Dr. Cooper washes the last of the blood from her work worn hands, the water running in crimson rivulets into the sink below. Several scars tugged at the skin on the back of her hands, one wrapping around to kiss her palm. A reminder that she had lived perhaps, or a visceral reminder to be more careful.
There was a surgeon back in Rail City that had shown her how to stitch up internal wounds that had pristine hands. Pale, unmarred things not used to heavy work. His hand’s were made for neat stitches and porcelain tea cups. The pureblood had been raised to work the sway of delicate flesh, and it showed. His clothes were always pristine and made her eyes swim with the colors. She was the ragged shadow of the bright, outgoing Doctor. Surpassing in talent, and perhaps intelligence, but little more.
She had followed behind him since she was old enough to hold his bag, making their way from room to room in the hospital to check on patients and annoy the nurses, he a still young but bright surgeon, and she a wide eyed child of nine or ten. Alice had learned much of what she knew of doctoring from him, the bright peacock who made sure she knew she would never as important as he.
He sent her away after she healed a patient he could not.
She returned to the Poets a young woman, graceful enough that her retrograde cousins teased her about her ‘fancy ways’. She learned very quickly that education can isolate you when so very few others share such a desire to learn. But she was glad to be home after so long away from the huge decrepit building. The music that rang over the loud speakers had always soothed her soul and even with the initial teasing of her extended family they came to lean upon her as one of two experienced healers in the building’s vast population.
Oh sure, life was still dangerous in those times, raiders and zed reached their claws even into the most civilized parts of the great Ironworks. But she was surrounded by family and faith, and for a while, she was happy. Her Mother even arranged the marriage to the newly appointed Primus about a year after she had returned from her medical fosterage. The big scary retrograde turning out to be rather gentle and kind to her in the quiet hours between attacks. It took a long time before she could say she loved him, but her fondness grew into love over time. She barely remembered him from her childhood. She was hardly three when he had joined the army and headed off to serve the Ironworks. He had barely been back a month before their families had figured it was a good time for them to join themselves officially by marriage.
It made sense in a way, their families had been living in the old Chicago Music Exchange building, four and a half stories of families who had come together after the fall due to their love of music and their desire for safety. Her family came here after the retrogrades had already set up shop and had made fast friends during the first few turbulent decades. It was only in the recent years that the two families had allowed themselves to intermarry. Mother knew that no children would come from this joining so was quick to make plans for her younger brother as well. Her brother married a good girl from the Nation. They had two children already, and a third on the way. Beautiful children, not a mask needed between them.
The smile that teases the corners of her lips was drawn on by memories of her overly protective Husband. His hand as he helped her up from a hiding spot the first time she had watched his rage slaughter a horde of shambling zed. The way the brush slid through his long dark hair as she brushed it during the quiet early mornings. The way he tolerated her poking and prodding when she was trying her ‘treatments’ to ease the lesions on his flesh. She may have been raised around the retrogrades, but that only allowed her to see their suffering up close. They tried to hide the pain of their disfigurement, and a few of them were even proud of it. But not all of them could be so careless about the way the world saw them, and several of her ‘aunts’ had asked her to see if medical intervention would help. He had been her test subject for years now. Little to nothing had helped, though she still tried.
The quiet moments in her life gave her time to think.
She almost preferred the screams of the wounded.
She dries her hand on a clean towel and looks over to her Husband. Primus was carefully shrugging his leather coat back up onto his newly stitched shoulder. Retrogrades were naturally falling apart, but with Primus’ orders to defend Walker’s Post he took more than his fair share of wounds.
“You should come to me if you have been hurt and not let it fester like this.” she murmurs, handing him one of the pills she carried to help stave off infection.
He snorts, “It was just a scratch and the zed were already knocking at the door when the last of the wounded had been filed out.” he scratches at a lesion under his mask, “You were busy enough.”
“You are more important to me than anyone else in this town. If something happens to you, I should be the first to know.” she thinks back to how she had only heard of his trip to the gravemind AFTER he had returned and nearly been killed again because of it’s cursed derangement. He had told her about it during a wave of wounded, so she had hardly had time to react.
She reacted now, feeling that odd sense of mourning, the hot constriction of pain in her chest. Yet there he stood, whole and healthy before her. Mourning him would be silly, so she tucked that tinge of emotion away, just like all the other emotions that seemed to fill her days here at Fort Seymour.
Perhaps tucking the emotion away was one of the reasons the longer lived Acensorites seemed so alien to people. Its wasn’t that they didn’t care, it was that they cared to much in a world not made for such things. Eventually all that repression becomes reality.
Primus hardly notices the emotion that catches her voice in her throat. He can be so observant, yet miss the most important of details. “I can take care of myself Alice. You should know that by now.”
She nods, “Of course you can, that is why you are Primus, but it doesn’t make sense to have one of our best fighters go out wounded when he can go out in full health.” she appealed to his common sense. Logic usually worked on him and tonight was no different.
He smiled patiently, most of it lost under the mask, and nods, “Of course. I’ll do what I can.” his voice was soft, affection in his eyes. The eyes of a retrograde were always telling, even if half obscured by their mask. She treasured his looks, his kind words. In the cruel light of this world it was more than some ever got.
She lifts his lapel and places a bandage over the new stitches, smoothing it down carefully before straightening the jacket and smiling up at him. “Thank you, Love.” she murmurs.
He presses the cheek of his mask to hers, their form of a kiss, and grabs his axe, there was already cries out in the distance of zed and he needed to get back to his post at the door. She glances up to Kai as he passes her to join him and offers her two boys a sad little smile.
As the cries got closer, she began to clean her tools. Might as well be ready for the next wave of wounded.