"His breathing has improved," Najat commented, casually, as Badi'a's dejected gaze remained fixed on her brother. The Medjai nodded, distractedly. "His strength returns, slowly."
Again, Badi'a nodded, tears welling in her eyes.
"He does not speak," she whispered, her voice cracking.
Still lazily drifting in semi-awareness, Ardeth heard the tears in his sister's voice and grew more alert, but kept his eyes closed. Badi'a clearly needed comfort, something she would hide were she to realize he were awake.
"Yes, it is so," Najat acknowledged. "He is weary. His voice will return with his strength."
Badi'a nodded, the tears trickling onto her cheeks.
"But his heart will not; it withdraws deeper within him," her quivering voice whispered.
Najat sighed and took her friend supportively by the arm. Guiding her away from her brother, she pulled Badi'a down to sit next to her on a rug. Keeping a sisterly hold upon the Medjai's hand, she patiently waited for Badi'a to open up to her. Badi'a studied the woven threads beneath her, as she fought to regain her composure enough to speak. After a moment, she managed a deep breath.
"I miss him so dearly, my sister," Badi'a admitted.
Ardeth's brow furrowed. She seemed to be speaking of him, yet how could she be missing him when he was right there.
"He is right there," Najat replied, echoing his thought. Badi'a shook her head.
"He is there, but he does not let me near," she whispered, through increasing tears. The Abadi said nothing, hoping Badi'a would explain. The Medjai obliged.
"I miss him so...need him so badly...and now he pulls further away," Badi'a paused, as her voice cracked. The sound made Ardeth's heart ache. Taking a few more deep breaths, his sister continued. "We used to spend hours baring our souls to each other - our fears, our hopes, our loves, our heartaches... There was nothing I could not confide in him, nothing he would not share with me. He was my strength, and I was his, and there seemed nothing in the world we could not bear together. But then the fever came..."
Badi'a fell silent, losing herself in the memories. After a moment, she sighed, mournfully, and spoke again.
"He does not wish to be here, does he?"
Najat raised an eyebrow, ever so slightly, but said nothing.
"You need not answer, for he does so with his silence. He remains, because it is his duty, but were he to follow his heart, it would take him to Paradise...to mother and father, Bashiyra and Amal, Nameer...," her voiced cracked again, obscuring the next word, but Najat and Ardeth understood it, all the same. "...Fathi."
Badi'a paused for more deep breaths.
"When the fever came, it seemed certain I had lost him...I did lose him."
Ardeth's brow furrowed, again. She hadn't lost him; he was right there! Najat remained silent, letting Badi'a bare her heart, interrupted.
"Then, as now, duty called him back. But so great was his dispair that he withdrew deep within himself. So deeply, I thought, at first, he would never speak again. But then he did, and I thought I would again have him to share my heart with ...it was not so. His voice returned, but his heart remained buried where I could not reach it."
Badi'a sighed, as did Ardeth. It hadn't been his intent to add to his sister's pain, in fact, he'd meant quite the opposite. So great had been her grief, he had kept his to himself, to spare her the burden of the extra weight.
"But, then, at least Fathi was there. His bond with Nameer could no more be replaced than mine with Ardeth, but neither of us were alone. We had each the other to commiserate with...someone with whom to share in the memories of what was lost...so it - they - would not be forgotten. But, now..." Badi'a's words became difficult to understand, as the trickle of tears grew into a torrent. "Fathi is gone...and Ardeth hides within himself...and I am left alone..."
Badi'a's voice faded away as her loneliness and despair surged and desperate sobs racked her body. Najat wordlessly wrapped her arms around her friend, rocking her gently, as her own eyes welled with tears. Across the room, Ardeth let his tears flow unchecked.
A dozen years worth of tears cried out, Badi'a slipped into an exhausted sleep, and Najat carefully shifted out from beneath her. Rising, stiffly, to her feet, the Abadi wandered back to the bed to check on Ardeth. He also slept; so she quietly slipped from the dwelling.
Hovering anxiously outside, Evy watched Najat leave and peaked inside. Finding both Medjai sleeping soundly, she stepped inside and made herself comfortable next to Ardeth. Evy's eyes wandered the length of the warrior, down to the edge of the sheet discreetly covering his lower body, then back up again to his face. She studied its every line and curve. The flush of fever had faded into a healthier hue, but Evy noticed, for the first time, how much thinner he was than her Ardeth. She wondered how she had missed it. He'd been the journal Ardeth all along, she simply hadn't noticed!
"Evy," Rick whispered, crouching down beside her and entwining his arm with hers. Startled, Evy flinched. "He's doing fine."
Evy nodded, distractedly, her gaze never leaving the Medjai's face. Rick sighed. He knew guilt still ate at her, but nothing could be done to change what had happened. She needed to get passed it.
"Come on," he whispered, gently tugging on her arm. "Let's go for another walk."
Evy heard the suggestive edge to his tone and smiled. Partially distracted, she rested her head against her husband.
"He's just going to sleep. You can come back later," Rick suggested. Evy nodded. She knew sitting in the silence watching the journal Ardeth sleep would do nothing to bring back her Ardeth. Sighing, she let her husband pull her up and guide her outside.
"Did they wear you out, or chase you away?" Zaynab asked, seeing Jonathan return, only an hour or so after departing in search of Alex and the children.
"Wore me out," Jonathan replied, with a weary grin, making Zaynab chuckle. "Thought I'd just have a quick peek at Ardeth, before allowing myself the pleasure of a nice mid-day nap."
Zaynab chuckled, again, and watched the Englishman wander off in the direction of Ardeth's dwelling. Jonathan paused in the doorway, noticing both Medjai soundly asleep. Tiptoeing softly, he made his way over to Ardeth's bedside and sat down to study the warrior. He looked a good deal better than the last time Jonathan sat at his bedside, and the realization brought a smile to the Englishman's lips.
"I can't tell you how relieved I am that you didn't croak on us," Jonathan whispered. Despite the softness of the voice, Ardeth flinched and opened his eyes. His gaze fixing on Jonathan, he smiled.
"Sorry about that," Jonathan whispered. "Didn't mean to wake you."
Ardeth shrugged, very lightly, and blinked, sleepily.
"Look, old boy, since you are awake, there's something I've been meaning to tell you," Jonathan hesitantly informed him. "Well, actually, I worked up the nerve to do it a few days ago, but you were asleep at the time...if I can do it once, I ought to be able to do it again, eh."
Ardeth frowned at the unexpected seriousness of the Englishman.
"No, don't try to stop me. I don't want to have to work up the nerve a third time," Jonathan insisted, believing the frown to be a prelude to words. "Look, I'm sorry I went along with this whole thing..."
Ardeth brow furrowed with bewilderment. He couldn't understand why Jonathan would be apologizing. The Englishman had helped to save his sister's soul; Ardeth would have expected him to be proud of the accomplishment.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled Evy's safe, but I didn't know I was asking you to trade your life for hers...well, I guess a part of me suspected it," Jonathan admitted. "And that why I'm sorry. That's too big a sacrifice to ask of anyone...she's my sister, and I don't know that I could have... Well, I didn't have the right to expect of you, but I went along with it anyway, and I sorry."
Jonathan sighed, trying to read the silent Medjai's expression. All he could see was sorrow, which didn't make much sense to him.
"And thank you," he finally whispered and glanced away. Ardeth caught his sleeve as he started to rise, snagging his attention as well. Sitting back down, Jonathan met the Medjai's steady gaze, and Ardeth smiled. Wrapping his hand firmly around the Englishman's forearm, he gave it a brotherly shake.
Jonathan grinned. He knew the Medjai'd never, previously, held him in high regard, so the gesture seemed like a great honor. He warmly returned it. Settling back down, Jonathan watched Ardeth drift back to sleep, slowly dozing off himself.
A movement next to him brought Jonathan awake with a start. Glancing around to orient himself, he noticed the shadows around him had shifted and realized several hours had passed. Rising stiffly, he nearly collided with Badi'a. Scampering out of her way, Jonathan tripped over his feet, but somehow managed, barely, to stay upright.
"Oh, uh, pardon," he muttered. "Uh...Badi'a, right?"
"That is correct," Badi'a replied, with cool politeness.
"Uh...yeah, right, I'll...um...I'll just get out of your way then," Jonathan stammered, as he back toward the door. "Um...pleasure...uh...bye."
Approaching Ardeth's dwelling, Evy paused and raised an eyebrow, as her brother abruptly fled out the doorway. Shrugging it off, she continued toward her destination. Entering, the sight of Badi'a brought her to a halt, but, after a second, Evy's forced her feet to move forward.
Turning Evy's direction, Badi'a glared. Despite the favorable impression Rick and Alex had made, her heart hadn't warmed at all toward the Englishwoman. Whatever her son and husband were, Evy and her brother were still Carnahans.
"Badi'a," Evy greeted, tensely. Badi'a bowed, stiffly, and bit back a hostile reply. She didn't wish to disgrace her hostess, so would behave civilly, despite the difficulty of it.
Evy sighed at the frosty response, but couldn't fault the Medjai for it. Had she lost as much to a family as the Beys had lost to hers, Evy doubted she would act with as much restraint as Badi'a showed. Shuffling around to the other side of the bed, Evy studied Ardeth, feeling a twinge of disappointment that he still slept.
"His breathing is nearly returned to normal and his fever is all but gone," Badi'a stated, coolly, earning an appreciative nod from Evy. Neither woman had anything else to say to the other, leaving a void of silence hovering oppressively over both of them. After several minutes of nervous fidgeting, Evy found herself unable to stand it any longer and finally spoke.
"I would never revel in anyone's suffering, least of all Ardeth's," Evy stated, barely above a whisper. "But you're right...I do, sometimes, fail to think things through properly, before acting...and people suffer because of it."
Evy kept her gaze fixed on Ardeth, but watched Badi'a from the corner of her eye. The Medjai continued to stand motionless, leaving her to wonder if she were listening. Evy decided to continue, anyway.
"But you must believe me when I tell you I've never intended harm to anyone," Evy insisted, almost pleadingly. "I am truly sorry for all you and your family have suffered because of me and my family."
Unable to think of anything else to say, Evy fell silent. No words could undo the harm that had been done to the Beys...to the Medjai people. Glancing up, she caught a clipped nod of acknowledgement from Badi'a. The slight gesture made Evy smile, tearfully, but appreciatively, and she shuffled back around the bed to leave. She figured she owned Badi'a the consideration of leaving her in peace.
Badi'a sighed, as she watched the Englishwoman leave. Her heart couldn't quite release the anger she felt toward Evy, but it had taken courage for her to apologize. Badi'a had to give her a small measure of respect for that.
Turning her attention back to her brother, Badi'a realized he needed nothing. So she simply sat down beside him...seeking comfort in being physically near him, as that was all the comfort he seemed willing to provide.
"Evelyn," Najat greeted, as Evy inattentively wandered into the common area. "You have timed your arrival well. I have, just at this moment, finished preparing lunch for the children. Would you care to join us?"
Evy nodded, distractedly. A moment later, her brow furrowed, as she noticed the absence of any children. Najat chuckled.
"Widad is rounding them up."
Evy nodded, absently accepting a plate of food from the Abadi. Nibbling a little at some bread, a thought occurred to Evy.
"Badi'a came unescorted?" she asked, glancing up at Najat.
"She came under an Abadi escort."
"Still, it seems strange no Medjai accompanied her," she pondered, aloud. Najat shrugged, lightly. "I mean, shouldn't her husband have come with her, at the very least?"
"Badi'a has no husband," the Abadi stated, matter-of-factly. Evy stared at her, disbelievingly. Badi'a was a beautiful woman from a powerful family; that she would wait so long to marry seemed impossible.
"She is a widow," Najat clarified, seeing Evy's incredulous expression. "Her husband died many years ago, defending Hamunaptra."
Evy nodded, sadly.
"Does she have any children?"
"Alas, no. They had been married but a brief time before his death," Najat answered, pensively. "She is, of course, free to marry again and, so, may yet have children, but, thus far, she has not chosen to do so."
Evy nodded again, distracted by another thought crossing her mind.
"What about Fathi? Why didn't he escort her?"
Najat sighed and stared out into the horizon.
"Najat?" Evy prodded, feeling a sickening tickle in her stomach. The Abadi sighed, again, and briefly closed her eyes, before returning her gaze to Evy.
"Fathi was killed in the recent battle," she admitted, mournfully. Evy nodded, tears welling in her eyes.
"Who's Fathi?" Alex asked, breaking free from the newly arrived pack of children and going to his mother.
"He was Ardeth Bey's younger brother," Najat answered, missing the warning shake of Evy's head.
Alex's jaw dropped, as tears welled in his eyes. His grandparents had killed nearly Ardeth's entire family, and now, because of him and that stupid bracelet, Ardeth's brother was dead! Breaking down into sobs, Alex turned and dashed, blindly, toward Ardeth.
"Brother," Badi'a greeted, with a patient smile, as Ardeth drifted into wakefulness. "How was your sleep?"
Ardeth smiled, sleepily.
"Shall I fetch you some food? Will you eat?" Badi'a asked, hopefully. Ardeth was about to shake his head when a small form burst through the door and flung itself into Badi'a's arms.
"Alex?! What has happened, child?!" Badi'a asked, exchanging an alarmed glance with her brother.
"F...F...Fathi! It...its...all...my...fault!" Alex wailed. Unable certain of how to respond, Badi'a looked, again, at her brother. Biting his lip, Ardeth eased himself forward enough to grab Alex's sleeve and, with the help of Badi'a, weakly pulled, the child into his arms.
"Shhhh, it is done, Alex," he soothed, gently rubbing the child's back. His voice was gravely from lack of use, but, still, it seemed to Badi'a to be the most pleasant sound she'd ever heard. Tears filling her eyes, she smiled, despite the child's grief.
"Would you like to hear of my brother?" Ardeth asked, gazing into his sister's eyes. Alex nodded, sniffling as curiosity calmed his desperate sobs into sorrowful hiccups.
"Come, Badi'a," Ardeth requested, reaching a hand out to his sister and guiding her around the head of the bed. She crawled up beside her brother, with Alex cuddled between them. "We have many stories we can share, do we not?"
"Indeed, brother," Badi'a whispered, with a tearful nod.
"And then, perhaps, you would like to hear of my other brother and sisters," Ardeth offered. Again, Alex nodded, and Badi'a smiled, pensively.
Watching from the doorway, tears trickled onto Evy's cheek. Her Ardeth had found his way back, afterall. She started to move toward him, but a hand on her arm stopped her. Turning her head, slightly, she heard Najat's calm voice in her ear.
"Ardeth has finally accepted the strength that surrounds him; now the healing can truly begin."