Azusa pulls out the Valentine’s Day decorations on the first of the month.
Rei comes into work to find that Poirot’s cheery homey atmosphere has been transformed into a world of red, white and pink. Strings of small glass hearts hang in the window like multi-coloured icicles, plush red fabric has been tacked to the front of the counter, and all around the store paper hearts have been suspended from the ceiling. Some have arrows through them.
Rei stands in the doorway for a moment, overwhelmed. He had found the Christmas decorations unnecessarily festive; this feels like Christmas on steroids.
It’s also a reminder, as if he needed one, of the highly unorthodox relationship in his life.
“Really, Azusa-san?” he asks as he steps in, door swinging shut behind him. She looks over at him in mock surprise. There’s red glitter spilled down the front of her apron, glinting like ruby dust in the morning light.
“You don’t like it?”
“It’s a little… much,” he says carefully, ducking past a gold foil-edged heart hanging from the ceiling to approach the counter, shedding his heavy woollen coat as he does so. Early February in Tokyo can still be frigid, and there’s a bite to the air this morning.
She looks up, admiring her handiwork. “You don’t think it’s festive?”
“It’s just a little… much,” he says again. He runs his fingers over the plush surround of the counter; it’s soft and silken under his fingers.
“Valentine’s Day is a very popular holiday, Amuro-san. We can’t just ignore it. We have to support love!”
Support bad taste, is more Rei’s view, but he’s aware that he’s already lost this battle. “I suppose we could make some red and white cupcakes,” he says wearily.
Azusa beams at him. “I knew I could count on you!”
After a day or two he gets used to the decorations and they fade into the background. Everywhere else in Beika is equally decked out, though – there’s no hiding from the overly saccharine romance in the air, or at least blatant commercialism.
On the positive side, his partner doesn’t give two shits about holidays, romantic or otherwise. Akai doesn’t celebrate Christmas, or New Year’s, or Tanabata. He drifts through life unaffected by the colourful decorations around him, without expectations or anticipation. Rei, whose enthusiasm for consumer holidays has been worn down by years undercover in a merciless syndicate where even life is next to meaningless, appreciates that. Akai is undemanding as a lover; he doesn’t require gifts or thoughtful words or even politeness.
He does require passion, as well as the sure and secure knowledge that Rei’s heart is his, however much his ire may also be. Akai is the match to Rei’s fuse more often than not; it’s something they’ve come to live with. It helps that they each have their own living arrangements – Akai always has somewhere to be banished to. Their frequently ballistic arguments also add spice to the (eventual) reunification sex.
All of which is to say, Rei has no cause to be thinking of Akai when it comes to Valentine’s Day. No reason even to be offering opinions on matters of the heart. His lover is as romantic as an ice cube, and about as aware when it comes to personal feelings. But when, a few days prior to Valentine’s Day late in the afternoon at Poirot Rei hears the Detective Boys opining on Valentines expectations, he drifts closer. There is, of course, the ever-live wire of the Mouri-Kudou relationship to monitor.
“Serious relationships are about more than gifts.” The young girl with the adult eyes is lecturing the children; Mitsuhiko nods fervently, Ayumi looks impressed, Genta is busy eating a plate of pasta. “Dedication, thoughtfulness, flexibility – they’re all important. Chocolate won’t hold together a failing relationship.”
“Geez, ease up, Haibara,” comments Conan, kicking his feet against the booth seat and slurping orange juice through a straw. “We’re not talking about marriage here.”
“I think Haibara-san’s point is very important! A strong relationship should be about more than gifts,” says Mitsuhiko, self-importantly.
The little girl – the real little girl – looks downtrodden. “But Ayumi likes chocolate.”
“Of course there’s a place for gifts,” agrees Haibara. “Romantic gestures do matter. But those who are contemplating something more serious should look further,” she says, glancing pointedly at Conan who glares back at her.
“Well we’d all like to be present in our relationships, Haibara,” he snips.
The difficulty Edogawa Conan, AKA Kudou Shin’ichi, faces in his relationships make Rei’s problems pale in comparison. But it’s still true that he and Akai walk a very thin line between stability and disaster, one of them supposedly dead and the other undercover in a murderous syndicate. It makes finding time to be together challenging, and even texting can be dangerous.
They’re present in the moment. Everything else is fleeting.
“Is Ai-chan planning on giving away any chocolate?” asks Ayumi, innocently. Rei smiles to see the way the freckled boy’s attention snaps to Haibara.
She shakes her head. “I only make commitments if they’re serious.”
“Mom got chocolates for all my friends,” confides Ayumi, smiling. “If everyone gets some, no one is left out.”
“That’s very fair, Ayumi-chan,” says Mitsuhiko. Genta finishes his pasta and changes the topic to their afterschool activity tomorrow. Rei, sensing no further conversation of interest, moves away.
It’s only later as the Detective Boys trample out together that Haibara drifts over towards where he’s clearing a nearby table. “You know, although they’re not the only thing, it can be nice to receive gifts,” she says. He glances down at her, surprised, and she smiles. “Sometimes the unexpected can be thrilling.”
Rei wonders briefly if they need any further thrills in their relationship.
“I don’t have a girlfriend,” he says politely, smiling.
“Even boyfriends can receive chocolate,” she replies, and trips out. Rei stares after her. Conan doesn’t know about his relationship with Akai, he’s certain. The thought that Sherry might is alarming. Although since becoming Haibara Ai she’s shown absolutely no intention of returning to the Syndicate.
“Everything alright, Amuro-san?” asks Azusa, glancing at him from behind the counter. He straightens, pulling a crumpled napkin off the table.
“Just fine, Azusa-san.”
The idea that Akai might give him chocolate is a non-starter. The idea that Rei might give him some is… not impossible. Although Akai’s never shown interest in gifts, that’s not to say he can’t appreciate a surprise.
That evening after eating dinner and clearing away the dishes, he sits at his small table and browses Pinterest. Rei likes being creative, but he’s not sure how much time he wants to devote to this project – not sure how it would be received, should he go through with it. Much better to mooch off someone else’s brilliance than spend the time dedicating his own imagination to it.
He finds dark chocolate hearts, white chocolate doves, fondant flowers. There are cakes and puddings and parfaits, all decorated with red and white and pink. After a few minutes of browsing he feels overwhelmed by the overblown romanticism.
There is little romance in their relationship. They will – and have – risk their lives for each other. But Rei can’t imagine them holding hands on the beach or taking shared selfies at sunset. Their relationship is blood and dirt and gasoline, not sugar and champagne.
And yet, Sherry’s words resonate with him. From time to time, a gift can spark heightened feelings.
Something small and simple, he thinks, exiting out of the Pinterest board. Something Akai might actually appreciate.
Inconveniently, Akai invites himself over the next night – which was Rei’s prime time for chocolate making. He shoves the bars of chocolate and the silicone moulds he bought into the back of one of his cupboards and makes a quick run to the grocery store.
He’s in the middle of cooking dinner when Akai shows up, letting himself into the apartment after a quick identifying knock – they’re both cautious when it comes to activities that could get them shot. Rei has his apron on and his sleeves rolled up, his collar unbuttoned so that the steam from the pan rolls up over his bare throat.
“Cooking again?” asks Akai wryly as he pads into the kitchen. He doesn’t wear Okiya Subaru’s face but he does wear his clothes, a white and peach stripped shirt and green slacks. Okiya Subaru, he’s often thought, must be colour-blind.
Rei shoots him a look. “One of us has to,” he replies pointedly. Akai smiles wolfishly, the tips of his teeth gleaming.
“You would prefer me to take over?” he asks. “I wouldn’t look nearly as good in an apron. And you don’t like my curry.”
Rei’s eyebrow twitches. “A full-grown man should know more than one recipe. And if he does only know one he should at least be competent at it.”
“Cruel words, Rei-kun. Maybe you need something to take the edge off?” he lifts a bottle of scotch.
Rei taps the wooden spoon on the side of the pan. “Bribery is a lazy way to win an argument.”
“Why expend effort futilely?” replies Akai. He crosses the kitchen to stand hip-to-hip with Rei and pulls two tumblers down from a cupboard. Placing them on the counter, he pours out a few fingers each.
“At least you recognize that it is futile.” Rei takes up the tumbler and takes a sip of the golden liquid. Akai always buys quality scotch – it’s one of the things he appreciates about his lover.
Akai brushes past him again on his way to take a seat at the table, passing close enough that Rei can smell the subtle scent of soap and cigarettes – he wears no aftershave – his fingers trailing tantalizingly over Rei’s hip for a brief instant before he passes out of range. Then he’s pulling out a chair and sitting, his ridiculously long legs crossed and his slippers dangling from his toes.
“Comfy?” asks Rei, sarcastically.
Rei turns back to dinner – stir-fried ginger beef and greens – before the peppers can burn.
“I walked past Poirot today,” says Akai, conversationally. Even with his back turned Rei can imagine him lounging in the chair, scotch glass half-raised and jade-green eyes heavy-lidded.
“Oh yes?” He’s not offended that Akai didn’t stop in; like two comets they each have their own orbits, only encountering each other occasionally. Besides which, it’s dangerous for them to meet in public.
“Enomoto will have you dressing up like a cupid next.”
“Azusa-san does enjoy being festive,” he agrees, feeling his shoulders tensing.
“You don’t believe in celebrating love?” asks Rei, with deceptive calm. It’s strange: until now he’s felt little affiliation with the holiday, but his recent efforts on its behalf – a browser history full of confectionaries and a cupboard full of chocolate – seem to have planted a stake.
He hears the chair creak, knows Akai is leaning back on its hind legs. “Not with paper hearts and diapered babies armed with bows and arrows.”
“You’d prefer they carried Arctic Warfare Magnums, I suppose,” replies Rei dryly.
“Love doesn’t have to be a spectacle.”
Rei turns to face him, wooden spoon in hand. “You think it should be two people slinking around in the dark, afraid to even meet each other in public?”
Akai’s eyebrow arcs; he puts down his scotch. “Are we about to get impractically idealistic?” he asks.
“I think there’s nothing wrong with shows of affection,” replies Rei.
“Are you trying to drop a hint? You’d like a dozen red roses and a candle-light supper?” Akai’s tone is facetious, his eyes amused.
“Oh, shut up.” He turns back to the pan – the peppers are burning.
“Never mind,” snaps Furuya, shoving out the stir fry onto two plates covered in rice. He gives Akai the burnt bits.
That night after Akai leaves – the mild quarrel between them heating up after dinner to a full-on fight, following the usual trajectory of their arguments – Rei opens the cupboard and considers the bars of chocolate shoved at the back.
Sentimentality and romanticism have little place in their world, both he and Akai agree. But a relationship completely bereft of kind gestures feels like failure, and Rei can’t abide failure.
As he reaches into the back of the cupboard to pick up the chocolate, his eyes fall on the small jar at the front of the shelf.
Rei reads the label, considering. Then, slowly, he grins.
On February 14 he invites himself over to the Kudou mansion. It’s early for a reconcilement, but no matter. He knocks on the door and then lets himself in, switching his shoes for slippers at the front door.
It’s after dinner; the house is quiet and dark, most of the lights out and the skies outside already black. From upstairs comes the quiet footfall of one used to stealth; Rei climbs the stairs to meet him.
Akai’s just coming out of the upstairs bathroom, his face shiny from the make-up remover, tiny pieces of plaster still sticking to his jaw. “I wasn’t expecting you,” he says in his own voice, the voice-modifier hidden beneath his turtleneck.
“I like being unpredictable,” replies Rei. He presses in close, edging Akai into the wall, and kisses him. He feels Akai smile into the kiss and pulls back.
“You’re very conciliatory, Rei-kun,” purrs Akai, looking down at him with amusement. “Valentine’s Day gotten to you?”
“As a matter of fact,” replies Rei, reaching into his coat pocket and pulling out a neatly-wrapped square, “it has.” He hands over the chocolate to Akai
Akai takes it in the manner that a man might handle a live snake. “Chocolate,” he says. “How unexpected.”
Rei can’t tell if he’s being sarcastic or not; he bristles all the same. “No one’s forcing it down your throat.”
“I didn’t know you leaned towards sweetness in your relationships, Rei-kun.” He unwraps a corner of the chocolate, raises it to his mouth, and takes a delicate bite.
Rei smiles angelically as his face reddens. He pants as he swallows.
“Actually, I prefer them spicy,” Rei replies. “That’s why I put cayenne pepper in it. And you’re going to eat all of it. Aren’t you?” His smile is tinged with steel.
Akai looks from Rei to the chocolate and back to Rei. “What will my reward be?”
“Me not murdering you,” replies Rei.
“That doesn’t sound very enticing.”
“No?” asks Rei, sweetly. “But I promise, I can be very convincing.”
“You always did look pretty with a pistol.” Akai unwraps the chocolate further. “I hope this will appease you.”
Rei smiles. “If it doesn’t, there’s always White Day.”