The weight in Din’s arms had grown nearly unbearable by the time he found the closest pyregarden. Pascal slipped through his hands, and he stumbled, just barely fixing his grip before his brother fell to the ground. Pascal gave a whine of protest.
“I’m sorry,” Din panted. “We’re almost there, I promise.”
It was hard to tell from so far away, but the flowers seemed to be in agreement: Dr. Barre was the closest doctor. Not only that, but the woman didn’t hold a license with any guild and never asked questions. Din had crouched behind the far wall to reach out to the individual daemons, letting himself rest for just a few moments. Some of the flowers even gave a street name, though it took some gentle coaxing.
Din readjusted his hold on Pascal and hugged him closer to his chest. They were almost at the back door of Dr. Barre’s clinic. So far, no one had spotted the two of them, but sounds of the city watch calling to each other and rushing through the street reached through the dark alleyways.
In his arms, Pascal shivered violently. Sweat dripped down his temples, but his skin had lost more of its color and grew cold. The faintest of red light glowed at his fingertips. His eyes roamed behind fluttering lids, and a spike of panic nearly made Din trip over his feet.
“Hey.” Din nudged his brother with his shoulder. “Wake up. Don’t you dare fall asleep on me, young man.”
Pascal groaned, brow pinching.
“Din..?” he asked. “Am I...am I dying?”
Din’s heart squeezed in his chest. “ No. No, you’re going to be just fine. I promise you . All you have to do is stay awake.”
Saints, just stay awake .
An eternity’s walk later brought them to Dr. Barre’s doorstep. Din kicked against the door, unable to free a hand to knock.
“City watch, open up!”
A few seconds later, and the door opened, and Din shoved himself inside before being invited.
“Clear a table, he’s been stabbed.”
He pushed past the short woman who’d opened the door and ignored the incredulous look she gave him.
Din turned to face her. “I was told you didn’t ask questions. This boy is bleeding out, and you are a doctor. I trust you know where your conscience lies.”
Dr. Barre glared at him a moment longer, her back pressed against the door, her jaw flexing as she clenched her teeth. Din shoved down his own apprehension and stared her down. He thought he’d properly judged the risk, but could he have made a mistake? Pascal gave a weak moan in his arms, and the doctor flicked an anxious glance toward him.
Dr. Barre pressed her mouth into a firm line. She shoved away from the door and strode away from Din.
“Table’s in the other room. Remove his shirt and vest while I take care of the other patients.”
Din did as instructed. As the doctor disappeared in the front of the clinic, he maneuvered through the back room and into what was clearly an examining and operating room all in one. A single table sat in the center to serve both purposes, and the familiar array of shelves and supplies sent a sharp pang through Din’s chest. He ignored the leather restraints bolted to the sides.
As carefully as he could, he set Pascal down on the table. His arms went weak without the heavy burden. Pascal let out a sharp cry as his body straightened, and he tried to hold on to Din’s coat collar. His lips pulled back in an awful grimace.
“Shhh, it’s alright now.” Din brushed the damp hair off his brother’s forehead. “We’re safe - you don’t have to be quiet anymore.”
Pascal screwed his eyes shut. “It hurts .”
“I know, I know. It’ll be over soon, I promise.”
Din put a hand over his ear and stroked the side of his face with his thumb, wiping away the tears at the corner of Pascal’s eye. “Just hold on. Be brave, I know you can.”
By the time Dr. Barre returned, rolling up her sleeves, Din had stripped Pascal of his bloody clothes. He’d taken the liberty of grabbing fresh gauze and pressed it against the ones that had already soaked through.
“I need his age and how long ago he was wounded,” the doctor said. She stopped at a basin against one of the counters to wash her hands.
Din swallowed. “Seventeen. It’s been - it’s been about twenty minutes.”
“What caused it? How deep?”
“A knife.” Din indicated a length on his finger. “About...that much.”
“So it’ll be a clean wound, at least.”
Dr. Barre opened cabinet doors and pulled out handfuls of supplies. Flipping open a pocket watch, she pressed her fingers to the soft underside of Pascal’s jaw. She counted to herself under her breath. Din watched, the ache in his chest growing more pronounced with each passing moment until she snapped the watch shut.
“Heartrate’s too fast. He’s on his way to losing too much blood. Here.” Dr. Barre tossed something to Din. “Ensure he takes all of it.”
Din caught it, the guilty feeling from before returning as he looked down at the vial of rust-colored tincture in his hand. Laudanum. He popped off the cork and brought it to his brother’s lips.
“Pascal, I need you to drink this for me.”
Pascal’s face immediately pinched at the bitter taste. He turned away and shook his head, breathing hard. Din’s fingernail’s dug into his palm.
“We don’t have time for this. ”
Before he could react, Din and grabbed his brother by the nose. Pascal jerked underneath him and tried to thrash away, but Din pinned his head with his forearm and clamped a hand over his chin. When he opened his mouth for a breath, Din poured out the contents of the vial and stepped back.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
Pascal choked and coughed, but he swallowed and let his head fall back with a grimace. Stinging pain burned behind Din’s eyes, and he looked away. Dr. Barre unrolled a bundle of surgical instruments on the counter, each one polished and wickedly sharp. The two of them exchanged glances. The doctor tore her eyes away almost in a flinch, and she pushed up her spectacles with the back of her hand.
“Hold his shoulders,” she said. “I’ll take care of the rest.”
Breathing deep to settle the nausea in his stomach, Din settled his hands on his brother’s shoulders. His skin was slick with sweat but so cold. Dr. Barre hurried around the table to rearrange Pascal’s limbs.
Pascal’s chest spasmed as the tightening of the restraints made panic set in, and his breathing turned shallow. “What’s-?”
His eyes darted around the room before latching onto Din standing behind him. He craned his neck, aura turning his gaze red and betraying the pleading terror beneath.
"No,” he said. “No - Din, don’t let her-!”
The doctor shoved a roll of leather between Pascal’s teeth and cut off the rest of his words. His breath came in whistling gasps, and he choked back a sob.
Din’s fingers dug into his brother’s shoulders, and he bowed his head. He couldn’t stop his arms from shaking. “It’s alright. Everything’s alright.”
In the end, Pascal was conscious for less than a minute of it. He screamed his throat raw and struggled against both Din and the restraints, but either the pain or the laudanum won before long. Most likely, a combination of both.
Dr. Barre snipped the last of the catgut stitches with a steady hand.
“I’ve done all that I can,” she said. “I’ve stopped the bleeding and repaired the damage to the best of my ability. The biggest worry now is infection.”
Din stared blankly into space, head bowed below his shoulders. The smell of copper hung in the air as the doctor cleaned her hands with a bloody cloth. She wiped at Pascal’s stomach and around his fresh stitches, then freed his wrists and ankles from the leather straps. She draped a heavy blanket over him.
“He’ll be in pain for quite a few days,” she said. “Most likely feverish as well...should he survive.”
Din snapped his head up. Dr. Barre avoided his gaze and walked to the corner of the room, her back to him. She dropped her instruments into the water basin to clean them. A frigid hand wrapped itself around Din’s stomach, and for the first time, the anxiety of the situation crashed through his walls. He sank down, leaning his elbows on the table and resting his head against Pascal’s.
You did this... you did this.
The doctor continued cleaning up in silence. Some minutes passed before she cleared her throat, and Din looked up to see her standing at the door, eyes down.
“I-I know you’re not the city watch,” she said, fear hardening the edges of her voice. “And I know something has happened in this city. Normal humans... don’t glow. ”
At that, every muscle in Din’s stomach tensed, and he slowly lifted his gaze to his hands. From his fingers to his wrist, his skin lit up with the gold light of his aura, uncontrolled in his anxiety. A knife of dread plunged into his chest. He looked to the doctor, lungs constricting.
Dr. Barre flinched to the side to avoid looking Din in the eyes. Her jaw flexed, and her brow pinched with some half-hidden war of emotions. She took a breath and tipped up her chin.
“I need to look after my own,” she said. “When I return, I expect you to be gone.”
She turned to leave, but Din found control of his voice enough to call for her to wait. He summoned a small pouch of coins from his armory stone and tossed them to Dr. Barre.
“Thank you,” he said.
She left without another word.
Din looked back down at Pascal. He was still so pale, but his chest rose and fell with each of his breaths. One after the other. Steady. It would stay like this; it had to.
As gently as he could, Din wrapped Pascal in the blanket and bundled him into his arms again. His brother’s slight frame seemed even smaller, and he ignored the awful tugging deep in his stomach. Pascal shouldn’t be moved this soon, not when he’d lost so much blood, not after what he’d just gone through. But with the city boiling into chaos around them, they were running out of time to hide. He’d have to risk a few ripped stitches.
“You’ll be safe soon,” he said, more for his own comfort than anyone else’s.
Din approached the back door where he’d come when a squeaking voice piqued his attention from behind.
“Maman, what’s going on? Was somebody hurt?”
Despite himself, he turned, and saw Dr. Barre crouch down to pick up a small girl, her hair the same auburn color as the doctor’s and done in thick braids.
“Yes, but they’re alright now. I need you to listen very close to me, alright?”
Dr. Barre settled the child on her hip and carried her down the hall. The girl looked over her shoulder and locked eyes with Din. Dark brown eyes, lit with a soft blue ring.
He stared after her until she and her mother disappeared behind a corner. Then he slunk back out into the street.