“Okay, you’re all done,” Leta said as she tied off the bandage around the man’s arm and stepped back. Meekly, he slid from the exam table, holding his injured limb carefully in midair before him. “Come back in two days and we’ll check the wound and redress it, but you should be good as new in a week.” She raised her eyebrow at him in challenge. “Just no more inexperienced roof repairs, alright?”
The man cracked her a pained smirk. “Hey, not like my house is gonna fix itself, someone’s gotta do it.” When she only narrowed her eyes at him, he shook his hand in defeat and confirmed, “Of course, Dr. Adler. Of course.”
“Good.” She patted him on his unwounded shoulder, told him, “See you Wednesday,” and slid open the curtain. The rest of the clinic was blessedly quiet today. A few patients with minor conditions sat on the hospital beds along the wall, attended to by Leta’s assistants. The elderly man who’d come in last week with a severe cough was resting in the back. A mother with a young child sobbing over a bloody but shallow scrape talked to the man behind reception. Quiet. Leta released a sigh of relief.
When she’d first opened the clinic six months ago, this kind of peace hadn’t even been fathomable. Though the brunt of the injured from the Battle of Fall’s End had already been dealt with in the refugee camps and makeshift doctor’s tents long before the concept of occupying an actual permanent standing building seemed feasible, when Leta had first thrown open her clinic’s doors, she had been unprepared for the influx. The first wave of casualties, the worst of the victims caught in the crossfire, had been dealt with. The second, she quickly found, had just begun.
Only now, over a year since Carthis had set down their ships and claimed the Society banished from Vescent, was the need for medical care starting to peter out. No longer was she dealing with gunshot wounds or explosion burns or side effects of violence. Now, she was dealing with side effects of rebuilding. Broken arms from unstable flooring, cuts from digging through debris, last week she’d treated a woman who had somehow hammered a nail into her hand. Carthis had taken on the reconstruction of some of the city, the strategic parts, the useful parts which were already shining and restored and new. The homes of Vescent’s people though, where Leta had set up camp? Not so much. But she’d rather a few misplaced nails than misplaced bullets any day.
As Leta crossed the clinic floor to update her latest patient’s records, the screen in the corner of the waiting room caught her attention. “–a decisive victory for the revolution against the Society,” the reporter was saying as images of a fiery base filled the screen. “The liberation of Ascendia’s Toras base was achieved through a month long covert operation by Admiral Soliveré and an elite team of his choosing. A press release from Carthian officials is to come later this afternoon. We have Elleria Porter on the ground of Toras for more.”
The screen shifted to new scenery and Leta couldn’t help but feel a smile come to her face. There, standing next to a young reporter who was dwarfed by him, was Fiearius himself, looking far worse for wear than the last time she’d seen him some five months ago. A few streaks of black char ran across his skin and clothing, specks of blood that had been missed in what seemed like a hasty cleaning marred his face. Most concerning was his right arm which was heavily wrapped in bandages from the elbow down, deep red seeping through to the top layer already. For just a moment, she felt a touch protective of the man who’d clearly been ushered straight from the battleground to the infirmary and then right in front of a camera as soon as he was somewhat presentable.
But she realized a moment later she didn’t need to be as the reporter asked, “Admiral, can we get a few words about the victory from your point of view?” and Fiearius’ dry, unenthused response was, “I need a drink,” as he counted the words on his fingers.
It was no wonder the public’s opinion of him was so divisive.
Pledging to give him a call in a few days after the media circus died down and maybe ask how that drink turned out, Leta turned back to the console and tapped in a few notes about the roof and the skin abrasion. The screaming child had finally quieted as a nurse handed him a brightly colored sweet, the news feed had gone into the din of an advertisement and everything was still as the clinic staff went about their tasks.
Which was why the sharp, “Quiet! Someone will hear!” jostled Leta from her concentration. She looked up and glanced around the room until she found the obvious source.
A young man in the waiting room cast nervous glances all around him. He was surrounded by a couple others Leta recognized. It wasn’t unusual for the locals to spend time in the clinic, even if they weren’t sick. Ever since she’d founded it, the place had been a sort of safe haven for many who were less accepting of their newfound Carthian authorities. Soldiers patrolled the city constantly, looking out for any who might try to alter the order of things. It had taken a great deal of time and effort to stabilize Vescent and they were determined to keep it stable, no matter what the cost.
But Carthis trusted Leta. Carthis left Leta alone. So the clinic was safe from Carthian eyes.
“I don’t care if someone hears,” the young man’s companion snapped, though her voice was even quieter than his. Leta had to strain to hear her. “I’m tired of this. I’m tired of not being able to walk out my front door, and I use the word ‘door’ lightly, without some Carthy shit harassing me about where I’m going or what I’m doing. We thought the Society was bad, but sometimes I wonder if this is even worse.”
“It’s not,” said another man grimly. “It’s not and you know it.”
The woman hesitated and looked away before admitting, “Okay fine, it’s not, but is this really any way to live? They didn’t come here to help us. They don’t give a shit about us. They just want our resources for their war.”
Leta hadn’t been blind to the fact that her clinic had started to attract those that weren’t pleased with the state of their city. Nor had she minded it (as good as Carthis had been to her over the past year, she wouldn’t betray her own people for them), but she had never heard anything this explicit before. Carefully, under the guise of cleaning up, she strolled into the waiting room and started to wipe down a coffee table.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the same nervous man from before glance at her. But apparently he didn’t see her as a threat as only seconds later, he turned to his friends and muttered, “What are we supposed to do about it though? We can’t just kick Carthis out.”
“Can’t we?” asked the woman bitterly.
“No, we can’t,” he replied. “Carthis has an army.”
“An army that’s distracted by a war,” the woman pointed out.
But the older man shook his head. “This city has seen enough fighting for a lifetime. Do you really want to upheave the peace we’ve struggled so hard to make? Give it time. Carthis will learn to trust us. Things will get better.”
The woman and the young man grew quiet and looked away just as Leta, engaged in their discussion and in rearranging the books on a nearby shelf, apparently drew too close. She felt the woman’s stare on her before she even heard the bitter words, “That’s a little hard to believe that right now.”
It was undeniably accusatory and now, Leta didn’t even pretend she hadn’t been eavesdropping. Taking in a deep breath, she turned towards the trio and met their eyes evenly.
“Got somethin’ to say, doc?” asked the woman, a teasing tone in her voice that reminded Leta of a playground bully. “You’re one of them, aren’t you? Care to defend your Carthy friends?”
She could have. Leta met with Admiral Gates once a week to discuss the state of Vescent and she believed, genuinely and truly, that he did care for these people. That Carthis really was trying to improve people’s lives. Even if sometimes, often even, their actions didn’t exactly seem that way on the receiving end.
And perhaps she should have defended them. Perhaps she could have changed things. But she didn’t.
“I’m not one of them,” was all she said, holding her head high. Vescent was her home. These were her people. And being told otherwise sent a sharp spike of defensiveness through her.
But regardless of what she knew to be true of herself, there was nothing as unsettling as the slow nod of her supposed brethren as they stood and headed for the door. “Perhaps we’ll find out for sure,” suggested the woman as the three of them slipped out onto the street. “When the time comes.”