Something did not feel right. Sometimes he felt that he sank deeper into the darkness, but sometimes he knew he was rising from it. There were times he heard nothing and knew nothing, and there were moments that he swore he heard voices just beyond him. That meant only one thing: Beika. She interfered again. She would never stop interfering.
Lan allowed his consciousness to rise and fall as it wanted to, still not wanting to face the world, or face her. Not yet, at least, not until he really had to. It was still a bit hard to breathe, or to move. He wanted to do as little of both as possible, for as long as possible. It was a long time that his thoughts rose and fell, that he sank into deep darkness to rise again into shallow thoughts. But he continued to rise from the darkness more and more, and to sink less and less. Until, finally, he could no longer keep his eyes from opening, from looking up at Beika’s tear-streaked face.
“I’ll never get rid of you, will I?” he said, his voice just above a whisper, he heard it more between his ears.
“No, you won’t.” Beika wrapped her arms around his shoulders. Her tears fell onto them.
The smell of antiseptic and the surrounding silence told him he had been brought to the infirmary. His breathing was more regular now. He looked down at his arms and found no remaining traces of embers on them. But he should not even be contemplating these thoughts. He should not even be thinking at all.
“Why?” He did not need to know how. Just why. Why would anyone pull him back, more than once. Why.
“I don’t know why,” Beika mumbled into his ear. “I just know I don’t want you gone.”
Not because he was some special fire programmer, or some special person. Only because he was her friend, and she did not want him gone.
He did not say anything more. He just let her hold him and cry.
By the next day, when he finally surrendered to the fact that this was a permanent situation, he started to sit up in bed. Beika forced him to have a little soup, would not stop begging him to eat until he did take in a little. Then she did not stop begging until he had a little more.
“You’re annoying, Bei.”
“I don’t care if you’re annoyed! You will eat!” She raised the bowl again.
“I am not your pet.”
“You’re my friend, that’s why I’m doing this!”
“It is not your business what I do with my life.”
“Yes, it is.”
“You don’t own me.”
“But you’re my friend, and I have a stake in what you do with your life.”
“You’re just selfish.”
“So are you.”
She placed the bowl firmly on the table and turned her back to him.
“You don’t think about what other people will feel, Melancho. I’m not the only one who will be sad when you die. A major secret of your guild is with you, and there will be nothing to replace it. The government needs that secret for the capital’s sake, and you just want to take it with you to your death?”
“Oh, so that’s it. You just save me for that. You’re no better than Marceau.”
She faced him again. “Listen to me, Melancho! You have in your hands a powerful skill, and you keep it to yourself, not use it to help others? You’re selfish.”
“What good is that skill if I can’t use it?” He looked at the soup.
“I’ve seen you. You CAN use it.”
“Not well enough.”
“You’re just not focused enough, Melancho.”
“Lan, Lan!” His long name three times in close succession was too much. “Stop trying, Beika. It will not happen. You should have left me where you found me.” He pushed the table away and settled back into bed. “You should not have come for me.”
Beika reached up for his hand. “Stop saying you can’t. If not for me, do it for others, do it for Master Corespasa. For Soji. For Marceau. Please.” She squeezed the hand she held. “You are worth saving. I will keep trying to save you as many times as I need to. Because you are my friend, and you are worth it.”
“I’ll keep telling you that as often as I have to.” She sat down beside him and said no more.
He took it as his cue to shut his eyes and forget what she said. But even in his dreams her words pounded into him.
You are worth saving. You are worth it. Because you are my friend.
He was moved to another room sometime while he was asleep. The new room had a window with a view of the buildings past the infirmary. It was slightly larger than the first room, and now had a small bed where Beika dozed.
Her words still rang and pounded in his head. You are worth saving. You are worth it. Because you are my friend. Not because he was a good programmer, not because he was a somebody. Simply because he was her friend. He was worth saving, simply because of that.
Always he had felt he had to prove his worth to the world, to prove that he deserved what life he did have, what advantages he did have. But he had to prove himself by using dangerous programs, that he had difficulty controlling. Thus he kept away from people, but always sought their respect.
Not Beika. She was never afraid of his programs, never afraid that he was a loner. Somehow they got along, with her pulling him around the capital, with him tagging along quietly. He never thought about it much. He never thought she had grown that attached to him already. No one ever got attached to him before. He did not deserve having people being attached to him. It was not supposed to happen to him.
Even Master Corespasa being his master should not have happened. A master that actually liked him the way Beika liked him, with no conditions. It was not supposed to happen. But it did, and now it was gone. Yet he was worth saving? He was worth keeping in the world? Impossible.
Yet here he was, still alive, because he was worth saving.
He slowly walked around the room then across the hall, wanting to feel his legs. He acknowledged the heal programmers that passed, but did not talk to them. Some of them looked with sadness at his left cheek, the scar of the Override.
He actually liked walking. Damn it, he actually liked walking. Walking, feeling his legs. Breathing, taking in air. Looking at things with interest. He would actually miss those walks with Beika. Damn it, he would actually miss these things. Damn it.
He turned and saw Soji bowing to him, Marceau just leaving and heading downstairs. He was pretty sure Beika did not do it all by herself. “I don’t know if I should thank you or not,” he sighed.
“Is alright, Master Lan,” Soji said. “Just happy you fine now. Master Beika?”
“She stayed up all night, I understand.” She told him so when he woke up. He did not know why, he was asleep for a long time. “She’s there,” he said, pointing to the door he came from.
“She cry lots then. She cry and cry. She not stop for long time.”
“Why exactly are you telling me this?”
Soji bowed to him again, and remained bowed. “Master Lan, please, no do again.”
Soji still bowed to him. “No make her cry lots again. Please. No make me do that for Master Beika again.”
Oh, great. Now two people begged him to stay alive. “Will you stop bowing. I’m not head of a guild. I’m no one special.”
Soji was still bowed. “Not true, Master Lan. Master Beika’s friend. Someone special.”
Not that he was a special fire programmer, or someone with connections. Simply, Beika’s friend. “You, too, huh?”
“No regret save you, Master Lan. No regret. So please, no do again.”
“Easy for you to say,” he sighed. He walked back toward the room. He began to get tired of standing.
Soji followed after him.
Beika was awake when he returned, rubbing sleep from her eyes. She waved at Soji and walked up to Lan. “Oh, you’re walking around now! That’s good!”
“Can you wait until I sit down before you chat?” He felt his legs giving way.
“Oh, sorry!” Beika held him by the waist and led him to bed.
As soon as she set him down she talked and talked about new shops and stores she needed to see, about the changes and improvements to the infirmary that she saw. He could not believe he actually missed her talking like that, free and rambling and happy. He could not believe he actually wanted to hear more of it, because somewhere in all the happy rambling she talked intelligently about things. He could not believe it.
“Lan? Something wrong?” she stopped and asked.
He shook his head.
“So, we’re going there sometime?”
“Whatever, Beika.” Which was his way of saying yes.
The door suddenly opened with a crash, and Marceau marched in. “We have a problem.”
All three looked at her. She looked both frightened and stern.
“The alarms are raised. They’re here.”