Immi was cold.
But that was to be expected, wasn’t it? He and Eva had been sitting out in the dirt ALL night, and it was absolutely freezing up there on the hill above their little town. He shivered, and so did Eva, but the dawn was breaking, and-
“Wake up! It’s SNOWING!!”
Immi popped awake gasping, to the smiling face of Gedda Gulrót leaning over him.
He was in the fruit basket, of course. He hadn’t been up on that hill in twelve years.
“Huh-wha-what’s happening?” he asked groggily, sitting up and looking around.
“It’s snowing!” said Gedda again, a gleeful look on her face.
Immi took a look around, and sure enough, he was surrounded (and partially covered) with a thick layer of cold white flakes.
Immi shivered. “Why did you wake me up for it?” he complained.
She shrugged. “I didn’t want you to freeze to death!” she said cheerily, and skipped off.
Well. How kind of her.
He stood up and shook himself, brushing the powdery snow off of his warm winter cape.
It looked like he was the last one awake. Palla and Poddi had already created a fortress out of snow, and were launching snowballs out of it. Guffi and Græni were crunchcruchcrunch ing through their marching practices like nothing was happening, and Rauða was drawing some sort of blueprint in the snow, animatedly explaining it to Mæja and Gedda.
Eva, on the other hand, was not having it.
“No! No!” she shouted, spraying her mystery spray wildly in the air, “I REFUSE to get snowflakes on my orange peel skin!”
Immi chuckled a little bit, at that. Classic Eva.
“It’s just snow, Eva,” said Mæja, “It won’t hurt you-”
Right at that moment, one of the pears launched a snowball directly into Eva’s face.
“AAAH!! That’s IT!” she screamed in despair, “My skin is sensitive , and beautiful , and I will not have it ruined by frozen water droplets!!”
She leaped right in front of Guffi and Græni as she ducked underneath the slide, stopping them in their tracks.
“Don’t stop moving!” Guffi ordered, throwing his scepter out at Græni.
“O-okay Guffi Banani!” Græni said, marching in place with visible confusion.
“I have seen horrors, of bananas afflicted with frostbite, and I don’t want you to become anybody’s vegan ice cream snack!” Guffi said, sounding close to tears as he lectured Græni.
“I won’t become ice cream, Guffi Banani!” shouted Græni, saluting, “I will keep myself warm with exercises!”
“Oh! I will watch over you and make sure, if it’s the last thing I do!” said Guffi, keeping a wary eye on Græni.
Right at that moment, Græni became the next victim of the Pears’ snowball war, getting hit right between the eyes.
Guffi gasped, and marched over to Palla and Poddi’s snow fortress, in which they were both giggling.
“Which one of you is responsible for this!” he demanded, “Out with it!”
“Rólegur, Guffi, rólegur,” said Rauða, blocking his path, “The pears were just, ah, practicing their throws!”
“Já já! Watch this!” squeaked Palla, grabbing Poddi and bodily throwing him over the structure’s low wall, where he landed with an OOF on the ground.
Guffi raised one manicured eyebrow.
“I suppose I CAN respect...dedication to an art,” he sniffed, and turned back to help Græni wipe his face off.
Immi shook his head couldn’t help but sympathize with Guffi and Eva. He loved Christmas, but he didn’t really like snow.
That was partially why he moved out here in the first place! He wanted to live somewhere where there was minimal snow on his favorite holiday, and NOW look what was happening! Just seeing the stuff put him in a sour mood. It made him remember being ganged up on in snowball fights, getting snow shoved down the back of his shirt, and that horribly ill-fated snow-pineapple building contest. He had not only lost, but had also gotten viciously mocked for his slightly wonky statue.
His lip curled as he remembered that. Gabríel and Gísli, those two chaos entities that he called brothers, had been pelting him with tiny ROCKS the whole time he was constructing, and it had distracted him! It wasn’t his fault that he couldn’t do his best work under all of that pressure!
Then, a genius idea occurred to him. He would make a new snow-pineapple! A better one! Out here in the fruit basket, there was no one to distract him, there was no one here to laugh at him, he would make the best snow-pineapple of his life!
With a manic grin, he started to gather snow.
There was nothing like a good old-fashioned spite project to lift a guy’s spirits. Immi hummed a tune as he meticulously picked out all of the sticks and dirt from the gathered snow, and began to pack it together in the classic shape of a snow-pineapple--one big oval for the body, one smaller round one for the head.
Oh, and two giant, beefy arms. That was the trickiest, yet most important part.
It wasn’t turning out bad, Immi thought with spiteful glee as he worked.His lines were a little wonky, but drawing them with a finger in the snow as just difficult, so he didn’t hold it against himself. The whole project was...rather calming, he noticed. Maybe he would just abandon politics and just create sculptures, full-time. He imagined himself with an art gallery, throngs of adoring art snobs oohing and aahing, maybe he could make something of himself THAT way. That would almost certainly make up for the sorry incident of him ALMOST becoming king...
He was just adjusting the triceps when Mæja came out of nowhere and stumbled backward--falling directly through his masterpiece.
Immi’s jaw dropped.
“Oh, I’m sorry Immi!” said Mæja, scrambling to her feet.
“What have you DONE?!” was the first, horrified thing that left Immi’s mouth.
“I didn’t realize-I’m sorry, it was an-”
Then Immi swung from paralyzed with horror to thrumming with pure, unmitigated anger.
“WHY DIDN’T YOU WATCH WHERE YOU WERE GOING, MÆJA LITLA JARÐARBER?!” he screamed, standing in one fluid motion and towering over her.
“Do you really think, that it’s OKAY to just RUN AROUND-” he gestured wildly with one arm, “-with NO awareness of anything around you, KNOCKING OVER PEOPLE’S-”
Through the fog of his anger, he saw Mæja take a step back, and his angry rant died in his throat.
Mæja was freezing up, and not from the cold.
God help him, he was DOING it again.
He sighed, took several deep breaths, and let the tension bleed out of his body.
“I just...want to...be alone, right now,” he said, carefully enunciating each word. “Got it?!”
It worked, Mæja relaxed.
“Okay, Immi,” she said quietly, and walked away.
Immi put his head in his hands. Sometimes he wished he were still just a huge jerk, that way he wouldn't feel like such a failure every time he had an outburst.
‘It’s better this way,” he sighed, reminding himself, “It’s really...better this way.”
But he abandoned his sculpture, using the snow instead to build a little fence, just big enough for him to sit inside and have a big, long, sulk.
He hadn't made it tall enough to block the view of everyone else happily playing in the snow, but he couldn’t be bothered to get up and fix it.
So he watched, watched Guffi train Græni to exhaustion, watched the pears build a snow tower up against the slide, watched Mæja and Gedda make up a new dance with a suspicious amount of handholding…
Just look at them, he thought to himself, Don’t they know there’s PLENTY to be miserable about?
Gedda walked up to him, about thirty minutes in.
“Immi, why don’t you go for a walk?” she asked, smiling kindly down at him.
“Oh, yeah , my-my GOVERNMENT-ASSIGNED walk-” Immi spat.
“It’s not ASSIGNED,” Gedda reminded him, “It’s just something we talked about, remember? If you’re feeling angry, it really helps to go for a-”
“I don’t need to go for a stupid walk!” Immi protested, crossing his arms.
“This is exactly why you should!” Gedda exclaimed, gesturing at him, “Honestly, Immi, all day you’ve been snapping at anyone who comes within a METER of you-”
Immi stood up so quickly that he knocked over his fence.
“Why can’t you all just leave me ALONE THEN!!” he shouted, posturing in her face.
Something changed in Gedda’s eyes. Bubbly, happy Gedda disappeared, and in her place was something cold, and furious, and taller than Immi.
“Immanúel,” she said dangerously, speaking down to him from her full height, “It is not Mæja’s fault, or my fault, or ANYONE else’s fault, that you yourself are in a bad mood. And you DON’T get to take it out on us!”
Immi filled his lungs to full yelling capacity, but honestly, she was right.
He deflated slowly, like a balloon with a puncture.
“Allt í lagi þá,” he mumbled, and glumly trudged out of the fruit basket.
He cooled off in more ways than one, as he walked through the now softly falling snow. Gedda was right, regrettably, the walk did have the intended effect, but with the fire in his chest extinguished, all that was left was a hollow sadness.
And to top it all off, he couldn’t stop thinking about the dream he had this morning.
Well, technically it was a memory, but compared to the reality of Immi’s current life, it might as well be just a dream. He was so sure of himself, back then. Sure, he was upset at his family’s decision, absolutely heartbroken at having to leave Eva behind, but...somehow, he still had full confidence that he would make something of himself, and prove himself worthy, so he could return triumphant.
But the cold reality was, he had failed. Over and over again, he had failed. Failed to declare himself king, failed at all of his endeavors, even failed at being good enough to return to Eva like he desperately wanted. And now that he was thirty years old, taking his government-assigned walk around the fruit basket because he couldn’t even keep his TEMPER in check? His eighteen year old self would be so disappointed.
He took a few more laps around the fruit basket, until he quit feeling the urge to cry.
It was dark by the time he re-entered the fruit basket--everyone else was asleep.
At least, he assumed that they were asleep. When he entered the common area, he caught sight of several medium-sized igloos that the others had built to keep warm.
None big enough to fit him, of course.
Where was he going to sleep?
“There’s a word for what I’m feeling, isn’t there?” he asked himself, walking through the little buildings.
He paused at the last igloo, and heaved a deep sigh as the word came to him.
“Einmana,” he murmured.
(Somewhere, deep in dreamland, Mæja felt a sense of vindication. She didn’t know why.)
The sound of a violent sneeze came from underneath the slide, breaking Immi from his reverie.
Immi’s eyes widened. He would know that sneeze ANYWHERE. Was Eva still underneath the slide??
“Eva!!” he called, bounding over igloos and skidding on snow, knocking down Palla and Poddi’s wall of snow and all but falling underneath the slide.
It was bad. Eva’s lips were blue, and she was uncontrollably shivering, holding her orange peel dress to her body in an attempt to keep warm.
“Eva! Are you okay?!” he asked, touching her ice-cold shoulder.
“C-c-c-c-o-old,” she chattered.
Immi wasted no time, he scooped her up and placed her on his lap, throwing his winter cape around both of them to prevent any body heat from leaching out into the night.
Eva shook violently in his arms, and he only squeezed tighter, tucking her head under his chin and rubbing her back with an anxious hand.
After a very tense few minutes, where Immi was debating whether or not to wake up Rauða, Eva finally began to shiver less. And less. Until finally, she could relax her muscles with a great sigh, nestling her head into his chest.
In his panic, he hadn’t realized--he was holding Eva.
It had been a LONG time since they had held each other, but now that they were again, all those feelings were bubbling up right to the surface, and it was…
“Th-th-thank you,” Eva said, lifting her head and interrupting his thoughts.
“Not a problem, Eva mín,” he said, “Not a problem.”
She placed her head back on his chest, and Immi ached with longing.
“At least I wasn’t completely useless today,” he mumbled to himself.
“Immi,” Eva said as sternly as she could from her position, “D-do not talk about yourself this way.”
“Why not?” he asked, tears building up in his eyes, “Everything I’ve ever done, all the p-people I’ve hurt, and I have nothing at all to show for it.”
He wiped a tear away as quick as it spilled. Why did she always have to bring the softness out of him?
‘Nononono,” Eva said, sounding more annoyed than frostbitten, “You d-do have something going f-for you.”
“Oh?” Immi challenged, “What, then, do I have?”
“You’re...you’re becoming a good man,” Eva said.
Immi laughed a little, at that. “Not really good enough.”
“But you’re trying, ” Eva insisted, “And that...that gives me hope, Immanúel, it really does.”
She shifted, moving her head until her lips just barely brushed his ear.
“I like the man you’re becoming,” she whispered, “Keep going.”
Immi didn’t know how to respond to that. But something warm and alive fluttered in his stomach, despite the cold. He could trust Eva, right? And if Eva saw something in him, even after everything, then...then, maybe he was going in the right direction.
He pressed a kiss into her hair.
“Thank you,” he whispered, and they both drifted off to sleep, warm in each other’s arms.
The next morning dawned warmer, with half of the snow melting overnight.
Immi and Eva disentangled, joked about frozen fruit, and went about their separate ways.
But something had changed between them, something small. Over the course of the day, Eva would catch Immi’s eye and smile, and he couldn’t help but smile back.
Maybe it was okay if he didn’t become famous, or powerful. Maybe, he thought as he awkwardly tried out Gedda and Mæja’s new dance, maybe making something of himself meant something as small as being a better person. A person that was worth trusting, and maybe even loving.
And he thought, as he caught Eva’s eyes from across the room, that that was a worthy pursuit.