The unguarded hours are my favorite. When she is at peace, head on her pillow, moonlight playing with the highlights in her hair. No one to bother her or burden her with the weight of the world. No one else to see the way her lips curl up as I press my hand to her soft cheek.
She leans into my touch, even asleep. My heart has never felt so full.
I wish I could say that I guard these hours on purpose, though. I must confess that it's been far too long since I've been able to sleep as easily as she does. Not since I lost my body.
I'm brave for her in the daylight but at night... my thoughts overwhelm me.
Her peace during this time is the only thing that keeps me sane.
I rub my thumb across her cheek, relishing every moment that I am able to touch her. I will never take it for granted again.
Her eyelids flutter gently, and I swallow as I realize that I've accidentally woken her. When her sleepy eyes meet mine and she immediately smiles, however, I can't find it in myself to feel guilty.
"You're still awake, my love?" She turns her head to press her warm lips into my palm, then pulls me closer to her. I shift, wrapping my arms low around her bare waist instead, and now we are pressed tightly enough that I can feel her breath ghosting against my face. I rest like that, breathing her in in silence until she pulls back just enough to take in my expression. "Love? What's wrong?"
"I didn't mean to wake you," I say, trying to put on my brave face again. "I just needed to feel you. I haven't done nearly enough of that."
Nadia smiles, leaning in to press a soft kiss against my lips. "There's never enough of that, no."
Her calm radiates through me, and I can feel my muscles relaxing into our embrace. She must feel it too because, after one more sleepy kiss, she pulls away to press her forehead against mine.
"What's wrong, my love? Has something happened? You can tell me. We're in this together, always."
I close my eyes, feeling emotional at the heartfelt declaration. Because I know she means it. I know she will stop at nothing to fight any battle beside me. This isn't a fight she should have to deal with, though. This is just my own weakness. My own worry. "Nothing happened. I just..."
Nadia's thumb brushes feather-light against my eyelid, drawing away some moisture I hadn't even realized was forming. "Oh, love... that bad?"
"It's... silly. I shouldn't even feel like this."
"Nonsense. You're allowed to feel however you feel." Nadia's thumb is replaced by her lips as she kisses each of my eyelids in turn. When I open my eyes again she is much more awake but no less soft. "You don't have to be ashamed of that."
My lip trembles. "I don't deserve you."
Nadia smiles. "You deserve everything." She slides her hand back to play gently with my hair, scratching soothingly at the nape of my neck. "And I won't stop until I've given it to you."
At this, I smile. Nadia has never stopped trying to give me everything I could never even think to ask for. It is just one of the many things I love about her.
"There you are," Nadia says. I sigh softly.
"It's... hard for me to fall asleep," I admit. "I'm afraid that I won't wake again."
Nadia's hand pauses in its motion for a moment, before resuming. She takes a moment to think through her words, as she usually does. "You know," she finally says, "I have a little experience with being unable to wake up."
My lips part in surprise. "That's not what I..." I swallow. "I just mean that with everything that's happened, everything seems so fragile. How easy was it for Lucio to steal my body? For the Devil to make so many people lose their way? And... yes, for you to fall asleep like that. What's next, Nadi? How can I possibly be prepared for everything?"
"Who says you have to be?" Nadia's brow furrows in genuine concern, but her expression is open and non-judgmental. It takes away any immediately defensive retort I might have made, and I am left to pause and think on that question myself.
The feel of Nadia's hand continuing to stroke my hair calms me even further.
"If I am not..." I pause, staring past Nadia and into all my imaginary nightmares. If I should lose my body again, could it not be permanent? If the Devil returned with an even more enticing plot, could I trust my abilities to solve every problem? And surely, these were not the worst possible things that could happen. How could I fight against something I couldn't imagine?
The feeling of Nadia shifting closer brings me out of my paralysis, and I draw in a gasp of breath. I had even forgotten to breathe.
"You've told me before," Nadia says softly, hand coming up to cup my jaw gently but insistently, "that I did not have to do everything alone. Do you remember?" I still cannot fully shake the terror that gripped me, but I manage a short nod. "You reminded me then that if something seems impossible, I only need someone else to show me another way."
Nadia's lips press softly to mine.
"When I was stuck in that other place for so many years," she whispers, "I almost lost hope that I would ever find my way out of the Lazaret. It was only stubbornness that kept me from giving up completely. But you came..." Nadia's voice is filled with awe. If this were any other time, I would blush from the intensity of her adoration. "And you listened and thought to ask questions that I had never thought to ask. You freed me, love. And I know without a shadow of a doubt that if I found myself back there again tomorrow, you would come to find me again."
I hug her tightly, knowing in my heart that that was true. If anything were to happen to Nadia, I would find a way. There wasn't any other option. "I will always come for you," I say.
Nadia's answering smile is radiant. "And I you."
This time, I kiss her. She meets me gladly, and for a moment I am lost in the press of her lips against mine, the hint of a tongue and the warmth of her mouth. I am pressing back against her, intending to roll atop of her, when she pulls her lips back just enough to make me pause.
I pout. Her soft laughter warms me. "My love," she chides. "I was trying to reassure you."
"I am very reassured," I say, leaning in again. She allows another kiss before shaking her head fondly at me.
"What I meant to say," she insists, "is that I am sure that there is nothing that we cannot face as long as we are facing it together."
I allow myself to settle back into a thoughtful mood and watch her quietly for a moment. She knows I need the time for the words to fully sink in. There is nothing hesitant in her gaze, absolutely no doubt that what she is saying is true. Finally, I feel the fear I've been carrying start to dissipate.
This time when I kiss her, my heart is lighter, and she doesn't push me away.
"I love you," I say, lips against hers.
"I love you too," she says. "And remember, you're not alone, my love. If you need me, you can wake me."
My expression is full of love as I gaze down at her, finally urging her onto her back. "I won't forget, I promise." I lean down and capture her lips again, taking my time to draw out a noise of appreciation. "And I hope you're not too sleepy because I need you now."
The noise she makes is somewhere between a laugh and a groan at my terrible joke. "Shush," she says. She pulls me back into her and I don't need to talk at all.