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year of the cat and crow

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“I didn’t think they would actually come,” Gauss says, chuckling behind his palm as he looks over the stalls. The avatars had banded together to transform a map of ALICE into a New Year’s festival, with stalls and food and games all in one.

It’s a nice sight, with color bursting everywhere. Toyotomi hums absently, glistening eyes looking over the stalls. “I’ll go try out the power game!” he says, already heading over to it, heedless to Gauss’ reply or lack thereof.

Even proportional to most avatars’ strength, Gauss is sure Toyotomi will have no problem beating it. He’s only further reassured when he sees the small dragon waving the wooden mallet around, trying (and failing) to perform tricks.

Gauss heads over to the fishing game, where he spots Schrödinger’s unmistakable mop of hair. The cat is accompanied by Hempel, the two of them looming over the shallow pool. Hempel has a net gripped in his slender fingers, the feathers of his wings ruffling as he concentrates on catching the slippery fish.

“Hello there!” Gauss exclaims, patting both of their backs. It’s rare to get to sneak up on them, but Schrödinger has busied himself with swatting at the fish with his bare hand, tail flicking behind him in agitation.

Hempel drops the net in surprise, twisting around and almost knocking Schrödinger into the pool with his wing. “Gauss! You scared me!” he says, chuckling.

Schrödinger’s cat rubs up against Hempel’s back, lidded eyes gazing at Gauss. It knows him well enough not to attack him even if he pulls a stunt like this, but there’s always this flicker in its eyes. It purrs, rubbing its head against Hempel’s wings as if to calm the crow down.

“Sorry, sorry, I didn’t mean to,” Gauss grins, putting his hands up in a surrendering move. “Well, that’s not true, I kind of did. It’s rare when you’re not paying attention.”

“Well, I wanted to try catching a fish or two, since you know how some birds catch fish and…” Hempel trails off, chuckling. In the dim light, the flush befalling his cheeks isn’t as obvious, but if Gauss looks closer, it’s definitely there.

“I’m back!” comes from behind them. Before Gauss can turn, there’s a dango dangling in front of his face, and Set’s smiling face next to him. “Here you go, I’m glad I bought more now, hehe!”

Gauss takes the treat, widening Set’s smile even further. He goes around handing the treats to others. Hempel takes his with a quiet ‘thanks’ and Schrödinger with his tail, somehow managing not to get any sauce onto his fur in the process. He’s still swinging at the fish in the pool, ears flattened to his head like a real cat.

“Ohh, you caught so many!” Set exclaims; Hempel claps the best he can with one hand full and Gauss just gapes at the amount of fish Schrödinger has managed to capture in the short moment he hadn’t been paying attention.

“I want them to feed to my kitties,” Schrödinger says, lifting the plastic bag with mingling fish and poking it with his wet hand. “Think they’ll like them?”

“Does it even count if you didn’t use a net?” Hempel mutters, but Schrödinger’s big cat just purrs and slips back to its master, nuzzling up to him and sniffing at the bag with obvious interest.

“No one stopped me,” Schrödinger defends. “Anyway, haven’t we wasted too much time here? How long until midnight?”

Gauss checks the clock, blinking down at it. “Ah, just a few more minutes. I would’ve totally forgotten.”

“I don’t think we really wasted any time,” Hempel shrugs, but Schrödinger tugs at his sleeve and pulls him in the direction of ‘the best sightseeing place in the entire map!’ according to him. Apparently he had one of his cats scout it for him.

Gauss and Set wave them off, laughing at Schrödinger’s antics.

“Alright, help us up, my hands are full,” Schrödinger asks, waving his dango around like it’s a prize or something. Hempel sighs and stuffs the last ball into his mouth, chewing carefully.

“Up on this roof?”

“Mmhm,” Schrödinger nods excitedly, scouting the horizon. There’s still a few moments left, but neither are sure how many exactly.

“Careful,” Hempel instructs, slipping his arms underneath Schrödinger’s. He lifts the cat avatar up, wings flickering as he flaps them to get them upwards. “All right, there we go!”

He carefully sets Schrödinger down, even going as far as righting his crown to its usual crooked position. He could’ve sworn he heard Schrödinger purr, but in that exact moment, the fireworks start going off, drowning all sound.

Reds and greens and yellows explode on the night sky, painting it with starbursts and fizzling lines. Both Hempel and Schrödinger stare transfixed, the flashing lights reflecting off of their eyes.

Schrödinger, whether he’s aware of it or not, ends up scooting towards Hempel, so close that their sides brush each other. His ears are flattened again and Hempel has to suppress a smile. He raises his hands to cover Schrödinger’s ears from the loud bangs.

“Better?” he asks, knowing the other can’t even hear him. Schrödinger quirks his head, asking ‘what?’ without words. Hempel shakes his head, chuckling. “I adore you, Schrödinger.”

“What?!” Schrödinger yells back, frowning.

Hempel uncovers his ear and leans in. “I said happy new year, Schrödinger!”