Sev woke slowly to the delicious warmth of a body wrapped around him from behind, and a splitting headache. He moaned softly.
"There's some aspirin and water on the nightstand." Demetrie's voice vibrated against his back.
"Mm-Master." Sev knew he should be on his knees to greet Demetrie, but his crushing headache and the heavy arm draped across him prevented him from moving.
"I'm sorry I got you drunk last night. I hope you don't regret—"
"Master, no… it was my pleasure to serve you… both of you."
Demetrie chuckled softly, his voice graveled from smoke and sleep. He sat up first, reaching across Sev to bring him the means to cure his hangover. "Here, take this, then have a shower and get dressed. Come downstairs by ten o'clock; Michael is leaving today."
"Yes, Master," Sev said and sat up with a measure of difficulty. He was aware of Demetrie watching him closely and was initially insecure, then Demetrie's big hand brushed Sev's hair out of his face. Sev turned to him, expecting he had something to say, but after a few moments, Demetrie sighed and got out of the bed,
"I'll see you downstairs by ten."
Sev finally managed to get himself moving with little time to spare; just enough to say goodbye to Michael, who kissed his hand and thanked him for the wonderful evening before he said goodbye and Demetrie walked him out.
Sev followed the two men at a distance, wanting to offer them the respect and privacy that two former lovers deserved. He waited inside the foyer near the staircase, watching them walk outside through the open door.
"You'll take him too?" Sev heard Demetrie ask Michael as they reached his car. A driver was waiting there to open his door.
Michael turned as they reached the back of the limo. "Of course. I'll be certain to take good care of him… all of them."
"Thank you, Michael."
Michael sighed and offered a weary smile. "If there is anything…"
"Thank you, Michael," Demetrie repeated; he took his friend's hands in his own, then brushed his lips over the knuckles. "Goodbye, Michael."
Michael sighed, his blue eyes sparkling with sentimentality. "Goodbye, Demetrie. Don't worry, I'll handle everything here. Please, promise me you'll contact me as soon as you arrive?"
Sev leaned back against the wall, feeling like his heart had turned to lead and was trying to force its way up into his throat. It was true then; Demetrie planned to give him to Michael, sell the house, and marry. He should have been overjoyed that he'd have such a kind man as Michael to watch over him, but seeing his face every day would remind him of Demetrie, and Sev didn't think his heart could stand it. Worse than that, he wouldn't be able to handle knowing that his once powerful Master had given into the expectations of his title. Anger wound around his heartbreak as he tried to force back the vitriol rising to the back of his throat.
Sev hadn't heard him come back into the house, and Demetrie's voice suddenly nearby startled him. Without considering the confines of status, Sev threw his arms around Demetrie and pressed his face into his chest. He was ashamed of his selfishness and anger, expecting that Demetrie would push him away for overstepping his boundaries to such an unforgivable degree. If he did that, then Sev would know he was truly unwanted, and would have no choice but to accept his rejection.
"Oh Sev…" Demetrie's voice was soft as he wrapped his arms around him, and the sound of it drained away Sev's anger. He heard the sadness there, the regret that he'd occasionally seen reflected so briefly in Demetrie's dark eyes.
"Master, you are sending me away…"
Demetrie sighed; he should have known better than to tell the servants anything. "What gives you that idea, Sev?"
"I-I heard about you selling the house… and speaking with Count Ferrier just now. Master, he is a good man, but I would rather not go to him."
"Why not?" Demetrie was surprised; had he considered such a transfer, he would have thought that Sev would appreciate Michael's gentle nature to his demanding one.
Sev shook his head. "Master, I would rather be sent to the mines then to be reminded every day that I was unworthy to remain with you…"
"What? Sev… no, no it isn't that. It's not any of that. Michael is giving Stanley a position in his household. You won't need to go anywhere you don't want to." Demetrie kissed Sev's temple. "I am leaving, Sev. I am going away. I'm not getting married and I can't be part of the aristocracy any longer."
"Please, Sev, let me finish." Demetrie released him, moving away, but not very far.
Sev bit his lower lip to keep from speaking out of turn.
"Sev, you have brought so much joy and comfort into my life that I have decided to do my best to offer you the same. From now on, you are Count Seven Silvastrano. You have my title and my name, and are now safe and free to do as you please. It means that you don't need me— or anybody— to protect you anymore."
Demetrie watched Sev's face, waiting for him to absorb all of the new information. He expected shock, disbelief, but not the anger.
"No! I don't want that!" Sev realized he must sound like a petulant child but he didn't care.
"Sev… I thought… I thought this would make you happy… not having to ever worry again about depending on someone else…"
"Well it doesn't make me happy! Master, all I want is to stay with you! If I am truly free now to do as I please then let me come with you!" Sev couldn't stop the tears as they ran unchecked from his eyes. He was biting his lip, his fists clenching as he tried to retain any last shred of stoicism. Finally, he shook his head, realizing that if he didn't express the truth to Demetrie now, he may never get another chance; consequences didn't matter at this point, because he had nothing else to lose, "How can I be happy without you? I love you!"
Demetrie felt his chest ache with Sev's confession. "Sev, I am going to live in Ishmay; the island is like a ghetto… there will be no luxury… are you certain that's what you want?"
"Yes," Sev said firmly as the tears still ran fresh from his eyes. "Master, if you love me, then that's all I could ever need."
Demetrie searched the young man's earnest and beautiful face. Michael was right— he understood Demetrie's heart better than he understood it himself. For the first time in the young aristocrat's life, Demetrie believed that he could achieve something beyond resignation; he believed that he could know joy. He nodded, swallowing the sensation of his heart expanding in his chest, and pulled Sev into his arms. "I do love you, Seven; you mean everything to me. If it's what you want, I'd be happy to live anywhere with you."
"Good morning, Master."
Demetrie squinted up at Sev as he stood haloed by sunlight near the open doorway.
They'd been in Ishmay a little over a year now; the climate and culture seemed to have made Sev blossom into something even more beautiful than he'd been in Athena. His skin had darkened, and his pale brown hair was now highlighted with streaks of gold.
Demetrie had changed as well, his black hair much longer, and his skin now a deep coppery bronze after suffering the first sunburn of his life. While the sunburn had been a painful affair, Sev had nearly made it worthwhile by how well he'd taken care of Demetrie.
As usual, Sev was barefoot, wearing only shorts and a sleeveless shirt that he had rolled up and knotted above his waist. He had small bits of wilted flowers in his hair. The children— especially the girls— flocked to Sev and loved to pretty him up like one of their own. In this world, Sev was an exotic and beautiful angel, just as he'd always been to Demetrie.
"You don't have to call me Master— if anything, little Count, I should be calling you Master now… and what have I told you about leaving the house like that?"
"Not call you Master?" Sev offered a mischievous grin. "But if you aren't my Master, then you won't be able to punish me for leaving the house dressed inappropriately… or talking back to you."
Demetrie stretched out and grabbed Sev's arm, pulling him down into bed and rolling on top of him. "You're right, forget I said anything."
Sev grinned and wriggled his body beneath him, running his fingers through Demetrie's long, black hair. His smile faltered, and he licked his lips as he met Demetrie's heated gaze.
"I love you, Sev," Demetrie murmured. He couldn't believe that he'd nearly been fool enough to let this young man go. If he ever saw Michael again, he'd thank him for forcing him to reconsider. Demetrie took hold of one of Sev's hands, gently kissing the rope-burns accidentally left on his wrist from the night before.
"I love you, Master," Sev sighed, "now, punish me."