Inspired by winter storm Magnus not only having a great name, but giving my area some snow. Finally.
January could be downright depressing. The holidays were far over, even if they had only ended three weeks prior. On grey-skyed days, it felt like there was almost nothing to look forward to – spring was distant, summer even further so. The world was cold, lifeless, barren.
But that was one interpretation.
There was another, of course – and generally speaking, there were probably thousands, but disregarding others was quite easy when the world felt like it belonged to just two. It was Tuesday morning, and on Tuesday mornings, Sasha Nein had made it a ritual to go to the café a few blocks from the Psychonauts headquarters to get coffee. It had started as a simple exercise in reacquainting himself with the usual world (that being one of, well, normal people, not psychics), but practice gave way to comfort which became routine. He liked it.
Today, though, was different. Today there was a young woman following him through the hallways of the dormitory, timidly hiding behind beams and open doors whenever the young man would turn to investigate. He allowed the practice to go on for one hall length before finally sighing, turning around, and folding his arms across his chest. The woman was able to let out a squeak but hid fast enough so as to only allow him a glimpse of a red sweater.
"Do you need something?" he asked firmly, mustering all his confidence and English (though not the fancy kind) into the sentence. The silence lingered for a few seconds before a timid voice replied back.
"Are you going out?"
Sasha raised an eyebrow. What was this, a stalker? At the base? "If you must know, yes."
"Because I – I noticed you leaving every Tuesday morning, and I've always wondered where you've been going."
Suddenly the "stalker" idea didn't seem so far-off. "Is there a reason for you to know?"
"I just was...wondering if...I could go with you."
He blinked, mulling over the words. If they were at the base, then they were part of the Psychonauts – somehow – and if they were in the dorm, then they were stable enough to be around other people – somewhat – and if all else failed, then they wouldn't pass the security clearance on the way out.
So there was nothing to lose except maybe his ear if this person was in fact, a crazy stalker. Except that he valued his ear.
"I would like to see you first."
A few more more moments passed before the red sweater was in the light again, this time with a full human to see as well. Sasha raised his brow at the woman, somewhat intrigued, but also in recognition. He'd seen her before, now the name, what was the name...
"Frau...Vodello," he said with caution. She instantly perked up.
"You remember me?" The mere thought of being in his collective memory seemed to instantly brighten her expression – previously drawn and nervous, now glowing. He (mentally) frowned at her overall appearance, though; the sweater was rather long and loose, extending to her mid-thigh and wrapping over her fingers, which she clutched under chin (was she cold?).
"I have met you before." It was better than saying 'well kind of, it was a bit of a brief meeting', but he remembered enough about her that he felt being courteous was better than being rude. She was by far the most damaged soul he had ever heard of, and with just reasoning.
"But it was so short, I surely thought you wouldn't remember." A tiny smile came to her face as she brushed hair from her eyes. Her hair in general looked like it could've used some more care, as it was rather frizzy and wavy at the moment. She looked tired and...worn, like sleeping had become a burden.
"Frau Vodello – err, Miss, Miss Vodello -"
"It's okay Senhor Nein." A cheeky little grin overtook her smile. "It takes a while to learn a new language, especially if you need a crash course in it."
Sasha coughed and looked away, really hoping she wasn't aware of his particular linguistic practicing sessions. It had been three years since his meeting with the Psychonauts, and therefore, it had been three years since intensely studying the new language. Every so often he slipped into his old habits, just because they were far more comfortable than the awkward new ones.
"You um...you are from Brazil, right Miss Vodello?"
"Oh, yes." She had quickly tip-toed to his side, her sweater-clad hands dropping to her chest. "And you can call me Milla, if you'd like."
"Okay...Milla..." He felt strange passing the syllables over his tongue, waiting for her to disapprove or something – but she didn't, and instead, giggled.
"It's okay darling, you don't have to if you don't want to."
He froze. Literally, he jerked to a halt and his eyes grew wide; he looked from the floor to the wall to the woman and tilted his head back. She swished forward a few paces before realizing her traveling companion was gone, glancing behind to exchange looks.
"Is something wrong?"
"You..." How was he supposed to ask without sounding conceited? "Do you...call everyone that?"
"Does it bother you?" What was once a vibrant little smile was back to frowning, replaced by one of concern and worry. "I don't want you to be uncomfortable, I can stop -"
"Uh – no. It's fine." Sasha's heart slowed, and the blood he felt surging to his face and fingertips stopped and receded. It was just...something about the way she smiled; even with her tired looks she was...she was obscenely pretty.
But he wasn't going to admit that, especially when he had thought not two minutes prior that she might chop off his ear.
"Have you – left the base before?" Sasha was determined to get past that bump in the road and continue on his with Tuesday morning ritual, so he once again set off down the hall.
"Yes, a few times, but always accompanied. And today – today I saw snow falling, so I thought that I just had to go and see it."
"Did you know I would be leaving the base?" Sasha asked directly. Milla paused before answering.
"I knew you came this way every Tuesday, and I knew that you left – I'm sorry darling, this is going to sound crazy, but you walk past my window so I'm used to it."
He'd heard crazier. "I suppose habits are to be noticed."
"Where do you go? Do you go somewhere new each time, or -"
"No, just the café up the street." Shoot, he had stepped on her question. He carefully peered over to her, hoping his glasses covered up enough of his eyes that she wouldn't notice.
"A café? Mmm, sounds wonderful! Do they have tea?"
Of course she was a tea person. "I believe so. I have not really been looking into the other drinks, to be perfectly honest."
Milla giggled. "Sasha dear – may I call you Sasha? - you are just so polite, it's a little too flattering to this girl." She performed a graceful little one-two-three maneuver with her feet and was now walking backwards. He could've sworn she wasn't actually walking, just sort of gliding along, but he was too pre-occupied to bother looking.
"You – uh – you may," was all he could think to answer. He felt a blush coming on again, which he hid by glancing away and suddenly being very interested at the wall. As luck would have it, they had reached a bank of windows, so there was at least something to look at besides brick and concrete.
"Are you used to snow, Sasha?" Milla asked, stopping to observe the landscape outside. It was simply a courtyard formed by two buildings perpendicularly intersecting a third, with the fourth "wall" being a currently-frozen pond. Snow was falling rapidly from the sky, resembling rain, but fluttered blatantly to betray its mask.
"Quite," he replied. "It seems I will never escape it, no matter if I change countries or continents."
"There was only snow if you went into the mountains." Milla touched a bare finger to the window, a nostalgic air taking over her. "I never saw a snowfall myself, and it's so mysterious, especially at night...it just invades from the sky, so quiet and persistent, and when you wake up, the world has changed."
Well, that was one way of putting it. "I suppose I have never thought one way or the other about snowfall. It was always a thing that happened, so it has never been of particular interest to me."
That put a damper on the conversation. Milla retracted her hand, clutching it to her chest and staring out the window, visibly downtrodden.
And he panicked, but of course, internally.
"I – that is to say, it has never been an anomaly to me, it has always just been something that has happened." Think think think think... "I would assume that if one has never seen it, it looks rather...interesting."
Sasha felt ready to pass out after that statement, but it worked. The tiny smile returned to Milla's face before she bounced away from the window, once again returning her hands to be cradled under her chin. He quirked his eyebrow at her.
"Are you cold?" Sasha asked, deciding not to let the question linger as it had before.
She nodded, although bashfully. "Is it that obvious? I'm sorry, I don't mean to worry you - I guess I haven't built up my tolerance yet."
Then she paused, and that pause slowly morphed into a cringe, her eyes jamming shut while her loosely-covered fingers gripped into fists. Sasha hesitated, not quite sure how to react – get help? help her now? say something? - but as soon as he had thought the thoughts, Milla was opening her eyes and exhaling. She saw the German half-reaching for her and she released a single, small chuckle, looking away and tucking a lock of hair behind her ears.
"I'm sorry. I don't mean to worry you," she repeated. He lowered his hand and frowned, but returned to a more neutral expression when she looked back at him. It just felt like...any negative emotion was not really good for her right now.
"You should not apologize." Carefully, he traced over the next words in his head before speaking them: "We are all here for a reason. And you appear to be a" oh no how was he going to phrase this without sounding – well, who cared, how often was he going to see her, really - "pleasant woman, Frau Vodello."
She laughed. "Oh Senhor Nein, you are really too much. Although I will say, you are not so unpleasant yourself."
Sasha rolled his eyes. It was involuntary. "That is an opinion you share with few others." What was it the higher-ups had said? That he had turned into quite a "sassypants" over the past few years? Well, whether it was true or not was up to the audience. Milla, at least, didn't seem to mind.
"Is it very cold out?" she asked as they, for the third time, resumed their trek. At least they had finally left the dorm section and were getting closer to actually leaving.
"Well...snow occurs when water droplets freeze...so it is somewhat cold, although you may be more affected by it than I am." Sasha was careful to avoid sounding too smarmy. "For instance, if you were to step outside in bare feet...yes, then it is very cold."
She giggled. "Experience?"
"Perhaps." There came a flash of a memory from when he was quite young and his cousin had dared him to go outside in the snow. Aunt Bernie unleashed quite a scolding afterward.
Soon enough, the two had reached the front desk for the dormitory, which Sasha had always found a little inconvenient. To get to the cafeteria, or really, any place on base, one had to pass through the check-point. It was for security and what-not, but to constantly go back and forth became a hassle on busy days.
"Well that's an interesting pair." On duty this particular morning was one of the seasoned instructors at base, and one of the few who was pleasant in the early hours. He tipped his glasses to look at Sasha, then glanced at Milla before raising them back over his eyes and smiling.
"Good morning, Agent Buck," Sasha greeted, although his enthusiasm was lacking. Milla waved her fingers at him.
"Morning Sasha." Agent Buck tapped his forehead twice, pausing ever so briefly, before writing on the notepad in front of him on the desk. Looking back up, he made eye contact with Milla and raised his eyebrows, concern mixed somewhere in his expression. "Milla? Are you going out with Mister Nein here today?"
"Yes, I was hoping to – I remember hearing I could leave if accompanied, yes?"
"Well, yes, just..." The agent tapped his forehead again, twisting his upper lip in thought. "You seem well today, and you've been pretty solid the past few months...and Cruller did say you could leave with accompaniment...Well, okay. Sure. Why not." The smile he gave definitely came with years of teaching behind it. Agent Buck jotted down a few more notes before shooing them away.
"Be nice to her, Sasha," he called after the pair before laughing. The young man scowled, but before he could retort, Milla was grabbing his arm with one of hers and pushing open the exit door with her free hand.
The snow was coming down thick and fast, but in a wafting silence so quiet the world didn't want to breathe. Milla practically pulled his arm off when she dashed ahead, her eyes wide, jaw ready to fall off her head.
"This is – amazing!" she gasped in excitement, wriggling her hand free from the sweater and catching flakes in her palm. Her face lit up as they melted to liquid, and she stole a glance at Sasha, her smile growing wider.
"Darling, you don't understand how fascinating this is, do you?"
"No," he answered back, but decided to cushion it by adding, "I am afraid not."
Milla reigned her thrill in, letting go of his arm and swiping her foot on the ground. It dusted off the snow, creating a streak of concrete against the white.
"I will probably never go back home," she said, her fingers curling into the sweater's cuffs. "At this point at least, I don't see myself going back. I can't."
Sasha nodded. "I understand the feeling, though perhaps for different reasons." He wasn't going to try and equate his hardships to hers. In this scenario, competitions weren't called for. "I may never go home, and I suppose that is why I have taken to getting used to this."
"Is this really so different from your home?" Milla looked up at the sky, shielding her eyes with a sweater-covered hand. "It's just...so different from mine; not just the weather but the buildings and the culture and the people...well...not that I've had too much exposure to that, but..." Her smile turned apologetic, her gaze cast down.
"This place has newer buildings and a foreign language." Sasha stuck his hands in his pockets, pulling out the pair of mittens stuffed inside. He looked at them before offering them to his traveling companion. "But otherwise it is very similar. It is merely a matter of adapting to a new place and realizing that it is now home. I cannot be looking back at what I had and what I was used to."
Milla accepted the mittens from him, pulling them onto her hands while re-joining him at his side. "It's chillier than I was expecting."
"The weather or the country?"
She was rather easy to talk to, he had to admit, and that was noteworthy considering not ten minutes prior he was worried she would chop off his ear. After a minute of walking, she simply latched herself onto his arm, shivering slightly. Honestly, she should've been wearing a coat. A seasoned veteran of such weather would probably have no problem in a sweater, but when one had only ever seen snow in photographs, they were better off bundling up.
The Tuesday morning ritual had a delayed start, but it was still upheld to its usual consistency. With Milla in tow, it took quite a bit longer – she wanted to ask about all the drinks – but it was certainly a more pleasant experience than usual. It was a shame he would probably never interact with her much again, let alone "hang out". She really was lovely company.