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She was still and silent, but breathing evenly. The light cast from the bedside lamp showed pink on her cheeks from the warmth of the blankets and the fire in the room. Gilbert let out a long breath, slumped a bit against the chair, and felt himself begin to relax for the first time in days.

He felt like he had been out of his mind when he first received the notification: three civilians suspected lost in mountains, two adult men from Westgate coal mine aged 22 and 24, one woman approx age 21 contracted auto memory doll, not seen in past 5 days, requesting search and rescue as soon as storm lets up.

He had known before he even saw the names, because only one civilian auto memory doll would take that kind of risk. It was, so far, the only time he had ever regretted taking the promotion to Colonel, because there was no way he could excuse leaving the mountain base to accompany the squad sent for retrieval.

So he had spent another three long, frantic days waiting for news; thinking of the last time he had seen Violet over lunch at a cafe in Leiden, where she had eaten half of a parfait and discussed a recent job transcribing the contents of a half-burned library being excavated by the university.

“They insisted on keeping everything, even the half-burned items that still exist as full copies elsewhere. Because much of the material was in dead languages, they said the translations could still prove useful.”

He felt like he had not really been awake since he got the missive; his mind occupied backtracking every time he had seen her in the last two years since they had stumbled into each other. His body was going about its day and completing tasks on autopilot while his mind frantically combed through every minute of all the time he spent with her, as if it could somehow help her be found.

“Gilbert?”

He twitched in the chair, not having realized his gaze had drifted to the fire. Violet was still laying on her back, hair unbound and army-green blankets pulled up to her chin; she was just as he had left her, except now her eyes were open.

“It’s night time,” he said quietly. He took a deep breath, held it, then let it back out. “You should go back to sleep.”

“I am not tired at the moment,” she said, and sat up. “But I need to use the bathroom.” There was no accompanying blush, because Violet never had much modesty about that type of thing. They had slept in the dirt of warzones next to each other, and shared bathing and toileting facilities. Perhaps, after all the time since, another person have acquired some form of embarrassment. But that wasn't Violet.

He waited while she walked to the bathroom and quietly shut the door, and swallowed the reflexive offer to help her in some way. Not only would it be inappropriate, but she had already proven stable enough to care for her own basic needs

After the doctor had finished looking her over and pronounced her not in need of further supervision at the infirmary Gilbert had taken her to his room, rooted around in her travel bags and helped change her into sleep clothes. She had only been half awake, but hadn’t seemed bothered by his help as he buttoned her into the dark blue flannel and pulled the pants up her skinny legs. He had been glad, because the base was entirely men and the thought of having another man change her clothes, or of her sleeping in the too-close cots of the infirmary space, itched at him in a way he couldn’t explain. If asked, he would assure anybody that she was fully capable of caring for herself. And she was. But still...

The retrieval team had since told him she and the other two men had been found naked, huddled under a blanket in a cave a half-days travel from the fort. He had no space to be bothered by it, because if they hadn’t all of them would likely have been suffering from frostbite at the least. As it was the younger man, who had been the cause of the entire excursion, had needed his leg amputated below the knee. There had been some worry about Voilet’s arms, because the area attached to her prosthetics had a higher risk of exposure with prolonged cold, but so far it seemed she had managed to avoid any complications.

He was broken from his thoughts by the door opening, then the swish of clothes as Violet walked past him and sat on the edge of the bed.

“Do you need anything,” he asked.

“I am well, Gilbert.”

“It is late,” he said. “You should go back to sleep.”

“I am well,” she repeated. “I am going to go sleep in the infirmary, so you can sleep in the bed.”

“No,” he said quietly. Their knees were almost touching, her socked feet didn’t quite reach the floor from the edge of his bed. “You should sleep here, you’re leaving tomorrow.”

“You need rest,” Violet said. “You will sleep better if you are not in a chair.”

“I have slept worse places than this chair,” Gilbert replied. “Another night in it will not hurt me. You need to be well rested before traveling tomorrow. I have the next five months to sleep in that bed before I’m done here.”

Violet silently watched his face for a moment, then reached out slowly and grabbed his hands, holding them over her knees. “We have both slept closer, and in worse places. We can share the bed.”

Gilbert’s mouth went dry. Both hands flexed around hers. The metal of their prosthetic fingers clacked against each other, the thumb of his remaining hand brushed back and forth. He knew there was no base motive other than sleep here, but still, “That would be improper. Somebody could come in and-”

“You are the colonel of this base,” Violet said factually. “Nobody can enter without knocking.”

It was as if the air in the room suspended for a minute, before he finally exhaled, “Okay, Violet.”

Gilbert extracted his hands, and she tucked herself back into the bed while he grabbed a change of pajamas and went to the bathroom. He was quick in his ablutions, but found himself spending an extra minute to look at himself in the mirror. He was thirty-six now, and sometimes felt older. Women still flocked to him when he went to bars, and his men joked that he looked younger than he was.

But this was immaterial, he and Violet were just going to sleep.

In a fit of vanity, he left the eyepatch on. Violet wouldn’t care, but she hadn’t seen him without it, and the scarring along his eyelid, and the way the eye itself didn’t respond bothered even him if he looked at it for long enough.

Gilbert threw the day’s uniform in the laundry chute and returned to the bedroom. Violet was lying on her side with her back to the wall, blankets pulled back up over her shoulders. The chair had been moved further away from the bed, likely to prevent either of them from tripping over it in the dark. The empty side of the bed had the blankets turned down neatly. Gilbert walked to throw another log on the fire, then silently turned the bedside lamp as low as it would go without extinguishing, and slid under the covers.

In the uneven near-dark sounds were amplified. The logs crackled from the fire, and he heard her breathing evenly.

“Gilbert.”

“What, Violet.”

He heard the blankets rustle and felt some shifting from the other side of the bed. “Do you wear your eyepatch when sleeping?”

Of course. Of Course. “Not usually.”

“Well then,” Violet said.

He heard something sliding across the sheets, and intercepted Violet’s prosthetic with his left hand. He heard her take a deep breath, and the metal of her fingers curled around his hand.

“Don’t,” he pleaded.

Violet wrapped her other hand around his, firm but not tight, and pulled his hand close, until it rested against her neck, just under her chin.

“Gilbert, there is no reason to dress any differently than usual in bed tonight.”

One of Violet’s hands disengaged and trailed up his arm. Cool metal fingers trailed across Gilbert’s shoulder and ghosted over his lips. Without thinking, his right hand cupped over hers, their prosthetics clicking as he pushed her fingers against his cheek.

“You’re bold tonight,” Gilbert said.

Metal fingers curled across his flesh hand, pulling it further into her chest so that his knuckles brushed across the top of Violet’s breast.

“Is it bad?” Violet asked quietly

Gilbert swallowed, and wondered if she could somehow feel that his heart was beating faster. For all that they had shared sleeping conditions, there had never been this type of almost dangerous intimacy to it. Of course though, of course it was different. Seven years ago she was a child, and sleeping in close, uncomfortable quarters had been unavoidable in wartime. This wasn’t wartime, and she was fully a fully grown woman sleeping in his bed.

But this was Violet, and try as he might he could only ever maintain his distance if he thought it would benefit her. It wasn’t something he could do for himself.

“No,” Gilbert answered. And Violet reached the rest of the way up his face, inserted a slim, cool finger under the elastic of the eyepatch, and tugged it off. He quietly took it from her and flung it in the direction of the nightstand.

Violet withdrew her fingers, and he felt momentarily bereft. Then she pulled the hand against her chest up to her face, briefly kissed along the knuckles.

Gilbert felt his breath stall, but she let his hand go. It stayed stretched along the covers, close enough he could feel her breath against his fingers.

“You should go to sleep Gilbert.”

“You,” he licked his dry lips, “you need rest.”

“I am not tired,” Violet said simply. “I have slept much in the last few days.”

Gilbert reached just a little farther, so his fingers brushed her chin. “Do you need to stay a few more days?”

He felt Violet sigh against his thumb. “No, I am recovered. But you should rest, you will still work tomorrow. I will spend most of it sitting in a cart.”

“These days my work mostly entails sitting behind a desk,” Gilbert gave a small half-laugh. “It’s rather boring, though I’m glad we are not actively at war.”

Violet leaned forward so her lips and cheek brushed the back of his knuckles. “I’m glad.”

Gilbert huffed a little. “You’re glad I’m bored?”

He felt her face shake a bit, as if Violet were shaking her head. “I’m glad you’re not fighting without me there to watch for you.”

“I’m glad,” Gilbert sighed, “that you do not have to fight anymore. Do you worry?”

“No,” Violet admitted. Her breath ghosting over his fingers was a live wire. The entire left arm had become more sensitive, as if to make up for the sensation lost on his other side. He felt his body warm...

Gilbert might have to cut this conversation short to maintain his own sense of propriety.

“I think of you often.” Violet sighed, and rubbed her lips back and forth over his knuckles.

He exhaled, relaxing further into the mattress, “I think of you also.”

“Do you worry,” she asked, so quiet it was almost a whisper.

“Not generally.” Gilbert’s thoughts returned to where they had been, earlier in the evening. “I was worried when I received the search and rescue call.”

He heard the sheets rustle. Violet’s hands reached up and positioned his fingers so his palm cradled her cheek. Then she repositioned herself so his fingers were half trapped between her cheek and the bedding, and her nearer hand draped across his wrist. He guessed she had changed positions so she was sleeping more on her front.

“I had it handled as well as I could.” Her lips brushed against his palm. “I hadn’t intended to leave camp, the assignment was only to write letters for the coal miners. But Theo disappeared, and Dillan insisted on going after him.”

This was about as much as had been gathered by Gilbert’s men in the report they submitted after returning to base. The injured one, Theo, had suffered a nasty leg wound while hunting, and once Violet and Theo found him they had decided his medical care would be better served at the army base. In different weather they might have made it in time to avoid the amputation.

“Those men,” Gilbert asked hesitantly. He knew better, he knew, but still, “They did not try anything untoward?”

“Hmm,” Violet signed, and the gust of breath trailed over his hand and up his wrist. His insides shivered, “No, they are inclined towards each other.”

Gilbert found himself laughing, just a little. That had not been in the official report. But well, he supposed it wasn’t relevant information, all things considered.

“That is funny?” Violet asked.

“Ah, I guess not.” Gilbert replied. “You know, just because they are with each other doesn’t mean they wouldn’t try anything.”

“Gilbert, if this is something you are worried about, then know you have no need of it. Very few have tried such things with me, and none have succeeded.”

How very like Violet, to find no embarrassment in sharing such a thing.

“Good,” he said, brushing his thumb across her chin. “No man should be trying that until after he marries you. Or at least he should be prepared to marry you, if it’s something he wants.”

He was a hypocrite. He had slept with plenty of willing women with no intention of marrying them some years back, before he lost interest altogether in slaking his urges with the help of other people.

The flames flickered over her face, her expression steady and serious, albeit softened by the haziness of the near-dark.

“I have no intention of getting married, so perhaps such a thing will not happen.”

Gilbert’s breath stilled, the warmth in his gut cooling. Had the war, or the time before it that she never spoke of, take this from her too?

“Never?”

The silence drug on for a minute, then, “I have yet to meet much of anybody who spurs such interest. And besides, I am told Dolls are generally expected to give up work after marriage, and I have no intention of doing that either.”

Gilbert’s palm moved under her chin and through her hair. While he had mixed feelings of any man expressing interest in Violet, over the years he had developed an expectation that she would be able to have some kind of normal life, that the actions he had taken would assure a sense of happiness other people often found as a point of inevitably.

“Do you want,” Gilbert licked his lips, “A family? Children?”

Violet trailed cool fingers up and down his arm, her lips brushed his wrist. His fingers flexed, tangled in her hair, and their eyes met again. “I’ve never thought of it much. I am not sure I can have children. And I suppose I already have a family, after a fashion. At the very least, I have many dear friends.”

“Do you want to be in love?” He had people he loved, but was not sure he had ever been in love, so to speak, at least not in the manner others described it.

“I love you.”

Gilbert’s heart didn’t stop, but it almost felt like it might have. It wasn’t a revelation; Violet had told him a year ago, over an innocuous dinner at a fish house by the sea. His hand clenched in her hair, then let go. His prosthetic reached across the sheets, under the covers to wrap around her waist and pull her closer until she was tucked under him, with her head under his chin.

“That’s not what I’m talking about,” Gilbert whispered into her hair.

“Gilbert,” Violet’s breath washed over his neck, and he felt himself start to warm again. “You don’t care about marriage-.”

“I don’t.” And it was true, he didn’t. As the heir of a noble house he should have been married years before, but he took the title when he was past the age for anybody to force him, so he hadn’t.

The palm of one of her prosthetics was against his chest, the other wrapped around to his back.

“So why-”

“I want-”, Gilbert stopped, took a breath, then started again, “I want for you to have what you want.”

And it was true, Violet had improved his life immeasurably with just her presence, and he had drug her through war with its dirt and shit and blood. Her loyalty had cost her both arms, and then he had abandoned her because he couldn’t think of any other way to improve her life.

Violet was still tucked up close to him, unmoving and silent except for her breath against his throat.

Gilbert carded his fingers through her hair. “Surely, there must be something.”

“I want you,” Violet whispered, hand tightening on the fabric at the back of his shirt. “I want to be as close to you as I can.”

Gilbert’s breath stuttered, “Violet-”

Her lips brushed over his throat, then retreated, “I want to feel you.”

With any other woman, the connotations would be obvious. But this was Violet, and he was pretty sure he knew what she meant.

“Ok,” he said.

She stilled next to him, and he pulled back.

“Let me turn the light up a little,” Gilbert pulled away to reach over and turn the lamp up just enough that he could make out her features more properly. Perhaps, with a little more light, the intimacy of the moment would be easier to manage.

When he looked over she was propped up on one elbow, modestly covered by the blue pajamas, blonde hair spilling to the sheets.

Gilbert took a breath. “Move over a little?”

Violet scooted over a few inches, and he laid down next to her on his back. The blankets were strewn by their knees. He beckoned her with a hand, and she sat on her knees next to his hip.

“Are you cold?”

Violet shook her head.

“Well, ok then.” Gilbert placed his left hand by her ankle, his thumb brushing the joint. “Do what you want.”

She studied him for a moment, then swung one leg over so she was straddling his stomach. His hands automatically came to steady her thighs, before he set them back down on the bed by her feet.

Violet bent down, and her lips brushed his collarbone. Gilbert shivered imperceptibly, and she said, “Tell me if you want me to stop,” before dragging her lips from one clavicle to the other, nosing the neckline of his shirt, then drifting up his chest and over his neck, her lips touching his adam's apple while her cheek pressed against his jawbone. She nuzzled him under there, slowly drifting towards his ear, and he realized abruptly, as her lips drifted next to his earlobe, that he wasn’t prepared for this.

How ridiculous to think adding a little light would help diffuse anything. All the blood in his body had gone south, and if Violet bothered to look behind her there would be no hiding his reaction to her attention. Gilbert had to consciously refrain from gripping the sheets, or being so base as to thrust up into the air. Her lips drifted across his cheekbone, next to his bad eye and he flinched, ardor momentarily cooled.

Violet lifted her face up a little, “Do you want me to stop.”

And the bad thing was he didn’t, just not for the reasons she might think.

“Just,” Gilbert took a breath, swallowed, and allowed himself to grip her ankle with his left. He loosened his grip, brushing his fingers up and down her leg the scant few inches from her achilles. “Stay away from my bad side, it’s-” ugly, and debilitating. There was a patchwork of scarring across his eyelid, and the eye beneath had cloudy vision at best. It was the reason he had taken the promotion, because he could no longer safely shoot a gun in the field.

“It doesn’t bother me,” Violet said simply. And he felt something in him settle, even though he knew, and had known, that it wouldn’t.

Nevertheless, Violet returned to his other side, lips ghosting over his eyebrow before making steady progress to his next ear. By the time she reached the other sensitive earlobe, his body had recovered from the momentary distraction.

Her lips brushed over his, and he returned it. She paused, then repeated his motion, and then they were kissing. First chastely, just brushing lips. But then there was a brush of wetness, and before long it was proper, intimate kissing, with tongues and saliva. Gilbert’s hands were holding her thighs, pulling her to him. She ground into him, made a little sound in the back of her throat, and he turned his head to the side for a gasp of air.

Violet paused, breath rushing over his cheekbone.

“We shouldn’t be doing this,” Gilbert gasped.

Violet took a deep breath and sat up, her hands covered his, on her thighs, holding him there.

Without an ounce of hesitation Violet said, “Do you want to stop?”

He felt the fragility of the moment, and moved his hands so his palms cradled hers, “Do you want to do more?”

Violet searched his face for a second, then nodded, “Yes, but if you don’t want to, I can go. You’ve already given me-”

Propriety said he shouldn’t. Perhaps it was his own selfishness, but he felt, in that moment, that it would be worse to turn her away.

“If you want to, we can try.”

Violet stilled above him, and he realized, abruptly, that he had shocked her. Then one of her hands pulled his left up to her face so his palm was cradling her cheekbone, lips brushing the padding beneath his thumb, before she looked him in the eye and breathed out, “Yes.”

Without further ado Violet let go of his hand and began unbuttoning her top. Gilbert kept his prosthetic on her thigh, anchoring her, while the left hand tucked into the dip of her hip and cradled her side. The skin here was smooth and unmarred, and then he was pulled from his distraction by her hands grabbing his and pulling his palm up from her hip and placing it over her breast.

The skin here was also smooth, and somehow warmer than her hip. Even as an adult Violet was small, both in height and proportions, to the point that Gilbert’s hand covered her entire breast. Her nipple hardened under his palm, and he heard a faint hitch in her breath. He pushed his palm against her breast, then grabbed her under her bottom so he could lift her up and turn her over.

Violet’s back hit the bed, her hair haoled over the pillows and her shirt flopped open. Her eyes were bright, mouth relaxed. Gilbert balanced himself over her with his right side and traced a hand across her shoulder, down her collar bone, taking in her small breasts, pink nipples fading lighter at the areola so they almost blended to her skin. He ran his hand along her trim belly then sat up so he could pull her pants and underwear off her hips. She lifted her legs to help, and as soon as he threw the pants over the side of the bed her hands trailed across his sides and grabbed at the hem of his shirt. He helped, pulling off first his shirt then the pants, so soon they were both naked except for the unbuttoned flannel pajama top still covering her shoulders and arms.

Her hands ran up and down his arms and across his shoulders and neck. She had barely paid attention to his pants coming off but this was Violet, who had seen him and many other men in all manners of dress while living in military barracks; Violet, who had sacrificed sensation in both arms so of course she lightly pulled at his shoulders until he until he slotted their bodies together, kissing long and slow.

Gilbert found himself rubbing his leaking cock against her thigh, still kissing and kissing and kissing until he had to break to breathe. He leaned his weight onto his right elbow and cradled her head with the prosthetic to maintain reestablish the kiss while he moved his hand down her body, across her belly and below the thatch of hair between her thighs. He brushed his hand across her apex, paused, then pushed a finger just barely inside, only to find her dry.

He broke the kiss with a messy pop and looked at her. Violet’s hair was disarrayed, lips glistening and cheeks flushed. She cradled his shoulders in her palms and ran her small hands along his upper spine.

“Do you still want to do this?” Gilbert asked quietly.

Violet looked him in the face, her eyes bright and bottomlessly blue, her steady gaze at odds with the uptick in her breathing.

“Yes,” she said simply.

Gilbert took a deep breath, let it out, “Okay.”

He leaned over and opened the drawer to the bedside table, pulled out a benign amber bottle and a foil-wrapped square, pushed the drawer closed and leaned up on his knees so he was supporting his own weight. The bottle he left on the table, and Violet watched placidly, eyes roaming his body and watching him as he opened the packet and rolled on the rubber, then exchanged the foil for the bottle on the nightstand and poured lotion onto his left hand, rubbed it on his cock perfunctorily, then poured more into his palm before capping the bottle and setting it back on the table.

Gilbert cupped his palm and tipped it over her public mound, rubbing it down between where she was slowly opening, dipping first one finger inside, then two. His prosthetic was gripping her thigh, with her knee cradled in his elbow. She kept her other leg lax, draping a knee over his thigh, her face betraying little other than flickering lids and fast breath as her core relaxed and grew naturally wet around his probing fingers.

Gilbert flicked his thumb up and pressed it against the sensitive peak hidden just under her mound, her breath caught and she clamped around his fingers. Violet reached down and grabbed his hand, pulled it away and nudged him upwards with her leg.

Her pale skin was flawless, and he took a few seconds to settle, rubbing her thighs with both hands and steadying his breathing. He kept one knee hooked in his elbow, wiped his palm on the sheets, gripped her hip and then slowly, steadily pushed in.

Objectively it felt the same as any other time: a soft, tight squeeze. Gilbert stayed bottomed out for a moment, a far corner of his mind babbling something about giving her time to get used to it. They had barely started and his breath was coming in rough, choppy pants. Violet was looking at him intently, and he had to admit weakness and close his eyes while he tried to reestablish his control.

Violet carded one hand through his hair, the other hooked under his armpit to grip his shoulder. Her feet were next to her knees, and she used the leverage to push herself up while pulling him down. His hand abandoned her hip to grip the bed sheet, his entire weight supported on one elbow while he steadily thrust into her in long, deep strokes that became increasingly rougher as her feet crawled up to hook behind his ass and spur him on. He had the vague thought that he should slow down, take some time to adjust so she could enjoy it more. But between her own encouragement and the demands of his body all attempts at control were dust in the wind.

It seemed like no time at all that he was nearing the end, frantically panting, “Violet, Violet, I’m going to-” he took in a shuddering breath, trying blearily to figure out how to move her feet so he could pull out. He hadn’t bothered to refresh his rubber stack in a while, and this one was old enough he wasn’t sure he should trust it. “We need to-” he gasped, trying to draw away, and her hands came to frame his face the same time she tightened her legs around him to pull him back inside. He opened his eyes to see her own gaze fever-bright and focused on his face, and he was abruptly coming, closing his eyes and opening his mouth to moan in between strained gasps as white danced behind his eyelids and his body shuddered, shuddered, and shuddered hard and messy before relaxing.

Gilbert had just enough presence of mind to tilt himself to the side so he wouldn’t fall on her as he laid down. Her legs were around his waist, one thigh trapped under his hip. He inhaled deeply, trying to get his breath back as her hands continued to frame his face and her lips brushed his cheek, earlobe, neck, collar bone, before tracing back up.

He relaxed incrementally, sighed, “Violet.”

“That was good,” she said, petting his shoulder blades and upper back.

“Mmmm,” he replied, the verge of sleep. Then Gilbert took another deep inhale and cracked his eyes open. She was laying right in front of him with a small smile on her face, utterly relaxed.

His length had fallen out of her and he took a moment to draw away and pull off the rubber. it appeared intact, much to his relief, and he tied it off before tossing it into the trash can next to his bed and laying down to rejoin her.

He took another breath, “Was it what you wanted?”

“Yes,” Violet said, wetting her lips. His eyes traced the peek of her tongue before it disappeared and she continued, “I could feel you everywhere. It was good.”

“Hm,” he replied, “I’m glad.” Then he took another deep breath. “But I think I can do a little better, roll over for me?”

Gilbert jostled her shoulder in indication, and she watched his face for a bare minute longer before agreeably rolling over. He wasted no time threading her fingers through the loose pajama top and tossing it aside before pulling Violet’s back against his front so her body was cradled against his. Her ass was against his groin, and he tucked one thigh between hers to tangle their legs together. The metal of his prosthetic arm was tucked under her waist, and he bent up to intertwine their fingers together while his good hand snaked down her belly to dip inside her core where she was still messy and wet. Gilbert rubbed his nose against her neck, anticipating the slight hitch in her breathing as he pulled some of the mess out from inside her to slick his hand, then hooked two fingers inside her, petting her inside while grinding his palm up into her clitoral hood.

One of Violet’s hands splayed flat against the sheet, the other let go of his prosthetic hand to grip his arm. He idly cradled her breast with his prosthetic while continuing a steady rhythm at her core, alternately pressing inside with his fingers then rubbing up outside. She never moaned or said his name, but her breathing got rougher and her body clenched tighter until her back arched, pressing her head into his shoulder while she held her breath and he felt her squeeze down, hard, around his fingers for bare seconds before suddenly relaxing.

Gilbert kept his hand there and brushed dry kisses over her shoulder and neck until she relaxed, then pulled his fingers out and wiped them on the sheets.

They would need to change the sheets and wipe themselves down, but Gilbert took a moment to just lay there and feel her breathing, her back moving steadily against his chest. He felt tension he didn’t know he still had leave his spine and arms, and idly continued rubbing his nose against the crown of her head while he held her close against him.

Just for a few more moments, he could have this.

***

The wind gave bite to the omnipresent mountain cold the next day, when Gilbert watched Violet gather her skirts and lightly jump into the back of the cart in early dawns light.

The looser strands of her hair fluttered in the breeze, her gloved fingers held her briefcase in a sure grip. She sat on the wooden slats and looked at him, just bare feet away, and he could see the edge of a smile at the corner of her mouth.

There were a half dozen men around them; loading and unloading the cart, and standing guard at the entrance. They all had the good grace to at least pretend they weren’t a bunch of gossiping busybodies watching every interaction he made, but he knew better. Both he and Violet had been utterly professional once they exited his rooms, but still, enclosed military bases thrived on gossip, and he and Violet already had a variety of rumors even before today.

Already her hand on his shoulder this morning felt like the ghost of a dream. They had exchanged no goodbye’s, but it went unsaid that he would visit in a few months time, once this posting was over.

“Gilbert,” she said, her voice dragging him from his musings.

“Write to me.”