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23:32

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To say it had been a long day would be an understatement. Lucio had been in a mood, cursing and damning anyone and anything that had the misfortune of crossing his path. No matter what Julian was doing, he had to drop it for it was Jules this and Jules that. Oh, how he despised that name. Jules. And in that godawful accent of his. However, it was better than hearing him whine when saying his full name. There were days where hearing the Count just breathe would spark the most annoying headache and today had quickly become one of those days. Due to Lucio and his tantrums, it had become impossible for Julian to run off to meet with the Countess, per their ritual. He almost didn’t have time to write a note in place of meeting her, explaining why he couldn’t and how he’d make it up to her.

He could’ve used the excuse of being a doctor and needing to check on the Countess, but Lucio wasn’t entirely stupid. He’d catch onto that eventually and then when she’d actually need him, he wouldn’t be able to assist. Now wasn’t the time for the doctor to burn the only bridge he had with Lucio, no matter how one-sided their relationship was, as Nadia was expecting and needed a physician ready should anything happen.

In fact, that was one of the reasons he decided to spend most of his days at the palace. It was to watch over her and the unborn child. He knew from the moment her symptoms started to show that this wouldn’t be easy on anyone involved, but she was determined. Both she and Lucio seemed excited, and that was all the doctor needed to push aside his feelings and be professional. He had made the decision to cut back on their activities, but he couldn’t cut ties completely, so he had settled with daily talks and occasional kisses. Nadia had become his addiction and letting her go cold turkey would’ve ended badly. Plus, it would’ve looked suspicious to everyone else if he were to simply disappear once it was announced the Countess was with child. However, he had a feeling Lucio knew but didn’t care enough to expose them. Much like how Nadia knew of her husband and Valerius.

 

Lucio had clung to Julian as he tried to leave for the night, trying to get in bed with him by saying “C’mon, Jules. You’re the doctor. Don’t you know that this is the best way to make me feel better?”

Julian let out a heavy sigh as he managed to free himself from the Count’s grasp. “Lucio, no. I’m not in the mood to hear you talk about how great you were—“

“But you admit I’m great, right?” At that, Lucio had the smuggest smirk on his face, putting his hands on his hips in victory. What the doctor wouldn’t give to wipe that smirk off his face…

Julian deflated a little, bringing a hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose as he closed his eyes. “Shut up, you twit… Not today.”

The Count’s smirk quickly turned into a pout and then a sneer as he finally waved the doctor off and turned on his heel, walking away. “Fine, I’ll go bother Valerius. But don’t think this is over, Jules! I’ll remember this attitude when I finally—“

“Yes, yes, I know! Now good night, your royal highness,” he retorted with a role of his eyes and raised middle finger.

Finally free of the childlike count, Julian cracked his neck and rolled his shoulders, letting out the biggest sigh. He stood there in silence for a moment or two before draping his long jacket over his arm and walking out of the palace. A hand came up to rub his face as he walked, mind shutting off from all of the useless work he was made to do throughout the day.

Maybe that was why Lucio kept him busy. The fact he knew and could potentially be jealous wasn’t something the doctor gave much thought to until now. In fact, he was mentally kicking himself for not thinking of it sooner because Lucio was just childish enough to get jealous of his wife getting into the doctor’s pants when he couldn’t, despite having Valerius on the side already.

It was moments like this where he wished he had his sister or even his aunt around so he could talk about the things going on in his mind. But alas, he had made the decision to leave them behind years ago to study medicine. Now he only had Mazelinka who spent more time scolding him than anything. However, she had her moments when it was clear something was bothering the man. Part of Julian was hoping she would be home when he showed up and the other part hoped she wasn’t so he wouldn’t feel bad going to the tavern to drink the night away. Or maybe he’d actually get some sleep tonight.

The idea of sleep seemed far more attractive to the doctor than staying at the tavern. With that in mind, his feet took him down the paths winding through Vesuvia, avoiding most of the remaining evening traffic by slipping through dark alleyways. He knew the city like the back of his hand and found himself walking with his eyes closed for most of his journey.

By the time he reached Mazelinka’s cottage, he didn’t have the energy to take the window like he usually did. He was emotionally worn out and all he wanted to do was lie down. He opened the too-short door and called out for the owner.

“Mazelinka? Are you awake?” he closed the door behind him, hanging his coat on the hook next to the exit. He looked around, not seeing any signs of life, which either meant the old woman was asleep or out.

After checking behind the curtain that led to the small “bedroom,” if one was to even consider it that, and crouching down to check the cubby in the floor, Julian pressed his lips into a line before teeth sunk into the bottom one.

“Must be out raising Hell…” he murmured as he stood, knees cracking from the change in position.

He ran his hands through his hair as he walked back to the “bedroom,” falling face first onto the mattress. Arms snaked themselves under the pillow as he buried his face into it, eyes closed and mind completely off before he even landed.

The next thing Julian knew, he was being shaken awake by Mazelinka. He had no idea how much time had passed or when she had gotten back, but all he could focus on was how concerned she looked. He quickly sat up, any remaining tiredness being left on the pillow.

“Mazelinka, what happen—“

“There are guards… From the palace. What did you do, Ilyushka?” The woman’s voice dropped to a hiss as she questioned the doctor, hitting him in the shoulder.

He blinked repeatedly as he rubbed where she hit him. Guards from the palace? At this hour? He glared at the woman, reaching out to stop her hand before she could hit him again. “Stop. I didn’t do anything. I told you I’m just a friend and the leading physician.”

His voice trailed off as it finally hit him. Nadia.

He pushed the older woman onto the bed as he launched off of it, making his way to the door as fast as possible. He threw it open and was met with two out of breath soldiers.

“Dr—Dr. Devorak. You’re needed…”

“It’s the Countess!”

Julian didn’t need to hear anything else they had to say, nor did he say anything to Mazelinka before he took off running out of the cottage. Of course something would happen on the one night he tried to sleep! This was just his luck. Now he had to run as fast as he could through Vesuvia and pray to God she was still alive when he got there.

“Dr. Dev-Devorak! Wait up!” the two soldiers called for him, but he wasn’t listening. There were only two things on his mind at the moment and they were to keep running and prayers to a God he wasn’t sure existed that Nadia was OK.

In his panicked state, he had made it to the palace in a third of the time it would’ve normally taken him. The gate was already open, presumably so that the soldiers who went to fetch him could make a hasty return.

There was no time for pleasantries as he ran by guards and burst through the doors leading into the palace. He looked around and saw one of the midwives who kept him updated on things as this was most definitely not his field of expertise. She was nervously chewing on her thumbnail as she paced from wall to wall. He came to a stop in front of her, breathing heavy. He tried asking where she was, but the words just wouldn’t come out. He was aware that he looked more like the distressed partner than the professional doctor, but he didn’t care. Part of his job, especially here at the palace, was to make sure nothing happened to his patients, and now something was happening to his two dearest patients.

The midwife pointed in the direction of Nadia’s chambers and the doctor took off once more. This time, he didn’t run, needing to catch his breath before he ran into anyone else. He needed to keep his hands busy, so he decided to roll his sleeves up. His jaw was set as he made his way through the corridors, not stopping to talk to a soul until he reached the wing where everything was happening.

His breath caught in his throat as he saw the chaos flowing in and out of the Countess’ bedroom. He placed a hand on the wall to steady himself, taking a few seconds to pull himself together. He took a few deep breaths before he started walking towards the room.

“Someone update me. Now.”

His voice caught the attention of some of the maids that were hovering around. Those who turned to look at him looked as distraught as he felt, but he didn’t dare let that show now.

“M-milady… She said she wasn’t feeling well earlier…”

“So she… She retired early.”

“Then the next thing we knew, she was screaming for help.”

Julian listened to the women as they talked, trying to figure out when the Countess could’ve retired for the evening and if he was still here or not. There was good chance he was and that annoyed him. She knew she could always tell him if she wasn’t feeling well, so what stopped her this time?

“Coming through!” The head midwife called as she pushed through the door, carrying a small bundle, both her and the bundle covered in blood.

He swallowed hard as he took a step to the side, but the woman stopped in front of him anyway. “It’s no good,” she said. “Poor thing just wasn’t meant for this world…” While her voice had sadness to it, it also held a sense of professionalism as if this wasn’t the first time she had delivered a stillborn, and it probably wasn’t. “Dr. Devorak, while you’re here, can you declare her deceased?”

“A little girl, huh…” his voice was quiet as he carefully took the bundle from the midwife and examine her. He used the cloth she was wrapped in to wipe the slime and blood away, not wanting any of it to get on his hands if he is to go check on the Countess after this. However, doing so provided him with quite the shock. That wasn’t blonde or purple hair underneath it all. It was red.

Oh, God. He felt sick.

“Dr. Devorak?” the midwife asked, noticing the change in the doctor’s demeanor.

“O-oh, yes… Uh… I—she’s gone. I can’t find a heartbeat and I cannot detect any signs of her b-breathing…” He turned his head into his shoulder and coughed into it, clearing his throat. Grey eyes scanned the hall for a clock, narrowing as they finally found one, “Time of death 23:32.”

The midwife nodded as she carefully took the bundle from Julian. “I’ll take her down to the morgue for now. What should I tell the Count?”

“Don’t tell him anything. He’ll want to hear it from me. The rest of you can go. I’ll take care of the Countess for the rest of the night.” He grabbed the handle of the door and stopped, turning to look at the women. “Actually, one of you go and find Lucio. If he says he’s busy, tell him I sent you and for him to find me immediately.”

He stared each one of them down until he received some form of sign that they heard him and walked off. Once they were gone, he turned back to the door and pressed his forehead to it, taking deep breaths. It hadn’t crossed his mind that there was possibility of the child being his. He just assumed that it was always Lucio’s as he and the Countess were together more often than he was with her. He felt the tell-tale tickle in his nose and burning in his eyes.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. FUCK.

His knuckles tightened around the handle as he took one more breath. He needed to pull himself together for her. He was her doctor, for God’s sake! So without hesitating any longer, he opened the door and walked into the dark room. It looked like Hell had fallen upon it and he was sure everyone felt it had.

He motioned to the door with his head, signaling for the remaining maids to take their leave. “It’s okay. I’ve got it from here,” he tried to keep his voice soft, not wanting to disturb the Countess, but judging by the way she jumped, she wasn’t expecting him or anyone to speak up.

He stood off to the side as the maid’s finished gathering all of the soiled sheets and blankets, having laid fresh ones out for the Countess but were being kicked out before they could finish the job. Nadia was curled up in the chair, facing the balcony. Truth be told, he had never seen her so vulnerable and it broke his heart.

“Nadia, my dear… Why didn’t you tell me you weren’t feeling well?” he asked quietly, gently, closing the door once the final maid had left with an armful of bloodied blankets.

There was a small sniffle from the Countess, serving as the only response he would get from her.

He frowned as he walked over to her and carefully lifted her up. “C’mere, love…” he cooed, taking her spot in the chair, now holding her on his lap. He kept his arms around her tightly as she buried her face into the crook of his neck. She wasn’t a woman who broke down easily and she never wanted the world to see her tears. So it didn’t surprise him that she shut down like this. Hiding her face to shield him from seeing the pain that was shining through.

A hand rubbed soothing circles on her back as he pressed a kiss to the top of her head. He murmured sweet words to her. “Everything will be OK… I’m here.”

However, his words barely scratched the surface of his own emotions. He knew Nadia was going through something he could never understand and the last thing he wanted was to make her feel even worse by asking if she had seen it to. And he didn’t want to say anything else for fear she might blame herself for not calling for him sooner or blame him for not being here when he should’ve known better.

His thoughts were interrupted by Nadia’s soft voice after what felt like ages but was closer to thirty minutes. “Nadira…”

“Hm…?” He hummed, pulling back enough to look down at the woman in his arms.

She looked up at him with tears in her eyes. “That’s what I want to name her… Nadira.”

His heart either skipped a beat or stopped all together, he couldn’t tell as time seemed to freeze at her words. He smiled softly at her before nodding a little. “I think that’s a beautiful name, Countess…”