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slow, slow

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Lately, Roe has not been sleeping well.

This is unusual, Thyme has learned since moving in with her, because normally Roe is almost aggravatingly good at taking care of herself.

She’s always up at the crack of dawn every morning she’s home—no matter how much Thyme might entreat her to spend a morning in bed with her for once because for gods’ sake, a woman has needs—and then before the sun even clears the horizon, she’s off to “throw some weights around” and go for a long, long jog, usually long enough that even Thyme is out of bed by the time she returns. Then, once she gets cleaned up she’s in the kitchen, usually whistling tunelessly as she dumps baffling combinations of fruits and vegetables into that Ironworks contraption of hers that looks somewhat like a pitcher that someone thought to arm with a buzzsaw (“The Mark XIV Titanium Blendmaster: custom order, the only one in the whole realm,” apparently, as Roe proclaims to anyone who will listen). And her diet for the rest of the day, when she has a choice in the matter, is strictly regulated and proportioned—although she does cheat from time to time, because “it’s important to treat yourself,” as she usually says right before she tucks in to some horrid fried thing she found at a tavern.

With all of the above taken into account, on top of how busy she is as the Warrior of Light—a comically large understatement, perhaps, but there you are—on most nights it’s rare for Roe to not fall asleep as soon as her head hits the pillow. The trouble, Thyme has also learned, is that Roe has a nigh-insuppressible drive to help anyone who might look her way with a pleading glance and/or a cat stuck up a tree, no matter how busy she already is, and she’s about as stubborn as an entire herd of aurochs put together.

And despite how attuned Roe otherwise is to her body’s needs, she doesn’t like feeling idle. So she’s not good at resting. And when she doesn’t rest, everything else heads to the seventh hell in a handbasket.

Like lately, for instance. She’s been busier than ever with the Scions now that they’re all hale and healthy again, trekking across the continents on Official World-Saving Business on more days of the week than otherwise. And even when she is home, it’s often that her mind is elsewhere: wrestling with whatever extremely important mission the Scions are setting their sights on next, or thinking about the next battle that needs waging off on the Bozjan southern front, perhaps.

Which means, in her mind, there’s constantly things that need doing—constantly people who need her help—which means, in turn, that she sees any time spent not doing the aforementioned things or helping the aforementioned people as a waste. So she isn’t inclined to relax, either physically or mentally, and on nights when she’s not tossing and turning or unable to fall asleep entirely, she’s probably having nightmares, and regardless she gets up exhausted the next morning. And Thyme feels horrible for her, certainly. Every time she rounds the corner and spots Roe tragically staring off into the middle distance, sagging into her seat like she dearly hopes maybe this is the time she’ll get to never move again, she feels downright awful.

But the whole situation is also ridiculous. Because, for gods’ sake, the solution is so simple.

Which is why, on this particular afternoon—as Roe shoves her way through the front door of their home with all the grace and poise of a drunken bear and unceremoniously dumps her travel bags and muddy boots in a heap in the middle of the foyer—Thyme has decided to take matters into her own hands.

Whether Roe likes it or not.

Roe, uncharacteristically, didn’t call out to Thyme to signal her arrival today, choosing instead to flop down onto the living room couch like she’s been shot. Thyme rounded the corner and caught her sighing heavily as she stared blankly up at the ceiling, a discontented twist to her mouth. Despite this she still breaks into a smile—unmistakably weary, but still—and hauls herself back to her feet when Thyme leans in to kiss her hello (soft and slow and sweet, like always, and today she smells like woodsmoke).

But Roe seems reluctant to move or open her eyes once they part; she huffs out a sigh and presses their foreheads together as she snakes her arms around Thyme’s waist. “Missed you,” she mumbles.

Thyme kisses her again, even softer than before, and Roe sighs like she could melt through the floor right then and there. “Long day?” Thyme asks her, and Roe grunts something that doesn’t quite sound like it made it all the way to being a word.

“Just tired,” she responds, and if Roe’s actually saying she’s tired then it must be bad. Thyme cradles Roe’s face in her palm and runs a thumb over Roe’s cheekbone, and Roe leans into her touch.

“I’m glad you’re home, darling,” Thyme murmurs.

“Me too.”

“Shall I put on some tea, then?”

“Gods, please,” Roe groans. “I have never needed a pick-me-up so badly in my entire life.”

Thyme giggles in spite of herself and kisses the corner of Roe’s mouth. “Stay put, love,” she says as she slips out of Roe’s arms. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

The question is really just a formality, at this point—Thyme always offers, Roe always says yes, and the kettle is usually already merrily puffing away by the time Roe gets home—and so it’s only a matter of minutes before Thyme is on her way back, a steaming mug of freshly-brewed tea in tow. But even this brief absence is enough time for Roe to sink back into the couch like it’s exercising its own gravitational pull on her poor, exhausted body specifically. She’s let her eyes fall shut, her head wearily resting against the couch’s back.

And because her eyes are shut, she jolts upright somewhat guiltily when Thyme quietly says her name. “Sorry,” she says. “I was just, uh. Thinking about some things.”

Thyme gives her a knowing smile as she presses the mug into her hands. “You’re alright, love. Here.”

“Thanks,” Roe mumbles. She takes a sip. Then her eyes widen, and she wrinkles her nose. “Is this—”

“Chamomile,” Thyme says, and Roe pulls such a face as she looks down at her mug, like a child staring down the plate of boiled sprouts standing between her and dessert, “because you need to rest. When was the last time you slept through the night?”

“Recently,” Roe grumbles. “Few days ago. I think.”

Thyme folds her arms. “Mhm.”

“I’m fine, Tee,” Roe says, but it comes out half-hearted, as though she knows Thyme can see bright neon lettering that says LIAR flashing over her head. “Really.”

“You’re exhausted.”

“I can be fine and exhausted.”

“That is not how that works.”

Roe frowns. But she takes a sip of her tea. “I need to get back, anyway,” she mutters. “Told ‘em I was just stopping at home for a little while.”

Thyme arches an eyebrow. Frankly, she is absolutely certain that—despite whatever Roe’s intentions might be—no one is expecting her back anytime today. Especially not the Scions, if only because—well, if they chose to truly flatten her poor beleaguered wife under a mountain of busywork, Thyme knows they know that they’d never hear the end of it from her. Besides, she thinks, only somewhat successfully suppressing a fond smile as Roe slowly sags deeper and deeper into the squishy, overstuffed couch cushions like some hapless adventurer doing battle with a puddle of quicksand, anyone can tell she can barely keep her eyes open.

But she would never dream of pointing this out, of course. As always, Thyme is brimming with tact.

And so she simply makes a thoughtful hmm noise as she primly takes a seat next to Roe. “Sit with me while I read, then,” she says, and she pats demonstratively at the small space left between them. “For just a few minutes, while you finish your tea. Then I won’t keep you.”

Roe falters as her gaze flicks hesitantly toward the front door. She’s clearly close to giving in—she just needs a little push.

And so, with her plan proceeding just as she’d predicted, Thyme prepares to play her trump card.

She scooches in close and inclines her head, just enough that she can look up at Roe through her lashes. Then she takes Roe’s free hand and raises it to her lips, to ghost a kiss against her reddened, scraped knuckles. “Please, darling?” she asks in that gentle, syrupy-sweet way she’s learned Roe can’t possibly resist—laying it on a little thick, perhaps, but Roe immediately flushes bright red and drops her gaze to the rug at their feet. Like clockwork. “I missed you today, too,” she then says sweetly, just to drive the point home.

And Roe, cheeks burning bright as a signal fire, grumbles something under her breath that Thyme can’t quite make out, but it might as well be a triumphant trumpet blast for how clearly it signals Thyme’s victory. “Fine,” she grunts after a moment, “but just a few minutes,” and she shuts her eyes as though she has never experienced such an excruciating ordeal in her life when Thyme leans in, very pleased with herself, to peck her on the cheek.

“I knew you’d say yes.”

“You’re a menace,” Roe mutters as she slumps back into the couch with her mug cradled in both hands, legs insolently splayed like she’s a sulky teen on a park bench. “A bonafide menace to society.”

“Only to you, darling, I think,” Thyme politely points out—and although she’s certainly trying her best to be as much of a grump as possible, Roe still snorts out a laugh into her drink.

As Thyme then fetches her book from the coffee table and snakes her arm through the crook of Roe’s elbow, tucking herself close against her side, they lapse into quiet, the kind that’s Thyme’s very favorite. It’s the particular flavor of cozy, easy silence that feels like sunshine on her skin and that comes so naturally to them, only broken by the occasional soft rustle of paper whenever Thyme turns to the next page.

And it wasn’t just a dirty trick, before. She really has missed Roe today. On those long, interminable weeks when they’re both hard at work—Thyme filling orders for potions and poultices and drafting up tinctures at her workstation, and Roe off rattling about the continent on whatever missions landed on her plate—the house feels so quiet. Just a little colder and lonelier than it should be, its colors a little duller than usual. Not that Thyme normally minds the quiet, of course.

But Roe is one of those sorts whose presence is bold and strong and unmistakably here regardless of how much noise she’s making, and her absence—or her exhaustion—is as keenly felt as how the world dims when a wayward cloud drifts across the sun. And the warmth of Roe’s body, her solid, comforting weight against her side, is always soothing like nothing else; even now, when all she’s doing is sitting quietly, letting her gaze absently drift back and forth from the pages of Thyme’s book to the loose dregs of chamomile at the bottom of her mug. She is still as a statue, only stirring every few minutes to raise her tea to her lips.

It’s rare that Roe lets anyone see her in such a state, Thyme feels privileged to know firsthand. She’s always moving, always running from place to place. Always cracking wise and flashing that proud, beautiful grin of hers that’s bright enough to put the very sun to shame, that still sends Thyme’s heart pounding against her ribs and dazzles her every time she’s caught in its headlights. But even Roe can’t keep it up forever (certainly not, if the last few days are any indication), and sometimes she needs to be reminded to stop. Just for a little while.

And if reminding her to stop happens to entail providing her with the particular kind of cozy, quiet companionship that requires her to stay still for once and ambushing her with Thyme’s favorite homemade blend of chamomile tea, specifically concocted to help ease oneself into sleep—its recipe honed under the harsh endless light of the First, no less—the deadly combination of which is virtually guaranteed to knock her out, because Thyme knows Roe hasn’t rested properly in days…

Well, Thyme thinks as she turns to the next page. She’s not above playing a little dirty.

By the time Thyme’s finished one chapter, Roe has quietly stifled a yawn no less than three times but stubbornly remains sitting up ramrod straight in her seat, seemingly attempting to prove a point. Just to herself, most likely. Thyme smiles, and she keeps reading.

By the time Thyme’s made it through the next chapter, though Roe’s posture has not shifted, Thyme has spotted her reach up to blearily rub her eyes once or twice. And her yawn rate has spiked to an astounding ten per chapter—quite impressive, especially considering this one was shorter than its predecessor by several pages. It shouldn’t be much longer now, Thyme thinks as she flips to the next chapter.

And sure enough—she’s only approximately half a chapter further when she feels Roe sway lightly in her seat, softly lapsing into the telltale nodding of someone who is trying and failing to fight off some sorely-needed rest. Thyme smirks proudly down at her book and allows herself a moment to revel in her victory.

But in spite of Thyme’s machinations, she still wasn’t expecting Roe to nod off quite this fast. She really must be exhausted. Careful not to move too suddenly and accidentally jar Roe out of her doze, Thyme finally looks up from her book—

And her stomach does a fond little flip, because oh, the poor thing, she’s adorable.

Roe's head droops toward her chest, the line of her back a gentle forward curve. The mostly-emptied mug now rests in a perilously loose grip in her lap. As Thyme watches her eyelids give a weak, impotent flutter, as though they’ve already mostly given up the fight and are only still trying to do their jobs on principle. And any schoolyard-tier told-you-so triumph that Thyme may have been feeling is rendered absolutely powerless in the face of her, and immediately dwindles away.

Slowly, slowly, she reaches out to rescue Roe’s mug and set it aside, and then curls her fingers around Roe’s wrist—Roe rouses slightly at the feel of her touch, lifting her head just a little, but she doesn’t manage much more than that. “Come here, love,” Thyme whispers to her, not wanting to jolt her back awake. “You’re falling asleep.”

“I gotta go, Tee,” Roe mumbles again, somewhat pathetically, like she really believes she can will herself to get back to work if she tries hard enough. Even though it’s all she can do to just stay upright, bless her heart. But her body isn’t listening to her brain anymore—and rightfully so, Thyme might add—and so she easily lets Thyme pluck at her wrist and tug her in close to lean into her side, gentle, gentle, like Thyme knew she would.

“In a little while,” Thyme answers softly after Roe’s weight settles against her body, as she runs her palm across the broad plane of Roe’s shoulders, willing her to relax beneath her touch. “Stay with me first.”

Roe doesn’t protest—perhaps she’s too far gone to think to try—and simply makes a little noise that doesn’t quite manage to become a word, something that dies on her lips as she slips back into the fog.

And oh, but she’s so cute like this, so soft and unguarded and transparently clingy in a way she never allows herself when she’s fully awake. She unconsciously nuzzles into Thyme’s body like she needs to, like it’s the only place in the world she could ever imagine being, and then—instinctively, perhaps—she curls her fingers loosely in the soft fabric of Thyme’s shirt and lets her hand rest there, the warm gust of her breath faintly tickling against Thyme’s throat. It’s as clear as if she’d put it to words: as if she’d whispered yes, anything for you, if you’ll stay too.

“That’s my girl,” Thyme whispers, as she dusts the softest kiss she can manage against Roe’s temple. “Now breathe easy, my love.”

Roe simply lets slip a tiny, drowsy sigh as Thyme rests her cheek against the top of her head and finds where she left off in her book.

And this, then, is how they pass the next few hours: cozy and warm, sleepy and still, with Thyme’s plan a resounding success.

After she’s been properly asleep for a while—approximately seven and a third chapters later, if Thyme were to use her earlier system of measurement—Roe drifts into a dream; Thyme can tell from the way her lashes flutter, the twist of her mouth, the hitch in her breath. This is fine, for a while, until it is not. Her brow furrows hard and she whimpers quietly, a pained little noise the likes of which she’d never let slip willingly, and Thyme, jolted away from her reading, feels it stab through her heart with all the surety of an iron spike. But all she has to do is run her hand up and down the length of Roe’s spine and murmur soothing nonsense into her ear, and slowly she brings her back down, gentle, gentle. Roe shivers once, and then she sighs, and her nightmare subsides as quickly as it came. And it’s a relief, to be sure, seeing her back at peace, knowing she can continue to rest.

But Thyme finds herself sighing too as she smooths her fingers across Roe’s temple. “Darling,” she says softly, “you know you can’t run yourself ragged like this and expect it won’t catch up to you sooner or later.”

And Roe... doesn’t respond, of course.

Thyme suddenly feels a bit silly, knowing full well her words are falling on deaf ears (or unconscious ones, at any rate), but… well. If the events of the last few days have proven anything, it’s that this isn’t the kind of thing that Roe normally likes to be reminded of. And so she finds a small part of herself foolishly hoping that Roe’s hearing her now, as she kisses the crown of her head and takes a moment to shut her eyes, to breathe, to soak up the smell of the spiced soap she uses in her hair.

“You have to take care, sweetheart,” she murmurs, “but if you can’t—I promise I’ll do it for you.”

Always and forever, she thinks, as she listens to Roe’s breathing deepen back into its steady, gentle rhythm, punctuated with quiet, snuffling snores.

Wondrously, considering her struggles over the last week, Roe stays asleep—not only long enough for her to get some well-needed rest, thank the gods, but as a bonus, long enough for Thyme to finish her book. And maybe it’s partly due to the fact that she’s been listening to Roe’s snoring for the last hour or so, but Thyme realizes as she finally shuts her book that she can feel her eyes growing heavy, too. Goodness.

But when Thyme yawns widely and shifts in her seat—only so she can stretch out her legs a bit and set her book aside, of course, she would never dream of leaving—Roe finally wakes, just a little, and squirms even closer, wrapping a warm, heavy arm around Thyme’s waist. “Don’t go,” she mumbles, the tiniest needy whine coloring her voice.

“Oh?” Thyme says softly, playfully nosing against Roe’s temple. “Didn’t you say ‘just a few minutes’ earlier?”

“M’changing my mind.” Roe’s voice is thick from sleep, half-slurred. “Y’had a good point.”

Thyme hums quietly as she resumes softly stroking Roe’s hair. “I do tend to do that, don’t I,” she says sagely, and Roe grumbles a noise that clearly translates to yeah, yeah, no need to rub it in as she shifts her weight more heavily into Thyme’s lap, in a manner that reminds her of a very large, cuddly dog who doesn’t quite realize her size.

This is a problem, however, because although Thyme suddenly wants nothing more than to nod off, too, her current position—half squished under her poor, exhausted Rosemary, with a strange crick in her neck from sitting so still—is certainly not going to work. “Sit up for me, darling,” she says, stifling a yawn as she delicately pries Roe’s fingers off her waist, “just for a moment, I promise,” and Roe doesn’t manage to do much more than make a groggy, inarticulate noise and budge up a few inches, but it gives just enough leeway for Thyme to stretch out on her back along the couch’s length and wedge a pillow behind her head. Once she’s comfortable she murmurs “Come here,” reaching up for Roe—who, although she did get herself upright, has not quite managed to open her eyes all the way, and is currently sitting there blinking sleepily at her in a way that nearly makes Thyme’s poor heart explode with fondness right then and there—but once she rouses herself enough to realize she’s been invited, Roe settles down easily, draping herself over the length of Thyme’s body, legs entangled with hers, nestling her cheek against Thyme’s chest as Thyme snakes her arms around her waist.

“This alright?” Thyme manages to ask, although it comes out a little more drowsy than she meant it to—in combination with the sleepy afternoon they’ve had, the warmth and weight of Roe’s body stretched out against hers is an even more potent soporific than her chamomile. And, gods, her eyes feel so much heavier than they did a moment ago.

Roe does not answer, because she’s out like a light. Again.

But that’s fine, because a heartbeat later, Thyme is too.