“Good morning, dalah’surfal.” Breyd’s voice and the sound of the curtains being drawn back roused Evelos from his doze. He spent a moment staring at her, blinking in the fresh sun, before sitting up. It wasn’t as hard for him now, Breyd observed, but his lack of muscle tone still made her worry. “Do you think you could stand on your own today?” she asked. “You’ll be coming home.”
“I’ll try,” said Evelos.
“After breakfast,” replied Breyd with firmness, and slid a bowl of broth under his chin. “Eat up, love. Or drink up, as it were.”
“My favorite,” said Evelos dryly.
He tried, and with Breyd’s watchful eye and gentle coaxing, finally succeeded in draining the bowl. She sat with him as she gave it a while to digest—listening to the sounds of his intestines working with a gnomish listening rod. The gurgles came from the right places with the right timing, but she knew it would be unwise to chance any food more solid until she worked another restoration ritual on his gut.
Then, finally, came the time for them to leave. “Shall we try standing?” she asked Evelos with false brightness. She was more anxious that he wouldn’t be able to than she looked.
Evelos just nodded, eyes unfocused like he was looking inward, and he crept to the edge of his cot. There was a moment Breyd was certain he was about to roll off the bed and onto his face, but one way or another, the elf made it onto his feet. He stood there, with just a slight wavering from side to side to mark his weakness.
She quickly came to his side to help steady him. “Good, very good. How are you feeling now?”
“Light-headed,” Evelos replied honestly.
“Maybe you’d better sit down again. Soon enough it’ll be time to go, and–”
“Time to go,” Evelos echoed. And go Evelos did, hobbling along, and Breyd was surprised he got as far as the door. She started forward to catch him, but then he kept going, down the hall, through the reception area, down to the street (only a slight stumble on the ramp), and then down that street into the city.
She was beginning to think, a mite wildly, that he might just make it the whole way home, a knot of amazement and worry clenched tight in her gut—when Evelos abruptly stopped.
“I think I am tired,” said Evelos.
“I can help you sit—“ Breyd’s encouragement was cut short when Evelos suddenly crumpled to the ground. She gave a funny little squawk and hurried to his side, to find him staring straight ahead, as if puzzled that the world was now sideways.
“I’m on the ground,” he remarked.
“Yes, yes, you are on the ground,” said Breyd, stuttering slightly over her relief that he was okay—and not a little bit of irritation now at his recklessness. “Are you okay?”
“I don’t know. I guess not.”
“You guess?” Breyd swallowed, trying to keep her voice calm.
Evelos looked at her. “N’raqi feed on pain and fear. I suppose I’m not okay because I’m on the ground, but I don’t feel anything wrong.”
The reminder of his shattered mind didn’t help matters. “Never mind,” said Breyd, pushing on a smile. “Can you at least sit up? We’ll start there.”
Evelos rolled slowly over and began to push himself up on his palms. He paused about halfway up, then sunk back down, expression barely changing, except for an added layer of confusion. “Oh. I am tired.”
“Of course you are. Look, I’ll help you to the curb, and you can rest.”
Breyd wrapped one of Evelos’ arms about her neck and half-dragged him to the side of the street. He gave a few absent pushes with his feet but he wasn’t of much help. Finally she had him sitting up against a building, and, tears stinging her eyes, she focused on trying to clean the mud from his cheek. She didn’t trust herself to speak.
“Thank you,” said Evelos, “but I think I manage that.”
“I want to,” murmured Breyd, and she did. It was something useful to do, something kind, and it kept her from thinking about anything but the immediate future. Evelos was not as well as he seemed, and something inside her was wailing that he never would be okay…
Evelos seemed to sense she was brokering no arguments, and sat without fuss through the scrubbing. “I’m sorry for making a scene,” he said.
Breyd shook her head silently; words were stuck in her throat.
“I suppose void elves do that a lot,” Evelos went on.
“Yes, I suppose they might.” Breyd tucked away her handkerchief, now muddy, looking into Evelos’ eyes for any trace of the shame that had once plagued him due to his ren’dorei form. That, too, was something she could focus on fixing, despite the uncomfortable memories it brought. “But this particular void elf is my husband,” she reminded him, “and I love him very much despite—because of his looks.”
“Which void elf?” said Evelos blankly, then, “Oh,” a moment later.
The slip-up was small, but it felt like another crack to her shell, her mask, her protection from the fear and loss that had been looming on her doorstep ever since Evelos first collapsed at Lion’s Rest. Perhaps the n’raqi had succeeded at its goal, putting a void into her without ever even touching her with the Shadow… But Evelos needed her now, so she pushed the bleak darkness away and smiled for him.
“I’ll rest a little while, then we can go on,” said Evelos, and Breyd didn’t miss the reassuring note he put into his voice. He wasn’t fooled by her act. He rarely was. To think how close she’d come to losing that—the darkness yawned again.
But she didn’t have to worry about losing him now, did she? Kiirai and Lily had both proclaimed him stable. Shooing her worries before her, she sat beside him and drew his wasted form close, pressing her cheek to his. Evelos found her hand and held it, his breath relaxed and slow on her neck.
Let the passer-bys stare. She still had her husband, and that was victory enough for her, even if…
Breyd turned to kiss his cheek and pressed her nose against his hair. That was enough. Evelos was still Evelos, and he proved it just then by turning his face into the kiss, lipping at her mouth, then setting his chin on her shoulder and squeezing her with the little strength he had left. “I love you, Breyd.”
“I love you, too,” said Breyd, and hid her tears on his chest. This time, she was surprised to find there weren’t so many of them. But—then again, she thought, rubbing one cheek and pushing her fiery hair from her face—why not? She was beginning to think he would be all right after all.
Evelos gave another one of his weak squeezes, echoing her thoughts. “Everything will be okay,” he murmured in her ear. Then he paused. “Breyd?”
“I’m still hungry.”