This is Issue #70 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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For all her anger, Jules looked startled at the sudden violence. She stared at Coryphaeus, and then up at Nathan, and put a hand on Nathan’s shoulder, the fury on her face dissipated as quickly as it came. “No, No! Nate, stop, please, he didn’t– it… it wasn’t… Faith’n’fuckall,” she said, striking his chest with her fist. “Quarter O’Malley, y’fuckin’stand down!”
Shaking off the sudden and overwhelming fury took more than a moment. Nathan staggered back, looking at Jules in confusion.
“Shitshitshit,” Jules breathed, moving to crouch near Coryphaeus. She reached out a hand to him, to offer him help getting up. “Oh, forgive him, Cory, I–”
“Don’t,” Coryphaeus said, flinching back from her. “Please,” he said, struggling to keep his expression from crumbling. “Please, just… just let me go.”
“I’m so sorry–” Jules blurted. “Coryphaeus, I didn’t… I didn’t mean a thing of it. I got no excuse,” she whispered. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry, too,” Coryphaeus said, moving to stand up on his own. He looked at Nathan, who was looking at him curiously. “I never–” His voice was low, furious, wounded. “I. Never. Harmed her. I would’ve died on Venator’s sword to distract him from your escape. I came back–” And here, for a moment, the remembrance of climbing that damned wall, the feeling of his ribs going cold, of his whole body screaming for rest, the fire of the wounds he’d been given before they ever dropped him into the Hunt — all of it glassed his eyes. Nam propter Jules.
Nathan opened his mouth to apologize, knowing he was in the wrong.
Coryphaeus winced, shaking his head, turning away. “I came back, hoping the Guardian would honor the promise of freedom. I came back to find her. To keep her safe.” He looked to Jules, wiping blood from his lips with the back of his hand, tears glittering in his eyes. He pointed at her, with that bloody hand, shaking. “To keep you… safe. How could you — how could you ever think that I–” His voice broke, and he fled from his own home, running before he was even out the door.
“Paenitent mea,” Jules begged, reaching after him. “Cory — Cory, no, Coryphaeus, please don’t go, please, please–”
He was gone, having shrugged off her touch, having left his own home, fury and anguish on his face.
Jules watched the door bang wide, watched him run out the garden gate and keep going. She turned, looking up at Nathan, her heart in her throat.
“Mercy,” she pled, leaning against him, clinging to him, putting her cheek to his. “M’so sorry, Nate.”
“Oh, love.” Nathan’s voice was low, rough with emotion. “What’re you sorry t’me for?”
“Don’t even know,” Jules said, feeling lost.
“The Legatus,” Nathan prompted. “Y’sorry t’him?”
Jules held Nathan tighter, more fiercely, and twisted to kiss him, to try to drive away the thought of Coryphaeus and the agony on his face as he left. “No,” she lied against his mouth. “No,” she said, but she was nodding, the soft of her cheek rubbing against the rough scrape of his stubbled jaw. “I can’t.”
“F’there’s anything I’ve learned from bein married t’you–” Nathan said, cradling her carefully. “S’there isn’t a damned thing y’can’t do. N’you know it.”
“He’s–” She looked at Nathan, hardly knowing how to explain it — what she felt, why she felt it. She didn’t know how to explain it to herself, so how was she supposed to make it make sense to him?
“A man what loves you, clearly. N’one what you love, clearly.”
Jules pulled back, looking up at Nathan, hesitant, wary — frightened, even. “Y’make it sound so simple, Einin.” Her voice shook as she looked at him, sad and angry all at once. “Y’make it sound like there’ve never been such a thing as broken hearts.”
Nathan just grinned the grin he always had, the crooked, cocksure smirk that always tasted of whisky and wind. “Y’not just gonna let him get away that easy, are you, Jules?”
“I just got you back,” Jules whispered, looking up at him. Her eyes were wide, afraid, hopeful. “Just now. Y’were dead, and now you’re back. I’m t’leave you here, while I go chase a man I got no business loving? I love you, Nate. I love you.”
“And?” He shrugged as if to ask how that mattered in the face of loving someone else. “M’I gonna stand here n’rightly tell you how many people you’re allowed t’love? Y’think I got any designs on makin sure I can be the only person in your life? Y’know me better’n’that, Jules.”
“I can’t lose you again,” she said, quietly and simply, reaching up to cup his face in her hands. “Th’rest of the world could’ve burnt, Einin. I didn’t care. I tried to wait for you on the shores of the inland sea. I tried to lay on the floor and not get up. I tried t’drown in the bottom of every bottle of aetheris within arm’s reach,” she said, laughing bitterly, tears on her cheeks. “N’he wouldn’t give up on me. He wouldn’t give up on me, even when I pushed. I hurt him, and I hurt him, Einin, so he’d stay away. He let y’die. He let them all die,” she sobbed.
“And then what?” Nathan’s voice was patient, gentle. He held her, kissed her forehead, spoke quietly and gently as though they had all the time in the world, as though he’d never left, as though fire weren’t soon to fall from the sky.
“N’then I realized I gave a damn I was hurtin’im.” She hiccuped briefly, shaking her head. “I tried t’talk t’him but he wouldn’t have it. He went t’set me free. I wanted t’give him my heart, even if there wasn’t anything left of it without you. I tried to tell him, but that’s when he decided to let me go,” Jules whispered, closing her eyes and bowing her head.
“So what now?” Nathan never faltered, never flinched. “M’here.”
“I can’t lose you again,” she repeated.
“M’not going anywhere, Jules. Y’ve got me. You’ll always have me,” he promised, kissing her forehead. “Go,” he whispered, giving her a gentle urging toward the door.
She took a single step, then stopped, caught.
One hand stayed around her wrist. They both looked down at it, then back up at one another. “Just… come back,” he said quietly.
Jules stepped back, stepped close, threw her arms around Nathan and kissed him again, without hesitation. “I love you, y’stupid man,” she whispered, and bolted out the door.
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