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A Scene Badly Written

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Raven woke to the cool winter moonlight streaming in through the window, and to the church clock tolling the third hour after midnight.

She sighed. It was cold in the shadow-bathed room – so freezing in fact that her breath congealed in front of her face when she exhaled – but the woman she loved was warm and heavy in her arms, a hot-water bottle in human shape. Her hair, shimmering silvern like gossamer spiderwebs in the cool moonlight, was draped over their shared pillow like a halo, and when Raven shifted to prop herself up on her elbows and get a better look, her rosy lips parted in a sweet sigh.

“Sleep, my Irénie, while you still can,” she murmured, voice soothing and smooth as honey, and her lover almost seemed to have heard her even in her dreams, since she exhaled softly and relaxed again into Raven’s embrace. Once more, her quiet snores returned to normal, and her breasts rose and fell gently with every breath she took.

The mere sight made Raven’s heart clench, and she sighed again, knowing full well that she ought to hold on to every glimpse she now got of her dearest friend, for it would be the last time in a long time that they would lie together. Irene herself had predicted it when Raven had told her of the heist gone bad, and the woman was all-too seldomly wrong.

“This time I’m afraid you’ve gotten yourself into a real pickle, my dear,” Irene had said as Raven had knelt by her feet and laid her head on Irene’s lap, still shivering and shaking from her narrow escape and the wild chase that had followed. “The blues will show up at the fair at eight tomorrow morning, and they will turn over every floorboard and harass every artist until they’ve made entirely sure that you are not to be found among us. But if they do find you here, they will hang you – and what could a poor old fortune teller like me possibly do to thwart them?”

Raven had swallowed and leaned into Irene’s touch when she went to stroke Raven’s hair, then had muttered, “Nothing. You could only stand and listen as they make me climb the gallows. The creaking of the wooden boards, the rustling of the noose, the gasp of the crowd when they pull the lever – and then, nothing.”

“Nothing,” Irene had agreed, and her hand had trembled where she had cupped the back of Raven’s head gently. “And then where would I be? Alone in this world, with only my cards and my crystal ball and my pendulums… No, Raven, you must leave this town as soon as possible, and not look back till you are safe. I demand it of you.”

“And when you demand, I shall obey.” Raven had gotten up then and taken Irene’s slim, papery hands firmly into hers, gazing deeply into the women’s cloudy eyes. “Only let me have this night. It might be years until we see each other again.”

“It will,” Irene had confirmed, and the certainty in her voice had broken Raven’s heart, just a little bit. “This night, then. And before dawn breaks, you must be gone.”

Before dawn broke, she would have to be gone.

Raven’s throat closed up as she remembered that tiny but important fact, and she had to bite her lip to stifle the despairing sob crawling up from her ribcage. The tears flowed nonetheless, for she could do nothing to smother them, and like tiny shooting stars, they glinted in the moonlight before they fell and shattered to pieces on Irene’s pale, bare shoulder. Irene, who had always told her her fortune lay in strange lands, far away from here – Irene, who kissed her oh-so sweetly and saw in her what no one else saw, though she was as blind as you could be.

And yet it was only a few mere hours till Raven would have to leave her, till she would be obliged to get up and gather her clothes about her and set off in a disguise or other to escape the iron clutches of the law.

She should go West, of course, towards the evening sun and this strange land Irene and she had lost a great many friends and acquaintances to. She would hire as a deckhand on a ship and cross the Atlantic Ocean, and only when she stepped down onto firm, dry soil and turned her back to the chasm of water separating her from her love, she would allow herself to weep.

And weep she would, Raven knew as she buried back under the covers and hid her face in the dip where Irene’s neck joined her shoulder, weep harder and more bitterly than she ever had.

“Oh, how I’ll miss you, my Irénie,” she whispered against her lover’s skin that smelt of woodsmoke and sweetness, and her lover gave an answering murmur in her sleep that Raven took and folded up and locked away in her heart for safekeeping.

Then, her arms wrapped ever steady around Irene’s middle, Raven closed her eyes and did her best to catch the few hours of sleep that were left to her. Yet while there was worry and fear and sorrow in her heart, there was also a tender bud right beside all those, a tiny shoot of hope ready to take root and grow.

For while Irene had told Raven that it would be many a year till they saw each other again, she had never told her that they should never again be reunited at all. And for such a besotted and loyal lover as Raven, that was affirmation enough.