Ichimaru took a deep breath, then opened the door to Haruto's apartment and entered. He'd been avoiding his neighbors since that night at White Fang when they'd seen him kissing Hiroto. Still, he couldn't stay away forever – they were his friends, his family. Plus, he was supposed to invite them all to a photoshoot this Sunday. Just be vague. At least they all left before Isogai and I...Argh!
“Are you going to stand in the entryway all night, or go in?” asked a voice from behind him. He turned to see Momo, arms crossed, a crooked smile on his face.
“S-sorry!” He kicked off his shoes, then went in. Izumi and Haruto were in their usual places, surrounded by their personal bubble of love. Ayano was seated already for a change. He sat between her and Momo and Jin. He counted three empty places. It must be Haruhi's turn to cook.
Sure enough, Tamaki came out of the kitchen carrying a large pot. Very strange, knowing Tamaki was one of the richest people in Japan, to see the guy hanging out with people like Ichimaru and his neighbors – even serving food. But Tamaki wasn't a snob, despite his habit of being surprised by “commoner” people's way of life.
Haruhi followed him around the table, ladling out servings of something called “bouillabaisse” (fish stew) into bowls for each person. Hazuki came last, with a big basket of warm French bread broken into small chunks, which was passed around. Finally, everyone was settled.
“Itadakimasu!” they chorused, and everyone tried it. Exclamations of praise followed, with Haruhi blushing and Tamaki smiling at her proudly.
“It's my favorite dish. She learned to make it just for me!” Tamaki gave her a one-armed hug, making her blush even deeper. Haruhi was not one for public displays of affection, though Izumi and Haruto's constant snuggling didn't phase her.
The usual bantering and teasing commenced, and Ichimaru was just beginning to feel safe. Of course, it was Ayano who had to turn the spotlight on him.
“So...Hiroto is the uke for you, Ichimaru? You should have brought them for dinner again. Isogai is kind of a pain, but Hiroto is cute.” He choked on a shrimp.
“Ayano!” Hazuki was trying not to laugh as she scolded her best friend. “That's not nice!”
“What?” Ayano refused to feel guilty as she pounded on Ichimaru's back. “He's the one who was trading spit with that guy in the bar! It's not like it was some secret! Anyway, what I really want to know is the deal with that Kaidou Haru – he was the most gorgeous guy I've ever seen, but he totally blew me off. He's the owner of White Fang, right? He must have money.”
Ichimaru cleared his throat. “Haru is part-owner with his friend Ikuyoshi of the café during the day. And his other friend Kiyoka runs the bar at night. I don't think he has money or not much. He's putting both brothers through college, and Ren through high school. He was a host – I don't think any of the usual tactics work on him.” Another secret. I can't tell them about Haru and Ren.
“There are two more brothers besides that Ren kid? They didn't look anything alike.”
“Um. Haru's dad remarried. They had twins – Aki and Shima, who are twenty-one. Ren was adopted by them later and he's seventeen. But the parents died in an accident and now Haru supports them all. I didn't know any of this until Hiroto told me. He was talking with Ren before we got there.” Oh shit, I brought Hiroto's name up.
“So...spill it! When did you and Hiroto hook up? Not that night – you looked way too used to kissing him already.” Ayano was not going to drop the subject. “And you're never home anymore. Are you spending all your nights hanging out at Mon Chaton while he works? You're going to make him sick of the sight of you. You should play it more cool.”
“Why should he pretend like that?” Haruto asked. “If he likes him, then why not spend as much time with him as possible?”
Ayano rolled her eyes. “Haruto, you skipped over all the usual dating steps with Izumi. Most people don't climb on top of someone before the first date, and then basically move in with them right away. You and Izumi did everything out of order.”
It was Tamaki's and Haruhi's turn to look shocked at that one. Izumi blushed but was made of strong stuff. “Ayano, there are no rules when it comes to love. You don't have to play games or stick to some pattern of behavior. Honesty works much better. If Ichimaru and Hiroto are happy, that's all that matters.” I guess I'll let them assume.
“Well, what about Isogai? Does he approve? He's stuck being the third wheel now unless he's found a girlfriend.” Izumi abruptly started whispering in Haruto's ear.
“I like Isogai,” Hazuki said, pulling attention to herself. “Not like that! He's smart and funny. I thought you might end up with him, Ichimaru.”
What? This was getting too weird. “I'm not going to talk about it! Anyway. There's going to be a photoshoot this Sunday – some kind of promotional shots for a new company. They need people to be office workers in the background. Naru said you're all invited. I thought it might be fun for us.”
“Background? Tch!” was Ayano's automatic response. “Are we getting paid?”
“What company?” Hazuki wanted to know.
“Hakue, it's called. Usami Haruhiko's new business and his partner. I don't really know the details.”
“Are you serious? Ayano, I have to go. Horai-sama is dying to know what Usami-sama is up to. Besides, you never know who else might be there. I haven't heard anything about a partner.”
“I guess if the rest of you are going, I'll go too.”
Tamaki and Haruhi couldn't make it. “We have lunch on Sundays with Tamaki's father.” But everyone else agreed to go.
“Okay. Be there by 11:00 am, and wear office worker clothes. I'll let Naru know to expect you.”
“You aren't going to go with us?” Haruto asked.
“I, uh, have plans for Saturday night.” Damn it! Stop blushing!
“Oooh! What kind of dates do you go on with him? Romantic dinners? Walks along the beach? Clubbing? Hiroto looks like the club type, with that crazy hair color.”
“I'm not talking about this! La, la, la....” Everyone laughed.
Dinner over, the neighbors scattered back to their own apartments. Ichimaru sank onto his bed, thinking about Sunday. They're going to see the three of us together. I already gave us away to Morinaga – I'll have to be extra careful. Feeling anxious, he took out his phone and called Isogai.
“Hey, lover. You survived dinner?”
“Yeah, just barely. They all think I'm dating Hiroto now, and I just let them believe it without confirming anything. But Hazuki said she thought I'd end up with you! And Ayano wants to know if it bothers you to hang out with us now or if you found a girlfriend.” Ichimaru sighed.
“We agreed that's the best way to play it. Don't worry so much, Yuuki. Even if they did figure it out – what are they going to do besides be shocked?”
“I know. I don't want them to get weird around me. They're like family.”
“If they're family, they'll accept you. But it doesn't matter, because they don't know. Oh, are they coming to the photoshoot? Is that what's bothering you?”
“Yeah. I don't like pretending that you aren't as important to me as Hiroto. I don't want you to feel left out, Taichirou.”
Isogai was silent for a moment. “That's...thank you. That means a lot to me. But it's okay, really. I know how you both feel, and that's enough. I can have fun pretending – you know I like messing with people! I'll get Ayano so riled up she won't be able to think straight, just watch me.”
Ichimaru laughed and relaxed. They talked for an hour about nothing much. Then Ichimaru exchanged some teasing texts with Hiroto, including a selfie of Hiroto with his new hair color – raven black that made his green eyes glow. He drifted off to sleep, happy and reassured.