Actions

Work Header

I Have Read About That Kind of Love

Chapter Text

AN: A majority of the dialogue is from Sondheim's Passion. I wanted to stay as true to the story as possible and just add Fosca's thoughts and feelings and such. However, in addition to Fosca's thoughts and feelings, I'll also be adding a few scenes.

For anyone who hasn't seen Passion, here is a link to add to the end of the regular youtube link for the playlist: /viewplaylist?pAE12887D61A91E1B
Patti LuPone is simply amazing in her portrayal of Fosca. She, very likely if not definietly, was my inspiration for this piece.


"I know how to walk. My cousin likes to treat me like a child," Fosca heard herself say. She wondered idly why she wasn't accepting his help when she was feeling so weak, why her fingers ached to touch his.

"I hope I didn't frighten you the other day," she told him. Her thoughts racing as her fingers reached out for his arm, betraying her. She walked ahead of him to hide this strange and sudden weakness.

Why did she so badly want to touch him? Why was it important that she hadn't scared him? She scared the rest of her cousin's men, why did he matter? She knew that he was different, but he shouldn't matter. So why had he been so present in her thoughts since she had seen him through her window the day he arrived?

"No, not at all," Captain Bachetti answered her. She turned around as a smile spread across his face.

And why did that smile of his make her knees feel weak? Why did his voice, his presence, make her head swim and feel cloudy?

What was this sensation he filled her with? Why did every step spur on a strange, but not all-together unpleasant, pulsing between her legs. Her clothes felt too tight as they clung to her, protesting. For what?

"I'm not afraid of death. I rather think I'd welcome dying," Fosca confessed, turning away in an attempt to ignore the foreign messages her body was flooding her system with. "It's everything that follows that I dread: being shut up in a coffin, smothered in the earth, turning into dust… These images send me into a state of terror."

Her head swam again, her stomach flipping, as he brushed lightly against her, catching up. "Even talking of this makes me-"

He reached instinctively for her arm but she withdrew, determined to keep some kind of dignity and sure that contact would spur these strange symptoms on. "Surely if you are sick there is always the hope that you will get better."

Fosca couldn't help but scoff at the notion, "Hope, in my case, is in rather short supply." The doctors have given up, her cousin had given up… She was here to live out her few remaining years, that was it.

"Well, then, one must look to life for whatever pleasures it can offer," he told her.

Still not understanding why, she hungered to hear his voice again. She hungered for his deep, smooth voice to continue, enjoying the sensations akin to shivers down her spine. She moved her weight from one leg to the other, the foreign pulsing between her thighs making her feel sticky and hot. "And what might they be?"

"Helping others, for example."

"Helping others!" Fosca nearly laughed again. She wondered why she was so close to laughter with him around. Nothing was funny. Could it be nerves? What did she have to be nervous about? Her appearance, to be sure, but she had long since grown used to her cousin's men shying away from her.

"I have worked in poor houses, Captain. I felt no different. Pity is nothing but passive love. Dead love."

He brushed lightly against her and her knees began to crumble, her mind swimming. Her eyes fluttered closed as the area between her thighs throbbed.

Suddenly, she felt one muscled arm encircle her waist, the other steadying her arm and gripping her hand and holding her upright.

Reluctantly, she accepted his help to a nearby bench, gripping his arms tightly to avoid falling again. She knew he was trying to help, but when he had touched her, had helped her, she had felt wildfires dance across her skin and her knees had all but given out again. And that throbbing! What is happening to me? she asked herself, falling lightly, still supported in Captain Bachetti's strong arms, onto the bench.

"These thoughts are bad for you," he told her, looking into her eyes.

She felt as though she would melt, the way he was looking at her! But she didn't understand it. What did it matter that he was looking into her eyes? Why did she feel hypnotized under his gaze? She shifted slightly as she sat beside him, hoping he wouldn't notice the way the friction made her breath catch just a little.

"You must concentrate on everything around you that suggests life. These trees, these flowers, the warm smell of the air." He rose to gesture, pointing to the things he mentioned.

"You make it sound so simple, Captain." Fosca argued, her body protesting the loss of contact for reasons that she still pondered. "As if a flower or a tree could somehow make one happy."

"There is no absolute happiness in anyone's life, Signora. The only happiness we can be certain of is love."

"What do you mean? Are you speaking of friendships? Family?" Fosca asked, knowing even as she did so that this was not what he was referring to.

"I'm speaking of a superior kind of love, the kind between two people," Captain Bachetti corrected.

"Two people …" she echoed, wishing fervently that he would sit with her again and take her in his arms as he had moments ago. The ache between her legs dulled slightly. Until she scooted around to get a better look at the captain.

"Yes. Love that fills every waking moment. Love that grows every single day. Love that thinks everything is pure, everything is beautiful, everything is possible. Love that fuses two into one. When you think the same thoughts, want the same things, live as one, feel as one, breathe as one.

"Love that shuts away the world, that envelops your soul, that ennobles your life. Love that floods every living moment. Love like…" he trailed off as he fell into the recesses of his mind, his silence a harsh contrast to his excited rant.

"Love like -?" Fosca supplied, reminding him of her presence.

"Like wine. An intoxication. A great blindness, if you will."

"Yes, I have read about that kind of love," Fosca nodded, smiling as she rose-the throbbing increasing with her movement- and crossed to him. "But you speak of it as one who lives it."

And then she understood. Her speaking of what she had read, Captain Bachetti's ranting about love, it clicked. She realized with a sudden flash why her body was reacting the way it was, why she was so concerned about him and what he thought. She understood why her fingers had reached for him, why her head misted when he brushed against her, why her knees grew weak, why she didn't want him to see her as a weak woman despite her illness. She knew why her body had protested his releasing her from his strong arms. She still wasn't sure about the heat pulsating between her thighs but she assumed that it, too, was due to what she felt for him.

She had fallen in love with him. Straight away. Fell in love, in lust really, with his looks, and then, as she had spoken to him before and again now, had fallen in love with him. And he was speaking as one who lives love. Of course he had someone else. She felt a surge of another foreign emotion. This must be jealousy.

Fosca stumbled slightly as she walked past him. She ignored the fire between her thighs, the flipping of her stomach, as she looked at the ground murmuring, "I don't feel well. I must go back."

Captain Bachetti reached for her again to keep her from falling and was surprised when she pulled away, almost angrily. "I'm sorry."

"You can be incredibly cruel, Captain," she told him, wrenching away from him.

"Cruel?"

"To speak to me of love," Fosca began, her voice thick as she spoke past the growing lump in her throat. "To dangle words like, 'happiness,' 'beautiful,' 'superior.' You can't be that naive."

"Forgive me. I didn't mean-"

Fosca continued, ranting now as she rounded on him, "You with all your books, your taste, your sensitivity… I thought you'd understand. The others - well, they're all alike. Stupidity is their excuse, as ugliness is mine. But what is yours?" With every step's friction, she was reminded what she felt for him, what her body was screaming for.

Then, her demeanor changed radically. Her anger already ebbing away, she began again, "I've watched you from my window. I saw you on the day that you arrived. Perhaps it was the way you walked, the way you spoke to your men… I saw that you were different, then. I saw that you were kind and good. I thought you'd understood."

Fosca was facing away from him again, looking to the encampment. "They hear drums. You hear music, as do I. Don't you see? We're the same. We are different, you and I are different. They hear only drums."

She spun to face him, wringing her hands nervously in front of her as she refused to meet his eyes, "All the time I watched from my room, I would think of coming downstairs, thinking we'd meet, thinking you'd look at me, thinking you'd be repelled by what you saw."

She looked at Captain Bachetti again, her eyes pleading, "Don't reject me, don't deny me, Captain. Understand me, be my friend. They hear drums, we hear music. Be my friend?"

They were just feet apart now. She knew what she wanted from him, what she had been vaguely warned about in her condition, and it was not merely friendship. But that's all he would ever give her and so that is what she asked for. She held her breath as she waited for his answer, hoping he would at least give her this.

"Yes. Of course. You have my friendship," Captain Bachetti told her, undeniably surprised at her outburst.

Fosca couldn't help herself, couldn't control her emotions and hormones. Her body again betraying her true feelings, she reached out, grabbing his hand with both of her own, "Thank you, Captain!"

"Your hand is on fire," he commented, concerned. He brought his other hand to cover both of her small ones.

She looked down at her hands, still clutching his, as though she hadn't realized she had done reached out. His skin on hers sent her body into a frenzy; her head swam, the throbbing burned. She shrugged his comment off as she fought to ignore her body's pleas, "It's nothing. I have a fever. I always do."

Too soon, her cousin and doctor reappeared, her cousin offering his arm. She didn't want his arm, though. She wanted to stay with Captain Bachetti, with Giorgio. She wished she hadn't tried to appear strong, wished she had taken Giorgio's arm earlier when he had offered it.

"Shall we make our way towards the castle?" her cousin asked, his arm still out for her to take as he expected her to.

Then he spoke. He said her name. Not just "Signora Ricci," but her name. And, oh! it was music when it left his lips.

"Signora Fosca is not feeling well."

"I'm terribly sorry, my dear," her cousin said, finally just taking her arm as she still was clutching desperately to Giorgio.

Fosca's eyes met Giorgio's, pleading that he would take it back so that she could continue her excursion with him in tow, "I'll be fine now."

"Of course, but we should head back nonetheless," her cousin decided, leading her away from Giorgio.

Fosca looked over her shoulder to see him trailing behind them slowly. She wished, again, that she could be walking with him, that it was him supporting her instead of her cousin.

She allowed herself to be led back to the main house where she was ushered to her room and left alone.

Her body still protesting its prison, she clawed at the fastenings of her dress. Fosca sighed in relief when the dress finally slipped from her form into a heap on the floor and left her in only her slip, the cool air a harsh contrast to her burning skin.

She panted as she pulled her slip over her head, stumbling to the tub in her washroom and the water from her bath that morning. At the time, it had been a hot bath, had eased the tension from her constantly aching muscles. Now, hours later, the water was cool, almost cold, as she sank into it, exhausted from the hell her body had put her through while around Giorgio. She slid even further below the water so that it covered her shoulders, her flesh still burning where he had touched her; her waist, her arm, her hands.

Then there was the burning area he hadn't touched.

She slid a hand between her thighs and gingerly pressed at the source of the throbbing, hoping to make it stop. Her breathing hitched as an unexpected wave of pleasure rolled over her emanating from where her fingers were still lightly pressing.

The wetness between her legs was very unlike the cool water she was submerged in. It was hot as she experimentally slid her fingers easily into her most private of areas making her gasp quietly. She had to admit to herself that the wet heat she'd found was incredibly puzzling to her. Then again, most of the games her body was playing with her puzzled her.

Fosca felt her heart racing, her breathing suddenly labored. Her eyes fluttered close of their own accord as she pressed harder on her throbbing sex. She was rewarded with a second wave of this foreign pleasure rolling over her. She slid under the water lacking the strength and presence of mind to hold herself up, the bathwater swallowing her cries of ecstasy.

Her only coherent thought was that of Giorgio. He swam with the white stars behind her eyes as another wave of pleasure assaulted her, making her gasp and cry out only to find water flooding her senses instead.

"Signora Fosca!" she heard a smooth, deep voice call as hands folded around her thin arms and pulled her, spitting and coughing as she struggled for breath, above the water level.

Giorgio? she hoped, despite knowing it wouldn't be him in her personal quarters.

Sputtering, she gasped for air, both her hands flying to the rim of the tub where she leaned heavily. Her thin frame shook with the force of her coughing and-she suspected-the wave of pleasure that hadn't completely faded before she'd been hauled from the water's depth.

"Are you trying to drown yourself?" her doctor demanded angrily, pulling her out of the tub by her arms and forcing her to stand as he wrapped a towel around her shoulders.

"No," Fosca panted, still gasping for air as she slid to the floor and leaned against the tub. She pulled the towel tighter around her dripping form, wondering if she should ask the doctor about her body's burning, about the glorious waves of white-hot pleasure that had racked her body only moments before.

"No," she repeated. "I… I fainted." She wasn't sure why she lied, really. But she felt instinctively that what she had been doing was personal and didn't want to discuss the matter with this man that worked for her cousin.

"You fainted? Again? Your symptoms must be getting worse. Let me help you to your bed. Perhaps you should eat your dinner in bed-," the doctor thought aloud as he helped her to stand again before leading her to her bed.

"No!" Fosca interrupted him, seeing her chance to see her Giorgio flying away. "No, I'm fine now. I think I'll just rest a bit. I'll be fine by dinner."

"If you insist, Signora," he nodded reluctantly. "I'll be back for you at dinner, then. Please try to stay off your feet and not over exert yourself."

She climbed into bed obediently, cocooning herself in her towel and blankets as the doctor turned on his heel and left.

Fosca couldn't remember what she had expected when she had first reached tentatively between her legs, but the sheer pleasure that had flooded her system had not been it. She hadn't been prepared to see Giorgio's glistening form dancing and swimming with the stars as she trembled, succumbing to the unfamiliar ecstasy.

The throbbing between her thighs had faded to a mere dull ache now, no longer burning to a point that was almost painful. Her body was no longer objecting to her every move, didn't feel stifled and hot as the fabric clung to her skin.

Fosca quickly surrendered to the exhaustion her body had brought upon itself, still confused by everything that had transpired in the last hour. The last thing she saw before sleep claimed her was Giorgio's image, still dancing with the burning white stars.

Chapter Text


"Signora, didn't you hear the bell for dinner?" the doctor asked, peering into Fosca's room to find her sitting at her writing table. "Were you not feeling well enough to join us for dinner?"

She looked up from her desk to meet the doctor's gaze. No, she wasn't feeling well enough, but she wouldn't admit that to her doctor. She had been feeling progressively worse for three days now. Since Giorgio had seemingly disappeared. He was still at this base, she knew. Her cousin had confirmed that, but not where he was. It seemed that her cousin didn't know either.

For three days, Fosca had searched the grounds-the gardens, the greenhouse, the castle, the bluff- for Giorgio to no avail. For three days she had dragged her weak body to the dining hall, praying that he might be there so she could see him. It was all that kept her going, that hope. For three days her screams had been of anguish, a pain clear when you heard them.

Her heart physically ached for him, her body cried out. She still saw him dancing with the white stars whenever she closed her eyes.

She couldn't understand it. Why did he promise her his friendship if he was planning on avoiding her? Then again, none of her cousin's men would deny her a promise of friendship if she had cornered them, hysterical and ill as she had been. She just had thought Giorgio to be different.

"I'll be right down," Fosca told the doctor who chose to wait at her door patiently. She looked back to her letter, reading it one last time. She would slip it under his napkin. He would get it whenever he did come in for dinner.

"Giorgio, These past three days have been perhaps the most painful of my life. I have looked for you everywhere. No matter how poor my health, I have made my way to the dining hall, praying you would be there. You promised me your friendship, Giorgio. But it is clear to me that your promise was a hollow one. I so looked forward to your company. Did you know how your absence would upset me? I wish I could strike you from my mind and my heart. But I cannot, Giorgio. You may disappear, but I will not."

Clutching the doctor's arm tightly, she entered the dining hall. Immediately, her eyes scanned for a sign of her Giorgio but he was absent yet again.

"... so I applied for a new pair of horses, but they only had bays or piebald," one man was saying.

"Piebald!" another commented.

"You certainly don't want piebald," another of her cousin's men informed the first.

She shook her head as she sat down at her setting-next to Giorgio's empty one- and began lazily pushing food around.

She couldn't eat much- her body wouldn't let her- but even if she could, she wouldn't eat much of this slop. This… Veal? Was bland, tasteless. She was sure it was leftover from the night before, if not before even then.

She let her mind drift to thoughts of Giorgio, tuning out the ignorant fools around her.

In her mind, the reunion she shared with Giorgio would be such a joyous one. He would pull her into an embrace and tell her how much he had missed her, how sorry he was that he had been gone for so long. She would return the embrace happily telling him that she would be fine now, Captain Bachetti. Please, Fosca, he would say. Call me-

"Ah, Bachetti …"

Her eyes snapped to the door. She smiled. It was him!

"We haven't seen you for three days," her cousin told Giorgio.

Instantly, she felt anger bubble inside her. How dare her cousin say something like that? He sounded almost scolding.

"Yes, sir. I decided to accompany my troops on maneuvers," Giorgio answered, ever polite.

She felt her heart swell as she closed her eyes happily. She knew his presence would mean her body would put her through hell, but it was worth it just to see him, to be in such close proximity. She gripped her fork tightly as she felt her palms begin sweating.

She didn't hear what the other men were saying, but suddenly he was talking again in his smooth, deep voice and she couldn't get enough.

"Nonsense," he smiled, sitting at the setting next to her and picking up his napkin.

He'd found her letter! Now that he was so close, she'd forgotten about it completely. It didn't matter, not now that he was so close. But she still wanted him to open it, to read it. She wanted him to know how she felt about him, what her heart felt, what her body felt. She wanted him to know that she wasn't going anywhere, that she would be here for him.

Fosca's body tensed, her back straight, as she saw Giorgio pick up the letter and begin to open it. He stopped, sensing her eyes on him. He looked at her out of the corner of his eye and found her looking at him expectantly. He quickly folded her letter, hiding it in his breast pocket. Then, as if nothing happened, he picked up his fork and took a bite of the veal.

"Excuse me, Doctor," Giorgio asked over the roar of conversation at the table. "Why do you always place that gold coin on the table at mealtime?"

The doctor smiled, "For thirty years, I've done that whenever I dine with other officers. The first meal where no one talks about horses or women-"

More of her cousin's men finished the sentence in tandem, "-I'll surrender my golden coin."

Much of the table erupted in laughter. She chanced another look at Giorgio, who was not laughing with the others.

Oh! She had so much to tell him! She heard the men continue talking as she continued to stare at Giorgio out of the corner of her eye.

Giorgio reached by her hand for the salt. Wasting no time, she grabbed his hand in hers before drawing it to her side and under the table where no one would see.

"I've missed you so," she whispered to him, clutching his hand. Her skin burned at the contact but she ignored it, clutching his hand even tighter.

"Please," Giorgio whispered back.

Please what? Fosca wondered as her head swam. "You must read my letter."

"Let go of my hand. Let go," he said, trying to pull his hand from her surprisingly strong grasp. For a woman so ill and weak, she had him beat.

Happily, Fosca held Giorgio's hand in her lap, her fingers entwined with his. Her head was swimming and she could feel the heat beginning to pulsate between her thighs just inches from where his fingers were. For the second that time that night, she smiled. The doctor looked at her questioningly when she raised a forkful of the dry, tasteless food to her lips.

"Would you please pass the salt?" her doctor asked, still staring.

Giorgio fought to pull his hand back again but she held fast as she put down her fork and passed the salt down the table to the doctor.

The doctor turned his questioning gaze to Giorgio, "Not hungry, Captain?"

"Yes, yes," Giorgio replied, using his free hand to help himself to some of the veal on his plate.

"Colonel," her Giorgio said suddenly. "I've received a letter this morning. I'm urgently required in Milan. I request a leave of at least five days." Next to him, Fosca froze, mid-chew.

"What?" the doctor asked, calling attention to Giorgio's request. The table grew very quiet.

"If you had asked me this in my office, I might have refused. You've been here only a month…" her cousin began, trailing off.

In her mind, Fosca was shouting, pleading that her cousin refuse his request. He just came back! She had just been without him for three days and now, after one meal, she was to be without him for another five? She didn't know if she could take it.

"I realize that, sir. It's of some importance."

"When do you want to leave?" her cousin asked.

"As soon as possible," Giorgio responded.

No! she thought desperately.

"Very well," her cousin nodded. "After all, how can I refuse a guest at my table?"

"By this time tomorrow, Bachetti, you'll probably be in the arms of some young beauty," one soldier joked.

But that joke… It cut through her. He was leaving her. Again. She dropped his hand, standing and stumbling away from the table. The pulsating between her thighs was gone as was the happiness she'd been filled with only moments before.

She felt a scream, the first sign of a convulsion, rising in her throat. She barely had managed to fall onto her bed before the scream ripped through her body. Every gasp for air was released in another scream as her body shuddered violently. Slipping into unconsciousness, her muscles tensed and her limbs contracted against her body.

Hours later, Fosca awoke, the coppery tang of her own blood filling her mouth told her she had bitten her tongue during her seizure. Someone-the doctor, she assumed- had cushioned her head with a pillow and moved her to the center of the bed. She dismissed the thought as she remembered Giorgio would be leaving soon.

"No," she breathed, hurrying from her room and to the courtyard, praying he hadn't left already.

She leaned heavily against the shadowed wall in the courtyard. She was so cold, so tired but she didn't dare go back to the warmth of her room. She wouldn't risk missing him. Her breath caught when she saw Giorgio salute and walk past the soldiers doing their drills.

"When will you be back?" she asked, stepping into the chill of the open courtyard and out of the shadows.

"What are you doing up and out at this hour?" Giorgio demanded, confused and surprised at her presence.

"When will you be back?" she repeated.

"You know I have a five-day leave," Giorgio answered.

"Will you think about me when you're gone?" Fosca hoped, smiling as she stepped closer to him.

She never could help herself. Being this close to him… Her head was swimming already and she felt her stomach seize and flip.

"Thinking about my work, my superiors, your cousin, I will no doubt think of you," he responded, trying to step around her. Fosca stepped in front of him. Giorgio exhaled, "Signora, please. Don't make this difficult."

The heat pooled suddenly between her thighs, throbbing. A slave to her body's overwhelming desires, she clutched his hand as she had at dinner but brought it to her lips, kissing passionately and spreading the fire to her lips. She continued to kiss his hand, hungry for more contact with him.

"Signora, you must stop this behavior immediately," Giorgio scolded.

She ignored him, her hands trailing up his strong arms as she stepped into his space. She pressed her body against his hard chest, inhaling deeply as she buried her face in the crook of his neck.

He pushed her to arm's length before stepping back, away from her. "What will people think if they see this display?"

She knew she should be ashamed, knew she should ignore her body's erratic messages, but she couldn't control herself, not when he was so close to her. Not when the memory of his dancing with the white stars as pleasure rolled over her was so unbearably recent. She looked up at his face-his beautifully perfect face- as the sting of his rejection brought tears to her eyes. "What does it matter if they see me? What do I care if the world knows how I feel?" He looked away and she stepped closer, needing him to hear. "I adore you. Is that something I should be ashamed of? Is that something I should hide?"

She saw him beginning to look around, looking for an escape. "I'm no fool. I know you don't feel the same towards me. But one loves a dog, an animal." He looked at her again just in time to see her drop to her knees; she grabbed his leg. "What can I do to get you to love me - a human being such as yourself?"

The tears spilled from her eyes as she buried her face against his pantleg. Her body shook with the sheer force of her sobbing, all her self-control gone. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she wondered where her resolve to appear strong in front of him had fled to. But the tears were flowing now and, try as she might, she couldn't keep them from falling. She sucked in air, hiccoughing as she attempted to stop crying.

He looked around, helplessly. "Get up, Signora, please," Giorgio asked, kneeling as he tried to disentangle himself from her grasp. Supporting her under each elbow, he pulled her to her feet. "Calm down. Calm down, please. I am touched by your affection. It flatters me greatly. My mind is racing with a thousand thoughts."

Already, he was starting to walk away. Fosca held desperately to his arm, "Tell me your thoughts."

"I must go."

"Write me?" she begged.

"Fine. I will write you," he sighed.

"Promise?" Fosca asked, her tears still threatening to fall.

"Yes, I promise."

"Tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow," he nodded. He looked at her, anger in his eyes. "Now, go. I want no one to see you here."

Fosca stared into his eyes, she loosened her grip on his arms, finally letting go as she backed away, "Bless you."

He practically flew from the courtyard and she watched him go, the tears rolling down her cheeks once more.

His last sentence, his goodbye to her, echoed in her mind-"I want no one to see you here"- and she rushed, stumbling, from the courtyard to her private quarters where she collapsed on the bed.

Like the day of her last supervised excursion, her body was crying out after her encounter with Giorgio. She knew that it was his touch that did this to her.

Exhausted, she undid the buttons on her dress and weakly kicked it to the floor. Clad only in her slip, she relaxed into her pillows. She knew what her body was pleading for this time, she didn't understand it at all, but she knew.

She pulled her slip up past her stomach before timidly spreading her legs and reaching between them.

Unlike the first time, she knew what to expect but that didn't keep her from whimpering, a soft moan escaping her lips, as waves of pleasure assaulted her weak frame.

She pressed harder against her painfully throbbing sex, one hand pushing the other's fingers where she needed the touch the most. She closed her eyes tightly, Giorgio swimming behind them, as she moaned again. She threw her head back, her hips bucking against the pressure applied firmly between her thighs.

Oh, my Giorgio! she thought, a screamed moan escaping her throat as the white-hot pleasure reached a boiling point within her.

So close, she thought. To what, she didn't know, but she could feel the desired release just inches away as her body relaxed against her pillows.

No! It's right there! she pressed desperately into the wet heat to no avail. She couldn't get herself any closer to that euphoric release.

She was sure the entire encampment of her cousin's men had heard her moans of pleasure and she hoped fervently that they would assume it was just another of her fits.

She heard footsteps rushing up the steps and quickly pushed her slip back down to its normal state. She paused, thinking for a beat, before wiping her fingers on the bedspread and rolling over to feign sleep.

"Signora?" she heard the doctor ask as he rushed in, the door slamming against the wall.

He went to her bedside and took her wrist in his hand. "Your pulse is racing," he noted. "And you're flushed. Signora?"

Stop touching me, she thought, her body still pleading for its euphoric release that had evaded her. His touching her was definitely not helping her body's screams.

The doctor reached across her form to rest a hand on her forehead, taking her temperature. Fosca's breath hitched as he grazed her breast as he pulled his hand back.

"Signora?" he asked again, noticing her movement.

She forced the breath out smoothly, not wanting to discuss why she had screamed.

He put one hand dangerously close to her breast and the other on her hip before shaking her lightly. "Wake up, Signora."

"What?" she asked, her voice husky where she had intended it to be groggy.

"Signora, what…" the doctor paused, searching for the right words. "What made you scream?"

She didn't answer, unsure of where he was going with this. He never asked why she screamed. She screamed so often, it was commonplace, never questioned.

"Signora, were… Have you been…" he sighed, frustrated.

And his hand was still so close to her breast… Fosca's body jerked suddenly, surprising them both.

One hand was now pressing lightly against her breast, the other had fallen precariously close to the throbbing heat still between her thighs. Her eyes fluttered close as her body arched into his touch.

"Please, doctor," Fosca whimpered, unable to stop her body's determination to be touched. "I need my sleep."

The doctor quickly recoiled, his suspicion confirmed by her body's betrayal. "Yes, Signora. Of course. I apologize."

He backed out of the room, closing the door behind him, as Fosca turned her face into the pillow to hide her embarrassed flush.

She had no doubt that he would bring this up to her later and she only hoped that he wouldn't tell her cousin. That would not be a conversation she would relish having to be a party to.


Chapter Text

Fosca sat in her quarters anxiously awaiting the mail, wringing her hands nervously as she stared out the window at the streets.

Surely the mail must arrive soon! It is nearly dinner! It must arrive. she thought. Giorgio had left the day before so his letter was due to arrive with the day's mail.

She heard footsteps and knew it would be the doctor wanting to discuss what had happened but she couldn't tear her eyes from the window.

"Signora?" he asked, knocking on the door as he entered.

"Yes?" Still Fosca didn't look away from the window.

"Signora, I have something urgent to discuss with you. Signora?" The doctor stepped closer, standing behind her as he spoke. "Signora, are you quite alright?"

"No, I-I don't feel well. I must rest, doctor," she muttered, standing as she continued looking out the window.

She felt the doctor's arm encircle her small waist as he guided her away from her perch at the window and to her bed. "Signora Fosca… Yesterday, when you had screamed, do you remember what you had been doing beforehand?"

"When? I'm afraid I can't-can't recall," she swallowed past the growing lump in her throat as her doctor pulled the blankets from their neatly made setting so that she could climb into the bed. She sat on the bed, pulling her feet under her as she leaned against her many pillows. "Why do you ask?"

He pulled her blankets up around her, avoiding meeting her gaze. "Your screams didn't… They didn't sound the way they usually do. I wanted to see if there was a connection to be made if you remembered what you were doing."

Fosca could feel how awkward he felt, she could sense it. She almost felt bad. Almost. She wasn't going to make this easy on him. Her dreams and visions of Giorgio were private, she didn't want to share them with this man who worked for her cousin. "I don't remember."

"Do you remember when I came in to check on you?" he pressed on. "When I tried to wake you, you-Your body…"

"Doctor, I don't remember. What are you speaking of? You are making me feel even more in need of rest," she huffed, her eyes flicking to the window. One of her cousin's men was approaching the house with the post! "I need to sleep."

"Yes, Signora. I'm sorry. I will leave you to your rest," he nodded, turning from her and looking as relieved as she felt.

When the door clicked closed, Fosca threw the covers from herself and hurried to her chair by the window. She was seated comfortably when she heard an uncertain knocking on her door.

"Enter," she called. She recognized this one though she was unsure of his name. He was often at dinner. If she wasn't mistaken, he was one of the men that she often heard gossiping below, though they thought she couldn't hear them. She smiled as she saw the letters in his hand. The man nodded as he handed her a letter before leaving.

Hungrily, she tore open the letter, her eyes taking in the name at the end of it.

"Giorgio," Fosca breathed, her eyes closing as she held the letter to her breast. He had kept his promise! And his writing was so beautiful, each swirl and line so exquisite!

She read quietly to herself, her smile quickly fading, "I am writing to you, Signora, just as soon as I've arrived with a most unhappy heart. I do not wish to cause you pain so please consider what I say with calm. My heart-My heart belongs-" She stumbled over the sentence as tears swam in her eyes. Taking a deep breath as she wiped her eyes, she continued, "My heart belongs to someone else. I am in love, hopelessly in love-Hopelessly in love, and am loved hopelessly in turn, Signora.

"You and I, we're not meant for each other. If I seemed to imply something more I apologize. But since we're forced to be together, let us try to face the fact. Let us both behave with tact. If this letter seems cold-hearted it conceals my own distress. Nonetheless, we must end what never started. You must recognize there is nothing between us."

Tears were flowing freely from her eyes now despite how she'd tried to stop them. She could feel her heart breaking as she reread his last line, one word sticking out Her voice broke as she began crying quietly, "Nothing ... Nothing, nothing…"

Giorgio's letter fell from her shaking hands as she covered her mouth, fighting back a sob. She stumbled back to her bed, curling under her sheets as she buried her face in a pillow.

She knew, her doctors had always told her, that if she stayed calm, she would avoid more attacks. And so she fought against the sobs that wracked through her body, biting her pillow and holding her breath.

A scream broke through her lips, muffled into the pillow she was biting so desperately. Each of her following gasping breaths released in screams into her pillow as well as she trembled, her limbs clenching tightly against her form.

When she awoke, her cousin was by her bedside, having a heated conversation with the doctor.

"Colonel, it has been over a day. You know as well as I that she never blacks out this long. I believe, sir, that she has taken a turn for the worse. With her condition as it is, I am not sure that she'll even wake."

"I refuse to accept that! You will do your best and keep me notified of any change. I wish to be alerted the second she wakes up. Do you understand?" her cousin demanded. She noticed that he had her hand clasped tightly with both of his and she sensed in him a great fear.

Fosca squeezed her cousin's hand weakly and his eyes immediately darted to her face. She attempted a smile for him, her only family, "Am I dying again?"

"Of course not, my dear! Of course not! Are you hungry?" he motioned for her maid to bring her food before she shook her head.

"No, no. Cousin, what is today?"

"You have been… Asleep for over twenty-four hours. You've already missed lunch. Are you sure you don't want anything?"

She ignored him, "And how many of those hours have you been at my side, dear cousin? Go! Go to your troops. How will your men get along if you are not there to guide them? You and I both know they are not the brightest of men, they need your guidance!" She smiled again, teasing this time as she tried to calm her cousin's worried state.

"Very well, my dear. You will let me know if you need me?" She nodded as he rose, the doctor following close behind.

When the door closed, she motioned for her attendant.

"Yes, Signora? What may I do for you?" the man asked nervously, fidgeting.

"I want to know the moment Captain Bachetti returns. I wish to speak with him. Please bring him here when he arrives. That is all, thank you," she ordered.

"Of course, Signora. But, you don't want lunch?"

"No. Just alert me when Captain Bachetti is here," she repeated.

When she was left alone, she crawled out of bed and retrieved her letter from Giorgio. She placed it in a book and brought it to her bed.

She felt terrible, her head hurt, her chest ached, and she longed to close her eyes and surrender to the exhaustion she fought every time she closed her eyes. But she knew it was only a matter of time until Giorgio would return and she wanted to speak to him straightaway, wanted to ensure that she would at least be permitted to see him even if he would never return her feelings of such deep affection and adoration.

"Signora? Captain Bachetti is here."

Fosca nodded and motioned for his arm. Her attendant helped her from bed and escorted her to her chair before taking a step back to await instructions. "You may escort him in and then that will be all. You are dismissed. Thank you."

"Signora Ricci will see you now," the man said, opening the door and stepping out of the way so he could enter.

Giorgio nodded briskly to her attendant as he passed him. He stood at attention before her and her heart skipped a beat as her stomach flipped. He was so beautiful! Her attendent closed the door behind him, leaving the pair alone.

She forced a smile, cold despite the warmth the warmth that flooded her body. "I received your letter and I thank you. I hope we can still take hands," she reached out for him, her fingers aching to touch his as her body's desires took hold.

"Of course. We can certainly be friendly," Giorgio sighed, relieved. He took her hand in his, squeezing it lightly.

He released her hand all too soon and she folded it in her lap, fidgeting. "You have no idea how mortified I am." She looked away, unable to look at his beautiful features any longer.

"Mortified?" he questioned, confused. She could hear the confusion in his voice and wondered, despite herself, if it had made it to his eyes. She chanced a look. He was staring at her intently, his exquisite eyes bearing into her own.

Fosca blinked several times, looking away. She swallowed, staring at her hands as she wrung them nervously, "About everything that has happened. My emotions sometimes overpower my judgment."

"I found your affection very flattering," he told her.

She looked up to see if he meant what he was saying and she saw a patronizing smile spread across his handsome features. She scoffed, "How indulgent you are with me!"

They fell silent as her gaze fell back to her lap.

"Did you amuse yourself in Milan?" she finally asked, still unable to meet his eyes.

"Yes. Very much," he answered, a genuine smile gracing his features now when she glanced up.

He was remembering her, no doubt. This woman he was hopelessly in love with. Jealousy burned within her.

She wanted him to say it, to admit why he had left her all alone for three days. "Admit that you only took leave to visit my rival."

"Your rival?" he looked to her, pulled from his daydreams, to see her staring at him expectantly. "Yes, of course that was the purpose of my visit."

She bit her lip, fighting tears. "Excuse me. I can be so naive in respect to you. I should have understood what you meant by the 'urgent need that required your leave.'" She forced out an uneven breath, "And will you go back soon?"

"Whenever I can. As soon as possible," he answered, his response cutting through her.

"If you get another leave?" she managed, again unable to meet his eye. She focused, instead, on the dully painted wall and she noticed out of the corner of her eye that he was doing the same.

"Naturally."

"Perhaps I should put in a word with my cousin. Help from me might serve you well," she smiled at him and saw him turn to look at her again, his interest piqued. She looked away from him, back to her stretch of empty wall, "Of course, a negative word …"

She let it dangle, sure he would understand what she was getting at. Painful as it might be for her, she would convince her cousin to let him take these leaves often. All she wanted from him now was the original promise she had extracted from him. She wanted him as a friend, if nothing else. After finally having someone to talk to, she couldn't bare being left to her own devices again.

Giorgio snapped irritably at her, "Place more value on your dignity. Don't offend your pride, Signora."

"We each deal with our pride as best we can," Fosca ground out.

They fell silent again and she could sense his irritation and desire to leave.

"You love this woman very much?" she asked, her voice sounding stronger than she felt.

"I wrote to you," he responded, his referring to the letter paining her further.

There is nothing between us.

She swallowed, forcing back tears but her voice broke anyway, betraying her pain, "Is she- beautiful?"

Back in his daydreams of this woman, he didn't notice, "An angel."

"Then why don't you marry her?" she asked, trying to bring his attention back to her as she swallowed again.

He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, looking uncomfortable, "She is already married."

Fosca couldn't repress the disapproval in her voice, "Oh. And you respect her?" She was liking this woman less and less with each passing moment, adulterous woman!

"Respect has everything to do with love!" Giorgio answered, defensive.

"That's not true, but it hardly matters." She couldn't believe that a man as virtuous and good as he would embark in an adulterous relationship, would prefer such a disloyal wretch to herself when she tried to live her life in a pure, just manner.

"And is your angel also a mother?" she asked after a brief silence.

"Let's stop torturing each other!" he changed the subject somewhat angrily. "It's humiliating and unworthy of us. I find your sarcasm most distasteful."

She exhaled slowly, looking away once more. "I have many flaws, Captain," she responded dryly.

"Our situation has been well-defined. Let's not discuss the subject further," he ignored her comment.

"That is what I would like."

"Good. I hope we have no further occasion to speak of ourselves," he said, disapproving.

"You may also hope that we do not see each other again," she threatened. And it hurt more because she knew the thought of that killed her and didn't bother him in the least.

"That might be the best course of action," he nodded.

She took a deep breath, composing herself. "You may go now, Captain. I have more important things to do," she instructed coldly. She heard him click his heels as he turned and she looked up to watch him leave. He hadn't even given her a second glance as she watched him tearfully.

With a pained sigh, she forced herself from the chair and stumbled back to her bed. Witch much effort, she climbed between the sheets and cocooned herself as she cried herself into an exhausted sleep.

For three weeks, she didn't leave her rooms, instead choosing to eat all of her meals in the silence of her rooms. Her cousin visited her everyday, growing more and more concerned. Her heart went out to him and she felt guilty. But, at the same time, she didn't care.

She heard the doctors conversing, she was dying. She heard them comment: she was terribly pale and refused to eat. Her skin burned to the touch as her fever climbed; Her hysteric convulsions were increasing in frequency and she was unconscious for longer and longer periods of time after each one. But she didn't care.

Giorgio didn't care, didn't love her, wouldn't even be her friend. Why should she care? Why should she make an effort not to let her diseases win when she had nothing to live for? Living, seeing her Giorgio-no, not her Giorgio. That woman's Giorgio-everyday through the window and seeing that he was happier now? Why put herself through that pain? Why not just let herself die?

Chapter Text

She supposed she shouldn't have said anything-she certainly hadn't intended to. But as she woke, she heard the words spilling from her mouth as she told her doctor everything- her feelings for Giorgio, all that had transpired, how he wished her dead and so she would give him that...

"I love him," she'd muttered, her fever incredibly high. "He is all I think of"

Confused, the doctor had nodded as checked her temperature. "Of course, Signora." He'd been even more confused when she'd started weeping. "Wh-What is it?"

"My Giorgio!" Fosca sobbed. "My love! I am weak! I am sorry for hanging on. I do not wish to burden you. I am so sorry, my beloved Giorgio!" Her breathing was labored as she suddenly clung to the doctor, crying into his shoulder. She was hallucinating, her fever creating scenes in her mind.

"Signora!" he pulled away and she fell back against the pillows, still crying as she reached for him.

"Please, my love! I-I know you do not feel as I do but… Please, just let me hold you and then I will surrender and let go. I do not mean to trouble you, my Giorgio. I just love you so… Please…"

Fosca was unconscious again before he could question her further.

She was half convinced it was a dream-a terribly confusing, realistic dream- until her doctor brought up the subject again later that week-was it a week? She'd lost all track of time.

"I will speak to Captain Bachetti this evening and arrange for him to visit you in your rooms if you'd like."

"Why?" Fosca croaked.

"I cannot have you die, Signora Ricci," he smiled good-naturedly. "What would your cousin do?"

"Yes, but… Why the captain? What has he to do with anything?"

"You love him, Signora, do you not?"

Her eyes widened, surprised that he knew this. "Why-How-?" Then she nodded, "Please ask him to come."

"If seeing him, hearing his assurance that he wants you to live, is what it will take then I will arrange it," he smiled again, nodding before he left her.

It doesn't matter. He wishes me dead. He certainly will not come visit me, she told herself, staring at the door her doctor had left through. He doesn't care about me.

She knew it would crush her when he didn't visit, would be the confirmation that he really did wish she was dead. More than that, she knew she wouldn't be able to take it. If-when- he didn't visit her later, it would kill her. She would surrender the last of her strength, that last breath of hope that waited for him, and let herself die.

Fosca dozed, drifting in and out of sleep as she stared at the clock opposite her bed. She'd said goodbye to her cousin earlier- of course, he didn't know it was goodbye. He thought it was just goodnight. And he'd assured her, as he always did, that she'd feel better tomorrow. She didn't tell him there wouldn't be a tomorrow for her.

An hour to midnight… Half an hour…

Her eyes flew open, her body tensing, as her bedroom door closed and she let out a small gasp.

"There's no need to be frightened. It's Giorgio," she heard a smooth voice say.

"Oh, my God… Oh, my God!" she was staring at him now, drinking in his image after being forced to be without it for so long. "I never thought you'd come. Of course, I hoped," she forced herself lean up, trembling with effort as she reached for him.

Reluctantly, Giorgio stepped closer, constantly looking for an escape but she didn't notice this time. He reached out a hand, tentatively intending to take her own.

Desperate to feel his skin, to make sure he was really real and not just another wonderful dream, she grabbed his hand, quickly bringing it to her lips. How sweet his skin tasted when she pressed her lips to the back of his hand hungrily. And his skin was so soft, so cool to the touch, as her lips and tongue caressed it.

Too soon, he was gently pulling his hand away, her lips brushing over his knuckles and then his fingertips as he pulled out of her grasp.

"I'm sorry, these are follies one commits before dying," she told him, reminding him of her fragile state and leaving the choice up to him. If he wished her dead, she would not deny him. But if living meant he would visit her, allow her to speak to him and touch his hands and face, then she would live.

"Don't speak of dying, Signora," he told her.

His voice was distant and on another occasion she would have been able to tell how much he did not want to be in her presence. Now, though, she would do anything he asked and believe anything he told her.

"Now that you're here, I won't," she promised, still leaning towards him. "Will you forgive me for having asked you to come?"

"I am here because I chose to be," he answered, his voice forced.

Fosca managed a small smile as she let out a shuddering breath. "Sit down," she requested. He moved to the chair her cousin usually occupied and the word left her before she even had time to think. "No!" Confused, he looked up at her. She ran her hand over the mattress, "Sit here." He continued staring at her. "Please."

It was a question and a plea, a desperate plea. And he knew it. But in her state, he couldn't deny her. Taking a breath to hide his irritation, he sat on the very edge of the bed, as far from her as he could manage.

"Rest your feet on the bed," she instructed, delighting in his being so close.

"I am fine, Signora," Giorgio told her.

But she was already continuing, "I want you to be comfortable. Please."

She smiled again when he scooted further into the bed-and closer to her-, raising one of his legs onto the mattress. She let herself breathe in his scent, longing to touch him as her fingers itched to make any kind of contact but she restrained herself, only letting herself lean closer to him so that there was almost no space between them.

"God, you are so beautiful," she breathed, moving her head slightly so that the dim light in the room shone on his face, illuminating his features. She was dully aware of his fidgeting, the way his fingers seemed to be itching, too. "Come, let me see you in the light." When he turned towards her, she practically reared back, shielding the light from her own features to keep him from seeing. "No, don't look at me! Let me look at you… I feel better in the dark."

"Your kindness makes you beautiful," he offered.

He still wasn't looking at her, which was fine with her. If he wasn't looking at her, maybe he could fool himself into believing she was beautiful. It was a vain hope, she knew, but it was there. Besides, as long as she could look at him, it hardly mattered where his eyes were trained.

"Do you value such beauty?"

Her voice must have betrayed the answer she longed to hear because then he was looking at her, a stuttered, "Of course," escaping his lips.

"Do you think my heart is good?" Fosca asked, a small smile tugging at her own lips.

"Yes, I do." He was still looking at her, his voice even and measured.

"How do the good hearts beat? Can you distinguish them from the bad?" When he didn't answer, she continued, taking his hand in her own, "Listen to mine." She forced his palm against her left breast, both her hands holding his in place so he could feel her heart racing.

The throbbing she hadn't felt since the night he'd left for Milan suddenly made its return, liquid heat pooling between her thighs. She suddenly noticed how he'd stiffened, as if touching her breast were having an effect on him as well.

"My heart says it loves you, Giorgio," she whispered, her chocolate orbs still trained on him as he continued trying to inch away. Sensing his discomfort, she moved their hands from her breast to his chest, above his heart as she covered his hand with her own. "What does your heart say?"

He took a deep breath, visibly calmer now that her pert breast wasn't pressing eagerly against his palm. "It says it loves you, Fosca."

"Like a friend?" she asked dryly, knowing the truth but wondering if he'd lie for her.

"Tonight…It loves you as you wish," he answered dutifully.

Tears filled her eyes at his profession, this proof that he did care and want her to live. "Thank you, Giorgio! …That day I was so unpleasant to you-" she wiped tears from her eyes, looking around nervously.

"Let's not speak of the past." He shifted, his crystal blue eyes now fully visible. "You are tired. Now that I've come, now that we've spoken, you must go to sleep."

"Will you stay if I do?" she wiped more tears from her eyes, determined not lose a second with him. She was sure he could hear the pleading tone in her voice.

"For a short while," he nodded to pacify her.

"Will you sleep, too?"

Her voice was almost childlike, expectant, as she moved her head so she could continue to gaze at his face. His beautiful, beautiful face.

"If I can," he answered.

"Put your head near mine. Can we dream together?" she laid down, her fatigue catching up with her. Her lungs forced air from her lungs almost painfully as she readjusted herself. But she didn't care because Giorgio was saying "Yes" and laying down beside her.

Unwillingly, Fosca closed her eyes, surrendering to her exhaustion as she unconsciously molded her body against Giorgio's, her hand falling to his chest.

She made a small noise, her eyes fluttering open in confusion. Her body was curled around the hard one of a man, something that had never happened before in her life. What was more puzzling is that she didn't remember how this came to be.

Then her eyes took in the wonderful sight of Giorgio, still sleeping peacefully, and the memory rushed back to her. It wasn't a dream… She ran her tongue over her dry lips nervously, wondering if she should wake him. She would, she decided… Soon. Not yet. No, first she wanted to look at him some more.

So beautiful, she thought again, her hand leaving his chest so she could gently caress his cheek.

Startled, his eyes flew open, his whole body going rigid.

"It is you," she whispered, "I thought I was dreaming."

He pulled away from her, scurrying out of bed and standing beside it as he had when he'd first entered her room.

"Draw the curtain, please," she requested, trying to keep the pain from her voice. Of course she noticed the way he'd practically jumped out of the bed and away from her. "I want to see the stars before the daylight takes them away."

He must have been dreaming, too… Of that woman. And then he awoke with me at his side.

She shifted in the bed, sitting up so she could see him now that he was standing. Almost unconsciously, she was leaning toward him, still desperate to be close to him.

He moved to the window, pushing the curtain out of the way as per request before stepping aside so she could see.

Watching the way he looked out at the stars, she spoke again, "Do you think there are worlds out there?"

"Yes, I do," he nodded, not looking at her.

"Will we ever visit them one day?"

She loved hearing his voice, loved speaking with him, she just couldn't decide if she liked it or not when he seemed to zone out as he spoke. True, she was getting more honest answers and getting to know him… But then he wasn't talking to her.

"I would like to think so. When I was a child I used to dream I could fly - travel to faraway places."

Shaking her head, she continued staring at him, a small smile tugging at her lips. Even now, it continued to surprise her that she could love him more than she already did. "Why is a man like you in the army, Giorgio?"

"My father was an officer. It was expected I would follow in his path," he answered, a slight bitterness detectable in his voice.

Her eyes traversed his hard body as he stood in the erect, army-taught pose.

"Call me by my name," she said, wishing to hear his voice continue, longing to hear his dulcet tones caress the sounds of her own name.

"Fosca."

"Say 'Giorgio and Fosca.'"

"Giorgio and Fosca," he parroted back.

"'Fosca and Giorgio,'" she was smiling again.

"Fosca and Giorgio."

She nearly swooned, shivers running down the length of her spine. "What music!"

It had to be the most beautiful thing she'd ever heard, their names joined that way and by him.

The sudden memory of her, that woman he'd visited in Milan, came to her mind, dragging her back to the harsh reality. "You love this woman very much?"

"Don't ask me. I've told you how I feel," he answered, sounding tired.

It was like her heart broke when he said that. Another reference to that letter, she supposed as she fell silent. She forced herself not to look at him while she bit back tears.

But she had to keep him talking. It was the only way he wouldn't leave her. "What is her name?" She didn't know why she asked that, why she wanted to know, but she did. She had to.

"Clara."

She could hear the difference from when he'd said her name earlier. Now, the love evident in his voice made her want to cry. It was so obvious. "Clara," she repeated.

What an ugly, common name. Obviously, this immoral adulteress is unworthy of him. Why doesn't he see it? She was still trying to force back stubborn tears.

"Fosca, it will be light soon. I should be going," he told her. And she wasn't sure if he'd sensed her sudden change in mood, her sudden pain, or if he'd just been eager to leave since he'd come to see her in the first place.

But if she couldn't have him, iof he wouldn't love her, she wanted something to at least help her pretend. She wanted something he'd written that wasn't that awful letter he'd written before. She wanted to be able to gaze at each exquisite swirl and line he'd made without feeling like her heart was being crushed. She needed it, really.

"Will you do me a great favor before you leave?" she asked, her gaze back on him. "Would you write a letter for me?"

"Certainly," he nodded, seemingly pleased it was to be something that simple.

"There is paper on the chair," she gestured weakly toward her desk, still watching him.

He sat down at the desk she sat at so often, the place where she sat to write as she thought of him. "Yes?" The pen was at the ready, poised over a sheet of paper.

She mentally tucked away which pen he was using, knowing it was to be her new favorite because he had touched it.

"My dearest Fosca …" she began, watching him. He turned to look at her, an irritated expression on his face. Her eyes met his and she couldn't explain, could only beg and hope he'd give her this. "Please."

With an irritated sigh, he looked back to the letter he was writing, parroting back what she'd dictated as he wrote it, "'My dearest Fosca."

Even those words, those three words, would be the most precious thing to her. To be able to see the way he formed those words… She imagined it would be as beautiful as when he'd said their names earlier.

"I wish I could forget you, erase you from my mind." She noticed the way he seemed to be biting back his irritation as he wrote, but she certainly couldn't stop now. Yes, this was to be a letter from him to her but it was really her feelings for him. And she so badly wanted him to know how strongly she felt for him. "But ever since I met you, I find, I cannot leave the thought of you behind… That doesn't mean I love you …" She trailed off, watching him.

"That doesn't mean I love you," he repeated, as though trying to tell her that that phrase was the only true one.

"I wish that I could love you," she continued, her eyes still trained on him. He froze, looking up at her with that same irritated expression on his face as an angry sigh escaped his perfect lips. "Please…" she managed. And he dutifully continued.

"I know that I've upset you, I know I've been unkind," she wiped more of those stubborn tears from her eyes and tried to ignore the too-recent memory of his anger when he'd come back. "I wanted you to vanish from sight, but now I see you in a different light." She couldn't look at him anymore, too embarrassed. She looked everywhere but at him, trembling with emotion and effort.

"And though I cannot love you, I wish that I could love you." She heard his irritated sigh again but noticed that he didn't stop writing.

"For now I'm seeing love like none I've ever known. A love as pure as breath, as permanent as death, implacable as stone. A love that, like a knife, has cut into a life I wanted left alone." She wondered if he noticed-between his irritated sighs of anger- how she was shivering. "A love I may regret, but one I can't forget."

She also wondered if he'd realized yet that these were her emotions for him as much as they were the emotions she wished he had for her. If he did, it didn't seem to effect him at all.

"I don't know how I let you so far inside my mind," she was pouring her heart out now, rocking back and forth as she tried to make her trembling less noticeable. And all for him in the hopes that he might reciprocate even a little. "But there you are and there you will stay. How could I ever wish you away? I see now I was blind."

"And should you die tomorrow, another thing I see: Your love will live in me… I remain always... Your Giorgio," she finished, gazing at him again. She was suddenly exhausted again, her emotions draining her. She watched him sign the letter with a flourish before blotting it. "Please bring it to me?"

He stood, standing as far away as possible as he handed her the letter, which she quickly looked over to see if it was what she had dictated-it was. And seeing the beautiful curls and lines of his writing, knowing that it was as close to a love letter as she would ever receive from him, tears pooled in her eyes as she bit her bottom lip. "Thank you, Giorgio."

He stood, so far away, and was silent.

She began folding the letter, "Do you have sisters?"

"Yes," he answer, obviously confused as to where she was going with this.

She looked up at this, a small bubble of hope forming in her chest. "Do you kiss them goodbye?" she inquired, still folding the letter.

"On occasion," he answered, stony-faced, as he realized what she intended.

"Kiss me goodbye the way you do them?" she pleaded, leaning towards him expectantly as he held his letter tightly in one hand. She was shaking as he obediently stepped closer to her, tip-toeing to place a chaste kiss on her forehead.

Tears in her eyes and evident in her voice, she wrapped an arm around his neck and pulled him closer, "No, like you kiss her!" She pushed her lips against his, kissing him heavily. "Thank you," she whispered against his lips as he began pushing her away, gently but firmly.

"Now go, Giorgio! Quickly! Run!" she managed, feeling screams welling up in her throat.

He was already gone, though, darting from the room as her screams pierced his ears.

She fell back against the pillows, trembling as her screams escaped her and her limbs contracted inward, tight against her body. She was sobbing through her scream, angry that it had destroyed that moment with Giorgio. Her emotions had so quickly overcome her-so much sadness and love and joy combining in a way that made her head spin and her body pound- that she hadn't had any more of an indication before her screams had gathered within her and signaled her impending seizure. She didn't even see him leave, her eyes tightly closed as she was forced to succumb to her illness and most recent seizure.

Chapter Text

She heard them. Her cousin didn't, she was sure. But she did... They thought they were so clever, so funny. No. They were irritating. And insignificant... And cowardly.

"Did you hear that scream last night?"

"Did anybody not!"

"She knows how to scream all right."

"Well, she practices a lot."

Is that really what they thought? She rolled her eyes, sighing. Yes, she practiced. It was all intentional. She just wanted attention. Whose attention, she wondered, did they think she wanted? Theirs? The idea was laughable. She'd be much happier if they all would leave her alone. … She may be more inclined to go to meals if they weren't there... All of them with their simplistic idle chatter.

"So that wasn't dying, we assume?"

"No, I think she just fell off her broom."

A witch crack? Were her cousin's men five? Honestly! What superstitious fools. … And if she was a witch, wouldn't she have used her magic to be beautiful? … What idiots.

"Or they hung a mirror in the room of La Signora!"

"La Signora!"

"La Signora!"

Yes... Fools. Like she'd never seen her reflection before! And even if she hadn't, she wasn't frightening. She was... Plain. Unattractive. Ugly. … But not frightening. She wouldn't have screamed in response. … God, they were fools.

She couldn't even be angry with them. She just pitied them for their lack of intelligence. No wonder Giorgio seemed to hate it here. Their drills were mindless, perfect for the rest of her cousin's men. But Giorgio needed more. No... She wasn't angry with them for the way they spoke about her.

"Just a bit aloof, don't you think?"

"Not around the Colonel."

"Gentleman, gentleman."

They wouldn't dare.

"Never trust a man who doesn't drink."

"And he keeps a journal!"

They couldn't. One of their own!

"Maybe, though, he just prefers his books."

"Not as much as he prefers his looks."

They were talking about Giorgio! Her Giorgio.

Now she was angry with them. Giorgio had done so much more than they. He'd saved a man in his battalion. He was brave. And strong. And good.

What had they done? Gossiped about a sick woman? Ran mindless drills? Talked about horses? Talked about each other?

They were weak. And cowardly... And foolish.

"Which is why he thinks he's got his hooks into La Signora!"

"Gentleman, I'll make a wager: come the summer, he'll be Major!"

"I'll say!"

"I'll say!"

… He had his hooks in her, that was true—she was surprised they'd picked up on her affection for him when her cousin had not—but he didn't do it on purpose. If he had, he wouldn't have left her for so long. He wouldn't have told her about Clara. No, the... Friendship she had with Giorgio was real. He wasn't faking it. He was too good and noble to do that. He wouldn't toy with her affections that way.

… No, not her Giorgio. They were stupid, foolish men.

The doctor, too. He'd told her that she wasn't to contact Giorgio. No talking if she saw him, no writing, no reaching out. He was insane if he thought she wasn't going to speak to him. She loved Giorgio. And he was her friend. She couldn't even imagine being without him. It had nearly killed her before... And he wanted her to do that again? He'd actually forbidden her from writing him. …. Foolish man.

She finished the letter she'd been writing him to tell him about her past, signing it with a flourish and blotting it before kissing the paper. She clutched the pen he'd used the night before to her breast, letting out a slow sigh. She was sure she imagined it, but she could still feel the heat from his hand on the pen.

She still couldn't believe the doctor expected her to heed him in not writing or speaking to Giorgio... It was such a joy, such a relief to have someone to whom she could tell her feelings and share her past with—she'd told Giorgio as much in her letter to him.

Groaning in the back of her throat—her usual growl of pain—she forced herself into a standing position. It was time for yet another bland, tasteless meal with her cousin's foolish men. With her condition and her near-miss with death last night, she would have skipped it. But... Giorgio—her beautifully perfect Giorgio—would be there. And she could sit by him. And speak with him. And... Simply be near him.

Distressingly, though, Giorgio was absent from lunch. And then dinner. And then breakfast the next morning. In fact, despite her dragging herself to meals, she didn't see him for another five days. He didn't come speak with her, she didn't see him at meals or in the garden. She was beginning to fear that he was avoiding her... Again. Didn't he realize what that would do to her? Did he, perhaps, want her to die?"

No. He had come to her when she was on her deathbed, telling her he loved her and not to speak of death. He told her he was there because he wanted to be. He wanted her to live.

Her eyes caught sight of him as he passed under her window, heading for the bluff. She knew she wasn't to go out unattended... But she had to speak with him. She... Missed him. So much. She could barely stand it. It hurt—physically ached—to be away from him. It'd been so long since she'd been able to be close to him, to feel his strong arms around her.

She grabbed her shawl, glancing around before slipping out the back entrance to her cousin's house. She didn't realize the way she stumbled several times, falling once—maybe twice—as she made her way to the bluff. Her thoughts were trained on Giorgio. He was so close now. She just... Needed to see him. She didn't have to talk to him. She could... Just look at him. He was so beautiful.

She stopped when she reached the end of the trail leading to the bluff, her chocolate eyes hungrily taking in the sight of him. He was leaning against one of the rocks, his eyes trained on the letter he was holding. She watched his perfect lips form the words, his lips and tongue forming that woman's name.

"You came a great distance to read her letters," she said softly, announcing her presence. She watched him look up, his eyes resting on her as he sighed irritably. "Are you running away from me?"

Her Giorgio shook his head, biting back another sigh as he re-folded his letter and put it in his breast pocket.

"Ever since I have recovered, you've made every effort to be free of my company." She wondered if the pain she felt showed in her voice.

"There are times," he spoke slowly, measuring his words carefully, "when I wish to be alone."

"I know that I offend you," she whispered, sure her voice betrayed her now.

"No," he stopped her before she could continue. "I won't have this conversation."

"And what kind of conversation would you prefer, Captain?" she asked dryly, taking a step closer.

God, she just wanted to reach out and touch him. She wanted to lean against him, her head pillowed by his strong shoulder. It hurt that he wished to be alone so often. She knew that wasn't what it was. He wished to be away from her.

"Something innocuous? Perhaps we could discuss your troops. Or maybe we should talk about the weather," she continued, her head tilted to the side as she glanced into the sky. "It feels like rain, don't you think?"

He clucked his tongue, looking away, "I think you can be incredibly difficult."

"I didn't come her to be difficult; I came here simply to share your company," she took several steps closer, trying to ignore the way her heart pulsed painfully when he stepped further away.

Giorgio turned around, stopping his speech even before he started as his eyes took in the sight of her fully, "What's happened to your hands?"

She looked down, holding them in front of her as she realized suddenly that she was bleeding. She glanced back the way she came, trying to remember. "I... must have fallen." She looked back down at them, her breath catching when he took them in his own as he wrapped them.

"You have no business being out here," he growled in the back of his throat.

Her head was spinning, her heart racing, as she watched him wrap her hands. She couldn't keep herself from leaning forward, wishing she was wrapped in his arms. "Do you wish me dead?" she managed.

If that had been what he had wanted, he shouldn't have come to her. She would have surrendered her life to make his easier. Anything for him.

"Fosca!" His voice came out as a half gasp as he back-pedaled, not wanting to be confronted with this. "Don't be so unfair."

"You're right," she whispered, looking down at her shaking hands. He'd touched her... "I am unfair. I want to free you from my affection. I know what I am doing to you."

He sighed, taking several steps further away from her and staring in the opposite direction.

"Why is it violets and daisies blossom now?" she asked, her eyes taking in their surroundings. He was standing, his figure framed by the flowers that paled next to his beauty. She smiled at the sight, committing it to memory.

"They mistake autumn's warmth for April," he answered slowly, still not looking at her.

He was talking again. She closed her eyes, letting the sound of his voice wash over her. Her eyes fluttered open again as a songbird's music broke through the song of his voice. "What is that bird that sings?" she asked, hoping he'd keep talking to her.

"A wren, I think," he replied shortly.

She was watching him hungrily again, rocking her weight to her other foot so she was even a little closer. "What does it look like?"

"It's gray," he snapped at her, glaring. He let out a slow sigh, "And I believe it is the smallest of birds."

"The smallest," she echoed, smiling. "You know so much..." She watched him glance around and it escaped her before she even realized what she was saying. "Kiss me?" She with a start what she'd asked and she watched him turning to glare, half in shock. "Yes, I know a woman shouldn't ask such a thing," she said slowly, her voice choked. "A woman shouldn't have followed a man here. Given my appearance, I don't behave as other women do." Her voice was, perhaps, colder than she intended. She closed her eyes, biting her lower lip and her voice softened instantly, "And so I ask you for a kiss." She swallowed slowly as he answered her with silence. Her voice came out a desperate plea, "Then I'll kiss you." She crossed the clearing, hugging his back and pressing a kiss to his shoulder.

"Is this what you call love?" he demanded, pulling out of her grasp and making stumble back a few steps. "This endless and insatiable, smothering pursuit of me. You think that this is love?" He shook his head as he looked at her, both of them knowing how pitiful she looked, "I'm sorry that you're lonely; I'm sorry that you want me as you do. I'm sorry that I fail to feel the way you wish me to feel. I'm sorry that you're ill; I'm sorry you're in pain; I'm sorry that you aren't beautiful."

She instinctively flinched back from his words, trying to hide her pain and knowing she was failing utterly.

"But yes I wish you'd go away and leave me alone!" he stalked past her and she turned, still watching him closely.

She was shaking her head, her teeth digging into her lower lip, as she forced back tears. She stared at the ground, angry at herself for ruining this moment. The first time she'd seen him in days and she'd had to push. Now he hated her... Again.

"Everywhere I turn, there you are. This is not love, just some kind of obsession," he was gesturing wildly and his eyes met hers.

Hers were shining with tears as she stubbornly looked up at him. If he was going to leave her again, she wanted to be able to remember everything she could. At least he could not take her memories of him.

"Will you never learn when too far is too far? Have you no concern for what I feel, what I want?" he gestured widely, continually looking to the sky. "Love is what you earn and return. When you care for another so much that the other's set free. Don't you see? Can't you understand?" he shouted, wheeling around and pacing again. "Love's not a constant demand; it's a gift you bestow. Love isn't sudden surrender; it's tender and slow. It must grow."

She continued watching him, the tears that had pooled in her chocolate eyes slipping slowly down her cheeks as she forced a shaky breath. He was talking about her. That woman. That... Common, adulterous whore. He would never want her; he preferred that common adulteress to her.

"Yet everywhere I go, you appear or I know you are near. This is not love, just a need for possession," he pointed angrily at her. "Call it what you will; this is not love. This is a reverse; like a curse, something out of control." He stalked closer, his anger radiating off him in waves, "I've begun to fear for my soul!"

His breath was hot in her face, his beautiful features twisted in a snarl. Her eyelids fluttered as she fought against the impending attack of her system against her. Her knees buckled and she felt her muscles starting to seize, those in her abdomen forcing a sharp gasp from her lips. She was vaguely aware of a loud clap of thunder as she shuddered and surrendered to her most recent attack, crumpling to the ground as she fell unconscious.

She groaned, rolling slightly as she lifted her hand to her head. She couldn't remember how she'd arrived here. The last thing she remembered was... She closed her eyes, biting her lip to ward off a fresh onslaught of tears as the memories flooded her.

Giorgio. Yelling at her. All but confessing his... Hatred for her.

Her eyes narrowed, searching the room before she realized that what she was hearing was snatches of conversation. Her cousin's men... Gossiping again.

"Both of them were soaked to the skin."

"Where had they been?"

"On the bluff."

"Were they all alone?"

"No one knows."

"You don't suppose..."

"Ugh!"

Oh, that was nice. More gossiping about a sick woman. She wondered idly if they realized what terrible people that made them. … And surely she wasn't that unattractive.

"Gentlemen, enough!"

"Still, it would explain Signora's attitude."

"Why she comes to every meal."

"It isn't for the veal."

Of course it wasn't for the sad, tasteless meals they were given. Starving dogs would pass on it.

"And it would explain the Colonel's gratitude."

"I hear he calls him 'Giorgio.'"

Oh, his name. Even just his name was music to her.

"But nobody is that brave."

"No, that's cheek."

"Nobody is that brave."

"Wouldn't you like to peek?"

"Ugh!"

She was not that repulsive. Yes, she wasn't... Beautiful... Giorgio had told her that much, confirmed it... Angrily and harshly. But.. She wasn't that repulsive.

"Gentlemen, I think I'll change my wager: he'll be major next week."

"I'll say!"

"I'll say!"

"I'll say!"

No... The words of her cousin's men... They were foolish. Giorgio wasn't leading her on... Surely the events she remembered proved that. He'd yelled at her. Called her sick and lonely. And ugly. He... He told her to go away and leave him alone. That wasn't him leading her on. That was hatred.

She had to accept the truth. He'd only come to her the other night because she was on her death bed. Her doctor had convinced him.

She pulled her knees against her chest, burying her face against them as she forced back tears. Another attack now wouldn't help. Nothing would. She wished she'd never fallen in love with him.

This... It hurt so much more than that damn Count Ludovic's betrayal. She wished she could strike him from her heart and her mind... She'd told him so before, in a letter. She didn't know it before. Now she wished it. More than anything. She wished he'd never been transferred here, to play with her emotions when she deserved to be allowed to finish her life peacefully. She wished-

Her mind went blank as the voice of the doctor drifted up and reached her ears. He was telling her cousin and his men something about Giorgio. Something...

She couldn't breathe, couldn't force breath... He—her perfect, beautiful Giorgio—was sick.

Chapter Text

"And how are we feeling today, Signora?" her doctor asked, letting himself into her rooms with a smile.

She looked up from her desk, where she'd been rereading the letter she'd dictated to Giorgio. "Doctor," she started, her voice pained.

... She'd been up half the night worrying about her Giorgio. She couldn't help it. Eventually, she'd given up and sat at her desk, reading and rereading the letter.

"Yes. Signora?" his voice was light, chipper.

"How..." she struggled with her words, knowing she wasn't even supposed to have been talking to Giorgio, let alone writing to him or following him. "As you know, I followed Captain Bachetti to the bluff."

"Yes," he sighed, nodding. "I was aware of that, though I've managed to keep that from your cousin. And, honestly, Signora, what good did it do? You followed him to the bluff and now the both of you are sick." He sounded... Far less chipper and decidedly unamused.

"So it's true then," she breathed, closing her eyes.

She hated to think of her darling Giorgio in any pain. She hated that she was... The cause of it. She would rather her own symptoms be worse than Giorgio feel any pain.

"I beg your pardon?" he asked, now bustling about her room to prepare her bath.

"Doctor, Captain Bachetti; is he... Will he be alright? What's wrong with him?" she couldn't keep herself from asking, she was too worried.

He turned, stopping what he was doing so that he could turn and face her. "Well, if you must know, Signora-"

She nodded, "I must." …. She had to know. She hadn't slept the night before and, in her condition, she needed all the sleep she could get.

"Yes, I've noticed that," he looked serious, grave... Angry. "When he wakes and is cognizant enough to understand, I'll be informing that I've assigned him forty days sick leave."

She couldn't keep the gasp from escaping her, pushing herself up on shaky legs to move closer to him. "Forty days?" she echoed, fear and worry and pain etched into her voice. "Doctor, is that really necessary? Wouldn't he receive better care here, under you?"

Forty days? That was so long. She hated to think how she'd function without him. She was at a loss when it was only a few days at a time. Forty days? That was... Nearly six weeks. … Nearly one thousand hours... It was simply too long. She didn't think she could stand it.

"I believe he will receive adequate care in Milan," he told her, the location pointed. The doctor was sending him to that woman. That... Common adulteress whore. She wouldn't care for him. Not the way Fosca could. "And he will recover more comfortably."

He walked her back to her desk, she only mildly aware as she retreated to the recesses of her mind. "Milan? But-"

"Signora, this is not up for discussion," he interrupted, his voice cold and stern. "You are not a certified doctor and are, therefore, ill-equipped to make an informed decision. He cannot remain here as the necessary care will be far too involved while I must care for you. So Captain Bachetti will be taking his sick leave in the comforts of Milan."

She collapsed back into the chair at her desk, feeling.. Forlorn and broken. "B-but, Doctor-"

"Signora," his voice was gentler this time. "I'm sorry to say, but you would do well to remember the 'other woman' you've mentioned in your delirious ramblings. I believe you said her name was Clara?"

She nodded mutely, unable to focus on him as her mouth open and closed wordlessly, still searching for a reason Giorgio should remain at the base.

"And even if she were not a factor, your cousin would not allow-"

"I am a grown woman, Doctor Tambouri," she ground out, interrupting him.

If Giorgio ever returned her affections, her cousin's permission would not be something she cared about. By all standards, she was not bound to him, he too distantly related to have really taken ownership that he may have been allowed had he been a brother or the like. She stayed with him because he asked her to, because he felt guilty.

"Very well," he conceded, nodding. "But your health would also not allow any romantic relationship with Captain Bachetti. It would be best for you to let him go."

He left her side, finishing preparing her bath water. "Signora, when you are ready, your bath has been drawn. Now, if you'll excuse me, I believe that my attendant at the door would be bringing me news of Captain Bachetti."

She looked to the door, suddenly noticing that one of her cousin's men was standing there. Her fingers curled around the back of the chair as she turned to listen, desperate to know that Giorgio would be alright.

"Doctor Tambouri?"

"Yes?"

"You asked to be alerted the moment Captain Bachetti awoke, I believe. Well, he's just awoken. He is groggy and feverish, but he is awake, sir," the... There was no other word for it. He was a mere boy.

"Very good," the doctor nodded, pleased. "I will be there shortly. You are dismissed." He turned back to her, "Signora, please take your bath and then return to the confines of your bed. This most recent relapse of yours has worried your cousin endlessly and I would like to be able to give him good news."

And with that, he left.

… Giorgio was awake, though he would evidently be leaving within a few days. He was seriously ill, but not in critical condition.

… She would go with him to Milan, to care for him until he was well again. And then... If he wished it, she would leave him alone. She didn't have to bother him; she wouldn't again. After all, the last time she'd interfered- pushed, really- she'd landed him in a sick bed. She wouldn't again. Not once he was well again.


She watched carefully from her window; truthfully, she was getting even less sleep. But it hardly mattered. All that mattered was that she was aware of Giorgio's condition and when he would be leaving.

Two days after her talk with the doctor, she saw them leading Giorgio from the house just after nightfall when the rest of the troops were going to sleep. She quickly grabbed her shawl and suitcase- she'd had it packed since she'd talked with Doctor Tambouri- and slipped silently from the house, having just barely made it onto the train before it started moving. She handed her luggage off to the boy she saw with Giorgio's, managing a weak smile in thanks, before going off in search of her Giorgio.

She stumbled through compartments, finally seeing him in one and opening the door to the compartment to let herself in. She really hadn't any intention to say anything to him- he'd made it clear he didn't want her to. She was going to sit there until they reached Milan. And then she'd care for him in silence, speaking only when spoken to. She could do that for him... If that's what he wanted.

But then he spoke. His voice... smooth and easy, if accusing, "How could you? How dare you follow me?"

"I've come to speak to you," she said... That was partially true. She hadn't intended to speak to him at all- she just wanted to nurse him back to health- but he just had that effect on her. When she was around him, she often found herself saying things she didn't intend to say. Or doing things she'd told herself she wouldn't.

"I am ill," he told her, sounding tired. She didn't like it. He sounded... weak. She preferred when he yelled at her to when he sounded tired and weak... It hurt less to hear him yell terrible things at her if only because she was the only one in pain. "Do you understand? You are the reason that I am ill."

"I apologize." He was looking right at her... She couldn't remember the last time he'd focused so much attention on her. It made her stomach flip and seize despite herself. "Nothing could be further from what I wished for you." He scoffed... Did he not believe her? Did he think she wanted him in pain? Never. She'd rather take his pain unto herself. She was used to it. She could function with more... It was worse to see him like this, sickly and in pain, and to know that she caused it. "That is why I wanted to follow you to Milan, to see that you are well," she raised her skirts slightly to allow her to sit beside him, still looking to him imploringly.

He sighed, sounding exasperated, "That is the reasoning of a capricious child. You can't do this."

What was he trying to convince her of? That he'd never return her affections? She knew that. She just wanted to make sure he was well again.

"I heard what you said, Giorgio." her voice was coming out quietly... Meekly. "I've come to tell you I'll keep my distance, stay out of your path." She hoped this would be enough for him because it was the best she could do. She couldn't even keep herself from continuing, "But I can be nearby; I can be there, quietly waiting."

For what, she wasn't sure... For him to need her again like he did now? For... him to talk to if he wanted to? … Whatever he wanted or needed.

"And this, you think, will make me love you?" Even he sounded doubtful of the effectiveness of this plan... But that wasn't her plan. This wasn't about him loving her.

She shook her head, sadly, "No. No, I am doing this because I love you." She said the words with conviction, the most she'd had in her entire life... And she knew it was true, even if he didn't believe her.

He looked away, shaking his head is disbelief. "Well, my heart feels nothing for you. How many times must you hear this?"

… She wondered vaguely if this was some sort of test. But, no. He would never return her affections. And as long as she could love him- if only from a distance- she was okay with that.

But she couldn't keep from telling him. She knew it was superficial. That if she had the beauty of his Clara, he would love her. Because she loved deeper than that woman did... She just lacked her beauty.

Her dark eyes ran over his body before meeting his again sadly, "This has nothing to do with your heart. This has to do with your eyes, what you see. If I were beautiful-" She faltered, looking away as she looked down at herself, taking in the form she knew he'd never love. She couldn't look at him. She knew what he saw, her frail form, her emaciated thinness... She knew why he didn't return her affections, why he never would. She looked out the window of the compartment, back to the train as she moved fully onto the bench they were sitting on. "-if there were ample flesh on my bones, if my breasts were large and full-" She shook her head, stewing in anger, her voice coming out pained and forced. … She hated her body, hated knowing that Giorgio would never look at it and desire her. Not the way she did him or the way he desired his Clara. "-if I were soft and warm to your touch - you would feel otherwise."

"No," he told her, his voice firm. She looked back to him, but noticed he was staring down, towards their feet... He knew what she said was true. "Your appearance is no excuse for the way you behave. My feelings towards you are the result of your relentlessness-" he finally looked up at that, his voice raising and she couldn't keep from shrinking back just slightly, "-your constant selfishness and insensitivity." He broke his gaze, looking ashamed for a second as he looked away from her.

… She wanted to pull him into her arms and tell him he could yell at her all he wanted if it made him feel better. But she didn't, knowing he wouldn't want her to touch him.

"I'm sorry," she finally managed, her voice small and choked. "No one has ever taught me how to love..." He still wasn't looking at her but she knew he was listening. She could see it in the tensing of his jaw muscles. "I know I feel too much. I often don't know what to do with my feelings," she couldn't believe she was admitting this... Though, she supposed she shouldn't have been surprised. … She usually said more than she intended with him. "You understand that, Giorgio, don't you?" she looked to him, her eyes pleading.

For a moment, he couldn't look at her and she wondered if she'd said too much, if she shouldn't have said anything at all."Fosca," he moved closer to her on the bench and she felt her pulse begin racing... Would-was it possible he would return her feelings? Would he maybe tell her, now, that they could be together? "You have to face the truth. Please. You have to give me up."

No, of course that wasn't he wanted to say. He was telling her, again, that he didn't and wouldn't ever return her feelings.

"Loving you is not a choice, it's who I am," she started, not entirely meaning to. But, no. She... She would tell him everything, all that she felt. "Loving you is not a choice and not much reason to rejoice; but it gives me purpose, gives me voice to say to the world: This is why I live... You are why I live."

She vaguely noticed the blank way he was looking at her, only his eyes holding a hint of emotion. She pressed onward, her eyes closing to stave off tears, "Loving you is why I do the things I do." She found herself, surprisingly, unable to look at him as she poured out her emotions. She shook her head, her eyes closing again, "Loving you is not in my control. But loving you, I have a goal for what's left of my life..." She forced herself to look back to him, nearly trembling with emotion, "I will live and I would die for you."

"Die for me?" he echoed, sounding shocked and... touched? "What kind of love is that?"

It took her a moment, steeling herself against the backlash she was so sure he'd display, before she answered softly but confidently, "The truest love." She was quiet for a moment, nervous, before she continued, "Would Clara give her life for yours, Giorgio?" By his features, she knew he was thinking that she wouldn't. She pressed on, "Would she? I would." She looked away again, forcing back tears with surprising strength, "Happily." She looked back to him when she was certain she had control over herself, "In the end, you will finally see what is-" she faltered slightly, her voice choked, "-beautiful about me." She could feel his eyes on her as she looked away again, suddenly aware of how much she'd bothered him. She hadn't meant to. She only wanted him to be well again. She purposefully looked away, her voice coming out choked and forced, "Do you want me to move- to another com-partment?"

"We're getting off at the next stop," he told her, his voice smooth again, confident. She looked back despite herself. "I'm taking you back... You're freezing," he told her.

And as he said it, she was suddenly aware of how much she was shivering and trembling despite the way she held her shawl tighter. She continued looking away, trying to mask her shivers and labored breaths.

She was highly aware of him standing beside her, taking the blanket from his shoulders, "Cover yourself up." He moved to give her the blanket and she stared blankly. She was supposed to be caring for him and he was giving up his warmth. "Do you want to get sicker?" he asked, ignoring her look of confusion and wrapping an arm around her shoulders so he could cocoon her in the blanket.

She stared at him, his face was so close to hers, and continued shivering in his arms despite herself. She couldn't help but remember the kiss he'd given her in her room that night... His lips against hers, even that briefly.. Her hand came up, clutching the ends of the blanket together obediently, leaning forward just slightly before stopping herself... And, God, it was still warm from him... Being wrapped in his blanket... It was almost like being wrapped in his arms. It smelled like him and it was warm like him and... She let out a shuddered breath, her eyelids fluttering, before he finally moved away from her, sitting beside her again.

She tried to ignore the way he was shivering, the way each one cut through her painfully. She knew he wouldn't accept the blanket back. Instead, she changed the subject, looking out his window and at the grounds, "The moonlight makes even this landscape look lovely." He didn't respond and so she leaned close, gently nudging him as she pointed out the window, "Look over there: there seem to be faces in those rocks, smiling at us."

The train slowed before he could answer, he shaking his head and standing before offering his arm. "Did you bring luggage?"

She took his arm, leaning into him contently as she let him lead her to the exit, "Only one small case. I can carry it."

It was raining when they got off the train, the stop a small town. He led her wordlessly down the muddy road, squeezing her arm in encouragement as she shivered with the harsh cold of the winter night air. She dug her fingers into his arm, closing her eyes and exhaling as she shuddered, the motion too sweet. They reached the sheltered stop, another train not scheduled to arrive for several hours.

"Sit, Signora," he implored her, guiding her to a bench. She clutched his arm despite herself as she fell heavily to the bench, exhausted. "You are incorrigible. What will your doctor say of this? And your cousin?"

She shook her head, "I left a note. We will get back before my cousin finds it but had he seen it, he would read that it was my decision to follow you and that you had not invited me. I explained how I forced this, not you, and you were a good, honest man and your only mistake was showing pity to a sick woman with too much love to give at the end of her life."

"And how am I supposed to leave now? I was scheduled for forty days sick leave, time to rest and recover from the sickness you had caused," he reminded pointedly.

She looked at her feet, the snow starting to seep through her shoes and skirts and cling to her, "I never intended to bother you, Giorgio. I only wanted to see that you were well. You don't even have to speak to me."

He scoffed, sitting beside her, "You expect me to continue on with you in tow? I told you I'm taking you back. And then I will continue on to Milan alone."

"I will follow," she admitted softly. "I know it is selfish, but.. I cannot be without you for that long, not knowing you are so sick." She looked back to him, his face shining beautifully in the moonlight, "I can help."

He exhaled, dropping his head to his hands, "Fosca, you are not being fair."

She reached, extending a hand and petting his head before retracting her hand a moment, clutching it to her breast. Swallowing, she draped the blanket over his shoulders again, "I am as fair as I can be. I am not as strong as you, Giorgio. I cannot bear it. … I'm sorry."

He looked up at her, his fingers brushing hers where they lingered on his shoulders and sending electricity through her body. "... Very well. I shall return in four days. I cannot avoid going to Milan for a short visit but I will return in four days."

"Do you really mean that?" she managed, his face so close to hers.

He nodded, "Yes; I promise. … Now sleep? You are too sick to be missing a full night. I will wake you when the train arrives."

"You need sleep," she reminded, painfully withdrawing and leaning against the wall of the small sheltered stop. "I will stay awake to watch for the train."

"Fosca," he exhaled heavily.

She shook her head, "I care more about you. I want you to sleep."

He pointed to a clock, "You are to wake me at quarter of one. And then you will sleep and I will watch for the train. Do you understand?"

She nodded, forcing herself not to reach for him, to pet and caress him. "Yes." He moved the blanket from his shoulders, spreading it across both their laps before leaning back as well and closing his eyes.

She smiled softly when his breathing slowed beside her, his chest moving with each soft breath. And then his head lolled to the side, falling to her shoulder as his hand found hers in her lap. He was cuddling. Not.. consciously. And, yes, his dreams were probably of his Clara- he probably dreamed he was cuddling with her- but … he was touching her like this, leaning close to her. And it was almost too much to take.

Her eyes closed a moment, her breath catching, before she reached with her free hand, lightly caressing his face. "Giorgio. My love..." Moving very slowly, she managed to press a kiss to his head, wishing she'd taken the chance before he'd started leaning on her to press a kiss to his mouth and feel his soft, warm lips against hers again. She studied the parts of his face that she could see instead. And the feel of his hand in hers and the warmth of his body pressing into her own.

He didn't otherwise stir in his sleep, his head cushioned by her shoulder, and quarter of one came too soon and she had to lean him back against the wall to spare his ego before waking him.

"Giorgio," she murmured, "Do you want to sleep longer?" He didn't stir right away, immediately trying to curl against her- how she longed to let him- before she pet his head, smiling sadly.

Yawning, he stretched and looked around, realizing his current situation before looking to her and leaning away. "Try to get some sleep. I will wake you when the train arrives."

"I can wait if you are still tired," she promised quietly, reaching for him despite herself and wanting to pull him back against her.

He shook his head, his features tight and his voice gruff, "No. I am fine." He exhaled, softening his tone, "Thank you. But.. you should sleep."

She swallowed, nodding, "I- will try." She leaned her head back, closing her eyes.

How was she supposed to sleep when he was so close and she knew he would be leaving soon?

Sleep overwhelmed her much faster than she'd anticipated, stealing her too-brief moment with Giorgio. When she awoke, it was to Giorgio silently carrying her off a train- she'd slept through the entire train ride. These were precious moments that were slipping away, lost in a dreamless void she couldn't recapture.

"Are we back?" she murmured sleepily, trying to force her senses to return to her. "So soon?"

"I have to carry our luggage," he started by way of answering, his voice apologetic. "Can you walk?"

She nodded, "Yes, of course." Her knees nearly gave out when he set her down, though, forcing her to take her small case so that he could keep an arm around her in support. Not that she minded terribly. .. She just wouldn't have thought to plan it.

"You see what you are doing to yourself?" he chided gently. "Honestly, Fosca, how do you expect to get better?"

"I don't," she admitted softly as they approached her cousin's quarters, "I expected only to tend to you. If I'd have died en route, it would have been worth it."

Her doctor appeared before he could answer, one of her attendants sweeping forward to take the case from her doctor when he took it from her. He took her arm, Giorgio releasing his grip on her as her doctor led her towards the stairs.

"I see you have returned to us, Signora; in tact and with the Captain," her doctor nodded, seeming unamused. "Luckily, your cousin has not discovered your absence as Captain Bachetti was kind enough to return you to us. Honestly, Signora, do you know how your cousin would have worried?"

"You know how I feel," she told him, her voice soft but raw- the trip had left her exhausted. "I couldn't let him leave for forty days without apologizing and telling him-"

"Signora, it was improper. He will never return your affections, you know that."

"That changes nothing of how I feel," she ground out, her eyes narrowed. "... He's told me he's not taking his sick leave, that he'll be back in four days. He doesn't love me, but he's my friend. Why can't you let me have that?"

"I think it best that you retire now. Your cousin will expect you to be in bed when he awakens. It would be in all of our best interests that you be there," he warned, gesturing.

She was being escorted upstairs by an attendant as they started talking- her doctor and her- no, not hers- Giorgio, that is. .. Like she couldn't hear or, perhaps, understand simply because she was a woman.

"Don't be offended if I'm amused, Captain. But this is all – quite bizarre, really. She led you home like a lamb." No. Not home. Home would never be with her. His home was with Clara, as much as it broke her heart. … But it made him happy. And that was what was important.

"You know her. You know there is no way I could have acted differently," Giorgio answered. … Of course, it wasn't a surprise. She knew he didn't care but... It always hurt to hear him say it, though, to hear the reminder.

"You needn't worry," her doctor assured him, "No one knows of her exploits." … That would be what he was worried about, what Giorgio was worried about. She wasn't. She didn't care who knew. She was in love with him. She still failed to see why she should be ashamed. He was... Beautiful. And caring and strong and intelligent.

"I suppose I should be relieved." What? Suppose? "Yet in truth, it-it matters little to me." Was- had she reached him? Did he finally understand her feelings? Might he actually... accept them? Perhaps even return them one day? "And who told her I was leaving?" … No. He was just more concerned with her having intercepted his departure.

"I hardly thought it was a secret," Doctor Tambouri excused himself, their voices carrying to her room. Though, this may have only been because she was awake and listening so intently. At least, she hoped her cousin wouldn't learn of her 'embarrassment.' For his sake.

"What is it that you want, doctor?" Giorgio demanded.

"I don't know what you mean-"

"You know what I mean," he insisted.

"I-"

"Why did you bring this woman into my life?" he pressed.

… Then he was irritated. Which, she supposed, she knew. But... She hated that she was causing him so much pain. .. She wouldn't anymore. She'd meant what she'd said. She would love him from afar.

"I thought it would help her. I thought it might give her some small degree of happiness." More happiness and heartache and pain than she'd imagined possible. Giorgio had brightened her life, made her feel again. But... Not all of those things were good. But she had a purpose now. It had helped her. Immensely. "I never intended for it to turn into this, Captain. Honestly, I didn't. I apologize." Turn into what? Her falling in love? What was she supposed to have done? Girogio was- he was perfect. "She tells me that you are going to Milan tomorrow, but for only four days. I assume this is just a pretext and that you will not be coming back." … Perhaps she was naïve, but that hadn't even occurred to her.

"I don't wish to be away from my duties for that long," Giorgio managed, his voice sounding almost quiet.

"Signora," her attendant started. "Is there anything I can get for you before you retire for the evening?"

"Quiet," she snapped, waving a hand and listening intently.

"Has Signora Fosca brought you to this point?" Doctor Tambouri demanded harshly. To what point? What had she done? Was he sicker? Had she threatened his well-being and recovery by following him!

"Absolutely not," Giorgio answered, his voice firm and allaying her fears. He was strong. "This was my decision."

"Don't you see what she's doing to you? To your mental state?" he asked, sounding almost frazzled.

"Signora?" her maid began again. "Can I get you some tea, perhaps? To settle you down after the busy events of your evening? Or would you, instead, like a bath?"

"Will you be quiet?" she pleaded, chancing a look in her direction before looking again at the door and focusing on the sound of their voices.

"You really shouldn't try to listen on the conversations of men. It isn't befitting a lady."

"Do I look like a lady?" she hissed, startling her maid into silence.

"Why are you behaving like this?" her doctor asked, disapproval laced in his voice.

"I feel it my duty to help her."

Giorgio? He thought- he wanted to help her? He cared, then? He must.

"Don't you understand, Captain? Nobody can help her," her doctor ground out gruffly. … He didn't believe she could be cured. It was necessarily surprising- she rather suspected it- but... It was still slightly startling to hear. Her cousin certainly didn't verbally share this ideal. But... Her doctor was just waiting for her to die.

It was silent downstairs now, neither party talking. After a moment, her attendant surged forward, forcing her to lie down before helping her out of her traveling clothes and hauling the blankets over her. "Signora, you must forget what you've heard. Women aren't supposed to listen in on the conversations of men, least of all soldiers. It isn't a woman's place. Now go to sleep and your doctor will be in to check on you in the morning."

She nodded weakly, "Y-hem-yes. Of course." Her doctor, Doctor Tambouri... The man who didn't presume her curable and was awaiting her demise- not that she was terribly surprised- even while darling Giorgio endeavored to save her.

And yet.. She felt safe, secure in the knowledge that Giorgio did intend to help her. … If he intended to help her, he would; regardless of the opinions of her doctor.