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Woes of Winter

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Crimson on alabaster.  There was a kind of beauty in the stark contrast.  Prompto's fingers twitched, part of him itching for his camera.  

Yeah, that's the part in shock, the remaining sliver of rational thought informed him, while simultaneously compiling a list of the many things that took immediate priority over any and all artistic endeavors.

First and foremost being the monumental task of standing.  Scratch that, at this point he'd consider it a victory to make it to his knees.  Relying on his right hand to provide leverage—he didn't even want to look at the left, not with the way it was throbbing, not with the way he'd almost whited out when they stomped down—he hoisted himself to sitting. Or at least a close approximation.

His arm had sunk almost up to his elbow in the deepening snow.  So cold it burned. But if he gave into the instinct to draw his hand in close, tuck bare skin against his body for what little remaining warmth, he knew with certainty he'd be right back on his face without the feeble support it was providing.

Prompto's head was spinning; his vision swam. Or maybe that  was just the swirling flakes, heavy enough to obscure the alley wall only a few feet away. The gusting wind cut through his shirt, a brutal sweep of a frozen sword, followed up by an unending bombardment of miniature ice daggers.  Prompto was rapidly discovering that what was worse than a possibly broken nose was a frozen one, blood slowing its gush to become a thin red ice dam crusting his upper lip.

Couldn't do anything about it for now. Or the rest of the damage, not until he got out of the cold.  That'd been his priority, even before he got jumped. Before the fuckers had made off with his brand new parka, courtesy of Noct as a solstice present. Or wrestled him out of the matching chocobo-themed gloves and scarf he'd found on sale last summer, glad for the whimsical splurge when this winter started to shape up even worse than all the early predictions foretold.  Or taken his bag and his—crap, his phone .

They'd tossed it immediately after Prompto had reluctantly handed it over, after seeing  how outdated it was, scuffed and worn, cracked at the edge of the screen. Prompto squinted desperately in the direction he was fairly sure the big guy'd thrown it.  Nothing obvious. Of course, it was hard to be sure of anything in the middle of a freaking blizzard. And oh yeah, the deepening shadows as evening set in weren't much help either.

Prompto had known today was going to suck. Had known the moment his alarm failed to go off and he'd scrambled from his covers over twenty minutes late. Only for his feet to encounter a freezing floor and chillier than expected air. A busted furnace was exactly the thing he needed with what was predicted to be the worst storm in decades bearing down on Insomnia.

His parents, who'd been due back—finally—after over a three-month absence, suddenly had an unavoidable job extension requiring them to remain another month in the—completely coincidentally-- tropical waters of Accordo.  Which meant it would be up to him to schedule any repairs.  He'd spent his entire school commute alternating between Moogle searches and phone calls trying to find anyone able to come in on such short notice. No dice.

He'd skidded into his seat as the first period bell was ringing, having missed homeroom entirely.  Barely had time to wave hurriedly at Noct across the room before the teacher blindsided them all with a pop quiz.  One Prompto almost certainly bombed, mind occupied with the furnace problem, and the darkening sky, and the fact he'd skipped breakfast in his rush, and lunch money had been rather touch and go this month.

The rest of the school day passed in a blur.  A noisy blur, the entire student body overjoyed at the prospect of a truncated school week, the first flurries of the promised snowmageddon beginning to fall midway through last period.  Hours earlier than forecast.

The start time of his shifts at the café on Tuesdays and Thursdays always required a bit of a scramble to make it on time, even more on bad weather days.  With a thin layer of powder already building up on the road, he wound up ditching the bus and its ever-slowing crawl three stops early, hoofed it the rest of the way on foot.  Even so he was almost a half hour late.

In the end, he shouldn't have bothered.  He'd needed the money, no question. Moreso than ever with no guarantees of how long it'd take for his parents to deposit the necessary funds for furnace repairs.  But barely an hour had gone by before his manager informed him they were closing early, what with the lack of any customers for the past half-hour and the emergency weather bulletin a few minutes prior.

Of course they couldn't have made the call before he'd schlepped all the way over here. Or at least before the buses had stopped running all together. Unsurprising, as the few cars left on the road were struggling in the snow, more than one only partially pulled over and abandoned, buried in the deepening drifts.  Give it another hour and they'd be indistinguishable from ski moguls.

The level of accumulation in even the few short hours it'd been falling was downright ridiculous.  Whoever had pissed off Shiva hadn't been fucking around, apparently.

Watching his manager's back disappear  down the street—lucky bastard lived only a few blocks away—Prompto contemplated the less than trivial walk to the nearest train station, and the even longer trek on the other end near home.

For a moment he stared longingly back into the now darkened café, quiet and cozy contrasted to the winter maelstrom sweeping around him, like he was stuck on the wrong side of a giant snow globe's glass.   

And to think he'd been excited last week, when the first rumblings of this storm hit the news.  He usually loved being out in snow. It was starting to dawn on him how much the element of choice had played into that love.

Prompto had his head bent down, buried so deeply in his parka hood his field of view consisted of just his boots. It wasn't until he nearly tread on a different pair that he registered the sudden human blockade in front of him. A blockade in the form of people waiting to get into the station.

Not being a big station, the stairs down fed almost directly onto the platform—which was obviously filled to capacity and then some, from all the people pushed in tight.  A quick inquiry confirmed the trains were running, just not enough. Not nearly enough.

Prompto groaned into his glove as he tugged it off with his teeth, grabbing for his phone with his other hand.  Snapped a quick photo and shot off a text to Noct with the caption:

[Buses aren't running, no prob. I'll just take the train. Good thing NO ONE else thought of that! T…T]

Because if he didn't laugh about this he'd be crying, and the way tears froze up his lashes sucked.

His phone buzzed less than a minute later.

[Just walk, definitely gonna be faster at that rate.]

Prompto really was going to cry, because he wasn't wrong.

[Yeah, but at least this way, *some* of those two hours get to be spent inside,]  he shot back.    

[Dude, it's one stop down. No matter *how* bad the storm, no way it's gonna take you 2 hrs]

One stop? Prompto frowned.  His phone buzzed again before he'd untangled that.

[Wait, ur not still trying to go get your stuff before coming?]

[…coming where?]

Rather than a text, the next buzz was an incoming call. "Hey, Noct, I—"

"—Here! Duh," Noct huffed impatiently in lieu of a greeting.

Right. Of course. Because that cleared up everything.  "…uhhh…"

"Y'know, like we talked about at lunch?"

Prompto thought back to the rushed break in question. Nope, nothing. What he did remember was spending most of lunch trying to find a place anywhere near his place that had space heaters in stock. Getting the furnace up and running in time was clearly going to be a bust.  That and fighting the urge to just give in and ask Noct to lend him a few crown, cause whatever they were serving for lunch smelled amazing—as more importantly looked filling— as his empty stomach kept reminding him.

"No school, no chance of royal duties getting in the way, just endless gaming hours stretching ahead of us? Maybe even finally beating Exile's Path…any of this ringing a bell?" Noct was still carrying on.  He paused, trailed off. "…unless you…uh, changed your mind?"

Hard to change your mind when you didn't remember making it up in the first place, which was hardly the point. The point was…Prompto paused, let the implication actually catch up…the point was that this was the best news he'd heard all day.

He could trade a long trek home to a cold empty house for a short—relatively—walk to a warm apartment where his best friend was waiting to embark on a video game marathon of potentially days.

It should be a no-brainer…except. Except in the year and a half since he'd befriended Noct, Prompto was always extraordinarily careful not to overstay his welcome.  He was all too aware of just how annoying he could get. And sure, Noct might not seem to mind that much--so far at least-- Prompto knew how all too easily that could change.

Days. Plural. The problem was no one knew how long this storm was going to last. Noct didn't always think things through, probably hadn't registered that once Prompto was over there, he could be saddled with him for waaaay longer than he'd planned for. Braced for.

"Oi, Prom? Don't tell me it's so cold your mouth actually froze?"

Prompto tried to laugh, though it came out more of a shiver. "J-just about."  The few bits of exposed skin on this cheeks and nose felt cold-stiff and wind-burned raw. The crowd waiting on the train platform was steadily growing, with barely any forward progress.  Standing still, his toes were going numb, his legs not far behind. And home wasn't going to be much better.

And Noct was the one offering, Prompto hadn't asked—hadn't let anything slip about the no heat thing, he was sure. Noct wanted him over.

"No, I, um...didn't change my mind. I just was gonna—you know what. Never mind. I'm walking now, be there soon."

"Great!" And Noct sounded genuinely pleased, so there was that at least. "And I'll make sure Iggy has the hot cocoa warm and ready for your arrival!"

"Wait, Iggy's there—" But Noct had already hung up. "—too?...Shit." Okay, so…amazing food guaranteed for the duration of his stay, but on the other hand, one more person whose nerves he had to be careful of getting on.

But…but even so. Prompto's face was frozen enough it actually kinda hurt to smile, but he found himself doing so anyways. The snow was deeper than ever, but dragging his boots no longer felt unsurmountable . The journey was always easier when the destination was desirable .

The mounting concerns of the day melted away. He'd be on his best behavior, no problem. He'd make sure to help out, dishes and vacuuming, maybe go jog up and down the hall stairs if they needed some space from him.  All he had to worry about now was not slipping and falling on the way.

It wasn't until the hand closed around his arm and hauled into the alley that he realized how wrong he could be.