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Cardboard Bridges 4/?
Uta no Prince-sama, Jinguji Ren/Hijirikawa Masato, PG-13

MASTER POST


It's nearly dark when they pass through Niekawa, deciding against stopping by and instead agreeing to head straight to Hirookatakaide where Ren has booked a hotel room for them to stay for the night.

Things have become awkward between them since they left Narai, the tension growing thick by the minute. Masato's mind is still reeling from that unexpected kiss, so lost in his own head that he and Ren have hardly exchanged words, just an offhand "would you like to stop here?" from Ren and a curt "no" from him.

They remain civil though, enough to have dinner together, and then Masato struggles to find a way to avoid Ren without seeming so, claiming that he's tired and heads to the bathroom to take a warm shower before hitting the sack.

The warm water pelting down his body doesn't have the soothing effect he has hoped for, every nerve aches and his temples throb from too much thinking.

The light knock startles him that he almost grabs his towel to cover himself up on impulse. Almost. Immediately remembering he has locked the door, Masato drops his arm.

"I'm going out for a bit," Ren calls out. "Don't wait up. I have my own key anyway."

Masato doesn't even respond, just listens to the telltale sound of the door opening and closing within a five-second time frame. Relief stirs in his chest but the moment he steps out of the bathroom, he is hyperaware of Ren's absence that it causes a dull pain to nestle in his heart.

Sleeping becomes a Herculean task. Not even the exhaustion crawling up his body helps in bringing him down to a tranquil state. His eyes keep seeking his phone to check the time.

One hour has passed by and still no Ren. Masato wonders where he's gone to. Maybe to a bar. Ren's at a legal drinking age now and given their current situation, Masato can't blame him if he develops a sudden craving for alcohol.

Two hours roll by and his roommate isn't back yet. Should he start to worry? It's past ten and they've both gone beyond this hour when they have been busy with individual projects. It's not like him to feel agitated, but the roiling in his gut won't settle and he needs to do something to preoccupy his mind.

Calling Tokiya seems to be the logical option. He answers after two rings and greets him with a straightforward, "I've been wondering when you'd call me."

Confused, Masato says, "I'm sorry?"

Tokiya breathes out audibly. "Ren called just ten minutes ago. He sounds awfully drunk and keeps on babbling on how…" The pregnant pause that follows has Masato start pacing around the room. "Well, he said he kissed you and now he's not sure if it was a stupid thing to do."

"Stupid thing?" Masato can feel the ire simmering in his chest. "Here I am all rattled because he kissed me and I can't come up with a decent interpretation why my chest feels like it's close to imploding and he has the audacity to think that kissing me is probably a stupid thing?"

"Calm down, Hijirikawa-san," Tokiya speaks with a pacifying tone he usually reserves for Otoya but this somehow reminds Masato why he has called Tokiya in the first place – to be placated. "I'm sure that was just Ren's intoxicated mind talking."

"What else did he say?" Masato asks now out of curiosity because he doubts Ren would come spilling his heart to him when Ren is clearly on a mission to put a distance between them if tonight's escapade is anything to go by. Or. Perhaps he is to blame as well because Masato hasn't exactly been receptive for the past hours.

"I'm not in the position to tell you," is what Tokiya says candidly, using a pitch that firmly stays in a monotonous level which only suggests he's restraining himself from inappropriate revelation. "I suggest you two sit down and talk about this. Don't push him away, Hijirikawa-san."

Tokiya has a point though so Masato agrees without question. "Alright. I'll do that."

He waits another couple of hours but fatigue soon catches on and he's drifting into a half-asleep-half-awake state when his subconscious detects a distant click and not long after he hears a distinct thump as if something – or someone – has fallen.

His eyes spring open to find a figure on the floor and this prompts him to jump off the bed, turn on the bedside lamp and rush to his friend's side.

Ren reeks of alcohol and he's mumbling words that Masato won't even dare to decipher because Ren sounds like he's speaking in an alien tongue.

When he throws Ren's arm over his shoulder to help him up, Masato's nose catches another scent that is definitely not liquor. Apart from the usual perfume and aftershave that Ren wears, something Masato has grown accustomed to over the years, there's a trace of a completely different fragrance – a fruity note of bergamot with an unpleasant spicy whiff of cinnamon or thyme coiling around it and a base of what seems to be sandalwood – so not Ren's but clearly another's person's – a woman's perhaps.

The implication sends a pang straight to Masato's heart, but he ignores that uncomfortable twinge and drags Ren over to his bed. Once he has Ren lying flat on his back, Masato takes off his shoes and socks and jacket with a bit of difficulty. When he leans over Ren to push a pillow underneath his head, Masato spies the purple-reddish mark on Ren's neck. This causes his emotions to spin out of axis, making him feel tremendously dizzy, and what little air he has in his lungs is squeezed out that breathing becomes difficult, as if he's deprived of oxygen.

Masato's legs refuse to function properly that he practically crawls back to his bed and slide underneath his blanket. His eyes are blurry and only when he blinks does he realize that tears are brimming on the surface. Why is he crying? Why does the thought of Ren being with another man make him feel like he's being stabbed from the inside? Why? Why? Why?


***


Left with no other choice but to surrender the wheel to Masato, Ren sinks into the passenger seat with a groan. His head still throbs and his brain feels like cotton. The temptation to tease Masato, to tell him, to kiss Ren's headache away, pretty please, prances in his hindbrain but the rational part of him holds up a flag of reminder that doing such will only add fuel to the fire. A fire, he notes, that seems to have grown bigger since this morning, leaving Ren to wonder what the fuck happened last night.

All he can recall is that he had gone to a bar just outside Shiojiri, and he had a couple of drinks, maybe more, until he spotted this girl who looked lost like he was and they shared a smile when their eyes met. He joined her later on the table – just to talk, he swears – then bought her a drink. And maybe… maybe, somewhere between inebriation and desperation and just feeling fucking shit about himself, he started kissing her, and there might have been some necking involved as well because.

"Fuck." Ren mutters under his breath, fingers straying over the spot in his neck where he has seen a prominent purplish mark when he checked himself in the mirror earlier.

Masato turns the radio on, eyes fixed on the road ahead. He's been quiet since this morning – well, quieter than he's been since they've left Narai yesterday, if that makes any sense. There's a disturbing difference, he seems more distant and cold that Ren is afraid he might not be able to reach him if he doesn't do a damn thing right away.

They're driving into the vicinity of Lake Kawaguchi when Ren speaks. "You know, if you're not feeling up to it, we can just simply drive straight back home to the dorms."

"I'm not going back," is Masato's terse response, fingers visibly tightening around the wheel. "If that's what you want, you can go back on your own. I can just get off here and take a taxi to a train station."

"Where will you go?" Memories of Masato turning away and ignoring him regardless of how loud his voice had been when calling out Masato's name flashed in Ren's mind.

"None of your business." The finality in Masato's tone incites dread to twist in Ren's gut, taut to the point of making Ren feel nauseous.

"Look, Hijirikawa, if this is about the kiss—"

"We are not doing this now, Jinguji."

"Yes we are, whether you like it or not. Stop running away from me, for crying out loud, Masato!" Ren belatedly realizes he has blurted all that in a raised voice when the car swerves a little. "Fine. We'll talk when we get to the cottage.

It takes another ten minutes or so before they're finally pulling up in front of his family vacation house. It's been four years since he's been at this place, but nothing much has changed it seems. Their caretaker, Tanaka, came out as soon as Ren steps out of the car. The man doesn't look like he's aged since the last time Ren saw him, well apart for the barely visible gray streaks on his hair.

"Tanaka-san," he says in greeting.

Tanaka bows before him, says, "Ren-sama, it's good to see you again," in that eager and genial way Ren is familiar with.

"Yes. I apologize for the short notice, but I appreciate you being here to greet us," Ren says, barely aware of Masato unloading both their luggage.

"The pleasure is mine, Ren-sama." Tanaka takes their bags and leads them inside, past the genkan and into the living room. "I have a guest room ready for Hijirikawa-san, and your room has been cleaned. There's food in the kitchen as well. Seiichirou-sama says you'll be staying for a couple of nights at the most? Should I arrange for a cook to come by?"

"I don't think that would be necessary, thank you," Ren says, already planning to be the one to take charge of their meals, if Masato will still act like Ren doesn't exist.

"If there isn't anything else then, I'll leave you be." Tanaka hands him a set of labeled keys. "If you need anything, just call me."

"Thank you, Tanaka-san." Ren sees the caretaker out the door and when he returns to the living room, he catches Masato standing by the console table and holding a framed photo. At closer look, Ren realizes that it's one of him and Masato when they were little, taken at the rooftop of a hotel at Times Square New York where they snuck out to watch the ball drop while their respective families were at one of the parties being held at the hotel lobby. "That's the only memory I have of a genuinely happy new year," Ren says when Masato turns to him. "I made several copies of that photo. I actually keep one in my room back home." Ren is certain though that his father had discarded that particular copy Masato is holding so he wonders why it's on display. Although he has a gut feeling that Seiichirou is the mastermind behind this and has roped Tanaka into bringing it out.

"I see." Masato places the frame back on the table but doesn't turn back around to meet Ren's gaze.

"Do you want to talk now? Or would like to settle in first?" Ren asks when wordless minutes seem to expand between them once more. The tension's too thick that Ren can almost feel it clawing at his skin.

Masato doesn't respond right away, just walks over to the window and looks out in the distance. "Why did you kiss me?" he says after what seems like eternity then he faces Ren with such an open expression – hopeful, scared, worried, confused, pained all weaved into a poignant appearance – that makes Ren's heart bleed.

"I…." To think he's been preparing for this. Now Ren is at a loss for rectitude. He knows he needs to be honest, but stringing words together to describe all the jumbled emotions stirring inside him isn't as easy as he had imagined.

A frown forms on Masato's lips. "You know what, forget I asked." He moves towards his luggage then starts hauling his rolling bag behind him and says, "If you can tell me where the guest room is, I'd appreciate it. I'd like to rest for a while, if you don't mind."

"Wait." Ren grabs hold of Masato's arm when Masato attempts to walk past him. "I thought you said we would talk."

Masato's shoulders sag, as if he feels utterly defeated. "I don't think I'd like to hear your reason, if you have any," he says then his head snaps up, his fiery gaze pins Ren in place. "I don't even know why I asked. I suppose you just make it a habit of kissing anyone whenever you feel like it."

"I don't," Ren says on impulsive defense, because he really doesn't. Well, maybe he did in the not so distant past but. It's different. This time, it's different. Fuck! To hell with holding back. "I admit, I had my guard down at the time so I… I ended up expressing in the most straightforward way I know how what I have been trying to suppress all these months or maybe years, okay?"

Lines appear on Masato's forehead. "What are you saying, Jinguji?"

Fuck! There's no turning back now. "Damn it, Hijirikawa!" Why do you do this to me? Ren cards his fingers through his hair. "What I'm trying to say is… well, every moment I spent with you this past year I… Fuck! I don't know anymore! I think I've fallen in love with you."

There's a flash of hurt on Masato's eyes, which Ren doesn't get. He worries that maybe he's been too forward, if he's really done it this time and is gradually (or instantly) pushing Masato away. "Look, I… I didn't want to tell you this because I was afraid I might lose you. Again. Please." Please don't leave me.

"I don't believe you." Masato's jaw appears to be set, sharp lines appearing between his eyebrows. "You dare tell me you've fallen in love with me when just last night you were no doubt making out with someone else?"

"What?" I was… what? Ren is overwhelmed with utter confusion and it must've shown on his face because Masato huffs out in what is clearly disapproval. Then it clicks on his head, realization dawning. The drinks. The girl. The kissing. The groping. Fuck! How can he forget? More importantly, how did Masato know? Oh shit, yeah, the hickey. "I got drunk, okay?" he blurts out.

Masato crosses his arms and fixes Ren with a condemning glare. "So is it common practice for you to kiss or sleep with anyone you come across with when you're intoxicated?"

"No!" Ren can't even begin to understand Masato's reaction. Gone is his usual mask of apathy, Masato looks impossibly livid. The last time Ren has seen him like this was when… when Ren was flirting with Haruka, goading her to choose him as her partner. Could Masato be— "Why are you getting so worked up anyway?"

The tinge of crimson that blooms on Masato's cheeks spreads all over his face all the way to the tips of his ears. He grabs the handle of his rolling luggage and drags it all the way up the stairs.

Ren refuses to let him escape so he trails after Masato, who stomps into one of the bedrooms and attempts to close the door but Ren is quick to block it with his arm. "Talk to me, Hijirikawa. Why are you so furious over the idea of me making out with someone else? Are you jealous?"

"Don't be so full of yourself, Jinguji. I don't particularly care who you lock lips with."

"That's not exactly what's written on your face."

Masato visibly stiffens and he puffs out a short, strangled breath as if he's choked, causing Ren to lower his arm and his confrontational determination is flipped further off balance when he sees tears welling up in Masato's eyes. His blue-haired friend gnaws on his lower lip, looking terribly conflicted and just as Ren is about to pacify him, tell him to just rest and they'll talk some other time, Masato utters, "You're right," with a shaky voice, and he takes a deep breath before continuing with, "I was jealous, okay? Are you happy now?" then slams the door in Ren's face.


tbc...

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