As she looked up at the sky, feeling the smallest of snowflakes get entangled in her long eyelashes, she found comfort in the cold. She closed her eyes, picturing the snowman with a carrot nose they'd made and the big smile of Artemis as they took in the sight only a few hours earlier, holding onto that joy as she braced for whatever would be inside this worn envelope. It was a stark contrast against the slick snow-covered patio she sat on, rocking slowly in the dark wooden chair. It was a worn paper - looking as though it was written millenniums ago and was just found again, but she knew it was newer than that. It was from a sender she had both kept out of her mind and one who affected her daily, taking their past together and using it as a textbook for her and her partner's relationship now, but his name wasn't one she thought of nearly as much. It was an envelope with the name Victoria in small handwritten ink across the center, shakey and uneven, the name Peter in the other corner. How he had found her address, she would never know, but she'd know the name of the sender even if she forgot her own memory because even though they had fallen out of love decades ago, he would always be her first love.
It had started with an offer to come in from the cold, finding shelter in a snowstorm in the harsh of winter that led to 4 years where time seemed to stall. She had lived decades and met so many people, but those four years with Peter felt like many more, full of soft confused questions, quiet nights by a fireplace, warm drinks that made the nights drag out. She hadn't forgotten the bad that had happened, the fight that tore them apart, and the secrets that harmed each other, but all these years later she didn't focus on that. No, she didn't love him anymore - not in the slightest - but she did love someone else, and the things he had taught her she used every day when loving her girlfriend. Artemis was the best person she could ever have asked to walk into her life, no questions asked. The elf had lived many years before meeting the other, but if anyone were to ask her what years she loved the most she'd undoubtedly say the ones she spent with the archer. They were bliss, reminding her of summer days and dancing around a campfire, at one moment fast and wild, the next tender and warm, nothing like the winter memories she had with the man in the log cabin all that time ago. Looking back at the sealed letter, she let out a shaky breath and curled into the thin blanket wrapped around her shoulders.
"Hey Arty!" She called into the open doorway that led to the kitchen where said woman was cutting veggies for lunch. If Victoria was going to read this letter she needed Artemis there to remind her that it's okay and that she was there, which may seem like an overreaction to many, but it was important to her. The last time she held a letter with the name 'Peter' in the corner, it was what broke them apart, so seeing one now was something she never thought would happen again.
"What's up, babe?" The archer asked, peeking her head out the doorway and into the cold, her long red braid standing out like an autumn leaf of a snowy tree, bright, red, and reminding her of warmth. She had grown in the past 8 years, they both had, both in such different aspects, but together they had found a home, something they both were looking for without really realizing it. So when she leaned out the doorway, the elf waved her over the chair next to her with a soft smile, and when she came over in her newly-acquired jacket and help the other's hand, Victoria sighed thoughtfully.
"I got a letter today, from someone I knew a while ago," She began cautiously as if choosing every word individually before saying it, the woman to her right humming in acknowledgment, "and I- I just don't want to be alone reading it, sorry for taking you away from what you're doing," She finished, clearing her throat due to the shaking in her voice and putting the letter down to rub her face. She apologized again as she kept wiping her face and Artemis kept her hand, rubbing it with her thumb and reminding her that no apology was needed, giving a small smile.
"Are you sure you want to read it? I can if you want me to," The redhead offered, her gaze holding only support, nothing like the mocking her mind was full of. God, she was lucky to have someone like Artemis to be there for her. It was a blessing, really and truly.
"That would be nice, thank you," Victoria said, hesitantly handing over the letter and watching silently as she opened it, unfolding it with care and looking up at her for affirmation that she was listening. Then she read it, voice smooth and soothing even though the words may be negative.
It's been a while, huh? You probably haven't aged as much, but when this gets to you, I've just hit 100 years old, 75 years after we fell in love. I was 25, can you imagine that? Seven and a half decades. Oh, how much has changed, it's insane to look back on. I had another lover after you left, one who I loved wholeheartedly until the end of her life last year, and now I have 4 kids and 9 grandchildren, it's wonderful. But that's not what this letter is for, no, this letter is because while you have stayed young, I have grown old and have little time left, my granddaughter Alice is writing this as we speak because of my shakes, and I want to thank you," Artemis read, and when she paused to look up, the redhead saw the love of her life staring into the bare trees, green eyes shining with unfallen tears and seas of memories. She only knew parts of Victoria's life before they knew each other, but the elf remembered everything and she could tell she was reliving it all and imagining scenarios in the pause. Upon catching her looking, the silver-haired woman waved her hand at her, a signal to keep talking. So she did.
"Thank you so much for everything you did in those four years. As a young boy, I was taught to be fast, brash, strong, and masculine as humanly possible - even if it hurts those you loved - but when I was 25 you came in with a challenge, challenging me to break away from all of that. You challenged me to be patient, soft, passionate, and you taught me love, something I use every day even as I get older. Thank you for that, because that's what I've taught my kids and their kids, a type of love that is different from the ones taught by most in our town."
I also thank you for your stories. In the years we lived together you told me elven legends and stories, and even though my memory isn't as sharp anymore, I gave it to my daughters and sons when they were young, so the stories live on. They've been told countless stories and have become adventurers of their own, one an artist, one on his way to find dragons, one a cartographer sailing the seas with her crew, and a last a caretaker with a soft voice and careful words. She reminds me of her mother all the time, but there are also times - times that made me stop and made my mind spin - where she reminds me of you. So thank you, because what you did in those four years affected my life more than you could ever have imagined. You were my first love, and I thank you for that because while I don't think I can say I love you anymore, I hold what we went through close to my heart." When she paused again, it wasn't to catch her breath or for a dramatic pause, it was because next to her she heard the muffled crying and uneven, sniffling breaths of Victoria. It made her heart ache at the sight of someone she loved so closely holding back her tears, especially when it was something she didn't know how to fix. So instead she paused, getting up and coming around to the elf, gently pulling her hands from her face to quiet her anguish and pressing a kiss to her forehead, and curling her arms around the other's shoulders, pulling her girlfriend close to her chest and letting her cry. They spent 15 minutes that way, one soothing the other and one letting herself be vulnerable on a winter afternoon, something that didn't happen often. It was quiet for the last five minutes, but still, they embraced each other as if they were each other's tether to the world and without it, they'd spiral into nothing. Eventually, Victoria did pull away, taking a deep breath and giving her redhead a smile that said a thousand words - a thank you, an apology, encouragement to keep reading, and a reassurance, saying 'I'm okay, don't worry about me' - a tear-stained smile, one that tasted salty and melted the frosty air around it. So, she sat down, gave the elf's hand a reassuring squeeze back, and picked up the letter again, finishing what she had started reading 20 minutes prior.
"This isn't all a thank you though, because I owe you an apology more than anything. You probably don't forgive me, but I accept that and am alright with that, even though I regret what I did with every fiber of my being. I was young, dumb, and easily swayed by stereotypes rather than firm in my love. I don't forgive me either, but I know you and know you moved on and are happy. How do I know that? Because you a person who will do everything in their will and more to keep themselves afloat, you aren't only a musician who stole my heart 75 years ago, but you are a warrior and every time I see my granddaughter named Victoria I know that even though we split, you were happy. Because if a thick-skulled human who split logs for a living could find love again, then without a single doubt could you have done the same and so much more."
So I'm sorry, and even though our end was a mess, thank you for being my first love.
What came next was simply silence, but to Victoria's surprise, it wasn't uncomfortable. It should have been tense and awkward hearing a letter being read by her girlfriend from her old love, or as though she was meant to feel angry, wanting to rip the worn paper into millions of pieces exclaiming 'A simple apology won't fix what you did!' but she had no need or want to. What went down happened, and she'd learned years ago that doing things out of bitterness - keeping that anger forever - would do nothing but harm. So no, she didn't forgive him, and she never would, but she still appreciated the apology. The letter was simply saying 'Thank you, and I hope you're doing well," and it somehow lifted a small weight off her shoulders she had gotten so used to that she didn't even know it was there. It was nice, it felt like a sigh of relief, one that she didn't even realize had left her nose. She gave Artemis' hand a squeeze, just like the one she gave her a few minutes earlier, and gave the other a soft smile, keeping her gaze directly on their intertwined hands.
"Thanks for reading it, it means a lot, Love," It was barely a whisper but the redhead nodded, her eyes full of nothing but affection for the other, giving her a brief kiss and going back inside slowly, the letter folded back up on the chair. Victoria had been scared to even open the envelope, but now, as she felt the cool winter air fill her lungs and snowflakes land on her nose, it was alright.