Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Mutable: Chapter Twenty-Nine, Part Two

Notes: Rocks fall, but nobody dies! Well, that's not exactly true, but it's all good. Well, that's not exactly true either, but...anyway, please just enjoy and read on.

In a side note--holy crap, this story is over 80k! It'll probably be 90k by the time I wrap it up! Which should be this month, methinks *wipes forehead*

Title: Mutable: Chapter Twenty-Nine, Part Two


Chapter Twenty-Nine, Part Two

A second after Christala’s talon punctured his skin, she was ripped off of him—almost, but not quite, in time for her to close her fingers around his throat and take it with her. It was still agony, his blood flying off her hand to speckle his own face, but there was agony to feel instead of nothing at all, and that was an unexpected sweetness. Cas tried to sit up, tried to follow her flying body back, but there was nothing he could do now. He was broken, a sad, listless shade of his former self, and there was no phage to save him from suffering. He stared up at the ceiling, feeling a little like he wanted to rip his own throat out, and tried to remember to breathe. His body didn’t seem to want to do it for him.
No near-death experience had ever led to Cas’s life flashing before his eyes. There were never any midnight confessions, no secret things he’d wished he hadn’t left unsaid, and certainly no thought of a fond reunion with the ones he’d lost on the other side. There was no other side—there was only this side. So it was a little surprising when faces seemed to swim before his eyes—Lilah and Shar, fretful, their eyes teared up like they had been when he left them in the foyer…only they hadn’t been crying then. Had they?
“Move, kids.” The voice was vaguely familiar, but this wasn’t Rone. Amiru? Why would Cas be seeing Amiru right before he died? “It’s been a long time since I had to put in any time as a medic,” the king muttered as he pressed what felt like burning coals dipped in acid against Cas’s neck. Something cool followed them, and after that a blissful numbness started to spread from his ripped-up throat up through his head, and down toward his brutalized joints.
“We should get Daddy,” Lilah said worriedly. “He’ll fix him.”
“Your daddy is going to need to get a hold of himself first, and he’s not going to do that until he’s beaten that bitch’s body into an unrecognizable pulp, apparently,” Amiru replied.
“If she wasn’t, I wouldn’t be talking to you like this, kiddo.” He pressed a hand to his eye and pulled it away a moment later, a speck of black smeared across one fingertip. “Fuck. Fuck!” He raked his hand across the carpet by Cas’s head, rubbing almost hard enough to break the fibers. “That fucking…” The look he turned on Cas was a glare now. “How could you do that to someone? What kind of sick sons of bitches—”
He stopped speaking when Shar pressed a hand against his mouth. The child shook his head, and after a moment Amiru nodded. Shar took his hand back, and the king sighed. “Your auntie would have my head if she could hear me, wouldn’t she?” he asked tiredly.
“No swearing,” Lilah agreed. “Where is Aunt Tiyana?”
“She’s…safe, with the kids. I think.” He rubbed his eyes again, but this time his hand came away clean. “Lilah, I need you to go to the front of the house and let in the rescue workers who are on the way, all right? Bring two of them in to take care of Cas here.”
Lilah shook her head. “His name is Beren.”
“Oh, baby girl. He’s got a lot to talk to you about.” Amiru scowled down at him. “When he can speak again, that is. Go get the rescue workers and come back fast, all right?”
“Okay.” She pressed to her feet and ran, leaving Shar and Amiru both hunched over Cas like stone-eye frogs.
“I don’t know for sure who you really are,” Amiru said to him after a moment. “I don’t know how much of what I think of you comes from her and how much of it comes from you, and none of that knowledge tells me how much of it is lies. But I’ll tell you this, Cas.” He leaned in close, his dark eyes cold. “If you cost me my brother with what the two of you have done, I’ll do things to you that will make tearing your throat out seem benevolent, do you understand me?”
Shar looked unhappily between his uncle and Cas, the tears that had welled up finally falling. He bent over at the waist and pressed his forehead to Cas’s shoulder. Cas couldn’t quite feel it—everything was numb—but he twisted his hand outward until it bumped what he assumed was Shar’s knee, and left it there. Amiru looked like he wanted to move him, but then a noise pulled his attention away. He groaned and pressed to his feet, then shuffled off toward…what, his wife? His brother? Fresh guards, medical personnel? Cas didn’t know, and he didn’t care.
He was done. It was done, it was over. Christala was dead. Amiru was right—she wouldn’t relinquish control of him unless she was actually incapable of maintaining it, and with the way Rone had pulled her back, quickly and so violently, the odds were good that he’d followed up by killing her. Christala was dead. Beren was avenged, or as close to it as possible. Cas could…stop, now. He could just stop. He could die right now, and he would have accomplished the greatest proportion of his goal. He could die, and Rone and his family could recover without him.
Or the phage could burn through Rone’s body like a plague, spread to his children, spread to Amiru’s children. Or he could traumatize the kids by dying here on the floor in a puddle of his own blood. Or he could never find out what Christala had promised the other Delacoeurians who had turned on their own people, could let them live out their new lives in perfect harmony with the blood of thousands on their hands. He could leave his husband alone. His husband. Rone.
Fuck that.
Cas closed his eyes and focused on his breathing, keeping it slow and controlled, keeping his heartrate as low as he could manage. He was still losing blood, but slowly, and as long as he maintained his focus he could keep his body working for the time being. He was aware of the sound of Shar breathing next to him, quiet, hitching breaths, like he was crying and trying not to let on. Oh, baby. I’m sorry. It was awful that Shar had to see him like this, but it would be infinitely worse if he died in front of the kid. He could do this. He could live. He had to live.
“—off the ground by now, are you kidding me?” Cas heard Rone above him, his voice as fiery as a guardian angel. He would have smiled if he had the energy for it.
“My priority was checking that you weren’t having your brain liquified by that parasite they carry!” That was Amiru, a harsh, discordant note in the humming net of sound that surrounded Cas.
“I already told you, I’m fine, and he’s—shit, he’s still bleeding. Shar, honey, go with your uncle, okay? I’ve got to get Beren to the doctor.”
“Lilah’s already gone for—”
“Lilah is nine, Amiru! She’s nine and she’s scared and I’m not going to put the onus of saving her parent’s life on her ability to run emergency medical personnel into the far side of this damn fortress!” Cas vaguely felt his body jostle as Rone got his arms beneath him, and gingerly, but with limbs that were oh-so-familiarly strong, lifted him into the air. His knee screamed, but the pain was distant, like it was the result of empathy instead of personal experience. They began to move, fast, and the sway of his head pulled a whine out of him. Okay, the throat, that hurt.
“We’re almost there,” Rone told him gently. “Almost to help. You helped me, I helped you, this is what we do for each other, right? You saved me, now it’s my turn to save you. The phage, though…” He actually chuckled, a tense, strained sound. “That was a shot in the dark. You realize how close I came to losing my fucking mind?”
Cas had an idea, but before he could force his eyes open to look at Rone—before he could do anything at all—his own mind abruptly decided it had had enough. He passed out to the sound of Lilah shouting, “Daddy!

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