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with a lantern in her hand

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Sophia can feel the snow beneath her shoes. Her dress isn’t nearly enough for the weather, the cold seeping into her skin, making her shiver. The hairs on her arms stands up as she breathes in. Sir John had said that the Arctic was beautiful in its harshness - that even in the coldest place in the world, God filled it with a beauty that would warm your soul despite the ice around you.

Francis was never much a man for art. He also didn’t look back at his first journey to the Arctic with nearly as much fondness as her uncle. She wonders how cold they are; how cold Francis must be. They have layers upon layers to keep them warm, but Francis had once told her that the cold finds a way in anyway, holding onto you from the inside and not letting go.

She slides her shoes off, holding back a flinch as she presses her bare feet into the snow. It’s cold and makes her soles ache, her legs urging her to pull back, to run back inside and warm up beside the fireplace. Would Francis be warm, if Sophia hadn’t asked this of him? Would he look at her with that fondness she’s now lost or whisper in her ear? She still wouldn’t have said yes, if he’d stayed.

But if God gave Francis back tomorrow, she’d throw herself into his arms.

She blinks against the snowflakes as she looks into the sky. The stars are hidden, the only lights coming from the house behind her and the moon peeking out behind a cloud. Her feet hurt; her teeth are chattering, a sharp pain in her jaw. This is how Francis feels, each day, only colder. On and off the ship. Sophia shuts her eyes, face turned up, and thinks of him.

It’s been snowing for hours now, ever since she and Lady Jane left the admiralty. It snowed last year, but she didn’t nearly think of Francis this much, beyond just missing him. She worried for him, of course. Not like this.

Now, she can’t stop. Maybe it’s because of Lady Jane’s recent efforts, the way she tries so hard to make sure the expedition is never far from the admiralty’s minds. Sophia certainly can’t stop thinking about it. Thinking about Francis. She should worry more for Sir John, she knows. And yet-

It’s Francis who’s been on her mind all day. This winter’s first snowfall hasn’t helped, but she hoped - when she stopped looking longingly out the window like the sailor’s wife she feared becoming - that standing in the snow would make Francis feel closer. That it might make her understand something or remember his face in more detail, this time framed by ice and snow. She wants to remember his hands in hers, warm and calloused, a steady grip.

They’ve kissed only once, in the few spare moments at some officers’ party where she escaped her aunt’s watchful eye and met a smiling Francis in a darkened corner. He hadn’t proposed, yet; his smiles were so genuine, then.

In their last few meetings, when Sophia asked him to watch for her uncle - to ensure his judgement, to make sure he returned alive, for her sake, for her livelihood - he didn’t smile. There was a sentiment in the way he looked at her, something that makes Sophia’s chest ache now, but none of those hopeful gazes. Not anymore. Sophia had looked to him as a friend, the only person she could trust with Sir John, her own future. She hadn’t thought to use Francis’ love against him. Maybe this, too, was one of her many missteps.

Sophia hoped that the cold would make her feel closer to him. It only reminds her of their distance.

She’ll stay out a few moments longer.