When Ata woke up and got ready that morning, there was only one thing on his mind. His stomach was brimming with anxiety, and he couldn’t keep the grimace off of his expression. When he put up his hair in the bathroom mirror, he schooled his expression back to normal, but that didn’t stop the nervous butterflies that made him feel like throwing up.
It wasn’t that it was his birthday—it was usually just another day for him, a day that became dreary and lonely up until last year. Because last fall, he became friends with Ryouma and Kyoutaro again. He hadn’t always been lonely prior to that. He had Maasa and Taiju, after all. But it didn’t stop him from missing his childhood friends, despite the anger and hurt and resentment that he’d felt at the same time.
But this was the first birthday he’d had since they’d… well, reunited in a sense. And because of that, Ata had come to a decision.
He was going to confess his romantic feelings for Ryouma.
Why his birthday? Ata couldn’t really answer that in a way that made sense, it was essentially just a strong feeling, a need, it was as if he couldn’t hold back his feelings anymore. Also, he couldn’t stop the nagging feeling that if he put it off too long, he might lose Ryouma to someone else. Like Kyoutaro, or even that annoying blond senior (who had already graduated). Plus it would just be a really great birthday present, if Ryouma were to accept.
He had no sureties, though. Of course Ryouma could reject him, the chance of that was something that Ata was very aware of.
But… now they were in their third years, and were already thinking about universities. He’d mended fences and was able to get his friendships back on track after the whole thing at Honya Land the year before. Ata felt braver. More secure in his feelings, more aware of his faults and his insecurities and trying to relax his innate desire to be first in everything.
His feelings for Ryouma weren’t anything new, he’d recently determined. Even as children, he’d had a crush on his bright, kind friend, but hadn’t known what those feelings meant. Ryouma was always looking at him with a bright smile which had made Ata’s heart flutter in ways he couldn’t explain. It wasn’t just that. Ryouma was kind. He wasn’t really a pushover either, he would scold Kyoutaro if he needed to. He had a silly side too, and being with him just made Ata happy, it was fun, and it was Ryouma’s influence that made him try new things that he might not have otherwise.
It was only when they were apart did Ata realize that his yearnings for his childhood friends had different shapes. With Kyoutaro, he felt betrayed, he felt jealous of him for so many things, but he hated how Kyoutaro seemed to never think about him again (even if he had been wrong). With Ryouma, he’d also felt betrayed, but in a different way—he’d been devastated when it appeared Ryouma had taken Kyoutaro’s side over his, that Kyoutaro seemed more important to Ryouma than he had (he’d been wrong about that, too).
Now that they were all past all that, it made the current situation more terrifying. The three of them were friends again, and Ata’s confession could mess all of that up.
But over the past eight or so months, it was getting incredibly harder to hold himself back, when all he wanted to do was to hold Ryouma’s hand, or to find out what it was like to kiss him.
Ata’s face turned even redder in the mirror, and he shook himself out of it.
He couldn’t chicken out, though. Sometimes you need the risk in order to get the reward. That was how he put himself out there as a figure to get voted as student council president.
Ata had gone to school, willing his nervous energy to go away. In class, he’d been given birthday greetings by some of his classmates, which made him happy. After the incident the year before, he’d slowly started opening up to more people, and even others thought he wasn’t so unapproachable as before.
This was one day, though, that he felt slightly relieved that he wasn’t in the same class as Ryouma and Kyoutaro. If he had to see Ryouma in the classroom the whole school day, knowing what he was planning, he was unsure if he’d be able to keep a straight face, if his heart could take it.
After class let out, Ata exited the classroom promptly. He should probably just go meet up with Ryouma in the defense clubroom, right? Kyoutaro would likely be sleeping, so he could ask Ryouma to take a walk together…
Just that thought made Ata’s face heat up. If that was the case, how was he going to even get out the confession? He really felt pathetic sometimes.
Ata froze and turned around, seeing Ryouma approach him with a smile. “Ryouma.”
Saying his first name like that, even though it’s been quite a few months, still somehow made him a bit shyer. He couldn’t believe himself, sometimes, for being so easy.
“I didn’t get to see you yet today. Happy birthday!”
Ata relaxed, his shoulders loosening, and he felt himself smile. “Thank you.”
It was then when he noticed something very odd. “You’re alone?”
“Oh.” Ryouma blinked, shifting his expression to the side, almost as if he looked nervous. “Yeah. Today, Kyoutaro had something to do, so…”
Ata blinked. Now that was automatically very strange. What on earth could Kyoutaro be doing alone, without Ryouma there to be sure he got places without falling asleep all the time?
“Is that so…” Ata said. And then he took in a deep breath. “Will you be staying around? I have some student council work to finish, but then…”
“No?” Ata’s chest swooped with concern. Why did Ryouma seem so nervous? Ata frowned. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing!” Ryouma squeaked. “Nothing is wrong! Just… how about we go for a walk, just the two of us? Your work can wait a bit longer… right?”
His stomach flip-flopped inside him at how nervous Ryouma looked. What… was going on? But, the way that Ryouma stared at him, nervous and eager, it made his stomach erupt with something like butterflies, warmth travelling up his neck towards his ears.
“Yes.” Ata cleared his throat. “It can wait a bit longer.”
The way Ryouma grinned at him made it worth it—he thought that if he was following Ryouma’s smile, he might forget all about his student council work permanently.
“Great! Let’s go?”
“Alright.” Ata smiled back, letting Ryouma lead the way.
They ended up outside the school, walking leisurely around the grounds.
“It’s a really nice day, isn’t it?” Ryouma said. “The sun is out, and it isn’t too hot yet.”
Ata didn’t mind the light small talk at all. “I agree. It’s a bit uncomfortable when it gets too hot out later in the summer.”
Ryouma stepped closer to him, reaching up and pushing a piece of hair behind Ata’s ear. It was so sudden that Ata almost tripped over his own feet when it happened.
“Oh, sorry!” Ryouma turned red. “I just did that without thinking.”
Ata inhaled shakily, his heart pounding. “No, it’s alright. I didn’t mind.”
Ryouma gave him a shy looking smile in return. “I really like your hair, Ata-kun. Even if it must be aggravating when it’s hot out… it’s… really… nice. I’ve always thought so.”
Even though it meant something entirely different to him now, this wasn’t the first time that Ryouma had said this.
“You mentioned that often when we were younger,” Ata lightly teased.
“Aha, I guess I did, huh?”
It was one main reason why he didn’t want to cut it. Of course, there was also the tradition of his household, and how he liked his own aesthetic to be, but knowing Ryouma liked it was even more gratifying.
“You used to come up with a lot of excuses to touch my head,” Ata went on, laughing lightly. “I wonder if there really was as much dirt in my hair as you said there was.”
At the time, it’d made him smug, that Ryouma didn’t seem to have the same interest in Kyoutaro’s hair, it had only been his, even though his hair back then was much shorter than it was now.
Ryouma groaned. “Ahh… don’t tease me, Ata-kun. But it’s not like you’re wrong.”
“Well…” Ata said, his heart stuttering in his chest. “If you want… you don’t need any excuses.”
Ryouma looked up at him with wide eyes. “What do you mean?”
This expression, this moment… it might be the exact moment Ata had been waiting for. The right moment for him to confess.
Ata sucked in a breath. “If it’s you… I don’t mind if you want to touch my hair. Ryouma, you’re special to me.”
Just like before, Ryouma’s face darkened with a colour that looked really good on him. “I-”
Before either of them could say anything else, there was a loud ding from Ryouma’s phone. He quickly grabbed it out of his uniform pocket and scanned the front of it.
“Ata-kun, let’s go back inside.”
Ata frowned, his stomach sinking. “Already?”
“Y-yeah. You said you had work to do, right?”
“That’s right, but…”
“Then quickly, let’s get back!”
Ryouma made sure Ata was walking with him before heading back to the school entrance.
What… was that? Could it be that Ryouma had figured out what Ata was going to say, and then…
An ill-at-ease felling plagued Ata’s stomach as they headed back to the student council room.
It was quiet between them, and Ata wondered if he could play off what he’d said as platonic, or if he should be more firm and get a definite answer out of Ryouma. Either way, his feelings were a risk to their friendship.
“Ryouma,” Ata said, his voice shaking. They were now in the hallway approaching the student council room, walking up to the door. “Just before, I was…”
Ryouma put his hand on the doorknob. “Hm, what is it?”
“Before, I was going to tell you something.”
He’d already decided. He couldn’t chicken out.
“You can tell me anything, Ata-kun.” Ryouma started to open the doorknob and peeked into the room. The behaviour was odd, but Ata was too focused on what he was intending to do to think about it too much.
“I-I… Ryouma, I like-”
Ryouma turned around and looked at him with wide eyes, and a face that was going pink, but before Ata could finish getting the words out, he stepped backward into the door, it opening wide.
The inside was bright, and there was a loud, multi-voice cheer from behind Ryouma. “Happy birthday!”
It took Ata a moment to realize what was going on. He took a few steps closer, looking into the room to see a crowd of people standing together, a few streamers and balloons decorating the student council room, and a large cake on his desk.
His eyes snapped to Ryouma’s, who smiled sheepishly at him. “Surprise?”
Ata sucked in a breath, a warm feeling spreading all over his chest. He hadn’t expected anything like this at all.
He stepped into the room, looking at all the faces, including…
“Taiju-san!” he exclaimed with surprise. After all, he was in university now, and Ata hadn’t seen him in a while. “You’re here.”
Taiju smiled. “I wouldn’t miss this. Happy birthday, Ata.”
“Thank you.” Ata smiled, an involuntary prickle forming at the corners of his eyes.
“Ata, come eat some cake,” Kyoutaro said, pointing towards the table. It was a large, white cake with a large red rose in frosting decorating the front of it. “Happy birthday.”
“Yeah, happy birthday, Ibusuki-senpai,” Maasa chimed in.
It wasn’t just those people, there were also the two new first years of the student council—a few of his classmates were there too. The prickling at the corners of his eyes grew more pronounced until they started to burn. He really hadn’t expected anything like this at all.
“Thank you, everyone,” he said. “This really means a lot to me.”
Seeing everyone like this, here for him, it gave him a feeling he’d never be able to explain.
Ryouma stepped up beside Ata and smiled. “Would you like some cake? We’ve got a few gifts for you, too.”
“Gifts?” Ata echoed. “I couldn’t possibly…” but Ryouma was already pushing him towards the student council table, where indeed, there were a few wrapped gifts sitting there on the table.
It was a bit embarrassing to open them all with everyone watching one by one, but in the end, his heart was so overjoyed that any embarrassment dissipated. The gifts were very thoughtful—mostly practical items that he’d for sure use. And then there was Kyoutaro, who had given him a blown up photo of the three of them together (not the one in the mud, a different one of a happier memory). Ryouma had gifted him a book, a rarer edition of one of Ata’s all-time favourites. It made Ata wonder how he’d known.
After that was over, Ata was sitting in his spot at his desk, eating some delicious cake. He looked over at everyone, who were chatting amongst themselves, and he looked up at the decorations. Everyone, probably mostly Ryouma and Kyoutaro, had put a lot of effort into this for him.
It made Ryouma’s earlier behaviour make a lot more sense. Why he’d seemed nervous, kept looking at his phone—he’d been trying to keep Ata out of the student council room while they finished preparations.
Ata’s face burned at what he had been so close to doing, though. If he’d managed to blurt out the whole confession with an unknown audience behind the door, he might have ended up having to move overseas and never come back.
He exhaled. His confession never ended up happening, but maybe he could do it on a different day. Today was really beyond his expectations in the first place.
As he finished up his piece of cake, Kyoutaro approached his desk. “Ata.”
Ata looked up. “What is it?”
Kyoutaro leaned closer, his voice growing quieter. “This party, it was all Ryo-chin’s idea.”
His gaze snapped towards Ryouma, who was talking to Taiju off at the side. “Really?”
When he turned back, Kyoutaro was smiling. “Yup. So Ata, be sure to talk to Ryo-chin to get your last gift, alright?”
As Kyoutaro walked away, Ata was left confused. What had Kyoutaro been talking about? He had been very fortunate already with gifts.
But it was true that he hadn’t gotten to talk to Ryouma as much as he wanted yet, so he got up when he saw the signs of Ryouma’s current conversation ending.
“Ryouma,” he said, as he approached him. “I heard the party was your idea. Thank you.”
“No need for thanks!” Ryouma scratched his cheek, smiling. “I just thought that you deserved it. I don’t think any of us really give you the thanks you deserve for your good work as the student council president, either.”
“And thank you again for the book,” Ata added. “I can’t believe you remembered my favourite book since I was a child.”
“Truthfully, I remember everything about you, Ata-kun.”
The look on Ryouma’s face was mesmerizing, how he was smiling, how his cheeks turned from pink to red almost in an instant.
“Ryouma…” Ata murmured, his heart pounding heavily, suddenly very aware that he hadn’t managed to get out his full confession earlier. He didn’t really want to do it in this room full of people, but he might not get his nerves up again if he waited any longer.
But before he could say anything, Ryouma had grabbed onto his wrist, and tugged him towards the door, and out into the hallway.
“Yes,” Ryouma interrupted.
And then Ryouma turned redder as Ata blinked at him in confusion.
“I-I mean, me too!”
“Are you alright?” Ata asked with concern. After all, Ryouma was dark red and looked like he was having trouble breathing.
“Fine, I’m fine! You… before, you…”
Still not catching on, Ata stepped closer to Ryouma, putting his hand on his forehead. “Before? Have you been feeling ill? You didn’t have to force yourself to do all this…”
Ryouma stepped back and grabbed both of Ata’s hands in his, tightly. “No, that’s not it!”
He stared into Ata’s eyes for a moment, a moment in which Ata’s heart definitely stumbled around a few times in chaos, and groaned.
“Why am I so bad at this?”
“You’re not,” Ata said immediately, firmly. “You did a wonderful job, Ryouma. The party was really nice.”
“I like you,” Ryouma blurted out.
It was so sudden, and not what Ata was expecting to hear, so he paused to process it. And then…
“Huh?” his face flushed, too, so hot, hotter than it had been when they’d been walking under the sun earlier. “You-”
“T-that’s what you were going to say before we surprised you, right?” Ryouma stared directly into his eyes, despite how embarrassed he looked—how embarrassed they both were.
“You… figured it out?” Ata knew he hadn’t exactly been subtle, but he’d been too distracted by the party to think about it too much.
“Yeah,” Ryouma said. “And I couldn’t wait any longer to reply, and I ended up butchering the whole thing… I’m sorry, Ata-kun.”
“Wait.” It’s not like Ata didn’t know for sure that Ryouma would never play around, but he had to be sure he understood correctly. “You meant it?”
Ryouma’s eyes widened. “Of course! You’re amazing, Ata-kun! You’re smart, beautiful, competent, sure of yourself, and you’ve always been so good to me. It’s fun being around you, and I missed you the time we didn’t spend together.”
It was like Ata’s heart was going to overflow with how full it felt. He’d never felt anything so powerful before. He never felt this happy, this impulsive, this need, before. Ata pulled Ryouma into him into an embrace.
“Ryouma… I feel that way about you too. You’re amazing. I like you.” This time the words came out a lot easier.
Ryouma snuggled into his embrace, holding him back just as tightly. “I like you, Ata-kun.
Ata suddenly realized what Kyoutaro had meant earlier by getting his last gift. Because this really was what it was. The most wonderful gift of all. He didn’t need any other birthday wishes when he had his friends by his side again. And not to mention, that his feelings for Ryouma were returned.
It really was the perfect birthday, more than he could ever wish for.