This is based on Inochan's 2015 play, Karafuto Ojisan. (I was inspired by it being brought up in the MC of the Saturday show in Osaka!) It's set several years after the play and is basically a companion to 赤いスイートピー meant to be read second. If you haven't seen the play but are interested, I wrote an in-depth plot summary here. It does contain some passing mentions of the 1995 Kobe earthquake and PTSD, but much less so than the play itself and the original fic.
Also, I'm sorry that I've been such a crappy team leader for the past few months, but hopefully, maybe, things are finally settling down. I'll be out of town (with internet access, but busy) from December 19 to 28, and then I'll be busy with JUMP's concerts and countdown and what have you through the end of the New Year's holiday, but I'm hoping that I'll be able to be back and more active in Shiritori in 2018!
Happy holidays, everyone!
"So, how did you celebrate Christmas as a kid?" Hitomi has wanted to ask ever since the very first Christmas she'd spent with Tohru so many years ago-- as his stand-in mother, she wants to know not only because she considers it her job to make him happy in any way she can, especially after how much he'd suffered for the greater part of his life, but also because she loves him as much as any mother ever loved a child, and she desperately wants to be privy to even a glimpse of what his childhood was like before everything had gone to hell. She's delighted every time she tackles another bout of house cleaning (the instances are few and far-between, but to be fair, she does have an elementary school aged child and a part time job, and she hadn't even been partially responsible for making the mess) to discover an old box of Tohru's childhood drawings or a folder of his junior high school report cards, because she had missed so much of the first two and a half decades of Tohru's life, but even then, it doesn't feel like enough. She knows that Tohru's mother had died when he was young, and that his real (if not biological) father had been too busy trying to support the two of them to take him on vacations or to theme parks or any of those normal childhood activities that normally result in family photos, but she craves them all the same. Perhaps it's selfish, or perhaps it's all a part of wanting to understand him and the demons he faces every day so that she can help him through the dark moments-- it's probably a mix of the two-- but she yearns more than almost anything for a glimpse of Tohru's youth, even the littlest things, like what he liked to eat for breakfast as a child and where he spent his time when he wasn't at home during his school days and how his family spent holidays.
But of course, she can't ask, and she knows it. How could she, when Tohru's past is filled with more horror stories than fond reminiscences, when things so terrible had happened that Tohru's days and (more often) nights are haunted even still, twenty years later? And how could he even be expected to answer? "Do you mean the year that my father and I were still recovering from my mother's death? Or maybe when we were approaching the one year anniversary of the earthquake that killed all of our neighbors?" She knows that Tohru still lashes out when the feelings get too much for him to handle alone, but more than she's ever hurt by his words, she's filled with guilt at the display she knows means he's hurting more than he knows how to manage. And so she does everything she can to avoid bringing up his past, to protect him in any way she can from the memories, even if it means she loses out on a chance to understand him better in the process.
But that's fine-- while she wants to know, she tells herself with each uncovered box or folder that more will come with time, and for the time being, she's doing everything she can to soothe the pain and soften the blow of the little situations that throw Tohru's everyday life off kilter. She was never a very patient person in her previous life, but somehow, now, here, with Tohru, it doesn't feel like a hardship to put herself second and wait, and when she starts to see improvements in his condition, even little things, like not tensing up when a radio DJ mentions Ginga Tetsudo no Yoru in passing during the talk portion between songs, the overwhelming pride and relief she feels welling up inside of her chest is more than enough to make the wait worth it.
And so she does her best to make his current Christmases pleasant and warm, regardless of her ignorance of how he'd celebrated as a child-- the first year, when Ayumu had been only a toddler, there had been less of an excuse for chicken and festivities, but Tohru had gone so far out of his way to provide whatever presents he could out of his small paycheck that it had brought tears to Hitomi's eyes, and the holiday had generally been smooth sailing every since. It was generally how their little life together as a family always went; there were bumps along the way, but between Hitomi and Tohru with a little help from Ayumu, they had always worked out a new normal in every aspect of their daily routines. And so now, Hitomi preorders chicken from KFC (or maybe another place when she misses the deadline), and Tohru brings out the cheap but festive Christmas tree that they'd bought when Ayumu was old enough to want one and sets it up in the factory, and they put their heads together to buy a few presents for Ayumu that Tohru goes through great lengths to assure him are from Santa, and then in one way or another, Tohru always finds some warm socks, or else a new pair of gloves to replace his old tattered ones with a hole in the thumb in the driver's seat of the truck, and Hitomi magically discovers kitchen supplies or beauty gadgets on her pillow, also "from Santa." It might be a silly tradition, but it's theirs, and Hitomi has come to look forward to it even in the dead of summer.
She likes to think that Tohru looks forward to it, too-- in fact, she truly believes he does, but she also knows that he's the sort of person who won't be caught dead talking about things that give him feelings unless he's absolutely forced to, so the topic never really comes up until it can't be avoided any longer. He always puts up the tree about a week before Christmas without any prompting, and it had taken a lot of convincing to get him to believe that, no, really, small children generally don't like receiving heat tech shirts and socks for Christmas, no matter how useful they are, and it would really be best if they could plan Ayumu's presents together, rather than Tohru going out and buying them on his own. It's a fact about Tohru that she's come to understand over the years, and it doesn't bother her anymore when he gets huffy about family things, because she knows that it means that deep down, he's having good feelings that he doesn't know how to express in words.
And so, needless to say, she's more than a little shocked when, one evening in early December, Tohru brings up Christmas of his own volition once Ayumu has gone to bed. She can tell he's trying to be nonchalant about it, though for him, that requires at least half an hour of skulking around beforehand to mentally prepare himself for it-- a habit that she finds, honestly, refreshingly cute and earnest-- but no matter what she might have predicted, she's totally blown away by what comes out of his mouth.
She feels the need to pinch herself, to make sure she's not dreaming, but sure enough, Tohru is leaning against the desk and pointedly not looking at her, just as he had a moment ago when he'd said, "Want to go out to the park on Christmas to see the illuminations?"
"W-what?! Are you asking me on a daaaaate~~~?!" she teases jokingly-- perhaps her own way of handling those times when Tohru gives her too many feelings in return. But it puts things into a comfortable, predictable pattern— Tohru yelps, "What?!?! That's gross!!! Why would you even say something like that, you old hag?!" and Hitomi laughs, because despite his strong reaction, at this point, after living together for more than five years, she can see him starting to laugh a little, too.
But once they've gone through the little ritual, Hitomi relaxes into a gentler smile, replying, "If you're okay going out with your mom and your little brother on Christmas, I'd be happy to~"
Tohru harumphs a bit more at the teasing, sticking his tongue out at her briefly as if he were the elementary school student, not Ayumu, but after a moment, he shoves his hands in his pockets and shrugs before quietly adding, "They're putting them up again this year for the first time after... you know."
Hitomi nods, her smile not wavering; while Tohru still has trouble talking about the events of the past, when Hitomi first met him, there's no way he'd have even been able to say that much, and it makes her feel warm inside to see how much healthier and happier he's gotten in the intervening years. "I'm sure Ayumu will love it," she replies, knowing it always makes Tohru happy to make Ayumu happy, no matter how much he complains and calls Ayumu a brat. She's hoping to see him smile, but she isn't prepared for what happens instead.
Tohru nods, still looking away, which is a normal reaction, but it looks like he still has more to say, and so she waits. It takes long enough that she begins to wonder if he's too embarrassed or too emotionally clogged up to say whatever he wanted to say after all, but then he shrugs and takes a deep breath before adding, "It's where my dad always took me when I was a kid."
Before Hitomi knows what she's doing, she's on her feet, crossing the room from where she had been sitting on the sofa and throwing her arms around Tohru before he has a chance to react. "Oiiiiii-- what's with you, lady?!" he gripes, but he doesn't push her away, either, leaning his weight a little into her embrace, and, Hitomi thinks with a smile, while they've celebrated many good Christmases together so far and, she knows, many more to come, perhaps this has been the best Christmas present she's ever gotten.
You're up, dusk037!