Oh, The Places You'll Go

Stitch In Time

Notes: More Allegoriverse! Takes place a little while (VAGUE) after Something Old, Something New?. You should probably have read that first. MANY apologies for the title, I just, yeah. Big thanks to mrs_laugh_track for her very helpful notes. *squish*


It's a palace, this time. At least, he thinks it must be because the walls are tapestry-lined stone, and the dark, damp corridors stretch in front of him until the paved floors disappear into shadow. He searches still, opening door after door onto one empty room after another. There is nothing here, not a single sign of life. He speeds his search; he must find what is lost or there will be terrible, unspeakable consequences. His heart thumps in time with his feet striking stone, quickening as he breaks into a run. It's so hot in here, but he must find what he is looking for. He must find what-

He gasps awake and there is cool, wet cloth against his forehead and a low voice in his ear. His skin burns, but his heart slows, and he sinks back into fitful sleep. This scene has been played out many times before.

It's light when Chaucer opens his eyes again. His skin is cool and dry, though his clothes are damp, and the colours that dance behind his eyelids are no longer fever-bright reds and purples but sun-graced yellows and oranges. It's an effort to lift his lids, but it feels as though he hasn't greeted the day in an age, the world is continuing despite his absence and that will never do.

It takes a moment to adjust to the brightness of the sunlight streaming through the window, and, for a second, Chaucer sees fire. He blinks and looks again and the flames resolve into Wat's brilliant hair, head bent over some unseen task.

Wat.

Chaucer can't help the joyful little skip his heart gives at the sight of the man, not that he would want to. He is, though, a little bemused because Wat is sitting in the tall, leather-backed chair that usually has pride of place opposite its twin by the tavern fire. It's solid oak and would not have been easy to wrestle upstairs, but Wat's feet are tucked under him and he looks settled in it, as if he hasn't moved for some time.

Chaucer lets his gaze roam over Wat, sees his tongue sticking out in concentration, and the sense memory of another time Chaucer saw Wat strike that attitude sends ripples across his skin like a breeze across reeds. He moves his gaze to Wat's hands, to see what has him so brow-furrowed. Wat is resting a wooden frame on his lap, tilted towards him so Chaucer can't make out what is inside it, but he sees Wat raise a needle and stick it through the centre of the frame. It's a jerky motion, though not unpractised, and Wat repeats it again and again.

Revelation comes swift for John and for an English poet both, and Chaucer says; "Now I know I must be dead."

Wat's needle is on an upswing and with his surprise he does not stop its journey, and so he greets Chaucer with the happiest barrage of cursing Chaucer has ever witnessed. Sucking his wounded thumb, Wat comes close and kneels by the bed, resting the back of his hand against Chaucer's forehead.

"Fever's broke," he says through a mouthful of thumb. "I'm bleeding to death but you're on the mend. Shift over, it's my turn to be tended to." He pulls the thumb out and barrels straight on. "Sweet Jesus, Geoff, you gave us all a fright. If you're going to take ill could you pick something less likely to end with you in the ground and us all grey-haired from worry and grief? I'm too old for this."

Chaucer's heart thumps weakly in his chest. About now is when his prick should stir and he should take Wat in his arms and show him how vital and how young they truly still are, but he is so weary despite having slept many days away, settling instead for flopping his hand over Wat's and squeezing gently.

"You're not old," he says. "Though apparently, you are a woman."

Wat frowns in confusion and Chaucer picks up Wat's hand and kisses the poor, beleaguered thumb, looking up at Wat questioningly as he does so.

"Oh," says Wat, a little discomfited. "The, um, the...that."

"The embroidery, Mistress Fowlehurst. You know, if you're going to create beauty you should own it with pride."

Wat narrows his eyes and brandishes a fist. "If you weren't so close to the Saints right now," he threatens.

"I'll draw up a promissory note for one fonging at a later date, shall I?"

"Yeah, do that," says Wat, getting off his knees and pouring some wine from a jug sitting on the table next to the bed.

Chaucer notices a basin and cloth are there, too, and an assortment of boxes and vials he has never seen before. Some of them are covered with a fine film of dust. Just how long has he been here? Wat slips a hand under Chaucer's head and lifts him, gently but firmly. He holds the cup to Chaucer's lips and Chaucer sips gratefully. It burns as it goes down, but not unpleasantly. Wat presses him to drink again, so he does. It is enough for now, and Wat lies him down again without words needing to pass between them.

"Lady Philippa taught me," says Wat belligerently, out of the blue.

Chaucer's wits are dulled from the long fever and he asks, "Philippa who?"

"Philippa, your wife, Philippa. Mrs Chaucer? To have and to hold Philippa? Lady Philippa," says Wat, and Chaucer doesn't know whether to laugh or be horrified.

"You. Met her?" is all he can manage.

"We thought you was going to die. She's your wife, she needed to know."

"Oh," says Chaucer, and wonders if he did indeed die and this was the second circle of Hell.

Wat eyes the bed as if he wants to sit down, but stays standing instead, leaning against the table. Chaucer hopes it will hold. "Do you remember what happened, Geoff? Do you remember how you got so ill?"

Chaucer closes his eyes. He remembers the boat from Italy, remembers his head being full of rhythms and the terza rima and the grace of the vernacular tongue. Remembers also how he longed for home, for Wat and the tavern. For Kate, too, though he hadn't entirely reconciled himself to her role in their strange little family. There was a horse, he recalls, and grey gathering skies. After that, nothing.

"Tell me," he says.

"It was a devil of a storm, the night you rode back to London. Wind howling about, like evil spirits it was. And the rain." Wat tips his head back and stares at the roof. "Coming down like Noah was trying for a second go round. I was in and out of bed catching leaks half the night. Kate and me, we tucked the covers over our heads and hoped for morning." Wat shifts again, leaning a little closer to Chaucer now, fingers fidgeting with the edge of a pillow.

"Then there was this almighty hammering at the door, and that only ever brings bad news, dunnit? So I took myself downstairs before Kate could even light the candle, and there was you, drowned like a rat in your clothes. You tried to hug me like the great prat you are. Hello? Wet. But I got you in and up the stairs, and me and Kate got your clothes off and dried you and stuck you in the bed with us attached to you like warming pans. You wouldn't stop shivering. I thought, if his teeth clatter together any harder he's gonna lose 'em, and then how will he make his grand speeches?"

It's like someone else's memory, thinks Chaucer. It's warm and grey and foggy in his head and carries no pain with it, now he is through the other side.

"I'd have Kate make me new ones from silver," he says, to try and take the worried look from Wat's face. "I'll always find a way to speechify, never you fear."

Wat smiles and his fingers creep a little closer towards Chaucer's head. They don't touch, though, and Chaucer frowns. "What then, oh chronicler of ill-fortune?"

"Hared it for the doctor, didn't I? Soon as it got light enough to see by. He bled you and said to send for the priest." Wat's fingers curl in on themselves. "I meant to go there, I did, but, I dunno, I found myself on your- on Lady Philippa's doorstep."

Chaucer says nothing, only waits.

"She came straight away, didn't ask no questions. We've been taking turns staying up with you, the three of us. Your w- Lady Philippa's even taken a shift or two behind the bar, it's given the customers quite a turn."

As if on cue, a roar of laughter filters up from below. Chaucer raises his eyebrows, and Wat grins. "That'll be her, telling 'em tales of John of Gaunt and his skirt-chasing ways again. She's wicked when she wants to be."

Chaucer's head is spinning. His wife here? Tending the bar? Being wicked? And Wat hopping from foot to foot, creeping closer then pulling away, it's all too much for a nearly-dead man to take.

"What?" he snaps as Wat reaches out and drops his hand yet again.

Wat snatches back his hand and lowers his chin. "I want. I don't want to. You're weak," he mumbles.

"Oh, Iesu, is that what's put the lice in your britches? Come here, you fool." And Chaucer is weak, but not so much that he can't lift an arm and wind it around Wat's neck as he bends to him.

Wat clambers on to the bed and settles at Chaucer's side, burying his face into Chaucer's neck. He burrs something against Chaucer's skin and Chaucer says, "Speak up."

"You smell," says Wat, surfacing and stroking his fingers through Chaucer's hair. "Also, you could fry an egg off the grease from this thatch. Will's dad would be right ashamed if this were his handiwork."

Chaucer looks at Wat, and Wat looks back. "Don't," says Wat, warningly, and then claps a hand over his own mouth, decidedly unmanly giggles escaping around the edges. It's catching and Chaucer laughs, too, and it feels so good to be doing this again, the two of them. It's lying in a giggling heap that Kate finds them. Her smile is beautiful.

"What's all this, then?"

"Some jokes are best left untold," says Chaucer and nudges Wat, who dissolves again.

Kate crosses to the bed and drops a kiss on Chaucer's forehead. "It's going to take strength, all this laughing. You'd be wanting a nice basin of broth, then. Build you right up." She ruffles Wat's hair, pinches Chaucer's cheek with a low-murmured, "I prayed so much for this," and leaves them to untangle themselves.

Wat is back in his chair, stabbing at his embroidery when Philippa comes in bearing broth in one hand and a hunk of bread in the other. Chaucer looks quickly from one to the other, but neither appears agitated by the others' presence, and, though he feels he should be perturbed – surely someone should be at the least unsettled by this unorthodox situation? – his strength is too sapped to care overmuch.

"Hello, Philippa."

"Hello, Geoffrey, I'm happy you are faring so well," she says, and Chaucer finds he believes her. She puts the wooden trencher down on the table. "I baked the bread myself, you know," she says, and adds with a laugh, "with a deal of help from your friends."

She motions for Wat to come and help her to move Chaucer into a sitting position and they exchange friendly comments across him as if he weren't even there, patting and smoothing the coverlet across him as they chatter on about the tavern. Chaucer's head begins to ache; perhaps he is a little disconcerted after all.

"I'll, er, I'll be off then," says Wat, jerking his thumb towards the stairs. "Let you two, um, talk. The brew needs stirring anyway." He trips over his feet on the way out and it is only the spoon at Chaucer's lips that prevents him calling after him.

"So this is where you've been spending all those nights when you don't come home," says Philippa, applying herself to the task of nursemaid with more gusto than Chaucer had thought her capable of.

"Ah. Yes," says Chaucer around mouthfuls. He blinks mournfully at her. "Don't berate me, I'm all pathetic from disease."

Philippa smiles and it doesn't warm Chaucer's heart the same way Wat's smile does, but it's familiar and valued in its own right. "No," she says. "I don't mean to browbeat you with declarations of your sins against me. All is well, Geoffrey. In honesty, it is not what I would have chosen – for you or for me – but he loves you and that is plain enough." She stretches across for the bread and hands it to him, brushing crumbs from the coverlet as they fall. There's something Chaucer should notice, but his thoughts are sand slipping through his fingers.

"I wasn't expecting the wife," Philippa says.

Chaucer frowns. Wife? What did she- Oh. Kate. "It's, ah, it's complicated."

"When isn't it with you?" chides Philippa gently, though with a hidden edge of steel.

"So you forgive me?"

"That isn't within my purview, Geoffrey, I'm afraid. It's between you and the good Lord." She isn't looking at him and her voice is tight. Chaucer reaches for her hand, covering the single plain band she wears there.

"Philippa," he pushes.

She looks, then, and though the surface of her face is ruled by fond amusement, there is something else in the depths of her eyes. He braces.

"I'm not a fool, my dear, nor ruled by passion neither. We were never Lancelot and his Guinevere, you and I." She glances away, towards the window. "I confess there was a long time when I would have had it otherwise, but my children – our children – are comfort enough. I care more for their happiness than I do for mine, or your own. Do not you shame them and you may love where you will. Strange places though that love has led you." She turns towards Chaucer once more, laying her hand over his. "I wanted your love, once, but I am grown older and wiser, my dear, and now all I wish for is your respect."

Her voice is young, of a sudden, and Chaucer is sharply minded of when they met, a callow youth and a beautiful girl, both unsure and unwilling. What paths had they trod, the two of them, to deliver them here?

"My dearest Philippa, of course I esteem you greatly. I-" Chaucer begins, a little desperate to put things between them to rights, but is grateful when Philippa interrupts him with a kiss to his cheek.

"I must be gone now, Geoffrey, I've been home only to sleep these past few nights. And now your fever has broken you're in good hands. I'll visit in a day or so; Kathryn has some herbal concoction she insists I bring you. Come home when you're ready. Thomas has been hard at his books and has much to tell you." She stands and smoothes her skirts, and the girl is lost once more in the woman.

Chaucer struggles to sit up further, to find the words on his tongue that will tell of his gratitude for her grace and understanding, of his sorrow of failing to be what she wanted, but she shushes him, and presses him back down with a gentle hand on his shoulder, giving the covers one last tweak before she gathers the empty tableware and leaves.

It is only after he is alone again that the nagging sense of familiarity plaguing him resolves itself; the coverlet is from his very own bed. It's strange; Chaucer would have thought the rich colours and soft materials would be out of place in this simple room, but they aren't. They aren't at all. Philippa must have brought it, and the suspiciously lump-free pillows, too. He tries to think about what just happened – Philippa's presence in the tavern, her easiness with Wat, the way the three of them had come together to care for him – it bears scrutiny, and perhaps even memorialising in verse, but his mind slips free of thought and his eyes are distracted by the abandoned embroidery frame, and Chaucer finds himself wondering exactly what it is that Wat is making.

Apparently, merely thinking of Wat brings him to Chaucer now, because as his mind is conjuring more and more outlandish ideas for Wat's handiwork, the man himself pokes his head into the room.

"She's gone then," he says, half-statement, half-question.

"Yes, she's gone. You're quite safe, I assure you."

"Shame that," says Wat, grinning, and makes for the table where he proceeds to pour water into the basin. He dips the rag in and squeezes it out. "Come here, you filthy mare," he says, and begins to wipe Chaucer down, his hands gentle and sure. As he washes, he murmurs soothing noises and Chaucer considers pointing out that he isn't a horse and has no intention of bolting. He settles for teasing instead.

"Embroidery, then, Wat. Is the tavern business too manly for you these days? And there's Kate hammering out her bespoke armour out at her forge. People are going to start expecting to see her in hose and you in skirts."

Wat is, perhaps, a little rougher as he pulls off Chaucer's nightshirt and sets to work on his armpits.

"Needed something to do with me hands while I was watching you, didn't I? Save me from wrapping 'em around your neck for all the hard work," he says, but Chaucer knows he means he was too worried to sit still. He doesn't tease any more, and lets Wat finish his task. Wat is thorough, as always, and Chaucer takes some comfort in the little flash of pleasure that runs through him as Wat cleans around his private parts. Oh yes, indeed, he is on the mend.

When Wat is finished, Chaucer is as limp and wrung out as the rag he was washed with, but his skin is cool and he is languid instead of lifeless. He has almost forgotten Wat's embroidery and is surprised to find the wooden frame thrust into his hands. It's inexpertly done, the horse has one leg considerably thicker than the others, the knight astride it has a hunchback, and the lance is far from straight. In the top corner, only yet sketched in, there are four figures, one woman and three men – one round, one tall and one with a scribbled shock of hair. Chaucer's heart clenches and he looks up at Wat, who is looking back with bashful pride.

It is times like these, Chaucer tells himself, that he is entirely grateful to be alive. He pulls Wat down beside him and onto his side.

"It's beautiful," he says, and means, "So are you."

Taking Wat's hand, Chaucer places it over his heart, threading their fingers together so they can both feel it beating. He drifts off into peaceful dreams.


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