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But I Can Carry You

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Helping to start a paramilitary splinter group that may or may not be operating outside of the wishes of the New Republic Senate hadn’t been on Joph Seastriker’s “Exciting Things To Do As Soon As I Can Fly” list. And yes, he had certainly had a list like that. All the nights he had kept his eyes glued open, fighting sleep, had been devoted to adding to it. All he wanted to do was fly away, and the days when he could make this dream a reality just couldn’t come fast enough to him.

Ironically, resisting sleep and planning new adventures were quite the opposite of what he was doing right now. Right now, he was lying on his back, staring at the ceiling of the bunker where the pilots’ berths were, wishing that he could sleep. He couldn’t figure out why his eyes had popped open in the middle of the night. But there was no drifting off now, which meant there was also no reason to stay in the room that Joph considered far too stuffy.

He slid to the edge of his bunk and left the room lightly, taking care not to disturb his dormmates. No point in them missing out on sleep too. Joph had to grin to himself whenever he thought about all those plans he had made as a kid. He was certainly in the middle of an adventure now, though sometimes he wondered how children never thought they might actually long for sleep and slow days when they were older.

Joph made his way down the hallway and towards the main hanger. He stepped into the huge bay where all the ships were kept, row after row of X-Wings, some A-Wings, and even an antiquated Y-Wing or two. Stopping just inside the shelter, right where the tarmac began, he breathed in the smell of the hangar – that scent of old grease and gears and fuel that seemed to be in his very blood. It was warm out tonight, though there was the slightest of breezes blowing. He mussed a hand through his own hair while gazing up at the stars. D’Qar had lots of bright green grass and rolling hills, unlike his homeworld of Gatalenta. But every planet had stars, and he found he could recognize some of the same pinpricks of light that he had learned by heart as a kid. All those tiny dots that he had vowed to visit as soon as he was old enough to fly away.

As he brought his gaze away from the heavens, something caught his attention. His eyes lit on a bench not far away – and widened as he instantly recognized the feminine figure, lustrous black hair down and streaming over the thin blanket wrapped around her body.

He knew why Greer was out here at this hour, there was no need to question her. She often couldn’t sleep from the fevers and consequent headaches she endured, and it wasn’t unusual to discover her up and about before everyone else due to her sleeplessness.

He contemplated whether he should leave for the slightest moment, but something told him otherwise. Though he had vowed to himself never to pity her, and she had warned him fiercely and on multiple occasions that her health was her own concern, something within him whispered that now was the time to stay. He doubted that she would appreciate the gesture, but unable to leave her alone, he made his way to her side and tentatively sat down on the bench. He released his breath, then chanced a look in her direction – to find her huge dark eyes fixated on him. Now that he was closer, he could see the way her brow was wrinkled and the skin around her eyes scrunched up, her jaw set painfully tight as she rode out the waves of agony pounding against her skull.

She shut her eyes again, the effort of keeping them open and fixated on him too much to keep up for long. She sucked in a deep breath through clenched teeth and released it with something between a sign and a whimper. Though the night was comfortably warm, she was shivering beneath her blanket. He could feel the heat of her fever from the distance at which he sat, and he anxiously checked the back of her hand for the telltale signs of dehydration. He didn’t find them, but her skin fairly burned against his, and she shivered at his touch. He knew better than to ask if she had been keeping up with her treatments lately; she had been dangerously close to toxic levels when he first found out about her condition, and since then, although she had kept up her regular treatments, her fevers had only risen and increased frequency. And besides, he was somehow confident that talking at times like this was the worst thing one could do.

He wished with all his heart that he could do something to relieve her pain. Even if it meant he had to bear some of it with her. Anything that meant she wouldn’t have to carry it all alone.

But that was impossible. So instead, he gave her hand a gentle squeeze and released it, tucking it beneath the blanket. Not that the cloud-light cloth could do anything for her, either way. With fevers as high as hers often ran, it wasn’t worth chancing major consequences in trying to use something thicker to keep her warm. The only hope was that keeping her cool would bring her body temperature down to normal levels, but the blanket gave her something comforting to tighten around herself, something to clench in her hands and dig her nails into through long nights of pain.

Realization hit him that when they were both sitting, he didn’t seem so much shorter than her anymore. In fact, with the way she was hunched down against the back of the bench right now, he was taller.

She gritted her teeth, pressing both hands against her eyes and temples, and seemed almost to whimper – his heart ached for her. Greer Sonnel was so strong, so bold. She was a true daughter of Pamarthe, turning her nose up at fear and weakness and never showing the slightest traces of it herself. Seeing her in such a way, the victim of a war she could not ever truly win –

Joph knew that he wasn’t supposed to cry, he knew that, and he had kept it mostly under control since leaving Gatalenta. The last time he remembered breaking was when he first found out about Greer’s illness – the shock had just been so intense, and the realization that this amazing person next to him was slowly dying had hit him like a cargo freighter at lightspeed.

Joph could almost feel Greer’s struggle for consciousness as she leaned against him, her body all but shaking with the burning fever coursing through it. Tears threatened to fill his eyes as he helplessly slipped her blanket up higher, almost to her chin, and gathered her close.

Eternity seemed to pass as she drifted in and out of consciousness, the blanket snug about her, but he was determined not to let her go until this battle had ended.

***

Greer’s fever broke, and she drifted off into cool, peaceful sleep. The wet tracks of silent tears glistened across Joph’s face.

In the distance, the sun had begun to tint the edges of the horizon with the glow of embers refusing to be smothered by choking ash.