It's Ainosuke's birthday today and he only has two more years to go before he's officially a teenager. The maids wake him up at the normal time and he gets dressed by himself. He already knows his father won't be around, since he's out of the country again. He'll probably be too busy to make a phone call. That's normal. There won't be a party this year. That's also normal. The only parties he goes to are the ones where he has to smile and be quiet unless spoken to and look presentable while the adults talk about this and that.
His mother has never been in his life. She passed on when Ainosuke came into the world. The tears he used to shed for her have long been buried under the love from his aunties, and now when he thinks of her, it doesn't claw and twist at his insides as much. Not that he has much time to think about her, with how busy he is struggling to keep on top of all the expectations piled upon his shoulders. He has to keep his aunts happy. He has to make sure they love him.
Sometimes he feels like he's drowning. Sometimes his smile starts to crack. It used to be worse than it is now.
There is one thing that keeps him going, something he didn't have when he was younger, something that allows him to keep smiling and answer "yes aunties" to whatever they ask of him. Ainosuke can wake up each day and look forward to spending time in his sanctuary, his Eden, a term he'd learned from the Church and taken for himself. It's a breath of fresh air from the strict rules he must obey. He cherishes those brief moments that make his heart sing, where he can truly laugh and smile and feel like himself.
But first, he has to make it through his responsibilities.
He makes a mistake early in the morning asking for something sweet for breakfast to celebrate, instead of the usual carefully measured and prepared meal. He's lucky that his aunties are there to correct him, and he's blessed with seven strikes of their love, leaving the skin of his forearms flushed. He has to live up to the Shindo family name after all. He cannot disappoint his father or his aunties. Whether it's his birthday or not, he still has to maintain standards.
Ainosuke's lessons with his private tutors last into the early evening with only a short break for lunch, prepared for him by the chef. He struggles a bit with math and he knows he'll hear about it later, but it's okay, the day is almost over. He has a quiet dinner with his aunties where, after the prayer and thanking God for the meal, they tell him that he'll be starting equestrian training next week and that his lessons will be advancing in difficulty now that he's a year older. He nods along, wearing a polite smile, and thanks them for their love and advice, as always. He never does receive a call from his father.
The late evenings of the weekdays and luckily most of the weekends are his. Ainosuke immediately sneaks off into the gardens after dinner is over, quickly making his way through the maze of bushes to empty pool. "Tadashi!" he calls, breaking into a grin at the sight of his best and only friend, heart bursting out of the cage he locked it in during the day.
"Ainosuke-sama!" Tadashi greets, smiling shyly and shifting something behind his back as Ainosuke draws closer. Ainosuke immediately latches on to that, excited by something new and the opportunity to tease his friend a little.
"Whatcha' got there? Huh? Huh?" he laughs, playfully trying to see what Tadashi is hiding from him. Tadashi laughs along, but manages to keep Ainosuke from getting behind him to see, even though Ainosuke does catch glimpses of red and white.
The older boy gives in after a moment and reveals a long gift-wrapped box. "It's for you. A birthday gift," Tadashi says, and Ainosuke falls still, surprised.
"You got me a gift?" he asks, voice quiet and small. He's gotten gifts before. It's nothing unusual. Books, suits, new fancy shoes, things that will make him look and act properly, live up to what's expected of him. Ainosuke has never received a gift from a friend before, though.
Never had a friend before Tadashi, either.
"Yeah, I hope it's no offense, Ainosuke-sama. I've wanted to give this to you for a while now," Tadashi explains, pushing the box into Ainosuke's hands with one hand, keeping the other behind his back. "Happy birthday!"
Swallowing down the weird feeling from hearing those words for the first time in ages, Ainosuke takes the box and tears the wrapping-paper off, revealing a plain cardboard box. He glances up at Tadashi who gives him an encouraging smile. He struggles a bit to open the box but when he finally does...
It's a skateboard. A skateboard for him. Black on the top, red on the bottom.
He's been using Tadashi's board while learning, so to have his own board is... it's great! Ainosuke hugs the skateboard to his chest and beams at Tadashi. "Thank you! Thanks so much, Tadashi! I love it! I love it so much!" His heart feels like it's going to beat right out of him, he's so overjoyed! It's the first gift he really loves. It's the first birthday where he's actually felt truly happy. "Come on, Tadashi! Let's skate together!"
Tadashi startles, though his pleased smile never fades. "Wait, Ainosuke-sama! There's one more thing I have for you."
Ainosuke bounces, overcome with the excitement and thrill. Another gift for him from his best friend! "Show me! Show me!"
Tadashi laughs at Ainosuke's enthusiasm and reveals the second gift, which he'd kept hidden behind his back while Ainosuke gushed over the skateboard. It's a cupcake, vanilla with white frosting.
"Ah, I'm not allowed to have sweets," Ainosuke says, hesitating to take it. He wants to, he's tempted, but he's afraid of the disappointed looks his aunties will give him if they find out. They might take their love away from him.
"It's okay, Ainosuke-sama. It'll be our secret. I won't tell, and it's your birthday. You deserve it," Tadashi says, eyes sad, though he never stops smiling.
"Promise?" Ainosuke asks, hand trembling as he reaches out for the cupcake. He's never had one before, let alone actual cake. Sweets are bad for him, he knows this. Still, he wants it.
"Promise," Tadashi replies, and Ainosuke takes it, carefully removing the plastic wrap. He breathes in. It smells sweet and Ainosuke's mouth waters. He takes a bite.
It's good. It's so good and fluffy, and the icing is creamy and delicious, and it's the best thing Ainosuke's ever tasted. His heart clenches tight. He doesn't realize he's crying until Tadashi makes a concerned noise. Ainosuke turns around and wipes his eyes. "I'm fine," he says. "I'm fine, just let me... let me finish it, and then we can skate."
"Okay, Ainosuke-sama" Tadashi says, voice soft and quiet. Ainosuke scarfs the cupcake down, unable to resist with how good it is, and wipes his eyes clean again, turning to find Tadashi waiting for him at the edge of the pool with his own board, ready to skate. That night, a pair of twins hearts is engraved into the bottom of the pool and onto the underside of Ainosuke's new skateboard.