This is Issue #98 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
* * *
“What is this I hear about temples in the city being converted into shrines?” Immanis’s eyes were narrowed, not in shrewdness, but in a mocking amusement. He paced his private study, happily drunk on aetheris, the long line of his robes flowing around his legs as his bare feet padded along the stone tiles.
“I know nothing of it,” Jet tried to say, flushed pink, holding a glass of aetheris he never did much more than put near his lips. Every time, the burn of it made his eyes water; he didn’t know how Immanis could get it past his lips. He paced as well, half-circling Immanis — they never quite came within arm’s reach. He watched Immanis move, studied the whorling patterns of his tattoos and paint, the jewels he wore. He licked his lips, swallowing, praising and cursing what he couldn’t understand, all at once. He could not rid himself of the taste of salt, of blood and aetheris, of need.
It had been days, and that taste remained.
“Even as we try to hush up the rumors, no doubt everyone knew I had been stricken with a poisoned sleeping sickness. That the Westlanders had done it. The ones who burned the fields and villages. That they possess weapons we fear — except for you. My brother, Guardian of Ilona, the people are flocking to you, because you brought me back to life, are they not?” the prince wondered.
“It seems true,” Jet sighed.
“You do not seem happy for this, my Jet,” Immanis noted, the sparkle in his eye not teasing so much as simply amused.
Trying to keep his voice level, Jet said, “I can barely leave the palace as it is — flowers are thrown at my feet, and people throng about me. There are songs!” Jet’s expression of helpless irritation was more than comical; when he noticed Immanis’s amusement, he crossed his arms over his chest and truly began to sulk. “Immanis!” he exclaimed. He set his thickbottomed glass down with a jarring ‘clank’ against one of the bookshelves in the study, and sighed heavily. “How am I to attack those who hide in the shadows when I can no longer hide in them myself?”
“You do realize you made it infinitely hard on yourself when you adopted this glorious persona with the mask, yes?” Immanis asked, smirking.
“That was your sister’s idea,” Jet grumbled. He was so busy feeling somewhat sorry for himself, he did not notice Immanis crossing to him, barring his way. He looked up at the last moment, startled, and flinched as Immanis leaned into him. “Majesty,” he breathed, his eyes falling shut. He glanced away, uncertain of how to behave.
They had not been alone together since the morning of the feast set out for Plaga. Not since Jet had awakened Immanis with a kiss, with fire, with a hunger he felt gnawing at the back of his mind, something that had been birthed and loosed but never named. Something that made him think of Kieron’s pale skin, alight with fever, Kieron’s lips against his, sudden and clumsy, Kieron’s hand curled into his.
Something that made him feel all at once beloved, and yet both betrayed and betrayer, as well.
“Hush, my brother. You have spent days without rest, running off into the city,” Immanis said, How he longed to soothe the pain evident on Jet’s features; his own wore a sympathetic plea. Let me help you. He reached up to touch Jet’s cheek, to turn Jet’s face toward his own.
Jet flinched, and then looked apologetic, almost all at once.
“Why do you recoil?” Immanis wondered softly, moving to touch Jet all the same, deciding to keep moving, to not let fear get in the way. He cupped Jet’s cheek, the pad of his thumb sliding against Jet’s lips. “Why do you tremble?” he asked, earnest. “Is it fear? Are you frightened of me?” Immanis’s voice was quiet, and he cocked his head to the side.
“Not of you,” Jet whispered, reaching up to curl a hand around Immanis’s wrist.
He saw the look on Kieron’s father’s face, over and over again. He remembered what it had been like to be hauled bodily away from Kieron, when he believed he was saving him.
He remembered the way it felt when he begged Kieron not to leave without him, and still woke alone the next morning.
He remembered Hoyt Redwell, and every other Academy student, and teacher, and parent, and the way boys’ fraternizing had been policed, regulated, how hard it had been to reconcile the feelings he had with his desire to be a good young man, proper, deserving of pride and honor, not knowing until it was too late that Kieron had those feelings, too.
Immanis leaned in, laying his forehead to Jet’s, and whispered “Then let us finish what we began, before your Secta interrupted us?”
Jet shook in ill-concealed fear, his eyes widening. A part of him wished then that Immanis’s power would work on him, could make him do as he was bid. He found he could not move, though he wanted to, and his breath grew shallow; tight — he felt almost cold, cut off and smothered, and he pulled Immanis’s hand away from his face, feeling his own shoulders tense up.
“My Jet?” Immanis said, dark eyes watchful.
Jet felt his own heart break as he turned his face away, closing his eyes. “Forgive me, brother, I–“
Immanis withdrew, lifting his hands away and up, as though to show himself unarmed. He laid a fist over his own tattooed chest, and said, pained, “I had heard you go always right for the heart, Guardian.” He turned and left his own study, his head high, his eyes cold and hard to hide their hurt, bare feet silent on the floor, the rustle of his robes trailing after him.
Furious and miserable, Jet picked up the glass of aetheris and drank its entirety. The glass, he crushed in his fist, clenching his teeth against his own cry as the shards pierced his skin. He threw the shards into one of the braziers, and the spatter of his blood and aetheris smoked against the coals, hissing violently, the flames flaring up.
He stalked out of the study and left for his room; no servants between the two places dared stop him, for the look on his face promised death as much as his mask ever had.
* * *