14: Those Caught In Between

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"A picnic you say?" Sophie raised her eyebrows in surprise as she set her teacup on her saucer.

"What's the occasion?"

Fitz shrugged with a secretive smile, "Well, you're mostly healed from the limbium, I thought it would be a good way to celebrate."

Sophie was in the hospital wing for three days before she was well enough to be moved to her room. Originally, she was supposed to receive help tending to her burns by a maid, but Fitz reasoned that he would be working with her all day anyways, so he might as well take care of her, and he was good to his word. There was hardly a time in the day where Fitz wasn't at her bedside, working on paperwork with her, chatting with her, or helping her apply the healing salve Elwin made to her arms, back, shoulders, and face. Really, the only time she didn't see him was when they dressed or bathed. She didn't mind Fitz being around so much, he was good company, but it also worried her to see him so concerned. Even though he tried to hide it, she could see a crease forming in his brow in the quiet of her bedroom when she snuck a glance at him as he read through a report - a crease she hadn't noticed before. A crease she could see through the soft curling ends of his bangs. A crease from worrying about her. It was clear to everyone Fitz felt responsible for what happened to Sophie, no matter how many times people assured him it wasn't his fault; no matter how many times Sophie promised him it wasn't his fault.

The guilt was apparent in the rigid tension in his shoulders and the caution of his movements. It was as if he moved more slowly, more thoughtfully in order to absorb every detail and every threat that could be posed. The guilt was apparent in the strain of his voice when they talked to Elwin about her progress with the salve and when he gingerly held her hand, running his thumb over her knuckles like a nervous habit. The guilt was apparent when he ran his finger down the bulleted points of his to do list every morning, stopping at the point Sophie grew to be familiar with as the reminder for him to ask Dex to help teach her how to properly wield a sword once she was healed. However, the guilt was most apparent when she looked into his eyes for too long and he averted his gaze, only giving her a small, sad wisp of a smile as an excuse. These times were when she picked up his hand and swore it wasn't his fault, and when he'd reply by saying that he would find a way to keep it from happening again. He said this like even then it wouldn't be enough to redeem himself, but Sophie hoped that whatever he came up with would help him relax enough to get more sleep at night.

Fitz didn't have to say anything for her to know he wasn't getting much sleep. The evidence was clear in the shadows under his eyes and the way sometimes the words that came out of his mouth didn't exactly string together correctly, but every time she suggested he close his eyes for a moment, knowing full well he'd fall asleep, he said he was fine and went back to work. Sometimes she woke up in the night and would see him sitting upright in his chair, his head leaning on his hand as he stared out the window. Sophie would then tiredly grope through the darkness until she found his free arm dangling absentmindedly off his armrest, and run her hand up and down it until she fell back asleep, finding him holding it to his arm the morning after whether he was asleep or awake. They never talked about these interactions or how much Sophie knew, but they had an unspoken agreement that together they'd somehow find a way back to being "okay" with their little routine, so hearing Fitz suggest a picnic was a little surprising.

"What did you have in mind?" she asked supportively.

He slid his hand into hers and began to slowly run his thumb over her knuckles, "Under the willow tree in Moonglade with both of our families. The weather is supposed to be nice tomorrow, and I could get the kitchen staff to prepare a nice lunch."

"Isn't that a little far to carry a picnic all that way?"

"We would go in carriages to make the journey easier," he assured her, eyes sparkling. "It would take a little time to get there, but it would be worth it."

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