Hasumi has problems with his friends.
Then one day, she called to him from the other side and as he hurried across, saw that somehow it seemed brighter, less shadowed than he remembered. She was laughing when he reached her. There was nothing to fear, and he abandoned his childish trepidations. The bridge never troubled him again.
In the morning, Tanaka is almost back to his usual self, if a little red-eyed and restless. Hasumi is even slower and clumsier than usual, so much so that the fifth time he trips over his own bag while packing, Tanaka snatches it from his hands.
"Give me that before you kill yourself with it. I will save you from yourself, and you will buy me lunch in gratitude," he declares nobly. Hasumi thinks about it for a moment, then decides that he has no energy to argue debts and who owes who what now with Tanaka, and waves him to go on ahead. Tanaka frowns and presses the back of his hand to Hasumi's forehead. "Are you feeling all right?
Hasumi swats at him irritably. "I'm fine, leave me alone."
"You must be sick, you never agree to buy me lunch! Come on, I'll take you to the infirmary, get up." Tanaka drags Hasumi to his feet, and Hasumi hits him over the head with a notebook for his pains.
"I'm not sick! I never agreed to buy you lunch!"
Tanaka sticks his tongue out at Hasumi and skips away, holding up Hasumi's bag tauntingly. "You're not getting this back, you ingrate." Hasumi follows him with the notebook and uses its harder spine instead. "Hey, hey, stop that, you miser, ow!"
They continue tussling as they hurry down for the first lecture of the day, which they are already late for, and pass Ichinomiya with Yamada in the hallway. Tanaka does not notice, but Yamada, who is not in this class with them, looks up and smiles, then looks puzzled when Ichinomiya lets them pass without acknowledgement. Hasumi ducks his head, feeling unaccountably awkward about the nebulous dream of the night before, and there is a burning pain in his chest, as if sharp nails are digging into his flesh.
There were times when he did not see his friend for days, or even weeks, but when she came back, she always had new stories or some small gift for him - sweets, a bright paper pinwheel, a small stone worn smooth by a river. Not having anything else, he gave her a red ribbon from one of the dolls in the playroom, with slightly frayed ends and a small inkstain he could not wash out. She seemed so sincerely delighted with this poor gift that Ryoukan was too embarrassed to give her anything afterwards.
It is several days before Tanaka, in the middle of the lunch hour, looks up and starts to speak, then chokes on his half-chewed mouthful of katsudon. Hasumi stares at him for a moment, then gets up and pounds on his back until he coughs it up.
"Did you have a quarrel with Ichinomiya or something?" Tanaka asks, after he recovers from his coughing fit. "I haven't seen him around for a while."
"No, we..." Hasumi doesn't quite understand what happened during their last meeting, much less know how to explain it, but Ichinomiya is keeping his word and not bothering him, and he can't bring himself to say he is annoying, but I didn't want him to ignore me completely, and closes his mouth on the words. "Why do you care anyway? I thought you hated him?"
Undaunted by his accident, Tanaka shrugs and takes another large bite of the chicken. "I need to borrow his notes. Was going to ask next time he showed up, but," he stops and eyes Hasumi with atypical shrewdness, "you two really aren't talking anymore, are you?"
"I don't know," Hasumi admits, and looks down at his sandwich.
Tanaka frowns and seems about to ask another question, but Hasumi is saved from making misdirected and inappropriate confessions when he jumps up on the table and waves his empty lunch tray like a flag. "Over here! Yamada, you idiot, where have you been this whole week?"
Across the hall Yamada lights up and waves back. Through the crowd, Hasumi can see Ichinomiya murmur something to Yamada and leave.
"Notes, Yamada, do you have notes for Kawaguichi's class last Friday?" Tanaka demands, and Yamada raises a tragic hand to his forehead as if he is about to swoon.
"You only love me for my notes," he sighs, and it would have been quite theatrical if Yamada had been able to express himself in any way but "shy and earnest, possibly wistful", so that several heads turn to stare at the tragic scene and Yamada blushes to find himself suddenly the centre of attention. It does not help salvage how the situation looks at all, but the rumours about their being a couple were old by the end of freshman orientation, and after the initial shocked silence, everyone continues their lunch as usual.
"Aah, you are disgusting," says Tanaka good-humouredly, settling down to continue his lunch. Hasumi is relieved that he has been distracted from further questioning.
"It's your fault," Yamada mutters, cheeks flushed crimson and keeping his eyes cast down and fixed on his lunch. He stirs his bowl of miso with his chopsticks and glances up at Hasumi. "Hey, did you see Ichinomiya-senpai yesterday? He said... Uh... are- are you feeling quite well? Bad mood?"
He hadn't realised it was so obvious. "I'm fine," he says, embarrassed. "Just haven't been sleeping well."
"Oh. I- I, um, I'm sorry." Yamada shrinks into himself, wide-eyed and hurt, as though he has been slapped unexpectedly. "I'll leave you alone, ok?"
Hasumi has the strangest feeling that Yamada is not addressing him. Tanaka is silent, studying them as he shovels food into his mouth. He is only relieved when lunch ends and they have to split up for the next class.
The one thing that Ryoukan thought was the most impressive about his friend was the way she could go anywhere she liked without getting caught, and Ryoukan himself could never sneak up on her successfully. Of course, they never bothered to play hide-and-seek.
Everyone seems to think Hasumi is some kind of moody fool, but really, Tanaka is more temperamental than ten girls trying to make their own chocolates on the eve of Valentine's day. The week after he had his jealous fit over Yakko-san was fairly quiet, even without Yamada's usual calming influence, but right now, he's crouched at a mouse-hole he spotted under his desk and hissing curses at the vile creatures that had chewed several holes in his favourite socks, and he looks as if he would crawl in and catch the mouse himself if he could.
It's a little distracting, but not the strangest thing he ever did. Tanaka will get through it the same way he gets into and gets over all his mood swings: suddenly and with no apparent reason. Hasumi could care less, but not by much. Sharing a room with Tanaka means that one has to accept his occasional eccentricity, and he's not a bad sort normally - cheerful, fearless and protective of his friends - if one is willing to overlook his idea of what passes for affectionate teasing. And his snoring.
The second day of this latest odd behaviour, Hasumi finds himself getting used to the hissing and feels oddly relaxed, as if he has the room to himself, because Tanaka is clearly not paying any attention to him at all.
He knows who it is before he hears the approaching footsteps, he thinks, instinctively straightening in his seat as the light tread stops before their door and Yamada's tentative rapping precedes his entry. Tanaka manages to startle and hits his head against the bottom of the desk. More rasping expletives ensue. Yamada scowls at his back and smiles hesitantly at Hasumi, murmurs a "thank you" to himself. Then he kicks Tanaka in the rear. Tanaka falls silent.
"What?" In fact, violence from Yamada, even violence as trivial and un-painful-looking as this, probably deserved a "What the hell?" but Hasumi's still somewhat confused over what had transpired at their last meeting and doesn't feel comfortable swearing around Yamada yet.
"Ow," says Tanaka, in a very small, sheepish voice.
"It's all right, I do understand," says Yamada under his breath, and Hasumi is wondering what Tanaka has done to annoy Yamada this time when Yamada takes a deep breath. "You idiot! You have no resistance to anything at all! Have you no pride? I can't leave you alone for so much as a day!"
While Tanaka is still blinking in confusion as though he has just woken up, Yamada has vanished and slammed the door behind him. "I don't know what's wrong with him either," Hasumi tells him apologetically.
Once, he let her follow him back to the orphanage, where he shared a meal with her in the musty space under the stairs, out of sight of the perpetually disapproving matron. There wasn't quite enough to eat, but they had fun giggling together at the oblivious adults tromping up and down overhead.
After that, Tanaka goes back to acting like a human, and Yamada is willing to spend time with the two of them again, though he never explains up his strange actions of the past two days and he still takes off to talk furtively with Ichinomiya on occasion. Things are almost like normal, or what normal was before Hasumi dropped his books and picked up an irritating senpai, who now irritates him irrationally by his conspicuous absence.
They are in the same department, and spend enough time in the same small area that it would be perfectly ordinary if they bumped into each other half a dozen times a day, but he sees Ichinomiya once on a good day, usually just out of the corner of his eye. That's clear and deliberate avoidance, and it's so obvious that people are starting to look him askance, because any normal person would be avoiding Ichinomiya, not the other way around.
Obviously, there's something even more wrong with him than there is with Ichinomiya. In fact, the only people besides his teachers willing to talk to him now are Tanaka and Yamada, and they are equally odd and annoying in their own way.
Hasumi is beginning to think he needs to confront Ichinomiya and insist on a proper explanation for every misfortune he can think of to lay at the bastard's feet. When Hasumi finally manages to catch sight of Ichinomiya in the hallway, he is suddenly at a loss for words, unable to decide which of his woes to complain of first, and his quarry is gone before he can open his mouth to speak.
"We really need to talk," he finally says to the empty air, and earns himself more strange looks.
The next time, she brought a bloody rabbit to share with him. He took a look at its glassy, staring eyes and couldn't eat for the rest of the day, and afterwards she never offered him food again.
"We need to talk," Hasumi says again, alone in his room. It is not a rehearsal, but he doesn't sound convincing even to himself. Wanting is not need, however much it feels like the same thing. Hasumi surreptitiously rubs at his chest. The mysterious scratch on his chest, still half-healed, still stings, a little.
end part 3