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Interlude

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Mae stands at the foot of her impractically large bed, Nick’s hand firmly in hers, and does her best to suppress her beaming.

“I,” she says, her tone laden with all of the grave import that such an announcement deserves, “am about to show you a very, very important aspect of being human.”

Nick arches an eyebrow, the gesture sharp and eloquent. “I thought we were done with that,” he says. “It’s been months. In case you hadn’t noticed, I don’t think anyone in my life will ever expect me to act human again.”

“Shhh,” Mae tells him solemnly, reaching to lay a finger against his lips. Nick looks deeply amused, but complies. “Some things are so important that they must be shared, even with terrible violent ageless forces of nature with no interest in the finer things in life.”

Nick’s expression still reflects a thoroughly annoying lack of appreciation for the moment, but his voice is deadpan as he says, “How dare you. I’ll have you know many of my knives are very fine.”

Mae presses her finger to his mouth more firmly, scowling. “What did I just say? Shhhh. You are definitely not shhh-ing. Watch and learn.”

Nick looks down at her finger and arches an eyebrow again, the gesture more than a little wicked this time, but obediently stays quiet as she turns back to the bed.

The first thing Mae had chosen with which to furnish her caravan was the bed, an old-fashioned, massive affair far too big even for her and Nick together, let alone just her. Its heavy four-postered construction dominates her bedroom, and it’s built so high, the mattress so thick, that Mae sometimes actually has a little trouble climbing onto it. But it’s completely, gloriously worth it.

Now, Mae lets go of Nick, positions herself with her back to the bed, and executes a dramatic flop backwards, a move born of much practice. She bounces up and down a couple of times, using the momentum to scoot herself back until her feet are no longer dangling over the edge, and she beams up at Nick, who’s leaning over her inquisitively. She’s aware that with her hair fanning out around her, she probably looks like a particularly rumpled exotic flower.

“I’m watching,” he says, bone dry. “What am I meant to be learning?”

“Today,” Mae informs him solemnly, “you are going to discover one of humanity’s greatest treasures: the nap.”

Nick blinks at her, then does it again. “No,” he says in a slow drawl, “really. What is it we’re doing?”

Mae beams at him, scooting over and patting the space next to her. Shockingly, Nick doesn’t follow her in flopping backwards onto the bed, but instead sits at the edge, a foot or so away. He’s studying Mae with a familiar mixture of bewilderment and amusement.

“I can’t believe you aren’t giving this the very serious attention it deserves,” Mae tells him, voice thick with mournful disappointment.

“Yes,” Nick says, just as gravely, “I can tell from your very serious posture exactly how much attention I should be paying this.”

He reaches out to brush his fingers through the loose spill of her hair, and Mae quite admirably resists the intention clear in the gesture. She scowls up at him, and Nick grins, a slightly softer expression than usual. “Right,” he says, his tone more subdued but clearly still repressing laughter. “Naps.”

“Naps,” Mae repeats, the word reverent. She props herself up on her elbows and continues, “Let me tell you all about naps, Nick. Naps are best taken mid-afternoon, when the sun gets fat and lazy, and the day has gone on just long enough that you’ve stopped feeling productive in any way whatsoever. Often once they’re over, you wake up feeling groggy and disoriented and as if you’ve slept a hundred years and the entire world has altered all around you, and you never want to do anything ever again. Occasionally, you wake up refreshed and ready to continue with your day.”

Nick stares at her the way he often does, the expression that goes far past wondering if she’s being serious and goes straight to being fairly certain she’s no longer speaking a recognizable language. “Humans,” he finally says, as if it’s a swear word, and Mae grins.

“It’s nice,” she says firmly, flopping demonstratively back on the mattress. “It’s nice to take a break from your day and relax. It’s nice to pretend that responsibilities and such don’t exist. It’s an indulgence. And this bed is so ridiculous and so comfortable—it’s a crime not to use it as much as possible.”

Nick grins again, more deliberately this time, and his gaze fixes on her with much more interest. “Use it as much as possible, you say?” he murmurs, rolling over so that he’s lying on his side next to Mae. “Why, Mavis, I thought you’d never ask.”

“Nick,” Mae says reproachfully, thought she can’t admit it’s not tempting. It is a very comfortable bed. “You have a disappointingly one-track mind.”

“That’s not what you said last night,” Nick leers, and Mae hits him on the shoulder.

“Can’t you indulge me just this once? I’m trying to share a very valuable facet of the human experience with you. And if you must know, sleeping next to you is nice. I’d like to try it during the day as well.”

Nick watches her for a moment, then reaches to trail his fingers through her hair again, touch lingering as if it’s a precious material. His expression has softened just barely, by a degree so minute it would have been completely unnoticeable on a human’s face. “I’m not tired,” he says after a moment.

“Naps aren’t about being tired,” Mae explains in tones of exaggerated patience. “You don’t eat a chocolate because you’re hungry.”

Nick doesn’t look entirely convinced by her brilliant display of logic; Mae lets out an exasperated huff of air, scooting further up the bed until her head rests on one of her brightly colored squashy pillows. “Fine. Just stay with me as I fall asleep? Maybe my sublime comfort will serve as inspiration.”

“Often I find myself overcome with exhaustion when I see your face,” Nick says, deadpan, and Mae hits him again.

This time, he catches her wrist as she pulls her arm back, pressing a quick kiss to her palm. Then he shifts to lie down next to her and obediently opens his arms, allowing Mae to snuggle into them, fitting her head against the curve of his shoulder, curling into the warmth of his body.

“Always nice to actually be able to reach your shoulder,” she murmurs, and feels the shift of Nick’s face against her forehead as he grins.

“Go to sleep,” Nick says, his hand settling on the strip of exposed skin between her crop top and her skirt, and Mae smiles as she closes her eyes and relaxes.

 

The sun is sinking below the horizon, turning the light slanting in through the windows of the caravan a deep orange, when Mae wakes up—as usual, groggy and disoriented, and having deposited a small puddle of drool onto Nick’s shirt.

She shifts back to rub her eyes, barely muffling an enormous yawn, before blinking over at Nick, whose dark eyes are open and solemnly fixed on her. “You didn’t sleep at all,” she mumbles accusingly.

“I told you I wouldn’t,” he says. “But I suppose watching your face wasn’t the worst way to pass a couple of hours.”

Mae scowls sleepily up at him. “Glad you weren’t too bored.”

“Quite the opposite.” Nick’s grin is slow, purposeful. “You actually did end up inspiring me.”

Before Mae can make what would likely have been a slightly less snappy retort than usual, Nick’s flipping over until he’s on top of her, forearms bracketing her shoulders, body lightly pressed against hers. “I’ve thought of six new uses for this bed,” he says, expression and tone deliberate, “and none of them involve either of us being asleep.”

“My, my,” Mae coos as she shifts upward, wrapping both arms around his neck. She’s feeling a little more awake already. “Haven’t you been productive? Such industriousness should definitely be rewarded.”

“Yes, Mistress Mavis,” Nick murmurs, and she laughs as she pulls him down to her.