Typically, the human had no trouble silencing his cellphone and surrounding himself by the brightly colored palettes, stark white canvas, and large windows that formed his studio. Today was a different matter entirely. Caleb was distracted. He lay back on the wooden floor, staring up at the roof, and balancing a paintbrush between his thumb and forefingers. It was his favorite paintbrush. One could even say it was lucky. It had belonged to his mother and painted many a great piece before he’d taken it into his own hands. He swept the brush across his wrist, trying to stir some image to his mind. Normally, the cherry wood and soft horse hair bristles would ground him. Right now, they only seemed to tickle. Focus. Where was his focus? 

He sat halfway up, gazing at the fan which spun above him. The past few days were playing again in his brain. He’d pinched himself six times in the last few minutes. It was definitely real. He closed his eyes, letting the air blow over his face. Perhaps if he just let his mind wander. Images danced back into his mind. The dock. The flowers. Her blonde hair falling across her eyes. His hands everywhere. Her fingers in his hair.

Play it cool. Already, the confusion that had reigned in his mind was fading into the background, replaced by a steady, but shy satisfaction. Play it cool.

The Frenchman banished the images from his mind, covering his eyes. What was happening? What was wrong with him? Art was the one thing that he’d always been able to connect with no matter what. Even in past relationships, his time with his ideas and sketchbooks had sometimes dominated his presence in the moment. Now? Now it was the total opposite. Caleb groaned and carefully stashed the brush away. He needed a cold shower. An ice bucket would be helpful, really. As he resigned himself to the fact that there would be no painting done today, there was a soft knock at the door. He peered through the window and it only took a moment for his blue eyes to focus on Tavia. 

He grinned sheepishly, and opened the door, and stuffing his hands in his pockets. She was his confidant, his bias. Why, on today of all days, did he have to forget almost every English word he knew? In that silence, his could not avoid her beautiful green eyes. Something inside him melted with relief. However, he continued to stand in the doorway, slightly mesmerized by her sudden appearance. Ai. Oh mon dieu. Say something! Something English.

“Hi.” He scratched the back of his neck, turning quite pink. What was the word? “It’s....” He wanted to lift her close and inhale her flowery shampoo. Terribly distracted by the fuzzy feelings inching around his body, Caleb chuckled. “Je suis desole, Octavia.”

Frenchglish. Of course. He might have been losing his bilingual brain, but artists weren’t naturally good speakers. He could communicate everything he needed without words. The stupid grin refused to leave his face, but Caleb’s gaze was soft as he reached for her hand. His grasp was gentle, but firm. It took a bit of effort, but he managed to translate before speaking this time. “What a...nice surprise. Good morning, Tay.”

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She smiled when he mentioned his traditions, there was a wistful expression on his face which told her he enjoyed the holidays much like she did “You stay up all night?” she questioned and raised her brows in surprise, well she’d never done that before, she was always the kind to have a hot chocolate and get into her PJs on Christmas even before falling asleep pretty early on to some cheesy movie they’d decided to put on “I think I’d be grumbling too” she empathized and laughed softly “Never been much of a morning people myself...I’m not sure I understand the people that are” she chuckled softly.

She giggled and scrunched her nose playfully when he said he was a disaster at baking “How bad are we talking?” she commented and grinned slightly, she was a pretty good cook herself having practiced a lot over the years but she would hardly call herself an expert, she just did it for fun when she had the time. “How about I bake the cookies and then we can put your artistic expertise to work on the icing” she compromised with a smile.

As they got on the move again once more, her eyes were vigilant, she was certain they were getting closer to the flower, she had somewhat of a sixth sense for magic by now after spending so much time alongside the aspect of magic. Her eyes scanned the area, noticing how things felt just the smallest bit surreal, nothing the average person would even take into account but they were in the woods and yet there was a distinct lack of sound coming from the wildlife.

She was pulled from her hyper-aware state when he spoke again and she looked up at him for a moment, she noticed the concern in his gaze but also the way there was hope there too, she understood airplanes were a complicated thing for him after everything that had happened and by no means was she ever going to force him into something he was uncomfortable with “Of course…” she spoke in a soft voice “I mean obviously we would need to plan it but” she shrugged and smiled “I’d love to see where you came from” she bit her lip when he said he would have a vice grip on her hand “And the vice grip only assures me you won’t let go” she assured him and nodded.

Caleb smiled when she mentioned wanting to see his hometown and tucked it away into a folder in his mind labeled 'someday'. There was a lot of effort that went into planning a trip like that. It couldn't exactly be spur of the moment. He tucked his hands into his pockets as they continued walking and watching. "Well," He tilted his head. How much of a disaster was he at baking? It had been quite a while since he'd even attempted such a thing. It was more than fair to say he'd had a fair share of smoke alarms or death-defying cupcakes when his mother had tried to teach him. "I suppose that my worst was the time I tried making a birthday cake for a friend and it never cooked. I added three and a quarter cups of water, instead of three quarters. Needless to say, it was not edible." 

"I haven't tried recently. I am easily distracted when it comes to the kitchen and baking is so specific. It has very little room for spontaneity. Even in other cooking, it can be more relaxed. If you use measurments wrong in cookies or bread, it changes the entire result." Caleb noted. "I am much better suited to those projects that aren't so detail oriented. Or, if they are, at least I can make up the details."

He grinned as she suggested that she bake, and he decorate. "You're on. Let me know the next time you have a sweet tooth."

"Also, I just grew up with others who loved to bake. So my lack of skill was never really a problem. I just enjoyed their efforts." He chuckled, looking ahead at the horizon. The sun was still bright, but he could tell that golden hour was approaching soon. Hopefully, their efforts would soon be rewarded. It would be good to get back to the river before dark.

"What kind of flower are we looking for?" Caleb asked. He was decently familiar with wildlife, but enchanted flower could mean an ordinary flower which was enchanted or a full on magical plant. Like Jack in the Beanstalk, or Beauty and the Beast. He wasn't sure that he was up for fighting trolls, or combatting magic love spells today. That sounded a bit daunting.

The next time that he glanced up, there was a faint glow in a patch of tall grass towards the left. It wasn't sunlight, because it was purple. The dust seemed to dance in the air around it, as if suspended. He jerked his head in that direction. "I'd like to assume that there is a protocol for rebellious plants?"

She was watching him with an amused sparkle in her eyes when he explained how his baking had gone wrong “Well that definitely sounds like the grounds for a sloshy mess” she teased playfully and tilted her head slightly, she was pretty good at baking but she stuck pretty religiously to any recipe she was working with. “Well the good news is you wouldn’t make that mistake again” she teased softly and grinned. “But you’re right, it’s not really the kind of hobby that allows for much...flair...at least not until you get really good at estimating things anyway” still, it was always nice when you made food and everyone came to the kitchen to see what was going on.

Good food could definitely bring people together “I’ll find the recipe for something really tasty then” she commented and bit her lip softly “After all, I can’t disappoint you with the first meal I get to make you, that would hurt my reputation” she chided in a soft voice and smiled, she looked forward to having the opportunity.

“It’s hard to tell, what we’ve been reported of is a rare type of flower that doesn’t seem to belong...so we’re going to be looking for anything that doesn’t seem to fit in” which she was sure would be a clue, if she knew anything about magic it was that it was always moving and changing so they should be prepared for anything. She laughed under her breath when he commented about a protocol for rebellious plants “Not an official one but some sound advice is to keep your hands to yourself and don’t stare too closely” she could see the faint purple light.

She held her sword out front as they slowly made their way towards the light and she pulled back some of the leaves that were in the way. What happened next however was a shower of butterflies took off from the spot around them, almost blinding her vision because of how brightly they glowed, clearly influenced by the magic that had been polluting this place. She pursed her lips for a moment and reached for her bag until she pulled out a small bracelet which she offered out to him “Guards have these protective charms, they don’t work miracles but they do give us some magical resistance in case we come in contact with a nasty spell...call it a loophole in case something nasty happens” with that she kept heading forwards, expecting the trail of weird things to only widen from here.

Caleb ordinarily was far from rebellious. He liked rules and generally believed that they made the world a safer and better place, but for some reason, baking brought out the mad scientist inside his normally even tempered persona. Which is why it never exactly went according to plan. Perhaps if he did it with Octavia, her sensibilities would even that out.

He slipped the bracelet onto his wrist as it was presented to him. It was leather with a slight metal piece and three solid stones in the center. He didn’t give a second thought when she said it was a protective device. He may not have had many encounters with magic, but the ones he remembered were significant enough to know it was a force to be reckoned with.
The small field of light around the flower seemed to be generating as much random matter as it could to keep away intruders.

Caleb would like to have said that he wasn’t shocked to see the florescent butterflies come direcfly towards him, but he was. He ducked quickly and they burst into sparkles just beyond his reach.
It seemed that his steps required more effort as they approached. What would normally take two steps became twenty.
The light effected the area much like a forcefield. Gravity seemed stronger.

He kept his guard up as they advanced and let her take the lead. It didn’t feel natural to let a woman go head first into what many would call a dangerous area without stepping up in front, but Octavia was quite clearly in her element. In plenty of ways, it was his turn to just stand back and watch. 

It was a genuine struggle to get within the last yard of the enchanted plant, but once Caleb could see it with his own eyes, he could tell that it was not one plant at all. It was six or seven flowers which had become tangled together into a giant stalk. The stems were droopy, almost sad, under the weight of the giant, malformed bouquet.His aunt had always said that a well-managed garden kept grouchers at bay. It looked like this poor azalea hadn’t had a good tending too in a while.

Caleb felt a smidge of compassion, but before it could stick one of the roots came surging towards his feet. The heaviness of the air made it difficult to move away in time, but he managed. Barely. “Ai!” He yelped, taking a bit of a tumble onto the dirt. “I was just thinking you deserved a nice tending to — that was rude.”

Talking to plants seemed beyond normal to him. He’d grown up amongst a family of gardeners. Oddly, it seemed that the magical root shrunk back when he spoke, almost apologetically.

Still suspicious, Caleb stayed put on the ground, glancing up at Octavia. “Plants don’t usually have ears do they?”

The butterflies were only the tip of the iceberg, she knew that much, magic had a way of tainting everything it touched when it was left to run wild and that was exactly what they were experiencing right now. It was beautiful in a way but also scary, to see how lettings things lie could lead to an entire place becoming overrun “Is it me or does everything feel heavier right now?” she murmured noting the pull her sword suddenly had on her arm.

She had been through far worse than the spilling over of magic from a flower though, just a few months ago the guard had accompanied the aspect of magic to a citadel that was entirely glamored to look run down and ruined. She had been tested with illusions of the mind designed to ensure her strength and her commitment to her cause. After you experienced that, it was almost numbing to face other lesser situations.

Even she gasped as the plant came into view though, it had become overgrown and unruly in the time it had been here but she could also see how it had drained the essence from around it, glancing in all directions you could see the way other trees and plants had been sapped of their energy to feed the center. “Mal has a whole greenhouse of plants like this, left to their devices like this, the magic flowers out and starts polluting around it, instead of being nurtured” she murmured softly.

Octavia moved protectively when the vines lashed for Caleb, immediately putting herself between him and it before it could take another swing, though it didn’t go for her, perhaps because it sensed that the weapon in her hands wasn’t simply for sure “It won’t survive for much longer here, it’s fighting for it’s right to grow” she commented thoughtfully.

“Are you okay?” she turned to him concerned for a moment to ensure he hadn’t injured himself. She shrugged when he asked if plants have ears “I think it’s best to assume the impossible is possible when it comes to magic” she whispered “We’re not here to hurt you...we’re here to bring you to safety” she assured, feeling a little crazy but hoping if the plant could hear her, it would understand.

Before Octavia mentioned it, Caleb had barely noticed how the color had faded away from the rest of the ground, especially the nature. The trees behind them drooped. The grass was withered. Only the magical plant itself seemed alive. In fact, it was so colorful that Caleb almost thought it was more saturated than anything else he’d ever seen. It was vibrant. The air around it was thick and seemed to shimmer. His curiosity was piqued. If the bracelet had not been protecting him, the human was certain that the engenuity of the situation would have drawn him in very quickly. Almost, impulsively. He did not know enough about magic to know that it was deadly with only a small snap of the fingers.

The fall to the ground was rough. The ground was rocky and they were situated on a hill. He barely managed to escape falling further down it, but the small amount of running that he did enabled a quickly recovery. Still, Caleb winced slightly as he got up. “Might bruise. I’ve seen worse.” 

He’d broken his arm and his nose as a child. A bruise was nothing for a hearty adventurer. He let her shift in front of him, her stance bold and strong.

The plant seemed more interested in Caleb, perhaps, because he’d spoken first. “You don’t seem at home in this dry ground. Flowers like yours need a lot of water and rain. If you’ll let down your guard, I’m sure Octavia will kindly help you get there.”

He smiled. His eyes were soft as he gazed upwards at her. “I promise. I trust her.” 

His voice was very steady, very gentle — as if he were approaching an injured animal. “Will you let us help?”

There was a momentary pause, but soon after the thick magic shield that surrounded the tangled flower released into a strong puff of purple smoke. Caleb coughed, waving it away. Inside the circle, the color was returning to the ground but just as quickly the flower was wilting. He looked up at Octavia, with his brows furrowed with what looked like a true mix of compassion and worry. “Looks like we’re on a clock. How do we help?”

Octavia was rarely shaken by anything like this anymore, she had seen so much of the extraordinary in the world that perhaps she had become a little numb to it, still, it was beautiful, the way the flower had managed to keep itself going in such a barren area, it had drawn energy from the trees around because that was all there was to reach for and it was evident that it wasn’t going to be enough, magic needed power and the sunlight wasn’t going to be enough for such a specimen.

Her first instinct when Caleb fell was to run to him, but the guard instincts in her made her stand her ground, she had learned never to turn her back on danger and always to face it directly, that was how you stayed alive, sometimes you couldn’t allow your emotions to cloud your judgment because it could lead to tragedy “Good, be careful on it...I’ll treat it for you later” she nodded slightly.

He had a certain compassion and softness in his voice that was impossible to ignore, it was almost like the word form of a warm hug and it certainly seemed to work. They had to be quick on their feet here because anything going wrong could cause catastrophic results, either to them or the wildlife that lived here in the forest. Her brows furrowed as she considered what to do next “We’re not going to have to time to drive it back to the manor...so I think our only option is to try and conjure a portal” but given neither of them were diviners, that would be challenging.

She reached into her bag and pulled out a small glass item which looked like a mirror, except when you looked inside, it instead showed you a place you were thinking of. She had the privilege of getting to handle many magical items in her ways, given that she worked for the aspect of magic but it was rarely she used them. “I have strong memories of the greenhouse at the manor, perhaps if we channel enough energy we should be able to send it there...I can get word to Mal to get it the care it needs there” she murmured softly as she stared at the looking glass.

“But magic comes with a price, if we want to...manipulate how this memory turns out, we’ll need to give a memory up ourselves” she commented softly and she had the feeling to be able to move something so...powerful they were going to need an important one.

There was a certain tension that hung in the air after the magical flower releases it’s shield. He could tell that Octavia was treating this was it should be treated - an urgent matter. Caleb was much better at helping others recover from the aftermath of a tragedy than actually being in one, but he was glad that she trusted him enough to be by her side. Perhaps, in time, he’d learn new skills. The color bleeding onto the ground began reaching the trees, but unlike he had suspected they did not regain life. The bark began to smoke. In only a few seconds, what had once been a great palm stood in a pile of ash. His gentleness faded into a blank slate of caution. His lips were pressed into a firm line as he watched the colorful steam gliding over rocks and towards them.

She was right. This wasn’t a good thing. Nowhere near it. He’d thought that it had been better to try making some kind of advance, but perhaps the forcefield hadn’t been protecting the plant from the world. It had been protecting the world from the plant. He instinctively reached for Octavia’s free hand, backing away swiftly down the hill. “Whatever we have to do.”

There was no hesitation as he said it, despite that Caleb’s memories were perhaps the most precious things to him. The good and the bad. His fear of old age wasn’t of actually dying. It was of forgetting the life that he had lived. 

The colorful smoke was still advancing as he took both of her hands to give her a lift onto the rock they’d previously taken shelter on. Perhaps the stone would give them a half-step of advantage. If anything, they just needed a few more moments of time. Did it need to be a mutual memory? The ones they’d had together had been so good. The first time they talked. The first moment there was more. The time they fell asleep in the grass after talking all night. The first time they kissed. The first time they’d been together. Their very first adventure. He didn’t want to forget that, but despite everything it was terrifying to think of leaving behind the pain that had made him who he was now. The young man let out a deep breath as he grasped onto the small mirror, placing his hand over hers. Their eyes met. The fear was mutual, despite that his was more visible. Caleb pulled her close to himself, wrapping his strong arms around her shoulders and balancing his forehead against hers.

“Okay.” He nodded, focusing his mind on the one night that still sometimes burned into his sleep. The night he’d lost his son. “Let’s forget together.”

Octavia probably seemed pretty calm for a pressing situation but that was just her nature as a guard, she had always been the kind of person who could put the job before other things and honestly you needed to be able to do so in order to do what they did, there were times when what was asked of her was hard or scary but she understood and trusted in those who were running the faction and she was willing to face whatever it was she was up against for the cause.

She could see how out of place this flower was in its environment, with nothing to sustain it, it had to resort to draining the life out of whatever was around it and that would only continue, the larger and stronger it became the more magic if would need to feed and that would cycle around until neither sides could survive. Her gaze softened when he immediately agreed to making the sacrifice, for her it was a given but for him, he never committed to something like this and giving up a memory was hard.

“Mal is not going to be happy about us delivering this gift to her unannounced” she commented thoughtfully, still, it was now in the interest of both their safety and this entire forest for the two of them to safely deliver it to the greenhouse. When he offered out his hands she took them and pulled up on top of the rock, she could see the swirling smoke as it bounced and rolled below, she had to wonder what would happen if it managed to touch either of them but she wasn’t curious enough to take that kind of risk.

She softened her gaze slightly to reassure him “You won’t remember that it ever happened so choose carefully” it took her a few seconds to consider what she should forget and then she pressed her lips together. She only had vague recollection of what happened the night Vlad died, but the things she did remember, they were painful and gruesome. She could never forget that he was lost, there was far too much tied to that, but she was ready to stop agonizing herself over the little details.

She held Caleb close as she nodded “It won’t hurt but it will be intense, stay holding onto me because you may pass out...I’ll protect you” with that she projected her memory of good times in the greenhouse first, allowing its vision to appear on the screen and when the mirror started glowing, she shifted her thoughts to the one she would give up. The moment she did that her body went tense as the magic allowed itself to connect with her mind.

At first, all that Caleb could feel was Octavia’s strong and reassuring grip around his torso. There was a rushing sound as the magical portal opened. If he could imagine standing inside a tornado, it would have been like that. He squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for the kind of pain that Octavia had described, but it didn’t come. Not immediately, not as he expected. Instead, a memory that had become hazy in recent years surged to the front of his mind. 

He could see himself. There were lights flashing. The noise of a siren rushed through his ears. Now, all he could do was freeze as he saw his prior self being loaded into an ambulance with an utterly distressed red head. Everything was very cold, but he hadn’t noticed. All he could focus on was her voice. The way that it cried for him — but all he could do was helplessly hold her hand.

Everything that day had been a whirlwind and now he was standing inside another looking back at something which had haunted him for years. Caleb’s mind looked away for a moment and time moved forwards into a dark room. His left hand was numb from her squeezing. There were doctors whispering around them in white coats. All he noticed was the blur as an oxygen mask was placed over her face and the bed was wheeled into surgery. Without him. Always, without him.

The human had never experienced magic; not really, not like this. It seemed to pulse through each fiber of his mind and body, electric. It was in his head where the pain began. Slow, aching, as he watched the familiar scene become darker and darker.

There was turmoil inside him as he watched two of the people he’d once loved most in the world shatter like glass. He didn’t want to forget. He fought against the ache in his temples, but that only compounded its strength. He watched, helpless, as the final hours of tragedy played back in his head. An empty bassinet. His former fiancée lying catatonic, alone. Signing the smallest death certificate he’d ever seen. The last jolt was the worst pain he could remember. It surged through his head and his legs began to sway. In one last moment, everything seemed to settle with an alarming sense of emptiness. Then, it was all black. Despite Octavia’s strength, the human crumbled like a rag doll onto the rocks, completely drained of energy with a slow haze slipping over his biggest fears.

The moment the mirror started to take effect she felt her whole body coming over with a haze, she was familiar with the effect of magic but it still felt foreign to her to experience it every time. She closed her eyes as she faded into her memories. There was blood everywhere, mixed with her tears which she couldn’t stop from falling as she clutched against Vlad’s chest.

She was struggling to breathe as she cried, her head was pounding and she knew she needed to pull away, to leave him but she couldn’t bring herself to do so. She remained over him protectively, as though she could protect him from what hurt him but it was too late for that. She knew he was gone, she knew because he hadn’t turned to ash like he always did whenever he rebirthed and she kept waiting for it to happen and it didn’t.

Her chest felt heavy as she came to the realization that eventually she was going to have to get up from this spot and stand again, it seemed impossible given the pain and sadness that was threatening to eat her alive. All her mind could think about was how all those good memories she had were never going to happen again. She wasn’t sure if the pain from the magic or the memory of the pain she had felt that night was worse.

But as the vision began to fade, she accepted that she was ready to forget that night, she was ready to move on from the feeling of never being happy again and she was going to embrace whatever chances she had at happiness again. She knew Vlad would never want her to be in pain the way she was every time this memory haunted her, he would want her to remember him with a smile.

When she awoke her arms were still wrapped tightly around Caleb’s frame. She stroked his hair gently as she shifted so he was laying against her, she could tell he was overwhelmed by the magic and it would take some time to recover. Her eyes moved over towards the area where the plant was before, where it had been standing before was a bed of poppy flowers in its wake. She smiled softly knowing their mission had been a success and pressed a soft kiss against Caleb’s temple.

She couldn’t remember what memory she had chosen to sacrifice but it had to be worth it to see the forest thriving once more like this.

It was dark by the time that Caleb awoke. There were crickets chirping softly in the trees and the grass underneath this head was soft. He hadn’t remembered there being grass in the valley before. It had been harsh, red dirt; but after their magical intervention it was plush and vibrant again. He could see that even in the evening light.There was a fire by his feet that was warming his body after the stress of the day. He had passed out after the interaction with magic, just like Octavia had said he would. All that remained now was a slight headache that pulsed in his temples and a vague sense of de ja vu. There was only blankness to draw on when wondering what he was forgetting. Oddly enough, the lapse didn’t bother him. The quiet in his mind was peaceful. He was used to constantly battling the stress and now it was simply silent.There was a blanket wrapped around his shoulders and Caleb snuggled into the soft wool. It wasn’t the only thing hugging him, though. Her body was softly knit around his back, warm and soothing. The fire crackled at their feet giving off ambient light that flickered into the night. He rolled over to face the young woman beside him and admired the gentle features of her face, as she lay with her eyes closed.

It had been a big day and, truly, their first big adventure together. The sense of warmth inches from his toes until it melted in his chest. Caleb pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead and closed his eyes too.He didn’t really know the words that would describe how he felt about her. She was kind, yet strong. Quiet, but stubborn. One of the best things was that he never really had to have words around her, if they weren’t there. It seemed that he could exist naturally as an introvert in her presence, while so many others had tried to force him into talking. Ever since that night they’d spent together, enchanted, hidden away, swept up by everything — he hadn’t been able to rest. Now, in the moonlight around their campsite, he finally could. Caleb wrapped his arm around her shoulders, snuggling close, while he stared up at the night sky. Perhaps, he should have been sleeping, but his mind was all caught up in conversations with the moon. He’d had them often, ever since he was a little boy. The moon was good at keeping secrets. Sometimes beauty and the emotion that came with nature was overwhelming, but tonight, his eyes kept wandering from the sky and back towards her. “Bon notte, la lune.” Caleb whispered. “Have you ever fallen in love?”

The moon was silent, but the soft glow was comforting. He wondered. With all the stories about moonlight and lovers, perhaps the celestial beings had feelings of their own. He wouldn’t call it impossible. Ai.” Caleb rose to his feet, gently replacing himself under her head with his jacket, neatly folded. He was lucky that he’d grown up in the country and had developed cat’s feet. Otherwise, he’d have been afraid of waking her. His words weren’t ones he was sure he knew how to say, not to her. Not yet. Speaking his first language made that easier to conceal, although he knew in time that it would wear off and she’d understand his coded words. His gaze slipped from the stars, backwards. Where it always landed, these days. “I am so confused.”

He was so happy; but he’d never been so close to opening up so fully again. His emotions had lead him head first, and it was beautiful. Every shared secret. Every touch. Every kiss. Every word. It seemed to wash away the marks of his pain; yet, here he was — awake. The moon, however, did not have an answer for him. It hummed a gentle tranquility that could quell his worry, but not bolster his courage. Caleb settled onto the ground beside her, pulling the blanket over both of their bodies. It was a true relief when she snuggled against him, again. He pressed a soft kiss to her temple, breathing in the scent of her floral shampoo. “Sweet dreams.” He closed his eyes, pulling her tightly against him. If she was awake, he couldn’t have said it yet, but the permission of darkness gave him courage. “Je’taime, Octavia. Je’taime.”

His eyelids fluttered closed and rest came for the first time in many days. Only the cheerful flutter of dawn awoke him again. It wasn’t surprising to see her awake before himself. His rest had been so deep that the confessions of the night previous were nearly forgotten. Caleb came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist with a cheerful smile. “Good morning. How’d you sleep, beautiful?”

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