stacks

There are soft gasps all around as the little group steps into the new library, or at least, the first room of it, the building is brightly lit, thanks to proper light fixtures and the sun pouring into the wide windows. On their left, in a little alcove that Armin can’t really recall seeing there when Eoghan had brought him in to show him the place, there now seems to be an area fit to be used as a wardrobe.

The air is warm as it is bright as they pass coats over to the front of the group, Eoghan and Yael hanging up everything that gets brought up their way. “Usually, I would say we can bring all of your coats deeper in, there’s an area not far from the front desk where workers can drop everything that belongs to them so it doesn’t get lost in with the rest of everyone’s things but for today, since it’s just us and only us, I figured that we could drop our things here.”

“I don’t know that many people will feel comfortable leaving their coats up here but that is a pretty nice idea, Eoghan.”

“Thank you, Armin. I just figured, you know. People in restaurants will leave their coats in places like these when it is coat season so why not here in the library? Keep people from having to lug it around. I’ve also had rugs set up, they can be rolled up and away once the cold season is over, there’s room on the second floor for them. It’ll help dry up boots before folks make it to the library proper, so less tracking of dirt and wet stuff.”

There are little nods and murmurs from the group as they move away from the alcove and past the second set of doors. “If it helps in any way, I did have a couple of cameras set up here in this section since you can’t see into it from the library proper, there are cameras everywhere now as is, you can keep track of what’s happening everywhere.”

Yael holds one of the door open and they all file through, murmuring thank yous in passing as they do. Once everyone is inside, he steps within as well, carefully releasing the door, afraid it might smack shut but to his surprise it eases closed slowly on its own, clicking shut with a quiet sound.

Now there are wide eyes all around as those who had not yet seen the new library—every single one of them but Eoghan had seen the near finished product—saw the new place as it really was. Well the structure was reminiscent of a church, there was nothing to let anyone believe that it had ever been used as such before. There were rows as far as they could see, stacks of boxes everywhere, a small area not far from where they stood designed for comfort where people could read.

Lex groans softly at the sight of all those boxes, having expected quiet a few of them but not that many. He shakes it off, knowing this is for a good cause and that this isn’t about looking through things to check and make sure everything would be kept, it really was just about unpacking everything.

“Now, you’ll notice that there are a few boxes up here by the front desk, those have books that I honestly wasn’t sure about. I didn’t know where they might go in the library and I didn’t want to have them brought out to particular shelves without being sure that this was where they needed to be. I figured Armin would be able to look through those while we started unpacking everything else. It will take us some time and I hope that everyone knows how grateful I am that you all came in to help, it means a lot. There are little step stools every few aisles for those who might need it but when I ordered the new shelving system, I made sure to get shelves that wouldn’t keep books out of the reach of most people. No one honestly wants to have to climb up to get their books.”

Eoghan honestly had expected that it would take them more than a single day to get all the books in place but by early evening, after a light snack has been bought and shared, all the books are where they belonged. Perhaps not in perfect order but they are in their proper area and he knows that will a bit of work over the next few weeks, everything would be exactly as it should have been.

As their group gathered back around the front desk, groans of exhaustion escaping most of them, Eoghan chuckled softly. “I’d like to thank everyone again for coming out here to help with the unpacking, I’m sure we all feel the same way. Today has been absolutely exhausting but we’ve done something great for the community.”

He pauses, surveying their worn faces. He rolls his shoulders lightly to ease the settling stiffness of sore muscles. “As a thank you, I figure I can get us all some take out. We just need to figure what you guys want to eat so that we can call it in to have it prepared. We can either eat it here or head out there, head home.”

“I vote for eating here, whatever it is. That way we don’t have to go anywhere. I ache in ways I didn’t think I could ache anymore and I do this book placing and moving around for a semi-living at this point.” Agni waves his hand lightly, to make sure people know he’s the one talking. He huffs softly at having to do so. Being the shortest one in their group sucks on some days.

“Well usually I’d say no food in the library but I think we can do an exception at least for this once. Though we don’t really have the necessary surface for food.” Armin yawns, rubbing one of his shoulders lightly as he looks around the area. There are tables and chairs in the dead center of the library, shelves of books on either side but he doesn’t really care for the idea of food going anywhere near those tables.

“There’s the table in the middle of the reading corner by the door? There’s room for all of us and we can use one of the empty box and put it down on the table as protection from whatever it is we’re going to eat.”

“That might not actually bad a bad idea, Cyrille.”

“Okay, so we’re set on where we’re eating, what about the food itself?”

There is a silence for a few moments, people thinking about what they could eat though not a word is spoken before Mira seems to break through that moment of quiet. “Pizza?”

Quentin looks to Yael for a moment, a soft snicker escaping him as he remembers that discussion they had had while walking home about why people ate takeout, especially pizza when it was so easy to make home.

There is a moment more of quiet before little nods and agreements come from the rest of the group. “Okay, so pizza it is. I’ll call it in and then get it, unless you’d rather drive down there and get it, Cyrille? It’ll be paid for already and you might just get there faster in your car?”

Cyrille rolls his eyes, a soft chuckle escaping him as he shrugs. “I don’t mind driving to the pizza place to get our order, I’ll go start the car and kick the heat up so it’s toasty warm and our food stays hot while I get there and back with it.”

“Much appreciated, thank you. Now what kind of pizza are we going for?”

Silence again falls and Eoghan shakes his head with an amused sigh. He supposes it can hardly be helped, the whole thing is amusing more than anything else. He blames not a single one of them, the day has been long, after all, rather long.

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lost again

“How can she keep getting in situations like these?” Yael looks up to the small feline, perched up in one of the higher trees in the garden.

“She didn’t even try to climb up any tree when we got her up here on her own. I suppose she saw Colby climb up and she followed him up there.” Quentin studies their surrounding a moment and he shakes his head. This is one of the biggest tree Yael has planted up in the garden and getting up there is going to be nearly impossible, at least not without some outside help and he doesn’t know that any of them has that kind of a gift. They will have to set up the ladder.

“She just got busy getting lost the first time, though I suppose I should say lost again. When I shook the tin of candy, she came running out of wherever she’d been hiding in and that was that. This though, this is different. I don’t think our hope of letting the cats have access to this room is going to work.” He sighs as he utters those words, really having believed that he could somehow manage that much but if Astra kept on getting stuck up trees, mimicking her siblings, it couldn’t work.

“We’re going to need the ladder, unless you’d rather try the human ladder alternative. I can hold your weight up just fine so you could try to climb up my shoulders.” Yael studies his companion for a moment before he shakes his head with a wry smile.

“I don’t even think we’d be tall enough. We’re going to have to get the ladder.” He sighs and rubs a hand over his eyes, his head shaken lightly. “Stay here and keep an eye on her, I’ll be back with the ladder.”

A piece of equipment he never uses, not much caring for it. They could hardly leave Astra up there on her own, meowing pitifully. He really doesn’t know how she’d gotten up there, it bothers him. Though there are branches within reach if Quentin does give him something of a boost.

“On second thought, I think I might try your method first. I used to climb trees at the orphanage, of course I’d get stuck and Sterling would have to get me back down but I think I can manage this one. Let’s give this a try to if I do get stuck, then you can get the ladder.” The last thing he wants is to trample everything growing at the base of the tree with the heavy ladder.

Once up and able to reach the thicker branches, Yael carefully makes his way up, Astra still meowing pitifully as she watches him come her way. The climb up is slow and steady and once he is within reach of her, she almost jumps at him. He hugs her to his chest for a long moment and looks down the way he came. He knows he can’t climb back down with a single arm so he sets Astra up on his shoulders and she almost curls there, her claws partly digging in. He calls her his parrot on most days. She loves climbing to his shoulders and just staying there.

He turns then, carefully, and starts to make his way down. One branch, then the other, until he’s as low as he can manage. He sits on his branch then and tugs the now mostly purring feline from his shoulders. “I’m going to have to drop her down to you, Quentin. There’s no way I’m jumping from up here with her digging her claws into my shoulder.”

It isn’t so much dropping as moves to grasp the branch with his legs and then lowers himself as far as he can go, nearly hanging upside down. Quentin reaches out and their fingers nearly touch. Yael hands the feline over and carefully pulls himself back up to his branch.

“How are you going to get down?” Astra is already settling on Quentin’s shoulders, just sitting there, clinging somewhat, her whole episode with the tree already forgotten, it seems.

“I’ll just lower myself with my arms until I’m as low as I can get and I’ll drop, unless you think you can do the reverse ladder and manage to get my weight balanced on your hands or your arms or something so I can get down without breaking anything.” He’s not overly afraid of ‘breaking anything’ but it would be an uncomfortable bit of time for him while it healed and he didn’t much care for that.

“Let me drop her out of the garden and I’ll come back in. You can lower yourself down as much as you can and I should be able to get you braced on my shoulders, we’ll work from there.” Quentin doesn’t wait for an answer, he steps away from the tree and down the pathway that leads him to the door. He carefully drops Astra out of the door and closes it again before he’s jogging back to the tree.

He settles himself as close to the trunk as he can manage and Yael carefully eases himself out, legs dangling until Quentin’s hands curl about his ankles and his feet settle on those waiting shoulders. He laughs softly and together the work on getting him back to the ground. “This is absolutely crazy.”

“I think we can both indeed agree that the cats up here could have worked if it hadn’t been for Astra’s inability to get herself down from high places on her own.”

“Pretty much. Can we get out of this place before I start to think I have to go back up that tree for absolutely no reason? My feet are killing me and I could do with soaking them in some hot water for a bit.”

“You should have kept your shoes on.”

“I wouldn’t have been able to get up that tree with my shoes on. You can check me over for injuries when we’re down there and I’m off my feet for a while.”

Chuckling, Yael leads them out of the garden, taking a moment to rinse his feet of dirt and wipe them mostly dry on a small rug he keeps next to the doors. When they step out of the door, Astra runs down the stairs, as if caught somewhere she wasn’t meant to be. Both demons look after her for a moment before they laugh and shake their head.

“We tried but the garden stays off limit.”

“There’s the screen door, it allows the scents to come down all year round and that’s enough for me. These cats have a huge play area here on the ground floor and ways to get up near the ceiling and back down without an issue, they don’t really need the garden up there. Plus, in the warmer seasons they have access to the outside world through the catio.”

“I guess you’re right, I just wanted to see if it was possible at all for these guys to be up there with me when I was working there or to just have access to everywhere in the house.” Yael shrugs and heads to the living room, dropping almost bonelessly to sit into the couch while Quentin disappears into the kitchen to get a large bowl and some hot water.

“We should totally get one of those foot massaging things, you know, the ones you put hot water in and start it up and it vibrates and stuff?”

Yael blinks a moment but laughs. “We have plenty of things that vibrate in this house, I don’t believe we need another one!”

“That is not what I meant and you know it!” Quentin blushes slightly as he finally comes back with his bowl and water, he sets it down on the floor and steps back as Yael slides his feet into it with a low groan of pleasure.

“Now let’s have a look at you to make sure you’re in one piece and you don’t have any bit of bark or whatever else still stuck on you.”

“I’m fine, Quentin, let’s just have a bit of rest and relaxation, please?”

“Anything you want.”

food

“I should learn to drive.” Yael huddles a little just outside the bus shelter, he hugs his coat a little closer and spares a glance into the shelter. They were inside until this one little old lady stepped inside, reeking of cigarette and who knew what else, they stepped out, unable to handle the scent.

Quentin at his side, straightening his scarf a little, shakes his head. “I suppose you could but in this weather it’s hardly the best time. If you want to learn, we both can go and take the classes, then the tests.”

“I just feel like we’re using him whenever we ask him to get stuff for us or we ask him to drive us around. When we take the bus it’s not as bad but heading off to get food for the cats in this weather, by bus, is a freezing pain in my butt.” Inside the shelter, he hears the old woman snort and he tunes her out. It is bad enough they’re not protected by the wind due to her smell, after all.

“If he minded, I’m pretty sure he would tell us, Yael.”

As the bus eases by and stops next to them, they both step to the side, letting the old woman get on first, despite that they know very few other people who would bother with that kind of respect. Old folks, even if they smell, should be respected to a point and old folks deserve to get on the bus first.

Something like that.

“At least this time we didn’t forget the buggy. Lugging that huge pouch of food back home was a pain on the hands, I couldn’t feel my fingers for a while after that, it wasn’t really pleasant.” Yael shakes his head as they step into the shop, a specialized pet shop that has more brands of animal food than the big chains. This is the only place they visit for their needs, or well, at least the needs of their cats.

“True. Litter box at the bottom and food on top? We should get a second bag, it would help us along.”

“Or we learn to drive.” Yael offers his companion a wry smile as they step into the food aisle.

“We could get one of these little kiddy-cart I’ve seen around, you just drag it around, the bus rarely has that many people when we take it because of the hour so I’m sure it wouldn’t be too much of an issue. We could even have heavy plastic sheet on there to cover the stuff with if it rains when we’re out.”

Yael blinks but laughs softly, startling another patron one row over. “It sounds as though you’ve given this plenty of thought. I suppose we could give it a try. It’s no worse than folks with these huge strollers. Though honestly, I really think I should try to learn to drive.”

“We’ll give it some thought, they’re no rush yet but we won’t just ignore the idea. At least we’ll wait until spring though I guess we can start the learning part as far as all the books and knowledge is necessary. The car-driving part can wait until spring. Sounds good?”

“Sounds good. I found the food. Let’s get that in the cart and we’ll get the stuff for the litter box. Once that’s all paid for we’ll figure out how we get these settled in out the buggy. I could carry one of the food pouches since we need two of them, I know I can’t carry that litter sand anywhere for how heavy it is. I guess a second buggy couldn’t hurt until we either get licenses or that kiddy-cart, as you call it.”

Quentin looks at the two large pouches of food in their cart and shakes his head though there is clear amusement in his face. “So many mouths to feed.”

Once everything is paid for, they step to the side to allow any other clients to pay for their things and they start to carefully layer things into their buggy. The box of litter sand at the bottom, the two pouches of cat food set on top though one does fit almost perfectly next to the sand. They tug the cover over to keep everything as dry as possible and start on their way back out of the store and to the couple of blocks they need to walk along to get back to the bus stop so they can go home.

“I don’t even know if I’ll be comfortable with the idea of driving but I guess that unless I give it a try, I won’t know.” Yael looks up to the sky as they step out of the bus, waiting for it to drive off before they cross the street to get back to their side of the road.
“I tried driving once, just once. It was on an abandoned road, not a thing or person in sight and I just don’t know. I felt a bit as if everything was too complicated, like I had to focus on too many things at once.” Quentin shrugs lightly and releases the handle of their buggy as Yael settles his hand on it. They do share the dragging duty most of the time.

They cross one street, then another and turn to their door, opening it and then closing it once they are inside. The inside heat pulls sighs from both of them as they tug gloves off, hats, scarves and boots. They hang their coats up and then pull the buggy inside though it stays on the rug that sits right by the door so it doesn’t bring any wet snow inside.

From it they pull the two bags of food, a few bags of treats and a couple of toys before working together to pull the box of litter sand out of it. They set everything aside and Quentin takes a moment to roll the buggy back into the entryway where it will finish drip-drying. He closes the door again behind him and picks up one of the bags of food, knowing he can already transfer its content into their sealed box. It seems easier to feed them from a box that only needs to be opened instead of struggling to open and close a bag that has no closing mechanism day in and out.

“I think we deserve some sitting time in front of the fireplace after that.” He grunts as he drops the bag next to the container since Yael is already emptying the first one into it.

“I was going to head up to work in the garden, we could sit under the spotlights or step into the tropical side for a little while to finish warming up?”

Quentin rolls his eyes and sticks out his tongue with a somewhat amused glance. “If I have to drag you by the ankles to get you to sit in front of the fireplace with me. I will.”

He knows better than to offer the fake threat of dragging the other his hair. Yael’s hair is sacred in its own way and doing anything bad to it is, well, terribly bad.

Yael blinks at him, staring for a heartbeat as he tries to make his mind on whether or not he should take the threat seriously. He laughs after a moment and shakes his head. “All right, fine, how about you get the box of litter sand in here while I transfer these food bags and then we’ll see about some fireplace cuddling for a bit to finish warming up, you caveman.”

Grinning, Quentin disappears out of the cat’s room and back to the front door where he lifts up the box of litter sand with a soft grunt and slowly makes his way back to his companion. The box is heavy, the two opened finger slots cutting slightly into his joints so he sets it down when he’s halfway there to flex his fingers lightly. He picks it back up after a few moments and finishes his slow trek into the cat’s room to drop the box off carefully.

“We can transfer this one later, it’s not about to go anywhere and we don’t need it this very instant. Now come and cuddle, or else, no cuddling.”

“That’s a bit redundant if you think about it. If I don’t go cuddle I don’t get cuddles?” Yael laughs as he stands and stretches, his head shaken lightly. “Let’s go warm up by the fire.”

taking chances

Yael looks between the cats all sitting near or around him and then he looks at the door at the top of the stairs, leading to the garden. It has been weighing on his mind, he’s been wondering if he should simply take the leap, chance everything and let the cats go up there with him when he’s up and about.

Of course, he would keep a bag of catnip by the door to call them all back once he is ready to head back down. He just doesn’t know why it has been on his mind at all since the new year. Perhaps for that new of a new resolution, something new to try to add to his life. It certainly wouldn’t hurt anyone though he doesn’t know how the cats might react.

He sits on the stairs, still looking down at the felines all mostly looking up to him as if waiting for him to give them something. He reaches for the container of cat treats and throws a few out, knowing the two oldest would go after them. Then he sets a few out here and there not far from him for the other five.

“The worst that can happen is that they decide to mark everywhere though that might very well just destroy a lot of the more fragile plants. I know they can all get down from high places on their own so they could climb up. What if they go for the cacti? The rose bushes?” He mumbles to himself, shaking his head with a sight as he does. This has been on his mind and he isn’t sure what to make of it at this point, no matter how much time he spends thinking about it.

“No one is forcing you to let them up, Yael. If you’re that worried about them being up there, it’s more than likely because you’re not ready. This is the garden, you work tirelessly to make it yours and make it work. It’s beautiful and there really are no words to describe how I feel every time I go up there.” Quentin’s voice startles Yael out of his thoughts. Thankfully, at least so he tells himself, he’d already closed the treat container, else they would be everywhere.

“I just keep on telling myself that I should trust them, that I know they might just well be able to handle discovering the garden. I don’t know.” He almost throws his hands to the air in frustration but doesn’t. He simply closes his eyes with a sigh and rubs a hand over them. He knows his confusion is from overthinking.

“What about, over the course of the week, we bring them in one by one? One cat per day, just for an hour or so to see how they handle it. Then next week we can pair them up, and by three, four and so on until we try one morning with all the cats together. We can stop at any point if one of them displays a behaviour that could be a problem for the garden and that’s it, we’ll have tried.”

Yael studies him for a long moment, as if trying to weigh carefully everything he’s just been told. He nods and stands, the cats easing slightly away from him to avoid being walked on. They had been quite close to the bottom of the stairs, after all. “That might work, I’m just, I don’t know why I want to do this. I guess I want to be able to leave the doors open though I don’t even understand why. It’s not like these doors slow me down much when I go in and out of the garden.”

Quentin shrugs gently but offers his hand. It still is early in the morning and his stomach is reminding him that he should eat. He can only imagine that Yael hasn’t eaten yet.

“We were both pretty panicked when one of them went up there and got caught up in the tree, I’m sure that notion, the one to let them in and out as they wish, has been there, growing in the back of your mind ever still.” He laughs softly at the moment and Yael chuckles as well. They had been so absolutely worried, he could remember that rather well. Now he could have a chuckle at it but most certainly not on that particular day.

“I’ll draw up a calendar. Write down who goes up when until we’ve tried with everyone up, at least, that’s the goal.”

“That sounds like a plan, we can set it up just down at the bottom of the stairs and we can add little checkmarks to every day that has gone as it should.”

It doesn’t take him long to get that calendar drawn up. Names set out in alphabetical order for the first seven days and then paired up with first and last, second and second-last and so on until he had one last day where all seven cats would be allowed up in the garden. He really hopes that the whole thing will work out. He wants the cats to have free rein of everywhere in their home and that does include the garden, after all.

Once he’s done, he pins the paper up on the wall right next to the stairs leading up to the second floor. He looks at it for a long moment and nods. Quentin looks at it from the side, studying it for a moment before he chuckles. “So no one today, we start tomorrow?”

“I don’t know why, I felt as though I had to gather my courage one last time before we begin this experiment.” He pauses and shakes his head with a soft chuckle. “Saying experiment makes me feel like I’m a scientist trying to create something evil that might just try to take over the world.”

“Nope, just letting some very playful kitties learn their way around the most beautiful garden in the world, that’s all. I know I don’t tell you often enough how amazed I am at the beauty of what you’ve created up there and I know it’s not right. You work when you’re in there and I know I should help you more often.”

“It’s not so much about needing help, Quentin, it’s about knowing you do enjoy the garden as I hope you do and that’s mostly that. It’s not that much hard work lately, just gathering the veggies and fruits and when it is time for that, you’re always there to help me.”

“I’d be failing at some point in my life if I didn’t help you, Yael. When it’s time for harvest, we usually come out of there with huge, overflowing basket and it’s not a single person’s job. I’m not going to let you do that alone.” He rolls his eyes and chuckles, this whole experiment amuses him to a point.

“Come on, let’s have ourselves a swim, you’re tense from all this worrying and fussing and preparing. You’re overthinking and that’s just not good for either one of us. I want us to have an absolutely there relaxing day before we start with this whole thing.”

“I always overthink everything I worry about, you know this.” Yael shrugs, a sheepish smile offered as he moved away from the stairs and let himself be led back towards their bedroom so they both could change into the proper bathing suits.

He isn’t against a swim. He knows it will get him to focus on other things and that might just be the best course of action at that point. He knows he needs to stop thinking about the ‘what if’ of things. “I’m a worrier, I guess. It’s in my blood. Though I might try to fight against it. I think, though, that giving the cats a chance to explore the garden is just one of those things, it’s a chance we’ll have to take. If anything happens, I’ll plant over again to cover anything that might have been destroyed.”

time to __________

The sky had been clouded over and there had been a few fat flakes falling when they had all gathered up on that top floor, each with presents for others and everything being set under the large tree that nearly brushed the ceiling. They had moved their weekly meal and movie up to the middle of the week to fit with the day. Christmas Eve.

They had all gathered, staring at the large and simply decorated tree in Lex and Eoghan’s living room. The floor around it covered in gifts of all sizes, some small and others much larger. They all had decided that it had been a perfect time for celebration. There had been food from all over the world, this one particular evening with a theme of ‘cook or bake something from where you were born’. The table had overflowed with food of all sorts and colour, the leftovers had been split into separate little containers so that everyone could have a bit of everything that was left to bring home.

As the evening had progressed, they had settled about the tree, Mira having volunteered himself to hand out gifts. He’d pick one up, read its tag and hand it off to whoever it was meant to go. He made sure to keep his blanket for his brother for last as he didn’t know if he’d be able to keep on giving out the gifts once he’d handed his brother his own.

People had been happy, there had been cheering, some alcohol and a lot of wrapping paper scattered everywhere. It had been a beautiful eve, especially for those who hadn’t had a Christmas Eve to celebrate before or for those who hadn’t had one to celebrate for a while now.

It had been rather late in the evening, almost early in the morning when all parties had started to head back to their own place. The only ones who stayed were Quentin and Yael, the pair not much caring for the idea of getting dressed back up and lugging everything back to their own building. The cats were going to be fine, they knew. They had had their food before the pair had left and the litter boxes had been cleaned completely and utterly.

The sky was blue, so absolutely blue. It hadn’t been that blue in almost a week at this point and they had had more snow in that past week than they’d had since snow had started falling. Yael was gazing out the window at the clearness of the sky. A soft sigh escaped him. In his hands, a warm cup of steaming tea and Quentin at his side, also gazing out with a pleased sort of smile.

“Once we’re done with this we’ll let you guys have some quiet time. I’m glad we helped you two pick everything up though, this place was a mess.” He laughed softly, still warming his fingers with his cup of tea. There had been more wrapping paper than he’d ever seen in his life, it had been an interesting sort of thing to just pick it all up. Fold what hadn’t ripped and put away everything else. They’d thrown most of the ripped bits into the fireplace, it had seemed the best and easiest of options.

“You two could stay but I know you’d want to check in on your little four-legged gang. If you need any help with the gifts though, I don’t mind heading out with you two.”

Quentin looked at their little pale of gifts. An armful and a half for sure but it was so beautiful and calm outside he was rather certain that it wouldn’t be much of a problem to head back across. He shook his head. “That’s kind of you but I think we should be able to manage fine.”

Eoghan nodded, leaving them to their sky-gazing. He recalled doing that much when he’d been on his own before, even when Lex had been with him. He loved just staring at the sky when it was clear and blue enough for him to see nothing but that when he gazed outside.

In another apartment, tangled together on the floor in front of the fireplace, the three youngest souls of their little group stirred, just barely. It had been the second time in their lives that the twin had had alcohol, Mira had handled the taste of it as poorly as with wine though it had been a bubbly of sorts this time.

The fire, long since out, had warmed them when they’d first come back inside, arms full of gifts. They’d helped Armin back down to his own apartment first and then had come back up to their own. They had built up a fire to warm the area up first and things simply had gone from there, so exhausted from their gathering, the food and the bit of alcohol, they all had eventually drifted off, Agni’s new blanket settled across the lot of them.

Cyrille was the first one to open his eyes. He stared at the ceiling above him blankly as he tried to recall much from the night before. With a bit of thinking he recalled the food, the bit of alcohol, all of the gifts. Once that was clearer in his mind, he became aware of the weight settled on him and he lifted his head just so. There, on one side, Agni clinging to one of Cyrille’s arm as if he was protecting it. On the other side, Mira was nestled closer, his head against a shoulder and one leg tangled. It warmed Cyrille and he breathed a soft sigh of content.

He was more than a little aware that this was likely to not happen overly often but it was nice to know that they did trust him enough to sleep this way with him. It was comforting in ways he couldn’t recall having ever felt before. He closed his eyes again, relishing in the warmth he felt, not just from the closeness of their bodies but from the comfort of knowing he was trusted.

Armin was looking at the gifts settled along the low table of his living room. It had been years since he had seen gifts at all and he wasn’t exactly sure of what he was meant to do with them, at least in a general sort of way. He knew what he would do with the crocheted scarf, he knew what he’d do with a new blender. The idea of fresh smoothies every morning made his mouth water just a little.

He felt a tightness in his chest, a desire to cry and he tried to squash it down. He knew those tears were good tears but he didn’t really want to cry at this point, even for a good reason. It felt so strange to be around people who cared this way about him, at times he tried to forget but it still was usually there, in his face.

These people considered him their friend, they saw him as someone they could trust, someone they wanted in their lives and someone worth giving gifts too.

He reached out, fingers curling about the beautifully crocheted green scarf. He brushed his fingers over its softness and wrapped it about his neck a couple of times. It was so soft. He had another scarf that did its job perfectly well but it was a scarf he’d brought for himself. This one had been hand-made with love and- well he wanted to wear it and he was going to wear it.

Finally, he laughed softly, all this happiness as it bubbled up inside of him burst up and out. He laughed. He laughed until he cried, those tears of happiness soaking their way into the scarf he refused to take off. He’d hang it to dry it, that was aside the point. He felt absolutely cherished and he had forgotten what it had felt like for the longest of times.