He sleeps most of the rest of the night, waking occasionally for you to pour tea into him, he must be dehydrated as all hell what with running a fever and so on. You don’t speak much when you interact with him. You aren’t sure if this is for your sake or his.
At one point you take a very long bath, lying under the water in your ablution block and feeling it pulse through your gills in a steady, calming rhythm. You eventually bestir yourself to wash your hair and scrub yourself properly clean, and then you spend half an hour fussing with the hair in front of the mirror. If you gel it straight back when it’s still wet and let it dry like that and comb it out, it goes straight, and if you part it just here you can get a kind of purple-black gradient fade waterfall effect going on over one eye, which you think is kind of awesome. Also, you can tuck the ends behind your fins like this, which gives you the opportunity to shake your head ever so slightly and let the hair fall in a graceful sweep across your face. Fucking dramatic, right there. All you need is a curtain blowing behind you and maybe a rose falling in slo-mo into water and you are everybody’s goddamn tragic heartthrob.
You have dark circles under your eyes, but you have had those for a while and you don’t really feel like they detract from the effect. When you dress you put on a floppy shirt that may or may not have its roots in your FLARPing days with Vriska--Orphaner Dualscar totally wore floppy gamblignant shirts and you will fight any motherfucker who disagrees--and after a little thought you add a fine golden chain around your throat. You put your rings on, one by one, circlets of deep tawny gold set with purple gems the color of your blood, and you feel so very much more yourself when you have those semi-precious knuckledusters on.
Zahhak is asleep when you look in on him, and you take the opportunity to go get dinner started. Most of the time you don’t bother with much, you live on coffee and shitty junk food, but the guy in your spare room is probably not gonna benefit from a diet of chemical-orange items with their names spelled wrong for legal reasons. You used to like to cook, every now and then, and Fef would help, she’d chop things or stir them and you’d invariably end up mid-snuggle to realize that in fact neither of you had turned the goddamn exothermic preparation hull on, and there would be a lot more snuggling and dinner would get put off for another hour or two.
You make yourself follow this memory, like pulling out a splinter. It hurts less than you’d expected. In hindsight you kind of should have seen the break coming, maybe, but nothing could really compare to that moment when you realized your ass had been fucking dumped like a heap of day-old chum and the bottom fell right the hell out of your world. In fact, no, you make yourself remember that, as you watch the pot bubble and seethe on the burner. You make yourself remember it.
She’d always been with you. Since you were little. You were made for one another, you fit so beautifully together, you hunted to feed her lusus, she kept the world alive. You were moirails with the most astonishing and beautiful creature ever to have hatched on Alternia, the Heiress to the Empire, the tyrian-blooded woman who held all your fates in her lovely palm and
she had said to you: let’s just be friends.
You went over and over and over in your memories: what had you said, what had you done, what hadn’t you said or done that you should have, what had made her suddenly change and reject you when for so long all you had ever wanted was to see yourself reflected in those astonishing eyes and know that you were worth everything you thought you were.
(This might, looking back on it, have been an indication of your own emotional instability.)
When she’d dropped you you were frantic, trying everything to get her back, flailing like a gaffed pike and making even more of an ass of yourself than usual. You had been drowning in misery, the sheer painful sickness in your chest crushing you hard enough to make breathing almost impossible; you’d gone into the water to try and help that ache, but even swimming hadn’t eased it. You felt as if something was closing its fist inside your chest, just at the end of your breastbone, and it wrenched purple tears out of you in great ungraceful gagging whoops, you found yourself at the last curled up in on yourself in some sea-cave hugging your bony knees to your chest and weeping purple into the cold water around you. Nothing could ever be the same. You didn’t want it to.
You didn’t want to surface, either, but you did, a day later, shaking with the cold of the deeps and as unhappy as you could remember being, and the first thing you did was sign on to Trollian and try to contact her even though it felt like you were sticking her damn trident into your middle and twisting, and she refused to answer you. The others wouldn’t either. She must have told them about what happened and now none of them wanted anything to do with your pathetic ass either.
That morning you ended up on the deck of the Dualscar, drunk as fuck and miserable as more fuck, and the sunburn you got left you confined to your recuperacoon for several days. By the time you could bear clothing again some of the worst of the raw despair had passed, but you couldn’t stop seeing reminders of her all over your hive, things she’d left there, things that brought back your memories of how she’d once been with you, and you sank into bitterness from the heart up and you turned into a real high-toned grade-A bitch. That had lasted perigees, and you are only now getting to the point where you can recognize yourself as a real bitch, and know why, and God but you wish you’d never seen Zahhak yesterday, wished you’d never had to have that conversation with him, but...
But if you hadn’t seen him yesterday he probably would be dead, and while you do get that, you do, believe you you get that shit, how nice it would be to just fall into death and never wake up again, you know that he unlike you has at least one goddamn person who cares about him, even if she’s got a brand new shiny-ass matesprit to have sloppy makeouts with. You know Leijon does care for him and you do not really want to think about what she’d do to you if you had not stepped in to haul his ass back to shore.
You want to cry again, briefly, angrily, because the world is unfair and miserable and nobody understands.
But you have dinner to make and as you turn down the flame under your pot of seafood stew you can feel that weight of boring old rationality descend on your shoulders once more, like another cape, one that’s a much less interesting color.
Life would be easier, you think, if your fucking generator could stay functional for more than two nights at a stretch. When the lights go out you wait the requisite forty seconds for them to go back on before taking the pot off the heat and going to find your oilskins and a wrench. Fucking fuck-awful goddamn pieces of landdweller shit. Something’s got stuck in one of the intakes again and it takes you a good ten minutes of prodding and prying, shoulders hunched against the driving wind and rain and seaspray, before the goddamn thing splutters to life again and the lights of your hive flicker and brighten once again. You’d been meaning to get a replacement for it but events beyond your control had transpired, including Zahhak, and you just hope to Gl’bgolyb that the thing doesn’t conk out entirely while you got a sick landdweller on your hands. Shit gets cold out here with no heat units running.
Still, once the thing is working again it seems to be content to go on working, and you make your way back inside, dripping and shivering all over, and go to fix your hair before you have to see company. The hood mostly saved it from getting totally ruined but you still have to straighten out a couple tendrils here and there, and you glower at yourself in the mirror.
Hey. Pretty goddamn good glower right there.
That cheers you up a little, and when you go to see if he’s awake and in the mood for dinner you’re almost smiling.
You’re kind of pleased by the appetite with which he engulfs your pretty basic stew. It’s not even all that spicy, you’d gone easy on the pepper on account of how you remember when you’d been sick Fef had made mild things for you that were tasty but not burning. He eats with the singleminded purpose of someone who does this as refuelling rather than enjoying something, but he seems to be having a good time so you don’t say much. You can also tell he’s made some kind of an effort to fingercomb his hair, it’s no longer matted together with sopor-slime, and you have to admit, yeah, it is good hair. Now if he’d only do something with it other than using it as a tactical face-concealment device. (Your own hair is totally doing that right now but that’s ironic, so it’s okay.)
“Why are you doing this?” he asks, just as he finishes his bowl. It’s kind of a surprise that he’s taken this long to come out with the question.
“Feeding you? Cause I don’t really want a dead landdweller in my hive, shit’s kind a hard to explain when people come askin questions.”
Equius looks at you and you can’t help feeling scolded. Which makes you annoyed. “Okay, okay. I’m....I guess I’m doing this cause it needs to be done and no one else was around to save your ass. That good enough?”
“You hate me,” he points out.
“Yeah, but I hate most people, and anyway, that’s like, that’s....okay, Zahhak, I don’t expect you to get this but we seadwellers have this thing about drowning people...”
“That’s not what I meant,” he says. His voice is slightly wavery; you can tell his fever’s risen. “Why are you...being nice to me?”
Every single stickleback spike you have, were you the kind of seatroll who actually had spikes, stands up. “I’m sorry, was that not okay? Should I be yelling invective at you? Would that be easier for you to comprehend, cause I’m so inscrutable and alien?”
He stares at you with wide ultramarine eyes that look honestly puzzled, and it makes you feel terrible, and you stand up. “Never mind. Fuck it. It’s nearly dawn, I’m gonna try and get some sleep, you should do the same.”
You don’t even know why you’re so irritated as you grab his empty bowl and your own and stalk out of the spare respiteblock. You really have no idea, and that makes you six times as annoyed, and you clatter the bowls into the sink and pour yourself a stiff drink and stare out into the lightening stormswept sky. What the fuck, Ampora. What the fuck. You were holding it together not so long ago.
Taking your drink out to your own respiteblock, you settle in your chair: it’s more comfortable than a pile of shitty wands, even if it does make you want to try and call up your Trollian chatfriends. As before, the interface is dark.
You stay there for a long time, getting up only to refill your glass, and you don’t even realize it when you slither from unhappy wakefulness into sleep.
Hours later, hours after the sun has risen and all the windows in your hive are autodarkened against its light, even filtered through the stormclouds, something wakes you other than your own horrorterrors, and you sit up, knocking over your empty glass. After a moment the sound comes again, and something in it grabs the base of your spine and gets you out of the chair and moving.
He’s thrashing about weakly in the cupe, face twisted, gasping, breath raw and ragged: you didn’t know Zahhak was prey to horrorterrors himself, but it’s probably just the fever giving him terrible dreams, and you stand in the doorway for a moment and then you just are not able to not go over and take his hot face between your hands and shoosh him. It has nothing to do with thoughts, it has nothing to do with feelings, it is straight-up instinct that makes you want to stop the shitty dreams however you can, stop whatever’s going on in his pan that makes him look so utterly miserably small.
He calms quickly after you’re there, and you don’t leave, pulling the chair up beside the cupe. Twice more before sunset he half-wakes in horrible hacking fits and you shoosh him again each time, and the second time you can tell his fever is breaking.
When you wake up you’re curled in the chair beside him and your hands are smudged violet with bruises; for a moment they puzzle you, and then you remember how tightly he had clung to your fingers as if they were the only thing between him and the endless howling void. You flex them and hiss, and work the rings off before the bruising can swell up even more; probably none of them are broken. You hope. His grip had been powerful, sick as he was.
Getting up, stiffly, you have a look: he’s sleeping peacefully, hair once again spread out in that black drifting cloud under the surface. Fine. Good. You figure he’ll be up and about shortly and you go to fetch him--heh--a bunch of towels, and leave him to get on with it, feeling old and worn-out and inscrutably guilty.