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the hole in your heart/the smile on your face

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It's coming up on midnight, and there's a knock on her bedroom door. It's quiet, just a little tap of knuckles against wood, so she gives it the benefit of the doubt and doesn't move until she hears it again, a little louder this time.

 

"Yes?" She says, sitting up from where she'd been laying in bed, pausing the audio book that her attention is fast fading for.

 

"Dea," Gwynplaine whispers, as the door cracks open. "It's me."

 

She's about to ask what he's doing up, it's late, and shouldn't he be asleep, he's got work in the morning, but then again, she'd been half-listening to Dan Stevens reading Frankenstein, her mind wandering, and not anywhere near asleep either (despite knowing she has a morning lecture, so it would probably seem terribly hypocritical of her.) Instead:

 

"Who's me?" she replies, teasingly.

 

There's a huff of almost-laughter. "It's Gwyn," he says. "Can I come in?"

 

"Of course you can," says Dea, and then the door creaks open a little further, a little louder. Gwyn cringes and mutters an apology, and then after a moment there's another creak and a soft click as he steps into the room, shutting the door behind him.

 

"What's going on?" Dea asks, after a few moments where he doesn't say anything.

 

"Nothing," Gwyn says, hurriedly, like he's snapped out of a trance. "Nothing. I've just been thinking."

 

A knowing smile spreads across Dea's lips. "Hmm, that's dangerous."

 

Gwyn hums, and Dea hears him step closer. He takes a seat on the floor by her bed, and after a moment's hesitation reaches for Dea's hand.

 

"Gwyn, oh my god!" She cries, snatching her hand back. "Your hand is freezing!"

 

Gwyn grimaces and apologises again, pulling his hands back, and shoving them indelicately into his armpits.

 

"I was outside," he says, simply. "I thought it was gonna clear my head."

 

Dea frowns and reaches back out, feeling around 'til she finds the freezing cold arm attached to that freezing cold hand, and realises it joins up to a shivering shoulder and a shivering chest.

 

"And it's probably gonna give you a cold instead," Dea grumbles, and she sets about shuffling herself further toward the wall, peeling back her various blankets to make space.

 

"Come on then," she says, thumping the mattress where she's made space for him. "We may as well be penguins, I don't want you getting pneumonia or anything."

 

Gwyn obliges, climbing up to be closer to her, and Dea lifts her hands as he pulls the covers back up. Her fingers sink into the delightful mess of curls on his head, and pull gently at the springy forelock that hangs over his brow. He grumbles without any real malice, and burrows his nose into the crook of her neck. The cold tip of it shocks her skin, but she fights the urge to squirm away, and contents herself instead with the feeling of his hair through her fingers. And after some minutes of this, she decides to ask what it was that was so befuddling to him that he felt he had to shock his thoughts into clarity with the cold night air.

 

"I dunno," he sniffs. "Just stuff."

 

"Just stuff?" Dea echoes. "Bad stuff?"

 

"No, no," and his hands find hers again. They're warmer now. "Or...maybe. Neutral stuff, I suppose." He breathes deep, in and out. "Tonight's the anniversary. Of this," he says, and he guides her hand to his scarred and jagged cheek, lets her run her fingers over the healed-up flesh, following the thin puckered lines across his lips. Dea knows these scars well, every dip and rise a secret that she knows best.

 

She knows he hates the scars, really, deeply, but she can't deny that to her they've always seemed a kind of home. She gets to touch them only in their safest, warmest, under-the-covers moments, where he trusts her and loves her. She's never known him any other way -- and it's frightening to imagine this beloved face, with smiling scars years-old, was once a horrible, open, bleeding wound. She's sometimes wondered if the scars ever still hurt; on a night like tonight she can only imagine they must.

 

"I suppose I was just thinking about whether or not it could have turned out differently, but that's a world I'm just… never gonna know." There's an intensity to what he's saying, though his voice is as gentle as it is always. "I wonder if we'd have met."

 

A laugh bubbles up in Dea's chest, remembering the day years ago when he'd saved her on the road two turns away from her house. It had been cold then too, bitterly cold, and he'd barrelled into her, a burning-hot bullet of a boy tackling her out of danger, all while the sound of screeching tyres and crunching metal rang in her ears.

 

He'd happened to be there, at that moment, at that time, because the fear of going back to school after a harrowing previous day of having his mask torn off and his secret shame revealed had so overwhelmed him that he'd decided he'd just not go, screw it, he'd walk right on past the school building and mooch around the park. Instead, he'd noticed a car skid on ice, and seen a girl in it's path, frozen in fear.

 

Dea knows that the stars lined up to bring them together, and that had Gwyn not suffered the pain of seeing a whole class of shocked, horrified faces all staring at him the day before then perhaps he would have felt fine going to school that morning, and then perhaps he might never have saved her. But if that were so, then she hopes even a Gwyn with an unharmed face would still somehow have known to come find her.

 

"We would have met," Dea says, confidently. "Maybe not in such a dramatic way, but maybe you'd have bumped into me at the library and I'd have dropped my books, and you'd help me gather them all back up. Or-- or we'd have both signed up for online dating and matched together because we both love Beauty and the Beast so much."

 

Gwyn doesn't laugh much, but he does now, just a quiet, fragile sound. And then:

 

"I wish you could've met my parents," he says, barely a whisper, the words just a shaky breath. "They'd have loved you, I know it."

 

"Oh Gwyn," Dea says, and she slips her arms around him, squeezing him tight. "I wish I could have, too."

 

Gwyn takes a shuddering breath, fighting to keep himself together, she can feel it. He's never let himself cry around her, but here, holding him, she knows his heart feels eight years old, not twenty-one, and she can hardly blame him.

 

It's a long time before either of them say anything, and when Gwyn does speak, Dea's more asleep than she is awake.

 

"Thank you for letting me into your life," he says, pressing his forehead to hers. "You always say that I saved you, but I think it was the other way around."

 

Dea hums, the warm blanket of sleep (and him,) settling around her. "Oh, I always knew I was your hero," she replies. "I love you, Gwyn."

 

I love you, she hears him whisper back, and then she dreams of him until morning. His curly hair, and his hands holding hers as they dance in the cold.

 

In the morning, they go through the little box Gwyn keeps under his bed which holds all he has left of his parents. It's something he's never shared with her before, so with reverence she accepts when he hands to her a watch; cool metal, and a bracelet; a little jingling chain of tiny silver stars, and a picture frame in which there is a photo that Gwyn describes - a man beaming brightly, with blue eyes and beard half-grown, and a woman with a gentle smile and black hair, tight and coily. Between them, a chubby toddler, his hair a mass of brown, springy curls. Is he adorable? Dea asks. Gwyn snorts, and insists that he couldn't possibly make a fair assessment, but the smile in his voice tells Dea everything she already knew anyway. Of course he was adorable.

 

He gives her the bracelet - better that someone wears it, right? - and she fumbles with the clasp on the watch, snapping it in place around his wrist in return.

 

"Tell me more about them?" Dea asks, as they put the box away.

 

"Maybe later," says Gwyn, in a faraway voice, like maybe he won't, but still, she hopes. And so she goes about her day, attending lectures and lessons and tutorials, thinking about Gwyn's parents, never unaware of the feeling of his mother's bracelet warming against her wrist. And when Gwyn comes to meet her again, at the end of her day, and tells her about all the people he'd seen pass by his information desk, and doesn't mention his parents at all, she knows it's still going to be a while 'til he's ready to answer any of her questions.

 

That's alright. When he holds her hand and leads her through the snow, talking about his ideas for stories or puppets or fantastical worlds he'll take her to just as soon as he figures out how to make them, then she's happy, and he loves her, and she knows everything she needs to know.