The second night, when the worst has passed and I no longer think I may lose Daren, he’s struck by another nightmare. There’s little I can do to ease the attack but murmur senseless comforts as I hold him close, afraid that otherwise he’ll hurt himself in his thrashing. I doubt he’s even aware of my touch or voice but I can’t bear to let him suffer alone. When he’s well enough to care for himself again he’ll have a choice to stay or go, but for now I’m all he has to keep the fever from taking him completely. When the terror finally subsides and the thin, feverish figure in my arms stills, I lay him gently back in bed. He shudders and turns into the pillow yet never wakes. It’s better that way; I know I’ve crossed a line, invaded a privacy Daren holds sacred, and the less he remembers of this, the better.

I’m at the door when Daren speaks, his voice a hoarse rasp. “What do you want from me, Tanim?” The question closes my throat and for a moment I can barely breathe, let alone speak. Swallowing down a hard lump of emotions I don’t even want to touch right now, I turn my head enough to glimpse Daren’s pale outline in the darkness. Even though his expression is lost in shadow I can feel the weight of his regard. What do I want? How can he ask me that? How can he expect me to answer truthfully? Not for the first time I wonder how much Daren suspects, if I’m as transparent as I feel. Is that why he cut off contact weeks ago?

“I don’t want anything from you, Daren,” I finally manage to mutter, trying to at once hide the quaver in my voice and feign a lightness I can’t feel. Daren makes a weak sound that might be a laugh or might simply be another ragged cough. The rattling in his lungs is worrisome but I have other concerns right now. “You won’t ask anything of me, you mean,” he corrects. “Wanting is different. What do you want from me?”

Even delirious and half-starved, he’s still a clever bastard. For just a second I allow myself to admit, at least silently, everything I’ve wanted from Daren for so long: not only friendship but companionship, love, intimacy. I want to surrender my body and heart and soul to him. I want to be his, and for Daren to be mine. I want so much I can never have and so I reply with careful diplomacy, “I only want what you would offer me willingly.” It’s as close to the truth as I can come without revealing myself. I would never ask anything more of him, no matter what I long for.

“Tanim…” Daren’s sigh is heavy with exhaustion and something close to disappointment, and I hate myself for the way I shiver upon hearing my name on his breath. “Please,” I know my voice trembles as I turn away but I’m too tired to hold it steady any longer. “Don’t make me say anything more.” As I shut the door behind myself I pray the fever burns this memory from Daren’s mind. I’m not ready to bare my heart to him when the revelation may turn him from me once and for all. He may suspect but until I say the words aloud I can pretend nothing has changed and I can keep this man in my life a few days longer.


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