Life became a fairly regular cycle for a while: there were water changes and feedings, and mutual observation. Eventually I heard the humans talking about getting a female and found that I simply could not believe my ears. While they kept me comfortable and kept me company, I had been somewhat lonely for my own kind since I came here and was all too well aware that they knew another male would never suffice, and that I could never be with others directly. I would be alone in my jar on the table, but it was enough knowing others were nearby. I saw them bring in a large glass tank one day and knew they were one step closer to making it come true...but there were still no females.
As the term wore on Little Keeper began to pale, and the dark circles beneath her eyes stood out against the white cheeks that should have been slightly pink on somewhat tawny skin. She ate little and slept even less; instead she spent more and more time glued to the computer in her lap and was always feverishly typing. Big Keeper would have worried about me if I had begun behaving as oddly as she had been, but seemed to think that this was normal. I eventually had to accept that there were some things about humans that I would never understand. Big Keeper came and went and was generally her cheerful self, but the scent in the air every time I came to take a breath said that Little Keeper was rapidly deteriorating and Big Keeper was unaware: two weeks after they left here singing, strangely dressed, and sword-less, she touched the side of my jar to say hello and I could feel her hand burning through the glass. By now her face had hollowed, become more sallow; the eyes staring out at me were hectically bright, but not with the mirth that usually filled them. Her eyes seemed almost mad. Every breath she drew rattled, but that would not be detected by their ears yet. By the way she smelled, they would soon, and she wouldn't be able to hide her condition from Big Keeper for very long...
Little Keeper's mind began to deteriorate before her body did: the memory lapses associated with sleep deprivation became more frequent as the days wore on and her workload increased with no respite to be found. A day came when she stood in front of my jar, soaking wet and searching for her shoes, wearing nothing but a blue sheet that absorbed the water from her skin. Her face was flushed from her cleaning ritual, but the eyes gleamed with a feverish madness that was unlike anything I had seen in my keepers before; I found it more frightening than the net that pulled me from my safe haven at changing time. When Big Keeper came in and told her she needed to get dressed or they would be late for school, she informed Big Keeper that she had on her "pretty blue dress" and was perfectly ready to go. Her sheet had other ideas, however: as she pulled on her long leather coat it slipped from around her breast and refused to stay put as she attempted to adjust it. She finally gave up and discarded the sheet, but still declared that she was perfectly ready to go as she shouldered her backpack and turned to walk out the door into the cold fall air.
"You are going back to bed," Big Keeper said firmly as she took Little Keeper by the arm and brought her back inside.
"I'm perfectly capable of going to school," Little Keeper replied obstinately before a coughing fit wracked her entire body.
"You're burning up and not all of your faculties are intact. You are going to bed and that's the end of it," Big Keeper said, adding to the finality of her tone by taking a set of keys from Little Keeper's hand and ushering her off to the room where they slept. I heard them talking later on: Little Keeper had absolutely no memory of leaving the shower that morning and took Big Keeper's word for it that the incident had occurred. This was my first experience of the fever-madness that humans called "Delirium," and seemed more unnerving than the word sounded.
Little Keeper seemed to have recovered for a little while, but it was not to last: the fever that had briefly broken after her attempt to leave the house nearly naked returned with a fiery vengeance that I could feel through the glass in spite of the new heater they had given me. The heat from her face and hands could have protected me from winter's chills well enough. The coughing fits grew longer, more frequent, and more vicious. She could hide from Big Keeper no longer: there eventually came a day when she was half carried and half dragged back into my room and deposited on the couch after a brief period at a place she called "work"--a much shorter duration than her absence normally was when she went to this place. Big Keeper looked very worried and pleaded her to go to a being called a Doctor.
"You know I don't go to one unless I really need to," she protested weakly.
"You need to."
"If this doesn't go away in a few days I will go."
"I'm holding you to that."
"If things get worse you have my full permission to take me there whether I--"
The last sentence was cut off by a coughing fit that left Little Keeper limp on the couch and Big Keeper shaking her with a mixed expression of worry and irritation. Things only continued to get worse.
I knew as well as any other betta that sometimes you get sick: sometimes it hits you hard and fast before your keepers can do much to help you, sometimes you have enough time that they can do something about it and keep you living a long happy life. Usually bettas don't suffer as much as the humans do--what I saw in the coming weeks amazed me. The coughing fits wracking Little Keeper's body developed into long bouts of harsh barks that often ended in unconsciousness or strained breaths that sounded like a broken filter motor. Sometimes after these fits she would spit out a rather disturbing slime that was varying shades of pink, yellow, brown or green: at other times she would run outside to vomit in the snow. The only thing I could do was sit and worry. Though her body slowly consumed itself in a blaze of fever and agony, her spirit still remained as she worked undaunted on her heap of papers and steadfastly argued against Big Keeper's suggestions that she swallow a red potion that would make her feel better.
"You first," she replied sarcastically when Big Keeper came into the room with a bottle and a plastic spoon.
"Fine," Big Keeper replied, measuring out a half dose and swallowing it with ease. "Your turn."
"Do I really have to?" Little Keeper asked, her nose wrinkled with disgust.
"It'll help you sleep. Besides, you promised that if I took some you would too. And it's really not that bad."
Little Keeper's face twisted into a mask of revulsion as the first spoonful of potion hit her tongue and she shuddered as it trickled down her throat. I could see her bracing herself to take the second spoon from Big Keeper: I could see the argument happening inside her mind as she struggled with her desire to just throw the spoon in the trash and forget about the medicine, but she ultimately swallowed in and retired to the other room for the night.
As things progressed for the worse, Little Keeper sometimes slept through the times she was supposed to be at school, and eventually stopped going to work as her body weakened. Sometimes she worked in the moments while she was awake, sometimes she watched a box filled with moving pictures, and sometimes she raved at the air in a guttural, angry sounding tongue that I had never heard before. Some of the syllables sounded as harsh as her coughing fits. Whatever she thought she saw filled her with rage to the point where she often clenched and unclenched her fists as though she strongly desired to use them on whatever her delirious mind told her was there, but her conscious self knew was not real.
One day she was lying on the couch staring at me the way the cat often did. Her pale cheeks and lips had a slight flush from her last fit and her bloodshot eyes were hectically bright with the fever I could feel through the glass from six inches away. The dark circles and hollow cheeks made her look like a skeleton. Bettas who looked like that were typically near death. She spoke to me, paused as though I were speaking back to her, and replied to the silence. I don't know what she thought I was saying to her, but she eventually said I was right and took the potion that was sitting next to me on the table before eventually falling asleep. When Big Keeper came home from work and Little Keeper didn't stir, she placed one hand in front of her face and the other on her neck, which did cause the sick human to stir and succumb to another coughing fit. Big Keeper had finally taken her to the Doctor being and came back with tablets to make Little Keeper well again: she took one of these once she could breathe again, and eventually drifted off. Weeks again went by, but Little Keeper gradually recovered her health and her senses. The illness and the never ending pile of homework subsided and the two keepers fell to talking about my future...whatever that meant...