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Gan was hurting. The glass he’d been carrying had fallen from his fingers, shattered on the floor. He knelt before the shards, hands to his abdomen. For a moment, he couldn’t find his breath.

But then he did. “T’Gatoi!” The yell was desperate, shrill. “ Gatoi!

The Tlic came scurrying, slithering, into the room, limbs clicking on the floor. T’Gatoi saw Gan on the floor, and her body moved towards him in waves. 

“Gan? Is it happening?” Her voice was rather calm. She’d done this before, Gan knew. He, on the other hand, never had. Panic was washing through him like icemelt off a glacier, frigid cold.

“Yes,” he squeaked out. The eggs were hatching. He could feel it. Inside . He’d never been so disturbed before. 

One of T’Gatoi’s many limbs gently touched his shoulder. “Lay down here,” she told him. “I’ll be back.”

And so Gan managed to lay himself down on his back. He knew what T’Gatoi was doing: killing one of the Achti so that the grubs would have something to eat once they were taken out of him. They were inside him, scrounging around, leaving their egg shells, and he wanted them out . He was terrified of the process though. He knew that T’Gatoi would sting him, putting him into a drug-like stupor, but still, he worried. How badly would it hurt? Would he even feel it under the influence of the sting? 

Gan tried to control his breathing while T’Gatoi was gone, but he couldn’t. Moans came from him, and he rolled onto his side, clutching his stomach. He wanted his mother, he realized, but she was out working in the fields. She wouldn’t know of this until she came home later that evening. 

His brother Qui, he didn’t want witnessing this. Qui would only mock him, tell him that he was T’Gatoi’s property, that he was her pet. He’d done it before, and he would take the chance to mock him while he was curled up fetal and vulnerable like this. His sister Xuan-Hoa was out working too. It was just him and T’Gatoi, and that would have to be okay. T’Gatoi would get him through this. She’d promised. 

She returned, dragging the body of an Achti. She threw it down beside Gan, then touched him. Her touch was gentle, yet firm all at once. She was rolling him onto his back, slicing open his shirt and peeling it from his body. Gan had been naked and vulnerable to T’Gatoi before, when she’d put each of the eggs in him.

Gan didn’t realize he was crying until he tasted the salty droplets on his lips. His agony was twofold what he’d thought it would be. It stole even his strength to scream from him, and he was just left moaning out his anguish. 

T’Gatoi pulled his arms above his head with two of her limbs, leaving him prone. Her tail slashed, a small, painless line opening on the skin of his hip. Almost instantly, relaxation flooded through him. His body went limp, his eyes nearly closing. Pain seeped out of him, replaced with a gentle euphoria. Gan sighed. 

“There you go, Gan.” T’Gatoi’s voice was gentle, like a mother’s, like a lover’s. She could be both at once, Gan decided. Yes, that was nice. “I’ve called for a doctor to sew you up after. You’ll be okay.”

“Mm hm.” Gan nodded sleepily. His eyes drifted downwards as he felt T’Gatoi touching him. It took him a moment to register that the flesh she was rending apart was his, that the blood that flowed from the gash was his as well. He hardly felt it. He licked dry lips, watched what was happening like he was gazing upon something in a dream. 

The worms were almost all out of their eggs. T’Gatoi was quickly and methodically removing them from him and placing them in the Achti, every once in a while stopping to lick the blood from her limbs. Gan realized that he should have been horrified, but under the effect of T’Gatoi’s sting, he felt none of this. His eyes rolled back into his head.

After some time, or maybe no time at all, he felt T’Gatoi touching his face. He didn’t open his eyes though, didn’t look at her. 

“It is finished,” she told him.

And then Gan slipped into unconsciousness and dreams. 

Pain brought him back. Horrible, incessant, burning pain. He groaned, tried moving, but couldn’t. He was somewhere warm and soft - his bed maybe - laid out on his back. 

“Do not move, Gan.” That was his mother, Lien’s, voice. He felt a cool hand on his face. “You wouldn’t want to tear any of your stitches.”

Stitches? So it was over? He opened his eyes, found himself in his bedroom with his mother and T’Gatoi. There was a fiery line going from his collarbone to his navel. The horror only now just hit him. He’d been sliced open, and living beings had been taken from inside of him and put in something else. T’Gatoi had done this to him.

But it was her right as a Tlic. She’d held him as soon as he’d been born, had made claim over him. He’d always known he’d house and carry her eggs. 

“It’s over?” Gan asked. His voice was dry and raspy. 

“Yes.” T’Gatoi clicked and slithered closer, reared up over his bed so that she was looking down at him. “The worms are all healthy. You carried them well.”

Gan didn’t know what to say to this. He should have been happy for T’Gatoi. These were her first offspring. But, he couldn’t even crack a smile.

“We have eggs for you to take, Gan,” T’Gatoi said. “They will ease your pain.”

“Good,” he managed to say.

“Xuan-Hoa is getting them for you,” Lien told him. 

T’Gatoi whipped herself around the edge of the bed, settled herself right up against Gan. That was comforting. Her limbs closed around him, pulling him close to her, a loving gesture. 

“Gan, thank you.” T’Gatoi’s words were quiet, just for him. She brushed hair out of his face. “You do well as my N’Tlic. You will carry more eggs for me in the future.”

Gan reached out, took ahold of one of her limbs. He stroked it gingerly. He had no words, just touch. T’Gatoi seemed to be okay with that. She wrapped herself tighter around him, caging him, and he was content to be there.