Valentines day was, by far, the worst day of the year.
Sabo didn’t have the same problem with it that other people might. He got plenty of chocolate and messages, some stuffed into his locker and other hand given, every confession brushed aside as politely, but firmly as he could. It was a bit rude, perhaps, but the attention was more annoying than anything else, even if the sweets themselves were appreciated.
None of that particularly frustrated him though. Sure, it was a bit of a hassle and the constant interaction with strangers was a bit of a headache, but it wasn’t their interaction with him that made Sabo hate the holiday so much.
It was seeing the same flood of people around Ace.
When they were back in middle school it hadn’t been this bad. Sure, there were always some people every year, especially girls, but things were different now. Ace was different.
In the last year he had shot up another three inches, almost rivaling Sabo in height now, but he had also filled out a lot more, no longer the gangly, awkward mess he had been as a freshman.
Sabo was tall and thin, lean but not overly defined, pale hair and paler skin. He wouldn’t consider himself unattractive by any means, happy with the way he looked and he felt in his own body. But Ace... Ace was handsome . The kind of handsome that had people turn heads when he walked by, turning words into a useless jumble on would-be-admirer’s lips. And for good reason. Practically harassed by a number of sport teams, it was easy to pick up on his physique, all strength and golden, star speckled skin. His eyes were just as sharp as they had been when they were kids, but something had softened in them all the same, making him easier to approach, easier to talk to. Sabo wasn’t the only one that had noticed either, and he hated it.
Envy coiled dark and green in his chest, thorny vines stretched out in his veins and wrapped around his chest in constricting force. When Ace turned towards him again, leaving his latest heartbreak in his shadow, Sabo felt momentarily breathless.
By the time he reached their table again, he could breathe again and the ache of his heart eased enough to allow him to speak.
“You don’t have to accept everything.”
Ace took a seat with yet another damned box in hand, brightly colored and neatly wrapped and Sabo had to force back the sneer that nearly overcame his expression at the sight of the heart stickers that had been used in place of tape.
“I don’t.” Ace sighed in response, moving the box to the side where his bag was. “When I just straight up tell them no some of them start crying. I suck at dealin’ with those kinda situations.” He leaned in over the table, elbow used to prop up his arm and chin in his hand.
Weariness dragged at his friends shoulders, dimming those normally bright eyes and thinning Ace’s lips into a small, displeased line. It only pissed Sabo off more.
Leaning in himself, he huffed. “They’re just going to start using that against you, you know. Like sharks— they sense weakness.” Under the table he nudged one of Ace’s feet with his own and the other looked up from the table, meeting his eyes. “You could always lie and say you have a girlfriend already.”
Ace made a face, rolling his eyes. He kicked Sabo back under the table and it was a little harsher than the initial nudge. Sabo only laughed. “As if. There’s no way anyone would believe that, and even if they did by some miracle , you know they’d only ask for details I can’t give them.” His elbow slipped and Ace’s head dipped further.
Sabo snorted at the small pout on his lips.
“Throw them a curve ball then. Something they won’t expect.”
He hesitated a moment, biting into his bottom lip when Ace’s gaze bore into his own, molten silver alive with curiosity. Sabo felt, for a moment, as if those eyes were daring him to speak his mind, to voice the words he held back. They dropped a moment later to focus onto the table instead, but Sabo could still feel the lingering intensity, a current in the air. The vines around his heart tightened in reminder, constricting around him and devouring the air in his lungs. When he sighed out his breath it was heavy with trepidation.
“Say you have a boyfriend instead. If they press, tell them that it’s me.”
Ace’s eyes were brilliant fire, catching the sun and claiming it as his own when his head shot up once more. He was in shock, obviously, the force of Sabo’s words evident in his expression, in the widening of his eyes and parted lips.
Silent, the space between words stretched out forever between them, growing tense and awkward.
Miraculously, Sabo could still breathe, but there was no oxygen making its way to his brain, nerve ending firing off blanks and the jumbled tangle of his thoughts stretching out to wrap around his throat. Fuck , he thought to himself. Fuck, I messed up . Why did he say that? No, he understood the why, but he still shouldn’t have. Not now. Not without actually planning any of this out first.
There was a flush on his cheeks, staining pale features red when Sabo jerked back suddenly, putting just that fraction more of space between them. Fumbling hands dropped to his lap, curling sweaty palms into his pants, digging nails into the cloth. Eyes wide with frantic panic, the first thing he could think to do was defend himself.
“It doesn’t—I doesn’t have to mean… anything. If you don’t - ahh, want it to?” Fuck . That wasn’t any better. “What I mean is… It’d be easy to believe… right?” He wet his lips, nervous. “We already spend most of our time together anyway, and I can—we can, uhh, hold hands? Stuff like that, if we need to?”
If Ace wanted to.
He was still just staring at him and it was becoming harder and harder for Sabo to meet his eyes, dropping instead to his nose, to his cheek, his lips—No, that was a dangerous place to look. Instead he settled on Ace’s jaw, watching as it shifted eventually, slackening further before suddenly tightening. When a sigh shifted through the air, heavy and terse, Sabo stiffened and his eyes dropped to the worn surface of the table.
He winced. He couldn’t help it. Just the heavy sound of his name on Ace’s lips was enough to bring back that fear full force and it barreled into his chest, stripping the thorned vines away to replace them with ice.
“I’m sorry,” he cut in sharply, before Ace had a chance to speak again. “Forget I said anything.”
The words felt bitter on his tongue, jealousy a wave of icy chill that sank into the marrow of his bones when he thought of how easily so many had thrown their feelings at Ace today, wrapped in bright paper thin falsity. He wasn’t any different right now, just another desperate plea for reciprocated feelings shoved into the other’s face. It was Valentine’s Day and unlike those brave enough to stand before Ace and announce their feelings, Sabo couldn’t even meet his gaze, much less force past the growing lump in his throat to speak at all.
After what felt like minutes stretched out between them, Ace shifted again. Sabo felt a light pressure of one of the male’s feet pressed against the side of his own and it was a cruel mimicry of their earlier playful contact. Even still, it was enough to draw the blond’s attention, cautious gaze finding Ace’s jaw once more, a brief spark of courage all it took to have Sabo’s eyes dart up to the other’s expression in full.
It was only for a second, a fraction of a second, but Ace was… Well, he wasn’t wearing an expression Sabo would have expected. There was color on his face, freckles standing out in the way flecks of paint did against a canvas, dark stars against a scarlet sky. The eye contact, brief as it was, had sparks light up along the line of his spine and heat wash over his own features in a rush. Just as quickly he looked away, but it was enough to break the silence between them, at least.
“I never said no,” Ace spoke after another moment, voice soft, hesitant. A voice used when speaking to a frightened child, but effective, all the same.
A warmth spread outwards from the inside of Sabo’s chest and he had to hold his breath to prevent it from leaving him all at once. He didn’t dare glance up at Ace’s expression again, or acknowledge the hope that hung at his center, a bright flower ready to bloom. Or wither and die.
He wet his lips again, biting down on his bottom lip until it turned from pink to red. “It doesn’t have to mean anything,” he repeated again, voice a whisper. Ace’s foot was still pressed against his own and it was enough to calm him down, even if just a little. Enough to draw back that earlier flash of courage and hold on this time. He looked up and met Ace’s argent gaze, and this time he didn’t look away.
There were a million things he wanted to say, wanted to finally admit , but even with his intrepidity, the right words never came. Sure, they hovered in the blank space of his mind, voiceless phantoms of his intentions, but nothing more. Empty yet still so full of meaning.
I love you , they spoke. I wish you knew how much you meant to me. Really meant to me. I’ve tried to move on, to think about someone else, but you’re always on my mind. You’re the only one on my mind. I’ve tried , but — I’m scared .
Scared that his feelings wouldn’t be reciprocated, that he’d be denied, abandoned. That he’d ruin what they had now, pushed further than they were meant to go by desperate greedy hands. Left to heartache and heartbreak just like the countless other girls on this same day.
The courage to meet his gaze, but not enough to tell the truth. Not when he might fail.
Sabo’s lips quirked into a smile, shaky with nerves and not quite bright enough to meet his eyes, but lopsided in the way he adapted when making a joke. “I didn’t bring any chocolate. Kinda shitty to suggest such a thing when I haven’t even done that, huh?”
Ace’s eyes were unwavering, that fire from earlier ever present, emblazoned beneath his skin. If Sabo grew too close, Icarus he would become, burned by the very thing he loved. Somehow, he still felt as if it might be worth the pyre.
He waited on bated breath for a reply, for the other’s mask to break, for him to accept Sabo’s pitiful attempt at humor and allow them both to move past it all. Instead Ace only hummed after another moment, the tension he hadn’t even noticed before easing out of his shoulders, smile soft on the male’s lips. Reaching towards his cooled lunch, he pulled it closer to him, eyes no longer holding Sabo captive when he spoke, “Well, I guess you’ll just have to owe me then.”