It all starts because Iori is an extremely careful and observant person. It's a concept that’s been instilled in him since childhood and that has now become his pride, his representation, the image he has carved out and in which he finds it easy to recognize himself.
Izumi Iori, the diligent and studious high school student, extremely organized and always ready to put forward new ideas to promote idolish7.
It all starts because Iori is an extremely attentive and observant person, and because as such he decided to spend the night before Yamato's birthday to revise the program of the concert in his honour, even at the cost of spending the night awake: because he is Idolish7's producer, because he cares about them and wants everyone to be as successful as they deserve.
When Tamaki enters his room, Iori is putting down his sixth cup of coffee on the desk.
"Yotsuba-san, why are you still awake!? It's extremely late, please go to sleep because I'm not going to drag you out of bed tomorrow morning."
"Heh! But you're still awake too, Iorin! You can't scold me!"
Iori looks at him unimpressed and, after moments of endless silence, he asks out loud the implied question. "What are you doing here?"
The boy seems taken aback, purses his lips and looks around nervously, fumbling with something behind his back. Only after spending whole minutes gasping and starting words that don't seem to take him anywhere, Tamaki decides to do what he has to - and only because Iori threatened to get up for his seventh cup of coffee.
Tamaki suddenly leans forward without any warning, stretching his arms and holding out a small glass bottle – one that Iori has learned to recognize by now.
"U-Uh... Uhm, a King Pudding?" He mumbles, uncertain, now approaching after having pulled back in fright.
"It's-- It's the limited version, the chocolate version! It's good, I swear!"
"...Yotsuba-san, isn't it a little late for dessert?"
"It's never late for dessert--! And also... also..."
Tamaki ends up stubbornly staring at his own feet and neither of them speaks again. Perhaps, Iori thinks, it's because he realized that he was still working and wanted to do something for him: all of sudden, he feels extremely guilty for treating him rudely.
He casts him a smile before recollecting himself, coughing to clear his throat. "If that's the case, then I can't refuse. For good manners, obviously. Also, wasting food is not good."
Tamaki looks up at once and the radiant smile he offers him lights up something warm and kind in his chest – something that perhaps, if he was a little honest with himself, Iori could name as affection.
"Yes, for real."
"T-Tomorrow... Let's go to school together, okay?"
"Yotsuba-san, we go to school together every day."
"Yes, but--! You know-- I'm happy, I'm super happy! Thank you, Iorin!"
"Uhm, it's nothing," Iori mumbles, looking away. He has the feeling he should say something, but he isn't sure that he understood what the point of all this conversation is in the first place.
In any case, the other seems to be satisfied this way. He runs away from the room, beaming; at the threshold, he turns to raise his arm and say goodnight.
Then Mitsuki emerges from his bedroom in pajama, clearly irritated. "Tamaki, it's past midnight! You can greet Yamato-san tomorrow morning, now go to sleep!"
Iori watches as the classmate flees, muttering under his breath that he could have at least closed the door.
"If you keep bickering and moving, we'll never take this damn photo."
Iori gasps, pursing his lips in shame, and with the same shame he looks at his brother's face.
Mitsuki is watching them very carefully, hands on his hips and the camera in his right hand. Iori would like to apologize, probably stuttering, but he’s under the impression that there’s a certain amusement in Mitsuki’s expression, as if he was only abusing his influence as the older son in the end.
"Ah, sorry Mikki!" Tamaki raises his hands in the air as if he has just been asked in class - which, however, won't happen ever again. "But they don't want to agree on the pose!"
"Well, kids nowadays are really energic. I was surely less lively when I was young."
"Speak for yourself, Nikaidou. And what do you mean, when I was young? We’re the same age, you know?"
Trigger's leader shoves him, but it's light and a not so veiled laugh leaks from his voice.
"But it's true that a lot of things have changed! When I graduated, for example, we went to take pictures of the beach, fishing crabs!"
"That doesn't depend on the generational gap, Ryuu, trust me."
"Heh!? Does that mean you didn't do it either?!"
"Well, I ate crabs for my graduation, but they were in buffet trays", Torao comments too, curiously absorbed by the discussion.
"Ugh, damn rich boys," Mitsuki mumbles and, noticing Sougo's guilty look as he stares at the ground, he adds in disbelief: "You too--!?"
Iori wonders why they were scolded in the first place if they had to end up watching a group of men in their twenties recall what remains of their youth.
He collects himself when he feels Tamaki pulling on his sleeve. "Why can't we do the Usamimi's poses?"
"Because it's stupid!" Haruka and him reply at the same time and, though Iori knows he said it himself, he feels the strong impulse to list to the shorter one at least ninety-seven reasons why it's not a stupid idea at all.
"So what other ideas do you have? It's boring to take only a serious photo of your graduation."
"Why do I have to think about it! I didn't even want to do it with you two in the first place!"
Tamaki shrugs, not affected in the least by the statement. "It's not like you or Iorin have other friends, Isumin. Who did you want to take the photo with?"
Come to think about it, even listing some valid reasons to beat up Tamaki would be fine.
"What about an idol pose?"
"You can only think about work, don't you?"
"Do you have better ideas?"
"Yeah, going home."
Before they can head-butt Tamaki steps in, hitting his open palm with a fist, evidently dazzled by a brilliant idea.
"Why don't we make prehistoric Usamimi idol’s poses?!"
Why prehistoric?, and What does it mean Usamimi idol? are the questions the two ask at the same time, perplexed.
"Because Isumin likes dinosaurs and because, if they are idols, then they are hard-working like Iorin wants," Tamaki explains as if it was the most normal conclusion in the world. "See, just put your hands like that and open your mouth and then gwah!"
Protesting against Tamaki is worth little, especially when he has that expression on his face and looks so enthusiastic.
"Isumin, you stay in the middle because you're the shortest."
"It's only because you are too tall!"
The three of them end up bickering again under the amused gaze of the others. Yet somehow, after so much effort, they manage to take the picture - while Tamaki pulls on their cheeks and tells them to smile more.
It's a nice photo, a classic one you’d expect from high school - or kindergarten – kids, and Iori hopes the agency will print it soon, so he'll be able to hang it over the desk along with his family photo.
"Heh, so Haru’s really got friends," Zool's leader teases him. Iori can only hear Haruka mumbling, Shut up, Touma, before seeing him hide his face between the shoulders, blushing.
Obviously, as for any important event, it doesn’t look like the others have embarrassed them enough, so they solve the problem by proposing a group photo.
This time Otoharu takes it and it's difficult to put in focus all the sixteen of them, plus the managers, crammed where there is space.
This time the photo is even worse than the previous one. Anyway, it’s not too bad, Iori thinks: the wall above his desk is large enough for three frames.
Tamaki drags him by the hand to the dormitory courtyard on a clear and still relatively cool May evening.
They both know very well that they should be already in bed, that if someone were to catch them they would end up in trouble and that's what Iori himself said to his companion before, when Tamaki knocked at his door, agitated, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
He then pulled him by the arm, earning a pinch and a slap on the back of his head for the excessive vehemence.
"What's up now?"
"I think there's a cat in the bushes," Tamaki confessed to him. "I saw something moving from the window and... At first I was afraid it was, uhm, you know," - a ghost - "But I think there's a cat in the bushes, for real."
Iori would like to scold the other by telling him to stop repeating the same things over and over and express himself better, but if there's one thing that makes Iori weak, it's cute animals and cats are absolutely cute animals.
"U-Uhm... After all, it's not a terrible idea, because he could mewl and wake the others during the night, causing problems and making us too tired for tomorrow's rehearsals."
The excuse is so stupid that Iori almost feels ashamed of himself, but Tamaki completely ignores his words and keeps dragging him away, clearly happy while swinging their hands as he leads him downstairs.
Maybe Iori is just imagining it, but lately it feels like the other became more... affectionate? Even more inclined to physical contact than usual? For example, he often curls up in his bed as Iori reads, insists that Iori caresses his head, shares sweets bought at the konbini with him, and often takes his hand without warning.
Just like now, Tamaki seems to find a certain comfort in human warmth, interlacing their fingers firmly but gently and giggling like an idiot while he looks at the result.
Ah, but it's probably him who thinks too much, because Yotsuba has always been an demonstrative person, inclined to be spoiled.
By the time they arrive to the courtyard, it's dark, the lights are gone and they can't do anything but listening in and rummaging through the bushes.
Precisely because it's a clear evening and there aren't any lights close, Tamaki gets distracted by staring at the sky, where, if you pay attention, you can see the dim light of brighter stars.
He lifts the arms to the sky without stopping to hold his hand, pointing an area up there.
"Ah, it's Arcturus, you see, up there! It's a star of the Boote's constellation, you know, they call it the Bear Keeper."
Iori squints at it, then, noticing a small speck of warm colours in the pitch black of the night.
"It's so red-- And brilliant... And also, you know, when Arcturus rises up in the East, what it means..."
And Iori would like to tell him that no, he doesn't know, but Tamaki doesn't even give him time to speak, because he catches a glimpse of the cat moving in the bushes again and chases it, yanking him.
At the end of the hunting, they are both exhausted, the cat is nowhere in sight and Iori doesn't even think about what Arcturus means anymore.
A month later, they find the cat once again in the courtyard, still hidden in the bushes. Or rather, a female cat, considering the two balls of fur curled up against her stomach in search of food.
"She has kitties!" exclaims Riku, excited, leaning over his shoulder with eyes that shine; Tamaki and Nagi join them soon after and Iori can distinctly feel the strength in the knees yielding under their weight.
As expected, comments like They're so small!, or Won't they be cold?, or Can we keep them?, follow each other in a few minutes.
"Don't say absurdities, we can't keep them! The president will never let us and Nanase-san's health condition doesn't allow it."
Riku seems about to reply, I'm fine!, indignantly, but he is interrupted by Nagi, who covers his mouth, while Tamaki joins in immediately after by plugging his nose.
"If he doesn't breathe in the fur, it’s fine, right!?" They ask excitedly and, just a moment later, even Riku seems to support the idea - like a fool, they are all stupid – by nodding with passion, raising his thumbs as he mumbles something incomprehensible.
Iori sighs, while Tamaki crouches and leans forward, grinning. "We'll have to give them names."
"Yotsuba-san, I already told you we can’t keep them."
"Even if you say this, it doesn't matter. We can give them names anyway, so the kittens will always know this can be their house too and that they are welcomed."
He says it with a gentle smile and crystalline laughter. Iori knows himself well enough to know he can't oppose to this.
"Then we should find names all together, I suppose," he sighs. Riku frees himself from Nagi's grip at once, only to add that they should build a little house for them, too.
It doesn't look like a bad idea, they can do it; honesty, Iori wouldn't mind to spend time this way, building a shelter for kittens with his friends.
He realizes that he melted into a smile as he watched them discuss, only when they ask him.
"Um, I wasn't listening, sorry."
"About the name, do you have any idea?"
"Heh! I thought we’d call the mother Kokona!"
"Nagicchi, she doesn't look like Kokona at all."
"In that case we should call her Tenn! Because she's elegant and composed."
"I don't agree, if we put it this way Mitsuki should be the choice, because she's as caring as my brother."
"T-Then I will call her Aya, because as a brother I won't lose!"
Finally, they sigh as they understand that they aren't going anywhere.
"We should call them A and B," Tamaki exclaims, thoughtfully.
"Um, it's a curious choice...?"
"Because, you know, someone once told me that in the Swan's constellation there is a star, Albireo, that is actually two stars: one’s white and the other is red, just like the colour of these kittens. Two stars that are one star!"
"It’s called a binary star, Yotsuba-san, and no, we can't call the cats A and B."
"Heh, then what about Usa and Mimi?"
Iori must refrain from supporting such an appealing proposal. The rumble of a thunder in the distance is what gives him the chance to get up.
"We will decide calmly later, but for now help me, we can't leave them outside. We'll bring them inside the dormitory, but only for tonight, is it clear? And Nanase-san will have to stay away."
They raise their arms in sync, enthusiastic, and run inside to look for blankets and boxes.
After dinner - when the kittens are sleeping - Tamaki approaches him with a frown, pulling at his sleeve almost shyly.
Iori sighs, waiting a few seconds for him to talk, before doing it himself.
"If you're still offended because we didn't give them the names you wanted, then—"
"No-- I mean, A and B are really bad names... It's not that..."
"So, what is it?"
"Is that... I wouldn't mind if you called me by name every now and then..."
Ah... Iori wasn't expecting it; among all the possible complaints he thought the other could have addressed to him, this wasn't on the list.
It takes a few seconds to recover and despite this he can distinctly feel the heat flow to his cheeks - his face must be on fire.
"Y-Yotsuba-san--! Where does this come from, now--!? Why should I call you by name--!?"
"Well, because---!" The other doesn't finish the sentence, pursing his lips in a tight line and staring nervously at his own feet, tapping his fingers on the fabric of his own trousers. Iori can read the clear shame on his face and he’s not sure if knowing this helps him to calm down or not.
"Because..." He carries on, trying to find the words. "Because we all do it here in the dorms..." Then he lifts his head and blurts out:. "And also, you know, Chika-chan and Suzuki do it, too! I mean-!"
Iori looks at him, perplexed. By saying Chika-chan and Suzuki, he's probably referring to their classmates, Minato Chika and Aoyagi Suzuki – also because Aoyagi has been talking for days about how pretty the girl was at their dates.
"So what's the point? I'll do what I want."
Probably the answer comes out colder than necessary, but Tamaki's expression stays unchanged: sulky and annoyed, as if Iori just wronged him in the worst way possible.
"Do whatever you want," he mumbles, then goes to take the cats’ basket and approaches the door. "They sleep with me tonight, anyway."
To Iori it looks like he’s ended up in a dispute over the custody of their children.
The truth is that Iori is a weak person. As much as he hates to admit it, no matter how many times he tries to reject the idea with every little fibre of his being, he knows that there are things that you can't oppose or fight in any way - It's because Ichi is a kind person, their leader revealed him just a moment before, with a sly smile and looking smugly at him as they went shopping to the nearby konbini.
Riku joined Iori a moment later, he ran to reach him and risked to tumble down the stairs, which would have been a far more serious problem to the group than the lack of yakiniku for dinner – and of food for the cats: Yuki the cat, Momo the cat and Okarin, the cat mom.
It's late afternoon now. With the sun at that angle, it's easy for Nanase-san to create shadows that stretch and deform on the sidewalk at every step, especially at his walking pace – smooth but vigorous, which makes him look like he’s preparing for some kind of triumphal march.
Iori hears him humming, mumbling and wondering what they will have for dinner, listing foods that are certainly too expensive for them to buy with the money they have at the moment.
Iori wonders if he shouldn't have asked Tamaki if he wanted something, or if he wanted to come with him – because usually Tamaki always acts like this, stressing people until they give in and buy whatever he wants, or joining in just to try and buy sweets from the konbini with pocket money. Yet, this time, Tamaki didn't ask for anything at all. Maybe he's still angry at him - seriously? Because of that silly thing about names? -, maybe he should have apologized and asked what he said that was so bad, since honesty and communication are the basis for friendship, right?
When they arrive at the konbini, Riku slightly increases the pace, jumping happily and leaping among the shelves without even bothering about the list - Iori has to pull him by the back of his shirt and remind him that they are not here for fun.
But the truth is that Iori is a weak one. He is extremely compliant to Riku's puppy eyes or, alternatively, to guilty feelings: as he walks past the refrigerated counter, he can't help but stop and look at the King Pudding’s bottles on display. Does Tamaki still have any pudding left at home? Won't he need more? Iori should have asked, even if he always tells the other to change his diet, he should have--
And so, with a sigh and a sour face, Iori finds himself carrying the puddings to the cash desk, paying and taking everything to the check-out, all under Riku's watchful gaze.
"What do you want?" He questions him, unnerved, looking away.
The center shakes his head innocently, but Iori can read an ill-concealed amusement and a certain complacency in his expression; judging from the face he’s making, Iori’s certain that Riku is holding back a smile, one very wide and sly.
"Nothing, nothing,” Riku chants, looking away and throwing some involuntary glance at the shopping bag.
"If you have something to say, say it! It’s annoying!" Iori blurts out while moving towards the inner part of the sidewalk and accelerating his pace.
"Huh, uhm, it’s that... Iori is really a gentleman after all."
"Heh!? And what would that mean!?"
He’d really like to know what’s his problem, but Riku gasps and shouts “Yellow car!”, before giving him a slap and running away.
When Iori arrives at the dorms, after having chased their center to prevent a possible asthma attack, he finds Mezzo" watching TV in the living room; or rather, Sougo’s the one watching – to be fair, it’s a Trigger's concert, which is not so surprising - while the other member of the duo is playing some video games, intent on tackling down who knows what level.
It's the older one who notices and welcomes him first while trying to pull himself together by clearing his throat. "Iori-kun, you're already back... Do you need help with the bags?"
"Don't worry, Osaka-san. Nanase-san is here for that, right?"
Riku gasps and wrinkles his nose, probably because he’s perceiving a slight annoyance in his voice – and he's right.
"Iori, you're just offended because you can't accept compliments."
"I don't remember you complimenting me, Nanase-san."
Their center shrugs, grimacing slightly and raising his voice – which is not on purpose at all, or maybe it is - as he states: "The pudding we bought should be put in the fridge, right?"
As expected, Tamaki turns towards them at the speed of light, nearly dropping the console.
"Pudding--!? Did you buy King Pudding!?"
"Hmm, Iori even made sure to buy those that have a longer expiration date," Riku croons slyly uncaring of Iori’s uncontrollable stammering.
Tamaki's gaze lights up even more and Iori knows he wants to dig himself a hole and not surface until the next morning. On the other hand, Sougo seems to be following the discussion with interest, peeking from time to time from his position on the sofa.
Finally, Iori sighs and approaches them, holding out the box. "Only after dinner, obviously."
"Obviously!" Tamaki replies, while embracing the confection as if it was a treasure.
Meanwhile, Sougo hasn't stopped observing him for all this time. When Iori returns his gaze to make him aware that he’s been noticed, the older one quickly diverts his attention by turning back to the TV, his cheeks slightly flushed and his posture nervous.
It only last so long, anyway, because then a strong burning smell begins to spread through the room, catching everyone's attention. Iori finally remembers why it's dangerous to leave Riku alone in the kitchen for more than five minutes.
Autumn :. Orion
What’s appealing about standing on stage is that you can see everything from a perspective that is granted to few people; that you can watch every single spot among the stands and the light doesn't blind you, but guides you and protects you once you've learned where to look for it.
It's weird, because the concert held on that evening is just one of many, it has got nothing special and even the repertoire of the songs is the same as always; yet, on that same evening, Iori thinks that Tamaki’s shining so much more than usual – may it be because The Funky Universe is his song? - that his eyes have been following him more than any other. It's weird.
At school they taught him that Orion is one of the most important and well-known constellations, that everyone can see it wherever they are since it's located at the Equator and composed of some of the brightest stars - whether it's Rigel, Betelgeuse or the Orion's belt, it’s one of the first you'll always see, because it's bright, colourful and makes all the surrounding ones look insignificant.
At the moment – Iori thinks - Tamaki is a bit like Orion: no matter where you are looking, or where you are watching from, you'll spot its figure among the others and gaze at it, feeling lost, like Iori is doing.
When Tamaki notices his gaze , he turns around, confused, but it only lasts for a second. If his smile was quantifiable in the same measurement's unit used for the luminosity of stars, Iori is sure that it would shine over any other: his smile would be the star with the greatest apparent magnitude, absolute magnitude and, without a doubt, the highest temperature.
As he touches his chest, clutching at the fabric with his fingers convulsively, as though he’s looking for a physical reason for the heat engulfing him, Iori wonders if it's a coincidence that the hottest stars are the blue ones.
"When you asked me if I wanted to join you, I certainly didn't have this in mind."
Iori looks up from the showcase in front of him and turns his attention towards the boy by his side, clearly annoyed.
He tilts his head before speaking, "What? You don't know what an exhibition is?"
"No—!" Haruka blurts out, blushing and flapping his hands as he tries to correct himself. "I mean, this thing," He says, even more emphatically, and points at Tamaki glued to a window like an excited child, not far away. His tone of voice suggests to Iori that what he's referring to should be obvious, but in truth he only sees his puny former classmate leaning menacingly in a failed attempt of threat.
This must clearly show through his expression because Haruka presses his hands to his face, grumbling in frustration, then lets his arms fall to his sides.
"I hate you."
"As idols, or...? I'm always open to hear opinions to improve, you know."
"See...! That’s what I'm talking about!" Haruka stomps his foot on the ground. "And put away that notebook!!"
A girl from the staff then comes to warn them to be quiet, and everything returns to normal.
In all honesty, Iori doesn't understand why the other is so annoyed: he thought it was a form of courtesy, even, when they invited him to that recent dinosaur exhibition everybody’s talking about – Isumin likes dinosaurs, right? And he has got no friends beside us. So let's go all together!
"It's because... Uhm, you like these things, don't you?"
Iori hates having to face this situation; he’s rather have Tamaki do it in his place, because he is so expansive and carefree, and not as terrible at social relations as he is.
"We thought it would be... fun."
The other stays silent, nibbling at his lips nervously and only throwing him occasional glances. "Uhm... Uh, thank you."
"Don't mention it…"
A beat of silence.
"It's not that I hate this, or you guys, it's just that—" Haruka stumbles over and over the words as he looks for the best thing to say. "It's just that—!... I hate being the third wheel, okay?"
"Isumi-san, just because Yotsuba-san and I belong to the same group it doesn't mean you should feel excluded."
"That's not what I mean!" Haruka blurts out. The girl glares at him again, so he tries to lower his voice as much as possible, still unable to hide the hysterical note in his voice. "Why did he also agree to this in the first place!?"
"You could have just refused if you didn't like this."
Iori carefully watches him blushing and, for once, he’s happy that he’s not the embarrassed one.
"What I want to say... is that, usually, you don't do it like this… Uhm, you know…"
"Uhm, hmm, you know…” Haruka stares at him intensely, his face assuming a darker shade of red. "Heck, don't make me say it—" But, upon seeing only confusion in his expression once again, he can't take it anymore. "Shouldn't you two have gone alone, what the heck?!"
He says it all in one breath, catching the attention of several visitors. Iori himself is taken aback. Should they have gone alone? But Yotsuba-san said it was okay to go all together. He was okay with it, too, wasn't he? Wouldn’t going alone together be bit like—
Whatever he was thinking fades within a second as the security girl returns, cornering Haruka and giving him a full-fledged lecture. Iori wisely chooses to slip away.
Iori finds Tamaki near a skeleton of stegosaurus and must immediately stop him from leaning forward too much. The other seems to be having fun, after all, so worrying is meaningless.
And yet, even though he knows that it's stupid – he is perfectly aware of it - Isumi's words keep echoing in his head and he can't help but think about it. "Are you happy we came here all together…?"
"Huh, of course I am! Have you seen how many things there’re, Iorin!? They're all so cool and so big— And also, this looks a little like Yama-san, for example, but I'm sure that if Sou-chan had been a dinosaur he would have been the most dangerous of them all… even if small, like the velociraptor."
He can't help but nod in silence, staring at the showcase in front of them, a little lost. If they did go together, alone, nothing would have changed, right? Because they are always like this, as they are now. Because Tamaki is as crystal clear as water, it's easy to read him.
And, Iori thinks, letting the heat flow, skin against skin, his fingers seem to be safe to hold with his own.
He hears the other hold his breath as he turns to him, probably taken aback - they both are.
Maybe he should justify himself for the gesture and apologize, but right now his head is blank, it looks difficult to recall any word, and he's not brave enough to look him in the eyes.
"T-" he stutters, with his heart in the throat, trying to learn again how to do something natural like breathing. "Tamaki... I'm happy we came to this exhibition together."
In the silence of the museum, those few words seem to resonate even more, perhaps because Iori feels them heavy on his chest, pulling him down to the bottom like an anchor.
Tamaki, for once, doesn't reply; he simply returns the grip, imperceptibly firmer, and Iori is sure he'll drown like that, lulled by the irregular beat of his heart.
Contrary to common belief, Izumi Iori loves winter holidays. Of course, they are full of work commitments, punctuated by a less regular pace of life and dorms are often more chaotic than usual, but Iori is still eighteen and, as much as he denies it, he likes gifts, cute tree decorations, having dinner together – and the exclusive Christmas collection of Usamimi keychains.
Even when others come to visit them and organize parties destined to end in tragedy, Iori never really gets angry; what he doesn't like – he reasons, or rather believes that it's unquestionably, absolutely true – is to witness the havoc their drunk senpai make, especially when he happens to be a victim of their bullying.
"Ichi!" Their leader calls him with an austere tone that he's rarely used to hear and that Yamato seems to use in an utterly erroneous manner, only for futile matters.
However, Iori indulges him, at least for the moment; he sits on one of the free sofas, in front of their three senpai – none of them is particularly sober and, as much as Iori loves his brother, he also knows perfectly well when he can do little to morally excuse him.
"We discussed a lot whether it was appropriate to have this talk or not, but as responsible adults," Iori hears Mitsuki laughing in the background, "it's our duty... to do it."
Iori shifts his gaze from one to another, confused and slightly awed by Yamato’s gravity – he doesn't know if being an annoying, quarrelsome drunk is one of his merits or defects. At his side, Mitsuki laughs, while Sougo is starting to fall asleep, hugging an alcohol bottle and lying on Ryuu's lap. The man doesn't look bothered by it, perhaps because he’s too intent on talking to Nagi in a dialect only the two of them can understand – but, in all honesty, Iori isn't so sure that Nagi is very enthusiastic about it.
The only one who still looks moderately sober is Yaotome, who’s leaning against the back of the sofa, behind them, and looking at him with a mix of empathy and amusement.
"Tamaki, Riku, you too! All the children, debriefed!" exclaims Mitsuki, laughing and flapping his hands. "The lesson starts!"
Iori doesn't know how hell is like, nor if it does exist, but in case it does it would certainly leave him with the same sour taste of the juice that almost choked him – and failed miserably to kill him.
"N-Nii-san--!? W-What--!? What are you saying all of a sudden...?"
At least, it encourages him to know that he's not the only one who wants to die, as everyone who’s still sober finds it a terrible idea – exception made for Re:vale, who come wandering from behind the sofa, like summoned demons, seemingly very interested in the subject.
"Oh-oh, it looks like the night is warming up, nee, Yuki?"
"Were we supposed to bring condoms as a Christmas present...?"
The abrupt noise of a chair interrupts them as Trigger's center stands up, frowning and holding back who knows how many insults. "I'm taking him away," Tenn finally exhales. He presses his hands on Riku's ears and drags him into the kitchen, ignoring his confused complaints.
"Don't make that face," the older Izumi complains in a sing-song voice, and Yamato follows him up immediately after.
"It's totally normal at your age to do things like mast—"
Yaotome, bless him, stops them both by covering their mouths before one of them can cross the line, while Nagi presses his forehead to the ground and Tamaki looks around, perplexed, mumbling something like "Mast… what?"
"Oi, oi, I think this is enough for a lesson."
Yamato looks at Gaku, offended, and awkwardly removes his from his face. "Shut up, Yaotome, do you cover the mouth to all the people you happen to meet—!? That’s two-timing…!"
"Yamato-san is right, using one hand for each of us! You're really cool!!"
"No, Mitsu! Not cool!"
"Ah, you're right! I'm sorry, I'm sorry!"
Iori would like to tell them to stop fighting, among Re:vale’s loud cheering in the background, but Nagi throws himself in the middle, apparently revived, and physically pins Gaku to the back of the sofa with his own weight and a menacing expression.
"Yaotome-shi, are you trying to steal my partners?"
"I didn't do anything!?"
"I'm ready to face you in duel for this."
"But I didn't do anything!"
Iori wonders if they are all stupid.
"Nagi, don't worry! Can I marry all three of you? Let's go to Northmare!"
"Oi, Izumi-ani, what the heck—!?"
"Heh, I'm fine with it. I just want you to do the housework in my place and buy a big bed."
"Nikaidou, you too—!?"
When Yamato tilts his head in confusion, Nagi sighs, exhausted.
"Polygamy isn't allowed in my country, anyway."
While they are busy arguing – flirting? - and their senpai betting on who would win the duel, Tamaki tugs at Iori's sleeve, frowning in confusion.
"It's all right, Yotsuba-san, please stay as pure as you are." Then he takes the other by the hand, uncaring of the surrounding mess, and leads him upstairs following Kujou's example.
"I'm not sure I got everything, but... They were talking about adult things, right?"
"Huh… Nothing important, they're just unreliable adults," Iori states nonchalantly, and yet he’s forced to stop when the other halts in the middle of the hallway.
"B-But... That kind of things, like adult kisses... Iorin, would you do them?"
Iori doesn't even know where to start, whether to scold him for asking that, implode because of his pure expectations, or simply let himself burn down in front of Tamaki’s blushing face.
Luckily, those unreliable adults save him from the situation by screaming, and judging by the tone the situation doesn't look particularly good for Gaku – unless Izumi-ani, let go my ankles!, or Nikaidou, don't throw up behind the couch! or Osaka, put down the fire extinguisher! are considered auspicious.
Iori hopes with all his heart that none of them will remember anything in the morning.
Iori distinctly remembers that science lesson, on the last year of high school, about the Andromeda Galaxy.
He remembers it because Tamaki spent all the time pricking his back with a pencil, tracing the shape of what the professor was explaining.
"The curious thing about this galaxy," said the man, “is that despite being a giant spiral galaxy, despite being the closest to us among its species, and visible to the naked eye, for millennia no one has understood what it really was."
Because it has been mistaken for so many things by the ancients, for a nebula later on and, only after careful studies and observations, scientists finally understood what it was and what it meant.
At this moment, Iori feels a bit like the researchers who committed to study reality to understand how something so big could have escaped their attention for so long.
Inviting Tamaki home for the holidays was a natural gesture, almost a necessary concern given that he’s aware his friend love their sweets and the Izumi parents love him in return.
What was way less natural was, while having snacks in the kitchen, hearing his mother ask excitedly if they were really together as Mitsuki had told them and see his friend nod. It was less natural to see her thanking Tamaki by bowing her head and asking him to take care of her son, leaving the guy to stutter incoherent sentences.
Iori reflects that he must have missed a big piece of the puzzle here.
"Yotsuba-san," he begins tentatively, sitting at the desk in his own bedroom. "Are the two of us in a relationship?"
The other looks at him in confusion, tilting his head. "Hmm, yeah, we’ve been for several months now?"
"Didn't you accept my confession?"
This is followed by a moment of silence, during which he has no idea what to say, too busy putting the pieces together; then, his confusion tuns into panic.
"What are you saying—!? When did all of this happen!? I didn't know anything about it!"
"W-What are you saying, I confessed and you accepted! Iorin, are you dumb?!"
After a few moments of silence, urged on by his appalled look, Tamaki adds: "On Valentine's Day last year, I gave you a pudding, remember? You said you it accepted and the next morning we went to school together!"
"Yotsuba-san," his voice trembles just a little, but it’s enough to highlight that he's on the verge of a nervous breakdown. "How could you even think I understood what you were talking about!? You didn't even confess properly!"
This time the other seems taken aback, he flinches back and shrugs, blushing. "I-I don't know, well... You accepted and... And well, damn it!? I'm sorry I'm stupid...?"
"You have to stop being so terrible at expressing yourself!"
"I already apologized, okay!?"
He looks like a mortified puppy and Iori suddenly feels guilty even if he has no reason to, really. He is the victim in this whole story.
"Why did everyone know but me?"
"They didn't know at all! I only told Rikkun!"
Neither of them is breathing, and suddenly the desk looks like something extremely inviting to look at.
"Iorin... Iorin, I like you."
A bright redness spreads on his cheeks within a few seconds. He's certain his heart has stopped – before it decides to go crazy and jump out of his chest. "Y-Yotsuba-san— What are you saying, are you out of your mind!?"
"I-I wanted to do it right, okay! So... So now you heard me, right?"
They both fall silent. Iori is sure that, if their eyes met, he’d risk an instantaneous combustion.
"So… can we be together for real now...?"
Ah, but it's not like just listening to him talk is better. "I-I didn't accept your confession, anyway…" He tries to reply weakly, but, seeing Tamaki's sadness deepen on his face, he immediately feels the urge to add And also, we are idols! We can't have relationships!
Tamaki nods, staring at his own knees. "So, you don't like me, right?" He mumbles, and this is enough to make Iori feel like giving him a supply of King Pudding that would last for all his life – to grab his face between his own hands and—
"I-I didn't say that—!"
It's stupid, but also enough to make Tamaki’s head jerk up, almost hopeful: Iori feels terribly in awe before his eyes. Thinking back to the last year spent together and remembering everything they did, he finds that it wasn't unpleasant – even if he didn't understand, even if they were only half a couple, it wasn't unpleasant at all.
"It's just... Well, I'm not... expert at this kind of things..."
He doesn't know where to direct his attention, glancing around nervously, and this time it's Tamaki's hand that slips gently on his and tightens the grip – shyly, awkwardly, as though the both of them are standing at the starting line of this together.
"It's okay," Tamaki mumbles, his eyes half-closing slowly, so smooth that Iori feels the gesture tumbling in his chest like a dull sound. "We can learn together."
Their first kiss comes only an hour later, because Iori finds out that he isn't good at being patient in this type of situations. It happens as their fingers intertwine under the table and their knees touch, when there’s too much silence in the room and too much noise in the chest.
It's still afternoon, but Iori is sure the sky has never rotated so quickly.
Zenit :. Ursa Major
"You know, Iorin, I always thought it was funny."
He tilts his head, confused , turning his attention to him. "What is?"
They are in Tamaki's room, sitting on his bed, because the boy insisted so much on trying the celestial projector that the others bought him for Christmas – so he had to finally give up.
With the lights off, the other’s laying down, legs and arms spread like a sea star, resting his head on Iori's legs and pointing out enthusiastically all the stars that appeared on the ceiling.
"How, you know, the Big Dipper has seven brighter stars, see, up there! We can count them together! One, two, three—"
"Yotsuba-san," he sighs, earning an amused laugh, "I know how to count."
"Huh, Iorin, you're so stiff... Anyway, as I was saying ..."
"You just won't listen to me at all, is that right?"
"So, as I was saying," Tamaki reiterates, "it's funny, because we're also seven, like these stars! So it's like Idolish7 were my light, and following them I found the way home.”
"Uhm, well, that's a nice concept, but isn't the Polar Star the one that points to the North?"
"Yes, that's right, but... uhm... but there's... this thing, you know... When people get lost, they're looking for the Polar Star, but it's not very bright , so it’s hard to find it if you don't know where to look for, because the sky is so dark at night and the Polar Star is so small, but— That's why the Big Dipper is so important! In fact, if you count the distance between certain stars... And then you keep it up for five times, you will find the Small Dipper, and you won't be lost anymore, because now you know where the North is!" He stops for a moment, lowering his arm and setting it on his own belly. "But without the Big Dipper you wouldn't have even found where the North was."
Iori doesn't reply, doesn't even want to look at the stars right now. Tamaki's eyes are clear and limpid enough to reflect everything inside them.
"So this is really a bit like us. Without you all, I would have never found Aya again."
"...is that so?"
"It is, it is!"
"It's a good thing, then… I'm happy."
Tamaki looks at him, probably caught off guard by the gentleness in his voice, but then his expression melts into a serene, warm smile that surrounds him like the soft glow of a star.
"You are my family too, you know. I'm so happy Idolish7 exist."
Tamaki falls asleep with his head on his legs shortly after, and Iori can't help but stroke his hair gently, untangling the knots with his fingers.
He thinks that he wouldn't mind falling asleep too, even if he knows the others will probably find them and fill up their phones with photos of their sleeping kouhai, even if by sleeping in that position he will probably wake up with a stiff neck, even if—
For this time he’ll run the risk.
"Ah, Arcturus will rise soon in the east, huh?"
"And it's... the sign that spring is coming, right?"
"It is, it is, you're good, Iorin! Let's hold hands while going back, okay?"
"Okay, give me yours, here. But don't swing them, Tamaki, and don't shake the grocery bags, it’ll take us a while to get home."