The Corner of December
It was a one-way ticket to the city.
"Merry Christmas." His words came out as a frosty puff.
She stared at the paper slip in her mittens with the sense of terminality, likening this moment to the glowing snowflakes, broken pieces of clouds drifting to the ground.
And so something right now was falling apart, dispersing into nothingness in the background of people coming and going in the train station—slowly, so slowly that the fragments could almost pass off as being suspended. Yet she was unsure of what she wanted to do about it.
"E-eh? Toushiro-kun, are you sure? What about you?"
He avoided her brown-eyed gaze, staring at her boots with an uncertainty that equaled the hesitancy in her voice. "Don't worry about me. I'll be fine." Stuck in his throat were the thoughts of her melting into his past, him melting into hers.
But for some unknown reason, he could not vocalize this. Just as how he could not wrap his gifts. It was a trivial flaw that irked him incredibly. He was hopeless at encompassing an entire box neatly and properly with foil wrap.
And so the ticket in her magenta-knit mittens (also a Christmas present from him, the last one he attempted to wrap) was unboxed, unwrapped, un-ribboned. She looked up from the ONE WAY print.
"But...what about your grandmother? And you? And..." There was another pronoun frozen stiff on her tongue by hesitancy.
"I can manage on my own."
He started to reach for her but wavered, untrusting of himself to maintain a gentle, selfless embrace. But he clumsily drew her into his chest, somewhat relieved that she could not see his expression as he said, "You've always wanted to study art and design, haven't you? This is your chance."
The footsteps and rolling luggage was too loud and hindered her search for some sort of rhythm in his heartbeat that made his calm demeanor a lie. Perhaps there was a hint of a Toushiro-kun inside who wanted to hold her forever.
Unsure if she minded the scent of his laundry detergent, unsure if his jacket felt too rough or too cold, unsure she felt smothered by his hold...he pulled her slightly away. They could see the Christmas lights that danced in each other's eyes; red stars reflected, shined, and stretched into an amber string that connected them, pulling their lips closer and closer together...
The whistle and golden headbeams of the train broke through the snowy haze and their trance. Suddenly he was made aware of how long her eyelashes were and how soft her hot-chocolate breath was on his lips—indicators that perhaps he was too close for her liking. Made nervous about the intense longing in his chest, he took a quick step back, flustered.
She thought she felt something slightly drop in a chest when the air lost its exciting warmth and returned to its original chilliness against her lips.
And so they stood facing each other in a seemingly short distance of one-foot that disguised a stretch of awkwardness and uncertainty.
The final whistle rings in the air and she musters a smile along with the words:
"Well...I guess...I'm going then."
And this was the last exchange between two beginners at love, both unable to utter 'goodbye', yet watched each other become one of the snowflakes that dissipated into an obscure, silvery mist.
Her breath appeared on the train windowpane as a white, near-opaque cloud; it blurred the reflection of a young woman with a heart-shaped faced framed by black hair. Brown eyes distantly observe flakes of snow, stark ivory against the constant ebony of night, race by.
It had snowed that Christmas she left town as an 18 year old; and now it was snowing again. Only this time, she was returning on a Christmas Eve, was 25, and was on the train for the first time in 7 years,
She stared pensively at the once-hole-punched ticket in her lap, absentmindedly twisting the engagement ring on her finger. Her eyes had been on it for the past hour and the print started to blur. But she knew the exact arch, length, and placement of each letter.
S-CITY – K-TOWN
It was hard not to have it memorized after having seen it seven times—one for each holiday season of the years she spent in the city. When she stepped off the train and into the mouth of a bustling life of skyscrapers and traffic, the first thing she did was buy a ticket back home. But then she stopped midway in the train door and remembered how being in the city was his gift to her. And then she imagined herself as a silly porcelain doll, all fragile in his eyes. So she took a step back and watched the train rush into the distance, willing herself to walk into a future without looking back.
She learned the map of the subway system, drank coffee on the run to morning classes, whistled for taxis. Then, when the first snowflakes drifted from the sky the next year, she bought a ticket to return to town—to him. Only once again, she felt as if she would be undeserving of him if she returned like a child learning to walk, a child that cried after wobbling two steps away from her mother. So she returned to apartment and stored the ticket in a little box with the one from a year before.
She repeated this the next year. And the next...until there were a total of seven tickets.
Then came the proposal.
He was an English student. A good poet (particularly haiku) and a prospective lawyer. Serious and thoughtful. Nice enough.
She genuinely smiled and cried when he knelt down in the snow that refracted holiday lights. She honestly believed they were tears of joy when she replied yes. Then she went home and stopped smiling. But the tears kept sliding down her cheeks as she stared at the seven un-punched train tickets beside her Christmas tree that wouldn't light up because she forgot to pay her electricity bill.
Finally, she set herself upon never looking back again. In the dark, she placed the tickets back into the box for the final time. She wrapped it in shiny gold foil garnished with a red ribbon, anonymously addressed it to Santa (who had always been said to have lived in the North Pole), and marched it to the street mailbox. If the jolly fat man did exist, then she had hoped he would take her weakness and wistfulness for the past away from her. If not, then at least the mailman would discard it in the Dead Letter Office and let her vacillation fade away.
But when she checked with the post office, they told her that the package had indeed been sent to an actual destination.
Apparently there was a business called The North Pole in her home town.
So here she was, on a train with a punched ticket in her lap, hoping to get to the package she sent before it confused the recipient and pondering the strangeness of fate.
The seven tickets gave him an odd sensation of nostalgia. Lying at the bottom of a small box amidst gold wrapping paper (torn out of curiosity), they lingered with a touch of something—someone—warmly familiar.
He turned from the back counter of various tonics and alcoholic beverages to face a lanky, silver-haired man who wore a black vest over a white dress shirt—a bartender's outfit that matched his own uniform.
The CLOSED sign at the front door window flickered red into the dark night speckled with falling snow. Blue-green eyes framed by silvery-tossed hair reflected off the wine glass filled with red-orange daiquiri that the young bartender mixed and poured. He slid it down the counter to his older co-worker, who had a perpetual, happy-go-lucky grin.
"Another gift for Santa?" As the only customer in the empty bar, the man sipped his drink and peered past his junior. "Anything edible?"
Last year, around the same time, they had found a box of gingerbread cookies in the mail; this was more interesting than the wish lists in wobbly letters and misspelled words the establishment had received since it was opened. The young man found them somewhat amusing and heartwarming to read when he first began working as a bartender at 18. But now, as a college graduate trying to save up money for graduate school, he now found them uncomfortably nostalgic. Such was how he has spent Christmas Eve for the past seven years at The North Pole Bar.
"Tickets? That's odd. Where're they from?"
"They're tickets from S-City to here. But the package doesn't have a return address."
"Hmmm. Oh well." The older man shrugged and finished the last olive garnish, uninterested in the anonymous gift. He changed the topic of the conversation as the young bartender in his twenties wiped the remaining wine glasses, "Hey, Hitsugaya-kun, how about you join me in going to the hostess club tonight?"
"No." The young man adamantly replied, as he had the year before and the year before that.
"Why?" The man whined, "I feel lonely there."
"That's counterintuitive." Unmoved, he continued to store away the glasses.
"Okay fine, but having you there will make me look less like a lonely old geezer...plus, you need to get out more anyway. You're 25! Can't you have some fun? Or at least get a girlfriend...Are you listening? At least face me and tell me you have a girlfriend instead of turning your back towards me."
It was true. He had a habit of facing backwards, as if there was nothing in the present or future worth observing. The past was where his grandmother—his only guardian—lived, since she passed away only a year after his high school graduation.
The past was also where she lived.
Of course, she still physically lived now, which is why he kept his Christmas Eves free. He spent the nights before Christmas at the train station, never quite sure whether he was waiting or reminiscing. Perhaps it was a mixture of both. But tonight, on his 7th Christmas Eve alone, he gave his blessings to his coworker, left the bar, and vowed that tonight would be his last night tied to the past.
This late into the night, the train station had turned off all their lights, leaving him in the solitary glow of moonlight reflected by drifting snowflakes. He brushed off the snow from a bench and sat with the intent of waiting for the first train arrival of the 25th. He stared at the unwrapped package of tickets that he brought with him for some reason unknown to himself. The large clock at the main doorway and the electronic schedule board were of little use—he measured time differently.
As always, he started with his last memory with her; here, right in front of him, between this bench and the train tracks, he had gotten close enough to her to see rainbow flecks of lights melt in her brown eyes. The color of her eyes was as warm as the hot chocolate she drank when they had been snowed in one winter day of their 3rd year in high school. He noticed her chocolate mustache and spontaneously leaned across the small café table to brush his thumb against her upper lip. Then he froze in flustered heat that crawled up his neck, panicked by the selfish loss of control that the mere thought of wanting her close could bring. It was the same feverishness he had felt the day he confessed to her at the high school's 2nd year Christmas party. Although he enjoyed cold weather, he was certain that his cheeks were redder than her wind-blown flush when she responded to his request with a small, bell tone: "Yes". Even then, he could only stare at her—five feet of snow and eleven red tree baubles away—in a quiet, inexplicable uncertainty.
He had never been able to wrap gifts all that time.
The horizon burned a bright blue and a train screeched to a stop before him. Footprints appeared on the once, glass-smooth surface of snow.
The bustle of the present allowed him to recall his vow; although capriciousness was uncharacteristic of him, he ordered a one-way ticket to S-city with only a box of old train tickets and the hope to unravel himself from the past.
It was as if the train tracks were taking her to him. Dawn broke the sky and burned like candlelight upon pine trees. She wondered if they smelled like the Christmas tree his grandmother put up every year—a clean, fresh, faintly minty aroma that he took from his home and carried with him all year. It was the scent that distracted her one evening when she stood on the stool and attempted to place the glass star on the top of the tree, so much so that she lost her footing. Then a forest of pine trees enveloped her, and she found herself staring into a pair of turquoise skies. At that moment in his arms, she was suspended in the air; the fireside might had well been one inch away, because she lost the feeling in her limbs, only able to notice how abnormally warm she was and how blue his concerned eyes were.
Only too soon, she landed on the carpet and he stammered an apology, to which she stumbled on a "sorry". He grumbled something about her clumsiness and she laughed sheepishly, their eyes too embarrassed to meet as she averted her eyes to the glittering tinsel on the tree.
The pine forest slipped off the window frame of the train and replacing it was an expanse of countryside meadows blanketed in snow. She likened it to his tousled, gray-silver hair, flaked in snow during snowy weather on the walks home. And at that particular second of the day, the blue burning in the sky perfectly matched the color of his eyes in the morning.
The train tracks were taking her to the past. And she wondered if she would be happier undoing the seven years that had past.
"Oops." She whispered.
Before she knew it, her left hand slipped through a crack in the window and released the ring into the wind.
With the sun as bright as a Christmas tree star in the train window, he felt a new day upon him. Propelled farther and farther from his past, he kept his eyes in the direction of the city as he sat by the window with the box of tickets at his side.
Staring at the torn foil that still clung on to the package, he swore that he would learn to wrap his gifts. In the future that lay before him, he would not give his new girlfriend a mere candy cane for her first holiday gift after spending hours like a lost puppy in a department store looking at necklaces and perfume only to be self-conscious, maybe even scared, of what sort of message she would take from the gift. He would not give her magenta mittens covered in a lump of crinkled, snowman-printed paper with the false excuse of hurriedness, in foolish fear of appearing too committed by telling her how he actually spent three hours trying.
And he would not—would never again—give his future girlfriend a one way train ticket away. He would never only almost-graze her lips, then—at second blink—allow the trail from her luggage wheels that connected them elongate and disappear under fresh snow until there was no trace of their relationship at all.
He would wrap his gifts tightly, among several other promises that whispered would, would, would under the breath of his thoughts as he headed towards the city in his future.
Her head rested on the frosty glass, tilted in such a manner that she could see her face translucently painted over the scenery of snowfields. The reflection of her brown eyes contrasted against the December sky filled with pale gray clouds whispering morning snowflakes into the ears of the earth.
The gloves that he wore that evening, when they walked home together after spending the silent afternoon a library table's width apart, had been the color of snow-clouds. They were cable-knit with pale and dark gray yarn—she remembered this because she had spent the majority of that evening walk home staring at his left hand. She had imagined how warm his hand would be, with his fingers intertwined between hers. All she had to do was lift her shoulder slightly, and the back of her hand would touch his. But when she felt her finger brush against the soft knit of his glove by accident, she drew back, as if shocked by a spark of some intensity. She spent the rest of their walk trying to quell her heart—half of which beat rapidly in self-consciousness, the other half of which tugged in longing.
She should've reached—reached forward and clasped his hand. And when she fell from trying to decorate the tree into his arms, she should've kept her eyes on his and pecked him on the cheek. She should've raised herself on tiptoe at that train station and met his lips, should've trusted her feelings for him, his feelings for her.
She should've stayed.
Her "should have"s thumped regret in concert with the chugging of the train on its tracks, which carried her to what she increasingly wished could be the exact memories of the past.
Deckler Avenue was a short street in a countryside town with only 25 establishments. Despite its formal name on the map, its civilians—accustomed to its small home between the larger S-City and K-town—took to calling the street December Avenue; the painted "kler" of the name wore off after a long rainstorm, leaving the street sign with "Dec". At the street's corner, address number 25, was a modest train station with only two platforms. As the modest rest stop between S-City and K-town, the station consisted of two, parallel railways. Most often, the two trains with opposite destinations would stop at the junction at different times of the day. But if the hands of the large, station clock between the two platforms were at 12, then it was possible—but rare—that the deep-red painted trains would synchronize and find each other at the countryside town's station.
This Christmas was to be one of those days.
A power surge left both of the larger train stations at S-City and K-town out of electricity. Both trains were nearing the midway junction, and its passengers were about to find themselves at the corner of December—a rendezvous sewn by the threads of fate.
The train wheels screeched to a halt.
Now, halfway between the town of his past and the city of his future, he floundered; his eyes would neither stare eagerly forward out the window nor peer longingly towards the scenes he left behind.
While the conductor explained the loss of power at the destination and travelers headed towards the exits, he remained in his seat. With nowhere for his feet to shuffle, nowhere for his finger to point, nowhere for his eyes to look, he was frozen stuck to the core.
A gust of winter yanked his window down, blowing at his side with an almost-forceful intent. It whisked the tickets out of the package and out the doors of the train, as if challenging him to chase after them.
So he did.
The window became a still-life picture of a small train station and for some odd reason, her wristwatch simultaneously stopped working, with the hands frozen at the top. It was as if she were suspended like a snowflake, lost somewhere between the sky and the ground, her future in the city and her past in the town.
Flurries of snowflakes swirl rapidly through the crack in the window, taking with them her round-trip ticket to the station outside
She attempted to catch the slip of paper, yet her fingertips were late by half a nail. And so, she was left with no choice but to push herself up from her confused entanglement between past and future and hurry out the door.
Past shoulders, past bustling feet, past curious eyes, he rushed, all while keeping his eye on the seven tickets still whirling in the air. In the background of his chase was a thread of red Christmas lights, strung across the brick walls of the end of the station.
In the midst of his pursuit, he reminded himself that this was a brief escapade. With his consciousness, he attempted to visualize his future, erasing all traces of his past.
Then he noticed the blurred, bright scarlet string in the corner of his eyes.
It was that moment that he realized that he could not picture having anyone else by his side. Whether in a city or in a town, the person he turned to had café brown eyes, fireside coal hair.
The only person he could ever wrap his gifts for was her.
A hundred apologies left her lips as her legs carried her in stumbled steps towards the center of the train station. Despite that it was against her typical nature, she cared little for what the faceless crowd thought of her clumsy hurry. All she wanted was that ticket so she could head back to her hometown.
But what for?
The thought flashed, bright as the red string of Christmas lights that shone in her eyes as she followed the slip of paper.
It was a slip of paper with printed ink, which she needed to board a train that would take her back to a town seven years older than the town she had left. The students in high school uniforms would have different faces. Perhaps the little café she had loved so much would be closed down. And most of all, who knew if he would still be there?
Seven years was irreversible, but she wished for his winter sky eyes, his snow-blown hair, his hair-ruffling...she wished it all back, willing to relinquish her silly self-consciousness away just to be able to face him in confident love.
It turned out that she was following the paper slip blindly, focusing more on the red lights. For some absurd reason, she hoped.
She hoped that some miracle would appear before her eyes as she approached the clock.
The ticket drifted downwards to the ground in front of her. And, as if by exchange, she found a seven round trip tickets scattered and torn by the wind before her feet.
He was heading to somewhere neither ahead nor behind, yet possessed a sense of direction for perhaps the first time in years. It was as if the circles of crimson lights pulled him towards the giant railway clock, which remained frozen at midday.
But time flew from his mind, taken away by the wind as he could think of nothing but her. He didn't want to remember her. He didn't want to forget her.
He wanted to be with her.
Because he loved her. He always had and he always would. He loved her with every breath and thought, and there was nothing wrong with wanting her so much as to lose himself.
And the crowd began to melt away, as if there was some warm flame fending off ice near the pole of the clock. He ran towards it with all his might, following that thread of red lights.
The tickets circled to the ground before a pair of boots and he stopped when a single ticket landed on his shoe.
Then he found an angel.
A flurry snowflakes suspended behind her in the pattern of feathery wings, gold holiday lights beaming upon her like a crown.
She looked up in his direction; a pair of winter-blue eyes framed by silver hair reflected in her gradually widening eyes.
Her warm chocolate eyes melted the knot in his chest; her coal hair sent a fireplace spark in his heart.
They faced each other, somewhere between past and future, their hearts beating each other's names.
Snow crunched underneath both pairs of feet, as they began to close the distance, shortening the length of the red thread of Christmas lights between them.
At the corner of December, he drew fate's gift into his chest, wrapped his arms tight around her as the red blur lights danced like ribbons around them, and tied past and future into the everlasting present with a kiss.
Merry (early) Christmas! This is my gift to you all for the holidays (whether you celebrate Christmas or Chanukah or Kwanza or any other winter holiday) for bearing with my sluggish uploading rates recently. This is also my thank you gift to all my HitsuHina fans, who have really supported me with their reviews and private messages. Unfortunately, the end of my regular updated fic Twelve will most likely be my last HistuHina fanfic in a while (I will most likely continue with Morphean but I can't guarantee that the updates will be regular). So this is sort-of parting gift. But rest assured, I will probably end up writing sporadic short/oneshot fics for these two—I probably have some inner propensity for HitsuHina. But for now, I'm planning to explore new pastures :)
For some reason this year, I was extremely pumped for Christmas (something about seeing Christmas lights and peppermint just makes me feel really happy). What resulted was my first oneshot that you've read here.
I feel like my writing style altered slightly in this short fic here...it kind of flows all over the place depending on what I've read recently. As I'm reading over it, I think it does require more thought to read than my previous fics...Hopefully this one isn't too cryptic.
As always, I love reviews!
Happy Holidays :)