This is Issue #75 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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“You are arrogant in a fashion I can barely comprehend,” Nixus growled, moving to get up.
Jules laughed without humor, breathless, nodding. “Yeah.”
“I want you dead,” Nixus added. The glower on her face turned her features harder, sharper; her gaze was a blade that could cut. “He trusted you. I trusted you.”
Jules nodded again, moving to get up as well. “Yeah.”
“You should go.”
“You really believe that?” Jules looked at Nixus, pained. “You honestly believe that? You tell me he still loves me, and you want me to just leave?”
“You’re a child.”
“I’m half again his damn age!” Jules’s voice cracked into exasperated giggles. “I’m old enough to be your port-mother, faith’n’fuck-all, Nixus!”
“I repeat, you’re a child. You know nothing of love, you–“
“Shut your mouth. I’ve loved longer than you’ve been alive,” Jules hissed. “You want to believe you have some kind of higher knowledge of something no one can dissect much less explain? Go fuck yerself, Nixus. You’re not better’n’me, an’ I’m not better’n’you. Love’s messy and stupid and full of fuckups. N’you don’t get to tell me of his heart, not ever, so–“
“I imagine I do.” Coryphaeus stood in the doorway, barely backlit, watching both women with an expression that was nothing so much as exhaustion.
“I told you–“
“Stop. Please, the both of you,” Coryphaeus sighed. “Nixus, go find Sollerti. I have no doubt he was hoping for an evening with you before tomorrow’s… events.”
Nixus raised her brows, half-inclined to remind her brother that she took orders from no one save the Guardian now, but instead, she nodded, and went to leave the courtyard, purposefully shoving past Jules, making the woman stumble.
Jules sighed, smirking wryly after her, feeling relieved she would be able to plead her case. She turned around to look at Coryphaeus, but her shoulders fell as she saw he was already turning away from her. “Legatus?”
He paused in the doorway, one hand on the jamb, but didn’t turn back to look at her. He said nothing, but waited.
“I–” Her voice failed her, and she stood there, staring at him.
He didn’t even turn at first, sighing irritably as he spoke. “I swear upon the heavens, Commander, if you slip right now, I will let you fall and crack your skull bloody. I do not have time for even fate’s humor–“
When he did turn, Jules was there, staring at him in the dark. Slashes of ragged moonlight fell over her, spilling past the trees surrounding the villa plaza. “I’m not… I’m not slipping,” she said, and then cleared her throat, glancing away. “I just don’t–I just don’t know what to say.”
Coryphaeus shrugged. “I hardly know, myself. I am fairly certain, commander, that there is nothing that can be said that might make the situation less awkward. I assumed far too much about my importance to you, which was naive, considering our circumstances–“
Jules tried to interrupt, saying, “No, y–“
Coryphaeus pressed on, shaking his head, “I’m an Ilonan officer. You’re a Westlander. How am I ever to trust you? How could I possibly? What would have made me think you had true feelings for me? The only time you were honest with me, Jules, were the nights you begged me back into my own bed. You used me, and told me it meant nothing, and I should have believed you then. I was a classic fool to think otherwise.”
Jules stared at him, silent, letting those words hang between them. She looked pained as she finally held her hands up, empty. “It seems y’got me figured out, then,” she said, shrugging.
“I’m of no use to you now, Jules. Your husband is here. The army of your homeland is coming. You should go,” he said to her, looking tired. “Get out of this place before someone realizes you for the enemy.”
Jules’s eyes widened. “The enemy? I’d just lost my husband, Coryphaeus. How–“
“Well you’ve got him now.”
“Why… Are you doing this? Are you being cruel on purpose?”
“Is there any reason I shouldn’t be?”
“Do you think me that monstrous? Do you believe I orchestrated this? That I planned to break your heart? That I planned on breakin my own?”
Coryphaeus flinched and then forced himself to recover. He snorted, rolling his eyes. “Nixus was right. You talk of love like a child.”
Stung, Jules closed her eyes, wincing. “Right, then. I ran after you like a frightened child. I’ll give you that much. An’ maybe it was naive of me t’think you’d listen. I’m the one what ought to be listening.”
The legatus cocked his head to the side, and crossed his arms over his chest. “Oh?”
“You were the one who said he could tell me of his heart,” Jules said. “I’d –” She stared at him, trying hard to find the right words, any words at all, that would let him know how shamed she was for so many things she did and said, regardless of whether any of them were ‘understandable’ for the situation. What words could she give to him that would let him know her own heart was true, even if they didn’t speak the same language. “I’d like t’hear it, Cory,” she said, trying not to wring her hands.
Coryphaeus blew out a long breath, sighing, looking down at his feet. “I’m not sure I’m up for it, Jules.”
Jules waited, pained, until he finally looked up at her again. Earnestly, she said, “Moi deystviya ub’yut yego zerkova.”
Coryphaeus frowned slightly, saying, “I — what?”
“I couldn’t find the right words in Celd or –and anyway, I thought you spoke Kriegic?” Jules said, almost laughing.
“All I’m getting out of that is you’re going to kill a mirror,” Coryphaeus said, looking baffled. “If your plot is to confuse me instead of make my angry, Commander–“
“Call me Jules,” she whispered. “It — literally translated, it means ‘My action will kill its mirror’ but it–” Flustered, she reached out a hand to try to touch his cheek, to connect with him. Her heart thudded around in her chest, confused and aching. “It means I’m not your enemy,” she said. “It means I’m sorry.”
Coryphaeus looked away, gritting his teeth.
“Lyubimaya, my sweet one, I love you.”
That got his attention. He turned back to her, stunned, pained, but his expression softened. He wanted to believe her. He wanted it to be true. “But your husband–“
“Isn’t going anywhere, and you’d have to–” Her eyes lost their focus, momentarily.
His expression shifted, concerned now; he was listening to her but waiting for the inevitable as well.
She went on as though nothing happened. “–get used to him.” Her smile was pained as she rubbed her thumb against his cheek. “But my heart can hold the both of you,” she promised. “I–“
As her knees buckled, Coryphaeus broke his word, and caught her in his arms, cradling her so she wouldn’t simply dash her head on the flagstones.
“–thought you said you were gonna lemme fall–” Jules mumbled, one hand clutching weakly at his bare shoulder, fingers trying to dig in. Not yet not yet not yet—
Coryphaeus held her, careful and sure, pressing his cheek to hers and then lifting her into his arms. The last thing Jules heard was his voice, low and steady, determined. “Ego nolo nunquam patitur te cado.”
I will never let you fall.
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