I woke up feeling foul.
That wasn’t particularly unusual, lately. Wine helped me sleep, but it also meant I greeted mornings with a sour mouth and a hideous headache, and lately the latter seemed to have gotten worse. I knew what Gideon would say - warnings against overindulgence, no doubt, commentary about my habits - but, well, Gideon wasn’t here.
I crawled out of Isaac’s bed, glancing at him briefly - still sound asleep. Apparently I’d worn him out. I dressed, penned a brief note, and left.
As I stepped into the hall, a sudden dizziness struck me like a slap to the face. I reeled and had to catch myself against the wall to keep from falling. A passing servant gave me a startled look only to quickly drop her eyes and move along when I stared back at her.
The dizzy spell passed quickly enough, and I tried to shake it off as I made my way back to my rooms, though it was somewhat disquieting.
Mildmay’s door was closed when I returned, so either he was sleeping uncommonly late or off wandering about the Mirador somewhere else. For some reason that annoyed me, even if I did not particularly want his company. He didn’t judge me so audibly as Gideon would, but I knew his disapproval. As though he had any right to disapprove of me.
I poured myself a glass of wine to take the edge off my headache and looked listlessly over my bookshelves, almost wishing I’d stayed and woken Isaac.
My fingers were hovering over Ephreal Sand when the second bout of dizziness struck, and this time it didn’t pass quite so quickly. I dropped the glass in my haste to grab something to balance myself; wine splashed on the carpet and for a moment the world tilted at an alarming angle. When it righted itself, I staggered over to a chair and dropped into it, gripping the arms and breathing just a little too hard.
Mildmay’s door opened and he emerged. He looked at me, the wine on the floor, and back at me. “What,” he started.
“Call someone to clean that up, would you?” I interrupted. “Preferably before it stains.”
His face got that blank look on it, like stone. It was a bitter kind of victory.
I remained sitting down for a while, but the dizziness seemed to have passed. That was certainly a relief. I could only imagine the gossip if I began fainting spontaneously.
Another day. I could not say I was looking forward.
The dizziness struck again while I was teaching, though I thought I masked it well by leaning on the back of a chair until it passed. More difficult to hide was when it happened in the middle of court. I only staggered slightly, but it seemed that was enough.
I could have sworn Thaddeus appeared from thin air. “Felix,” he said, eyes sharp, almost eager. “Are you quite all right?”
So solicitous, I thought, and gave him a thin-lipped smile. “Splendid,” I said. “Thank you for your concern.”
Mildmay was hovering even closer, and looked as though he wanted to drag me out of the room. I ignored him, and moved on, and hoped to God that there was no repetition of the incident. I could hardly afford to waver and show weakness. There were too many people who would be only too delighted to see me fall. I could feel eyes watching me, but fortunately I was spared from any further embarrassment.
Unfortunately, my brother was no so easily brushed off.
“What was that,” he asked, when we were alone.
“To what are you referring?” I asked delicately.
“You almost fell over.”
I thought briefly about denying it, but Mildmay would know I was lying and only dig his heels in harder. “Some momentary dizziness,” I said. “That’s all.”
“Looked worse’n that.”
“Don’t fuss, darling,” I said. Mildmay’s face turned red and he muttered something under his breath I couldn’t hear. I narrowed my eyes. “What was that?”
“I said,” Mildmay said, louder, “s’probably ‘cause you drink too much.”
My temper flared. “I don’t recall asking you to comment on my habits,” I said icily. “And I will thank you not to do it in the future.” I turned on my heel. “I think I’ll seek other company tonight.”
“Felix,” Mildmay started to say, but I closed the door rather firmly between us, and he didn’t try to follow.
I had to stop again on my way to seek out Isaac, and considered briefly turning back and going to bed alone. Perhaps I could beg off my obligations tomorrow, see if I could shake off whatever this was. Though it might be as simple as stress, and one day of quiet would hardly ease that. A month away from the Mirador, perhaps, but I refused to slink off to the countryside, even if I had somewhere to go there.
As for right now...I wasn’t about to go back and prove Mildmay right.
I pulled myself together and shook off the unsteadiness. It faded quickly enough, at least.
I knew my way to Isaac’s rooms well by now. At least he, I thought with some bitterness, seemed willing to enjoy my company without offering criticism.
I spent the night, again, though the sex was uninspiring. That was probably partly my fault - I was distracted, and feeling a bit off besides, but I wasn’t certain Isaac noticed.
Around midmorning I roused from fitful dreams with my head pounding. When I stood, the room tilted alarmingly sideways and my stomach heaved into my throat. I only just made it to the washroom before I was violently ill.
I was still retching when I heard Isaac’s foggy voice say, “Felix?”
The shame came on hard and I swallowed hard, trying to force down the nausea. “I’m all right,” I called. “Just a moment–” But my attempt was interrupted by my heaving again.
He opened the door and I heard him step inside, hovering awkwardly behind me. I squeezed my eyes closed, face burning (and my nose as well, unpleasantly), taking a few deep breaths until it seemed the worst of it had passed, though my stomach still felt decidedly uneasy.
“I must have...I suppose I ate something that disagreed with me,” I said, pushing my hair back out of my face with a shaking hand. I wanted to rush out, to flee, but that would undoubtedly be worse.
“Oh,” Isaac said after a moment, and then, “I’ll…” I heard him leave and made myself stand, leaning on the counter, my legs wobbly as a colt’s. He returned with a glass of water that he held out to me like an offering. I took it, using most of it to rinse some of the taste of vomit out of my mouth, and sipped the rest slowly.
“What an unpleasant end to a pleasing night,” I said, with one of my best smiles, hoping to play this humiliating incident off. Isaac looked torn between being pleased and embarrassed.
“If you’d like to...stay and rest a bit,” he said, after a moment of visibly hesitating, “I wouldn’t mind. You still look a bit ill.”
I could not help but be just a bit offended by that affront to my vanity, but I didn’t doubt he was right. I felt weak, and shaky, and like my stomach might rebel again if I didn’t treat it with the utmost care. And Mildmay’s reaction...I did not want to deal with his woeful eyes and long-suffering tolerance.
“If you insist,” I said, reaching out to brush my fingers against his cheek. “Are you going to stay and pamper me?” He stammered a little, and I made myself laugh. “No need, darling. I’m only teasing.”
“I’ll return later,” he said. “To, ah - check on you,” and then bolted. What a curiously skittish creature he was.
I dropped back into bed with some relief, sliding back under the covers and closing my eyes. The dizziness was less strong that way.
I fell asleep quickly and slept for much of the day, though I did manage to send off a message to the Curia informing them I was indisposed and could not make the oaths today. Isaac did come back and was, to my surprise, actually solicitous - he fetched me another glass of water and some bread, even going so far as to wet a washcloth with cool water and put it on my forehead, which almost made me laugh. I allowed it, because he seemed eager to help, and it was...nice.
It reminded me briefly of Gideon, rubbing my back in the night when I’d woken frightened and confused. I brushed the comparison hastily aside. I might have asked for wine in the hopes it would help with my headache, but I didn’t think my unsettled stomach would appreciate it.
It seemed likely at this point that I was sick, a fact that unaccountably annoyed me, which was probably part of why I insisted on leaving before evening turned into night. Isaac protested, but I would not let him sway me, even if my body protested vociferously. Still, I could keep myself upright, more or less, at least as far as my rooms. There, I could fall into bed, sleep for a few days, and deal with the consequences for doing so later. Have a note sent to Lord Giancarlo. I could hardly teach in this condition.
I had to stop several times, my heart racing, out of breath, my stomach threatening to heave into my throat. By the time I made it back, thankfully without any witnesses other than some stray servants who eyed me as though I were a plague rat while trying to pretend they weren’t, I wanted nothing more than to lie down, close my eyes, and exit my body entirely.
I hadn’t been this wretchedly ill in years, and I had never handled it well. (Stop whining, darling. You’re embarrassing yourself.)
I opened the door and found Mildmay and Mehitabel sitting there, a nearly smothering aura of awkwardness hovering around them both. Whatever conversation they’d managed to have came to an abrupt halt as they both turned and looked at me. I wanted to curse.
Mehitabel blinked, her eyes widening. “Tabby,” I said wearily. “What a pleasant surprise.”
“Felix,” she said. “What happened to you?”
“Careful with your compliments, darling,” I said. “They’ll go to my head.”
Mildmay started up and toward me. “Where’ve you been,” he asked.
“Out,” I said. “I don’t think I need answer to you about my movements.” I stepped around him, eyes on the door to my room that suddenly seemed an ideal sanctuary.
“You sick?” Mildmay asked.
“Astutely observed,” I said acidly. He did not seem deterred.
“What I need,” I snapped, “is to sleep. Undisturbed, if you please. Is that simple enough instruction, or do you need me to be clearer?” I knew it was cruel, even as I said it, and unnecessary. But I felt as though I wanted to die, my head was throbbing, and I was afraid I was going to vomit on Mildmay’s feet, which I did not want to do.
Mehitabel started to say something - no doubt to scold me - but I ignored her, closing the door firmly behind me and locking it before collapsing gratefully onto my bed.
I could hear them talking through the door, but the words were blurry and indistinct. I tried to shut them out.
I was up and down four times in the middle of the night to vomit, even though there was nothing to bring up but bile. Mildmay heard me the fourth time, though I didn’t hear him coming and didn’t know he was there until he pulled back my hair. At some point I’d started crying, profoundly miserable, exhausted, my stomach muscles aching.
“Hey,” Mildmay said when the spasms passed. “Better?”
“No,” I said. I didn’t want to stand up and wasn’t sure it was worth it. I would only be back here later.
“Let’s get you back in bed,” he said. “I’ll get you a basin so you don’t have to keep getting up.”
I didn’t have the will to argue, so I let him drag me back to bed. My whole body hurt and I couldn’t stop shivering, my heart pattering too quickly.
“Where’s Gideon,” I asked, when Mildmay came back. He gave me an odd look.
“Same place he’s been since he moved out,” he said.
“Oh,” I said. “Yes. Of course.” I remembered that, sort of. It was my fault, I was fairly sure. It seemed likely.
“Huh,” Mildmay said, still - looking at me.
“I’m going to sleep,” I said, and turned my back on him.
I woke up around evening the next day feeling a bit better. Still weak, still exhausted, and the headache lingered. Still, I rose, washed myself, changed, and got up with the full intent of leaving.
I had missed Mildmay, apparently sleeping on the couch. And of course, he heard me, and woke.
“Where’re you going,” he asked.
“I’ve spent the last day and a half sleeping,” I said. “I have things to attend to.”
“Things can wait,” Mildmay said stubbornly. “You’re sick.”
“I feel much better,” I said. “I am not going to be - confined to my bed.”
“Felix,” Mildmay said. I interrupted him.
“I am leaving,” I said, and leaned on the obligation d’âme. “Don’t argue with me.”
I left, knowing he would follow. Knowing, too, that I was being stupid; that I should, indeed, be resting. But I resoundingly did not want to. Dragging Mildmay along with me - I didn’t know if that was petty revenge or the knowledge that it was possible I would need his help to get back if I deteriorated again.
Signs pointed to petty revenge. Certainly his glowering presence hardly made for pleasant company, and tended to dampen conversation with others, so neither of us precisely enjoyed the experience. I sought out Isaac, who brightened when he saw me, a reaction only slightly dimmed when his eyes found Mildmay at my side.
I was more pleased by the glass he brought me. It was a little oversweet, but after my abstinence of the last few days, I didn’t mind.
“Felix,” he said. “You look better.”
I gave him a dazzling smile. “I certainly hope so,” I said. “No doubt your care made all the difference.” I could feel Mildmay’s eyes on me, and turned my smile on him. “Though of course my brother was most helpful.”
His already stony face went stonier. A wild part of me wanted to laugh. I emptied my glass and held it out to Isaac. “Darling, if you would…?”
He went, and I watched him go with a faint smile. I saw Mehitabel out of the corner of my good eye - she minded that, a small detail which I appreciated.
“Having fun?” she asked.
“Very much,” I said.
“I wouldn’t expect you to be back on your feet with the state you were in yesterday.”
“I live to surprise you, Tabby,” I said, with my brightest smile. Mildmay shifted next to me and Mehitabel glanced at him.
“Mildmay,” she said. “Could I speak with you a moment?”
He looked at me, and I waved a hand. “Go on,” I said. “Have fun.” He twitched, not quite a flinch.
It was unfortunately true that, while his absence certainly made conversation easier, I found that I missed him.
I was in the midst of an animated discussion with Dominic when my ears started ringing. I cut off midsentence and shook my head slightly to clear it, without effect. Dominic said something to me, but the words were unclear; my alarm growing, I looked about for Mildmay but couldn’t see him. I squeezed my eyes closed and opened them, but my vision was swimming and the ringing grew louder.
I was on the floor. Why was I on the floor? There seemed to be a great deal of noise, and I couldn’t remember how I’d gotten here.
“Move,” I heard someone growl, and then Mildmay was there. I blinked at him, oddly breathless despite the fact that I hadn’t really done anything.
“You’re back,” I said.
“We’re leaving,” he said harshly, and he was angry, but I wasn’t entirely certain what about. Most likely something I’d done, and we were going to argue about it, but I did not particularly feel up to arguing just now.
He started to pull me up to my feet; I tried to help when I realized what he was doing but my body didn’t seem to be cooperating very well. Mildmay as good as dragged me with him. The noise got quieter, which was a relief, because my head was threatening to explode.
“If you want an argument,” I said, “Let’s not, just now.”
“I never want an argument,” Mildmay said, then muttered something I couldn’t understand.
“What happened?” I asked. The ground was rocking like we were on a boat, and my heart was still racing. I couldn’t catch my breath. Mildmay glanced at me.
“You fainted,” he said.
“Oh,” I said after a moment. “That’s...embarrassing.”
Mildmay shook his head a little, scowling, but didn’t reply. That was fine; I was feeling light-headed, my ears ringing again, and I was focusing intently on staying upright. I didn’t understand what was happening to me and the world seemed to be veering in and out of focus.
Mildmay propped me awkwardly against the wall while he unlocked the door and steered me through it and over to the couch. I slumped against it, leaning my head back and closing my eyes in the hopes that would steady things. It didn’t.
“Felix,” Mildmay said, his voice sounding fuzzy. “Hey.”
“Leave me alone,” I said, pulling my legs off the floor and curling up clumsily on the couch. Mildmay started swearing again and put his hand on my forehead. It felt pleasantly cool.
“Fuck me sideways till I cry,” he said.
“I just need to sleep,” I said, brushing his hand off. I think he said something else, but I was already gone.
I dragged my eyes open. My body ached as with a fever and my heart was thrumming in my chest. “Tabby?”
“Yes. I need you to tell me what you’re feeling.”
“Wretched,” I said, and closed my eyes again. She made a frustrated noise.
“I mean specifically.”
“He was up and down puking last night,” Mildmay said. “Dizzy, I think. Doesn’t seem like he’s thinking great neither, and now a fever. Sleeping a whole lot.”
“Don’t answer for me,” I said, though the words sounded like they didn’t come out quite right. Mehitabel said something that was shocking to hear even from an actress.
“What,” Mildmay said, his voice tight. “What is it? D’you know what he’s sick with?”
“Not sick,” Mehitabel said. “Poisoned. Perhaps…” She paused. “It could be something administered slowly, in low doses, over time. Accumulating slowly until ultimately...”
Poisoned. That was...troubling. It was hard to focus on when my thoughts kept drifting in and out, though, and I couldn’t quite keep hold on what I was supposed to be thinking about. I wanted Gideon. I wanted…
“Mildmay,” I said.
“Yeah?” He sounded tense; scared, maybe. About what? I couldn’t remember.
“Oh, good,” I said breathlessly. “You’re still here.”
“Yeah,” Mildmay said after a moment, his voice a little rough. “Still here.” A pause. “So there’s an antidote, right?”
I didn’t hear Mehitabel answer, which was somewhat concerning. But my head was full of fog, and Mildmay was there, and he would keep me safe.
I was in the Gardens of Nephele, walking along a path I didn’t recognize. I turned a corner and Mildmay was there; he looked up, and of course he didn’t smile with his mouth but he did with his eyes. He stood and walked toward me, easily, without a limp, as graceful as he once had been. Beautiful, as always, and I reached out to take his face in my hands but he vanished like so much mist before I could touch him.
“Wait,” I said. “Mildmay - where did you go?”
“Right here,” he said, but I couldn’t see him, and when I turned in the direction it seemed his voice came from, I was standing on a precipice with cold, black water rushing by at the bottom. I felt someone’s hand on my back and they pushed and I was plummeting toward the river.
I never hit the water. I woke up just before and someone was holding me down. I gasped for air and tried to struggle, uselessly; Malkar used to mock my weakness but he enjoyed it just the same, the fact that he could overpower me in every way that mattered.
“Felix, it’s just me,” said a voice, my brother’s voice, a Lower City voice, and I didn’t know if it was safe but I knew there was no use in fighting. I could feel my body twitching, little spasms I couldn’t stop.
“Can you help?” Someone else. I recognized her, too, but the name wouldn’t come.
There was no answer, but I knew someone else was there, and when I opened my eyes I could see him - blurry, indistinct, and he seemed familiar as well. I couldn’t remember a name, only a strange combination of warmth and desire and misery and shame.
“A chirurgeon?” A response to whatever I hadn’t heard, I assumed. “Won’t be of any help. Not with this. You’re the best option we have.”
I blinked and I was in Malkar’s workroom in the Warrens, standing in front of Malkar. He smiled at me. “Welcome home, darling,” he said. “Come here.”
I took one unwilling step forward, and then another. I could no more disobey than stop breathing. The latter would be easier.
(No, he’s dead, I destroyed him in the Bastion–)
“Did you really think that you could be rid of me?” Malkar asked. “You? An upjumped whore from Pharoahlight?” He advanced toward me. “I made you. You think that you could unmake me?”
I couldn’t speak. Not a word
He struck me across the face, his rings biting into my cheek. “Get on your knees,” he said. “Remind me what you’re good for.”
Someone, somewhere, was pleading. Please, please, don’t hurt me.
“Mildmay. Mildmay. He’s trying to help.”
Mildmay. My brother. Malkar vanished and I was looking at Gideon. I hurt like someone had beaten me - Keeper? Lorenzo? Malkar? No, that wasn’t right. The past was bleeding into the present. There were theories about that, about time existing all at once, not in a line or a circle but simultaneously, movement through it nothing but an illusion.
“Gideon?” I said. Perhaps I hadn’t driven him away yet (or perhaps I was always was, continuously, even as I was always making love to him, even as he was always coaxing me off the Linlowing Bridge). “Is that you?”
A hesitation. Then: :Yes.:
“Oh,” I said breathlessly. “Oh, good.” I closed my eyes again.
:Felix,: Gideon said, but he didn’t go on. And besides, I was losing my grip again. I was in St. Crellifer’s, ghosts all around me, and they were talking to me but I couldn’t understand what they were trying to say.
I wondered what would happen to Mildmay if I died. I hoped he would be all right.
My mind spun through dreams within dreams. What was truth and what fiction I could not have said; I heard voices but could not place names to them. I wandered under the Mirador in a maze - no, a labyrinth, and knew something was waiting for me at the center. I kissed Malkar in the Bastion and he burned; I kissed him and let him take me once again.
“It’s okay,” someone said, but I could hear in their voice that they were lying. Every corner of my body ached.
“No,” someone said harshly. “You can’t come in.”
A door closed very loudly, and I flinched.
“You think it was him?”
“Almost certainly. Though of course there’s no proof. Yet.”
I wanted to say something, to ask who they were talking about, what they were talking about, but the words got lost somewhere between my mind and my mouth.
“How much longer?” Asked the voice I thought might be my brother’s. “How much time–”
No answer. I was lying on my stomach with shackles on my wrists and ankles and the water was rising. Someone, somewhere, was crying. It might have been a ghost. It might have been me.
I opened my eyes and had to close them again quickly, the light searing into them. I made a small noise and raised one of my hands to cover them, taking shelter in the dark. Everything was blurry and soft, almost as though I’d taken phoenix, but I was fairly certain I had not. I hoped I had not.
I groped after memory, trying to think of what had happened. I remembered fainting - powers and saints, how humiliating. Mildmay dragging me back to the rooms. Then...vague and confused, and unpleasant enough that I thought perhaps I didn’t want to recall.
:Are you awake?:
My eyes snapped back open, though I didn’t remove my hand. “Gideon?” I said. My voice sounded small and rough, but at least my vowels came out right. I caught a brief memory of his being there at some point.
:That is my name.: He didn’t sound pleased. I was glad, suddenly, that I couldn’t see his face. What had Mildmay been thinking to call him here? It must have been Mildmay. I could not think of anyone else who would have.
“What are you doing here?” I asked. It came out more bluntly than I meant it to, and I could hear the anger in his silence.
:You were poisoned,: he said finally. :Mildmay asked for my help in saving your life.:
“Poisoned,” I said blankly.
:So Mehitabel believes. And I concur.:
:Messire Garamond seems the most obvious candidate.:
I closed my eyes again, not that it made much difference when I still hadn’t uncovered them. “Oh,” I said, in a voice that sounded very small. Apparently the Bastion had not forgotten me. And I had provided him with plenty of opportunity.
I was desperately thirsty, but I didn’t want to ask Gideon for water. I did not, particularly, want to ask Gideon for anything. “Where’s Mildmay?”
:Sleeping. He didn’t, the last couple of days.:
Of course he hadn’t. I could vaguely remember hearing him. It’s okay. Taking care of me, as always. For all I’d done to deserve it. “Ah,” I said. And, “I suppose I should...thank you, then. For saving my life.”
:Yes,: Gideon said. :You probably should.: I felt a bit as though I wanted to shrivel up and perhaps be unconscious again, and said nothing. I heard him sigh, and he sounded a bit less angry when he said, :We may not be lovers anymore. That doesn’t mean I want you to die.: Another pause, and then, :I’m glad you’re all right.:
That just made me feel worse. “Thank you,” I said, though it did not come out easily. I tried to force a smile. “I have been...rather stupid, haven’t I?”
“You don’t have to agree quite so quickly,” I complained, making a joke of it even if I wanted to flinch. I couldn’t do this, not right now when I was tired and hurting and my mind still felt full of fog.
“It’s fine,” I said. “You don’t need to say anything.” I swallowed hard past the lump in my throat and said, “I missed you,” very quietly, almost hoping he wouldn’t hear.
He was quiet long enough that my stomach sank, but then I heard him sigh again. :I missed you too.:
That made me feel a bit better, at least.
“F’lix?” Mildmay’s voice sounded blurry, and I raised my hand just enough to see him stumbling into the room, looking roughly as wretched as I felt. His eyes landed on me and he relaxed visibly. I dredged up a smile, somehow.
“I thought you were sleeping,” I said.
“I’m awake now.” He made his way over, looking more than a bit like he might drop right there on the carpet.
“There’s no need for you to be,” I said. Mildmay didn’t look convinced, looking me over like he wasn’t entirely sure he trusted I was all there.
“Uh huh,” he said, which was his way of saying he didn’t believe me. I pulled my hand the rest of the way off my eyes and let it drop to my side.
“At least sit down,” I said. “You’re making me tired.” The tired wasn’t an exaggeration. I still felt exhausted, and ashamed, and a little like I wanted to crawl into a small hole and stay there for a while. At least Mildmay did sit, though he was still staring at me as though if he looked away I might get myself poisoned again.
I closed my eyes. Something about that expression hurt. I supposed the obligation d’âme must have been driving him nearly mad; no wonder he hadn’t slept.
“If you wanna go,” he said after a while, “I can stay.” I presumed he was talking to Gideon rather than me.
:I’ll inform Mehitabel he’s awake,: Gideon said, presumably for my benefit, as he must have written it for Mildmay’s sake. He stood, and I briefly wanted to ask him to stay, but I held back, and he left quietly.
I was working my way toward something - a thank you, perhaps - when Mildmay spoke first. “Should’ve known,” he said. Mumbled, really.
“Known what,” I said after a moment. “That I was being poisoned? I don’t see why you would have.”
“Knew you were sick and being stupid about it,” he said stubbornly.
“Yes, well,” I said with some bitterness, “my stupidity is not your fault, as it happens.” Mildmay was quiet, and I sighed. “Go back to sleep. You’re a mess.”
He wasn’t going to budge. I could make him, of course. For his own good, and because I wanted to be alone - or, I did not want to, precisely, but I should be. I was weak, though, as ever, and gave up.
“Hey,” Mildmay said, his voice softer. I opened my eyes and turned my head to look at him. “It’s okay,” he said, which it wasn’t, but it was kind of him to say so.
“Thank you,” I said. “It seems you saved my life. Again.”
“You keep getting yourself in trouble and I’m gonna have to keep doing it,” he said. I made myself laugh, though it didn’t seem like he meant it as a joke, and his eyes weren’t smiling. “‘Sides,” he added. “It weren’t all me. Mehitabel figured out what was happening and Gideon did some of his healing stuff.”
But I remembered it had been Mildmay speaking to me. Trying to comfort me when I could scarcely understand what was happening. It’s just me, Felix. It’s okay.
“Just...accept the thanks,” I said wearily.
“Yeah,” Mildmay said after a pause. “Okay.” I sighed and turned on my side, curling up and making myself small. I wanted to cry, and I thought if I did I might die of humiliation.
I had wondered sometimes, in my more melancholy and dramatic moments, what would happen if I died. Who would, in honesty, mourn me. I was honest enough to know that I had few enough true friends; certainly the speed with which most of my coterie had deserted me in my madness proved that.
I loved Gideon - there, I could say it, if only in my own mind - but I had thought I’d doused any affection rather thoroughly. And Mehitabel had always seen me too clearly, I thought, to think kindly of me. And yet the two of them had come. Maybe not for my sake. Maybe for Mildmay’s.
(:I missed you too.:)
And Mildmay. Mildmay...at least Mildmay, I had known I could be certain of. He would walk over knives for you, Gideon said, and I had as good as made him do so, as though I needed to prove that it was true.
“Mildmay,” I said, and my voice shook just a little. “I am…” Sorry. “You deserve–”
“Felix,” Mildmay said. He sounded on the verge of sleep. “Shut up.”
My mouth snapped shut.
“Later,” he said. “Okay? Not right now.”
I swallowed. “All right,” I said.
“Good,” Mildmay said. I heard him shift, and then move, and the mattress dipped as he must have sat down. He wasn’t quite touching me, but I could feel him nearby, and what I kept thinking was he’s going to leave, that’s what he’s waiting to tell me, he’s going to ask–
“Felix?” He sounded worried, and I realized that I had started crying without realizing it. I pressed my lips together to keep myself silent, but I couldn’t hold it.
“Why are you still here?” I blurted out, and immediately wanted to curse myself for it.
“Cause you’re my brother,” Mildmay said, like the question was stupid and the answer obvious. I’m sure you have other half-brothers, I was tempted to say.
“And that’s enough?” I said instead.
“Yeah,” Mildmay said after a few moments. “Mostly. Sure as fuck there’s things I wish you wouldn’t do. But that ain’t the same thing as wanting to leave. Now go to sleep.”
“I will if you will,” I said, though I didn’t think I could really stay awake for long.
“Someone’s gotta be up when Mehitabel comes around.”
“She can wait. I daresay Tabby will understand.”
“Yeah,” Mildmay said after another long pause. “Okay.”
I leaned a little toward him, not quite resting my head against him even if a part of me wanted to. I could feel myself slipping into darkness, but it didn’t feel quite so fearful.
Mildmay fell asleep fast. I clung to consciousness a little longer, listening to him breathing. Reassured by his closeness.
I did not entirely believe that he wouldn’t decide to go. But at least for now he was staying.