This is Issue #89 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
* * *
Plaga stared, his mouth opening and shutting as he attempted to find words to converse.
Lucida’s lips wore an amused smile, but she did not press.
Plaga could not tell if he was infuriated or relieved when Jet answered for them both, saving him from his stuck tongue.
“We have merely been discussing his brother’s actions, and whether he would pay for them,” Jet said easily enough.
Plaga bowed low, himself, trying not to stare, and his officers did the same. Finding his words, he let them come in a rush. “Forgive me my silence. I… am not used to this much beauty. Men of war seldom see such priceless treasures,” he said, lifting his eyes to look at Lucida.
She smiled, offering out a hand. Lifting her chin, Lucida looked well-pleased with herself. “Flattery, hm? Once you begin, you do it well, I must say,” she purred.
“Great Lady, you are, without a doubt, the most glorious creature I’ve ever laid eyes upon,” he murmured, lifting his palm up, trembling, to meet her fingers, and gently catch them in his hand.
“Plaga,” Jet said, trying hard not to roll his eyes and smirk. Too much. “Meet the Princess of Ilona, her royal majesty, Daughter of the Thousand Suns, sister to Immanis, Lucida of House Venator.” He bowed low, smiling behind his mask. “Majesty, may I formally present to you Acer Plaga, brother of Mactabilis, Lord Regent of Tenebrae, ruling in the right hand of his father, Vulnus.”
“A pleasure my Lord of Tenebrae. Welcome to my home,” Lucida said softly, and watched as Acer lifted her fingers to his mouth, and kissed the air beneath the tips of them so very reverently.
While Acer looked awed that Lucy left her fingers in his palm, she glanced at Jet, scrutinizing him. She withdrew her touch from Plaga, who looked almost mournful, and she stepped closer to Jet, and slid her hand against his shroud, his chest.
Jet stood immobile, letting her do as she would, looking to Acer with impassive eyes, the rest of his expression hidden behind the mask.
Plaga looked easily jealous, his hands curling into fists as Lucida reached up and carefully took away Jet’s mask, revealing his painted face. Even as her hand reached up, fingers pressing to his lips, tracing his jaw, he remained still. He was still bloodied from his earlier death; he left it as it was to add to the dramatic presentation of himself as Ilona’s Guardian.
Plaga saw how she used Jet’s blood against his skin, tracing it against his lips almost reverently, until at last, she tipped his jaw and leaned up to press her mouth to his. She kissed him with a tenderness that startled Jet — his eyes fluttered shut, and one hand settled warmly against her hip. The kiss moved him; he had not thought any of her kisses could. The idea of it shook him. All the same, he pulled back, lifting his head, and murmured, “Majesty.”
She turned to face Plaga, then, and read the hunger on his face so easily, she nearly laughed as she watched his expressions war amongst one another — desire, revulsion, shock.
Desire won. His eyes gleamed with it.
She stepped closer to him, and he all but put out his arms to receive her.
“Acer Plaga,” Lucida crooned. “I must ask you something.”
He stared at her bloody mouth and nearly panted to answer, “Anything. Princess, I am… at your service. I –“
“Did you put a blade through my guardian?” she wondered, dark eyes staring him down.
The shock on his face was immediate. He stiffened, trying not to pull back. Swallowing roughly, he did as best he could with honesty. “I did.”
“Did my guardian put a blade through you?” she asked.
“No, Princess,” he said softly, nervousness showing in the way he tried to hold himself quite still.
“Then consider yourself forgiven for your brother’s transgressions,” Lucida said. “If you had not been, you would not be here, and one of your generals would have to take your body back to Tenebrae, to the land of your father, and there would no longer be sons of the House of Plaga, to carry on the line.”
“Your Majesty is most generous,” Acer said, looking relieved.
“She is,” Jet said quietly. “Lucida of House Venator is both powerful and generous.”
“Speaking of my generosity,” Lucida laughed, “I have come to make certain you were well-appointed in your guesting rooms. You and your guardsmen will have the full of the second floor of the moon wing. You may use it as you would your own home.”
“Majesty,” Acer said, looking down briefly. “I do not–“
“If there is one thing you will learn in your time here, Plaga, it will be to accept gifts with grace,” Lucida said, one brow lifted, her gazed pointed.
“Yes, Majesty,” he answered, grasping her unspoken meaning.
She smiled, and all was radiance again; Acer and his guards were escorted to their rooms, wherein servants brought them clean clothes and cold wines, and bid them to refresh themselves as they saw fit.
Lucida and Jet were left to ready themselves for that evening’s feast, but on the way back through the halls, Lucida chided Jet, “You forgot something, you know. In your introduction.”
“Did I?” Jet wondered, thinking back and frowning. He did not enjoy missing out on details. “What was it? Did Plaga notice? I named you fully, did I not?” He turned to look at her, but could not tell if her expression was amused and playful, or sad, but attempting great cheer.
“Do you not claim me, Guardian? Am I not to be yours?” she said. “I had been proud of the title the instant I heard it on the lips of one of the servants who had overheard it. And I would be prouder, still, to wear it before our guests,” she said. She slid herself against him, and leaned up to kiss his mouth again, tasting of cinnamon, and his own blood.
With the heat of his reforged heart still thundering through his veins, Jet could nearly hear nothing but his own pulse. Lucida being so close meant he could feel hers against his skin, and the way they throbbed in time drew him ever closer.
The scent of her was intoxicating; Jet wrapped himself around her and pulled her against the still-drying blood against his chest. The feel of her so close was somehow ever more intriguing. He forgot himself and twisted around to lean her against the wall, the door, anywhere. Her kiss set him ablaze, and he kissed back, twining himself up with her; when she reached behind herself to open the door, they all but tumbled through it, laughing, and still kissing —
–and bumped right into Secta.
* * *