Exhaustion burns in every muscle, tugging until her bones ache. The quiet hum of the engines should be putting her to sleep, but the underlights lining the cabinet cast a glow like muted, dirty paper across their naked bodies, and she can’t sleep. Can’t stop looking at him, feeling the warmth of his thigh pressed against her own. The blankets drape across his waist. His arm falls off the side of the bed, unclenched fingers twitching a little when she traces the black scale pattern that flows across his chest. The rest of him is bright green, like the grass she used to roll in as a little girl, and for a moment she sees butterflies dance in memory across her vision.
His lips are poison, but she couldn’t stop kissing them. Hallucination bled into her soul, and in the throes of passion she let him feed from her memories, and they linger on even after he’s fallen asleep. Every sound is amplified. Every movement leaves a trail. She traces fingertips over scale and skin and sees the heat signature they leave behind, a blue glow radiating against his skin before the cool air bleeds them away.
Underneath skin and cartilage, muscle and bone, his heart struggles to beat. He is dying. Slowly. Painfully. There are only months left, maybe weeks, but it’s impossible to tell just from looking at him. He breathes without trouble, though just beneath the rhythm she hears the fluid in his lungs, rasping and popping through his airways. His own body is drowning him, and there is nothing she can do but let him feed from the memories to ease his pain for a little while.
He makes himself strong while she thrashes through a thousand things she hides inside herself and refuses to face. Her mother’s eyes, blue and bright as clear Earth sky. Her father’s grizzled smile, hidden behind the wiry mask of an out of control beard that looks like rust. He used to rub it against her cheek and make her laugh before kissing her goodnight. She gives the memory freely, believing it will prolong their time together, but she knows better. The faces of soldiers she wasn’t able to save, the after burn of fire and billowing smoke lapping like black tongues at a bleeding sky, none of those things will save him.
Everything she loves, everything she touches—all of it dies. Alone and empty, she tries not to open herself up to more memories, but she wants to remember something, even if it will only keep him with her for a little while longer.
She knew the first time she reached across the table and took his hand in her own he wouldn’t last. She felt it in the flutter of her heart, the tight clench of her stomach muscles when he lifted fingers to brush the fallen strands of her hair behind her ear. It was too late when he told her. Too late to turn back, too late to hide from the way she felt.
She loves him, and he is going to die.
Soon, the only memories she will have left are her moments with him, but maybe he can take those, too; one last fumbling attempt to sustain himself. Could he do that? Take the pieces of himself he left inside her away before he died? Drain them from her soul and leave her empty?
Maybe it would be better that way. Without the empty ache of him to push deep down inside herself for safe keeping, maybe she would finally be free. Or maybe she could hold it close, not push it down so deep and remember how he made her feel alive?
The air catches in his throat. He jolts awake, coughing into the crook of his arm. It overpowers him completely, blanching the brilliant color of his hunter green skin until he reminds her of a jade statue her father used to keep on his desk. The sound is painful, the ebbing hallucinations wiped clean as the stark reality of the moment reclaims her.
He is dying, and there’s nothing she can do about it. And when he’s gone there will be no one left to take the pain away.