Give It Two Weeks

 

Chapter Five

 

Anything, huh?

At this point, Fushimi wasn’t sure why Yata’s simplistic responses still caught him off guard. It wasn’t like he hadn’t been beaten over the head with examples so far – he should’ve caught the hint by this point. Somehow, that bright, stupid smile and the way those intent eyes glowed in the dim light put his nerves on edge, and he couldn’t seem to react rationally. The smallest, most single-minded statements felt like they struck right to his core.

That’s pretty annoying. Fushimi adjusted himself on the mat a little, conscious of the steady gaze on him. His leg was still throbbing dully, but he had to admit that Yata had tied it efficiently enough. It wasn’t bothering him nearly as much as it had before.

That was something, at least.

Yata was still staring at him expectantly, uncharacteristically quiet as he waited for some response. The shifting of his shoulders and the way his fingers twitched betrayed his impatience, but at least he seemed to be putting in an effort to let Fushimi respond at his own pace.

That was probably about as much as he could expect from this idiot, anyway.

Well, it didn’t matter in the end… In a way, having listened to Yata’s story made him feel like he wanted to say something in return, although he didn’t know how far he’d go with it. Homra’s past was interesting in the same way that a train wreck could catch your attention: one spectacularly awful event after another, in rapid succession. The more fascinating part had been Yata’s reaction to each piece of the story – his expressions, posture, and tone of voice spoke vividly of his emotions and how clearly he took everything to heart. It was hard to look away. The raw honesty and easy show of vulnerability were compelling enough that even Fushimi felt the draw of reciprocating in some way.

“So yeah, you’re interesting.”

And then there was that, too.

Seriously, I’m as dumb as he is. Fushimi sighed, turning his head so that Yata’s bright, open face was no longer in his line of vision, and quickly scanned his memory for an easy place to begin this tedious chore. “Sorry to disappoint you, but there’s no special reason why I joined Jungle,” he began, keeping his voice dry. “Actually, I just needed a steady source of income, and they were convenient.”

No need to mention the circumstances. Fushimi had no intention or urge to relate the pathetic details of his wretched childhood to anyone.

There were times when he’d considered it before that man – whose relationship to him was still too much of an annoyance to qualify with a term like ‘father’ – had died, but his intent had been to hold out until he’d graduated middle school at least, and had no official ties in with the public education system (which was useless in almost every sense anyway). He wasn’t confident or particularly hopeful that it would mean a complete end to that person’s interference in his life, but not living in that house would’ve been a start.

Because of that, Fushimi Niki’s death should have been a release. He’d escaped, right? There was no way for that man to bother him any further. But somehow, there was nothing but a hollow dissatisfaction left behind. Staring blankly at the still body in the casket, Fushimi wouldn’t have been surprised or disappointed or pleased one way or another if that face had suddenly grinned at him and the whole thing were declared a cruel joke. There was no particular reaction within him at all.

Even his miserable death can’t bring anything good to anyone, huh?

Despite the fact that he had no ties to speak of with the woman who’d supposedly given birth to him, she’d seemed to think it inevitable that he would ride there and back with her, so they’d spent an uncomfortable length of time in the back seat together, silent and stiff. Pointless. He’d thought it then, and he still thought it now. And then she’d curled her lip and said, “I suppose we’ll have to see about high school for you now.”

The tone of her voice said it clearly: what a terrible nuisance.

I don’t need it, had been his immediate thought, unvoiced. The first and only reaction of the day. He never considered it necessary to say to her. After turning his head and enduring the rest of the trip, he’d exited the car in front of that house, and gone inside to pack his things.

Two weeks of living from a savings account in internet cafés later, he had a place of his own.

Every now and then, he idly wondered at what point she’d realized that he had left.

Maybe she just forgot she had a kid altogether.

Yata had been frowning at him with a kind of intent confusion while he examined that memory, as if working his way through a puzzle in his head. As the final thought passed through Fushimi’s mind, though, his expression suddenly cleared, and he offered a small, rueful smile. “I get that. You left home out of middle school, huh? Me too.” He let out a loud, commiserating sigh. “Man! I had no idea how hard it’d be to find places that hire kids at that age! It sucks, right?”

There it was again. Fushimi blinked at him, thrown off his own pace. He hadn’t been sure if Yata would put the pieces together and work out his age and circumstance, but he’d been prepared to scoff at any unwanted pity.

And then he gives me this. “It sucks, right?” Are you serious? So simple. Fushimi could feel the helpless pull of a smile at the corners of his mouth and didn’t bother to fight against it. Something within him seemed to have eased, and he felt he could breathe more freely. “Don’t just assume we had the same troubles, idiot.”

The words came out lighter than expected, and Yata seemed to catch onto that, shooting him a vaguely exasperated look in response. “Yeah, yeah. It’s not like you’ve told me anything, so what d’you expect? Anyway, I get it – your family situation isn’t the part you want to talk about.” He frowned, eyes sharp for that one moment, and then abruptly softened. “But after that – moving out past middle school, joining a gang… We’re kinda similar, huh?”

Fushimi wasn’t sure how to react to that – he stared back for a second, disgruntled, and then clicked his tongue. “Not really,” he muttered, turning away from the earnest gaze and reaching up to adjust his glasses minutely. “You were actually satisfied with the one you joined.”

It wasn’t as if Jungle hadn’t been accepting. As far as he could tell, anyone who could tell one end of the keyboard from the other was welcome in Jungle – the weaker programmers would get caught eventually as they progressed to harder jobs, and the stronger ones gained more influence as they took advantage of their so-called comrades’ demise. The ones who knew their limits clung to the mid-ranks, taking on the grunt work and calling themselves clever, while all manner of others, from leeches to professionals to dangerous minds, kept themselves just carefully above the bar in the higher ranks, gaining advantage where they could. All the while, the inner circle of Jungle – the heart and the brain of the organization – lurked in the background, feeding off of the chaos and discord. It was a poisonous atmosphere, rotten to the vicious core, and though he knew the source now, he couldn’t find it within him to summon up much empathy for those who had knowingly created it.

“And you weren’t, huh?” Yata’s curious gaze was on him; he could feel it without looking. It was a little unnerving, but not unpleasant. “Is that why you left to join Scepter 4?”

He clicked his tongue again. “It wasn’t that simple. You should know as well as I do that you don’t just leave a gang – especially once you’ve wormed your way to the top rank.” Not that he’d taken it seriously at the time. “I was overconfident. I figured I could cover my tracks, keep my identity and location out of it and just make use of their system.” What a joke. He let out a humorless little chuckle. “Ridiculous, huh? A kid in a gang full of hackers, assuming he’s better than everyone. It was reckless.”

“Still, you got into the top rank.” When he glanced sideways, Yata had turned to sit cross-legged facing him, and was actually grinning, leaning towards Fushimi as if every word was worth hanging on. “That’s pretty cool, when you think about it.”

What’s with that reaction? This idiot really was easily impressed.  Fushimi frowned. “It’s not that big a deal.”

“Right, sure.” Yata brushed that aside, his eyes bright. “So? What happened?”

That look was doing strange things to his stomach again. Fushimi turned his eyes forward, trying to still the feeling. “I had a run-in with Scepter 4 on a job. The Captain…” He hesitated there, frown deepening as he tried to think of the best way to cover this.

It was complicated, but it also really wasn’t. He could sum it up clearly by saying that Munakata had offered him a job, and Scepter 4 had both better stability and more reliable income as an employer. But then that wouldn’t be the entire truth, even at the time when he’d actually believed it. He was stifling in Jungle, tossed from job to pointless job without any clear direction or goal. His worth was measured in rank and counted in successful escapades, but there was no meaning to any of it. It was the small, inconsequential existence of a miserable life form struggling to sustain itself alone.

And then the Captain had come, his every word and movement and thought calculated in the name of his own relentless march towards an impossible order in society.

An impossible order that seemed perfectly achievable under that calm, intelligent gaze.

Fushimi clicked his tongue, letting out a rueful sigh. “He’s annoyingly persistent when he wants something,” he muttered finally. “And he’s got this really frustrating habit of getting his way regardless of the circumstances.” He shut his eyes briefly, and thought of that outstretched hand, gentle but unwavering. It evoked an emotion in him that he still didn’t fully understand. “You end up following his will in the end, whether you mean to or not.”

Whether it’s life or death that could be waiting for you after everything…

“Huh.” When he looked up again, Yata seemed to be turning that one over in his head; he blinked when he noticed Fushimi looking at him, and then his face brightened up into a wide smile. “So then… what you’re trying to say is, you’re loyal to him, right? That guy’s the leader you should’ve had from the beginning.”

Again… Fushimi stared at him, nonplussed. He couldn’t handle these careless conclusions. It felt like he was hitting bullseyes without a second thought. The casual attitude reminded him of Doumyouji, but there was a lack of that flighty whimsical nature. Even now, with that stupid grin, the look in Yata’s eyes indicated that he was completely serious.

Why do you care that much? It was ridiculous, really. A complete waste of energy. Fushimi scowled, turning his gaze aside again and willing the fluttering in his chest to settle. “Scepter 4 isn’t a gang, idiot.”

“I-I know that!” Yata sputtered, defensively. “Anyway, that’s not the point!” He let out an agitated huff, shifting a bit with obvious impatience. “You’ve got more to say, right? What happened when you left Jungle?”

This was the part of the story that he really didn’t want to get into. Fushimi felt the little coil of dread churning in his stomach and scowled against it, clicking his tongue harshly. “There’s not much to tell,” he muttered. “They knew my identity, and they obviously had no issue with using my past against me. After I figured out what they were doing, it wasn’t an issue to get around it, but it was troublesome at first.”

Yata’s eyes were wide and intent. “They blackmailed you?”

Fushimi frowned at him, raising an eyebrow. “Are you stupid or something? What do you think they’d be able to blackmail a middle school dropout with? Underage drinking?”

“How should I know? Middle schoolers can get up to bad shit too, can’t they?” Yata was scowling, but he still leaned in, his interest clear. “So what’d they do, then? Take one of your family members hostage?”

Wouldn’t that have been ironic? Fushimi almost wished they had. “You watch too many movies.”’

Yata shot him a dirty look, bracing his hands on his knees deliberately. In his cross-legged position, it made his back hunch forward and his elbows stick up awkwardly. “Well, you’re not telling me anything, so what the hell else am I supposed to work with?”

He narrowed his eyes in return. “Why do you need to know? It’s not important.”

“You went out of your way to make it mysterious, so now I’m curious, goddamnit!” Yata shot back, lowering his elbows and straightening up. “And I’m interested in you, remember? How many times do I have to say it?”

The words set off that little ‘ping’ at the core of his chest; Fushimi swallowed, trying to drown it out. “You’ve only said it once.”

“Fine!” The hands still resting on Yata’s knees clenched into fists, a certain amount of determined energy behind the motion. “I’m interested in you, okay? I’m fucking interested in you!” He glared up stubbornly at Fushimi, lips twisting down. “How’s that? Enough?”

That was really just making matters worse; Fushimi was starting to get irritated with his own reactions. “You didn’t need to say it that much, idiot,” he muttered back, looking away. It didn’t really help much. He could still see that burning glare in his mind; the hard lines and soft contours of Yata’s face, multiplying the single ‘ping’ into something more like a frenzied attack.

It was ridiculous. How and why was this obnoxious idiot affecting him?

“You’re the one who bitched about it first!” Yata let out a sudden, sharp breath. “Look, you don’t have to go into detail if it’s hard for you. I get it, all right? Just – y’know – give me something. A summary. Please.”

The rough, unself-conscious appeal at the end was the final straw. Fushimi tipped his head back and stared at the ceiling, giving himself a moment for the chaotic storm of emotions he couldn’t place to at least quiet to the point where he could keep it contained.

“They imitated someone from my past,” he said finally, keeping his tone flat and even. “It was a person who…” There, he paused, weighing his next words, and then made the decision to continue anyway, reasoning that Yata couldn’t give him unwanted pity after his own sob story from earlier, “had a lot of influence. Not in a good way.”

That’s probably understating it. But then, he wasn’t obligated to give Yata any details. Actually, he wasn’t obligated to give anything, but somehow these things were being weaseled out of him anyway. He hadn’t even been this straightforward with Munakata or Awashima, never mind this loud-mouthed thug who stared at him with honest, passionate eyes and prodded at soft spots he hadn’t been aware that he had.

Well, that didn’t mean he had to explain everything. There was no way to effectively summarize a childhood of carefully avoiding attachment to anything due to the pendulum swing of impending doom such an attachment would create over whatever the thing happened to be. Five years after that man’s death, he still couldn’t get the gleeful sound of malicious laughter out of his head.

Waiting for the scars to fade completely was an exercise in futility. He was used to it.

He hadn’t been at age sixteen, though, receiving message after message with an uncomfortable level of detail and familiarity that hadn’t seemed possible. Funds would go missing from his bank account. Rent cheques mysteriously didn’t make it to their destination. And, inevitably, after he discovered a discrepancy and started taking the steps to correct it, he’d receive one of those texts. Or an email. Occasionally even a phone call, and the whispered voice would haunt his sleep.

For a while, he remembered giving up sleep as much as possible, holed up in his apartment and huddled over his laptop with energy drinks and calorie mate until his fingers shook and his vision blurred into an unrecognizable mash of dark-edged color.

It wasn’t even that he’d seriously thought Fushimi Niki was back from the dead. Logically, he’d known that wasn’t the case. Obviously, it was one – or more – of the hackers from the top ranks of Jungle ganging up on the potential turncoat in their midst. But he hadn’t been able to figure out where they were getting their information – how they’d known the intimate details of his past in a way that allowed them to imitate it so flawlessly. The possibility of a faked funeral had started to grow and fester in his brain more as he endured the abuse and the confusion.

In retrospect, failing to take his annoying cousin seriously when he’d already known about her interest in Jungle was a strategic error on his part. It was certainly an oversight that Jungle’s core had exploited easily enough.

“What’d they do?” Yata asked him, eyes intent.

“Nothing you wouldn’t expect.” That was partially accurate. He didn’t need to mention the specifics. “It was a harassment campaign – I guess you could say a psychological attack. I’m assuming the point was either to punish me for being recruited in the first place or force me to come back. Only the admins in Jungle can deactivate an account, so mine was still sitting there.”

“Not much of a gang if they have to resort to stuff like that!” Yata grinned at him, eyes fierce. “Did you give ‘em hell in the end?”

The smile was infectious; despite his mood, Fushimi let one corner of his mouth tip up in response. “You should know not everything works out so neatly like that in real life.”

Yata slumped back a little, looking disappointed. “Yeah, I know, but still…”

“Well” – Fushimi shrugged, letting the other corner lift to join the first – “I did give ‘em hell.”

For a second, Yata just blinked at him – and then his face split with a wide grin again. “Hell yeah!” he enthused, and shook his head, good-natured exasperation in his eyes. “You asshole – what the heck was that?”

“Nothing much.” Being able to get a reaction was satisfying enough to lift his mood. “Anyway, I didn’t do anything special. I didn’t even figure it out on my own.”

He still didn’t know how the Captain had known enough to hint at it, and he wasn’t willing to ask. Once he’d figured out who was harassing him, tracking and disabling her had been simple. He’d assumed the other top ranking members had thoroughly taken advantage of the opening he’d left on her account, but either way, once he’d cut ties with Jungle, he couldn’t have cared less what happened to Oogai Aya.

The fact that he hadn’t seen or heard from her since was telling.

“But you crushed ‘em after that, right?” Yata was leaning forward again, eyes alight with vicious excitement.

The attention wasn’t unwelcome. “More or less.” As an afterthought, Fushimi added, “Well, it was only one high-ranking member at that point. Obviously, Jungle wasn’t taken down until recently.” Those memories were still a bit raw. “You probably know about that, right?”

“Yeah, sorta,” Yata admitted, shrugging a bit. “Their leaders got arrested, right? Dunno much about it.” He seemed to do a double take then, eyes widening a bit as he stared at Fushimi. “Wait… was that…? Did you guys – ?”

Fushimi clicked his tongue. I shouldn’t have brought it up. “Scepter 4 did the investigative work.” If you could call it that. The actual experience felt more like open warfare. “We were hired for it.”

Yata’s brow furrowed. “What, by the police?”

“No, a private client.” It probably would’ve been less of a trial if it had been the police. “A very annoying one, as it turned out – although I think the Captain agreed to it out of personal interest. Jungle interfered in a lot of our work already.” He clicked his tongue. “Anyway, it was an enormous headache – we were nearly branded a rogue organization by the authorities ourselves, thanks to Jungle’s counterattack.” He might as well just go ahead with it at this point – Yata was probably going to pester him until he answered anyway. “They fabricated charges against the Captain that basically amounted to offenses against the state.”

He got a blank look at that. “Huh?”

Fushimi raised an eyebrow. “It’s treason, pretty much. They can give you the death penalty for it.”

That had been the overlaying concern that nobody talked about during those days. Munakata had remained serene throughout – but he’d also grown more solitary as the trial progressed. Awashima’s concern had been palpable, even through her brisk professionalism. There had been times when her mask had slipped.

He hadn’t quite known how to react to it at the time. Scepter 4 had been a point of stability for him, and Munakata’s presence was an immovable centering force at the heart of it. Fushimi had resisted the revelation for a long while, but during that time, he’d gradually felt the looming swing of that pendulum hanging over something he valued, and it had been too late to try and reclaim his indifferent stance.

“Seriously?” Yata’s gaze had gone intent again. “So, what did you do?”

I wonder what his reaction will be. Fushimi eyed him right back, stating as flatly as possible, “I re-joined Jungle.”

“You…” Yata’s voice trailed off; he blinked twice, expression blank, and then abruptly leaned forward, eyes widening and face contorting with incredulity. “Hah!? Wait – but – why would you – ?” He stopped suddenly, eyebrows furrowing furiously as if he were struck by some intense thought – and then shut his mouth and frowned, crossing his arms over his chest. “No. Wait. There’s a reason, right?” He nodded, expression clearing, and looked up with clear, stubborn certainty in his eyes. “There’s no way you’d go back there for real!”

The forceful, unexpected assertion took Fushimi aback; he stared back at Yata for a second, nonplussed, and then clicked his tongue, turning aside. “Talking so big…” Where would he even get that kind of confidence? “You’ve only known me a week, and this is the first time we’ve actually talked. What makes you think you’d know anything about me?”

“Look, I can figure some things out, okay?” Yata snapped back, sounding just a bit testy about it. “I’m not always a dumbass! Anyway, some of your habits are just dead obvious.” He paused to let out a breath, as if trying to rid himself of some agitation. “Even in just the time we’ve been talking, I’ve heard you downplay pretty much anything good you do, and make a really big deal out of the bad shit. You’re back with Scepter 4 now, so if you’d joined those bastards again for real, it would’ve been pointless or a waste of time and you’d have already said so.”

It wasn’t so much the truth of it that struck Fushimi as it was the very clear indication that Yata had been paying close enough attention to his actions and behavior to have noticed a pattern at all. He glanced over sharply, unable to help himself, and felt something clench in his chest as they locked eyes. Yata’s gaze was straightforward and unwavering, as if he had put everything into that conclusion and thrown aside any doubt of its truth. It was a little bit irritating in a way – no accounting for reasonable doubt, seriously? – but mostly it was just baffling. Why do you care so much?

Some of the people who’d worked closely with Fushimi for years still wouldn’t be able to come to conclusions like that about him, and here was this loudmouth tossing it off like it was nothing. It was almost unbelievable.

Yata seemed to take his silence as confirmation, because his expression softened into a wry smile. “Not gonna admit it, huh?”

“Shut up,” Fushimi grumbled, torn between annoyance and something that felt suspiciously like gratification. He did his best to set those feelings aside, frowning. “It wasn’t my idea. The Captain is the one who likes to gamble, not me.”

Yata’s eyes narrowed a bit as he took that piece of information in. “Isn’t that kinda dangerous, though? He’d seriously order one of his guys to take a risk like that?”

“It wasn’t an order – it was a request.” Fushimi clicked his tongue, frown deepening in return. “Anyway, part of my job involves taking risks every day, on the computer or in the field.” He narrowed his eyes right back. “And don’t tell me you wouldn’t have been all over that kind of dangerous job if your leader brought it up.”

That apparently caught Yata off-guard; he stared back for a moment, seemingly speechless, and then grinned sheepishly. “Yeah, right, probably.”

‘Probably’, he says… Fushimi felt his own face soften into a smile and let out a soft huff of breath, faintly amused.

“Anyway, you can’t just stop there!” Yata leaned in again, eagerly. “What’d you re-join Jungle for? To spy? Taking them down from the inside?” His grin turned fierce. “You beat the hell out of them, right?”

“Nothing as cool as that,” Fushimi responded drily, adjusting his glasses. “Jungle was too good at covering their tracks, so the Captain figured our best bet was someone on the inside to make them betray themselves. I was the only person who knew the system well enough and could believably switch sides. The details were up to me.”

It wasn’t particularly pleasant to think about. He hadn’t been under any delusion that his tampering would go undetected, and there was no escape plan that wouldn’t compromise his ability to gain access if he took the necessary steps ahead of time. Going into the base of that core group, he’d felt the pendulum swing above his own head, and instead of fear, his thought had been, ‘this is fine’.

It wouldn’t have been a wasteful death, at least.

“Right, so?” Yata was still watching him with bright, hungry eyes. “What happened?”

“About what you’d expect.” At least this part was simple to summarize. “I broadcast their data on the Internet, at which point the police took over and the Captain’s trial was declared compromised. The charges against him were dropped, and Jungle’s core members were arrested.”

“Serves ‘em right!” Yata grinned back again, viciously. “How’d you get out, though? You snuck away? Or your friends came to back you up?”

Friends. For once, Fushimi didn’t feel like making the clarification. “Neither. The Captain had a contingency plan he wasn’t able to tell me about. I didn’t see the rest of the team until after everything was over with.”

“I’ll bet they were all glad you were okay, right?”

The truth behind that statement still sent a little rush of confused anxiety through him, even now. He could see the relieved grins and exuberant greetings of his co-workers… Awashima’s eyes welling up just moments before she’d pulled him in for a sisterly hug and then immediately launched into a scolding… But, most of all, he remembered the first thing he’d seen when returning to Scepter 4: the fond smile on the Captain’s face when he held out his hand and said “welcome back”.

He was still getting used to it, but… these days, he mostly considered himself grateful for what he had.

Yata was still grinning at him in the dim light, his eyes seeming to shine, and a rush of something else entirely went through Fushimi, sending a little shiver across his skin. “Yeah,” he admitted finally, trying his best not to let his confusion show on his face. “More or less.”

“Thought so.” If anything, that smile widened even more, eyelids coming down into an expression that almost seemed… fond? It was probably just the poor lighting. “You said they were just co-workers and all, but you guys are actually pretty close, huh?”

At this point, Fushimi wasn’t even sure if he felt like denying it any more. He settled for a non-committal “hm”, wondering idly if it was weird that they continued to stare at each other as silence fell, the dull patter of rain against what was left of the school’s roof adding a soft background ambience. The feeling he got from looking at Yata was somewhere between uncomfortable and irresistible.

Well, I’ll let him look away first.

Except that Yata didn’t look away at all. “So, uh,” he began instead, smile shrinking down to something small and a little bit awkward. “What kinda stuff d’you do for fun?”

Fushimi clicked his tongue, frowning back. “So the next step here is small talk, huh?”

“Yeah, whatever, shut up.” Yata let out a responding ‘ch’, rubbing at the back of his neck and looking kind of embarrassed. His gaze was steady and stubborn. “I wanna know more about you, okay?”

Another little ‘ping’ seemed to go off in Fushimi’s chest. He ignored it. “Well, it’ll pass the time,” he mused out loud instead, deliberately squashing the dry voice in his head reminding him that he had programs on his phone that would serve that purpose just as well. “Then… programming, maybe. Surfing the internet. Sometimes playing games, I guess.”

That seemed to perk Yata right up. “What kinda games?”

“Whatever seems interesting.” He wasn’t exactly a fanatic, but it could be a good way to blow off steam. “FPS and RPG. Strategy games.”

“Me too! It’s the best when there’s a good story to go with beating the hell out of everyone!” Yata grinned back at him again. “Hey, we should play together some time! I’ve been wanting to try co-op on Empire of Death for the longest time – I’ll bet we’d kick ass! How ‘bout it?”

Fushimi raised an eyebrow at him. “You’ve never seen me play. Where do you get that impression from?”

“It’s just – ” Yata’s grin shifted to a frown, eyebrows coming together as he considered his words. “I have this feeling, y’know? We got a good – what’s the word? – oh, chemistry!” He brightened up again at that. “Betcha we’d work well together.”

That’s not much of an explanation. Fushimi clicked his tongue again, torn between irritation and an odd little spark of excitement. “We’ve been arguing since we met.”

“Yeah, well, we never actually talked until now, right?” Yata challenged. There was a stubborn set to his lips, and his eyes seemed to burn. “Y’know what? Let’s try it. Here.” He shifted, reaching into his pocket, and then pulled out his phone with a flourish. “I’ve got games on here. Let’s go!”

Fushimi stared at him. Is he serious? “There’s no signal in here, remember? Any mutli-player games you have won’t work.”

“Yeah, I get that, okay? I’m not that dumb!” Yata shot him a mildly exasperated look. “I’ve got single-player games that are pretty cool!” He shifted in a little closer, squinting at his phone. “Let’s do some Apocalypse Bunker, come on!”

“How do you expect to play a single-player game with two people?” Fushimi asked drily, not moving.

“You said you like strategy, right?” Yata leaned in, tilting his phone so that Fushimi could see the screen. The title of the game was displayed in dark, bold letters, a grim wasteland image visible behind it. “So let’s make up the strategy together!”

It was a stupid idea. Playing a single-player game together, seriously? This was the kind of thing he should’ve expected from an idiot. Those words were on the tip of his tongue, ready to be spoken, but when Fushimi looked up and met Yata’s expectant gaze, he found he didn’t really want to.

His stupidity really is catching, huh?

Well, it didn’t matter. Fushimi sighed, then adjusted his glasses. “What do we have to do?”

Yata’s answering smile was almost blinding.

 


 

 

They ended up stretching out on the mats, backs propped against the gym vault stowed behind them and with Yata leaning in to peer at the phone in Fushimi’s hands, pointing out the places he wanted to raid for food and supplies.

It was surprisingly engaging, and they hadn’t butted heads too much. Yata wanted to be bolder than Fushimi was comfortable with, taking risks to get rare items and supplies, which actually paid off more than he would’ve expected, despite the frequent losses. Fushimi was in favor of building up their bunker to be as secure and functional as possible, delegating their limited resources in the most efficient way.

The combination was somehow working out better than he’d expected; Yata’s gambles brought in higher quality supplies, which allowed Fushimi to expand his strategy in the home base and build more effectively. It was actually pretty satisfying.

“Told ya we’d be a great team,” Yata had pointed out smugly, somewhere around an hour in. Fushimi had nudged him in the side with his elbow, but hadn’t disagreed.

They’d been playing for – Fushimi discreetly checked his own phone, which he’d disabled the flashlight mode on earlier to save battery – nearly three hours. His eyes were starting to get tired; usually when he was sitting in the dark staring at a screen, it was his laptop, not a cell phone. He reached up under his glasses with one hand to rub at the bridge of his nose.

“We can sto – sto – ” A yawn interrupted Yata’s sentence. “ – stop if you’re tired.”

“I’m fine.” Despite his words, Fushimi paused the game, glancing at his temporary partner. “Speak for yourself.”

Yata waved a lazy hand at him. “Yeah, I’m good. Plenty of fighting spirit left!” He grinned back, eyes glinting in the darkness, and then blinked, seeming to think of something. “How’s your leg?”

Fushimi shrugged, lowering the phone. “It doesn’t hurt.” It actually did a little, but it was negligible. He’d fall asleep eventually. “I guess we can sleep here,” he mused, looking out across the stack of gym mats. He’d have to pull up his knees to fit, and it was getting a little chilly now with the sun having set quite a while ago, but it wouldn’t be the most uncomfortable place he’d spent the night.

I probably won’t get much sleep, but that’s inevitable anyway.

“Yeah, that’ll work. Not like there’s anywhere else.” Yata shifted forward until he could flop back onto the mat, tucking his arms behind his head and stretching his legs in front of him. His feet still hung off the edge. “S’not that bad, c’mon.”

“I thought you had ‘plenty of fighting spirit’.” Despite his words, Fushimi shifted forward, lowering himself onto the mat. As expected, he had to bend his knees; rather than dealing with it, he shifted onto his side, careful to keep the wounded leg on top. The binding was still holding. Kind of amazing, really, considering it was made out of a cheap T-shirt.

The sudden, vivid mental image of Yata kneeling in front of him and pulling his shirt up over his head flashed to the front of Fushimi’s mind, and he resisted the urge to click his tongue, feeling something give a not-quite-unpleasant little shudder at the pit of his stomach. Yata’s bare chest had been surprisingly toned; with his diminutive size, slender build, and the loose clothing he always wore, he didn’t exactly give the impression of being muscular. The hard lines and wiry strength visible in those thin shoulders and narrow torso weren’t exactly what Fushimi had expected.

Not that he’d really been expecting anything. It wasn’t like he thought much about what Yata looked like without a shirt on. The sight of all of that naked skin had taken him off-guard, somehow, and the unsettled, anxious stir he’d felt at the time was coming back to him now, just remembering it.

What a pain…

Regardless, his actions just now had left him facing Yata. Fushimi deliberately pushed the feeling – and the memories that had caused it – aside, setting the phone between them and leaving the game active. “Well, it’s fine if we stop here.”

Somehow, he was reluctant to put the phone in sleep mode and eliminate the only light source.

Yata turned his head, and then abruptly rolled over as well, keeping one arm up to pillow his head. Between them, their knees were nearly touching; Fushimi felt a little prickle along his skin at the unexpected close proximity.

“Hey.” Yata’s voice was subdued, but the lazy smile and the warmth in his eyes as he looked at Fushimi made it feel like it had more force. “Can I ask you some more stuff?”

“Like what?”

“I dunno – the usual, I guess.” Yata’s voice was light and careless. “What’s your family like?”

An icy shudder ran through Fushimi’s entire body, canceling out the comfortable warmth he’d been settling into. He made an effort to keep his breathing under control and to continue meeting Yata’s gaze, pushing back that instinctive edge of panic that told him to move – look away – shut this down.

It was in the past, after all. The past couldn’t hurt him.

All the same, that didn’t mean he wanted to talk about it. “You ask a lot of questions for someone who hasn’t talked about his own personal life yet.”

Yata blinked at him, looking startled – as if the idea of Fushimi being interested in him in return hadn’t occurred to him. “Huh. Okay. You didn’t ask, so…” He let that trail off, offering a sheepish grin. “Right, yeah. Sure.” His eyes seemed to have brightened even further. “What d’you wanna know?”

Fushimi felt a small, unwanted thread of guilt for bringing it up as a deflection rather than a sincere question. He’s too honest. The idea of hearing about Yata’s personal life wasn’t… exactly unappealing, though. He thought back to what Yata had said earlier – “I wanna know more about you” – and had to reluctantly acknowledge that the words did resound against a similar feeling within himself.

Probably because we’ve been stuck down here for too long.

Still, it didn’t really matter if he indulged himself right at the moment. He didn’t know what would happen once they were fished out of this sinkhole of a cellar, but for now, anything was probably fine. “Then… your family. I guess.”

“My family, huh?” Yata let out an explosive huff of breath, shutting his eyes for a moment. “That’s… Okay.” He opened them again, regarding Fushimi seriously. “Don’t laugh, all right? My family’s awesome, I love them, but I don’t really go home much. Not that I don’t want to see them, it’s just…” He frowned slightly, looking strangely hesitant. “Truth is, I’m only half-related.”

It wasn’t what he’d expected to hear, but it caught Fushimi’s attention. It was more about the way Yata said it than anything. That’s a sore point, huh?

“I mean, obviously I’m fully related to my mom! And, y’know, not related to my dad at all! It – it balances out, okay?” Yata reached up to scratch under his beanie, clearly flustered, and stared at Fushimi with a kind of half-embarrassed appeal. “I always kind of felt disconnected, like… here’s this whole family, perfectly related, and then… me. They didn’t – they didn’t need me there, really.” Even in the small amount of light, it was clear that his face was going red. “This sounds so dumb,” he muttered. “Anyway, I know they love me – my mom always calls – it’s not like I’m not wanted, it’s just… I… ugh!” He heaved another sigh, letting his hand flop down. “Dunno how to explain.”

That makes two of us. Fushimi resisted the urge to click his tongue, torn between what felt like a pull from those expressive eyes and the instinctive urge to push back and withdraw into himself. He wasn’t used to having someone be so open with him. In one sense, it kind of made him uncomfortable – he didn’t know how to deal with it – but in another, it was gratifying. The strong drive to see more – to take in all of Yata’s honest and fervent emotions – was nearly as unsettling as not knowing how to react to them in the first place. He wasn’t sure where it came from.

Rather than do either of those – reach out or pull back – he settled for a mumbled response of, “It’s fine.”

Those lame words seemed to be enough for Yata, somehow; he smiled back, as if Fushimi had said something brilliant. “Yeah. It kinda is.” The smile shifted to a grin, almost too bright. “Anyway, now I have Homra to belong to, right?”

“I was used to feeling like I didn’t really fit anywhere. But with Homra, I did.”

Part of that raw confession from earlier flashed back through Fushimi’s head. It was like putting together a puzzle. Yata was an open book, simple to read and easy to understand, but he had fractured pieces all the same. It was both unnerving and satisfying to discover that.

I want to see more…

The thought was more than a little surprising. It felt like there was a blend of confusing desires warring for supremacy within him, and Fushimi wasn’t sure how to sort out what they all meant. He had the fleeting thought that, if he was another person, he might have reached out for Yata. Maybe he would’ve said something like ‘it’s okay’ or ‘you’re fine the way you are’. His palm was tingling with the imagined sensation of resting it on top of Yata’s hand, as a comfort or just to try and firm up a connection, he wasn’t sure.

His fingers twitched, and he curled them inward.

He wasn’t that person, after all.

“Well, that’s all! Not such a big deal, right?” The grin on Yata’s face had settled back to something easier and less tense. “Kinda feels good to get it out there! So, yeah…” His eyes were warm again when they met Fushimi’s. “Thanks! For listening and all.”

There it was again: that tiny ‘ping’ in his chest, like something striking against the inside. “I didn’t do anything,” Fushimi mumbled back, feeling oddly self-conscious – and vaguely irritated about it.

“What’re you talking about? You listened, right? Didn’t laugh or anything!” Yata beamed at him. “You’re the only person I’ve told this stuff to, anyway. Feels nice, y’know?”

“I guess.” He hadn’t really thought about it, to be honest. Looking back… maybe it was the same for him.

Just listening to someone can actually do that much, huh?

 He was still processing that thought when Yata cleared his throat, abruptly drawing his attention back. “Anyway, I’m cool with returning the favor. Y’know, if you want.” He offered a small, sheepish smile. “Not like you have to or anything. I’m just saying… I’ll listen, all right? Whatever you wanna say.”

You already did that, though. Fushimi frowned back, some of that uncertainty still lingering. But still…

It helped, right? Talking about it. He shut his eyes, breathing in and observing the conflict within his own mind. He didn’t know how to deal with a situation like this. And he didn’t want anyone’s useless pity.

But then…

When he opened his eyes again, Yata was still staring at him, straightforward and serious, and somehow that conflict seemed to fade into a kind of distant hum.

“Don’t laugh, all right?”

Fushimi let his breath out sharply. “You asked about family, right?” It helped if he could keep his tone dry. “There’s not much to say. My family is full of nothing but useless people. I left as soon as possible.”

In front of him, Yata’s eyes narrowed a bit, as if he were considering that. “When you say ‘useless’, you mean… ?”

“Exactly what the dictionary says,” Fushimi finished for him, flatly. “It’s not the kind of home you’d be used to. Most of the time it was empty, anyway.” He deepened his frown, narrowing his own eyes. “Well, I preferred it that way.”

Yata stared at him in silence for a moment, eyebrows furrowed, clearly needing a moment to process. His gaze was direct and curious. “So… that’s why you left?”

A large part of the knot that had formed in Fushimi’s chest seemed to unravel with that reaction. “More or less.” It was suddenly easier to breathe, like the air had cleared with the lack of pity or derision. Mostly, Yata just looked confused, and that was… honestly fine. He could handle confusion. Fushimi felt just bold enough to risk a little more. “It got a little easier after that man died. She didn’t care.”

“Huh…” Yata’s voice was soft and contemplative. “So that’s it…” It was clear from the crease in his forehead and the puzzled frown on his face that he didn’t really get it, but he was making an effort to understand what Fushimi had told him, just the same.

Somehow, just that was enough. A tiny, comfortable warmth spun to life within Fushimi, and he allowed himself a small smile, taking in the intense concentration on Yata’s face. “Don’t strain yourself.”

“Shut up,” Yata muttered at him, expression clearing enough to shoot Fushimi a sharp frown. “It’s not like I don’t get it or anything.” Just as quickly, that frown shifted into a rueful smile. “Well, it helps when you tell me something straight up. Thanks for that.”

Fushimi blinked at him, taken aback, and then narrowed his eyes, frowning. “Why are you thanking me? Weren’t you the one who said you’d return the favor by listening?” He clicked his tongue, feeling vaguely embarrassed about it. “I should be the one thanking you, right?”

“Huh? Oh.” Yata looked surprised for a second, and then his face shifted into another huge grin. “Then you’re welcome!”

Fushimi clicked his tongue again, looking away. His cheeks felt warm. “I didn’t actually say it, idiot.”

“Heh!” That didn’t seem to have deterred Yata at all, if the light-hearted note in his voice was any indication. “Close enough.”

Silence fell between them again, but it didn’t feel uncomfortable.

Unsurprisingly, Yata was the one to break it. “So? Anything else you wanna know?”

Fushimi looked up again to meet his eyes, caught the expectant look, and the sliver of an idea wormed its way into his head. He smiled slowly, lowering his eyelids a little. “What kind of stuff do you do for fun?”

For a moment, Yata stared back at him in perplexity, and then the echo of his own words from earlier seemed to register. He let out an irritated huff of breath. “Asshole.”

“You asked.”

“Yeah, I’m regretting it now.” There was the edge of a smile on Yata’s face all the same. “Jerk.”

“Idiot,” Fushimi returned promptly, without any real feeling.

Their eyes met, and Fushimi couldn’t help the grin that spread on his own face – a grin that was reciprocated right back from Yata’s.

Something like this isn’t bad at all.

 


 

 

It was the morning light streaming in through the collapsed wall and the hole left by the broken cellar door that woke Yata. He had a moment of disoriented confusion – why was there light on his face, and how come his bed felt so stiff? – and then the events of the night before started to come back to him, and he jolted awake, opening his eyes abruptly.

His vision was blurry; Yata blinked slowly a few times to clear it. When it finally did clear, he sucked in a sharp breath, caught off-guard by the sight in front of him.

Fushimi was beside him, his head pillowed on his arm much like Yata’s was and his face slack with sleep. He’d removed his glasses at some point – Yata honestly couldn’t remember if it had been before he’d fallen asleep himself – and they were close enough that it was possible to see his eyelids flutter. His thin lips were parted and his breathing was even. In this state, he looked untroubled and unguarded.

It was doing some funny things to Yata’s stomach; he swallowed, feeling his face grow uncomfortably warm. What? He’s sleeping – so what?

But then, he’d seen a lot of different sides to Fushimi last night, hadn’t he? Some of that warmth spread down through his chest, and Yata couldn’t help but smile a little. It had been… actually kind of fun to talk to each other. Well, he wasn’t really sure how Fushimi felt about it, but he at least felt enormously refreshed that morning, despite being hungry and thirsty and kind of needing to piss. He felt like they’d come to an understanding, and even grown a lot closer.

We’re pretty much friends now, right? He’d told Fushimi things that he hadn’t thought he’d tell anyone, and Fushimi had listened to him closely, even if he hadn’t said much. It was incredibly satisfying; Yata felt light just thinking about it. He also got the feeling that some of the things he’d been told in return – hell, maybe most of the things – had also been stuff that no one else had heard before him.

That thought seemed to kick his heart into overdrive; he just felt… happy.

Well, not a bad thing. He’s pretty cool, after all.

As he lay there watching Fushimi’s sleeping face, with his heart thundering in his chest, another thought occurred to Yata – something he’d been kind of turning over in his head last night towards the end, but hadn’t ended up bringing up.

Something he could – maybe – try out now, on his own.

Yata swallowed, licked his lips, and watched Fushimi’s face carefully. He’s asleep, so no problem, right? He pulled in a breath, keeping his voice down as he murmured, experimentally, “Saruhiko.”

The name felt kind of weird coming out of mouth. It was crazy. Yata found himself grinning a little, hand fisting up on the ground in front of him. It felt like his whole body was buzzing with an excitement he couldn’t explain. Hell, he called a lot of people by their first names, but this was different. He wasn’t really sure how, but it definitely was.

“Saruhiko,” he repeated, with a little more volume and confidence – and then again, drawing the ‘r’ out experimentally to see how it felt, “Saruhiko.”

He was about halfway through that last one when Fushimi’s eyes scrunched and then slid open slowly, regarding him with hazy confusion before the motion could even be processed. “What?” he mumbled, voice thick with sleep.

Yata’s skin prickled immediately in response; his breath caught and he nearly choked, sputtering with a mixture of shock and outrage. “Y-y-you… you were awake?” he managed to stammer out finally.

Ah, shit…

Fushimi was already fumbling for his glasses, squinting at Yata with vague irritation. “Hard to sleep when someone keeps saying my name,” he muttered, rising up a little to slide the frames over his nose. “If you didn’t want me to wake up, why did you bother?”

Damnit… Yata scowled, turning his gaze aside as he felt his face burn with embarrassment at being caught. He let out a soft ‘ch’ and then a long exhale. Fuck it, might as well just go ahead then. “N-nothing big. Just figured since – y’know – we’re friends now and all, maybe I could start using your first name. Or something.” He turned his eyes back towards Fushimi’s face, searching for a reaction of some sort.

For a moment, Fushimi just started at him, blinking slowly as the remains of sleep-induced fog seemed to clear from his head. “Ah,” he said after a beat or two, and then frowned a bit, that wary look settling over his face again. “Well, I don’t mind. Go ahead if you want.”

The last tiny bit of anxiety eased in Yata’s chest, and he could feel the huge grin spreading across his face before he’d consciously decided on it, spawned up out of mingled relief and elation. He didn’t deny the ‘friend’ part either… “Yeah! Thanks!” After a brief second’s hesitation, he added, “Saruhiko.”

If anything, the little shiver of excitement was stronger with those cool eyes on him while he said it.

Fushimi’s – Saruhiko’s – gaze seemed to lose a little of that guarded look, too. “It’s not that big a deal,” he murmured, slowly withdrawing his arm from under his head and pushing himself up into a sitting position. He winced a little as he shifted his legs.

Right – the injury. Yata pushed himself up quickly, ignoring the pins-and-needles feeling in the arm he’d pillowed his head on and leaning forward to eye the rough binding he’d thrown together the night before. “How’s your leg?”

“Fine.” The short response was about what he’d expected, but Fushimi’s tone wasn’t as clipped as before, which was probably a good sign.

He didn’t shift away or tense up when Yata moved to check the injury either, allowing him to unbind it without fuss. “Yeah, doesn’t look too bad – I mean, you still need to get it checked and all once we’re out, but I don’t think it’s infected, anyway.” He reached into his pocket for the remains of the T-shirt, beginning the process of rebinding.

Saruhiko let out a long breath – a weary-sounding sigh. “Thanks,” he said, sounding kind of awkward and stiff – as if he didn’t say it often. “Yata.”

It was his surname spoken in that voice that had Yata whipping his head up, hands freezing in the middle of what he was doing as he stared. Saruhiko met his gaze squarely, a tiny frown on his face, expression bland – but this was obviously a peace offering. Or – well – they were past the ‘peace offering’ stage, so more like… this was his way of showing his friendly intentions. Probably.

That was honestly what he’d wanted almost right from the start, and yet, now that he had it, Yata felt strangely dissatisfied. He felt his eyebrows knit together between his eyes as he thought about it. Why? I hate that name, so I should be glad, right? Almost no one in his life called him by his first name – not even Kusanagi. Not even Totsuka. Only his family members and Anna.

His family members… that was just obvious. And you didn’t say no to Anna. Plus, with her, it was like… Well, it felt like family, so he didn’t mind it. But it wasn’t like that with Saruhiko.

Still… somehow or another…

Yata let out an agitated breath, freeing a hand to scratch at the back of his head with a kind of anxious energy. I still don’t really get it, but whatever! “You don’t have to… I mean, it’s fine.” He scowled a little to himself, turning his gaze back to the binding to cover his embarrassment. “What you were calling me before is okay.”

There was a brief, startled moment of silence; Yata returned to his work with renewed vigor, deliberately not looking back up. He could feel his cheeks growing warm, and mentally cursed himself. Then, finally, Saruhiko spoke. “Didn’t you say not to call you that?”

Yeah, sure, now you listen! Yata tied the strip of T-shirt material off, making an effort not to jerk it too sharply. “That was then, okay? This is different.” He gathered his determination and lifted his gaze, meeting Saruhiko’s eyes boldly. “If we’re gonna be on a first-name basis, you gotta be able to use mine too, right?”

For a second, Saruhiko just stared back at him – and then his head dipped forward, and Yata saw his mouth tip up into a smile as he let out a small huff of a laugh. “What’s up with that?”

It was hard to tell if he felt more indignation at being laughed at or fascination at the sight of Saruhiko actually laughing. Not in a mocking way, either. “It’s not that funny, c’mon.” Still, he couldn’t help the small, rueful grin that crept onto his own face. Abandoning the freshly rebound wound, he rose up on his knees and then turned to flop down to a seat beside Saruhiko again, letting out a sigh. “Y’know, you’re still kind of an asshole, Saruhiko.”

He got a raised eyebrow for that. “You’re still kind of an idiot. Misaki.”

I’m gonna regret that one, aren’t I? Despite the thought, Yata couldn’t help but grin back fully. “Yeah, whatever.” He felt pretty good right then, shoulder to shoulder with the person he’d kind of – reluctantly – admired from the start. Saruhiko’s eyes were a startlingly piercing blue behind the lens of his glasses, and looking at them stirred up a little shiver in Yata’s belly that he couldn’t explain.

Honestly, this atmosphere felt kind of different, and he wasn’t sure about that either. The air between them was thick and heavy – not literally, but, well, a feeling. It was making him edgy, but there was a bit of an adrenaline rush to it as well. He didn’t know what to expect. Looking at Saruhiko’s pale, fine-boned face, something in his stomach clenched and his heart sped up. A little edge of what felt like anticipation seemed to be gradually climbing around everything else.

Anticipation of what, he had no idea.

All he knew was that the striking blue of Saruhiko’s eyes felt like it was swallowing him whole, even as the lids started to come down low over them, the delicate details of those long lashes plainly visible. It was like those eyes were getting bigger as he looked, sending a surge of warmth through his body that was completely off from the cool color.

Maybe not so much bigger… maybe… closer…

“Yata-chan!”

“Fushimi!”

The sudden clamor of voices from outside of the bubble of… whatever that was… had Yata’s head jerking back automatically, startled out of that kind of daze he’d fallen into. Immediately, he felt a rush of cold, momentarily blanking out as he blinked at Saruhiko’s face. The expression he got back mirrored his confusion exactly.

What…?

“This certainly is a foreboding sight,” a grim, measured voice announced from somewhere outside of the cellar, and Yata’s attention was diverted to the open space above them.

Saruhiko sucked in a sharp breath even as he did. “Captain?” he queried, his tone just a bit incredulous.

“Fushimi-kun?” There was the sound of brisk footsteps, and then Munakata himself appeared at the entrance to the cellar, morning light gleaming from his glasses. “Ah.” He let out what sounded like a slow exhale, with a clear undertone of relief. “You both appear to be unharmed.”

“Misaki!” Anna’s voice was strong and desperate; when she appeared beside Munakata, her expression was stricken. She immediately dropped to her knees, bracing her hands at the edge of the opening as she peered down at them. “Saruhiko!”

A sudden and sharp rush of guilt ran through Yata’s body; he clenched his hands into fists without thinking. I made her worry. He forced himself to try and relax, keeping his voice light as he called back up to her. “Don’t worry about me, Anna! I’m made of strong stuff, remember?” He was able to manage a fierce grin with those words, and then shifted it to a frown. “Anyway, you shouldn’t be in here – it’s not safe.”

Even from the distance, he could see her lip tremble; she looked ready to protest, but was interrupted when Kusanagi joined her, setting a gentle hand down on her shoulder. “Yata’s right, Anna,” he said, tilting his head a little to offer a rueful smile down at the two of them. “Come on, let’s get you out of here so we can get a ladder down to them.”

The blonde woman – Awashima, Yata remembered – took their place as Anna was led away. “Are either of you two injured?” she called down, brisk and cool.

“We’re fine, Lieutenant,” Saruhiko reported back immediately.

Yata shot him a slightly exasperated look. “Saruhiko hurt his leg,” he added, and turned his head to meet the irritated glare that came his way challengingly. “He’s gonna need to get it looked at.”

He got a sharp ‘tsk’ and a frown for his trouble. “That wasn’t necessary.”

“Shut up! It obviously was if you’re just gonna ignore it, dumbass.”

“Is everything under control down there, Fushimi-kun?” Munakata asked in a calm, pleasant-toned voice. When Yata glanced up at him, startled, he found himself the subject of a keen, interested gaze.

It was kind of unnerving.

“There’s no problem, Captain,” Saruhiko responded evenly.

“I’m very pleased to hear it.” Munakata smiled in return, somehow managing to look both completely innocent and unquestionably devious. He turned slightly. “Awashima-kun, if you would be so kind as to find something we can lower to them to end this unfortunate predicament?”

 “Yes, sir!” She straightened, and then turned to leave abruptly.

“Now, Fushimi-kun.” Munakata’s gaze turned back to the cellar again. He reached up to push his glasses higher on his nose, causing that glint from the sun to catch and flash blindingly. “Perhaps you could enlighten me with the details of how your current circumstance came to be.”

There was no reprimand in either the words or the tone – and he wasn’t even the focus of that gaze – but somehow, Yata felt like he was being scolded.

Beside him, Saruhiko sighed; when he spoke, his voice was a mix of resignation and weariness. “Yes, Captain.”

 

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