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The Heart's Choice

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Karamatsu was fifteen years old when the seminal tv drama, The Heart’s Choice, aired across Japan. In later years, it would be recalled fondly as a classic story of tragedy and forbidden love, and he'd sat there, eyes glued to the screen, as his mother had watched it.

The Heart’s Choice told the story of two star-crossed lovers, Akiko and Ren, whose hearts were too foolhardy to follow their wrists. The two of them knew they were not soulmates, but loved each other regardless. Their love was stronger than their parents' disapproval and their friends' confusion. It was stronger than a society that told them their love would always be second best. Millions across the nation watched, rapt, as Akiko ran into the man whose name matched her wrist on the way to her wedding, forcing her to make a choice that would haunt her forever. Love or fate?

Pulpy, the magazines had called it. Trash, their teachers sniffed. And all of Karamatsu's brothers agreed that it was just far too girly.

But Karamatsu had tuned into the finale along with all the teenage girls and housewives, and he'd cried as Akiko had walked away from her soulmate and into the arms of the man she loved. He'd held tight to his own wrist under the safety of the table, and he'd hoped with everything he had that he'd find his own Akiko one day.

Someone who would love him even though he wasn't their soulmate. Someone who would love him even though he didn't have a soulmate at all. Someone who wouldn't laugh at him like his brothers or sigh at him like his parents. Who wouldn't look at him, wide-eyed and sad, when they found out his secret. Who wouldn't shy away like he was broken. Someone who would kiss his wrists, one by one, and choose him over the world.

That night in the bath, he'd stared at his blank wrists for a long, long time.

* * *

Karamatsu had sort of assumed that love, when he managed to find it, would be like The Heart’s Choice. That he'd hear the rise and fall of romantic chords and birds would sing in perfect chorus with his heart. The sunlight would fall just so, and the air would be thick with tension when they finally confessed their dark, forbidden love.

But real life hadn't quite worked like that. Real life had involved a lot more kidnapping and fire and humiliation. It had been tentatively reaching out to the only person who'd never pushed him away, and not really knowing what to do when he'd reached back. It was staring through an ocean of steam at a rickety old oden cart and seeing his hopes and his futures waver and wobble like the heavy evening air.

Secret smiles. Stupid jokes. Pulling on a pair of brand-new cufflets with fingers that shook.

There hadn't been any music, and there hadn't been any birds. He'd just looked up at Chibita one day and realized that he loved him. He loved his toothy grins and his bold attitude and his heart that was so warm that it made Karamatsu's beat twice as fast in its presence.

He'd known then, with a swoop in his stomach, that he'd found his Akiko — and he was a tiny, loud oden chef who owned far too many knives.

Chibita, though, had a soulmate. And he wanted to meet him.

For a moment — for just one, frightening moment, Karamatsu had thought that maybe it was him. That maybe the two of them were both strange, that maybe they could be strange together. That Chibita's odd name might be the reason for Karamatsu's odd Name.

But Chibita had cried, had fucking sobbed at the mere idea of it, and Karamatsu had felt the butterflies in his stomach burn away to ash. They'd been moths, he supposed, and he'd gone far too close to the flame. He'd do anything to keep Chibita from crying like that again.

He'd walked home that night clinging to his own wrists like a child, and had blinked away tears that he'd had no right to.

He'd set it aside then. He'd set it all aside. The hidden hopes that he'd been quietly nursing. The strange new idea, here and gone in a flash, that his strange wrists had a reason and his broken heart had a missing half. The daydreams of Chibita — of Chibita ripping off his own cufflets and throwing them away, yelling, like Akiko had, that his life wouldn't be determined by some magic birthmark.

He'd set all that aside. It wasn't fair to Chibita, and — this was the part that really hurt — it wasn't fair to the man who was waiting for him. They would be very happy together, Karamatsu was sure. Chibita, after all, was quite a catch.

And Karamatsu, bare-wristed as he was, was not.

* * *

It happened eventually, of course. That was old news by now. The two of them had figured things out, sort of, and were now so happily, blissfully in love that his brothers made retching noises whenever they entered rooms.

But the thing about uncertainty is that it never goes away.

Chibita was convinced that they were soulmates. He was so sure that it made Karamatsu's heart seize up sometimes when he thought about it. God, he loved him. He loved that Chibita loved him back. And he loved that Chibita was truly, 100% certain that the two of them had been written in the stars — in invisible ink.

He wished that he could be, too. But Chibita didn't know what it was like, to have blank wrists. He'd been a late bloomer, sure, but he'd grown into his Name eventually. Chibita, if he was feeling insecure, just had to look down at his right wrist to know that someone loved him. Karamatsu, on the other hand, had no name written on his body and he never would. He would never feel that warm, secure knowledge that he belonged to someone. All he had was maybes and probablies and I hope sos.

God, he hoped so.

Most days, he could believe it, that the two of them were soulmates. That it had only been mistakes and misunderstandings that had kept Chibita's name from his wrist. They felt so right together. Kissing Chibita had been a revelation, and holding him quieted Karamatsu's soul in a way he hadn't even known was possible. Waking up next to him and falling asleep curled against his side was all the home he could have ever hoped for.

(And the sex, he was unashamed to say, was incredible. If they weren't soulmates, they'd certainly gone through a honeymoon period like them. Chibita hadn't taken the cart out for a week.)

But Karamatsu had to admit that he didn't have much basis for comparison, and neither did Chibita. Neither of them had had a real relationship before this, and who was he to say that this, this simple bliss the two of them shared, wasn't just how it felt to fall in love?

What was the difference, really, between loving someone and being their soulmate? And, Karamatsu had started to wonder, did it really matter?

The day he figured it out, the day it all clicked together, was not momentous. The two of them, they didn't live in some romantic tv drama. They weren't on a train platform or in a hospital waiting room. It wasn't a matter of now or never, of life and death. It was just a Saturday night.

Karamatsu was sitting behind Chibita in their living room, hands on his shoulders as he kneaded away at tired muscles. Chibita wasn't old yet, not even close, but the long hours he spent standing at an oden cart were already starting to take their toll on him. He'd come home sore and aching almost every night, and what had once been a joke, a wink and a flirt and a purred Would you like a massage?, had become a nightly ritual for the two of them.

When Chibita would walk in the door, Karamatsu would turn off the tv and beckon him over to sit. (Unless, of course, he'd been walking home at Chibita's side.) Chibita would flop over there in front of him and Karamatsu would hold him for a few minutes, pressing kisses to his neck and breathing in the scent of him even as he sneaked Chibita's cufflets off his wrists. And then Chibita would sit up and start talking, and that would be Karamatsu's cue to get started on his shoulders.

Chibita talked about anything and nothing, about annoying customers and strange weather, about Iyami's most recent scam and the stray cats that kept sleeping inside his cart. More often than not, he just talked about oden. But always, eventually, his voice would trail off into soft sighs and even breaths as Karamatsu worked the stress from his bones, and Karamatsu liked that. That easy silence between the two of them. The two of them didn't have to talk, didn't have to act, didn't have to worry. They could just sit there together, quiet.

Sometimes Chibita would lean forward and turn the tv back on. Sometimes Karamatsu would feel devilish and trail his fingers over Chibita's wrists in a sly invitation that Chibita never, ever turned down. But no matter how it ended, it always began the same, and it was Karamatsu's favorite part of his day.

That night, the night everything suddenly made sense, it ended with Chibita turning his head lazily to the side so he could press a kiss against Karamatsu's fingers. "Love you," he mumbled, and Karamatsu knew without even a ghost of a doubt that he loved him back.

His heart beat painfully against his chest, but it didn't scare him anymore. His heart gallivanting off without him hadn't scared him in weeks, months. He knew now that the strangeness of the feeling was something good. What they had was good. It was the best thing that Karamatsu had ever had. And he didn't want anything else.

Karamatsu sat there and blinked to himself, realizing the truth of the statement. He didn't want anything else in the world.

He didn't care if he had a soulmate or not, and he didn't care if he was Chibita's. People always said that falling in love off-wrist could never be as good as "the real thing", but Karamatsu was convinced that there couldn't be anything better than this right here, Chibita leaning back against him and murmuring sweet nothings against his fingertips.

This was real. This was his. Theirs. Karamatsu felt the sudden, inane urge to stand up right then and there, throw off his cufflets and shout to the heavens that his life wouldn't be determined by a magic birthmark — or a lack thereof. He was going to spend the rest of his life with Chibita, and it was going to be fucking amazing.

Chibita, Karamatsu realized with a start, wasn't his Akiko. That role fell to him. Karamatsu was the one who had a decision in front of him, a blank page that he could fill out any way he wanted. Karamatsu was the one who'd spent his whole life accepting what his skin had told him about his future, and he was the one who'd been allowing it to mar his happiness even now.

"My life," he whispered to himself, remembering the words by heart, "will not be determined by some magic birthmark. I am the only one in this world who can choose who I love."

"What?" Chibita asked, craning his neck so he could look back behind him.

Karamatsu smiled and pressed a kiss to the back of his neck. "Nothing," he said. "I love you, too."