Braiding Roses

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My fingers tie around her wrist like a bracelet. We're cold, fighting away frost with every heartbeat, and our breath seems to crystallise before it leaves our lungs.

I close my eyes for a moment, risking not opening them again. Moisture in my eyelashes turns to ice, and I blink frantically to keep my sight. I tell myself things will be better when we reach the stable, but right now all I can imagine is Saph's frozen, lifeless hand slipping from mine.

I tighten my grip.

"Stay close," I murmur, gritting my teeth together to stop them from chattering.

Clinging to each other, we stumble through deep snow and bow our heads against the wind.

Winter is always cruel, but I don't remember it ever catching the hills so suddenly—so without warning. The stables are only two miles from home, but the snow is almost to my knees and it's only getting thicker.

"Liz," Saph gasps, "is that—?"

I look up to see glowing orange light just over the horizon. Someone's already at the stable, and relief almost makes me fall to the ground.

Instead, we push on through the snow with renewed strength.

I kick open the stable door and practically throw Saph into the warmth of the building. The horses are all safely away, a fire has been lit on the stone floor of the tac room, and Cora is busy loading up hay racks when we burst in and make her look.

When she sees us, she laughs and holds her arms out in an open invite. Saph and I stagger into her embrace, still clinging to each other, and rest our chins on her shoulders. Her dark hair is cool and wet against my cheek.

"Just about beat you," Cora whispers, voice like a summer breeze. "You're freezing!"

"Started as soon as it started," I manage, just before losing myself in jitters. Saph's the same, rattling in her coat like all her bones have come loose.

Cora kisses Saph's dripping hair, then mine, and slips away. While we sit on the floor and cling to each other, Cora gets busy with the metal kettle and a few handfuls of snow.

"It hurts," Saph moans, hands curled up over her chest like being closer to her heart will help them. "Like thorns."

I bow and kiss her frozen hands. "We'll warm you up."

I ignore how cold I am and concentrate on Saph, using friction between my numb hands and her skin to melt her shivers away. Every movement hurts like my veins are splinters, digging through my muscles, but I kiss tears from Saph's pink cheeks and do my best to smile.

"Ah," Cora breathes, settling between us. We cuddle her beneath a blanket, tangled together like vines, and share warmth until the shivers pass. "That's better. A thorn between two roses."

Saph presses a kiss to Cora's jaw, squeezing my hand at the same time. "Three roses."

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