This is Issue #20 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!
* * *
Day after day, Coryphaeus left Jules in his house, left her to read, to eat, to sleep, to exist, safe and sound.
Day after day, he returned to find the home well-kept, with Jules waiting, at times in the same place she had been when he left.
Night after night, Coryphaeus went to sleep in his guesting area, leaving the master suite for Jules.
Night after night, she called for him to come into his own room, pulled him into the bed he’d given up for her, and bared herself to him, clinging to him and whispering, “I need you. Make me forget–” until he pinned her to the pillows and did exactly that.
Once she was spent, she would praise him, lavish him with words of affection, and fall asleep still shuddering.
In the morning, every morning, he woke alone, the taste of her still on his lips, his heart beyond confused.
She drank more and more, until her very skin tasted of wine and aetheris, until she stopped waking to bid him goodbye in the morning, and once, when he came back from readying the Guardian’s army, she was still in bed, and once she’d dozed off in the tub with a bottle of wine staining the marble tile.
He pulled her from the tub, carefully drying her off, and walked back to the master suite with her in his arms.
When she spent the next several hours vomiting, he held her hair, kept the basin near, rubbed her back and spoke soothing words.
It was then that she realized all her confusing behavior wasn’t driving him away, nor was it helping to keep him distanced from her in her own heart.
When he finally left her to rest, she was nowhere near sober, but she was coherent enough to have thoughts she wasn’t comfortable with. Thoughts that made her feel even more like a fraud, more like a betrayer, more like someone who didn’t deserve love or forgiveness.
That night, she kept her tears silent, and laid as still as she could, letting him sleep.
That night, he wept, certain for once that all the nights she spoke to him sweetly were only a desperate game for her, that her love of him sustained her only because she had no one else. That if given the chance, and told there would be no consequences, no one to follow her or skin her alive for being a Westlander, she would run, and never look back. That even for all of it, he could do nothing but give her her freedom.
Just before the dawn, she stole into his room as he’d finally fallen asleep, and looked down at him, his expression the kind of peace that only comes after pain.
Her heart ached to see his face, so kind and gentle, the curve of his lips warm and sweet. He had tried to give his life for her. He’d taken her into his home. He fed her, clothed her, sheltered her, cared for her when she did nothing but use him, and now her heart pounded to see him, to be near him. She felt the dizzying wonder of it, and with tears in her eyes, could not help but laugh at the absurdity.
She retreated, rather than wake him, her heart in her throat.
What do I do, now?
* * *
When she woke again later, the house was dark. He had not made breakfast or opened the shutters, turned on the music, or made anything about the house wake up yet. She got up and ran out to the main rooms, and when she saw Coryphaeus, she threw her arms around him and pressed her lips to his. The kiss didn’t last long; he carefully pulled away, guarded, saying, “I… Trust you slept well?”
“I did,” Jules said, not realizing his demeanor had changed. “I wanted to talk to you, I–“
“I’ll go first,” he began, holding up a hand to pause her. He detangled himself, and said, “I’ve made some arrangements. Gotten you food and clothing, water. Preparations to help you. I’ve even procured you some light transportation to get you over the plains.”
“Where are we going?” Jules wondered, looking bewildered.
“We aren’t going anywhere, commander,” Coryphaeus said softly.
Jules could see it, then, the pain on his face; she knew she’d put it there. She knew, and she hated herself for it. “Wait–” she began, stepping close, smiling for him.
“Stop,” he said, putting a hand up to block her.
“Legatus–” she said, reaching to take his hand. “Please, let me explain–“
“I need you to stop, Jules,” he said, the words tight in his throat. “It’s all right. I know. I understand,” he promised her, smiling sadly. “So I’ve got it set. You’re getting out of here. I can’t keep you prisoner forever, the Ilonans won’t accept you, and you… You don’t want to be here, anyway.”
“Stop,” Coryphaeus whispered, reaching up to touch her lips. “It’s over. You don’t have to lie, and I don’t have to fight anymore. You used me, Commander, and I–“
“I never lied to you!” Jules said, stung. “Never once did I–“
“No, Jules,” Coryphaeus said, and his smile was bitter. “You never did. You never, ever lied to me. I did that all by myself. I convinced myself through all of this that your sweet words, you being in my bed, you begging for me… I convinced myself that it meant something. That I… meant something to you.”
While he spoke, Jules struggled to get her own words out, even as he gently guided her toward the front hall, where she saw packages of all sorts — things for her to take. Preparations, for her to leave. While he tried to show her how he was helping her move on, she said, “Cory, you don’t know, you can’t do this, it’s not a lie, you have to believe me–” Heartsick, panicked, Jules struggled to keep from being silenced.
“You don’t love me, Jules, and I can’t blame you for that. I may never find someone who will–“
“–don’t say that,” Jules said, earnest. “Cory, please, I lo–“
“No!” he all but shouted, holding up his hands as if to push her away. “Please,” Coryphaeus said, shaking his head, his eyes wide. “Don’t,” Coryphaeus said, and the light in his eyes then was pain and fury. “Don’t, commander. You didn’t lie before. Don’t start now. If there’s one thing I truly don’t want from you, it’s pity.”
“Wait, Cory–What will you do, now?” Jules wondered.
“Honestly,” he said, and his eyes were shuttered, to keep as much of himself safe from her as he could, “You’re safe. I’m guaranteeing you passage back out of Ilona. You won’t be a prisoner any longer. What do you care?”
* * *