This is Issue #77 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 woke, exhausted, and found herself staring into the face of her husband. “You’re alive,” she said, reaching up to stroke his cheek. “Y’really are alive. Y’really came back.”
Nathan smiled crookedly, nodding in silence. When she turned and gagged, he rubbed her back, pulling her hair out of the way, and said, “Soon as you’re up to it, we’ve got to move.”
“Move?” Jules rubbed her eyes and moved to sit up. “Where we goin?”
“North. We’ll take shelter in the mountains, and maybe get picked up by a Krieg ship going back, so–”
“Going back? Are the Kriegs retreating?” Jules looked astonished.
“No, you dizzy nut,” Nathan snorted, kissing her forehead. “The day the Kriegs stand down is the day the sun burns black in the sky.”
“Then what are you talking about? Why would we leave?” Jules’s expression was pure confusion. She let herself be lifted; she leaned close to Nathan’s embrace. She wasn’t sure she couldn’t walk, but it felt damned good to be held.
“Because there is a war coming, Commander, and you were born the losing side.” Coryphaeus’s voice was sudden and irritable.
Nathan could feel Jules tense in his arms.
“Put. Me. Down.” Her voice brooked no argument.
Nathan complied as quickly as possible without dropping his wife.
Jules whirled on the Ilonan, pointing her finger angrily, “Legatus, don’t you even think za odnu chertovu sekundu–”
“Jules,” Nathan interrupted. “Language. The man is–”
“–that I’m going to let you sideline me while you–”
“Per caelo futuam propter, Jules!” Coryphaeus stood, redfaced, fists clenched. “For once, will you not do as you are bid?”
“Are you telling me you’re in love with him and he doesn’t even–” Nathan laughed aloud, looking at Coryphaeus. “Oh you poor fuck,” he said, shaking his head. “Don’t order her around. She’ll only do you the other way, so’s to prove she can.”
“I will not!” Jules said, putting her hands on her hips.
“Y’will. N’don’t argue with me for spite. I came all the way back from the dead for you,” Nathan said, cupping her cheek in his hand. For all the humor the words contained, Nathan’s expression was pained, his eyes dark and wide, watchful.
Jules stared him down, drank him in, and said quite simply, “I’m not running.”
“I ain’t makin you.”
“He is.” She cocked her head toward Coryphaeus, who could not help but feel both extra, in the conversation, and perhaps even mocked more than a little.
“No, he isn’t,” Coryphaeus said archly. “He is giving you exactly what you asked for.”
“Start making sense,” Jules hissed. She looked at Nathan, her expression furious.
“What?” He laughed. “Y’seriously want me t’argue with y’new igrushka mal’chika because he–”
“Boytoy?! Einin, don’t y’even start–”
Coryphaeus growled aloud at being called the ‘new boytoy’ and slammed his fist down on the table. “It’s already settled! You’ll get out of here; there are hundreds of thousands of people arriving for the coronation. You’ll be lost in the crowd. The Kriegs are bloodthirsty, but likely not willing to obliterate the pilgrims. From there, you can make your way to–”
“I’ve got a better idea,” Jules said. “Go fuck yourself! How many times do I have to–”
“Close your mouth, you insufferable pink skinned wretch.”
Jules spun, her mouth open, ready to deliver a stream of invective.
“My brother is giving you an entire ship to use as you see fit,” Nixus said, standing in the doorway with Sollerti, who was staring at Nathan as much as he could without gawking.
“I don’t need–y… What?” Baffled, Jules stared at Nixus, then at Coryphaeus. “What?” She looked at Nathan, who seemed not at all surprised, and gave him a not-entirely-playful punch in the chest. “You knew!” Irritated, she slapped him, and then whirled on Coryphaeus, who lifted his jaw and stared her down.
He would not be accepting a blow from her.
Jules paused, flushing, and released the tension in her shoulders.
“Is everything ready?” Coryphaeus looked to Nixus, expectant.
Jules turned to look at Nixus, her expression wounded, wary. “You tried to get me to run.”
Nixus nodded, her arms crossed over her shoulders. “And I would do it again, stultus. Your visions may be useful, and I plan on reducing the Kriegic army to tears, but your method of ruining men is not at all to my liking. I think giving up even a broken-down passenger ship for you is–”
“Summus.” Though his voice was nothing but polite, Coryphaeus’s expression was sharp as he stared down his sister. He turned his gaze back to Jules, and wished to whatever gods might still listen that his heart would not thunder so, to see her fierce eyes, would not break as it did, to watch them cloud with hurt and anger. “Jules,” he sighed. “Nixus will escort you to your ship. You can run in it, hide in it, fight in it — whatever you desire.”
“Thank you,” she said, and she tried her hardest to offer up in those simple words the earnest gratitude she honestly felt. When no other conversation was forthcoming, she turned to Nixus, saying, “Right, then. If you please, Summus? Only take us as far as is necessary. I won’t waste any more of your time.”
Nixus answered under her breath, “Oh, I highly doubt that.” Sollerti tensed as Nathan bristled; the two men stared at one another briefly, and then Sollerti slipped by, giving Nathan the sublest of nods.
Nixus glanced at Nathan, and then at Jules, and rolled her eyes. “If you think I’m intimidated by some half-man, half-machine beast–”
Jules looked at Nixus sharply, her eyes widening.
“Tace, soror.” The edge of Coryphaeus’s voice was sharp, and Nixus’s lip curled in a faint snarl, to hear it. “What’s done is done.”
“It’s never done,” Nixus growled. She stalked out, and Nathan went to follow her.
“Legatus?” Jules’s voice was small and sad as she took a step toward Coryphaeus.
The young man stepped back, away from hear nearness, her touch. There was something half-frantic about his expression as he glanced up at her. “Commander, just go.”
Jules sucked in a breath, mind reeling as she struggled to come up with something to say. Finding nothing, she shrugged, exhaling in disappointment, and left to follow the others.
Alone with his thoughts, Coryphaeus sank down onto the bed, and put his face in his hands. When he heard the front door pull shut, he decided to save his self control for something more worth it, and wept without shame.
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