His arm ached. And – ash – it hurt.
It felt like someone slid an iron pin into the socket of his shoulder, spreading the bones just too far apart. There was another pin pressed up through the back of his elbow, and another along side the knobbed bone on the outside of his wrist. Then they’d linked a chain between each pin, under the skin and over the flesh. Sometimes it jangled as he moved and sometimes it just pulled and shook, too long, reaching for his neck and tangling in his fingers. His joints were too large. His muscles too slack. His arm was too heavy.
He rolled his shoulder back, the bones popping along his back, idly searching for the pop that would slip everything back into place. He’d never found it before, but it was there somewhere, to beyond that last shift.
“Hurting again?” Tiria asked.
Aksel looked at her. He had one hand pressed into the hollow of his shoulder, trying to shove one bone at a time and leave the others in order. He spread his fingers a little, realizing what he was doing. Then he nodded.
Tiria put the piece of wood she’d been working down, knife beside it and stood, beating her hands against her pants to clean them. Standing beside him, she put one hand on his shoulder blade, and one at the ball of the joint and slowly twisted them around each other. There was no pop, no jarring set, the pain just eased back and Aksel breathed out.
Tiria held it there, for one easy breath, then a second. Aksel curled his fingers together and spread them out. The pins had disappeared and the chain was winding away. She stayed for a third and a fourth and a fifth, then slowly released.
She stepped behind him next, laying wide, warm hands along the muscles that pinned his neck and shoulder together. She kneaded gently at first, then pressed down hard, as if she was spreading it under her fingers, forcing it into evenness. Aksel shut his hes, dropped his head forward, leaned into her motion.
The pins didn’t come back.
It was a long time before she stopped.
She gave him a steady look as she returned to her seat. “I’m not so far away,” she told him, and held his eyes just long enough to quietly and firmly call him an idiot.
Aksel nodded, shutting his eyes again. “Thanks,” he murmured.