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let the love light gleam

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It is really frigging cold in Boston.

Scratch that, it is fucking Arctic in Boston, and Pash hates it. She was made for warmer climes than these. Even New York - well, no, New York sucked in the winter too, but it was further south than Boston, so psychologically it feels much warmer in Pash's memories. And technically she's not even in Boston, she's in Cambridge, which is twice as poncy and half as interesting and really fucking expensive even in her sketchy-ass apartment. It almost - almost! - makes her miss Bodeen. (It does make her miss Texas. For all that she was insulted and offended and literally spat on that one time, it was at least warm.)

But she's attending Harvard, and she's writing her dissertation, and she's on her way to an actual career in international relations if the world doesn't descend into thermonuclear war first. And that's almost worth having her toes freeze inside her snow boots. It's not worth dealing with Harvard Square when there are approximately five jillion tourists cooing over how lovely it is in winter and clogging the sidewalks as they buy Christmas presents and toss their empty Starbucks cups in the gutter. Win some, lose some.

Pash scuffs her boot through the slushy puddle in front of her on the quaint brick sidewalk (quaint and absolutely shitty to walk on if you're drunk or it's raining) and looks up as the 69 bus rounds the corner and creaks to a halt in front of the gate. It's snowing again, the flakes landing on her face and her hair. As she steps onto the bus the snowflakes melt into tiny prisms that catch the light and blur her vision. She blinks hard and walks through the bus and slides into an empty seat, bag beside her.

When it gets this dark this early, Pash tends to turn down the volume on her headphones. Early Sleater-Kinney is great, but not if it makes her miss the announcement for her stop. And okay, maybe that's better than the bingo bus from Bodeen into Austin. (Bliss will defend the bingo bus until the end of her days. It was her way out when she couldn't ask for the keys to her parents' truck and Pash couldn't give her a ride in her much-mourned Celebrity.) (Pash doesn't see the appeal. But Pash probably wouldn't have been welcomed by the little old ladies or asked to hold their knitting, not with her name and her face and her obvious Not From Around Here-ness. It was a quality Bliss always aspired to and Pash kind of loved and hated in equal measure. At least Cambridge is full of people from everywhere, students from every corner of the globe, corners Pash wants to visit someday.) The music is still a comforting hum in the lower registers once it's been turned down, pounding drums and Corin Tucker's voice a perfect antidote to jingling bells and songs about how great the winter weather is. Which: no.

The street lights and the windows and lighted signs smear together as the bus rolls through Inman Square and onwards, and Pash taps her fingers on her knee. Even without the announcements she'd recognize this, she knows. It's become home the same way New York did, sinking into her bones and wrapping around them. She gets asked for directions sometimes. She knows which coffeehouse is good and which one is fast and which breakfast place has the best quiche in the world. She made friends with the staff at the weird one-screen theater and knows where every bathroom is on campus.

And she knows when she gets off the bus and trudges down the dark and soggy street that she's heading someplace warm and safe and - okay, enough maudlin musing, she tells herself, hopping around a smear of dogshit on the sidewalk. Just because it's snowing some people think they don't have any responsibilities anymore, which is bullshit.

Down the street and around the corner and onto their weird little loop of a street, up the creaking porch steps and into the vestibule and up the stairs and up again, and Pash unlocks the door and walks in.

And is immediately smacked in the face by bright lights and some kind of hideous noise that possibly involves more of those damned bells.

"What the hell, Bliss?" she says, shaking her head like she's got a cloud of gnats in front of her face, dropping her bag on the couch. The noise resolves into a punk rock cover of 'Here Comes Santa Claus.' Did that even need to exist?

"You're home!" Bliss bounces over and grabs the ends of her scarf, hauling her in for a kiss. Pash sinks into it like she does every time, like she has for years now, like the first time in her dorm room at Columbia. And then she remembers and pulls away.

"I'm home, and --" She peers over Bliss's shoulder, which is really easy with the advantage of her boots versus Bliss's sock feet, and squints. "And it looks like Santa Claus barfed all over our living room. I ask again: what the hell?"

Bliss glances over her own shoulder, at the tiny hot pink tree and the strings of enormous lights that are turned on but piled on the floor, at the tinsel draped over the TV that only works half the time when the plug is wedged in place. "Beatrix Slaughter was giving away a ton of decorations. Her fiancé wanted to upgrade, so she put it all up for grabs on the mailing list, and I figured we could use it."

"Oh, sure." Pash kicks off her boots with only a minor struggle and sidesteps past Bliss, touching the top of the little tree. "I always wanted a tree stolen from Barbie's Dream House."

"Paaaaash," Bliss whines. "Come on. It's cute. And it was free!"

Pash eyes the lights again. "Why are those on when they're not even up?"

"I was checking the bulbs." There's a hint of defensiveness in Bliss's voice, and Pash isn't meaning to be an asshole - well, maybe a little since it's not even her holiday and Bliss is a big fat atheist, but not that much of an asshole - and then she realizes. The big bulbs are just like the ones Mr. Cavendar used to string around the roof every year. Bliss's mom would not have been caught dead with a pink tree in their house, but she loved the holidays, and even though she was politely baffled by Pash's total non-Christianity she always welcomed her into their house for cookies and eggnog and cocoa. Christmas was one of the few times Bliss and her little sister could get along, plotting gifts for their parents and dumping powdered sugar on the lawn to make "snow." And they're a long way from Bodeen.

"Okay, shorty," Pash says, unwinding her scarf. She snags Bliss by the elbow and tugs her in for another kiss. "Turn off the bulbs so I don't burn myself and I'll hang those up."

"You're only like an inch taller than me!" Bliss objects, sliding her hands around Pash's hips.

"Yeah, but I can stand on the stepladder without getting dizzy."

Bliss makes a face for a second, but then her expression reforms into something softer - a little hopeful, a little wistful. "You really don't mind all this stuff? It's dumb, I know, I just..." She trails off, and Pash waits. "I'm homesick, I guess. It's stupid. If you really don't like it we can just put everything on the curb and leave it out of the house."

Pash shrugs. "I mean, it's not for me. You know that. But... it makes you happy. I can put up with some blinky lights and a tree for a little while." She raises a finger. "But no more jingle bells or I throw the speakers out the window. And you owe me a favor."

"That's fair," Bliss agrees. The smile on her face is brighter than the twinkling lights, and it warms Pash from the inside like a summer day in Texas.