This is Issue #67 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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After the goodbye pleasantries, as servants were cleaning up and family went back to their rooms, and guests were escorted out, Secta dared run after Jet, catching him as he went to get into the sleek autocarriage that would take him and Lucida back to the palace. He stood near trembling, clutching his hands, his face pale.
“Famulo,” Jet said, noticing him. “What are you doing out here?” He bid the carriage driver return with Lucida, who was drunk and happy — he would walk. He could always walk. He was safe, no matter. He returned to Secta’s side, watching him with concern.
“Master–” Secta struggled to keep his voice from breaking. “Master, I–“
“Do not worry,” Jet promised, trying to soothe him. “You will do well.” He led the young man back to the servants entrance, took him back inside the great manor, stood with him in an alcove in an unused kitchen.
“Yes!” Secta looked assured of that idea. “I will serve. I will serve well, only — what have I done that you would… that you would so quickly give me to this woman–“
Jet could see Secta’s face, ashen and shaken; he put his hands on the younger man’s shoulders and said, “Stand proud, famulo. I am giving you a great gift. I am giving us both a great gift.”
“Please–” Secta reached for Jet, clasped one hand against his forearm.
Carefully, Jet detached the young man’s fingers. “Secta–“
The desperation of his voice made Jet’s blood crawl. He could not stand the notion of Secta so debased, of so little value that he had been bought, sold, handed over, even as a bright young man with a future. “Your freedom!”
“I do not want to be free,” Secta begged. “How do you not believe me after all this time? Only a day ago, I had thought we–“
“That was a mistake. I never should have allowed it to happen,” Jet said darkly.
Secta stopped, taken aback. He stared at Jet, blinking his eyes wide, slow. “I… I see? You don’t… you don’t want–“
“Not like that, Secta.” Jet’s expression was miserable, exhausted. “I don’t want you hobbled, made to be mine. You know the only reason Immanis accepted me… his power did not work on me. He could not compel me. He knew I could love him on my own.”
“My Lord, I–“
Jet breathed, shaking. “I do not know if it is fair to tell you this — I do not know if I can love you the way you deserve. My heart… it is not my own. I have so little to give you.” The words came tumbling out, stricken.
Secta begged, babbling. “It is enough — it would be enough. I would receive anything you would give. I would give you everything I am. Please, Master–“
“But what I do know, Sectamea,” Jet continued, reaching to cup the younger man’s face in his hands, to slide his thumb over Secta’s cheek, to wipe away a tear that dared fall. “What I do know is that you cannot love me the way I need. Not yet.”
Agonized, Secta felt his face flush in shame for that rebellious tear. “Forgive me,” he breathed. “It was foolishness to think I could ever be enough for you–“
“No, Secta. You are more than enough, only you do not know it. You bow and scrape, and it breaks my heart to see it. You cannot love me, truly, while you call me Master,” Jet said. He bowed his head, and kissed Secta once more, fiercely, and then released him. “Stay here. Serve Venustus. “
Secta staggered back, staring after Jet, shaken, nodding. “Yes,” he said, and though his voice was sad, he lifted his chin, determined to see the duty through. “I serve.”
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The walk back to the Palace was without incident; no one dared approach the Guardian — even as he purposefully walked through streets he knew were populated by those who ran with the Thieves’ Guild — no one challenged him. He sent servants to make certain Lucida was well-cared for, and then worked into the night with advisors from the publicity and communications details, within the palace. News had to come out; the various things he’d been told about the Kriegs hitting Ilonan targets could not be kept a secret. Already, they would have hit many smaller relay stations.
People had to know — and they would be worried, at best, if they heard from anyone other than their beloved Queen or Guardian.
Secta was gone for now, but once the words were ready, Jet knew he could dress and paint himself as necessary.
He had a duty, as well.
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In her chambers, happily drunk, tangled in her sheets, wine on her tongue, Lucida left her telescreen on, soundless. She exhaled silverblue smoke and set her huqqa aside, then laid back in her pillows, with her hands between her legs, debating the effort of calling in a servant to please her. She had not yet brought new handmaidens in, after sending Gemma away, and setting the other ones in chains. She generally preferred her pleasures in the company of other women — something she’d learned she and Venustus had in common — but that evening, as she writhed in her sheets, she saw Jet on the screen, and something about him struck her.
She found she couldn’t tear her eyes away.
In his finery, in his paint, he was both commanding and beautiful. She watched him speak for a time, soundless, but then eventually stretched her long leg and prodded the screen into raising its volume, so she could listen to his voice. His sharp teeth flashed as he spoke of the treachery of the Kriegs and the cowering of the Westlanders.
Lucida licked her lips, remembering the feel of his teeth on her. Gemma had orchestrated unspeakable crimes against her, and yet in the dark of her own room, in the safety of her own hands, the idea of his touch was not at all frightening.
He spoke with radiance of his love for Ilona, and then he leaned in and promised the people his protection, his power.
Lucida lay before the screen, imagining he watched her, that he addressed her, powerful and hungry. She remembered the feel of him between her legs, hard, aching.
Blood was coming, he said, but they would be stronger for it.
Her heart thundered, and her breath grew tight as she laughed, imagining the glorious battle they’d wage against the world. She growled, her muscles tensed, her body trembling, her toes curling.
They would make the Westlanders and Kriegs pay for their crimes. He ended his telescreened address with a rallying cry. “Vivat Venator!”
Lucida joined in, biting her lip. She arched her back up off the bed, writhing in wanton, obvious need. “Ah, ah, Jet — Vivat, caromea!”
Jet shone, glorious between her thighs as he roared, “Vivat Ilona!”
Lucida collapsed with a sigh, panting in satisfaction. She laughed as she purred, “Vivat, Ilona, indeed.”
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