The sound of party poppers was starting to get stuck in his ears.
As he made his way to his house, he was starting to think that one more party popper, and he would go crazy.
But he knew he couldn't escape his fate.
He turned the doorknob, and as he walked through the door, the now all-too-familiar shouts of "Happy birthday!" burst forth.
But there were no party poppers this time.
"Yukimura? Fuji? What are you doing here in Osaka?"
"Celebrating your birthday, silly! Why else would we be here?" Fuji said.
"Well, yeah. Of course."
Shiraishi put his school bag on a chair.
"I hope you don't mind if I change clothes?"
"Of course not," Yukimura smiled. "It's your house, after all."
"I'll be right back."
And as he said that, he briefly bowed and went upstairs.
"Oh, please forgive my big bro for being such a grump. He's always like this on his birthday."
"Yeah," Yukari said. "His school and his friends always go all out to surprise him, but, like. At completely different times. Last year he had at least 5 different surprise parties. Needless to say, he was half dead by the time he got home."
"That… sounds pretty rough. I mean, my school hasn't thrown any surprise parties since Yagyuu caught me at a bad moment and ended up being forced to be absent from school for over a whole month."
"What happened? No, never mind, I don't want to know," she said, aware of who was standing in front of her. I mean, what member of any high school tennis club didn't know of the legendary Yukimura Seiichi?
"My club doesn't do surprise parties anymore either. I wonder why?"
"I think it is because the last person that tried to surprise you ended up fishing cactus needles out of their behind for at least three weeks."
Yukari wondered just what people she had let into the house. She definitely didn't hear this from her brother.
Lost in thoughts, Shiraishi unbuttoned his school shirt. Why did they come all the way to his house to celebrate his birthday? He had thought that for them, sending a card would have been sufficient.
But no, now they were here. Just when he thought his birthday was finally going to be over.
He liked his birthday, he really did, and there were so many people who tried their hardest to make this day the best day of the year, but it always left him so exhausted at the end of the day.
Pulling off his pants, he looked back. He had been friends with them for three years now.
It all started at that U-17 camp, when they shared a room. And an interest for plants.
And not too much later, their phone numbers and email addresses.
With Yukimura it had started a little earlier. He remembered being invited over to Rikkai, where he walked through the rooftop garden and listened to Yukimura's stories.
He looked at himself in the mirror. Unfortunately, his mirror was a little small, so he had to angle himself a bit to get a proper look at himself.
"What should I put on…?"
He wondered what Yukimura would like him to wear. They had visited each other's houses pretty often, even though they lived pretty far apart. The four hour train ride was a sacrifice he was willing to make. But every time he got so nervous about what to wear, he ended up not changing at all.
Somehow, that was even more embarrassing.
Today was the day he'd put on some damn casual clothes for once, instead of his school uniform.
He picked his favourite green t-shirt, before pulling it off again and trying something different. Again.
"So you're the famous Yukimura Seiichi big bro's been talking about. I've been missing you every time you came over because of my Girl's Day with my friends, but you're awfully handsome, aren't you."
"Eh? He's been talking about me?"
"Yeah, he's been gushin' about you every dinner. It gets annoying sometimes, but he's having such a great time talking about you we can't really stop him."
"Hmm? You two had that kind of relationship?" Fuji chuckled.
"It's not anything like that. We just hang out together pretty often."
"On a weekly basis?" Yukari asked.
"And you go to fancy places to hang out?"
"Well, I wouldn't call them fancy but—"
"Oh please. You two are practically dating!"
After a while, Shiraishi grudgingly gave up trying to find the best clothing combination he had, and went with the green t-shirt anyway.
You're leaving your boyfriend waiting~!"
"H-He's not…! Don't say weird things, Yukari!"
He hurried putting his pants on, just to prevent the situation from escalating.
"Saa~, you two do seem to be hanging out at each other's houses a lot…"
A quick check-up on his hair, no strands out of place—
"What, you say? I just think it's suspicious to get Yukimura on the phone when I'm calling you. Almost if you're…"
Shiraishi's face quickly turned red. As he rushed down the stairs, he shouted:
"You've got it all wrong, there's no way Yukimura and I are sleeping together…!"
He opened the living door room, only to be met with Fuji's never-changing smug smile.
"I didn't say that."
"Big bro, your face is on fire!" Yukari laughed.
"Well, who wouldn't be embarrassed?!" Shiraishi hurriedly jumped to his defence.
"Oh, he's getting a glass of water."
Shiraishi walked to the kitchen to speak to him.
"Yukimura, you shouldn't listen to those two, they're just—"
"Teasing us, yes. Shiraishi, you should know better than to listen to what those two are saying."
Yukimura averted his eyes and took another sip from the glass of water.
Did he imagine it or was that the remnant of a blush on his cheeks?
"Should we get the presents out or should we leave you two be lovey-dovey over there?"
Yukimura choked on his water and burst out into coughing.
"Are you okay?"
He placed a hand on Yukimura's shoulder.
And in between coughs:
"Let's just get on with the presents, shall we."
They returned to the main room just in time to see Yukari and Fuji sharing a high five.
"You two really enjoy this, don't you."
"Yep," came in unison.
Realizing he still had his hand on Yukimura's shoulder he inconspicuously tried to remove it.
"Don't think I didn't notice that," Fuji said.
"Well then," Yukari said, clapping her hands, "I think Fuji should start!"
"Ah, okay. Then, happy birthday, Shiraishi."
Fuji handed him a card with little cactuses on it.
"Thank you. Cactuses, huh…"
"Aren't they cute?"
He looked inside. Hanging onto the card by a paperclip was a shopping receipt.
"'Happy birthday, Ku-chan,'" he read. "Don't call me Ku-chan!"
All other people present burst into laughing.
"Why not? I think it's a cute name."
His hand brought itself to his forehead.
"Anyway, I'm continuing.
'Because I know you like looking at yourself almost as much as looking at Y…'
Fuji. Do I really have to read this out loud."
He sighed once again, and put on his most dramatic voice.
"Yukimura. Who you took care of faithfully for these many, many years. Who you cared for, made him laugh, brought him tea…
Oh, I'm sure you didn't mind.
To Shiraishi Kuranosuke, I bequeath—"
Instinctively, he ducked. But nothing came.
"Go on," Fuji urged him.
"I don't feel like getting any boots to the head."
"Oh no, it's not what you think. Just read it."
"We won't continue 'till you've finished it~"
His voice had reduced to a mumble.
"'To Shiraishi Kuranosuke, I bequeath…
a full-length mirror to be delivered to his house in a week due'?
Oh wow, Fuji, you shouldn't have. Thank you!"
"Hey, don't stop too early."
"What more is on there?" Shiraishi frowned.
"'Love, Fuji Syuusuke.
and a boot to the head. '"
And indeed, Yukari gleefully flung one of her boots at his head.
But it already was too late.
With an amazing sound of impact, it landed straight into his face.
As the boot started falling to the ground a snort could be heard.
"Your face! Your f…"
Yukimura burst into laughing.
Restoring from that mighty blow was a rather difficult task. He could feel the place where the boot hit become red.
But hearing Yukimura laughing like that helped ease the pain a little.
"My sister also baked a cherry pie for you. I put it on the table."
"Really? Thank you! Will you give my thanks to your sister?" he said, rubbing the spot where the boot collided.
"I already gave you my presents this morning, big bro. You're not getting any more from me."
"I know, I know."
"It's my turn, huh. To be honest, when Fuji dragged me along to go to your house I wasn't really prepared…
So I brought one of my plants."
"Liar," Fuji whispered.
"It's true. You kind of called me over on a whim."
"Yukimura, is this hand-painted?" Shiraishi's eyes fell from the flower to the pot, decorated with patterns of greens, whites and blues.
…Do you like it?" Yukimura asked tentatively.
"Yes! Somehow, looking at the patterns…" he traced his finger over a curl on the ceramic "…makes me feel a bit at ease."
"I was wondering when you'd taken up pottery painting… You'd been working on this for weeks, from what I've seen.
Disagreeing would be a blatant lie. Agreeing would contradict his earlier statement.
And thus, the child of god froze in his words, while his face burned up in embarrassment.
"Thank you, Yukimura."
And in barely more than a breath, Yukimura managed to reclaim his composure.
"A narcissus flower, huh… Do you know the meaning of this flower?"
He let his fingers go over the bright petals of the flowers.
"I told you, it was on a whim. But if I remember correctly…" Yukimura paused a second to think, "it means 'respect' in hanakotoba."
"It does. But do you know of the Western meaning?"
Yukimura dug into his memory. "New… beginnings?"
"That's right. But this smaller, more fragrant variety has an extra meaning."
He wondered if he should really tell him.
Well, it's not like he could turn back.
"It means 'love'," he said, eyeing Yukimura from the side.
"To be more exact, it means something around the lines of 'love me, desire, affection returned'…"
Yukimura quickly turned red.
"I told you it was on a whim…!
I didn't know!
I just thought… this flower fit you."
"I know, I know, don't worry."
Though, if he unconsciously chose this flower…
No, he said he didn't know.
"How come you know so much about this flower?"
"Of course, the bulbs are poisonous."
Yukimura put his fingers to the bridge of this nose.
"I should have known."
"Thank you, Yukimura. I'll take good care of it.
I really love—"
"It's got a pretty nice strong smell, doesn't it."
Yukimura's fingers started covering not just his nose, but hiding his entire face.
"What did you just say?"
"Huh? I said I really love the flower?"
Yukimura breathed out.
What did he think it was, anyway?
"Speaking of which, I brought a movie for us to watch," Fuji said. And indeed, he took a DVD from his bag.
The case was blank, it had no title, no images, nothing. Knowing Fuji, it could be anything from a horror movie to a sappy romancey one.
"Of course," Fuji said, "I have my camera ready."
"Why do you always take your camera with you when the three of us are doing something?"
"Because you're my favourite people to tease, aside from Tezuka and Yuuta."
"It's so much fun seeing you two all flustered when you're usually a wall of smiles or unfazed.
Besides, sometimes you two seem to need a push in the right direction."
Fuji spared a glance at Yukimura.
"A push?" Shiraishi asked. "What the heck would we need a push for?"
"Rather than that, let's watch."
Yukari sat down on an empty chair, watching the scene unfold.
"Hey, answer me!
Fuji simply smiled and put the DVD in.
"Yukimura? Do you know?"
"No," he said as he sat down on the couch.
That had to be a lie.
"Well, it doesn't matter too much, I suppose."
In reflex, he flopped on the couch, bare inches from Yukimura.
"You're pretty close, aren't you?" Fuji said.
"Ah, uh, no this is—" Yukimura stammered, before the two went to sit at a proper distance.
"Don't worry about that," Fuji said, "I already have it on camera."
"…What's with that," Shiraishi butted in.
"I've been watching you two, you know? Hoping to get some nice shots. But the thing is, every time I think something's gonna happen, either of you backs out.
Shiraishi reaching for Yukimura's hand but holding back, Yukimura almost leaning against you…"
For a split second red faces met startled gazes before embarrassedly looking away.
"You've been stalking us, then?" Yukimura asked.
"I don't stalk you any more than I stalk Yuuta," Fuji smiled.
"Next time just ask, if you wanna come along," Shiraishi said.
"But I want to see you two when you're alone together. It just isn't the same between you two if the three of us hang out."
"I'm sorry, Fuji, for making you feel like that."
Shiraishi apologetically put his hand to the back of his head.
"No, it's alright."
Fuji wistfully looked away, his hair fluttering to the sides in an invisible wind.
"…Can we make it up to you?"
Fuji opened his eyes.
"You'll just have to show you're fine showing affection to each other when I'm around."
"Wouldn't this movie be the perfect opportunity to prove that?
I'm just asking you guys to do what you couldn't."
"J-just wait a moment…"
"I'm not asking for much, really.
Just allow me some good shots.
Remember the things I said? Holding hands, cuddling.
Maybe you could be bold and go in for a—"
"Fuji!" he shouted, panicked.
'A kiss with Yukimura?! What was Fuji thinking?!
Yukimura's lips, on mine, hand cradling my cheek—
No, what am I thinking?!'
He hid his blushing face behind his hand.
The feeling wouldn't leave his mind.
He looked at Yukimura.
Yukimura was looking away, his face equally red.
'Though probably not for the same reason…'
"Just kidding, just kidding.
But I stand by my point.
In fact, I don't plan on leaving until you prove it to me."
"I'll give you all movie the time to work out your things."
"I'll get the popcorn!" Yukari shouted.
"Guess there'll be more than one thing to watch tonight," she added with a wink.
"What has this all become…" Shiraishi sighed. "Just when I thought my birthday would be over…"
"Are you not glad that I'm here?" Yukimura asked, his face turning into a pout that was way too cute for someone called the 'Child of God'.
"That's not it! I'm…
I'm really glad you're here.
But this whole thing…" he gestured at the situation.
"I know. See our visit as an act of friendship on behalf of me and Fuji."
"I know, and I'm glad you came.
And hey, It could be worse.
At least you're not making your entrance in a giraffe costume on rollerblades."
"What the hell," Yukimura laughed.
"I know, right? Well, strange things happen in Shitenhoji anyway."
'And even stranger things with you.'
Yukimura gave him an incredulous stare.
He put a hand to his mouth.
'Oh shit. Did I say that out loud?'
"A-anyway, movie?" he stuttered.
To his surprise, the movie was rather decent.
Even though he wasn't too interested in the musical numbers, the characters were interesting and the plot sustained itself well.
He was just starting to get into the movie when he got distracted by an amiable warmth against his shoulder.
His shoulders tensed up and his heart beat went out of control when he looked at the figure of Yukimura, leaning against him.
"Will you relax? It's less comfortable when your shoulders are tense."
Now tinged by a soft blush, he tried his best to lower them again.
"Yukimura," he said, unable to keep his eyes off his shape, "I don't want you to feel forced to do this. I know what Fuji said about leaving but—"
"I'm not forcing myself.
I just really felt like allowing myself to stop holding back and start doing things I've been wanting to do for a long time."
Yukimura snuggled closer, and he couldn't help but let his face burn up.
'Start doing what you've wanted to do, huh…'
"…Is it really okay?"
"Would I still be here if it wasn't?"
He smiled in relief, before letting his own head lean against Yukimura's.
Maybe he should stop holding back, too.
He let a finger run over the back of Yukimura's hand, looking closely for any signs of discomfort.
When Yukimura affectionately rubbed his cheek against his shoulder, he knew it was alright.
Taking Yukimura's hand in his own, he gently lifted Yukimura's palm.
Softly he stroked the backside of Yukimura's fingers with his thumb, relishing the feeling bubbling up in his stomach.
He happily continued fondling Yukimura's hand, playing with Yukimura's fingers in his own.
Until he finally settled for intertwining them with his, letting himself melt into Yukimura's touch.
…he wouldn't mind drowning in it for all eternity.
When did he fall asleep?
Wrapped in a comfortable warmth, his cheek being gently stroked, he almost didn't want to open his eyes.
"…But what if he doesn't? I don't want this to break…" Yukimura said.
But he had no choice than to wake up.
"You guys can't be like this forever. Someone's got to make a move," Fuji said.
He groaned, before finally opening his eyes.
'Oh, the movie already ended…
Wait, why was everything in such a weird angle…?'
"It seems our sleeping beauty has finally woken up. Did you have fun, sleeping in Yukimura's lap?" Fuji said.
He startled upright.
Sure enough, when he looked at it, those were Yukimura's legs. And sure enough, the hand that was now dropping to Yukimura's lap couldn't have been any other hand than Yukimura's.
"It's a shame you had to wake up so soon~
You were so cute, too, huddling against Yukimura, mumbling his name…"
"Are you kidding me?! I-I didn't…!"
"You did," came from Yukimura. "It was absolutely adorable."
"Don't worry about credibility," Fuji said, holding up his camera. "I have all pictures."
He hid his scarlet face behind his hands in embarrassment.
"How did it end up like this…"
"Isn't it okay?" Fuji asked. "You did seem to enjoy it."
"I wouldn't mind doing it again, if you want to," Yukimura said. "I also enjoyed it, after all."
"Of course. Your sleeping face is too precious," Yukimura laughed.
He let out a sigh, trying to calm his rapidly beating heart.
He couldn't deny that it had been heavenly, that warmth, but he still couldn't believe Yukimura was really…
"So, what about that final present?" Fuji asked Yukimura.
"Final present?" he asked.
"Ah, uh, yes.
I actually had a last present prepared, but…"
"I wasn't really sure whether to give it to you."
"Why would you hesitate?"
"…Because I'm not sure whether you'd like it or not."
"I'm sure it'll be fine.
I mean, it's from you, after all."
Yukimura moved from his sitting place, moving closer, moving… to sit right in front of him.
"Is it okay if I sit like this?" Yukimura asked, shifting to a slightly more comfortable position over Shiraishi's legs.
"I, u-uh, ah, s-sure."
Yukimura's blue eyes locked with his, leaving him nigh unable to form coherent sentences.
Yukimura moved closer, placing a hand on Shiraishi's cheek.
"You see, I…"
Those sincere eyes of Yukimura were drawing him in, closer with every passing breath.
They seemed to engulf the world around him, until it felt like Yukimura's very presence connected to something deep in his heart.
Yukimura closed his eyes.
What came from Yukimura's mouth was barely a whisper.
Their lips connected.
In that single moment, that kiss brought forth a wave of heated tingles, moving like sparks from his lips to his cheeks, warming his shoulders and chest before finally settling in his stomach, swirling around like falling stars.
Even though it felt like an eternity, almost immediately Yukimura startled away.
"…Oops. Guess I can't back out anymore, then."
He was still left speechless from the kiss.
"I love you.
I've been wanting to tell you for a while, but… Well, I was afraid you wouldn't like me back, and I didn't want to lose what we have.
It took me a little too long to realize I liked spending time with you a little more than just a friendship would warrant.
And it took me way too long to learn I had fallen for you.
I'm not asking you to immediately accept my feelings, as I know you might not feel the same way.
But I want you to at least give them some time.
I know I'm kind of taking a risk here, as it's your birthday and all, but…
I want to go out with you, even though that wouldn't change our current situation a lot.
I want to stay by your side.
I love you,
For a moment, he was stunned, processing all the things that happened within the last two minutes.
Yukimura was on the verge of moving away.
"I understand if you want to think this over, but I just had to let this—"
He pulled him into a hug.
"I love you too," he finally managed to say, letting his head rest on Yukimura's shoulder.
"I didn't want to rush you into anything you wouldn't want.
Heck, I didn't even know whether you returned my feelings or not!
And I held back, and held back more…
And it's been so hard…"
Before he knew it, tears started rolling down his cheeks, and his voice trembled.
"There were so many nights I wanted to call you and let my heart out, but I knew I'd be too afraid.
Do you remember that awkward phone call at 1 AM, right before Christmas last year?
I had been so close to giving in that time, that I just wanted to hear your voice saying it'd be alright.
In the end, the call never went anywhere, did it?
I never thought that maybe, just maybe, you'd feel the same."
He laughed. All of this seemed just like a dream.
This is the best birthday present ever.
I love you, too."
A warm wetness made his shoulder moist.
"Are you crying, Yukimura?"
They pulled away from the hug, and indeed he saw Yukimura's tear-streaked smile.
"I never thought I'd get sentimental over something like this," Yukimura laughed, wiping his tears.
"Have we really been pining after each other for years, never realizing how we felt about each other?"
"It seems so…
Guess we still have much to learn on the area of love."
"Let's take our time and master all of it, shall we?"
"You really are a dork sometimes,"
Another chuckle from Yukimura.
"But I guess you're my dork now."
They both laughed.
"...Did you get that on camera?" Yukari asked Fuji.
"All of it."
Even as the evening came to an end, and the moon became the only light outside save for some sparse city lights, they talked.
About what they felt, the near-slipups of the past, and some more silly proclamations of love.
Of course, Fuji had some highly embarrassing photos of some fond memories, and Yukari didn't hesitate to add her fair share of stories as well.
They shared cake, they shared stories, and at the end of the day, another small kiss.
It was the happiest birthday he'd ever had.