Hand in Hand

It's Christmas Eve. Late. The house is silent, the noise the boys made when they stumbled in, shivering with cold and full of happy chatter about what the next day might hold, has long since faded. Every head should be resting on a pillow; every eye should to be closed. The promise of Christmas ought to be providing the inhabitants of the lodging house with pleasant dreams.

But it isn't.

There is an empty bed. A bunk without a body huddled under the blankets. Across the room, a pair of sleepy brown eyes study it as ears strain to hear the sound of rushing water or footsteps on the floorboards. The bed remains empty. The house remains silent and the boy with the sleepy eyes reluctantly pushes himself up.

He sits for a moment, blankets bunched about his waist. A frown tugs at his lips and he swings his legs over the edge of his bunk, hopping down with well practiced ease. The cold from the floor seeps into his feet and creeps up his legs. A hand hunts under in the empty space between the bunk and floor then two feet are shoved into a pair of ill fitting shoes and a wool jacket is tugged over shoulders it strains to fit.

A last look is cast in the direction of the empty bed, a soft curse is muttered and then the boy is moving swiftly across the room and out the door. There is a brief stop in the hallway, a moment of indecision, before the boy heads up the stairs. He pauses at the door at the top of them, wishing that he had thought to put on his spare shirt or shove his hands into a pair of socks, then he pushes it open and steps out into the cold night air.

The missing boy is standing at the edge of the roof looking out over the empty streets of the city. He turns at the sound of the door opening, nods once, then shifts his so he facing back towards the view. Irritation burns in the hunter's veins and he is tempted to spin on his heel and march back down to his warm bed. He walks to the other's side instead.

"It's late," he says. The boy tilts his head back and squints up at the moon. "Past midnight, I'd guess."

"Merry Christmas then."

He sighs. "It's cold out. You'll catch your death."

His companion shrugs the comment off, his attention still focused inwardly as he gazes out into the star strewn sky.

"Blink," he says, exasperated.

"I didn't ask you to come hunting for me."

A smile crosses his face as he reaches out to cover a gloved hand with his own bare one. "When have you ever needed to?"

The boy turns his hand palm up, fingers intertwining with the one on top of it. He squeezes gently, his eye still trained on the horizon.

They stand there together, both immersed in their own thoughts. One shifts closer. Minutes pass, then the other does the same. An arm slips over a shoulder, a head turns and cold lips press against even colder skin.

It's Christmas morning. Early. The house is silent, except for an occasional snort and snore. In the bunkroom two beds lay empty; two pillows remain smooth and un-dented. Above on the roof two boys stand, hand in hand, and greet the breaking day.

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