Advent Calendar, part 23

23

Settia was warm next to him, his scent strong, and his colors vivid, as if he was blossoming. Mizuki curled up even closer to him, waiting with dread for his alarm to ring, announcing the start of a new Monday. He’d woken up earlier than usual, despite getting so little sleep, and lay regarding the other man, whose arms were tucked safely around Mizuki. The same arms that had felt so strong the night before, muscles tensing beneath his rubicund, tan skin, which felt hot against his own, as he enveloped him with kisses and the weight of his body on top of Mizuki’s.  It felt like a dream, much like large portions of this strange December. But the feelings coursing through him were real. He didn’t want to get up.
His alarm rang, stirring Settia from his sleep as well as Mizuki reached out towards the table, turning the alarm off without making any effort to get out of bed.
“Aren’t you getting up..?” Settia drawled. It was kind of cute how he seemed to have relinquished that morning-person act of his.
“Don’t wanna…” Mizuki replied, kissing him on the shoulder. “I thought I’d skip today…”
“You really shouldn’t do that…” Settia murmured.
“I know,” Mizuki groaned. “But it’s so warm in here, and you’re so…” He felt Settia’s arms squeezing him tightly. “It’s cold out there you know…”
“But baby it’s cold outside…” Settia hummed at his side.
“Dork,” Mizuki nudged him.
“Mhmm,” the other man laughed softly. “You know, maybe you should take the day off.”
“Yeah,” Mizuki yawned, “Taking Christmas break early sounds lovely…”
“Christmas break?”
Mizuki looked away, stubbornly. “That’s what it is, no matter if you celebrate or not,” he defended himself.
“Whatever you say.” Settia grinned. “C’mere…”

They stayed in bed, nodding off for a few more hours. Settia was the first one to awaken this time around. He gently nudged Mizuki, waking him up as well.
“Mizuki…” he said, “Wake up.”
“Nnh..?” Confused, Mizuki sat up, feeling a slight pang of guilt, as he realized it was almost ten, and he should’ve been in history class.
“I was thinking…”
“What?”
“I want to go to church.”
“Uh…?”
Mizuki didn’t think of himself as particularly religious. Sure, he followed the Shinto customs, like the rest of his family, but it was more a ritual thing than a spiritual connection for him. Still, it hadn’t crossed his mind that Settia might have a different standing. “Are you religious?” he asked, looking sleepily at the redhead at his side.
“Of course not,” Settia grinned. “I’m a plant, remember?”
“You won’t stop with that, will you?” Mizuki laughed quietly. “Okay, so I’m curious. Why do you wanna go to church?”
“Many people go during Christmas,” Settia said. “It’s tradition.”
“Yeah, on Christmas Eve.”
“Well, there’s a children’s choir performing today,” Settia said, with a look on his face that could only be described as gleeful.
“Alright. We’ll go.” Mizuki said resolutely.
“Really?”
Mizuki stroked his hand along Settia’s upper arm. “Yeah. Clearly I can no longer say no to you.”
“Heh,” Settia kissed him atop the head. “Maybe. It starts at eleven though. So we should get going.”
“Eleven?” Mizuki exclaimed. “You sure are relaxed, aren’t you?”
He rose from the bed, hurrying to grab a shower and a bite to eat before going anywhere at all.

A rough hour later, they found themselves outside the local church; small in stature, charming with its grey bricks and red roof tiles. There were people assembled on the parking lot outside, waiting for the doors to open so they could be let in to the service. Mizuki assumed they were mostly relatives of the children performing during the mass, but there were probably regular church-goers as well, even if it was a Monday. He’d never been to a church before, and felt a slight tinge of anxiety at the thought. Particularly because Settia had taken his hand again, and he didn’t know how much that would be approved of in this place. Settia didn’t seem to mind though, as he led Mizuki through the large, oak doors when they were opened, smiling at the person greeting them at the entrance.
The room was painted in white, with rows of benches on each side of a red carped stretching towards the altar, where a large cross was nailed to the wall. The colors were subdued hues of red and white, candles burning by the pulpit. The roof was highly domed. The atmosphere in itself seemed to be electric, seeping from the two first rows, where a class of excited and anxious elementary school students were sitting, chatting nervously with hushed voices.

The service itself didn’t give him much. There were psalms, some students coming up to read about the birth of Christ and the minister giving a short sermon, before the kids were allowed to perform a short Christmas play, full of well-known carols. Though he wasn’t sure he got much out of it, Mizuki appreciated being there, somehow. The kids were clever too; he had to admit, even though some of them stumbled over their lines during the play. Settia seemed utterly enticed though, and that was what he had noticed more than anything; how those green eyes gleamed, and how he clapped enthusiastically at the end of the performance.

Afterwards, they were on their way out, when an elderly woman came over to them. She seemed to belong with a group of seniors that were chatting happily over by the altar.
“I just wanted to say,” she started, without even greeting them first. “That it’s lovely to see two young, strapping lads like yourselves attending the service. That’s so rare these days!”
“Is it?” Settie tilted his head to the side. “I really enjoyed it though.”
It was easy to see that she was charmed by him.
“That’s lovely to hear dear. Now, this might come as an abrupt invite, but would you like to join us all for coffee downstairs? We’re always having coffee after the service, but it’s been so long since we were joined by some young, interesting people!”
Surprised by his own initiative, Mizuki heard himself answering; “We’d love to.”
In the corner of his eye, he saw Settia light up, nodding vigorously. “Absolutely! Lead the way!”

They followed the group down a narrow staircase, which was so steep Mizuki was amazed at these elderly people being able to get down at all. The room in the basement was spacious and cozy, with tables already set, and decorated with candles, red tablecloths and Poinsettias in the middle. Mizuki nudged Settia, smiling slightly.
They joined the woman and her companions at the larger of the tables, and introduced themselves. After the mandatory round of questions about where they were from, and what they studied, compliments on their English – they seemed to assume Settia was a foreigner as well, probably because of his name, the talk came to be about Christmas. The old folks were lively, discussing everything from how many different types of baked goods they had stuffed in their cupboards, to what their grandkids were getting for Christmas – and then they started jogging down memory lane. Rather than being filled with irritation at the never-ending conversational topic, Mizuki listened carefully to tales of Christmas in the olden days; of kids shooed to bed while parents decorated the trees, of stockings filled with almonds and oranges, gifts being few and appreciated. He listened to them talk about the luxury of getting dolls or books, and about candles on the tree instead of electric lights. Their stories were so detailed, so vivid, he could almost smell the food they described, and feel the excitement that they had felt as children, on this day once a year when they were the center of attention, and everything was so mysterious and sacred. Finally, one of the elderly men slapped his knees and said; “But one thing that hasn’t changed, is the importance of family. What good are presents, food and a tree if you don’t have your loved ones near you? That’s what it was about back then, and that’s what it’s about now.”
“So true!” said a woman, “When I told my grandson I might not be up for travelling by rail this Christmas he told me that if I didn’t join them for dinner, then Christmas might as well could’ve been cancelled for all he cared!”
They all laughed, and agreed that her grandson was “a delightful little rascal”.
Mizuki sipped at his coffee, smiling. He felt Settia’s hand taking his underneath the table.

***

“I really liked those old people,” he told Settia when they came back later that afternoon. “They were all really spirited, weren’t they?”
“Indeed.” Settia agreed, removing his shoes and making his way into the main room, sitting down on the bed.
“They certainly had a point,” Mizuki continued, joining him. “About spending Christmas with a loved one. I mean…. I still don’t get it, and I don’t really care but… I think I’d be lonely tomorrow if I didn’t have you here.”
Settia grabbed him by the neck, and tilted his head forwards, kissing the back of his head. “I’ll be here…tomorrow.”
There was a slight hesitation in his voice.
“Settia..?”
“Mizuki, there’s something… I didn’t tell you yesterday.”
Not now. Mizuki’s heart froze. Not after last night, and these past few hours which had been so delightful.
“You know that I’m here for a reason, but the thing is…My mission has a time limit…”
“Time limit?” he repeated, feeling his face drain of color. “Does that mean you’re…leaving?”
“Unfortunately, I can only stay until the real Christmas Star shines…” Settia looked down at his feet, as if he was ashamed of not having mentioned this earlier. Mizuki felt cold.
“But…” his voice broke. “You just came… Why can’t you stay?”
“I guess… the easiest way to explain it is still kind of complex…” Settia sighed, looking up at him. His eyes seemed to be slightly glazed over. This was hard for him, Mizuki understood that. “I guess you could say that when the Star shines, the magic runs out and I’m a pumpkin again?”
“But you have magic!”
“Not like that,” Settia shook his head. “When my time’s up, I need to go.”
“How much time do we have…?” Mizuki wondered out loud, without really wanting to know the answer.
“Until the 25th. Tops.”
Mizuki felt something convulse inside of him. He said nothing, but threw his arms around Settia’s neck, and clung to him, feeling as if everything that had been good about today was swept away from him in one cruel motion.
Outside he heard children singing a Christmas song. He wished they would shut up.

**TBC**

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