There were servants in Valentine’s Court, of course, but Katerina had never been fond of letting them do anything. She wasn’t a noble, she knew how to take care of herself, and needing help was not the same as being incapable.
She genuinely loved to cook.
And so the short Russian woman was walking down the hallway with a trolley, with a covered tray and blankets on the bottom shelf, and she knocked on Jack’s door. Quickly, neatly, with a pause and then she opened it.
Jack was still in bed, under strict orders from several doctors and the Prince of the city himself to keep himself in bed until told otherwise, curled up under blankets with an IV in one arm, far too pale. He looked up when Katerina entered and offered her a half-smile.
The Prince of the City’s wife (who refused the title of Princess, thank you very much, my love) smiled back. “Well, you are looking a little more alive, at least.”
"Good evening, Katerina," Jack said quietly, sitting up a little. "I'm sorry about all of this, Val's making a mountain out of a molehill again. I'm just overworked."
Her tone mild as she shut the door behind her, “Of course, Jack. But people do still die from overwork.” There wasn’t a trace of sarcasm, not in her voice or her expression.
"The doctors are confident that I'll live to annoy you and your husband for many, many more years," he told her, smiling a little. "Where is Val, anyway? Still dealing with Sasha?"
“He’s talking to Lukas about finding a place for her at his Court,” she replied absently, unfolding the legs of a minitable so he could eat in bed.
Jack blinked at her, seemingly stunned.
"Valentine's helping Sasha live in Siberia? In Lukas's Court? Why? Why would she agree to that?"
Katerina paused, and looked up. “He didn’t tell you?”
"No." He looked disgruntled. "Probably because he knows what I'd do if he told me, and counted on me not doing anything to you."
"...bastard knows me too damn well."
“That, and if you had damaged his face in any way, I’d feed you boiled straw.” She straightened up and put her hands on her hips. “Well,” Katerina said at last, “your hunter doesn’t want to die. And him being him, he pushed the girl’s buttons 'til she admitted it, and offered to help her get away from Them before they killed her.”
Jack shuddered, looking away.
"Good. That's one less person I'll need to keep an eye on while I'm trying to work."
A faint smile.
“Don’t push her too much, Jack. They build the poor children until they are impulsive and reckless. She might not stay there.”
"Why would I be pushing her, Katerina?" He seemed genuinely puzzled. "I know Lukas's Court, I'm sure she'll have plenty to entertain her there."
“Is she always empty, near you?”
"Sometimes." He eyed her. "You and Val both seem a bit too interested in her and me for my liking."
There was a sudden, dimpled smile.
“Why, Jack, don’t you trust us?”
"I make it a practice never to trust Valentine too much," he said drily.
"You," he said sourly, "have always been a closed book to me, Katerina. And you know it. I can't read jackers like I can read normals."
“Well,” and that smile grew wider. It was not so hard to see how Katerina, normally so quiet, was able to stay married to Valentine for well over twenty years. “We didn’t quite realize she was so very pretty.”
"Do you honestly think I care how pretty she is? The woman's an Epsilon, she's been chasing me for years, Katerina. I wouldn't care if she was the most beautiful woman in the world."
“Sit up,” she told him, bustling about to give him his soup. “And don’t pull that with me, I have adolescent sons.”
"Attraction to an assassin is stupid," he said flatly, sitting up and stuffing pillows behind himself to help support him. "Valentine may like dangerous women but I don't."
"What do love, lust and attraction have to do with sense?"
He shook his head, gazing morosely at the window.
"How long am I expected to stay here? Not that I don't adore your family, but I have work to do."
"You are staying until you well."
Jack sighed, brushing back his hair.
"I'm a terrible patient. I'm sorry."
“It is fine. You are a busy, driven man, and your type do not take to bedrest well. But, you could think of it like this…if this is so terrible, in the future you should pace yourself, so we do not lock you in again.”
He laughed, shaking his head.
"I suppose. How are the children? I didn't have the chance to ask Val while he was carrying me in here like a caveman."
There, tray set up and she lifts the cover off. Soup. Chicken soup, but it was Katerina's cooking and she was very, very good at it. "They are very well, actually. When you are up to it, I think you may be swamped." A wistful smile. "Galakhtion's in love."
"He'd be seventeen now, right? Do I know who his sweetheart is?" Jack asked. Katerina didn't have to prompt him to eat - he might overwork himself, but he was sensible about eating enough, at least, and years of living on the run had given him a disinclination to refuse food. "Is Sveta showing any preferences, or is she still more interested in following in Valentine's footsteps?"
"Tion's girl is a sweet thing, Anastasiia Galevna. Sveta is still being far too logical and business-orientated." Which Katerina didn't really approve of.
"Maybe the right fellow just hasn't come along," Jack pointed out. "Hell, I'm thirty and unmarried, it's not the end of the world if she hasn't found someone by nineteen. Valentine was nearly thirty before the two of you married, if I recall rightly."
“Sveta needs to learn how to life a little. He could do that very well.”
"Maybe work is more important to her. I can sympathise with that."
Katerina raised an eyebrow at him.
He raised an eyebrow back at her.
"And then it'll hit her, very, very hard. Like everything else when you put it off too long." Katerina sighed. "Still. She could have gone the other way, I suppose."
"All play, no work?" He smiled. "Honestly, Katerina, I can think of far worse fates than to have a child who's very focused."
Mildly, "So sayeth the man who just ran himself into the ground."
"Sveta's a lot more sensible than I am."
"Naturally. I worked hard to produce sensible children." She let him eat for a moment. "You'll have to talk to Sasha again."
"I know." He kept his eyes on his hands. "How long until Valentine has her move to Lukas's Court, do you know?"
"When Lukas decides and she leaves. We aren't ordering her to do anything."
"I've got a little while, then. She scares me, Katyushka."
Jack only used nicknames when he was afraid.
Her tone gentle, "I know, Janko. She...she scares me too, a little. But....I think in a lot of ways she's a child. Dangerous, but." She gave a one-shouldered shrug. "You don't have to be alone with if you don't want to."
"No. No, she won't hurt me." He gave her a wry grin, tapping his temple. "It's just in here, you know? Empty. But sometimes the depth of feeling... I don't know. It's hard to explain to someone who's not an empath."
The woman looked at him, steadily and calmly while she said nothing. Just thought. "I am not so certain she is empty right now."
"It's complicated." A harsh bark of laughter, that spurred a coughing fit. "Everything's complicated with me," he managed, once the worst of the coughing was over.
"Don't laugh, you'll spill my lovely soup. And now I am going to say something, and I do not want to you be cynical and try and laugh it off. For seven years, she has hunted you. For seven years, you two have had a relationship. Twisted, of course. But still one. You talk. It is not so complicated to see that you are not just a job, or nor she is a just a bounty-hunter." A faint smile. "At least, that is the way it seems to me."