He had managed to make it back to their rooms after all, and the sight Jane returned to the next morning hurt her heart.
He was asleep on their bed… but not in bed per se. He was lying across the foot of it, on top of the coverlet, head cushioned on one arm and with his face buried in the shift she'd been wearing prior to dressing and making for Dragon's cave.
She'd left it flung carelessly over the footboard, and now he was clutching it the way a toddler might clutch at a security blanket, and oh, it made her ache.
She crossed the room, chewing on her lip, her ankle protesting fiercely with every step, her chest tight and throat oddly constricted. She was torn between needing to ensure that Gunther realized how deeply he'd hurt her, and wanting desperately to simply gather him into her arms and never let him go again. She was still exhausted, despite having slept for several hours snugged up to Dragon's warm bulk; and unsettled by a… a very strange dream she'd had, that she couldn't quite fully remember.
She felt as if Dragon had said something to her in this dream, had told her something important… but the more she tried to drag it into focus, the more it skittered away from her – dancing on the very edges of her consciousness, refusing to be pinned down, brought into the light, examined.
It was maddening.
But it was a riddle for another time. Right now she had to concern herself with –
His name was little more than an exhalation as she sank down on the edge of the bed. God, she was so tired. Physically and emotionally wrung dry. She didn't know if she had it in her to do this right now, to engage with him and… and weather whatever the outcome might be.
She was running on reserves as it was.
But she had to try. She couldn't just leave things as they were. Couldn't leave Gunther in this state.
He stirred, shifted a bit, and opened his eyes. They settled on her and for a moment he just looked at her, a crease appearing between his brows, seeming more puzzled than anything, as if he was just… processing her, trying to make sense of her presence there.
Then, "Jane," he croaked. "M'sorry."
Her heart gave a little lurch inside her chest. "Gunther –"
He levered himself up on one arm, reached out for her. "I can… cannot… lose you," he said hoarsely. "Jane, it – I would –" he swallowed hard. "It clouded my judgment, I… both before we rode out, and, and last night too. It… I am sorry, Jane."
Her breath hitched, then caught altogether as his fingers brushed her cheek, only to fall away again. He had dark circles under his eyes. He looked even more deeply fatigued than she felt. He looked ill.
And small wonder.
He'd almost died. DIED. She shuddered at the thought, any last vestiges of anger evaporating. She slid her hand into his, twining their fingers together.
"No, Gunther," she said, her voice nearly choked. "I am sorry. I should not have run away. It was… it was cowardly, and… less… than you deserved, and…" she swallowed convulsively. "I love you, Gunther Breech." Suddenly that seemed like the only important thing to communicate; the only important thing in the world.
"Lie down," he breathed.
She didn't make him ask her twice.
"Jane. Jane." She fought her way up through layers of sleep like shifting fog, black to charcoal to grey to –
A hand splayed beneath her head, cradling it. Another stroking the hair at her temple. Soothing, repetitive. Sleep-warm body pressed against hers, along nearly the whole length of her. Drowsy voice that she loved, dear God, so much, so much…
"Gunther?" She opened her eyes, blinked a few times, and reached to tuck a spill of dark hair behind his ear. A tiny smile had just started to curve her lips, but it faded at the expression on his face. He looked… worried. Deeply worried.
Her brows drew together. "Wh… what…?"
"You were whimpering," he said. "Dreaming again, I think. And by the sound of it, nothing good. You do not remember?"
She gave her head a tiny shake, frowning, trying to clear away the cobwebs of sleep. Tension mounting within her as she sought to pin down any lingering remnants of her dream state, and was unable. There was nothing there for her to grasp. "No, I… oh, no. Gunther, are you… I did not…?"
"You did not hit me again, Jane," he said, and now he seemed caught between amusement and exasperation. And still, that deep underlying current of concern was thrumming through him.
"Sorry," she whispered, arrested by the anxiety that was etched across his features.
"Sorry," he echoed. "For not hitting me?"
"Sorry for worrying you, beef brain. I hate that. I hate it."
"Shhh." He dropped a kiss on her forehead. "I want to worry about you. Today, tomorrow, every day, Jane, every damn day. As long as I am worrying about you, it means I still have you to worry about."
She felt the tension begin to ebb back out of her body with his calming words and the gentle, almost absent motion of his hand in her hair. It was nearly hypnotic, for a time… but then his fingers caught in a snarl.
Humming soothingly, he picked out the knot and smoothed the offending curl back down.
He brought his hand up to continue, but Jane captured his wrist, pulling it in to place a kiss on his palm. She allowed her lips to linger just a fraction longer than was necessary for such a simple little gesture - and suddenly she found herself wanting more, positively hungering… overtaken by an inarticulate but very real desire to not lose this contact. To maintain it and more than that, to deepen it further.
She skated her lips up to his wrist; dropped a second kiss there. Felt him give a small but unmistakable shudder, and raised her eyes to find him watching her intently. His eyes had darkened to the color of old iron, the way they did when he was in the grip of very strong emotion.
Emotion such as anger, or… or desire.
Her lips again began to quirk into a smile as, holding his gaze with her own, she gently scraped her teeth along the tender flesh just below the pad of his thumb. Jane had meant to tease him, but again, she found herself derailed in the act as Gunther decided to take matters into his own hands. He caught her face and his lips found hers, and then she was rising up to meet him, conscious thought wiped from her mind, needing only more, yes, more.
She pressed herself even more fully against him, one hand winding through his hair and the other bunching in the fabric on his shoulder as they fused themselves together, kissing almost frantically now, overwhelmed by their mutual relief to be alive, and together, and safe, and home.
They had come so close to losing all of this, to losing each other - so terrifyingly close.
And so now she couldn't get him close enough; she shifted beneath him, tangling their legs together, running one of hers up the side of his body, hooking it over his hips, pulling him against her even harder.
He broke the kiss with a shuddery groan, dragging his lips along the edge of her jaw, then down her throat to nuzzle at the little hollow just above her collarbone.
"Guhn… Gunther…" her voice was half whimper, half gasp. She insinuated her other leg between his, feeling her flush of anticipation deepen as she registered his… obvious state of readiness.
Her head positively swimming with her own arousal, she hooked her fingers into his waistband, tracing the smooth skin there - but Gunther had other ideas. He made a sound that was somewhere between a groan and a growl, and shifted himself more fully over her, pressing her down, into the bed. He kissed his way back up her neck, his lips on her chin, on the corner of her mouth, and then capturing hers again as he braced himself over her on one arm, his other hand moving to cup the swell of her breast, causing her to arch against him, nearly overcome by sensation.
They were utterly lost in each other, in the moment. Trembling under her touch as she trailed her fingers along the side of his body, Gunther hooked one hand under her hip, palm hot against her skin, and rolled onto his back, taking her with him.
Suddenly finding herself in the dominant position, she straddled his hips and pressed herself close over him, her wild hair curtaining them both as she moved to reclaim his lips with her own. His hands were moving restlessly, hungrily, tracing patterns all over her body; they were everywhere, they were shaking... shaking?
Why was Gunther shaking?
Something wasn't right.
She drew back and sucked in a deep breath, forcing herself to think critically - think through the panting, swirling haze that had overtaken her - and to look, really look, at her husband.
What she saw had the quelling effect of a rather large quantity of cold water.
Oh, God, Gunther. What were they doing!?
He was as white as a sheet, perspiration beading his forehead. He was in no condition for this. Heaven above, how self-centered could she be?
"Maggots," she whispered unsteadily, starting to disengage. Gunther's eyes narrowed and abruptly both his hands were firmly on her hips, holding her in place, against him. It was patently obvious that, his condition notwithstanding, he did not want to stop what they'd begun.
Well, that was just too bad.
"Gunther," she panted, "stop. We have… have to… stop."
"Why!?" His voice managed, somehow, to be both husky and plaintive all at once. It was a bizarre combination that almost set her laughing in spite of everything. She clamped down on the impulse. That would not be a good idea.
"We cannot. We…" God, her head was still spinning. She was reasserting control but it was hard, hard.
"Jane...?" Gunther's fingers tightened on her hips, making her squirm.
No. No. They were quite done with this little...exercise for the moment. Gunther was injured, and needed - Jane shook her head to clear her thoughts a bit - needed rest. Time to recover.
It would not do, however, to phrase it like that. "I cannot. I… my… my ankle."
He stared hard at her, clearly skeptical. Well, at least that meant he was also returning to a state bordering rationality. He raised an interrogative eyebrow. "This is somehow offending your… ankle."
"Um. Yes. It is sore, and …" Jane swallowed, caught. "Oh, fine. I do not want to hurt you."
Gunther hissed a breath in through his teeth, clearly ready to argue the point, and rather heatedly, by the look of it. But Jane's mind was absolutely made up.
She raised her hand, forestalling whatever rebuttal Gunther might be preparing. "Just… think of it as a postponement, all right? For the present, perhaps I should go and get us both something to eat. You must be hungry? I am famished." Even as she said it, she realized how completely it was true.
Gunther's stomach growled in response.
After that, he really couldn't rally much of an argument. Jane had won. Still, she pressed a lingering kiss to his lips even as she disentangled herself from his grasp... a consolation prize, a promise for later. Then, with a firm admonishment for him to stay in bed, she headed to the kitchens. They'd slept most of the day away; Pepper would be preparing supper by now, and she and Gunther both were in urgent need of solid, hot food.