Gwen knew he was lying. It wasn't as if she was the first; she'd heard enough from the other girls, not to mention the general school gossip and that she'd herself seen enough from him directly in the six years they'd been to school together. He would say anything, do anything necessary, and she knew he wouldn't stay. There would be this time, maybe one or two more, and then he would move on to another, saying the exact same things and leaving her as just another on his ever-growing list.

It didn't matter. Maybe that meant she was using him too, and the more she thought about that, the more she was all right with it. They were using each other, and the words were just part of the whole ridiculous game. But they were already all pretending to be adults, and how much worse was it than the larger game they were all playing this year: the deadly one where they pretended to be soldiers.

She tipped her head back, eyes closing as Jack's lips worked the tender skin at the base of her throat, letting herself murmur that she loved him when she knew he couldn't even hear. It felt right in this whole nonsense, the thing you're supposed to say, and she could say it for herself without embarrassment. It almost made her want to apologize to every one of the others she had ever righteously tutted over for falling for him.

Maybe they hadn't been "taken in" any more than she had. Maybe they just wanted this for exactly what it was: an hour or so of something that felt wonderful after all the hours of exhausting, torturous effort and too many sessions of wracking, unforgivable agony. A boy who could be counted on to leave, who wouldn't stay and want so much more than she could give this year. There was no room in her heart for a relationship right now, crowded out by nightmares and counter-attacks and tactics and the certainty that none of it would matter in only a few short months.

She unbuttoned her own shirt, but she let him take her bra off because there was something in that which made her feel wanted, and she needed that too. To not be another disposable rank and file, a set of initials on officer's diagrams to be positioned and assigned probability of survival to the best tactical necessity. Jack gave a little gasp as her breasts came free, and she shivered at the innocent openness of it. Not that she was under any illusions that this was a novelty to him, but for all his strategically chosen and polished words, it never occurred to him to guard all the noises that couldn't be found in the dictionary. It left them with a sort of purity, a promise that actually meant something that she was truly delighting him, no matter how transiently.

It told her that even after Rowan had stripped her body of most of its curves and carved relentlessly defined strength into her arms, even after the fear of being grabbed had chopped her hair and exhaustion had sunken her eyes, stress dappled her skin, she could be beautiful. She could be beautiful, she could be wanted, she could feel pleasure, she could maybe regret it in the morning and maybe not, but right now, right here, in this perfect stupid decision, she could matter.