Just an odd idea I had not long ago. Developed with the informative and hauntingly evocative Eike, who helps me make sure not only do I in character, but my grammar's good and it's suitably Japan-y. Every home should have an Eike! This one is for you :)

Catch 22
A Junjou Romantica (Egoist) fic by Avarice

There were many things Kamijou Hiroki could do on a morning off: grade papers, continue working on his thesis, stay in bed and read.

However, Hiroki was currently doing none of the above.

He was, in fact, waiting for a certain intern at a certain café around the corner from a certain hospital.

Hiroki flipped through the menu idly, pondering what a lovely gesture it was for him to give up his only morning off to come and meet Nowaki after his shift so they could share breakfast. There was a certain level of self-sacrifice involved; one that he hoped Nowaki fully appreciated.

The waitress came up and asked him if he needed more time to decide. A quick glance to the large clock hanging on the wall above the cash register told him Nowaki would be walking through the doors any minute. Hiroki handed back the menu and ordered breakfast for the two of them.

Hiroki had chosen a booth that faced away from the door. To the casual observer it might've seemed a rather poor location, save for the highly reflective stainless steel wall a few feet away. With it, he could observe the goings -- and in particular, the comings -- of every patron without looking like he was watching the door.

It only took a few minutes before a large frame obscured the door. Even though the stainless steel tended to slightly distort and ripple everyone's reflections, there was no mistaking the large grin that appeared on Nowaki's face when his eyes found Hiroki.

Hiroki pursed his lips to fight down the automatic smile response, and coughed to alleviate the peculiar butterfly-like feeling in his stomach. By the time Nowaki slid into the seat opposite him, all manner of uncharacteristic responses were successfully curbed.

"Good morning, Hiro-san," Nowaki greeted predictably, his face the very picture of happiness.

"'Morning," Hiroki grunted back, cultivating a slightly bored expression.

"How did you sleep?" Nowaki asked as he removed the messenger bag from his shoulders.

"Not the best," he replied, surprising himself at the honesty of his answer. It was an unspoken fact between them that Hiroki rarely had a proper, uninterrupted night's sleep when Nowaki worked the graveyard shift. For his part, Nowaki acknowledged the fact with an understanding nod and the briefest of touches; his fingertips skimmed Hiroki's as he reached out to grab a little packet of chopsticks.

"What about you? Busy night?" Hiroki asked as his eyes became transfixed at Nowaki's café ritual.

Nowaki's café ritual comprised of him commandeering a packet of disposable chopsticks and removing them from their paper sleeve, breaking them apart, and rolling them between his large palms as he talked. Hiroki found the behaviour irritating, if only because he could rarely keep his eyes off Nowaki's well-shaped hands as he did so.

(Invariably, Nowaki always smiled a particular exasperating-charming smile and handed him a stick. Hiroki tended to hold onto it; warm as it was from Nowaki's physical contact. If they were eating Japanese cuisine, rather than give the stick back, he would break his own pair apart and hand Nowaki one of his.)

"Not so much," Nowaki replied, spinning the chopsticks absent-mindedly. "I observed a little boy undergo a lumbar puncture to test for meningitis."

"Sounds painful," Hiroki commented, hypnotised by the twirling bits of wood.

"It is. His parents weren't there and he was scared, so I held his hand during the procedure, and spent the rest of my time telling him stories and playing 'Snap'."

Hiroki was distracted from the chopsticks by Nowaki's words. An odd feeling of pride at Nowaki's compassion gave him pause. It wasn't as though he'd taught Nowaki that -- if anything, Hiroki suspected he lacked a number of key personality traits that comprised the fundamental basics of 'compassion' -- it was just ingrained in Nowaki's nature to be there for other people, to comfort them and make them feel better.

He didn't realise he'd begun to stare until Nowaki was staring back. Nowaki's eyes softened and white teeth just peeked out from between his lips before Hiroki could break his gaze, and Nowaki offered him a chopstick.

Hiroki reached out and took it without comment, clutching it in his fist.

Nowaki looked around to the bustling patrons to try and locate a waitress. "Shall we get some menus?"

"No need," Hiroki replied, "I've already ordered."

Nowaki's eyebrows rose. "How do you know what I want to eat?"

Hiroki shrugged. "I'm a teacher; I took an educated guess."

"We'll see if you're right." Nowaki rested his elbows on the table, chin in one hand, the other dangling with the chopstick, his eyes twinkling. Hiroki swallowed, but remained outwardly confident.

Small talk was by no means one of Hiroki's strong suits, but he managed alright while they waited for their breakfast. Nowaki quizzed him on how his thesis and extra research was going. During his lively diatribe about how the progress of his research would go so much quicker if Miyagi didn't keep running off to entertain the Dean's son, it occurred to Hiroki that what he was saying probably wasn't that interesting to Nowaki, yet Nowaki hung on his every word.

Somewhere around the part where he related how their shared office nearly went up in flames after Miyagi dropped a cigarette butt on the paper he was grading, breakfast arrived.

Nowaki blinked thoughtfully as a plate of 3 pieces of toast with eggs (sunny-side up) and a few strips of extra crispy bacon along with a glass of orange juice was placed in front of him.

He looked up slowly to find Hiroki with French toast, a green salad, some black coffee, and a smug grin. Leaning back with an arm along the back of the booth, Hiroki tapped the chopstick against his curled lips and basked in Nowaki's surprise and admiration.

They began to eat in companionable silence, save for Hiroki's comments marvelling -- albeit in a slightly-disgusted way -- as to how Nowaki could stand eating such salty, fatty food with a knife and fork, of all things.

"Have you ever tried eating a runny egg with chopsticks?" Nowaki quipped, and Hiroki glared, which was actually a cleverly concealed smile.

Nowaki was just beginning to regale him with a story about actually attempting to eat a runny egg with chopsticks for a bet when he suddenly stopped talking, eyes locked on something past Hiroki's left shoulder. Hiroki flicked his gaze to the stainless steel, where he saw a petite reflection heading towards their table.

"Kusama-san?" A female voice inquired.

Nowaki swallowed hastily and stood. "Hirano-san," he greeted, bowing at the waist. The young lady bowed back, a big smile dimpling her cheeks. Hiroki chewed slowly, his eyes looking her up and down.

"I thought you would have been well on your way home now, you were in such a rush to leave!"

"It was a long shift, and I was pretty hungry."

The young lady put a finger to her cheek in a dramatically thoughtful pose. "I thought I'd finally catch you with your mysterious girlfriend, and here I find-- oh." She turned, finally noticing Hiroki.

Hiroki bit back an acidic response. The girl -- who couldn't have been older than 24 -- looked at him silently for a few moments, then turned big doe eyes to Nowaki for an explanation.

Nowaki cleared his throat as Hiroki stood. "Hirano Tomoyo, this is Kamijou Hiroki. He is my--". Glancing back at Hiroki's sour expression and slightly narrowed eyes, Nowaki faltered. Hiroki mentally swore at the pause, thinking nothing sounded more suspicious. He had to fill it in.

"I'm Nowaki's old high school tutor," Hiroki answered smoothly with a bow, wincing slightly at his own descriptor 'old'. Nowaki looked equal parts pleased and chagrined to be helped out of his tight spot.

Tomoyo's face lit up in delight, but that delight was directed back towards Nowaki. "Oh, how great! So it's like a school reunion?"

"Something like that," Hiroki replied dryly as he sat, already forgotten.

To his abject horror, the young girl shooed Nowaki over on his seat to plant herself down next to him. "I can't imagine having breakfast with anyone who tutored me in school. We didn't have enough in common to get together after I graduated."

Hiroki stared at her coldly, a stony look on his face. How such a throwaway comment had the power to rescind months of progress and personal growth in their relationship, he'd never know.

To her credit, Tomoyo ignored the frigid reception from across the table and concentrated solely on Nowaki. She shuffled a little closer, her body facing his.

"I hear you were there for that lumbar puncture, how did it go?"

Nowaki did his best to shuffle back along the seat a little in kind. "It went well. Yuusuke's parents will be arriving later today to be with him."

Tomoyo nodded emphatically. "It was really lovely that you stayed with him so long, Kusama-san. When I left he was still talking about you."

"So, Hirano-san," Hiroki interrupted, "how do you know Nowaki?"

Finally sparing more than a glance in Hiroki's direction, Tomoyo turned in the seat to face him -- still somehow managing to bridge the gap between herself and Nowaki again -- and answered.

"I'm a nurse--," she laughed lightly, interrupting herself. "Well, an intern at least."

"Hirano-san is doing her rotation in the emergency room," Nowaki explained.

"And how long's a rotation?" Hiroki asked in a low voice, not really meaning to be heard.

Nowaki shot him a frown, but Tomoyo missed the look and answered anyway. "Three months. So far it's hard work but I'm really enjoying it." She punctuated the statement by leaning into Nowaki and touching his arm. Nowaki smiled back at her, his big, dumb, stupid, perfect smile.

The smile he'd only just been using on Hiroki to make his insides turn to jelly.

Hiroki's left eye twitched.

"What do you do, Kamijou-san?" Tomoyo asked.

Hiroki picked up his coffee cup and swirled the dark liquid gently. "I'm an assistant professor of literature at M University."

Tomoyo's eyes widened in appreciation of the information. She smiled attractively. "That sounds like a very important title."

"It's a very important position," Nowaki said firmly, even as Hiroki shrugged.

It wasn't like him to downplay his occupation, but there was something about playing a game of one-upmanship with Tomoyo that seemed rather... pathetic and desperate.

Hiroki gave Tomoyo a very scrutinising appraisal. She was slightly shorter and much smaller in stature than Hiroki. Her hair was very dark brown, reaching just past her shoulders. Dark, deep-set eyes, cute nose, dimples in both cheeks when she smiled, perfect teeth, well-shaped hands...

... currently resting on top of Nowaki's large one.

Nowaki grimaced uncomfortably at the contact and moved his hand away, just as Hiroki decided he was not above playing a few rounds of one-upmanship.

"The professor I work with is rather famous in literary circles," Hiroki said after a large gulp of coffee. "He discovered some personal writings of the great Japanese poet Matsuo Bashou and wrote a groundbreaking paper on them. I was selected out of a number of applicants to assist him."

"He sounds like a very clever man," Tomoyo commented. Nowaki coughed, appearing to choke on a bit of bacon. Hiroki gave him a withering look.

"He is," Hiroki agreed. Despite the fact Miyagi was a complete flake in other respects. But she didn't have to know that.

"It's good to know Kusama-san keeps such good company." Tomoyo smiled winningly. She shifted closer to Nowaki again, leaning forward conspiratorially. Unfortunately for Nowaki, his larger frame didn't allow him to move any further away from Tomoyo in the small booth. "I was hoping, however, to meet the famed girlfriend who has him so enraptured."

"Oh?" Hiroki asked, proud his voice didn't betray his rising panic.

"He can't stop talking about her and smiling. 'She's so cute, she's so smart, she's so perfect,' he tells anyone who'll listen." Tomoyo waved her hands in frustration, and stole a strip of bacon off Nowaki's plate. "But when we quiz him for more information, he clams up."

"Really," Hiroki said, watching part of Nowaki's breakfast disappear in her mouth.

"Not really--" Nowaki began to answer anxiously, but he was interrupted.

"We've invited them both out for social events, but he always claims she's busy."

Nowaki met Hiroki's eyes, cheeks beginning to turn rather pink. Hiroki met his gaze without expression.

"That sounds a bit suspicious," he said.

"I'm glad you agree, Kamijou-san!" Tomoyo exclaimed, nudging Nowaki with her elbow. "If he wasn't so happy all the time, I swear this person was a figment of his imagination."

Hiroki's hands found their way to the single chopstick still sitting next to his plate. "Did he say anything more about this-- person?"

"Nothing, save that she teaches something, I think," Tomoyo mused. Widening comically, Hiroki's eyes gave away the fact he could be connected to Nowaki's 'mystery person'.

Unfortunately, Tomoyo was not as stupid as Hiroki had hoped she'd be. "Wait a minute," she said slowly, connecting a myriad of mental dots, "Kamijou-san. You teach at the university, right?"

Ice water ran through Hiroki's veins. His fingers curled around the chopstick so tightly; his nails dug crescent moons into his palm.

"Yes, but I don't see how--"

Tomoyo sat back in the seat, a very self-satisfied smile on her face. "I knew there was a reason you were meeting here."

Hiroki looked up at Nowaki, dazed and pale. Nowaki looked back with a worried, helpless expression.

"Listen, Hirano-san," Nowaki began, "the reason I met Hiro-san here is--"

"There is no use covering up for your friend," Tomoyo said, as though scolding a small child -- despite the fact that Nowaki towered over her. She leaned forward towards Hiroki, and Hiroki fought the urge to lean back.

"Kusama-san's mystery woman works with you at the University."

It took approximately eight seconds for her words to sink into Hiroki's brain. After he processed the fact he hadn't been outed in a café by one of Nowaki's co-workers, Hiroki was able muster up a wan, insincere smile.

"You've got me there," he admitted.

"I knew it!" Tomoyo crowed, clapping her hands excitedly. "You must tell me all about her! Is she pretty? What does she teach? How tall is she?"

"Why do you want to know?"

Tomoyo laughed airily. "I have to know my competition."

"Hirano-san," Nowaki interrupted abruptly, "aren't you going to miss your train?"

Tomoyo glanced at her watch. "You're right." She sighed and stood, to Nowaki's subtle, exhaled relief. "I have to run. It was a pleasure to meet you, Kamijou-san."

Hiroki nodded as Tomoyo bowed politely to him. Nowaki stood to bid her farewell properly. With some effort, Hiroki stayed silent during the farewells, choosing only to stare at his French toast.

When Tomoyo was finally gone, Nowaki sat down, watching Hiroki pensively.

"Hiro-san," he ventured, "your breakfast is getting cold."

"I've lost my appetite," Hiroki stated, meeting Nowaki's eyes as he pushed his plate away.

It seemed Hiroki had just enough self-control to resist an angry outburst in the middle of the café.

Resist at least, until they got outside.

"Just what," he began in a low voice, "the hell was going on in there?"

Nowaki shrugged helplessly, large palms facing skyward. "I'm not sure. I don't work with Hirano-san very much and I didn't know she liked me--"

"We'll address that little revelation in a minute, believe me," Hiroki interrupted. "But first, what is going on with you talking all about--" he looked around guiltily, not wishing to draw too much attention to himself, "--your 'girlfriend' so much?"

"I-- people ask me about, er, my girlfriend, and I tell them a bit about you-- her." Nowaki stumbled over the phrases clumsily.

"There is such a thing as 'too much information', Nowaki," Hiroki said acidly. "You mentioned teaching. Did you see how quickly she came to the conclusion about working at the University? I thought I was going to pass out. Not to mention--" Hiroki held his hand up, silencing Nowaki who'd opened his mouth to interject. "--the way she was nearly sitting on your lap. And touching your arm. And hand."

"Hiro-san, I--"

"I swear if I hadn't been there I think she might've tried to mount you. And another thing; I didn't see you protest or try and pull away too much." Hiroki was silently mortified at how his strong, accusing tone ended up sounding bitter and pathetic even to his own ears.


"And," Hiroki intoned as though he were a prosecutor delivering damning evidence, "you let her take some of your breakfast."

Nowaki's cheeks flushed a dull, ugly red. "What did you want me to do; grab it out of her mouth?"

"Well it would have been better than letting her maul you in front of me. Seriously, what kind of person just sits down without an invitation and eats off your plate?"

"Hirano-san grew up in America, she's... not your average Japanese woman."

"Obviously," Hiroki scoffed.

Nowaki frowned. "It's not as though I could tell her you're my--" He stopped when he received a stricken and outraged look from Hiroki and sighed.

There was a moment where Hiroki felt Nowaki's eyes boring into his skull. Hiroki, however, couldn't meet his eyes; all he could do was stare at the reflection of Nowaki's hands in the glass window next to them.

"Hiro-san," Nowaki began, "why can't I--"

"You know why," Hiroki interrupted bluntly. Nowaki fell silent, eyes sliding to the floor.

Hiroki glanced at his watch. "I have to go." With barely a glance at Nowaki, he abruptly turned, briefcase in hand. "I'll see you when I get home," he added, almost as an afterthought, and walked towards the train station.

His legs moved rhythmically, automatically, each step carrying him closer and closer to his destination. When he got to the end of the block, Hiroki turned and glanced back to the café, but Nowaki was gone.


to be continued!