Peace of Mind

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Peace of Mind

Post by Ladybug on Tue Jun 19, 2012 11:07 am

"You did promise," said Alicia. Her face had settled into a frown, and she stood with her arms folded across her chest. Her jaw was set stubbornly, and her very way of standing seemed poised to challenge him. "You don't want to break a promise to me, dear, do you?"

Avner sighed. "I did promise," he said. "And I'm not breaking it. I told Stephen yesterday I'd not be at the clinic. You have my word that I'll not exert myself today." He looked around the room, frowning. "Now will you please tell me where my swords are so Lana and I can have our morning spar?"

"No," said Alicia flatly, smiling like a cat.

He stepped in closer to his wife, looking down at her. The two could scarcely have contrasted more. Avner was a large man, tall and athletic with obvious strength in his build, though much of his muscle was wiry. Alicia stood a full head and a half shorter, and her frame was far stockier. Her skin was fair, if tanned, but far lighter than his dark olive complexion. His black hair was short and straight as an arrow, framing his face in a short beard with more than a hint of gray creeping in. Her sandy curls cascaded to the middle of her back and showed not the slightest hint of age. The lines around her blue eyes suggested laughter; those surrounding his dark brown eyes spoke of harder, more painful experience.

"Lana has them, then," Avner said. It wasn't a question.

"She agrees with me," Alicia said as she nodded, reaching up to put a hand to his cheek. "You're no longer young, Avner. You can't keep pushing yourself so, not without taking some time for you to rest."

He smiled. "Turning our children against me, hm?"

"If I must." Sliding her hand over, she tapped the back of his neck. Avner took the hint and bent downward to her. Alicia rose on tiptoes and kissed him. He put his arms around her in a firm embrace, which they held a long moment. Alicia finally pulled back and tapped him on the chest. "Now you take it slow and easy today, do you hear me?"

"Loud and clear," said Avner. He twirled a lock of her curls around his fingers and pulled gently back, feeling the strands fall away.

"Good," she said. With a smile, she turned and walked out of the room, shutting the door behind her.

Avner stared after her a moment. He shook his head, the smile still on his lips, as he sat on his bed, pulling off his boots and dropping them to the floor. He lay slowly down, resting his head on the pillow. Staring at the ceiling, he began to laugh. Slow and easy, she said. Did she have any idea how difficult it was to relax?


Not ten minutes had passed before Avner had entirely abandoned any pretense of sleep. His boots were back on, and he walked down the stairs and into the kitchen. As soon as he crossed the threshold, four sets of eyes - no, five. He always forgot to count the animal - immediately fixed their gazes on him. Alicia and Lana looked irritated, though his daughter’s eyes held a fair amount of bemusement. Dan didn't react and almost immediately resumed eating. Nick, however, spoke, an oddity in itself.

"Good morning, sir. I thought you'd taken a personal day?"

"I have," said Avner, sitting in his usual chair. He filled his plate and began eating.

Lana drummed her fingers on the table. "It's funny, really. Mother told me you were still abed. Resting and relaxing."

Avner shrugged. "I was already awake. There didn't seem to be much point in going back to sleep. So I thought I'd have some breakfast."

Lana rolled her eyes and resumed her meal. Dan had begun flicking bits of fruit into the air for Nick's iguanabat, Crackle. Crackle glided through the air and gleefully snapped up the morsels, purring oddly. Aside from the lizard, silence reigned at the table.

Dan finally spoke, more likely due to the intensity of Alicia's hinting glare than to any curiosity of his own. "How are you spending your day?"

All eyes were again on Avner. He shrugged. "I honestly hadn't thought about it." Feeling the pressure, he sighed and added, "I had thought about listening to those cylinders young Boatman bartered me last week, but I've not used the phonograph in nearly a year."

Alicia scarcely let him finish the sentence before turning to Nick. "You don't have any work lined up for the morning, do you, Nick?"

"Um," the young mechanic said, leaning slightly away from her, "no, nothing yet. Did-"

"We'll take a discount on your rent for the month if you make certain that the phonograph is working immediately after breakfast."

"Oh, that's really not-" began Nick.

"Alicia, what-" said Avner.

"I insist," said Alicia, speaking over both of them. She turned and looked Avner in the eye. "It is very important that my husband take the time to get some rest." These last words were especially emphasized.

Nick nodded slowly, looking to Lana for support. "I can take a look at it, ma'am, but I thought my rate was set low with the understanding I'd do household repairs as part of it."

Lana simply shrugged. "Not sure why you're complaining about saving a bit."

"Well, it's dishonest!"

Avner sighed, "It's fine, Alicia. If he doesn't want you to change it, don't. He'll do it either way."

Alicia nodded assent. All apparently satisfied, the tension practically melted from the air. Conversation resumed. For his part, Avner remained silent. Lana was the first to finish. As she left the table, she gave Nick's shoulder a squeeze, then headed out with her sword strapped to her back, off to town to check in with Trevor Shielding, the captain of the Ora Lunata militia as Avner had done the previous week. Alicia and Dan were next, heading into the workroom they normally shared with Lana. Dan looked less than thrilled, still unhappy about apprenticing as a tailor. Nick stayed the longest. Neither he nor Avner being social by nature, the two men sat in silence for quite some time.

"Is there anything you think might be wrong with the phonograph?" asked Nick, looking up from his plate. "Or is this just a cursory glance?"

Avner shrugged. "Probably just cursory. Alicia's just being silly about this."

Nick nodded, scraping the last of the food on his plate into a small pile. "Just wondered."

"Mm." After several minutes, Avner spoke again. "So, when were you planning on proposing to my daughter?"

His medical skills came instantly in handy as Nick began to choke. Crackle looked up from his perch on Lana's now-empty chair and scampered out of the way as Avner pushed the chair aside to assist Nick, hauling him upright and thrusting his hands upward against his rib cage. The offending bit of sausage flew free. Crackle flew over to investigate and turned up his nose at the food. Nick gasped for air.

"You all right?"

"What..." he continued panting. "What in the skies brought that on?" He took a long drink of juice, then exhaled sharply.

Avner looked sheepish. "Silence seemed a bit heavy there."

"And that's your first thought?"

"We don't have all that much common ground to talk of, Nick," said Avner.

Nick rubbed his forehead. "The weather. The market. Bandits on the road. Plenty of topics!" He sighed. "I'm sorry, that just..." He shook his head. "Anyway, I'm not sure. It's not been quite a year after all. I don't want to rush."

"That's fair," said Avner. He sat back down. "You are going to, though?"

"Of course I am!" said Nick, looking indignant. "Believe me, sir, I have every intention of marrying her if she'll have me. I just don't think the time is right. You've got no reason to worry on her reputation." He’d gone bright pink at this.

Avner blinked. "I actually wasn't."

"Oh. Um."

"I trust you, Nick. I was just curious."

Nick picked up his plate and took it to the sink. "Um. Phonograph's in your bedroom?"

"On top of the bookshelf."

The mechanic nodded and quickly took his leave, still slightly red. Avner sighed. He never had been able to carry on much of a conversation with him, which was unfortunate. It was obvious that Nick still saw him primarily as his girlfriend's father and found the situation too awkward to feel at ease. He considered the boy practically family and wished they got along better.

Avner took his time finishing his meal and, as the last one out, followed the house rule of cleaning off the table. There was little food left over, and what was left was scarcely worth saving. The fruit, he left on the floor for Crackle, and the rest was gathered for composting for Alicia's garden. He cleaned off the table and washed the dishes, murmuring a textile petitioning as he did. The dishtowel sprang to life and dried them for him, and he put the dishes away, moving to sweep the floor. He patted Crackle with the broom, gently hinting for the lizard to move. He acquiesced with a loud squawk, putting on a masterful performance of injury.

"Oh, you're fine," grumbled Avner. Crackle clicked at him, irritated, but he took to the air, settling in the back of one of the chairs while Avner finished sweeping. The instant the broom was back in the storage closet, however, Crackle was back on the floor, happily eating out of the bowl of leftovers. Avner simply shook his head. If the beast hadn't been spoiled before Nick took up residence with them, he certainly was by now.

Finally satisfied with his cleaning, Avner made his way up the stairs, pausing momentarily as the sounds of music reached his ears. The music stopped just before he opened the door. Nick was packing up his tools into the satchel he always carried with him.

"Sounds like it works," said Avner.

Nick nodded, not quite meeting his eyes. Was he still embarrassed? "Not a thing wrong with it other than some cobwebs. I cleaned it out and put it back together for you. Plays just fine. Have a good day, sir," he said, inclining his head slightly as he left.

Avner sat at the desk by the bookshelf, not for the first time realizing how cramped the room was. What was now Nick's room had previously served as a study before Alicia had pointed out that with the little time he spent in there, they could easily move his desk and let the room for a small price. He'd seen no problem then and still didn't have much of one now. He settled into the chair and inserted a fresh cylinder, one that Boatman had given him unlabeled. He turned the crank to power the machine and let it unwind itself as it played.

Boatman, as it turned out, had good taste as far as Avner was concerned. It was a fast-paced piano piece with a bouncy, lively tune, and he couldn't resist tapping his foot to the melody. The other three were much the same, with similar feels despite their different tunes.

Unfortunately, Avner had failed to take into account that he did not have a large collection. The cylinders contained only about five minutes of music each, and he had exhausted both his and Boatman's supply within the hour. He drummed his fingers on the table in thought, not feeling any great urge to play them again.

Reading. Reading would not be a bad idea. He turned to the bookshelf. Reading the top shelf, he closed his eyes and groaned. Entirely medical volumes, this would do nothing to take his mind off of work. The second shelf proved little better, being histories and studies of war and magic. Again, doing little to distract him. The third shelf was claimed by Alicia, an avid reader of penny pulps, cheaply priced short novels, often serial in nature. She found them fun, if of often mediocre quality. Avner had personally never given them a try, never having had time for them. He frowned slightly in thought, shrugged, and reached forward to select a volume, paying no attention to the titles.

He flipped through the thin volume and frowned. Murder mystery. Reminded him of work. He dropped it on the table. He grabbed another. Murder mystery. Table. Another. Espionage and war. Reminded him of work. Table. Another.

The process continued for nearly ten minutes, and half of the shelf now covered the table. Avner sighed and reached for another, not holding out much hope. It seemed the most popular genre for these, at least the ones Alicia was buying, were mysteries and war stories. He flipped through the latest. Not too bad. At the very least, it didn't remind him of either job.

It was a short volume and took him half an hour. Glancing from the shelf to the pile on his desk, he sighed, deciding it was not worth trying again. He gathered up the books and slid them back onto the shelf, alphabetizing them as he did. He did the same to the top two shelves, then looked at the clock. His face fell. It was barely eleven.

Avner again went downstairs, this time poking his head into the workroom. Alicia had not looked up, intent on sewing. Dan, however, seized the distraction.

"Hello, Father," he said.

At this Alicia, looked up. "Avner, dear," she said, "I thought you were listening to the phonograph."

"I did," he said simply. His hands slipped into his pockets. "Is there any work around the house you'd like me to do?"

Alicia thought for a moment. "No, nothing comes to mind." She looked over. "Dan, your stitching is sloppy. Tear that out and try again. Tighter."

Dan sighed and set to work, grumbling, "Doesn't even matter; no one's going to see."

"They will see when your hem comes to pieces," said Alicia.

Sensing an argument brewing, Avner cleared his throat. Both looked at him. "I could run to the market and buy breakfast for tomorrow, if you'd like."

Doubt hovered over Alicia's features, clearly torn between appreciation for the offer and suspicion for his motives. She sighed. "Dan, honey?"

"Yes, Mother?"

"Will you accompany your father to the market?" She smiled, relieved at the solution to both problems. "Promise me you'll do your best to keep him away from work."

Dan immediately brightened at the prospect of avoiding sewing lessons. He snatched his cane from its perch on the edge of his chair and stood as quickly as he was able. "Gladly!"

Avner shook his head, smiling. His wife was nothing if not dedicated to her cause. "Thank you, Dan," he said. "I'd appreciate the company."

"I'll try not to slow you down too much," said Dan.

Avner managed, barely, not to wince. Alicia did not, and both parents were thankful that Dan's back was to her. Avner clapped his son on the shoulder and smiled broadly. "Never, Dan."

To Alicia, he asked, "Any preference?"

"Eggs," she said. "Five eggs as always. Bread if we're low, same with milk. How are we on fruit?"

"I think we've some apples, assuming Crackle didn't get into them," said Dan.

There was a brief pause.

"So, get some apples, too," said Alicia. "Your choice on sausage and anything else."

Avner nodded. "Got all that, Dan?"

"Mhm. I'll remind you if you forget."

"Counting on you, boy," he said. "Let's go."


The day was warm, the last traces of spring having finally made way for summer. Avner let Dan set the pace, adjusting accordingly, and it was indeed somewhat slower than his usual gait. He didn't mind terribly, though. He had to admit that it had been a considerable while since the last time he'd spent this much time with his son. He felt guilty, especially since their work in the militia guaranteed he saw Lana far more frequently. Accidental though it was, it smacked of favoritism, and he very much wanted to avoid that.

Befitting the nice weather, the market district was crowded. Avner instinctively put a hand on Dan's shoulder to prevent losing him in the crowd, holding tight despite Dan's attempts to shrug him off.

Dan finally grew exasperated and shot, "Would you baby Lana like this?"

"Lana's got seven years on you," replied Avner, though he did let go. Dan had a point. Avner did tend to treat him differently than he should because of his leg. He still blamed himself for that, feeling his petitioning should have been able to do more to heal him. It was foolish, but he was far from wise.

He kept pace about five feet behind his son, letting him have his space but making certain to keep him in his line of sight. The managed to weave through the crowd with little difficulty, and it seemed, to Avner's relief, that they would manage to run their errand without incident.

They were nearly to the stall he needed when he was proven wrong.

"Avner!" Ruth Secretary expertly navigated the crowded street, twisting and weaving and ducking as needed, an impressive feat made even more so due to the high heels of her boots. Avner and Dan stopped and turned at the sound of her voice. Catching up to them, she bent over, hands on her thighs, to catch her breath.

"Ruth?" said Avner, frowning. "What is it?" Ruth never left the clinic before closing time, and he had certainly never seen the young woman run like this. Her perfectly coiffed blond hair had come out of its normal bun and fell across her face. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Dan looking at her with interest. He sighed, praying the boy knew the importance of reading a situation before allowing the hormones to run free.

"Hello," said Dan.

Ruth straightened and nodded to Dan. "Thank the fates you're here, Avner."

"What is it?" he repeated.

"It's bad," she said, and Avner noticed how pale she looked. Merchant caravan had a run-in with some bandits coming into town. Few bullets exchanged, would've been bad enough, but the gunfire spooked the horses."

Avner instinctively looked to Dan, knowing where this story was headed. Dan looked grim, and he gripped the handle of his cane more tightly.

Ruth continued, "Four were trampled. One's already gone. The others..." she shook her head.

He hesitated, ashen-faced. "Ruth, can't Stephen-"

She cut him off. "It's beyond us. We need a petitioner."

Avner stepped forward. Dan grabbed his wrist. "Mother's going to kill you."

Avner shook his head. "Let her. I'm not letting someone die because I wanted a day off."

Dan smiled and squeezed his hand. "I'll come with you."


Avner had ended up carrying Dan piggyback, the only compromise he could think between wasting time getting there and leaving him behind. Dan didn't seem overly thrilled about the solution, but he kept quiet. Upon reaching the building, Avner lowered him to the ground and handed him back his cane. Avner raced to the emergency cases room, barely stopping to wash his hands before rushing to the cots where the patients lay. Dan followed, hovering off to the side of the room.

Stephen Doctor had his hands full, working to treat the wounds of the sole female of the three. "Avner, thank the skies. Can you stabilize them to give us more time?"

"I can try." He placed his hand over the worst of the first patient's wounds and murmured his request. He felt the power in the room twisting and changing. It didn't seem that he'd done much at first glance, but his patient's breathing went a little easier. He amended his plea, adding a mild anesthetic effect. He moved to the next, glancing at Dan.

To his surprise, Dan was watching the process, wide-eyed and only a little pale. He seemed fascinated.

"Where's Quincy?" asked Avner.

"Watch called him to be the coroner for the rest of the incident," Stephen answered. "Waste of time if you ask me. Lad won't get deader."

"Can't cross law-enforcement," said Avner. "They're just doing their jobs, and that cuts down on the amount we have to deal with."

Stephen shook his head. "If you say so." He looked over. "They stable?"

"Mhm. Trying to heal outright now."

Stephen sighed in relief. "Bless you, Magus." He looked over. "That your boy?"

Dan nodded. "Dan Avnerson, sir."

He turned back to Avner. "He trained?"

"No, he's Alicia's."

"He knows how to stitch, then," said Stephen. "Boy. Er, Dan. Wash your hands and lend them to me."

Dan looked to his father for approval.

Avner nodded slowly. "Can't be choosy. Dan, if you want to help, we could use it."

"Yes, sir!" He hurriedly washed his hands and hobbled over, cane clicking against the wood floor. Stephen handed him a needle and thread. "Tend to her," he said, nodding to the woman on the cot before turning to the man Avner had stabilized before.

Avner stepped away from his patient to supervise Dan. He needn't have bothered. Dan had apparently picked up more skill from his year's apprenticeship than he would care to admit. Stephen himself with five years' experience on Avner would have been hard-pressed to manage a better line of stitching, if Dan moved more slowly. Avner returned his attention to the patient. The petitioning had nearly finished closing the wounds. He breathed, a weight lifted from his shoulders. This man would live.

He walked to his son. Dan looked up at him. "What do I do now?"

Avner looked at the woman. "You've stitched the major wounds. Bandage the minor ones. She should be fine." Dan nodded and set to work. Avner went to aid Stephen. With a nod from him, Stephen stepped back and let Avner use petitioning to bring the man back to the level of his companions.

After a moment, he stepped back, reeling. Stephen offered his arm for support, and Avner gladly leaned on him. "Thanks." He closed his eyes.

"Are you alright?" asked Stephen.

"Yeah. Fine," said Avner. "It's just been a while since I've used that much in a day."

Stephen smiled wanly. "Be glad you can do it. I never had the chance to study Supplicans of any sort." He shook his head and removed his glasses. "I don't think you realize how many folks in town owe you their lives."

"Are they going to be all right?" asked Dan.

"Just fine," said Stephen.

Dan smiled. "Good."

"Thank you much for your help, Dan," Stephen continued. "That's some expert stitching there." He smiled and replaced his glasses. "You ever think about switching apprenticeships, you let me know."

Dan opened his mouth to speak, but Avner talked over him. "We'd need to discuss that as a family first," he said, giving Dan a pointed look. His glare softened. "But he'll definitely keep that in mind."

"Of course," said Stephen. "Enjoy the rest of your day, Avner. Good to meet you, Dan." He washed up, then shook both of their hands as they left.

As they walked through the streets, Avner again let Dan set the pace. Dan was beaming. Avner patted him on the shoulder. "Want to be a doctor, then?"

"That was amazing!" said Dan. "I helped save someone's life today. That is so much better than sewing shirts and hems!"

Avner laughed. "Isn't sewing shirts and hems what helped you save someone today?"

"Not important." He frowned slightly as he thought. "Why wouldn't you let me take Stephen’s offer right then?"

"Dan, your mother is already going to have my head for this. Do you really think it would help for us to come home empty-handed and have you add to it, 'By the way, I'm not going to be your apprentice anymore'? We're talking it over first." He smiled. "She'll understand, though. We both want you to be happy." Dan grinned up at him. Avner looked at him in amazement. This was the first time he'd seen the boy this genuinely happy in years.

"Oh, she'll be happy with me after she kills us over these clothes," he said, looking down. Both of their shirts were now bloodstained.

"Right," grunted Avner. He murmured a quick textile petitioning, and the blood disentangled itself from the fabric, falling to the ground.

"Oh," said Dan. Then, remembering, "Oh! We can still pick up those things if you want."

"Still got the list, then?" asked Avner.

"Told you I would. Eggs, apples, but I'd like some berries if we can get those, sausage, bread. Oh, and milk."

"Good memory, son. Come, let's get our stay of execution."


Dan did not immediately blurt out the events of the afternoon when questioned, but Avner reasoned in retrospect that he may as well have. Her simple question of what took them so long with the clear expectation of a leisurely walk with father and son led to a very long awkward pause before Avner began trying to ease the conversation to the point. Lana had returned moments before Alicia reacted. Upon seeing her expression, she quickly shut the door and opted to take a walk, escaping just before the yelling began. Dan flinched. Avner, an experienced soldier, had heard worse. Her cry of surprise died away, still ringing in their ears.

Several minutes later, the two had offered a relatively thorough explanation of their adventure. Alicia seemed placated and sat down calmly. Avner busied himself preparing a pot of tea, which he soon brought to the table with three mugs.

Dan was still talking. “...and I really do think I’d be good at it.”

“Avner, is this all right with you?” asked Alicia.

Avner nodded. “I just figured we should discuss it with you first. He is your apprentice right now, so it’s ultimately up to you and him.” He slid into a chair beside her and slipped his arm around her waist.

“Well, Dan, feel free to go with your father tomorrow and tell Stephen you can begin studying under him. If you think you’ll be happier there, I’m all for this.”

“Thank you!” cried Dan.

Avner held up a hand. “One other thing.” He looked at his son. “Dan, I should have asked you this before, but it always slipped my mind. How would you feel about learning Supplicans?”

Dan gave him an odd look. “Be a petitioner?” He whistled. “You sure I could?”

“If you learn to speak to the domain, yes. You’d have to pick, of course.” Avner tapped the table. “I’m a certified master of textile and healing, personally.”

“Um,” Dan said, wrinkling his nose. “Meaning no offense, Father, but I don’t want to work with cloth anymore, and I don’t like how you looked when you got done healing. I’d have to pass. Maybe one of the others would be nice, but not those.”

Avner nodded. “Understandable. Let’s see. Air, Earth, Fire, Water, Metal, Fauna, Flora, Time, Weather. Machinery, too, if you ask Ferra Gaiuslass. You wouldn’t have to pick immediately; just observe for a while and get the basic theory of how things work.”

“You’d send me to Pharetra?” asked Dan, wide-eyed. “But I thought I was training in medicine. I can’t apprentice under Stephen if I’m away.”

“Oh, no!” said Alicia. “There’s a lovely young lady in town who can show you the basics, isn’t that right Avner?”

Avner blinked. She couldn’t possibly-

“Iris Sorcere, isn’t that her name?”

Avner’s eye twitched.
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Ladybug
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