His voice faded as he read aloud the president’s proclamation. Mary was never sure if he had faltered or she had, content to see him and hear him just once again.
When she awoke, it was some time later. She was surprised, as she had been at every awakening for weeks, to take in the sight of the room, the feel of the cotton-warp quilt, the pressure of the mattress beneath her. She was alive, then. She took a breath and felt the rattle of phlegm in her throat. She coughed, and the bed shook.
It shook because he was still there, had in fact fallen asleep with his head pillowed in his arm, next to her, close enough that she felt how warm he was. Her coughing startled him, and he looked up anxiously. She could see, in the dim remaining light of day, how he might have been as a boy, caught napping or idling in twilight.
“Mary,” he whispered, and reached out to touch her cheek again. Ever the physician, his brow now contracted in a responsible, adult manner, the boy hidden. Her face was hot, and he was determining, she knew, whether it was fever or sleep.
He drew back with no comment, and turned to pour her a glass of water. He held it to her lips, cradling her head with his other hand, and Mary felt relief.
She dwelt on that word, as Jed – Jedidiah, her own – got up and began moving about, lighting lamps and adjusting the air flow in the room. Relief, from the moment his voice filled the room, giving orders and caring for her in his direct way. Relief when he spoke of his letters. Relief at Lincoln’s proclamation, a victory, when there had been and would still be loss.
Relief, she thought, because she took a breath. And another. Another.
Jed frowned at the calomel bottle still sitting on the nightstand. He was tempted to throw it out the window, feel some satisfaction at the crash of glass on the pavement.
Mary sighed, so quietly it may have been nothing at all, and Jed looked down at her to see the corners of her mouth turn up, a smile of sorts returning. “You are here,” she whispered, a whisper all she could muster at present, and though she looked far better than he could have expected given the course of treatment, his anger and frustration at the situation rose up in him. He could not give it vent in any other way, so temptation won, and he took the bottle from the nightstand and went to the window. Assuring that no one walked below, he threw it with such force that the sound set a dog to barking down the street.
A soft, choking laugh behind him tamped his rage.
He turned and offered her a smile and a quirked eyebrow.
They watched one another for a moment, and then Jed sat gently on the bed. He brushed her hair from her face and she closed her eyes.
“I will make you well.”
“Arrogance,” she said. “And a waste. You must go…”
“Back to Alexandria, without you? Back to the war, leaving you ill-equipped to handle your own battle? I will not, Mary Phinney, and neither will you order me about.”
She could win this one, if she tried, even in her weakened state, but she would not. She nodded. “I want you….here. Stay,” she said in as forceful a tone as she could manage.
She was not safe, not yet. The shadows on her face were more than those cast by nascent moonlight. He cursed McBurney again, and himself still harsher. This might have been prevented.
He would use his skill and win her back from the edge, before he could countenance leaving. If he had any say in this at all, against the forces of nature and Heaven, she would get well.
“I will,” he said, and kissed her brow.
He arose, clasping her hand once more, and turned. There was work to do.