Feeling a bit weak in the knees, he made it as far as the armchair before he gave up completely. He collapsed therein, bringing his legs, bent at the knees, up on the seat against his chest. With a drowsy shiver he bent his neck and laid his head on the soft plush arm of the chair. His deep brown eyes began to close, but snapped open when his ailment handed him a reminder. His nose tickled in a sniffley, sneezey way, and he sighed knowing what was coming.
“Uffshahh! Efftshah! Ehhtchuhh!” When he sneezed, his whole body convulsed. His legs came up so his bent knees were nearly at his neck, and his head whipped down to meet them, causing him to sneeze pretty much into himself. His nose ran and he had no handkerchief at hand; a problem he'd been experiencing most of the morning. Eyes closed past the point of caring for his dignity any longer, he pulled the cuff of his sleeve down to cover a good part of his hand. Then he rubbed at his nose and sniffed loudly a few times until the immediate runs were held back. Wearily, he pulled his cloak around himself completely, the thick, navy velvet folds covering him like a blanket. Perhaps, just perhaps, he'd manage a few winks of sleep and feel better afterwards.
Before he had the chance, the knob and latch on the door rattled. The door opened to reveal a tall figure in a matching hunter green velvet cloak. Snow was shaken from the cloak and the hood lowered while in the doorway. Boots were loosened and removed, and the cloak fell to the coat stand as the door closed. “I stopped by the shop to speak with you, but they said you had retired to the room. I do not remember you requesting permission to leave early.”
He pulled his eyes open to squint and reply, “My apologies, Master.” He felt the tickles in the tip of his nose and he rubbed his knuckles against the bottoms of his nostrils with a quiet sniffle. “I will work extra hours tomorrow if you like.” Bargaining. He was bargaining with his Master. Not especially a good track of reasoning. Better to keep it at his fault. “My apologies.”
His master sighed, pacing back and forth in front of him. “Apologies only go so far. Why did you leave?” His master was known to be awfully strict, but he had not anticipated such a strong response. It would take a while to explain… and longer to fulfill the punishment, he was certain.
He sniffled and rubbed at the back of his neck. “I really needed a rest.”
She gave a deep sigh of frustration. “A rest? This is the laziest excuse I have ever heard from you. Have I taught you nothing at all? Working extra hours is a start but—“
“—the shop… Xavier?”
“Excuses.” He rubbed his wet nose with the cuff of his sleeve and sniffed hard to clear his nose so he could speak properly.
A soft pause, then, “Are you quite all right, lad?”
He shook his head, running his hand over buzz-cut hair. “Not entirely, Master.” He sniffed softly, and cleared his throat. He hated admitting it, and was certain it would go away with a little sleep. It was simply a matter of nipping it in the butt before it got any worse. He lifted his sleeve to his nose, intending to use it for another wipe but realizing the sensation was creeping up on him once more. He pressed his nose against his shirtsleeve and closed his eyes prematurely so as not to meet his Master's gaze. “uffhuhhh! Mphuhhh!” he sneezed into the sleeve, then raised the other to wipe his nose dry before finishing. “But I will be fine. I needed a rest and did not want the others worried over me.”
With a frustrated sigh, the pacing slowed so that his Master stood directly in front of him. “So you left so that I would be worried over you?”
He sat up, looking into his Master's big, bright green eyes. Her hair fell in dark black ringlets to rest on her shoulders. And her normally pure, flawless face wore an expression of concern. Xavier shot his eyes to the floor as he repeated his stance, “My apologies. I simply needed some rest. I will be fine, I'm sure.”
She reached down and touched his forehead, closing her eyes to sense him. When she retracted her hand, she looked just as concerned. “If you need rest, lad, you should be in bed.”
“I'm already resting here. I'll be fi—“
“Straight to bed.” She reached down beneath the cloak and took hold of his arm. She urged him up and led him to his chambers and straight to bed. His room had always been plain, but warm and comforting to him. It contained a meager desk, a trunk and wardrobe, and a four-post bed. “If you're sick enough to come home from work, you're sick enough to stay in bed. And perhaps even see a medic.”
He sniffled and shook his head. “Just let me be.” She was normally so above him that caring about his problems came second hand to all else. But when these problems interfered with his duties and performance, she was the first to notice and reprimand. Still, this time he would have liked to have been left alone. He started to lie back on his bed when she kept the grip on his arm so he stayed upright.
“Not yet. Come on, out of those clothes and then under the covers,” she commanded, strictly going against him. He shook off his cloak, and she pulled it off his back, gently draping it at the foot of his bed. Then she guided his boots and tunic off. She muttered a few words of magic and closed her eyes. A small package of handkerchiefs came floating from the bedroom. She reached out and let them settle into the palm of her hand. Meanwhile, he nestled snuggly under a few layers of blankets. She smiled and laid two handkerchiefs on the bed beside him. “Use these instead of your shirt cuffs.”
He grumbled and turned his head into the pillow.
“Don't you grumble to me. I'm not the one who came home from work early to crawl into bed.”
He nodded, his face falling, nostrils flaring. He panted, as if attempting to protest, but the sensation was too strong for him. “huhh-“ he took in, holding it as if shyly. “ehhshuhh! EfffChuhh! Uhhchuhh!” He reached out for one of the handkerchiefs, bringing it to his nose wearily and rubbing to clean up. He had to admit that they did work better than his shirtsleeve. He sniffled and closed his eyes in frustration.
His Master patted his leg. “Get some sleep. I'll be around.”
He wasn't too sure if she'd meant it to be she'd be there to help if he needed, or that she'd be there to make sure he didn't get out of bed. Either way, he was glad he'd been ordered and forced there. He snuggled beneath the blankets of his own bed, closed his eyes, and forced himself to sleep.
It was dusk outside when he crawled out from beneath the covers. They were warm and comforting and he might have been able to sleep longer had the glasses of water he'd had earlier at the shop had not interfered. He sniffled as his runny nose was bombarded by cold evening air. He grabbed at the chamber pot, blinking as tired eyes adjusted to being open. His one hand fumbled below, the other held the pot, leaving him to rub a runny nose on the shoulder of his shirt- rough, but effective.
“You're up finally, I see.”
He finished up, carefully placing the pot beneath his bed, certainly not feeling up to walking it to the window. “Odly just.” His voice was thick with congestion. He looked back at the pillows and fell into them with a shiver and a sigh of frustration.
She stayed at the doorway. “Dinnertime, Xavier. Get changed and presentable to the court.” Normally, she would have left him to his own devices but he looked as if he were to protest.
He sniffed strongly and took up a handkerchief to cover his nose and mouth. “I, uhhh…” his words were thick and muffled beneath the cloth. “I dod't feel lige ehhh…ehffChuhh! Ehkkshmphh! heekkshoo!” He sniffed hard, not lowering the hanky as he finished, “Excuses… dod't feel ub to eatig.”
“Well, you're going anyway. Not getting out of it this easily.” She pulled the covers down to the floor and reached under for the chamber pot. She looked down at his unmoving form, curled in a ball for warmth in the sudden loss of covers. “Do you want this on you or are you getting up?”
Quickly he obeyed, snatching his clothing and pulling it on quickly to warm himself. The feel of cold clothes against his tired body was somehow worse, but he knew they would warm to him soon. He sniffled and tucked both handkerchiefs on his person, one at his wrist beneath the sleeve, the other in the back pocket of his trousers. He ran a hand over his face, touching the small, almost-boyish, delicate and defined features. His skin was smooth as normal, save for his nose which felt sore to the touch at the tip. He gave a deep breath, then stood.
Darkness flashed over his eyes and he quickly sat down again, though missing the bed and finding the floor meeting his rump far too powerfully. It didn't wind him, but he remained there a moment until vision corrected itself. When he stood, he found himself looking into his Master's face. “I stood ub too fast,” he explained, rubbing at his rear, then the back of his neck which was oddly aching.
She nodded, understanding, then stuck out her elbow so that he could escort her out.
The grand hall was filled with tables and talking. Food lined the tabletops and people made grabs for it, throwing the remains over their shoulders for the dogs to devour and the maids to retrieve. The guests were, as always, packed around the tables so that their elbows touched as they shoveled food into their mouths. It was hot from the commotion and the constant jabbering of guests.
“ehfsh! ectchah!” Xavier caught two quick ones into the crook of his arm, quickly covering his nose with handkerchief afterwards to hide any mess and discretely rub his runny nose. He was tired. Not simply tired physically, but tired of the rubbing and sniffling and tickling and most of all the polite smiling façade that he wore to keep from looking as truly miserable as he felt. He was tired of controlling his sneezes, catching their warning tickles and burying them to muffle them as much as he could do with something as uncontrollable as they were. He was tired of making sure his nose was as clear as possible, from blows or sniffs, so that he could be understood when he spoke. He was tired of clutching his cloak tightly around himself to keep his body from being noticed when it shook with a chill. An air of helpless defeat was beginning to pass over him, and he was tired of it, as well. All he wanted was to sleep until the morning then wake, rested and fine. “echhmphh! chuff!” He blinked, trying to wake himself up, sniffled, and rubbed at his nose again as quickly as he could.
He looked up to find his Master laughing to the man beside her. She was not one to flirt, but had a certain number of men who were more than infatuated by her charm, and thus such laughter was abundant. Her face was aglow with happiness, and she turned to meet his gaze. When she did, there was hardly laughter.
Xavier knew that look far better than any of her others: he had disappointed her, perhaps even brought on disrespect. He quickly straightened himself in the chair and sniffed to clear his nose a bit in case he needed to talk to her. But as soon as he had, his nose was at it again. He sniffed and realized he was going to sneeze soon, and it was to be rather wet. Pulling out the only slightly dryer of the two hankies, he prepared, slouching back down in his seat so he wouldn't be noticed. “ufftchh! hehchuff! Sniff, sniff, sniff… Excuses…” He quickly sat back up, righting himself but feeling perfectly lousy. He'd barely touched his food, a rude gesture at the queen's table, but keeping up with his nose was as much as he could presently handle. With another few sniffles, he looked back up.
With an uncharacteristic soft smile, his Master mouthed a few words to him.
Unable to keep up with the movements of her lush red lips, he shook his head with confusion.
//Go to the room and tuck yourself into bed. I will look in on you after dinner.//
Having not mastered telepathy yet, he spoke back, hoping she would be able to hear and understand. “Thed I ab excused?”
She nodded. //Go straight to bed. And do get a new hanky from my dresser drawer if you have none. Yours are soppingly impolite.//
“Thag you, Baster!” He nodded and quickly excused himself from the table before wearily trudging to his room on the opposite side of the castle. Once there, he quickly reacquainted himself to his bed, pulling the covers back onto the squishy goose-down mattress and snuggling beneath without bothering to change.
“Here.” She nudged him awake. “Here's some soup. Eat it now before it cools.”
He rolled over, groggily opening his eyes to see her standing there beside him with hands outstretched. He was half thankful, feeling rather hungry. But half let down that this required waking, moving and some level of coordination.
“Come on, Xavier, I'm not spoon-feeding you like a little kid. You're twenty. Take the soup and eat it.”
He sat up, propping up the pillows behind his back and taking the soup from her. “You dever sbood-fed be eved whed I was a little kid.”
She sat down on his bed. “I'm your teacher, not your mother. And you're welcome for the soup.”
Quickly he nodded. “Thag you.”
“Did you get fresh handkerchiefs as I told you to?”
Suddenly feeling flush, he shook his head no.
She sighed and got back up. “When I return, you will be changed out of your proper clothes, won't you?”
He gave a nod.
“Good.” She returned moments later with another three, fresh and neatly folded.
“Thag you, Baster,” he snuffled before she could scold him for it.
They sat in silence a while, until his nose began tickling again. “I… I- ehhh…” he quavered. “Blease ehhh… uhh.. ex… excu… ehhh… excuehhhh-Hishhh! heptchuff! hurshhh!” He sniffled and waited, knowing more were on their way. “hehh… uhhKishh! uhffshuh! eehhHishuhh! AhhHushhh! Ehh…eh-HEH—“ he froze, eyes closed, mouth wide open and hovering above the folds of white cloth that were meant for his sniffles. Finally he relaxed and sighed, mouth gently closing. He lowered the handkerchief into his lap. “Ehh-HEH—“ snapping the cloth back to his face, he froze in place, waiting, silently urging. “Ueashhh!” When his breath regained normal rhythm, he sniffed to clear his speech and uttered a soft, “Excuses.” He rubbed his nose with his palm in frustration. “Just wod't stob ticklig. Sniff, sniff! Uhh…” His face instantly fell. “Uehffshh! Effgushh! Ihhshhh!” He paused, waiting for more. “heh-huh-uh-ehh-heh-heh…HUHshhhhh!” He sneezed wetly and winced. With his nose buried in the handkerchief, he took a long blow, cheeks reddening with embarrassment. “Many excuses.” His voice was an incredible amount clearer, though tired.
She reached over and patted his head. “I take it our evening training session is off?”
He nodded, rubbing at his nose as it ran.
With a shake of her head, “Blow your nose again.”
With hesitation and some more embarrassment he followed orders. “My appologies, Master. I think I ehhh…” he quickly placed two fingers beneath his nose. “I thig I caahhh… ehhh… caught the snihhh…snehhh…the sneeehhh… ehhh…” he gave up, cupping his hand over his nose and mouth. “Ehhchifff! Hehshishh!” He sniffled a few times, then attempted to finish. “Excuses… I thig I cabe dowd with the sdeezes id by doze todight, Baster.”
She chuckled softly. “Oh quite? I hadn't noticed.” She took the empty soup bowl from him. “Until you're well, perhaps you should refrain from calling me 'Baster' all right? Use my first name.”
He rubbed a finger under his nose and looked at her warily. “Id's dot brober…”
His Master shook her head. “It will be easier for you to say with your stuffy nose and save us both a bit of embarrassment. Go ahead, Xavier.”
Hesitantly, he nodded. “All right… Sayge.” It felt entirely too weird to him.
She smiled, then rose. “If you need me, I'll be in the living room or my room, but you won't be needing me, will you?”
He shook his head, sliding back down beneath his covers in obedience.
“Good. Sleep well then.”
He was already drifting off.
“Baster? Baster Sayge?” he stood in the doorway to her room, shivering and sniffling.
The light of the moon shown down upon her great canopy bed. Wrapped in red velvet blankets, she slept on her side. Her dark, thick curls flowed upon the pillows, and her white, beautiful face stood out brightly in the moon glow.
“Sayge?” he tried again, a little louder in his whisper, sounding slightly more desperate than he'd meant to sound.
She stirred and her eyes fluttered open. Then eyebrows narrowed at him. “Xavier? What are you doing up?”
“I c-could't fall bag to sleeb. I feel all achey add hot add cold add by dose wod't stob ruddig add—“ he stopped, his teeth chattering too much to continue. He hugged his arms to his chest.
She sighed, sitting up. “And you're here… why?”
He sniffled, rubbing a finger beneath his nose. “Baster, I… I…” a look of almost terror passed his face. His eyes closed and face scrunched up. His hand stretched to span his face, the thumb on one cheek and his other fingers on the other. “heptchuhh! ehhchufff! ehhhhCHISHH!” The sneezes bent him in half, but he slowly righted himself. He sniffed strongly and wiped his hand against his leg.
Sayge rose, walking to her sniffley, sneezey student. She put her hand on his back. “You were feeling sick and wanted to crawl into bed with me?”
After hesitating for a moment, he nodded yes, lip bitten.
“Nice try, but that's not going to happen, Xavier. Back to bed with you.” She pushed on his back to swing him around and send him back to his room. She spoke a few magic words to his blanket, then tucked it around him tightly.
Immediately his shivering stopped and he smiled at the warmth. “Thags… I dod't subbose you have a sbell to bake… bake be feel better? ehhh… ehhhHichh! UffChah! ehhTchuhh! Sniff, sniff!”
She sat down on the bed beside him, putting a hand on his forehead for a few moments. “No, I don't. But given how miserable you look, I wish I did. You're no good to me sick anyway,” she cracked a smile to let him know it was a joke. Then she sighed. “How long have we been together, Xavier?”
Replying without thought, “Ted years cobe dext bodth.” He quickly blew his nose. “Excuses.”
“That's a long time, isn't it Xai?”
He nodded, rubbing his face into the pillow to get the lumps and fluff to settle down in it comfortably. Sniffling, he rubbed the cuff of his sleeve at his nostrils.
She reached over to a handkerchief and gracefully dropped it onto his face with a giggle. “Use it, that's what it's here for.”
Taking it up, he gently blew his nose. “Thags.”
There was a slight pause, in which Master Sayge sat thinking, and Xavier lay sniffling as softly as possible.
“I know I'm hard on you at times… and I'm not certainly not a warm and friendly mothering type.”
Muffled beneath the cloth, “I dow.”
“But I only want you to be your best… you have so much potential, lad.”
His cheeks flushed red. “Thags.”
“Xavier… what I am trying to ask is, am I what you wanted in a Master? I realize we're not as close as—“
“Yes,” he interjected quickly, looking up at her. He coughed to clear his voice and propped himself up on two elbows. “Baster Sayge… we're a good bairing. We've always worked well together. Add you teach be very well.” He paused with a smile. “I would dever wadt adother teacher.”
She rubbed a hand over the top of his head, his soft hedgehog cut tickling her fingers into making a matching smile pop to her face. “It seems your sneezes have died down a bit. Why don't you try to sleep now? I'll watch over you until you fall to sleep if you like.”
He nodded, closing his eyes and letting himself melt into the pillows and covers.
One eye squinted open. “Yes?”
“You're the only student I could want. Goodnight, Xavier.”
He smiled. “Goodight.”
In the morning, Xavier woke to find the sun sitting higher in the sky than he'd wanted. His head felt heavy with congestion, his nose was stuffed and his eyes tired. Still he pulled himself up and out of his warm bed. He looked over to find his master stretched out on the far side of his bed with a sweet smile on her face which only magnified her beauty. He smiled, folding the covers over her as he rose. He tried to be as quiet as possible, but his nose had other intentions. “ehh… ehhIhhshh! UhhffTchoo! ehffshah! uuhhHichhh!” Bent in half while standing, he managed to stumble to the bed and grab the handkerchief to muffle the sound. “uhff! ummmphhuh! hechhuhh!”
“Excuses,” he mumbled quickly towards her, realizing that he had an audience. “Sorry to wake you. Blease go back to sleeb.”
She stretched and yawned, sitting up and looking as beautiful as always even first thing in the morning. “What are you doing up?”
He rubbed his finger beneath his nose. “I'b sniff, sniff, goig dowd to the store to work of course. I brobised to work sniff, sniff, sniff, extra hours, rebeber?” In barefeet, he walked over to the standing wardrobe. He was in long, plaid sleep pants and a loose shirt but certainly not something he could wear to work. He rummaged through the clothes, searching for something warm and comfortable. “heh… eh-hih-heh… uh-Ihhshoo! Ehhhptchoo! Ihhshh! Uhshoo!” And something with ample pockets in which to stash handkerchiefs.
“Xavier,” Sayge spoke softly. “Back to bed with you. Stay warm and blow your nose and rest till your sneezes go away.”
He sniffled into his handkerchief. “Are you certaid they cad do without be?”
She nodded and whispered a few words. The doors to the wardrobe closed. “Get back in bed, Xavier. I don't want you up again until you're well.”
Looking a little reluctant, but feeling quite thankful, he made his way back to bed. The covers draped over him, warming him instantly. Sayge patted his arm through the blankets and rose to return to her own room to prepare for the day. “I'll be around in the rooms here, lad.”
He nodded, again unsure about her intentions.
“If you need me, you can call. But you won't need me, will you?”
He smiled, shaking his head.
“Good. Feel better, Xai.”
Warm and contented, he fell to sleep.