Disclaimer: Don't own anything, so pleeeease don't sue me.
A/N: Okay, everyone, this is my first Kouzumi and it's also my first English fic. (I'm German... just that you know.) I hope I didn't make too many mistakes but one can never be too sure, right? I hope you have fun reading this because I sure had fun writing it...
Izumi let the wind gently stroke her face and tuck at her blonde streaks. These were the moments she felt most alive, the moments when she felt no worries and no fear; when the wind, her element, joined her, whispering meaningless words in her ears, singing tuneless songs of alien beauty.
She needed these moments like she needed breathing or sleeping. Sometimes she longed for them so passionately that she skipped classes to sit on the roof of the school and feel the soft stroke of invisible fingers on her cheeks.
On this morning she had once again felt the call of the wind and spent the last lesson (Math) on one of the trees on the schoolyard, dangling her legs but carefully keeping out of sight from the main building where her classroom was located.
The faint ringing of the bell that indicated the end of the lesson reached her and she sighed and jumped from the branch she was sitting on. The campus filled with noisy students who were chatting loudly.
Izumi waited patiently for her friends to arrive at the tree which was their daily meeting point after school and in the breaks. She saw Tomoki and Junpei joining and then heading towards her, then from the right Takuya coming out of the gym carrying his beloved soccer ball. Kouji and Kouichi, too, made their way over to the tree.
She greeted her friends with a bright smile, energy returned. Kouichi gave her a look that clearly showed his disapproval about her skipping class once again.
"Don't even say it," Izumi interrupted him before he could open his mouth. He didn't seem wanting to let her get away with that but Junpei shook his head and Tomoki said, "Forget it." Kouichi mumbled under his breath but kept his mouth shut.
A few minutes later as they were on their way to Kouichi's house where they would decide what to do that day, Izumi decided that Kouichi had had enough time to sulk. He walked next to Kouji in silence. Most of the time he respected his brother's wish for distance that he felt at times.
She sped up a bit till she was next to him, then slowed down to match his pace and nudged him lightly. "What did I miss today?"
"Not much," answered Kouichi without looking at her. He was not truly angry but she knew that he hated it when she skipped classes. He was always worried.
"Hey," she said and took his hand smiling at him. "I needed a timeout. I really need those moments. Don't you feel the call of the night at times?"
Kouichi sighed lightly. "I do. But when I feel it at least I don't miss classes."
"I can't help it, Kouichi. Not when it grows so strong as today," she said truthfully.
They continued to walk in silence even as Takuya called Kouji to tell him something exciting. Well, maybe it was something normal. With Takuya you never knew when to believe him truly excited because it was just in his nature to be excited most of the time.
Absentmindedly, Izumi played with the necklace she wore. It was a silver oval-shaped locket. Inside it was nothing but an engraving which said Words are the key to our thoughts. It was a gift from her long dead grandma and she had never fully understood what those words meant.
When she met Kouji she thought that she understood at least part of it. He was a loner and didn't speak much, his eyes told nothing about what was going on in his head and so she never really got to know him. He never let anyone catch a glimpse of his thoughts, except maybe Kouichi.
Izumi glanced at Kouji who was currently bickering with Takuya about some minor thing. Physically he had changed much in the past five years they were back from the digital world. He had grown and was now almost five feet nine, not tall, but with a lean and muscular body that needed no height to impress. His shoulders had become broader, his shape like that of a fighter, the reason for which was his Kendo training.
He still had the same fair complexion, the bluish-black hair and the dark blue eyes that seemed abysmal and brooding. The bandana was still there, he still wore his hair like he wore it in the Digital World but it hadn't lost any of it's attraction to girls.
Why was it, mused Izumi, that girls always fall for the bad guys, the lone wolfs, the unapproachable and cool ones? Couldn't they see that guys like Kouji didn't want any girl swooning over them, fussing about them and trying to get them to share all of their thoughts and feeling with them? It was the inevitable consequence that they would avoid girls altogether.
She saw Kouji smirking as Takuya admitted that he was right about whatever they had been bickering about and sighed. Kouichi looked down at her (he, too, had grown in those five years). "What's on your mind?"
Izumi tried to voice her thoughts and a small frown appeared between her eyebrows. "I don't understand him. We've known each other for about five years and I still don't know more about him except the obvious."
Kouichi didn't ask her about whom she was talking, he knew it. But he couldn't help her with this in the way she wished he could. What he could do was listen to her pouring her heart out.
"Every time someone tries to get close to him he pushes them away, is always keeping his distance. He has had bad experience with people and I respect that but why doesn't he finally see that we are different? Doesn't he trust us enough to open up? We don't even push him, we just let him be!" Her voice had grown louder and fiercer as she let out all of the anger that had built inside her over the years. But now she hastily shot a glance at the four boys walking ahead of them to see if they had heard her – she needn't worry.
"Maybe," said Kouichi softly, "he needs to be pushed. Sometimes people have to be forced in order to get what they really want. He has lived like this for so long that he probably doesn't know how to do otherwise. Or maybe he is just frightened that people might not accept him if he opens up and acts just like himself."
He was silent for a moment, then put his arm around Izumi's shoulder. "Keep on trying. Talk to him. You are probably the only one sensitive enough around here to do that – Takuya for sure isn't."
She laughed and nudged him in the ribs lightly. As Kouji threw a glance back at them she caught his gaze but didn't get the chance to smile. He tore his eyes away from her and shifted his gaze to Kouichi, then turned around again. When Izumi saw him lowering his gaze to the sidewalk and blocking every try from Takuya to get him involved in another mock fight she decided that she would listen to Kouichi's advice.
An endless rain prevented them from leaving Kouichi's place. His and Kouji's mother didn't seem to mind the six teens sitting in Kouichi's room chatting and laughing. She even brought them cookies and then left smiling.
Izumi was sitting on Kouichi's bed, staring out of the window at the wind that rustled through the wet trees. Tomoki had already left (he had had an umbrella with him) because he had Kendo training. Junpei sat next to her on the floor and munched on one of the nut cookies Kouichi's mom had brought them.
Takuya had taken the only chair in the room whilst the twins sat on the bed also. It was a bit cramped but none of them really cared. For a moment there was silence, only the crunching of Junpei's teeth was audible. Every one was lost in thought.
Finally Takuya glanced at his watch and stood. "It's almost six and I promised my parents not to be home too late today. Could you borrow me an umbrella, Kouichi?"
"Yeah, do you have one for me, too?" said Junpei and got up, too. "I have to go as well."
Kouichi and the two others left the room looking for the umbrellas, leaving Izumi and Kouji alone. The silence grew uncomfortable and Izumi was suddenly aware of the space that loomed between her and Kouji now that Kouichi had left. It seemed ridiculous to sit that far from each other.
So she stood and stretched her tired limbs. "I should leave also. It's growing darker and darker outside and I still have to walk a bit till home."
Again silence. Then Kouji gazed out the window and looked back at her. "I'll walk you."
"You don't need to, really," she protested.
"I can watch after myself, thank you."
"I know that you can," said Kouji calmly. "But do you really want to walk alone?"
She swallowed the words she was about to say and stared at him. That was what made dealing with him so hard. But she shook her head all the same and admitted, "No."
"Then I'll walk you."
He stood and grabbed his jacket that he had thrown on the desk upon entering. Izumi stared at the empty bed for a second, then turned to face him. "Thanks, Kouji," she said softly. He acknowledged her words with a shrug, then turned around. "Where's your jacket?"
She picked it up from the bed and put it on, strangely aware that Kouji was watching her and not sure if she should feel uncomfortable about it or not. To her relief Kouichi came in again and made a sound of surprise as he saw them standing there with their jackets on.
"Do you want to leave, too?" he inquired and threw a glance at the still pouring rain outside. "You should wait till the rain stops."
"No, thank you. It could go on and on for hours and it's getting dark," replied Izumi. "I really have to go and Kouji said he'd walk me."
Kouichi quickly looked at his brother, then back at Izumi. "You need an umbrella. I'll ask Mum if there's another one."
He left again and Izumi and Kouji stepped out into the hall. She pulled out a hat from one of the pockets of her jacket and put it on, not caring about how she looked. Silence hung between them once again.
She had never realized that she could feel so uncomfortable in Kouji's presence. She wanted to talk to him but she just didn't know how and that didn't feel right after all the years she'd known him. Finally she said, "Did the teacher notice my absence in Math today?"
Kouji, who was leaning against the wall, seemed not to realize that she had asked a question at first. But then he answered with a lazy drawl, "Nah, we covered."
"Oh." Once again she owed him a thanks. She wondered if he would even realize if she would fail to say it. Probably not, he was way too engrossed in his own little world to do so.
Kouichi returned, carrying an umbrella. "That's the last one. You can give it back tomorrow, so don't worry about it. You should go now, it seems as if there's a thunderstorm approaching."
"Thank you, Kouichi," Izumi said warmly as Kouji took the umbrella from him. "And tell your Mum that I am really grateful."
"I will," he promised and opened the door. He and Kouji patted each other on the back and then Kouji stepped outside after Izumi. He opened the umbrella and held it so that both of them would be protected from the rain and like this they headed for Izumi's home.
Once in a while the wind blew a blast of raindrops under the umbrella so that they got wet anyway but not as much as they would have without it. Eventually, Izumi couldn't stand the silence anymore. "Say something!" she almost yelled.
Kouji looked at her, surprised. "What do you want me to say?"
"I don't know. Something. Anything!"
"I hate the rain?" he offered with an amused grin.
She threw her hands up in exasperation. "You're impossible! You can't even strike up a normal conversation."
"Fine," he replied and ignored the fact that she wasn't able to start a conversation either. "What did you do instead of attending Math?"
Izumi shot him an annoyed look. "You know what I did."
"I - ," she started but didn't know how to go on, whether to go on. It was something personal and she didn't know if Kouji was the right person to talk to about it. She threw a sideward glance at him and found him looking at her calmly.
Maybe she should give it a try. After all she had been the one who had demanded for him to start a conversation. And moreover: How could she expect him to open up if she wasn't willing to do the same?
So she tried to voice her feelings. "It's - it calls me. It's like a deep throbbing, like I can't think or breathe anymore if I don't feel the wind right then. And when it brushes over my skin there's familiarity and happiness and freedom and strength. It's somehow like back in the digi world but at the same time it's different, more… powerful, I guess." She looked at him and found him smiling slightly. "Don't you feel the same thing sometimes?"
"I do," he answered.
"What do you do at those moments?"
"For me, it's not that easy. Or sometimes it's easier. Sometimes I just have to go outside and feel the sun. At other times, when it's cloudy or raining or something else where you can't see the sun I either have to find a way to relieve the tension or live with it till I can relieve it."
Izumi tried to imagine what it would be like if she had to wait for hours or days till she could extinguish the fire of longing that built inside her from time to time. "How horrible!" she exclaimed but Kouji only shrugged. "You get used to it."
She desperately struggled to find something to say, not to let the conversation die. Finally, she said, "Do you have the feeling that you changed because of what we went through in the digital world?"
He thought about it for a moment, then shrugged. "Well, I'd say I did change but I know that you guys don't think so."
"What makes you believe that?"
Kouji ignored her question and for a second she thought that he would go silent again but then he replied, "You didn't know me before we met in the digital world. You thought I was introvert and a loner and that was right. But you were wrong thinking that I wanted it that way. I have never been good with people, with all this talking stuff. I need a lot of time to think and sometimes I just need to be alone. That just as normal as people who need to be in the centre of attention all the time."
He held out his hand to catch the raindrops that were falling around them. "You guys were my first real friends but you never really noticed how hard it was for me to open up to you. I guess I'm just not the social type. You accepted me even though I didn't talk much and I figured that I didn't need to be loud and talkative around you to be friends with you. I was relieved as I found out about it and decided that if you were really my friends then you would accept me the way I was. If not then you would never really have been my friends in the first place."
Izumi stared at him. It was the first time that he had told her so much about himself. He had opened up to her! A grin spread across her face and at the same time she felt the urge to return the favour so that he would see that she could do the same for him.
"You know what Junpei said about you after we first met?" she softly asked. When he shook his head, she answered, "He said that you reminded him of white chocolate. 'It may look good, but no taste.'"
Kouji laughed and Izumi stared at him. She had never seen him laugh so freely before and she was fascinated of the way his eyes lit up and his lips curved upward. It was contagious and she couldn't refrain from laughing, too.
"It's great to see you laugh", she said after their last waves of laughter had subsided.
"Why is that?" he inquired, surprised.
"Well… you know, this afternoon on our way to Kouichi's you were so – I don't know…"
"Moody?" Kouji offered.
"Sort of," she said apologetically.
"What did you and Kouichi talk about?" he suddenly asked without looking at her.
Izumi looked at her feet, embarrassed. "We talked about you", she answered, yet at the same time mentally kicked herself for not making up an answer. She felt her cheeks burn and didn't dare looking up. Kouji stopped walking and like this forced Izumi to stop as well if she didn't want to get wet.
She carefully looked up to his face and found him staring at her with abysmal blue eyes. She prayed that he didn't notice her blushing. After what seemed like an eternity to her he spoke. "You talked about me?"
"I was worried about you," she admitted. "And angry at the same time."
"Why?" Kouji asked incredulously.
"It's no important," she replied turning her head away and feeling her cheeks grow hotter.
He touched her hand and made a shiver run down her spine. "Don't lie to me, Izumi."
"Why do you push people away?", she suddenly yelled without even knowing where her anger had come from. "You never let anyone understand you or your feelings! Why is it so hard for you to understand that we won't hurt you if you open up to us? Why is it so much easier for you to keep every thought and emotion to yourself?"
Kouji looked at her with a blank expression and she yanked her hand away from his touch. "Look at yourself! Even now you don't show anything. I'm yelling at you, Minamoto Kouji! I don't have a reason to do this and you let it happen nevertheless!" She was screaming by now. "I hate this! Why can't you just get pissed off?!" And before she knew what she was doing she had slapped him and stormed off in the direction of her home.
She didn't care about getting wet anymore, she just needed a way to calm down. But before she found it, Kouji grabbed her arm and yanked her to a halt. "Let go of me!", she hissed and effortlessly tried to free herself from his iron grip.
"Listen to me", he growled, roughly grabbing her chin and forcing her to look at him. The forgotten umbrella was blown away by the wind. "I am pissed off at you right now. Why do you talk about these things with my brother but not with me? After all I'm the one you're angry at."
"Maybe it is because I never had the feeling I could talk openly to you about this, Kouji!"
"If your intentions are so selfless as you claim then why didn't you try? You know what, Izumi, I think that you are afraid of talking to me because you don't understand me. I guess it's really you who is like white chocolate and not me."
Izumi returned his look and refused to look away. She was breathing hard and so was he. They had never fought before but she felt her anger subsiding and being replaced by a mixture of relief, pride and something else, a warm tingling in her stomach. Her heart pounded wildly as she watched a raindrop slowly rolling down his nose and finally dropping on his chin.
Eventually, he took a step back and let go of her. "I'm sorry," he said and lowered his gaze. This time it was her who touched him and made him look her in the eye. "I'm sorry, too. I shouldn't have yelled at you for no reason."
"You had a reason", he tried to protest but Izumi waved it off. She turned and once again started to stroll in the vague direction of her house, ignoring the rain that was soaking her hair and clothes and waiting for him to catch up with her.
When he was next to her, she said, "I guess the only thing true about this whole white chocolate thing and you is that about the looks."
He snorted and sarcastically shot her a look. "Don't tell me you think I'm cute."
Something had changed between them, something Izumi couldn't quite put her finger on so she shoved the thought aside to think about it later. For now she was content with the way things were. "Oh, honestly, cute is the last word that would come to my mind if I had to describe you."
"I'm offended!", he exclaimed and put his hand over his heart in mock hurt.
She grinned. She would never have thought that joking with Kouji in this way was possible but it was a good feeling. "You know, I'm glad I started yelling at you."
"Sometimes it's necessary to let it all out, Izumi. If you didn't then you'd become just like me. Wouldn't that be horrible?"
She swatted him on the forearm and he caught her wrist and swatted back. Laughing she shoved the grinning Kouji off the sidewalk and sprinted away. She dashed around a corner, turning into the street where her home was located.
Suddenly, he came up next to her and overtook her. She tried to go faster and win him to her house but she stood no chance. He stopped in front of the garden fence and waited for her to arrive.
Izumi flung her wet hair from her face, then nodded in the direction of the house. "Do you want to come in? You could use a towel, you know?"
He playfully tugged at a soaking strand of hair that hung over her shoulder. "Same for you."
"That doesn't really answer my question," she replied.
Kouji gazed at the lit windows, then shook his head. "Thanks, but no. I'll get wet again anyways."
She snorted. "We do owe umbrellas."
"Just say bye and go inside," he said, rolling his eyes. "It's just ten more minutes from here to my house and I'm already soaking wet. It's not like it can get any worse."
"All right," she sighed, then poked him in the ribs. "Don't you dare turning all antisocial towards me again. Call me."
Kouji raised his hands in a capitulation gesture. "Don't kill me, I'll do everything you want!"
"I know where you live, Minamoto and I'll haunt you for the rest of your life if you don't keep talking," she threatened, looked him square in the eye to underline her point, then turned and stepped into the front yard.
There she faced him once again and smiled at him. "Thank you, Kouji."
Izumi's smile grew a tad warmer. "For walking me." But they both knew that she meant much more.
Fifteen minutes later that night, Izumi stepped into her room and switched the light on. Her hair was still damp from the hot shower she had taken and she wore only a bathrobe. Yawning, she changed into her pyjamas and threw herself on the bed. The phone rang and she closed her eyes and ignored the persistent sound.
Her father answered it, she could hear the low murmur of his voice down in the hallway. She was thinking about whether to take a short nap before dinner when her father's voice floated up the stairs. "Izumi! You have a call!"
With a sigh she stood up and went downstairs. Her father handed her the receiver with the words. "A boy named Kouji." He raised his eyebrows, then went back into the living room and left her alone in the hall.
"Hello, Kouji", Izumi said.
Silence. Usually, talking to someone on the phone wasn't that hard for Izumi but right now she didn't know what to say. "Um…," she finally said. "Why did you call?"
"I thought I remembered you telling me to call you. About twenty minutes ago, that is." He sounded amused.
"Well, to me this conversation seems pretty pointless since we have nothing to talk about."
"This time it's your turn to start a proper conversation."
"Touché," she grinned. "Are you dry yet?"
"No, but that's because I took a shower only minutes ago. You?"
For a while, Izumi heard only the crackling of the telephone circuit. Then, Kouji spoke again, quietly this time. "I'm sorry that I never really opened up to you guys."
She wrapped the cord around her index finger and slid down the wall, making herself comfortable. "Where did that come from?"
She could almost hear him shrugging. "I thought about what you said to me earlier on my way home. You were right about most things."
"It's okay," she said softly. "That's how you are. We don't want to change you, Kouji, we like you the way you are."
"Yeah, think about the white chocolate part," he snorted and she had to laugh.
"You know," Izumi replied, "White chocolate has always been my favourite."
"Don't mention that to Junpei."
This time it was her turn to snort good naturedly.
"You know this saying 'Old habits die hard?'"
It seemed like a rhetorical question to her, so she remained silent. After a few moments, he continued with a tired voice, "When we met in the Digital World, I found it hard to trust people and even harder to make friends. We moved so much when I was younger that I grew silent and introvert. I didn't talk much and that's quite a necessary thing when you want to make friends. Who wants to be friends with someone they never get to know?" He made a choked sound.
"I didn't have good experience with people and therefore I became the loner I was when we first met in the Digital World. I couldn't believe that you actually tried to be friends with me and the reactions of the others confirmed my thoughts."
Izumi opened her mouth to protest, but then thought better and stayed silent. "I was wrong, I know. You really wanted to be friends with me but I… What I actually wanted to say, was that everything to do with friendship and emotions and stuff – it's not easy, not for me."
He fell silent and Izumi dearly wished that she could touch him right now to comfort him. But she could imagine that it was easier for him to tell her all this when he didn't have to look at her. Sometimes it was easier when you just heard the voice.
"Kouji," she said quietly, "it's okay, you know? It 's always been okay and that won't change in the future. After all, if you changed your attitude, your fan girls would be really disappointed and I don't want to be responsible for mass suicide or something like that," she joked to cheer him up and get him out of his guilt trip.
She was rewarded with a low laugh. That made her realize that she had never seen him laughing loudly. She tried to imagine Kouji like this but failed. That seemed more appropriate for Takuya. The soft, low laugh seemed to fit Kouji and his calm and deep personality.
"Izumi?" he asked and her attention snapped back towards his voice.
"What do we tell Kouichi when he asks about the umbrella?"
"Oh. Um…" How to explain that Kouji had dropped the umbrella and it had been blown away by the storm? "We could tell him that the storm blew it away. That would be the truth, right?"
"Right." Izumi could tell he was smirking. "What he doesn't know won't hurt him."
"Exactly." She heard her mother call her from the kitchen for dinner. "Hey, Kouji, I have to go, dinner's ready."
"Okay, then I'll see you tomorrow at school. Bye, 'zumi."
"Bye," she answered, then stood up, put the receiver back and went into the kitchen to sit at the table. Her parents were already helping themselves to the fried rice her mother had cooked to use the rice leftovers from the past days. Izumi, too, helped herself to some food, murmured 'I gracefully receive' and was about to take the first bite, as her mother asked who had called.
"A friend from school," Izumi answered. "Minamoto Kouji."
"Have I met him?"
"No," she answered, "but you've seen him once or twice. He is the one with the black hair who's usually wearing a bandana."
"The one with the long hair?" her father inquired and Izumi nodded. "Why did he call?"
She swallowed, then answered. "Just to talk."
"Is he nice?" her Mrs. Orimoto wanted to know and eyed her curiously over her chopsticks.
"Yes, Mom, otherwise he wouldn't be my friend." She mentally rolled her eyes. She hated it when her parents asked so many questions about her friends.
Her father raised his teacup. "How come he never visited you? All of your other friends came, even the little Tomoki."
"He's shy, Dad," she replied even though she wasn't sure if shy was the right word to describe Kouji.
"Kouji," her mother said slowly and thoughtfully as if to see how the name sounded. "This Kouichi that visited you a few times, is he somehow related to him? The names sound quite alike and if I remember correctly they even look a bit alike."
"Kouichi is Kouji's twin brother," Izumi explained and before she could ask more questions, she added, "His parents are separated and Kouji lives with his father and a stepmother while Kouichi lives with their mother."
Mr. Orimoto looked at Izumi. "If he can talk to you on the phone for so long then he should be able to overcome his shyness to get to know your parents, don't you think?"
"Yes, Dad," she sighed and took her teacup.
The next morning the storm had calmed down and Izumi enjoyed the sunshine on her way to school. When she arrived there fifteen minutes before the first lesson was to begin, Takuya, Junpei, Tomoki and Kouichi were already there. She paused for a moment to let the wind stroke her face like a morning greeting.
Someone tapped her shoulder and she turned around to see Kouji look at her with slight smirk. "Good Morning."
"Good Morning to you, too," she replied cheerfully. Even though he wasn't allowed to wear it during their lessons, Kouji still wore a bandana. Today it was a deep blue one that matched their school uniforms. He didn't seemed to take the dressing code too seriously, Izumi thought as they slowly made their way over to the group in mutual silence.
His tie hung loosely around his neck and he had left two buttons of his shirt open. No wonder so many girls were practically drooling over him. She couldn't suppress a grin which earned her a questioning look. "I just thought that it's no wonder you got half of the female school population fainting over you."
Kouji shot her an unbelieving look, then smirked triumphantly at her. "Ha. You do think I'm cute. You lose, Izumi."
"I do not think that you're cute, Minamoto!" she snorted indignantly. They were only a few steps away from the group and Izumi raised her hand to greet them. "I think you hit your head in the shower this morning."
"Say what you want, Izumi-chan," he said mockingly, "but we both know that you can't resist my loner attitude." Kouji's smirk grew even broader as she whacked him on the arm.
The others watched this exchange incredulously and finally, Takuya asked, "Okay, what did we miss?"
The smirk had almost disappeared from Kouji's face, only around the edges of his mouth it seemed to linger. Izumi shot him a warning glare to make sure he didn't suddenly declare that she thought he was cute. But he refrained from saying anything, just put his hands into the pockets of his trousers and raised an eyebrow at Takuya.
Takuya, who knew that his look meant that he wasn't getting an answer, groaned, "Come on, Kouji!" But his friend ignored him. Meanwhile, Kouichi had raised his eyebrows at Izumi in a questioning look. She nodded and they exchanged a smile.
Next to them, Takuya still complained that Kouji wasn't telling him what had happened and was still ignored by the subject of his tirades. Izumi threw a glance at her watch and realized that they had only five minutes to get to their classrooms. "Guys," she said but Takuya didn't hear her. "Guys!"
They all looked at her and she pointed at her wrist. "Time to go."
They parted in the different directions of their classrooms. Izumi had English as first lesson, just like Takuya, Kouji and Kouichi. They pushed their way through the crowded hallways, briefly stopping at their lockers to get the textbooks.
Students were standing together in small or larger groups, talking about the latest gossip, what they had planned for the advancing afternoon or what they had done the previous day after school.
Just as the four passed one of these groups, consisting of two girls of their grade and a few others from higher and lower ones, Izumi heard them talking in a stage whisper.
"Did you know that Orimoto Izumi likes Minamoto Kouji?"
"How do you know?"
"I heard them talking outside just a few minutes ago. She thinks he's cute!"
"Well, he is so I can't blame her."
Izumi stopped abruptly and gulped for air indignantly. She was about to give the gossiping girls a piece of her mind when Kouji put a hand on her shoulder. "Leave it, Izumi."
"But they are spreading rumours about us!"
"You can't do anything about it," Kouichi said. "They would take your anger as confirmation. Best would be to let them talk. Just act normal."
Takuya pointed at them. "That's what you were keeping secret!"
"Uh…" Izumi exchanged unbelieving looks with the twins. "Takuya, it's a rumour. Gossip. It's not true, okay?"
"Oh. Right." He smiled sheepishly and rubbed the back of his head.
She rolled her eyes. "If even Takuya doesn't realize that it's just a rumour then let's not talk about the rest of the school," she muttered darkly.
They made their way to their classroom and sat down. They had their seats in the middle row, Takuya's being the second table from the teacher's desk, behind him Kouji, then Izumi and then Kouichi.
Izumi slammed her books down on the table and dropped her bag carelessly next to it's legs. "The worst thing is that we can't do anything about it!"
"You could avoid Kouji," suggested Kouichi but it sounded half-heartedly and not very convincing.
"Of course I could," replied Izumi, "but-"
"You're talking about me again," came the bored voice of Kouji drifting from the seat in front of hers.
"Sorry," Izumi said and smiled apologetically at him. "It's just that I'm angry that I can't do anything to stop the gossip other than avoiding you. And that I won't do, not after what happened yesterday afternoon."
"Good to know," he commented sarcastically.
"Don't let this gossip get to you, Izumi," Kouichi said comfortingly. "You've been together for so long," he continued, throwing a glance at the oblivious Takuya and like this making clear to Izumi what he couldn't say out loud – that he was referring to the time since the Digital World. "You've been through so much troubles and survived it all but only because you were together, right?"
She nodded and he smiled encouragingly at her. "So don't let a stupid rumour separate you. You know the truth, so laugh about it."
"I'll try," she sighed at shot a threatening glare at a girl a few seats away from hers who was giggling not very subtly. Not that it helped much.
It would be a long day.
After school the group met under the tree. Izumi tried her best to ignore the curious looks quite a few of the students sent her and concentrated on their conversation.
Takuya had soccer training and Tomoki wanted to spend the afternoon with his brother. Kouichi, too, had no time for the group (dentist). So there were only Junpei, Kouji and Izumi left who decided that they would spend the afternoon separately.
They said goodbye to each other and headed for their various aims.
Izumi and Kouji had almost the same way back home and walked next to each other in comfortable silence.
"My parents want to meet you," Izumi told him after a while.
"Your parents?" Kouji looked at her surprised. "Why?"
She shrugged. "Well, I guess it's because you are the only one of my friends who never met them and after the call yesterday night they think that we are close. So they want to see who you are and what you are like." If that makes any sense, she added silently.
He threw a sideways glance at her. "What are you trying to tell me?"
"I'm not sure." Izumi laughed softly. "I guess you should come over for dinner some time so that my parents will leave me alone on the subject."
When he remained silent, she clasped her hands together and begged, "Please, Kouji, please do this for me!"
"Alright," he growled but she could tell that he wasn't angry.
"We'll have Italian food for dinner tonight. If you want to you can come tonight and get it done as soon as possible."
"Don't you have to ask your parents first?"
Izumi shook her head grinning. "My Mom will have enough for the whole school anyway. And you? Do you have to ask?"
He adjusted his backpack and avoided her gaze as if in deep thought. "No," he answered finally, "my father and stepmother are in Brazil."
"Why?" She eyed him carefully.
"Dad has some job to do there and Satomi decided to go with him."
"Why didn't she stay here with you?"
"We don't get along very well," he said shortly.
Izumi could almost feel him closing up again. She knew she had to do something about it. "So you'll be alone all day?"
"Okay, I'll come to your house with you. I just need a minute at home to tell my Mom."
He whipped his head around and stared incredulously at her. "Who said I wanted company?"
"Isn't it boring to be all alone for weeks? Besides, you're a lousy cook and I won't let you starve to death because of that." She smiled innocently at him. "You can tell me more about your father and stepmother. After all we have all afternoon."
"Izumi-," he started angrily but she shook her head.
"I won't change my mind, no matter what you say." Her light tone changed and she looked at him seriously. "I could feel you pulling away again, Kouji."
He stared into her eyes for a moment, then murmured his okay and turned to head towards the Orimotos' house.
There he waited outside while she went in and walked right through to the living room where her mother would be sitting and reading. She looked up surprised as Izumi came in.
"Hello, dear. Back already? Don't you meet with your friends today?"
She gave her mother a peck on the cheek and said, "Actually, I'm just here to tell you that I'll be at Kouji's house this afternoon. Oh, and can he come over for dinner tonight?"
Her mom lifted her eyebrows but said nothing. "Of course he can, Izumi. Does he like Italian food?"
"I think so. I have to go now, Mom, see you in the evening. Bye!" And with that she waved, turned and hurried outside to the waiting Kouji.
"Okay, ready to go," she smiled. They walked the way to the Minamotos' house in silence.
When they arrived they realized that they both weren't hungry and so they found themselves sitting in Kouji's room in silence. Izumi who sat on his bad hugged her knees to her chest and watched him silently.
From his position on his swivel chair he returned her gaze questioningly. "What?"
"Spill," she answered simply.
His look was mock worried. "What are you talking about? Did the lack of food mash your brain?"
She rolled her eyes. "Your father and stepmother. Tell me about them."
Kouji threw her an annoyed look but answered nonetheless. "They are in Brazil. Satomi didn't want to stay here. Our relationship is no the best."
"You said so much already."
"What do you want to know, then?" he asked.
"Why don't you get along?"
"I don't know." He shrugged.
She looked at him for a moment, then sighed. "You are lying. Tell me."
He threw her a dark look but seemed to think it smarter to answer once again. "She's bossing me around. I don't like that and she doesn't like that I don't like it."
"That's stupid," Izumi blurted before she could stop herself. Kouji glared at her and she quickly continued, "But didn't your relationship improve after you'd returned from the Digital World?"
"Yes, but not for long. I just can't stand that she's trying to be a mother to me. It would be much easier if she didn't try to hide the fact that she is not her." The words came faster and faster and when he stopped it seemed as if he was relieved to be rid of them.
"Did you ever tell her this?" Izumi asked, but now she seemed more curious than annoyed.
"I tried to explain it to her once," he replied and looked down at his feet that were resting against the wall, "but either she didn't understand it or she didn't want to hear it. Either way, I got angry and then my father came in and told me to go up to my room and stop to yell at Satomi."
Izumi gazed at his clenched fists and felt waves of pity and anger rush through her. Sure, Kouji wasn't exactly tactful when he was angry but to her it seemed as if his father was only helping his rebellious streaks to grow instead of assuring him that there was no need for such fury.
"I'm sorry," she said softly.
Kouji's blue eyes bore into hers. "It's not your fault."
She replied with a gentle smile and tried hard to keep the pity out of her gaze because she knew it would only anger him.
Silence stretched between them but neither turned their eyes away from the other. "How are you doing this?" he finally asked hoarsely.
He gestured to the space of thin air between them. "This. You make me tell everything that I thought I'd never tell anybody."
"Oh, that." Izumi grinned. "By listening. Sometimes that's all one needs."
He was still staring at her but this time it was different. She didn't feel uncomfortable or shy. She was content with returning the gaze.
"You scare me," he whispered and like this broke the strange spell that had kept her from turning her eyes away because she had to laugh.
He put on a mock pout. "It's not funny."
"Yes, it is," she answered without trying to suppress her laughter.
Kouji lightly kicked her shin. "You'll get that back. You know how unfair it is to start laughing your head off when someone is trying to pour their heart out?"
"I'm sorry," she managed to choke out before she broke out laughing again.
"No, you're not," he stated dryly as watched her shaking with laughter because the situation was so utterly ridiculous and sappy.
She finally took a deep breath and stopped laughing, though there was still a grin lingering on her face and her eyes sparkled with amusement. "No, I'm not," she admitted.
"Good to see that you feel with me."
"Stop the teasing or I'll start laughing again," Izumi threatened. She flapped onto her back which didn't really help to enforce her words. The grin was still there and she shook her head.
"What?" he demanded.
She shook her head once more, then looked up at him. "Why are you scared of me? I mean, it's not as if I would shout your feelings out to the whole school."
"Well, you never know," Kouji joked and absentmindedly started to swing from side to side with his chair.
For a moment she watched him doing so, then put her arm over her eyes and turned her head away. "Stop that. You're making me nervous."
Grinning he kept up the moving for a second but then stopped. Or at least tried to do so. "I can't just sit here and not do anything, I'll go crazy," he complained.
That sounded not very much like him and so Izumi lifted her arm and peeked at him. He was wiggling his leg and that was driving her crazy.
"Can't you stop that?" she demanded. "Just sit somewhere else, for Heaven's sake!" To help him she even sat up and moved over so that there was enough room for both of them on his bed.
He let out an annoyed sigh but moved over to the bed nonetheless. He brushed against her in the process and once again she felt the warm tingling in her stomach. She had heard and read enough about this to know what this meant. But at the same time she thought that it just could not be true.
Her liking Kouji? Honestly, she might want to get him to be a bit more open but that didn't mean that she liked him in that way. She had pitied the girls who fell for him just yesterday, knowing all too well that he loved his freedom more than any person on this earth. She understood him better than he thought and this should also be the reason why she would never fall for him.
It seemed as if her heart didn't listen to what her mind was saying. And that scared her.
Maybe the tingling had it's reason somewhere else… maybe it hadn't been the physical contact that had caused her stomach to twist. Maybe it was the lack of food that caused the reaction. Yes, that had to be it. And she could prove it easily.
Without thinking much, she rested her head against his shoulder. She felt him jump in surprise, felt him stiffen, then relaxing reluctantly. But what did she feel?
Her cheeks grew hot, her pulse quickened and her breath caught in her throat. Well, she had proved something: That her theory was nonsense. She did like Kouji in that way. She might be able to fool her mind but her heart and body spoke the truth.
At that moment she just wanted to break down and cry her eyes out. That made everything so complicated! Why couldn't he just be like a brother to her, just like Takuya and Kouichi and Junpei and Tomoki? Why did he have to be so different? So fascinating? So heart-wrenchingly gorgeous?
Salty teardrops rolled down her cheeks and caught in the corners of her mouth. She could taste them on her lips and could feel them rolling further down her chin till they dropped onto her shirt. She took a slow, soft breath and closed her eyes to stop the tears from falling.
She liked Kouji. Maybe loved him. She had to know. Breathing steadily, Izumi searched her heart for her feelings toward him. She tried to imagine her life without him, tried to imagine him with someone else, tried to imagine herself with someone else. It didn't work.
She knew she was in trouble. Carefully she lifted her hand and wiped the tears away. Well, it was no good denying her feelings. It had always caused her even more trouble if she had done so. She might as well accept that she was in love with this damn loner next to her. Good one, Orimoto.
Sighing she slumped against him and allowed herself to enjoy his warmth for a moment. Then she sat back up and brushed her hair behind her ears. She reluctantly gazed at him, her cheeks still warm and blushing. Man, she had never been in a situation like this.
Kouji stared at her questioningly. His face was unreadable and showed not the slightest sign of a blush. It probably was even paler than normal. When she noticed that his lips were slightly parted, she couldn't tear her gaze away from them.
Eventually, she realized how stupid she must look and hastily looked down at her hands. "I'm sorry," she said and was relieved to hear how normal her voice sounded. "Just tired, I guess."
"You're lying, Izumi," he replied and when she heard the amused tone in his voice her head shot back up and she looked him in the eyes.
"Yeah, maybe I am. So what?" She raised her chin challengingly and refused to look away.
His gaze wandered over her face, then returned to her eyes. "Tell the truth," he said softly.
It wasn't fair. She knew that he did the same thing to her that she had used on him earlier to get him to talk. It wasn't fair and he knew it, just like she had known when she had done it to him. God, why did she have to be so selfish? Why couldn't she just have left him alone?
She let out an frustrated sigh but his eyes never left hers. Beautiful, abysmal blue eyes. Just as beautiful as the rest of him. For a second she closed her eyes to get away from the stare that was slowly but surely tearing down her inner walls.
"Damn you, Kouji," Izumi muttered angrily, then opened her eyes, grabbed his head and pulled his lips down on hers.
She had expected him to pull away immediately but what she hadn't expected was that he returned the kiss. His lips moved slowly but demanding against hers and his taste was like a drug fogging her mind. She could feel her world spinning and the only thing that kept her in place was feeling of his mouth against hers that sent deliciously hot shivers down her spine, enflaming her skin and making her heart beat erratically. Everything around her seemed to fade away, only he existed, the fabric of his shirt under her fingers, the soft hair tickling her cheek, the warm and inviting mouth that made her feel like wax melting in his arms.
When he pulled away, she noticed that she felt disappointed at the loss of the contact. She was still so dazed by the kiss that she didn't even think about being embarrassed.
He looked shocked and his breath was ragged. "I know that sometimes actions speak louder than words but this-," he stopped and shook his head.
"I love you, Kouji," Izumi said and smiled as his head whipped around to her. "That's the truth."
Once again his face was unreadable. She couldn't tell if he was shocked or repulsed or something else. But she was determined not to look away. She wasn't ashamed of her feelings, if he liked them or not, she would live with it. Or so she told herself.
"You want to know why I was in such a bad mood yesterday morning on the way to Kouichi's?", he asked suddenly.
"What?" She blinked in surprise.
He shot her a sideways look. "Do you want to know why I was in such a bad mood yesterday morning?"
She stared at him incredulously. "That's all you've got to say to me after I confessed my love for you? Is your brain permanently damaged or something? I can't believe this!"
"I take that as a yes." Now the idiot was even grinning!
Anger flared up inside Izumi. She whacked him hard in the forearm and he backed away, still grinning broadly. Hissing, she grabbed his pillow and smacked him over the head, so that he fell to the floor with a solid thump. But instead of yelling at her, he started laughing.
"You're an insensitive arse, Minamoto Kouji!" she shouted and jumped from the bed so that she could hit him with the pillow again. He didn't even try to defend himself, just dodged the pillow, opened the door and ducked out into the hallway.
"I'll tell you why I was in such a bad mood yesterday," he shouted over her curses, still laughing. He dodged another attack from her and stumbled against a big vase in the process that hit the ground with a thump.
"You see, it was jealousy." He laughed even more, when she growled angrily and whacked him hard with the pillow. He fled down the staircase, Izumi on his heels and shouted back at her, "I was jealous at my own twin brother. After all he was the one-" He dodged the furiously swung pillow- "who was flirting with the girl I with whom I am head over heels in love since years."
Kouji laughed when Izumi yelled 'Stupid bastard!' and saved himself into the living room. She managed to smack his side when he had to avoid another vase. But he didn't give up the talking. "You want to know who this girl is?" He jumped back to dodge another attack and grinned at her, as she growled again. "It's you, Izumi. It has always been you."
Izumi had already swung the pillow at him once again but this time she caught him off guard. He hadn't expected her to whack him after this so he got hit square in the chest and was swept off his feet by the force of her blow.
He grabbed her wrist when he tried to find his balance, but only managed to pull her down with him in the process. Predictably, she landed right on top of him and the pillow didn't help to soften the fall since it landed right next to them. The wind was knocked out of him when Izumi's weight pressed onto his chest.
She pushed herself up on her elbows and stared down at him. "What did you just say?"
Kouji managed to take a breath, though it wasn't as deep as he would have wished. "I said that I love you," he said breathlessly.
Izumi blinked a few times, then shook her head. "That's a joke, right? You're kidding."
"Well," he replied with some difficulties, "either you believe me or you don't but, please – could you put your elbows somewhere else? I can't breathe."
"Oh." She blushed slightly and rolled off of him. He took a deep breath, then looked at her. "So, believe me?"
Wrinkling her nose slightly, as if in deep thought, she cocked her head and smiled at him with mock innocence. "Another kiss might help me make the right decision."
Kouji grinned and leaned over to capture her lips with his own once again.
The dinner at the Orimotos' house went by without any incidents. Izumi's parents decided that Kouji was a very nice and shy young man and could find nothing unpleasant in his behaviour. Well, her father didn't like the way he wore his hair but since he left his bandana at home that night and had pulled his long streaks back in a neat ponytail he didn't say anything on the subject after Kouji had left.
Izumi bid him goodbye under the watchful eyes of her parents and he said he would walk with her to school the next morning. Then he thanked her mother for the wonderful dinner, shook her father's hand and went home.
Izumi was relieved that everything had gone so well. The next morning Kouji already awaited her when she stepped out of the house and they nodded and smiled at each other. Then they walked down the street and round a corner.
There, out of sight of Izumi's mother, he dropped his backpack and pulled her against him. Grinning, she set her bag down, too, then slung her arms around his neck. "Good morning," she said but was cut off, when he kissed her hungrily.
When they ran out of air, they broke apart. "Good Morning to you, too," Kouji grinned, then took his backpack and slung it over his shoulder while he interlaced his fingers with hers. She, too, retrieved her bag and they set off again.
The continued their way to school hand in hand. "What do you think the others will say?" Izumi asked thoughtfully. She wondered whether they should keep it to themselves for some time. She would rather not have it that way but if Kouji wanted it then she would play along.
"Well," he said grinning, "Takuya won't believe his eyes and therefore soon the whole school will know what he can't believe. Kouichi will be happy because he, of course, had seen it coming. Tomoki, being the polite guy he is, will wish us happiness. And-"
"I know!" She interrupted him by putting her hand over his mouth. "But will it be okay?"
He gently bit her finger and she took her hand away. "If they don't like it, it's not our problem, okay? I won't let you go just because of our stupid friends' opinions."
She smiled at him. "That's just what I wanted to hear."
Kouji lifted a brow. "I know. That's why I said it. But in reality I will break up with you the second anybody so much as questions your affection."
"Oh, shut up." She jerked her hand away from his grasp and shoved him, but he just laughed and slung his arm around her shoulders. Izumi tried to pout but when he continued to chuckle, she couldn't help but smile.
When they finally arrived at the school gates, most of the students were already there. As they slowly strolled over to their tree, Kouji whispered to her, "Remember what you said about me yesterday morning?"
"That you got all the girls fainting over you?"
"No." He started to grin and Izumi was sure that she didn't like what was sure to come now. "That you didn't think I was cute and that you could resist my loner attitude." He glanced at her and saw her rolling her eyes which only made him grin more. "You were wrong. I was right. You lose, Orimoto."
She didn't reply but shook her head without being able to suppress her smile. They made their way over to the group and Izumi could her people starting to whisper about them. As Takuya spotted them in the crowd of people, his mouth opened in shock and he couldn't utter a single word. Kouichi who had noticed his friend's strange behaviour followed his gaze. When he saw Kouji and Izumi, a grin spread on his face and he gave them a thumbs-up.
They stopped in front of the others and while Junpei and Kouichi cheered and Tomoki smiled at them, Takuya could just stare. Finally, he shook his head and asked, "But how? Weren't you fighting yesterday?"
"Really, Takuya," Kouji smirked, "you should learn the difference between fighting and flirting. No wonder you have no girlfriend." The last word was almost inaudible because of the small 'oof'-sound Kouji made after Izumi had elbowed him in the ribs.
"Don't be so mean! Can't you just be nice only for an hour?" she demanded but the her words did not have the intended effect. Kouji just flashed her a grin and pressed his lips softly down on hers so that every coherent thought in her mind vanished into nothingness.
"Hey, get a room, okay?" Takuya's voice interrupted their kiss. They broke apart and Izumi was about to give him a piece of her mind when she saw him grinning like mad. He beamed at her. "About time you two got your act together!"
"Thanks, Takuya," Kouji replied and rolled his eyes. Further conversation was made impossible by the sound of the school bell. Instantly, everyone gathered their stuff and turned to their various classrooms.
Kouji was about to leave as well, when Izumi held him back. He looked at her questioningly and she smiled at him. "If you are what I get for losing, then I won't mind losing more often."
He grinned back at her. "I think we can arrange that."
A/N: Yeah... that was it. Since it is my first English fic reviews would be really lovely!