They were trying so hard to pretend that it was just like any other night.
As Julen and Rosemary undressed, they shared the events of the day. Rosemary updated Julen on the progress being made by the ladies in her sewing group. Julen told Rosemary about helping some of the refugees plant the pits and seeds they’d carefully salvaged from each piece of eaten fruit. Both of them discussed the situation with Uluki, wishing there was more they could do, wishing that their friends didn’t need to leave.
Then they lay down beside each other, drawing their naked bodies into a familiar embrace. Yet certain words still haunted the air like unacknowledged ghosts. They didn’t talk about the carving of spikes, or the supplies loaded into the wagon, or the final checks made on armor and weapons. Resting his cheek against Rosemary’s shoulder, Julen forced his mouth open. But all that came was a puff of dry air. When what he really wanted to say was: Tomorrow, I go into battle, and there’s a chance -- just a small chance -- that I may not come back. And if I don’t, I want you to know that it was worth it. Because it was for you. Because all the things I do, all the things which matter the most, they’re for you.
“I love you,” he finally managed. And, really, that was a shorter way of saying the same thing.
After a moment, Rosemary stirred in his arms. Julen expected her to return his declaration. But instead, she stared at the darkness beyond their bed. “Julen...before you go. There’s something I need to tell you. Something you should know.”
And so, she told him. About the other suitors, about what she’d done with them, about the child that had never been born. This time, Julen didn’t even struggle for words. There were no words. Instead, he brushed her hair aside, and pressed gentle kisses to the back of her neck, holding her against his warmth. How could she imagine that he might be angry? That he might blame her for something she’d done out of fear and desperation? Of course it stung that other men had enjoyed the gift he thought was his alone. Of course he grieved for the life ended too soon. However, when Rosemary finished, there was only one thing Julen truly cared about. “But you’re alright now? Uluki healed you? You won’t have anymore pain or bleeding?”
“Yes.” Rosemary looked up at him, her smile a little forced, trying to offer an apology he hadn’t demanded. “She’s says I can probably conceive now. We can start trying to have a baby right away.” Beneath the blanket, her hand moved to his thigh, but Julen caught it, holding it gently his own.
“Not...not right now.”
Hurt darkened Rosemary’s expression and she bowed her head. “I don’t blame you. After finding out about those other men, it’s a wonder you can still stand to touch me.”
“I don’t care about the other men. Screw them.” Too late, Julen realized that might not have been the best choice of words, but he stumbled on. “I care about you. And you’re my wife, not my baby machine. When we have a child, I want them to be conceived during an act of love, not something you’re doing because you think you owe me.”
Julen paused a moment, waiting for Rosemary to respond. But she remained silent, simply gripping his hand tightly, her fingers twined around his own. Two lives sewn together that could never be separated. When it became clear she wasn’t going to speak, Julen continued. “I know it hurts. But beyond that, I can’t imagine what it’s like for you. I don’t know what you want to do. If you...if you just want to forget, that’s fine. Maybe you never thought of it as being a child.” Again, Julen hesitated, hoping he wasn’t about to cross the line. “But if it was me, I’d want to mourn. So I was thinking, if you’d like, we could make a little marker and put it with my family graves. So you could remember her.” Obviously, Julen had no way of knowing if the fetus had been a boy or girl, and Rosemary might very well not know either. But in this context, referring to the child as “it” seemed wrong.
Rosemary’s shoulders jerked as she rolled over, pressing her face against her husband’s chest in a futile attempt to stifle her sobs. And Julen hugged her tight, whispering soothing nonsense, letting the outpouring of grief wash over them without dragging them down, like two shipwreck survivors who refused to drown.
Finally, Rosemary’s crying grew softer, and then ceased. When she tilted her head to meet Julen’s gaze, tears glistened on her eyelashes. “I do love you. Those men may have had my body, but you’re the only one who’s ever had my heart. What I gave you on our wedding night truly was something I’d never given to anyone else.”
“I know.” Tenderly, he kissed her mouth, drawing out her sadness like poison from a wound. And now her body responded to his with genuine arousal. Hands slid over flesh, coaxing every nerve to eager sensitivity. Breath fluttered from gasping lips. Then, in a groping tangle of limbs, hard penetrated soft, making them one until two cries pierced the silence and they spilled forth into each other.
“Come back to me,” Rosemary whispered sleepily, her eyes already drifting shut. “Whatever happens in Shim...please come back to me.”
“I will,” Julen answered, knowing that it was a promise he couldn’t make. But she didn’t want the promise. She just wanted the reassurance of hearing those words. So he gave them to her, as his own eye began to close.
And they slept, just like it was any other night.