I lay in bed, every muscle aching. It had become a chore even for me to get up out of bed. Everything hurt. The blood pounded in my head, my body straining to win the fight against the Change. I could feel the intense fever gripping me, the sickness sitting in my bowels with the painful heaviness of unfamiliarity. A foreign invasion.
“Soon.” Halona said, muttering the word under her sweet breath as she smoothed a cool cloth along my forehead. Her raven eyes looked at mine with a look of only compassion. She smoothed my hair back, my feverish skin extracting the coldness from her hands and the cloth. I coughed a few times, the pain of that action alone enough to make me wince.
Sam stood in the doorway, a looming figure of both comfort and a strange unfamiliarity. His dark eyes connected with mine. There was something about him that I couldn’t put my finger on. In my feverish state of mind, I didn’t necessarily have the mental strength anyway.
Halona pressed her lips to my forehead before leaving the room, her sweet presence enough to soothe me in the moment. Sam continued to stand in the doorway, his brooding presence constant. Soon, Halona had said.
“When will you all start to Change?” I said with a hoarseness. My voice didn’t sound like my own. I was no longer Jane Schwartz. I was a shadow of her. An essence of her that was slowly fading into something else entirely.
Sam seemed to have heard me fine. “Soon.” He answered. Imagining them leaving me alone, in this state of sickness, a strange panic began to grip me. Sam must have sensed it. He ventured into the room, coming carefully to stand near my bedside. As he stared down at me, I caught a flicker of something foreign, before it vanished entirely beneath the depth.
As he tentatively reached out to graze my jawline with his hand, an electric feeling pulsed through me. I nearly had to catch my breath, the dulled sounds of my heartbeat thrumming in my ears. “Your fever is worsening. That’s good.” He said this almost to himself, completely brushing off our skin-to-skin contact.
I stared at him incredulity. “Good?” I coughed again, the sounds sputtering out of me. His hand left my face. He seemed to draw back. I wished for his presence as soon as it had left me. “It means you have almost completed the Change.” He said this quietly, his voice low, as though by saying this quieter it would lessen the sheer impact.
But it did everything but.
I was scared. I had admitted that to myself long before. But being so close, right at the precipice, it was terrifying.
Before I could voice anything more to him, Sam’s eyes traveled to the comforter that surrounded my chest. “You’re bleeding, Jane.” Dumbfounded, I looked down to see the familiar Venn diagram of red decorating Halona’s white sheets. Sam moved quickly out of the room as I wiped underneath my nose, the blood coming in more and more droplets, a colorful swipe against my skin.
“Here.” Tenderly, he returned with a cloth in hand and instructed me to tilt my head back as he wiped my face and hands with the dampened material. “Hold this to your nose and keep your head back.” He said this sternly, but there was something gentle about the words that stayed with me. I did as I was told, and to my surprise, he stayed where he was. Watching me.
You would think that it would be awkward to have someone standing there as your nose bleeds uncontrollably. But it was actually nice. In a strange way.
“I think it’s stopped.” I said, bringing the cloth away. It was stained with a deep red color, along with the droplets on Halona’s sheets. When I swiped underneath my nose, there was no more fresh blood. “Good.” Sam said, swiftly taking the soiled cloth from me and leaving the room. For a while I was afraid that he wasn’t coming back. But he returned, a glass of water and a wrapped up roll in his hands. The bread smelled sweet. The afternoon light came in from the window. It was probably a beautiful day. Too bad I hadn’t been able to enjoy it.
Sam set the food on the bedside table, handing me the glass. “Drink.” He instructed in his Beta voice. I took the glass from him, drinking. I hadn’t realized how thirsty I had been until the water had been right there. I drank the whole glass in record time. Sam handed me the food as I was done, taking the empty glass from me with a sense of approval.
“Eat.” He instructed once more. “I got the message.” I said to him with as much of a joking smile that I could manage. Sam looked slightly caught off guard, but he soon recovered, his seriousness intact. “Alright. I won’t tell you again.” There was something overwhelmingly authoritative to him, but yet again, there was something gentle there. I hadn’t seen him express this to anyone else since I’d been there. It was a good side of him to see. I wanted that Sam to be around all of the time.
Tearing off a piece of the freshly-baked roll, I popped it into my mouth. The hot bread melted against my tongue. It was delicious. But even so, I couldn’t bring myself to eat the whole thing. “Good enough.” Sam said, as he had been watching me the entire time. As he wrapped the rest up, I could feel him linger. Looking at him through lethargic eyes, I could see that tenderness take shape in his demeanor.
“Soon.” He said, his dark eyes on mine as he brushed his hand along my face. I wanted to lean into him, but I couldn’t find the strength. I just looked at him with my clouded eyes, my feverish skin touching against his hand. “Soon.” I said to him. He left the room, his dark-eyed image staying with me as I drifted away.