Expanding Horizons

 

Part One

 

"You guys can relax - I'm here." Daisuke waved a generous hand and sat down at the small table in the campus cafeteria. It was ten-thirty in the morning, and the only reason he was awake was because of early-morning soccer practice. He dumped his soccer bag unceremoniously on the floor between his seat and Iori's, and offered his three friends a cocky grin. "I know you were all devastated by my abse - ow!"

Miyako pulled back her hand and flexed her fingers casually, as if she hadn't just smacked him upside the head for no good reason. "We were hoping you wouldn't show up, but you've dashed all our hopes again." She gave him a mock glare. "And you lost me my lunch money, you realize."

The blond beside her grinned. He looked a bit strange in his casual jeans and white T-shirt, sitting next to a girl wearing complete black-and-purple grunge-wear with numerous, unusual silver accessories. Then again, their table was pretty mismatched anyway - even more so now that Daisuke had plunked himself down in his more athletic-style attire. "Speaking of which… He's fifteen minutes behind today - you lose." He held out a hand. "Pay up."

"Betting on how late I'd be?" Daisuke would've been indignant if he weren't used to the injustice. "I thought better of you, Wallace - Miyako's been converting you to the dark side."

"Converted," Miyako corrected, grudgingly handing over the promised amount. "And he's not as innocent as he looks. Don't ever trust a guy with blond hair, blue eyes, and wholesome good looks. They use those to trick people into thinking they have morals."

"Yeah, I don't go for blonds anyway - no offense, Wally." Daisuke grinned at his best friend's boyfriend, ignoring the scowl, and leaned back in his chair, pulling out the packaged cookies he'd bought from one of the many vending machines around campus. Two and a half years of university life had taught him it was generally a good idea to have change on him when he had practice or a solid block of class.

Assuming he still had student loan money to use as change.

"Yeah, well, you're a picky little bastard, that's why." Miyako cut off her boyfriend's attempt to retaliate to the nickname, then adjusted her glasses and focussed her wicked stare on the only silent member of their group. "Iori likes blonds, don't you, Iori?"

A set of striking green eyes raised up from the geology textbook sitting on the table in front of their owner to give her a flat look. "I'm not introducing you until midterms are over," he stated firmly, "so quit fishing for names."

"Oh… fine then!" Miyako made some show of flopping back into her chair and crossing her arms, huffily. Wallace patted her shoulder in a consoling manner - one of the many acts that explained why he'd managed to remain her boyfriend for more than just six months, by far outstripping any of the others before him.

Daisuke glanced from Miyako to Iori, and then opted for a less than intelligent, "Huh?"

"What?" Miyako asked him, irritably.

"Blonds? Iori? No introducing?" Daisuke raised his eyebrows, and quirked one corner of his mouth up in a half-smile. "Did I miss something?"

The green-eyed boy sighed, closed his eyes as if in resignation, and buried one hand in his short hair. "Miyako's upset because I haven't told her the name of the guy I'm seeing - not that she'd know him, anyway," he added, rolling his eyes upward.

"How do you know?" she challenged - then, surprisingly, grinned. "He's pretty damn hot, actually - an upper-classman, too. Not a bad catch for a first-year student."

Iori flushed a bit, and tried to hide it by pretending to straighten out the immaculately neat green turtleneck he was wearing. As far as Daisuke had heard - and he'd known the kid for three years - this was the first time Iori had even gone out with someone, much less tried for something that might last.

"How come no one ever tells me this stuff?" he asked, of no one in particular.

"Don't feel alone," Wallace replied, with a bit of a smile. "None of us would know if Miyako hadn't accidentally caught a glimpse of this mystery guy saying goodbye at Iori's dorm room last night. He's a little too good at keeping secrets."

All eyes went back to the younger boy, who was ignoring them again in favor of the textbook.

"At least he's not as choosy as you are," Miyako accused, turning her attention back to Daisuke. "What happened to Yumiko on Saturday, hm? She told me in class yesterday that you turned her down when she asked for a second date."

He frowned, not too happy with the reminder. For some reason or another, his best friend seemed intent on setting him up - girl or guy, it didn't matter - without any sort of regard for Daisuke's preference on the subject. "She… wasn't my type," he said, being deliberately vague.

She'd already worked herself into a frustrated state by that point, so the glare shot his way held no mercy for him. "Why? I thought I covered all the bases this time. She was artsy and creative, she spent a lot of time outdoors, she liked your dumb sport - "

"Hey!" Daisuke protested, jerking forward in defense of his addiction to soccer.

Miyako refused to pause for him, raising her voice to talk over his protests instead. "She had a great tan, wasn't too thin, didn't mind getting dirty, had more enthusiasm than was really good for her…" Her eyes narrowed almost into slits as she leaned toward him ominously. "What," she hissed, jabbing a finger at his chest to emphasize her words, "Was. Wrong. With. Her?"

Daisuke avoided her eyes, tearing open his neglected cookie package instead. "She was too smart," he admitted, after a moment.

"Too smart." Miyako's voice was flat.

"Yeah. Too smart." He took a bite from the first cookie, concentrating more than he needed to on the chewing business. Truthfully, Daisuke had a checklist going inside his head - at a level somewhere that the rest of his mind couldn't get to. Things kept being added to it as he discovered attitudes and stuff he didn't like. A person he spent that much time with couldn't be too quiet. Couldn't be too moody. Couldn't be too strict. Couldn't be too subdued. Couldn't be too practical. And… couldn't be too smart. Otherwise things would get annoying.

Daisuke liked to practice avoiding annoying things. He was good at it, too.

Apparently, Miyako just didn't get it. "Mind explaining what the problem with intelligence is, Motomiya?" she growled out, eyes flashing dangerously.

He recognized the need to tread carefully here… Miyako herself had a fairly high GPA. "It made her too… I dunno. Up there. Made me feel stupid." He stuffed the rest of the cookie into his mouth and shrugged. "Di'n li' i'."

"Should we bother to translate that one?" Wallace joked, with a half-smile for Miyako when she turned her glare on him.

Daisuke waved his hand again, finishing the cookie. "You guys should stop trying to set me up - it's not gonna work. My standards are just a hell of a lot higher than yours, Miyako."

"Hey!" Wallace protested, looking injured. "What's that supposed to mean!"

"Not you - I mean those creeps she dated before you guys hooked up." He leaned one elbow on the table and smirked at her. "Like that Michael guy - remember him?"

"Michael was nice enough," Iori commented, having looked up from his textbook somewhere during the course of the conversation and was now watching with interest as Daisuke and Miyako tried to stare each other down.

"He was cute," Miyako added, defensively. "He was just too…"

"Wimpy?"

"Passive." She said it with a certain finality, crossing her arms over her chest. "And we're not talking about me here, smartass - at least I tried. You don't even give people more than half a chance; how are you supposed to meet someone like that?"

Daisuke scowled at her. "Well, who says I'm trying to meet someone, anyway? You're the one going around hooking me up with people, remember? Not my fault you're a lousy matchmaker."

They glared at each other for a moment.

"Anyone know what time it is?" Iori asked suddenly, breaking the charged silence.

Wallace checked his watch. "Ten to eleven," he reported.

"Thanks." Iori stuffed his textbook away and got up from the table, slinging his bag onto his back. "I have to go - I'll see you guys tomorrow, all right?"

"Sure." Daisuke easily shrugged off his earlier frustration and grinned at the younger boy. "See you."

Miyako snorted, watching Iori hurry out of the cafeteria. "He's meeting that new boyfriend of his," she muttered, crossing her arms over her chest again. "I can't believe he hasn't introduced us yet - it's like he's ashamed of his best friends."

"Naw, no way. Why would he be?" Daisuke shoved the last of his cookie into his mouth and chewed noisily, reaching across the table for Wallace's mineral water to wash it down - and avoiding the sharper edges of Miyako's jewelry as he leaned over her.

And he wasn't jealous of Iori. Not at all.

~~~~~~

"Thought I'd find you here."

Ken looked up from the screen on his computer, finding a familiar amber-eyed girl smiling down at him. "Looking for me, Hikari?"

"Not for very long." She took the seat beside him, leaning over the desk space between computer cubicles. "We didn't bother to look anywhere else first - after all, where else would you be?"

He glanced over her shoulder at the tall blond in her shadow - who remained standing. "Anything specific you wanted, or are you just killing time?"

Takeru gave him a rueful smile in return. "We just came out of an exam," he explained, grimacing a little. "It was pretty brutal. Anyway, Hikari wants someone to go for lunch with her."

Ken turned his eyes back to the girl in question, who smiled sweetly at him. "And Takeru doesn't count as 'someone' any more?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. "You two aren't fighting, are you?"

Takeru actually laughed out loud, earning himself a couple of dirty looks from people who hadn't yet learned that the upper-level labs weren't always the best place for peace and quiet while working. "You're either still sleeping or you've got a strange sense of humor, Ichijouji," he commented, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jeans.

"He's got a lunch date," Hikari clarified, smoothing out her skirt. It was a long skirt that day - but still managed to look fashionable, despite not being the current style. She was pretty enough even without that odd sense of what would look just right on her petite figure - the combined impact earned her more than a few stares.

"With that first-year you're dating," Ken guessed - and didn't need Takeru's nod to confirm it. They hadn't been introduced to him yet, but he knew as well as Hikari did that it would happen sooner or later. Neither of them wanted to ask about it before her childhood friend actually brought it up.

"We're meeting at eleven," the blond confirmed.

Ken glanced at his watch. "Which is… now."

"Are you kidding?" Takeru's eyes widened a notch; he leaned over Ken to check the computer's time, and groaned. "Crap… I've got to run - catch you guys later!"

Hikari watched him nearly bowl into a startled girl who had been coming into the room in his haste to leave, then turned back to her other friend with a bit of a smile. "Do you have time to eat with me, Ken?"

"I have all the time in the world, actually." Ken smiled wryly - almost to himself - and turned back around to close the window he'd been working in. "One more exam to go, and I haven't got too many assignments right now."

"Which, translated to the language of those who take six upper-level courses in one term, means roughly ten - and all due on the same day." She pushed herself to her feet gracefully, and waited for him to log off and join her. "But that's no problem for a genius, is it?"

Ken shrugged, offering a smile in response to the teasing. "It's all time management - and you're no idiot yourself, Hikari." He slung his bag onto his shoulders. "Where did you want to go?"

"Some place cheap, if you don't mind." She fell into step beside him, easily. "I'm rationing my loan so I can get that special equipment for the follow-up photography course next year."

"No, I don't mind." It wasn't as if his scholarships could stretch much farther. "Isn't photography one of your electives, anyway?"

"Well, yeah, but I happen to like it." She grinned at him, flashing perfect white teeth. "I'll take pictures of you with some breathtaking scenery behind you, and post them on the internet with the heading 'Date this pretty boy before he marries his computer'."

"You're too late," Ken told her dryly, lips quirking up a bit at the joke. "We're engaged. Didn't I tell you?"

"Must've slipped your mind - but you like to keep secrets, Ken." Hikari smiled again, and tucked her arm through his - earning herself some scowls from a few girls who were trying to pretend they weren't looking. "I was invited to a soccer game this weekend - our team's doing well this year, you know. There's a barbeque after - lots of good-looking athletes. You should come along."

"I don't think so, Hikari - too many people on the team saw me play in the summer league. I'd end up spending the whole evening explaining to them why I'm not playing for the school."

"Please don't tell me you're spending all weekend on your homework." She shook her head at him, not waiting for an answer. "It makes me sad to think of you holed up in that dark, quiet apartment of yours with nothing but computer languages for company."

"Don't forget math formulas," he reminded her, pushing open the first of two doors leading out of the Sciences building so that they could walk through. "I'm taking Advanced Calculus this term."

"Mr. Double Major." She let go of his arm in time to get ahead and hold the door open for him. "I didn't forget - I just thought it was too frightening to mention out loud. Want to get food on-campus? They make good sandwiches in the Foods building, and the prices are a lot better than the cafeteria."

"And it's probably healthier than getting fast food," he agreed. "Fine with me - lead the way."

She fell into step beside him instead, and shot him a sidelong glance through her lashes. "You should come to the game with me, Ken - lots of the guys on the team are really nice."

"Nice and straight," Ken finished for her, raising an eyebrow. "It's generous of you to think about me, Hikari, but I think - "

"You think too much," she chided him kindly, not waiting for the end of his sentence. "How do you know no one would be interested? You haven't even tried."

Ken sighed. He didn't like these conversations at all. "I don't think there's anyone on the team I'd be able to have a relationship with for very long, regardless of the sexuality issue."

"Because you're too picky." She wrinkled her nose at him - cutely, of course. Hikari did almost everything cutely. "You won't even give them a chance - and I know for a fact that lots of people would love to date you, Ken."

"Same to you," he answered, voice growing flat.

Hikari recognized the signs and backed off. "I like being single," she said, with a little shrug. "I'm not interested in a relationship right now." 'And you would be' was left unsaid, but he as well as heard the words anyway.

Ken was in dire need of a friend who didn't try to lecture him about his love life - or lack thereof.

"You know," Hikari said slowly, not looking at him as he held the door into the Foods and Nutrition building open for her, "that guy who's always in the labs when I come in - with the funny hat…"

"No, I don't think so, Hikari."

"Well, I was about to say I saw him at the last pride dance I went to with Takeru, so - "

Ken shook his head, moving to examine the menu the Foods students had available. "Even then."

She was silent for a moment - then, "I don't know why you think so - he seems perfectly nice. Maybe a little quiet, but that's good, isn't it? He's a very serious student, and incredibly focussed - and he has the bluest eyes I've ever seen…"

"He's one of the most stubborn people I've met, Hikari - I couldn't put up with someone who dug his heels in at every little disagreement." He chose a sandwich, and handed her the menu. "Don't try to set me up, please."

Hikari sighed, quickly picking out her own meal. "All right, I'm sorry. But I still think…" She hesitated there, clearly debating whether or not to put the rest of that thought into words.

"You think to much," he tossed her own words back at her, offered a smile to take out the sting, and moved up to order his lunch.

If only she weren't right so often.

~~~~~~

 

Hikari tapped her pen against the table in her lecture hall, frowning thoughtfully to herself as she waited for the professor - who was late as usual. She had Chemistry at the moment - a Science elective, not part of her Elementary Education program - but her mind couldn't be farther from the subject.

There has to be something I can say to get Ken to join me this weekend…

Or, not even just that weekend. Just to get him to come out and meet people. Was it really too much to ask, as a concerned friend?

Apparently so.

Hikari sighed. "Stubborn pretty boy," she murmured under her breath.

"Oh, we've all had our share of those," someone commented, beside her.

She blinked, looking up. In the seat that had been empty moments before, a tall girl with glasses, long hair, and a lot of silver accessories was pulling a binder from her bag. "I'm sorry - I didn't see you."

"I didn't think you had." The girl grinned at her. "I usually sit in the back - but I think the prof's writing is getting steadily smaller." She pushed her glasses up a bit. "Thought I'd take a chance with the front row this time around. It looks like there's enough room, anyway."

"That's what makes these the best seats." Hikari smiled.

"Especially for grumbling about your friends without anyone overhearing."

The shorter girl nodded agreement. "I'm Hikari."

"Miyako - nice to meet you."

"You too. Especially now that I know I'm not alone in the complaints department."

Miyako laughed. "Oh, definitely not - there are enough thick-skulled guys to go around, trust me."

"I know - it's the not-so-stubborn ones who are hard to come by."

The two of them grinned at each other.

"We should really get together outside of class and compile a list of grievances." Miyako lowered her voice as the professor entered the room, quieting things down almost immediately.

Hikari laughed under her breath, pulling the lid off her pen. "Better bring lots of paper."

~~~~~~

"Fuck! I can't sit here any more!"

Daisuke blinked, staring up at the boy he'd been sitting across from in bemusement. "Huh?"

His date's eyes flashed angrily at him from where he now stood, ready to storm out of the pizza place. "Thanks for the show of interest, asshole - by the way, remember what my name was?"

He didn't, actually - Miyako had told him at some point, but Daisuke had been paying more attention to his lunch at the time. "Um…"

"Yeah. Thanks." And that ended the conversation.

Daisuke shrugged to himself, not bothering to watch the failed romance stalk out the door in the form of a pissed off student he'd never seen before that night. Hey, not like it's never happened before… He reached out to steal the remains of his date's soft drink, and grinned widely at the waitress when she brought out the pizza.

More for me this way.

"Is your friend coming back?" the girl asked, looking a bit puzzled. She must've seen that guy - what the hell was his name, anyway? - leaving the building.

"Ah, he had something important to do." Daisuke lifted a slice of pizza from the tray onto his plate - then, as an afterthought, added a second as well. "Don't worry about it - I'll pay for everything, and take the leftovers with me."

"If there are any leftovers," she said with a bit of a smile. Daisuke was a frequent customer at that particular place.

He grinned at her. "Hey, you never know."

"Right." She laughed, and left him alone with the meal.

Piles of pizza… and all for me! Only the best dates turned out this way. Daisuke blew hard on his slice before enthusiastically throwing himself into the business of chowing down. He kind of preferred it when people stormed out on him before the food got there.

Sometimes it was even better than when he actually had a good time, and got along with whoever it was.

"… and she refuses to…"

Daisuke put down his slice for a minute, frowning. It was fairly busy, so conversation chunks were hard to pick out. But that little bit of it had come in one of the few voices he could recognize in the dark - and also in a crowd of babbling teenagers on Friday night in a pizza place.

Now, this could be interesting…

Standing up and scanning the room brought the results he wanted - a familiar head of light brown hair above one of the chairs at a table for two. And across from its owner…

Miyako is gonna skin me alive when she hears about this.

"Hey! Iori!" Daisuke pushed around a crowd of kids just leaving their booth, and pulled up a chair at his target table, without being invited. He plunked his half-filled plate down and grinned at the surprised face of his younger friend. Oh, excellent. Worth getting skinned over. "Whatcha doing?"

Iori recovered enough to give him a flat, unfriendly stare. "Daisuke…"

"Oh, hey! You're on a date, aren't you?" The expression did nothing to reduce what Daisuke suspected was a real shit-eating grin on his own face. "Well, now that I'm here, you might as well introduce me. Right?"

Iori sighed.

"So you're that hot blond guy." Daisuke decided Iori wasn't going to get around to the introducing business soon enough. He squinted at the puzzled-looking boy sitting opposite his friend. The infamous boyfriend had the same sort of sunny hair and blue eyes as Wallace, but he was noticeably taller. "Got a name?"

"Uh… sure." Now the guy was giving him a weird look, while Iori buried his face in one hand. "Takeru."

"I'm Daisuke. Nice to meet you." He picked up his partly-finished slice again and stuffed the whole thing into his mouth, helping himself to the younger boy's iced tea to wash it down. "You guys want company?"

Iori slunk down into his seat as if he wished he could meld with it.

Takeru seemed more amused than anything, though. "You must really like the pizza here, Daisuke - I didn't even catch you chewing on that piece."

"It's one of my many talents," Daisuke admitted without a trace of shame, leaning back in his seat and smirking a bit. "You know, prying information about you from Iori is like trying to make rocks bleed. How long have you guys been dating, anyway?"

"A little more than a week," Takeru admitted, glancing quickly at his date - who seemed to have resigned himself to the situation and was watching them with the expression of someone who expected a disaster to take place any second. "We met waiting in line to pick up a bus pass at the book store."

"Exciting," Daisuke said without much real interest, attacking his second piece of pizza.

The taller boy smiled across the table, not looking at Daisuke any more as he answered. "I don’t know about that, but it definitely counts as one of my better days."

Iori returned the smile, contentment overriding his bad humor. "Mine too."

And… they stared at each other.

"Hey, earth to horny college sweethearts?" Watching two people drown in each other's eyes while he remained single was not his idea of a fun evening. "Can we remember that there's someone still at this table who doesn't want to see you two start composing bad poetry about your undying love?"

Iori gave him one of those out-of-the-corners-of-his-eyes glares that he was so good at. "Can we remember who it was who joined us on our date without being invited? You can always leave, you know."

"Geez, grouchy much? Hasn't your blond sex toy managed to lighten you up yet?" Daisuke was more than a little proud of the flush that colored Iori's cheeks at that one, since it was his wit that had caused it.

Takeru seemed to enjoy it too, if the soft look in his eyes was any indication. He put his hand over one of the smaller boy's clenched fists and smiled at him. "I don't think you need lightening up, anyway."

Daisuke almost groaned out loud. That was so cheesy!

Apparently, Iori didn't agree with him - there was a melting look in his eyes as he engaged his boyfriend in another staring contest. Which would have been more of an exciting concept if either of them had actually been interested in winning.

Not again! What the hell is with these two?

"So, getting away from the whole beam-of-holy-light, star-struck romance bit…" Daisuke took another few swallows of pizza, and washed it down with more of Iori's iced tea. "Where are you guys heading after this? Clubbing? Party? Jumping off a bridge? I gotta be home early because of our game tomorrow, so don't spare me the details."

They shared another glance, then Takeru shrugged. "How about walking around for a bit? It's a nice night out…"

He's joking, right? Daisuke stared suspiciously at the blond, then turned to Iori - who was still looking at him as if he were insane. "Is he being serious?"

"Not everyone needs to endanger their life to have a good time, Daisuke." The younger boy gave him another exasperated look. "And for your information, yes, he is serious - and I think it's a great idea." He turned determined eyes back up to his boyfriend.

How many times can they keep doing this, anyway?

"O… kay then. Escaping the boredom now." Daisuke picked up his plate - which was empty by that point anyway - and made a face. "Man, are you guys this dull all the time?"

"Only if we can help it," Takeru quipped, tearing himself away from his contemplation of Iori look enough to offer Daisuke a grin. "It keeps away those annoying red-heads who keep interrupting our dates and asking for details about our personal lives."

"Oh, hah hah, very funny." Daisuke pushed his chair away and stood. He had seen enough - well, enough to know he wasn't patient enough to sit there and see more, anyway. "I'll bet I could have a more interesting relationship with the voices in my head than you two have with each other."

"There are psychiatrists out there who would agree with you about that," Iori said wryly, looking considerably more relaxed now that Daisuke would apparently be leaving them alone.

"Yeah, well, maybe they're onto something." Daisuke took one last gulp from his younger friend's drink - draining the rest of the glass, actually - and turned to saunter back to his own table. "Catch you two later."

"Nice meeting you, Daisuke!" Takeru called after him.

"Yeah, back at you!"

Inwardly, though, he couldn't help a shudder. Geez, talk about repression - if I ever got roped into a snores-a-second love affair like that one, I think I'd shoot myself! At least Miyako and Wallace managed to mix a good batch of the unpredictable into their relationship; something as subdued as whatever those two had going was enough to put a guy to sleep.

Hey, well, now I know for sure I'm not jealous of Iori!

~~~~~~

"Hikari! Hey, Hikari!"

The sound of her name was enough to jerk her out of a post-math stupor. Hikari stopped to look around the hallway and spotted Miyako at the other end, waving furiously and not minding the odd looks she was getting. With a bit of a smile, the shorter girl started over.

"I thought that was you." Miyako looked quite pleased with herself. "Feel like joining us for a coffee? Wallace's treat."

Hikari glanced over at the blond - whom she'd been introduced to a few days ago - and got a shrug and a rueful smile in return. "With just the two of you?"

"No, Daisuke's joining us." The taller girl imitated her boyfriend's shrug, pieces of her jewelry jingling as she did. "He's the friend I told you about. The single friend," she added, with a wink.

Spare me. Despite the thought, Hikari couldn't help being amused - Miyako was a fun person to have around. "Maybe we should try and set him up with Ken," she replied, with a certain delicacy.

"All right, I can take a hint." Miyako made a face. "Single, not looking… and you're no fun at all. I'll bet you and Daisuke would get along great." She leaned forward, eyes gleaming a bit mischievously. "So tell me about this 'Ken'. Is he incredibly hot?"

"Oh yes," Hikari said honestly. "He's one of those people with a barrage of steady stalkers - and I think he's cruelly toying with them by not coming right out and saying that he's gay." She smiled a bit. "There are at least a dozen girls who haunt the computer labs, convinced that he's destined to marry one of them and make her life a fairy tale."

"One of those." Miyako nodded sagely. "Oblivious or arrogant?"

Wallace laughed. "I love when you make generalizations," he noted, hugging his girlfriend's shoulders.

"It's true, though." She shoved him off - not hard - and turned to Hikari again. "Well?"

"Well… neither, really." It was sort of difficult to accurately describe Ken. "I think you should meet him for yourself."

Miyako grinned wickedly. "I think I might have to."

"I pity poor Ken," Wallace commented blandly - then ducked, grinning as she took a swing at him.

"What," his girlfriend growled out, swinging her arm around his neck unexpectedly and catching him in a headlock, "is that supposed to mean? And you'd better think carefully about your answer," she added, voice menacing.

"Ehe, it's just - erk! Yo-ou're ch-chok-king me-e-e…!"

Miyako didn't loosen her hold. "That's the point!"

Hikari wasn't sure if she should laugh or be alarmed.

"Ergmph!" Wallace thrashed wildly, one arm swinging out against his control and almost smacking a startled pretty boy with dark hair and large blue eyes in the face.

"Hey - be a little more careful, would you?"

"Ken!" Hikari was pleasantly surprised at the appearance of the friend she'd just been describing. "I thought you had a lab session."

Ken seemed more interested in staring at the couple beside them, as Miyako let up to take a look at the newcomer and Wallace gasped for air. "Uh… yes. But it was cancelled, so I wanted to find you and return the book you lent me last week before finishing up another assignment." He tore his gaze away and held out the fore-mentioned item for her.

"Thanks." Hikari took it, then turned to face the others again. "This is Miyako, and that's Wallace," she introduced them. "And this is Ken - he's the friend I was telling you about."

"The one with the fan following." Miyako gave Ken an appraising look. "I can see why." She elbowed Wallace - but not hard enough to negate the smile he'd managed to reassemble after recovering from her first attack. "Sorry about earlier - this guy just doesn't know how to struggle for his life without endangering others."

Wallace eyed her speculatively. "Maybe I need to observe the master at work, hm?"

"No way - it's practice that makes perfect." Despite her words, she looped her arm through his and grinned widely at him. "I'll kill you again later, all right?"

"I'm all for honing up my skills in private," Wallace agreed pleasantly, patting her hand as if to reassure her and then giving Ken a bit of a smile. "Are we scaring you yet?"

Ken had been watching them with considerable apprehension. "Er…"

"Well, we're off to meet someone for coffee," Hikari interjected, taking pity on him. "So I'll see you later tonight, right, Ken?"

"Of course." He looked a bit relieved. "See you then. Nice meeting you," he added, with a nod for Miyako and Wallace, and made a dignified retreat back down the hallway.

Miyako whistled low when Ken was out of earshot. "He is gorgeous," she noted, watching the boy leave.

"Yeah - even I'd date him," Wallace agreed, not bothered by this show of interest from his girlfriend. "And I'm straight."

"Ken has that effect on most people." Hikari smiled a bit.

"So wrong for Daisuke, though." Miyako shook her head.

Wallace nodded. "Oh yeah. No kidding."

Hikari blinked. "Why would you say that?"

"Well… you kind of have to meet Daisuke to understand," Miyako explained, raising her eyebrows at the shorter girl. "He's… well. Let's just say he's extremely picky when it comes to dating. And Ken's totally not his type."

"Oh." That was disappointing. She had to admit, she'd been harboring some hopes for this guy she was about to meet. "Why, what's wrong with him?"

"He's too quiet, for one."

"Too reserved," Wallace added, nodding again.

"Too serious. And the way he's working on his schoolwork when he had a class cancelled…" The taller girl let out a loud sigh. "That's a definite drop on the scale of dateability. It's like wasting free time."

"Ken's sort of a genius," Hikari admitted. "He can get pretty intense about school - I think he'd want someone a bit more focussed as well."

"A genius, hm? In that case, add 'too smart' to that list." Miyako rolled her eyes upward, as if this were still a subject of some aggravation to her. "I still think Daisuke was just trying to annoy me with that one, though."

"Oh well… I guess it was worth a try." The smile found its way back onto Hikari's face. "Are we going for coffee, or are we just planning to stand around in the hallway all afternoon?"

"I thought you'd never ask."

~~~~~~

Daisuke liked Hikari.

She was cute, first of all - not as a substitute for the 'pretty' factor, but more like as an added feature. Cute and pretty made a good combination. On top of that, she was confidant, funny, and made no attempts to talk about things that might be over someone else's head. She smiled, teased Miyako and Wallace - as well as Daisuke himself - and laughed without holding back.

Hikari had a nice laugh.

And then, of course, there was her unavailability. He was free to like her - even to admit he liked her - and Miyako could inflict no consequences on him.

A good set-up all around.

"You should hang out with us tonight," Miyako said, after one of those moments of companionable silence had fallen. She grinned at Hikari. "That way I wouldn't just be surrounded by boys. Do you have any idea how depressing it is when everyone around you is male and only one is available to you?"

Wallace looked injured. "Only one? You mean I'm not good enough on my own?"

"Yeah, sure you are." She patted him on the head condescendingly, and gave the girl across from her an expectant look. "So, do you want to come?"

"I'd like to, but I can't." Hikari smiled apologetically. "I'm going out tonight with Ken, Takeru, and Takeru's new boyfriend - he's finally introducing us."

Miyako rolled her eyes upward in preparation for a complaint about Iori. "I know how - "

"Takeru?" Daisuke interrupted, earning himself a glare but successfully ignoring it by staring at Hikari instead. "Tall guy? Blond hair? Blue eyes?"

She looked a bit surprised. "You know him? He's never mentioned you…"

Daisuke leaned back in his seat and grinned at them all, feeling smug. That means I got the first introduction out of both groups of friends. "I just met him last Friday." He made some show of being nonchalant about it, glancing at Miyako sideways as he did. "Ran into him at the pizza place with Iori."

"What!?" Miyako stood, slamming her fists down on the top and staring down at him with blazing eyes. "Iori!? Are you saying…!?"

"Yeah, I guess Takeru is Iori's new guy. Pretty small world, huh?" Daisuke stole one of Miyako's donuts while she was busy gaping at him. "Hey, how come you guys didn’t get more of the chocolate glazed ones? Everyone knows those are the best kind."

By the way she was twitching, Miyako wasn’t sure if she wanted to throttle him or pump him for more information.

Hikari spared her the need to make that decision. "Why don't you just come along with us tonight?" she suggested, in that steady sort of tone people used when they were trying to make peace between two warring parties. "Then we can all get an introduction, and everyone will be happy."

Miyako glanced at Wallace, who shrugged. "Works for us," she translated, and gave Daisuke a hard look. "You'd better thank her for saving you from an early grave, Motomiya."

"Yeah right." He finished off the donut. "I probably can't go with you guys, though - much as I know you'll miss me and all. We've got practice, and things might run kinda late."

"Well, you've already met everyone, so it doesn't matter." Miyako waved a dismissive hand. "Anyway, it's not like your presence would ever improve anything."

"Hey!"

Hikari was shaking her head even before Daisuke got out his indignant protest. "He hasn't met Ken," she pointed out.

"That's right!" Miyako snapped her fingers, then grinned wickedly at the soccer player. "Wait until you see this guy, Daisuke - he puts sunsets to shame when it comes to natural beauty."

That might've been more interesting if he hadn't heard it from her so many times. "Yeah, so?"

"So, he's everything you don't want, but if he can make Wallace want to jump his bones, you can bet he's going to catch your eye." She seemed more than pleased with this bit of information; of course, Miyako was one of the few girls he knew who'd be happy if her boyfriend announced he thought some other guy did it for him.

Just 'cause she's a freak, though.

Daisuke glanced from her to Wallace, who shrugged without looking embarrassed at all. "He was prettier than most girls - what can I say?"

"Nothing, I guess," Daisuke admitted, imitating the shrug and reaching for another donut - which earned him a slap on the wrist and a brief glaring contest. "Sorry, but I trust your taste less than I trust hers - you're the one dating her, right?"

"That's it, mister! No more donuts for you!"

"Aw, c'mon! It was a joke!"

"Not a very funny one."

Hikari laughed. The sound hadn't gotten any less nice. "I'd love to stay and see who wins the brawl you two are about to start, but I've got class in a few," she announced, standing up. "We'll be at Hero's around six or so."

"All right," Miyako said agreeably, ignoring Daisuke. "See you then."

"Bye." And with a cute flick of her fingers, she was off.

Daisuke watched her go. Her hips had an interesting way of swishing as she walked - he definitely approved of that.

Miyako poked him in the forehead. "See something you like?"

He swatted irritably at her hand. "So what if I do?"

"Well, she's not going to date you," the girl pointed out, a bit smugly. "This is what happens if you keep rejecting people who are willing to be with you - you fall for someone who isn't, and then you're stuck."

Daisuke scowled at her, whatever budding interest he'd been nursing for Hikari evaporating at her words. "Well, who said I fell for her? Just because I think she's hot doesn't mean I'd wanna date her anyway."

"Uh-huh." From the look on her face, Miyako didn't buy that. "Keep telling yourself that - just don't expect to find anyone if you only ever let yourself fall for the ones you can't have."

Caught without a retort, Daisuke could only stare at her in frustration as the table lapsed into complete silence.

~~~~~~

The on-campus pub wasn't all that busy - not that Ken had expected it to be. It was a Monday night, after all, and the pre-weekend slacking didn't start until later in the week. Normally, this suited him just fine if that was where he was spending his evening, but this time he wasn't too sure what to make of the company.

"Miyako and Wallace are really fun people, Ken," Hikari assured him, sliding into "their" booth and scooting over so he follow her. "They just don't have what most people would call a 'conventional' relationship - but it works for them, and they get along great. You can't really have a dull conversation when they're both there."

"That's part of what worries me," he said dryly, taking the seat. They were the first two there, mostly due to his minor obsession with punctuality but also partly because Hikari's style tended towards 'low maintenance' and she didn't take that long to get ready.

She smiled at him, a bit teasingly. "Do they frighten you, Ken? It's just a healthy mating ritual, you know."

Ken shook his head, and took a moment to choose his following words. "It's not my business, but something like that would be too heavy on the 'unpredictable' side for me," he said, trying to be diplomatic about it.

"You don't need to be careful what you say to me, Ken."

"All right… I think they're both insane, if you want the truth."

Hikari laughed. "That's more like it."

He rested his face on one hand, propping his elbow on the table, and smiled faintly. "I guess I'm a bit boring when it comes to this sort of thing."

"Whatever works for you," she replied, with customary kindness and a squeeze for his shoulder. "I'm glad I was able to force you out of your apartment today - you need a break from steady schoolwork."

"Don't remind me - I've got two programs in two different languages that need to be up and running by Friday. XML with CSS isn't much of a problem, but the C++ can really get messy."

She blinked at him. "Ken, I haven't got a clue what you're talking about."

"The first is a web programming language." That was Miyako's voice; when they looked up, she was sliding into the booth across from them. "C++ is an extension of the C language - which is used for writing most operating systems. You're a Computing Science student, Ken?"

"It's one of my majors." Privately, he was a little astonished - he hadn't seen Miyako in the labs… "Are you in the program, too?"

"CSOM," she clarified, scooting over to make room for her boyfriend. "You wouldn't see me much - we work in different labs. You might've been in a couple of my classes last term, but I'm taking mostly electives this time around." She leaned forward, brown eyes flickering with interest behind her glasses. "You said one of your majors - double major?"

"Right." Ken relaxed a bit. He hadn't had time to make an assessment of this friend of Hikari's over the short conversation in the hallway, but this was a lot better than he'd expected. She seemed more than a little intelligent. "The second is Accounting."

"That's a heavy course load," Wallace commented.

"He's a genius, remember?" Miyako grinned across the table at Ken. "And just to show my respect… I'll have Wallace buy the first round." She ruffled her boyfriend's hair affectionately.

"You're too kind," the blond said wryly, getting up again. "Anything special for you people?"

Ken smiled despite himself, giving up his drink order. There was some kind of vague charm to their good-natured wrangling - as long as it was disconnected from him personally, of course.

"You guys are early, too," Hikari noted, after a minute or so of the silver-decked girl taking off her coat and organizing her seat to her own satisfaction.

Miyako made a face, resting her hands on the table again. "Wasn't my idea - Wallace told me you ran into him and told him five-thirty. So actually, we're twenty-five minutes late."

The shorter girl giggled. "He was trying to trick you into being on time, wasn't he?"

"Yeah, and the worst part is, it worked."

Wallace came back, grandly placing a tray of the various drinks down in front of them. "I managed to pick up a couple of stragglers," he said, and slid into the booth so everyone else could get a good look at Takeru and the short, green-eyed boy eyeing them all with considerable apprehension.

"Introduction time?" Miyako suggested after a moment, with a deceptively sweet little smile.

"I'll go first." Takeru cleared his throat, and looked over at Ken's side of the table. "Hikari, Ken…" He motioned to each of them in turn. "Iori."

There were some smiles and nods and 'nice to meet you's. Iori seemed quiet, but nice. Ken wondered how he'd managed to become one of Miyako's close friends.

"This is Takeru," Iori said, when it was his turn. "And these two are Miyako and Wallace."

"Nice to finally meet you," Miyako said, giving her friend a bit of an annoyed look. "With all the secrecy, I was starting to think you had a third eye on your forehead or something."

Takeru laughed, and sat down beside Ken. "No such luck," he said, as his boyfriend took the last empty seat next to Wallace. "I'd make a lot of money as a side-show freak, though, wouldn't I?"

That seemed to successfully lighten the mood, and everyone started reaching for their drinks.

"Everyone's met everyone now, haven't they?" Iori confirmed, glancing around the table with his overly serious green eyes. "This should take care of introductions."

"Not quite," Hikari replied, sipping her drink.

Takeru leaned around Ken to give her a curious look. "Who's left?"

"Ken needs another introduction," Miyako answered for her, setting down her glass.

Ken frowned. He thought he'd met everyone out of the two groups. "I do?"

"Yes," Hikari confirmed. "You haven't met Daisuke yet."

"Who's Daisuke?"

"What about me?"

Ken looked up - along with most of the others. The boy standing at the foot of their table had a soccer bag over one shoulder and a freshly-showered look about him. "Sorry I'm late, guys - practice was at three-thirty today, and we only went for two hours."

"I thought you said you wouldn't make it at all," Miyako accused, glaring.

"Oh… yeah." He scratched his head sheepishly. "I mixed up the times for practice, and almost missed warm-up." His eyes slid around the booth, noting the lack of seats. "Hey, I'm gonna grab a chair, all right? Hold on." He dumped the bag on the ground carelessly and kicked it under the table so he could grab a chair from nearby.

Hikari leaned forward to watch him as she spoke. "Want me to introduce you, Daisuke?"

"Naw, I can guess - it's more fun that way." The newcomer pulled up a seat, and looked up, pointing his finger at each of them in turn. "Okay, so I know you… you… you… you… not you… you." The indicating finger slid back to Ken again, and the tan-skinned boy gave him a sideways grin with a clumsy sort of charm to it. "Got a name?"

He did, but for a moment, Ken couldn't quite recall it. "Uh… Ken," he answered, intelligently enough, and shook himself mentally for being taken aback by this sudden appearance. "And you're Daisuke?"

"That's me." Actually, Daisuke was more than little attractive, in an energetic, rough-around-the-edges sort of way. He had large brown eyes, a thin frame, and appealingly mussed red-brown hair. It was the sort of sight that encouraged staring - and some degree of guilty fantasy, depending on how much a person liked the male gender. "You're Ken Ichijouji, aren't you?"

"Right." And this was probably leading to…

"I saw you in the summer league - man, you're an awesome player!" Daisuke stole a gulp from Takeru's drink, and those brown eyes turned curious. "So how come you're not playing for the school?"

Ken sighed.

 

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