“How long have you worked for Taichi?”
Koushiro rested his hands on the bench he was sitting on and smiled. “Three or four years, I think. I can’t remember exactly.”
The blue-haired boy sitting next to him smiled back. “But you’re friends with him as well. That must make the job seem a lot better, right?”
“It does help,” the shorter boy admitted. “It can get pretty complicated, though. Sometimes I wind up overhearing things I would rather I didn’t know about.” He winced, thinking of what had happened that afternoon. I think I would definitely be better off not knowing that Yamato’s practically having an affair with Taichi!
Jyou grimaced. “I know what you mean about that.” He sighed, then hesitated for a moment. “Listen… um, if I told you something that’s supposed to be a secret, would you be able to keep it to yourself?”
“Of course.” Koushiro found that his interest was caught. “I’m good at keeping secrets. What was it you wanted to get off your chest?”
“Well…” Jyou appeared to be hesitant. He looked away from Koushiro for a moment, then seemed to make up his mind. “You know that Yamato and Sora are engaged, right?”
Koushiro bit his lip. Oh, how he knew that… “Right.”
“What would you do if you knew that one of those two wasn’t exactly… happy about the idea? Like, maybe because they were in love with someone else?”
The red-haired boy’s eyes widened. “You know?” he blurted out.
“You mean you know?” Jyou looked shocked. “I thought I was the only one! Well, besides them of course, but that’s beside the point.”
“I thought I was.” Koushiro blinked. “See, Taichi told me not to say anything…”
Koushiro frowned at him, confused. “Well, of course he does! How do you think it would work if he didn’t know?”
“Oh man!” Jyou smacked a hand to his face. “Has he told Yamato?”
The shorter boy stared at him for a moment, perplexed, then suddenly burst out laughing.
It was Jyou’s turn to look confused. “What’s so funny?”
“I think…” Koushiro tried to calm down, wiping his eyes. “I think we’re talking about two different things, Jyou.”
“How do you figure that?”
“Well…” The red-head grinned openly at him. “How do you think a love affair between Taichi and Yamato would work if they both didn’t know about it?”
“Taichi and Yamato? But…” Jyou stopped cold. “Oh.” He started to chuckle. “That would be pretty difficult, wouldn’t it?”
Koushiro snickered. “I think so, yes. So what has Sora been up to, then?”
Jyou started. “How did you…?”
“It wasn’t that difficult a conclusion to come to, considering that you said one of the two people getting married was reluctant and you didn’t think Yamato even knew about it. So what’s Sora’s problem?”
“Oh. Right.” Jyou smiled at the younger boy, impressed. He’s quick. “Sora’s in love with Mimi, actually. They’ve been having some kind of affair as well, I think. Do you get the feeling that it might be time to stop making wedding plans?”
Koushiro grinned. “I’d say that’s a very good idea, Jyou. Considering both of the main participants are romantically involved with other people.” He looked thoughtful. “The question is, how?”
“Well, we’ve got plenty of time to figure that out,” Jyou assured him. He slid an arm around Koushiro’s shoulders. “I was kind of hoping to enjoy the evening with you, though.” He smiled.
Koushiro felt a blush spreading across his face. At the same time, though, a pleased little smile was forming on his lips. “I’d like that,” he answered honestly, and shifted a little closer to Jyou on the bench.
It was dark out when Jyou left Koushiro’s company. He was in high spirits, mostly because of the promising bond that seemed to be forming between the two of them, but also because of the conversation they’d had regarding Yamato and Sora.Nice to know that at least I’m not alone in keeping secrets about it.
His thoughts flew back to when he’d left, just a few minutes ago. They’d both been pretty unsure of each other at that point, so he’d only just dared to give Koushiro a quick peck on the cheek by way of an affectionate farewell. It hadn’t been much of a good-night kiss, but it had been well-received, and that gave Jyou more than a little hope for the future.
He was nearly at the stables when the first hints of whispered conversation interrupted those nice thoughts. Oh great, not another secret conversation. Jyou considered turning right around and going back the way he came, but the possibility that it might be a thief or an assassin of some kind compelled him to creep closer to the stable and listen in.
“…sure you don’t want to bring your horse, Kari?”
“No.” Hikari’s familiar voice sounded regretful. “I don’t want my brother to be more angry with us than he has to be. You understand, don’t you?”
“Yeah.” Takeru sighed. “I just hope we’re doing the right thing.”
“Well, we have to do it, ’Keru. I mean, you don’t really want me to get married to Lord Ken, do you? This is for the best. I guess…”
“I know Yamato will listen to reason once we’ve gone, Hikari. He’s involved in the same sort of thing himself, so I’m sure he’ll understand.”
“But will my brother?” Hikari sounded upset. “I don’t want him to be angry with me, but… it’s just…” Her voice was so helpless. “Right now it just seems like there’s nothing else for me to do.”
“Are you sure he wouldn’t listen to you if you told him?” The tone of Takeru’s voice indicated that he knew the answer, but he obviously still felt compelled to ask.
“Taichi? Not likely.” Hikari sighed. “All he’s thinking about is what’s best for me. I know he’s just trying to protect me, but Ken isn’t what’s best for me! You are, Takeru…”
“Hikari…” There was a moment of silence.
“I guess we’d better be going.” There were a few rustling noises, and Jyou had to assume that one or both of them were mounting the horse. “Takeru,” Hikari’s voice said again. “You know, you never did explain to me why we’re going to Lord Ken when he’s the one I’m trying to avoid marrying! He even agreed to the wedding!”
Takeru chuckled. “It’s not because he actually wanted to marry you, Kari. Ken’s just having a bit of a problem with a husband-hungry Baroness and he thought that being married might save him. When I sent the letter explaining things to him, he offered us his estate as a sanctuary. Since we’ll be under his protection, as guests, your brother can’t technically drag you back without declaring war.”
Hikari laughed. “Taichi may be a bit dense, but he’s not that stupid!”
“Exactly,” Takeru replied. “And that’s why we’re going there.”
The horse with Hikari and Takeru on it was abruptly urged forward, and the two rode toward the palace gates without even looking back once.
Jyou stood in that same place for a moment, trying to rationally think about what he’d just seen. Obviously, Hikari and Takeru had just eloped, which didn’t even particularly surprise him, considering what he’d already seen and heard that day. It had to have been brewing for a long time, taking into account the way they were trying to convince themselves. It was clear that this was a final act of desperation by two people who were very much in love, and the irony of the matter was that the one who was keeping them from being together was involved in exactly the same sort of thing himself!
Turning away, Jyou firmly decided not to tell anyone what he’d just witnessed.
“What do you mean, she’s gone!?” Taichi’s voice sounded incredulous. “She can’t be gone! That’s impossible!”
Koushiro sighed. “It’s not impossible, Taichi. All I know is that I went to get Hikari, just like you said to do, and she wasn’t in her room. So, technically, that does mean she’s gone.”
“She can’t be anywhere else!” Taichi fumed. He spun around to face his guests. Except for Yamato, everyone was present. “Do any of you know where she is?”
Mimi just blinked at him in beautiful confusion. Sora frowned, but shook her head in answer. Jyou’s face was unreadable. He didn’t even move.
“You didn’t look hard enough!” Taichi accused, rounding on Koushiro.
“Don’t be ridiculous! How would I know where to look for her?”
“Well, you should’ve – ”
“Taichi!” Yamato interrupted the argument by running into the room, with a letter clutched in one hand. “Takeru’s gone! He left me this note, but…” He hesitated, then bravely kept going. “Taichi, he and Hikari are eloping! They’ve gone to Lord Ken for sanctuary!”
“What!?” Taichi’s face turned the most interesting shade of red. “How could she do this to me? I was only trying to…” He turned toward Yamato. “It’s all because of that brother of yours! I’ll bet he abducted my sister!”
“What? That’s insane!”
“There’s nothing insane about it! He’s nothing but an ungrateful little brat who – ”
Koushiro couldn’t take it any more. “Shut up!” he yelled, at the top of his lungs. All eyes turned toward him. “Taichi, you idiot! Don’t you understand? They’re just trying to be together – and this is obviously the only way they can since you’re too thick-skulled to see that something important might be happening that doesn’t involve you!”
Complete silence followed that. Everyone in the room looked shocked. Koushiro felt shocked himself. Good lord, where did that come from?
Taichi turned around slowly, and Koushiro backed up a step, involuntarily. He’d gone too far; he could see that right away. The brown-haired lord had never looked so angry. “It’s not your place to call me an idiot, servant!” he snapped. “And since you think so low of me, it’s obvious that I’d be an even bigger idiot to keep you around. Now get out of my house!”
Koushiro reeled. He just… fired me… Anger was stronger than hurt at that point. “Fine!” The word was half scream, half sob. Tearing the blue strip from his arm, the boy threw it at his former employer and turned around to run out of the room as fast as he could.
It wasn’t until he’d nearly reached the kitchen that someone stopped him. “Hey Koushiro!” Daisuke grabbed his arm. “Wait! Where’re you going?”
“Away.” He surprised even himself with how cold that sounded. “It doesn’t matter, though. I don’t work here any more.”
“Wha…?” Daisuke looked shocked. “What do you mean you don’t work here? What happened?”
“Hikari and Takeru ran off together,” Koushiro reported flatly. “They went to Lord Ken because she didn’t want to get married.”
“You mean Hikari’s gone?” Daisuke looked devastated for a moment – then confused. “Wait a sec. She’s going to try and get out of marrying Lord Ken, right?”
“So, um, if that is the case, then why is she going to Lord Ken’s house?” The look on Daisuke’s face would have made Koushiro laugh if he wasn’t so upset.
“I don’t know myself, but there’s got to be a good reason,” he answered, still in that dull tone. “All I know is that Taichi’s furious, and when I told him how ridiculous he was being, he fired me.”
“But you can’t get fired!” Daisuke looked upset. “What about your mom?”
It hit Koushiro right then. I won’t be able to get her medicine… I don’t have a job any more… “I-I… don’t know,” he choked out, then abruptly felt himself begin to break down into tears. Before Daisuke could say another word, he took off down the hallway again. It’s my fault… it’s all my fault…
I ruined everything!
Jyou could hardly believe what he was hearing. “What on earth did you do that for, Taichi?” he practically yelled, still seeing the expression on Koushiro’s face. The younger boy had looked as if his world was falling apart.
Taichi blinked, looking surprised. “What?”
“I thought you said he was one of your friends! Why’d you fire him?”
“Huh? You heard what he said…”
“You mean when he threw the truth in your face?” Jyou was so furious, it felt like his face was turning purple with it. “You are an idiot, Taichi, and you’re being so incredibly selfish right now that I can hardly stand to look at you!”
Taichi looked astonished. “Wha…? But I…”
“First of all, you don’t even care that your sister’s in love and not with the person you’ve got her engaged to!” Jyou fumed. “And secondly, you’re getting mad at Takeru for doing the exact same thing with Hikari that you’ve been doing with Yamato!”
“What!?” Sora exclaimed.
Taichi’s face flushed at the accusation, but Yamato’s had gone dead white. “Sora,” he began desperately. “It’s not what it looks like…”
“You mean you’ve been with Taichi behind my back?” she sounded incredulous.
“Sora, I’m sorry!” Yamato pleaded. “I never meant for things to go so far… I mean, I never wanted to hurt you with this. It’s just that I can’t love you, because I’m already in love with… What’s so funny?”
Sora was chuckling helplessly. “You mean to tell me,” she began, grinning like anything, “that I’ve spent all this time angsting over how to tell you I’m in love with someone else… and all along, you’ve been having the exact same problem?” Her chuckles turned to full-fledged laughter.
“You mean you’re…” Yamato looked amazed for a moment, and then the absurdity of the situation seemed to hit him. “Good grief, what a couple of idiots we are!” He joined in her laughter.
Mimi looked at Taichi. “Do you know what they’re laughing about?”
A smiled was starting to spread across Taichi’s face. “All I know is, it’s got to be good or they wouldn’t be laughing!”
Jyou rolled his eyes. “Oh please! You mean you haven’t figured it out yet?”
Mimi blinked. “Figured what out?”
“The wedding’s off, I think,” Jyou explained. “You see, you’ve been trying to figure out how to tell Yamato the wedding won’t work, and those two have been trying to figure out how to tell Sora! The only question now is, what do you do about Takeru and Hikari?”
Yamato and Sora stopped laughing. “Oh right, I forgot about them,” Yamato admitted. He looked over at Taichi and grinned. “But can’t we just forgive them? I mean, they were just doing the same thing we were…”
“Well…” Taichi hesitated.
“Look,” Jyou cut in. “I don’t know what you plan to do, but I’m going after Koushiro. He’s been through a lot now, and none of this is really his fault.”
“You’re right!” Taichi looked chagrined. “I’ll have to apologize. And I’ll hire him back, of course. It was pretty stupid of me to fire him…” He looked sheepish. “It’s just… I was mad about Hikari, that’s all.”
Jyou raised an eyebrow. “You can try and hire him back,” he countered. “But I think he’s going to have another opportunity opening up… just as soon as I find him!” He hurried out the door in search of a certain red-haired servant boy.
“I’m sorry.” Koushiro sank down into the chair next to his mother’s bed, tears still streaming down his face. “I would’ve had the money for your medicine, but I messed up. It’s all my fault.”
The ashen-faced woman on the bed didn’t move. Her breathing was labored but even, and her eyes were closed.
Koushiro took her hand. “I’ll find a way to get money, Mom,” he promised, voice cracking. “I’ll do whatever it takes… Anything I can. I swear it.” The vow seemed so empty, even as he spoke it. What did he have to back it with? Nothing. He didn’t even have the money to keep himself alive; how was he going to save her?
“No!” The red-haired boy shook his head violently, rejecting the thoughts. “I won’t let you die! I’d sooner slit my own throat!”
As if that would help her. Koushiro bent over the bed, burying his face in his arms. If it would, I’d do it in a heartbeat… But then who would take care of her? He looked up again at his sleeping mother. “I’ll always be here for you,” he told her, even though he knew she couldn’t hear him. “You won’t die.”
There was a noise from the doorway, and Koushiro looked up. The door to his mother’s room was open, and standing there with his hand on the handle was –
“Jyou!” Hastily, the red-head wiped at his tears. “I was just… I…” He found his voice again. “How did you find out where I live?”
“Your friend Daisuke told me.” The taller boy walked over to the bed, looking down at the unconscious form lying there. “Koushiro, why didn’t you tell anyone?”
Koushiro looked down at the floor. “I didn’t want to be a burden,” he muttered. “It’s my problem; I can deal with it. Nobody else should have to worry.”
“Is this your mother?” At the red-haired boy’s nod, Jyou bent over the bed. “How long has she been like this?”
“She’s been sick for months.” Koushiro bit his lip. “But it wasn’t so bad. I took care of her. I thought if I just made sure she had whatever she needed, everything would be all right. Then, a few days ago, she got worse, and I had to take the extra work to pay for her medicine…” He trailed off.
“And now you don’t know what to do,” Jyou finished for him. “Since you don’t have a job any more.” He sighed and took one of Koushiro’s hands in both of his. “You should have told somebody. We would have been glad to help, you know. It’s not a burden to do a favor for a friend.”
“I know, but… it’s just…” He hung his head.
“But you’re too considerate for your own good.” Jyou smiled. “And it doesn’t matter, now that I know. Your mom’s going to get all the medicine and doctors she needs. If you don’t want to come back home with me, I can assure you that Taichi will take care of it.”
“But…” Koushiro stopped short as Jyou’s words sunk in. ‘If you don’t want to come back home with me’… “You – you want me to come with you? To stay?”
Jyou shrugged and smiled. “I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it. I like your company. A lot, in fact. But I’ll understand if you’re not ready f – ”
He didn’t get another word out, because Koushiro launched himself into the other boy’s arms, firmly pressing his mouth against that of his surprised suitor. They stayed for a moment in lip-locked bliss and then the red-haired boy pulled back, flushing.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have – ”
Jyou silenced him with another kiss. The answer was understood.
“You should’ve told me before!” Taichi exclaimed, for the thousandth time. “I would’ve helped you, Koushiro – you know I would.”
“I know.” The younger boy smiled, snuggling against Jyou. “But, you know, I sort of like the way things turned out.” He sighed happily.
Taichi grinned. “Yeah, well.” He glanced at his blond lover. “I have to admit, I like it, too. Especially getting Yama all to myself.”
Yamato blushed. “Ah, quit it with the romantic talk, Taichi, you’re making me all embarrassed.”
“That was the point.” The brown-haired lord slung an arm around Yamato’s shoulders, while everyone laughed. “But I do still have to figure out what to do about Kari, you know. After all, I’m her big brother – and I don’t want her to stay away forever.”
Yamato shrugged. “Why not send them some kind of “good will” gift? If you get it there in time, maybe we’ll even get an invitation to the wedding.”
“Great idea!” Taichi broke away, waving his arms as he planned. “I’ll send them a dozen servants to help them out at Lord Ken’s… No, two dozen! They’ll have to know I’m sincere, since I’ll be paying for them!”
Jyou shook his head as Taichi continued to make plans, and glanced down at the red-head in his arms. Koushiro was regarding him ruefully.
“Some things just won’t change,” the servant boy sighed.
“Yeah, and Taichi’s one of them.” Jyou pulled Koushiro closer and kissed the top of his head. I’ve got all the change I’ll ever need in my life right here, he thought, and smiled.