This is Issue #19 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!
* * *
“Is that a bad thing?” Coryphaeus wondered, frowning slightly as he moved to sit up.
“I just… I didn’t know,” she said, glancing away.
He reached for her then, gently, but did not touch her without warning. He held his hand up, to show her he held nothing save benign intention, and when she glanced to him and did not shy away, he drew closer. Fingertips stroked her chin, to turn her gaze back toward him, and she responded easily, but the tears rolling down her cheeks made him drop his hand, and look both confused and uncertain.
“Last night was–” He saw the look on her face, and paused. Without finishing the sentence, he cleared his throat and said, “I have… There are many things I have to take care of. Stay, please? You’ll be safe here, away from the crowds. People are still upset about the Prince — Westlanders would be likely targets,” he said quietly.
She nodded, silent, and kept her eyes on her hands while he dressed himself.
“There is food in the pantry. There are clothes in the closets, books, the viewscreens. You won’t get too bored, I imagine,” he offered.
She nodded again, and when he found he had nothing left to say, he left her there with her own thoughts.
Once he was outside, in the heat of the day, Legatus Coryphaeus Aecus broke into a run, feet pounding the pavement, carrying him for the city gates. He ran out them, and into the lush green farmlands of the valley, ran until he had to pause beneath a broad-leafed fig, beside a trickling stream, ran until he could not run anymore but dropped down to his hands and knees, gasping, too breathless to cry, which is what he’d been hoping for, when he’d made his escape.
* * *
“Are you guiding him toward the goal?” Gemma wondered, watching Secta as he went about his rituals of cleaning up the Guardian’s space.
“Toward his goals,” Secta said, somewhat irritably.
“Toward an heir, Secta. The princess needs a child,” Gemma said, sounding just as irritable, if not more.
“Forgive me, Gemma, but the princess has made it quite clear she is not willing to entertain such a notion just yet,” Secta said, ushering Gemma back toward the doorway.
“Do not stand in the way of her destiny,” Gemma said, crossing her arms over her chest. “I am warning you–“
Secta’s eyes narrowed as he drew himself to his full height and marched Gemma out the door and into the hallways. “Do not think to pressure me, handmaiden. I answer only to the Guardian. I will not be swayed. I will not be forced. He is my only master.”
Gemma looked shocked at his vehemence and drew back, her expression bearing dismay. “Secta,” she said, shaking her head. “We are on the same side. You do not need to be so harsh with me. We both want what is best for those we love.”
Secta’s shoulders untensed, he smiled faintly at Gemma, sighing with resignation. “I apologize,” he murmured. “It is all too easy to see how people can manipulate our masters.”
“I agree,” Gemma said. “But after all, I cannot help it if I feel I know better my Princess’s needs — perhaps it is because she loves me as well as I love her, and the Guardian thinks of you only as a pet?” Her wide eyes danced with mirth and perhaps even a hint of malice.
They turned from that to only surprise as Secta shut the door in her face, and locked it.
* * *
“It is fortunate that our servants are so very close,” Lucida said, leaning against the balcony rail of their shared room. “I rely heavily on Gemma’s ability to tell me what Secta knows of your schedule,” she said, not looking to Jet.
“They behave as siblings, and seem to share quite a bond,” Jet returned, nodding. He turned from her even more so, and looked out over the gardens, staring into the middle distance.
Immanis being gone had all but ruined them; when Lucida could bring herself to speak, it was rarely of anything of consequence, and when Jet could manage to respond, it was never with much warmth.
They had not touched, had not looked at one another in days; each was a reminder to the other of what they had lost.
As well, each of them tried to make certain to be strong for the other — to keep from weeping, to keep from breaking down, to keep from appearing weak.
All it did was drive them further from one another.
“Caro,” Lucida finally whispered, looking down at how her hands clutched the railing.
Jet stiffened, and then bowed his head. “What is it, Lucibella?”
“This is killing me.”
“What is?” he whispered.
“I’m here, Lucy,” Jet promised. “I’m right he–“
“No, my Black Stone, you are not. You are a thousand thousand thousand years away,” she said softly.
“I am with you, Lucy. I share the pain of losing Immanis, I promise you. It does not lessen it, but you are not alone,” Jet whispered. A part of him quietly murmured Liar as he confessed his pain. He was not only mourning Immanis, but the loss of Kieron a second time, as well. Two men who had shared his heart; two men who had gone on to break it — Kieron with purpose, Immanis with destiny.
“Gemma does not understand,” Lucy said quietly. “She said you were growing frustrated that I had not visited you. I cannot abide by you being upset with me–“
“I cannot be upset,” Jet said softly. “My love for our brother has consumed me; my heart does not condemn you — it knows only love for Immanis.”
Liar, it cried. You love another. You love another so completely, you let him escape instead of pay for the sacrilege of your Lord’s death.
Lucida reached for Jet’s hand and held it, briefly, and he stared at it for long moments, looking pained.
“Do you still care for me, then, meabella?” Jet wondered.
“I, for you?” Lucida said, looking shocked. “But of course I do, my Black Stone. How could I not?” she whispered.
“Immanis is gone, and I should have saved him,” Jet said quietly.
Lucida looked pained. “This weighs on your heart, still?” One hand was lifted, reached to so gently stroke Jet’s cheek.
“How could it not?” Jet wondered of her, his eyes wet, shining. “It was my one duty, to love and serve him, to keep him safe, Lucy. My brother, my heart, my love, and I… I failed him.”
“Gemma believes it was his destiny,” Lucida said, stepping close and curling herself into Jet’s arms. “I do not blame you, Black Stone. I could try to hate you, if you wished, but instead I would rather take solace that you are still here with me. That I did not lose you both.” She pulled back, looking up at him. “Do not make me lose you both, Jet, please? That would be too much for my heart.”
“You will not lose me,” Jet said softly, and with that, he bowed his head to kiss her, long and slow.
Gemma, from where she watched them after having been banished by Secta, wore a smile that was somehow both jealous and smug.
* * *