This is Issue #15 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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Stunned, Coryphaeus pulled back after a few moments, and stared down at Jules in wonder. His dark eyes shone, and he looked almost lost, confused.
She schooled her face, but could not stop the flush in her cheeks. Clearing her throat, she pulled away and smoothed her robes, looking down at her feet then as she said, “I’d like to clean up. And… I’m hungry. Could I… Is there food? I could make us–”
“Go bathe,” Coryphaeus said, heat in his cheeks as he turned away, trying to keep her from seeing his face. “I’ll make food.”
“You don’t have t–”
“I’m hungry, too, Commander,” Coryphaeus said firmly. “Go clean up. You’ll feel better.”
Jules slunk away toward the washroom, feeling both irritable and apologetic, the giddy joy of that kiss turned to ashes so easily, not knowing how to act or what to say. When she let herself into the tiled room, she shut the door and turned on the water in the giant tub, letting the sound of its splashing cover up the fact that she was standing still, staring at herself in the mirror.
She stared that way for a long time, finally peeling the robes from her skin, looking at bruises, scratches, twisting and turning so she could see the burn scars down her spine, in the mirror. How long had it been? She didn’t really know. Some days had blended into others. She was scarring, no longer bleeding. It had been some time, then.
She met her own eyes and frowned in the mirror for a long while, watching her own face. “The fuck are you doing, Yana?” she whispered to herself. “Guy shows you a little humanity and you throw yourself at him?” She looked down at the ring on her left hand and the pang of misery that came was so all-encompassing that she found herself on her knees in front of the toilet heaving silently, struggling to rid herself of a feeling she was too terrified to acknowledge.
Nathan would not care that she kissed Coryphaeus, Westlander or no. Nathan would not feel betrayed if she fucked an entire army. Nathan was a jealous man, but not of her body, or even her heart. He simply loved knowing he came first.
But now he’d never come first again.
He’d never anything, again.
But if by some miracle he was watching her from whatever afterlife would have him, Nathan would not want her broken by grief. He would not want her to wind down like some neglected doll, springs and gears turned to rust.
He would want her to be able to rise above her grief, and find joy again, as soon as she could.
He would rather she forget him than weep for him.
“You stupid, stupid man,” she said quietly, resting her cheek on the rim of the bowl. “You stupid fucking man; why’d you go and do a stupid fucking thing like die on me?”
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When Coryphaeus knocked on the door half an hour later, Jules didn’t answer. He could still hear the water running; it was reasonable that she would want to take her time cleaning up. Since the Hunt, everything had been hard for her — when he kept bringing her back to his home, he did not insist she wash or change her clothes, and in fairness, she needed both of those things to be done.
So he gave her time, and did not disturb her.
Half an hour later, he knocked again. When there was still no response, he tried the door, heart in his throat.
What if she’d escaped again? What if she’d hurt herself? What if she was simply there in the tub, lifeless, gashes in her arms and legs, her blood filling the tub? He opened the door with his eyes closed at first, took a deep breath, and opened them.
There she was, curled up in a ball, naked on the floor, the water still running, tears dried on her face.
She looked like she’d fallen asleep.
“Commander,” he said, gently shaking her. Her skin felt chilled, clammy. “You really need to eat. To drink. To take care of your body. You are doing yourself no good this way.”
Rousing, Jules looked up at Coryphaeus and said sadly, “I’m having trouble giving a shit. You get that, right?” She even smiled pathetically, pleading with him. Don’t make me get up. Don’t make me keep going.
“I do,” he said softly. “A meal will not bring him back. Neither will sleep. Neither will time, nor laughter. None of these things will fill the empty in you. But none of them will hurt, either, and perhaps they will ease the other pains that are adding up beside your broken heart. I can wash you and put you in bed. I can feed you. I can do everything except sleep and swallow for you, Commander. At some point, you will simply have to move on with the business of living.”
Her pale eyes were hard as she stared up at Coryphaeus, saying, “And if I don’t want to?”
Stop it this instant, Yana. You’re being selfish, she told herself. You already know you have to. You already know you’re not some weak little sniveling girl who’s going to die from a broken heart.
But he’s gone.
And he’ll be gone forever.
No point in wailing, right?
Might as well breathe.
Might as well get up.
She heard her own voice say it in her head, but just couldn’t bring herself to listen.
He watched her a long time, brows knitted in concern and frustration. “Then you will die here, for no reason, on my washroom floor, and it will be a waste. I cannot stop you, and I don’t want to stop you, if you are so determined. But you have not thrown yourself from the cliff, nor have you provoked a fight with a guard, or turned yourself over to the Princess. I have to believe something in you is still fighting. You don’t seem like the type to give up.”
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