Fade to White
Footsteps echoed hollowly as Jerek strode quickly through the dark and empty hallway, barely stopping to throw open the large double doors that led into the lounge room of his chambers. He blinked at the light. Lying on the sofa near the large fireplace was Ramo, his eyes closed and his hand resting on a book lying open near his face. Jerek started to tiptoe across the rug to get to his bedroom door on the other side, but Ramo stirred and opened his eyes.
“Jerek!” He sounded relived. “Where were you?”
Stopping, Jerek watched Ramo sit up. “Is that a girl’s shirt?”
“Huh?” Ramo looked down at his chest at the frilly button up he was wearing, then laughed slightly. “I thought it looked good on me. Why didn’t you come home last night?”
“Maybe I wasn’t in the mood to see a man cross dressing. Why would you degrade yourself like that?”
Rolling his eyes, Ramo said, “Just go ahead and say that you think I’m sexy. You don’t have to be so guarded all the time.”
“I could give you one of my shirts to wear until you have a chance to change.”
“At least you aren’t hitting me this time.” Laying down on his back, Ramo crossed his arms over his chest.
“Oh.” Jerek shook his head and pulled his fingers through his hair. “I’m sorry about that.”
“I was worried about you. After that raid you went on the other day, you were so ornery, then you disappeared.”
Sitting down in one of the cushioned chairs, Jerek asked, “Does the Commander know?”
“No, I covered for you. I almost thought I wouldn’t have to, but today at lunch he mentioned you. Jerek, where were you?”
“That village northeast of here, Amber.”
“No way, you’re kidding! Don’t you know what happened there the other day?”
Ramo grinned, leaning forward toward Jerek and talking in a private voice, “A couple of our soldiers went there after you raided Opal, and guess what they uncovered? The rebel group, they’re in that town too! This woman started freaking out at them, calling herself the leader of the Resistance and spouting off how the Commander was going to fall, so the soldiers brought her here . . .”
“Of course. How else could the Commander question her? I caught a glimpse of the woman before Nosaj shut me out, and she was really plain. She looked like the product of poverty: worn out and depressed. She was disgusting.” Ramo paused. “I can’t believe you didn’t hear about this. Did anyone recognize you?”
“They barely know I exist.” Jerek smirked, sitting back and crossing his ankle over his leg. “Of course no one’s going to recognize me.”
“I thought that after Opal, news of you would’ve spread like a wildfire. They still don’t know anything?”
“Ramo, don’t forget who I am.” Standing up, Jerek motioned like he was drawing out an invisible sword. “No one survived to tell any rumors about me.” Suddenly turning around, Jerek thrust his imaginary weapon into Ramo’s stomach. “I’m just that good.”
Laughing, Ramo said, “That’s what I love about you.” Stopping, Jerek stared at him then quickly sat down, an awkward silence sneaking in. “I’m sorry,” Ramo whispered. “I know you’ve told me about that, but it just slipped out.”
“I was wrong, that shirt fits you.” Jerek got back up to his feet and walked to the door of his bedroom.
Still facing the door, Jerek began speaking, “Do you know why we take the dead bodies of our enemies with us?”
“Sort of. They can’t have funerals, and sometimes they don’t know about the death for a long time.” Ramo shrugged. “So I guess we do it to break down rebellious spirits.”
“Legend has it that when a body is burned, the spirit burns with it and is destroyed, and that’s why we collect the corpses. Call it superstition on the Commander’s part, but by cremating his enemies he’s insuring that no one receives any supernatural help. It’s also why we burn all the buildings in a raid.”
“Why are we talking about this?”
“Future reference, I suppose. As future Second in Command, you ought to know these kinds of things, and it’s time for you to stop playing and start doing a real job.”
“Jerek! You mean it?” Bounding up, Ramo ran to Jerek, catching him in a hug as he turned around. “Thank you so much! You’ve made me so happy!” Forgetting himself, Ramo planted a quick kiss on Jerek’s mouth.
“Ramo,” Jerek’s voice was constrained. “Let go of me, and don’t ever do that again.” He wiped his lips with the back of his hand. “That’s the most disgusting thing ever.”
“Oh Jerek, get over it! Quit being so tough all the time, it’s okay to show a little tenderness every now and then.” Ramo rolled his eyes. “Are you going to bed now?”
“You can’t come, if that’s what you’re getting at.”
“No, I was just asking.”
“I’m locking my door too,” Jerek said as he went into his bedroom, slamming the door shut behind him.
Rubbing his lips again, Jerek walked across the room. The worst part about being kissed was that the feeling remained long after the action was done. It was disgusting, and he didn’t understand why people would ever want to do it. He didn’t understand why he put up with Ramo’s little quirks all the time, no matter how often Ramo managed to repulse him. He didn’t understand why she was there in the back of his mind, pushing to come forward and whispering thoughts to him. He wanted her out. He had already gotten more information out of her than he had ever wanted, and he had no intention of ever going back.
Ken had lied to her about what happened to her mother. He should have told her the truth.
Jerek sat down on the bed and pulled out a cigaret, but after staring at it for a few minutes, he couldn’t bring himself to light it. Putting it away, Jerek kicked off his boots and lied down on his back, staring at the ceiling. Surely she’s noticed his absence by now, and he wondered if she would search for him.
“Jerek,” Ramo’s muffled voice came through the wooden door.
“What is it?” Jerek growled.
“The torches in the corridor have been put out.”
“All right, go ahead and sleep on the couch.” Jerek could already feel his strength leaking out of his body and going into the mattress; he didn’t want to be bothered to walk Ramo to his room.
“Not with you?” Ramo called, then as if he could see Jerek’s face, added, “Just kidding!”
“I ought to kill him,” Jerek grumbled to himself, but then a thought crossed his mind. “Ramo?”
“Do you ever want to leave the castle?”
There was a pause before Ramo answered, “Not really. This is the only place I’m accepted, where I can be who I am with no fear. Why do you ask?”
“I don’t know. I guess because it gets a little lonely around here.”
“You aren’t alone, not with me around. We’re best friends.”
“I’m going to have nightmares now. Thank you and goodnight.”