Though Kaia’s body bent with weariness, she couldn’t coax herself back to sleep with thoughts of the Lost raging through her splitting head. She hugged Gus to her chest as the image of the Rastgol breaking the seared boy’s neck replayed itself over and over again in her mind. Surely, there must’ve been something she could’ve done to save him. She should’ve seen it coming sooner—burned the bridge as soon as he hurt the boy. Why did she just stand there? But then would the boy have survived the river with his hands bound? Almost certainly not. But at least then she would’ve given him a chance.
Gus licked her cheek with his smooth tongue. It’s over, my girl. Rest now.
“It’s not over, Gus,” she whispered. “If the Rastgol are collecting the Lost somehow, what are we going to do about it?”
Gus laid his head in her lap with a huff, his long furry body taking up most of the bed. I don’t like it when you worry.
She sighed and shifted him away, moving her feet to the floor. Outside, the sun had begun to lighten the sky with swirls of pink and orange. “Maybe I can go find that mender since just laying here isn’t—”
A soft knock interrupted her. She rose to answer it, but the door opened of its own accord before closing with a quiet click.
Kaia crossed her arms. “Didn’t Madoc say you weren’t supposed to be up here?”
“As if he could stop me.” Klaus blinked into view, his smirk only inches from her own.
“Besides,” he pulled a waterskin and what looked like a bundle of bandages from his shirt, “the menders were busy, so it looks like you’ll have to put up with me as a nurse instead.”
“Is that a needle and thread?” She groaned. “I’m doomed.”
“Don’t tell me the Dragon Heir is frightened of a few stitches?”
“I think I’d rather just wait for the mender,” Kaia said, edging toward the door.
“First of all, you shouldn’t be on your feet.” Klaus put an arm around her shoulders and guided her back toward the bed. “Secondly, I’m actually very handy with a needle, I’ll have you know.”
Kaia slouched onto the bed, trading a doubtful glance with Gus. “That’s fine, I’ll let you know the next time my breeches need a patch.” She scooted away as he sat on the bed next to her. “Just keep that needle away from my head.”
“Shh… keep your voice down.” Klaus took her cheeks gingerly in his calloused hands, his face leaning close as he examined the wound. “If Madoc finds me in here, he’s liable to throw me out of the window.”
“Would it save me from the stitches?” Kaia whispered.
“Nope.” Klaus thrust the waterskin into her hands. “Drink this first.”
“What’s in it?” Kaia raised it hesitantly to her lips, a sharp, sour smell tickling her nose.
“What’s wrong? Don’t you trust me by now?”
Kaia narrowed her eyes at him. “Maybe.”
His gaze softened with a smile, and he squeezed her knee. “It’s for the pain.”
Kaia nodded and took a swig, bracing herself for the worst. The rancid drink burned her throat from her stomach to her nose, and she spluttered into her elbow. “Odriel’s teeth, Klaus. That tastes like cheap spirits.” She took another swig nonetheless and wiped her mouth, anything to get rid of the pounding between her temples.
“That’s because it is.” Grimacing, he took the skin from her. “It’s all they had left.” He poured some onto the cloth bandages in his hands and pressed it to the side of her head.
A fiery pain lanced through her scalp. “Ach! That stings,” she hissed. “I thought you were supposed to be helping.”
He sighed. “I know, but I have to clean it first. Here,” he handed her the needle, “I need you to heat this too.”
“Where’s Fiola when you need her?” Kaia whined, warming the needle like a match until it glowed red.
Klaus reached out for it, and she pulled it just out of reach. “Firefly…” He rubbed an exasperated hand over his smooth jaw. “I need that.”
“It’s still hot,” she protested with a cheeky grin, a blessed lightness leeching the pain from her skull. “I don’t want you to get burned.”
“Is that it?” Klaus leaned closer, his golden-flecked eyes boring into hers. “Is it the spirits or the head wound that has you acting ridiculous?”
Kaia’s eyes flicked to his lips and back up to his eyes. A warmth spread through her belly, making her heart stutter. “Maybe neither,” she breathed.
“Hmm…” Leaning forward, he plucked the needle from her hand. “Well, regardless, you still need stitches.”
It took another half hour of coaxing and spirits and whining before Klaus finally stitched her wound together. By the time he finished, Kaia’s head still swam, but with the blissful absence of pain instead of the agony of earlier.
Kaia ran her fingers along the side of her head, where Klaus’ neat row of stitches sat just above her ear. “Does it look terrible?”
“It looks perfectly fine.” Klaus took her fingers in his own and kissed them. “Now, you really should get some rest.” He grabbed the flask and the bandages and moved to rise.
“But where are you going?” Kaia tightened her grip on his hand, trying to wade through the spirits that dulled her thoughts. “Can’t you stay awhile?”
He smiled at her wearily, the shadows a dark purple beneath his eyes. “You want to tempt fate? It’s only a matter of time before Madoc busts down the door.”
“He won’t,” Kaia whispered, lying back on her pillow, her head heavy and her senses muffled. “Besides, since when do you follow the rules? What’s really bothering you?”
With a sigh, Klaus lay down beside her, propping his head up on an elbow. Just as he had done nearly every night for the past three months. “I talked to Madoc… about the Lost.”
Kaia’s eyes snapped open. “What did you say?”
He tucked her braid into place, brushing her cheek with the backs of his fingers. “I’m going to cross the river tonight—to try to figure out what’s going on.”
Kaia rubbed her palm against her forehead. “So soon? I guess we really do need to get some rest if we have to leave tonight.”
Licking his lips, Klaus shook his head. “No, Firefly, not we.”
She sat up. “What do you mean ‘not we?’ We do everything together, Klaus. You know that. We’re too vulnerable when we’re separated.”
“Shhhh, relax,” he whispered, coaxing her back to her pillow. He cupped her cheek with his palm, and she leaned into his hand. “It’s just a quick scouting mission. No one will ever see me, and I’ll be back before dawn breaks.”
“So you’re spying now? Where’s Shadmundar when we need him?” Kaia half-joked, wishing that the cat had come with them instead of returning to his magus’ service.
Klaus smiled, but the shadows in his expression deepened. “The Rastgol have eyes and ears everywhere. I’m the only option.”
Kaia pressed his hand against her face, the image of the Rastgol breaking the boy’s neck scraping through her thoughts. “I don’t have a good feeling about this, Klaus. Those people were…”
“I know,” he murmured, kissing her forehead. “Don’t worry. I’ll be careful.”
“I won’t forgive you if you don’t come back.” Her heavy eyelids blinked slowly even as she fought to keep them open.
“So harsh,” he said, flashing a smile.
She pulled on his shirt, the fabric warm against his chest. “I mean it.”
“I’ll come back, Firefly.” He brushed the softest of kisses on her lips. “I promise.”
She curled into the solid safety of him, her exhaustion drawing her into unconsciousness. “Stay for at least a little while.”
“Okay, Firefly.” He wrapped an arm around her, kissing her brow once more. “But just for a little while.”
Twisted dark yanaa warped her nightmares, dragging her worst memories from the darkness and weaving new ones to take their place. Her father pulling the dagger across his own throat, Mogens plunging his blade into Klaus, and Conrad burning alive at her hands. And still there were more. She’d seen the images dozens of times, and yet they still managed to claw fresh wounds. The misshapen faces of the Lost morphed into Klaus’, his eyes filled with that same blackness of death, and as he lunged at her with his black blade, all she could do was scream.
Kaia thrashed, trying to will herself awake, but couldn’t quite swim past the heavy exhaustion that chained her to the nightmare. Warm arms encircled her instead, and the familiar smell of soap and leather calmed her pounding heart. Tangled in the blankets, Klaus’ black eyes still haunted the space between dreaming and waking.
“Klaus…” she mumbled, her arms flailing against the nightmare.
“Shh Firefly, I’m right here.” His hands encircled her wrists, and he brought them against his chest. “It was just a dream, I’m right here.”
The words blew the dark images away like a sharp breeze, and Kaia drifted into a peaceful sea of rest.
But when she finally awoke… he was gone.
Thanks so much for reading! New chapters posted Mondays and Thursdays! Also, if you’ve found a typo, please feel free to give a shout, and I’ll be sure to correct it. Thanks again!