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and whispered to her neighbour, Winter is dead!

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Someone was crying, just outside the door.

In the few minutes it took Hilary to struggle back to waking and remember where she was, she conceived and then discarded a good half-dozen explanations for the sound, each a little less horrific than the last, until she finally sorted out where she was and what the situation was most likely to be. It wasn't likely to stop on its own, either, so she rolled out of bed with a grumble and reached out blindly--first for the lamp at her bedside, glancing anxiously over at Jerry to ensure the light didn't rouse him, then for the dressing gown she'd left over a chair.

When she cracked the bedroom door open, Badge whined once more, to make sure she knew he'd been hard done by; then he barked and scrambled past her into the room. "Hush," hissed Hilary uselessly, "you'll wake him!" but even when the dog put his paws up on the edge of the bed, nosing at his master's bare arm, Jerry only groaned and rolled over onto his stomach. This appeared to be sufficient reassurance, however, that Badge licked the nearest bit of arm once or twice and then curled up contentedly on the floor by the bed.

Watching this process, Hilary suddenly made sense of something she'd noticed earlier in the day but never asked about; she slipped out the door, down the hall to Jerry's room, and returned in a minute with the armful of old blankets that had been piled on the floor there. She dropped them by her own bed and, because she was still only half-awake, lowered herself to the rug as well, leaning back against the bed as she watched Badge rearrange his bedding to his own satisfaction. It was a long vigorous process, and at the end of it the blankets hardly looked any different to her, but he seemed to be satisfied; at any rate he flopped down on his stomach, short tail whacking happily against the floor.

"Better?" she inquired, voice still soft for fear of disturbing Jerry, and received a tired snort in reply. "I'm sorry," said Hilary, and meant it, although she wasn't sure whether the sentiment was one a puppy could understand. She ruffled his ears and he whined again, dropping his head onto his paws and pushing his nose against her wrist. "I really am. I didn't realize. And I can't even say I don't know the feeling." In her defence, she'd only been home twelve hours or so and had anticipated the awkward process of having to fit herself back into the workings of her own household, but in retrospect it seemed quite natural that Badge should be a little unsettled by her arrival.

She had been afraid that his restlessness was lasting and he would need to be taken outdoors, but apparently he'd gotten what he wanted. He soon dozed off again, aided no doubt by Hilary's fingers running absently along his side. She nearly fell asleep on the floor herself, head tipped back against the mattress, but a movement at her back roused her again. "Hilary?" Jerry mumbled--from the sound of it, his face was still mashed into the pillow. "That you crashing about?"

"Last I checked." She turned to look up at him, folding her arms on the rumpled bedspread.

Jerry groaned again without opening his eyes. "Are you sure?"

"That I'm me? Absolutely." Hilary leaned over and kissed him.

That was enough, at last, to get him to lean up on his elbows, blinking sleepily. "Lee, what are you doing down there?"

"A friend of yours came calling." Hilary waved vaguely behind her at Badge. "I thought I'd better let him in. Seemed urgent."

"Yes, I can see he's terribly upset." Jerry nodded, gazing absently at his sleeping dog. "I take it you don't mind having him in here? Mrs. Perkins has given me an earful or three about it--she says it's not healthy, but he's never once messed up the carpet or anything like that. I think she's got mixed up about the thing with cats and babies."

"I don't mind," Hilary agreed, "just as long as he doesn't intrude when he's particularly unwanted. Besides, I suppose I owe him for looking after you in my absence. Or so I hope he did, anyway; I left very clear instructions on that point."

Jerry laughed quietly. "That dog--we lived in London five months, just about, and he was small enough when you gave him to me that at first I would carry him about the city in my coat pocket. And yet, after his first rocket or two, he hardly turned a hair at the things. Handled them much better than I did myself, if I must be honest. He's a damned good dog; I don't think you need have any worries there." His voice was a little thick with something that didn't sound like sleep.

"I'm glad," said Hilary, reaching over to fidget with his hair; just like that, the entirety of his attention returned to her, and she couldn't help but smile in response. "Love you," she murmured, feeling suddenly terribly sentimental. There was something about the sight of his shoulders bare above the blanket that did things to her; it always had, ever since the first morning she'd ever woken up with him.

That must have been very nearly ten years ago, Hilary realized. She couldn't recall the date--it wasn't the kind of anniversary one kept, after all--or what exactly she'd been expecting to come of it. But it had been a Sunday in August, she was sure of that, and neither of them could have had a clue what it was they were setting in motion.

And twenty years ago, she thought absently, this had been her mother's bedroom still, one of the prettiest and sunniest places in the house, and Hilary had liked to covertly borrow her father's well-loved adventure novels and curl up with them in the window seat. Perhaps that would be a good habit to take up again, at least for a little while. They were starting over again in so many ways, she and Jerry; it seemed only fitting.

"Lee. Hilary." He flicked her ear, not too hard, and Hilary forced her eyes open--which was very strange, because she didn't remember closing them. Jerry was grinning at her. "You don't mean to sleep down there with the dog, do you? Come back to bed."

Hilary lifted her head and groaned. She'd have to get back to her feet and go all the way around the bed and get the dressing gown off; it seemed like such an effort. "Too far away."

Jerry wriggled away to the far side of the bed--out of her arm's reach, which he must have known would be a motivating factor--and lifted the blankets. "Is that better?"

"Much." Hilary climbed into bed--it felt more literal than usual--remembered to shed her robe only once she was already there, and hung it over the bedpost. Having at last accomplished this, she collapsed back on her stomach and sighed in relief as the familiar weight of the blankets, along with Jerry's outstretched arm, settled over her.

"See, that wasn't so bad." He shifted closer again, nuzzling into her neck. "Don't you worry, all right? I'll still be here in the morning."

How, Hilary wondered, did he always seem to know--but she was asleep again before she could finish framing the question, even in her own head. It didn't matter, though; she could always ask him tomorrow.