Note: it’s rare that I post whole pieces, but this one has been instrumental in my coping with my recent Personal Problem. Takes place a during Gray Morning, which is book 3 of my trilogy.

“You’ve been talking to Mari.”

Jazz jumped at the sound of Savin’s voice — at the anger that laced through it. He put down the stack of reports he held in his hands and braced himself. “I have,” he said quietly, nodding his head. “Is that okay with you?”

“About what?” Savin snapped, throwing himself in the chair directly across from Jazz. He folded his arms over his chest, a deep frown overtaking his features. “About me?”

Jazz directed his eyes downward, tracing a finger along the wood of the table top. “Yes,” he whispered, biting his lip. He had been confiding in Mari for weeks, asking for her advice, wondering how she would handle the man that sat before him now. She had known Savin for over a decade. Knew him just as well, if not better, than Jazz did.

And she still couldn’t tell him what to do when Savin glared at him like that. When that sadistic half-smile played on his lips. When every word that left them had one, singular purpose: push Jazz far, far away from him.

“What did she say?” Savin pressed, picking up one of Jazz’s pens and twirling it absently with his fingers. The frown remained in place.

Jazz looked away from him. Tried to ignore how his shoulders felt so tense they ached. Tried to ignore how his heart pounded in his chest.

“She said I should leave. Give you some space.”

A bitter laugh. One that caused a shiver to roll down Jazz’s spine. One that reminded him this wasn’t the man he married — that this wasn’t the Savin he knew at all. A facade. A fake. “Of course she did — she left me, after all. Just like everyone else.”

“Not me,” Jazz breathed, the tension in his shoulders building. He could feel the tears come, and he didn’t fight them as he turned to look Savin in the eye. There was that smirk. That humorless one, that one that let Jazz know the rest of the night was going to suck, that he should just leave and let the mood pass.

But he couldn’t. Savin was so convinced he would. Savin wanted him to. Wanted him to forget all about him, wanted him to forget about their vows, their life together, everything.

“Bullshit,” Savin spat, tapping the pen against the table. Fingers moving in practiced, likely memorized motions. He held the pen like a knife. Like a scalpel. Another shiver rippled through Jazz, causing him to turn away yet again.

“I won’t leave,” Jazz insisted. But his voice faltered, cracked as he spoke and as the tears streamed down his face. “Savin, I love you — there’s nothing you could do to get me to leave.”

Another hollow laugh, this one more biting than the last. “Is that so?” Savin countered, his voice dripping with contempt. Contempt for him, Jazz realized. Savin still held the pen like a knife. Made crude cutting motions with it across the table, as if miming the cruel incisions that Jazz had endured as a child.

“It is,” he said, his voice wavering all the while. A lie. Deep down, he knew that was a lie. That there were things Savin could do that would make him leave. That there were things Savin could say, things Savin could be that would push him away entirely.

He wanted to believe that Savin wouldn’t — that Savin couldn’t do those things, or say those things, or be those things. Desperately, he prayed that there was still some shred left of the man he married. Prayed that a voice of reason would keep Savin from doing anything too drastic to make a point.

But then he watched as Savin put the knife — pen back down on the table. Watched as Savin slowly stood up and smoothed down the front of his shirt. Froze in place as Savin moved around the edge of the table and stood beside his chair.

Except he wasn’t entirely frozen. Not as his body shook. Not as Savin grabbed his chin, forcing his eyes to look into dead green ones. “You’re a liar,” Savin said, his breath smelling of smoke. He let go of Jazz’s chin and walked away, heading towards the kitchen.

“No, I’m not,” Jazz said, his voice stronger than his legs, which nearly gave out on him when he stood. He followed Savin, trying to stop the tears, to regain his voice and his strength. He could push through this. He could get through to Savin. Could talk some sense into him. He had to.

Savin turned sharply on his heel and strode over to Jazz. Jazz remained where he was, his back stiff and burning. Before he could say or do anything, Savin’s hands were on his shoulders, nails digging through the fabric of his shirt, each finger tip burning his skin. “Are you sure about that?” Savin asked, his grip tightening.

“Yes,” Jazz squeaked, closing his eyes and biting his lip. Savin wouldn’t hurt him. Savin wouldn’t hit him. Savin wouldn’t — he wouldn’t —

Savin’s hands slid up his shoulders, towards his neck. Jazz’s heart stopped, plummeting to the floor as those fingers — fingers that once would do anything to pleasure him — loosely wrapped around his throat.

“Are you sure about that?” Savin repeated.

Yes.”

He couldn’t open his eyes. Couldn’t stop the tears, either, as he silently prayed for it all to stop. For this to end. For his Savin to come back to him, for Savin to wake up. A heartbeat. Then two, then three.

Savin’s hands fell away from his neck, never having tightened around it in the first place. “Fine,” Savin said, causing Jazz’s eyes to snap open. He didn’t dare move his hands to his throat, to his shoulders, instead feeling relieved as Savin moved away from him. “I’m going out for a smoke. Want to join me?”

“Yes.”

Savin smiled bitterly and shook his head. Even laughed as Jazz followed behind him without the slightest bit of hesitation.

If he were ever to get his husband back, he needed to follow. Needed to stay. Needed to prove that he would.

But when they made it out to the Palace Gardens — when Savin helped him fumble through lighting his own cigarette, he could only think of one thing:

The worst was yet to come.

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