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Willow and Grackle

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There’s gossip that morning about a merchant who was slain in her home, along with most of her guards. The black feathers scattered around the body claimed the crime for the Blackbird Assasins. Willow’s glad, but he won’t say so aloud; the merchant had been basically extorting the clinic he was training at, preventing the other physicians from getting valuable medical herbs and supplies.

Willow is told to go shoo a raccoon out of one of the rear storage sheds. It looks like the window was left open and a more skittish trainee heard a creature rummaging around in there. Willow’s not easily spooked by anything so he obliges. He just hopes the dumb thing hasn’t eaten too much of anything. He grabs a broom and opens the door.

He smells blood and leather before he sees the source. Huddled in a corner, wedged between some shelves, is a man wearing black-stained leathers and a scarf covering his mouth. His eyes are shut tight and his breathing is labored. Willow can see he’s injured, the leather chestpiece sliced open to show a huge gash against his skin. Willow’s eyes dart to the shoulder and he sees the tell-tale red band of the Blackbirds. He stays quiet, trying not to attract the assassin’s attention. He should tell someone.

But this man might’ve just saved his clinic.

Willow quietly shuts the door behind him. The assassin’s eyes snap open, and he fixes his yellow pupils on the trainee. In a heartbeat he’s got a dagger in his hand and is back on his feet, though he definitely is favoring his right. “I don’t want to hurt you,” Willow says, clutching the broom like it would shield him. “You killed that merchant, didn’t you? Lady Diamant? I need to thank you.”

The assassin doesn’t lower his dagger but tilts his head to the side, puzzlement in what’s visible of his face. Willow takes that as an invitation to continue. “She was making us pay too much for medical supplies,” he says. “If she’s gone, we can afford to continue the clinic. The prices probably won’t go back down immediately but it’s a huge help.” He takes a deep breath, trusting himself to this murderer, and bows deeply at the waist. “So thank you.”

Willow hears the rustling of leather, and when he chances a look, the assassin has stuck the dagger back into its sheath. He impatiently gestures at the door, as if telling Willow to leave. He straightens back up, glances at the door, then turns back and shakes his head. “I can’t just leave you here to bleed out,” he says, taking a step closer. The assassin stiffens, hand on the dagger’s hilt again. Willow puts the broom down and holds up his hands, palm-out. “I’m training to be a physician,” he explains. “I’m not the best, but I can help you right now. Will you allow me to take care of you?”

The assassin seems to weigh his options for a moment, but slowly nods, relaxing his posture somewhat. He tries to shift his weight but forgets his injured ankle and a small gasp escapes from beneath his scarf as he clings to a shelf to steady himself. Willow rushes forward, reaching out to put his arm around the assassin’s waist. “Here, I’ve got you,” he says, lowering the man down to the floor with little resistance. “Let me take care of your side first, then I can wrap your ankle. Alright?”

He gathers some supplies from the shelves; there aren’t any pain salves in here, but at least he has enough bandages and stitching for the job. He kneels down next to his patient, looking up into his golden eyes. “I’ll need you to take off your shirt,” he says.

Apparently the assassin is used to this already, because he undoes a number of belts and buckles without hesitation. The garment might need to be scrapped entirely, whenever he gets back to wherever assassins live. Willow takes a sharp intake of breath when the front of the leather shirt is opened, revealing not only the bloody gash in question, but a number of fresh bruises and old scars. He hesitantly reaches out to touch a cross-shaped scar over the assassin’s left breast, before remembering he’s supposed to be at work. Nothing to be done about old injuries.

“I don’t have any pain relief,” Willow says as the assassin bundles the torn shirt and sets it aside. “So I’m afraid this is going to hurt.” His patient merely grunts in response and turns so Willow can get a better angle on his wound. He takes some clean rags and mops up what blood he can. The gash has mostly stopped bleeding by now, but even small movements open it up anew. Willow doesn’t hear his patient cry out at all, though he’s gripped one of the storage shelves so tightly he hears his leather glove creak.

“...Do you want to take off your mask?” Willow asks once he’s cleaned the area as well as he can. “It must be hard to breathe in that. I don’t want you to lose consciousness.” The assassin’s eyes widen a bit and he shakes his head, then looks considering. He twirls his finger pointing downwards. Willow gets the hint and shuffles around to face the other direction, politely giving the man his privacy. A light tap on his shoulder a moment later lets him know to return. The scarf has been loosened, tied more like a bandana used during dust storms to keep the airway clear.

Willow smiles encouragingly. “Let me know if you need a break,” he says, though he suspects his patient is used to this sort of thing--just with pain relief, hopefully. He threads a stitching needle and sets to work.

To the assassin’s credit, he doesn’t even flinch away from the needle, even though his eyes are squeezed shut and Willow swears the gloves are going to break apart if he clutches the shelf any tighter. By the time he’s finished the stitching, the assassin’s hair and face are soaked with sweat, and his breathing is ragged. Willow automatically picks up a clean rag and starts to gently dab at his face. The assassin’s eyes open wide again, looking down at him in confusion. “...You’re just sweaty, is all?” Willow says, by way of explanation. “Sorry.” He starts to pull away, but the assassin grabs hold of his wrist and shakes his head. “I, ah.” Willow feels himself flush a bit. “Sure.” He reaches back up and finishes drying off his patient’s face.

The bandaging goes much smoother for the assassin. Willow makes sure to wrap it securely, but not enough to restrict his breathing. “Don’t move around too much when you get home,” he says, carefully eyeing how much blood comes through both the stitching and the wrapping--not much, thank the stars. “Not for a few days, if you can help it. How’s your ankle?”

The assassin grimaces, as if the work on his gash had distracted him from his other trouble. Without being asked, he leans forward to roll up his trouser leg, but the twinge in his side seems to stop him halfway. Willow holds up his hands reassuringly. “I’ll take care of it!”

Willow adjusts his position to the assassin’s feet. Gently, he rolls up the right trouser leg, tutting sympathetically when he sees the swelling around the ankle. “Let me know where it hurts worst, if you can.” His fingers start exploring with great care, pressing down to ensure the bones weren’t broken. The assassin cries out for the first time in a rough voice when Willow touches closer down to his foot. “There?” He looks up; his patient nods, one hand clamped over his mouth. “I don’t think it’s broken, but I need to make sure. Alright?”

Getting the boot off is a bit of an ordeal. The assassin is ill-inclined to bend his ankle to cooperate, but it gets done eventually, with the laces loosened enough. Willow resumes his careful exploration, prodding with his fingertips and gently rotating the ankle. No breaks, thankfully; he wasn’t sure what he’d do if he had a lamed assassin on his hands. “It’s just sprained,” he explains. The assassin’s shoulders seem to sag in relief, and Willow feels his own do the same. “Walking will hurt, and you really shouldn’t run, but it’ll heal if you can keep it elevated on a pillow for a couple days. Pain salves and foot soaks will definitely help as well.”

He cuts off another length of bandage and wraps the foot and ankle tightly. His patient lets out some additional sharp gasps of pain, but doesn’t flinch away or make the task any harder than it has to be. Willow gets the boot back on and laces it as tight as he thinks is safe. He looks over his handiwork, quite pleased with himself, even if he did just heal a murderer. “I think you’ll be able to get home now,” he says. “I’m sorry I couldn’t do anything for the pain.” He gets to his feet and holds out a hand to help the man up. There’s hesitation, but the hand is accepted.

Willow hands the assassin back his shirt once he’s back on his feet as well, then takes a look outside to ensure no one is around. “It should be safe,” he says, turning back to the assassin. “Please don’t do anything reckless or dangerous to get home. Just be quiet and keep out of sight.” He wasn’t sure why he was so invested in this man’s future safety. He’d indirectly saved the clinic, yes, but he killed people for a living.

Maybe he was just that grateful.

The assassin walks over to the door, a limp in his gait but not as bad as it could’ve been without attention. He leans over Willow’s head and takes a look around himself, finds it satisfactorially devoid of onlookers, and steps outside, starting towards the nearby alley. “What do I call you?” Willow blurts before he has a chance to stop himself.

The assassin turns back to him, eyes wide and surprised. He considers the trainee for a moment, gold eyes piercing and searching for any ulterior motive. He sighs beneath the mask, and speaks just one word in that rough voice:

“Grackle.”

He turns around the corner of the storage shed and vanishes into the alleyway, short cape fluttering behind him like a blackbird’s wings.