A/N: Since March 29 is Dearka's birthday, I thought I'd write a nice story for him. As a side note, I know nothing about cooking even though I took a foods class for two semesters, so I apologize for any discrepancies that might arise. I got the recipe I used in this fic from a really old Betty Crocker cookbook, just so it's clear that it isn't mine.

If only he had remembered sooner that it was Dearka's birthday!

Yzak tugged at his long silken locks in distress. It had already been two hours since the blonde had left their apartment. He still had a good hour and a half at his disposal before the tanned Buster pilot would return. He'd have to work fast.

Rounding the sofa with a speed born of fury, he dashed into their shared bedroom and scanned the mess of scattered items for his wallet, intent on running to the store. Then a sudden idea struck him.

Why couldn't he just make Dearka something himself? It'd be a hell of a lot quicker than sifting through hundreds of useless items that he couldn't choose from. That's it — he'd create his own gift. Okay, so maybe he didn't yet know what it would be, but he'd be sure to make it count. However, the question of what Dearka would like to have still plagued him.

"Damn you, Dearka," he cursed his roommate aloud, "Why can't you be easier to get presents for?"

He stood motionless in the center of their bedroom, pondering the possibilities. It wasn't long before he found his mind wandering to places where it ought not to have been. He felt a flush rise to his cheeks as he considered naming himself the present, setting himself on the bed with nothing but a giant ribbon.

He almost laughed, it was so hysterical. But that would be taking the easy way out, and no matter how much Yzak nagged and battered the blonde boy, Dearka deserved better. He'd have to come up with something else.

Once the image was in his head, however, the silver-headed boy had a hard time wiping the thoughts from his mind. He thought serenely of the smell of Dearka's shampoo, and the way his roommate always grinned and said he loved its cool, strawberry scent. Come to think of it, the tanned boy seemed to have a strange passion for anything strawberry flavored, from his shampoo right down to things like candy or ice cream.

"In that case," Yzak murmured aloud, "Maybe I should try to cook him something with strawberries. That can't be too hard." He ignored the fact that he'd never once cooked in his life and made up his mind. He was a Coordinator, after all. How hard could it possibly be to follow a set of directions and use the kitchen utensils? If any Natural could do it, then so could he.

It was a damn good thing that Nicol kept their shared kitchenette stocked with a heaping amount of food at all times. If all else failed, he'd ask the youngest boy next door for help.

With a grimace, the blue-eyed youth swore it wouldn't have to come to that.

It was then he realized he didn't have a recipe book. He sighed and left their bedroom. Perhaps he would have to ask for Nicol's help sooner than he'd hoped after all. Thinking ahead to anticipate any other problems that might arise, Yzak prayed that they had strawberries as well.

He pounded on the door to Nicol's room with a loud rap. When the door swung open, however, it was not Nicol who greeted him.

"Arrgh," Yzak grumbled. "Zala, get out of my way. Where the hell is Nicol?" At once he gasped, the image that met his eyes finally registering.

"Wh-what are you doing?" he exploded, and the sapphire-haired boy blinked in alarm.

"Me? I'm eating strawberries." Yzak looked on in horror as the unknowing Aegis pilot sunk his teeth into a plump piece of the red fruit.

"Don't even think about it!" The pale boy was livid. There was no way Athrun Zala was going to spoil his present for Dearka. "Give those to me, you idiot!" He reached for the bowl, but Athrun lifted them out of his reach with quick reflexes.

"Get your own."

"Arrgh!"

Nicol had emerged from somewhere in the back upon hearing the enraged shout. "Yzak? What's the matter?"

"I've got to have those right now," he pointed to the bowl, and Athrun munched another strawberry, unaffected. Yzak's frustration grew. "I need them for a recipe."

"You're not going to try to cook, are you?" Nicol's face was the picture of absolute horror.

The silver-haired boy nodded, pretending not to notice the amused way in which Athrun chuckled. "I'm going to make strawberry shortcake, and I'd better not hear about it from you two."

"Of course not," Athrun insisted, and he and Nicol shared an exchange of knowing glances. Then the boy complied with the earlier request, handing over the bowl of strawberries willingly.

"I only ate two or three," the dark-haired boy specified, an Yzak threw him a suspicious glare before snatching the bowl victoriously.

Nicol had left, and now reappeared with a recipe book from one of his shelves.

"There ought to be a decent one in here somewhere," he instructed kindly, smiling as the hot-tempered Coordinator looked down at it, slightly intimidated. "You can handle it, right?"

"Hah," Yzak snorted, pivoting on his heel and thundering off purposefully in the direction of their tiny kitchenette, "Just you watch." With that, the other boys left him to his business.

The silver-headed Coordinator located the recipe with ease, scanning the list of ingredients with a confident air of boredom.

1 quart strawberries, sliced

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup shortening

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 cups milk

margarine or butter, softened

whipped cream

This was nothing. Simple enough. He rifled through the many drawers until he stumbled across the measuring cups. Then he narrowed his icy eyes and read the first line of the directions aloud.

"Mix strawberries with one cup sugar and let stand for one hour. One hour!" He slammed his knee painfully against the table as he jumped back in surprise. There was no way in hell he had that long of a time frame to work with.

He checked the wall clock. There was half an hour to let the strawberries sit, at most. It would have to do. Once he'd set them aside, he preheated the oven to 450 degrees and managed to locate the remaining ingredients and utensils.

Cut shortening into flour, two tablespoons sugar, the baking powder and salt until mixture resembles fine crumbs.

Yzak stared at the directions, finally arriving at the conclusion that the recipe must be telling him to stir all the ingredients into one bowl. He did as he was ordered, obtaining a large wooden spoon to do the mixing.

After several minutes, he examined his handiwork. In no way did it resemble "fine crumbs." Time to use both hands to quicken the process.

Five minutes later, his creation was still lumpy as hell. He reread the previous step in an attempt to locate the problem.

Stir in milk just until blended.

He'd done that, damn it. Maybe he'd done it too soon? In any case, the next command was, "Gently smooth dough into a ball," and Yzak didn't think that was possible, considering the contents floating in his bowl were not only lumpy, but rather liquefied as well. He barely hesitated before dumping in more flour to absorb the moisture. Hey, it said "all purpose" flour. No problems.

Next he held his breath and buried his hands in the disgusting looking blend, lifting it out and plopping it onto the countertop with a splat. How utterly unappetizing.

Knead 20 to 25 times.

Yzak snickered. What were those ridiculous culinary masters thinking when they designed this recipe? How could counting the number of times one kneaded something possibly be relevant to the outcome of the dish? Nevertheless, he decided it might be best to keep track despite his cynicism.

He had barely finished number three when the concoction began to stick itself to his hands, fusing together between the webbing of his fingers and gouging itself under his fingernails. With a grimace, he tried to get it off, but to no avail. Two minutes later, after he'd vowed to ignore the discomfort, he reached up absently to brush a strand of hair from his eyes and ended up with dough on his forehead. He bit back a maniacal shout of rage.

Yzak wondered again what in seven hells had convinced him to try his hand at baking. He muttered a long string of curses, consoling himself by determining to get something out of the deal when Dearka returned. Oh yes, he'd be rewarded for his valiant efforts all right, or the shortcake would end up in his roommate's smug face.

His mind wandered to images of the blonde, and Yzak quieted, remembering that he really ought not to be complaining. It was Dearka's birthday, and he did deserve something nice for a change. With a deep breath, he set to kneading the dough with a will. If he had to cook in the kitchen like a woman, then so be it — he'd do it with his own manly flair and make an art of it.

It was then that he noticed he'd lost count of how many times he'd kneaded the dough.

"Arrgh!"

"Yzak?" Nicol's muffled voice sounded from the next room over. "Are you okay? Do you need any help?"

"Mind your own business, Amalfi," Yzak growled through gritted teeth. "I'm handling this just fine." There was no further response, and the pale youth slammed the rolling pin down onto the dough, venting his anger on the misshapen, hapless blob until it was the desired thickness. Now all that remained to be done was to separate the dough into circles and put it in to bake for fifteen minutes.

The moment his creation had been placed inside the oven, Yzak heaved a massive sigh and collapsed into a stray chair, relief plastered all over his features. Momentarily he rose to his feet, filling the sink to scrub dishes and utensils with warm, soapy water. It wasn't long before the oven beeped, and the smell of the shortcake had drifted about the room and filled their apartment with its sweet, homely scent.

Nicol's door swung open, and out sauntered he and Athrun, sniffing curiously as they struggled to balance their piles of books.

"That smells nice, Yzak," Nicol complimented as the silver-haired Coordinator pulled his creation from the burning oven without comment.

"We're going to study at the library," Athrun added, watching as Yzak set the miniature cakes on the countertop to cool. "Neither of us really wants to be here when you give Dearka his present," he said impishly, and Yzak whirled.

"Just what are you implying, Zala?" he exploded. "For your information, this is all I'm giving to that wavy-haired idiot." He simmered as the azure-eyed boy raised a condescending eyebrow. "And I'll have you know that these actually came out good."

Before he could speak further, Nicol had snitched one from the tray and lifted it fiendishly to his mouth. "Wow," his bright eyes widened, "These actually aren't as terrible as I thought they'd be, Yzak."

The pale boy trembled with barely-controlled wrath. "Excuse me? I missed that. You'll have to tell me again," his eyes sparked perilously, "And I'd better hear you say they're god damned delicious."

The youngest boy laughed, making his way to the door, followed closely by Athrun. "Just don't forget the whipped cream on top," he reminded with a wink. Yzak fumed as the door clicked shut.

He seized the bowl of sugared strawberries, and then located the whipped cream. With a critical eye and incredible precision, he split the neat buns crosswise and filled their insides with the sweet filling. Afterwards he decorated the tops, admiring his art proudly.

He had actually done it. Six little shortcakes smiled up at him from the shining tray. Luckily, Yzak caught himself before he became too excited. For crying out loud — they were just shortcakes.

Just then, the doorknob turned, and Yzak's heart leapt to his throat as he heard a very familiar voice.

"Yzak?" Dearka called, "Hey, what smells like food?"

It was now or never. Yzak lifted the heaping tray and walked out to meet the tanned boy.

"Whoa," the blonde whistled in amazement, "What is that?"

"Strawberry shortcake," Yzak announced flatly, "And you'd better stuff your face, because I made them for you."

Dearka's violet eyes widened. "Me? Why?" Then a look of dawning recognition crossed his face. "Oh, my birthday."

"What else, you dolt?" He drank in the sleek form of his partner, making sure to take in the pleased look on his handsome features. "Have one." At that, Dearka's face melted into a rather uncomfortable look, and Yzak's eyebrow twitched of its own accord.

"What's the problem?" he asked tentatively.

Dearka suddenly burst into a fit of uncontrollable laughter. "I can't believe you did all this just for me. I thought you forgot. I wouldn't have minded if you did, you know."

"Dearka, answer the question."

The blonde's face became serious, and he gulped visibly. "Well, the thing is…I don't exactly like strawberries."

Yzak's jaw dropped, and he balled his hands into fists as he spoke hoarsely, refusing one hundred percent to accept the outrageous claim. "The hell you don't, you bastard."

"No, really, I don't. I just like the smell, and sometimes the flavor, but I hate eating real strawberries." His face was apologetic. "But you worked like a nutcase to make them, judging by the look of you, if I'm not mistaken," he quipped, "So of course I'm going to eat them, Yzak. Don't give me that look."

"Christ," the blue-eyed boy spat indignantly, "I'd hate to make you eat anything you didn't like." He sneered upon the delivery of the last word, and much to his dismay, Dearka chuckled.

Stepping up to meet the pale boy, the blonde reached out a finger and swiped a large glob of whipped cream from the top of the first shortcake, grinning like a madman.

"Just what the hell is so amusing?" Yzak demanded, knitting his brows in a disapproving frown. "And didn't anyone ever tell you not to play with your food?"

Dearka made a move to dab the cream onto his nose, but the Duel pilot twitched his head aside, causing his roommate to miss and hit the corner of his mouth instead. Their sudden proximity made the pale boy feel heated, and he carefully averted his eyes to avoid the blonde's mesmerizing gaze.

Dearka lifted the tray gently from Yzak's hands, then leaned forward to claim his lips in an erotic kiss, licking the spot of whipped cream from the side of his mouth in the process. The tanned boy's touch was warm and smooth, and Yzak blushed wildly at the contact, forgetting all thoughts of shortcake as Dearka's lips roamed down one side of his jaw and to his neck with a hunger that couldn't be denied.

"I'll tell you why I like strawberries so much," Dearka murmured into his ear, setting down the tray and taking the smaller boy in his arms. He pressed them together as he spoke. "Because they make me think of you."

"Y-you just compared me to a fruit," Yzak managed to gasp as Dearka's strong hands ran through his silken hair and created a pleasant tremor that trickled down his spine. "You don't make any sense at all."

"I shouldn't have to," the opposite boy sighed into his mouth as their lips met for the second time. "But really, Yzak, it means a lot to me that you cared enough to make me something today."

"Just forget it," the silver-headed youth grumbled. "Happy Birthday."

Dearka's violet eyes lit up like deep, purple stars. "Thanks."

As he was led to the bedroom by the grinning blonde, his heart fluttering madly, Yzak took a last glance at the lonely looking shortcakes that decorated the tabletop.

"Looks like they'll be there for a while."

Dearka only laughed and closed the bedroom door.