Koushiro Izumi stood at the exit from the bus station, staring at what would be his new home for the summer - and who knew how long after that - in complete chagrin.
The chagrin was not reserved for the town itself - which looked to be small, cozy, and picturesque. It was directed toward his escort - or, rather, lack of escort, since there was no one around.
How am I supposed to find my new apartment?
He'd been hired to work from May until November - after that, it would depend on how well he'd done so far. This was Koushiro's first job outside of college or high school, and he would be starting in less than a week. He'd been hoping to get settled in and possibly meet a few people - getting himself off to a good start.
And there he was, stranded at a bus station, tired and confused and not certain if he should try and ask someone for directions, or see if he could get a cab somewhere.
The question is, do I have any money…? Koushiro checked his wallet and pockets. All he ever carried with him any more were his student credit card and a debit card. It was safer… but it meant that what he had on him wasn't likely to get him very far.
So, walking it was.
This isn't exactly the way I pictured myself spending my first day here…
"Excuse me?" Koushiro angled his course, trying to catch a likely-seeming middle-aged lady who looked like she belonged in the town somewhere. "Can you help - ?"
He never got to find out if she would help, though, because - not looking where he was going - he managed to collide solidly with someone coming from the other direction.
"Gah!" His suitcase and duffle bag slipped from his fingers during the collision, and both hit the ground only a few seconds ahead of Koushiro himself. "Oww… I'm sorry," he apologized, pushing himself up painfully. "I didn't see you coming."
"That's okay." The guy he'd just rammed into didn't sound terribly upset. "No big deal. Here, I'll help you get that." He reached for Koushiro's suitcase handle.
At the same moment, Koushiro himself grabbed for it, and their hands brushed.
The contact seemed somehow… strange.
The redhead looked up quickly, and found himself meeting the faintly amused expression of a taller young man with warm brown eyes, tanned skin, and a huge mound of shaggy brown hair. There was an odd look about him - as if he were too smooth somehow… too well put-together. Koushiro found himself staring for a moment.
This guy is…
"My name's Taichi," the stranger offered, after a moment. "How about you?"
"Koushiro." He had to swallow hard - and it took him a long moment to become aware of the fact that this guy - Taichi - hadn't moved any more than he had. "Uhh… Koushiro Izumi, I mean. You wouldn't happen to live in this area, would you?"
A strange sort of smirk tugged up the corners of Taichi's mouth at that. "I do for now."
It sounds as though he's just visiting, then… Koushiro sighed. "I don't suppose you happen to know your way around, do you?"
"Of course I know my way around." The taller young man grinned at him as if he'd just asked a very stupid question. "This isn't exactly the biggest city in the world to navigate, in case you hadn't noticed."
Koushiro let out a relieved breath, and smiled. "True enough. Can I ask you for a small favor?"
"Go ahead." Taichi waved a hand expansively, still not taking his eyes from Koushiro's face. His gaze was the slightest bit disconcerting.
He's going to get you to your apartment before dark. The gaze doesn’t matter. "I've only just arrived on the bus, and my escort seems to have forgotten me. If you know how to get there, would it be possible for you to give me directions to the Sidhe apartment building?"
"I can do better than that." Taichi grinned at him, lifting the suitcase he'd somehow gained possession of. "I'll take you there. Come on."
And he turned and walked off.
With Koushiro's suitcase.
"Hey, wait!" Koushiro recovered his wits - somewhat, anyway - and jogged to catch up with his mysterious new ally. "It isn't necessary to carry that for me. I mean, I can handle it. I carried it from my old dorm rooms to the bus station earlier today. There's really no need to - "
Taichi waved off his attempts to reclaim the suitcase. "Relax. I'm not going to run off with it, if that's what you're worried about. I just like to act like I'm a nice guy every now and then - if that's okay." He added the last bit with a wry smile.
"Uhh…" Koushiro blinked, somewhat taken aback. "Sure, I guess…"
"Awesome." Taichi seemed to feel he'd won a victory of sorts, because a hint of a smirk was playing on his lips. "In that case… here's another opportunity for me." He changed course abruptly, strolling out onto the street.
"Hey!" Once again, Koushiro found himself chasing after his strange rescuer. "Where are we going?"
"There." Taichi shrugged, and waved a hand at the little café he'd just made a beeline for. "Because you've already decided you're going to let me be a nice guy - so now I'm going to buy you an iced cappuccino."
"Wh-Wha… at?" For the second time in less than five minutes, Koushiro found himself scrambling for words to express his complete bewilderment. "But… my apartment…"
"It's not going to run away, is it?" Taichi grinned at him. "Come on. We can get to know each other." He turned without waiting for the younger man to stutter an answer, and marched up to the door. "Get us a couple of seats outside, huh?"
Koushiro gaped after him. Get to know each other? I only asked for directions! He let out a long breath, watching his companion's back with some apprehension. What kind of person is he, anyway? Besides the sort that made him feel very jumpy… particularly in the general vicinity of his stomach…
Taichi turned to meet his stare, and offered another infectious grin. Despite himself, Koushiro couldn't help but hesitantly return it. He had such a nice smile…
Well… it's not like I have a choice here. I might as well make an attempt to enjoy myself…
"Here you go." Taichi set down the cold drink in front of him, slumping into his seat with his own. "You didn't say what you wanted, so I got you one of my personal favorites. I get it all the time when we're visiting."
Koushiro swirled his straw a little and took an experimental sip. Whatever Taichi had picked out, it was delicious. "'When we're visiting'?" he repeated, curious despite his reservations. "Who are you traveling with?"
"Family." Taichi shrugged again, sipping his own drink. "We're here until the end of October, and then we're gone again. How about you?"
"Basically the same." The redhead smiled a little, taking in a large mouthful. He hadn't realized just how thirsty he'd been… and it was cool and refreshing, too… "However, I'm here on a job. It's merely a trial period - if they decide they still need me in November, I might be staying longer."
"Sounds like a pretty good deal," Taichi said, leaning back in his chair comfortably. "Are you staying here alone?"
"Not exactly," Koushiro admitted. "I replied to an ad out for a roommate. I'll be living with an advanced student who's working on a thesis on a specific sort of mythology - more along the lines of whether or not the myths may actually be plausible than an intensive study of the legends themselves."
Taichi sat up a little, actually looking interested. "What sort of myths?"
"Something that seems to be quite popular around here, from what I've heard." Having an attentive audience was never a bad thing. "He's been talking with some of the people in this area, and not a few of them would swear that there's a hill up in the woods that could be called a 'Fairy Mound' - in the truest sense of the words."
"Really?" There was a strange look in Taichi's eyes; he was giving Koushiro another discomforting stare. "What sense is that?"
"As a gateway." He frowned a little, not entirely sure he liked being the focus of that gaze. "You must have heard something about it. People believe that there are beings who travel through these mounds. They're at a different one every six months, according to legend. A surprising number of people claim to have made contact with them, even."
An odd little smirk was playing at the corners of Taichi's mouth. "Oh yeah?"
Koushiro felt himself flushing. "I don't appreciate being made fun of, thanks."
"I'm not." Taichi lost the strange expression abruptly, offering an apologetic smile. "I've heard the story - I just wanted to hear you tell it." He leaned his chin on one hand. "So what's your opinion on this theory?"
"Well… I'm not a raging fanatic either way." Koushiro smiled back, mollified. And relieved - the look Taichi had given him had been making him nervous. "But I'm willing to admit the theory has some merit. I believe it's important to keep an open mind on these issues. Just because you can't prove a theory doesn't mean it's disproved by default."
"True enough." Taichi finished off the remains of his drink, and tossed the cup toward the trash. It hit the edge and bounced back to roll on the ground a bit. "My aim's usually better than that," he mused, getting up to retrieve it.
Koushiro hurriedly drank his down and got up to place his cup in the garbage. "Could you take me to my apartment now?" he asked politely. For whatever reason, he had mixed feelings about parting company with Taichi. On one hand, he was a bit relieved, but on the other…
Well… Taichi was very attractive - and he had a good humor to him that was somehow quite charming…
But of course, he could very well be a psychotic stalker, Koushiro reminded himself firmly. It was probably best that Taichi left his life for good as soon as he'd been led to his apartment.
"Sure thing." Taichi picked up the suitcase again. "Let's get to it."
The apartment turned out to be a reasonably short walk from the bus station - something for which Koushiro was equally grateful and sorry for. Taichi's easygoing manner made him pleasant to be around.
It was too bad they'd never be meeting again.
"Well, here's where we part ways." The taller man held out the suitcase, finally allowing Koushiro to reclaim possession of it. "We should do lunch some time."
"Thank you very much for your help," Koushiro said sincerely, ignoring the offer. "It was nice meeting you." He reached out for his suitcase
"Likewise. And that" - Taichi grabbed the hand in mid-reach - "was a fantastic date, Koushiro." With another grin for the shell-shocked young man, he raised the hand he'd just captured - without any sort of embarrassment - and kissed the back of it.
Koushiro could only gape at him in response. D… Date…?
"I'll be seeing you around," Taichi said cheerfully, tucking Koushiro's numb fingers around the handle of his suitcase. "After all, I know where you live."
Then he turned and strolled back the way he'd come, whistling some unknown tune and leaving the younger man to stare after him in astonishment.
Koushiro stopped in his tracks, still-bemused thoughts of Taichi slowing his reactions somewhat. He was at the top of the stairs that led up to his new apartment - and there were two ways he could go. One was straight forward - along one side of the building - and the other was to the right - along another side. His apartment was straight forward.
But the girl who'd just addressed him was to the right.
He turned to look at her. "Excuse me?"
"You're new here, right?" The newcomer moved toward him confidently. She was a tall, slender girl with long hair, a short skirt, and large glasses. Also very pretty… from an objective point of view. "Are you Ken's new roomie?"
"Oh… yes." He managed a smile for her. "Do you live here as well?"
"Right down there." The girl waved a hand over her shoulder. She stopped when she reached him, and leaned forward as if inspecting him. Whatever she saw seemed to satisfy her, because she smiled brightly. "You're pretty cute - not as cute as Ken, of course, but then, who is?"
"Huh?" He blinked rapidly, feeling his cheeks grow warm. "What do you…?"
"Miyako Inoue." She thrust a hand at him. "And do you have a name?"
"Uhhh… yes." Amazing how eloquent he was managing to be… really… "Koushiro Izumi. It's nice to - "
" - meet me. I know." Miyako smiled at him, lowering her lashes and giving him a wicked gaze. "It's a lot easier to make you blush than Ken," she almost purred out. "We're really lacking in cute guys at this apartment, you know…"
"Err…" The red coloring was spreading across his face again; he could feel it. Honestly, he was starting to wonder if there was something in the water around this place… "Actually, I - "
The sound of a door slamming open interrupted that; both Koushiro and Miyako started.
"I'm not listening to you any more!"
"Wait a minute! You haven't even given this theory a fair chance… it's - wait! Iori!"
"How many times do I have to tell you?" A somewhat short boy - maybe in his late teens - stormed out of the newly opened doorway down Koushiro's hallway. "I'm not interested in your theories! No matter what you say, the bottom line is that they do not exist!"
"But how can you be so certain of that conclusion?" A taller young man with dark hair and very pale skin chased out after him, his expression set. "I don't mean to come right out and tell you your attitude is wrong, Iori, but you can't close your mind before you're even in possession of all the facts!"
The boy - Iori, apparently - came to a half just before he reached Koushiro and Miyako, a pained expression on his face as he rolled his eyes upward. "Everyone in this crazy city is already convinced that traveling fairies are going to come spirit them away! I don't know why you're encouraging them, Ken. Anyone sensible could tell you you're all insane!"
The dark-haired young man - Ken - did not appear to be daunted by this outburst. "Anyone sensible would at least look at the research I've done and give the theory a chance," he replied, in an even tone.
"You're a whacko, and the "research" you've done is nothing but a bunch of crazy blabbering from other nutcases like yourself!"
Ken sighed. "But some of it is quite conclusive, if you'd just - " He stopped in mid-sentence, catching sight of the two watching them. "Koushiro! I wasn't expecting you for another hour!"
The redhead frowned. He was having trouble absorbing all of this… First a date with a crazy stalker-type, then a strange girl flirting with him, and now two psychotic-seeming boys having an argument in the middle of the hallway. "My bus arrived on schedule… I'm sure I informed you that I'd be taking the nine o'clock…"
"Yes, you did… but the buses here hardly ever arrive on time." Ken moved past Iori, offering Koushiro an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry no one was at the station to meet you… I hope you didn't have any trouble finding the place."
"I managed to find someone who could help me." Koushiro decided not to mention that said someone might just be a deluded stalker with a too-charming personality and a really nice ass. Not that he'd noticed. Much.
"Are you guys arguing again?" Miyako leaned casually against Koushiro's shoulder, giving Iori and Ken a wry look. "Haven't you outgrown that little dispute yet?"
"I would if I could." Iori scowled at Ken. "But he keeps trying to convert me!"
"Because you refuse to listen to - " Ken halted again before he could go off on what was clearly a familiar rant, and coughed. "I should make the introductions here. Iori Hida, this is Koushiro Izumi - my new roommate."
"Hopefully one with sense." Iori held out his hand, offering a small smile. "Welcome to the neighborhood. I'll be waiting to see if you can survive the insanity."
"Thank you." Koushiro shook it.
"It looks like you've already met Miyako," Ken commented, raising an eyebrow at the girl.
"I'm just keeping in practice," the girl said, moving away from Koushiro and offering Ken a wink. "You know it's really you I'm after, darling."
"Um… yes." Ken reached out to grab Koushiro's arm, pulling him along their hallway. "Well, I'll have to get my roommate settled in, so we'll see you some time later. Goodbye!"
Over his shoulder, Koushiro noticed Iori making a hasty retreat.
"Here it is." Ken pushed open the door with the number '207' printed on it in worn black. "Your key is on the table there," he said, pointing. His apartment was immaculate, so the item in question was easy to spot. "There are two bedrooms - they're not all that big, but I wouldn't call them tiny, either. Your window leads out into the courtyard on the inside of the apartment here - I hope you don't mind that. I like being able to look at the city."
"It's perfectly fine with me," Koushiro assured him.
"Good." Ken carefully closed the door behind him. "Just so you know," he said, giving Koushiro a rueful look, "Miyako's like that with everyone. So don't let it worry you."
That was a relief to hear. Koushiro let out a long breath. "That's good to know."
"This is the door to your room, so you can get unpacked. I just have to finish my conversation…" Ken glanced around - and seemed to notice for the first time that Iori had left. "Where did he go?"
"If you mean Iori, he left while you were leading me in here," Koushiro pointed out helpfully.
"It figures." Ken smiled, with an almost menacing calm. "He can't seem to handle our discussions. I'll go track him down - you just get unpacked, and I'll give you a tour when I get back." He turned and strolled out the door, casually.
Koushiro felt a wave of sudden sympathy for Iori.
"This place isn't very exciting, is it?"
Takeru shrugged, not taking his eyes from the mortals below to even so much as glance at his companion. "Maybe not when compared to some of the places we've been," he admitted. "But I'm sure we can find something to keep us busy."
Daisuke sighed, leaning back a little on the railing they were sitting side-by-side on. "Man, this is boring," he moaned. "I'll bet Taichi and Yamato are having more fun than we are…"
Takeru had to admit, he had a point there.
"Why don't we find a couple of mortals and have a little fun with them," he suggested, scanning the street below them. "We're pretending to be like them - let's interact like them. It'll be interesting."
"Hey… that actually sounds like fun!" Daisuke's tone was a little surprised. "Looks like I'm corrupting you faster than Hikari, after all."
Takeru shrugged. Taichi's younger sister was his closest friend after Daisuke… but she was kind of boring at times… "Well, you don't see Hikari out here breaking the rules," he said. "She thinks we're all crazy, you know."
"She spends too much time with Sora." Daisuke waved a dismissive hand. "Anyway, enough about that. Where are we going to find a couple of mortals we could - ?"
"I figured I'd find you here!"
"What the - ? You followed me!"
A pair of bickering mortals came into view, easily making the most commotion of anyone in the area. People passing by took one look at the green-eyed young man trying to stalk away from a persistent taller boy, and rolled their eyes, moving on with their business.
"Well, you haven't even given me a chance to explain what I meant by the - "
"No! I don't care! Leave me alone!"
"I'm not leaving you alone until you've heard me out!"
"Whether I hear you out or not, it doesn't make a difference! I will never believe in your stupid, make-believe fairies!"
Takeru and Daisuke glanced at each other.
"I get the cute one," Daisuke announced.
Takeru gave the two in question an appraising look. One was an exotic dark-haired young man with a blue-violet gaze and pale, flawless skin. The second was a shorter boy with light brown hair, a slight build, and huge, emerald-tinted eyes.
"Be more specific."
"The cute one!" Daisuke waved his hands as if he could somehow make it clear. "The one with the eyes… and the hair… and… and…"
"As far as I can see, Daisuke, they both seem to have eyes and hair."
Daisuke gave him an annoyed look. "Which one do you think is cuter, then?"
Takeru turned another thoughtful gaze on the two. "Hmm… the mortal with the dark hair almost looks like a girl, he's so pretty. But with a body like that… well, who cares? That green-eyed one kind of seems more interesting, though. Who were you talking about?"
"He does have a nice body," Daisuke agreed, staring down at the two boys with a little half-smile on his face. "I always sort of had this thing about pretty boys. Know what I mean?"
"Sure." Takeru raised an eyebrow and grinned. "He's all yours, then - I liked the other one better anyway." Without waiting for his friend to come out of his reverie, he jumped down from the railing. "Let's go."
The two in question were still bickering as Daisuke and Takeru approached them. "Mind if I ask what you guys are shouting about?" the blond asked casually, as if it were perfectly normal to butt into a conversation.
Two pairs of eyes - one a luminous blue-violet and the other a shimmering emerald-green - turned to rest on him, surprise evident in both gazes. "Mind if I ask who you are?" the shorter boy countered after a moment, frowning slightly.
"Sure." Takeru smiled at him. "My name's Takeru, and this" - he held out a hand in Daisuke's direction - "is Daisuke. We're visiting here until the end of October."
The dark-haired young man looked interested. "Are you leaving right on Halloween? All Hallow's Eve was considered a Moving Night, you know…"
"Would you stop?" His friend - if he was a friend - gave him an irritated look. "No one sane would want to listen to all that garbage about fairies." He turned to look at Takeru and Daisuke again. "Would you believe he actually researches them?"
"You do?" Daisuke turned a huge grin on the taller boy. "That stuff is really cool - I'd love to hear about fairies and all. I mean, I don't know a lot about them myself… Maybe you could tell me about your research, huh?"
Takeru bit his lip to keep from laughing out loud.
"Just what this place needs!" The shorter boy rolled his eyes upward, a long-suffering expression on his face. "Another nutcase! I can't believe there are so many people who actually swallow all this nonsense…"
"I know exactly what you mean," Takeru agreed, with a completely straight face.
A set of green eyes turned on him in surprise. "Huh?"
"Huh?" Daisuke echoed, blinking at him.
"Isn't it crazy what some people will buy into?" He tilted his head significantly in Daisuke's direction, offering the younger boy in front of him a conspiratorial grin. "I mean… fairies? Hah! Yeah right!"
The green-eyed boy looked as if Takeru had just offered him the moon. "You don't believe in that garbage either?"
"Of course not! Only a real loony would think there are actually people with wings running around working magic." Takeru gave into the urge and laughed.
The shorter boy held out his hand. "Iori Hida," he introduced himself, giving a real smile. He looked even cuter when he was smiling.
Takeru shook the offered hand. "Nice to meet you."
The taller boy looked ready to say something in response to Takeru's comments about his chosen research subject, but Daisuke was quick enough to cut him off. "So do you have a name too, or should I just call you 'research guy'?"
"Oh… of course." He seemed eager enough to return Daisuke's smile, apparently forgetting all about Takeru and Iori in the face of such charm. "Ken Ichijouji."
Daisuke beamed back up at him. "Do I get to hear about your research now?" he asked with seeming eagerness.
"If you'd like." Ken looked more than thrilled that someone was taking such an interest in his work. "You know, we have a Fairy Mound right outside of town - that's what serves as an entrance to their plane of existence when they travel."
"Oh yeah?" Daisuke tucked his hands behind his back, cast Takeru a sidelong glance with a little smirk, and went back to staring at Ken.
Takeru turned his gaze on Iori again, ignoring his friend. "So what do you say we get away from these freaks and go get something to eat? You live here, so you must know a good place..."
"All my life." Iori gave him a wry smile. "That sounds good - it'd be nice to have a normal conversation for once." He started off down the street again. "Follow me."
Takeru smiled to himself, and did just that.
Sora was keeping watch at a restaurant, Yamato noticed. She was wearing plain clothing, and pretending to have a conversation with some mortal he couldn't properly see because of the angle at which he was watching her. It was obvious that she was there in the hopes of catching him or one of the others in the act.
And good luck with that.
He turned away, shaking his head. Sora had never managed to catch them before; they'd practically made a career out of avoiding her careful watch. I wonder what makes her think she's going to start now.
Whatever the reason, though, he was going to have a lot of fun coming up with someone to set her up with.
"What kept you?" Taichi was already waiting at their agreed-upon meeting place - a small alleyway between two buildings. He seemed fairly pleased with himself, for whatever reason.
"I was keeping an eye on Sora." Yamato shrugged, leaning against the wall beside him. "How's your first day been going so far?"
"Great!" Taichi grinned to himself, staring up off into space somewhere. "I fell in love this morning, you know," he announced, in a casual tone. The familiar serious look in his eyes turned the tone into a lie - Taichi always tried to pass the truth off as something flippant.
"I said… I think I'm in love." His brows creased a little, almost in a sort of puzzlement. But at the same time, he looked quite happy with how things had gone.
Yamato continued to stare at him blankly for a moment - then laughed out loud.
Taichi broke off his stare and scowled at him. "What's so funny?" he demanded, belligerently.
"I never thought I'd hear you say those words!" Yamato gasped in a couple of breaths, containing his laughter but still grinning widely. "Anyone I know?"
"No - I just met him at the bus station."
"You fell in love with a mortal?" Yamato raised his eyebrows, though his grin didn't falter. He wasn't sure yet if he found this less amusing or more. "Good luck sliding that one by Mimi!"
"Does it look like I give a damn what Mimi thinks about anything?" Taichi asked crossly, obviously somewhat disgruntled by his friend's reaction to his confession. "I intend to make him love me, whether she likes it or not!"
Yamato shook his head. "You can't make someone love you."
"Yeah?" Taichi pushed himself away from the wall, a familiar stubborn expression on his face. "Watch me."
And he strode off, purposefully.
Yamato grinned to himself and moved to follow after him. "This should be good."