The sun is rising.
I watch the pink stain of dawn creep across the sky with tired eyes. Really, more than anything else, that is all I feel anymore... tired. The pain is still there but it has faded. It seems distant and unimportant now. Mainly I am tired. Just tired. So tired.
He will not give the bottle to me. Over and over, following his revelation, I asked. Finally I was reduced to just a single croaked, begging word; please.
"Gun... Guhn... Gunther. Please."
"Jane, I cannot."
At some point the tears started up again, but this time they were sluggish, almost drugged; burning hot, slow tracks down my cheeks to lose themselves in my tangled hair. It was his turn, then, to beg me - to beg me not cry, to point out that he has only limited water on hand, to exhort me not to dehydrate myself this way.
But I could not stop. I cannot stop. I tuned my face away.
We lapsed into silence then, and the silence has lasted, except that every few minutes he would ask if I was still awake and I would whisper, "yes."
A little while ago, he stopped asking.
I turn my head back now, slowly. Gunther has fallen asleep. I lie still and watch him as the sky grows steadily lighter.
He looks terrible. I have never seen him look half this bad. Ashen to the point of chalkiness; haggard and restive even in sleep, as if he has forgotten, on a very deep level, what true peacefulness is - and will never remember again. Those remarkable gray eyes I love so much, closed now and circled with dark rings of fatigue. It hurts my heart to see him so. And the bottle - that god-awful, evil little bottle - still looped around his neck and dully reflecting the strengthening light. I hate it, I hate it, oh I hate it so.
What I would not like to do to the man who sold him that bottle... I know the apothecary in town, the one he must have visited. A horrid, furtive, scurrying sort of man... wretched, and servile, and shifty-eyed, and... and...
For a moment I entertain thoughts of trying to get the bottle away from Gunther while he slumbers, but it is a fool's hope. There is no way I could tug the cord over his head without waking him. I do not have a dagger or knife handy with which to sever the rawhide, nor would I be able to use such an implement one-handed, even if I did. Not without serious risk of cutting him while I was at it. And then imagine - just for a moment, imagine - that I did succeed in getting hold of it without waking him. I would be utterly unable to hold the bottle steady and yank out the stopper, for the same reason I am unable to wield a knife to cut the cord; my thrice-damned broken arm. I cannot get it away from him. It is hopeless. I am in despair.
No. I do not have the LUXURY of despair. Not with Gunther's life at stake. And since I cannot get it away from him by stealth or by force, I need to keep trying to convince him to give it up willingly. I MUST keep at him. Giving up on him is out of the question. Do not dare even consider it, Jane!
In his sleep, Gunther's brows knit; his lips part (they are nearly as cracked and chapped as my own) and he hisses in a sharp breath. Mutters something I cannot quite make out and then shakes his head, just once, back and forth; a single, sharp negative. Then he tosses from his back onto his side so that he is facing me... only "tosses" is really too gentle of a word. He throws himself from his back onto his side, is more accurate; but doesn't wake for all of that.
He does, however, whisper just a single word before apparently sinking back into a deeper sort of slumber, with his head now cushioned on one arm; and of course the word is "Jane."
I need to kiss him. Now.
I have no idea where the thought comes from; it catches me entirely off guard. But there is an urgency and an... insistence... to it that cannot be denied.
It defies logic but it also defies resistance.
And after all, it is something that I have wanted to do, with ever mounting desperation, for oh, the past three years at least. At least. And if I am to be entirely honest with myself...
But I cut off that line of thought. What a pointless waste of time, to lie here internally debating whether I have wanted to kiss Gunther Breech for three years, or four, or four and a half, or...
Biting my lip, holding my injured arm cradled against myself, I close the distance between us at a crawl. Fortunately, there is very little distance to close.
Up close, I can see the dusky shadows that his lashes are casting on his waxy-pale cheeks. I can see the rust-colored streaks of blood that my own fingers left on his cheek not long after he found me... it seems a lifetime ago, already. I can see the dark, sandpapery stubble of a jawline left unshaved because of battle.
Little sadnesses, one after another. I see them all.
I bring my lips to his.
At first I do no more than brush his lips with my own, but then he is responding, still in his sleep; responding more quickly and... intensely... than I ever would have imagined.
A sound that is part groan, part sigh is wrenched out of him and then his lips are moving against mine - gently at first but only for a second. Before I can do more than even begin to react, the kiss becomes hungry, demanding, possessive - and his eyes are still closed and I think he is still asleep, but his arms snake out incredibly fast, and pull me to him, crush me to him, and I cry out from the bright, cruel pain that rips through me as a result. I cry out, but the cry is lost in the kiss, absorbed by it, devoured by it, and that is all right. That is just fine. Pain or no pain, I have wanted this for so long, so long, so long... and now that it is happening, I never want it to end.
I even manage to raise my own arm - the uninjured one - and plunge my fingers into his thick, dark hair, pulling him even closer to me, further deepening the kiss. I have wondered what it would feel like to do that.
He tastes of salt; the salt of sweat and tears. It gives the kiss a gritty, earthy aspect that I never imagined or anticipated. It colors the moment with an unutterable sadness, but that is all right. It is what it is, and I am just so grateful to able to experience this at all.
"Jane," he murmurs, lips moving against mine restlessly, almost feverishly, and he is still not awake, not completely, but he is coming up from the depths of his sleep, slowly but steadily. He will be awake in a moment, I know. "God, Jane."
He pulls back just the slightest bit; kisses the corner of my mouth, the tip of my nose, my forehead. He is raining kisses on me now; kissing my cheeks and I realize that I am still leaking those slow, hot, somehow heavy tears. I have never stopped, and now he is kissing them away. He is very close to wakefulness now, but seems to be resisting it; willfully fighting against it. I do not blame him, really.
He kisses my temple, the lobe of me ear, the line of my jaw. I am too hurt, too profoundly compromised, to feel any true arousal at this point... but I feel the... the... the potential of it, if that makes sense. If the circumstances had been different, I would have been wild with arousal at this point. I can understand this and appreciate it, and God, but it makes this moment bittersweet.
Nuzzling into the hollow of my throat, the place where my neck and shoulder meet, he shudders, hard, his whole body; and I know he is awake again. He has come back to himself.
My fingers are stroking gently, absently, through his hair. I love the way it feels. I love the way he feels, pressed against me. But some very deep instinct is telling me that my time has nearly run out.
It is almost time to... go.
That is all right. Before he found me, I had thought that all I wanted was to have the chance to look at him again. I have gotten so much more than that. So, so much more.
"Gunther." His name leaves my lips as no more than an exhalation of breath.
He shudders again. I think he is trying to master himself before he raises his eyes to mine. I think he is finding it difficult to do. Finally -
"Jane." My name falls from his lips like a prayer.
"I love you." I breathe the words so quietly I can barely hear them myself... but his head comes up with a jerk, his eyes fastening instantly on mine.
"What?" he demands. "Why?"
A smile curves my lips. It is slow and sleepy; almost what you might call languorous.
"Because you are Gunther Breech," I murmur, "and that is all the reason I need."
"No," he says, his eyes boring into mine. "Why are you saying that now?"
He knows, I realize. He can sense it. He can sense that I am saying good bye.
"You deserve a good life," I whisper. "You do... Gunther, you really do. Follow me if you must, but not yet. Not yet. Promise me you will give it some time. Promise me you will... will... at least give time a chance to heal this... Gunther, please. You can do that much for me. I know you can. Gunther. Please."
But he is shaking his head. Stubborn, stubborn man. "Jane, no. You cannot do this. You cannot give in. You never give in! You are the most infuriatingly stubborn person I have ever met!" (I smile again, to myself this time, amused that just a second ago I had entertained the exact same thought about him.) "You are Jane Turnkey, and Jane does not give in. My Jane does not give in! Please, Jane! Please!"
"Promise me, Gunther. Promise me."
"NO!" He is practically screaming by this point. On the brink of hysteria. God, it is terrible to see him this way.
"Gunther..." my eyes are slipping shut, despite my best efforts to the contrary. "You are breaking my heart."
"How the hell can YOU say that to ME right now!?" he demands. He is frantic, but he is furious too. There is more in this vein, but I cannot hear it. The rushing is back in my ears and it is stronger now. It is carrying me away. And my heart is broken, whatever he may believe, to leave him in peril like this. In peril of suicide. Suicide endangers more than his life. It endangers his soul.
Oh God, I pray, God please... please give me more time.
Just a little... just a little more TIME.