Koutarou whistled along with the music playing over the speaker as he pulled vegetables and fish out of the refrigerator. He danced around while opening drawers and cabinets, pulling out various spices and cooking supplies. He grinned to himself after he was able to hit a high note, holding a tub of rice in his hands and shaking it to the beat of the music. This was his first Valentine’s Day with Keiji as a couple and he was determined to make sure that everything was perfect. Especially dinner.
He continued humming as he washed the rice and greens and thought about Keiji. Sometimes Koutarou found himself in disbelief at how lucky he was to finally be with him after all these years. It felt like yesterday they were teenagers and Koutarou couldn’t make sense of his feelings for Keiji. It wasn’t until he graduated that he really took the time to figure out that he liked him as more than just a friend, but by that point he was sure that it was too late to do anything about it.
At least until last spring, when he ran into Keiji (both literally and figuratively) on his way home from practice with the Black Jackals. Although Koutarou thought he’d gotten over him years ago, there was something about landing flat on his ass in a pile of cherry blossoms and hearing Keiji’s laugh for the first time in five years as Koutarou tried to help him stand back up that made him feel like he was eighteen and in love all over again. After that, it was only logical to catch up over coffee, which became getting lunch together every week, which transformed into hanging out almost every day when their schedules lined up. Finally, Keiji admitted that he had had feelings for Koutarou in high school, too. After they started their romantic relationship, it felt as if they were making up for lost time; reaching the milestones that they should have experienced all those years ago.
Their first date hardly felt like it was their first. In high school, they had been almost inseparable. They enjoyed eating meals alone together and even after all those years nothing had changed. They still shared their food. They still laughed and joked and talked about their days. The difference this time was that Koutarou could stare into Keiji’s eyes as long as he wanted to without feeling guilty. He could hold his hand across the table, rubbing Keiji’s knuckles with his thumb. He could finally tell Keiji that his laugh was the most beautiful sound he’d ever heard.
Their first kiss felt long overdue but it was nothing ceremonious. They had just finished watching a movie when Keiji stood to take dishes to the kitchen. Without hesitation, Koutarou stood up, grabbed Keiji’s free wrist, and twirled him around. He didn’t know what came over him. Maybe it was that he didn’t want to be apart from Keiji again. He didn’t want to feel helpless like he did after high school. Or, maybe it was that he knew that Keiji wanted him to do it. That it was what they’d both been wanting ever since Keiji was Koutarou’s setter.
“Can I please kiss you?” Koutarou had asked.
Keiji’s eyes widened, but only for a moment before a smile took over his face. “I’d like it very much if you did.”
Koutarou cupped Keiji’s face in his hands and pulled it towards his own. However, when Keiji’s new glasses slammed into the bridge of Koutarou’s nose it proved to be far from the romantic first kiss that he had imagined. Keiji immediately apologized and pushed the glasses onto the top of his head. Keiji still liked to remind Koutarou about that moment with a fond smile. Koutarou learned to always make sure to take Keiji’s glasses off, carefully, before trying to kiss him.
Although Keiji and Koutarou were so busy with their lives now, they made sure to make time for each other. Keiji still wouldn’t admit why he was near the gym that day when they met again, asserting that his work had sent him into the area and their meeting had just been a coincidence. Maybe it really was a fated encounter. No matter what, Koutarou was grateful, and he didn’t want a day to go by without making that obvious.
That’s why he had to make sure that this dinner went exactly as he planned. He had spent hours talking to his mom and Keiji’s mom, as well as researching different recipes. He had made sure to buy the best ingredients and the flavors that Keiji liked the most.
Koutarou began steaming the rice while he carefully placed leafy nanohana in boiling water. Satisfied, he went back to organize the rest of the ingredients he’d assembled. He frowned down at the raw fish sitting in front of him, not really knowing where to start. With a nervous glance towards the boiling greens on the stove, he seasoned the salmon and took a deep breath before quickly sliding it into the oven. By now, Koutarou had three different parts of the meal already in progress. Although he was happy with the momentum he’d built up, he couldn’t help but nervously pace around the kitchen, checking on the nanohana, then the rice, then the fish, and finally the nanohana again.
Eventually, he noticed that the greens had started to wilt, and he recalled that this is when Keiji’s mother told him he should remove them from the water. By the time he was finished chopping the nanohana, the rice was cooked and he shut off the steamer. Now, everything was cooling as Koutarou stood in front of the oven, peering at the salmon in the hopes that his gaze would somehow make it cook faster. As soon as he was about to busy himself with something else, the timer went off. Koutarou was so excited to remove the fish that he almost forgot to put on the oven mitts his mother had given him as a housewarming gift.
With all the ingredients prepared adequately, Koutarou decided to begin forming rice balls first, because that would probably be the most difficult job. Unsure of how much the rice had cooled, Koutarou carefully scooped up a handful. Discovering that it was still hot, he let out a yelp and dropped the rice, rushing to stick his hands under the water faucet. After a few more minutes, he carefully stuck his fingertip in the pile of rice to test the temperature. It was still warm but not unbearably so, like before.
Finally, with his tongue sticking through the corner of his mouth and his eyebrows furrowed in concentration, Koutarou began shaping and stuffing rice with umeboshi, salmon, and kelp. He admitted that his first few attempts were not presentable. He decided to call those his test runs, so he ate them as he continued working. After another few tries, he finished making onigiri that could rival any of Keiji’s favorite restaurants.
Once all of the onigiri was formed and wrapped with seaweed, a glance at the clock told Koutarou that Keiji would arrive soon. He quickly mixed together mustard, soy sauce, and other spices to complete the dressing for the nanohana. As soon as he was done transferring all the food onto nice plates, he heard a knock at the front door.
“Um, one second!” Koutarou called, hurriedly bringing the plates to the kitchen table and setting two places. He stopped himself from sprinting to the door, but flung it open as soon as he could get his hands on the doorknob.
On the other side stood Keiji, holding a box of chocolates and looking as handsome as ever. He wore a coat, slacks, and a dark blue button-up that complimented his eyes.
Slowly, Koutarou looked down at his apron, which covered the sweatshirt and shorts that made up his outfit. Then, he stared at the floor with a hand covering his face in shame.
“I can’t believe it. I was so busy cooking that I lost track of time and forgot to change. You look absolutely amazing and I look…”
“Incredible? Spectacular? Like the most handsome man in the world?” Keiji offered, smiling softly. “I don’t care what you wear, Koutarou. As long as I get to spend time with you, I’m happy.”
Koutarou’s cheeks warmed. “Thank you, Keiji. I’m happy just spending time with you, too,” he replied with a smile. Then, pointing at the chocolates, “Is that for me?”
"Who else would they be for?" He asked, holding the box out to him. "It's not enough to make up for everything I should've given you a long time ago, but it's a start."
Koutarou wrapped his arms around Keiji's neck and peppered him with kisses all over his face while he laughed. "Trust me, you've made up for everything and then some. Now, would you like to come in?"
“Of course. I can’t wait to see what you were so busy working on.”
Koutarou untangled himself from Keiji and spun on his heel. Keiji followed him inside until they reached the kitchen. Dishes were stacked in the sink and on the counter, but the table was perfectly made up for a romantic dinner.
Koutarou stood beside the table and faced Keiji. He held up three fingers. “I made you three different kinds of onigiri, plus nanohana no karashiae. And there’s tiramisu in the fridge.”
“Wow,” Keiji said, holding a hand up to cover his gaping mouth. “Did you make all of this yourself?”
Koutarou grinned and nodded in response. “Yep! Well, except for the tiramisu. I tried to find recipes for it but they all seemed so complicated.”
Keiji walked over and took Koutarou’s hand. “Well, store-bought tiramisu or not, I’ll still love everything. I really do have the best boyfriend.” He gave Koutarou a quick peck on the cheek and settled in at the table.
Before Koutarou could even sit in his own seat, Keiji already had a rice ball in his hand. Koutarou watched him as he ate it. He took a tentative bite and paused, before nodding and finishing the rest of it in a few bites.
“How was it?” Koutarou asked, spooning mustard-covered greens into his plate.
“Amazing! Does this mean you’ll make onigiri more often now?”
“You haven’t even tried the nanohana no karashiae yet,” Koutarou told him, laughing.
Keiji began pouring nanohana into his plate immediately. “I still can’t believe you did this for me,” he mumbled.
“I wanted to do something for you to celebrate these past few months. You make me so happy.”
“Again, just being with you today — any day, really — is enough. But thank you. This is great.”
Finally, he took a bite of the leafy vegetable in his plate and chewed for a moment. Koutarou watched in anticipation as Keiji’s eyes widened.
“This tastes exactly like my mom’s. I refuse to believe she didn’t make this.”
Koutarou laughed. “I did get her advice on it, but I made it all with my own two hands.”
“You really went all out, didn’t you?” Keiji paused, reaching out to take Koutarou’s hand, which was resting on the table. “Everything is delicious, Koutarou. I’ll be honest. I was ready to dial the takeout place when I saw that you had cooked something,” he teased.
“Akaashi!” Koutarou jokingly whined, as if relapsing into old high school habits for a moment.
They sat in a comfortable silence for a few minutes as they ate until he finally spoke again.
“I love you, Keiji. I needed to make sure everything was perfect because that’s what you deserve.”
Koutarou didn’t realize what he’d said before it was too late. Sure, he’d thought about how he was in love with Keiji. He thought about it every day, constantly, but he’d never said it out loud before. He racked his brain for something else to say, but Keiji spoke before he could think of anything.
“I love you, too, Koutarou,” he replied, a huge smile on his face. “This is the best Valentine’s Day I could ever ask for. Thank you.”
Keiji pushed his chair back and leaned over the table to softly kiss Koutarou on the lips. Koutarou’s cheeks hurt from smiling so much all evening. Once they finished eating, they cleaned up together and Koutarou pulled out the tiramisu he’d bought. He was finally able to let out a breath that he felt like he’d been holding throughout dinner. Everything had gone far better than he ever could have imagined; the two of them hadn’t just reached one more milestone in their relationship, like Koutarou had thought they would, but two. They were in love and he was ecstatic.