Ainosuke smiled at his reflection in the full length mirror. He wondered as to when was the last time he thought of enjoying his own party. Since he was groomed to enter politics, birthday celebrations were reduced to another chance at extending connections. Foods and greetings and gifts were just for show, names of events were simply a formality. Drinks were shared like exchanging of business cards, and small chats were meant to gather support and alliance. Even charity balls were fronts to the true purpose of good publicity. Ainosuke would wear a practiced smile all night, but his attendance weren’t for him to have fun at parties. It’s part of a job.
It must be the change from his usual three-piece suit to a royal tux, or his hair slightly dishelved instead of being neatly slicked back except for a single lock. Maybe it was the fact that he could wear his Matador of Love mask outside the abandoned mines. Something was telling him tonight would be different.
“Ainosuke-sama, it’s time,” Tadashi reminded him after entering the room. He didn’t hear him knock but not that it mattered.
He took his time to observe his assistant from the mirror, pleased at the red and gold details in the latter’s Venetian mask. It matched the crimson vest under the black tuxedo
When Ainosuke turned around, Tadashi was quick to move forward and pick up his mask for him. He let Tadashi close the door behind them when they left his room, his eyes falling on a familiar figure at a short distance instead as he walked the almost empty hallway.
“Oh, if it isn’t Kiriko-chan!” His happy tone was a little more cheerful than usual, and he blamed it on the idea of feeling free whenever he wore that physical mask.
Kiriko’s back was flat against the wall, arms crossed over her chest as if hiding the skin the low neckline of her evening gown failed to cover. Her red hair was pulled in a beautiful bun, and her fingers were curled around a thin stick of silver and gold, which connected to her mask of light metal and similarly colored rhinestones.
Tadashi was responsible for sending out invitations, but asking him for explanations could come later.
Kiriko slowly opened her eyes at the sound of his voice, fluttering long lashes that framed smokey lids, pretty lips pulled to a smirk that contrasted the formality in her voice. “I haven’t thanked you for helping with my promotions, Shindo-sensei.”
The way the silky fabric of her skirt flowed as she approached him was a sight to behold and Ainosuke noticed a little too late when Kiriko slammed a hand against the wall, trapping him on one side.
Ainosuke retained his professional smile. Kiriko’s kabedon wasn’t something that would intimidate him after all, but it did make his heart throb a single beat faster if he was being honest. Why not, it was cute. Yet all he wondered about was how high her heels were under the dress that their height almost matched. On the other hand, the bold gesture must have had a bigger effect on the officer, if the sudden blush on her face was anything to go by.
He titled his head to the side, observing the flush that crept up to her ears, borrowing the alluring shade of her perfect lips.
“D-Don’t look at me like that.” Kiriko stuttered, head turning towards her shoulders as if avoiding the gaze that pierced through his mask. “I’m just here to wish you a happy birthday, you know.” She finally pulled her palm off the walls, other hand raised to cover her blush with the thin material of her mask.
The politician chuckled. “Were you? Thank you, Kiriko-chan.”
“Of course, I was!” she insisted with a pout, hands falling to either side of her thin waist, a grumpy little princess in a queen’s body. “But I was here after a short notice so I couldn’t really bring you anything”—never mind that she put together a perfect outfit for the occasion, unless someone else had prepared everything for her—so Kiriko stood on her tiptoes and reached for the man’s face, brushing slightly tacky lips against uprepared cheek. If Ainosuke’s face turned red, he’d blame it on Kiriko’s lipstick.
“That doesn’t mean anything okay? And I already have a girlfriend for your information.”
Ainosuke hummed. “Congratulations, I guess?” They must be thinking exactly the same thing now—it was silly of them to date each other before. But they were still so young back then, experimenting and making stupid mistakes.
“Happy birthday anyway,” she said after clearing her throat, arms crossed as she pivoted on her heels, red carpet muffling every clack of her stilletos as she walked away. “Enjoy the rest of the night, I guess! And don’t involve yourself with anything illegal or I might come after your ass again.”
“Yes, yes. I’ll remember that!” came his answer even if Kiriko had made a turn to the corner.
Ainosuke breathed out a smile, barely remembering Tadashi—silent as the wall around them—was a few steps away to witness everything that happened.
“Who else have you invited?”
“All the important persons, Ainosuke-sama.” The answer was ambiguous as his voice was monotonously polite. Ainosuke frowned, but didn’t say anything. He had a pretty long night to suffer if his secretary made it an evening of surprises.
The night unfolded rather normally. He didn’t bother having a proper meal, walking from one table to another to exchange pleasantries with each and every esteemed guests—political figures and people of high social standing, one influential person after another—all wearing a “mask” different from the one Ainosuke found them with on their initial meeting. He was an expert at reading people after all. He knew exactly which strings to pull, what words to say or expressions to display, to please an audience before him.
It was a task to keep his lips pulled into a charming smile all night but he had been trained since forever to do so. He was forcing a laugh over another dad joke of an older constituent when Tadashi came to have him answer an important call, which was actually from his own number. Tadashi’s contact was on speed dial, so it was easy for Ainosuke to call him without fully pulling out his phone. It was a tactic they used when the young Diet member needed a breather.
Ainosuke escaped to the old pool, the loud music from the garden added to his urge to smoke. But cigarettes must be savored, and he had little time to relax before everyone’s looking for him (he hadn’t seen his aunts but they couldn’t have left the party yet, could they?). Instead, he asked Tadashi to get him a drink. And a glass of drink he received a little while later except Tadashi wasn’t the person to deliver it.
Ainosuke wasn’t sure if he should smile at the surprise, or laugh at how awful Kojiro carried himself in that emerald suit, hair tied in a simple ponytail. His mask, bearing checkerboard patterns on the upper right and lower left eye holes, were off, ties hanging loosely at his wrist, his hand on the pocket of his neatly pressed jeans.
Jeans! Who the heck let this gatecrasher in? But Kojiro had what Ainosuke assumed was his champagne. Because he asked Tadashi for one and only Tadashi knew where he currently was. And who else would send this muscle-head an invite and have the nerve to let him in with a half-assed take on the dress code if it wasn’t his beloved assistant?
“We’ve been friends for years and it’s the first time I’m learning when is your birthday.”
Ainosuke frowned, unhappy with the reminder of leaving his first friends in the dark about his true self. Not even his real name was revealed to them until recently (which was mostly due to his reaper mask falling off in the middle of his beef). Oh, the look on Kaoru’s face when he said he didn’t vote for him because of how cringe his posters were and chose another candidate out of spite but would have shown him support if he knew. Kojiro kept laughing about his political tag line too, and Ainosuke turned one kalbi after another as the two mocked his campaign merches over smokeless barbecue.
He readied himself for a heavy atmosphere that day. He prepared the sincerest apologies and truest explanations, expecting harsh words at the very least. But his old friends were more than what he deserved and they welcomed him back to the circle after listening to what he had to say, their smiles sincere and expressions understanding. There was no way any of them could turn back the past, but Kaoru insisted the present was what’s important. He went to Sia la luce for the first time and Kojiro baked him a cupcake. Kaoru finally cried to him when he got drunk, and if Kojiro wasn’t there to calm the both of them down, Ainosuke would have hated himself more for breaking up with them the way he did before.
“Kidding, kidding! Here,”—Kojiro extended the hand that held the flute, bubbly voice nudging him back to the present—“Snake told me you’d be here.”
Ainosuke sighed, smiling a bit. Kojiro was more than the sun. He was an angel. Maybe a saint if he ever considered how many times the man wanted to punch the shit out of him but practiced self control instead.
Nope. A saint was an exaggeration and Ainosuke had to take his words back when he reached for the drink only to have his arm pulled until they were chest to chest.
“Shall I give you a drink?” Kojiro winked. The question provided more teasing and warning than it begged for an answer.
Ainosuke let a strong arm wrap around his waist, let himself be dipped as soon as Kojiro emptied the flute, let their mouths touch for a
gross sensual way of sharing a drink. The act was so impractical Ainosuke wished none of the spilled champagne ruined his designer tux. It didn’t even quench his thirst. He was quick to retrieve a handkerchief to wipe the corners of his lips when Kojiro was done with his little gimmick.
“Couldn’t you have just ask me for a kiss?” Ainosuke’s brows met, face turned to the other side to avoid the tender gaze offered by red wine orbs. Kojiro’s gentle smile was proof enough that he was too perfect to ever do anything wrong (except break dress codes, perhaps).
“You were always being extra, so I thought I’d do something for you this time. I wish I could see your face properly but your ears are red so I’d take it that you liked my surprise.”
“Ah, I hate receiving love,” a sigh of feigned complaint, but what he received was a soft chuckle. How could that hard body shelter such a gentle soul? Ainosuke could go for another sweet kiss right now—
Kojiro finally let him go. “Get used to it. And it’s not like I’m not the only one who’s going to shower you with all the love you deserve, you know.” He clapped the other’s shoulder, whispering his wishes of a happy birthday before turning to leave.
Ainosuke sighed yet again, grinning to himself as he straigthened his tux. He thought it was time to come back to the party, but he found Kaoru leaning against a pillar that hinted the entrace to the old pool.
He had never seen Kaoru in a suit before, much less in a vintage tailcoat of pink-purple remiscent of Carla. He wasn’t wearing glasses either, and his hair was pulled in a loose braid over one shoulder. He was slaying the look but it was no time for compliment when he was obviously fuming—arms over his chest, one hand so close to crashing the cane of his mask of purple velvet adorned with jet black roses.
“That beast. That dimwit. Uncultured ape. Muscle gorilla—”
It wasn’t hard to tell what Kaoru witnessed to utter things as if chanting a curse. There were pieces of broken glass by his foot, concrete wet from what he assumed was spilt wine. Only the stem was left from the wine glass. He didn’t want to think Tadashi made them race to give him a drink when Tadashi was supposed to bring him a drink.
Ainosuke was composing a greeting but Kaoru’s angry mumbling made it hard for him to focus. He’s too adorable that a sweet giggling noise escaped his lips before he knew it. That made Kaoru aware of his presence and he had to clear his throat.
Kaoru showed him a frown, cherry blossom bangs failing to hide the furrow between his brows. “That traitor! I know he’s bulkier and would have better chances at pulling that off, but that was my idea! And you enjoyed it.”
”Oh.” He paused. “Sorry?”
Kaoru sighed, walking the distance between them to cup the celebrant’s face for a quick peck on the lips. “There! That should disinfected you from gorilla virus.”
Ainosuke hummed. “Is that all?”
“Unfortunately, you still have a party to host and other guests to entertain. I can wait,” he said, but with the way his arms wrapped around Ainosuke’s neck, or how his head fit snugly against his lover’s chest, his true feelings weren’t hard to tell.
“How unfortunate, indeed.” He returned the warm embrace, lips pressed on Kaoru’s forehead. He allowed his nostrils to be filled with the wonderful scent of his partner’s shampoo.
Kaoru was first to pull back. “I wanted to monopolize you so much but maybe not tonight.” He kissed him again. “Happy birthday! I’m sure there are still others who haven’t greeted you.”
Ainosuke hummed a positive response. Tadashi did say he invited all the important persons.
The party ended a little before midnight, and Reki and Langa were inside his secret room when Tadashi led him there, watching footages of beefs that happened even before Reki knew the secrets of the abandoned mines.
“Adam!” Langa was first to notice him and he stood up to throw himself to the politician’s arms. “I thought I wouldn’t be able to greet you before the day ends!”
“Ah, and I thought my Little Langa forgot about me. I am just glad you’re hear, Snowball.”
“Hey, that’s not fair! I want a hug too!” Reki complained, shoulders slouched as he sat on the floor. He was last to enter Ainosuke’s poly through their mutual boyfriend, Tadashi. Their start may have been the worst, that the way to friendship alone gave them an awkward ride to say the least, but Reki was an understanding youth, and it didn’t take long for Ainosuke to start cherishing the boy.
Ainosuke opened his other arm, keeping Langa on his right. “Come here, my little sunshine.”
And Reki jumped into his arm, imaginary tails wagging as he pushed his face on the older’s chest. He and Langa exchanged gazes and counted to three, suprising Ainosuke with kisses on either cheek.
“Happy birthday!” they said in unison. They were underdressed for the party, sporting clothes they’d usually wear in Crazy Rock, though they would surely still feel out of place in the world of adults even if they weren’t.
Ainosuke beamed, kissing the mounds of their hair in return. Others would argue he was getting too much, but now that he’s receiving love—one that wasn’t hurtful or demanding—he’d spoil himself and take all that he could. He never thought birthdays could be such a joyous event.
He turned his head a bit, and found Tadashi smiling fondly at them, the usual tired expression replaced by gentleness and fulfillment that wasn’t solely his. It was the selfless glee of seeing the person you hold dear find their happiness.
“You haven’t greeted me, Tadashi.”
Tadashi then moved towards them, Langa and Reki loosening their hold on Ainosuke’s waist a little to give way. They shared a chaste kiss, saving the tongues for when the minors weren’t looking. It’s a shame Kaoru and Kojiro had gone home, but the three of them were still far from done with catching up for the lost times.
“Happy birthday, Ainosuke-sama,” Tadashi said, just in time before the grandfather clock on the other room struck twelve.
“Thank you.” The two words weren’t enough to express the gratitude that glinted in his eyes. Tadashi did more than send out invites, and his head was slowly being filled with ideas on how he should return his love.
“Hmm, I’m getting jealous now!” Reki chimed in with a pout, stealing a kiss from Tadashi.
Langa was first to laugh, teasing Reki for how red his face had become. Ainosuke would never get over how adorable he and Tadashi looked giggling openly like there was no tomorrow. Reki laughed too before Langa’s stomach grumbled.
They ate what remained of Ainosuke’s three-tier cake. The teens had permission to spend the night out, and Ainosuke was more than happy to host a little sleepover. Tadashi had retired to his own room. His reward could come later.