So ever since this morning, when Xylic had fallen unconscious the first time, Bactine had been struggling to make sense of Namah’s words.
She was tired by now; it’d been at least twelve hours that she’d been trying. Xylic was feverish, and his arm had swollen precariously. Occasionally he made a sound, but it was rarely something she could decipher. It didn’t matter anyway. There was only one thing Bactine could do to help him, and she had no idea how to do it. It frustrated her beyond reason.
“Take it,” Namah had simply said after Bactine had described the blackness she’d sensed inside of him. Bactine had tried to take it, but she had no idea how. By the time she grew frustrated enough to ask, Namah had gone, and hadn’t returned.
Xylic was dying, Bactine had been abandoned by the one person who could help, and the whole situation made her want to scream. The next time she saw Namah she was going to give her a piece of her mind, and verbally berate her into assisting Xylic somehow. Something –anything would be better than this horrible torture he was going through.
Regardless, Bactine spent a lot of time inside of Xylic because it helped with the pain, and she eventually grew to know him rather well. Now, at this desperate hour, she leaned over him as she had for the past several days and pressed her hand against his brow. Her other hand was on his chest and she was doing what had become automatic: Checking inside of him. The blackness had grown. It crept outward unnaturally, like ink in water; no pulse beating in its ravaging, soulless maw. The rest of his body was all light and warmth and sensual clockwork; and just as horrified by the ugly blackness as she was. She wanted to push it back, but was only able to observe. His body tried to push it back, but was waging a losing battle. The blackness laughed and shot out another inky-thin feeler.
It was infuriating.
As her fury ebbed, she found herself in a moment of curious sentiment. She moved her hand from his forehead to his cheek as she thought of the newly discovered grace that, now that she was aware of it, seemed to emanate subtly from him like a halo with the same pulse that ran through his body. He wasn’t quite as beautiful as Sangwine, but certainly not far off.
Well, she took that back. He was just different. Where Sangwine was all sparkling outward and wide-eyed, Xylic was withdrawn and cautious. Their coloring wasn’t that different, really. Xylic’s skin was a bit darker, Sangwine’s eyes a more pure blue, Xylic’s hair pale like sand where Sangwine’s was gold.
They are similar, thought Bactine, very similar. Her hand moved into his hair, synapses firing.
Suddenly she forgot entirely what she’d been thinking, or why her hand was in Xylic’s hair. She removed her hand and pulled up his bedcovering to his shoulders in a gentle move, then glanced around, feeling strangely blank.
The sickness. That was what she was doing.
She returned inside of him, feeling towards the sickness and melding with Xylic’s body like another part of him. It welcomed her, the push and pull of life embracing her, and sped her on closer to the illness in question. This time she came closer to it, prodding around it, feeling through the tear in his flesh, and then she pulled. It resisted. She pulled it again. It threatened to tear a larger whole in the being of Xylic if she continued.
This didn’t go over very well with Bactine. For one thing, she was being dictated to by gangrene. For another thing, it had been threatening Xylic long enough. Xylic, who was her best friend in the world. Her best friend in the world.
That was the breaker. Inside him and in her anger she swelled and became an even worse creature than the wretchedness and blackness, and she consumed it entirely with a golden maw, drawing it back with blurring speed, back through the veins of Xylic and through her hand, into herself and she absorbed it. Into herself, unfortunately. It screamed.
No, wait. That was Bactine screaming.
Xylic woke feeling slightly weak, but for the most part he was whole and hale and sat up immediately.
She was clutching her arm, which was swollen and gangrenous, bleeding and torn. Her face paled, and she looked on the edge of collapse. As she began to wobble and slide from her stool, Xylic caught her, pulled her to him, and she cried out again, since any movement sent searing pain throughout her arm and shoulder, as Xylic knew very well. He loosened his grip and her ragged breath brushed his shoulder.
“I did it,” she said to his shoulder, her voice weak and broken. She began to go limp in his arms and he stopped it, for no other reason that he strongly felt that she wouldn’t wake again if she slept now. He was fairly certain the only way to keep her awake was to cause her pain, as much as the idea made his stomach sink. Besides, he didn’t have much time to think about alternatives.
He tightened his grip on her arm, and she yelled wordlessly. Surprisingly, and he supposed because it surprised him because it was Bactine, she began to cry. He immediately felt horrible, but had an ultimate focus.
“You have to get rid of it,” he told her.
“I can’t,” she cried.
“Yes, you can,” he said to her, sounding completely certain, although he wasn’t at all.
She looked up at him, her brown eyes all strength and fury and weakness and anguish. He loved her, and it was agonizing for a multitude of reasons at this particular moment. On her face the expression of determination won out, and he sensed she had gone inside of herself, so to speak.
He had very little he could do, except hold her and prevent her from falling to the floor, and so that’s what he did, unconsciously avoiding her bleeding arm. She gradually fell into a sort of deep thought, her forehead on his shoulder and her hands somewhat painfully gripping his forearms, or more specifically, the skin on his forearms. He didn’t really mind, though, regardless of the pain. Anything was less than the past several days’ worth of agony.
“Remember what Namah said,” he told her. She looked up at him.
“What did she say?”
“I don’t know,” he replied, “But I’d assumed she said something.”
She looked both amused and annoyed, but also in mortal pain. It would be an unusual mixture on anyone’s face. She shuddered and closed her eyes, her brow furrowed deeply and she began holding her breath.
“What are you doing?” asked Xylic, alarmed.
“Shutup!” she replied from her intense reverie, and her arm looked as if it might be a little less swollen. Then suddenly, it all swept away, as if into a vacuum. The swelling went away, the redness faded, the tear in her skin knit together until it was untorn satin. There was nothing to be done for the blood, though. It was still everywhere.
She released her held breath and gasped for air, and opened her eyes.
“I did it,” she said to him, and they were both suddenly wracked with smiles. An embrace came next, although the realities of everything else is never far behind, and it swiftly grew awkward, as Xylic was undressed to the waist and Bactine was sharing a bed with him.
“I can’t believe it. I did it,” she said, standing suddenly as Xylic went for his clothes.
“Do you think you could do it again?” he asked, pulling his shirt over his head.
“I do,” she said, her glowing jubilance outshining the side dish of awkward. “Xylic, was it horrible? I’m so sorry.”
“Well, it was horrible, yes,” he replied as he tied his jerkin. “But I suppose it was worth it in the end.”