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It's JUST your feet, right? (JP Dytha/Cremsden)


Nutmeg
 

IC Date Reference: Set approximately 8.28.8.26.


Sometimes you found patients where you weren’t expecting them. Cremsden had been standing in the breakroom mostly just staring into space for a good couple of minutes before he realised what he was actually watching and pulled himself straight. Casually he wandered towards the breakroom’s other occupant.


“They’re hurting, aren’t they?” he said conversationally. “Your feet.”


Thank Faranth, a break. She had already lost track of how long her shift had been and already it felt too long. Dytha had fully intended on collapsing into a chair for just a little while. Just to rest. But, desperate for something to drink, she headed towards the klah stove, heedless of the slightly dragging gait that was to her, entirely normal at these times. The voice startled her, enough to cause a visible jump and an almost drop of the mug she was holding.


“Eh,” she said as she spotted the man. “No more than usual. You know how they go.”


“Sit down.” Cremsden gestured to the chair. “Let me have a look over them. You’re limping a bit today. Might be I can help a bit while you drink your klah.”


If it was perhaps anyone but Cremsden she might have been able to fob them off with promises of checking them that she had no intention of keeping until her work was done. But it was Cremsden. Who had probably written a fair few of the notes in her file. “You’re not going to let me go without letting you, are you?” It was a reproachful tease as she limped her way to one of the seats and dropped into it with an audible sigh of relief, relief that was immediate but gave way to a familiar, gnawing throb.


“Did the usual this morning. Cleaned them, numbed them, dressed them. They kicked off a bit of late.” Not that it was anything to do with the residual stress of dealing with H’lan, no not at all.


“You could have told me.” It was Cremsden’s turn to sound reproachful as he knelt to ease off her boots, his attention fully on her feet. “There’s really no need to limp around in pain if I can help. Not like you have far to come to find me.” 


“Eh, you know how it is. It’s going to be there and I know what it means. Get so used to it being around that it’s like that wonky door you keep forgetting to fix.” She had the tired resignation in her voice of someone who was used to this for far too long. “Just tend to putter around and put it in the back of my head until I can get home again.”


“Well, don’t. Grab me on a break. Unless someone is bleeding to death or trying to stop breathing, I’ll always come. Faranth knows, people pull me aside for worse reasons.” Very very gently he rolled her sock away.


The reprimand made her chuckle. She liked how it wasn’t the sympathetic cooing that her skin seemed to elicit. “You do remember how stubborn I am, right? And like to pretend it’s “not that bad”.” Dytha emphasised the last words with raised fingers only to hiss and fidget uncomfortably at the pressure of the socks coming away over the bandages. “There’s a few nasty ones…” she admitted.


“Ooooof.” Cremsden let his breath go in a low exhale, sitting back on his heels. “Sweetheart, I’m surprised you’re still walking. Faranth, girl, that must hurt.”


She knew exactly what he was looking at and had the decency to look somewhat ashamed. “I shift my weight about. Take off the pressure.” It wasn’t really a good excuse. Deep cracks and lesions spread across the sole and over the heels. The heat coming off them was impressive and it was easy to see that the foot was perhaps almost double the size it should be. “Big pieces keep coming off lately. All the way down. That’s the raw spots I…” And now the guilt grew tenfold on her face. “... I’ve been rubbing them on the stone on Ponth’s ledge. It helps the itch. But I… get a bit carried away and take off too much.”


Cremsden scowled at them a minute as though they were a puzzle he needed to solve. “...Right. Let me get my bag.” He looked up as he said it, focusing on her face for the first time, and overbalanced to sit down hard in sudden startlement. “Shells, girl, you been rubbing your face on the stone as well?”


Okay, there were probably more tactful ways of saying that.


Well, at least there hadn’t been a telling off for rubbing mark sized holes into her skin. But shells, when the itch got bad… It was almost a compulsion that couldn’t be stopped and she never realised how much damage she had done until she idly checked them. It just didn’t hurt. His next reaction however, turned a guilty expression into one that mixed with anger and shame. Unconsciously Dytha touched the yellowing bruise on the side of her mouth where the last bit of scab on her lip was still visible and her brow furrowed. “The joys of being a greenrider.” Was the dry response. “Nothing to worry about. Just a rough flight.” 


And if she could convince him, it was that and nothing more. 


He looked at her a moment, steadily now, assessing her now the initial surprise was passed. “I’m getting my bag,” he said finally, pushing himself up off the floor. “And closing the breakroom. They can find another klah pot for a bit.”


For a second, she was sure he would take it. But the moment was gone and she realised that he was having none of it. Already her thoughts were digging about, deliberating the situation carefully. “You don’t need to…” Dytha began but with a resigned sigh, it seemed that something else had occurred to her. “... Actually there… is something I could use a set of Healer eyes on.” 


She didn’t want to. Truth be told, she wanted this whole thing to stay as small and unofficial as possible. But she had recognised the early signs of infection already. Perhaps she could at least convince Cremsden to keep all this under wraps.


“I’ll be back.” Cremsden raised his hand to stop her talking. “Wait.”


It took only a minute to grab his bag from his office - a few extra seconds to check there was paper and a pen in there along with other supplies. Another second or two to flip the door to locked once he was through it. Then he was finding another chair and pulling it to sit in front of her. “Right.”


She didn’t want to. That much was clear from the broken eye contact and twisting fingers. “It’ll just be easier to let you see it.” There was a tired reluctance in her voice as she loosened her shirt ties and shrugged her shoulder free. As well as exposing the yellowing bruising on her throat, something else was also apparent in the groove of her collar bone. A very human shaped bite mark. One that was starting to show the obvious redness and discoloration of early infection. “I cleaned it out… but you know… clearly not enough.”


“Bites are nasty,” Cremsden agreed, neither flinching nor with any sign of irony for his scarred ear. “And you’d be exceptionally talented to be able to clean that one out properly yourself. Wrong place. How long’s it been like that?” His voice stayed calm, professional as he started to sort supplies out of his bag.


“Started looking suspect a few days ago. Probably explains why I feel like every bone is aching.” Each word was a dull recital. Like speaking from a script she had quietly rehearsed. “Flight was about a sevenday ago.”


Cremsden groaned quietly at that. “Ack. Wasn’t I cautionary tale enough for you lot in terms of infection?” he demanded, and that was intentionally teasing, as though if he lightened the mood it might help her talk about it. “Faranth. I nearly get my ear cut off in an attempt to make it stick and you still don’t learn. Right. Mind if I take a look?”


“Eh, pain just jumbles together when my feet aren’t great. Lines blur between new and old you know?” It wasn’t pointless excuse making. Dytha lived with chronic pain the majority of the time. And so it got deadened to white noise and not raise alarm the way it might do in someone else. “Was going to appropriate a scouring kit and have at tonight. Get any muck out.” She shrugged her shoulder towards the man in a “have at” gesture. Wasn’t like she was afraid he was going to cop a feel. 


“Mmm, probably not helping your feet though, you know? Your entire body’s going to be sending all its efforts to help out up here, and your feet are fending for themselves down there,” Cremsden pointed out as he started work. Careful fingers knew their job well enough to keep pain down as much as possible. “Right. You know this talk by heart most likely, but I’m going to give it to you anyway.”


“I know…” And now she had the decency to look abashed. “I… was trying not to see an actual Healer. Avoid questions. Got another Dragonhealer to help me out when it happened. More ‘cos the wherry-shite of a blue did a number on Ponth too.” It was absent minded rambling with the occasional grunt as careful fingers nudged tender flesh.


“Hmmph. When you ask me to come consult on-- on broken wings, I’ll concede a DragonHealer will do for this.” That was professional grumpiness, not really offended but grumbling for the sake of it. “And apparently you don’t know this talk by heart, so let’s do this thing.” He didn’t look up from his work, though he did reach to reposition her head slightly so he could see better. “You want to tell me what happened and it never leaves this room, that’s fine. You want to tell me and have me go report to K’ren, I can. You want to tell me nothing at all or a complete wherrycrap story about how you tripped and fell on someone’s teeth and I might roll my eyes when you’re not looking but.. Fine.” He did glance up finally. “I care more about having you walk out put together in a way that means you won’t need a cot within a sevenday than anything else right now. That is the priority. So, if you need to tell me injuries and then have me forget them.. I can have a terribly bad memory. Understood?”


At first, she sighed and there was silence. “I didn’t want it to be a… thing. You know? I mean… bad flights happen and I need to get used to that…” The “but” was hanging in the air even if she didn’t say it outloud. Obediently she had let him move her as he needed, used to being a proverbial puppet when it came to Healers moving her about. “He enjoyed it. It wasn’t an accident. Getting carried away, I mean.” The sentences were short and staccato. Each one a carefully thought through effort. “His blue tore up Ponth. He… doesn’t like my feet. Thinks it’s a disease that I’m spreading to Riders and infecting them. We pretty much match at the moment.” Another pause. Another sigh. “If I make it a thing then it makes it an event. And then I freeze up all over again. If I make it something that can happen and we just lucked out… I can keep going with that.”


“I’m not going to guilt you on this,” Cremsden said, returning his eyes to what he was doing. “For a start, I can’t exactly claim to be a flight expert. You tell me this is normal, I’ll smile and nod and make like I believe you.” He paused. “However. If you could let me have a dragon name, it would be helpful to log if in future anyone else has flight problems.”


Her answer at first, was a shrug. “I’m not much of an expert. First time I’ve seen it like this. But that’s what they say. Sometimes it’s not so great. So I’m guessing this is what they mean.” Dytha offered him a wry smile. “I know, not that helpful. But  I know it’s not always sweetness and bubblie pies.” She was stalling a bit. Cremsden would probably pick up on it, he wasn’t an idiot after all. She fidgeted and huffed and then finally, a name. “Travath. That’s all I know.”


He nodded, didn’t comment, filed the name away. “I’m not the person to talk to on flights,” he admitted. “Don’t tell my weyrmate, but I’m not even all that keen on enjoying the ah.. Aftereffects when she fails to catch. For a non-rider.. Just a bit too out of my comfort zone.”


“Oh… I know what you mean. I mean, before Ponth? Did not get why non-Riders hung out around the flight rooms. Still makes me a bit uncomfortable you know? It’s… borderline. Having actually dealt with it? I think the ones that get a kick out of it are missing a few flits from their basket…” The cold reality was that there was a detachment in flights that was bordering on non-consensual. That people sought it out willingly niggled at her. Sure, she knew there was kinks - but normally there was still consent. When done right, that was. “I can take a bit of a beat up. Ponth got knocked for six. Won’t leave her ledge at the moment.”


“I don’t like-- if someone were that out of their head due to drink, I’d pull back,” Cremsden addressed Dytha’s collar-bone. “Though Faranth knows, I know she’d tell me it was fine if I asked when she wasn’t flying.” He frowned a little, not entirely down to concentration. “Not that I don’t like Zlorenth. Zlorenth is fine. But.. he’s not Margana. I just like knowing it’s all my weyrmate in there.” And wasn’t this a conversation to be having. But it distracted Dytha and he was willing to offer a fair amount of personal if it kept her calm.


“I get that. The lines blur. Even… during. I didn’t know which was… him and which was his dragon. It’s… unsettling…” Her eyes were watched a trundlebug make its way along the edge of the wall, her face contorting with a grunt as he cleaned out the bite on her shoulder but her brow was puckered with thought. “Part of me was Ponth. I didn’t like that. Because it… overrode my common sense that he should… stop. That I should make him. Because it wasn’t… right.”


“I can’t help you too much with it,” Cremsden said apologetically. “Margana could, maybe. Or Cuylar. Cuylar would. You wouldn’t have to explain this, just ask to talk to him about flights.”


The problem with that, was that Dragonriders seemed to have a sixth sense when it came to Flights. Especially bad ones. She shook her head. “To be honest, I’m focusing on keeping things business as usual. If I don’t make a thing of it, it doesn’t stick in Ponth’s head. Just gotta be quicker off the mark next time. Load the deck in my favour.”


“I don’t mean so much for making a thing of this one. I just mean-- in general.” Cremsden shrugged a little. “Don’t forget Cuylar wasn’t expecting to Impress either. Might as well take advantage of someone else who didn’t know how things are supposed to go.” He sat back in his chair. “You been taking Cillin for this yet?”


“My ah… regime has been mostly numbweed and redwort.” A lot of redwort with the stubborn determination to scrub and scrub even though she didn’t think she would ever be clean again. The thought of making another person aware of the issues she had had with Ponth made her awkward. But she could appreciate where Cremsden was coming from.


“Right. And you keep doing that, when do you think it’s going to get time to heal?” Cremsden demanded. He reached for a moment to tug on the scarring around his ear. “Look, I know you know this, bites are messy. Teeth carry stuff far too far in. You could clean that until your dying day and still miss something. I’m going to get you Cillin, because K’ren can’t deal with another of us hallucinating.”


What exactly was she going to say to common sense? At least she had the decency to look abashed. Even a petulant voice wanted to argue for no reason other than to argue that firelizard bites were different. But even Dytha knew that was stubborn and unnecessary. “How much do I need to take?” she mumbled instead.


“One three times a day. And wander into my office once a day for a couple of days to consult on Ambrelli and I’ll check it doesn’t look like it’s getting bad again,” Cremsden offered. He rubbed the back of his neck, and sighed. “Look, you know I have to ask this and we never need to talk about it again after this. Does it hurt lower down?”


Okay, she could do that. Besides, she had to wander off to reapply numbweed or bandages. It could be part and parcel of the same thing. At his question she shook her head. “Not enough to be concerned about. Some bruising and minor laceration but no adverse swelling or bleeding.” The “Healer Speak” was easy to do, as clinical as if she were reading off a chart. “Minor abrasions and bruises to thighs and hips but have responded well to anti-inflammatory salves.”


“You know I have to ask if I can take a look.” There was apology in his voice for the request. “Just to be safe.”


“Good thing I know you’re not here for my looks and only my dazzling personality.” It was a dry quip but if anyone knew Dytha, they knew sarcasm was practically a permanent “on” mode. “If you need to, I won’t freak out or say no. I get why you’re asking. Trust me, “down there” was the first place I took care of after I got laid up with some cysts a few months back.”


“You’ve had cysts as well and you’ve not been coming to me?” The tease took a little of the pressure out of the situation. “Have you been cheating on me with other Healers?” Cremsden glanced around the breakroom. “Couch, I think.”


“I had a fling with one of our resident Dragonriding Healers. Clearly I was trying to spice things up with some Healer variety. But I did see a Healer. Bed rest is the most boring thing ever.” As she spoke, she carefully got herself back onto her feet with the gritted grunt of someone who knew exactly where the pain was and knew it was coming. “Okay, so do you want a strip tease before I get to the couch or do I get to use it as a prop?” Ironically, from an outside perspective, there were no doubt those who would see the conversation as horrifically inappropriate. When in fact it was the sort of idle banter that wasn’t entirely unusual.


“I’ll grab you a blanket so you can cover up all the bits no-one actually cares about covering while I’m staring between your legs,” Cremsden said, equally dry. The breakroom was used for long shift naps frequently enough that they weren’t exactly hard to come by. “And I suppose I should at least be grateful it wasn’t a DragonHealer again.” He tossed the blanket over. “Excuse me while I turn my back politely.”


Dytha had been poked and prodded by so many Healers in her lifetime that modesty wasn’t something that bothered her anymore. And she had made speedily getting undressed an art form. With the couch to take her weight, it took no time at all to do the necessary, arrange herself and toss the blanket over her. “Okay, it’s safe.”


“Thanks.” Cremsden knelt down again. “You keep seeing DragonHealers and I’m going to have to check if you’re growing wings though.” Gently he parted Dytha’s legs to inspect. “Fingers are cold and greased, sorry.” He didn’t linger over the needed job, seeing enough to reassure himself that damage there wasn’t serious. Sore maybe, but not serious.


It was uncomfortable. Of course it was. But luckily that was one area she knew hadn’t been overlooked. “I dunno…” she managed through a grunt of discomfort. “... Wings would make life sharding easier. I should get a wher and train it to pull me about in a little cart…” 


“A carriage,” Cremsden suggested helpfully. “You could paint it green for your lady. With pictures of firelizards on.”


“Hah, don’t let Ponth hear you. She’ll demand it for Turn’s End. And probably want one for herself.” The inspection had been quick and for that she was grateful. She had been quick to cover herself back up as Cremsden sat back. “Been sitting in a bit of warm salt water dosed with a splash of the tonic that gets cooked up for me to soak my feet in. Seems to have helped.” That and she knew it hadn’t been too terrible. Certainly nothing that a bit of care and sitting on a cushion for a few days hadn’t been able to assist with. 


“Well, she’s small. Might take a Weyrwoman’s salary to make one big enough for her, but it might be possible. Fecking big wher team though.” Cremsden stood up. “You look fine. I’ll be turning my back again now.”


“Pfft, no chance on my wages then. Maybe if I manage to negotiate my Journeyman’s knots in a turn or so. My thesis on egg development and primary triage of premature dragonets is already long enough to put anyone to sleep.” As she spoke, she was shimmying back into her clothing. “I’m decent. You digging out the big tools for my feet, or am I getting to dip them in something that would put pickling juices to shame?”


“Both. And then I’m going to tell you to rest them and you’re going to ignore me,” Cremsden said, his tone back to cheerful. “You needing people to help proofread that?”


“To be fair, I’ll only ignore you for about… three candlemarks? Then I fully intend to collapse on my couch with my feet in the air.” Feet were a safe and familiar topic and immediately her tone shifted again. “You’re welcome to have a bash at it. I know they won’t look at me walking the tables for a while yet but if I can start paring it down and less… you know… rambling. Might help me fine tune some of my newer notes for more of a conclusionary ending point.” She hadn’t had chance to really discuss the project she was already putting together for her Journeyman’s knots. But then, until Ilexeth had actually been announced to the Weyr, the majority of her study had been under lock and key. She had just casually omitted the part where she had been holding a knife to cut open the egg. On the record, it was a damaged egg that hatched an undeveloped hatchling. And that was that.


“I like having new papers to read. The Hall don’t send us enough unless we know what we’re asking for,” Cremsden commented. “Leave it on my desk. I’ll go over it when we’ve a quiet shift.” He knelt again, to pick her foot up this time. 


“There’s even pretty pictures and annotated diagrams to pass the time. If you colour them in, perhaps I’ll get bonus marks.” Obediently she let him lift her foot for his inspection. Both were much of the same condition, thick with unhealthy looking dead skin that hadn’t flaked away the way it might normally resulting in thick, leathery “plates” that had no give, thus causing lesions when finally the skin cracked and gave way. “You might need the leg cutting-off saw today,” she remarked wryly.


“Hey, if I managed to fight them off this ear, you get to keep the foot,” Cremsden settled himself comfortably in a position that wouldn’t result in cramping knees. “Both feet, even. I feel like this might be a long job.”


Dytha sighed dramatically. “And here I was hoping I could get one of those fancy looking wooden legs. And you dragged me in here, so you’re not allowed to blame me if you’re lost forever in the wonderful treatment of debriding dead skin.” Now that they were back in the safe, familiar territory of her feet, it was clear that she had relaxed a little, the suspicious aura surrounding their previous topic of conversation all but gone.


“Sweetheart, you start telling people I dragged you in here and locked the door and you’re going to start rumours,” Cremsden pointed out, picking through his bag again before he started work. “How long before they want their breakroom back d’you think?”


She was entirely unrepentant. “Hey, it might give them a chuckle. Faranth knows we could use a bit of lightening the mood of late. But you’ve probably not got long before they start breaking down the door desperate for a klah fix. People are going to think we spike it to keep the Healers awake, you know.” The sensation was… well it wasn’t pleasant. And the fact it was entirely out of her control and in the hands of someone else always made her a little twitchy.


“You mean you don’t?” Cremsden asked. “Huh. Remind me to keep out of your side of the Infirmary on nightshifts. Shout if this stops being uncomfortable and goes into painful, please.” His hands knew what to do, this barely took thinking at this point. “So, it’s your job to entertain me with gossip while I get on with this, please.” 


“Why do you think the Dragonhealers hang out on your side so much on nights? It’s not just for the thrilling chatter and to steal cakes that someone brought in. Okay, the cakes have something to do with it. Whoever bakes them needs to be tricked in somehow providing enough to feed a small Hold. And then convinced to leave them in Infirmary staff rooms on a regular basis.” She shook her head at his comment. “Only a bit awkward near the lesions but that’s to be expected. In all honesty, can’t feel much under the build up at the moment.” 


But gossip? Hmm. Now that was interesting. “Well I heard we’ve got a new Apprentice who is shockingly bad at cards. And yet keeps insisting on a hand on nights. Either he’s convinced his luck will change or he’s sitting on a fortune somewhere he’s determined to fritter away.”


“Ha!” Cremsden snorted at that one. “I need to meet him. Odds are he’s busy building a reputation before he goes for the real prize.” Not that he’d ever played that trick himself. “I ever tell you how I won someone’s inheritance?”


“If he’s building a reputation for himself, then he’s a sharding good… haaaaah… actor…” Her words were broken by an almost giggle as Cremsden touched a part of her foot that decided it was going to be slightly ticklish. “And no, you didn’t. Although I want to learn that trick about reading the backs of the cards. You lot in the know keep it tighter than a Lord Holder’s purse strings.”


“You learn how to look properly and there’s no trick to it,” Cremsden retorted. “And pick the right cards. I’ll take you shopping next gather.” He let his voice slip a little, sliding comfortably back into the looser syllables of his Bitra accent like a man slipping back on comfortable worn old clothes. “Well. Don’t you forget that I was Hall-trained, which means basically that I was plucked out of following my Mam around the kitchen aged all of eleven by our Hold Healer and packed off to the Hall.” He glanced up. “Now you’ve got to understand, the Hall isn’t so much like our take-all-comers Infirmary where I’ll give anyone willing to learn a shot, mostly because if you’re learning at the Hall someone’s got to get you there. So, you’ve got the kids like me who were lucky enough to get spotted by an actual Healer willing to send them along, a few kids who were born there, and kids with parents with marks enough to send them there - some of whom might be fine and talented and some of whom were rich little snots kicking their heels until it was time to inherit.”


Dytha didn’t miss the slight slip in accent, the same thing happened to her father after he had had a glass too many of wine and was “getting comfortable in his own skin” as she thought of it. As someone who genuinely was quite terrible at a hand of poker, she wasn’t entirely convinced it was as easy to understand the cards as he said. But her curiosity was piqued, that was for sure. “Go then, you’ve tickled my curiosity.”


“So, you’ve got me and one of said rich little snots, who’s decided I’m not good enough to be in a class with him,” Cremsden said cheerfully. “And I’m not saying it wouldn’t have come to rough-housing, ‘cept when they tried that they found that Bitra kids bite and take far more rounds than we’ve any rights to, so it didn’t take many fights to establish that was a bad idea. But hooo, boy, did they work on making me feel out of place.” He grinned at her, apparently not phased by the memory. “But I was a stubborn little bastard, which meant I worked like shards on keeping up when everyone else was asleep. Didn’t sleep for about a decade, I reckon, but it meant I could answer questions and act like I wasn’t working for it which drove ‘em up the wall.”


“Anyhow, I was a few turns in - maybe seventeen, I guess? -  mostly ignoring ‘em, occasionally winding ‘em up or getting wound up, and.. Faranth, I can’t remember what pushed me over the edge but I remember that I decided I was just.. Done. So. Coaxed a few of the others to start having a drink with me. Started a card game. Started losing -- badly.” The grin was sharp and feral as a wher’s now. “Six turns of looking down on me for being Bitran and he’d forgotten what it meant.”


Okay, so now she was intrigued. “And then?” She asked, curious as to how the story ended. She definitely knew the feeling of wanting to take someone down a peg or two.


“Ooo, I looked truly and sincerely amazed when I started winning then, didn’t I?” Cremsden chuckled to himself. “Like I couldn’t think how it had happened. And he could not stand for me to come out ahead, so he raised the stakes and raised them more because my luck was going to run out any moment now, surely?” He shifted a little, reached for her other foot. “Mind, I wasn’t actually expecting  him to bet his inheritance. That part just happened.” He raised his head again to grin up at her, naughty as an apprentice who’d completed a prank. “I gave it back. Eventually.”


“Hah! Serves the little arse right then, doesn’t it. Bet his face was a right picture.” The other foot was given just as obediently as he set to work on it. “Did he bother you again after that?”


“Not after I’d spent several days borrowing books on hold management to read in front of him, and asking if you needed a special hat to run a hold in,” Cremsden said cheerfully. “The Masters made me stop before he got to confessing to his father. Best few days ever though.”


The chortle was genuine, and in danger of putting a blade in her foot. “Bet he learned never to make a bet like that again in his life.” Dytha chuckled, enjoying the mental image of someone cheerily asking what hat they would need to run a Hold. The chuckle turned into a yawn which turned into a groan as aching bones merrily reminded her of their presence. “Ugh, will the Cillin help with the aching do you think?”


“Mmm, let me take your temperature after this.” Cremsden stopped smiling and squinted up at he, concerned. “You going to fight me if I tell Master Larsin I’ve sent you off to rest?”


“Don’t think I feel flush…” And even as she spoke she pressed the backs of her hands carefully to her face. “... Just so sharding tired. And achy. Feet normally get my knees and hips going because of the walking but I feel like I’m being gnawed on by hungry whers.” And if there was one thing Dytha didn’t do, was complain. She had probably had more tellings off about not coming to the Infirmary than she could shake her boots at. “Could do report writing at home. Or the inventory lists.”


“Been taking willowbark for the pain for any chance?” Which was exactly what he had done.


Dytha gave the man a look that said “what do you think”. “You write half of my personal inventory. I probably put a dent in our willowbark supply for a past time.”


“Willowbark, the fever suppressant?” Cremsden pointed out drily. “I’d lecture you on it, but I did exactly the same. Bed for you, I think, or K’ren will be along to make you sleep in here -- and trust me on this one, once he says it there’s no arguing out of it. You got anyone who can stay at home?”


“Hey, I just put it down to the feet. It’s nearly always the feet.” And the quiet wishful thinking that maybe the bite on her shoulder hadn’t really been looker redder than the days before. Or more tender. Always explainable by some other issue. Her feet were playing up so her pain threshold was wonky. So it was clearly just that. “I’ve got a dragon and a flit. Sadly nothing of the two-legged variety if that’s what you’re suggesting.”


“Well, you can tell your lady to call Elphith or Zlorenth if she’s worried, but.. I can come check on you later as well?” Cremsden offered. “Nothing official, I won’t write anything down. Just making sure you’ve got food and stuff in reach.”


“Not like my weyr is the biggest detour. You can pretend you’re visiting the storage cupboard next door.” And yet the biggest thing on her mind was that she was going to be off-duty. Again. At this rate, she was going to have Master Larsin at her door. “I can do my shift tomorrow, though?” There was a hopefulness there that was just waiting to be squashed.


He considered her, hands stilling on her foot. “What shift are you on? Not earlies?”


“Mid-afternoon through to Faranth forgot what time it was. That weird half and half one we do. Not a late shift, not a night shift.” Everyone had their own name for it. And you either loved it or hated it. 


“I’m on normal-human-hours until K’ren’s happy with me,” Cremsden said. “Which I don’t recommend by the way. When you eat at normal-person-times the Dining Hall has people in it. But I can wander by to see you when we’re quiet and decide then.” He patted her foot. “I’ll even bring you some of our cake.”


“People? They actually eat there? What is this nonsense you’re trying to make me believe?” She managed to crack a grin in between the foot administrations. “But you may bribe me with cake. It makes a change from stale kitchen baskets that I ordered five candlemarks ago and forgot about.”


“And you can add to the rumours about the Journeyman who is dragging you into locked breakrooms and visiting you at home,” Cremsden teased her lightly. “Just don’t get me into trouble with Margana.”


“Oh, I’m sure the new Apprentices ears will be burning by the end of the sevenday,” she chuckled wryly. Propped up on one hand, she looked ready to sleep where she was, despite the fact that someone was using a very sharp implement near her. “Although I don’t think I’m your type.”


“Sweetness, unless your name is Margana, very few people are,” Cremsden informed her cheerfully. “You know, you live close enough that I’m tempted to just help you home barefoot.”


“I promise I shan’t die of a broken heart that you spurned me so cruelly,” she quipped. “If you can get me to the main door, I can probably manage up the tunnel from there…” It was a hopeful attempt of convincing the man she wasn’t going to keel over and die there and then. 


“Not happening.” Cremsden smiled as he said it though. “Besides, you need me to carry your boots. And who would tuck you in otherwise?”


“And here’s me thinking you just wanted to get rid of me. Who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky and you’ll sing me a lullaby too.” The amused sarcasm was rolling thick and fast now. “I promise to be a good little Apprentice and brush my teeth before bed.”


“I’m told I do very good bedtime stories,” Cremsden informed her, standing up with her boots in one hand and offering the other. “Even do the voices. Up you come.”


Before she moved, she glanced at him. “Whatever you tell Larsin, make sure it sounds good. I’m amazed I haven’t been demoted back to Junior Apprentice with all the time off, of late.” Using her hands, she pushed herself up with a practised stubbornness of ignoring the pain that bit through her feet and up her legs as though she had stood on broken shards of clay. Eventually though, the extended hand was taken to steady herself. “I feel like a kid being marched out of classes…”


“Yeah, because I’ve never had to tell a Wingleader to stop making pissed-off faces that I was grounding his rider before. Give me a little credit.” Cremsden made a face at her, waiting until she seemed steady on her feet before he slipped his arm around her waist to support her. “Off we go then.”


It felt like it took an eternity and that all the eyes of the Infirmary were on them as they made the careful way out of the Infirmary and towards the tunnel that took them up not only to the storage cupboards, but also Dytha’s weyr. Of course, that was just how it felt. The reality was it probably didn’t take anywhere near as long. And she didn’t think she had seen any ogling staff wondering just what was going on. She didn’t think she had heard the locked door handle jiggle so all being well, there wouldn’t be any rumours flying around the Infirmary by the next day. 


As they approached the familiar door, she pulled out the small latch key from a cord around her neck. The lock wasn’t exactly anything special but it had felt more reassuring. She couldn’t afford anything sturdier nor do so without attracting attention as to why she wanted it. 


(( Who’s there?! ))


Ponth’s voice was immediate in her head as the door rattled open. It would be the first time Cremsden had seen it not looking like a dumping ground for random boxes of Infirmary inventory and Dytha called out for Cremsden’s benefit more than her own. “Is just me love. And Healer Cremsden. Giving me a hand up because my feet were being a bit awkward.” Dytha shot Cremsden a look that said “that’s the only story she needs to know”. “You just stay out on your ledge. You got all you need?” On receiving a rumbled grunt that she had her blanket, Dytha nodded at Cremsden. “She won’t try to ask you anything. She knows you can’t hear her. So you should avoid a headache.”


“Let’s get you settled in bed,” Cremsden suggested. “And I’ll make sure you have everything you need within reach. Give those feet a rest.” For all his teasing, he could be a very capable nursemaid when needed.


Helped to the edge of her bed, Dytha dropped onto it with a grunt. “I’ll spare you the indignity of having to help me into night things, they’re under my pillow. I can shimmy in whilst you rummage. Cupboard around the corner has water skins and mugs. Store box next to it has some food - nothing fancy but got some biscuits, dried fruit and the like. If you’re dosing me with anything, there’s a klah stove over there. Cupboard above has all the supplies.”


“I’m doing pulse and temperature once you’re comfortable and settled, be warned,” Cremsden told her, heading away to gather supplies. “And I’ll make sure an extra tray of proper food is ordered with the patients and bring it by later.”


Just as she said, she was able to change into her night things without the need to embarrass Cremsden in any way. She was already propped up on the pile of pillows and pulling the colourful blanket back over when he came back around the corner. The benefit of turning what had likely been part of a cupboard into a sleeping space was that the cave-like space was surprisingly private. “Ledge door stays open. For one it lets in the sun and wakes me and another, I can listen for Ponth if needed - and the other way round. So don’t be alarmed that it’s not shut.”


“Why would I be alarmed? It’s your weyr. Shells, if you wanted to sleep out on the ledge that’d still be your business, and you wouldn’t be the first,” Cremsden pointed out, carefully filling her bedside table with anything she might possibly need.


Dytha pointed at the rear of the tunnel access door. Where an obviously new heavy bolt and latch had been screwed in the back. “Because it probably seems a bit counterintuitive compared to that.”


Cremsden looked, and then looked back at her, raising his eyebrows slightly. “...Just a flight problem?”


“Not hard to find out where I live. Ponth is practically on view any time she’s on her ledge. Told you the bastard enjoyed himself. Don’t trust that.” She couldn’t actually explain why getting the bolt from the Stores had made her feel better. But it had.


“...If you need me to do anything..” Cremsden was around 5’6, probably one of the shorter men in the Infirmary, despite his occasionally very loud shouty voice. But apparently willing to do battle on her behalf.


“And say what? He’s got dragonlust as an argument. Plus he didn’t exactly walk away unscathed either.” She rolled her eyes at the irony that her protest had probably given the man a pocketful of defences to use if the point came up. “But I appreciate the gesture.”


“Wasn’t going to say anything.” Cremsden scowled a little. “You just let me know if he causes trouble. I’ve got friends.” Perhaps not such a faintly ridiculous statement if you remembered that Bitra accent and the fact that rumour said he’d been pulled up in the Dining Hall six or so turns ago for outright brawling. 


For a second, just a second, it looked like she might say something. But just as quickly, the moment had vanished again as quick as a shadow in sunlight. The unsettling truth was, a very large part of her did expect more problems. With what had been said both during and after, the draconic impact on Ponth. No, she didn’t think it was over. But if this got bigger… No, shut it down. Instead she shook her head. “I don’t think he will. And I’ve got things I can do to make sure he doesn’t win again.”


“You know where I am. If you need me.” For a moment the hand touching hers was gentle and not just doing a medical check. “I might not hear firelizards, but Bitey does and is apparently surprisingly good at getting me to obey. I can do random medical check stop-bys whenever needed.”


“At this rate you’re going to give me a secret code to alert you.” Dytha patted the hand touching her own and her smile was wry. “The next time you have to see me it’ll be to hoik me off to check my feet over. Nothing more sinister.” She knew she couldn’t guarantee anything of the sort. But she could at least aim for that to be the goal. Even if it meant getting Mendl to quietly help her out again. 


“Nice try, The next time I’ll see you it’ll be in about three hours.” Cremsden switched back to faux-grumpy which fooled absolutely no-one but made him feel better. “Pulse please.”


“Yes, sir.” she replied in a meek tone which also fooled nobody. She had half-hoped he had already forgotten about his promise to check in on her. “If it’s dark when you’re headed up, have Bitey tell Ponth or Mimsi. They’re both sitting guard at the moment. And will be if the door is unlatched for you to come back. Otherwise I can’t promise you won’t get shouted at.”


“I mean, I can ask him..” Cremsden shrugged a little, having very little idea of when Bitey decided to oblige. “Won’t be the first time I’ve been shouted at. Your pulse is a little fast; I’m not panicking but we’re watching it.”


She wasn’t surprised, not with what her body was dealing with, let alone her head. “Not noticed palpitations or shortness of breath. Probably just a bit frazzled.” It was nonchalant as if it was entirely minor. “And if he can’t… or won’t… I’ll let them both know you’re coming back anyway.”


“Thank you. Temperature?” He offered her the thermometer.


Obediently, she took it in her mouth and waited. Part of her was curious as to whether the willowbark had suppressed it like he had suggested.


“Mmmph.” Cremsden squinted at it, grimaced and then sighed. “Okay. Look. I know being in the Infirmary really stinks for us - believe me, I know - and people take the piss forever so I’m not going to march you back..”


“Okaaay…” It was suspicious as he spoke and it was clear she was waiting for the “but” to follow. Dytha watched Cremsden carefully.


“But… we’ll take it on a visit by visit basis, okay? We might need to check you every few hours.” Another Healer knew the face of a Healer who was trying not to look concerned. “With your permission, I’m going to tell Cuylar you have a bit of an infection - I won’t mention what - in case you need overnight checks I can’t do.” There was a limit on how many he could do still, particularly with a baby at home.


She considered this. And considered it a bit more. “Mmph. Fine.” It wasn’t quite a grumble but not far away from it. She had spent enough time in the archives at the Healer Hall to know what his line of thinking was.


“Sorry. It’s that or find you an Infirmary cot now,” Cremsden said apologetically. “K’ren is really really not going to be impressed if more of us start coming down with life threatening infections. I’ve already reserved that spot in the ‘ways Healers can feck up’ records.”


“Very valid point. If it’s Cuylar coming, his green can nudge Ponth.” And she did not want anyone wondering why she was taking up a bed in the Infirmary. Shells, so much for this being simple and low key. It was already feeling dangerously closely to spiralling out of control as it was just by bringing a Healer into the loop. “Don’t really know him but am guessing you do. And trust him.”


“With my life. More than once,” Cremsden assured her. His hand on her forehead was cool, backing up what the thermometer was telling him. “I’m going to leave you water. Drink it please.”


“Been drinking like a fish in this sharding heat. Won’t need to worry about that.” Dytha didn’ feel the need to press any further on Cuylar. If Cremsden trusted him, that was enough for her. She hoped. But she could quiet the worried whispers with rest.


“Cillin.” He handed her a tablet, and water to wash it down with. “I’ll bring your next dose later. And then sleep.”


The tablet was thrown back with a mouthful of water. She was more than adept at getting them down as the mug was handed back. “Done. Is it time for me to close my eyes and have firelizards sing me to my rest?”


“Or I’ll tell you the story of the very naughty apprentice who didn’t sleep when the Journeyman said to and ended up with her own Infirmary cot.” Despite the dry words, Cremsden still tucked her in as though she were about five turns old. “Good night,”


“Don’t let the trundlebugs bite…” It was a grumbled murmure as she tiredly rolled over, disappearing in the blankets as she did. For his efforts, Ponth’s nose had appeared at the doorway to the ledge and she whuffled for several seconds as though inspecting the situation and then, as though quietly satisfied, the nose was gone again and the sounds of the green settling down could be heard through the door. Sleep came quickly, even without a bedtime story. Although perhaps one would have kept the bad dreams away.


= End =



--
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