Cordelia let her head thunk down on the table in front of her. Not an hour after Vivian had left, someone had come to move her to a larger holding cell with a table, bed, and no manacles to chain her to the wall. There was even a digital clock on the table, a large window, and a small private bathroom. Cordelia suspected it wasn’t a holding cell but merely a guest room that Vivian had fortified to allow her to spend her last hours in luxury and she appreciated the extra furniture and items. However, after being on the run for so long, she could sleep almost anywhere and write at almost the same proficiency as she could when she used a table. That, of course, wasn’t to say that the additional furniture and space weren’t welcome. She preferred a bed and desk whenever possible but they weren’t necessities anymore.
Right now, Cordelia was attempting to write a will. For what purpose, she wasn’t sure. She had no possessions, nor any family that would benefit from them had she had any. But when you’re on death’s doorstep, you write a will. And if she wasn’t on death’s doorstep yet, she didn’t know if she would ever be.
Cordelia knew that her will wouldn’t be well received, at least by James and maybe some of the friends she had from the Academy all those years ago. For a moment, she was lost in her memories, reminiscing a time before she had realized just how evil the Empire was. But then the Emperor had died. His subjects had rejoiced, claiming that a new generation was upon them and the Empress would lead everyone forward into a new generation. Cordelia was one of those people. She knew her hate for Vivian ran deep but deeper, much deeper, was the certainty that Vivian had the skills and the drive to make the Empire a better place.
So she set her pen to paper and began to write. Sort of. James would hate her will with every fiber of his being and that was incentive enough to pause. She knew that without a doubt, he would hate it. If only because a will was final, something concrete that was solid proof of the coming end. With her thoughts on James, she rose, walked slowly to the window. The first thing she’d done when she got to the room was determine if the window was breakable and how far below the ground was. Purely a habitual thing, Cordelia didn’t think she would be escaping the Empire any longer. Alas, even had she wished to escape, her room was very high up, at least five stories off the ground, and the window was made of thick, unbreakable glass.
James would be worried she knew. Not worried, she corrected herself with a slight laugh, angry. Very angry. He would have read the note by now, probably searching for her this very instant.
Cordelia was right of course. James had the note.
In fact, James had just finished reading the letter a mere few seconds ago. James threw down the letter and pelted down the hallway at top speed, a missile with one target; Cordelia. No one stopped him as he tore through the hallways and the murderous look on his face could certainly have something to do with that. At the entrance to the cells, he barked a single order at the four men stationed there and it was all they could do to get the door open before James was once again on the run. The hapless guard whom they others had selected to assist James trailed, behind fearfully. He was obviously attempting to be far enough away to escape being the subject of James’s wrath but close enough that he could help the man with whatever he needed. James skidded to a halt in front of Cordelia’s cell with another sharp order: “Open it!”
The guard hastened to oblige, fumbling with the large key ring at his belt. In doing so, he dropped the entire thing and as he leaned over to retrieve them, he swore to himself that he would make his comrades pay for choosing him to assist the angry soon-to-be royal. On his second try, the guard managed to locate the correct key and open the sleek, silver door. It was empty. James rounded on the guard. “Where is she?”
“She-she was moved, my lord.” The poor guard was trembling under the smoldering gaze of the other man. “To a guest room, on the sixth floor of the Rose Tower.”
And James was gone again, rage fueling his actions, making him almost tireless. He knew the room, or at least he would. All the rooms on the third floor of the Rose Tower were unoccupied so Cordelia’s would be the one with men guarding the doors. There. Two men, straight backed and alert. That was hers. “Open this door!”
The guards obeyed at once, recognizing him for the lord he was. And there she was, Cordelia. He was overjoyed to see her but less than happy about the position he found her in; poised in a squat above her chair as if undecided between hiding and staying put. Her eyes found his face guiltily and she sat back down, ducking her head so that James couldn’t read the shame in her eyes. Cordelia couldn’t believe that she would try to run from the man she loved. She had been attempting one last time to write her will but all she had only gotten as far as the first line when James had burst in. “Turn the cameras off and close the door,” James snapped over his shoulder. The guards obeyed without question and he strode into the room angrily. “Where did you think you were going?”
“Look at me when I'm talking to you, Cordelia!” James ordered, grabbing her roughly by the arms and shaking her. Cordelia grunted in pain and surprise. James released her immediately, flexing his hands as if just realizing his actions. "I'm sorry."
"No, you deserve to be mad," Cordelia agreed, rubbing her arms where he'd grabbed her almost unthinkingly, now staring into the distance at a point just above his shoulder. But despite her steady voice, James could read the slight fear in her eyes, fear of him and what he'd do. She had never been scared of him before.
"I'm sorry, Cordy, I'm sorry," he repeated. "I shouldn't have let my anger get away with me. I'm sorry. You don't have to be scared of me, I would never hurt you."
Cordelia chuckled weakly. "I'm not scared of you exactly, not very much at any rate. I'm scared of what you will do when you're in a mood like this, the lengths you will go to break me out of here. But you're right, you are also very dangerous when you're mad, remind me to never make you so again." She added the last sentence with a small smile.
"Might be too late for that." He held up her will, he had seen the paper and read the one line at a glance. He could feel the anger churning inside him again but he resolved to keep his actions independent of his emotions this time. "What is this?"
“It’s my will,” Cordelia replied softly, finally meeting his eyes.
“And why are you writing one of these?” James asked, just as softly.
“Because I’m going to die tomorrow?” She offered weakly.
He dropped to his knees before her. He would never beg for someone to spare his life, not his family who shipped him off to marry Vivian in the first place. But he would beg for his Cordelia. “Please, Cordelia. I love you still and I want you here. With me. Alive.”
“I love you too, James,” Cordelia murmured. She rose and gestured for him to sit with her on the bed. He rose and obliged, sitting at her side and wrapping his arm around her shoulders. “But James, can’t you see this is for the greater good?”
“I can’t, love.”
“James, no.” Cordelia shrugged his shoulder off and rose, ignoring the hurt in his gaze, the dagger that thrust into her heart. She paced the room a couple of times before coming to a stop before him. “James, I am so tired. Tired of pretending to be strong when I know I’m not. Tired of laughing in the face of my pain. Tired of being on the run. Tired of looking over my shoulder day after day, waiting to be caught. Tired of seeing you and Vi together. Tired of killing, tired of death. I’m so tired, James. I’ve lived a good life, I found someone I truly love. I’m ready to go.”
“You don’t have to pretend anymore, you can just be you,” James said desperately. “I could take you away from this place, we could go together. Just like we said we would.”
“No, we would never make it.” Cordelia shook her head decisively. “And besides, Vi needs you, the Empire needs you.”
“Screw the Empire,” Jared snapped. “We don’t need them. We can run away, get on a ship and sail to a new land. Together.”
She was tempted, she’d admit that much but in the end, the Empire needed him and she was standing in the way. “No, James. I’m sorry. I will die in the morning. Don’t try to prevent it. I am ready to go.”
James bowed his head miserably. “Will nothing change your mind?”
“I’m sorry.” Cordelia was sorry; so, so sorry that she would be a point of grief for him and that she wouldn’t be here for him in the near future.
“Then I will be there,” James said with conviction. He raised his head and met her gaze, steel sharpening his usually soft, hazel eyes. “At the end. I will be there with you, I will not let you go alone.”
“I can’t ask that of you.”
“You’re not, I want to be there. I love you, Cordy, and we will finish this, together.”
“I love you, James.” Cordelia didn’t bother to try to hide the flow of tears that materialized with his words and James didn’t either. There was a point in a relationship that you didn’t care how your counterpart viewed you because you knew they would always love you. That was a very hard point to reach, the point when you could lay your heart bare, content with the certainty that they wouldn’t abuse your trust. They were way beyond that point. They would sacrifice anything for each other and Cordelia was going to do just that. She knew that James could never live a happy life with her on the run and the only option that didn’t call for her death was the escape of them both. Though like before, she knew that wasn’t the life she wanted for James.
But it wasn’t a sacrifice for just James, it was also a sacrifice for the Empire. Without her, the Empire could grow stronger, she stood in the way of the relationship of Vivian and James, the relationship that was the key to the flourishing of the Empire. She was giving it all up, everything for James and the Empire.
“I love you, Cordy,” James whispered. “And I will be there for you, to the very end. I love you and I will stand with you forever. I promise.”
In the end, Cordelia didn’t write her will. She had decided against the finality and she had already said everything she wanted to say. So she spent the last day of her life gazing out the window of her room in a state of serenity. Sometimes James stayed with her and sometimes Vivian joined them. They just watched the grounds as day faded to night, together.
And James kept his promise. At dawn, he emerged from the castle at Vivian’s side. Together, they watched as Cordelia was brought to the block and made to kneel before the crowd. Just before the final blow, she caught his eye and smiled sadly. He nodded back solemnly, and when the final stroke took her life, he didn't look away, he was here for Cordelia and only Cordelia. James was at her side until the very end.