This is Issue #55 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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“She’ll be expecting you,” Nixus said, washing her hands. “You told the messenger we were coming.”
“You told the messenger we were coming,” Coryphaeus said, glancing back toward the bathroom, where Jules had shut herself so she could use the toilet and wash up without him hovering over her. “I haven’t been welcome in that house in years.”
“He’s dead,” Nixus said abruptly. “He’s gone. He can’t hurt you anymore.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t put it past him to try.” Coryphaeus’s expression was grim; he sighed and rubbed his eyes.
Coryphaeus’s back stiffened. He looked over at her, frowning. She didn’t say please. She didn’t give away what was important to her. She didn’t urge, she commanded. “You’re being quite unusual about this,” he said quietly. “And I would hardly know what to do with Jules.”
“Bring her, if you must, but make her understand her role is subservient. It must be, or it will get one or both of you killed. She’s hardly the only Westlander slave in existence. She’d be exotic. She’d be noticed, but she’d also be safe,” Nixus said. “So long as she could act the part. If she were to stand too tall, Coryfrater, she’d wind up getting you gutted for a second time.”
Before Coryphaeus could answer, Jules returned to them, looking somewhat wan, but otherwise fine. “You’re arguing again,” she noted, looking at them both.
“We’re discussing the finer points of how to proceed.” Coryphaeus’s voice was measured and polite.
“He’s being stupid,” Nixus snorted without preamble.
Coryphaeus rolled his eyes and threw his hands in the air in disgust. “What do you want from me? You don’t think it will be more of a shock than will be polite, to arrive there, with him freshly dead? Do you think she will embrace me?”
“Who are you talking about?” Jules wondered, standing around, feeling slightly awkward, not knowing what to do with herself.
“Our mother,” Nixus said. “Cory’s feeling nervous about going back to the family home.”
“I cannot drag Jules off to–”
“You and she both pretended, in front of the Prince. Mother has never been your enemy–” Nixus said.
“–well she was hardly my ally.” Coryphaeus’s words were spat, and his tone was both stung, and meant to sting.
Jules’s eyebrows lifted; she glanced over to Nixus, to see what the Summus thought of such a weighted statement.
“She was as much his prisoner as you were his exile, Coryfrater,” Nixus said. “It’s over now. You talk so much about how he could not hurt you, once you knew who you were — why do you balk at –”
“Has she ever seen her son?” Jules wondered, butting in, blurting out. “Or does… does she still think of him as…”
“Phaedra?” Coryphaeus said, and the name, however beautiful it might’ve ever been, was a curse, bitter on the tongue.
“Come home,” Nixus said, fists clenched. “Much has changed, Coryfrater.”
“You have done harder things, haven’t you?” Jules wondered, looking over at the Legatus.
“I have,” he sighed. He looked at Jules, who looked all but expectant, and looked at Nixus, who had a look on her face that he could not describe or explain. Finally, he sighed, throwing his hands in the air, his shoulders slumping in resignation. “Fine. Yes, fine. You’re both nothing but no-good ardeliae but I recognize you won’t be denied.”
“Gratias irrumabo,” Nixus said, rolling her eyes. “Getting you to do things for your own betterment is harder than–”
“Getting you to listen to anyone, ever,” Jules quipped.
Coryphaeus snorted, shaking his head. “I’m to change, then, if we are going there. I must be… presentable.” He turned to head back down the hall, and toward his bedroom.
Jules stood still, chewing her lip, marveling for a moment at how all of this had become her life.
Once he left the room, Nixus whirled on Jules, bearing down on her, her tall frame imposing against Jules’s significantly shorter one. “And that,” Nixus said, pointing at Jules, “is going to have to stop. I will allow that you are strong, that you are smart, that you are my brother’s choice to love, and you just might be deserving of it, but listen to me, canicula: you will have to swallow that sharp tongue and let it cut no one but yourself until we have gotten through this. My brother has not gone home in years. My father was more of a monster than you could ever know–”
Jules was listening, but for a moment, when she heard the word ‘monster’, all she could think of was Abe, and the way he’d looked when he’d turned on them all, and used the Maxima to lay waste to the Ilonan countryside. She blinked a few times, coming back to the present moment, where Nixus was still speaking, low and angrily, focused more on her words than on whether Jules had been paying the strictest of attentions.
“–even if he had not been the kind of father that would murder his youngest son, he let his eldest suffer in penance for something that couldn’t have been stopped. Our family has been injured enough by that man. My Coryphaeus… must finally be allowed to be the man my father could not accept. You must hold your tongue and play the part without fail. You will remain silent, a slave, submissive, until all is made clear, and my brother has heard what our father–” Suddenly, Nixus stopped her ranting, and pursed her lips, drawing back, expression one of having said too much, but only until she schooled that, as well.
“What your father–” Jules said, looking more than a little bewildered. “What?”
“What about father?” Coryphaeus wondered, walking back in, adjusting his clothing.
Jules turned, about to mention Nixus’s behavior, but all thought of it left her mind as her eyes moved over Coryphaeus, hungry for the sight of him. “I — what?”
Nixus barked a laugh at Jules, glad for the spotlight to be off her words. She shook her head, saying, “The two of you are idiots. I’m going to find her something suitable to wear.”
Coryphaeus looked at Nixus, hurt and confused, and fussed with the sash at his shoulder.
Jules was blushing, not because of what Nixus had said, but purely because she found herself staring at Coryphaeus with her jaw dropped. “You’re — that’s… I didn’t. Huh.”
One brow up, Coryphaeus looked at Jules for some time, and finally said, “I didn’t think I’d ever see you speechless.”
“Man in uniform,” Jules said. “I hadn’t expected you to clean up so… well.”
“You’ve seen me in a uniform plenty.”
“Not the formal dress.”
“Before we leave the house, you’re going to have to stop licking your lips,” Nixus said, returning to the room, handing over a bundle of fabric to Jules. “Change into this. No shoes.”
“Uh-huh,” Jules said, and blushed redder as she took the clothing, finally tearing her eyes away from Coryphaeus, hurrying back off to the bedroom.
“What was that about?” Coryphaeus’s expression was guileless as he turned it toward Nixus.
Nixus laughed, and moved to fuss with Coryphaeus’s sash.”I love you, my brother, but I also know you know damned well what that meant.” She kissed him on the forehead, saying, “You’re handsome, you know.”
“I didn’t. How do you know?”
“Well, you’re my twin, and I’m gorgeous, so I figured it stood you were at least handsome,” Nixus said, smirking. “I know your commander agrees.”
Coryphaeus’s cheeks darkened, and he cleared his throat. “I was going to send her away, you know.”
“No, you weren’t.”
“No,” Coryphaeus said, looking resigned. “I wasn’t.”
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