Advent Calendar, part 14

Only 10 days ’till Christmas! Here’s the 14th installment~

14

“Mizuki…?”
He cracked open his eyes, annoyed. “What do you want..?” his voice felt rusty, and his body still felt heavy after last night – they’d skipped dinner and just eaten saffron buns all evening.
“You need to get up!”
“Why. Is the house on fire..?” he muttered, turning away from Settia’s nagging voice.
“We’ve got things to do!”
“No we don’t. It’s Saturday.”
“Precisely!” Settia yanked the duvet away from Mizuki, exposing his body to the chilly air of the room as opposed to the snug heat of the blankets.
“Settia!” he sat up, huddling up in the corner of the bed, trying to protect himself from the sudden chill. “What do you want?”
“You need to get up,” Settia said, as if that wasn’t obvious.

Yesterday had been a kind of turning point in their relationship. Mizuki had been surprised at his own ability to ignore the fact that he had taken in some random stranger, who had now been staying with him for close to two weeks. The awkwardness was still present, but not as noticeable. The questions were still there, but not as pressing. And after last night… he wasn’t sure what to make of things, but right now he kind of felt like throwing the other man out of the house.

“What are you wearing?” he asked, blinking the sleep out of his eyes, looking at the red suit Settia was dressed up in.
“Uniform,” said Settia matter-of-factly. “Here’s yours. Put it on, hurry!”
“Uniform…?” Mizuki yawned. “What are you talking about?”
He held up the garment, realizing it was a santa costume.
“Where did you get these? Moreover, what makes you think I’m going to wear them?”
“I got them yesterday, when I signed us up.”
“Signed us up for what, Settia?”
“We’re going to do some work today.” The other man smiled, “Now get up, and get dressed.”
“Let me shower first…” Mizuki grumbled, getting to his feet. He sensed that he’d need to be properly awake for this.

“Alright,” he returned from the bathroom, drying his hair with a white towel, “Explain?”
He regarded Settia, who was playing absentmindedly with the ribbon he’d been wearing the first night he’d been here – it was still lying around on Mizuki’s desk.
“Are you about to tell me that you’re really one of Santa’s elves or something?”
“Today,” Settia replied, “So are you.”
Mizuki just glared back at him, demanding an explanation.
“Yesterday when I was out, I signed us up to do some volunteer work,” Settia replied. “I want to show you something.”
“Show me what?”
“Purpose.” Settia said, pursing his lips. “Purpose, and gratitude. It’s part of my mission.”
“This again?” Mizuki sighed. “Who gave you this mission exactly?”
“I’m sure you know,” Settia winked. “I’m doing this for you, you know. And today, we’re going to do something for someone else.”
“Fine, just tell me what it is.”
“You and I are going to hand out sweets at the children’s hospital,” Settia said calmly. “Even you won’t be opposed to that, I’m sure?”
“Of course I won’t!” he fired back, “But why?”
“Because,” Settia replied, just as calmly, “More than ever, this season is the one to do something for others. And those kids are going to be very happy, I promise you.”
Mizuki just stared at him, and at the heap of clothes on the bed. He had planned to spend a quiet Saturday at home, reading his book and working on his thesis. This wasn’t part of the plan but… He couldn’t very well refuse, could he? Settia had already signed them up. And besides, he wasn’t so heartless that he would let down sick kids for his own selfish reasons – even if it meant putting on a stupid costume.
“Okay, you got me. I’ll get dressed.”

He’d felt incredibly stupid when they walked through town, on their way to the hospital.
“I look like an idiot…” he mumbled.
“You look cute,” Settia replied.
“Wrong answer.” He sighed, his breath coming out as a frustrated cloud of smoke. “And what about you? You actually suit this outfit! I’m almost starting to believe that you’re one of Santa’s actual helpers!”
“Since when do you believe in Santa Claus?” Settia nudged him in the side.
“Oh shut up. Of course I don’t’.”
“Today, you do.” Settia reminded him. “Be careful what you say in front of the kids. And otherwise, believe whatever you want.”
There was something in the way he spoke those words, the way he weighed the words as they came out of his mouth… Like he was implying something. Mizuki shook his head. They were at the hospital entrance. “Ready?” he asked.
“Naturally.” Settia nodded.

At first, it was awkward. Walking through the corridors, behind Settia who was so into the task; chatting and laughing with everyone, singing and making a general festive spectacle of himself, but Mizuki had to swallow his initial humiliation. They were handed baskets of candy canes and other sweets, and followed a nurse clad in a Santa hat and a candy striped uniform down the hallway.
To begin with, they visited every ward, handing out sweets to the children, talking a little to each of them – and Mizuki realized that there was definitely something to what Settia had said that morning – the kids all lit up when they came in, no matter how sick they were, and their parents who were almost always at their side were all teary-eyed and grateful. It was hard to take in, really. He wished they could do more – what were sweets, when they were all so sick? Several times, he’d had to swallow the lump in his throat, and as if by instinct, Settia would reach for him every time – stroking his shoulder or back, or even taking his hand.

After the round, they were lead to a large room full of toys and pillows, furnished with colorful designs, and a shelf holding movies, books and board games.
“Alright,” the nurse clapped her hands, “Are you ready?”
“Now what?” Mizuki asked Settia.
“Now,” the nurse answered in his stead. “The children will all come in here with their wish lists – you’ll accept them, and take them back to Santa Claus of course!”
She said it with a smile and a wink.
“Yeah but we’re not-“
“We’ve got some really nice corporations donating toys and clothes to us every year,” the nurse explained, “So you’ll just leave the lists with the receptionist when you leave –s he’ll know what to do with them. And on Christmas Morning, Santa will pay a visit. The kids love it.”
“I’m sure they will.” Mizuki felt Settia squeezing his arm gently.
“And when you’ve accepted their lists, we will serve cocoa and gingerbread, and you’ll read some stories for them. I can’t begin to explain how much it means to them – and to us.”
What was he supposed to say? That he felt nervous and uncertain that he would be able to keep up this character, and pretend to be one of Santa’s elves? He couldn’t. All he could do, was follow Settia’s example.
So when the kids all came in, bubbling with excitement and with their lists in hand, he plastered a grin on his face, sitting next to Settia on the floor, and mimicked as best he could; “Tell us all your wishes for Christmas, don’t be shy!” “Have you all been good this year?” and “Of course he’s real! But Santa is very busy before Christmas, so he sent us instead.”
Slowly, it loosened, and he was able to relax, even when a boy crawled into his lap, handing him his list – it was written in childish letters, some of which were backwards.
Mizuki read; “Legos, Star Wars films, A WiiU…Joy?” he looked down at the little boy. “You’re wishing for joy?”
He nodded, taking a bite of the candy cane he was holding – it sounded like it would hurt his teeth; Mizuki reminded him to be careful. “Yes,” he said, “Because Christmas isn’t all about presents. It’s about happiness as well.”
This answer surprised Mizuki. He fumbled with the words; “Well, that’s very true! S-Santa couldn’t agree more!”

As it turned out, that little boy wasn’t the only one with more insight than he’d imagined possible; on several lists, there were similar wishes: “Happiness,” “Peace,”  “Kindness,” “Coming home for Christmas,” “Getting well”. It all made such a profound impact, he felt slightly emotionally drained when they packed up their things and took their leave later in the afternoon.
His chest swelled and hurt at the same time. Halfway back to the house, he stopped in his tracks, drawing a shaky breath.
“Are you okay?” Settia asked, sounding worried.
“Yeah, I just….” He swallowed. “That was….”
He failed to find the words. And then, Settia was with him; embracing him, holding him close.
“I know.” He murmured, tightening his grip.
He was freezing.
“You’re so cold…” Mizuki whispered into the embrace.

**TBC**

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