Expanding Horizons

 

Part Three

 

"At least you two managed to hold off until after exams." Hikari glanced around at the boxes scattered in Ken's less than spacious living room. "From the way he was talking, I was half thinking he'd be pulling all his things up here the night you asked him."

"Yeah…" Ken looked distracted. "He would have, if I hadn't talked him out of it," he mused.

She nudged him in the shoulder. "Is there something on your mind?"

"You mean besides the fact that Daisuke decided he needed to go out with his friends instead of unpacking?" He smiled wryly. "Yes, actually, there is. Did you know that his family takes him and his sister out for dinner every year after exams end?"

"He never mentioned it."

"Well, they do." Ken didn't look too thrilled by the prospect. "Apparently, it's a Motomiya family tradition, and any significant other has to be invited along."

"Ohhhh." Hikari nodded slowly, understanding now why her friend was so preoccupied. "So you're worried about meeting them, is that it?"

"To be perfectly honest… yes."

"Oh Ken." She smiled, patting him on the shoulder. Just a fling, and you're having fits of anxiety about meeting his parents? "You could charm just about anyone you met - I'm sure they'll adore you."

He didn't answer that, but frowned a little. "Daisuke's thrilled," he reported, voice dropping a bit lower. "His sister always has someone with her, and she boasts enough to get on his nerves. He expects to make her green with envy somehow."

Hikari grinned. "You would be the person to take along for that."

"Not if his sister looks for the same things in a relationship that he does," Ken replied, with a bit of a smile.

"True enough."

"I suppose he'll have to meet my parents as well," he went on, looking thoughtful. "Since I'll have met his. I should probably give them a call some time."

I can't believe you're meeting each other's parents… Mentally, Hikari shook her head. Despite what either of them said about it, this was rapidly evolving from a fling into something much more serious. I hope they know what they're doing, that's all… or someone's feelings are going to be badly hurt.

Or… they'd just both live in denial for the rest of their lives.

The problem with realizing this, though, was that there was no way to make Ken listen to her. Despite the fact that he was one of the most rational people she knew, he tended to get unbelievably irritable when he thought she was trying to lecture him. And anything related to his love life was a touchy subject.

Of course, Hikari had no one to blame but herself for that. If she hadn't tried to set him up so many times in the past, he might actually listen to her advice now.

I guess it really is none of my business, though…

"So when is this dinner date, anyway?" she asked, instead of bringing up her concerns.

"Saturday. And at least he remembered to tell me about it before then." It wasn't clear whether or not Ken was aware of the way his expression softened. "He's so careless - if his mother hadn't happened to call while I was here to ask…"

Hikari shrugged. "It's part of his appeal - he wouldn't be Daisuke if he weren't careless." She checked her watch. "I wonder what's keeping Takeru."

"Well, we're not in any hurry. Between Daisuke and Miyako, we certainly aren't going to be the last ones to get there."

"Maybe, but I don't want to miss the beginning of the movie," she answered, a bit peevishly. "If Daisuke or Miyako is late, at least we can still get inside and save them a seat without having to miss out on anything ourselves."

"You have a point," Ken conceded.

"So how come you're not at the summer league try-outs with him, anyway?" Hikari peered curiously at her friend. "You were there last year."

"My work schedule was different," he admitted. "I won't have time for it this year. Besides, it's better if we're not in on that together - after all, we will be living together. We'll probably end up getting on each other's nerves as it is."

Maybe… Hikari opened her mouth to reply to that, but Takeru chose that moment to announce his arrival by knocking on the door, and she never got the chance to comment.

You haven't managed to irritate each other enough yet

~~~~~~

"You aren't what I pictured, you know."

Daisuke scowled sideways at his sister. She ignored him, still giving Ken the trademark Motomiya oblivious smile across the table. "When Mom told me Daisuke had a new boyfriend, I was expecting some crazy biker guy or something. With a tattoo count that was somewhere in the double digits. And all of them in weird places."

Ken blinked, swallowed, and set down his fork carefully across his now-empty plate. "I see…" His voice was carefully neutral.

"I hate you," Daisuke muttered to his sister.

"Hey, last time you asked my date if he was an alcoholic just because he had two glasses of wine." Jun shot him a superior look, not bothering to lower her voice for the benefit of the one person at the table who was not a member of the family.

Dinner had gone pretty well so far. Daisuke liked to think his parents were pretty cool, and they really seemed to like Ken. Which wasn't hard, because everyone liked Ken. He just had this aura about him that defied dislike. Plus, they probably thought he was some kind of good influence.

Hah! More like I'm a bad influence…

"Have you gotten any of your marks back for your courses, Ken?" his mother asked, easily covering up for her children.

"Not yet - sometimes it takes a while."

"Isn't Jun's boyfriend taking something to do with computers now?" Daisuke's father finished his meal and joined the conversation. "Or is he finished already?"

"Engineering, Dad," Jun reminded him, in a slightly offended tone. "There's quite a difference. And he graduated this year." She smiled happily to herself. "He got a better job, so we're moving into a bigger apartment."

"How come he's not here?" Daisuke jumped on that one. "And didn't the guy you brought last year take Engineering, too?"

Jun's smile turned smug. "Of course he did - it's the same guy."

"Someone managed to put up with you for a whole year? What nuthouse did you get him admitted to?"

"Very funny, Daisuke." She frowned at him. "I happen to be very sought-after, you know."

"Sure - by scientists who lost their monkey to experiment on."

Ken covered his mouth and politely turned his snicker into a cough. "Excuse me for a minute," he said, getting up. "I have to use the washroom."

Jun watched him go, then turned on her brother. "I really can't believe it."

"What?" he said, a bit irritably. He was kind of sick of people making that comment about him and Ken. He knew already - couldn't they shut up about it? "That your brain needs to be donated to science?"

She ignored that. "I can't believe you're actually dating someone with class."

"Hey, I have class!"

Jun snorted. His mother smiled - a smile that said 'of course you do, dear'. "He's a nice boy," she commented. "I hope you hold on to him, Daisuke."

He frowned down at his plate, not sure if he should tell her that he and Ken were probably just messing around. "I'll see what happens, okay?"

"Good answer," his father approved.

Jun wasn't satisfied with that, apparently. "So," she began, eyeing her brother out of the corner of her eyes, "are you serious about this guy?"

Silence.

Daisuke looked past her. His mother was watching him too, with more than just idle curiosity. She was always concerned about his and Jun's relationships, fretting more about their possible success and failure and whether or not they were good for her 'babies' than either of them ever did. His father, he noted, had become very interested in his water.

Traitor…

"Uh… well…" He didn't want to lie about this. Daisuke swallowed, and went for the answer that came to him instinctively. "Not… Not really, I guess."

And somehow, it felt wrong to say it. Felt like he'd betrayed Ken by saying it, betrayed his mother and sister by disappointing them - and especially betrayed himself, because he wasn't really sure if that was how he felt about it any more.

But that scared him, just a bit.

"Oh. Well, whatever." Jun shrugged. "As long as it works for you, I guess…"

"Yeah." That didn't make Daisuke feel any better. He wished Ken would get back, so they could pay the bill and go - and leave this conversation behind them.

His mother sighed, with just a bit more drama to it than was really believable. "He would've looked really nice in family pictures," she said, mournfully.

The corners of her husband's mouth twitched, but he said nothing.

Family…

~~~~~~

The apartment was quiet.

Daisuke was at his part-time job, which had fairly flexible hours and seemed to work well with his soccer scheduling. Ken actually hadn't seen him at all that day, thanks to his own job and a morning practice, and it had been quiet enough to hear a pin drop since he'd come home.

Perfect for reading, of course, but it could be unnerving when you were no longer used to it.

Ken set his book down and glanced at his watch. Daisuke would be home soon, unless he decided to hang around and mingle with his co-workers. Considering he worked in an athletic goods store, this was a likely occurrence.

Oh well…

Sinking back into the couch cushions, Ken reached for the remote. He didn't watch a lot of TV, but he wasn’t getting much reading done any more anyway. Time for something utterly mindless.

He was in the middle of flipping through channels to see if there was anything more entertaining than a game show on when the front door clicked open and Daisuke slunk back into the apartment.

"Hey," he said wearily, tossing his work clothes carelessly off to the side somewhere and making a beeline for the couch. "What're you watching?" There wasn't much interest in the glance he spared for the TV.

"Nothing yet - did you have something in mind?"

"No." Daisuke abruptly rolled onto the couch with his head resting on Ken's lap and let out a long, frustrated breath. "I hate work."

"Don't we all?" Despite the lack of sympathy those words might suggest, Ken ran his fingers through Daisuke's hair soothingly. "Now's the time to relax, if any."

"Mm." That could be counted as agreement, or it could just be Daisuke's way of saying he didn't feel like taking the energy to answer. He shut his eyes and let out another long breath, less frustrated this time.

Ken couldn’t help smiling to himself. He'd noticed that his lover tended to be one way or the other - either full of energy or unwilling to move. The ground between those two wasn’t visited often. But it was so Daisuke that he couldn’t help but be charmed by it, at least a little.

He also couldn't recall the exact moment when he'd started using Daisuke's name as an adjective. It tended to be applied to things he found amusing or interesting - or occasionally irritating - and was generally fond of. It's Daisuke - it drives you crazy in one way or another, but you can't help but love it.

In a general sense, of course.

"Hey…" Daisuke muttered, not opening his eyes. "How come you're so quiet?"

Ken didn't stop combing his fingers through his lover's hair. "I was thinking."

"Figures." The edges of Daisuke's mouth tugged up a bit at that. "Talk to me."

"About what?"

"I don't care. I love your voice. Just talk."

Ken felt warm. "All right," he agreed, and sat back a bit more, thinking about it. The moment was just so golden… For whatever reason, he felt it was about time he came out and said it. "I had a brother until I was eight years old, named Osamu."

"Mm."

"He was pretty good, as far as brothers go," he went on, fairly certain that Daisuke was paying attention to him, even if he didn't respond much. "We argued, but it wasn't so bad. Most of the time, he was nice to me."

"Not like Jun."

"No… not many siblings are like Jun," Ken agreed, and they both smiled at that, too lazy and caught in the moment to actually snicker. "My parents were really proud of him, because he was a genius, sort of. Precocious." For some reason, talking about it now didn't seem so painful and reluctant.

"So he was a lot like you."

"Well, not quite," he admitted, taking some soothing energy himself from the motion of his fingers. "I wasn’t very smart until after he died - it felt like I needed to replace him, in a way. So my parents wouldn't be as disappointed. It probably wasn't necessary, but I did it anyway. I went through a few psychiatrists, but most of them thought that focussing on my schoolwork wasn't necessarily a bad thing. It kept me from thinking too much about it."

Daisuke had gone fairly still as he talked; when he finished, the shorter boy opened his eyes and looked up at him. "How did he die?"

The question wasn’t really insensitive; Ken was more gratified by the fact that Daisuke was really listening than anything. "He… was hit by a car. I saw it - which explains the psychiatrists, I suppose. It's one of those images you don't forget."

"I guess not." Daisuke had turned over and was looking at him fully by then. "I can't even think about what I'd do if that happened to Jun. I mean, yeah, she's annoying, but still… I don't know. It's one of those things that scar you for life, huh?"

"That's true enough," Ken agreed ruefully.

"Aw…" Daisuke hauled himself up until he was sitting on Ken's level, and took hold of his shoulder, leaning forward to kiss him with that kind of aching slowness that went along with the sex sometimes when it was less rushed. It was one of those kisses that said 'I know it means something to you; thanks for sharing'. At least, at the moment it did. "See what you did? You forced me to get up," Daisuke mumbled against his lips.

"Don't think I'm going to apologize." Ken's eyes were half-lidded; he wasn’t really concentrating on the sight of Daisuke as much as he was taking in their shared warmth. "How tired are you, by the way?"

Daisuke's mouth turned up at the edges again. "You coming on to me, Ichijouji?"

"What's it to you, Motomiya?"

"Nothing." But the grin on his face and the way his hand tightened on Ken's shoulder made that into a lie. "I'm not that tired," he answered casually, and closed those few centimeters between them again.

~~~~~~

Somewhere between the middle of June and the end, the weather went from 'muggish' to 'swelteringly hot'. Anyone with an air conditioner was elevated to instant popularity, and those without resorted to cold baths and showers.

And, in Daisuke's case, standing in front of an open refrigerator in only his boxers.

Ken wasn’t fond of heat. It made him cranky and irritable, and thinned his resistance to his lover's idiocy. Daisuke was hardly an ideal person to live with - he was overbearing, occasionally obnoxious, and often stubborn as a mule. He also disliked being told what to do and when, and tended to exercise his right to do whatever he damn well pleased, no matter who he happened to offend or inconvenience in the process. Most of the time, those things could be overlooked.

It was harder to do so on a day that made the city feel like it had been shoved into god's oven and was currently being baked until it browned. Particularly when the air conditioning was out - and especially since the outage was the result of Daisuke messing with it.

"You're going to spoil half the food in there," Ken said peevishly, not bothering to pretend that he'd come into the kitchen for any reason other than to complain. "Shut the door and go take a cold shower."

"Hey, whatever." Daisuke shot him an equally irritated look over his shoulder, and reached into the fridge - in a show of defiance - to pull out a neat circle of red-packaged cheese.

Ken stared. "Is that the Gouda cheese I just bought?"

The wrapper was already stripped and tossed onto the counter. "Yeah." Daisuke took a bite, and continued to speak around it. "So?"

"I told you yesterday that I didn't want you to eat it." That grated on him - like another wave of stifling heat, or many more of waves of thoughtlessness crashing free from Daisuke's bare shoulders as he stuffed the last of his pilferage into his mouth. "Or does that not make a difference?"

"I forgot. Sorry." The shorter boy shrugged, facing him again. "I'll get more when I go shopping tomorrow."

"If your memory's that bad, how do I know I can trust you with that?" Ken replied, striding across the room in a clipped, angry sort of way, and slamming the fridge door shut. It seemed like he'd been dealing with Daisuke's foolishness forever - pushing aside that resentment because he didn't feel like dealing with it. But right now, with the damp heat clinging to the air like a gaseous poison… he wanted to let the other boy know exactly how much this bothered him.

Daisuke's eyebrows came down. "Well, it's not like you trust me with anything else around here."

"What does that mean?"

"It means," he began, jabbing a finger toward Ken's chest, "you still think this is your apartment. 'My Gouda cheese.' 'My air-conditioning.' 'My power bill.' Like I'm just some kinda unwanted guest who happens to pay half the rent and isn't really allowed to touch anything except with your permission."

There may or may not have been truth in that; all Ken saw at the moment was Daisuke's attempt to shift the conversation around until he was no longer the one at fault. "Well, it wouldn't have to be like that if you'd grow up and start thinking for once!" he snapped. "There's a certain amount of courtesy expected when you're living with other people, you know - or is the concept of courtesy too much for you to handle?"

"Hey, maybe if I thought I was actually allowed to live here, I'd get more practice!" Daisuke was really starting to get angry now; Ken could tell by the way his fists clenched, shoulders tensing and eyes narrowing even further. "Excuse me for getting something to eat out of the fridge we share!"

I can't believe he's trying to turn this around on me… "Which happens to be the one thing I asked you not to eat! One thing! Can't you handle that much?"

"Whatever, Ichijouji - if I hadn't done that, you would've found something else to bitch about that I'm somehow doing wrong." Daisuke suddenly stalked forward, pushing past him to get out of the kitchen, toward the bedroom. "I don't need this today - I'm getting the hell out of here."

"Oh, right, run away after you've messed up - avoiding the problem should solve it just fine," Ken shot after him, more than frustrated that everything seemed to be bouncing back off the shorter boy's chest instead of sinking in as it should.

Daisuke was out again in the next instant, pulling on a shirt with harsh, quick movements that laid out his answering frustration. "Yeah, you should talk about avoiding problems - you're the one who spends his life buried in his books hoping you don't offend someone enough to make them go play in traffic just to get away from you!"

Ken couldn't help but take in a sharp breath at that point, eyes widening instead of narrowing as the statement struck at him. It hurt like a bitch, and instead of puncturing his anger, it burned into it and all but demanded that he lash out with something just as cutting. "This is exactly why I don't like to get involved with people like you," he said - in a more controlled voice that time, and with a tone that could frost just about anything, even on a day as hot as that.

There was silence for a moment as the words hung between them.

They were both thinking it - that threat, the one that stated their relationship was based on nothing substantial. It could end now, because of an open fridge and Gouda cheese, and neither of them was expected to mourn it long. This could be it.

"Fine!" Daisuke finally broke the silence, almost shouting the word instead of hissing it as Ken might've done. His face was a mask of anger, so complete that one couldn't tell if there might be another feeling beneath it. "In that case, I'm outta here!"

He stormed past the kitchen, grabbed his shoes without putting them on first, and was out the door in seconds, slamming it shut behind him so hard that the walls shook.

"Fine," Ken repeated, in a dangerous undertone, to the empty room. He stood there for a moment, watching the door and shaking with rage.

And wondering why it felt so cold on one of the hottest days of the summer.

~~~~~~

"Are you going to tell me why you're sitting here in your boxers and a bright red shirt that says 'Kiss my donkey!' in big black letters, or would you rather glare at me like I'm somehow responsible?"

Daisuke ignored that, but discontinued his glare across the table in the pizza restaurant in favor of slumping back into his seat and staring at the surface of the table instead. "Stupid Ken," he muttered, without much feeling.

He didn't like the way this was upsetting him at all. Sure, he was annoyed, and he hated Ken's habit of treating their apartment like his own private property, but he couldn't stop going over their argument in his head. It was a dumb thing to fight about, but they'd both said some pretty nasty things over it. He hadn't meant to dig up the car thing - especially since he doubted Ken told many people about his dead brother - but at the time, he'd been so intent on saying something that would have an impact that he would've gone with anything he could come up with.

I wonder if he's okay. Guilt was starting to ease in through the confusion. The flash of hurt in Ken's eyes refused to leave the front of his mind and settle down into the catalog of mental images he wanted to forget.

Miyako rested her arms on the table and raised an eyebrow at him. "What did Ken do?"

"None of your business. Butt out."

"Oh, well thanks a lot." Now it looked like she was irritated too. "Here I am, being all generous and trying to help you with your problems, and what do you do? Throw your attitude in my face. Jerk."

Daisuke was all set with a retort for that one, but for some reason, he just couldn't summon up the will to hand it to her. "Leave me alone, will you?"

"Come on, Daisuke." Miyako's tone went softer, wheedling, and she reached across the table to catch hold of his wrists - probably more to keep him from escaping than to comfort him in any way. "I can tell you're feeling bad, or you'd have picked a fight with me by now. What happened?"

"Nothing." That was what breaking things off with Ken was supposed to be, right? Just because it didn't feel like it was…

"Spill it, Motomiya."

Daisuke let out another frustrated breath. He couldn't summon up the same anger he'd spat in Ken's face earlier, but he did manage to dredge up some irritation. It would've been easier if the building didn't have air conditioning, and the temperature weren't so controlled. "We had a fight, okay? Happy now?"

"A fight like when you two couldn't agree on which movie to rent last week, or a fight like you're not welcome in the apartment now?" She said it in such a matter-of-fact tone, Daisuke couldn't help but blink at her. "What? People fight. It's part of living together. You should know that by now."

"I know that." He crossed his arms, scowling at her. For some reason, he felt hot again, even without being outside in the evil weather. "This whole thing between me and Ken was stupid to begin with. It's not like we'd ever get along, right? No one would ever try to pair us up - we don’t work. We make a lousy couple, and now we're finally realizing it, and this is it. I can't live with him any more. He's so… so… argh!"

Daisuke brought his head down, forehead connecting with the table sharply. "Me and Ken never had a chance anyway, did we?" he went on, not sure what to make of Miyako's lack of response. All he knew was that he didn't want to listen to the silence. "We didn't even like each other that much, right? He wasn't anything I wanted, so I never could've been serious. He never wanted anyone like me, so I couldn't have meant anything to him anyway. We'd be way happier if everything ended now. Both of us. Just because it - "

"Daisuke…"

" - lasted this long, it doesn't mean it's not still gonna fall apart. I mean, look at - "

"Daisuke…"

" - how easy we fell apart. Just over some lousy cheese! There's no way we could work with something that couldn't hold up to - "

"Daisuke!"

"All right, all right!" He gave in, closing his eyes and slumping his shoulders. Why did he feel so bad, if this was something inevitable? "Go ahead."

"Thanks," Miyako said sarcastically, and cleared her throat. "As much as I love trying to give meaning to this string of random babbling you're spouting off, I think it'd be much easier if you just told me what the hell was going on. Are you and Ken breaking up?"

"No! Yes. Maybe." Daisuke chewed on his lower lip, thoughtfully. He said he didn't want anyone like me. I said I was leaving. What else can that mean? "Probably."

"Oh. Well, that stinks, I guess." She grimaced a bit, no longer looking so annoyed with him. "I'm sorry."

I'm not supposed to care. Not caring. Yeah, that's it - I'm totally, completely fine. "Hey, whatever, right?" He forced a grin. "Like I said, we stunk as a couple. Anyone could see that. It's not like it would've lasted - hell, I'm amazed it lasted this long. So us fighting and stuff really couldn't be avoided." Why wasn't it making him feel better? It was true, wasn’t it?

Miyako stared at him for a moment, expression blank. "So, what you're trying to tell me is that somehow this fight was predestined from the beginning, and everything was meant to end this way?"

"Well, yeah, sorta." Daisuke suddenly became very interested in the way his fingers caught on the rough spots of their table. "Had to end some time, right? No amount of work could've fixed something like this one." It was true. Definitely true.

"Daisuke, grow up."

"Huh?" At that, he did finally lift his head from the table, blinking at her. "What do you mean?"

She sighed, rolling her eyes upward. "You're sitting here on your own - not even eating, I might add - and whining about how your relationship's fucked up. Not to mention making all kinds of excuses so it doesn't end up being your fault somehow."

The accuracy of that statement struck a chord somewhere… Daisuke's chest hurt - the sort of thing that happened when he was watching a show that somehow managed to trick him into investing emotions and then turned sad. Me and Ken are fucked up… He wrapped his arms around his stomach, ignoring how stupid that had to look, and leaned down again, his forehead back on the table. "I don't know what to do," he mumbled, wishing he could die for just a moment. It felt so bad…

"Two options: break up or stick it out," Miyako said, again with that matter-of-fact tone. "But don't complain to me about your problems. How the hell am I supposed to know what's going on in your relationship? Talk to Ken."

"I don't want to talk to him."

"Well, you have to, so deal."

Daisuke swallowed, hard. "I… just…" He didn't know what he wanted to say any more, and his feelings about this whole sorry mess were just that - a sorry mess. "I don't want to break up with Ken," he said after a minute, voice low.

Miyako hesitated for a moment, then sighed again. "All right, I'll bite. How come?"

He hesitated for a moment, still wanting to hold back, and found some of his irritation again. It was easier to use that as a defense. "I like him, okay? Got a problem?"

"Oh yeah, because you liking Ken inconveniences me greatly. Moron."

"Do you have to be so bitchy about this?" Daisuke glared at the table, not ready yet to face his friend. "I'm having a major problem here - you could be more sympathetic, you know! Anyway, I already made him realize why he doesn't want me anyway, so what does it matter?"

Fuck… Daisuke grimaced. He hadn't really meant to say that. And he got the impression that the pathetic way he said it betrayed more of his feelings about the matter than he really felt like sharing.

There was a moment of silence, and then Miyako spoke up again. "What did he say?" Her tone was considerably gentler.

"He said…" Daisuke swallowed again, trying to push down the hurt feeling that was creeping up his throat. "'This is why I don't like to get involved with people like you.'"

"Oh, Daisuke…" She hesitated again for a moment, then set a comforting hand on his shoulder. "He was probably just angry, you know. People say stuff like that when they're pissed off. What was the 'this' part he was talking about?"

It was somehow easier to pour out the whole story now. Daisuke felt as if something had been lifted off his shoulders, like admitting that he had real feelings for Ken had given him the right to let go of some great burden. "I didn't mean it," he said, when he'd finished. It was somehow important that this was noted, even if Miyako didn't really understand the significance of the playing in traffic thing.

He wasn't about to tell her Ken's secrets, not even if they did break up.

But I don't want us to break up…

"I know - it's just because you're Daisuke and that's what you do. Open mouth, insert foot." Despite her words, Miyako rubbed his shoulder soothingly. "Relax, okay? You give him a while to cool down, and then you go back and the two of you have a nice long conversation. Time to stop messing around, right?"

She was right - he didn't know how she knew what he was supposed to do, but she was definitely right this time. "Yeah."

"Good." She leaned back again, and when he looked up, she was smiling at him. "Now that that's settled, how about something to eat?"

~~~~~~

The door to her friends' apartment swung open so fast that Hikari took an instinctive step backwards, clutching the envelope with her photographs to her chest. "Eep!"

"Hikari." Ken looked disappointed, and he wasn't particularly trying to hide it. He sighed, then moved aside and held the door open. "I'm sorry, I forgot you were coming over today."

She took the invitation and stepped inside. It was almost as hot in the building as it had been outside; she was sweating, and she noticed that Ken was as well, although from the way he acted, it didn't seem like he noticed it. "Who were you expecting?"

Ken shrugged, face shuttering back into a blank mask. "Daisuke forgot his key when he left this morning," he murmured, turning away as if there were some important task he had to return to. "I thought he might've come back for it, or… something."

Hikari felt the need to tread carefully; there was a tension in the way her friend moved that belied the calm. Oh no… This doesn't look good. "Is there something wrong?" she asked, tentatively.

"We had an argument." Ken didn't look back at her, but kept moving into the kitchen.

She waited for a moment, but he didn't say anything else. Normally, Hikari was reasonably self-confident. In most situations, she knew what to do or say, although she got it wrong at least as often as she got it right. In most situations, in fact, she had a clear idea of how to proceed and what she hoped to get out of it.

And now, she found herself with no options presenting themselves.

"I'm sorry," she said awkwardly, following him in and trying to think of something to ask or say - maybe something meaningful or maybe something foolish; either way, she just wanted something. After a moment, she ventured with, "Was it serious?"

Ken was peering into the fridge with apparent fascination, and he didn't choose to turn and look at her as he answered. "Nothing that wasn't expected, I suppose. Would you like something to eat?"

"Um…" Hikari licked her lips, feeling a bit nervous. She wished for a moment that she could leave, and then felt insensitive for wishing it. There was something wrong with her friend; she was going to stay there until she found out what it was and did something to help. "Sure."

"What would you like?"

"Whatever you have is fine."

Ken let out a breath, then smiled wryly, still looking into the fridge. "After all that trouble…" he murmured, almost too quietly for her to hear, and reached inside for something. "How about Gouda cheese?"

"That sounds good," Hikari agreed, more because she suspected it would be better to do so than because it actually sounded good. "What… trouble were you talking about?" she decided to ask, after a moment of silence.

Ken paused, setting the small package on the counter and shutting the refrigerator door behind him. "My argument with Daisuke started because he was eating it," he explained, as if it weren't anything of consequence. "I'd asked him not to. He forgot."

"Oh." That sounded more or less normal, and Hikari allowed herself to relax a fraction. Maybe it wasn’t a serious fight after all, and Ken's tension was just from the heat or some other factor. "Did he leave to blow off some steam?"

"That seems to be the case." Ken was the very picture of forced calm - shoulders stiff, back rigid, not meeting her gaze as he sliced the cheese into neat pieces. "I expect he'll return for his things when he feels ready to face me."

Warning signals went off in a sudden explosion inside Hikari's head. "His… things?" she repeated, slowly and with a certain amount of caution.

His face was typically expressionless when he turned to hand her the small plate on which he'd arranged her snack. "He's not likely to leave them behind, is he? And we'll need to talk about it as well… Moving out can't happen in an afternoon."

"Moving out?" she parroted him, feeling a bit shaken. Then this is serious. They're breaking up… She blinked at the plate of cheese for a moment, then raised her eyes again and met her friend's eyes. They were shielded - almost too much so, as if Ken were desperate not to let anything slip for fear of having everything else come crashing down all at once. He's hurt…

He shook his head, turning away from her. "It was a silly argument, but I think we both said too much. And really, this relationship is based on insubstantial grounds. It's ridiculously simple to shatter something like that."

Hikari felt small and insignificant herself, unsure of what to say to make it all better. "Ken…"

"You don't need to offer condolences or anything," he told her, with the barest hint of a bitter smile twisting at his lips. "Come on, we'll sit down and you can show me your pictures."

She had forgotten about her photos - the mention of them reminded her that they were still clutched tight in one hand, growing damp from the heat. "But they're of you… the two of you."

He nodded, and turned to leave the room, expecting her to follow. "That's fine."

There were a couple of little things - the way Ken's eyes darted to the front door as they passed it, how the room had been cleaned of Daisuke's regular clutter but not his family pictures or decorative items… At the moment, Hikari knew exactly what she wanted to say.

"Is it?"

Ken stopped, and Hikari could feel her heart thudding just a little faster as he turned to face her again. I haven't gone too far… I think. It was hard to tell sometimes with him.

This time, though, she seemed to have got it right. "He brought up something I told him a few weeks ago," he said, the even tone beginning to slip. "About Osamu."

Hikari did not know much about Ken's dead brother, but she knew enough to wince at that.

"I'm sure he didn't mean it; we were both angry. We said things we shouldn't have." Ken shut his eyes and ran one slender hand over them briefly; when he looked at her again, his expression was that of someone who had just realized they were in paradise a second after they'd been condemned to leave it. "I reminded him that I hadn't wanted to be with someone like him in the first place."

"Oh…" Hikari bit her lip, not sure about her words again. I was afraid something like this would happen…

"I realized something after he left," he went on wearily, as if she hadn't spoken. "I told him about Osamu - talked about things I hadn't told you or Takeru. Not because I felt I had to, but because I wanted to."

"Well… he is your lover. So…"

"So I tell him things I haven't told anyone else, trust him implicitly, and carry on as if the sun rose and set in his eyes?" Ken shook his head and smiled wryly, without a trace of humor. "I'm not stupid, Hikari - I knew this stopped being a 'fling' before he moved in here. I avoided thinking about it because I didn't want to admit to myself how serious I was."

Somehow, that wasn't a surprise. "Then why are you letting him leave you, if you care so much?"

"Because it's what he wants. I can't keep him here."

She wasn't about to let that slide. Hikari took in a breath and drew herself up, determination overriding her uncertainty. "Just like that?" she demanded, adopting her best 'Miyako' tone. "Without telling him anything? If you think I or anyone else will let you drown in your own self-pity without even trying for something you want, you'd better think again!"

Ken was silent.

Hikari took that as her cue to go on. "If you don't tell him, I'm going to," she declared, raising her chin. "Or Miyako will. Because someone has to. It's not right to just leave it like this."

The look he returned to her was chilling, despite the heat. "Can't either of you just leave well enough alone? It's none of your business what I do about my personal life."

"We're making it our business." She set the plate of cheese and photos both down on the coffee table and crossed her arms, now firmly convinced of her right to impose her views on the situation. "You're my friend, and Daisuke's my friend, and I'm not watching the two of you do this to yourselves. Now, are you going to tell him or should I?"

Ken sighed, and sank gracefully down onto his couch. "You were much easier to deal with before you met Miyako," he murmured, seemingly drained of anger for the moment.

"She's a good influence," Hikari agreed, and smiled whole-heartedly for the first time since she'd entered the apartment.

~~~~~~

Miyako decided to stay where she was for a while after Daisuke left. She rarely took time for herself any more, between friends and boyfriend, and it was nice for a change. And then, of course, there was the fact that it was unlikely that Daisuke would be back to steal the pizza she'd just ordered.

Hopefully he's fixing things up with Ken right now. She'd never hear the end of it otherwise.

"Miyako!" The seat across from her suddenly gained a slender brunette. "You don't mind if I sit here, do you?"

"Go right ahead." Oh well… Being alone is overrated anyway. "So, what are you up to?"

"Looking for Daisuke, actually," Hikari admitted, then paused to order a glass of water as the waitress came over to see if this newcomer was interested in actually spending money.

"Daisuke went home," the taller girl reported, when that was finished.

Hikari locked gazes with her. "You heard about the fight?"

"How could I not?" Miyako grimaced, not entirely serious about it. "I had Daisuke sitting across from me, moaning about how he didn't want to break up with Ken… For crying out loud, if you don’t want to break up with someone, don't do it!" She shook her head in disgust. "Guys are such babies."

"Either that or overly melodramatic," Hikari agreed, with a bit of a smile. "Or maybe that's just Ken."

"I wouldn't doubt it. He strikes me as the type." Miyako leaned across the table, interested in this little mini-drama despite herself. "What was he doing?"

The other girl made an annoyed sound. "He wanted to keep the fact that he actually does have feelings for Daisuke to himself and suffer in silence as they break up. For no reason at all."

Miyako rolled her eyes upward. "Men!"

"My point exactly." Hikari rested her chin on both hands. "I told him I wouldn't let him get away with it. He promised to tell Daisuke when he gets back."

The taller girl blinked, then laughed.

"What's so funny?"

"Daisuke left here ten minutes ago with every intention of doing the same," she explained, still chuckling a bit. "Aren't they going to feel stupid when they find out all that worrying and melodrama was for nothing?"

Hikari thought about it for a moment, then giggled as well.

"We're a pair of awful busybodies, aren't we?" Miyako grinned.

Her friend beamed back at her. "That's what makes us so lovable."

"You got that right." She nodded smartly. "Daisuke was too impatient to wait and eat my pizza with me, but you're welcome to share it. Care to join me for supper?"

"I'd love to," Hikari agreed, and they smiled across the table at each other with a mutual sense of satisfaction.

Nothing like a relationship successfully manipulated to bring a girl's spirits up.

~~~~~~

"I think," Daisuke said lazily, lounging on his side and running his thumb over Ken's slightly damp shoulder absently, "we should argue more often."

"Not in this kind of heat we shouldn't," Ken negated, but he was smiling in a way that didn't really fit with the words. "And I should remind you that we still haven't had a chance to talk about this argument yet."

They were in bed. It was hot, and Daisuke was sweaty, but at the moment, he didn't mind it enough to do anything about it. Beyond a few groans and breathlessly gasped demands, these were the first words they'd spoken to each other since Daisuke had come in through the front door and met Ken in the hallway.

Some things… really didn't need to be discussed right away.

"What's to talk about?" Daisuke moved his hand away from Ken's shoulder and waved it expansively. "It was a stupid fight. You don't really want to break up with me over something like a package of cheese, do you?"

Despite the light tone, this thought was slightly worrying. If he answered yes…

"That depends entirely on how good the cheese is." Ken's eyes were soft, his words intended to tease, and the shorter boy relaxed. So far, all looked good. "You weren't hoping I would, were you?"

"Not even a little bit." The barest hint of uncertainty in that question was almost like an alarm going off. Reluctantly, Daisuke sat up a bit, propping himself on his elbow. The brush of air as he moved felt good against his overheated skin. "I guess we should talk about that, huh?"

Ken was gracious enough not to say 'I told you so'. "At least we've established the fact that neither of us wants to end things - in the near future, anyway," he began, thoughtfully. "Correct?"

"You never said whether or not you wanted to," Daisuke pointed out without much seriousness. He could afford to take that much lightly, since both the sex and the conversation so far had convinced him that Ken definitely did not want to.

"Let's be serious, shall we?" Ken responded dryly. "No, I don't want to break up with you. Not in the near future, and not in the distant future either, if all goes well." He met and held Daisuke's gaze, eyes dark and very serious.

Daisuke swallowed, suddenly nervous. He'd always had a hard time looking away from Ken when his lover really had his mind set on something, and this wasn't looking to be any kind of exception. It made him uneasy, excited, and ever so slightly intoxicated all at once - something he enjoyed more often than not, especially in bed.

At the moment, though, he'd have to settle for just being anxious about the whole business. "Yeah… uh, me too. Distant future - still together. Sounds good."

"Daisuke," Ken began slowly, and something about the way he said it made the shorter boy's heart start to make itself heard - at least in his own ears. "I want to know if you're serious about this."

Response… response… Need a response. Gotta say something. "Serious?" he repeated stupidly, mind not functioning quite right for some reason.

Fortunately, Ken seemed to have more to say on the subject anyway. "I realize it was intended to be a fling, but my feelings have changed, even if yours haven't." He reached out and brushed aside the fringe that was clinging to Daisuke's forehead, following the motion with his eyes and partially releasing that unofficial hold they'd cast.

Oddly, Daisuke found that this helped. "Changed how?" he asked, letting Ken continue to run light fingers over the outline of his face but not making any move yet to touch him in return.

The movement came to a halt, and Ken sighed, but didn't withdraw yet. "I love you, I suppose," he murmured, in that thoughtful tone he used for things he'd worked out in his head already but hadn't spoken out loud until just then. "It took me by surprise, but now that I think back, it was bound to happen. Neither of us wanted or expected it - isn't that how things work out?"

The faintest hints of bitterness in those words had an effect on Daisuke that was similar to being whacked over the head with a baseball bat. "I… okay," he said, still trying to deal with the first part. He loves me! Holy shit… Who would've called this one? "Hey, wait a minute." The second part was starting to sink in. "Are you saying you didn't want to fall in love with me?"

The corners of Ken's mouth twitched. "And what if I am?"

"Geez, thanks a lot!" Daisuke made a face, but felt much better now that he was back in more familiar territory. He flopped over onto his back, shut his eyes, and tucked his arms up under his head, trying to appear unconcerned. "Well, it's not like I ever wanted to fall in love with you either, you know," he shot back, opening one eye to catch his lover's reaction.

He got silence as a reply.

Ken blinked. Then stared at him, eyes slightly larger than usual. Then, "You… Daisuke?"

"What?"

"You… just said…"

"Oh, that." Daisuke graciously abandoned his indifferent pose, pushing himself up on his elbows and smiling at Ken. "Yeah, I guess I might love you back," he admitted, as if it were no big thing. "Don't know why, though, since you're such a basta - mmm?"

Had he been looking, Daisuke might've noticed the way Ken's eyes widened a notch more, or how his lover stared at him as he talked. The sharp intake of breath and his graceful shift into a position with more leverage were both dead giveaways. But since he'd been concentrating on his own cleverness instead, he didn't notice what was brewing until Ken had rolled over on top of him and was in the process of pinning him to the bed, parting Daisuke's lips with his tongue eagerly and not minding the heat at all.

He never got a chance to finish that sentence.

~~~~~~

"Four months," Ken said into the phone. "As of tomorrow."

"And you still haven't brought him to meet us yet! Ken, sweetie…"

Ken checked the fridge. He'd rearranged things so that Daisuke's favorite snacks were plainly visible - something his lover approved of - and the things he wanted to keep for a while were more or less out of sight. It resulted in less stupid arguments.

The fact that the air conditioning was fixed helped out as well.

"I know, Mama," he said absently into the phone, in response to something she was talking about. It was Daisuke's turn to do the shopping, which meant that the fridge was starting to look bare.

"He sounds like a nice boy - you do have good taste, Ken," his mother went on, cheerily.

"Yes, Mama."

"But you have to bring him home to meet your father and me in person - you can't keep him all to yourself, after all."

"Yes, Mama."

"And you can't hide him from us forever," she added, pointedly.

"Yes, Mama."

"Yes you can, or yes you can't?"

Ken pulled out a container of butter that had been scraped clean and then put back in the fridge. "Yes I can't," he said agreeably, setting the container on the counter and adding 'butter' to the list he was compiling.

"Oh, good. So when are you coming to visit?"

"Sometime soon." Ken looked up as the door opened.

"Man, it's hot out there!" Daisuke dumped his soccer bag, kicked off his shoes, and came into the kitchen to plant the obligatory kiss on Ken's cheek before attacking the fridge. His skin was warm, but it didn't feel bad in the temperature-controlled atmosphere.

Ken smiled, and managed to completely miss whatever his mother had just said. "Sorry, Mama, could you say that again?"

"I asked how soon 'soon' would be."

Daisuke let out a loud sigh, shutting the fridge door. "There's nothing good in there," he complained, commencing a search through the cupboards. "Don't we have any food?"

"It was your turn to shop," Ken reminded him, over the receiver - then went back to his call. "I don't know how soon. We'll talk about it, all right?"

"That your mom again?" Daisuke turned around, a shit-eating grin on his face.

"You told me you'd talk about it last week - haven't you talked yet?"

The shorter boy held out his hand. "Here, let me talk to her - I'll bet I can work something out."

Ken smiled a bit, reaching around Daisuke to shut the cupboard he'd left open. "Actually, Mama, why don't you talk to him yourself - here he is now." He handed over the phone before she had a chance to respond.

Daisuke took it. "Hi, Mrs. Ichijouji. Yeah, that's me. Nice to meet you, too. Uh huh. Yeah, I know it'd be better in person." He met Ken's eyes and grinned again.

"No, I've got soccer games on Saturdays. Yeah, I'll bet your cooking's great - can't wait to try it. Oh yeah, I know he is." That was said with an evil sort of smirk and another glance in his lover's direction.

Ken picked up his list off the counter and used a magnet to pin it to the front of the fridge, then settled in to listen.

"Don't worry, we'll talk about it. Yeah, I know, everyone's pretty busy these days, huh?"

The taller boy's lips twitched slightly.

"Mm-hm. Yeah, he's great. No, he's not working too hard - not while I'm around." Daisuke offered a smoldering look, which had the effect of making Ken smile, amused. "We'll pick out a day some time - Ken'll let you know, huh? Yeah, nice talking with you, Mrs. Ichijouji. Okay. Bye." He hung up.

"You certainly have a way with words," Ken commented, waiting for his lover to put the phone back in its cradle.

"It's one of my many talents," Daisuke bragged, and sidled up to him, slipping one arm around Ken's waist in a half-hearted attempt to be sneaky about it. "So, can I keep you from working too hard?"

Ken made no pretence of being subtle in bringing his own hand up to rest at the back of Daisuke's neck. The skin there was warm and slightly damp, still. "Go have a shower, and we can talk about it."

"Well, have a shower with me, then. We can talk about it while we're in there." Daisuke slid back out of his hold, and pulled his shirt up over his head. He smelled like grass and sweat, but looked like sex brought to life.

"I suppose I could," Ken agreed, allowing himself to be led to the bathroom. "We'll have to talk about visiting my parents some time after that, though."

"How about we just sleep for a while and then have more sex?"

"And then get another phone call from my mother complaining that we're avoiding her?"

"That's later," Daisuke said dismissively, and stopped just before the bathroom door to lean up and come to a halt inches from Ken's lips. "I'm thinking more along the lines of 'now'. Sound good?"

Now… Ken leaned forward to give Daisuke his kiss, ready to discard those thoughts about the future - and about the past, for that matter. Now, he was going to take a shower with his lover.

"Sounds good," he agreed, breaking the kiss momentarily, and smiled.

 

The End