Zephren felt the flush rise to his cheeks, trying to avoid Rosakai’s gaze. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been around a person, and certainly not as an adult.
This was the first time Zephren had ever felt an attraction to anyone and it was unpleasant. His heart felt sickly, his stomach was tight, mouth dry. Why was looking at Rose so suddenly disorienting?
Staring at a pair of sharp scissors as Star cut away his shirt, Zephren could feel his skin quiver. Having felt such severe pain, he now almost had a fear of it. It felt like he was afraid of everything.
Moving with precision, Star said calmly, “I’m just going to cut off your shirt and the bandages around your arm. I promise I’ll be careful.”
Taking another deep breath, Zephren nodded, trying not to squirm. “O-okay.”
Zeph watched as she cut the shirt in a vertical line, the black fabric falling off him to land on his lap. There was a pang as Zephren registered the look on her face as her eyes glanced at his body. He couldn’t tell if it was concern, disgust, or pity, but it made him feel less.
With creased and anxious brows, Zeph found himself looking up at Rose. It was almost a relief to see that his expression remained unchanged.
Rose gave him a reassuring nod, watching as Star repositioned her black bag by her feet.
With his attention drawn to the state of his upper arm, Zephren winced. The tugging sensation as Star carefully cut away his bandages was sickening. As the gauze was removed, he couldn’t help but feel his eyes widen in horror.
Turning away immediately in fear he might be sick, Zephren gagged on his empty stomach. His flesh was split, black, and rotting, oozing with puss.
The chair squealed against the floor as Rose got up and knelt in front of Zeph, putting a hand on his knee. “Hey. Hey, look at me,” Rose hushed, his tone somehow grounding.
Zephren was breathing much harder than he’d initially realized, hiding his nose and mouth into his elbow as if this would stop him from throwing up.
Rose shook his head, his silver eyes calm. “It’s okay. Just look at me.”
The image was burned into the back of Zephren’s eyes. “Are you going to cut my arm off?” he asked, trying to keep his focus on Rosakai.
When Rose didn’t respond Zephren desperately glanced at Star, not wanting to look at his arm. “Are you?!”
Her face was calm as she reached down into her bag, grabbing a pair of long tweezers and a smaller pair of scissors. She didn’t look away from the wound as she spoke. “I know it’s scary, but listen to me, okay? These deep cuts here? I made them. I had to open up your arm and reset the bones. Now, there is an infection, and a bit—tiny bit—of necrosis, okay?” Zephren watched her circle in the air above black tissue with her tweezers, “This here is the dead flesh I’m going to debride, but the tissue underneath is healthy and pink. The tubes are for drainage, okay? So, you just look at Rose and he’ll tell you a funny story.”
Zephren pried his eyes away to look at Rose, mentally noting how many times Star had reassured him with ‘okay’. “Do you have a funny story?” he asked Rosakai, nearly hopeful.
Rose shook his head, “Not right now.”
Flinching against a jab to his arm as Star peeled something away with her tweezers, Zephren scrunched up his face, biting his lip. “I could really use one.”
Rose tapped Zeph’s knee gently as he said, “You’re fine. You’re strong, and I’m right here.”
Zephren opened one eye to blink at him. Though his words were kind and reassuring, there was a distance in them.
Wincing as Star pressed something to the wound, stinging it badly, Zeph finally swore.
“It’s good you can feel that. There’s no nerve damage.” Star smiled positively. Her hands passed over Zephren’s arm rather gently, his skin all the while feeling raw and thick. She then packed it and bandaged it up tightly with new gauze.
Sterilizing her hands, she instructed, “Okay, lie down under the covers for me.”
Rosakai stood, moving out of her way as she helped Zeph slowly lie back. It was an odd feeling, sinking into such softness. With his abdomen completely exposed, she turned Zephren onto his uninjured side.
He faced the wall, no longer able to see Rose or Star. The temperature in the room was fine, Zeph couldn’t help shaking; his entire body felt cold from nerves.
“I’m going to remove the gauze on your side, okay?” Star asked, composed as she prepared him.
Zeph grimaced as the gauze peeled away the skin that remained attached to it. He tried not to panic as he felt fresh warm blood drip down his side.
Star quickly pressed what felt like a cloth against it, applying hard pressure to stop the bleeding. “Are you seeing this?” she muttered towards Rose in a hush, as if hoping Zephren couldn’t hear her.
“What is it?” Zephren snapped quickly, slightly irritated that he couldn’t crane his neck to see either of them nor twist himself in such a way where he could see the wound.
“Nothing,” Rose said, rather too quickly, “I’m still here.”
Left without answers, Star continued to work away at Zeph’s side, similarly to how she had on his arm. He could feel the painful tugs and metal tweezers digging into him, tensing and curling his toes at the pain until she finally finished.
Securing a dry piece of thick gauze over the wound, and a new compression bandage over that. She turned Zephren’s frail figure onto his back as she said with a slightly less enthusiastic smile, “You did great! I’m just going to have a word with Rose out in the hall—”
“Tell me,” Zephren demanded, gulping as he looked towards Rose.
Rosakai stood like a dark specter by the door, watching Zephren reproachfully from a distance.
Zephren knew that look.
Pleadingly as his eyes shifted between the two of them, Zephren found himself begging, “Please, one of you, just tell me the truth.”
Rose walked over to his bedside, putting a hand on Zeph’s thin shoulder. “You’re going to be brave, right?”
His throat immediately constricted as Zephren inexpertly sat up in bed. He nodded, trying to be calm. “I can take it.” He wasn’t really sure if he could, but he wanted to know the truth.
Star took in a deep breath, looking at Zeph kindly. “I wish I had better news for you… Your arm is not the problem. It looks scary, but it’s actually healing as expected, so that’s great.” She glanced at Rose and Zephren could see she was trying to find the will to continue.
“Go on.” Zephren needed her to just say the words…
Her blue eyes looked at him sadly as she said, “Your side is another story. I did what I could when you first came here and hoped I’d see at least a small amount of improvement today. Whatever impaled you did masses amounts of damage when it was removed. If you fell, then likely when you got up it ripped through your skin. Your organs were spared, and we stopped the internal bleeding…but it’s extremely infected…” she trailed off, looking at Zephren in such a way that he knew she expected him to fill in the blanks.
Zeph shook his head, his heart pounding in his chest. “You’re telling me I’m dying?” Disbelief traveled on his airy voice. He looked at Rose, confused above anything. “You said sirens heal more quickly…” Zephren’s voice was quiet, a kind of acceptance already taking over.
Rosakai shook his head, avoiding his stare. “You’re only half siren. I told you, I didn’t know what kind of abilities you possess… The only thing we know is that your body cannot fight this infection, and we do not have the resources here to properly treat it.”
“But, I feel fine...”
Star sighed, “You won’t in a few hours. You’re pumped full of drugs right now, so you probably feel a lot stronger than you are. We’ll have to start decreasing the amount of medication we give you to save reserves…and then you’ll really start to feel the effects of your injuries.”
Rose looked at Star, asking honestly, “What can be done?”
She stared at Zephren, her brows furrowing in determination as she said, “Well…okay, let me think this through… We don’t have the kind of materials for something like this here, and if it goes untreated—”
“It’s not going to go untreated,” Rose said, interrupting her.
His firmness startled Zephren, blinking up at him with hope. ‘Please, I’ll do anything,’ he thought to himself.
Nodding, Star crossed her arms under her chest. “Right… Well,” she raised her eyebrows as if she had stumbled across a solution that she knew wouldn’t be ideal. “You won’t like it,” she said, looking at Rosakai.
He sighed, his back straightening as he looked down at her. “I usually don’t,” he said, harshly. “Try me.”