?”
“Quit calling me that!” Yata snapped back. “You wanna do this? Fine. I’ll do every challenge for a week – for two weeks! Then we’ll see whose loss this really is!”
“Still yours,” Fushimi responded immediately and frowned back. “Not that I have time for pointless challenges…”
Yata’s face split in a fierce grin at that. “If you’re not even gonna do them, that’s still my win, monkey.”
That smug look was beyond irritating. Fushimi clicked his tongue. “If you’re really that eager to look like even more of an idiot...”
“Hah! Yeah, we’ll see about that!”
They glared at each other across the counter.
Something about the air between them felt charged, and it was as if Yata’s eyes were burning straight through Fushimi’s skull, setting off a rush of heat and scrambling his thoughts. At the back of his mind, he thought that this was probably a mistake. Falling into this loud-mouthed idiot’s pace wasn’t going to do him any favors in the end. It would definitely result in a lot of wasted time and energy, in the pursuit of… well, nothing. But that straightforward, brainless, overly confident assertion – “I’ll do it better than your sorry ass ever could” – churned in his brain like acid. To think that this moron actually expected to get the better of him in any sense…
It was laughable, but Yata obviously believed it. That thought alone was hatefully unpleasant.
“Fine. Two weeks.” Fushimi finally broke their shared gaze, turning from the counter with the intent of putting this place – and its annoying occupants – behind him. “I’ll humor you for that long, Misaki – but you’d better accept defeat properly after we’re done.”
He already knew without looking that he was going to be late returning from his break. Not that anyone would particularly mind, but it bothered him that he’d somehow lost track of time. This idiot was a distraction.
“You’re the one who’s gonna be defeated!” Yata retorted hotly, and as the door was closing behind Fushimi, he added, “And then you’ll have to stop using that name, you damn monkey!”
Without pausing, Fushimi waved a dismissive hand behind him, and couldn’t help but smile a little to himself as he imagined Yata’s outraged expression and helpless sputtering.
Despite everything, he felt strangely invigorated.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully. By the time he’d made it back to Scepter 4, Fushimi’s head had cooled considerably, and he was able to immerse himself in his current project without any particular trouble. There were several more deliveries from Homra throughout the afternoon, but with the process more or less working smoothly, the two at the front could handle it without his help.
He wasn’t even sure if it was still Yata doing the deliveries (wouldn’t his shifts end early, considering how he was normally there first thing in the morning?), but it didn’t matter either way.
It was well into dinnertime by the time he left, but that wasn’t unusual. He even felt settled enough to take the bus home rather than calling another taxi.
The challenges didn’t really worry him, honestly. Yata was the kind of opponent who left his weak points wide open, so even in cases where Fushimi might be at a disadvantage, there would likely be other ways to come out ahead. It wasn’t like there was much chance of Yata out-thinking him, after all.
A new challenge wasn’t posted yet when he made his way to work the next morning – the sign was out, but the sleeve that had held the previous challenge was empty. I’ll have to check again later.
That was kind of a pain, but still doable. It wasn’t like it was far to go.
As long as I can keep this quiet from –
“Ah, Fushimi-kun.” Munakata was standing at the front entrance when he let himself in the front door, a beatific smile on his face and his hand on the greeter’s desk, where Kamo was already standing with stiff posture and a vaguely uncomfortable look on his face. The café was clear of customers – they weren’t actually open for another half hour – but Goto was also behind the refreshments counter at the back, looking on with interest, and he could see Enomoto and Fuse hovering at the entrance to the back room, partially hidden by the door. “I’ve been waiting for you to arrive.”
The urge to turn right around and walk back out was almost overpowering. Fushimi eyed his boss warily, not moving from the door. “What is it?”
They’d barely been open for a week, so he couldn’t exactly say that it was unusual for Munakata to be waiting at the door for him, but somehow, he had a bad feeling about this.
“Nothing to be concerned about – your performance is excellent, as always.” Munakata reached up to push his glasses higher on his nose. “It’s come to my attention that you have engaged in a friendly competition with one of the employees at our partner company.”
… A bad feeling that apparently was right on the mark. Fushimi could feel dread coiling in the pit of his stomach. He clicked his tongue to cover it, staring at his boss flatly. “How did you hear about that?”
Honestly, he wouldn’t be surprised if Munakata answered that he’d requested the install of cameras in Homra’s main base so that he could keep an eye on their comings and goings as well as those of his own employees. Fushimi was well aware of the level of surveillance at Scepter 4 – the only reason it didn’t bother him was because he really had nothing to hide. His superiors knew of – and even encouraged – most of his underhanded methods, after all.
To be honest, the cameras weren’t even necessary. Their boss was just an incurable busybody.
“By chance, a close friend of my live-in partner had been made aware,” Munakata answered smoothly, as if this was really of no consequence. “The information was passed on to me accordingly.” The gaze fixed on Fushimi’s face was keenly interested. “I commend you for engaging with our business partners in such an enthusiastic manner, Fushimi-kun.”
The memory of Yata’s flushed, angry face rose to the surface of Fushimi’s thoughts without his conscious consent. He clicked his tongue again, pushing it back. Engaging, huh? “It’s nothing special.”
His response was summarily ignored. “As such, I have taken it upon myself to formalize the terms of your agreement and ensure that the spirit of the competition does not blind us to the true aim of such events.” Munakata half-turned. “Awashima-kun, if you would.”
… What? “O-oi…” Fushimi shot an alarmed glance in the direction of his other superior, who stepped forward as her name was called.
“Yes, sir.” Awashima regarded Fushimi with a completely straight face, her posture and expression businesslike. “Regarding the pre-arranged informal competition between Scepter 4’s Fushimi Saruhiko and Homra’s Yata Misaki, the following terms apply.”
Is this even for real? Fushimi stared at her with growing incredulity. Yes, Munakata had some… eccentric… ideas, and yes, Awashima normally went along with them regardless, but this… He narrowed his eyes. “Wait a minute…”
“First” – Awashima shot him a stern look, otherwise not acknowledging the interruption – “the competition has been defined as a once-daily occurrence for the extended time period of two weeks, two days subtracted, with the final event taking place on the second Sunday to occur from this date forward.”
They were serious. Fushimi let out a sharp sigh, aware of his co-workers exchanging glances and furiously whispered comments but trying to block it out. “Is this a joke?”
“Second,” Awashima continued crisply, as if he hadn’t spoken at all, “both participants agree to complete each challenge, as posted, to the best of their ability. Failure to complete a challenge will result in a declared loss by default. In the event that both participants fail to complete the challenge, the result will be declared a draw.”
“Captain,” Fushimi cut in again, when she paused, turning his frown on Munakata instead. His brain was working furiously to find a way to undo as much of the damage as possible. “Isn’t it against the spirit of a” – he had to swallow to force the next word out – “’friendly’ competition if you put this level of formality on it? The point is to bond casually, right?”
Truthfully, he had no intention of bonding in any way with Yata or anyone else, but he had to say something to stop this ridiculous display. This isn’t even funny, so just end it already!
“You bring up a fair point, Fushimi-kun,” Munakata acknowledged, with serene and unshaken confidence. His expression was benign. “Indeed, the primary aim is the forming of bonds between our two teams.” The light seemed to gleam off of his glasses as he tipped his head forward. “However, without proper order, we run the risk of a far more chaotic outcome. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Fushimi felt his eyebrow twitch. He’s infuriating sometimes. “With all due respect, Captain,” he responded, putting in effort to keep his voice low and even. Even to his own ears, he could hear the undertone of frustration. “I’m fully capable of handling this without any help.”
“Of course – and I have full confidence in your abilities.” Munakata’s smile was even a bit on the fond side, which Fushimi had been noticing more often lately, after everything. It was kind of annoying, but he didn’t entirely dislike it – except in moments like this, of course. “As a participant, however, the task of ensuring order is maintained does not fall to you.”
This is ridiculous. Fushimi clicked his tongue again, holding back his impatience and irritation. “Captain – ”
“Fushimi-kun.” It wasn’t so much an interruption as something obviously meant to follow Munakata’s previous words – as if he had still been speaking, and Fushimi was the one interrupting. “On an unrelated note, I came across some unusual activity on your workstation regarding the public sector and a certain individual’s unpaid traffic violations.” He paused a moment, as if for effect. “No doubt you’d mention if such a thing might have an impact on your impartiality in this matter?”
… Damnit. Of course he’d known that his boss would uncover that little bit of work – it wasn’t like he’d gone to great pains to hide it. But at the time, it hadn’t occurred to him that his own actions would backfire and be used against him for something like this. Fushimi seethed for a moment, staring back with resentful helplessness.
He really should be used to Munakata outmaneuvering him, but it wasn’t often that they went head to head, after all. Usually they either saw eye to eye in the first place or he’d follow his superior’s instructions trusting that it was in service of a worthwhile cause.
Even the last time… not knowing if there’d be a boss or a job to return to…
It’s not worth thinking about that now.
“Well, it’s of little consequence,” Munakata said blithely, after a moment of tense silence made it clear that Fushimi wasn’t going to respond. “Shall we return to our earlier discussion?”
Awashima tilted her head in his direction. “Should I take that as my cue to continue, Captain?”
Fushimi clenched his teeth in frustration, but held his tongue.
The diction resumed, with Awashima once again straight-faced and strictly businesslike. “Third, assuming both participants have completed the challenge as posted, the determination of the winner should be left in the hands of one or more neutral observers. Fellow employees may suffice.”
There was an alarmed noise from the direction of the back room. At the greeter’s desk, Kamo shifted awkwardly.
“Fourth, once the final challenge has been completed, the tally of each participant’s victories will be compared. The participant with the higher number of victories will be considered the overall winner, and the contest will end.”
“Well spoken, Awashima-kun,” Munakata remarked, looking highly pleased with the entire state of affairs. “Now, there seems to be only the matter of a prize for the winner left in question, wouldn’t you say?”
As if this wasn’t already ridiculous enough… Fushimi gritted his teeth. “Why does there need to be a prize?”
Munakata smiled benevolently at him. “Of course there must be a prize, Fushimi-kun. What kind of competition would this be with no reward for the victor?”
“… Do you really want an honest answer to that?”
The door swung open behind him before he could get a response. “Morning!” Doumyouji’s cheerful voice rang out. “Seems a lot warmer out – eh?” When Fushimi glanced back, he was eyeing the scene in front of him with open confusion. “What’s happening?”
Kamo was attempting to wave a discreet hand at him, but it was apparently too late already. “Doumyouji-kun,” Munakata greeted him. “This is fortunate timing. We were only just beginning to discuss a potential prize in an upcoming friendly competition. Perhaps you have some thoughts you could share with us?”
“Huh? Competition?” Doumyouji blinked, clearly taken off-guard, but his expression quickly turned thoughtful. “Hmm… then, how about cash or a trophy?”
Don’t encourage him without knowing what’s going on… Fushimi glared at him. Still, at least those were tame ideas, and not something even more idiotic.
“Yes, those are fine ideas,” Munakata responded, and Fushimi relaxed marginally in the small instant before his boss continued speaking. “However, as this is the first time that a member from each of our teams will engage in such an event, I think we should endeavor to determine a more unique reward for the victor.”
“Oh, so it’s just two people?” Doumyouji seemed oblivious to the death glare that Fushimi was aiming at him, instead frowning vaguely as he thought about it. “Unique, huh?” He shrugged, offered a bit of a grin and said, cheerfully, “Well, sometimes in competitions with friends, you say that the winner owns the loser for a day. How about that?”
What about that is a good idea? That’s a terrible prize. Fushimi clicked his tongue, scowling at his co-worker for another instant before turning his gaze sharply back towards Munakata. There’s no way he’d actually consider something like that…
The widening of the smile on his boss’s face was very much like a blood-red sun rising.
“How was I supposed to know?”
Doumyouji’s voice was a pathetic whine, still clearly audible from where he was wedged under the table that held the spare workstations, stuck with the hopeless mission of untangling the mess of cables that had accumulated in their weeks of storage.
Enomoto sighed, pausing in his rapid typing to shut his eyes in brief sympathy. “Doumyouji-san, you should know better than to encourage the Captain like that.”
“I was just answering honestly!” the muffled voice protested. “What else was I supposed to do in a situation like that, huh?”
Fushimi shot the set of legs sticking out of the table a withering glare from his own workstation. “Shut up and work quietly,” he snapped. “Unless you want to spend the afternoon doing this as well.”
Doumyouji made a sort of low, suffering moan, but didn’t speak up again.
So irritating… Fushimi clicked his tongue sharply, turning his scowl back towards his computer screen again. As of thirty minutes ago, Munakata had gone up the stairs leading to the tiny office space above them and Awashima had taken Akiyama and Benzai with her on some field work, which left Fushimi in charge. He’d been only too happy to repay the “favor” from earlier. The fact that Doumyouji hadn’t had any particular malice in mind when he’d brainlessly made that suggestion didn’t matter; Fushimi’s mood was foul, and the slow and painful punishment made him feel slightly appeased.
Very slightly. Miniscule, really.
The fact that the stupid competition with Yata was now out in the open where everyone could gawk at it was more annoying than the set of official “rules” his boss had tacked onto it. Frankly, the challenges were an unknown factor, and there was always the possibility that he’d have to do something ridiculous to come out ahead. He wasn’t keen to have everyone he knew watching while that happened.
Not that there’s anything I can do about it now. Once Munakata made up his mind, he was implacable.
Fushimi became aware that he was sitting at the computer staring dumbly at his own unfinished work, and exhaled sharply. His ability to concentrate despite circumstances surrounding him was usually fairly good, but this mess was on another level altogether. He could feel a headache building already.
Before he could make another attempt to get back into his assigned task, the handset at his waist buzzed. “Fushimi-san,” Kamo’s voice came through, almost cautiously. “Sorry, but… can you come out here for a moment?”
Fushimi clicked his tongue, bringing up the device to respond. “What is it? I’m busy.”
It came out a bit churlish, but he didn’t think he could be blamed for that, given the situation.
“Right, sorry to bother you. It’s just…” Kamo cleared his throat awkwardly. “The delivery boy from Homra wants to see you. He’s making a bit of a scene.”
“I’m not making a fucking scene!” the tinny echo of Yata’s angry voice came through clearly despite the fact that he couldn’t have been standing anywhere near the receiver. “Just tell that bastard to get his ass out here if he knows what’s good for him!”
Just what the day needed. Fushimi shut his eyes, lips curling down into a scowl as he let out a sharp, frustrated breath. “Fine. I’m coming out.” He pushed himself up abruptly, and then as an afterthought added, “Make sure that idiot isn’t throwing any tantrums in front of the customers.”
He could feel just about every one of his co-worker’s gazes on him as he stalked towards the door, and it felt like that headache gave a little throb with each step.
“Does this mean I’m done?” Doumyouji’s voice called out, hopefully.
Fushimi yanked the door firmly shut behind him without bothering to respond.
As expected, Yata was standing in the entranceway with his skateboard under his arm, his free hand clenched in a fist, and his expression indicating that he was about ready to commit murder. Just the sight of him standing there kicked off that unpleasant churning in Fushimi’s stomach, and he was torn between the urge to either walk faster and get this over with or turn right back around. From the tension in the air, he half expected Yata to start yelling profanities from across the room, but instead he stood there silently glaring as the space between them slowly diminished.
Amazing. He is capable of restraint, after all.
“What do you want, Misaki?” It was a struggle to keep his voice even, and a bit of the resentful irritation seeped through despite his best efforts.
“We need to fucking talk,” Yata ground out in response, and jerked his thumb over his shoulder angrily. “Outside.”
At least he wasn’t going to make a scene in front of the customers. Fushimi clicked his tongue, frown deepening. “Make this quick,” he muttered, sweeping past Yata as best he could and reaching for the door handle.
At close range, it was possible to notice that the top of Yata’s head only came up to around the level of Fushimi’s nose. Somehow, that tiny, automatic observation was satisfying.
“Don’t act like I’m the one who’s wrong here, monkey!” Yata was already snapping at him before they’d even gone through the door, his voice loud and indignant in Fushimi’s ears. “I wanna know why the hell your boss sent my boss a list of goddamn rules for this thing we’re doing! I never agreed to that shit!”
Fushimi clicked his tongue, turning away from the entrance to his workplace without glancing back. “Neither did I,” he muttered, almost under his breath.
“What the hell was that?” Yata demanded, quickly catching up to him. “Stop mumbling all the time!”
They were getting some funny looks from people passing on the sidewalk. Fushimi stopped walking, forcing Yata to belatedly halt and turn back to face him. “If you’d stop yelling so much, maybe I wouldn’t feel the need to compensate.”
He got a scowl in response. “What’s that supposed to mean, huh?”
“Never mind.” Fushimi frowned back, aiming a dry look down his nose. “So? What’s your problem?”
“My problem is you, asshole!” Yata retorted. His eyes were actually flashing with anger. Fushimi had never seen someone so ridiculously expressive in his life. It was like watching a stage drama up close. “You never mentioned any of those dumbass rules yesterday! And what’s with that creepy prize? I don’t want you to be ‘mine’ for a day!”
“Fortunately for you, that won’t be happening.” Fushimi raised an eyebrow at him. “But, for the record, I’m not interested in owning you for a day, either.”
“Hah! Like you’d get the chance!” Yata braced a hand on his hip, skateboard still tucked under the other arm, and straightened as if to try and gain more height. “Anyway, if you don’t want that shitty prize, then why’d you even come up with it?”
“’Shitty prize’ is right,” Fushimi muttered, curling his lip a bit in response. “Obviously it wasn’t my idea – hadn’t you guessed that by now?”
Yata seemed a bit taken aback by that; he blinked, easing out of the glare a little, and then his eyes narrowed again. “What in this stupid conversation would make me guess something like that?”
“My mistake. I forgot that you’re an idiot.” Fushimi fixed him with a steady gaze. “Either way, someone from your workplace spread the news to my boss, so you can thank whoever that was for all of this additional garbage.”
“Huh?” Yata stared at him, perplexed. “Why would anyone from my workplace talk to your boss?”
“How should I know? But they’re the only ones who would know about it, assuming they overheard us,” Fushimi pointed out, and then raised his eyebrows meaningfully. “Unless you opened your big mouth.”
“Of course I didn’t – what d’you take me for?” Yata let out a sharp ‘ch’ and scowled back. “Y’know what, fine. I don’t give a shit. Whatever the rules or prize or any of that, I’m still gonna kick your ass!”
Fushimi clicked his tongue. “Enjoy that delusion while you can.” It was difficult to look away from that stubbornly determined gaze, but he managed, turning back to start walking again. “Come on, then.”
“Eh? What?” Hasty footsteps followed him, and then Yata was at his side. “Where are you going?”
“Obviously to get the next challenge.” Fushimi didn’t bother glancing over at him. Something within him was churning restlessly, and it was making him edgy. He couldn’t decide if it was pleasant or concerning, but he recognized that blazing anticipation as a feeling he’d come to associate with Yata. “Did you even bother to check it before rushing over to publicly embarrass yourself?”
The second of startled silence was answer enough. “I-It’s more fair if we check it together, right?” Yata muttered. “That way you can’t complain about a disadvantage when you lose.”
“You should’ve just taken the opportunity,” Fushimi responded coolly, and managed a small smirk, finally stealing a glance over. “You’ll need whatever help you can get.”
Yata’s answering sneer was fierce. “Yeah, we’ll see about that! Just wait!”
The churning was worse, and that sense of anticipation fired up even more when he looked at those expressive eyes, but it didn’t feel unpleasant. Fushimi turned his gaze forward, the corners of his mouth edging up further. He was getting caught up in Yata’s pace again, but it didn’t matter. He’d force it back into his own soon enough.
It shouldn’t take too much effort to win against someone like him.
With everything else, it almost escaped his notice that his earlier headache had disappeared.