"[T]he steady and cheerful valor of the men who inhabit the snowplow for their winter quarters; who have not merely the three-o`-clock-in-the-morning courage, which Bonaparte thought was the rarest, but whose courage does not go to rest so early, who go to sleep only when the storm sleeps or the sinews of their iron steed are frozen." -- From Walden by Henry David Thoreau
He knows it's her before she knocks, because he hears her door opening and closing, hears the four footsteps it takes her to cross the hallway. He carries his book to the door with him, thumb marking his place.
Her hair is a little damp, and messed up. Like she just got out of the shower. He can practically see her ribs through her snug T-shirt, and her jeans hang from her hip bones. Thin. Hungry.
"Hello, Mean Man," she says, teasing.
He snorts and steps aside so she can come in. He lets her close the door as he returns to his place against the wall, watches her as she crosses the room and pushes a couple books off the blanket so she can sit. Her feet are bare.
She looks at the spine of the book, curious. He holds it up so she can see it better, and she reaches for it, takes it from him. She doesn't look at it, though. Closes it, losing his place, and sets it down on the floor.
Not on the blanket.
He looks at the book, then at her. "Don't."
She shows no reaction, no indication that she heard him, no indication that she knows exactly what he just said and exactly what he meant. "Can I ask you a question?" she says, as if he hasn't spoken at all.
He nods. He's curious, but cautious. Because this might not be what he thinks it is. Or it might be exactly that.
She looks down at her lap. "Did you--did it take a long time?"
Ah. "Did you want it to?"
She sniffles and brings her hand up to her face, wiping away tears he can't see. "Iím not sure."
"I did what had to be done."
She takes a shaky breath. "I know. Thank you."
"You're welcome." He reaches for a beer, because his hands feel empty and restless without his book.
She looks up at him through damp eyelashes. "Can I stay?"
He freezes, bottle halfway to his lips, because he forgot he was supposed to be waiting for something like this, and now she's surprised him.
"Hmm." He looks at the radiator, which is due to start rattling again any minute now. He takes a drink, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, considering.
She puts a hand on his cheek, gently. The same cheek she kissed when she left his apartment the last time. Her touch is cool and fleeting, but it carries the weight of her hope, and to him it's almost painful.
She wants him to say it's okay. Wants it so bad he might suffocate from the weight of it.
This isn't what he thought it was, he realizes. This isn't his reward; she's not repaying him. She wants to be loved so badly, and that's even worse. Because death he can give her, but love he cannot.
It's too late now, though, and he can't bring himself to stop what is happening. Would it matter, if he did? She decided long ago that she wants him to be her guy, and now he's caught up in this. Which is maybe why he's not alarmed by the fact that she didn't specify how long she wants to stay.
She doesn't need to. He already knows.
She wants to be taken care of, she wants to belong to someone, she wants to be protected. And he has to be careful, because something in him responds to that sort of thing, always has. And he can't be hers. Not now, not ever.
He wants to tell her that, but when he looks at her, the intent deserts him.
She wants to stay.
Her eyes are so green they don't seem real.
She lets him take the lead, lets him remove her clothing, a piece at a time. He gives attention to each part of her body as he exposes it, warming her skin with his hands and mouth, bringing a flush to her cheeks and her breasts.
His own clothes he removes all at once, and then kneels beside her on the blanket, looking down at her, until she reaches for him and pulls him down next to her. She's smooth and pale, delicate and half-starved. He feels like a monstrosity next to her, jagged and brutish and hairy.
She runs a hand over his chest and stomach, palm flat, eyes searching. Dozens of bullets, and not a single mark on him. Her hand slides down his hip and his breath hitches, but she doesn't touch him. She doesn't even seem to notice the eager twitching in his groin as her fingers glide by, inches away.
Her hand settles on his thigh, lightly. She circles her fingertips in the hair on his leg, feeling. There is nothing.
She looks up at him. "How?"
He lightly traces the line of her jaw with a finger. "You know how."
She nods after a second or two, but doesn't say what they both know, doesn't say what he is.
Her hand moves up and over, and this time she does touch him. Slowly, carefully. She watches his face, checking his reaction, so he smiles at her.
She closes her eyes and clings to him when he moves into her body, makes soft noises against his shoulder. She nearly disappears under his bulk, but he's enveloped in her body and her smell, and that makes her seem more substantial.
Toward the end, her mouth opens in a little pink circle, and she looks at him, watches him, and at that moment he wishes he could be hers. Then, as he surges forward one last time, she throws her head back and moans his name.
"Logan. . ."
And that's not right, he thinks, because he never told her that. He never told her his name.
He never touched her like this, never kissed her, never let her think that he was her guy. Not like this.
He never. Not like this.
His whole body jerks once, really hard, when he wakes up, and he opens his eyes as the radiator begins to rattle. He is alone in the dark room, with a cluster of empty beer bottles and backpack full of clothes and books. The apartment across the hall is empty, and he can still smell her blood, even from here.
He rolls onto this stomach and buries his face in his pillow, pushing away the dream, willing himself to think of something else. Something. . .better.
Sometimes, though, the way she touches his leg in the dream is one of the better things he's ever known.
Which is why he has to leave. As long as he stays here, with that smell from across the hallway seeping into his clothes and his brain and his dreams, he'll keep thinking that way. And he can't. Because she isn't his anymore.
But he's still her guy.