They didn't keep regular hours, not like some cliche TV drama family. It wouldn't have been possible, not with Chigusa and Touno fighting, or Chigusa and Narushige fighting, or Kou screaming his head off (was that the right word, Rakan wondered? Could someone like Kou really be said to scream?) every time something moved.
It wasn't that Rakan minded the noise exactly (although he did wish his guests were a slightly less excitable bunch), it was just that it was so hard to get things done properly while caring for four other people. Or three people and one snake, if one was going to be precise.
It was nice to have company in the house, that part went without question. Rakan had just never imagined it would be so time consuming. After all, here it was, almost 9:30 on a weeknight, and not only had he not reviewed next week's lessons, he hadn't even started on tomorrow's homework. And he should have been in bed half an hour ago!
Still, the situation wasn't a complete loss – if he could finish tonight's assignments in an hour, he'd still be able to wake up in time to cook breakfast and maybe even do a little extra review before heading to school. And if he managed to get everyone into bed by eight tomorrow, he could make up for all the sleep he was going to lose tonight.
Well! There was his solution, right there. Rakan reached for his calculus textbook with a smile on his face. See? No need to waste energy worrying when the answer was usually right in front of your nose. He felt much better about things already.
Which wasn't to say that he was completely satisfied. He still felt slightly guilty about dinner, for instance – guests deserved a better meal than curry rice - but even so, the food seemed to have done everyone a bit of good, and all was quiet downstairs. He'd done his best to politely disengage himself from the others without seeming rude, but try as he might to explain, they just didn't seem to understand why he couldn't allow himself to fall behind on his schoolwork.
Well, he thought again, taking pencil in hand and returning his attention to his textbook with fresh resolve. No use in sitting here daydreaming when there's work to be done. Thank goodness for television!
Rakan usually considered TV to be a waste of time. In fact, he'd been seriously considering getting rid of his set just a few days ago. But it had turned out to be a lifesaver: sit Touno and Chigusa down in front of it, and they'd forget that they hated one another. In fact, television was just about the only thing that could make Chigusa relax his vow to never leave Rakan's side.
As if Rakan needed protection, here! There was nothing in this world that could hurt him. Well, not aside from that Ayame-thingy that had attacked him the other day. But that had come from Chigusa's world anyway, and he didn't think he needed to worry about any more of those appearing.
No, he thought, smiling to himself, Chigusa was the one who needed his protection. Just this morning, in fact, he'd saved Chigusa from almost certain electrocution. And what on earth would possess someone to try doing that with a toaster oven, anyway?
Yes, the day had certainly started off with a bang. Thank goodness things had calmed down since then.
As if on cue, there was a loud crash from the first floor. Well, that's about all there is to that, Rakan thought. So much for peace and quiet.
He knew he should go downstairs and see if he couldn't help to sort things out; these were guests after all. But this calculus wasn't going to study itself in his absence.
That decided it, then. Rakan turned back to his textbook and tried not to focus on the voices echoing up the stairwell.
"Ah, damn snake!"
"Watch it, Touno! You trying to start something with me?"
"Start something? Did you just ask me if I'm trying to start something? Listen, snake, I've had it with you; you better watch yourself!"
Touno's tirade was interrupted by another loud thud, followed by a strangled protest from Kou, which meant either Chigusa or Narushige had arrived to calm things down.
Rakan dearly hoped it was Narushige; Chigusa had a habit of stirring up trouble with everything he did, regardless of his intentions. Some people were just like that, Rakan supposed.
He sighed and turned back to his textbook yet again while more muffled thuds and the mutter of raised voices drifted up the stairwell.
It wasn't as if Chigusa meant to cause trouble. He just didn't know any better. And really, what could you expect from someone who was like an alien from another planet? Rakan was certain he'd make all kinds of mistakes too, if he suddenly found himself in Chigusa's world.
Come to think of it, where was Chigusa's world? Was it in the solar system? Rakan didn't think so - surely scientists would have discovered it by now. That meant it was in another solar system, or maybe the even center of the earth. You never knew, with these sorts of things.
"...stor Prince. Hey! Impostor Prince! I'm talking to you!"
Rakan jumped, upsetting the carefully arranged pile of notes on his desk. Loose papers and file folders went flying in every direction, and he dropped to hands and knees, chasing them about on the floor.
Touno leaned against the doorframe and watched him with crossed arms and a sour expression on his face.
"Sorry!" Rakan told him. "You gave me a bit of a scare - I was just thinking a little." (Daydreaming, actually, although he didn't see that there was any need to admit that to Touno.)
"I didn't mean ignore you. Anyway," he continued, scrabbling about under the desk for the pencil he thought he'd seen roll under there a moment before, "give me just a moment and I'll--
Touno bent, took a step toward him and waved the pencil in front of his face.
"Don't mention it," Touno said darkly. He half made as if to offer to help Rakan up, then checked himself and withdrew his hand.
Rakan didn't really blame him. He'd just been crawling around on the floor, and although he made sure to vacuum every Sunday like clockwork, one could never be certain what sorts of microbes might have slipped in to lurk about during the week.
But the potential for microbial contamination didn't seem to be what was troubling Touno. "Listen, Impostor Prince, I've had it up to here with that damn snake. You either keep him out of the house or let me go free right now, because I'm not going to spend another moment in the same building with--"
"Touno," Rakan interrupted, as his brain finally registered what his eyes had been noticing for several moments, "you're covered in tomato sauce! What on earth happened?"
"That's what I'm trying to tell you, Impostor! I was minding my own business and the damn snake--"
Rakan held up his hand and motioned furiously for Touno to stop. "Well in any case, we have to get you out of these clothes! Tomato sauce stains!"
"You heard me! Into the bathroom, right now. Come on," he urged, ignoring Touno's baffled expression. "And please try not to let any sauce drip onto the tatami." He ushered Touno down the stairs and into the bathroom without further ado.
Rakan didn't even bother to shut the door behind them; right now the important thing was to get Touno out of his clothes so that they could be washed before the stains had the chance to set.
"Ah! Ack! What the hell are you doing?" Touno demanded as Rakan grabbed his shirt by the hem and began yanking it unceremoniously over his head.
"Getting you out of your clothes, since you aren't doing it yourself. How long were you standing around like this before you came and found me? Tomato sauce can leave permanent stains within..." he ran through his mental store of stain- and grime-fighting information "...ten to fifteen minutes. Honestly, do you want to walk around looking like you don't know how to run a washing machine?"
"What the hell's a 'washing machi--' Ah!"
Rakan, having divested Touno of his shirt, turned his attention to Touno's pants.
"Ah! Stop it! Get away from me!" Touno redoubled his efforts to escape Rakan's continued attempts to remove his clothing. But Rakan was equally determined. He was faster as well. Much to his satisfaction, he managed to finish tugging the jeans off while Touno hopped about in a wild attempt to flee. Rakan knew that a forcible depantsing was not exactly the most polite thing one could do to a guest, and felt slightly remorseful for it. He'd have to apologise later, but right now, the important thing was to get that sauce out of Touno's clothing.
"Look, I'm going to go put these in the washer," Rakan explained as he headed out of the room, gingerly holding Touno's clothing, then checked midway through the door as another thought occurred to him. "We really should take our baths in order, you know, but I think we can make an exception tonight. Why don't you go first - you're half ready for it anyway - and make sure you wash all of that sauce off of yourself. I don't want you tracking it around the house before you go to sleep tonight."
Touno didn't move an inch.
"Go on," Rakan urged before heading to the washing machine to see if the damage couldn't be undone.
Touno was still standing in the bathroom when he returned a few minutes later.
"Touno!" Rakan said. "What are you waiting for? You aren't going to get clean just standing there, you know." He felt bad for getting so cross, but with the way things were going it would be eleven o'clock before he'd be able to go to bed.
Touno remained where he was, and the two of them stood blinking at one another until it dawned on Rakan - Touno didn't know how to take a bath. That's right, Chigusa hadn't either.
"Oh, sorry!" he said, annoyance evaporating in a cloud of sheepish comprehension. "Here, I'll show you what to do. Just be sure to pay attention so you won't need any help tomorrow night."
He grabbed Touno by the hand and led him to the tap, turned on the water, checked to make sure it wasn't too hot, and was just beginning to show Touno how to use the soap when a shadow fell across the door.
The expression on Touno's face registered midway between intense dislike and abject mortification. Honestly. Touno was always like this around Chigusa. It was ridiculous, and under normal circumstances, Rakan would have sat them both down to see if they couldn't talk through this unreasonable dislike for one another, but given the current situation...
"Um, Chigusa," he said carefully, turning to face their new visitor, "This isn't what it looks like."
Chigusa's face wore the calm, blandly pleasant expression Rakan had learned to dread in the past few days. "Ah, don't worry, Rakan. I understand."
"Yes." Chigusa smiled beatifically. "Me next."
And with that he stripped off his clothing and went to stand next to Touno in the shower stall.
Touno, predictably, erupted into a fit of hysterics ("Ahh! Get away from me, pervert! No!), managing to thoroughly drench Rakan with the shower hose in the process.
"You too, Rakan," Chigusa said, now turning his full attention on Rakan. "Remember, you can't wear your clothes in the bath."
"I know that!" Rakan snapped. "I'm the one who taught you that in the first-- Ah, what are you doing! Keep your hands off my shirt!"
"But under no conditions whatsoever does anyone wear clothing into the bath," Chigusa explained with a patience available only to those incapable of emotions. "You told me so yourself."
"That isn't the point!" Rakan insisted. "I'm not even taking a bath--"
"But you're in the bath."
"Yes, that's only because I was showing Touno how to-- Hands off!"
The back door could be heard to open and shut through the cacophony in the bathroom. Rakan froze. Footsteps echoed down the hallway.
"Is everything all right, Rakan-kun? I was in the garden with Kou when I heard shouting and came to see if..." Narushige let whatever he'd meant to say trail off into thin air as he took in the sight before him.
"No," Rakan said wearily. "No need to worry; everything's fine."
"Ah. Are you going to bathe with us too, Shigeka Narushige?" Chigusa asked. "I don't think we can all fit." He sounded mildly disappointed.
Narushige made a slight, choked sound in the back of his throat.
Kou's head poked cautiously out of the neck of Narushige's robes.
"What are you doing, Senrou?" he asked, ruby eyes lighting with interest.
"Me? I'm just helping Rakan out of his clothes."
"That is absolutely not what he's doing," Rakan insisted.
"Because you can't wear clothes in the bath. Rakan said so, you know. 'Under no circumstances whatsoever is anyone--'"
"Chigusa, please listen to me--"
"Really? Why not?" Kou asked.
Chigusa considered. "He didn't say. I guess it's because clothes don't feel good when they're wet, so it's only natural that you'd want to remove them."
"Oh, I see," said Kou. "Like when I shed my old skins."
"Do snakes do that?" asked Chigusa.
"Oh yeah, all the time. I like it, but it makes Narushige mad because he hates having to pick them up."
A sage smile spread across Chigusa's face. "Like when Rakan scolds me for leaving my clothes on the floor?"
"Yeah, it's just like that! Hey, Senrou, you really understand how things are."
"Ah, really?" Chigusa considered for a moment, head tilted to one side, before smiling again. "Yeah, I guess I do."
"Yeah! You do, you do. You know what? You're an okay guy after all!"
"You think so?" Abandoning his attempts to remove the rest of Rakan's clothing, Chigusa strode across the bathroom floor, still blissfully naked, and offered an arm to Kou, who happily slithered on board.
Narushige turned his gaze to Rakan. "Perhaps you would like to trade bathing orders with Kou, Rakan-kun?" he asked.
It sounded slightly choked, even to Rakan's ears, but it was obvious that Narushige was trying to do his best under the present circumstances.
"What? You aren't going to take a bath with us, Narushige?" Kou cast disappointed eyes in Narushige's direction.
Narushige coughed. "No, not tonight, Kou."
"You're still gonna take a bath with us, right Rakan?"
It was Rakan's turn to cough. "Um, oh, yeah. Of course. Right after the three of us—" he shot a look at Touno, who gave Rakan a cravenly thankful look in return "—go finish... Well, anyway, we have to go."
And with that, Rakan led the retreat from the bathroom while Chigusa and Kou chatted obliviously away.
Good heavens, Rakan thought. With the way things are going, I'm hardly going to get any sleep at all tonight.
But it was the oddest thing - try as he might, he couldn't bring himself to regret it.