How to Deal with Snappers
By Gabi-hime (pinkfluffynet )
A/N: Short piece set shortly before Gabriel finishes her apprenticeship. Gabriel is mine, Duriel is Ali's, and you'll want .org for the errata. This is HW fluff. Rags will surely make sure they get detention over it.
Summary: After the Mao game, Gabriel and Duriel have a moment (tm). Also Gabriel is mauled by an animal.
The full moon hung heavy in the sky, so low, she fancied she could almost touch it, so she stretched high on her toes and spread her fingers wide, but they caught nothing but air. He paused at the crossing of two of the paved stone paths and looked back at her, clearly ready to be on his way. She settled back on the ball of her feet and then cocked her head just slightly to the side and then giggled.
She skipped forward, past him, and took the left path. He did not move.
"Gabriel, you're going the wrong way."
She paused a good fifteen feet down the pathway and looked back at him over her shoulder very candidly, "No, I'm not."
"I'm taking you home."
She wriggled her toes inside her boots and nodded, "Oh, I know. It's just that I have an important errand to run before I go home."
"It'll only take a minute, I promise, then you'll be rid of me," she promised, and before he could say another word, she was off down the path again, and this time she did not stop to look back, trusting that she had played well and right.
The wood of the little pier was solid oak, steady under her feet as she kicked off her boots, toeing the grain of the worn wood as she wriggled out of her tunic and dropped it on top of her boots. His heavy step announced his presence on the shore end of the pier just as she was dropping her bracelet into her boot.
"Gabriel, what do you think you're doing?" he asked, caught somewhere, she thought, between surprise and aggravation. More of the latter than the former. Oh well.
"Going swimming," she said pleasantly, straightening her skivvies, and then before he could say another word she was in the water, a quiet splash to mark her passing. She heard his tread follow her out to the end of the pier and she kicked away from it. The water was so shallow that close that it barely came to her waist. She settled where it was just deep enough for her to tread water.
"It's March, Gabriel, and after dark. Get out of the water."
"But Master Duriel, there are no rules about not swimming in March, and water is the same whether the sun is up or down. Sometimes a swim is just nice," she attempted reasoning. It wasn't as if she expected him to come swimming. It wasn't even as if he had to stay there on the pier. He could go home whenever he wanted.
"Get out of the water," he repeated himself, and she could hear that he was cross, "That's an order, apprentice."
She kicked obediently over to the pier and propped her chin up on the wooden ladder that was nailed to the side, "I have a name, you know."
"I don't particularly care to use it at the moment."
And then she was all eyes blue black in the moonlight, blue black like the water she was still in, up to her waist, "You don't really mean that, do you Kingfisher?"
He was silent, and for a moment, just looked at her. The moon was behind him, and this made it hard to read his face, so she wasn't sure if he was ready to collar her and haul her off to detention or not.
"Besides, I'm per -" the rest of her statement was cut off as she felt something brush by her foot and her eyes went round, "Master Duriel, there's - " her warning did not manage to assemble itself and make it out of her mouth before something that burned like fire clamped down on the soft flesh at the bottom of her right foot and she found the only sound that came out of her mouth was a sharp cry of pain that irrupted half strangled from her throat. She gasped once, a cry that turned into a whimper and then he was on his knees and his hands were on her shoulders and then under her arms and he was hauling her out of the water and onto the pier, and hauling it with her.
It still hurt rather terribly, and she couldn't help another sob as it rose in her throat, despite how she tried to bury it, fisting up a handful of his sash, leaning hard against him. He sat her down on the pier gently and then his hands were on her ankle, the top of her foot there the thing was. She gritted her teeth together and tried not to think what it might be.
"It's a turtle," he said shortly, and she was so surprised that she scrambled forward, quite into his lap to see, for a moment, surprise getting the better of the pain. Gabriel recognized it immediately. It was a snapping turtle, and a big one at that. She had never seen one this up close. She had never had the pleasure of one attached to her foot. The pain got to her again and she shuddered, falling back against him.
His lips were set to a line, and he tapped the turtle on the head once and then brought the slack in his coat sleeve to bear on it. She watched the single eye she could see train away from her foot and follow the sleeve. All at once it struck, like a snake and the pain in her foot dropped off. In the same motion the turtle struck, he slung it hard back into the water. She hiccuped once, twice, and then spoke,
He was not paying attention. He had her foot in his hands and was examining it, "It's deep, but it's clean. Do you have a handkerchief?"
No, she did not. She didn't usually carry them. Matron was always scolding her about it. Her hand tangled above her neck and brought down her ribbon, thick and wide, and her hair fell loose around her shoulders. She passed it to him, "Will this do?"
He grunted and took it, and she could only assume that yes, that meant it would do. He bound her foot in a few tight strokes and then asked, "Can you stand on it?"
She bit her lip and shifted her weight to it to try. She misstepped and it hurt again like the turtle was still attached to it, and tears beaded at the corners of her eyes as she grunted softly, "Yes."
"Don't lie. You're just wasting my time."
She tried again, " . . . no?"
"That's what I thought. Get dressed. We need to get you to the infirmary. Reptile bites are dangerous. It needs to be cleaned."
Well, this had not turned out the way she intended. She scrambled off of his lap and onto her knees, reaching for her tunic, and her hand came up with only air. She turned to see if maybe she'd mislaid her clothes, but there was nothing on the pier where she'd left them. Oh. Raspberries.
She found them the second she leaned over the side of the pier, floating half-heartedly in the water where they'd been thrown when he'd hauled her out, no questions asked. Well, there was nothing else for it. She squirmed into her soaked tunic and then fished her boots out of the water one at a time. Her fingers dug into both her boots, but they came up empty.
"My bracelet is gone," she observed glumly. He ignored her.
"Don't put your shoes back on. Just carry them."
And before she could ask how he proposed she go anywhere when she had trouble standing, he had scooped her up without asking and set off in the direction of the infirmary. No, this had certainly not turned out the way she had intended, but except for the fact that she had apparently aggravated the hell out of him and had gotten a deep animal bite in the process, it wasn't going that shabbily.
"This never would have happened," he said shortly, after a moment.
"If you had listened."
"But Master Duriel, I did listen. It bit me because I listened. And besides, reptiles are less likely to bite, when it's cold. They're sleepy. And they bite the same whether it's night or day. It was not a high risk situation."
"You should have had more sense."
She squirmed all at once, kicking her feet, "Master Duriel, sometimes life happens and you can't do anything to prevent it."
She frowned, "Don't call me that."
"If you don't want to be called that, don't act like one."
"I wasn't," she defended.
"You were," he said with finality and so the matter was closed.
She sighed, "Master Raziel was right. You do work yourself up in knots."
"Honestly, I do no care what Raziel says or thinks."
"What about me?" she asked timidly, he was perhaps more angry than she had previously marked him. He usually did not talk this much.
"You do not think. Hence the current situation."
"Keep your voice down. Sensible people are trying to sleep."
"Then I guess you aren't sensible either, since you've been out all night playing cards," she huffed, a little put out. Things had been going so well . . .
She had not expected that, and she laughed, squirming again, "Why, Master Duriel, could that have possibly been your sense of humor that I glimpsed for a second? I hope it didn't see its shadow, because then I may not see it again for another six weeks."
"That's better," she nodded, satisfied, and settled her forehead against his chin.
"What are you doing?"
"Getting comfortable. We still have a ways to go, so I might as well make the best of it. Am I heavy?"
" . . . no."
"Mmmm," she hummed, and then answered pleasantly, "I know."
"Then why did you ask?"
"Because," she answered simply. That you should be able to figure out yourself, genius strategist.
He was silent for a time, so she felt obliged to fill up the space.
"Master Duriel, what's your favorite color?"
" . . . I don't have a favorite color."
"Don't be silly. Everyone has a favorite color," she tugged on the sleeve of his coat, "Is red your favorite color?"
"Red is a convenient color."
"Mmm. I don't think that counts. My favorite color is green. You'd think I'd be sick of it by now, since I have green everything, as you have seen since I went swimming, but I don't mind it. I like green. It's green," she explained.
"Master Duriel, are you even listening to me?" she shivered despite herself as a chill wind caught her and he stopped and sat her momentarily on the ground.
"Listening, yes. Paying attention, no," he shrugged out of his tailcoat and handed it over and at first she was not sure what to make of this gesture. His words were short and clipped, "It won't do for you to die of pneumonia either."
"But I'll get it wet," she protested.
"It's been wet before."
"But then you'll be cold."
"I can stand it better than you can. Stop arguing."
"All right Kingfisher, all right," she took the coat and slipped into it. It was heavier than it looked, and too big. Where they stood on the walk to the infirmary she could see his face clearly and watch how his brow furrowed. He was thinking about something, and from his expression, she could only assume it was unpleasant. He was still cross with her. She sighed.
"What are you being dramatic about? I doubt seriously that you'll die from a turtle bite."
"It's not about the turtle bite."
He scooped her up again, "What about then? There can't be that much to complicate your life."
And he stumbled, and she wondered if one of his toes had caught one of the raised paving stones. He recovered himself quickly.
"Me," it was a statement and not a question.
"You needn't worry. I'm not going to punish you," he commented darkly.
"Oh, I know," she responded absently, caught up in a train of thought of her own.
"Because you stopped calling me 'apprentice,'" she explained, swinging her feet again. He was silent again, so she said thoughtfully, "Is it purple?"
"Is what purple?"
"Your favorite color," she explained patiently.
"No. No Gabriel, I can safely say that it is not purple."
"Master Raziel is purple," she said helpfully.
"Is it blue? Blue is a very pretty color."
"Is it yellow?"
"Is it orange?"
"Is it," she paused, as if unsure to continue, "Is it . . . green?"
"Oh," she could not help the slight fall in her voice. Well, that was not all that surprising. She leaned her head back on her shoulder and looked at the moon, big and bright, heavy and low. When she looked down again, they were standing in front of one of the side doors to the infirmary wing. It was dark. He sat her on her feet again and tried the door.
"Ah, but 'my door is never locked to those who bear the key,'" she quoted and produced a small toothless key from somewhere on her person.
" . . . that's a master key."
"Yes," she confirmed, unlocking the door, "It is."
"You're not supposed to have that."
"No, I'm not. But you're not going to take it away from me, Kingfisher," she laughed and palmed it again, but he caught her wrist, swift as a snake, swift as the snapping turtle had been.
"Is that so?"
"Yes?" she asked hopefully, doing her utmost to look innocent, "Besides. I can't give it up to you. That wouldn't sit right on my conscious. You might use it for nefarious purposes."
" . . . try again," he said. He still had not released her wrist, so she dropped it into his waiting palm.
"No, then. Oh, Kingfisher. You've caught me red handed then."
"Can you walk now?"
She considered it for a moment and then shook her head, "No, I think not."
"All right then," and he picked her up parcel post again. He sat her up on the table inside the door and then struck a match and lit the lamp that hung at hand. She kicked her feet as he went about gathering up what he would need to see to her foot proper.
"Why was it," she asked suddenly, "That you didn't kill the turtle?"
He did not turn around, "Do you know anything about snapping turtles?"
"No," she admitted thoughtfully, "Not really."
"A snapping turtle is a stubborn animal. It doesn't bite things it can't handle very often, but when it does, you can't force it to let go. It's got heavy jaws, and if you try to drag it off you'll cause more damage than it did biting. And it won't let go after you kill it."
"So you can't force it to let go. You have to convince it. That's what you did," she reasoned out, hands folded in her lap.
"Yes." He was back with the gauze, tape, and antiseptic.
"You know, Kingfisher," she laughed comfortably, "I like you."
"Thats comforting," he remarked dryly, "And stop calling me that."
"We're not playing Mao," he said shortly, loosening the ribbon that still bound her foot. It came away dark brown on gold and green and he laid it on the counter beside her.
"Aren't we?" she asked, curious, wriggling the toes on her injured foot, "Except this time you don't know all the rules either."
"Don't do that. You'll open it up again. Now hold still," he pulled a sterile cloth off the counter.
"Oh, I can do that. I've had plenty of practice dressing wounds. Four whole courses actually," he laughed, and tried to pull her foot away, but he held it firm.
"I said, 'hold still.'"
She held still.
He worked quickly and silently, and she saw that he favored his left hand while dressing, doing it almost one-handed, even though she knew he was right handed.
"You dress your own wounds," she observed out loud without meaning to. He did not look up.
"You're a man of many talents, Kingfisher," she laughed, then she paused and her stomach growled, "You know, I'm hungry. We played cards for hours. I haven't had anything to eat."
"The kitchens are closed," he reminded.
"Ah, but not to those who bear the key," she responded pleasantly as he finished his binding and looked up at her.
"Unfortunate for you that you no longer bear the key," he observed dryly, but then he caught the look that she did not put away in time, "You have another key," he said, deadpan.
She did not deny it.
"You have another master key."
"It always pays for a girl to be prepared?" she asked penitently, as if this might bail her out of the trouble she was in.
"You know, I'm beginning to seriously doubt the integrity of this keep."
"Oh, you make it sound like they were easy to borrow. A lot of thought and planning went into both of those keys."
"Borrow," he snorted, "Hand it over."
"I'm sorry, Kingfish. I can't do that."
"And why not?" he was clearly not used to being directly disobeyed. She didn't know why. Samael did it all the time and somehow miraculously managed to keep his head attached to his body.
"I've forgotten where I've put it."
"You're welcome to look for it if you want," she said helpfully, "I know that it's terribly against the rules and you're just being responsible."
He rolled his eyes, "I don't think so. But be sure and tell me if you remember where you put it and maybe I will remember not to turn you over to Raguel."
"Oh, no, not Rags, Kingfisher! I'll have detention for a month," she stopped to consider, "But then, maybe so will you, aiding and abetting you know. Rags is very particular, and we are in a building that's supposed to be locked."
". . . are you threatening me?"
"No more than you were threatening me, I assure you," she nodded smartly, "Now, shall we have a snack?"
"No, we shall not have a snack, Gabriel. I am not Samael. Try to remember that."
"I never forget it, not a second of the day."
"I am taking you home."
"Kingfisher, you have to be joking. The night is young."
"Gabriel, it's past three in the morning."
"See, it's so young it's about to be born again. Say, have you ever watched the sun rise from the bell tower?"
"No." The way he said it rang with And I don't care to either.
"I think we should do that," she persisted.
"Gabriel, how old are you?" he asked her levelly.
She paused, "Fifteen in two months."
"Glass half empty."
She sighed, "Fourteen and ten."
"I am taking you home."
"Oh, all right," she sighed resignedly, "If you're determined to be difficult then there's nothing I can do to stop you," she opened her arms.
"What are you doing?"
"Waiting for you to pick me up, or do you plan on leaving a lady in distress?"
He looked at her for a moment, hands braced on either side of the counter, and then he picked her up. She grabbed her boots and reached for her ribbon, but it was gone. Oh well, she had a dozen more. She blew out the lamp as they passed it, and he locked the door behind them using her spare pilfered key. She sighed. The walk to the dormitories from here was woefully short. She slipped one of her arms around his neck, ostensibly for balance, and then spoke.
"All in all, I really am a mess. It's no wonder you want to be rid of me."
" . . . how do you mean?"
"Well, let's see, I'm still wet and my hair is drying all snarled and tangled because I can't brush it, I have mud in my boots, I've lost my ribbon and my bracelet, and I have a very attractive animal bite on one of my feet. Today I am not a catch."
She continued thoughtfully, "But I do like your coat, even if it is heavy. What do you keep in the pockets, lead?" Her fingers danced quick and sure to his inside pocket and felt around. "Let's see, lint, a spare button, and oh, what's this, a laundry list or a love letter?" she asked amusedly, unfolding the quartered square of paper.
As soon as he caught was she was doing, her name came out loud and sharp, "GABRIEL."
But it was too late, and her eyes had already run over the words "authorization" and "use of magnum force" and her hand was shaking slightly as he dropped her hard on her feet and took the folded piece of paper from her.
"You should not have seen that. Forget that you ever saw it," he said sharply, and there was a chill in his undertone, one that she was not used to hearing.
Being dropped so carelessly had opened her foot again, and she fought off the pain and put on her brave face as she asked, "What exactly is it that you do, Kingfisher?"
He was silent for a moment before he responded and she could not read him, "What all kingfishers do. I hunt."
She coked her head soft to the side and her eyes were gentle, "If you want me to forget I ever saw it, I will. But I hope you don't want me to."
And she moved easily, to bring her arms around his waist once, squeezing, laying her head against his chest for a bare moment before stepping back, putting her weight on her good foot. She smiled, but it was a different smile than usual.
"Besides, you know what they say," she continued.
"What's that?" his voice was barely there.
"War is hell," she said, closing her eyes for a moment, before opening them again, tired smile back in place, "Come on Kingfisher, let's go home."
He obliged and picked her up again without comment. They were both silent for a while, but then she broke it.
"Do you believe in love at first sight, Kingfisher?"
" . . . no."
She leaned back and closed her eyes, "That's all right. I think I believe in it enough for the both of us."
" . . . you are not a kingfisher and will never be a kingfisher."
She jerked up suddenly, the distress plain in her voice, "Why?"
"So you shouldn't call yourself 'Kingfisher-in-Waiting,'" he continued, "You'll never be a kingfisher. You're something else."
"What then? What am I?"
"Sparrow," he said shortly, simply. To the point.
"Because you are small and cannot keep your mouth shut," he answered a little crossly, clearly tired of being pressed.
"Don't throw my name around like it's a party favor," she mimicked.
"Catbird," he corrected.
"Sparrow," she insisted, "Kingfisher's Sparrow."
"Duriel," it came out of her mouth before she could stop it, and she flushed the moment she'd realized what she'd done. He said nothing, simply sat her down gently on the steps to the dormitory.
"You know," he said after a moment, "You live your life too carelessly. Some day something else is going to bite the bottom of your foot, Gabriel."
She smiled and said nothing.
"It will hurt," he insisted, "I'm not sure you have it in you to take it. You should be cautious."
"Life is pain. Pain tells us we're alive, reminds us to breathe. If we didn't hurt, we couldn't feel. I love my pain. I hope that something else bites me."
"You are a child."
"You think so," she smiled again and started up the steps, one hand tracing the wall.
"Stay off your foot tomorrow."
"I won't. I'll be at your door as soon as I wake up."
"Not before noon," he predicted.
"Not after noon," she shook her head and continued up the stairs. On the top step, she turned back to look at him where he stood watching her from the paved stones of the courtyard. She smiled again, slope-eyed soft and then spoke.
"Take care of yourself, Kingfisher."
"Don't call me that in public."
A single laugh shook her as she stood with her hand on the door.
"I wouldn't dream of it."
And then she was gone.