Gift

 

Note: The first section is based on the Lost Small World manga's extra story, Unused Tickets

 

13 Years Old

It was after all the cake had been eaten, the decorations were taken down, and Fushimi had gone home that Yata brought up a certain image on his PDA again. It was dark in the room that he shared with Minoru, and he could hear the soft, even breathing from the other futon, but the picture was clear in front of his eyes.

The only present he’d received from a friend for his birthday that year was this set of tickets printed in neat handwriting on plain paper and photographed for safekeeping: three ‘request for backup’ coupons with no expiry. From someone like Fushimi, it seemed like a high-value gift. He’d have to save them for extreme circumstances.

That wasn’t really the reason for the grin that spread across his face as he studied them, or the warmth he felt building within him when he thought back to that moment. It was because the gift had seemed so sincere – a real effort, even if in Fushimi’s own strangely awkward way.

He seriously thought he had to outdo someone else’s gift to win me over, huh? Yata couldn’t help but huff quietly to himself, amused. He was pretty competitive, but he’d never once thought about gifts that way. But Fushimi had specifically said it, reasoning that he couldn’t win against the bike that Yata’s stepdad had got him but might be able to beat his younger brother’s “give you my sweets” tickets. It was like he didn’t really grasp the whole birthday gift thing – just saw it as a way to reach for Yata’s favor somehow.

It was weird, but that thought gave him a little rush of gratification. Yata wasn’t totally sure he understood it, but more than the cake and all the fuss, the idea made him feel special. Important, even.

It felt like they were becoming closer for real, and the excitement he’d felt when meeting Fushimi in the bathroom at school filled his body again now, all the way to the tips of his fingers and toes. The sensation was electrifying.

Even if the whole gift competition was still sorta weird, he was starting to think that maybe Fushimi had sold himself short when he said he couldn’t win against the bike. Not that the tickets themselves were that amazing, but this whole thing – that connection between them – was probably the best thing he could’ve gotten, that day or any other.

Seriously, if it was the two of them together, the future looked awesome.

 

15 Years Old

"Is this really where you want to eat?"

Yata shrugged, trying to shake off the uncertainty. He'd picked the place, and he couldn't back down now without admitting he was wrong. "They've got a special right now for a sundae that looks great! Nothing wrong with getting sweets on my birthday, right?"

"If you say so." Saruhiko's voice was dubious. He kept casting glances around at the interior of the cafe. "This doesn't seem like the kind of place you'd want to come to normally."

He was right about that. The cafe wasn't themed or fancy, but it had a cutesy sort of atmosphere somehow, despite the plain decorations. Outside of the booths like the one they were sitting in, all of the tables were small and round with only two chairs at each one. And the booths weren't wide, either.

This... really wasn't a place you came to with a group of friends.

Well, whatever. He only had one friend anyway, and that was all he needed. Plus ice-cream. "It's fine - it's just for one time, anyway." He looked up with a grin. "You promised you’d treat me, right?"

Saruhiko raised an eyebrow at him. "Is that why you came here? It's more expensive than somewhere else, so when it's someone else's money..."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever." Yata shrugged, undeterred. "Normally I wouldn't get this kinda fancy stuff, right? I thought it'd be cool to try it once."

Saruhiko frowned a little, folding his arms across his chest as he slouched back against the booth. "It's not that exciting,” he muttered, with a small click of his tongue.

"I wanna see for myself." Yata kicked his foot forward so their shoes bumped – a casual reminder of their solidarity. "Anyway, I just wanted to go somewhere with you today."

Somehow, when Saruhiko looked up and met his gaze, it felt like those words became awkward rather than easy and familiar. Faced with those familiar grey-blue eyes across the table in a place like this, Yata felt inexplicably nervous, his skin tingling and warmth gathering at the junction of his neck and jaw.

It was a feeling that had caught him up a few times lately, but he couldn't quite place it.

Swallowing down an anxious lump, Yata cleared his throat, wracking his brain for something to say to clear the mood. "So..."

"Good afternoon!" The unnaturally chipper voice of a female server interrupted the moment. When he looked up, startled, she beamed back at him. "Are you two ready to order?"

"Ah... r-right." Her presence had that warmth firing up to a full heat across his face. Yata jerked his head back down to mumble in the direction of the table, "I-I'll get the... the special."

"All right, one special! And you, sir?"

"One scoop of mild vanilla," Saruhiko's voice answered her blandly, "in a bowl."

"Yes, of course!" The boring order didn't seem to phase her. "Coming right up!"

As she stepped away, Saruhiko let out a soft snort. "You need to get over that someday, you know."

"Shut up! I'm working on it, okay?" Yata looked up to frown at him. "You shoulda got the special too – don't you at least wanna try it?"

"Why should I if I already know I won't like it?" Saruhiko slid to the side, pulling himself free of the booth to stand. "That would just be a waste of time."

"You never know if you don't try." It was probably a lost cause; Yata decided to let it drop. "Where are you going?"

"Washroom."

"Oh." Yata slumped back in his seat a little. "Sure."

With Saruhiko gone, somehow the place felt even more awkward. He fidgeted for a moment, before fishing into his pocket for his PDA - more to have something that would make him look occupied than because he had anything to do on it. Opening the photo album, he idly flipped through some of the pictures.

He'd never kept a whole lot of stuff on there, so it didn't take long before he came across a familiar picture. It was the tickets that Saruhiko had made for him, back in their first year of middle school for his 13th birthday.

One 'request for backup' each, huh? Somehow, looking at them gave him an odd feeling.

It wasn't like he didn't remember they were there. They weren't on his mind all the time or anything, but he didn't exactly forget he had them. If he happened to think about them, he'd sometimes open up the image and look at them, and remember the moment when Saruhiko had given them to him.

They were comfortable with each other now, but there were still a few things that could give him that shivery feeling of excitement. And that memory was one of them.

Even right then and there, it had that effect. It was kinda weird, but… sitting in this cafe with its awkward cutesy mood and its tables for two and the fancy ice cream that Saruhiko was gonna treat him to, he thought maybe there was something he could use a ticket for. 'Request for backup' was pretty vague. Maybe backing him up could mean helping out with a special kind of birthday outing that he couldn't do alone.

A special kind of outing...

It was there at the edge of his thoughts, not quite at the surface of his consciousness: a hint of some vague but fervent want that he couldn't place. Like a craving, but without knowing what for. And he thought maybe, maybe he could just about figure it out if he let all of this sink in...

"What are you looking at?"

Saruhiko's voice was enough to snap him out of those thoughts; Yata jerked his gaze up, startled, as his best friend slid back into the booth across from him. "Huh? Oh." He quickly closed the PDA and stuffed it back into his pocket, pushing all those confusing thoughts out of his mind. "Just killing time while you were gone."

“Mm.” Saruhiko frowned a little, tilting his head. The way he held himself made it look as if he wanted to ask something but hadn’t quite decided if he was going to. It did some strange things to Yata’s stomach, being the focus of that look. A kind of… shuddery feel.

Weird.

Once again, there wasn’t an opportunity to say anything, because the waitress had returned at almost the same moment. “Here you are!” she chirped, setting down both the sundae and the smaller, plain-looking bowl in front of them. “Enjoy!”

That was enough to totally derail Yata's thoughts – the wide-brimmed glass in front of him was loaded with vanilla ice-cream and red raspberry drizzle, artfully arranged strawberries, pineapple and a mix of other wild berries piled on top. There was even a slice of white chocolate tucked in to complete it.

"Hell yeah!" He couldn't help the little exclamation; it was like the words bubbled up from his throat directly to his mouth at the sight. "Now this is a birthday treat!"

"I'll be sure to tell your mom you said that," Saruhiko drawled, with a tiny, amused smile ready when Yata lifted his eyes to glare. "Happy birthday, anyway."

"Heh." That was enough to make up for the tease. Yata grinned back, feeling gratified. "Thanks!"

When he took the first bite of that sundae – the sundae that was Saruhiko’s treat – it was exceptionally delicious.

 

16 Years Old

On the morning of his birthday, Yata woke up to the sound of Saruhiko’s typing.

It wasn’t unusual; actually, it was kind of comforting – a reminder that he wasn’t alone. They had Homra now, so of course he didn’t have to worry about feeling lonely or anything, but that presence when he first woke up was something totally different.

Saruhiko is there. His partner was above him, a rock-solid part of his awesome life. Yata smiled to himself lazily, blinking a few times to come out of the groggy stage that came on after waking up. He’d had a long time to get used to it, but still, it was pretty great.

He was just about ready to push himself up and start getting ready for the day when his wrist buzzed at him. It was a message from Totsuka: ‘Happy birthday, Yata! Sorry to ask this when it’s your day and all, but can you run a few errands today before coming by the bar?’

Nothing out of the ordinary in that message – well, other than the birthday part, which was new – but it wasn’t like he could help the fierce rush of anticipation. Are they planning a surprise?

Similar things had been done for other birthdays here and there – nothing huge, just some streamers and a cake, but still. And he and Saruhiko… they’d made a lot of friends. They were Homra’s Vanguard, after all. So yeah, it was totally possible…

Yata grinned to himself, not bothering to push down the excitement as he responded to Totsuka’s message. “Hey,” he said out loud after hitting ‘send’, “Saruhiko. You’re up, right?”

The typing from above him paused only briefly, then resumed. “What do you think?”

The flat response was a little irritating – seriously, Saruhiko could be difficult sometimes – but Yata wasn’t going to have his good mood brought down. “Totsuka-san wants us to run some errands before we go to Homra today. I’ll make us something quick for breakfast, okay?”

This time, there wasn’t even a pause in the typing, but Saruhiko’s off-hand voice answered him. “Whatever you say.”

Yata shot a disgruntled look at the underside of the loft, but was interrupted by the buzzing that announced Totsuka’s response. A quick check showed him a list of errands, along with a picture of one of the places they had to go – ‘because you two haven’t been there yet’.

He enlarged the picture, sitting up as he did, and accidentally brushed the holographic screen, causing the picture view to scroll through his default album. Ah, shit. Even with the simple way Saruhiko had designed this, he still sometimes fumbled when using it. Yata hastily began flipping back through pictures again to find the right one, and then paused.

Ironic, on his birthday, that he’d happen to stumble across the first gift Saruhiko had ever gotten him.

It gave him a little rush of nostalgia. Request for backup, huh? He shook his head, smiling a bit ruefully. As nice as the memory was from back then, there wasn’t really any need to use these. After all, in any situation where he'd need back-up, Saruhiko was always there. They had each other's backs every day. That wasn’t changing any time soon.

He couldn’t think of any reason this gift would mean more than just another symbol of their connection. And they already had the Homra marks for that, too.

Still, it reminded him… “You could at least be a little more enthusiastic today, huh?” he grumbled at the loft. Saruhiko and enthusiasm didn’t really go together, but… still.

Sometimes it felt like it was hard to reach him. More and more, it felt like that. He wasn’t sure why.

Things are awesome right now, right? So…

Above him, the typing paused; a few seconds later, his wrist buzzed again.

‘Happy birthday’ was the new message. From Fushimi Saruhiko.

A familiar warm shiver surged outward from his chest; Yata felt the grin building on his face even as he read it. He remembered. “You jerk,” he said to the loft, not even bothering to keep the fondness of out his tone. “Coulda just said it.”

“Isn’t this way good enough?” Saruhiko responded, and this time there was a tiny bit of a smile in his voice – almost undetectable, but still there.

“Yeah, sure.” Pushing himself fully up, Yata stretched generously before continuing. “You should treat me to something before we go to Homra.”

Saruhiko clicked his tongue. “We’re both broke, Misaki.”

“We can afford some shaved ice,” Yata countered. “C’mon. We’ll hang out for a bit.” Totsuka had said not to hurry anyway – and if he was right about the surprise, it’d be better if they killed some extra time.

There was a brief but somehow stark pause. Then Saruhiko mumbled, “If you say so. You’re the one who handles the bills.”

That was basically agreement. “Right?” Looking down at his wrist, Yata reached out to close the image of the tickets that was still open. “No problem!”

As nice as the memory was, he obviously wouldn’t be needing those any time soon.

 

17 Years Old

When he brought up the tickets on the next birthday, it was on purpose.

It was late – past midnight, so technically not even his birthday any more – and he was sprawled on top of the covers on the futon in his apartment. The atmosphere was stuffy and almost suffocating with how quiet it was, a stark change from Homra or even the streets outside his building before he’d stepped inside and shut the door. There was no movement inside other than his own uneven breathing as he stared at the glowing holographic screen in the dark.

The loft he’d stared up at last year was nothing but a memory – and the birthday at his parents’ house when the tickets had been handed to him was even more distant in his mind.

But he was still obsessing over these stupid things, like an idiot.

Why do I still think about this guy?

Homra had thrown him a party – casual and boisterous as usual, and everyone he considered close to him was there. He hadn’t thought about anything troublesome for the entire night, enjoying himself thoroughly and without anything to stain his good mood. Until now.

At first when he’d checked his PDA after getting home, he’d told himself it was just to check for messages. And it had been! His mother might’ve sent another message, after all. Or maybe one of the guys, for whatever reason. Kusanagi might’ve found something he’d left at the bar in all the excitement.

Those were all just excuses – he knew it when he was bringing up the app, and couldn’t help but feel frustrated with himself for not being able to let go. Even without checking, he already knew there wasn’t going to be a text with that simple ‘Happy birthday’ in it, or an invite to meet up, or anything.

Still, he’d hoped… just a little…

It was after he’d checked and found nothing that he flopped back onto the futon, still fully clothed, and flipped through the menu on his PDA to bring up the image from all those years ago. He wasn’t really sure why he’d done it. Not like he was gonna send it to Saruhiko and expect anything to come of it.

But even so, he held his wrist up in front of his face and took in the neat printing and carefully marked dividing lines and fought the sting behind his eyes until the screen timed out and turned off. At that point he let his arm drop down to drape across his nose and exhaled sharply.

‘Won’t be needing them anytime soon’… isn’t that right, Saruhiko?

Sleep was a long time in coming.

 

20 Years Old

The sun was setting along the coastline, but the encroaching darkness didn’t concern Yata that much. He’d already sat by himself all afternoon leaning back against the railing that was supposed to prevent anyone from crossing over onto the knoll that led down towards the sea, headphones on his ears and the school-island of Ashinaka in front of his eyes. By that point, he was feeling pretty numb to the world.

The adrenaline rush that had brought him out there after finding Homra empty – again – had died off a while ago, and the fierce emotion that had struck him as he arrived at the site of Mikoto’s death was nothing but a hollow ache in his chest now.

Turning twenty should’ve been a big deal – he was old enough to drink; old enough to be considered a man, legally. It was something he’d been looking forward to not that long ago. Or maybe it really was that long ago; it was kinda hard to have a good grasp of time passing. It felt like the celebration they’d had when Kamamoto had turned twenty had been in another lifetime, even though in reality it was only a little over a year ago.

Remembering it caused the dull ache to ramp up to more of a throbbing pain; Yata had to swallow hard and tipped his head back against the metal behind him as the fleeting memories of drinks and laughter and the warm sense of belonging came rushing back to him. He could almost taste Kusanagi’s cake.

It was bitter as fuck in his mouth now.

The PDA on his wrist buzzed, and he brought it up to check the notification – more out of a need to distract himself than because he was really curious. The message was from his mother, the third one she’d sent that day. There were three other unopened ones sitting with them – one from Kamamoto, one from Akagi, and one from Dewa – as well as indications of several missed calls.

People who couldn’t be bothered to be around leaving generic birthday wishes, probably.

Whatever. Yata frowned at the notification until it timed out and vanished again. What was the point if they weren’t going to show up? Felt like anything they were saying was just empty promises at that point. Maybe it would’ve been better if they just said right to his face that they were leaving, like…

Right.

It was almost a birthday tradition at this point. Yata lifted his head, feeling the corners of his mouth edge up in a bitter smile as he opened the holographic screen again and brought up his images.

The picture of the tickets was still there, of course. He’d thought about deleting it so many times, and couldn’t bring himself to do it in all those years. There had still been a vague hope hanging out in his heart, though he didn’t really like to admit it.

After all this time, it was pretty damn unlikely that Saruhiko was gonna come back and say joining the Blues had been a big mistake, but Yata was notoriously shitty at letting go of things.

Request for backup.

For a moment – just a single, brief moment – he was overcome with a sudden desire to send it off. Even if all he got back was silence – or mockery. For the few precious minutes it would take for Saruhiko to receive the message and decide how he was going to respond, Yata would be able to hope for… something. Anything. He would’ve been willing to call a temporary truce if Saruhiko would honor the ticket and just pretend for one goddamn evening that he really did want to be with Yata.

He was so damn sick of being alone. He was sick of missing people. If there was a chance…

Don’t be fucking stupid. Yata twisted his lips into a scowl, swiping his finger harshly to dismiss the image and letting his hands flop into his lap again. Irritation was already rising fast through the fading cloud of other emotions.

Saruhiko wasn’t going to respond; he was a traitor, after all. Yata felt like an idiot for even wanting to send it. For hoping. For setting himself up to be disappointed, again and again.

Nothing was going to change. That ship had long-since sailed.

And it was time he finally accepted it.

 

 

21 Years Old

It was funny how life worked out sometimes.

“Whoa – this place hasn’t changed, huh?” Yata slid into his side of the booth, trying for nonchalant as he looked around the café. Same cutesy atmosphere, despite its plain and simple appearance.

Tables for two. Narrow booths. Fancy sundae on special.

Not the same sundae, of course – but still.

“Places like this usually don’t,” Saruhiko remarked, sliding into his own seat with a sigh. “Are you sure this is where you want to be today?” His gaze was almost wary. “What about Homra?”

Yata laughed. “D’you know how much of a bitch it is these days to find a good time for everyone to get together the same night? No way we’d hit the exact date – we got something going on in a few days.” He shrugged. “Anyway, I’d kinda rather do this.”

There was a very marginal shift in Saruhiko’s expression and eyes, as if he’d relaxed a little at that. “Another ‘special’ you want to try?”

“Nah. Well, maybe that too.” Yata grinned back at him. “You’re gonna treat me on my birthday, right? But seriously, it’s more for the nostalgia.”

“We only came here once,” Saruhiko reminded him drily, but he did offer a smile in response – small but genuine. “You’re the same as always. Making assumptions like that.”

Yata tapped his shoe against Saruhiko’s lightly. “Back at you. For not asking the real question.” After everything – the separation, the uncertainty, the tentative steps they’d taken to rebuild their relationship – he wasn’t nearly as confident as he was trying to pretend, but… Well, he wasn’t gonna hesitate now. Even if some of the things he’d done without thinking as a kid now felt nerve-wracking as an adult. He took in a breath, and continued boldly, “I asked you here because I wanna be here with you, not because you’re a backup option.”

Saruhiko’s eyes widened, mouth going slack for a moment. He blinked twice slowly, and then seemed to recover, reaching up to adjust his glasses almost awkwardly and letting his gaze slide off to the side. “I know,” he mumbled, and there was a brief pause before he added haltingly, “I’m also… here because I want to be.” His eyes flickered up to meet Yata’s again. “With you.”

The surge of relief that overtook him with those words was shocking; Yata hadn’t realized how much he’d tensed up until he felt himself relax. “Ah… yeah.” He felt almost giddy as they stared at each other across the table, and the widening of his smile was impulsive and uncontrollable. “Yeah!”

Looking into those familiar grey-blue eyes, he felt like he could float right out of his seat.

It reminded him that he had another reason for coming there, too. Yata cleared his throat, nerves catching up with him again. Doing his best to dispel them, he started, “Hey… Saruhiko, you – ”

“Good afternoon!” The sound of that overly cheerful voice struck him like a smack to the back of his head – partly because he wasn’t expecting it, and partly because it felt like deja-vu. When he looked up, the server was offering a bright smile. “Have you two decided on your order?”

He blinked at her, still feeling mentally jarred, and before he could gather his wits enough to answer, Saruhiko made a soft, amused sound and spoke up. “I’ll have a single scoop of mild vanilla in a bowl.”

The same order as before, even. This guy’s tastes are one thing that’ll never change, huh? Yata felt the corners of his mouth edge up. “I’ll take the special.”

“Coming right up!”

As she trotted off to the back, Saruhiko shot a lazy smirk at him across the table. “Don’t tell me you still can’t handle girls. It was cute at fifteen, but you’re going to have problems as an adult if you can’t figure that out.”

“Huh?” Yata’s brain caught up with the teasing, and he scowled back, feeling his cheeks burn. “Th-that wasn’t – ! Look, never mind that!” He shook his head, brushing off the interruption. If he took too long with this, he was never gonna do it, and it had waited way too long already. He lifted his wrist, bringing up the holographic menu quickly. “You remember those tickets you gave me, right?”

Saruhiko frowned, eyes narrowing, and for a second Yata thought he was actually going to say he didn’t. He was about to open his mouth and explain when Saruhiko finally said, slowly, “Did you seriously keep them for this long?”

Without everything that had happened between them, it might have been a casual tease. But there wasn’t a trace of mockery in Saruhiko’s tone, and Yata had a sense of what he was thinking. It was the same thing he’d sorta been asking himself during the time when they were separated.

You didn’t delete them even when everything was burned to ashes between us?

Unconsciously, his fingers had curled into a fist. Not in a violent way – with resolve. “Surprised?” Yata brought up the image he was looking for, turning his arm so that it was visible to both of them, and grinned at the expression of open surprise that met his gaze. “Shouldn’t you know me better? I don’t give up that easy.”

The initial hesitation didn’t last; after only a brief second, Saruhiko let out a breath, another of those slow smiles spreading on his face. He lowered his eyelids a fraction. “So stubborn.”

“Heh! Look who’s talking!” That look had Yata’s heart skipping a beat, but he gathered up his determination and ploughed forward. “Anyway, I’m gonna use one today.”

Saruhiko raised a questioning eyebrow at that. “What for?”

It was the same question he’d asked himself six years ago in this exact place. Yata drew in a breath, momentarily struck by the same overwhelming surge of longing he’d felt at that time. It was a combination of the atmosphere here and Saruhiko across from him, their eyes meeting and holding in that specific way that set off butterflies in his stomach and an ache in his chest.  Back then, he’d been so confused by all of it – or maybe he had realized on some level, and was just in denial – but now…

Now I’m going for it!

Doing his best to ignore the nervous energy building within him, Yata sucked in a sharp breath, and forced himself to hold Saruhiko’s gaze. “For my birthday. In… a place like this. With this kind of… you know!” He could feel his face burning. “The – the mood in here. Or something.” It was a struggle not to look away, but he was determined to face this head on and take whatever reaction was coming. “I need a date.”

Saruhiko’s mouth opened, but he didn’t speak. He blinked several times as the silence spread awkwardly; when he finally did say something, it was with obvious hesitance. “Misaki – ”

You,” Yata blurted almost at the same time, unable to stand it. “I mean you would be my date. Got it?”

At that, the corners of Saruhiko’s mouth quirked. “I gathered that.”

Even through the embarrassment, that quip was enough to bring a scowl to Yata’s face. “Don’t laugh, asshole – d’you know how hard it was to say all that?”

“I didn’t laugh.” Saruhiko seemed to have recovered himself. He regarded Yata almost searchingly for a moment, and then nodded slightly, as if he’d made up his mind about something. “Before that, I should give you your present.”

“Eh?” That caught him off-guard. Yata stared back. “Weren’t you treating me for my present?”

“That too. But there’s one other thing.” The corners of Saruhiko’s lips did edge up then, into the barest hint of a smirk. “Close your eyes.”

“Huh? Really?” After all the anxiety over his request, this was seriously throwing him off. Yata could still feel his heart beating hard against his chest, nerves all on fire with the adrenaline from earlier. But Saruhiko had raised both eyebrows at him now, clearly waiting, and so he let out his breath in a short huff and shut his eyes. “Okay, okay. Say when.”

Saruhiko clicked his tongue. “Just don’t peak.” There was the sound of rustling clothing; the creaking of the booth as weight shifted on it.

What is he – ?

The impression of warmth and breath and presence close to his face struck him before any contact was made, but he didn’t have time to react to it beyond a jolt of surprise running through his body like lightning, skin prickling up pleasantly in its wake. And then the unmistakable press of something soft against his lips – his best friend’s face fitting in tentatively against his own.

It took a solid two seconds for Yata to process what was happening – Saruhiko was kissing him, right? It wasn’t him making shit up in his head? – and then just as the pressure on his mouth started to lift, he was arching forward into it, eagerly seeking out more of that intimate touch.

It felt so good. Delicious.

They parted after another few seconds with what felt like mutual reluctance, but also a kind of awkward awareness of the situation. Yata opened his eyes slowly, feeling a bit dazed as he looked up to meet Saruhiko’s gaze. His lips felt tingly and there was a tremble he couldn’t seem to shake off in his shoulders and arms. He almost couldn’t believe that had just happened.

But it had – it had, and Saruhiko was really gazing at him with an odd mix of bewilderment and warmth in his eyes, two faint spots of color standing out starkly against the pale skin on his face.

For a long moment, they stared at each other mutely, as if processing that – yes – this was real. They had really done that.

“Here we go!” The chipper voice of their server smashed through that mood effectively; Yata jerked in his seat, turning to stare at her with half-panicked embarrassment. She offered an overly cheery smile in response, setting his sundae in front of him before turning to place the ice-cream bowl on the other side of the table. “Enjoy!”

Before he could muster up some kind of response, Saruhiko clicked his tongue. “Sure.”

“Ah – right…” Yata finally found his tongue. “Thanks.”

“No problem!” With one last professionally bright smile, she was off again.

Not even the sundae could’ve distracted him this time; Yata ignored the elaborate creation in front of him, turning immediately to seek out Saruhiko’s gaze. “Hey, so… Saruhiko… that, just now…”

“You can ask me to be your date without using a ticket, you know,” Saruhiko drawled, a lazy sort of smirk forming on his lips. His eyes had gone lidded again, but they were intent on Yata’s face. “Happy birthday, Misaki.”

Elation was already bubbling to the surface of his thoughts before that; he couldn’t have held back the grin spreading on his face if he’d tried. “Coulda just said so!” He didn’t wait for a response. “Not that I’m complaining – that was… a pretty good gift.” Feeling suddenly and inexplicably bashful, he ducked his head, grin turning sheepish. “Thanks!”

“Mm.” Saruhiko’s eyes never left him. “Any time.”

It felt like a promise – and hey, maybe that was the point. Either way, nothing could’ve topped the feeling coursing through him as they smiled across the table at each other. More than anything else, it was exciting – electrifying, even.

Like he’d thought from the start, that connection was and always would be the best gift.

 

The End