Someone puts another cup of wine in Rathe's hand, claps him on the shoulder, says something inaudible that Rathe answers with a smile. He's been smiling on cue for hours, like an actor. If this is being a hero, Coindarel's welcome to it.
Rathe leaves the wine on a windowsill and pushes through the station to the back door, trying to look like he's in a hurry for the privy. Outsider it's cooler, quieter, with just a few conversational clumps and two people kissing in a far corner they probably think is dark enough to hide them. Rathe stretches, flapping the neck of his sticky shirt.
A shadow crosses the station doorway. It's Philip; Rathe recognizes his height, his shape. It's Rathe's job to notice things, but this . . . there's a sharpness to it. It stings.
Philip has a mug in each hand; he offers one.
Rathe takes it and gulps down liquid coolness. It tastes, he thinks--made poetical by wine and weariness--like rest. "I thought you were -" With Adriana, fathering a beautiful child. Or with one of the admirers who'd hovered, persistent as bees. "I thought you'd gone."
"No. Aice will have told Caiazzo where I am. I think I can take the evening off with no fear for my place."
"You'll stay with Caiazzo, then? I . . . the Points would take you on, you know. Gladly."
"Too much paperwork. And not enough lace." Philip's laugh is so soft that Rathe feels it, in the twitch of his shoulder, more than he hears it. Philip isn't actually standing so near, but Rathe feels it.
An illusion of closeness. When next Rathe sees Philip, the man will be at Caiazzo's side. Perhaps they'll never speak again after tonight. "Thank you for the water."
Philip will go now, Rathe think. But he doesn't. "Sometimes, after a battle--one that went well, I mean, one that we celebrated afterwards--I used to feel sad. Or, not exactly sad. Let down, maybe? And the happier I knew I should be, the more I felt it."
"What did you do?"
"I've tried that."
"You make a half-hearted drunkard, Nico." They've drifted together; their sleeves are brushing. "And then, when I was sufficiently drunk, I'd go off by myself and look at the stars."
Rathe glances up. The sky's cloudy. A thunderstorm's coming on.
"A literal-minded half-hearted drunkard."
"Pointsman's affliction, I'm told." Rathe can imagine Philip slipping away from the crowd into the quiet dark. But he doubts Philip was often alone when he did. "I was happy," he says, surprising himself with the truth of it. "Coming home from Mailhac. I was tired and worried and happy."
From the corner of his eye, he sees Philip's hesitant nod. "Nico, I . . . "
Rathe doesn't turn to him. He can't, somehow, not yet. He tilts his face up to the invisible stars, and, cautiously, he smiles.