First: Spoils of War I: Surrender
“Wake up. Hey, Mistress. Bitch. Wake up.” Someone splashed water in her face.
Nikol blinked. “Urgh?”
“Say the Words. Jas — Repair, you know, body. Come on. I got the rib out. I cleaned everything. Sterilized it. Now heal it. Come on. Wake up.”
She blinked again. “Did you just call me Mistress Bitch?”
“Yeah. Mistress, comma, bitch. Got a better idea?”
“My name’s Nikol.”
“Great, mine’s Aran. You don’t answer to Nikol when you’re passed out. Wonder if I answer to Aran?”
From her, he did, but that was, well, different.
“Nevermind,” he added. “Heal the damn thing, all right.”
She looked down at her leg, muttered, and then pulled out a Healing Working. The words were slow, like talking underwater, but the wound knit back together. “You’re pissed.”
“Forget that. Sleep. Remember?” He scooped her out of the tub and wrapped her in a towel. “Sleep. That’s what you wanted. So go to it. Sleep.”
“You’re furious.” She studied his face. She couldn’t remember much of the evening after the Creature had been slain. She’d – the cat, damnit! Oh, right. She breathed slowly, remembering. She’d dealt with the cat. And then she’d – What? Something. “Furious.”
“Yeah. And you’re delirious. Look, Mistress, just sleep, okay?”
“I don’t – I don’t go to sleep around people that are furious. That’s just bad practice.” Her words were slurring again. Her eyes were shutting without her volition. But it really was bad practice, and he really was angry.
“You already passed out three times, what’s one more. Come on, you’re exhausted and I’m pretty fucking tired and there’s no point in all this bullshit right now, all right?” He patted her back ineffectually with the towel and began walking her to the bedroom. A bedroom. She still didn’t know where she was.
“There has to be a point,” she protested, “or there wouldn’t be bullshit. Right?” That made sense, didn’t it?
“This is seriously not the time to get metaphysical on me, Nikol. Mistress Bitch. I just want to put you in a bed and then to fall asleep near enough that my stupid body doesn’t fucking sleepwalk there while I pass out, okay? That’s all I want. Can I do that?” His voice was clipped and short, like he was trying not to yell. Or maybe whine. Nikol peered at him.
“Why are you-” It was becoming harder to remember what the question even was. “Why are you-“
“Well, as the priest used to say, ’cause God made me this way and the Devil decided he didn’t want me.”
She snorted out a giggle. It was kind of funny, she had to admit, even if it was also kind of sad. “Okay,” she agreed quietly. “But later–“
“Later, I’m pretty sure you’re going to have forgotten all of this.” He pulled the blankets back with one hand and slid her into bed with the other. “Look, just to smooth things over, I give you my word that I won’t do anything stupid until you’re awake and coherent, okay?”
She blinked at him. He looked so serious. And tired. “Okay.” She squeezed his hand in hers and fell asleep.
She woke to a head on her chest, a weight on her feet, and three sets of light snoring.
Nikol opened her eyes slowly. That was Aran on her chest. That was one of the cats on her feet. That meant the other snoring was probably the other cat.
She reached out slowly with her power. Her magic was coming back, although it was still – if she had to put a word to it, she’d say her magic was irritated with her. She could sense three people somewhere else in the house, the other cat at her feet. No further than that, and the “vision” in that space was blurry.
She was going to need more rest.
She looked at Aran’s head. He’d been angry. She remembered that. Furious. Furious-delirious, what a good pair. She snorted quietly. She wasn’t sure why, but she remembered get your precious sleep so that I can yell at you.
There was no worry of Aran ever becoming the sort of Owned person who didn’t have his own will. She stroked his hair lightly and wondered at him, at how he’d been before she’d dragged him off of a bloody battlefield.
He blinked up at her. “Awake?”
“I think so. Still angry with me?”
He closed his eyes again. She could feel his jaw setting against her chest. “Hard to be angry when you’re doing that. Hard to be angry when you don’t remember why I’m angry,” he added even more quietly.
She stroked his hair again. “Mmf. sorry about that. I –“
“Pushed yourself too far with a bone through your leg and just a couple days after pushing yourself too far.” He opened his eyes again to glare at her. “Which was stupid, and you know better. So why did you do it?”
“Because if I didn’t, people would die.”
“You didn’t know that! They could’ve been fine with fluids if you’d done a third of the work you did. Half the work you did and they would’ve held for a day or two so you could recover. But instead, you make the decision to push yourself right to the edge of death for the second time in a couple days and then, then when you’re incoherent, you make soft noises at me about shared decisions when every fucking blasted decision you’ve made has been bad.”
Nikol blinked at him. “I got us away from the Mountain,” she countered quietly. Shared decisions? What the hell had she been talking about.
“That’s not a decision, that’s like a rabbit. You started running and kept running and, whoo, we went through a city, got chased by a slime monster, attacked by giant rats, and then we end up here where a monster tries to eat our brains!” He pushed up away from her and held himself up on one arm, glaring at her.
She rolled away enough to glare back properly. “I got you out, didn’t I?”
“Yeah. Yeah, you got me out. Good job. Now can you not get me into any more fucking death traps? That’s the decision I want. If you’re gonna give me one, let’s go with that. Let’s go with we stop running like an idiot rabbit. Let’s go with we have a plan before the Mountain catches up with us. And let’s go with not running into any more death traps. How’s that?”
She snarled quietly. “Running like a rabbit,” she hissed. “And what would your plan have been? How would you have gotten us away from the Mountain?”
“Look, if I’d had my way, there wouldn’t be an us. You’re the one that kidnapped me. So me, I woulda stolen a horse and-” the steam left him suddenly and he flopped back onto the bed. “And I don’t know. But maybe we wouldn’t have ended up nearly dead quite so many times.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” She’d lost steam as quickly as he had. “… and consult with you, before we make our next move. Okay?”
He studied her like he wanted to be angry and couldn’t bring himself to be. “Yeah, yeah. Yeah, okay… yeah.”
He didn’t seem very sure. On the other hand, she still needed more sleep. “Good.” She fluffed her pillow under her head and closed her eyes. They could sort the rest tomorrow.Want more?
PLEASE NOTE: I WENT BACK TO THIS POINT AND AM REWRITING FROM HERE.