"We're not doing enough," Amelia said on the fourth day. Neither she nor Kev had had sufficient sleep, both of them taking turns caring for the ailing brother and sister. Amelia came into the kitchen, where Kev was boiling water for tea. "The only thing we've accomplished so far is to make their decline more comfortable. There must be something that can stop the fever. I won't let this happen." She stood rigid and trembling, stacking word upon word as if trying to shore up her defenses.
And she looked so vulnerable that Kev was moved to compassion. He was not comfortable with touching other people, or being touched, but a brotherly feeling caused him to step toward her.
"No," Amelia said quickly, as she realized he had been about to reach out to her. Taking a step back, she gave a strong shake of her head. "I… I'm not the kind of woman who can lean on anyone. I would fall to pieces."
Kev understood. For people like her, and himself, closeness meant too much.
"What is to be done?" Amelia whispered, wrapping her arms around herself.
Kev rubbed his weary eyes. "Have you heard of a plant called deadly nightshade?"
"No." Amelia was only familiar with herbs used for cooking.
"It only blooms at night. When the sun comes up, the flowers die. There was a drabengro, a 'man of poison' in my tribe. Sometimes he sent me to get the plants that were difficult to find. He told me deadly nightshade was the most powerful herb he knew of. It could kill a man, but it could also bring someone back from the brink of death."
"Did you ever see it work?"
Kev nodded, giving her a sidelong glance as he rubbed the taut muscles at the back of his neck. "I saw it cure fever," he muttered. And he waited.
"Get some," Amelia finally said, her voice unsteady. "It may prove to be fatal. But they're both sure to die without it."
Kev boiled the plants, which he had found in the corner of the village graveyard, down to thin black syrup. Amelia stood beside him as he strained the deadly broth and poured it into a small eggcup.
"Leo first," Amelia said resolutely, though her expression was doubt-ridden. "He's worse off than Win."
They went to Leo's bedside. It was astonishing how quickly a man could deteriorate from scarlet fever, how emaciated their strapping brother had become. Leo's formerly handsome face was unrecognizable, turgid and swollen and discolored. His last coherent words had been the day before, when he had begged Kev to let him die. His wish would soon be granted. From all appearances a coma was only hours, if not minutes, away.
Amelia went directly to a window and opened it. letting the cold air sweep away the taint of vinegar.
Leo moaned and stirred feebly, unable to resist as Kev forced his mouth open, lifted a spoon, and poured four or five drops of the tincture onto his dry, fissured tongue.
Amelia went to sit beside her brother, smoothing his dull hair, kissing his brow.
"If it was going to… to have an adverse effect," she said, when Kev knew she meant "if it was going to kill him," "… how long would it take?"
"Five minutes to an hour." Kev saw the way Amelia's hand shook as she continued to smooth Leo's hair.
It seemed the longest hour of Kev's life as they sat and watched Leo, who moved and muttered as if he was in the middle of a nightmare.
"Poor boy," Amelia murmured, running a cool rag over his face.
When they were certain that no convulsions were forthcoming, Kev retrieved the eggcup and stood.
"You're going to give it to Win now?" Amelia asked, still looking down at her brother.
"Do you need help?"
Kev shook his head. "Stay with Leo."
Kev went to Win's room. She was still and quiet on the bed. She no longer recognized him, her mind and body consumed in the red heat of fever. As he lifted her and let her head fall back on his arm, she writhed in protest.
"Win," he said softly. "Love, be still." Her eyes slit-ted open at the sound of his voice. "I'm here," he whispered. He picked up a spoon and dipped it into the cup. "Open your mouth, little gadji. Do it for me." But she refused. She turned her face, and her lips moved in a soundless whisper.
"What is it?" he murmured, easing her head back. "Win. You must take this medicine."
She whispered again.
Comprehending the scratchy words, Kev stared at her in disbelief. "You'll take it if I tell you my name?"
She struggled to produce enough saliva to speak. "Yes."
His throat got tighter and tighter, and the corners of his eyes burned. "It's Kev," he managed to say. "My name is Kev."
She let him put the spoon between her lips then, and the inky poison trickled down her throat.
Her body relaxed against him. As he continued to hold her, the fragile body felt as light and hot as flame in his arms.
I will follow you, he thought, whatever your fate is.
Win was the only thing on earth he had ever wanted. She would not leave without him.
Kev bent over her, and touched the dry, hot lips with his own.
A kiss she could not feel and would never remember.
He tasted the poison as he let his mouth linger on hers. Lifting his head, he glanced at the bedside table where he had set the remainder of the deadly nightshade. There was more than enough left to kill a healthy man.
It seemed as if the only thing that kept Win's spirit from leaving her body was the confinement of Kev's arms. So he held her and rocked her. He thought briefly of praying. But he would not acknowledge any being, supernatural or mortal, who threatened to take her from him.