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Midwinter Night

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“It’s bloody freezing in here.”

Vincent kept his eyes shut and tried to settle more comfortably in the hayloft; the hay, his coat, and a thin blanket that had seen better days making a poor excuse for a bed, especially in this arctic weather. It was bloody freezing, it was just also no good complaining, and completely typical of Jimmy that he had to go on and on about what was patently plain to all three of them.

“Oh, come on,” said Jimmy. “I’m freezing my bollocks off.”

“Well, that ought to spare us some trouble,” Vincent said, shifting again. “Look, shut up, can’t you? Nina’s not complaining, after all.”

Jimmy paused and Vincent squinted in the darkness, trying to make out what he was doing now. “Yeah, I know; there’s a minor miracle for you. Or perhaps she’s already dead of exposure.”

Vincent sat up, biting back an expletive. “Jimmy, will you just, will you just, shut up?”

“There’s no need to talk about me as if I’m not here,” said Nina at almost the same moment; Vincent heard her movements against the hay. “I was trying to sleep, but I suppose even that is too much to ask for.”

“Yeah, it is,” Jimmy said. “So, tell him. Tell bloody Vincent it’s bloody freezing and if we don’t do something about it, we’ll all be bloody icicles by the morning.”

Vincent felt himself tense, growing increasingly irritated with Jimmy. It had been a bad day, even by the standards of the war, and that was saying something. They’d come a long way in the snow, walking on mostly in uncomfortable silence following yet another death, another murder. Damn Jimmy and his big mouth.

Vincent drew in his breath. “Well, excuse me, Jimmy, I’ll just pop out there, send up a prayer to the weather gods and ask them to turn up the heating a bit, shall I?”

“Sarcasm doesn’t suit you,” said Jimmy. “Look, don’t you get it? What I’m trying to say is that we haven’t used up all our resources yet, have we?”

“What do you mean?” Nina asked. It sounded as if she was also sitting up now.

Jimmy heaved a sigh. “Us, idiots. I’m saying that we’d best cuddle up if we don’t want to freeze to death.”

“I think I’d rather die,” said Nina. “Thanks.”

Vincent, at the same time, said, “Absolutely not!”

“Fine. Fine, let’s each perish peacefully in our own corner of the hay. Or catch pneumonia. That’d be fun to tramp across the border with, wouldn’t it, hey, Vincent old fellow, old chap?”

Vincent hesitated before answering, realising that he was allowing his annoyance at Jimmy being, well, Jimmy, to override the fact that he did have a point. It was too cold to snow out there now, and this barn had been damaged and was affording them a good deal less shelter than he’d hoped. Oh, God, though, he thought, wondering how they’d go about it, and trying to ignore what else he thought about the idea of sleeping so close to Nina while Jimmy was also equally close. Nina, the person whom he was deeply attracted to; Nina, who had only earlier that day murdered his oldest and dearest friend.

“Oh, God. Well, I suppose it had better be Nina in the middle, then. She’s the one who needs to be protected.”

“Or shot,” said Nina. “I thought I should mention it because you haven’t lately. Don’t forget that, Vincent.”

“Yes. I mean, no. That’s hardly the issue here –”

“And I am not lying here sandwiched between you two, whatever you say.”

“Well, don’t think I’m ecstatic about it either,” said Jimmy. “At least Vincent and I didn’t run away before we had a bath this morning, so spare a thought for us having to put up with you for the night.”

Vincent closed his eyes, seeing that the squabble over who lay where in this arrangement could potentially go on until morning anyway.

“Anyway,” said Jimmy, cheerfully continuing to make it everything worse, “I thought you didn’t mind a bit of hanky-panky. I thought our Nina wasn’t all that particular.”

“I’m freezing, I’m exhausted, and you’re revolting,” said Nina. Vincent cautiously turned on his torch, directing the beam between the other two, watching Nina.

“Never killed anyone before, either, have you?” Jimmy said, being insensitive again.

Vincent had to bite back more exasperation. “Don’t bring that up now!”

“Neither have I,” said Jimmy, still talking to Nina, his tone quieter now. “I mean, I have, of course. But not like that. Up close and personal, not from somewhere up in the air.”

Nina quivered. “Shut up,” she said. “Shut up, shut up!”

Vincent shook himself, feeling yet again as if he was at least fifty years older than the other two. “Never mind any of that. Let’s do as Jimmy says. Nina –”

“Jimmy can go in the middle,” she said suddenly, watching Vincent. “It was his idea. And I’ll be all right.”

Vincent nodded, feeling both hurt and relieved, and then the other two finally quietened down as they all busied themselves moving about the hayloft with caution until they were lying down together.

“No funny business,” Jimmy whispered, somewhere disturbingly near Vincent’s ear. “I know what you public school types are like and I’m just as knackered as Nina.”

Vincent gritted his teeth. “Funnily enough, I’m not in the least tempted. You can sleep in peace – and I wish you would!”

It was an awkward arrangement, but as they all fell silent – and Vincent hoped to God that no sentry or even one of his less reliable countrymen had heard the noise they’d been making – the closeness was a little comforting. It had, after all, been an awful day. It had been a rotten few weeks and there wasn’t much hope of improvement any time soon. They were tired, cold, constantly at risk, Vincent was refusing to think about his friend’s death, and God only knew what Nina was thinking about having killed him. A bit of human warmth and nearness helped in some illogical way. Vincent closed his eyes, and then, before he could wonder about it any more, exhaustion triumphed over everything else, and he fell asleep.


Vincent woke just before dawn, pressed close against Jimmy. He blinked in confusion and then shifted, trying to gain a little distance, but Jimmy stirred and turned to scowl at him.

“Hey, don’t pull off the bedcovers.”

Vincent gave a short laugh despite himself and let himself lie still where he was. Jimmy was right. Any movement would mean facing the cold and he’d rather snatch a few more moments of warmth.

“I’d say I was sorry about Paul,” said Jimmy. “It stinks. But so did he and I can’t be. He deserved it – he deserved worse. Sorry.”

“Best not to talk about it.”

“I kept waking in the night,” said Jimmy. “Seeing Yvette’s face, you know. And I’m not sorry about that, either, because she wasn’t any better than he was – and it was her or me.”

“I’m sure it was.” Vincent found himself slightly surprised to realise that he meant it.

“Good to have someone so close,” murmured Jimmy. “I mean, it’d have been nicer if it could have been someone else. Well, not that I mind Nina, of course, but you, Vincent, old chum, old thing –”

“Oh, do shut up, Jimmy.”

Jimmy gave an infinitesimal shrug. “Just saying. I can’t stand you, but you’re not so bad as a hot water bottle.”

Vincent allowed himself to laugh again. “Same to you.”

“And I mean, we don’t have any hot water bottles,” said Jimmy, his voice growing drowsier again. “Hot tea, sugar, blankets, all that stuff. None of them. Just us.”

Vincent blinked in surprise. He hadn’t thought of it like that. He squinted at Jimmy, but the other had turned slightly and he couldn’t really make out his expression at all, or even if he was still awake. Jimmy hadn’t only been thinking of the cold, he’d been thinking about the rest of it – the shock and grief.

“Seemed like an idea.”

Vincent gave a faint smile. “Yes,” he whispered, before Nina woke as well, and they’d all resume either stony silence or default bickering again. “Yes, it was.”