"It's a dream."

Xesh wakes up to the words, clings to them like he is drowning—it's a dream, it's a dream, it's a dream—he's safe, he'd escaped, he's free. And yet, a part of him is still whispering that it's all a lie, that this is the dream, that he will wake truly in a moment, back on his master's ship.

He sits up just as he feels hands on his shoulders, and concern and worry enveloping him like an embrace.

Shae looks like she's just woken up too, her hair spilling around her face instead of braided tightly around her head. He reaches up, to her face, trailing the outline of her cheek almost without realizing what he does—he just needs to be sure that she is here, she's real and this is not a dream.

"It's just a dream," she repeats, her arms sliding around him. He leans into the embrace, his breathing still coming in short panicked gulps, but slowly, he is calming down.

"I woke you again," he says after a moment, once he can think clearly again. It's not the first time it had happened—the… bond between them had only grown stronger with time, and now, when they are close enough he can always sense what she is feeling. And so can she.

"And nothing has changed since the last time," Shae replies, and looks at him with a reassuring smile. "You're hurt and that's not your fault. I want to help you—and if it means occasionally waking up in the middle of the night, then I will do that."

"It's not occasionally," he says and yet, he can't let go.

He feels her fingers comb through his hair. "Was it the same as last night?"

He nods. "Yes. I… Do you think- Maybe you shouldn't risk so much and keep me away from- I want to help, but- but what if it's true? What if they do take me back and-"

He can't finish the sentence, the words catching in his throat.

Shae does understand, nevertheless—he'd told her about the nightmare before. He feels her hands on his cheeks, and her forehead touches his for a moment.

"You can feel what I feel," she says softly. "So, why can't you see yourself the way I see you?"

"I-"

She presses a finger to his lips then and pulls away.

"I… wasn't sure if I should tell you—there's a war, we both can die at any moment, but if I don't- if I die and you never know, or if you die and never know—I don't think I can bear that," she says. He feels—like warmth and safety, like- "I love you."

Like he does. She feels the same as he feels for her. The realization takes away his voice or any ability to reason. Something only stirs when he has to blink to see clearly and feels something warm and wet on his cheeks.

She's still waiting for an answer—he isn't sure why—surely, she can sense everything from him, but it seems important that he says something. And he can't. So he reaches out, pulls her close and holds her.

"Don't go," he says, but this isn't what he wants to say, so he tries again. "I love you too."

Shae looks up, and for a moment, he thinks she's going to pull away, but she smiles at him and brushes her hand against his cheek.

"I'm not going anywhere," she says.

Xesh leans forward then and kisses her cheek. After a moment, she turns and suddenly he feels her lips on his—and it's pleasant, but completely strange too. It doesn't last long either—he hesitates, doesn't know what to do and she pulls away.

"Sorry—I didn't mean to startle you," she says and starts to pull her hand away from his face too.

"It's not that," he says. "I don't really know how any of this works."

"Do you want me to teach you?" Shae asks.

He nods. "Please."