+ love what i love +

"Christmas is coming, Ken."

"Yes. I noticed. So?"

"That means… presents! And parties! And cake! And fun!" The last was most important. "Lots and lots of fun!"

I watched him carefully as I laid down the Laws of Christmas. Was he in agreement? Did he think I was super right? He had to, didn't he? But all Ken did was sigh, and flip his hair, and give me his oddly intense stare.

I countered with my patented, all-powerful grin. "It's Christmastime, baby. What could possibly be better than that?"

"Nothing, I suppose."

"Damn straight. So don't be a dork face and help me pick out different things to buy for everyone."

I handed him my list. His name and gift were not on it. They had been, but I'd scribbled them out with a pen, covered that with white-out, and then put white-out on the other side of the paper so he couldn't figure it out from looking at the back (I didn't know of any specific forensic technique which would allow him to detect the hidden words but with Ken I would take no chances). Everyone I still needed to get a present for was on that list, and I expected that he would approve of everything I planned to do.

"Hikari won't like that," Ken said decidedly. "It's too trendy." Taking the pen directly from my hands, he drew a line through Item: hoodie, a present I had imagined to be quite appropriate.

Outrageous. "Who gave you the right to go editing my list like that?"

"You did." He continued to scan. "Why not give Miyako the hoodie? She'll have a lot more use for it then…" his voice slowed to a clanging halt, the better to give me a disbelieving stare. " 'Something Pink.'"

"Hey, that's what she said! I only wrote down what she said!"

Ken frowned. "I suppose you could do a pink hoodie, then. But it seems such a waste."

I dared not ask. Ken and Miyako had a complicated and private-seeming relationship sometimes. Sometimes I worried they were boyfriend and girlfriend on the sly, the way they danced around each other conspicuously not-flirting and stuff. It was none of my business. I didn't want to know.

"What about what I want to get for Jun. Pretty cool, huh?" I am Daisuke, master changer of all subjects.

"Lovely. What could be better then tickets to the Teenage Wolves?" Ken rolled his eyes.

"Do not be Mr. Sarcasm, it is not attractive." Seriously, it wasn't. "You know she loves Yamato's band."

"So much that she probably already has season tickets."

"What kind of garage band sells season tickets?"

Ken paused, and then pulled out his wallet, taking a piece of paper out and handing it to me. Damn. It was season tickets.

I thought about that for a while. "... why do you have season tickets?"

Ken just took back the tickets, and in his precise way put them back exactly where they had been before, in the second slot back on the card side of the wallet, before pocketing his wallet. "Your sister."

Oh, naturall...what? "She got you tickets but not me?"

That drew a slow, somehow private little smile out of Ken. "I expect she got you something even better."

I groaned. "Not the Yamato kitbash!"

"I admit to nothing."

We were sitting together at the kitchen table over at my place, actually, and so I just sat back and crossed my arms and glared at him while he continued to go over the list in silence. My mom had made both of us some hot cocoa, so after a bit of time I grabbed a fistful of mini marshmallows from the open bag on the table, and dropped them all into Ken's cocoa. Take that, Ichijouji!

Ken looked up, and then glanced at his almost overflowing drink. "Thanks."

"You're supposed to be mad!"

"You did that to make me mad?"

"You need to tell me what Jun is getting me! I need to be emotionally prepared!"

Ken put down the pen he'd stolen from me, and put both of his hands down on top of the paper, sitting up straighter. "No, you need to wait patiently, and you will find out at the appropriate time. That is how Christmas works, Daisuke."

Aw, damn. I looked away. It made me uncomfortable when he looked at me like that. "Well, enjoy your marshmallows."

"I will." Ken laughed quietly, and I peeked up at him. Formally he took up his mug, cupped in his hands primly, and he held it up briefly in my direction. "My humble thanks," he said before taking a small sip.

Now I felt even worse. Ken was too nice.

"So... ah. Ken. When do you want your present?"

"You got me something?" He looked up, surprised. "This list is all girls."

I frowned. I hadn't really thought about it like that, but he was right. "Takeru and I made a Christmas truce, and Iori doesn't celebrate so I was going to give him something for New Years..." And I'd already given Tai his present, replacement cleats for his soccer shoes. And with everyone else, they were all boys and would understand.

"Oh."

I felt a little sad. "Does that mean you didn't get me anything?"

"What makes you say that?"

"You just said you didn't think I got you anything!"

Ken shook his head slowly, looking kind of amazed. "Based on your list. Before that I had hoped..." Ken's voice trailed off, and strangely he blushed. "Well, you can give it to me whenever. I have a present for you too but I want to wait."

I squirmed. Now I really wanted to know! But Ken had already scolded me about being impatient and pushy. There was only one thing to do. "Do you want your present now?" I was practically pleading.

"Do you want to give it to me now?"

Argh! I couldn't take it. Of course I did. So I bolted up and ran off to my room, rummaging under my bed for the present I'd picked out just for him. It wasn't even wrapped but fortunately I had some manga magazines I didn't care about so I just tore out some pages and quickly taped together a sheet and then wrapped up his present as beautifully as I could in such a short amount of time. I hadn't really been thinking about giving him his present today because Christmas wasn't until next week, but for some reason I just felt like I had to do it now.

When I came back out to the kitchen Ken was still sipping at his cocoa, and he looked up at me without saying anything.

"Here." I felt kind of embarrassed all of the sudden. What if he didn't like it? Well, that's why it was good to give it to him now, right? "I'll get you something else if it's not what you want..."

In retrospect I realized it was a selfish gift. I got him something that I had wanted for myself, something that just seemed so cool and awesome that I thought "Ken has to have this." But now as he was unwrapping it I felt apprehensive and all anxious.

"Oh, Daisuke." Ken held up my present, a jersey from the recent World Cup finals match in Yokohama. "It's wonderful. Thank you."

I had been standing next to him while he unwrapped the thing, and so now I leaned down and looked at him closely, wanting to feel very happy but holding back skeptically. This close staring at him I felt like I had a better chance of reading his soul to make sure he wasn't just being nice and that he really liked it. "You're sure?"

Ken seemed a bit taken aback, and blushed again for no reason. "Yes, Daisuke," he said very quietly. "I love it."

I continued to stare at him, getting closer and closer until I was practically at x-ray distance. His wide eyes convinced me; he looked very disturbed and he wouldn't look disturbed, just defensive, if he were faking it. Yay! I pounced, grabbing him into a huge tight hug. "Merry Christmas then!"

"... Merry Christmas." With his usual awkwardness in regards to human contact, Ken patted my back. Gingerly, as if he thought I was going to do something even more disturbing if he weren't careful.

I didn't care. Let Ken be disturbed, I knew what that meant. He loved my present! I allowed myself to feel delighted. I was so happy.

After a moment I stepped back. "Put it on."

"... right now?"

I nodded. "Yep!"

As if in a bit of a trance, Ken placed the shirt down on the table, moving his half-empty cocoa mug to the side before doing so. He stared at the shirt. And then slowly, not looking at me at all, he grabbed the bottom of his current shirt and pulled it up and over his head.

Well. I had just expected Ken to put the shirt on over the one he was already wearing. Trust Ken to insist on doing it the correct way and not cut any corners. Ken was super skinny, kind of bony and excessively pale. His shoulder blades were jutting out! Maybe I should have gotten him some snacks too. Ken was obviously insecure about being half naked but I would be too if I were changing in front of him, so I didn't say anything. He quickly put on the jersey.

I moved so I could look at him better without him having to get up. "Looks good," I said, with a double thumbs up. "The girls will be all over you."

Of course Ken just made a dismissive "mmf" and shrugged. Like he didn't believe me!

This called for certain extreme measures. I went and pulled Ken's chair back away from the table, turning it halfway around (not easy with Ken still in it), and plopping myself into his lap, my legs draped over the armrest and my arms around Ken. "Are you kidding me? I'm all over you and I'm not even a girl!"

"Daisuke!"

I'd expected Ken to coldly order me to get off of him, or at the very worst just scold me, but his discomfited plea went above and beyond anything I could have predicted.

Teasing him like this was important because no one else did it. Most people were too much in awe with him to dare, and those that weren't usually teased him because they were jerkoffs. So with Ken cringing and looking horrified, I made kissy faces at him and tried to actually kiss his cheek while he was leaning back and fending me off with all of the wiles at his command. He had many wiles.

"Daisuke, get off your boyfriend and help me with the groceries!" said an exasperated Jun, who materialized at the front door with a pushcart full of groceries as well as some full bags in her free hand. I looked up at her, surprised and then annoyed at her for interrupting, but dutifully scrambled off of Ken to go pick up the bags after she dropped them, sitting down to take off her shoes. "Hi Ken, by the way. Sorry 'bout that," Jun said over her shoulder. "Daisuke just has no manners."

"Says the girl who got me the Yamato kitbash."

"Ken! You didn't tell him, did you?"

"Aha!" I said, pointing at her triumphantly at the same time Ken was shaking his head vigorously, no no no. "Don't blame him, I just am an excellent guesser!" I placed the bags on the counter and began unpacking. It was all boring stuff, leeks and tofu and udon noodles and miso paste. "Why would you possibly expect me to want that dumb present anyway?"

"But Yamato is your friend! And it's such a cool little set that me and the fanclub put together... someday it will be a collector's item and worth a lot of money!"

"What, you plan on buying it back from me someday?" I couldn't imagine anyone else who would care.

Jun rolled the cart into the kitchen and began unpacking it, and together she and I sorted out all of the groceries, putting them in their proper places. Ken in the meanwhile had remained frozen in his chair but now appeared to be thawing and was starting to fidget, looking to the side and uncomfortable. He opened his mouth to say something, and--

"Don't even thinking about saying it's time for you to go yet, Ichijouji!" I said before he could excuse himself. "We still have the whole list to go through and then shopping to do! You wouldn't leave me alone and make me do it all myself, would you?"

Ken shrunk back into the chair, slumping a little and shaking his head again. "No, I guess not."

"Go into my room and take the list! I'll be there in a minute."

Once Ken walked down the hall and closed the door, Jun stopped what she was doing and turned to face me. "Leave that poor boy alone. It's obvious you're making him freak out so stop it, okay?"

"Stop what?" I said, feigning innocence.

She threw up her hands. "Flirting! Obviously!"

"Don't be stupid. It's not flirting if it's with boys."

"If you say so." She sounded totally incredulous. "I think it's the exact same thing."

"Well, you're wrong." I folded up the grocery bags now that we were done unpacking everything, and put them in the little cupboard where they were kept. "And now I need to go plot. Leave us alone and don't barge in!"

Jun nodded, but then she grabbed my arm and pulled me close. She was still bigger and stronger than me so there wasn't much I could do about it, even though I fought to escape anyway. "Take care with your boyfriend," she hissed into my ear, obviously trying to be heard over my struggles while avoiding being so loud that Ken could hear. "Ken is really nice and deserves more than to have you toy with him like a total idiot!"

"Shut up! He's my friend and not yours." I was mostly quiet too; I definitely didn't want Ken to hear this stupid exchange. How dare she think I didn't know how to treat him? If I didn't we wouldn't be friends. I then stormed off.

In my bedroom, I slammed the door behind me.

Ken was sitting on the floor next to my bed, and he looked up with concern. "Is everything okay?"

"No!"

"... what's wrong?"

"Jun is just a dork." I went and sat down next to him, shoulder-to-shoulder, leaning back with my head on the mattress feeling fatigued.

"You know, you're pretty lucky, Daisuke."

"Lucky? More like cursed."

I thought that was a pretty funny thing to say, but Ken didn't laugh. He didn't say anything, and the silence between us grew. Just as I was about to get us back on topic by asking him to get out the list, Ken finally spoke up. "This time of the year is hard for me."

Oh? I turned my head to look at him. Ken was frowning, brooding. "Yeah?"

"I have someplace I need to go tomorrow, Daisuke. Will you come with me?"

"Sure."

Ken turned and looked at me then. "It won't be 'lots and lots of fun.'"

It sounded like he was warning me off. I was practically offended. "Who do you think you're talking to? Of course I'll go. Where?"

"To my family grave."

Oh. I sat up straight, and then looked down at my lap. So that was what Ken meant by "lucky."

Ken touched my leg with his fingertips to catch my attention. "You don't have to go if you don't want."

I translated that to mean "I don't want you to come unless you want to." I nodded. I got it. "I want to go," I said, as simply as I could. I didn't want to sound chastened because otherwise Ken might think I didn't really mean it.

Ken had different ways to weigh my sincerity then I did. He didn't get up into my face and stare. In fact, he didn't do or say anything at all. He just waited. And I waited too.

I knew Ken. If I said anything more he probably wouldn't believe me.

"All right," he said at last. "Meet me in Tamachi. We'll go together to Aoyama."

I sneaked my gaze back up to his face, looking at him sideways from the corner of my eye. He was looking right at me. "Jun thinks I was bothering you," I confessed.

"Bothering me? When... oh."

"Yeah."

It wasn't flirting. It really wasn't. But that didn't mean it wasn't serious. I just needed Ken to need me, you know? Maybe I was manipulating him a little, but it was all for the good.

Ken looked away, and was blushing again. He blushed a lot around me. Making him uncomfortable in exactly that way was my goal. The more he looked away, the easier it was for me to look right at him. "Did I?" I asked eventually.

"No."

"See, I knew it! Jun is just stupid." I smiled at him, and reached out, touching his shoulder, touching him in the new shirt I gave him. "But maybe I am a little lucky all the same," I allowed.

Ken nodded, and then shyly smiled. "I like your sister." He made it sound like he was agreeing with me.

"At least someone does!" I didn't say that as bratty as it sounds. "So what should I get her, since you are her biggest fan and all?"

"Mm." Ken considered this question deeply, as expected.

"Maybe posters of the Brazilian soccer team?" I suggested, the idea spontaneously occurring to me out of nowhere.

"Hm. That does sound fair, doesn't it?" And now Ken was smiling again. "You Motomiyas are all the same."

"Hey!" What an insult.

"You expect... no, make... people love what you love."

Uh. I held up my index finger and placed it on my lips, looking up at the ceiling. "Uh...."

"It's not a bad thing."

"Doesn't sound so great, though."

"It's all in your approach." Ken plucked at the shirt I'd given him, and I winced a little. So he'd seen through my scheme after all. "You make your feelings obvious and it becomes contagious."

"Put it like that and it sounds even worse!"

"Keep at it, and you might actually make me like Christmas."

Put it like that, and it sounded kickass. I guess I could see what he saying after all. I nodded. It was too bad Chibimon wasn't around, because I would have sicced him on Ken in order to mask my happiness over what he was saying.

This was a kind of happiness that made me bashful, because it felt like a weakness. Needing to be needed was not the most attractive trait after all, and sometimes I was scared to think that Ken might someday come to realize how much I depended on him, and from that divine just how much I cared about him and thought about him. Which were all things I didn't want to burden him with, not when he had so many problems of his own.

So I just grinned, my vapid goofy grin. If I couldn't hide my happiness, I could totally downplay it. "If my sister can make you like the Teenage Wolves, anything is possible!"

"Oh, I'm not going to be alone. I have tickets, plural. You get to go with me." Ken grinned at me then, and for the first time today it wasn't a polite grin, just kind of triumphant and victorious and everything that rhymes with "Kaiser" and "win." "We're both going to end up in Jun's fanclub by the time this is all over."

Outrageous. All the more so for being true. "If I have to love what she loves, why can't she have better taste?"

"Well, remember it works both ways. I vote yes on the soccer posters."

And so the web would be weaved. Between Jun and me, and Jun and Ken, and Ken and me. Similar things were going on between me and Iori, and Hikari and Ken, and Miyako and Takeru. And with the older Chosens too, although that was a bit of a slower process since we didn't see each other that often. We were all becoming friends, and more than friends. We had started out as comrades and as family, but now it was turning into something different. Something better.

Someday Ken would love everything I loved. And the thing I loved most of all? Was Ken.

I stood up, and shook out my arms and legs, and picked up the list from the top of my bed. It was time to go shopping.

There would be time for everything. I might push my affections on Ken, but never my feelings. I reached down, and held out my hand with a grin.

"... If I end up loving the kitbash, though, shoot me. Just, shoot me."

Let's go.