Brooding was not an activity that Hikari believed should be allowed to make a person look sexy. In Ken's case, brooding happened too often already - and not with good results. But she had to privately admit that he did look good leaning against the wall outside of the dance hall with his hair being lightly brushed by the wind, features illuminated by the dim remnants of the sunset, and with a deeply pensive expression on his face.
"Hello Hikari," he greeted her, without turning his face to even see who was approaching him.
Oddly, she didn't find herself stumbling for words. "I thought I'd find you out here." Iori, she was almost positive, had not even left the building. Ken always seemed to need to get out into open spaces. It often seemed that he wasn't completely comfortable in a crowd.
At that, he did turn, stunning blue eyes so dazzling for a moment that she lost her breath and almost missed the remorse hanging in them. "I'm sorry for how things turned out. I hadn't meant to cause you any concern."
"Well..." Now, this part was tricky. Hikari took a tentative step forward. "You didn't, exactly."
"Maybe. But I still don't feel quite right about it." He crossed his arms as if to create a defensive wall, and looked away again. "The truth is, when Takeru asked me to be your date, the first thought that came into my head was that I wanted nothing else more."
The quiet confession seemed to cause explosions in her stomach. Hikari felt as if her heart had stopped for just that one instant; she was more enthralled now than she remembered feeling ever before in her life. "Ken... I..."
"But it only makes me more of a selfish person." Ken shook his head, shutting his eyes as if in he were in pain and drawing in a deep breath. "I always think of myself. I should've thought first about Daisuke's feelings - he's the person I owe the most to, and I can't even be considerate enough to do that for him."
It was a nice sentiment - misplaced though it might be. Hikari sighed. "Ken, Daisuke likes Miyako, not me."
"But I didn't know that at the time, did I?" He really seemed determined to lose himself in his own guilt. "I probably don't deserve to be here with you."
Give me strength. Hikari resisted the urge to roll her eyes toward the sky. This was the problem when dealing with Ken - he took on the blame for everything, even things he couldn't control. And it was easy to recognize because she tended to be the same way in that she tried to claim responsibility for everyone else's feelings. It was one of those flaws that were hard to miss.
And tended to be frustrating to deal with.
I wonder if Takeru is getting this kind of reaction, too.
The bathroom wall was not particularly clean, but at least it was dry and it didn't have a weird smell to it like the ones at the school. Takeru leaned against it, facing the greyish-green door in front of him. "Are you ever planning to come out of there?"
"I'll think about it," Iori's voice answered him. There was a certain flat tone to it that spoke of rigid control over whatever emotions might have been there otherwise.
He wasn't really sure what he was doing, but he was sure that if he didn't get Iori out of that bathroom stall, nothing was going to happen either way. They'd probably still be in the exact same spots by the time next year's dance came around.
But seriously, what am I supposed to say? Should he just give the whole 'I'm flattered but no thanks' speech? It sounded so bad. Besides, what if he decided later on that he'd been in love with Iori the whole time and just hadn't realized it? Then he'd probably end up being the one hiding in the bathroom stall. Figuratively speaking, of course. But if he said he was interested in Iori and it turned out he wasn't, things would be ten times worse!
Takeru leaned his head back against the wall. Why do these things have to be so complicated? It would be so much simpler if someone just laid his feelings out on a table and told him exactly what they all meant. Then he'd know for sure.
"Why did you come in here after me, Takeru?" Iori's voice asked him suddenly, after the moment of silence had stretched itself out about as thin as it could between them.
That jolted him out of his thoughts. "I... I, uh, just came to see how you were doing." It sounded lame, but what else could he say? He cleared his throat. "We're all worried about you."
Another moment of silence - this one considerably shorter than the first. "Well, I'm fine," Iori said - just a bit sharply. "So you can go back and tell them all that everything's okay. The rest of you can have fun here without me."
Oh boy. Takeru grimaced. "I don't think I should go back out there right now."
How to explain... "Well..." He hesitated, and then plunged on in. "I get the feeling Miyako and Daisuke will want some time alone to, uh... sort out their little misunderstanding. You know?"
"Oh." Another silence. Then, "Well, you can still hang out with Hikari and Ken."
Takeru made another face. "No, actually, I can't."
At least he was sounding curious instead of flat-voiced and carefully controlled. "Ken left."
"What?" Iori sounded surprised. "Why?"
That was the part Takeru was hoping wouldn't come up. "I, um, kind of revealed his secret crush. By accident," he added quickly. "I didn't really mean to - it just kind of slipped out. Anyway, he got really embarrassed and left."
"Okay." The word came out slow and cautious - but thankfully, no comments followed. "But that means Hikari's probably in there all by herself, doesn't it?"
"Uh... not exactly." Takeru coughed, feeling uncomfortable.
Another brief silence. "What do you mean by 'not exactly'?"
"She went after Ken."
This must be how Daisuke felt when one of his hair-brained schemes was revealed. Takeru shifted. "Because the crush was on her."
The next silence was a bit longer than the others. Then a strange, muffled sort of sound emerged from the stall.
*Is that laughter?* Takeru stared at the stall in amazement. "Are you laughing at me?"
"Umph... well... hrmph..." A few more chuckles escaped - loud enough to be recognizable. "I can't help it! Just the way you said it - and this whole night - Takeru, you've attracted more trouble in half an hour than I have in my whole life!"
It was sort of funny, when he put it like that. Takeru allowed himself a couple of sheepish snickers. "I guess you're right. It's not my night, is it?"
"Not even a little bit." Iori's voice seemed to have gained more good humor; there were some shifting noises from behind the stall door. "But then again, I don't think it's really been anyone's night."
That made him wince. "True enough." He pushed aside his feelings of guilt for the moment. "I still think you should come out of there."
"What for?" The response was cautious.
"So we can talk face-to-face." That part was important. Even if he couldn't find the right words or figure things out before they finished, some things just couldn't be said with a bathroom stall door in between them. "I might not have anything that really makes sense to say, but we can at least try to figure something out, right?"
"What's to figure out?" Iori seemed willing to listen, at least; Takeru saw his legs slide down into view beneath the door. "I figured you would have something to say to me - I just need to listen, don't I?"
"I don't think it's quite that easy." Takeru smiled a bit, ruefully. "To tell you the truth, I didn't come in here knowing what I was going to say to you. I don't even have my thoughts sorted out - never mind saying them out loud."
He heard a sharp, indrawn breath. "Takeru, if you're looking for a good way to reject me without seeming too cruel about it, I'd prefer to stay here while you do it. I'm not particularly eager to show you how I'm going to react, no matter how nice you manage to make it."
Well, this is going well... Takeru sighed again. "I'm not rejecting you. I'm still thinking about it. That's why we need to talk."
More shifting behind the door - and then there was the click of a lock and it swung open. Iori's eyes were almost fierce as he stared up at his older friend - clearly demanding an explanation. "What do you mean you're still thinking about it?"
"I mean... you know what? I don't know what I mean." Takeru spread his arms, feeling more than a little frustrated with the whole situation. "I don't know what I'm feeling either. Everyone is just assuming I do, but this isn't exactly the easiest thing in the world to deal with! How do you think you'd feel if you were only given - what, fifteen minutes? - after your best friend confesses that he likes you to figure out if you might be just gay enough to like him back?"
Iori looked only slightly startled. "I didn't exactly confess," he corrected, after a moment of silence.
"You know what I mean." Takeru wondered if he should be regretting his outburst. Then again, this was Iori he was talking to - and Iori was used to these kinds of lapses. For the first time since the crush had been revealed, he found himself struck by the realization that this meant their relationship was going to change - perhaps irrevokably. It was a sobering thought. "I really don't want to lose you, you know," he said, in something of a quieter tone. "No matter what happens."
"You're not going to - " Iori broke off what he'd been about to say as the door swung open. An unfamiliar teenager stepped into the room, gave them a brief, only mildly curious glance, and proceeded to the urinals.
Takeru mentally winced. "What do you say we talk outside?" he suggested, under his breath.
Iori was giving the newcomer a certain dubious glance. "I think that might be a good idea," he agreed.
"Let me ask you something, Ken." Hikari said slowly, taking a couple of cautious steps forward to put herself just far enough away that she wouldn't seem to be intruding. "Do you remember when Hawkmon and Gatomon jogress evolved for the first time?"
He looked a bit surprised by her question, but nodded. "Yes, of course. But why - ?"
She held up a hand. "Hold that thought. But you do remember what Miyako did for me then? What she promised, and what she has done for me since?"
Ken frowned, as if trying to pinpoint the direction of her question. "I suppose I do... I wouldn't say I knew much about the complexities of your relationship, but I do understand in a way."
"And," Hikari added, fixing her gaze on him and hoping he also understood the significance of her next words, "you know that Miyako had a crush on you, back then?"
Those gorgeous blue eyes blinked - Ken seemed taken aback. "I... well..."
It was harder to say the rest. Hikari fought not to lower her eyes. "Do you think I'm a terrible person, then, for wanting to be with you?" Heat rushed up to her cheeks as the words came out, but she did her best to ignore it.
"No, of course n - you want to be with me?" If anything, his eyes went even wider, and the faintest hint of red began to spread on his cheeks. "But - "
"Well, then, if you can forgive me for my so-called betrayal, then surely you can forgive yourself as well, can't you?" Hikari willed herself to fix him with a determined stare despite the lingering blush. "And yes, Ken, I want to be with you."
Ken looked positively stunned - and for a moment, at least, he seemed to have been struck speechless. "Hikari... you..."
Gathering her courage, she extended her hand to him, palm up. "Will you have me? Please, Ken?"
It seemed for one agonizing moment that he wasn't going to move at all - that he'd just stand there staring at her hand like it didn't fit his potrayal of how the world should be. Then, finally, he pushed himself gracefully from the wall, stepped forward, and hesitantly reached out in return.
"What can I say to that?" His long-boned fingers encased hers gently; there was an expression of something like wonder on his face. "Except yes. I will."
Hikari felt the relieved smile spreading on her face; she couldn't stop it even as she lifted her face to seal the deal properly.