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Keep Me Warm

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"No," Diona said flatly.

Nephele grimaced. "But I'm really cold. And I bet that if you turned into a bear instead of only acting like one, you'd be perfect for keeping everyone nice and warm."

Diona scowled. "My bear form is not there for your personal comfort."

"It'd be for Brass too!" Nephele said brightly. If she were honest, she'd maybe kind of prefer to have Diona all to herself, but, well, Brass was all right. Given that he was both a boy and a Spartan, Brass was actually amazing - not that Diona would ever admit as much, and so Nephele wouldn't either, on account of girls needing to stick together and keep each other warm at night.

"Please leave me out of this," Brasidas said, like the hopeless oaf he was.

Nephele sighed. "If you won't, I guess you leave me no choice."

"Meaning?" Diona's eyes were narrowed, making her look much less like a bear and much more like something cunning and a little dangerous and still every bit as bad-tempered as usual.

Nephele knew it didn't mean Diona didn't like her, but sometimes, she wished Diona would smile more. "If you won't, I'll have to ask Brass."

Brasidas dropped his shield. It landed on his feet with a loud crunch that made Nephele wince in sympathy.

Of course, Brasidas being Brasidas, he didn't even change his facial expression.

"Fine," Diona said.

Brasidas shot her (Diona, that was) a pleading look. Nephele wanted to hug him and tell him not to be so silly: if Diona wasn't going to turn into a bear to help out Nephele, why would she do or say anything to help out Brasidas, whom she'd known for a much shorter period of time than Nephele?

She put on a bright smile, which wasn't easy given how cold she felt and started, "Brass ... "

"No!" Brasidas said. He was honest to Apollo blushing, like he was the one dedicated to Artemis rather than Diona. "I'm a .... and you're a ... it wouldn't be at all appropriate!"

"But Brass! You're a Spartan! Surely letting a friend freeze to death wouldn't be honorable!"

"I ... " Brasidas looked at Diona again, then brightened and said, "I think someone should keep watch. We're far from civilization after all. There could be all sorts of dangerous animals around! Or bandits!"

Nephele darkly thought he sounded far too eager about the possibility of bandits. "Diona's an arktos. She's not going to be attacked by any animals. Right, Diona?"

"Wild animals have too much respect for my goddess to consider touching her servant." Diona's tone suggested the same could not be said for certain other parties, which was quite right, Nephele reflected ruefully.

It was all very exciting of course, to be going on an adventure with a real arktos, but sometimes, things got quite dangerous - or uncomfortable, such as right now. Not that Nephele thought they had to be.

"See, Brass? You can sleep easily." Assuming he wasn't cold too. Nephele hoped so. Spartans were supposed to be tough, weren't they? Stubborn and slow, but also tough and honorable.

"I will do that," Brasidas said, sounding very relieved as he took out his bedroll at once. Poor guy had to have been worried after all, and pretty tired too, given that he seemed to fall asleep the moment he hit the ground. He even snored for a couple of seconds.

Diona regarded Nephele with that way she had of regarding people. Nephele didn't think bears looked at people that way but then, to be honest, she hadn't met a great many bears.

"I could catch a cold," Nephele said. "Think of how inconvenient that would be!"

"You might get a sore throat and not be able to talk for several days." Diona didn't sound nearly as alarmed at the prospect as she should have been, given that Nephele was usually the one to diplomatically smooth over any awkward situations they encountered. People liked talking to Nephele, probably because Nephele also liked talking to people.

"Diona. We're friends, aren't we?" Nephele thought they were. Friends first, co-adventurers second.

"I am an arktos. Arktoi do not have friends," Diona said, sounding decidedly bear-ish.

A pity she didn't look it, too: Nephele couldn't imagine an actual bear being as difficult about this as Diona was being. "All right. Fine. But if you find my frozen corpse in the morning, don't say I didn't warn you."

Diona sighed. "You're carrying around a miniature boiler."

"A very well-isolated and therefore completely safe and heat-free miniature boiler!" Nephele felt shocked. "Do you know how unsafe it would be to use it for heating? Mind, I've heard of some fascinating experiments people are doing with ways to - " Diona's expression darkened; Nephele decided to change the subject " - but anyway, the boiler is there to provide steam power, not heat."

"You're going to nag at me until I give in, aren't you?" Diona asked.

"Of course not." Nephele was beginning to wonder if Diona knew her at all. "If you have made a decision, I will respect that decision. Even if it's one I disagree with."

"You're only going to complain a lot," Diona said.

"Being cold makes me a bit less cheerful than usual," Nephele admitted. "It's not you, it's me."

Diona considered. Nephele managed not to point out that hey, she wasn't getting any warmer over here. "I suppose ... you would be even more annoying than you usually are if you were to catch a cold."

Nephele made a sound that definitely wasn't a squeal and hugged Diona. Diona felt very stiff and inflexible and not at all warm. Not cold either, though, so Nephele supposed that was good enough.

"I'm not going to turn into a bear for your comfort, though," Diona said.