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Slow Ragged Breaths

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When the gun goes off, she loses Sylvie. The little golden haired girl is gone, off like the bullet. Her little form vanishes between the trees, gets lost in the sea of dead limbs and snow banks that lead her back towards the town’s edge. It’s not Sylvie she’s worried about though, it’s Lucas. The man on the horse, screaming his name is slumped over the horse whinnying and stamping away.

“Dorothy!” Lucas’ voice is strangled, high and breaks on the last syllable of her name. Her heart stops, she’s hit the stranger, but in doing so she’s hit her knight.The gun feels like a thousand pounds in her hand, her fingers shake and she drops the weapon, “Dorothy, help.”

The world comes rushing back to her in slow motion, everything is loud and vibrant once more and the adrenaline hits her hard. She steps over the gun and runs up the wild path to Lucas who is on his side, grasping tight to his jacket. Dorothy drops her her knees, moves both hands onto his own. His knuckles are rough under her palms and she gently moves his hand aside. Blood spills over the rip in his shirt and guilt wells up in her stomach.

“Lucas,” She feels her throat tighten. In shooting the horseman she managed to graze Lucas. He breathes out a shaky sigh and she closes her palm over his side and shakes her head, trying to put on a calming smile just like she did in the hospital. He catches her smile and tries to return it, but his lips don’t quite curve up high enough, “It’s just a graze. It’s going to be okay.” She adds just to see him nod.

“It burns,” He adds and she swallows hard.

“I know, can you move? We’ve got to get you down to the river.” She glances up and past the dead trees, through endless limbs to the edge of the bank where a river winds through the land, carving through sand and stone. Freshwater will help clean the wound and then she can attempt to stitch and bind his wound back together. He grits his teeth together and gives her a nod, but he stands and stumbles, she catches and his weight nearly drags her down. Knees knocking together, Dorothy manages to get him up, hand under his jacket and wrapped around his back. Together they make the trail down to the riverbank. He barely manages to sit before the slick stones under him, drag him down. He falls back, chest heaving, wincing when she prys at the wound.

“I’m sorry.” Guilt floods her mouth as she stretches her hand down into the rushing river, cupping fresh water to clean the wound. He twitches and she can see the tension in his body as he resists the urge to pull away from her attention, “Lucas I’m so sorry.”

He digs his fingers into his coat knuckles turning white when she pours more cool water over his side. A hiss pulls from his lips and she digs in her pack for something clean. She finds a spare t-shirt and drags it over his wound to blot away the bits of blood and water. The soft fabric in her hand turns a soft shade of pink before turning into a darker shade of red, “I’m going to have to bind this very tight until we get to another apothecary or a town or something -- I have to get a needle and thread.”
“Am I a doll in need of repair?” He tries to tease her as his hands shake against his jacket.

Dorothy glances up at his crooked smile and feels the weight of the guilt lessen up. She shakes her head gently as she pulls apart the edge of the wound just enough to start the binding process she know will hurt him, “More like a scarecrow losing his stuffing.”

 

Lucas puts on a brave face. She watches the muscles in his jaw tick as she slowly begins the process of binding him up, slowly wrapping another spare strip of cloth around him, pulling it tight to secure it around him. His fingers flex and when she finishes the knot she finds his hand. The tips of her fingers curl over his and he finds himself clinging to her. He gives her hand a squeeze, opens both eyes and blows out what she hopes is a careless laugh at their situation.

“Do healers work on scarecrows?” He asks slowly, sitting up with his elbows digging into the ground. He has yet to let go of her hand. Instead his thumb brushes her knuckles, slow and easy. His chuckle dies down and when her dark gaze meets his, she finds herself at a loss of words, full of guilt and despair.

“I shot you.”

His grip on her hand tightens, almost bruising. “You saved us.”

“How can you say that?” She glances down at his wounded side and her teeth sink low into her bottom lip, “You’ve lost quite a bit of blood. I don’t think you’re thinking straight.”

Lucas follows her gaze to the red patch already blooming on his makeshift bandage, “When you are around, I don’t think much at all. It’s all instinct with you.” His words are full of such verity she can hear her heart pounding away against the cage of her ribs, beating like a war drum.

“Instincts can be wrong.” She mutters quietly and he moves his other hand up. The tip of his calloused finger touches her cheek and then traces a path down to where her teeth are puncturing her lip. He carefully pulls it free and lets his thumb trace down to her chin. Lucas lingers there for a moment too long, directly in her line of sight. Electricity slips along her skin, every time his fingers brush hers, every touch, every glance she feels the current race along the back of her hands, it’s the ruby gauntlets all over again, only with Lucas it’s a full body sensation.

“I don’t think they are wrong about you.” He sucks in a sharp breath and winces. The hand on her chin falls to his side and he grasps at the bandage. The soft moment between them is broken. He hisses in pain.

Dorothy is dragged back to reality, he’s wounded and he needs help and she can’t find Sylvie. Toto is a few yards away, ears ever alert. The dog ends up following them like always as Dorothy slides an arm under Lucas and heaves him up. He lays a bit of his weight on her, limping even slower this time down the path of the lifeless forest. They travel for what feels like hours, going slower than she ever expected through the thicket of dead trees, ice crunching here and there under their feet. Lucas hums every few steps and she knows he must be feeling lightheaded. Even more so when his head begins to slump down onto her shoulder. The towering man is reduced to leaning over a little too far, his nose touching the column of her throat as they stagger along, looking for the path once more. When he exhales she resists the urge to shiver at the sensation of his breath along the sensitive skin of her neck. Instead she presses on, dark determined look on her face to get him somewhere safe, to be as good to him as he’s been to her in the short time they’ve known one another. His hand curves around her hip and he holds to her desperately with his sweat slicked forehead pressing onto her jacket.

“Dorothy,” He says her name almost quietly. They’ve been walking for hours, her feet hurt and she knows his own must as well. They’re almost to the edge of the woods. She can see what looks like the outskirts of a city coming into view. A city means people and people means a doctor somewhere in the crowd. Doctors have access to medicine -- real medicine. Dorothy wants to pick up the pace but Lucas only shuffles along, his side still an angry red color.

“Lucas, there’s a city up ahead.” She gently moves her shoulder as if to show him the jagged rooftops raising over the curve of the land, with giant plumes of dark smoke mixing into the grey skies. He only hums at her antics, his lips pressing into the edge of her collar. Toto lopes along side them, carefully keeping a few feet ahead of them at all times, searching for danger. He’s found a few rabbits too, chasing them until Dorothy calls for him to stop.

“It’s the Capital.” He breathes a slow ragged breath and then he sighs, “We can get your needle and thread there.”

“Do they have doctors there?” She asks quietly and he nods against her shoulder.

“There are alchemists,” Lucas draws his eyes up to the city, “They can create any kind of medicine.”

Dorothy presses her lips tightly together, glancing at him out of the corner of her vision. He’s gone pale, paler than she’s ever scene, “Alright then, lets go get you an elixir.”

She wonders vaguely how much blood he’s lost because at her words his lips split into one of those dreamy smiles and he curves his fingers over her hip once more, pressing to her like he’s going to lose her if she takes one too many steps without him, his voice is a low grumble in her ear as he slumps back down, “We must find a place to sleep too.”

“I will handle that. Let’s just get you fixed first.” She gives him a soft pat on the back, letting her palm linger there for a minute too long as they trudge down the beaten path.

The smell of the city gets closer. Pollution and grime sticks to the roof of her mouth, there’s the smell of food too that makes her stomach grumble and the shouts of patrons in the street that make her just a tad homesick for Kansas. She sticks to back streets and side alley ways, not wanting to attract attention. Toto follows, closer this time. The dog keeps his head down, pressed into her knee when they stop down each street, searching for something to save the man lingering on her side. When she turns down a damp street onto a cobblestone path, she catches the wooden sign on the building behind her. There’s a chemical symbol on it, the snake chasing the other snake upwards in a red pattern, this is an alchemist’s shop. The door swings wide open when she puts her hand on it, but no one is inside.

The shop is warm and there’s a fire going, but behind the counter is empty. There’s no sign of anyone, no note left behind by the owner. Toto curls himself up by the fire and stretches out his long limbs while Dorothy sets Lucas down on a stool with three feet. He slumps down and she presses her palm to his forehead out of habit. He has a low grade fever and she digs in her pack once more, yanking out a bottle of aspirin. Dorothy frees two of the pills and gently coaxes them into his mouth. Her thumb lingers on his bottom lip as she tilts his head up, quietly asking him to open up.

“If I do, will you kiss me?” He asks with a splitting grin and she raises both brows to him.

“What makes you think you’ve earned such a thing?” She asks as he opens his mouth for her. She drops in the two aspirins and before he can answer her, she leans in and presses her lips into his. It’s a warm, chaste kiss with her chapped lips and his surprised little sound. Before he can chase her into another kiss, a soft clearing of a throat interrupts them and Dorothy pulls away to find a man standing in the doorway.

“Can I help you?” He asks, tying on a dark apron over his pale beige outfit.

“Yes, I need a needle, thread, and anything you have to help cure an infection.” She turns away from Lucas, putting her back to him to take on a strong stance with the man staring at them. Lucas swallows the pills in his mouth, resists the urge to cough and gently drags his hand over her leg, squeezing her thigh reassuringly.

The man glanced between the two of them then his gaze fell on the dog and Dorothy gave him the best smile she could muster up, stepping towards the counter and out of Lucas’ reach before adding: “And a place to stay for the night.”

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The room they’ve been spared is small. Toto is already on the foot of the bed and Lucas practically spills out of it. He’s freshly bandaged and bathed. Most of his color has returned, his blue eyes are on hers when she checks his bandage again. He’s on a powerful sedative, one that will help him sleep and heal throughout the night, the alchemist reassured her this while she offered up what money she could give him. She ended up trading a bit of gold she stole from the old witch who had poised Lucas before, for a vial of blue liquid that seemed to be making him better.

“You should rest. You’ve had a long day.” His voice breaks through the dark room and she shrugs her shoulders gently. She’s finally had a bath, a long soak in hot water had loosened her muscles and let the fatigue set in, but the bed is small and her hair is still soaking wet. None of this seems to bother Lucas though, because when she shakes her head he reaches for her. His fingers find her wrist and he gently tugs her towards him, “I will need you rested if we are to find the Wizard.”

The edges of her knees touch the bed and she contemplates folding herself onto it, letting him pull her in and resting there under the thick fur cover of the bed, with her feet tucked under Toto for warmth. Something stops her though and she lingers back, turning her hand over to find his. His palm presses to hers and she holds him there.

“There’s not enough room. Between you and Toto, I will take the floor.”

“No, that will not do.” Lucas scoffs and she’s not sure if it’s from the blood loss or the medicine, either way she ends up letting him pull her closer. There’s no more arguing. With a gentle tug, he encourages her on the bed, even scooting himself to the very edge to ensure her comfort. When Dorothy has settled, he tucks her into his side, lets his arm rest under her head. Somehow the three of them make the bed work. They are tangled limbs and wet hair, but they are comfortable. It doesn’t take long for sleep to claim both of them. Lucas from medicine and Dorothy from exhaustion. She wakes early to check his wound and he coaxes her back down. They sleep for a few hours more waiting for the daylight to spill into the borrowed room and break them free of their little hideaway.