Inspired by the movie Love Actually, and by a scene in the Japanese movie Be With You (いま、会いにゆきます, Ima, ai ni yukimasu).
Have a good Christmas.
Mild M/M slash.
(Reference: It Came Upon The Midnight Clear (1849) by Edmund H. Sears)
A Pocket Full of Love
"Sure, I'll be there."
"Awesome. Listen, the guys and I will be meeting up at side gate C, ten p.m. sharp, okay? I've got to go now — I haven't even showered and —"
"What for?" He laughed. "It's going to get hot and sweaty anyway."
"Whatever! Just a bonus for those girls who are so going to swoon over me later. And don't you dare be late."
He ended the call, and threw the phone onto his bed, quite carelessly. Kaoru was at his desk, eyes not on the multitude of assignments strewn all over, but fixed on him instead, inquisitive.
He opened his wardrobe door. In fact he did not feel like going at all — it seemed more appropriate to stay indoors and content himself with a mug of hot chocolate — but since all his friends would be there . . .
"Yeah." He tapped a finger on his chin, then randomly picked out a black shirt. "I have absolutely no idea what to wear."
Kaoru turned back to his work, and scribbled something onto his notes. "Does it matter?" he mused quietly. "Everything's bound to come off at the end anyway."
He smiled to himself at the dark humour. That had not really sounded like it came from him. Or someone that meek, for that matter. Sometimes he really wondered about Kaoru.
"How about you?" he asked, casually. His other hand grabbed the jacket draped over his own chair. "Want to come along? I'm sure they won't mind."
The pencil paused its journey across the page. Then it was placed on the table, and the miscellaneous papers arranged. "I guess not," he heard Kaoru say, rather vaguely. "I have to . . . go elsewhere."
Kaoru shrugged. "Somewhere. You have fun at the party." He stood up, and smiled at him. "And merry Christmas."
For a while he wondered if he had sounded a little too brusque, the way he asked earlier: it was as though he was implying Kaoru had no friends to celebrate with. But he did not remember anyone calling or asking him out at all. Nor could he forget the several times the other bigger, taller boys nudging and talking to him in nary a friendly manner.
The door shut quietly between them.
– – –
The snow was more belated than usual. All there was under his shoes were grit and decaying leaves in various shades of black. He imagined a thick blanket of white, covering up all that unsightliness and reflecting warmly the light of a cool moon.
Its waxing crescent slipped slowly behind a patch of clouds as he thought.
A voice called his name. From a distance, a slender girl in a short skirt and black leggings waved at him. He waved back with another smile, and continued his way towards the west gate.
She was still very slim and pretty, he realised. Most likely she would be at the same party, along with her new boyfriend, whoever it might be. He did not know if she had left the guy she had ditched him for months before, but right then it mattered no more. At the very least, she and he did still remain as friends.
His footsteps slowed ever so slightly.
Maybe he should have insisted that Kaoru go along with him. For all he knew, his roommate could have been lying about that trip to 'somewhere', this supposed place other than their room. He hoped Kaoru didn't.
Raising his head he saw the naked branches of the trees, stark against the desaturated nightlight. It was more than apparent the school had not even bothered to spread some festive cheer to either the architecture or the flora.
Maybe that was why the party had to go on. Elsewhere.
Another voice hollered his name just then, this time from up front. Al's head jerked towards the open gate behind him in annoyance, one finger jabbing at his wrist. "You're late, dandy." He scowled. "I shouldn't have waited for you."
He laughed, and fell alongside his friend as they walked briskly towards town. "Yeah, I'm a dandy. And I had to find something perfect to wear, you see," he fibbed.
Al shot him a sarcastic look. "So says the person who didn't know why I had to shower. But —" the expression turned sly — "don't you think all those clothes will come off sooner or later?"
He closed his eyes and shook his head, amused, as Al took a deep breath, revelling in perhaps some far-fetched fantasy. "And if they don't now, they probably will at next week's party . . ."
He fell silent. It wasn't the sense of déjà vu: it was just that the image conjured by Al, and even the existence of that party itself, seemed to contradict the whole purpose of it all — the whole purpose of this night.
The street beside them was jostling with traffic, high and raucous. Yet through it, crystal clear, came the voices of carollers in their burgundy robes crystal clear, from the other side of the road.
Still through the cloven skies they come,
Love's banner all unfurled;
And still their heavenly music floats,
Over all the weary world.
He watched and listened.
Al was far ahead of him by then. "Hey!" he yelled, grabbing a chockfull of hair in each hand, in extreme impatience. "Are you still coming or not? We're damn late you know!"
He turned his attention back to Al. "I think I have something else on," he called with a hand cupped beside his mouth, after a short moment. "Something urgent. Go catch up with the other guys! And update me after you get back!"
His friend sighed, torn between exasperation and irritation. "No, asshole," he snapped. "Thanks for wasting my precious time." But he gave a huge wave of his arm nonetheless, and sprinted off towards the dull pulsing beat that was the party.
O! hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the Angels sing.
He turned and walked in the opposite direction, towards where they had just come from. Turning a small distance into a side lane, he fished his phone out from his pocket, and dialled a number. Seven dial tones later it came through, and then came a perplexed voice.
". . . Shun?"
"Where are you now?"
There was a mild silence. "Back in the room. Why?"
He closed his eyes. So perhaps, he was right.
"Nothing really. You . . . do you want to come out for a walk or something? It's quite . . . dumb if you stay inside there by yourself the whole time, since it's Christmas Eve and all that. And it's not like it's freezing hell out here."
". . . But don't you have a party to go to?"
He smiled faintly to himself. "Not anymore, actually. It doesn't matter."
The other end was silent once more.
"So — side gate C? I'll see you there."
". . . Okay. See you."
He did not expect Kaoru to come down so fast, for he thought he detected a slight reluctance during their phone conversation. But there he was — standing by the open iron gate, rocking to and fro on the balls of his feet and staring at the ground. A long blue scarf was wrapped snug around his neck, where — he recalled — there was a recent, angry bruise. Kaoru had never mentioned anything about it.
Kaoru raised his head when he approached, and gave a small smile. His hair shone pale in the moonlight.
"I thought you had to go off somewhere?" he inquired.
Kaoru shook his head. "I came back early."
They walked beside each other, not saying anything else. At the next junction he turned right, off the main road and the party venue, and towards what he knew was an avenue of trees that led to the nearby park. Kaoru followed close behind.
There, sparse fairy lights sparkled, all along the lane, in a kaleidoscope of tiny colours. Children ran around, laughing despite the cold, and scattered groups of people mingled with each other, high in spirits and waving their golden sparklers that joined the light parade.
He turned his head slightly to look at his roommate, out of the corner of his eye. Kaoru was almost a good whole head shorter than he was, but from that angle he could see his eyes, shining bright with what he assumed was hope; the smile that had never stopped lingering on his face since stepping out of campus; and his hand that occasionally tugged at his left sleeve, hiding what he knew was another wound, from two weeks before.
He had lain silent on his bed, facing the wall, knowing that behind him Kaoru had been quietly tending to it with the first-aid box, in the dead of the night. He had imagined him biting his lip at the burning pain, the nameless people who inflicted that on him simply because he could not fight back.
He did not want to ask.
"Seems more like Christmas here, doesn't it?" he commented, instead.
Kaoru looked sideways at him, the smile on his face light and pleasant. "You think so too?" he wondered. Then he turned away, and his eyes gazed off into the distance. "But — I don't know. I wouldn't know what it'd be like at the party. At any one of them, anyway . . ."
"No matter." He waved a dismissive hand. "It's just another excuse to dance and drink the night away. And — no way am I going to shed my clothes there." When Kaoru ogled at him, he looked away and abruptly added, "Anyway it'd be my loss if I lose them there, wouldn't it."
Kaoru laughed, his hands playing with the end of the scarf, quite nervously. "Is that true? The part where you guys just . . . go all wild and . . ." His fingers twirled more quickly. ". . . do all those things?"
It amused him, Kaoru's wide-eyed curiosity about that supposed reality he did not have a chance to experience, being the reserved personality he was. He paused in his steps and turned to face him full, arms folded. "Why? Does that interest you?" he asked in jest. "Does the thought and sight of people doing 'all those things' stark naked attract you that much?"
"No! I mean — I . . ."
"Well, don't you want to know? Christmas is all about truth, isn't it?" He pointed to somewhere in the distance, grinning. "We can go for a live demonstration right now, you know."
A blush crept up Kaoru's flustered face. "I don't . . . But it isn't Christmas yet. And —" He made a frustrated sound into his muffler. "Oh, forget it." He stomped off hastily between two winking trees, away from the path and towards the fringes of the park.
He smiled to himself again. It was unsurprisingly easy to discomfit Kaoru — perhaps not as a form of bullying, but then again, it was still teasing. And it probably had upset him just as much, which was not the reason this trip was initiated.
A lone golden light arced through the air, whizzing past them both then hitting the grass, where it lay forlorn and whistling. Behind came the triumphant whoop of a young boy who had launched the sparkler into flight.
He made his way after Kaoru, into a dimmer clearing, where the grass was trimmed and the trees much less dense and decorated. A handful of bright stars blinked in the sky, curious and incessant, yet Kaoru only stood staring at the cackling sparkler near his feet, his gaze undecipherable.
"I'm not going."
His own smile grew wider. "I didn't say we're going to." The sparkler spluttered and died just then, and Kaoru looked up faintly. He reached out an arm, and took Kaoru by the wrist.
"I said I'm not going," Kaoru insisted. But he did not reply: instead he leaned down and kissed him, gently, on the lips. In the brevity of those two seconds he felt nothing but a queer sense of immense sadness, whispering across his mouth like a lost melody.
– – –
For a long time they stood, his face tilted downwards, Kaoru's towards his, their lips merely an inch apart. Kaoru's eyes opened and stared at him, round and bright, and for an instant it looked as if what had occurred earlier had hurt him the same way those wounds had, and that he would run away.
He leaned back, a small sigh escaping his lips. "I'm sorry," he said, softly. His hand let go of Kaoru's at last, and awkwardly ran through his own hair. Kaoru's head was down, and he said nothing.
"I just thought you might want to know that . . ." he began, a tinge of that same unhappiness slipping towards his heart. ". . . that I've always treated you as . . . you know, a very good friend."
Kaoru lifted his head slightly, almost in expectation, but still did not look at him. He watched those hands picking and picking at the blue wool, worried that those eyes might tear from all that false hope, and berated himself silently.
"Well. Maybe . . . maybe even more, if we could." He paused, hesitant. "And I . . . I don't like it when I know what they've been doing to you —" There he vaguely pointed at Kaoru's left arm — "and . . . I can't really do anything about it. I don't even know if I can stop them from doing that, I don't even know how to, without them thinking that we . . ."
He left his words trailing, realising that he could not look Kaoru in the eye, either. There was his pride to speak of, to begin with. He almost wished he did not have to take any risks, but all confessions were like that — even to someone like Kaoru. Someone just like him.
By then Kaoru was gazing straight at him, the constant picking of his scarf ceased. His eyes, hidden from the light of the distant moon, were dark yet bright at the same time, in another surge of anticipation.
"And I . . . just thought that . . ."
There was an intense, rather unreadable, look on Kaoru's face. "That what?" he prompted, very softly.
Perhaps that truth, embarrassing as it was, was what Kaoru himself wanted to hear, too.
"That if you ever need any help or if you need anyone to talk to and . . . and be with, then —" He exhaled, with a rather deliberate slowness. "— you still have me. Here. Anytime."
And if it was enough to discontinue his feigned slumbers — and his last vestiges of whatever consciousness that kept him from hastening over to the other side of the room — whenever Kaoru had to use that first-aid box, then that embarrassment was probably more than just worth it.
His eyes were still averted. He could not bring himself to know what Kaoru thought of it all. Perchance, they might not be able to be even acquaintances after that night. For one harrowing moment he imagined, and regretted trying to explain anything, at all.
But a shadow appeared right before him; Kaoru looked up at him, a small sad smile gracing his lips. "I never wanted you to know, either," he said, distantly.
And nothing more they said after that, for all they did was smile at each other, in that same acceptance, that unspoken understanding — moved by the revealing of that one simple truth, and the infinite possibilities of everything else. The only thing that they heard — aside from the background squeals of children — was a medley of distant cheers, and the unmistakable low beats of boomboxes: an apt reminder of all those wild partygoers and what they probably were — not — wearing.
"Don't even think about it now," he said, smile warming, as he traced a finger lightly over Kaoru's cheek. "Merry Christmas, Kaoru."
The boy laughed, then self-consciously pushed that finger away, shaking his head. Instead he reached forward and gave Kaoru a tight hug, pressing their bodies close against each other's, warm and comforting, protective and safe.
"Merry Christmas," Kaoru said, in the tiniest of all whispers.
He remembered the last time he had held someone like that — his ex-girlfriend — some five months ago. He remembered the countless times, after that, wanting to do the same whenever his roommate returned, battered and shaken, from yet another assault that occurred for no reason whatsoever.
This time, he knew Kaoru needed it more, that he himself wanted it more. More than a year of their forever accidental nudges, and mere minutes after their first true contact — and it had never seemed more real.
And at least, Kaoru did not refuse.
He heard Kaoru sigh, softly, against his collar. Then, a soft murmur: "I thought all along you found me weak."
His hand stroked the warm blue wool of the scarf, careful not to let his hand even stray near the spot where the other bruise was. "I did. You could've fought back."
". . . I don't know how to."
He prised himself from Kaoru, somewhat in reluctance, and stared at him pensively. What he would give to make those bright eyes smile once more. "Maybe you don't even have to do that anymore," he said, and then continued, in a smaller voice. "I will try."
Kaoru was silent. But he seemed to appreciate the promise, and nodded once slowly, shyly, before turning once more towards the glittering trees lining the avenue path.
It was going to take both time and effort, he knew. Plus the fact that they might well be opposed, ostracised, and even more targeted than Kaoru had ever been.
He realised he did not mind. He did not want to.
And Christmas. A day of truth, and love. A shortcut to confessions of any sort, as with birthdays and Valentines' Days, though with a seasonal touch. But the very thing that led to such a revelation was, in fact, everyday and evermore.
And it was so much better than staying in with a mug of hot chocolate, because there would now be someone to do the same thing with, night after winter night.
He took Kaoru's hand again, but once they stepped through the trees Kaoru let go, and slipped his hands deep into the pockets of his own jacket, separate from him once more.
The children that had stayed up for their own countdown ran around screaming, sparklers fizzing themselves amok in their hands. One little girl with pink ribbons in her hair ran up to Kaoru just then, shrilled a "Merry Christmas!" to him, and scampered off to rejoin her friends, giggling happily.
He made use of that little episode to slip a hand into Kaoru's pocket, holding the hand inside tightly, warmly. Kaoru stared at him, then at the running girl with her ribbons flying, and finally down at his feet, not speaking a word. But there was, he knew, yet another smile on that downcast face, albeit utterly abashed.
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.
That gentle song of silence and newfound trust hovering between them both had never felt so true.
And in that way they walked the small stretch back, hand clasping each other's, in Kaoru's pocket, in another beautiful melody of hopeful, young love, one early Christmas morning.