The confetti tangled in Koichi’s hair contrasted bizarrely with his blank expression, and Yukinari struggled to keep his face straight as Shizuna and Taisuke shouted welcomes. Convincing Ariake Koichi that he was making fun of him was absolutely the last thing Yukinari wanted to do.
Koichi reached up, tugged a piece of confetti off his head, and stared at it for a moment. “Why a party?”
“Bro-ther,” Shizuna chided. She tugged him away from the door, with its remnants of a confetti booby trap. “Do we need a reason?”
Clearly Koichi wanted to say yes, but instead he smiled a little and didn’t reply. Taisuke shoved a bottle of beer into his hand. “We thought about having a taste-testing contest, but we already know Shizuna would win, so instead we will have no hayashi rice whatsoever. There’s plenty of beer, though. And other food.”
Hayashi-san gestured theatrically to the counter, filled with shrimp chips, nuts, and bags of junk food Yukinari didn’t even recognize. Koichi winced just a little, enough to make Hayashi-san draw breath in to scold, which in turn made Koichi hastily recollect himself. “Thank you for the beer.” He raised it as if it might ward off any further offers.
“And?” Shizuna said expectantly.
Koichi blinked. “And…” His brow furled, and he chewed on his lip. “And thank you for the party,” he finally finished, mouth twisting as though that weren't exactly what he would prefer to be saying.
Shizuna smiled, and Yukinari lost his own fight not to smile. “You are quite welcome,” she replied as innocently as if she hadn’t dragged the thank-you out herself.
Koichi sighed and started to mingle, clinking bottles almost grudgingly with his not-girlfriend, whose proper name Yukinari still didn’t know, and he refused to call her No-Eyebrows as the others did. At least not aloud. Yukinari broke off watching everyone as Shizuna approached.
“Good party,” he agreed. He took a quick sip of beer before letting Shizuna steal the bottle.
She laughed and hugged him for a flashing moment. “Go get another beer.” She pushed him towards the counter. He smiled and went.
Yukinari found himself tucked away into a corner as the party bubbled around him. It was precisely same sort of relaxed insanity that always wrapped this family. He heard his mother’s voice raised in wild conversation with No-Eyebrows and resisted the urge to duck his head and hide. She was…possibly even more comfortable here than he was, even if she usually had to come without his father. Maybe he would ask her the woman’s name tomorrow.
“You know,” Koichi said darkly, and Yukinari nearly dropped his beer as he whirled. He hadn’t even heard him sneak up. “Someday I’ll make them throw a party in your honor and then sit in a corner and laugh while they trap you.” Yukinari noted that Koichi was taking great care to keep both the water pitcher and Yukinari himself between him and his siblings. No doubt he had adjusted to the idea of escaping a true welcome home party after being released from prison three months ago, making this little surprise party a little overwhelming.
He smiled wryly. “They already did,” he murmured without really thinking it through. The experience had been painfully embarrassing, and he really never wanted to remember it again.
“Oh?” Koichi perked up, although he didn’t actually sit up. “Do tell.”
Yukinari winced. “Nothing to tell,” he tried, rather certain it wouldn’t succeed.
Koichi frowned. “I see.” He looked away and started to crush a stray shrimp chip between his fingers. The plasticky squeak of the collapsing chip sounded a lot like disappointment.
Yukinari felt himself fluster. “No, no, not like that. I mean, they're scary, your siblings--”
“My siblings?” The accent was odd, sounding more like it fell on 'siblings' than 'my'.
“Uh, yes? They gang up.” Yukinari wasn’t entirely sure that was the right thing to say, so he was inordinately relieved when Koichi’s eyes crinkled in what looked a lot like a suppressed laugh. Even if Koichi was laughing at him. “They called it introducing the families. I had to make my father and Hayashi-san talk to each other.”
Koichi’s eyes looked a little evil. “Is that why he’s not here tonight?”
“Yes,” Yukinari said emphatically. “Your brother likes embarrassing me.”
“You’re still here.” Koichi was so elaborately not looking at him that Yukinari felt quite sure that he was staring out the corner of his eye.
“Binding ties don’t go away because of crushing embarrassment.” He’d practiced that line in his own room a couple of times after the first time he stumbled over shouting it at Taisuke. He thought he was pretty good at it now, but Koichi was frowning at him again. “They don’t! That’s why you want them, right?” He forced his waving hands back onto the counter. “I mean, I’m not trying to say I’m trapped or anything, and Shizuna is wonderful, so I would stay no matter what, but--”
Koichi shushed him, looking furtively around the room to see if they’d attracted unfortunate attention. “Okay, okay, I understand. If accusing your father of murder couldn’t scare you away, crushing embarrassment can’t either. I understand.”
Yukinari managed not to wince, because that would lead to even more unfortunate conversations. “Yes.”
“Yes,” Koichi repeated.
They fell quiet, and it wasn’t exactly uncomfortable, but it wasn’t as comfortable as it had been before everything came out, either. Then again, he had been blissfully ignorant; it had no doubt been less comfortable for Koichi. Yukinari took a gulp of beer to hide his thoughts, then decided that probably hadn't worked when he put the bottle down again and saw Koichi’s face.
Koichi looked at him with a touch of familiar older-brother protectiveness, even if Yukinari hadn't recognized the expression when he had first seen it. “And how are you doing with Shii?” he asked.
“She still gives me recommendations for how to make the restaurant better.”
“I do, don’t I,” Shizuna said in his ear. This time he didn’t jump, but that might have been only because her hands on his shoulder prevented it. “And it isn’t even because I need to trick you onto certain topics.”
“Shii!” Koichi sounded reproving. Yukinari could feel Shizuna’s grin in the stretch of her chin against his shoulder, but Taisuke poked his brother in the side before she could say anything. Yukinari was treated to the sight of Ariake Koichi flailing and smacking his brother’s hand away. “Taisuke!” he snapped.
“Yes?” Taisuke’s face was trickster-innocent, which was to say not innocent at all. Sometimes Yukinari wondered how they’d managed to fool so many people, but then he remembered he had been fooled himself and stopped.
He stood obediently when Shizuna tugged at his shoulder. “Come on,” she said. “Let Tai-nii bully our big brother into finishing the terrible beer.” Yukinari grimaced sympathy at the expression of horror on Koichi’s face, but Taisuke sat on Koichi as he tried to protest that if he had to have a party without warning he certainly shouldn't be expected to consume the worst drinks. Yukinari caught one last glance from Koichi, part 'what can you do?' and part something that he couldn’t read, before Shizuna pulled him away.
“I think that went well,” she murmured, sounding satisfied as she swung their joined hands. Yukinari found he actually agreed.