Blink yawned widely, grinding the heel of his hand into his eye. He sniffed and then scratched the back of his neck, wishing that he was anywhere but here, sitting out in the cold and damp watching rich people lose their minds. What was so special about the end of the year? Sure, it was something, starting a new century and all, but nothing to warrant all this fuss. It wasn't as if his life was changing or anything. Tomorrow he would still be out in the cold in boots that were too small and a coat that was more patch than fabric trying to find a way to make a nickel out of three cents.
He made a face at a snappily dressed girl who was staring at him like he was something she stepped in and was only mildly pleased when she scurried to the far side of her group, avoiding his eye. Blink spit and then kicked some of the dingy snow over it, thinking longingly of his bunk. He shoved his hands into his pockets and ambled over to where the rest of the boys were standing.
"Hey Mush, what do you say we head out of here," he said without preamble.
Mush gave him a blank look. "What?"
"Hanging about this square is about as fun as poking a dead rat with a stick." Blink curled his lip. "I could have a better time waiting for paint to dry."
"Ah, it ain't that bad," Mush replied.
"Yeah, you're just sore ‘cause that skirt wasn't impressed with what she saw," Race teased.
"Like I'd bother with the likes of her." Blink gave him a filthy look.
Race guffawed. "Other way round, more like."
"I've got better," Blink shot back.
"Since when?" Race eyed him speculatively. "I ain't never seen you with anyone other than Mush, and pretty as he might be, he ain't a skirt."
"He's got you there," Mush said with a laugh.
Blink smiled smugly at Race, but let the comment go. "So, you coming with me or what?"
Mush rolled his eyes. "You still ain't said where you've going."
"The lodging house. Where else would I go?"
"I want to see the fireworks."
"Why? They ain't nothing but a big noise and a flash of light."
Jack scoffed, leaning around David to say, "What put you in such a fine mood, hum Blink?" he shook his head, "Calling fireworks a flash of light and all. Keep it up and you'll replace Skittery as head grump."
"Who you callin' a grump?" Blink demanded.
Jack laughed as he dodged a halfhearted blow. "Go on back home and glower at the spiders, why don't you Blink? Then maybe the rest of us could enjoy ourselves without your sour puss here to ruin things."
"I'll go with you," David offered. "At least as far as the turn off to my place, that is. My folks are sitting up for me and--"
"Oh no you don't," Jack cut in. "I arranged things so that you could stay out tonight and I ain't about to have my plans spoiled because Blink's got a bunch in his smalls."
Race snickered and Blink slugged his shoulder as David began nattering on about being a good son. Ignoring the continuing exchange between Jack and David, Blink asked again, "Come with me, Mush. You can watch from the roof, if you want. I bet we could even snag a blanket or two to keep warm under."
Mush rubbed his chin thoughtfully before finally capitulating. "Oh, all right, but you owe me."
"You're a pushover," Race lamented.
"Go dunk your head," Blink shot back, slinging his arm around Mush's shoulders. "Mush here is the best friend a fella could ask for."
He started to walk, tugging Mush along with him. Mush shrugged free of his arm, but kept pace with him as they weaved their way through the crowd. Blink pulled his coat tight against him as a gust of wind buffeted him. He glanced over at Mush and saw that the other boy was doing the same.
"Cold night," he commented. Mush just grunted. "Hey," Blink waited till Mush looked at him before he continued, "thanks for going with me."
Mush shrugged. "It's nothing. Like you said, I can still watch the fireworks and that blanket notion of yours sure sounded fine to me."
Blink grinned. That had just been a throw away comment, but the idea of being huddled under a blanket with Mush was growing on him. He moved closer to Mush as they left the square behind, making good time down the nearly deserted streets. A feeling of contentment settled on him, causing the tension in his shoulders to ease and a bounce to creep into his step. This is how he wanted to spend his evening: in companionable silence, walking with his best friend at his side. A smile slide onto his face and he began to whistle.
"Better?" Mush asked quietly.
Blink nodded, once more narrowing the gap between them. It wasn't that he didn't enjoy the company of the others, he did. He relished their antics and crazy capers; hell, they were pretty much what made his life worth living. But nothing Jack could scheme up or Race could con him into ever compared to the sense of rightness that being with Mush brought. Mush caught his eye, smiled and bumped shoulders with him.
"Need to talk?" Blink shook his head. "Then why…" Mush trailed off, looking up as the faint sound of counting reached them.
He broke into a run, all but sprinting around the corner and the short way down to the lodging house door. Blink followed as fast as he could, but his best was no where near as good as Mush's and he didn't see hide nor hair of the boy until he reached the roof. He paused in the doorway, clutching at a stitch in his side.
Mush was standing at the edge of the roof, hands gripping the railing with his eyes pointed back towards the square. Blink took a final steadying breath, then spun on his heel and headed back down the stairs. He hopped down them two at a time, slammed into the bunk room and snatched up a blanket from the nearest available bed before rushing back to the roof. He smiled when he found Mush in the exact same position, face lit up in the glow of a fading explosion.
All hurry vanished as he watched Mush watching the sky. The contentment he had felt earlier magnified at the childlike exuberance written across Mush's features. Blink walked slowly towards him, not wanting to ruin the moment. When he was halfway there, Mush turned towards him, excitement making his eyes dance.
"Did you see that? Did you, Blink?"
Blink nodded, though he hadn't, and slipped the blanket around Mush's shoulders. "Better than last year?"
Mush nodded enthusiastically, attention returning to the lights in the sky. "Best I've ever seen and it's not even half done yet."
Blink bit his lip, hesitant for the first time. He and Mush, well, they understood each other. They knew things about each other than no one else did, and that had sometimes lead to moments that qualified as the best in his life. But those moments, precious as they were, were few and far between with no promises attached. He took a deep breath, stealing his courage for what was to come. Blink opened his mouth, then snapped it back shut when Mush's arm snaked out and wrapped around Blink's waist. A startled gasp escaped him and his eyes shot sideways, locking with Mush's. The other boy's were brimming with a mixture of concern and confidence as he shifted, awkwardly draping the blanket over Blink with his far hand.
"Thought you might be cold too," Mush offered with a shy smile.
Not pausing to think about the consequences, Blink darted forward, his lips brushing against Mush's all too shortly before moving away. The hand on Blink hip clenched as Mush followed him, closing the distance between them in a rough embrace. Mush's eyes were still locked with his, but the concern was gone. The kiss, when it came, was almost gentle. Blink's eye widened, then closed as Mush's mouth moved against his and unfamiliar but welcome emotions filled him. His arms slipped around Mush's waist, pulling him close as the blanket slid unnoticed to the ground. Above them the sky lit up with bright light, below the crowd in the square began to sing. Mush shifted, resting his head on Blink's shoulder, taking in the scene. All in all, Blink couldn't think of a better way to ring in the new century.