After Bathsheba turns off the camera, she and Gabriel remain in the attic for a while longer. She bumps her elbow when she goes to sit back down, and her shock turns into laughter. Before they know it, both of them have the giggles again. When they calm down, she’s pleasantly tired, and leans back against the shelf behind her.
“So, Gabriel,” she says. “Tell me about camping.”
“Well, I’ve done a lot of different kinds of camping,” he says, bemused. “Putting up a little one-man tent in the backyard as a kid, then staying in the camper where you met me. One time I had to stay in a barn all night and watch the vet I was training with, birthing a calf.”
“Ughhh, stop, stop, I don’t wanna know,” Bathsheba wrinkles her nose.
Gabriel grins, the arsehole. But he obliges her, changing tack to tell her how soothing he finds the sound of rain on a roof overhead.
“At least, provided the roof’s not full of holes,” he teases.
“Oh, shut up,” Bathsheba says, though she doesn’t want him to. Gabriel’s voice is calm and rumbling and deep, and it soothes her to hear him speak so softly, so in awe of the little things in life. If she didn’t know better, she’d say there’s a poet in him.
Before she knows it, her eyes are drooping closed, her head bobbing back against the shelf. There are always a thousand things she could be doing instead, but tonight it’s bizarrely easy to just let herself rest, caught in the twilight between sleep and waking. Gabriel’s voice hums pleasantly on in her ears, though she’s long since stopped paying attention.
It takes him a while to notice, but eventually the quiet is too much, and he turns to see her, apparently asleep on the dusty, splinter-filled attic floor. She can hear the gentle little snuffling laugh he gives at the sight. If she wasn’t so tired, she would bolt upright just to fuck with him- but he’s speaking again.
“Are you asleep?” he asks.
She doesn’t move or answer, and he laughs again.
“Thought so… You really are an extraordinary person, Bath,” Gabriel says softly. “And I’m glad to be your friend. I hope you know that. I hope you’d still believe me, if I told you.”
Uncomfortable warmth rushes through Bathsheba’s chest at the words, and she can’t understand why. But it’s the first time anyone has complimented anything besides her pretty face in weeks, and that someone- that Gabriel- still sees past the exterior of her… it means something.
She risks a tiny, tiny smile.
Another half-hour or so crawls past in silence, the only sounds the wind, water, and two people gently breathing together in the tiny space. It feels safe here. Almost cozy.
The floorboards creak under Gabriel’s weight as he crawls slightly towards her, reaching out a gentle hand to touch her shoulder. “Bath? I think the rain has stopped. We should probably go downstairs.”
She groans. “Mmm, sleeping. Fuck off.”
“Oh, that’s nice,” Gabriel laughs. “Go on, wake up with a neck cramp tomorrow then. Won’t be my fault.”
“I don’t wanna move,” Bathsheba grumbles, scrunching up her face. She’s fully awake now, and Gabriel knows it.
“Look, I can carry you downstairs,” Gabriel says. “But I’m so tired, and you’re not exactly little Cash, so I can’t promise it’ll end well for either of us.”
“All right, fine, I’m sodding coming,” Bathsheba laughs, allowing Gabriel to give her a hand up.
She sends him home amid his protests, insisting that she’s fine to keep an eye on things until morning. Gabe leaves her on the couch in the pub’s break room, covered in the thin quilt they keep there, just in case.
She can hear his heavy footfalls as he leaves the room, gently closing the door behind him. Outside the window, the sun is just beginning to rise over Weatherbury, and how can Bathsheba be anything but happy?
The Maltsters is safe, and she’s warm and comfortable, and Gabriel Oak still thinks highly of her. Today is a good day. Bathsheba smiles to herself as she finally drifts off to sleep.