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It takes a long time for Arum to convince Amaryllis to go to bed.

Of course it does.

It's impossible for her not to feel like this is her responsibility, but there is nothing more she can do at the moment. There is nothing more either of them can do, at the moment, and she has been awake for days. It takes a long time, and a lot of convincing, and an argument that would have been a screaming match if it weren't for-

(He will not wake, even if they scream. It would be far too painful to prove this fact, to shout above him and-)

But Arum manages, eventually. So now, Amaryllis is asleep, and Arum…

Arum leans against the wall, and stares at the cot in her exam room.

He stares, and for quite a long time, nothing changes.

"Foolish little honeysuckle," he hisses.

There is no answer, of course.

"Always so careless with yourself. Thoughtless. What did you think would happen? What did you think would happen, Damien, if you continued to throw yourself at-"

He straightens from the wall, and begins to pace, stalking back and forth. He cannot continue to stare at the bed, but his eyes keep drawing back to the stillness of the form there. His mind demands the reminder: he is still breathing.

He is still breathing.

"How dare you," Arum mutters, and he did not intend to say those words, but- "How dare you. How dare you do this to Amaryllis. Can you not see how she worries for you? Can you not see how much effort she expends? Patching up every injury, every cut, every broken bone? Every foolish little-" he clenches his teeth hard, hisses through them, tries again. "Has she not done enough already? Has she not wasted enough bandages on you, because you cannot keep your foolish self safe? How dare you do this to her-"

Arum feels that he should be shouting. His voice is, instead, coming in a hoarse, whispered sort of scream. It feels like it scrapes up his windpipe as it goes, but-

He cannot seem to control the words. Perhaps this is how Damien feels, under more ordinary circumstances.

Arum continues to pace. Damien continues to lie perfectly still.

He still breathes. He still breathes. Arum can still hear his heart, can still hear it beating, even if it sounds- not quite right. There is something off about the rhythm, something off about the pace, perhaps. It does not sound as it usually does when Damien sleeps.

But Damien still breathes.

("All we can do is- wait," Rilla says, her voice cracking down the middle. "All we can do is wait, now.")

"How dare you make her worry like this," he growls, and then he pauses for a long, long time, holding his breath without meaning to.

Damien. Still, and quiet. It is unnatural.

"How dare you do this," he repeats, his voice growing weaker with the repetition, and he pretends not to notice the tightness in his throat, the way he chokes as he continues, "I do not see you speaking your heart now, honeysuckle-"

He has to stop, digging the claws of his toes into the wood of the floor, his posture hunching as he hisses a breath through his teeth. His limbs tremble with the tension of how tightly he is holding himself still, his teeth clenched so hard that his jaw hurts.

After a long pause, during which Damien neither moves nor speaks nor stirs, Arum gives a strange breath of laughter.

"How… how does she do this, Damien?" he keens, helpless, and then he takes a hesitant step closer to the bed. "How does she endure, watching you careen from one danger to the next?" Another slow step, and Damien still does not wake. "How does she- I… I cannot bear it. I cannot bear this. How am I meant t-to-"

He chokes another strange laugh, takes another small step. "I did not need to fear such hurt as this when… when it was only myself and my Keep. Death would only be death, then, honeysuckle. My own would be survived by my Keep, and if I failed my Keep enough that it fell, I would fall with it. Now- now-" He searches for the words, creeps closer, flicks his tongue and scents the sterile blank smell of this room, obscuring the more familiar scent of Damien's skin, the more unwelcome scent of the blood.

"Now… there is so much more at stake. I cannot bear the thought of yourself and Amaryllis being torn from me, but- what can I do against it? Your knighthood, her work, the war- my own very nature. I cannot… I cannot protect you, I cannot do anything but endure the terror of your loss and- and I do not know how. I do not know how to bear it. It would be- it would be easier if I cared not at all for you, little human. If I could see you so waylaid and feel- nothing."

Another step. Arum looms over the bed, and he feels so large and so out of place, even here in Amaryllis' hut where he knows himself welcome. He looks down at Sir Damien, and he feels so much that he fears it will crack his ribs open to escape the too-small vessel of his body.

"I was not meant to care for any but myself and my Keep," he says, his voice very small. "It would be so much easier if I could return to that feeling. If I could go home to my Keep, if I could bury my affection in the greenhouse and forget this pain, forget this terror. It would be so much easier, Damien," he keens. "But-"

Damien breathes.

"I cannot forget. I cannot excise you from my heart. And- and I wouldn't dare, even if I could."

Damien breathes, perfectly still.

"Honeysuckle… honeysuckle… wake up. Please." He swallows roughly, and Damien's slack face mocks the waver in his voice. "I know you cannot hear me. This is- mere foolishness, I know. I know… I am not helping. I am not… blessed with Amaryllis' talents. There is nothing I can do for you, not now, and my words- my own words pale beside yours. I would cut my tongue out to hear you speak them now, honeysuckle. To hear you speak at all, I would- please. Please."

His legs shake. His hands twitch with the deep desire to touch his poet. Before his limbs can betray him entirely, Arum relents, and sinks to kneel by the bedside.

"Foolishness," he says again, gazing up into Damien's beautiful, terribly still face. He reaches out, but he does not touch Damien's skin. He wishes so badly to brush the curls from Damien's brow, but his position feels so precarious. Damien looks so fragile. Arum does not feel his own touch would be safe.

"Honeysuckle, wake up. Honeysuckle, come back. Please… please, don't-" he sucks in a breath. "Don't do this to her. She has expended so much effort, so much worry and care in patching your sorry hide together. Wake up. Just wake up."

Damien does not answer. Arum knew he wouldn't. His insides still feel curdled with the hurt of it.

"Don't do this to her," he repeats, his voice lower. "Don't do this to- don't do this to us, honeysuckle, please don't-"

("And if he wakes up-"

"If?"

"W-when, I meant when, Arum, don't-")

Arum shakes his head, pulls his hands back to press to his own chest, holding in the throbbing of his heart, his pain.

"The Universe prefers- the Universe desires a good story. An interesting story, at the least," he mutters, clenching his claws against his own scales. "I- I know- this world is better with you alive. All is brighter, more vibrant for your presence. Surely the Universe knows…"

He inhales, forcing himself steady, and he makes himself sway closer. Makes himself lift his hand out again.

"I… I don't know what I would do if we lost you," he whispers, and then he clenches his teeth. "I- I refuse to- to contemplate it. That is not how your story ends, honeysuckle. Not here. Not yet. We don't lose you like this. I refuse."

Damien does not wake. Arum did not expect him to. He scowls, fierce, and settles his palm down over the back of Damien's hand at last.

"I love you, Damien. I love you, and I will stay as long as I need to. I will be here when you wake. That is how this story goes."

 


 

Damien wakes bleary and confused, but the morning light calls to him as it always does, pouring honey-soft through the warm curtains, birdsong and the distant, early bells from the Gate of Tranquility pouring in with it.

All of it pouring in, through the open windows of Rilla's examination room. Why… why would he be…

Damien remembers.

The pain comes a moment after the memory: a vicious sharpness in his ribs, the muddy thudding ache in his head resolving to something he can understand, the wobbly, shaky sense of disconnection from his limbs.

… Disconnection from most of his limbs. There is a pressure on his left hand, vaguely warm, familiar, pleasant. He can feel that sensation perfectly well.

It takes a rather frustrating level of effort to tip his head to the side enough to see the source of the pressure. He blinks, bleary, against that warm morning light, and when his vision resolves he sees Arum.

The monster is half-draped on the bed, his snout buried in the sheets, two arms clinging loosely to the cot, one hanging down out of sight over the edge, and the fourth hand curled, careful and delicate, around the back of Damien's hand.

Damien can piece together the vague shape of what occurred in his unconsciousness well enough. The lizard looks exhausted even in sleep, and he looks anything but comfortable, half-supported by the cot, twisted vaguely sideways with his shoulder against the bedside table. He must not have meant to fall asleep. Damien feels his mouth curl despite the fogginess in his head, because the idea of it, this attempted vigil succumbing to the drain of sleep-

Damien loves this monster with a brightness that still shocks him. He wants to turn his hand, to press his palm to Arum's, but- well. Just at the moment, he can barely manage to twitch his thumb. He blinks a bit more of the light from his eyes, looking more closely at his lily instead.

There's a blanket draped over Arum's shoulders, as well. A familiar blanket, one that usually finds its home on Rilla's bed, and Damien can imagine as well how the cloth must have ended up settled there. He exhales, something that would be a laugh if he had just an ounce more breath to give, and he hears a scuffing noise across the room.

"Damien," Rilla says, her voice thick and exhausted and raw. "You're awake-"

Damien manages to tilt his head enough to see her as she stands, as she darts to the side of the cot opposite from Arum to touch his face, to check his pupils, and he cannot help but smile at her touch.

"Hello, my flower," he whispers, and his own voice is cracked and dry, and as she moves his head so gently and checks him over, he contemplates her words again in his somewhat muddied mind. "Was… was there concern, then, that I would not?"

Rilla does not answer, does not meet his eye, but her jaw tightens, her brow dips, and Damien's heart pulses with sympathy and guilt.

"I'm-"

"Don't you apologize, Damien," she says in a firm murmur, angling his head so she can inspect the wound he can feel near his temple. "You're a knight," she says simply, and then she shrugs. "We both know it comes with the territory."

Damien closes his eyes and purses his lips, and he thinks briefly of the ream of now-scorched paper from the one letter he cannot seem to write. "Hm," he manages. "I suppose that is… I suppose."

"Just- relax and let me do my job."

Damien does as she says, pretending for a moment that he is blessed with Rilla's touch for a less worrying reason as she inspects his injuries more fully.

"I expect that the blanket upon our lily was your doing, my love," he says eventually, quietly, and Rilla snorts a low laugh.

"Yeah, well. He wanted me to sleep, but he was still gonna worry himself sick all night in here with you. I just- waited until he stopped talking. I knew he was exhausted too."

"You- you slept in here as well?"

"Slept is a strong word," she hedges, shrugging.

"Rilla," Damien says, but his voice is too weak to carry the gentle chiding he wants it to.

"You sure as hell wouldn't sleep if you didn't know if I was gonna-" she cuts herself off, pressing her lips together tight, and then she gives a wobbly sort of smile. "I couldn't, okay? I just- couldn't."

"Oh," Damien whispers. "Oh, love-"

"You sound like you spent a week in a desert," Rilla mutters, rubbing one eye absently. "Hush." She reaches a hand out again, this time only to brush his hair away from his forehead. "I'm gonna go get you some water, okay? Don't- just don't. Don't move, don't talk, don't do anything stupid, yeah?"

Damien ducks his head, entirely unable to bury his gentle smile. "I wouldn't dream of it, my love."

"Hush," she says again, firmly, and then she puts her hand very carefully on his shoulder, leans down, and presses a light kiss to his hair. "I'll be right back."

Damien sighs, still smiling, and his eyelids are too heavy to hold open as he hears Rilla tiptoe from the room.

When that noise fades, he is left only with what woke him in the first place. Sunlight, soft through his eyelids, and birdsong and distant bells, and-

Much closer by, the slow sleeping breath of Lord Arum.

Damien opens his eyes, tipping his head to see his monster again, and Damien's muscles twitch with yearning to pull Arum up, to gather him closer, to embrace him on this too-small bed. He huffs out a breath, his lip curling wryly at his own current limitations, and then he focuses on his hand instead. Surely that cannot be too difficult to manage.

It takes far more effort than it should. Damien has fought battles more difficult than the simple turning of his hand (more difficult- but very few that mattered to him more). The weakness of his body can be overcome. He has done so countless times before.

He is patient, though his arm aches with even this simple motion. He is patient, and like a key in a very old lock, his hand turns, and he exhales a sigh when he can at last press his palm up into Arum's. He curls his fingers, slow, and he squeezes with what strength remains.

Violet eyes slit open in the golden morning light, and Arum blinks, staring at their joined hands for a breathless moment.

Then the breath shakes out of him, and he looks up.

"Honeysuckle," Arum whispers, and there is more relief in his voice than the word can hold. "I knew- I knew you wouldn't-"

He reaches out, and draws his claws down Damien's cheek as gentle as falling petals.

Damien feels the smile on his face like an entire garden in bloom, and Arum's violet eyes are so bright, so wide, as safe as home.

"Good morning, my love," he whispers, and when Arum's breath hitches, Damien squeezes his hand again. "Thank you for watching over me."