Rosethorn always woke up with the sun. Lark herself was an early riser, used to getting in her morning stretches and sipping her stay-awake tea in-between bits of straightening-up and getting ready for the day, but even after ten years at the temple, she didn't have as regular a schedule as most dedicates. Sometimes she woke before dawn, other times just as the temple bells heralded morning services, and often, in winter, when the dry air made her cough dryly for weeks on end, she had no fixed schedule at all, and depended entirely on how well she could rest each night.
But Rosethorn always woke up with the sun, be it summer or winter, like she had an internal clock that told her precisely when the sun had finished rising from the Pebbled Sea, and was just visible beyond the cliffs, turning the sky lavender and orange.
Lark hadn't realized how much she took it for granted, until it stopped happening.
Even now, weeks after the blue pox, she kicked herself for not having figured out earlier that Rosethorn was sick. So many years together, and she'd never seen the other woman fail to greet the sunrise - often, if the wheezes woke her close to dawn, she stayed up just to see her love wake, precisely the moment the first sunlight touched the little window of her room. Every day it happened the same, however late they'd stayed up, however worn or hassled they were...until the blue pox, when everything had changed.
Rosethorn could speak again, though her tone was ragged and her words slow, hesitant. Too many consonants in a row or longer words still gave her trouble, but she'd made progress. The first days after (Lark still couldn't think it without her breath hitching) her death, upon finding she couldn't speak right, she'd refused to speak at all, and communicated largely in frustrated snarls and scowls.
If Briar hadn't worn himself thin trying to translate her thoughts through the link they shared, Lark thought she might've never agreed to the effort of relearning to speak. She'd certainly resisted Moonstream's gentle hints - but Briar's anxious hovering had gotten to her, and, after glaring the boy out of her room, she'd finally acceded to the excruciating exercise of getting her words back.
She reached up to put the tea cup down on the nightstand, wincing as her shaking hands made it rattle against the plate. "I'm fine. Go...nap."
Lark was fairly certain she'd meant to say 'rest' or 'do something else', but she still struggled over the harder sounds. They'd learned to extrapolate her meaning from easier, shorter words, while she worked it out.
"I will in a bit. Just going to finish watering the basil."
Watering the plants was, of course, a transparent ruse. Having piled pots into every corner of Rosethorn's room, to help her recover, Briar minded them so carefully they did not require Lark's attention. But Rosethorn chafed at the fussing, so, rather than aggravate her by coming in every ten minutes just to make sure she was still breathing, Lark invented excuses. Opening the window. Closing the window. Looking for an inkwell. Dusting. Returning the inkwell - and so on.
Neither was happy about the need for pretext, but with their tempers frayed like an old foot rug, the ruse made room for silent compromise.
"'m not sick anymore," Rosethorn muttered. Getting no response, she lay back against the propped-up pillows and closed her eyes. Lark shot her a furtive glance, frowning at her bloodless lips and the half-finished tea on the nightstand. That morning she'd seemed in good spirits - sat with them for breakfast and spent half hour in the garden criticizing Briar's weeding - but by noon, she'd turned pale again, and taken a longer nap than usual.
Moonstream had warned them that there'd be ups and downs, in recovery. And it had been barely two weeks. Rosie had come a long way, and Lark was sure that soon (eventually) she'd quit worrying that she might slip away again, if Lark wasn't looking...
"Skips and knots." Lark swore quietly as water spilled over the sides of the basil pot. She'd unthinkingly poured half the water jug in, drowning the poor plant.
She tipped the pot, trying to get the excess water into the pot saucer, while Rosethorn, alerted by the noise, opened her eyes and sat up.
"Out," she mumbled, waving a hand as thought to say 'toss it'. Lark gave her a doubtful look.
"I'm sure it's not so bad. If I've overwatered it, Briar can mend it, no need to throw it out - oh, you mean empty the saucer." She smiled and poured the water in the saucer back into the jug. "I've made a mess. That'll teach me to go trying to do your job."
Rosethorn rolled her eyes.
"Go away," she said, and Lark bit her lips, trying not to bristle at the attitude because she understood. But something must've shown in her face, despite her efforts: Rosethorn made another frustrated noise and sighed. "Sorry. It's..." She grimaced and waved a hand, falteringly, fingers clenching and unclenching as though she were trying to grip the words that eluded her.
"Hard," she said at last, rolling out the consonants a little awkwardly.
"I know." Lark put down the water jug and walked closer. "I'm sorry, too."
"I'm fine," Rosethorn said hoarsely. It wasn't true, but she wasn't dead or dying, so Lark supposed that counted.
She grabbed her lover's hand, and they squeezed each other's fingers gently. A silent reassurance that they were alright, that things between them were alright. Rosie had never been one for many words, even before; years ago, Lark had discovered that she preferred to say 'I love you' with her eyes and hands.
She smiled, letting go. "I'll go help Sandry and Briar finish dinner. Do you want a book, or more tea? Moonstream's word practice cards?"
Rosethorn made a sour face and shook her head; then she huffed as Little Bear trotted into the room. Lark laughed: the blessed dog had some supernatural capacity for knowing when he was needed. Immune to Rosethorn's scowls, he sat at the foot of the bed, putting his head on the edge and watching her with doleful, begging eyes.
Rosethorn gave Lark a flat look, then, thinning her lips, surreptitiously patted the blanket. Needing no other invitation, Little Bear hopped on top of her, collapsing over her legs and shoving his head under her hand.
"Bad dog," said Rosethorn, though the corners of her lips tugged up. She nodded to Lark. "Go eat." She opened her mouth again, but hesitated. Her fingers worried into fists again, as she searched for words.
"I'll tell the children to give you some quiet time," said Lark, guessing her thoughts. For the past two weeks they'd hardly left her alone, taking unspoken shifts keeping an eye on her. For all her worry, Lark couldn't fault Rosie for struggling with the constant company.
She tapped the bell on the side of the bed.
"Ring this if you need anything. Promise?"
Rosethorn rolled her eyes again, but under Lark's frown, she sighed and tapped the bell a few times in acquiescence. She had yet to ring it once, since Lark had provided it - but that might have been, Lark admitted, because they never left her alone more than ten minutes. If that.
She turned to leave, smiling as she heard Rosethorn mutter to Little Bear, "bad dog" again. The bad dog groaned his pleasure as she scratched his ear.
For the first time in weeks, Lark found it easier to focus on mundane matters like dinner and assigning chores. It could hardly be said Discipline was back to normal - the house was in disarray, and everyone kept glancing anxiously at Rosethorn's half-closed door, and chatter revolved nearly exclusively around the aftermath of the blue pox, which was still unfolding outside the cottage walls - but the cloud of fear and pain had dissipated. Somewhat.
That didn't stop Lark from checking on Rosethorn through the night, like every night for the past two weeks. When the sun rose, and the green mage stayed asleep, breathing a little shallowly and still far too pale, Lark let out a quiet sigh and tried not to think how much suffering they might've been spared, if only she'd realized, weeks ago, that something was wrong.
She knew they'd all been running ragged, that days and nights had blended together, and Rosethorn spent half her time away from Discipline, anyway. Lark herself had been working through dawn most nights, so she couldn't possibly have caught the change in Rosie's wake-up times... Still, she wished she'd noticed. If they'd caught the pox before Rosethorn had recklessly burned through her magic to keep it at bay while she searched for the cure...
Of course, if she'd been forced on bedrest earlier, she might never have found the first key, and the cure might've been delayed longer, leaving many more dead. Lark couldn't bring herself to wish for that.
There was no good answer in her brooding, so she forced her mind away from those thoughts again. Closing her eyes, she whispered a prayer to Mila of the Grain, for having allowed Rosethorn to wake up at all.
Dedicate Crane showed up mid-morning, looking rather wan and bony himself, though there was no mistaking the smug glint in his eyes. "No new cases in three days." He sat down to accept Lark's offer of morning tea. "Too early to tell it's over, but the cure's worked in nearly everyone the last ten days, and we've had no more deaths."
He hesitated, catching some expression Lark hadn't realized she was making. His dark brows knitted.
"I thought she was recovering. Is she doing worse, again?"
Lark shook her head. Crane didn't know the extent of what had happened. Moonstream had ordered them, rightfully, to keep the whole back-from-the-dead mess quiet, and though in the end it was for the best, it left Lark with no one to talk out her worries with. Rosie was in no shape to help her get her thoughts straight. Moonstream was too busy, and Niko... Niko had been shaken worse than Lark. She had a feeling if she shared her worries with him, he'd take them on and make them double.
Dedicate Crane cleared his throat. "If you need someone to look after things for a short while...I won't be missed an hour or two. You can get some rest. I'll keep Rosethorn company."
Lark couldn't help a doubtful smile. He squared his shoulders.
"I am perfectly capable of having a civilized conversation with her. You needn't worry I'll antagonize her when she's ill." He cleared his throat, "Last time was ...a regrettable accident."
Lark chuckled wanly. Last time had been some two or three days after Rosie's brush with death (time had grown fuzzy, around then), when Crane, having heard Moonstream's unsparing dressing down of Dedicate Sealwort, had guessed that something bad had happened to prompt such backlash, and shown up at Discipline in a more concerned state than he'd later care to admit.
Lark - at the time, overwhelmed with four exhausted, anxious children (one of whom kept trying to surreptitiously camp out in Rosethorn's room, as though Lark couldn't see him hiding under the desk), and a heap of belated panic she still hadn't worked through - had thought Crane's visit might help lift Rosethorn's spirits. Stimulating conversation might help with the frustration of being stuck in bed, and maybe he could even encourage her to practice speaking more. She and Dedicate Crane had been friends, once, right? He'd come visit out of genuine concern, so Lark hoped he might help her glum mood.
But she'd forgotten just how quickly those two could get on each other's nerves. She didn't recall the details, but Dedicate Crane had made a comment, Rosethorn had taken offense, and the emergency bell that Lark had left Rosie had found itself flying at the Air Temple dedicate's head. He'd caught it before it did any damage.
Lark's plan had half-succeeded, in a sense: before throwing the bell, Rosethorn had managed a few words. But they were not words usually spoken in polite company.
"I don't hold the incident against Rosethorn," said Crane, tugging primly on his long yellow sleeves. "I've seen the pox affect people's...faculties, and her fever had just broken. I should have been more aware that she might exhibit...abnormal sensitivities."
Lark gave him a warm smile and decided, since he'd generously shown up to offer help, to never tell Rosie he'd called her abnormally sensitive and questioned her faculties.
(Not that she disagreed, entirely. But she knew Rosethorn felt bad enough about her actions, without hearing Crane's annotations.)
Maybe it wouldn't hurt having him take a quick look at her. If he thought she looked too tired, too, maybe he'd support Lark in calling Moonstream, again.
"I'm sure she'll appreciate having someone else to talk to," she said, smiling. "I'm afraid I've not been very entertaining company."
She knocked gently on the door and let Rosethorn know she had a visit, and was satisfied to see a promising glint in the other woman's eye as she learned who it was. Her intuition had been correct: Rosethorn was bored. Some semblance of normal conversation with someone who didn't treat her as if she'd just died was precisely what she needed.
Still, Lark took the bell and tucked it away in a drawer, while Rosie watched with a smirk. Perhaps it was simply the morning (evenings were always worse, when everyone was tired), but Lark thought the mood felt somewhat lighter, just then. She tweaked her fingers around the edge of her handkerchief and prayed for the knot to come loose, at last.
Rosethorn crossed her arms when Crane came in, arching her eyebrows suspiciously while he expressed good wishes and relief at seeing her better. Lark thought he meant it. Likely Rosethorn did, too, but it didn't stop her being obstreperous. She refused to talk to him at all, using only pointed gestures and huffs - until Dedicate Crane caught on to her game, and, narrowing his eyes, said:
"And I'm sure you'll be relieved to know I corrected your calculation error in the proper concentration of nettleseed oil that would keep the compound additives from breaking up in contact with the pox essence."
Rosethorn's eyes widened, and her mouth made an indignant 'oh'.
"Yes," Crane went on. "You neglected to take into account how the arrowroot powder in additives M through P is neutralized by the quinic acid in the oil... an honest mistake, I'm sure. Rest assured, I caught and amended the formula, adding curcumin root to bind to the acid-"
"No," gasped Rosethorn. "Dimwit!"
He pursed his lips. "There's no need for name-calling. It's no shame, anyone could suffer that oversight, and you were not yourself-"
"No mistake," she protested.
"Forgive me, but I saw the additive formula written in your own hand, and it contained no curcumin-"
"No!" Rosethorn threw up her hands, gritting her teeth. "Nettleseed oil - " She took a breath, lips working silently over the shapes of the words before she said them aloud. "Mine is already diluted. Won't cancel out the...additives."
Crane drew himself to his full height. "I read the oil concentrations in your notes, and they did not say anything about dilution."
"Get your eyes checked," retorted Rosethorn - then she started coughing, having choked on her next words, and Lark decided Dedicate Crane had done enough and ought to quit while he was ahead. Especially since Rosethorn had started eyeing the bell drawer.
She gave Rosethorn another cup of tea and marshaled Crane out of the room, grinning as she heard her lover shriek one last disagreement before the door closed behind them.
"Thank you," she told Crane as he left. "I'm sure that was an...inspiring visit." She hesitated in the doorway. "Did you find her...better?"
"Vastly," Dedicate Crane said, wryly. "I had not been insulted in nearly three weeks."
"I did check the notes," said Crane. "There was nothing about diluted oil in there."
She gave him a long look. "Then perhaps there are different notes you haven't seen," she suggested. Rosie didn't make mistakes like that, and he knew it.
He rolled his eyes.
"Did not make a mistake," grumbled Rosethorn, when Lark brought her more tea, and she spent the next hour at her desk, double-checking concentration reactions and scoffing triumphantly every time her formulas worked out. "Oversight my foot."
She was too tired, after that, to join them for lunch, but after a short nap she had Briar inventory all the oil bottles in her workshop and bring up piles of old notes and instructions, and by evening she'd found herself satisfactorily in the right, and in a better mood than Lark had seen her in weeks.
She did not even protest when Sandry brought her sewing to her room, after dinner, 'because the light was better'. And when Briar began what Lark assumed was a mental argument with Sandry over whose turn it was to sit with Rosethorn (she could tell by his scowl and sporadic huffs, in the common room, which huffs Sandry echoed periodically, while Tris and Daja rolled their eyes and exchanged wry looks), Rosethorn called out to him and invited him in, and she tolerated them both for nearly half hour before kicking them out.
With a little luck, Lark prayed that night, the downs were behind them.
She still checked on Rosie at midnight, and again at dawn, and watched her sleep through another sunrise, stirring only when the bells for morning service had been clanging for a long while.
But things did get better, slowly. Niko took the children for lessons most afternoons, so Lark would have less on her plate, and having long quiet stretches with just her and Rosethorn helped smooth out some hard edges borne of fear and tiredness and frustration.
Rosethorn began moving about the house again, and going into the garden every day, though she didn't have much energy for work. She did spend some time in her workshop making a fresh tonic tea, which she insisted they share, claiming she wasn't sure which needed it more.
They shared the tea on the small bench overlooking the garden, sitting shoulder to shoulder, listening to the noises from the temple. The air had turned sweeter, somehow, with summer in full swing, and Lark surprised herself by managing an afternoon nap, that day, which she rarely did anyway, and certainly hadn't intended, with no one else at home to check on Rosethorn.
Of course, Rosethorn felt she didn't need checking on, anymore. Lark woke from her nap to find her making an early dinner, and though of course she'd overdone it and looked pale and drawn, she smiled at Lark's scolds instead of bristling, and agreed to sit in the rocking chair, wrapped in a light shawl (with a few words of protection on it), while Lark finished the meal.
The next morning, nearly a full month after Rosethorn's brush with death, Lark woke up to a noise she didn't quite remember hearing. Standing up, she listened in the silence, until she heard muffled footsteps and shuffling in the kitchen. Lark pulled a wrap around her shoulders, against the crispness of early morning, and poked her head out. In the dim, gray light that heralded dawn, she could make out Sandry's silhouette by the table, pouring a glass of water. The front door was open, letting in a breeze.
"Sorry," whispered Sandry. "Little Bear came to wake me up. I think he had to go out. Uhm...his stomach's making funny noises."
Lark grimaced. "It'll be those chopped peppers he got into, yesterday. Must've eaten more than we thought." She sighed and waved Sandry to her room. "I'll make sure he's alright. Go back to bed, please."
"Sorry," Sandry murmured again, but she didn't require much convincing to shuffle back to her room. Lark padded over to the front door, where she found Little Bear looking unusually subdued. He slipped past her and curled up in a corner, huffing. Lark briefly considered venturing out to check what the peppers had done to him, but decided it could wait until proper daytime. The sun had just started rising, painting streaks of orange across the sky.
She closed the door and brought Little Bear his water bowl. He took a tentative lick, then sniffed her hands plaintively.
"Poor Little Bear," she whispered, rubbing his cheek. "Rosie'll know something to settle your stomach, in the morning."
Reassured he'd settled, she started to return to her room, but paused by Rosethorn's door. It was cracked open, as per their agreement, so someone could hear if she called out or rang the (still unused) bell.
Her room was quiet, save for Rosethorn's deep, peaceful breathing. Briar's twenty herb pots had largely been relocated back to the workshop, but Rosethorn had kept a couple (and, Lark suspected, Briar might've snuck one or two back in when he thought she wouldn't notice), so the faint scent of basil and thyme lingered in the air. A pile of papers atop the bed fluttered in the draft from the open door. Rosie must've fallen asleep reading letters. She'd had a hefty pile waiting.
Gently, Lark gathered them and put them on the desk, so they wouldn't end up scattered on the floor. She picked up a crumb-filled plate forgotten on the desk, and draped the shawl Rosethorn still wrapped around herself some evenings over the back of the chair. Hopefully Little Bear's distress was truly from the peppers, she thought, and not some spoilt food that would give trouble to the rest of them, too. The last thing they needed was a bout of loose bowels.
With a soft touch of her fingers, Lark had the light cover tuck itself tighter around Rosethorn, to keep her warm. The first rays of sun streamed through the window, and on impulse, she moved out of the way, letting the light reach Rosie's face. Her lips had regained their fresh color, she noticed, and her cheeks, hollowed by the pox, had rounded out again. She might've tire more easily and rolled a little clumsily around some words, but she didn't look ill, anymore, and Lark closed her eyes to whisper a thankful prayer to their gods.
When she opened them again, Rosethorn had tipped her head sideways, craning her neck toward the window, like a cat stretching in a patch of sunlight. She took a deep breath, hummed something in her throat - then her eyes opened, blinking lazily against the sun.
Lark backed up a few steps, quietly, and she smiled. "Good morning," she whispered softly, the way she did when they woke up together, and she could feel Rosethorn's cat-like stretches toward the sun under their shared blanket.
Her voice was a little thick. Tears had gathered in her throat, and she tried to keep them down.
Rosethorn blinked a few more times, then yawned, and tilted her head at Lark looming by the bed. "Green Man's beard. How long have you been here?" She cleared her throat, making her voice less hoarse. "Lark? What's wrong?"
"Nothing." Lark took a step closer, reaching a hand to squeeze hers. "Sorry, I was woolgathering. Little Bear's got an upset stomach, so I got up early."
"Mm." Rosethorn yawned again, covering her mouth with her other hand, then (unconsciously, Lark thought) she craned her neck left to right, making a noise not unlike a purr as the early sunlight caressed her face.
Her eyes met Lark's, and she smiled mischievously and patted the bed. "If you'd like a few more minutes of sleep, I won't tell anyone... Are you sure you're alright? What is it?"
Lark shook her head, biting her lips harder. "Nothing." A treacherous tear rolled down her cheek, and she shook her head again. "Sorry. Nothing's wrong. I just..." She sat on the edge of the bed, chuckling through her sniffles. "I'm just happy to see you. You look beautiful in the mornings."
"Mila save," murmured Rosethorn, and she struggled to sit up, pulling Lark closer until they leaned against each other in a silent hug. "I'm sorry."
"You've nothing to be sorry for." Lark chuckled a little shakily. "I'm just being a silly bird, this morning." But she didn't move to break the hug, nuzzling into Rosethorn's shoulder instead, while her heart felt fuller, yet somehow lighter, than it had in weeks.
"You're not a silly anything," whispered Rosethorn. She took a deep breath, fingers searching Lark's until their hands were intertwined. "I'm happy to see you, every day. You're the best, and kindest, person..." She sighed, "I'm thankful for you."
"Oh, you." Lark wiggled until their shoulders touched each other, and Rosethorn's head lowered on hers. They watched the sunrise together in joyful, grateful silence, until Little Bear, determined he didn't enjoy suffering alone in the kitchen while they had fun without him, trotted in shamelessly, beginning to lick the crumbs from the empty plate in Lark's hand.