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Respite — Stories of Winter

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“How about you take a break for once? It’s winter break, and you’re still busy.” Towa looked at Rean, who was working on some assignments. Rean didn’t even bother looking at Towa when he spoke.

“I have this assignment to work on, Towa and I need to finish it.”

Towa frowned at him. “Do you have a deadline?” she asked. Rean still refused to make eye contact with her. “Yeah, it has to be done until the end of the winter break. Why?”

“Is it too much to do?” she asked again, ignoring Rean’s question. 

“Eh, a few sheets, then I still have to--”

“No, you don’t” Towa took the pen he was writing with. “Let me do that for you! Give me a quick rundown of all your assignments and what you still have to do, and I’ll work on it!”

Rean looked at Towa with a frown. He didn’t like it when Towa was doing more work than she usually already had to do. He knew this from back when he enrolled in Thors military academy himself and got to know her as a hardworking student council president.

“No, you don’t have to! Towa, you really shouldn’t--”

“Don’t worry about me, Rean! I’ll be done with it sooner than you can imagine!” Towa interrupted him with a warm smile.

Rean stared at her again. He then sighed, knowing he couldn’t protest, and he already lost this fight. He then looked at his petite colleague with a soft smile. 

“Alright… I… I accept defeat. But please… if it’s still too much for you, just--”

“I said to not worry about me!” Towa repeated, giving him another warm smile, “just spend some time with your loved ones, okay?”

Rean was still hesitating, but then he nodded at her. He knew he couldn’t mess with Towa at this point. 

“Okay… I think you’re right,” he said.

“Take it as returning a favor for returning a good friend to us!” Towa said, winking at him. 

“Huh…?” Rean wasn’t sure he could follow until it hit him.

Crow. 

Rean was wondering what he was up to… He knew that he’d frequently stop by the campus, only to “harass Towa and Rean for fun” as he preferred to call it. Sadly, they barely got to talk though, since Rean was mainly busy with work, so it was only sticking with “Hellos”, “How are yous” and “Goodbyes”.

Perhaps he could ask Crow to spend winter break with him…?

“Nah… he’d be too busy with… whatever he’s doing right now…” Rean muttered to himself.

“Hm…?” Towa looked up at Rean while she was gathering his assignment papers.

“Nothing. I was just… talking to myself” he replied, then looked back at Towa- “Do you still need something?” he asked as he grabbed some of his belongings that he’d need now that he wouldn’t return to the campus for quite some time.

“I should be fine!” Towa said, “now out with you!” she added with a grin, “and happy new year!”

Rean smiled at her and nodded, approaching the door. “Happy new year, Towa” he lastly said, then left the room and the campus afterward.

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It felt like a relief being back in Ymir. Of all places he had to choose it was the place, he knew by the palm of his hand. Elise was more than happy to see her adoptive brother again, so was Lucia. 

“We’re happy that you decided to visit Ymir for winter break, Rean,” Lucia said, while she handed him a cup of his favorite tea.

“Well, I was more or less forced to take a break” Rean admitted. “I would love to have just worked over the winter break. However, Towa said she’d take my work instead, so I could have a break for once.”

Elise could just sigh at that. “I would have come and dragged you out if you overworked yourself!”

Rean shook his head. “It’s… it’s fine Elise. I am here and all I do is probably help--”

“If you intend on helping your father, then I won’t let you!” Elise interrupted him with a huff. 

“She’s right, Rean. Use your time here for some respite. I appreciate the thought of helping Teo, though” Lucia looked at Rean, reaching out to pat his head.

Rean just sighed, staring into his cup. “Fine… but if you need help, Mum, then don’t hesitate to ask.”

Lucia smiled and nodded. “That’s nice of you, dear.”

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The sun was about to set, and Rean had taken the opportunity to sit near the foot bath and let his feet rest in the hot tub. His feet had been feeling a bit sore since his arrival at Ymir, so it felt good for once. He was also considering going to the hot springs, but he was told that the place too many guests. A foot bath would do, for now, he thought, and since he was spending two weeks in Ymir, he’d go there whenever he’d feel fancy.

Crow, however, couldn’t leave his mind ever since his arrival. Rean was thinking about contacting him and ask about his whereabouts, but perhaps he was too busy and Rean didn’t want to bother him. 

“Perhaps he’s just somewhere gambling again or hitting on a random girl like the playboy he is…” Rean muttered to himself while he kept pondering.

“O-or h-he’s fr-freezing h-his a-ass o-off b-because h-he’s v-visiting a g-good f-friend…”

Rean turned around and stood up, widening his eyes when he stared at a freezing to death Crow standing before him. His nose was red, his body pale, and he was shivering all over. 

“Crow!? What are you doing here!?” he asked, then grabbed his socks and shoes, that were resting next to the spot Rean was sitting on and put them on. 

“F-freezing t-to d-death… w-what e-else…?” he replied, trying to warm himself by rubbing his upper arms with his hands, but with no success.

Rean shook his head. He stammered for a bit before finally finding his words again. “T-that’s not what I meant, I…” he groaned, then grabbed Crow by his wrist and led him to the Schwarzer mansion, which was luckily not too far away from the footbath.

“Come with me, I know a warm place!” Rean added.

“C-can’t…” Crow muttered, “c-can’t c-come w-with y-you w-when y-you’re t-tugging me l-like this…”

Rean couldn’t help another groan at that comment, then entered the mansion. He let go of Crow’s wrist, sighing in relief after finding out it was much warmer than outside. “If you like you can just warm yourself by the hearth. I’ll go get a blanket and make some tea for you!”

Crow didn’t have any objections, and he couldn’t even say anything as he watched Rean rush upstairs, making him sigh. He then cupped his hands together and blew into them before rubbing them together when he saw the hearth Rean was mentioning and walked his way there, sitting on the floor that seemed incredibly warm now. 

A few minutes passed when he felt something soft and fluffy fall over his shoulders, and when he turned around to look, he saw Rean sitting next to him, handing him a hot cup of tea.

“Are you going to tell me now why you’re here?” he asked, looking at Crow who was adjusting the blanket over him. 

“Right after you left I was seeing Towa, and she told me that you left for winter break. I just wanted to check on you and ask if you’d like to go get a drink or something. But you were nowhere to be found at the campus. So I knew I’d find you here.”

Rean nodded while he was taking a sip from his hot tea. “Yeah, I wanted to spend winter break with my... family, so I came to Ymir. What about you? How were you doing until now?”

Crow shrugged at the question and took a sip from the tea as well. He sure could feel his body getting warmer at that, and it felt like he never actually had been freezing to death since he was outside. 

“Eh… aside from freezin’ my ass off to come here, nothin’ much. Wandering around most of the time.”

Rean frowned a little, his gaze still fixed at Crow. 

“I thought you’d return to Jurai after the imperial wedding.”

Crow shook his head, huffing at that assumption coming from his friend.

“Nah… ever since it’s changed so much it kinda doesn’t look or feel the same anymore. So I’ve been scraping by, helping the helpless and all that… paying my debts.”

Rean frowned at that, then stared into his cup. It took him a moment to understand what he meant with ‘paying his debts’. He could clearly remember the damage caused by the Imperial Liberation Front, so it was kind of nice to hear that Crow was scrapping by trying to compensate all his doings. 

“How long are you going to stay by the way? N-not that I’m intending to kick you out any sooner, it’s just--”

Crow shrugged while he was taking another sip from his tea. “Dunno. I don’t want to bother you or your folks too much, so I might just stay for a night or two at the Phoenix wings.”

Rean took a moment to ponder about something, then looked at Crow again. “Y-you could stay with me for the winter break!” he blurted out, his cheeks were slightly red without even realizing it.

Crow snorted at that. “I don’t know if I got enough mira to stay for two weeks at the Phoenix wings, kiddo.”

Rean clicked his tongue at that. “You idiot, of course, you can stay here for the time being! Pretty sure Mom and Dad wouldn’t mind! I just… don’t know about Elise, though.”

Crow hummed at the suggestion. “Heh… sounds good to me.”

Rean turned around from the fireplace when he heard footsteps and smiled when it was his mother.

“Oh…” Lucia looked at Crow, then at Rean, “I thought I heard you talking to someone, Rean. You must be Crow, right? It’s a pleasure.” 

Crow nodded, smiling at her. “Likewise. Don’t worry, I did come under good circumstances this time.” 

“He wanted to stay here for winter break if that’s alright. I had to pick him up from outside while he was freezing to death.”

Lucia smiled at them. “That would explain the blanket over him, right? Just make yourself at home. And stay as long as you want, Mr. Crow.”

Crow grinned at the woman. “Ah, Crow’s just fine. But thank you for your… hospitality, Lady Schwarzer.”

Rean looked at Crow and smiled. “Ah, that reminds me. Are you hungry, Crow?”

Crow meant to say something when a loud, growling sound came from his stomach, causing him to click his tongue and gently hit his belly with his flat hand. “Ah, shut up, down there!”

“I guess that’s a cue for us to cook dinner then, right?” Lucia said. Rean got up, walking to his mother. “Do you need help, Mum?” 

Lucia shook his head. “No, you have arrived today, so you should take it easy for tonight. And your friend, too.”

Rean nodded, then looked at Crow. “I have to make sure you get some warm clothing when we’re intending to leave the house for errands or so. Pretty sure there’s something that might fit you.”

Crow nodded, then got up when he took the last drop from the tea. He was holding onto the blanket, then handed Rean the cup. “Thanks for the tea, ‘m feeling a lot better now.”

Rean nodded and handed Lucia the cup as she was reaching for it. “I’m glad it helped you warm up a little. I forgot you’re not used to the cold… or at least you did mention something like that in the past.” 

Crow shrugged, the blanket still being wrapped around him while one hand was holding onto it. “Yeah. I come from a coastal city-state and the difference in temperatures would give me quite the shock. Knowing you’d spent most of your life here I could imagine you running around here all naked without even minding it.”

Rean couldn’t help but blush at that bold assumption. “Listen, I’m the adopted son of a Baron, I would NEVER--”

Crow laughed at that. “I’m just messing with you, man! Just like… good old times, right? Class VII times? I sure did rile you up lots back then.”

Lucia couldn’t help but chuckle at their banter. “Rean, if you wouldn’t mind… how about you show him his room? And maybe introduce him to Elise and Teo, now that he’ll stay at our mansion temporarily.”

Crow unwrapped himself from the blanket after realizing that it got too hot under the piece of fabric. Rean reached out to grab the blanket, then looked at Crow, lips forming a smile. “Very well… let me show you around. You sure want to know where to spend your nights, right?”

“Of course. I hope your bed’s big enough for the two of us” Crow said, winking at Rean, which caused the shorter’s cheeks to turn red at the remark.

“I-I n-never a-agreed to s-share my bed with you!” he protested, although deep in his mind he wouldn’t mind it either-- oh, Aidios, what was he thinking right now?

“Awww… but who’s going to keep me warm when I’m going to be cold overnight?” he said with a pout on his face. It wasn’t certain whether he was being serious about it or just playing with Rean as usual. 

“I-if that’s what you’re afraid of, then I could hand you a blanket that will keep you warm overnight. We’ve got these just in case it’s going to be very cold… which hasn’t happened in years as far as I remember…” Rean said, then walked up the stairs, “you needn’t worry about it, you’ll survive a cold night in Ymir, I’ll make sure of it.”

Crow nodded at that and sighed. "Alright then, but I want to see your room, so I can see how you live here."

Rean gave the other man a look. "Honestly it's not unlike the room I had at Thors Military Academy. Aside from a few differences, it's not special."

Crow shrugged at that, then entered the room Rean was pointing at. So this was supposed to be his bedroom for the coming days. While Crow was looking around, Rean left once again to look for a much thicker blanket for his guest, so he wouldn't freeze overnight. 

Rean came back and handed him a thick blanket. "We usually have them when the nights are freezing, but since you're so afraid of freezing to death overnight, you may have one," Rean said with a smile. 

Crow took the blanket and thanked him with a nod, then placed it on the bed. He'd unfold it and cuddle into it as soon as he'd call it for the day, hoping that he'd have a warm night.

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The dinner with the Schwarzer family was a comfortable one if not for Elise, who was staring holes into Crow. Not only that, but she was also incredibly possessive over Rean and kept asking him for seconds and if he wanted this or that… it was quite awkward. Teo, on the other hand, took the opportunity to talk to Crow and get to know him a bit more. Crow sure did hide certain parts… especially about his involvement with the Noble Alliance or that he died but was revived due to his power as an Awakener.

"That was probably the best stew I've ever had," Crow said as he finished his second bowl. His gaze went to Lucia. "Thank you, Lady Schwarzer! It was wonderful!"

Lucia smiled at him. "Oh, you're ever so welcome, Crow! I'm glad you liked it, it's one good meal to warm you up at times!" 

Crow nodded. "Speaking of warming up, I'm grateful for the hospitality you have provided even in the shortest amount of time," he said.

Elise just rolled her eyes at that, being annoyed at all that sweet-talk. Rean looked at her for a moment, being a bit concerned but then just minded his own business. Perhaps it wasn't good to interfere as she was trying to be clingy.

"Now you can just enjoy the rest of your evening," Lucia said.

"I heard the tavern has brought back the Glühwein for this winter" Teo suggested, "maybe you should take a look there."

Crow shook his head. "I think I refuse to leave this place knowing it’s dark and even colder outside… but thank you for the suggestion, Lord Schwarzer!”

Teo released a dry laugh at that. “Just call me Teo. It’s not a real big deal being all so polite.”

Crow smiled and nodded at that. “Alright then, Teo.”  then looked at Rean, who looked like he was pondering once again.

“I could walk to the tavern later and bring us two cups of Glühwein, then walk back! It’s not too far away and I doubt that the Glühwein would get cold that quickly outside.”

Crow hummed at that suggestion and nodded. “I don’t mind,” he said with a shrug, “I’ve never had Glühwein before but I heard it’s quite popular in the colder regions of Erebonia, especially during winter.”

Teo nodded and smiled. “Indeed, and Ymir’s Glühwein is very well known here.”

“I have to admit I never came to the taste of the actual thing, only the non-alcoholic variant, though.” 

Crow couldn’t stop but grin brightly at Rean. “Guess my actual intention of seeking you out for a drink did kind of work out in that case.”

“Oh, right…” Rean remembered. 

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Crow was sitting near the hearth waiting for Rean to come back with the promised Glühwein. Everyone else was minding their own business or was sleeping since it was quite late. When Crow heard the noise of the door opening, he perked up only to see Rean walking towards him with two cups of delightful smelling Glühwein. 

Rean sat down next to him and grabbed some of Crow’s blanket to place it over his shoulders, then handed him a cup. 

“It’s still hot,” Rean said, “I did use my arts to keep it as hot as possible.”

Crow looked at him, holding the cup in his hands and blew into it before taking his first sip. Crow never had any Glühwein before, and the first impression of it wasn’t a bad one either. 

The taste of alcohol wasn’t unfamiliar to him; he’d drink alcohol back in Trista or during Class VII’s field studies despite being underage at the time, but it still felt strange sipping it after a long time. 

“It’s not bad,” Crow said, then took another sip, although way too hastily to the point he managed to burn his tongue. He hissed at the pain and took the warning to wait a bit before drinking more. 

“I did warn you,” Rean said, then took a sip from his Glühwein. He sighed, then scooted a tad bit closed to Crow. “You know… the last time I had alcohol was also my first time… It was with Randy back then…” 

“Ah…” 

Crow could feel that the topic didn’t seem to be a good one, so he tried to change it. 

“I guess the first time I had alcohol was when I was sixteen or so… back when I founded the Imperial Liberation Front. It was Vulcan’s idea and despite me being underage, I honestly didn’t give a damn for once… I've to admit the taste was awful and I remember both Gideon and Vulcan laughing at me for not taking it too well…” he heaved a sigh at that memory, now that he remembered the members.

Rean looked at him with a frown. “It seems like you did have fun with the members of the ILF like they were your friends, right?”

“Comrades, mind you” Crow corrected him, “I didn’t see them as friends despite pursuing the same target. Didn’t think they saw me as a friend either, since I was a mere kid in my sweet sixteen…” 

Crow looked into his cup as if he was pondering. “Don’t know what I was thinking back then… I had so much anger bottled up in me that I just wanted this man dead.”

Rean was listening to him and took sips from his Glühwein sometimes, and he could slowly feel how he was slowly feeling lightheaded. The alcohol’s effects seem to work already, much to Rean’s dismay. 

“But it’s all over now…” Rean then spoke, “and we managed to finish him off… together…” now Rean was leaning his head against Crow’s shoulder. Crow looked at him as he didn’t mind it, then looked back into his cup. 

“Yeah, ‘s all thanks to you and our friends. Never thought that we’d manage to finish him off together…” Crow heaved a sigh before taking the last few sips from his cup, then placed it on the floor at least one arge away from him. He then looked back at Rean, who was still leaning against Crow’s shoulder. 

His gaze then went back to the fire, not saying anything and just listening to Rean’s breath and the fire.

“Crow…” Rean suddenly spoke, before taking the last sips from his Glühwein as well, then placed the cup on the floor before looking at him.

“When you died… I was feeling lonely… I… I didn’t know what to do first… but I thought it was best to finish what you started… but it wasn’t that easy…” he sighed, “there wasn’t a day in which I wasn’t thinking about you. I missed you so much and…--”

Crow looked at Rean, first a bit confused but kept listening to him. Perhaps it was the alcohol acting, but he felt like it was obligatory to listen. Then Rean was clinging onto Crow’s shirt, hiding his face against his chest while Crow was looking down at him with a frown.

There were a lot of feelings bottled up ever since Crow had died, that was for sure. And perhaps it was the alcohol or the fact they were alone, but Rean had finally taken the courage to tell Crow everything he couldn’t tell him back when they’d reunited to finish Osborne’s tyranny once and for all.

And even after that their ways had parted, and Rean was focused on keeping up his work as an instructor for New Class VII at the Branch Campus. 

“I was… even keeping the 50 mira coin that you stole and returned to me… as a reminder…”

Rean then looked up at Crow, moving a bit now that he was straddling against Crow’s lap. Crow didn’t know what to say or do, he just let Rean do what he wanted, he had no intention of pushing him away. 

Rean’s next move, however, was quite surprising for the former terrorist.

Rean’s face moved close to Crow’s, pressing little kisses on Crow’s lips.

“Crow… Crow… I missed you so much…” he said, followed by a sniff and tears rolling down his eyes. “Please…” another kiss “don’t leave me again…”

Crow couldn’t help but release a sigh before wrapping his arms around Rean’s waist, then returned the last kiss, without even thinking, while he held him close. 

“Rean… you’re fully drunk…” he said as he realized that Crow was the only one still sober, “perhaps it wasn’t a good idea drinking that much Glühwein.”

Rean just chuckled against Crow’s lips when he moved his head against Crow’s neck. “I… I don’t know what you’re talking about… I just missed you too much…”

“That how you show someone you miss them…? You’re strange, kiddo…” Crow sighed again, before cupping Rean’s cheek with one hand, then leaned his forehead against Rean’s, smiling at him. 

“Can’t say I didn’t miss you too. You got me quite worried after I found out what happened to you when I got my memories back…”

Rean didn’t hesitate to press another kiss on Crow’s lips, before moving and kiss his cheek. “Mhm… c-could you please… sleep in my bed with me…? I… I don’t want to let you go… and I’m warm… very warm…” he whispered the last part into his ear.

Crow looked at Rean and sighed… “Very well… and I guess you’re about to go to bed… you look quite sleepy to me.” 

Crow wrapped both his arms around Rean, then picked him up as soon as he stood up from the floor. Rean had his legs wrapped around Crow’s legs, his arms were wrapped around Crow’s neck.

“Hehe… Crow, you’re so strong… you can lift me like that… Am I not too heavy for you…?”

“You? Too heavy for me? Nah… you’re just fine. Let’s go to sleep now, you’re as drunk as a sailor…” he muttered, while he moved up the stairs and walked into Rean’s room, placing him on the bed while Rean was clinging on his shirt. 

“Mh… don’t go, Crow… don’t leave…” he muttered with a whine.

“I’m not going anywhere…” Crow said while looking at him. To deal with a drunk Rean… he certainly hoped Rean wasn’t like that back when he had a drink with Randy…

Crow then finally gave in and laid down next to Rean, who immediately wrapped his arms around the taller. “Mh… don’t leave me…” he muttered sleepily, looking up at Crow with half-lidded eyes. 

“I won’t leave…” Crow whispered back, then wrapped an arm around Rean, then closed his eyes. He was pretty tired himself, unaware if it was the alcohol or just the usual lack of sleep. 

Perhaps that night he’d finally get the sleep of his life for once and sleep in.