This hospital has good bones, Larch thinks. She traces the grains of wood with callused fingers, the whorls and patterns. Old bones, but good- the solid dark wood is somber but goes well with the walls and interior he has furnished. The Doctor’s style was simple, functional, almost spartan: everything had a place and was neatly in that place. No extras or unnecessary frivolities. All his money went to practical concerns, like tools, sanitation, and supplies. It was efficient, and she approved.
The beams were good, strong bones, and she approved of that too. They had weathered the assault well. Most of the damage was superficial, or the result of old wear and new hurts combining. Larch’s mending and her way with wood straightened warps from flame or moisture, soothed charred areas, fixed cracks, and smoothed splinters. His work was evident as well- he’d taken care to repair the place, albeit through more mundane means. On the second day she brought a gift of smudges, bundles of aromatic herbs that helped keep pests like termites and vermin that might chew wood away when lit. The spirit of this place deserves better than such small indignities, having endured so much.
He was somewhere, not in the room at the moment. She was glad for that. While she had been the one to approach him, despite her best intentions… sometimes when she looked at him, all she saw was memory, the bloody hand of a ghost wrapping around her heart, making her arm ache. Her back would too, if she could feel anything there. What she knew in her head sometimes didn’t affect the unruly muscle in her chest.
On a hunch, she had asked for his mask to be off. He’d honored that, though what he thought of it she didn’t know. “There is no enmity here, Larch,” he’d told her, almost gently. She didn’t know if she believed him or not. He wasn’t a liar, but if her behavior has been so off as to lead him to believe she was racist…
Well. She’d promised, after all, to help. That meant they would be together in this group for an extended period.
I just want to be able to look at him without flinching. That’s all. I can start there. He will not beat me if I meet his gaze or hold his eyes. If he decides to kill me, after all, he has other far more efficient ways to do it…. And he has had ample opportunity to do it in a way that would arouse far less suspicion than here and now after all of this. But I… do not think he will hurt me. Us. Not anymore. He needs us for his revenge.
I have… difficulties with him. The nightmares have been… frequent, since he described his former occupation. But this? His hate?
This I understand.
Flower was sleeping. She’d used much of her power this last week, helping the town recover.
He walked into the room, carrying a box of books, maskless and half distracted. They had ransacked the place, and though the damage to most things was mostly superficial, it would take time to put to rights. The upper half of his face is normal-ish for a tiefling. The lower part… not so much. It is a combination of a shark’s mouth with serrated teeth, but long and needle-like. An extra pair of mandibles that kind of split like a praying mantis’s mouth frame his jaw. He had no lips, so enunciating is clearly something he works on, and his tongue is scarred, with small chunks taken out of it- like his own teeth have hurt him. The jaw goes clear back to the back of his head, and when he talks it’s pretty clear he can unhinge it for an even wider bite much like a python.
It is, in many ways, monstrous. It’s definitely inhuman, strange, as sharp as he is. The little mandibles click slightly as he contemplates something. His nearness has the tension in her shoulders ratcheting up a notch or three.
She looked down from the ladder she stood on at him. He looked up. She felt the habit coming, and set her jaw against the impulse to look away.
He nodded to her with the faint ghost of a (inhuman, uncanny) smile on his lipless mouth, and turned to put his books back on the shelves.
They don’t chat, persay. Both of them value results and efficiency, not idle nattering. But Larch is aware that he is doing her a favor by allowing her to help and thus practice…. Whatever this is.
Whatever they were.
So she inhales quietly, steeling herself, and gets back to work.
Larch respects his space; this is his wagon, after all, his life’s work. She moves nothing, touches as little as she may- the smudge sticks honor the spirit of the hospital, and nothing else of her was needed here. It was not her place. Indeed, it had his fingerprints all over it.
Despite this, and their similar tastes for efficiency, she makes herself find something to say to him every time she comes. The point is to be normal around him. That includes conversation.
The absolute humiliation of being told she was racist still made her ears pink when she thought about it. I may never be… well- but I must be better. That comment struck home in a way that stung, surprisingly so. I am well aware the prejudice my people face. To be told I am acting like the ones I despised… well.
So the first time, she brought him more of the painkilling tea. It was all purpose, and her stronger, special blend, the one she usually kept for her bad arm days. The last time they lingered in a place for some time, he did… something to himself that caused his wings. If he intended to take the knife to his own flesh again -which was his prerogative; that was his medium, as wood was hers- at least she could help with the pain. That day was strange, but not bad. She didn’t know what to do with him being just… around like that. But it was not bad. She did not see or smell old memories, and she met his eyes deliberately several times more that day.
Some days were better than others. Twice it was almost normal. He even made tea, one time, and she could even bring herself to drink it. Most days were not quite as good as that, but she doggedly kept her word, making an active effort to try and meet his eyes and speak without her words snarling in her throat.
Even if he was a monster, he was his own monster. Not the one of her past and her nightmares.
(It remained an if by force of will, perhaps only because of the scale she had to compare him to.)
And a few days were worse. Significantly worse. It was her fault. She’d gone into the room at the back, the one she’d been avoiding -his operating room- looking for him to discuss replacing a windowsill that turned out to be going rotten. The door was closed, but it was always closed, and when she opened it…
…The Doctor looked up in surprise as the color drained from her face and her ears roared. The breath froze in her chest, thought screeching to a halt. The smell of blood and antiseptic slammed into her like one of her moose at full gallop. A man, a farmer by the clothes, lay on the table. A variety of tools and instruments lay on a metal rolling cart in neat rows, some red and slick, like the blade he held in his hands. Some accident, maybe with farming equipment, had left the man with an injury that claimed two fingers and carved a gash in the chest and opposite arm, diagonal. The fingers sat on the metal cart, pale and still. The Doctor was currently involved in stitching the stubs of his fingers closed, by the look of the scalpel, scissors, and thread. He wore a surgeon’s gear with ease and practice, crimson the same color as his skin splattering it.
The blood. The knife. Him, leaning over a prone form, and-
Her cup of tea fell from numb hands to shatter on the floor.
“….Pardon me,” she said, wooden and horribly neutral into the silence. It didn’t sound like her at all; something about that hollow tone was far away from Heibarr. “I did not mean to intrude. I will return later.”
And she turned, and walked out again, closing the door behind her. Larch didn’t even notice the broken cup as she stepped on it, making her feet carry her to the door of the hospital, out, and to the safety of her wagon. Only there in privacy did she break.
It was too much. It was too close. The blood, the table, the-
And after she finished throwing up, when the shakes had passed and she could breathe again, the old familiar sick heat of her anger rose, and she clenched her fists against it.
She should have checked. This was her fault, not his.
But there was no sleep, only nightmares, that night and the next as well. It was almost a week before Larch could make herself go back to the hospital to continue her work. Even then, she was downright jumpy that day, and only met his eyes once, briefly, before she had to look away. It took nearly another week for her to reach the level of confidence she’d had before, where they’d actually shared a cup of tea.
Yet.. it did come.
That surprised her.
It did come, slowly, carefully, as unsure and weak as a baby deer, and just as likely to bolt. But damnably enough, her practice and iron willed control to face this…. Actually seemed to be helping.
It was only a seed, small and newly planted, but it was there regardless. She knew what would grow remained to be seen.
But all things start from seeds.