This is Issue #68 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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“Shh, y’pickled.” Jules sounded amused. Her voice was bubbly with joy; she was drunk, but not yet sloppily so. The amount of aetheris that kept the aftermath of the visions from getting too horrifying was a delicate balance.
“I’m not pickled, Jules,” Coryphaeus laughed. “I am only faintly in my cups. I think you’ve had more aetheris than I’ve had wine.”
Jules lifted her chin, looking stubborn. “Yeah, but f’me it’s medicinal. Yer just a lightweight.”
“I’m a lightweight, fine. You’re a drunk.”
“I’m not a drunk. I’m an adventurer.”
The voices were muffled, laughing — giggly and ridiculous. They came up the walk, stumbling over one another, and then they were bursting in the door, laughing all over again, holding one another up and lurching along in a comical walk.
Jules kicked the door shut behind them, and nearly fell; Coryphaeus swung her up and danced with her through the dark foyer, spinning her — for a moment, they were all grace and joy. Jules gave in, and felt the warmth of it, the sweetness, and when he reeled her back and and wrapped her up in his arms, she rested her head on his shoulder, for a moment, and simply breathed him in.
Death surrounded them. Death was coming for them. She had lost things too great to count — but she had to savor the moments that weren’t all pain — or she might as well have stayed in the palace after, and let that beast of a princess kill her.
She smiled up at Coryphaeus, and laughed at herself, lingering there in his arms, enjoying the moment of it.
“Time for bed, adventurer,” Coryphaeus said quietly, moving to guide her to one of the rooms. He knew his own home intimately — with no servants to light the house for him, he simply kept going in the dark.
“And if I’m not tired?” Jules stopped, no longer allowing herself to be led. She shifted, and her arms moved around him as she squared her hips to his, and slide one hand up through the dark of his hair, from the nape of his neck. “What then?”
A voice came out of the darkness, low and lazy and amused, and desperately familiar. “Then it’s bound t’get incredibly awkward, Mrs. O’Malley.”
An hairsbreadth from kissing Jules, Coryphaeus froze, one hand on her hip. His heart hammered in his chest. Did he recognize that voice?
Jules did. But she also know it couldn’t be true. In Coryphaeus’s arms, Jules looked stunned as if struck, and turned slowly around, her eyes widening. “Now that’s a dirty fucking trick,” she whispered, anger on her face as she searched the dark corners of the front hall. “Who’re you, and what right’ve you got to open wounds?”
“You know who I am.”
Without looking, Jules drew Coryphaeus’s sword from his hip, and lifted it, beckoning. “Come into the light, mac fraochan,” she whispered. There was a blaze of moonlight across the carpet; she pointed at it, almost imperious, demanding.
He did, but only barely. All six feet of him, the disguise abandoned. He was tanned and weathered, tattooed and scarred, and the rest of his… additions remained in the shadows.
“Legatus,” Jules said, tense. “Get the lights.”
Coryphaeus, feeling somewhat naked without a weapon, moved quickly to turn up the lamps.
As the sconces and chandeliers of the front hall flared into life, their visitor was finally revealed.
Jules stood before the intruder with her eyes narrowed, and a sword lifted toward him. She looked him over, taking in his eyes, his mouth, his tattoos, and the arm that was no longer flesh and blood, but a complex configuration of pieces and parts. “Th’fuck’s this?” she hissed, slapping the flat of the blade against the exposed metal of his arm.
It clanged against the pistons and gears, and both Coryphaeus and Jules winced — but the man simply looked down at the sword and lifted his arm up, twisting it this way and that. “Part of me,” he said, looking to Jules intently. “Just like these,” he said softly, nodding his head back briefly.
Jules’s eyes flashed open wide as he lifted his wings. They gave a brief rattle and chime, and then they spread, there in the entrance hall, lifting impossibly high and wide, stretching, shining, each metallic feather faintly sliding against the next. Fanned out, they reached past six feet on either side of him, bracketed him in competing auras of both grace and danger.
He lifted his other hand up, a hand that had held hers, had stroked her hair, had known her skin to skin, and showed it to her; the ring on it shone in the lamplight. “Just like this.” He offered out that hand, and dared to let his lips curve in the faintest of smiles.
Jules dropped the sword, and looked at her own hand, at the ring there. She stared at the man who wore her husband’s skin and walked toward him.
She got barely half a step before Coryphaeus snagged the back of her robes; she half shrugged out of them with barely thought or effort, and took another step, wearing little more than a shift.
Coryphaeus snagged her wrist, pulling her back to him, his heart thundering. He looked at her, incredulous. “What are you thinking?” he cried. “You don’t even know what that thing is–”
“Course I do,” Jules said, tears in her eyes. “S’my other half.” She twisted out of his grasp, pushing away from him, looking at him as though she couldn’t fathom why he would be stopping her. She turned and crossed the last few steps at a run.
Coryphaeus, already forgotten, watched as Jules flung herself against Nathan, and couldn’t help but turn away, his own heart aching dully with a sense of shame that he should even be witness to something so entirely unbelonging to him.
“Mo Einin,” Jules breathed, all but climbing Nathan to be in his arms. “Y’came back t’me.”
Nathan wrapped his arms around her, both flesh and crafted. He bowed his head and breathed her in, closing his eyes, daring to feel joy. “Told you when you married me, Jules. Not even death can stop me.”
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