Tanda stops being shaman-in-training and becomes a healer when Jiguro finally yields and starts teaching Balsa to fight. Jiguro is nothing but a gentle guardian (good father, Tanda sometimes thinks with fleeting envy, because Balsa had one and got another, while he can't even remember his parents' faces), but he's a harsh and unforgiving master, and he drives Balsa mercilessly. So she comes to Tanda after almost every session, muddy and exhausted and determined and excited, and he cleans out the cuts patiently and gently, bandages bleeding knees, puts salve on scrapped knuckles and searches for herbs that'll make bruises disappear faster. They're at ease with each other, siblings in anything but name, so he learns human body by Balsa's without hesitation, explores with careful physician's fingers, memorizes by touch and feel. And of course, he falls in love with her without even noticing.
Fate has a rather cruel sense of irony, he thinks,
when realization of his feelings slams into him full-force at
Jiguro's dying bed. He sees Balsa squeezing man's limp, emaciated
hand and giving her mad oath, her promise of atonement, and then he
thinks, between one breath and another: I
love her, and I've just lost her,
just like this.
He isn't brave or strong enough yet, so he wishes her luck and watches her leave and vows to wait.
after her first departure Tanda stops being a boy and becomes a man. He builds a quiet, stable life on outskirts of town, while Torogai wanders about on her inexplicable business, he becomes well-known; people from neighbourhood villages come to him more and more often, and there's always orders waiting for him in city. He sets broken bones, makes medicines, helps to reduce fever, delivers babies and treats wounds. And sometimes patients die in his care; he makes himself to accept and learn from his mistakes, but there're also families that mention him in their daily prayers, and he's very careful not to let it make him too arrogant.
Some of these families have daughters at a marriageable age, and some mothers consider Tanda a desirable party for said daughters, but he always smiles gently and refuses, very politely, says that solitary life's more preferable for a healer, says that he doesn't see himself as suitable for marriage.
He doesn't say that his heart is taken already; he doesn't say that he dreams of Balsa: dreams of words that he'll say on her return, of her answer, of kisses that make his blood boil, of touches that caress and mark and worship rather than heal. Years of separation whip his clumsy first crush into roaring fire; he waits, and he waits, and he waits, and he never doubts. Healers have to be patient, after all, and he's good at it.
four year after she left he trips over her body, crumbled in awkward, bloodied heap on his threshold, and all the sweet dreams are shattered in his mind. He carries her in, sterilizes his instruments, cleans, sews, puts salves on, bandages, pours bitter potions down her throat. Next three nights put all his knowledge to test: he almost loses her twice, but somehow manages to coax her heart back to life, hold her together with threads and curses, chase away the fever, keep blood from spilling, and does it with easy, frozen detachment that'll terrify him later. It's only after she wakes up for more that couple of seconds for the first time, holds a more or less lucid conversation with him and sleeps instead of falling into heavy unconsciousness, that his hands start shaking uncontrollably and won't stop for few hours at least.
When Balsa awakes for the next time, he's already composed and ready, Tanda-the-healer, and they slip into old roles so easily. She tells him of her travels, of five people off the count, of strange kingdoms and stranger customs she's seen, of fights she's won, of strangers she've met. She keeps silent about who almost killed her at his door, and he allows her this silence. His fingers, when he changes her dressings, are cool and impersonate, and he doesn't dream a single night while she's under his roof.
He's scared out of his mind.
Tanda manages this for all the time of her recovery, and almost convinces himself that just having Balsa around, seeing her, talking to her is enough. They talk and laugh and eat together, reminisce about Jiguro and Torogai's antics, discuss couple of orphans she's saved from slave traders and helped to move into city (he promises to help, of course). He listens to her breath at night, notices patterns and thinks about what medicine he'll have to give her tomorrow. He also notices flush in her cheeks when she talks about spear duels and dashing escapes and mortal dangers, sudden fluidity of her movements, yearning in her face when she looks out of open door, and tells himself that it's all right; tells himself: at least she returned to me, trusted me.
Of course, when on fifteenth day she takes her spear and bids him farewell, he loses it. His hands are shaking again, and his vision is blurred and he's fairly sure he's crying, and he distantly hears his voice screaming at her: saving people? And how many have you killed while saving these five? You're covered in blood! Do you think Jiguro would have wanted it for you? And he can't stop, can't stop at all, until she slams the door on her way out, and he sinks to the floor and cries like he's six again, but he's a good healer: he knows what too late means.
two years later, when frightened little boy clutches on his leg and gasps Balsa... There... Wounded..., Tanda breaks in the run and knows, knows in his heart, that this is his second chance, a gift to treasure, a miracle. He'll have to be a healer first, as always, but then he'll give her truth instead of fear; give her everything and let her decide.
After all, she was his friend first, and she came to his door again; she'll wait for him.