Zahra's first instinct was to cry. Her second instinct was to throw up. And her last instinct was to pass out.
Struggling to retain consciousness, Zahra clenched the side of Adrian's chaise lounge tightly and took deep breaths. She'd never been one for the sight of human blood...
Standing quickly - too quickly - Zahra felt all the blood rush through her body. Stumbling back, she tried to stand, but it was too late. Her world was already beginning to black out, albeit gradually.
But instead of pitching back and falling to the ground, as Zahra had expected, she felt an arm come around her and support her. She realized that it was Alexander, and try as she might, she could not find the strength to remove herself from the prince's embrace.
Visions of Zahra's older brother, who had died from an infection such as Adrian's, Zahra buried her head in Alexander's shoulder and tried to block out images of her brother's death. He'll be fine. He's got to be fine!
With Alexander's help, Zahra staggered to a chair.
"Are you afraid of blood, Zahra?" Alexander asked softly, helping her sit down.
"Only Adrian's," Zahra whispered, though in all actuality, all human blood made her rather squeamish.
For one long, agonizing hour, Zahra watched as the doctor and his assistants swarmed around Adrian, doing everything they could to heal him. But now that Adrian was no longer fighting the infection or the illness it brought, the downhill slope was a steep one.
Zahra forced herself to expect the worst.
But when Adrian finally met Zahra's eyes, Zahra found herself unable to fight the fear or nausea any longer. Slumping in her chair, she felt herself fade out of consciousness. Oh, no...she couldn't faint...not when Adrian needed her...
Waking up only moments after she'd blacked out, Zahra found herself being carried up a long flight of stairs. Where was she going? Who was holding her? She let out a slight moan in protest, but it was all to no avail. Alexander was taking her somewhere.
And then, Zahra did the very thing she'd been fighting against ever since she'd entered the room where Adrian lay. She vomited.
All over the prince's royal robe.
"I'm so sorry," Zahra moaned as she felt herself being lowered into a bed somewhere. "I didn't mean to throw up," she whimpered, humiliated at her lack of control. "I didn't mean to..."
"I know," the prince said gently - almost tenderly - as he removed the robe and used the clean part of it to wipe off Zahra's face. "It's only a robe. You stay right there, Zahra. Don't move. I'm going to get you something to drink. Don't even think about moving, okay?" His voice was unexpectedly soft.
"I won't," Zahra whispered, still mortified.
Within the minute, Alexander returned with a chalice of cold water. Helping Zahra to sit up, he held the chalice to her lips. Sipping the much-appreciated water, Zahra felt slightly better. But only slightly.
Still feeling woozy from her passing out, Zahra lay back down and felt herself being covered by something soft. It was one of Alexander's robes - a clean one, of course.
"I've got to go back and check on Adrian," Alexander said softly, "but I'll be back to make sure you're alright. Don't even think about getting up, Zahra."
It was only after the prince had left that Zahra realized she was in the prince's royal chambers.