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first star i see tonight

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It’s Russia autumn cold. Raskolnikov’s jacket has holes in it and the brim of his hat is hanging on by a thread and he’s lying face up in the grass by the main entrance to the university, motionless; everyone’s going to think he’s crazy. They probably already do.

A presence settles down beside him. Heavy and whole but somehow fluttering, erratic, the way a bee moves from flower to flower. Raskolnikov squeezes his eyes shut.

“I can see why you like it down here, Rodion Romanovich. The stars look so clear.”

The voice is familiar. Of average pitch, unusually quick, unreasonably chipper. Raskolnikov can’t place it.

“Mind if I join you?”

Raskolnikov opens his eyes to see a broad young man leaning over him and smiling. His dark eyes are even clearer than the stars.

“You’re already here,” says Raskolnikov, in answer.

The man smiles, his grin wide and bright as the moon, and lies down fully in the grass. Raskolnikov can feel his warm fingers breach the space around his own hand.

“Who are you?” asks Raskolnikov.

The young man laughs. “Maybe it really is too forward to expect you’d remember someone like me.”

Raskolnikov sits up abruptly and stares at this calm and brazen man, taking in his long curls, his tattered coat, his serene expression. “What’s your name?”

The man closes his eyes. “Dmitri Prokofych Razumikhin.”

“Razumikhin… from Nikolaev’s lectures on the Roman Empire?”

Razumikhin opens his eyes. His smile returns, honest and shockingly tender. “You do remember.”

“Of course I remember.” Raskolnikov tilts his head and traces all the shapes of Razumikhin’s features in his mind’s eye, picturing them against the backdrop of the classroom. “You talk a lot.”

Razumikhin flushes a deep rose colour from his cheeks to the tips of his ears, grinning self-consciously. “Yes, well—”

“You were one of the only students who ever knew what they were talking about. Are you still doing German translations?”

“And French, and English…”

“You invited me to dinner.”

“Yes.”

“I didn’t have any money for dinner.”

“To tell you the truth?” Razumikhin’s eyes glitter like an angel meant to hang them in the sky. “Neither did I.”

Raskolnikov almost smiles. “I had enough for—for a beer, maybe.”

Razumikhin pats down his coat pockets, reaching into the right one and making a big show of rummaging through the coins,  as if he doesn’t already know exactly how much he carries—as if he doesn’t, like any poor person in Petersburg, keep track of his change down to the last kopeck. “I have enough for two.”

“Now?”

“Right now.”

Raskolnikov looks down, tightens his fists around the end of his tattered sleeves. “It’s late.”

Razumikhin sits up and offers out his hand. His sleeves are even more threadbare. “And it’s too cold to stay out much longer.”

Hesitantly, Raskolnikov takes his hand. Razumikhin grasps it firmly, strong and self-certain, and pulls Raskolnikov to his feet as he stands. “The stars really are beautiful tonight, Rodion Romanovich. I’m sorry to take you from them.”

“They won’t be going anywhere,” says Raskolnikov, shrugging.

“That’s right,” laughs Razumikhin, taking his arm, turning them away from the building and toward cold leaf-strewn street. “That’s right.”