Jenny: The Invisible Enemy

Upon hearing that Artos was awake, the Guttersnipe had dropped her handful of pearlsome memories and flung herself round in a flutter of white and cat-skin. "Awake?" she repeated when Domitia had finished. "Awake?" Oaths in Iceni slipped out before she could bite them back, and she was up, clear-eyed, nearly running. "I've got to see him!"

Domitia reached for her to stop her, because Domitia was that sort of girl. But at that moment the Guttersnipe cared for nothing more - not even her own self - than to see Artos awake. The memory of his pale death-like face was too strong to let it linger any longer than it had to. The sound of her feet and Domitia's sandals filled the hallway.

She flung herself into the doorway of Artos' room and halted, breathless, clutching her chest as if to keep her heart in. He was asleep. Asleep. No, that could not be right. She took a step further in. Still asleep. A cry of dismay welled up in her chest and stuck, for she was clutching it. A few steps in further and she stopped dead in her tracks. Pulling her eyes from Artos' pale face, she looked at Domitia. "You said he was awake."

She felt like a child in a nightmare, given a bright door at the end of a nasty, wormy, dank tunnel, only to find that as she reached it, it was slammed shut in her face. For the first time she was confronted with the idea that he might never wake. Huge and horrible, the thought overshadowed her mind with its cold, powerful grip. But even as it got a hold of her, the young man stirred and his eyes fluttered open, and he was looking at her.

She burst into tears. "Pennartos!" she cried, and heedless of his wounds flung herself at him, burying her face in the hollow of his shoulder. "They said you were awake and you weren't, and I thought you'd never wake."

He said something, and she did not hear him for the sobbing in her own ears. She cried away her fright, which took less time that she supposed, and when she surfaced and pulled her head up, he was watching her with some alarm and some faint amusement. "Oh Snippet, of course I was going to wake up. You would have killed me otherwise."

"I would," she told him angrily, and shook him. Then she sat very still and mousy-quiet on his bedside, conscious of Domitia lingering in the doorway. Her tears had fallen on a hot face, and the eyes looking back at her were still blurred with fever.

He played idly with a strand of her long hair, looking at her thoughtfully, but not seeing her. She wondered what he was seeing. But presently the light came back into his eyes and he was looking at her and not the thing beyond her. "I was having a curious dream," he said, "and when I woke, I saw you - but for a moment, I thought..." His voice trailed off and he frowned. She waited, expectant, but he only shook his head and flung out a hand. "No matter. It is lost now. I can't remember."

She bit her lip. Getting up, fixing his covers, she bent down and kissed the hot forehead. "I have to go, Artos. Domitia says I need to eat."

"Are you sick too?" he asked.

She did not answer that, and she knew she did not have to. He could feel probably more keenly than she could the whole undercurrent of sick worry that was pulsing through them. Ambrosius and Artos could hide it from their faces; she never could. She smoothed the hair at his temples: the little beads of feverish sweat made the hair silvery. "I'll come back and check on you."

He suddenly looked mournful, though he nodded, clenching his eyes shut against the sight of her and the confining room - and against the pain, too, she thought, and the madness of the fever that washed over his brain. She hated it, and wanted to rip it away from him. But there was nothing to get a handhold on, and she had to clench her fists and turn away with Domitia.

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