According to the internet, human bodies were not in need of this much sugar. Neither in the form of the glittering crystals that came in little paper packets when they bought coffee from Kusanagi Shoichi's food truck, nor as the carb-exclusive white powder that seemed to included in every cake, bread and pasta dish Ai had ever attempted. In the case of his current culinary adventure, the recipe said to put it in everything! There was both sugar and wheat flour in the batter, sugar in the jam, sugar in the berries that went in the jam, sugar in the whipped cream and in the syrup that some Western variants of the dish seemed to call for in excessive amounts. For this, Ai had gone for a traditionally European version, with fresh strawberry jam and heavy whipped cream, topped with powdered cacao and—you guessed it—more sugar.

Ai would have calculated the caloric intake of the plate he was now preparing, but chose not to. In the case of the young man intended to eat it, the more calories the better.

He took his sweet time with presentation today, as if he didn't do that every day. The pancakes were thin and flat, rolled up into little scrolls that he meticulously stacked like bonfire wood around a small cup of strawberry jam. He placed like a crown on top of it a plentiful spoon of whipped cream, sprinkled the cacao from his fingers like a chocolate snow and finished with slices of some leftover strawberries in a ring around the plate edge. Each slice was cut into unique shapes, from little stars and hearts to the teardrop silhouette of his old Ignis form. As a final touch, he filled a plastic bag with melted chocolate, cut the tiniest bit off the corner and wrote between the berries: Ai Love Yuu.

The handwriting was neat and perfect, more so than any normal human could accomplish. Since Ai's control of his SOLtiS body was computerised, he did not suffer from the little twitches and shakes of muscles that all humans did, no matter how minuscule. His arms never grew tired and he never miscalculated, for example, how hard to press on a piping bag.

Well, almost never.

Ai had never been an ordinary AI. His thoughts and whims were naturally random, his feelings playing a role in every single decision, from the most crucial to the most trivial. And as he stood there, comically hunched over the table top and finished off the adoring message, he got excited. He decided to add a little heart at the end of it, the kind of thing he knew would most likely go unappreciated by the gift's receiver, but that Ai liked to do nonetheless. He leaned in a little closer, his gold-in-charcoal ponytail falling past his ears, and grabbed the piping bag with both hands for extra accuracy. Giggling at himself. But as he did, he somehow forgot to adjust for the slight tremor that his laughter caused to the rest of his body, and the heart turned out more an unrecognisable, squiggly circle with a tail.

By the laws of the modern world, Ai counted as artificial intelligence—a man-made creation, non-biological and therefor also not sentient. But if the people who wrote and enforced those laws could see Ai now, as disappointment flooded his golden irises, they might have a change of heart. Letting out a frustrated huff that blew through his purply fringe, Ai glared at the destroyed heart. Like it was its own fault that it was no longer perfect enough to be presentable as an anniversary surprise.

"I thought we all agreed to be flawless today," he pouted at the hardening chocolate mess. He turned to the bag in his hand, "and you, you little—"

The common reaction to anger was of course to fist his hand. This, combined with a SOLtiS's exceptional strength, made it easy for Ai to absolutely squash the frail plastic bag. It burst at the seams, splattering thick, runny chocolate all over himself, the table, the plate and also the plate with extra pancakes that he could've used to remake his ruined creation.

Ai stood there for several seconds, processing the mess he'd made.

Naturally, this was also when the bedroom door at the end of the hallway decided to creak open. It was followed by the dragging footsteps of a way-too-early-out-of-bed Fujiki Yusaku. A whole five minutes and a half minutes too early, by Ai's reckoning. He'd intended to stand at the ready with a sweet-smelling breakfast when the young man's alarm clock went off. Now, instead, Ai scrambled gracelessly around to the other end of the table, generated a hot-pink velvet cape from his SOLtiS body's hard light material, and swept it all over the table.


He was cut off by the locking of the bathroom door. Ai gave a sullen look and grumbled that his darling could at least say 'Good morning' when he woke up. Although, Ai had little experience with the callings of mother nature, and so he decided to be a considerate boyfriend and let it go. He tore the hard light cape away and got to work at maximum speed—which even for a SOLtiS was annoyingly slow compared to how fast things could be done in the network. Ai had thankfully been smart enough to project the fabric some distance above the table. Hard light was semi-solid, so it was perfectly capable of ruining Ai's masterpiece ever further, even if the light itself couldn't get dirty.

As for Ai's outfit, that was another story. Most of the chocolate had missed the apron, soiling his black palazzo pants and the shirt, frilled at the lapels and adorned with gold that threaded in soft waves throughout the black fabric. Both items of clothing were very real—and very expensive. Clothes he'd been allowed to buy with Yusaku's money because Ai had grown to prefer the feel of actual clothes to the hard light that otherwise made up his appearance. He wished now that he'd gotten dressed after making breakfast, another miscalculation on his part.

Deep within a much more serious part of his mind, he hoped dearly that he hadn't made any more mistakes already.

Ai sighed. In his idealised simulation of this morning, he had entered the bedroom under the light of a candelabra like a modern day angel. He would present the gorgeous breakfast, and himself, as gifts to his long-term boyfriend, hoping to draw one of those precious smiles from his beloved partner's baby face. All to celebrate this very, very special day in their lives together.

Special for two reasons. The first was the obvious one, something both he and Yusaku had been aware of and talking about for months—today was their five year anniversary as an official couple. Five years since they'd gone beyond friends, beyond partners, and into a territory of emotion that Ai had only ever allowed himself to dream of before. Five years since Fujiki Yusaku, eighteen at the time, had first said the same word Ai had said to him that day nearly six years ago, when the data storms threatened to drown them out and the remnants of a broken friendship disintegrated in Playmaker's arms. Five years since Ai had said 'I'm sorry' and 'I'll never go down that path again', to which a still young but oh-so-mature Yusaku had replied 'I know...

... because I won't let you'.

The second reason, however, was something Ai kept locked in the deepest, darkest parts of himself, so that it might never show on his face. At least not in front of Yusaku.

At the moment, Ai had no desire and no time for such thoughts. In his rush to tidy up, he used up two whole rolls of paper towels and one actual textile one within less than a minute. He threw all of it in the trash, followed by his beloved pants and shirt. Next he hurled the whole batch of dishes and ingredients from the dinner table into the sink. He'd fix that up at a later time. For now, at least the table was presentable again. Ai shot the breakfast plate a mournful look though, but there was nothing he could do about it. The sound of running water from the bathroom stopped and the lock clicked open. As fast as his programming allowed, Ai whipped up as close a copy of his outfit as he could and projected it onto his naked SOLtiS form in the last second.

"Am I allowed in now?" came Yusaku's still sleep-drenched, deep vocals from the hallway. Then, without waiting for an answer, he appeared in the kitchen doorway. His keen eyes missed nothing, unfortunately, and he frowned when he saw the chaos that littered the dish bench. Ai quickly stole his attention, though, as he moved out of the way of the dinner table with a triumphant twirl.

"Surprise!" his exhilarated partner chimed, greeting Yusaku with a theatrical bow. "Good morning, my sweet Yusaku-chan! Happy fifth anniversary!"

"Already?" Yusaku replied, inherently unemotional. He moved closer and inspected the pile of pancakes and its decorations, which was still very beautiful despite the near artistic splatter of chocolate all over them. He smelled the air without as much as a hint of a reaction, which caused Ai's grin to fade into dismay. Not a second later, though, Yusaku's stone-face melted away, and his lips curved into the purest, and most mischievous, of smiles. "It's only six in the morning."

Ai's sad frown was wiped clean off, and something deep in his code flashed to life. Tangled itself into a throbbing heart skipping beats. Such was the power of this human—to tear open and wreck all kinds of havoc in Ai's programming, even though he himself was nothing but bones and blood and tissue. No network connection that could infiltrate him and mess with his code. No electrical charge that could short-circuit him. Just a normal, carbon-based human, standing there an arm's length away in nothing but boxers and a low-collared shirt, svelte and narrow-waisted but still so soft to touch and hold. Tall enough now that Ai no longer needed to look down to meet his gaze. His hair just a tad longer, making the blue and magenta fringe hang heavy over his forehead, shadowing one of his dazzling emerald eyes. It was a complete disaster now, pressed out of all shape and form during the night, and wet at the tips from when he'd splashed his face a minute ago.

Beneath the imperfections and the sculpted face, Fujiki Yusaku was the light of Ai's existence. The ice cold touch stone that kept his feet planted firmly on the Earth, but who was still capable of setting fire to Ai's very soul, no matter how digital. Someone who, if taken from him, could make him do unspeakable things to innumerable people—although that fact was for Ai's awareness alone.

Yusaku was also able to fluster Ai beyond any reasonable repair. Today, with a single word:


Ai played back the past few seconds of memory and found that he'd been staring. Fiercely. "What what?"

"You're still in there," Yusaku noted, one eyebrow raised. "For a moment I thought you skipped out on me."

"When have I ever?!" Ai exclaimed, slapping a hand over where a human's heart would be. "But you can't just expect me not to swoon when my man looks at me like that!"

Up went Yusaku's other eyebrow. "Just so long as you don't topple over the table, or you'll ruin my breakfast."

And then the wildest thing happened—Fujiki Yusaku snickered. A momentary, barely-there and yet very very real laugh. Ai had to admit that seeing Yusaku smile wasn't all that rare anymore. He had himself, mostly at least, to thank for that. What other possible result could he expect, being the flawless, adoring and handsome partner that he was! But for Yusaku to laugh was close to unheard of. At the very least it was so uncommon that Ai could easily count the occasions on his two hands—and he had them all recorded. Saved for those moments when Yusaku wasn't as happy, or when life got difficult enough between them that Ai needed to be reminded just how—and why—he was alive.

Thankfully, those occasions had been extremely rare over the past few years. Rarer even than the soft giggle he was now savouring.

With hints of that golden smile still clinging to his lips, Yusaku stepped around the table. Closed the distance between himself and his chosen one and only. Swiftly pressed his palms onto Ai's and interlocked their fingers. Ai's hands were always strangely warm, but never moist with sweat like a normal person's. It made for a comfortable space for his own chilly hands to reside. Using their braided fingers, Yusaku pulled himself even closer. At this distance, and in this real, physical world, they were the exact same height. He knew that Ai liked to add an inch or two whenever they went into the VRAINS, but out here they were equals. So it was easy for Yusaku to erase the distance between their mouths—one hot and wet, the other smooth like silk and slightly trembling as all kinds of machinery went haywire inside Ai's head.

It was gentle but deep. Not quick and hesitant like they'd been in the beginning, or awkward like when they'd begun to experiment. It was always Yusaku who had to end their kisses, though, because he had to breathe. Often. Unlike Ai, who could choose to when he felt like acting just a bit more organic than he had to.

Yusaku pulled away, but only just. His lips still brushed against Ai's when he spoke. "Happy fifth anniversary, Ai."

"Ai love Yuu," Ai exhaled against his partner's mouth, over-pronouncing every syllable to get the message through.

Yusaku suddenly turned to look at the plate on the table beside them. The message was near buried in chocolate, the screwed-up heart completely gone. "Is that what it's supposed to say?"

Ai couldn't help it. He theatrically fell backwards as if fainting from shock. "The thanks I get! Here I stand aaall morning to make you a perfect breakfast and you notice only its tiniest flaws! You are such a heartbreaker!"

The act had the exact effect Ai was after, when the hands wrapped in his went up over his shoulders, pulling him closer again. The kiss was rougher this time, if a bit faster. More of a way for Yusaku to silence his boyfriend than to actually show affection. Ai loved it. Loved it more than words could describe.

"Shut up," Yusaku told him, still smiling. "And thank you."

Ai saved this moment as well. This simple and yet precious point in time. He wished that he would never go away—that they would never go away. And yet he knew that this day was special for two reasons. And unless he made sure that everything today—every single little thing—played out perfectly, then it might just be the last time he ever got to see his beloved Yusaku smile again.

It wouldn't be. Because just like Yusaku, he wouldn't allow it.

He pulled away, somewhat reluctantly, from his boyfriend's embrace, and pulled out one of the chairs. Bowed and gestured for it like a fancy waiter. "Breakfast is served, my dear gentleman."

Yusaku took a seat with a roll of his eyes, but the smile remained. And Ai went on catering him, confident that today was going to be perfect.