Roads Less Traveled

Chapter Three: Tasty Love Ramen Shop

"Takeru, I think we should stop for the night," Hikari said about two hours after the sun had gone down. "You look really tired."

"… Yeah." Takeru heaved a deep breath and ran a hand through his messy hair. He was slumped over the steering wheel, with his long legs cramping and beginning to twitch. They had been driving almost nonstop for fourteen hours, only parking to stock up on energy drinks, bread, bananas, and Spam.

"You wanna take a nap in the back?" the Yagami girl asked softly.

Takeru chuckled. "What, and you drive?"

"I've driven a car before," Hikari said defensively.

"Yeah, but it was probably in at least semi-drivable condition. I'll be fine for another hour or so."

"Takeru…" Hikari began, before something in the distance distracted her. "Hey, what's that?"

There was a person walking along the side of the road, small in stature and dragging a contrastingly large suitcase behind him. His head was bowed, and covered by the hood of his gray sweatshirt.

"Poor guy," Takeru muttered. "It's freezing out here. Wonder where he's going…"

Hikari's bleeding heart was already gushing, and she looked to her friend imploringly.

"Takeru, can we stop for him? If he's on the way, we could give him a ride. It's dark out, and that's no good for a kid as young as him."

"He could just be short," Takeru pointed out, but he was already putting the brakes on. (As was made obvious by the horrid screeching from said brakes.)

They rolled to a stop beside the nervous-looking boy. He appeared to be no older than fifteen, with a roundish face and hair that was dangerously close to being bowl-cut. He clutched his suitcase handle for protection, though Hikari doubted he could even lift it off the ground.

Takeru grappled with the window crank before giving up and moving to just open the door. Before he could do so, the window collapsed like a guillotine. Takeru blinked, then leaned out to talk to the young boy.

"Hey, um… do you need a ride?"

The boy was apprehensive. "I… I don't think so…"

Takeru frowned. "C'mon- it's cold as hell out here."

"That's a contradiction," the boy said quietly.

"… Huh?"

"Hell isn't cold," he clarified. "Or, at least, in most religious texts…"

The lanky journalist raised an eyebrow. "Do you want a ride or not, kid?"

The boy bit his lip, glanced over his shoulder as if someone was watching him, then nodded quickly and allowed Takeru to hop out and help him with his luggage.

Hikari settled back into her seat and frowned at the time displayed on her cell phone screen. What was a kid so young doing walking around at night?

You can't be much older, she had to chide herself.

Takeru assisted the boy in climbing into the back of the van, where he settled in a corner cautiously, still watching the pair of older people with his large, luminous eyes.

"His name's Hida Iori," Takeru said as he got back into the driver's seat and slammed the door. The window shot back up, scaring him a little. "That's all he told me."

Hikari made a point to smile warmly at the boy. "Hajimemashite, Iori-kun. My name is Yagami Hikari."

Iori flushed magenta and picked at the carpet. "Yoroshiku."

Takeru started the engine again with little trouble for once, then glanced over his shoulder. "So, where are you headed, kid?"

Little Iori buried his face in his knees and shrugged.

"You… don't know," Takeru deadpanned. He slowly turned back around. "Okay, that's cool. I guess you're going to a wedding, then."

The boy perked up a little at this. "I like weddings."

Takeru snorted. "Yeah, well, you've probably never been to one like this before."

Yamato made sure to leave a note for Jyou and Mimi early the next morning before he departed. The sun had barely risen, and the air was practically frigid.

He wrapped the scarf Mimi had knitted for him a little more securely around his neck and rubbed his ungloved hands together to generate heat. Yamato hated being cold. He hated it, which was part of the reason he insisted that Taichi and he move somewhere coastal, where—

Taichi. Taichi Taichi Taichi.

He shook his head and rubbed two fingers against his throbbing temples. Before going to sleep the night before, Yamato had gone ferreting around Mimi's kitchen and found the bottle of red wine she kept for cooking. Said bottle was now three-quarters-empty and Yamato was nursing a massive hangover. Of course, in the note he left was an apology and a small handful of cash to compensate for the alcohol.

Yamato took a deep breath and kept walking. The nearest bus station was two miles away, and Yamato was about as in-shape as any chainsmoking former bulimic could hope to be. He could already feel his lungs beginning to burn, but it would be worth it in the end.

He needed some time to think before facing his boyfriend again. Yamato could pour his heart and soul into lyrics, but when it came to having a conversation with someone he cared about, he was a failure.

It was broad daylight when he reached his apartment. He leaned against the door for a few minutes to get his heaving breaths under control, then pulled his house key from his pocket and opened the door.

There were no lights on yet, obviously. Yagami Taichi was not a morning person by any means. Yamato heard the familiar, guttural snoring from the back of the apartment, and this made his heart rate speed right back to where it had been.

Yamato unwound his scarf and slipped his jacket off, leaving both on the back of the sofa. He quietly made his way to the bedroom, where Taichi was sprawled on the mattress, sheets in a tangle around his feet. The young coach's t-shirt and boxers had been pulled in opposite directions while he slept, leaving a good portion of his sculpted chest and stomach visible.

Yamato swallowed the lump in his throat and moved to the edge of the bed. He hovered over Taichi's waist, more unsure of himself than he even was usually. Making up his mind, he kissed his boyfriend's exposed hipbone gently, then again with more resolution.

Taichi stirred a little, and one sleep-muddled eye cracked open.

"Yama-chan?" he slurred, his voice cracking in a tired way.

Yamato nodded. It felt as though everything inside him was crumbling as Taichi's expression filled with warmth.

"Hey, honey," the coach mumbled. "Okaeri."

Yamato choked on a sob and crawled into bed beside his lover, completely melting into the arms Taichi offered him.

"I'm an asshole, Taichi- you're right," he spoke against the athlete's chest.

Taichi frowned. "I'm sorry I called you that."

"I am one though. And all of the other stuff you said was true, too- I'm selfish, and a complete bitch sometimes, a-and--"

Taichi cut him off with a firm kiss, which Yamato returned earnestly. They kissed in silence for a long moment, until Taichi broke away and gave the blonde a stern look.

"Yamato, you are really hard to deal with sometimes, yeah. In fact, I've wondered before how anyone else can put up you."

"Anyone else?" Yamato repeated questioningly.

"Well, yeah." Taichi smiled. "I mean anyone who isn't so completely in love with you that they couldn't look past all of that."

That's when Yamato lost it. He broke down into self-depreciating tears as Taichi held him and touched his hair soothingly.

"Stop crying," Taichi said quietly. "You know I love you, Yamato. Geez, and you call me the stupid one."

"You are, for staying with me," Yamato wept bitterly. "Goddamn it, Taichi, why are you so perfect? I don't deserve you at all."

"Look at me."

Yamato sniffed, then obeyed, gazing deep into brown eyes that could never lie to him. "You should be with someone as good as you, Taichi. Not me. I…"

"Maybe you're still hungover, Yama- don't look shocked, you know I can tell when you've been drinking- because I don't think what I'm saying is getting to you here, or has been getting to you for a while now."

Taichi gripped both sides of his boyfriend's face firmly, then said in a loud voice, "I. Love. You. I. Do. Not. Care. If. You. Are. Not. Perfect. You. Are. My." He kissed him once more. "Yama."

No more words were needed. Yamato closed his eyes and moaned softly as his best friend, his lover, his everything, began slowly unbuttoning the shirt he had slept in, trailing his lips over white-pale skin.

"Taichi, I want to marry you," he whispered breathlessly. "I want to be your- ahh!- husband. I'm so s-sorry for saying I d-didn't."

"Knew you were lying about that," Taichi murmured, his lips tickling Yamato's navel and making the musician's hips twitch forward in response.

"Y-you did?"

"'Course." Taichi threw his boyfriend a roguish wink before unsnapping Yamato's skintight jeans with a practiced ease. "After all, who wouldn't want to marry me?"

"We're lost."

"We're not lost," Hikari insisted at Takeru's horrifying words.

"No," piped up Iori from the back, "I'm pretty sure we're lost."

They had stopped at a cheap motel for the night, with Hikari taking the only bed and the two boys sleeping on the floor. Iori had slowly become more talkative, but was still unwilling to speak about where he came from or why he was running away. Instead, it rapidly became clear that he was fond of useless facts, random insight, and agreeing with whatever Takeru said.

"Well," Hikari huffed, "if you're so sure we're lost, then let's stop at that restaurant over there. We can ask for directions."

"… 'Tasty Love' Ramen Shop?" Takeru read the sign skeptically.

"Okay, then. Don't ask for directions. Let's just drive around aimlessly."

Sighing, Takeru did as he was told. The trio pulled the van into a parking spot (barely managing to fit the behemoth vehicle into one without double-parking), and entered Tasty Love with matching looks of nervousness.

"Irasshaimase!" the waitress greeted them cheerily. She was a tall, shapely young woman with a curtain of silky hair that fell nearly to her waist. Her eyes sparkled almost mischievously behind retro, thick-framed glasses. "Take a seat anywhere you like."

The interior of the shop was rather plain, especially given the name of the place. Takeru, Hikari, and Iori sat down at a booth off to the side, and were quickly provided with menus from the waitress.

"My name's Miyako," she told them brusquely. "Order anything you like, and I'll have the-" she suddenly whipped her head around to scream, "-DUMBASS-" then turned back around, "-in the kitchen whip it up for you as fast as his tiny little brain allows."

There was an outraged string of curses from the back of the store, and out marched a short, fit young man in an apron, grinding his teeth and wielding a vegetable peeler quite threateningly.

"Goddamn it, Miyako, you're gonna drive away all of our customers!" he snapped. Hikari couldn't help but notices how boyishly good-looking the chef was- probably around her own age, with sun-browned skin and wildly spiky hair that was tinted burgundy. He wasn't her type per se, but she could still appreciate a pretty face.

The waitress placed her hands on her hips, eyes narrowed dangerously. "The only thing that'll drive away our customers is your tendency to be a complete man-whore, Daisuke."

Iori coughed. Just like that, the tension was shattered, and Daisuke marched back to the kitchen, grumbling under his breath.

Miyako rolled her eyes. "I'm sorry about that, folks."

"That's… fine," Takeru said slowly. "Actually, we're really just here for directions… but I guess a snack would be okay. I'd just like a small bowl of chicken ramen, please."

Hikari blinked at him in confusion. Was Takeru not the one who insisted so vehemently that they not stop for any unnecessary reason? And there were still three cans of Spam and some bottled water left, so their food situation was not life-threatening.

"One small chicken." Miyako scribbled the order down, tongue sticking out in concentration. "M'kay. What about the girl with the cute sweater?"

Hikari smiled shyly. "Oh, I'm not really hungry…"

"C'mon, Hikari," Takeru insisted. "I'll pay."

"Small shrimp ramen," she blurted. It was a long-upheld Yagami tradition to never, under any circumstances, turn down free food.

"And I'd like curry-flavored," Iori said, hanging the waitress his menu. "Please."

Miyako winked at him. "No problem, kiddo. I'll go let the stupid bastard know."

She sashayed off, leaving the table in dumbfounded silence.

"That was… odd," Hikari said at length.

Takeru nodded hesitantly. "There's obviously some drama in the kitchen. You think anyone else works here?"

Suddenly there was the sound of pots and pans being thrown about, and Miyako reappeared in a flash of movement.

"And your hair is stupid!" Miyako shrieked over her shoulder. She hastily composed herself and then rejoined her only customers. "You guys mind if I sit with you for a minute? I'm bored."

"Are you two… um…" Takeru looked for the right words. "I mean, is this some sort of lovers' spat?"

"OH, GOD NO," Miyako howled. "I would never touch that little freak, unless it was to punch him in the balls!"

"I see," Takeru said. He shot Hikari a look that the girl interpreted as something along the lines of: "I was wrong. This chick is psycho. We should leave now."

Hikari countered with her own imploring look, this one reading: "But I love shrimp ramen. Actually, anything that isn't Spam would be nice right now. I want to stay."

Takeru groaned. Iori, currently seated next to the older boy, blinked in confusion. Obviously he could not decipher this secret language between the two college students. (Of course, take into consideration that Takeru and Hikari had known each other since they were in diapers.)

"So, where're you guys going?" Miyako asked suddenly.

"Miyazaki," Hikari answered.

Miyako whistled. "Whoo, that's still a long way away. By the ocean, though, right? That must be nice. I'd love to go there."

Hikari shrugged idly, and scooted over to allow Miyako the spot next to her. "We're going to a wedding," the photography student informed her. "Actually, it's in two days, so… we'd really better hurry."

"A wedding?" Miyako gasped. "Oh my God, I love weddings. My brother got married a few years ago, and it was so cool. I can't wait until I get married someday."

"Don't get your hopes up," the voice of the young chef interrupted them. He approached their table with three steaming bowls of ramen on a tray. "Who the hell would want to marry you? And stop slacking- it's your freakin' job to take the orders to customers. I'm just supposed to make 'em."

Miyako snorted. "Oh, and you're one to be lecturing me."

Takeru took a hesitant sip of his ramen broth. His eyes bulged. "Holy crap… this is amazing! Did you make this yourself?"

Daisuke grinned. "Yep, all me."

"My family owns this place," Miyako told them haughtily. "Mom found this brat wandering around homeless, and we gave him a job. He makes good ramen. S'about all he can do right."

Daisuke's grin turned into a wicked smirk. "Oh, that's not all I do right."

"Sorry, my mistake." Miyako clucked her tongue. "He's also a step below a prostitute."

"While I won't deny the fact that most people would pay a fortune to have sex with me…"

"A fortune?" Miyako snorted. "You'd screw anything for a few hundred yen."

"Excuse me," Takeru interjected. "Are you two always like this? You're kind of ruining my appetite."

Miyako and Daisuke stared at the customers, as if they had forgotten they had any.

"She broke my nose," Daisuke said finally, pointing to it. It was indeed a bit crooked, but not noticably so.

"He slept with my boyfriend," Miyako added. "Well, ex-boyfriend."

"He was confused. I helped him."

"Yeah," Takeru said loudly, "I think we'll be going now."

He slid out of his booth and pulled Iori after him.

"But…" Hikari felt near-tears. "Ramen!"

"I'll buy you ramen later," Takeru hissed. Miyako (who did not look like she was going to move and let Hikari out anytime soon) and Daisuke met eyes for a second, then leapt into action.

"Sexy tall guy and friends," Daisuke blurted, (much to Takeru's flabbergastment… flabbergastery?) "if you take me with you, I will make you as much ramen as you want. Get me out of this hellhole. I hate Miyako. I think that if I have to work here another day I'll shoot her in her fat face."

"Shut up," Miyako snapped. She then implored Takeru, "Please let me go to the wedding with you guys. It's so boring around here, and I'd love to see the ocean. Please?!"

Takeru shook his head. "No, no, I'm sorry- we have a no-psychos rule in the van."

"I think it'd be okay," Hikari said. "There's room in the back."

"You just want ramen. They are not coming."

Takeru fished in his pocket for a moment, threw a crumpled wad of money on the table, then grabbed Iori and Hikari and made a mad dash to the parking lot.

It was a few seconds before Daisuke turned to his hated coworker.

"Y'know…" he began slowly, "there're only two motels within a day's driving distance. So, theoretically, we could-"

"I'll go pack," Miyako squealed. "Oh, wow, I love adventures."

Author's Notes

Ugh… I've just been so tired lately. And I have no idea why- I've been getting like ten hours of sleep a night. (What? I like sleep.) I guess it's because I tend to get sleepy when I'm stressed. No worries, though; a ridiculously fragrant shower and some caramel popcorn and I'm good as new. Oh, and Matt Doyle as Peter on the Bare: A Pop Opera soundtrack definitely helps. (My favorite Peter by far. He's just so skinny and adorable…)

Q: Hey, Bee, why aren't you updating Glittering Wind?

A: … Yeah, about that. It seems that my creative flow has unexpectedly shifted from dramangst to humoromance. :/ Sorry, guys. It's not exactly something I can change at will. I'll let you know the minute I get inspiration for GW again, though. Don't worry- it's definitely not on hiatus. In fact, I have two pages of the next chapter written, but now I'm sort of stuck.

In other news, the reviewers have spoken, and it looks like I'll be going with Takesuke for this one. :) I'm quite pleased, because now I actually have some semblance of a plot forming in my odd little brain.

Replies to Reviewers

Twilight in Rain: Good thing that addictions and weirding people out were the reactions I was going for! :D Haha, thanks for reviewing!

Potgenie: I know, and I love Takari too… It's just that I've been writing too much of it lately. I already had it planned for them to be more of a sibling-like pair in this one, too. Buuuut, there just might be some Kenyako in the near future… ;)

PrincessJaded: Seriously? Wow, that's an honor. :D I'm a die-hard Yamachi fan, but I love Mimi too, so I can't exactly hate your ship. (Not that I hate any ships. That's mean.) Thank you so much for sticking with this story anyway! That's a huge compliment to a fanfic author.

SugarSpiral: Thank yoooooou! I love writing Mimi. She can brighten even the darkest of angst sessions.

Much Love,