“There is no greater sorry than to recall in misery the time when we were happy.”
“Easy there chief,” Zaria snickered as Petrovich groaned. The curved needle that she slowly wove through the skin around his bullet wound wasn’t what caused the man to burst into seething curses. It was the dab of petulant burning alcohol from a bottle of vodka that the young doctor dabbed onto the injury each time it was sewn slightly more together that earned the stream of swearing.
“Getting shot never was the painful part,” Petrovich hissed through his gritted teeth.
“I wouldn’t know. You should listen to Virus and Murphy’s advice. They recommend not getting shot. Could be a habit worth checkin out,” Zaria teased. She drew the last bit of thread taught after tying a quick knot and slit the thread with a dented black combat knife from her boot.
“So Zaria, tell me. What is a young woman like yourself doing wasting away with a group of soldiers like these?” Petrovich asked curiously, taking a slow swig from the bottle of vodka used to treat his arm. Zaria snatched the bottle from his hand and took a drink for herself before splashing a small amount onto the wound for good measure. Petrovich cried out and scooted his chair away from the harassing doctor.
“It’s a tincy bit of a long story pops,” Zaria answered. Petrovich watched intelligently as she stood and began stowing her medical materials with practiced diligence.
“You’re not a soldier, and you’re not from the wastes, I can tell that much,” He analyzed.
“You’re right, I’m not from the wastes, but I’m learning to be a solider. I-I have to,” Zaria stated, closing the overhead cupboard and pressing her forehead against the old, chipped particleboard.
“Well, if you’d care to entertain an injured old man with a story, I’d be much obliged to listen,” Petrovich offered courteously. Zaria smiled meekly and walked over to the stool before him. She exhaustedly took her seat and glared at the old man critically.
“I’ve only got about half an hour before PT,” Zaria informed her curious new friend.
“Well, the best stories are told over time. No one likes a short book do they?” Petrovich mused.
“Well that depends on if it’s got pictures or pop-ups. I’m a simple woman,” Zaria joked. “Fine. Well I grew up in the city of Saint. My mom was a doctor there. She passed away a few years ago.”
“Oh I’m sorry,” Petrovich frowned.
“It’s alright, she was in a lot of pain, but not anymore,” Zaria said distantly.
“I see. Please, continue,” Petrovich urged sympathetically.
“Before she died I spent a lot of my time helping her with house calls around town or running errands. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life until she started to get sick. It was around that time that I started really studying and looking for anyway I could save the only person that I really had in my life. After she died I became a bit of a drunk. I actually almost lost the house too. It was about the time that I woke up in an alleyway with two guys about to take advantage of me that I really decided to get my shit together,” Zaria explained. Her eyes failed to focus on anything in particular and Petrovich understood very well why. He too had lost the people he loved and fell into a downward spiral. His own daughter had been stripped from him during the war and never seen again. He could still envision her smiling, pallid face and her gentle brown eyes.
“Is that when you decided to become a doctor like your mother?” He asked, insisting she continue. Zaria nodded and smiled broadly.
“Pretty much. The people needed a doctor and what was I doing to her memory by not helping those in need like she had, right? God I saw some nasty shit. Have you ever seen a man’s balls enflamed from a tarantula bite? ’Cause I have and it is not something I'd care to see again,” Zaria laughed. Petrovich laughed along with the melodious and contagious sound unable to help the smile that permeated his features.
“So what brought you here, Zaria? I couldn’t imagine anything lacking some significant importance taking you away from your duties,” Petrovich enquired. Zaria chuckled and her cheeks flushed a rosy pink.
“Not a what, but a who, actually. I was out walking one night a little over a year ago when some crazy shit went down. The local cartel, not great guys but they had their moments, owned a pretty big building in town. Helipad, pier on the water; the works. I heard some gunfire, but I didn’t think anything of it. When I got down to the beach a few minutes later, there were two bodies. One was a boy, probably no older than fifteen or so. The other was a girl.” At the mention of the girl, Zaria beamed, to this day still amazed at the turn of events that led her to meeting Rogue.
“Ah, so what was so special about this girl?” Petrovich asked, smiling encouragingly.
“Everything, but when I found her she was nearly dead. She had a massive hole in her stomach from a gunshot, and another bullet lodged in her shoulder. The kid looked okay so I left him there and took the girl back to my place for treatment. After hours of treatment I finally got her to stop bleeding and stitched together. It took about three days for her to finally wake up. Shit, she scared me half to death! I wake up and walk into my kitchen to see this half naked blonde chick with scars all over making a pot of coffee like she owned the damn place. And what does she do when she sees me? Just says, “Good morning,” like we’d been friends for years,” Zaria laughed, clutching her sides at the memory of her own story. Petrovich stood and leaned against the wall on the other side of the room. The light from the window fell softly on his old features, making him seem less like an old soldier and more like a wise grandfather living vicariously through the tales he hears and spins.
“And when, might I ask, did you realize that you were in love with her?” he deduced in a sage-like tone. Zaria shrugged and started tightening the laces on her boots. She had to get going or Grant would light her up in front of the others.
“You know, I used to keep telling myself that it was after I scared her away, but honestly, it was at those two words,” Zaria said peacefully. “Those two words that I wanted to wake up to everyday of my life.”
“Well when can I meet this lovely woman?” Petrovich asked warmly. Zaria’s smile immediately left her lips and the sadness that Petrovich had seen in them before returned, sending a pang of guilt through his chest. Zaria shook her head and smirked at her friend.
“I’ve gotta go Father Time, I’ll talk to you later. Help yourself to the liquor,” Zaria said hurriedly. She dashed out the door quickly and left Petrovich with his thoughts.
“Zaria, glad you could join us!” Grant shouted as Zaria came jogging down the street. She pouted at Grant over the men and women of the unit that were going through a brief stretch. The sunlight baked down onto the soldiers that stood just outside of the front gates to New Kennedy and dust had already begun to collect on their clothing.
“Sorry, Gandalf’s arm needed a little more attention than I’d expected,” Zaria lied. Grant seemed to accept it however and shrugged his massive shoulders indifferently.
“Alright, we’re going to run a few laps around camp and then run through some core. No sparring today, Tanner want’s us all hitting the range. Lets move!” Grant barked out. Zaria pressed off ahead of the rest of the unit, keeping pace with Grant as they ran. Her now hardened muscles had added a portion of weight to her arms and legs, making her look all the more akin to the soldiers running behind her.
“Getting pretty fast there short stuff,” Grant noticed.
“Yeah, well, when you train with the best right?” Zaria smirked.
“You’re not wrong. Speaking of, your arms are gettin big too. You hittin the weights?” Grant asked between breaths. It had been a while since he’d seen Zaria in a sleeveless shirt, but looking now, the girl’s muscles were clearly larger than they had been last time he’d seen her.
“Well, without Rogue around I’ve got nothing better to do,” Zaria affirmed. “Speaking of muscles, your pecs looks like they’re getting a little small, Hulk.” Zaria leaned into a sprint as soon as the taunt left her mouth and she tore off laughing.
“Hey, words hurt!” Grant hollered after her, flexing each of the muscles comically.
Petrovich stood atop the exterior ramparts of New Kennedy, watching interestedly as his young friend pushed herself harder than even the trained and battle hardened soldiers behind her.
“She’s really been working hard,” Tanner said beside him. Petrovich jerked at the Mechanics sudden presence.
“God damn you Tinman, you scared the hell out of me,” Petrovich chuckled, pulling his hand away from where it clutched at his chest.
“Sorry man, that’s my bad. Anyway, why so interested in the doctor?” Tanner inquired, leaning his back against the railing of the wall, his arms crossed over his chest.
“There’s something about her and I think you know what I mean. She has the same spark that the four of you had when Clayton brought you new recruits into the inspection center back at District X,” Petrovich remembered.
“She’s got a good head on her shoulders, that’s for sure,” Tanner agreed.
“She had started to tell me about this other girl in her life, but when I asked to meet her she got that distraught look in her eyes. What happened?”
Tanner sighed and turned out to face the wastelands. His face was troubled and Petrovich waited patiently as the sun baked his tired and wrinkled skin. It took Tanner a while to answer, lost in his thoughts that seemed to grow more troubled as the weeks went by.
“It’s a long story, but the gist of it all is that she was taken. Granted it took over four Soldiers with a capital S, and Him to do it,” Tanner said.
“Four soldiers? Was she a Mercenary? And who’s this Him?” Petrovich rambled, frustration evident in the creased lines of his forehead and eyes.
“Seraph. And no, she was never augmented,” Tanner answered, ignoring the grunt of resentment that Petrovich released.
“That coward. What does he want with Zaria’s girl?” Petrovich pressed.
“God I wish I knew. All we know about her is that she used to work for him, but when she got out of control, he tried to have her put down. He failed and she lost her memory in the aftermath. Virus met her in Saint and Zaria saved her life. Odd turn of events that was. But Rogue’s been helping us and those two girls are in whole different kind of love. It’s a little nauseating really,” Tanner joked at the end of his recount.
“You four always were at the middle of all the worst kind of shit,” Petrovich smirked.
“You’re tellin me. But we haven’t had any leads on where Rogue is and Virus and I are solidly against risking taking on Seraph, wherever the hell he is now. Zaria’s been tearing herself apart, blaming herself for Rogue getting taken. She’s not going to stop. Not until Rogue is found. It’s been almost seven months though. I’m starting to doubt that we’ll find her alive… I’m getting too old for this fight,” Tanner said mournfully.
“You’ll find her. If I’m right about your young doctor there, you’ll find her,” Petrovich assured, clapping his hand on Tanner’s shoulder.
“Fuck, I hope so. Anyway, I’ve got to get out to the range and make sure everything is set up. You’re welcome to come spectate,” Tanner offered. He patted Petrovich on the shoulder and strolled tiredly down the wooden ramp of the ramparts. Petrovich watched Tanner vanish around the corner and peered back over the side of the rampart. Zaria was nearly half a lap ahead of the rest of the men and even from this distance the determination that filled her soul and weighed heavy on her mind could be seen clear as the sun that hung brightly above the morning sky.