Advent calendar, part 15

15

 

Mizuki hadn’t been sleeping well the night before. His thoughts were haunted by the children at the hospital, and how their spirits were still high, despite the poor outlooks, and the hardships they were going through. He was baffled at how they balanced their childish expectation and amusement with thoughts that belonged to adults, and how they saw beyond the consumerism. In addition, Settia had been restless on his futon as well. He’d been tossing and turning, seemingly uncomfortable, though fast asleep. Slight concern had gripped him –- the Settia that was sleeping restlessly on the floor next to his bed was very different from the strong frame he had been leaning on the night before. He seemed to be shivering slightly. In the dead of night, Mizuki found himself getting up to get an extra blanket out of the hallway cupboard, covering Settia with it, before going back to bed – and falling asleep at last.

He woke up to find the other man seated on the futon, looking ahead into the room, the way he often did, both blankets still draped over his shoulders, and his feet pulled up against his body.
“Morning…” Mizuki yawned. A quick glance on the alarm clock revealed that it was still only nine o’clock, far too early to be awake on a Sunday.
“Morning, Mizuki.” Said Settia, smiling. “Thank you for the extra blanket.”
“You looked cold.” Mizuki said, looking a little embarrassed. “You’re welcome.”
Settia smiled softly at him, reaching one hand out from beneath the covers, and placing it on the other man’s pajama-clad knee. “I—“
Mizuki stood abruptly, not sure he wanted to hear the next words out of Settia’s mouth.
“I’m gonna shower.” He announced. Leaving the redhead behind, he locked himself in the bathroom, and exhaled shakily.

***

“You should dry your hair, it’s cold.” Settia mumbled, glancing over at Mizuki, who was hanging over his thesis notes. His hair was still moist, fringe clinging to his forehead. He had to admit the room was chilly, but didn’t think much of it. “I’ll be fine,” he said. “It’s warm in here.”
“We’re going out though.”
“What?” he turned to face Settia’s expectant, smiling face. “But I need to—“
“It isn’t due till January, you can work on that thing any time, besides, you’re going to school tomorrow. Do it there.”
It didn’t seem like he would accept the fact that they did other assignments in university. Mizuki didn’t bother arguing.
“Where are we going then?” he demanded, “To the hospital again?”
“No, not today.”
Settia didn’t seem willing to share exactly what the agenda was, and Mizuki decided not to pursue it. For some reason, he didn’t feel like protesting either. As much as he would have preferred a nice and quiet Sunday at home, he obediently went into the bathroom to blow dry his hair. The room was stuffy with steam still, so he cracked open the window, making a note to himself to close it again shortly.
He grabbed a pair of purple woolen socks from the dresser before emerging from the room.
“Here,” he handed them to Settia. “Wear these. It’s freezing out there.”
Settia’s lips curved into a grateful smile. “Thank you. You take such good care of me.”
“Yeah well….” He looked away, that burning sensation making itself known in his chest again.

A couple of hours later, they were out and about, wading through the thick layer of powder snow that coated the pavement. Evidently, nobody shuffled snow on Sundays.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” Settia pointed out, glancing around at the white coat enveloping them all around, and the colorful lights that shone weakly in the slight daylight.
“I think it’d be more beautiful if it wasn’t so cold,” Mizuki said, rubbing his hands together. He felt icy, despite the gloves.
“We’re almost there,” Settia assured him, pushing forwards in the snow.

They came to an old, brick building, close to the center of town. The red terracotta was shabby in color, flecks of snow obscuring parts of the walls. The large windows revealed hectic activity inside the building. It appeared to be a café or something inside, though it looked Spartan, and not very cozy to be honest.
“What’s this?” he asked, though he had a slight hunch.
“Soup kitchen,” Settia replied quickly.
“You volunteered us again?”
“I did it when I was out earlier, same day as I spoke to the hospital.”
Mizuki didn’t know what to say.
“Are you sure about this? I’ve heard that some of these organizations are-“
“Who cares about the organization?” Settia asked strictly. It was almost comical to see him furrow his brow, trying to act cross. “The important thing is that we’re making a difference for someone.”
“I suppose…” Mizuki couldn’t argue. His lip quirked. “No uniforms this time?”
Settia grinned. “I wouldn’t count on it. I’m sure Mizuki would look super cute in an apron.”
“D-Don’t tease!” Mizuki flushed, tearing open the door to the soup kitchen, and calling out “Excuse me, we’re here to help!”
Behind him, Settia was chuckling softly as he too entered the building.

An elderly woman came to greet them. Apparently, she was the one in charge, and she seemed to recognize Settia. After exchanging some brief words with him, she ushered them off through a side door. “We haven’t opened yet,” she explained. “Dinner will be served at four. Anyone can come in advance and get a meal ticket.  You won’t need to be in the kitchen, but I’d like you to help serving the food. Though, first and foremost, we need to give this place a lift. I can’t remember where the Christmas decorations are though. They should be somewhere in this room.” She gesticulated towards cupboards and boxes.
“Don’t worry, we’ll find them!” Settia beamed reassuringly. The woman nodded, and scurried off into the kitchen to talk to the people preparing the food.

It didn’t take very long to find what they were looking for. While Mizuki was digging through a cupboard, he heard Settia’s voice behind him. “Found them.” And then he hear him muttering begrudgingly to himself; “Not that this is anything to leap with joy over…”

It was partially due to that notion that Mizuki felt confused a while later, after he had cleaned up the storage room, and came into the hall where the meal was to be served; it was decorated with tasteful details of red and silver, bells and wreaths. Amidst candles and ornaments, the elderly woman from before walked, eyes wide in amazement as she looked around. “I honestly couldn’t remember we had this many decorations…” she mumbled, looking around in mild confusion. Mizuki glanced sideways at Settia, who grinned back at him. Mizuki shuffled over, and mumbled. “Settia…? Did you…?”
“Put this on.” Settia ignored him completely, handing him an apron and yet another Santa hat. “I think it’s almost time to start the serving?”
“So it is!” the elderly woman clasped her hands together. “Honestly, I can’t thank you enough!”
Mizuki looked from one to the next, confused.
But as they begun setting the tables, and the doors to the kitchen serving area opened, a lively scent of all kinds of foods spread inside the hall.
“I hardly think we can call it a soup kitchen this year!” the lady said, patting the corner of her eye with an embroidered handkerchief.
Wide-eyed, Mizuki watched the trays being filled up with roasts, turkey, pies and all kinds of accessory. “What did you do?” he asked, balancing a stack of plates, following behind Settia, who was placing cutlery on the table.
“I pulled some strings.” The man said calmly, smiling at him.

Whatever it was Settia has done, and how he had managed to do so without as much as making a single call, or leaving the building, was beyond Mizuki – he hadn’t noticed any of the sort in any case. But he felt his chest swelling at the gratitude he could read upon the faces of the other volunteers – and of the people that were soon spilling in through the doors – poor, sick and homeless, lighting up at the sight of the hall decorated with such grace, and at the incredible meal that had been prepared for them. While he had been feeling a little taken aback at this idea, he found himself smiling from ear to ear with each hearty “thank you”  or “bless you” he received as he served the guests. Settia was beaming; chatting with everyone, smiling and laughing, his eyes glittering, deep green as they met with each new person’s gaze. His chest ached; from the many destinies he came face to face with during the hours they stood serving food, from the notion that this was just one day out of 365 that they were making a difference. He didn’t understand, yet again. How was it that even these people managed to have a good time, to be filled with holiday cheers, and sing along when a handsome youth was pushed forth to plunk away at an old piano in the corner, filling the room with carols?
And he ached when he looked at Settia’s steady hands, his kind face and the way he met everyone with such respect.

**TBC**

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