New Hope, Northern Tortall
Irmai, as usual, was the first to know. She came scrambling up to Kel’s office, her long hair in disarray and her eyes wide, and skidded into the office in a rare display of nerves.
“Lady Kel! There's a fight!” She panted.
Kel, who was used to the small seer’s warnings by now, still stood and groped behind her for her glaive. Though she knew it was paranoid, since her Scanran adventure she hadn't been able to stop herself from taking the polearm with her wherever she went, like a security blanket. Whenever she thought she was getting better flashes of the burned-out husk of Haven would flutter through her mind and her hands would go for her weapon. She'd never be caught unawares again.
“When?” She asked the seer, knowing now that that was always the most pertinent question when it came to children who could tell the future.
“Now!” Irnai rolled her eyes and beckoned Kel to follow her. They trotted down the stairs of Kel’s headquarters and out into the yard, where usually at this time of day Merric and the formerly convict soldiers would be going through their drills. Today though, no one was practicing sword blocks. Instead the squad was clustered around something, and their roaring cheers told Kel exactly who. On the opposite side of the crowd a block of maroon-geared men were watching the fight with less enthusiasm, their eyes wary and their hands on their swords. Kel knew that look.
“Stay out here,” she told Irnai, handing the girl her glaive for safekeeping and bringing her elbows up. She waded into the crowd. She only needed to elbow two of her convicts before they got the message and moved out of her way, allowing her access to the two brawlers in the middle. One wore the maroon tunic and trappings of the regular army company that had been bunking at New Hope for the last two nights on their way through to Steadfast, and one had the bright blue eyes and reckless grin of her (currently) most exasperating sergeant. The two looked fairly evenly matched as the fight continued, but Kel couldn't care less.
Someone tried to shout a warning to the fighters, but it wouldn't have done any good even if they had heeded it. Dom was on the winning end of the fight currently, with the other man pinned under him and open to a hail of fists. Kel introduced herself to the brawl by grabbing Dom’s arm as he raised it for another blow, and twisting it up behind his back so if he moved too much he'd dislocate his shoulder. She hauled him upright. If he were interested in hurting her Dom could probably still throw her from here, but as soon as his wild gaze caught hers he quieted. The army man, unfortunately, took this as an opportunity to charge them, to which Kel neatly shifted Dom to the side and snap-kicked the man in the chest. The crowd roared and the man went down.
“Aufrec,” Kel bellowed at her newest sergeant, who was just visible in the crowd. He was grinning, until he heard his name. “Get that man under control!”
Aufrec moved in and promptly sat on the army man before he could recover from Kel’s kick.
“The rest of you, don't you have training to do? Anyone not clear of here in the next thirty seconds is on latrines for a week.” They scattered so fast there should have been dust trails in their wake. Kel had yet to release Dom, and Aufrec remained seated on the subdued fighter, leaving her in a bit of a dilemma.
“Who’s your commander?” Kel asked the man. He looked away from her. Kel sighed, beginning to fathom what this fight was about. Aufrec calmly dropped an elbow into the man’s chest, making him wheeze.
“Your commander, now,” Kel growled.
“That would be me,” a man stated, and Kel looked around to find a tall blonde man with braids like a Scanran and interesting grey eyes. He was looking at her none too kindly, and Kel pieced together just why the fight hadn't been stopped before she arrived.
“Your name?” She asked.
“Sergeant Tomas Fletcher,” he said.
“Sergeant Fletcher do you typically condone fighting in the middle of the yard like common thugs?” Dom struggled a bit at that implication but Kel thought it was only fair. She hiked his arm a bit further up behind his back and he quieted.
“Of course not,” the man said.
“That would be ‘Of course not, Sir,’” Kel snapped, her suspicions confirmed. This would not be the first fight she had caught one of her men in over her perceived honor, and she highly doubted it would be the last. She still didn’t like it though, and didn’t really see why the men felt the need to get in fights at all. She didn’t fight everyone who said something rude of her, why did they?
“Of course not, Sir,” Fletcher said, though the contempt was obvious in his voice. Kel sighed internally, her face Yamani-smooth.
“Sergeant I believe your stay with us has just been extended. We have a new ditch that needs digging, and unfortunately I can’t spare any of my people just now. Yours seem to have more than enough energy.”
Fletcher blanched, “But - we’re due in at Steadfast tomorrow evening. Sir.” He tacked that last on there like an afterthought, but there it was.
“A bird will reach my Lord Raoul there much before you will. I’m sure he would not like us to face the coming summer without adequate defenses.” Dom let out a quiet chuckle and Kel hiked his arm up a bit further, until any hint of amusement dropped off him. She knew why he had been fighting, but she would not allow him to think for a second that she condoned it.
“Will there be a problem, Sergeant?” Kel asked. For a second she thought there actually would be, but the man stood down.
“Good. Please see my man Seafas with the refugees. He’ll get your troop outfitted for digging. Please also devise a suitable punishment for this fellow,” she pointed at the man that Aufrec was happily sitting on, “and report it to me by this evening’s second bell. Dismissed.” She nodded at Aufrec to let the man up and watched the two of them stomp away.
“Thank you, Aufrec,” she said politely. Her Sergeant nodded with a small grin and Kel turned to the man in her hands.
“You. My office, now,” she growled, and let him go with a none-too-gentle push. Dom threw an irritatingly handsome smirk over his shoulder, but he went where she asked him to go. Kel stood in the middle of the yard for a moment, collecting her thoughts and trying to make herself as calm as a still lake. She barely noticed when Irnai handed her her glaive.
By the time Kel walked into her office she was less upset, but still not quite as calm as a still lake. Her Yamani training, it seemed, was not serving her well this day. Dom was standing in the center of her office, hands behind his back. He was fighting to keep his infectious grin off his face, and Kel wondered idly if a good smack would help it stay off.
“Before you tan my hide, Mother-” if he wanted her not to hit him, calling her by her least favorite nickname was not going to help his situation - “you should know-”
She cut him off. “What they said about me? Did they say I’d slept my way through the King’s Own, perhaps with our lord as well, perhaps will all the soldiers under my command? Did they say I’m witched? Maybe they asked you how much it would cost to get me to sleep my way through them too? That I bought my shield, sold my body, magicked everyone in the palace to let me through, so on and so on and so on? I’ve heard it all, Dom. Every approximation of what I sound like in bed, every insult, everything they can throw at me. And I’m still here. What I don’t understand is why my friends think they need to defend my honor against every little insult.”
Dom gaped at her. It was a long speech for her, surely, but she was tired and fed up with people thinking they needed to fight for her. She could fight for herself, surely that was clear by now. Dom was silent a moment, and when he opened his mouth what came out was not at all what she expected.
“Would you rather we didn’t?” He asked. He looked genuinely curious.
Kel leaned her glaive in the corner and sat down on the edge of her desk. She had never thought of it like that. Would she rather her friends didn’t fight for her? She hated that they got into scrapes that she viewed were her fault, but that wasn’t the root of it.
“I’d rather you didn’t have to,” she said.
Dom smiled, but his smile wasn’t its usual rackish self. “And I’d rather they didn’t say things about you too. But Kel… you’re our friend. You’re my friend. What would it say about us if we didn’t defend you? All them that say such things, they don’t know you, but they should know that you have friends. They should know that it’s not acceptable.” He paused and blushed. “Sorry, I’m not one for serious speeches.”
That did make Kel smile, if only a little. “Dom, if you fight everyone who ever says anything bad about me, you’ll be fighting for my honor the rest of your life.”
“And so I will,” he muttered, then looked over at her like a deer caught in lamplights. Kel’s breath caught in her throat.
“What?” She squeaked out. Dom’s face went through an interesting escalation of color, from blanched white to tomato red and she was sure she matched it.
“I only - I meant - I… oh sod it.” He crossed her little office in two long steps and leant down to press his lips to hers, one hand going to the small of her back to keep her steady and the other to the base of her neck. Kel was too stunned to respond, and a short second later he pulled away. He ran both hands through his hair, his eyes too wide, and she could see him begin to formulate his apology.
“Kel, I -” Something in her mind clicked into place. Kel stood so she was only a couple inches shorter than him and reached out. She drew his face back down the short distance to her own and captured his lips with hers. Now it was his turn to be stunned for a second, but his stillness didn’t last nearly as long as hers and soon he was responding. His arms slid around her back and pressed her body close to his, so she could feel him against her from waist to shoulders. Her own arms went around his neck and when he tilted his head to deepen their kiss she let him gladly. When eventually they broke apart, Dom didn’t let her out of his arms. She chuckled and leaned her forehead against his.
“You were saying?” She asked softly. He kissed her again, just a short press of lips.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“No, I think you were about to apologize,” she teased.
He grinned. “Do you want me to?”
Kel pretended to think about it for long enough that he shifted under her arms. She grinned. “No, I think not.”
“Good,” he whispered, his lips dangerously close to hers again, “because I’d rather not stop.”
Kel met his eyes, shocked and thrilled at what she could see in them. “Then don’t,” she murmured, so he didn’t.