I've had a soft spot for this piece ever since I first drafted it about a year ago. It started out as a relationship study for Jane/Aro set a month or so after her transformation, and ended up as a more DidymexMarcus centric 'reminiscing' oneshot. It also started off as a one-thousand word drabble, and ended up as a six-thousand word marathon of self-indulgent ramblings, as well as inspiring a whole other multi-chap story on MarcusxDidyme that I posted.

So. It means a lot to me, having 'brought me so much', you know? And there are a lot of (intentional) crossovers/references to 'In Flame' and 'Marcus and Didyme', for readers of those fics out there.

Regardless of what you want to take away from this piece, I personally don't see there being any romantic feelings between Jane and Aro. No offence to any JanexAro shippers – I'm positive you'll enjoy reading them in this, anyway :)


"Master?"

She speaks the word slowly, tentatively; testing it, tasting it. It feels strange, after all these past few weeks of using his true name. Very formal, almost laughably so, she thinks. Respectful.

But it's what they have told her to say, how they have told her to address him – and she must obey. She wants to obey. She wants to please them. Please him.

If Master is how he is to be addressed, then Master it is.

"Master?"

She calls the unfamiliar name again – of course, he would have heard her had she merely whispered it, but old human habits die hard, even after weeks of this wonderful new life – and her tone is less tentative, more expectant, this time, as she waits for him to respond.

He glances up; misted eyes, coloured a ruby so much darker, calmer than her flaming scarlet, meet hers, and he smiles. That familiar wide, effortless smile – one she loves to see, especially when meant for her.

And this time, it is. For her and her only.

"Jane, my dear, how lovely to see you at such an early hour! But what brings you down here? I thought you were practising with Santiago…"

She shuffles her feet – and for a second, guilt washes over in an uncomfortable, messy wave. She knows she should be practising. Working just as hard as she can alongside her brother, and Santiago, her….teacher, she supposes is the right word. Ugh. She doesn't like being taught, being told what to do. She doesn't like trying to control whatever strange, burning power has been discovered inside her these past weeks. The searing, scalding bursts of something incredible, something she truly adores, and the moments when it bursts out of her, uncontrolled.

She must learn to exercise exactly that, like so many before her. Control.

But one little break won't hurt. And now, she has a question.

"I wanted to ask you something, please, Ar – Master."

The name is still so difficult, but necessary, she tells herself, necessary. "Santiago said I should, that he would work with Alec till I return – if that's all right with you, of course."

Her small hands clasp and unclasp behind her back. She is relieved when Master nods, with another smile; so warm, so encouraging, despite his alien features.

"Ask away, my dear," he says, brightly. "But do hurry, I have many things to attend to, and I am sure your brother is missing your company practising all alone. With only Santiago for company, that is something I believe we can both almost guarantee."

She laughs at that, but bows her head in agreement – yes, Alec will be lonely, and he does worry so. She hides her delight, her secret smile, at that little word 'we'.

"Well," she begins. "Well, you see, I was wondering…well…"

She stops, biting her full lower lip. Master waits, patient. Pale fingers, the colour of bone, sift a few of the papers he holds above the oak table, the carvings polished to a shine against the ornate surface worth, she knows, more than all the riches in the city above put together.

He slips all but one paper into a draw with a creak of ancient wood, rises from his seat with effortless grace, and turns to the cabinet behind, sliding one final sheet under a stack of books.

She wonders briefly what he's been writing. What facts, figures, plans, recordings, studies – histories, he calls them – he has been scribbling away at, almost all of the morning. Not that he scribbles. His writing is like no one else's; a unique, twisting, turning script of such elegance.

She wishes she could write. She wishes he didn't so much. She misses him. Santiago was a pitiful replacement as a teacher.

He turns back to face her with a frown creasing his paper-thin features – but not a nasty one, more concerned, meant as encouragement. Encouragement she badly needs, much as she hates to admit it.

"You seem uncomfortable, my dear. What is wrong? What is this 'burning question' of yours?"

She takes a breath; deep, slow, in and out – unneeded, another human habit. This is more difficult that she thought it would be. Horribly awkward. Even more so than that terrible time she'd confused Sulpicia with being Master Caius's wife – how unbearable that had been – this perhaps was not quite as bad, but had potential to be, and she did so want to get a proper answer, not the half-truths the rest of the guard had been giving her…would it be better, perhaps, to show him instead …?

No. No, that was not a good idea. Her insides writhed at the very thought of him seeing how terribly she'd missed him this morning – that was something private, something for her to know only.

"Well…"

"Well?"

She takes another breath. "Master…you did tell me, you know, back in the beginning, that if I ever had any questions about…our kind, or the way things worked, or anything, I was to ask Corin…not you."

Corin was all right. A little on the dull side, but all right, and…nice, she supposed, when it came to questions. Kind.

"And I have asked Corin," she continues, and suddenly all she wants is to get the words out, to have it over with. "And Santiago, and Demetri, and Afton, and Aelfric and Renata, and Heidi, and even Felix – though of course, I didn't expect him to know anything – but none of them would tell me, not one, not a proper answer, at least, Chelsea said that was just how Master Marcus had always been, just like he...he is…"
She trails off. Master's face has gone very still. Worry gnaws at her insides, but she hurries on.

"And Heidi even tried to make me believe Marcus was not like that at all, really, that he was just going through a rather rough time at the moment, but…"

"But?"

His tone is no different – a little sharp, perhaps, but nothing more. She hesitates.

"Master, I'm not stupid."

He laughs at that, a stream of high, ringing chimes. The sound makes her smile. "Oh no, no, my dear, you are not. Not at all…no."

His face is very calm, very composed, and very…very careful. She tries to feel happy at the praise, to make her insides glow with familiar warmth, basking in even the smallest ray of admiration like they always do…but she can't quite manage it.

Oh no. What has she done, what trouble has she caused, asking this?

"Master, I'm sorry," she blurts quickly. "I shouldn't have been so forward – I just knew there was more to it, but no one would tell me, not even Master Caius, but you…well…" And now she peeps at him from under her lashes; shy, sincere. "Master, you always tell me everything. You answer allmy questions, properly, the whole truth. I suppose I was wondering if…you…might tell me?"

Odd, she muses. A few weeks ago, she would be demanding it of him. Wanting an instant answer.

She knows better now. She knows who he is, what he does, what it is exactly that he is Master of. Yes, she knows better now. She knows respect.

Master's face is smiling again, and she sighs in relief at the sight; kindly, almost pitying…no…could that be…teasing…?

"And may I ask why, my dear Jane, you have taken such a sudden interest in Master Marcus and his mannerisms?"
His tone is thick with suggestion. Her insides somersault. She laughs at his implication all the same, revelling in the new sound; a child's reedy, tinkling music.

"I'm not Alec," she smirks – though sometimes she wishes she is. "And his 'interest' is different, really it is. Mistress Athenodora was the first he saw upon waking, of course she was sure to make an impression. And he will get over it, soon enough. It's just a tiny…infatuation. And Mistress is sort of striking – who can blame him?"

"Oh, I can think of someone," he laughs – and for a second she worries, again, but he holds up both thin hands, reassuring. "Do not worry, my dear. I have had a word with Caius, and he understands Alec's position perfectly. I was merely wondering where this little musing of yours has sprung from so suddenly…"

He trails off, black eyebrows still raised in that ever so slightly suggestive way she doesn't like. The look does not suit him. As well as it being nothing close the truth, of course, no matter how mysteriously handsome Master Marcus may seem to some of her more empty-headed fellow female guard…Chelsea, for one…

She ducks her head so as not to meet his gaze, eyes on her feet – and answers his question.

"I'm curious, Master."

"Mm."

His eyes – so perfectly calm, perfectly collected – rake over her consideringly, glazed as though lost in thought. She shifts from foot to foot; she's worried again, now, worried and just the smallest bit afraid – though she loathes to admit it – because she has known for a long time that there is something more to Master Marcus, something the guard are not telling her, perhaps are not even permitted to tell her. But she wants to know, she truly does, so badly. A child's wild, wide-eyed curiosity. Master Marcus has been such a mystery to her and to Alec for so long now, so long, and she is tired of waiting. Tired of speculations, half-formed ideas, reasons behind his condition.

She wants the truth. The truth about why he is the way he is. That strange, frightening, blank-faced, living corpse of an immortal.

"Won't you tell me, Master?" she murmurs, timid as a mouse in the endless silence. "Please?"

Her voice is tiny. Insignificant. Measly nothingness. The thought isn't at all encouraging.

But Master moves, a sigh slipping from his lips, turning away to shut the cabinet door, close a drawer, run a long-fingered hand through sleek black hair – another odd gesture, for him – then turns to face her again. A smile plays across his lips, and he reaches out towards her, beckoning with one white finger.

"Come here, Jane."

She hesitates for a breath of a moment – bracing herself for whatever may be coming, for the trouble she may be in – then steps forward. Her footsteps are gentle taps against the wood floor, her face turned up to meet his, so very far above hers. She feels more like a child than ever, next to him. So tall and elegant in raven black, enemating the incomparable authority she knows he posses…so different, so striking, so much, compared to her small, skinny, newborn form.

She sighs.

He bends down towards her, bringing his face to rest on a level with hers so he can gaze directly at her with unblinking, burgundy eyes. She hides her smile. She's never been this close to him before, not ever. He takes her hand gently in his.

"Now, Jane," he begins, and then hesitates. Another odd thing. She has never seen him hesitate before anything up till now.

"…Jane…"

He stops again – again, she notes, in wonder – and sighs. "My dear, do you remember what I told you during your first night here, of the bonds that run between our kind, the ties, that of our coven, of my brothers to me, of…mates?"
His eyes stare unwaveringly into hers.

"Yes," she replies, pleased that this is something she can remember, and remember well. She hopes he will approve of that. "Yes, you said the bonds run higher, tighter, more closely knit than humans. I remember, Master."
She smiles, dazzling, very pleased with herself. He doesn't smile back. His lips are tight and unmoving. The pride inside her drains away, water through a sieve – and she has to hide her disappointment.

"And mates?" Master prompts her, his face still composed.

"Yes," she nods, as knowledgably as she can. "Yes, the emotions are heightened, the ties between them can grow to very strong bonds, mates like Santiago and Elspeth, so…intense," – she hopes that would be the correct term, she knows so little about this flimsy, troublesome business of immortal mates and marriage – "so very intense, the death of one can leave the other nothing less than heartbroken…"

"Not just heartbroken," he interrupts her, and his tone is different now, louder and layered with new meaning, as though hoping for her to spot something. "Destroyed. Ruined. Tortured. Devoid of life, of care, of emotion, of the will to live; dead in all ways but body, lost, wandering…a living corpse…?"

…a living corpse…

The words take the longest age to sink in, but when they do, the relevant answer follows almost instantaneously.
Her mouth falls open in horror.

"Oh. Oh."

And realisation dawns. Hits her like a boulder, like the icy crash of a rolling snowball as it collides with a tree…and she understands.

Oh…

Master watches her with a slow, satisfied nod as she takes in the realisation. It is several long seconds before she can find her tongue to speak again.

"Master Marcus had a mate."

It's not a question. She is certain of it, one hundred percent. Everything fits now, the pieces slotting together like the most obvious of jigsaws. She wonders how she could have missed it before.

Abruptly, Master is beaming, pleased no end about something. She wishes she knew what. She's pleased about it too, if he is, just as much…whatever it is.

"I knew I could count on you to guess it, Jane," he says with reverence, reaching to twist a strand of pale hazel hair behind her ear. "Just the barest touch of guidance, all that was needed. Such intelligence, far beyond your years…"

His eyes glow before hers, and his voice is so warm, admiration ringing in every word. She's smiling so much it makes her cheeks hurt. Oh, Alec was right. She is different from the others, from the rest of her Master's so-called loyal guard. She is more. The more he was searching for for so long; the jewel of his collection, his spread of incomparable talents. She is the one. The gem. The top of them all.

And how she loves it.

But then the moment is past. The feather-touch strokes the length of her face, a swift caress from temple to jaw line – then is gone, and away, back to its owner – and she knows affections are most likely done for the day now. The only one who will experience them now is Sulpicia.

Idiot blonde lady with half a braincell and no sense enough to do more than while away her idiotic blonde hours in the tower all day long. Master deserved better. At least Athenodora was pretty.

She tries not to scowl as Master rises, and steps away again, past her towards the door. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees him reach for another stack of papers, this time placed high on the top of a giant dark cupboard. A place she would never and will never be able to reach, frozen forever as the child she is…

"Yes, it is true," he was saying, still facing away from her. "You are exactly right, Jane. Dear Marcus had a mate, a…wife."

"How did he lose her?"

Master fumbles, nearly dropping the papers he is holding.

Idiot, idiot, idiot, Jane, idiot, she curses herself. Stupid, foolish little girl. She wants to slap herself. Master's whole back turns ridged at the question; a tiny movement, barely noticeable, but still very much present in the dead silence which suddenly screams through the room.

She has to clench her fists to stop herself punching the wall. Furious, burning emotions, out of control; newborn emotions, play at her instincts, but she shoves them away. Now is not the time…

She sees Master take a breath; a shuddering one, as though bracing himself – then he turns to face her. His expression is dead, not even a mask anymore; fathomless blank nothing, as he speaks two quiet, firm words of an answer.

"In battle."

Silence.

"Oh," she murmurs, barely a whisper. "Oh, but then…Master, when you say in battle, you don't mean…with the Romanians?"

"Yes."

His tone is sharp. Too sharp – and his face masked again, though somehow, his eyes are not…they are dark, filled with shadows, intent as they gaze into hers. She shivers.

"But…" she murmurs, voice still mousy-small in the silence. "Master, that was three thousand years ago…"

"I am aware of that."

She flinches at his tone. Too sharp. Too brisk. All wrong, for her Master, not at all how he should be speaking, and to her, of all people…

"But Master, if he lost her then …Master Marcus…is still…still…grieving…?"

"I told you bonds between mates of our kind were strong. You should be able to understand the rest for yourself, Jane."

She gnaws her lip at that, all warmth from his previous praise vanished. She stares at her feet – neat shiny black shoes, new ones bought just yesterday for her by Corin – with her lips clamped tight together so as to prevent any further questions slipping through.

Inside, however, her mind races with the new knowledge. Because now, at last, she knows. And it feels good to know, it does, wonderful also to remember that he, Master, was the one to tell her, personally, alone in his own library. What will Chelsea think of that?

The thought makes her smile a little, but only a little. She doesn't feel quite satisfied yet. She should, and she knows she should, and Santiago is waiting upstairs, and she cannot wait to tell Alec, and Master is still watching her with those shadowy, ever-more mesmerizing eyes, but the mask is still there, the tightness in his face, the discomfort at this touchy subject of Master Marcus and his lost wife…

She still can't believe how a loss like that could still hurt Master Marcus, still stay with him, even after all these years…

"She must have been a lot to lose," she murmurs out loud, more to herself than anyone else – but to her surprise, Master smiles. A tight, prim smile she doesn't like, though she should, she always loves it when he smiles…

"Oh, she was," he murmurs in reply to her statement, his tone very soft, dark with a humour she doesn't understand. "She was, my dear. A terribly great loss. One I doubt our lot has suffered the likes of ever since."

She stares, taken aback. "Not even when – what was the name – the guard with the talent-telling gift who left a few years ago, you said…Eliza?"

He laughs at that – the sound is slightly shrill, too loud and long.

"Eleazar, dear one, Eleazarwas his name," he corrects her, and his features soften a little with affection for just a moment; pitying. Well, it is better than nothing, she tells herself. Pity is something she does not enjoy being the centre of. Not one bit.

"So then, his mate," she begins again, more cautiously this time, delving back into this touchy area, "she returned his…love?"

She knows it seems a foolish question, but she is curious about it. After all, one could question Athenodora's position as wife to Master Caius for a solid century and most likely not come out with an answer. She certainly had. Alec enjoyed doing so, of course, and she was content to comply.

And then there was her Master's – the true, real Master's – wife, who spent next to no time at all with her husband, except on the most occasional nights, and what was sense was there in that, she scoffed? What on earth did they find to do all night, cooped up in that dark tower? She had never understood it.

She never would.

"She did," Master answers in reply to her question, his tone light. "Oh yes, she adored him. Not that there is much to hate about someone who follows you around day and night like a little lost puppy, granting your every need, fetching you every gift imaginable, bowing to your every wish…your every wish…" He trails off, eyeing her with an abruptly speculative expression. "She was talented, too."

"She was?"

He smiles a tight smile. "Yes. Peculiarly so, but talented nonetheless."

"What could she do?"

She knows Master enjoys this topic, so of course, she does. And he seems a little more relaxed speaking to her of this point, which is something she most definitely wishes to keep up.

"Classified neutral, neither offensive nor defensive," he continues, and she could hear the care with which he spoke, the pauses between each sentence, how very cautiously he was planning his every word of answer, for her. "She had this pull, an odd control over people, drawing them to her – truly, I didn't know what to make of it at first. She was a very pleasant little thing to be around; very amusing, very sweet. A touch vain. Very charming…and oh, didn't she know it. She was happy. So happy. In love."

He speaks the two words almost bitterly, she thinks, as though they are something he simply cannot understand.

"That was her power, you see. The pull. The draw. Pure contentment, joy, happiness; it resounded in her and out from her, around and into others – a sort of aura, you might call it. You gravitated towards her without thinking about it. We all did. And she was beautiful, young…too young…"

He eyes her again, at that – a steady, contemplative look. Her gaze falls to her shoes again, hiding her expression from his view.

"You say that like it is a bad thing, Master."

He smiles, almost gentle now, and his voice is quiet, despite their distance from each other. "Often it is, my dear. Often it is."

She doesn't want to look at him. Doesn't want any more of his pity, the sympathy, the amusement she knows is there, hidden underneath, but she doesn't want it, not one shred of it…

"Didyme was simply not ready for the life thrown upon her," he continues, as though he is not willing to rest until he has convinced her of this point, this trouble of young ones. "But I had a hope that she would be talented, that her use in the coven would be worth any too-early transformation, and I was impatient. Too impatient. She was the first immortal I changed, you know. The very first."

He chuckles a little, then, half to himself; the sound has an unpleasant, cutting edge she doesn't like. "I did make rather a mess of her, I'm must say. I worried that she would not survive at first, but then, she was always full of surprises…good and bad."

His face is shadowy again, and she hurries to form a new question, to move him away from this uncomfortable area.

"It was worth it, though, in the end? She was gifted, just like you thought, and Master Marcus fell in love with her?"

"Yes…and no. It was not just Marcus. There were others. Many others. As I said, we all gravitated towards her to some degree. It was automatic, you did not even realise you were doing it…"

He chuckles then, quietly, half to himself. "She had enough admirers to string across the whole of Volterra and back again. It never worried me. It was rather amusing, really. She enjoyed herself, playing around with this little gift of hers, seeing what havoc she could wreak. And then there was Marcus."

He smile fades then, and he sighs, misty eyes becoming even more so – far away, lost in memory.

"Oh, he fell for her, just like all the others, but there was something more to it, this time, something I didn't even consider the implications of till it was too late…and his infatuation went far deeper than any of the others. Too deep. Far, far too deep. She became an obsession. The fixation of his entire existence. He revolved around her every need, her every want, her, her, her…nothing but her. Nothing mattered to him anymore, and nothing ever did, after that. In love…"

And again, with that bitter note; broken, this time, hopeless.

"The two of them were together, for a great many years. Five centuries, I believe. Perhaps six. I tend to lose count."

His eyes are dark again, and his face much too composed – the need for a change of subject becoming apparent again as he turns away from her to face the bookcases, hands folding and unfolding papers too quickly, clumsily, head bent almost as to hide it from her. But she knows that is silly. Ludicrous. Master never has to hide anything, no, he is not like that. Or has not been…until now.

The thought frightens her a little. This truly seems to affect him in ways she never would have dreamed it would.

"I'm sorry, Master," she murmurs, feeling it to be the right thing to say. She hesitates for an instant, before creeping, almost tiptoeing forward a few silent inches, closer towards him. She wishes she could comfort him somehow, reassure him. "I'm sorry. You sound like you knew her well –"

"Oh, I did," he answers too quickly, still facing away from her – but his head snaps up, too fast, gazing at the top shelf above them both, and his voice is broken, now, almost trembling, but with anguish or…laughter…she cannot tell. "I did, my dear. I did. She was my sister."

Silence, for a moment. Screaming silence, frozen to a standstill with horror, with shock, unable to speak, unable to comprehend…

And she cannot believe it. Cannot believe she could have been so impossibly, overwhelmingly foolish, so heartless, to come to him blabbering so many questions, like this were some gossipy secret to be thrown about amongst the guard as was wished, and she cannot believe it, cannot believe it, cannot believe him…!

"…M-Master…!" she hears her voice spluttering, gasping, scrambling to cover her terrible callousness, her unforgivable mistake. "Oh Master, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I had no idea, if only I had known, I would never – never -!"

- but she can't get the words out, can't form her sentences, so crushed with guilt as she is, with humiliation, with horror – and she reaches towards him, a child's hands stretching, desperate to do something, something, to convey her emotions in any way possible –

"- forgive me, Master, please, I'm sorry – I'm so sorry…!"

…but when her hands finally do take on purely insane minds of their own and reach to touch his, he moves – just a little way to the left, so she cannot see his face – and her fingers grasp at thin air.

Reality sinks in a second too late. She remembers her place; recalls, with a jolt, her low-rank, her insignificance to him…the immense authority he holds over her, authority she can hardly even begin to fathom the magnitude of…

And she remembers respect. Respect that she knows is required of her, to be shown at all times, no matter what the situation. No matter how foolish, how dreadful her mistake. No matter how furious he may be with her now.

"…M-Master…" she whispers, barely a breath of trembling sound – his shoulders continue to shake that tiny bit, though she still wonders, wildly, whether with grief or…laughter…

"…M-Master…?" she tries again, voice a little steadier this time. "Master, I…I'm s-so sorry…I never meant…p-please, Master, please, please forgive me…!"

"Jane."

His voice reproves her, silences her – but the tone is wrong, off, twisted with an expression…a grimace of pain?

Or…could that be a smile she hears…?

"…Master –?"

"It's all right, my dear. It's all right."

He draws a breath, the sound just a touch ragged – but from dry tears, or silent mirth? She wonders…

"…the guard do love to gossip so, don't they, Jane?"

She hurries to reply with words he would find most favourable – but falters, stutters, her mouth running away with itself.

"Yes, Master – I mean, no, Master –!"

"Calm yourself, my dear, I am not angry with you."

"…I…you…t-thank you, Master," she manages to mumble humbly – but she still longs to comfort him, to display her sympathy, her understanding. Somehow. "If only I had known. I would never have been so…I had no idea, you…you…"

She trails off, lost for words, hesitating…thinking…and then speaks, soft and tentative. "You must miss her dreadfully, Master –"

"Oh, I do."

His face is abruptly turned up, thrown back; holding something back. She doesn't know whether to expect him to burst into dry sobs, or fits of laughter.

"Every day," he says suddenly, speaking too quickly, voice bland, a monotone, and louder than it needs to be, laced with the thinnest thread of a hiss. "Oh, I wager that not one shall ever pass without my thinking of her, even now, even now…still, she is with me, with him, with us all…"

His voice fades to nothing; slipping, sliding note by note back into his old soft, sighing lilt. She realizes her mouth has been hanging open – and quickly closes it. This behaviour is beyond anything she has ever seen him let loose before…

"I'm…so sorry, Master," she begins to apologize again, but he holds up a hand, moving for the first time in minutes…and his face moves, shifts a touch to the side, just enough for her to seem him close his eyes. His face is utterly composed, masked once again.

"No more, Jane. No more."

He takes a breath…and then he is smiling; that familiar, effortless wide smile…and turning to face her.

"I believe that you have a brother awaiting your late return to lessons up in the tower?"

"Oh -!" she gasps, little hands clapping to her mouth in shock. "Oh – oh no, Alec will be wondering what on earth has happened to me -!"

"That he will." Master nods down at her, suddenly brisk. "I think it is best if you run along at once, my dear, and be sure to tell Santiago where you have been."

She returns the nod fervently. "Yes, Master, I underst –"

"Good." He cuts her off with another smile. A blinding, too-bright one in its attempt to reassure her that all is well…she knows it is not. Something has changed. She has touched something, opened something, awakened something. Something she knows now she should never have questioned.

She hides her trepidation as best she can – though she knows, deep down, that she can hide nothing from him – ducking her head, her feet backing of their own accord out the door she entered by not half an hour ago. He smiles after her, calling casually, casually…

"Do hurry, now, my dear…"

"Yes, Master."

"Enjoy your lessons."

"Thank you, Master."

"Good morning to you, then."

"And to you, Master."

Silence.

He frowns just the tiniest bit, eyeing her warily as she hesitates by the half-open door.

"Was there something else you wished to ask me, Jane?"

She shifts from foot to foot, hesitating again.

"…I just…well, I…"

She meets his gaze, eyes wondering – and his stance stiffens, expression freezing in place; she senses, with a flip of the stomach, that he knows exactly what she is about to say.

"…Master –"

"Yes, Jane?"

She takes a breath, closing her eyes. Then…

"I do understand, Master," her child's voice murmurs, mousy-small again in the suffocating silence of the room. "I mean, I know how it must feel, for you to have lost her. If something were ever to happen to Alec…" She shudders at the very idea. "I know how it feels, Master. And I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. But I do understand."

For a moment, neither says a word. Then Master is smiling again – but differently, this time. Very differently. Tight. Cold. Unflinching.

"No, Jane. You do not."

His face is calm. Eyes empty as they meet hers. His voice is flat and icy as Master Caius's.

"No, my dear, you most definitely…most definitely…do not."

She cannot find her voice to answer. Someone has slapped her. Punched her in the chest. Knocked her flat to the ground.

And she suddenly wants nothing more than to bury her face in her hands and run from the room as fast as her feet will carry her.

"Yes…Master…" she murmurs, a child again; tremulous, obedient. She cannot think what else to say. She cannot look at him.

His smile is harsh, blinding; unfeeling, as he nods the tiniest bit.

"Go, my dear. Close the door behind you."

The dismissal is solid, hard as flint, this time. The gravity of his authority weighs in every word he speaks. She does not dare to disobey, to tally, to make any move towards him to comfort or attempt to express her understanding any longer…

She meets his expressionless gaze for one last shuddering moment – then turns and rushes from room, throwing the door closed with a slam behind her.

Then she runs. Fast as her child's feet will carry her, away down the corridor, away from Master, away all she has heard, from one small question now answered, and oh, how she wishes it had never been answered…

She does not stop running, all the way back to the tower.


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