Paschal said, “He merely needs water and rest for the moment. I’ll be back to apply more salve in a few hours time. Try to keep him as still as possible, call me if he becomes ill.”
With that he left the royal quarters. Damen stared at the door as though it might say something sage and settle his unease.
Laurent said, “C’mere, my—mine.”
Damen winced. Laurent only called him fond nicknames without a trace of irony when feeling absolutely terrible. Damen walked toward the bed, where Laurent laid upon a single cotton sheet. “I should have been paying more attention to you.”
“Always,” Laurent said, managing a mere fraction of his normal imperiousness.
“You’re not yet used to our summers.”
Laurent sighed and didn’t deny it. It would have been hard, given that he was currently sporting first- and second-degree burns over a good two-thirds of his body. Quietly, he said, “Damen. You cannot stop the sun from shining as brightly as it may wish.”
“No, but I can keep you appropriately shielded from it.” Damen sat carefully on the edge of the bed. “I—I promised myself that you would not be hurt, not if I could help it.”
Laurent’s eyes were drooping. “You can spend the rest of our lives making it up to me.”
Damen said, “Sleep.”
Laurent awoke with his stomach already in full revolt, his world on fire, and no recollection of how he had come to be this way, only the knowledge that when he was in pain, it was almost certainly something Uncle had done.
Someone touched him, and Laurent threw an elbow back in panicked response. No matter his Uncle or The Regent’s men, none of them were safe, were allowed to touch. Everywhere his skin made contact with anything was agony, and he fell from a bed in his blind need to get away. Someone was talking, but Laurent was too busy sicking up water and bile onto the floor. Was his brain on fire? Could that happen? Had Uncle poisoned him?
No doubt that was it. He should—he should keep being sick, if it was poison. Purge as much of it as he could. Lifting a shaky hand from the floor, he forced two fingers as far back as possible, but heave as he might, nothing else seemed to want to come, perhaps it had been topical? And that was why his skin hurt so much? He didn’t remember being beaten, but he—he couldn’t really remember—
“Your Highness,” a calm voice said, cutting through some of the rootless fear in Laurent. He knew that voice.
That was, “Paschal.”
“You are suffering the effects of heat stroke. I need you to do as I say.”
“Heat—no. That’s— Uncle, he must have—“ Somewhere behind Laurent, someone made a low sound, almost a keening.
Paschal said softly, “Laurent, I promise you, I give my word, your uncle is dead and you are safe.”
That…that made no sense. “But I…it hurts.”
“I know. If you let us, we will make it better.”
Laurent tensed up. “Us.”
“I promised you were safe. I meant it. Your husband is here. He would walk through fire rather than see you stumble.”
Laurent couldn’t think. Everything was heat and thirst and nothing Paschal was saying connected to what Laurent understood to be true. “I—”
“Do you at least trust that I would not poison you?”
Laurent blinked. He needed to be careful. But try as he might, he could not believe that Paschal would harm him, not physically. “I suppose.”
“Drink.” The physician held a small vial to Laurent’s lips, and Laurent drank. Almost immediately, his limbs became heavier, harder to control. He would have panicked, but darkness stole over him too quickly.
“Paschal,” Damen said, when it was clear Laurent was once again unconscious.
“You can berate me later. For now, let’s get him into a lukewarm bath and I’m going to need you to get him to take fluids, even asleep.”
“He believed me to be his uncle.”
“No, he believed himself to be in danger and his mind still considers the Regent his foremost threat.” Paschal sighed. “It’s a type of delirium, Excellency. It happens now and then with this type of heat illness. If we can get him cooled down and comfortable, he should be fine the next time he awakes.”
Damen swallowed. He was more adrenaline than blood at the moment, with nowhere to expend the worst of it. He asked the guard in the hall to fetch a servant, and helped the servant fill the tub with water that was just slightly cool to the touch. Paschal made to help him with Laurent, but whatever was in Damen’s eyes, it must have warned him off, because he stepped back, allowing Damen to cradle Laurent carefully, settling him slowly into the tub.
Laurent murmured unhappily but the sedative held. Damen couldn’t help smiling at the small frown on Laurent’s face, more perfunctory displeasure than true distress. He kissed the palm of Laurent’s hand, one of the few areas that hadn’t been covered by the chiton which had managed to escape burning.
He whispered, “I’ve got you, you’re safe,” and set to work dabbing Laurent’s lips with a moist cloth.
Laurent awoke feeling as if someone had turned him inside out, twisted him into knots, and hung him in the sun to dry. “Da—Damen?”
“You know me,” Damen said from the bedside, which was a bit nonsensical.
“We’re married.” Laurent couldn’t manage to be as arch as he wished, his mouth too dry. Damen was already holding a cup to his lips, though, forever what Laurent needed, often even before Laurent could understand his own needs.
“Yes,” Damen said, the relief of his first statement still evident in his tone. Laurent sipped slowly and touched Damen’s wrist when he’d had his fill.
He risked a bit of movement, finding that his skin had evidently been stretched too tightly and now no longer fit his body. “I hate the sun.”
Damen’s smile didn’t completely overcome the worry lines on his forehead. Still, he said jokingly, “It seems to have a problem with you, as well.”
Laurent huffed. “How long have I been sleeping?”
Damen hesitated. “Peacefully, for about ten hours.”
Laurent blinked. He generally considered five a night of decadence. Then he focused on Damen’s choice of words. “I was restless?”
“You were hurting.”
Laurent said, “Well, yes, I’m quite burnt.
“You were scared.” This came so softly it almost felt like a thought passed between them.
“Not of you.” Laurent did not remember, could not remember, but he knew this with every part of himself. “Never of you.”
“You believed yourself alone. Alone with—”
“Then that was sickness. Sickness so deep it poisoned. Because I know I am not alone, my honorable barbarian. I have not been alone since you were deposited at my feet, and so long as you are at my side, I shall never be alone again."
For several moments, Damen watched him, as though waiting for something else, some other truth. Finally, he leaned forward and kissed the corner of Laurent’s mouth. “I am at your side, my king.”
It should have hurt, even that small touch. But rather, it was like the water sliding over Laurent’s tongue, cool and healing. “I know.”