When I woke, I saw Sys and Mearr, cuddled together on the delivery bed, holding a mewling, squishy bundle. They didn’t notice me at first, not until I groaned as I propped myself up on my side. As I did so, my head began swimming again and I collapsed onto my side with a swift exhale of my breath.
Cap scuttled over to my side.
“Relax,” he said. “There will be some side effects from the energy transfer. You’ll feel some dizziness and stomach nausea for a few hours, but the impact should fade and will no doubt disappear within a few days.”
I nodded, though I couldn’t fully grasp his words. They seemed to wash over me, sweeping into my mind with one breath and then out with the next like the tide on the shoreline. In and out. In and out. Nothing taking hold or finding purchase.
As Cap continued examining me, I glanced over at Sys and Mearr. They were looking at me now. Sys was propping herself up off of the bed, even. I thought I saw something in Mearr’s eyes. Something new. Gratitude? Admiration? It was difficult to pin down.
Sys stepped up to the side of my bed, which I finally realized had been her bed when last I saw, and reached out with one of her hands and clasped mine.
I have to admit, at first I recoiled, fearing that she would drain me once again. But I relaxed when there was no jolt or other sensation beyond the chitinous texture of her carapace.
She held my hand while Cap finished examining me. Then, as he scuttled over to take a look at Mearr, Sys nodded and said, “Thank you.”
That was all, she returned to Mearr’s bedside after that, and didn’t leave until Cap declared her fit enough to return to her duties, which were apparently sorely needed. And then, once Cap was confident that Mearr and the baby were in a stable condition, he too scuttled out of the room to tend to his other duties.
Leaving Mearr and me alone with our child.
Even though Cap said the dizziness and nausea should have faded by that point, I still felt queasy as I slid myself off of my bed and onto the floor. I held myself up with my arms at first, reacquainting myself with an upright position. But before long I was able to hobble over to Mearr’s bedside, where I once again propped myself upright so as to avoid falling down.
“Hey,” I said meekly as I stood beside her, trying hard not to stare down at her lounging form and the bundled baby in her arms.
“Hey,” she replied.
“So,” I said. “Boy or a girl?”
“That’s lovely,” I said. Then I cleared my throat. Talking was drying me out faster than I would have liked. Left me feeling self-conscious, like I was trying to draw attention to the awkwardness of our situation. “Changeling?”
“Of course. Mostly.”
I chuckled. “Mostly. Okay. So, then, it doesn’t really matter what it, er, she is. Cause she’s like you, and can change. Right?”
“Maybe. But she’ll always feel at home in a female body. That’s her birth form.”
I nodded. “Right. Of course.”
Silence. It stretched on for several seconds, during which time I contemplated all manner of prying questions — about the nature of changelings, the realities of hybrid offspring, her relationship with Sys — but in the end it was Mearr who broke it.
“That was good. What you did. For Sys, I mean.”
“Huh? Oh, right…don’t mention it.”
“No, I mean it. You didn’t have to help. You could have let her die.”
I took a deep breath in place of admitting that I had considered it. She probably already knew. They all probably already knew. But at least I wouldn’t say it aloud.
“What was wrong with her?” I said instead, turning to look down into Mearr’s face.
She shrugged, and then yawned. “Don’t know. Wasn’t really around for the diagnosis. Might be Cap doesn’t know either. Whatever. At least she’s okay.”
“Yeah,” I said, feeling something in my chest deflate at the sign of Mearr’s concern for her lover. “That’s good. I mean, for you two. It’s good that you’re both okay.”
Mearr gazed up at me for a long moment, seeming to study my features. I looked away after the first second. I couldn’t stand the close scrutiny. I’d be terrible in an actual interrogation, I’m sure. But after that moment, she yawned again, purring toward the end of it. When I looked back at her, just for a glance, her eyes were closed and she was nestling into the pillow. Her arms were still wrapped securely around the bundled baby.
“I’m sorry about cutting you out,” she said. “Maybe you didn’t deserve that.”
I watched her for a moment more, thinking she might go on. But she didn’t, she had fallen asleep.
Brushing my hand across her hair once more, I then turned back toward my bed as I felt another wave of nausea approaching. Hobbling across the short gap, I gasped for deep breaths of clear air to stave off the nausea before climbing into bed and forcing myself to rest.