Chapter Thirty Eight

As soon as the doctor turned around with that blob of blue cream in his hand, Toke and Zashiel moved at the same time. Zashiel went for the doctor. Toke dove for Zashiel. He collided with her just before her outstretched fist reached the stunned doctor's neck, and while he wasn't strong enough to overpower her—especially not while injured—the force was enough to throw her off course.

 

“Zashi-AAAAAAAH!” Toke’s reprimand devolved into a pitiful cry when his brain finally remembered it was in pain.

 

Lost in the moment, though, Zashiel didn't even notice the way he immediately slumped against her. “Look at his hand, Toke! His hand! He has—”

 

Her voice trailed off when Toke slid down her side and collapsed on the floor, like an ice pop melting down its stick. Her eyes widened and lucidity returned to her, and, forgetting the doctor for the moment, she hurriedly picked him up and set him back in his bed. Toke groaned, the world spinning in nauseating circles around him.

 

“What do you think you're doing?” she demanded, face red. “You're going to hurt yourself even more!”

 

“You were... going... to kill him,” Toke managed to croak.

 

Zashiel blinked, and then turned back to the doctor, who stood with his back pressed against the wall in fright. Her eyes narrowed dangerously, so Toke reached out and grabbed her wrist before she could go for him again.

 

“Don't,” he said.

 

“But he has our—”

 

“Don't!”

 

Zashiel stared at Toke for a few seconds, but then relaxed. Toke could tell how much effort it took for her to restrain herself. He didn't blame her, considering what the doctor was holding in his hands.

 

“Wh- What is going on?” the doctor demanded, looking from one of them to the other.

 

Zashiel's expression darkened again, and Toke worried that she was going to attack anyway. Instead, she slowly turned to face him.

 

“You had better start explaining yourself right now,” she growled.

 

“Explain what?” the doctor demanded.

 

“Don't play stupid with me!” Zashiel flared her wings, making the room flash bright yellow. “Where did you get that Chiyuka ointment?”

 

“Ch- Chi- What are you talking about?”

 

“In... your... smiting... hand!”

 

The doctor held up his hand. A lot of the blue ointment had fallen during in the brief struggle, but there was still enough for Toke to make out from the other side of the room.

 

“This? This is tajwyn cream! It's a medicine we've been using for centuries!”

 

“Bulldrops!” Zashiel yelled. “That's Chiyuka ointment, and you stole it from—”

 

“He didn't steal it, Zashiel!”

 

The Sorakine girl paused, and turned to look at the bedridden Toke in bewilderment. This wasn't good. Toke had staved off her initial assault, but she was still too angry to think straight.

 

“It wasn't him,” Toke insisted, speaking as slowly and calmly as he could. “Look at him! You saw the man who stole your ointment. They don't look anything alike!”

 

Zashiel looked at the doctor, and her fist clenched.

 

“He gave it to you, then,” she spat. “Or you bought it from him. Either way, that's mine!”

 

To Toke's surprise, the doctor's face turned red with indignation at that. “This is the property of Thannaduk Hospital! We would never steal medicine!”

 

“You're—”

 

“I think he's telling the truth, Zashiel.” She turned to glare at him again, and he held up his hands. “I'm just saying, let's hear him out before you decide to kill him!”

 

“Kill me?” the doctor squeaked, and Toke winced. His body hurt so much that it made thinking difficult.

 

Zashiel hesitated for a second, and then her breath hissed through her teeth like a deflating balloon. “Fine,” she finally said. “Start explaining!”

 

“What is there to explain?” the doctor asked. He gestured toward the dark green bottle in his hand. “It's just medicine! We don't use it very much, but we've had it for hundreds of years!”

 

“That,” Zashiel snapped, pointing at the bottle, “is Chiyuka ointment, and it's a Sorakine medicine! And,” she narrowed her eyes, “I just so happen to have had a bottle stolen from me two days ago.”

 

“Young lady, we're a hospital!” the doctor shot back, going red in the face again. “One of the best in a hundred miles! Why would we need to steal medicine?”

 

Zashiel didn't have an answer for that, but neither did she stop glaring at the doctor like she wanted to tear his head from his shoulders. Toke quietly tensed his muscles, ready to jump on Zashiel again if she tried to attack. He wasn't sure if he had it in him. One tackle in his injured condition had nearly made him lose consciousness. But if Zashiel was determined to attack civilians—and in a hospital no less—what choice did he have?

 

A full minute passed without anyone moving or saying anything. Finally, just as the last few rays of sunlight were about to vanish over the horizon outside, the doctor sighed.

 

“Would you believe me if I showed you our stock?” he asked.

 

Zashiel looked at Toke. Why does she keep deferring to me like this? he wondered.

 

“Sounds all right,” he said out loud. “I mean, if they have more than one bottle, that'll mean they can't have stolen it from you, right?”

 

“Not unless...” Zashiel blurted out, but then stopped herself. After a moment's hesitation, she gave a reluctant nod. “All right, fine. Show us.”

 

The doctor called for a nurse, who brought in a wheelchair. Zashiel looked at Toke, and he gritted his teeth and nodded. Being lifted out of the bed and into the wheelchair was less painful than tackling his Sorakine friend, but a pathetic sounding whine still escaped his lips when they deposited him in the seat. Then, with Zashiel pushing him, they followed the doctor out into the hallway.

 

“This is humiliating,” Toke grumbled as he was wheeled down the hallway.

 

“I'm sorry, all right?” Zashiel replied. “I lost my temper. I guess... having my Chiyuka stolen is still a fresh wound.”

 

“That's not what I meant!” he exclaimed before that conversation could go any further. “I mean being pushed around in this smiting chair.” He slammed his fist down on the padded armrest, and grunted in pain. “Cassitoka Gnasher, Juryokine and savior of Hashira, relegated to bedrest and a wheelchair. I thought I was above this kind of thing!”

 

“Nobody is above being injured,” Zashiel chastised him. “Even the greatest warriors have to let themselves heal.”

 

Toke let the conversation lapse as the doctor led them down a side corridor, away from the more populated hallways. Toke felt Zashiel grow more tense as they left the crowd behind. He was about to tell her that they didn't have to worry about assassination in a smiting hospital, but thought better of it. These doctors had Chiyuka ointment. Who knew what else was waiting for them?

 

Another doctor was standing a few feet down the corridor, reviewing some notes, and he nodded when their doctor walked past. When he saw Toke and Zashiel, though, he raised his hand like he was going to protest.

 

“They're with me,” said their doctor.

 

The second doctor looked dissatisfied, but allowed them to pass anyway. At the end of the hallway, there were a set of heavy wooden doors with a sturdy looking lock under both knobs.

 

The doctor produced a key from his pocket. “We keep all our medicine in here. We haven't had any trouble with people trying to steal it, but better safe than sorry.”

 

“What about stealing other people's medicine?” Zashiel whispered. Toke hissed, but luckily the doctor didn't hear.

 

The doors unlocked with an impressive sounding clunk, and the doctor swung them open to reveal a large room lined filled with wooden shelves. He led the way in and Zashiel pushed Toke after him so that he could close the door again. The room almost looked like a library, except that instead of books filling the shelves, there were bottles and jars of every shape and size.

 

“We keep the tajwyn cream over here,” said the doctor, beckoning for them to follow him. The shelf he pointed at was nearly at the other end of the room, and once Toke looked at it...

 

“Five bottles, all exactly like the one he brought to my room,” he said decisively. “He's telling the truth.”

 

“How do we know for sure that's really the same stuff?” Zashiel demanded, coming to kneel in front of the shelf. “The glass on those bottles is so dark that you could put horse drops in there and nobody would be able to tell the difference.”

 

The doctor sighed. “I thought you said you'd be satisfied if I showed you the stores!”

 

Zashiel rose up and gave him a dark look. “Be careful. You're not out of danger yet.”

 

Toke cringed. Smiting woman! She was going to get him kicked out of the hospital without treatment, and probably get the entire circus run out of town as well. If breaking Pruyal's leg hadn't convinced Treyn to throw them off the ship, that would almost certainly do the trick.

 

Once again, though, the doctor looked Zashiel right in the eye and said, “Young lady, I have dedicated my life to healing the sick and repairing the broken, and I don't appreciate being threatened for trying to do just that! I don't know what your problem is, but I give you my solemn word as a doctor and a surgeon that I'm not going around stealing medicine!”

 

Smite. Toke could feel the fight brewing in the air between them, and he prepared himself to tackle Zashiel again as soon as she—

 

“That's the strongest oath you can give,” the Sorakine girl said. She finally relaxed. “Fine. I'll believe you.”

 

Toke blinked. “What? Just like that?”

 

Zashiel gave him a sidelong look. “Being a warrior is the most important thing in the world to me, Toke. It's who I am. If I swore on my title, you would know that I'm making a promise I'll never, ever break.” She turned back to the doctor. “I assume it must be the same for you.”

 

The doctor nodded, and just like that all the animosity between the two of them evaporated, leaving Toke feeling more dazed than ever. Then, both of them apparently satisfied, the doctor turned to lead the way back out of the room, and Zashiel pushed Toke after him.

 

“I must say, I'm curious,” the doctor said once they were back out in the corridor, the door locked behind them, “I had no idea that Yasmikans had access to tajwyn cream.”

 

“They don't,” Zashiel answered. “It's a Sorakine medicine. I wasn't aware that you had it in Vlangur, either. Where do you get it?”

 

The doctor looked at her, thinking. “I can't tell you much, except that it’s made from ingredients that can only be found in Vlangur. What about yours?”

 

Zashiel stopped short. “I... don't know.”

 

“Didn't you tell me once that it was just a mix of steroids or something?” Toke asked over his shoulder.

 

“That's what they tell us, but after what I just learned...” Zashiel shook her head. “I don't know what to think anymore.”

 

Toke shrugged. “As long as it makes me better, I don't particularly care one way or another.”

 

As they made their way back to Toke's room, though, he reflected on everything he'd just heard—specifically the last thing Zashiel had said to him. She didn't know what to think anymore. Part of him felt sorry for her. Having her entire world come crashing down around her couldn't have been pleasant, but if she was questioning what Klevon and the other Seraphs told her about their miracle drug, then perhaps it would be possible to convince her that she wasn't going to whatever shadowy underworld she thought she was condemned to as well.

 

“So, no more objections?” the doctor asked once Toke was laid back in his bed again. Toke shook his head, and, he was relieved to see, so did Zashiel. “Excellent. Please disrobe.”

 

Toke jumped a little. “Wait, what?”

 

“If you've really used this stuff before, then you should know I have to administer it directly to your wounds,” the doctor said as he poured a fresh glob into his hand.

 

“Right, of course I know that, but...” Toke slowly turned his head to look at Zashiel, cheeks burning.

 

Zashiel rolled her eyes. “Please. It's nothing I haven't seen before.”

 

“Nothing you haven't...” He blinked. “When?

 

“When I found you unconscious in that warehouse with my sister.”

 

Hearing that, the doctor froze. “Now that sounds like an interesting story.”

 

“It's not what you think!” Toke snapped.

 

The doctor shrugged. “After what I've seen today, I wouldn't put anything past you two. Now hurry up, unless you actually enjoy being in pain.”

 

“Sometimes I wonder,” murmured Zashiel.

 

Frowning, Toke reluctantly sat up again, wincing, and gingerly pulled his shirt off. His pants came next. His body complained the entire time, but he forced himself to endure the pain. If he didn't, that would mean the doctor would have to help undress him—or even worse, Zashiel. It took several minutes, but finally, he was able to lie back down again, completely naked.

 

“Don't look,” he said, glancing at Zashiel out of the corner of his eye.

 

“I've already seen—”

 

“I said don't look!”

 

“We're all adults here, so just—”

 

“Do. Not. Lookatme!”

 

With a sigh of exasperation, Zashiel finally turned around to face the door. The doctor took that as the sign that he could begin, and stepped forward, raising his clipboard in his free hand.

 

“Let's see, you have...” His eyes widened. “Over twenty different injuries? And you were just... And I let you...”

 

Toke shrugged. “I've had worse.”

 

The doctor stared at him for a few seconds, and then slowly shook his head. “Somehow, I believe you. All right, hold still. I'm probably going to need to use the whole bottle for this.”

 

Over the next hour, Toke lay as still as possible, staring up at the ceiling and trying not to think about the other man rubbing ointment into his body.

 

“If you've really had this stuff... this tajwyn cream for so long,” Zashiel said, distracting him, “then I'm surprised history turned out the way it did. You should have won the battle at Zetheran Pass without any trouble at all.”

 

The doctor chuckled. “If only it were that simple. We've had tajwyn cream for hundreds of years, but it's still rare. That makes it precious. When it comes to war... well, as sad as it sounds, we can't afford to use it on our soldiers.”

 

“Why not?” There was an edge to Zashiel's voice that hadn't been there before.

 

“Two reasons. For one thing, we would run out in a day. Then there's the matter of equality. One soldier gets healed with tajwyn cream, but the one beside him is forced to suffer his wounds with stitches and bandages like everyone else. Who deserves instant healing, and who doesn't? In the end, the Empty Room decreed that tajwyn cream would be a civilian medicine, used only to help those the soldiers had sworn to protect anyway.”

 

Though Toke couldn't move with the doctor rubbing cream into his wounds—and the man was very, very thorough—he could shift his eyes far enough to see Zashiel's expression soften somewhat. He understood. To someone like Zashiel, their first impulse would be to use the most effective medicine on the warriors so that they could continue to fight. But every warrior had a cause or a person they were fighting for. Demanding that such a powerful tool be used on them rather than those they were protecting probably reeked of the foulest type of cowardice.

 

Better to be dead than a coward, he could remember her saying the day they had first met, because at least a corpse can fertilize the grass.

 

The doctor finished with Toke's upper body, and moved on to spread the cream onto his legs. Toke fought not to shudder. Oh, what he wouldn't have given to replace him with Inaska... No!  Bad brain!  Bad!

 

Finally, the doctor stood up. “There. That should do it!”

 

He put the cork into the bottle, which Toke saw only had a small layer of ointment left at the bottom.

 

“How do you feel?” Zashiel asked, stepping forward.

 

Toke scowled at her. “I'd feel a lot better if you'd quit looking at me like I asked!”

 

“Can it, Toke!” the Sorakine girl snapped, flaring her wings angrily. “I don't have any patience for that kind of nonsense right now. How do you feel?”

 

“Well, it tingles. I guess I feel a little...” He tried to sit up, but only made it halfway before freezing. With a gasp, he collapsed to his back again. “Nope! Still messed up!”

 

“Well, what did you expect?” the doctor chuckled. “These things take time. You'll be here at least overnight, maybe even part of tomorrow.”

 

Zashiel came to stand over Toke, and she gently took his arm in her hand.

 

“What are you—ow!” Toke yelped when she gave it a sudden squeeze. Her eyes narrowed.

 

“Maybe I was wrong,” she said quietly. “If it was Chiyuka, then you should already be back on your feet.”

 

“Tajwyn cream is a miracle drug,” the doctor said from behind her, “but even miracles have their limits.”

 

Zashiel stared at Toke for a moment longer, and then shook her head. “It shouldn't, though. Not like this.” She spun around. “Let me see that bottle.”

 

The doctor's eyes widened, and Toke could see his grip tighten around the bottle. “I'm not supposed to—”

 

“There's not enough left for you to use anyway,” she insisted. “Let me see it!”

 

Reluctantly, the doctor handed her the nearly empty bottle. She took it, turned it over to watch the cream inside ooze around the edges, and then set it down on the counter beside her. The doctor reached to take it back, but before he could, Zashiel drew one of her chakrams!

 

“Zashiel!” Toke exclaimed.

 

Instead of attacking the doctor, though, Zashiel raised the ringed weapon and brought it down onto her own hand. She grunted and winced from the pain, but hurriedly looped it behind her back again just as blood began to well up in her palm. Then, taking the bottle again, she uncorked it and shook the remaining few drops of tajwyn onto the wound. She made a fist around it, and then stopped.

 

“Well?” Toke asked a minute later.

 

She unclenched her hand. Bloodstained tajwyn cream still covered her palm, but when Toke looked closer...

 

“It's not bleeding anymore!” he exclaimed.

 

Zashiel nodded. “The cut is still there, buts its scabbed over. So... this stuff is like Chiyuka. It's just not as effective.”

 

“It'll heal the rest of the cut too, if you give it time,” the doctor said, sounding disturbed. “Just don't wash it off, and it'll be good as new by sunrise.”

 

Zashiel wasn't listening to him, though. “This doesn't make any sense,” she whispered, barely loud enough for Toke to hear. “If it were the same thing as Chiyuka ointment, it would act the same. What’s different about it?”

 

“Different ingredients?” Toke suggested.

 

Zashiel looked at the doctor. “What’s it made of?”

 

“Various steroids, just like you said, and…” His voice suddenly trailed off.

 

“And what?”

 

“Nothing.  Top secret.  You would need special permission from the Empty Room before I could tell you that.”

 

Zashiel looked at him, and then back down at her hand. Finally, after what felt like an eternity of deliberation, she nodded.

 

“Thank you,” she said. “For healing Toke, and for telling me this. You've given me a lot to think about.”

 

“Me too,” said the doctor. “To think, you Yasmikans have tajwyn cream too... and even better than ours, if you're to be believed.”

 

Zashiel turned to Toke. “Are you going to be all right?”

 

“I think so. He says I'll be better by morning, right?”

 

Zashiel nodded. “Good. I'll see you then. Goodnight.”

 

She made for the door, and a nail of panic immediately drove itself into Toke's chest. “W- Wait!” he yelled, sitting up despite the pain. “You're leaving me?”

 

Zashiel gave him a strange look. “You're in a hospital full of doctors and nurses who can take care of you. You don't need me here.”

 

Though Toke barely realized it, he began to shake. “Yes I do! Don't go!”

 

The doctor raised an eyebrow. “Do you have monophobia, young man? If so, I can—”

 

“He's fine,” Zashiel interrupted him, her voice strangely stern. “He's just shaken up by the past couple of days.”

 

Toke's breathing became to come faster. “N- No, I'm not okay,” he insisted. “Don't leave me here alone. Please, don't—”

 

“You just need a good night's sleep, Toke. I'll see you in the morning.”

 

“Zashiel!”

 

It was too late, though. Zashiel closed the door, leaving Toke in his hospital room alone. All alone. All alone.

 

It was happening again. Zashiel had left him. Inaska was on the ship. Even the doctor had gone to check on other patients. Sweat beaded his body, soaking his sheets underneath him. Slowly, he looked around. All he was surrounded by was emptiness. Emptiness that he swore he could feel. It pressed in on him from every angle, like water pressure after he'd dived too deep into a lake. He couldn't breathe... He couldn't...

 

Just calm down, he told himself. Zashiel was right. You just need a good night's rest, and you'll feel better in the morning. Just lie down, close your eyes, and... it isn't real. It can't hurt you.

 

Toke knew he was right. The emptiness wasn’t real.  It couldn’t touch him. The danger was all in his head. And yet, his head was the one place he couldn't reach into and face his fears head on. All he could do was...

 

Was that lapping water?

 

Toke froze as the sound of water splashing gently on a sandy beach filled his ears. That wasn't real, was it? He was inside a building. A building, he reminded himself, that was actually built on dry land. He was imagining things. He didn't really hear that water. He couldn't really feel that sand beneath him. He wasn't really watching a giant crab emerge from endless miles of water and—

 

“No, no, no, no!” he moaned, burying his face in his hands. His heart was racing in his chest now, and he wanted nothing more than to leap to his feet and run screaming from the hospital, naked or not. The pain stopped him, though. That was the only thing strong enough to break through the panic. It didn't banish the fear, though, only made it so he couldn't escape.

 

I'm going back, he thought. I don't want to go back, but I am, and I'll be stuck there again, all alone except for those smiting crabs, and—

 

The door to his room opened. Gasping, Toke sat up again. It hurt a little less to do it this time, but it still made him grab his chest and wince. It was full night outside his window by now, and the doctor hadn't left any lights on in his room, so all Toke was able to see was a silhouette standing in the doorway. It stepped further inside, and then closed the door behind it. Toke breathed a sigh of relief. He wasn't alone anymore. Now he had...

 

He sucked in a breath. Shen!

 

He immediately realized that couldn't be the case when the figure backed away from the door, coming closer to his bedside. It was too thin to be Shen, too... feminine. In fact, Toke thought as he leaned closer to get a better look, something about this intruder looked very familiar.

 

Then it dawned on him.

 

“Inaska?” he exclaimed.

 

He expected the white-haired acrobat to yelp in fight and spin around. She did spin around, mask glittering in the dim light, but instead of screaming she pulled a wicked looking dagger from her belt and brought it back, ready to throw. Then she dropped it with a loud clatter on the floor.

 

“Toke?” she asked in surprise.

 

Toke stared at her, not quite believing what he was seeing. “W- What are you doing here?”

 

She was carrying something under her arm that Toke couldn't make out, and she glanced nervously at it before saying, “I was... looking for you.”

 

Something was going on. Even in his panicked state of mind, Toke could see that she was hiding something from him. He knew that was important, and it should bother him, but he couldn't bring himself to care. All that mattered was that the woman he loved had chased the darkness away.

 

“How are you feeling?” she asked, reaching out and putting her hand on his forehead like he had a fever.

 

“Perfect,” he breathed, smiling stupidly at her. He paused. “Oh, you mean my injuries. I... I'm getting better, but the doctor says it'll take the rest of the night.”

 

“Glad to hear it,” she said, and leaned down and gave him a peck on the nose. “I have to go now, though. I'll see you—”

 

“Don't leave!” Toke said again, grabbing her by the wrist. No, no, they couldn't do this to him twice in one night! “Stay with me, please!”

 

Eyes widening, Inaska pulled her hand out of Toke's. “Toke, what's gotten into you?”

 

Toke let his hand fall back to the mattress. She was reacting just like Zashiel had. Something was wrong with him. Very wrong. He couldn't live his life forcing everyone to stay close to him just because he'd suddenly developed a fear of being alone.

 

“N- Nothing,” he forced himself to say. “Just shaken by what happened. You... You go on ahead. I'll see you tomorrow.”

 

The thought of spending the rest of the night all by himself in this dark, empty, lonely room was enough to make him want to claw his own skin off. He had to do it, though. He forced himself to take a deep breath. If he'd had the courage to fight Navras on top of the Terracaelum, then he could survive a night alone in a hospital. He doubted he would be able to sleep a wink, but—

 

“Move over.”

 

Toke blinked, Inaska's voice bringing him back to the present. “What?”

 

“That bed's bigger than our cots back on the ship,” she said, waving impatiently, “but I won't fit if you're lying right in the middle of it. Scoot!”

 

Dumbfounded, Toke did as she said and inched his way over to the other side of the mattress. Inaska dropped whatever she was holding to the floor—it was heavy enough to make a solid thump when it landed—and then proceeded to get undressed. Toke's heart started to race again, but not in fear this time. When she had stripped down to her undergarments, she crawled into bed beside him and pulled the covers up to her chin.

 

“You really love me, don't you?” he whispered.

 

“Don't convince me that was a mistake,” she said, and kissed him. Then, rolling over, she pressed her back into Toke's chest and settled in to sleep.

 

Toke wrapped his arms around her from behind, pulling her even closer, letting her warmth chase away what little loneliness there was still left in the room.

 

“I love you too.”

 

“Goodnight, Toke.”

 

“Goodnight.”

 

 

 

NEXT TIME: Sooo…Tajwyn cream, huh?  Somehow I doubt the fact that Vlangur and Hashira have almost identical secret miracle medicines is a coincidence.  But what does it mean?  And more importantly…aren’t Toke and Inaska cute together?

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