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i am so tired. i am a writhing animal in your fragile, glasslike arms.

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Hetty can’t eat, but Reese wants her to sleep.

That would be best, she thinks, if only to allow her some peace. If only to give her some promise of relief for a few hours, before they return to the three-act tragicomedy that their lives have become. (Reese says tragicomedy because she has to believe there’s something funny about this—something that lies just below her standard for humor, or just above. There has to be some force in the universe laughing at them, right now. Otherwise, this is all so senseless. So much nothing.)

“I can’t,” whispers Hetty. “I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t—Reese.”

Reese is cradling Hetty in her arms, sitting on the wooden floor of the boat, stroking her hair and silently begging her to sleep. “Yes?” she replies.

“I can’t do this. I—I ruined everything.”

Yeah, thinks Reese. We both ruined things. It's sort of our thing, when you think about it. Us and Byatt, ruining things.

“It’s okay,” she whispers. Her fingers find their place at the roots of Hetty’s hair, stroking her scalp. Her head is against Reese’s chest, choked sobs absorbed by her shirt. If Reese were to be poetic about it, she might say that Hetty’s cries are remarkably close to her heart; but considering the recent incident of Hetty’s emesis, she doubts that’s the most sensitive thing to think right now. “It’s going to be okay, Hetty.”

“It’s not,” Hetty murmurs. “You know it’s not. I need to—you need to get it out.”

“We got it out, Hetty,” says Reese. “We got it out.”

Hetty’s arm is basically an open wound; and it feels like whatever was holding her up, the quiet endurance that allowed her to deal with all of this—with boat shift and Byatt and Reese’s dad and Welch and Taylor and Headmistress, with senseless violence as a last and first option, with trauma beyond belief—is bleeding out of it. Still, the worm is out, its parasitic body thrown into the ocean. That might have consequences. Reese doesn’t want to think about it. Doesn’t want to think about how she saw herself when she was pulling it out. How she realized that if they wanted to make it out of this coherent, she would need to be the last with it in. She would need to endure this parasite. For the sake of Hetty. For the sake of Byatt.

“We got it out?” Hetty’s voice is breaking. Broken.

“We got it out,” Reese echoes. “Now sleep.”

“I can’t.”

“You have to try.”

Quiet for a moment. All Reese can hear is her own heartbeat in her head. Hetty's breathing. Hetty whispering, "I'll try."

Reese lets her try. Allows her to rest in this warm tangle of their bodies, and not once does she think of the people they once were. Not once does she think of selfish desires—of wanting Hetty whole, untainted with Tox. Of wanting her dad. Of wanting her life back. Not once does she think of anything.

She just sleeps.