Alistair stirred at the shifting by his side - a small desperate twist of movement followed by a whispered gasp of distress - both signs of Izzy’s nightmares. He had grown accustomed to them over the short time since they had come to share a bed, waking instinctively with the same pang of worry he’d felt that first night. He knew now that a gently run thumb across her cheek would calm her agitation, and that drawing her close in his arms would soothe the racing of her heart, but that night nothing would comfort her. It had to be Ostagar again.
“Wake up, my love,” he whispered softly in her ear, pressing a kiss to her temple. “It’s just a dream. I’ve got you.”
Like a drowning woman finally breaching the surface, Izzy sat up sharply with a scrabble and a gasp, clutching desperately at the furs that made up their winter bedding; her eyes wild, cold sweat beading on her brow and dampening her back. Alistair ducked expertly out of her path - having learnt from the shoulder acquired nosebleed the last time she’d escaped such a dream - bringing himself up to sit beside her, gently rubbing circles on the bare skin of her back until her breathing calmed.
“Cursed dreams… I’m sorry, Ali, did I wake you?” she muttered, her voice muffled from holding her head in her hands.
“I don't know about dreams, but you were snoring so loudly I thought we'd start attracting werewolves.”
He pursed his lips, making a sucking sound through his teeth as he raised an eyebrow at her - gratified at the sound of her chuckle from behind the veil of hair that had slipped across her face, even at the slap of the back of her hand catching him half-heartedly in the chest.
“I don’t snore, Theirin. Take it back!”
“I promised a long time ago that I wasn't hiding anything else, just the prince thing. So, you see, I'm honour bound to tell you about these terrible nocturnal noises…”
“Remind me again, why do I love you?” she laughed.
“I imagine scholars and wise men will be trying to answer that very question for ages to come, my love,” he smiled back at her, quietly counting his blessings because, for the life of him, he had no idea why.
In the clear crisp night sky, the moons were full - their light still vibrant despite the winter canopy of the Brecilian Forest - the pale aura just bright enough through the canvas to make out Izzy brushing away a tear, despite her laughter, as she pushed her hair back behind her ear. It left him with a stab of guilt, that there was nothing he could do to prevent her distress.
“What time do you think it is?” she murmured, leaning forward further to slightly push aside the tent flap and peer out into the night.
He let his fingertips trail off her back as she moved, feeling the goosebumps blossoming across her skin and the shivering begin as the feverish effects of the nightmare wore away and the cold air of the winter forest took hold.
“Late… or early… hours until we have to get up, at least.” He had no idea - in truth he was still half asleep. It was some Maker-awful hour, that was for sure. “Come back under the covers before you freeze.”
He flopped onto his back again, propped up on his elbows, admiring those swaying hindquarters that he'd teased so readily about months before. He'd never expected to see them quite so bare - or goose-pimply for that matter. He stifled a yawn, sending a small cloud of condensed breath into the air. It really was a cold night.
“Dryden, get back in this bed. Now.”
The look she gave him back over her shoulder was enough to make him blush away the chill - daft really, what was there for him to be embarrassed about these days? She relented to his request, drawing the tent flap closed again and slid back beneath the furs with a chuckle at his gasp of protest when her cold skin brushed again his.
“Maker, Izzy! It's like hugging a snowman!” he protested, drawing her closer all the same and catching her lips with his own between exaggerated shivers and ‘brrr’s.
Once she had reached near-human temperatures, he settled on top of her like an extra blanket - he always propped himself up slightly, afraid that he would squash, despite her protestations that he wouldn’t. Resting his head on her chest, he listen to the reassuring soft thump of her heartbeat amidst their comfortable silence. A thought lingered at the back of his mind, whispering in his ear as he tried to drift off to sleep.
He felt her drowsily hummed response more than heard it - a vibration through her ribs with a softly expelled breath.
‘Is something wrong, my prince?”
He couldn’t help but smile, shifting slightly to graze stubbly kisses across her ribs - tilting his head appreciatively as she ran her fingers through his hair. That nickname had once been used to goad him - she could be a sarcastic cow when she wanted to be - but it had softened with time and with affection, leaving his heart feeling like it was tripping over itself in its joy at hearing its utterance. It wasn’t the prince, of course, it was the my … because he was, hers that was, every part of him.
“The dreams… they’re not getting worse, are they?”
“I’m better when I’m with you.” She drew a finger under his chin, tilting his head to better catch his eye with her soft gaze, as she propped herself on her free elbow. “You have no idea how much… how much better everything is.”
There was that tripping sensation again. Grinning like an idiot, he placed a pair of triumphant kisses on her nipples - gratified by the delighted shiver which accompanied her laughter - before shuffling further up the bedroll to bring himself nose-to-nose with the giggling redhead.
With an exaggerated sigh - the annoyed effect spoiled by her own grin - she propped herself up properly, pressing her forehead against his, close enough that locking determined gazes damn-near sent them cross-eyed.
“Izz, Izz, Izz, Izz, Izz…”
“I think I might have to marry you…”
She disappeared from under him, her elbows apparently having been startled into collapse. Wide eyes, framed by startled brows stared up at him from the bedroll, lips that had curved in a smile, forming a silent ‘o’ in the half light, before she broke into a small chuckle again.
“I’m too tired for you to be teasing me, Theirin… I can’t tell when you’re joking.”
It hadn’t exactly been meant as an actual proposal… but even so, it stung in a way he hadn’t expected to have her so readily assume he was joking. Why wouldn’t he want to marry her, after all? But then again, what kind of idiot would actually propose like that? Yet another question for the scholars. The words snuck out, not exactly with his permission, but not entirely without it.
“Please marry me…”
She looked into his apprehensive puppy-dog eyes, her expression serious. His stomach knotted suddenly - violently - fearful that, in a couple of foolish moments, he might have ruined something he’d wanted desperately for longer than he was willing to admit to himself.
Izzy sat up slowly, her expression softening as his anxious gaze searched hers. Pressing a hand to his chest, she gently pushed him away until he was sat back enough for her to climb into his lap. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she caught his lips with a kiss that was enough to melt his worries, and replace the knot in his stomach with a sudden swell of heat.
“I love you, Alistair Theirin.”
“I should think so, too.”
She gently nipped his bottom lip, grazing her teeth over it - a cunning plot to stop him saying anything else ridiculous, no doubt.
“Alistair…” She spoke quietly, her eyes scanning his face lovingly, taking every freckle and scar.
“Once this is all is over…”. She rocked forward slightly, drawing a blissful hum from his lips. “Ask me again.”