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sweet winter

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Abe can’t quite believe it’s been almost three years.

They were only first years when they met—young, unsure, desperate to prove themselves. It took them so long to translate each other’s languages, to finally piece together their conversations into something that made sense. Mihashi is not like other people. He does not think the same way, react the same way, express himself the same way. Mihashi is different , and Abe can meet him where he is. And now they’re dating.

But all this isn’t to say that Mihashi doesn’t still manage to find ways to surprise him.

“Abe,” Mihashi says, tugging the hem of Abe’s jersey after practice. Abe pauses in the dugout and waits.

“I was wondering…” Mihashi murmurs, “…if you had plans on Christmas Eve?”

Oh. Hm.

“I don’t have any plans,” Abe says, because he doesn’t—not really. He’d assumed he’d be spending the day with Mihashi at one of their houses, curled up in blankets and watching TV or a movie. That would be easy. Comfortable. No need to make complicated plans, Abe thought.

But if Mihashi has something in mind….

“If you want, I was thinking,” Mihashi says finally, wringing the bottom of his practice jersey between his fingers. “I thought… maybe… we could see the lights in town?”

The plan sounds fun, but what really makes Abe smile is that Mihashi is the one planning it. Three years ago, Mihashi could barely ask him a question. Now he’s asking him on dates.

“I’d love to go,” Abe says. “What time should we meet?”

“Um… seven?”

“Okay. I’ll meet you at your house at seven.”

“Okay.”

Abe reaches forward and runs his hand gently through Mihashi’s soft hair, and Mihashi leans into his touch. God—it’s still so surreal, sometimes, that he can do this, that he’s allowed to have this. “I can’t wait,” he tells Mihashi, and he means it.

Abe makes sure that Mihashi dresses warmly before they bike into town. They lock up their bikes near the public library and then go the rest of the way on foot. The sun has long since gone down, but the street is illuminated by dazzling colorful lights that arch over the street and line shop windows. Yellow lights spiral up lamp posts, and icicle lights hang down between street signs. Overhead, an arc of twinkling blue snowflakes stretches out across the two sides of the street. It reflects in Mihashi’s eyes and makes Abe reach out and take his hand.

“Are you… having fun…?” Mihashi asks. He’s looking at Abe with a wide-eyed smile, and Abe’s heart melts a little more.

“This is great, Mihashi,” he says, giving his hand a squeeze.

The number of couples around them starts to increase as they draw nearer and nearer to the town center. Older married couples walk arm in arm down the pavement, young newlyweds smile at one other across upscale restaurant tables, and school-aged couples giggle at each other’s sides in front of the more impressive light displays. It’s a little strange, the realization that he and Mihashi are one of them—another couple out enjoying the lights on Christmas Eve. Mihashi leans closer into Abe’s side, and Abe leans back.

After fifteen minutes or so, Mihashi tugs gently on Abe’s arm and leads him left, down a couple blocks with trees covered in red lights that climb up the branches like ivy. They come upon a small dessert shop, and Mihashi brings them to a stop. The place looks, understandably, very busy. Abe must be frowning, because Mihashi frowns back and asks, “Do you not want to…?”

“No, this looks nice,” Abe clarifies. “I’m just not sure we’ll be able to get in without a reservation.”

And then Mihashi’s expression shifts, his eyes slipping to their shoes in a way that Abe can only describe as bashful .

“You made reservations?” Abe asks. After a moment or two, Mihashi begins to nod. “You did this by yourself?”

“I… last week… called them up,” Mihashi explains. “Before I asked you.”

Abe has the sudden mental image of Mihashi looking up nearby restaurants, of Mihashi finding the phone number of the dessert shop, of Mihashi planning out his script and talking to them on the phone in his broken words and anxious pitch. He feels a sudden burst of pride, followed by a secondary wave of gratitude that Mihashi was willing to do all this for him—for them .

“Thank you, Mihashi,” Abe says. He presses a kiss into Mihashi’s forehead, then asks, “Should we go inside?”

They’re seated quickly at a table near a window with a view of the street. The room’s dim lighting and the red Christmas lights in the trees gives Mihashi’s face a pale pink glow, making him look almost permanently flushed. The restaurant is small enough that the voices of the other patrons never gets above a low unobtrusive murmur in the background. Even soft-spoken Mihashi has no difficulty being heard by their waitress as he orders them three small plates from the menu. One of them is a cheesecake—Abe’s favorite. Mihashi must have remembered.

When the waitress leaves, Abe taps Mihashi’s foot under the table. “This is a nice place, Mihashi,” he says. “How did you pick it?”

“Well, um,” Mihashi begins. “Looked at… reviews. And my mom said.... She said it was….” Mihashi makes a small, fluttery movement with his hand close to the table. Calm and quiet , Abe translates.” Also, she said…. Um….”

And then Mihashi looks up at him through his lashes. Abe gleans another adjective: romantic .

“I’ll make sure to thank her for the good advice the next time I see her,” Abe promises.

After their desserts arrive, they spend the rest of their time at the shop pushing plates back and forth across the table. As Mihashi guessed, the cheesecake is Abe’s favorite. Mihashi seems to prefer the lemon tart, taking small bites with his fork as he nibbles away at the little dessert, almost bird-like. Abe pushes the last of the ice cream towards Mihashi after the rest of the desserts are gone, which Mihashi finishes. He needs the calories more than Abe does, after all. He needs to add weight before their next game.

Mihashi insists on paying their bill. “I asked you... so… I pay,” he insists. Abe relents, but only under the condition that Mihashi lets him pay for their food the next time they eat together. Mihashi nods once and hands the waitress his cash.

The air is a little colder when they step outside again, the night breeze pleasant against the warmth in his cheeks. The streets have emptied somewhat since they entered the dessert shop. It’s quieter now, a little more private. The walk back to their bikes is somehow more intimate than the reservation  for two at the dessert shop.

Did you have a good time?” Mihashi asks earnestly after they unlock the bikes. “You… had fun?”

Abe takes off his left glove, then lifts Mihashi’s hand and takes off Mihashi's right glove. He intertwines Mihashi's fingers with his own and meshes the warmth of their palms.

“I did. I had a great time,” Abe promises. “Thank you, Mihashi.”

At that, Mihashi's smile is brighter than any lights he's seen tonight.

“Can I kiss you?” Abe asks, because suddenly it's all he can think about. Mihashi beams and nods, closing his eyes and leaning in. It's natural, then, to fit his lips against Mihashi's and press in close. The kiss is gentle—sweet. The pressure of Mihashi's lips against his own shifts from feather-light to firm and back again, never quite separating, never pulling away far enough to break the kiss. When their lips do finally part, they stay close enough to feel each other's breath against their cheeks.

“Good?” Abe whispers.

Mihashi nods, then replies, “Good.”

They walk their bikes up the hill, side by side. Abe's the lucky one, he knows. To receive the gift of Mihashi's affection is a privilege he barely deserves. Of all the people in the world, Mihashi has chosen to pitch to him, to love him.

And he'll play at Mihashi's side for as long as he can.