Blueberries and Other Sweet Things

  • Kaidan awoke to sunbeams. He unglued his eyes and lay against his pillow, absently scratching his chest. Something niggled at him through the fog of waking up, something urgent and worrisome and not quite…right. But what?


    The answer came to him like a bolt— fiery skies and the woman who’d saved his life fainting in his arms— and he slid out of bed and leaned out the open window on the other side of the room, his elbows braced on the sill. The guest room he’d moved to last night faced the woods, rather than the river, and he was eager to see what damage the winds had wrought.


    He and Warnulf had walked the grounds carrying lanterns after the storm had finally moved on—and after he’d checked his sword and armor were still whole—and inspected the livestock and gardens, but it was too dark to see more than a few feet in front of them at a time.


    The light of day told the tale.


    Several trees had fallen across the road, and Kaidan thought he could see some damage to the roof of the stable and the shed Warnulf used for smithing and woodwork.


    Chill morning wind licked across his chest and shivers prickled the back of his neck. It wouldn’t last long, he thought, glaring at the orange ball of sun peeking through the forest’s slim birch trunks. He backed up against the bed and tugged on his too-tight leggings, and shimmied into his tunic and boots without popping any stitches, and tiptoed toward the kitchen.


    The room was dark but for embers glowing in the back of the oven. Kaidan wasn’t surprised—he didn’t expect Livia to wake for a while. She’d fainted, first off, and even though she insisted nothing was wrong…


    I never faint, she’d snapped, her voice indignant and muzzy at the same time.


    Kaiden chuffed quietly and padded through the kitchen. He found a half-loaf of bread—rosemary scented—and a large bowl of blueberries, and sat at the table. Maybe Livia hadn’t fainted before last night, but Kaidan knew what he’d seen.


    And felt, a tiny voice piped up. Kaidan popped a few blueberries into his mouth and chewed, trying to banish the voice from his mind, and everything it conjured. It was no use, of course. She’d fainted in his arms. At the time, Kaidan hadn’t thought a thing about it. How could he? He had no idea what ailed her, after all. He’d caught her, prevented her from smacking her head on the wooden floor, but as far as he knew, the danger hadn’t passed. What sort of cad took advantage of a situation like that, he didn’t want to know.


    But now, thinking about it so long after the fact, he couldn’t help but remember how close he’d held her, and how she felt in his arms. Soft and fragile, which was only a surprise given his own view of Livia. She’d saved his life. Pulled him out of that prison, killed the guards holding him captive, and made it back home. And somehow made it seem like no big deal, like it was all part of a day’s work.


    And perhaps it was. Kaidan knew little of Livia’s daily work, but he knew she had the right of it—she wasn’t a woman who fainted.


    Yet, she had. And the nightmares that had plagued her after she’d finally gone to bed hadn’t allowed for any sort of restorative sleep. He’d checked on her the first couple of times he’d awoken to her moans and short, gasping screams. But she seemed fine—as fine as she could be, given the situation—and didn’t awaken.


    No, he didn’t expect Livia to rise before noon, at the earliest. And if she did, he thought, finishing his slice of bread and a few more berries, he had half a mind to tuck her back into bed, himself.


    Kaidan brushed his hands off on his leggings, and tiptoed through the darkness and opened the door. Sunlight bounced off the river and scorched his eyes. He shaded them, and listened to that humming plant Livia grew in her garden. No, the plant hadn’t hummed—it chimed.


    Kaidan walked softly across the porch and leaned over the railing. Livia knelt among what looked like lavender and rosemary and some sort of claw-branched bush, yanking at weeds and tossing leaves and tiny branches over the garden’s river-rock border. And she hummed.


    “Good morning.”


    Livia straightened and turned toward the house, angling one gloved hand over her brow like a visor. “Morning,” she returned, and clambered to her feet.


    “No,” Kaidan said, and lifted his palm, “don’t get up, I was just—“


    “Nonsense,” Livia said. “Now that you’re up, I can make breakfast. I didn’t want to make noise, before, and wake you.” She stood below the railing and peeled off her gloves. “How are you feeling?”


    Kaidan huffed and peered down into red-rimmed eyes. The woman had no business being awake, but now that he was confronted with her not-so-soft and not-at-all-fragile bearing, he didn’t feel confident about chiding her back into bed. “I’m not the one who fainted last night. I should be asking how you are.”


    “Irrelevant. Who’s the healer, here?” Livia trudged up the porch steps. “I ask the questions.” She tilted Kaidan’s chin up and lay two fingers just under his jaw, pausing for a few seconds before gently pressing her fingers into his skin.


    Kaidan squirmed while she repeated the motion on the other side of his neck. “I’m fine,” he said.


    Livia smiled a weary smile and placed the back of her hand over his forehead and slid it over his temples. “That’s exactly what I was going to say, only my opinion counts.” She yawned and stretched her arms over her head and bent to rest her elbows on the railing. “So,” she said, staring down into the garden, “will you be leaving today?”


    Kaidan blinked. He could leave. He could take his armor and sword and get back to what he was doing before the Dominion bastards found him. He’d not thought about it, not thought about his plans, now that he was free and healthy. But then again, he’d been busy yesterday. “Do you need me to leave?”


    “I don’t need your room for anything, no,” she said, after a pause, “but I thought after what you said last night, you’d be eager to get going.”


    “I might have done, if not for all that wind. But you’ve seen the road,” he said, jerking his thumb toward the back of the house. “Every road in the Rift is bound to be as bad, or worse.”


    Livia didn’t respond. Across the yard, a door slammed, and Warnulf stomped back toward his shed, his axe slung over his shoulder. “I’ll make myself useful and help clear,” Kaidan said, and tied his hair back at the nape of his neck with a leather thong he’d found in his pocket. Livia straightened and frowned. “And there’s no need to make breakfast, not for me at least. I had some bread and blueberries before I came out.”


    Livia narrowed her eyes. “You ate the blueberries?”


    “Not…not all of them,” Kaidan stammered, and felt a warm flush rising from his neck to his cheeks. “I can pick more.”


    “You should,” Livia said, but her face softened into another smile, one not quite so weary. “I promise, it’ll be worth your while.”


    Livia sat at her desk by the kitchen window and chewed the end of her quill. She’d made no headway on her letter to J’Zargo, mostly because she wasn’t sure what to say. The more she thought about last night’s storm, the more convinced she was that anything unnatural or eerie or…strange… was simply a product of her imagination. She felt silly even asking. Say, did you happen to see a storm over the Rift on the night of the second? All the way from Winterhold?


    She could imagine his response. J’Zargo does not understand the point of questions about weather. It is hot, it is cold. Can this one use magic to change it? No. Best ignore it.   


    Or something to that effect. He’d be more interested in a report on her success using his storm cloaking scrolls, but Livia wasn’t ready to put her experience with the Thalmor to parchment, not just yet. She yawned and slowly rolled her neck to the right and back to the left. She’d not slept well, and likely had no business writing letters until she had the brain power to string two coherent sentences together anyway.


    Footsteps pounded up the stairs.




    Livia bit the end of her quill and grimaced, spitting out a bit of chewed reed. Part of her hoped he’d change his mind about leaving. Hoped she’d look up from her garden and there he’d be with his sword and armor in a pack on his back. A wave, and off he’d go.


    But he’d stayed, and she’d watched him work with Warnulf, swinging an axe like a man who hadn’t spent the last week flat on his back. She worried about his health, that was all.


    That was all.


    He’d picked more blueberries after lunch—a lunch he’d spent with Warnulf under a tree near the bunkhouse— and she pictured his face as he’d handed up the bowl. Here you go, he’d said, and smiled, his red eyes vibrant as poppies in the sun.


    Only in his voice, the words had come out more like ‘ere ya goo.


    She couldn’t do it justice, of course—his voice. And he’d called her beautiful, last night. Byoo-ifuw, she mouthed, and the corners of her mouth twitched. “Din-nah,” she said out loud. No, that still wasn’t right. She pursed her lips a bit more and tried again. “Noo. Wooh-man.” And then she swallowed and bit her lip. A tiny giggle escaped. “Fook.”


    The door opened and Kaidan walked in. Livia felt a hot blush crawl from her chest all the way to her hairline, and she looked down at her letter and tucked it into her desk drawer. She fumbled with the lock and took a deep breath before finally looking up.


    He watched her with an odd look on his face, she thought, but as soon as she noticed it, it was gone, replaced by a smile. And he carried a lumpy stack of what looked like clothing. “What do you have there,” Livia asked, motioning with her head toward the bundle in his arms.


    “Warnulf gave them to me. He said he’d been cleaning out his closets?” Kaidan gave the pile a little shake. “Not sure when he had the time.”


    Livia laughed and rose to inspect the leggings and tunics. She even spied a cloak folded on top. “Warnulf approves of you, I think,” she said, looking up at him with what she hoped was a playful smile in a face free of blush. “So that’s what hours and hours of hard work under the steaming sun will get you. If you’re working with a crusty Nord, at least.”


    Kaidan chuffed. “Really? He didn’t seem that thrilled with my company. I thought he wanted me to leave, matter of fact.”


    “Nope.” Livia shrugged and walked quickly into the kitchen. “In Warnulf’s language, I think he’s just invited you to stay. Forever, possibly,” she called over her shoulder.


    Livia picked up a wide wooden paddle next to the oven and slid it inside, jiggling it underneath her crostata. She flicked at the crust with a neatly-trimmed nail. Flaky and perfect, she judged, and pulled the crostata out of the oven to rest on the stone countertop.


    “Warnulf might just get his wish.” Kaidan sniffed the air and ambled over to lean against the wall. “I own it’s tough to leave, with a sight like that in the kitchen.”


    Livia’s back stiffened, and she kept her eyes on her pastry. “It’s…it’s just chicken crostata,” she stammered, sprinkling chopped rosemary over its bubbling middle. “Be ready in a bit.”


    She turned on her heel and stooped to collect a large jug from under the table, looping its handle around her arm. “Can you do me a little favor,” she began, but when she tried to stand back up, she stumbled. The room was spinning, and she grabbed onto the back of a chair.


    The clothes Kaidan carried hit the ground with a soft plop, and he closed the distance between them in one long stride. “There.” He turned the chair around and lowered her gently into it. He took the jug and poured a tankard of watered wine and pressed into her hand. “You’re tired,” he said, and squatted next to her chair. Seams popped in his leggings and he rolled his eyes and muttered. “At least I have new clothes for tomorrow. But you…you didn’t sleep well last night. Are you feeling alright?”


    Livia looked at him sideways. “How do you know that?”


    “I didn’t sleep well either. I heard you,” he said softly. “Sounded like a hell of a nightmare.”


    Fire and smoke and something black and huge roared in her head. “No,” she said, heaving a heavy exhale. “I mean, yes, I-it was a nightmare, but it’s fine. I’m fine.” She took a sip of wine and swiped at her face. “It’s hot in here…”


    Kaidan looked around the room and ran to open the window over her lab table. “This’ll get a cross-breeze from the river, at least. But—“


    “I know, not much we can do but eat dinner outside,” she said, rising from the chair and holding her hands out in protest when Kaidan rushed back to her side. “I’m fine. And anyway, about that favor…”


    Kaidan shrugged. “What do you need?”


    “Just a moment,” she said, and walked back to the kitchen. The blueberry crostata she’d assembled for dessert rested on the far countertop, ready for the heat. She wiggled her paddle under it and transferred it to the hot stone oven. “Could you watch this while I go get fresh water? I don’t want it to burn.”


    Kaidan was grinning when she turned around. “Is that dessert?”


    “Another crostata. Blueberry,” she said, and felt her own smile spread across her face in return. “I told you I’d make it worth your while.”


    “In that case,” Kaidan said, pulling her chair into the kitchen and picking up the jug from where he’d left it on the floor, “you should stay here and I’ll get the water myself.”


    Me-self, Livia replayed in her head, and tried to keep her smile from growing.


    Kaidan grabbed the door handle and hesitated, winking over his shoulder. “Apparently, I can’t be trusted around delicious things.”

    I *might* have done the same thing, trying to copy Kaidan's voice and failing miserably. Just part of my life-long love affair with all British accents. 





4 Comments   |   Paws and 1 other like this.
  • The Sunflower Manual
    The Sunflower Manual   ·  August 8, 2019
    Looooved the way that Liv tries to do the accent. I think everyone's tried to do an accent at least once in their lives and the best part was when he walks in on her. Everyone's probably had someone walk in on them while they were doing something embarras...  more
    • ilanisilver
      The Sunflower Manual
      The Sunflower Manual
      The Sunflower Manual
      Looooved the way that Liv tries to do the accent. I think everyone's tried to do an accent at least once in their lives and the best part was when he walks in on her. Everyone's probably had someone walk in on them while they were doing something embarras...  more
        ·  August 8, 2019
      Right??? So many embarrassing things. 
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  August 7, 2019
    “You should,” Livia said, but her face softened into another smile, one not quite so weary. “I promise, it’ll be worth your while.” You know, Kaidan's secretly gutted all he got was a blueberry crostata.
    This was an enjoyable chapter, really like...  more
    • ilanisilver
      “You should,” Livia said, but her face softened into another smile, one not quite so weary. “I promise, it’ll be worth your while.” You know, Kaidan's secretly gutted all he got was a blueberry crostata.
      This was an enjoyable chapter, really liked Liv'...  more
        ·  August 7, 2019
      They’re both sort of...inexperienced in this whole thing. They feel things they don’t think they should feel—this bond, and some attraction. And they’re fighting it a bit because obviously they know he’s going to leave. And she’s his doctor, for all that’...  more