Prospit is shattered and empty. She walks the streets, shouting out into the silence, stepping over fragments of white shell strewn across the ground like leaves on Wind and Shade. None of them are large or whole enough to be recognizable as having been a person, and she doesn't know whether or not to count that as a mercy. The sky glows a dull, fiery red. Falling water streaked with blood issues from broken spires and pools in fissures in the sand-gold pavement. She is, as ever, alone.
Or, at least, she thinks she is, until a winged shadow falls over her. She looks up—
—and the sound of her own screaming wakes her.
She hasn't had a nightmare that vivid in ages.
"Stop that! Stop that this instant!" In the darkness, a hand falls on her shoulder and seizes hold, claws sinking in. She reaches for her sword, but it isn't with her. Her sword is always with her. "Stop bleeding!" She lashes out blindly, and her fist connects with what feels like cloth over carapace. "Ow! Don't! No, no, don't! I'm sorry!"
Something clicks. Her arm, coiled for a second strike, relaxes. "WV?" She's been alone for so long with so little hope, it was all too easy to momentarily forget that yesterday everything changed for the better. Jack escaping from her dreams to torture her physically almost seems more plausible.
"I know it's my fault, but I'm sorry! Forgive me!"
"Hush, it's all right." She takes his hand from her shoulder and holds it between her own. "It was a nightmare. I'm not who you think I am. I apologize for hurting you."
WV goes still and silent for a moment, then brings up his other hand to touch the back of hers. "Miss PM?"
"That's right, it's just me," she reassures him. "Just the crazy mail woman. Aren't we both silly?"
A sudden loud, rumbling sound from somewhere behind her makes her jump, and she feels him do the same. This time he's the first to recover. "It's AR," he tells her. "I can't believe we didn't wake him up."
"Oh my goodness." She giggles, in part from the nerves, in part from elation. "There are so many people!"
"I don't think that he knows," WV whispers, and she sobers up instantly.
"No," she agrees. "I don't think he does." They aren't talking about the snoring. She doubts she could put into words what they are talking about, but that's fine; with WV, she doesn't have to.
After a few moments of not putting anything into words, she says, just a touch accusatorily, "I am sure I did not fall asleep this close to you."
"I heard screaming over this way," he explains, "and I thought that someone was still alive."
She does not have to ask what he means. She knows he was a soldier, and she remembers that as she left the Battlefield she passed between piles upon piles of corpses that looked exactly like him. "WV," she begins, not entirely certain of where she's going with it, "there's something I need to tell you, something I wish that someone had told me."
She flails around mentally a bit, looking for the right way to phrase it. Then she realizes just how simple it is and feels ridiculous. "That there is no shame in surviving." She gives his hand a little squeeze as she says it. "I hope you know that."
He is quiet for a very long time, and she is just about to try to think of something else to add, when he blurts out, "I surrendered."
"I did worse," she assures him.
"I'm a weak, selfish coward," he insists.
"You're a better person than I am." She listens to AR's snoring, imagines instead the silence of every desert night she has known up to this one, and shudders to her core. "You proved that yesterday by stopping me when I needed to be stopped. You aren't allowed to say bad things about yourself, not around me. It makes me feel awful."
"I don't want you to feel awful," he says quickly. "You are strong and smart and kind and very, very pretty."
She has no idea how to respond to that. She is strong enough and smart enough to get by, which, given her circumstances, she knows is saying something — but then, it's something that can be said for all of them. As for pretty, she finds it almost funny how obvious it is that she is the first woman he and AR have seen in forever; she was gangly and figureless even on Propsit, and she doubts that four centuries of asceticism have helped matters any. But kind? She honestly wonders how he can say that having seen what hides beneath the surface, what she can't keep hidden when she is angry or afraid. Still, she reminds herself, he believed AR was fundamentally good, and he was right. She supposes she can trust him on this.
"WV, can I ask you a kind of strange favor? Can I keep your hand for a while, maybe for the whole rest of the night? Normally when I have a bad dream I hold onto the hilt of the Regisword, but it's over by Can Town." She remembers now that she left it there intentionally. Going to sleep without it was a little frightening, but not as frightening as the thought of what she could do with it if she woke up in the middle of the night when the fire had died and forgot where she was and who was with her.
"Miss PM," he tells her, "I can assure you that I would be perfectly all right with that."
It doesn't stop the nightmares, not for either of them. But every time she wakes in a panic to someone she cares for holding her and whispering comforting things, and every time she hears him whimpering and shakes herself alert to do the same for him, she knows she would not trade this for the most peaceful sleep of her life.