For some reason Roy had tucked himself away in the front room, so Ed decided to be courteous for once and bring the cocoa to him. He found him sitting by the window, seemingly mesmerized by the flurry of snow outside.
“If this keeps up, we might be here longer than we thought,” Ed remarked. “I hope you planned for—ack!”
Without warning Roy grabbed him around the middle, pressing his face to Ed’s chest. Ed stumbled, juggling the mugs and somehow getting them safely to the windowsill without scalding either one of them. “Shit, Roy, I don’t actually want to dump hot liquid on you! What’s with you?”
Roy didn’t answer. Ed sighed and stroked his hair, nudging the top of his head with his chin. “Hey. What brought this on?”
Roy’s arms around him tightened.
“You still with me, bastard?”
Roy pulled in a breath, and let it out in a sigh. “This time last year,” he said into Ed’s chest, “I was stretching my supplies out because the snows had blocked the access road. Clearing it was always low on the military’s priorities. I was even starting to worry about my supply of firewood. The only thing the solstice meant to me was further delays.”
Ed nudged him. When Roy finally pulled back Ed slid into his lap. “Snow getting to you?”
“A . . . bit.”
Ed retrieved the mugs and passed one over, then slipped his arm—the warm one, the one that wasn’t wrapped in three layers of insulated clothing—around the other man’s back.
Roy sipped the cocoa and stared out at the snow. “I’m—fine. I am. It just . . . got me to thinking.”
“Well don’t strain yourself,” Ed teased. Roy snorted.
Ed leaned against him and watched the snow. It always seemed different out here than snow in the city. Any city. He’d seen snow in a lot of different places over the years but the snow in Resembool seemed unique. He was sure it was psychological, but the feeling remained. “The first couple years on the road, me and Al told ourselves that we wouldn’t be celebrating any holidays. We didn’t have time for that shit.” He sipped his drink and smiled at the memory of his younger self. “We both ended up getting something for the other anyway.”
“That figures.” Roy looped an arm around him. “I always hoped you would take a break and stay in East City for a few days.”
“That seemed like . . . I dunno, like giving in or something. Admitting that it was anything more than a means to an end.” He bumped his head against Roy’s shoulder. “I was a stupid kid.”
“You were a driven kid.”
“I regretted it when I was—away. I really missed everyone.”
Roy hugged him. Ed leaned into it, lowering his mug for the moment. Neither of them needed to say how much he’d been missed here. Or that Roy had missed him especially.
They watched the snow in silence, finishing the cocoa. The front room had gotten chilly, but Ed didn’t mind. It was a minor thing when he was tucked up against Roy’s warmth.
“Hey, maybe next year we can get everyone together.”
Roy glanced at him over his mug. “Mm?”
“You should be settled in by then to—wherever they end up putting you. I know everyone is assigned all over the place now, but you get some time off at the end of year, right?”
“Theoretically. It doesn’t always work out that way.” He looked reflective for a moment. “It might be worth a try, though.”
“Sorry to interrupt,” Al said from behind them. Ed looked over Roy’s shoulder to find him in the doorway. “We’re about to start the Yule log.”
“Oh! Okay. We’ll be right there.”
“Aren’t you two getting cold in here?”
“Yes,” Roy admitted. “It’s a test of endurance.”
Ed rolled his eyes. “We’ll be there in a moment, Al.” He drank the last bit out of his mug and hopped to his feet.
“So what is this ‘Yule log’?” Roy asked as he stood.
“Oh—it’s an old tradition. Guess you don’t see it much outside of this area. You pick a log—a nice dense one that’ll burn for a long time—and you tie things to it that signify that you want in the coming year. Little totems or notes or whatever. Then at midnight you burn it, and the smoke is supposed to ‘send it out to the world’ or something.” Ed shrugged and glanced away, suddenly aware of how backwards and rural it sounded. “It’s a silly superstition. But it means pudding and cider.”
“Like I said, old superstition. You don’t have to.”
“What, and turn down pudding?”
Ed snickered at that.
Roy took his hand and gestured to the back room. “Besides. Focusing your intentions has merit, superstition or no. Do you know what you’re going to tie onto it?”
“I . . . maybe.” Ed rubbed the side of his nose with the handle of his mug. It was a little embarrassing how warmed he felt that his lover was willing to indulge the old traditions that he himself had ignored for so long. “Thing is . . . I’ve already gotten so much more than I ever thought I would. Asking for more on top of that just seems kinda . . . greedy.”
“Mm. I know what you mean.” And the way Roy was looking at him warmed him all on its own. “But it’s just superstition, right? Maybe then it’s all right. To be a little greedy.”
“Yeah. Maybe it is.” Ed grinned. “But we better hurry before Al eats all the pudding.”