Agnes lies awake a little longer, finding herself unable to go back to sleep while half of their group is still gone. It's odd. Though she had originally considered herself independent, alone, and had tried to remain so, she has come to truly depend and care for all of them.
Tiz's hand is warm and solid, and while his palm may be a little rougher than her own, a little scarred from the years of manual labor during his life in Norende, it's pleasant all the same. She.. likes being able to hold his hand. They have only just begun to do so, in these quiet moments when words are not enough.
She truly appreciates all that he and the others have done for her. Tiz has been there beside her for nearly her entire journey, from the very beginning at the Great Chasm, and she knows he'll be there until the very end. And here now he is with her as well, stretched out lightly over the covers she huddles under, his hair splayed out on her extra pillow, while he… snores.
She supposes that she shouldn't giggle at him while he's asleep. It's not very nice. But while she is allowed ample time to rest between awakening the Crystals, the others are not so fortunate. She is glad for the times when they are able to enjoy some peace. She truly does not mind watching over them as they watch over her.
Her own mind is working too much to make it easy to go back to sleep, but she closes her eyes all the time, listening the soothing, peaceful sound that is Tiz's breathing, and she thinks. Thinks about the future and the path she has chosen to walk. It all seemed so simple, but the more worlds they visit, the more Holy Pillars, the more changes that she sees, the more she doubts. She feels weak for doing so, as though she has failed as a Vestal if she cannot achieve this one task, but the words and the wisdom of her friends is something she has come to take very seriously.
Still, if she were to turn away from her chosen path now, what would that mean for the people and the things they've had to sacrifice- would it all be in vain? What would become of their future if she…
Agnes is pulled away from the dread building in the pit of her stomach, the turmoil of her thoughts as the door opens, bringing it with the sound of her two dear friends.
"Ugh, I'm telling you, Ringabel. You better not punish us the rest of the night by staying in those clothes," Edea is trying to be quiet, but the annoyance in her voice makes her louder, and Agnes feels Tiz's hand tighten in her own for a second as he wakes.
"No need to be concerned. A gentleman must smell his best, after all. I'll change if it bothers you so much. Or perhaps I shall sleep in-" Ringabel's voice follows, a little tired, and perhaps strained, but he sounds fine, better than he has of late.
The voices stop abruptly, and Agnes remembers a little too late that she and Tiz are perhaps in a bit of a compromising situation. She turns over to look at the door, though it's impossible to make out the expression on either person's face, with the light shining from behind them.
"Look at you!" It's Edea who speaks first, her voice rising with glee, all semblance of quiet gone. "Getting cozy while we're gone, huh?" She crosses the room and joins Agnes and Tiz in the big bed with a hop, sitting near their feet. She looks excited.
Tiz has roused completely now, sitting up to confront Edea. "It- it's not what you think!" He squeaks out, and Agnes finds herself blushing, because their hands are still joined for now at least, and because she doesn't know what they might have thought.
Ringabel joins in on the teasing. "And? What exactly do we we think it is?" The older man shuts the door behind him, drowning the room in darkness again. Agnes' eyes are still sufficiently adjusted to the darkness, however, and she watches with ease as Ringabel crosses over to their packs piled in the corner, nearly tripping on a discarded blanket as he goes. He seems less willing than usual to tease them and she doesn't whether to be relieved or concerned.
"It is nothing," she offers for Tiz, because it seems that he may need some help. His hand is very sweaty in hers, and twitching a little. It's so dark, Edea has not noticed their joined hands yet. Hopefully, she won't. "We were merely resting, is that not right?"
"Resting together?" Agnes loves Edea dearly, but the other girl's voice is teasing and light, and while gentle, that sort of teasing is a sort that Agnes is still not familiar with. She doesn't know what to make of the comment, or how to respond in an appropriate manner.
She doesn't have to. Tiz is in the same situation, after all. And Tiz has learned how to handle Edea and Ringabel much better than she has. "We fell asleep waiting for you two! What took you so long, anyway?"
It's Edea's turn to stammer, and Ringabel offers no help as he has slipped behind one of the large privacy screens in the corner of the room they use when changing in and out of night clothes. "Ringabel here was a mess, so we - I made him take a bath. You didn't want him to keep smelling like that, trust me on this one, Tiz. We would have ended up throwing him out the window."
And Agnes trusts Edea's opinion on this. Edea is much more knowledgeable about what is and isn't acceptable to deal with when it comes to what people wear and how they might smell. It makes the conversation they were having when they returned make sense, and why Ringabel is changing in the middle of the night.
She also knows it is not the first time that any of them have had to change their clothes in the middle of night. Waking up in the middle of nightmares, time after time, endlessly through the worst nights can easily make one's clothing uncomfortable with sweat and tears. Her hand squeezes Tiz's.
It is Agnes who speaks up now. "And you joined him?"
There is a pause as they all process her question, and Agnes realizes too late that she didn't quite mean it like that.
"Uh... " Edea says, very articulately. She is saved from answering by the very man himself, who sits on the opposite of the bed, closer to Tiz. Edea is right; even at this distance Agnes can tell he smells very nice, and his hair is freshly washed, falling limply down his face and neck. It is not an entirely bad look, she supposes.
"She supervised," Ringabel says, and he swings his feet up to the bed, leaning back against the wall beside the other boy. He continues on before anyone can interject. "You don't mind if we join you two, do we?"
Tiz opens his mouth to answer, but closes it, and she sees the movement in the darkness as he turns to her. It is her bed, after all. In answer, Agnes shakes her head.
"I do not mind."
Because the two are dear friends, and people she cares for deeply. They are going through this together, and though their personalities, their histories, and their opinions on their path may vary wildly, it does not change the fact that they have all been scarred by the journey. If Agnes could, she would happily erase the scars on their hearts the same way she wishes to erase the Great Chasm. To ease their minds and their very souls.
Perhaps she has not that power yet, but she can at least allow them some small comfort, even if that comfort comes in the form of relaxing together in the middle of the night. There is power in numbers, after all.
Tiz accepts her answer, and Edea takes it as a chance to get settled as well, going so far as to climb under the blankets with Agnes. She doesn't mind. It is Edea, after all, and the girl has become like a sister by now. It's nice to be so close.
And they fall quiet as they settle in.
While Agnes does sleep in the biggest, the softest bed in the room, it is not so big to easily accommodate four fully grown teenagers quickly turning into adults (unlike the bed Agnes remembers Edea and herself sharing during their brief stays in the Eternia Central Command). Still, it's cozy, and once they figure out where to put limbs, and whose hand goes where, it is even more so, and she doesn't mind the closeness.
Instead she welcomes it. Edea is snuggling down into the blankets and on her other side, Tiz's fingers are still intertwined with her own, firm and with purpose. Ringabel has taken it upon himself to take a spare blanket from one of the discarded beds, lest he and Tiz freeze before dawn (or so he says), and is settling wordlessly against Tiz's back.
"So," Edea says, and her words are muffled by the pillow she's using. "You better get some rest Agnes."
In the darkness, she frowns.
"I will be fine, Edea. Thank you for your concern. But I am not the only one who should be resting." She is the Wind Vestal, and this is her duty. But these people have willingly joined her cause, and they are her friends. She's learned to be concerned for them as well, and the fights they go through are long and hard, sometimes feeling endless. Her free hand slips under the blanket to find Edea's, and she finds comfort in the other woman's grip, even if it is not so gentle as Tiz's. "All of you should be resting as well."
"Don't worry about us," Ringabel's voice lacks some of its usual inflection, and is solemn, though strained. "Our job is not nearly important as yours, Lady Vestal."
"Yeah, it's okay, Agnes." Tiz's voice is very close, and somewhat quiet. She's tucked neatly between him and Edea, so he does not need to speak very loudly for them to hear. "We'll take care of ourselves."
She shakes her head. "That is not what I mean." It's unacceptable, she thinks privately. "You are my friends, and I will watch over you the same as you watch over me."
To that, there is silence, and the sound of the bed shifting underneath the weight of four bodies. She thinks Edea is drifting off, lulled to sleep by a warm, comfortable bed and the presence of her friends. Agnes doesn't know how the girl can sleep in nearly any circumstance, but it's the quirks of her friends that make them endearing.
"Well," Ringabel's voice breaks the silence, and it's dulled with sleepiness. In the dark she can see him on the other side of Tiz, tugging the covers over his shoulders as he settles in, a little too big to fit in with the rest of them. "We all best be getting some more sleep while we still can. I've no doubt that Airy will have us awaken the last Crystal before sundown tonight." Agnes notes the hint of bitterness in his tone, but says nothing.
"Very well," she agrees, and after a moment of thought, finally untangles her hand from Tiz's. It would be impractical to try to sleep while holding it, even though the comfort and warmth is invaluable. Instead, she lifts his hand and kisses the back of his calloused fingers. "Goodnight Tiz," she says.
"Agnes?" His voice is quiet but shocked, perhaps embarrassed. But she squeezes his hand before tucking it at his side and he says nothing more.
"And you, Edea." She continues, and her cheeks are growing warm now because she was not raised to show affection very easily. But Edea was, and Edea does. So Agnes returns that favor, turning to kiss the other girl's hand before tucking that inside the blanket as well. "Goodnight and thank you."
Her only response is a muffled groan, Edea already mostly asleep. But there's a smile on the girl's face that Agnes can only just make out in the dim light.
Finally, she turns back the other direction. "And you, Ringabel." She holds out a hand.
There's a pause. Of course he would have seen what she was doing. "Is that not the job of the gentleman?" He asks, but he places his hand in hers anyway. She appreciates his playing along with her whims.
"Perhaps, but just this once. After all, I would not be here if it were not for you. All of you." And she kisses the back of Ringabel's hand as well. When she releases it, he pulls it back gingerly, and holds it against his chest for a moment.
"Goodnight, Agnes," he tells her, and his voice is soft. There's a sadness to his voice that's painful to hear, but a sadness she feels all too often herself. She knows enough not to press on it, but she wishes that someday, in the near future, his voice is free from that pain.
"Goodnight," she says, and she finally settles back into the bed, sandwiched firmly between her friends. It is… different. But it's warm, and comforting, and she slips back into sleep faster than she has in a long time.
Some nights are better than others. This night is one of them.
Thank you for reading!