Title: Defences Against the Cold

Author: Zalia Chimera

Pairing: Gevan/Elspeth, past Rushton/Elspeth

Warnings: Death, angst, speculation ;

Hope you like!

I watch the last few people scurry indoors as the first flakes of snow of the winter begin to fall. It settles, quickly covering the ground with a thin layer of white. I am glad of it. The snow shields our refuge from the outside world. Although we should have no need of it--Misfits have been generally accepted since the dissolution of the Council and the Herders-- I still feel myself more at ease with the coming of winter and the snows. The blanket cleanses, making everything seem pure. Even the blacklands become a thing of beauty.

There was a time when I would have joyfully left my position and run out into the night, dancing and twirling beneath the night sky while the gentle flakes covered my hair and clothes and I would laugh as I caught the flakes on my tongue.

But no more. Little brings me joy anymore. Sometimes it seems as though all pleasure has been stolen from my heart since that day. Can it really be only a year ago? It seems like so much longer. Except when the pain hits me and then it is all too raw and fresh, as though my heart had been ripped out once again. Yet even that begins to slowly fade, becoming less painful as the days pass. Even his face becomes less distinct. At one time I could recall every detail. The way his lips curved when he smiled, the feeling of his hands as they cupped my cheek. And yet now my memories of him have become dim in my mind.

I wonder if eventually I will feel nothing and become utterly empty of emotion; just as many at Obernewtyn believe. I am not sure whether I fear this, or whether I wish to embrace it. Sometimes I think that feeling nothing would be a blessing. No pain or guilt. No need to regret things not said and actions not taken.

No need to feel the desperate urge to scream and cry as I remember the gentle touch of his mind against mine as he fell with Ariel into the abyss.

I look up when I hear footsteps approaching, breaking me from my increasingly morbid thoughts. I nod in greeting as Gevan settles himself next to me on the bench sheltered by the overhanging roof of the barn. We sit in silence for long minutes until finally he speaks, his voice calm and soft as always, tinged with its usual good humour.

"I know that people have called you the Ice Queen, Elspeth, but I think this may be taking it a little too far. Aren't you cold?"

I smile wanly at him. He is always trying to take care of me. Since the day I returned to Obernewtyn alone, he has virtually become my shadow, checking that I want for nothing. It had started out as annoying and I had snapped at him many times. Yet still he had kept approaching me and little by little I had come to accept it until he had become a comforting presence in my life.

"A little," I reply, turning back to continue watching the snow.

From the corner of my eye, I can see him shake his head in amusement. "You are as stubborn as Maruman ever was."

I gasp, a bolt of pain lancing straight to my heart at the name of my beloved friend, my companion since before I arrived at Obernewtyn.

"Lud... I'm sorry Elspeth. I shouldn't have said that."

I shake my head at him. "It's my fault. You shouldn't have to worry about what you say hurting me. It's just... it still hurts so much. Even after all this time."

He looks down and I almost fancy that I hear him whisper "I know".

The snow grows ever thicker and it is falling faster now. At times it seems as though the sky is pure white spotted with black. The wind has changed direction and now it is beginning to blow a little into the shelter, bringing the snow with it. I catch a small crystal on my hand and watch as it vanishes. 'And so go all my dreams.' It shouldn't have been like this. I had begun to hope at one point, but my hope had melted like the glittering snow in my hand.

The chill begins to hit me and I shiver, drawing my legs against my chest and wrapping my arms around them. Gevan looks at me in concern. "Do you want to go inside?"

I nod. I know that soon the walk up to the House will be nearly impossible with me wearing only a light cloak on top of my trews and shirt. Even during my worst periods of sadness, I never wished to end my life. The snow had nearly claimed me once before and I would not give it a second chance.

Gevan slips off his own cloak and places it around my shoulders. I smile gratefully at him and we begin the walk up to the House. It is a slower process than usual. Ice had formed during the night and patches of it are still there, treacherous beneath the white blanket that covers them. At least there is no longer the need to pass through the maze! The walk reminds me of my own mad escape attempt almost eight years ago, when I had run from Ariel and his dogs and had almost frozen because of it. I would have died if not for Domick.

Another pain. One that is in some ways worse than all of the others because of how it occured. I can still remember it. The way his eyes had pleaded with me even as he tried to kill me. He was in so much pain. Ariel had had many long months to place his control over the coercer and even his mind was failing beneath the constant pressure of Ariel's Talent.

The force of my mind hits him and he stumbles violently backwards, dropping the knife as he falls. I kick it away, unwilling to give him the opportunity to use it against me again. My rage is filling me and I turn on him.

He has managed to pull himself into a sitting position and he looks at me with eyes that are wide and... hopeful? This confuses me and my rage lessens a little in the face of the conflicting emotions.

"You attack me, Domick? You betray your home and friends to throw your lot in with that monster? You would betray Kella like that?"

A harsh laugh bordering on hysterical escapes from his lips and he buries his face in his hands, a fine trmble running through his shoulders. "You think this is by choice? Kella is the only person I have ever loved. I would not betray her willingly for all the spices in Sador."

"Then why?" I don't understand!

He locks eyes with me and I gasp at the depths of torment there.

"He will not let me go."

There is no need to ask whom he speaks of, I know it as instinctively as I know how to breathe. "Ariel." I whisper the name half in loathing and half in dread.

Domick flinches at the mention of his name and that shocks me, for Domick was ever proud and never showed his fear.

"What did he do to you Domick?"

Domick shakes his head. "Doesn't matter. No time to tell. I can't fight him for much longer." His eyes are desperate as he looks at me. "Kill me. I know you have the power."

I recoil in horror. I have never used my power to kill deliberately. Always before it had been an accident, something innate in my mind rising to protect me.

"Please," he whispers and his voice has a strange, broken quality to it. "I don't want to die as his tool, doing his bidding. Please Elspeth." He watches me for a moment and then muffles a sob as I make no move. Even I who am not an empath can sense his anguish at what he thinks is my refusal.

How can I let his pleas go unanswered when he begs me with such desperation? I am not that callous. Slowly I nod and I kneel before him, taking his head in my hands. The relief in his eyes is painful. What was done to him to make him grateful that I will end his life? I press my lips softly against his forehead. "Rest now Domick. Let none hurt you again."

Carefully I slip into the coercer's mind, deliberately softening my mindprobe, unwilling to cause him more pain. Inside, I can feel the extent of what Ariel has done. Tendrils of darkness are wrapped around Domick's mind and in places his thoughts lay ruined, reminding me terribly of the damage that had been done to Selmar at his hands. That a human could do this to another is sickening to me. I wish that I could at least make him feel comfort and some semblance of happiness in his last moments, but I am no empath and all I can do is make his ending as swift and as painless as possible. I reach for the dark power within my mind and it rises at my call, like a great dark serpent. I let it fly and it strikes him with devastating force. I feel him clutch convulsively at my wrist and then his grip relaxes and he falls away from me.

There is a smile on his lips.

Gevan catches me as I stumble and I smile gratefully at him. "I'm sorry. I was lost in thought for a moment."

He shrugs. "You seemed distracted. What were you thinking about, if you don't mind me asking?"

I take a few hesitant steps forwards, concentrating fiercely upon the ground. I am gratified when I feel no pain. I had been worried that I may have twisted my ankle. "I was thinking about Domick," I say, walking a little more confidently, although I still keep my eyes on the ground.

Gevan sighs. Domick is still a painful subject among the Coercers, their Guildmaster especially. "I think about him too. I can't help but think that I should have realised that something was wrong. But he always sent such careful reports that I never noticed anything amiss until it was too late." Sorrow and a little bitterness are in his voice; strange considering that he is usually so controlled. "I keep thinking that I shouldn't have allowed him to go to Sutrium in the first place."

I pause and lay a hand on his arm; he looks at me questioningly. "It is not your fault Gevan. The decision to send him was made by Guildmerge, not you alone and Domick had already made up his mind."

He runs a hand through his dark hair in a familiar gesture of frustration and with his usual commanding demeanour gone, he seems much younger than he usually does. It seems strange to think that because he is but a few years older than I myself am. Most people of his age outside Obernewtyn, are barely considered adult, and yet here he is, already a seasoned and respected leader.

"I know that Elspeth. And yet is is difficult to believe that there is nothing I could have done. I should have persuaded him otherwise, or offered to go myself. He was one of my guild, Elspeth. I should have been able to protect him."

I shake my head. "You were and still are Guildmaster of the Coercers. You were needed here to lead our protectors. We could better afford to lose a hand than a head."

He laughs softly and bitterly. "So says Mistress Elspeth of the Farseekers. She who has lead more perilous quests than Zarak has had punishments, and most, may I add, against the better judgement of Guildmerge. When did you ever take your own advice?"

His semi-mocking tone brings a smile to my lips. "Ah, but I was the subject of Maryon's portents of doom!"

"I have still yet to be convinced that you did not somehow bribe Maryon into having those visions just so that you could take off and see the land."

I put on a mock-severe expression and glare at him. "And I assume that your motives for setting up the magi were entirely pure."

He holds up his hand in a show of defeat. "I see nothing slips past your notice. I may have had an ulterior motive. But they did their job, did they not?"

"True," I concede and he flashes a smile at me.

We continue the walk to the House in companionable silence and I find myself enjoying simply being in the company of another person and for the first time in almost a year, I don't feel so cold.