The evening before Solstice, staring out the frost-laced window of Atlas Academy, Oscar realized just how far from home he really was.
If it hadn’t been painfully obvious from the moment he arrived in the Kingdom, here, now, it certainly was. This wasn’t like Anima. No one leaped to the windows at the first sign of snow; it wasn’t anything special in the frigid tundra. There would be no train trips into the nearest major settlement – sometimes as far as Sakura – to wander through the bustling, brightly-lit market stalls teeming with the sweet smells of pastry and cocoa and cider. He would wake up to silence, and lose himself to training while the others – proper Huntsmen now – tried to keep the Amity Project on-track. He wondered if they felt the pang too, but they had each other, and he… well, he supposed he had them too, but it wasn’t the same. Would they even want to celebrate, or would they be too exhausted to remember? There didn’t seem to be any celebrations at all beyond those arranged by students, and those were generally small, cozy gatherings he didn’t want to intrude upon. Neon had come by earlier to invite him along to the festivities of Team FNKI and their friends, but without the others, Oscar wouldn’t have known what to do with himself, so he’d politely declined.
Humming, he set his chin on his palm. It had stopped snowing about two hours ago, and no one had come or gone from the Academy since, leaving the blanket of fresh fluff undisturbed in the moonlight. It was beautiful. It coated everything, shimmering in millions of cool rainbows, like magic. A huff of laughter escaped him at the thought.
Pushing himself back from the window, he snuck to the door and out of the dorm room he shared with Jaune, Ren, and Nora. The halls were empty and awash with soft blue glows; it was well past curfew. No one saw him button up his coat and head for the elevator, tucking his chin into the high collar as he went. There were no guards to stop him from taking it all the way down to the grounds, and no one was by the doors to keep him from pushing them open and stepping out into the gentle night.
The crisp air hit him in a wonderful, stinging rush. He closed his eyes on a sharp breath. A breeze whistled through the pillars and alcoves, brushing painter’s streaks across the snowdrifts. Oscar let it carry him forward, through the snow that threatened to spill into his boots, to the helipad. A glittering Kingdom sat stretched out before him, the oranges and yellows of homes and heating systems wandering off to pinpoints that dropped off before the mountain peaks. The constant green-blue curtain of Solitas’ northern aurora flowed above him, and he craned his head back to watch.
He thought of his Aunt, at home on their farm. She would be asleep, by now, waiting for another morning without him. He wondered if she missed him. How angry must she have been, when she found him missing? Had any of the reports from Mistral made it to her yet? Had his letter? He didn’t regret leaving; not really. But he was sorry for it all the same. He missed her. He missed the farm. He missed knowing that he could wake up Solstice morning and sit and have coffee with her, and unwrap the gift – small, but heartfelt – that was always slid across the table.
Blinking the bristling from his eyes, he crouched and dug a ball out of the snow. She would like Atlas. Not the people, maybe, but the splendor. The grandeur. The way the spires and towers shone like silver, and caught fire in the light of the sunset. He thought, maybe, one day when this was all over, he could bring her to see it. The hope cinched in thorns about his heart.
Behind him, the snow crunched.
“Oscar? What are you doing out here?”
Ruby’s voice was tired and exactly as welcome as it wasn’t. In daylight hours, it would have had him spinning on the spot, fumbling for an excuse. Now, he just straightened and smiled to himself.
“Just wanted to have a look,” he said without turning ‘round. “It’s… really pretty.”
She stepped into the space next to him. She’d drawn a jacket over her Atlas-issue thermal pajamas. “Yeah, it is. We never got this much snow back home.”
“Neither did we.”
Something snuck into his mind, then, as he tossed the little ball of snow from palm to palm. Something delightful and childish and unbearably bright, filling his chest with warmth and lifting his shoulders. He glanced at Ruby. She was watching the sky.
“Hey… You know what snow like this is good for?”
Oscar pivoted, teetering back a step on the ice with a little less grace than he’d been aiming for. The snowball flew true. Fluff exploded on her arm. Ruby gasped, and Oscar ran.
“Oh, you- Get back here!”
He managed a grand total of five steps before something cold hit the back of his head. It stung. He laughed. So did she.
She used her Semblance to dance circles around him. He hit her twice anyways, doubling over at the look on her face as she swept the snow from her bangs. She took cover behind a docked airship. Oscar pressed his back to a particularly high drift, throat dry and half-soaked. Their chorusing giggles and shrieks echoed in the cold night air, drifting off in clouds of fog. He was aware of how much Aura they were burning, but it wasn’t accompanied by the usual fear of danger. It felt good. It felt wild, and alive in a way he hadn’t felt… He couldn’t remember feeling.
“Your move, farm boy!” Ruby called, breathless.
Oscar packed another snowball between his fingers. “No fair! You’ve got a more fortified position!”
A yelp broke her jeer. For a moment, Oscar’s heart stuttered, and he froze. Her name was on his lips as he scrambled to peer over his shoddy cover. General Ironwood had said Grimm couldn’t fly as high as Atlas; had said they were-
Something hit the snowdrift, throwing it back in his face. More voices started laughing.
“Starting a snowball fight without us? I’m hurt, sis.”
Yang tossed another snowball into the air, prosthetic fist resting on her hip. Blake was next to her, mouth quirked and drawn up in a smirk; one that was mirrored by Weiss, who was already dipping low to activate a Glyph. Oscar rolled his eyes. Semblances were cheating, but no use telling them that. Especially not when-
“Hark! Oscar is in mortal peril! We must save him! Charge!”
-another shrill voice hit his ears from the steps of the Academy, and the next thing he knew there were three bodies beside him, and somehow Jaune produced a tray from the cafeteria to use as a shield, and Oscar’s toes and fingers were tingling numb, but he just couldn’t stop laughing.
The next morning, he rolled over, aching and bruised, and smiled. And, as Nora linked her arm through his and tugged him off to their short pre-briefing breakfast, he thought maybe his aunt would’ve been happy for him if she knew he wasn’t alone.