A/N: IMPORTANT! Howl's name was changed to Halcyon (Hal).
The weather was ridiculously cold for only being early October. Although the Holiday Traveling Circus train was northbound, so that might have had something to do with it. It still didn't change the fact that Molly Holiday was waking up in the middle of the night because she could no longer feel her feet. Usually, she was glad to have an entire room to herself. It gave her more privacy than she might have otherwise. But this week, she was not so grateful. It was like trying to sleep in a bath of ice water, but drier. She had already tried sleeping in her dad's room, but he tended to move around in his sleep. So not only did Molly end up on the very edge of the bed, but she usually lost the fight for the blankets as well. Tonight though, Molly planned to remedy the situation.
She sat in the dining car with her closest friends: the Fire Handler, Sophia, the twin Telekinetics, Micah and Pippin, the Avian Shifter, Halcyon Bast, and the Mimic, Dean Sheldon who was more commonly known as Midas.
"Looks like another cold one tonight," Molly said, nodding toward the window.
Sophia shrugged. "I wouldn't know. I never get cold." As if in agreement, the dragon tattoo along her shoulder blades curled its head around her neck and blew a ribbon of fire across her collarbone. Molly scowled.
"Lucky duck," she grumbled and elbowed Sophia, who simply smiled. "What about you guys?" she asked the twins. Molly regretted the question almost immediately since both boys had their mouths too full of food to answer properly. Instead, Micah and Pippin gave the table opened mouthed grins and let bits of hamburger and french-fry all soaked in chocolate milk slide between their teeth. Midas laughed and high-fived the twins, while Hal, Sophia, and Molly all made faces expressing different levels of disgust.
"That's nasty." Hal wrinkled his nose and scooted closer to Midas and away from Micah and Pippin.
"And the best part is," said Micah.
"We can throw it all up whenever we want!" finished Pippin.
Sophia grimaced. "How special," she said and swallowed. "Now that you've played with your food, you can talk with us. I think Molly asked you something."
Micah and Pippin looked at each other and shrugged.
"It's not so bad," said Micah to Molly.
"At least when you're sharing a car with three other people," finished Pippin.
Molly groaned. Was she the only one who couldn't sleep? More importantly, would there be anyone willing to bunk with her if nobody was very bothered by the cold?
Midas snorted. "I don't care how cozy you all are, Hal and I have the warmest car."
"How's that possible?" Sophia asked with a frown. "I thought you guys were roommates with Ari, and he's usually pretty chilly in the Fall."
Literally, Molly thought.
Hal shook his head. "Ari doesn't change according to the calendar, he shifts into his Autumn persona when the weather shifts. So if you make him warm enough at night, eventually he'll heat the entire car regardless of the season." Molly sat up straighter at this piece of news.
"Ah," Sophia said, "so he's a tool."
"No," Midas corrected her, "he's a thermostat."
"Besides," Hal added, "it's the least he can do since he keeps us up all night with his endless talking."
Midas chuckled in agreement. "Yeah, if you're someone who enjoys silence, then you'll never fall asleep before Ari."
Molly sat there, pretending to listen, but really the cogs in her minds were whirring. If she could just bunk in the same car as Ari, then maybe she might get a decent night's sleep. There was one problem however. Unless you were a happily or unhappily married couple, the dorm cars were NOT coed. To make matters even more challenging, Molly's room was directly across from her father's. But the way that Howl and Midas described their car made Molly's numb little toes curl deliciously. She had to get into that room tonight! She would just have to be sneaky about it.
Molly tiptoed down the hall in her flannel yellow pajamas. She had made it successfully past Mr. Holiday's bedroom and had crossed the narrow outdoor passage into the next car. She was shivering violently now, completely chilled. The cold seemed to seep up from the floor, through her bare feet, and into her bones. She hoped she could find Ari and Hal's room soon, otherwise she might have to start sawing off her frostbitten limbs. Little did she know that she was closing in on her destination.
"Okay, that's the last one." Hal grunted as he dumped the final quilt on top of his best friend. Artemis Snow was weighed down on his bunk by six oversized blankets, three sets of extra bed sheets, and beneath all that were five rice bags, weighing three pounds apiece, that had been heated up in the microwave down in the dining car.
"Good, it's freezing in here," said Midas, shivering in his hammock.
"It'll be a sauna soon enough," said Hal, climbing up to his bunk above Ari's.
If it had been any other time of year, Ari would have grinned. Instead he snuggled down into his mattress. There was silence in the room for about five minutes after that, but alas it was not to last. "H.B., has anyone ever told you how misleading your name is?"
"Oh, here we go," Midas groaned.
"For the love of God," Hal begged, "can we please not go there tonight? Just this once?"
"The ancient Egyptians had a goddess called Bast or Bastet. Supposedly, she went around during the day as the beautiful daughter of the sun god Ra. But by night she transformed into a cat," Ari continued as if he hadn't heard his friends' complaints. "However, your first name Halcyon is accurate. It's either Greek or Latin for kingfisher.
"What's a kingfisher?" Midas asked, sitting up.
"Don't encourage him!" Hal snapped, his voice rough with exhaustion. "If you respond, he'll keep talking."
Ari resisted the urge to chuckle and simply continued the night's one-sided conversation in what he had decided was going to be a lesson about ancient Egypt. "The Egyptians are one of the most fascinating ancient civilizations I've ever studied. Did you know they were the first people to play with the idea of monotheism?"
Hal and Midas moaned and prepared themselves for a very long night.
Molly pressed her ear against the door of the next car, and was surprised to hear what sounded like a very intellectual conversation coming from inside. Could this be the right room? She remembered Hal saying something about Ari being chatty at night, but he had never crossed Molly as being the talkative type during the Fall. At least not in the daytime. Tentatively, she lifted her fist and rapped her knuckles softly on the wood. She heard the harsh whisper of someone telling the person talking to shut up. Light footsteps across the floor and then…
"Molly?" said Hal sleepily, rubbing his eyes.
"Molly?" said Midas, who attempted to right himself in his hammock.
"Molly?" said an even more confused voice that Molly assumed must be Ari, though she couldn't actually see him since Hal and the door were both limiting her view.
"You got an echo in there?" she laughed nervously, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. What had seemed like a good idea just a few minutes ago suddenly seemed stupid and utterly ridiculous now that she was standing in front of three very intimidating and sleepy young men.
"What are you doing here?" Hal demanded and narrowed his gaze at her. He knew the rules just as well as she did.
"Oh, nothing… it's just that my room is a little chilly, since it's just me and my lonesome in there. And I was laying in my bed when I remembered Midas said something about your car being the warmest all year round." Molly hoped that this explanation didn't make it sound as though her midnight trip had been premeditated, which of course it had. But somehow, making this idea sound like a whim made her feel a little better about it.
Hal's suspicious gaze didn't let up, though. "That's exactly what Midas said. Have you been planning this since supper?" Molly gulped and thought quickly about how she could possibly get herself out of this situation without embarrassing herself too awfully, when the voice behind Hal saved her.
"Aw, come on Mr. Bast. Have a heart. The lady's room is cold, and the longer you two stand there, the more warm air you let out."
"Amen to that," Midas seconded the motion. "Just let her in, Hal." The Avian Shifter grumbled, but stepped aside. Molly entered and immediately felt the difference. For a second, she wondered if they were secretly keeping a space heater in here, but as soon as she caught sight of Ari all bundled up in a blanket burrito, she remembered their unorthodox human furnace.
Hal rubbed the back of his neck and stared dejectedly at his bunk. "I suppose you can have my bed tonight."
Ari scoffed. "Nonsense, there's plenty of room right here," he said, scooting closer to the wall and lifting up the blankets. He didn't grin at her teasingly like he normally did, but that might have had something to do with his Autumn personality. Sometime during the month of September, his eyes had slowly changed from a dark orange to a feral yellow that kept most people at bay. Even Molly was a little put off by his wolfish features and aloof personality in the Fall.
Hal frowned and gave Ari a pointed look that Molly couldn't decipher. "I don't think that's a good idea."
"Just let it go, Hal," Midas muttered. "The sooner you quit arguing with him, the sooner we can all get to sleep." Hal sighed and gave Ari another look, before climbing back into his bunk. Ari turned his serious gaze to Molly, who wasn't used to having that particular expression directed toward her by that particular person.
When she didn't move he said impassively, "Well, I guess you can come to bed whenever you like," and rolled over to face the wall. Hesitantly, she inched forward and sat on the edge of the bed. She twisted around and pulled her knees up, then wiggled underneath the covers. Molly had only ever been in a hot tub a few times in her life, but found herself having the same experience just with less water. It was so warm! She instantly felt her eyes drooping, and just before she lost consciousness, she felt a strong arm slide around her waist. And it held her all night long.
It was early in the morning when Midas was shaken awake. He rubbed the crust from his eyes and stared up at Hal. The other boy's blue eyes were still cloudy with sleep and his blond hair stuck out at all angles.
"You look like a gila monster," Midas croaked.
Hal scrunched up his mouth in a thoughtful way. "You don't even know what a gila monster is."
"No," Midas agreed, "but it's fun to say."
"You should read this," Hal said abruptly and handed Midas a little piece of paper folded in half. Midas opened the note and stared at the delicate handwriting.
Thanks for letting me crash here last night.
My bedroom really is trying to compete with Antarctica.
As far as Ari is concerned, I have no idea what you guys are complaining about.
I never heard a peep out of him all night.
Midas read the letter again, when it suddenly hit him. "Ari didn't talk at all after she came in here, did he?"
Hal smiled and shook his head.
Midas chuckled. "Well, I'll be. Maybe she should sleep in here every night."
Hal rolled his eyes and snatched the note back. "Let's not push our luck."
Little did his friends know, but Ari wasn't quite as asleep as they thought he was. He lay there, buried in blankets listening to them talk about Molly. And for the first time in weeks, Artemis Snow genuinely smiled.