This is Issue #26 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!
“How goes it?”
The only response was a grunt; Coryphaeus had not slept well in days — Jules was finally passed out, drunk on aetheris to the point that she could not stand of her own volition even if she wanted to.
“It is a fine line between drunk enough to keep her from vomiting after the visions, and so drunk she vomits from the whisky itself,” the Legatus said dully.
“You will need to break her of the drink. She needs to be sobered,” Nixus said, shaking her head.
“She needs to be aboard a ship. The aether engines would keep her from the misery that comes after the visions.” Coryphaeus raked dark curls back from his face and stretched, shifting, getting up to pace.
“I don’t like seeing you here like this,” his sister growled.
“Like what?” Coryphaeus wondered.
“Caged, like some trapped panther,” she sighed. “You look miserable. Get rid of her when she’s able to stand alone.”
“That is not the man I am,” Coryphaeus answered tightly, looking at Nixus. “And you know it.”
“I do,” Nixus said, looking irritable. “And for that I am both proud and concerned. You have more honor than half the Legios in which I have served. But it is the sort of thing that ends with you hurt.”
“I can handle pain. It has not broken me yet,” Coryphaeus shrugged, smiling.
“Only wounded this body,” Coryphaeus said, lifting his chin, looking stubborn. His eyes, brilliant but dark, defied Nixus’s words — he wore a look so challenging, even she took pause, frowning.
Finally, she tore away the silence. “He broke your heart, Cory,” she said. “You don’t have to lie to me,” she added. “How can a father not love his son? How could he have done what he did to you? What kind of man is that?”
“The kind of man the rest of the world is full of, soror,” Coryphaeus said softly. “The kind of man who only recognizes one of his sons, because he still sees the other as am abomination. The kind that would have rathered me dead than a stain on the family’s name.”
“He is a fool,” Nixus said, lifting her chin.
“Careful, soror,” Coryphaeus said softly. “I am outside his good graces, but there is no need for you to be.”
“Why do you do that?” Nixus wondered, barely keeping the exasperation from her voice.
“That! That. That thing you do, where you blank out and you let him off the hook and you cower down? That thing where you make what he did small, and you act like you’re over it and it’s done?” Nixus hissed, obviously furious for the way her brother, whom she loves with all her heart, simply allows abuse to be laid at his feet and over his shoulders, a mantle for his identity as the Thing that Shamed his Family.
“It hurts less,” he said, looking down at his feet, “than remembering what he did to me.” Coryphaeus reached to splay one hand over his lower belly, fingertips digging against the scarred flesh. He closed his eyes against the tears that stung them, and breathed slowly.
Nixus watched the agony slide over her brother’s face, and reached out a hand to curl her fingers into his, to squeeze them. She leaned in and kissed his forehead, feeling the dull ache in her chest that only made her angrier and angrier. If it hurt that much for her, only to look, only to watch, only to see it… How much it must have hurt, how much it must hurt still, to have had to go through it, to endure and come out stronger on the other side?
* * *
“Welcome home,” called the servants who opened the doors and brought her into the villa. The broad marble stones were warm, sun baked beneath her feet as she strode through the carefully manicured gardens and went directly to her father’s study.
“Summus, Summus!” cried cousins, cried nieces and nephews gotten off the several mistresses her older brother had slept with. Children who had neither mother nor father, but were kept as wards by her father, who had their mothers silenced, so as not to bring down the family name.
Instead, her family was thought of as generous, as wardens of the peaceful and beautiful city-state, as high-born, well-bred men and women deserving of every bit of power and respect they had.
She smiled at the children — none of them deserved the anger she held in her heart for their father; none of them even knew him — and knocked on the door of her father’s study. Since his banishment of her twin, he had locked himself away more and more; at times, days went by before anyone saw him.
She didn’t even know if he would be in — a part of her hoped he wasn’t.
“Enter,” called the patriarch of the Aecus family.
Nixus went in, and shut and locked the door behind herself, saying. She found her father watching the vid screen, frowning. “What are you watching?” she wondered, pausing by the shelf containing bottle upon bottle of aetheris. Her father had received plenty from the Prince; he’d never opened them before — but now she could smell the tang on the air, and could count empty bottles amongst the untouched.
* * *