The sound of Maer swearing colourfully brought Maria to the desk room of the shop. She had been sorting out a caged crow which was overdue for collection, but Maer swearing usually meant he'd injured himself, or else something was wrong.
She found him with the side of his thumb in his mouth, muttering an impressive array of curses around it. Several sheets of paper lay on the desk, on top of which a fountain pen had been dropped. The page beneath the tip was stained red. It seemed Maer had sliced his thumb open on the nib.
"Oh, are you alright? What've you done? Let me see," Maria said. She tried to get Maer to show her the injury, but he pulled his hand away sharply.
"Leave me alone, I'm fine!"
"Are you sure? I could-"
"I said I'm fine, damn you!"
Maria looked at Maer's face. His eyes were uncovered, which was unusual for the situation, and his expression looked a mixture of angry and afraid. Something was very obviously not right.
"What were you trying to write? If you need a letter doing, I can write it for you-"
"I'm not an invalid! I don't need you to do everything for me! I can write on my own!"
"I know you used to be able to, but those nibs are really sharp, so I don't think-"
The man slammed his uninjured fist into the table and screamed.
"I can't stand it! I can't stand not being able to do basic things on my own! Why am I only allowed to see in the dark? Why am I not allowed to look at you? I, I..."
The man trailed off, shaking a little. "I can't even remember what you look like," he finally said, his voice weak and cracked, audibly holding back crying.
The girl stepped forward and took the man's hands in her own.
"It's okay. I'm right here. Feel," she said, squeezing Maer's fingers. "I'm right here in front of you."
"I can't remember your face."
"Do you need to?" Maria leant up and gently kissed the crying Maer. "There. That's my face. It doesn't matter if you can't see it. I'm right here. I'll always be here. I promised never to leave, didn't I? I'm not going anywhere, no matter what."
The two stayed there for a while, Maria quietly reassuring till Maer had finished crying.
"I'll make tea," she said after a time.
Maer opened his mouth to protest, but before he could say anything Maria kissed him again.
"And you're coming with me."
She held the man's hand like you might hold the hand of a small child, and didn't let go, not even while making tea.
"There. Now will you believe I'm not going anywhere?" she asked as she transferred the teapot and cups to a tray.
"I never didn't, I just..."
"I know. You're going to have to hold onto something else, if I'm to carry this tray. Will my keychain do?"
"Y, yes, that's fine."
The keys jangled as the girl handed the large ring to the man. The keyring was attached to a chain, the other end of which was firmly clipped to a loop on the side of the girl's skirt. This was mainly so that she didn't lose them.
"Where shall we go? Is there a fire in the front room at the moment?"
"Mmmm, there isn't. The, back living room has one, though."
"Let's go there then. C'mon, you."