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Cursed

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The blood was new. Tessa’s body ached and had been aching for the past two weeks, but the blood was new. She coughed as quietly as she could but suppressing it made it worse, and soon, she was doubled over, sitting in bed, trying to catch the blood being violently forced out of her body. Please don’t let him wake up , she thought. Please don’t let him see me like this .

Much to her dismay, she felt the bed shift as Jem stirred and sat up next to her. Gently, he placed a hand on her back. She coughed the rest of the blood out of her throat without Jem saying anything. Slowly, he stood up and grabbed a wet cloth from the bathroom and wiped the blood off of her hands while she caught her breath. She leaned into him and he wrapped an arm around her shoulders. He handed her a glass of water and she took slow sips.

He didn’t speak until she had handed the glass back to him to place on the nightstand. “It’s getting worse,” he said, matter-of-fact, as if they were talking about the news and not her coughing up blood like she had contracted tuberculosis.

“Not that bad,” she lied. She was still out of breath and her ribs ached. She rubbed her hand along her stomach, just below her breast to try and work out some of the tension.

“Liar,” he said. “Come here.” He pulled her into his lap and she leaned back into him. He wrapped his arms around her and just held her. He pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “We need to call Catarina.”

Tessa nodded but she was already drifting off into sleep. Jem held her tighter as the worry seeped through him.


 

Jem repositioned himself so that he sat on the edge of the bed and could watch her sleep. He had known she wasn’t feeling well, but he never thought it could be this bad. The blood this morning worried him. People got sick, he reminded himself, even Nephilim, even warlocks though it was rare. Tessa had said as much, likened this to the flu and made a joke about her being a terrible patient, and Jem had laughed, believing her because there wasn’t anything to suggest otherwise. She complained about her body aching, about a low fever that had started and broken a few days ago. Little things that worried him but he could dismiss. People got the flu. People did not wake up and choke on blood.

Tessa slept fitfully but deeply, fever dreams almost. She moved and turned, murmured and groaned, but when he reached to touch her face, she did not wake. Her forehead was warm, but he had tucked her in under the heavy comforter they had and didn’t let himself worry about another fever quite yet. Gently, he held her hand in his, running his thumb over the back of her hand, and he talked quietly. He just talked about random things, the weather, the city they were in. It was nothing she needed to know, nothing important, but Will had done it for him. Jem hadn’t been one to have fever dreams very often, only a handful of times, but it had scared Will, so Will had talked to him. It kept Jem grounded through the dreams, although he never told Will that he could hear him, he hoped it would do the same for Tessa, that she could ground herself enough to make it through the worst of the dream.

Jem wasn’t sure how long they stayed there like that until she startled awake. Jem saw her flinch and he held her hand a little tighter as her eyes opened and she oriented herself to the room again.

“Jem?” she whispered.

He squeezed her hand. “You’re okay. I’m right here.”

She looked up at him and for a moment, just a moment, he didn’t recognize the eyes looking back at him. He blinked and he was looking back down at Tessa again, but he couldn’t shake the uneasiness that came from it. Something about her eyes had been wrong, but he couldn’t place it.

He forced himself to smile at her. “How are you feeling?”

“Like I’m going to be sick,” she answered and started to pull herself up and out of bed.

Gently, he pushed her back into bed. “Stay here,” he said and stood up.

Shaking her head, Tessa paled. “No. I’m going to be sick,” she said again. “I’m going to be sick.”

Jem grabbed the bin from the corner of the room and brought it over to her. “Standing will make it worse,” he explained.

Tessa didn’t get a chance to answer before the vomiting began. Jem held the bin with one hand and pulled her hair back with the other. It was just clear fluid, but her body shook with the effort, and when she stopped and looked up at him, her cheeks were stained with tears.

“It’s okay,” he said. “You’re okay.”

She gave him a weak smile that said she didn’t believe him. “I think I’m done,” she whispered.

He nodded and gently helped her settle back into the bed before taking the bin and washing it out. In the kitchen, he filled a glass with water and dug through the cabinets until he found some plain crackers. He took a moment in the kitchen to recollect himself. The eyes looking back at him hadn’t been Tessa’s, but they weren’t a stranger’s. He couldn’t place them and that bothered him. He knew Tessa could Change but he had never seen her Change only one part of her body, and she hadn’t Changed for years. She refused unless it was an absolute necessity and there hadn’t been a reason for her to Change. Jem took a deep breath and walked back to their bedroom.

Tessa smiled at him when he walked in and he came to sit next to her. “Do you think I’m pregnant?” she asked. “We’ve been trying for a while. Do you think maybe that’s why I’m feeling sick?”

“Maybe,” Jem said. But pregnant women still don’t cough up blood , he thought, but he wouldn’t worry her with that. “Do you want to do the test today?”

Nodding, Tessa reached for his hand and she smiled weakly at him. Shakily, she stood up and disappeared into the bathroom. Jem waited on the bed, and she came back out with the test a few minutes later. She curled up next to him and held the test so he could see it.

“How long do we have to wait for this one?” he asked.

“This one is fancy. It comes up on the screen when it’s done, so we don’t have to guess over the two lines or not. I think this one takes maybe ten minutes or so,” Tessa said.

Jem wrapped an arm around her shoulders and they waited in silence until the test chirped at them. Tessa sighed and Jem held her closer.

“Maybe the test is wrong,” she said. “This one says it isn’t as accurate as the other ones.”

“Tess, we need to call Catarina,” he said. “You’re not pregnant. Coughing up blood is not part of being pregnant.”

“I know,” she said quietly. “But I can explain pregnancy. I can’t explain this.”

“Which is why we call Catarina,” he said again. “She knows more than we do in this.”

Tessa shook her head. “I don’t want to call her.”

“Why not?” Jem asked, pulling back so that he could look at her but she wouldn’t meet her eyes.

Tessa didn’t answer him. Instead, she pulled him back into bed and tucked them under the covers. She lay with her head on his chest and he held her close, matching his breathing to hers.  “Not yet,” she whispered when he thought she had fallen asleep. “I just don’t want to call her yet.”

“Okay,” Jem said and forced himself to relax. He didn’t like it. The coughing up blood, the fever, the vomiting, and the achy body. He remembered all of that, and he didn’t like that he could make that connection to her symptoms, but he could call Catarina if it got worse. For now, he just held her close to his chest and drifted slowly off to sleep.