I followed Nepech into the legion office and retook the seat at Sin’s gesture, smoothing the dress over my knees, again hiding the ruined skin of my legs. Nepech returned to his place upon the tall stool and I waited expectantly. Sin took a breath.
“It is the decision of this council that you return to active duty as soon as possible Sirona.” She began, and the tension in my shoulders eased. “However, whether you are fit to return to that duty remains in question.” My heart sank, the room went silent.
Finally Boa spoke, her soft voice startling in the stark silence that had befallen us. “It is not that we doubt your courage, or your resolve Sirona, we understand that you have gone through something very terrible and for the safety of the fellow soldiers in Destiny, we feel that it is appropriate that you be eased into full active duty. We wish no ill to befall you or any other member of your unit.” She leaned back in her seat. I swallowed hard, eyes misting. Nepech made a disgruntled sound beside me, crossing his arms and shifting upon his stool. I didn’t understand, on the one hand it sounded to me as if they were going to return me to active duty with my peers, on the other it sounded as if they had no intention… I felt as if I were in limbo.
“Give her to me, two days. I’ll put her through her paces and tell you if she’s ready.” Nepech’s voice was steady and I looked at him, I could tell this was not the decision that they had reached behind closed doors… Sin had tensed in her seat and Boa leaned forward, but what had made Nepech change his mind? Sin cleared her throat.
“That was not what we agreed Nepech, it was unanimous, our intention clear, that Sirona serve in the infirmary in an auxiliary capacity. I do not like the risk involved in your proposal, if something should go wrong, we are…” Sin was cut off mid-sentence by Nepech’s loud laughter.
“Nothing could go wrong Sin. It’s the same thing you have me doing on my own, in fact I might be able to accomplish more with a personal pocket healer.” He looked at me speculatively and I bit the inside of my cheek. I, as with anyone, disliked being spoken of as if I weren’t there, but I waited. I did not want to be alone with Nepech in the field but I could not disagree, it wasn’t my place and I wanted to return to duty with Aalairius and the rest of my unit, as soon as possible. I did not know who they had as their healer in my absence, and selfish as it may be I doubted whoever it was could adapt to the fighting style and unit tactics I was already accustomed to.
Sin and Boa conferred with one another before leaning back in their seats. Nepech looked pleased with himself, while the two women simply looked uneasy, which unnerved me. Oh how I did not wish to be locked away in the infirmary though. I waited… Sin finally inclined her head and I let out a breath that I hadn’t known I was holding.
“Two days Nepech, but you must understand that you are taking responsibility not only for yourself but for Sirona’s well being, and I want a full written report at the end of your duties on how she is doing. I do not like this. Destiny, cannot afford to be short a healer of Sirona’s caliber, nor can we afford to be without a Sorcerer of yours. So both of you, I want you to be cautious. You leave in the morning. Sirona, you are a direct subordinate to Nepech for the next two days. Follow his command and do well. I would like to see you in the field instead of the infirmary with your talents. Do not make me regret this Nepech. Both of you are dismissed.”
I stood and bowed, and went for the door, Nepech following me into the hall.
“Tomorrow morning Sirona,” Nepech called at my retreating back… “Meet me on the Exalted Path! Polyidus will teleport us where we need to go!” I had heard everything he said, though I disappeared around the corner as he’d said the last, eyes misting with tears, heart heavy with the lies I’d told. I was on my way home to my beloved, though now I was uncertain that I even deserved him.
I stopped below the trees in Elyos Square and stood watching the people of Sanctum go by and allowed myself my moment of self pity, wiping the tears from my eyes with angry swipes of my fingers. I would make this right, somehow. I would serve my Legion and the people of Elysea and I would make it right. I would start in the morning with whatever it was Nepech had planned for me. I would prove my worth and my ability and protect the ones I loved both on and off the battle field.
I went home. As I stood opposite the front door to our dwelling I heard Aalairius, his voice raised. I stepped into our small dwelling to see him standing opposite Toxemia, his armor a bright pretentious pink.
“Aion damn you. You sick bastard! Who do you think is going to take me seriously in this?” Aalairius demanded. I covered my mouth with my hands and forced down my laughter. Tox stood at our small galley counter, hip against the counter, arms nonchalantly crossed, grinning.
“I kinda like it, lawls.” He answered.
“It’s… a becoming color on you my love.” I laughed. Aalairius turned sharply toward me and jabbed a finger in my direction.
“Don’t you encourage him; I don’t have time to dye this before we go out tomorrow.” His eyes smoldered, and he raked his gauntleted fingers through his white locks, causing them to stick up at odds.
I closed the door behind me, suddenly somber and turned to my beloved and dearest friend. Aalairius’ face fell and Tox’s expression became guarded. Tox pulled out a chair at our small table and Aal led me to it. I sat and Aal with me, Tox moved around our small galley and put on some Ferilla tea.
“I won’t be with you tomorrow. Sin, Boa and Nepech decided that after… my time away that I may not be fit for a return to duty so soon. They were going to have me work the infirmary for a time, it sounded like… but Nepech convinced them to allow him to take me into the field and test me over the next two days.”
Aalairius slammed his gauntleted fist into the table and swore. Tox handed me a cup of tea.
“I don’t like it!” Aal burst out. “Sin and Boa haven’t the right, if you say you’re fine then you’re fine, who the hell are they to…” I placed my hand over his and he quieted.
“Sin is our Brigade General; do not blame her for putting the many of Destiny over the desires of one or two.” My words were gentle but a scolding none the less.
“I’m going to talk to them, see if they’ll reassign me to go with you tomorrow.” He rose and I set my cup down with a clatter.
“You will do nothing of the sort Aalairius. I do not need to be coddled. I will go with Nepech and I will be fine, it’s only two days and whatever it is, if Nepech can do it, I can do it or perhaps I really do belong in the infirmary and not out of the field.” Tox pushed himself off from the Galley counter.
“Aal, I think you ought to leave this one alone. Sirona and Sin are right you know. You don’t come back the same after something like that. Sometimes you need a little longer than you think to get back into the swing of things.” He waggled his hips to illustrate the last and I laughed. Aalairius raised an eyebrow and took a breath to speak; I was afraid of what he’d say to our friend and lightly smacked his breast plate. He smiled at me and my heart gave a twist. Aalairius and I had no trouble getting back into anything behind closed doors. However, Toxemia did not need to know that. Tox's voice took on a more serious tone.
“I didn’t get these sharpening my swords Aal.” He said indicating the crossed scars on his face. “Torture messes you up.” He took a Mela fruit from the bowl on the table and bit into it crisply and I bowed my head, taking a moment to hide the flicker of memory that crossed my face behind my hair. Aalairius sighed, he was there at night when I woke screaming, and he knew the truth of it. He stripped off his gauntlets and took my hands between his.
“Get out Tox, if I’m to let her go in the morning I want some time with my woman.”
Tox laughed. “Oooo can I watch?” he asked.
“I said get out.” Aalairius called Toxemia a name that made my ears burn and finished with “…and buy me some blue dye to fix this mess you bastard!”
The door closed firmly behind our friend and quiet settled over our little dwelling.
“I don’t like it.” Aalairius said, and stilled me as I was about to say something in retort by kissing me softly, cradling the side of my face in his hand, his thumb gently resting on my lips. “I failed you once and I won’t let that happen again. I promise you.” He sat back, grim, his plate making the movement restricted, but he got his point across, that he would brook no argument. I was about to give him one anyway.
“Do not become so protective that I can not perform my duties Aalairius. That would be a failure in and of its self. Destiny depends on both of us and both of our abilities. You did not fail on the beach that day. Nor did I, Aion has a plan and though you or I may not understand it, it is His will and we are His vassals.
I spoke rarely of my faith with Aalairius, I knew he was skeptical even though he never begrudged my belief in Aion, though now his skepticism showed on his face. He finally gave an equal parts disgruntled and exasperated sigh.
“Humor me beautiful. Send word by Shugo messenger, express if you have to, that you’re okay each night.” He held up his hands seeing I was about to protest the cost. “I don’t care about the kinah, I will give you plenty for this before you go.” I thought about it, and finally pursed my lips and nodded my agreement.
I kissed Aalairius and rose; I had time enough to check and secure my armor and weapons, and to restock my cube with potions and remedies before setting out tomorrow… I used that time wisely and as I fell asleep in my beloved’s arms that night I prayed silently that I could do what was expected of me and that both my ability and sanity would not be left in question.