Feb 26, 2018

Short Story: "A Glimpse of the Past"

Blythe was about to chew him out for disappearing earlier when his words stopped her cold, half out of fear and half out of recognition. She'd heard this before.


(This started as a flashback scene in an early draft of book 2 [Sentinel]. I discarded it in the next draft, so it's no longer canon to the series, but it's cute and sweet and romantic and I'm glad I was struck by the idea to edit it into a story.)

Unexpected Inspiration Short Story - "A Glimpse of the Past"


Blythe scrubbed at the soil caught under her nails until they were as clean and neat as she could get them in the poor light. She hadn't intended to work in her window garden, but she needed the familiar comfort of cool dirt and growing life beneath her hands. Etri had left to do... something tonight, something he'd kept vague, and she was alternating between annoyance at being told just enough to make her fret and aggravation that if it was that important, he should have taken her with him. If Etri wasn't telling her, it was because it was dangerous, and if it was dangerous, it was her job to watch his back. He'd done his horribly annoying vanishing thing where she looked away for five seconds to check her watch and when she turned back to ask him a question, he was out of sight. One of these days she was going to tie a length of string around his wrist and keep him near her like he was an ill-trained puppy. Try to see him slip away when he was connected to her!

Gardening had calmed her as it always did, yet a strange feeling still fogged her mind. She could have sworn she'd been somewhere different a moment ago. At the same time it was so right to be repotting her aloe in the new yellow pot Sol had bought her to replace the cracked one he'd accidentally knocked over. As she reached for a towel to dry her hands, she glanced out the window above the sink. Lantern light glimmered off a thin layer of freshly-fallen snow. It was pretty and it probably brightened up the wagon considering she'd been too stupid to remember to light a lamp.

Snow... that couldn't be right. There hadn't been snow for months...

A knock on her door echoed loudly in the dark even though it was hardly louder than a tap. Everything always seemed so muffled and quiet in winter... or was it spring? She tried to ignore the lingering disorientation and walked over to see who needed her at this hour. Etri stood on her doorstep, his head bowed as he wrung his hands together. "I need your help, Blade. I have been poisoned."

Blythe was about to chew him out for disappearing earlier when his words stopped her cold, half out of fear and half out of recognition. She'd heard this before. She could remember standing here with fear eating at her heart, she could remember taking him by the arm and tugging him inside out of weather, she could remember the way he looked at her with faith in his pale eyes when she began to heal him. She tried to take a few deep breaths to clear her mind and found her body wouldn't listen. Instead she watched herself lead Etri into the wagon and hang his wet coat to dry by the stove, just as she knew she would. She knew she would because she already had.

She had no idea how it happened, but somehow she'd inadvertently managed to read her own memories. Wonderful. She knew from her training that she could only sit back and let this play out until she snapped out of it or the memory ran its course, so she hunkered down in her own head to watch. When she was back in her current time, she was going to give herself a stern talking to because this was not okay for a fully trained healer to do. This was an amateur mistake. She hadn't screwed up telepathy and memory reading in years and never her own.

"What do you mean you've been poisoned?" past-Blythe asked, oblivious to her later self being carried along for the ride.

"I touched a trapped window while I was attempting to break into the home of a merchant. Normally I avoid such things, but this was a type I had not previously come across. It contained two kinds of needles instead of one. I caught sight of the other and disabled that which I recognized. Too late I realized it had a secondary mechanism. It was not the paralyzing type, which was the one I disabled. I believe that one was intended to incapacitate a thief long enough for the authorities to arrive, in which case the needle which pricked me would have allowed the thief to give away why they were there. I did not spring the first trap, so I was able to get in and then out again with the information I needed. The house did in fact belong to-"

Past-Blythe interrupted him mid-sentence. "I thought you didn't do that kind of thing anymore."

Blythe, both past and present, could have immediately guessed something was wrong even without his reveal about triggering a rigged window. Etri never chattered, even to her. On occasion he would get talkative about books he'd recently read, but not about something that was supposed to be a secret, and never in a way that was an unceasing string of sentences spoken in one breath. Rambling was something Adair did. At the time they hadn't known Adair, so past-Blythe didn't make a comment about the two of them rubbing off on each other. Pity, because now-Etri would have calmed and smiled at the mention of his boyfriend.

If this memory was going where she thought it was going, though, Adair definitely hadn't been in the picture. All the more a pity because he would have liked this.

As Etri spoke he strode back and forth across the floor, his long legs only managing to squeeze in four strides before he was forced to turn around again. This, at least, was familiar to both Blythes. He always paced when he was agitated and it was something she was sure he'd picked up from her, unless it was the other way around. "I usually do not, but I acquired information of a potential member of the syndicate living in this town. I wished to investigate so I could send word to Sapphire in order to alert her of merchants in this location who could pose a problem."

"Uhh... great." Past-Blythe's only concern was Etri getting to the point so he would stop pacing and chattering. "Can you stand still for a minute so I can check about this poison?"

Etri did as he was instructed and stood still in front of her, but he continued to chatter. "It is a toxicant, not truly a poison… It is silly for me to say this, of course you would be able to determine that as you are a healer. Are you going to see if it remains inside me to determine the exact type? I know you can deduce this, because you are very good at healing. I did not wish to go to Wysta because I prefer you as a healer. I do not like other people touching me, but your touch I do not mind. I also did not wish to tell Wysta this information, so you were the better choice for that, as well.

"If this was supposed to be a secret, you do realize you're still blathering all this to me." Past-Blythe ignored the first part of his reason considering she had already unbuttoned Etri's shirt so she could slide her hand inside to place it on his chest. Obviously she was going to check him. Under the layer of soft hair, his chest was cold, as his body always was, but his heartbeat ran faster than usual. Past-Blythe found this worrisome while Blythe possessed hindsight and wondered if it truly was the toxicant causing it-- or if it was something else entirely. She would place her bet on the something else.

"That is different. You are my best friend and I trust you. You do not cause me fear or discomfort. The opposite, perhaps. I enjoy being near you. You care for me. You may act gruff on occasion, but you are quite sweet."

Etri was normally nothing like this and it was disconcerting to hear him voice every thought crossing his mind. It was making past-Blythe uncomfortable and Blythe wasn't exactly put at ease by it, either.

To Blythe's relief, which was dumb because a memory could only play out one way, her past self did what she herself had done and distracted Etri with a question. "What's the syndicate you were talking about?"

As he began to blather, past-Blythe listened with half an ear. Most of her attention was spent on focusing her thoughts on Etri so she could determine how thoroughly he was affected by the toxicant and what kind of healing pattern would be needed to eliminate it. The real Blythe, however, realized Etri had said more than she previously remembered. Likely now it had more relevancy since she had met Sapphire and some of Etri's previous carnival troupe-slash-thieving crew. She also lacked the worry of her past self. She knew Etri was going to be fine, although she kind of wished she could move this body so she could smack him in the back of the head. It wouldn't be a hard hit, just enough to make her feel better about the five months of stress he'd caused her before he finally made another move.

"You are aware that merchants are the people responsible for buying and selling art created by the artists, yes?" Past-Blythe rolled her eyes, which was good because Blythe wanted to do exactly the same thing. It wasn't like she'd spent her life living under a rock. For Petra's sake, she was the Concordian here, not Etri. He didn't seem to notice her reaction and continued, "Under normal circumstances this works properly and the sentinels have a selection of merchants to whom they can sell in order to attain a reasonable price for their artists' creations. A portion of the merchants have banded together to form a group under the leadership of a few corrupt individuals. The members of this group all offer the sentinels less than acceptable values and force them to sell only to this group or not at all. The corrupt merchants then turn around and sell this art to buyers, usually foreign, who pay their regular price for it. This means the artists earn less while the merchants are padding their own pockets with ill gained profits."

This, though, Blythe hadn't known-- or at least hadn't remembered-- and she was interested in hearing more about it now that it was relevant to her current situation with Adair. Unfortunately her past self hadn't cared and stayed true to her memory by speaking when Etri stopped to catch his breath. "There's definitely a toxicant still inside you. I think I know what to do to nullify it, but I've never done this on my own before. You'd do better seeing Wysta."

Blythe mentally winced, the only way of wincing she could do at the moment. Had she really been so unsure of herself? Removing a foreign substance was easy-peasy compared to when she'd removed harmful weaving from Adair's mind. That had been difficult and even then she'd managed it.

Etri shook his head so rapidly that both Blythes hoped dizziness wasn't a symptom of his poisoning. "I cannot tell her this! I have faith that you can help me. You have healed me many times before without complication."

Past-Blythe fought to keep herself from pacing, which amused her later self. She and Etri really were pretty damn compatible. "Those were colds and stuff. This is poison!"

"As I have said, this is not poison in the true sense of the word since in my experience it is made simply to incapacitate and not leave long-lasting harm."

"Tomayto, tomahto, this is a foreign chemical in your body, Etch! You need more help than an assistant healer."

Blythe silently scoffed at herself as Etri took her hands and stared into her eyes. That shut her up, even if it was directed at a different version of her. His pupils were tiny, a result of what was coursing through his body, and in the lamplight his blue eyes seemed almost amber. Blythe felt a rush of affection her past self hadn't experienced. Amber was Adair's eye color. "And I know you can do this. Trust me that I trust you."

Past-Blythe, who didn't know Adair and certainly didn't go soft at that intense yet tender look he and Etri had both perfected, simply nodded. Blythe could remember her mind racing as she'd struggled to remember the antidote. While she could feel this body moving and listen to it speak, she couldn't hear her own original thoughts, which was probably for the best. Her head was crowded enough with her own thoughts.

After a few moments, her past self recalled what she needed to do to clear away something like poison. "Okay. Let me mix together a paste and I'll try."

Etri smiled at her with a grin full of dimples that had once been few and far between. Now his smile was as familiar as those eyes and the cool touch of his hands in hers. He gave her hands a squeeze and let go so he could return to pacing across the narrow wagon. Blythe allowed herself a few moments of fond later memories about his touch while her past self began sorting through her herbs.

Blythe brought her attention back to this moment when Etri began to speak again. "The corrupt merchants are running an illicit scheme where artists are no longer making a proper income off their creations. My previous troupe works to help the artists in such a situation. Often we will steal back the ill-gained art and clandestinely return it to the home of the original artist. Most of the time, however, we sneak into the homes and offices of the merchants to attempt to locate records of who is responsible. Once we have proof a merchant has joined the syndicate, we set it up so they are caught by the authorities. As a result they have put more effort into guarding their homes and offices. The troupe must avoid the sentinels to return their art, but generally their homes are not trapped in any way. The merchants, on the other hand, occasionally have hired guards and inevitably have traps, especially since they are beginning to suspect that someone is working against them and that it is no longer coincidence when they are caught."

Past-Blythe still wasn't paying much attention since art-related issues had nothing to do with her. Blythe wished she could shake her by the shoulders because this was important. Past-Blythe was going to end up in a relationship with an artist and this would have been something useful to know in advance.

With no way to communicate with her former self, she could only watch as her hands finished mixing the paste she had no contribution in concocting. If she had, she would have added more tarragon. What was past her thinking? "I'm ready. I'll need you to lie down for this. There's another reason Wysta would have made more sense, you know. She's got low cots in her wagon specifically for patients."

"I am not an invalid. The bed is fine even though it is high."

Etri was so tall he was able to hoist himself up into the loft without needing to use the rungs built into the cabinet below. Past-Blythe used the ladder and climbed up after him. Her bed was a kind of alcove built into the wall and she had to squeeze in to get past Etri. This was the one and only time she ever shared this space with someone else because later they'd moved to the floor. Adair's fear of heights apparently included beds, but she loved him too much to complain that a loft really wasn't that high off the ground.

Past-Blythe positioned herself with her back to the wall so she could place the bowl of healing paste she held on the shelf. Later it would be claimed by Adair's cat who liked looking out the tiny window. For now it held only a book and the bowl. "Take off your shirt."

As she dipped her fingers into the bowl to stir the contents, Etri obeyed without comment. This was another sign that he was under the influence of something. Normally he delayed removing articles of clothing by complaining about the cold, although she knew it was also because his upbringing left him terribly self-conscious about showing skin.

...which he wasn't this time. When past-Blythe looked over again, he was sprawled on his back with his arms behind his head, his dark hair in disarray against her pillow. In the lamplight his pale skin seemed to shine with a deceptive inner fire, as though he had gained his twin's lightweaving. The glow on his skin shifted into a new pattern every time the lamp's flame danced.

Blythe felt her past self's heart skip a beat as she stared at her friend laying in front of her. Past-Blythe quickly looked away and back at the bowl, much to the annoyance of the person reliving this who appreciated the view, thank you very much.

Past-Blythe brought her fingertips to Etri's chest and begun tracing a pattern onto his skin. She was only as far as the first vertical line when he reached up to touch her braid. It had fallen over her shoulder and Blythe remembered thinking at the time that he was going to push it back for her, but this wasn't his intention. Instead he tugged away the ribbon securing the bottom and started to unbraid it with his deft fingers. "You would look pretty with your hair down. I mean, your hair would look nice framing your face. You are already very pretty."

Past-Blythe's breath hitched and only partly from the affectionate words he spoke. At the time he had no idea of the intimacy he was implying with that deceptively simple action. She caught his wrist before he could finish freeing her hair. Blythe wished she hadn't been so keen to follow tradition because she loved when Etri played with her hair. Her past self was missing out. "Please stop. Protectorates don't go out in public with their hair loose. Only their muses and immediate family can see them with their hair unbraided."

Etri slid his hand into hers and entwined their fingers so she was holding this instead of his wrist. "I would be your muse if you asked."

"You're delirious, Etch. This is the toxicant talking." Past-Blythe's voice came out little more than a whisper. This was something she'd half-wanted for a very long time, although in hindsight Blythe knew she'd always wanted it entirely. Being neck-deep in denial really hadn't done her any favors.

With his free hand, Etri reached up to bury his fingers in her loosened hair before letting go to gently pull her down to him. Past-Blythe didn't resist and when Etri lifted his shoulders off the bed, she met him halfway. His kiss was everything her past self had hoped for. Even her current self, who, along with the help of a certain artist, had given Etri a lot more practice, couldn't find any fault with it. Etri was gentle yet passionate. Firm, then letting her lead, then pulling her closer as he deepened the kiss. It was as they were in their relationship and in their role as sentinels: equal, balanced, and ever in tune with each other. While his lips and mouth were cold, his chill was something she had long grown accustomed to even back then and experiencing it in this unfamiliar way had only made her crave more of it. Her current self certainly wanted more.

Except past-Blythe came to her senses and realized it wasn't something that was hers to take. As Etri nuzzled against her neck, she pulled away. "No, Etch. We can't. The toxicant-"

Etri's face went even more ashen than its usual pale hue. "Please tell me I did not cause it to harm you. I do not wish to hurt you. I never wish to hurt you." His concern, even while under the influence of something other than himself, tugged at Blythe's heart both in the past and in the present. Creators, she loved him so much. "No, it's not that. Something like this can usually only be transferred by injection into the blood and my body could probably nullify it anyway. Healer, remember? What I meant was we can't do this. It wouldn't be right. I'm not going to take advantage of you." Etri's disappointment was all but tangible and Blythe wished she could assure him that things would work out fine. Better than fine. Still, he was her friend and even in this state knew she wanted to protect him. He nodded and brushed her cheek with his hand, then tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. When he spoke, it was with a small, kind smile that both past and present Blythe found comforting. "Do as you think is best. I trust you. I always will."

Past-Blythe smiled with relief and went back to tracing the healing pattern on his chest. Blythe, meanwhile, was caught between affection and the returning urge to smack him with the book sitting under the bowl of paste. The toxicant driving his actions had left Etri with no memory of this day and he'd waited months to make any kind of move again. Blythe had been too embarrassed to do this herself and if it hadn't been for Adair blundering his way into their lives, they'd likely still be ignoring the elephant in the room. Granted it would have been a rather small elephant because the wagon could barely hold three people and a cat, and it was possible she might have just given in and kissed Etri senseless one day regardless of said elephant, but all-in-all, Blythe was quite thankful for Adair's inadvertent nudging of the situation.

Whenever she landed in her own time again, she was going to show him how thankful she was. Then she would probably hit Etri with a book. Five months. Sheesh.

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