Word Count: 5595
Summary: an early snowfall came roaring across the county like an angry beast. It tore through the fields, whipped through gardens and orchids, leaving a thick, freezing blanket of white in its wake
part 7 of This Small Dark Place at AO3
A million thanks to jj1564, for the speedy beta and exceptional hand-holding! :D
Not long after Thanksgiving, an early snowfall came roaring across the county like an angry beast. It tore through the fields, whipped through gardens and orchids, leaving a thick, freezing blanket of white in its wake. No traffic could come into the state, no traffic could come out. Life on the estate slowed, and Jensen rather liked it.
Master Gerolt had a few friends in the home, stranded there by the snowstorms. Fewer new visitors meant less revelry, and that meant Jared was quieter and more like what Jensen thought of as his real self since he wasn't required to perform as Son of The Master. The face he pulled on as Gerolt's son made Jensen's blood run cold. Lately, it seemed it was becoming harder for Jared to remove the mask.
Jensen shushed along the hall towards the kitchen, his house slippers making no sound against the carpet. The house was quiet for an early afternoon and hopefully it would remain that way; as long as the thralls kept themselves scarce and as long as the wine and liquor held out Jensen figured it would. Fingers crossed, he sent a quick, hopeful wish to Eir to keep an eye out for them. Once in the kitchen, he loaded a large basket with bottle after bottle of some mediocre wine masterCook set out for him, while a couple of the older trayboys busily loaded platters with turkey and roast beef sandwiches for the Master and his freemen friends. The steamy air and rich smells made him smile, remembering when he and Jared would sneak down into the kitchen and filch something good from under 'Cook's nose. He missed those days, when difference in station wasn't overwhelming.
Footsteps behind him and a heavy hand landing on his shoulder broke him out of his reverie. The smell of sweet spices and flour identified them as masterCook—a very impatient masterCook.
"Lucky, as soon as you set that basket down for that horde, make steps to the stables. I know it's cold out there, but Landsman sent for you. I think he needs you to help a few boys of his pick out a tree for the Yuletide. Just because there's frog in the henhouse thinkin' it's a rooster doesn't mean we can't do as we've always done."
A few of the staff broke into giggles, quickly smothered. It was one thing for masterCook to mock the wretched new Master and quite another for them to join in. Jensen, though, couldn't help grinning. Hefting the basket, he said, "Yes, ma'am. Head to th'stables, seek a tree...collect holly branches, evergreen boughs as well? Oh, and I guess a Yule log?"
"What? By Skadi!" 'Cook stopped and glared at him. "We don't have damn holly branches? No evergreen ropes? Wreathes for the front door? No Yule log?"
Jen's shook his head in the negative, stuttering through an apology for not having made a start on any Yule tide decorating, but 'Cook refused to hear it. She threw down the pot she held. It bounced across the counter and hit the slates, the loud crash it made when it hit the ground plunging the kitchen into silence. "What the bloody Hel is that woman good for?" she shouted. "This is her position! The house is supposed to be her bailiwick—gods, she's a worthless bag of nothing—"
"Please, 'Cook, don't!" The headGirl rushed up to her, her face pale and eyes wide with panic. She grabbed 'Cook's flailing arms and held on. "Someone might hear!"
The headGirl's panic startled Jen, that and the way 'Cook bit down on her lip 'til it went white. She'd never been a woman to hold her feelings back on much. In the kitchen, the masterHouseMaid hadn't much sway outside of designing the menus for formal events— the kitchen was masterCook's domain, and the day-to-day running of the house was up to 'Houseboy. masterHouseMaid ruled the room girls, and generally in most households was a confidante for the mistress by default. This one...Jensen had to agree. She didn't seem to be much of an asset at all.
Cook swung about and fixed Jensen with a glare, and angrily gestured him from the room. "Go! You too," she shouted at the trayboys, who staggered a bit under the weight of their trays but scuttled after Jensen as well. Jensen took off without another word—he made his way to the parlor as quickly as he could, where Master would be with his company.
Setting the basket down, Jensen reached for the doorknob—even through the heavy oak door he could hear music and shouting—a game of cards, no doubt. Easing the door open, he took an involuntary step backwards at the stink of cigar smoke and stale beer that seemed to billow out like a poisonous cloud from the open doorway.
He blinked against the quick sting of tears. Every time there was a sign how low the estate had fallen, the loss of the Mistress hit him anew….
Thankfully, the whoosh of the gas fire coming on took him out of his dark thoughts. The glow brightened the gloom—Master Gerolt had installed a few of the modern conveniences that masterTechnologist Michael had recommended, the new fireplace being one of them. Glancing quickly around, he saw that the masterTech was not in attendance, and that was not surprising in the least. Master Gerolt's cronies were just too different from Michael for him to tolerate, or for them to treat Michael with respect. Jared wasn't in attendance either, and Jensen was glad about that. He wondered where his young master was, but he didn't linger in the room—he quickly dropped the basket on the floor near the hunt table and emptied the basket in record time. While the trayboys made a distracting commotion with the food, he managed to slip out without drawing Master Gerolt's attention, thank the gods. He dashed for the mud room to fetch a coat and scarf. He couldn't get to the stables fast enough.
He was in the tiny mud room that the estate kept for thrall-use only, crouching over a bench as he laced up a pair of boots—nice, thick things that fit him like they were made for him. He was smiling slightly with the pleasure of having found such a lovely pair of well-made, warm boots. "Never take anything for granted, Jenny," his mother used to say, and he'd seen over and over the sense of that. Life was about treasuring little moments like this, banking them up for the sad days. He was just rising when someone jumped on his back, shoving him forward almost over the bench and knocking the breath right out of him. Fear rippled outward from his center to his limbs, like a rock thrown in a pond, until soft, mocking laughter in his ear made him relax—somewhat. Jared. "Oh, Master!"
"Did I scare you, Jenny? I did, didn't I?" Jared purred, and Jensen tried to hide the way he grimaced at hearing Jared's hateful new nickname for him, the one Gerolt used. It turned Jen's stomach every time.
"Yes, Master," he said, dropping his eyes to the floor and ignoring Jared's frown. "I was very frightened."
"Well, that's no fun, you were only supposed to be a little scared; c'mon, admit it was funny."
Jensen kept his eyes on the toes of his boots. "Yes, Master, it was funny."
"Oh for—wait, what are you doing? Where are you going without speaking to me first?" Jensen looked up at Jared quickly, about to look away, when Jared took his hand and said, softly, "I missed you today. Can't I go with?"
Jensen couldn't help but smile at Jared's plaintive tone, and wide, shimmering eyes. "'Landsman called for me to help his boys find a tree. I guess he doesn't trust their taste, not that I blame him. We're going out to the forest, if you'd really like to go." Jensen coughed lightly, and whispered, "I'd happy if you did want to go."
Jared's eyes lit up. "Oh, great, let me get my coat and I'll meet you at the service doors!" He took off running, making Jensen laugh. Lovely seeing him like that: happy, free, and being a little silly. It was a side of Jared he rarely got to see these days. Hel, he rarely got to see Jared at all these days. Jensen wished Jim didn't keep him quite so busy running about the estate. It hardly made sense to do so, especially now that Mistress's position for him in the household was doubtful…it hurt a little, learning all the skills he'd never get a chance to use. Unless Jared made him 'Houseboy some day. "To your ears, Skirnir," he wished.
Jensen was sitting by the service doors, nibbling on a little slice of candied ginger 'Cook gave him. Well, more or less gave him. He might have been overcome with nostalgia, and lifted a bit or two from the overcrowded. candy jar when 'Cook's back was turned. He was doing her a favor actually, seeing as how now the lid closed properly….
A sudden commotion killed the evening's silence, bringing him instantly to his feet—and breaking into laughter.
There was his Jared, togged out in his gray wool greatcoat, striding down the path towards the stables—a man on a mission. Right behind him, pleading and apologizing but insisting Jared cover his ears, came his tiny roomgirl, Bethany. She hopped to and fro like a little crow, frantically waving a knit cap at Jared's back.
Jared was scowling, cheeks flushed a deep red. Finally he stopped, flung his arms in the air, then with a curse he swung about and snatched the cap from her. He stuffed it in his pocket as she danced from foot to foot, still in house slippers and nothing but a thin shawl around her shoulders.
Jensen reached Jared just as he shouted for Bethany to please get back in the house before she caught some horrible fever or something. Jensen managed not to laugh out loud, covering the chuckles he couldn't stifle by pretending to cough, and blaming it on the cold air. By the look in Jared's eyes, he was in no way falling for the lie, but thank goodness, he grinned back at Jensen after a few moments. He grabbed Jen's mittened hands and tugged him down the path to the stables, and Jen quickly turned to wink at Bethany, grinning when she rolled her eyes and sighed. Being Jared's personal roomgirl could be a trial—something Jensen could certainly empathize with.
Two of Landsman's workers were waiting for them at the stable door, hitching two heavy-set horses to a flat bed wagon. They were shaking their heads, stamping at the snow, seeming to be as ready as the boys to head out through the snow.
Jensen stared at the boys in awe, they were tall, thick fellows who smiled a lot, and kept up a constant chatter between themselves, not quite excluding Jared, but not exactly including him either—they were indentured thralls, maybe not quite as awed by the master as born thralls were. They were handsome, and looked enough alike to be twins, but Jensen doubted they were related. It would be odd, for a pair of boys from one family to be both be indentured—unless of course the rest of the family was dead and the state required reimbursement for debts.
Jensen shook his head, clearing out odd, wayward thoughts. Yuletide, that's why they were standing out here in the cold. One of the boys had a long, yellow ribbon tied around his arm, and was placing a long, two-handled saw on the wagon. "Master Jared, we are ready when you say good. There's cocoa in the wagon, and—" The boy reached in his coat and pulled out a tiny flask, shaking it "—we've got a little something master Landsman sent along. And 'Cook sent some nibbles, too."
Jared grinned at Jensen, and told the other thrall to pour out some cocoa for them all. He splashed a generous amount of schnapps in all their cups, shuddering a bit when he gulped his down. "Ugh...umm. That seemed like a better idea than it actually was."
Jensen nodded, slowly sipping his, letting the warmth fill his chest. He loved Yuletide, loved looking for the tree—loved being with Jared like this.
They set out with the skies just beginning to darken. The moon was high in the sky, still a thin shadow of itself peeking in and out through purple clouds, the setting sun painting blue shadows on the snow. The crunch-crunch of the snow as they walked, the ridiculous chatter the boys kept up, and Jared's occasional burst of laughter at their silliness was music to Jensen's ears. Sometimes it seemed as though Jared had forgotten what it was to laugh, seemed like there were weeks when he didn't so much as chuckle. It was an unwelcome and unsettling change in his master, who was a boy who'd loved to laugh—had enjoyed such silly things and easily made his very staid and serious mother laugh.
Another burst of laughter came from the front of the wagon, where Jared walked next to the horses and listened to the ridiculous mock fight the thrall boys were having. masterCook had absolutely known what she was doing when she had Landsman send those two. With their handsome looks, booming laughs, and ready smiles, they made great company. Jensen was swept with a wave of fondness for them, for how they could make his master forget anything but this pure and trouble-free moment.
The horses' tack rang and jingled in the crisp air, their breath streaming out like plumes of steam, like fire-breathing dragons. The shadows on the snow were a deeper blue, and the trees now just black brushstrokes against the sky. Their tall, black shadows made Jensen shiver, and then suddenly the shiver was eaten up by the blast of ice that slid down his neck.
"Ha-ha, Jen—that's what you get for woolgathering!" Jared laughed, then ran past Jensen, incidentally presenting himself as a big, old target.
Jensen swiped at the mess of liquefying ice on the back of his neck. "I'm going to get you, you—you!"
Jared ran on, looking back towards Jensen. He looked so handsome, his face framed by the colorful knit cap, a cap Mistress had brought back from an Aztecan visit. The tip of his nose was red with the chill air, his cheeks ruddy with it. Jensen had always been secretly fond of what winter did to his Master, the way his eyes sparkled with joy—and mischief. Jared laughed when one of the boys tossed a snowball at him, his grin so wide, dimples popping out to frame his smile like it was the most beautiful work of art. Jared hooted, dipped to scoop a glove-full of snow and flung it back—
"Gods," Jensen muttered reverently. Whenever Jared's cheeks pinked up like that, Jensen had to fight to keep from cupping them between his mittened hands and stroking warmth back into his skin, all his skin. To kiss and nuzzle, and warm his lips with his own, lick and...and...distracted once again, he had to endure Jared's obnoxious victory crow when the snowball aimed at him smacked Jen right in the middle of his forehead. Blinking back stars, he gulped air in, waiting for the world to stop shimmying before letting out his own war cry, and chasing Jared off the path and into the forest.
Jensen tramped about in the gloom, patting and rolling a snowball guaranteed to wreak havoc. He was imagining Jared, shocked and breathless and starfished in the snow, when suddenly the forest jumped and rolled, and then Jared, swift and sneaky as can be, pushed him up against a huge old oak and peppered his mouth and cheeks with wet little kisses, all in fun.
"You look like a wood sprite, Jensen, all dressed in green—it brings your eyes out. Your beautiful eyes," Jared whispered.
Jensen tilted his chin up for Jared's mouth, and tried to remember each and every kiss he got; the soft press of Jared's fingers on his face, possessive, but oh so gentle. Lately, kisses so sweet were few and far between. Jared rarely kissed his mouth now, despite how frequently he used it...Jensen shook off the thought and pulled Jared closer, not letting the slightest bit of gloom inside. Jared shimmied and bucked, trying to push himself deeper between Jensen's legs. He held onto Jensen, rocking tightly upwards so Jen could feel how hard he was, but there was no demand in his eyes—just a cheerful acknowledgment of what they did to each other. He rocked up again, groaning and laughing into Jensen's mouth. Jen slid his mittened hands between the open flaps of Jared's great coat. Both of them were wishing there was more time, more warmth, more—
They both jumped, giggling, when it sounded like the boys were right on them, calling for Jensen and the master, claiming to have found the perfect tree.
It was. It was tall, and full, and richly green and it was perfect. One of the boys tied the yellow ribbon to a branch, and then they went in search of holly branches it weave into a wreath. Jensen worked quickly and surely with the clippers, cutting branches and tossing them onto the wagon bed. Jared watched what he was doing for a bit, and then began cutting as well. In no time they had sufficient branches to make a holly wreath, and a few nice evergreen ropes, and some swags for the common room windows.
"Master Jared, come see what you think, sir," called one of the boys called. "Jason found the Yule log!"
Jason, yes, of course. And the other one was Taylor. He followed Jared out of the trees, the horses looking at him curiously as he sneaked quietly around them. The boys and Jared were taking turns sawing at a fallen log, a thick, old piece of oak. It should do perfectly, Jen thought, fit right in the huge old parlor fireplace like it was made for it. Once it dried out, it should be perfect.
Jensen looked in the corner of the great room. The perfect tree sat, perfectly adorned, candles bringing a warm glow to the hall. Totally ignored by Gerolt. Jared had half-heartedly participated in decorating the tree, helping the youngest to hang ornaments as tradition called for. Jensen could see that it hurt him—it hurt Jensen as well, all the memories of the lovely Yules before sitting on his heart like a weight. Jen looked around the embarrassing room at the poor display. The candles they'd set out were the cheapest they could buy, and the greens came mostly from the estate instead of the florist, brown spots here and there, needles dropping from the branches. There were no intricately woven table decorations this year, no ropes for the banisters—he and Trinny had done what they could, placing evergreen boughs in the parlor and halls.
At least they had a proper Yule log in the fireplace, as tradition demanded. The log was lit by masterHouseBoy as Jared looked on, a small frown and red eyes a clear indicator of his feelings. Jim knelt on the hearth, and one of the older roomgirls, his little chest puffed up with pride, solemnly handed him a long, black splinter from last year's log. Jensen couldn't help but smile despite the mood of sorrow tainting the Yule cheer, remembering all the years he'd lit the Yule log for Master Patrick's estate, from the time he could handle a match until...until his sale.
The older roomgirl stepped behind a little girl—from the looks of it his sister, who stammered and lisped a thanks to the gods before curtsying and fleeing the hearth to hide behind Jim.
There would be no dancing this year, no performance from the toddlers. There was no accompanying ritual, there were none of the traditional songs. This was a bare-bones celebration. There were no bags of sugar and flour for land or house thrall, in fact, the only nod to the day being a holiday was Jared passing the very youngest of the roomgirls some foil-wrapped chocolates—the kind that came three dozen to the bag and were exactly the sort of thing that thrifty masters gave to their thralls.
Jensen stood quietly in the shadows of the room and watched Jared as he placed a chocolate or two into sweaty, tiny hands. Jared looked tired and sad, his eyes dim, the bright grin Jensen was used to seeing at this time of year just a shadow. Jensen understood, of course—the absence of Mistress was sorely felt by everyone. Well, excepting the Master and his cronies.
Still, Jensen frowned, it seemed to him that Jared's dismal aspect was about more than Jared missing his mother. Sorrow and sadness had a profound effect on everything—the estate and to the people. But Jared...it was as if some essential part of him was missing, only showing in brief glimmers like the Yuletide tree hunt. Jensen sighed, shook his head and did his best to be even more invisible. Glancing up, he caught Gerolt staring at him, his eyes seeming brighter against the florid redness of his face.
Jensen fought down a shudder and dropped his eyes. Suddenly he was surrounded; Jim's bulk inching in front of him, and Mark appearing from the dark to block sight of him from the other side, and MasterTech managed to wander about with his tiny glass of eggnog and come to rest obscuring Jensen as well. And of course there was Eric, because where Michael was, he was never far behind.
Jensen was thankful to be out of sight of Master Gerolt and his disturbing slug of a physic, Master Fuller. Jen drew himself up, lifted his head and concentrated on the comforting presence of Jim, and Eric, and Master Jared being kind to the trayboys and roomgirls. He looked about for masterHouseMaid, but of course, she was not in sight. Not unexpected since as 'Cook had pointed out, she rarely involved herself in the day-to-day running of the household. She'd done little except sign-off on whatever receipts Jim brought for items the masterHouseMaid was traditionally responsible for: the foods, the decorations, the Yule Evening dinner.
Every thrall on the Padalecki estate thought new 'HouseMaid was an insult to the memory of the late masterHouseMaid. Amanda might not have been an especially warm presence, but she took her position seriously, and always did her job to the best of expectations and beyond. This new HouseMaid and her responsibilities were an absolute mystery to everyone. The doors to the parlor opened, and as though thinking about her had called her up, masterHouseMaid entered, along with a few more fashionably dressed men. She had a toddler by the shoulder; a tiny girl wearing little red slippers, sprigs of wildflowers in her intricately curled hair, her dress made of layer after layer after layer of tulle. masterHouseMaid pushed the little thing forward, and the tray she was carrying wobbled with the sudden movement. She curtsied before Gerolt, holding the tray out. He took a card from it, cracked the seal on the envelope and smirked, his cheeks going an even deeper red.
masterHouseMaid came forward and sat next to him with a smile. He handed her a full glass—and at that moment, Jensen realized she was a freeman. He glanced at Jim and saw the way his eyes tightened, how the lines bracketed his mouth deepened. Gerolt had the little girl sit at his feet, and let her sip from time to time from his glass of eggnog. Jensen worried, his eyes on her as the tiny thing slowly tilted sideways and into sleep. masterHouseMaid made a signal to a pair of thralls stationed at the door, strangers. They were dressed alike in high-necked jackets, and had the Padalecki pin on their shoulders, signaling they were thralls, newcomers to the estate. Jim looked surprised, as did Mark—new thralls were never set to work until they had met everyone in the house and most particularly the masterHouseboy. New times indeed, he thought. New, disturbing, unsettling times. He watched as one of them picked the tiny girl up, and follow the other out of the hall.
The log was burning merrily now, colored powder that Jared had tossed on it catching occasionally, but there were no murmurs of pleasure—Gerolt and his cronies had no interest, and the thralls were too frightened of offending to make a sound. After a bit Gerolt stood and gestured to the other men. "Well, come on then, let's sit to dinner, eh? See what the old girl in the kitchen managed to throw together."
masterHouseMaid ushered the Masters and their guests into the great dining room. Candles in the sconces did little to lend a festive air. The audiocon was playing drinking songs instead of traditional carols—not the lilting, lovely classical music Jensen enjoyed. Halfway through the small bites, the audiocon was switched to a football match, and Jensen heard a few audible gasps. Jim coughed sternly.
The men cheered around mouthfuls of food, the women looked bored; they ate, they drank, and spilled wine and their dinner across Mistress's snowy-white heirloom linens. Jared sat at his father's side, smiling, smiling...Jensen saw the collection of glasses at his elbow grow, until finally masterHouseMaid gave the trayboys leave to collect them. The people at the table pinched and caressed the little boys and girls, and the masterHouseMaid ignored their distressed faces, smiling after them as they whisked out of the room, some of them stumbling as they ran. Jim whispered to Mark, and MAR, AND Mark whispered to one of the serving thralls, who followed the trayboys from the room.
When the masterHouseMaid called for trayboys again, much older thralls—kitchen thralls—attended instead. Master Gerolt started to rise, before he caught Jim and Mark looking at him—eye to eye, in challenge. Gerolt sat, and the kitchen thralls served the rest of dinner.
Finally, there came the point of the evening where the president gave the traditional Yuletide speech. This year would be the new President's first Yuletide Address to the Nation. The tables were cleared, more drinks provided, and kitchen thralls rolled out the iconoscope. The buzz of conversation rose, letting Jensen catch a few words—apparently there was to be some sort of major announcement from the new president this evening. Jensen glanced back at Mark. He was lurking in the shadows, looking over the freemen and thralls with a deeply worried expression. It made Jensen's gut turn to ice...he had a sudden, very bad feeling.
Jim took over from the kitchen thralls. He turned the knob on the iconscope with a bit of ceremony, bowing out of the way once it began to warm up. A soft hum grew louder and louder as a tiny white dot in the center of the screen grew bigger—with a pop, there was a picture, rich greys and blacks, and Jen could clearly hear a fanfare being played. On the small screen, President Davies strode up to the podium, the fanfare going softer and softer until finally, silence descended, both on screen and off. President Davies greeted the nation and said, "This year, we celebrate prosperity, we celebrate the growth of our nation, and we celebrate a new vision for this land."
Mark moved to Jensen's side under cover of the shadows and took his hand. He squeezed it when he noticed that Jensen was trembling. From the iconoscope, President Davies rich voice rolled out over the audience.
"First, citizens, I wish you a grand Yule, and a prosperous New Year. This has been a year of plenty for all citizens. Our nation continues to be a beacon in the darkness, and that is because of you, citizens. Your faith, your devotion to Columbia, all help to preserve our way of life. Now, I bring you news regarding the institution of Thralldom. Since the time of our grandfathers, when this grand experiment of ours began, thralls have provided us with a great blessing, and now, we are set to move our nation and thralldom on to a brand new phase. Our good and dear departed Patricia Padalecki, and her associates, had worked hard throughout this last year to bring about a change, and we have thought long and hard regarding these changes. In the end, we decided it was in the best interest of the nation to approve the changes asked for, and they are now written into our law."
The president fell silent, looking about the great hall with a solemn expression. After a moment, he held up a rolled and sealed parchment. With a flourish, he took a knife and broke the thick, red wax seal and spread the parchment across the podium. Looked into the camera again, giving the effect of looking all the observers in the eye. "Citizens, this is the new law.
All those of you who hold indentured thralls that have ten or less years as their term of servitude, are to summarily release these indentured. Their goods that have been held for the duration of their sentence will be returned to them by our new law, minus, of course, what it cost to support them. Their names are also to be removed from any rolls of the indentured, their servitude is to be stricken from any public record. So let it be announced in every corner of our nation. The indentured thrall sentenced to service of more than ten years, those names are also removed from any rolls of the indentured, but now are to be installed in the books of the born thrall; any properties held, after the cost of support is deducted, will be properties bequeathed to the families of the former indentured, now thrall for life, and to be viewed the same as any of the born thrall. So it is announced to every state of the Republic of America. Mrs. Padalecki, may she forever rest in peace, worked tirelessly to give us this great gift, one could say that she gave her life in interest of the growth and continued prosperity of our great nation of Columbia. I would like now to lead the Republic in a prayer of thanks, hope, and devotion for all our fellow citizens."
A few thralls crashed to their knees, a quiet weeping and moaning led to the thralls being quickly ejected from the room.
Jensen took control of the little ones—swiftly shooing them ahead of him. He tried not to alarm the little ones as they had no real idea of what was going on, but he felt like an automaton, mindlessly going through the motions. He was frozen in a state of horror, totally overcome with the pain of having been betrayed by the nation, who was supposed to look after the thralls, and betrayed by the person he'd thought had had their best interest in mind.
He walked swiftly to the kitchen, shedding his confused charges there, walked past the hearth and the thralls' tables set up with treats, kept striding right through the service doors, kept walking on and on until he was deep in the garden; came to a stop with the bitter wind clawing at him, biting into him and sucking the heat from his bones. If he stood here long enough, maybe, hopefully, he'd freeze to death….
Mark was suddenly behind him. The man grabbed him by his shoulders, swung Jensen around and into his arms. "They lied! This was the opposite of what Mistress fought for, I promise you that, Lucky—on my heart I swear it."
Jen stared at him, not really hearing him, not really feeling the arms around him. He was dead inside. His heart, his soul—frozen, dead. If Mark wanted to believe the Mistress had not engineered this horrific cancellation of any poor rights thralls had, fine. Jensen certainly had no right to disagree.
When Jensen returned to his master's room, Jared was dead to the world, fully dressed, and sprawled across his bed like he'd been thrown into it. He was snoring, drooling into his pillows. He stank of too much beer and whiskey, of perfume and worse.
Jensen undressed quietly, he folded his clothes away neatly into his alcove. He dimmed the lights, then walked over to his master's bed. He leaned over it, staring down at Jared, watching the rise and fall of his chest and the way his breath fluttered the fabric of his pillowcase. He should be waking his master; at the least he should take Jared's clothes off—his boots. Jensen stared down at him, reaching out to rest a fingertip on his chest before finally turning to his alcove. He dropped down, burrowing under his blankets. He pressed his face into his pillows, and wondered, for a moment, if it was possible to smother oneself. Keeping one ear out for Jared, he eventually fell into a fitful sleep.