A/N: This is a gift-fic from the Dancing Dove Spring Fic exchange for Lis/cherisaan. :)
Disclaimer: I am not Tamora Pierce, therefore I own nothing.
Snow, Alanna thought. Snow?
Well, this was Midwinter, and it was Trebond Castle, chilly northern fort of the Trebonds for Goddess knew how many years, and to be sure it was not nearly so cold as the Roof of the World- but Alanna, who had spent a considerable amount of time in the desert recently, nevertheless eyed the fresh, clean, wet, white blanket with considerable dismay, as though it had been a great surprise.
And indeed it had. Ordinarily, at this point of the year it was too cold for fresh snow in Trebond; normally, any snow had frosted to a hard, icy veneer, mostly melted away from places where people often walked. More pliable precipitation, ideal for pushing down the back of unwary fellow snowball-fighters' coats, generally returned in the middle of January. However, owing to a sudden revival in the temperature- it was only just cold enough to freeze water now –and favourable weather conditions, it had snowed in the night. Since Alanna had spent the night in George's room, a practice that since they were not yet married Rispah tactfully ignored and forced Coram to tactfully ignore, she had not been previously aware of this. However, rising early from habit, and slipping out of George's bed in the direction of warm clothing with practised haste, she had headed for a courtyard in which to drill, and discovered to her irritation and astonishment that it was covered in new snow.
Alanna had not been pleased by this, and her scarred hands were aching badly anyway, which put her in a worse mood. Crossly, she had mounted to Trebond Castle's battlements, silent at this hour of the morning, in order to survey the damage.
Propping her elbows on the battlements, and her chin in her hands, Alanna reflected that this was what someone who was of a sentimental turn of mind might call picturesque.
She was correct. The silence of Trebond Castle, the small village quiet under its covering of snow with only wisps of grey smoke creeping from a few chimneys, the dark pine forest, clouded leaden early-dawn sky, and the clean whiteness of the all-covering snow, all combined to make really quite a peaceful and charming scene. Even Alanna, who despised the cold, might have thought so, if she wasn't besieged with memories. There had been a winter before like this, one she remembered well, and there had been someone to share it with too.
Alanna sighed, an unaccustomed action, and fiddled with the ring beneath her glove that she wore where a marriage band would be in the spring. It was the black opal ring George had given her so long ago, stocked up to its limit with a reserve of her Gift- against mischance, against the day when she might need it. She wore it not only for the protection it might afford her one day when she needed her Gift for warmth, to fight with, or to heal, not only because it gave her and George a semblance of respectability she couldn't really be bothered with, but he seemed to find inexplicably important, but because it recalled to her features very like hers. Violet eyes the reflection of hers, copper hair as tousled and bright as hers.
Mithros only knew why. Perhaps it was the Gift that filled it, so like his, perhaps it was simply that he had admired it once, but it reminded her of Thom, her missing half, her difference, her adored brother, and so did this wintry morning. She had been eight or so when the weather and the temperature had conspired to give Trebond fresh snow for Midwinter, and she had woken early and roused Thom in her excitement. Everyone had enjoyed it, save Alanna's father and those who found that the snow impeded their chores, and she had made a snowman with Thom, been ice-skating, and shared a riotous and long-lasting snowball fight with the village children. Some of those village children she knew had children of their own now, perhaps they did not remember that they had played with Alanna the Lioness; the snowman had passed away, the lake melted and frozen another year.
But Alanna remained, and so too should Thom have remained. Save that he had been fooled by Roger of Conte and his conspirators, and had taken the bait. And now Alanna stood on the battlements of Trebond Castle more than ten years later, with battle-scarred hands, a black opal ring on her finger, and the shackles of legend on her wrists. In front and all around of her, the blameless white morning snow gleamed, and Alanna felt inexplicably dirty. What was she now, compared to the innocent child who had thrown snowballs at her brother? What had happened to them? One had grown up to become a legend, the truest servant of the Tortallan crown. The other had become a traitor to it, if not on purpose. Fair enough; Alanna had not become King's Champion on purpose, either. So completely different, such contrasting fates, and yet neither of them fit to face the judgement of that clean white snow and the question it asked: Are you good enough?
Having completely fallen into reverie, Alanna did not notice the (ex) thief's soft steps behind her until he wrapped his arms around her. Startled, Alanna's hand would have shot to her sword, were it not for the fact that her arms were pinned securely to her sides.
"Goddess bless, George, don't startle me!"
"What's a man to do?" the culprit drawled, amused. "When his lass is paying no heed whatsoever to her surroundings, like what I'm sure her teachers spent years telling her not to? En't it lovely?" he added, apparently delighted by the sweetly Midwintery sight. "Midwinter in the north. Every bit as charming as I've been told it is."
"'S bloody freezing, that's what," growled his betrothed, displeased.
George Cooper, the somewhat-accidental Baron of Pirate's Swoop, chuckled, and rested his chin on Alanna's head. Or rather, on top of the hood of Alanna's thick coat, under which she wore a woolly cap. Only a few wisps of copper hair could be seen. They stood like this for a few moments, and then presently George said, removing his chin from the top of her head: "Lass, I can't see your face if ye persist on glaring at the snow, and I do want to see your face."
Alanna, who was enjoying the warmth of being encircled in his arms, but was not in the least tempted to cease glaring at the snow, made no answer.
"Love," George began resignedly, looking down at her, "y'know the annoyin' thing about your hood? It gets in the way of me kissin' ye somewhat."
"George, that is not remotely relevant." The lady knight, irritated by the combined effect on her memory of the ring and the weather and by her consort's apparently inconsequential chatter, was starting to become angry.
"Oh, yes it is, lass," George said serenely, and Alanna found very suddenly to her great surprise that he had turned her round in his arms, shoved back the constricting hood, and had proceeded to kiss her very firmly. She also found that since George still had her arms pinned to her sides, she couldn't struggle.
Eventually, George paused to breathe, grinning in his most devious and gleeful manner at his betrothed, whose eyes had narrowed to mere violet slits. "Midwinter luck, love."
"George?" Alanna remarked in a deceptively light tone. "Would you be so good as to let go of my arms?"
"Only if you promise not to spit me on that sword o'yours, lass."
Alanna scowled at him. George's hold tightened. "You're in a lousy mood, Alanna."
"I know that much," Alanna said tartly, and then, because Goddess bless she knew George would understand, and because that blasted ring was weighing her left hand down as mercilessly as ever a lifetime's memories did, and because it was so damned cold and because she couldn't help thinking of every single winter she'd shared with Thom, winters that everyone but maybe Coram and Maude would have forgotten, and Thom should've been here to share the memories... because of all those things and a few more, she collapsed into George's hold, brought her hands up to clutch his coat, and burst into tears.
No-one could ever have said that George Cooper didn't know the woman he'd loved since he taught her to fight like a rogue and pick pockets, and had first kissed when she was fifteen. So he knew that Alanna had not cried for Thom, only stared at his body with her face pale and her eyes fierce and fever-bright and called her twin a fool. He knew that she had done what she could to keep everyone, even her closest friends, from knowing even a tiny part of the stabbing aching gut-wrenchingly constant pain that came from losing her other half- for George Cooper was not an unobservant man, and he knew his Lioness better than anyone.
So he didn't ask any silly questions, like "What's the matter?" and nor did he try to comfort her with platitudes. He just lifted her off her feet, and carried her back to his room- quietly thanking the Trickster, although in a definitely not pray-y way, that Alanna liked to rise so much earlier than everyone else, so that there were no servants to see and disapprove.
George sat down on the bed, Alanna's hands still curled into his coat, and carefully removed her woolly hat, gloves, sword-belt, coat and boots while kicking off his own boots. Gently, he disengaged Alanna's hands from his coat and took that off too, and then he sat up in the bed with his back against the bed-stead, and quietly held her and listened, silently and without censure or pity, while she cried and told him everything, all about how Thom took half of her when he went and she didn't know what to do.
Finally, Alanna's tears stopped and her breathing steadied, and slowly, she fell asleep against his chest. George waited until he was sure that if he moved cautiously- and no-one moves cautiously quite like a former King of the Rogue –he would not disturb her. He moved away slowly, put the covers over, and tucked them round her. She murmured in her sleep, and a faint frown came to her face, blue-veined eyelids fluttering; George hushed her softly, and stroked her cheek with the back of his calloused hand. "Shh, love." Alanna hushed- the frown left, a slight smile replaced it, and its echo curved George's lips. The lines in her face were smoothed away when she slept; she was no longer fierce, no longer constantly watching for danger, no longer feeling the ache in her mangled hands. She looked almost child-like, as peaceful as she ever was, ever would be, and as close to beautiful as she ever got. George's smile widened, and he left his Midwinter present to her, along with a brief note, on the bed-side table. Then, he went to go and tell Coram and Rispah that Alanna slept, and perhaps a very little of what had passed between them, concerning Thom, and her torn heart- although never would George Cooper use such poetic language in front of his cousin.
Alanna woke later in the day. The sun had risen, gleaming with winter weakness but a good will on the midwinter morning; people laughed and chattered outside, making paths and trails and (quite possibly) snowmen out of the pure white blanket that had mocked her with memory, and Alanna was comfortably curled in George's bed. She recalled that he had lifted her, carried her to his room after she had broken down and cried on the battlements, and that he had listened without judgement, without doing anything at all but holding her to comfort her, and she thought that she owed George a good deal.
She wriggled out of the bedclothes, put her boots on, and then noticed the small wooden box and note on the bed-side table. She went back to sit on the edge of the bed, and then picked up the note in one hand and the box in the other, and read the note. It said:
Alanna, you slept, and it seemed a pity to wake you. Happy Midwinter, and all my love- never fret, lass, they are not stolen -George.
Alanna smiled a softer smile than the one she had shown Delia after that battle in the palace. If her father had lived, and had seen her, he could have told her it was her mother's smile, and it gave her face a glow, as if she were candle-lit from the inside. She put the note down, and opened the box.
Inside were a pair of earbobs; simple ones, as she liked. A pearl in each earbob, set in reddish gold, warm cream-coloured pearls, with a single amethyst stone of approximately the same size as the pearls and set in the same gold dangling by one small link from the pear. Simple, but very pretty. Alanna put them on, put the note in the box and the box in her pocket, and then went to change into a dress, because she wanted to wear the earbobs and you don't wear plain clothes with special jewellery like that. It would be a fairly practical dress, though, and a warm one; after all, there was fresh snow on the ground outside, and it was a lovely sunny day- and she meant to enjoy it.
And if Thom's shade still hung about her a little: well, she had broken the sore scab on the wound, and found that while it was still not totally healed, there was pink new skin to promise a time when it would be. In the meantime, Alanna could face the snow and her memories, with the strength that a true ally brought, and the black opal ring on her finger was just the ring she wore till a marriage band replaced it.