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Cold metal presses into the side of his fingers, gliding up and down in a rhythmic motion that drifts his mind to a faraway place. Soft yarn encircles a finger lightly, rubbing with every movement of his hands and tingling his skin with each pass. His vision lightly hazes over, blending in with the mellow sunshine streaming in through the window pane like a river of gold. The yarn eagerly accepts the warmth of the sun; its disarrayed, stray fibers glowing in the endless flow of light.

Only the occasional, quiet clink of the knitting needles in his hands as they slide against each other keep him company. The room otherwise empty; full of heartfelt sunbeams and the scent of diluted flora and nothing else. The ball of yarn rolls on its side one way and then another as more of its mass is taken away – perfectly spherical shape methodically reducing in size and reforged anew.

The craft pools into his lap, trapping the heat of his body tightly against him. The chill of the headboard pressing intimately into his back and the nippy air that bites at his exposed ankles between his pants and socks fight valiantly for his attention, to no avail. Though his hands move to muscle memory, his mind wanders to the days yet to come – the days his heart anticipates with silly, excited beats. The days that have been lost to the passage of time cannot be taken back or revised, but with their existence, a brilliant future has been made possible.

Sharp knocks echo throughout the room, shattering his daze and bringing him back to the present.

For a moment, his hands pause midmotion, suspended in the air while his consciousness surfaces back into attentiveness. He exhales softly, setting the project to the side carefully and sliding his legs off of the bed. The comforter shifts under his weight, tugging and stretching as he stands. His feet pad across the wooden floorboards with soft thuds, making his way to the front door with ease. The room is kept well organized, after all.

With the freezing door handle between his fingers, he opens the door with a click. The overly warm hallway air rushes into the room, splashing his face in its strange scent of familiarity and cleaning products. Glimmering with the fluorescent lights embedded into the ceiling, crimson eyes meet his with a playful radiance.

“Secchan~”

“Kuma-kun.” Izumi greets back. “What are you doing here?”

“Heh~ Can’t I just visit you because I want to? After I walked all the way here too.” Ritsu drones with a pout. Without waiting to formally get invited, he shimmies inside. “The others aren’t here?”

Izumi closes the door as he rattles off the usual, “Overseas. Family. Student Council.”

“This room always seems to be empty. Mm, but I guess that means I can do this, yeah?”

Before Izumi has time to question what he means, Ritsu is stepping into his personal space. The back of his head lightly thumps against the solid door, the cold wood contrasting sharply with the heat of Ritsu’s gentle breath fanning across Izumi’s skin. Their lips just barely touch, bodies also only a hair’s width apart. Izumi feels the moment Ritsu’s lips lift into a self-satisfied smirk, lips brushing against his with the motion, both flushing Izumi’s cheeks and raising his ire.

“Or not~” Ritsu sings teasingly as he pulls back, treading away with a carefree step.

Izumi clicks his tongue. “So? What are you here for?”

His boyfriend chuckles in that languidly breathy way he always does, “Like I said, because I wanted to.”

He stares at Ritsu with a quirked eyebrow. “With that annoying look on your face right now? I don’t believe it.”

“Fufu, so mean~ But fine.” Ritsu strolls through the room comfortably, eventually making it to Izumi’s desk and laying his palm flat on it. “Though I did really want to see you, let me borrow this?” His other hand goes to wrap around the heavy digital camera resting near the center. “And come out with me. Let’s go on a date.”

“You? You want to go outside? Now?” The incredulous look Izumi gives him only makes Ritsu laugh harder.

There’s no question that Ritsu has been able to keep a more proper sleep-wake cycle; it’s not perfect, the habit of staying up well past the apex of night still rooted deep within Ritsu’s circadian rhythm, but no matter who looks on from the outside, they can see the effort being put into the change. Even so, even if Ritsu stubbornly keeps his eyes wide open while the sun shines down upon them, it won’t change the fact that Ritsu’s own body may physically weaken against its penetrating rays. Izumi isn’t all that great with the heat, either, however, it’s different from what Ritsu goes through.

He doesn’t completely understand it – may never come to feel it firsthand, himself – but he doesn’t want to see Ritsu pushing himself towards exhaustion more than he already has.

“Yep~ Right now. Do you need an incentive? If you wanted to kiss and cuddle so badly, you should’ve said so. I’ll be in your care when we get back if you come out with me now.” Ritsu teases, poking the tip of his tongue out from between his thin, pale lips.

Izumi feels his hackles rise at the quip, his cheeks erupting into flames and the room suddenly feeling like they’re in the middle of hell. He quickly turns away, clicking his tongue again and huffily making to grab his scarf and coat from his closet in his embarrassment. “I don’t need it! Let’s just go, jeez.”

Ritsu’s jovial laughter only makes Izumi nibble at the inside of his lip more. Well, whatever, as long as Ritsu’s in a good mood, he’ll just endure the mischievousness. Like always. What pleasure Ritsu takes from it, he doesn’t really understand, but… It’s not like he hates it.

“I’m taking the camera with, okay?” Ritsu reminds him. “The case…”

“In the drawer.” Izumi responds. “What do you need it for, anyways?”

“Taking pictures, what else?”

Izumi’s expression falls flat, dryly looking at his boyfriend. Ritsu grins back, not saying anything more as he picks up the camera and shoulders the carrying case. The two of them saunter towards the door quietly. He knows he will never get a straight answer from Ritsu if he is keen on keeping it a secret. No matter if they battle with words or swords, even if they’re lovers, some things are better left alone. Leaving the dorm, they are greeted again by the overly warm hallway, too bright lights humming with electricity where there are no windows to provide the walls with the natural glow of the day.

As they walk along the carpeted corridors, Izumi takes occasional side glances at his boyfriend. Ritsu is fiddling with the camera settings, head bowed down and eyes trained on the small screen. The heavy camera is held securely between long, thin fingers as pale as the moonlight. Izumi reaches out with his own fingers, grabbing at the thick scarf wrapped around Ritsu’s neck. Ritsu’s eyes finally leave the inanimate object to look at him. Izumi pulls the scarf higher, tightening it’s hold upon Ritsu’s body slightly.

“You’re going to catch a cold if you’re this sloppy.”

“Fufu, yeah, yeah~” Ritsu’s closed lip grin speaks more than his words do. His crimson orbs turn back to the camera.

Still, it’s not long before Ritsu is satisfied with the settings. They’re just about to push open the doors to the outside world, stepping into mother nature’s territory. The brisk breeze and chilled atmosphere instantly prickle the skin on his face. The light flurry of snowfall that has stuck to the ground crunch beneath their shoes, leaving behind twin sets of footprints as they walk down the concrete path set in front of their eyes.

“Hm?” Izumi hums in confusion. He looks down, seeing the hand that now wraps around his warmly. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m cold.” Ritsu whines melodically.

Izumi sighs. “You should’ve put on gloves, then?” He grips Ritsu’s hand a little tighter and tugs it until they’re both tucked away in his coat’s pocket. His opposite hand also dips into his pocket as he keeps his eyes stubbornly forward. “Just for a while, okay?”

Just how long can they go without being seen by someone who recognizes them?

For some reason, Ritsu turns his body and maneuvers the camera up to his eyes. The shutter clicks alongside the sharp specks of the frozen world getting blown off of the tree tops. The lens is aimed at their intertwined hands, shielded away by the thick fabric of Izumi’s coat; he doesn’t really see the purpose of such an image being kept on film for eternity, but he does realize he will get nowhere in questioning Ritsu.

“No one will care. We’re close unit mates in their eyes, any skinship will just excite them.” Ritsu replies fluidly, as though the slight pause in their conversation never happened. Making sure the image is to his standards, Ritsu sidles up close enough to press even their upper arms together. “Don’t worry so much, Secchan~”

Izumi harrumphs, his breath fogging up before him. “You should be more careful. Just because some don’t care, doesn’t mean they all won’t.”

It only takes one person to tumble everything down.

Izumi continues on, tugging on Ritsu to move them a little faster, “Let’s just get to where you wanted to go. And stop fiddling with the camera, you’re going to run into someone or slip on ice.”

“I won’t~ You won’t let me.” Ritsu chuckles. “Anyways, this way, this way.”

“You won’t tell me where?” Izumi obediently goes the way Ritsu urges, falling into synchronized steps with each other.

“Mm, nope. You’ll enjoy it though. Probably.”

“Probably…”

Their footsteps are dull against the pavement. With the birds having gone elsewhere for the winter season, taking with them their songs of love, the only natural sounds drifting within the empty space of the atmosphere are the sharp clicks of loose snow getting picked up by the wind and falling to the ground. Though the air bites at them with the flecks of frozen precipitation, Izumi’s hand is as warm as a furnace within his pocket.

Eventually, although not the song of birds, music faintly wraps around the swirling wind, carrying with it a joyous melody. It’s not so upbeat that it is out of place within the frozen landscape, but just at a comfortable tempo that brings a smile to its listeners. Ritsu continues to lead him in the direction of the happy tune, the music getting louder in his ears with every step.

“We’re here.” Ritsu announces, turning into the outdoor facility.

Izumi raises an eyebrow. “An ice rink?”

“Can you go get the skates? You know what you’re doing, right, Secchan?” Ritsu looks at him expectantly, if not a bit playfully.

“Hah? You drag me out here and then make me do all of the work?”

“I leave it to you~” Ritsu trills with a wave and chuckle as he lets go of Izumi’s hand. He brings the camera back up to his eyes and angles it just right, directly at the ice rink. The people already inside pay the two of them no mind, gliding in circles without a care in the world as they flash brilliant smiles that rival the blazing star overhead.

He still doesn’t really get what all of this is about, but Izumi closes his eyes for a moment and erases the struggle from his mind. If Ritsu is accomplishing his goal, then it’s fine – Izumi will continue going along with it. He makes his way to the booth managing the seasonal event and pays for the both of them; luckily having memorized Ritsu’s shoe size by now. Walking back, he is greeted with the lens of a camera pointing at him, nearly making flinch into a complete halt to hold a pose.

“Now what are you doing?”

Ritsu hums, lowering the camera to check the picture. “Capturing a memory?”

Izumi drones a sound back. “Here.”

“Thanks, Secchan.” Ritsu accepts the skates with a fanged grin that nearly makes Izumi’s heart skip a beat.

“You just felt like skating around today?”

“Hmm… Teach me?”

Izumi looks up from taking off his shoes, narrowing his eyes. “You know how to ice skate.”

Ritsu laughs, unbothered that he got caught with such an obvious lie. “Worth a shot. Then, yep, skate around with me, Secchan. Let’s let the monotonous motions take away all of our stress and let our minds wander~”

There’s something strange about Ritsu today. Izumi wonders if their recent Live put too much pressure on him, needing to play the piano on stage and all. It’s the winter season, after all. If there is ever a time that Knights’ usual upbeat songs get rearranged into an elegant ballad, it would be now. They have more work later, too. Everything is always a little busier during the holiday seasons, whether they are idols or not.

With their skates on, they carefully step through the open gate. Izumi briefly keeps his hand on the wall that is half glass before pushing off with a gentle shove once he is balanced. Gliding seamlessly across the frozen world, he turns to look over his shoulder, making sure Ritsu is right behind him.

“Don’t drop that.” Izumi warns, though there is less bite in his words than he originally planned. The camera is still held between Ritsu’s pale fingers. More than the expensive piece of technology breaking, he would dislike it equally as much if Ritsu lost his balance because he was focusing on something else and fell.

“Yeah~” Ritsu’s nonchalant voice seeps into Izumi’s ears again. “Why don’t you take a lap? You look pretty skating.”

“Wha- wai- hah? Tch.” Izumi’s tongue twists inelegantly, forming a last-minute cluck in an attempt to save some of his dignity. “You’re so annoying.”

Ritsu’s chuckle is the last he hears as Izumi does speed up, carefully maneuvering around the couples meandering about upon the ice. The chill air kisses his cheeks as he goes, one leg sweeping across the slick surface after the other rhythmically. His hair brushes across his forehead fleetingly, leaving a tickling sensation behind; he raises a hand and combs his fingers through it, making sure his hair still remains perfect. Ritsu is, no doubt, taking pictures, for whatever reason. He’s not so careless as to not realize by now.

With his leg muscles contracting to turn his body, he soon makes it back to Ritsu’s side. He slows down, allowing the momentum to die away gradually as he slides forward. Ritsu gives him a grin, camera in both of his hands displaying the last picture taken. Izumi casually spins around, skating backwards to face Ritsu with a tilt of his head.

“Mhm~ As pretty as I knew you’d be.” Ritsu teases sincerely. He raises the camera, taking another snapshot.

“It’s not cheap to take my picture, you know?”

Ritsu’s lips lift in a silent smile as he reaches forward, entangling their hands together. The shutter clicks in the air around them again. “Stingy.”

They go around the rink a few times, Izumi even offering to take the pictures instead after a while. It’s a little strange to be the only subject of the photos when they are out together. The sunbeams reflect off of the moist surface gleamingly, giving them a beautiful natural light to add into their camerawork. However, with the burning star beating down on them, Izumi calls it quits when he thinks Ritsu looks to be warming up too much, pale complexion pinkening.

Ritsu offers to take back the ice skates while Izumi takes the time to rest. Not that he really needs to, but Ritsu takes the skates before he can say much more. There’s a slight tingling of dread that comes with that action, however, Izumi will just have to deal with it if it ever comes to pass. For now, he tilts his head up towards the cloudless sky, shades of electric blue smearing across the heavens like watercolors.

He closes his eyes to the stingingly bright hue. He has to admit, he does feel less wound up now. He didn’t even realize the stress piling up on his shoulders, already so used to the constant weight. Izumi breathes in deeply, smelling the aromatic crisp of winter and all of its wonders.

Pelting snow, included.

His shoulder stings with the sharp impact, both from the sudden cold that shocks his cells and from the power behind it. Izumi snaps his head down, turning a glare towards the offender. He is, once again, greeted by a camera and its smirking operator.

“Kuma-kun,” Izumi hisses. “Are you picking a fight?”

“Sure, I’ll take you on.” Ritsu jokes. “I don’t think you’ll win, but try your best, Secchan~”

“You started it!” Izumi finds himself puffing out childishly before he can stop the words from slipping off of his tongue. Still, his eyes slide to the camera again. Even if he wants to, he’s not willing to risk losing that much money in one place just to satisfy his playful irritation.

Another snowball is lobbed his way while he is lost in his thoughts. Just barely dodging this one, it lands on the toe of Izumi’s shoe. He sends a glare Ritsu’s way.

“Fufu, you can do it~” Ritsu taunts. “Or do you give up already?”

Izumi withholds a yell, internally hearing the sudden exclamation echoing in his head, and walks over to a pile of snow shoved to the side in a cleaning attempt. His fingers pierce into the soft yet solid mound, scooping up only a small handful to pack together. This way, even if his aim is way off and he hits the camera, it won’t be enough to damage it or knock it out of Ritsu’s grip. As Izumi turns around, however, another compact ball of snow impacts against his chest, right over his heart.

“A fatal shot!” Ritsu announces with bright laughter.

With a huff of exertion and frustration, Izumi pitches his own snowball forward. “What are you? A kid?”

Much to his irritation, Ritsu nimbly ducks away and comes casually walking up to him. “Live a little, Secchan~ You’ll let me have a taste, won’t you?”

“From your make-believe wound? No!”

Ritsu sticks out his tongue playfully. “So mean~”

“Deal with it.” Izumi crosses his arms.

The camera records another still image with a shudder. “As long as we’re playing like kids, why don’t we really go back to those carefree days and make a snowman?”

Izumi blinks slowly, scrutinizing his boyfriend. “You’re serious?”

“I’m always serious~” Ritsu nods firmly, though the grin on his lips gives a different impression. Stashing the camera safely away into its case for now, keeping it slung over his shoulder, Ritsu bends down and begins to form a sizeable snowball. “Did you ever make one as a kid? Hm… You just have to do this… and…” In concentration, Ritsu nibbles on the tip of his own tongue, poking it out of his oral cavity just barely. “Roll it around until it gets big enough, right?”

Izumi looks to the side, wondering if that was the most efficient way, himself. Has Ritsu never made one before? Did the sun really keep him away from the joys of the outside world so suffocatingly? Izumi can’t really speak, having dedicated most of his childhood to non-childlike things, like modelling. But it’s not like he has never, at least, seen one be created right before his eyes.

“I guess.” Izumi crouches down next to him, getting a handful of snow and packing it tightly together. “Depends on what you feel like doing, but it can be either two or three snowballs. Well, I guess it doesn’t really matter what it looks like, as long as you consider it one.”

“Heh~ Even a snowman can get pretty words, huh? Then you make its head and I’ll make its body. A 50/50 creation~” Ritsu smiles as he turns away and gently rolls the snowball through the untouched snowfall where no man has ventured.

In the end, their snowman isn’t very tall and lacks… everything except a couple of sticks fashioned into arms that they dug out of the snow piled high at the base of the nearby trees. Izumi looks at their creation with pity, fingers freezing despite being safely tucked away in gloves. Ritsu, however, is satisfied with their ever-tilting snowman, taking one picture after another and saying he will choose the best one later.

“I told you to bring gloves.” Izumi criticizes. Seeing the redness spreading across Ritsu’s skin, Izumi hastily pulls off one of his gloves and hands it over.

Ritsu is tentative in accepting it. “I’m fine, you know?”

“Just put it on.” Izumi grabs Ritsu’s hand, forcing the attire over his bare fingers. Taking the camera and putting it in the gloved hand instead, Izumi then grabs Ritsu’s newly freed hand and shoves it inside his pocket again. “What will you do if you get frostbite?”

“It’s not that cold.” Ritsu chuckles airily, breath misting out visibly in the wintry weather. The squeeze upon Izumi’s fingers makes Izumi’s cheeks flush slightly. “If you’re so worried, why don’t we go somewhere inside next?”

Expecting the next location, Izumi isn’t surprised to see that Ritsu leads them to the tall shopping center. They carefully avoid prying eyes during their walk, sticking close together in guise of keeping to the side of the sidewalk rather than having their hands remain adjoined. The glass doors open, sweeping over them and ruffling their bangs with warm air like a tsunami.

“Anything you need to buy?” Izumi asks, letting go of his boyfriend’s hand within his pocket.

Ritsu hums thoughtfully. “It is that season, again. There are a lot of people here all doing the same thing. Shall we look for something for the others?”

“In other words, you haven’t gotten them their Christmas gifts yet.” Izumi begins to walk slowly through the throngs of holiday shoppers, losing Ritsu’s hand from his pocket in the process.

His boyfriend’s deep chuckle, however, makes him look over his shoulder in confusion. “Something like that, maybe?”

Izumi repeats the word, “Maybe?”

“This way, this way,” Ritsu replies instead, ignoring him. Ritsu takes his shoulders from behind and gently pushes him in a direction along the flow of traffic.

They come upon a department store, its front entrance full of holiday decorations and the latest sale items. The sparkling glitter that litters even the polished ground glimmers with the non-natural lights blindingly shining down. Tall plastic boxes of silver and red ornaments are stacked around a decorated, artificial tree, looking like presents themselves. The Christmas lights hugging the prickly plastic tree flash in and out, changing color every second mesmerizingly.

“What are we here for?” Izumi can’t help but ask, looking down as he steps into stray false snow.

“Mm… Should we decorate our dorms?”

“You’re kidding.” Izumi sighs exasperatedly.

Ritsu’s laughter fans across his ear, closer than Izumi anticipated and making a shiver run down his spine pleasantly. “I’m sure no one would mind~”

“Speak for yourself.” Izumi can already hear the complaints of the gaudy bobbles not being a true form of art.

His boyfriend chuckles again, “Then help me pick out a sweater for Tsukipi.”

“So, you really didn’t prepare anything yet.” Finally, Izumi feels like he has the upper hand. Just a little bit.

Ritsu neither confirms nor denies the claim, smiling devilishly and deflating Izumi’s fleeting inner victory. “Just figured he would be less willing to get ink all over it or leave it laying around, abandoned forever in the discovery of inspiration, if it was a gift. Besides, it’s cold outside. Maybe he’ll wear it more and stay warm for once. You’re always worried about those little things, aren’t you?”

“…When did this turn into something about me? We were talking about Leo-kun.”

“Fufu, but I’m always thinking about you?” Without waiting for a response – not that Izumi really has one to give without the bite of embarrassment laced within it – Ritsu grabs Izumi’s arm and tugs him deeper into the store. “This way~”

He has been going along with Ritsu’s whims all day, not that he minds, but he is starting to wonder what Ritsu really has up his sleeves again. Their usual dates aren’t nearly so active, expending energy in one place and then calling it quits to rest in an eatery or cuddle at home. Ritsu’s ideal date is spending the afternoon lazing around under the muted sunlight streaming in through a window like a cat and napping the day away together. So, what reason does Ritsu have for walking here and there? But maybe he shouldn’t question his boyfriend so much and just enjoy the day they spend together.

The department store ends up being a bust. Instead, Izumi leads them to a couple of stores he favors, pointing out things that may suit Leo’s tastes. When Ritsu is never seemingly satisfied, however, Izumi starts pointing out things that catches his eyes and attire that would suit Ritsu, himself. Eventually, there are two sweaters that Ritsu is pleased with, hugging them in his arms.

“I’ll go pay for these, but why don’t you look around for something? Buy yourself something nice.” Ritsu says suddenly.

Izumi raises an eyebrow. “I didn’t really need anything, though?”

“That’s why I said to buy yourself something nice. This is your favorite brand, right?” Ritsu shakes his head. “I want to go get something that we passed by earlier, too, so just stay here for a bit.”

“Why didn’t you just go in and get it when we walked past it?” Izumi’s incredulous voice draws a chuckle from his companion.

“Just treat yourself. I’ll even buy it for you when I come back~”

“Don’t need it!” Izumi huffs, watching Ritsu’s bobbing back as he walks away with a happy air. “Jeez.”

Going from store to store, they did pass numerous display windows. It’s not a surprise that something caught Ritsu’s eyes along the way. Izumi was so focused on Ritsu’s request that he didn’t notice – and maybe that is why Ritsu didn’t mention anything until now. Izumi sighs softly, forcibly putting one foot in front of the other as he browses the store slowly, lost in thought.

Ritsu is right in saying that the store is his favorite, though. While waiting and loitering around, he does, inevitably, find something that he wants. Before he can hesitate, he buys it quickly so Ritsu doesn’t come back and do it for him. And with that completed hastily, he has to leave the store as to not seem like such a strange person. Izumi walks across the carpeted walkway of the mall complex and leans on the railing overlooking the middle of the ground floor where a large tree is set up, glimmering alongside the seasonal cheer and frolicking holiday music blasting through the sound system.

Izumi takes out his phone and checks for any messages. There are none from Ritsu – that inconsiderate boyfriend of his – but there is a message in WholeHands. Opening up the company’s messaging system, he sees that Tsukasa has already taken care of the small matter, even during Knights’ day off. Their youngest member is growing into their reliable leader well. A gentle smile lifts his lips involuntarily as he goes through the messages. Even if there are things Tsukasa still stumbles with, Ritsu and Arashi will always be here and make sure to pick him back up, getting through the hard-fought battles together. Izumi knows that – believes in that – more than anyone else.

“Ready?”

Izumi looks up from his phone when the familiar voice appears right beside him. Meeting Ritsu’s hypnotizing crimson eyes, Izumi feels a little relieved. “Where to now?”

“There’s one last place I want to see today.” Ritsu informs, leading the way.

Izumi trails behind him, keeping an eye on his back as the crowd still mills about around them. He can’t help but trail his gaze downwards, checking the bags in Ritsu’s hand. To his disappointment, the new shopping bag, whatever it may be, is carefully stuffed inside of the one with the sweaters. How annoying.

Where Ritsu takes him next is back outside amidst the nippy breeze and flurrying snow. The sun is just setting, casting a glow of warmth across the sky and dyeing the earth in magenta hues. The beams of light reflect off of the cityscape, refracting here and there like the scattering frozen world getting picked up by the wind and soaring high in freedom.

Their footsteps are rhythmic, blending in with the melody of the people around them. As the sky dims steadily, the lights shining like stars that have fallen from the endless galaxy gleam more brilliantly. They cluster together into a conical shape, extending towards the heavens like they crave home, growing seemingly taller than the buildings surrounding them. The Christmas tree that the city has prepared in the center of the populace lusters prettily against the backdrop of the changing sky.

“I wonder if anyone’s doing a Holiday Live this year…?” Izumi ponders aloud distractedly, his murmured voice trailing after the breeze as it leaves from between his lips.

“With ES around the corner, maybe. Though we’re not the only idols in the world.” Ritsu says just as fleetingly.

As they get closer to the area, Ritsu disappears for a moment. Izumi, once again, waits for him, standing off to the side and carefully scanning the brilliantly lit area. It is like stepping into a wonderland, a world separate from their own where they live their daily lives. With the closer proximity, Izumi narrows his eyes as he sees the makeshift stage in front of the large tree. A sign is pinned to the area – one that makes his heart thud fondly at the familiar unit name.

So, it is one of their company comrades, huh?

A brush upon his arm makes Izumi turn to look. Ritsu is back, handing him a steaming cup. Gratefully accepting the beverage, Izumi turns back to look up at the highest point of the tree against the darkening sky backdrop. “This all you wanted to do?”

The shutter of a camera goes off without Izumi even realizing Ritsu has pulled the device out.

“It’s pretty, right? I just wanted to see it with you.”

Izumi hums at that, moving his eyes again to stare at the wonder before them. It really is beautiful. They don’t get a lot of days off, so coming out to see this once-a-year-decoration is a bit special. He carries the drink in his gloved hand, feeling the heat radiating from it steadily even through the fabric, and sticks his other, bare, hand into his pocket. Ritsu does the same, also only having one of Izumi’s gloves on his hand.

The two of them silently stare at the lights growing brighter with each passing second as the future races towards them. The sky overhead turns completely dark, leaving only the city to guide their way through the world full of life and possibilities; a fantastical place overflowing with mysteries awaiting discovery. The gentle chatter of the lives meandering about wash over them in a serene wave – all of them connected to each other in this single moment of time.

Ritsu’s soft voice carefully tears into the daydream, “Should we start heading back?”

Looking at the hand Ritsu extends to him, Izumi slips his own hand out of the warmth of his pocket and grasps it. “Yeah.”

Ritsu tugs him along. Even with each other to ward away the cold, their skin and combined body heat is no match for the winter weather. Ritsu slips their adjoined hands into his own pocket without a care in the world and nonchalantly takes a sip of his drink. Realizing he hasn’t even tasted it, Izumi also brings the cup to his lips.

“Ack-!”

Ritsu scoffs a laugh at Izumi’s sudden exclamation. “Got a cat’s tongue, Secchan? Didn’t realize you couldn’t take the heat~”

“Not that.” Izumi complains. He licks his lips, tasting the overly sweet concoction again even as it still lingers on his tongue. “You couldn’t have gotten me coffee?”

“Hot chocolate once in a while won’t ruin your diet, don’t worry.” Ritsu is still chuckling softly, their connected hands vibrating alongside his body. “It’s not like you hate sweet things. Just once. It’s a staple during these kinds of dates.”

“Whatever.” Izumi mumbles against the lip of the cup’s lid, taking another small sip. He can’t say it’s bad, but really… Ritsu could have warned him or something.

They stroll underneath the obsidian sky, illuminated by only the streetlights within its shadows. The stillness flows over them quietly, basking in each other’s presence and nothing more. The two of them were never one for words, always silently understanding the other like instinct. The peace is comforting; they need nothing more than the warmth of their joined hands to combat the cold realities of the world. The sounds of the city fall into the background. Nothing else matters.

Coming upon the corner of the city block, Ritsu suddenly stops. Izumi turns to him questioningly.

“I need to go do something for a bit, so we’ll have to part here.” Ritsu answers, an apologetic grin on his face.

“Where are you going?”

“Just an errand I need to run really quick.” Ritsu lets go of Izumi’s hand, yet steps a tiny bit closer. His smirk unexpectantly turns roguish. Their faces are just centimeters apart now, breaths visibly mingling within the frosty air. “Sorry I can’t drop you off at your doorstep and kiss you goodnight~”

“Tch, you’re so annoying.” Izumi scoffs, turning his head away just barely.

Ritsu plants a chaste kiss at the edge of his lips before stepping away, smirk still firmly in place. “Get home safely.”

“You too.” Izumi whispers into the night. “Message me when you get in.”

Right when Ritsu turns the corner, he looks over his shoulder, “Oh, I’ll give this back to you later tonight. I’ll come by, instead. See you in a bit, Secchan.” He grips at the camera case strap hanging from his shoulder as an indication.

Ritsu disappears like the shadow he always seems to be. Unlike his boyfriend, Izumi restarts his journey going straight forward. The chilly night suddenly seems that much colder. Even the joyful lights and decorative, faux flowers seem a lot lonelier than before. The street poles he passes by on his walk home are transient memories. The only thing keeping him warm is the drink slipping past his lips.

Upon entering his room, Izumi releases a relieved sigh. He’s finally home. He clicks on the light switch, filling the space with a blindingly white light. The heated air seeps into his skin as he tiredly shoves off his shoes and slips out of his coat. Putting away everything where they belong, Izumi drops his shopping bag onto his desk chair and the empty hot chocolate cup into the trash bin. He takes a moment to rest on his bed, sitting slightly slouched on the bed as he looks around the empty room.

Staying within the silent solitude for another long moment, Izumi takes a deep breath, inhaling the slightly floral scent the room carries within it. He slaps his hands down on his knees, forcing himself back up to a standing position. He might as well wash up for the night, there is nothing else he has to do for the night other than wait for Ritsu. He will feel better with his skin clear and body warming to the hot shower, washing away the chill of the external world and the loneliness that still clings onto him with the abrupt parting.

When he finishes his nightly skincare routine, Izumi checks his phone. As the screen brightens to display his lock screen, it shows no new notifications. He puts the phone back down on the desk, sliding onto his bed and picking up the yarn and knitting needles he left out earlier – before Ritsu coerced him into going out on a date. Not that he was resisting.

The chill of the metal needles gradually warms with his body heat, the slip and slide upon the side of his finger becoming less shocking. The yarn chafes across his skin with every new portion added to the project. With slight vibrations scampering across the bed, the ball of yarn tumbles with each pass, spinning to reveal more of its material to be used. Warm air hugs at his limbs while he remains nearly motionless, thoroughly absorbed in his task. The only sounds to greet his ears are of his knitting needles gently clicking against each other rhythmically.

The next he looks up, Izumi realizes that his phone has not emitted a single tune. He puts the project down on his lap and slightly leans to the side, reaching for his phone still laying on his desk. The time that pops up tells him that he has been focusing for a couple of hours without interruption.

And yet, still, there is not a single message.

Izumi bites the inside of his cheek worriedly. He opts to unlock his phone and type out his own message; there’s no point in waiting when he can contact Ritsu, himself. The message sends, popping up in a colorful bubble. He waits. His sides start to ache at the strange angle he has positioned himself in, but he refuses to move just yet. Izumi’s eyes begin to dry at his prolonged stare at the unmoving screen, his message remaining the most recent to be sent between just the two of them.

Finally, another colorful bubble slides onto the screen.

Sorry, Secchan. I’m almost done. I’ll be over in an hour.

Izumi releases the breath he subconsciously held within his lungs. Ritsu could have messaged him earlier. He shoots off another quick message before setting his phone back down. As he turns back to his knitting, he glances at the window, only partially covered by the blinds. The glow of the moon hanging in the sky beckoningly shines brightly alongside the glimmering city that replaces the stars. It really has become late, the day about to end and change dates.

Within the next hour, Izumi finishes the knitting project. He checks his work over painstakingly carefully, making sure there are no missing stitches or odd bumps. When he is satisfied, he ties off its loose end and cuts it free from the remaining yarn still clinging to its sacrificed portions. Once done, he stashes everything away neatly and cleans up any specks of loose yarn fiber clinging onto his bed comforter.

No matter how many times he flicks his eyes towards his phone, it remains as quiet as the room.

Looks like no one is coming home, tonight, either.

A knock interrupts his thoughts.

Izumi hurries towards the door, opening it without hesitation even though just about anyone could be on the other side – even an intruder or too enthusiastic fan slipping inside of the dorm building through questionable means.

Luckily, crimson eyes greet him teasingly, if not a bit tiredly. Items are hugged to his chest, and Izumi’s camera case is slung over his shoulder with a singular glove tucked away in its side pocket.

“You look excited to see me~”

“You’re the one who didn’t show up for hours.” Izumi complains in a hissy tone. Still, with relief wracking is body, he steps to the side and urges Ritsu into the room before closing the door. “Just what were you doing this whole time, anywa- hm?”

Ritsu is suddenly cuddling close, leaning his chin on Izumi’s shoulder. Izumi raises his arms without a second thought, lightly laying his fingers on Ritsu’s smooth back.

“You smell good…”

“If you were tired, you should’ve just messaged me and went back to your dorm.” He scolds lightly in a whispered breath, rubbing his hand up and down soothingly.

“Mm…” Ritsu makes a peevish sound, his body visibly tensing as he forces himself to stand back up. “Nope, I needed to get this to you.”

Izumi looks down as Ritsu raises something up to him. “The sweater you bought earlier at the mall?”

“One of them. I’m keeping the other one.” Ritsu smirks at him. “Figured I could get you to choose your own gift. And since you like them both, you can borrow my clothes any~time~. We can switch. Well, after this one starts to smell like you, of course. So, wear it a lot, okay?”

Dating a strategist is frustrating sometimes.

“Didn’t wrap it?” Izumi counters instead.

“You’ll just need to pack it up when you head back to Florence soon, so I figured I didn’t need to bother.” Ritsu shrugs. He holds out the other object in his hand. “Here, make sure to take this too. I won’t let you leave without it.”

Hugging the sweater close to his body to keep it in place, Izumi reaches out to take the thick book in Ritsu’s hands, its hardcover imprinted with the current year seared in a pretty font. He looks into Ritsu’s eyes, which are urging him to open the pages with a gentle light lurking within them.

The book is newly printed, the spine still slightly unused and pages stiffly flipping and stuck together. The first script that greets him is ‘January’ printed across a pure white page in the same elegant style as the year on the cover. Turning the page again, he is assaulted with his own smiling face, and then Ritsu’s, followed by the rest of their unit members, and even his friends outside of Knights. In a seemingly random positioning, photos upon photos come together like a storybook. Some pages hold multiple moments of his life, while others hold a singular memory taking up the entirety of the page and leaving none of the ivory background left to be seen.

He continues flipping quietly, occasionally seeing pressed on stickers and hand written notes in different colors of marker at the edges. But Izumi can’t seem to focus on the words, his vision nearly blurring in the overwhelming sentiments filling his heart and bursting within his chest.

“It’s a photobook. There’s us, of course, but also of all the fun times we had with the others throughout the year.” Ritsu begins to explain, his voice airy and somber, laced with an affection that heats up Izumi’s body and prickles his eyes. “When I left to go run my errand, I was getting it printed. I finally finished December.”

Izumi skips a lot of the pages, going to the section that represented the last month of the year. There are pictures of the recent Knights Lives, and a lot of when the whole group hung out together underneath the fluttering snowfall. His fingers pause as the last few pages come into focus.

There, printed upon the glossy page, is of their adjoined hands within his pocket. Of the two of them ice skating. Of Izumi, himself, covered in the splatters of a snowball. Their snowman standing proudly amongst the disturbed snow. Izumi didn’t even realize Ritsu had taken some of these pictures during their date today – like of him staring fondly down at his phone as the shopping center’s Christmas tree glimmers in the background.

“Ah, while we were at the mall, I went and got those stickers.” Ritsu sticks his finger into Izumi’s line of sight, pointing at the cute decoration at the edge of the page next to a line of handwritten words. “There are four styles of them, all with a color-coded message. I went around to find Tsukipi, Nacchan, and Suu-chan to get them to write whatever comments they wanted.”

“…Who’s who?” Izumi asks is a small voice.

Ritsu chuckles, taking his finger back. “You’ll have to figure it out yourself~?”

The scoff that leaves Izumi’s lips holds no anger. “The handwriting will give it away, you know?”

“As expected of you.” Ritsu’s smile is brighter than both the fluorescent lights shining down on them and the radiance of the moon smearing across the dark sky. After lightly laughing for another few seconds, the smile becomes smaller, but no less joyful. “Take it back with you to Florence, okay, Secchan? Promise me. And if you’re ever feeling lonely, you can look back at this. We’ve had a full year of good memories that we’ve made together.”

“Mm. Irreplaceable memories.” Izumi trails off. His fingers are still pinching at the corner of the thick page, his throat tightening painfully.

“Merry Christmas, Secchan.”

Izumi swallows thickly. Without any words left to say that could encompass all he feels, he closes the photobook slowly, holding it close to his beating heart along with the sweater. With one hand now free, Izumi reaches out and gently takes hold of Ritsu’s shirt, drawing his boyfriend a bit closer. Ritsu only has a moment to tilt his head in confusion before Izumi presses their lips together. Ritsu’s lips are smooth against his, soft with the balms Izumi shares with him on frequent occasion. Ritsu’s longer fangs mildly scrape at his skin as Izumi takes a brief opportunity to nibble back.

“You said you’ll be in my care tonight if I went out with you today, right?” Izumi’s whispered inquiry mingles between them in their mixed breaths, sharing the same warm air.

“Fufu, of course. I won’t go back on any promise to you.”