This is Issue #18 of DeathWatch, Book II: tentatively called Heart Of Ilona, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find DeathWatch, the first in the series, or start from the beginning of Book II!
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When next Aneen woke, he was back in the belly of the ship. He tested his motion, and found that he hadn’t been shackled — he’d killed the first mate of the Opacare, but the navarchus hadn’t thrown him over the rail.
Instead, he’d been treated to the kind of medical care he knew was reserved for officers within the pirate crew, not just swabs and powder monkeys. Fresh bandages had been wrapped around much of his exposed skin, and he could tell in many places, he’d been stitched closed, black thread marring several of his intricate tattoos.
He moved to sit up, but then simply cried out; if he’d been on some sort of pain drug, he was sadly lacking, now.
“Seruate,” came the voice of the navarchus. “You required many stitches, Aneen. I may change your name to pannumpoppa,” he sighed.
“Doll,” Aneen said quietly. “Rag doll,” he sighed, closing his eyes against the stinging tears born by his many wounds.
“Yes. Rag doll,” the navarchus murmured. “Tell me, Aneen — do you know the Ilonan high speech or not? You seem to know many of its words, and yet–”
“I do not know what I do not know,” Aneen whispered, looking up at the man he’d nearly died for.
“Of course you do not,” Lorem sighed, shaking his head and pinching the bridge of his nose. “For how could life ever choose to be easy for any of us, ah, Aneen?”
“Navarchus?” Aneen said, frowning slightly. It pained him to think hard — some things always seemed just out of reach, in the back of his head, held away.
“Worry not, boy,” Lorem said. “Rest here. Let your stitches heal. I’ll come back to visit you,” he promised.
Aneen nodded, exhausted, and laid his head on the cot’s pillow. He was asleep again in moments, the faint lines on his face smoothing out into something resembling an expression of peace.
He dreamt of flying, of falling, and red curls.
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Somewhere in the middle of the night, Jules woke, disoriented. She sat up, panting, looking around in confusion, and in her movement, she disturbed her bed partner, who uttered a low mumble of sleepiness, and rolled over. Blankets fell from them both, and Jules was rendered speechless from her own shock at being naked, and then breathless as she glanced at Coryphaeus’s naked form.
Scarred, he wore marks of battles fought on and off the field; his body was a study in change, in transformation. The taste of aetheris was still on her tongue, while the pulse of her drunken activities still throbbed between her legs.
“Fuck, Jules,” she whispered, putting a hand to her head. “What did you do?” She remembered, somewhat, mostly even, but a part of her shied from that truth, preferring to focus on her hangover.
Coryphaeus mumbled something unintelligible, and rolled over again. She could not help but let her eyes traverse the muscled lines of his physique; she had been within that body, had felt its heart give out.
But that was only a vision.
There was another whose heart had ground to a halt, though. In vision, and then in truth. She thought of Nathan, and how he would never put his arms around her again, never kiss her again, and her heart beat in her chest hard enough that she thought it might tear through her ribs and bloody the bed in which she’d betrayed the memory of him.
That’s not fair, said his voice in her head. My Jules — would I ever cage you? Would I ever want you miserable, even without me? You know my heart better than that. How many lovers have we both had, through the years?
“Hush. Now I’m just using a dead man’s voice to justify acting selfishly,” Jules said to herself, glancing down at Coryphaeus, who slept on, seemingly at peace.
Maybe, the voice answered. And maybe you knew me better than anyone else. I will still be loving you long after down is up and up is down and the seas have boiled and the sun has gone out. Nothing can stop me. Nothing will ever stop me.
She remembered, just then, the feel of the air between them, the heat of the sun, the groan of the deck, the rattle of the chains, the hum of the engine, the details that had surrounded them, the day she promised him forever. Sha recorded their oaths and handled the paperwork. Abe had given her away. They’d been barely children.
She remembered the taste of his mouth, the feel of his hands in hers. They had not waited for the official benediction, but had kissed one another throughout the ceremony, laughing and joking, the occasion never solemn, but utterly irreverent, as the both of them so often were.
I will love you forever, Juliana Vernon. Nothing can stop me. Nothing will ever stop me.
Not even an angry husband with a pistol?
Not even an angry wife with an axe.
Not even the war?
Not even death, Jules.
I imagine death will stop you, Einin.
You imagine wrong, Mrs. O’Malley.
Mrs. O– really?
You’re in for a world of adventure, loving me, little bird.
I’m up for anything with you, Jules. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I love you.
And I love you. Always.
She came back to the present, tears stinging her eyes as she looked at the man she’d begged to bed her. In truth, she had had several lovers after she’d married Nathan; being faithful to him wasn’t about never having pleasure with anyone else, so why did it matter this time?
“Because he’s gone,” Jules said. “And everything feels different now.” It was then that she realized Coryphaeus’s eyes were open, and watching her. There was neither smile nor sadness to his features; he seemed to be gauging her reaction, perhaps in order to reconcile his own. “Oh shit,” she breathed, grabbing a fistful of sheets and pulling them up to cover herself. “You’re awake.”
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