Ishan Orlov lay awake in his bed. He was numb and hollow. He had cried himself empty until his eyes were puffy and raw. His room and the palace had been cleared for some time. The first rays of dawn were colouring the sky pink and gold. He had not been informed since Fane had disappeared five hours earlier. How long could the man be gone?
A commotion outside had him out of bed and dashing out of his apartment. Ajay had one of the servants by the shirt collar making demands. “Ajay!” The Prince watched more servants dash down the hall. Ajay turned to him; the shock smeared across his face had the Prince stopping in his tracks. “Has he come back? Is my niece safe? Is Fane all right? Have you heard anything?”
“I would like for you to wait here for me, sir,” Ajay demanded.
“Is my niece alive?” he pressed his guard.
“Yes.” Ajay ran for the lift. Ishan stood in the hallway, lost and alone. He circled around the hallway, not entirely sure what to do with himself. Finally, he did the only thing he could think of. He walked across the hall. Fane hadn’t even taken the time to lock his door, as was his habit. Ishan eased himself in. The place, brightening in the dawn, was spotless, save for a dismantled rifle in the process of being cleaned.
He settled into the deep couch that gave him a view of the entire apartment. Fane had positioned it so that it had no blind spot. He curled up his knees, laying his head on them, closing his eyes to block out reality.
A click at the door sent a chill scurrying down his spine. His heart raced, and his fingers numbed. He pressed himself further into the couch. The door swung open. Fane stumbled in, exhausted. Ishan sucked in a gasp. The man was drenched. His arms were red. His face was smeared and splattered. His hair was an entirely new shade.
Fane’s ice blue eyes swept the apartment in a glance, settling on Ishan’s eyes for a split second longer. He let out a heavy sigh, knelt down to the shoe cabinet at the door, and pulled out a block of plastic. Ishan watched him lay out a large blue tarp across the floor. Once he had somewhere to step, he closed the door. He was sluggish, his fingers fumbling at clips and buttons. Unloaded his ammo, guns, and knives onto the sheet, drops of red splashed amongst the armaments. Standing for a minute, he watched a tremor run through his fingers in apathetic frustration.
Fane glanced back at Ishan. He sighed, then pulled his shirt over his head. Shoes and socks, with some difficulty, followed the shirt. Fane was sighing more with each task. His hands fumbled with his belt buckle, but for the life of him, he couldn’t free it. He gave up and went into the tiny bathroom where Ishan heard him turn on the shower.
The Prince stood up and cautiously approached the room. Streams of red flowed in rivulets. Fane leaned heavily against the wall, his forehead pressed into the cold tile. The showerhead scorched hot water against his back. Fane quivered, tears mixing with water and blood.
“I’m sorry you have to see me like this, Prince,” Fane mumbled, acknowledging the man’s presence.
“Here, let me help you.” Ishan moved toward him.
Fane shifted farther against the tile, but there was nowhere for him to go. “You’ll get dirty, and I can’t protest you right now, Prince.” He sank further into exhaustion.
“Don’t worry about it, okay?” Ishan reassured. Pulling off his kurta, he tossed it onto the kitchen counter outside the door. He reached for Fane’s belt, wary. The man might be exhausted, but the amount of red washing off of him indicated how deadly he could be when he wanted.
Fane didn’t protest anymore and made a feeble attempt at helping. With a bit of work, Ishan was able to strip Fane the rest of the way down. Naked and fatigued, Fane collapsed to the cool tile. Ishan took the materials out to deposit on the tarp. He returned to the bathroom and found Fane kneeling on the floor, his head resting against the wall.
Ishan pulled down the showerhead, the bottle of shampoo, and the soap.
“You don’t….” Fane tried to protest again, weary.
“Shh. You brought back my niece. The least I can do is help you now.” Ishan lathered Fane’s pink hair. Fane sucked in a sob. Ishan’s hand stilled in his hair. “Fane?” Ishan asked, concerned. Now that the coat of blood was finally running off of him, numerous bruises shone under webs of scars. He decided not to dwell on them, focusing instead on getting his bodyguard clean.
“She’s alive,” Fane conceded, his voice warbling.
“What happened?” Ishan pressed.
Fane trembled under his hands. “The memory card is in my shirt pocket.” Tears merged with the water on his face. He hiccuped, batting at his eyes. His stomach threatened to cough up bile.
“Video?” Ishan rubbed soap on the man’s back, massive brands a shiny white under the coating. Fane looked up at him, pleading in his eyes, willing the man to understand. “What is it?” Ishan gently pulled Fane to sit upright. Fane sagged against the wall and rubbed at his face as he fought back sobs.
“The poor girl,” he murmured. Ishan finished washing him and toweled him off. He helped the exhausted man to the couch and went to the wardrobe to rummage out some boxers and pyjamas. Returning, he found Fane already asleep, tears staining the upholstery. Ishan pulled a duvet off the single bed, draping it across the man. He settled onto the sofa, shifting Fane until his head rested on his lap. Ishan brushed at Fane’s duck fluff soft hair and contemplated the immense shift in his life.
Ishan woke to the sun in his face. He had slid down on the sofa, his bodyguard settled across his chest. The Prince dropped his head to Fane’s, holding the man to him.
A light rap at the door brought his attention away from the sleeping man in his arms. Ajay’s head popped in to glance around the space. A look of relief and slight shock washed across his face when he spotted Ishan and Fane on the couch. Ishan waved him in, putting a finger to his lips.
His old bodyguard approached the sofa, stepping over the tarp of bloody clothing and weapons. He pulled over a chair from the dining table and settled in to give Ishan a rundown of what was transpiring in the palace. Ajay motioned to Fane in question.
“He got in and was practically passed out on his feet,” Ishan offered quietly. “How is Tamasi?”
“She’s in hospital right now. Fane brought her back. He disappeared after explaining to the doc. I had to go look at where he found her. That’s why it took me so long to come back and check on you,” Ajay apologised. “I have a team down there documenting evidence currently. We’ll use it for prosecution when the time is better.”
“In hospital?” Ishan’s fingers curled protectively in the comforter.
“Abhi and the rest of the family are there. They’ve left you in charge of seeing to the palace running. Figured if you were here, Anson would keep you safe. She was unconscious when he got her. She hasn’t woken up yet. He said he had a video he wanted to make sure didn’t become public.” Ajay leaned back to study the exhausted men on the couch.
“He said it was in his shirt pocket.” Ishan pointed at the heap of clothing. Ajay glanced at the red and brown smeared lumps of cloth and nodded.
“Are you sure about having him that close to you?” Ajay shifted in his chair.
“That aura of death he walks around with had disappeared by the time he got in.” Ishan ran his thumb along Fane’s cheekbone.
“Are you planning on pursuing him?” Ajay asked bluntly. Ishan glanced at his bodyguard, startled.
“Forty-three,” Ajay broke the quiet silence.
Ishan flicked a contemptuous raised brow, “forty-three?”
“That’s how many people at the Baron’s mansion died tonight,” Ajay informed him.
“Forty-three,” Ishan reiterated, stunned.
“The Baron is in the palace jail. Mr Anson dragged him here while carrying Tamasi in his arms.” Ajay got up to dig out the chip in Fane’s shirt. “The man hasn’t been able to talk. He’s in an extreme state of shock.”
“He did that because of Zahar and Tamasi?” Ishan asked, not fully wrapping his mind around the number. At that moment, he could not fathom Fane protect himself if he wanted. The bodyguard could cause that much chaos in only a couple of hours?
“No, probably not entirely.” Ajay stared the Prince down. Ishan glanced away from his bodyguard, catching the hint. “He found your niece being videoed. That’s where the bloodbath started. The entire living room is shot through with tiny holes, no bigger than the nib of a ballpoint pen. We found ice crystals. Pools of blood were frozen. The tile was sprayed pink. He worked his way out, taking out anyone who got in his way.” Ajay palmed the chip. “She’s no longer able to be married with a dowry.” Ajay turned back to the Prince.
Blue eyes, cold as Himalayan ice pinned the bodyguard to his place. Ishan shrank back at the sudden sensation of frozen steel resting in his hands. He held Fane to his lap, willing the redhead to stay lying down.
“Do you want to be added to my list today? It’s already pretty long, but I can sure as fuck make room for one more,” Fane growled.
“Pardon?” Ajay blinked.
“Are you stupid?” Fane pressed angrily.
“How so?” Ajay didn’t blink.
“She’s a child. Fucking hell, no one should be talking about her getting married at her age. Especially not after tonight.” Fane balled the comforter in his fist. His body bordered on lead, and his head hurt from a couple good hooks he had taken. His blood boiled and sang to him, though, crying out for more war.
“She has been ruined for marriage, and with this proof, it can’t be denied.” Ajay held up the chip.
“Fuck you. Let’s get our words explicitly clear here, you heartless jackass. She was gang-raped by that bastard and was filmed. She should be provided with a safe space to heal, not be judged as a piece of meat. Shelly would dump your ass, hearing you talk like that,” Fane lashed out.
“When did you become fluent in Punjabi?” Ishan whispered in Fane’s ear.
Fane looked up at the man, confused. “Probably about the time I was surrounded by a bunch of violent dickheads.”
“You curse a lot more,” Ishan mentioned.
“I’ll apologise for that when I don’t feel like shit and like beating the teeth out of your bodyguard and feeding it back to him in a cake.” Fane tried to sit up.
“Creative.” Ishan restrained Fane again. “You’ll fall over if you try to sit up right now.”
“Probably,” Fane conceded, still pushing for his freedom.
“Does my brother know?” Ishan asked Ajay and Fane.
“Yes. Her fiance’s family has already been informed and has abandoned the betrothal.” Ajay shrugged.
“Her bodyguard and sister were killed in front of her. She’s had vial atrocities committed against her, and you all are worried about her marriage prospects?” Fane hissed, indignant at the madness.
“What can you do about it?” Ajay sniffed.
“What becomes of her if she can’t marry in your custom?” Fane demanded.
“The family will send her to be educated abroad and hope for marriage prospect there,” Ishan answered for Ajay.
“Good,” Fane closed his eyes.
“What would you have done if we were the type to cast her out?” Ishan gently rubbed his thumb along the ridge of Fane’s shoulder over an old scar.
Fane sighed and opened his eyes, locking with Ishan’s amber gaze. “I’ll probably be a bodyguard here for a while if you don’t imprison me for my methods in getting your niece back to her family. If you released my contract, I’d probably go do personal security out in MidEast or out in the Colombias. Both of those pay well enough.” Fane shifted away from the Prince. Ishan’s hand stilled on his bodyguard’s arm.
“You would marry her?” Ishan asked, a cold pick jabbing his gut.
“Child marriage is reprehensible, and I have a caustic opinion on betrothal arrangements.” He glared at the Prince. “You don’t want to hear my shpeel on that. She should be safe and protected after what happened. I’d beseech the courts for a transfer of guardianship or asylum for her. If that didn’t work…? Then I’d play your games the way you all seem to play it. It would give her more than enough years to seek out counselling and anything else she needed. If it would keep her safe, then I’d pursue the legal routes I’d need to,” Fane answered.
“Even if it got in the way of other relationships?” Ishan’s grip tightened on Fane’s shoulder.
“Carte blanche. ‘Save my niece’. If it meant becoming an adopted single father or a guardian or whatever, then I would do what you asked,” stated Fane like it was of no consequence to him. Ishan stilled under the admission.
“And if I asked you to sleep with someone?” Ishan suddenly had to wonder what type of avenging angel this man was.
“It better like hell not be illegal or morally repugnant in a violating of personal freedoms kind of way,” Fane qualified.
“That’s not in your contract,” Ishan protested.
“Retrieving your niece from a bunch of now-dead people isn’t either,” Fane seethed.
“Why would you go so far for me?” Ishan asked him.
Fane looked away from Ishan’s prodding gaze. “I should probably get up and let you go about your day.” The bodyguard pushed past Ishan’s hand, finally sitting up. He wouldn’t meet the Prince’s gaze. He held the comforter around him, shivering. “It’ll be busy today because of last night.” He swept to his wardrobe and pulled out his clothing, walked into his bathroom, and closed the door.
Ajay glanced at the Prince. Ishan stared at the door, uncertain about his next move. “Would he say yes, if you asked him?” Ajay asked the Prince.
“Asked him what?” Ishan stood up to pace the room.
“To sleep with you?” Ajay asked. Ishan’s gaze snapped to Ajay at the other end of the dining table. “Remember, I served you in college. I know who you’ve slept with. I had to do the background checks on all of them.” Ajay shrugged, leaning back in his chair.
“Have you ran a background check on him?” Ishan whispered. Ajay nodded and filled him in. There was nothing remarkably new to Ishan. Ajay was more detailed in explaining the torture techniques Fane had been subjected to, but that was it in expanding his knowledge of the man. Ishan leaned against the headrest.
“Prince Ishan?” Ajay asked.
Ishan sighed. “I hate this.”
“Sir?” Ajay prodded.
“I never was able to pursue a serious relationship in college, ‘cause I knew I was coming back here after I graduated. Now, I still can’t, because of, well, here…” Ishan spread his hands out, indicating the palace.
“Are you engaged, sir?” Fane emerged from the bathroom, dressed in his black kurta and a pair of blue jeans.
Ishan flinched, startled. “I was back before studying abroad.”
“What happened to her?” Fane sat on the edge of his bed to pull on a pair of clean shoes.
“Her parents dissolved the engagement to have her marry an heir apparent twelve years younger than her,” Ishan snorted.
“Are you disappointed with the arrangement?” Fane asked.
Ishan let out a clipped laugh. “I was relieved with the news. I never wanted to deal with that simpering twit. She didn’t even know she could dress herself. Her servants coddled her,” Ishan bit out.
“And your folks didn’t immediately try to engage you to someone else?” Fane took his gear to a set of bins. He began first by cleaning the holsters. “Is it inconvenient for me to clean my gear right now? Do I need to escort you somewhere?” Fane asked, his hands soapy and red already.
Ishan waved him to his work. “Probably the safest place I can be right now. I don’t think there is going to be much to do today, honestly. Grandfather will be planning the funerals. Mother and father organized the castle staff for cleaning. I have a set of men going through the rubble out back to compile evidence. My sister is watching my nephew, and my brothers are apparently at the hospital. Looks like I was told in no small words to stay out of the way. They haven’t said it, but they are blaming this on me for being strict on the Baron and his tax evasion,” Ishan explained.
“This isn’t your fault. It was purely the fault of the man who set the trigger, who planted those bombs.” Fane hissed, pulling out several bottles and towels.
“I told my folks I needed to concentrate on studies, and an engagement would interfere. Once I got home, I kept putting it off by being busy.” Ishan scratched at his chest. He looked down, realising he had left his shirt on the kitchen counter near the bathroom door. Red welts freckled his skin. His shirt was gone from the counter. He rose, hunting down the garment hung on the robe hook in the bathroom. Returning, dressed, he sat down at the table to watch Fane work.
“Have any prospects?” Fane tried to keep the conversation going while he scrubbed gore out of his equipment.
“None that I would agree to.” Ishan fiddled with the tip of a clean throwing star and sucked in a breath when he drew blood.
“Watch out. It’s sharp.” Fane set down his work. He dashed for his sink and washed his hands off before finding the first aid kit in the cabinet next to the fridge.
“Obviously,” Ishan mumbled as Fane wrapped a bandage around his finger.
“Do you not want to get married?” Fane walked back around the table to his makeshift cleaning stations.
“More like the legality of my land won’t let me marry who I want. Wasn’t like that in the old days. There were reforms. Then the systems all turned on their heads, and the reforms were nixed.” Ishan shifted to stand next to Fane, watching his hands glide through the pink soapy liquid.
“Legality?” Fane rubbed a knife dry, checking the blade, then the Prince’s statement registered in his brain. The knife threatened to slip through his fingers. “You mean…?” Fane quickly moved on to his next knife. How was he supposed to respond to that type of admission? Sure, the Prince had kissed him, made a pass at him back at the party, but what did legalities have to do with it?
Ishan walked back around the table, returning to his seat. “Does that bother you?” Ishan asked.
Fane scrubbed harder at the blade in his hand. Ishan waited. Finally, not entirely sure what to do, he laid the knife down and focused on the Prince. “It is neither my right nor my place to say if it bothers me,” Fane answered.
Ishan fought his desire to slouch. “You’re my bodyguard. You are around me all the time. You should know.”
“You wouldn’t be explaining this to me if you were straight,” Fane interjected.
“Gods, I wouldn’t be explaining this to you if music didn’t make you black out.” He muttered; louder, he braved his words, “Because I wouldn’t be looking at you if I was,” Ishan snapped. Fane stood, not entirely in shock, but close enough to feel like a deer in the headlights.
“I’m sorry. I thought I had made my feelings for you fairly clear, but apparently, I suck at communicating and you at remembering anything near a dance floor.” Ishan fidgeted. “If you want your contract terminated and you can go back to your base, I can have that arranged for you.”
“Your parents would skin me alive,” Fane said quickly, not wanting to dismiss the Prince’s honesty. An itch ran across his shoulder at knowing that he had forgotten another night, more days of blank spots than days of memories.
Ishan glanced up from his fingers. “I don’t think they’d go that far.”
Fane sat down in a seat next to him. “Should we talk about your mother breaking Ming vases over paparazzi photos of us kissing at the gala? Yeah, I know what that fight was about. You are your parents’ pawn, their ability to gain and retain power. You can’t possibly expect for them to be thrilled finding out you would take up with a blood-thirsty, arsenal-carrying amnesiac street rat. At the very least, there has to be someone more suitable for you. Someone that you can actually hold a reasonable conversation with that doesn’t get all giddy over firearms,” Fane tried. “What else can I do for you other than be a bodyguard? I don’t do home life; I don’t know how. I have horrible nightmares and probably a buttload of PTSD. I’m nowhere near suitable for you, Prince Orlov. I don’t want to come between you and your people, your family,” Fane mumbled.
“Would you leave this place with me? Get an apartment in a different country where it wouldn’t matter?” Ishan continued to try.
“Would that make you happy? Running away from your people and your family? What would we do? You’d probably be fine; you’ve got a degree and experience running the palace. I don’t exactly have great marketable skills. I would not do well as a mall cop or some other security person who has to keep themselves G-rated, let alone make it through a background check. Cops coming out of military training are bad news for civilians. Ask the Baron’s men.” Fane shied away. This was all kinds of awkward and hard to deal with. “I’d be an inconvenience at best, a danger at worst.”
Ishan sat back, trying to figure out what to say.
“Let’s come back to this later. For now, I’ve been awake all night. I’m going to try to catch some sleep. I would encourage you to do the same.” Ishan rose from the table. Ajay followed him out the door. Fane sat at the table for a time, trying to figure out what he was supposed to do next.
Eventually, with a deep sigh, he got out of his chair and proceeded to finish cleaning his weapons. It was late in the afternoon when he put everything away. Enduring a handful of dates and nuts, he flopped onto his bed and allowed himself to drift to the patter of light rain on his skylight.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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