The Healing Process [Xenosaga]

Jin floats weightless in the heavy steel tub, blind and warm; he can feel the tendrils of his hair tease at his shoulders, caressing and falling away in time with the bath's therapeutic current. He is naked, save bandages wound tight around his head, and has a dim awareness that there are other people in the room, but he has never been particularly modest, and does not let his exposed state trouble him. He is safe here, or at least believes such to be the case enough that he allows himself to relax.

The doctors have told himself that the bandages around his eyes will only remain for another few days, and they're sorry for the inconvenience and discomfort of such a primitive healing technique, but the wounded far outnumber the available supplies, and the nanomachines that could salve his wounds in an instant are in short supply. He tells them he understands, for he does, as he could not have it rest upon his conscience that he had taken resources from those whose lives depended upon them in an attempt to relieve himself more quickly of discomfort. The tube beneath his nose that supplies him with warm, wet oxygen will have to stay even longer, but he has already nearly forgotten about it.

He had estimated his own condition as battered but manageable, but the medical techs who had cracked open the tiny vessel he'd appropriate for their escape had apparenly begged to differ greatly; the second the hatch had hissed open in the pressure bay, uniformed bodies and gloved hands had set upon both siblings, first whisking Shion away in a cloud of white-coated haste, then descending on Jin, whose memory of the entire incident past this point remains fragmentary at best. He shouted after Shion, he knows, though what was said he can hardly remember, and even the sting of a hypospray against his exposed neck hadn't stopped him. It had only been the blurred sight of Helmer's face, concerned but by no means panicked, that had convinced him into sleep.

Water bubbles up around his suspended body, lapping at his wounded skin. The sword wound in his side aches, and he brings his fingers to read for him the contours of the gash, unbandaged as it is for purposes of the bath. It feels probably as bad as it looks, a ragged and puckered gash, and Jin expects to wear a scar there for the rest of his life. He does not touch his skin elsewhere, for he has heard the words 'radiation burn' and 'first and second degree' spoken in hushed, authoritative tones, and he has no interest in knowing what that kind of damage feels like.

"Captain Uzuki?" The high, clipped notes of the woman's voice idenitfy her as Dr. Bjorum, cheif of the medical staff. "How are you feeling?"

"Well," he begins to tell her, only it comes out a raspy cough. The smoke inhalation is certainly the least life-threatening of all his ailments, yet it is the one he finds himself cursing the most, every time he tries to speak or swallow. Taking a deep, slow breath through his nostrils, he tries again: "I'm doing well, thank you for asking."

By now, he's learned to navigate fairly well by sound the visual cues that make up so much of interpersonal communication, and can hear her nod, though not smile. She never smiles, not so far as he can hear, and he wonders what so severe a face must look like. "Are you feeling any pain?"

He wants to brush off any discomfort, but can hear from the very tone of her voice that she is not a woman who suffers foolish bravery. "In my side," he admits, "and in my lungs." The lungs hurt the worst when he speaks; he has to stop for breath after every few words. "The bath is nice," he adds, and that also is true. Minerals in the water tingle against his body, and the slight tightness in his burned skin has relaxed considerably since his immersion.

"Your sister's condition has improved greatly in the last eight hours. Her alpha waves are still erratic, though now within normal parameters, and the encephalon readout shows 65% stability." Jin can hear the sound of flipping pages, and the thoughtful tapping of one hard-soled boot. "Dr. Mbiti plans to bring her out of sedation in another twelve hours, and believes that your presence there would be calming to her, if you feel you can--"

"Of course." Jin attempts to lift his head, moving from reflex as much as anything else, but the tubes positioned along his upper lip and against the side of his neck keep him firmly in place. "Will she ... remember?"

Another turned page fills a pause that makes Jin uneasy. "It would be unreasonable for me to speculate, as I have not been her primary physician." Her words have a strained quality to them, the sound of a person guilty of lying by strategic omission. "But I can say with some great degree of certainty that she will wake up. In fact, her physical state is remarkable, considering the conditions of your escape."

The note of skepticism he detects has become almost expected by now; in fact, Jin thinks, Helmer may be the only one who believes his story in its entirety. He supposes it sounds rather fantastic, after all -- resisting the maddening effects of the Song, escaping a destroyed AGWS unit, receiving a serious wound in a personal duel (there, he sensed, was the part of the story where his credibility first became seriously strained), crashing headfirst into Labrynthos, dispatching single-handedly several Asura-model combat Realians, escaping with young sister in tow, acquiring from a burning garage a two-person craft capable of spaceflight, and navigating while seriously injured all the way to a major Federation medical outpost. He scarcely believes it himself, and in fact finds it sounding less and less convincing with every smoke-rasped retelling.

He hasn't told anyone about chaos and Canaan, though. Not even Helmer.

"I'll be there," Jin promises. The thought of seeing Shion awake -- or at least being in the same room with her while she's conscious, as seeing is still a few days off for him -- gladdens his heart considerably.

"Very good." Dr. Bjorum sighs, and there is a sound like a file's being closed. "I appreciate your understanding, Captain Uzuki, and again want to apologise on behalf of my staff and, indeed, the entire Federation that the reward for what I have been given to understand is extraordinary service is merely ordinary medical care."

Jin shakes his head, feeling his hair wisp around him, seaweed in his one-man ocean. "You've all been ... extraordinary yourselves," he protests, saddened that his diminished lung capacity prevents him from a more articulate acknowledgement of the quality of the medical staff's services. "Couldn't ask for ... more."

"You're very kind," she replies, and can that be a smile he hears edging at her voice? Impossible to say, though it sounds as though his gratitude may not have gone unappreicated. "The time now is 0230; I shall return at approximately 1300 hours to prepare you for being moved to where your sister is. Please try to relax until then." Her boots pivot, and her footsteps recede into the distance.

Two-thirty in the morning? His body feels tired just thinking on it; he supposes he's been planetside too long, letting such things as 24-hour conventions affect his psychological schedule. The room (a large one, from the sound of it) bustles with activity, people coming and going, water running, patients chatting, all at a comfortable distance from where he rests. Spaceships, he knows from the little time he's spent training aboard them, are notorious for giving little regard to more planetary notions of daytime and nighttime, for the simple reason that in space it's always night. The only thing more disorienting than trying to keep track of time in space, Jin supposes, is trying to do so while blind.

Why hasn't he mentioned his two brief companions? He tries, but cannot find a good reason. He supposes they'll turn up in their own time with their own portions of the story, or he'll find a way to work them into his more complete report when he's well enough to make it, but to speak of them seems disrespectful in a way he cannot articulate. Surely it would behoove Helmer and others to know where he'd stored the data, to say nothing of how he'd managed to traverse a great deal of the Miltian terrain, but every time the opportunity presents itself, he finds the details sliding off his mind.

Yet alone, he finds his thoughts come back repeatedly to the young man who'd called himself 'chaos' -- which seems to Jin must have been intended as a joke, for everything about his demeanour seemed to exist in a state of near-perfect calm. Even when excited, the gentle tone of his voice did much to soothe Jin's heart. He's never seen eyes that old before, not in a human or a Realian, and wonders when if ever in his life he will see them again.

He thinks he falls asleep then, for he dreams of a voice that calls chaos! -- a young boy's voice, unfamiliar to Jin's ears -- and the sudden, inexplicably certainty of that same calm presence, hovering over him. Jin feels the water around him disturbed by a pair of hands sinking beneath the surface, becoming light and heat as they make contact with his skin. Fingertips brush against his skin, then within his skin, folding deep around the place where Margulis' sword found its purchase. Such an intrusion should hurt, he knows, especially around an already-wounded area -- but there is no pain, only a warmth that spreads deep into his bones, and a corresponding feeling of peace.

Everything will be all right, whispers that feeling to him. Yes, the world is broken, but the world has always been a broken place, and this is nothing new. Pain is real, but it is not permanent. The world tells an old story, and tells it again and again, and everything will be all right in the end. And if it isn't all right, it isn't the end.

"Sleep well, Captain," says chaos in his dream, and as the feeling of his presence evaporates, Jin does sleep, deep and without further dreams.

Anchorless, with no sense of time, Jin cannot tell how long it is before the bare arms of three strong Realian orderlies lift him from his sleep and his bath alike, drawing him effortlessly onto a long stretcher padded with heavy towels. As the dryer's gentle wind blows over him, coaxing the excess water from his body, Jin's fingers lift to his side, to the place where chaos' hand touched in his dream. He can still feel the wound's line, but it has grown thin, and Jin expects that when his eyes are at last permitted to see it, it will appear nothing but a faint white cobweb against his skin, a crack like the last light of sun before it slips beyond the horizon and is gone.

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