Written originally for LJ's dgm hurt/comfort exchange. This was probably the hardest thing I've ever written, and I'm still not quite satisfied with it, so I'd appreciate any critique on it- what worked and what was still sketchy. I knew what I wanted to do with it, but it required... a different writing style than my usual, and I struggled pretty badly with trying to make it fit the image in my mind.
It is an old castle, small enough to be overlooked as meaningless in this war of giants, large enough so that the stumbling, ravaging troops can't pass up the opportunity to despoil it. It has become a makeshift hospital and refuge, tending to the wounded and hurt, the orphaned and lost, regardless of politics and ideals. This area is mostly neutral anyway, inopportunely caught between the warring sides and thusly tossed into the whorl of destruction.
Kanda lies in the sick bay for ten days. It is where they put the newly received, the wounded, and the dying—those in need of constant care. Five of those days are spent in delirium, while broken tissues in his abdomen burn and fight off infection. His mind burns likewise, dreaming of the fire and his sister, and the charred remains of his parents he was barely able to make out. The darker dreams have her dying screams and anonymous, pale, grimy hands that violate even his mind.
Kanda changes his own bandages after the fever breaks, despite the nurse's disapproving frown. He starts with his legs, the gashes on his thighs. It is slow, painful work, and he has to be careful that he doesn't aggravate the tears inside him. More often than not he ends up on his side, fighting nausea, and has to wait until his ragged breathing slows back down to continue on to the burns and scrapes on his arms and chest. The ones on his back he can't reach, and grudgingly allows the nurses to tend.
Outside, the cannons boom.
Everything feels like it chokes him, babbling brooks of black bile bubbling in his throat. There are no words he can use to describe the feeling, the disgust, the endless torment in his dreams. At night, he wakes in soundless screams from nightmares where the hand over his mouth shoves back all the things he wants to scream—scream at his sister to run away, scream at the soldiers to die, scream at his parents to hold on, at the fire to extinguish, at his body to fight, at his mind not to break…
But he can't get out a single word, and only whimpers and drowned sobs are able to squeeze past the groping, fleshy hand bruising his lips, pushing them so hard that they tear against his teeth. Then the warm tang of blood chokes him too, joining the babbling black bile, pooling in the back of his throat against the air trying to burst out.
He wakes every night only to realize there are no hands anymore, only darkness choking him. The blankets are always damp with sweat and reeking of terror, and the ache low within his abdomen throbs.
At first, he doesn't answer to the anonymous worry of the nurses. Days later, when he tries, he finds that the thread connecting his mind and tongue seems to become tangled somewhere in his throat, becoming one pulsing, writhing knot of emotions that he can't put words to, lodged like a jack in a box that won't open.
There are new ones everyday. It doesn't take long to figure out what is wrong with this one. Kanda watches from his bed, eyes empty and disinterested like unpolished silver. He only watches because they fall directly into his line of vision. The boy looks to be around his age, with fiery red hair that doesn't bleed into bloody crimson, but into sunsets instead. Kanda is distinctly grateful for that.
"Come along," the nurse says, and leads the boy down past all the sick beds full of moaning patients straddling death or a life of incapacitation. There are no outward signs of any problems, except for an old, worn eyepatch, but his steps are awkwardly placed and out of line, and he tilts oddly to the sides when he turns his head to look around. Kanda conveniently shifts his gaze a centimeter higher when the boy happens to look his way.
"Your bed is the first on the right," the nurse says. The boy doesn't look at her when she speaks, "Can you make it by yourself?"
He doesn't respond, watching the man with no legs attempting to sit up. The nurse huffs with exasperation but tolerates the lack of response. Few behave quite normally here, and bouts of silence or hysteria are unhealthily common. She lets go of the boy's hand and goes to help the man sit up. The boy blinks and turns around at her sudden absence, teetering as if his body doesn't know what angle is perpendicular to the ground, and in his movement, the bag on his shoulder bumps a glass of water. It balances precariously at the edge of the table before finally crashing like a felled giant and shattering into tragic, glittering shards behind the boy. A few of the patients jump at the jarring noise, the nurse flinches, and Kanda himself grits his teeth in irritation.
The boy doesn't even blink, as if completely oblivious to the noise and says to the nurse, "You can tell me which one is my bed. I can get there on my own."
The noise is too much for Kanda. Like having his head surrounded by balloons that keep growing and growing, pressing against his head as the pressure swells and swells, but he'll be the first to explode, not them.
The noise is death. Moans and cries, keening whimpers and vomiting breaths, all indications of personal, climaxing pain. He can feel this black grime covering him with each breath of pain that bursts from his neighbors' mouths, and chokes on it. It never ends. There's always someone in pain here.
The floor is cold, stone that knows no heat, but Kanda doesn't notice, his mind centering on the door at the end of this row of death, pulling himself forward as quickly as he can. He hates this weakness, this sluggishness of his limbs, and this painful pressure against his head and against the tangled knot in his throat, gagging him. He needs out.
He opens and closes the heavy oak doors with some difficulty, leaning against the pillars in the dark hallway of the castle to catch his breath. Almost out, he thinks, into the gardens where he can rest and enjoy the silence, and maybe gather himself.
"What are you doing?"
A hand grabs his shoulder from out of nowhere, and he whirls around to see that it's a nurse, fair face illuminated in the weak highlights of the moonlight, "You can't be out of the wards at this time of the night! Back inside, you go," she says firmly, attempting to push him back where he'd come from, back to those moans of death. He shakes his head and resists, struggling to pull himself from her grasp. He manages to break free long enough to motion with his hands for her to wait, and she does, watching him expectantly, like a hunter might to an accidental, weak catch, to see if it might prove worthy of capture, or simply of the kill. He scrambles frantically for a way to explain himself because he can't go back.
He points to his head, closes his eyes and breathes deeply, peeking to make sure she's watching his motions and understands they're deliberate. She just stares at him. He growls and points and the room and shakes his head fiercely, and still nothing. He shows her the sacred symbol of Aum with his fingers, and she recognizes that even less, glancing at him as though suspecting it's instead an insult of some sort. He hates idiocy.
"Enough," she says, and begins to steer him back, regardless of his terrorized eyes.
"I think he wants to meditate," a voice says out of nowhere, and both Kanda and the nurse jump. Kanda catches sight of him first, walking towards them with a book in one hand. It's the boy from days earlier, the one with the sunset hair and the eyepatch. His steps, Kanda notes, are nearly straight now, and he isn't tipping toward the sides anymore.
He forms the symbol of Aum with his hand, and smiles reassuringly at the nurse, "It's Buddhist meditation. He just wants to go out for a while and clear his head. It's very beneficial to the mind and body," he steps closer to Kanda and makes a movement as if to sling his arm over Kanda's shoulder, but Kanda jumps backward out of reach. The boy continues, unabashed, "I'll go with him and make sure he comes back at a reasonable time."
The boy grins at Kanda, and all the hackles go up.
Allen will come! Next chapter will be posted as I edit and revise. Reviews appreciated.