She wakes up when it is just growing light.

He is still beside her. Her sleep cycle is rather erratic - it is not an easy feat to adjust to 'mortal' time after several centuries of being nocturnal – so she often wakes to find the bed empty, the floor absent of his clothes and sometimes, if he is feeling particularly sentimental, a short note on the pillow. He doesn't need to explain himself; she can afford to be a little less punctual because her country tends to do most of its business by night, but he has a city that never sleeps.

This morning she has woken a little earlier than usual. Judging by what she can see of the position of the sun, and the particular sounds she can already hear from the street outside, it is a little before five, so he has an hour or so before Drumknott brings the newspaper and the first reports of the day into his office.

It is quite a luxury to watch him sleep, curled on his side towards her, sheets around his hips, with one arm tucked under the pillow and the other draped lightly over her waist. Exposed. Vulnerable. Heat rolls off him in slow waves; the one thing she always forgets, and always loves, is how warm he is. His usual slicked back hairstyle has been replaced by endearing dishevelment, errantly curling jet black with a few streaks of silver. His beard needs a trim, she thinks, brushing his jawline lightly with her fingers. She notes the patches of grey there too, and suddenly the lines on his face become all too visible – across his forehead, between his eyebrows, under his eyes – the fingerprints of time's slowly tightening grasp.

She feels a clench in the heart that does not beat. She knows he works himself hard to maintain a high standard of fitness, and that he has aged incredibly well, but he has still aged, and it is painful to see. She wants to…she wants to gather him in her arms and beat off the future years, hold him forever in one silent moment that cannot be stolen by time.

She watches his chest fall with an exhalation, and a lifetime seems to pass before it rises again, and the room seems to have cooled, and he looks awfully pale and still and-

She cannot help it; she takes his face in her hands and he wakes to see her eyes wide with panic. He blinks slowly, groggily, yawns, and says, "Mmm?"

She watches him yawn a second time before turning away, rolling onto her side and curling up, "Nothing." She murmurs. Just a stupid thought, a stupid moment. She is relieved and a little embarrassed, yet still sick to the stomach, because she knows the moment she dreads has not gone, only been postponed.

He shuffles up behind her and wraps his arms around her waist, chest pressed against her back, legs curled around hers and his breath ghosting on her neck. She feels his warmth permeating her cool skin, his fingers tracing absent patterns on her ribs, the occasional touch of his lips on her shoulder.

"What is it?" he asks, his voice a low rumble in her ear. She presses herself further back into his arms, submerging herself totally in his embrace, and does not reply. He doesn't push it.

She closes her eyes and tries to memorise the moment – the heat, the smell, the touch. He spoke to her once of mind palaces, and she thinks that if she had a house containing all of her memories, she would remove the ones pertaining to the last fifty years, then burn the rest to the ground.

She doesn't want to have to remember; she doesn't want this moment to pass.

Inevitably, it does.

"I need to get up," he sighs, "You're welcome to stay, but the maids will be in at seven and-"

She turns her head to look at him over her shoulder, and smiles, "I know, Havelock. We've done this enough times for me to remember the drill."

He smiles back and kisses her, before disentangling himself from her and the sheets. He paces around the room methodically, collecting his trousers and shirt and waistcoat and jacket and the various other items of his clothing that they strew around the room the night before, depositing them all in the washing basket for the maids to collect, then going to the wardrobe to fetch a clean and identical outfit.

She sits on the bed, chin resting on her knees, and shamelessly ogles him the whole time. She knows that he knows that she is watching, and the fact that he doesn't react to it somehow makes it all the more satisfying.

When he is standing at his mirror, fixing his cravat, she climbs out of bed. She stands next to the mirror, naked, and watches him go through the motions of fixing his collar and doing up his cufflinks.

"Be gone, temptress," he mutters, without taking his eyes off his own refection, "I am already dressed and will not be lured back to bed."

She smirks, "Like you don't want to be lured back to bed."

"Like you don't want me to want to be lured back to bed." He counters somewhat distractedly as he smoothes back his hair. She laughs and he turns to her, pausing just to drink in the sight of her. She preens a little under his gaze. He leans in and she grabs him by the newly-tied cravat, kissing him soundly, grinning against his mouth when she feels his warm hands immediately seek out her curves.

Moments later, she pulls back, "Go on, then. They're waiting for you."


"Morporkia and Miss Speaker. The two loves of your life."

He rolls his eyes, "Indeed." He mutters dryly.

"Oh, don't play innocent, I know all about your little affair du coeur through the crosswords." She leans against the mirror, smirking playfully, "Maybe I'll find out where Grace lives, turn up at her house, seduce her and we'll team up against you. You wouldn't stand a chance."

He shakes his head, walking towards the door, "You do that."

She is fine until the moment she sees his hand alight on the door handle, and then that crippling sense of loss returns. She wants to run to him and pin him to the wall or drag him back to bed or hold him until he promises not to leave her because today she is feeling so dreadfully morbid and has the strangest sensation that she may never experience this again. Her brain knows that this is ridiculous and that he is a perfectly healthy man and many upper-class humans live well into their eighties now, but-

But she stays where she is standing and obeys their unspoken rules. The job comes first. The city comes first. She may own his heart, but Morporkia had majority shares in his soul since the day he was born.

He goes to open the door, then hesitates and looks back to her. She smiles.

"Would you grant me a favour?" he asks quietly.

"Depends on the favour."

"Don't stay away too long. Please."

The request is surprisingly tender for him; he the tyrant, the stoic, the iceman. She swallows, then nods, "I'll be back within the month," she promises, knowing that it will be almost impossible to fix things so that she can visit again within two, and knowing that he also knew.

He takes one last, long look at her, then leaves. She watches him walk out of the room, walk out of their little moment in time and walk out of her life, perhaps for the last time, her newly-awakened hyper-morbidity reflects.

Margolotta climbs back into bed, pulls the sheets up to her chin and considers how terrible it is to love something that death can touch.