Safiyah knits by the remainder of the afternoon light, seated outside her tent. It is early spring, her fingers red from the cold, her breath misting in the air. Zavala leads training exercises in the courtyard, sparring with civilians. Some stand awkwardly, holding weapons too heavy for them to wield. Others move with more confidence. Safiyah's eyes drop to her needles.
Then she hears a cry of pain. Blood runs down a civilian's shoulder, staining his front. Safiyah can see the wound from her seat. Rising, she takes quick steps toward them, her knitting forgotten.
"Do you think your enemy would stop at one wound?" Zavala's voice is a sharp bark. The other man picks up his blade again, despite his shoulder. Safiyah approaches and snaps her fingers.
"What are you doing?"
Zavala turns to her. Here, an opportunity: Zavala's sparring partner jumps forward, catching him by surprise. The blade slices Zavala's forearm, skin opening in a spray of bright blood.
The others gawk, as if they hadn't expected a Risen to bleed. Targe rises up, ready to heal the wound. She raises a hand to stop him.
"Don't," she says. The Ghost bobs in the air, looks at her, looks at Zavala.
"What do you want?" Zavala barks. He pinches his forearm closed, but the blood runs hot and steaming over his fingers.
Safiyah ignores Zavala's retort and gestures to his sparring partner. "Come with me," she says.
"Targe," Zavala says to his Ghost, but Safiyah snaps her fingers again.
"You too. I want to teach you something. Come inside."
She walks into the hospital tent, knowing she will be obeyed.
Once inside, Safiyah inspects Zavala's wound. It is nothing serious, but deep enough for her attention. Her assistant sees to the sparring partner, who looks away sheepishly when Zavala glances at him.
"What are you doing?" he asks her.
"I think that's obvious," she says. Zavala and his Ghost observe in silence as she cleans the wound.
"This isn't necessary," he says, but lets her continue. She produces her hooked needle, the hemostat, the polypropylene thread. Tools that fit easily in her hands; precious resources for an immortal man.
"I'm going to close the wound," she says, and touches his arm lightly with a gloved hand. "I will make six sutures. It will take four days, maybe five, to heal."
His features soften. Perhaps he sees that her mind is set. He looks away in a sheepish expression.
"I will make sure your supplies are replenished," he says. "Simply tell me what you need."
Safiyah feels a flutter of surprise at this promise. Now she will answer his first question.
"You need to know what it's like for us," she tells him. She waits for consent; he nods. She pierces the wound and draws its edges together. He doesn't wince.
"Where did you learn this?"
Genuine curiosity. The first suture.
"My mother," she answers. "And books from the Golden Age."
She gestures to a ramshackle shelf holding a dozen books. Old, crumbling, but cared for.
"I'd like to see them," he says. She smiles, pleased. Second suture.
"I'll show them to you," she says. When she raises her eyes, she sees that he is looking at her with an intensity she can't place. Despite herself, she feels a warmth creep into her skin.
"We traveled," she says, too quickly, her eyes dropping back to the third suture. "Very far. Village to village. My mother, father, sister, and me." Fourth suture. "Father killed in a raid. Mother died from disease. Sister a way's west of here. But I kept to my travels."
"Why?" he asks, softly.
She passes the needle through its fifth suture.
"There are always more people to help. I will move on once I finish training him." She nods to her assistant.
Safiyah brings her shears to the thread of the last suture. The wound is closed. She winds a taut bandage around his arm.
"Where will you go?" he asks after a stiff silence. Safiyah realizes she doesn't know how to answer. Her thoughts don't stretch beyond this moment. She tucks the bandage beneath itself.
He flexes, winces, stills. She smiles.
"True healing takes time."
That night, she hears voices in the empty courtyard: Zavala and Saladin, standing by a brazier, talking in low tones. She peers from the flap in the tent to watch, to listen.
"She is a skilled and formidable woman," Zavala says.
Saladin stands with his chin raised in near disdain. Zavala is a silhouette in the firelight.
"I'm not stupid," Saladin growls. "I see the way you look at each other."
Safiyah's breath catches. She almost doesn't hear his next words over the sound of her heart.
"I have nothing but respect for her," Zavala says curtly. Saladin rolls his eyes. Both men stare each other down for a long moment.
"We live in different worlds," Saladin's voice softens. "You can try to abandon ours, but theirs will reject you."
"I don't believe that," Zavala says.
"Believe what you want. But whatever life you make with her will be too fragile for you to hold onto."
Saladin puts a hand on Zavala's shoulder. Safiyah could almost mistake it for compassion.
"It will break," he says, his voice low. "And you'll both be hurt."
Safiyah lets the tent flap fall. She does not see if they hear it.