When I arrived at Emilian’s room, he was curled up and his eyes closed. His black hair, drenched in sweat, was clinging to his forehead. His complexion was still pale.
‘I wish I had brought the physician.’
He opened his eyes feeling a presence. I said, lowering my gaze, feeling ashamed for being back alone.
“Sorry. I couldn’t bring the physician.”
Emilian sat up slowly and said,
“It doesn’t matter…”
He wasn’t reproaching me. It literally sounded like he didn’t care if the physician didn’t come.
‘Are you really just going to wait patiently?’ I walked over to the bedside. Emilian’s complexion seemed paler than before, so I was concerned. I took out the medicine bottle I had hidden under my sleeve as I spoke.
“It’s an antipyretic. If you take this, your fever will go down.”
Emilian stared at the bottle. His lips twitched slightly a few times, then said.
“For what? From now on, if you’re sick, don’t hold it in and tell me. It’s not good making suffering alone a habit.”
“. . .”
Emilian didn’t answer. He just stared at me with a blank expression on his face.
‘Did you get upset…?’
From his point of view, I might be meddling too much. I was a little embarrassed, so I lifted my heel and tapped the floor. Just as the awkward silence was filling the room, a voice was heard.
After his reply came a beat late, Emilian took an antipyretic from me.
‘Fortunately, that’s not the case.’ I was feeling relief in my heart as Emilian opened the cap of the vial and tried to bring it to his mouth. I barely managed to hold his arm.
“…?” He looked at me puzzled. As if saying ‘Why don’t you let me take the medicine?’
I cleared the obvious fact for him.
“You can’t just eat it.”
“Because it’s not good for your stomach.”
Emilian looked at me with eyes filled with interrogations. I could understand he didn’t know because he was a kid who grew up in the slums and never ate decent food. But my thoughts were about a different matter.
‘What will you do if you end up with a stomach ache and a fever?’ I took the plate from the bed and put it on the tray. And said in a firm voice.
“You may not have an appetite, but eat anyway. It’s not good to take medicine with an empty stomach.”
“. . .”
At my scolding, Emilian eventually picked up the spoon. He scooped out a stew full of vegetables and meat and stuffed it in his mouth.
‘You eat very well.’ I sat down at the bedside and watched Emilian munch on the stew. He ate half of the stew and drank the medicine.
“I’ll clean it up if you’re done eating.”
Seeing Emilian nodding, I reached out to move the empty bowl to the cart. That’s when he grabbed my wrist.
‘What is it…?’
I looked at Emilian bewildered, not understanding the situation. His gaze was fixed on the wound on the palm of my hand, which I injured by the fall earlier. Emilian spoke with a small frown.
“You got hurt.”
I quickly hid my hands behind my back. But it was already too late.
“How did it happen?”
I couldn’t say that it happened when I went to look for a physician to examine him. Fearing that Emilian might feel responsible for nothing, I hurriedly glossed it over.
“You don’t have to worry about it.”
“Is it because of me?”
At the keen question, I flinched in surprise. But then I pretended to be fine and said,
“It has nothing to do with you.”
I made a hasty excuse for fear of being caught lying. And, with strangely subdued eyes, Emilian stared at me.
As I thought that the ruby-like eyes seemed to bind me, Emilian said,
“You’re really bad at lying.”
‘How did you know…? Is my face that obvious?’ Or was it clumsy because I made up an excuse in a hurry? It seemed that I was caught lying either way. I slightly twisted the wrist caught by Emilian and pulled it out.
“It’s just a little scratch.”
“Still, make sure to apply medicine,” Emilian, who was silent for a moment, added. “You shouldn’t get a scar.”
“Oh, I will…”
I felt a bit strange at his worried words. Maybe it was because he thought I was hurt because of him. I busily moved my hands to clear the empty plate. When the cart was pushed, the bowls clashed and rattled.
“Then, I’ll get going.”
Leaning on the bed, Emilian nodded instead of answering. I could still see the lack of energy in his eyes. But since he had finished eating, there was no excuse for me to stay here any longer. Before leaving the room, I glanced back and looked at Emilian. It was to deliver an obvious message that almost slipped my mind.
“There may be an experiment tomorrow.”
Researchers didn’t let the experimental children off the hook just because they were ill. Unless it was a really serious situation, they wouldn’t stop the experiment.
Emilian answered after a moment of silence.
Children would cry in fear even when hearing the word ‘experiment.’ But Emilian only answered with a dull voice. As if he had already prepared for what would happen to him. It was heartbreaking to see him so determined.
‘I guess the fever will go down soon.’
It was an arduous experiment even with a healthy body. But it would be even more difficult to bear it with an ill body. I shook my head slightly as I left Emilian’s room.
‘…I said I wouldn’t care.’
After all, I was planning to leave him alone and run away in the end.
‘But what’s the point with such pitiful sympathy…?’ Giving any kind of affection was poison to him and me. I recalled the faces of the children who couldn’t stand the harsh experiments and died.
‘In any case, me…’
No one could save me. Nor in the future. So, it was good to stop with the clumsy sympathy at this point.
I was about to grow weak. So I tried to erase Emilian’s face from my mind.
* * *
The daily routine of the lab errands children began early in the morning. Because of that, most children eat dinner and go to bed early. After dinner, the children went back to their lodging one by one.
Instead of following the path leading to my dorm, I took another route. Even though the dining hour had passed, the researcher glanced at me as I was wandering around. However, they soon stopped paying attention. Compared to the experimental children, the children who ran errands had some freedom of movement. Of course, not for the children, but for the researchers to find us more comfortably.
I grabbed some items from the warehouse and walked quickly. I went up the dimly lit stairs. And soon, I stopped in front of the room with a plaque marking ‘No. 175.’ It was Emilian’s room.
‘Let’s just check if the fever has gone down and then come out…’ It’d be fine to go in and out real quick. I gently opened the door in case I would wake up Emilian. The light from the lamp flickered across his sleeping face. The boy didn’t even move, as if he was sleeping soundly. Carefully, I reached out and took Emilian’s body temperature.
It was hot.
‘The fever hasn’t gone down yet.’
Emilian’s hair was drenched in sweat. A small groan escaped between his chapped lips.
Seeing him suffering from fever, my previous resolution felt meaningless.
‘I was going to leave after checking his condition but… I can’t just leave him like this.’ I sighed a little. Then, I dipped a towel in a bucket of water and squeezed it.
[tl/n: Just checking but you came with water and a towel? AHA]
These were the items I brought just in case after stopping by the warehouse. I carefully placed the towel on Emilian’s forehead. His long eyelashes twitched and trembled as the cold wet towel touched him. He tossed and turned a little, but that was all.
‘Phew~ luckily he didn’t wake up.’
The cold, wet towel quickly became lukewarm. Time passed as I changed the towel a few times,
‘Yikes- I have to go.’
Emilian’s fever went down a bit as if it was worth it to wipe his forehead until my wrists were sore. Looking at him with a calmer face than before, I feel somewhat relieved.
‘…I thought I said I should keep our distance.’
Only this one time. The experiment will be tough, it bothers me if he’s sick. I’m really not going to pay him any more attention starting tomorrow.
Like that, on the way back to my room, I kept repeating my new resolution in my heart.