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Heart of X'mas

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 Yokohama National University, 1999

 

The winter season was nearing, and Kazuhiro felt apathetic towards all the holiday cheer. He leaned back in his seat, stared up at the ceiling and sighed. The students around him were starting to get antsy as the professor wrote the last sentence of notes on the board. The rough way he dotted the period sent a little pang of relief in Kazuhiro, but a bit more for the rest of the class. Students were already chatting away and packing their bags up. The professor scratched his head, turned around, limply waving his hand.

“Alright, that's the last one. Class is dismissed. Have a good holiday, everyone.”

By the time Kazuhiro finally sat himself upright, half of the class already left or were getting themselves ready to leave. Kazuhiro felt completely exhausted. This past week he was bombarded with studying, exams, and the crunch of being broke. It was just all around a bad end of the year break, he just wasn't feeling it.

The professor was smiling politely and giving good wishes to the girls who handed him cards and little gifts. He wasn't an abnormally young man, but his age did feel ambiguously between looking like 30 or possibly being in his early 50s. For all Kazuhiro knew, he could have daughters the same age as his students, but whatever, it wasn't any of his business. The professor said his goodbye to the last girl, then glared up at Kazuhiro.

“Oi, Tsuchiya—you better quit being useless. Hurry up and get out of here! I have things to do, you know.”

Kazuhiro rolled his eyes while pushing in his chair rather loudly. He mumbled a quick “Yeah, sorry” before zipping up his bag. As Kazuhiro readied to leave, the professor seemed to remember something by mumbling before calling his student's name casually.

“Oh right, Tsuchiya, I forgot—when you see Yuhara, please give him this.”

The professor already had his coat and messenger bag on while handing Kazuhiro three stapled papers. He looked like he was going to topple over if Kazuhiro wouldn't have grabbed those papers quick enough. It looked like his test, a completely passing test. Kazuhiro tried not to stare too hard and slid it between his textbooks.

“Thanks kiddo, I totally forgot to give it to him. I believe you two play in the same music group, right? If you don't see him, though, don't worry about it too much. Have a good new years, alright?”

“Uh, right, you too, sensei.” Kazuhiro bowed and then took his leave from the classroom. When he was out of the professors range, he scoffed.

 

It was rare for someone to remember Kazuhiro was a part of their band, the Four Corners, which was pretty popular on the campus. Most people assumed he belonged to a motorcycle gang or something, but much to their surprise, he was the drummer of Four Corners. Then it clicked that he was, in fact, Kazuhiro Tsuchiya, the younger brother of the Keiichi Tsuchiya who formally played guitar in the band. When he graduated and went off to pursue construction in Tokyo, he entrusted the band to his younger bandmates.

For those who realized Kazuhiro's status in the band, figured the one and only vocalist, Hideki Yuhara and himself were just so in sync. After all, it was Keiichi and Hideki who were the first two members of Four Corners, not to mention they were best buddies in high school, so naturally Kazuhiro was just like his strapping big bro. Friends of your siblings were easily friends of your own—or as so many people seemed to reiterate. Kazuhiro wasn't so sure about that.

Due to the holidays, most of the band members were doing something either for Christmas or New Years. He wasn't sure what Hideki was up to, though, and wasn't sure if he was going to see him later in the week...but he really didn't want to keep Hideki's test on his own conscience. He was nearing closer his dorm wing while harboring a string of conflicted feelings.

Should he text him, stop over his dorm right away, or add his test to the pile of recyclable paper to use for the leaky sink in his dorm? He didn't know what to do. And that was the strange thing, Kazuhiro always felt uncomfortably conflicted about Hideki. He was an honest kind of “touchy-feely” guy, and his openness almost made him feel irritated to feel like they were interactions meant for him, but Hideki was open to everyone he met. And then there was that borderline flirting—was it flirting, Hideki's seemingly alluring pet name of “Kazu-chan” for him, or did Kazuhiro want it to be flirting?

Hideki was pretty good looking, he was cool, had a great voice (and not just his singing vocals)—alright, he admitted it to himself, Hideki was hot, for crying out loud. Kazuhiro didn't know if they could even be considered friends, Hideki openly hung out with everybody else in the band more than him. At the same time, whenever they were in the same room, they seemed close to each other, but yet there was a distance. He just didn't get it.

In the mess of his thoughts, Kazuhiro growled under his breath and decided he was going to stop by his room. That's right, he was going to do this once and for all. It was nearing Christmas Eve, and to top it all off, it had been a good two years since he was formally invited to play with the Four Corners. He was going to give Hideki his test, good wishes for the New Year, and maybe—well, Kazuhiro shoved any funny ideas of getting lucky out of his head.

 

---

 

Their rooms were on opposite ends of the hallway, but Kazuhiro only went to his dorm maybe once or twice before. He had also invited Hideki over to his own dorm once, just to pick up some CDs. After that, Hideki seemed to steer clear of that general area, and Kazuhiro honestly couldn't blame him. Oftentimes, Kazuhiro even tried to avoid his own roommate because they would always get into some kind of argument. Kazuhiro was actually a really hot tempered guy, and the only way he could truly control himself was to walk away from somebody who pissed him off. Having a friend over with a bad relationship with his roommate would definitely spoil the whole mood.

Kazuhiro counted the numbers of the dorms and thought he found the right one, but there seemed to be some loud noises radiating from it. Loud, cheerful noises. He second guessed the room as he started knocking, but it was too late.

The door swung open, and out came three girls violently laughing. Some of it subsided, though, after they noticed the usual glum face of Kazuhiro obstructing their force.

“Ah—it's Tsuchiya-kun...!” One girl spoke up first, and the others followed along and gave him a greeting. Kazuhiro was utterly confused and unsure what to say, but tried to mumble a greeting. He was drowned out by the girls speaking up again, and one of them took his hand with a pleading look.

“This works out perfectly, now I don't feel guilty! You see, Yuhara-kun got himself into a bad situation...” There was a whisper towards the end of her sentence, which lead Kazuhiro to become certain that he was still in the room. Another girl finished off her sentence.

“You wouldn't believe it, he's pretty smashed! I think he went to throw up in the bathroom—we feel bad about leaving him alone, so can you look after him? Thank you so much!”

Kazuhiro could only get out “um” and “uhh” by the time they already took their leave. He watched them giggle and chat down the hallway before peering back into the room and closing the door. “So he's throwing up in the bathroom, huh...” Kazuhiro thought anxiously. He knew that Hideki was usually giddy and liked to drink from time to time, but he was always well aware of his own drinking limit. Strange. Maybe he liked to cross those limits when it came to pretty college girls?

Kazuhiro looked around the dorm room for the time being. Hideki wasn't necessarily a person who put up with his or his roommate's clutter, so not surprisingly, the room was practically spotless. He noticed two photo frames on Hideki's desk, one was an old family photograph, and the other was his graduation photo taken with his cousin. The only other decoration was a hanging calender, which was also sporting a beautiful illustration of the year's Chinese zodiac animal. Then, Kazuhiro noticed there were decorated presents, cards, and chocolates stacked on his desk. Well, that seemed new...

Kazuhiro jumped in surprise when he heard the flush of the toilet. What was Hideki's state, anyway? Kazuhiro was beginning to grow anxious as he realized how creepy it was to just hang out in his room like this. “Alright, all I gotta do is tell him I'm giving him his test, ask him if he needs anything, then jet out of here.” Kazuhiro thought, trying to prepare himself up to meet Hideki, but his feet felt frozen.

The door slowly opened, then paused as Hideki turned off the bathroom light. There was an audible sigh coming from him.

 

“Good, well they're gone—”

Hideki trailed off, shut the door, then tensed up when he noticed Kazuhiro standing in the middle of the room. There was a towel draped over his shoulder and his hair was a bit damp. He was wearing somewhat wrinkled button down shirt and dress pants – no matter what Hideki always dressed like he didn't know what casual attire was. Even in high school, all of his casual outfits consisted of something that looked like uniform.

With a little delay, he then let out a more content expression, almost like relief. The tone in his voice was suspicious, though, and probably for a good reason. The last time the band got together was maybe about two weeks ago, and it was pretty rare for them to seek just the two of each other out.

“Oh goodness—it's just you, Kazu,” Hideki's shoulders relaxed and started toweling his hair down as he continued. “How'd you get in here?”

“Your friends needed to leave so they asked me to look after you. Feeling any better?”

Kazuhiro uttered his last statement with a tinge of sarcasm. He crossed his arms with eyes that stared at Hideki, revealing his bluff. It was pretty obvious now that Hideki had put up a show for the girls to possibly send them away, but he supposed he wasn't going to ask. He also supposed he wasn't going to pay close attention to the first three buttons of Hideki's shirt that remained unbuttoned.

“Oh, yeah, well I lied.” Hideki ruffled his hair and smiled somewhat bashfully. Kazuhiro rolled his eyes, but grinned as he looked away.

“Well, yeah, that was obvious...” Kazuhiro replied, but regretted mumbling it right as it came out of his mouth. Dammit, Kazuhiro couldn't stop sounding bitter! See, this was the reason why there was always this distance between them, or at least why Hideki seemed to give Kazuhiro his distance. Regardless, Hideki kept up his usual, cool smile, took a seat on his desk chair, then faced Kazuhiro. His elbow rested on the chair arm and his fist propped up against his cheek. Kazuhiro felt like he was being interviewed with a CEO or something – except for the fact that he was the lead singer of their university's most popular band.

“So, what did you come here for?” Though Hideki didn't intend it, his words reflected with malice in Kazuhiro's head. Of course he wouldn't come here just to chat, he came here for a reason. He'd love to come see Hideki without a reason. Kazuhiro brushed his bangs away as he leaned to shuffle into his bag to pull out the packet.

“Well, Kibayashi-sensei forgot to give back your test...”

It was a little crumpled, but still in one piece. When Kazuhiro glanced over, Hideki's back was turned to him and was looking at his desk. Probably at his calender.

“Must have gotten them back on the 18th, and I skipped class that day. Thanks.”

The packet was handed to him, and there was a sudden, strange moment of the both of them staring at each other. Kazuhiro could feel his body heating up. Hideki just seemed to casually glance away, and he put the packet between one of his desk organizers. In an attempt to break the ice, Hideki pointed at some of gifts stacked on his desk.

“Hey Kazu, do you want these?”

Kazuhiro peered over and raised his eyebrow. Hideki put on his usual smirk while moving out of the way to let Kazuhiro take a better look at them. He leaned his back on the desk while explaining.

“I got a lot of small gifts and I don't have much of a sweet tooth. You like candy, right?”

Hideki looked eager, but Kazuhiro trailed off with an unenthusiastic mumble and didn't reply. He wasn't really pleased to take blatantly re-gifted presents...but not like they were presents as much as they seemed like handouts.

“Aren't you going back home for New Years? How about you take some home for your sisters, don't they like sweets? You can even use them as birthday presents, some of them don't expire soon. Do you really want me to throw all these sweets away?” Hideki was starting to insist now. Kazuhiro wanted to blurt out, “Boo hoo cry me a river, if you're so desperate to give them to somebody, just give them to some of your fans!”, but he noticed how wary Hideki's face looked holding that bag of candies and stopped himself. The guy could really persuade people if he wanted to.

“I'm...actually staying in the area this year. My mom and my sisters are going to Hokkaido for New Years, but,” Kazuhiro made a dramatic, audible sigh, but flashed a smirk at Hideki before taking the bag from his hands. “I guess I like having sweets around sometimes. Thank you.”

In return Hideki looked much happier and relieved. He let out a very smooth laugh. Hideki was usually a guy who casually laughed around the band members, but when he made a laugh like that—one when he was happy...

“Merry Christmas, Kazuhiro.”

 

Kazuhiro couldn't help but stare blankly at his fellow band member. He stuttered and stood there shocked while his hands stayed glued the bag of candies. It wasn't glamorous or anything, but Hideki said it was a present...and he didn't look like he was just teasing either. Maybe...this present wasn't so bad, then? Hideki actually gave him a Christmas present—well, sort of.

Unlike in the west, Christmas was more of an atmosphere thing. It was the kind of holiday where businesses got festive and couples gazed at pretty lights under the snowfall. Kazuhiro never grew up into the hype, but now as he branched off into college he noticed that present giving was becoming a thing for people, sometimes friends, but mostly couples. The act of Hideki giving him something obviously wasn't that intimate—regardless, Kazuhiro felt that maybe there was something actually there between them, not some forced friendship or barely acquaintances. A more genuine and flushed smile started showing as Kazuhiro glanced down to cradle the candies somewhere in his messenger bag.

“Thanks, man...Merry Christmas too...” He ran his fingers through the back of his hair, then rustled through his bag just to avert his heated look. Okay, he was actually going to do this! If worse came to worst, he would just laugh it off as a joke. Best plan of action.

Kazuhiro cleared his throat and easily pulled out a small, handmade wrapped envelope. He hesitantly brought it to Hideki's fingers. “Well if we're handing out presents, here's yours.”

“For me?” Hideki's baffled gaze shifted from the envelope in his hand to Kazuhiro. He didn't get a reply, so he went ahead with opening it and trailed off with mumbles. “Ah, dammit Kazu, now you made me feel guilty...giving away stuff I already got, and you actually got me something...”

“Yeah yeah, you're a pain in the ass, what else is new. Just open it already.” Kazuhiro smirked and watched Hideki gracefully open the envelope without even ripping the paper. He pulled out the contents, a piece of colored card stock in the shape of a credit card. Hideki adjusted his glasses, held it out in the light and read it out loud.

“3500 yen gift card to...Mos Burger?” Hideki tilted his head along with rotating the card, reading the front and back. He had something of a giddy smile on his face. “This isn't a real gift card...I mean...”

Kazuhiro shifted his legs nervously. “Yeah, I tried to look for one yesterday, but apparently they don't have any. So I made one myself. And since it's not legit, obviously, I have to be with you when we order, but yeah...I'll pay for whatever you want from now on.”

“Oh man, Kazu, aren't you creative! You know how many orders I can make with that?”

He didn't think Hideki's face could light up any more than it already was, but it did. Hideki intertwined his fingers together and swayed happily. The guy really, really loved fast food.

“I mean, you do realize we're going to have to go on an awful lot of dates...” He chuckled softly, swinging his chair around to set the envelope in a safe place on his desk organizer. Kazuhiro moved closer. Hideki's movements—they paused just slightly.

“Oh yeah, I know.” Kazuhiro smirked as he leaned over Hideki. “Who knows, maybe we'll cut the flirting and start dating...for real.”

Hideki turned to look Kazuhiro right in the eye, and he seemed seriously surprised. It sent shivers down his spine to be stared at like that. It wasn't that Kazuhiro was afraid, Hideki didn't exactly look angry, but it was always very difficult to catch Hideki off his guard. No matter what, reading into Hideki's thoughts and and feelings weren't easy. He wasn't an open book. They stared at each other for a good long while before Hideki spoke up, giving him some kind of...glance.

“Kazuhiro...are you asking me out?”

For a moment, Kazuhiro kept his lips shut. Great, here was that inevitable crossroad...which would be the worst decision at this point in time, saying yes or no? Even after knowing Hideki for such a long time, there were a lot of things Kazuhiro didn't know about him. The way he swung was definitely one of those things.

“Well, I mean if you uh, if you put it that way...” Kazuhiro looked down at his right foot as he nervously rubbed it in the carpet. He knew Hideki was staring at him, but he couldn't bring himself to actually look at him. There was a silence, but Hideki released something of a relieved sigh as he lounged in his chair. “Woah, so Kazu finally does it...”

“F-Finally? What does that mean?” Kazuhiro asked defensively, his glance shooting back up to Hideki's face. Little questions were popping into his head that demanded answers. So Hideki knew about his feelings all along? Was Kazuhiro really that obvious? Or was there something else...?

“I mean, you said it yourself, didn't you? We've—No, I've been...uh, kinda flirting for a long time. But I didn't think anything was going to happen..."

 

Kazuhiro felt completely blank. Wait. Was that—

 

A confession?

 

“So you finally did it first, well...even if you are trying to win me over with food.”

Hideki turned his head to chuckle at that remark. Maybe Kazuhiro was imagining it, but Hideki seemed more sheepish than usual while practically confessing. Though it still felt subtle and a little unresolved, Hideki quickly turned the conversation over to something of a joke. He twisted his desk chair slightly away, conveniently breaking away their brief gaze. Kazuhiro didn't even have a chance to respond, but then again, what would he have replied with?

There was definitely a huge silence between them as the both of them no longer knew what to say. Perhaps Hideki didn't want to tread on ice, but Kazuhiro was still replaying the conversation in his head and attempting to make sense of it all.

“So, you like me right?”

Kazuhiro didn't realize he had swiveled Hideki's chair all around so they could face each other again. Hideki was obviously flustered by being moved so suddenly. He only blinked for a moment with a startled expression.

“Yes...in a round about way, that's what I said...”

Kazuhiro kept his hands gripped on the desk chair arms, and moved in closer. This only made Hideki look, to Kazuhiro's amazement, much more nervous. Kazuhiro wasn't able to keep up a brave face either, and he was sure his ears and cheeks were bright red.

“Um...I like you too.”

In return Hideki lifted an eyebrow, but smiled. Though the purpose of swinging his chair around was so that Kazuhiro could look at him, he realized they weren't truly looking into each others eyes until now. Staring into each others eyes made everything so much more awkward and yet, very exciting at the same time. Kazuhiro's hands still gripped the leather chair arms, growing sweaty by the second.

“Kazuhiro...”

Hideki's smile disappeared, throwing Kazuhiro completely over with anxiety. He quickly stuttered a “YES?” in response, pretty loudly, and watched as Hideki shifted uncomfortably with a twitching smile and bashful expression.

“You're kinda...trapping me here. Can you let go?”

“Um, I...”

His heart was beating uncontrollably. Yes, of course he'd be delighted to take his gross sweaty hands off of the chair, but he was utterly terrified and his motor skills were unfortunately, feeling very delayed. He was just now beginning to absorb the fact that they both liked each other.

“Are you okay...? Kazu, you're shaking.”

“Sorry! Yeah, I um, sorry I just...” Suddenly it registered to him that time was ticking, and he was in fact, not in the twilight zone. He immediately let go of the chair and gave Hideki a little more space, but he seemed like he wanted to stay in his chair for the time being. Feeling deflated and downright embarrassed, Kazuhiro ran his hands through his hair and let out a sigh. “I just got nervous. Ah man...I probably seem so lame...”

Hideki seemed much more relieved and chuckled. His back arched away from the chair, almost as if to lean closer to Kazuhiro.

“Well to be fair, we're both obviously nervous...” Hideki glanced away briefly, then returned his stare with a smile. A really attractive smile, so attractive that it distracted Kazuhiro from realizing Hideki had stood up from his chair, barely giving any room between them.

Within one blink, they were practically breathing over each other and their stares had grown incredibly intense. Hesitation could be seen in Hideki's face as he froze up, unsure whether or not to continue. Kazuhiro furrowed his brows. He was just about to open his mouth, to say something, anything—but right at that moment, Hideki moved much more quickly than Kazuhiro anticipated. Kazuhiro gulped...what was he planning to do?

Before he knew it, Kazuhiro felt a warm sensation placed on his cheek, a kiss, and when he was done with the short gesture, Hideki leaned back to face him. Upon realizing that Hideki had just kissed him on the cheek, he dwelled more in the thought of actually being kissed and it gradually made him absolutely flustered. Kazuhiro's hands twitched momentarily before gingerly touching the same cheek Hideki kissed, and seeing this only widened Hideki's grin.

“I wanted to return your gratitude, in some kind of way...I thought my original present was a bit too impersonal, don't you?” Hideki tilted his head, still with the smug grin, and Kazuhiro could only squeak out a weary “okay, sure” in response.

“What? Did you think were gonna make out or something?” Hideki chuckled and made his way back to sit comfortably in his desk chair, conveniently avoiding Kazuhiro's horrified facial expression. Kazuhiro practically perked up and squealed to defend himself. “I didn't—I mean, I...” He began, but Hideki nonchalantly gave a wave.

“I was just joking...but if you insist.” Kazuhiro could practically hear the smirk in his voice, and it wasn't making his face any less red. Hideki continued to go about his things for a brief moment, he opened a draw beneath to pull out some papers, probably homework, before looking away. “How cute...”

Kazuhiro wanted to pretend he didn't hear it, not just because Hideki had tried to whisper it, but also because it would give him more reason to feed off of his flustered reactions. Good thing he didn't, because Hideki turned back around from his chair and looked up at Kazuhiro much more seriously.

“So...are you an early riser? Enough to get up at, let's say...7 tomorrow?”

“Uh...yeah sure...” Kazuhiro definitely wasn't actually an early riser, but it wasn't like he was going to interfere with Hideki's rigorous breakfast schedule.

“Alright, well let's go to Mos Burger first thing in the morning. I heard they have this new croquette recipe...” For a moment, he looked off into the distance and Kazuhiro could have sworn he was practically drooling just thinking about whatever calorie-inducing meal it was. Perhaps he should have considered Hideki's cholesterol before he thought of making the coupon 3500 yen. Maybe 2500 would have been enough? Either way, he'd did feel relief that giving him those coupons weren't so bad after all...more or less, he got a kiss from because of it.

Kazuhiro was readying himself to leave soon, so he wanted to hurry up and set up the arrangement. He cleared his throat and snapped Hideki out of his hungry daze. “Alright...Just be sure to bring the coupons, or else they don't work.”

Hideki raised his eyebrow and smiled. “And you better get up or else I can't go.”

“It's a date then.” Kazuhiro blurted out, and he could have sworn his voice cracked. He immediately coughed and turned around to place a hand on the doorknob. He couldn't leave without a proper goodbye, though. He gave a little smile, warmer than usual (at least he thought), and the addition of a wave before leaving. “See you tomorrow, Hideki.”

Internally Kazuhiro gave a little cheer for finally being able to call him by his name. Before it felt too impersonal, but now he was wondering why he hadn't done it sooner. It had a nice feel to it...being able to call Hideki by his name and only his name.

“Bye, Kazuhiro.” Hideki crossed his arms and smiled. Kazuhiro blinked and froze up in response, suddenly forgetting that this was the part where he wasn't supposed to linger around awkwardly.

They gave each other one last, brief look before Kazuhiro broke the gaze and shut the door.

 

Woah, he thought.

At once, all of his energy had been been completely drained. While trying to be as discreet as possible, Kazuhiro leaned back on the door and sighed. Never in a million years would he have imagined this would be happening...and a huge part of him was wondering whether or not his little escapade with Hideki just now was even real. He was just about to bang his head, just to make sure, but then realized the thought of even considering something like that...meant it was seriously time for him to walk away.

Kazuhiro smirked and shook his head as he began to make his way down the dorm hallway. He was really going to have to try extra hard to get up early, even if they were on break.

“Jeez, the things I'd do for him..."

Thankfully, the thought of being able to see Hideki happily make use of his gift was enough to want to get out of bed in the morning. That in itself wasn't too bad, and who was he kidding? He was beginning to tolerate the holiday season, much more than how he felt earlier that morning. And maybe it was even safe to say that he was actually...beginning to love it.

 

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