Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
Jerica ate all the food Akeno brought – plus more from the barracks kitchen as well. She was far hungrier than she thought. The food dumped life back into her. So did her friends. Not that she’d ever admit that they were making her feel better. Or that she needed them to.
“You should be with Nykim,” Jerica said at last, looking over at Rek. She had a leg hooked over the arm of her chair, nursing the second mug of beer she’d sent for.
“Nykim will be there,” Rek brushed her off. “And he wants me to be here right now. We both know how much we owe you.”
She waved her hand vaguely, taking a long drink of the beer. They weren’t going to do this now. There was no way to reassure Rek other than pretending it wasn’t a big deal; and no way to reassure Akeno aside from telling him how absolutely terrible Stanton was. They were both here now and she wasn’t a fan of entering into situations where there was no way to win.
“And you…don’t you have something you should be doing?” She looked at Akeno, then blinked as she realized her head felt a bit lighter than she’d thought. She counted and realized she hadn’t included the beer from the palace in her calculations – so she was near the bottom of the third of some very tall mugs. Oh well. At least it was numbing. “Now that you can’t do me anymore?”
Rek snorted loudly and choked on a laugh.
Akeno flushed, face turning red in an instant as he averted his gaze.
Derik huffed a sigh.
She smirked. Three for three – a predictable reaction out of all of them. She turned a crooked grin towards Derik. “You know you missed me.”
“I did miss you,” Derik agreed, rolling his eyes. “I just forgot about that mouth.”
“Oh. I’ll remind you, then.” Jerica stretched her back, but didn’t sit up, so it was an awkward movement. She yawned, exhaustion suddenly hitting her. “Because my mouth, in fact, never stops running.”
“Yes, I remember now,” Derik said dryly.
Jerica grinned and twisted to sit upright in her chair, slouching low over her legs as she yawned again. She’d drank too much. She wasn’t properly drunk – it was more just a pleasant buzz – but enough for it to feel sedative. And she’d had to deal with far, far too many emotions in the past day to pretend that the lack of sleep wasn’t fazing her.
She yawned again.
“Did you sleep at all?” Derik looked concerned.
“Of course, I –” A yawn cut her off. And her wrist zapped her. “Dammit!”
He raised an eyebrow. She glanced towards Akeno and Rek, but they looked equally concerned. She scoffed and took another drink of the beer, finishing off this mug as well. She swallowed, savoring the slight burn in her throat as she leaned forward to set the mug on the edge of Derik’s desk. She yawned again.
“I’ll take that as a no,” Derik said dryly.
She felt strangely defensive, and leaned back in her chair. “You try to sleep with Stanton’s dick pressed against your back.”
She cringed too. “That’s not what I—”
She glanced over at Akeno and Rek. It was a mistake. Guilt flooded into Rek’s eyes and he looked at her apologetically. Akeno flushed a bit, locking eyes with her for the briefest moment before he looked at the ground.
“Not what I meant,” Jerica backtracked, trying to figure out how to salvage this. It was exactly what she meant. But she hadn’t meant to say it out loud. “I just don’t sleep well when I don’t have the bed to myself.”
Another lie. Another tingle in her wrist.
But, not one that Rek or Derik could call her on. Sure, they probably knew some of the nights Akeno had spent in her room. But they never brought it up, and she certainly didn’t offer. For all they knew, she did rest badly with Akeno in the bed with her and just decided it was worth it. But Akeno knew the truth, and there was a slight glint to his eye when he looked up to meet her gaze.
“Anyway!” She pushed herself to her feet, smiling as she staggered to the side a bit. The beer had taken away enough of the tension that her chest didn’t hurt anymore – and even her bloodied hands were tingling and numb. “I think I’m drunk enough for a nap. Shall we?”
Derik sighed but nodded. “Alright.”
“You.” Jerica patted Rek’s chest as he stood up. “Go back to your husband.”
He wrapped her in a hug. She returned the embrace for a long moment.
“And you.” She turned and wrapped her arms around Akeno, not even sure what to say to him. Her throat suddenly felt tight as she found herself in his strong embrace once more. She looked up at him for a long, tense moment. His face was so close to hers. So tempting. So kissable. She patted his cheek instead. “Go find yourself a husband or something.”
She smirked and stepped away, gesturing at Derik. “May as well get you one, too, while we’re at it. Husbands all around.”
“Pretty sure only one of us wants a husband,” Derik murmured, wrapping his arm around her shoulders as they stepped towards the door.
“True,” Jerica agreed. She hesitated as her gaze flicked over Derik’s shoulder and landed on Akeno’s face for the briefest moment. It was long enough to send a fresh pang of regret through her. “Well… there are some husbands I wouldn’t mind.”
Akie smiled at her sadly. She turned her mouth up in the briefest hint of a smile, then turned and walked out the door, taking on her boisterous persona once more. Enough of that. There was no point in getting wrapped up in her feelings again. She was married to the slimiest boy in the country. And that was that.
“I feel like I would make a pretty amazing husband,” Jerica mused as she walked through the anteroom. She turned back as they all waited for Derik to lock his office door. She flexed, standing on her tip toes to prove her point. “I’m muscle-y.”
“And that’s all you need, of course,” Derik said flatly.
She continued, undeterred. “My ego is massive.”
“No arguments,” Rek said dryly.
“And my hair is fabulous,” she concluded, dramatically running her hand through her own hair before she reached up to muss up Rek’s. “Better than yours, lover boy.”
“Being hot is Nykim’s job,” Rek muttered, following her into the hall.
“Fair,” she agreed. Nykim was attractive. She turned around and walked backward in front of the three of them, rambling through the implications. “You think Stanton realizes he has an excellent husband?”
“You should tell him,” Rek said encouragingly.
“You should not,” Derik cut in with a sigh. Always the voice of reason.
“What do you think he’d do if I called him my wife?” Jerica continued, pretending that she hadn’t heard Derik.
“Only one way to find out…” Akeno murmured, smirking a bit.
“You should not,” Derik repeated, grabbing her shoulder and pushing her around to walk correctly as they got to the door of the barracks. “Stop antagonizing Stanton.”
“Stanton has it coming,” Jerica retorted, pushing the door open and striding outside.
They’d had this exact conversation many, many times in the past. ‘Be nice to Stanton’ ‘Stop antagonizing Stanton’ ‘Don’t threaten Stanton’ ‘You don’t need to insult Stanton when you see him this time’ – rinse and repeat and multiply by a lifetime. Derik chiding her not to be mean to Stanton; her reminding Derik that Stanton deserved it.
“Doesn’t mean you should bring it,” Derik murmured, patting her back as he fell into step to her left. Rek was on her right. She was vaguely aware that Akeno was off to her right as well. She nodded with a sigh.
It wasn’t going to stop her.
But there was some truth to Derik’s sentiment. She’d already tried being nasty to Stanton, and it had – somehow – not deterred him in the least. Otherwise, she might see if he’d rescind the marriage if she was nasty enough to him. But that didn’t seem likely. So, maybe, she should try to draw a truce… somehow.
Maybe, if she was lucky, they could come to some agreement where she’d only have to deal with him in the evenings. She had no doubt that he’d demand that much. But maybe, just maybe, they could figure out a way for him to be satisfied with that alone so she could pretend that he didn’t exist during the daytime.
“Man, I’m ready for a nap.” Jerica yawned again, still feeling a bit buzzy, but now, mostly sleepy instead.
“I’m sure you’ve earned one,” Rek murmured.
“Surprised you don’t need one.” She smirked.
He flushed and looked away.
“Shh, be nice,” Derik scolded.
Jerica laughed lightly, glancing between the three of them as they walked. She really was lucky, in some ways anyway. Sure, Biryn was entirely nasty to her. And she hated almost every moment of every day. And had the world’s worst husband. But, at the end of the day, she had an uncle, and a cousin, and a…General… who all cared very deeply about her.
And that meant a lot.
“All jokes,” Jerica assured him, wrapping an arm around Derik and leaning in for an awkward-hug as they rounded the corner to the courtyard.
They stopped short.
The courtyard was bustling with commotion. The Fillmores’ carriage was prominent in the center of the space. Servants were loading trunks and chests onto the caravan that they’d brought with him. She didn’t know what this meant. The Fillmores? Leaving so soon? It seemed too good to be true.