His name was Damascus. I thought it was a mouthful, so I christened him the nickname Gus with a kiss on the forehead, as though blessing him with his baptismal name.
He’d stared quite a bit then. But, then again, for the first week he had a perpetual stunned look, as though someone had dropped an anvil from the sky in front of him.
I got back to work serving tables, taking orders, cleaning, and whatever general chores were needed as soon as I could, but I checked in on him every moment I got. Most of the time he slept, but whenever he was awake I’d meet his eye and smile. If I had the time I’d rush in a hug or another bowl of mush. I dared some bread and some apples as well.
Gus took it all with that bug-eyed look of disbelief.
“He probably thinks I’m a creep, hugging and kissing him like that,” I said to Milly one morning as we kneaded the dough that had risen over night.
“Somehow, I doubt that,” she said. “And if he does, what’s he gonna do about it? Shove off the one who saved his life?”
“Anyone would have done it,” I said absentmindly. She didn’t know what that boy meant to me, and I didn’t how to say it.
“But nobody did.”
And they probably had their reasons, but I’d never care. I gave the faceless idiots who’d let him get like this the mental finger and went back to running around like a maniac trying to balance figuring out how to work in a medieval inn/tavern and making sure the first baby that had lived stayed that way.
The fifth day, I fell asleep on a table I was supposed to be cleaning on accident. I’d expected all sorts of scolding when Hal shook me awake to the chortling of a few greasy looking male patrons. But he only gave me his now familiar, friendly smile.
“You can probably stop getting up every two hours to feed him,” he said.
I shook my head furiously. “No! He’s still so skinny!”
“But he’s past the danger zone,” he turned to give a look behind him at the on watching patrons, who quickly looked away. Whatever they had seen, it was gone when he turned back to me. “Head in early. Sleep through the night. No more…magic.”
I appreciated him making sure not to mention my healing powers.
“I’m sorry, Hal. I said I’d work hard, and you and Milly have had to teach me so much.”
In answer, he grasped my shoulder and gave it a gentle shake.
“Hush. We’re doing fine. Now you need to do fine too.”
So, per the bosses orders, I returned to the back room where my poor Gus waited. He was awake in bed, for once, and munching on a piece of cheese over bread. His beautiful red eyes grew bigger, as though surprised, as they always did when I entered the room.
“Hello, sweetie,” I drifted to him, pecked his forehead as I usually did, then melted face first onto the bed behind him, not even bothering to take off my shoes.
When I woke up some time later, my shoes had been taken off, the blanket thrown over me, and Gus curled up against my side. The fire had died down to coals. I drowsily petted his fuzzy head, instinctively smoothing over the bump of a scar with my magic as I did whenever I touched it, then fell back asleep.
In the morning, I opened my eyes to find myself alone.
The return of a cold bed shot needles through my insides. I got up so quick the blood rushed to my head.
“Gus?” I scuttled around the room and then out into the Hal. “Gus?”
“He’s in the kitchen,” came Milly’s voice.
I just stopped myself from running there, hardly understanding why my heart pattered so fearfully.
But, there he was in his baggy men’s night shirt, sitting on a stool as he peeled potatoes. His eyes did the little pop they did when I walked in. I long assumed it was his way of greeting, as he didn’t talk much.
I could breathe again. I floated over to give him another kiss on the fuzzy crown.
“Good morning, sweetie. Why are you up so early?”
“He came in asking for work,” said Milly.
“Some moving around will be good for getting your muscles back,” I said, mostly to myself as I stepped back to eye him up and down, from the bony fingers frozen in the act of holding the knife and potato to his knobbly knees. My eyes rose up to examine his face, which had taken on a pinkish hue. “You’re looking a bit red, though, do you have a fever?”
But as I reached out to feel his brow, he leaned back. I stopped, not wanting to push myself on him at his first sign of not wanting to be touched.
With that thought, a whole wave of lingering anxiety poured out.
“I’m sorry, I won’t touch you if you don’t want to. I’m sorry if I’ve made you uncomfortable these last few days. You can just tell me no if you don’t want me to.”
He stared at me. For the first time, I saw his wide-eyed look as not surprised, but bewildered.
“What…” he licked his lips. “What are you?”
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