Advent Calendar, part 13

Today’s installment is a whopping 3+ pages! Do enjoy!

13

Mizuki was dawdling after class on Friday, hoping to get a word with his professor before going home to enjoy the weekend. Although, he was a bit apprehensive towards spending another weekend with Settia. The last one had been very quiet, and very awkward most of the time. It struck him that it had already been more than a week since he had come home to find Settia in his house, and he had yet to get out of the man why he was there, at least in a less cryptic choice of words, and not to mention why he had been undressed when they first met. So far, all he had to go on was something that was so vague and unlikely, he’d better just forget all about that theory. But then why was he taking his sweet time packing up his stuff as the other students cleared off, chatting excitedly amongst themselves, waiting for the moment when only he and the professor would be left behind?

“Mizuki?” the man had noticed him, calling out his name in a quizzical, accented fashion.
“Professor…” Mizuki grabbed his book bag and stood, coming over to the ageing man. “Sorry to keep you but…I wanted to ask you a question.”
“About today’s lecture? I suggest you-“
“No,” he shook his head. “About yesterday. You seem to know a lot about the Christmas Flower?”
“Oh!” the man looked delighted. For a moment, Mizuki wondered if perhaps he had wanted to be a botanist rather than a professor in European history. “Well, I do know some things. Was there anything in particular? For instance, did you know that although it’s called a flower-“
“It isn’t.” Mizuki finished, much to the professor’s delight it seemed. “Yeah I know. I just… I wondered if you knew any stories or like…myths about it?”
“Myths?”
“Or fairy tales!” he offered, noting that his voice grew excited. “For instance…are there any stories about Poinsettia turning eh…human?”
“Human?” the professor looked surprised.
Mizuki felt his cheeks burning. “Yeah you see… A friend of mine… Well he said that…”
He was unable to find the right words, and felt incredibly stupid. What was he even wasting the professor’s time on?
“I’m sorry, I guess that’s silly, huh?”
“Personally, I’ve never heard any such story,” the elder man replied, “but I suppose it’s not unlikely? Poinsettia is associated with Christmas, so it wouldn’t be strange if there were all kinds of stories related to mystery and magic about it. It’s got a vital part in many cultures during the season, so it’s probably that somewhere, someone has that kind of story about it.”
“Maybe…” Mizuki nodded. “Sorry for wasting your time, professor!”
He bowed, apologetically.
“Not at all!” the professor pulled him up again, laughing. “I suggest you go by the library. There should be a book about the Euphorbia family in there somewhere. Try and see what you can find out, and report back to me if you find anything interesting, okay?”
“I’ll do that, Sir!”
“Just don’t let it interfere with your thesis!” the man blinked at him. Mizuki promised, and excused himself, hurrying through the corridors to get to the library before closing time.

When he got home, he was ready to immerse himself in the compendium right away, but that was not how the evening was to turn out.
“Settia! I’m home!” he kicked his shoes off, stumbling inside of the apartment. It smelled strange –  a lively scent of spices and baked goods filling the place.
“Settia?” he went into the main room, to find a sight which made his heart beat a little faster; the red haired male was standing at the miniscule kitchen counter, dressed in an apron, with a rag tied on top of his head to keep his hair away. “Are you…baking?”
“Saffron buns!” Settia beamed at him. “I’ll bet you’ve never had them before!”
“Actually they serve them at sc— Wait, did you go out today?”
“I went shopping. You have no ingredients in the house you know. You should probably lay off the instant food..”
“What are you, my mother?” Mizuki abandoned the bag by the doorway and came over to Settia.
“I am not.” Settia replied, looking up at him, continuing to knead the dough. “But I love you.”
“D-don’t say things like that!”
Settia was like a ticking bomb; at any given time, he could say the oddest things, and Mizuki would never be prepared for it.
“Mizuki,” the red haired man grinned, “It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. You’re sweet to me, and I love you.”
“Okay!” he almost shouted. “Fine. Why are we baking saffron buns?”
He knew that Settia probably thought he was cowardly for changing the topic, but how exactly was he supposed to respond to this emotional ambush?
“Because they’re delicious,” Settia replied, unaffected it seemed, of the awkward moment earlier. “There’s a tray in the stove already. Help me make the next one? It’s pretty easy.”
He divided the dough into several smaller pieces, and showed Mizuki how to roll them into sausages and then create an s-shape, placing raisins in the bends. “See?”
Mizuki rolled up his sleeves. “Fine, I’ll try. Just let me wash my hands first, okay?”
“You know, in Scandinavia it’s tradition to make these on December 13th, although I have no idea what it has to do with Saint Lucy.”
“Who?” Mizuki wiped his hands on a kitchen towel.
“I thought you were a history major?” Settia’s green eyes glinted.
“Scandinavia is not the main focus, believe it or not.” Mizuki replied. Before he came here, he hadn’t even known what Scandinavia was. Japan’s perspective of the world appeared to be somewhat lacking.
“They also celebrate it in Italy. But without saffron buns, as far as I know.” Settia offered.
“What about Lucy?”
“She sacrificed her riches to help others, and ended up being burned on the stake. Except, she wouldn’t burn, so they killed her with a sword.”
“And that’s celebrated with buns?”
“I’m not sure how the buns relate to it all,” Settia admitted, smiling crookedly. “Apparently she represents light, and in processions, the acting Lucy often hands out sweets. Maybe that’s why.”
“It’s a sad story.”
Settia’s gaze turned to him, full of concern. “I didn’t mean to make you sad.”
“I’m not sad. I mean, this happened thousands of years ago, right? It’s just… many of these traditions are really morbid deep down, and then they’re just fixed by adding sweets and songs. What’s up with that?”
Settia continued to regard him, seeming for once, to be at a loss of words.
“You know what else is morbid?” he started.
“No?”
“In tradition, you use saffron in these, but since it’s so expensive, many people choose to substitute it with other spices, like turmeric.”
“Is that your idea of a joke?” Mizuki’s lip twitched.
“Not intentionally…?” Settia’s eyes glinted playfully. “But you’re smiling.”
Mizuki chuckled. “You’re so silly!”
“But I made you laugh.” Settia chuckled back. His laugh was warm, just like his voice, and his eyes and even the tone of his skin. Mizuki pulled himself together.
“What’s the difference?”
“Everything!” Settia said, dramatically. “The flavor!”
He picked up a piece of dough, and held it up before Mizuki’s face. “Taste.”
“Dough?”
“It’s good, just don’t eat too much. I swear, it’s yummy!”
“Am I a child?” Mizuki asked, jokingly.
“Just taste.”
Their eyes met. He took the piece of dough from Settia, and tasted. It was sweet. The consistency, as expected, was doughy, but the flavor was rich and pleasant.
“You see?”
“Stupid,” Mizuki smiled, licking his lips. “How am I supposed to know the difference?”
“I can assure you,” Settia said, “That saffron buns made with turmeric don’t taste like this!”
“You bought saffron?”
“It’s no good without!” Settia countered, picking up more dough. “Only the best is good enough for you!”
Mizuki couldn’t help but laugh out loud. He didn’t know why, but he couldn’t help himself; the laughter was just bubbling up inside of him, as a reaction to this absurd situation. “You’re so silly!” he exclaimed again, pushing the other man playfully. “I guess I have to eat then, since you spent a ridiculous amount of money on spices?”
“Yes!” Settia nodded, catching him by the arm and pulling him close from behind, holding him in place and leading his hand up to his face; dough held between his slim fingertips. He was so warm, Mizuki noted as he squirmed to get away, laughing all the same, he was warm, and stronger than expected…He looked up, catching those green eyes with his own, and in that moment, letting his guard down enough for Settia to slip his fingers inside his mouth, dough and all: “Now eat up…” he chuckled affectionately into Mizuki’s ear. Flushing from head to toe, Mizuki’s lips closed around his fingers – what else was there to do? Meanwhile, his hand closed around a piece of dough on the counter, and as soon as he was let go, he threw it at the other man. “Consider this payback!” he said, laughing as the dough stuck to Settia’s cheek for a moment before falling to the floor, leaving a trail of flour in its wake.
“You want war?” Settia challenged, picking up the bowl where the rest of the dough sat – and then the alarm on the stove went off.
“Saved by the bell.” Mizuki teased, throwing him an oven mitten.
“Lucky you,” Settia grinned. “I’ll give. For now.”
“Yeah, maybe we shouldn’t be throwing dough made by such fancy ingredients,” Mizuki replied, shifting his eyes to the mess of flour and dough on the floor. “Truce?”
“Truce.” Settia placed the plate of buns on top of the stove. “For now.”
“For now?”
“Next time,” Settia smirked, “I want to make a gingerbread house.”
Mizuki didn’t get the time to protest before a hot, sweet-tasting bun was shoved into his mouth. He chose not to pursue the topic, and dropped down on the bed, eating in silence.

**TBC**

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