“Damnit, Silas.” Malachai mutters, his face pressed into one hand. He’s standing in the kitchen of his new house, the one that was given to him as a head of the new government. Silas has just teleported there with River cradled in his arms.
Silas ignores Malachai’s comment and steps past him into the living room, grunting as he deposits River onto the plush couch as gently as he can.
Malachai steps into the living room, grabbing Silas’ upper arm and spinning him around. He might not be Silas’ boss anymore, but he still treats him like an underdog
“I’ve made a lot of exceptions for you, Silas. I followed you into your rebellion, I looked the other way when you snuck around with him,” he gestured angrily and River where he lay whimpering on the couch, “I’m not going to help you patch him up after he betrayed us and everything we were working for.”
“He needs a doctor.” Silas pulls himself out of Malachai’s grip and kneels by River’s side. “One of your new connections. A witch. A fiend won’t be able to heal him without hurting him more.” Silas looks over his shoulder to Malachai who stands with his brow furrowed and arms crossed.
“Do you have a blanket for him?” Silas asks quietly.
Malachai sighs and grumbles, but he steps out of the room and returns with a blanket and hands it to Silas. Silas places it over River and tucks it around him carefully. River takes a pained breath as Silas brushes against his ribs.
“Please.” Silas whispers, running a thumb over River’s cheek.
“He betrayed you.” Malachai’s voice is quieter now, the tone more questioning and less adamant.
Silas looks up at his former boss, who is staring down at River, pale-faced among the sheets.
“I know he betrayed us. But it was fiends who were beating him and who hurt him like this. We have an obligation to fix this. Our people did this.” Silas watches the decision play over Malachai’s face, sees how close he is to helping him.
“There’s something with his lung…one of his ribs…I don’t know if it will heal on its own. Our magic will hurt him if we try to help. We need a witch. Please, Malachai.”
The fiend stares down at Silas, closing his eyes and opening them slowly. He leaves the room without saying a word.
Silas lets his head fall against the couch. He can hear the labored sounds of River breathing. He has dreamt hundreds of times about how he and River might find each other again. He’d imagine himself out at a bar, and suddenly out of the corner of his eye he’d see River, and they would walk slowly towards one another through the crowd. Or he’d thought maybe they would pass each other on the street when they weren’t expecting it, and would turn towards each other and run into each other’s arms. He had imagined it so many times, how they would kiss again and make love again and he wouldn’t have to ask River why he had betrayed him.
He’d never imagined anything like this, though some part of him had always known how high the chances were. He reached up and squeezed River’s hand. Unwanted images of how River had looked when he first found him filled his mind. What if he hadn’t been there, in the right place at the right time? River would have suffered alone in that darkness. It had been his fault, too. He should have tried to keep tabs on River. He should have known that his family would kick him out eventually, or that he’d be an easy target for a fiend attack. Fiends recognize him and his mother and know they had turned against them and followed Valiant.
Silas turns at the sound of the voice. It’s high-pitched and wavery. It’s not the kind of voice he’d like a healer to have. The healer is tall and willowy-thin, slimmer even than Silas for all his height. He has colorful rags bound around his pale hands. His light green eyes find River, and he frowns.
“What happened?” He asks, laying his hand gently on River’s forehead.
“I…I don’t know, exactly.” Silas whispers, sitting up and wiping the mist from his eyes. “I haven’t seen him since…a long time. I found him in this alley. A bunch of fiends were running away. I think they wailed on him and left him to die. I think he’s poisoned with their magic.”
The healer nods, glances at Malachai, and leans forward to lay his hands on River’s chest.
Silas’ hand darts out to stop him, clasping around a thin wrist.
“Who are you?” He asks, warily. He doesn’t know what kind of connections River’s mother has, what she could try to do to the son she’d outcasted.
“My name is Absalom.”
“What coven are you with?” Silas asks, still gripping his wrist firmly,
“I’m not a part of any coven. Many witches never were, even before the conflict with Valiant and Valor. It’s not a healer’s place to take sides.”
Silas glances between Absalom and Malachai.
“Is he trustworthy?” He asks in Infernic.
Malachai, not the type to lie in any circumstance, shrugs.
“I think so.” He replies in the same language.
Absalom looks between the two of them before fixing his pale green eyes on Silas. “If you fear some harm may come to him, it will not be from me. I judge noone, no matter the crimes they’ve committed. The more you stall, the more he fades.”
Silas let go of his wrist, jerking away. “He didn’t commit any crimes.” He says quietly, watching Absalom rub his wrist lightly before reaching out his hands to touch River’s torso. He closes his eyes and frowns in concentration as his hands sweep over River’s still form.
Then he opens his eyes, blinking them several times as if he’d just woken up from a fight.
“He has several broken ribs. One of them has punctured his lung.” Absalom sighs.
“Can you heal him?” Silas asks, his voice weak with fear as he thinks about what Absalom had said, how extensive that damage really is.
“Yes.” Absalom responds. “I’ve definitely seen worse. I can fix it…” He hesitates, and Silas blinks, desperate to hear what is weighing on the healer’s mind.
“He’s been exposed to a lot of demonic magic.”
Silas’ heart sinks. “Can’t you cleanse it or something?’
Absalom frowned at him. “It’s already in his system. There’s no way to get rid of it.”
Silas bares his teeth, Cobalt slithering out from the underside of his wrist. The snake slithers around Silas’ arm and raises its head to hiss at Absalom.
“I don’t want excuses. You’re going to heal him.”
“Silas.” Malachai hisses.
Silas bites his lip, feeling tears well up in his eyes again.. He doesn’t want things to be this complicated. He just wants River.
“You can intimidate me all you want.” Absalom says coldly. “It won’t change anything.”
“Fine.” Silas says quietly, still channeling his sadness into anger, backing away a few steps as Cobalt curls around his shoulders.
Absalom takes a deep inhale and places his hands on River’s body. He begins to whisper an incantation, and Silas can feel the overwhelming sensation of divine magic filling the room.
River takes a quick, pained inhale as Absalom’s hands move over him. Silas almost stops him, but River’s face relaxes as he takes a deep shuddering breath.
Time seems to stretch on and on, sweat building slowly on Absalom’s brow as he works. Then, he steps back and shakily takes a seat in another chair, leaning back into it. He’s quiet for a long time, breathing deeply.
“Well?” Silas demands.
Absalom’s prominent jawline flexes. Silas feels an absurd burst of rage. Is Absalom really feeling frustrated with his impatience, when the man he loves is laying there dying?
“I did what I can.” The healer sighs. “Now we just need to wait.” His eyes flutter closed.
River begins coughing harshly, taking wheezing breaths in between. He’s awake now, barely, his pale cheeks flushed with fever. His brown and blue eyes slide over Silas’ face, glazed and far away. He moves his mouth, trying to speak, but his voice when it comes out is dry and breathy. Silas hushes him, summons a cup of water, helps him sit up and drink it. River watches him for a while longer, and falls asleep again, their hands cradling each other’s.
“Call another healer.”
Absalom’s eyes narrow and flicker to Malachai.
“I don’t like his tone.” The healer says cooly. “Is he implying I can’t do my job.”
“I said, call another healer.” Silas growls. “Don’t forget who you’re talking to. I brought down Valiant, I saved all of you. You owe me this, at least. Call someone else, I want a second opinion.”
Absalom purses his lips but does not complain, he stands and moves to leave the room.
“Wait.” Silas locks his eyes with Absalom’s light green ones. “It can’t be anyone associated with the coven of Ama.
Absalom frowns. “Isn’t he the High Priestess’ son?”
Silas signs. “Yes, but they won’t help him. He was excommunicated from his coven. None of them will help him.”
Absalom raises his eyebrows slightly but nodded.
Silas watches River sleep as Absalom calls another healer. He counts his breaths, worried each one will be shorter than the last, and holds his hand.
Time seems to drag on forever, watching this person whom he had far too little time with waste away. Malachai leans against the far wall, watching them.
Eventually, after an eternity has passed, he hears high heels click on the floor as someone walks into the room.
Silas looks over his shoulder to see the figure standing behind him. She has high cheekbones and dark eyes.
“I’m Sonya.” The witch says. The late hour has not made her look rumpled at all, her dark hair falls glossily around her pretty face. She’s wearing a tight dress and black high heels.
Silas doesn’t miss the way Malachai’s gaze lingers on her.
“Who wants to fuck a dink now?” Silas snaps at Malachai in Infernic.
Malachai sneers and Sonya flashes ugly looks at the both of them
“Sonya.” Silas repeats, snapping back to reality. “River, he needs help but I…”
“What he’s trying to say,” Absalom steps around his companion into the room, “Is that I’ve already done everything I can to help River, but he doesn’t think it’s enough.”
“He certainly doesn’t look healed.” Sonya says bluntly, looking down into River’s flushed face.
Absalom flinches at the comment before continuing. “He was attacked by fiends. He’s been poisoned by their magic.”
Sonya lets her hands hover over River’s body, closing her eyes. When she speaks, Silas expects an incantation, but she addresses Absalom instead.
“You did good work. You healed his wound well. I don’t know if there’s anything else I can do.”
“What?” Silas means to yell but his voice comes out weak as all his breath leaves him. “But he…he’s so weak.”
Sonya looked at Silas, eyes soft with pity. The softness of it looked foreign on the sharp features of the witch’s face.
“Healing the wound helped. His body will only have to fight on one front. I can try a few things but there’s no knowing if they will help at all.”
Silas says nothing, simply joins Malachai slumping against the far wall.
Sonya lays her hands on River and begins to speak a spell, totally different from the one the other healer had spoken. The sense of divine magic fills the room, even more potently than when Absalom had been working. Cobalt is coiled over his shoulders, his head raised so it is next to Silas’ ear, watching Sonya. The familiar opens its mouth, showing small sharp fangs the color of blood as he hisses.
Stop it. Silas tells Valor. She’s healing River. Yet he feels his own face twisting into a frown in response to the feeling of the magic. It makes him feel like pins are sticking him all over. Malachai swears and ducks out of the room. Silas makes himself stay and watch them, to be sure they aren’t doing anything to harm River.
Eventually, Sonya takes a deep breath and draws her hands back. She reaches them up to rub at her eyes.
“I’ve done everything I can. Now you’ll just have to wait.”
“What?” Silas raises his voice. “Don’t you know if it worked or not.”
Sonya looks at him and shakes her head. “I tried some more experimental magic, tried to find the demonic poison in him and neutralize it. We won’t know if it worked until we see how he reacts. Have Malachai inform me how well he recovers. It will help me in my research.”
Silas almost protests Absalom and Sonya leaving. Instead, he simply kneels back down besides the couch. His eyes are fixed on River and the ashen quality of his face. His breathing now is even, and some invisible trace of pain and tension has left his body. Silas wonders if he actually is better or if he’s just hopefully imagining that the magic helped.
Eventually, he sinks into fitful and uncomfortable sleep, slumped against the couch.
The next day, River burns with fever and mutters nonsense. Silas presses cool cloths to his forehead. Once, he seems to recognize Silas, and he asks for water.
That night, he is silent. His fever stops and he grows icy cold. Silas only knows how magic poisoning works in fiends, not witches, but he knows enough to see this is a bad sign. Unable to bear the silence and the weak, shallow sound of River’s breath, he begins to talk constantly, spewing a stream of stories to block out the silence. Mostly, he talks about them.
“You know, from the moment I saw you I wanted you.” He whispers, “I would be romantic and say it wasn’t just physical, but it was. Very quickly though, within just that first day I spent with you, I wanted to know more about you. There’s something about you…River, it’s something I can’t escape. It’s like a pull towards you, that I’ve felt since I met you.”
River flutters his eyes open and looks at Silas. Silas smiles, overjoyed and honestly surprised to see River looking up at him. His eyes still look glazed and far away, but he recognizes Silas. He opens his mouth, but only a dry creaking sound comes out. Silas summons more water, helps him sit up and drink it. He gulps it down and whispers for more, but Silas knows even water can be harsh on a sick stomach, and holds him back
“Silas…” His voice is quiet and thin, “how am I…how are you…” he frowns and draws a hand up to rub at furrowed brows. “I feel like shit.”
“Do you remember anything?” Silas asks. River’s frown deepens and he shakes his head.
His eyes, his beautiful two-toned eyes, flutter.
“I’m sleepy.” He whispers.
Silas shushes him and helps him lay back down.
When River wakes up again, there is color in his cheeks. Silas doesn’t think he’s ever felt relief and hope as absolutely as he does this moment. He talks some, drinks more water, starts to ask Silas about what happened. Silas gives him gentle, cryptic answers. He doesn’t want to talk too much about it until River is better.
“Silas?” Violet’s voice is quiet.
Silas turns and, without really thinking about it, crosses the room to wrap her in his arms.
“Watch out.” She says gently, pulling away. He notices then that she has a bowl of soup in one hand.
“I figured both of you could use something to eat.”
Silas glanced back at River, who was smiling faintly at them.
“I’m not sure if he’s strong enough.” He whispered.
Violet shrugged. “It’s mostly for you. He can start with a little bit and see how it makes him feel.”
Silas nods and takes the soup from Violet, setting it on the floor by the couch. Violet kneels down next to him as he gently helps River sit up.
“Do you want to try some soup?” Silas asks River.
River frowns. “Maybe a little bit.”
River manages a few spoonfuls between bits of conversation with Violet.
“You have a dedicated caretaker here, River. I’ve known Silas a long time, and even I would never have suspected this. Malachai told me he hasn’t left your side for three days.” She chuckles, “He thought he’d have to bring him a bottle so he could piss without leaving your bedside.”
River smiles shyly and looks up at Silas. Violet and Silas chat quietly, mostly about other members of the gang, as River drifts slowly back to sleep.
Silas holds the bowl in both hands and sips from it slowly, turning to face Violet.
“I’ve never seen you like this.” Her gaze is fixed on River.
She shrugs. “I guess I mean…caring? I don’t know. It doesn’t really surprise me but it’s like…before this part of you was always hiding behind the surface. Love does that to you, I suppose.”
Silas frowns, staring down at the soup. “I thought you agreed with everyone else. I thought you wanted me to move on, stop loving him.”
Violet reaches for his hand. “I want you to do what makes you happy, Silas. That’s all any of us want for you. If you’re sure you can trust him…”
“His family kicked him out.” Silas stares at River’s peaceful expression. “They found out about he and I, somehow. They think it’s forbidden to love the same sex.” He sighs and rubs his eyebrows.
“I don’t think Ama’s Coven would be dumb enough to try anything, not with the rest of the world united against them the way they are right now. Even if they did, River wouldn’t side with them. Not again.”
Violet’s eyes flickered over him.
“Eat.” She said.
Read the next and final chapter here.