This is Issue #123 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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Braziers burned within Immanis’s private chambers. Jet lit the rest of them as he walked about the rooms, touching books, statues, picking up pieces of the Prince’s life, and putting them back down again. His heart tightened in his chest, burning lowly, and he watched the hours tick by on the Prince’s bedside clock. He touched the crystals on a chandelier and watched them swing. He plucked withered orchid blossoms from one of the many plants around the room and dropped them into the braziers, listening to them sigh and scent the room with perfume and vanilla.
He poured himself a glass of aetheris, but couldn’t bring himself to drink it. He could hear, out the balcony window, the occasional cheer from various groupings of wedding guests, but he didn’t go out to look at the stars. Instead, he paced.
When the door finally opened, some time well after the midnight hour, when he was certain Immanis must have already escaped the celebration and perhaps wandered off with a pretty courtier. He had worked himself up to nearly a fit of jealousy, and then suddenly he felt his heart in his throat, and he stopped his pacing, his hands curling into fists. He didn’t turn, didn’t yet see Immanis as he was closing the door, but all at once, Jet felt the world tightening around him, his view greying at the edges, everything gone to tunnel vision.
What am I doing? What am I doing here?
It felt like drowning.
It felt like coming home.
Immanis shut the door behind himself, and leaned back against it, feeling the world swim, his veins half full of aetheris. He could see someone wearing white in his room, someone hooded, facing away from him. “You dare?” he snarled, pulling a knife from his robes. He ran for the intruder, brandishing the weapon, baring his teeth, secretly pleased for the challenge. He had killed a hundred men and women — one with his bare hands — and still he was not sated, still he did not feel he had done enough to slake the thirst of his wedding guests, his people who expected him to be the predator, the leader, the all-powerful head of their nation, merciless and fierce. And besides — he needed something to take his mind off the idea of Jet in Lucida’s bed.
All that death had left him only anticipating the gift he’d been given by his Guardian — the prey for his hunt. His fingers curled tightly around the knife as he launched himself at the intruder.
The world spun, and Jet remembered for a single instant, the feeling of heat closing up over his mouth, his eyes, liquid and red.
I am here because I am reborn.
He turned around as Immanis closed in.
Jet pulled his hood down, and revealed his face, his bronze skin, his sharp white teeth, the long, dark waves of his hair. His laughing, shining golden eyes.
Immanis collided with him, too late to stop the rush, and they tumbled to the floor, a riot of wedding robes, white silks, bare feet.
Jet let himself be pinned, and lifted his chin so the point of the knife would dig against his throat. Blood ran, staining the collar of his white cloak — the spot darkened, widened. He hissed lowly, tipping his head back further, baring his teeth. “My Prince,” he whispered, smiling, his eyes half-lidded.
Shock registered on Immanis’s face. His eyes grew wide, and he lay against the Guardian, panting. He dropped the knife with a clatter, panting, and froze, his eyes even wider. “Jet?”
Jet nodded, saying, “Yes, Immanis.”
“Should you not be with your wife?” the Prince asked. “It is your wedding night, after all.” Wind from the balcony blew against them, stirring Jet’s white robes, Immanis’s black hair.
“It is,” Jet said. “But I have long since known how the night would go, to serve us all well. In fact, I am entirely certain I have given her the wedding night she deserved,” he explained quietly, earnestly. “The one she wished for, but could not claim, herself. And in return–” As he spoke, he reached up a bare hand and slid it over the Prince’s jaw, trailing fingertips over his skin, cupping his cheek in the palm of his hand. He leaned up, his breath warm against Immanis’s cheek as he said, “–I have come to take the wedding night I wish for.”
Immanis’s eyes widened, but then looked pained. “I forced your hand, in this, my Jet,” he said, shaking his head, his dark eyes saddened. “It is no victory for me, my brother, that you chose under duress. I was foolish, and–“
His words were cut off as Jet pressed a finger against his lips. “I did not hesitate in choosing because I don’t love you,” Jet said quietly, “but precisely because I do. I was torn between a memory, and this life. I knew that if I held to that memory, my love would never be worthy of you. I couldn’t bear to give you only a half-measure of my heart. I wanted to love you with all of myself,” he said, urgent. “The life I had before I came here is no more. The boy I was is gone. I have set it aside. The man before you is newly born. You asked me to choose, and I did. You must believe me, Immanis; I chose this. I choose you.”
“Even so,” Immanis sighed. “You–“
“Silence,” Jet admonished Immanis, shifting beneath him. “I was a slave! You paid coin for me. You marked me with blood. You planned to hunt me as an animal. But then… your heart changed, and you called me brother,” Jet said, remembering the night clearly, Lucida’s mouth on his, her urgent whispered directions. The lie that saved his life. The drunken pact that resulted in his novo. It might never have happened, had he not been interesting to the Prince’s mischievous sister. “You made us brothers.” He lifted his hand and showed Immanis the scar, then reached to press his palm over Immanis’s heart. “And now… I will make us something else.”
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