A/N: So, it's LamiaJade's birthday, we "met" years ago over fic, and through the years she has become a (blush) fan of my boys. In honor of her day, a couple of black birds told me she might enjoy a little something to celebrate. Odd creatures said that she wanted a little hurt/comfort with a dash of angst. Ravens, they are strange things. Happy Birthday, I hope you enjoy! This one is for you…
The apartment was quiet—an unnatural quiet—the usual bustle of things from outside was muted. The songs of the birds had ceased, there was no noise from the shop below. In fact, the only sound was the water running as Rob prepared another cloth for Galen. The soft squeak of the door let him know someone had come in. He glanced into the living room, Flash was standing at the top of the stairs, his face white, his eyes questioning.
Rob swallowed hard before he could force out an answer. "No change," he said, his voice as harsh as if he had been screaming.
Flash's face fell. Each moment longer, they knew hope was slipping away. It had been two days already, Rob wasn't sure how much longer Galen could last. If the fever would just break...
Three Days Before
Rob watched as another client left, laden with herbs to help get over the lingering effects of a virus that was rapidly spreading through the community. The problem was the parts of the community that were hardest hit were those that couldn't go to the hospital. The Apothecary had many non-human customers and the illness was racing through their ranks like the plague had once gone through Europe. Humans were having mostly flu-like symptoms, the others—it ranged from a serious flu to high fever and death. There was no predicting which individual in a group it would hit the hardest. Marc Nelson, one of Galen's regular clients—a werewolf—had the flu. Other werewolves couldn't be saved, no matter how hard Galen tried.
And he had been trying. There was a steady flow of customers, and it hadn't let up. Rob was frantic watching as Galen stepped out of the back where he had his client area, increasingly pale with each visit. He'd started insisting his brother take at least half an hour between each client no matter what, and even with the muted they now shared, Rob could tell his brother was getting increasingly ill.
He'd started worrying—to the point he'd alerted Mike Silva, their friend and an ER doctor. Mike had casually dropped by, claiming he needed to restock his supply of vitamin C, and while he was there, Rob could see him keeping his eye on Galen. As soon as Galen stepped into the back with a client, Mike and Rob had a quick conference. They needed to figure out a way to get Galen to rest, and get him to stop using up all his energy on healing others. What a lot of people didn't realize about Galen's Gift of healing was it took a lot out of him to heal, and the more he used it—or the more serious the illness or injury—the harder it was for him to recover.
"Hey, Brat, can I get a coffee?" Galen said softly, coming out of the back.
"I'll go get one right now." Rob glanced at his brother, Galen was pale, dark circles were under his eyes. "Just sit down and stay there."
"I will." Galen sank onto the stool behind the counter.
Rob headed out of the shop and across the street to the coffee stand. It was late in the day, Becci was already gone. He wished she was still there, she usually lightened his mood. "Hey, Sarah, can I get a mocha?" he asked as he reached the window.
"Sure." She smiled at him. "How's Galen doing?"
"When he was over here earlier, he didn't look good, is he catching that flu that's going around?" Sarah sighed. "Flash had just a touch of it, and he was down for two days. It's really awful!"
"I know," Rob agreed.
"I just don't get why they can't fix it."
"Yeah, viruses are hard," Rob said absently, watching a dark figure walk down the street.
"That's what they were saying on the news. It's weird that it's hitting Tacoma this hard, though, and no place else."
"What was that?" Rob turned to her, his attention on what she was saying.
"This flu, it's all here in Tacoma, it was on the news last night." She finished the mocha and handed it to him. "Here you go, I added sprinkles, Flash says they help."
"He would." Rob was back to watching the dark figure. Whoever it was opened the door to the Apothecary and stepped in. Notanother,notyet!Rob growled, wishing their bond still functioned well enough to get that message across to his brother. As it was, he smiled his thanks to Sarah and started to walk quickly across the road.
The next instant it was like something slammed into him with the force of a semi. He was down, his knees aching from the impact. He heard Sarah's shout, but he was already back up, racing into the shop. The dark figure was gone.
"Galen!" he shouted, dashing through the store and into he back. The door to the parking lot was open, he ran out. "Galen!" The lot was empty, he glanced around desperately and spotted Galen's leg. His brother had made it to the safety of the garden. When Rob got closer he realized the dark thing was lying on the ground, hidden in the shadow of his Jeep.
Rob ignored it as he raced to his brother. He knelt down beside him and gently turned him over. His heart nearly stopped, a vile, black blade was imbedded in his brother's shoulder. It had meant to be a killing thrust, but Galen had deflected it. Even weak, his brother was a fierce fighter. The fact it could have all happened in the moments it took for him to get back from the coffee stand was astounding.
"Rob?" Galen groaned.
"How bad are you hurt?" Rob asked, keeping his voice as brisk as possible. The pain coming off his brother was horrific, the fact it was that strong through the muted bond was more than enough to panic him.
"Get it out," Galen said firmly.
"It's serrated, it will do more…"
"You have to get it out now, Rob." Galen opened his eyes, Rob gasped. The white of this brother's eyes were going black.
"Okay." Rob grasped the hilt with one hand and braced the other against Galen's shoulder. He took a deep breath and pulled it out as quickly and cleanly as he could. Galen's moan of pain became a soft shout as the blade cleared his skin. "Galen?"
"Elder, melissa, yarrow, get it now," Galen mumbled, his eyes glazed with fever, the weird black still filling them.
Getting up, Rob tossed the vile blade into the place where Galen had cast the strongest part of the Bolting spell for the garden. The whole area was protected, but that particular area was "extra hefty" as Flash was fond of saying.
"What'shappened?" a deep voice cried. Rob looked up to see Dor and Dera the King's Ravens dropping from the sky.
"Help me, I need elder, melissa and yarrow." Rob was headed towards the elderberry plant and he knew the ravens would get the other plants. When he dropped back down beside Galen, his brother's eyes were closed. "I've got the plants, now what? Galen!"
"In the wound."
"But…" Rob began, then stopped. His brother knew what he was talking about. Taking the offerings from the ravens, Rob crushed them a little to bruise the leaves and slipped them under Galen's shirt and pressed them into the wound. Galen screamed.
"What the hell?" Flash was suddenly beside them.
"Flash? Where'd you come from?" Rob asked bewildered.
"I was on my way over, and Sarah called, said something was going on, she didn't know what, but you fell in the street, dropped your coffee and took off—and never came back for more coffee. I knew something was wrong."
At any other time, Rob would have laughed. Right now, he was fighting a wave of nausea that was washing through the bond. "I need help, we have to get him upstairs, then call Mike."
"No Mike," Galen muttered.
"Yes, Mike," Flash said firmly.
"Youmustletushelpyou," Dera said worriedly.
"No needles," Galen said.
"Really? Needles?" Flash scoffed. "You've been stabbed, hacked, had something tear itself out of your chest and needles bother you?"
"Yes," Galen said firmly. "Cold."
"We need to get him inside, help me get him up." Rob and Flash gently lifted Galen to his feet, the ravens flew in front of them, calling encouragement. By the time they reached Galen's room, he was a dead weight. Rob laid him on top the bedspread and went to get the first aid supplies, thinking to clean the wound. He could get more of the herbs later, but he needed to get the wound clean—anything could have been on the blade.
He hauled the heavy trunk into Galen's room, then went back to get a wash cloth with soap and water. After slipping Galen's shirt off—his brother tried to help, but he was getting increasingly unable to focus—Rob washed the wound clean of dirt and debris. The jagged tear the knife had made when it exited his brother's body made him ill, but he cleaned it, then turned to the medical chest. Everything was labeled, the labels typed out with Latin names, common name and uses, magical and medicinal. Ron started pulling items out, wondering what he'd need. The wound was oozing black, he had to stop that, but he had no idea how.
"Trythebluebottle," Dor said from where he was perched on the edge of the chest.
"You think that will help?"
"Untilweknowwhatthisis,yes.DeraandIwillseekanswers.Wewillreturnassoonaswecan." The raven nipped his hand gently and swept out the door.
"Mike said he'd be here in ten minutes." Flash stopped in the door. "Black gunk is never good."
"No," Rob said, holding on to his calm. He was beginning to feel a phantom pain in his shoulder. "Gods!" Sudden realization hit him.
"What?" Flash turned to the door, ready to defend the entrance.
"They were counting on the blade taking us both out. The infection is spreading to me, but because the bond is nearly broken, I don't think enough can get through." Rob looked at the bottle and the label. Taking a deep breath, he opened it and swallowed some. The reaction was instantaneous. Fire burned down his throat, although that he suspected it was caused by the alcohol Galen used to extract the herbs, but the sudden throbbing ache in his shoulder had nothing to do with that. A moment later a huge wave of nausea hit him and he dashed for the bathroom, shoving the bottle in Flash's hands as he ran past. "Pour it on the wound and into him if you can!" he said as he ran past.
He just made it, his stomach started emptying itself of the black poison, when he was sure it was over, he rinsed his mouth out with mouthwash and headed back to the bedroom. Flash was standing by the bed, his face white. Rob realized that Galen was completely still, his chest barely rising and falling with each breath he took.
"I killed him," Flash said, anguished.
"No, you didn't." Rob walked over and took the bottle from their friend. He could see the stain where Flash had poured the liquid on the wound, and a tiny drop on Galen's face.
"He did this convulsion thing, then like this," Flash said, backing away. "I killed him."
"It's a reaction to the herbs, Flash."
"Then why didn't he barf?"
"It was probably too deep already, and he can't fight it. He's been taxing the healing with this plague and now with the…"
"Fuck," Flash said. "They were trying to stop him—you—weren't they?"
"From healing people, why?"
"Maybe because they were trying to kill them off, you know like bio warfare or something."
"Have you been watching too much SyFy again?" Rob asked, trying for a laugh.
"It's not really that outlandish, not from what Galen's been telling me," Mike Silva said. "I let myself in. Rhiannon is in the store."
"Thanks, Mike," Rob said, stepping away so the doctor could work.
"Why don't you two go and get some coffee, or sit in the living room or something?" the doctor asked, in a tone that was more command than question.
"We'll be in the living room," Flash grumbled and grabbed Rob's arm, pulling him out of the room. "How'd it happen?"
"I don't know. I saw the thing that did it go in the store. It was out under the Jeep when we brought Galen in."
"Okay, let's go check it out."
They headed downstairs and out into the back. Rob was aware of the low throb of pain pulsing through the bond, and his brother's increasing fever. He took a deep breath and tried to focus some small part of healing back down the line, knowing it wouldn't be enough, but seeing the tiny puff of white light made him feel better.
The thing was still there. Flash grabbed its leg and hauled it out into the sun. Galen must have used up the last of his healing as a weapon against it. There was a huge burned hole in its chest. It was like shadow made solid, oily black, giving off the odd odor that reminded Rob of…
"It smells like those things we fought with the Hunt."
The thing did have the rotting flesh, unworldly scent of the feorhbealu and their armies. Rob bent close, trying to get a better look, but the sunlight was beginning to wither the body. Tiny wisps of smoke were rising from it as it started to dissolve. Before it could completely disappear, Rob searched it. There were two more blades like the one it had stabbed Galen with, he took them and carried them to the garden. The first blade was already twisted into a useless heap of metal. He dropped the other two beside it, marveling at the power his brother had woven into the garden.
"Huh." Flash said a few moments later.
"I know a lot of people have this virus, but the ones who were really hit—me, Rhiannon, Marc, a lot of them were with us at that battle."
"You think this has to do with the feorhbealu?" Rob asked.
"I think something is rocking the world, Rob, and not in a good way. Yes, I think it does," Flash said, deadly serious, the dark intelligence that was there, but rarely showing in his eyes. "First the Hunt, then our friend out in the Gorge, and now this—think about it. It could be revenge, it could be trying to weaken the people who would help you or who might work with you in the future. It could be something paving the way for something else that's coming."
"You've been to your Rune reader again?" Rob leaned against the bench.
"Maybe, but it doesn't matter. Think about it, and you'll see it's just too damn coincidental. This attack on Galen was meant to take you both out—you said it yourself."
"I did. So where does that leave us?"
"Up shit creek without a paddle would be my guess."
Rob sat down beside the bed, gently wiping the cloth over his brother's face. At least the hallucinations were over. They had lasted for nearly thirty-six hours, and listening to them had been almost too much. More than once Rob had left the room, leaving Galen's care in the hands of Flash, Mike or Rhiannon. He knew his brother still suffered from the scars the Old One left, but he never realized how deep they still were. When Galen was better, they were talking about it. The soft if that often went with Galen healing was getting louder, especially now that he had dropped into what Mike thought was a coma. They weren't sure, Rob could sense Galen, but just that he was alive, there was no other spark there at all.
A soft tap pulled him out of his musings, he looked up. The ravens were sitting on the fire escape outside the window. He opened it and they hopped in. "Where have you been?" he demanded, trying not to sound sharp.
"Seekinganswersofcourse,MyKing," Dor said. The dark bird only used the title when he was annoyed or upset.
"Sorry." Rob ran a hand through his hair.
"Wefoundthem," Dera added, his voice deeper than Dor's.
"WewenttoGaius,hetoldustoseekonewhowalkedtheBetweenWorld.Itiswhywehavebeengonesolong.Timeisdifferentthere," Dera said softly.
"Wehavebroughtacharm." Dor jumped to the bed and dropped an amulet on Rob's leg. "We'vecomealongwaywiththat."
"What do I do with it?" Rob asked, picking up the small piece of metal. It glowed, even with his dimmed Sight, it glowed and an odd warmth trickled into his hand.
"Place it between the wound and his heart."
Rob pulled the blankets down and set the charm on Galen's chest. The glow altered, becoming visible even without the Sight. "Now what?"
"Wewait,andprayitisnottoolate.Thefeorhbealuaremassingagain.Theysentoutthissicknessasawarning,likeinthedaysoftheplague.ItwouldtouchthosewhoaidedtheCustodes Noctis thenspreadbeyondwhenithadgainedenoughstrength," Dera explained.
"Oh, great, Flash was right."
"Wewon'ttellhim." Dor chuckled softly and leaned against Rob. He gently stroked the raven's sleek feathers, needing the support. "Waitingishard,butthisshouldlethimgointoaHealer'sTrance."
"If he can, we win."
"Hewill," Dera assured him.
Rob stayed where he was, watching and waiting. Flash brought coffee, Mike came and checked on Galen, and still there was no change.
He was beginning to lose hope.
It was late, the clock had just chimed in the living room. The ravens were perched on the bookshelves, their eyes never moving from Galen's face. Rob was half asleep, his hand resting on his brother's—physical contact let the bond remain even when Galen was unconscious. Suddenly, everything changed. Galen sighed softly, took a deep breath and Rob knew his brother had moved from the stillness of the near-death coma to the deep healing of the Trance. The tension slipped from Rob, and he had just enough time to get his feet up before he dropped into sleep.
The sun was coming in the window when the scent of brewing coffee woke him. The ravens were gone. Rob glanced over, Galen's face was no longer a sickly gray and the wound was healing. "I'll be right back," he said quietly and stepped out of the room. He grabbed clean clothes and took a shower. When he wandered into the kitchen, Flash and the ravens were at the table.
"Morning," Rob said.
"Hey, Becci dropped off some food for these two and a coffee for you. I didn't want to wake you so I, um, drank it a little."
"Okay, I drank it all, but I made a pot. And got out the weird food container thing for the ravens. Becci and Sarah both seem to think they prefer fresh food."
"Whichisdisgusting," Dor laughed.
"Fresh." Dera ruffled his feathers in derision.
"Thanks, Flash," Rob said, pouring himself a coffee and sitting down. "He's better."
"I know, I checked on you both when she brought the coffee. I decided to let you sleep, you needed it."
"That clock can't be right," Rob said, staring at the wall.
"What?" Flash turned around. "It's four-thirty."
"Oh, no wonder my neck is stiff." Rob rolled his head and felt his neck pop. "Who's in the store?"
"Rhiannon. Sean and Pete were earlier, but she chased them out with a broom." Flash laughed. "Seriously, with a broom."
"Rob?" The call was so faint at first he thought he'd imagined it, but the ravens heard as well. They were up and winging through the apartment an instant later. Rob and Flash followed.
"Galen!" Rob said as he reached the room. His brother was awake. "How do you feel?"
"Like I need coffee." Galen sighed as he tried to struggle into a sitting position.
"That's his line," Flash said, laughing and pointing at Rob. He left the room. "My job though."
Rob helped his brother up, tucking the pillows behind his back as the ravens poked at the blankets. "How are you feeling?"
"Better." Galen smiled. "How long?"
"Couple of days," Rob said casually. Galen squeezed his arm. "The ravens found the cure."
"Yes,andtheillnesshasceasedtospreadfornow," Dera said, leaning happily against Galen, looking for all the world like a satisfied kitten.
"I don't like that for now part." Flash handed Galen a cup of coffee.
"I don't either," Rob said.
"Thereissomethingcoming.Theworldisdisturbed," Dor said.
"It always is," Flash said, dropping into a chair on the other side of the bed. "But we got out of this creek."
"Yeah, you know, the creek." Flash stared at Dor.
"There was no water."
"There was, and we had no paddle."
"WhatinalltheWorldsareyoutalkingabout?" Dor demanded.
"For smart birds, you're kinda dumb sometimes."
"Look who's talking."
Galen chuckled, Rob felt the warmth of the bond—what tiny bit there was of it—hum gently in the back of his head. For now, at least, they had made it through.