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Maybe Birthdays Aren’t That Bad

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Shou was not fond of birthdays. 

He could barely remember a time he enjoyed them. 

It seemed ages ago that his birthday started with his mother doting on him and treating him to a surprise shopping trip that wound up at the pet store. 

They would walk back home, Shou carefully holding a box neatly poked with holes in his small arms. His mother would smile and rub his flaring red hair lovingly, watching Shou giggle whenever the little pink nose of a hamster would poke out of the box and sniff the night air. 

His dad would be home that day, rushing forward to pick up Shou and toss him in the air as a greeting when they opened the door. It was the only time he remembered seeing his dad ever smile outside of photographs, nodding with a grin as he listened to his son babble about the praying mantis he saw at recess the day before. 

It would always take Shou a few moments to notice the small pile of sparkling cardboard boxes wrapped in candy-colored paper in the corner of the room paired with a beautifully decorated cake upon the table. His mother would chuckle before tapping Shou’s shoulder lightly and point to the small area they had set up for the celebration.

He would gasp in delight at his name spelled out with neon blue icing and listen patiently to his parents sing off-tune in the darkness before encouraging Shou to blow out the candles. 

The rest of the night would be a blur of cake, laughter, and the tearing sounds of paper. 

The idea of birthdays being so pleasant was nonexistent now.

 

The memory used to be so faint, and when it came back vividly the night before his fifteenth birthday, the visions were tainted with a sickly, prefaced energy. It left him sitting bolt upright in bed and clawing at the fabric of his sleep shirt as fragments of his dream slipped through his fingers. 

Just a dream, Shou chanted to himself while trying to reign back his heart as it tried to beat out of his chest. That’s all it was, a stupid dream, as usual.

He felt sick. His stomach turned over in a manner that made his vision blur from the sensation. It wasn’t foriegn, along with the situation, so Shou knew options on how to deal with this pseudo flu bug. He could go back to sleep, get up and draw or maybe go make himself a drink. 

Going back to sleep was out of the question, his brain was already buzzing with activity, and he didn’t feel any motivation to make something as simple as a cup of tea or sketch. 

Shou got up quietly, turned on his bedside light, and hoped his older brother on the other side of the room wouldn’t be disturbed. 

“Hey, sweetie,” Shou whispered quietly as he opened the cage door slowly and reached a shaking hand in to scoop the ball of fluff. “Sorry to disturb you.”

The little tan and cream hamster did not answer (unsurprisingly) and blinked her watery black eyes up at him, ears twitching slightly. 

Shou sat down on the red bean bag by his desk and poured some dried corn in his lap from the bag he’d grabbed. 

“Here ya go,” Shou held out a piece of corn to the little creature, who gladly took the treat in her tiny paws and stuffed it into her face, demanding another.

Shou chuckled lightly and held out another kernel for her to repeat the process. His fingers still trembled from the hauntingly beautiful scenes of his eighth birthday.

Mia’s tiny sniffs and chews were accompanied by the rustle of sheets a moment later, sleepy slow breaths gone and replaced by soft, drowsy groans. 

“Don’t you know what time it is?” Teru grumbled, rubbing his eyes, the last part of his sentence slurred with a yawn. He sat up, slumping forward with his bleached hair flat on one side and the other sticking up even more than usual. 

“Nope,” Shou chirped with false cheer and popped a dried piece of corn in his mouth.

“Are you eating hamster food?” Teru narrowed his eyes in concern and disgust.

“It’s dried corn! Like you don’t grab some sunflower seeds here and there.”

“Still.” Teru stood, dragged his feet over to the desk chair and sat down in it backwards, facing Shou. Shou tried his best to focus on Mia as he ran his pointer finger over her soft fur. His hands were still trembling, but hopefully not enough for Teru to notice.

“Shou,” Teru’s voice cut through the silence and nearly made him jump from the tone. “Let me see your hand.”

“Why?” Shou spat back, feigning suspicion and ignorance. 

“Just give it.”

Shou, knowing that Teru would figure out either way, held out his freckled hand for Teru to grasp.

Night terrors were common for both of them. Shou’s father messed up the lives of the adopted brothers quite a bit. Two years ago, Shou’s father attempted to take over the world using psychic powers. It was widely considered a terrorist stunt for the public, but to a small group, it had been a terrifying reality. 

Shou was trained to destroy anyone in his way ever since he himself had awakened powers at the age of eight. The year his mother had left and his father’s desire for power grew. It was only after Shou remembered his morals that he had turned around, but by then a trail of bodies lay his wake. He ran away at thirteen, cutting off ties with his father and built up a small rebelion to fight his father. It failed miserably. The sheer amount of people under his command and his father’s own power had nearly killed him. Until a young boy known as Mob saved him and defeated his father for good. His name was Suzuki Toichiro, the man who destroyed hundreds of lives due to his own utopian ideals. 

After that, everyone in Shou’s immediate life were espers and it was normal . His step-brother, Teru, had met Mob halfway through the second year of middle school and challenged him to a battle of psychic powers. At the time, the kind hearted fashion disaster was a ruthless gang leader and controlled all his followers with his psychic powers. He was a big fish in a small pond, his ideals blown into dust after losing to Mob. 

Toichiro’s organization had attacked Teru multiple times due to his powers, to the point his parents had sent him to live on his own.

They would talk about these things together; Teru would spill out his tales of loneliness and Shou would share his sensitive stories before he encountered the people he would call family by chance years ago. This routine was familiar and comforting, but it didn’t make the moments of vulnerability any less tense.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Shou met Teru’s dark blue eyes with gentle concern and understanding. He could always talk to Teru, reveal to him his mental state and complexes he had built over time. 

But you shouldn’t , A voice answered, akin to that of his father’s sinister tone. You can’t be vulnerable, other people will just tear you down this way. And if you care about them, you shouldn’t have them bear the weight of your problems. Guilt and fear, the two things that always held power over Shou more than anything else, built up walls and cages inside him. They locked him away as he clawed at the bars to be let out but was only met with reinforcements.

In the instant this debate raged inside his mind, Shou shook his head and flashed Teru a trademark grin.

“Just the same ol’ stuff. Psychic powers going right to my dad’s head and he takes over the world and nearly kills me, blah blah blah.”

Teru exhaled in relief, letting go of Shou’s hand.

“Well, if you can joke about it, I guess there’s no need to worry.” Teru then arched his eyebrows mischievously. “Or is it more than just that?”

“What do you mean?” 

“Ya know,” Teru held up his phone, leaving Shou to wonder briefly where had pulled it out from. “This?”

The screen showed a picture, slightly blurred with motion. The setting seemed to be a store of some sort and upon closer inspection it was actually Hot Topic. And lo and behold, standing in the middle of it was the epitome of that store himself, Kageyama Ritsu. 

They had plenty of history with each other, with the most notable being Shou had burned down his house and made his brother Mob go on a revenge driven rampage. Yet, the perfect student joined his rebellion against his father and easily forgave him. The determined look upon his face put an ache in his chest that Shou would later find was love. 

What Ritsu was doing in the picture also shot an arrow straight through his heart so fast, it was cliche. Shou had left his favorite green bomber jacket at Ritsu’s a few days before so imagine his surprise when Ritsu was wearing it. 

“How,” Shou turned to Teru then back at the phone. “Why?”

“I knew you’d want to see it.” He leaned back and turned off his phone, relaxing into the familiar interrogation pose. “Or did you already know?”

“No, of course not!” Shou said in a hushed whisper of irritation. “How long have you had that photo?”

“A day or so.” Teru sneered. “Your face is so red, oh my god. You have such a fucking crush.” 

“Shut up.” Shou spat with finality, turning back to Mia, embarrassed. “Send that to me later.”

“Of course, but it’ll cost you your steak slices the next time we get ramen.” 

They sat in each others presence comfortably after that, watching Mia eat the last of the corn kernels before silently agreeing to get back to bed. 

“Hey.”

Shou turned back to Teru, latching Mia’s cage firmly as the tiny rodent curled up among the wood chips and closed her eyes.

“What?”

“Remember, we can always talk to one other, okay?” Teru held out his hand, pinky finger extended for Shou to meet.

They both knew that they were too old for promises falsely bound by gestures used commonly by six-year-olds. But, the idea of a promise was soothing and this seemingly thoughtless tradition held its meaning. 

“Okay.” Shou interlocked their fingers together, holding that promise close to his heart. Every time they needed the other, that little promise never seemed to break. 

 

Shou still couldn’t sleep. The voice nagged at him, whispered it’s black tongued words into his brain and attempted to drown him in thoughts. He’s on the verge of a breakdown, but he didn’t want to bother Teru again. 

His eyes wandered over to his phone, the screen face down. With a groan, he reached over and turned it on, wincing at the bright glow it reset to. After lowering the brightness, he opened up his messages and sent a quick text to the contact under ‘Ritsu’. 

Shou: Hey, you still up?

Ritsu: well now i am whats up

Shou bit back a smile, the knot in his stomach loosening ever so slightly. Ritsu was always very frank with his words, a trait he grew to find charming the more they talked.

Ritsu: okay

Ritsu: runnin on an hour of sleep btw

Shou snorted at this, sitting up.

Shou: So, your normal nightly beauty routine that keeps the shadows under your eyes ever so purple? 

Ritsu: its my signature style

Ritsu: fits the aesthetic

Shou nearly burst giggling at this. He could clearly imagine Ritsu saying this, resting his face on a palm and smirking, tone matter of fact. 

Shou: Indeed.

Maybe I should bring up the jacket. Shou didn’t think too much on it as he typed out his next text and clicked send.

Shou: Do you still have my jacket? I left there by accident last time.

I wonder if he’ll fess up. The redhead smiled and held his pillow close to his chest as he waited for a response. He probably won’t, he’d be too embares-

Ritsu: yeah its pretty warm too

Shou blinked in surprise, stared at the text for a moment and buried his face into his pillow, muffling his choked laughter.

I can’t belive he slipped up like that! Shou looked back at the screen, letting out a long breath. I gotta act like I don’t know though. Play it cool, Shou.

Shou: Yeah, it’s cotton.

Shou: Wait, how’d you know that.

Ritsu: know what

Oh? Shou was smiling so hard it made his cheeks hurt. So he’s ignoring it. Alright .

Shou: Never mind, do you mind if I come over tomorrow and hang out? I have math homework and need a reason to not do it. 

Ritsu would typically offer to help, but seeing as Shou had woken him, that would be a hard no. 

Ritsu: yeah sure

Ritsu: but if im in a game dont mess with me

Ritsu: a master needs his concentration

For the last week, his best friend had been enraptured by the game Bendy and The Ink Machine. It had a simple goal, get the factory the POV character was trapped inside working in order to escape by doing tasks and defeating different villains. 

Ritsu was hell bent on beating the world record for the fastest time defeating the game. He had to play this game in less than an hour, twenty minutes and forty-eight seconds if he wished to claim that title. 

He was currently stuck on four hours, sixteen minutes and thirty-one seconds. While that was a considerable achievement, it didn’t even put him on the leaderboard. Shou thought that it might fizzle out pretty quick, but if it meant staring at Ritsu’s face for hours while he played, he wouldn’t trade for the world. 

Shou: Says the person who kept going on and on about how hard the Projectors are to get past when I was able to clear it the first try. 

Ritsu: yeah i wanted you to feel better

Ritsu: had it all planned out

Shou: Sure…

Ritsu: anything else you would like to insult me for at 2 am

Shou: I would never insult you, my lord perfectionist.

He loved these interactions with Ritsu, Shou rolling over his sheets with a lovesick grin over his face as he typed and waited response after response. He ended up falling asleep to the soft glow of blue and white, the words they typed simply a blur of serotonin. 

Shou ended up forgetting about his nightmares until morning.

 

Shou woke to the sound of clattering pans and muffled muttering. He dragged himself up and become a tad ticked to find that he had naturally woken early on a weekend. He pulled on his house shoes and shuffled to the kitchen in a daze, surprised to find that it was Reigen behind the stove rather than his other dad.

“Where’s Serizawa?” Shou mumbled, hauling himself up onto a stool and receiving a glance from Reigen over the island. 

“Ha, not even a good morning?” The blonde man retorted with a smirk, quickly turning back to his cooking. “He’s at work, there was a surprise client and he ran down there to take care of it.”

“Mhhm,” Shou mumbled, too tired to formulate a response and simply stared down at the light grey granite countertop.  

“So I guess you’ll just have to deal with my subpar omelet skills.” A bright yellow omelet was slid in front of Shou, slightly burned at the edges. Shou nodded and picked up the forked that sat beside the warm meal. His mind was still burning with images of smiling faces and thoughts stained with laughter from his dream the night before. 

 “I made it with chopped up bell pepper, just like Seri makes it,” Reigen said with a nervous chuckle. Reigen’s carefree smile turned to a frown of concern when Shou shrugged and rubbed the silverware between his fingers. Reigen sighed and turned, head leaned against his palm to look at Shou’s face better. “What’s wrong, kiddo?”

“Nothing.” Shou poked the omelette experimentally, still feeling the knot in his gut from the night before. “I didn’t get enough sleep is all.”

Reigen nodded, pursed his lips in thought as he faced forward and contemplated his next move.

“Well,” he got up and ruffled Shou’s hair, taking the non-confrontational path, to Shou’s relief. “I hope you’re not going to act like that around Ritsu later. He might ask me for a best friend refund!” 

Shou smiled a little at this as he cut off a small portion of food.

“There we go!” Reigen grinned brightly and Shou laughed shortly. He sat down across from Shou with his own plate, pointing his fork at his son and said, “Whatever’s bothering ya, I’m sure it’ll work out. If you just need some advice or a bit of help or just someone to talk to, I’ll be here for you.” 

“Thanks.” Shou shoved a bite into his mouth along with Reigen, both of them freezing after the first chew.

“This...” Shou looked down disgustedly at his plate, “is really salty.”

“Yeah,” Reigen agreed with a disappointed look at the omelette he created.

 

Serizawa had taken the car in his hurry to get to work, his kind heart unable to allow him to waste a single moment for keeping a client waiting. Serizawa used to work for Shou’s father and was manipulated into joining. Anytime Reigen got the opportunity, he would dramatically retell how he was about to be killed by Toichiro when suddenly, his gorgeous husband lept in front and saved him, standing up to his former boss.

 Shou had to walk over to Ritsu’s house after lunch. Reigen wouldn’t let him out of the house to walk around the city streets so he met with Tome at the first floor of the apartment building they both lived in. 

He and Tome had been friends for barely half a year, but they acted like old buddies from kindergarten and got along well. She was one of the few non-espers he knew and she was always asking for little favors here and there. The most grandiose operation that involved this typical shinenagan was the time Shou helped Tome sneak out and hover her at her crushes window on Valentines day.

“Yo, don’t fall over.” Tome gripped Shou’s shoulder firmly when he began to sway forward and he quickly startled, righting himself. “Did you get any sleep last night?”

“A couple hours or so.” He rubbed his eyes furiously as Tome kept a firm hold to make sure he didn’t run into anything. 

“You’re shitting me.” 

“Nope, unfortunately.” 

Shou didn’t have the chance to add anything else as he was jerked back by the force of Tome stopping. 

“Hey, what was that f-” Shou turned to Tome’s face, inches from his. He stared into her glaring eyes framed with sparkly green eyeshadow. 

“We really need to fix this issue of yours,” Tome barked, pulling away with her arms crossed as Shou stepped away, taken aback.  

“What issue?” Shou said with a weary smile, “I’m fine.”

“Oh, there’s an issue.” Tome’s words sent a chill through Shou’s spine and he felt something colder than the wind streaking through his bright red hair bury itself into his gut. How did she find out his weaknesses? Has he been too obvious? Did someone tell her? He’s not prepared for this.

This is what happens when you trust someone, The voice screeched loudly, rattling his thoughts and immobilizing him. Aren’t you ashamed to have ever let yourself become like this? That she knows.

He couldn't utter a single word. A current ran under his skin and he felt the pull of gravity lessen. 

Not here, not now. He couldn’t let his powers get the best of him. He needed to stay grounded and focused. His most glaring concern was what Tome was about to say. 

He watched in stunned silence as she opened her mouth again, slowly beginning to circle around him like a shark. “It must be your bedtime routine,” she announced with the authority of a thousand college professors, “like screen time and what you ate, or maybe,” She pivoted sharply and stuck a finger right between Shou’s eyes at the bridge of his nose, “it’s your mattress!” 

“My...” Shou’s heavy tongue managed to repeat this phrase, dumbfounded as a smile grew on his face, “mattress?” 

He couldn’t believe how much his brain function is reduced by the panic at the simple suggestion of a problem. Of course Tome wouldn’t know about that stuff, she’s not telepathic (despite how much she wishes). She’s been studying under Reigen as his assistant since high school, but even her studious mind couldn’t match up to his people-reading skills quite yet. She was trying her best and wants to help, which was enough to make Shou feel the cold evaporate from his skin.

“Yes!” Tome gestured wildly, another habit she picked up from Reigen and the sleeves of her oversized dark green sweater flopped over her fingers. “We could even do an experiment to see exactly what’s going on.” 

“Ah, that’s alright.” Shou stuffed his hand into the pockets of his windbreaker. “But I’ll try out something and see if it works, O Wise One,” he added with an exaggerated sigh. 

“Shut up, Goku head.” Tome lightly punched his shoulder.

“Fine then, alien geek.” He used a psychic gust to throw leaves at her hair. 

“Five-year-old arsonist,” she sneered and flicked away the leaves.

“Moldy bread fashion sense.”

“Dumbass.”

“Asshole.”

They continued their walk through the brisk air, Tome’s rude manner of speaking leaving no room for the voice to worm its way in and tell him things that didn't matter. All he needed at the moment was some quick retorts, the crunch of fall leaves, and a rude upperclassman. 

 

“Hey, are you alright?” Ritsu’s voice jarred Shou from his haze. He looked up to a black haired teenager peering across the table at him. “You seem tired.”

“Ah.” He snapped out of his foggy state and looked down at the mat laid out before them, cards strewn over it for their game. “Sorry about that, Ritsu!” He drew a card from his deck and added it to his facedown hand laying on the table without glancing at it. “I didn’t sleep too well last night. I guess I could say I slept like you!”

“Very funny,” Ritsu shot back, nudging his leg playfully with a foot. They both knew how disastrous Ritsu’s sleep schedule was, shadows perpetually stained his dark eyes. Shou could turn up at two in the morning after sneaking out, a surprisingly normal event, and Ritsu would be making mac and cheese halfway through a Super Smash Tournament comprised of bots. Those nights were always his favorites, ending in both of them crashed on the couch, a tangled mess of limbs and lingering smiles.

“But seriously,” Ritsu put his own hand of cards down and looked into Shou’s eyes. “What’s going on? You seemed fine yesterday.” 

Shou gazed at Ritsu’s tanned fingers weave together to rest under his chin and tried to think of the best response to this. It felt like he had been thinking about what came out of his mouth all day and it was starting to grow tiring. He couldn’t even relax in front of Ritsu, the voice gnawing at his thoughts constantly.

“Oh, it’s nothing.” He said with a bright grin, hoping to wave away Ritsu’s unnecessary concerns. “I’m just still trying to adjust to a normal life.”

“Hmm.” Ritsu hummed without taking his eyes off of Shou before he sighed and looked down at the game mat. “You’ve been here for nearly half a year, but I guess going from ‘my father is taking over the world’ to ‘I go to school’ is a bit hard.”

“Well, when you put it like that ...” Shou laughed and looked back down at his cards, flipping them over to continue the game when the last one had drawn flashed up at him. 

Now, they weren’t playing with normal cards with a jack and a queen, it was a trading card game with monsters and spells. 

It was a card known as Celtic Guardian, a normal type monster without any effects and decent attack and defense. To put it simply, a very plain and boring card. It wasn’t a very powerful or rare card, but to Shou, it linked him back to a neither good, nor bad memory.

 

He had been at an airport, waiting for his father to drag him to their new gate after the connecting flight got cancelled. It had been a year since his mother had left them, a year after Shou awakened his psychic powers, a year since his eighth birthday. 

No presents, no cake, no laughter or smiles today. 

He had already learned that he shouldn’t expect anything from his father anymore, but somewhere inside, he had hoped to at least have gotten a happy birthday. 

“Dad, can I go look at the shops?” Shou asked, after watching himself swing his legs back and forth over the side of the airport waiting seats. He had noticed his feet were getting closer and closer to the dark blue carpet and now scraped the scratchy surface. 

“What for?” His father didn’t even glance away from his papers, the sound of the pen steady. 

“I just wanna look around.”

“Alright. You have fifteen minutes. No more. You can’t go past the E9 gates either.”

Shou had been surprised at this answer, expecting a stern no and possibly a small lecture about wasting time. 

“Okay!” Shou jumped off the seat in a dazed excitement. “I’ll be back in a bit.” 

He had money from his allowance, he could easily get himself a present, even inside an airport. 

He had entered a small convenience store that wasn’t too crowded and selected a bag of Starbursts and a soda. He rarely was allowed to have these items, so the prospect of buying them made him absolutely giddy. 

Shou paid, the cashier looked confused at servicing a kid, and left the store. He pulled out the package of Starbursts, eager to save the red ones for the long flight ahead. When he ripped the package open, a few went flying. He could have easily caught the candy with his powers, but even at his young age, he knew not to display them in public unless necessary. 

So, instead, he went around picking up the squares that had strayed from the rest. He was picking up the last piece and he noticed a peculiar card under it. It had pictures, like a jack or a queen, but it also had some text, like the business cards his father would receive and distribute. But it was neither of those. 

“Celtic Guardian,” Shou whispered to himself as he walked back to their gate, carefully navigating around the other people in the walkway. “An elf who learned to wield a sword, he baffles enemies with lightning-swift attacks,” Shou let the words sink in for a moment as he read them and smiled as he thought to himself; He’s like me. I got powers and now I fight enemies like my dad says!  

Shou put the card in his pocket as he got closer to the row his dad was at. 

You know what, I don’t care if I didn’t get a “happy birthday.” 

 

“It’s my birthday.” 

Ritsu paused in the action of looking at his facedown cards and turned his gaze to Shou, mouth slightly agape. Shou waited patiently for the rest of his reaction, knowing that Ritsu could be a bit slow when it came to a lot of things. It was one of his more endearing qualities.

“You got to be fucking kidding me,” Ritsu uttered before the shock wore off, and Shou was faced with an expression of sheer panic and mild anger. “Ah, man, why didn’t you tell me earlier!” He slammed down his cards and stood up, pacing back and forth. “Uh, how do I organise this in such little time. Maybe I can get someone to grab a cake. I bet Takenaka isn’t too busy, and I’m sure Shige can get Teru. Tome would run here, I know that. Oh, presents! Presents! How could I-”

“It’s fine,” Shou quickly interrupted, holding out a hand like he could somehow stop Ritsu from pacing a hole into the floor with a simple gesture. His brain helpfully supplied the idea that Ritsu looked a bit like a fuming chipmunk.

“No, it’s not.” Ritsu stopped and turned to Shou. He tried to look furious but ended up pouting. “I don’t have anything for you at all! I have to get presents and cake and agh!” He put his head in his hands and took a deep breath. 

“I’m sorry,” Shou muttered. Guilt slammed into his chest for causing Ritsu distress. He didn’t think it would be such a big deal.

“No, it’s fine.” Ritsu ran his hands through his hair, sat on his bed and looked over at Shou curiously. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” His penetrating stare sent shivers down Shou’s spine and his face heated up. He was tempted to look away, but kept his gaze forward.

“I don’t really like birthdays,” Shou answered simply. He didn’t want to explain all of the complicated emotions behind this date. He was still trying to organize them into coherent thoughts himself. Ritsu nodded, satisfied with that reason.

“I just wish I had something to give to you.” He mumbled quietly, looking down at his shoes in silence. 

Shou turned the faded and scratched card between his fingers. He glanced back at the beautiful black haired boy sitting in the soft light filtering through the blinds. 

The stripe design on his shirt rippled with the rolled up sleeves and when his brown glanced over at Shou, something struck through the redhead. 

He was stupidly in love with how Ritsu cuffed up his baggy jeans, his smooth tan skin and flushed lips that spat out harsh words with care.

 He wanted to hold Ritsu’s warm, elegant hand more, he wanted to hold Ritsu in his arms, he wanted to drown in Ritsu’s flowery scent. He wanted something that felt a million miles away, wishing to close the distance. 

He kept all of this in mind when choosing his next words.

“Well,” Shou bit his lip before he continued, making sure his voice was clear. “There is something you could give me right now. If you’d like to.”

“What? My blue eyes ultimate?” 

“No!” Shou laughed, rubbing his neck in embarrassment as his freckled face grew in heat. God, he kept forgetting how obtuse Ritsu could be at times. Shou lifted a pale hand and touched an index finger to his slightly chapped lips, suddenly wishing he had put on chapstick. “You know that this is more important than a card.”

Ritsu tilted his head to the side and stared at Shou in confusion, eyes flicking down to the freckled boys lips then back at his piercingly blue eyes. It was when he looked back at Shou’s lips that a look of realization crossed his face and his ears noticeably tinted. 

“Really?” Ritsu uttered. The response made happiness bubble inside Shou’s chest as it meant acceptance rather than rejection. 

“Would I lie to you?” Shou felt a smile grow upon his face, barely managing to keep it small.

  I have. The voice slithered in, taking on a first person point of view. Shou pushed it back.

“Okay.” Ritsu walked over, biting his lip to prevent a replica of Shou’s grin. 

I’ve lied quite a bit. 

Shou watched as Ritsu knelt down and attempted to tuck an unruly strand of hair behind his ear without success. It was then that Shou realized he had never kissed anyone before, nerves going into overdrive with panic. Luckily, it was beat by sheer excitement. 

I’ve lied to a lot of people. Shou wanted the voice to shut up and let him enjoy this moment.

He leaned forward, eyes closed and face as red as could be, head tilted to the side. Shou went numb, wishing he could make himself bring a hand upwards to cup Ritsu’s face. Although, when the crush you’ve had for two years is blushing ridiculously hard and is so nervous that he closed his eyes too soon and will probably bump noses, coherent thought would be out of the question.

I’ve lied to you before. Shou told himself that those lies didn’t matter.

Shou tilted his head enough so that the kiss would be quite a bit less awkward. Shou was certain every last brain cell died of happiness when he felt the gentle pressure on his mouth. Ritsu’s lips were soft and warm and maybe a bit sticky from the hot cocoa that sat there on the floor, abandoned. It was pleasant and, while the senses he knew as Ritsu were familiar, this new feeling was incredibly foreign and exciting. 

But I’m getting better at telling the truth.

They pulled away after a few seconds and stared at each other with wide eyes.

“What’s with that stupid grin?” Ritsu asked after a moment with a nervous laugh and put a hand over Shou’s face. 

I’m not going to lie anymore. 

“Nothing!” Shou grabbed Ritsu’s hand fromoff his face and held it in both of his. He tried to control his toothy smile into something smaller. “I’m just… really happy. I haven’t gotten a present in a long time. And this has gotta be the best one I’ve ever received.”

Not to you, Ritsu.

They stared at each other in a long silence before a wheezed chuckle escaped Shou’s lips, causing both of them to erupt into relieved giggles.

“Ah,” Ritsu looked down at Shou’s hands holding hisand bit his lip before meeting Shou’s eyes once more. “This is a really dumb question, but… are we dating now?”

Not to anyone else.

“Yeah, I think so,” Shou says, holding both of Ritsu’s hands tightly in his grasp. “At least I hope!”

“Then,” Ritsu squeezed Shou’s hands once, “can I kiss you again?”

“Be my guest.”

I’ll try my hardest to be honest from now on.

It took Shou forever, but that voice of his fathers, scathing and cruel, was gone for now.

 

Not even the biting air of the impending nightfall could chill the warmth blooming in Shou’s chest. 

“Well, you’re in a good mood.” 

Shou glanced over at Serizawa, the very first person he considered as a real father, look at him with a smile. He managed to get even with his eye level by balancing on the low wall that ran along the sidewalk most of the way home. Serizawa had decided that some exercise would do them good, opting for a sunset stroll over a quick drive. Shou hadn’t complained at all when told, which was typical for Shou.

“Yep!” Shou stuffed his hands into his pockets, bouncing with each step.

“Did something happen?” 

“Mmm, yeah.” Shou paused for a moment and stopped the voice before it could seep in. He remembered what he had promised himself after kissing Ritsu, which made him remember kissing Ritsu and another current of electricity ran through him. “Something did happen.”

“Are you gonna tell me?” Serizwa asked. “Or is it something I’m not supposed to know?”

“Well,” Shou could keep it a secret for a while longer. “Nah, you’ll figure it out.”

“Alright then, but I think I already know.”

“Well, don’t tell Reigen yet!” Shou jumped off the low garden wall as it came to an end, breath steaming in the late fall air. “He’ll be more protective than he already is.” 

“Oh, he’s not going to do that!” Serizawa said defensively as he rolled his eyes. “I’m the same way, you know.”

“Yeah, but you’re cooler.”

This made Serizawa chuckle and Shou snicker along with him. 

“I’m glad to see that you’re feeling better.” Serizawa pulled out his phone, probably to answer a text from Reigen, then put it away and focused solely on Shou. “You’ve been distant recently and everyone was getting worried.”

“Everyone?” Shou asked with confusion. He guessed he did skip meals here and there and avoided conversation the closer the date to his birthday got. Shou was now realizing why everyone around him had been trying hard to console and help him. 

“I saw Tome this afternoon, she asked me why you seemed off. Teru told Reigen that you were up pretty late.”

Huh, that basically is everyone. Shou took note of Teru’s part. He usually only complains to Reigen when about my stupid shit, not share his concerns.

“I bet Ritsu asked about it too,” Serizawa added, stopping at their usual crosswalk.

Everyone was worried about him because he couldn’t let go of the past and it was clouding his present. It shocked Shou to realize how many people cared about him.

“Yeah, he did,” Shou muttered, zipping up his jacket and pulling the collar up around his face.

“Anyway, I’m just glad to have our Shou back.” Serizawa crossed the road after waiting for what felt like an eternity. Shou followed close behind. 

“Yeah,” Shou looked up at the darkening sky as stars began to make their appearances.“Me too.”

Deep violet streaked into pale pinks across the sky, filtered through the brilliant red leaves of the changing seasons were gorgeous. The warmth still stained his lips and the aftertaste of hot cocoa would always come to mind at the image of red leaves or a violet sky.

Maybe, Shou thought, tilting his head forward to find his apartment building ahead, a home better than any he’d known in a long time. Birthdays aren’t that bad.