U is for . . .

All right, you’ve made a liar of me. Here’s one from Charles’s point of view.

Charles lay awake and listened to the even breathing beside him, so soft he had to strain to hear. At one point he even bent his head a little farther on the pillow to assure himself Peter was still alive. Peter did sometimes talk in his sleep, and often fidgeted, but those things never bothered Charles. It was nights like this one, when Peter seemed to sink beneath something heavy and then slept like one dead, Charles found it difficult to sleep himself.

He must have done, however, because next he knew he was roused by the loud, low tolling of a bell. Which church were they nearest? UTRECHT had dozens of them; they’d visited just a couple the day before. Only two—no, three—because they’d arrived in the afternoon and hadn’t much time for sights. They would do more the next day. Today, Charles told himself, peering through the gloom in vain for some sign of the time. Had the church bell been ringing the hour? But no, it was still going, slow and mournful, and with a sudden constriction of his heart, Charles realized it was a death knoll. But who would hold a service at this time of night? No one. So someone had only just died, then.

In an irrational moment of superstition, Charles leaned toward Peter’s slumbering form once more, in case the churches in Utrecht knew something he didn’t. How had the bells not woken him?

Charles moved in close, trying to see through the night that had gathered in their hotel room and surrounded them. Then, with a start, realized Peter’s eyes were open after all. Charles shot backward in surprise, but with calm assurance, Peter’s arms caught him and pulled him closer again.

“What are you doing?” Peter asked, his voice thick, and Charles understood Peter wasn’t yet fully awake.

“Making sure you were breathing,” Charles told him. It sounded ridiculous but had the benefit of being true.

“And am I?” But before Charles could answer, Peter turned an ear toward the windows. “What’s that racket?”

“I think it’s a funeral bell from one of the churches.”

“You were making sure I hadn’t ascended to Heaven without you,” Peter surmised. He pulled Charles a little closer, and not for the first time Charles marveled at the strength in Peter’s muscles, the grace in him, and ease with which he utilized these blessings. Like a lion, so sure of itself and never questioning its right to take or do whatever it pleased.

“Now you’re not breathing,” Peter murmured, and Charles realized he was holding his breath in anticipation. He let it out slowly and allowed himself to relax into Peter’s warmth.

“I promise,” Peter whispered, “not to go without you. There is no Heaven for me if you don’t come, too.”

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