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Waking Dreams

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Alma woke up slowly, peeling her eyes open. It was either very late night or early morning, she wasn’t sure which. She’d heard a small sound--Jowd sat by her bed, his long legs stretched uncomfortably across the floor, a book dangling from his hand, and just beginning to snore as his head tipped backward. He was barely lit by a dim sparkle of magic light above his head.

“That can’t be comfortable,” she said, and was surprised by how croaky, yet somehow loud, her voice sounded in the silence of the room. She’d been deeply asleep, clearly.

Jowd dropped his book and blinked at it when it thudded to the floor, then her, his face shadowed and still. “You’re awake.”

“I think, anyway…” Alma said, and laughed softly. “It’s hard to tell from one moment to the other right now.”

Jowd looked at her helplessly. “I don’t… I don’t know how to reassure you that you are,” he said after a long pause. “I’m not even sure I am. Cabanela would be better—.”

She yawned deep and wide, blinking away the small tears the yawn prompted, then smiled up at the ceiling. “It doesn’t feel terribly important at the moment to know which is which,” she confessed, and turned to look more fully at him. “And Cabanela and I will have our time. But right now, I just… need to know you’re here.”

His beard quivered, and he gripped her hand. “Always. I won’t… I can’t leave you again.”

She moved under the covers, a little restlessly, and he gave her an anxious look. “Don’t try to get up just yet. You’re still…”

She freed a hand from the too-heavy coverlet and patted the space next to her. “I won’t. But you should get some rest; that chair isn’t big enough to sleep in.”

He hesitated, guilt and shame swimming in the ocean of his eyes. “I don’t… want to crowd you.”

“Please.” Alma hoped her own gaze showed the need and love she felt for him. “I’m… cold. And I just…” She groped for his hand. “I just missed you. So terribly.”

He nodded, swallowing, all his usual self-protective humor gone in this soft, unguarded moment. Carefully, as if the bed or she might break, he pulled back the coverlet next to her and laid himself down, curving his body instinctively around hers as she curled into him. He radiated heat and life and she wanted to swim in it, but contented herself with pulling his head in a little closer and kissing his throat, where his pulse scudded. “Rest. You’ve worked so hard…”

She lay in the hollow of his arms, barely breathing as she felt his heartbeat slow, not moving as she let him feel her presence like she would with a skittish animal. His breath hitched; she tenderly reached up and buried her hands in his curls, stroking his head. She didn’t mean to, but she flinched, just a little, at the first drop on her hair. More came; she turned into his chest and held him close, letting his tears wash away the time between them.

How could this be a dream? No construct of Wrexsoul’s had ever been half as tender or as real as the silent sobs against her hair. She slid back into sleep, as did he, knowing that the morning would come and each of them would still be there.