Disclaimer: Standard disclaimer applied.

A/N: Right now, I'm supposed to be working on a companion for Turning Blue or maybe on the multi-chapter story idea I had a while ago (both of which would belong in the Naruto universe). But as life usually goes, I wrote this instead. The plot bunny hit me on a five-hour train ride and I wrote most of it to get the beginning down. This was written without the usual long pauses in between where I turn to something different and only later come back and finish it, so it might be a bit fast. But I simply had to get it done before the idea escaped me.

So here you go. Kouzumi once again. Can't seem to get rid of this, they're too sweet. Third time's the charm, right?

The Art of Getting Dumped

Kouji wasn't surprised when he opened the door to his and Kouichi's apartment in answer to a knock and found a disgruntled looking Izumi on the doorstep. He threw one glance at her deep-cut red top and the way her lips turned down in a frown before he wordlessly opened the door wider and let her in. When she stepped past him with a mumbled thanks, he caught a whiff of her alluring perfume and sighed. Closing the door, he returned to the sitting area, carefully stepping over Izumi's delicate sandals that lay haphazardly in front of the single step that led to the living room.

When he stopped next to the couch, she had already flopped down on it, taking up the entire length of it, with one arm thrown over her eyes. He pushed his hands into the pockets of his sweat pants and tried to ignore the way her top had ridden up over her belly button. She didn't seem to care about decency.

"Where's Kouichi?" she mumbled almost unintelligibly.

"Asleep," Kouji answered, still standing next to the couch and looking down at her. Her hair had fanned over the armrest and her position accentuated the curve of her neck.

"I didn't wake him, did I?"

"No, I don't think so."

There was a moment of silence where he simply looked at her, then she sighed, took down her arm and sat up. She turned her perfectly lined eyes up to him, looking so miserable that his gut clenched. "I got dumped," she told him meekly.

Kouji returned her gaze for a second, then sighed as well and moved to pull his hands out of his pockets. "Move over, " he said, sitting down on the couch when she shifted, then draped her legs over his lap. "You wanna talk about it?"

"As always, huh?" Izumi said with a unusually dim smile, then wrapped her arm around herself. "Akira dumped me. We had dinner together and then he just broke up."

He suppressed the urge to curse the asshole with every name he could make up and to remind her that he had warned her from the very beginning. But it must have shown somehow since she smiled another joyless smile at him. "I know, I know. You told me to he was a jerk. I'm sorry I didn't listen to you, Kouji."

"When do you ever?" he muttered sardonically, rubbing his face. "So, what did he do?"

"He hit on the waitress right in front of me and then laughed at me for thinking it was serious with us," she answered sullenly, picking at an imaginary spot on her jeans.

Kouji growled a curse which caused her to smile for real. She extended her hand to touch his arm. "You don't have to get angry on my behalf. It's my own fault for being stupid. Thank you, though." She flopped back on her back and sighed, muttering. "I just always pick the wrong men."

"That's because you never listen to me," he snapped at her without wanting to, but she was unfazed and rolled her eyes.

"If I listened to you, I wouldn't be dating anyone," she retorted with a grin. "I would die as lonely spinster."

He narrowed his eyes at her. "Well, at least I wouldn't have to listen to your sob stories week after week."

She shrugged, crossing her ankles and leaning her calves against his stomach. "You're my best friend, deal with it."

"Where do you dig out all those morons anyway?" he asked, ignoring the 'best friend' part because it generally caused him to feel guilty if he dwelled too much on it. Best friends shouldn't look at the exposed skin of other best friends and enjoy it so much.

"She's wearing an asshole magnet," Kouichi said from the little hallway that led to their bedrooms and bathroom.

Kouji glanced at him. "Very funny."

"Sometimes I think it's true," Izumi said mournfully, closing her eyes.

"So you got dumped again?" Kouicih padded into the room in his pajamas and squatted down on the edge of the coffee table. "Was it this Akira guy?"

"Yeah," she answered morosely, cracking an eye open at him. "I would be grateful, though, if you only referred to him as the Jerk in the future."

"Oh?" He lifted an eyebrow. "Wasn't that this Souta?"

"He's The Moron," Kouji interjected grumpily, arms crossed in front of his chest.

"Ah, I see. And Yashiro?"

"The Asshole."


"The Idiot," Izumi sighed.


"He Who Shall Not Be Named," they said simultaneously in a wary tone.

Kouichi rubbed the bridge of his nose. "The Jerk it is, then."

She sat up again, looking at Kouji. "Would it be alright if I took a shower? I feel kind of dirty."

"Go ahead," Kouichi answered instead and she falshed him a grateful smile before disappearing down the hallway. He left his perch on the coffee table and switched to her place on the couch, throwing a look at his brother. "Was it nasty?"

"He was only playing around with her," Kouji answered icily.

"Oh my." He glanced at the scowl on Kouji's face. "She seems to take it quite well."

"She looked like shit when she showed up. And I could bet she's crying in the shower right now."

Kouichi furrowed his brows. "Look, I know you want to smash the Jerk's face in for doing that, but I don't think she would appreciate it."

But Kouji's ice mask was firmly in place and there was no way he would be convinced to let it go.

Kouichi was getting quite irritated. "Do you really think it helps at all if you beat up every guy that hurt her? You're just making it harder for her to find a decent one because they're all scared of getting involved with her. It's no wonder she always ends up with assholes!"

"If that's the only way to keep her from getting hurt, then I'll do it!" Kouji shot back.

"Is that really your job?" Kouichi asked with a hint of frustration.

"Yes!" his brother said so fiercely that Kouichi stared after him with wide eyes as he stalked into the kitchen to calm down. His brother, the protector. It seemed that he wasn't able to let go of that role. But when it came to matters of Izumi's love life, it really wasn't Kouji's place to protect her. He might be her best friend, but that gave him no right to meddle with her private sphere in the way he did. It was a miracle Izumi had tolerated it until now since she had always been someone proud of her independence, especially if she had the feeling that she didn't need protection or that the person had no right to act protective. And Kouji was overstepping his boundaries probably one time too many.

Izumi returned to the living room with soft footsteps. Kouichi looked up from his musings to see that she was wearing one of Kouji's sweatshirts insteand of her second-skin jeans-and-top ensemble. Her wet hair reached to her chest and was neatly brushed. She had scrubbed off the make-up and looked much younger now. "Where's Kouji?" she asked, rolling up the too long sleeves.

"In the kitchen." He stood. "I'm going back to sleep, okay? I'll think about some plans on how to butcher the Jerk while I'm at it. Maybe my dreams will come true."

He winked at her when she smiled. "Good night," she said, giving him a kiss on the cheek as he passed her. Then she padded into the kitchen where Kouji was grumpily chewing on an apple. He looked at her when she came in, but said nothing, only continued chomping.

"I borrowed one of your shirts." Izumi tugged at the hem of it. "I hope you don't mind."

He gave a non-committal shrug.

His anti-social behavior didn't bothered her and she crossed the room to stand next to him. "Kouichi's gone to bed again. I think I did wake him before."

He held out his apple to her and she absentmindedly took a bite before starting to play with the hem of his shirt. It only reached down to a point about an inch over her knees, but she didn't seem to mind. His eyes strayed to her bare legs and he could see goosebumps.


He looked up at her eyes. "Hm?"

"Thank you. For listening to me every time." She grinned cheekily. "I would hug you but I know you hate it when I do that."

"I was twelve," he muttered, rolling his eyes.

Smiling, Izumi slung her arms around his waist and pressed her cheek against his shoulder before letting go. "Thank you."

He stared at her for a second, still holding onto his half-eaten apple. "You know what I would really like as thanks?"


"Stop going out with those jerks so that I don't have to deal with your foul mood every week."

Her smile broadened. "I'll try."

The guy in front of him went down with a well-aimed hook. He picked himself up gracelessly, holding his jaw and glaring at Kouji. "You bastard!"

Next to Kouji, Takuya scowled. "Who's the bastard here?"

"Come on," Kouji ordered curtly, ignoring his friend and focusing solely on Akira a.k.a. the Jerk who was spitting curses.

"What the fuck did I do to you?!" he demanded hotly.

"You mess with Izumi, we mess with you," Takuya announced darkly.

"I didn't do anything to her!" the Jerk protested. "It's a misunderstanding!"

Another hit from Kouji shut him up as he landed on the ground for the second time. The people who had crowded around them on the university campus cheered. Akira groaned.

"Get up," Kouji snapped at him.

But before the Jerk could pick himself up a second time, Izumi shoved her way through the audience. She threw one look at the situation, then marched over to her ex-boyfriend, stopping right next to him. He looked up at her, his features brightening despite the trickle of blood that was leaking from the corner of his mouth where his lip had split. "Baby! Could you tell this asshole over there that I didn't do anything to you?"

"You're a disgusting piece of shit, Akira," she told him politely.

Anything he might have wanted to say to that died in his throat when Kouij stepped up next to Izumi, protectively looming over her and glaring icily at him. "Stay away from her, fucker, or I'll make sure you'll be eating through a straw for the rest of your pathetic life."

Akira froze. Izumi flipped him off, then grabbed Kouji's wrist and stalked away, forcing him to follow her. They left the group of people behind, leaving Takuya to disperse them and threaten Akira into never nearing her again. They rounded a building and Izumi pressed Kouji down on the nearest bench which was standing unter a large tree. She stared down at him disapprovingly. "That wasn't necessary."

"That's your opinion," he retorted.

"No," she replied firmly. "It wasn't necessary, and you know it. He never did anything and never would have tried anything again. He's a player, not an obsessive stalker. Beating him up was only to feed your ego."

"To feed my ego?" Kouji growled lowly, staring at her underneath furrowed brows. "I'm trying to protect you from these asses out there!"

Izumi sighed warily and plopped down on the bench next to him. "I appreciate that you want to protect me, Kouji, but that's not the way to do it." She slipped her hands inside the pockets of her jacket. "They are only my ex-boyfriends, not some evil assassin group that wants to kill me."

"You think it's funny?" he snapped furiously. When she turned her head to look at him, she noticed that his jaw was clenched so hard that the muscles were trembling. He refused to look at her, but she could see that his lips were pressed into a thin, white line even when facing his profile.

"No," she answered softly, never looking away from him. "I don't think it's funny." His jaw relaxed somewhat. "But I also think that you should stop beating them up. Everyone already thinks you're volatile and violent."

"I don't care what they think," he answered curtly.

She smiled. "But I do. I'd like them to see the Kouji I see in you. I'm not your friend for nothing."

He turned his head and stared at her, but she only continued smiling at him. His mouth had opened slightly, as if he was about to say something that never left his lips. She could see how his blue eyes searched for something in her features and simply waited. Finally, he put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her against his side, putting his chin on her head. Her smile widened and she fisted the material of his jacket in her hand, leaning his head against his shoulder. "Thank you," he whispered into her hair, so softly that she almost missed it.

She put her hand over his and wondered if she would ever find someone else like him. Someone who cared for her and protected her and whose embrace felt like heaven. "Probably not," she murmured with a crooked smile, inhaling deeply to catch his scent that clung to his jacket.

"Hm?" he hummed inquiringly.

Izumi lightly tugged at his sleeve so that he pulled back a fraction to look down at her. "Promise me not to beat up my ex-boyfriends anymore, Kouji. Please. I hate it when you do that."

His brows furrowed again and he visibly forced himself to relent. "If that's what you want."

"Yes," she breathed softly.

"Fine. I won't." He scowled openly at the idea.

She refrained from telling him that he looked cute when he was grumpy. It wouldn't have been the truth anyway. He was one of those men that never looked cute but always radiated something that made them breathtaking. She smiled at the thought and in a spur of the moment idea craned her neck and pressed a kiss to his jaw. "Thank you."

She snuggled her head back into his tensed shoulder to avoid his eyes and hide the grin that lingered on her lips.

Tsubasa was the best that ever happened to Izumi. Or he was as good as anyone could be when compared to Kouji and he managed to come out of it rather impressively. He was sweet, intelligent, humorous, attentive and handsome, everything a girl could want in a boyfriend and Izumi had been dating him for a little over two weeks now – which was a new record since she never had any luck in men. He treated her as his equal and still made her feel special and womanly.

In many ways, he was even better than Kouji who was moody, silent and cold, rather averse to any open displays of affection and often enough rude, seldomly treating her like a girl. Sure, his behavior appealed to most women in a bad boy way but in the end they usually gave up because he was too unresponsive.

Tsubasa was the total opposite of her best friend, in appearance as well. He had blond hair that just fell in his eyes, warm brown eyes and a ready smile.

Yet despite the perfect way he treated her, she still found herself longing for Kouji's company rather than Tsubasa's more often than was healthy for someone who pretended to have a platonic relationship with him rather than admitting that there was more to it. But she tried to push her thoughts to the back of her mind, willing herself to be happy with what she had instead of dreaming of things she couldn't have.

She smiled absently at Tsubasa when he put his hand on the small of her back to lead her through the crowd of people hurrying through the busy streets of the city. She once again confined her thoughts of Kouji to a remote place in her mind, scolding herself for still pining after him after so many years of unrequited love. Instead she pulled her hand out of her pocket where she had stuffed it to keep it warm and clasped it around Tsubasa's larger one. He looked down at her and smiled, squeezing it softly.

Pulling her close, he kept them from getting separated until they finally reached the mall that was their destination. A wall of warm air hit them as they entered through the glass doors so that Izumi pulled her hand back to unwind her scarf and unzip her jacket, before entwining their fingers once again.

"It's my mother's birthday next month," Tsubasa told her as they slowly strolled towards the first shops. "I was hoping you could help me choose a present. I'm afraid I'm not very good at it." He grinned sheepishly.

"I can try," she answered uncertainly, "but I don't even know your mother. I have no idea what she would like."

"Probably still more than I do," he replied with a broadening grin. "I usually bribe my sister into choosing something I can give to her."

Izumi couldn't suppress her own grin. "Why didn't you this year?"

"Uh…" He squirmed a bit under her gaze, then admitted, "I kind of called her fiancé a boring loser and she didn't like that much."

"I cannot imagine why," she replied, voice trembling with suppressed laughter.

"Er, yeah." Tsubasa rubbed the back of his head, but smiled warmly at her nonetheless. "And besides," he continued once she had stopped shaking silently, "I thought that I could introduce you to my family on that occasion."

He stared at her intensely, watching her face closely for her reaction and for a second she was reminded of Kouji and the way his eyes could send shivers down her spine with a simple look. But then she forced herself back into the present, back into the warm mall where her wonderful boyfriend was holding her hand gingerly, looking at her with an expression of endearing suspense on his face. She took a breath and smile up at him softly. "I'd love to."

Breathing an obvious sigh of relief, he squeezed her hand again, then bent down to kiss her gently. "They will adore you."

"I hope so," she replied, but didn't feel any apprehension at the idea that she might be disliked by his family. Also, she didn't feel overwhelming happiness or anything remotely like it at the thought of meeting them. She told herself that they only had been dating for a short time, feelings like that would come later but a part of her whispered sternly not to lie to herself so she stood on her tiptoes to kiss Tsubasa and silence it.

As they made their way over to a jewelry store Izumi wondered absently what Kouji was doing. She hadn't seen him since she started dating Tsubasa but Kouichi had told her over the phone that he was busy with a larger essay that had been due the day before. She tried to image what it would be like walking through the mall with him by her side but quickly squashed the fantasy before it could get out of hand and Tsubasa realized she was spacing out. Sighing softly, she let her eyes roam over the jewelry displayed in the window, starting to point out different pieces that Tsubasa's mother might like. He had put his hand around her waist, listening to her advice, when her cell phone vibrated in the pocket of her jacket.

She excused herself with a smile and took a few steps to the side. "Hello?"

"Why aren't you at home?" an irritable voice said on the other end.

"Kouji." She felt a brilliant smile bloom on her face. "How are you?"

He made an irritated snorting noise. "Where are you, Izumi?"

She rolled her eyes. "At the mall."

"Why?" She could almost physically feel his frown.

"I'm on a date," she sighed.

"With whom?" Kouji's voice was suspicious and annoyed.

Izumi refrained from rolling her eyes again, instead crossed her free arm in front of her chest and waved absently at Tsubasa, who was watching her amusedly. "Some guy from university."

"Who, Izumi?" he growled.

"Motomiya Tsubasa, okay?"


"Don't worry, Kouji, he's really nice." She smiled softly because it was nice that he cared enough about her to worry about whether her date was a good guy.

"I don't trust him," he replied curtly.

She laughed lightly. "You don't trust any of my dates."

"Yeah, and usually I'm right." His voice was half ice, half concerned.

"I know," she replied softly. "But I have to try." The subject made her long to end the call; it was dangerously close to ruining her mood and she really didn't want to discuss the matter in front of Tsubasa or discuss it with Kouji at all. It was her business alone and she had let him meddle too often already. "Listen, I can't keep Tsubasa waiting any longer. I'll call you tomorrow."

"Be careful," he said urgently before she could hang up on him.

"Bye Kouji." She snapped her phone shut, disconnecting the line. Slipping it back into her pocket, she joined Tsubasa in front of the window again. He was smiling.

"Who was that?"

"My best friend," she replied sunnily.

Immediately, a scowl distorted his features. "Minamoto?"

"Yes, why?" She frowned in return.

"I don't like him." Tsubasa's expression was suddenly guarded, as if he'd pulled back inside himself. He turned back around to study the jewelry and left Izumi to stare at him in confusion. She refused to be brushed off so easily, so she stepped forward next to him and looked up at his profile.

"Why, Tsubasa?"

He looked at her, still scowling. "He's an asshole."

Sighing impatiently, she frowned at him. "Care to elaborate?"

"Not really." He pressed his lips together, then turned on his heels and started to stalk off. She stared at his back incredulously, then stomped after him.

"He's my best friend, Tsubasa! I'd like to know why you can't stand him!"

"And I said that I don't want to elaborate," he snapped back.

Izumi lengthened her steps to keep up with him, ignoring the way people stared at them as they passed by. "I think I have a right to know!"

"It's none of your business."

He walked straight out the mall doors, and the cold wind ruffled Izumi's hair as she followed him angrily. "He's not a bad person!" she said loudly to his back.

At that, he stopped and turned around to her. "What do you know?" he asked venomously and for a second, she stared at him in shock. What had happened to the sweet, caring Tsubasa?

Then, she got a hold of herself and returned his furious gaze. "I've known him for a long time. I know him better than anyone else," she said lowly.

"That's probably why you're too blind to see what an ass he is," he retorted in a matter-of-fact tone.

"You don't even know him!"

He snorted. "I know more than enough." With crossed arms, he sneered down at her. "You're stupid to consort with him. But what did I expect?"

Izumi looked at him incredulously. "What?" she half-whispered in disbelief.

"My God, you're so unbelievably stupid, just as I thought." Tsubasa rolled his eyes, his voice annoyed. "I told them, but they wouldn't believe me 'cause you're miss supersmart who breezes through all of her courses effortlessly. But you're so naïve!" He laughed. "I can't believe you fell for this whole crap!"

By now, she had gone numb and could only stare. Tsubasa seemed to be a whole different person. An arrogant, cruel smirk tilted his lips as he laughed at her mockingly in the middle of the street.

"You really believed all this shit, didn't you, little Izumi?" He bent forward, pouting his lips in false concern as he talked to her in a voice reserved for uncomprehending toddlers. "It was all a bet, you know? I told them you would fall for it but none of them believed me so I had to show 'em, right? And now you're all shocked and hurt…" He smirked coldly. "You're so pathetic, Orimoto. Pathetic, weak and stupid." His voice lowered into a near-whisper. "Why don't you run to your precious Kouji-kun, hm? Let him avenge you because you're too stupid to protect yourself. And when he comes to me," he lifted his hand and stroked his knuckles over her cheek in the repulsive imitation of affection, "I will hurt him."

She only vaguely registered that she slapped his hand away, turned and ran. Tears clouded her vision as she hastened through the streets with a desparation she couldn't properly grasp, slamming into people and ignoring their indignant shouts as she continued on her way without even apologizing. She didn't know where she was going, only knew that she had to get away from him while she simultaneously loathed herself for being so entirely pathetic. She had thought that she had become strong after all she had gone through but all it took was one filthy excuse of a man to ruin everything.

Her mind seemed to have shut down because the next thing she knew, she was staring at the door leading to Kouji and Kouichi's apartment. For a long while, she only stared blankly at it while her brain refused to function. The sense of uselessness and despair was still there, a dull throbbing in the deep recesses of her soul, but not as sharp and pronounced as before. Eventually, she raised her fist to knock, hoping that it wouldn't be Kouji to answer the door.

Fortunately, it wasn't. Kouichi took one look at her tear-streaked face, then pulled her inside and to the couch where he sat down with her on his lap and simply held her without asking questions. A part of her longed strongly for Kouji's embrace, for his smell and the effect his touch had on her, but the other part was glad for his absence because it would have made everything so much harder.

After long minutes, her tears finally subsided, leaving her with aching eyes, lips sore from the salty tears, a throbbing headache and a heavy sleepiness that tried to invade her mind.

Kouichi pressed his lips against her temple and asked softly, "What happened?"

Her mind struggled to grasp what exactly had transpired. Her memory seemed to be wrapped in a cotton-like fog and the headache made it hard for her to concentrate. "It was a bet," Izumi finally managed, surprised at how meek her own voice sounded.

"What was a bet?" He was confused.

"The dates," she replied tiredly, leaning her head against his shoulder.

Kouichi tensed beneath her but she didn't really care. His arms still held her gingerly and she so badly wanted to give in to the sleepiness that was sweetly beckoning to her. He didn't answer so she let her eyelids droop down over her raw eyes, listening to the sound of her own heartbeat that echoed in her ears. "I'm so stupid," she whispered.

His hand drew soothing circles on her back. "No, Izumi. You're not stupid. You simply have faith," he muttered softly.

"That's the same thing," she breathed and when he didn't reply, she drifted off to sleep.

When Kouji returned from the walk he had taken to calm down after his phone talk with Izumi, he found the young woman lying on the couch in his apartment, covered with a blanket and sleeping deeply, a soft line between her eyebrows. Kouichi beckoned him into the kitchen and closed the door behind them so that they wouldn't disturb her.

"What happened?" Kouji asked with a frown, gesturing curtly toward the closed door.

"You know who is dating her?" his brother asked calmly, pouring himself a cup of tea while he expertly ignored the irritated question.

"This has something to do with Motomiya?" he demanded in a hiss, his voice laced with suppressed anger.

Kouichi frowned at him. "Calm down or you'll wake her. Of course it has."

"What did he do?" Kouji balled his fists to stop himself from grabbing his brother's shoulders to shake him in impatience.

Kouichi leaned against the counter, teacup securely in his hand and unfazed by the other's boiling emotions. "All I could get out of her was that the dating apparently was a bet."

"A bet?" The question came out in a half-groan as his brother pressed his palms over his eyes to try and calm himself. "That bastard," he whispered fiercely before lowering his hands again. "How bad was it?"

"She's broken," Kouichi answered softly.

For a moment, Kouji looked as if he was about to break something, then he turned around and slapped the wall instead. His shoulders were shaking as he tried to hold back the waves of anger that flowed through him. Through a haze of fury, Kouichi's voice registered vaguely in his mind.

"We can't do anything." He pointed out reasonably. "You promised her."

Kouji cursed audibly and slapped the wall again. "That was the stupidest thing I ever did!" he hissed, trying to refrain from slamming his head against the wall in self-disgust. "I should've known something like this would happen!"

"Don't beat yourself up over it," Kouichi said with calm rationality. "It's what she wants."

Kouji was about to reply that he didn't care after what that bastard did, but the door opened and Izumi carefully stepped into the kitchen, aware of the angry aura that seemed to fill every inch of the room. Her eyes locked on him, wide and vulnerable before she threw herself at him and buried her head in his chest. He immediately held her close, pressing his cheek against her hair and soaking in her scent.

"You promised not to go after him," she murmured into his shirt and he wondered how much of the conversation she had heard. But it was also likely that she knew what was going on in his head, knew him too well.

"I want to," he whispered in reply, stroking her back.

Her hands fisted in the fabric on his back. "Don't." Pressing her head deeper in his shirt, she whispered something he almost didn't understand. "For me."

A wave of warm affection went through him and he continued the mechanic motion of his hand even as he tried to battle down the instinctive side of him that wanted to go out on a rampage and teach the asshole that had hurt her a lesson. With a lot of effort, he finally said, "I'll try, Izumi. I promise I'll try for you."

He looked over her head for Kouichi, but he was gone, had probably left the moment she had slung her arms around him. And so he simply stroked her back in soothing circles, the other hand gently cradling her head to calm the both of them down. Later, when she had fallen asleep in his arms, he carried her to his bed, then went to sleep on the couch.

Kouji had a vague sense of déjà-vu as he punched the man in front of him and he went down to the ground with a groan. But instead of wailing loudly like the last one, Motomiya Tsubasa easily jumped up again and grinned tauntingly, raising the green scarf he held in his hand. "Now, now, Minamoto, why so violent? Did little Izumi tell you everything?" He pressed Izumi's scarf to his cheek, enjoying the way Kouji's hand twitched visibly. "Did she run straight to your place to cry on your shoulder, the stupid little weakling?"

Kouji's right fist landed on his cheekbone an instant later, his knee jerked up to hit him in the stomach. Tsubasa doubled over, but remained standing and grinning. "Did she tell you to come and beat me up?"

It was at that Kouji suddenly stilled, narrowed eyes staring icily at the blonde man in front of him, still slightly crouched for battle. He had promised not to be them up anymore, had promised to try and refrain from beating up Motomiya. But he had snapped at the combination of mocking words thrown his way and how he baited him with Izumi's scarf which she had left behing the day before in her hurry to get away from the mall. Now, a sliver of rationality managed to wind itself through the fog that had lowered over his mind.

Tsubasa's grin widened maniacally, then he lunged at Kouji and before the latter could defend himself had landed a fist in his face so that his head was thrown back and he could taste blood in his mouth.

That was when things got out of control and turned into a messy brawl. No one could say how many hits the other landed or which injuries they inflicted or when it started raining. It couldn't have lasted long before they were pulled apart because both of them were still standing and able to fight in spite of their wounds.

Kouji panted heavily as two people grabbed his arms and pulled him back, preventing him from beating Motomiya any further. He snarled angrily when Motomiya grinned tauntingly at him, breathing just as erratically and heavily, from where he was held back by Takuya. The brunette kicked his knee from behind so that Tsubasa's leg gave away, then forcibly shoved him away despite the struggle he put up, throwing vicious insults at the blonde all the way.

Kouichi and Izumi let go of Kouji's arms when they were sure he wouldn't go after Tsubasa anymore. Kouichi took a few steps forward and bent to pick up Izumi's scarf that lay forgotton in the rain, soaked and muddy. Kouji avoided her eyes as he watched his brother, but he could feel them boring into him.

With an angry noise, she put her hand on his cheek and turned his head toward her so that he could see her furious features and blazing eyes. "You promised," she said in a harsh whisper.

There was nothing to be denied and nothing to justify his behavior so he remained silent.

"This is exactly what I was afraid of," she continued, hurt lacing her voice. "I know you did it to avenge me and I can understand what you felt like but damnit, Kouji, I asked you not to. I thought you would keep your promise. I thought you cared enough to keep it."

The pain in her eyes sent stabs through his heart and he raised his hand to touch her, but she flinched back, taking a step back from him. "I thought you cared," she repeated irrationally, then turned around and fled through the rain.

Kouji stared after her numbly, his hand still halfway extended. He couldn't understand why she thought that he didn't care, why she was so angry with him. The fact that he had beaten up her ex because he was angry for her proved that he cared deeply for her, didn't it? Every single sore spot on his body proved that he was willing to protect her with all he had – or so he had thought. He had promised her, but everything that had happened in this spot had been for her only, didn't that show enough that he did care?

Brows furrowed in confusion, he turned to his brother who was looking at him with an expression between disappointment and pity, Izumi's scarf still in his hand. "Why is she so angry?"

Kouichi sighed, shoving the scarf into the pocket of his jacket so that only the last few inches still showed. "Sometimes, you're an idiot, Kouji."

He frowned and had to suppress a flinch as the wounds near his mouth and eyebrows throbbed with the movement. "What?"

His brother seemed to debate whether or not to tell him, then gave a long-suffering sigh again and lightly shook his head. "She's disappointed. She's worried. She's hurt. She's confused. What is she supposed to do?"

"What the hell are you talking about?" Somehow, Kouji got the feeling that he was missing an important point but his normally quick brain was still working slowly so that he struggled to comprehend what his brother was getting at.

Kouichi started to frown as well as his patience grew thinner. "She believed in your word but you broke it and that disappoints her because she thought better of you. Yet you did it for her and she knows that so she's torn. Then she had to see Motomiya again which brought back all the hurt from yesterday because he betrayed her badly." His voice was curt and held an edge which implied that everything he was saying was obvious. "She's worried because you're injured and she's confused because of her own feelings." Before his brother could ask, he added shortly, "She thought you were level-headed enough to keep your anger in check if she asked you for it. Now she doesn't know if this means that you care enough for her that you can't hold in your emotions when it comes to her or that you simply don't care enough to keep to your word when it comes down to it. And since she's doubting herself, she of course thinks it's the latter."

Kouji stared at his brother, whose nostrils were flaring with impatience by now because he was slower than normal. "But I do care!" he said loudly and rather rudely after the long explanation. "I fucking do care!"

"I know that," Kouichi replied angily, "but maybe you should tell her."

"She should know as well!"

"You never told her, idiot!" Kouichi bellowed, red spots appearing on his cheeks with rising emotion.

"Because it's fucking obvious!" Kouji shouted back.

Suddenly, Kouichi was in front of him and his fist connected with his jaw. The cold rain splattered down on his face as he stared up at his panting twin in shock.

"Just go and tell her that you love her, you moron," Kouichi said tiredly, looking down at him.

For a moment, Kouji was stunned while the rain continued to plaster his clothing to his body as he lay on the cold ground. His anger subsided – whether because of the icy water or because of Kouichi's punch he couldn't say, but his prided clearness of mind returned. Of course Kouichi had been right, he had behave liked a stubborn idiot and that was more of Takuya's role than his. He was supposed to be intelligent and collected, not rash and violent.

More of the icy rain droplets landed on his face as he admitted his own stupidity to himself. It hadn't been his place to get angry over Izumi's boyfriends, not as her best friend. Jealousy and frustration at his own denial had been thrown into the mix as well but he hadn't had the right to act protective over her in that particular matter. Still – it figured it would take a punch from his brother to get that into his head and his priorities right.

Kouichi seemed to have seen the click in his head on his face because he was suddenly smiling again. He helped him up, clapped his shoulder and muttered, "Go!" before pushing him in the direction Izumi had taken.

Fifteen minutes later, Kouji stood in front of her apartment door, one hand braced against the wall, panting and dripping. Maybe she had heard him bolt up the stairs or maybe she had waited for him – he didn't know – but her door opened and he found himself looking up at her and felt a wave of relief wash over him that she hadn't rightfully decided to ignore him.

Her face was guarded and careful, as if she didn't know what to expect of this. Her green eyes roamed over his wet face where drops of water were still trailing over his skin before they returned to his eyes.

Under her unfamiliarly reserved scrutiny, he blurted the first thing that came to his mind. "Kouichi punched me."

Izumi frowned, puzzled. "What?"

"I mean," he corrected himself, straightening up and trying to catch his breath. "I mean, I do care. About you. Even before he punched me."

He vaguely registered how a few doors down, someone poked their head out to see what was going on in the hallway.

The line between her brows deepend in confusion. "What are you talking about, Kouji?"

"I love you," he said breathlessly, staring at her as if to convey the sincerity of his words through his eyes. "I was stupid, he punched me, and – I love you."

By now, her mouth was open and she was looking at him as if he had grown a second head. Then, her frown returned and she leaned forward a fraction to eye him. "Did you hurt your head?"

He smiled, feeling strangely elevated after his confession and felt a bit of sanity returning now that he was sure she wouldn't slam the door in his face when he started talking. "A little, but that has nothing to do with what I just said."

"You're delusional," she said in a matter-of-fact tone as if she wanted to convince him of it.

He shook his head. "No, Izumi. I love you." It was getting easier with every time he said it.

Something in her expression shifted as she stared at him in search of God knows what, but she seemed to find it because her gaze grew soft and she stepped out into the corridor, stopping only inches in front of him. She lifted her hands to put them on his wet cheeks while he silently watched her as she smiled. "I love you too, moron," she whispered before she stood on her tiptoes to kiss him.

Somewhere behind them, one of the neighbors whistled. Izumi grinned against his lips, then melted against him as he tilted his head and deepened the kiss. Her hands slid down to bunch the wet fabric of his shirt in her hands before she gently pulled away. She smiled at him. "Can I say something cheesy?"

"What?" he said, loosely settling his hands around her waist.

"I've wanted this for a long, long time." She grinned sheepishly. "Could you… say it again?"

Kouji raised an eyebrow. "Don't you think I've made enough of a fool out of myself already?"

She reached up and gave him another kiss. "It probably won't ever happen again, so I'm going to cherish the memory. So, please? Once more?"

He sighed, but leaned forward until strands of his wet hair touched her face and his lips brushed her ear. "I love you," he murmured lowly, then pressed a kiss on her temple and pulled back. Realizing they were still standing in the middle of the corridor, he pushed her into her apartment without disentangling himself and kicked the door shut with his foot.

Too lazy to move further, he leaned back against the door, pulling Izumi against his chest. Sighing contendedly, she turned her head and put her cheek against his damp shirt, absentmindedly playing with a strand of wet hair that had stuck to the front of it. He tightened his arms around her.


He hummed inquisitively.

She started shaking against him and a light snicker escaped her. "Did Kouichi really punch you?"

He bent down to shut her up.

A/N: I feel good after producing something again. Not writing makes me feel so useless, somehow. Well, I hope you feel a bit better after reading this as well. Care to share opinions?