I was hovering.
I don't usually hover, but it was important this time. Takeru had just dropped me off, and I was standing outside my room, wondering if Taichi was in there. There was no noise from inside, but he should've been home from whatever movie he'd gone to see…
Unless he was avoiding me. I wouldn't blame him if he were.
I wasn't sure what he'd say when he saw me. Taichi didn't usually hold grudges for very long, but this was a little more serious. I'd just accused him of having feelings for one of his best friends - and I'd been wrong.
I'd been so sure… Now I had no idea what my brother's problem was - and in addition to that, he was mad at me. I'd spent an extra couple of hours out with Takeru to give him time to cool off, but that wouldn't necessarily help.
What should I say to him now?
"Hey, Kari?" A hand clamped down on my shoulder.
I yelped, jumped, and spun around so fast I almost fell down. "Don't do that!" I squeaked out, meeting my brother's startled gaze.
Tightly strung? Me? Of course not…
"Geez, sorry." Taichi rubbed the back of his neck, looking uncomfortable. "Look, I just wanted to apologize for going off on you back at the Laundromat. I felt bad about it all night at the movie."
"I'm the one who should apologize!" I protested, vehemently. "Tai, I'm so sorry! I just automatically jumped to the first conclusion I thought of, and didn't even stop to think it through before I got mad at you for it. It was inconsiderate of me."
"Yeah, it was." Typical Taichi: all the tact of an angry bull. "But I didn't need to get mad. I could've just said that you were wrong and I didn't want to talk about it…" He scratched his head again. "And that it's none of your business…"
"But it is my business, Tai; you're my brother." I sighed. How exactly could I put this without making him angry with me again? "I care about what happens to you. And Izzy's my friend. I care about what happens to him, too. I don't want to see you guys splitting up because of something stupid."
He got a strange look on his face. "Look…" He seemed to be trying to come up with a way to say what he wanted to say. "It's not stupid… well, maybe it is… but I don't want to say anything - except maybe to Matt… and Izzy doesn't need to know. I mean, maybe he wants to know, but I think once he heard it… ah, never mind!"
I blinked. "Um… Tai…?"
"I know, I know, it doesn't make sense." He leaned against the wall, looking frustrated. "But it's not just Izzy; I mean, this isn't exactly easy for me either, okay? Just… promise me you'll stay out of it and not try to help!" That, he emphasized by grabbing my shoulders, and giving me a glare.
"I won't," I promised, seriously. "But I think you should do something, and soon."
His shoulders slumped, and he looked away. "Matt said the same thing," he muttered. "He doesn't like how I'm treating Izzy either."
I shook my head. "Well… Izzy doesn't always take a lot of trouble to defend himself," I pointed out. "But if you keep this up, I'm sure he's going to eventually. And if you're not trying to lose him as a friend, you'd better tell him that before he does."
Taichi hung his head, gaze locked on the floor. I could see the glare on his face, and knew he was still frustrated. My brother never liked feeling helpless, and I could tell he felt that way about this. It had been a long time since we'd actually talked like this, and I couldn't even remember if we had ever talked like this about his life.
Or mine, for that matter.
"Whatever," he said finally, in a voice that sounded more like a growl than anything. "I'll talk to him, okay? I'll… explain, or something. But you have to keep out of it!" he said again, turning that glare on me.
"I said I would," I reminded him. "So I will."
"Okay." He seemed mollified. "Did TK drive you home?"
Subject change. How typical… "Well, how do you think I got here?"
Taichi frowned. "He wasn't pulling any moves, was he?"
"Pulling moves?" I laughed, forgetting about our previous argument for the moment. I had my big brother back right now. "What do you take him for, some kind of playboy?"
"He's related to Matt, isn't he?" He scowled at me, only half-mocking. "Never trust an Ishida."
"He's a Takaishi," I pointed out.
"Same difference." Taichi suddenly grinned. "Hey, if he tries to get in your pants, just tell me and I'll beat some sense into him. Just not very hard - because he's a friend, you know."
"I'll keep that in mind," I promised him.
We looked at each other for a moment more, and then both of us burst out laughing.
"I never did get around to asking what movie." Takeru parked the car and gave me a sheepish look. "Is there anything in particular you'd like to see?"
I grinned. "I didn't even think about it, to be honest."
"Boy, we make a great pair, don't we?" He shook his head.
"Why don't we go see what's playing, and we can make up our minds then?" I suggested.
"Sounds good." He got out of his mother's car and came around the other side to take my hand as we walked in toward the theater. "You know, I can't believe we're actually here together. On a date."
"I know." I let out a breath and gave him another smile - half nervous and half excited. "But I guess it's just like going as friends, except with… other stuff."
"Well, it's that other stuff that's freaking me out." He shrugged, and gave me his own nervous smile. "But you'll forgive me if I get it wrong, right, Kari? I mean, we know each other pretty well… so…"
"TK, I probably wouldn't even notice."
We look at each other again, and both let out a short burst of breathless laughter.
"We're being ridiculous, aren't we?" he said, with a sideways smile.
"Well… maybe a little." I beamed at him.
"All right. Then let's forget about it and pick out a movie." He squinted up at the list of what was playing. "So…"
"Hey! Kari! TA! Over here!"
I looked up, and blinked. "Daisuke…?"
Takeru looked, too. "Is that Ken with him?"
"Well, who else would it be?" I smiled and waved back at the exuberant boy making his way toward us. So much for a quiet date… "We're probably not going to get a moment of peace now."
"Great." His fingers tightened around mine. "Are you sure it's too late to run?"
I bit my lip to stifle laughter, as Daisuke hurried over to join us. "Hey guys!" he said, brightly. "Wow, I didn't know you were coming here! Are any of the others coming along, too?"
"Daisuke…" Ken nudged him firmly in the arm and gave him a meaningful look.
"Huh?" He blinked, looked at us again, and his gaze went to our linked hands. "Oh… oh! You guys are on a date!" His eyes went wide. "Aw, geez! I didn't know that! Hey, but that's great news! I mean, you're already together - just like me and Ken, huh?"
"It's okay," I said, even though he hadn't apologized.
Ken gave us a small, apologetic smile. "We're here to see that new mystery-suspense movie." As an afterthought, he added, "It was the only one we could agree that we both wanted to see."
"That does look good," Takeru said, thoughtfully.
"Hey, why don't you guys come see it with us?" Daisuke suggested, beaming at us. "We could… you know… do that thing when two couples go out."
"Double date?" I filled in, and looked up at Takeru.
He shrugged, then grinned. "Why not?"
It actually was a good idea… and it'd probably make us both feel less nervous… "We're okay with it if you two are."
"Excellent!" Daisuke looked positively thrilled. Ken smiled at him, eyes going soft.
Miyako would've killed me if she knew I was seeing this before she got a chance to.
Takeru and I trailed along behind, watching as Daisuke reached over and casually took his boyfriend's hand - as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Must be nice to know exactly what you want to do… Even if it wasn't always the right thing to do.
This time, though, it definitely was. Ken looked as if Daisuke had just given him the moon on a silver platter.
I couldn't resist commenting. "Those two are cute."
Takeru scratched his head. "If you say so."
"You just don't know how to appreciate it," I said, and poked him in the side.
Daisuke looked over his shoulder at us. "Hey, if you two don't stop flirting and hurry up, we're never gonna get good seats!"
Takeru smiled placidly. I think he did that especially for Daisuke - just because he knew how much the look irritated him. "We're half an hour early, and the movie's been out for almost a month. I think we'll be fine."
Daisuke made a face at him, and handed his ticket to the attendant.
"Well, I can flirt in public better than TE can," he said, after we'd all gone into the theater. "Just watch me." He let go of Ken's hand, then turned abruptly and leaned forward to press his lips carefully against the taller boy's in what looked like a very simple kiss.
Ken proved to us right then and there that he had every right to say he knew Daisuke inside and out - first by not even being surprised… And second by looping a seemingly casual arm around his boyfriend's waist and pulling him into something considerably less simple than what Daisuke had likely intended.
I got the feeling I was too young to be watching that.
Ken released his startled and now dazed-looking boyfriend, who was breathing heavily with the end of the kiss. "You need to be less predictable if you want to surprise me, Dai," he teased, with a slight smirk.
Takeru laughed. "Looks like Ken's got us both beat."
"Ah, shut up," Daisuke told him, but he didn't sound at all upset.
"Seriously," Takeru said, following them into the theater, "you guys aren't embarrassed or anything? I mean, you know people are going to stare and all…"
Daisuke tossed him a superior smirk over his shoulder - over Ken's shoulder, actually, considering they'd graduated to 'joined at the hip'. "So? How's that my problem?"
"It doesn't bother you?"
"Why should it bother him?" I looked over at Takeru.
"Well, some guys are embarrassed about that sort of thing at first, right?" He shrugged. "I mean, Daisuke doesn't really seem like one - and neither does Ken - but you never know. I was just curious."
"It honestly doesn't bother us," Ken told him, drumming his fingers lightly on Daisuke's hip.
"Who thinks about that sort of thing, anyway?" Daisuke grinned at him, and the two of them moved around to head up the stairs.
I stopped, brought to a halt by a thought that had never even occurred to me. "You think…" Daisuke and Ken probably couldn't hear, but I lowered my voice anyway. "You think my brother might?"
Takeru turned to look at me. "Kari?"
"Maybe that's why he's been so weird." I looked down. "You think he's embarrassed about being gay? I might even have made it worse for him by saying what I did…"
"Kari…" Takeru stepped closer to me and brushed my cheek with hesitant fingers. When I looked up, startled, he was giving me a smile that made my heart beat hard against my chest. "I don't want you to be mad at yourself," he said, softly. "Don't, okay?"
I bit my lip. "I'm sorry."
He leaned forward, and I had to release it again so he could kiss me. It was less hesitant than the last time, and lasted longer. I felt warm all the way through, surrounded by my boyfriend's presence. "Maybe you're right about Tai," he said, after we broke apart. "But don't ever think that any of what he's going through is your fault. All right?"
I couldn't help but smile. Takeru never failed to make me feel better. "All right."
"Hey!" Daisuke was leaning over the railing by the stairs that led up to higher seats. "Stop fooling around in public and help us find some seats!"
"Yeah, we're coming." Takeru waved a dismissive hand at him.
Daisuke sighed loudly. "And you guys think I'm shameless!"
Taichi let out a low, drawn-out moaning growling noise, stumbled out of our bedroom, and slouched down onto the couch beside me, staring balefully at the TV.
"No plans tonight?" I asked, innocently.
He slouched further. "Ah, shut up."
I didn't feel like being hit in the face with a couch cushion so I smothered my laughter and just smiled.
"Stupid Matt and his stupid band," Taichi muttered.
"Why not call Izzy?" I suggested lightly. Maybe I could trick him into giving the answer.
"Because I - wait a minute, I'm not telling you that! Stop fishing for information!"
Damn. "It was worth a try, wasn't it?"
"Of all the little sisters in the world…" Taichi muttered, under his breath. I fed him the cushion sitting next to me as a response - and before he had a chance to come back from that one, the doorbell rang.
"I'll get it!" I jumped up, leaving my brother still spouting curses on the couch, and ran to the door. Flinging it open, I revealed… "Izzy! How come you're here?"
"Hi Kari." He smiled politely at me. "I thought I'd show up when Tai hadn't invited me. It seemed to make more sense, since he's never around when he has."
I turned to look at my brother, who was on his feet, staring at the redhead standing in the doorway with an expression that probably would've looked better on a deer trapped by a car's headlights.
This doesn't look good…
"Tai," Koushiro said, in an even voice, fixing my brother with an unreadable stare, "can I talk to you for a moment?"
I backed away from the door. "I should go…"
"No, you can stay," Taichi told me, and stared back at his friend. "What's up?"
I imagine his intention was to sound casual. It didn't really come out that way.
"It won't take long," Koushiro said, without answering. He looked over at me again. "And I'd appreciate if you did, Kari. This shouldn't involve you."
That had an ominous ring to it.
"I'll be in my room," I told them - as if it made a difference - and made a dash for my bedroom door.
Then I threw myself onto the bottom bunk to avoid the urge to eavesdrop. It' s none of my business. None at all.
I wanted to know…
But I was going to respect my brother's privacy.
I picked at the covers on the bed. I wonder what they're saying in there… Were they fighting? Koushiro didn't approve of physical violence, but he'd been in more than one verbal argument - and the few fights he had with my brother were usually bad ones.
But they'd always pulled through before, and been closer friends than ever.
Still… I was afraid for this time. It was the first time I could remember that their friendship had actually been suffering before their fight. Things had been building up to this… I just knew that Koushiro was in there right now telling my brother what a jerk he was. And, heck, Taichi deserved it.
I didn't want to see them break apart, though… I really didn't.
Outside the door, I could hear their voices raising - but I couldn't hear what they were saying. I sat up, and moved toward the door. It was still muffled, but I knew they were both really angry, just from how it sounded. I opened the door a crack and looked out.
"Well, if that's how you want it, FINE!" Taichi bellowed, looking red in the face. He had both fists clenched, and even from where I was, I could see him shaking with some suppressed emotion. The look on his face was the panicked one he got when a situation was flying out of his control and he couldn’t stop it.
Koushiro was standing halfway out through the door, and he looked furious. "Yeah, well…" He sucked in an angry breath. "Next time, don’t even bother inviting me… because as far as I'm concerned, we're not friends any more!"
"FINE!" Taichi yelled again, but his shout was lost in the sound of the door slamming as one of his best friends stalked out of his life.
I leaned back from the door, stunned.
I opened the door slowly, and just stood there for a moment, not really sure what I should do. Taichi was slumped on the couch again, this time leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees and fingers buried in his hair. He was glaring at the carpet.
I took a few hesitant steps forward. "Tai…"
"Leave me alone, Kari," he gritted out.
I moved forward again, sitting gingerly on the couch beside him again. "Want to watch some TV?" I suggested, not knowing what else to say.
"Yeah." He sat back, leaning against the couch, and stared at the ceiling blankly. "Yeah, put the TV on."
I reached for the remote, and for the rest of the night, the only noise in the apartment came from the television.
I couldn't get the incident out of my head, even when I went to work on Sunday afternoon. By early evening, I think I'd gone numb to everything around me and could only think about Taichi and Koushiro's fight as I went through the motions of cleaning.
It somehow didn't seem fair…
I mean, I didn't even know what the fight was really about. I knew Koushiro was mad because of the way Taichi was treating him, but I still had no idea why my brother had been treating him that way. And yet, I couldn't help but feel that there was no legitimate excuse for them to be so angry with each other, and that the whole thing was a cruel twist of fate that just… wasn't fair.
Why couldn't they just be friends forever?
I set the mop back into the bucket, not really feeling up to trying to hurry people out of the Laundromat just yet. There were still fifteen minutes before I had to close the store anyway.
And Tai and Izzy…
Change sucked. That was all there was to it.
The bell ran for the front door, and I looked over.
"Hi Matt." I forced a smile, not sure if he'd heard about Taichi and Koushiro's fight yet. He probably had, but I'd promised my brother I wouldn't get involved in his life, so it probably wasn't a good idea to go blabbing on about something he might not want spread around. "Picking up your dad's drycleaning?"
"No." That was a bit surprising. "Tai isn't answering the phone at the moment," he said flatly, the expression on his face making an open show of how ridiculous he thought the situation was. "So tell him to call me. Okay?"
"All right." I couldn't resist asking. "Have you talked to Izzy at all?"
Yamato let out a breath. "Yeah," he said, and I could tell from his tone that he knew about the fight. "He's over at my place right now. You can tell that to Tai, too. If he wants to call and apologize, he knows my number."
You're not supposed to get involved, Kari… I shoved that voice aside. I wanted to know, damnit! "What happened, anyway?"
"You really want to know?" He leaned over the counter, raising an eyebrow at me. "I'm surprised you haven't figured it out. Tai told me you thought he wanted me."
My face grew hot. "It… It seemed to make sense… at the time."
"Don't worry about it." Yamato waved a hand, and offered half a smirk. "If Tai actually bothered to tell you anything, then he wouldn't have to worry about you coming up with all these crazy ideas."
I bit my lip. "But I was making a lot of assumptions about you…"
"Like I said, it's no big deal." He gave me a curious look. "But seriously… did you really think Tai was comfortable enough with himself to plan a seduction attempt that easily?"
I blinked. That thought hadn't occurred to me. "Well…"
"Tai had a lot of problems with being gay, you know." He shrugged. "He confided in me because he didn't know who else to tell - there wasn't really anyone else he thought he could tell. That's why he spent so much time over at my house… I was the only one he could talk to about it."
"But…" I was having trouble understanding - though I felt I was right on the verge of finding out something very important. "You aren't the only one he could've told! He could've told me… or, if he didn't want his sister to know, he could've told Izzy! Right?"
Yamato sighed. "He should've told Izzy," he said - and from the tone of his voice this time, I had a feeling this was something he and Taichi had argued about. "But there was a very good reason why he didn't want to."
I struggled with that. "Izzy's not homophobic, is he?"
That must have startled him, because his eyes widened for a minute before he laughed out loud. "You don’t seriously think that, do you?"
"No… but…" I frowned. Why was it so hard to figure out what was going on in Taichi's head?
My brother was gay… I'd heard that from Mimi and Sora. Ken had suggested he might have a crush - which could've explained the strange behavior. But he'd said he didn't have a crush on Yamato, and if he really was avoiding Koushiro because of a crush, who else could it be on?
Then I remember what Takeru had said in the theater… "Well, some guys are embarrassed about that sort of thing at first, right?" And Yamato, just now… "Did you really think Tai was comfortable enough with himself?" And then Taichi stuttering out his garbled defense of his treatment of Koushiro… barely able to look me in the eye as he did. One of the things my brother did a lot was avoiding something that made him uncomfortable and hoping that it'd go away on its own.
That's when I finally get it.
I'd been thinking all along that my brother could take it all so easily - and just smoothly pursue the one he wanted. But… how could he? Taichi had to admit to himself that he was gay, for one - and then he had to deal with having feelings for one of his best friends. It couldn't have been easy… He had to have been awkward and unsure at first - maybe he still was. And any guy's response to those sorts of feelings would have been the same: back off and try to figure out a way to make things normal again.
So it isn't Matt he wants…
"It's Izzy." I looked up at Yamato, dead sure of the truth in my words. "Izzy's the one Tai has feelings for. Isn't he?"
He blinked at me - then one side of his mouth quirked up. "Good call. A little late, though."
I bit my lip again. Even now that I'd figured it out, there wasn't anything I could do about it - and I'd promised Taichi I'd back off and stay out of his life. "What about Izzy?" I asked. "How does he feel about Tai?"
Yamato shrugged. "Who knows? Izzy's hard to figure out. He could be straight, gay - hell, he could be asexual for all the attraction he's ever showed to any one person."
I chewed on that for a bit, wishing I could think of some way to make this all right again. "Tai should tell him," I concluded, finally.
"That's what I've been telling him; do you honestly think he listens to people who make sense?" Yamato rolled his eyes. "You can try and talk to him if you want - just don't expect results, and don't tell him who you heard it from."
"I won't," I promised automatically. I was sure hearing a lot of secrets lately…
This one was probably the most important - and there was nothing I could do about it now that I knew. It was entirely up to Tai.
Somehow, that thought didn't inspire much confidence.
I couldn't help but pause when I heard my brother almost scream those words into the phone. Setting down the garbage can I'd just taken out to the trash to empty, I tried to look busy and not make it obvious that I was watching my brother's panicked-looking face for clues as to who he was talking to and what they were talking about.
"Fuck!" Now, that was a little surprising; Taichi rarely swore. "Why did you do that!?" he yelled.
I winced. Thank god I'm not the one on the other end of that phone call.
"No, I am not ready to - no! No! Call him on his cell phone and tell him I moved to Alabama! Just don't let him come over here!"
I immediately leapt to the most logical conclusion. Izzy's coming over? That meant it had to be Yamato that Taichi was talking to on the phone.
"What do you mean he doesn't have his cell phone with him!?"
I bit my lip around the smile that was forming on my face.
"Go after him! Make him stop! Gah!" Taichi pulled at his hair with his free hand, looking about as stressed as I'd ever seen him. "Don't let him come over here! I'm not ready! I gotta… do a rehearsal or something! Prep work! Matt? Matt!" He pulled the phone back from his ear and stared at it in what looked like a mix of anger and horror. "Damn you, you better not have hung up on me!"
My lip was starting to hurt, but I got the feeling that if I released it, I'd burst out laughing.
Taichi slammed the phone down on the hook. "I am gonna kill him!"
I struggled to keep my face straight. "Was that the pizza place?"
"You be quiet!" He pointed a finger at me, glaring. "You don’t know anything about - !"
Someone knocked on the door.
Taichi whirled around, a look of complete panic on his face. "Oh no… he's here!" He spun again, looking around for a place to hide. Then he faced me again. "Kari, get the door. And if it's Izzy" - he sucked in a breath - "tell him I'm on vacation in the Bahamas!"
I pushed away from the counter and headed for the door as my brother made a dash for our room and slammed the door shut behind him. "Yeah… sure, Tai."
Koushiro looked as if he weren't entirely sure why he'd come over at all when I opened the door. "I already heard Tai's voice, so I know he's here," he told me, with a wry smile that didn't reach his eyes. "Why don't you just tell me where he's hiding?"
"He's in our room," I said. "And don't worry - I'll get him."
Taichi was hiding in the closet when I came into our room. "Is he gone?" he asked, in a ridiculously loud whisper.
I smiled at him with a deceptive brightness. "Tai, your friend is out there waiting for you to talk to him. Are you going to go out there, or would you rather he came in here?"
He gave me a dirty look as he brushed aside an old coat that no longer fit either of us and came back out. "Remind me to ask if there's a place to trade in your siblings."
"I'd already be a customer if there were," I told him, and firmly planted my hands on his shoulders to push him toward the door. "Just go and confess and get it over with."
He was so startled by the way I'd just subtly let him know that I knew about his feelings that he didn't even struggle as I shoved him out to face the object of his affections.
Once he caught sight of Koushiro's face, though, his feet planted firmly on the carpet, and he froze up. "Uhhhhh… hi Izzy… how's - how's it going?" A weak, almost sickly-looking smile formed on his face.
The redhead crossed his arms over his chest, looked up at Taichi's face briefly enough so that I couldn't be sure of the hurt look in his eyes, and then turned to me again. "Kari, can we have a moment alone, please?"
"Sure." I backed into my room, shut the door so it was still open a crack, and settled down to eavesdrop. There was no way I was missing out on this conversation!
"Look, Izzy…" Taichi rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly, tried several times to speak, and then started over again. "I guess… I owe you an explanation. Right?"
"I guess." Koushiro looked - if possible - even less thrilled about this than my brother had. "To be honest, Tai, there's only one thing I really want to know right now." He looked away, blinking a little too rapidly.
Taichi's expression seemed to indicate that he'd prefer to face every single enemy our team had ever faced back in the past - all on his own. "Okay… go ahead."
"I want you to tell me truthfully, right now, if you want to continue being my friend," Koushiro said, as if he couldn't figure out a way to get the words out fast enough. Even from across the room, I could see his shoulders trembling.
Taichi sucked in another breath. "Truthfully?"
My brother shook his head. "No, I don't want to continue being your friend."
Koushiro's shoulders visibly slumped. "I… well." He tried without success to keep his voice steady. "That's that, I guess."
He turned to leave, but my brother jumped forward and stopped him with a hand on his shoulder, forcing him back around. "Don't you want to know why?"
The shorter boy wasn't meeting his gaze. "All right. Why?"
"Because lately…" Taichi hesitated, then finally proved his right to hold courage by plunging onward bravely. "Lately… I want to be more."
"Huh?" Koushiro looked up, startled - and then his eyes went wide as his friend pushed him back firmly, into the wall. He didn't get a chance to speak or protest because Taichi mashed their lips together in a typically Tai-style first kiss attempt.
Even with my brother's hair trying to get in the way, I could see Koushiro's wide-open eyes as they stared off into space in complete shock.
Then Taichi backed off, and the redhead slid down the wall a little, looking dazed. One shaking hand came up almost absently, two fingers pressed to his lips as if to test the fact that yes, he had just been kissed - and yes, it was his best friend who had kissed him.
Poor Izzy… talk about confusing…
"You know…" Taichi looked away, the faintest hint of a smile on his lips. "I feel better."
I slapped a hand to my mouth. Hearing me laugh hysterically would definitely spoil the atmosphere for both of them.
"You've been avoiding me…" Koushiro's voice was soft and shaky. "… because you like me?"
"Uh… sort of. Or not sort of. Yeah." My brother looked back at him again, anxiously. "You're not mad…are you, Izzy?"
"No… just a little… stunned." The redhead gazed back up at his taller friend for a moment, blinking rapidly - but for a different reason than before, most likely. "Does… does Matt know about this?"
"Yeah, I told him a while ago."
"Oh." Koushiro let out a long, shaky breath, and tore his gaze away from Taichi, his cheeks growing red. "I… don't really know what to say."
"Well…" Taichi scratched the back of his head nervously. "You could… tell me if I have a chance? At all?"
"I-I don't know." Koushiro fumbled behind him for the door handle, looking thoroughly flustered as he met my brother's gaze again. "I have to think about this. Think about it. Yeah. Alone. I mean, at my house. Okay?"
"Yeah… sure." Taichi watched him hurry out the door, with a forlorn sort of expression on his face. Then, as soon as the door closed, he stumbled over to the couch and fell backwards over its arm, letting out a low, despairing moan.
For once during this whole crazy business, I really felt sorry for him.
I pushed open our bedroom door and stepped out. "Tai… are you okay?"
He didn't look at me or sit up. "You listen to that?"
"Yeah." I didn't bother trying to hide it. "You did pretty good."
"Yeah right." He did sit up at that, but didn't turn to face me. "If I did so good, why didn't he throw himself into my arms and demand that I do him blind right here on the couch?"
"Well…" I sat down beside him, and offered a smile even though his back was to me. "For one thing, mom and dad would have a fit."
"Ha ha, very funny."
I tried to think of something else to say that could make him feel better. "Well, maybe - "
There was a knock on the door.
I blinked, and lost my train of thought. "Uh… I'll get it," I offered. It didn't look like Taichi was going to move any time soon.
I'd barely gotten off the couch when the door flew open and Koushiro let himself back in. "Tai?"
My brother jumped up in record time and whirled around to face him, eyes wide. "Izzy?"
"Uh…" Koushiro let go of the door handle, offering a bit of a sheepish grin. "I… didn't need as much time as I thought?" he said.
Then he walked purposefully across the room, placed his hands on either side of Taichi's face, and pulled himself close enough to press his lips tentatively against his taller friend's.
Taichi remained frozen for about five seconds after that - and then he shut his eyes, slid his arms around the shorter boy's waist, and returned the kiss enthusiastically.
I remained frozen for only a little bit longer - and then I rushed back into my room to get my camera.
Things were definitely looking up.
"This is a great shot, Kari." Yamato waved the photo I'd taken the previous day around so that everyone had a chance to look at my brother kissing his best friend. "You should seriously consider photography as a future career."
"Give me that!" Taichi let go of Koushiro's shoulders and jumped across the table at the fast food place to try and snatch the photo back.
"Whoa!" Sora jumped, not able to avoid the fries that went sprawling across her lap.
"Dude, watch it!" Daisuke made an attempt to save his burger. "That's my food you're assaulting!"
"Sorry." Taichi managed to wrestle the picture away from Yamato and sat back with a triumphant look on his face. "You guys can relax now - I got it."
The blond rested his elbows on the disorganized tabletop, giving Koushiro a wry look. "Remind me again why you agreed to date this guy."
"Probably just for his body," Takeru said calmly. I smacked him across the chest with the back of my hand.
"That's my brother you're talking about!"
He tucked an arm around my shoulders. "So?"
"Do you need me to buy you another one of those?" Ken asked his boyfriend, who was staring mournfully down at his ruined burger.
"Would you, Ken? Really?"
"I honestly don't know," Koushiro answered, as the dark-haired boy got up to go order a replacement for Daisuke's fourth burger. "Probably just for the research opportunity. It's fascinating to observe the workings of Taichi's mind at close range."
My brother hooked his arm around Koushiro's neck as a mock threat. "Are you saying I'm a science project?"
"I think TK had it right; I just want your body."
Sora almost snorted up her soda in a burst of laughter.
"Well, things are back to normal," Takeru commented, as his brother stole a handful of Taichi's fries. "At least, as normal as things get with this group."
I grinned, feeling utterly and completely satisfied as I leaned back against his shoulder. "I don't think normal is ever an issue…"