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Bitter Frost

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Hokkan is colder even than the snowiest winter nights in Tokyo. The thick quilt Suboshi insisted she have while the rest of them use scratchy travel blankets can only block so much of the chill, and the fire's long died. Yui knows it's perfectly safe to fall asleep as long as she can still feel her fingers, and she'd like nothing more than to put her book down and close her eyes.

But it's more than the cold keeping her up. Back home, on nights like this she and Miaka would bundle up in their warmest pajamas in front of the fireplace, wrapped in a blanket, sipping hot cocoa and reading stories until her parents or Miaka's mother said it was time for bed. And even after that, they'd curl up in bed whispering and giggling until they fell asleep, safe and warm.

Her sleeping pallet isn't her bed, and the cave's opening is small but still lets in the cold air. Her books are a poor substitute for a warm body beside her own. And the body she wants beside her own is a girl she both loves and hates so deeply it makes her physically ache.

Even now, she's still not sure whether her infatuation with Tamahome was her own or a reflection of Miaka's feelings. But she's been sure of her feelings for Miaka since before they even found the book. Even the cloudiest day seemed brighter when Miaka smiled at her, and knowing Miaka trusted and relied on her more than anyone else made her feel proud.

But now she only smiles at him, and he can protect her better than I ever could.

Yui slams her book shut and stuffs it into her pack, tears stinging her eyes. The Miaka-shaped hole in her heart is colder than the snow, and no campfire or quilts will ever fill it.

"Lady Yui?" Soi's suddenly kneeling beside her, draping one of the travel blankets over her. "Here. I know that quilt is thick, but I don't want to take any risks with you or Suboshi. The young can catch cold as easily as the elderly."

"Oh..." Yui tries to smile. She and Soi have never exactly been close, despite Soi being the only other woman she's seen for months. Their relationship is cordial, but nothing like the friendship Miaka apparently has with her warriors.

It's just as well. Once she summons Seiryuu she'll never see any of them again anyway. Why open her heart only to have to say goodbye?

"Thank you."

"Are you feeling well?" Soi's tone is concerned, and for a moment Yui wants to open up to her, tell her of all the loneliness and anger and how she's begun to resent Tamahome, whose only crime was to love the same person she does. How she misses her mother and father, her classes, the days when high school entrance exams were the only thing she had to worry about. How she wishes she'd never even found the book in the first place.

But all she can do is shake her head a little, moving closer to Soi.

"I'm...I'm still really cold. Can you...is it okay if I lean on you for a while?"

Soi's response is to wrap the quilt and the blanket around them both, her arm around Yui's shoulders. Yui closes her eyes and leans into her, murmuring her thanks.

It's not like those nights back home. A sleeping pallet isn't her bed, Soi isn't Miaka. But right now, a warm body and a little sympathy are more than enough.