There was someone in the room. James knew it the moment he stepped inside, even tired, even preoccupied with the legion of small concerns of the day. Perhaps there had been a sound out of place. Perhaps it was the moon-stained curtains billowing at the window that Godfrey wouldn't have left open.
Perhaps there was no time to rationalise, just to feel - to know - before he was moving; closing the door with a snick, blowing out the candle and stepping sideways, pressed flat against the wall as darkness settled its thick, humid blanket around him.
And then there was a sound. "Impressive." It was a voice to give James pause, the wall warm against his shoulder blades through the scratch of linen. A voice he thought he recognised. Female. Sharp. Amused. "What's your next move?"
His fingers found the side table, and James slid the candle onto it. "Who's --" there, he intended to say, but it caught in his throat as his visitor stepped into the spill of moonlight.
It was Anamaria.
And she was naked.
She stood silhouetted, illuminated and silvered, moonlight running over her limbs, sparkling in the dark tangle of her hair, like starlight on the sea. Under it she was softened into sand-dune sweeps, from polished mahagony into the shadow-cloaked promises of her torso...
James fluttered his hands against the wall, fingers pressed into the paper. "What are you doing here?" His voice was almost steady. This was too surreal to prompt reaction.
But she moved like she was real, stepping closer with light cascading off her. "You gave me a ship," she said, her voice nowhere near a natural sound in this room. How long since he hadn't slept alone?
James shook his head. "No, I didn't."
"You didn't," she agreed. "Not quite. But I do have a ship, and you're responsible." Another step closer took her out of the moonlight, but he could still see her, maybe even better now, the implacable details of her face. "I always pay my debts."
His fingertips brushed the wall, and James realised he'd stepped forward. "This isn't--"
"What you want?" There was mockery in her voice, stinging and poignant.
James set his jaw. "Necessary," he stated.
But closer now, patently too close, and even while he knew he should step back his hand was lifting to ghost up her side, the hard plane of her, the softer curve. There was breath in her mouth and the shadow of her lashes on her cheek for the barest moment before her eyes were open again, blazing into his as she repeated. "I always pay my debts."
Even as she stepped forward, though, his other hand clasped her shoulder, held her at bay. "What about Theo?"
Her eyes were blank; everything he saw in them was simply a reflection. It wavered as she shook her head with lethargic finality. "This has nothing to do with him," she said. His shirt was pulled against his skin, and when he looked down, her fingers seemed very dark against the white linen.
"No," James said, his last desperate hope with his eyes closed and her skin still under his hands but no, it did, it must, and --
She was kissing him. Kissing him deep and heady in the hot night with the sea breeze billowing the curtains. Lonely nights spilled out across her tongue between his teeth and all James could do was splay his fingers over her skin, hold onto them, hold onto her. A cloud scudded over the moon; his shirt came apart in her hands.
He spoke only once more, as he pressed her down upon the bed, and that was her name, "Anamaria."
Later, he would think she seemed almost surprised.
In the morning - no, not the morning, in the silvered hours before morning truly began - she will be standing at the window when he wakes up. She will still be naked and unreal, though he knows he could never have imagined her.
She will glance over her shoulder at him, and he will come to stand behind her as she looks back to where the sun will rise. He will watch the line of her shoulder instead, knowing he could touch, but not doing so.
There are many things he is sure of.
That there will be a storm, sometime soon, and it will be bad, but not unendurable.
That he will never see her again like this; may never see her again at all once her ship is blown from the harbour.
That he will never know another man like Theodore Groves, with whom the years had rubbed away any differences, molding them to each other.
What he does not know is how any of this can possibly help him when he stands before his best friend and tries not to tell him he has slept with his fiancée.
Black and Silver by dee
Elessil drew it, and I wrote it for her, by longhand, on a train in France, and snail-mailed it to her. Old-skool.