Jack hated these nights. When the winds are high and the snow drives all but the desperate indoors. Because there is almost always someone desperate, and it never ends well.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, kneeling in the shadows with the woman’s corpse. He can’t do much, but he can remember her, as sick as it makes him feel. Someone should, and Jack is the only one here to do it.
There’s a newborn infant in her cooling arms, still slick with blood and its skin is raw, red. It wailed its distress and Jack winces.
“Wind...” Jack started, and trailed off. The least he can do is end it quickly. He gathered frost across his fingertips, and knelt in front of the woman. The newborn’s eyes are blue- infant blue, they’ll probably darken later, a part of his mind murmured. Jack stared, entranced. He’s never seen something so young.
And then the impossible happens. The infant’s eyes seem to snap to Jack’s face, and it wailed louder. Jack reached without thinking, lifting and cradling it against his chest in a move that felt like second nature. The implications hit him a few moments later, and he stared at the strange, improbable creature in his arms.
Philip skips over the surface of the frozen pond, his father hovering anxiously behind.
“Don’t go too far out from the bank,” Da orders. “And if you hear cracking-”
“I know, Da,” Philip says, rolling his eyes. “I’m not a toddler any more, I can take care of myself.”
“I know you can, Pip,” Da says, grinning sheepishly. “But I worry.”
Philip hugs Da around the waist, and then pushed him towards the Burgess settlement. “I’ll be careful. Promise.”
“Careful, he says. I’ve heard that before,” he hears Da mutter under his breath, before the wind whips him away. Philip snickers.
He amuses himself by stalking a few winter birds around the pond, trying to see how close he could get without them startling. He’s almost within grabbing distance when the stomp of heavy boots sends them flying.
Philip startles, and is up a tree within moments. The man isn’t Da, and Philip is frightened. He’s never talked to anyone besides Da. He’s barely even seen people besides Da, and that was always at a distance.
“What are you doing here?” Philip demands from his place up in the branches. The man stares quizzically. He’s dressed all wrong for the weather, Philip thinks scornfully. He'll be soaked within hours in that getup. “Well?”
“Hunting,” the man answers after a moment. His eyes linger on Philip’s long, tangled hair, and his light coat. “And you, child?”
“Waiting for my Da.” Philip looks at the man again, seeing his gun, and snickers. “Good luck with hunting in this weather. Storm’s coming soon.”
The man looks askance at him. “Sky’s clear as glass. There’s no storm to be had in this weather.”
Philip shrugs. “Suit yourself. I intend to be out of the wet when it comes.” The hunter shakes his head, and continues on.
Later that evening, as the blizzard raged and Da and Philip were safe in their little shelter, Philip tells him about his encounter at the lake. Da’s lips thin.
“If he’s lucky, he’ll live to know better next time,” he says, and ruffles Philip’s hair. “I think we need to move north a little early this year. That okay with you?”
“Can we go ice-fishing once we’re there?”
Da nods. “I don’t see why not."