This is Issue #83 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
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Though Jet would have liked to stay behind in the farmlands to oversee the hunt for the last ship, and personally fire the cannon that brought it down, he shepherded Immanis back to the city proper, to the palace. Most of the retinue went back with him and Lucida, with promises to return with fortifications of money, men, and materials. Lucida was beside herself with grief — she had been so angry with Immanis, and she could not bear the idea that he might die before they could speak again. She laid with him in his sickbed through the journey, whispering to him her love.
The physician worked hard to keep the prince alive, sustaining him with extracts and elixers, and the whole of the retinue was sworn to secrecy — nonetheless, Ilona was aflame with rumor even as they were finally laying Immanis in his bed, to rest. At least one person had seen the prince in his fallen state, and had told others.
At one point, in the midst of Immanis laying in his sickbed, Lucida paced, and Jet prayed.
Life within the palace had to go on; they two began to act as one, answering important queries, meeting with dignitaries, making decisions. They sent the money, men, and materials back out to the farmlands. They sent most of the army; it was more important to Ilona that its peoples be healed before anyone would dare spill over the Luminora, into the dark lands.
One night, as Jet stood in the doorway of Immanis’s room, watching the slow rise and fall of his steady breath, Lucida curled her hand into his. He smiled faintly, to feel her fingers nestle against his palm, and he gave them a gentle squeeze.
In answer, she whispered, “Marry me, my Jet.”
“What?” he said, turning to look at her. “You can’t be serious. That won’t wake him up.”
“Ilona needs a leader–” she began.
“Ilona needs her prince–” he countered.
“Ilona will make do with her guardian, my Jet,” Lucida sighed. “You and I… we would rule well, together. It would be a legitimate way for the country to accept my leadership. I have the knowledge — you have the power.”
Jet fell back on the same argument he always used, finally saying, “Lucida, I don’t love y–”
She pressed a finger to his lips, looking pained. “Yes,” she murmured. “Yes, you do. And I, you, caro. I love you, as well. Not as I love Gemma, and not as you love whomever it is you have lost, but I love you, and it would be a match of equals. We would be hard pressed to find better.”
“Gemma would be heartbroken,” he said softly.
“She and I would never be allowed marriage in that way. In truth, her marriage to my brother would’ve been perfect — I was simply so angry that he would presume,” Lucida murmured, touching her fingertips to her cheeks, lightly, feeling the heat there. “I should have thanked him. He would not have known why, but I should have thanked him, my Jet, why must I be so proud.”
“Because you are a princess,” Jet said, turning to take hold of her shoulders. “Breathe in, Lucida. Breathe out. Do not let yourself become weak in these moments,” he encourages her. “You have been both rock and light in all of this, steady and strong, and your pride has never truly been a detriment,” he said, looking almost fierce.
“This lets me believe you would be an acceptable Prince,” came a voice behind them both.
Jet whirled around, startled to find Gemma standing behind him in the hallway.
She smirked at him and said, “If Immanis does not wake, find me good match, and we sort it out ourselves, yes?”
Jet’s brows lifted, and his jaw dropped. “Gemma, I–”
“Quiet, Guardian,” Gemma said, reaching to twine her fingers with Lucida’s. Her dark eyes shone in both pride and determination. “Ilona has need of you. My Princess needs you. Will you fail now after all this time serving the blood that runs in your veins?”
“I will not fail,” Jet said quietly, feeling his heart in his throat. “I will not fail Ilona. I will not fail Lucida.”
“Good,” Gemma said, nodding to him. “Good, then that is sorted,” she murmurs. An odd expression touched her eyes just then; she leaned in and moved to kiss the corner of his mouth. “Protect us, Guardian. Blood and flame of Ilona, forever,” she whispered against his skin.
Jet looked almost shocked, felt almost faint, but smiled to Gemma as she pulled back. He nodded to her and Lucida. “Yes, it’s sorted,” he said quietly. “Off you both go, then? To… ah, to bed with you.”
Gemma and Lucida smiled for him, and then at one another, and all but ran off, bare feet hitting the marble tile, leaving him alone in the doorway of Immanis’s room. Rather than shut it, he walked in, walked right to his bedside, and knelt. He took Immanis’s hand and pressed it to his cheek. “My brother,” he pled. “Come back to me,” he begged.
There was no response — there had not been, for days.
Jet wept, curling around Immanis in his bed. As his tears fell, Jet held Immanis tightly, letting the heat of his body suffuse his ice-skinned brother, as though it might help him wake. He remembered holding to Kieron in the same way, only that time, he pulled the heat from the boy, and this time, he sought to give it back. He fell into fitful dreams of Kieron and Immanis, of his boyhood love and his newfound brother, how they were not at all alike, but how they each fit into his arms.
He woke with a start; Secta was at his side, gently rousing him. “Lord,” he began, “the city needs you.”
“What do you mean, Secta?” Jet mumbled, rubbing his eyes, moving to sit up.
“Plaga’s brother has come. He demands an audience,” Secta murmurs.
“And that should move me to accomodate him… how?” Jet wondered, frowning irritably. He reached for Immanis, and laid his warm hand against the prince’s cool brow, sighing in resignation.
“My Lord,” Secta said, wringing his hands in worry, “He has brought an army.”
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