Some of our authors were asked to write a story based on one of their characters from their stories and with a chosen prompt word. Check out Carole Cummings today!
Characters: Fen & a character of the author’s choice
Breath Like a Passing Shadow
© Carole Cummings
Dear Reader: This was not the story I originally wrote for you, but it occurred to me (way too close to deadline, by the way) that I have no idea if you’ve read the entirety of the series or not, and the other story is chockfull of spoilers for Book 4. So I wrote you another. This one’s only spoilery if you haven’t read Books 1 & 2. (Er… hopefully you have.) If you’ve already read the series, please contact me at carole AT carolecummings DOT com and I will be happy to make the other story available to you also.
He’s sitting bolt upright before he’s even awake. Driven from sleep in a wash of cold fear, tearing at the cottony strands of dreams, pulling him from one strange world and into another, and he doesn’t understand this bewildering stretch of reality any more than the one he just left. A cry, Malick’s sure of it because his ears still ring with it; what felt like an explosion right next to him, and one hand reaches towards it while the other snaps to a knife that’s not there. He gropes at his bare hip for a second before he registers the tremor beneath his other hand; it’s landed on Fen’s shoulder, instinctively hold-grip-grasping, and the shivers that wrack up through Malick’s palm are what finally wipe the sleep from his mind, snap him to full-awareness between one heartbeat and the next.
A flinch and a stuttered gasp. Fen slumps, the knobs of his spine jutting into Malick’s palm. A shudder slides through him and Malick can feel Fen trying to shrug off Malick’s hand, but Malick doesn’t let go; he tugs instead, tries to turn Fen a little, get a look at his face, but Fen almost cringes this time, drops his head to his upthrust knees, balls in on himself, so Malick lets go.
“You’re shivering,” Malick whispers, gathers the quilts and bunches them around Fen’s shoulders, slides his arm around him and ignores the bit of a pull against his cautious hold. He rubs a hand, firm and swift, up and down Fen’s arm, chafing, the other over his back through the thick layers of cotton and down. “It’s all right, it’s over now.” His voice is thick and a little scratchy, so he clears his throat, tries to make it soft and unthreatening as he moves in closer, wraps himself around Fen. “Are you cold?”
Stupid question, and it’s just as well that Fen doesn’t answer it.
Malick peers at the open door to the bedroom and the shadows cast by the fire in the sitting room, notes that it hasn’t even begun to burn itself down yet; sleep is only less than an hour old, then. He sighs a little, pulls Fen closer, and Fen burrows into his chest now, shakes so hard that Malick thinks Fen’s bones might start to rattle.
It’s warm enough, really, warmer than it will be in Tambalon once they get there, and a fire should be entirely unnecessary. Still, Malick builds one every night, makes sure its flames are high and robust before he climbs into bed and folds all of the too-many quilts over onto Fen. It’s like sleeping inside a furnace to Malick, more often than not twisting in sweated sheets by the wee hours, but Fen never seems to be warm enough; Malick doesn’t quite know what it’s about, but there are so many things from which to choose, so he doesn’t ask.
“Another dream?” No answer, but Malick didn’t really expect one. He dips his head and whispers into Fen’s hair: “Tell me how to help.”
The shaking doesn’t slacken, but Malick can feel Fen trying to calm it, trying to calm himself. Fen shakes his head after a moment, answers, “Just a dream,” in a voice harsh and cracked right down the middle, and he tries to laugh, but it’s like he’s got broken glass sharding in his throat, blocking breath. Malick’s just as glad that Fen chokes the brittle thing off short.
Malick tightens his hold. “Then tell me what.” Fen slumps into him more heavily, turns his head until his face is buried in Malick’s chest. Malick waits for a moment, before he prods, “Sometimes saying a thing out loud takes away its power.”
Fen only shakes his head again, looses something that tries to be another laugh but comes out an exhausted sob this time. “And sometimes it gives them more.” Still jittering, still wound tight as coiled wire.
Malick has seen this so many times now, but this seems different—more intense than usual. More visceral.
Caidi, then. Has to be. Malick is not privy to all of Fen’s nightmares, because Fen won’t talk about them, but he sometimes can’t help what he says in his sleep, so Malick has some idea. He doesn’t know how many times Fen has watched his little sister die in his dreams, but it’s only getting worse.
Malick turns a little so that he makes himself a shelter around Fen. “Tell me what you need.”
Fen chokes this time, probably trying not to weep now, and the shaking ramps up another few notches. A hard little knot blooms in Malick’s gut and he swallows a thick, abrupt blockage in his throat.
He was right, it’s different tonight, and why he can’t say, but this isn’t how it usually goes. Fen wakes from a dream or Malick does it for him, Malick does what comforting Fen will allow, says his lines until Fen gently refuses him, or maybe seduces him to shut him up, and then they settle back in, wake in the morning and pretend neither of them remembers the night before. Funny how something so sturdily denied has become almost routine. But this….
There have been no tears before, no fear so vivid and alive that Malick can almost feel it seeping from Fen’s skin to his own. This is different. More.
Maybe not Caidi, then. Maybe….
Malick’s mouth presses into a sour line before he can help it. “Asai?” he asks evenly.
Fen goes still, like he’s stopped breathing, even, the shaking still humming between them, but now there’s something else there, too, and it suddenly feels to Malick as though he’s thrown a gauntlet he hadn’t even known was in his hand.
Fen draws back slowly, looks at Malick for the first time, eyes bright and almost fevered in the firelight, glittering deep and dark with flecked-gold stars in strange constellations that make Malick’s own eyes narrow because he sometimes doesn’t know the shapes of these things that live in the fathoms of Fen’s eyes. Malick’s heart has tripped up, beats an unsteady pulse in his chest, behind his brow, and it seems to him somehow that the flicker of the fire in Fen’s eyes keeps rhythm with it, and he doesn’t know why that should be so unsettling, but it is somehow.
“Asai?” Fen’s eyes have narrowed, suspicious.
Malick sighs, perturbed beyond reason that there is fear suddenly lumping in his gut. He wonders uneasily how he’s somehow gone from trying to soothe and comfort to unreasonable defense of… of nothing, actually, and really—what the hell? He’s fucking Temshiel, for pity’s sake. What’s he got to be afraid of?
He sets his jaw, gives a helpless shrug he hadn’t intended. “Maybe.…” He has to flick his eyes away, has to keep his hands from fisting. He’s being absurd. “He deserved it, Fen,” he finally says, turns his gaze back to Fen’s, makes himself keep it there. “And he gave you no choice in the end, did he.” Not really a question. His voice had gone flat, not at all the comforting tones he’d meant. “It’s wasted guilt. He doesn’t deserve it. He never did.” His teeth clench and he rakes a hand through his hair. “What is it about him? Why can’t you just… let him go? You can’t keep—”
It’s cut off abruptly, because Fen’s kissing him, shutting him up.
Malick’s mind blanks for a moment, the instant warm thrill taking him as it always has, but his brain is still buzzing at him, warning him, and his hands reach up to grasp at Fen’s arms; he means to pull himself back, heed the alarm that’s drilling through his head, but Fen pushes at him, forces Malick back, down and down, until he’s sunk deep into the sheets, Fen stretching out atop him, and the shock of cool skin against him, Fen’s hip pressing into his groin, makes all sense leave Malick in a small needy groan. Fen has stoppered Malick’s mouth, his mind, everything but his instincts, and those rise to the surface now, guide his hands. He strengthens his hold on Fen’s arms, pushes him back, tears his mouth away; Fen fights him—actually fights him—pushing at him, even growling a little as he drives down, hands grasping at Malick’s shoulders hard enough to hurt, scrabbling for purchase.
There’s nothing for Malick to do but turn all of his strength on Fen, push him and turn him, wind a leg around Fen’s thighs and take firm hold of both wrists. Malick presses Fen down into the mattress and lets weight and leverage do the rest. Fen bucks, actually snarls this time, arching his back and twisting his wrists. He tries to slide a leg out from under Malick’s, and Malick has to really try now to keep him down, has to apply all his weight.
Fen doesn’t listen. Malick’s not even sure he can hear. He’s never seen Fen this… wild, not when it didn’t involve actual battle, the gleam from the fire in Fen’s eyes turning his gaze into something halfway mad and nearly searing through Malick’s chest with stymied wrath and almost—almost hatred. He can see Fen’s fury seething, can see the look of thwarted intent, and it unnerves him—unnerves him a lot—but he can also see fear beneath it all, almost terror. It removes him from the moment a little, allows him to understand that the near-violence of it is really something else entirely.
“Fen,” he says steadily, lifting his voice to be heard over Fen’s frustrated growling, but hopefully not loud enough to wake the others. “Fen, you don’t have to do this.” Fen’s still fighting him, but his movements are going weak and jerky, his chest rising and falling too quickly in what Malick thinks are truncated sobs, but Fen’s eyes are dry, blazing. “Fen, you don’t have to tell me just because I ask, all right? And you don’t have to fuck me just to shut me up—just tell me not to ask and I won’t.”
Malick knows he’s lying—he’ll ask again, maybe even demand if he gets pissed off enough—and Fen knows it too. Fen may have his… issues, but he’s not stupid.
And yet, all the same, the fight goes out of Fen all at once, his whole body sinking into the mattress, breath frail as a passing shadow, but there is still tension running through him, Malick can feel it, the steady hum vibrating up his own spine. Fen closes his eyes, turns his face away and he shakes his head a little. He doesn’t look wild anymore—he looks… defeated.
“You will,” Fen says, voice nothing more than a harsh whisper, but the accusation in it is still clear. “You….” He shakes his head again, his wrists twitching a little in Malick’s grasp, but it isn’t even a halfhearted attempt this time. “You have to, it’s… it’s who you are.”
Malick stares for a moment, long enough to watch Fen’s expression change once again, from a soft sort of resentment to realization and then waver between guilt and defiance. It annoys Malick to see that there, that self-reproach; annoys him even more to know there is no question he put that look there, because Fen’s right: Malick will ask because he has to, he can’t not ask, even when he thinks he doesn’t really want to know.
Thing is, Malick’s got a job to do here, he’s not done yet—in truth, he’s pretty sure he’ll never be done with Fen, job or no—and he can’t know if he can take that next step unless he knows if Fen’s ready to take it with him. And he won’t know unless he keeps asking.
Malick dips his head, rests it lightly to Fen’s shoulder, tries to sigh away the odd sort of rage that’s crowding his chest. “I’m sorry.” He doesn’t think he knew that was coming, he’s not even sure he means it, but he’s going on instinct now, so he doesn’t try to take it back.
Fen soughs out a wobbly laugh, small and ironic, but at least halfway real this time. “No.” He turns his head and lays a long, tender kiss to Malick’s temple. “You’re not.”
Malick squeezes his eyes shut tighter, deliberately relaxes his grip on Fen’s wrists.
All right, true enough, but… in another way, it’s not true at all.
He pulls himself up to his elbows, hands only loosely resting on Fen’s forearms now, but not entirely relaxed, not yet. He opens his eyes, peers down cautiously to find Fen looking back, calm now and resigned, but still closed, still wary.
“You’re right.” Malick’s voice isn’t as steady as he’d like it to be. “Because I can’t… I mean you can’t… you always….” Fuck it. He doesn’t know what he should say, so he just opens his mouth and spills what’s churning in his chest: “Sometimes you need me to ask you.” The words come a little less haltingly now. “Sometimes you want to tell, and maybe you won’t ever want to tell me… tell me this….” Fen looks away, and Malick falters a bit, but he sets his jaw, says, “But I can’t risk missing the chance to… to—”
“To save me?” A horrible, breathless little laugh, and Fen shakes his head; he still won’t look at Malick. “You don’t know how. And you wouldn’t if you did.”
Fen’s voice is cold, clearer than it’s been since he woke, and Malick has to grit his teeth, has to really concentrate to keep himself from being as deeply offended as he wants to be at the near-cruelty of it. He resists the urge to jerk back at the phantom stinging slap of the words, resists the urge to bite back just as viciously, because it’s a distraction and he knows it. Fen’s pushing, pushing away, and he knows all the right places to jab, doesn’t he; Malick can either let him or fight him, and there’s no real question which he’ll choose, but the methods of confrontation have changed since Malick caught on.
“Yeah,” he answers, and it comes out a little angrier in tone than he’d like, but he supposes there’s no real help for that. “Yeah, I know a little too well what your idea of ‘saving’ is, and you’re right—I wouldn’t.” His voice is growing rough with… some reactionary emotion he can’t quite name. “I will keep asking, I have to, but you don’t have to—”
“Fuck, please, can we….” Fen turns his head finally, peers up at Malick, weary and sad. “I don’t….” His eyes are glistening again and he squeezes them shut for a long moment before meeting Malick’s gaze again. “Just not… now.” His eyes turn pleading. “Please. Not now.” Something like desperation leaks into his tone, and he whispers, “All right?” in a voice that makes Malick feel like a ruthless bully.
Bloody hell, this is exactly what Malick hadn’t wanted to do—turn this into another round of cornering Fen until he thinks he has no choice but to retreat. All he’d wanted was to stop all of the saying-things-without-saying-them guessing games, remind Fen that he’s not a ghost and he doesn’t deserve to be haunted by those who are.
It’s all gone wrong somehow, and Malick wishes he knew how, wishes he knew what to do about it, but all that’s left for him now is to wait. Malick hates waiting, but it’s all too clear that Fen isn’t ready; pushing him now—pushing him about anything, let alone even mentioning the word “Incendiary”—would be a cruelty.
“All right,” Malick says, voice soft and smooth, and he ducks down, lays a quick, chaste kiss to Fen’s mouth before pulling away completely. He rolls to his back, keeps one hand extended, only barely resting against Fen’s hip—patient invitation, as opposed to demand—and closes his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Fen says, and that tremor is back in his voice again.
And it’s strange, because Malick has seen Fen afraid before, but until only recently, he doesn’t think he’s ever heard this voice, all quiet and timid and wobbly-cadenced; there’s something about it that’s just so wrong. If Malick had one wish in the world right now, he thinks he would wish that he never again had to hear Fen’s voice with that timid smallness beneath it. It doesn’t belong there, it’s just not right.
“Don’t.” Malick extends his fingers and runs a soft touch over the jut of Fen’s hipbone. “Don’t be sorry. It’s yours to tell or not tell, I won’t question that or demand otherwise, so long as you know you can, if you want to.”
There. Too small for the enormity of it all, he thinks, but more will just drive the wedge deeper between them. It’s as plain as he can make it without making it everything, and it will just have to do.
“And what if….” Fen turns a little—in, not away. “What if I never want to?”
Except Malick hears, And what if I never can? and he only just keeps his fingers from tightening.
“Then that’s yours, as well.” He means to leave it at that, but he’s been trusting his instincts thus far, and perhaps they’re not as honed as they used to be, but they’ve not actually failed him yet. He turns in just a little, just enough to give the illusion of moving closer without actually crowding. “You’re right, I can’t stop asking, because I think sometimes you need to be reminded that there are people who care about you, people who want to be there for you, and that you don’t always have to do everything alone.” He finds his throat tightening, so he swallows. “I can’t stop being one of those people.”
Fen stares at Malick, a soft frown twisting his brow. Malick cards back over what he’s just said, wonders if he’s somehow sunk home a blade he hadn’t known he was wielding; it’s so hard to avoid the wrong things anymore—there are so damned many of them. But then Fen merely turns fully onto his side, shrugs down into the pillow and closes his eyes. His hand slides slowly over Malick’s bicep, settles there, and Malick supposes that’s close enough to acceptance and trust for now.
Fen’s hand is cold, despite the fire and the quilts and the warm contact of skin-on-skin; Malick once again silently rages at the unfairness of it all. He wants to fold in too, wants to just wrap himself around Fen and hold on, but he’s learned how to be careful, learned to stay close but not stifle, to push but not shove, so he only closes his eyes, pretends at sleep. He thinks it’s likely to be something at which he’ll become fairly practised; someone must stand the night-watch, after all.
“It’s the silence,” Fen says—whispers it, really.
Malick thinks it should have startled him, coming out of the dark like a ghost as it did, but he isn’t at all surprised.
Fen’s hand tightens a little on Malick’s arm. “It’s always so cold and so… so empty.”
This is a different voice, one that’s like Fen’s and not at the same time, soft and cadenced, like he’s reciting a poem or telling a story, but raw with things hidden inside it, things Malick can almost define, can almost touch, almost familiar, but near-defiantly obscured beneath the hoarse rasp of what was once a voice smooth and deep. Malick ignores the little part of his mind that wants to paw and tease at this one thing until he unravels it, makes sense of it. He keeps his eyes shut, unwilling to break the spell, and simply listens.
“It’s empty but it’s not,” Fen goes on. “There are… there are ghosts in there.”
A small shudder; Malick almost tells him, Stop, you don’t have to do this, not for me, and he thinks Fen really is doing it for him, some kind of arse-backwards apology Malick didn’t ask for and doesn’t need, but he’s pretty sure Fen knows that; he’s also pretty sure Fen needs this, even if he doesn’t know it and won’t admit it—Malick wouldn’t have pushed, else—and if he needs to think he’s doing it for Malick, why should Malick say different? He keeps quiet.
“I suppose it’s only fair I should be haunted,” Fen continues on in that same strange, wondering voice.
Caidi? His father? Asai? Malick doesn’t know, it could be any one of them, or maybe even someone else altogether he hasn’t even heard about yet. He doesn’t ask.
“I don’t want to hear them.” The thick silence of breath held too long, growing weight and clotting too solid. “I don’t want to… to be… this.”
Malick frowns. “And just what is it that you think you are?”
Fen falls into silence, now, heavy and expectant, like he’s just lying there waiting for Malick to turn away. Malick opens his eyes, turns his head, meets Fen’s resigned stare with calm intent, tips towards him and lays a soft kiss to his mouth. He doesn’t linger, doesn’t allow the action to imply request or intent; he merely pulls back, reaches out and draws Fen to him, tucks him beneath his arm, and gently guides the dark head to his shoulder. Fen is a little stiff, perhaps still wary, but he complies, slides a tentative arm across Malick’s ribs in something closer to habit than any real acceptance, Malick thinks, but small victories are called such for a reason.
“We’re all haunted,” Malick says, and he’s not sure if he’s somehow answering to what Fen’s just said, encouraging him to say more, or simply stating a given.
Cold fingertips brush lightly over Malick’s breastbone, and only the fact that he can feel the tremors vibrating through them prevents him from flinching away. He’s glad, because he thinks that would kill something very important before he’d even given it a chance to birth itself. Every single thing between them in this fragile moment is vulnerable, breakable, and he thinks it might take every bit of caution he can scrape together to keep himself from blundering and shattering it all into a million little pieces of thwarted trust.
“I can’t stop it,” Fen goes on, and his voice—calm and low and distant—makes Malick frown harder. “Sometimes I can’t even breathe through it, and I keep waiting to… to….” He doesn’t say it, but Malick hears it anyway; it makes Malick tense up and slit his eyes. If Fen notices, he doesn’t react, only goes on in that same small tone, “I can’t fucking breathe.”
Malick strokes firmly up and down Fen’s arm, over the knobs of his spine, until he feels some of the tension runnel out through his fingertips. “You know you can always—”
“Don’t fucking pretend like you know,” Fen snarls, abrupt fury. “Don’t pretend like you know what it’s like to try, to stop holding your breath for just a minute, just to see what it’s like, and it’s all sunshine and clear skies, and it’s so cruel, a dream that’s really just another nightmare in disguise, because you start to think maybe it’s all done with you, you can go back again, maybe it’s not really all so bad, and you look around you, and everyone you love is there, and they laugh and… and you laugh, too, because you’re so bloody relieved you almost weep, but you can’t….” An actual sob now, soft and half-choked, throttled, and his fingers dig into Malick’s chest hard enough to hurt. “…you can’t make them see you, they look right through you, and then you realise you’re invisible, you really are a ghost, and you think maybe if you can just make someone hear you, you’ll… maybe you can just… but then you call out, and you can’t hear your own voice, so you start screaming, at least you think you do, and then the ghosts are there, waiting—just waiting, patient as fucking Fate—and you know that at least they… someone—something, at least—will answer… acknowledge, but—”
He breaks off, and Malick’s just as glad, because he’s not sure he’s breathed since Fen’s wandering, stygian-sombre monologue began, and he doesn’t know if he can just lie hear and listen to this anymore, yet retreating and regrouping is not a consideration, and he has no idea what he can possibly say. It’ll be all right, I’ll make it all right, and it’s an old mantra, has almost become a talisman, but it sounds weak now, and close to absurd, because will it really? Will it ever really be all right again?
Maybe not, he thinks stubbornly, squeezes Fen a little tighter against him, but I’ll make damned sure it’s at least close.
“Sorry,” Fen whispers, bleak and broken, and Malick’s not sure, but he thinks that tone is what bothers him the most out of everything that’s happened since he woke up with his heart in his throat. A wet, messy sniffle and Fen rubs at his face like he’s embarrassed, like he’s trying to wipe away all traces of his accidental sorrow. “Sorry, I’m sorry, I don’t know what… why—”
“Next time,” Malick says, pitches his voice to cut through Fen’s almost desperate mumbled apologies, and he tightens his grip in case Fen seizes on flight as an alternative to facing this most uncharacteristic of self-exposures. “Next time,” he repeats, a little more softly, “call for me.”
Fen stills now, freezes almost, like Malick’s suddenly hanging on to so much breathing stone. Or fissured glass, his mind whispers at him, so he stills, too, afraid to move and shatter whatever fragile hold Fen’s grasping for, afraid to breathe, even. He waits, stares unseeing at the shadows slinging charcoal and carmine over the high, flat ceiling, until he feels Fen’s hand move, flatten out over Malick’s breastbone by painfully small increments, and perhaps it’s Malick’s imagination, but he thinks the tremors have subsided. A long, deep breath pushes Fen’s chest into Malick’s ribs, and Malick takes a breath himself now, notices the tension that’s wound into his shoulders and arms and forcibly relaxes it.
“Have you ever done?” he asks Fen, at once relieved that his voice is still so steady, and shaken anew because it only now occurs to him that perhaps Fen has called to him in dreams, and he doesn’t know if that phantasm in Fen’s head can be trusted to answer.
“Ever done… what?” Fen wants to know.
Malick dares to reach up, slide a hand into Fen’s hair, stroke softly and let it run through his fingers like a dark, silky waterfall. “Have you ever tried to call for me,” Malick answers. “In your dreams.”
A pause and Fen rubs his face again, shifts a little, but he doesn’t shift away. “No,” he answers after a moment, slides a tentative hand to curl against Malick’s ribs. “No, I don’t think… don’t think I….” A sigh this time, and he slumps a little, lets himself rest more heavily against Malick. “Anyway, I can’t really remember.”
Malick can’t always tell when Fen’s telling the truth anymore, so he’s not sure if he should believe that one, but he supposes he doesn’t have much of a choice.
“Then you can’t really know,” he reasons. “Do it next time—call for me, and I’ll hear you.” He slides down on the pillows, turns a little, meets Fen’s tired, saturnine gaze with blunt honesty in his own. “I will always hear you. I will always see you, even when you try to hide. Haven’t I always done?” As if in reluctant answer, Fen closes his eyes, dips his head and hides his face. “And I’ll come,” Malick goes on, undaunted. “You don’t even have to tell me why.” He dips down, drops a lingering kiss to the crown of Fen’s head. “All right?”
Malick’s not really expecting an answer, but Fen shrugs, snakes his arm slowly across Malick’s torso and curls his fingers against his side. Fen relaxes against him by degrees, spring-tight muscles slowly unwinding beneath Malick’s hands, loosening and almost melting beneath kneading fingers. His breaths are even now, steady; Malick gives it several long, wary moments, lies still but for the steady movement of his hands up and down Fen’s spine. He doesn’t know how much time passes before he lets himself consider that maybe Fen has drifted back off to sleep—moments are slurring by so strangely tonight, like they’re both caught inside a dream and don’t even know it—but the shadows on the ceiling have slowed to an undulating crawl; Fen is loose and heavy against him, as near to peace as Malick thinks he gets anymore.
Malick stretches a little, consciously lets the remaining tension drain from his limbs, draws a long, careful breath and decides he doesn’t need to sleep more tonight; he can always kip tomorrow if he has to.
“Malick?” Fen whispers, soft but not shaky this time.
Malick’s more than a little impressed with himself that he doesn’t jump. He’d been sure Fen was sleeping, or at least close to it.
“Hm?” he answers, a low hum meant to be soothing, and he strokes softly down Fen’s back.
Fen gives a little shiver as Malick’s fingertips travel lightly down his backbone, says, “Nothing, just….” Fen drags a leg up and curls it over Malick’s knees, adjusts his head more comfortably in the hollow of Malick’s shoulder. “Just… nothing, never mind.” Fen takes a long deep breath, like it’s the first one he’s had in ages, then blows it out slowly and… settles.
Malick turns that one over in his head, because he doesn’t think it’s nothing, and he’s fairly certain he knows what Fen didn’t say.
He thinks yes, that seems to fit a little too nicely, and he wonders if maybe he should voice some sort of assurance, some sort of promise. He says nothing, only strokes more firmly over Fen’s back, and lays another kiss to the top of his head. He pays very close attention as Fen’s breaths even and slow again, as his body grows heavy against Malick’s, almost sinking right into him, as Fen finally drifts into a deep, much-needed sleep.
Malick keeps staring at the ceiling, gently takes up Fen’s hand and folds his own around it, replaces the chill of Fen’s skin with the warmth of his own.
He tightens his grip.
Right, then. Night-watch.
He can sleep tomorrow.
* * *