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Tea Series

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Jimaya crept into her bedroom much later than expected. Some Minister's dinner gone far too long. She'd told him about it when she bid him goodbye but now, hovering just at the edge of sleep, Rensai couldn't have remembered if she'd put a sword to his throat. Much as he hated to admit it, the beds in the palace had a way of diluting the details of any day.

Silk slipped over skin as she changed for bed. Jimaya yawned and Rensai's more ambitious plans for the evening quietly filed themselves away again. He could save his distractions for morning. She could tell him about her evening and he'd kiss away the tedium and tell her all the ways he would have made better use of her time. Maybe demonstrate a few of them. He turned over and pulled her close when she slid into bed beside him.

"Ah. You're supposed to be asleep." Jimaya made to kiss his cheek but he caught her lips instead.

"I sleep better when I'm with you."

She snuggled against his chest and tucked her head under his chin. "I could sleep anywhere after that banquet. Seven courses, and then they insisted on dessert. I could see why they didn't invite you. You would have hated it. Imperial decadence," she growled in an exaggerated imitation of his voice. Rensai punished her with a nip to her ear.

"Your accent needs work."

"But the tone is dead on."

He chuckled and closed his eyes. "How did you manage it? To be raised in all this ridiculous flash and frivolity and come out so…" There were words. He'd used many of them repeatedly. But they all felt just out of reach as Jimaya pulled her fingers gently through his hair.

"The same way you came out of the Den with just enough appeal to offset the acid." Her hand stilled and she pecked a last kiss to his chest. "A miracle, I guess."

A thick, easy silence settled over them as their breath fell into a shared rhythm. Rensai hadn't been lying. He did sleep better next to Jimaya, and with her warmth finally tucked so close against him it was only a handful of long, comfortable minutes before he gave into weariness's insistent pull at his limbs.

"I love you."

Softer than a sigh. Jimaya's breath carried on, so relaxed and steady that Rensai was nearly certain he'd dreamed it, some lucid flicker at the very edge of sleep. He hardly dared hope otherwise.

He pulled back to stare at her. Her face was closed in the firm, stony determination of feigned sleep.

"What did you say?" he whispered.

"Hm?" She made a show of settling more comfortably. She didn't open her eyes. "Oh. I thought you'd fallen asleep."

"Jimaya." He came close again, at an utter loss for what else to say or do. He could ask again but his mouth had gone dry, and besides his lungs had stopped working, maybe had all their energy diverted to keeping his heart thundering so loudly in his ears. He could beg her, but even that single word wouldn't come to him. Her name was all he could manage, all he could cling to, an endless and echoing repetition in his chest, certain as his pulse. Shakily he took her face in his hands. At last Jimaya blinked at him reluctantly, then away.

"I said I love you," she mumbled. "I tell you sometimes when you're asleep. As practice."

"Practice?" he croaked. Jimaya nodded. Her blush threatened to burn his hands.

"So when you hear it, you'll believe me."

Rensai let out a shuddering breath and kissed her deeply, desperately, as relief crashed over him in an enormous wave. Relief to match a fear he'd held at arm's length for so long: that she might always fall just short of matching how much he'd come to care for her.

She wrapped her arms around him and kissed him back. This was what it meant to be whole, he thought. Whole and forgiven and accepted. He wanted to fold her into himself, a hearth for a brilliant, blazing flame. One empty and one homeless without the other.