X I I
The clock strikes midnight when the Seven of Hearts stretches his arms over his head and decides that it's time to bust out a drink from his stash - the soft sigh and narrowed gaze coming from Alice the Second could've spelled either disapproval or disappointment (or even both simultaneously), but she walks over to the sofa where he sat anyway with two small glass cups in her hands.
The drink he pulls out of his stash is a thin bottle of gin, and this is what she says to him as the clock struck one -
You know, I still think it isn't professional to keep a stash here in the infirmary.
He snorts at that, looking at her rather pointedly -
Say that again when you can admit that you're not hiding anything in the white cabinet just behind us - third drawer, rightmost side, innermost portion.
Her shoulders jump and her eyes widen at his words, and he chuckles at her reaction.
She attempts to explain herself first, stating that it was the Jack of Hearts who gave it to her earlier but she wasn't able to find a brief moment or a place to set it aside properly since there were already patients coming in, but the Seven of Hearts cuts in and tells her that she shouldn't even bother hiding unnecessary stuff in the drawers and that she should just bring it out; so by the time the clock had struck two and he had poured some gin in their cups, she brings out a plate of fish chips from the aforementioned drawer with a slight blush on her cheeks.
I I I
The flush in his face is threatening to color the entirety of his cheeks with a hue that rivals that of his hair by the time the clock strikes three, and that's her signal to take his glass away from him - he pouts and grabs at her like a child would, and the words that escape his lips make some sort of pity blossom in a part of her heart:
Why would you take my only source of happiness away from me? he moaned, golden eyes glimmering bright.
She doesn't buy it anyway, and proceeds to take the bottle of gin away from the table - and away from his twitching fingers.
She's done cleaning up after their drinking session when the clock strikes four and before she's to make her way back to her room, she decides to see if she can wake him: he's not sprawled out on the couch but sitting on it, what a miracle, so she has easy access to both his shoulders to shake him awake - hopefully, the task wouldn't prove as difficult as it seemed.
Her voice rings in his head, and what also registers in his hazy consciousness is the feeling of his body being shrouded in something and the words goodnight: the words are a fleeting whisper, a breeze to his ears, and something just tells him to hold on, hold on before it disappears -
And that he does: he extends an arm and just reaches out, hand wide open, fingers stretched as far as they can go to the direction of that voice and they prove successful in their task - he takes hold of something warm and familiar against his skin, and he gathers all the strength he has left to pull it close as the clock struck five.
(She finally falls asleep just minutes after the clock strikes six, with her hand still wrapped in his and her head resting snugly on his shoulder - somehow, the warmth of his body beside hers and the mingling scents of antiseptic and lime made the issue of propriety bubble away from her mind, so she resigned herself to stop struggling away from his grip because in the first place, she already found a sense of comfort in his company days ago - )
( - and she sincerely hoped that the Seven of Hearts, in some way or another, felt the same about her presence, too.)
V I I
When he wakes up to the clock striking seven, he realizes that he has slept on the couch sitting upright; or as upright as he could - his body aches from sleeping in such a position, but when he sees that his assistant had done the same beside him, with her head resting on his numb shoulder; he squeezes her hand and relishes in the thought that he's not the only one going to be complaining about muscle pain later.
V I I I
The Ace of Hearts doesn't exactly get why Alice the Second occasionally winced as she moved her head (even in the smallest of angles), but he does (he really, really does) know the reason why the Seven of Hearts kept complaining about muscle pains for the umpteenth time (again) - and so after breakfast, when the trio have stepped out of the dining area as the clock struck eight; the Ace asks Alice -
Did you have a hard time sleeping last night?
She visibly flinches and beside her, the Seven of Hearts' lips curl upwards -
Awww, would you look at that, he says with a lilt in his voice, she's got muscle pains!
I certainly do not!
It's the Jack of Hearts' troop up for morning training again, so the Seven of Hearts and Alice the Second return to the infirmary as soon as the clock struck nine: before anyone would rush in explaining how they got their injury or mourning about something broken or just lamenting about their sorry state in general, the latter takes a deep breath before she turned around to face the former -
Say, Kyle? she says, and he looks up from his book casually.
Thank you, she breathes, for lending me your shoulder.
He blinks once, twice; before a lazy grin slips onto his lips, and into his features.
The clock had already struck ten but the line of patients, as he jokingly mumbled to himself, was still as long as a lock of her hair - she shakes her head and hits him playfully on the shoulder before asking him what she could do now to help their current patient, a middle-aged soldier who had a mass of purple bruising on his upper forearm. The Seven of Hearts nods at her and says -
Get me an ice pack. After that, grab five more thick towels, a roll of stockinette, a pair of gloves, then go to that kettle over there; it still has some water - check its temperature: if it's lukewarm, boil it for a bit then pour some in a basin; don't fill it up to the brim and set it beside me to cool down. If the water's still hot, you can just pour some in the basin and set it aside immediately. Oh right, the basins are...
... in the left-hand shelf, bottom compartment, she finished with a vigorous nod. So: ice pack, five thick towels, a stockinette roll, gloves, basin of water - check temperature; if lukewarm I should boil then pour, if hot I'll just pour - is that right?
With nothing in her hands but with a gaze that demanded affirmation, she waited with bated breath - and all he could do was grin.
Not bad, he mumbles - and she smiles at him before taking off.
The middle-aged soldier is permitted to go a little later after the clock had struck eleven, with a secured sling supporting the cast in his arm: before he leaves, he stands tall and proclaims his utmost gratitude to the Seven of Hearts and Alice the Second in a booming voice - the former just waves casually and tells the soldier to take it easy, while the latter states that she just offered assistance. The soldier shakes his head and says to her, however -
Assistant you may be, Alice, but you should take pride in your work, he declares. I may be just one of the many soldiers under the Jack of Hearts, but under his wing, I pride myself in being able to help in his and the Red Army's efforts in making Cradle a better place. It may seem arrogant of me - but I believe that even minor efforts count in a bigger picture... just like your assistance can help save lives.
The soldier salutes with a small smile on his face, then turns around to leave.
X I I
The infirmary usually closes for lunch break when the clock strikes twelve, but the Red Army's doctor and assistant finish treating their last patient a couple of minutes past that time: when the pair is left alone in silence, the Seven of Hearts swivels his chair to face Alice the Second, who blinks at the sudden action and squeaks -
What is it?
Crouch down a bit, will you?
Her lips curve downwards but she complies anyway: while crouching she's within better reach without much effort, so he puts his hand on top of her head and moves his hand back and forth in a languid motion, the strands of her blonde hair soft against his fingers.
The sensation is familiar - somewhat enjoyable, somewhat calming yet very vexing all the same, so her mouth opens to say something about manners; because a man shouldn't just ruffle a lady's hair like he would to a dog, but their eyes meet: their faces are not that far apart from each other so she can see that the smile on his lips reaches his eyes, and his direct gaze set on her holds so much warmth.
A sudden heat flows through her face like a flood so she looks down at her hands that now grip at her skirt, lips still quivering -
- but not a single word is voiced.
The lunch they have is fulfilling to their stomachs but brief to their bodies, and the Seven of Hearts bemoans this to Alice the Second as they walk back to the infirmary minutes before the clock struck one: he explains that while the food is good (but the drinks are better), there's not enough time to properly digest and appreciate what they've eaten if their break only spans for an hour then it's back to work they go - listening to him ramble about his explanation as she washed some towels, she lets out a laugh but says nothing in reply.
Oh, but I guess lunch tastes better than usual nowadays.
You're right there, eating happily beside me, he grins. I've always thought that dining hall's too wide for just one person.
The Jack of Hearts visits the infirmary exactly as the clock strikes two, and when he sees the doctor by his desk but no assistant in sight, he casually says:
Ah, has she finally managed to escape your clutches?
The Seven of Hearts snorts and shakes his head -
Last time I checked, you were the one with the name 'Gentle Demon'. Why are you painting me in your image?
Come now - it was just a jest. That aside... where has Alice gone to?
The doctor gestures to the closed curtains of the infirmary's ward, so the Jack of Hearts walks over to the said area to part the curtains slightly: there he sees the woman he was looking for sitting on a chair set by an open window, head and arm resting on the windowsill with a book on her lap; eyes closed and breathing in a steady rhythm.
Ah. What a shame for her to be asleep.
She fell asleep just minutes before you came in.
Oh? And you didn't bother to at least ward her from the cold?
Huh? But doesn't she look comfortable enough?
The Jack of Hearts let out a laugh as he took off the sheets from the nearest cot to carefully settle over Alice's shoulders.
Forget I asked. I was expecting too much of you, it seems.
I I I
The two ranking officers share a conversation about the Red Army's current situation and also about a certain someone's training regimen which leaves the Jack of Hearts utterly perplexed on who could be the subject of the Seven of Hearts' ire (who would ever dare get on the good doctor's nerves, he says, while said doctor rolls his eyes), and it lasts until the Jack of Hearts decides that he has overstayed his welcome - he leaves a bag containing two jelly doughnuts right in the center of the Seven of Hearts' desk with a smile, leaving the infirmary just as the clock struck three.
The Seven of Hearts scowls at the gift, taking the bag and walking over to where Alice the Second still lay fast asleep - he sets the bag on the windowsill then proceeds to close the windows as quietly as possible, and when he's done he spares a glance at his assistant: eyes land on her mussed hair first, covering a good portion of her face enough to make him wonder if she could still breathe.
So carefully he extends his hand toward her, fingers moving as gently as they could to brush the strands of her hair away from her face. He uncovers her eyes first, and the slightly darkened color of the skin under her eyes catches his attention: he recalls that they did sort of sleep late last night, so maybe he was at fault for that -
- but still, she stayed by his side all the while.
A ghost of a smile begins to grace his lips, and he decides to watch over her a little longer.
Alice the Second wakes up to see that the sky outside was no longer in vivid shades of blue but now stained in orange, red, and yellow hues; and that's enough to make her rise quickly from her seat, throw the book that she was reading onto the nearest cot, then pull aside the white curtains separating the ward from the infirmary in a flurry, just in time to see the Seven of Hearts about to take a swig from his mug, glasses perched upon his nose and expression dumbfounded, until -
- he just burst out in peals of laughter, drops of water spilling out from his cup and onto his clothes -
Wha- what's so funny!
Y-your hair, he manages to wheeze out, it - wow, just look at it go - looks like birds just nested in there-
H-hey! You don't have to laugh that hard!
And so doctor and assistant continued their banter - and by the time the clock had struck four, the Red Army's infirmary was painted completely in the warm sunset hues and mingling laughter.
With night approaching and little to no soldiers dropping by the infirmary, the Seven of Hearts calls it a day when the clock strikes five - with a nod, Alice the Second stands up and begins to gather any tools left behind on the trolleys and desks then placing them all together in one basin set by the sink. She's about to grab the kettle when she sees him take out his medical bag, so she says:
Don't forget that Zero asked for a roll of bandages!
Got it. Thanks for the reminder.
Jonah mentioned that if we had some salve to spare, he'd like a bottle for himself, too.
Ah, that. Most likely he isn't going to use it for himself, but oh well.
And there's an ice pack ready in the ice box, if you need it.
Oh? Someone's well prepared.
That's because you - and other people - need it.
He chuckles as he picks up the aforementioned items, storing the extra bandage roll and antiseptic in a separate pocket then wrapping the ice pack in two towels before setting it carefully inside his bag. After making sure that everything was in place he zippers the bag shut and slings it over his shoulder, walking towards the door and about to leave but not before he -
I'll be back, he calls out before closing the door behind him.
I'll be waiting, she replies, seeing him off with a smile.
These are the things that Alice the Second does while the Seven of Hearts is away from the infirmary:
- She washes any and every medical implement used within the day - first, she lets everything she gathered settle in a basin of hot water for a minute to sterilize them; then she brushes each tool carefully with soap. After rinsing, she wipes everything with a towel then puts each tool away in certain cabinets.
- While she's at it, she also takes down the towels and gloves hanging on the standing rack not far from the sink; ensures that they are dry, folds them, and also puts them away in their respective drawers.
- She tidies up the rest of the infirmary, starting from the medicine cabinets to the doctor's desk to the rest of the cabinets then finally, the ward. Ointments and assorted salves are placed back in the shelves, books and papers are neatly set aside, and any used beds are remade.
- She grabs a broom and sweeps the infirmary clean; going around once, then twice until she's satisfied. She even hums a tune while she's at it, her skirts swirling around her legs as she swept every nook and cranny with practiced ease.
The thing she does not do, however, is to escape - she is on her lonesome and every avenue was open to her, whether it be the door or the windows. Perhaps a clear layout of the Red Army's headquarters has imprinted itself well in her mind considering the length of her stay, but she makes no indication of leaving and instead, she waits. She waits, even if the clock had struck six and the minutes continued to pass by.
Just like she had told the Seven of Hearts.
With nothing else to see, the King of Hearts waves his hand in the darkness of his room and the image of the infirmary becomes wisps of smoke, just as his eyes reverted back to their blue hue.
V I I
The Seven of Hearts and Alice the Second's company for dinner tonight happens to be the Queen of Hearts, who permitted them to eat with him given that they would not be rambunctious to the point that they would spoil his dessert. The latter takes note of that and sits two chairs away from the Queen while the former just sprawls himself on the seat next to her, not paying any heed to the warning and instead mourns out for ale. He also effectively ignores the looks of distaste coming from both the Queen and Alice upon being served with said drink, draining his glass in a couple of gulps.
With a satisfied grin, he turns to Alice and says with a voice thick with ale and suggestion -
Come by my room later, yeah? We have some unfinished business tonight.
The clock struck seven.
The unfinished business that the Seven of Hearts was referring to was making a comfortable bed for his piglet Goo, which they talked about on their way to the dining hall: he knew that and Alice the Second somehow knew that he was referring to that, but -
- the Queen of Hearts, on the other hand -
Scandalous, he hissed with narrowed eyes, you are truly a man without a single shred of propriety...
W-wait! It's not what you think, I swear!
You would defend his loose tongue!?
Huh? Does that mean we ain't going to do it tonight -
Stop talking for a second!
V I I I
... Got you!
Short of breath but with some strength left in his arms, the Seven of Hearts manages to take hold of Alice the Second's wrist, using his grip to pull the rest of her body towards him with mixed results: she trips on her own feet so her head buries itself on his shoulder, and he has to wrap his other arm around her waist to keep her steady. The sheer proximity of their bodies makes her go as stiff as a board, but his voice is unfazed as he says:
I'm sorry about earlier, really.
They're outside, in the Red Army's garden - the dining hall misunderstanding had her bolting away out of embarrassment and strangely enough, he adamantly followed her with the sincere intent of asking her what was wrong: she began running and he did the same, she told him not follow and he asked why; until their chase somehow led them outside then in their current position.
A period of silence envelops them, and when the clock strikes eight, she finally mumbles into his shoulder -
... I'm not really mad.
Wha - really? Then why won't you show your face?
You said something incredibly embarrassing, that's why! I'm completely aware that you can be so tactless at times and I convinced myself to get used to you and your awkward way of phrasing things, but it's just unbelievable that you had to say something like that in front of Jonah, of all people! I'm glad he understood that we were planning nothing improper, but imagine if someone else heard you -
... Wow, you don't hold anything back, do you?
Alice the Second, albeit grudgingly, finds it in her heart to forgive the Seven of Hearts once she had calmed herself - so when all is said and done, they walk back inside the Red Army headquarters with his initial grip on her wrist now a hold on her hand: it stays that way as they continue their walk through the corridors and up the stairs, and until she realizes that they were heading for her room.
It's only when they stand right in front of her room's door that he lets go of her, her hand; and that makes her frown -
Why are we here? she asks him, and he shrugs.
I thought you were worn out from all that running.
She blinks for a moment before laughing - if she recalled correctly, he was the one out of breath from chasing her, but she decides to keep that tidbit to herself.
I'm fine, really. We still have some time, so how about we just take Goo's measurements for today?
The clock in the hall chimes nine - smirking, he crosses his arms over his chest and mock sighs:
And to think that just an hour ago, you were rambling about how you didn't want to be seen with me...
H-hey! Don't you use my words against me!
When they enter his room and light up a magic crystal, they find his pet piglet smack in the middle of the bed, snoring away like its life depended on it: while the Seven of Hearts had sudden images of pork roast flashing through his mind, Alice the Second had walked over to the bed; cooing over the pig as she carried it up and cradled it gently in her arms.
The clock strikes ten, but he doesn't move from where he stands and instead watches the spectacle in silence: he notes how much a smile can do to her features; how it would make the blue of her eyes go warm and bright, how it would make her appear softer and noticeably more feminine, how it perfectly represented the very level of happiness she was feeling -
Yeah, you really do look better like that, he says all of a sudden.
What do you mean? she asks as she looked up at him.
The corners of his lips lift themselves up lazily as he says -
A smile suits you, that's what I'm saying.
She flusters, soft pinks dusting cheeks her quickly -
Didn't we just have a talk on how to be careful when you phrase things!?
Oh right, we did, didn't we? Sorry.
At least be a little more sincere about it!
The piglet had been measured and they've already gone over the remaining details about the pig's bed, but Alice the Second still finds herself seated in the sofa of the Seven of Hearts' room, a book about herbs in her hand. He mentioned that they would be picking herbs again tomorrow but they'd be getting them from the Central Quarter, so he encouraged her to read up a little to familiarize herself with other herbs not growing in the Red Army's gardens or in Cradle itself - granted, there were some herbs listed in the book that she had never seen in London as well, so they were of interest, but...
... She also found herself throwing occasional glances at he who was hunched at his desk again, a quill in his hand and a thick tome in the other. The clock had already struck eleven and yet he continued on with his studies without stopping, while she, on the other hand; felt that a moment of respite for her eyes was sorely needed. Setting the book aside for a moment, she stretches her arms over her head and begins to go over the day's events -
- only to end up blushing out of sheer embarrassment: she covers her face in her hands, shaking her head while mumbling to herself repeatedly like a madman for what seemed like minutes; but still...
... a smile, for whatever reason, still dances its way onto her lips.
X I I
The clock strikes midnight when Seven of Hearts carries the sleeping Alice the Second in his arms, laying her down as gently as possible in his bed in order not to rouse her. As he pulls the sheets over her body, he hears her mumble something about doughnuts - he recalls the Jack of Hearts' gift earlier that afternoon, and he shakes his head.
Reaching under the sofa, he pulls out a bottle of white wine - the bottle is quickly opened as it is quickly consumed and discarded, and seconds later he settles himself under the sheets and beside her in the bed. He breathes in, and the various scents crowding in his room come flooding in: the peppermint plant on his bedside table, soap from the sheets, whiffs of herbs escaping from the cabinet, drifting touches of almond from the books in his desk, a little of that pork-like smell of Goo, and -
- a waft of something sweet but not cloying, of something unusual yet also comforting... just inches away.
Good job today, he whispers before closing his eyes.