It was a scene from a nightmare. One second Cyrus was sitting beside her, drink in hand, and the next, his face went ashen, his eyes slid back and he fell from the barstool with a horrible thud on the floor.
Instantly, Corra screamed his name, and before she could think, Leta dropped to her knees beside his body on the floor, her hand jumping to the pulse on his neck.
“His drink,” Leta breathed in realization. “Something in his drink — “
The rest of the bar fell from Leta’s vision. She no longer heard Corra’s screams; she could only hear the thud of Cyrus’ heartbeat against her fingertips. In a flash, she was back in the emergency room at Unity Health Clinic, captured in her own level of knowing calm: he was a code red emergent patient who had been poisoned, and she needed to induce vomiting. Immediately.
She reached to pull him on his side with difficulty; he was starting to shake now, breathing in short gasps. But before she could reach his mouth, a hand grasped at her shoulder, another dug into her hair and she was wrenched away from her patient as screams tore out of her throat.
It was the bartender. The bartender was tugging her by the hair, pulling her away from Cyrus across the floor.
“You — off! Off!” the man yelled over her screams of violent protest. “Off him you — “
If there was any doubt who poisoned Cyrus before, Leta thought in hysteria, there wasn’t any now. Barstools skidded back as the man dragged her, his fingers drawing blood in her scalp. It was a dirty struggle: Leta threw her hands back to seize his wrist and shove him away, but in his standing position, he had the advantage, he had the power to throw her head sideways against the wall. Pain shot clear through her skull.
In the struggle, her curtain of hair was thrown over her eyes, so she could barely see, but she glimpsed Cyrus on the floor in the corner. Flat on his back, his body was convulsing, air choking out of his throat — he needed help, he wasn’t going to make it —
“Stop — moving — wench!” the bartender shouted, angry and panicked, as Leta threw an arm out to knock him sideways in the knees and made a lunge forward to Cyrus. “Stop!“ He grasped the collar of her shirt and pulled her against his legs. Leta, growling and grimacing through watery eyes, saw an upside down view of the hysterical man, spitting madly. “Grice wants your head! And I’ll give it to him anyway he — “
All at once, Leta was released; the bartender screamed out in pain and spun around. Blood poured from the back of his head, and then, wobbling on his feet, he sank to the floor before his attacker.
Corra stood above him, her rifle raised over her head like a bat.
“You alright?” she asked breathlessly, reaching out her hand to help her up.
Gasping shakily, Leta nodded and seized Corra’s wrist, then immediately crossed through the room to the twitching figure on the floor.
“Cyrus — need to empty his stomach — “
She skidded to her knees beside him. It wasn’t a pleasant procedure and she didn’t have a single moment to sterilize her hands, but it was effective: her fingers went to his mouth, and a second later, Cyrus wretched across the floor, coughing and gasping and — thank the gods — taking in gulps of air.
Corra crouched down beside him instantly, rubbing his back as he coughed. “He’ll–He’ll be alright, yeah?” she asked, her eyes glinting with tears.
“Yeah,” Leta managed, breathing hard as if she’d just sprinted a race. She tried to smile in assurance, but suddenly she felt completely exhausted. “Yeah. He’ll be fine. Let’s — let’s just get out of here before Grice comes back.”
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
They should have been hurrying, Leta thought, but none of them seemed able to muster the energy. It was a defeated march back to the ship, and no one spoke. Perhaps, Leta thought, everyone was still in shock. She certainly couldn’t grasp what just transpired — again. Another job had ended in bloodshed. She felt numb and empty, save for a dull, throbbing pain in her body from the fight.
But thank the gods, she thought, as she glanced to Cyrus for the twentieth time, all of them had made it back alive.
Years ago, in residency, one of the senior surgeons had warned his students what it was like to perform emergency care on someone you knew personally. He said it was haunting, a stark contrast to the cold calculation a professional hospital setting offered. As she watched Cyrus another moment longer — so relieved to see him walking, even if he looked exhausted and washed out — she realized he was right.
She wasn’t the only one watching him. Every few minutes, Corra threw him a sideways look of profound worry. But Cyrus either didn’t notice, or he was ignoring it, his head hung as he walked. Shame was burning from him.
Finally breaking the silence, Leta offered, “When we get back, I need to run some tests. But you’ll be fine, Cyrus.”
Cyrus grunted. “Fine. Sure,” he muttered. “You mean except for being an utter failure? Except for coming back empty-handed, nearly-poisoned and still completely incompetent? Sure. I’m fine.”
He could not have sounded more bitter. Leta and Corra exchanged a look of concern, both of them silent. What Fiearius would say about Grice and their utter failure of a job, she could not imagine.
But she didn’t care, either.