Nestled in the snug down of warm covers and soft pillows, Firia felt the pitter-patter of COLD FEET ON HER BACK.

"Uuuuunggrrrhrrrrrmph..." Valteria had climbed in again? Why wouldn't he learn to sleep in his own bed!? Firia squirmed away from the chilly boy's grasp and stumbled out of bed, mumbling disoriented curses as she groped for her slippers. Scuffling across the hard frigid floorboards, Firia clutched a quilt and dragged it out of the grasp of the other linens. After tossing the blanket onto her side of the bed, Firia gently but firmly rolled Valteria up in the covers that she had formerly slept in. With her adopted son safe, secure, and conveniently stuck in his own warm coccoon, Firia curled up under the fresh blanket and smiled. It was an old trick that happily never failed.

Firia lay awake, waiting for the blanket to absorb the heat of her body and warm up. The interruption was no bother since she could sleep as far into the morning as she wanted. Valteria was staying with her friends in the mountains. Firia wouldn't have to cook his breakfast early like she normally did.

Two in the morning was no time for logical reasoning, but Firia wouldn't have to worry about that until she woke up again.

* * *

Late into the morning but still almost punctual for the day, Firia woke up again. Her son was away (she remembered with a flush) and there was a man in her bed. He had purple hair, was still asleep, and as impossible as it should be, his body was as cold as it was when he'd crawled in next to her in the middle of the night.

Xelloss shivered and slid closer to where Firia sat. Still asleep - or maybe just delirious - he rubbed his cheek against her hip as his knees curled up against her legs. Worry crouched around his face as words sighed past his lips but died before they could rise to be heard. Firia stroked his hair without a second thought, the motherly reaction trained into her. As she felt Xelloss shiver harder, Firia swept her blanket on top of the covers around him.

Firia gently brushed her fingers over Xelloss' cheek and started. He was as cold as ice!

Scooping Xelloss into her arms, Firia rushed to the bath. She managed to shift him around and free up a hand, using that to turn the taps. Firia rubbed her cheek against Xelloss' chilled lips as the bathtub slowly filled. As soon as the water reached an acceptable level, Firia unrolled the blankets and eased Xelloss into the tub.

Firia stood there, sometimes glancing at the water level as it climbed, but mostly watching Xelloss. He still slept, head rested back against the lip of the tub, legs bent slightly and turned to the right for lack of space. After shutting off the tap, Firia realized that Xelloss was still wearing full garb down to his boots. She tugged the boots off of his feet, grimacing at the shabby repair that they were in. The state of his attire matched that of his footwear, fraying at the ends with the not so occasional rip for variety.

Firia found herself even more worried. It had only been a few months since Xelloss had last stayed with her. What had he gotten into this time?

For a few minutes, concern for Xelloss was all that Firia could focus on. Then she mentally berated herself. Xelloss purposefully drew Trouble towards him and danced with her. This wasn't the first time that Trouble's sister Disaster had cut in. "Well whatever it was, he's here now, soaking up my hot water." Firia grinned wryly and dipped a finger into the bathtub. She jerked it back in bafflement. "What-"

The bathwater was chilly enough to rouse the dead, or at least the drunk. Firia glanced at Xelloss. The mazoku was shivering even harder than before as frost began to glaze the water around his shoulders. Firia grabbed Xelloss around the waist and lifted him out; as she did, she realized that Xelloss' body was colder than the bath.

Firia almost lost her grip from shock and from the slippery waterlogged rags of clothing that Xelloss was wearing. He was light, at least, but Firia was shorter than Xelloss and this made things even more awkward. She caught herself and settled Xelloss' back against her chest. Easing the two of them down, Firia sat on the floor with Xelloss sprawled in her lap, colder than a corpse.

What had nudged against her chest as she sank to the floor? Firia tugged at Xelloss' shredded cape, trying to shift the ungainly fabric away. Finally Xelloss' back was exposed, and Firia paled at the sight of what she'd felt. A knife was sunk hilt-deep into the valley between Xelloss' shoulderblades. It was made of solid ice. Her fingers approached the handle, but before she could touch it Xelloss shifted in her lap.

"I'll never...I'll n-n-never fall into y-your ranks..." He clutched at Firia's skirt, huddling against her, pushing her down in a desperate struggle for warmth. Firia couldn't fight him at this angle and fell underneath him. She tried to control herself as Xelloss rubbed against her and moaned. It wasn't two months ago, and they weren't in bed with each other, but Firia almost felt like that time was upon them. "Xelloss! Xelloss!" Firia tried to slap him awake, but her arm was wedged against her chest.

"N-never...n-n-n-" Xelloss curled against Firia, quiet and still, save his shivering. Firia tried to wrap his cloak around him, but it was pulled tight under his legs. She shivered a little herself. Xelloss was too cold! At least he'd calmed down now, and stopped pawing at her. Firia squirmed out from under Xelloss and pulled herself to her feet.

"He's so cold that I'm freezing! And the tub's freezing! And all because of-" Firia's eyes wandered to Xelloss' back.

"Never...won't let you..." Xelloss twitched.

That knife. That knife had to go.

"...won't let you k-kill her..."

Firia wrapped a towel around her hand, readied herself, and then grabbed the frozen knife. The cold bit into her almost immediately. Firia pulled, but the blade wasn't coming out easily. It seemed to fight her, as if it wanted to sink deeper and deeper into Xelloss until the mazoku couldn't even shiver for warmth. But Firia was a very strong dragon, and with a last heave the knife finally parted from Xelloss' flesh.

Firia dropped the cursed thing into the tub and sank to her knees. She unwrapped her hand and sucked on it, wincing. Her entire arm hurt. It pulsed with the dull ache of frozen pain.

Firia jumped, startled at the percussion of her own teeth chattering. She checked Xelloss to see how bad the wound the knife left was. But the knife had left no mark, only a vague frigid touch on his skin. Xelloss himself lay still, more quiet than before. He had stopped shivering.

While rubbing her aching arm and wincing at intermittent muscle spasms, Firia contemplated the situation. Xelloss would have to get out of those clothes and into bed. She'd check him over then and see what, if anything, she could do for him. As a shrine priestess and as a mother Firia had learned quite a bit about healing, but treating Mazoku was far beyond her range. She'd have to see about disposing of that knife. And breakfast needed to be cooked.

Well, she'd hoped life without Valteria wouldn't bore her. And here her wish was. Granted.