Her side of the bed was empty.
He hadn't heard her get up, though the tell-tale creak of ropes against wood should have woken him.
Sliding a hand along the cold sheets beside him he couldn't feel any depression in the mattress, the blankets pulled loose but not rumpled. Rolling to his side his blinked, trying to adjust his eyes to the near dark of the room he looked for her and found her beside the window.
She stood, still… watchful of the outside world, a mere shadow beside the inky glass pane. Her fingers pulled absently at the curtain as she stared into the night.
"Lou?" He sat up, the blanket falling to his waist as he reached up to sweep a hand over his face. He tugged at the neck of his long-johns before slipping his fingers through his hair. "Y'all right?"
Her gaze dipped and followed some unseen action outside, but she didn't move.
Leaning back against the wall, Jimmy fought down a yawn, pressing his teeth together to stave off the sound of it. He waited, head tilting to the side, eyes drowsy but watchful. Taking each breath quietly into his lungs his gaze poured over her. Her toes curling into the wood of the floor, one leg crossing over the other, the shapeless one-piece garment gaping open at the neck, the tension building in her shoulders, and the empty grief darkening her eyes.
They'd all suffered through the last month, flaring tempers, choking sobs in the dark, and the silence reining over their meals had taken their toll on all of them. Just when they thought they were healing, someone's gaze would fall on the empty place at the table.
A quick gasp of air was the only noise in the room. Jimmy fisted his hand in the blanket, his eyes closed tight as he fought off his own tears.
"I miss him."
Jimmy nodded, silent because he couldn't speak.
Lou turned her back to the window, the chill of the glass a welcome distraction from her own aching pain. "I just can't sleep… thinking about the way he looked… on the floor-" She looked away, worrying her lip with her teeth.
"Sometimes," his sigh was heavy in the darkened room, "I think I see him out of the corner of my eye. I turn to look at him… but he's not there." His head fell back against the wall, a dull thud. "It takes me a couple of seconds to remember why he couldn't be there." He huffed out a breath, hot and angry at himself. "A couple of seconds to realize I'm just a fool."
"If wishes were horses…" Lou stepped away from the windows, dragging her feet toward the bed, "I'd own the biggest string in the world."
Reaching over, he turned down the blanket and waited.
She crawled up onto the bed, thrown off by a momentary bobble of balance as the mattress sank into the ropes pulled taut beneath it. Lou settled onto the bed before him, taking the edge of the blanket when he offered it to her. Leaning wearily against his chest. she sighed as he wrapped his arms around her.
Tilting her head against his shoulder, she felt the comforting press of his lips against her hair, the warmth slowly easing through her body from his as he held her gently.
"I was the first one shot," she whispered the words into the air, "and I guess… I always wondered why I didn't die then." She shut her eyes, struggling with the thoughts plaguing her mind. "Those men were killers… Neville, he was a vulture. If anyone should have died-"
He laced his fingers together with hers, squeezing gently to distract her from her thoughts. It only served to remind him of the truth of her words. He tightened his hold slightly as if to reassure him that she was that close.
She went silent in his arms, lifting their joined hands together until she could see the silvery light of the moon angling across their hands. "I still feel so helpless."
"Me, too." His voice rasped against her ear, the late-evening stubble of his cheek rough against the tender skin. "Me, too."
The shudder went through them both, starting somewhere between them and ending in their joined hands. "Do you wonder," she asked, "why he didn't tell us? Why he didn't ask for our help?"
He rocked her gently in his arms, seeking the same solace. "When the woman you love is in danger," he stretched his fingers out, brushing the warmth of his fingers against hers, "you'll do anything… to be there for her. The only thing in his head was gettin' to her side."
Turning their joined hands over she looked at the difference in their fingers, curled her own tighter around his. "It was the last thing." She sighed into the silence of the room. "It still hits me, you know? One minute I'll think something like, 'I wonder what Ike would do…" or 'I wonder what he'd think about…' something… and then I'll remember-" she sobbed, her lungs gasping for air.
Jimmy wrapped his arms tightly around her, drawing her closer as tears spilled onto his cheeks. They clung to each other until they fell asleep, spent and shaken with grief. Through the early hours of the day they clung to each other and their memories.
Author's Note: Thanks to Liz M for her help as a beta reader.