She didn’t know how long he'd been gone, and it would have been easier to leave her there, dark and beautiful and otherworldly—in the dead sort of way. It would have been easy to sink down against the plaster, take two, three, four deep breaths, grieve without blinking, and chase down revenge. But when Lorraine saw her, sprawled in what could have been an artful nap, if not for the open, drowned-Ophelia eyes and pleading, outflung arm, her fingertips itched as though for a trigger, but it wasn't steel she wanted to touch.
She collapsed to the floor beside her in a pool of pink light, hands steady, knees weak, though no one would know so long as she didn't try to stand. The gunpowder-itch beneath her fingerprints pulled her towards Delphine's face, her hair, and she indulged the urge to touch, stroke, just once, following the curve of an ear through soft disarray.
Then, she pushed her shoulder, flipping her flat, and flung a leg over her body. She bent, her ribs cringing, and used the weight of her tired frame to press down against Delphine's chest. Once, twice, three times—the angle was terrible, her sides protesting with every pump, and she wasn't going to make it to thirty. She slumped closer on eighteen, lips against lips, fingers tripping up across a cheekbone to pinch closed her nose as she forced breath that barely fit in her own lungs into those beneath her.
She cringed upwards. Rinse. (Brace.) Repeat.
She could see, this close, the angry red wrapped around her lover's dead throat, blooming darker with each passing second. Between the furious blood and the warm skin, Lorraine felt something horribly like hope clawing at her from the inside, rioting against her bruised ribs, scrabbling to climb up her strained, pinched lungs. Ten, eleven, twelve…
She forced herself to steady. Her teeth reopened her lip with the force of her concentration and she relished the sharp pain, distraction from the burning exhaustion numbing the rest of her body. Twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four…
She slid her wrists crossed, elbows bent and tucked up against the bruises on her stomach, rising and falling in starts and cracks like a broken box spring. Twenty-nine. Thirty.
She watched her blood drip onto Delphine's upper lip as she closed in again, pulling her head back by that soft, dark hair, and forced every drop of air from her own chest until she was too empty, dizzy and wheezing as hope lost its grip on her slackened lungs and sank back into the depths of her stomach, screaming.
She pressed in low again, too hard, too fast, knowing she'd just left a deep bruise between ribs, should the body ever rouse again to show it. She couldn't hear her own breath, though she felt her chest heaving, felt hot, tight air hissing over her lips from between clenched teeth. Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen…
Delphine's eyes bugged wide, mouth stretching in a silent scream as her head jerked off the floor, gagging, unable to force a breath up her throat. Her head slammed into Lorraine's chin with a crack, the first sound she'd heard since she stepped into the bedroom. Lorraine grabbed at her with every limb, pulling her into her arms, into her lap, hitting her back once, twice with the side of her fist until she heard air explode beside her ear and felt the first rattling breath draw back down into Delphine's lungs. She let her hand fall gently this time, settling softly between twitching shoulder blades to trace slow, even circles against warm, alive skin.
Lorraine finally realized her mouth was moving, the faintest whisper of shhh, I got you crawling out against the shell of Delphine's ear over and over again, in any order, any language, any accent. She pressed kisses between German and Swedish, French and Russian, ignoring the pain from her split lip, following the raised line left by the garrote with her open mouth until she had buried the swollen red of the welt in the wet red of her own blood. Delphine lay limp against her, thin, reedy breaths whistling out into the air as she shivered in Lorraine's arms.
With what strength she had left, she slid them along the floor until she had Delphine's back to the bed. Bracing them together, she forced her knees to cooperate and hoisted her onto the mattress. A raw, toneless sound burst from her chest, something Lorraine recognized as a moan of pain dying between damaged vocal cords. Delphine's mouth moved again, releasing only a rasp of shapeless air.
"Shh," Lorraine insisted, pressing two fingers over Delphine's lips. "Talking is only going to hurt more."
Delphine's wide, dark eyes stared up at her, the whites red with burst blood vessels, and Lorraine had to turn away from the pain and wonder she saw there. Delphine was looking at her like the sun, but it was she who couldn't stand to look too long.
She drew back and stood, ignoring the protest from her ribs. The creak of leather as she crossed the floor cut between two sets of harsh, shallow breaths, the only sounds in the apartment. She pilfered ice from the freezer, wrapping a handful of cubes in a thin face towel before returning to the bed.
Delphine had levered herself up on one elbow. She grabbed at Lorraine's wrist as soon as she could reach her, her grip nestling-weak. "Hhhere—Where is hhhe?"
The words were more air than sound, but Lorraine understood. "Fled, I presume."
Delphine's eyes widened as Lorraine sat beside her. "You shhh—"
She rested the soft cloth against Delphine's throat, holding each end to keep the pressure of the ice from weighing against tender, bruised flesh.
"You shhould go."
Lorraine bent and pressed a quick kiss to Delphine's forehead. "He's not going to get far." But her eyes flickered towards the window. The itch was back, the immediate fear of loss clearing, clarity of purpose and mission returning as the fog lifted. This time, the itch was definitely for a trigger. That she still sat in this room was action enough unlike herself enough to warrant concern, but concern would be equally unacceptably unlike her.
Weak hands fluttered against hers, prodding at her fingers until she relinquished her grip on the damp towel and allowed Delphine to hold it on her own.
"I'm not going anywhere." Delphine took her time with the words, so they emerged one after the other, breathy but clear.
Lorraine's fingers found their way into Delphine's hair again, wandering by their own will, as though they could replace the gunpowder itch driving her to take up her weapon with the simple human pleasure of Delphine's head leaning in to her touch. Competing magnetism, a fight she couldn't afford to wage with herself. There was a war to end, a list to pillage, a man to enact sweet, cold revenge upon. But then there was this pretty little French thing, back from the dead, the fresh-faced girl with all the talents of a lethal operative and all the vulnerability of a child who had just discovered her dreams of being a spy would amount to far more fear than glamour, and Lorraine wanted to crawl into bed with her, wrap her up in skin and lips and pleasure until she forgot fear and death and dishonesty, tempt her away from the life they'd both chosen and convince her there was nowhere safer to be than with her spine curled against her stomach, her head tucked below her chin.
But Delphine was staring at her again, open, raw, and pleading, and for a moment, Lorraine wished Delphine would tempt her away from this, too.
Instead, Delphine reached up, letting the ice slip down beside her on the pillow with a muffled clink. She tangled her fingers in Lorraine's hair, tugging weakly until Lorraine obeyed, sinking until their noses touched. Delphine's lips were a breath from her own, and when she whispered a single word, they brushed against each other, a cruel parody, Lorraine couldn't help but marvel, of their first kiss.
When Lorraine returned, watch in pocket, Percival's blood slick on the bottom of her shoe, Delphine was still curled in the center of the bed, breath pained and shallow, but steady and even with sleep.
She shed clothes as she crossed the floor. One boot, then the other. Gloves. Pants. Coat. Sweater. Gun. She crawled in behind her in whatever she had left, uncaring, for the moment, for obligations, wars, or the discomfort of sleeping in a waistband holster. Delphine stirred with a muffled murmur, but settled quickly as Lorraine pulled her close, an arm around her waist, relishing the feeling of warm, yielding curves against aches, scrapes, and bruises. Her breathing leveled out, content with the scent of her lover's skin and hair even mixed with the copper bite of blood and the grime of Berlin.
Not an ice bath; possibly better.
Perhaps there was something to be said for having both, for answering the north star call of service to this godforsaken planet, before circling south and settling the temptation of the not-dead creature who'd caught her in honesty, and hadn't let go of her since.
Oh, there'd be an ocean between them, soon. And Lorraine Broughton could hardly afford to go soft.
But, fuck. Someone owed her a vacation after all this.