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Surely, by now.

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After a certain amount of time in one’s skin, said individual must understand, at least a little, how they are perceived. For Laudna, this has meant many things. She was quite pretty once, she realized in retrospect, when she was a girl. She had a lovely little smile, that her family adored, and that they would do anything for. She was adored by her town as a hard working young girl, if a bit strange, and she, in turn, adored her town.

Then, of course, things changed. And then, they changed again, and many years later, It had been ages since Laudna’s smile was seen as lovely.

Laudna is, fundamentally, a social creature, and an approval-seeking individual. By the time she had met Imogen, Laudna had forgotten, somewhat, how it felt to be seen. Not seen as beautiful, just to be seen. To be understood, and looked upon, and protected, this is what Imogen offered.

When Imogen held her hand, when Imogen found comfort in her, when Imogen trusted her with her own burdens, that is when Laudna felt seen. That is when she realized, there is nothing Imogen could ask of her that Laudna would not do. She was hers.

Imogen, of course, could never know this. Laudna wasn’t even sure what “this” really was, this dependence, this friendship, this crush, this closeness? Of course, she would never want to keep anything from Imogen, but it felt exploitative, using another person like this.

Laudna was never good at keeping secrets. She has always loved to share, (she is a social creature after all) and she simply loved sharing with Imogen. She could spend hours talking about her day, about the little things, the little things she doesn’t really care about, just for the sake of sharing her life with her.

It had not occurred to Laudna how sharing herself had become second nature until she had something to keep from her companion. Surely, by now, she would have noticed, Laudna kept thinking. But Imogen, if she had noticed, had not made it at all apparent.

Surely, Imogen noticed the way that Laudna kept looking at her, a second after she had stopped talking, or the way that Laudna knew her tea order by heart. Chamomile with a small scoop of sugar, cooled down just enough it wouldn’t burn her mouth if she tried to drink it right away, but hot enough for her two warm her hands with the mug. And the mug, Laudna always made Imogen’s tea in a beautiful clay mug. Some memento from an adventure she had forgotten, but finally finding its home here in Imogen’s hands. Surely, Imogen would notice how Laudna looked at her hands.

In the rare moments when Imogen took off her work gloves, Laudna thought they were utterly beautiful. Little streaks of purple lightning, frightening, exciting, but so soft, flush to her skin. There were these tiny little ridges that Laudna could only feel if she really tried, these little creases that she loved. Surely, Imogen would notice that.

Imogen is a romantic, through and through, Laudna reminds herself occasionally. This is a thought that Laudna clings to, more than she’d like to admit. To imagine that Imogen knows that Laudna feels this way, and she, in turn, does, but she is waiting for some grand gesture, some event worthy of a confession to tell her. The odds, however, are small.

The odds of anything, however, are small. What are the odds that Laudna would come alive again, or that Imogen would meet her, of that any of this, the Hells, their friends, that any of this would happen. This, too, is a thought that Laudna holds close. Nothing, in her life, has been likely. So, why not hope.

Imogen smiles at Laudna from across a crowded tavern, and thinks to her, I’m so glad you’re here.

Laudna gives a small smile back, and responds, And I, you.

Come, sit. You’ve deserved a bit of a rest, Imogen motions to the seat next to her. Tell me about Patê’s day?

Laudna looks at this beautiful girl, who wants her to sit next to her and puppet a dead rat with a bird skull sown on, and thinks, That sounds wonderful.

____

 

It was rare for the Hells to want several rooms. It was usually not worth the expense, and no one really minded the constant company of their companions. Imogen, however, seemed in need of some privacy, and so Launda went ahead and bought another room for her. Thank you, Laud, She hears in her head. But really, I’m fine with the group. I don’t want to be much of a burden.

Laudna immediately replies, I don’t like it when you say that.

I know, sorry.

You don’t have to apologize, Laudna thinks, laughing a little to herself. It’s a gift. You don’t need to sleep there if you don’t want to.

It’s not that, Imogen thinks, her mind’s voice strained. It’s just, with the nightmares, I could use some company.

Laudna walks over to her, and says softly, and aloud, “I can sleep with you tonight, would that help?”

“Yes, that’s very sweet of you.” Imogen gently places an affectionate hand on Laudna’s cheek, where Laudna quite obviously blushes a deep purple. Surely, Imogen would notice that. If she does, she says nothing. She simply lets her hand return to her little leather pouch, and she smiles, just a little.

Chetney, too, decides to get his own room. Rather loudly, and obnoxiously, but he does, nonetheless. Laudna shifts his focus to him, but sees out of the corner of her eye how Imogen’s eyes are still lingering on the place on her cheek that she had just touched a minute ago. Whether she intends to or not, Imogen thinks into Laudna’s head, beautiful.

Laudna assumes she is thinking about something else, but the small hope that the beautiful thing is her, fully flusters her. This, Imogen does seem to notice.

Oh? So you like it when I tell you how pretty you are?

Laudna does not respond. Her blush deepens, and is fully making eye contact with Imogen, ignoring the rest of the Hells.

I’ll take that as a yes, Imogen thinks, and she giggles a bit. She giggles, like she’s just seen the most amazing thing, and she breaks out into an outright grin.

I didn’t think you’d be such a tease, as they say. Lauda desperately tries to keep her cool, somehow not blush any deeper.

Still giggling, Imogen thinks, And I didn’t think you’d be so fun to tease, darling. (She drags out the darling, and Laudna just flusters even further) Imogen is blushing too, now. She’s clearly a bit nervous, and startled at her own effect, but so beautifully pink.

Laudna just grins, gaining her bearings a bit, and thinks, And you’d be so fun to take down a peg, and Imogen audibly gasps. She lets out this little squeak, and she gasps, and its the prettiest thing that Laudna has ever heard.

At this, Aston and Orym look at Imogen concerned, to be met with a blushing, deeply flustered face. “Um, I saw a bug, and I thought it was a spider,” Imogen sputters out. “And it looked bigger than it was. Just a beetle though, god, am I still talking?”

Yes, you are, ‘darling’ Laudna thinks. It has an immediate effect. Orym, confused, but too tired to interrogate, motions for Ashton to move on, with a shrug.

You are good, Laud. My God.

I am, aren’t I? Laudna smirks.

Yeah, you are. Smart, beautiful, and a terrible flirt. Imogen thinks, turning away.

Terrible? Why, your face says otherwise…

“Shut up,” Imogen says, walking away, her face somehow getting redder.

Lauda almost chases after her, tells her “make me,” or just walks up to her, kisses her, and leaves, but she’s simply too tired. She just smiles, and thinks, that won’t do much at all, would it, and savors the little hitch in Imogen’s step, and she loves all of it.

___

 

Neither Imogen nor Laudna had come up with a strategy for that evening, for sharing a bed, after such an exchange. Laudna was fairly certain that she would break if Imogen tried anything tonight. The two split up for different tasks during the day, earning them a few concerned questions from Orym and FCG respectively. Ashton clearly noticed, but didn’t see it necessary to intervene. He did crack a few jokes at the two though, enjoying their reactions.

Either way, when Imogen turned into her shared room with Laudna, she was pale and tired. Clearly needing rest, she changed out of her day-clothes and rolled into bed, right next to Laudna. She turned away from Laudna’s face, but slotted right next to her, drifting off. Before long, both girls were fast asleep, and Laudna didn’t even notice her arm wrapping around Imogen as they slept.

In fact, neither did Imogen, until she awoke from another nightmare. Laudna, clearly, was quite tired, as she was still fast asleep. Panting, and sweating, Imogen feels a gentle, cold arm around her, and turns to face her sleeping companion. Wake up, She thinks. And Laudna does.

Startled a bit, and still groggy, Laudna says, “Imogen? Are you alright?”

“Yes, well, no. It was a nightmare,” Imogen whispers. This shakes Laudna up, a bit, who notices her sleeping position.

“Sorry,” She says. “I can make tea. I’ll go call for some boiling water--”

“Don’t-- I just, could use some company, I’m, Laudna, I’m so scared, I just don’t know what to do.”

“I know, I know, shh.”

“I keep running, Laud. I keep running from this thing, and I don’t understand, I’m just so tired.” fat tears begin to lay on the pillow.

“I don’t know, but I’ll be there. I’ll be there for it.” Laudna wraps her arms even further around this woman, who she loves. “I’ll be right there. No matter what.” She leans down, hands still occupied, kisses the top of Imogen’s head, and whispers softly enough she could barely hear it herself, “I love you.”

Surely, Imogen noticed that, because she looks up at Laudna, grabs her face, and kisses her. Smiling, she responds, “I love you too.”

Laudna, too tired to really think much, kisses her again, and lets her eyes rest a bit. “Do you think you can go back to sleep?”

Imogen says back, “I don’t think so. But you get some rest. I’m fine right here.”

Laudna wants to stay up with her, to kiss her senseless, to make her laugh and get her to blush again, but she’s just too tired. She wants to sit next to Imogen, and tell her how long she’s wanted to do that, and to tell her again how brave and good she is, but tonight, Launda sleeps. Imogen makes herself some tea, in the mug Laudna gave her, and sits next to her as she sleeps. In the morning, they will talk, Imogen plans. After breakfast, they aren’t uncomfortable. But for not, she’s here, watching her beautiful Laudna, who loves her, sleep.