With a Chance of Snow
Strays – Story #2
Author DM Evans
Disclaimer – not mine, no money made
Characters – Roy, Maes, Madame Christmas, gen-fic
Rating - FRT
Timeline – pre-series, however has definite spoilers for much later manga chapters when we get Madame Christmas' back-story so spoilers up to at least ch 90.
Summary – Roy is unsure of his new home and the people who took him in.
Author's note- Thanks to SJ Smith for the beta and the title
* * *
"Here you go, Roy boy." Silke put a plate stacked with eggs, bacon and muffins on the table. He smiled a little, mumbling a thanks. "Still shy, I see." She ran a hand over his shaved scalp. All the lice-bites had healed and he sported a black shadow of sprouting hair.
Roy flushed, attacking breakfast as if he hadn't heard. He had only been at the renovated hotel a week and a few days ago he thought he could creep out from room number twenty to see what he could see. Silke's proclamation of 'shy,' the seven years old decided, was debatable. Curious wasn't. However, curiosity had revealed a house full of people, kids his age up to a couple adults. Roy had prompt retreated to his room after that first day's exploration, staying there unless he got hungry and he knew the kitchen was empty. Maybe Silke was right.
Back when he was living with his master, Roy had never seen so many people outside of the general store. Master Winesap lived alone with Roy, though old Mrs. Greene cleaned house once a week. Roy had never been around any kids, never played, having spent his time in the lab all day. He didn't know what to do now so he stayed in his room with some books Mrs. Mustang got him.
"Easy there, Roy boy. There's more where that came from," Silke said, watching him gobbling his food.
Roy suspected that was true but he didn't trust it, not yet, not after being so hungry for so long. He couldn't stop himself from bolting his food. After wolfing his breakfast, he retreated back to his sanctuary. However, his hiding place had been invaded. A gangly boy about his age sat on the bed, his long legs beating against the edge. Big glasses perched haphazardly on his nose. The boy had to have gotten his clothes from a trash bin, tossed out by a child who had received them as a gift and threw them out in horror. Why else would he be wearing a green shirt with blue stars and pants with blue and green stripes?
"Who are you?" Roy shot him a suspicious look.
The boy hopped off the bed, sauntering over. Squinting down at Roy, he pushed his glasses up. "I'm Maes Hughes."
"Why are you in my room?" Roy gripped the door frame, debating running.
The boy smiled, big and goofy. "Because you never come out of it."
"Take a hint," Roy grumbled. "Maybe I don't want to see people."
The tall goof didn't seem put off by that. "We want to see you. Come on, no one wants to be cooped up in here on a glorious day."
"Glorious?" Roy snorted, gazing out the window. The sun blinded him as it sparkled off the snow. "It's freezing."
"Ah, come on. We're at the end of a dead end road with a huge hill behind us. It's all sunny. We should be outside playing, you know."
"No, I don't." Roy's lips thinned. He hadn't meant to give that away, that he honestly had never been allowed to play. The look on Maes' face suggested he didn't believe Roy.
"There's a toboggan in the basement. Let's take it down the hill," Maes said with contagious enthusiasm, well, at least until Roy realized he was catching it.
"Why me?" Roy shot him a suspicious look. The idea of sled riding was alluring. He had never done it but what if he wasn't allowed back inside the house? He was just a mouth to feed. What if this was a lure to get him out of the building? The boy knew he was being silly but he couldn't help worrying about that. This was the first time since his master died that he was warm, fed and bathed. Also, Maes was bound to laugh at him when the boy realized Roy couldn't play, that he didn't even know how.
"You look like fun."
"Don't want to."
Maes frowned. "Maybe a little later we can try it. You want to just stay here and play cards?"
Why wouldn't this boy leave him alone? Roy frowned back. "Cards?"
"I'll teach you. I know all kinds of games." As if to prove his point, Maes pulled a deck of cards out of his brightly colored pants. He sat at the table, waiting for Roy.
Figuring the only way to make this kid go was to just try and stink at playing and Maes would give up and just leave. Roy sat down, too. "Like what?"
"Poker. It's better with more people but it's easier to teach with just two." Maes shuffled.
Roy listened with his usual attentiveness. He had a quick mind for memorizing things. His Master always said so. The game didn't look too hard once he memorized the types of hands and which was better.
"You're pretty good at this," Maes said happily.
"It's easy," Roy said, trying to sound bored so this pest would go away.
"Think so? Okay, you're probably ready to bet then," Maes said, showing no signs of leaving.
"Yeah, bet. This game is usually played for money."
Roy made a face. "I don't have money."
"You will once Mama Christmas gets you working but it doesn't have to be money. The winner of the game can get something else. If you win, what do you want?" Maes shuffled.
"Hmmm." Roy wasn't sure how the bet worked exactly so he did what he was trained to do: make queries. "That raising stuff we were saying as we went, that was in reference to the bet, right?"
"Yep and a call is when you think you're done," Maes replied.
Roy considered that. He didn't want to say he wanted Maes to go. It would hurt his feelings. Maes didn't seem that bad. Roy didn't want to hurt anyone so he thought about the things he didn't like to do. "I win and you clean my room."
"Ewww, mean." Maes wrinkled his nose, making his glasses wiggle. "Okay. If I win, you have to go down that hill on a sled, no arguments. Do we have a bet?"
Maes dealt him his five cards. Roy forced himself not to grin, seeing he was one card away from a flush. "Have you been here long, Maes?" Roy blushed, realizing maybe he shouldn't have asked that but his inherent curiosity had gotten the better of him. He wasn't blind to the fact that no one looked related in this house and that Silke's chatter suggested they were all orphans with nowhere to go.
Maes didn't seem to mind, though. If anything, Roy's first inclination to actually converse pleased him. "About a year. My parents died in that flu epidemic."
"Yeah, so am I but I like it here. You learn interesting stuff." Maes eyed Roy over the cards. "Gonna raise the bet?"
Roy calculated the chances of getting the card he needed. "Yeah, raising you another day of room cleaning."
"Call with a 'you coming to dinner with everyone.'"
Roy frowned but there was nothing he could do. He tossed the unwanted card and fought that grin again when he got a card of the right suit for the flush. "I want to raise again."
"I'm not cleaning up after you for a week," Maes warned him.
Roy laughed. "I'm not sure what else I want."
"Just keep it within my allowance."
"I know! Every once in a while my master would get me a custard-filled donut. I want one. That can't be too expensive."
"Ooo, that does sound good but that doesn't matter. I have you beat." Maes' tone surprised Roy. He sounded to utterly confident of that. "I'm raising you. I win and you stay with us all day, no hiding in here."
Roy bit his bottom lip. How could he do that? He was so afraid that they would see him as nothing but a little half breed lab rat like Mrs. Green used to call him, that they'd want to put him right out of the house. The thought made him shake inside. Maes had lost a lot, too. How could he be so easygoing? Then again, maybe Maes hadn't lived like Roy had. Glancing at this cards, Roy knew he had a good hand but there were better ones. No, he couldn't risk it. He wasn't ready. He didn't know why he was so afraid but he was. "Fold, damn it."
Maes giggled. "You said a swear."
"You made me!"
"And I'm making you sled ride so go put something warm on."
"Not so fast." Roy reached for Maes' cards. "Show me."
Maes flattened a hand over his cards. "I don't have to."
"Show me or I won't play along."
"Welcher!" Maes cried and Roy simply glared. He'd been called worse. "Fine." Maes flipped the cards over.
"Eight high? You didn't even have a pair!" Roy yelped. "That's cheating."
"That's bluffing," Maes argued.
"Bluffing?" Roy cocked his head.
"Yeah, that's when you make the other players think you've got better cards than you actually do and make them fold."
Roy punched Maes' shoulder. "Shouldn't that have been in the rules when you explained them?"
"Oops." Maes spread his hands wide. "Must have forgotten."
"You'll thank me when you're having fun."
"I had a flush!"
"And you let me trick you." Maes grinned. "I win, get dressed. There's a hill calling your name."
"Please, you can do better than that."
And Roy did, letting loose a stream of invectives that he heard Master Winesap use whenever an experiment failed.
Laughing, Maes went over and pulled a pair of thick socks out of the drawer and bounced them off Roy's head. "Put 'em on and you can go blister the snow with that tongue."
Grumbling Roy obeyed, then shoved his feet into his brand new boots. Chris Mustang had given him hand-me-down clothes but declared foot gear too important to use seconds. His coat was a hand-me-down so big and thick he could barely move in it.
Maes rammed a stocking cap over Roy's shaved head. "There. Come on, I'll get my stuff."
Maes added layers to his reed-thin body then hauled Roy downstairs, pausing long enough to dig up the toboggan from the basement. A leggy blond girl stopped them at the front door. Roy hadn't seen the teenager before.
"You be careful, Maes. Last time you broke your glasses," she reminded him sternly.
"Don't worry, Danielle, I'll be careful," he assured her and the girl stepped aside. "Come on, Roy."
Roy sulked expertly all the way to the top of the big hill, stomping his feet, trying to feel his toes. He had enough of the cold while he was homeless. He wasn't sure that he could possibly enjoy being out in it.
Maes tossed the toboggan down. "Want to steer?"
Roy glanced at the waxed piece of wood dubiously then reluctantly admitted, "I don't know how."
"No problem. I'll teach you." Maes sat on the toboggan, edging it closer to the lip of the hill. "Get on behind me and hold on."
Roy complied and Maes kicked off. If this was steering, Roy was sure Maes didn't know what the word meant. They barely missed a tree as they flew by. They hit a bump and suddenly Roy found himself air born still clutching Maes by the jacket. Both of them separated from the toboggan with startled yelps.
Roy spun crazily down the hill on his stomach, ending up face down in a drift. Picking himself up, he saw Maes sitting up, dusting his glasses off.
"That was great!" The taller boy cried.
"So it's been said." Maes bounced up and fetched the toboggan. "Let's do it again."
Roy dutifully followed. It took two more tries to make it to the bottom with his butt still on the toboggan. By the sixth time down, Roy had to admit it was great fun. When they finally trudged home, ice balls had formed in his Maes' hair – Roy's own scalp was tingling under his hat- and Roy's toes seemed to have disappeared, replaced by numb, cold stones. Chris Mustang awaited them in the lobby, which was now the all purpose room of the hotel.
"No going on the carpet, my little snowmen." She smiled. "Strip off. We'll bring you clothes."
"But …I'm wet to the skin," Roy blushed. "The big idiot shoved snow down my pants."
"I'm not tremendously surprised," Mustang said then waved to an older girl. "Angela."
Angela lugged the decorative screen out of the corner and set it up on the tiled foyer. "There you boys go. We won't peek."
Even so, Roy waited until someone brought his clothing before taking off his underwear. He was toweling off when Maes said. "I'm not the only one who was shoving snow down pants. Dang, it's as small as a button."
"You'd better be talking about yourself," Roy huffed, noticing Maes' backside was beet red from the cold.
"Like I'd want to be looking at your thing."
"Boys!" Angela laughed from the other side of the screen. "Seven years old and already worried about that thing."
"You'd worry, too, if you had bits that could disappear," Maes shot back, wiggling into his underpants.
"Mom got out her chocolate pot so you'll have something to keep your mind off disappearing parts," Angel replied. "They might never reappear, you know."
Roy peeked around the screen, glaring at the redhead. "I'm not that dumb! I know all the parts and what they do. My master made me learn. He did some healing alchemy."
Angela laughed. "Guess I can't fool you."
Roy finished dressing, realizing that he was downstairs with people he didn't know. The boy wanted to retreat to his room upstairs but he wanted to go sit by the big roaring fire more and he had to find out what a chocolate pot was. He trundled over and flopped down by the fire, holding his hands out to it. Maes set next to him, his glasses still steaming up.
"Admit it, that was fun," Maes said.
Roy scowled. "All except the part where you shoved snow down my pants and the time we hit the tree…or the time we fell off and you landed on me and used me as the sled."
"That was the best part," Maes countered.
"Well, you still have ice balls in your hair," Roy laughed.
"Least I have hair," Maes shot back.
"Don't pick." Angela came over and patted the stubble on Roy's head. "It'll grow and I bet it'll be pretty."
Roy smiled up at her, unsure what to make of all the attention. "Handsome," he corrected her.
"But, of course." She stroked his head again as Chris came in with a heavy tray that she set on the coffee table. A sweet scent tickled Roy's nose.
"Come get it, boys."
Roy picked up a cup, giving it a sniff. The rich brew intrigued him. Roy took his first sip of chocolate then greedily sucked down as much of the hot brew as he could.
"Best stuff ever, isn't it?" Maes asked.
"Delicious. Thank you, Mrs. Mustang." Roy eyed his caretaker gratefully.
"You boys enjoy." Chris patted them both on the head then excused herself.
Roy gratefully took seconds of the steaming drink, all the while talking to Maes and anyone else who floating and out of the room. Before he knew it, supper time arrived and he didn't even mind that he was with a large group of people as per his losing bet. Maes made it easy to just sit around talking. After dinner, they showed him a new card game that didn't involve betting. Roy stayed downstairs until his eyelids grew heavy and Chris chivvied him upstairs.
"It's been a busy day for you," she said after he brushed his teeth and curled up in bed. She sat next to him after tucking the covers around him. "It was good to see you with everyone."
"Maes is crazy."
Chris laughed. "Common knowledge."
"But he's fun," Roy replied decisively.
She patted his hand where it poked out from the covers. "I'm glad you made a friend. Would you like me to read to you, Roy?"
She asked that every night. He got the idea that maybe kids his age had parents to read them to sleep instead of being able to read long alchemic texts on their own. "I'm falling asleep," he said.
"Okay." She leaned down and kissed his forehead. "Good night, little guy."
"Good night." Roy nestled down, happily exhausted.
Chris entered Maes' room. He liked it when she read him to sleep. She missed it when her kids got too old to want a bedtime story. Sitting next to the boy, she rested a hand on Maes' head. "You did a very good job of getting Roy out of his room."
"He's strange." Maes grinned. "I like him."
"Good. He says the same about you," she replied and the boy rolled his eyes. "I know you were the right boy for the job."
"I'll get him to make a snow man tomorrow."
"Good. Would you like a bed time story?"
"Tell me the story of where you found Roy."
"In a cabbage patch."
The eye roll got more dramatic. "Do cabbage patches actually exist?"
"Where do you think cabbages comes from?" Chris laughed.
"I wish they came from nowhere," The boy replied and she laughed harder.
"You talk to Roy about that story."
"That's okay." Maes yawned. "I'm already sleepy. I don't need a story. Tell me a long one tomorrow."
"I can do that." She gave his cheek a kiss before heading out to do the next bed check, content her newest son was finally fitting in.