Paring: Ren/Koutei/Kai friendship stuff i guess

Rating: idk T

Warnings: THIS IS SEASON 2 COMPLIANT AND ASSUMES YOU'VE SEEN ALL OF IT. ALL OF IT. IF YOU DON'T WANT SPOILERS OF SOME SORT, DON'T READ IT YET.

Summary: Before going to talk to Aichi, Kenji had another rival he needed to talk to. Spoilers for episode 86.


Believe in my Existence

Kenji stepped out of the cab and stared up at the building before him. He'd known that the Foo Fighters were elite and had once had hundreds of members, but for some reason, he hadn't quite expected a building like this. He would never have guessed from the outside that it was meant to train the Vanguard elite—it just looked like another office building. Which in and of itself was pretty impressive really.

Where on earth had Suzugamori found the money to construct this place?

He had been a little worried that he wouldn't be able to find the other teen here—Team Foo Fighter had disbanded after Nationals and a building large enough for five hundred people was almost certainly too big for the four remaining members of AL4. But he had found Shinjou's number and called ahead and this was where he'd been directed.

Kenji paused long enough to ask the cab driver to stick around and then headed up through the gates to the front doors of the building.

The doors opened automatically as he approached and immediately he heard laughter and loud voices coming from somewhere off in the building. A quick check of the signs in the lobby told him why—most of the rooms on this floor and the next one were open to the public and devoted to give cardfighters a place to play. He smiled a little as his traced a few of the letters with his fingers; it was good that they'd found a use for a building like this and didn't just let it go to waste.

"Mitsusada-san. I've been expecting you."

Kenji turned and smiled at the dark-haired teen approaching him. "Shinjou-san, it's good to see you again. Sorry I'm a little late; we got stuck in traffic…"

Shinjou just smirked a bit and shook his head. "I don't think we agreed on a definite time in the first place."

"Oh, yeah, I guess that's true," Kenji said, nervously scratching the back of his neck. "Ah, is Suzugamori here?"

Shinjou nodded and gestured for him to follow. "Ren is in the middle of a fight right now, but he'll undoubtedly be glad to see you."

Kenji hesitated a moment before hurrying after him. He didn't want to interrupt anything…but he'd come all this way and his flight didn't leave until the next to day so he had time to wait. And he really did need to speak to Suzugamori.

Shinjou lead him into the depths of the building, to a room that was one of the bigger sources of noise, and as soon as Kenji looked in the doorway he could see why. The room was large enough to house a couple dozen standing fight tables and most of them were occupied, but most of the noise was coming from the middle of the room where Suzugamori and Kai stood, engaged in battle and surrounded by kids and adults alike.

"Thunder that moves at the speed of light, piercing everything in an instant! Lightning that heralds the end! Vermillion Thunderbolt!"

Kenji winced as Kai's voice rang out across the space—Gai had told him about that particularly devastating Limit Break—but Suzugamori just laughed and slammed half his hand down into the guardian circle.

"Guard!"

"Twin drive, first check…"

Kenji saw it coming before Kai drew his first card…heal trigger…critical…just enough to break through Suzugamori's line. Suzugamori did his damage check and sighed as he placed his sixth damage down without finding a heal trigger. The crowd around them immediately erupted into cheers. Kenji wondered just how often an occurence this was…and just how often each of them one against the other. He knew from experience they were both formidable and they were undoubtedly evenly matched.

It would be nice to have a match with both of them before he left. He'd only been thinking about asking Suzugamori, but if Kai was here too…

"I don't think this deck suits me either, does it, Kai?"

"You should go back to your own. Haven't you gained enough perspective by now?"

"Kaaiii…"

The two began to clean up their cards and the crowd started to die down and disperse to watch other fights going on. Sensing an opportunity, Kenji made his way down the stairs and stated to clap. He was sure it had been a wonderful fight, from what he'd seen of it and knew about them.

Both the other teens looked up in surprise. As did half the other people in the room. Kenji hesitated and really tried not to notice how much attention he'd just attracted to himself; he hadn't been thinking about that at the time.

"Mitsusada," Kai greeted after a moment, almost smiling for once.

Suzugamori was a little louder about it. "Koutei-san~! What are you doing here?"

And then the whispers started and there was definitely more than just half the room looking at him now. They would be connecting the dots and whispering even louder about who he was any minute, he knew it. This had been a bad idea. Such a bad idea.

"Kai-kun, Suzugamori," he greeted, doing his best to smile at each of them. Then he added, directed more toward Suzugamori, "I wanted to to talk to you but, er, could we go somewhere else…?"

Please, please could they go somewhere else. There was way too much attention on him now.

Ren pouted at him and placed his his hands on his hips. "Ren, Koutei, it's okay to call me Ren. You're not still afraid of big crowds are you?"

Kenji winced again and cover half his face with his hand. What an awful way to put it. "I'm not afraid, I just don't like the attention…"

"There's a vacant room down the hall," Kai said, walking past him. Kenji gave him a brief smile of relief, which of course he didn't acknowledge at all, and turned to follow him—and almost got knocked over when Suzugamori bounded up behind him and latched onto his arm. Kenji tried to pause and star at him, but Suzugamori just kept on going after Kai, dragging him back up the stairs and out the door.

"Tetsu!" Suzugamori said with a wave as they passed the man hoving in the doorway. "We're done here today, so please keep an eye on things."

Shinjou nodded in answer, but he didn't head inside the room right away; Kenji could feel eyes on his back the whole way down the hall.

"Koutei, it's good to see you again!" Suzugamori said, briefly hugging his arm a little tighter. "We should hang out more; the only time I get to see you is at tournaments."

"Ah, yeah…" was really all Kenji could say to that, although he did regret not being able to talk to Suzugamori more outside the arena. Maybe a year ago, he would have never considered it, but Suzugamori was a completely different person now, one Kenji was proud to call a rival and a friend.

"In here," Kai said from in front of them, turning into the unused room. Kenji followed him in with Suzugamori still hanging on his arm; he stopped near the doorway while Kai made himself comfortable leaning against a desk with his arms and ankles crossed and Ren finallylet go of his arm to perch himself on the desk next to team-mate.

"What did you want to talk about?" Suzugamori asked, his tone a little more serious than it had been yet. "I take it you didn't come here to challenge one of us."

Kenji shook his head with a small smile. "No, although I won't say no if you have the time. No…" He paused—was this really such a good idea, anyof this—but he couldn't back out now, not when he was already here. And he'd come here to let them know, to make it real and final and give him a least one more reason not to turn back.

He took in a deep breath. "I wanted you to know, I've decided to go on to SIT. So we won't be seeing each other again for a while, actually…"

"SIT…the school in Singapore?" Kai said, actually looking a bit surprised.

"Team SIT Genius's school…" Suzugamori added, frowning a little.

Well, at least they weren't horrified or angry, that was a good start. "Yeah. It's been a dream of mine to go there for a while, but the Circuit's really spurred me on, you know?" Kenji closed his eyes for a moment and took in another deep breath. This next part was the most difficult to say. It was for the best, really, but that didn't mean it didn't ache a bit. "I really want to focus on school, so I won't be entering any tournaments until I graduate. I wanted to tell you that."

Kenji cautiously looked up at the two in front of him. Kai was staring back at him seriously, like he always did—and so was Suzugamaori, with a look more serious than he'd even worn during their fight in Seoul. If anything, it just made Kenji feel more anxious about this. It wasn't that he wanted anyone's permissionto leave but…he didn't want to disappoint his rivals. It had been hard enough to accept that his decision wouldn't disappoint his team-mates.

"I think you should be careful not to work too hard," Suzugamori said after a moment. There was something in his expression Kenji wasn't sure he liked, but it didn't seem to be because of him. It was contemplative, almost melancholy. "But I think it'll be good for you too. It's good to learn about Vanguard from all kinds of places."

Kai nodded in agreement, although he had the same thoughtful something to his expression. "If it's your dream, you should follow it."

Kenji smiled and let out a sigh of relief. While none of that put him completely at ease, it helped, and that was all he'd been looking for.

"Was that all?" Kai asked after a moment.

"Ah, yeah. The truth is, I've been feeling really anxious about this, and I didn't want to leave thinking I'd be letting anyone down…"

"You worry about other people too much, Koutei-san," Suzugamori said, jumping down off the desk.

"Yeah, Yuri says that about me too," Kenji said with a laugh.

"Because it's true. You should think about yourself a little more. It's okay to be selfish sometimes. As long as you know when enough is enough." And there was that sad element to his expression again that was mirrored so painfully on Kai's face. What had they been through to put it there? Kenji wondered if he'd ever find out or if he should even try to pry at all. It was probably a private matter…

"Ne, Koutei, do you know your number yet?"

Kenji blinked and stared at him. "What?"

"Your phone number," Ren said, "when you're in Singapore. Do you know what it's going to be yet? You'll be staying in a dorm, right?"

"Y-yeah. I don't have it memorized yet," Kenji said, still staring at him. Why was he asking?

Ren looked so disappointed by that news that Kenji found himself feeling awful for not having the answer. But that passed quickly enough and Ren was darting across the room for a pen and piece of paper.

"All right, I'll give you mine, then. Cell and my room here. And Tetsu's," he added after a bit of thought. He came back over with the items and began writing numbers down. Kenji just watched in silence with no idea of what to say or even how to react. Suzugamori…wanted to stay in touch with him? Thatmuch?

And then he was done, but before Ren could hand the paper over, Kai tapped his arm and took the pen and began writing down numbers of his own. Which, frankly, Kenji could understand a littlebetter—they'd only spent about twenty-four straight hours playing with each other once—but Kai had never been very talkative and that didn't seem to have changed much, so why he'd want to keep in touch was a bit of a mystery too.

"In case you want to share what it's like going to a school for Vanguard," Kai said as he finally handed the paper on to Kenji. He, too, had written down his cell and extension for his room here.

"You have to call us once you get there so we have your number too, all right?" Ren said, smilingly brightly.

Kenji stared down at the paper in his hand. He hadn't even known he wanted this so badly when he'd walked in here; now it was a treasure that he hardly wanted to leave his sight. He never thought Ren and Kai would care so much about keeping in touch.

"Hold on, I have a cell phone too," he murmured, grabbing the pen. He copied down his number twice on the bit of blank space at the bottom of the paper and carefully tore them each off to hand over to the other teens. Ren accepted his with the brightest smile he'd worn yet; Kai actually smiled too and carefully tucked the slip away into his coat pocket.

It was stupid, but Kenji almost felt more nervous nowthan he had before, and it wasn't an entirely unpleasant feeling. Just knowing that he'd have friends to talk to while he was oversees…but there was something intimate about exchanging numbers like this too.

"When do you leave?" Kai asked, calm as ever.

"Tomorrow night. I need to stop somewhere else before then, though."

"Where? To see Aichi-kun?" Ren smirked when Kenji nodded and shook his finger. "Aichi-kun can wait. You came all the way here, so why don't we play a few games? And you need somewhere to stay tonight too, right? We have plenty of room."

Well, staying overnight might be going a bit far (although it might cut down on how long it might take to get to Aichi's homebase), but he couldn't refuse playing a few games. Not when both of them looked so eager, and they never had a chance to play casually like real friends.

"All right," he said with a grin, and he let himself get swept away again with Ren hanging on one arm and Kai at his other side.