Notes: Very old fic. Please forgive any typos.

Smoke and Mirrors

The night of the fire had revealed many things to Jane Eyre, small and plain and of no consequence to anyone in the world. It had revealed that Mr. Rochester wore a rather inconsequential nightshirt to bed. It revealed that he had surprisingly baroque tastes in upholstery.

Above everything else it had fleetingly and alarmingly revealed the feelings of a man she had hitherto questioned the motives of at every turn. It was difficult to say whether that night had illuminated or obscured his character worse than before.

The smoke stung her nostrils. She had smelt countless wood fires before but they smelt nothing like this. This was harsher and hotter and made her cough so compulsively it felt like her ribs were about to unhinge themselves from beneath her chest.

He was still sleeping. She was almost stopped in her tracks by the sight of her employer-her male employer-sleeping in nothing but a thin night shirt on his back. His features were hardly improved by a lack of light; they were still harsh and hard but they seemed to be relieved of some of the weight that rested just beyond her sight. Somewhere in his eyes.

She shook him at least five times to awaken him. Her hands trembled on his shoulders. She could feel his skin against her fingertips, he was so warm. A childish part of her had expected him to be ice cold, like his face so often was when he looked at her.

"Sir," she said, her eyes beginning to water from the smoke. "Sir!"

Foolish thoughts pervaded her mind as she attempted to rouse him. Had he died? Had the smoke already taken him from her? Why did not he awaken?

"Sir!" she said, not unconscious to the note of panic that rose in her voice. "Sir, wake up!"

'Please' was the desperate word barely omitted from that sentence.

Finally, he awoke. He blinked up at her, confused and with his brow furrowed. Dark, unruly hair was untidily obscuring his face. He didn't ask why she had awoken him in the middle of the night in her nightdress. He seemed to comprehend immediately.

She turned on him and crossed to his dressing table where a china basin of water was placed. Without thinking, she picked it up and threw it over the flames hungrily engulfing the hangings of his bed. Rochester sprang out of bed with a quickness she had hardly thought him capable of.

Then he was next to her. He was dragging the dampened hangings down from the bed and throwing them into an unceremonious heap on the floor. He began to stamp on the dying flames. She followed him, hardly knowing what she did and certain she had gone delirious she was so lightheaded from the smoke.

In a sodden, ruined pile the hangings lay beneath them and between them. Her feet and the hem of her nightdress were soaked. She was breathing too quickly. She could feel her chest rising and falling in a furious manner. She looked at Rochester. He was breathing haggardly also. She thought how indecent it was for them to be so close, both of them scarcely dressed and she wet and he breathing like-

Her cheeks flared and she faltered from his gaze. "Are you hurt?" His voice was hoarse. Goosebumps crept traitorously up her neck and down her arms.

"I'm very well, sir," she said softly, chastising herself and forcing herself to meet his gaze. "You were the one in danger."

He was still looking at her. Looking at her in her nightdress. She wrapped her arms around herself. He seemed to awaken from a trance and went quickly to his wardrobe. He pulled on a pair of trousers, tucking his night shirt inside. Jane turned away.

"Stay here," said his voice very close to her ear. Warm breath caressed her neck. She was certain he would see how each hair on her skin stood up desperately at his close attentions. "Don't make a sound."

He brushed past her and was gone. Jane stared after him. He locked the door from the outside. In the silence she imagined she could hear the same strange sounds that had been so close to her own door. A woman's delirious laughter.

She shook her head and sat down in Mr. Rochester's chair. She shivered against the back of the chair. She couldn't help wondering how often Mr. Rochester sat there. Staring at the empty fireplace in that grand, cold room. She drew her arms tighter around herself.

Her head was heavy with exhaustion and the smoky fumes that hung in the air. She soon fell asleep and it wasn't until the first rays of sunlight crept under her eyelashes that she opened her eyes and found herself being watched by him.

She stood, forgetting for a moment that she wasn't dressed. He had changed into a clean shirt and boots. She wondered if he had dressed in this room while she had slept.

"Sir," she murmured, feeling foolish under his steady, unyielding gaze. She bowed her head to him and turned to leave.

She felt his rough hand on hers and jerked back. "Sir?"

"Is that the only acknowledgement I receive?" he said in a low voice, his hand tightening around her fingers. "Fire is a terrible death, Jane. You have delivered me from a an excruciating death. And yet you would walk past me as if we were mutual strangers!"

His hand dropped from hers and he held it towards her, palm upwards. "At least shake hands with me, Jane."

Jane hesitated, staring at him and then at the callused hand he held out to her. She at last gave him hers, marvelling at the warmth of his against the coldness of hers. His hand clasped tightly over hers and he pulled her hard toward him.

"Mr Rochester!" she gasped. His face was inches from hers; the tip of his strong nose was almost touching her. He thought he might crush her fingers in his he held them so tightly.

"I am in your debt, Jane," he said, his voice low, almost a growl. "Allow me to repay you."

"There is no debt, sir," she said in barely more than a whisper. "I am glad that I was awake."

He said nothing, but his fingers slid between hers. His grip was firm and her attempts to pull her hand free were fruitless.

"Jane," he breathed, his mouth dangerously close to hers. "You have no notion of the crimes you must own."

"Crimes, sir?" Jane said softly. Her eyes were level with his mouth. She could have tilted her head just so slightly and his lips would have been against hers.

"You know what I am," he said, his expression obscured in the poor light. "You know the depth of my depravity, and yet you tempt me so ruthlessly."

His thighs touched hers and shock jolted through her violently. She had never been so close to another person. The sensation of intimacy was more overwhelming than anything she had experienced.

She vainly tried to tug herself from his grip. "Sir, if Mrs. Fairfax were to-"

"Mrs. Fairfax can go to the devil," Rochester growled.

And then his lips were upon hers. For a moment she could do nothing but grasp onto the material of his shirt, trying to steady herself when she felt she might collapse. When her senses returned, the thought of pushing him away came upon her. She thought she should run from the room and pack her things and leave the service of a clearly corrupt man.

But she did none of these things. Her body betrayed her mind and before she could stop herself, her hands were about his shoulders and his were on her waist. She was wearing nothing but thin cotton and he could feel her body as well as if she had been naked. She shivered against him, conscious of every inch of her that was pressed against him.

"Are you cold?" he said, his lips breaking away from hers. His cheeks were flushed. She could see his face now; the sunlight was brightening by the minute.

"Yes, sir," she replied breathlessly. It was the truth. Her feet were freezing and her limbs were trembling beneath the poor cover of her nightdress.

Her mind was brimming with the images of him when he had been only half-dressed. When they had both been soaking from the basin of water and breathing so hard that-

She cried out before she could stop herself and abruptly stepped away, tearing herself from his arms. "Mr. Rochester," she said, her heartbeat fluttering rapidly in her chest.

He looked hard at her, seeming unfazed by her alarm. "You know what you do to me, Jane. I know that it is a dreadful display of gall for a ruined husk of a human being to crave an untainted creature when it knows that it could only corrupt anything it touched."

"You cannot mean yourself," Jane said in a daze, stepping back from him. There was something heated and wild in his look that she did not trust. She realised how ridiculous it was to be analysing his look when his body had revealed so much more, and so succinctly. "You are a bad man, Mr. Rochester but a ruined husk- those are truly unforgiving words."

"It is true," said he, agitatedly taking a step towards her. "But I would never wish to taint you, Jane. I would never prey on an unknowing soul." She stumbled back against the door, desperate to avoid the closeness he seemed intent on. "But you are not an unknowing soul, Jane Eyre. I know that in that cold, young frame of yours are..." He seemed to choose his words very carefully, something Jane knew unusual for Mr. Rochester. "Feelings." He gave a dubious bark of laughter. "Who am I to coach you on feelings?"

Jane touched the doorknob with her fingertips. "Sir, you are frightening me."

The shadow seemed to pass from his face and he laughed, straightening up. "I, frighten Jane Eyre? I find that difficult to believe. You mean you have tired of my company. Well, take your leave. You know in what state you leave me, you woodland creature."

He turned his back on her and Jane slipped out of the door and back to her room, hardly conscious of having moved.

Yes, that night had revealed much. It had certainly revealed the extent of Mr. Rochester's regard for her. Though she hardly knew whether to call it 'regard' when it took this form.

Nights after the incident, she was still running it over in her mind and shrinking away in embarrassment and confusion. She had kissed him and touched him and he had held her and touched her skin through the material of her nightdress. The nightdress that was barely there at all.

He hadn't been wearing underclothes under the trousers he had put on under his nightshirt and she had felt the extent of his 'regard' pressed hard against her thigh. She was no fool. She knew what he asked of her. If she had stayed and allowed him to weave his talk of taints and corruption around her, would she have succumbed?

She did not know, but she felt (and wanted to believe) in her heart of hearts that Rochester, for all his faults, would never have asked her to do such a thing. He was too well aware of her nature to ask such a thing of her. But then what else? What had he been he asking of her? And more importantly, did she want it?

There was a burning part of her that yearned for Rochester's touch more than anything else in her life. To be possessed by him was the thought that burnt up her mind and sent convulsive shivers dancing through her body when she lay awake at night. But to be possessed by him in the flesh meant losing all hope of being equal to him in any respect. She knew it, and yet it still tormented her, as though some germ of doubt had planted itself in what should have been a simple question of self-worth.

Against her better judgement, she found herself outside the door of his chamber three days after she had rescued him from his burning hangings. It took only a moment for him to answer. She could only assume that something in her hesitant knock had given away who she was; she doubted whether he was ever so prompt or willing to move for the sake of others. She dearly hoped she did not flatter herself.

He was only half dressed. His shirt was hanging loose from his trousers and was unbuttoned down to his chest. He looked at her, his expression impossible to read. With a flicker of panic, she thought she had misconstrued everything and that her presence wasn't what he wanted at all. "Jane," he said. It wasn't a questioning tone and it did nothing to quieten her mind.

"May I come in, sir?" she said. She was dressed. She had no intention of putting herself at his mercy again when in her nightdress.

He stepped wordlessly aside. She entered and looked about the now familiar surroundings. The hangings had been removed, the floor had been cleaned and the basin replaced. It looked as though nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened there.

She felt a hand touch her waist and jerked. She glanced at him as he passed her, his hand slipping away. He went across to a small table close to his bed with a crystal decanter of wine on it. Jane watched as he poured himself a glass, his back still firmly to her.

When he finally turned to her, the glass was poised at his lips. "So? Jane Eyre? Why do you disturb me at this late hour?"

Jane barely dared to breathe. Every word she considered saying seemed too ridiculous to say aloud to him. Her lips tingled, as though he had just kissed them the way he had the night of the fire. There had been so much passion in his kiss, in his touch. She couldn't doubt his lust, even if she could his love. That gave her courage.

She walked across to him and, without allowing herself to hesitate, pressed her lips firmly against his. She gasped as the glass tumbled to the floor, shattering on the stones and casting glass all around them but neither of them hesitated. His kiss was even more vicious and possessing than it had been three days before. He seemed to want to grasp her in his hands, to touch every part of her. Her nostrils were full of his tobacco and the scent of his body.

He forced her backwards towards the bed. She tumbled onto her back and he came after her, kneeling over her and continuing to kiss her furiously while his hand clutched almost desperately at her breasts. She felt powerless to stop it. It was being torn from her hands like a wild animal.

"Sir," she managed to say between his hasty gulps of air. "Sir- p-please-"

He staggered back, panting and flushing like a man possessed. "Jane... forgive me," he said, his voice raw.

Jane straightened up on the bed, pushing back the strands of hair he had disturbed with his attentions. "I will not turn my back on my integrity, sir," she said, her voice trembling only slightly as she looked at him.

"Then why did you come back?" he demanded, rubbing a hand across his mouth and sending it an angry shade of red.

"Because I wanted you to tell me that that was not something you would ask of me," Jane said, watching him as he walked back across to the smashed glass, staring down at it with his brow furrowed. "I know you would not ask me to abandon my morals. Even... even for you." She faltered, looking away.

"Is this because you've suddenly realised just what the nature of my interest in you is?" Rochester said, turning to her with a bitter smile. "I won't deny that if you had said 'yes' that night, I would have taken you and I would have given you the sweetest pleasures you have ever experienced, Jane Eyre."

Jane coloured deeply and stood. "Fortunately, sir I trust that the greatest pleasures I will ever experience await me in the afterlife. I would not give in to momentary weakness and risk losing all respect for myself- and you."

"Me?" Rochester raised his eyebrows.

Jane walked away towards the door. Her eyes were stinging. She wished she could thrust away the wounded part of her that still clung to the notion that he had intended to offer her something more than a night's blind passion. "I do not believe you would intentionally harm someone by using them up and throwing them aside."

Rochester furiously opened his mouth to retort but Jane calmly spoke over him: "Nor do I believe that you would really ask something of someone when you know it would go against everything they stand for. I believe you feel the importance of integrity too strongly to do that."

He was silent for a few moments, staring at her with a mixture of bemusement and exasperation. "I will not give up on you, Jane Eyre. I am still in your debt, you know. I will not rest until I repay that debt."

"There is no debt to be repaid, sir," Jane said, smiling and feeling the weight of her disappointment slowly ease like a healing wound. "There never will be."

She turned back towards the door. Behind her she heard him say the words again: "I will not give up on you, Jane Eyre."

And despite her misgivings, she knew he would not.