A Simple Winter Story

By Kay

For Cait - my darling husbiwife. For being utterly lovely, talented, warm, and funny; the sort of person that makes me laugh twice as often and stay quietly content when I'm not. I'm so glad I met you and can't wait to meet you again and again and again.

Just a small ficlet that doesn't go anywhere, just wandering aimlessly. Sort of fluffy, but in a quiet way, I think. Hope someone likes!

There is a sense of anticipation that make the world seem cleaner, closely managed, as Leo prepares for winter.

Normally, it's a dour time of year. The preparation alone gets on everyone's nerves—Don's last minute adjustments to the heating system (long hours at night where Leo can hear him grumbling against the pipes), Raph's increased grumpiness as the streets get colder, meaner, and Mikey's appetite growing in approximation to every new degree lost. In the past, it had meant a time of heightened senses. With winter came fresh air into the sewers as the stagnant waters froze. Cooped up teenagers getting antsy once they realized all the noises each other made, now amplified by the quiet, would pinprick at their sensitive flesh. Training runs that ended early because Don had been shivering and Raph, cursing softly, could barely stand to put his feet on the ground.

But there's something different about this year. Leo carefully gathers extra supplies with his father every other afternoon; they come home and drink green tea at the table, discussing the season as their numb fingers curl about the mugs. Raph sometimes joins them now. Pulls up a chair and sits, oddly out of place and yet perfectly at home, and sometimes he even agrees with something Leo says. That feels strange, too. Don is continually humming awful classical rock in his lab and is trying to teach Mikey how to make graphics on the computer. Leo can hear them often, muttering to each other about space dimension and how "not as awesome as the Turtle Titan" each one turns out.

Leo used to meditate in his room. Now, mostly, he finds himself in the position but without the mind frame. He'd rather listen, intently, to the sounds outside of his walls.

They collect a little extra clothing, some through April, some from the Professor and his homeless friends. They give them good money for it. Thick wool coats that smell like cigars or old perfume. "Like my grandfather," April says. Before they go out, Leo sighs and firmly buttons the top of Mikey's coat, almost always, as excited fingers loose themselves and get distracted in aiding to his speech, slipping knuckles out from under the baggy sleeves draping them. He tucks the collar closer to Mikey's neck and glances briefly at Don, who is smart enough to know better, and Raph, whose bared neck isn't carelessness but a challenge. (Leo will take him up on it someday, he swears. Honestly.) Training runs are still brief; cautious but lethargic as the city winds down and goes into hiding. One night, Leo finds himself watching the moon rather than the alleys and, when he blinks and returns his gaze, finds Raph studying him with something approaching a grin.

They make do well enough. As they always have. Heated pudding that makes Mikey's cheek round. Don catches a cold—spends a week huddled on the sofa, sneezing into tissues and smothered in pillows. (Leo drifts by every so often to check on him, pressing his hand to his brother's forehead, brow wrinkling, wondering when Don's eyes will be bright again. Sometimes they talk about The Count of Monte Cristo or debate ethics, Don's arm swinging emphatically and Leo perched, slightly forward, distant save for the closeness of his head towards Don's.) Raph settles down sooner than expected, spending hours with Casey as they change tires on the Shell Cycle for better traction in snow. Leo wishes he knew half of their language, but the slang is familiar and foreign at the same time. (Sometimes he watches them, taking a tool when they give it to him, obedient and silent and smiling.) Mikey sleeps in late. Sometimes Leo even lets him get away with it.

It's not so much a change as a growth, Leo decides eventually. They're getting older now. Dangers drifts, but they get closer, stronger. They're settling in and staking their claim to the world, in a way, having lives and nights of watching Godzilla marathons and learning how to walk on the other side of the lines their brothers have drawn. By the end of winter, Leo will know a handful of good jokes about board games. How to hotwire an engine. What the back of a hard drive looks like taken apart.

For now, he listens. Speaks when asked. Finds it funny that this is when he finds warmth, as the rest of the city seems to lose it.

Today, Leo brushes against Raph's shoulder in the kitchen. It's early, though, and they let it linger, pressed together lightly, standing at the counter as one. It smells like coffee here. The counter is chipped.

He finds happiness in these moments, clear and undefined, as sharply searing as a breath of frigid air that gathers in his chest and holds perfectly still. If he could hold his breath, Leo thinks, he wouldn't—his family is instead something moving, ever forward, but still within arm's reach.

The End