Needless Suffering

Title: Needless Suffering
Time Period: March 31, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: Luna goes to lend a hand, give a gift, and ask a favor but is sent away with exactly what she doesn't want.

Most of the residents of Dornie avoided market square this morning in the aftermath of the catastrophe the day before. The few that did venture out did so only to wash the cobblestones and scrape away the small traces of dragon left over. The process of clean up will take a while, especially with the recent troll attack.

Dressed in somber blues for the occasion, Luna's step toward the other side of town is fast paced. The dead have already been taken away and laid up in the butcher's cold room until burial but she still holds the kerchief over her mouth. A thin leather cord shows visible around her wrist, the bloodstone tied right over the pulse therein. They didn't die from a blood disease, but her instructions were to wear it past the dead. No distinction.

A bundle is held under her arm, thick and hard, wrapped in burlap and twine. In the hand itself a small brown bottle, empty of its contents and missing the cork. Hopefully Aislinn can get a new one.

When the prostitute trudges up the stairs, she passes a few of those injured by the tiny dragons. A shiver courses through her spine and she averts her eyes from the more horrific ones. Still, she pushes her way in through the door and immediately makes her way to Aislinn's side. She doesn't know much about tending to the sick and wounded, but she's as able bodied as they come and quick with a needle… if need be.

Aislinn hasn't slept for more than twenty-four hours. It shows in the dark circles under her eyes, bloodshot and rimmed in pink, and the sheet-white colour of her skin, which has taken on an almost translucent texture and shows the network of veins in her small hands and wrists while she works.

She hasn't found an opportunity to bathe or change her clothes, either, but this is less important than being able to rest — the longer she stays awake, the more prone she is to making mistakes. Fortunately, she has both Cordelia and Colm with her, and those whose injuries are not life-threatening are directed at the door to the side of the room where Aislinn's apprentice and son are in charge of cleaning and bandaging their wounds.

In one day, Cordelia has sewn more stitches than there are holding her clothes together.

The physician doesn't notice Luna standing there until she's finished dosing one of her more critical patients with a syringe of liquid that's probably similar in composition to the one she prescribed her. When she does, she scrubs at the corner of one eye with the back of her hand and looks blearily up at Luna from her kneel on the floor.

The package is placed off to the side for the woman to open at her own leisure. No need to bother her with trivial things at the moment when she's clearly overtired and overstressed. "I'm sorry I didn't come sooner," Luna at least sounds apologetic as she holds out the empty bottle toward Aislinn. Pressing it into the other woman's palm, the prostitute kneels beside her and attempts to help her stand. "I can make tea. My kind, for the ones that are in too much pain. I have brandy and whiskey for the others, if it'll help." If there's one thing Luna Owens excels at, it's living pain free. At least physical pain free.

"I can make you a special tea as well," an offer of a blend that's obviously not the type to alleviate pain. "Or bring you something else, to sharpen your faculties. I've got quite a bit and I know where to get more." Not on Aislinn's shelf, of course. As she guides the healer toward a bed of her own, she kneels at the woman's side and glances up quite a bit like the picture opposite just moments before.

Someone on the other side of the room coughs and Luna's kerchief flies over her nose and mouth. Wide eyed, she stares toward the sickl and injured and wrinkles her nose. She's here to help but it's more of a favor for the healer, not the patients themselves.

On the edge of the cot, Aislinn looks down at the empty bottle cradled in her hands. Exhaustion has her eyes hooding as she rolls it between her palms to check the label. When she sees what's written there, no less in her own cramped scrawl, she presses out a slow breath through her nose and closes her fingers around it.

"The worst is over," she assures Luna, her voice dry and hoarse, the kind of raw that results from shouting — except Aislinn almost never shouts. "But thank you." Her eyes wander from the bottle to her patients laid out on the cots closest to the clinic's wood-burning stove. She has Colm checking the most serious cases for signs of life every half hour, but from here she can monitor the rise and fall of their chests and feel as though she's doing something productive.

The cough and Luna's reaction to it drags Aislinn's attention back up to her visitor, and she offers the younger woman a tight smile. As much as she appreciates her stopping by— "You don't have to stay."

Which is really just the kindest way of telling Luna that she shouldn't.

"Only if you're sure you'll be alright," the younger blonde seems more than happy to oblige with the healer's kindness. Suddenly smiling and forgetting about the chaos around them, the parcel is picked up and placed on Aislinn's lap. "I know you like to draw, so I brought you some paper. It's not the smoothest quality but I tried to find the best I could."

There's another glance around, this time she focuses on one of the men that's been picked at and shredded from shoulder to chest. "Was— Was anyone that I'm acquainted with there?" Her own delicate way of asking if any of her clients were involved. "I'd like to know if I should visit… Or try to make them feel a bit more at ease."

"I'm not familiar," Aislinn says. With who you choose to share her bed, she means. She removes one hand from the bottle and skims the tips of her chapped fingers over the parcel's packaging. Guilt creates fine lines around her mouth and crow's feet at the corners of her eyes.

"I'm so sorry, Luna. I can't accept this."

"Why not? I need you to, I need help." Desperation fixes itself on Luna's features and she laces her fingers together to press them against her chin. Parting her lips, for a moment, it almost seems as she mouths the word please before pursing them together again. "It's not all gift, it's payment. I wanted to ask if you could draw me something but it's not the time now."

Lowering her hands to her lap, she hunches her shoulders shyly and lifts her eyes to stare into Aislinn's. "I'd like a picture of myself drawn, so I can give it to someone but you'd have to come in to the Dovetail so I could pose for it. I can find you coal or crayon if you like… Or paint if you'd rather."

No one has ever commissioned Aislinn to draw something before.

She drags her teeth over her lower lip, eyes downcast, and is quiet for a very long time. "Of course I'll paint your portrait," she says finally. "I do my best in watercolours." Careful not to look at Luna or even glimpse her face in passing, she sets the empty bottle aside on the milk crate being used as the cot's bedside table, though she hesitates to let it go.

When she does, she folds her fingers into a small, loose fist and holds it to her chest. "It's the laudanum. I think you should stop."

A breath fills Luna's lungs, almost panicked. "Wh-what? Why? It's been helping! The pain's not there and most times I don't miss the poppies." Wide blue eyes stare unabashed at Aislinn and Luna's pale hands reach up to grab her hair. "I emptied the bottle, aye but it was a mistake… please. You don't know how important it is. I need it. Mister Fogg'll be so disappointed in me if I go back to what I was. Duncan'll be so angry…"

Her eyes drop and she stares at the floor, her soft curls falling down over her brow and providing a curtain for her face. The curtain doesn't exactly hide what Aislinn's gift tells her. "Please, I've a chance to make something better but I need it to get by. If the pain comes back… I'll not survive it."

On the other side of the room, Colm watches the exchange from where he crouches beside one of Cordelia's patients, brow knit and eyes narrowed in concern for his mother. Luna's hair obscures her mouth, preventing him from recognizing the shapes formed by her lips, but Aislinn's anguished expression tells him all he needs to know.

"No, Luna, no," she murmurs, taking Luna's face in her hands. Her fingers brush the curls from her face and smooth them back. She presses a kiss to the crown of her head. "Please listen."

"Why do you hate me?" Luna ekes out, her breathing taking on a shake to match that of the hands on her lap. There's a childlike quality to the young woman's plea, like a toddler begging for another five minutes before bed. "I need it, I'm all alone. There's no one who'll watch over me when I'm hurting so badly that I'm crippled and unable to walk or lift a hand for water. I know this, I've tried it."

She's also a little too proud to ask.

"I wanted to be free of my demons before I left on my adventure. If I have none of the medicine, I don't know what'll carry me through." Leaning heavily against the cot, she seems smaller than Ariel, even inside the heaps of fabric that surrounds her. Perhaps because of it. "Why would you ask me to stop taking my medicine?"

"Yellow fever, consumption, rheumatism — these are the things we use it for. It's not meant to be taken the way you want to take it." Aislinn's arms encircle Luna and loop her in a protective embrace. She talks down onto the top of her head, her breath rustling warm through her hair. "I wish you could see that you're healthy and whole," she whispers, because even if Colm can't hear them, there are others in the room who can — and this is supposed to be a private conversation between a doctor and her patient.

"It's the need. That's your sickness, child."

"But I look like the dead without it, how do you know I don't have any of these illnesses and that's what's keeping it away?" Aislinn's never done any tests to check the clarity of Luna's lungs therefore consumption is still on the table. The prostitute's hands curl around her physician's forearms, keeping the hug locked around her. "My ma's the only person that'd stay with me and I can't ask her. You don't understand, it'd hurt her something awful. Especially since I done it all to myself."

She'd ask to stay in the cot… but… there's sick and dying people nearby and Luna's not certain the stone works when the numbers are so concentrated.

A sharp hitch in Aislinn's breathing betrays just how much influence Luna's pleading has over her. Her palms find her back and rub the heels of her hands up and down it like she used to do with Colm and still does with Ariel when he comes to his parents' room at night, wet-faced and weeping about nightmares.

It's not so different with Luna.

"I swear to you on the grave of my little girl," she says. "You have all the strength you need inside you."

Luna silences her complaints, an oath sworn on the grave is fairly serious and not taken lightly by the woman on the floor. "You'll come? Every day to make certain I'm still alive?" Turning her head, the prostitutes stares up toward Aislinn with slightly moist eyes. She's too proud to actually cry in front of all of these people. Especially when she doubts she'll receive any more of the drugs. "And if I'm suffering too badly, you'll help me then?"

Blonde eyebrows shoot high on her forehead, as if she's uncertain that the help would be the quality that she wants rather than what she needs.

"Every day."

Aislinn lifts her eyes from Luna's face to meet her son's across the room, and although her hands are occupied, all it takes to signal Colm is a look. He touches Cordelia's shoulder to let her know she's on her own, and crosses to the cot.

"Colm will take you home," she says, and it's then she realizes that Luna listed her brother-and-law among her suitors. She lapses into an uneasy silence but gives the other woman's hands a reassuring squeeze just the same as Colm helps her to her feet.

It's just as well. There is nothing else she can possibly say.