They'd shared tents, campfires, and rooms when the inns were packed, but this was the first time they had shared a bed. It wasn't for a lack of vacancies, either.
When Agnès woke to the rosy light of dawn creeping in through the windows, it took a moment for it to sink in that she was truly in Tiz's bed, lying against him. His body was warm at her back, his arm had wrapped around her sometime in their sleep, and though she knew they were both somewhat decent, she flushed when she shifted her leg under the cotton blanket and her heel bumped into his thigh. He was wearing his drawers, she knew that. He wasn't naked. He was simply…in possession of more bared skin than she was accustomed to touching. The contact was pleasant, but flustering. She whimpered before she caught herself and swallowed, looking over her shoulder in expectation of seeing Tiz stirring awake. He had been such a light sleeper sometimes, though Ringabel had said he began to sleep better after they found Egil and since then only had problems if he was stressed about something.
His face was still slack with sleep. He was resting well enough that she hadn't woken him. Good. She would be very displeased if life in Caldisla were causing him undue stress, but no, it seemed to be treating him well. She'd noticed an improvement in his face as soon as they reunited: the two years they'd traveled together had seen a still boyish face grow sharper, more adult, and the change had been so gradual that she'd never realized it had been a bit pinched and drawn towards the end—not until now. He'd never been too thin, and she suspected the Drunken Pig's proprietress was to thank for that; she still remembered a morning after they'd begun to realize the connection between the Holy Pillar and the Great Chasm, something that would have been enough to make anyone lose their appetite, let alone the sole survivor of the chasm's opening. Tiz had asked for just juice, but the proprietress had a retort in the form of a plate of his favorite breakfast foods, already cooked, and she had kept him company as he ate. It would have been so easy for one of them to burn themselves out in the stress of all the fighting and endless cycles and discoveries of just what was truly happening, but the older woman had never allowed any of them to neglect their appetites. So Tiz hadn't been unhealthy, but he had been getting worn, just as all of them must have. A few months of a much more peaceful life had seen his face subtly fill out again in a way that was very pleasing, especially when he smiled.
He had smiled at her so many times last night. And demonstrated his fondness for her in other ways, too. Even now, he was holding her to him. Agnès raised the sheet to cover her lower face, feeling embarrassed though she was the only person awake to witness her fluster. She wondered if maybe she shouldn't feel more cautious than giddy; she was going to be the first vestal to have a relationship while performing her duty, with no intention of hiding it or stepping down because of it. But that wasn't a choice she'd made on a whim. She truly wanted to know if she could have the freedom to fulfill both her duty and her heart's desires. And not only because she loved Tiz. There was too much doubt now about the dictates of the Orthodoxy that she had once considered ironclad. She didn't want herself, or any future vestal, to be held back from a person who gave them strength because of an arbitrary mandate passed down by a corrupt organization. Now the the crystals were calmed, and the vestalings were making progress in their training, it was no longer a risk for Luxendarc if it turned out there was a real basis for the vestal's vow to be wed to the crystal alone. She would be disgraced, but she could accept that. Tiz had been so shocked when she said that last night, she'd been afraid for a moment that she'd acted too late and his feelings had changed since their journey, but… if his feelings were as tender as the way he held her even now, in his sleep, she didn't think she needed to worry on that account. He'd just been worried for her sake.
She had no illusions that there would be no obstacles in the path she had chosen. But she had started down it now, so there was no point in denying herself a moment of pleasure when it arose. …Of course, it would be nicer to enjoy the moment with Tiz awake. Agnès peeked over her shoulder once more at his calm expression, then worked on turning herself over from within his arm's grasp. The task was complicated enough that the mattress was constantly shifting with her weight, and as she started to settle back down his eyes were starting to flutter open, their focus drifting toward her with a sleepy bemusement. His fingers even tensed on her slightly, as though questioning her presence. She leaned forward and gave him a peck on the cheek, ignoring the slight scratch of his day-old stubble; perhaps that would jog his memory.
It certainly got his eyes blinking awake faster. "…Agnès," he breathed. "…I almost thought I dreamed that."
She let out a soft huff, growing shy as her face grew hotter again; she didn't know how to take the comment. He wouldn't hope their discussion had been a dream, would he? Perhaps… if he regretted something he'd said…
Catching her frown, he seemed to realize his words hadn't had the best effect, coaxing her with his hand to lean in again as he pushed himself up to look her in the eyes. "I-it was a good dream! A very good dream. Better reality."
He kissed her on the lips then, and she returned it with a small giggle. He'd babbled again. He'd done that quite a number of times the night before. Tiz was always so earnest about his feelings, but sometimes he could not get his tongue to cooperate with him. He still managed. Just now, he'd set her at ease again. "It was real. I do—I do love you, Tiz."
The way he kept smiling at those words, so full and bright, made her wish she'd said them so much sooner. "And I love you," he answered.