The deed was done.
His identity, unveiled.
For the first time in years, he had been completely open with the very people for whose benefit he labored. There was something liberating in the notion of working alongside the counter-revolutionaries as opposed to behind their backs with the best intentions, but little perspective on what they considered to be their true needs.
This way felt more honest. At the same time, he was making himself incredibly vulnerable to a group of people that, admittedly, he barely knew. It was terrifying and exhilarating and heartwarming all at the same moment…
But right now, Edmond reflected as he tousled his hair dry with a gradually dampening cloth, he didn’t need exhilaration. He needed rest. After scrubbing away what felt like several layers of skin in, he was at long last ready for sleep.
If only his body would grant that to him.
It felt as though he had been driving himself for years, not days, and his heart pounded as though preparing for another marathon ride, another battle, another intense encounter.
Tossing the cloth onto the side table to dry, Edmond closed his eyes and pulled in a long breath. He exhaled slowly through pursed lips, trying to will his pulse to calm.
At that exact moment, the door to his chamber burst inwards and slammed against the wall, making a terrific racket as a blonde blur hurtled its way toward Edmond, hollering something incoherent.
His greatsword lay in its sheath leaning against the bed stand, his slender saber and dagger hanging on his belt on the side table. But before he had time to reach any of these, a lithe form collided with his stomach and wrapped fierce arms about his waist. The impact drove the breath from his chest and it was another moment before he comprehended that the form was, in actuality, a very familiar little blonde girl who was currently shrieking his name.
“‘S good to see you, too, Tika.” Edmond wheezed, returning her embrace and patting her back slightly.
Sparkling amethyst eyes looked up at him, a tremendous grin plastered on her cherubic face, which was partially hidden beneath unruly locks. “I missed you! Did you miss me? Cael and I have been here for ages waiting and there’s nothing to do here but explore, which is okay I guess but everyone’s busy and there’s no time to play and no Jaster to bother! Except there is now because he’s back, too…” She prattled on for a minute or so, as was her way, until another figure came to the open door.
“Natika, you can’t rush into Gideon’s room like that! You had no way of telling if he were decent or not.” Cael chided, her brow furrowed, but her lips twitching with amusement. She folded her arms over her chest and leaned against the door frame.
“That’s silly. Gideon’s always decent.” Tika replied, her voice muffled from within the folds of Edmond’s tunic.
“Hello to you too, doctor. I trust your trip was… uneventful?” Edmond asked, unable to tear the smile from his face even for a serious moment. He tucked the hair back from Tika’s face fondly.
Not wanting to relax her grip just yet, the little girl frowned and shook her hair back to cover her eyes.
The doctor shrugged, grimacing slightly. “Mostly. We got lost a couple of times, but once we left the Wild there was no trouble bypassing the border. Natika’s diversion went right according to plan.”
Beaming with pride, the girl leaned back and exclaimed in a sing-song voice, “I told you it would work.”
“That’s because I have a smart girl, don’t I, cub?” Edmond said, his smile widening as he pushed her hair back from her eyes once more.
She nodded and tried to shake her hair back in her face.
Chuckling, Edmond tried to direct the conversation elsewhere. “Tika, I’m very, very tired. Have you seen Jaster just yet?”
The little girl pursed her lips in a very grown-up fashion, but said nothing.
“Of course she didn’t. Jaster would have bolted the door to his quarters and went to sleep.” Cael scoffed.
Tika said nothing.
Suspicious, Edmond looked at the little girl still clinging to his waist. “Tika, did you go see Jaster?”
She looked away. “Why would I see that grump? I wanted to see you.”
His eyebrow rose further as she evaded the question. “Did you go see him anyways to try and find out where I was?”
Glancing from him to Cael, Tika’s reply burst from her lips as she attempted to pull away. “Can I help it if he chose a room with a faulty trigger pin? That door was begging to be picked!”
Well, that sounded like behaviour he probably should not encourage.
Edmond gently hung on to her arms, keeping the girl from straying too far. “Tika, did you stop and think that maybe if you stopped breaking into Jaster’s room, he would be less grumpy?”
The blonde let out a huffy breath, attempting to tug her way loose. “If I didn’t break in, I’d never see him at all.”
Shrugging, the older man wiggled her arms playfully. “Maybe if he knew you care about his privacy, he wouldn’t feel like he needs to lock himself away.”
Tika smiled reluctantly, pulling her arms from his grip and mumbling a barely-coherent affirmation in response.
Cupping her blonde head with one of his great hands, he drew her near and kissed the top of her head. “I did miss you, cub. It’s late. You should get some sleep.”
She giggled softly and nodded, making her way out of the room with only a slightly subdued spring in her step.
Cael watched her leave with a soft chuckle, then straightened. “I suppose I should get going, too. Wouldn’t want to disrupt the sleeping patterns of the famed Gideon. Your fans might have me flogged.” Her words were teasing, but her tone held a slight edge to it.
His expression clouded and for a moment, he was on the verge of inviting the doctor in, of sharing everything that he had held back. The time was approaching for complete and total honesty with his companions.
It was approaching… But not this night.
Twisting his mouth into a wan smile, Edmond nodded. “Sure. Goodnight, Cael. And thank you for bringing Tika north – I know you’re taking a risk even being here right now.”
He expected one of her typical acerbic responses, but it never came. Instead, she gave him what could be considered almost a friendly smile. “You’re welcome. She’s a good kid; I was glad to help.”
A moment passed as they both realized that with all the members of their party back in shape, Cael’s reasons for sticking around were growing thin.
There was much to be discussed, but not tonight.
Gideon cleared his throat suddenly, then smiled. “Well, goodnight, doctor. I suppose we’ll see you in the morning.”
She nodded slowly. “Night, Gideon. I’ll see you around.”
With that, Cael pulled the door closed.
And he was alone once more.