Kassia allows Xander to dress her wounds. While he does, he takes note of his friend's scars, old and new - and thinks about their stories.
This scene was in my outlines for a chapter in the novel, but somehow I ended up writing it ahead of time and before the chapter itself. Maybe because it's one of the scenes I pictured so vividly from the planning period.
Now it's here, because I think it can stand alone pretty well on its own. ^-^)
Xander knew Kassia's scars more than Enda does. Maybe he knew them even more than Kassia herself does. It wasn't that he asked, or that he meddled. It was just that he was the one to see them first - as fresh wounds - and he was the one to try to heal most of them.
Among the four of their band, Xander was the one whose goal was to not let the wounds scar.
He hated scars.
He hated the scars on his face for years, because he didn't like remember that once, he had been hurt simply because of who he was.
Scars on his patients, however, he almost took too personally. Those scars meant that there had been damage he couldn't fully repair.
When he met Kassia, she was seventeen and he was barely fifteen. She was the stupid girl who claimed to be a "hunter" and took the job that no one else in the village wanted, just to earn some grub and coin for the road. She came back with a loss and a bleeding arm on her first day.
He healed her.
Because he was the boy who claimed to be a healer, simply because he wanted to and he knew some stuff. He tried to patch her up as best as he could.
Back then, he remembered saying, "This will scar. I'm sorry." - because the real healers should have special concoctions with them that healed wounds quicker and prevented scars - and what does he have? A handmade excuse of a healing ointment, and some weak healing spell that he saved for emergencies because he didn't want to rely on his natural powers.
But what the girl simply said was "Oh, nice. A souvenir."
He had wanted to check if she'd been hit in the head, too.
Over the years, he had always said, "This will scar." - leaving the apology behind as they went on, because he knew that she didn't mind. She was gaining another medal.
He had healed Aoife and Enda too. They didn't mind the scars (because of course Enda was Enda, resilient, quiet and accepting, while Aoife already had all those tattoos, so scars were just another decor) - but those were few. Among the four of them, Kassia was the one with the hero complex - the one who got wounded the most, who almost always emerged the bloodiest.
Over the years, Xander has learned to accept the scars more - he still hated them, but it stung less these days. Maybe because he barely saw his "girls" after they all parted ways. Maybe it was because he didn't see the scars as often.
When he does see them, however, he realizes all over again just how many wounds he had healed, not even counting the ones that didn't leave marks.
Like now, as Kassia walked down the stairs wearing one of the robes he lent her, yawning as she made her way towards him. "Hey."
"Hey." He didn't look up from his desk. He was writing about the new medicine he was trying to make. Despite his inattention to his companion, though, he knew that she had the urge to stir the mixture in the beaker sitting on his desk, so he quickly said, "Don't. Touch. Anything. Please."
He heard her laugh lowly, then felt a familiar hand ruffling his blond hair. "Still such a grumpy old maid, I see."
"I just don't want the latest product of my research ruined by some bored old woman." he grumbled.
"40 is not old."
"Is too." He said, then finally looked up at her. "Why're you not asleep yet? You spent the whole day getting sliced by trolls."
He wasn't kidding. He had asked her to come over to the village he was currently staying in simply to let her solve the local ‘troll problem'. He simply wanted someone to scare the nasty trolls away and get it to their big heads that they should just stay in the mountains, away from the townspeople and their crops - and that was her thing.
Kassia came, saw and conquered, but returned all bloody. So besides troll blood which takes ages to come off from clothes, there was also her blood to take care of.
She scratched her head awkwardly. "I was about to, but when I was heading to the bedroom you very very very kindly lent us, I heard laughing and giggles so I think I should leave my son and his friend alone for a while."
"Ah." he nodded, understanding quickly. "Young love."
By sheer coincidence, Page, on an errand for Enda under Spellhall, happened to be on the town when his other mother arrived. He was with a companion, and Xander simply didn't have enough room in his little rented house to accommodate two teens and his old friend and still spare them privacy.
"I'm an awkward parent." Kassia sighed. "And here you are, a single man. We're both lonely tonight, I guess." The woman grabbed a chair to sit down while she watched him work.
"Do I really look that lonely?" he asked absently, still scribbling on parchment.
"No, it's just me insisting. You look like you always do."
"And what is that?"
She rolled her eyes. "Busy."
He chuckled, then glanced at the woman to see her stretching like a cat. She yawned shortly before turning back to him. His eyes were back to his work by the time she said, "What time do you go to bed these days?"
"Don't worry, I'll be done in a few."
"You know, if it's awkward being in the same room while your son and his friend are making out, you can always take the couch."
"And you call yourself a gentleman."
He grunted. "I'd offer you my bed but I won't be showering before sleep and you'll probably say I stink."
"Well then, you take the couch."
"No way, I like my bed."
"Then you go shower, so we can live with each other without bothering the kids."
"What about you be a parent for once and walk in on them."
"That's Enda." Kassia argued. "I'm the mom who stays out of sight. She's the mom who walks in on the kids going at it."
"Yeah, believe it."
Really, though. They both didn't want to disturb Page and Shai. The two youngsters may be unexpected guests, but both of them liked seeing Page, and Shai was a pleasant surprise.
They remained silent for a while before Xander put down his pen and finally sighed. He took off his glasses to rub his eyes, trying to free up some strain.
"All done?" Kassia asked, peering closely at him.
"Yes." he answered, then put his glasses back on. "Now, it's your turn. Time for a check-up."
"What?" she asked, blinking. "I'm fine, though."
He rolled his sleeves up. "Not when the medicine comes off, very soon. Let's replace those bandages while you can still sit up."
"Aw. Okay." she relented quickly enough, pulling her chair with her as she positioned herself to sit with her back facing the doctor while he took out his medical kit and set it on a stool beside him. As soon as she settled, she let him help him slip the robe off her, revealing the woman wearing nothing but the aforementioned bandages and black shorts. Xander assessed his patient shortly, surveying the bandages wrapped around her belly before slowly unwrapping them.
Kassia's nakedness didn't faze him, not after all these years. This was his profession, there was no room for that, even though she once told him that he was the only healer she'd give full access to her bare skin.
He looked at her stitched side. It looked much better than it did before he bandaged it earlier that afternoon. The deal with the trolls was something he thought would go by without a hitch. He didn't expect them to be so many as to tire her out. He wished he had gone with her. He might not be that great of a help, but he knew that he could have lent a hand.
Or sometimes, he just simply missed their adventures.
"Does it still hurt?", he asked, rolling out a fresh length of bandages.
"It stings. I've had worse." was all she answered.
"I know." he said. Inwardly, he added, ‘I was there.'
He was there when she had the worst.
He applied a healing balm to her wound with his bare hands. Any normal healer would have worn gloves and used tools, but Xander wasn't a normal healer. It should hurt - or sting at least - how he touched the barely healing stitches, but Kassia felt the subtle and familiar pulse of magic from her companion's fingers.
She sighed as he withdrew his hand from her back and then wiped the balm off with a towel. "It feels a lot better."
She knew that Xander rarely used his healing magic, instead usually relying on more traditional medicine, so she considers it a privelege when he does.
"Good thing you didn't make it explode, huh?"
Kassia paused, then looked sideways at the table to see the strange concoction on the beaker… which was, without a doubt, sitting nearer to them now.
"Did you just test that thing on me?"
"Yeah, it's supposed to complement my healing magic and I think it's working-"
"No no no no - I mean, you used an unknown… weird… thingy. On my fresh wounds."
"Fuck - are you sure that gross green slime is legit?"
"Don't worry, I wouldn't have tried it on anyone if I thought it had side effects."
"You better be telling the truth."
"Believe me, if I wanted to kill you, I'd have done better." he said, sighing as he started wrapping the stitched wound with fresh bandages.
"Good." she simply said, relaxing again. "Hey, will you do the healing thing for me?"
"The massage thing you do with your magic hands or whatever."
"Ah, that." He frowned. It was too troublesome, and he was tired. But when did he say no to Kassia when she was actually volunteering to be healed? "Alright, but only for a little bit."
She nodded, tucking her hands in front of her to give him full access to her back.
He breathed deeply and cracked his knuckles, then concentrated his magic on his palms before pressing his hands to her shoulders. He rubbed slowly, causing her to relax considerably before he moved to applying the magic to her sides. She sighed, liking the feeling - it was a technique he originally developed for her - for Kassia and Aoife anyway, who were the brute-force half of their band of four. They put so much strain on their bodies and sometimes he had to do something to rejuvenate them in a way.
He always found himself studying her scars when he does this. Signs of stitches, gashes, burns littered over her once pristine white skin. He wondered if, when they lay together, Enda sometimes did the same. Did Enda ever spent time just looking at her wife's scars?
As his hands reached Kassia's waist, he found himself looking at a scar he remembered very well. It used to be a stitched up wound that ran diagonally from her waist to her hip - a gash that Kassia got while protecting Enda. It was the first nasty wound Xander had to deal with - but Kassia would gladly take however many more of the same wounds for Enda, anyway. They all know that. He remembered it clearly, when he stood up after patching his friend up, only to be greeted by Enda's crying face - "Will she be okay?"
Xander also remembered his answer. "Only if you will be."
At the present, he lifted his hand from Kassia's waist and then proceeded to give her arm some light squeezes. Kassia chuckled a bit - her upper arm has always been ticklish. They always had a hard time when he tried to heal anything on those parts.
"Behave." he said. Kassia simply stifled her laughter, causing him to sigh.
He stared at the three long lines that ran down her left arm. Even now, when it was just a mere scar, the scratch still had a faint red-purple tinge to it.
A vicious beast with poison claws, Aoife's life on the line, Kassia swooping in heroically despite everything. The two girls had a fight earlier that day. Enda couldn't do anything, but by the end of the day, it was Aoife screaming at Kassia to "Live - don't you dare die on me, we still gotta finish that fight!" - while Enda silently teared up and Xander struggled to rid Kassia's body of the poison. He barely made it. Had the poison been a little bit faster, they would have lost one of their own.
"Is something wrong with that arm? You're taking an awful lotta time on it, man."
"Oh." He said, quickly withdrawing. "Sorry. Was thinking. I'm done here. Turn around."
She turned around easily, smiling a relaxed, but teasing smile. "You know you're the only man who gets to touch my boobs, right?"
"You know I'm a doctor, right?" he deadpanned, bringing his hands to touch her collarbones, then to the swell of her breasts.
After that, his hands rested by her ribs, on the right side of which was another deep scar. She got stabbed there - for Enda, again. Kassia has a knack of getting her blood shed for the team.
She was just reckless like that.
He skipped her belly as it was still bandaged, then he brought his hands down to lift one of her legs and hefted it on his lap.
"Yay! Favorite part!" the woman said childishly.
He raised an eyebrow and smirked at her. "Seriously?"
"Why, what's your favorite part?"
He snorted. "The breasts." - then he quickly avoided the incoming swat at the back of his head. "I'm kidding."
"No, seriously. What's yours?"
"The wrist." he answered absently, massaging the woman's thigh. "I can feel the pulse well in there."
She nodded, smiling fondly. "That's sappy."
"I know." he said, then stopped speaking when he looked down at the woman's bare leg.
"Then… least favorite part?" she asked.
"This part." he answered quickly - too honestly.
"Because I see this." he said, looking down at the very visible burn scar that ran from the woman's left thigh down to her leg.
"It's just a scar, Xandy." Kassia chuckled.
"Yes. A scar, which used to be a wound. A burn. A massive, painful burn."
She got that burn protecting him. It was almost irreparable, and she suffered for days, the burn making her reel in pain, with a fever adding to her suffering. That was the hardest Xander worked - it was the worst that Kassia had endured.
"It's all better now." she insisted.
"Doesn't mean it was never my fault you got it." he said, frowning deeply as he tried to brush off the memories of him trying all that he could to ease her pain back then, coming up with nothing. It wasn't even a matter of being a better healer for him then - it was a matter of being strong enough to protect himself so she wouldn't have had to save him.
He was cut off from his thoughts when two arms wrapped loosely around his shoulders and Kassia pulled him closer to press her lips into his cheek before tucking his head on the crook of her bare shoulder. "You did a good job patching me up just fine. You always do."
It was an awkward position. She was hugging him, his head pressed sideways to her shoulder while he still had her leg in his grasp, on his lap.
She didn't seem to have noticed it when he squeezed her leg just a little bit tighter and leaned closer to her warm touch.
Kassia seldom saw Xander as vulnerable as this. He was not a fighter, but she never really saw him as fragile either. But maybe she should have seen back then just how hard simply healing them was for him. Yet, he managed to keep it in. He was reliable like that.
He was the youngest on the team, but when it came down to it, he was indeed always the one they counted on to patch them up - fix them until they're almost good as new.
"Your hair. And that new scar on your back. What happened?"
Because when she arrived, the first thing he noticed was that her hair was cut short, only reaching her shoulders, when in all the years he'd known her, her brown hair always went down to her waist. Besides that, there was a scar on her back that he was sure he had never seen before.
He noticed how her hold on him tightened, how she seemed to bury her face in his hair.
"A job. I almost died."
"When don't you almost die?"
Xander withdrew and she looked up at him. She ran a hand through her hair and stopped just above her shoulders. "Does short hair look good on me?"
He shrugged, bringing his hands down from her leg to her ankle. "You look less like the immature girl I know you are."
"I look more like a woman!" she said proudly.
"That, yes. Although you don't act much like one."
She pouted, then watched as he massaged her ankles and foot. "I was really scared, you know."
"Good. You still have some sanity in you."
"I almost didn't make it, and there's no healer better than you."
"I almost gave up, but I managed to think of five things I have to finish before I die."
He chuckled. That was Kassia's survival strategy. She always came up with her infamous Five Things in life-threatening situations.
"Of course you did." he said, encouraging her to continue.
"One." she started. "I can't die yet - I still owe Aoife one last hunting trip!"
"Of course you do." - after that ‘one last hunting trip', they'll have another. They'll always have another.
"Two - I promised Enda I'll come home."
That promise is never broken, no matter how many years it takes.
"Three - I told myself that I won't die until Page gives me a grandkid!"
Xander chuckled. Well, if Shai would be willing, and if the two are always left alone like now, then that grandkid ought to come sooner rather than later.
"Four - I have to pay the fucker back for cutting my long beautiful hair."
But of course.
"Five - I wanna experience your miracle massage again."
He shook his head, taking her other leg for the final part of his so-called miracle massage. "And how're you doing about that list so far?"
"It's cool." She shrugged. "Two out of five. Maybe when I get back home I can convince Enda to go visit Falconport and terrorize Aoife."
"Go do that."
"Should I go with you? You old women might break your backs or something."
He avoided the incoming punch well, then laughed as the woman went on a tirade on how 40 isn't old and how she'll make sure to tell Aoife and Enda about what he said.
As they argued, he finally let go of her and helped her slip back into the robe she borrowed from him.
It was a nice, cool, silent night.
Kassia stood up and told him to go take a shower if he wants to share her bed (‘My bed.' he corrected. ‘This is my place.'). She insisted on leaving Page and Shai alone (‘Maybe they're trying to do #3 in my list right now!') as she left to head for bed.
Xander simply shook his head, sighed and cleaned up his desk.
Later, Kassia complained that he was stinky, but they both fell asleep next to each other fine anyway.
Xander didn't mean it - he does agree that 40 is not old - he's just bitter that they baby him after all these years. So he resorts to calling them grandmas. Just baby brother things. ;v;)/