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Debridement

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Cleaning a wound follows a few simple steps. Rinse the area, soak gauze in a sterile solution, and wipe away any fresh blood or debris. Cover the area to prevent further damage.

Cleaning an infected wound is more involved, but still a relatively mindless affair. Bathe the afflicted area in saltwater, wash away any signs of the infection, and repeat until it has healed completely.

You’ve had plenty of practice with both. While you’re sure you would be no match for a trained mediculler, you could do simple first aid with your eyes closed.

But cleaning sweeps-old, infected wounds that are less a singular injury and more a mass of ruined skin, scar tissue and newly rotting flesh intermingling until it is impossible to tell if any part of the ocular stem still remains…

It is more complicated than you could have imagined. A less stubborn troll would count it as a lost cause and move on.

“Are we doing this… or what.”

A less stubborn troll would never have gotten into this situation.

Folykl sits hunched with her arms around her knees. The two of you are in your ablutionblock, to minimise the mess, and her socked feet curl uncomfortably against the cold tiles.

“I'm just figuring out how I want to tackle this. It’s a big mess.“

Understatement of the sweep.

Folykl huffs, picking at her sleeve. Her clothes are in the wash, and so she’s wearing one of your old sweaters, the fabric ratty and worn thin at the elbows. The maroon of it against her skin makes a certain sort of sickness twist in your nutrition sack.

“Good thing you like messes...” she mutters, then inches forward a little more. “Just  get on with it.”

You get on with it.

You dip the cloth into a shallow bowl of water you’d set aside for this purpose. The rubber gloves have been discarded; your work here is far too delicate, and they would only restrict you. Still, you’re careful not to touch her directly as you wipe the area under one eye, starting off slow. The cloth meets only minor resistance and comes away black. You rinse it out, watch dead skin flake off and sink to the bottom of the bowl.

Wipe. Rinse. Folykl doesn’t flinch, though you can almost feel her discomfort.

You didn’t expect her to let you do this. She’d reluctantly taken your advice on managing her affliction, no longer coating herself with grime on purpose in a desperate attempt at insulation, but that was as far as she would let you help in the past. Jokes about taking her hive and scrubbing her clean were left as just that, and if she often made excuses to intercept your work routes it wasn’t anything to read into.

You’re considering this as you steadily clean a ring around both sockets, the water in the bowl turning a dark, murky brown. There are some patches which seem permanently discoloured, and there’s not much you can do for those, but the skin underneath is relatively undamaged and…surprisingly soft. You graze it lightly with one thumb.

“What.”

You stand and move to pour out the water. “You really don’t bathe much, do you?“

“Is that…a surprise?”

“No.” Sighing, you lean against the counter. The silence stretches on for a few moments, broken only by the sound of running water, until you turn to stop the faucet and carry the bowl back down to her. You sift through your supplies for a moment. “I’m going to try and clear some of that shit out next. Hold still.”

“No… I thought I would try dancing... while you've got clippers in my face.”

You roll your eyes at the snark and lean in again.

There’s no use coating it in sucrose. The sockets are disgusting. There is no way you could come close to healing a fraction of the damage. But you do what you can.

You work, using surgical scissors to cut away patches of hyperkeratotic tissue until there is a small pile of dead flesh forming on the tile.

You puncture a series of swollen, burning lumps along one bone ridge and carefully wipe away the yellow pus and greyish, foul-smelling fluid that drains out of them.

You change the water in the bowl every time it dirties, and you soon lose track of how many times you have repeated this cycle.

It’s not nearly enough. But slowly, you start finding living tissue amongst the rot. You exhume it with knife and water, scrape away the decaying flesh and hope, with a near feverish desperation, that you are good enough to help.

Through all of this you never touch her directly, but still you can feel the heat bleeding out of your fingertips. Your stomach churns with a dizzying vertigo brought on by the closeness. You have to take breaks every so often, rubbing feeling back into the numb digits and breathing slowly while the bowl fills. You don’t say anything. Folykl’s body stiffens with guilt anyway.

When at last you’re satisfied that you have done all you can, you realise that neither of you have spoken in several minutes. “How does it feel?“

Folykl lifts her hand to her face. You grab it before she makes contact, taking a cloth and wiping down her fingers while she patiently waits, until you let go and she almost hesitantly touches her fingers to the rim of one socket.

She traces over the wound, sticks her fingers inside to feel the newly uncovered skin. It must hurt, the way she prods at it, but she doesn’t seem to notice.

In fact, through everything you’ve done, she’s barely flinched, and it makes you wonder just how much pain the rot causes if this no longer registers.

“It feels…better.” She sounds almost as surprised as you are. She sucks in a breath, touches a patch on the underside of the left socket where you had removed a large chunk of necrotic tissue. Her hand shakes slightly as she lowers it back to her lap.

You watch the movement. You see the claw marks on her palm, where she must have been gripping tight. You look back up at her face, at the tight set of her lips, the mixture of upset and relief there.

It helped. Abruptly, you feel like collapsing, the tension that’s been wound tight in your shoulders finally dissipating. You don’t give into the feeling. You can break once she leaves, once nobody is around to see it. For now, you are a surgeon and nothing more. Then Folykl lifts her head, smiling, and two things happen at once.

She opens her mouth to speak.

And a trilling, involuntary sound leaves your lips.

Silence. The vertigo returns, though for different reasons.

“Did you just… pity chirp at me.”

You’re still holding the washcloth. You slowly lean over to dunk it into the bowl, staring down at the water as you rub the fabric together. It comes away dirty. You need to change the water.

“…Marsti.”

That startles you. Folykl never addresses you by name; in all honesty, you weren’t completely sure she knew it. You look up, and she is staring at you with a silent sort of deliberation.

Before you can force yourself to respond, she leans in and presses your lips together.

It doesn’t last long. Not nearly as long as you would have liked. But she draws back and stares at you again, waiting, and you dry off your hands and turn to face her.

“You’re… serious about this.”

It’s not a question.

“You know I’m not going to be around long.”

“I know.”

This time it’s Folykl’s turn to go quiet. Her hands knot in her lap, and she watches you for a few long seconds. Then, “Okay.”

“Okay?”

“If you’re… sure about it. I want this too.” It’s a strange amount of sincerity, coming from her, and you can tell saying it makes her uncomfortable. You don’t look the proverbial gift hoofbeast in the mouth.

Instead you lean in to kiss her, feeling your pulse jump in your throat. From across the hive, you hear the spin washer ding, and then Folykl’s fingers brush your arm and you forget about everything outside this one room.

Your hands, a surgeon’s hands, do not shake as you reach up to touch her face. You feel her smile against yours all the same.