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and we’ll both hold on

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It's been a long, long day--the way days often are when out in the field, when there's always people to seek out, lost souls to help, enemies to fight. Days stretch on and on, and Ellana sometimes feels as if the sun will never set.

What makes it worse is that it's been a long, long day in the icy hills of Emprise du Lion. She hates Emprise, and it isn't solely the devastation around her that inspires those feelings.

Of course her heart still aches with empathy at the plights of those she encounters--at the sight of ruined homes, at corpses left out in the middle of nowhere with families never knowing their fates, at smoldering ashes she finds with shards of blackened bone--and that does play a part. (But Ellana has grown almost used to that, hasn't she? It's the same story wherever her position takes her, the same story in all of the forests and deserts and plains she visits with the Inquisition trooping behind her.)

But there are some things that makes Emprise worse than those other places.

She knows that part of it is from the red lyrium that infests the mines and the hillsides, more than she has ever seen before in a single place. It's too much for them to reasonably destroy in such a short time frame.

The corrupted lyrium sings its siren song in her head, and it never seems to abate. It leaves her ears ringing with dark whispers that won't desert her, making her irritable and quick to anger.

It affects Lavellan’s companions the same way, getting in the way of the easy camaraderie they're usually able to share. Varric tries to joke as he normally does, but she sees that the red leaves him seething and scared, however much he tries to hide it. His jokes fall flat, or they fall on ears unwilling to be anything but annoyed by his attempts at levity.

She feels that at least the uneasy silences that settle over them so completely--like snow settles everywhere around them, muffling everything, muffling life’s colors and vibrancy-- are better than the arguing.

And, of course, with an abundance of red lyrium comes hordes of red templars. The behemoths they've encountered have left dark bruises on her skin, and even though Dorian takes care to see to everyone when they make camp, the places where the bruises were remain tender.

Aside from that, the exertion of fighting leaves sweat on her skin that dries cold, leeching the warmth she tries so desperately to keep around her. The icy wind leaves her lips dry and cracking. Her fingers freeze in their positions around the grip of her sword and shield; her gloves feel as if they do nothing to help at all. The cold makes the tips of Lavellan’s ears and the tender flesh of her exposed face smart and burn--and the irony of the cold burning is not lost on her.

There’s none of the warmth offered by Haven before it fell, none of the ancient magic of Skyhold to push away the elements.

Ellana is reminded all too often of the journey she made after Haven was attacked, and the cold is just as pervasive as it was then: just as biting, just as cruel.

When she wakes in the middle of the night, for a moment she thinks that she’s waking in a snowdrift again after collapsing from pain and exhaustion. For a moment, the various aches of her body are a dislocated shoulder from when Corypheus lifted her like she was nothing, cracked ribs and countless bruises from slamming into the trebuchet and falling into the mine, the throbbing pain ringing through the hand with anchor, the stinging numbness of the cold penetrating her ruined armor.

She’s so cold that she can’t even shiver anymore, and she’s racked by the thought that she’s dying again, she’s going to die here, all by herself as she tries to find her companions again. Fen’Harel’s wolves are howling at her mockingly in the distance, and Falon’Din will shortly come to guide her through the Fade--

--And then she realizes where she really is, and her aches are just themselves again.

Ellana is ensconced in her tent, and it may be cold, but she’s safe, she’s safe. She tells herself that over and over as she tries to steady her breathing, as she wipes away the cold sweat that has gathered on her brow.

She’s safe, but she knows that she’s not going to find sleep again that night.

Her attention is drawn to the heavy canvas wall of her tent--more specifically, the side where her tent brushes Cassandra’s.

There’s a dull and faint light coming through the material, similar to the way that the sun looks through her eyelids on a cloudy day. She supposes that she’s not the only one awake, then; Cassandra is always meticulous about blowing out her candles before she sleeps.

Lavellan moves with a heavy sigh, pulling the furs of her bedroll tighter around herself. She debates whether or not she should disturb the other warrior; she thinks of how steadying and comforting Cassandra’s very presence is, thinks of the tentative kisses they've exchanged so far. She figures the worst thing Cassandra can say is that she'd prefer to be left to her own devices at this time of the night, and weighs it as worth the risk.

Ellana moves on her knees until she’s pressed against the wall of her tent, hesitantly calls out, “Cassandra?”

“....Ellana?” she hears in response a moment later. “Why are you awake?” The Seeker’s voice is concerned and soft.

“I’ve had a couple of not so pleasant dreams,” Lavellan admits, shivering slightly. Shivering is good, though. Shivering means that at least her body is alive enough to feel the cold. “I don’t think I’ll be able to go back to sleep right now.”

There’s silence for the moment, punctuated only by the hissing wind. “Do you wish to speak of it?” Cassandra responds.

“I’d take your company, if you’d be willing to provide it.” Ellana doesn't say that she is always willing to take Cassandra’s company, but she feels the weight of those unspoken words sitting in her mouth.

“Of course,” Cassandra says.

“Is it alright if I come to your tent, then?”

“Yes, but do not let the snow in with you,” Cassandra replies, her tone mostly serious but for a light teasing inflection.

“No promises,” Ellana says as she stands, moves towards the entrance to her tent. She adjusts her blankets, braces herself, and quickly unties the fabric that holds the flap shut. The cold bites at her skin, and she ties the fabric again with shaking fingers. When she takes the two steps to the other woman’s tent she repeats the process in reverse, doing so as quickly as she is able.

When her hands stumble with the ties, Cassandra is there to help her. The Seeker puts a gentle hand to Lavellan’s back and guides her forwards to the pile of blankets that rest on the pallet in one corner of the tent. When they settle, Ellana pulls her own blankets to combine them with Cassandra’s.

The tent is lit by a single lantern hung from a hook in the center of the tent, casting gentle light over everything. Ellana can't help but appreciatively watch the play of shadows over Cassandra’s face, the way the light softens the sharp line of her jaw and cheekbones.

She forces her gaze away from Cassandra’s face and glances around the tent. Her eyes catch Cassandra’s armor and sword in another corner, gleaming where they rest upon an armor rack, before she turns her eyes down towards her lap. “What were you doing before I called your name?” she asks.

“I was… reading,” Cassandra answers, slightly flustered. She seems to know that Ellana won’t judge, however, so she pulls a book from where it must have been tucked under her pillow. It’s one that Ellana hasn't seen Cassandra reading before.

Ellana leans into Cassandra’s side, and one of Cassandra’s arms comes up to rest over her shoulders. “What’s this one about, then?”

“It is about a female chevalier on the front lines during the Orlesian occupation of Ferelden; she’s trying to help combat the corruption that runs throughout the chevaliers.”

“I thought that female chevaliers were discouraged from fighting in the field?” Lavellan asks.

“Yes, they are--that is a part of the conflict, actually.”

“How far along are you?” Ellana inquires, burrowing further into the numerous blankets pooled around her. Her frame is still racked by shivers, but she is endlessly thankful for Cassandra’s distraction from that fact.

Cassandra glances at her book consideringly before responding. “Perhaps a little over halfway.”

“Are you liking it so far?”

“It is interesting, at least.” Cassandra is silent for a moment, seemingly contemplative. She offers, “...Would you like me to read to you?”

“I’d enjoy that,” Ellana replies, and settles closer to Cassandra before turning to look at her with an expectant eye.

Cassandra complies with her unspoken request, opening the book to the beginning. Then her rich voice spills out into the tent, fluid and steady as she reads aloud.

It’s all very calming, Lavellan thinks. With Cassandra’s voice in her ear, it’s easier to forget the nightmare and the ghosts of past hurts that were haunting her just minutes before.

It’s still so damned cold, though, even with the warmth provided by Cassandra’s body heat bracketing Ellana on one side. Though Ellana isn’t shivering as violently as she was before, she still has goosebumps running along her arms and legs, even under the multiple layers of blankets and her long sleeves and pants.

Cassandra, of course, notices this. It’s not as if they can get much closer, however, so Ellana is resigned to waiting for their combined body heat to permeate the blankets and slowly warm her up--

--And then Cassandra is saying, “I think I have an idea to help you warm up.”

Ellana can’t help the blush that rises to her cheeks at those words, because that certainly sounds an awful lot like a proposition.

Cassandra seems to realize that herself, and her cheeks heat as well. “I… I meant to say that we could sit more closely together.”

“At this point, I don’t think that that’s quite possible unless I literally get on top of you,” Ellana points out.

“Well, we can not have the Inquisitor freezing to death,” says Cassandra. “It would be horribly bad for morale.”

“Ah, yes, of course,” Ellana agrees, a tender smile on her face. “How should we do this?”

“...Whatever is more comfortable for you, Ellana.”

“Alright, let me just…” she says as she tries to finagle her way onto Cassandra’s lap, squirming until she's sitting with her front pressed against Cassandra’s and her legs on either side of Cassandra’s hips.

To say that it's an intimate position would be an understatement, and that certainly doesn't pass Ellana’s notice, but the position gives her access to far more of Cassandra’s body heat.

Ellana’s goosebumps are well on their way to disappearing, and her cheeks feel so hot that for an instant it's hard to imagine them ever being cold again. She hides her face in the crook of Cassandra’s neck and doesn't pull back enough to look at the other woman’s face, to see whatever expression might be broadcasted there.

Cassandra fidgets slightly, clears her throat, and then she's stretching her arms around Ellana to pick up the book from where she had set it aside.

She acts as if their position is normal, as if their embrace is something she would welcome even without the intense cold pushing in around them. Ellana can't help it when her mind imagines just that, imagines her and Cassandra sitting together like this every day: sheltered together, sheltered by each other.

Cassandra props the book against her own knee, reading over Ellana's back and starting again from right where she left off.

Ellana is comforted by the weight of Cassandra leaning against her, the scent of the oil that Cassandra uses to clean her armor and keep it supple where it has rubbed off against her clothes.

All thoughts of the cold finally leave her mind, and all that she is left with is warmth.