This is Issue #95 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
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Jules bowed her head, tears stinging the backs of her eyes. Break, she thought. Break or die, let it be over quick. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.
“You can stop this,” the Captain hissed.
Jules bared her teeth at the table, clenching her fists. “I can? I can?! I fail to see how I can stop a man who would not stop himself from doing something so monstrous,” Jules growled. “You’ve chained me to this table and you’re torturing a boy who’s only real crime is that he ran away from home!” she said, looking up at the Captain. “He doesn’t know anything,” she maintained. “You gain nothing from this!”
“We’ll see.” He knocked again.
This time, Kieron’s cry turned into a long, awful sob. “Please!” from the other room, Jules could hear furniture being shoved, the sound of someone desperately trying to run, to get away, to escape. Somehow. Instead, Kieron was obviously pushed up against the wall that adjoined the room. When his body hit the wood, he went silent.
They must’ve hit his head, Jules thought, closing her eyes, sick with relief.
That was when the Captain unlocked Jules’s shackles, and hauled her up from the table, dragging her across the short room and against the wall. He shoved her up against it, and held her head to the boards, her ear pressed there. She flinched, pushing back, and he shoved harder, all but mashing her face against the boards. She could smell pitch and copper, salt, the herbed soap the Captain must use, and the unmistakable scent of burned meat. She felt her gorge rise, and her head swim.
“Can you hear him?” The Captain asked lowly. “Can you smell him? You have denied me three times. He has three brands on his back. Shall we go for a fourth? Can you hear him, Commander?”
Jules bit her tongue against answering back smartly; she thought the sound she could hear, the groaning, was the ship itself, but she realized the noise for what it was, finally, a low, tortured weeping. Kieron cried, pressed to the wall, right on the other side of her. “Please, please, please,” he whispered against the wood, and she could hear it in her skin, the way he begged. She heard a low rushing then, in her ears, like ocean waves coming to claim her, and counted herself lucky, in that moment, that she wouldn’t hear whatever happened next.
She went limp in the Captain’s arms, and slipped.
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Everything fucking hurt. Her feet, her head, her back, her belly. Everything. She was sore with exertion, miserable with bruises and cuts. She had been beaten, and was on the run, based on how her lungs burned, and how awful it all felt.
She knelt over two bodies — one alive, gasping.
Kieron. He looked up at her with a mixture of shock and gratitude.
One dead, bleeding sluggishly, his skull half-crushed-in.
She’d never seen him before.
The rock in her hand was heavy, bloody.
She dropped it, staring at her fingers. There was a familiar white-gold band around one, and she smiled to see it.
Rain fell against her skin as she sat back on her heels and moved to stand up, to help Kieron up.
God, she was tall — taller thank Kieron; the feeling was disorienting and ridiculous and funny all at once. She put a hand to her face to stifle the laugh, and felt the stubble of an unshaven jaw.
“He knew my name–” Kieron said, looking stunned.
She nodded, reaching to cup Kieron’s cheek, to look at the angry scar, the ragged stitches. It hadn’t been long. She was on solid ground, and it was raining, and his injury hadn’t healed. She took in the details, soaked them up, and opened her mouth to ask him a question when the pain in her back and chest got worse, sudden and impossibly hot.
“NO!” Kieron cried.
She tried to speak, to say something, anything, but a run of blood fell over her lips, instead. She reached up a hand and touched her mouth, then blinked hard as the world got fuzzy. She reached out for Kieron, but felt held back; when she looked down, the point of a sword had erupted from just beneath her chest. The blood came faster, and she swallowed against it, tried to speak, but it only came out as a red spray. She coughed, trying to catch her breath. If only she could just catch her breath, just for a moment, she knew she would be all right. She took a step toward Kieron, and the sword was pulled loose.
Somewhere behind her, she heard a familiar scream of rage, heard blades clang and clatter, heard the meat of a body hitting the ground.
“Ohgod,” Kieron pled, reaching to catch her as she fell into his arms. He didn’t look panicked so much as stricken, pale and soaked and shaking.
She couldn’t keep the rain out of her eyes, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t anything, and the world grew dim.
Kieron knelt over her, shielding her from the falling downpour, sobbing. “No,” he pled. “No, not like this. Please,” he begged. “You gotta get up. You have to. C’mon. We didn’t make it this far for you to fall now,” he begged.
She lifted a hand up to him again, to touch his cheek, and stared at the ring, watching it glint in the scattered, drowned moonlight. She pulled it off and stared at the inside of it, feeling her heart slow in her chest. She felt it grind, felt it seize, felt the way the beat stuttered, felt the way it failed. She knew what the ring would say on the inside. She knew, and it broke her dying heart. She knew it, because she was the one who had to convince the engraver make it tiny enough to fit, even around the wide white gold band, in the language of her grandmother, Cuisle mo chroi, mo Einin.
You are the pulse of my heart, my little bird.
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