It was raining. Black streams snaked along the gutters and between the cobbles. The dull lamplight made little difference in the darkness, and the moonlight was invisible.
Oscar leaned back against the wall, hidden in a doorway.
When the rain started, she had sought shelter there. Now, she could not face venturing out into the streets. They felt too large and foreign to her. The world no longer seemed to fit around her. It ached like a blade through the heart.
She felt like her life was ended. It died the minute he died. He was the best of her, and now he was gone. The rest of her was still there, walking, even talking, but what little was left was hardly worth anything.
She watched the rain. That was a human thing to do, wasn't it? Perhaps, it would be easier when the sun shone, but now, the world was black, and empty and dark.
Someone shouted nearby. It was indistinct, angry. Too many voices sounded like that now. It was growing harder and harder to tell them apart: loyalist, republican, enemy.
She shuddered as a gust of wind tore along the street. The summer nights should not be so cold. She stepped down from the doorway, into the rain. It made no difference, her uniform already damp, still blood-stained, and clinging to her skin. She extended her hands, watching the drops spatter and drip out onto the ground.
Oscar clenched her hands down by her sides. "Don't," she said in a whisper.
Alain pounded up the street to her side, shrugging off his greatcoat and wrapping it around her shoulders. "You need to get inside, Commander," he said, holding it in place when she tried to shrug it off.
"I'm already wet through," Oscar said, pushing the coat aside. "What harm is there in a little rain?"
"You know the answer to that." He wrapped the coat around her again and held it there, his arms around her as much as the coat. "You can keep standing a little bit longer," he said close to her ear. His breath was hot on her cold skin, making it tingle. "He wouldn't want you to just lie down and give up."
"I should strike you down for such insolence," she whispered. She didn't want to admit that he was the only thing holding her upright, her limbs trembling with exhaustion.
"Yeah," he agreed. "Yeah, you should."
She closed her eyes and lifted her face to the sky. Her eyes burned unbearably, run dry of tears. "This is where it ends, Alain," she said quietly. "This is where France crumbles in dust and blood." She laughed bitterly. "Maybe it will be reborn. Maybe it will rot. Who cares?"
Alain pulled her back, step by step, into the shelter of the doorway, one arm around her waist, the other arm around her chest and shoulders. "You do," he said. "You're from that side of the world, from the palaces and the riches and the royalty, but here you are, with us, in the gutter."
She kept her face averted. "You should stop talking."
He laughed. It was quiet, serious. "So I'm told," he agreed. "Commander, whatever happens here, we're behind you."
"Alain-" She fell silent, unsure of what she was trying to say.
"Just saying," he said quietly. His arms were still around her and she leaned back against him, letting him support her, if only for a moment. He set his chin on her shoulder and she could feel the coarse stubble close to her cheek.
They stood like that for some time. She watched ripples of raindrops hitting the puddles, and she noticed that they were breathing the same slow, steady breaths, in and out, his broad chest against her back. It was calming. Comforting.
She moved her hand slowly from beneath his coat and laid her fingers over his wrist, holding him there. His skin was hot against hers, and he swore.
"I'm warm enough," she said distantly. She could feel his heat warming her blood. His coat was helping too. For a moment, she could almost pretend to be alive.
He shifted his weight on his feet and looked up at the sky. "Looks like it'll clear for tomorrow," he said. "A little daylight wouldn't be too much to hope for."
Oscar let her breath ease out in a sigh. "Maybe," she murmured, closing her eyes.
He moved his hand to squeeze her arm. "Back to the fire," he said. "Get some rest, so you can be ready for whatever comes."
"It's impossible to sleep," Oscar said quietly. Before, she had never slept with anyone. Now, she did not want to imagine sleeping without those familiar arms around her.
"Sleep, rest, sit down and keep warm for a few minutes," he said. "Whatever it is that'll stop you falling on your face in the morning, do it." He squeezed her arm again. “It’d be embarrassing for both of us if I had to carry you.”
Her lips twitched weakly. “Your insubordination isn’t as charming as you think,” she said, then coughed violently. Her throat felt dry, and her chest ached.
He loosened his arms around her. “You’re the only one to say so,” he said, arranging the coat around her shoulders again to ensure it would not fall off. “And keep the coat. You need it more than I do.”
He waved dismissively. “If you’re going to say something about how heroic and generous I am, I know,” he said. “Now, we’ve got a fire to sit beside, and there’s actually something that could pass as wine if you stopper your senses.”
“Go ahead,” she said, stepping forward. “I would like to watch the rain for a while.”
He grasped her shoulder. “From shelter,” he suggested.
She nodded, drawing his coat around her shoulders. “I need some peace,” she murmured. “A moment to catch my thoughts.”
“You got it, Commander,” he replied, saluting her more crisply than he ever had before.
She wished she had the strength left to smile. Her own hand rose halfway. “I’ll join you before dawn,” she said quietly.
He smiled that half-smile she knew well. “We’ll be waiting, Commander,” he said.