December was, without a doubt, the shiniest month of the year.
This has been Subaru’s rationalization as to why Christmas was his favorite holiday for as long as he can remember. It didn’t come as much of a surprise to those who knew him, of course; Subaru made it very well-known that anything that sparkled in the light was enough to catch his eye. It was only natural, then, that his heart would start to race when the lights were strung up along with all those sparkly ornaments. The smiling, singing, and partying only added on to Subaru’s infatuation with the holiday, effectively bringing (to Hokuto’s great dismay) both his volume and his energy up by a dozen or so notches.
Subaru loved to take Daikichi for walks downtown at nighttime, when the lights were bright and sparkly and the snow was falling like glitter around them. He liked the warmth that would rise up in his chest when he saw people walking hand-in-hand along the sidewalk, smiling as though there weren’t a single worry to be had in the world. The bells that were strung up on the lampposts would chime when the wind rushed past, bringing a smile to his face as he watched Daikichi stop and look around for the source of the sound. He was particularly fond of stopping every now and then to peer into a window display, gazing in awe at the jewelry that glimmered in the light. Of course, he rarely ever bought anything on his walks (his income of a ten yen coin from Hokuto every week was a bit modest), more than satisfied with simply spending some time in the festive atmosphere that mixed together all the little things he loved.
His real favorite part of the holiday season, however, was something a bit more specific than the sparkling decorations and the festive attitude. On the first week of December, Subaru’s mother would always arrange to spend a night decorating their house together, shoving as many bright and shiny things into the mix as their old storage boxes could offer them. It had started when he was old enough to at least hand the decorations to her and has continued ever since, the only year without it being the year that his father was taken away.
But now, Subaru feels that the little tradition has only grown more special to him after the fact; his mother was a busy woman now, and this was always a convenient excuse to spend a night doing something fun together. Even more-so than all of the other favorable parts of Christmas, Subaru cherished it—a night where all of the bright and wonderful things in his life truly came together as one.
This is why, when Subaru’s mother complained of a cold and postponed the decorating to the second week of the month, Subaru felt a seed of dread plant itself in his chest.
He’d worried over it for a short while, but convinced himself for the time being that one week wasn’t enough of a loss to warrant any real concern. In fact, after a day of school and a rigorous lesson with his unit, Subaru had actually managed to persuade himself that there wasn’t anything to worry about. He decided to keep on, trusting that the cold medicine he’d bought on his way home would work its magic by the time that the weekend rolled around.
But the so-called “cold” was a bit too stubborn for the medicine, as the second week began to pass them by with no real improvement. He had the burning urge to ask her to come and try her hand at decorating anyway, but once she’d walked through the door after a long day of work looking more exhausted than she usually did, Subaru stamped the idea down almost immediately. Next week, she had said with a weary smile and a ruffle of his hair as she’d gone off to bed, leaving him with a sour taste in his mouth as he sat through another Christmas movie with Daikichi sleeping on his lap. Next week. It would only give the decorations a week until Christmas Day, but they liked to leave their decorations up until the New Year came, anyway.
“I’m really sorry, Akehoshi-kun,” Makoto had said with sympathetic eyes at the end of the third week, when Subaru had gotten the call that his mother had caught pneumonia and needed to stay in bed much more than she needed to be out in the cold decorating a house with him. He’d waved it off with a smile and a forced laugh at the time, wanting to at least get through the rest of their unit practice before the reality set in and ruined his good mood. Despite the concern from his friends, he’d managed to do just that before he excused himself and walked home alone.
He hadn’t bothered looking into any windows as he passed town square on his way, and the chiming of the lamppost bells had suddenly begun to sound terribly gloomy to him.
Subaru feet were beginning to drag along the ground by the time that he made it through his doorstep, tossing his coat over the rack and giving Daikichi an uninterested nudge with his foot when he’d eagerly come to greet him. His energy seemed to be draining out of his body from some hole that’d been poked into him as he sluggishly made his way down the hallway and into his room, unceremoniously flopping into his bed and cocooning himself in the comforter.
He let himself sit in the darkness for a couple of minutes before fishing blindly for his phone, wincing at the brightness of the screen and flicking the slider down to its lowest setting. 6:27 stared back at him, and he remembered that he’d told his mother he’d settle for a frozen meal tonight so that she could get some rest.
He wasn’t hungry.
The corner of the bed dipped a bit as Daikichi hopped up onto the mattress, pawing playfully at the big blanket-cocoon sprawled in the center of the bed. Subaru wriggled away from him with a groan, dropping his face against the sheets and wondering what ungodly hour of the morning he’d wake up at if he went to bed now. Once he’d realized that it was a Friday and he really didn’t care about throwing his schedule out of whack, his conscience was light enough to let him fall asleep.
In a dreamy haze, Subaru vaguely registers the short bursts of vibration against his stomach. It’s an annoyance more than anything at first, but proves to be too great an obstacle to ignore when squirming aimlessly doesn’t make it go away. He blinks groggily in the darkness of his room, drifting between being asleep and being awake for a couple of moments before realizing after yet another buzz that phones do, in fact, vibrate.
He yawns and uncharacteristically wishes that whoever it was would refrain from sending what must’ve been at least ten messages in the past few minutes, patting down his stomach blindly until his palm hit the cold screen. He lifts it lazily to his face, glancing down momentarily at the dark lump that’s currently sleeping on his legs.
8:39. Subaru squints at the notifications flooding his lockscreen, completely blocking out his Trickstar wallpaper. A new one pops up as he’s scrolling, and he slowly moves his index finger to swipe it open.
[HidakaHokuto] I’m just saying that it really isn’t common knowledge.
[HidakaHokuto] Like, if you asked a random person on the street, they probably wouldn’t know that queso means cheese.
[YuukiMakoto] hidaka-kun are you sure about that
Subaru stares blankly as the messages roll along the screen of the group chat, rubbing at his eyes as they begin to adjust to the light.
[IsaraMao] Have you never like…had a quesadilla before
With great effort, Subaru wriggles out of his blanket so that he can sit upright in bed, Daikichi whining in protest as he’s shaken off of Subaru’s legs. He mumbles an apology to him as he stretches his arms up and over his head with another exaggerated yawn. Subaru leans over his nightstand and fumbles for the chain of his lamp, finding it after groping in the dark for a few seconds and squinting when the light proves too bright too quickly. Blinking furiously to adjust to it, he looks down at his phone screen again, forgetting what he’d even been looking at beforehand.
[HidakaHokuto] Wait, is that why it’s called that? Doesn’t “quesadilla” sound like “queso?”
[YuukiMakoto] omg you cracked the code hidaka-kun
[YuukiMakoto] you should call the restaurants and let them know
[YuukiMakoto] i mean this is pretty important information
[HidakaHokuto] I’ve never called a restaurant before…
Subaru breathes out a quiet laugh as he reads the conversation over one more time, concluding that he must’ve forgotten to mute it before. Part of him is thankful for it—in reality, he’d probably feel much worse if he’d wound up sleeping any later. Flopping down onto his pillow, Subaru holds the phone up and begins to type out a message with his sluggish thumbs.
[AkehoshiSubaru] Hokke’s being dumb again?
[HidakaHokuto] Don’t be rude.
[YuukiMakoto] how’s it going?
He feels like shit.
[AkehoshiSubaru] I’m good~
Frowning, Subaru begins typing an “I’ve gotta go do something” message as he considers slinking down to the kitchen and heating up that meal he’d bought. He stops when Makoto’s next message appears on the screen.
[YuukiMakoto] ah, my mom drove past your house on the way home today by the way
[YuukiMakoto] she said it looks really nice! im glad things worked out~
He stares blankly at the screen, his tongue held in place against the back of his teeth as he tries to figure out what the other could possibly mean. The confusion is more than enough to overrule the bitterness he feels at being reminded of the source of his bad mood, and suddenly he’s completely forgotten about the growling in his stomach.
[YuukiMakoto] you decorated, right??
[YuukiMakoto] my mom said it was looking really nice and she thought she saw you outside hanging lights or something
[YuukiMakoto] is your mom feeling better??
Subaru sits up, turning and swinging his legs over the bedside as he looks down at his phone screen. He listens quietly, but doesn’t hear any noise in the hallway.
[AkehoshiSubaru] My mom has been sleeping ever since she got home and I just woke up from a nap???
[IsaraMao] At 9pm??
[AkehoshiSubaru] Shut up that’s not the point Sari
[AkehoshiSubaru] Wdym my house was decorated it’s not
[YuukiMakoto] i mean…idk that’s just what my mom said
[YuukiMakoto] she drives by your place on the way home from work so i dont think she’d be confused about that
[YuukiMakoto] maybe she’s losing it lol
[HidakaHokuto] Don’t talk bad about your mother, Yuuki.
[YuukiMakoto] nooo omg i wasnt!!! i love my mom hidaka-kun
[YuukiMakoto] even if she kicks my ass at mario kart
Subaru lowers his phone and pulls himself up and off of his bed, walking towards the window with narrowed eyes. Daikichi’s head perks up from where it was lying on his paws, tilting his head curiously as he watches Subaru push a blind up to peek through at the yard outside.
[AkehoshiSubaru] What the fuck
[HidakaHokuto] Language, Akehoshi.
[IsaraMao] You didn’t flag Makoto lol
[AkehoshiSubaru] There’s Christmas lights outside
[IsaraMao] In December?
[IsaraMao] That’s wild
[AkehoshiSubaru] Sari stop I’m serious
[AkehoshiSubaru] I didn’t put them there and they weren’t there when I got home
[YuukiMakoto] oh my god…
[YuukiMakoto] you think there’s a serial decorator going around…!?
[HidakaHokuto] You mean a serial killer, Yuuki?
[IsaraMao] That’s the joke man
[YuukiMakoto] ugh hidaka-kun comedy king
[IsaraMao] I mean isn’t that a good thing
[IsaraMao] Like maybe you have a guardian angel or something lol
[AkehoshiSubaru] It’s NOT good it’s weird and I feel threatened!!!!!
[HidakaHokuto] Santa must’ve visited you early, Akehoshi.
[HidakaHokuto] Have you been a good boy?
[AkehoshiSubaru] Oh my god Hokke shut UP
[AkehoshiSubaru] You guys are NOT helping!!!!!!!!!
[AkehoshiSubaru] I’m going to go downstairs and check
[AkehoshiSubaru] If it’s my mom she shouldn’t be out of bed
[YuukiMakoto] nooo akehoshi-kun!!!!
[YuukiMakoto] what if it’s actually a murderer omg
[YuukiMakoto] take daikichi
[IsaraMao] Man you would NOT survive a horror movie Makoto
[YuukiMakoto] you’re just now figuring that out isara-kun
[HidakaHokuto] Really, be careful, Akehoshi.
Unhelpful. Completely and utterly unhelpful.
Even so, he whistles for Daikichi to follow him as he slowly creaks his bedroom door open, peering into the dark hallway. It’s his mother—obviously, it has to be his mother trying to surprise him or something—but that doesn’t stop him from feeling a mixture of worry and excitement in his stomach which may or may not be because he’s starving right now. He flicks on a light in the hallway and glances down towards his mother’s room.
Pursing his lips, he turns and begins walking down the hallway, Daikichi trotting after him curiously, tugging on the hem of his pants. Subaru shakes him off with a promise that he’ll play with him later, rounding the corner and staring uneasily at the front door. She must’ve strung up some lights while I was sleeping. She saw me sleeping and wanted to surprise me. And yet he knew that she was just as fond of their little tradition as he was; if she had done it while Subaru was asleep, wouldn’t she know that he wouldn’t care unless they did it together?
He glances down at his lockscreen one more time.
[YuukiMakoto] akehoshi-kun are you alive
[YuukiMakoto] akehoshi-kun!!! ; __ ;
[HidakaHokuto] Don’t forget about unit practice on Monday.
With a sigh, Subaru decides to slip his phone into the pocket of his sweatpants instead. He pulls on his boots and shrugs on his coat, shooing Daikichi away as he takes hold of the door handle and slowly twists it.
The air is frigid as it hits his face, making him flinch and nearly rethink going outside to investigate at all. But, reluctantly, he puts his foot through the doorway and steps outside, closing it behind him and shoving his hands into his coat pockets to keep them from freezing. He turns around, eyeing the empty yard with suspicion, and starts to descend the porch stairs. The bushes lining the porch are all strung up with blinking lights, and he definitely recognizes that stand-up reindeer on the side of the driveway, so maybe it was —no, has to be—his mother’s doing. Frowning, he starts to walk down the pathway, wondering why she would think it’d make him feel any better to do it all by herself, and while she was sick, nonetheless—
A startled shudder wracks Subaru’s body and sends him jumping a good couple of inches off of the ground, nearly rolling his ankle when he turns to face the porch, instinctively fumbling to grab a weapon that didn’t exist. His mouth goes dry, the words dying on the tip of his tongue and leaving him dumbstruck, staring with wide eyes at the person currently standing at the steps.
“That’s right!” Oh, God, not the pose, Subaru thinks frantically, don’t start with the pose — “None other than the burning heart, Morisawa Chiaki!”
I wish it really had been a murderer is what Subaru might normally retort, but he needs at least thirty more seconds to process Chiaki’s presence here, in the middle of the night at his house —
“What are you…Chii-chan-senpai, how are…”
Bringing his arms down from his (stupid) pose, Chiaki puts his hands on his hips, grinning a little too confidently for Subaru’s liking.
“Sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you! I’m just glad you’re awake, is all!” He leans over the side of the porch, rummaging through one of the familiar storage boxes and pulling out another string of lights. “Come on, Akehoshi! Up and at ‘em! It won’t be so cold if you’re moving around, after all!”
Subaru looks at him incredulously.
“You…Chii-chan-senpai, why…how did you even find my house…?”
Chiaki blinks, staring at Subaru as if he’d spoken to him in a different language. After taking a suspiciously similar amount of time as it would take to formulate an excuse, he boldly puffs his chest out.
Subaru scowls. The other laughs guiltily, bringing a hand up to awkwardly rub at the back of his neck as he averts his gaze.
“Er, well…it’s just that…Isara told me you were feeling down, so…”
Traitor, Subaru thinks bitterly as he formulates a strongly-worded text message in his head.
“But, I knocked earlier and your mother answered the door! She said you were asleep, but she, a fellow ally of justice, approved of my idea and lent me these decorations!”
How could you do this to me, Sari? I thought Trickstar was finished with turning our backs on each other! If you wanna play it that way, then fine! Go get a haircut, stinky Sari!
Oh, yeah. Now that’s a text message.
“…So, I got a bit of a head start waiting for you! It isn’t like you to wear that kind of face, so come and grab some lights, Akehoshi! There’s plenty left to do!”
Chiaki holds up the lights again, staring at Subaru expectantly, reminding him a little too much of how Daikichi looks when begging for food. He feels—well, most of him feels annoyed, but part of him—feels guilty for having worried Chiaki to the point of…doing whatever this was supposed to be. In reality, even when he’s in this sort of bad mood, Subaru still itches for the company of somebody else; no matter the situation, he doesn’t think he’s ever preferred to be alone for very long as opposed to being with someone else. In fact, maybe if it were a different situation, Subaru might have even felt better after Chiaki’s presence.
But there wasn’t a “make it better” for this sort of thing. Even if he was here and offering, it just wasn’t the same.
“Chii-chan-senpai,” he says quietly, looking down at his boots. “Even though it’s really weird and kind of creepy…thanks. But, I really…I don’t know what Sari told you, but it’s kind of something…you know.”
Is he being childish? The thought crosses his mind for a moment, but he realizes he doesn’t care about the answer. This was something special for himself and his mother; it was one of the few ritual things that they did together that didn’t dig up old and painful memories of his father. Even if he was being stubborn, he had a right to be.
“Thanks a lot,” he says again, suddenly wanting to sink into the ground and just disappear altogether. “But I’d really rather you just go home, Chii-chan-senpai.”
Chiaki’s determined expression softens, a more sympathetic look forming upon his features as Subaru quietly kicks at the pebbles on the pathway. He slowly lowers the lights back into the box, taking a couple of steps forward until the toes of their shoes were nearly close enough to touch.
“…I get it,” he says gently, looking down to stifle the dull ache of guilt in his chest. “You wouldn’t have gotten so upset if it wasn’t something special. It’s just that…well, when I saw you sulking in the hallway earlier today, I couldn’t help but ask Isara. The last time you looked like that was…”
Subaru shivers—his jacket is thick enough to fight the cold outside, but it isn’t doing much to protect him from the cold inside. He wants to say something, though he’s not sure what; either way, he’s sure it wouldn’t make any difference. Chiaki might be loud and overbearing at times, but Subaru was well aware of how perceptive he really was.
“I’m sorry, Akehoshi,” Chiaki smiles in understanding, tucking his hands into his coat pockets. “I’ll let you get back inside…but you’ll at least call me if you need anything, right?”
Subaru nods once, unable to look up at him. He keeps his gaze fixated on the ground until he hears the sound of Chiaki’s footsteps crunching against the thin patches of snow on the pathway. A terrible loneliness starts to fester in his chest again and he stamps it back down, wanting to at least wait until he was safe in his bed again to start crashing.
With a quiet sigh, he looks up— really looks up—and catches sight of those sparkly, twinkling lights up on top of the porch and wrapped all around the bushes.
For a moment, he feels his breath catch, a glimmer reflecting in his eyes that instinctively widen to take in the sight. He feels his fingers begin to tremble in his pockets. Somehow, he hadn’t noticed the wreath hung up on the door, nor did he see the little sleigh bells tied to the pillars, or the cute little snowman stand-up that his mother loved so much, and the shiny lights blur and get brighter for some reason when his eyes get watery—
Chiaki turns at nearly the same time as Subaru does, his brows raised, and Subaru wonders if the hopeful expression on his face is a mirror image of his own.
His voice cracks a bit, and he stops to clear his throat, feeling his cheeks start to heat up against the cold.
“Do you…will you come in and watch a movie?”
The other stares at him in silence for a moment, and for that split moment Subaru wonders if somehow he’d even managed to scare Chiaki away. But Chiaki, seeming to have finally registered what Subaru had said to him, breaks into that familiar grin of his instead. Subaru doesn’t think he remembers Chiaki’s smile ever making him feel butterflies in his stomach, but he doesn’t have much time to remember when Chiaki closes the distance between them, pulling Subaru into a hug that—for once—isn’t too tight.
“Akehoshi…! You already know the answer, don’t you! I told you that I would come whenever you called for me, after all!”
Chiaki’s laughing that loud, obnoxious laugh of his that would usually annoy him, but despite himself, Subaru finds a smile creeping onto his lips. He returns the hug— God, it felt good to just hug someone after the week that he’s had—and feels the sudden urge to laugh as well. Not at anything in particular, he thinks—maybe at how ridiculously warm Chiaki was compared to the winter air.
“I know,” Subaru murmurs, resting his chin on Chiaki’s shoulder and looking up fondly at the starry night sky. “Chii-chan-senpai’s a hero, after all.”