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Dust

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The plants begged for water. It had been weeks since the last rain, and the cracked ground was dust where it should be mud. As she walked past them, Rosethorn sent a gentle encouragement. Not too much; it wouldn’t do them any good to get up hope and send out new growth to be scorched away by drought. But enough to keep them going until this evening, when she could water them again. In the heat she wouldn’t risk watering them while the sun was up, and waiting for dusk only made the days stretch longer. Over the weeks the feeling had spread from the plants to her, and she felt dried out, itchy and irritable.

That feeling had not been helped that morning by the company of Dedicate Crane. Some water dedicate had decided to call him in alongside her to have a look at the herb gardens to the south of the hub, and he had stood looming over her, dictating loudly to a scribe, and pursing his lips whenever she paused to think. It had been authoritarian, high-handed, and aggravating, and she had come up with most of the solution that might save the dying bed of sage. She knew she shouldn’t begrudge him the credit he would get for his part in that same solution, but it was difficult. All he had done was spout his academic, impractical, nonsense that would just convince the plant to get itself into trouble. The only positive things about the morning were that it had ended, and that before she left she had put two bottles of water and herbs to infuse in the cold box at Discipline, making Lark promise to leave them to drink together when she got back.

When she did open the door to the small cottage, it wasn’t Lark who greeted her, but a short man in water temple blue and a black border to his habit. She froze, stomach plummeting to her knees. The dry air had been hard on everyone, but Lark’s lungs hated the dust, and she had left her alone all morning. She put her mage kit very carefully down on the table, as the young man shuffled his feet and cleared his throat nervously.

“She’s asleep. Or she was just now.” At least it wasn’t the worst possibility. She would have felt relieved if she didn’t want to shake the man. “She collapsed earlier.”

“… why?” It was an inane question, and she knew it was, but she asked it anyway.

“She was delivering some bandages we’d asked for. And then she started coughing...”

“And it wouldn’t stop? She has medicine on her.” She didn’t try to stop the accusatory tone of voice.

"It stopped, but she fainted first. She's in bed, resting. She needs someone with her…" His voice trailed out. 

Rosethorn considered her options. The water dedicates could send people to check up on her easily, but that would mean them staying in her home, with her Lark. She could do work while sitting with her, maybe even bring out something for her to lie on in the main room. She sighed. 

"I'll look after her. You can go." 

...

Lark was asleep, looking smaller and more fragile than she ought to under a thin blanket. Her breath was shallow, and sat next to the bed Rosethorn could hear how it wheezed in and out. There was little she could do. She was not a healer; her magic couldn't repair or even ease any damage. Lark had been given what herbs she could have. The water dedicates had at least done that right, leaving a list of what she had been given and when by the bed. Now it was a matter of waiting, listening, and watching. 

Unless. The bottle of tincture was by the bed. When had she made this one? She cupped it in her hands. That was it, last autumn, when the herbs had been most potent. The oil they were preserved in had kept much of that strength, holding it until it was needed, but even then, it was now high summer. She took a deep breath, then surrounded them with her own magic, re-waking the plants inside. That was better. When the hour bell rang she could have a dose of it, and one that was as though it was freshly made. 

She spent a quarter of an hour making sure all the medicines kept in the room were as strong as they could be, then another short while preparing herbs, and leaving them to infuse. By the time the bell in the hub tower began to ring she had run out of simple tasks and had started to pace from Lark's bedroom to the kitchen and back. She would have to wake her up to get her to take the medicine properly, and a large part of her didn't want to, didn't want to know if the collapse had affected her. But she did it. 

Lark smiled as her eyes opened, which was a good sign. 

"Rosie." Her voice was quiet, but there. 

"You need to breathe this infusion in. Do you want to sit up for it?" Lark looked a little hurt at her sharp tone, but nodded, and pushed herself to sitting, taking the bottle when she handed it over. 

She turned around to pour out a drink. She had hurt her, with those words, but she couldn't have done anything else. It had never been easy to find gentleness, or loving words, and she was too scared now. But it could ruin everything she had built here. And if Lark thought that she was… 

She noticed she was crying, finding it harder to see the measurements of what she was pouring out. Putting the drink down in a hurry would be foolish. She didn't want to spill it. But all she wanted to do was go and hide, let the crying happen out of sight. Steadying herself, she turned to give Lark the cup. 

Lark's expression softened from pain and concentration to care as she watched, and her hand went to Rosethorn’s forearm. 

"Oh, love…" 

As she sat down on the bed, tears began in earnest, and she learnt into her lover's shoulder. 

"I… " 

"It's fine. I'm fine." She was still wheezing, but only a little. 

"Don't you dare do that to me again." 

"I'll make a mask. For outside."

She nodded, and held her close. "I have some herbs in pots that want to be inside. You can have them in here." 

They stayed, for a while, together and safe.