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Amortis caladanis

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“Oh,” Jessica says, craning her neck to peer into the branches of a nearby tree. “Duncan, do you know what flower this is?”

He’s about to answer, No, Milady, for I’m not a botanist, but then he sees what he’s looking at and– Yes, he does know that plant, because it’s his job to know all the potential threats surrounding the Duke’s family, and she’s just stumbled upon one of the natural perils of Caladan.

It’s not supposed to be here, and yet it is, hanging within Jessica’s reach, the pretty crimson flower nearly at a level with her face, its petals limned in virulent orange.

Duncan’s already moving, his hands extended even as he sees the vines twist in reaction to the sound of her voice, grasping her elbow to yank her roughly away from the tree – he’ll apologize later – and putting his body between her and the flower just in time for the latter to emit a spray of pollen that catches him at an angle, mostly against his hunched shoulder and cheek and the side of his head. He tries not to inhale, but a cloying sweetness invades his nostrils anyway.

“Yes,” he says, feeling his nose itch and a cold weight settle somewhere behind his sternum. “I know it.”

He pushes her far enough away to be sure that she hasn’t been dusted as well, and finds some relief from the fact that he can’t see any golden grains on her freckled skin, her high-collared dress, her upswept hair. He pushes her back further, away from the tree, away from him. “You need to go back to the chalet,” he says. “Do you remember the way?”

She doesn’t move, her grey-blue eyes dark with confusion and the first hints of concern. “Duncan, you didn’t answer my question. What was that?”

He sighs. Best get it over with. “The pollen is a… stimulant. It causes… agitation and eventually death. You need to get away from here.” Away from me, he doesn’t say, because no matter how far gone he’ll be soon, no matter how he feels about her – has felt, for years – he wouldn’t ever lay a hand on her like that. He would never betray her trust thus, let alone his Duke’s.

He just doesn’t want her to see what it will do to him, that’s all.

“Is there a remedy?” she asks. “We can get you back to the house and call for help, we can–”

Duncan can feel the beginning of a flush creeping outwards from his chest, up his neck to his cheeks, how his pulse has already sped up. “They have an antidote at the medcenters, but–”

"–they’re too far away, aren’t they?” she asks, realizing that the remoteness that makes this place an appealing retreat is also a vulnerability. “Why isn’t there any at the chalet?”

“The groundskeepers are supposed to sweep the property for hazards like this,” he says. “Milady, please. I need you to leave. Now.” He wipes at his perspiring face with the sleeve of his jacket, leaving a bright yellow streak against the black.

“There must be something I can do,” she says resolutely. “I refuse to leave you here to die in the woods like some animal.” She reaches out to him, catching herself before she touches his stained sleeve. “At least come back to the chalet with me. We'll figure something out.”

Duncan grits his teeth and swallows hard and nods, once. “All right,” he says. He'll agree to anything if it will move her in the direction of safety, away from the damned plant. And if he makes it back, too… well, then he’ll just lock himself away somewhere until the end. A bathroom, a closet, anywhere with solid walls between himself and her. “Lead the way,” he tells her, “I’ll follow.”

Jessica looks dubious but complies. It’s not unlike the trip they took out here, Jessica picking her way through the trees, Duncan following at a circumspect distance, only her pace is now hastier and she chooses a more direct route than the meandering stroll they’d moved at earlier.

Halfway back, he feels the burning begin. It starts as a tingle in the nerve endings of his fingers and toes, an itch that spreads along his limbs, gathering intensity as it creeps towards his core. Duncan focuses on placing his feet precisely, watching the ground in front of him and the trees around them in case of any more of the treacherous vines.

He does not look at Jessica if he can help it. He can tell she glances back from time to time, but he avoids her worried gaze.

She is too beautiful; she always has been. When she arrived on Caladan, she had found her place quickly at Leto’s side, her keen eyes and clever mind making her as indispensable as any in the Duke’s inner circle. Watching her and Leto genuinely fall for one another had been a special kind of torture, once Duncan got over his misgivings at having a Bene Gesserit witch so close to his beloved Duke.

At least Leto isn’t here now. He’s back at the palace, finishing up affairs of state before he joins them, the young Paul at his side learning whatever it is that Dukelings learn of statecraft at the tender age of ten, Gurney watching their backs.

If Leto were here, he'd know the solution that Duncan is keeping hidden from Jessica. He might even–

Duncan forcibly wrenches his mind away from the thought. He can taste the pollen in his throat, coating his sinuses with sticky sweetness, can feel it turning his thoughts syrupy and slow.

He stumbles at the edge of a clearing, catching himself with one hand on a branch, heat searing under his skin. His high collar is choking him and he unfastens it, forcing his breathing to a steady rhythm. His fingers continue on, opening his jacket and stripping it off, the cool breeze a distant balm on his over-sensitive skin. He almost starts on his belt next, but clenches his hands into fists when he realizes what he’s about to do.

“Duncan,” Jessica says, from far too close. “Duncan Idaho, look at me.”

He cannot disobey, and lifts his eyes to meet hers.

She gives a slight gasp. “You–” she starts, sounding like she’s halfway to anger. “You said agitation. You called it a stimulant. What you meant was–”

“...yeah,” he admits, looking away.

“There’s another remedy for this, isn’t there.” It’s not a question: there’s steel in her voice.

“Yes, Milady.” He can’t lie to her, not like this, with his willpower fraying away and his body starting to ache.

She takes a deep breath. “Are… are you close with any of the guards stationed at the perimeter?”

He glares at her. “I would never take advantage of a subordinate like that.”

“This is your life, Duncan.” She scowls at him. "Surely one of them would–"

"No!" he shouts, or tries to, but the air is too thin in his lungs to project as he'd like.

She narrows her eyes. "That only leaves one option, then."

He nods, glad she's seeing reason. "It will be worth it, to have kept you safe."

"Not death, you idiot." She steps closer, and he stumbles back, his shoulders colliding with the tree. Her voice gentles. "Let me take care of you."

No, no, no. This is why he hadn't wanted to tell her. "You can't, Milady. The Duke–"

"–would be more furious that I let his lieutenant die when the solution is so simple," she says, voice cutting. "Leto needs your sword-arm more than he needs my unwavering fidelity."

"You cannot want this," he says, despairing, pulse pounding in his ears. "You cannot want me."

She lifts her eyes to the treetops, as if mustering her strength before glaring at him again. "Oh, for heaven's sake. You've been steadfast and loyal to our Duke the whole time I've known you, you're gentle with Paul and charming at parties, and you're handsome enough that half the Court has been swooning over you for years. Why would I not be willing to do this for you?"

Duncan is glad the tree is there to support him. "I would rather die than impose–"

She takes another step closer, scrutinizing his face closely. "Duncan. I know something of truthsaying. Answer me this: if you weren't… affected as you are right now, would you want me?"

Duncan closes his eyes, tips his head back against the rough bark of the tree. "...yes," he admits, his nerves alight, sweetness on his tongue. "I have wanted… but I'd never–" His voice fails him.

A light touch lands on his chest, and he gasps unsteadily at even that amount of pressure against his flesh. "Let me take care of you," Jessica says again in a low murmur.

Something crumbles inside him, some barrier giving way. "...all right," he finds himself saying, despite what little rational thought is left to him.

Her hand trails down his torso and he arches into her touch helplessly, hissing a breath out between his teeth. She makes quick work of his belt and his fly, freeing him from the confines of his trousers. "There you go," she says in response to his groan of relief. "I have you." She runs her fingers along his length, from base to tip, and he shudders, feeling himself leak pre-come against her palm when she wraps it around his shaft. "I can see why you're popular in Court," she comments teasingly, and he stutters out a laugh.

She strokes him, sure and firm, and his hips rock into her grasp while he clings to the bark of the tree behind him so that he doesn't do anything foolish like touch her, even though he wants, oh he wants

He finds himself speaking, babbling really, things like yes, and please, and don't stop, don't ever stop

"I have you," she replies soothingly, "come on, Duncan, you're doing so well, you're being so good for me, you can let go, let go–"

He comes like that, with her hand on his cock and her voice in his ears and the tree behind him holding his weight when his knees buckle.

"There," she says when he's done. "That wasn't so bad, was it?" She gets a handkerchief from somewhere and cleans her hand.

"No," he says, catching his breath, still feeling the itch under his skin – held at bay for the moment, but still there, waiting to resurge. "That only took the first edge off," he tells her, not meeting her eyes as he tucks himself away, even that careful pressure enough to make him hiss.

She hums thoughtfully. "How long does it last?"

"...hours, sometimes," he admits. "It depends on the subspecies."

"Well, then," she says, her voice almost brusque. "Let's get back to the chalet before the next wave hits. I'm not going to keep doing this out here."

"Milady," he tries again to protest. "You really don't have to–"

She fixes him with a level stare. "I've made you spend once, what will it matter if I do so again in the comfort of a bed?" He has no answer to that, so she nods as if it's settled, and turns back towards the chalet.

He briefly considers turning around and fleeing, but takes a deep breath instead, picks up the jacket he's dropped, and follows.

They make it back without incident, though his feet are unsteady by the time she opens the palm-lock at the door, and he has to lean against the doorframe when a wave of dizziness overtakes him.

Her hand is gentle on his elbow. "Not too far now," she murmurs. "Just a little further, darling."

Duncan’s breath catches at the endearment, but he's too weak to do anything but follow where she leads until he finds himself at the door to the master bedroom. "I have my own room," he tells her, faintly alarmed. "This is the Duke's."

"All my supplies are here," she says. He doesn't ask what she means. He'll find out soon enough. Her hands are busy on the clasp of the outer cloak she'd worn to ward off the cool breeze outside, and she discards the length of light blue wool over the arm of a chair. "Can you undress yourself, or do you need my assistance?"

"I can manage," he tells her, pulling off his shirt to find her looking at him appraisingly. He shifts under the weight of her gaze, feeling every inch of exposed skin, every scar, every patch of ink he'd gotten to commemorate a battle in the Atreides name.

"I don't know why you thought this would be a hardship for me," she says, a smile lingering around the corners of her mouth.

He drops his eyes, face burning with more than the effects of the pollen, and gets to work on his pants.

"Make yourself comfortable," she tells him, crossing the room to one of the doors on the far wall. "I'll be right back."

He crawls into bed naked, the softness of silk against his skin inflaming his already-sensitive nerves. He has the presence of mind to get between the sheets, to preserve what little dignity he has left, but finds his own hands wandering, palms scrubbing restlessly along his thighs, blunt nails digging into muscle. He could take himself in hand, but he knows it will be no relief – something about pheromones, he remembers, but his mind is too preoccupied with keeping itself together to chase the thought.

Jessica returns with a glass of water and a washcloth. "Hold still," she says, wetting the cloth and lifting it to his face. "One of us has to keep their wits through this."

Jessica cleans his skin and hair gently, her touch sending sparks along his skin despite its chasteness. He pushes his face into her hand with a helpless sound, and she shushes him sweetly. "It's all right," she says. "Just a few moments longer. Rinse your mouth." He does, and she sets the glass and cloth aside on the nightstand, opening a drawer and retrieving a small jar.

And then, satisfied with all her preparations, Jessica bends down and kisses him.

Duncan's mind goes blank and still, every cell feeling frozen in place as her mouth moves knowingly against his. When her tongue parts his lips, he breaks away to gasp. "You don’t–" he says.

"Do you want me to?" she asks.

"Yes," he says, and finds that his hands have moved to her shoulders, so he pulls her back in for a deeper kiss, her tongue slick and clever against his, his whole body clamoring for more.

She uses the lubricant from the jar to bring him off with her hand twice, his cock barely softening between rounds, each orgasm feeling like it's being wrung from his very marrow. The whole time, she kisses him – his mouth, his cheek, his jaw, his neck – whispering encouragement and praise.

Catching his breath, he wonders if he will wish for death later, now that he knows what she feels like, what she tastes like. If he will burn with memory, when he’s alone in his bed in the middle of the night. If she will remember this, too, and think less of him for having seen him so undone.

There is no pity in her eyes now, though, as she watches him recover, merely a quiet watchfulness. “How are you feeling?” she asks.

“Well enough,” he says, voice ragged. “For the moment.” The burn has subsided to an itch again, but he can still feel the effects of the pollen on his system, lying in wait for another assault on his senses.

“I’ll get you some water,” she says, and leaves with the glass and the cloth in hand.

He is left to stare at his surroundings – his Duke’s chamber, his Duke’s bed. He’s seen them before, of course, when he does his security sweeps and on the rare occasion he’s had cause to wake them up for an emergency. He’s never taken much notice of them before. They're simpler than the ones at the Palace. Not rustic by any means, but the colors are lighter and the edges are softer, free of the harsh ornamentation inherited from the Old Duke.

Jessica is gone longer than he expects, or maybe his time sense has been stretched and twisted like rubber. When she reappears, she's wearing a silky robe in Atreides green that falls to her knees, and when she sits on the edge of the bed beside him, he can tell she's wearing nothing else beneath it. "I looked up information about that flower," she tells him, handing him the glass. "Apparently its effects can last upwards of twelve hours, so I'll have to vary my technique to prevent injury."

He doesn’t choke on the water he’s drinking, but it’s a near thing. “...oh?” he manages.

She smiles and takes the glass from his hand. “Yes. Fortunately, I am a very skilled concubine.”

If the pollen doesn’t kill me, she might, he thinks as her mouth finds his again.

 

* * *

 

After a while, he starts slipping into a doze between waves, longer each time, a sign that the pollen is working its way through his system. He wakes, feverish, and she is there with gentle hands and quiet murmurs; when they are done, she makes sure they are both hydrated and fed before he drifts off again. Afternoon turns to evening turns to to night, and he learns the shape of her in the dark.

As his composure returns to him, tattered though it still is, he resolves to ensure that if this is a chore for her, it will be a pleasant one. “You don’t need to do that,” she says, laughing when she gleans his intent.

“I know,” he replies simply. “But I want to.” If this is the only time she'll let him share her bed – Leto's bed, fuck – then he wants the memories of giving her pleasure, too.

He crawls between her legs and uses his fingers to spread her open, so that he can press his tongue within, where she’s still wet and warm. She tastes like musk and salt, like sweat and come and faintly of lubricant, and he drowns in her, feasting until she cries out, rocking her hips up against his mouth, thighs trembling.

It’s not the first time she’s come today, but it’s the first time it’s been deliberate. He makes sure it’s not the last.

 

* * *

 

He wakes alone, pre-dawn light filtering through the curtains. He no longer burns with the effects of the pollen, but his body feels wrung out and sore, like he’s hungover. He drinks from the glass she’s left him and settles back into bed, worn out from even that little effort. As sleep claims him again, he thinks he hears her voice through the door, but he’s unconscious before he can work out what she’s saying.

 

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