"Do you realize," Ken began, typically quiet but with a certain conviction behind the words, "how things will turn out if I agree to be Hikari's date for the dance? It really can't end well, no matter how you look at it."
Takeru sighed, and leaned against the doorframe leading into his friend's apartment. "You don't know the half of it." He could feel the headache that had been building since his 'chat' with Miyako threatened to break free and wreck havoc. "You can try to explain to Hikari if you want - she won't have any problems letting you off the hook. Good luck dealing with Miyako after that, though."
Ken looked less than convinced; a single skeptical eyebrow rose on his face. "It's Miyako or Daisuke, and you know whose company I'm in more often." He shook his head. "I'll have to pass. I'm sorry, Takeru."
"Wait!" Takeru quickly placed his foot in the path of the door, despite the fact that Ken hadn't shown any indication that he was about to close it. "I'll take the blame if you want to explain it to Daisuke - he already half thinks I'm out to get him most of the time anyway." Actually, he wasn't sure how true that was any more, but if he didn't get Ken to agree, Miyako would chew his head off. And he really didn't want to resort to playing dirty. "Come on."
The doubtful look was still present on Ken's face - but he did seem to be wavering. "Well..."
"Look, it's not like this is going to be a piece of cake for me either." Takeru ran a hand through his hair, still feeling mildly frustrated with the whole business. Things would be much simpler if people's feelings weren't so complicated. "I'm in pretty much the same position you are."
That earned him an odd look. "What do you mean?"
"I mean you're not the only one being asked to date your best friend's crush." It was hard to get that out. Takeru grimaced, feeling as if he'd betrayed Iori by saying so. He wasn't even supposed to know in the first place, and he already was privately not thrilled with his friend's choice. Not that there was anything wrong with having feelings for Miyako... but still.
He was just glad he wouldn't have to be the one to tell Iori it wasn't likely to work out. Miyako really wasn't the sort of girl who'd be interested in someone three years her junior.
Ken blinked at him. "You mean Iori...?"
"Well" - Takeru shifted a bit, uncomfortably. This wasn't how he'd hoped the conversation would go, although he'd known it might come to this. - "I didn't exactly hear it from his mouth, but I'm almost positive that's the case."
"I see." A faint hint of uncertainty was beginning to show in Ken's eyes, but he was careful enough to mask it in the next second by throwing a curious look at Takeru. "How exactly did this whole thing get started, anyway?"
Oh boy. Long story. Takeru sighed. "All I know is what happened when Miyako showed up at my house this morning."
Takeru seriously regretted opening the door. He'd been thinking about heading out with a basketball to spend a bit of time on the court - maybe see if Daisuke was up for a little one-on-one - but then he'd gotten lazy and turned on the TV... and as it turned out, Miyako was his punishment for the lapse.
"You," she announced, barely waiting until he'd finished opening the door and not bothering with a greeting, "are taking. Me. To the Summer. Festival. Dance." She had a finger pointed at his chest, and emphasized each piece of the demand with a sharp poke. "Understand?"
Not exactly what he'd been expecting. "I'm sorry... what?"
Miyako sighed, as if she'd been speaking with a child who wasn't understanding her properly, and pushed her way past him into the apartment. "I can see it's going to take a little more time to get through to you. But that's all right." She smiled winningly. "Because I won't have to worry about convincing Ken to take Hikari - you're going to do it for me."
"I'm what?" Takeru's head felt like it was spinning. "And - wait - what?"
Ken was taking Hikari, he was taking Miyako... There was a summer festival dance? Hold on a minute...
"Make sure you wear something nice, or I'll start to think you're not taking me seriously." Miyako beamed at him. "Besides, I want to have a good-looking date so Koushiro knows just how much of a catch I am."
"Now hold on just a minute!" This was starting to make sense now, with the mention of Koushiro's name. "Are you saying I'm taking you to a dance just so you can make Koushiro jealous?" He didn't bother waiting for an answer. "Why not just ask him to take you if he's the one you really want to go with?"
Honestly, this was a mess Takeru really didn't want himself in the middle of. Not if he could avoid it. At least if Miyako went with Koushiro, he could stay home and distract poor Iori with a movie night or something. Although he'd have to be evasive about the reason for it, because he wasn't supposed to know about Iori's feelings and why he'd be bummed out in the first place. Not that he'd meant to stop and listen to the younger boy's obviously private discussion with Koushiro - it had kind of just happened like that - but if they were talking about an older crush he always ran into because they lived in the same building, who else would fit but Miyako?
And seeing his best friend date her would probably not make Iori all that thrilled.
"I can't, okay?" Miyako threw her arms in the air, obviously exasperrated. "I was going to ask him, and then that idiot Daisuke came running in and bagged him a date with Mimi so he'd get some poor jerk to date his sister, and Koushiro had some dumb old crush on her from way back when so he goes along and agrees!" She stared at him in aggravation. "It's not fair!"
"Uh... sure." Takeru fought the urge to point out that if Koushiro wanted to go to the dance with Mimi, he wasn't likely to be fully satisfied going with Miyako and she probably wouldn't end up liking that very much in the end. "But how fair is it for you to turn around and get me to take you? What if I had a date already?"
A dismissive snort was his answer. "Takeru, you probably didn't even know there was a dance."
Ouch. And that was a little too truthful, too. "Well maybe, but - "
"What's so bad about doing a favor for a friend? You're not doing anything special anyway." She leaned forward somewhat, in a fairly intimidating manner. Miyako was good at that sort of thing; the only one she usually lacked the ability to bully effectively was Daisuke. Which led to all kinds of arguments. "And I'll bet Ken's planning to avoid going like the plague, as usual. There's no way he'd have a date already."
"Well, what if I'm not comfortable with the idea? And anyway, why do I have to convince Ken to go?" He wasn't too clear on that part. "Why don't you just go ask him to take you."
"Because I need Hikari there for moral support! And I can't ask her to go without a date!" Miyako crossed her arms, looking a bit peeved. "And you guys are always saying how sick you are of people trying to set you up, so I tried to do something nice for a change and arrange things so it didn't look like you were dating. Now what is your problem?"
How did he protest without giving away Iori's secret and still manage not to sound like he was blowing her off? Takeru fought back a wince. He wouldn't mind doing her the favor if it wasn't for Iori... "Why not ask Ken and get Daisuke to take Hikari? He'd probably jump at the chance to - "
Miyako's glare was pure venom - if he hadn't known better, he'd think there was something more to it than she wanted to admit. "I am not doing Daisuke any favors! Didn't you hear what he did to me?" She looked away, almost petulantly, and added in a mutter, "Besides, he and Hikari would make a terrible couple."
"Huh?" That was almost too much - even more Miyako. Takeru frowned, but decided against commenting as she glared daggers at him. "How about getting Iori to take you? He doesn't have a date."
Really, that would solve everything, private reservations about the whole 'Iori and Miyako' thing aside.
"Are you kidding? He's three years younger than me - I said I wanted to look like more of a catch, not some desperate girl who has to take the equivalent of her kid brother to a dance!" Miyako's glare lost a little bit of its force, but she was still giving him that annoyed look. "No offense to Iori. But why are you being so difficult about this? It's just one stupid dance; is it too much to ask?"
Takeru gave up at that point. "I guess not," he agreed, mentally resigning himself to explaining the whole messy business to Iori.
"Good." Abruptly, Miyako was all smiles again. "You can pick me up at seven - I'll be at Hikari's house." She breezed towards the doorway before he could change his mind. "Oh, and don't forget to tell Ken," she added brightly, and pulled the door closed behind her.
The sound it made when it shut had a certain ominous finality to it.
"So she bullied you into it," Ken said, slowly. There was no question in there.
No point in denying it, either. "Yeah. Pretty much."
There was a moment of silence, and then Ken sighed, that strange conviction returning to his gaze. "I'm sorry, Takeru, but the answer is still no."
"What?" He'd really been counting on the moral support - not to mention not having to go back and tell Miyako he couldn't get Hikari's date secured. "Why?"
"I just don't think it's fair to Daisuke - it's like a betrayal." Ken shook his head, the conviction seeming to grow even firmer. "You at least aren't supposed to know about Iori's feelings - but everyone knows about Daisuke's." His eyes were clear, but they didn't betray any emotion. "He's... done a great deal for me, in the past and even now. I just... I can't."
Takeru already felt bad about what he was about to have to resort to - the quiet resolution in Ken's voice almost made him change his mind. But then he thought of Miyako's reaction and how much worse Iori would probably feel if it was just the two of them instead of a group date that would be a lot more casual.
Daisuke will just have to get over it. I'll explain it if I have to. Because there is no way I'm going through this alone.
"I hate to do this," he started regretfully, and met Ken's suspicious gaze steadily. "I really do. I wish I didn't have to." He took in a deep breath, and then added, "But I happen to know you're not just feeling guilty because Miyako's trying to force you on a pretend date."
Ken's eyes widened just the slightest bit. "How - ?" He clamped his mouth shut, as if realizing he'd said too much already.
"If you like someone and want to keep it a secret," Takeru added, with an apologetic smile that probably wasn't going to help, "it's best not to keep a picture of them in a textbook someone might borrow from you without mentioning that they're doing it." He paused. "Especially if the person borrowing it is Miyako. You're lucky I saw it before she did."
The gaze he got in return was like that of a deer in the headlights. "But..." And that just trailed off into nothing; Ken could only stare at him helplessly.
"We're picking them up at seven - Hikari's house." Takeru was fairly confident of his success by that point. "I'll explain to Daisuke. See you there."
It wasn't really a surprise when the door abruptly swung shut in his face.