Written for the 25 Days of Drabbles challenge on Tumblr, but I'll admit to being quite enamored of this one and as such decided to cross-post it. The rest are decidedly different in tone, but I suppose I might end up posting those as well. Happy Holidays, everybody.
You're at his side when the year's first flurries begin to quaver through the air, as it happens; he's fourteen in form and thirty in intellect (and perhaps five in personality), but when he spots the snowflakes drifting outside the flat's windows, his eyes take on this sort of glow, and a bit of that haughty exterior melts away to reveal something much softer. A child — not the pouting one you've known to pervade when he doesn't get his way, but rather one filled with a curious, breathless sense of wonder. It almost looks like innocence.
He steps out onto the balcony and extends his hand into the open air, as if to offer peace; his mouth jolts into a grin when the first flakes melt into the lines of his palm. It's London, and he must have seen a thousand snow days by now — enough to know that by evening the pristine of it all will have faded into a frigid, grey sludge. But he's still marveling and you're still peering out at him, wondering if perhaps you didn't have it all figured out, after all.
When he's sixteen, he does not take any particular note of the first snowfall, nor does he the second or third; on the fourth day, you're slightly annoyed and — even more slightly — concerned by the darkness of the circles beneath his eyes, so with a crackling hiss you take Ptolemy's form and stand across his office, your shoulders framed on either side by the swooping arches of the windows. The influx of greyish light falls in javelins all around you and casts your face in shadow. He can't see your expression, and without your sight you can only just barely make out his; you're not sure either of you wants to see, anyway.
"Look, Natty-boy," you murmur. You barely recognize your own voice: too much resignation, too much annoyance, too much hurt. The rustle of papers and a quiet grunt is your only reply. "Snow."
For all the sterling-shined reputation that the past years have built him, he still can't quite keep from glancing at you before muttering the dismissal spell.
He sleeps right through the first snow of his seventeenth winter. He's always been loath to call in, but he's well and truly ill, now; dark, purple circles spanning arcs beneath his eyes like bruises, skin too pale and frame too thin, the bones of his hands fairly threatening to tear the fragile skin that binds them. He'll pass it off as a cold, but you know (you always know) the truth — he's worked ragged.
It is not your duty to watch over him any more than he strictly requests, but you hover by his bed like some phantom guardian, nonetheless, because you know, because you've seen the these pieces before, glimpses of young men being tarnished and warped as corruption bleeds slowly through them — like a poison, like a cancer — and their pasts disappear into so much meaningless smoke and noise. You've seen it before, yes, but it's always been background noise. Now it's your turn to truly see, to watch as the world slowly and surely picks him apart, strips the flesh and the morals and the joy from his bones until there is nothing left but an anatomy sketch, the skeleton of some broken baby bird, of some broken boy, and it is terrible, it is beautiful, it is terrible.
He doesn't see you when he wakes that afternoon, but you are there, and the blinds have been drawn back so he can see the snow.
He does not make it to his eighteenth winter.
You're still in London, by some stroke of miserable luck, helping with the reconstruction. It's not particularly thrilling work, but it's busy and mindless and devoid of much thought at all. You should be thankful, for your newer masters are much kinder than the last, but a chain is a chain is a chain, and in truth you would rather be anywhere but here. You've seen enough of the miserable city.
You turn a corner on the way to gather the civilian reports for Miss Piper; when a torn piece of an old newspaper flutters by your hand, you snatch it out of reflex. It's tattered and dirty and damp with snow, but you can just make out what it's about: the inevitable discussion about filling the vacated government positions.
Written by the new Minister for Information. The first spot filled, it would seem. The paper's ashes fall from your hand to join the accumulating slush on the ground.
You scuff a nearby patch of snow with your boot.
You've never liked winter, anyway.