Chapter Eleven: 12:16pm
Nine months, two days, eleven hours and forty-four minutes
Opening the door upon one crutch and seeing Maura's hands full, knuckles white with strain Nuada without a word bent and took all of the bags from her right hand. After a quick smile she squeezed past him, shaking out the soreness in it as she rushed to put the remaining of what she carried upon the counters.
"I know-I know… I'm late, sorry."
"Only but a few minutes," Nuada reassured and followed her to the small kitchen area. Around ten in the morning he had called as promised to give her the list of things to purchase and she had sounded fine. A little groggy and confused, he guessed from being woken up but she wrote the items down. Asking only a few questions about quantity and brand options, mostly in an effort she hoped would save him some coin. He smiled remembering her yawns into the phone and minor grumbles as she had scrambled for a pen and paper.
Now here, taking notice of her body radiating nervous energy, he tilted his head to the side and wondered upon the cause. But it was not until she took off her no nonsense yellow rain coat and started putting the groceries away did he see it. Setting the bags down on the table, he grabbed her arm and giving the cut a hard look demanded, "What happened."
"Oh… it's n-nothing, just a cut Nate."
"Maura…" he pressed firmly and watched the corners of her mouth tug down in worry before noticing. "And this?" He reached to inspect the other smaller wound. When she tried to jerk away he held fast and softly urged. "Allow me… please."
The fear in her, he could feel growing however she hid it upon her face well. In fact, she tried to push it down with annoyance. Her nostrils flared and her eyes narrowed. But seeing the concern in his, she slowly relented as his fingers cupped around the back of her neck as his right thumb carefully brushed over the nick upon her throat. Her pulse under it quicken while she eyed him warily. Under the fear, sadness emerged and he watched the debate play out over her tired features. Till she reluctantly admitted, "After I left yesterday on my way home someone attacked me. But it's no big deal! I'm fine-"
"No big deal? Why ever would you think that?"
She shrugged but he had a sense she was holding something back. Instead of asking more questions he doubted she would answer he brushed his fingers from her neck, down her left shoulder and to around the slice on her inner forearm gently. He ignored her soft gasp from the minor pain. It came more from the bloom of desire to his touch as he thought.
This was deep and yet if it happened yesterday she must have received healing. Did she speed the process all by herself or did someone help her?
Looking up he found her wincing. Hastily he let her go remembering what she had said yesterday as the anger in him grew. It was not due to her hesitation to give him details but to his surprise, over the very idea of someone hurting her.
Whatever she is… she's at least a healer. No matter their level of skill, they are to be protected for what they do for others, not harmed! Whoever would attack her? Why! A human… of course! A foolish, hollow and greedy human and over what else but money!
His breath quickened and his hands ached for his lance. But unable to even touch it he watched hers shake as she quickly put the remainder of his groceries away. She was unusually quiet but it helped him think over what he could do next as he gripped the counter behind him in frustration. The cheap edges of it cutting into his palms and he wondered if how she was acting now was solely due to the attack or his temper as well. He swallowed and tried to calm down. Promising himself that at the very least he would not allow this to happen to her again. Crossing his arms and leaning against the counter he made another attempt for answers.
Folding up her cloth bags she gave, "He came up behind me and drew a knife and luckily this… this… friend of mine stopped him."
"Apparently not in time! Your arm and-"
She flushed and pulled it behind her when he tried to reach for it again. He felt her hand upon his chest as she tried to back up only to bump into the stove. Her voice was soft yet firm, "Relax Nate… the important thing is I'm okay. And plus, he didn't give me that bigger cut. I… I did it to myself." When he started to open his mouth she added, "He dropped the knife and when I picked it up I didn't realize how sharp it was besides… it's just a few scratches."
"No… he puts a cut upon your throat - your throat Maura! And yet you jest that it is of little consequence?"
Saying nothing, she withdrew her hand to cross her arms tight under her breasts. Drawing her shoulders up in a small slow shrug, she did not look away as her jaw jutted stubbornly out. Swallowing hard he took note of his quick angry breaths, their very close proximity and the slight tremble to her frame. Cautiously he reached to lay his hands upon her shoulders. To gently massage away the worry in them and show that his poor temper was merely concern. To his surprise she permitted the contact but then it was not direct. He took care not to brush his thumbs along the exposed collar bones above her scooped neck simple green top. Instead he concentrated upon just working the knots of tension away that was covered by the thin fabric, studying her reactions carefully. It was not long before her face grew flush as her eyes dropped to his chest shyly. Slowly calming Maura gave a small sigh and seemed to fall into deep thought.
Picking up her chin, to draw her gaze back he kindly inquired, "Besides these wounds are you otherwise well?"
He silently cursed when her eyes grew glassy and fell to his lips. She chewed hers, sucked in a ragged breath and looked up, as if waiting for him to do something. If she had not been so human he might have indulged in comforting her more but instead he let the moment pass. He took a step back and waited patiently as she slowly regained control of herself.
Shaking her head she confessed, "No… I'm worried he will try again. And it's not like the cops can do anything about it."
"You can prepare and take precautions."
"Precautions I can do but if you're suggesting I somehow fight back well… you should see my ceiling fan." When Nuada gave her a puzzled look, Maura rubbed at the cut on her forearm and added on a weak and forced laugh, "I'm not a fighter. I mean look, I can barely figure out how to stay away from the sharp end of something pointy."
"I can show you."
"How? Your ankle, it will have to wait at least one more day until you can start to put some and I'm stressing some weight on it."
Nuada leaned back again on the opposite counter and agreed, "True it will present a challenge but for the first few days we can concentrate upon simple moves. Still we will need more room than this to train."
"What about the roof?"
Nuada smiled at the idea and headed for the door.
"What? What now?"
"Yes, now. Come."
It took some time to get up there but reaching the tar beach, as most New Yorkers called it, gave them both a pleasant surprised at what they also found. The roof top garden was not fancy and only half of the entire area was used. Someone or more had carefully laid out a dozen or so rows of long and deep planting boxes and in them seedlings were just starting to emerge.
Nate said nothing only looked carefully around as Maura read the labels, "Carrots… Radishes… Lettuce… Peas… wow… it just keeps going on and on. Look! They even planted some rhubarb!"
"I take it this is not a typical thing to find. Yet with so little earth here not covered by cement, I am unsurprised."
Maura ignored the slightly sour tone in his comment and explained, "It's a trend that is thankfully coming back. I wish more of us would do it since it would help improve air quality and cool the city down. I wonder which of your neighbors started this, how many are helping with maintaining it and sheesh why didn't I think of doing this at my building? Well if the landlord would even let me start a community garden."
She looked up to watch him study one of the individually potted tomato plants. He caressed one of its leaves. The action warmed her, remembering his touches from before even if they failed to lead to a kiss. He next gave a small smile at it and suggested, "Hopefully you can. Just think… you could grow more lavender for Ike."
A little flabbergasted that Nate remembered what plant she had placed him in that night Maura's jaw dropped but she snapped it up as he looked about. Pointing he declared, "That area maybe suitable for our needs." Reaching it he looked over a collection of tools leaning against the entrance to the stairs and demanded, "Tell me more about the attack. Spare no detail."
Thinking of two details she would definitely have to spare, namely Mr. Wink and Ike she stalled, "Ah… where do you want me to start?" When he turned to her, looked down his nose and narrowed his eyes, Maura squeezed hers tightly shut and muttered, "Okay… okay give me a sec. Thinking about it isn't exactly fun, you know?"
"Start where you first noticed something was wrong." He watched as she started to pace then added gently, "Take your time."
Sighing she ran over the idea of what to say then began. "I heard running behind me shortly after I got off the steps out front. I turned and… already he was swinging it at me. If my friend hadn't caught and pulled him back I…"
"What did you do? Did you just stand there?"
Giving him an indignant look Maura grumbled, "No! I tried to get the hell out of the way!" And she spared him the embarrassing detail of nearly landing on her backside in the process.
She shuddered remembering the feel of her warm blood running down from the cut on her neck, pointed to it and snapped, "That happened. Then my friend dragged him into an alley and proceeded to kick his ass, thee end."
"Not quite, did he say anything?"
"Nothing I could understand… I followed… to make sure my friend was okay. After he knocked him out we were talking… um… about whether to call the cops and he… he just… just vanished."
"Vanished? After your friend knocked him out? However did your friend accomplish such a thing? Did he have a weapon as well?"
She remembered perfectly the clinking sound of a chain reeling the cave troll's mechanical hand with a kicking elf on the line into the alley. Then afterwards, the echoing dull thud as Chet's body hit a not so full dumpster. Lastly how Mr. Wink picked him up over his head and threw him with a roar against a wall in a perfect pro wrestler style, bricks and bones cracking. "Ah… no… no weapon-not really," Maura honestly admitted then with a shrug she glossed the rest over with, "I dunno… He's just really big."
"Big?" The short word from his lips came out hard and skeptical.
"Really big… yep he's so big we… we call him Big… Brian," Maura insisted and gave a nervous smile over the first name which popped into her head.
"Very well, what of the weapon the attacker used, describe it."
"Ah," Maura stalled some more over that sticky detail. After all, how could she explain to Nate it had been a sword in the elf's hands that reverted back to a dagger by the time she had picked it up? "Yeah… about that… I'm not exactly sure what it was, a short sword m-maybe."
"He attacked you with a short sword? Earlier you said it was a knife."
Feeling her face growing hot she nodded and stressed, "Knife… short sword what's the difference?"
"The difference is a short sword is not a very common weapon for… for this location. Did you bring it with you?"
"What? No! No… it's… it's at home in-I mean under my bed." Maura felt her cheeks growing hotter at the outright lie. The dagger was in fact in her bag, sitting next to Nate's refrigerator down stairs. Ike after all had suggested she keep it close. Worried about another attack she followed his advice even though she had serious doubts on her ability to use it effectively.
Oh beware ferocious ceiling fans everywhere… for I am the slayer of indoor breeze…
She mussed, gave a self-deprecating sigh and wished she could tell him everything. But given the strange circumstances she comforted herself with she was being as honest with him as she could.
He seemed to ignore her straying mind and continued with, "And his appearance?"
"Um…" she trailed off over yet another snag. Unconscious Chet had looked different from when he attacked. She guessed it was his true form for in the darkness his skin had turned ghastly pale as his long hair faded utterly white. She decided to go with the sword wielding first impression of him. "He was a few inches shorter than you but taller than me. He had a broken nose – at least I think it was once… it tilted off to the right a little. He also had hair like yours but it was messier and very dark eyes."
Nate gave a curt nod and thankfully stopped with the interrogation but as he turned away she caught a hint of alarm in his normally calm but stern eyes. For a full minute he seemed engrossed in the gardening tools again his shoulders dropping a little as he looked up and around in deep thought.
"So, what's on your mind?"
"Nothing you need to worry over. It is but a small matter I need to address later on," he replied softly but cryptically. He then selected a hoe from the pile and turned to her. She watched him settle all of his weight upon his good leg, drop the crutch and spin the long handle in his hands with a grace of years of practice.
"What are you doing?"
"Learning the balance."
"I can see it's pretty good but you should stay on that-"
"No I mean for this," he gave on a soft laugh. When he then stopped spinning it his eyes met hers. Giving his usual half smile, Nate playfully beckoned, "Now come closer. We shall work upon close proximity dodges today."
Seeing the sudden determination in his eyes, Maura hesitated and wondered aloud. "Um… Why do I have a distinct feeling this is going to hurt?
Unseen by them Ike flew down from the roof, landed upon Wink's shoulder and reported, "He knows."
"Of our intervention? How? Did you tell him?" Wink rumbled out in troll and looked up. He had wanted to listen for himself but the fire escape groaned in protest when he had tried to pull himself up to the second story. It was so loud a balding middle-aged man living on that floor got out of his lazy boy and looked out. He saw nothing of course but the metal landing under his window shifted as Wink invisible under his glamor had let the ladder go.
"No," Ike corrected and in his own tongue quickly explained, "Maura. But since she is unaware of the wager and thinks our prince is a human she will never tell him everything. Instead she implied it was a large human friend who gave aid. But from all that she has said about who attacked her, he has figured it out. He… knows." Smiling Ike savored that word as if he was eating lavender honey.
He wanted Chet dead ever since he laid eyes on him torturing and killing one human after another over four decades ago. Chet had been searching for something or someone and he used any means necessary to extract information. Even though a part of the truce that was struck so long ago by King Balor also stipulated no further bloodshed was to occur between man and magical beings. Both sides upon occasion violated this, Tooth Fairies especially but Chet's ruthlessness put even them to shame.
But frustratingly due to his size, Ike was unable to do much but watch, bear witness and report his findings to those who could do something about it. Ike quivered now in fact, at the very thought of their Prince finally putting an end to such a vile self-absorbed elf.
"And his reaction?" Wink prodded calmly.
Ike jumped back to the present, hovered before Wink's face and reported, "He is displeased. What do you think he will do?"
His new large friend said nothing for a long time then reluctantly admitted, "I do not know. Chet has held sway with our Prince. At least in the past, now how much he still has I am uncertain of."
"Surely he will do something! You did not see his anger!"
"I see yours, wood fairy. We shall follow Princess Nuala's orders and avoid Prince Nuada so we may continue to do so. If I report to him now what I have witnessed I am honor bound to tell him no lies at which point he could discover our intent and can overrule his sister's command."
Crossing his thin arms Ike sulked and realized, "So we just wait and watch."
In an attempt to cheer his new little friend up Wink added, "We wait, watch and protect."
It did not hurt. Nuada had been as gentle and careful with Maura as he had when instructing and practicing with his twin sister. Although pain could be a strong motivation, Nuada felt Chet's methods of instruction were at times counterproductive to say the least when he had taught him.
They had practiced only a few basic moves over and over again, slowly at first so that they would develop firmly into Maura's memory. Speed would come later and when his arm started to burn and his good ankle started to ache they took a short break. Since she did not request they stop, Nuada with now the help of his crutch suggested they resume. Growing comfortable with the moves she had even started to laugh a little breathlessly after successfully avoiding a series of swings without being tapped.
He was grateful he was still rather good at pulling back his blows at the last second. In the past it had come in handy for practicing with others and during battle it was an interesting way to torment his enemies. To mock their skill or to give a concerned onlooker a chance to give Nuada information he desired or something he wanted. If they cooperated he left them alive… usually.
As the sun grew low to the horizon and with Maura looking to be in need of water, Nuada called for a stop. At the door he handed her the key and suggested, "Go on ahead."
"Are… you… sure?" She worked out between breaths.
"I will be fine and you require drink."
With her flushed neck and face slick with sweat, she did not argue. Instead she snatched the key and rushed down the stairs gasping all the way. When he entered the apartment several minutes later he found her, one could say, still enjoying the water. She had also put aside all ladylike airs in an effort to cool down. Bent over she was drinking from the kitchen faucet. Nuada tried not to eye her dark jean covered bottom as she squirmed on one probably sore foot to the other while letting the tap pour over her hair pulled up tight in a ponytail. Yet as her moans of relief echoed into the sink, Nuada felt his body start to respond. Growing more than just frustrated, he cleared his throat but she seemed to have not heard him.
"Awww… that feels sooo good! Sooo…. Good!" She groaned this time rather slowly.
To that Nuada looked. He should not have but what she had said between gasping breaths and gulps of water reverberated louder, thanks to the sink it crumbled his usual self-control.
Besides nobody is looking, Nuala perhaps but…
Curiosity peaked, Nuada drew closer and took a moment to watch. Maura's bottom rose only higher as she lifted up to her toes to drop her head under the stream of water again.
Do… do all humans act so… so…
Throbbing now he could not even begin to finish the thought. Instead he prudently turned away, got out two glasses, set them down and over his shoulder snapped, "Maura!"
She let out a squeak of surprise and promptly bumped her head on the faucet. "OUCH! Oh hi!" After wringing out her ponytail in the sink, she turned if off and belatedly added. "Sorry, didn't see you there."
"I do have a shower and glasses," he grumbled back but softened a little at the contrite dropping of her eyes.
It did not take long though for her hackles to rise up just a little as she explained, "I'm hot."
Nuada studied her flushed face and swollen parted lips and an observation instantly and unwantedly popped to mind.
She looks like she has just been kissed… hard.
Frowning he turned to the glasses, picked them up and moved to fill them with some cold cider from the fridge. With his body still trying to calm down, he kept his back to her. She was pulling at her damp shirt, when he handed her a proper drink and Nuada agreed flatly, "Yes… yes you are."
He watched her drink it down nervously. Wondering at and not liking the growing tension between them he politely suggested, "Would you care to stay for a meal?"
"Sure, mind if I shower?"
"You can try," he snorted and gave the tiny room a nod. "I wish you luck with it."
"Wow, that is small," Maura agreed and before closing the door grinned. "Thanks I'll need it."
"You will fair far better than I have, I imagine." Nuada mumbled back under his breath and started opening cabinets.
Immediately after she closed the door behind her and set down her bag on the closed toilet seat, Maura felt the walls press in. Wrinkling her nose she gave the tight space a few curious sniffs and looked for the source of the mildew smell. It emanated from a white t-shirt and three pairs of black socks drying on one of the towel racks. They looked clean but grimacing while inspecting them and then the sink she gathered he had hand washed them. The towels did not smell much better and felt rough to the touch.
Ugh… hasn't this guy ever heard of a washer and dryer or better yet fabric softener?
A tap at the door had her jumping and banging her right elbow into the tile wall. As she mouthed a silent "Ouch that fucking hurts!"Nate's muffled voice called out, "Are you still presentable? Because I require entrance to remove some items of clothing I left drying in there."
Instead of answering him she opened the door, gathered up the damp clothes and shoved them at him. To his surprised look she scolded, "You should have told me sooner about these. I can do a few loads if you like tomorrow and when your ankle gets better remind me to introduce you to the joys of coin operated laundry machines. Till then stop washing your stuff in this poor excuse for a sink!"
Still in pain Maura just shook her head, made a shooing gesture with her good arm and pulled the door back shut as quickly as possible.
Head cocked, Nuada blinked at the closed door, still holding his wet clothing. When he smelled them, while making a face he actually blushed. Normally if he needed something laundered he took it to a very nice fragglewump at the Troll Market. But since the wager he had to make do with washing them himself. Usually they dried out fine but with this batch he had not the time to set them by an open window.
Hearing the pot of potato soup boiling over he rushed or more accurately hopped to the bedroom. There he hastily threw the wet clothes down onto the bed. Next with pride long forgotten Nuada took a few more hops back to the kitchen still upon his good ankle yanked the pot off the burner and sat it upon another one.
"As entertaining and impressive as that was, why are you not using your crutches, Buster?"
Caught Nuada spun around and glowered at Maura. It wiped the smirk right off her face but only momentarily before it returned with a small chuckle.
"Find that humorous, do you?"
Getting up from leaning on the door frame she uncrossed her arms and held up her hands. "Just wondering about the towels."
"Towels?" He looked about, with the pot and the burners now a gooey mess he could sure use one.
"Yeah, are the towels in the bathroom clean?"
"Yes-yes! Why do you-AH!" The hot creamy soup had seeped through the thin kitchen towel he had managed to find and was using to clean up the stove.
Rushing to him, Maura demanded, "What happened?"
"I… I burned myself!" Nuada sputtered in disbelief and tried shaking the pain as well as the hot soup off but it was not working. Before he could think of what next to do Maura had already grabbed his right wrist, dragged him to the kitchen sink. Turning the cold water on, she shoved his throbbing hand under the stream.
Nuada's eyes rolled back in relief as he silently berated himself for being so careless and thought.
Are human beings truly this fragile? No wonder they hide in buildings for at least half the day!
Softly Maura encouraged, "Just keep it under the water while I take a look, all right?"
He sucked in a breath with eyes squeezing tightly shut as her concern and energies pulsed into him. Gently she brushed over the rising blisters upon his finger tips and palm. Immediately his hand started to feel better. She was healing him again and knowing the toll it would take on her he tried to stop it.
"Maura you do not need to…"
"Stop squirming!" With surprising strength she kept his hand firmly under the water and nearly growled. "Hold still or you're going to make it worse! Sheesh! Why won't you just for once relax? Forget about being in control and your employees for five minutes. Five minutes so you can get better, okay!"
When he snapped open his eyes he found her glaring back equally annoyed. She winced a little and knowing why, Nuada struggled to do as she requested. It was not until they both calmed and she kept brushing the blisters away did he break the silence.
"A great many count upon me, I have told you this before."
She said nothing at first, looked down at their hands and thought about what to say. Then in a quiet voice she asked, "And if you always carry them, what will happen if someday you cannot walk anymore? All because you're too bullheaded to let someone help you now and then?"
Wordlessly conceding to her point, Nuada let out a deep breath. The sound of the cool water drumming over the metal bottom of the sink and her careful touches soothed away the rest of his pain and tensions.
It has been so long since I have had a healer's touch and never from one so… fetching.
The last part came to him in surprise and had him flinching. He worked to suppress the unwanted thoughts as the constant under tones of her desire for him seemed to now emerge from the simple concern for his wellbeing. His worry grew, she had after all, somehow caused him to slip into unconsciousness at the hospital. And each time she touched him, he felt infected by her emotions.
How much of this is her doing? For me to desire a human, that would be ridiculous! A human? Impossible!
As she kept her concentration upon tending to his hand, Nuada drew closer, dipped his head and discreetly as possible inhaled the scent of her damp hair and skin. But to his frustration he could detect nothing which would indicate she was anything more than human.
Maybe that sense has been hobbled as well.
He realized then how over the last few months smells that would have bothered him before seemed less annoying now. Still he tried again, taking in another deep breath. The faint scent of apples and her pheromones made his breath and heart rate quickened. Flashes of the dreams he had of her were not helping either. He felt his usual discipline slipping away and he did not like it, not one bit.
Yet he had to bite back a groan when she let go suddenly and stammered, "L-looks like you were not as badly burned as we thought. I… I better get to that shower. Excuse me."
As she fled for the bathroom, he looked down at his hand. The blisters were gone and without thinking Nuada put weight upon his now almost completely healed ankle.
End Notes: Sorry for the delay, been busy-busy-busy with summer classes hope this extra long chapter makes up for that.
Oh and I hope some of you got that little joke about Maura giving Mr. Wink the nickname Big Brian. (The guy who helped bring Mr. Wink to life by putting on that mind blowing costume is a wonderful actor named Brian Steele)
More is coming count on at least one chapter a month. :)