Caleb wasn’t entirely sure what was going on.
He remembered Caduceus all but putting him to bed, and then spending the afternoon slipping hazily in and out of uncomfortable consciousness. He remembered, at one point, Nott coming in and refusing to leave until he had eaten at least a half a bowl of soup. He remembered being vaguely aware of Frumpkin’s warm, purring weight on the blankets beside him, the slowly expanding and then subsiding pound in his head, the chills and sweats that overtook him by equal measure.
Then, he remembered fire and water.
He remembered burning, first. He was on fire, no more than he deserved, but Jester was there and Nott also and they didn’t need to be on fire, but he couldn’t seem to warn them, and one second they were there and the next he was floating and the next he was back in the asylum and he was in the water, and he struggled but Jester was there, Jester and Nott, and he couldn’t seem to warn them, couldn’t make his mouth say anything but “stop” and “please,” and he had still been burning and then finally he had been flung into dreams that made far less sense, dreams where Yasha was there and she had eaten his cat, but it was okay because Frumpkin was still there, but he was a ghost, or Yasha was a ghost, and Frumpkin turned to him and said “light them up, pretty,” but with Trent Ikithon’s voice. And then he was burning again. It always seemed to return, eventually, to the burning.
Coming awake was like coming up for air in a stormy sea, barely gasping a breath before another wave crashed over you. At first he was aware for only seconds at a time, feeling the mattress beneath him or the blunted claws of a goblin at his head before being pulled under by another wave of sleep. Slowly, he woke enough to realize that his whole body hurt, from the top of his head to the soles of his feet, and that the person whose hands were gently stroking his heavy hair was Nott. Finally, he managed to shift his head and open his eyes, and upon doing so was immediately assaulted with further issues.
First, and perhaps foremost, this was not his room. A more awake, less ill Caleb would have recognized it immediately as being Jester and Beauregard’s room, but waking up somewhere he hadn’t fallen asleep had never ended well for him and his first response was to try and sit up, ready to fight, or flee.
The second was that if he thought he felt like shit when lying perfectly still, it was nothing for how absolutely wretched he felt upon attempting to move. His head barely made it an inch off the pillow before he fell back with a whimper. Not only had he been kidnapped in his sleep, but his enemies had clearly replaced all of his limbs with leaden rods that would not respond to his will, and had placed some sort of clever explosive device behind his eyes that detonated in an explosion of pain and dizziness as soon as he tried to move.
The third was that there were other people in this room, and as soon as he tried to escape they all began being very loud at once. A very familiar voice, right by his ear, stage-whispered “he’s awake!” and that reassured him, although he wasn’t entirely sure why. As soon as he tried to move the voice all but shrieked “Oh no, don’t try to get up, Caleb!” and then someone else was talking, and then two someone’s, and then a very tall person was leaning over his bed and saying something that Caleb didn’t hear because he was suddenly so tired, as though his single attempt to sit up had cost him more than three back-to-back fights with no time for a short rest in between. He opened his mouth to ask whoever had kidnapped him to please be quiet but all that came out was a moan. Then the wave crashed down, and he went under.
His next awakening was easier, by inches. Some amount of time later – and he didn’t know how long exactly, and that bothered him, but he was certain it was still early morning – he surfaced again, a little, and this time he knew, at least, that it was Nott beside him. He opened his eyes without trying to move sand saw a blur of pink filling his vision, which after blinking a few times resolved itself into a vaguely Caduceus-like shape.
“He’s awake again!” He heard Nott exclaim in his ear. He winced, and then winced again because wincing hurt.
“Well hello Mr. Caleb,” Caducues’ voice was low and soothing, but still grated a little against the open wound that was his entire being at the moment. “Can you tell us how you’re feeling?”
Caleb’s mouth worked a moment, trying to remember how to form words. Finally he croaked out a single, “bad,” then a, “where?”
“You’re in Jester’s bed,” murmured Nott by his ear, blessedly quieter than anything else she had said so far. That news was startling enough that he tried to turn his head to look at her, which sent a wave of sick dizziness and pain down his spine. He closed his eyes and outright whimpered.
“Easy now, Mr. Caleb,” said Caduceus from somewhere far above him. “You’ve had a rough night, and you’re still very ill. Don’t try to move overmuch.” There was a large, soft hand on his brow, unlike the small rough ones he had only just realized were clutching his own. “Hmm, his fever hasn’t broken entirely, but he definitely feels cooler. How is Miss Beau doing?”
Beau? He forced his eyelids open again. If he turned his head slowly enough, all the rocks and sand weighing it down would settle in increments and it didn’t hurt as much. Unfortunately, it seemed like it was too much to ask both of his eyes to focus at the same time – the other bed in the room was a blur of color, surrounded by indistinct shapes who sounded a bit like Jester and Fjord. “Beauregard?” he attempted. Nott shushed him, not ungently.
“It seems like her fever’s gone down as well,” reported Fjord’s voice from very far away. He was distracted from it momentarily by the feeling of a firbolg hand under his head.
“Caleb,” Nott was saying from somewhere behind his ear, “Caduceus is going to help you sit up a little so you can drink this, alright?” ‘This’ turned out to be not water, but a grassy, lukewarm tea that Nott was holding to his unsuspecting lips. He got down three swallows before closing his mouth tightly against a fourth.
“Hmm. Do you think you could drink just a little more?” Caleb could feel the rumble of Caduceus’ voice in his skull, as he realized that he was now leaning against the healer’s chest. The thought of trying to drink more of that tea turned his stomach, but he was willing to try if Caduceus thought it was important. As screwed his brows together and tried to muster up the will to explain, Nott interrupted.
“He doesn’t have to have it if he doesn’t want it!” and then a little softer, directed at him, “you don’t have to have it if you don’t want it, Caleb.” So that was nice, then. Nice of Nott. The thought made him chuckle a little to himself.
“Caleb?” Her blurry face filled his vision. “Are you… laughing? What’s funny?”
“Nice,” he wheezed out, the laughter turning to shivering. “You are… nice.” The goblin face floating in front of him twisted into a frown, and he felt a small, clawed hand rest itself on his face. He closed his eyes.
There was more talking now, but he couldn’t follow it. The ground he was lying on was shaking, or – no, that was Caduceus. He was still lying propped against his chest. At least he thought he was. It was hard to tell, really, with his eyes closed and everything floating like this. Everything was floating until he tried to move, and then all of a sudden his entire body was weighed down with very sharp rocks. He stopped trying to move, and instead laid very still, content to let himself drift. He was very, very tired.