January 15, 1500
January 15, 1500
The next morning came quickly, the Sparrow awakened by two loud knocks on the bedroom door. Still half-asleep, he heard a tired, female voice asking, "May I come in?"
Orianna entered. Lex could see the strain she was under; she looked as if she hadn't slept for a year.
"Four injured men," she reported. "One of them might perhaps not see the next day's light. You can be glad that both Luca and I spoke in your favor."
"Yes." The woman sighed. "Jal's wife is waiting downstairs. He didn't want to come here himself--the guards are still looking for him and he will remain hidden for the next few days--but consider his wife as his equal and treat her with respect."
"Why wouldn't I?" he muttered and stood. "Jal? Was he the sword-swallower?"
"Yes." Orianna stopped as she made for the door, turning back to look at him. "There is one more thing I would like to say, and this will stay between you and I. I don't want to chide you or patronize, but I have seen a little more of this world than you might have in your time on this earth." Her fists clenched at her sides. "My husband died trying to save a novice who thought himself so confident, the same as you. That is why I was angry with you." She looked away from him. "Bloodlust may eat the best of us; fear will do the same, and if you let it take you, you're no worthier than your enemies. I have heard tell of your skill in battle. You make the killing pretty, but the sooner you tame the animal inside you, the safer your soul will be."
The Sparrow was left to stare after her, the words leaving a cold hand gripping at his chest. After a time, he found how to work his feet again and moved downstairs to where the woman called Adara stood. The woman was of a height with him, her skin dark, nose like that of an eagle. Her eyes were dark and piercing. The young man looked at her, swallowing thickly.
"I can help with the injured."
"How do we know that?"
"Trust me. I'm a doctor." The woman seemed to weight her options on a mental balance before turning and stating, "Come." He followed.
X x X
Back in the room, Shaun sighed, awakening again. His head was sandwiched between his own and Lex's pillows, his entire body wrapped in the blankets he'd been given, a human burrito.
A cold nose had wormed its way into his cocoon, a wet tongue lathering him with kisses until he sat up and found the room occupied by Badr, Asad, and Bourkan, the excited dog's forelegs around his neck, his hips moving in a way that the Brit found distinctly disturbing.
"Time to wake up, novice," said the blind man, all too cheerily. "We've my errant colt of a blood-brother to deal with after all."
Groaning, Shaun searched for his shirt, wondering just what Badr meant. What's he gone and done this time?
X x X
Lex looked up from treating the last man, the least injured, as heavy bootsteps came pounding his way. His face went from blank concentration to confused as he saw the man in red.
"Scars?" He gasped inwardly as he was lifted by the back of his shirt and unceremoniously shoved into one of the side rooms in the building where Jal's men had been taken, an abandoned safehouse of sorts. Once inside, he was dropped, the hood thrown back to reveal the person he'd least expected it to be, though the height should have told him immediately. "Jameel?"
And then he was kissing the floor.
Lex stayed down after the blow, trying to accomodate himself to the shock and confusion that reigned in his mind. The room swirled slightly as he finally climbed back to his feet. His face hurt as he raised his head, looking up at the man, who glared murder back at him. Jameel did not look happy to see him, not in the slightest. The Sparrow felt a twinge of pain in his cheek as the Red Owl flexed the fingers of his still clenched fist; the swelling and bruising had already started to form on his cheek.
"My apologies." The voice that came from the man was stiff and formal, more foreign even than when he was learning Jameel's tongue in Masyaf. "I thought you were another dead Assassin come back to haunt me. What were you doing out there? Putting on a show for the guards?" He took a step forward. Lex retreated, trembling. Jameel grasped his shoulders, forcing him to remain still, even as he shook beneath his hands. Not that the man noticed, giving him a shake of his own. "You need to be more careful, you thrice-damned idiot! Fate does not like to be tempted. You had luck's favor this time, but what about the next?" He let go then, sighing heavily. "Do you have anything to say for yourself at least?"
Lex lowered his head, shaking it once. Jameel gave him another long stare before pushing through the door and out toward daylight. The Sparrow pressed a hand to his cheek slowly, shaking as he followed the path the Red Owl had taken. He froze and reeled back quickly as the figure in red returned, expecting another blow. This time, the face that was revealed by the torchlight was a scarred one.
The Owlet stood there, his scarred and stern face betraying no emotion. He studied the boy called Hakim's face in silence.
"The Night Master said what there was to say. There is nothing I can add"--his eyes flicked to the one side of his face pointedly--"and a further blow will not rid you of the heedless child that is still stuck within you." He saw the Sparrow flinch at his words. They were cold; they would hurt, but that was their purpose. Hopefully, they would wash the foolishness from the other's head. The breathing of the sleeping patients Lex had left was the only sound that filled the high-ceilinged room for several minutes. The swordsman did not point out the promise that had been broken between them; the guilt and pain in the man's eyes was telling him that he didn't need a reminder. "Now, Hakim, since words have been exchanged, there's work to be done."
Lex simply looked at him, as if fixed to the spot. It took him a few tries to be able to nod his head, the one eye watering where it had been pushed half-shut by the swelling in his face. He took a deep breath and nodded again, forcing himself with all his might not to drop to the stones in front of the Owlet's feet and start crying. Finally, he turned and headed back to his last patient, the other following.
His eyes fell on the patients one by one, inspecting the treatment of their hurts. They had been cleaned, bandaged, sewn shut. The place smelled of herbs, seeming more a kitchen than a place of the wounded. He peered at the work the boy was on, careful not to show in his face any admiration of the skillful needlework as he gave the man some stitches. It was quick and seemingly effortless, the man receiving them even glancing over to watch. Finding a place on the wall, he continued to keep a silent vigil over the room.
The sun had almost set when the two entered Orianna's home. He flinched when the woman touched his shoulder, but made no other protests as she led him into a small chamber decorated with herbs, looking like a miniature apothecary. She put a finger to Lex's lips when he opened them to speak.
"Jal and Adara said to tell your their thanks. You have repaid your debts and things are settled between all of us." A low whine escaped the Journeyman as a cool salve was pressed to his cheek and rubbed into his skin. "The pain will go away soon." She looked at the bruise. "This will heal quickly, but the marks will be seen for some time."
He nodded, barely taking any concern in the healing rate of his injured face. Right then, all he wanted was to go back in time again, back to Masyaf, where Jameel had never hit him except in the training ring, or back even further still, back to the place he was born. Lex closed his eyes, letting his mind wander back through the years.
Sniffling, he made his way to where the foursome sat on the playground blacktop. They were a ragtag little bunch, their skin varying shades of brown. Miguel was the first to see him through his scruffy black bangs. Halim sat next to him, the lightest of the bunch, his face full of freckles. Seth looked up then, blonde hair a sharp contrast with his skin, an ever-present scowl fixed on his face even at that young age. Jake was the one who took him into his arms, tall, long-haired, and pretty to all of them. The young boy explained to them in a mumble how he'd gotten the bruise on his chin, the group watching as Seth set out to "moiderize" the merry-go-round.
"Passero." The word brought him back around. He looked up at Rina. The woman felt her heart clench when she saw his face, still guilt-ridden and sad. "Mistakes are made and lessons are learned. None of us has the right to throw the first stone as all of us have failed time and again." She touched his cheek gingerly. "Believe me when I say he did not mean this. I saw the Owl's face when the tidings reached him of your night run. There was more worry in it than anything else." Lex opened his mouth to respond and was cut off by a cheep. His brow furrowed as he searched the rafters and found nothing. Then something small and soft was placed in his hand. He looked down.
A tiny ball of light brown feathers had been settled on his palm.
"Found the little one in my garden a few weeks ago. Keep him as a reminder of your responsibility to those who rely on you." The little sparrow gave him a stare, and for some reason or another it seemed very serious to him.
Lex nodded, tucking the baby bird against his chest and heading upstairs to his room. He froze in the doorway when he saw what lay inside. Instead of Shaun, Jameel was there. His nerveless fingers almost let the little bird fall. Keeping a hold on him, careful not to let his fists close and potentially crush him, he looked around the hall for a sign of anyone else. There was none. Heading inside, he took a cross-legged sit on his small bed, pondering on where the little serious fellow in his hands was going to sleep.
The bird nibbled at his fingers as it took each object in the room into view and seemed to analyze it. Gently, he nudged at the restraining hands with his head, pecking with his tiny beak until he was released. The tiny sparrow hopped onto the pillow that was meant for Lex's head, giving a few satisfied-sounding peeps as he nestled into the soft cushion and regarded his new owner with beady eyes.
Logic is a little tweeting bird chirping in a meadow, Lex thought, managing a little smirk. Logic is a wreath of pretty flowers that smell bad.
"Oh, you're back." The trio looked up at Shaun as he poked his head around the door. "Yeah, someone's confiscated my area of the room, so I'll be bunking with Badr instead. Who's cheeping? Is Amir in here?"
"Spock." The Brit looked down at the chick on the pillow and snorted.
"Well, then, at least we have one songbird with some sense." He winced as he earned a furious glower from Jameel. I can never win with this man! He sighed and closed the door, retreating from the cold stare. The Red Owl continued to stare a hole into the wood where the Harrier's face had been until his footsteps faded from earshot. Only then did he say, "Have you finished your conversation, little bird?"
"Yeah." Lex nodded, lying down on his side and stroking the bird's head. "Spock told me to think logically so that I'll live long and prosper."
"Wise words. You should take them seriously." Jameel reached out toward him, only to draw his hand away, supressing the urge to stroke the little back that was turned toward him. "When they told me you'd gone for a nightrun and that there'd been several injured, I thought I was going to lose you. That the Cubs had laid hands on you again." Silence. He pressed a hand to his eyes for a second before lifting his head. "There has been one thought, one wish, and one consolation that kept me afloat all these years." Another pause. Only their breathing and the ruffling of the bird's feathers as he preened could be heard. Jameel turned onto his side, their backs barely touching. "Don't take from me what keeps me alive." A shiver ran up his spine as the Sparrow shifted, their backs pressed together fully. Slowly, he reached back and took smaller hand in his own, twining their fingers tightly.
"Skandar," Jameel found himself whispering as he blew out the candle that was beside him, his eyes adjusting quickly to the faint light of the moon seeping through the window.
"Na'am?" The response was soft; his voice cracked as he spoke.
"Laila sa'eda." He heard him nod, felt him shift a little further. He turned as well, looking down at the bruised cheek. Jameel reached up, fingers trembling as he touched the mark gently as he was able. "Skandar."
"Hnn?" His eyes opened, looking at him as his thumb traced circles against the black and blue skin. There was fear in his eyes. The Owl gulped, his heart dropping down to the soles of his feet as he bowed his head and pressed his lips to the mark he'd made.
"Ahlaam ladida, omri." He settled back, only their foreheads pressed together, the Sparrow drifting back a nervous state of sleep. God willing, you'll have sweeter dreams than I, 'usfuri. Rest well. You'll find a surprise waiting for you in the morning.