He would have just about enough. Koushiro scrubbed at a cooking pot and smiled to himself. I knew I could do it. I’ll get the money for the medicine, and no one will even have to know anything was wrong. I won’t have to bother Taichi with my problems…
“Huh… WAH!!!” A series of loud crashes made Koushiro jump.
Daisuke was sprawled on the floor behind him, looking sheepishly around at the heavy pots he’d dropped. Fortunately, none of them had been breakable. “There was water on the floor,” he explained, looking sheepish. “I slipped.” He had such a sincere expression of dismay on his face that Koushiro had to smile.
“It’s OK,” he said, moving to where the boy was trying to gather up the pots he’d dropped. “Here, let me help you with that.”
“Sorry ’bout that.” Daisuke moved the pots to a place where they could be reached easily. The two boys had dish-washing duty together and they were constantly moving plates and pots around. “I got a lot on my mind lately.”
You think you do… Koushiro kept the comment from escaping him. “Like what?”
“Like… Hikari.” Daisuke’s eyes clouded over and a silly grin spread on his face. “I wish I could meet her. I mean, she’s so beautiful. And she’s nice, and kind, and gentle, and sweet, and…”
“I get the idea,” Koushiro interrupted. He’d been through that before. When talking about Hikari, Daisuke could go on for hours. It was the silliest bout of infatuation he’d ever seen. The other boy was obviously more in love with the idea of Hikari than he was with Hikari herself. It was ridiculous.
“Well, you know what I mean.” Daisuke turned back to the pots. “I just want her to pay some attention to me, you know? Most people just ignore me. Except for you.” He shrugged. “I kind of learn to expect it.”
Koushiro immediately felt guilty for thinking badly about him. Poor Daisuke. He’s trying. And, well, his heart is in the right place, at least. “I’m sorry.”
“Hey, don’t be sorry!” Daisuke grinned at him. “You’re one of the good ones. And anyway, you’ve got your own problems.” His face turned unusually serious. “So how’s your mom doing?”
Koushiro shut his eyes for a moment. “I… She’s not doing well.” Daisuke was the only person besides him who knew about that. “I need more money to get the new medicines she needs. Otherwise she might not make it this time. That’s why I took the extra work on. I need all the help I can get.”
Daisuke’s eyes were wide with sympathy. “I’ve got a little extra money,” he offered. “I was gonna save up and buy a present for Hikari by Christmas, but if you need any more money, you can have all of mine.”
Koushiro smiled at him, feeling profoundly touched by the complete sincerity in the other boy’s words. “That’s all right, Daisuke. I should have enough on my own. You should save your money for yourself.”
“OK, if that’s how you want it.” Daisuke shrugged, and grinned. “Just, let me know if you need any help, OK? If you do, I’ll take care of it.”
“I will.” Koushiro hid a smile. Except I won’t need any help. Not from anyone. I can take care of this myself!
“A servant?” Taichi blinked, looking at Jyou in surprise. “I don’t know. There are so many, I’m not sure I could tell you who it was you saw…”
“He had bright red hair,” Jyou interrupted. “And, he was a little on the short side. He was wearing a blue strip around his right arm, so I guess he was one of Yamato’s servants. I just…” He shook his head. “I can’t stop thinking about him. It’s been bothering me ever since we got here last night.”
Taichi grinned at him. “Know the feeling. And I might be able to help you, after all. My pal, Koushiro, sounds a lot like the boy you described. He’s on kitchen duty right now, if you want to go see if I’m right.”
“Taichi, you’re a life-saver!” Jyou felt relieved. All right. Now I can finally go talk to this guy, and maybe it’ll stop driving me crazy. “I think I might just have to do that!”
“Don’t let me stop you,” Taichi answered, smiling. “But, you’d better let me give you directions first.”
The hallway leading from the east wing to the kitchen was nearly deserted, and Jyou felt his anxiety multiplying in the silence. What if he’s not there? What if I never find him? What if I have to go home and never get the chance to see him and then can’t stop dreaming about him, either? What if –
A bundle of towels went flying as Jyou turned the corner too fast and crashed straight into someone coming from the opposite direction. “Oh no! Sorry about that.” He bent to help gather the towels, then stopped, staring.
The boy, who was now on his knees picking up towels, was the same red-haired servant Jyou had seen the night before.
And, Jyou noted, still staring, he looked even better from the front.
The servant seemed to notice that there were eyes on him and glanced up, catching sight of the young noble. His set of large, deep black eyes went very wide. “Oh – my Lord! I’m sorry for crashing into you like that, it was careless of me…”
“Don’t worry.” Jyou set his mind back into order and smiled at the boy, reaching over again to help with the towels. “It was my fault. I was in too much of a hurry to notice where I was walking. I apologize for making you drop what you were carrying.”
“Uh… It’s OK.” The red-head straightened, sorting out his bundle. “Not a big deal. I’ll leave you to get back to your business, then.”
Jyou put a hand on his shoulder as he tried to walk by. “No, stay. I was looking for you.”
The look in the boy’s eyes shifted from curious to baffled. “Me? Why me?”
“I saw you last night.” Jyou bit his lip. Great. I’m really not that good at this, am I? “And, well, uh, I just… wanted to get to know you. That’s all.”
A shade of red not unlike the color of his hair was creeping onto the boy’s cheeks. “Oh. Well. Uhhh… I guess that’s OK. I mean, I might not be opposed to getting to know you, too.” His blush deepened, and he thrust out a hand. “I’m Koushiro.”
The blue-haired boy smiled, feeling somewhat relieve, and took the offered hand. “Jyou. I’m one of Taichi’s friends. He mentioned that you and he were close.”
Koushiro smiled back, seeming to relax. “Very. We’re almost like brothers sometimes.”
“That’s good. It means I’ll probably get to see you often.” Where had that come from? Jyou stuttered, trying to cover his slip-up. “I mean… that is, I…”
“It’s OK, Jyou.” Koushiro gave him another smiled, then blushed again. “I think I like that idea. I… like it a lot, in fact.” The look in his eyes was promising: a mixture of interest, curiousity, and hopefulness.
“Great.” Jyou took up his hand. “Um, well, I’d probably better let you get back to your work, so… Until we meet again.” Quickly, before he could lose his nerve, he raised the hand to his lips and kissed it. Then he moved past the startled but pleased-looking boy and hurried down the hallway.
God, I can’t believe I just did that! Jyou felt his cheeks flaming, but he was exhilarated at the same time. But it felt great! He’s so… No words came immediately to mind that would describe the warm feeling he got when thinking about Koushiro. I wonder how he feels about me. He looked like he might’ve liked me… Maybe, then, just maybe… A smile spread across the young lord’s face. Well, who knows?
Koushiro couldn’t help but feel strangely light-headed as he moved through the hallway again. His name was Jyou… And he’s interested in me! He kissed my hand… A flood of warmth ran through him at the thoughts, mostly settling his cheeks. I can’t believe someone so important would actually be taking the time to court me!
Shaking his head to clear the thoughts away, Koushiro continued through the hallway. He had work to do; he shouldn’t be thinking about a friendly young lord who just happened to admire him.
Even though, he privately admitted to himself, I might happen to admire him right back…
Koushiro smiled to himself as he walked along the corridor leading to Lord Yamato’s room. Daisuke was right; it felt nice to receive attention. Maybe after Mom gets better… He and I could… The sentence remained unfinished, but the delicious possibilities it suggested were sweet to think about all the same.
There were voices coming from behind Yamato’s closed door when Koushiro approached it. Strange… Is that Taichi? The boy raised his hand to knock, not wanting to eavesdrop, but the words spoken stopped him in his tracks.
“…just tell her!” Taichi sounded angry, and hurt. “Yamato, how can you keep on like this? Don’t you care that the two of you will be married in two months time? Where did you expect this to leave me?”
“Don’t ‘Taichi’ me! I thought you were going to call the whole thing off! Or does what I think mean nothing to you? I thought…”
“Taichi, I can’t just blurt it out! It’s not Sora’s fault that this is the way things are! Just because there’s no way I can love her, does that mean she deserves to be treated like some kind of villain? She didn’t do anything wrong!”
“So? You’ll just marry her anyway, is that it?”
“No!” Yamato sounded horrified at the idea. “No, of course not! I could never…” His voice got quieter. “You think I’d be able to live with losing you?”
Silence. Then Taichi let out a soft sigh. “I’m sorry, Yama. I’m just… I don’t know what to do about all of this. And I just get so frustrated…”
“But it’s OK,” Yamato cut in. “We can get through this. Together.”
“I love you, Yama,” Taichi said softly. Koushiro jumped.
“I love you too.” Yamato’s voice was full of conviction.
Silence followed, and Koushiro stood in the hallway, feeling shocked. Taichi and Yamato? I hadn’t thought… His mind flew back to his conversation with Taichi on the day his lord’s friends had arrived. I didn’t think about that, I suppose. He felt sheepish. Of course Taichi was in love with Yamato! He should’ve seen it before.
Well, he couldn’t stand out in the hallway like an idiot. Koushiro raised his hand to knock on the door…
…And was nearly knocked to the ground as Taichi unexpectedly flung the door open.
The brown-haired lord’s eyes went wide, and his cheeks flushed. “K-Koushiro! What… what are you doing here?”
The boy could feel his face flaming, but he managed a weak smile. “Um… I was bringing Lord Yamato some towels. Sir.” He raised the towels as evidence.
“And you heard…” Taichi didn’t phrase it as a question.
Koushiro looked down. “I’m sorry. I won’t tell Sora,” he promised.
Taichi smiled, looking relieved, and ruffled his hair. “Thanks, kid. I know I can count on you for this one. I’ll be seeing you later, all right?” Without waiting for an answer, he hurried off down the hall.
“Yeah,” Koushiro said, unnecessarily. He turned back to the gaping Lord Yamato and tried an uneasy smile, raising his bundle as an offering. “Towels, my Lord?”
Jyou strolled idly through the hallway, his mind not really on where he might be going. He had a smile on his face as he thought about the red-haired boy he’d just met. I wonder how he’d feel about coming back home to live with me. He bit his lip. Was that moving too fast? He didn’t want to scare Koushiro off. But still, he couldn’t make himself feel anything but dismay at the idea of leaving him behind.
Maybe I’d better just take it one day at a time, Jyou decided, looking up. He’d wandered into the gardens, and it was beautiful out. The carefully maintained greenery was just perfect for a romantic walk, he noticed.
The idea of spending time there with Koushiro was at once very appealing.
Some giggling off to the right of him interrupted that sweet daydream. Jyou stopped, puzzled, then noticed the little pathway that led off in that direction. What a great place for romance, he thought, half smiling.
There was another giggle, and this time Jyou was certain he knew who it was. Duchess Mimi. But what would she be doing in the gardens? Shrugging, Jyou turned down the path to see if he could find her.
What he heard next stopped him cold.
“…finally get a chance to be alone.” Sora sighed.
“But we get plenty of chances to be along, Sora,” Mimi answered. “I just…” She sighed as well. “I just worry, about whether or not that will be possible after you’ve married Yamato.”
“Mimi! I won’t be marrying Yamato! You know that!”
“I know, but it’s getting closer every day! When are you going to tell him, Sora? Are you going to wait all the way until the wedding day before letting him know that you’re not in love with him?”
“No…” Sora seemed uncertain.
“So when?” Mimi demanded.
“I have to wait for the right time. I really don’t want to hurt Yamato’s feelings over this. It’s not his fault that our parents arranged this, and I know it’s not his fault that I’m not in love with him…”
Mimi giggled a little, nervously. “I’m sorry, Sora. I know this is really hard on you, but… it’s hard on me, too, you know. I just wish we could be open about all of this.”
“I know. But… it’ll be all right, I promise.”
“I love you, Sora.”
“Me too. And that’s how we’ll make it through this.”
Jyou wished he could sit down. Mimi and Sora…? I never would have dreamed. And… His eyes widened as he was struck by a sudden revelation. Yamato is agonizing over how to tell Sora the marriage won’t work… and at the same time, she’s agonizing over how to tell him the same thing! What a mess!
A sharp little scream startled Jyou out of his reverie. Mimi stood in front of him, one hand pressed over her mouth, eyes wide with shock. “Jyou!” she gasped. “What are you doing here?”
“I-I’m sorry.” Jyou felt his cheeks redden. “I-I didn’t mean to intrude. I’ll just keep right on going.” He turned to leave.
“Wait!” Sora’s voice stopped him. “Jyou, I know this looks bad,” she pleaded, as he slowly turned to face her. “But, please, please, promise me you won’t tell Yamato.”
Feeling torn, Jyou nodded. “All right,” he said, in response to both of their pleading faces. “I give you my word. I won’t say anything about this to Yamato”
Relief showed in both girls’ expressions, but none of it extended to the blue-haired lord. Oh great, Jyou, he thought to himself, moving off. What kind of mess have you gotten yourself involved in this time?