This is Issue #32 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!
* * *
“Gemma?” Jet repeated, stunned, looking back at Secta. “What? How?”
“This,” Secta said, lifting up the glass from Lucida’s bedside. “It is an elixir of sonoria radices — dreaming roots. It makes the victim sedate. Pliant and without inhibition. They will do as asked or told, but remember little, later.”
“I’ve been drinking that for a week,” Jet said, stunned. “Those dreams–“
“They were not dreams, my Master. Whatever visions you had–“
Jet closed his eyes as his cheeks flushed hot. The blush of shame was burned away by a welling rage. His hands clenched into tight fists; when he opened his eyes he saw Secta mirroring his expression, and saw the rage and pain on his face. It shook him, and he stepped forward to touch Secta’s cheek, to turn his face to the side. He saw the blood, the bone chips, the ash, and his eyes widened as he recognized the beast that lay curled within Secta, biding its time.
The same fire that lived within his own heart.
“Secta,” he said quietly. “Forgive me–“
“Do not–” Secta hissed, looking shocked at his own daring. He laughed darkly, shaking his head, looking back at Jet, and there, for a moment, was a flash of the Secta Jet knew, the Secta that was shy, was quiet, was servile and hopeful and kind and sweet. “Do not, for an instant, regret what you have done. It saved my life. When I discovered what Gemma had done, I went to confront her. The murderous canicula had one of the other maids dash my brains in,” he said, tears in his eyes.
“I will end her,” Jet hissed.
“It would break Lucida’s heart,” Secta said, shuddering. “They have been all to one another for so long; I’ve learned much from Gemma, and above all, there is little she would not do, to make the Princess happy. She was doing this for her, somehow. She felt she had to.”
“I don’t care. Sit,” Jet said softly, trying to lead his famulo to rest, but the younger man would not move.
Secta’s flesh and bones seemed to ripple beneath his skin. He shifted, hugging himself, and stood up straight, panting, looking at Jet, determination gritting his teeth together. “How do you stand this?”
“You’re — you’re shaking,” Jet whispered. He reached out and put his hands on Secta’s shoulders.
“I cannot contain this,” Secta murmured whispered. “This thing inside me, Master. It is too much,” he said, closing his eyes, his face crumpling up as he sagged against the taller man, crying out, “Jet, it hurts! I cannot take it!”
A horrible nostalgia swept through Jet, as he remembered Kieron sobbing those same words, coming out of a slip. He remembered the pale, slim form of his long-ago love–
Is he alive? Is he still alive? Is he safe? Where are you, Kieron?
–as he writhed in bed next to him, the fevered heat of him, the desperation in his voice.
The next day, Kieron had taunted Hoyt, who had struck him, Jet remembered. His parents were called, and Key had gone away to the institution, leaving Jet behind.
That night, however, the night before things had begun to take a turn for the worse, Kieron had collapsed in Jet’s arms, and Jet had pulled him into bed and carefully gotten him out of his uniform, wet his lips with a cool cloth, and brought out a clean basin, for after.
But it had taken so long, and Kieron had simply lain, glassy-eyed and trembling, a seizure passing through him, etching terror over his eyes, rather than blankness.
When Kieron came around, snapping back to the moment he’d slipped, Jet had to wrap himself around the boy, muffling his sobs as much as possible, holding him as the spasms passed, and then moving to let him void himself of the blood and bile that came up every time, after.
Coming back to the present, Jet wrapped his arms around Secta, gripping him tightly. “Shh. I’ve got you. Shh, it’ll be all right,” he promised, tears in his own eyes. “I’m so sorry, Secta. I’m so sorry — I’ve got you. I’ve got you,” he whispered, rocking as he held the man against his body, wishing he could take the fire back from where he’d lit it somewhere within his famulo.
“Don’t be sorry,” Secta pled. “Forgive me. Forgive me; I must be stronger. I must be.” He pulled back, looking up at Jet, tears in his eyes.
“No,” Jet said quietly, “No, you don’t have to be any stronger than you are, my Secta.” He laid his fingertips to the man’s brow and cheek.
“This is once. It was just once,” he said, laughing darkly at himself. “You have died for Ilona again and again–“
Jet remembered the feel of Kieron’s skin at his fingertips as he traced the ugly wound around Kieron’s eye, the way his heart leapt as he recognized him, the way it felt like thunder in his chest.
Secta reached to lay a hand against Jet’s chest, feeling the hammering of his pulse, while Jet laid his palm against Secta’s chest, and felt the same rhythm, the same blood driving the beat of their hearts. Slowly, Secta’s trembling subsided, and finally he seemed more or less at peace.
Jet put one hand over Secta’s, and looked down at their fingers, touching. “What a monster am I, to do such violence to those I l–“
Secta’s free hand pressed over Jet’s mouth, silencing him. “Please,” he breathed, his eyes wide. “I will never be worthy of your gift, Master. I could never imagine being worthy of more.”
Jet frowned, looking away, distressed, but did not press the issue. Instead he said, “Clean up, and then summon Acer. I’m going to go rescue my wife from waking amidst a pile of priestesses she won’t remember inviting to her bed chambers.” He released his famulo and moved to pull on braccae, and a robe, and head back for the doors that would lead to Lucida’s chambers.
“Acer?” Secta said, looking baffled. “What is it you’ll want with Plaga?”
“It’s simple, Secta,” Jet said. “I want an army.”
Sectga still looked confused as he questioned, “…and?”
Jet’s expression turned an odd combination of smug and grim. “He wants a wife.”
* * *