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“Rodya, Rodya,” Sonya whispered gently, her slight hand resting upon his shoulder. So small, so fragile. The whole of her. Raskolnikov looked down into that open face, the shy eyes, her lips parted mid-speech. “How pleased I am.” And he believed her. Fingers dug into his flesh, her touch a brand. “To see you here before me.”

She had seen him for all these years. He did not voice as much, instead he took hold of her hand and brought it down. “Sonya.” His free hand cupped her cheek. Like a child starved of affection she leaned into his touch and he relished her closeness. “Sonechka.” A smile played upon her lips, gentle as a summer breeze, though they were deep into the Siberian winter.

“You have come to me.” She spoke as though she’d laboured under the doubt of him rejecting the hand she held out. Even now, her hand was in his, enclosed within the firm grip of his fingers. Between his thumb and forefinger her wrist rested until his thumb moved, tracing a path to the point of her pulse. Before him she stood again as he had seen her then, when he had fallen at her feet. And Raskolnikov was filled with shame, unable to bear her stare any longer, unable to bear the pain writhing within his chest, expanding its thorns into until they pierced him, pricking the soft, defenceless insides so cleverly, uselessly covered by skin. He shuddered a breath. “Oh, do not avoid my eyes,” Sonya asked. She tugged her hand free of his hold. “Look at me, for if you do not what am I to make of it?”

“Sofya.” He knelt before her, uncaring of her protests. She wore sensible, thick clothes. They did not flatter the delicate shape of her ankle. Sonya attempted to stave his actions, having possibly read his intent. He nevertheless cradled the limb and paid his respects upon the altar of the Mother. “Let me. Let me.” She stayed her struggling. He rose slowly. Sonya was the one glancing away. He wondered whether she thought about that night as well. He took her hand once more and brought it to his lips.

It was only natural to bow before the might and greatness of the Virgin in awe. It was only natural to fall at her feet and give worship. With penitent ardour, that was the only way in which to love such a figure. Not love. No. Raskolnikov went over the thought a second time. It was certainly adoration the nature of which kept one enthralled, with head bowed. It was love and it wasn’t. Sonya trembled. He could make out the shaking clearly. He brushed the tip of his tongue over his lower lip. She continued to avoid his gaze.

It was good and wise to love a woman such as her like one loved his own limbs, flesh of his own body. Heart. Indeed that was the only position one could find for her that fit. Sonya was the heart. He brought her hand towards his face, lifting it, twisting gently. It was not the back of her hand he touched his lips to, nor her wrist, not even her pulse point. His lips pressed against the middle of her palm, depositing everything he had there for her to do with as she wished.

It was good and proper to mend the bridge between saviour and woman, though he suspected he would seldom be able to keep himself from looking at her with anything but awe. He had no words to explain to her what he wanted. Not even he knew that. In that his mind had conjured scenario upon scenario of their meeting, of coming to her, of finding her waiting, not realising that he was the one who had been waiting. On a chance that he could fall before her again. Of offering gratitude.

He allowed her hand to free itself and guided her face so that he looked into her eyes. Her hands came upon his and she spoke. “How silly I am. Keeping you in the doorway. Come in, come in.” She walked backwards, he followed, his heel pushing the door onto its frame sending them within the small, but neat chamber.

She had told him of the small cottage. He had imagined it in his mind, allowing brief moments of hope to sustain him through the labour, to give him something to strive for. And there he was. Watching her in the low light.

But Sonya had had enough of being under his scrutiny, even as loving a scrutiny as he could muster. “You must be hungry. Sit. I shall bring you food.” As good as her word, she offered bread and broth. “Eat.”

She sat down in the only other chair. They were mismatched, one with a tall back, the other a mere stool. He smiled in his broth wondering how she managed to get hold of it. “Is it good?” Forever concerned about the details, she fussed over the thick slices of bread. He nodded, careful to hide all emotions behind a mask of emptiness. “I am glad.”

She reached out, as she oft did. Raskolnikov let go of the slice of bread. He simply placed his hand upon the surface of the table leaving it to her to complete the process. She took the step. Relief flickered to life within his breast. One-handed he ate his broth, clumsily breaking off bits of bread.

He ate his fill.

Sonya watched. Her gaze shone upon him. Why she thought that a reasonable response to his presence, he did not know. Snatching glimpses of her sustained him throughout the meal, just as glimpses of her had been a constant reminder that the end of the road, the very road he had set upon, was the only thing that mattered. She had taught him how to reach for it and he would bring her along, if she chose to follow.

They remained sitting in companionable silence.