The universe did not like Bando. He had known this for a very long time. No matter what he did, he was always in someone else's shadow. He'd never been the best at anything. He'd never been the worst, either-he wasn't a complete loser- but he'd just never been the best. And Bando would really like to be the best.

If you were to ask the universe about all of this, it would first act surprised that you were talking to it, because, really, who did you think you were, questioning the universe, but then it would shrug and say not everybody could be a winner. Someone had to lose for someone else to win. That was the whole concept of winning.

Bando never really got the hang of that concept.

ØØØ

Bando was a cynic or, as he preferred to think of it, a realist (he was not, in fact, a realist but an idealist surrounded by people who did not share his vision of how the world should be, namely, with him on top, causing him to seem very pessimistic indeed). His life would be a lot easier if he kept his observations to himself, but Bando was not too good about that. He just didn't understand how everyone could ignore the obvious, especially if the obvious was unpleasant. But they did and then Yata got mad and he got a beatdown. Which made his world that much more unpleasant, furthering the cycle.

It would help if people stopped calling him insignificant. It was hard to look at the world with rose-tinted glasses when every day someone was telling you that you didn't matter.

Insignificance wasn't bad, of course, Bando knew. Without the insignificant, there would be no significant. What Bando didn't want to acknowledge was that he might be insignificant. This was because he didn't realize most everyone was on a large scale.

On a small scale, Bando wasn't truly insignificant (he was, after all, a member of a Clan). By himself, he'd probably be average, maybe a little less. He could definitely be the middle-sized fish in a very small pond. It was just that he liked to surround himself with significant people, which made him look less significant than he was instead of rubbing significance off on him the way he hoped. When you spent half of your time in the company of people who could destroy a city block in seconds if they lost their temper and you were still having trouble doing more than blowing a trashcan up, well, it didn't look good.

In short, Bando was unaware that he was about forty-eight percent to blame for his own troubles.

Although for all Bando's whining, there was one time when the universe looked up from its intrigues of Kings and governments and decided it was going to acknowledge him. Like most insignificant people, Bando got about as much hate as he did love from the universe: very little. Hardly noticeable, in fact. But, this one time, the universe decided Bando's fervent wish to be significant to someone, just one person, could be acknowledged. Maybe the universe was tired of hearing him whine. Maybe it was just feeling benevolent. I don't know.

In any case, it took the universe a while. It wasn't really the universe's fault, either, that it took so long: it was pretty hard to find someone who thought an insignificant person was important.

So it was a few years before the universe tracked Shohei down.

ØØØ

Shohei thought San-chan was amazing. This had lead to a number of people, namely Homra Clansmen, thinking he was a bit addled in the brain. Shohei didn't know a polite way to say, this dude saved my life twice so piss off, so he normally ignored anyone who questioned his affection for the guy.

It messed with your brain, getting pulled back from the brink of death. Shohei knew because his family got really worried about him when he went home during the summer. They had a, uh, problem with the amount of times he brought up San-chan's name. They sent him to see a doctor and Shohei was told all about hero worship and codependency, and all other sorts of things that he couldn't really see a problem with seeing as half of Homra had those issues and they functioned just fine. Hence his nodding to the doctor and not mentioning Rakshasa or the tattoo on his arm or how badass San-chan was, getting kicked in the face by a magical horse Strain while helping rescue a little girl, because he didn't want a prescription for pills that might mess with his head and make San-chan seem a little less awesome.

Did he mention the guy had saved his life twice?

Shohei may have been fixating too much on that the first time around, but he definitely would have died a very nasty death at Rakshasa's hands if San-chan hadn't stopped him from going in alone. And, wow, had that been a stupid idea. They were fine for a few minutes until the gang members realized back-up wasn't coming and two teenagers with Auras couldn't compete with twenty adults holding a knife to a girl's throat. For a moment, Shohei thought they were going to die together on that filthy floor, and it'd be all his stupid, stupid fault. But instead they were saved and just got a lecture about being idiots from Kusanagi-san and a sigh from Mikoto-san, and San-chan basically agreed to be his best friend forever even with a badly fractured arm, and there was no way Shohei was ever going to be able to pay him back.

So Shohei put up with San-chan's eccentricities since it wasn't cool in modern times to follow someone around until you saved their life back, and Shohei was quickly falling further and further behind on that what with being saved twice and all if he was counting right. It could be more. Shohei was not too sure.

Also, Shohei kind of liked San-chan's eccentricities on their own. He kind of liked how much of a whiny asshole San-chan could be, how he didn't always consider other people's feelings before he talked. He kind of liked how gloomy and dramatic he was, how he had this idea of what was and wasn't fair, how ridiculous it was. He kind of liked how he was always complaining but the second you needed stuff done, San-chan would do it.

He just really kind of liked San-chan, you know?

ØØØ

Bando snapped his mouth shut when Kusanagi-san looked his way. The warning in his eyes was mild, but enough to say, if you piss Yata off again, you're cleaning up the blood, damned if it is your own.

Bando didn't get why everyone thought he was responsible for his and Yata's fights. He was the victim, for godssake. Yata was the one who should be getting in trouble. He contemplated starting a fight just to see if Yata'd get blamed for it. Scrapped the idea when he saw his kouhai walk into the bar. Finally, someone to commiserate with.

Shohei was not in the mood to commiserate, though. He was too damn happy and for no reason he could intelligibly explain.

"Just life," he said. "I'm always happy to see San-can," he said.

Bando wouldn't call him a liar out loud because sometimes it came in really handy not to have someone annoyed at him, but Shohei was a liar. Liar, liar, liar. First of all, life wasn't that great or everyone would be in a good mood all the time. Secondly, Bando wasn't even happy to see himself in the mirror most mornings. Oh, it's you again. Couldn't be bothered to turn handsome overnight, could you?

Bando had some issues.

Bando had been reexamining some things in his life lately, namely the resentment he harbored for years against one particular person. He didn't like the conclusions he had come to. The resentment had been real, yes, but the reasons behind it- those were what were bothering him.

He'd thought he was angry at Shohei for always being better than him because it meant he was second best. Bando hated being second best. Now he thought maybe what he didn't want to be was unworthy. Of everyone, really, but most of all Shohei. Because Shohei was very nearly perfect.

They had never been best friends because Bando was never anyone's best friend, but they had been good ones. The type of friend you've known for so long that people associate you with each other, even if it's only a hazy association. They hung out a lot, was what Bando meant. They hung out a lot and they were good friends, and everyone wondered why Shohei let Bando tag along.

Oh, Bando knew people didn't get or approve of them being friends. He understood that fact very well, and he had resented Shohei for it. Everyone knew Shohei was too good for Bando; everyone, that was, except for Shohei. Bando had thought he had left that all behind when he moved to the big city. Only, it turned out Shohei had been here almost as long as he had and had a friend who had gotten mixed up with a local gang. Shohei, being Shohei, said, "I'll save you!", and the cycle had started all over again with everyone criticizing Bando and praising his so-much-better "friend".

All he had wanted was to go somewhere where people didn't think of him as "that kid who tags along with Shohei and his friends". Nothing had changed. Shohei was still better than him (too good for him). Everyone, even, especially their Clansmen, liked him better, Bando was still second best (not good enough), and Shohei didn't recognize what everyone else understood so readily: Shohei was too good for petty, whiny, no-one's-favorite, insignificant Bando.

If Bando were completely honest with himself, he would have realized this a lot sooner, but Bando had never been completely honest with himself. Honesty was painful. He lived in half-truths, riding a roller coaster of soaring overconfidence and plunging despair. There was one undeniable truth in his life, however: Shohei liked him.

ØØØ

The drag of San-chan's skin against his own sent a flash of heat through Shohei's body. Startled by the sudden sensation, he jumped, making San-chan's eyebrows draw together.

"What is it?"

"Nothing!" Shohei said quickly because, wow, he did not want to explain why his closest friend brushing against him made him, well, never mind. San-chan didn't have to know.

"You sure?" Now San-chan was looking at him oddly.

Shohei's cheeks felt a little hot. He nodded fervently.

"Alright," San-chan said, still looking like Shohei was nuts. Shohei was cool with San-chan thinking he was a little crazy. A little crazy was a lot better than San-chan freaking out and saying things that wouldn't do anything but hurt Shohei. There were plenty of times Shohei could brush off San-chan's words because he knew the intent behind them was completely different, but not with this. Not when rejection could hurt so very badly.

Shohei wasn't angry or upset that San-chan didn't return his feelings. Not everyone had the same capacity for affection, so there was no use getting too invested when you didn't even know if the possibility for reciprocation existed.

Too bad Shohei was already deeply invested.

It would have been a lot easier if he hadn't found his friend again. If Shohei had spent the rest of his life with San-chan as just a dim, distant memory, he wouldn't be sitting in a bar watching his best friend try to fatten a guy up just so he could get girls. He wouldn't be sitting here wondering if he was a terrible person for thinking Kamamoto was inconsequential, since the girls in the bar…wouldn't be there without Kamamoto. It wasn't like Bar Homra was a popular hangout for girls their age. But what did he know? Bar Homra could very well be insanely popular with the ladies during the summer.

Now, Kamamoto had Yata at his side day in and day out, and he couldn't be happier. Chitose had gone back to being the most popular guy in Homra, and he couldn't be happier. Nothing had changed for San-chan, though.

Even if it meant San-chan would be happy without him, Shohei would want him to have a girlfriend. It was what he obviously wanted. Why couldn't San-chan ever get what he wanted?

"Are you alright, Shohei-kun?"

"Hmm? Oh, I'm fine, Totsuka-san." San-chan was so close he could reach out and touch him. Shohei wasn't about to talk about his problems now, even if San-chan could be rather oblivious.

"You seem a little sad," Totsuka said, leaning his head on one arm. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Shohei laughed nervously. "It must be the light. I'm really fine."

"If you say so."

ØØØ

"Did I do something?" Bando asked finally, rubbing at the back of his neck.

"Huh?"

"Totsuka-san said, uh, you were maybe upset with me?" Totsuka might have worded it a little differently. The guy, who always confused the crap out of Bando, hadn't been very clear, just said that he should be more considerate of his kouhai while looking pointedly in Kamamoto's direction. Whatever that meant.

Shohei looked confused.

"Why would Totsuka-san say that? I'm not upset about anything."

If Bando had to write a manual on Shohei, the first line would be: No rational person can know how Shohei feels about anything at any time because he is absolutely, completely, bugfuck nuts.

Bando, naturally, did not understand or appreciate the irony that he assumed that he was a rational person and Shohei was an irrational one when, as anyone who knew Bando could tell you straight off the bat, Bando was not exactly right in the head. Which was irrelevant anyway, because my point- what was my point? Oh, right- Bando was shit at guessing what Shohei was thinking and had come to assume this was because Shohei thought like a crazy person. It would explain why he was so happy all the time.

Right then, Bando assumed that his kouhai meant the exact opposite of what he was saying because clearly what he was saying could not be the truth (Bando's logic was, as ever, flawless). Totsuka wouldn't have mentioned anything if Shohei wasn't doing okay. Totsuka was very good at reading people's emotions. Totsuka, in Bando's book (and everyone else's), was not a rational person. Hence him understanding Mr. Shiny-Happy-Goodtime.

Again: Bando had issues.

ØØØ

"Totsuka-san?" Shohei asked nervously. Homra's third executive was very approachable, but… Shohei didn't like talking about San-chan with other members of the Clan. They rarely had good things to say, and Shohei just as rarely agreed with them. But Totsuka-san knew a little of what San-chan was like deep down, how to ignore his words and pay attention to his actions.

"Yes, Shohei-kun?"

"Um," Shohei began, sitting sideways in the barstool next to Totsuka. The bar was pretty empty, a few actual customers, Anna, Chitose, and Dewa the only other occupants. "San-chan said you talked to him yesterday."

"I did," Totsuka answered breezily.

"I was wondering what that was about."

"Ah. Bando-kun didn't tell you?"

Shohei shrugged. What had come out of San-chan's mouth hadn't sounded like anything Totsuka-san would say, so he'd assumed wires had been crossed somehow. San-chan had seemed a little tense.

"You care about him very much, don't you? And I think he cares about you very much, too. He just doesn't know how to show it. Bando-kun isn't too good at seeing things other people see."

"Huh?" What did any of that have to do with Totsuka talking to San-chan?

"What do you see in that guy anyway?" Chitose asked, stealing a slice of melon from Dewa's untouched plate and popping it into his mouth. Kusanagi and Kamamoto were in the back putting away newly-arrived stock (Shohei thought they might have wrangled San-chan and King-san into helping them, but he wasn't sure), and Chitose had taken Kusanagi's absence as an excuse to sit on top of the bar. "I mean, he's Clan and all, so he's not that bad, but…he's Bando. If the whining doesn't get to you, the pettiness will."

"Maybe he's into that," Dewa muttered, turning a page in his book.

"No one's into that." Chitose snuck another slice of melon. He straightened suddenly and snapped his fingers. "Oh, I know! It's because you're still new around here, right? Totsuka told Bando to show you the ropes, so he's the only one you really know." He leaned forward conspiratorially. "Let me tell you something, Shohei-kun, you're always welcome to hang out with us if you need a friend. Totsuka-san, too, right?"

"Of course," Totsuka-san said, adjusting his camera on his shoulder. Shohei was fairly certain the camera wasn't even on. There was no red light, and they weren't doing anything film-worthy.

"I've known San-chan a long time," Shohei protested. Besides, it was September- he'd been part of Homra almost a full year. He thought he knew his fellow Clansmen pretty well.

"And that's great, but there are a lot of other people you could get to know better. Like, oh, man, Shohei, I could show you so many things-" Chitose flung his arms out, a dirty smile spreading across his face. "You don't even know."

"He means girls," Dewa supplied, keeping his eyes firmly on his book. "Chitose, I'm not sure Shohei's interested in meeting your type of girls."

"What do you mean, 'my type of girls'? The great Chitose-sama only knows the best girls!"

Dewa rolled his eyes.

"Fine, girls in general."

Three things happened then: Chitose blinked, Shohei flushed, and Totsuka began humming what sounded suspiciously like an old-timey love song.

"No," Chitose said, looking from Shohei to Totsuka to Dewa and back again. "No, no, no, no, no. Shohei, man, tell me this is a joke. What could you possibly see in him?"

Shohei thought about all the things he had seen over the last few months. He hadn't noticed too much at first, but it had soon become obvious that, despite the almost family-like atmosphere of Homra, certain Clansmen preferred the company of certain other Clansmen for reasons that were fairly incomprehensible to him. Just today, he had seen Chitose picking off of Dewa's plate while Dewa ignored him, Fujishima tracking Eric's every movement from the corner of his eye, and Yata chattering excitedly into Kamamoto's patient ear. Chitose's question was absurd. What could he possibly see in San-chan? What could any of them see in each other?

It wouldn't do to be rude. So he smiled benignly and informed Chitose that, in his opinion, San-chan was the handsomest guy in Homra by far.

Shohei didn't have a cruel bone in his body, but he took perverse pleasure in Chitose's visible dismay.

"You think I'm what?!"

Oops.

ØØØ

"All of you, out," Kusanagi-san snapped crankily, rubbing his temples with his fingers. "It's too loud in here. You too, Kamamoto."

The stocking had finished sooner than Shohei had expected. King-san, detached from the drama occurring around him, wandered up the stairs, followed by Anna. Totsuka-san, predictably, had vanished. Chitose and Dewa were gone as well.

Everyone else had cleared out but San-chan hadn't moved. He just stood there, like he didn't know what Kusanagi-san would do to a person if they ignored him (and San-chan especially because Kusanagi-san had a shorter-than-normal fuse around him), so Shohei grabbed him by the shirtsleeve and pulled him into the bar's backroom. He wanted to take his friend outside and maybe back to his apartment where they could have privacy, but the backroom was about as far as Shohei could drag him because moving tall, uncooperative people was not the easiest task.

He shut the door.

"Um," he began.

San-chan looked like someone had smacked him over the head with a fish, all dazed and glazed, and unresponsive.

"Chitose was saying rude things about you," Shohei tried to explain. He waved a hand in front of San-chan's face. The shell-shocked look didn't change. Fantastic. Well, he wasn't running away screaming just yet. "I wanted to say something that'd make him stop."

"…"

"San-chan? Are you okay?" Shohei wished Fujishima was around. He knew how to deal with emotional trauma and whatnot. He probably knew some magic word that would turn San-chan normal again.

"So you don't think I'm handsome?"

Shohei thought a very dirty swearword, which he left inside his head.

"Does it matter?" He tried to sound like it didn't, like he'd been trying to one-up Chitose, which wasn't completely unreasonable because Chitose was his friend but Chitose could be mean to San-chan particularly in regards to how San-chan acted around Shohei because Chitose didn't understand that was just how they functioned. It didn't matter what San-chan said, it mattered what he didn't. Why couldn't people understand that?

"Maybe."

"Maybe?" Shohei squeaked.

San-chan took a step towards him.

"I'm sorry," Shohei pleaded. Was that what San-chan wanted to hear? "Please don't be mad at me."

San-chan's eyebrows knit together. Okay, so that wasn't it. Crap.

"I didn't mean for you to hear that," he said. "You're- I-" Shohei looked down and swallowed. He fiddled with the rim of his cap, then wiped his suddenly sweaty palms on his pants. "You're my best friend, alright? And that's great, but I- I want-" He could feel San-chan's eyes boring into him. He looked up and couldn't finish.

ØØØ

Bando had no idea what he was about to do. Okay, he had some idea, but he didn't know why he was about to do what he was about to do and that might as well be the same thing. Words were not Bando's strong point.

This was so wrong. Shohei had to be mentally unstable to even be thinking about him like that. Bando was still caught up in Shohei wanting to be his friend and now he was saying he wanted more? Except, no, not just more, Shohei thought he was the handsomest guy in Homra and if that didn't scream insanity, Bando didn't know what did. Bando sent up a silent prayer that he wasn't going to hell for taking advantage of Shohei's skewed mindset (upon hearing this pearl of inanity, the universe threw up its nonexistent hands and vowed never to help another insignificant person again.).

Cupping Shohei's face in his hands, Bando leaned forward and pressed their lips together. For a moment, Bando thought he'd done something horribly wrong because Shohei wasn't doing anything, but then he moaned softly and opened his mouth, and fisted his hand in Bando's shirt so hard Bando just knew the weave was going to be warped forever.

Someone was making noise, breathy, hot moans. Bando didn't know which of them it was, and it really didn't matter because his head was reeling. Shohei, cheerful, too-good-for-him Shohei was clinging to him, rocking up against him, and, holy shit, how was this even happening?

A low whistle broke them apart.

"I guess our little Shohei wasn't kidding around. Hey, Dewa, what do you think Kusanagi-san's going to say about his backroom being used as a make out spot? You reckon he'll be pleased about that?"

Dewa adjusted his glasses, meeting Chitose's wild grin with a milder one of his own.

"Somehow, I don't think he will, Chitose."

"You know, we don't have to tell him. He'll probably see it on the security tapes."

"Unless we edit those for him."

"I think that can be arranged. Wouldn't want Yata getting ahold of them, anyhow. The little virgin would simply die knowing Bando here's getting more than he is."

"More like he'd have a conniption."

"He'd burn down the bar."

"Might even go after Bando."

"We should definitely do something about those tapes." Chitose smiled crookedly and waggled his fingers at them. "No need to thank us, boys."

They vanished seconds before Bando slumped to the floor to die an untimely death of pure embarrassment. Peals of laughter could be heard coming from just outside. He groaned and put his burning face in his hands.

Shohei knelt next to him. Bando thought it was to commiserate with him. No go.

"San-chan's so cute when he's flustered!"

"What?!"

"Your face gets all red. It's cute."

He would have protested but Shohei kissed his cheek, and that was okay. Then Shohei kissed his mouth, and that was more than okay.