Bif was awake. Just barely. Something had landed on his face; it was tickling his nose. He snorted and twitched. It was a leaf. An autumn leaf; it had fallen down from the canopy, and landed across his gingery brow.
Bifrost lay blinking for a moment. The shock of the leaf was wearing off. Though, his addled mind still scrambled to recall his bearings. A thatch of branches above him and a clear moon. Faintly, he could feel warmth through the soles of his shoes. He lifted his head and squinted, and there, at his feet was a campfire almost burnt out.
There were another pair of boots too; alongside his own. Human-sized. Not humanoid. Not small, Gremlin feet - Sometimes Bif nested with the Gremlins, back in the Hollowed Tree. But, no. Not tonight. These boots belonged to the Carpenter. The intiate. Bif knew from the pull of his breath that the other lad was still asleep. And a quick glance at his face confirmed it; peaceful and still. Likewise, a few leaves lay in his rumpled hair. Bif had the notion to remove them, but then thought better of it and decided to leave them be.
Instead, he quietly got up and went to pee in the bushes. When he returned, he fed a couple more logs to the fire. Then, he settled himself back down on the ground, beside the Carpenter. He'd spread an old cloak out on the forest floor earlier; to fend off the damp while they sat by the fire. So, Bif wasn't laying on the forest floor proper; but he could still feel the bumps of stones and twigs poking through the material and into his back.
His shoulder hovered about an inch from touching the other lad's. Bif crossed his legs at the ankles, and knitted this skinny fingers across his chest. How the ruddy heck had he managed to fall asleep here earlier?
It had probably been on account of the warm cider. But now he was awake awake, and inevitably, his restless mind began running circles. He thought about his studies, and his deadlines. Geology. Places. Shopping lists. Bif's mental checklist was always long. But no matter what he pondered, his mind always strayed back. It strayed back to here. Now. This very forest clearing. The campfire. And namely, the lad at his side.
The two of us. They had toasted it. They had drank to their sameness earlier that night. It got Bif to thinking back to when their wasn't two; only one. He had been the one. The lone number. He had cried about it. In a blink of his eye he was assailed by the memory; snivelling into Raffe's shirt. The older man had held him and permitted him to cry. He could still remember the feel of his fingers, sifting through his hair. Raffe's warmth had surprised him that turn. How easily he had held him. Lots of men took discomfort with tears; especially those of another man. But the Iron Commander hadn't. Lots of men took discomfort in the thought of embracing another man; but the Iron Commander hadn't. Raffe was made from better stock than that.
Though, as faint embarrassment knotted itself around Bif's insides, it was tempered with feelings of tenderness and gratitude. It had been many turns since he'd last run into Raffe, but Bif quietly hoped that wherever the Shining Commander was this night, that he was contented, and well. It was more than he deserved for all that he did.
Bif lay awake for sometime longer. He could feel the faint warmth emanating from his bedfellow's shoulder. Though, he did not shift any closer. It wasn't that he was unpleasant. On the contrary, Bif found the manner of the Carpenter to always be amicable and easy. He had a snickering laugh that fell easy from this lips. He was often prone to smile. And it wasn't that he wasn't handsome, either. He was very fair in his face.
It was something else. Something that Bif couldn't quite put his finger on. It fell in-between doubt and fear. Mayhaps a smidge of stubbornness on his own part. After all, Bif was very used to being alone by now. He was prone to wander and rove, and vanish off whenever the notion took him. Had he grown to perhaps like it, even?
Fall Fest was coming up, and surely a few old faces would be showing back up in the coming turns. Mayhaps a few of the others, you know - like them. Maybe, the Carpenter would prefer their company to his anyhow.
Bif laid for a moment and considered this. A procession of faces drifted through his mind's eye, each arm in arm with the Carpenter in turn. Some of them looked rather well together, he mused. Maybe it would be for the best that way. Maybe that then, he could be safe and live vicariously through them.
Bif turned his head, and looked for a moment at the sleeping face of the other lad; unrumpled, and seemingly without worry. It was going to be okay, he thought. Whatever did happen, Bif knew that he had found himself a firm friend. It was going to be okay.
And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it. - Roald Dahl