An in-betweener for some of the activity in the Arena. I think I wrote it much later, as Lao didn't exist when the original events happened. Fills in what happened to Genoa at a point where it wasn't RPable. I mean, what's the point in RPin' by yourself? (PS. Lao is awesome.)

Good Deeds

It was dark, but she couldn't tell if it was because they hadn't lit a torch in the hall or her vision was finally failing her. The searing pain in her back, at least, had faded to a dull throb in the two days since her punishment. Bile rose bitter in her throat at the thought, but she pushed it back down, deciding that she would be unable to get near her bucket if should she actually vomit. It hurt to even think about moving.

Or perhaps she was merely depressed.

But in either case, she was far better off than the Baron, who as far as she knew was still fighting for his life after a close encounter with the dragon, after leaving her sleeping and marching off to take a sword stroke meant for her. She closed her eyes. Many of the events of the past week had made very little sense to her, but that confused her in ways she hadn't known she could be confused. She had been very comfortable in the knowledge that she hated Baron Teal very much and he returned her feelings with equal if not greater force.

You do not fight for the life of someone you hate.

She decided to think about something else. Her back throbbed, and she gave a very low sigh. The beating was an indirect result of the events underground and a direct result of the guards -- Clyde in particular -- misunderstanding why she had returned to the Arena covered in the Baron's blood. Not that they had particularly needed a reason. Most of them had been itching to have a go at her since she was first incarcerated.

Her fist clenched, and she noted dully that it was wrapped around something. It felt like the hilt of a sword, but she couldn't be sure, and she didn't feel like moving in order to check. It seemed odd that they would let her keep a sword. But as far as she knew, no one had been to her cell since they had dragged her from it to tie her to the whipping post and subsequently returned her.

A new sound echoed slowly into her thoughts, but it took her time to recognize it. Footsteps, crisp and military. They stopped very close by, and moments later a key rattled in a lock. Her cell's lock. Her immediate reaction was defensive -- roll to her feet with the sword, assume battle stance. The door swung open and she did not move at all.

There was a very soft sigh, but the voice, when it spoke, was light. "Good evening."

Is it? He had spoken without sarcasm, but she opened her eyes to check, nearly flinching them shut again at the glaring light of a torch.

"Ah, I apologize." He set the offending light in a bracket. "I did not warn you."

She wanted to ask him why he was standing in her cell with a torch, but she was finding it difficult to form words.

He watched her for a moment, and she wondered who he was. Eyes adjusted to the light, she could see he was a demi-human, feline, and very graceful. Also familiar. "I thought it best if someone tended to you," he said finally. "My associates disagreed, but it is largely not their decision."

Oh. She didn't say it out loud, but he seemed to read it in her expression.

"Can you sit up?"

She thought about that, then moved her head slowly to the left and then to the right.

"Very well, then I will assist you, if that is acceptable."

A hesitation. Up, then down. He walked over without further discussion, tawny fur flashing reddish in the light, and pulled her upright by her shoulders, careful not to touch the blood-encrusted mess of the back of her shirt. She noted with interest that she had been lying facedown. He began to nudge her legs under her and paused.

"Can you release the sword?"

She thought about it. Releasing something should be easier than holding onto it, by rights. She should be able to do that. It took a great deal of effort, but her stiff fingers slowly loosened their grasp, and the sword slid to the floor with a violent clatter. He didn't flinch at the sound but finished pushing her comfortably upright.

"You have been mistreated," he remarked. "Have you eaten?"

Another slow headshake. She was not particularly hungry, as she recalled.

"Then I think that is most important."

Is it?

"Can you hold yourself upright?"

She thought she could. She nodded. He released her, and she tottered once, but somehow her arm caught her and held her in place as he trotted back to cell door and picked something up, returning with it. It appeared to be a drinking flask and a container that looked as if it was meant to hold food.

"Drink first," he said, settling in front of her this time and unstoppering the flask. "You will have to take my word that I will not attempt to drown you."

Her mouth moved, and after a moment she realized that she had smiled. He smiled in return. "Good, then." Then he took her chin gently and helped her open her mouth, then tipped the flask up.

It was cold, and the first swallow hurt, but the second was so pleasant that she began to gulp greedily until he pressed her arm.

"Not too much," he said, smiling his brief smile. "Can you speak?"

She opened her mouth, but what came out was unrecognizably hoarse. She scowled and tried again. ".. Yes." She looked at the flask irritably, and he offered it to her, but her numbed limbs would not respond, so he helped her drink again.

"I think you must be hungry," he said after she had finished.

Five minutes earlier, she would have denied this, but the water had reminded her how hollow her stomach was. "Yes," she said again, just to keep in practice.

The container proved to hold not merely food, but warm, soft bread and cheese and even a tin of soup. He gave her the bread first, soaking it liberally in the soup and feeding it to her carefully. It was embarrassing, but she found herself unable to be offended, as his manner was devoid of pity or scorn. After the third bite, she realized who he was.

"You.." she said slowly, voice crackling only a little now. "From before."

He looked up at her, brows lifting, then relaxing. "Ah, you do remember." He gave her another piece of bread, and she chewed it, considering.

He had performed this same task several months ago, after a violent incident in which she had injured three guards -- one of them had attempted to take some liberties with her person. It had offended her. She'd been so hysterical by the end of the fight that someone had poured a sleeping draught down her throat, leaving her unconscious for three days and nearly paralyzed when she woke. It had passed, but she couldn't eat on her own.

"Lao," she said after swallowing the bread.

"I am, my lady." She made a faintly disgusted noise at the address, and he looked amused. "Can you move?"

She looked down at her arm for a moment and was somewhat surprise when it lifted at her command and reached for the bread, which he gave her willingly. She deliberately lifted her other hand to hold it as well and held herself erect, almost ashamed of the feeling of satisfaction it gave her. She had been through worse than this before -- hadn't she? She ate in silence, thinking about it uneasily. Lao watched her without interrupting until she was finished.

"Have you had your fill?" he asked when she stopped.

She nodded, then remembered she was trying to practice using her voice. "Yes, I have." It was clearer now, which also pleased her.

"Then we can move on, can we not?" He smiled, looking apologetic, and gestured at her back.

It stiffened automatically at the movement, and she flinched. Food and drink were slowly returning sensation to her numbed body and reminding it of her injuries. "We can."

"I am afraid it will hurt somewhat, my lady," he said, getting to his feet and picking up the container again. "I will be as gentle as I can." He walked around behind her, and her shoulders twitched slightly. He paused. "I will have to remove your shirt."

"I know." The response was short and a little dreary. After a moment, she felt him take hold of the bottom part of her tunic, and she lifted her arms, taking a deep breath. It shot out of her with a rush as he suddenly yanked the garment upward with an audible tearing sound. She bit down on a howl. It felt very much as if he had taken most of the skin off her back with it.

"I apologize for not warning you," he said in a tone that implied he had done it very much on purpose and would do it again.

She lowered her arms, pulling her shirt the rest of the way off, and folded them over her front, teeth still clenched. She could feel warm blood trickling down her back from a few of the newly opened wounds. A hissing breath of irritation was her only response to him, but he did not seem offended.

"From the state of your tunic, it was removed prior to your punishment?" He set the shirt aside and glanced at her questioningly, though she didn't see the look.

"Sort of." Her mouth twitched. "That's the way they usually do it."

"This is true." He chuckled. "It must have been terribly awkward for them."

A grin flashed unconsciously across her features. "It was."

"I have no doubts." He paused then, and went to work.

"These should have been treated immediately," he said, dabbing at the criss-crossing slashes gently, but firmly, cleaning away crusted blood and dirt. She flinched as he did so, clenching her hands around her arms in silence. "But I am sure the doctor's medicine will work admirably."

It seemed safer not to respond, so she instead waited patiently through the excruciating amount of time it took him to finish cleaning her up. He finally sat back slowly, and she glanced over her shoulder, catching his gaze. He smiled briefly -- she wondered if life was a source of constant amusement for him -- and nodded. "Now is the part where we make the pain go away."

"Good." Some of her temper came through in her voice, and it appeared to please him as much as any positive response would have.

"It will be temporary, I am afraid, but the doctor said the poultice has some numbing properties." He paused, then laid a hand cautiously on her shoulder. "I apologize on their behalf. Most of them are not wicked folk, but they are very loyal and easily manipulated by the ones who are."

She looked at him again, curiosity and suspicion flashing across her face as she tried to remember the details of her punishment. "You.. weren't there."

"I was not," he agreed, reaching up to apply the medicine to her topmost wounds. "I have seen most of the men involved, and it seemed to me that lashing a woman did not sit well with many of them -- even if that woman was you." There was a faint smile in his voice at the last.

She gave a soft snort, feeling her back relax as the medicine's numbing properties took effect. "I wasn't planning to exact dire vengeance on them," she said, voice a little irritable.

"Of course not." He was silent for a time, treating her cuts with deliberate care. "These will mend well, I think," he said at last. "I was in time to prevent any dangerous infection." She nodded, not answering him aloud, and he paused again before speaking on thoughtfully. "I say that this beating did not sit well with many of them.. but some thought it appropriate.. and some thought you deserved worse."

She looked at him again, but his head was down, treating the last of the lashes. "I know."

"You have made powerful and dangerous enemies, somehow." He glanced up and smiled at her. "Not even the Baron can protect you from them completely."

"What?" Her voice and gaze were suddenly sharp.

"Ah!" His brows lifted, and he raised his hands placatingly. "I meant no offense, my lady, but I know he would not wish this punishment on you -- that is all I meant to say."

She relaxed slightly, but her eyes still held his, hard and untrusting.

He looked away first, turning back to his container for bandages. "I will finish and take my leave," he said. "But I will come back with food and a clean set of bandages tomorrow and until you no longer need them."

"Very well." She was silent for a moment, gaze drifting to her lap. "I can't repay you."

"I do not ask for payment," he replied. "I only do what I feel is best."

"Interesting philosophy." Her voice was dry.

He did not answer, and they remained silent until he finished and she pulled her tunic back on, watching him gather his things and walk to the door.

"Thank you," she said. The words felt odd coming out of her mouth, the awkwardness reminding her how very rarely she said them with feeling.

He turned back to her and gave a low bow in response, then slipped out of the cell, locking it behind him and leaving her alone in the darkness once again.