There was something about winter that Kyle liked, in spite of himself. The snow and ice made the streets treacherous -- but, he was always quick to point out, thee cold cut down on the smells from the horses. And there was something about the candles, lamps, and other fires of the Lady's festival days, something about saving the light of the Forge against the darkness, that appealed to him.
Everyone looked at him askance when he started to hang strings of children's lanterns around the labs, but he found it hard to be bothered, and soon enough even Emilie had given up grumbling over them.
Lars was not the man to lead the team.
Well, obviously Exalted Forlore would be leading the team. But they needed someone unimpeded by an Exalted's other duties, besides. They needed someone who could afford to get greasy or to sit in the lab for hours on end, arguing over the elegance of an Abidan loop versus a Demetrian sequence, checking gears, or just feeding cards into an engine a thousand times over until you got the program right (because there was always something you had missed, no matter how carefully you all went over the cards, and how many times, before you ran it through the engine).
That someone, at any rate, was not Lars. He would be the first to admit that: he was more personable than, say Victor, but he didn't get along like Kyle did. It didn't bother him when, on a silver-bright and -cold spring day, it was Kyle, bright-eyed Kyle who was always quick with a joke, was picked to lead. Emilie was bothered, of course, prickly as any of them in her own way and prickled especially by the fact that Kyle, the youngest of the five of them, would be ostensibly in charge most of the time. But even she gave up once it became clear that no one else minded. They all had their parts, they all had their strengths, and Kyle was the only one of them with anything approaching Exalted Forlore's ability to defuse an argument or keep them all going one more hour.
Kyle saw no reason he couldn't make this work. Okay, there was that crush, but who wouldn't have a crush on Lars? He thought it was pretty reasonable, on the whole, and plenty of people managed to work with people they had feelings for. All he had to do was make sure Izzy never managed to get him too drunk on any of her newest finds, and this would go away eventually.
This was what he told himself, but even he was kind of surprised when it actually worked. Pleasantly surprised, yeah, but surprised nonetheless. Most of the people he'd heard about never managed to make it work very well, after all.
When, exactly, he stopped being Exalted Forlore and started being Alister, Lars couldn't have said. The rest of them were all on a first-name basis quickly; most of them had been even before, because the world of the engineers was relatively small. But by the time summer baked the streets he was merely Alister, and in Lars's opinion, that's when it had all started. They'd forgotten, maybe -- they'd left off the formalities.
Kyle thought this was ridiculous, of course. He was one of them, after all -- he took off his mask as well as his robes, by now, and they'd all gotten over the shock by now, too. Kyle smiled at Lars when he expressed concerns, patted him on the shoulder (quite a stretch, considering the height difference) and said something that should've been a lot less reassuring that it was, because Kyle had a way about him of making you not worry quite so much about these things.
Fall came, wrenches got thrown into works, and Alister was gone by fall's end.
It was almost the winter solstice when Lars finally gave in, but he agreed in private, when night was falling and the hospital room was getting even colder. He hung back and caught Kyle by surprise, and Kyle had to get him to repeat himself three times before he understood, although he suspected it by the second and mostly just liked making Lars squirm.
It took talking shop before Lars forgot the entire point of the evening and actually managed to talk like a normal person. As normal as engineers got, at any rate, but that was another matter entirely. Kyle -- merciful enough not to insist on spending time at the PT, but instead a bar a few miles distant from anyone they might know -- made a snide remark about the practicality of an Aellan spiral in this day and age, about how it was all flash, and Lars naturally leapt to the trick's defense.
"No," he said, "no, you've never had an appreciation for the classics, that's your problem -- " Then drinks were shoved aside, napkins were scrawled on, and gestures incomprehensible to anyone but engineers (except for the obscene ones) were utilized in the following argument. It wasn't until he had won it that Lars realized Kyle had probably made the damn comment on purpose in the first place, and he resolved to be a little more sullen.
A few more drinks, though, and he abandoned that, too, and in the end, it wasn't so different from any other evening. Except for the part where it was just them.
It wasn't the way he'd hoped it would go, the couple of times he'd let himself be silly enough to think about it -- it had generally involved, in his mind, Lars swooping in and kissing him, taking him by surprise.
Kyle put an arm around Lars as they made their way through the streets -- they would separate soon enough. This wasn't entirely bad, though, he thought. The wind picked up then, and the two of them drew a little closer together as they walked, and he decided that this, this was more than good enough.
All around them, the midwinter lanterns were burning. The night was still cold, but at least it wasn't too dark.