watching the lights go down

other worlds through sunglasses


sad boy in snow, winter, I hate my life
Rook the Librarian gisho
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[Origific - The Winter People] Honour Amoung Theives
I don't normally do warnings, but WARNING: contains mentions of psychiatric abuse; may be triggering.

Shorter than the other and introdcues a bunch of characters in case I need them again later.


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HONOUR AMOUNG THEIVES

It's just about the oldest rule of hospitality that if someone needs a place to hibernate, you give it to them. Travellers who can't get home can stop wherever they are. Old blood fueds are suspended, if required. On at least one occasion a small batallion of soldiers was invited into the homes of the people they had been sent to slaughter. Of course come spring they were set upon and killed, but that is how strong habit was: not one person sat up to kill them in their sleep, and come Christmas - in those days everyone got up for Christmas - they feasted together like brothers.

That's the rules.

It's almost as much a wrongness to steal from someone who's hibernating, and that was why it surprised me to find out that three of the people at Jess's parties had been winter thieves. Two, like Jess, had the syndrome and couldn't hibernate in winter.

They'd both had late-onset syndrome. Kalynn came from a well-to-do-family, so her parents had thoughtfully stuck her in a psychiatric institution, where they tried to get to the root of it (because of COURSE it was psychosomatic) via methods she refuses to discuss in detail. What she will say is that somehow, she managed to fake taking her pills, pretend to sleep, and then hightail it through a window in the middle of the night. It was late December then. She bricked a sporting goods store window for some warm clothes, a sleeping bag, and box of survival rations. Most of January was spent under various bridges, and in Febuary she was no longer a shaking, claustrophobic wreck and decided to plan for the future by getting as much gold jewelry as she could and selling it to live on until she got her feet under her. Some of it turned up stolen and she got arrested next March.

She kept quiet and refused to give her name, but they matched her photo with a missing-person bulletin and very nearly sent her right back home to her parents. She managed to assault an officer and get sent to juvie instead. Somehow that July she made it out (she absolutely refuses to discuss how) and promptly hopped a bus across the country, where she spent the month in a shelter under an assumed name, barely concious.

The next winter she was much sharper and didn't get caught.

Krissi's family was not well-to-do, and couldn't afford to send her to get raked over at an institution. They tried home cures instead, including various arcane discipline schemes and an exorcism, and ended by locking her in a closet and saying they'd let her out next spring. She let herself out instead by kicking the door off its hinges. From there her story ran about like Kalynn's, except she never did get caught, even once. They met in a pawnshop a few years later, compared notes, and decided to stick together for mutual protection.


For Kalynn and Krissi, I wanted to find some very specific people and possibly go after them with a two-by-four. Hamid's story made me want to find a health insurance shareholder and punch him on the snoot, but I want to do that anyway someday, and if you squinted the whole thing could be called bad luck. He had switched when he stayed up one winter, quite deliberately, to get the money, somehow, for his brother's surgery.

He joked about it, which was a bit off-putting - morbid jokes. "I figured he'd slept so long, he'd used up all mine too," is how he put it when I asked.

I winced, and Hamid patted me on the shoulder. "It was induced. They said he was in so bad shape he'd die before they could operate, and nobody was sure if they even could, but anyhow they pumped him full of trigger and sent him home with a monitor. He'd been hibernating all year when I decided to skip."

It made me feel stupid and shallow that I'd switched because I liked going sledding with Jess. "Is he ..."

"He's fine." Hamid got a sort of wistful look. "He got so thin lying there, it just broke my heart. But the next summer you'd never know anything was wrong. Wound up getting a scholarship at OHSU. He's a nurse practitioner at a clinic in Gresham these days. Coaches basketball. Getting married next spring."

Hamid himself did stock management and winter inventory for an electronics store. It was poorly paid, unrewarding, and they would never have let someone with a criminal record touch the job with a ten-foot pole. But he'd never been caught. "It helps that I had enough money by the end of January," he said. "Nobody noticed until spring, and there's nothing forensics can do after a month."

"Really? I thought fingerprints stuck around forever." I drained the last of my tea and tried to remember where Jess kept the tin.

My distraction must have been obvious, because Hamid chuckled and handed me the tin, which had been sitting on the counter. "I don't know about that; I wore gloves. But footprints don't last through a rain, and most security systems are set to a two-day tape loop. Nobody remembers - " There was a crashing noise and a tinkle of breaking glass outside, followed shortly by a strangled scream. We both set our mugs down and rushed onto the porch.

Looking around it wasn't obvious where the noise had come from. It wasn't a party night; Hamid had just come over to watch a movie, and Jess was already in bed, begging a sniffly nose. "Left, I think," he told me, and we headed down the street, looking about for any sign of broken glass. There weren't any more screams to track by. I glanced up at where the sunset reflected off the Davidson's skylight, and it wasn't there.

"That house," I said, and sprinted for the door. It was hard to get a good look inside from the teensy window in the door, but I could see a huddled shape on their living room floor. The Davidsons were old and always wintered at the Beverly Center. They wouldn't wake up. I pulled back, panting. "Someone's in there."

Hamid frowned. "Probably trying to get in the upper windows. Do they keep a key under the mat?" Even as he asked he was feeling in the planters. I checked the mat, and ran my hand over the rock border for fakes, to no effect. When I looked up he was scowling. "They're bleeding," he said.

"If we screamed they might be able to get up and open it for us."

"No. Too dangerous." He picked up the cast-iron hedgehog they used for a bootscraper, and with a mighty heave shoved it right through the window, reached in and unlatched the door, and we piled through.

The huddled figure was sitting up by then. It was a skinny teenage boy, dressed in a black sweater and looking quite terrified. I went over and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. "We're not the police and we're not going to hurt you," I told him. "Lie down." He looked about like a trapped animal, but he lay down. There was a sizable amount of blood all over the Davidson's nice wood floor by then.

Hamid was pulling off his t-shirt. "Where does it hurt?"

"Shoulder," the boy said dimly.

"Right." He tugged at the ripped sweater, clucked, and held his shirt over the wound. "Go back and get Jess's first-aid kit," he told me firmly. "And the sewing kit. Stitches, I think, but we're not taking him to a hospital."

The next day we went back and cleaned up the Davidson's living room, and taped plastic sheeting over the skylight. Hamid sighed when he got a good look at it. "I can't believe they put this up. It's amazing nobody went through it cleaning the roof. Poor kid must've slipped and hit it just wrong."

The kid was sitting up and sipping soup by then. He hadn't broken any bones, but apart from the gash on his shoulder, he had a sprained ankle and a lot of bruises. We asked him his name, and he said quietly it was Johnathon. He seemed to do everything quietly.

"No good lying, is there? I was trying to get in the upper window," he told us. "I've done a few. Sometimes they're not locked."

"Yeah," Hamid told him. "I know. Why're you out here at all?"

"I ran away. I just couldn't sleep and nobody believed me."

We exchanged long glances. Then I said, "We believe you. You can stay here for the winter."

It's just about the oldest rule of hospitality that if someone needs a place to hibernate, you give it to them. For people like us, that doesn't quite apply. But in our way, we help each other.

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