My room was on the third floor of the north end of the old factory. We kept guest rooms up on that floor for when we had Caeruleum visitors come in. Rescues didn’t often get lodged in the factory until they had been vetted. Maria Mater had made an exception for me with Sanctus. Seeing as Requies’s had been compromised, I couldn’t safely lodge him where we usually placed take-ins.
I opened the door to the room and let Sanctus in. It was small and sparsely furnished. Clean sheets and a patched blanket were folded on top of the hay stuffed mattress. A shoddy desk, candle lamp, a pair of stools, and a chamberpot made the place feel down right monastic. A transom window along the top of the wall and ceiling provided a dim light to the space.
“What do you think?” I turned to the desk and lit the lamp, shedding a soft yellow across the grey stucco walls. I set his bag of clothes down next to the desk and the bag with the bandages and his medication on top.
He looked in awe at the room. “Really?” he asked, the first words I had heard him utter since enduring the last couple hours.
“Home for now. We will figure out your housing situation in a couple days. I sleep next door,” I explained as I unpacked the bags. He wandered to the bed, dragging his finger along the sheets. Tears tracked down his cheeks. “Is this okay?” he hedged.
“Yeah, perfectly,” I shrugged.
“It’s been…it’s been a long time since I had my own space like this,” he whispered, pulling the blanket from the pile.
“I hope you find it comfortable.” I couldn’t help but smile as he sat down gingerly on the bed and pulled the blanket over himself into a ball. “Warm?” I asked, kneeling down to look at him. He nodded.
“Do you want dinner?” I offered.
He blinked. “I’ve already eaten,” he swallowed.
“Several hours ago. That was lunch,” I explained.
“I can eat again?” he asked, his voice filled with a hope that threatened to break my heart and set my rage off.
“Of course.” I would not let him see the anger smoldering beneath my skin. He hadn’t been fed in days. His gauntness told me Gemma didn’t think to provide for him often. No one should suffer like this.
“Where?” he asked, flicking a glance at the door nervously.
“I have a kitchen in my room. I can bring something over if that would do, or we can go down to the commons?” I offered. I wanted him to decide how comfortable he was with dealing with people.
“Is it okay if I eat here?” His voice was almost too quiet to hear. He was a lacework of hope and fear, desire and terror.
“Perfectly. Leftovers work?” I offered. He nodded, his eyes wide. Cognac overfloweth my cup. Somebody take away all sensation, please.
“How about you get your bed made up while I step over and grab a couple plates and food,” I offered, standing up. He rose with me. It would give him something to do in the cramped space.
I left back to my apartment, finally free of sage and rosemary. I unlocked my door and let myself in. I leaned against my door and worked at getting the throbbing heat running the course of my body to lay off for a freaking minute. My tub was still on the floor, the water cold at this point. Cold bath was awful tempting for once in a very long time. Cinnamon and orange clung to the furnishings. The sharp note was calming in its intensity.
I walked over to my little fridge I kept under a makeshift counter and pulled out a crock of fried cabbage and noodles. I reheated the meal on the single burner and wrapped it in a towel to keep from burning myself. I took it, two plates,a pair of forks, and a jug of water back to Sanctus’s room with me.
I knocked on the door but heard no answer. I nudged it aside with my toe to find Sanctus sprawled out on the floor, his whole length taking up the space. One hand was below the bed, the other was stretched out, just shy of the wall. “You alright?” I asked as I set the food on the table.
“I can’t touch the walls.” He looked up at me, confused and pleased at the same time.
“I brought food,” I offered, indicating the crock and the plates stacked on top. He scuttled up to sit on his newly made bed. I passed him a plate with food piled on. There wasn’t as much left for me, but I was still full from lunch. He waited, watching. I motioned him to it as I plated up my meal for myself. He furrowed his brow, confused. He waited until I had taken my first bite before wolfing his down. He ate fast enough to give himself the hiccups.
“You all right?” I asked, fighting off laughter. It might amuse me to watch him, but deep down, it hurt. I knew where this reflex he was exhibiting came from. Starvation led to this kind of reaction. It would take months, if not years before his relationship with food would settle down. I held out the ceramic jug to him, hoping it would ease his hiccups. He set aside his plate and reached for it.
It slipped, crashing to the floor. It burst open, sending shrapnel and water everywhere. He stared at it in horror, his face going pale. He rose to reach for the pieces quickly. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! It was an accident!” he backed up from the mess, slipping on one of the pieces of the jug and tumbled down. Copper. He had sliced open his palm on one of the sharp pieces. He blinked at the oozing gash, confused, as he continued begging, pleading, apologizing.
“Easy, easy, Sanctus. It’s alright,” I reassured as I approached him over the puddle on the concrete floor. He stared up at me. He was more grey then alive. He cowered under my touch, shying away. His breathing and his heart beat too fast. “Let’s get you out of the water, okay?” I eased him onto the chair and wrapped his hand with the towel while I picked ceramic off the floor.
“Why aren’t you angry?” He trembled, seemingly more terrified by my calmness. I set the pieces next to the door to be thrown in the rubbish pit next I went down to it. I put a mental note in my head to have a bin left in the guest room.
“It’s a jug. Jugs break all the time. It happens. I just have to go pick up a new one from Ollam.” I shrugged as I gently pulled Sanctus’s hand away from his chest. The towel snagged on loose skin, but eventually gave to reveal an inch-long gash. Spots of blood dripped across his trousers and the tabletop.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized again. It sounded more like a mantra now.
“Let’s get your hand fixed up,” I told him as I encouraged him to flatten out his palm. “Can you hold still for a minute? You’ve got shards buried in it,” I kept my voice low. Shaking ran the length of his arms and legs, and power flowed like a river. Adrenaline spiked his sage and rosemary. Carefully I extracted the few sharp chips that glittered in the gash.
“Does it hurt?” I asked. He had gone quiet under the pain. He refused to answer. “I need to know, Sanctus. I don’t think it was deep, but I need to know if it cut your tendon. Bend your fingers, tell me what it feels like.” I squeezed the tips of his fingers and wiggled them experimentally. I worked over my tongue as he described what he was able to feel. I could usually push a bit more coagulant out of it if I inflamed it, but it would leave it sore for the rest of the evening. Whatever.
The cut hadn’t gone too deep. Assured that the wound was completely free of any remaining pieces, I pressed a clean section of the towel back over the wound. “I can use the bandages Medicus sent us with to wrap it, or if it doesn’t creep you out too bad, I can use my coagulant?” I offered.
He furrowed his brows, confused at the offer. “Why would you bandage it?” he asked, thoroughly perplexed.
“To keep the skin together, to help it heal, like we did for your back?” I asked.
“It’ll stop eventually,” he reassured in a small voice.
“Gemma never saw to someone caring to your wounds?” I asked, tossing the towel to absorb the water on the floor.
“Why would she waste resources? My back would have healed…eventually,” He firmly believed he wasn’t worth it.
Bile rolled beneath my sternum. “You are not a waste,” I hissed coldly as I stuck my thumb in my mouth and pressed down on one of the glands on my tongue. I extracted a good pea-sized orb of my coagulant and smeared it across the gash on his hand, knitting the skin together instantly. He winced at the momentary pressure. He opened and closed his hand experimentally, amazed the gash was gone. I finished cleaning the floor, using the wet towel to wipe my hands off.
His line went edgy as the gears turned over his head. He flicked his glance around the room as I watched his nervous energy ooze out of him. He sucked in a breath and reached to the shoulder of his vest and pulled it off. I followed his movement, confused. It didn’t appear to have gotten wet. Then he went for the buttons of his shirt as his cheeks turned blotchy.
“What are you doing, Sanctus?” I asked as he loosened buttons to reveal cream skin. I swallowed at the sight, but unease slipped acid down my spine.
“I -” he gulped. “You-” he tried again. “It’s expected. Isn’t it…?” he could not get past a lump in his throat.
“Your shirt or pants get wet?” I asked. My skin had gone cold watching him. He blinked at me, mute and terrified. “Your pants have blood on them anyway. I’m going to step out. Why don’t you get changed for bed? Get comfy. Finish eating, okay? I’ll come back in a little. I just remembered something I meant to do real quick before I head off to bed, too,” I offered before he could continue stripping. “Key’s on the table if you decide to step out.”
“But?” he questioned.
“Out of everyone here, I know how to get blood out of just about anything,” I smiled, reassuring, closing the door behind me, my heart beating hard in my chest.
Shit. I made a mad dash for the stairs and scrambled down them at a clip. I passed Cortex on the way down as he was on the way up. “Boss!” he chirped in surprise.
“Know if Medicus is still in the clinic?” I asked as I continued down the flight. He leaned over the railing to shout down to me. “Just saw him leaving the commissary heading back. Everything alright? Need help?”
“Nope, got it covered, just forgot something,” I lied.
“Okay. I’m heading for bed. Knock if you need anything,” he waived as I continued with my sprint.
I cleared the stairs and played ‘dodge the people’ as I made my way out of the warehouse and over to the concrete block building. I pushed the door open with a clang and drew in a ragged breath as alcohol and iodine stung my sinuses. Medicus popped his head around the corner to see what all the din was about.
“Lunam?” he asked, concerned. “Everything okay? Forget something?”
I looked up at him, begging him to read my mind. I was not exactly sure where to begin. “I – he – I,” I stuttered.
“Sanctus okay?” he came around the wall.
“Yes. No. I don’t know?”
“Dropped a jug by accident, and he cut his hand. I got it cleaned up, but then he just started stripping out of his clothes and looked like he was in pain doing it, and I just got this sense-” I poured out in a single breath.
“Slow down, Lunam,” Medicus pointed me to a chair.
I was too restless to sit. “Vestitor told me to get him a journal and some pencils from Scriba. What should I do?” I paced.
“What is your concern right now, Lunam? Has his stitches come loose?” Medicus asked as he went to start packing his transportable medical bag.
“No, nothing like that. Physically he’s okay. He just…I don’t know exactly what Gemma did to him, but I’m not qualified for this,” I explained.
“I can start sessions with him tomorrow. Has he said anything about what happened to him with Gemma?” He took down a blank notebook from his shelves and put down Sanctus’s name on the first page.
“He was excited that he couldn’t touch both walls in the guest bedroom. I mentioned the cages before. I can only assume he’s been in confinement for a long time. He apologized so much when he dropped the jug and shied away when I went to help him up. I know for a fact he’s been physically abused. He’s like touching a live wire on a small battery, doable but zappy. If he’s in real pain it’s like setting your hand on an open lightbulb. I can only imagine what they’ve done to him to get that kind of power boost out of him. He’s been mentally abused.” I swallowed back vomit. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing here, Medicus,” I confided. “You told me to give him a safe place. He doesn’t even have a concept of where a safe space is. What being safe looks like. Seeing Vestitor even scared him, and Vestitor’s a pacifist!”
“Bring him down to me tomorrow morning when you drop by. I’ll check on him, see what common ground I can meet him at. For now, show him what’s expected of him, but be gentle. He doesn’t understand. Did you run out on him without an explanation?” he asked.
“No. Yes. Uhm? He had slipped in the water and had blood on his pants, so I told him to get changed for bed and finish his dinner, and I’d be back, so I’m kind of in a hurry.” I glanced back at the door, my heart pounding in my chest.
“You’ll need to help him understand that there are boundaries that he can have for himself. He doesn’t understand how things work here in Caeruleum. I know it rattles you, but you’re going to need to talk to him for him to understand. I’ll help you with more tomorrow. For now, I’ve made notes. There isn’t a lot I can tell you right now until I’ve assessed him. Why don’t you head back? He’ll be getting anxious that he did something wrong if you aren’t back soon.” Medicus clapped me on the shoulder and steered me to the door. I drew in a steadying breath. He might not have given me as much help as I needed, but he had heard me and listened.
I returned back to the warehouse and made a quick detour to the commons. Archimagirus had not yet cleared the kitchen. “Do you have any rock candy?” I asked. Archimagirus raised a curious eyebrow at me. I’m not much of a sweets person. He was hard-pressed to convince me to try his cakes or puddings when he would make them. “Rosewater and lemon flavours.” He pointed to the jars of little glistening squares.
“What’ll a chip get me?” I asked, pulling one from my wallet.
I left the commons with a small bag of twelve rosewater and twelve lemon rock candy drops and headed upstairs. Arriving at Sanctus’s door, I knocked gently. A shifting of feet told me he was still awake. “Sanctus? It’s me, Lunam,” I called. The door cracked open for me. He had changed like I had asked, and finished eating his food. “You doing okay? I sort of left rather suddenly,” I apologized. He searched my eyes, still timid, as he opened the door farther to let me in.
“Told you I forgot something.” I smiled, revealing the bag of candies. He raised an eyebrow, curious. “Shouldn’t eat too many of them all at once. Bad on the teeth, but I figured you’d find it interesting. Archimagirus makes them.” I pulled one of the lemon squares from the bag and handed it to him. I set the bag down on the table next to the bandages. He cradled his little square carefully in his hand, studying the refracting pattern in it.
“What do I do with it?”
“Suck on it,” I encouraged. His brows knit together at the statement. He did as I instructed and slipped it into his mouth. To watch him transcend euphoria almost brought tears to my eyes. A smile spread across his lips, and his eyes lit with a hidden fire. I could not help but smile with him. He grabbed my hand suddenly. The electric bolt of the power, stronger than what I had felt before, raised the hair on the back of my neck and arms. His eyes glistened, and I was lost to them. He pulled my hand to his chest and bowed over it. “Thank you.” Hot tears splashed on my thumb.
“You’re safe here, Sanctus. You’re going to be okay,” I reassured as I encouraged him to sit down on the edge of the bed.
“It’s getting late. I’m going to take the jug and clothes and deal with them before bed. Why don’t you get some sleep too? I can meet you in the morning for breakfast?” I offered as I picked up the empty crock and plates.
“You’re really not mad? And…you don’t want…?” he asked once more.
“No, Sanctus. I’m not mad. It was an accident. Why don’t I introduce you to Ollam tomorrow, and you can learn how to make a jug? He’s always looking for helpers?” I offered. He shook his head. Well, at least he was finally saying no to something. “That’s okay. Medicus said he did want to see you tomorrow while I was down getting the candies. You remember Vestitor? He came from Rubrum.” He looked up at me, horrified. I quelled his terror. “He was in one of her circulating rings. I helped get him out. Now he talks to Medicus when he has nightmares or questions about his memories. Medicus wanted to help you feel better too, but didn’t want to scare you.”
He chewed on his lip.
“It’s okay if you don’t want to answer right now. Why don’t you think on it this evening?” I collected the trousers and towel and the remainder of the jug. The concrete floor had absorbed the water, leaving a dark, cold spot in the room. “My room is right next door if you have any questions.” I let myself out of the room and into my own.
I drew in a deep breath and tried to release the tension in my shoulders. Bed was beckoning, but I needed to set up a basin to start the towel and trousers soaking. I tossed the jug fragments in a metal bin I kept on the other side of the fridge first. I turned to the tub. That thing had taken most of the morning to set up, and I had not been able to use it as much as I had wanted. I’d be able to reheat it, but that was energy. A large five-gallon bucket held the wash water I had used for cleaning before I had slipped into the bath. That at least could be taken down in the morning.
I pulled out a bucket worth of the cleaner water and sloshed it into the wash basin on my counter, and set up. The water was cold enough. I rubbed a bar of soap into the fabric until the water tinted and the stain lifted. I dumped the water into the bucket I was taking down the next morning and continued until the water ran clear.
Finished with that chore, I hung the towel and pants on a makeshift rack that held most of my other laundry before kicking off my boots and pulling my shirt off. I flopped into bed and pulled the blanket over me. Three minutes of letting my brain come up with a list of too many things to do in the morning had me out like a light.
It was black in my room, my transom allowing the thinnest hint of blue and stardust to illuminate the edges of the furnishings. Heat at my back had me swallowing back my nerves. Breath tickled my neck. I shifted, startled.
Sanctus burrowed closer to me, pulling his blanket tighter around him until he was a cocoon; the only parts visible were his face and his fingers. I turned back, waiting on my heart to return to its normal rhythm. Hot tears dripped down my back as I listened to him drift through dreams and nightmares.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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