Alix followed after Xander and Quince, trying to ignore the scowls and hateful stares he got from the skythane they passed as they made their way through the halls of the castle. He wasn’t wearing his enforcer garb, but either these people recognized him from his time there, or they were just soured on landers as a whole.
He couldn’t really blame them. They’d come as advisors to the king, promising to help modernize Gaelan. Within a few months, they’d become occupiers instead.
One man spat on him as he passed.
Alix closed his eyes. They had their reasons—even if he hadn’t been personally responsible for most of the bad things that had happened. He was still a ranger.
He was also astonished that Xander was a prince here. The first time they’d met, Xander had been a pale, skinny thing, running courier duty for Rogan in the Slander. Alix had immediately wanted to protect the boy, but it had taken him three long years to find him again and to buy out his contract. By then Xander had been seventeen, but in some ways he had still seemed much younger, his development arrested when Rogan had taken him. He’d had a lot of anger issues.
Xander had grown into his full potential. It was strange to see the man inhabit the role of a skythane king. Xander had always been out for himself before anyone else, a lone wolf. It was a natural response to six years of sexual slavery.
Now that version of Xander was gone. Somehow, his new maturity only made him more attractive to Alix.
Quince had warned him to stay away, but how could he? The man he had dreamed about for a year, had missed like a ragged hole in his soul, was right there in front of him.
Alix was no fool, though. Xander was focused on his new love, and he would gain nothing by stepping in the middle of that. Especially when Jameson was in some kind of crisis. He would have to wait and see what developed.
“In here.” Mylin led them into a small, bare room with a lumpy mattress.
“What is this place?” Xander asked.
“It’s my room,” Mylin explained. “I didn’t want it. But some of the others insisted I have a place to come for an hour or two to get away from the madness.”
Xander kissed her cheek. “I’m grateful.”
It was a particular kind of grace, as if the whole place didn’t belong to him to begin with. “Let’s get Jameson down on the mattress.” Quince and Xander laid Jameson down, holding him in place to keep him from thrashing about too much and injuring himself.
The man’s face was flushed, his wings extended and shivering as if he were freezing cold, but his skin was covered in sweat.
“What’s wrong with him?” Alix asked. He’d seen that look on men on campaign who’d been injured, but there wasn’t a bruise or cut on him, as far as Alix could tell.
Mylin returned with an earthenware bowl and a cloth and used it to wipe his forehead. The cool water seemed to calm him.
“He’s stuck in a memory loop,” Xander said, as if that should make perfect sense. “He sees these past memories, things that happened wherever he is, and sometimes they overwhelm him.”
“Whose memories? Looks more like a seizure to me.” Xander wasn’t buying into the native superstitions, was he? Though to be fair, Alix had seen his share of strange things on this half of the world.
Xander glared at him. “I have them too, but not like this.”
“The memories. You sounded skeptical. We just shifted an entire world. You have to learn to adjust your expectations for what’s likely and possible.”
That shut Alix up.
“This happened before?” Quince asked.
“Yeah, back in the cavern.” Xander pulled out a pulse pistol. “This shocked him out of it.”
Quince smiled grimly. “I imagine it would. But you don’t want to go applying too many of those to poor young Jameson here. They could start to scramble his brain.”
“I know.” Xander winced. “So what do we do?”
Alix refrained from saying that it would be hard to tell the difference. “I might be able to help,” he said instead, as surprised as any of them that those words came out of his mouth.
Xander and Quince turned to him, surprised. “How?” Xander asked, but he looked hopeful.
“I have some experience dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and panic attacks.” He pulled off his jacket and unbuttoned his shirt. He brushed off Xander’s renewed glare. “I know it’s not the same, but he needs to regain his focus on the here and now. I know a few things that might help.” He knelt next to Jameson.
Alix had a hard time keeping up his anger at Jameson. In fact, for a moment he was reminded of Xander, the first time they’d met. Jameson was pale and helpless, out of control of his own fate. Alix growled under his breath. He did not want to have sympathy for this man.
Gently he took Jameson’s hand and turned it over. Stunned, he hesitated.
Jameson’s fingernails had a double moon—a second arc above the first, separated by a thin line. It was subtle, but he was used to seeing it in rangers who’d taken up the habit during the long occupation.
Jameson was a pith user?
Alix shook his head. It was none of his business. “Can you take the lantern out of here? It may be easier if he has less to focus on.”
Robyn complied, taking it outside the door, and the room dimmed.
Alix held Jameson’s palm to his own bare chest. “Jameson, can you hear me?”
There was no glimmer of recognition in Jameson’s eyes.
Alix sighed. He had no guarantee that this would work. Still, it didn’t hurt to try. “Jameson, this is Alix. I’m right here with you.” He took a deep breath and breathed out just as slowly. “You have to focus, Jameson. Focus on me. Feel my breathing.” He breathed in once, deeply, holding it for a long moment, and then out again. “I want you to breathe with me.”
Alix put his other hand on Jameson’s chest. “In. Out. In. Out. Focus on breathing.”
He concentrated on his own.
“Is it working?” Xander peered over his shoulder.
“Shhhh.” Alix’s hand was warm against Jameson’s beautiful chest. Jameson looked like an angel. He shook his head. He would not let himself be attracted to Xander’s crush. “We’re all here with you, Jameson. In….”
Jameson’s chest lifted.
Jameson’s chest fell.
“That’s good.” Soon they were breathing together as one, connected skin to skin. It was as intimate a thing as he had ever experienced. “It’s okay. Let the memories go. Just keep breathing.”
Xander’s hand settled on his shoulder, sending a new splash of warmth through his body.
At last, Jameson’s eyes focused.
He looked up at Alix. “What… what happened?”
“You were stuck in your memories. The breathing helped you to get a grip and move past them.” He lifted his hand off Jameson’s chest and laid it down on the bed. The connection was broken.
“Thanks.” Jameson’s voice was raspy.
“Are they gone for now?”
Jameson looked around. “I think so.”
Alix nodded. “Good. I can teach you how to cope with them, I think. If you want.”
“Yes, please.” Jameson closed his eyes. “So tired.”
“He was tired last time too,” Xander said. “I think these memory storms really take it out of him.” Alix got up so Xander could kneel next to Jameson. “Sleep, my love.”
Jameson nodded, and his head drooped to the side.
“That was nicely done,” Quince whispered to Alix.
“Just part of my training.”
Readers—stay tuned for the interview! You can find it here: Interview with J. Scott Coatsworth, author of the MM Sci-fi series, the Oberon Cycle
Go here for more information about Lander and the series: Featured Author, J. Scott Coatsworth—New Release Lander, book 2 of the Oberon Cycle
And in case you’re hooked and need to get Lander right now, here’s some links.
- Dreamspinner Press (ebook)
- Dreamspinner Press (paperback)
- Amazon US
- Barnes and Noble
- Queer Romance Ink