54 ~ Jules

“This is crazy – what’s in Mudflat? Don’t we need to go to Harbourtown?”

Ghia gave him a look that said You’re an idiot but didn’t answer his question. Instead she spoke to Aro, who looked even more confused than Jules felt, though he was now sober. “Aro, why don’t you pack a bag and get some sleep? You look as if you could use it.” Her voice was kind and a smile accompanied her words. Aro nodded blankly and headed back into his room. “See you at dawn!” she called after him.

Jules was staring at Ghia, perhaps rudely, but couldn’t stop himself. Her wild mood swings both scared and intrigued him. Is it part of her dual nature, or has she simply not slept properly in a while?

Maybe the latter. If she was anywhere near as tired as he was, mood swings would be expected. Still, next chance he got, he was going to ask Rosa about it.

She’d noticed his staring. “What?”

He cleared his throat and put his hands on his hips. “I was just wondering if you were planning on going to sleep tonight, or if you thought staying up would be better.” His tone jested, to cover both his concern and what he’d actually been thinking. She narrowed her eyes at him. Likely she knew he’d fibbed, but he refused to let her intimidate him into spilling the beans.

She waved a hand irritably. “What do you think? I want to be rested for our trip to Mudflat.” She walked away down the hall.

He jog-trotted to catch up. “What did I miss back there?” He was sure Yarrow and Ghia had arrived at some conclusion that he and Aro had missed.

Ghia rolled her eyes at him, confirming his hunch. “Only that we’re not going to Mudflat.”

He thought about this, but it still made no sense to him. “I thought Yarrow had business there.”

A sigh. “She does. She needs an escort. We’re that escort.” She looked up at him meaningfully.

It became clear as the ocean in summertime. Jules wanted to hit himself for stupidity. “Oh, Goddess. I’m tired,” he said as excuse.

She snorted. “Sure, Jules, whatever makes you feel better,” she teased; then giggled and leapt away as he made a mock-lunge for her.

“Impertinent wench,” he growled affectionately.

She laughed some more, staying just beyond his reach. “You need a new nickname for me, Jules – that one’s getting as old are you are.” Her eyes danced with mirth.

“As old as I…oh, that does it,” and he took off after her, chasing her down the hallway. It was crazy – they were too tired for childish games like this and he had no idea what he would do with her when he caught her. Maybe tickle her until she begged for mercy? If it was summertime he would dump her in the river running through the East Gardens, but this time of year it was still too cold. He’d have to think of some other suitable punishment.

Old! He was barely thirty-three! Mayhap that seemed old to a nineteen-year-old. He groaned inwardly and nearly stopped chasing her as he realised anew why they had to remain friends. This is dangerous, Jules, you’re slipping on thin ice….

For he was falling for her. Had fallen, mayhap. It was stupid, but he couldn’t help it any more than he could help his feelings for Yarrow.

Yes, he still loved the bellica. It was possible to love more than one person at a time and in a perfect world he could be with them both. Tyvian, he could, with any two women in Athering — or men! Why not his bellica and the healer he’d watched grow up?

It was useless to think on it. It wasn’t a perfect world, no more than he was a perfect man. An imperfect man with feelings he could not act upon. With either woman, he reminded himself sternly.

The chase was as good as over. Ghia had outrun him – the girl had stamina! He could sprint, but she could keep up a steady pace until her opponent begged her to stop, choking on her dust.

He stopped for a breather, doubled over and chest heaving. Maybe he was old. Certainly too old for this sort of activity. And any other type of work-out? he asked himself.

Ah, Desirelle! Didn’t want to think about that – not after such a long dry spell, and not with Ghia calmly walking up to him now, hands on beautiful hips which swayed just enough to set his pulse racing, a smile on those enticing lips as she breathed just hard enough for him to notice the up and down motion of her bosom….

Oh, feck it. It was impossible. He was in deep and couldn’t dig himself out of this hole. Maybe I can convince someone to push the dirt onto my head instead.

He stood and gave her a half-smile – a full smile was too much effort when he was so out of breath.

She tsked and shook her head, curls the red-orange of a summer sunset bouncing around her face. “I didn’t think I was more rested than you, Jules. How much sleep have you had?” She was teasing still, but he could hear the tone of a superior officer in there and knew she was asking as Head Healer as well as friend.

He shrugged, a roll of his shoulders that stretched tired muscles. “Enough. More than you, I daresay. But apparently I’m not the distance runner here.” He wanted to keep the conversation light since the reddening of her cheeks had got him thinking of how she’d look with cheeks flushed in passion….

I need a cold shower. Stat. This was too much – was one stray thought of sex enough to push him over the edge? That and the dry spell of five years, he supposed. He was human, after all.

She shrugged then. Thank Althea, that maddening blush was disappearing. “I ran a lot as a kid.”

“All of, what, a year or two ago?” he asked. If she was going to make fun of his age….

She snorted and gave him a light swat on the shoulder. “Come on, Grandpa – bedtime! You’re getting confused again,” she added, giving his arm a slight tug in the direction of the barracks.

Oh, good. His heart had skipped a beat when she’d said bedtime–never mind the cracks about his age circling the word. He let himself be led by her, trying desperately to focus his mind somewhere else, instead of the dark naughty places it seemed intent on.

“Young whippersnapper,” he managed to get out, which earned him a grin from her. It dazzled him.

She stopped at the door to his Regiment’s barracks and turned to say goodnight to him, but he stopped her. “So does this mean you’re relinquishing command of me, Head Healer?” His voice was more serious than he’d intended, and he hoped she’d keep things in jest.

She did, and he could have kissed her. No. No kissing. “Please, Jules – regardless whom you officially answer to, I’ve got you wrapped around my little finger,” she said, eyes sparkling. “Get some sleep. I’ll see you at dawn,” she added, then turned to go.

“Good night, Healer,” he said as she raised a hand in farewell. He sighed to himself and entered the barracks, ready to grab a towel and head directly for the bathrooms.

Yes, a cold shower was definitely in order, especially if he was to survive an extended ride with Ghia tomorrow.

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