It was still dark when I woke, coming out of sleep abruptly, as though there had been a noise – but I heard nothing except the chatter of the ducks through the open tent-flap. I took a breath and then another, reminding myself of unfamiliar surroundings.
As my heartbeat eased I sank back into comfort, wonderfully warm. The ground was heated from the spring and there was a weight at my back: Raphael asleep behind me, his arm across my bare chest, so that it would have been almost impossible for someone, even standing right above us, to shoot me without catching him first. He was heavy, heavier than a man of his size ought to have been, but he did not stifle me.
I tried not to think of that – of the disease, or whatever it was, that was transforming him into something I could not touch. I was touching him now. It was the first time that I had ever shared a bed with anyone; I had not thought that I would like it.
I put my hand over his, counting the odd slow pulsebeat and the thrum beneath the skin, almost an engine vibration. I had meant to do it gently, and he was not very sensitive to touch, but I could feel him come awake with the movement, a new tension in his body.
‘Sorry,’ he whispered, a soft rumble in my ear. ‘Am I crushing you?’
‘No,’ I said, and pressed his arm closer. I felt suddenly and wretchedly sad – at how good it felt to lie like this in the dark with him, at how little that feeling meant in the larger story we were part of, at how soon it would be over. My throat closed up and I squeezed my eyes shut to force the pain of it down.
‘Merrick?’ he said, voice catching on the name. He had started calling me that and I had hardly noticed. He tugged on my shoulder until I shifted around to face him, though it was too dark for him to make out my expression even if he’d been able to see properly.
‘I’m all right,’ I said, but I wasn’t. I was barely myself, in this strange half-moment, all my usual justifications and defenses stripped away with my clothes and my certainties. ‘Don’t go,’ I said nonsensically, and then my hand was in his strange, stiff-feeling hair and we were kissing, clumsily on my part, slow and responsive on his. I wondered what it felt like to him – if it felt like anything. The way he was clutching at me, first hard and then forcing himself to be gentle, suggested that it did, and if it was a memory of Harry then I did not want to think about it. I did not want to think at all.
The kiss turned frantic; our bodies pressed together, his palm a solid weight at the small of my back. I hardly experienced it as a pleasure, this half-blind desperate striving. I had not known I had this capacity in me: it was almost like when he had put the whitewood cuff on my leg – a part of me I had thought atrophied and useless, coming to life in his hands.
It was madness: we were in the middle of an enemy camp, the tent staked open. I drew back, painfully, everything within me straining toward him. ‘Later,’ I said against Raphael’s mouth, fooling myself a little longer: he was always retreating from me, and I was not who he truly wanted.
He nodded, his forehead pressed against mine, and then he said my name again, in a tone no one had ever used before. I shivered, despite the warmth, and he held me in his bone-crushing grip, entirely safe, through all the dark hours of the night.