The grass was wet, and it soaked through her broken leather boots as she waited outside the carnival. Shivering in the cold, she stood outside the lights and noise, outside the familiar. Instead, she hugged her overcoat closer to her body, watching, and not without a degree of bitterness. The fires in the braziers, the colourful gas lamps and brightly striped tents were all just as she remembered, but she stood alone now, in the dark, as her fingers were numb and aching with the cold. She flexed them, wishing she could punch Valentine in his potbelly for making her wait this long.
The carnival just seemed to get louder, as she stood there in the dark, until her feet were soaked and her fingers and face were white with cold. She wrapped her scarf tighter around her neck, wishing she could get closer to the fires and the music and the laughter.
"Hello, Kit." The fat man had somehow sneaked up on her, unseen, but she turned to face him sagely, letting her frozen hands drop from holding her coat together. She thrust them in her pockets nonchalantly.
"Hello," she said shortly, and Valentine raised an eyebrow, waiting. But she wouldn't tell him how she'd suffered since she left, she wouldn't tell him that she had wet feet and cold hands and she'd been waiting for him for hours, and she wouldn't tell him that she had a knife in her boot and another, longer one stuck into her belt, and they were the only things she actually cared enough about to clean.
Nevertheless, he pulled her into a hug, his massive stomach forcing the knife handle painfully into Kit's hip, but he was warm and greasy and smelled of cooking and smoke and home- so Kit forgot herself for a moment and hugged him back, her arms barely reaching around his girth.
"I haven't got long," she told him, her voice muffled by his bulk.
"What?" He released her, but held her at arm's length, looking intently into her face for any changes. Kit didn't doubt he would find a few- it was three years this winter that she had left, and she'd had to do a lot of growing up, and very quickly.
"I said, I haven't got long. I have to get back."
"Get back to who?" Valentine asked, but she didn't answer. He didn't expect her to. Even as a child, she had been unusually taciturn, even when all her playmates had been shouting and somersaulting and laughing.
"What is the problem, Valentine?"
"We've had a few ....murders. Of the patrons. Ones who were particularly.... insulting of us."
She nodded knowingly as it started to rain heavily. There were always a few drunk idiots who thought it was appropriate to criticise travellers, from their dress to their children, to misconceptions about stealing.
"Do you have any idea who it was?"
Valentine recoiled like she'd hit him. "Of course not!" he hissed, keeping his voice low, but Kit hadn't expected him to answer, even if he did have his suspicions. Such a tightly knit community can only work if there is no insubordination, no pointing fingers and blaming. Valentine had only come tonight because it was Kit who was asking, and she knew that must have been incredibly hard. Nevertheless, she had what she had come for now.
"I'll see you around then," she said, and turned to leave, her boots audibly squelching in the wet grass.
"Kit..." Valentine paused, unsure of his words. She faced him again, staring out sullenly from underneath her hood, hair masking her face.
"You are alright, aren't you?" he asked, concern written over his face. "You are..."
"Fine," she finished for him. "I'm fine. Goodbye."
Valentine watched her hunched form disappear into the night, and sighed. He didn't doubt that her definition of fine was a long way from anybody else's.
"And? What did you find out?" asked James.
Kit shook her head. "Nothing that we didn't know already."
"So that was helpful then," sneered Adele, who was older than Kit by a couple of years. "Shut up," said James. "At least we know they're willing to talk to Kit. You know what the travelling people are like." He threw a mischievous sideways glance at her. "They hate talking to outsiders."
Ignoring him, Kit collapsed into an armchair by the fire in the cheap hotel room that the five of them were sharing. They had been lucky to get one- as the carnival was in town, nearly all of the rooms were taken. She kicked off her boots and shoved her feet close to the fire, but James turfed her out.
"Don't get the chair all wet!" he moaned. "Get some of your wet clothes off, and then warm yourself up. Idiot."
She quickly stripped off her outer layers, until she was shivering in just a jumper and men's trousers. She stood over the fire, the heat slowly sinking into her bones. The door opened, and the three of them turned to see Michael and Natasha walk in, similarly wet through.
"Did you find anything out?" Natasha said, joining Kit at the fire while Michael went straight to the table to tear open the loaf of black bread there.
"Nothing we didn't already know," Kit repeated.
Natasha shrugged. "We knew it was a long shot. They wouldn't let us into the mortuary, but we talked to a few people who had found the bodies, and apparently they found the bodies just lying on the ground, no perpetrators in sight, and no signs of a struggle. Just their necks snapped."
"This doesn't even sound like a case for us," Adele said, picking up her long skirts to neatly sit in Kit's vacated armchair.
Michael winked at Kit. "I've got my money on ghosts," he whispered in her ear, his mouth full. Adele scowled at her brother protectively.
"It could be," James said, looping his arm around Natasha's waist and pulling her in close. They were recently engaged, and it hadn't come as a surprise to anyone except perhaps Natasha.
"So, we're at a dead end then," Adele said. "Can we just leave? It's just some circus freak killing people. It's not our problem."
"We don't know if it's not our problem yet," said Michael, and his voice was unusually stern to his younger sister. "This was a favour, and we'll finish it."
Kit could feel Adele glaring at her. "We don't have a problem," Adele insisted. "If Kit wants to investigate, then let her!"
"And if you don't want to investigate, then we won't stop you," said James. "Now, I have a plan to gather more information about our mysterious murderer."
Kit raised an eyebrow. "What is it?"
Adele's mouth spread into a slow smile as she understood, but James looked uncomfortable as he answered. "We're going to go insult the circus, and see what happens."