She woke up deliciously warm. Sleep fell away slowly, letting her down easy, and sunlight glowed behind her closed eyes. When she blinked them open, everything was flushed with yellow, edged in soft shadows. The window was closed, but she could still smell the ocean salt outside, locked in on the balmy air from yesterday. There was a faint citrus sharpness from somewhere she had yet to find. And she took a long breath in, pushed it back out, conscious, but thoughtless.
He breathed behind her.
Her back rested against his ribs. His arm laid flat beneath her neck. She listened to him, gently waking into the strange room.
He knocked against her with his shoulder, moving gently enough, but she pulled out of his way apologetically all the same.
When they had met, his broad shoulders and his bulk had been so welcome. He was built of warm muscle and she had liked to tuck her shoulder into the curve of his, had enjoyed finding the match in their fingers and the right way to fold herself against him. In the last year though, since he had come back for her, she had simply felt as if all her angles intruded. There were always three breaths between them, always a jarring when he accidentally closed the gap.
She hated it, quietly. She didn’t have the words to demand the return of something she had thrown away.
Leonathan let her take her single step back. He didn’t look at her. The city was dark, lit with distant lanterns that pricked through the black, flickering white and yellow. His face was a shadow, while the light from the room behind them spilled over his tan coat, his dark hair. She didn’t allow herself to watch him for more than a moment.
Leaning forward on the rail, she crossed her arms over each other. She traced the lines of the lights below until she was charting familiar streets by the string of them. She breathed slow. And then he leaned against the rail as well, leaned his shoulder into hers, and the purpose in it made her freeze.
“You’re not sleeping,” Javie said, gently. It was so simple a statement, she seemed to be delivering news, as if she weren’t sure if Artair were aware.
But sitting up, still in his boots and heavy breeches, jacket buttoned tight as he leaned a shoulder against the porch column, he wasn’t sure how he couldn’t know that this was waking. His eyes weren’t even a little heavy. The edges of his thoughts were still sharp enough, straight enough to catch glimpses of the dark between them. He had his fingers wrapped around the cloth of his sleeve, but they itched for production.
He smiled at Javie as she slipped out the front door. The inside of the house was just a shadow behind her. She blinked as if the moonlight was too bright for her, and moved carefully to keep the blanket from slipping off her shoulders. It was too cold for her night-shirt and her bare legs. Her dark hair had been roughed up by her pillow.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I meant to come inside…”
But he still wasn’t moving, but she was slipping down beside him on the step, flicking the blanket over her knees. She flashed him a smile too. Sleepy as she was, it looked like an easy thing.
It was a beautiful gift, all smooth corners of blue paper that gleamed like moonrise on the water, and leaping white ribbon. It felt nice in Chaela’s hands as she picked it up off the table, the paper more cousin to cloth than tree. She would have been content to leave it just as it was for a long while if Leonathan hadn’t been standing in the doorway, quietly watching and waiting. She turned it around in her hands once, letting the white light of the lamps catch and dance one more time across the top of the box. She could hear something shift inside, something muffled and nestled, and perfectly content to be held inside.
Chaela wobbled on her new heels as she turned back toward the door, the shoes still stiff around her feet. She let herself slide into it, let her feet slide out and stood on the carpet in her bare toes. Her wide skirt hid the shoes still, but she sank back to her usual height. Looking up at Leonathan – back to the way she was accustomed to looking up at him – she smiled, more to herself than to him. She felt silly for kicking out of her shoes. And she felt better. They only met each other’s eye for a moment while she smiled. He smiled back, but she could feel the weight in it. She looked back to the gift in her hands quickly, and pulled in a breath, pull the next moment along more quickly as well.
Gently, she slid the ribbons out of their knots. Chaela let them fall around her fingers. The seams of the paper were laid in carefully, but with the ties gone, it was easy to slip her fingers between the layers. She peeled the paper back too, careful not to turn the thin-walled wooden box inside upside down. The lid sighed as she lifted it.