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Sometimes on dates, they play the ‘if’ game. ‘If sensei were a hot drink, which one?’ or ‘If I were a book, which genre would I be?’

He’d answered green tea for the first, with a lemon tang and no sugar, and ‘historical romance’ for the latter. It had seemed to please her for she laughed, and took her time to consider.

While he waits, he muses to himself what sort of book he is: not a murder mystery (that would be Haiji accused of murder and Yuki the hot shot lawyer getting him off, while Nico-chan’s the cynical detective),  maybe he’s a slice of life—the hometown boy done good. Except  most of the time he feels like a minor character, one that fades out after chapter two.

“An open book,” she laughs. “I can see you thinking it through.”

She has a point. His green tea sensei believes nothing bothers him and he’s the emollient element of each group he works in. He hums and laughs and nods his head in agreement to everything around him, occasionally proffering a thought and accepting with a mild shrug that a louder voice will often win the day.

(It is not in Shindo’s nature to shout.)

 

They’d met at a party. Nothing rowdy, more of a movie and popcorn type of do. She’d sat with her friend, and he’d found himself looking at the way she twisted a tress of her shining black hair between her long, pale fingers. Thinking himself the protagonist, he’d given her a smile, and spluttered out his beer when she smiled back.

“If I were a musical instrument, what would I be?” he asks.

“A softly playing piano,” she replies. “And me?”

“A harp,” he says, smiling, “Elegantly centre stage for your solo.”

Easy to slip into coffee dates, a movie, a picnic for two, a walk through the park, or ramen after college. Uncomplicated too, and it had been fun. Something to look forward to when up to his neck in revision, someone to talk to, to confide in about his dreams. Except he hadn’t, and neither had she. The future was before them, but the present was where they lived, and it was fun like spring sunshine being who they were.

“I can read you so quickly,” she teases, and then boops him on the nose.

She’d likes his nose, likes tracing it with her finger. Perfect! she pronounces, and giggles a little when he moves in for a kiss and turning her face away so his lips land on her cheek. It starts off so lighthearted, like a book where the characters are introduced on page one, and you know the plot is going to be easy to follow and you won’t need a thesaurus to understand some of the words.

Maybe that’s the problem. Perhaps it’s the ease and undemandingness of the script that fails to keep the tale alive, for by the time they reach the middle, the spine is bent and the rest of the pages are blank.

He doesn’t bring her to the house. She asks what it’s like and then wrinkles up her nose when he tells her quite honestly that the plumbing gives up the ghost, and that there are nineof them sharing the place—nine males—not all of them as clean as he.

“I don’t have much in common with them,” he says. “But we get on well enough. Except for Yuki who hates Nico-chan’s smoking habit, and the twins fight over dumb things. Prince keeps himself to himself, and King yells if he gets interrupted during a quiz show. Haiji keeps us calm I suppose, not that he has to keep Musa calm, but it’s—”

“You sound fond,” she interrupts and twists her hair again.

He shrugs. “I suppose I am.” Maybe… he’s not sure he knows any of them well enough, although they’ll creep into his thoughts at odd moments during the day and there’s a wistfulness that perhaps they should be getting to know each other better rather than shutting themselves in their rooms except for meal times and the odd house party in the twins’ room.

 

 

“It’s as if you have someone new,” she says towards the end, her mouth dropping like a pearl of blood.

He denies the presence of someone, but he can’t deny that he has something new—Hakone’s mountains are not only the steepest but more alluring than her lips and long fingers twirling that tress of hair. He’d once dreamt of her so lucidly, he’d woken up convinced he could smell her jasmine scent in his room.

But not anymore. Now he smells the fresh air and the snows of home.

And something else. Something warm.

 

It’s Musa who broaches the subject, shuffling his feet a little awkwardly as he lingers by the front door. At the time Shindou thought Musa had been chosen by the others to ask, and a niggle of resentment creases his brow, but Musa, he realises later, isn’t asking for the others, he’s not asking for himself, he’s asking purely out of concern.

“Are you all right, Shindo-san?”

“Me? Yes, of course.” He unhooks the mask from his face. “This is only for the fumes,” he says. “The traffic is horrendous today.”

“No I meant—” Musa breaks off and bites his lip, then takes a step back and bows—still a little awkwardly—and smiles wanly. “I am glad you are fine.”

“What did you mean?”

“Ah… nothing. It is only that you are back earlier than usual on a Thursday and I—” He stares at his hands. “Forgive me, it is none of my business.”

Thursday? Oh, yes, library then coffee date, when he’d scrape through the door just in time for their usual run. Except last Thursday, he was been back in good time and none of them had had to wait.

He wants to snarl that Musa’s right and it is none of his business, but instead he repeats that he’s fine. But maybe some of his irritation had seeped onto his features. Perhaps that’s why he’s considered an open book, for Musa looks concerned again.

Then there’s a touch on his shoulder and then a squeeze. “Haiji-san’s gutting mackerel for tonight.”

Shindo wrinkles his nose. “I can smell it.”

 

No one expresses any astonishment when again he says he wants to run some more. Getting in some extra laps, making his breath thud from his lungs, causing pain to wrack through his body is preferable to having to think or talk. And because he’s forced his pace again, none of them raise as much as an eyebrow when he announces he’s tired and is going to bed early. He turns back as he reaches the door. Jota is bickering with Joji over the last piece of mackerel, Nico’s pushing some food around his plate, Yuki and Haiji debate training in the rain, Prince reads his manga, while King demands Kakeru fire off some questions from the sports’ magazine he’s reading. In his peripheral vision, he sees someone’s head move and he turns that way, but Musa’s staring at his plate, so he must have imagined those black as pitch eyes watching as he walked to the door.

He has college work, but there’s also a tweak to their website. A satisfactory amount of followers but very few donations greet him, and he chews his cheek trying to think of more ways to raise funds. There’s a sound of shuffling on the floor outside his room which disturbs his thoughts for a second or two, but there’s no other noise so he returns to his work.

It’s later when he stretches and decides he needs a bathroom break that he notices the small bento box outside his door. Opening it up, he sees two things: a mango sliced and ready to eat and a note.

‘You missed dessert,’ Musa has written. ‘Katsuta-san donated them to the team.’

He pops a slice in his mouth. The mango is a little soft (no doubt the reason Katsuta donated them) but it’s delicious and thirst quenching, with its velvety flesh and soon he’s eaten another slice still standing in his doorway.  He walks down the corridor and pauses outside Musa’s door. There’s no light on, but that wouldn’t necessarily mean he’s asleep, so he taps lightly and is rewarded with an almost immediate ‘come in.’

“No, you don’t have to—” Shindo interjects as Musa reaches for the light switch. “I only came to say thank you for the mango.”

“Sure, sure. It is not a problem, Shindo-san,” Musa gets to his feet and despite everything turns on his bedside lamp so the light spills out towards him.

Caught by the vibrancy of Musa’s room with the wall hangings and masks, the bed cover, a woven blanket in bright yarns, so different to his own shades of blue and grey, Shindo doesn’t immediately move away. “May I come in?” he asks instead. “We could share the mango.”

“Yes, of course.” Musa bows. “But the mango is all for you.”

He sits on the floor, on a soft mat Musa has laid there and places the bento box between them. “This was very considerate of you, Musa-kun.”

“Ah… thank you. I wondered … I thought … ah…”

“What?”

“If I had been a bit impertinent asking you how you were.”

“Huh? No, not at all.” He munches on another mango slice and proffers the box towards Musa. “Please have some.”

Instead of refusing, Musa takes a slice and then slides onto the floor, facing Shindo while sitting cross legged. The silence isn’t exactly comfortable, but it’s not wholly awkward either. It is as if Musa is waiting for permission to speak or for Shindo to open up a subject.

“My girlfriend finished with me,” Shindo says at last.

Musa blinks. “Oh.”

“That is why I was back on time today.”

Musa’s gnawing his lip and it looks as if he’s genuinely sad for Shindo. Perhaps he is, Shindo’s not sure because right at that moment, with his face flaming, he doesn’t want to meet his eyes, to stare into their depths and have to say anything.

There’s a long pause. “Are you really all right, Shindo-san?”

 “Am I an open book?”

“Huh?” Musa sounds puzzled by the idiom.

“Am I easy to read?” he asks. “She used to say I was, so maybe that bored her.”

“Hmm …. I see.” Musa frowns as thinks it through. “But isn’t it hard to start a book right in the middle to understand what is going on?” He bites into more of the mango and some of the juice trickles down his chin, which he laps with his tongue. “You would still have to make an effort to turn the pages, wouldn’t you?”

Shindo shrugs. “I don’t think she wanted to make the effort anymore.” Shifting on the mat, he swallows the last of the mango. “She told me something had to give. She’d been hinting for a while, complaining that running was eating into my time.”

“So the something that had to give was … um …”

“Her, or rather ‘us’.” He swallows. “I’m okay, you know. It wasn’t that serious but…” It could have been.

“I am sorry,” Musa replies. “Love can be complicated.”

“I’m not sure it was love,” Shindou confesses. “But then, how does anyone know?”

Musa stares at him: the look is one he gives when he’s trying to decode a foreign phrase into his own frame of reference—interest and bemusement vying in his head until it clicks into something recognisable. “You’d know.”

He’s emphasised the ‘you’ but right at that moment, Shindo doesn’t feel adept enough to ask what he means. Possibly it’s another of Musa’s minor linguistic errors, and he tells himself the reason he’s not asking is because he doesn’t want to undermine Musa’s grasp of the language.

He grasps for another subject, not quite yet wanting to leave. “Do you miss home?”

“Uhm…” Musa pauses and chews his lower lip. “Is it bad of me to say no? I miss my family, but—” he smiles, “—this is all a wonderful adventure to me. So many things I want to experience.”

“Like what?” he asks, intrigued.

“Snow,” comes the reply after a while, and slight squint at the Tokyo skyline outside. “Proper snow, I mean. I do not want to be disrespectful to your country, but there was barely any last winter.”

Chuckling, Shindo slides a little closer. “There never is in Tokyo. In my village we have such thick snow in winter the whole landscape is white. When I was much younger, we were cut off for a week until the snow ploughs reached us.”

“Oh…” His eyes widen and his mouth droops a little. “So you dislike snow?”

He shakes his head. Waking up to see fresh snowfall was still as exciting as it was the first time—the clichéd blank canvas waiting to be written.

“D-do you think it will snow in Hakone when we run?” Musa asks hopefully.

He doesn’t correct the when to if for right now all he wants to focus on is qualifying. “Don’t get distracted, Musa-kun. You can’t have a snowball fight and run.”

“I wouldn’t!” The denial is instant, shock and a degree of horror that he’d even entertain such a thought, and despite his gloom, Shindo finds himself chuckling.

“I’ll have to get my grandmas to knit for the team, just in case.”

Musa smiles at that, and in his eyes Shindou can see he’s imagined himself bundled up in a bright jumper, scarf, gloves and a bobble hat.

“Can they knit earmuffs?” he asks. “I’ve always wanted some.”

His expression is warm, his features soft when he smiles despite the glare from the Tokyo lights outside and his contentment so refreshing to Shindo after the tensions of the last few months, that he starts to smile back as he gets to his feet.

 

Over the next few weeks and months as he watches each member of the team grow strong enough to make their qualifying times, Shindo’s thoughts don’t slip to her anymore.  The ‘us’ in his mind has become ten rather than two.

 

As Nico-chan has stopped smoking, Yuki finds other things to irritate him. It’s the way Yuki rolls. He’ll choose the rocky path tangled with roots to be contrary, rather than the beaten track, the shot of whisky to rasp at his throat instead of the smoother wine. Debating at the dinner table, when he knows the others rarely get serious is one example of the bar he sets himself.

“Yes, the law is the law,” he’s saying one dinnertime.  “But there are always degrees and loopholes, and that’s where I come in.”

“Murder’s murder,” Nico chips in, a glint in his eyes. Nico, for all his easygoing ways, is the path that twists just to send Yuki in a spin.

If they were a game, they’d be tennis or ping-pong batting back and forth, Shindo muses.

“Is it murder in wartime?” Yuki counters. “Or in self defence?”

“That’s different,” Nico yawns. “It’s not murder then. But actual murder, with intent, is illegal and wrong.”

“Political assassination isn’t illegal if it’s carried out by the victor,” Yuki proposes.

“But it’s still wrong.”

“Wrong and legality don’t necessarily concur,” Yuki replies.

“Laws are made to be broken, eh?” Nico winks across at Shindo. He’s finished his food and could theoretically leave for his room, but he’s twisting together another metal figure, almost absently, as he debates.

“No, but some laws should be challenged. And there’s mitigation.”

“Does this mean if we murder Sakaki, then we can get off because he’s such an ass?” Jota pipes up.

“Murder him on the track. Metaphorically!” Haiji cautions. “That’s both legal and right.”

Yuki presses his lips together. “You’re deliberately obfuscating the issue.”

Musa’s been watching them, intrigued but also confused, maybe it’s the constant arguing, which he shies away from, or perhaps it’s Yuki’s choice of words which have become grander and complicated, as if he’s swallowed a legal dictionary.

“What is the issue?” Shindo asks, adding, “And how are we making it unclear, Yuki-san.”

“Breaking the law has consequences,” Prince mutters peeping above his manga. “But sometimes it’s justified.”

“Huh?”

“Dystopian worlds always have unjust laws which the protagonists must change, even on pain of death,” he continues, and even puts down his manga.

“Dystopian?” Musa looks even more confused.

“A world which is as … uh … dehumanising as possible,” Prince tells him. “It’s the basis for many great works of literature and also manga. Psycho Pass, for instance, or The Promised Neverland.”

“But there the laws are clearly wrong,” Nico says and yawns. “Yuki-sama won’t be able to work with loopholes. He’ll challenge and be locked up for defying the system.”

Musa’s glancing at Prince’s manga. The cover has two men on it, rather beautiful ones, Shindo thinks, dressed in ancient robes and with long flowing hair. His eyes widen as he reads the translated text on the front.

“Any law that is wrong by our standards should be challenged,” a bootfaced Yuki states.

Musa stares at the table, then folds his napkin. “Excuse me, I have some work to get on with. Thank you Haiji-san for the meal.” He surveys the others at the table as he makes his bow. “And for the stimulating conversation.”

“Huh, what was that about?” Joji asks from the corner.

“Following an intense debate in a different language must be taxing,” Haiji replies after a while. “We should stick to—”

“If he says running, I’m throwing my heaviest law book at him,” Yuki snarls.

Shindo rises shortly after that, taking a small bowl of berries with him. He taps on Musa’s door, ready to leave them, but Musa replies, ‘come in’ almost immediately.

He’s not sitting in the dark, but has his desk light on and his laptop open. His screensaver is a picture of his family, beaming up at him, but he’s looking through a book instead of at them.

“I brought your strawberries,” Shindo asks, sliding the bowl next to him. “I know you like them.”

“That is kind. Thank you.”

“Did … uh … the conversation upset you, Musa-kun? Was it confusing?”

“No, no, not once Prince explained. But …” He tilts his head to the side. “Yuki-san is a very clever man, isn’t he?”

“Yes.”

“And I can’t argue well in your language, but … uh …”

“What’s the matter?”

“If the law is absolute and the majority agree with the law, then it’s hard to challenge it even if it a person believes it to be wrong.”

“That’s where the conflict in dystopian novels arises, I guess.”

“I’m not talking about fiction.” Musa murmurs. He takes a breath, then turns his face to his family. “When I was eight, I saw a neighbour dragged from his house and badly beaten. The police arrived and I thought they’d do something about the fight but instead, he was locked up. My aunts told me he was a bad man. But he’d always been kind to us.”

“Uhm… what?”

“He didn’t marry,” Musa replies. “There was a man who stayed with him sometimes.”

“Oh…”

“I love my country but ...”

“No country is Utopia.”

“Mmm, but some are better than others.”  He closes his heavy text book, and picks up the bowl of fruit. “Would you like a strawberry, Shindo-san?”

“They’re yours.” But he grins remembering the conversation from before and settles down on the floor.  “If I were a fruit, what sort would I be?”

“Uh… what?” He blinks. “Oh, is this a game?”

“Yes, sorry, it’s a dumb one. Don’t wor—”

“Cherries,” Musa interrupts.

Small and sweet, nothing special, how unsurprising and yet how disappointing. An open book.

“Why?” he asks, a little leadenly.

“Uhm, they remind me of Japan, but I suppose that’s more the blossom than the fruit,” Musa considers.

“So I’m Japan to you, eh?”

“You all are. This place and all of you will be my fondest memories of my time here,” he replies, sounding diplomatic. “But … uh … cherries have a hard … um … core.”

“Stone?”

“Yes, stone. They look so small and taste so sweet, but the stone is strong.”

“Oh.” For some reason his face begins to flame so he tries to turn it into a joke, cracking a gag about breaking teeth if he’s bitten into.

“I think the twins are bananas.” Musa says. “Always smiling and making us laugh.”

“Easy to peel,” Shindo agrees with a laugh. “Yuki would say Nico is a strawberry.”

“Why?” asks Musa, holding one between his finger and thumb.

“Because the seeds get in between his teeth and that infuriates him. Haiji is … I was going to say a watermelon, refreshing and open, but he’s tough and sneaky too.”

“Maybe he’s a tomato,” Musa says. “Or a cucumber.”

“Why?”

“Because people confuse them for vegetables but they’re not.”

“I like your thinking.”

Musa grins, his eyes alight with enthusiasm. “And Kakeru’s a … a … pineapple!”

“Why?” Shindo fires back, but he thinks he knows the answer.

“Prickly and hard to get into,” Musa replies.

“But rewarding when you do.”

They both laugh.  And it’s easy just the two of them, while from the kitchen, King is yelling out answers and the twins are singing some dumb advert that’s on the tv all the time.

“You know, if you wanted to go back and debate with Yuki-san, I’d be there to back you up,” Shindo whispers.

There’s no alarm on Musa’s face, but he shakes his head. “Tonight is when I call my family.”

“Ah, should I leave?”

“No, no, please stay as long as you wish. There’s another hour until my sister is back from school. I simply meant I’m not up to an argument with Yuki-san, but this … this is good.” He pauses. “What sort of fruit am I, Shindo-san?”

A mango, he wants to say and almost blurts it out, but explaining why is something he hasn’t quite figured out. Instead Shindo shakes his head. “I need to think about that, Musa-kun.”

 

Shindo thinks about that evening for many weeks after, not every day, but sometimes when running, he’ll picture Musa looking out of the window and mock scowling at the disappointing Tokyo snow. And he thinks about the sort of book Musa is, or could be: one that he’s fond of, that he could take down from the bookshelf and curl up in a chair, picking out certain moments and not constantly needing to refer back to the plot. But also a book with hidden clues to a darker depth. Written with levity, so the deeper meaning is lost by those that skim through. Written with love for those who find treasure in the story.

 

***

 

Only Yuki knows he’s ill. They might suspect, but Yuki is the one who’s paired up with him so Shindo’s sworn him to secrecy.

“They’re not idiots,” Yuki mutters, then considers, “Okay, the twins are idiots and Kakeru’s too inside himself to have noticed, but Musa’s not dumb, and Haiji’s got a sixth sense about us all, you know.”

“Haiji-san will know I can look after myself,” Shindo rasps. “And Musa …” His chest throbs as he coughs. “Don’t want to put him off his stride, okay. He’s already nervous running that leg. Can’t make it worse.”

Yuki promises not to tell, but he also swears if he takes a turn for the worse, he won’t let him start his leg.

“Anything so you don’t have to run, huh?” Shindo says, and hopes Yuki realises he’s joking.

He doesn’t laugh, but fetches another glass of orange juice and a cold compress for his head. “Stop worrying about the others, and concentrate on yourself.”

They’re at a train station watching the coverage when Musa appears on his phone screen bowing to the cameras. There’s a set to his mouth and a stiffness to his shoulders, reminding Shindo of the early days of his running when he was too scared of Haiji and disappointing the others to back out, the days before he discovered the liberation of running.

I can think better when I’m free. It’s like being in the bath when it’s dark. Not being able to see heightens my other senses.

The Aces’ leg, Musa’s been told, but Musa, though flattered, has confided in Shindo that he doesn’t feel like an ace in the slightest.

So despite Yuki ordering him to concentrate on himself and not worry about anyone else, Shindo selects Musa’s name and calls.

The invitation spills from his lips. Like water breaking through the dam of the last few months, Shindo straight up asks Musa to come to his hometown. To see the snow. Because you’d like that, eh, Musa-kun? Snow as far as the eye can see. A reward when we finish the race.

He can hear the excitement chasing away the leaden nerves, and Shindo’s heart lightens.  It’s possible Musa will change his mind, but for now, he has something else to run for.

And so does Shindo.

 

During his leg, to drum out the pain in his limbs and chest and the dizziness thrumming thorough his head, he thinks about snow, about snowball fights, and snowmen and snow angels and …. But most of all he thinks about Musa’s eyes lighting up with excitement at seeing this mini Utopia.

The coach tries to stop him; his words weave hypnotically further confusing the dilemma in his head and muddling his limbs. He can stop. No one will blame him. No one at all. He can stop .They’ll all understand. They know he’s ill. He can stop. No normal person would be able to endure this.

He can stop.

But Musa wants to see the snow. Musa completed his leg. Musa is waiting. They’re all waiting.

So Shindo runs on.

 

“Did you mean it?” Musa whispers, almost furtively as they wait at the finishing line.

Shindo doesn’t ask him what he’s talking about, but nods. He takes his hand, giving it a squeeze and although he means it to be a brief touch and nothing at all to alarm Musa, he finds their fingers have curled together, the grip strengthening when they at last see Haiji launching over the finish line.

“We’re fifth!” King punches the air as the twins leap chaotically.

And gladdened though he is, his heart light and lungs breathless, Shindo’s not sure what’s contributing the most, their seeding for the following year, or Musa enveloping him in a hug. His lips dust Shindo’s ear as he whispers ‘Thank you’.

***

 

He doesn’t invite the others to visit his home. This is a promise only for Musa. Shindou wants to see the snow through his eyes and having other voices, other bodies and eyes will only disrupt the experience. Much like running, he feels better when he’s not keeping to everyone else’s pace. He wants to be the protagonist , treasuring Musa’s delight before it melts into spring.

They take a coach a week later. Musa packs enough jumpers for a week, buys himself new gloves and a long scarf which he winds three times around his neck, then has to unravel when they find themselves with seats by the heater. His eyes are concentrated on the scenery outside, hoping for a glimpse of the winter wonderland Shindo has promised him, and he tries not to look disappointed at the sight of the grey roads and sludgy muddy fields ahead.

“It’s not your only chance, you know?” Shindo murmurs and pulls out a blanket from his bag. “There’s likely to be snow, but if there isn’t, you can come back, okay.”

“You mean it?”

“I promised you snow, Musa. I promised you snow as far as the eye can see, so we’ll find it, yeah?”

Spreading the blanket across his and Musa’s knees, Shindo, slips off his shoes and curls up in his seat. He glances at Musa, whose face is still in profile and takes in the soft cheekbones, the faint down on his cheeks, and the long black lashes framing his deep brown eyes. There’s a gentle intensity about him, a contradiction that’s quite in keeping. An exchange student who cannot run yet ended up becoming their ace. Who has well-thought out opinions but won’t voice them for fear of causing an upset, and a boy who notices every interaction around him, yet is surprised when he’s noticed. He brings laughter and light to the house, but does his best thinking and feeling in the dark.

“You know, I should warn you, my mum will have cooked enough food for the entire team, and both grandmas will have knitted you a jumper. My sister will pester you with questions and my Dad will want to know about your leg, kilometre by kilometre. No one from university’s ever visited before, so they’re very excited.”

“No one? I thought—”

His hand finds Musa’s to give a squeeze. It’s a small intimacy, but even this is often too much for Musa in public. But hidden by the blanket, he squeezes back and the softest of smiles lights his face.

“No one from Tokyo,” Shindo breathes, “is as important to me as you are.” He waits for Musa to turn his face towards him, and stares him straight in the eyes. Then, seeing tears glimmering, he holds back his own before continuing.  “Or ever has been.”

 

His family react in the exact way he thought they would—his sister especially, once she gets over her shyness fires questions at Musa, asking about the animals he’s seen on safari and whether he lives on the savannah. He laughs gently and hopes she won’t be disappointed to learn he’s from Dar es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania and his family have a house much like her own.

 “We are closer to the sea, though,” he tells her, “and it’s much, much hotter.”

And although there’s no snow the day they arrive, Musa doesn’t complain in the slightest. He sits with Shindo’s father, telling him about his run, and he tries all the food his mother sets on the table, eating far more than normal until his eyes are heavy and movements languid.

“It was a long journey,” Shindo demurs when his uncle suggests yet another game of cards. “And tomorrow I want to show Musa-kun the town.”

They share Shindo’s bed. Musa had gravitated towards the futon laid out for him, but Shindo tugged on his wrist, and after turning the lights off, shuttering the blinds and locking the door, they lie side by side, their fingers entwined and palms paddling. Shindo turns over in the night, and although he’s asleep, Musa copies, his arm resting on Shindo’s waist. 

“I never told you what fruit you were,” Shindo whispers, watching as the starlight pick out Musa’s docile expression. He drops the faintest of kisses on Musa’s nose. “You’re a mango.”

Musa’s shoulders shake, and he opens one eye, grinning Shindo’s horrified gasp. “Why?”

Mirroring Musa’s wide smile, Shindo wriggles closer, kissing him deeply on the lips and only answering when they break away for air. “Warm,” he mutters, “and thirst quenching.”

“I like that,” Musa replies, and kisses him back.

“So do I.”

 

Shindo is woken properly by an excited gasp, and a cold space beside him. He levers himself to sitting, blinks blearily at the figure by the window, and watches Musa’s awestruck expression.

“It is white,” Musa whispers. “White as far as the eye can see.”

“Told you,” Shindo calls out.

Musa tears himself away and bows. “I didn’t mean to wake you. I am so sorry.”

“Don’t be. It’s the reason we’re here, right?”  He pads out of bed, joining Musa and links their arms together.

The sun is rising and the snow is a startling white and pale blue, masking the black trees and pathways. “What would you like to do first? A snowman? Snow Angels? A snowball fight like you imagined?”

“Do you know what I really want to do right now?”

“Tell me.”  He snuggles closer to him, viewing the garden, the rooftops, and the fields beyond through Musa’s eyes, tasting the excitement on his tongue and smelling the anticipation as surely as he smells the icy air.

“I want to leave my mark on the snow.” Musa sucks in his breath and presses his nose against the window. “Let’s run.”