This is Issue #5 of DeathWatch, Book II: tentatively called Heart Of Ilona, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find DeathWatch, the first in the series, or start from the beginning of Book II!
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“Guardian,” Secta said, as the man was dragging himself out of Coryphaeus’s chamber. “You are still expected at Her Royal Highness’s rooms. Shall I send your regrets?” he wondered.
“No, Secta,” Jet, said, leaning against the wall, rubbing his temples. “No, I agreed that I would go,” he murmured. “But you–my dear famulo–you need sleep.”
“Master,” Secta said, shivering, “I do not,” he promised. “I would rather be able to be where you are — to assist you however necessary.”
“You would serve me better if you were well-rested,” Jet said, teasing, wishing the young man would take a little more care of himself.
For Secta, there was no greater insult. His face flamed red, and he bowed his head, saying, “I will try harder, Master, I–”
Only then realizing what he’d implied, Jet reached out and touched Secta’s shoulder. “No, no – it’s not how I meant it. You’re — Secta, you have been everything I could hope for, and more. I only meant that I wished you would preserve yourself as much as you put thought into serving me. I do not want my success to come at your expense. You are more than a servant, Secta. I trust you.”
Secta smiled, looking pained, and his voice was trembling with emotion as he said, “Guardian, I am honored by you, truly.”
“Good. Now go get some sleep. I’m going to go see Lucida, and I’ll be sleeping shortly, myself, I hope,” he said, leaning to kiss Secta’s forehead. “Please. Rest. For me.”
“For you, Master,” Secta said, feeling his cheeks burn. He waited until Jet released him, then bowed low, backed away two steps, and ran for the Guardian’s rooms, to freshen them, to turn down the bed, bring out iced wine and burn incense.
He fully intended to rest but he knew Jet would not stay with Lucida, but would come back to his own bed, and would need rest when he returned.
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By the time Jet let himself into Lucida’s chambers, the exhaustion he felt was plain on his face. He shut the door behind himself and sagged against it, briefly, closing his eyes for only a moment.
The face he saw behind them made him open them again, and grind his teeth against the shock of it.
He walked into Lucida’s bedroom, the site of strange memories and machinations, and saw her sitting in her window, while Gemma slept soundly in the bed.
“You should be resting,” he said quietly.
“As should you,” Lucida murmured, without turning around.
He went to her, and carefully pulled her up into his arms, kissing her forehead. “I will,” he promised, drawing back the thin veil around her bed so he could lay her within the sheets. “Rest, Lucy,” he said quietly. “Gemma’s with you. I’ll be in my bed if you need me. We’ll figure it all out; we’ll be all right.”
Her wide eyes watched him, no small amount of grief welling there. One hand reached up to clasp his hand. “Stay,” she whispered. “Stay with me, caro. Until I fall asleep. Please?” It was a simple request, and Jet answered without hesitation, his heart breaking for the beautiful woman who was his wife purely to please a man who was now irretrievably gone.
“Of course,” Jet said, immediately moving a chair to be by her bedside. He sat down and put a hand on her shoulder, playing lightly with her hair, and stayed until her eyes fluttered shut, and her breathing was slow and even.
* * *
When at last he entered his own bed chambers, Jet’s exhaustion had never been so high. He slogged toward the baths, pausing to see Secta curled up in the doorway, unconscious. Filthy, bloodied, tired, Secta had not cared for himself, but instead had prepared the room just for Jet, and waited for him.
Kneeling, Jet put a hand on Secta’s shoulder, shaking him gently. “Secta,” he whispered. “Have you eaten?”
“I am not sleeping,” Secta said, clearing his throat and struggling to sit upright. “I was… Examining… The grout between the tiles. They should be cleaned. I will clean them.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Jet laughed aloud, reaching to touch Secta’s cheek. “I told you to rest.”
Secta’s cheeks burned; he cleared his throat and looked pained. “I tried to rest, Master. I did. But I could not find sleep. You had not yet returned, and I wasn’t sure if you had need of me.” He moved to get up, saying, “I can draw you a bath; there is wine to wet your lips, I can–”
“–bring in oil for a massage, call in dancers, summon a meal–”
“Secta,” Jet said, feeling his head swim.
“–change out the sheets in your bed, bring in new pillows, I could–”
“Secta, please!” Jet cried, pulling away to withdraw, putting his arms around himself, closing his golden eyes, keeping himself walled away. To have the young man be so intent on Jet’s happiness was almost too much to bear.
Kieron used to make that same face, during his good times, when he was desperate to show Jet how grateful he was for the other boy’s care.
It was too much.
“Forgive me,” Secta breathed, wide-eyed. After a moment, he bowing his head. “I apologize; I… I do not know what has come over me. I–” He bit his tongue to silence himself, and backed toward the door. “I will leave you in peace,” he said, and his cheeks were red as his voice shook, as he laughed quietly at himself, hoping to not have offended. “Ring for me; I will return in a heartbeat.”
Jet watched the young man go, but his broken heart could take no more. “Don’t–” he said, and the word caught in his throat.
Secta paused immediately, one hand on the door behind him. His dark eyes were wide, watchful — he could not anticipate his Master’s needs, not when everything had been so volatile. He waited, his smile ever hopeful.
“Secta, don’t — don’t go far,” Jet said, one hand unfolding from his closed-off posture. He reached out with uncertainty, not knowing what it was he was reaching for until Secta closed the distance and fit himself into the Guardian’s arms.
“I will not go at all,” Secta said, laying his cheek to Jet’s. “I will never leave you. As long as you are Guardian of Ilona, as long as you are husband to the Princess, as long as you are Jet, the Black Stone, the man who is before me, will I ever serve you. Not even death shall end it,” he vowed.
Jet’s voice was quiet, and shook more than he meant as he said, “May such an oath never be tested.”
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