This is Issue #132 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
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Jules stared up at a beautiful, beautiful woman whose face was full of both joy and strength. She saw her, and she knew love, in an instant. Love between the woman she looked at, and the body she wore.
She felt a searing horror tear through the inside of her, pulling at her from behind her navel, tearing at her between her legs. She began to scream, to kick, to fight, but her body was both weak and half-immobilized. A terrible weight pressed against her, and she tried to crawl out from under whatever thing was driving knives into her belly.
She looked down to see her skin taut, bronze, and sweating. Her belly rippled, tensed, convulsed. Something wet covered her thighs.
She screamed again.
The woman at her side patted her brow, with a cool cloth, and held her fingers in one hand, caressed her face with the other. “Lucibella,” the woman whispered. “It’s all right — don’t panic. Don’t fight it. Welcome it. This pain means you’ll meet your daughter soon,” she promised.
The heat and fear subsided, leaving a strange euphoria in its wake. My daughter. I’ll meet my daughter soon. Jules felt her eyes rush with hot tears, and her hand tightened around Gemma’s. The abject adoration in the woman’s voice — Gemma. This is my Gemma, Jules knew — was heartbreaking. Could she tell that it was Jules inside? Watching? Living it? Would it matter? A fresh wave of pain broke over her, and she screamed again, writhing up off the bed. “I have to get up,” she whimpered. “I have to.”
“Of course, my darling,” Gemma promised, easing Jules from the bed. “Let’s walk. You’re nearly there. If you move, it’ll help her settle.”
Jules wept as her feet touched the floor, and she leaned heavily on Gemma, allowing herself to be walked around the room, bare feet hot against cold marble tile. She stared down at her massive belly, and rested a hand against the round of it, but flinched back to feel the feverheat of it, gasping aloud. “It’s so hot,” Jules said.
“She is her father’s daughter. The fire of Ilona runs in her,” Gemma said, petting Jules’s hair back from her face.
“It hurts,” Jules whimpered. “I didn’t know it hurt this much,” she said, pausing to lean against a bureau and make a low, aching moan, letting her belly hang, and her back stretch, her legs stretch. “Yebat allt vis hamri molot,” she growled.
At that, Gemma looked startled, saying, “I know. I know it hurts. But it will end. The pain will end.”
Jules muttered, “Bol zhizni zakanchivayetsya kogda ty umresh.” Her grandfather used to say it, when she was little, before his death — whenever she complained about pain. Heartache or a skinned knee, or even a minor indignity. They were all met with this seemingly pitiless reply: The pain of life only ends when you die. Jules found it freeing, especially after Dedi’s passing. Life would mean pain. But it was a reminder that life was still ongoing. There was still hope. A chance. Life left to live.
“Kriegic,” Gemma marveled. “It is the best language for cursing. Bear it, my darling. It will be over soon. We will meet your daughter,” she said, smiling, offering cool water to Jules to drink.
“My daughter,” Jules whispered, nodding, the cool water doing little to ease the burning within her.
The pain came again, and Jules fell to her knees, in Gemma’s arms, grateful for the loving embrace, wondering just how long a birth and a death could take. She had just gotten used to the feeling, the roaring wave, the coming terror, the tension and rippling heat, when she began to feel the need to bear down. She grabbed hold of Gemma’s arm and whispered. “It’s time. I have to. I have to push,” she said, unable to focus on Gemma’s face for a moment. “I have to.”
“Okay. All right, love. Come up to the chair. Here, that’s it, here we go,” Gemma said, carefully helping Jules up, lifting her back to her feet, walking her to a small padded stool. “Here,” Gemma murmured. “Come sit. Put your feet here. There you go,” she cooed.
Jules settled her naked, sweating, round-bellied body into the chair, put her feet where Gemma directed, and laid her head back, looking at Gemma in delirious wonder. She had a moment to look upon the woman, hair curled in damp, sweaty ringlets, her eyes shining in feverbright adulation, her voice kind and soothing, and then the agony overtook her again.
The pain came in waves, then, without ceasing, and Jules felt a pressure within her unlike any she’d ever known. Everything from her breastbone to her knees felt as though it were on fire — she pushed, gritting her teeth and holding Gemma’s hand as though she might break her fingers. Something felt so very close, so terribly close, and she drew a deep breath and pushed again — and felt something below and behind her navel move. For a moment, the agony of the birthing stopped.
Jules felt nearly triumphant — and then the pain returned with a vengeance. She writhed in the chair and began to scream for her own mother, shrieking in Kriegic, and finally bawling for Nathan, keening as she felt her body splitting open, tearing asunder.
Gemma, who had been avidly watching for the child, looked up at Jules as she howled in anguish, a worried look on her face. “Lucibella?” she whispered, her eyes going wide. “My Luci?”
“No,” Jules sobbed, convulsed in tremors of torturous agony. “No–” She pushed again, struggling, and felt the fire between her legs simply envelop her as something within her came free. She spasmed, her legs going numb, and suddenly she found she could no longer breathe.
Gemma’s own cry lifted, high and wailing, and the last thing Jules heard were the doors to the outside world opening, and guards rushing in. Gemma’s heartbroken face was the last thing Jules saw as the world around her simply fell to black.
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