Rival

It wasn't that Rikuou was jealous. Not of a four-year-old girl; that was for certain – even if Kazahaya did give her an inordinate amount of attention for a casual acquaintance. A virtual stranger, really. He showered her with praise every time her mother brought her to the store.

"What a good helper you are!"

"Don't you look cute today?"

"You're a smart girl, aren't you!"

"Come back and see us soon."

Kazahaya was strangely good with children. It was a trait that was oddly appealing. He'd make a great father one day. Except, Kazahaya as a father was an idea his mind rebelled against.

And how was it that Kazahaya didn't notice how strange it was that the girl's mother allowed this kind of thing? Isn't "don't take candy from strangers" supposed to be high on the list of lessons for young children? Shouldn't that idea work in reverse?

Apparently, Kazahaya had never learned that childhood basic. Or maybe he thought it didn't hold true when the stranger was a preschooler, because he just squatted down to near-sitting on the floor – his feet flat on the ground and his knees up to his chest – and accepted the pink, heart shaped box from the little girl in the peach colored dress coat and the suede snow boots. She didn't always dress up so much, did she?

"For me? Really?" He even pointed to himself while he said it. As though the kid was handing him the Valentine's candies so that he would give it to someone else. "Thank you!" He sounded genuinely thankful, too, which didn't make sense considering how he felt about chocolate.

The girl was just as excited that he accepted them so readily. "Mommy helped me make them. I got to stir and add the flavors and decorate them."

Maybe Rikuou would feel better if he commented on how the two get along so well because they are at the same developmental level, except…

After the girl left, Kazahaya – still smiling – opened the box and ate one of the candies.

"So how is it?"

"Good…considering what it is." He didn't look too thrilled about it. "You want the rest?"

"You're giving them to me?"

"Just the chocolate. I want the box back when you're done."

"You want the box?" The container was topped with messy hand drawn decorations, like the chocolates. "Why?"

"I'll have to find something white for her. I wonder what little girls like?"

"Are you ignoring me?"

Kazahaya turned away. "You'll just make fun of me if I tell you."

"I can make fun of you if you don't tell me. I'm good at making up reasons that are worse than the truth. Like how you're in love with a lit—"

"That's gross!" Kazahaya turned back to face him and refute the half spoken accusation. "It's just… I've never gotten a Valentine before."

"Never? I find that hard to believe." Kazahaya was too pretty not to have been given a Valentine before now.

"Valentines from family don't count."

"You've seriously never gotten chocolate from a girl?" Maybe the girls were jealous of your good looks. "Maybe it's because they knew you don't like candy." What was wrong with him today? Couldn't he get in a single quip?

But neither one of those theories were the truth and Rikuou knew it. It was because Kazahaya grew up sheltered. No, sheltered wasn't the right word. It wasn't strong enough. Isolated. That was the right word. But that topic was out-of-bounds. Kazahaya played along. "Yeah, maybe that's why." It was obvious from his voice that the conversation was bringing up bad memories. He had to steer their way back to safer grounds.

Sorting through the contents of the small box, he picked a milk chocolate that was covered with random squiggles and blobs of dark chocolate. "Mmm." They really were pretty good. The girl's mom must have done most of the work. "Thanks. I'll forgive you for not making them yourself." Now he was starting to feel more himself.

"Why would I ever make you chocolate?"

"Hmmm." He resisted nabbing another chocolate from the box. Kazahaya would tease him if ate too many now. "What's something that I could get you for White Day?" He made a show of pondering the possibilities.

"Don't get me anything! That stuff is for girls!"

"Maybe a white alarm clock."

"Are you listening to me?"

"Classic underwear is white."

"Please stop talking." Kazahaya was giving up on him now, his voice taking on that odd monotone he employed on rare occasions.

"Do you like daisies?"

And that was it. He let out a big sigh and gave a pathetic, "Why do you hate me so much?" with his head angled down and his right hand covering his face.

Rough laughter brought Kazahaya's eyes back up to watch as Saiga, a cigarette dangling from his lips, put a good-natured hand on Rikuou's shoulder. His comment, though, was addressed to Kazahaya.

"Hey, Boy! Don't be like that! Rikuou doesn't hate you. In fact, with all this talk of gifts and flowers, I'd say it's closer to the opposite!" Rikuou rolled his eyes but didn't respond. Saiga continued, egged on by the non-response. He lowered his voice somewhat as if trying to be conspiratorial. Trying being the operative word, since there was no doubt that Kazahaya could still hear every word. "If you're up for a little advice, I can think of something white that you can give him that would express your feelings quite clearly."

It took a second for the implication to register in Kazahaya's mind; Rikuou could see the wheels turning as he worked through what Saiga was insinuating. When he finally figured it out, his eyes bulged and his cheeks flushed with indignation. Kakai was standing a few feet away, a hand placed to strategically cover a cruel smile. They went a bit too far sometimes.

Kazahaya sputtered, unable to find enough coherent words suitable for a reply.

"Ok, kids. Enough of that. Back to work."

Kazahaya turned gratefully and walked quickly to aisle 2 to resume restocking cold medicines, the task he had been in the middle of before that little girl had interrupted.

"Saiga, you shouldn't tease them so much. They're not ready for that yet."

Rikuou wasn't sure if Kakei said that because he knew Rikuou could hear or because he didn't care if Rikuou could hear. He trailed on after Kazahaya, wanting to set things back to the status quo.

"Don't worry about Saiga." He hadn't meant to sneak up on him, but Kazahaya tensed visibly, then instantly relaxed when his body caught up with his brain in realizing there was no danger. "He just says things like that because he knows it'll get you riled up."

"It's cruel."

Kakei knew something about how things would turn out between the two of them, but the kind of relationship he hinted at seemed like such a far away idea… Maybe he really was just playing with their heads.

"You know you don't have to worry about anything like that. If it's not what you want. I'm not just talking about me." With the way Kazahaya had been raised, he couldn't be sure anyone had ever taught him this lesson. He'd missed so many others, after all. Rikuou himself had touched this topic before, but it was worth repeating. "You don't have to do anything you're not comfortable with. Even Kakei's sidejobs. You could turn them down. You say you need the money, but that doesn't mean you always have to say yes. Maybe you should practice saying no."

Kazahaya looked at him funny.

"I'm being serious here."

"I know. Thanks."

Why was it that their conversations were straying so much into the serious today? "You know, Hello Kitty is white."

"Oh no you don't!"

"I'm glad to hear you working on your "no's." Unfortunately, you don't have any say in what I buy." Kazahaya was apparently tired of the game and showed it with a lack of response. Rikuou plowed on. "How much do you think it costs to make these?"

"What do you care?" Ah, yes. This was good. He was getting petulant now.

"I need to know how much to spend on you. "Triple the return," isn't that the saying?"

"I didn't spend anything on them! I don't want anything in return. I wasn't giving them to you as a Valentine's gift. And even if I was it was, it would have only been duty chocolate, nothing more." He capped his tirade with a self-congratulating huff and an over-exaggerated crossing of his arms.

Ahh. The little voice in his head sighed in satisfaction. "So you're saying you want a cheap, generic gift in return? You don't like marshmallows."

"How many times do I have to tell you? Don't buy me anything!"

"I see. You want me to make you something. And here I was giving serious consideration to the Hello Kitty idea."

Kazahaya started ignoring him completely then, but the idea of making something was actually pretty good. He already knew what he could do. For Kazahaya, it would be far better than sloppily crafted kid made chocolate. Once he realized what it was for, he'd be sure to freak out a bit – that part was just a bonus for Rikuou.

-One Month Later-

Rikuou stood in the kitchen, unloading the last of the ingredients he'd picked up at the grocery down the street. He already had the water on to boil.

Kazahaya, having just finished his shift downstairs, was now staring in confusion at Rikuou's plan in action. "What are you doing?"

"Making dinner."

"But it's not your day." He'd had to work the schedule just right so that he would have to take over Kazahaya's chore. All part of the plan.

"I know." The muscles in his face strained to be used.

"But you didn't ask to trade."

Kazahaya's level of confusion at such a simple occurrence was almost endearing. It was becoming difficult to suppress his smile. "I know."

"Don't think this means I'm going to cook tomorrow. Just because you took over my job today…"

It was convenient that the water started to boil at that moment, because his expression broke as he turned away from his roommate. He allowed himself the space of time it took to complete the task of emptying the pasta into the pot before answering. "I don't expect you to." When he turned around again, his face was perfectly composed.

It took another fifteen minutes before dinner was completely ready. Kazahaya had given up his line of inquiry and wandered off in the meantime so Rikuou was able to get the table fully set before his roommate finally sat down for dinner.

Sometime back in January, Kazahaya had discovered that he liked Italian food. Apparently, he'd never had much foreign food at home and it wasn't something Rikuou had much experience preparing. It wasn't until they'd eaten dinner at Daniela – which was only affordable because it was for a sidejob – that Kazahaya had taken an interest in Italian cuisine. Alfredo fit the color requirement and was something Kazahaya would likely be interesting in trying and so, that easily, the two main objectives in selecting the menu had been fulfilled.

Kazahaya was two bites in, and Rikuou suspected had been about to comment on how good it tasted, when he sat his fork down and looked from his plate to Rikuou and back again. He formed his words slowly. "What day is this?"

"Wednesday."

"I meant the date."

"The fourteenth."

"Of—"

"—March. Do you need the year, too?" Kazahaya only managed to glare at him. He never glared at anyone else. He was too polite for that.

"This meal is all white." Rikuou had made sure of that. Even the vegetables were white. Maybe it was a little overkill, but Kazahaya wasn't always the quickest to pick up on things like this. It would spoil the fun if he never caught on.

"You're doing well at stating the obvious today."

Kazahaya fumed. "I told you not to do anything! Do I look like a girl to you?"

"Feel free not to eat it." He reached across the table to take his roommate's plate away.

"Wait!"

"Hm?" His attempt at appearing innocent likely wasn't going over too well, but it was too late to change tactics. "Change your mind? You do want it after all?"

He held on to the plate until Kazahaya gave a grudging. "Yes."

Satisfied, he let go of the plate and sat back down to finish his meal. Once he was safely away from Kazahaya's food, his dining companion hastened to clarify, "but only because I'm hungry!" as an afterthought. "I thought Kakei-san was the manipulative one." He couldn't help it; a full smirk broke out across his face.

No, Rikuou wasn't jealous of a cute little girl.

"Bastard."

There was no need.