Eleni had bitten her nails down to the quick within a few weeks of moving into the cottage. Haeyin never said a word when he bandaged her bloodied fingers for her, gently applying ointment to the dry nail beds she so frequently irritated with dish water and garden soil. These last months had been hard on them both; where Eleni wore her anxieties on her hands in the form of scabs and bloodied cuticles, Haeyin’s were apparent in the dark circles that had not left his freckled face since they arrived here.
He was normally a quiet man, but Haeyin had grown even more distant and reserved with his thoughts after what had happened. Eleni knew part of the reason Haeyin was so clinically controlled with his emotions was because of her, because she herself was beginning to crumble under it all. Truthfully, had it been anyone else, she would have been fine. The work of a healer was often unpleasant, and she had lost patients before. But this was different – this was about Azrael.
There were some mornings where Eleni awoke, where she was allowed a blissful moment of peace before she opened her eyes; in those fleeting seconds, minutes, she could pretend none of this had happened. But the illusion was always broken by the very alien nature of the cottage she found herself in, every sound and every smell far too different to pretend otherwise. And of course, the moment Eleni opened her eyes, she could see what she had been content not to believe; this was not her bed, and where she and Haeyin had grown accustomed to waking up with Azrael spread-eagled in the sheets between the two of them, there was only a cold and empty space.
When she had been captured, Eleni had prayed that Azrael would not come for her. She knew it was futile to hope that he might abandon that protective instinct within him, but it was exactly what her captors wanted – to lure him into a trap in the hopes of destroying them both, to eliminate their most powerful adversary and “her fool of a lapdog”. Truly, they were the foolish ones in the equation, for Eleni knew Azrael was a force to be reckoned with, and to cross him was a death sentence. Had they not nullified her own abilities with those accursed bindings they had captured her with, she would have obliterated the lot of them herself.
But of course, in his own way Azrael was a fool. He wouldn’t dare lay a finger on them with her life on the line, even if logically Eleni was in no real danger of being harmed by such pitiful mortals. He had obliged their wishes, trusting them not to go back on their word once he delivered proof of their demands, proof that he had betrayed the chosen hero. He had done that, all for her – betrayed the trust of his friends, and what did either of them have to show for it?
Her captors had been anything but kind. She still had thick bands of purple staining her skin where the hated metal had burned her, dug into her wrists where she had strained against them. Her own screams haunted her nightmares as she relived that moment, where the blow had collided with Azrael’s face faster than the blink of an eye…
It had been a blessing that Haeyin had shown up when he did, following his friend’s trail knowing how reckless Azrael could be on occasion. Eleni had been unbound as a final cruelty, to permit her to weep hysterically as she shook Azrael’s motionless form, begging him to wake up. Even then, it had been Haeyin who adopted the mask of the doctor in that moment, his seamless calm guiding Eleni through the steps necessary to save Azrael’s life.
As he always did with these sorts of things, he had healed rather quickly – physically, at the very least. After the initial injury, she and Haeyin had pooled their magic, working tirelessly to save him. Even for an immortal, he had been unresponsive when the shot had cleaved his face. He had stopped breathing, and though her training urged her to do so Eleni was too frightened to check for a pulse, too frightened of the possibility – that such a permanent, irrevocable part of her life had been snuffed out like a candle.
They knew that his enemies would come looking for them, to ensure that Eleni and Azrael had not survived, and so they had fled the moment they were certain Azrael would not bleed out. The cottage had been an old home of Eleni’s long ago, before her work as a healer and an oracle had led her elsewhere. It was quiet and remote, and served as a perfect location for Azrael’s recovery. They had all they needed to survive here, waiting for him to wake up.
Those first few weeks had been the hardest. He barely looked like himself, his hair shorn close to his scalp from the impromptu surgery she and Haeyin had been forced to perform, half of his face concealed beneath thick, white bandages. She had lost count of the stitches after surpassing ninety-seven, and every time Eleni changed the linen wrappings she felt a lump rise in her throat. They had been unable to save his left eye, and much of his face would be permanently scarred. Only time would tell if his mind could recover from the trauma, and not knowing the extent of the damage was what tormented Eleni most of all.
She bit her nails as she regarded his still form in the cot, barely noticing the taste of blood in her mouth.