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soulmates and snowstorms

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The next play was Antony and Cleopatra, and they’d be starting auditions the next day.

            That night – Christmas night – would be the last showing of Romeo and Juliet, even though it had only been in the theater for a week.

            Nezumi lay on his back on his bed, reading the scriptbook for Antony and Cleopatra.

            Another Shakespeare. The manager had given Nezumi the playbook after that morning’s rehearsal. Told Nezumi he wanted him as Cleopatra, and they hadn’t even had auditions.

            It didn’t take a genius to figure it out. Nezumi’s manager wouldn’t have done two of Shakespeare’s plays in a row – three, if Rudolph wasn’t counted – for no reason at all. And as Nezumi had been slipping out the back after the Christmas Eve show, he’d seen his make-up girl talking to his manager, could make a good guess as to what they were talking about.

            It didn’t matter. The SSTC was washed off, and Nezumi didn’t care if his manager thought Nezumi needed pity or a pick-me-up or whatever gesture this goddamn play had been.

            Nezumi didn’t care what other people thought, especially not his manager. He liked Shakespeare, and it didn’t matter that the play was only picked because his manager felt bad that Nezumi’s soulmate didn’t give a shit about him.

            His manager had always been an idiot anyway. Nothing new there.

            Nezumi shut the scriptbook, dropped it onto his mattress. He knew the play anyway. Another tragedy. Another betrayal. Another heartbreak. Another death.

            Nothing new, but this was a good thing. Nezumi had never liked change.

*

Shion checked the theater first, but all of the doors were locked.

            He headed to Nezumi’s apartment next, walking past his lab building on the way, hardly glancing at it.

            There was no buzzer to get into Nezumi’s building, and Shion let himself in, rode the elevator because the stairs would take too long, bounced on his feet in the elevator because he didn’t want to keep still.

            As he’d checked the theater, then walked to Nezumi’s building, Shion had been putting it together.

            Nezumi hadn’t read the SSTC on Shion’s skin at all. He’d read it on his own arm. He didn’t know that Shion loved him, and he hadn’t known that when Shion had apologized for the SSTC in the theater the day before.

            Nezumi had thought Shion was apologizing for a confession to his soulmate, and of course he had assumed this confession was of love – for his soulmate, someone who was not Nezumi.

            “Idiot,” Shion mumbled in the elevator, shaking his head, but smiling all the same – unable to stop smiling, and he felt a little silly for it, but there didn’t seem to be much he could do about it.

            The elevator doors opened, and Shion all but launched himself out of them, and then he was at Nezumi’s door, and then he was knocking, and it wasn’t opening but then it was, and then there was Nezumi, standing in the doorway, looking so beautiful it emptied Shion’s lungs and he could not speak at all.

            “Jesus, Shion,” Nezumi muttered, shaking his head, stepping back, and Shion stepped forward, placed his hand flat against the door in case Nezumi was planning on shutting it.

            “Do you have a pen?” Shion asked, his words coming out in a rush when he was able to breathe again.

            It was alarming to him, his body’s reaction to Nezumi, just the sight of this man, just the sound of his voice, even after weeks of being around him, of speaking to him, of looking at him.

            He should not have felt so unraveled. He should not have felt so hot. He should not have felt so shaken. He should not have felt so overwhelmed.

            All at once, Shion felt the ache of missing Nezumi, even though it had hardly been a day since he’d seen him, even though it made no sense to miss Nezumi when the man was right there, in front of him, looking at him with careless eyes.

            It was not that wary, scrutinizing gaze. Nezumi’s gaze was light, like air, an indifferent sort of look, as if Shion was anyone, just a fan, just a stalker, just a stranger.

            “Believe it or not, I’m not a shop in the market,” Nezumi returned, nothing at all in his voice but disinterest, but Shion didn’t let it bother him.

            He knew Nezumi was a good actor. He knew Nezumi was a good performer. He knew Nezumi was a good liar.

            “You have to have a pen, Nezumi. You don’t have to let me in, just let me use a pen. Just for a second, then I’ll go if you want. I forgot to bring one, I was in a rush, I completely forgot.”

            “Sorry, no pen,” Nezumi said, shrugging, glancing away from Shion, behind him as if someone was there.

            Shion watched Nezumi reach up. Weave his fingers through his bangs, pushing them up off his forehead before dropping his hand again so that it hit his thigh lightly.

            “Anything to write with,” Shion insisted.

            “Here’s an idea,” Nezumi said, leaning closer, his eyes not as light anymore. Colder, now, an ice to them that made Shion wonder for a moment if he was not inside at all, but still walking to Nezumi’s apartment, trying to stop himself from running. “Turn yourself around, walk on home, and get your own damn pen. How’s that?”

            Shion fought not to let Nezumi’s tone affect him, not to step away from that glare. “I could do that,” he said, trying to sound casual, to keep his own voice light. “But then I’d just have to come back. An unnecessary trip, and it’s cold outside. It just started snowing on the walk over, and the flurry has probably grown into another snowstorm by now, if the weather is anything like it has been the past month.”

            Nezumi stared at him in such a way that Shion almost expected the man to hit him, but instead, Nezumi took another step away from Shion, crossed his arms over his chest.

            “Why do you want a pen?” he asked, and Shion couldn’t read his voice at all, couldn’t tell at all what Nezumi was thinking.

            “I want to show you something,” Shion replied.

            He could simply have explained it to Nezumi, but he had a strong feeling Nezumi wouldn’t believe him.

            Shion could have left, then, if Nezumi didn’t believe him. He could have gone home, gotten a pen, written Nezumi a million letters that he wouldn’t have been able to deny, wouldn’t have been able to ignore, but Shion didn’t want to go home, didn’t want to take a step away from this man.

            Now that he was beside Nezumi again, he didn’t want to be anywhere else.

            Nezumi smirked, but it was not the smirk Shion usually provoked from him, the slightly amused one, the just-a-little-bit fond one.

            This one was dry. Devoid of any humor. A tilt of the lips and nothing else.

            “Is it a magic trick?” Nezumi asked dryly.

            “Come on, Nezumi. Please, it’s important,” Shion said, and Nezumi’s smirk flinched, and then the man was turning away.

            Shion stayed in Nezumi’s doorway. Did not go inside of Nezumi’s apartment. Watched Nezumi walk to the chair he used as a nightstand, look down on it, then go to his bookshelf, glance around it, then disappear into the kitchen where Shion couldn’t see him.

            And then he was back again, this time disappearing into the doorway Shion knew was the bathroom.

            He came out with a pen in his hand, though when he returned to the doorway, Shion saw that it was not a pen at all.

            “Happy?” Nezumi snapped, and Shion could see the man was not indifferent anymore, not cold anymore.

            He was angry.

            Shion reached out, took what was shoved at him by Nezumi’s long fingers – black eyeliner pencil.

            Shion uncapped it. Lifted his hand.

            “You have to do that here?” Nezumi demanded. Mixed into the anger of his voice was shock, and Shion understood this.

            Nezumi thought Shion was writing an SSTC to his soulmate. And he was right.

            But Nezumi didn’t understand everything. He didn’t know who Shion’s soulmate was. He didn’t know whose skin Shion’s SSTC would show up on.

            “Yes,” Shion replied, glancing up to see that Nezumi’s expression had shifted once more.

            Gone was the anger, even the shock.

            All that was left was an emptiness, as he looked at Shion. A vulnerability, maybe, but Shion had never seen such a look on Nezumi, had never stripped away that constant guardedness so completely to unearth a look like this, couldn’t tell if he was just imagining it, maybe he was wrong, but he didn’t have time to figure it out because Nezumi’s door was slamming in his face.

            Shion was too late to stop it, had already moved his hand from against it in order to take the eyeliner pencil from Nezumi.

             “Wait, Nezumi – ”

            “Get the fuck away from me.” Nezumi’s voice was hollow, soft, barely traveled through his closed door between them so that Shion hardly heard it but as a whisper, and maybe it had been a whisper all along.

            Shion winced at the squeeze of his chest. Made himself look away from the door, lifted his hands again, and wrote on the back of his left with Nezumi’s eyeliner, unable to stand the thought of hurting Nezumi for a moment longer.

*

“Nezumi. Nezumi, look at your hand, okay? Can you just do that?”

            Nezumi could not look at his hand, as both of his palms were raised, the bottoms of them pressed hard against his eyes.

            He was not crying. There was no reason to cry because he wasn’t hurt, he didn’t care, it didn’t matter.

            He just didn’t want to see his closed door, knowing Shion was on the other side of it, writing a goddamn SSTC to his goddamn soulmate, having the nerve to come all the way over to Nezumi’s apartment to write his soulmate a love letter – what the hell was wrong with the guy anyway?

            How messed up could a person be?

            How sick and twisted and callous and –

            “I’m your soulmate, Nezumi. Just look at your hand, just look at it,” Shion was saying, his voice loud and clear despite the door between them, and Nezumi heard it even though he didn’t want to because his hands were over his eyes, not his ears.

            Nezumi froze, but he had not even been moving in the first place. Maybe it was just his lungs that froze, then. Maybe it was just his heart. Maybe just his pulse, or maybe it was every single system, every single organ, every single cell in Nezumi that froze as he heard what Shion was saying because he could hear the man clearly, so clearly.

            It took a moment, for Nezumi to unfreeze. And then he dropped his hands from his eyes. Opened his eyes. Looked at his hands, the palms of them, and they were empty but he didn’t expect to see anything anyway.

            He turned his hands over, almost flinched at the words on the back of his left hand in the slanted handwriting he knew well.

            The same handwriting that had chosen knitting needles as their first SSTC. The same handwriting that had told him a soulmate would be inconvenient at this time. The same handwriting that had told him his soulmate had fallen in love with someone else. The same handwriting that had apologized, as if Nezumi gave a shit what this stranger did, whom this stranger fell in love with.

            Now the handwriting said something else.

            Please open your door, Nezumi.

            Nezumi stared at the words. Was aware that Shion was still speaking through the door, and though the sound of his voice was still clear, the words were not. Nezumi had no idea what he was saying. Didn’t care about what he was saying.

            He touched the words on the back of his hand. They were clearly written in eyeliner, not pen. The lines a little blurrier, a little messier, a little thicker, a little darker. Nezumi rubbed at them hard, knowing how eyeliner smeared, but they didn’t.

            Of course they didn’t.

            Nezumi stared at them for several more seconds, then listened to what they said, not knowing why he was taking orders from words on the back of his hand, not knowing why he was taking orders from a stranger, not knowing why he was doing anything at all.

            Shion was still talking as Nezumi opened the door, then abruptly stopped.

            Nezumi wasn’t looking at Shion’s face. He was reaching out through the doorway between them, grabbing Shion’s wrist, and it was the wrong one, Shion’s hand was bare and holding Nezumi’s eyeliner pencil, so Nezumi dropped it, grabbed the other wrist, knew his grip was hard and didn’t care.

            “Nezumi – ”

            Please open your door, Nezumi.

            The words were on Shion’s hand. Nezumi lifted his thumb, rubbed it hard against Shion’s skin, watched the eyeliner smear over his own name, the same smear appearing on the back of Nezumi’s hand, distorting the syllables that Nezumi had offered Shion for the first time in the doorway of his mother’s bakery.

            The same doorway where Shion had grabbed Nezumi’s wrist, apologizing for offering charity when he’d really only been offering a job. The same doorway where Shion had kissed Nezumi for a week, too quick to count. The same doorway where Nezumi had kissed Shion back after a week, long enough to matter. The same doorway where Shion had asked Nezumi to come home with him for the night, the same doorway where Nezumi had agreed to go home with him for the night. The same doorway where snow had caught in their hair, blending into Shion’s like it wasn’t even there at all.

            The doorway where they stood now was not the bakery doorway. It was the doorway of Nezumi’s apartment, but for a second, Nezumi forgot that.

            For a second, he forgot everything.

            “Nezumi,” Shion was saying again, the sound of his name in that voice bringing Nezumi back to the present, though he wasn’t sure where else he could have gone.

            He still wasn’t looking at Shion’s face. Only at their hands, at the words Please open your door, at the smear that was where his name had been.

            “I was giving a presentation when you wrote Idiot on my face, you know. That was pretty immature of you,” Shion was saying, his voice soft, a smile in it that Nezumi refused to look at, hated himself for hearing because smiles weren’t audible.

            Nezumi was still holding Shion’s wrist. He didn’t know if he was holding it tightly. He didn’t know if his fingernails were digging into Shion’s skin. He didn’t know if he was holding it loosely. He didn’t know if Shion’s arm was slipping from his grasp, if they were barely touching at all.

            “Nezumi,” Shion said again, and now Nezumi dropped Shion’s wrist, now he stepped back, now he felt a little sick and he didn’t really know why but that he wanted Shion to get away from him, he wanted these words off his hand, he wanted this man out of his doorway.

            His soulmate. Shion was his soulmate.

            Nezumi didn’t think he was breathing correctly. Maybe not at all.

            “Nezumi, look at me. You know this doesn’t matter to me, right? I know you must have gotten my previous SSTC. I didn’t need you to be my soulmate to desire you. You know that’s not why any of this happened. I only just found out, Nezumi. I only just realized it. I never needed you to be my soulmate. I never needed a reason to fall in love with you. I never needed permission, or an obligation. It was never anything like that, and it isn’t now. It’s just – It’s just more convenient, that’s all. That’s all it is.”

            Nezumi closed his eyes.

            Yes, he knew this. He remembered clearly his previous SSTC – I fell in love with someone else. I didn’t mean to, it was just so easy, like I was supposed to, like I was meant to.

            Shion had written that. The someone else was Nezumi. Had been all along.

            Nezumi opened his eyes, saw Shion watching him very carefully, very gently, like Nezumi was something fragile, delicate like the dough he weaved into lattices on top of cherry pies.

            Nezumi looked away from him. He didn’t want to be something fragile. He didn’t want to be breakable, especially not by Shion. 

            “Explain yesterday,” Nezumi said, thinking he had to say something. His voice sounded lower than he’d intended.

            It was one thing that didn’t make sense. Shion had apologized for his SSTC. He must have thought Nezumi had seen what he’d written on the top of his arm, and of course Nezumi had seen it – just on his own skin.

            “Yesterday?” Shion asked.

            “Why did you apologize?”

            Nezumi did not want to look at Shion’s face, so he looked down at his hand again. The words Shion had written.

            This entire time. It had been Shion this entire time. Since I fell in love with someone else. Since I hope we can continue our SSTC at a time that’s better for both of us. Since I can’t seem to stop thinking about you, which is distracting me from my work. Since It’s your turn to write to me.

            Since knitting needles.

            “I thought you saw the SSTC on my arm, I thought you were upset because I’d written that I was in love with someone else, which was obviously you. I thought I’d freaked you out,” Shion explained, slowly, like Nezumi was a child, and Nezumi looked at him again.

            “Why would that freak me out? I’ve been confessed to several times,” Nezumi replied coolly, and Shion smiled gently.

            “I’m not surprised.”

            Nezumi narrowed his eyes at Shion. He never could figure this guy out.

            “Is that okay?” Shion was saying.

            “What?”

            “That I’m in love with you? I don’t want to put pressure on you, Nezumi. You weren’t even supposed to see. It’s not an obligation for you, and neither is being my soulmate. I don’t think you owe me anything. This is just how I feel.”

            “I’m well aware that I don’t owe you anything,” Nezumi replied, ignoring the rest, thinking this guy talked far too much, it was ridiculous, honestly, Nezumi should have known from the start that it was Shion from the paragraphs his soulmate would leave.

            His soulmate. Shion was his soulmate.

            Nezumi looked away from him again. At his hand again. Couldn’t stop looking at that slanted handwriting, the smudge of eyeliner that had been his name.

            Nezumi glanced at the pad of his thumb on his right hand. There was a stain of eyeliner there, from where he’d smeared the letters of his name on Shion’s hand. Shion must have had a stain of eyeliner on his own thumb now.

            It was too much. It was ridiculous. The whole concept of soulmates was absurd, it was a gene mutation, it had nothing at all to do with love, this wasn’t love, a smudge of eyeliner wasn’t love.

            Shakespeare wrote of love. Of passion. Of true feeling, and that had nothing to do with what could be written on whose skin.

            “Nezumi – ”

            Nezumi didn’t want to know what Shion said next. Probably something longwinded. Probably something insane and logical at the same time, in that annoying way he did.

            “I still don’t believe in soulmates, Shion,” Nezumi interrupted, to the pad of his thumb. He didn’t want to look at Shion. He thought Shion terrified him a little bit, but that made no sense, that couldn’t be right.

            “I didn’t expect you to. I don’t want you to. I just want us to go back. To before – before it all got messed up somehow. Before we hurt each other.”

            Nezumi shoved his hands deep into his pockets so he wouldn’t have to look at his damn SSTCs anymore.

            “You never hurt me,” he said, because Shion hadn’t hurt him, Shion couldn’t hurt him.

            “I didn’t want to,” Shion said.

            “You didn’t,” Nezumi snapped, glaring up at the man, who looked calmly back.

            “Well, that’s good then. I’m happy to hear that,” Shion said quietly, nodding once, then looking at Nezumi a moment more before stepping back, away from Nezumi. “Anyway, that’s all I had to say to you. I have to get back to the bakery, I left my mom there alone, and it’s the busiest day of the year. Oh, that reminds me – Happy Christmas, Nezumi.”

            Nezumi did not believe that Shion was going to leave just like that.

            That’s not what Shion did. He was basically a stalker. He was insanely dedicated to anything he put his heart into. He didn’t give up until he was satisfied with the outcome. He worked for what he wanted, and he didn’t leave until he got it.

            And he wanted Nezumi – hadn’t he only just said that? Isn’t that what he’d meant?

            That he wanted Nezumi, that he’d wanted him all along, soulmate or not – wasn’t that the truth?

            Shion lingered just a moment, but Nezumi was certain he’d stay longer, waited and was proved wrong when Shion turned, when Shion walked away.

            By the time Nezumi finally got around to whispering – “Happy Christmas, Shion” – his soulmate was gone.

*

Shion had to run to the kitchen, leaving the front of the shop unmanned, when the fire alarm went off.

            Karan had left a set of cupcakes in the oven for too long, swamped as she was with orders and the back-up that formed when Shion left the bakery to find Nezumi.

            After the fire alarm incident, Shion ran back and forth from the kitchen to the register, taking care of customers between helping his mother so that by the time Shion had returned to the bakery for only an hour after finding Nezumi, he was completely covered in flour and sweat.

            He was in the back, icing a fresh, not-burnt set of cupcakes, when Karan pointed.

            “What’s that on your hand, honey?”

            “What?” Shion asked, because it couldn’t be his SSTC, seeing as the eyeliner had rinsed right off when he’d washed his hands upon returning to the bakery.

            There was still the smear of it on the pad of his right thumb, though, that he couldn’t wash off.

            Shion glanced at his hand, distracted, and squeezed the icing bag too hard on accident, a large glob of chocolate frosting landing on a cupcake.

            2 apple pies, 1 pecan, a dozen xmas cc’s

            “Oh, that’s Nezumi’s handwriting, isn’t it? That’s rather convenient. I’m so happy he’s here, we do need the help. Christmas cc’s…? Ah, cupcakes, of course. Good thing we’ve got that batch done. Honey, bring them up after you ice them, all right? And fix that one, that’s too much icing,” Karan said, after leaning down to read Shion’s hand, which Shion was still staring at.

            It was Nezumi’s handwriting, but of course it was – Nezumi was his soulmate.

            Shion stared a moment more, but then his mother was squeezing his wrist gently, reminding him that they were in a rush, so he got back to icing the cupcakes, fixing the one he’d messed up before taking them and the pies to the front, where Nezumi was at the register, flashing his charming smile at the customers in the front of the line.

            The two girls giggled as Shion walked up to the counter, placing the baked goods beside the register.

            “One apple pie. Have a very merry Christmas, ladies,” Nezumi said, smiling again and sliding a pie to the girls, then ringing up the pecan pie for the next customer, the second apple pie for the couple after that, and the cupcakes for the family behind them.

            Shion, meanwhile, stood and stared until Nezumi glanced at him, his charming smile slipping into a smirk, this one familiar, this one warm.

            “Stop staring like an idiot and do some work, will you? As much as I enjoy having you drool over me, we’re a bit backed up,” Nezumi said, and Shion wanted to go along with this familiar banter but for the part of him that wondered if it was all just happening inside his head.

            “What are you doing?” he asked, and Nezumi raised his eyebrows.

            Shion fully expected Nezumi to say something along the lines of I’m trying to get an idiot to bake some pies while I ring up this line, but instead, Nezumi’s smirk fell into a soft smile.

            Not quite like his charming smile, and not a smile Shion had seen often from this man, though he had seen it before.

            In the early mornings, when Nezumi was soft and sleepy and sometimes let these smiles slip if Shion stole a kiss from his cheek when they set up the front of the bakery.

            “You wanted to go back to before. Before we hurt each other. Isn’t that what you said?” Nezumi asked, and Shion stared at him.

            Yes, he had said that. He vaguely remembered saying that. He vaguely remembered Nezumi denying it. He vaguely remembered the way this denial had squeezed the pit of his stomach as he stood just outside Nezumi’s doorway.

            He managed to nod, and Nezumi reached out, rubbed his thumb over Shion’s cheek, and Shion could only imagine there was flour there, as there was flour everywhere.

            “Consider it a Christmas gift. I expect something good in return, so start thinking about it. But think while you work, you’re holding up the line, really, this isn’t the day to be slacking off.”

            Shion blinked at Nezumi a moment more, then glanced at Nezumi’s hand, gone from his cheek now, saw indeed the orders for two apple pies, a pecan pie, and a dozen Christmas cookies.

            He felt himself smiling, turned before Nezumi could see, returned to the kitchen feeling as though all of the heat from the oven he opened to check on the scones was swirling in his chest.

            He started peeling apples in order to pretend that everything was normal and was halfway through when his mother, beside him mixing chocolate chip cookie dough, turned to him.

            “Did you just ask me about whether it was all right to fall for someone who was not your soulmate to dissuade suspicion, then?” she asked, and Shion finished peeling the apple in his hand, trying to figure out what she meant, before glancing at his mother.

            “What?”

            “You’re in love with Nezumi, and clearly he’s your soulmate at least as far as SSTCs are concerned. So did you only ask me if I thought it was all right for you to love someone who was not your soulmate so that I wouldn’t suspect you two?”

            Shion stared at his mother, who raised her eyebrows.

            “What is it, honey?”

            “How did you know about Nezumi and I?” Shion asked, and his mother laughed lightly.

            “Oh, sweetheart. There is not a thing I don’t know about that goes on in my bakery. That includes the cleaning cupboard, honey,” she said, and Shion was glad he wasn’t currently peeling an apple, as he had a feeling his hand would have slipped and he’d have peeled his own skin.

            “You – But – I didn’t – We – ” Shion could think of nothing comprehensive to say, felt his skin burning, but his mother seemed thoroughly unconcerned with his embarrassment.

            “So why did you ask about whether relationships outside of soulmates were unacceptable, or at least, deemed so by society, as I believe you put it?”

            Shion fought to compose himself, took a breath before replying, still feeling completely sheepish. “I just found out today. That he’s my soulmate.”

            “Really? Oh, well that’s lovely,” Karan said, and Shion watched as his mother poured chocolate chips into the batter.

            “Why?” he asked, thinking a whole lot of heartache could have been saved if they’d just known from the start.

            His mother glanced at him, her head cocked. “Oh, it’s always better to fall in love because you want to, rather than because you think you have to, don’t you think? I never believed that soulmates were romantic, really. Loving someone because it’s set in stone that you must – where is the beauty in that? There’s something to be said, in finding someone all on your own, loving them only because you want to, only because the world would seem so much colder if you didn’t.”

            Shion glanced away from his mother, down at his wrist where Nezumi had written 3 chocolate scones because Shion’s entire hand was full with orders by now.

            Shion smiled down at the order.

            Yes, he thought. There was something to be said in finding Nezumi all on his own. In loving him only because he wanted to, only because it was the only thing that made sense.

            Only because even the constant snowstorms raging for the past month and a half had felt warm with Nezumi beside him.

            “It is rather useful, though, using your SSTC for orders,” Karan added. “I wish you’d figured it out sooner, imagine how much easier it might have been.”

            Shion laughed, shook his head and went back to peeling apples.

            Halfway through the next apple he peeled, he watched as Nezumi wrote below the order for scones, 2 lemon tarts, a dozen cinn buns.

            He wondered, if by the end of the night, his skin would be full of orders, full of baked goods, full of Nezumi’s loose handwriting, the easy scrawl of it that Shion could get used to having over every inch of his body.

*

“Can I get your autograph, Eve?”

            Nezumi pushed his bangs from his eyes, turning to offer his pen to his next fan – grudgingly having obliged to his incessant manager’s orders to sign autographs tonight since he’d skipped out the night before – only to find an idiot grinning in front of him instead, red eyes crinkled with the unnecessary width of his smile.

            “Didn’t I tell you I’d meet you at your place? It’ll be a while till I can get out of here,” Nezumi said, shaking his head at the idiot.

            Shion smiled wider, as if that were possible. Nezumi wondered how his face didn’t split right in half.

            “I can’t leave without my autograph. You can just sign it somewhere on yourself, I’m sure I’ll get it,” Shion said, and Nezumi rolled his eyes.

            The guy was so stupid it was too much to bear.

            “Get out of here. My entire arm is covered in concealer, by the way, thanks to you.”

            “You’re the one who started writing orders on your hand, I definitely didn’t tell you to do that,” Shion pointed out.

            “Yet somehow I still blame you. Go on, I’ll see you there, I’ve got a line of crazy stalker fans.”

            “None of them as crazy as me though,” Shion said, still grinning, and Nezumi had no idea how he could be so happy.

            Thought it might have been because of himself, but then made himself ignore the thought because it was embarrassing, frankly, how warm the idea made him.

            “Definitely not,” Nezumi muttered, shaking his head, and then Shion was leaning up, kissing him quickly on the lips like those very first kisses he’d stolen in the doorway of his mother’s bakery, and again, it caught Nezumi off guard to have such a quick kiss stolen from him, just like that.

            The fans surrounding Nezumi started shouting, prompted by this idiotic kiss, no doubt, but Nezumi didn’t have a chance to yell at Shion, as the man was already slipping through the crowd, only his shock of white white hair visible amidst the rest of Nezumi’s fans.

            Nezumi shook his head, suppressing his smile as he turned to offer his autograph to his next fan.

            By the time Nezumi managed to get out of the theater, it was past one in the morning.

            Technically, that meant it was no longer Christmas, but the Christmas lights were still on, flashing brightly amidst the tangle of tree branches and store fronts and the moonlit swathe of dark night.

            It was snowing, as well, but this was no surprise. Nezumi couldn’t remember the last day it hadn’t snowed.

            He didn’t mind it so much. The flakes were thick tonight, fell slowly in large clumps, and Nezumi made footsteps in the freshly fallen heaps of it, forging a trail all the way to Shion’s apartment.

            Shion had slipped his keys in Nezumi’s pocket when Nezumi had left the bakery to head to the theater earlier that afternoon, probably thinking he was being sly about it, and Nezumi let him think it.

            He let himself into Shion’s building, took the stairs up to Shion’s floor, got to Shion’s door and unlocked it as well, kicked his boots off by the doorway so as not to track snow onto the carpet.

            He shed his jacket as he walked through Shion’s place, stopping at the bathroom to wash his face and pee before heading to Shion’s room, stripping the rest of his clothing down to his boxers as he made his way to Shion’s bed.

            When he got in bed beside Shion, the man shifted, red eyes opening and finding Nezumi.

            “Oh, I didn’t mean to fall asleep,” Shion murmured, rolling over to his side.

            Nezumi reached out, strung his fingers through Shion’s hair. “It’s fine. Go back to sleep. I’ll yell at you in the morning about the rest of my fans who kept asking me for a kiss after your senseless display.”

            “I didn’t give you your Christmas present,” Shion mumbled, his voice thick from sleep, and Nezumi trailed his fingers down from Shion’s hair, to his eyelashes, his nose, his lips.

            “Too late now, Christmas is over,” Nezumi replied. He could feel Shion’s exhales against the pads of his fingers, the cool skate of his inhales.

            “Oh. It was going to be sex,” Shion said, and Nezumi laughed.

            “You’re so predictable,” he replied, even though Shion was anything but.

            “I’m tired, let’s do it tomorrow,” Shion murmured, closing his eyes again, and Nezumi nodded against his pillow even though Shion’s eyes were closed.

            They could do it tomorrow. Nezumi would be here. He would be in this bed the next night too, and the night after that.

            This was where he belonged. And it was not because Shion could write on his skin and it would show up on Nezumi’s, or vice versa.

            It was not because this was where Nezumi was supposed to be, or fated to be, or even needed to be.

            It was because this was where he wanted to be. And it was about time, Nezumi thought, that he got what he wanted, even when what he wanted terrified him a little bit, even when what he wanted distracted him from work, even when what he wanted worried him, even when what he wanted was his soulmate, and he’d never believed in soulmates anyway.

            Nezumi wanted Shion so much he forgot to care about every other problem that came with falling for him, or maybe it was just that they didn’t seem like problems, really.

            They just felt like things that didn’t matter, not in comparison to this man he wanted beside him, not only during the cold nights, but every other night too, and every single day between them.

            “Nezumi,” Shion whispered, and Nezumi glanced at him, thinking for a moment he was sleep-talking before seeing that Shion’s eyes were open again.

            “Hi,” Nezumi said, and Shion smiled lazily.

            “This means it’s okay, right?” Shion asked, and Nezumi wondered if the man was aware he was making no sense.

            “Don’t talk to me if you’re half asleep,” Nezumi replied, shifting closer to Shion only because there were inches between them, and Nezumi didn’t see the use of that.

            “Being soulmates. That I love you. Are you okay with that?” Shion asked, and Nezumi concluded that the man was half asleep.

            Shion could be pretty senseless, but he’d never been as naive as this.

            “Don’t ask such stupid questions,” Nezumi muttered, closing his eyes.

            “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.”

            “If you already know the answer, it’s a stupid question,” Nezumi replied, not knowing why he was allowing the conversation to continue.

            “I don’t know the answer. That’s why I asked,” Shion said, and Nezumi opened his eyes so that he could narrow them at the idiot.

            “Weren’t you almost asleep? Go back to that.”

            “I think we’ve had enough miscommunication for a while, don’t you? I just want to be clear,” Shion said, and Nezumi rolled his eyes, but reached out all the same, wrapped an arm over Shion’s torso because the man was so warm, Nezumi couldn’t help wanting him closer.

            Nezumi sighed. “To be your soulmate, Shion, is the biggest honor that could possibly be bestowed onto me. To be loved by you is the highest glory I expect to receive in the whole of my life. Is that good enough?”

            Shion laughed, a sleepy, breathless laugh that had Nezumi nearly flinching at the heat instantly coating him.

            “I could have done without the sarcastic tone, but I guess that’s pretty good. For now. Sincerity goes a long way, you know, you could work on that.”

            “Subtlety goes a long way too,” Nezumi murmured. “As does silence.”

            Shion laughed again. “Goodnight, Nezumi.”

            Nezumi closed his eyes. “Happy Christmas, Shion,” he whispered, even though technically Christmas was over.

            Somehow, it felt as though the holiday was only just beginning.

 

THE END