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Like a widow who had lost her spouse, Naomi started wearing black after losing her ability to save lives. Back then, she didn’t really know why, probably to remind her of the sins she still had to expiate. It felt weird to her to wear white again, since it kept reminding her of the life she had to leave behind, that of a lifesaver whom people trusted with literally all they had left.

Even now, even as her life has gone back on track (she has a stable job, a daughter and friends who hold her in great esteem – things she thought she’d never have until a year ago), she continues wearing black because it feels more comfortable to be able to fade back into the shadows would she ever need to slip back into the night. She can’t ever live in the broad daylight, not anymore she knows this; but, as long as Alyssa doesn’t mind, then she doesn’t have a reason to complain. The cold and silence have their perks.

 

Wearing black, at first, was to hide stains when she was working with Delphi. God knows there was little hygiene there, so blood could easily show on clothing when they weren’t careful. Wearing black robes (or whatever outfit they had given her that looked very little like a robe) allowed them to conceal the dark reds and rusts more easily without having to think about it too much. Out of sight, out of mind, she supposed.

On the other hand, blood is too visible on white. Of course, it is the point of wearing it for surgical procedures, since it’s easier to disinfect – it’s still too visible for people like Delphi or, in a way, her. Even to this day, seeing reddish stains on white fabric makes her uneasy, reminding her of things she’d much rather never think about again. She’s like the black-clad widow staring at the radiant bride with a wine stain on her dress: she knows what she lost and has the feeling of seeing a bad omen.

 

There is this one thing about Delphi she has stopped minding, and it’s Little Guy, or whatever his real identity was supposed to be. If he reminded her of their dark past not too long ago, he now represents what they could become: atoners, working for “the right side” for once, working in the shadows to help the living move on like they’ve had to. Unlike her, he didn’t let himself dwell on the past, preferring to get moving.

The moment she understood it the most when he started to wear white more than black, renouncing to the colour she was always used to see him dress. It felt weird, at first, but he knew how to pull it off, and she got used to the new habits. Never dwell on the past, let herself get swiped away by the changing winds. Moreover, Alyssa really liked it whenever he’d drop by the house after driving her home after work or getting Alyssa from school when she couldn’t.

 

But now, the past has caught back to them. Ex-Delphi members have found them again, motivated by the recent rise (and fall, but they forgot about that second time) of Adam’s nephew trying to bring the virus back right as PGS cases flare up across the USA. They’re not running away, this time: she did that enough when going to seek amnesty in Europe, so now, she better prepare herself to strike. Little Guy already cocks his FBI-licenced gun out, intending to strike judging by the little tremors in his fingers.

It goes in a flash: a couple bangs, blood spilling on the ground, dirt and smoke and iron fill the air of an urban cul-de-sac. The commotion is such that it’s difficult to follow anything until the stench of violence lifts up and so does the smog it created. For a moment, she believes they may have both gotten killed, and that she’s already passing into the afterlife, in denial of everything, not ready to face death nor discover if there is, indeed, something on the “other side” that isn’t roaming around this world and calling the “voodoo hotline”.

 

One thing quickly becomes clear: she is still alive. In fact, everyone is somehow still alive, because she sees their three assailants with their weapons on the floor and wounds in their legs: they were only harmed to disarm them. She pats her own clothes and body to check if she hasn’t been injured, remembering reflexes she had thought long gone coming back to her in a moment’s notice. To her fortune, she seems okay, as she only feels dirt, dry clothing and skin under her fingers’ touch.

 

Seeing the men lie on the ground in pain, she already grabs her phone and calls for help, going into not too many details for everyone’s safety and privacy.

“Little Guy,” she starts calling to her partner so they can get away from this place before being brought into this, her finger about to swipe the call off, “let’s go.”

His response is delayed.

“Sure… Sure thing.”

His voice sounds strangled and hesitant, drier than her clothes, and it prompts her to turn around. As soon as she does, however, her own breath gets caught in her throat as her entire body tenses up. Her mind, which was until now fixated on running as far as possible from the scene before they were going to be questioned about the bullets in their pursuers’ limbs, immediately switches to the same sort of panic she felt in Caduceus Europe all those years ago when she witnessed a fellow surgeon collapse in pain.

Little Guy!

 

He’s sitting on the ground, back against the wall that cornered them until now, a hand loosely holding onto his gun, the other barely holding onto a striking red stain on his clear, monochrome attire. It’s expanding moment after moment, replacing the immaculate white of his shirt and suit jacket with a much darker colour. If it was only the bloodstained clothes, it’d have been fine, no matter how much this man frets over such things – but it’s not what is scaring her so much about this.

“Little Guy, what happened?!”

As he struggles to get an answer out, she takes his pulse: there, obviously, since he’s breathing, but weakening. His breathing is quick but shuddering, as if fragile like glass.

“One… one of them was armed,” he replies, swallowing every few words. “One bullet hit… my flank, I think?”

Not caring for the nail polish Alyssa put on her fingers last night, Naomi digs under the bloodstained jacket and where the incriminated wound must be. There, she confirms Navel’s suspicions: it’s indeed in his flank.

“If my assumption is correct, it shouldn’t have hurt an organ,” she says, a little bit of relief pulsing through her. “We need to get you into a hospital asap, though, you’re bleeding profusely.”

 

She grabs back her phone, which she previously slipped into her pocket, and adds the information on a fourth wounded. She gives more information on their location and the circumstances, merely forgetting to mention this is all because of Delphi’s doings and their smothered shady pasts, and stays on the line, putting the phone in speaker mode so she doesn’t miss crucial information.

“You should go, Dr Kimishima,” Navel whispers, eyes getting glassy and unfocused, the speed at which this happens prompting her to check the wound again. The blood has spread even further, making the fabric stick to the wound. “Don’t… let them catch up to you.”

“You’re an idiot if you think I’m leaving you for dead. Plus, I’d rather have to search for amnesty again than get pursued for not helping someone in critical need.”

It’s the pragmatic way to say she’d never handle having his blood on her hands and his death on her conscience. He, however, doesn’t reply, letting uncomfortable silence install itself as they wait for assistance to arrive.

 

When they do, the sirens’ shrills muffle Navel’s breathing, lights almost covering the blood stains on his suit and her fingers, slipping under her nails, drying out already.

It could, however, never erase the image from her mind.


 

Naomi waits in this bedroom, all alone and in silence, for a little while. She doesn’t know how long exactly (probably around half an hour, although it feels like more than that), all she knows is that the chair she’s sitting on isn’t very comfortable and that she needs to remember when to pick Alyssa from school; two things that, for the moment being, don’t matter much.

The weather is beautiful, today. Even earlier, when they were outside, there was a gentle breeze blowing through their hair. She merely forgot about it due to thinking about literally anything else under the sun, mostly her colleague whom she found out wasn’t just randomly hit during the kerfuffle. To be fair, she should’ve guessed that was what had happened when she suddenly found herself on the ground rather than standing, but…

 

She suddenly hears Little Guy stirring and, finally, opening an eye. His injuries were fortunately not as grievous as she was afraid they’d be, even if he’s clearly landed himself for at least a week in the hospital. What an idiot.

“Doc… Doctor Kimishima…?”

“Go back to sleep, Little Guy, you still sound like you’ve pulled a week-long all-nighter.”

As if obeying her (but most likely because losing this much blood tends to leave you weak, and his corpulence isn’t exactly one that’d take kindly to blood loss), his eyelids flutter; but he doesn’t go back to sleep. At least, not yet.

 

“Are you okay…?” He asks, voice recovering some clarity, even if it’s unlike his usual swagger.

“I’m pretty sure I should be the one asking you that, you know; but I’m okay. Better off than you, that’s for sure.”

He chuckles once before groaning in pain.

“Urgh, I forgot how sore post-surgery was…”

“You’ll get used to it. Believe me, I know.”

“I’m sure you do, Dr Kimishima.”

 

She drops the playful banter for something else altogether.

“Oh, and, Little Guy?”

“Yes…?”

“Never do that again. I don’t want to see you covered in your own blood again.”

His face, which is slowly regaining more colour, distorts a little.

“Even if…”

“Even if it means saving my life.”

He looks aside, in silence. She guesses he’s unable to honestly give her the answer she wants to hear, so he instead prefers not to say anything. Well, that’s something she expected would happen: people have told her he was wrapped around her little finger. Too bad that this man got infatuated with someone like her whom death and misfortune follow her every step. He doesn’t seem to mind, though, considering the number of close calls he found himself in when he was by her side. You sometimes have to wonder what other people even think…

“I’ll… I’ll try,” he eventually replies.

 

Naomi can’t stay upset about it forever, especially when she sees how dishevelled and vulnerable he looks with his hair askew, dark rings under his eyes and hospital gown, so far from the sharply-dressed bachelor she’s come to appreciate.

“Good. Just be careful and we’ll be clear.”

“Sure thing, ma’am.”

As long as he doesn’t mind being so close to death, she’ll make sure he doesn’t meet it.