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The shuttered windows rattled against the storm raging just outside—snow and ice whipping across the frozen ground. Just the sound of the violent gusts of wind had Lavi shivering. He was never cold, but this winter storm raised goosebumps on his skin. For as long as he could remember, there had never been a storm this cold and unforgiving.

He only wished he and Allen were safely tucked away at the temple, instead of trapped…

“We don’t want to impose,” Allen said, slipping his hands into the sleeves of his kimono to warm them against the winter chill.

Lenalee shook her head, dark hair bouncing back and forth. “Allen, I wouldn’t forgive myself if you and Lavi left now. That storm will freeze you to death! I won’t take no for an answer. You both can stay here tonight and wait until it clears up.”

Allen, gracious as always, still looked hesitant. “Are you sure it’s alright?”

“Dammit, beansprout,” Kanda growled from the other room. He’d been sent to retrieve  the spare blankets and futons from storage, cursing under his breath as he struggled with the bedding. “Stop arguing.”

Alma gathered the blankets in his arms and followed after Kanda. “We want you both to be safe. It’s too dangerous out there.”

Lavi hung behind Allen, shrinking more than his lanky frame should have allowed. They’d never stayed the night at Lenalee, Kanda, and Alma’s home before, and the idea of it made him queasy. He almost wanted to brave the storm just to get away from anyone who wasn’t Allen. Almost.

But Allen’s friends were right. The storm was too dangerous to travel through, especially after dark. They could lose their way and freeze before they made it to the temple. It wasn’t worth the risk, no matter how uncomfortable Lavi was around humans.

With a sigh, Allen’s shoulders slumped. The priest knew when he’d been beaten. “Okay, I surrender. We’ll stay until the weather clears.”

Lenalee kissed his cheek, and then Lavi’s, a wide smile on her face. “I’ll go check the fire to make sure everything stays warm. Would you like some tea?”

Allen nodded. “Yes. I’ll help you with it.”

As the two headed back into the main room to stoke the fire, Lavi stood in place, his hand pressed up against his cheek where Lenalee had kissed him. No other human had been so close to him before—save for Allen. Though being around Allen’s friends still tied his stomach in nervous knots, he couldn’t stop the warm feeling that radiated through his chest at the simple, friendly intimacy.

“Hey, Lavi?”

The call snapped him back to reality. He looked up to see Alma struggling with the mountain of blankets in his arms. “Could you help me with these?”

Nodding, Lavi hurried and grabbed the top half of the stack, alleviating some of Alma’s burden. The soft fabric brushed against Lavi’s face as he struggled to keep everything in his arms. Alma chuckled as he did the same and walked back into the main room.

“Thanks. We’ll set up the futons by the hearth,” Alma said, looking back at Lavi to make sure he was following after. As they entered, Allen and Lenalee were finishing stoking the fire. The kettle simmered over the fire, water near boiling.

Looking up, Allen smiled when he saw Lavi and Alma. “Are you sure you have enough blankets?”

“Can’t be too careful. Our house is drafty,” Alma replied, setting the blankets down. Lavi dropped his as well, finding the amount as ridiculous as Allen had.

 The hearth was build into the middle of the floor in the main room, stones lining the walls to keep the embers contained. It was the only heat source in the house, and with the unseasonably cold storm, it was safest to keep close to the fire.

It also meant they would all be sleeping together that night—a reality that left Lavi uneasy.

“We’ll be warm enough. Don’t worry,” Lenalee added, setting teacups on the short table next to her as she prepared a fresh pot of tea to ward off the chilly night air.

Kanda returned, dragging a futon behind him. He glared at everyone as he dropped the heavy bedding next to the pile of blankets. “No, don’t worry,” he began, sarcasm and annoyance heavy in his tone. “I’ll carry the futons by myself while you all sit here on your asses.

Allen rolled his eyes as he stood. “All you had to do was ask for help. No need to get nasty about it.”

Alma joined them, heaving a heavy sigh. “We weren’t even sitting for long, Yuu. We’d only just got the blankets in here.”

Turning on his heel, Kanda headed back into back rooms. “Hurry the fuck up. I want this done.”

“Yuu, don’t be rude—”

“I’m not rude!”

The bickering continued as the three walked back into the bedrooms to collect the other futons, leaving Lavi alone with Lenalee. The wood cracked and snapped in the hearth, the scent of maple and pine wafting from the fire. Lavi squatted down next to the fire, watching the low flames burn red and orange.

Lavi wasn’t used to this—domesticity. It was different with Allen at the temple. Allen only had a small room that was his own to live in. The rest of the temple was dedicated to the spirits. When he stayed with Allen for longer periods of time, Lavi was free to go as he pleased. Being in a real home with people he still wasn’t completely comfortable with made his guts twist uncomfortably. He wasn’t normally so docile or quiet, but the anxiety of being trapped because of the storm wore on him worse than normal.

He was so distracted that he didn’t notice Lenalee had finished with the tea until she sat down next to him, a steaming cup in her hand. “Tea to warm you up?”

Lavi took it carefully from her hands and sipped at the hot liquid. The heat warmed him from the inside out, chasing away the bitter cold from the storm. “Thank you.”

She watched him quietly for a long moment before speaking again. “Are you all right? You seem a little jumpy.”

Lavi’s tails twitched anxiously behind him. He took another sip of tea to buy himself a few seconds to answer. “I’m okay.”

She regarded him for a moment, then patted his arm. The gesture was comforting, more so than Lavi had expected. “If you say so,” she replied, and Lavi could sense she didn’t believe him. “But if you need anything, just let us know.”

Cupping his hands around his tea, Lavi nodded. “I’ll be fine. I don’t want to inconvenience you more than I have.”

“It’s not an inconvenience.” Lenalee took a cup of tea for herself off the tray. “You’re our friend, Lavi. Not just because you’re Allen’s friend. We want you to be here just as much as Allen.”

Lavi rubbed his nose and looked away from Lenalee. Her sentiment was not lost on him. “…Okay.”

At his answer, she patted his shoulder gently. “Good. Now, are you hungry? I still have some rice and dried fish leftover from dinner.”

“Better save it for Allen, or his stomach will wake us all in the middle of the night.”

Lenalee laughed, shoulders shaking as she struggled to keep from spilling her tea. “You’re right about that. None of us will get any sleep because of him.”

Lavi smiled, his first genuine smile of the night. He parted his lips to reply, but a ruckus from the hallway stole his attention.

“Dammit, beansprout! You’re in my way!”

“You’re the one in the way, dumbass!”

“Yuu! Stop starting fights!”

Lenalee and Lavi turned just in time to see Allen and Kanda spill into the main room, glaring at each other as they struggled to drag their futons past the threshold at the same time—and getting stuck in the doorway.

Alma sighed as he watched from behind, pinching the bridge of his scarred nose. “You two…”

“Get off of me, Kanda,” Allen grumbled, angrily squirming to get free. He was wedged between the door frame and the futon, Kanda’s larger build pressing down on him from above.

“I would get off of you if you weren’t in the goddamn way!”

Heaving a sigh, Lenalee set her tea down and stood up, looking to Lavi with an amused smile. “Let’s help our foolish boys, shall we?”

Lavi snickered and joined her, and with Alma’s help, they untangled the futons, as well as Allen and Kanda, from the doorway. When the dust had settled, they lined the futons a safe distance around the hearth. Alma doled out the blankets to everyone while Lenalee passed around hot tea and food. They ate and talked and curled up together under blanket after blanket to keep warm. And when everyone was cozy in bed and their bellies were full, Lenalee extinguished the lamps and they went to sleep.

Lavi curled up with Allen in their futon, cuddled up under the blankets. He settled in at Allen’s back, furthest from the fire. Even while sharing the room with others, he indulged himself—burying his nose at the back of Allen’s neck and smelling his hair. He wrapped his arm around Allen’s midsection, pulling him close, their bodies flush and warm together under the mountain of blankets. Allen sighed, still asleep, and tucked himself closer to Lavi’s warm chest.

For the first time that night, Lavi felt like he was home.