Tower of Dawn Page 43

That was what awaited her back home.

Not now—she would not think about this now, with him here. Fretting about it, reminding him of what he must face, what might be sweeping down upon his friends as they sat here … Not helpful. To either of them.

So Yrene sat there on the rug, forcing her trembling to abate with each deep breath she inhaled through her nose and out her mouth, letting her magic settle and refill within her as she calmed her mind. Letting Lord Chaol pant on the couch behind her, neither of them saying a word.

No, this would not be a usual healing.

But perhaps delaying her return, remaining here to heal him for however long it took … There might be others like him on those battlefields—suffering from similar injuries. Learning to face this now, however harrowing … Yes, this delay might turn fruitful. If she could stomach, if she could endure, that darkness again. Find some way to shatter it.

Go where you fear to tread.

Indeed.

Her eyes drifted closed. At some point, the servant girl had come back with the ingredients Yrene had invented. Had taken one look at them and vanished.

It had been hours ago. Days ago.

Hunger was a tight knot in her belly—a strangely mortal feeling compared to the hours spent attacking that blackness, only half aware of the hand she’d placed on his back, of the screaming that came from him every time her magic shoved against that wall.

He had not once asked her to stop. Had not begged for reprieve.

Shaking fingers brushed her shoulder. “Are … you …” Each of his words was a burnt rasp. She’d have to get him peppermint tea with honey. She should call to the servant—if she could remember to speak. Muster the voice herself. “… all right?”

Yrene cracked her eyelids open as his hand settled on her shoulder. Not from any affection or concern, but because she had a feeling that the exhaustion lay so heavily upon him that he couldn’t move it again.

And she was drained enough that she couldn’t muster the strength to brush off that touch, as she’d done earlier. “I should ask you if you’re all right,” she managed to say, voice raw. “Anything?”

“No.” The sheer lack of emotion behind the word told her enough of his thoughts, his disappointment. He paused for a few heartbeats before he repeated, “No.”

She closed her eyes again. This could take weeks. Months. Especially if she did not find some way to shove back that wall of darkness.

She tried and failed to move her legs. “I should get you—”

“Rest.”

The hand tightened on her shoulder.

“Rest,” he said again.

“You’re done for the day,” she said. “No additional exercise—”

“I mean—you. Rest.” Each word was labored.

Yrene dragged her stare toward the large clock in the corner. Blinked once. Twice.

Five.

They had been here for five hours—

He had endured it all that time. Five hours of this agony—

The thought alone had her drawing up her legs. Groaning as she braced a hand on the low-lying table and rallied her strength, pushing up, up, until she was standing. Weaving on her feet, but—standing.

His arms slid beneath him, the muscles of his bare back rippling as he tried to push himself up. “Don’t,” she said.

He did so anyway. The considerable muscles in his arms and chest did not fail him as he shoved upward, until he was sitting. Staring at her, glassy-eyed.

Yrene rasped, “You need—tea.”

“Kadja.”

The name was little more than a push of breath.

The servant immediately appeared. Too quickly.

Yrene studied her closely as the girl slipped in. She’d been listening. Waiting.

Yrene did not bother to smile as she said, “Peppermint tea. Lots of honey.”

Chaol added, “Two of them.”

Yrene gave him a look, but sank onto the couch beside him. The cushions were slightly damp—with his sweat, she realized as she saw it gleaming on the contours of his bronzed chest.

She shut her eyes—just for a moment.

She didn’t realize it was far longer than that until Kadja was setting two delicate teacups before them, a small iron kettle steaming in the center of the table. The woman poured generous amounts of honey into both, and Yrene’s mouth was too dry, tongue too heavy, to bother telling her to stop or she’d make them ill from the sweetness.

The servant stirred both in silence, then handed the first cup to Chaol.

He merely passed it to Yrene.

She was too tired to object as she wrapped her hands around it, trying to rally the strength to raise it to her lips.

He seemed to sense it.

He told Kadja to leave his cup on the table. Told her to go.

Yrene watched as through a distant window while Chaol took her cup and lifted it to her lips.

She debated shoving his hand out of her face.

Yes, she’d work with him; no, he was not the monster she’d initially suspected he’d be, not in the way she’d seen men be; but letting him this close, letting him tend to her like this …

“You can either drink it,” he said, his voice a low growl, “or we can sit like this for the next few hours.”

She slid her eyes to him. Found his stare to be level—clear, despite the exhaustion.

She said nothing.

“So, that’s the line,” Chaol murmured, more to himself than her. “You can stomach helping me, but I can’t return the favor. Or can’t do anything that steps beyond your idea of what—who I am.”

He was more astute than most people likely gave him credit for.

She had a feeling the hardness in his rich brown eyes was mirrored in her own.

“Drink.” Pure command laced his voice—a man used to being obeyed, to giving orders. “Resent me all you want, but drink the damn thing.”

And it was the faint kernel of worry in his eyes …

A man used to being obeyed, yes, but a man also inclined to care for others. Look after them. Driven to do it by a compulsion he couldn’t leash, couldn’t train out of him. Couldn’t have broken out of him.

Yrene parted her lips, a silent yielding.

Gently, he set the porcelain teacup against her mouth and tipped it for her.

She sipped once. He murmured in encouragement. She did so again.

So tired. She had never been so tired in her life—

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