This is Issue #103 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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The voice was familiar, but Jet didn’t want to hear it, didn’t want to listen. In the forefront of his mind was his rage, his misery. He had already lost everything, and then rebuilt. He would have to lose it all again — and why? For no reason he could discern. For Fate, perhaps. Because that is what was foretold. He stared at Secta, and the young man trembled in his grasp, tears in his eyes for how he was held up by a fistful of hair.
Slowly, Jet lowered Secta back to the floor, his heart still thundering in his ears. He released Secta, and the poor man dropped to his knees, disoriented. Jet turned and looked over his shoulder, and felt his heart stutter.
Immanis stood there, tall and proud, dark eyes watching. He looked at Jet almost impassively, though his gaze, as it lingered, grew less and less devoid of feeling, and more and more full of the fire Jet felt within himself.
Jet met his gaze, and said nothing, for a moment. He stepped away from Secta and looked down at him, knowing his heart should hurt to see the young man rattled, stunned into silence by fear. Instead, he felt nothing, and in that he wondered what so many others had found themselves wondering — just how much had he changed? “Leave me,” he commanded, sending Secta on his way, baring his teeth with the words. He looked to Immanis, and took no more note of Secta’s departure than he would of a fly buzzing away. The gulf between him and the Prince seemed immeasurable; he stared across the void and waited. “What is it–?” he finally asked, biting off the question before he could say ‘brother’ or worse, ‘my Immanis’, for he knew no one could be his for long.
“Your self pity is unbecoming,” Immanis said abruptly. “If you cannot control yourself, at least shut yourself away until your temper tantrum is over.”
The shock on Jet’s face lingered for longer than he would’ve liked; he stood taller, closed his mouth, and gave the briefest of nods. “Is there anything else you wish to tell me?” he asked, refusing to acknowledge the heat that touched his cheeks, the shame that he felt crawling up the back of his throat as though it could choke him.
“Make your peace with your famulo. It would be difficult to find another to fill the position so faithfully,” Immanis declared.
“Your concern is duly noted.” Jet all but growled the words; the hand holding his glass knife curled into a tighter fist. “Anything else?”
Immanis’s dark eyes grew brighter, but Jet could not tell the emotion contained within. “The wedding will take place in one week.”
Jet felt his heart tighten, his body grow tense. “One week,” he repeated, nodding. “Does she know?”
“Is she ready?” Jet asked, his voice softer.
“Are you?” Immanis countered.
“I will do as you command,” Jet said softly. “I will do what Ilona needs. I will live and die at your hand, Majesty,” he said, his spine stiffening. He stood tall, straight, his expression blank, his eyes cold and dark as unlit coals. He stared off into some middle distance, without meeting Immanis’s eyes. He would keep his word. He had been abandoned before, and he would be abandoned again, but he would keep his word.
“My sister deserves more than a man who will see her as a duty,” Immanis noted. “I have given you the highest honor that I may, in securing her hand for you. You saved her life, and I made you my brother. You saved my life, and I gave you her hand. You defended the city against an invading army, and saved my life a third time — we are bound together, are we not?”
Jet turned to look at Immanis, exhausted, and was shocked to see a look he did not expect: pain.
“Tell me, my Black Stone, do you truly feel nothing?” Immanis asked quietly. “You are not a prisoner here,” he said, and his voice broke. “You know this, yes? My sister’s hand is a gift of gold, not a chain of iron.”
Tired of explaining himself, Jet said “She does not love m–”
“I do!” Immanis all but shouted, his fist striking once, twice against his tattooed chest.
Stunned at the words, Jet said, “Then… why are you trying to make me marry Lucida?”
“I marry you to my sister because Ilonan law requires her to have a Prince and I trust no one else! I marry you to her to keep you close to me!” Immanis said. “Your heart will be a prize before long. Other families will vie for it. I could not breathe, thinking another might possess you.” Immanis stood close, trying not to shout, gesturing wildly.
“You wanted me to marry Lucida months ago. Before we ever–” Jet said quietly.
“I knew you were different when you knelt before me, and would not bow to my will,” Immanis murmured. “I knew you alone could love me with your own heart. Not whatever I commanded of you. What would you have me do, chase you?” he whispered. “I had thought you mine, already. The Westlander had poisoned me. I was a prisoner in my own flesh, dying a slow death, cold and colder, alone, but then you were there. A bright spark amidst the frigid night. You woke me. I tasted blood and fire and you were there, were you not?”
Jet’s cheeks burned, and he looked down, lost.
“You were there in my bed, were you not? So let us not pretend. You came to me a foreigner and you were unaffected by my powers. You fought for me. You died for me. I gave Lucida to you in promise, to keep you near to me, my Black Stone,” Immanis said. “You could have let me die under Plaga’s sword. You could have let me die from the Westlander’s poison. Yet you did not,” he murmurs. “I must believe it is because you feel as I do.” A look of hope settled tentatively over Immanis’s features, making his face almost radiant.
“I cannot,” Jet whispered. “I do, and yet I cannot.” I love another. A boy who is a man now, perhaps, if he still lives. And I cannot let you love me. You die, loving me.
Immanis’s expression fell. He turned, at once, before Jet could see the tears in his eyes, and moved to leave the room, sweeping away, sudden and almost in retreat.
“Immanis,” Jet began, reaching after him.
“You have one week,” Immanis interrupted, turning back, his eyes cold, his jaw set. “And then you shall make your decision.”
“My decision?” Jet asked.
Immanis nodded, his teeth clenched. “You will wed Lucida, or–” He looked both furious and lost as the words hung in the air.
“…or?” Jet prompted softly, frowning. Would Immanis put him in the hunt?
Glittering dark eyes watched Jet; great wells of tears remained unshed. Immanis’s voice remained steady, somehow. “Or I will let you go.”
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