Chapter 32

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"Hey... Hollie?"
My eyes snap open.
"Good lord, Connor. Did you decide to go for a swim?"
He's collapsed on his back in the middle of the floor, dripping water and mud everywhere, still in hastily attached armor. Thick mud is caked on the iron plates, and his bare hands are red with blood. He glances up at me, hair plastered to his face.
"We... we patrolled for... for hours, but... but there was no trace...." He pants, not even bothering to move his head. He grimaces, adding, "And we can't check the damned moat until this cursed storm stops!"
I glance to the window. Rain beats down as mercilessly as ever against the panes. It drums consistently, thousands of tiny hammers pounding insistently on the glass, framing the dark, blurry sky.
"Why are your hands... bleeding?"
"I..." He tenderly flexes his fingers, blood and water dripping onto the stone floor. Good he had the sense to stay off the carpet. "I slipped... down the stairs."
I snort, trying to bury my laughter in the sheets. He glares daggers at me. I find it somehow amusing that someone like Connor, coordinated down to every twitch and blink, who can move with such silent power, and attack with such planned and certain ferocity- it's impossible to imagine him slipping.
"Are you going to help me out of my armor?" He demands suddenly, his face cold, startling me slightly. I stare.
"Sorry?"
"My armor! I couldn't find Humphrey anywhere-"
"How long has he been gone this time?" I frown. Humphrey's been missing consistently over the past few months, disappearing mysteriously to return a few days later.
"-And I ran into Matty in the hall, and she informed me that Humphrey's child was born a couple of months ago, and he's been leaving to assist his wife." He finishes, talking over me.
"Oh..." I nod, biting the inside of my cheek in thought. "What a kind, caring husband...."
"Get this stuff off me!" Connor pounds his fist into the floor in frustration, and I crawl out of bed with a sigh, reluctantly leaving the warmth of the sheets. He drags himself to his feet, and I set about unclipping the iron plates, which is easier said than done, they're so slippery.
"You said you saw Matty?" I say, and the thick armor over his shoulders goes slack. He rolls his shoulders, and the heavy metal clangs thickly to the ground.
"Mmm." He nods, as I pry apart the back of the upper armor.
"Why didn't you just ask her to help you with this?"
"I-" He opens and closes his mouth. "Because... she's uncomfortable around me, you said."
"And you think I'm comfortable around you?" I snort, ripping away the heavy plates and letting them fall to the ground. I can barely hold them for long, they weigh so much... how on earth can he wear those?
"I think you don't have much of a choice."
"And you don't care... what I feel around you?"
"Should I?" He raises an eyebrow at me, an expression that makes my spine vibrate.
"You're hopeless." I sigh with a deadpan expression, and he chuckles deeply.
"Done." I clap my hands together and inspect my work, making sure I missed nothing.
"Since when?" He snorts, turning and holding out his arms stiffly. "Arms and chest, love."
"You can do that yourself! If you can swing a sword like you do, wearing that crap, then you can unbuckle your... chest plate."
"I can't touch my shoulders, Hollie!" He demonstrates, bending his elbow forcefully, and metal plates grind as his fingers strain towards his shoulder.
"Alright!" I sigh, starting with the thick bands around his arms. Silence eats at the air.
"It's a shame... about the bandit." I say suddenly, unclasping the iron from his arm and dropping it to the ground. He raises an eyebrow.
"I agree, there was no need for him to die, especially in such a brutal fashion... but he is- was a criminal." He reminds me sternly.
"And a good man." I point out. Whether he likes it or not, it's the truth, and I'm not about to deny it.
"Yes... I suppose...." He murmurs absently. I eye him, but he doesn't react. I free up both his arms, and then move my hands to the heavy hauberk around his neck and chest.
"Were you worried?" He says suddenly, his breath on the top of my head as I focus on my work, inches away. No, Hollie... no....
"Worried? About the bandit?" I snort. My fingers slip over the metal.
"About me."
I blink. I honestly wasn't... but, no, there was the first moment-
"Not really."
"Thanks, love." He adds tauntingly, and I roll my eyes.
"What do you want me to say?"
He grabs my hand suddenly, fingers flashing out lightning-fast, and I grudgingly lift my head to look into his eyes, feeling that familiar chill when I see his face, as usual. I can't believe this young god would be standing next to me.
"Sometimes it's nice to know someone cares."
"I second that."
He sighs, letting his blood-covered hand slip limply from mine. I finish with the hauberk and set it gently on the floor, backing away.
"Done. I trust you can figure out the shirt?" I raise an eyebrow, and he grimaces.
"Yeah... I think I'm smart enough to at least do that."

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