“Marcus,” she said again, because saying his name seemed to bring her solace. “Marcus.”

” ’Noria.”

She froze, then sat up. “Marcus?”

His eyes did not open, but she could see movement beneath the lids, and his chin bobbed ever so slightly up and down.

“Oh, Marcus,” she sobbed. The tears poured forth. “Oh, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be crying.” She looked helplessly for a handkerchief and then finally just wiped her eyes on his bedsheet. “I’m just so happy to hear your voice. Even though you don’t sound at all like you.”

“W-w-wa – ”

“Do you want water?” she asked, jumping on his broken words.

Again, his chin moved.

“Here, let me sit you up just a bit. It will make it easier.” She reached under his arms and managed to straighten him a few inches. It wasn’t much, but it was something. A glass of water sat on the bedside table, the spoon still in it from the last time she’d tried to give him a drink. “I’m just going to give you a few drops,” she told him. “Just a little at a time. I’m afraid you’ll choke if I give you too much.”

He did much better this time, though, and she got the better part of eight spoonfuls into him before he signaled that he’d had enough and slumped back down to horizontal.

“How do you feel?” she asked, trying to fluff his pillow. “Other than terrible, I mean.”

He moved his head slightly to the side. It seemed to be a sickly interpretation of a shrug.

“Of course you’re feeling terrible,” she clarified, “but is there any change? More terrible? Less terrible?”

He made no response.

“The same amount of terrible?” She laughed. She actually laughed. Amazing. “I sound ridiculous.”

He nodded. It was a small movement, but bigger than he’d managed so far.

“You heard me,” she said, unable to contain the huge, trembling smile on her face. “You mocked me, but you heard me.”

He nodded again.

“That’s good. You can feel free. When you’re better, and you will be better, you’re not allowed to do that, and by that I mean mock me, but for now, you may go right ahead. Oh!” She jumped to her feet, suddenly bursting with nervous energy. “I should check your leg. It hasn’t been long since Dr. Winters left, I know, but there’s no point in not looking.”

It took only two steps and one second to see that his leg was unchanged. The wound was still an angry, glistening red, but it was no longer tinged with that sickly yellow, and more importantly, she saw no red streaks sneaking up the limb.

“The same,” she told him. “Not that I thought there would be a change, but as I said, there’s no point in not . . . well, you know.” She smiled sheepishly. “I already said it.”

She held silent for a moment, content just to gaze at him. His eyes were closed, and indeed, he didn’t look any different than he had when Dr. Winters had been examining him, but Honoria had heard his voice, and she’d given him water, and that was enough to bring hope to her heart.

“Your fever!” she suddenly exclaimed. “I should check that.” She touched his forehead. “You feel the same to me. Which is to say, warmer than you should. But better than you were. You are definitely better than you were.” She paused, wondering if she was speaking into the proverbial mist. “Can you still hear me?”

He moved his head.

“Oh, good, because I know I sound foolish, and there is no point sounding foolish for no one.”

His mouth moved. She thought he might be smiling. Somewhere in his mind, he was smiling.

“I am happy to be foolish for you,” she announced.

He nodded.

She put one hand to her mouth, letting her elbow rest on the opposite arm, which was banded across her waist. “I wish I knew what you were thinking.”

He gave a tiny shrug.

“Are you trying to tell me you’re not thinking of much of anything?” She pointed a finger at him. “Because that I will not believe. I know you far too well.” She waited for another response, no matter how small. She didn’t get one, so she kept on talking.

“You’re probably figuring out how best to maximize your corn harvest for the year,” she said. “Or maybe wondering if your rents are too low.” She thought about that for a moment. “No, you’d be wondering if your rents are too high. I’m quite certain you’re a softhearted landlord. You wouldn’t want anyone to struggle.”

He shook his head. Just enough so that she could tell what he meant.

“No, you don’t want anyone to struggle, or no, that’s not what you’re thinking about?”

“You,” he rasped.

“You’re thinking about me?” she whispered.

“Thank you.” His voice was soft, barely even audible, but she heard him. And it took every last ounce of her strength not to cry.

“I won’t leave you,” she said, taking his hand in hers. “Not until you’re well.”

“Th-th – ”

“It’s all right,” she told him. “You don’t need to say it again. You didn’t need to say it the first time.”

But she was glad that he did. And she wasn’t certain which of his statements had touched her more – his two words of thanks, or the first, his simple, solitary “You.”

He was thinking about her. While he was lying there, possibly near death, even more possibly at the brink of an amputation, he was thinking about her.