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She knelt and her whole head, whole body, screamed that she should not. But she did and she pulled the helmet off, revealing a mop of blonde hair and blue eyes so pale that the sky might as well have been reflected in them. She thought she could see the ghost of a cloud flickering across his open stare. His death had swallowed him and now he was a ghost of the boy who had come at her from behind, a ghost of the child through whom she had put her sword. No matter how she tried not to kneel at his side and mourn, her dreams were the same as her memories. Inescapable.
Bren's stomach rolled. She set the helmet aside and looked down at the wound in his belly. He was so young. Bren was young, but this boy was a child. Even in death the flip of his hair was boyish, the small mouth, the unscarred hands clasping his sword. He had not yet lost the baby fat on his cheeks. The flies buzzing intermittently around him seemed immature too, not willing to set down just yet. The battlefield smelled. The boy stank. He couldn't be more than fifteen. Bren braced herself with a hand on the ground, held herself up against the knowledge that she had spilled his intestines. His organs were rotting on the ground because of her sword. She had to catch herself with her other hand, unaware that she had slumped until she saw her own tears on his death-white arm.
He looked at her. His mouth opened, ravens flew at her, and he said –
Bren lurched awake, sitting up before she was even fully awake, one hand coming up as though calling for a halt. The darkness pressed on her eyes when she opened them and, for a long moment, all she saw were the feathers of black birds. She was crying. Her chest heaved with the sound of it, the lack of sound, the silent sob before she put a hand over her wet eyes. She had a feeling Rhys had woken when she had, but she couldn't look at him yet. The horror sat unopened, an egg uncracked inside her, as though she hadn't already shared this part of herself with him. Rhys knew everything. She couldn't keep secrets from him if she tried, and he should know what his wife had done.
The lurching of the woman beside him and the racking sob that fought its way out of her had pierced his own sleep and had him fully awake in seconds, his still-foggy brain grasping the situation quickly: his wife, crying.
She sat upright beside him, but made no movement toward him, or away; she seemed utterly still except for the hands that went to her face, perhaps frozen in shock.
"Bren?" Rhys whispered gently, his voice rough with the dregs of the sleep he'd abandoned. He sat upright, too, wasting no time in reaching out to her with one hand on the small of her back and the other resting on one of her legs, offering a reassuring touch without worsening her overwhelmed state.
Though he was plagued less frequently by them now, his own dreams had been twisted into nightmares for years. To find their roles reversed now - for his conscience to find peace because of Bren's unwavering support while her own suffered from the weight of her duties - seemed unfair.
"Bren," he repeated her name with concern heavy in his tone, moving his hand from her leg to brush her hair away from her face, thumb rubbing against a wet streak on her cheek, "What's wrong?"
The irony of the situation was not lost on her. For most of their time together, it had been Rhys who was plagued by nightmares of faraway horrors. She was quick to remind herself, always, that Rhys was not responsible for the catalyst of his nightmares. He had been an innocent child during the attack on his family. Bren, on the other hand, had put her own sword through a child and left him for dead. The thought had the power to turn her stomach over, months later.
Rhys moved to touch her face and she dropped her hand to allow it, reluctance hanging her hand in mid-air for several seconds, before she slumped with an unsteady breath. It was childish, but for a moment, she wanted to draw her legs up and hide her face in her knees. This was not how a warrior conducted herself, but in their room, with the whole world quiet and still and Rhys next to her, everything felt removed. Only the dark aftertaste of the nightmare clung to the gray haze of the room, bed, and man beside her. She didn't feel like a war hero here.
"A nightmare," she answered, voice snuffly from the tears. Another shaky breath shuddered through her frame. She scrubbed the heel of her palm hard over her eyes and scooted closer to him, ducking his gaze by tucking in against him. She hated to cry, hated the way it turned her voice wet and thick, hated how it took over her breathing and made her shake. "Of, of-" she grabbed a fistful of sheets and took a deep breath to steady her voice. "...the battle at the top of the hill." The unofficial name given to the battle in which she had led a rallying force to Edric's side had already become the name of a folk song, much to Bren's mortification. She could only be grateful she herself had not heard it yet.
She grimaced through her tears and took another deep breath, shoulders lifting in her effort to calm the phantom shakes. "Sorry to wake you," She murmured.
As a mercenary, he had killed men who were perhaps not exactly innocent but certainly didn't deserve murder; this was worthy of guilt, and he'd hated himself for it, but those men did not plague his dreams. Bren had been at war - she had been bound by duty to protect her country and her king - but her heart was purer than his, and it did not come as too great a surprise that she felt guilt at the blood she had spilt for Eldur.
Rhys enveloped her in his arms as she scooted closer, her head tucked under his chin and onto his chest, and moved a hand gently against her skin.
"No, love, don't apologize," he whispered softly, pressing a kiss into her hair. "What a poor husband I would be if I slept soundly while my wife suffered her memories alone."
If all he could do was comfort her when the nightmares struck, then he would do that. It felt like an inadequate remedy, but he could not, no matter how he wished it, fight her demons for her.
"What a pair we make now, hmm?" He offered, a dark humor in his otherwise light tone. Perhaps one night they should trade their traumas - he could go to war, and Bren could spend time at Talfryn Hall. Then, his voice grew more serious, more cautious, and he asked, "Do you want to talk about it?"