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Jacques was on autopilot after this recent mission. He had to report to the Princess. He couldn’t look anyone in the eye. He didn’t really look up at all. He reported to her that he accomplished the task. And… gritted his teeth staring holes into Claudette’s desk.

His voice cracked as he asked for time with – with Tess. He tried to keep his normal image of her beautiful face in his mind, and not allow the recent events to mix in and crush him.

Claudette accepted. Her Magician is ragged. Allowing him to recuperate was in her best interest. She gave him till the end of the next dark hour, more than 27 hours before she wanted him back to work.

 


 

Jacques hit his knuckles once on the door to the cottage but didn’t lift his hand for a second knock. It took a moment before Tess opened the door and found him... just…

“Jacques?” Her voice is deeply concerned. He was exhausted, eyes red. He couldn’t look her in the eye. He can’t get a word out. There’s only a choked noise. He felt so cold. He wasn’t there.

She grabbed one of his hands with both of hers. They felt hot compared to his. “Jacques?” Her voice pressed further and had a sense of urgency. He could barely hear properly as his mind swam with different thoughts and images he didn’t want to hear or see. It was building in his mind and his face screwed up into a grimace as he tried to shove everything away. He turned his face away from Tess and slammed his eyes shut, trying in vain to shut out the intrusive thoughts. 

Not now. Not yet.

He was then forcibly pulled away, by Tess’s strong grip on his wrist, out, toward the forest by the cottage.

 

He let her direct him. She was saying things but he couldn’t really hear yet. She stopped somewhere within the forest limits and his legs finally buckled. She barely caught him and gently leaned him on a tree.

“Jacques, talk to me please!”

He absently stared away, eyebrows furrowed, trying to make words. He can’t – he can’t look at her. Not like this.

She touched his face and gently turned it toward her. He finally looked her in the face and the most recent horrible intrusive image violently connected with what was in front of him.

The face of a dead mother and her child.

Tess – dead.

Jacques – breaks.

His eyes go wide in horror and pain.

Not Tess. Not Tess. Not Tess.

He wildly grabbed his head with both his hands and crumpled forward into a mess in front of her. He was screaming. He wanted to lose the memories from the recent mission. He didn’t want to hear them, see them. He didn’t want to think of how it could be Tess, or their own.

He felt Tess’s arms around him. She was shaking. Saying something.

He cried and wept until the stress became exhaustion and took him over and he fell asleep as a whimpering mess in Tess’s arms.

 


 

He was awake, but his eyes were so heavy he left them closed. Where was he? He smelled moist dirt and plants. He was in the garden of the castle. He rolled his head a little and felt cloth behind his head and something else. Maman’s lap? She would comfort him and ask him to tell her what happened. Maman says I’ve gotta tell her or Jeoffy when my heart hurts.

He breathed in. This wasn’t Maman’s lap? A hand held his and squeezed it gently. Jacques opened his eyes partially and looked up slowly to see Tess’s face.

“Jacques!” Tess looked at him with concern but bit her lip, not wanting to trigger anything.

“Tess-” Jacques croaked. 

He was still in a daze, both knowing where he was, and lying in his memory of his Maman. He relaxed his neck and looked off into the distant leaves.

“My heart hurts,” he whispered simply.

She was crying. “D-Do you need to tell me about it?”

His mind was still disjointed enough that he could speak without leaving it unfinished. He needed to say it, needed to share it and let it out. Otherwise, it would eat him from the inside out and destroy him.

She held his hand with hers. He felt her warmth sink into him.

“The Princess-” His voice was hoarse, he had to pause and swallow a few times.

He explained the mission he was Obligated to do. His mission was to kill a wife and child as punishment of some traitor who thought he hid his family from the princess safely.  Jacques started crying again with silent tears. He kept going. A distant, broken, halting voice.