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At least he was moving, she told herself as she stemmed the blood leaking from his side. Quinlan’s fur was slick with sweat and his breath gurgled out of his throat. “Quinlan?” she asked. His eyes flickered open, then he closed them again with a moan. She shielded his eyes from the sun with her tail. “Quinlan,” she said again, taking on the tone she used when expressing displeasure with a counterargument, “Wake up.”

They eased open. “Janik?” His voice was dry as sawdust, low as the hiss of an owl’s wing.

Her fingers burned to cup his cheek, but they were busy holding his lifeblood inside his body and her tail was keeping the sun out of his eyes. “I’m here, Quin,” she said.

“…what happened?” His eyes widened and he tried to sit up, then he fell back again with a choked exhale as he felt the split in his side.

“Quinlan, I need you to sit still,” she said. Her voice revealed none of her anxiety, none of the fear that her pressing wouldn’t be enough to stem the flow.

“Janik, what happened? Where are the others?”

She weighed her options. If she told him, if would definitely upset him. If she didn’t tell him, he would become more and more agitated as he tried to pry it out of her. “I’ll tell you if you promise to sit still and not to close your eyes,” she said at last, and felt the cloth under her fingers grow warm and wet. She gritted her teeth and threw more of her weight onto the wound. Quinlan whimpered, and tears pricked in her eyes.

“I promise,” he said, trying to sound unconcerned, fine, but his eyes were unfocused and they kept wandering.

“We were attacked,” she said, feeling his blood congealing on her fur, “A group of mercenaries. They were hired to take out the entire convoy.”

Anger flickered in his eyes and he snapped to attention. “You?”

“Maybe,” she said, “They didn’t kill me, and they only didn’t kill you because I asked them not to. But… the others…”

His features hardened and he met her gaze. “What about Dakkan and Kenosh?”

She held it. “I don’t know,” Janik said. “I can’t be certain, but-”

“But what?”

Almost detached, memory played the scene in her head. Kenosh, his paw crushed by a large iron mace, the sword dropping out of his grip and clattering onto the earthen ground. And Dakkan…

Only years of training kept her face impassive and held back the tears building behind her eyes. “I don’t know,” she repeated evenly, “but they were both injured.”

“Injured? How?”

Her mouth pressed into a thin line. One of the bandits had jumped him from above. A rogue Tamian whose blade had flashed like the scales of a fish in a river. A red ribbon of blood had spiked through the air. Dakkan fell with a cough, blood gushing from his throat.

“Quinlan, you need to worry about yourself for once,” she snapped, trying to distance herself from the memory, “You’re bleeding out. You could die.”

He blinked slowly. “I could?” he repeated, as if he didn’t understand.

“So… just… don’t worry, alright? Everything is going to be fine. Everything is going to be fine,” she promised, but the hollowness of her words flowed through his ears.

Things would never be fine. As a child, she had believed nothing could break Kenosh’s stoic exterior except his own temper. He was straightforward and his feelings were clear to everyone, himself most of all. His expressions often said more than any amount of words ever could. She had spent hours emulating his facial tics in a still pool for hours. She shaped her expressions until she could mimic his lifted, disdainful eyebrow and flat glare. 

But then Dakkan lay twisted in the rusty mud, and Kenosh’s eyes had shattered like a broken lantern. Whatever happened next, Kenosh’s world had been irreparably shaken. It would never be “fine” for him again.

It wasn’t stopping it wasn’t stopping. She tore another strip off her dress and folded it into a large square.

He began to speak, but she rammed the cloth onto the soaked crimson dressing on his belly, pushing with all her strength. His back arched and he screamed, tears leaking from his eyes. “I’m sorry, Quin,” she said, “But I have to stop the bleeding.”

His breath came in out in out like a bellow now, struggling to keep a fire lit. “I know,‘S ok,” and the slur in his voice buried another spoke of worry into her chest, “I- trust-”

“I know,” she whispered.

Quinlan’s eyes began to flutter closed again. “You promised, Quinlan,” she said, and with a grumble he opened his eyes again.

“Where are we?”

“Some kind of cart,” she said, “We’re prisoners. Don’t move,” she snapped, feeling him try to sit up again, “You were almost gutted and I can’t stop the bleeding. You need to be as still as possible. Don’t move.”

He obeyed and they sat in silence. She could almost hear the blood trickling from his wound as the seconds passed. Quinlan lay, eyes open and staring at the ceiling. He was so still, so still. Her throat tightened. “Quinlan?”

“Do you ever wonder about the stars?” he asked quietly.

Janik shook her head slowly. “No. They’re pretty and all but they aren’t… really important, I guess.”

“The Lutren have a lot of star myths,” he said, his eyes still fixed on the ceiling. “They believe the stars are the spirits of explorers, warriors… people who die with work left to do.”

“What made you think of it?”

“I don’t know. Just… they say the stars guide the dead home, too.”

“Not you,” she said quietly, and her arms were hurting but she tried to increase the pressure and found she could not. “You’re not dead.”

“…I’m not?”

“No, Quinlan, you’re not,”

“Oh.”

“…does that disappoint you?”

“…I don’t… no.”

It wasn’t stopping she could feel his blood seeping through the last layer of cloth. “Quinlan, stay with me,” she whispered, scrabbling to tear another piece of cloth free. “Quin, please. Stay.”

"Janik… I…" His eyes slid closed and his head lolled to the side. Quinlan’s breath slowed, but did not stop. It held, but she could almost feel its fragility. She ripped her sleeves off, folded them, then tied them against the makeshift dressing with her sash. That was all she could do.

She curled up next to him on the wooden floor and took his hand. It was still warm, and she could feel a faint pulse weakly throbbing underneath his skin.  Forcing her tears down, she closed her eyes. Whatever their captors wanted, she could not let them see her vulnerability.

“Stay,” she whispered again. Quinlan’s hand tightened on hers.

“I will if you will,” he said, and his voice trembled with exhaustion.

She kissed him on the temple and leaned her forehead against his. “I’m not,” she promised, and this. at least, was a promise she could keep.