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A Delicate Dilemma

Archivist note: This post is from an older recovered archive.

Captain’s Personal Log–A Delicate Dilemma

(Author’s note: The story is a follow-up to the events depicted in Bookworm Hienrichs’ story, [ March 18th–So much for diligence.)]

I lay beside my wife in our moonlit room, thinking back over the evening’s mental shield training session with Book, unable to sleep. The advice I’d given my student earlier in the evening about using relaxation techniques to ease gently into a sleep state made me chuckle to myself mirthlessly. Normally that worked well for me, but not tonight. I wondered if Book were having the same difficulty, and nearly reached across the link between us to find out, but stifled the instinctive impulse before I could succumb to that temptation. No. That would be an inappropriate use of the link, especially given the fledgling nature of our relationship and the feelings I’d inadvertently awakened in my new protegée. She’d not asked for this bond; I’d formed it with her in order to save her life, but now that it existed between us, I was determined to use it responsibly.

This was a task that had just become more difficult, given what I’d discovered tonight. Oh, not impossible. But I hadn’t counted on the complications inherent in introducing the male/female dynamic into the mentor/protegée training relationship.

Stupid, stupid, stupid! You should have foreseen this possibility.

Nell stirred in her sleep. I tightened my shields a bit more around the thought, hoping not to disturb her rest. She awoke anyway.

"Mo mhuirnin? What’s wrong?"

I sighed, knowing it was futile to try to keep this revelation secret. One way or another, Nell would learn about it anyway, and it would be best if I simply told her directly.

"I tested Book’s shields tonight," I began, wondering how to lead up to the subject.

"Oh, that’s right! How did that go?" Her green eyes shone curiously at me in the dim light. "Not too unpromising for you to work with, are they?"

"Hm? Oh, no, not at all! Actually, they’re surprisingly strong, especially considering this was Book’s first attempt at shield work. I suspect that’s because she’s naturally reserved and used to holding her thoughts in, even though among non-Deryni that’s not strictly necessary." I mused on that thought for a moment. The glimpse of childhood teasing I’d seen offered one possible explanation for Book’s self-containment, although she’d grown up allowing those experiences to strengthen her rather than tear her down. That hint of tempered steel hiding under her quiet exterior was one of the things that had first drawn my attention to her, even before she accepted my offer of self-defense training.

"So what’s the matter? I know something’s been troubling you. You looked exhausted when you got home tonight."

I had been. Not so much physically, although even simple shield work was more tiring than it ought to be here in New Babbage, even though I’d deliberately chosen a location as far away from the Old Quarter for our work tonight as I could manage. No, it was more an emotional and mental tiredness I’d returned home with as I pondered how to deal with this new dilemma all the way home to Clockhaven.

"And then you went straight to bed. To sleep, I mean." Beside me, my bride blushed slightly. I understood the unspoken implication, and the question behind it.

"Yes. I…there’s something I needed a bit of time to process before sharing it with you."

"Ah. And…have you?" The questioning eyes looked up at me in concern.

I took a deep breath, released it. "I stumbled on one of Book’s memories–an extremely fresh one–that I didn’t mean to uncover." There. It was out. Partly, at least.

Nell nodded. "I see. And she was upset?"

"Well…more embarrassed than anything." I glanced briefly away from Nell, then back again. "Do you remember the raging case of hero worship I had for your father when I was fourteen?"

She laughed. "Zac, I barely remember you being fourteen! I was only eight at the time, remember? Hardly at an age to notice boys and pay attention to their tumultuous feelings!" She sobered abruptly. "Wait. Are you saying…? Oh!" My wife looked disconcerted, and I could sense the sudden rush of emotions cascading through her. Startlement…mild amusement…empathy…a brief twinge, not exactly of jealousy, but perhaps concern? "Oh dear."

I chuckled. "Yes. My thoughts exactly. What the hell do I do?"

She tilted her head at me with a wry smile. "Let me guess. This possibility never occurred to you."

My turn to be startled. "Quite honestly, no it didn’t. Why, did you see it coming?"

Nell shrugged. "Well…not exactly, but now that it has, I can’t say it really surprises me. You did save her life recently, after all."

"Well, she did most of that work herself. I just brought her back to consciousness so she could push that possessing spirit out on her own, and then made sure no permanent damage had been done afterwards." And I still felt guilty about the mind-link I’d imposed on her in order to do that, although under the extenuating circumstances that had existed at the time, I could think of no other way to save her aside from swift, decisive action. I couldn’t even truly say that if that rapport hadn’t been established at that time, I’d not be facing the dilemma I faced this evening. I had offered Book the chance to do shield work before, and had extended that invitation again once I realized what danger she’d recently been in from the spirits that had taken turns possessing her. Once she accepted that offer, it was inevitable I’d discover some embarrassing memory or thought during the process of training her to strengthen her shields; that was just the nature of the work. And a certain amount of hero worship was a frequent result of the mentor/protegé relationship; I’d been honest when I’d told Book that in my attempt to reassure her that her feelings for me were natural and probably just a stage she’d quickly work through.

Still…the intensity and intimacy of mental bonding, paired with the male/female dynamic and the inherent inequity of the mentor/protegée relationship, meant that this new bond would need to be handled with extreme delicacy. I wanted to temper the bright, shining steel of Book’s spirit, not tarnish or break it.

Nell’s hand, butterfly light, landed on my shoulder. "Zachary, a chridhe, did you fear you couldn’t share this with me? That I’d be angry with you, or with Book?"

I sighed. "I figured you’d probably understand. At least I hoped you would. I just needed to work it through on my own first." I turned on my side and took her into my arms. "I don’t like keeping secrets from you. Not unless it’s strictly necessary."

A raised brow. "And define ‘strictly necessary’?"

I smiled at her. "Well, this isn’t. There have been times, as a House Strathearn Armsman, when I was sworn to secrecy on certain matters by your father…."

"Oh. Well, that’s different! That was in the line of duty; I don’t begrudge you those secrets." She relaxed in my arms, snuggling closer. "I don’t imagine the secrecy is strictly necessary anymore, considering our exile, but you can continue keeping those secrets from me if you’re more comfortable doing so. I really don’t want to share all your battlefield memories either," she added, a slight moue of distaste crossing her face.

I nodded. There were a few other secrets in addition to those that I still kept tucked away from my new bride. Ones I fully intend to disclose to her in due time, once the moment is right. But not this night.

I kissed the top of her head, breathing in the scent of her hair. "Nell, a chuisle, I love you."

She giggled into my neck. "You’d better." Her face tilted up for another kiss. "Speaking of sharing, I’ll bet I can think of something that will help you sleep…."

"Hm. I imagine you could." I grinned back at her. "Tease."

"It’s only teasing if you don’t follow through." The hand on my shoulder moved downwards, tracing my arm. Even without the special rapport we shared, I could take a hint.

I threw open the mental link between us, experiencing my wife’s feelings and sensory impressions even as she now experienced mine, shielding from her only my most private secrets and the bits of memory I’d gleaned from Book’s mind earlier, since part of my responsibility as her mentor was to keep those in strictest confidence.

"Exhaust me, O Pulse of my Heart!" I joked through the mind-link as I turned my full attention to my beloved. And, to our mutual delight, she did.

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