The locals burnt their dead as the long summer ground on. I leaned against the parapet and watched the pyres burn, their flames reflected in the swollen, inky waters of the river. A lantern flickered farther down the wall, another comrade in arms watching the same thing. There was no rain tonight, just a thick, smoky miasma and a sullen waning moon.
I heard Marcus before I saw him, his approach heralded by firm footsteps. I hated that rise inside, the uncontrollable lift of joy. I tried to summon some sense of indignation that, since that night, all I had had of him were a handful of apologetic notes explaining he’d been too busy to seek me out.
His native clothes were pale in the darkness. He paused beside the tiny pavillion and rested one hand on a pillar. “Jacob.”
I took a deep breath and folded my arms across my chest. “Marcus.”
“I’m sorry.” His voice was low. He lifted his chin and stared at me across the pavillion. His hair stirred in the vague breeze.
“For what?” I folded my arms tighter and leaned against a pillar.
“For neglecting you these past few weeks, for avoiding you.”
“You acknowledge the fact. That’s a start.” It was hard to keep my voice even and cold when all I wanted to do was breach that small space between us.
“It’s…” Marcus sighed and stared up at the starless sky. “Difficult.”
“What is? That you made a mistake that night? That it should’ve never happened?”
“No…it wasn’t a mistake, far from it. That’s why I stayed away.” He swallowed and took a step closer. “I’m afraid. I’m afraid that if we spend too much time together people will know it, people will see what we have. I don’t want you ostracised. I don’t want you to suffer for my weakness.”
“Being with me is a weakness?”
“No, that’s not what I meant. I’m too fond of you. I’m the weak one. I can’t stop wanting you. I had to stay away.” Marcus took another step and rested his hand on my cheek. “Even now, I can’t help touching you.”
I lifted his hand away. “So you believe cutting off all contact with me helps us both?”
“Yes. As much as it hurts, I think it’s the right thing to do. We can never be together, not in the eyes of God or society. Why risk everything when we know that nothing can ever come of it?”
“What happened to being grateful for whatever time we had? Isn’t that what you said?”
“I did and I meant it. But I’m not certain I can bear it now, knowing that, when this is all over, we’ll be a continent apart. We’ll never see each other again.”
I hated that I could see the sense of his words. “So why not enjoy the time we have left instead of pretending we have no feelings for each other?”
“I knew you’d be like this.”
“What do you expect? Your silence hurt and angered me. You’ve left me wondering what I did to drive you away.”
“I’m sorry. I couldn’t think of any other way. I didn’t have the wit to put it in writing and I knew, if I saw you, I’d relent.” He raised his hand to my face once more. “Like I’m doing now.”
I covered his hand with my own and closed my eyes when he pressed his forehead to mine.
“What do we do, Jacob?” His voice was all anguish and longing, tugging at me.
The last of my angry resolve crumbled. “We take what moments we can and save our regrets and remorse for later.”
Marcus’ lips grazed mine. “Damn you.”
“Your tone doesn’t strike me as ‘damning’.”
He wound his fingers through my hair. “You make it impossible to deny you anything.” His breath was warm on my skin. “What do we do?”
“I don’t know.” I tasted his lips, earning a long sigh for my sins.
Marcus glanced over my shoulder. “I see we’re not alone tonight.”
“No, there’s always people out here when there’s no rain.”
He gave me another kiss. “Then we must pray for a longer rainy season. The rains will be gone by the end of next month.”
The tap of approaching footsteps broke us apart. Marcus sat cross-legged on the smooth marble floor of the pavillion. I retrieved my rifle and sat down beside him at a respectable distance until the officer of the watch passed with a cursory greeting before continuing on his rounds.
After he’d disappeared, I set my rifle down and Marcus shuffled closer, his leg touching mine. “There’s no peace to be found here.”
He leaned close. His lips were soft on my skin. “I’ll find somewhere for us. This is a huge place, there will be somewhere.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“I should go. Staying here with you is too much of a temptation.” Marcus took a step away.
I watched the flicker of his pulse beneath his jaw and bit my lip. “Yes, you’re right. It’s just too risky here tonight.”