This is Issue #69 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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“Trócaire,” Jules breathed, and pressed her lips to Nathan’s. Mercy. “Not so little a bird anymore, are you?” she laughed giddily. “Is this real? Or did I die myself, drowned in aetheris, hmm? Did the Kriegs drop their fire, and I’m gone, and we’re together again?”
“Deonaithe,” he answered. Granted. He kissed her right back, holding her ever more tightly, sliding his hand against her, feeling her, assuring himself of her realness, erasing the idea of the poor chained thing in Lorem Tenuis’s cabinet. “Y’not dead,” Nathan promised. “The Kriegs are coming, but y’not dead yet.”
Coryphaeus still stood only paces away, watching the couple with growing unease. He had no idea of what to do, in those moments he watched Jules unfold, blossom, shine as she hadn’t over the last few months in his care. He remembered her kisses, her tears, her embraces, the scent and taste of her as she spread for him, crying out for him — and all of it paled against the way she held one hand to Nathan’s cheek, and looked up at him.
He shook himself out of his reverie and backed away, took himself away to his study. As he passed various rooms, he could not help but notice so many things out of place from where he’d left them. He knew he’d left them in a state of riot — but all the same, everything was back where it went, more or less.
As Jules let Nathan kiss away her tears, as she ran her hands over the newness of his arm, his wings, and the flesh she knew as intimately as her own, she heard the sudden thunder of Coryphaeus’s booted feet as he came stalking back in.
“Did you…Did… Did you clean my house in my absence?!” His voice was not raised overmuch, but it carried a definite edge of frustrated disbelief.
As Nathan stuttered, Jules slapped his arm, laughing aloud. “He’s a nervous cleaner, he is,” she answered, turning to look at Coryphaeus, laughing at the absurdity of it. Her eyes found his, but the change on his face was startling to her. She’d grown to see kindness there, gentleness, but the look on his face was far more the proud and foreign coldness it had been when they met on the battlefield. “Coryphaeus?”
“It seems you no longer have… need of my plans, Commander.” Coryphaeus kept his eyes away from Jules; he looked everywhere but her as he spoke. “You have the use of this house as long as you need it,” he said to Nathan. “It isn’t… I could never pay you back, for having saved my life.”
“Wait–” Jules felt her heart in her throat.
“Y’more than did,” Nathan said, in return. “She’s alive, Legatus. S’all I could’ve asked for.”
“I simply have to retrieve a few things, and then I shall install myself back at House Venustus. It is likely where I will–”
“Wait.” Both men stood still, paused by the urgency in Jules’s voice. She pulled away from Nathan, then, and went to Coryphaeus, reaching out her hands — they had danced only moments ago, hadn’t they?
Now it was Nathan’s turn to watch as Jules reached for another man. He didn’t seem to mind.
Coryphaeus looked to Jules, at her eyes, at her smile, and then looked at Nathan, and twisted away from her touch, reaching to take her hands, and gently keep them away. “Please,” he said, looking down, turning away. “Don’t.”
The sudden rebuff left Jules looking as though she’d been slapped in the face. “That’s a fine bit o’distance from the man who like as not would’ve fucked me on the dining table not a quarter of an hour ago.” Jules lifted her chin, crossing her arms.
“A quarter of an hour ago, you were a widow.” Coryphaeus looked pained. “A quarter of an hour ago, I had fooled myself into believing you had feelings for me. You don’t, of course — the man you love is here, now.”
“Just so we’re clear, are you telling me y’think I can’t love you, if I love him? Or is it that y’can’t love me unless y’have me all t’y’self?”
Coryphaeus spun, all flashing eyes and clenched fists. “Don’t you dare tell me the right way to love! Not after–”
“After — after what?” Jules advanced on him, her fists clenched, her teeth bared. “You think spending a night between my legs gave you some kind of claim? You think me pretendin’ I’m your slave means y’really do own me? Y’think cause I let you, cause I asked you for it a few times, that what — I owed you? Think you can have me whenever you want me?”
“You go too far,” Coryphaeus said, angrier, still. “You speak as though I have staked a claim.”
“You tell the world you own me!”
“It is a pretense! I might as well own the sun!” Coryphaeus looked exasperated, shaking his head. Under his breath he muttered, “I would be burned less, perhaps, if I tried that.”
“Don’t you play innocent in this,” Jules said, crossing her arms over her chest. “You, who own me. You who have ever advantage over me. You who press that, when I have no latitude to deny you–”
Coryphaeus’s eyes widened. He looked shocked. “I have never taken advantage of–”
“No? This whole arrangement was you taking advantage–”
“–you I was–this arrangement was your idea before we ever–”
As their voices ran over one another, as they ceased listening and simply began shouting at one another, Nate looked down at his hand, listening to the joints of metal creak as he clenched his fists.
“–of me because I had the sight, n’you promised you’d keep them all safe–”
“–I did my best–”
“–but apparently it was only because y’wanted in my trews. Should’ve known every Ilonan’s got a monster inside him, had to hold me down and–”
“That’s ENOUGH!” Coryphaeus shouted, the cords in his neck standing out as he leaned into her fury, matching her in stance and rage. “I never held you down but when you wanted me to! You fucking begged me for i–”
The punch that Nathan swung could’ve been lethal, had he used his metal fist. As it was, he dropped the Legatus with one strike, knocking him to the floor. He stood over Coryphaeus, menacing, chest heaving as he breathed raggedly through his teeth, snarling.
Coryphaeus rolled to get his hands under him, and pushed himself up enough to spit blood, gasping, turning to look up at Nathan in dumb shock.
One corner of Nathan’s lips peeled back, revealing his teeth fixed in a mad-dog snarl. “Stay. Down.”
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