The soft glows illuminating the many varied shelves of the Elite library had already been dimmed once as a warning. Head nodding suspiciously, the librarian on duty-- now after hours-- had read the same paragraph twelve times when Rill found him, limply holding up Twelve Ways To Magic Cooking. "Professor Amarestys-- " he greeted, straightening with a thunk of his elbow on the desk. "There's one more student in there…"
Rill could hear the begging in his tone and his general grin of greeting turned lop-sided with amusement. Gathering his night cloak around one arm flamboyantly, he lifted his chin. "This, I shall do for you."
"Bless," murmured the librarian in thanks as Rill stepped into the lowered lighting of the giant stacks of books ranging through every known subject. They layered like rigid mountains, the walls of a vast knowledgable city, and he maneuvered through them with the experience of his age and tenure, yet still enjoying the presence of all that writing. It took him a minute or so to spot the occupied table, with the little personal light chugging away despite the library's attempts to shut it out. The overworking student was cuddled into a chair, legs pulled up onto its seat, with one hand propping her head as she poured over an open book amongst many on the table.
With a slight intake of breath, Rill knew that he recognized Chwip; those braids, he'd know them anywhere. And now, in the intimate rosy cast of the pale lighting… he realized he'd been standing there, abruptly staring, for too long around the same time he realized that Chwip hadn't moved that entire time. Slowly, he rounded the table and saw what he knew to be true: she had dozed off, with one thin cheek buried in her palm. When he went to rouse her, his hand froze above those light strands, tracing down the line of her shoulder as it moved gently with the restful rise and fall of her chest. The sweet pink pastel of the dress fabric made her look even more peaceful and-- he noticed with a shock through his old system-- younger. Innocent. Vulnerable!
Clearing his throat, he laid a hand respectfully on her outer shoulder, giving her a soft nudge as he pulled up a chair with the other hand. Chwip murmured, turning her lips into her palm which muffled the noise, before blinking into a groggy awareness. As her eyes adjusted to the room's dim temperature, her head flew to the side to catch the sight of Rill there, simultaneously embarrassed and relieved -- relieved, he hoped, that it was him. In a flash, her lips had overturned from surprise into a polite smile as she blinked a muggy greeting.
"Rill, I-- " She glanced back and forth, trying to get her bearings; the hand she'd been sleeping on fell onto the book in front of her, tracing a sentence.
"You fell asleep," he regaled, watching her one cheek flush to match the one with the palm-print emblazoned on it at the thought of impropriety. It was such a non-childish thing to be concerned about that he found himself momentarily forgetting his earlier anxiety. "What are you still doing," glancing aside, he selected a book to pick up, eying the spine, "with all this?"
"Mm," Chwip softly rubbed a hand under one eye then the other before it fell into her lap to join its pair. "I just thought I might get a head-start on some things, and I wasn't happy with an earlier project, and Issel-- "
"I-- " Rill interrupted with a grin, "Think I understand. But, Chwip, don't you know, it's my responsibility to make sure you're taking care of yourself."
"Oh, please, I'm not done."
"But you're clearly exhausted."
"It's not," and here he thought she might be stifling a yawn, "so bad."
Adjusting himself in his seat, Rill slid the book he'd been studying back onto her pile of homework. He hooked a foot around the front leg of his chair and scooted it closer, determining at once a little 'project' that might change Chwip's mind. "Very well, then I'll stay with you," he declared, knowing she was far too polite to refuse. Waiting till she had sorted out where she'd left off and begun reading, Rill glanced around the library until he was certain she was engrossed. Then, he snuck his chair an inch closer still and leaned in, pressing his shoulder against the back of hers just ever-so-gently. Startling, Chwip looked over instinctively but then looked forward again when she became utterly conscious of how close their faces were. "Don't mind me," Rill instructed gently, "I'm just checking your work." Chwip nodded practically several times and then raised her hand against the text to find her place again.
He waited again. Waited, till he could feel her starting to relax instead of feel so stiff against him, then drew his cape carefully around the back of her chair, as if innocently getting it out of the way. Chwip didn't seem to notice; she didn't even seem to notice that she'd started to lean into Rill's shoulder just so slightly.
It grew as time went on, and the little ball of light bobbed tirelessly, shining down on words that were surely becoming quite a blur. Chwip's eyelids were taking longer to open on each blink and she'd once caught her chin dipping down too far and pulled it up determinedly. What she hadn't done was revive her posture, and her delicate weight was depending more and more on the soft heat of Rill's clothing. It felt ever so nice instead of the grating hard back of the library chair. She could feel the tempting drift of the cape's material and it spoke to the strain in her back from sitting too long.
Minutes passed before she knew that she was leaning entirely against Rill's shoulder and that he'd nearly gotten his entire arm around her. Weariness dulled the conflict trying to shoot energizing sparks into her mind. She had no desire to lead anyone on but she was just… so… tired… and the encompassing warmth made her feel safe-- in the fatherly way she appreciated Rill. For just a moment, she left herself down into the relaxing encouragement of protection, and that sealed her fate.
When her breathing changed, Rill knew that his project had been an absolute success. With a little shift of his shoulder, he murmured her name and she responded with a high questioning hum that attempted to sound awake and was anything but. Grinning, he brought his cape around to shelter her curled feet and she responded in sleep by writhing up against him tighter.
In a moment, Rill knew his mistake. What a bad idea this was… but how absolutely beautiful, too. Below him, Chwip's pale hair tickled his rough chin and her delicate hand had found its way to his opposite bicep, clutching lightly at the loose, showy colors and fabrics there. He felt a distinct ache in him, tugging on his heart with one giant powerful string that was attached to the little woman in his lap. It was a desire to protect and to cherish and-- just a desire-- and it clumped heavily in him as much as it wanted to be free, to lift him up -- to feel what he knew he'd never felt before. But shouldn't.
He should get up. He should send her off to bed and he should get back to his experiments and think nothing more of it.
Cautiously, he disengaged a hand to softly stroke over the top of her head and she mumbled, shifting into him. He knew, should or shouldn't, that he'd never be able to leave her.
Manage Your Items