The black bag clicked shut, and Phaedra opened the door to the room that had served as home for the last fortnight, offering a grateful smile to the doctor as he replaced his bowler cap. Money exchanged hands, and that same bowled was tipped good-naturedly, while the other hand tucked the bills into his jacket.
“The fever seems to have broken completely,” the doctor reported with a smile. “Her lungs are healing, but keep her from strenuous activity for the next month at the very least.”
“Of course. Thank you, doctor.” Phae offered a tired, but genuine smile.
“I left a bottle of laudanum. A drop or two as needed. Be careful with that. You don’t want to over use it. Dangerous as it is helpful, understand?” He shook a finger first at Phaedra, then at Tully, looking over his spectacles at the pair in a stern, grandfatherly manner.
“Yes, sir. I’ll see to it she’s careful,” she shut the door behind him, trying to be cordial, but a little silence and solitude would have been nice.
Looking over, Phae smiled. Tully’s eyes were clear, she was completely alert, and sitting up in her bed with only a bit of help from the pillows propped behind her. ‘Relief’ was a word that couldn’t quite touch how Phaedra was feeling. There was hope, Tully was alive, and now, after a few more days of rest, she could take Tully back to their comfortable room above the bakery. They could go home.
“How about that?” Phae plopped on the bed beside her, running slender fingers through her hair, soft blond tendrils tickling her palm.
Tully smiled and closed her eyes to the touch. “It seems surreal.” The rasp in her voice was nearly gone, leaving only a whisper of hoarseness behind. “Phae…” Her eyes drifted open and fell to her lap where she fiddled with her own hands, as if there was something incredibly compelling about her fingers all of a sudden. Brow furrowed, her blue eyes grew intense, introspective…. and Phae was on the outside of those thoughts, as she always was.
“Tully.” Phae caught her hands with her own, and gave them a squeeze. “Stop fidgeting.”
The blond’s eyes snapped up, and her cheeks flared red, perhaps all to used to being flushed with fever to resist the blush. “I just… wanted to tell you how grateful I am for all that you’ve done. Ylios, too, of course, but… you…” her eyes drifted down again, “you stayed here for two weeks, paid for everything, waited on me hand and foot—I don’t want you to think you’re being taken for granted. I know I would have died if we didn’t come here.”
“But we did. And you didn’t. Money is replaceable, so I don’t want you to dwell on that.”
“And you’re saying I’m not replaceable?” her eyes glanced up to Phae’s, a little smile repressed as she did so.
Her caretaker dropped a pillow on her head, and grinned, shifting closer and slipping under the covers. “Stop fishing for compliments,” she teased, and pulled Tully against herself, arms slipping around her. The blond’s head came to rest on her shoulder, and closed her eyes, heaving a sigh of relaxation. “You’re really feeling better?”
“Much,” yawned Tully, her arm laying across Phaedra’s middle. Having two beds came in handy when actual sleep was necessary, of course, but Phae’s warmth had been a vital source of comfort for Tully during the nights when sleep just didn’t seem to be an option. Now, falling asleep beside her companion had become a habit; one she wasn’t entirely certain she wanted to be rid of. Would things stay like this after they returned to the bakery?
Unlikely. Everything would go back to normal, and they’d go about their lives as they had in the weeks before the cough.
“Part of me doesn’t want to go home.”
Phaedra looked down to Tully, and was met only briefly with her gaze before the blond averted her eyes. “Why not? You don’t like The Willow?”
“It’s not that. You know I love it there. Being here, though… it’s made things between us… different.”
‘Different how?’ Phae wanted to ask, but she knew how. She pressed her lips to Tully’s forehead, and glanced drew her a bit tighter against herself. “If we go back to how it used to be, then it would be like lying, wouldn’t it? You shouldn’t worry so much. You’re getting a crease between your eyes.” She grinned, and poked her gently above the bridge of her nose.
Tully swatted the hand away, and gave her a flat look. “And all that laughing at me is giving you crow’s feet,” she muttered, and Phae snickered a bit.
“If you can put up with my crow’s feet, I suppose I can tolerate your frown lines.” Phaedra couldn’t help herself, she was in good spirits after the news the doctor had given. “I was really worried, you know. We should probably send a letter to Ylios to let him know we’ll be home in a few days.” She got up, and pulled her hair up into a bun, twisting a strip of cloth around it to fasten it there. “I’ll be back with dinner. Maybe some wine. We need to celebrate.”
Pushing herself up on her elbows, Tully watched her tug a cloak on and fasten the brooch at her throat. “Be careful.”
“Always am.” Phae turned to go, but Tully lifted herself out of bed and caught her wrist, giving a tug to turn the other toward her. Without resisting, Phaedra turned to face her, and Tully’s lips crushed quickly and a bit clumsily against hers, earning a little noise of surprise.
As Tully drew back, her eyes fell and she shifted awkwardly. “Right, so… just… be careful,” she repeated, and took a few steps backward toward the bed, her heart thundering so hard, she felt her throat and ears throbbing in time with the beats.
Phae wanted to laugh just out of sheer shock, but only shook her head, smiling. “I’m not going far.” Taking her hand, she pulled her gently closer, and leaned in, her lips pressing to Tully’s in a soft kiss, lingering and intimate without being intrusive. “And I’ll be back with wine.”
Both women smiled, and Tully all but toppled onto her backside on the bed, giving a small nod. As Phae shut the door, Tully flopped backward into the pillows and heaved a sigh. If she didn’t know better, she might think her new smile was permanent.
Alone in the room, enjoying how rampant her imagination was now running with thoughts of Phae—not that she hadn’t thought about her in that way before the kiss, of course—Tully hummed quietly to herself for a long while, just lying on her bed where Phae had left her. There was hope for her, hope for them, and Ylios could reopen the bakery. Only a week before, she was certain she was going to die, plagued by the thought of leaving Phaedra and Ylios with that burden to bear. The only thing she could think to do was ask Phaedra to sell her body to the alley-lurkers to pay for some of her expenses.
But that didn’t even have to be an option now.
A knock at the door broke her thoughts, and she stiffened a bit, rising carefully, silently, and moving to the door.
“Need a word, ladies!” the gruff voice of the inn master rippled through her, hair on her neck standing on end.
“Phaedra will be back shortly, sir. Whatever business you have, we’ll handle together,” Tully stated, throwing the lock as quietly as she could. The inn master was a filthy man, and she didn’t trust him.
The knocks fell harder this time, the door rattling on its hinges. Tully inched back, tugging her robe on over her night dress. If she had to go out the window, she didn’t want to be flashing her bits to everyone on the streets below. Heart racing, she started toward the window and unlatched it slowly, trying to keep the squeal of the metal to an absolute minimum.
“Open this door! I’ll not have your kind in my establishment!”
“Kind?” Tully blinked, her pause met only with a thunderous crash against the door, practically jumping out of her skin. Scrambling, she threw the window open and let out a sharp yelp when the door burst open, the lock shattering the wood that encased it, splinters showering the room. Ducking beneath the window, she covered her head and glanced up just as the inn master’s hand snatched a fistful of her hair and yanked her to her feet. Tully’s scream echoed down the halls, her hands clutching at her captor’s, trying desperately to relieve the pressure in her scalp.
“Here.” He shoved her forward until she toppled onto her hands and knees in front of four other men.
Panting, tears stinging her eyes, she held her head, and looked up to them, quaking where she knelt. “What do you want?” She wheezed.
“What the hell is this?” Phaedra asked, dropping the bag that contained their dinner.
One of the four turned and grabbed her arm, but Phae reflexively swung the wine bottle, shattering the glass on the side of his head. Wine seemed to explode across the other three as the first man dropped to his knees and wobbled a bit, holding his bleeding head. The broken bottle was lifted and sliced across a second man’s cheek, laying it open.
“One more time. What the hell is this?” Her eyes were narrowed, and she was crouched, like a cat ready to pounce.
The inn master was edging around the door, and had just turned to run when Phaedra gave the remainder of the bottle a toss and smashed it off the back of his head. The man let out a howl, and all but crawled away.
“You and the girl, you’ve been ordered to come with us,” stated another of the oddly-interchangeable goons, advancing slowly. The first was out cold on the floor, and the second was holding his cheek, but looking not-so-unreasonably pissed at having his face sliced wide.
Phae held her hand out for Tully. “Me and the girl have our own plans, but thanks for the offer.” Tully rose and locked her hand into Phae’s, backing up behind her as Phae kept an eye on the men while they made for the stairs. “Run. Don’t look back.” She whispered to her, and Tully’s eyes went wide.
“Go.” Phae gave her a shove, and Tully gasped, bolting down the stairs as fast as she could manage barefoot.
The inn was strangely empty as she came down into the lobby, and burst through the door—right into the arms of yet another set of thugs. Struggling, kicking, screaming, Tully was thrown into the back of a carriage, and the door was slammed. Pressing her face through the bars, she tried to strike out at her assailants, missing as she swung blindly.
“PHAE!” She screamed, shaking the door violently as she wrapped both hands around the bars. “Phaedra, run!”
Spinning around as she heard the screaming, Phae made a beeline down the stairs, pursued by three of the four. Bursting through the lobby door, she came out fighting, unsure exactly who she was hitting or where her fists were landing, but their captors were just falling out of the way, only to spring up again to stop her. Finally, she reached the carriage, and threw the lock, opening the door to get Tully, but found herself shoved in and the lock thrown behind her.
“No! Fuck!” she screamed, pounding at the door. Chest heaving, she looked to Tully on her backside on the floor, and swept some fallen hair out of her own eyes. “What the hell is this all about?” She asked, and Tully shook his head.
“I don’t know… I… I have no idea. They burst in… and had me by the hair… I… I didn’t get any explanation.” She noted, shaking as she hugged her knees.
Phae plopped beside her as the carriage lurched into motion, and pulled her close. “Whatever this is… we’ll be fine.”
Tully wasn’t so sure.