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Mud and Snowdrops

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Kel has had a long day. Something about early spring gets people antsy, edgy, short-tempered and quick to take offense, and so she has dealt with five different arguments, two fist-fights, and a screaming toddler so far today, and it’s not quite noon. Also one of her clerks is down with some sort of hacking cough that Neal’s tonics help but do not totally alleviate, and her usual burden of paperwork is therefore somewhat larger and less well-organized and -

Well, if Kel were the sort of person to go off and have a sulk, she’d be very tempted.

The only bright point in this whole week has been Dom’s squad visiting, taking some of their precious leave time to come and see how she and her people are getting on, and that isn’t helping much just now since she hasn’t seen Dom all day - he went out on patrol early this morning to help train some of her people -

She rounds a corner and stops dead. Dom is back, apparently. Dom is also sitting in the mud in front of one of the barracks, with a very small child solemnly and carefully sculpting his hair into an elaborate updo, helped along by several handfuls of mud and a battered-looking snowdrop. Dom looks slightly bemused by the whole thing. The rest of his squad are collapsed against the wall of the barracks, holding their sides, clearly so far into a fit of laughter that they’ve run out of breath and been reduced to wheezing gasps.

Kel considers the scene for a while. The very small child - so smeared in mud Kel can’t put a name to their face - fusses with Dom’s hair for another long moment and then stands back proudly. “Done!” they say.

And then a young woman - Irlina, Kel thinks, recently arrived but settling in well - sticks her head out of the barracks and goes quite red. “Dillon!” she says, and hurries out to scoop the muddy child into her arms. “Oh gods, sir, I’m so sorry -”

Dom gets up carefully, eyeing the flower hanging down over his nose. “Quite alright,” he assures Irlina genially. “I am assured that all the fine ladies in Corus have regular mud baths for their skin. Doubtless I will be the envy of the King’s Own.” He grins at her, and Irlina, still blushing, hustles her child into the barracks to - Kel assumes - be scrubbed. Dom glances over and sees Kel, and his ears go red.

“My mother tells me the queen swears by mud baths to keep her skin soft,” Kel says, suppressing a grin. “I don’t know what it does for hair, though.”

Dom sighs. “I promised to watch the kid while his mother unpacked,” he says, falling in beside her as Kel alters her course towards the bathhouse. Dom plucks the snowdrop from his hair before it can fall and offers it to Kel with a crooked smile. “At least mud washes off easy.”

Kel takes the snowdrop and tucks it carefully into a buttonhole on her tunic. “Very true,” she says. “Thank you.” For more than the flower, though she can’t really say aloud how much she appreciates the moment of amusement in what had been a very irksome day.

“My pleasure,” Dom says, and claps her on the shoulder, leaving a muddy smudge on her tunic. Kel mock-glares at him. Dom grins unrepentantly.

“You are a menace,” Kel informs him as they reach the bathhouse.

“But I’m your menace, lady knight,” Dom says, and winks at her before he vanishes through the door.

Kel goes to lunch minus her bad mood and plus one snowdrop, one mud smudge, and a smile.