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Cold

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Living on top of a mountain is not nearly as fun as it sounds.

Being in the snow hurts, and I only train out here on the coldest days. Today, the sky is crystal clear, but that just makes it colder.

I close my eyes so my eyeballs don't frost over, but my skin still feels like it's about to fall off, and I can't tell if I still have feet. I resist the urge to touch my boots with mittened hands, or to just fall over and not get up. Even though I'm only nine, this is training and I should conduct it professionally.

I do cross my arms over each other and compact my stance so that I present the least surface to the bitter wind.

That's the professional way to handle being about to freeze to death.

I trust Illumi to pick me up if I really can't do this. I guess he wasn't the one who told me to come out here, but he and Silva work together so much, planning my training, that he's probably the one at the window above, checking to see if I can still stand.

I smile into the wind, not feeling the cold for a few blissful seconds. I know you're watching me, aniki.

Then the wind changes direction, blowing on my left side. It's not actually colder, but the unexpected shift makes me shiver. I lower my center. I won't disappoint him again.

The cold is making my thoughts fuzzy. I turn my mind away from hot chocolate and concentrate on staying on my feet. Even without looking, I can tell that they're slipping out from under me, leaving me unstable.

I turn and open the door. It's better to go in now than to stay out here and collapse.

The front hall would probably feel cold at any other time, but now, it's much warmer than outside, and I half-fall to the ground, not caring who sees me. I pull off the restrictive mittens with my teeth. Numb fingers try to unlace my boots.

I feel warm hands around my own. My eyes are frozen shut, but I can tell without looking that Illumi is the one behind me. He takes his hands off mine and removes the boots. My feet can't feel anything, even the warmth of the room, but I'm not afraid.

Illumi is stronger than anything. How could I be afraid when he is here?

"You did well, Killu," I hear him say.

I turn, still blinded, and lean against him. I did well.

Illumi carries me to our room. He takes off the rest of my clothing and tucks me into bed. Then he lies down next to me. I pull off the blanket, put it under the bed, and curl up to him.

He reaches over and runs his fingers through my hair. Drifting off to sleep, I'm finally warm all the way through.