[personal profile] apprentice_lurk

Artemis sat quietly on the front steps, elbows on his knees and gazing absently at the ground. He stirred the dust with the end of the twig dangling loosely between his fingertips, hair falling into his eyes, and tried to ignore the icy wind darting past the balustrades to bite at his bare skin. He'd been stuck indoors for the last couple of days - at least it was a change of scenery.

He leant forward a little, peering around the grubby stone to try and see if Helios had finished his paper round yet. He was never entirely sure what time school finished anymore. Any lingering guilt he'd felt over missing so many lessons had evaporated years ago - right up until he'd met Helios. Now he only really went to school for the lunch breaks and the chance to sit with the other boy while he pretended he was learning.

His ears twitched at the sound of bike wheels whirring over the pavement. A grin blooming on his face, Artemis edged forwards into the bitter wind and waved. "'Ey, 'Lios!"

"Artemis!" The short, scrappy redhead ground to a halt as he hit the brakes, scrambling off his bike, the oversized newspaper bag swinging madly from the handlebars. "Hey!"

The grin he gave Artemis in return was open and honest, though there was a flicker of relief fading in his expression that made Artemis want to squirm. Neither of them mentioned his unexplained absence from school that week - it went without saying, like the knocks and bruises hidden under Artemis' sleeves.

"D'y'want some company?" Artemis couldn't help the hopeful note in his voice. He didn't care about missing school, but missing Helios...

"Sure!" the other boy beamed at him, shrugging deeper into his coat. "Lemme give Rufus the paper bag back, then I'm good til dinner."

...That was something Artemis had to remember. Need to be back in time to make dinner for Ma and his little sisters - if he made something good, maybe Ma wouldn't mind him going to school tomorrow and he could see Helios again. "'Kay." They fell into step, walking in companionable silence as Helios wheeled his bike along the pavement and Artemis huddled up tight in his jumper. Lucky they had some of Da's old army jumpers left, or he'd freeze in this weather.

"How's Miss Aeris?" he asked politely, belatedly remembering to mind his manners like his Ma'd drummed into him. You were always nice to girls, even if Miss Aeris was tech'nic'ly too old to be a girl-girl and didn't kick his shins or yell like his sisters.

Helios lit up when his guardian was mentioned, and Artemis listened contentedly to talk of the wedding they were preparing flowers for; how many corsages they'd put together yesterday, how Miss Aeris had had to go Out The Back for more flowers when the bride's bouquet had been changed at the last minute, with the poor thing crying down the phone about how her wedding was ruined and then Miss Aeris went and made it perfect for her...

They never talked about why Out The Back of the flower shop had such significance, either. It was one of those things that, if it was mentioned, it was with the solemn faces and hushed tones of children telling revelations. It was common knowledge that Miss Aeris was a 'wonder' like old Mrs Lockhart often said, but it was also the done thing - the polite thing, a courtesy from the days when such courtesies were honoured above all else - that you never questioned why.

The newspaper sack was delivered safely, and while Helios was talking to the corner shop's manager Artemis poked about the shelves for something cheap and impressive he could make for dinner that night. It would have to be impressive, since all he had to his name was a handful of change and five hungry sisters to feed...Rufus Shinra's chain of shops wasn't a patch on the deli round the corner, but it did a quiet, steady trade in the small things that kept houses running.

Artemis couldn't feed everyone on tinned soup and lightbulbs, however, so while Helios was talking he contented himself with poking at the postcards that Rufus kept over the counter and wondering if his Da had visited any of the countries there. The redhead turned back to Artemis after waving his boss a respectful good-evening, brightening again as their eyes met, and Artemis had to bite his tongue and remind himself that Helios was his very best friend, never mind what his hormones might be telling him. He could deal with having his heart broken if he ever fell for someone else, he could take it if life found something new to throw at him, but Artemis knew he wouldn't be able to bear it if he frightened Helios away.

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