Christmas was fine, absolutely fine, in Ran’s unasked for opinion. The holiday itself meant very little to her outside of an increase in seasonal floral arrangements and sudden surplus in peppermint products, excepting the Annual Afterglow Christmas Party, the capstone of all their yearly traditions. That was the real holiday for Ran, the day after was just an extra day off to sleep off the food she indulged in the night before.
Which was, as stated, fine. Really fine, not “Himari caught halfway through a pack of tissues” fine. Ran liked her life. She had liked it at least, when it was simple and solitary save for the moments her friends would barge in and demand she let them mix everything up—the moments she’d secretly loved since childhood. She really only had one complaint about the season, the sort of incidental issue that only bothered Ran.
Her mortal enemy: The sprig of mistletoe hung every year at the little entrance way between the front and back of Hazawa Coffee and mocked her with green leaves and highly poisonous red berries that honestly belonged no where near open food. But every time she mentioned THAT little fact Himari called her a ‘scrooge’. Ran was NOT a scrooge. She was just single.
For years everyone had a piece of Christmas spirit to call their own. Except Ran. The inkling started in the back of her head, just a little scratch of wonder trying to figure out where she fit into everyone’s domestic bliss. Then it grew into a blanket, snug and suffocating. Not a pounding urge to go out a procreate but a little longing in those stray moments. A little wonder what it would be like to feel that way too. Ran wanted a plus one.
Then her life got tangled in Yukina Minato’s.
It wasn’t the sort of relationship with a proper start date or one of those clean cut confessions like in the books Moca wrote. Just longer and longer hours spent together until eventually Yukina stopped leaving Ran’s house all together and they realized somewhere along the way they’d fallen in love with each other. Yukina moved her four cats—Stevie, Sheena, Mariah, and Nana— in. Ran found new homes for her lilies and lavenders. They soundproofed the spare bedroom and bought a larger bed and that was that.
For the first time she had a plus one for Afterglow’s party. One last hurdle of adulthood she’d finally leapt over. But before Ran accepted the grace and maturity she felt she’d earned at almost 30, there was one last little piece of business to settle.
“Ran you’re here!” Tsugumi greeted them at the door, gratefully scooping up the flower arrangement Ran spent days carefully putting together (absent ANY mistletoe) as Sayo took their coats with a silent smile and slight nod. Ten years of hosting the Christmas Party with Tsugumi and Sayo was still a bit awkward—maybe that was just Sayo’s nature.
“So this is where you’ve spent every Christmas Eve, Sayo,” Yukina stepped into Hazawa Coffee with her usual unreadable expression—though Ran had finally realized it was simply how her face naturally fell, not judgement. “We brought wine.”
They did. Lisa’s insistence apparently. It wasn’t Yukina’s first Afterglow Christmas Party, but it was her first as Ran’s guest—no—Ran’s partner. Their hands slipped into each other’s as soon as Yukina handed off the wine. Ran squeezed tight. She’d get revenge for fifteen years of the mistletoe curse tonight.
“Ho ho ho~” Moca swung around from the back, eggnog in hand, Santa hat on their head and their wife close behind making sure Moca’s drink only ended up in their mouth. “The Minatos are here~.”
“We’re not as patriarchal as you the Aobas.” Ran smiled at her pseudo sister-in-law.
Chisato straightened Moca’s hat with a pat around the white brim before she let her eyes slide and met Ran’s smile, “I suspect you’ll be more the combination type.”
Ran blushed, the idea had struck her even though their relationship could still only be counted in months. Her friends weren’t exactly a good model of how long to date before getting engaged—she suspected six years wasn’t a usual timeline.
To Ran’s warm surprise, Yukina answered. “Of course.” She nodded serenely. “Minato-Mitake.”
“Mitake-Minato.” Ran corrected instantly.
“Hmm…” Yukina wondered. “We shall see.”
Ran craned over her friends’ heads looking towards the entryway to the back half of Hazawa Coffee. Strange. The tell-tale green and red plant wasn’t visible. It was probably just tucked out of sight. She searched for a quick excuse to slip away—Moca would find plenty of time to pick on their purported best friend later. “Where are Himari and Tomoe?”
“In the back~.” Moca looped their arm around Chisato’s waist. “Romi’s a little craaanky.” They winced as Chisato lovingly smacked them away.
“Thanks.” Ran tugged Yukina past the married couple angling to get into a little Chisato approved PDA. It was impossible to match the person Chisato was now with the person she’d been at that very first Christmas party—stiff and secretly terrified—but Ran preferred the woman she considered family now.
Yukina caught Ran’s upward stare as they approached the back. No mistletoe. “Ran? What are you looking for?”
Before Ran could decide to answer with a lie or the truth, a baby’s cry pierced the air.
“Himari… give her here.”
“No! I’m her mama too. It’s okay Hiromi~. It’s oooo-kaaay.”
Ran and Yukina let go of each other to hold their ears
“Shhh, shh it’s okay. Mama Tomoe’s got you. Shh…”
“Our baby hates me.”
Tomoe turned the corner, happy gurgling baby Hiromi—six months old and already covered in spikes of bright red hair—bouncing in her arms. “Himari… she has a mama and a mama. Sometimes she just wants me!
“Just because she flew out your va—Ran!” Himari stormed behind them quickly pivoting from her wife and child to her childhood friend. “You’re here!”
“Himari.” Ran tried to hold her question back but the words spilled out anyway. “Where’s the mistletoe?”
Himari frowned with the confusion of a woman who had not slept through the night in six month. “The what?”
“The mistletoe!” Ran jabbed her finger upwards. “It always hangs right here!”
“Oh that mistletoe.” Himari laughed, taking her daughters small hand in hers and cooing into her forehead—previous crime forgiven. “We’re a little past the mistletoe phase aren’t we?”
The mistletoe phase. For fifteen years—since fourteen year old Himari read about the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe in one of her magazines and insisted they had to do it too—they’d hung mistletoe in that exact spot and Ran had been subject to their RAGING HORMONES and now that Ran had someone to kiss they were just… just PAST the MISTLETOE PHASE?
Ran sunk into her memories.
The first incident was inevitable. They were five queer teenagers playing with the proverbial fire of mistletoe with a bundle of hormones for kindling. Of course they’d all end up having their first kisses in quick succession one Christmas Eve with Himari sweeping from person to person to cover up how much she’d really, really wanted to lay one on Tomoe. Ironically, it was the only time Ran ever kissed under the mistletoe. Himari kissed like a mosquito bite—tiny and targeted—except when it came to Tomoe. For Tomoe there were longing looks and weird amounts of tongue and three witnesses who really would have rather been anywhere else.
Mistletoe was Tomoe and Himari’s domain for years. They’d sneak off between party games and snack courses to get busy in each other’s arms until someone inevitably discovered them. … Until Ran inevitability discovered them. Ran was born under an unlucky accidentally voyeuristic star and the couple weren’t exactly subtle. Her hope was that eventually they’d get tired of it but they never did. Never tired of mistletoe, never tired of each other. The latter made Ran happy at least.
Then it wasn’t theirs alone any more. Tsugumi quietly asked one winter if she could bring a guest to their party—the first guest to their party. Sayo was uncomfortable to her core but every time she looked at Tsugumi… Ran wasn’t sure what she wanted, if she even really liked Tsugumi in the way Tsugumi liked her and she was certain she’d never be able to bring herself to trust Roselia’s guitarist with their Tsugumi.
Ran was fetching a few extra cups, crouched below the countertop, when they stepped under the mistletoe. She started to cough to make herself known but the look in Sayo’s eyes—embarrassment, maybe even shame—made her still even her breath.
“You don’t have to.” Sayo’s flickering gaze made it clear what she meant.
“Sayo.” Tsugumi tugged at her hands. They weren’t dating—not for lack of trying from Tsugumi. There was just a wall Sayo struggled to pull down no matter how hard Tsugumi pushed at it.
“It’s okay.” Sayo stooped down and quickly, quietly kissed Tsugumi on her cheek just below her eye. Sweet. Chaste. Ran held her breath to keep her relieved sigh from exploding loudly out. “This is enough for me.”
But such a sigh would have been premature anyway because in the next moment Tsugumi turned her head and met Sayo’s lips with her own with a forcefulness that felt totally foreign to Ran’s mild mannered friend. Even in her most Vice Presidential moments Ran never would have expected she could do all that, all the stuff with pushing Sayo against the wall and the tongues and—it was not for Ran’s eyes. A pity there was little for Ran to look at except the insides of her own eyelids. But still she could hear… the slurping and the moment of pause as they pulled apart and Tsugumi whispered:
“I want you here. I want you.”
Shame burned Ran’s cheeks. All her doubts about Sayo, about her sincerity, her loyalties, were pointless in the face of what Tsugumi wanted. She breathed a little easier that night though Sayo and Tsugumi took the time to get to know that corner a little better all the while Ran held herself like a statue, knowing full well that if she ever wanted Sayo to look her in the eyes again she couldn’t let herself be known.
At least Chisato was discrete. Moca’s partner didn’t join them until later, a bit into their twenties when they finally realized they too deserved a little happily ever after. For a year Ran was spared the mistletoe curse, Chisato and Moca only allowed themselves chaste hand brushes and an indirect eggnog kiss in lieu of greater affections. She thought she’d feel relieved not to have to witness her best friend smooching but the absence taunted Ran with a mix of anticipation and concern that soured her stomach.
The next year was different. They were still a bit… stilted, especially for someone as much cling wrap as a person as Moca, but Ran heard Moca’s teasing lilt as they left the restroom and ducked unseen behind a corner to let the curse do its worst—no matter how easily she could avoid the fate.
“Chisato~ look up.” Moca stopped just below the mistletoe, mischief in their eyes and a purse on their lips. They craned towards her, slouching to make themselves shorter. “You fell into Moca’s mistletoe trap~.”
Chisato chuckled somewhere between a confident dismissal and a curious intrigue. She tapped Moca’s chin. “So clever and yet you never considered that I could walk away at any time.”
They giggled at the little scratch Chisato gave them. “It’s terrible terrible luck to walk away from mistletoe without a kiss-a-roo~.”
“Well.” Her lips quirked up. “Bad luck has always followed me around regardless.”
“You have to~” Moca teased. “It’s the law.”
“And which legislative body passed that?”
“The Santa Claus Diet.”
Moca’s smile flickered for a moment—only a second but as broad as a billboard to Ran—before they bounced back on one leg, hands clasped behind their back with a new grin twice as large. “Just kidding~ no reason to take something silly so seri…” The word got lost as Chisato stepped forward, keeping the mistletoe above them. “…ous.”
The kiss was quick but Ran suspected Chisato was used to throwing as much of her heart into as quick an action as possible. The longing captured in a single kiss, Chisato’s hands at Moca’s collar as her lips thoroughly shut up the unshut-upable, was almost enough to make Ran turn and run. It was when Chisato stroked Moca’s cheek—with the same delicacy Ran gave her most fragile flowers— as the pair parted, that she actually did turn away, hiding her face in her shoulder.
It wasn’t for Ran to see, but she was glad she did.
“Merry Christmas Moca,” Chisato murmured under her breath before the quiet hum of a second, more languid kiss made Ran retreat to the bathroom.
And there were so, so many more. As the years passed the curse continued. Every couple that guest starred in their Christmas celebrations found their way to the mistletoe and laid their intimacy bare for Ran to stumble into. Aya and Hina practically desecrated the plant, Lisa and her revolving door of lovers found their way under it and even little Ako—long, long past being ‘little’— shared a Christmas kiss with Rinko. Everyone, absolutely everyone had their moment. Except Ran. And now she never would.
It was such a stupid thing to hurt over but hurt she did. Ran could feel herself retreat from her friends—if she were younger she’d find the nearest roof. She needed to take a moment to shake this ridiculous funk away but even that felt too indulgent for something that shouldn’t be bothering her: missing out on her mistletoe phase.
“Ran?” Yukina tugged at her sleeve, ignoring Tomoe and Himari’s concerned looks. “I’m a bit warm, could we step outside for a moment?”
Ran snapped back into herself, the Ran Mitake of the present day with a girlfriend to look after and no time to brood. “Yeah sure.”
They excused themselves outside to the brisk December air, settling by a streetlight. Yukina stood far closer than was polite but Ran had long realized she had no idea what polite meant. It was amazing how quickly annoying quirks became beloved ones. Framed in streetlight, Ran thought Yukina had the same aura as a rare flower in the sun growing ignorant of her surroundings. Without thinking, she tucked a loose strand of hair behind Yukina’s ear and leaned in for a kiss.
It was brief, Ran pulled back as soon as she felt her girlfriend’s lips cock up in a smirk.
Yukina’s head tilted, “I was wondering when you would kiss me. You’ve looked like you wanted to since we arrived.”
“I-I didn’t!” Ran was still unwilling to admit she was so well understood.
“Yes you did.” She tapped her lips. “I can tell.”
“No.” Ran, master of the Mitake flower school, lauded songwriter and petulant child, groaned. “You can’t.”
Still, victory crested across Yukina’s face, a rare display of bold emotion. “You’re not nearly as subtle as you think you are.” Just as Ran was ready to storm off into the night, Yukina cupped her face and peered closely as if trying to read Ran’s pages. “What’s wrong?”
“Mistletoe.” Ran wasn’t a good liar normally but she was a terrible liar in regards to Yukina.
“How curious.” She tapped Ran’s chin, the tip of her fingernail tickling Ran’s cleft. “I do not understand. Do you need an excuse to kiss me, Mitake?” Their last names had been forged into pet names by time.
“It’s not about kissing!” Ran flinched at the sharpness of her own tone. She struggled to dial down her tone approximately a thousand percent to it’s usual low timber. “It’s about making sure they know… I’m okay.”
“Ah.” She paused. “I understand.”
“Yes.” Her finger swished down Ran’s chin, tilting her upwards with a smile. “It’s about pride.”
“It’s not about pride!” Ran jumped away, wiping at her face as if Yukina’s touch could leave a mark.
“Of course it is,” Yukina said, calm as ever. “You’re Ran Mitake. If you weren’t so prideful we probably would have dated in high school.”
Ran sputtered wordlessly into the night air.
“Though I suppose we would not presently be dating, so I prefer your current self.”
Exasperated words clung to Ran’s lips but she swallowed them down and let a sigh fall out instead, stepping forward as her head fell forward to rest on Yukina’s forehead. “I feel like I missed out on so much.”
“You did.” Yukina did not mince words, she served them up whole and presumed they would not choke anyone.
“So did I.” She shrugged. “It’s just what it is. If you’re upset that you missed their ‘mistletoe phase’ then…” Familiar, coarse leaves pushed at Ran’s hand. She opened one eye before the other popped open in wonder at what Yukina pressed into her hand. “We’ll have ours now.”
“Where did you…?”
Yukina smiled as mysteriously as always and pulled away, Christmas lights reflected in her eyes. “You are not the only prideful one, Ran.”
“I am going to hold it up.” Yukina pulled away enough that her arm could struggle free.
Ran tried to push it away. “I’m not ready!”
“The mistletoe does not care whether or not you are ready Ran.”
“But you do!”
“I am but a servant of my mistletoe.”
And then it was overhead and there was nothing to do but close her eyes and let the curse of the mistletoe wash over them. Yukina’s lips were a little bit sweeter, the air between them so much colder and its absence so, so much warmer. Ran
“Awwooooooo!” Someone familiar wolf whistled.
“Yes!” Someone else cheered.
Ran bolted away, almost halfway down the block before she looked at the store and Yukina pulled her back. There was her entire family—Moca winking with Chisato’s hand clasped over their mouth, Himari’s hand stuck to her own mouth—watching her kiss her girlfriend under the mistletoe. “Y-you!”
“I’m sorry Ran, I didn’t realize you liked mistletoe that much!” Himari squeaked between her fingers. “With the baby I just kind of forgot… I made up the stuff about the mistletoe phase, I didn’t know it was important!” Tomoe wrapped her arm around her wife and nodded, their baby nodding too (whether in agreement or asleep was up for question).
Ran Mitake longed to choose death. “This is… this is totally embarrassing.”
“Really?” Yukina questioned with a look in her eyes Ran did not wish to explore. “I enjoyed it.”
“I’m going to forget you said that.”
“We can hang that up!” Tsugumi offered. Sayo nodded beside her.
“I’ll do it!” Himari volunteered at once. With a maiden’s blush she turned to her wife. “Tomoe… will you help me hang it?”
“Well,” Tomoe leaned in. “You need someone pretty tall to hang it after all.”
The pair giggled like they were 14 again, handing their child over to Chisato for safekeeping before practically falling over each other for a chance to make out like teenagers again. The others swiftly followed, Moca making faces over Chisato’s shoulder at the giggling baby, Tsugumi and Sayo walking inside arm and arm, and then it was just Yukina and Ran and the moonlight.
She really was beautiful, Ran thought as she looked down at her Yukina. Too intuitive by half, but maybe Ran needed that. Maybe. She was lucky that they got to experience their first together, even if they started them later than the rest. No use in mourning what they missed when there was so much to do. The idea struck some sentimental cord in Ran and she sighed, “I think my mistletoe phase might have been cut short.
“Oh?” But leave it to Yukina to think the same thing with the slightest twist. She leaned in with a smile cresting over her features and a little wickedness in her eyes. “I believe mine has just begun.”