Bash had to force his feet to a fast pace, but not running, as he entered the castle that morning, fear for the state in which he might find his brother at the forefront of his mind. Perhaps what he had done to Clarissa had been in vain, and his superstitions were for naught.
He knew that Francis would certainly have said so. Would have laughed off his concerns about the balance of the universe as simple wives' tales, just as he had Mary's when she had been convinced that marrying him would cause his death.
"Your Majesty," he said softly, and hoped the shock in his voice could be misinterpreted as happiness that he had awoken.
Bash drank in every inch of his brother, living, whole. The blood had been cleaned from his ears, his hair brushed back and his clothes changed into something that did not reflect his recent illness. A mug of water sat beside the bed, half drank, and he was covered in furs and warm blankets. Bash couldn't quell the need to go and shut the windows, for he was certain by his brother's pale face that the cool air outside was not helping him to recover, but he forced his hands to stay still, leaning instead on the end of the bed.
He hoped that no one saw how badly his hands were shaking.
For Bash was glad that the King was awake, yes. But this...
"I'm fine, brother," Francis grinned at him, voice and eyes a little too tired for Bash's liking, but otherwise looking just as fine as he claimed. His eyes crinkled a bit in concern, for Bash never called him Majesty, by his own insistence; always brother. Bash forced a smile to reassure him, and Francis turned back to his papers.
Because he looked so happy, even as his advisors plagued him with papers to sign and bills to pass.
Looked so happy, even if it were not painfully obvious that his wife was not present to share in that happiness.
Catherine moved around the King's bed to stand beside Bash; something she would never have done a year ago, when he was merely the King's bastard. Something she would never have done if she knew what Bash had done to save her son's life.
Or perhaps not. Perhaps Catherine, of all people, would have understood why he had to do it. Perhaps she would not have hated him as he was sure Francis might, if he but knew.
Still, Bash knew then that he would never tell Francis the price he had paid for his younger brother's life. That he and the healer woman from the woods would take the secret of Clarissa's death to their graves.
"It was like a miracle," Catherine said softly then, eyes never leaving Francis, as if she were afraid to do so, and Bash found himself, for once, sharing the sentiment.
He blinked at her word choice.
"Yes, a miracle," he repeated, thinking of what he'd had to do to ensure that miracle. Of Clarissa, falling in his arms as the wine goblet dropped from her fingers, as the healer whispered in his ear that he had saved her from so much suffering.
He had not done it to save her from suffering. He had done it to save Francis from suffering, from dying.
All for Francis.
"You never know what might help. We have to try everything, don't we?"
He hadn't wanted to believe it, not even when Clarissa lay dying in his arms, not even when he took the poison from Catherine's stores, knowing that she wouldn't miss it.
But here it was - the living proof. Francis was awake, alive. Fine, even, since this morning.
Because Bash had killed a girl for him. And not just a girl- his sister. Francis' sister, too.
Francis' hand began to shake as he signed another document then, almost as if he knew Bash's morbid thoughts, and his smile lessened a bit, even as he stubbornly lifted his other hand to steady himself. The advisors watching said nothing, but Catherine's narrow gaze missed nothing, and she stepped forward almost threateningly.
"The King is tired," she said then, voice brokering no argument, and several of the advisors flinched at the tone of voice - perhaps all remembering when she was the Queen and what sort of powers she had exercised with that voice then - before making a hasty retreat, shutting the door to the King's chamber silently behind them and leaving the royal family alone.
Well, not all of the royal family, but Bash hardly noticed in his elation to find his brother alive and well.
Francis sighed as they made their hasty retreat, leaning back into his pillows. "Mother, I'm fine-"
Catherine moved around to the side of the bed, giving him a smile that seemed too sad for his condition, for this miracle, before placing a gentle kiss on his forehead and brushing the hair from his eyes. "Allow your mother some time to fret over you while she knows it won't do you harm, please. You need to rest, my love."
Bash had never heard her use such soft words but with her eldest son.
Francis bit his lip, not meeting her eyes but leaning into the scant amount of affection his mother could offer nonetheless. Finally, he nodded, the action reminding Bash of when he was a small child for some reason.
Catherine straightened, brushing down her robes and sending a glare Bash's way that let him know in no uncertain terms that he would not be repeating this show of vulnerability on her part to anyone. "I will deal with the nobles. You rest," she snapped at Francis, when she caught his not-so-subtle glance toward the many piles of bills still laying beside his bed.
Francis sighed, finally giving her a surrendering smile. "Yes, mother."
She nodded curtly, and then glanced at Bash. "Well, I suppose you have something to say to him as well. He needn't hear about the state of the kingdom just yet," she admonished, and Bash found himself nodding at her words.
And then she was gone, robes swirling behind her as a servant outside opened the double doors and she swept out.
Bash waited until the doors had once again shut before turning back to stare at Francis. His gaze swept over his brother, missing nothing. He could see the dark circles beneath Francis' eyes, the too light pallor of his skin, but he wouldn't leave until he was certain that it had worked. That Francis was not going to suddenly collapse once more.
"You're truly all right?" he finally asked, when the silence between them grew thick, hardly able to bring himself to believe it. A part of him wanted to lean forward and touch, make sure for certain that Francis was well, but heaven knew how Francis would react to that.
Francis smirked at his brother's worrying. "Yes, brother. Fine. I don't know how many times I'm going to have to repeat myself before everyone believes it."
Bash frowned. "You gave us all quite a scare, Francis."
Francis looked as though he were trying hard not to roll his eyes, and Bash bit his lip, wondering how many times Catherine had already informed him of that fact. "I know that."
The silence hung between them then, palpable in the small room, and Bash could not help but wonder when the distance between them had begun. He could remember a time, not so long ago, when they were inseparable, knew all of each other's secrets. Before Francis had killed their father. Before Bash tried to steal Mary to save Francis' life from a prophecy that had been unavoidable anyway.
Still, Bash could never tell his brother the one secret that weighed down on him now. Could never give his little brother such a burden to bear.
He stared down at Francis, but it was Clarissa's unseeing eyes that he saw. Bash quickly blinked them away, finally reaching down to rest his hand on Francis' blanketed foot.
Francis ran a shaky hand through blond hair, not meeting his brother's gaze. "Did it scare her, too?"
It took a moment for Bash to figure out whom he was referring to.
He stiffened, heart breaking a little more. "Francis...Mary stayed by your side after hearing that you had fallen ill. She was the one with you when you first awoke... I know things are not well between the two of you, but thinking only of her betrayal will not help you to fully heal any more than hearing about the affairs of state."
Francis didn't answer for some time, and, when he did, it was with only a faint nod.
"You're tired," Bash interrupted his somber thoughts. "Your mother told you to rest."
"I don't feel like sleeping," Francis answered petulantly, reminding Bash of when they were much younger and it had been his duty to look out for Francis. It still was, he supposed. He simply did it now without thinking, without hesitating as he might have, once. "My body feels tired but I...I just awoke. I don't think I ever want to sleep again."
Bash smirked. "Well, the sooner you rest, the sooner you can get back to ordering the rest of us around again, rather than having your mother and I order you about."
He had thought the words would be humorous, but, as he said them, he could not help the sad tone they erupted from, and when Francis glanced up at him with those sad, puppy eyes, he swallowed hard. "Get some sleep, Francis."
And then he was moving toward the door, content to let the King rest and to perhaps go and find his wayward wife, perhaps apologize.
"Will you stay with me?" his little brother asked, just as his hand fell upon the door handle. He turned, glancing back. He couldn't remember the last time Francis had asked him that, certainly not since they were both very young and his nights plagued by nightmares. "Just until I fall asleep?"
And Bash found himself nodding, promising himself that Francis would never know the truth even as he moved to sit beside him.
When Catherine returned in the morning, it was to the sight of her husband's bastard, arms wrapped protectively around her son while they slept. And, where two years ago she might have looked upon it as Bash being a hindrance, attempting to coerce Francis into letting him live once he was King, now she could not help the small smile that graced her lips at the sight, at the comfort she knew it must have brought her son while he slept, to know that someone was watching out for him.
If only she knew how much.
A/N: Experimenting with writing the brotherly feels with this for a slightly larger project later. Please review and tell me what you think!