Things Left Behind
Azusa Kuraino

Though grey clouds had hung low and heavy in the sky since late afternoon, bringing with them a dry tension in the cold air that warned of impending snow, the twilight was clear and snowless. He had ventured out alone, into the crisp evening, into the air that seared against his skin and wrung tears from his eyes when he walked against the wind, and now he sat alone on a bench overhung by dark bare trees, looking over the great hill and the woods beyond.

The work of the previous day's snowfall had been cleared from the roads by now, putting the new machines with their internal combustion engines to the test: they had proved both workable and efficient, though from what Ramsus understood of their inner workings, the efficiency of the fuel injection systems had a considerable margin for improvement. He wasn't certain why that particular fact nagged at him so: it wasn't his problem, and someone else would take care of it, someone who knew more than he did about such matters. Hyuga or Yui could do something about it; he didn't have to worry. It had nothing to do with him.

Somehow, though, he couldn't get it off his mind tonight. That irked him somewhat. Wasn't there always someone else who would step in and take care of things when they fell outside his experience or just didn't feel like it?

Ramsus shifted on the stiff bench; the pervading cold had seeped into the wooden planks and was now beginning to creep up through his jacket, through his clothes, numbing his legs. He didn't even like the cold; in fact, he despised it. His only experience with weather of this sort had been a particularly unpleasant mission to the polar regions; full of his own arrogance, he had come unprepared, improperly dressed, and frostbite had been the result. Needless to say, it was not an experience he was particularly keen on repeating.

That being so, he wasn't sure why he continued to subject himself to the frigid air, growing colder and colder as the sun went down. Punishment, perhaps. Self-deprivation. Penance for his sins.

A shrill cry from the opposite side of the hill broke his thoughts; across the white glare of the slope, a pair of children slid down in tandem, side-by-side on makeshift cardboard sleds. The snow seemed to catch their voices, muffle the noise, even as their cries intensified. At the bottom they tumbled into soft drifts, rolled over and over, short little shrieks of terror mixed with delighted laughter. Then, clambering to their feet on tottering legs, they shook snow and ice off and began the long stumble back up to the top of the hill, where fifteen or twenty other children stood clustered, waiting their turns for the sleds.

Exhaling a grey puff of breath, he shook his head, chilled hair falling into his eyes. Surely they felt the cold too; surely even through their bundles of scarves and hats and jackets it seared through to their skin. Why then did they stay here? Why did they play in the frigid icy stuff-- immerse themselves in it, burrowing into it, flinging it at each other?

There was so much he didn't understand. So much he'd never understand. What did they feel when they careened down that hill, fear and joy mixed together in their cries? What went on in their heads? They looked so delirious with happiness, though he certainly couldn't fathom how they could feel that way in sub-freezing weather.

Ramsus pulled his black wool jacket more tightly across his chest, nuzzling his chin further into the soft folds of the scarf Elehaym had knitted for him. In time, he mused dismally, all these children would grow up and grow old and yet they would still share this with each other-- the reality of having once been a child. The reality that seperated him from the rest of humanity. He held no illusions of ever hoping to understand that facet of the human condition; he had no experience upon which to draw. How did one explain a sunset to the blind, or music to the deaf? Even Sigurd and Hyuga had that thing in common, that near-universal experience which every ordinary human could draw upon. In that, he felt as if a chasm as dark and cold as the woods at the bottom of the hill seperated him from them.

He folded his arms across his shoulderblades, half-hugging himself in attempt to muster more warmth. The black leather gloves he was wearing pulled stiffly against his knuckles; he'd found them in a closet of the house, and while they were warm enough, they were just a size or two too small for him. The aged, matted fleece which lined their insides began to chafe uncomfortably against his hands. Sigurd had told him that during the winter solstice there was a holiday his people traditionally celebrated, something about a "festival of lights" where family members and friends exchanged gifts. He considered asking for a new pair of gloves.

A dark blur of movement on the near side of the hill caught the attention of his peripheral vision, and he turned, momentarily distracted from thought, to see a small figure stumbling through the gathering darkness at the bottom of the hill, tugging a weathered wooden sled in its wake. A child? He couldn't tell if it was a boy or girl, bundled as it was under the woolen folds of an overly-large jacket. He exhaled again, blowing out a long trail of steam into the frigid air.

The figure, its eyes squinted shut against the cold wind, turned to stare up the hill, revealing a long brown braid tied by a purple ribbon. A girl, then. Squaring her shoulders back resolutely, she grabbed hold of the frayed rope tethered to the sled and began to clamber up the hill-- far steeper on this side than it was where the other children congregated.

A slight frown wrought its way into Ramsus's face. He disliked cold, he disliked children, and he could very well, if he so pleased, be back in the enveloping warmth of the house right now, surrounded by light and human comfort. Even Sigurd had remarked that he'd seemed a bit different lately. It distressed Ramsus in a faint, underlying sort of way: he liked to know his own motives, to understand his reasons for doing things. Sometimes it seemed to him that when he'd awakened all those months ago in the strange bedroom of an unfamiliar house, something else had woken with him. Something he didn't understand, something that had been so long severed he scarcely recognized it as a part of himself.

On the slope below, the girl continued to struggle towards the top with her sled, the climb slow and tedious. The weight of the sled was clearly no small burden for a child so young to bear; more than once she slipped, losing her footing in the grey-green boots that looked as though they had been worn to ineffectiveness by many years of owners. Ramsus found himself unconsciously tensing his muscles, chilled stiff by the cold already, and his teeth bit into his lower lip before he realized what he was doing.

The girl extended a bare hand, reaching for an exposed outcropping of rock to help her in her climb-- and, halfway up the hill, stumbled and fell again, grabbing for the rock and missing. The rope tied to the sled fell from her hand, and the sled went careening backwards towards the bottom of the hill. Its owner slid after it with a small cry, flailing helplessly as she tumbled downhill in the slippery snow, ending at last back where she had begun from.

She ought to just give up, Ramsus mused to himself, knitting his brows. She can't possibly climb such a steep slope. And yet, undeterred, the little girl was going after her sled again, grabbing hold of the knotted rope and beginning that tedious climb towards the summit, step by shambling step.

He was biting his lip again, he realized. The tight leather of the gloves pulled taut across his skin