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This Was My Couch, Sorry (JP: Dytha/Cremsden)


Nutmeg
 

Cremsden was tired and focusing was hard.


So so hard and he had to focus because there were patients -- always more patients, each injury worse than the last -- and his brain was buzzing and he couldn’t think and the voices wouldn’t leave him alone. Always asking, the voices, always pestering for answers, and couldn’t they see that his hands were shaking as he stitched up a cut, didn’t they understand that if he couldn’t think someone was going to die? But they kept talking, and he heard his own voice answering mechanically, anything to get peace to think.


It’s a trap. He couldn’t have told how he knew that but he did, tried to shout it to himself. They will use it to hurt people! Trap!


He felt a whisper of anger -- no, not sharp enough to be anger, this was just annoyance, a resigned oh, here we go again -- and then sharp pain in his ear. He tried to bat it away, shifted, grunted protest and finally opened his eyes.


Oh. Dream. Well, that made sense. He shifted, rolling over and went back to sleep.


They were barricading the door. They had to barricade the door because there was danger on the other side. He was foggy on what exactly the danger was -- the faint impression of whers, or maybe a lost flightroom of riders, or maybe an angry bluerider -- but the safety was on this side and the danger was on the other side and he had to protect--


Even sleeping his brain questioned the list of those he was meant to protect Cuylar, Margana, Arden, Dytha, Ambrelli? It made no sense, but it was what it was, and he was the Journeyman so he was meant to know what to do.


But there were patients on the other side of the door, and they were yelling for help and Cuylar was moving to open the door and again he tried to open his mouth to shout a warning, but he couldn’t hear himself and--


Pain again, this time in his hair, as though it were caught in something. He lifted a hand, trying to soothe it and met something warm and leathery. Again he forced his eyes open and met the gaze of an annoyed blue firelizard felt a distinct impression of will you be quiet? People are trying to sleep.


“...sorry,” he mumbled, and shifted once more, pummeling his pillow a couple of times before he settled back down.


He was watching himself being restrained -- no, it was Dytha, no, it was him being fastened to the bed securely by people who didn’t care if he struggled. They were angry he knew; angry because he’d answered the wrong questions, angry because somehow he’d picked the wrong side, angry because he’d let himself get addicted. They had to be angry, he had to have done something wrong because people who didn’t do something wrong didn’t get left somewhere like Fort.


He watched himself dispassionately -- or was it Dytha -- watched the figure in the bed shift between crying out and begging to angry raving. No-one was going to help them. They probably shouldn’t help them. The person on the bed was a bad person.


But there was something wrong, he remembered suddenly, something-- something the people in the room weren’t aware of. The quickwort had too strong a hold. He couldn’t just stop it. He could hear the heart of the restrained patient beating frantically; too fast, too jumpy.


The person on the bed was going to die.


He tried to shout for a third time, felt again the wave of exasperation before pain again -- this time in his hand, throbbing pain through his finger that wouldn’t go away or be shaken off until he opened his eyes.


This time Bitey didn’t release him straight away, but tightened his hold just slightly and Cremsden caught the warning -- I can draw blood if you don’t start behaving -- and sighed, sitting up groggily. Not like sleeping felt as though it was doing much good tonight anyway. Maybe a break would break through the dreams.


Footsteps quiet he padded from the room, careful not to wake Margana and the baby, moving soundlessly to the other room to fling himself down on the couch, heedless of what might already be there.


Although the fellis was successfully working its way out of her system, what got left behind was the inability to fall into deep and restful sleep. Even when her eyes finally drifted shut it felt as though the top layer of her thoughts was still armed and ready for action, refusing to switch itself off just in case. It wasn’t that the couch was uncomfortable by any means. She had certainly napped on worse in the Infirmary staff room. But for all the rest she was getting, Dytha might as well have been attempting to sleep on rocks.


Bundled up in the blankets that were a vain attempt to provide comforting familiarity, Dytha had slipped into the ‘almost sleep’ that had only come when sheer exhaustion threatened to come first. Until the soft weight landed on her out of nowhere snapping her into consciousness as alert sent warnings through her brain like a klaxon.


“Mmmrph!”


The couch wasn’t meant to move and squeak. Cremsden was up again as quickly as he’d sat down, hand groping for a beltknife that wasn’t there when wearing pyjama pants, turning quickly to look for a threat, any threat, because tonight just felt dangerous.


As her thoughts scrambled together, limbs flailed and pushed at the weight as she scrabbled into the corner, feeling the back and arm of the couch wedge against her. The blankets came too, a hastily grabbed bundle that made for as close to a wall as she could put between her and the unseen attack. “...’m sorry!” It fell out of her mouth in sleep-hazed, panic laced confusion. “...’m sorry!”


The voice made it through the drowsiness, and he dropped his arm as he squinted at the couch. “...Dytha?” Another thought made it to his brain, moving at the speed of molasses. “...you remember where you stashed that bottle the other day?”


Cremsden. That part of her brain stopped to notice and then felt the confusion. Why was he here? Then the rest remembered that this was his weyr. He could go wherever he liked. She was the one taking up space. The question permeated thoughts making her frown and she shook her head. “I do remember. But the answer’s no.” However sensible the rebuttal seemed, it was quite clear that just saying it outloud was more terrifying to her than the voice of common sense and for Cremsden’s own preservation. The way she watched him was if she were waiting imminently for the explosion that would surely follow.


He grunted and turned towards the kitchen, presumably to search, to be met by a distinctly unimpressed looking firelizard who gave a warning growl. 


“Fecking asshole.” That seemed aimed at Bitey though rather than Dytha and he flopped back down -- in the chair this time -- and stared off into space, clearly dissatisfied but at least not exploding.


She was watching him like a herdbeast waiting to be pounced by a lurking dragon. Even as the blankets were pulled around her feet to make as small a bundle as possible, her eyes watched as her hands moved. “I didn’t mean to wake you.” It must have been something she’d done, some noise she’d made. If she took the blame now, she could… what? Dytha wasn’t sure where the train of thought was going but the ‘logic’ was making sense before the glimmers of rationality could catch up and protest.


Cremsden  blinked at her, hair rumpled and damp with sweat, clearly still not fully awake. “Didn't. Sharding flit decided I was disturbing the peace too much.” Cremsden proffered a hand in explanation, teeth marks standing out clearly across one finger. “Figured I should leave before he drew blood.”


Belatedly he realised he might have something to apologise for. “Forgot you were there. Sorry. Usually crash there so Margana gets better sleep.”


Her eyes were taking in details and relaying them to her brain. Slightly dazed. Rumpled. A bit sweaty. And then there was the finger. “He bites you?” Her brow was crumpled in confusion as though she was trying to make sense as to why this was the case. Her hands clutched the blanket, pulling it closer. “I can move. I could… sleep on the floor. It’s your couch.”


He grimaced and gestured for her to stay where she was. “Chances are I'll be awake a while anyway.” He raised his head to glare at Bitey and spoke pointedly “Could sleep a sharding sight faster with a drink in me.”


There was something about that tone; not someone scolding an errant pet but someone grumbling half-heartedly at a friend who was annoying them. Whatever it was, the fire lizard seemed completely unconcerned.


“No alcohol.” It was firm but there was a still an edge of ‘I shouldn’t be saying this’ there as she watched him, chewing her lip as she did. “You sure I didn’t wake you?” It was like she was expecting some sort of reprimand… or something. Just not this. Like she wasn’t sure what she was meant to do with it.



“Nuh.” He shook his head firmly, stifling a yawn. “Just a bad night. They happen.” It was stated as a fact rather than someone seeking comfort. Like rainstorms and threadfall. Some things just were. “Go back to sleep. I'll be quiet.”


That was the problem and she shook her head. “Can’t. I keep having dreams I’m being watched.”Chewing her lip has transferred to her thumb and she gnawed at the skin. “Don’t like the dreams. But guess I need to get used to them.”


“Tch.” He leaned over, reaching to remove her hand from her mouth. “Just because *he* reckons the punishment for nightmares is getting bitten doesn't mean you gotta do his job for him.”


The vestiges of a dream prickled at him for a moment and he moved automatically to shift fingers from her hand to her wrist, resting there lightly to check her pulse.


The thumb had clearly been chewed before, the skin around the nail pink and raw but the flinch came before she could stop it as his hand moved, accompanied by the sharp intake of breath that clearly expressed the anticipation of ‘something worse’ being just around the corner. The pulse would have the slight elevation of fear, enough for the heart to quicken and the brain to pick up on it, becoming convinced that something must be wrong.


“Well. You're not dying at any rate.” That was blunt but Cremsden was tired and bothered besides by the creeping memory of a different pulse rate, of the sudden certainty that no, this was going wrong and no one was going to listen


He shivered, and went to check it again only to notice a blue fire lizard head had appeared over the back of the couch and was eyeing him.


“Will you feck off?” That was quiet but furious. “I tell you I'm in my own head.”


Blunt she could deal with. She had always hated it when Healers fluffed around trying to be nice and not just getting down to business. “Are you cold? I could get you something to put on.” It had the slight edge of people pleasing ‘if I do what I think you might want, then you can’t be angry’ underneath it, her eyes watching Bitey carefully. She didn’t want to be on the receiving end of teeth either.


“Ah, don't you fecking start.” That was sharp and a little snappish. No worse than in the Infirmary on a bad day and certainly less angry than he'd sounded with Bitey but still. “Bad enough with one sharding nurse maid.”


The tone made her twitch. Not much. Just enough. It was sharp enough that some part of her brain flew into ‘danger, danger!’ at the perception of having been the ‘wrong thing to say’. “... ‘m sorry.” More apologies, more attempts to defuse… whatever it was her head was saying needed defusing.


“Ah feck.” Cremsdens face twisted into a scowl for a moment. “Don't look at me like that. It's like I kicked a puppy.” He stood up abruptly, heading for the kitchen. Bitey’s hiss just earned a growled “don't even start.”


She was looking at him in a certain way? Guilt chased after uncertainty as she consciously attempted to rearrange her face into what she hoped - but had no idea - was something more passive and neutral. You couldn’t react if there was no expression, right? But she still felt there was the undertone of ‘wrong’ and at the back of it was the insistence that it must be her fault somehow. With no idea of what was happening next, all Dytha could do was sit in quiet agony of anticipation and wait.


The clattering from the kitchen had a grumpy feel to it, but neither sounded like someone was emptying every drawer nor ever quite reached a volume likely to wake Margana and the baby. After a few minutes there was the soft crackle of a fire being poked up before Cremsden set a kettle to boil.


For once Bitey hadn't followed. He eyed Dytha thoughtfully for a short period and then climbed up the back of the couch to scramble gracelessly into her lap. What was barely a whisper to Cremsden most of the time was a loud shout to someone who had her own dragon and the emotion projected was somewhere along the line of another one I have to train? None of them have the sense of hatchlings.


The sudden soft warmth of firelizard in lap whilst not unpleasant, was unexpected. Carefully Dytha held a curled hand close enough that it could be inspected but not so far that it couldn’t be snatched away in a hurry if Bitey decided she needed disciplining. The projected emotion came through loud and clear and it almost garnered a chuckle. “Trained, eh? Normally it’s the other way around y’know.” It wasn’t like the firelizard would understand her but the predicability of what likely outcome the interaction would provoke meant that her brain wasn’t trying to predict a hundred different, yet equally catastrophic, outcomes.


The blue turned around a few times, making himself comfortable in her lap. There was a low grade grumble coming from him as he did so, like an old man muttering to himself in disgust, all about stupid big things and inability to sleep properly and emotions all over the place like babies.


It was like watching a small, grumpy man in firelizard form. It was oddly hilarious. Dytha was certainly squishy enough that the blue would be able to get comfortable. The notes of the projections said it all really. No wonder the thing was so grumpy most of the time. “All right, all right. I’ll keep a lid on it.” Although it was something of a promise she wasn’t sure she could keep.


He sniffed at her hand and then moved at the speed of a striking snake to grab a finger. He didn't bite though, or not hard. Just a quick mouth for a second or two and then release, like a warning of just you remember I could have bitten you and remember who is in charge.


The behaviour was quite fascinating and on another day, she might have asked questions about it, or had instant ideas and conjectures popping into her head. In that moment, she was more relieved that it wasn’t a harder bite although the goal it did succeed in was giving her brain something to focus on as the pressure of sharp firelizard teeth stung just enough to catch its attention. “Yes, I know. You’re the boss. I promise I’ll be good.” And maybe start wearing something to cover her ears at night.


“He doesn't normally bite unless he decides I'm not in my right mind enough now.” Cremsdens voice sounded calmer, more himself as he came in carrying a tray. “Or if I insult him grievously by suggesting something like that he might be going soft.” He set the tray down, putting a small bowl of biscuits in front of the fire lizard before offering Dytha a mug. “Apology tea?”


Momentarily distracted, the sudden voice didn’t quite needle her nerves. Perhaps some part of her brain had accounted for Cremsden’s presence. Who knew. The mug was taken cautiously as though she expected the mug to grow teeth and lash out at her before being hugged close to her chest, feeling the stinging burn with some bizarre sense of relief. “Thank you?” Although it was clear she didn’t know why he was apologising.


“So.” He sat down in the chair again, mug clutched in his own hands. “I can be a bit of a bastard sometimes. Which we know. But you've never had a problem telling me to feck off before.” It was said matter of factly, calmly, as though stating his eye colour. “That's one of the things I always liked about you in fact.”


Immediately something about the tone caught her attention. This felt… different. Not too far different from their ‘why didn’t you come and tell me your feet were bad’ talks. There was a sort of admonishment in there but at the same time was… very matter of fact. Feeling put on the spot, she wished that the couch would suddenly open up and swallow her. “That’s… different?” she offered cautiously with a half shrug. “Y’know. Infirmary talk. Equal territory.” That felt… like it was appropriate? She wasn’t sure if that was the connection she wanted to make but that was the only one that seemed to sort of fit. 


“Right.” Cremsden nodded as though that made sense. “So I should probably have had this talk when you moved in but..everything was a bit rushed. Also I spend a lot of my time trying to not let people know I'm a crazy person so it gets to be a habit not to talk about it.” Still calm, but his fingers were white around the mug as he sipped his tea. “Sometimes I have bad nights and they generally end in me being awake and pissed off.” He nodded to Bitey “Usually this fellow and I growl at each other for a while on the grounds that he will absolutely let me know if I cross a line.”


“Eh, your crazy doesn’t bother me.” There was a nonchalance to her words that was indicative of it being the truth. She’d figured out long ago that Cremsden had ‘issues’. Plus he was ex-Fort. That in itself was usually enough to explain away just about any unusualness. Dytha eyed him carefully. “But I don’t think this is just about your crazy.”


“Maybe not.” Cremsden agreed, and took another long sip of his drink. “I tend to know whose scared of me in the Infirmary and try to tone it down. I know I can be loud but I try not to be a bully and if you shout at someone who won't holler back that's where you end up.” He was watching her with the same care with which she watched him. “You’ve never been scared of me before.”


Well, on some level she knew she wasn’t expecting him to beat about the bush. It wasn’t his style. Under his scrutiny, she seemed to be shrinking a little into the couch, not that she could get much smaller. Deep breath. There was a couple of them, a sharp ‘whoosh’ of exhalation each time. “I’m… I’m not scared of you…” And it was the careful emphasis on ‘you’ that was deliberate. “I’m… I’m waiting for… the anger. Not because it’s yours… but because I can feel myself waiting for it…”


“Cuylar used to be the same way,” Cremsden admitted.”An apology out of his mouth every time you looked at him. Didn't like it then either.” Another long sip.”Most of my friends learn pretty early that now and then I need to be told to feck off in one way or another. I just about rein it in in the Infirmary but out here? Good behaviour slips a bit.”


“I.. feel…” There was a pregnant pause, everything about her quiet voice screaming ‘I’m talking like this because it’s not a tone that will make anyone angry’. “... Like if I make sure I can’t make anyone angry… if I admit it’s my fault… and do things they need… then they can’t be angry. And if they do… then I did something wrong.”


Cremsden sat back and looked at her a minute. “I never got the hang of being scared without being angry,” he admitted after a moment, trading a confession for a confession. “Call it a Bitra thing maybe. You act small and scared, you get hit. So you act big and loud and shout a lot and people find someone easier to pick on maybe.”


“Maybe it’s a girl thing.” See, that made perfect sense. Right? The mug was hugged closer, as though she was trying to leach every bit of heat out of it. “I mean…” She looked down, staring glumly into the mug and the slightly sloshing tea. “... if my feet weren’t wrong, maybe he wouldn’t have thought the way he did. And if he thinks like that… someone else will too. So if I… don’t make them angry… I can make sure they don’t want to be angry either…”


Cremsden reached out and poked her, very gently, in the shoulder. “I miss prickly Dytha,” he told her gently. “I miss the girl who would bite my head off if I forgot she knew what she was talking about. Come back.”


“I miss her too.” And it was a very miserable sounding admission. “I miss feeling I was… me. Like I knew what I was doing. Now I’m just afraid all the time. Afraid of noises, afraid of shadows. Afraid of everything.”


“How about if -- just in here -- you tried shouting at them?” Cremsden suggested. “No-one going to object if you slam a few doors and yell a bit in here. We need that temper back, my girl. Far too many idiots in  the Infirmary to get by without you yelling at them.”


“I.. tried. I tried pretending I was shouting at… him. And then in my head he was so angry… just like he looked in the Flight Room…” And although it had only been a slight glimpse through a gap in flailing arms, it had been etched in like a brand. “He’ll be so angry that the others stopped him.” And it was clear she wasn’t anticipating disgruntled disappointment but something a lot, lot worse.


Again that quietness. Cremsden was staring off into space as though debating something. “I..had a thought,” he said carefully after a few minutes internal consideration. “You might hate it but..I could write to Master Kregg, ask if he’s in a Weyr just now.”


She had been sipping her tea, trying to lubricate a throat that suddenly seemed as though it was coated with sand, but the mug stopped mid-lift. “Because, why?”


“Because Healers under Kregg are harassed, frequently yelled at and pushed every minute of the day.. But they’re safe.” He offered her a small sad smile. “Doesn’t matter where you are. You can’t work under Master Kregg more than a sevenday without understanding that..somehow he works as a barrier between you and the rest of the world. He’ll make you want to strangle him, but he’s the only one allowed to do that. And once you get used to that safety, you remember how to be brave.”


Everyone knew Master Kregg’s reputation. Not the genius part. The breaking so many Apprentices they probably had a recruitment Hall on standby just for his replacements. And something else was waving its own little flag. Hiding behind Master Kregg was… just that. Hiding And you could only hide for so long before you were found. “But that means people Healing… he won’t like that I went to Dragons... And… and I’m… not sure I’m okay to be around people who like to be angry…”


Cremsden snorted quietly. “Won’t care a jot that you went to dragons. Would poke you with a stick if you sat around not using that knowledge though. Working under Master Kregg is-- you’d find yourself very quickly thrown in front of a few high profile dragon cases and expected to swim. He doesn’t sit around to check you’re not going to sink.” He rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully. “And it’s not really.. Liking to be angry, any more than mine is. He’d poke you to get a reaction, or to push you to be better but.. You know, if I was in trouble I’d rather be under him than anyone else. Even K’ren.”


“K’ren gives you a sad, disappointed face. That’s worse.” There was a small snort of actual laughter there, just a small one but it was there. Her chest stung from the hot mug but in a slightly disturbing way, it gave her head something to focus on that was actually there.


“K’ren is kind even when you’ve properly fecked up,” Cremsden said, considering. “Kregg is...if you went to him and told him you’d fecked up, he wouldn’t be kind, but he’d make you fix it. Make you see how you could somehow. I don’t know. I don’t always do so well with kind.” Which was why he’d snarled at even a hint someone was trying to look after him. “Sometimes I feel better when everyone involved acknowledges you’ve been an idiot somehow.”


It was a fair point. Sometimes when you properly messed things up you needed someone to shout at you for a minute. Sometimes being nice about it was worse. “You think that will help?” It was clear she was asking his opinion because she didn’t know what to think for herself. Part of her was screaming in protest that this was asking for even more trouble.


“It’s… an option,” he said carefully. “I wouldn’t even consider it if I didn’t know you were sharding good, because he’s got no time for anyone who can’t think fast. I’d rather you stay here because the Infirmary needs more grumpy short people around..” Just a hint of a tease in his voice at that. “But I wanted you to know the option was there. If you needed it.”


“I’d rather stay here too. Any other Weyr and… well… Ponth. They see dragon, they assume Rider. Off to Fall I go.” And she could probably count on one hand the amount of Falls she had ever flown. Not to mention, she did like Arolos and part of her was dismayed to think that the only way she could get out of this was to leave.


“I mean, there’s ways ‘round it. If Kregg says you’re a Healer and staying down for Fall.. well, not many Weyrleaders consider it worth the argument to insist otherwise,” Cremsden said. “But fair enough. You stay here. So, how do we get your temper back? You want me to play like Kregg and poke you with a stick until you remember how to  tell me to lay off?” Teasing again, very gentle teasing.


“I need…” Another pause, another sip, another decision that seemed to take far too much effort to be able to think about. “I… need to know more about what’s happening. With him. So I can plan past tomorrow.” So far all she had heard on the grapevine was that he was imprisoned. And then that was about it. But there were far too many ifs and buts to make shape of any sort of certainty.


“That’s fair,” Cremsden conceded. “But we need to work out a plan in the meantime. I can’t have you scared to death every time I slam a door. Too much of that and Bitey’ll have my other ear for bad behaviour.”


That was a reasonable point. Otherwise she would probably end up pulling out a knife on someone else. Knowing her luck, probably the Weyrwoman. “It would be nice. Y’know, if I wasn’t so… on edge.” 


“He broke me of it.” Cremsden nodded again to the firelizard now curled in her lap. “If he thinks I’m getting edgy or starting to drift I get a warning nip. Usually centres me a bit because I’m not overthinking any more, I’m clutching my ear and swearing a lot.”


“I can’t really do that… Not like I have Mimsi anymore…” Her face clearly didn’t know how to arrange itself. “I know Ponth tries to listen but I don’t like her spending more time watching for me than, you know, being her. Plus there’s only so long you can have a dragon prodding about before your eyeballs start to hurt.” But it was food for thought in a sense. That was something she noticed, that she was drowning in it before she had realised it had crept up on her. “The external sensation snaps your thoughts back?” she asked with a tone that suggested she knew that sensation. Sometimes you needed that external shove to make your head refocus itself.


“Mostly.” He looked rueful. “Sometimes you get nights like tonight where he snags me out of it and I dive right back in until he loses patience. And for the big things-- I mean, you’re always going to have things nothing’s going to calm you down from until you’ve just let them happen.”


“Heh, maybe I should just get a wher. Can eat any bad folk and on really bad days I can just ride on it like a small pony.” She sipped at the tea, chewing over the seed of thought Cremsden had planted. “I know the Mindhealers use some ‘grounding techniques’,” and it was said with a slight shift in her tone to suggest that she was more than a little skeptical of their capability. Messing with heads was dodgy territory in her book. 


The moment’s quiet was clearly a sign Cremsden was thinking before he put it into words. “I know it sounds stupid but-- Ambrelli gave me a stone..”


That one took a second to process. Cremsden? Ambrelli? Being in a room together long enough to exchange things? If she wasn’t wedged so far into the couch that she probably needed to be pried out with a small branch, she might have fallen over with surprise. “Okaaay…” she said with more than a little suspicion and a healthy dollop of trepidation.


“Shut up. We were-- we went up to see if you needed any help with the flight. And she had a Weyrling dragon so-- anyway we mostly ended up waiting in a storeroom to see if we were needed.” The slight gruffness, the mildly embarrassed awkwardness, these things meant don’t you think this means I like her and don’t get all strange about the fact we were prepared to work together if it helped you. “Anyway she-- I don’t do too well behind barricaded doors and we’d been -- I think she thought I was worried she would jump on me but mostly I was worried something would scare the dragon off--” Clearly this was one of those convoluted stories where it took half an hour to get to the point.


She was somewhere between fascinated and ‘I don’t want to know’. Mostly because her brain was already cracking at the edges trying to think about Ambrelli and Cremsden being crammed into a small cupboard together without killing each other. “So… what happened with the stone?” Hopefully she could maneuver him back around to well, the point.


“Well, we’d been.. mostly growling at each other to be honest and she said if I was that concerned she’d give me a stone so I could knock her out if needed.” That did sound somewhat like Ambrelli and Cremsden. “So we were stuck in a storeroom and I was losing it a bit and Faranth knows where she found one but--” He shrugged sheepishly. “And it helped. Had a rough edge on it. Could stick it in my pocket and rub a finger over it and focus on something that..wasn’t the door.”


“Huh.” And now it was more thoughtful than suspicious. The first part had definitely sounded more like an Ambrelli/Cremsden exchange so she was less inclined to believe it was something he had made up on the fly. “Tyne wears a necklace. She’s made a comment before how it helps when… well, she says when her head stops feeling like ‘hers’.” And she was fairly sure that Cremsden had spent enough time around Tyne to have some measure of how to interpret the dragonless woman’s sometimes vague statements. “And having a sensory input allows thoughts to be separated out because the mind is reacting to a present stimulus.” Now that sounded more like old Dytha - a random regurgitation of thoughtfully chewed over information that had most likely been read in a scroll somewhere that hadn’t been touched in ten turns.


Cremsden considered it seriously. “I’m not sure about a necklace,” he said after a moment. “Tyne gets away with it because she’s Tyne but...from experience of how hard I usually get bitten to get me to pay attention, you’re going to need to give it a good yank. And-- well. How much do you want those marks?”


“Oh, I don’t mean pulling on it…” Dytha snorted with a hint of genuine amusement. “I meant, she’s made comments about how the surface helps her remember she’s ‘now’ and not ‘then’.” She made the appropriate wiggle of her fingers to indicate Tyne’s sometimes peculiar phrasing. “I was thinking about the whole texture thing. But you’re right, I’d probably end up throttling myself. Plus I can’t do necklaces. Too much for them to get lost in.” Dytha pondered. What sensations did she respond to? Her own pain responses were sometimes all over the place depending on where she was with her feet and she was a bit reluctant to hang onto a sharp stone in case it took slicing herself open to get her head to pay attention.


“Oh!” Clearly she had had something of a thought. “What about smells? I mean… we use the salts to bring people round.”


“Could work,” Cremsden conceded. “I mean I’d offer to lend you Bitey but I tend to get a bit twitchy without him. Also you’d have scars.”


The firelizard’s eyelids flickered, which was possibly just him responding to his name. The sense of amusement emanating from him though was probably not.


“I like my ears intact, thank you.” she agreed sagely. “Okay. I’m skeptical, I’ll admit. It sounds a bit like some of the… weird things Mindhealers suggest that just sound fluffy and… weird. But, I concede that there is likely a connection between having a stimulus response and being able to adjust what the mind is paying attention to.” She’d give the Mindhealers that much, at least. Because she was still partially convinced that the concept had been brewed up in one of their offices. “But,” she emphasised. “It’s something to try. And I’ll take that.” Mostly because it felt more proactive than sitting waiting for disaster to strike with nothing to do with it except wait.


He made a face at her. “Do I look like someone who would do well with fluffy and weird?” he demanded rhetorically, sounding mock-offended. “Thank you, no. I do best with the MindHealer who tracks me down to tell me when I’m being an idiot, the MasterHealer who pokes me with a stick if I’m not focusing on work and the pet who leaves me with gratuitous scarring. There is no fluffy here.”


“If you had a feline, I’d use that question against you.” A bit more ‘real’ Dytha poking its head out from under the bush it had been hiding beneath. “Okay. So I respond to smells. Maybe it’s the Kitchenworker in me that I never knew I wanted to be. Textures… ehhh… sometimes I probably can’t feel my fingers as well as I should if I’ve been generous with the numbweed.” 


He looked thoughtful again. “You know, it could be one of the reasons you’ve been getting urges to scrape your feet more than usual. Your head might be trying to find sensations to distract without telling you-- all right, I concede, I’m getting mindhealery fluffy and weird.” He sat up a little straighter, far more awake than he had been when he wandered in. “Strong smells. I can help with that.”


She shook her head, “That’s an interesting direction of thought but the scraping happens when the itch makes me want to pull my skin off. I can’t use my nails because I slice at it. Scrubbing on stone hits the itch and slightly morbidly, sheds the build up. It also feels disgustingly good which is why I often don’t stop before scrubbing a raw patch. I see where you went with it though.” Dytha could see that Cremsden was perkier. All right for some, she could feel tiredness trying to gnaw out of the back of her eyeballs but her mind felt as though it was running around the Weyr pepped up on the world’s strongest klah.


“Strong smell. Maybe a bit sharp. The sort of thing you can’t really… blur over. You know?” A hand waved to accompany her equally vague statement. Some smells could seem harsh at first but easily seemed less bad over time. Like the redwort taint in her weyr. It was comforting now.


“I’m thinking something on the level of a pot of freshly brewing numbweed here,” Cremsden agreed. There was a reason numbweed only got made up far from the Weyr -- and a reason apprentices usually had to be press ganged into those trips. “You want another tea?”


The mug was held out in silent confirmation. Tea was never a bad thing. Plus it gave her something to hang onto. “Please.” Now she had an idea to think on, it was a little easier to turn her thoughts onto it. “What about those oil concentrates we use in steam diffusers when people have severe congestion? You know… the ones that make your eyes water when you open the bottles.”


“Could work,” Cremsden conceded. “Has the added advantage that if anyone wonders what you’re about it’s this terrible terrible cold you can’t get rid of.” He collected up the mugs and stood up. “Don’t tell anyone but I might be getting used to tea.”


“Hah. It grows on you, doesn’t it?” Cremsden the devout klah follower, coverting to tea. Dytha was fairly sure he would deny it furiously. “Plus, comes in tiny bottles. Easy pocket size.” She hadn’t thought of the ‘cover story’ part. That would definitely be useful to have in her back pocket if needed.


“And you can put a couple of drops on a hanky if that’s easier.” He was definitely looking more himself as he plodded off towards the kitchen. It was ridiculously early but this was likely awake for the day. “Five minutes then.”


That was also true. Would be easy enough to keep a hanky stuffed into her sleeve. Fine, she would admit that the idea was settling in her head with more curiosity and less scepticism. “Fine, I’m curious,” she admitted. “My head… fills up. And then it’s like I’ve got no thinking space because there’s so many. And they’re going so fast. And it’s like my head… freezes a bit. But like my head isn’t mine anymore.”


“Hnn.” That was a thoughtful noise from the kitchen. “You know, last time I was like that K’ren put me on leave. And then Kregg visited, threw work at me and told me to stop being lazy. Filled my brain up with something else.”


“Why do you think I brought papers with me?” she asked solemnly, without trace of humour. “Sitting around all day with just my head for company? No thank you. I’m quietly amazed I haven’t started rearranging furniture.” Dytha wasn’t a ‘sit around doing nothing’ person as it was. It had been bad enough when she had had forced bed leave and that was for all of a few days.


“Please don’t. Between me and Arden teething I stagger out half-asleep far too frequently. I’d rather avoid walking into something,” Cremsden commented. “But, hmm. Maybe you need something new to keep your brain occupied.” There was a note to his voice that suggested he had something in mind.


“I promise not to move your furniture and will sit on my furniture moving habits.” Besides, it would feel more than a little rude to change someone’s weyr around without consulting with them. She also knew that tone of voice. “What you thinking?”


“Theoretically,” Cremsden’s voice drifted from the kitchen, “there might have been an incident where Master Kregg wandered into New Fort and somehow got hold of an armful of notes before they kicked him out again. Of course, they were terribly unhappy about that and they had to be returned..”


“And did this ‘somehow getting hold of’ likely involve breaking into someone’s office, bribing a Guard to look the other way and somehow finding a way into a locked desk?” Oh yes, they had all heard the rumours when it came to Master Kregg. Unorthodox was probably the most diplomatic way of putting it.


“There may have been comments made about them needing to improve security, yes,” Cremsden agreed, returning with mugs in hand. “In any case, Master Kregg would never have made copies. Not himself. Far too boring.”


“And let me guess, somehow, these have ended up in your hands. Mysteriously.” Dytha had a slight idea she knew where this was going but she had to confess, she was more than intrigued.


“He has something of a tendency to view everyone who ever worked for him as still belonging to him,” Cremsden admitted, handing a drink over. “So if he appears one day and tells you something is top secret and you need to make a copy, you very quickly rediscover your apprentice copying skills.”


“This is where you’re going to produce a box of copies you’ve not yet had chance to get around to copying, isn’t it?” There was no accusation in her voice, in fact she looked more than a little amused. “Admit it, you just miss my ridiculously neat handwriting turning up on your paperwork. I took great pride in my legibility, you know.”


“Pfft. Course I did. And a copy for him as well once he stopped pissing me off enough for me to give them back,” Cremsden said, sounding positively cheery at the memory. “But if you wanted your own copy..”


“Ohhhh you’re naughty. You’re feeding into my information acquisition and dangling a big, fat redfruit over me.” Cremsden had probably been the one giving her half the obscure reports and papers she had read over the past several turns that she had gleefully run away with and devoured like it was a freshly baked cake.


“How’d you think he got me to sober up?” He laughed at her quietly. “Can’t read something that complicated if your head is constantly hung over. Had to stay clean to get my head around even half of it. The language they use -- it’s like going right back to early apprenticeship and only understanding every other word.”


He had hit the right button. She had spent turns in the archives at the Healer Hall when it had become apparent that a ‘normal’ apprenticeship wouldn’t be on the cards. Information had been absorbed like she was a dry sponge being saturated with water and by now, probably had a bit of a reputation for knowing random and obscure facts. “What’s the subject matter?” she asked, trying to sound nonchalant but entirely failing.


“Highly variable. If I had to take a guess I’d say he went through a filing cabinet fast grabbing anything that looked interesting,” Cremsden admitted. “I’ve been using one piece for my work on improving lung function and just that took forever to work through.”


“Do they need categorising and organising, too?” No one should look as gleeful as she did at that prospect. Not anyone normal at any rate.


Except maybe Cremsden, who devoured new papers as greedily as she did. “Probably wouldn’t hurt. Takes so long to work out what a page is about it’s not a quick job though. You’re going to need a few reference texts next to you for when you forget what words mean. I started making my own dictionary but some of it is just guesses from context.”


If she was the sort, she possibly would have let out a small squeal of delight. But Dytha wasn’t the squealing sort. Well, not in public. “And then what?” If it wasn’t for the fact it was some ridiculously early hour of the morning, she probably would have already been rummaging in the box of stationary she had brought with her.


He shrugged slightly. “Then you tell me. I know there’s dragon stuff in there, even if by that point I was letting my hand copy while my brain took a break.”


“Where can I work? I don’t want to take over with papers everywhere.” Even if in her own weyr, sitting in the middle of the floor surrounded by paperwork was exactly the sort of thing she would do, her mind politely nudged her and told her she should probably ask. And not just take over the weyr.


Cremsden snorted. “I feel like Margana’s probably used to it by now. Usually I just use the table. Keeps stuff out of Arden’s reach.”


“Yes but you’re her mate and she probably has better tolerances. I don’t want to outstay my welcome by covering every available surface.” The tea was sipped at but it was clear the mood was shifting into something a bit better. “Table works. If I know when you’re all coming home I can make sure it’s all cleared away.” Like a kid putting away their homework before mum and dad came home to start dinner.

He thought about that, sipping his tea. “Would you feel better if I was working next to you the first time or two? I’ve got some papers I need to get in order myself before I can let other eyes near them.”


She considered that, fingers drumming on the sides of the mug as she contemplated. “That might be a good idea. Set up a base-line strategy so there’s some structure. Otherwise I’ll dive in head first and get myself lost.” Not that she did that. Honest. “Just to set up some semblance of direction. Especially if there’s a lot to work through.”


“Gives me a bit of accountability as well. I need to get on and actually do something with this thing or abandon it entirely rather than constantly brushing it up in the hope something will nudge my hand,” Cremsden admitted it. “Right then. I’ll dig those out tom-- today.”


“But maybe when the sun is actually up…” Dytha conceded, reluctantly acknowledging that diving into reports when it was still dark was probably not a healthy option. “Is this where you bribe me with interesting reports if only I promise to sleep like a good little girl?”


“Nope.” Cremsden’s eyes twinkled as he sipped his tea. “It’s when your brain realises all on its own that you won’t make head nor tail of them without a few hours kip.”


He got a snort for that. “That’s just cruel and unusual.” Although she was still buried in the corner with a pile of blankets and a firelizard, it seemed more that it was a comfort thing as opposed to a ‘back against the wall so nothing can get me’ thing. There was a few moments of awkward silence as she pored over her mug before she spoke again. “Thank you, Cremsden. You know. For all of it.”


He made a funny face at her, a though he was trying to make a child laugh, uncomfortable with accepting thanks. “Just get back to growling at me in the Infirmary, please. Else I’ll have to go rearrange the DragonHealer side or something just to see what it takes to get your temper back.”


“Hounding me about my feet is a good place to start,” she said with non-malicious pointedness. They both knew that she had growled at him about that on more than one occasion. “And if you touch my paperwork. I might throw something at you for that.”


“Excellent. Luckily I was intending on keeping you captive in my weyr until you let me work on your feet until we see real improvement,” Cremsden said with good humour. “Sounds like that might kill two wherries with one stone.”


“If you end up missing a hand, that will have nothing to do with me. And no one will be able to prove otherwise.” Dytha’s deadpan felt almost alien, but at the same time, highly comforting. “That or a black eye.”


“That’s my girl.” He grinned at her. “Much better. Like Bitey in human form.”


“I’ll have you know that I only bite when asked nicely.” Behind her wall of blankets, it… felt nice to feel like herself again. Even if it was only for a minute. She was under no illusion that this would continue. At least not yet. When she was left alone, how much would she be able to distract herself before the whispers turned into raging voices that were impossible to ignore? But she would take the moment for what it was - a vague sense of normality in an otherwise tumultuous storm of chaos.


= End =



--
Nutmeg on the Wizzy.
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I'm sometimes slow and have the memory of a sieve at times, so don't hesitate to poke me if you think you've been forgotten!