Asra opened the door carefully, quietly, so as not to disturb the bedridden count. Although, really, that's what he came there to do anyway. When he reminded Julian that it was time to check on Count Lucio, the doctor had asked Asra to do it for him. He had been in the middle of something, frantically scribbling notes onto a wrinkled sheet of paper; he hadn't even looked up when asra approached him.
"Of course," Asra had replied, "I'll check on him."
So, Asra was going to check on the count; however, a doctor Asra was not, and he had something in mind for Count Lucio.
A voice, barely a croak, called out from the bed. The man within it hardly resembled Count Lucio at all: a gaunt, ghastly figure with eyes rimmed red, matching those blood-red sclera that have become so tell-tale of the plague. To put it kindly, the man looked miserable.
"I feel miserable," he groused, and Asra resisted rolling his eyes. "Jules! Where is my cure?"
Asra, cleverly magicked to appear as Julian, tried to respond in as "Julian" a manner as possible.
"Your cure, my lord Count Lucio,"
The title tasted foul in his mouth.
"I'm, er, still working on it." Asra paused, a devious idea forming in his mind. He feigned concern as best he could, and continued. "But I... have some bad news for you. Is now a good time?"
Lucio snapped. "A good time?! I'll show you what a good time I'm having, you wretch! I'll–"
He broke off into a violent fit of coughing, tears forming at the corners of his eyes and face turning red.
"Please try to relax, my lord. It's no worse news than the plague, surely."
The count swore in a language that Asra didn't recognize, then hissed, "Spit it out, then!"
Stars above, if he wasn't a terror when he was healthy, Count Lucio was completely insufferable when he was unwell.
Asra was almost surprised that the count even had enough energy to insult him, but he supposed it only made sense.
"Very well, my lord Count Lucio. I've... run some tests on your samples, and... I've come to quite the unfortunate realization."
"Yes?! What is it?! I haven't got all day!"
"Count Lucio, I... I'm afraid I must officially diagnose you with ugly."
If there had been much color in the count's face, it surely would have drained completely as his expression was overcome with something akin to horror.
"You–ugly?! Me?! Lucio?!?!" he screeched, spurring himself into the throes of another coughing fit.
Asra grimaced as the man retched and spit out an alarming amount of mucus, faintly tinged with blood, onto the floor of his bedroom.
"You... you can't be serious. Give me that," he ordered, less confidently this time. The fingers of Lucio's organic hand lifted weakly, gesturing to a mirror by his bed.
"He could reach that himself," Asra thought bitterly, but he humored him anyway, handing over the mirror.
The count examined himself for a moment, and a wide array of emotions flashed across his face: shock, to anger, to loathing, to disgust, and finally, to a look of such desolate sadness that Asra, for the briefest moment, felt a pang of regret.
"I... leave my chambers, doctor, I've heard quite enough from you."
"Ahem... as you wish, my lord Count Lucio," Asra replied, giving a short bow, before walking out of the room and shutting the door. He heard the sound of shattering glass as he walked down the hallway.
Julian's voice was groggy with exhaustion, but he feigned pleasantry so as not to upset the count in his vulnerable—and volatile—state.
"Oh," the mound of blankets in Count Lucio's bed murmured. "It's you."
"Yes, of course it's me; I'm your doctor, my lord."
"Not for much longer you won't be, not if…" Lucio trailed off, eyes glazing over for a moment, before he forced himself back to the present.
"I want you to re-run my tests, doctor, I can't be... there's been a mistake."
"I... begging your pardon, my lord, but which tests are you referring to?"
"You know which tests!" Lucio shouted, and Julian recoiled. Where had this come from? Certainly Count Lucio's fever must have returned; Julian hadn't mentioned any tests to Lucio, since the last time had gone so poorly.
Yes, it must be his fever, Julian concluded.
"Ah, my lord Count Lucio... please, move some of these blankets. I think your fever's back up."
Julian gently, carefully pulled one of the blankets away from the count's face, in the way that one would try to pet a very vicious, very fearful wild animal. The count didn't retaliate; he just lay there, physically exhausted, emotionally drained. Julian pressed the back of his hand to the man's pallid, sweaty face and sighed. He was burning up. As the two made eye contact, Julian let his touch linger, but started when Lucio glowered. Quickly, he retracted his hand, and Lucio turned away.
"Ah, forgive me. Here, I'll fix you a compress–"
"I'll need more than a compress to fix what's wrong with me, Jules..."
"I'm sorry, my lord, I think I don't understand. A compress will help lower your fever–"
"I'm not talking about my damned fever, I'm talking about your diagnosis, idiot!"
Julian was thoroughly confused at this point, though he knew that the poor man was terribly ill, and that his fever must have been causing him such difficulty.
"Yes! It was... it was just earlier today, wasn't it? No... yesterday, perhaps... when you came in, and–and you diagnosed me with ugly!"
Julian could have laughed–he almost did, in fact, at the absolute absurdity of the statement–but the humor quickly faded as he realized the look of heartbreak on the count's face.
"My lord," he began, speaking softly. "I'm afraid you must be imagining things... a fever can do that, I'm sure you very well know… I wasn't here earlier. I asked the magician Asra to come and check on you. I apologize, I should have come to see you myself, I–"
"ASRA?!" the count shrieked, a shrill, strained sound that was almost painful to Julian's ears.
"Ah–please try to relax, my lord," Julian attempted to placate him, but it was of little consequence.
"Ooh, I'll have him hanged, I will, that awful witch, he–" Lucio cut himself off with a broken sort of sound, a mixture between a laugh and a sob. Julian wasn't sure what to do, but before he could even think to do anything, he locked eyes once more with the man before him.
"Jules... I... I'm still handsome, right? I'm not ugly?"
Despite everything, Julian felt the pleading voice tug at his heartstrings.
He sat in the chair by Count Lucio's bed and gently placed his hand on the count's cheek.
"You're a great many things, my lord Count Lucio, but ugly has never been one of them."
Lucio snorted bitterly and averted his gaze, though he didn't pull away from where Julian was touching him.
"I... I'm not powerful anymore, Jules. I've gotten so weak... I hate it! I hate this!!"
To Lucio's dismay, his eyes burned with hot tears, and he squeezed them shut as if to will them away.
"I know... I know. I'm sorry," Julian murmured, stroking his cheek softly with his thumb. He wiped away some of the tears, and then rose.
"I'm going to fix you that compress now, my lord. I'll be right back, okay?"
A miserable noise escaped the count, and Julian felt his heart break a little. It didn't take long, though, and quickly he was back at his suffering patient's side, dabbing gently at his face with the cool cloth.
"Please, try to relax, my lord..."
He left the compress to rest on Lucio's forehead, then began to card his fingers through sweaty blonde hair. Distantly, he noted how it had thinned substantially since the illness took hold; he knew that Lucio was absolutely distraught when his hair had started to fall out.
A sigh escaped his count's parted lips, and Julian resisted a sudden urge to kiss that pain away. He knew it wouldn't work anyway... but it could show the count that he was still desirable, even at his absolute lowest.
Maybe another day, he thought, as he watched Vesuvia's esteemed count fall asleep to the tender caress of his doctor's hand in his hair.