Black, Tatiana had decided, was not the color of mourning. White was.
The robes hung limp on her gaunt frame, the sheets smooth with barely a dent in them over her legs. Her lips were chapped, her chocolate curls were in dire need of a haircut, and the IV tube she was hooked up to beeped a steady reminder of her condition.
And yet, Tatiana was smiling.
The cause was the boy sitting across from her – although boy, she chastised herself, was hardly an apt description for the young man that her brother had become. He was just as gaunt as she was, his lips dry and his hair limp, but there was a trace of color to his cheeks as he leaned back in his makeshift seat at the base of her bed, “And then – I burned down the microwave.”
Tatiana burst into laughter. “Again? I swear you’ve told me this story before!”
Daniel grinned and shook his head, replying, “No, I just happen to burn down the microwave repeatedly.” He paused, flushing ever so slightly, before rubbing the back of his neck in embarrassment. “I suppose that I wasn’t a very good roommate.”
The younger Penvrane shrugged and shook her head. “Nah, you’re a great roommate here since you can’t burn down anything.” She pointed to his bed on the opposite side of the room, the curtain that usually split it in half drawn back slightly. As siblings at the hospital suffering from the same illness, they were permitted to stay together, and so they had.
Any ailment of the blood was difficult enough to cure – how could you fix something that pumped through your veins, that nourished every fiber of your being? – but the one they were both afflicted by was quite possibly one of the worst. Tatiana and Daniel Penvrane had a defective protein that coded for their red blood cells, and slowly but surely, they were both deteriorating.
The small comfort that Tatiana could take, however, was that she knew that if she deteriorated to a certain point, her immune system would kick in and fix the defective protein on its own, but until then, it was a long, slow, and painful process as she was routinely prodded with needles, forced under new treatments, and kept away from most of her friends and family by living in the hospital instead of at home. At least, she comforted herself further, her brother was going through the same thing, so he was her constant companion during this.
Two healers appeared suddenly from the end of the room, stepping brightly toward Tatiana’s bed where both the siblings were sitting. “Daniel, Tatiana, it’s time for your blood tests,” Harry Winthrop informed the young adults, shooting them a quick smile in affection. He’d been their healer for the last year, ever since they’d discovered the extent of their illness and had started trying different treatments.
“Again?” Daniel groaned and shook his head as he slowly lifted off the end of his sister’s bed, shuffling back over to his side of the room with the Harry, who pulled the curtain shut behind them. The other healer stayed with a somewhat grumpy Tatiana, who reluctantly pulled back the sleeve of her robes to expose the skin of her forearm, turning away when the nurse moved closer with a needle.
On the other side of the curtain, Daniel was arguing with the older man. “This is the third vial of blood that you’ve taken this week. Are you sure she won’t suspect that something’s up? I know that you said I had a while left before my cells degenerated completely, but this is getting extreme, isn’t it?” he asked quietly, reluctantly pulling back his own sleeve.
Harry pursed his lips and shot a glance back at the curtain that separated the room, checking to make sure he’d pulled it shut before turning back to his patient. “Is she still under the impression that your condition will get better like hers will? I think it’s time that you told her. She needs time to learn and accept the fact that you’ll only get worse because –“
“I know, I know,” Daniel waved his words off impatiently with one hand, not staying still even while the man prodded him with the needle a bit harder than intended. “Even the proteins that code for my white blood cells are defective so there’s no defense by my immune system. I’ve read this a thousand times.” He gestured vaguely with his hand to the stack of books on either side of his bed and tables – not novels like his sister had on hers, but rather, research on the condition that the Penvrane siblings suffered from.
“There may be one cure, though,” the healer informed him suddenly as he pulled the needle away, averting his eyes.
“What is it?” Daniel asked suddenly, his blue eyes hungry for knowledge that just might save him.
“As siblings, Tatty and you match genetically,” Harry explained, placing down the vial and taking a seat beside the younger man on the bed. “Her white blood cells will eventually fight off the illness. If we could donate some of her blood to you – well, it’s not certain, but there’s a chance that your body will develop an immune system based on hers and you’ll fight off the disease as well.”
Daniel was frowning now, glancing at his books. “I haven’t read anything like this yet. None of the treatments have mentioned getting a blood donation.”
“That’s because it’s a newer treatment, more of an experimental one.” Harry paused and then added, “Biology seems to back it up, though, and we just need both of your consent. Tatty’s probably used to giving blood by now, and if it’s to save you, I’m sure she’d agree.”
There was an edge to his tone that suggested that he was leaving out something, and Daniel glanced away from the stack of books to turn to his godbrother warily, clasping his hands in front of him. “What’s the catch? You would have told me this earlier if it was such a simple treatment.”
Harry glanced away. “There’s a chance – not a big one, mind you – that taking that any more than a pint of blood from your sister would weaken her. As her red blood cell count is already so low –“
Daniel already knew how this sentence would end, “It could be fatal.”
The other man paused. “It could be. But it could also save you, and she’d want to take that chance once she hears about it.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Daniel shook his head firmly. “I won’t let her consent, and I won’t either. She can’t know about this or else she’ll try to donate her blood anyway. She’s the one who’s going to live through this, and I’m sure as hell not going to be the one to take that away from her.”
Harry nodded and picked up the vial of blood slowly. “Are you sure she shouldn’t know about your condition?”
There was a laugh from the other side of the room, presumably Tatiana laughing at something that her own healer had said. Daniel glanced at the curtain, paused, and then shook his head. “She can’t know. Please.”
Harry regarded him dolefully before nodding once more and exiting, pushing back the curtain as he went so that the siblings were no longer separated.
Throat somewhat dry, the young man turned to glance at his younger sister across the room. “How’d the blood test go?”
“Mostly good,” Tatiana affirmed before raising her arm, grinning widely. “Look, they gave me one of the band-aids they usually to give to little kids! Isn’t it cute?” she pointed at the heart-shaped band-aid, and Daniel stifled a laugh.
“It’s perfect,” he agreed, leaning back in his own bed.
“I spy, with my little eye, something… white!”
“Tatiana. Everything in this room is white.”
The brunette, lying back on her bed and staring up at the ceiling, pouted and turned slightly. “That’s not fair, you’re not even trying this time!”
Daniel bit back irritation. “I can’t move very much,” he replied, turning slightly to try and meet her gaze. “So all I can see is the ceiling, which is white.”
“That’s what I spied! Your turn,” Tatiana replied, turning back up the face the ceiling again.
Her brother sighed and glanced up again, facing the blank white wall.
It had been several weeks since Harry had approached him with the option to take blood from his sister, but Daniel’s view on the matter hadn’t changed – even as they’d both deteriorated quite a bit since them. Their condition was worsening at an accelerated rate, one of the assistant healers had informed them, and at this point, they were so weak that they were bed-ridden, barely able to move or eat. There were IV tubes connected to them, the trays lined up on either side of their beds.
Tatiana thought she might go crazy if she had to stay in place for a single more minute with a brother who was currently not cooperating in her game of I-spy.
Fortunately, at that moment, the door of their room opened and the bright voice of the healer who generally assisted Tatty announced, “Visitors!”
“Who is it?” the brunette asked, trying to sit up but finding that she simply couldn’t, so she dropped her head back on the pillow and merely turned slightly.
Seren and Chastity beamed down at her. “We were going to bring chocolate, but then your Mum told us that you couldn’t eat chocolate anymore, or, well, anything anymore,” Chastity informed her.
Seren nodded. “It’s alright, though. They told us that you’d be better in a few more weeks, or at least, good enough again to eat chocolate, so we’ll have all of Honeyduke’s in here with you.”
Tatiana laughed. “That would be great. Do you know how they’re feeding me right now? Through this,” she gestured vaguely to the IV and then pouted. “I miss food. Mostly chocolate, but at this point, even things like broccoli sound heavenly to me.”
The two took a seat at the foot of her bed on either side, and she craned her neck ever so slightly to get a better view on them. “So, what’s new in the outside world, then?”
“In the last week since we visited you, you mean?” Chastity paused, chewing on her bottom lip as if thinking. “Er, well, let’s see.” She began counting off the events on her fingers, “Will became Minister, I turned into a werewolf, Ariel became the new Headmaster, and Seren and Frankie are having quintuplets.”
“Don’t forget that they’re discontinuing sugar quills and turning Hogwarts into a Muggle circus,” Seren piped up cheerfully.
Tatiana rolled her eyes. “What actually happened in the last week?”
There was a pause. “I made a soufflé successfully,” Seren announced.
Chastity paused and shrugged. “Broke a few more hearts –“ When Tatiana pinned her with a hazel glare, the redhead sighed. “I went on a business trip to Prague for three days,” she admitted.
“Did you see anything fun?” Tatiana pursed her lips slightly and bitterly stared up at the ceiling. “I’ve been in this room for months; I’d love to go on a trip anywhere – hell, even the beach if it means I can get out of here.”
“We’ll go somewhere as soon as you’re out of here,” Seren promised before her eyes lit up. “Pisa again, maybe! We can have gelato and make fun of the Muggles who make weird poses and then take pictures.”
“It sounds perfect,” Tatiana grinned.
At the other end of the room, Daniel’s parents were standing on either side of his bed.
“Are you still sure you don’t want to tell her?” Josie was asking him, glancing back at her daughter before letting her gaze on her son.
Daniel sighed. “Mama, she’d want to donate, and we can’t let her. Especially now when she’s so weak. I don’t want to damage her recovery for the sake of mine.”
Josie nodded sadly. It was a sensitive topic for her – her oldest child was dying, and the other could too if she tried to save him. There was little for a mother to do in this situation but wait, pray, and hope that her son’s judgment was right.
Orion laid a hand on Daniel’s shoulder. “She won’t forgive herself if she knew that there was a chance she could have taken to save you and she wasn’t able to take it.”
“That’s alright,” Daniel nodded, “I’ll be gone by then, and anyway, it’ll be too late.” He turned on his back and stared at the ceiling – even short conversations wore him out now. Harry and the other healers might have predicted that he had another six months, but they were changing their estimates now, and Daniel knew it.
He closed his eyes and tried not to think of the inevitable.
Black, Tatiana had decided, was not the color of mourning. White was.
After months of seeing only white sheets, of being in a white room with healers dressed in white who brought her white cups of water on white trays, of living in a building where the dead where wheeled past her routinely with white covers folded over their place only to be placed in white body bags, Tatiana had decided white was the color of death.
That was why it felt so wrong to be wearing black to her brother’s funeral.
She’d kicked up a fuss when the healer had tried to keep her in the hospital. She’d only recovered two weeks ago when her immune system had, at long last, kicked in and started to better her condition, but to her bewilderment, Daniel hadn’t followed suit. Rather, he’d only gotten worse, and two days ago, he’d died at night.
She’d seen the light leave his blue eyes when he’d gone. She’d held his hand and felt it go limp. And now, she was going to watch his body being lowered into the ground and try not to shred her black dress because damn it, it was white that was meant for mourning.
But black was easier to deal with. Tatiana could pretend she felt nothing with black on, and she sat in her chair, quite still. She was recovering still and she hadn’t returned to normal yet, but this was also her way of keeping her composure. If she didn’t move, she couldn’t remember that her brother once had.
Someone laid a hand on the brunette’s shoulder and she flinched slightly, turning in annoyance that dissipated as soon as she saw who it was. Felicity Shaw said nothing to her at the moment, but her eyes were red-rimmed. She’d just lost a grandson, and even for someone who’d lived through the wars, whose body was a battlefield littered with scars from years of experiences, that didn’t mean her wounds hurt any less.
But if her Nana was a veteran, then Tatiana was an unseasoned child. Never mind her nearly twenty years of age – this was the first time she’d experienced true grief and she felt hollow. She only blinked at her grandmother and then turned her hazel eyes back to the service.
The healers had only let her attend when she’d agreed that she’d allow them to check in on her periodically. It wasn’t Harry – no, he was more treasured than that, a family friend who was meant to be at the funeral (which Tatiana thought was quite difficult for him as well, considering he’d been one of the healers treating her brother) – but rather a somewhat severe-looking witch. She handed Tatiana her file (she’d agreed to check it for any directions on how much she could exert herself) and then left.
The brunette frowned down at the file in her lap, and her mother, who’d been standing several feet away from her until now, her tears having just dried into salty tracks, noticed and approached. “That’s not your file,” she stated as soon as she saw it.
“Must have been a bookkeeping error.” Tatiana’s lips were dry; parched, she bit at them and drew blood. If anything, the pain reminded her that she was alive, that at least she’d been this lucky. She quickly ceased. “I never got to see his report.”
“Tatiana –” her mother bent for the file but the brunette was surprisingly quick, pulling it away and opening it to scan it.
Hazel eyes flitted down the page before glancing up in shock. “He refused a blood donation? Why? Couldn’t it have saved him?”
Her mother tugged the file from her grasp. “You were the only one who could have donated.”
“Why did no one tell me? I would have done it. If it was to save him, of course I’d have given up my blood,” Tatiana was aghast, gaping at her mother. There was color in her cheeks now, a faint rouge that had been absent for many months and now only returned in outrage.
“Dai was worried about you.” Josie averted her gaze and traced a finger on her son’s picture affixed to the file. “He didn’t want to affect your recovery. Your blood might have given him the cells he needed to fight off the illness, but when he heard that it could have hurt you, he didn’t want it. He didn’t want any of us telling you, either.”
“Why didn’t he recover like I did?”
“You didn’t have the same disease,” Josie lifted her eyes now. “It was similar, but not enough. You were going to recover long and painfully, but he was only going to get worse. There was nothing to be done.”
“Nothing to be done? I could have given him my blood!” Tatiana scowled at her mother as if the ordeal was her fault.
“Your brother didn’t agree.”
“I would have.”
“It doesn’t matter now.” Josie turned abruptly toward the new gravestone that had been laid down for her son. Her words were tight, though her eyes remained shockingly dry. “If he couldn’t live, he wanted you to have your best chance, even if you could have saved him.”
Tatiana’s throat was dry, and she could feel her heartbeat in her fingertips. Had the healer still been there, she would have chastised the brunette for increasing her heart rate, but she didn’t care. “I’ll have to live with this for the rest of my life – that I could have saved my brother and I let him die instead because he wasn’t willing to take a risk.”
“Daniel wouldn’t gamble with your life, Tatiana,” Josie said suddenly, her tone almost harsh, and the brunette was reminded that she wasn’t the only one dealing with repercussions of Daniel’s decisions – her parents, who’d lost their firstborn, were dealing with it too.
There was a small thump as Josie dropped the file back into her daughter’s lap. She stepped away silently, toward Orion who was watching them guardedly, leaving Tatiana alone with her thoughts and the picture of her brother in white robes on the front of the file, blinking up at her.
She rose unsteadily and hobbled forward, dropping the flower form her grasp onto the grave. A single white lily.
If Tatiana couldn’t save her brother, she could at least honor him.
(The guilt that gnawed at her heart wouldn’t ever allow her to forgive him.)