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Six.

A steady stream of fat droplets splatter in the basin. Lucia's hands drag down her face raking water.

Six nights in a row.

She turns the tap off with a shaking hand. A sallow face blinks back from the mirror, uncovered left eye swimming in water and tears, but still burning. Porcelain digs into her hip as she bends over the sink on a sharp inhale.

Six nights of the same nightmare.

Blackness. The drain stares up at her, like the pupil of some formless eye spiraling down forever into nothingness, into madness. Even the white basin surrounding it resembles sclera. No iris; just the darkness unending. She knows it's still trying to swallow her. She can feel it sucking her in, pulling her down lower over the sink. Closer and closer, until her cursed eye is staring straight down into the wretched hole, and yet closer still until she feels wet stone pressing against her cheek.

For just a moment, her cursed eye can see the darkness writhing-

"Lucia?"

She jerks upright at the sound of her name, spoken softly from the doorway. Sumire is leaning against the frame in her nightgown and rubbing her eyes.

Lucia has to blink for a moment to remember where she is. The terror almost slipped down over her head again, but she manages to ground herself by squeezing the edge of the sink and breathing shallowly. This is Venus Vanguard, the small bath joined to the bedroom she shares with Sumire. Her recovery takes a little too long, raising Sumire's suspicion. She's no longer rubbing sleep from her eyes, but watching Lucia closely with a wrinkle of concern splitting her brow.

"Are you okay?"

When Sumire steps forward, Lucia glimpses the shadowed bedroom behind her and flinches away, staring at the spot just above Sumire's shoulder. Her eyes search the space for movement, certain she saw something from the corner of her vision. Sumire frowns, reaches up to feather her fingertips over both sides of Lucia's face; she stares until Lucia meets her worried gaze.

"What's wrong? Talk to me?"

Lucia's eyes slide away from her. She wants to talk about it. She wants to, dammit. She's never been scared of anything as much as this.

But she can't tell Sumire that she's afraid of the dark.

-

The sleep loss is taking its toll on her. She knows it's only a matter of time before she slips up on a hunt and gets herself or Sumire injured, or worse. But the nightmares can't last forever, can they? If she can just wait it out, she can go back to normal. She can start sleeping again.

Sumire has been noticing, of course. Lucia stopped coming to bed at the usual time on day five - two days ago but what feels like a lifetime. She stands in the bathroom, alternately staring at and avoiding the mirror. She has started keeping a bottle of Scotch and her cigarettes in the cabinet, too. Sumire hasn't complained. Lucia knows she wants to help, but it's something none of them understand and Sumire does her best by letting her deal with it the way she always has - and for that, Lucia is thankful. She expected this to put strain on their relationship, but at least that doesn't seem to be the case yet.

She swallows another burning draft of alcohol and faces the mirror again. A sunken eye rakes her up and down, searching for something out of place, but finds nothing. She doesn't take the eyepatch off under any circumstances, anymore. In her rare moments of optimism, she thinks that if she spends enough time with the curse completely sealed off, this surge of symptoms will die down. That must be it. When she reminds herself that she hasn't been using the eye's power more than usual, and maybe the curse is just getting stronger, she drinks to shut up that part of her mind.

Her eye narrows at her reflection, daring it to contradict her. This has to work. It has to. I'm too strong to lose to this.

The throbbing behind her eyepatch spikes like a migraine. It's not that it hasn't hurt like hell all week, but this time is more severe, forcing her to double over with her hands clamped to the side of her face. She hisses in and out through bared teeth, breathing through the pain. It takes several minutes of rocking herself as a distraction, but it finally ebbs to a more manageable ache. That's when she hears water drip into the basin.

Plink.

She feels blindly for the faucet to shut it off, pushes, but the knob doesn't budge. It's already turned all the way.

Plink.

She uncovers her face and looks down at the basin. A small puddle of scarlet lays starkly against the ash-stained porcelain.

Plink.

She glacially raises her head to peer at the mirror and freezes, neck bent awkwardly. There, at the lower edge of her eyepatch, is a bead of blood bubbling up from beneath. How she hadn't noticed it until she heard it dripping, she doesn’t know. Cautiously, she slides her nails under the edge and peels it away, frowning at the sensation. She must have been bleeding for longer than she thought, because it cracks away from her skin like a scab coming loose. The bead that had been gathering turns into a trickle down her cheek. With a final tearing sound, the eyepatch comes away from her face.

Lucia stares for a long moment, unable to comprehend what she sees.

Her left eye - her cursed eye - is gone. In its place yawns a ragged, dark, empty hole, alive with twisting shadows. Nothing lies within it - no gore or viscera, which would be preferable. Anything but to have that terrible, terrible darkness inside her . She claws at her face, mouth stretched wide but no sound surfacing. The skin around the hole is peeled and broken, crusted with dried, blackened blood. It continues to weep, dripping stringy shadows into the basin where it coalesces into blood and flows deeper. Her blood is being sucked down, down into the drain, the eye, the abyss.

The room spins. Covering the gaping hole in her face with a trembling hand, Lucia leans over the sink to watch her blood slither down into its depths. And there, nestled in the top of the drain, its yellow ring surrounded by bloodstained pink, is her cursed eye. It slowly blinks at her.

She screams.

-

She doesn't stop screaming even when she wakes.

Somehow she made it into the bathroom in her sleep. Sumire finds her curled up on the floor in the fetal position and has to pry her hand away from her face to confirm that nothing is wrong, that it was just a nightmare. But Lucia can't forget the feeling of that awful, malevolent darkness writhing within her eye socket. It takes almost ten long minutes to calm her frantic sobbing of, "I felt it, I felt it moving!" long enough to get her back to bed. The sink was clean.

She had scratched her face up, thin red lines left by her nails which needed disinfecting. Finally brought down from her hysteria, she sits in the complete opposite state, staring numbly into the distance. She doesn't flinch when Sumire dabs her face with a peroxide-soaked cotton ball. This behavior worries Sumire more than the screaming, but she says nothing as she works.

Once all the scratches have been taken care of, Sumire sets the medical supplies aside and moves closer to Lucia, this broken girl she regards as the strongest person in her life. Strength, she has come to understand, comes at a cost. The bags beneath Lucia's eyes attest to this, as do Sumire's callouses from her grueling firearm practice. In this moment, Sumire feels their roles reversed for the first time since she showed up on Venus Vanguard's doorstep.

Gently to avoid the scratches, she slides her hand beneath Lucia's chin and up the far side of her neck, turning her head with a thumb pressed against her cheek. An unfocused blue eye drags slowly across the room, finally focusing on her face. It hurts to return that gaze, to see the fear she's never allowed herself to show, but Sumire continues to star back into it, pushing a calming smile onto her face. When Lucia's gaze wanders, flickering after some imagined movement, Sumire coos to her and strokes her cheek until she returns eye contact.

"Just look at me. Don't look at anything else. Only my eyes. That's it."

Sumire puts all the affection she has into her gaze. If the eyes really are the windows to the soul, then Lucia will see it. She knows they are, because she can see a younger Lucia through that weary blue eye, like clear glass. The orphaned girl, chased by monsters and feared as one. A faint flickering light consumed by unrelenting shadows. It's beautiful, in its wicked torment. Sumire draws on all the adoration she has for Lucia, for her strength and grace, for accepting her own dark power, for all the times Lucia has protected her and given her purpose. She focuses these feelings from the bottom of her soul into her gaze, hoping it will pierce the darkness surrounding Lucia and she will find comfort in it. This is all she can do.

They stay like this for a long time, and seeing the way Lucia's eyelids begin to droop, Sumire moves the two of them to lie down facing each other. Lucia doesn't resist, merely taking hold of Sumire's hand in the gap between their bodies, her gaze growing unfocused as consciousness fades.

"If you're a dream... I think... I wouldn't mind... sleep..."

Lucia mumbles the last few words as her eye finally closes. Her fitful breathing slows to a gentle whisper, deep and measured. The tension melts away, easing from every line of her body, leaving just a girl - exhausted, but for now, at peace. Sumire strokes her cheek, watching her closely for any sign of distress. She watches until morning, and still Lucia doesn't stir.

Even if it's just one night, for a few hours, the darkness is powerless to take her.