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night, the beloved

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It was the middle of the night when she woke. The air was icy outside her furs, despite the heavy curtains pulled across the windows. She heard Jaime next door again, as she had done for days. Wrapping the blanket round her, she shivered violently as she left the comfort of her bed and struck out into the cold towards him. She stopped outside Jaime’s door and listened intently. There was a muffled cry.

She opened the door gingerly. In the moonlight bouncing off the newly fallen snow, she could see quite clearly. Jaime had his back to the door; a body shaped bundle of furs. He was muttering something unintelligible, interspersed with groans. She crept closer, wondering which of the horrors they had seen was haunting him this time. As she gently placed a hand on his shoulder, he cried out and turned towards her. She gasped at the sudden movement, but he was still asleep. She laid her hand on his forehead without thinking, checking for a fever. He was hot, too hot. The muttering started again. She was beginning to think on how to fight off the illness, turning potions and balms over in her head when she heard her name. He said it with such pleading urgency that she wondered if he knew she was there. She opened her mouth to reassure him when he said it again, softer this time, with what could only be described as a loving tone. It reminded her of the way her father called for her mother when she was still with them and she stared at Jaime, unbelieving. She was still bent over him when his eyes flickered open. He seemed shocked to see her there; eyes widening and blinking furiously. She snatched her hand away. 

“What are you doing here?” he asked, slowly. His voice was rough and low.

“I…I heard you having a…a…nightmare. I’m sorry to wake you.” She straightened as he propped himself up with a groan.

“I wasn’t having a nightmare.”

She looked at him timidly. She wanted him to carry on, but he didn’t. The silence between them grew and grew. Finally, as the pressure reached its peak she blurted out, “You spoke my name. In your sleep.” Her cheeks reddened despite the cold. The bareness of the room seemed too stark a place for this conversation, her words sank and were lost in the still, heavy air. He was looking up at her, but his expression was as frozen as the room. 

“Yes.” It was as simple an answer as any, and he said it with such candour that she wondered whether instead she’d asked if he was alright.

“You have a fever, it is only that-“ she petered out. It was not what she ought to have said, but the other conclusion was not for her to presume even as his eyes searched hers desperately. It would not do to bring it up now. Her thoughts were thin and insubstantial in the face of unsaid hopes. 

Jaime took a breath to speak but she heard it catch in his lungs with a disconcerting crackle and he started to cough, sharply and inefficiently. The harsh sounds became more desperate as he struggled for air. She reached for him as he sat up, sitting awkwardly on the edge of the bed which sagged and threatened to oust her. As she patted his back firmly, she was shocked to find his spine distinct under his heavy shirt. Too much running, too little rest had made the both of them weaker and worn down to their bones. She wanted to apologise for the state he was in, as she wanted to for everything these days. Her hands remained on his back as he finally sucked in the air he needed. The quickness of his heartbeat throbbed through her fingers. A hand travelled to his shoulder as he twisted to face her but he caught the other, holding onto it urgently. His eyes, she could see now, had that agitated, heated look of a man out of sorts. 

He was shaking his head with a firm conviction. “Not true. Not the fever, not a nightmare,” he spat out with each shallow breath. The heat radiating from him was oddly unfamiliar; not the gentle warmth she had felt before but a burning furnace. His white hot words escaped randomly from mumbling lips, letting her only catch parts of sentences. She hushed him uselessly. 

“I always dream of you. Of you! Always out of my reach, whatever I do.” 

He stopped, reeling in sadness as if drunk. The peace that descended as the darkness and quietness rushed back in to fill the void muffled his frantic breaths. They were still gripping each other; more fiercely than ever. She wanted to add nothing more, not a word or a look. There was no thought that directed her in that moment or the next as she brushed her lips over his. It was only the briefest of touches but it stilled Jaime, his tense muscles relaxing under her hands. 

“Am I dreaming now?” he asked. There was a tentative burr to his words against her mouth. She knew he feared her answer.