Jaya hurried along the colonnade. It bordered the training yard and she was in no mood for propositions. Halfway, she paused. The place was quiet. It was never quiet.
She slipped into the shadow of a column and looked.
There were people there. Still and silent, watching one man.
He was worth watching, moving through a combat sequence she’d never seen before. He spun and twisted, slashed and stabbed the air, fast and agile. A joy to watch and a terror to face.
It wasn’t until he finished and stood for a moment that she realised his face was bandaged. He couldn’t see.
Recognition followed realisation. Her patient had escaped his bed. How had he got this far and what fool thought it was a good idea to hand a man recovering from injury two swords?
She bundled her supplies under one arm and marched into the courtyard.
Jests were withered by her scowl and she stopped in front of the man. “What are you doing?”
He drooped. “Um.”
She sighed. “Come on.”
He fumbled as he sheathed the swords and she glared at him. Pity he couldn’t see it.
Hands out, he stepped towards her. She caught one hand, then turned and placed it on her shoulder.
They left the courtyard to whispers and stares. At least they weren’t being crude.
She led him through the citadel. Threading through corridors and up stairways. She was going to murder whoever had taken him to the courtyard.
They reached the healing quarters and she led him into a cool, dim room with a bed in one corner, a table and chair alongside and the floor cleared.
She led him to the chair, put her bundle on the table, and went to close the door as he sat.
The defeat in his shoulders when she turned made her want to gather him close, run her fingers through that thick, dark hair, and murmur words of comfort.
Instead, she marched across the floor and began laying out fresh bandages and ointments. He stayed where he was, head hanging. She could see the hilts of his swords peeking over his shoulders. “Take the harness off.”
He sighed and did as he was told. Putting it on the table, nearly knocking over one of her jars.
She snatched it just in time, swallowed a growl, and stalked through to the bathing room for water.
She returned and began unwinding the now grimy, sweat-damp bandages swathing his head. His hands came to rest on her hips. “I had to. I was going mad. I have to move or I can’t think straight.”
She tried to ignore the warmth of his hands through her skirt and snapped back. “So you sneaked out like a thief in the night. No thought of talking to me about it, no respect for the fact I might have alternatives more suitable for your level of recovery?”
His hands tightened, he said nothing, so she went on. “Since you clearly have no regard for my work, my skills, or my experience. I’ll speak with Master Healer Gameson this afternoon about allocating you a healer you can respect and might listen to.”
“No.” She was thankful her hands were at the back of his head as he jerked her towards him and wrapped his arms around her waist. “Please Jaya, no one but you. I’ll behave, I promise, please.”
She gave in this time, cradling his head to her and murmuring soothing nothings until the laboured breaths eased and his grip loosened. He sat back, head hanging. “I’m sorry.”
She eased away the last of the outer bandages and carefully raised his face, checking the fine gauze covering his eyes for any sign of oozing or blood. They were damp, but she thought, hoped, it was only sweat.
“And what are you sorry for? Behaving like a little boy running away from teacher? Seeing me as your enemy? Being caught?” Acidity was her only defence when it came to Captain Drace.
He sighed. “All of that, and for grabbing you just now. The last thing you need is some disfigured monster pawing at you.”
She flicked his forehead. “When a disfigured monster decides to paw at me, I’ll let you know. When a brave man with a few scars, and a fear of never seeing again looks for comfort, I will not see it awry, and nor will I withhold the reassurance needed.”
His throat worked as he swallowed. “I want to hold you for ever. It’s the only place the pain goes away.”
He flinched, awaiting her response. She gathered him to her again. “Forever isn’t entirely practical I’m afraid, but a few moments more will be alright.”
His arms came around her again as his head came to rest against her. His breath gusted out and she felt him relax. They stayed that way until he stirred. “Thank you.”
She braved a quick kiss to the spot on his forehead she’d flicked earlier. “You’re welcome. Now let me get on with this dressing and then we can discuss a change of rooms. Somewhere with room for exercise”