Winter's Embrace, by kishmet. AU, TezuRyo, PG, 5,829 words. Loosely based on this story, which I love. (There's a better version of it that can be found in Myths and Legends of Japan by F. Hadland Davis, which is an older book but well-worth reading. ♥) (Also, dissing of the fic edited out, as requested. Maybe I should edit the old fics' descriptions too...)
"Whoa!" Momo turned to stare out the window of the bus, knocking over the deck of cards in the process. The cards spilled all over the aisle.
"Just because you're losing-" Kaidoh began angrily.
"No, no! Look!" Momo pressed his face to the window. "It's snowing!"
"You're right!" Eiji crowded in next to Momo, even though there were other windows all along the bus. Momo squirmed. "Sensei!" said Eiji excitedly. "Can we open the window?"
"No," said Ryuzaki-sensei, Tezuka, and Oishi, all at the same time. Eiji made a face at them, and Oishi gave him a halfhearted reproachful look. They were all just as interested in the unexpected snowfall, even those among them who thought opening a window wouldn't be the best idea.
It was a light snow flurry, the most beautiful and delicate kind. Tiny snowflakes sparkled in the last evening sunlight, blown around by the light wind so that they danced around and between each other.
"Think it'll still be snowing when we get there?" asked Momo.
"Of course it will!" said Eiji, squishing Momo even more against the back of the seat. "It's in the mountains!"
"It didn't predict snow in the forecast before we left," said Oishi. "I wonder how long this will keep up." They'd planned this team outing to the hot springs so that it would come before the worst of the winter weather, in early November.
"Hopefully it won't get any worse," Sumire commented from the driver's seat. "Those roads up there aren't very good at the best of times."
"Oh yeah," said Momo, sounding a little subdued. "You think we'll be able to get there?"
"Of course we will," said Kaidoh. "Don't be stupid."
"What, you're afraid we'll freeze to death?" Momo taunted him. "It's only a little bit of snow, mamushi."
"That's not what I said!" Kaidoh snapped.
"All right, all right, the two of you," said Oishi. "Ryuzaki-sensei needs to concentrate on driving in this weather."
"That's right," said Sumire. "The roads'll be slippery, even with just a little snow."
The two of them quieted down and watched the snow fall. Tezuka set his book aside and looked out of his own window. In those few minutes, the snow had started to come down harder. The flakes were larger, and the wind whipped them against the window.
"Jeez," said Momo in a whisper. "It's getting bad."
"We'll make it," Sumire said, with grim determination. She held onto the steering wheel with both hands, driving slowly so as not to skid.
It wasn't long before Tezuka couldn't even make out the print in his book. They were driving through a solid wall of fog and snow. It seemed as though the entire team took a collective breath and held it. Even Momo and Eiji were quiet, staring out the window at the gray-and-white scenery that was all they could see.
Headlights flashed suddenly through the gloom, coming right at them. Sumire swore and wrenched the wheel to the side, braking slightly. The other car sped by them. The bus slid onto the shoulder of the road.
"What are we going to do?" Kaidoh asked after a minute, in an unusually small voice.
"Die, probably," said Momo ominously. "And we'll have to eat each other when we get hungry."
"Well, only as a last resort," said Fuji. "I brought some wasabi if worse comes to worst."
Kaidoh looked as though he was about to faint. Momo squeaked and tried to cover it with a cough.
"Fuji, stop teasing," said Eiji, rolling his eyes. "There's a hotel sign right over there." He pointed. "I bet they have a continental breakfast!"
"Really? Do you think it's open this late?" Momo asked eagerly.
"Motel it is," said Sumire. "It sounds like our best bet." She sighed. "There's one night cut off of our stay." She took the road that led to the hotel. They got rooms easily. Apparently all the other travelers had been stranded elsewhere.
Tezuka didn't know why he'd woken up at first. He glanced at the clock on the bedside table, and couldn't see the time because he wasn't wearing his glasses. He reached over and picked up the clock, bringing it close enough to see. It read 2:47 am.
He put the clock back in its place. There was a chilly draft coming from somewhere, which was probably the reason he was awake. It couldn't have been the window, because he'd closed that as soon as he'd come into the room. Something was wrong with the heating system, possibly. The storm was probably affecting it, not that the room's heater had performed very well to begin with.
Tezuka pushed away the blankets and found that he was shivering, it was so cold. He got to his feet and walked over to the window to check the heater beneath it. Sometime while he'd been sleeping, it had been shut off.
It had probably been a maid, he thought, or the hotel owner, trying to save on the heating bill. He turned the heater back on, compromising by setting it only half as high as it would go.
Then he went back to bed and closed his eyes. For a little while, the room was tolerably warm. After those few minutes (or was it longer?) the chill draft hit his face again.
This time he knew for sure that no hotel employee, or anyone else, had entered the room. He'd been awake the entire time. He closed his eyes and turned away from the light cold wind. If there was a draft coming through a crack in the wall, there was nothing he could do about it in the middle of the night. He would tell the manager in the morning that the room needed to be repaired.
The cold only worsened, even though Tezuka was beneath two sheets and a comforter. He remembered that he'd seen an extra blanket in the closet by the bathroom. He pushed off the covers again, and walked over to open the closet. The blanket was on the top shelf, and he took it down and brought it back over to the bed.
It was comfortable enough, with the thick blanket plus the rest of the bed coverings. He closed his eyes for what he hoped would be the last time that night. He was half-asleep when the cold suddenly intensified until it was painful, only on one place, his neck. It felt almost as though a pair of freezing lips grazed his skin. His first thought was that he was dreaming. He opened his eyes to see a blurry, indistinct face above him, a face breathing cold breath like white smoke.
He sat up immediately. There was a freezing wind blowing through the room. His door was open, and a glance at the window proved that it was open, too, and the wind from the outside was stirring the curtains. "Who are you?" Tezuka asked, reaching for his glasses.
The figure above him had pulled back. Tezuka couldn't make out the features of the face, with his vision indistinct as it was. He could see the brilliantly white clothing, almost the same shade as the pale skin. The hair was so dark that it was difficult to see at first in the matching dark of the room. "I'm a snow spirit," said the figure, and as if to prove it, snow began to fall, as if it was coming straight from the ceiling.
"Why are you in my room?" Tezuka was calm, considering the circumstances. He couldn't find his glasses. Only the alarm clock was still sitting on the table by the bed.
"To take your life," the spirit replied bluntly. "I have your glasses." The spirit held up something Tezuka couldn't see, but had to be Tezuka's glasses.
"Give them back." Tezuka was used to being obeyed, and he was not going to give in just because he'd never dealt with a snow spirit before. "Now."
"No," said the spirit. The snow started to swirl around the figure more quickly.
Tezuka got to his feet for the third time. "Give them back." He would have threatened laps, if he'd thought it would have fazed this creature.
"No," it repeated.
Tezuka's reflexes were better than those of most other people, and as it turned out, they were better than those of a snow spirit, too. He caught the spirit's wrist before the spirit could so much as protest. The skin felt human, but it was freezing cold, like touching someone dead.
"Let me go!" The snow spirit tried to wrest itself from Tezuka's grasp.
"No," said Tezuka. He didn't have to see properly to know that the spirit was glaring murderously at him. The snow whirled fiercely around the spirit and Tezuka, a full-blown blizzard in the middle of the hotel room. "Stop making the room cold."
The winds around them died down, just a little. "Fine. Let me go."
"And leave the rest of my team alone," said Tezuka. "And the hotel staff."
"I don't know which ones they are."
"They're the only others here," said Tezuka, keeping his firm grip on the spirit's wrist despite the miniature hailstorm attacking his fingers. The wind had faded somewhat, but the spirit's attitude hadn't changed.
"Che." The spirit paused for a moment. "I already got to the two in the next room."
That was the room Oishi and Kaidoh were sharing. Tezuka's grip tightened almost imperceptibly. "What did you do to them?" Tezuka asked, his voice colder than the worst snowy day.
"I didn't kill them," said the spirit irritably. "Not quite."
"You won't touch them again, or any of the others," said Tezuka sternly.
"Fine. Let go." A new, sudden barrage of ice and snow roared at Tezuka, pelting him in the face and blinding him completely.
Tezuka might have been able to keep holding on, but he didn't think it was wise to keep an angry snow spirit with him. He had the spirit's word that it would leave him and his team alone, and that was all he needed. Oishi and Kaidoh would need help, if the spirit was telling the truth, and Tezuka wanted to get to them as soon as possible. He released the delicate, icy-cold wrist and stepped back.
The storm around him redoubled for just a few seconds, forcing him to protect his face with his hands. "Don't ever mention me again, to anyone, or I'll have to kill you," the spirit told him, and then the wind died entirely away, the spirit vanished, and Tezuka's glasses fell to the floor. The heater made a clunking noise, a noise like someone coughing, and then it began to hum, erasing the last traces of the storm from the room.
Tezuka didn't stay to enjoy the warmth. He picked up his glasses, left his room, and went to make sure that Oishi and Kaidoh were all right.
The next morning the snow had died down. Sumire announced that they would be leaving immediately. On their way out, the hotel manager apologized profusely and wouldn't stop.
"Damn right you're sorry," said Sumire. "They could have frozen to death!"
"Sensei, we're fine." Oishi did his best to placate her. He still looked pale, and he was wearing several extra layers of clothing, but he and Kaidoh were both on their feet, recovering well. The first aid kit in the hotel and Tezuka's knowledge of how to use it could have been the only things to save them, because there was no way they could have reached a hospital in time.
"Only because Tezuka woke up and found you!" said Sumire. "You'd damn well better replace all the heaters in this hotel, and you'd better do it before your guests die of hypothermia!"
"Of course, of course," said the manager, bowing for the fiftieth time. "All of them will be replaced. You have my word on that."
"Good," Sumire snapped, obviously not in the mood to be forgiving.
Tezuka said nothing, although he knew that faulty heaters had nothing to do with it, or very little. He didn't spare the manager Ryuzaki-sensei's wrath because it was all too likely that the heaters would have failed even without a spirit's interference.
They left the hotel with the manager following behind them, apologizing yet again and offering to give them credit for their next stay (which Sumire said she wouldn't accept unless she had solid proof that all the heaters had been exchanged for better ones).
"Odd, though, isn't it," said Fuji.
Tezuka glanced at him. "What is?"
"Did you turn on the heater in Oishi and Kaidoh's room?" Fuji asked. "Or fix it?"
"No," said Tezuka.
"Hm, well then, that's very odd," said Fuji, almost cheerfully. "Because it was on and working quite nicely when I came in."
Tezuka, again, took the wisest course and said nothing at all.
"Are we still going to the hot springs?" Eiji wanted to know.
"No, we're not," Sumire told him. "I got through to all of your parents, and they're worried. We're heading home." She ignored the disappointed faces and mutters. "It's for the best. Snow's still too thick on the ground anyway." She grimaced. "I hate to think how it'll be up in the mountains."
The team climbed onto the bus, Sumire started it up, and they were off, with the manager still waving and apologizing after them.
Snow continued to fall during their entire drive home.
Some schools were closed for the unexpected snow day. Seishun Gakuen stayed open, to the delight of some and the chagrin of others. The roads had been plowed and the sidewalks had been salted, so the school officials evidently decided that it would be easy enough for the students to make it to class. Tennis practice, however, was a different story.
"We could always have the team shovel the courts," said Oishi, without much enthusiasm. All of the courts were covered in at least a foot of snow. It would take them the entire practice time to shovel all of it, and probably longer.
Tezuka considered it for a moment anyway, and then shook his head. "No. Not until the snow stops falling." It would be useless to shovel the courts only to find their work undone the next day.
"You could always have Inui devise a training menu for the snow," Fuji suggested, more helpfully than usual.
"That won't be a problem," said Inui, with a smile that said he enjoyed this, perhaps a little too much. "Snow training is beneficial for muscle development, due to the increased difficulty of ordinary movement. I'll have the new menu by tomorrow."
"Thank you, Inui," said Tezuka. "Practice is cancelled for the day. Let everyone know."
"Of course." Oishi nodded, and went off to find the rest of the team to tell them the news. Inui followed, already writing up the new training schedule in his notebook.
"So much snow," said Fuji thoughtfully. "Almost as though it followed us home." He smiled at Tezuka, and then went along with Oishi and Inui.
Tezuka remained behind for a few minutes, looking out over the snow-covered courts. Then he turned to follow the others, to gather his equipment and to change clothing.
There was a crowd of people around the clubhouse, including the regulars. A murmur swept through the gathering, there was a sharp crack, and everyone burst into excited chatter. Tezuka heard the unmistakable sound of a ball hitting a racket, and then crack again.
Tezuka made his way through the wall of people. Fuji stopped him somewhere near the front. "We were wondering where you were," Fuji said. "I think you might like to see this."
"He's incredible," said Oishi, from Tezuka's other side. "Do you know who he is?"
"I don't know," Tezuka replied, and looked where everyone else was staring.
A row of icicles had formed along the edge of the roof, from the snow dripping in the sunlight earlier. The row only went halfway across the building, though, and Tezuka now saw the reason why. A boy with a tennis racket was hitting the icicles with a tennis ball. With each stroke of the racket, he hit the next icicle in line with pinpoint precision, the cause of the cracking noise. The icicles shattered under the impact, all in order.
It took only a minute or two for the rest of the icicles to be broken. Some of the team members applauded, some of them whispered furiously to each other, and some of them chuckled (although that was only Fuji).
Tezuka just watched, and the boy turned to him as though he'd known that Tezuka would be there. He was no one that Tezuka recognized, no one from the junior high circuit, but then, he was obviously a freshman. He was at least a foot shorter than Tezuka, with dark hair and startling gold eyes. He wasn't wearing a jacket, or gloves, or even boots, so he was ankle-deep in the snow.
"I want to join the team," said the boy.
Tezuka nodded. He didn't mention that tennis practice had been snowed out today, or that the forecast saw no end to the early winter storms and so it was likely that they wouldn't actually be playing tennis for awhile. It didn't seem as though it would matter.
"And your name is?" asked Inui, pen poised over his notebook.
"Echizen Ryoma," said the boy, and smirked, looking down at the snow.
The snow continued to fall overnight, howling and raging in the worst winter storm Tezuka could remember seeing. He sat at his desk and glanced out the window. It had been the right decision to leave the courts as they were.
His cell phone rang.
"I've completed the training menu for tomorrow's practice. I would like to see if you approve of the new schedule."
"I'll leave it to your discretion, Inui," Tezuka replied. He had no doubt that the new schedule would push them all to their limits, which was exactly what he wanted.
"Then...yes. Also, about this Echizen Ryoma. Do you know anything about him?"
"No," said Tezuka.
"Oh." Inui sounded slightly disconcerted that Tezuka didn't know about a boy who was obviously a tennis prodigy. "I've also heard nothing about him, and he only enrolled at Seigaku yesterday. He could be a European unknown. I would like to investigate his living situation and his background, if you think-"
Tezuka hung up. He couldn't help having knowledge of some of Inui's stalking habits, but this way he maintained plausible deniability.
The next day in the locker room, Ryoma changed from his newly-acquired school uniform into the t-shirt and shorts that were part of the summer tennis uniform. Tezuka stopped him just as he went out the door.
"You need warmer clothing," said Tezuka.
"I don't," said Ryoma, crossing his arms.
Tezuka fixed him with his best buchou look. "Yes. You do, Echizen."
"Here, you can have my jacket." Momo started shrugging off his coat. "I've got my jersey anyway."
"You can have my gloves." That was Kaidoh, naturally, speaking up because Momo had. He pulled off the gloves and held them out to Ryoma, glaring at something in the opposite direction as he did so.
"You could use a scarf and a hat, too," said Oishi. "Does anyone have an extra pair of boots?"
"I do!" Horio announced, waving a pair and almost hitting a second year in the head with them.
"Those aren't extras," Kachiro protested. "You just took yours off!"
"I did not, don't be ridiculous!" said Horio, hopping up and down so that his feet (which only had socks on them) would stay relatively warm.
They finally got a scowling Ryoma properly clothed in Momo's coat, Kaidoh's gloves, Eiji's hat, and scarves from three different people. Fuji produced a pair of boots from his locker that fit Ryoma perfectly. Strangely enough, they looked exactly like the boots Tezuka had worn as a freshman, the pair that had disappeared at the end of that year.
With that, it was as though Ryoma was officially adopted into the team, not that Ryoma seemed overly happy about it as he stalked out to practice in his new warm outfit.
"First," said Inui to the gathered team, "an exercise in stamina. You will be running laps, in the snow." There was a collective groan from some of the second years, who had a hard enough time running laps when there wasn't snow on the ground. Inui glanced up at them and they fell silent. "When you come to this side of the court, you will reverse directions in order to exercise both legs equally."
"There's no time limit?" Eiji asked suspiciously. Earlier on in the year, Inui had imposed a time limit on laps and given Inui Juice to anyone who failed to meet the limit.
"No," said Inui, with a knowing smile. "This is a test of your stamina. Unless you'd like me to time you..."
"No!" Eiji set off on his laps, fortunately before he managed to talk Inui into giving them all more vegetable extract. He sank into the snow with every step. The other regulars followed him, and then the rest of the team, more reluctantly.
"This is easy," Tezuka heard Ryoma say, back at the starting line.
Tezuka glanced back, just in time to see Inui's glasses gleam. "We will see."
Ryoma gave Inui a disdainful look, and jogged off after the rest of them. He caught up to the regulars with ease. Eiji was the first to notice that Ryoma had an unfair advantage over them. "Ochibi doesn't sink!" he complained, using the nickname he'd evidently decided to bestow on the newest member of the team. "He's too light!"
"Hey, yeah, no fair, Echizen!" said Momo. Neither one of them saw that the other freshmen were slogging their way through the snow with as much difficulty as the older team members, never mind that Ryoma was no lighter than any of them.
Ryoma passed by both of them and smirked. His boots left light marks in the snow, nothing more.
"That's cheating!" Eiji proclaimed, and sped up. He hadn't been at it long enough to be over his initial burst of energy yet. He pounced on Ryoma, who yelped in surprise and sank into the snow as deeply as the rest of them. Ryoma struggled and broke loose, taking only one step before Momo caught him, too. Eiji jumped at both of them, and all three went sprawling.
"That's better!" Momo said with a laugh.
Ryoma glared at them. Then, as quick as he'd been with a tennis racket, he scooped up a handful of snow and threw it.
"Whoa!" Momo cried, as Eiji used him as a human shield to block the snowball. "Eiji-senpai!" Momo grabbed his own snow and tried to retaliate, but ended up missing Eiji and Ryoma. He ended up hitting Taka instead, who spluttered, startled. Everyone turned to watch the snowball fight, now, and to join in before they were targeted.
"I think that you should reschedule practice," said Fuji from beside Tezuka.
Tezuka, who ordinarily wouldn't have considered it, nodded. The team deserved a day to enjoy the snow.
He met Ryoma's eyes, then, and Ryoma collected more snow and raised an eyebrow, challenging. Tezuka found himself leaning over to pick up some ammunition of his own.
Maybe he needed a day to enjoy the snow, too.
Record Snowfall In The Kanto Region, read all the headlines in every newspaper. The articles went on to say that the area (Tokyo being hit particularly hard) had never seen so much snow in a whole winter, much less in the span of the month of November. The snow kept falling, in light flurries, in thick flakes, or in harsh blizzards.
All of the meteorologists speculated as to the cause. One or two experts started saying that it was proof against global warming. But none of the other temperate countries were experiencing any extra snow, ice, hail, or even frost. In fact, the United States was having a particularly warm month.
Even more oddly, the clouds seemed to be forming directly above Tokyo. Once formed, they remained stubbornly in place no matter how strongly the wind blew, and from which direction.
Ryoma looked up quickly, but it was already too late. Eiji wrapped his arms around Ryoma from behind the bench, and then yelped. "You're cold, ochibi! Momo, I think he's got hypothermia or frostbite, or maybe both!" He sounded oddly delighted with the idea, possibly because he wanted to practice the techniques they'd been taught to save someone suffering from the cold.
"Huh? Really?" Momo put a hand to Ryoma's arm. "Jeez, you feel like you're dead, Echizen!" Momo poked Ryoma in the side, making Ryoma glare. Momo shivered. "Want some of my hot chocolate?" He offered Ryoma his thermos.
Ryoma gave Momo a look that couldn't have possibly been more full of disdain. "No."
"Today's practice will be another stamina exercise," Inui announced.
Momo and Eiji were too busy protesting to go on harassing Ryoma. The team had quickly learned that stamina exercises in the snow were worse than running fifty laps when the weather was clear.
"We should play tennis," said Ryoma, when Tezuka walked by him.
Tezuka glanced at him. "As soon as the snow melts."
Ryoma made a face and got up to practice with everyone else.
The snow had lightened until it was only a graceful flurry, coming straight down with no wind to blow it around. Ryoma followed Tezuka away from practice as silently as the falling snow. That didn't stop Tezuka from knowing he was there, and Tezuka found himself taking the long way home.
Neither one of them said anything for awhile. Then Ryoma spoke up. "Play a game with me, buchou."
"There's too much snow on the courts," said Tezuka.
"No there isn't," Ryoma replied. He pointed to the court beneath the train tracks, the one Tezuka had only been subconsciously aware he was leading them to. "It's clear."
It was. Tezuka looked, and there wasn't a trace of snow or ice on the court. The snow stopped just short of the outer lines, stopped so neatly that the person who'd shoveled it must have been a perfectionist. Or the person who'd cleared it in some other way, Tezuka's mind added. Whoever they were, they had done a flawless job.
Tezuka surveyed the court. "We'll play, Echizen."
Outside the court's boundaries, the snow began to fall harder, the wind swirling it more wildly than before. Within the court's boundaries, though, the air was completely still. Tezuka didn't say anything about it, because nothing needed to be said.
He brought out his racket and played, instead.
Tezuka didn't know what brought him to the court again that weekend. Ryoma wasn't there to follow him, and there was no one else there to play a game of tennis with him. It had been snowing heavily for three days straight, and this time, his logic told him, the court would be covered. There could be no one who would bother shoveling it when the snow kept coming down.
When he arrived, he stopped outside the court and just looked. The court was as clear as it had been three days ago. He walked around the court, almost knee-deep in the drifted snow. The movement in the snow didn't startle him the way it might have startled someone else. The eyes looking at him from inside a particularly large pile of snow didn't startle him, either.
Ryoma was curled in the snowdrift, looking out at him with a look of studied disinterest. "Buchou."
"You've been sleeping here," said Tezuka.
"Yes," said Ryoma, sounding slightly defiant. He lifted his head from its pillow of snow. "It's cold enough." He said it in the same way someone else might have said "it's warm enough" as a reason for sleeping somewhere else.
"Come home with me," said Tezuka. It was a command, not a question.
Ryoma stood up, and Tezuka saw that his feet were bare. "Fine," said Ryoma. He trailed Tezuka all the way home.
Without comment, Tezuka turned down the thermostat as soon as they entered the house. His parents weren't home, and Tezuka was becoming used to the cold. He led Ryoma into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. "What would you like?"
"Something cold and sweet," said Ryoma.
Tezuka knelt to open the freezer, and handed Ryoma a carton of vanilla ice cream. Ryoma took it and held it while Tezuka moved around the kitchen, making himself a sandwich. Tezuka purposely left the freezer door open, and Ryoma knelt by it, almost in it, letting out a satisfied breath of cold steam.
When Tezuka finished putting together his sandwich, he left the plate on the counter and opened the silverware drawer, taking out a spoon. Then he went back over to the freezer. Ryoma had trailed his finger through the frost on the ice cream carton, and he licked it thoughtfully off his finger.
"Here." Tezuka handed Ryoma the spoon.
"Thanks, buchou." Ryoma pried the lid off of the ice cream and stuck the spoon in. He picked some up on the spoon with ease, even though the ice cream was solidly frozen. He ate the large bite of it without any sign of discomfort and swallowed, closing his eyes and sighing again.
Tezuka brought his sandwich over and sat on the floor next to Ryoma. They ate by the open freezer that way, Tezuka still in his winter jacket and Ryoma in his bare feet, t-shirt and shorts.
Tezuka's parents might have noticed when Tezuka bought a portable air conditioner and brought it up to his room. If they knew, they didn't comment.
They might have noticed, too, that Tezuka's room was even colder than the tiny air conditioner could have made it, or that the freezer was continually stocked with ice cream and popsicles, things that Tezuka never ate, or that Tezuka had taken the spare futon out of the hall closet, or that Tezuka stayed out every day to play tennis at a court that should have been covered with snow. But they didn't mention any of those things, either. They had been Tezuka's first role models, after all.
Ryoma's lips and tongue were cold against Tezuka's. It was like drinking a glass of ice water, feeling the chill spread slowly, all through him. Even though the day was freezing, too, Ryoma's icy touch was as refreshing as it would have been in the middle of summer.
"You're warm," Ryoma murmured, but he didn't seem to mind that, either. He pulled Tezuka all the way down against him so that Ryoma's body was the only thing between Tezuka and the snow. It reminded Tezuka of making snow angels, which he'd only done once. He shivered with so much cold pressed against him, but snow angels had never given him the different kind of heat that Ryoma sent through him now, along with the physical cold.
And then he woke up. He knew that it had been a dream, but then he looked over at Ryoma's place on the futon. Ryoma was sitting up in the dark, watching him, and Tezuka knew he couldn't be sure whether it had been a dream or not.
"Go to sleep, Echizen," said Tezuka.
"Yes, buchou," said Ryoma, and obediently lay back down on his futon. Tezuka didn't see the smirk, but he knew it was there.
It took Tezuka a long time to go back to sleep, but he finally managed it.
Ryoma stopped in the doorway, all ready for school, carrying his backpack and his tennis bag. Somehow he got out of the house every morning without Tezuka's parents or grandfather ever seeing him. Tezuka didn't question how he did it. "What?"
"We need to talk."
"Oh." Ryoma set down his bags and closed the door that he'd just opened. "About what?"
"It was you," said Tezuka. "That night at the hotel."
Ryoma glared at him. "I told you I would kill you." Wind lashed through his hair, which was a dangerous sign. "You're not supposed to know."
"No," Tezuka replied. "But I do." There was no need for him to tell Ryoma that he'd known the whole time, that Ryoma didn't pull off the human act very well, that Tezuka had realized almost from the first moment. Ryoma knew it already.
Ryoma scowled, and the temperature in Tezuka's room suddenly dropped. Tezuka's window opened with a bang. His homework was blown off of the desk. Tiny snowflakes started to whirl around Ryoma, settling in his hair, dusting it with white.
Tezuka watched all of it happen with an impassive expression.
"I have to kill you," said Ryoma. The wind intensified, the snow turning to stinging shards of ice.
Tezuka plunged headlong into the whirling, screaming blizzard with Ryoma at its center. He caught Ryoma's familiar cold hand. The ice in the air attacked him, hurling itself against his back, his arms, and his legs. But the ice never touched his face or his neck anywhere that it might have hurt him.
"Stop it," said Ryoma.
Tezuka moved closer. Although the wind resisted him, Ryoma didn't. Tezuka took Ryoma's other hand and leaned in so that he could see Ryoma's eyes through the snow. "Are you going to kill me?"
Ryoma glared up at him. The storm kept raging, and Tezuka kept ignoring it. "No," Ryoma said finally.
His wrists began to dissolve beneath Tezuka's fingers, merging with the snow around them. Tezuka's hands closed on thin air as the wind kept howling around them. He didn't have time to wonder how his parents had not heard the storm in the house. "Echizen," he said. "The team needs you."
"No they don't," said Ryoma, simply. He was turning translucent all over, though Tezuka knew from that first night that he could disappear immediately if he chose to. "I can't stay."
"We need you," said Tezuka, and then, "I need you."
Ryoma stopped fading. "You don't." He crossed arms that were barely even visible anymore. "I hurt Kaidoh-senpai and Oishi-senpai."
"I know," said Tezuka. "You didn't kill them."
Ryoma scowled at him again, and then said, "You don't need me."
"Yes. I do," said Tezuka. Disregarding the wind completely, he leaned in and caught Ryoma's lips with his own. Ryoma's breath was freezing, just as it had been in his dream, but it didn't matter. The wind and snow and ice stopped battering at Tezuka and started to swirl around both of them instead, like a miniature, cold hurricane.
"I need you," said Tezuka, pulling away just enough so that he could speak.
"Fine," said Ryoma, turning completely solid in Tezuka's arms. "I'll stay."
"Good," said Tezuka.
Tokyo was in for a long winter.