Title: Winter Night
Author: Nanuk
Rated: G
Summary: One night in Winter (a flight of fancy…)


"Adam?" Joe's hesitant voice is in the doorway.


My voice sounds awful, as always on cold mornings, raspy and raw. Usually it takes me ten sentences to get it back to normal. I've counted. Over the last winters I've had plenty of time to count. I hate cold mornings. Usually I don't speak a word, until after my first cup of coffee. My family knows that. I only hope that Joe can remember that he knows it, too.
I turn my head into my pillow and try to stifle the cough building in my throat, but I can feel it already, scratching my aching flesh, trying to elbow itself the way out.

I can see Joe's long, lean fingers on the doorknob, followed shortly by his tired face and a topping of curls that look ridiculously like a crow's nest, all fluffed up like that.

His feet lumber on the floor, and while I listen to the sound I can feel the gooseflesh creep up on my back when I imagine his bare toes. I pull the blanket a little higher and push the cough back into my mind as there is no use for it now.

Unfortunately it is as unreasonable as my brother on rainy days – I can feel it climbing up again in my windpipe, persistent as a burr on a saddle blanket. With a bit of luck, I can get Joe to go back to his room before it starts to fight my decision to ignore it.

At least he is wearing a nightshirt, even one of the good woollen ones, HopSing's pride and joy. I have never found out where he got them, though. Probably he was afraid I might choose to have a nice little discussion about the utility of woollen nightshirts in a solely male household. I never understood the need, but now that one member of said household exhibits that garment, I cannot but acknowledge its function. It will be harder to get Joe back into bed when he doesn't feel cold, but I still count on his naked toes. Something has to side with me, that's simple logic. If it's going to be toes, who am I to argue?

"May I ask you something?"

There are different ways I can answer that question, though I doubt he'd care for the first and second option that pop up in my mind.

The simple "No" that is option number one doesn't seem suitable, even for half past four in the morning and with my brother asking. Worse still, it wouldn't serve any other purpose than to inform Joe that actually I'm not really inclined to listen to him - but even of that I'm not sure. My brother tends to ignore one-word sentences, that was a lesson I learned very early.

Next, there is the option of "No, not right now," with all the promise of success as option number one.

Perhaps I can do with a murmured consent. After all, it IS the middle of the night and I'm supposed to be asleep. I am officially, too. I'm not sure I'm awake right now because somehow I missed Joe's action of the last seconds.

From the weight on my blankets I know he is perched on my bed, but I don't have the slightest idea how he got there. On the other hand, selective perception is something I have a lot of practice in. So far I have managed to choose myself what I perceive and what I don't, and the thought of my mind choosing without me is a little disturbing. Even so, I'm not surprised that my mind sides with that nasty cough in my throat that uses pikes, right now, to climb up again. At least it feels like that.

I'm not sure why my mind should want to side with something that threatens its integrity, though, but I'll leave that question for later. Right now Joe is waiting for catalogue answer number 4, tried and approved of. Some years ago it has been the number one, that's why it still wants the attention it had then. On nights like this, realizing that I'm too busy to keep Mind and Nasty in check, it uses the opportunity and slips right through my fingers and past my tongue.

"Sure, Joe," I hear myself saying and realize that I need to update my inventory of prohibited words to speak out loud in the middle of night. At the last second I manage to drown a groan and instead watch as Joe leans back and draws up his feet. Inwardly I roll my eyes, because whoever thought up statistics obviously never met my family. When even toes and cold feet aren't on my side any longer, then how much worse can it get? Of course, there is still Nasty to count on who seems to be my only friend right now - because he at least behaves as I expect him to. His ever-growing presence in my throat might hurt, but I'm getting used to it, even though his elbows are getting sharper all the time.

There is a low rumbling just outside the grasp of my mind, but somehow I manage to pull myself there, realizing that it is Joe speaking as I come nearer. I missed his first sentences, but I'm not yet convinced it was anything substantial. The last two days he hasn't been speaking about anything else than the new horses in the corral – which right now are happily galloping through my mind, their sharp hooves drumming a rhythm that reverberates down my spine. A strange thing it is, too, that horses walk on all fours, though humans can be glad they do – otherwise they'd just slip off. Wasn't it Gulliver who wondered about the mental ability of horses and their superiority over humans in the first place? No wonder he went mad, though Joe would probably agree with him.

"…pays off, I could trade them…"

Trade horses that walk on two legs? It's a very interesting notion, but the horses will want to ride the humans, and I'm not inclined to welcome that idea. I hope Joe gives it up before he gets us all in trouble for mistreating animals, no matter whether they are small and puny or tall and strong. Still, images of running horses are glued into my mind which now wants to run off with them, and I'm honestly surprised that Nasty doesn't try and attempt it, too, instead of rattling my vocal cords. Surely it would be more comfortable, even if the horses went on two legs instead of four. The other thing is that it is probably cooler, too. I could do with a gentle breeze right now, it might convince Nasty to stay inside where it is nice and warm. On the other hand, didn't Joe just complain about cold feet? I hope the boy isn't sick, we have enough to do with all those horses which want to go about on two legs and ride the humans instead.

I feel something cool on my cheek and flinch away from the touch. A cool breeze, yes, but that stone-cold hand makes me shiver all over.

"Adam, you're burning up!" Joe's voice sounds astonished, and surprised I watch the pale nightshirt disappear out of the door to shout the whole house awake.

'That would explain a lot, though," I think and close my eyes. Nasty and I need our sleep. I just hope Joe can get rid of those horses.


The end.