Author: beatlesfan931 PM
Yae's birthday has arrived, and everybody's happy but her. Why? What does her birthday really mean to her? Oneshot.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Drama - Words: 5,675 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 3 - Follows: 1 - Published: 08-25-08 - Status: Complete - id: 4499461
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's Notes: Looks like I broke another one of my rules. I temporarily halted work on "A Promise Worth Keeping" to bring you a one-chapter fic to celebrate a special occasion. This fic is actually a birthday present for RandomNinjaMetal, aka RandomS, aka Random Spyder, who has been a great fan of all my Goemon-related endeavors (fics and translations) from the very beginning. As the "World's Biggest Yae Fan", I really hope you enjoy this. Thanks for everything.
The story itself is pretty sad for the most part. It took me forever to come up with it, though...It probably contradicts some canon, and for that I apologize. I also apologize if it seems rushed, because, truth be told, it was. But as always, feedback is greatly appreciated.
Also, because the format could be a bit confusing, I'll say right now that events that take place in the past will be in bold. It'll make more sense later.
In all her years as an agent of the secretive organization known as SSIN, Yae had never been more embarrassed than she felt at this very moment. The rare occasions where she had stumbled over words during speeches, lowered her guard prematurely during training, or even failed missions completely didn't compare to this. Her coworkers gathered around her, grinning widely and giving her pats on the back or rubs on the shoulder. "How could I slip up this time?" Yae thought to herself.
And then the singing started, obnoxiously loud and out of tune. "Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you..." Yae buried her face in her hands and shook her head. If it wasn't for the fact that she was completely surrounded (and mostly by superiors), she would have broken through the crowd and ran right out the door without looking back.
The head of the SSIN acted as a conductor of sorts, waving his arms about and humming along with the song. He joined in at the very end, wiggling his arms like earthworms and overpowering every other member of the choir. "Happy birthday to YOUUUUUUUU!!" Yae winced at this earsplitting shriek that everybody else seemed to pass off as singing.
Everybody but the kunoichi in the center of the circle cheered and clapped immediately after the song. Yae, meanwhile, groaned and hid her heated face even more. "Happy birthday, Yae!" said her boss with a huge grin. "Here's some cake for one of the most skilled agents in the organization." He moved aside, allowing another ninja to wheel a cart forward. On it was a small chocolate cake with a sloppy layer of frosting all over and "HAPPY BDAY YAE" written somewhat haphazardly on top, perhaps with somebody's finger.
"Er, thanks, sir..." Yae replied quietly. She bit her lower lip and stared down at the pastry before her. "Actually, I'm not really hungry. You guys can eat it if you want." She forced a tiny smile onto her face before looking away.
"Nonsense!" countered her boss. He grabbed a fork, cut into the cake with it, and stuffed it in Yae's mouth, much to her chagrin. "Eat up, today's your special day!" he continued, while Yae coughed so hard that chunks of cake spewed out with each gag.
"Aheh, well, it's very good, sir," she eventually sputtered. "But, really, I'm not hungry, aheh..." She tried her best to spit out as much of the stale cake as she possibly could without seeming rude or making too much of a mess.
"Ah, I understand. Don't worry, this delicious treat will be waiting for you tomorrow." The big-boned leader gave Yae a hearty pat on the back, causing her eyes to widen and even more cake to fly out of her mouth. "So, why did you keep your birthday a secret all of these years, Yae?"
"Oh, I just...well, I didn't think anybody cared..."
"What do you mean? Who wouldn't care about something like that?" chimed in another leering agent. "How old are you anyway, beautiful?" Yae simply glared at him in response.
Yae dragged herself through the door of her house, carrying a bouquet at her side. She tossed it aside after closing the door. One little slip of the tongue, one moment of weakness had awoken memories she hoped would never resurface. Yae, drained of all energy, sighed and threw herself onto the bed. With no way to escape them now, her mind became flooded with thoughts of her past as soon as she closed her eyes.
She was a young, smiling girl, running through the streets of the town of Yui that led to her home. It was a special day, and she wanted to spend as much time with her family as she possibly could. Finally, she saw it grow progressively larger, a humble house in a fairly secluded area of the village. Not wasting a moment to stop and catch her breath, she opened the door, ran inside, and sat on a tatami mat inside, grinning widely as she waited in joyful anticipation for her parents to notice she had come inside.
The first person to step into the foyer and notice her, however, was not one of her parents but her older sister. "I'm going out to practice for a bit, okay?" she shouted behind her. She had a gentle face, but a passionate fire always burned in her eyes and told all that gazed upon it that she would be a force to be reckoned with when angered. Her turquoise-colored hair was tied back in a ponytail that went just past her shoulders. There was a faint, affirming reply from further inside before the teenager looked towards the door and saw her younger sister. "Oh, hey Yae," she said, nodding at her as she passed by.
"Wait, where are you going, sister?" Yae asked. She remained seated and pivoted around to face her, sending a warm smile her way. "Don't you know what day today is?"
"Today? Well, yeah, it's..." The older sister stood at the door and rubbed her chin thoughtfully. Yae, meanwhile, leaned forward, never once letting any trace of anything but her sweet smile cross her face. "Oh, that's right. I think I remember now. It's--"
Practically bursting with excitement, the young girl couldn't keep quiet about it any longer. "Yeah, it's my birthday today, Hitoe!"
"Oh...R-Right..." Hitoe scratched at the back of her neck somewhat nervously. "Well, here. I'll make a deal with you since today's your big day." She kneeled down and beckoned her younger sister forward. Yae happily obliged, and watched as her sister put her leather sheath on the floor and pulled out a gleaming katana. Both girls smiled as they gazed upon the sleek, silver weapon. "Mom and Dad gave it to me yesterday."
"Wow, it's so pretty..." Yae reached out and gently stroked the blade, but pulled her hand back when Hitoe hissed reprovingly.
"Careful! I don't want it to get dirty, and I definitely don't want you to get hurt." Hitoe carefully returned the sword to its sheath before continuing. "Anyway, I'm going out to practice with it for a while, but I could show you a few tricks with it later if you want. What do you say?"
"Okay, sure!" was the immediate response. The sisters waved to each other as the elder of the two walked out the door. Yae sighed happily as she watched her beloved sister leave and thought of nothing but their promise and what the rest of the day had in store for her.
Meanwhile, not too far behind her, two tall, slender individuals, one a man and the other a woman, were whispering back and forth to each other, accompanied with conspicuous hand gestures from both of them. Eventually, the woman turned and walked down the hall, further into the house, while the man approached the seated girl from behind. "Yae..." he said, kneeling to bring himself closer to her level.
Yae turned around and instantly wrapped her arms around the back of his neck. "Daddy!" she exclaimed.
Her father chuckled to himself and patted her on the back a few times. "Wow, it's so hard to believe my little Yae is turning four today."
Yae giggled with a charming innocence that would have brought a smile to almost anybody's face. "Don't be silly, Daddy. Today's my fifth birthday." She held up one hand to show just how much that really was with five wiggling fingers.
"Oh...Five...Of course I knew that, I was just teasing you." Her father brushed some of her hair out of her eyes and kissed her on the forehead. "You've been growing up so fast, Yae..."
"Happy birthday, Yae!" came a high-pitched voice. The birthday girl looked past her father to see her mother coming forward with her hands behind her back. She sat down next to her husband, still not moving her hands out.
"What do you have there, Mommy?" Yae asked excitedly, trying her best to peek behind her mother.
"Now, now. Be a good girl and I'll show you." She gently shushed her daughter before slowly moving her hands to her front. Cupped in her hands was an intricately folded origami figure, made of purple paper. "Happy birthday, Yae. It's a crane. Do you like it?"
Yae took the paper ornament from her mother, handling it as though it really were a small bird. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't suppress the grin on her face. "It's beautiful, Mommy. Thank you."
Yae rolled onto her side and stared at the night stand next to her bed. "How could I even remember that?" She searched the small table for what she was really looking for and found it before long. There was the origami crane her mother had given her so many years ago, slightly crumpled but still able to stand on its own. It was no surprise that she had kept it for so long. After all, it was the last meaningful birthday present her parents had ever given her.
Sweating bullets and panting like a dog, Yae dragged her tired body and two buckets full of water through the door frame. Her mother stood in the kitchen, her back to her younger daughter, who was slowly approaching her. Yae put both buckets on the floor and let out a heavy sigh. "All right. I'm done with my chores, Mom."
"Hmm?" Her mother turned around and looked at both buckets and the floor behind her daughter. Not one drop had ended up on any of the tatami mats inside the house. "Good job, Yae. Looks like you've finished everything. I'm almost done with dinner, so why don't you go wash up?"
"Okay." Yae began walking towards the washroom, but stopped before going too far and turned back around. "By the way, you didn't forget this year too, did you?"
"Of course not, honey." She knelt down and stroked Yae's hair. "But...Hitoe's training is costing us a lot of money. If you want, I could give you more sushi, but we weren't able to--"
"But Mom! H-How could you?" Tears began forming in young Yae's eyes. "Y-You and Daddy have never given me anything for my birthday, and--"
"Yae, that's enough!" her mother snapped. She placed her hands firmly on her daughter's shoulders. "I don't want to listen to any of this! You still have the paper crane I gave you for your birthday, right?"
"Of course I do. But that was four years ago."
"Well, that should be a sign that your father and I love you very much, no matter what you may think. That, and the fact that we give you food and a home without asking for much in return. Now go wash up for dinner." Her mom stood up and went back to cooking.
Yae, however, remained in the same spot. "How old am I?" she asked.
Her mother sighed before answering. "Yae, don't do this again..."
"Mom, how old am I today? Please answer me." Her voice began to crack as she finished this last statement.
Her mother sighed again and closed her eyes in what seemed to be deep thought. Finally, after several seconds of silence, she gave her response. "Eight. Today is your eighth birthday."
As Yae felt her insides twist into knots, she also felt a single tear roll down her cheek. Some unknown force told her to keep this a secret from her mom, allowing her to believe this mistake of hers was the truth, so she simply nodded and turned around, sniffing and wiping her eyes as soon as she did so.
Hitoe met her on her way to the washroom. "Hey, kiddo. Even if Mother Dearest didn't get you anything for your birthday, Mother Nature sure did." She poked at a deep red part of Yae's arm.
"Ow! Quit it, Hitoe!"
"Ha. I guess I can't blame them. I really was a bit of a brat back then..." Yae thought to herself as she held the crane in her hand. She had been staring at it for several minutes now, trying to determine once again, like she did every year, just why her mother would say things like that and whether the figure in her hand really was the only remaining symbol of familial love in her possession.
It was the middle of the night. Yae had been sent to bed more than an hour prior, but had been awoken by the sound of something heavy hitting the floor in the hall outside her room. Rubbing her eyes, she walked to the door and opened it. "Mom? Dad? What's going on?"
"Shh!" was the harsh reply. Her mother kept Yae from going any further. "Stay here, Yae. Don't come outside, it's for your own safety," she whispered.
Yae nodded and backed up, giving her mother enough room to close the door. However, the girl's curiosity got the better of her. She opened the door a crack, just enough to peek out into the hallway.
Her father was there, in front of her sister's room, pointing a sword at some unseen foe. Her mother stood at his side, a look of utter ferocity in her eyes. "Get back," she hissed.
Yae instinctively shrunk back into her room, but came back to the door when she realized that her mother hadn't directed that statement at her. She opened the door just a little more, hoping to see just who she really was talking to.
Standing just past the point of the katana in her father's hand was a man in a gray jumpsuit with ragged, black hair. "But why? I never leave empty-handed," he said. His voice was raspy and cold, and though Yae could not see his face very clearly, she thought she saw a small, golden glint near his mouth.
Yae's father scowled. "Take one step closer, and I'll--" The mysterious stranger swatted the sword out of his hand and sent it skidding on the floor until it bumped against Yae's bedroom door. "All right, fine, you win," her father continued in a significantly more frightened tone. "Take what you want, just...don't hurt our daughter. Don't hurt Hitoe..."
"Hitoe?" Yae wondered aloud, making sure to keep her voice soft enough for only her to hear.
The man in gray, meanwhile, chuckled and grinned in response. "Fine," he said. With one swift movement, he removed a sword from the sheath at his waist and slashed across Yae's father's throat. A red geyser erupted from his neck, splashing everything around him before his limp body fell to the floor.
In that moment, time as Yae knew it nearly came to a screeching halt. She screamed. Her mother screamed. Neither of them moved an inch from where they were standing.
It wasn't long before Yae's mother joined her husband. With a similar slash and aftermath, both of Yae's parents lay in a lifeless heap. By this time, the young girl's screams had been reduced to quiet, whimpering sobs; she had been crying too long and too loud to maintain it any longer.
The murderer bent down and examined the bodies of the two people that lay before him. Yae remembered that her parents kept some of their most valuable possessions with them at all times, and she saw them move from their bodies to a satchel.
"Wh-What's going on?! Aah, Mom! Dad! You! What did you--?!" A frightened Yae closed the door slightly before opening it back to where it was. She had never heard her sister speak so quickly or so angrily before.
"Ah, you must be Hitoe," the mysterious stranger said.
"That's right. Now give me one good reason why I shouldn't kill you on the spot!"
"Now, now. Everything in good time, my dear," he replied calmly. "Yes, I killed your parents. But you can try to get your vengeance later, if you'd like. Here are the instructions." He placed a small rectangle on a nearby table. "I look forward to seeing your beautiful self at my humble abode tomorrow. Though, you should be warned that I've never lost a fight. And I've never let my opponents leave unscathed, if alive."
"Well, there's a first time for everything. But I'm not going to wait!" Hitoe ran towards her opponent, but was lifted by the neck and tossed against a wall. She was on the floor and slumped against it, coughing before growling and staring viciously at him.
"Tomorrow. No earlier. I'm looking forward to it, my dear." And with that, he turned around and walked out the front door.
"Hitoe, you're not really going, are you?"
"Of course I am. You don't seriously think I can let this guy get away with what he's done, do you?"
Yae once again looked over the note left by the murderer the night before. He identified himself as "The Vulture" and gave specific directions to a cave several miles past the outskirts of town. He said that Hitoe may come alone, or bring a handful of people to help if she wished, in order to attempt to reclaim her stolen goods and avenge her parents.
"Well, I'm going, too," Yae said after reading the directions. "I should have done something to stop that man from killing Mom and Dad."
"But...But why?" Yae stomped her foot in frustrated protestation. "This is my fault, too!"
"I keep telling you it wasn't your fault. I wouldn't want you to be dead too."
"Yae, listen to me!" Hitoe held on tightly to her younger sister's shoulders and looked her straight in the eyes. "I don't want you to get hurt, and that's why I'm not letting you come with me. If anything were to happen to you, I, I don't even want to think about how bad I'd feel about it. You're my little sister, Yae, and you mean so much to me."
Yae silently turned her head away. Nobody spoke for several seconds, at which point Yae brought her head back up and once again looked into Hitoe's eyes. "All right, I'll stay. But if I'm so important to you, can't you at least wait one more day before doing this?"
"Oh, for heaven's sake, Yae. You're, what, ten years old now? When are you going to learn that the world doesn't revolve around you?"
"Well, you're only fifteen and you're still going out to fight this guy!"
"Because it's what Mom and Dad would want! Look, I'll be back tonight, so we can celebrate your birthday then. I promise." Hitoe got up, took a deep breath, and walked towards the door, carrying her father's sword at her side. "Oh, and if I see you following me, I'll...I'll never speak to you again. Just go out and play or something until I return. Understand?"
"Yeah, I understand..." A brief moment of silence, and then "You know, you're not very good at keeping promises. You never did show me anything neat with the katana you got five years ago."
Hitoe sighed. "Do something neat yourself. Dad's is way better than that junky old thing anyway." And with that, she was off.
Rather than playing outside, Yae remained rooted to the spot, breathing heavily. Everything Hitoe said had hit her hard. Finally, she ran further into the house, into her sister's room, and took down the sword that was displayed so proudly on her wall.
"I'll show her..." she mumbled as she swung it around, still in its sheath. After getting tired of this several minutes later, she knelt on the floor and removed the sword from its sheath. She could see her reflection in the silver metal, looking back at her with watery eyes and a heart wrenching frown. "Looks like you're the only one here with me. My only friend, my only family..."
Yae stroked the blade once again, being extremely careful not to cut her small fingers. After some time, she sighed and began singing quietly. "Happy birthday to me...Happy birthday to me..."
Yae sat at a table with a blank expression, flipping methodically through a photo album. She went through it every year to see if she could find anything in there that would help her determine how her parents really felt about her.
"Let's see...Here's one of Hitoe practicing swordplay...Here's my parents with Hitoe after she won one of her competitions...Oh wait, here's one with me in it. Ah, but I'm in the back and Hitoe is in the front being hugged my Mom and Dad..."
Yae practiced with her newest birthday present for hours. A smile formed on her face and grew larger the longer she went. "This is more fun than that stupid Hitoe," she said.
Suddenly, there was a loud commotion outside. People were shouting, but Yae couldn't figure out what anybody was saying. "What's going on?" she wondered aloud as she moved towards the door.
But she never did step outside. The doors burst open and a stretcher was wheeled in. A girl lay on top of it, but the right side of her face was bloodied and bandaged. Yae stood on her toes to examine the patient. "Wait...Hitoe? Hitoe!"
"And that's how it happened, Yae."
Hitoe was now in her bed, wearing a black patch over her injured eye. The fire in the remaining eye had diminished, and she seemed to have lost her very essence in the battle.
"Well, at least it was fast...Oh, Hitoe, I'm so sorry this happened to you..." Yae sniffed back tears and covered her eyes.
"Don't cry, sis," Hitoe said as she stroked Yae's hair. "At least I was able to avenge Mom and Dad."
"What, this? Don't worry about it, Yae. That guy did say he never lets anybody leave unscathed. I guess even I couldn't be an exception to that rule. I was surprised when he slashed me there, of course, but I won in the end." She smiled warmly at her younger sister. "Plus, I was able to help the other people who suffered because of that jerk. That makes me happy. What about you?"
"Y-Yeah, it makes me happy, too...But I miss Mommy and Daddy..."
Both girls remained silent for some time before the elder patted a spot next to her on the bed. Yae climbed up and leaned against her. "I miss them too, kiddo," Hitoe said as she hugged her younger sister and swayed gently back and forth. "But at least we've got each other. I love you, Yae, and I'll take care of you as best I can."
Many years had passed since then. Hitoe became the chief of the village of Yui shortly after vanquishing the wicked Vulture, and Yae had joined the SSIN, headquartered in Oedo Town, and become one of their greatest ninja agents. Life had turned out to be exciting enough for the both of them.
Yae still had Hitoe's old katana. Though it was too small for a respectable agent of the SSIN to use, she displayed it on a stand that was covered with a glass case. There was a small card in front of it, which Yae treasured from the moment she received it. It read:
"To Yae, from Hitoe. Happy (belated) 10th Birthday, little sis."
"Would you care to explain, Miss Yae, how an agent of your caliber could bungle such a simple mission?"
"I, I'm sorry, sir. I--"
"I'm afraid sorry isn't good enough, Miss Yae!"
Yae winced at this harsh rebuttal. Her superiors never got mad; they always became furious. She knew they had demanded only the best from their agents, and today she had made such a serious error that her skill as a ninja had apparently been brought into question.
It was now nearly midnight. She had just returned to SSIN headquarters carrying the lifeless body of the magistrate she was ordered to protect, hoping that her superiors would be in a forgiving mood. Yae knew perfectly well why she had failed her mission, what had wrought such havoc on her concentration. The question was whether the higher-ups would accept her explanation.
"So, do you have a legitimate excuse for us?" asked the head of the SSIN. He sat back and looked at her with inquisitive eyes.
Yae took a deep breath and thought hard about how she would answer. She would have to choose her words very carefully. "I always have difficulty around this time of year, sir."
"Oh? Why, is the heat too much?" Each of the people at the table chuckled at this apparently clever joke.
"N-No, it's not that..." Yae said, her voice trailing off. This whole experience was going even worse than she had feared it would. "This time of the year reminds me of some...horrible events in my life. Today in particular."
"I see...Please, continue."
The kunoichi gulped. She would have to tread lightly, lest her secret be revealed. "Well, today is the anniversary of my parents' death--"
"But you told me yourself that you never felt that close to your parents," interrupted a female supervisor. "Why would their deaths hold so much sway over you?"
"Well, you see, it just so happens to have been around the same time as one particular...day of the year that reminds me of just how distant we really were, and--"
"Is that so? And what day would that be? The elusive birthday?" Every one of the heads of the organization that sat at that table snickered to themselves.
Knowing that there would be no point in eluding the question, Yae decided that the best strategy would be vagueness. "Well, yes. Anyway--"
"Wait, so she was right?" asked the head bigwig. "When is your birthday, exactly?"
Frustrated with all the interruptions, Yae groaned before replying. "It's tomorrow. Anyway--" Nobody had to interrupt her this time. She stopped of her own accord and put her hands over her mouth as she realized her mistake.
She had managed to evade the curse for years. Now, because of one careless mistake, it had found her once again. She saw nothing waiting for her as this day came every year for the rest of her life, save for humiliation and a slew of bad memories. "Well, it could be worse..." Yae thought to herself.
She got up and stretched. "Nothing left to do. Might as well just eat something and go to bed." Before she could even take one step towards her kitchen, there was a knock at the door. "Who could that be?" she wondered as she wandered over and opened it.
A shower of confetti and some loud whistles greeted her as soon as she looked outside through the open doorway. "Happy birthday, Yae!" came the synchronized cry that immediately followed.
Yae, unable to believe what she was seeing, blinked and rubbed her eyes before focusing them once again on her guests. "Goemon! Ebisumaru! Sasuke! Omitsu! Wha-What are you doing here?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Goemon said with a grin. "We're here to celebrate your birthday, Yae!"
"My birthday? But how did you...Wait a minute, did the people from my work tell you?"
"No. I did." This voice didn't come from any of the people standing in front of her, but Yae recognized it immediately. A lady with an eye patch and a ponytail of turquoise hair emerged from somewhere outside Yae's field of view and joined the group in front of the door.
"Hitoe? But why?" Yae asked. As if seeing her friends show up at her door unexpectedly wasn't enough of a surprise, her sister had also decided to visit without telling her.
"Yae, they're your friends. I was surprised you never told them yourself," Hitoe replied. She gave her younger sister the same smile that had helped them both get through some difficult times through their childhood.
"Well, I didn't think anybody really cared, so--"
"Don't be ridiculous! What Mom and Dad did to you seemed pretty rotten, of course, but these people aren't like that." The ones she mentioned seemed confused for a moment, but eventually they each gave Yae a nod and a smile. "See, they know that and I think you do, too. You've got lots of people in your life who care about you, Yae."
Yae was speechless. For once, people seemed to genuinely care about her, how she felt and what she was thinking. "Thanks, guys," she said at last. "It...means a lot."
"Wait, don't thank us yet!" Ebisumaru piped in.
"Yeah," said Omitsu. "We haven't even given you your present or cake yet." She moved her hands out from behind her back to reveal a plate with a fairly small cake on it. There were strawberries all along the top outer edge, and letters in purple frosting that wished her a happy birthday. "I'm sorry it's so small, I did the best I could on such short notice..."
"What do you mean, Omitsu, it looks great!" Yae said, seeming genuinely excited for the first time all day. "Here, you can put it on the kitchen table..." She led Omitsu and the others inside, surprising every single one of them with her sudden change in mood.
"Now, your present..." Hitoe began after sitting in one of Yae's armchairs.
"Oh, really, you didn't have to get me anything."
"Actually, I did," she continued. "I was going to say that your present is something you really need to see." She pulled a small, rectangular box made of metal out of a sack and handed it to Yae. "I just found this in Mom and Dad's room."
"Mom and Dad's room...?" Yae repeated. She opened the box and found nothing but a sheet of paper inside. "What's this? 'For Yae's training'? But there's nothing in here."
"That's right. There was some money in there, but I figured you wouldn't need it. It wasn't enough to get you started the way I did, unfortunately, but it was there. The point is, you probably felt like Mom and Dad forgot about you, and I'm hoping that this proves to you that they didn't. They really did care about you, Yae. They sacrificed a lot in the hopes that you would do as well as I did, but you're already better than I ever was or could ever hope to be! Sure, it meant a few seemingly forgotten birthdays here and there, but I'm sure it wasn't intentional." There was no response from Yae. She sat completely still, mentally absorbing everything her sister was saying. "Anyway, you can believe what I'm saying or not, it's up to you. So, what do you think?"
There was no movement from Yae, save for some blinks. Finally, she spoke. "Just out of curiosity...what did you do with the money?"
Hitoe chuckled a bit and smiled. "Well, your friends and I used it to get you something else. Goemon, if you would?"
Goemon nodded and reached into an inside pocket. He pulled out a single photograph and handed it to Yae.
"Huh? What's this?" Yae asked as she looked at the picture. It showed a small, white kitten curled up on some blankets and yawning towards the camera, its miniature teeth showing while its eyes were shut tightly. "It's just a picture of a cat. Why did you give me a picture--Wait a minute, you didn't--!"
"You always said you wanted a cat when you were a kid, right? Well, she's yours, and she's waiting for you. You can pick her up tomorrow." Hitoe said. "Anyway, I'm starving. Let's have some cake."
"I agree, let's eat!" Ebisumaru said. "All together now, one, two, three! Happy birthday to you..."
And instead of hanging her head in shame, all Yae could do was grin. This was what a happy birthday was really all about.