Iori had to admit, allowing himself to get caught up in Daisuke's plotting had been a bad idea right from the start. He'd known it then, and he knew it now - oh, how he knew it now. How could he not, sitting on the lid of an out-of-order toilet with his legs neatly crossed on the seat so they didn't show beneath the door?
Although perhaps that wasn't entirely Daisuke's fault.
Partly, though. Iori tilted his head back and regarded the ceiling with a certain wry acceptance. It was Daisuke who had dragged him to the dance in the first place, although it had been his own decision to go. If Daisuke hadn't said anything, he might have been blissfully unaware of Miyako and Takeru's date.
Miyako and Takeru. That familiar, painful lump rose at the back of his throat, and he had to lower his head and swallow in an unsuccessful attempt to push it down. Of course, he hadn't expected anything to come of his silly, unrequited crush, but that didn't mean he couldn't harbor a dream or two if there was nothing to interfere. This date - and what it might eventually represent, whatever happened - had effectively killed that. It was absolutely ridiculous, having known it would eventually end up like this, but Iori had never felt so small and alone.
Oh, grow up, why don't you? No one else ever said those words to him - only because no one else had access to his private thoughts, though. Iori let out a breath, slow and cautious in case someone had snuck into the bathroom without his knowing it and might be in a position to hear him. He was delaying the inevitable, hiding out in here.
I suppose I just want to hang onto something right now.
Before rejection came crashing home.
That was partly Daisuke's fault, too, although Iori could hardly blame him for it - he hadn't known, so how could he know how not to react? It was more Takeru's fault than Daisuke's, but it was hard to blame him, either. His intentions had been good.
Mainly, Iori blamed himself. For coming to the dance, for losing it, for having a crush in the first place that could be so embarrassingly revealed to his close friends all at once and in a public place. It was primarily his fault, not anyone else's - he was the only one to blame for his own actions. All him.
He just wished it would all stop replaying in his head.
"Dude, are you sure I look okay?" Daisuke was almost bouncing on the balls of his feet with anxious excitement, his eyes busily scanning the dance floor - deserted so far, since the dancing had yet to begin - for a glimpse of his quarry. "I mean, not much I can do with the hair and all, and hell, most of my good stuff was still dirty 'cause I forgot to give it to my mom to wash..."
"You look the same as always - if anyone doesn't want you like this, they're not going to want you most of the rest of the time either," Iori pointed out, subtly eyeing the crowd himself. He wasn't quite sure that he wanted to catch a glimpse at all.
And he was already having serious second thoughts about being there in the first place.
"Aw, c'mon, that's kinda harsh, isn't it?" Daisuke didn't seem much concerned with it, his eyes still everywhere but where his unfortunate "date" stood. "Anyway, you know how Miyako is. You gotta impress her first or you're gonna get nowhere fast."
Iori winced. That was probably entirely too accurate.
"Well, no biggie." Daisuke was already moving right along, bright and cheerful as ever. "I'll just have to impress her with my amazing wit instead."
Iori doubted that. "With your persistance, maybe," he muttered.
"Huh? Sorry, dude, I didn't catch that."
"Nothing." This really had been a bad idea. Maybe he should just back out gracefully while he still had the -
"Hey, there they are! C'mon!" Abruptly, Daisuke grabbed Iori's hand and pulled him forward into the crowd.
Too late now, I guess...
It was not just Miyako and Takeru who were standing at the side of the room talking - it was the whole rest of the group, which made Iori feel a bit better. Miyako had been in the middle of saying something, still casting petulant looks off into the crowd somewhere, when she happened to glance their way. Her eyes barely brushed over Iori, and then a momentary spark of irritation lit them as they fell on Daisuke.
"Oh, it's you," she said with an almost aggressive disdain. "So you did decide to show up, after all."
Iori would surely have balked at that. Daisuke, on the other hand, grinned. "Just so you guys don't miss me too much." He didn't let her respond to that. "How's the party?"
"Miss you? You've got to be kidding me." Miyako gave him a wry look. Oddly, she seemed to be enjoying herself. "And it's all right, I guess. Takeru and I were just waiting to get on the floor and start dancing." She snatched up the arm of the apprehensive-looking blond beside her.
Takeru shot a quick, guilty look in Iori's direction but made no move to draw back his appropriated limb. "Yeah... right."
For some reason, that caused an unsettled feeling to form in the vicinity of Iori's stomach. He couldn't possibly know, could he? That was a moderately unpleasant thought.
Miyako and Daisuke were exchanging something of a charged look - Iori could practically see the battle of wills beginning as their eyes locked. A glance at Ken and Hikari showed a certain amount of awkward uncertainty - obviously neither of them knew about Daisuke's shift in crushes. Takeru had graduated to an agonized resignation; his arm rested without much life in Miyako's possession. And no one seemed to be paying much attention to Iori at all. Which was a small blessing.
This promises to be deadly.
"Hey, I'm a better dancer than Takeru," Daisuke announced, still staring fiercely at the girl he'd professed to like. "I'll bet I could dance circles around him, in fact." He tried to make himself look cool; it didn't quite succeed. "If you ask nice, maybe I'll dance with you and you can ditch Mr. Boring."
Miyako frowned, looking moderately confused but irritated enough to bite back. "Yeah, fat chance - I'll stick with what I've got, thank you very much." She leaned against Takeru exaggerratedly, turning deliberately from Daisuke to give him a sweet smile - one that made Iori's spirits sink. "After all, he's tall and handsome and - "
"Okay, stop! Stop!" Takeru let out something of a panicky yelp, and withdrew his arm from her grasp - with some effort. "I can't do this, okay? Seriously! I don't know what you guys are playing, but I'm out!"
Miyako and Daisuke both stared at him.
Iori stared, too. What is he...?
"Look, it was fine if we all understood that this was a 'friends only' thing, but this is going way too far." Takeru's anxious gaze seemed to be split between Miyako, Daisuke, and - oddly enough - Iori. "There's no way I'm messing with a friend's feelings like this, okay?"
That gave him an ominous sort of feeling. He couldn't mean...
"What are you talking about?" Miyako's voice was suspicious.
"I'm talking about Iori's crush on you!" Takeru had barely blurted the words out when his eyes went wide, and he jerked guiltily around. "Oh, crap... Iori, I'm sorry..."
Those words barely registered. Iori started at him with a blank kind of incomprehension. "Iori's crush on you"... "Iori's crush..." The words echoed in his head, each time striking him like a blow.
"What!?" Daisuke, predictably enough, went overboard with his reaction. "Are you serious?" He stared at Takeru, then spun his head to stare at an astonished-looking Miyako, and then turned to Iori, eyes big and round. "Is he serious? You got a crush on Miyako? He's not serious, is he? You really like her?"
Urgh... Iori tried to speak, but his mouth wouldn't work properly.
"Don't pick on him!" Takeru was quick enough to come to his defense, holding out an arm as if to block Iori from Daisuke's incredulity. "He can have a crush on whoever he wants - and it's none of your business, anyway!"
"I..." Iori could barely eke out a whisper. He couldn't believe this was happening. "No..."
"Well, if it's none of my business, then why'd you go blurt it out like that? Huh?"
"No. I... wait..." His voice was still feeble. It still felt like a dream - a nightmare.
"That was an accident! And look at you, dragging him up here without caring about how he feels about it!"
"I don't." His voice was getting stronger. Iori blinked a few times, drew in a long breath - which didn't noticably help in clearing his head - and stared at the group who seemed to be ignoring him in their fight over his well-being.
"Duh, I didn't know about how he feels about it before now!"
"Stop it, you two!" Hikari suddenly spoke up, taking a step forward and firmly imposing herself between the two of them. "Think about how you're making Iori feel with all of this."
"He started it!" Daisuke pointed accusingly at Takeru.
"I don't like her." Iori's voice was back to full strength - and yet it didn't seem that anyone was listening to him. "I don't - I don't like Miyako."
"Would you guys all shut up?" And then Miyako had joined in, glaring at the all parties. "I'm trying to think here! I just had a bit of a shock, so if you don't mind..."
"Hey, you're not the only one!" Daisuke shot back.
"What was that!?"
"I DON'T LIKE MIYAKO!" Even as he was shouting it, Iori could hardly believe he'd done it. As all attention turned to him, he thrust out a shaking finger to point at Daisuke. "He’s the one who likes Miyako, not me! I've never had a crush on Miyako!"
"Hey!" Surprisingly, Daisuke's cheeks took on a reddish tinge; he hunched his shoulders and guiltily looked anywhere but at Miyako - who looked shell-shocked. Again.
"But - But he likes Hikari..." Her voice sounded weak and unconvinced; she gave Daisuke a very uncharacteristically tentative glance. "Doesn't he?"
Daisuke seized on that to recover from his moment of embarrassment. "Does everyone think I still like Hikari?" he exploded, and threw his hands in the air. "Seriously, guys, what's wrong with you? How obsessive do you think I am?"
"Do you really want us to answer that?" Ken murmured. He was looking more than a little bemused himself - those were the first words he'd spoken.
"Wait a minute..." Takeru shook his head and stared at Iori, looking thoroughly confused. "That doesn't make any sense. I thought you said to Koushiro that you liked someone older who lived in your building. Who else but Miyako would - ?"
He stopped. Blinked.
The dreamlike quality of the event burst, and reality hit. Iori's stomach churned; he felt suddenly ill. Raising his eyes slowly, he found the regard of every member of their group on him, eyes full of realization, surprise, pity - a whole myriad of humiliation directed right at him. He swallowed, and wished with complete fervency that he could melt away into the ground and never have to face any of them again.
Hikari was first to speak, her voice very quiet. "Iori..."
"I don't feel very well." Amazingly, his voice came out clear and unshaken. Drawing up whatever quiet dignity he could muster, he met their collective gaze. "Excuse me."
And then he turned and made his way out through the crowd, toward the sign he'd seen that indicated where the restrooms were.
Around him, the music abruptly blared to life as the dance began.
And now he knows. Iori leaned his head back against the porcelain behind him, shutting his eyes to blot out the headache growing behind them. His embarrassing secret, the unintentional, unstoppable, lingering, stupid crush. On a boy. On his best friend. On someone who'd tried - albeit unsuccessfully - to defend him from having his heart broken.
I never asked things to turn out like this. It's just... how they are.
No doubt Takeru would come looking for him, eventually. Iori could see it already. Takeru wasn't the sort to leave something like this unresolved, nor would he do anything to intentionally cause further trouble. Iori was fairly confident his friend would seek him out - if not that night, then some time after - and take the time to assure him that he was perfectly all right with it, that it was no big deal, they'd still be friends. And of course he was flattered, but Takeru was straight, and didn't really have any interest in dating someone two years younger than him anyway. He thought of Iori more like a younger brother, and a good friend. But they'd still hang out, right?
It was a testiment to how well he knew Takeru that he could predict that conversation. Iori fought back the now-familiar ache at the back of his throat. Surprisingly, he had no urge to cry. Maybe that was because of his resignation at how the situation was going to eventually turn out.
Or maybe he was just a little bit relieved that he would at least get some closure now.
Outside the stall, the door opened. "Iori? Are you in here?"
And now here was his chance. Iori held himself still, not daring to breathe for a moment, and wondered if he really wanted to speak up in response.
Am I really ready to face this just yet?