The Queen of All That Lives (The Fallen World Book 3)(13)

By: Laura Thalassa

He shakes his head. “No, Serenity. When it comes to us, nothing is beyond forgiveness.”

I feel my nostrils flare. “You think this is still a game. The world, your power, my life.”

He shakes his head again. “No.” He keeps those tormented eyes of his trained on me. “I really don’t.” His voice carries weight. His years, I decide, are sometimes worn in his words.

“Are you planning on putting me back in there?” After the words leave my lips, I swear I don’t breathe. It matters very much how he answers this.

Montes steps in close. “No,” he says, searching my face.

I shouldn’t believe him, he’s deceptive to his core, but I feel the truth of his words.

He reaches up, as if to touch my face.

“Don’t, Montes, unless you want to lose that hand.”

His entire face comes alive at my words. “You haven’t changed at all.” He says this wondrously.

He always did like the broken things inside me.

His hand is still poised.

“Don’t,” I repeat, raising my eyebrows to emphasize my point.

“Can’t I touch my wife?”

He said those words once before, and this time around they level my heart. Even after all these years, he remembers them.

“What are you doing, Montes?” I ask.

Is it not enough for him to destroy my life?

“Winning you back,” he says.

And then, despite all my warnings, he lays his hand against my cheek.

The King

She slaps my hand away. “I am not some prize to be won.”

God, her anger. It makes the blood roar through my veins.

I am alive. Alive in a way I haven’t been in decades.

To think I lived without this for so long. Unfathomable.

I see hate burning in her eyes. Time has distorted most of my memories of her, but I’m almost positive I’ve never seen this particular brand of it. This fierce thing I’ve bound to my side is dying from the inside out.

That I can’t take.

I don’t give her time to protest before I place both hands on either side of her face.

Now that this fateful day has come, and I have to deal with the fallout of my choices, I find I’m eager for it. Desperate, even.

Serenity tries to pull away, but I won’t release her.

I shake my head. “Fight all you want, my queen, you’re not going to escape me.”

“Fuck you, Montes. Let me go.”

She’s about to get violent. Even if I hadn’t remembered other interactions that spiraled out of control like this, I would be able to sense it.

This terrible angel of mine. I welcome her vengeance.

I squeeze her face, just enough to get her attention. “Serenity, listen—”

She renews her struggles against me. “No,” she says. “I know what you’re going to say, and I don’t want to hear about your suffering.”

I nod. “I know,” I say quietly. “But you will.”

I can tell that this pisses her off, but when I fail to let her go, she stops fighting against me. I think, deep down, she wants to hear me out.

“There is nothing—nothing—I have ever treasured more than you. I let myself forget.” I can feel my eyes begin to water, and any other time—any other time—I would fight back the reaction. But I won’t with Serenity. Let her see her frightening king strip away his barriers for her.

“But you need to know that no one ever made me happy the way you did, and no one ever made me feel the burdens of my war the way losing you did.”

Humans should not be able to feel what I have for this woman. Flesh isn’t strong enough to house this much sadness. If I wasn’t so afraid of death and the reckoning that waits for me on the other side, I’d have exited this world long ago.

She’s blinking rapidly. Despite the firm set of her jaw, my bloodthirsty wife is just about as exposed as I’ve ever seen her.

Breathing quickly through her nose, she wraps her hands around my wrists and removes mine from her face.

“I listened,” she says, “but now you need to listen to me: you never gave me a choice in any of this.

“I watched my mom die when I was ten after one of your bombs exploded outside our house. I became a killer when I was twelve because your war destabilized my country. I became a soldier when I was fifteen because my people were dying, and you were winning. I had to take on my father’s job when I was sixteen because our government no longer had the ability to hold elections.”

Her voice shakes; I can tell she’s fighting tears.

“I was forced to seduce you,” she continues, “the single man I most hated and feared in the world so that my country could know peace. I saw my father die protecting me from you, I held his murdered body in my arms. Even then, once I escaped you, you made me marry you. And then, when you realized I was dying of cancer, you forced me to sleep in that hellish machine of yours for a hundred years. A hundred years.

“So tell me again, Montes, what do you know of suffering?”

The room falls to silence as I take in her pain.

“I know that it makes you come alive, Serenity,” I say softly.

She flinches at that.

“I know that loneliness its own kind of loss, and I have been lonely for a long time.” I want to reach out and touch her skin again just to assure myself she’s real. It’s been so long since I’ve touched anyone. “I know that I want your suffering. I’ll cherish it, just as I do everything else about you.”