A/N: Story for a contest on Gaia. Christmas item mentioned: Ribbon.


DAY ONE

They were staring again. It's all they ever seemed to do every time Raul went into town. He hated seeing the pity in their eyes as he went about his day. He tried his best to get on with his life and to act as normal as possible, but their reactions made sure it couldn't happen. Seven months. It had been seven months since Fate had died. He had accepted it, more or less, and the town was only making things worse. Well, it was a small town so it was to be expected. They hardly ever got any excitement, unless you counted the numerous festivals held throughout the year.

The tall, brown-haired man glared at the old woman who ran the grocery store as she gave him a sad smile. And people wondered why he never left his house. Even now, as he passed the grocery store, he could see a customer leaning over the counter to hear whatever it was the old woman was whispering to her. The very thought that they were gossiping about it made him sick. They didn't even know the truth; it was mere speculation on their part.

"Nosey busybodies," Raul muttered under his breath as he tucked gloved hands inside his coat pockets, breath leaving his mouth in a soft white cloud. "They need to worry about themselves, not anyone else." A few months ago he had been somewhat appreciative. Now it was just ridiculous. Two more women, who Raul recognized as neighbors on his street, passed him whispering. This time he caught some of their conversation.

"-such a shame really-"

"-was wrong, but they were so sweet-"

"-cooped up in his home all day-"

"-poor dear is heart-broken!"

Not even a deep breath could cool the rage beginning to burn in his blood. He was sick and tired of it. Yes, he had lost someone he loved. Yes, his life would never be the same again. But for the love of God, he wasn't the type of man who would lock himself in his house merely because his lover had passed away. That's it, he thought fiercely as he stood at the crossing, waiting for the pedestrian light to turn green. I'm getting a housekeeper. They can go into this mess for me.

It was also a week before Christmas, Fate's favorite time of year. Around this time Fate would be attempting to string garland over as much of their house as he could, instead getting tangled in it like a fly in a spider web. He had made Christmas more enjoyable, more tolerable, for Raul. Now he was gone and the holiday had gone back to being what it used to be: a lonely, useless holiday that he wouldn't participate in.

Raul glanced up at the light, wanting it to turn already so he could get away from the stares. In the next instant it turned green and Raul all but ran across. The brunette huddled into his coat as he walked down the sidewalk, threading his way through the crowd of shoppers. He remembered when he used to be like them, ready for the holidays and eager to find the perfect gift for his loved one. But those feelings were gone, and this would be just another week. The wind began to blow harder and Raul shivered beneath his coat. Perhaps he should have worn a sweater instead of the light turtleneck he had on under the coat, but he hadn't thought he'd be out this long. He was more than a little thankful when he saw the entrance to the park, a shortcut he always took home. It meant he was halfway there.

Raul walked through the open gate and into the park, immediately noticing the difference in the atmospheres. Outside the park all was busy and chaotic. In here, a place devoid of crowds, it was relaxing and peaceful. Few people came here in winter unless they were holding a festival. Not many could stand the cold and the snow. Raul was one of the few who visited. It was the only place he could go that held no memories of Fate, and it gave him a small respite. The snow that coated the ground was almost untouched, the pathway worming through the area the only thing not touched by the white fluff. It truly was a winter wonderland. At night it would be even more beautiful with the moon shining on the snow. Raul promised himself he'd come out here one of these nights to see it. Perhaps it would give him some inspiration.

The brunette's stance relaxed with every step he took until he was almost a different person. There was even a small smile playing at his lips as he observed his surroundings. He now entered an area more populated by trees, the wood dark and vivid against the white of the snow. Every now and then he heard a branch rustle and the soft plop of snow hitting the ground. Most of the trees here were evergreens, planted years ago to keep the image of a country Christmas in mind. Soon, Raul knew, he would come to a fork in the path. The left would take him deeper into the trees until he came out on the other side, where a gazebo and pond lay. The right would lead him to the exit and his home. When he reached the fork Raul went left. Now that he was here, relaxed, he wasn't in the mood to go home. He wanted to enjoy this while he could. Home meant work and calls from his family begging him to come home. It meant a cold atmosphere and a silence so loud it rivaled the city. He would avoid it while he could.

The trees began spreading out more and more until, finally, Raul stood at the end of the path. The trees here had been trimmed to form a tunnel for the entrance, and someone had come and wound lights around them. They weren't lit yet, but they would be later that night. In front of Raul lay a wide expanse of ice. It was the pond, which had frozen over due to the cold. Snow coated the wooden gazebo, only the inside bare of the frozen water. All was silent here, though not the deafening silence Raul hated. It was the calm, soothing one of nature. Despite having lived in the city until he was twenty, the brunette preferred settings like this. He was a nature lover through and through. Raul continued walking, his feet softly crunching in the snow. It took him a moment to realize there were already footprints in the snow, a few inches away from his own path.

Someone must have come earlier, he thought. Probably today, since it snowed again last night. The other set of prints led him to the gazebo, where they stopped when the snow did. Raul clumped up the steps, stamping the snow off his feet on the top one. Now he could see the icicle lights dangling from the roof, and the white lights climbing the posts and the railing. Someone had gone to the trouble of making this look as beautiful as the park. It had been this way the first time he decided to visit, three years ago. He had thought to come back, but had never found the time.

"It's just as peaceful as ever."

"It is, isn't it?"

The unexpected voice surprised Raul, and he whirled around. He had thought he was alone; apparently he needed to work on his observation skills. The male now leaning on the railing, standing outside the gazebo, smiled at Raul.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to surprise you. I thought you'd seen me already, when you walked out of the trees."

"Must have missed you," Raul replied as he looked the male over. From what Raul could make out through the winter gear the man was wearing he was in his mid-twenties. He was pale, as though he hardly left the house, and a tuff of blonde hair fell out of the protective covering of the cap. Green eyes sparkled at Raul as the man moved around and climbed up the stairs himself. As he approached, Raul noticed the blonde was about three inches shorter than his own height of six feet, and had a handsome face that bordered on pretty. Despite his use of a scarf and beanie the man wore no gloves. Raul noticed this when the blonde reached out his hand for a shake.

"Nice to meet a fellow nature lover. I'm Destiny." Raul took the proffered hand, giving it a brief squeeze before letting go.

"Raul," he introduced. Then he gave the other a quizzical look. "Your name is Destiny?"

A laugh that would be considered infectious was his reply. "Yeah, I know it's weird. My mother was on this spiritual kick when I was born. Whenever I asked her about it she'd say I was her destiny."

Raul felt his lips twitch, even as his mind jolted. He had heard a similar story before.

"Fate? It's a joke, right?"

"Nope. My mother was reliving the hippy days during her pregnancy."

"But your dad-"

"He agreed with her. Strange parents, huh?"

"So, what are you doing here?" Destiny asked as he put his hands in his pockets and leaned against the railing.

"I need a reason?"

"Not really. But this place is pretty deserted. Besides the lights someone strings up every year no one really has a reason to come. It's not like they could skate on the ice. The only ones who ever come here are me and the birds. And the snow, of course."

"I come here when I need the quiet," Raul said after a moment. He looked out over the lake with a wistful look in his eyes. "It's way too noisy in town."

"Especially around this time of year. Everyone's going so crazy over gifts it's best to stay away." Raul and Destiny looked at each other and shared wry smiles in a moment of perfect understanding. Raul then took a seat in his usual spot, the left of the gazebo. The position gave him the perfect view of both the small wood and the pond. Raul was content to sit there in silence, taking in his surroundings. He wished he had his camera with him so he could add another picture to his collection. Tonight, he promised himself. I'll take one tonight, when it's all lit up.

"So do you live around here?" Destiny asked, either curious or not content with the silence. "I haven't seen you before." Raul looked at him.

"Yes, I live just pas t this park actually."

"Oh. I guess I'm just not that observant."

"No, I just don't really leave my house often."

"Why not?" Raul watched Destiny shift, his hand reaching up to play with the snow that had settled on the railing of the gazebo. The brunette shrugged.

"I really have no reason to, except to get food and get some fresh air."

"What about work?"

"I'm a writer. I work at home."

"Family?"

"We're having a disagreement at the moment," Raul stated coolly. Destiny heard the change in tone and immediately flushed.

"Sorry," he muttered. "I didn't mean to pry. It's just…well, you seem familiar, and I was trying to place you. But so far nothing."

"You could have asked outright."

"And have you lie to me?"

"I wouldn't lie; I'd tell you the truth."

"Which is?"

"I've never met you before." Destiny laughed, and Raul found he liked it. It was different from any other laugh he'd heard, including Fate's.

"I'd say you're lying, except that's possible. I haven't really been around often. These past few years I've just been here during the holidays. The rest of the time I was in college."

"How long have you been attending?"

"Three years. Next year will be my last one."

"Congratulations on lasting this long."

"Yeah, I was really lucky. I worked hard in high school to get the scholarships I needed, and I'm trying not to screw it up."

For some reason he couldn't explain the words struck a chord in Raul. He had heard them before, somewhere, but he couldn't place them. As he was trying to puzzle it out Destiny stood and smiled at him.

"Well, I've got to get home for dinner. See you around, Raul."

"Good night." Raul watched him leave, wondering just who the blonde male had been.