It wasn’t that they were afraid, though of course, they were. Fear was a constant state of being for the three of them. Fear burned in their stomachs, pounded in their heads, and caused their hands to tremble. Fear kept them from sleeping, from laughing, even from standing up straight, because their shoulders were always hunched in a defensive stance, or bowed with the weight of the burdens they carried for the world. Their wands were never put away, not for a second, so everything they did had to be done one-handed.
None of them ate well, either, and it hadn’t escaped Harry’s notice that Ron’s lankiness had become boniness, and that Hermione’s slender figure was too skinny. He didn’t even want to think what his own knobbly knees and angular facial features looked like now, probably like some freakish scarecrow. He didn’t want to think about it, so he never looked at himself, but he couldn’t help looking at Ron and Hermione.
They were suffering, and he knew it. It was always bad, but destroying that last Horcrux with its brutal curse nearly did them in. Still, Ron and Hermione never complained, not once. In fact, Hermione fussed as much as ever, trying to make him and Ron eat while the food on her own plate went untouched.
“You have to keep up your strength,” she insisted, while Harry and even Ron simply pushed the food around. It wasn’t that they went without food; they had hideouts that members of the Order kept stocked with food, and if that failed, any one of them could conjure something to eat. But their stomachs were too busy churning in anxiety, and food was seldom welcome.
“You have to keep up your strength, too, Hermione,” Harry said quietly, looking down at her from where he stood. Hermione had suffered terrible injuries, and she was so pale now. He thought sometimes he caught her swaying on her feet, though he didn’t know whether it was from pain or hunger, or simply from the weight of the fear that had pressed on them all for months.
Harry set his fork down and looked around the dim, dusty room. He didn’t like being here; the Shrieking Shack just didn’t seem like a satisfactory hiding place, but they had to have some place to go, and this place was well-defended. They were in no shape to fight Death Eaters right now; they were weakened and wounded. So many people dead, so many lives ruined, before they could put a stop to it. He had no right to put it off any longer.
“Soon…” he murmured, watching the last rays of the sun slip over the windowsill.
“What’s that, mate?” Ron asked, looking up from his own plate.
“I said, soon,” Harry said, glancing down at Ron. Hermione looked up at him. “We can’t live like this, and now there’s no reason to, is there?”
“No, I guess not, now that we’ve got all the Horcruxes,” Ron said. He sat back in his chair absently, then winced at the pain. Harry flinched, struck anew by the guilt that was never far from the surface. Ron had been badly burned by the curse on the last Horcrux, and now they couldn’t even risk going to St. Mungo’s for treatment.
Hermione stood up and retrieved her backpack from beside the door. Returning to the table, she pulled out several bottles of potion ingredients and began to mix them. The boys watched her silently.
“Do you think it’s safe to light a small fire in here?” Hermione asked, glancing from one to the other over a flask of purple liquid.
“Yeah,” Harry said. “Let me black out the windows.”
He moved slowly, trying to hide the pain his own injuries were causing him, and walked to the windows. He raised his wand and caused the windows to go completely dark. Nobody could see in now, but they wouldn’t get any light, either. But no sooner had he thought that than a blue glow filled the room, and he turned to see Hermione pouring ingredients into a very small cauldron set on top of the table. She stirred the potion, murmuring to herself for a few moments, then she tapped the cauldron. It rose off the table, tipped, and poured its contents into an empty goblet that she had conjured beneath it. The goblet spun for a moment as it was filled, then Hermione grabbed it out of the air and handed it to Ron.
“Here,” she said, “drink this. It’s a pain potion.”
Ron looked at her and set his jaw. “Will it make me sleepy?”
Hermione glared at him. “No, it won’t,” she snapped. “Though I wish it would. You could do with some sleep for once.”
“So could you,” Ron said, taking the cup from her. He drank it in one swallow, then sighed deeply. “Ah, thanks, Hermione. That’s better.”
Hermione vanished the dishes full of uneaten food, then conjured a teapot which she set floating above the blue flame. In a moment, the pot whistled, and Hermione poured them each a cup of tea. Harry returned to the table and Hermione glanced up at him.
“Do you know yet what we should do?” she asked quietly.
Harry pulled his teacup toward him and wrapped his hands around it. “I want it over with.”
Ron and Hermione exchanged glances. “Yeah, mate, we know,” said Ron carefully. “That’s sort of been the whole point, right?”
Harry nodded. “Right,” he said. “But listen, I don’t think we’re ready to fight Voldemort right now, even if he is mortal.”
Hermione shrugged. “What other choice do we have?”
“I don’t know,” Harry admitted. “I’d like to think about it a while.”
“Don’t think too long, mate,” Ron advised. “We don’t want him to find out that we’ve destroyed all the Horcruxes, or he might just make more.”
Harry grimaced. “Don’t think that hasn’t occurred to me,” he said.
They remained in silence for several long moments, drinking the warm tea. Harry felt like they were one person in times like this, each of them thinking thoughts that didn’t have to be spoken. He glanced down at Hermione, then smiled slightly. Her face was intense, and he knew she was examining the problem from all angles, trying to figure it out. It was so Hermione; whatever they had been through in the past months, she hadn’t really changed. The thought brought Harry some comfort.
“Well, mates,” Ron said, standing wearily, “I’m going to go lie down for a bit. Wake me for the late watch, all right?”
“Yeah, sure,” Harry said.
Ron frowned. “I mean it, Harry. Wake me. You need to rest, too.”
“Fine,” Harry snapped. “I will. Go, already.”
Ron gazed at him steadily, his freckles in dark relief against his pale skin. “Promise.”
Harry glared at him. He knew exactly what Ron was asking. Promises between the three of them were absolutely sacred, utterly inviolable. They were the one thing that could be counted on in their lives.
“Fine, you great prat,” Harry said. “I promise to wake you. Now go lie down before you fall down.”
Ron nodded and shuffled across the room to the big dusty bed that took up the corner. With a groan he lay down, his careful movements testifying to the fact that he was still in pain, even after Hermione’s potion. Harry and Hermione looked away so that Ron wouldn’t know they were worried. It wouldn’t help him to know it; he would only try harder to hide his pain from them.
Silence settled on the room. Harry stared into the small blue fire, remembering the first time he had ever been here. He had first met Sirius in this room, but that had been years ago. It seemed like a different life from the one he was living now. Ron’s snores drifted across the room, convincing Harry that he was finally asleep. Harry sighed; it was probably the first deep sleep Ron had had in months. He glanced down at Hermione, who was gazing into her mug of tea.
“You did put something in his potion.”
“Yes, I did,” she said, raising her head defiantly. “He’s got to rest, Harry, or he’ll never heal. You know how he gets. He paces and fidgets; he’s never still. Just like you. I’ll put some ointment on his burns in a minute. He’ll be all right soon.”
“What about your injuries, Hermione?” Harry said quietly.
“I’ll be fine.”
In the blue light of the fire, Hermione’s face looked deathly pale, and Harry realized that he hadn’t seen her lean back against her chair or rest against the wall.
“Get the ointment,” Harry said. “You need it.”
“I’m fine, Harry.”
“Don’t be stupid,” he snapped. “I’m tired of the two of you trying to protect me by pretending you aren’t hurt. I’m not an idiot, you know. I can tell when you’re in pain.”
Hermione stared at him for a long moment, her mouth slightly open. Then, to Harry’s surprise, she started to laugh. It wasn’t the full, innocent laugh of their departed childhoods, but it was definitely a laugh.
“I’m sorry,” she said, unable to suppress her grin. “But you must see the irony here, Harry.”
Harry glared at her. “No, I don’t. What are you talking about?”
“You, being angry with us, for not sharing how much our injuries are bothering us?” Hermione prompted. “You, being angry with us, for trying to keep you from worrying?”
“Oh, shut up and get the ointment,” Harry muttered, and Hermione laughed again. But she got up and reached into her backpack for the glass jar containing the sparkling green ointment.
“There’s not much left,” she muttered. “I don’t really need it. We should save it for Ron.” She glanced up from the jar to Harry. “Or you. I haven’t even seen your injuries yet, but they have to be as bad as either of ours.”
“I’m fine,” Harry said.
Hermione raised her eyebrows at him and he scowled. Okay, so “fine” might be an exaggeration, but he knew that Ron and Hermione really needed that medicine, and he wasn’t about to take it from them. Ron and Hermione were only in this because of him, and there was no way in the world he was going to use medicine that could help them.
He grabbed the jar from Hermione. “Sit down.”
Hermione sat down at the rickety old table and put her head down on her arms.
“Hermione, you’ll have to pull your robe down,” Harry said gently.
“Oh, right,” Hermione murmured, her voice muffled against her arms. She reached up and unzipped her robe to her waist, then slipped first one arm out of its sleeve then the other. Her robe fell bunched around her waist, leaving only her bare back visible. She gathered the robe in front of her and leaned forward again, her pale skin glowing in the blue light.
Harry studied her back, aware that his hands had begun to shake again. This was his fault, all his fault. She looked like she had been whipped; dark welts, violently purple in the blue light, criss-crossed the smooth skin from her neck to the waistband of her jeans. Some of the welts were leaking blood, and a clear liquid that might be drops of the poison that prevented them from healing quickly.
“God, Hermione,” he whispered. “It looks worse than it did yesterday. Are you sure this ointment is the right thing to use?”
“Yes, I’m sure,” she said. “It was a nasty curse, Harry, and it will take a while to heal. It’s all right.”
“It’s not all right,” he said, clenching his jaw against the anger and grief. “Dammit, Hermione, it is not all right.”
“I know, Harry,” she said gently. “I know it’s not. Just put the ointment on, okay? Use it sparingly, though, please.”
Harry took a deep breath, trying to get his anger under control. It would only distress Hermione further, he knew, and right now he wanted to help her, not upset her. He couldn’t help it, though, if his hands trembled a bit as he uncapped the jar and dipped a finger inside.
As carefully as he could, he smoothed the thick green ointment on her broken skin. But even though he tried to be gentle, she hissed at the pain of contact.
“I’m sorry,” he said, withdrawing his hand instantly.
“No, it’s all right,” she said thickly. “Just do it.”
She really was strong, Harry thought, half admiringly and half in exasperation. He dipped his finger in the jar again and lathed on another scoop of the ointment. This time Hermione tensed, but made no sound. Her wounds steamed and bubbled where the ointment seeped in, and Harry could only hope that meant they were healing.
“I wish…” Harry began, unsure how to say what he was thinking. Hermione remained quiet, but he knew she was listening. “I wish we could go away,” he finally said. “Just for a bit.”
“Go where?” Hermione asked.
Harry shrugged and dipped another fingerful of the medicine. “I don’t know. Some place where we could rest. Or sleep, or heal. Some place safe where we could eat properly again so that we could be at our best and strongest when we finally face him.”
Hermione didn’t say anything, and Harry continued to spread the ointment on the welts on her back. Her skin was soft and supple between the wounds, and he ran his fingers over it while he worked. The blue flames danced and Ron’s snores droned in the background. A soft rain began to fall and pelt the roof gently, and Hermione shivered.
“There,” Harry said quietly. “I’m done. Let me just seal it.”
He performed the charm to lock the ointment in and to set a barrier between Hermione’s torn skin and her robe so that it wouldn’t rub the welts. She sat up gingerly and flung her long hair over her shoulder, so that it fell down her back. Carefully, she raised the sleeves of her robe to cover one bare shoulder, then the other, and Harry heard the sound of the zipper being closed.
“Thanks, Harry,” she said. “That feels so much better.”
“Good,” Harry said. “We should put out the fire if you don’t need it any more.”
“I thought we’d do Ron’s burns first,” Hermione said. “I have something else I want to use for him.”
She reached into her backpack again and brought out at least half a dozen potion bottles. Harry didn’t miss that she winced a little as she bent over the bag, even after he had treated her wounds. In the same way that they were never entirely free of fear, neither were they ever entirely free of pain. He wondered now if they ever would be.
Suddenly Hermione looked up at him sharply. “You haven’t sat down all day, Harry.”
Harry gave a guilty start. He should have known Hermione wouldn’t miss anything. “I’m fine.”
Hermione just rolled her eyes and returned to her bag. After the potions bottles came the Revealer, the extra wands, the Invisibility Cloak, the Marauders Map, the photographs of their parents, an untouched bag of Chocolate Frog cards, a pair of dragonhide gloves, a pair of goggles, several pairs of clean underwear, three toothbrushes, a knife like the one Sirius had given Harry, a bundle of silvery unicorn hair, a roll of bandages, and finally, a little bottle with a milky liquid in it.
“Here it is,” Hermione said triumphantly. She flicked her wand and the remaining contents of the backpack filed back inside in an orderly and organized manner. She poured the milky substance into the goblet Ron’s pain potion had been in, then carefully lifted the teakettle and poured hot water in on top of it. She swirled it in a circle, clockwise, then counterclockwise, then clockwise again, before nodding in satisfaction.
“I think this will be better for these burns than the ointment,” Hermione said. “But I need your help.”
Harry nodded and the two of them walked over to where Ron lay on his left side on the far edge of the bed. Rather than try to move him physically, and risk aggravating his own injuries, Harry simply pointed his wand and pulled Ron magically toward them, so that he was lying on his back in the center of the bed.
“Open his robe, Harry,” Hermione said.
Harry carefully unzipped Ron’s black robe, then pulled it open to expose Ron’s upper body. He winced at the sight that greeted him, even in the dim light. Ron’s skin was raw and shiny, blistered and streaked with black from his side to his shoulder and across his chest. Ron frowned in his sleep as Harry tried gently to move the robe out of Hermione’s way. Harry bit the inside of his cheek to keep from revealing to Hermione how much the bent-over posture hurt him.
“He still has that Quidditch build, doesn’t he?” Hermione said, studying Ron’s half-exposed body. “Even if he’s too thin.”
Harry stood up straight, glancing briefly at Ron’s chest. “I suppose. Are you going to do this or do you want me to?”
“I will,” Hermione said. She sat on the bed next to Ron, then poured the milky oil into her hand. Very gently she began to rub it into the blistered skin, touching him so lightly that at times Harry thought she must have been running her hands just above the skin, rather than on it. But the concoction disappeared as Hermione’s hands smoothed their way up and down Ron’s chest, shoulder, ribs, belly, and side.
Ron’s eyes fluttered open as Hermione worked. “That’s nice,” he murmured drowsily, smiling at Hermione.
She smiled back at him. “Good, I’m glad it helps. Let it soak in for a minute, okay?”
Ron nodded, closed his eyes again, and reached out for Hermione’s hand. Hermione set the goblet down, switched her wand over, and took Ron’s hand.
“Harry,” she asked, “if we could go away for a while, if that were possible, where would you like to go?”
Harry shifted from one foot to the other. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve never really been anywhere, have I?”
“France was lovely,” Hermione recalled wistfully.
“Yeah, Egypt was cool, too,” Ron said, grinning slightly at the memory.
“I guess,” said Harry, “that it wouldn’t matter so much where it was. I’d just want it to be quiet and safe, and completely free of Horcruxes, Death Eaters, or Dark Lords.”
Hermione bent down carefully to pick up the goblet, then handed it to Harry and gestured for him to put it on the table.
Harry took the goblet, then frowned into it. “Hermione, you’ve only used half of it. Are you sure he doesn’t need all of it?”
“No,” Hermione said absently, stroking Ron’s hand with her thumb. “I’ll use it later.”
Harry had turned away from Hermione and Ron to put the goblet back on the table when he heard Hermione murmur to Ron, “I’m glad you’re awake, Ron. I think I’m going to need your help.”
Harry spun around, wincing at the sudden movement, in time to see Ron nod once and say, “I thought you might.”
Hermione stood up and Ron sat up stiffly, swinging his long legs over the side of the bed. “It feels loads better, Hermione,” he said, smiling at her gratefully.
Ron stood up, more confident and less shaky than he had been before. He and Hermione exchanged looks, and Harry saw them each take a deep breath before turning to stand shoulder to shoulder, facing him. Even in the dim blue light, Harry could see that they wore identical determined expressions.
Despite the stubborn look on her face, Hermione’s voice was gentle. “It’s time to do yours, Harry.”
Harry took a step back. “No,” he said. “I told you, I’m fine.”
Ron snorted and stepped toward him. “Right, you’re fine. How long do you think you can stay standing up before you fall over, mate?”
Harry scowled and took another step back. “I could lie down if I wanted,” he said. At Hermione’s skeptical look, he added, “Eventually.”
“You haven’t even let us see your injuries,” Hermione protested, taking a step forward. “But you can’t sit down and you can hardly move. We’re not idiots, you know,” she said, throwing his own words back at him, “we can tell when you’re in pain.”
Harry gave them a panicked look and stepped back with his hands held out in front of him. “But you don’t understand,” he said, “they’re everywhere…”
Ron and Hermione stopped moving forward.
“Oh,” Hermione breathed. “I see. It was a spiral pattern, wasn’t it?”
Harry nodded, looking down at the floor.
“Cuts and burns?” Hermione said.
Harry nodded again. He didn’t want to show them the extent of his injuries. He didn’t want to worry them, or make them feel responsible. “I’m really fine,” he said feebly. “Why don’t you two get some rest? I’ll keep the first watch.”
He turned away from them, intending to go and pretend to look out the blackened window, but a firm hand on his shoulder stopped him. Ron stared at him with a stubborn expression on his face.
“Let’s get the robe off, Potter,” he said, his voice infused with steel. Harry just stared at him. Who the hell did he think he was?
“Excuse me?” Harry said, scowling.
“You heard me.”
Harry stepped toward him. “You think you can make me, Weasley?”
“Stop it!” Hermione said from her place at the table. She was mixing more of the milky white potion. “Harry, quit being stupid and take your robe off.”
She set the goblet down and moved across the room. “Here,” she said, pointing her wand. Two leather straps descended from the ceiling. “You’ll probably need something to hold on to.”
Harry glanced apprehensively at the straps, afraid that Hermione was right. “Fine,” he snarled, and would have yanked the robe off his body angrily if he could have moved that fast. As it was, he settled for another scowl and reached up to pull his zipper down.
Hermione returned to the table and began to gather her medications, and Harry turned his back on her. He slid out of his robe and flung it away. He felt his skin go hot as he stood there in his briefs, but Hermione still wasn’t looking, and he and Ron had been roommates for half their lives. He hooked his thumbs in the elastic band of his pants and bit his lip against the pain as he bent over and pulled them down and over his feet, and flung them on top of his robe.
He stood there naked, resolutely not moving, ignoring Ron’s low, “Blimey!” and Hermione’s gasp of shock as she turned toward him. He knew it must look horrible, and he glared over his shoulder at them.
“Look, if you don’t want to see—” he began.
“Shut up, Harry,” Ron said mildly. “Better grab those straps.”
Harry blew out a breath of exasperation, then reached up and grabbed the leather straps. He moaned a little as the skin around his wounds stretched and pulled.
“Okay,” Hermione said to Ron, “see how the cut starts just there, at the base of his neck? It’s just one cut, all the way down.”
“Yeah,” said Ron. “It wraps around him…blimey…nine times. No wonder he couldn’t sit down, there are stripes across the backs of his legs!”
“I am still in the room, you know,” Harry grumbled.
“And the burns,” Hermione murmured. “It’s like they followed the cuts with a blow torch.”
“What’s a blow torch?” Ron asked curiously.
“It’s like a wand that shoots extremely hot fire,” Hermione said. “We’ll have to go all around, Harry, not just the back. I’m sorry, but there are more important things than your modesty at stake here.”
She handed Ron the jar of green ointment. “You go first. You just have to get this inside all the open wounds. And you have to make it last all the way, because that’s all we’ve got.”
Ron took the jar and stepped around to Harry’s front, into Harry’s field of vision. He looked down and blinked at the pattern of cuts slicing across Harry’s middle. “Blimey, Harry, that was a close call, wasn’t it?”
Harry snorted. “You don’t have to tell me, mate. If I was as tall as you, I’d have been in a lot of trouble.”
“Well, here goes,” Ron said, raising the jar of ointment like he was toasting Harry. “Sorry if I get a bit personal, mate.”
Ron dipped his finger into the ointment and gently touched his finger to the sensitive stretch of skin at the base of Harry’s throat. Harry hissed as the ointment soaked in. How had Hermione borne this so stoically? This hurt like hell.
But Ron’s face had gone pale as his finger drew across Harry’s neck. “How did you survive this, Harry? You should be dead.”
“You pulled me out, remember? You and Hermione.”
Ron blinked. “Oh, yeah, right. Got the burns to show for it, don’t I?”
He slid his fingers in the cool gel and back to Harry’s skin again and again. Harry gripped the straps and pulled, grateful for something to do against the pain. Ron spread ointment over Harry’s shoulder, across his back, over his chest, under his arm, across his back again…working his way around and around Harry’s body, lower and lower, his fingers spreading the healing medicine as he went.
Harry braced his bare feet wide apart and pulled on the straps, hoping the pain meant that he was healing, fighting against the whimpers that rose in his throat. Again he marveled at how silent Hermione had been when he had applied this same medicine to her wounds, across her bare and tender back.
Ron was working on his lower back and following the gory trail across the tender skin of Harry’s side, over his flat belly, across his hip, and over his back again. The next circle ran just above the dark nest of hair below his navel, then across his buttocks, and over the tops of his thighs. Ron worked silently, offering no comment, just applying the healing balm over and over. Neither of them had anything to say when Ron was forced to drop to his knees in front of Harry; there was no point. It couldn’t be helped.
At that moment, Harry felt something cool and soothing spread over his shoulder. He glanced over and there was Hermione, her gentle hands coated in milky white potion, barely touching him, but rubbing the potion into his skin. Her potion soothed the sting of the ointment, and cooled the stabbing heat of the burns, and her hands…somehow they made him feel better. His legs screamed where Ron was spreading ointment on them, but Hermione’s hands spread calm and comfort.
Around and around him they walked, each ministering to him, each bringing him healing. Each time one of them walked into his line of vision, he could see the pain in their faces, pain for him, suffering because he was suffering. It was suffering born of love, suffering that would rather be here, in pain and together, than to be free and apart.
“There are mountains in the States,” Hermione said, her hands massaging lightly across his belly. Ron was done, having emptied the jar of ointment across Harry’s ankles, and was now kneeling back on his heels watching Harry and Hermione. His robe was still hanging open from when Hermione had rubbed the potion on him.
“Oh, yeah?” Harry said, adjusting his grip on the leather straps.
“Yes,” said Hermione. “Old, round mountains, not like the Alps or the Rocky Mountains. They’re covered with green, with trees and meadows, and people sometimes go up there and live off the land.”
“For how long?” Ron asked.
Hermione shrugged, and Harry felt the pressure of it against his burning skin, but it didn’t hurt. “Forever if they want, I suppose. Or for a holiday, maybe. But nobody can find them there unless they want to be found.”
“Sounds great,” Harry said, smiling.
“Doesn’t it?” Hermione said, dropping to her knees in front of Harry and pouring more potion into her hands. “I think that’s where I’d like to go, when we’re able to go somewhere. Into the mountains.”
“For however long we want,” Ron said.
“Where nobody can find us,” Harry said, looking down at Hermione as she rubbed his thighs, then over at Ron as he watched.
They were quiet while Hermione finished rubbing the potion over Harry’s legs. Finally, she poured the last drops onto the burns across Harry’s ankles and rubbed them in. Then she leaned back onto her heels and looked up at Harry.
Harry released his grasp of the leather straps and flexed his fingers. “Yeah, I do,” he said.
Hermione continued to look up at him. “You know, you’ve kept your Quidditch build, too, Harry, even if you should eat more.”
“Soon,” Harry said. “When it’s all over, and we’re hiding away in that cabin in the woods in the mountains of America. Then we’ll eat all we want.”
“And sleep all we want,” said Ron, standing up and grabbing Harry’s robe off the floor.
“And laugh all we want,” said Hermione, taking the hand Harry reached out to her and letting him help her up from the floor.
Ron tossed Harry’s robe to him and Harry caught it with one hand. He let go of Hermione, shook out his robe, and slid his arms into it.
“Look,” Harry said, his eyes on his two best friends. “Every spell, ward, and defense known to wizardkind is on this house. If something tries to come after us, we’ll know. What do you say we get a good night’s sleep?”
“Why are you so keen to sleep all of a sudden?” Ron asked.
Harry shrugged. “Because I think we’re ready. I think that nothing and nobody can stand against the three of us, so it’s almost time to go after him. Tomorrow, or the next day. But right now, I’m tired, and you lot are tired, too. I think we should get some rest.”
“Good idea,” said Hermione, and she slid her wand into her pocket and grabbed one of each of their hands. She led them to the bed, and gestured for Ron to get on first. Ron scooted to the far edge, then Hermione lay down next to him. Finally, Harry lay on the other edge, alongside Hermione.
Ron and Harry each wrapped their arms around Hermione, who somehow managed to hold them both to her. Even though their wands were within easy reach, even though the house was guarded and armed to the hilt, even though their wounds would hurt again by morning, they fell asleep, unafraid to face the night in each other’s arms.