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Will watched Jackson hone the knife's blade on a strop of leather until it was sharp, then scrub the bristle brush in the soap. Kneeling in front of the bed, Jackson smeared the lather over Will's chin and began to shave him.
Will closed his eyes. The smell of the soap and the scraping of the blade against his coarse whiskers were familiar comforts, even though he wasn't doing the shaving. They reminded him of his life, of routine, of a return to what was everyday. Would his life ever be normal after what he'd been through?
Once again, Jackson's touch was gentle, his use of the blade sure, his hand steady.
Their faces were inches apart. Will felt Jackson's fingers on his face as he tilted Will's head, Jackson's breath on his cheek, his throat, and every now and then, across his lips. Eyes closed, Will lingered in thoughts of those full lips and dark eyes.
Finished all too soon, Jackson wiped Will's face clean and sat back on his heels.
"All done, my lord."
Will opened his eyes and ran his hand over his now smooth face. "It feels much better. How does it look?" What he wanted to know was if Jackson found him handsome despite his injuries.
"You look much healthier, my lord."
Not the rousing endorsement Will had hoped for, but well enough.
"I couldn't have done better, I think."
"Perhaps I should find work as a barber?" Jackson laughed.
"Perhaps. What is it you do, anyway? I don't think you've told me." He sat back on the cot and looked across into Jackson's brown eyes.
"I'm a mercenary. Blade for hire, my lord." Jackson's gaze held his.
"A mercenary? If you are, then you are surely the gentlest." One corner of Will's mouthturned upward.
"Not many of the men I've killed would say that." Jackson raised an eyebrow.
"No doubt." Will stared at a spot on the far wall. "Tell me, have you a wife waiting for you?"
Jackson frowned. "A wife? No. A mercenary's life isn't to be shared. Not by a woman." His hand rested on the bed next to Will's hand.
"Is it to be shared by a man?" Will's fingers touched Jackson's. No more, no less. Their eyes met across the space between them. Jackson swallowed. Will's gaze slipped to Jackson's mouth as he wondered about its softness and taste.
Jackson's fingers withdrew as he pushed to his feet. "For some." He turned away and made himself busy with the fire. Then, he walked to the door. "I have to tend the horses, my lord," he said and slipped out.
"Damn," Will exhaled. He'd been a fool to think Jackson might want him. It wouldn't surprise him if Jackson never returned and just left him here to rot.
Jackson strode to the pen and climbed over the fence. He went about his chores, spreading hay for the horses, checking their legs and hooves for wear, as he thought about what had almost happened in the hut.
He'd almost kissed Will. Damn, he'd wanted to do that. And more.
He should leave before this went too far, but by his honor, he couldn't leave the man in his weakened condition. As soon as Will was ready to ride, he'd escort Will to his home and leave him there.
Jackson leaned against the fence and looked up at the mountaintop shrouded in snow. Soon, the snow would drop to the lower levels and the hut would be caught in it. They needed to leave before then; any later and going back down the mountain in the snow would be too treacherous for the horses. If they stayed, they might freeze to death before they starved.
Climbing back over the railing, Jackson returned to the hut. Inside, Will rested on his side facing the wall. He didn't move when Jackson entered and offered no smile to greet him. Jackson shook off his disappointment.
Warming his hands at the hearth, he determined to keep the distance between them. He'd never know the feel of Will's mouth on his. Never know the rapid beating of Will's heart as his tongue tasted Will's throat. Never feel Will's body beneath his.
That thought shouldn't make him feel so unhappy, but during these days spent caring for Will, he'd been happier than he'd been in long years. This quiet life of waking in the early morn, tending Will, hunting and cooking for them, had suited him, reminded him of those early morns during battles, tents raised, the men sitting about the fires, repairing equipment, cooking, polishing weapons. During those times, there was a sort of peace prior to the storm of the battle. Morning, beyond doubt, was his favorite time of day.
He'd be content to spend the rest of his mornings in quiet work, give up being a mercenary, if only there was someone like Will at his side.
Despite his denials, Will was a nobleman. It was evident in his speech, the clothes he'd worn, and his gentle manner. Jackson, a rough, uneducated man with no last name, was no match for Will. All Jackson knew was how to swing a sword and stay alive in battle. Clearly, he was not Will's equal, and without his father's name, he had no hopes of ever elevating himself to Will's rank.
Besides, Will had been looking for someone to engage with at the tavern. By his own admission, it was to be once. Quick, with no feelings attached to the act. How could Jackson know if Will wasn't still looking for just a brief taking, something to make the time pass?
Early in his life, Jackson had a few brief takings, all hot breaths, hurried touches, hidden in shadows, never in the light of day. They satisfied the needs of his body, but not his soul. Empty of feelings, those times had left Jackson longing for more, a greater connection with another similar soul. Knowing how rare that was, he'd given up any hope of finding it. Mercenaries didn't dream of love and peace, did they?
However, when Jackson cut Will down in that field, some small thread had passed between them, and each day Jackson felt it grow stronger. How long before the thread became a rope and bound his heart to this man?
He needed to keep his body and heart away from Will, get out of this hut, and off the mountain. For now, it was best if they went their separate ways. He to Baymore and Will to wherever he had been bound.