Seoc drifted painfully into consciousness with the impression that he was being jostled. After a moment, he realized that Simon was trying to lift him up off the ground.
“What’s this now?” he said in a whisper. Even so, his own voice clamored like alarm bells in his skull.
“You’re feverish, and I’m putting you to bed.”
“I can walk, Simon.” He stood up and limped over to his cot. “What of Seymour?”
Simon followed him with the sheet. “He’s gone. Faded into smoke. I think we’re back in the land of the living once more.”
“The real world, then?”
“Who’s to say if this world is any more real than the In-Between?”
With a shrug, Seoc lay down on his mattress. Simon set the linens over his trembling body and tucked him in. Then he stooped and kissed him on the cheek.
Seoc froze and looked up at him. “You were awake?”
“I never can sleep when you’re gone. I was faking. I tend to fake quite a few things, you know.” He smiled. “You said you love me—but I already knew that, Seoc. And I love you, too. A lot. Just not in that way.”
Tears welling in his eyes, Seoc reached for Simon’s hand and grasped it. “That’s probably for the best.”
“Look at you,” said Simon. “You’re burning up, but still you’re shivering.”
“It’s so cold…”
“If I held you, might that keep you warm?”
“Oh, Simon…! Would you?”
Simon lay down beside him and wrapped his arms around him. “Is this better?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
“Anytime you need me, I’ll be here for you, Seoc. I want nothing more than to keep you safe.” He hugged him tightly. “Seoc, please. Let me share your burden.”
Seoc buried his face in Simon’s chest and began to sob.
“O brier rose of Carvil fair,” Simon sang softly. “So sweet and wild and free, Upon the rugged mountain face, And in the quiet lea…”
As he faded into the between-space joining sleep and wakefulness, it seemed to Seoc that Simon’s lone tenor voice was joined by a choir, with notes glowing a surreal shade of blue…blue like Simon’s sky-colored eyes…as if the pigment…notes burning like blue lamps, lapping up the blood that had pooled on the warden’s table…why should Simon have to share his burden…? Didn’t deserve that, no, no, no. But thinking…no use in thinking now, was there? Just listen. Sleep. The voices, so peaceful.
O brier rose of Carvil fair
So sweet and wild and free,
Upon the rugged mountain face
And in the quiet lea.
Could ever I keep her for my own
No happier man would be,
But that fair, sweet-scented Carvil rose
Grows only wild and free.