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this is no royal sleepover

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Despite their exhaustion, neither of them can sleep.  Everything is strange.  Ashe can hear Vossler as he shifts, fidgeting with unfamiliar garb and continually adjusting his scrap of blanket; she herself is motionless, too tired to even roll over.  This is their first respite in two long days, and neither can find any.

She has done - as best she can - in blocking the beginning of these awful days from her mind; she cannot afford to forget, and in truth does not want to.  It is seared into her mind, but comes to her in sharp brief flashes, until she is almost unsure which tragedy came first and which last.  Rasler is dead.  Her father is dead.  Dalmasca, betrayed.  Basch, traitor.  Escape.  Vossler, returned.  A peace treaty offered; Dalmasca King to sign.  Rasler is dead.  Rasler is gone.  Run.  Her father has gone, left to sign the treaty; her father is gone, betrayed into the enemy’s hand.  Dalmasca is dead.  She is dead.  Go.  Vossler is gone, and has returned; Basch is gone, and dead to her people.  Rasler is gone.  The King is gone.  She is dead to her people.

Vossler is here; she can hear his breathing, the scratchy sound as he twitches arms and legs in restlessness.  Her grief feels distant: a thing she should recognize, but it hasn’t yet come into focus.

Everything is strange.  They lie on mats in a corner of Lowtown, tucked behind crates; whose ground this is she does not know, for it seems Lowtown’s bends and crannies belong to none and all.  She and Vossler wear the simple clothes of peasants, purchased at a stall by some thin string of alliances Vossler had left: simple tops, cropped, and pants to their ankles with a spatter of embroidery.  Their royal garb rests in a bag in a sack rolled in a carpet, buried among other dusty carpets and fabrics in the third warehouse of someone whose only name is Old Dalan.  Someday they will reclaim it; for now, Ashe remembers, she is dead.

She is exhausted: bone-weary, blood-weary, death-weary; the very pulse of her angry heart ebbs in the face of the heaviness of it, which settles on her like a cloak.  She cannot sleep; Vossler is awake, his breaths soft but uneven, and she wonders what weighs on his mind.

She cannot sleep; she cannot stop the flashing of lightning in her memories.  Rasler, her father, Basch; her kingdom, her throne, her people.  Ashe breathes in, and does not mean to: it is a single ragged sob, barely audible above the low grimy bustle of Lowtown, but she hears Vossler stiffen and is ashamed to have released it at all.

“My lady,” he says, and his voice is even quieter than his breath.  Ashe hears it anyway.  She finds the strength to roll over and face him.

He looks more exhausted than she feels - which should not be possible - but makes sense; it is Vossler who has borne the physical toll of their escape.  As much as she has been trained as warrior and princess, her blade has only been briefly-tested and her endurance not yet forged.  She has given all she has; but he has too, and his reservoir is deeper than hers.  She cannot remember when she found him, when he found her; was it when the rumors hit the Palace, and she grabbed her sword, and ran with him? Or was it after, as she spun circles in the city of Rabanastre, recognizable and out-of-place, that he took her elbow?  Or did he come to her, bring her sword and her title, and flee with her in the night?  She cannot remember.  There are only flashes: Vossler, sword, escape.  For some reason her eyes well up with tears, and she is horrified.

“My lady,” he says again, and to her surprise he reaches out and catches a tear at the corner of her eye, on his knuckle, that it would not run down her cheek.

“We are all we have,” murmurs Vossler Azelas, lying on a mat under a decaying blanket, wearing a peasant’s crop a size too small and looking at her as if she is the throne and the Shard itself.  “My lady, I am yours to command.  What comfort would you have of me?”

She cannot - she will not - and yet those words open something, something deep beneath the flashes of lightning cracks somewhat and she feels the ebb and flow of grief, ready to take her.  She will not succumb.  She is Princess and Queen now -- but first, she must learn to be dead, to be past, to be gone.  And maybe where a Queen of Dalmasca would see no solace and take no comfort, a lowly citizen of hers could.

“I,” she begins, and then says more haughtily than she intends, “I have a chill;” it’s true, in part, because Lowtown is dank, and their corner is dark, and if the chill is in her bones rather than her skin, she is sure Vossler will understand that as well.  Before she can regret her words she shifts her makeshift pillow and blanket over, and looks to Vossler to ask permission and consent - for even a Queen would not command that.

His eyes are wide, as if this is the farthest thing from what he expected  - but only for a second, for then he gives her one long slow blink and opens his arms, lifting his blanket to allow her to shift in.  

She will not be tentative about this.  Having made up her mind - or, rather, her mind having made itself up without her permission - Ashe curls herself into Vossler’s warmth.  She presses her face into the rough but pleasant-scented fabric of his ridiculous top, and balls her fists under her chin.  His arm comes over her slowly; his open palm lands on the bare skin of her back.

She feels him swallow, and then he murmurs:  “My lady, I will ask this only once, for this may be - it is not entirely…”

“Appropriate?”  Ashe finishes for him, and unburies her head long enough to look up at him, only inches away.  She wants to say something scathing, to burn something into him, but instead her insides twist and she ends up laughing, sadly, the sound itself scathed rather than scathing.  “My lord Vossler, your lady is dead... and besides, neither of us seem to have packed our formal palace pyjamas.”

Vossler looks at her and the sound he makes is not recognizable as a laugh at first; but he clutches at her, which is unexpected, and she returns to hiding her face in his chest.  “As you wish,” he murmurs, but it is surprisingly tender against her hair.  

“Vossler,” she whispers into fabric and skin, “until my throne is mine once again, there are few things left I would truly consider inappropriate.”

He shifts to hold her tighter, and her brain saves this as another flash to ponder over: the strength in him - for her, for Dalmasca, for the throne - and says, “Then let us have what comfort we can, and what victories we may.”

The words are strange, but it comforts her, because of all the strange things around her, somehow Vossler is the least of all; and here in this small familiarity, although she cannot feel her grief, she can at last feel exhaustion and slip into sleep.