The tea was hot and strong. She added another sugar cube, sighed deeply, cup held to her chest.
He’d been puffing meditatively on his cigar, now he was looking at the box of sugar cubes. He reached across for the box. She watched, fascinated. This burly Ex, this fighting machine, examining the box, dipping his hand in to pull out one sugar cube, giving it a curious sniff then a lick.
“It’s just sugar,” she told him.
He looked at her, saw her smile, and popped the cube into his mouth. A grin as he crunched on it. Then, box on his lap, he ate the sugar cubes like they were ….. well, sugar. Interesting, she thought. He is accustomed to cigars and whisky but has not tasted sugar before. The way he was into it he was making up for lost time. He saw her watching, offered her the box. She shook her head and smiled. Oh, dear! she thought, smile widening to a smirk. What has she done? Transformed an Ex warrior into a sweetie? Now she was definitely an enemy of the State!
The sun was setting. The sky was a brilliant orange. From the trees below came a sharp, insistent, “Look at me! Look at me!” Her smirk dropped and she slid across the bench, closer to him.
“Just a bird,” he assured her and offered her the whisky bottle.
She took a tentative sip, warm, aromatic, not unpleasant, then looked at the contents. Half a bottle left. The way he was going it would be empty before the sun had finished setting.
“Go easy on that,” she said, handing back the bottle. “You go rolling off down the slope I’m not coming to your rescue.” Then she sneezed. “Just a cold,” she sniffed as he regarded her with alarm. “Damn thing just won’t go away.” Had it since her first day in isolation, playing tug-of-war with her immune system. She thought she’d had it beat. “Don’t worry – I’m not going to infect you. You’re immune to the GOD virus. The cold virus doesn’t stand a chance with you.”
“Cold virus?” He eyed her warily and did his body shift just a fraction away from her?
“Not as spectacular as your GOD virus but damn persistent. You’d think they’d have done something about eliminating this one before creating a new one.” She needed tissues, remembered seeing a box somewhere in that bathroom jungle.
He reached forward and placed his two hands firmly over her face, cupping her cheeks, eyes and forehead. A cool tingling sensation like the other times, she felt her nasal passages clearing, the soothing of the throat and head. Then his hands moved down to clasp her neck while his fingers massaged behind her ears and in front. It felt ……. so good …… she could fall asleep right now …… and then he stopped.
Her eyes opened. “Thank you,” she said, then took his hand in hers, studying it. “How do you do that?” she wanted to know.
“A killer healer,“ she mused. His hand was just a hand – big, strong but nothing out of the ordinary that she could see.
He watched her as she placed her small hand on his palm, comparing the size. “How did you survive?” he asked. “Small, fragile, yet you alone survived.”
“I wonder about that too,” she said, rubbing his palm with her finger, as if that might induce whatever it was that healed to show itself. “I was in the shower when it happened. Do you think that’s what saved me?”
He shrugged. “It should have detected you.”
“Hmm,” she murmured, then realized she’d been holding and rubbing his hand for perhaps too long and self-consciously let go. Suddenly she felt very tired. “Think I’ll turn in,” she yawned.
He looked at her suspiciously. “To what?”
“To sleep,” she grinned. Really! Sometimes you had to wonder about the intelligence of the Ex! Or maybe he just hasn’t been in contact with an ordinary person before, an ordinary person who needed regular sleep. All those nights in the desert she’d slept curled up against him but had never seen him asleep. She hesitated then decided not to ask. Too many questions; she didn’t want to annoy him with too much talk. “Be good to sleep in a bed again," she said. "Well, goodnight then. And thanks for the …… you know ……” she rubbed her nose, “….. fixing the cold.” She stopped, halfway through the door and turned. “Did you want to sleep in the bed?” she asked. There was only one bed, a huge bed. She could sleep on the sofa, he sure as hell couldn’t.
He shook his head and settled back into his position. “I’m okay here,” he said, and she wondered if he was still keeping watch for whatever was following them or if it was just his nature to be always on guard.
“You’ll need this, then,” she said, taking off the coat and giving it to him.
She lay on the bed – a bed soft as a cloud – and tossed and turned. Finally gave up and went upstairs and onto the balcony. She gave no explanation, he asked for none, as she sat beside him and pulled the coat over to cover her.
* * *
She awoke to the sound of birds. The forest seemed to be swarming with them, some she recognised, others, not. The Ex was leaning on the wooden rail of the balcony, his back to her, his short-cropped hair lit by the morning sun. She wondered what he was thinking. Sometimes, like this time, he looked like some mythical warrior or sage. He was such a contradiction, wise and naive, experienced and innocent …..
As if aware of her scrutiny he turned slowly around. “Any further manifestations?” he asked.
“Manifestations?” she blinked at him.
“The cold virus ……. ?”
“Ah!” She took a deep breath through her nose. “I’m fine now, thanks.” She noticed the empty bottle by his feet, the cigar in his mouth. “That stuff can kill you, you know,” she told him.
He took the cigar out of his mouth and studied it, then looked at her and grinned. “You are funny,” he said.
I’m not the funny one, mate! she thought. She stood beside him at the rail. A pair of ravens flew up from the forest, calling to each other in flight. “Ahhhh!” she called out to them, raising her arms in a gesture of wings. Alongside her there was a flurry of action. She turned as his right hand pulled her behind him, in his left hand the pistol-like weapon. “Sorry,” she laughed. “Sorry! I didn’t mean to …. it’s just ….. just ravens. See?” she pointed to the pair, settled in the top branch of a dead gum tree.
“It’s the bird alongside me,” he growled. The ravens were off again, glossy black in the sunlight. Her hair was the same colour, gleaming in the sunlight, her eyes glittered with laughter. “Noisy damn bird!” he muttered.
“Noble damn sage!” she mimicked.
He squinted at her. Probably doesn’t know what a sage is, probably thinks she’s making fun of him. “What’s your name?” she asked.
He looked at her blankly.
“What do they call you?”
She nodded. Of course. Why humanise them with a name. “I’ll call you Sage. It’s a good name,” she assured him. “It means a wise man ….. a strong man. A good man.”
He said nothing at first, then, “What do they call you?”
She hesitated. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt them. “Just call me ……” she tried to think of something appropriate.
“Raven,” he said, and grinned.
contemporary themes with a futuristic twist and a touch of fantasy.