This is Issue #72 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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Though normally, Lucida was the one to come to his room and hurry him along, Jet noticed the time, and made his way to her rooms, marveling at the way existence normalized itself. He was not afraid of the coronation. He was not worried — he could feel no papilones in his stomach, no strange flutter in the back of his throat.
He smiled sadly at the idea; was this simply how things would be, from now on? War was coming; it was inevitable, and now his people knew it. They cried for his leadership, his protection, his love, and he felt honor bound to give it. There was no question; he would be the man they asked of him — he could do nothing else.
That required the crown, and the crown required the ceremony, and the ceremony required his many-layered costume, and his joyful participation.
And his wife.
“It is nearly time.” Jet stepped in to Lucida’s dressing room, taking in the site of dozens of dresses and wraps and such upon the floor, flung here and there. It looked as though her closet had been destroyed by some windstorm, its contents strewn everywhere but within it.
“And I am nearly ready,” Lucy answered, her voice sulky. “It would have been quicker, but I do not seem to own a single scrap of fabric capable of being regal.”
Jet carefully stepped around piles of jewels, an open chest, spilling fabric, a spilled box of makeups, a tipped-over planter, books, and a rather fat cat, laying in a patch of sunlight. “I see. And have you found something that will suffice?”
“I suppose it will have to be good enough,” Lucida sighed, taking an edge of her wrap and fluttering it dismissively.
“And are your ladies finishing up somewhere else?” Jet looked around at the disarray.
“No.” Lucida’s voice grew darker.
“No.” Jet tasted the word, biting the inside of his lower lip. He cleared his throat, saying, “Have you sent them–“
“I have none.” Lucida said, her voice tight.
“Ah.” He cleared his throat again and said, “Not even–“
“Do you want t–“
Jet paused, trying to figure out the best way to proceed. He shrugged, and went with honesty. “Well. You don’t need them to be beautiful at any rate,” Jet offered, smiling. “You look…” Jet’s expression twisted briefly as his brows furrowed, and he searched for a word. “Edible. Delicious. Esculamentum?”
“I am attempting to take that as a compliment, caro.” Lucida fussed with her hair in her mirror.
Jet chuckled. “Love, you call me a piece of meat as an endearment.”
“Everyone is meat.”
Jet turned, grinning, amused at Lucida’s feisty answer, but Lucida was not smiling in return.
She was not looking at him at all, actually, and had instead a look of intense frustration tightening her face into a grimace as she glared at herself in the mirror.
Jet could hear her muttering to herself under her breath, nearly biting the words in two as she growled them out.
“Stultus,” she hissed. “Stultus, stupid hair, why will you not lay as I put you!”
“Lucymea?” Tentative, Jet reached for her and went to lay a hand on her shoulder, gentle — only wanting to connect.
“What?” Lucida snapped, pulling the hairpins from her curls and flinging them. She slapped her hands down on the vanity and glared at Jet in the mirror.
Jet stepped back. It might have been funny, save for how it was disconcerting, that a man who feared nothing, not even death, flinched at the temper of Lucida Venator. “Have… have I done something to displease you?” He cocked his head to the side, watching her with both apology and dismay. “If I have–“
“No,” Lucy sighed, her shoulders slumping. “No, my Black Stone, you have done nothing wrong. It is just… Acer has returned. I know she is with him.”
Jet nodded solemnly, and put his hand back on Lucy’s shoulder.
She reached a hand up and laid it over his, and just as he realized there were tears in her eyes, she looked down, away.
Jet knelt and put his arms around her, kissing her cheek. “I love you, my wife. I know you did not want a husband. I know you did not wish for me, as Immanis had wanted us together. I know you loved her. I know her betrayal was–“
“I love her still,” Lucy whispered, twisting to bury her face in Jet’s neck. “She betrayed me, and I love her, still. She drugged me. Violated me. Violated you, and I love her, still.”
Jet looked pained, cradling her close, rubbing her back. “I’m so sorry, Lucy. I–“
Lucy wasn’t quite listening, still pressed close, trying to explain. “We go to be crowned, and I have spent the time without her working to forget her. Forget her vultus, her nidor, her tactus, her risus, sed Jet — est non operans, it’s not working!”
She ran back and forth from the Ilonan tongue to the vulgar, and Jet could feel her tears on his skin.
He knew what that felt like; he still thought of Immanis.
His face, his scent, his touch, his smile.
And even as Secta–Ah, Secta! An injured party in all this, innocent and sweet, brilliant and giving, and so like Kieron, and so unlike him all at once–all but begged to love him, he still thought of Kieron.
Still, Jet thought of Kieron.
Of his face, his scent, his touch, his smile.
Jet found he could not help but think of Kieron, even as he had sworn the morning of his wedding that he had burned away the boy that loved him.
How could that boy truly be gone, when he knew Kieron had lived?
Hot tears rushed to his eyes and he wrapped his arms even more tightly around Lucy. “I know,” he whispered. “I know, love.” He wanted so terribly to comfort her, to be comforted, that when she twisted in his arms and put her mouth on his, he did not push her away.
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