Paradiex, Satieri, 1852
Winter mornings were peaceful in Paradiex. As the sun started to spill over the great desert city, slowly warming the nighttime chill, the citizens were only barely starting to unwrap themselves from their bedding. Occasionally, a food vendor would pass by, calling out his fresh, hot tamales, hot tamales, get them fresh. Every so often families, lovers, friends, could be heard parting ways to their separate destinations. But it was peaceful. Quiet.
Except in the apartment of Soliveré and Cordova, where peace hadn’t been seen for over a week.
“Agghhhh!” The tremendous shout filled the room, jolting Aela from her doze. She’d only been out for, what, an hour? Not even. But dutifully as ever, she launched from her chair in the corner and marched straight to the mattress in the center of the room where Fiearius was writhing in pain.
“Shh, shh, it’s okay,” she cooed as she put her hands to his shoulders, though she was fairly certain he couldn’t hear her. His eyes were glazed over and he hadn’t gotten out a coherent sentence since day six. After that, it was mostly just long periods of restless, feverish sleep punctuated by bouts of shouting, vomiting and struggling.
Sometimes Aela worried that the Fiearius she knew, her Fiearius, wasn’t even in there anymore. That taking him off of Flush had turned him into nothing more than a helpless zombie.
But then there were moments like this, when she laid his tense form back down on the bed and she could feel him soften at her touch. It was moments like this that gave her hope and made the last ten days of constant caretaking and cleaning worthwhile. He could do this. They could do this.
As Fiearius’ breathing started to even out, Aela sat beside him and gently stroked her hand over his forehead. It was still burning with fever, but so far that had seemed the least of his worries. She had known Flush withdrawals were supposed to be terrible, but she hadn’t been prepared for just how terrible they were. Nor for what methods she would have to take just to keep the poor man from hurting himself further.
Fleetingly, she glanced at the binds she’d fashioned around his wrists yesterday when the thrashing had gotten so furious that Fiearius had torn out a chunk of his hair and a piece of his scalp with it. He seemed alright for the moment, so she reached to undo them. Unfortunately, the old scarf she’d used was now soaked in blood.
“I told you not to struggle,” she sighed, tossing it aside and instead opening the nightstand drawer to find a cloth and rubbing alcohol. “Well I guess that was a bad idea, huh? ” she went on, mostly to herself as she began to clean the rough cuts and scrapes on his wrists where he’d tried to break free, “I swear, r’inan, if you can’t stop being destructive, I don’t know what we’re gonna do.”
“I have a few ideas,” said a voice from behind her. Aela didn’t even need to look to know that it was Dez, standing in the doorway and probably looking like the cocky ass he was.
She was growing weary of him and quickly.
“If you’re not here to help, you can leave,” she instructed, her voice cold and her eyes still fixed on her task.
“Last I checked it’s still my name on the lease,” Desophyles replied and Aela rolled her eyes. “Haven’t you given up yet?”
“No,” was her instant answer. “And I’m not going to.” Dez responded with nothing but a snort and she shot him a glare, laying aside the cloth and standing from the bed. “It’s going to work. He can make it through this. I know what I’m doing.”
At that, Dez just shook his head. “You’re an intermediate Information agent, not a doctor.” He turned from her and headed back into the living room. “You have no idea what you’re doing.”
Both Aela and Fiearius had known, going into this, that Dez was not in support of it. He had made that very clear from the get-go. Fiearius was good at simply writing him off, but Aela had a harder time of it. For someone who was supposedly her husband’s best friend, he certainly didn’t act the part and it rubbed her just the wrong way.
“Well it’s not like we could get the help of a doctor even if we tried,” she argued, following him out of the room despite herself. “Any doctor on Satieri is more afraid of the Society finding out than willing to help. They would just keep him on the stuff.”
“Right,” said Dez as he busied himself in the kitchen with the coffee maker. “Maybe you should listen to their expertise.”
Sometimes, it was very hard for her to suppress the urge to strangle this man. “Y’know disrespecting me is one thing, but Fiearius is your friend. If he wants to get clean, you should support him in that.”
To her dismay, he actually laughed, cold and harsh. “Fiearius doesn’t want this.” He pointed through the door to the broken man laying uncomfortably on the bed. “You think he wants this? He’s doing this because you asked him to. He’s doing it for you.”
His words cut deep, and Aela felt her resolve start to crack. “That’s not true,” she argued, her voice barely strong enough to even convince herself.
Dez lifted his brows in vague interest, hit the switch on the coffee machine and stopped to look at her curiously. “What did you do?”
The question caught her off guard. “What are you talking about, ‘what did I do’?”
“You did something,” he pointed out as casually as if he was remarking on the weather. “Talking about moving off-world, starting a little family, quitting Flush, why are you trying so hard to save him?”
“Because I love him,” she said at once, not even needing a moment to think about the answer. Of course she was trying to save him. Of course she wanted the best for him. What was so hard to understand about that?
But Dez still just shook his head. “That’s not love. That’s guilt.”
The word hit her like a punch in the face. He might as well have. It would have hurt less. Aela’s eyes fell to her feet as she tried to reel herself back in. That wasn’t true. Of course it wasn’t true. It wasn’t guilt that had lead them here. It couldn’t be.
But if Dez noticed her disarray, he didn’t act like it. “You’re a good liar, I’ll give you that. I guess Information trains their people well. Maybe you’re so good you believe the lie yourself.” He poured himself a cup of coffee and crossed the room to lean against Fiearius’ doorway. “I don’t know what it is yet. But I’ll figure it out,” he told her calmly and gestured inside. “Let’s just hope you don’t manage to kill him first.”
Aela felt her stun starting to fade. Fade into anger. “What’s wrong with trying to save him? What’s wrong with quitting a drug that we know will kill him?” she demanded. “What’s wrong with wanting my child’s father to be alive?”
“Nothing,” Dez said matter-of-factly, turning to look at her. “But at this rate?” Her eyes moved beyond him to where her husband lay, his wounds still fresh, his breath still short and his mind miles and miles away. “He won’t be.”