Chapter Sixty One ~ Falling

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Aiden. Aiden. Aiden.

Standing, I walked over the Claw, nearly stumbling as I stepped on her in my rush to get to AidenAidenAidenI'mstillhereAidenpleasedon'tleavemepleasedon'tgodon'tgodon'tgodon'tgoAiden

And then I was there, and he was there, but there was so much blood and his breath was too shallow and too quick and he was making these little hurt animal noises and he was staring at the wound on his chest the best he could with eyes that couldn't quite believe what they were seeing, and he was trying to prop himself with shaking arms in some sort of attempt to show me he was okay or maybe to try and run away or maybe because he was just scared and panicked and shocked and still didn't quite realize what had happened and his arms gave out and he collapsed back down and I barely caught his head before it hit stone and

"Aisa," Aiden gasped.

My hands were on autopilot, shoving my coat under his body to apply pressure on the exit wound and pressing bandages onto his chest, hands bloody and shaking. Aiden let out a small, breathless cry of pain as I pressed onto the wound and even though somewhere in the back of my head I know there's too much blood I do it anyways. If the Claw hit a major artery, Aiden would be dead within a minute. If not, the air entering his chest cavity would kill him in two or three more minutes. If his lung was punctured, he had maybe eight minutes of life, maybe four of consciousness.

Still, I pressed onto his wound.

"Aisa—"

"Shut up," I ordered, my voice strangely calm and distant. "You're not dying."

His voice was small and breathless and filled with pain but still he spoke. "Cashile," he gasped, eyes full of badly hidden panic and pain and shock. "Aisa. Take care of Aisa."

"No," I denied, pressing down on his wound with more pressure. He cried out in pain but didn't have enough breath in him to hold the cry, and I just wanted to stop hurting him in every way.

"Cashile." He reached out, grasping my wrist, his lifeblood slipperystickyhotcooling between our skin. His hand held none of his old strength but still he clung on, desperate for me to listen. I was looking at him but not really seeing him because there was too much fear and panic and God, he was scared, he was so scared, and it was because I couldn't protect him. "I don't want to leave, please, please, I don't want to leave Aisa alone. Please, Cashile, please, I don't wanna go," he gasped, and there were tears rolling down his face. "Aisa, protect Aisa, please. Take care of Aisa. Take care of him for me."

"You'll be able to," I repeated, voice still calm, warbling slightly from suppressed hysteria. "I won't need to take care of Aisa because you'll be able to."

His fingers, so weak, slipped from my wrist and I took one hand off his wound in order to clasp it, desperate for him to squeeze back with his old strength as his eyes began to slip closed. "Aiden?" I asked, voice pitching slightly. "Aiden?"

He struggled to open his eyes again, fighting against the pain and the exhaustion and the shock. "Aisa!" he insisted, voice panicked as strength slipped from his limbs and tears from his eyes. I let go of his hand so I can return mine to his wound, but he didn't seem to notice. "Promise me!"

"Ai—" my voice caught in my throat, and I swallowed heavily. I lowered my head, hands still pressing into the bandages that had long since been soaked through. "I promise."

Despite the pain he must have been in, despite the blood pouring from his body, despite everything, Aiden's entire body relaxed at my words, relief clear in his eyes. There was still fear there, because he'd just been stabbed in the chest and the pain must have been awful and he was scared, he was so scared, but the edge of panic had disappeared.

"Good," he coughed. "And tell him I love him. And tell him to eat all his vegetables, even though he hates them. And.. and—And make sure that he's studying: he's too smart, gets cocky..." He trailed off as pain wracked his form, tears streaming down his face as he tried to get out his last words for his little brother, for Aisa.

A distant, detached part of me thought he was focusing on his brother to hide from the fear he felt, and another part of me thought that he'd been doing that his entire life—focusing on Aisa to hide from his fear—and then I thought that he was more scared of leaving his brother behind than he was of dying. "Tell him I love him. And tell him to mind you. And that I love him. Protect him on missions, like you promised me that day, on the hill, when your mission ran long and I was smoking again and you promised. You gotta protect him, Cashile, you've got to, he gets cocky. And tell him..." He didn't seem to realize that he was repeating himself, and his words tapered off to silence.

"Cashile?" he resumed at last, and I tried to ignore how my heart had stopped beating in those few moments of silence, choosing instead to focus on his wavering voice.

"St... Still here, Aiden," I reassured softly.

"Did you... If I had asked... would you have..."

"Yes, you idiot," I whispered. I wasn't entirely sure what it was he was asking, but I was certain that the answer was yes, that for him, eventually, right now, it would always be yes. He was crying, still, and when he gasped in a sob it was one of the most awful sounds I'd ever heard.

"Oh." The breath left his body in an airless word, and I stared, terrified that it would be his last. "Oh," he repeated, and something like happiness and something like regret sparked in his eyes even as they began to empty, the tears pouring from them. He was silent for several long moments, like he was searching for the words to say or like he couldn't quite organize his thoughts, and tears were still trickling down his cheeks like the blood trickled through my fingers. Everything was leaving him. I was staring, desperate for him to speak, for more words to come out of his mouth, worried each would be his last.

"Good," he finally settled on, and I had the feeling that there was so much more he wanted to say. "Tell Aisa..."

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