Under The Paper Lanterns

In and among all the chaos, Alfred couldn't find a single thing. The summer night was ridiculously humid, even long after the sun had set. He didn't mind much though, because the chaos was a cheerful one, the heat adding to the atmosphere, everyone filling the streets with lights and chatter and laughter. All of Kyoto was lit up and on display, colorful and distracting. Signs and vendors beckoned at passers by, calling for them to buy whatever they were offering, the smell of delicious food wafting into the streets and teasing him painfully. Alfred would have bought something, but he didn't understand a word anyone was saying, and he was looking for someone.

He was looking for Kiku, in fact.

Alfred stopped only when he thought he saw someone resembling the Japanese man, but it was never him, so he hurried on, squashing the disappointment he felt. It never occurred to him to wait at Kiku's house for the man to return, rather than running around the city on what felt like the busiest night of the year, looking for one single person. He wondered what Kiku would be doing out on such a busy night anyway, he hated crowds and noise, preferred peace and quiet so that he could sit and read his manga with little to no interruption.

"Alfred?" The American turned with a large grin, but it dimmed due to shock as he studied Kiku carefully, taking him in as though he'd never seen him before. Kiku responded with a quizzical look, head tilting just slightly to express his confusion. Alfred found it adorable.

Rather than his normal business clothes, he was wearing a light blue yukata covered in gold fishes and green lines, it pronounced how pale and soft Kiku was, like milk. He held a fan in one hand and what appeared to be a candy apple in another, fingers thin and delicate. Among the vivid red lights and colorful firecrackers children were setting off around them, he looked stunning, as though he'd stepped right from a book on the samurai.

"Hey there!" He called happily, regaining himself as he waved enthusiastically. Kiku gave him a small smile, moving towards him, his geta making soft flip-flop sounds behind him as he walked. "I was looking for you!"

Kiku raised his eyebrow, silently asking 'in this mess?' But Alfred grinned easily, unaffected. "What did you need my assistance with, Alfred-san?" He asked instead, continuing to walk down the street with the crowd, Alfred tagging along behind him.

The American's grin turned sheepish. "I was so busy looking for you, I kinda forgot." Kiku stared at him for a moment, before nodding sagely. He was already telling himself 'this is America, after all.' They fell into a relaxed silence, walking among the stalls and people, just enjoying the other's company. "So, what's going on here anyway?" Alfred asked, curiously peering at the dancing happy people, the celebrations and contests and costumes.

"It's July 10, during the Gion Matsuri. The festival is month long." Alfred's eyes widened in childish wonder, taking everything in as though it was a great secret only he was allowed to have. But Kiku didn't question it, in fact, rather admired that someone like Alfred could still behave so innocently after so many things that had happened. It was America after all.

"Can I join too?" Alfred asked, looking at Kiku, who only nodded. He glanced around at the other festival goers in their colorful, detailed yukata, then at his own casual jeans and bomber jacket. He smiled. "I'm kind of out of place aren't I?"

Kiku let out soft laughter, surprising Alfred. He'd never heard Kiku laugh before, if he hadn't been paying attention, he would have missed it completely. It was a gentle, polite sound, much like Kiku himself, but that's what Alfred liked about it. It was much like Kiku. "You'd be more out of place in traditional clothes, Alfred-san."

Alfred let out his own laughter, checking out the festival again, taking in what the other people were doing. "Yeah, I guess you're right." They continued walking, passing by more delicious smelling food and rambunctious games. Alfred's stomach growled as the sound of sizzling meat met his ears, and the breeze carrying the scent of seasoned beef to him. His stomach growled a little louder, and he had the decency to blush when Kiku's intelligent brown eyes flicked towards him. "Hungry..." He mumbled. Searching for someone sure made heros famished!

Kiku gave him his usual small smile, but guided him away from the tantalizing smell off beef. "Not that. Too expensive." He left Alfred in front of a stall with fish on the sign. The American didn't bother trying to decipher the squiggles, simply feeling like an idiot as he was waiting there, people brushing by him. He'd lost sight of Kiku. He was about to go closer to the stall and find him, when the man appeared at his elbow silently. Alfred nearly laughed with his surprise. Like a ninja.

He was handed a fish shaped cake. It was warm and tender in his hand, smelling sweet and savory at the same time. "What's this?" He asked inquiringly, sniffing it. His tummy grumbled at him as he paused a moment to look at Kiku, already enjoying his own.

"Taiyaki." He answered, motioning for Alfred to follow him so they could continue their journey down the street. "Yours has sausage in it. I like mine the original way, with anko." He seemed to watch Alfred for approval when the American took the first bite.

It was nothing like burgers. Alfred decided. But he grinned at the man watching him cautiously. "Yummy!" And he downed it in the next two bites, brushing the crumbs from his face. The bread was sort of dull sweet while the sausage inside was warm and salty, filling him up.

Kiku nodded proudly, glad that Alfred had enjoyed it. Normally the American didn't like Japanese food that much. But he was happy that he liked Taiyaki, genuinely happy. Though he wasn't sure why. When Alfred liked the things he liked, it made him smile. He delighted in being able to share with the American.

He looked around for something else to show Alfred before the other decided he was bored and lost interest. Alfred wasn't exactly known for his attention span. He smiled when he found it. "Alfred-san. Let's play Kingyo-sukui." He suggested with a sly smile, not much different than his normal polite one. Alfred looked at him like a curious dog, eyes shining down at him, reflecting the multicolored lights.

"What's that?" Interested, he followed Kiku's gaze to a stall, whose vendor was crowded by children and their parents. He wasn't sure if he liked the devious expression in those golden brown eyes, nearly wary as Kiku grabbed his hand and directed him over.

There was just a small pool filled with goldfish. Inquisitive, Alfred watched as Kiku payed the man a coin and got a small paper net, slightly perplexed when it was handed to him. "Try to catch the fish without letting the net break completely."

Alfred tried. The fish kept escaping, and the water and stress was ripping away pieces of his net. He glared at the gold fishes, vowing death upon them and all their kind. And there was one with this black spot on it's head that seriously hated him. Determined to get vengeance, Alfred grabbed the fish up in his net. The thing seemed to give him a look before flipping back into the water. As he gave a frustrated yell, he could hear Kiku laughing.

It wasn't his soft polite laughter anymore. He was laughing hard, fully amused by Alfred's suffering. Alfred wondered vaguely if he was the butt of some odd Japanese joke. But he couldn't bring himself to care or be upset when Kiku looked so happy. Regaining himself, Kiku knelt down beside him, taking the net from him, pushing back his yukata sleeves gracefully. "Look. You have to sweep them up fast." He did it with ease, putting the fish inside a special bag already filled with water. He did it again just as easily, as though there was nothing to it, glancing at Alfred.

Alfred huffed. Show off.

Kiku smiled at his friend's petulant pout, picking up the two fish and handing them to Alfred who stared at them with a bemused expression. The one with the black dot was inside, and he grinned victoriously at it. It flicked its tail at him.

They continued on down the street. Things seemed to be getting more and more excited. Large floats with different displays traveled down the street, the festival goers watching with cheers and applause. Kiku didn't stop, squeezing between people until Alfred had to grab his hand for fear of losing him in the mess.

"Where are we going?" He called, irritation coloring his voice. He foot had been stepped on more times than he cared to remember, but Kiku's thin fingers wrapped around his made it worth it. Kiku glanced back at him, striving forward until there was less people and a greater view of the parade.

"I want to see the lanterns." He whispered, looking away as though it were something to be embarrassed about, staring up at the floats with hundreds of paper lanterns gliding by. Like will-o-wisps against the inky black sky, ethereal. They stared at the floats. "The lanterns are to welcome the kami into the city for the festival. But I just love the lights." Alfred could tell. Kiku stared at them dreamily, his small smile gracing his lips.

Alfred wasn't paying any attention to the parade anymore, watching Kiku's brown eyes glow in the flickering light, his skin dyed gold, his hair given gold highlights. He looked beautiful, an angel from Japanese legends, staring up in wonder and joy at the lights.

"Kiku..." He murmured, leaning down. Kiku glanced at him, surprised by the gentle expression on his face, he'd never seen Alfred look at him like that before. "I remember why I was looking for you." Before Kiku could respond, his mouth was covered in a kiss.

In the back ground Taiko drums started banging away a rhythm, matching the racing of Kiku's heart, performers dancing up the street to the traditional music, following the lanterns. None of that mattered, just the feel of Alfred's kiss, his strong arms around his waist, his own arms around Alfred's neck. He wondered if that was what heaven felt like, wrapped in Alfred's arms, kissing him.

Alfred let him go, staring at him. Kiku's cheeks were flushed. They had just kissed openly in public! But he couldn't bring himself to be upset, or even care, his hand reaching down, curling around Alfred's, giving him his usual gentle smile.

Holding hands just like that, they made their way back to Kiku's home, happiness swelling in their hearts.

Owari