“It hurts!” Anemone howled, curled upon the floor in the fetal position she thrashed desperately, squealing as she tried to escape the pain her body experienced during withdrawal. “It hurts, it hurts!”
Dominic’s hands quivered as he watched her. No matter what, he couldn’t get used to it. It still made him go pale whenever this happened—and it had been happening way more often than it had before. When she was first on the ship, she had never gone through such dramatic symptoms more than twice a week, but now it was daily, sometimes multiple times a day. Since Anemone had become his responsibility, the project that he was granted the honor of managing, he had been forced to face her issues head on. Maybe no one else who had to look after her cared about her declining condition, but when Dominic thought about the way that she was slipping further and further into illness, it made his stomach sink from dread.
Anemone made Dominic feel soft, softer than anything he wished it were possible for him to feel. He’d worked so hard for his honorable position within the United Federation and the forced respect that came intertwined, yet here he was, devoting more than what was required for Anemone, sticking his neck out for Anemone—she was a project , she was a weapon . Dominic Sorel, the youngest second lieutenant in history— the Dewey Novak’s right hand man—made himself out to be even more of the child that everyone thought he was, too sensitive and delicate to understand the importance of sacrifice in times of war. Everyone looked at him like he had three heads every time he suggested that maybe Anemone deserved some comfort or respect.
Dominic knew it would only harm Novak’s reputation if he let himself succumb to such immature behavior, but he couldn’t seem to help himself. He took his job seriously, but a strong motivation emerged from within him after taking on the role of monitoring Anemone’s mental and physical condition that wasn’t just out of his sense of idolization of Dewey Novak, the one who had saved his soul in the aftermath of the Summer of Love.
Blood rushed from Anemone’s nose, streaking the smooth tile floor as she wrestled with herself, her body twisting into an arch of hysteria. Dominic remembered how he’d felt when he first saw her, how frightening her abuse towards him had been—but now he had grown to see her for the wounded little girl she was inside, the one that had not known care or compassion until Dominic accidentally gave her the tiniest piece of it. Even his universal respect was a novelty to someone like Anemone.
Dominic watched his reflection against the steel and metal that made the bones through the body of their ship, the pride he normally felt upon wearing his uniform dwindling when he glanced at the injector between his gloved fingertips, the thick barrel of drugs cold in his palms. Was this… alright? Surely, the great Dewey Novak knew better than he did, had a better plan for this poor girl that didn’t involve such torture. This was a necessary evil. Besides, Dominic reasoned to himself, what he held between his hands was the cure for the suffering that Anemone was struggling through.
Dominic approached Anemone, knowing from experience that when she trembled like this, from that raised position, hips extended in the impossible ecstasy of her pain, she wouldn’t lash out at him or punch him or claw at him as she had before. Dominic didn’t want another bruise across his face that his subordinates—salty and insecure at Dominic’s superiority in his youth—would use to belittle him.
He crouched down. Anemone’s eyes were tightly shut, eyelashes fluttering in her deep concentration. Dominic found himself wondering what she was thinking about, but he wouldn’t ask. Such dissociation was probably the only peace she’d felt through her fit so far.
He hesitated to disturb her, even when she twitched pathetically and whined. Really, she had begun to treat him differently too. She used to scream and wriggle away whenever he’d come anywhere near her with this thinly veiled weapon.
“Okay.” Dominic braced himself, using the gentle voice he used only for Anemone. “It’s time for your medicine, Anemone.”
Anemone’s eyes flashed open, whirling to lock onto her opponent—a beast of war. Her lilac eyes shivered, the thin slits of red spiraling, representative of how Dominic was sure her mind was also being scrambled. She couldn’t form words with her lips. Only a low moan escaped them in recognition of Dominic’s presence.
Dominic carefully inched closer to her position on the floor, ready to press himself against her if she seized in her nightmare.
He laid the needle to the ground beside them. He gently gripped her shoulder with one hand, firmly holding her in place. Surprisingly, she accepted it, whining weakly as her empty eyes hyperfocused on her caretaker's every move. Despite her disorganized consciousness, she had grown to trust Dominic to take care of her. The realization, coupled with her lack of resistance, made Dominic’s heart weak.
“Alright. Good job.” He praised her sincerely, but behind each word were a hundred he could never say.
He took her chin between his warm fingers, tilting her head upwards so he could see the golden receptor, the perfect shape to accept everything that waited inside the barrel of the thick syringe. She accepted it despite struggling against herself. Dominic removed the hand that held her down—she didn’t need it anyway with the surprising way she submitted to him. Dominic ran a finger against the smooth curve of her neck, feeling where her skin met the infused jewelry, the holes carved in from when she was a young girl that had grown alongside her. Despite being a part of her, it was still cold.
He locked the gun of the tool for the syringe in his hands, feeling the trigger against his thumb. Dominic gently guided it to the groove, letting it slip into the hole. Anemone shivered, stammering as she felt it plunge in. Now, for the worst part.
Dominic released it all at once, holding firmly on the plunger. It rushed into Anemone’s body and she screamed, sobbing at the sensation of her mind being rearranged, reorganized. Dominic bit his lip as he pushed, wishing there was more that he could do, that there was a way that he could release her from this. Why did it have to be a young girl like her? Why did Anemone deserve such a cruel fate?
“Stop it!” Anemone was capable of speech again, which was both a relief and a struggle. “It hurts!”
Dominic closed his eyes until he heard the last hiss of whatever remained of the ‘medical’ fluid rushing into Anemone’s system. The click of emptiness rendered the weapon in his hands unnecessary. He discarded it.
“It’s too much!” Anemone shrieked, her hands rushing to her face, rolling against them, covering up what little she could behind her small hands.
Dominic reached for her, using all the strength he could command to hold her steady. He brought her up and into his arms, holding her against his chest while she jittered and sobbed hysterically. Without thinking, he did as he always did, petting her gently across the back of her head, with all the compassion he felt for her position, with all of the feelings he could never hope to convey. He smoothed long strands of vibrant pink between his fingers, cradling her face into his neck. Her blood and tears made a mess of his uniform, but he didn’t mind. It didn’t matter.
She quieted in the warmth of his embrace.