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To Seek A Love: Book 1

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"I do think my husband should be arriving at any moment..." Emilia murmured to herself in the looking glass. She leaned forward a little to study herself. It was nothing but fancy, certainly, for she knew herself to be beautiful--or at least to have fine looks...or at least to look only as fine as she ought to. Fancy, it was. A vain fancy that stemmed from her recent friendship with Desdemona, a lovely girl who was quite a few years Emilia's junior, and, perhaps, a little more in prime. Was it true? Emilia thought that perhaps it was, and yet, dared not think it. Jealousy would do no good, and it was she who was charged with Desdemona's well-being. To be jealous of one's own lady would indeed bring no benefits, and besides, Emilia rather liked the girl. She decided, staunchly, to let nothing strain the relationship.


"Oh, content you, Emilia," Emilia scoffed at her reflection. "You are just what you ought to be, and no more than that. For what reason should you desire fetching looks? It is those fetching looks, indeed, that do fetch scoundrels and men of flirtatious natures." She paused to give her words leave to ripen in the air, so that they might be of better quality to be understood, but shortly thereafter Emilia found in herself a sudden whim to make such faces into the mirror that denoted the flirtatious natures she had spoken of so contemptuously. She lifted her chin, raised her eyebrows, and pursed her lips.

"...Why, my dear husband...I am glad to think that in your eyes, I am a woman of more beauty than a goddess. But I pray tell, which goddess might you mean? Lovely Aphrodite?" Emilia flashed a coy smile into the looking glass and silently praised herself, in pleasurable guilt, for the alluring tones she had managed to achieve in her voice. "Ay, you flatter me much."

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The chamber Iago and Emilia had been given was, he reflected with no small amount of irritation, a truly abominable sight. Comprised of one room twelve paces wide, it was an accommodation more befitting a common soldier than an ensign: too small to afford any sort of privacy, and thus forcing an obligation to intimacy that he was entirely unwilling to bear at present.


He could hear her murmured conversation with herself clearly through the closed door, and shook his head slightly in contempt as he paced silently outside the damned apartment. Why did she speak so, condemning her vanity and turning about and flattering herself as a goddess in his eyes in the next moment? Did she really believe that he thought so highly of her? She was an intelligent woman, was she not?


"A goddess, indeed," he muttered, running a hand wearily through his hair as he leaned against the wall. "Deluded prattle. What does she wish me to do, praise her beauty to the heavens, take her into my arms, and worship her? I might sooner take a demon to my bosom than humor such false ideals." He was hypocritical, he knew; humoring falsehoods and misbegotten dreams seemed to be his sole livelihood of late...but that did not mean he had to contend with such nonsense in his own home...or lack thereof, but no matter.


"Ay, you flatter me much." The words irked something in him that he couldn't name, and he found himself clenching his hands into white-knuckled fists, breathing out slowly through teeth gritted with sudden annoyance.


"Do I? Foolish wench, I'll show you flattery...." And without second thought, his hand grasped the door handle and threw it back, letting the warped wood smash into the wall behind it, sounding for all the world like a death toll.

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Emilia gasped, jumping from her seat at the sudden noise and nearly dropping the looking glass. She did not turn around, but, looking at the mirror, glanced aside from her own reflection to examine the new one that had just appeared. Her heart was beating rapidly, calling out echoes that mimicked the crash of the door. She inspected the face in the looking glass, the one that was not her own, and tried to divine something from it--an emotion, perhaps, or a thought--but could not. Slowly, she lowered the glass, staring straight ahead, not daring to turn and look into his eyes. Had he heard her romantic babbling of nonsense? She felt herself indeed to be a fool. Fantasy did not become a woman; she had heard it said time and time again and each time she knew it to be true. Perhaps spending so much time with Desdemona, the sweet dove, had spoiled Emilia's sense.


"...How now, my husband?" she asked in a calm, measured tone that did no justice to her pounding heart. She would not let him see her fear, nor her shame. To prate to oneself so conceitedly was not becoming, but perhaps she might regain dignity through the pretense that she had never committed the sin. She clutched the looking glass in her fingers and still did not turn around to face him, though she felt his presence.

Emilia frowned slightly. What cowardice. Women were not meant to be afraid of those they called their husbands. Slowly and unflinchingly, she looked over her shoulder, with a level expression that she hoped would say nothing, provoke nothing, admit nothing, fear nothing, and met her husband's eyes.

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She was hiding something. That, he knew; it was blatantly obvious in the slight tensing of her shoulders, the way her lips trembled slightly, even as her bright eyes met his own unflinchingly. She was afraid, he thought...ashamed, perhaps, and he realized at once that she was fully cognizant of her foolish flight of fancy...repentant, even...doubtful as that was.


The thought did little to sooth his piqued temper, but he tamped down the stirrings of dark, restless rage for now; if Emilia realized and regretted her misstep, he had little cause to punish her for the transgression. Making her admit to the momentary inanity would be satisfaction enough....


"I do well enough," he replied, forcing a civil tone as he unbuckled his sword belt, although he could muster neither the energy nor the patience to bring a convincing smile to his lips. "And you? How have you spent your day, wife, hm?"

Regrettably, even the simple act of speaking to his wife seemed to drain the earlier fury from him, but he willed it to remain for conscience's sake. Here was as good a place as any to vent the frustrations of the day, and if Emilia gave him a legitimate excuse to do much the better.

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Emilia rose from the slightly narrow bed on which she had been sitting, discreetly placing the looking glass on the wooden table beside it. Let him not see the bauble, and haply he might forget its presence, she thought. Iago's voice seemed warm enough; perhaps not kind, but it did not seem to bear any ill will. That did not, however, explain the strength with which he had flung open the door, and she thought the behavior somewhat baffling as she crossed the room to close it, which she did with a humble quietness that contradicted its earlier treatment. This would not be the first time that Iago had baffled her.


"I spent the day attending on Desdemona," she answered, no longer willing sultry qualities into her voice, but ones of stateliness and sensibility. "She is a most handsome creature, with a disposition twice as sweet, and I do think that I am now her friend." Emilia chuckled softly, turning away from the door now to look at Iago again. "I have not laughed in a long time...not as I have with her. And," she added quickly, "I fear I sense it coming--you are about to tell me that women who laugh together are women who take pride in their own foolishness, are you not?" Emilia smiled wryly. "Go on and say it, if you will. I have heard all of your rebukes; one more will not harm me. In any case, I believe that I have almost forgotten happiness as of late, and I am much indebted to my lady for recalling it back to me."

She slowly approached Iago, maintaining the small smile. She was still wondering to herself what she had meant in saying it. If she had been speaking her thoughts aloud, she did not think her husband cared at all to hear them; if it had been an accusation of her husband's negligence thinly veiled by pleasantry, to challenge him was certainly a risk in its own right.

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How dare she. How dare she presume that he was the sole cause of her unhappiness? To be sure, he had been somewhat distant of late, but that was to be expected in a time of war! Aside from that, he had never been one to devote much time to romantic drivel; it had seemed a wasted effort, when Emilia herself expressed contempt over such gestures. Actually, she had never seemed particularly bothered by his aloof behavior for all of the years they had been married. What had changed, that she now craved something in him that had never been there...?


...The little Desdemona, no doubt. Emilia spent every day with the foolish ingenue, and the latter was utterly charmed and consumed by the tender care bestowed upon her by her dark paladin- damn him to Hell three times over!


Forsooth, Emilia, curious, intelligent creature that she was, would observe all of this behavior, and would no doubt begin to wonder why her own marriage did not play out thus, why her own husband never swept her into his arms, covered her with kisses, and carried her to bed to make tender love. Why Desdemona was so happy when she was not.


The realization made him pause, and a stab of something akin to pain shot him through from head to heart, drawing a slight wince from him, unbidden. Thinking on it that way, he truly was in the wrong....


No! He was not accountable for the dismal musings of his wife; he had no place deferring control to her, and taking the blame upon himself. If she found some fault with his character , she should not have made the decision to marry him. At the very least, she should not expect him to change his very nature for the sake of her happiness, which she could easily find elsewhere.


"You speak out of turn," he said quietly, not trusting himself to speak any louder, lest he begin to rage at her uncontrolled. "I leveled at you an honest inquiry, and you turned my words on their head to find some defect in me that I cannot remedy. Would you really like me to disparage you? I had not intended to do so, but I can if you wish; it is not so difficult to find a point of contention regarding certain...frivolous habits I have observed in you of late."

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Emilia stopped in her footsteps, the smile melting from her countenance. He had detected it--the infinitesimal seed of discontentment that she had buried, somewhat unintentionally, within the soil of her words. Now she began to fear what terrible thorned weed she had sown in her carelessness.


"You mistake me," Emilia said, furrowing her brow slightly. "If I may be allowed to object, I simply stated a mere sentiment of mine, which I do claim was honest--more honest than what I might dare to share with you in commonplace--and it was you who turned my words on their head to find some defect in me . I never gave you cause for this sudden rush of unhappy choler--or if I did, in faith, I did not mean to." She paused, and then stepping forward, clasped Iago's hands in her own.


"Come, come, my tired warrior, my indomitable Iago," she said, lifting her fingers to stroke his cheek. "Talk we of blame? We both are too unyielding. I blame you, then you blame I, and I, then you, then you and I and I and you once more--there shall never be an end and we will be all the more exhausted for it. Let not us quarrel...or if we do, let it be in jest, but please...I do not wish to be your adversary."


She let her fingers glide softly back and forth over his skin, examining the stormy eyes. She wondered if she might kiss him and thus remedy him of his acerbity, but in the deepest part of her heart she felt that perhaps it would be more safe to refrain from doing so. To kiss him now would be to entrust her lips to a lion's jowl--she did not know if he was tame, or if the action should aggravate him and make her but his prey.

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Iago let his head fall back, allowed his eyes to slide closed and his lips to part slightly as Emilia's careworn fingers ghosted over the hollow of his cheek. Her touch was delicate, ephemeral, and her mellifluous voice dipped soft and low, caressing him even as she refrained from any sort of physical intimacy.


He felt as though he should chastise her for drawing out her argument when she clearly shouldered as much culpability as he, but at the moment, his attention riveted subconsciously on her gentle touch, he felt his ill will towards her sentiment evaporate slowly, like mist in the harsh light of day.


She had a certain way about her, he thought sardonically: a way of taming the beast, as she had called it, within him. A way of rendering the lion to a volatile, but harmless kitten...although he certainly would never inform her of the power she had over him. It simply would not do to confess such an anachronism...and if she already knew and exploited it for her own gain, well. He could forgive that, perhaps; skill in duplicity was a trait evidently shared by them both, and a surer sign of intelligence in her he could not think of.


"Do you speak in earnest?" he murmured, catching hold of her hands gently and stepping back from her to gaze deep into her eyes. "Or do you mean only to establish some measure of calm in me before resuming with your plaintive accusations?"

Some part of him, some distant, cool, detached voice, told him that his words were bordering unreasonable, but his mind was weary enough that he cared not for his own lack of sense...nor for Emilia's, either. If she was in earnest, so much the better for them both. If not...there would be other ways to shut her up...or else he would simply leave her be. No sense in their continued conflict, either.

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Emilia smiled dryly and tipped her head to one side, circling her thumbs gently over his hands. "Accusations, accusations," she chuckled, "do you accuse me of accusations? In truth, I think--no, indeed I know --that I did hear you purr as I touched your face." She laughed now, a sparkling laugh that she did not expect to rise up in her chest and bubble from her throat like crystal water from a spring. "Do you deny it? Do you deny it, accuser?"


Realizing that Iago might take her playfulness for mockery, she let her laughter trickle down to a thin, pleasant stream and squeezed his fingers kindly, gazing openly into his face. In regretful thoughts that lurked secretly beneath her lighthearted smile, she saw the frivolity in her current behavior. Was it this liveliness that thus irked him so? If indeed it was, she prayed that Iago would excuse it.

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God, but she would be the death of him. Even now, she rent his very soul asunder with her behavior. Such cheer, such light-hearted playfulness, such was uncharacteristic of Emilia, nearly unbecoming, and yet he found he did not mind overmuch, in his heart of hearts, even as her fond, amused tone grated on his nerves.


She was mocking him, far as he knew, Emilia was not ordinarily disposed towards such lively least, not where he was concerned.... Yet the sparkle in her eye was not at all feigned; nor was the bright smile that graced her sculpted features any sort of farce, as it might have been upon his own face. She was genuinely pleased...though her reasons for being such were beyond him at present. Still, if she wished to tease him....


"I do deny it, for I certain such a sound never passed from my lips," he replied shortly, and immediately winced at his abrupt tone. Had he not just admitted (to himself, but no matter) that he wished not for conflict, just as much as his wife? What did it matter that her behavior was singularly frivolous? It had irked him earlier, to be sure, but now...was it really worth his (equally anomalous) rage? What was wrong with him, that he continued to treat her harshly, when he was now angrier with himself than he was with her?

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Emilia lowered her gaze a little, letting both the smile and the cheerful disposition evaporate. Clearly, her husband was not in a state of mind that predisposed him to receive playful jesting with like behavior, and she wondered at herself, that she would let herself imagine that he might. He had already proved himself to be in a sour mood, and Emilia could not expect that it was suddenly safe to make fun just because he had appeared to calm slightly under her touch. Emilia cleared her throat reservedly.


"...Forgive me," she said impassively in a smaller voice than the one she had used earlier, giving a simple nod of her head and glancing askance at the stone floor in mild humiliation. "It was my mistake."


With great care, she withdrew her hands from her husband's and instead dedicated herself to removing his cloak, still resting her gaze upon the ground in silence. The slam of the door had been an omen indeed; she would do well to heed it. She quietly walked around to the back of him and began to focus her energy solely upon the untying of the garment.

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Damn it . Fool that he was, he had upset her; he would be remiss in failing to realize how his harsh words might crush her spirit. Indeed, she moved about him silently, her gaze cast disconsolately upon the cold stone floor as she untied his cloak with deft hands that shook only slightly, betraying her sorrow and unease.


Half of him, some other self caged behind his heart's stone bars, bemoaned this malefaction, raged at it. He could feel its fists beating against those bars, could hear its voice, desperate and hoarse, rising in protest against the oppression of the innocent (for all it was worth) woman it loved .


The other half, a gaoler in its own right, beat down viciously that weak, empathic side: shouted for its silence and whipped it into submission. It was that half which tormented him with assurances of Emilia's puerile idiocy, her mockery, her infidelity, what have you: any transgression he could possibly imagine her undertaking, it believed to be the whole truth. That half encouraged him to exploit Othello's jealousy and suspicion, Roderigo's futile love, Cassio's weakness and desperation, Desdemona's encouraged him to wreak havoc on their lives on the pretext of his own just retribution.


That half battled within him now, trying to urge to wakefulness demons that he'd thought Emilia's tender touch had set to rest. Iago could feel the pain of warring selves in his mind, and thought, dimly, that there was no way some of his distress was not apparent upon his face. He could only pray that Emilia was too preoccupied with her own pain to take notice of his....

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Though she did not look at him directly, Emilia wished that her husband would speak. It was not in his character to console--or at least not to console her --but even if he would simply make one of his bitter remarks, it would be indefinitely preferable to this most unsettling quietness. Emilia slowed her fingers. Did she feel him shudder? Nay, it must have been a figment of her imagination.


The cloak was untied presently. She gave her husband's shoulder an unassuming kiss as his doublet was revealed under the cape, and folding the length of cloth, she brought it over to the single table and laid it beside the looking glass that she herself had nearly forgotten. She paused to look wistfully at her reflection and see only a homely creature looking back at her, before turning back to Iago, her hands clasped in front of her.


"...Is there anything that I may do for you, my husband? It has been a long day, I trust." Seeing his sullen figure moved something in her, and with a sudden passion she felt herself obligated to generosity. "Whatever it is that you will bid me do, I will take care to see that it is done. I nothing but desire your happiness..."

She did want to take him into her arms and brush her fingers against his skin consolingly; she indeed felt a longing to soothe; but seeing as how her last decision to do so had ended in piteous failure, she decided against it and instead resigned herself to gaze somewhere on his person that was not quite his face and not quite his chest, but somewhere ambiguously betwixt the two regions.

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I nothing but desire your happiness.... "Is that so?" he asked, his voice a bare whisper. Only half-conscious of what he did, Iago turned his back on Emilia and stalked tightly to the small window at the far side of the room, resting his elbows on the sill and bringing clenched fists to his brow in aggrieved resignation. "You truly are in an uncommon humor this day, Emilia, are you not?"


He could feel her keen stare burning into his back, and it carried a weight that far surpassed that of his dusty cloak, which she had divested him of not a minute before. There was passion in that gaze, and concern, even, tempered with a humility and meekness that his better half cringed at, and his malevolent half reveled in seeing.


Was subservience a virtue? Should he scorn it as weakness, pray for the return of Emilia's fiery, defiant spirit and combative, trenchant wit? Or should he, as any man might, take pleasure in the knowledge that he had an obedient wife, who desired nothing more than to please his fantasy...?


...The trouble was, he knew that she had appetencies greater than that...had he begrudged her those ambitions so wholly as to drain them out of her? Should he, for once, take her at her word, and turn to meet her, concede to her efforts to please him , as she had requested?


Feigning a vigor he did not feel, Iago ran both hands through his hair once, heaved out a soundless, weary breath, and did indeed turn, casting hard, pale eyes down to meet the supplicant figure of his wife: the picture of contrite solicitude, with her hands clasped before her and her eyes lowered.


"You truly desire to please me?" He spoke to her softly, with only the faintest trace of huskiness betraying his trying thoughts. "Then I would have you leave me, for I find your presence-" NO ! Damn it all, why had he said that? He hadn't meant that at all, it was that cursed other half speaking, he had to find some way to relate that to her...!


Shocked by his own callous words, Iago pressed his eyes closed, unable to bear the image of what he assumed was Emilia's stricken visage, wishing to Heaven he could take the words back while the gaoler threw back its ugly head and laughed.

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Emilia cringed but slightly. Leave him! The nerve of the man. He said it merely for a passing gall of his, did he not? He cared not whether she stayed or went, she felt; he simply wanted to spite her! She felt her eyes turn from entryways to daggers, but she did not move, feeling the essence of the affront turning her feet to stone and keeping them cemented on the ground where she stood. Leave him, he said... And yet, she could not help but wonder if she deserved such treatment. This was punishment for liberating that girlish nature of hers, so long suffocated by those of wife and duty.


Emilia did not move, nor did she cower, still looking unfearfully into her husband's face. Her hands remained clasped and the flash of daggers had passed, replaced only with a nonviolent look of concern.


"I will leave you, Iago," she said quietly, in measured tone, "since it was my promise to fulfill what you would request of me, and it would not befit me to disown what I have pledged. But you have not yet finished your words. If you will but tell me how, indeed, it is that you find my presence, I shall go without any further word."


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She did not see it. She noticed not how her clipped, quiet words plagued him, pained him, struck him to the core. You have done it now, you fool .


Though his eyes remained closed, he could sense that her position had not changed, that her eyes, which only now had been piercing him like daggers, were now burning with a collected fervor, which her anxiously clasped hands belied. He could sense the warring emotions within her: anger at his ill-timed plea, bitterness at his gall...blame, for thinking that she, perhaps, had been the one to bring all of this on....


...Had she? Perhaps; to be sure, he had found her girlish fancies vexing at the start, but he realized now, somewhat sardonically, that he might have forgiven Emilia of that long ago, were it not for his damned, battling mind, making him say what he did not mean, do what he meant not to do....


" If you will but tell me how, indeed, it is that you find my presence.... " Aggravating. Alluring. Worthy of contempt, worthy of respect. Ugly in her fantasy and ill-founded hopes, beautiful in her sound mind, tender touch, and acerbic wit. Reviled by one...loved by the other .


But of course, he would not tell her that. He could barely find the strength to form any words at all, let alone ones of such depth and revelation. Instead, opening his eyes to gaze upon her demure, willful form, he took a step towards her, extending one trembling hand as one might reach out to a wild animal, leery of frightening it off.


"I find your presence to be your own," he replied. "You may make of that what you will, but I meant not what I said...regarding your departure. You must forgive the are right, it had been a long day...."

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Emilia exhaled softly, looking at him with a forlorn expression. She looked upon her husband's quivering hand, and slowly brought her own hand up to his, intertwining their fingers together with great care. She gave his hand a light squeeze, as if by way of giving him a kiss with her fingers rather than her lips.


"...Why is it, Iago, that you must perplex me so?" she asked quietly. "My presence is but my own--that is true enough, yet you have made it a riddle. What can you mean by it? Do you mean to say that it is not any single element about Emilia that you are not fond of, not her ignorance of your innermost thoughts or, haply, her shameless inclination toward outspokenness--but it is Emilia herself for whom you have a hidden enmity? You say you meant not what you said, yet you said it with most appalling rancor in your voice. A long day it has been indeed, but I dare to make it known that your own weariness does not warrant you to make me your victim. Do be honest, good husband, for I know in faith that you are. If you love me, would that you would make it known. If you love me not, alas: it is not kind of you to lead me on to think perhaps you do. You bid me stay, or at least it seems to be so, although you have no clear conviction in it; but I fear that if I do linger, Iago, you should find some other fault in me that will vex you and consequently bestow upon yourself further reason to make me unhappy."


Emilia's eyes began to glisten slightly in the flickering candlelight as she delivered this passionate discourse, and as she finished the fervor with which she clasped his fingers lessened, loosening her hold on them.


"...I would find it dishonorable of you to make sport of my unhappiness," she said finally. "You are not so cruel."

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But he was so cruel. Honest Iago she believed him to be, but Honest Iago he was not, not in practice. In heart, perhaps, but what did heart matter in a world of action, in a world where the just were made gulls of and the corrupt were triumphant? What did heart matter to a woman who misconstrued his every word to her as slight?


"I do not make sport of your unhappiness ," he snapped, extricating his hands from her loose, dejected touch. "And yet, I do not expect you to believe those words. I might embrace you, kiss you, even, and still you would think I mocked you. You say I am cruel, perplexing; you say I hold you in enmity. But, I pray you, consider this: if I were to act in tenderness, if I were to speak in earnest, if I were to say I loved you , you would grow disheartened, bitter, convinced that I spoke such merely to disillusion you! You would think me a two-faced fiend, toying with your emotions for the sake of my own twisted satisfaction!"


Never mind that that was what he was, never mind that he nearly fancied himself to be Janus, having two faces and two lives: honest and duplicitous, good and evil. He had never been so with her; Emilia was the one person he always tried to be true with; if his battles of will interfered with that, it was no fault of hers.


"Well?" Ashamed of the deed, yet unable to will himself to do otherwise, Iago grabbed Emilia's wrist in desperation: not so hard as to bruise or hurt, but with strength enough to make her gasp. "Is that what you think of me? Tell me, wife, for I would, for Heaven's sake, like you to speak your mind!"


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Emilia stared in shock before trying vainly to wrest her arm away from his grasp. "Speak my mind! Do you entreat me to speak my mind?" she retorted incredulously, prying at his fingers. "In faith, I just did but mere minutes ago! Let me speak my mind again, and promptly you shall use my own words against me as you do now or else tell me I prate and command me close my mouth! Two-faced fiend you are, if that is what you call yourself!" Emilia spat the words from her lips, trembling with the sudden fury that had unexpectedly possessed her.


" And you are a coward. Good Iago! Honest Iago! Why, you are naught but chicken-hearted Iago! Gutless, weak-kneed Iago!" she seethed, and with vicious zeal she snapped her arm away. "Ay, ay , a yellow, lily-livered caitiff indeed, if you are so afraid to tell your wife you love her because you fear she will grow bitter! Such philosophy is unsound and comes not from your brain, but from your gall! Alack, more bitter than the too-loved wife is one who receives no love at all!"


Her angry frustration pounded against the inside of her chest, but her tongue was lost to her. Volumes more she had to say, but she had said enough, and past her unmitigated emotion she was still able to recognize that nothing she wanted to say would put the situation in her favor. In her indignation she raised a frightening fist to strike him, but she faltered, and dropping her arms limply at her sides, she buried her face in her hands and fell onto the bed weeping.

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No weakness. No mercy. No prostration. No supplication . Emilia's enraged words roared through his ears and entreated him to beg for her forgiveness, but instead Iago stormed to the bed, grabbed Emilia's prone form by the arm, and hauled her up to face him. Every passionate tear that slid down her face was like poison in his veins, and he shook her roughly, furious with her for weeping, furious with himself for being the cause of her tears.


"Do you weep?" he hissed, his tone dripping with icy venom. "Do you weep, Emilia? What, are you a child? A foolish girl that bawls and swoons in vehemence?"


No, what do you now, stop, in he name of all things holy, just stop, tell her what you feel, tell her the truth, do not do these mad things, please, just STOP....


"Have you ever thought," he continued, heedless of his tempestuous thoughts, "that I might behave as I do because you take my every word to be false? Have you ever thought that your actions and sentiments have shown me your nature, making me leery of provoking your gall? Has it never occurred to you, wife , that I have been trying to speak true, only to have you make them into what they are not?"


You are as much to blame as she, you are, and yet you say nothing of that, you truly are the coward she claimed you to be....


"A coward, am I?" And he struck her then, with a sound backhanded stroke that sent her crashing to the floor. "Gutless? Chicken-hearted? Is that so?" Three more hits punctuated his words, and his mind raged at the misdeed even as his hand acted of its own free will.


You are a monster, a coward, she's right about that, but you won't admit it, you fool, and you'll pay for that, by God, you will....


"I think not." And he struck her again, one last time, before turning away, unable to bear the sight of what he'd done.

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Emilia wailed as each hit met its mark, though she bit her fist to stifle her cries until she thought her knuckles would bleed. Her tears, which had first been silent, now swelled into frightened sobs, and she indeed felt herself to be the child that her husband accused her of being; she was helpless, defenseless, powerless as he held her fast, cuffed and clouted. In shame she clamped her hands firmly over her mouth, hoping to strangle the shrieks in her throat, but still they rose and came forth, insuppressible and unable to be stemmed. She crumbled to the ground.


And now the lion's wife cowered, making her no lioness, but a mere lamb. Courage broken and bravery dashed, Emilia lay on the floor in sobs of horror and terror alike, inconsolable in her distressed state and unclear in her senses. O... O...! That she had only heeded the portent of the door!


Did she bleed? Had she bruised? Something broken? She wondered this to herself, faintly, as in a dream; she did so out of instinct--but she did not know--she did not care to know--she felt almost entirely numb, save for the aching of her heart. Her breath would only come in throbbing gasps that smarted her lungs with frigid air, and the sobs would not ebb, no matter what strangulations she subjected herself to.


Only a coward strikes his own wife! Only a coward, a base, roguish coward strikes his wife! The words rushed and flashed and burned inside Emilia's aching skull, but her breathlessness and relentless cries gave her no leave to vocalize them. By and by, her fever seemed to leave her even as she gasped for air.


...It is only the displeasing wife, the ill-mannered shrew, who is struck.

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Only a coward strikes his wife! Only a coward, a base, roguish coward strikes his wife ! He could hear her unspoken words; they echoed with horrid clarity in his head, taunted him in their truth, struck him in their poison. Emilia lay broken and weeping on the unforgiving floor of stone and he, he , monster that he was, let her lie, let her suffer, let her cry tears of blood as he turned away in shame and disgust.


O, you are well-tuned now. But I'll set down the pegs that make this music, as honest as I am . He had beaten down an offenseless lamb-- lioness no more, but an innocent lamb --and had silenced the music of her voice, crushed the pegs that made the tune of her spirit.


Her blood, bright red like the angry fire that so consumed her, trickled slowly from the wounds he had wrought, seeping into the cracks in the stone and the cracks in his flesh, staining the floor and his hands with its rapidly dulling vitality. He felt ill at the sight; you, the hardened soldier, to sicken at a glimpse of your wife's blood? Blood that was spilled by your hand? You would balk at that ?


...But he did, he did, and could not bear to look upon her! She did not deserve a beast's care, not when that same beast had broken her from the start. No, it would not do to go crawling up to her crumpled form, begging forgiveness like a dog that had attacked out of turn; there was no repentance for madness. Indeed, it was better to leave her, to let someone whose concern was infinitely more sound (of mind) than his own console her and heal her. He would do nothing more than crush her again. That, he knew.

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Minutes passed. Emilia's sobs, though they gradually began to ease in severity, elongated the seconds that dragged by. After some time, she managed to weakly raise her head, her frailty owing more to her crushed spirit than her injured body. "Am I hurt much?" she mumbled in the general direction of her husband, as if she half expected him to give her his analysis. Looking at her hands, she saw the blood that had dripped from her nose and her nether lip, and surprisingly, she did not feel horrified, though she did feel hollow in a way that was passing strange.


The tears upon her face had not yet dried. Emilia arose quietly and crossed the room with some imbalance in her step, to reach the water pitcher by the window and dip her handkerchief in it. Silently she began to wash her face of the dried blood that cracked as she slowly scrubbed, and fresh tears mingled with the water she washed with. She halfheartedly pushed open the narrow casement window to wring out the kerchief before starting anew.


After her face had been washed to the best she could manage, Emilia returned with the dampened handkerchief and flung it at Iago.


"Do wash your hands of my blood, abuser. I swear I will say nothing," she said, the words sounding void of warmth and full of vacancy. "Heaven knows it would do you no good, if they should know the sin you have committed. Your honor would be tainted with my wounds, and so for your wretched sake, I shall not admit to this occurrence--but God knows what you have done." Emilia sighed painfully, and her breath hitched.


"...I do but want to forget that this happened. I should like to forget you too, Iago, and forget undeserving Emilia, and only be acquainted with and remember sweet sleep." She sat down on the bed so that her back was to him, her bleary, tear-filled eyes cast downward, and began to dispiritedly unpin her hair, which already had begun to hang loose.

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Iago took the damp kerchief silently, without looking at Emilia, and scrubbed mechanically at his bloodied hands. He listened half-heartedly to her vacant, punishing words, heard the creak of the narrow bed as she sat upon it, and saw out of the corner of his eye the long cascade of her unpinned hair, but he did not move or speak.


A storm of emotions and thoughts flew wildly about in his head, too quickly to make sense of or articulate; he would surely go mad if he tried ( madder , actually; he was not so deluded as to think himself wholly sound of mind, not now). So he did not try, but instead listened as Emilia's breathing eased into the rough, slow rhythm of exhausted, blessed unconsciousness.


The blood on his hands would not come off , though he knew, dimly, that none remained, and he threw down the stained kerchief in disgust, and kicked it into a corner with a roar of rage. A chair followed it, cracking against the far wall with a sickening snapping sound, and Iago turned suddenly and smashed both fists into the wall, biting his nether lip to quell a choked scream as he fell to his knees in pain.


Lay thee down and roar, you monstrous thing! You deserve this pain, you deserve it ten times over for what you have done! Devilish fiend, you can do no good here .


Unsteadily, like one in a dream, Iago stood and opened a small satchel that lay upon the rickety wooden table, fingered the multitude of herbs within in bitter consideration. He set water to boil, crushed leopard's bane and marigold, and pulled his own kerchief from the pocket of his doublet to wrap the poultice.


Stumbling, his hands throbbing and dripping with his own blood, he laid the poultice upon Emilia's bruised, sleeping face (nothing broken, thank God), and bent to place a tender kiss upon her feverish brow before turning and staggering silently, devastated and furious, out the door.

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Emilia's sleep was fraught with nightmares and fearsome visions, and in slumber she wept and moaned as if she were still recoiling under the savage blows of her husband. She dreamt that with each time he struck her, she dwindled in size until she was no larger than a mouse, and then he, towering over her, raised his boot over her head, leaving her to watch it come down in horror.


There were three or four separate nightmares, each of them little more than a variance of what had actually happened that night. In one frightening fantasy, Emilia witnessed what she supposed to be her own death. He has killed his wife! My lord's ancient has murdered his wife! Desdemona screamed as she fled the scene, weeping and wringing her hands.


However, the last dream was of an oddly different sort. Emilia saw Iago extend his hand to her kindly, gently, and she took it. What a good wife you are! the dream-Iago praised her, in manner much more free and open than the true Iago might even dare to think upon. He smiled, an unashamed smile that was handsome on his countenance. I am fortunate, that I have a wife who, of her own accord, sacrifices so much of herself for such an undeserving spirit... You make me happy, go out of way to please me--in faith, you are the most blameless wife a man ever could possess.


Emilia was about to answer him when suddenly her next breath of air filled her nose with an unexpected herbal fragrance, causing her to cough and awaken from the highly implausible dream. Her head ached a little, in lingering reverberations of the events of the night before. What had happened? As Emilia slowly sat upright in the bed, finding not her husband beside her, the cruel memories flooded back. Emilia shut her eyes and firmly told herself that nothing had happened. They would never again address the events of last night. Some part of her knew it to be wrong, forgiving and forgetting the horrific transgression so simply, but it would do no good to demand apology, and to tell anyone else would endanger the honor of both husband and wife. Perhaps if neither of them referred to the incident ever again, it would simply cease to exist. Certainly Iago did not hate her so much; what had happened last night could only be fleeting, feverish, unhappy mischance.


"Hmph. Fanciful folly," Emilia scoffed to herself when the worst of last night's illusions came to mind. "Forsooth, no sweet-smelling rose is my Iago, but heaven forfend he should murder me. Mere twaddle, indeed! The man has a heart, though he dare not show it. Why, Desdemona might as well be murdered by her loving husband the Moor, before I ever by mine."


She was about to rise from the bed when she noticed the poultice beside her; it had been the possessor of those aromatic perfumes that had brought her from sleep to the world of the waking. Lifting her eyes she saw that there was also a chair, battered and broken, in the very corner where she herself had lain, in like condition. Emilia frowned, her heart quickening its pace. Had somebody found her, lying in bed, a bruise upon her cheek and the remnants of blood withal? Had her husband been found out and rebuked for his misuse? He was not here. She began to worry for him. Emilia took up the poultice and examined it. was Iago's kerchief. Had someone taken it from him in haste to treat her injury? Where was he? Emilia had fallen asleep without removing her outer layers of clothing, and she found that there were still spots of blood on her bodice. She set the stained bodice aside to wash at a later time and donned a fresh one. Did her face look alright? She stepped over to the looking glass, and finding that, at a glance, she did not look terribly as though she had been beaten, she rushed from the room clutching her husband's handkerchief, anxious to know of his whereabouts.


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Iago had no real destination in mind; indeed, he was too bemused and distraught to concentrate overmuch on where his feet were taking him.... Had he been in a better frame of mind, he might have appreciated the irony of that sentiment...but that time was not now.


He reeled through Cyprus's night-dark streets unseen, never straying from the shadows that hid his villainous form from the world's eyes. One thought spun round and round in his mind, over and over, stinging him like nettles: you are a monster, a monster who struck his wife, and a monster cannot care for those he hurt beyond redemption....


He tried vainly to focus on physical pains to forget the internal ones: the throbbing ache in his foot where it had met the chair, the tearing, damp pain in his battered hands, the pounding in his head and heart...but alas, to no avail. The image of Emilia's bruised, tear-stained visage overtook all else within him, till he felt himself consumed by inopportune guilt at the dark deed. Part of him ( damn that side of him, that horrid, devilish self! ) chafed at the remorse ( weakness , it urged), but he could not dissipate the feeling, and took a sort of self-deprecating pleasure in that: better to be weak and feel shame than to feel nothing and find himself to be even more of a monster than he had ever thought.


He walked aimlessly all night, never pausing but faltering much, until he found himself in front of the guardhouse, illuminated sparingly by the rosy rays of dawn. Shivering inexplicably, he ran shaking hands down the length of his face, staring desolately at the plain stone fortress. His wife, his broken, forsaken wife, was within...but he couldn't bring himself to see her. Not now.

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As Emilia flew through the corridor, she became aware of the fact that her dark curls billowed out behind her as she went. She had forgotten, in her rush, to pin it up before she left. She slowed her stride slightly in attempt to bind her hair with her husband's handkerchief, but it felt odd, as though the napkin were something stolen, something she had no right to. She let her hair fall free again and held the kerchief in her hands. Already she could hear it: "What, mistress, have you no propriety? You look as though you were a woman loose as your hair!" She feared she would be met with the words, but presently she was concerned with matters that were more grave to her than old accusations.


She was met with the morning air as she entered the courtyard, and the young beams of sun kissed her cheeks. She looked about herself, wondering where she might investigate, and sighed, turning her attentions to Iago's handkerchief, as if it might give her an answer.


"Pitiful woman," Emilia chided herself miserably, placing the napkin to her breast and gazing up at the sky. "This is your doing. You provoked him, you poison-tongued fishwife, and now I fear he may meet some terrible consequence... O ill-tempered spirit...!" She exhaled heavily and buried her face in the handkerchief, which still smelled of herbs. Her body still ached with the hidden bruises that had been bestowed upon her, but she chose not to heed them, concerning herself only with the finding of her husband.


"O, Iago, where should you be?" she called softly, expecting that her addresses only fell upon her own ears. "I worry of your safety."


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The weak rays of dawn sunshine kissed the smooth cheeks of the young lieutenant Michael Cassio as he exited through the wide, barred doors of the guardhouse, nodding to the weary sentries as he passed. Those rays seemed to promise something, seemed portents of good in his life, and he reveled in the thought. Although...perhaps he was merely imposing his own good fortune upon the day. After all, he had this high position, and felt no ill effects from his previous night, spent in the company of the fair caitiff Bianca and her illicit supply of excellent Florentine was simple to say that all was well in his world.


Perhaps the same could not be said of the sentries at the door, who no doubt wanted nothing more than to return to their barracks for respite, but their well-being was no concern of his at present. At any rate, they could hardly fare worse than that ancient with the Spaniard's name that he had glimpsed in the halls... Iago . That was it. He had looked quite the worse for wear: hair and clothes in disarray, eyes ringed with black, hands bloodied and scraped, expression vacant and morose as he had entered the general's office. One had to wonder what he had been doing ere his arrival to make him appear in such a state....


Sauntering into the courtyard, Cassio pushed his thoughts of the man firmly out of his mind; how Iago spent his nights was no concern of his, either. Still, those musings came abruptly back to him upon sighting a similarly disheveled figure, standing forlorn in the yard. Long, thick, dark curls tumbled freely down a narrow back, and pale hands clutched at an unadorned, damp handkerchief, which was held close to the face (so he thought) and was mysteriously stained with green. The gown, too, was rather plain, and looked quite familiar...Cassio was sure he had seen it before....


It was the ancient's wife, he realized, somewhat taken aback. But what did she here? Did her appearance have aught to do with her husband's strange behavior?


"How now, gentle mistress?" he called, offering her a smile, though she did not see it, turned away from him as she was. "Emilia, is it not? What do you here alone?"

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Emilia turned around in surprise, and seeing the man, quickly gathered her hair and twisted it so that it lay over her shoulder and not down her back. It was the lieutenant Cassio, who had kissed her in greeting upon their arrival in Cyprus. A man fit to make women swoon, truly, though not she, she thought proudly. She did not think herself so weak, and she thought she knew what sort of man Cassio was, though he was gallant, yes, and did have kind intentions.


She held the handkerchief up to her cheek, lest he come any closer and detect an injury of hers. "Good morrow, lieutenant," Emilia said openly, curving her lips into a gentle smile that did not reflect her anxiousness. "I pray you answer; have you seen my husband at all, either last night or this morning?"


She wondered if she had erred in the asking. Surely Cassio, gentleman that he was, would question her unkempt appearance, or the handkerchief, or some other element of oddity about her for his concern. "It is for but my own curiosity... Nothing more," she added, somewhat hoping to remedy any misgivings that might arise, but ultimately feeling that she had made her situation appear more dubious.


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The woman, upon sighting him, immediately strove to straighten her unkempt appearance, twisting her hair quickly over her shoulder and holding the kerchief up to her face...a gesture that Cassio found odd, to say the least. Was it meant to be coquettish? Somehow, he had not thought Emilia to be disposed to utilizing such wiles...but to be fair, his was a gallant and charming presence. Perhaps it was no surprise, then, that she acted thus, despite her being a married woman.


Still...something about the woman's posture was wrong; she held herself very primly, as though a sudden movement might cause her pain, and she seemed both anxious and defensive at once. Suddenly he realized that the kerchief was meant to hide her face from his view, though it could not conceal her rather distressing pallor from his keen gaze. The sight made him pause, and eye the woman with a stare both stern and searching. Her voice was steady enough, but the way she carried herself... something was not right here .


She asked for news of her husband, but the way she looked made him wonder if he really ought to reveal what he knew; Emilia did not seem in a fit state to bear with the excitement of a search, and perhaps Iago was even the cause of her apparent discomfort.... Still, Cassio was nothing if not a good, honest man (except where matters of his drinking and womanizing were concerned, but that was of no import to anyone but himself), and he sighed slightly, running a hand through his own dark curls and mussing the coiffe as he considered his reply.


"Your husband? Indeed, I have seen him, not five minutes past. Last I knew, he had gone to speak with the general in his office." Cassio frowned, raking Emilia with his eyes one more time before adding, "Truly, he did not look so well, and neither do you, if I may be so bold. Perhaps you had best not seek him out...but do your discretion. After, he is not my husband, my lady."

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"Indeed, not," Emilia chuckled, receiving his quip with grace. "As for my health...I am well, I assure you. I fell by accident last night..." She trailed off with the fib, wondering if the mistruth should come back to make a fool of her. It was too late to make amends now. The little lie had been told, though she knew it was unlikely it would be believed. In order to change the subject, Emilia cleared her throat tactfully.


"...In any regard, I should like to see my husband. Do you suppose, good Cassio, that I might still find him with the general?" She paused, and her soft eyes searched him. "I do not think, perhaps, that you might know what reason they have for conference...?" Her brow furrowed slightly, and her fingers contracted but a little as she held the handkerchief.

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"In faith, I do not, madam," Cassio replied regretfully, "but they are close, as you must be aware. I am sure the general will inform me of the reason for their conversation if he sees fit to make it known to me." He frowned for a moment in thought; this was not the first time that Othello and Iago had spoken to each other without Cassio being present (then again, he had done the same many times, to aid the general in wooing his Desdemona....), and he knew from experience that their discourses had a way of becoming rather lengthy. Still....


"Truly, I cannot imagine the reason for their present council," he mused, eyeing Emilia's fingers, tightly clenched around the kerchief as they were, with some chagrin. "For your husband was not meant to be on guard duty last night.... No, their business remains a mystery to me."


Emilia nodded slightly, and seemed to wince as she did, making Cassio stare at her more tenderly he remembered the excuse she had given for her wan look. "But, lady, you said you fell? Would you like to come inside, have someone check you for hurts? I would hate to think that no one had not already done so...."


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"Oh...! Why..." Emilia managed a slight smile, to thank the lieutenant for his pains, although in truth she wondered whether she should accept the offer or not.


If she were to be examined, certainly it would never be believed that she had fallen, unless the floor had somehow grown fists and thus pommeled her. She realized, somewhat queasily, that she had not yet inspected her bruises herself. She could feel them, ay, but she apprehended the looking upon them for fear of finding the evidence that Iago had indeed struck her.


What should she say, if she were looked at and asked who had been her attacker? In faith, she could never speak the truth--she had sworn it. What lie should she tell? Lies were no good, and Emilia no good at telling them, but she could not bear to reveal her husband as the assaulter. And yet it seemed that with each lie she spun, she weaved a web that surely would entrap her. She wished she had Iago near, to whisper in her ear the things that she might say.


What, am I a slave to this man? Emilia thought suddenly. Why should I play the servant of the one who dared strike? It was true she had sacrificed much for her husband in the name of what she called devoted love, but now did she sacrifice the knowledge of her own health and well-being? Why should she even question it? She had been hurt. She needed attention.


Emilia beat down the thoughts even as they came. She would be fine. Surely Iago had not hurt her all that badly; it was her broken spirit that lent its weight unto her pain. Besides, Emilia was no tattler, no telltale, no common rumormonger, unlike other women. Perhaps Iago thought Emilia to be the one who was vulnerable, susceptible, but she knew that it was he who needed her protection. She would protect him from the consequences of his actions. She believed--nay, knew that surely he had not meant to strike her. Iago was not such a villain. He was not.


The pause in communication had been too long. Emilia hoped she had not been staring imprudently, and cleared her throat. "I am alright," she said. "It was not so great a fall, and I am not so delicate a dainty." She smiled wittily.

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Cassio returned the smile warmly, but he still felt that Emilia was concealing some internal struggle from him; he could see it in the flash and shift of her eyes, which remained fixed resolutely on the kerchief in her hand, even as she spoke. She had lowered the token from her face, seemingly unconsciously, as she ruminated, and now Cassio could see the damage that her fall (if that was indeed what had transpired) had wrought.


Truly, it was not so great...but it was disconcerting, nonetheless. Nothing seemed broken, but there were faint, new bruises on both cheeks, long ones, and the apparent stiffness of her neck and shoulders had the look of one whose head had been snapped back and forth several times. Cassio bit his lip, unable to reply to her quip in his unease. Surely a fall would not cause such hurts...these looked nearly... deliberate .


An image of Iago's hands, battered and bleeding, entered the lieutenant's mind unbidden, and of a sudden, he received a horrid revelation. Had the ancient, perhaps, inflicted those wounds upon his wife? ...Cassio could hardly contemplate the idea of that blunt, amiable, witty man performing such a deed...but there was too much evidence in his disfavor: the man's hands, his wife's face, the look of muted horror on both their countenances....


"My lady." Cassio bent slightly to take both of Emilia's hands in his own, minding to keep his voice gentle and unassuming. "I know you did not receive your hurts from a fall, and I believe I understand why you might speak false regarding them, but...I pray you, tell me true: did your husband inflict those bruises upon you?"

Iago would have to pay if he had; if striking one's own wife was not a sin, Cassio knew not what was.

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Emilia felt her heart halt in its beating, and a feeling of faintness washed over her, causing her to use all her strength not to sink into the lieutenant's arms. For a passing moment, a dizzy spell came upon her, and her vision dimmed. She had been found out, her horrible secret revealed. She felt sick, hearing the words spoken aloud. Did your husband inflict those bruises upon you? If no one mentioned it, it might as well be a dream like all the rest she had suffered, but now she knew the dreadful truth was all too real.


It was a struggle to straighten her thoughts in her state of distress, and Emilia absently felt her grip tightening on the lieutenant's hands. "No," she stated firmly. "No, it was not he. By heaven, what do you think of him? Bear some charity to my husband's honesty, for shame! Fie upon you, that you should assume such a thing!"


She scolded him with great conviction, for she herself believed the distorted words she spoke. Her fingers trembled as she spoke angrily and defensively. "I am much appalled, good lieutenant, that you should assume so uninformedly and then insinuate your abominable thoughts so maliciously. Indeed! He strike me ! I should not believe it, if there were a thousand proofs. You mistake him basely, Signior Cassio!"


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" apologies, madam," Cassio stammered, carefully pulling his hands from Emilia's tight grip. It was evident that Emilia herself believed her vehement words, but were they really true? She could well be lying, trying to protect her husband's honor...or she could have been deluded into assuming blame for the man's misdeeds. Was not that a common occurrence among the abused?


Talk you of abuse ? he berated himself suddenly. My God, you thought Iago to be a good man not a minute before! Do not be so quick to change your opinion of him based on a couple of wounds !


Indeed, the damage to Iago's hands could be explained easily enough; those were the types of injuries wrought by punching walls, which Cassio knew from a childhood experience that he dared not repeat. ...Mind, that knowledge was not quite reassuring. And Emilia's face...he could not, in good conscience, let her continue to lie for the man when he knew exactly where she had gotten those marks....


"You will forgive me for making assumptions," he began, tentatively, "but I could not live with myself knowing that I had let you go without knowing what truly happened to you. Perchance, some like thing may happen again, and if I could have prevented that...." He trailed off, helpless, hoping Emilia would listen to sense. "Inexperienced as I am, lady, I am a soldier, and I know that wounds such as yours resemble those made by open hands, striking harsh blows with a backhand and forehand, on either cheek. As far as I know, you are a woman of integrity, and do not walk the streets at night, fraught with danger as they are. Therefore, I am indubitably led to believe that those bruises were gotten in your home, and the only one present to inflict them was your husband."


Sighing, Cassio took Emilia's hands once more, rubbing his thumb in gentle circles over the backs of them, as he might do to soothe a fretful child. "I do not like this office," he confessed gravely. "I would like to believe in your husband's just character as strongly as you do, but now, I am afraid that I simply cannot, not until I learn the truth of the matter, And I would be ever so grateful if you related that truth to me."

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Emilia stared, absentmindedly distraught, at her hands in Cassio's. There was nothing that could save her from it now--Cassio knew, and as he explained his reasons for knowing, the more foolish Emilia felt for attempting to make the lieutenant out to be unsubstantiated. She felt as though tears might spring to her eyes, but none came, as if perhaps she had used all of them up the night before.


Slowly, she brought herself to look Cassio in the face, that she might find the courage to confess what had happened and yet urge him not to think less of her husband for it. As she gazed she became aware of the gentle, concerned look in Cassio's eyes...a tenderness and disquietude that was, indeed, meant for her . Emilia felt her heart flutter curiously, and her eyes became a bit wider as she looked at him. The man was genuinely troubled for her well-being. She stared in wonder at it, marking the beauty of that care she witnessed in him. My, but he was gallant, and courtly...and, well, Emilia recognized that he was not an unattractive man, either. Emilia's lips parted but slightly. For a moment, she dared think upon it: what would life be if this man were Iago...?


Ashamed, Emilia tore herself away from the dangerous lieutenant's eyes and withdrew her hands from his, feeling as though her thoughts had already made her a begrimed adulteress. "I cannot relate it to you, gentle sir," she said weakly, tying up her hair in the handkerchief. "I hope you will forgive me."

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"Of course." Cassio stepped back from the distraught woman, bringing her hands to his lips to kiss them gently before letting them drop. "Of course, I understand, and...I do hope you will forgive me for being presumptuous."


Retreating another step, the young lieutenant doffed his cap briefly, letting a small, reassuring smile cross his lips. "I must take my leave of you, lady, but...." He hesitated then, wondering if what he was about to say was truly wise. "I will not mention any of this to anyone if you do not wish it. I do not wish to taint your honor."


He could do with tainting Iago's honor, but to reveal him would be to betray Emilia's trust, and he could not bring himself to do that to her, not now. Besides, he had seen how she had looked at him; there had been longing in her eyes as she held his gaze...lust, even. Desire. Emilia was no adulteress, but given the circumstances.... He would not fault her if she turned to that path, of course, but others would be quick to blame the wife for the wrongdoings of the husband, and Emilia did not deserve that sort of pain. She was in enough as it was.


Bending into a courtly bow, Cassio offered her one last nod before turning away and exiting the courtyard, leaving Emilia standing there alone, a desolate figure with wild hair tied in a stained handkerchief, at the mercy of her own poisonous thoughts.

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Emilia watched him go, and a part of her almost wanted to, perhaps, call him back. She began to extend her hand, but shaking her head, turned away. What could all of this mean? She weaved her fingers into the forelocks of her hair, perplexed by her emotions.


Surely she had not been tempted by the Moor's lieutenant; certainly his charm did not bewitch her. What was it about him then, that had held her so spellbound? Assuredly it was not aphrodisia; clearly it could not be concupiscence...could it? Emilia did not think herself that kind of woman.


And yet, what type of woman was that type of woman? Emilia had not touched, only looked, merely thought... And definitely, that was what separated an honest woman from a strumpet. To think upon such matters, Emilia might dare. But to act upon the thoughts--never.


Never? Emilia wondered the wonderfully scandalous question, feeling herself tiptoeing closer and closer to contumacy with every second. ...Well, one might cuckold a husband. One might, but not Emilia.


...Not Emilia? The thought thrilled her for some treacherous reason she could not explain. Not Emilia? Never Emilia?


O, what garbage! Never Emilia, Emilia thought as she staunchly placed her hand upon the handkerchief that bound her hair. She was loyal to Iago, brilliantly dutiful, a better wife than any other there had ever been, and that was that. What horrors there were, that lurked within her thoughts! Emilia softly ran a finger down her cheek. Indeed, Iago was true--to feed a woman such flattery and to bestow upon her amorous actions was to make her libidinous, lascivious...


Hitching up her skirts, Emilia set off in further search of her husband, hoping to find him at the general's office. As she went, she realized that it was not Cassio that had incited yearning within her, but simply the feeling that she was cared for, worth something to someone, and that was all. Emilia sniffed proudly to herself and was glad she was no wanton wench.

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The foppish lieutenant had glanced at him askance when they had passed one another in the hall wonder; he must have looked a sight. Now, as Iago quietly bid the general good day and quitted the office, he received the same look from the same man, and heaved a long sigh; he was not much disposed to justify himself to polished Michael Cassio, of all men...not now. Not after all that had happened.


"I see my appearance is not much improved in your eyes, lieutenant," he muttered dryly, trying to attain some semblance of levity, for Cassio's sake. "One would think I had grown two heads overnight." The irony of that statement was not at all lost to him, but he refrained from voicing that thought.


"Perhaps you have," Cassio quipped, his chiseled, full lips quirking into a smile. However, the expression made Iago oddly uneasy; there was an edge to the pleasant grin, a look of almost predatory scrutiny in the dark eyes that seemed to speak of some dark secret now unearthed, and the ensign realized that he had said something horribly wrong...but he could not be sure why ....


"After all," Cassio continued, infuriatingly unruffled. "You do not seem to me to be the same man you were yesterday. I must say the change is rather...unbecoming."


Iago could feel, dimly, how his hands began to tremble, but he resisted the urge to fold his arms, lest Cassio find the gesture incriminating. He knew . Precisely what Cassio had found out, he knew not, but he could guess.... Multiple possibilities, none of them appealing. His continuous gulling of Roderigo. His efforts to cuckold the Moor ( not his! , he wanted to shout, but no one would have believed that; the truth was too impossible to accept). His... oh, God . Emilia. If Cassio had found out about Emilia....


"By the by, I spoke with your wife not a minute ago." Cassio's smooth, cultured voice shook Iago violently out of his toxic reverie, and he stared at the man, uncomprehending. "She was searching for you...though I can't imagine why."


And as the words wound their insidious, deadly way around him, choking him and holding him fast where he stood, Cassio leaned in toward him, shook his head in contempt, and said, "O, how the mighty have fallen... Honest Iago ."

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"Iago!" Emilia exclaimed as she spied him, and quickly--or as quickly as she could manage without causing herself pain--she rushed to him. "Is everything alright?" she asked, taking her husband's face in her hands and kissing him lightly on the cheek. She loosened his handkerchief from her hair.


"I found this--yours, is it not? I could not tell from whence it came, and you were gone--I worried for you, husband." There was an odd irony to the fact that she worried for the man who last night had been even her abuser, and Emilia could sense the incongruity, but she paid it no mind. She was about to mention the chair that had been smashed against the wall, but glancing aside she saw Cassio, and decided against it.


Presently, as she reached for her husband's hands, she noticed his injuries and forgot her own. Why, he bled--or he had bled. There were cuts, and the skin was broken. The gruesome sight plagued her. "By heaven! Why, what has happened? Are you well, Iago?" She covered his scraped, unsightly knuckles with the handkerchief and placed her hands about his--one under his hands, and one gently atop the handkerchief that covered them. "Who is responsible?" she fumed indignantly, a bit of her old spunk returning. "Give me the name of he who has done this to you, and I shall make life miserable for him. He shall rue the unhappy day!"


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God, no . Were all the fates against him this day? First Cassio had come with his deleterious knowledge, and now Emilia, the epitome of vengeful concern, was holding his lambasted hands between her own, speaking to him with all of her characteristic fire, as though what had happened last night had been completely forgotten.


Of course, it would not do for her to scream at him and strike him within sight of the lieutenant, but Iago still wished that Emilia would react somehow : that she would speak coldly, condemn him with her barbed tongue, beat him as he had beaten her...he would deserve all of that; he would understand all of that. This...this anxiety, this need, this affection...this, he could not understand.


Numb, stricken, he gave Cassio a cutting glare over the top of Emilia's head, in hopes of getting him to leave them be. Haply, the lieutenant took the hint, and bowed courteously to the ancient and his wife before walking away, glancing back over his shoulder in confusion until he had disappeared from sight.


An electric, stinging sensation made him glance down, and he gently removed the handkerchief from his hands as Emilia vowed to make miserable the life of whoever had injured him so. So much the better that it was I , he thought bitterly. I deserve her punishment a thousand times over .


"Nobody," he assured her weakly, placing the kerchief back into her hands. "I myself have done this deed. You need not seek out some vile miscreant at my expense. Besides, 'tis naught but a flesh wound." That was a lie; he could feel that familiar stiff pain that foretold broken bones, but he said nothing of it; he did not wish to worry Emilia further.


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Emilia frowned in confusion and surprise. Now that her uncertainty had been alleviated, her distress was somewhat replaced by bewilderment, as well as some impatience toward her husband. "You cut your own hands? For what sake? By accident, or no? Were you in a fight? Somehow I sense, whatever it was, that it was no common accident." She did not wait for him to answer before continuing the tirade. "What sort of madman are you, looking for ways to hurt yourself? What, are you so thirsty for blood that after spilling mine, you go after your own? Let me see those hands, fool. I do but think it is your aim to worry me, and kill me in the worrying." Her cross words tumbled out of her as she took his hands again and looked them over carefully.


"I cannot understand your behavior, Iago. It does not even give me leave be angry at you--you are so full of inanity and insanity alike that I think you must be touched. Truly, it frightens me. Where were you? And perhaps you can explain the broken chair in our quarters. What should I believe of you? Full of rage at one moment, seeming derelict the next--you make it seem as though you hate me, but now, I think, you treat me as though you were afraid of me. I see it on your face. Disconcerting scoundrel! And now you tell me you have hurt yourself. It looks not well. What foul capers are you attempting to ploy against me? Flesh wound! Pish!"


Emilia sighed heavily and looked up at him, and though her words were filled with exasperation, her eyes betrayed that she really was glad to have found him, in spite of her confusion and hurt.


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The gladness in her eyes was incongruent, given her exasperated, scolding tone, but that paradox was familiar to him, almost welcome, though he still chafed at her concern. She should not have been so relieved to see him; she should have run from him, hidden from the fiend that had done her such grievous harm (emotional harm more than physical harm, but pain was pain, and one so easily exacerbated the other that there was no difference between the him, at least). She should have been tending to her own hurts instead of fretting over his... he who hurts can also heal, and he who hurts himself must heal himself....


Her impatient, matronly tirade made his head ring (he was paying the price for his previous night's wandering, he knew), but her pointed questions filled him with trepidation. You cut your own hands? For what sake? What sort of madman are you, looking for ways to hurt yourself? Where were you? And perhaps you can explain the broken chair in our quarters.... What foul capers are you attempting to ploy against me?


How could he, in good faith, answer her honestly? God's sake, she already thought him mad; what could he say that would not make him appear even more insane? His hands...he had punched the walls after she had fallen asleep, overcome by rage and grief. What sort of madman was he? The greatest of them all. Where had he been? Only Heaven knew, not he. The broken had been kicked, a victim of that same fury that had possessed him to strike his wife in the first place; his foot still felt a bit numb from that. As for foul capers...there were none wrought of conscious thought, but mad, unforeseen actions? Those...he had in plenty.


No, there was no way to excuse any of his actions, no way to pass them off as anything other than the insane deeds that they were.... It would not do to speak true.

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"O, will you not speak?" Emilia sighed, giving him a look of vexation. As was often the case, she could glean nothing from his expression of countenance. She exhaled deeply through her nostrils and ran her fingers over her hair, seeming to lose her frustration with her breath. She thought she felt the poor hands trembling, and it softened her heart. Was he just as lost and perplexed as she? Heaven save them, she did not know what was to become of them.


"...I did not sleep well last night," she said finally, looking directly at him, with the soft tones of one hesitantly confiding a secret. She did not continue speaking immediately, but her eyes began to gloss over with fresh moisture.

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He could sense her heart softening as his hands shook in her own, and her hushed tone as she admitted to her fitful night's respite, one of confidence and vulnerability, struck a chord within his heart that made him absolutely disgusted with himself. Your doing, wretch, all of it....


"No," he murmured, bringing one hand up to catch the tears that had begun to slip from her eyes, relishing in the pain that the gesture wrought. "I would imagine you did not." And I slept not at all, grieved by what I had done to you as I was . But of course, his own thought went unspoken.

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"Do not touch my tears; they will sting your hands," Emilia told him sensibly, in spite of how much she loved and craved the touch, and she gently brought his hand down again. Her gaze followed the motion until she was looking at her hands holding his, biting the inside of her lip, wondering how long this peaceful moment would last before fate tore the two apart once more.


"...I am sorry I called you a coward," she whispered without looking up. "I am grievously sorry. I remember not what else I said, but I wish to revoke it all..." She looked over the damaged hands, and became conscious of the aching of her own bruises. Perhaps their pains and hurts intermingled together as the two were joined by hands. Perhaps they were both broken and both irreparable. Perhaps the two of them were doomed together; perhaps their union could only spell disaster. Perhaps together they had borne the child of chronic misery. Emilia did not know. But she would never cease her attempts to make this work. The day that she abandoned him would be the day she died.


She brought her gaze back up to look at him in quiet heartache, and spoke the forbidden words that she might never hear from him:


"...I love you."


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Truly, Iago did not mind how the salty kiss of Emilia's tears made his hands smart and throb, and relished the contact as much as she, if her peaceful expression was any judge.


Still, as she gripped his long fingers gently with her own, he felt a curious sense of isolation, as though they were the only two beings alive on Earth, caught resolute in a dark, endless spiral, dragged low by the gravity of circumstance, but bound together in their shared misery.


He knew, from the scintillating dilation of her eyes, fixed as they were on this joined hands, that Emilia had much the same thought. Their minds, though diametrically opposed, were like inclination and tenor...though Emilia's held infinitely more clarity than his own, and he respected her greatly for it....


"...I love you." The words, uttered quietly, saturated with gentle sorrow, shocked him to the core, filled him with the dread ice that was fear and disbelief. Stricken, he tightened his grip on her hands, desperate for the pain that would ensue, needing something to ground him, and force him to contemplate the words.


Three simple words, they were...but together...had she ever told him that ? In all the years that had gone afore, had she ever said those words to him...? ...Perhaps more disconcertingly, had he ever said them to her ? He could not recall...and felt yet another clutching pang of regret at the realization.


And yet...he did not deserve her declaration of love. Now fully cognizant of the foolishness of the idea of tightening his grip, he fell heavily to one knee, gritting his teeth against the black pain of hands...and heart.


"How can you say that?" he whispered, for once not caring what Emilia would say of this display of weakness. "How can you forgive what I have done to you so easily? How can you claim such dire affection for one you yourself called touched? How, Emilia? How ?"


And at the edge of his conscious mind, at the tip of his tongue, lay the words he longed to say but dared not: And I you .

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Emilia could feel her heartbeat in her ears as he knelt before her. His appearance at this moment, knee on the ground, disbelieving eyes looking up, was an open confession to his brokenness. He had revealed himself to her, or at least she thought he had, believed with all her heart he had, and she wanted to embrace him while those wretched barriers were down.


She did not embrace him. She knelt down in front of him so that they were eye to eye, equal, one just as admittedly broken as the other. She did not let go of his hands. She felt as though she never would.


"...I do not know," Emilia said quietly. "I cannot say why I love you. I have no glowing metaphors for you, nor do I know any grand virtue you possess that I can speak of. Perhaps I am just as mad as you are, forever in love with a man who will never love me back." She paused, looked to their joined hands for the strength to continue with speech, then looked up again. "I cannot tell you why I love you, but I can profess with all my heart that I do. Believe it, Iago. I do not know how you feel, and by my faith, I have given up trying to determine your emotions long ago. But do not think that I speak not in earnest when I tell you that I love you." She blinked tears from her eyes. "Iago, I love you."

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The salt tears fell from Emilia's eyes like circumfluent glass, dropping gently onto her hands, clasped onto his like a lifeline, like she would never let go. She knelt to meet his eyes, making herself his equal, and she spoke in earnest , in passion and without regret or condition, and he felt tears well up in his own eyes at her ardent admission of her deranged love, tears that he had not shed since childhood...tears that were barely kept from falling.


She is too good for you, too kind and pure for a monster like you.... You do not deserve her love or affection; you do not even deserve her touch! She will her self and spirit kill, being bound to you.... Leave her now, wretched beast; leave her before you crush her and tear her apart....


But he was selfish, and could not bring himself to rise from his unguarded position or release Emilia's gaze. Instead, he slowly, carefully, placed his strong arms around her slender form, and drew her gently to his breast, placing a kiss so ephemeral it was nearly naught but a breath of wind onto each bruised cheek. Her words echoed again and again in his mind, drawing out the poisonous tirade of his own thoughts: Iago, I love you .


"And I you," he whispered, broken and whole all at once, meaning the words with all of his heart. Iago, I love you...and I you . They filled his soul with poison...and o, what sweet poison it was.

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Each kiss seemed to steal away Emilia's breath and some secret piece of her heart, evanescent as they were. As he whispered the confession, Emilia could do naught but stare, wide-eyed, at the stranger before her, the man who wept and held her in his arms. Was this a dream like all the rest? Would he pull away and laugh at her, tell her it was a joke? She felt as though she were drowning slowly underwater.


Afraid to discover if what was happening was real or not, Emilia wasted no time in throwing her arms around her husband and holding him tight, weeping now with new fervor. Her heart swelled with unbidden waves of emotion. She had waited so long to hear him say the words, and she had abandoned all hope of ever hearing them--presently, her head and heart were numb with shock. In faith, he had said "I" and "you", but eliminated the most important one, the word betwixt those two--but Emilia did not care. The sentiment came across, strong, resonant, with more clarity than any amount of capable words could possess. She held him tightly as she rested her head upon his shoulder, crying quietly, and then she righted herself, looking into the pale eyes. The ice in them had melted, and she watched the spring streams form.


Emilia, unafraid of the lion's eyes, saw no more danger in his jaws. She cupped his face in her hands, then leaned forward and placed her lips on his.

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Her embrace was that of angels, her tears a crystalline stream that mingled with one of like composition flowing down his own cheeks inseparably. The stone bars about his heart seemed to crack and splinter, melting in the toxic, addictive heat of Emilia's desperate touch. The prisoner within sprang out with leaps and bounds of fervid joy, while the miserable gaoler roared with his lunatic's rage, trapped as he was beneath those wretched bars of his construction.


Perhaps this reprieve was only temporary; perhaps that buried devil would free himself some day hence, but at that moment, locked in his wife's passionate embrace, he did not care, did not wish to even contemplate the unlikely, incredible situation they were in. They were here, together, and that was all that mattered.


When Emilia placed her soft, full lips onto his, a fire awoke in him that had been extinguished for years, and he deepened the kiss without care, twining his broken fingers between the strand of her thick hair and parting his own thin lips to invite her deeper.


Emilia, my love , the freed prisoner whispered, and Iago was unaware that he spoke the words aloud. My dear, sweet love .


Perhaps he was not cognizant of that statement, but he did, with difficulty, pull back slightly, to look deep into his wife's bright eyes. "We must quit this hall," he murmured, struggling to stand. "It would not do for anyone to see."


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Emilia felt weak as they parted, as if she had just floated down from the highest height she had ever known. Her heart was pounding. She did not know if she could remember the last time he had kissed her that way, and she placed her fingers to her lips as if afraid the kiss might fly away and be forgotten.


She began to arise, but she did it too quickly, having forgotten her bodily aches in favor of her passion. She reached for the wall to steady herself as she stood up, but nothing could dampen her spirits at this moment.


"Your hands," Emilia gasped suddenly, remembering as she looked upon his wounds. How foolish of her to forget... "I must tend to them. Come, let us to our room." She beckoned to him, and began to take lead, but felt a pang of anxiety as she did, her thoughts running far before her. Suppose her husband should lose these sudden graces as they entered the place where they had quarreled a night before? The place where he had shook her and struck her...? She felt the warmth drain from her body and a tangible feeling of fear settle in her stomach.


She would lose this Iago; she was certain of it. She would offend him in some way, make err by accident, commit some innocent crime, and he would promptly be misplaced and she would never see him again. Once again she would be lost and perplexed, staring and searching, hoping to find just a hint as to what he could possibly be thinking.


Emilia halted her pace, stricken by the tragedy of this realization, and stared at the floor in a pallor. She feared to look up at him again. Perhaps he had changed already.

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Iago could not help but feel slightly bereft when he and Emilia parted...but they had both survived years without that passionate embrace; surely some moments spent apart would not kill either of them (of course, surviving was not the same as living , but he had never been fond of semantics).


Buoyant as she seemed, though, he had to tamp down a stab of concern when she was forced to lean against the wall to regain her balance, the pain of her injuries being rekindled by the swift movement and setting her off balance. Concern for himself he could not feel, although she seemed more occupied with his hands than aught else, to his chagrin. He who hurts himself must heal himself....


So anxious was Emilia to retire to their chamber that Iago nearly bumped into her when she stopped, suddenly, her face draining of color, her warm gaze cooling with fear and going to the floor, as though weighed down by some heavy imagining. He frowned slightly, observing this eccentric behavior in a growing fever of trepidation.


"What ails you?" he asked quietly, placing a hand at the small of her back as her form began to tremble. "Why do you hesitate?" Was she in pain? That was, he thought, only too likely, and he felt a surge of stinging self-reproof rise in him like bitter bile. He wished only to aid her...but how could he, when he was, in all probability, the cause of her sudden distress?

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Emilia forced herself to meet Iago's eyes. His tone of voice still remained gentle with her, but how could she translate these feelings into words? She felt as though admitting her fears would made them more likely to come true.


His hand was on her back. She reached behind herself to take his hand in her own, and with that extra confidence, willed herself to continue walking, holding his hand. The gesture felt unfamiliar to her; much like the kiss, Emilia couldn't recall the last time it had been performed, but she did not let go as she resumed her pace, taking care not to cause him any pain.


"You did not tell me how you injured your hands," she said finally, as way of changing the subject. "Will you tell me...? If you will not, that is alright: I do not demand it. I promise I will demand you nothing." She wiped at her face discreetly, hoping that no tears lingered. Before long, she would be sought out by Desdemona, and Emilia did not want her lady to pry regarding her situation, for she did not know that she understood it herself.


The expectation of the end did not leave. As they walked, Emilia continued to glance at her husband's face, hoping to engrave the memory in her mind should the moment disappear.

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Emilia had begun to walk again as soon as she took his hand within her own once more, and Iago could not help but wonder if she had drawn some measure of strength and confidence from the unfamiliar gesture.


Still, as she led him along, asking him once more of his injuries, he found himself slowing, faltering, feeling all the old doubts and battles rush back into his mind like a flood. The prisoner wanted nothing more than to tell her true...but the gaoler, still trapped beneath his bars but struggling always to be freed, screamed at him to keep silent, or else lie, creating a false account of some street brawl if only to selfishly protect its own existence...and he hated it for that, for having such a great hold over him....


"I cannot tell you," he said finally. "It is...not so great a thing to relate."


That certainly wouldn't keep Emilia from asking questions, but it was all he had. Besides, he could feel her gaze burning into him as they walked; she constantly glanced back at him, as though to make sure he still followed, and he realized suddenly that she was afraid .


She is afraid that this sensitive, tender man behind her will disappear in a heartbeat, revealing the monster within once again . How apt that fear was...for he feared it himself. He was wary of this newfound peace, for he knew it could not last.

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Although Iago essentially told her nothing, he seemed reluctant to speak. Emilia wanted to stop, circle around to face him, coax the secret out of him with whatever wiles she possessed--but she did not. He did not want to tell her, so she would not ask. She felt that to be the best course of action, the one that would honor him most and be least provocative, and yet she felt slightly ill at ease, as if letting him refuse to disclose the cause of his injury might sow the weed that thrived in secrets, unnoticed, until it choked them in thorns.


"...If you can find the mettle in you to tell it, I would be blessedly grateful," Emilia told him mildly, and her choice of words unintentionally reminded her of how she had called him a coward. She hoped Iago would not make the same connection. "But I will not demand you tell me, though the thought of how it happened and why you will not make it known to me does trouble me," she finished with quiet grace.


As they passed from the shaded corridor into the sunshine, Emilia felt a small thrill run through her. Look upon me, bright eye of heaven! she sang in her heart, allowing herself to rest her anxiousness. My husband and I join hands and we are unashamed to let you see. He did kiss me! I tell you in earnest! There was never a woman who knew such a kiss. Shine upon us with your radiance; let not this moment end! As she caroled her silent melody, the warm glow upon her cheeks grew, until she wondered if not her face was as effulgent as the sun that beamed down on them.

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"...If you can find the mettle in you to tell it, I would be blessedly grateful," Emilia told him mildly. As nonabrasive as the words were, however, they stung slightly, sending a refrain of gutless, chicken-hearted Iago mockingly through his mind. He was no coward...except, it seemed, where his wife was concerned. To be sure, he wanted no secrets between them (apart from those in which she played no role)...but this was one secret he was forced, for sanity's sake, to keep.


That thought was not quite placating, however, even as Emilia gently reassured him that she would not press for details. She was disheartened by the statement; he could see the discontent behind her eyes plainly. He was pained by that, wished to amend the situation somehow...but how could he? This tenuous peace they had built up would be irreparably shattered if he spoke a word of what had transpired last night.


The bright sunlight they walked into seemed to taunt him, flaunting its light before the darkness of his heart, but Emilia seemed to revel in the radiance, her cheeks glowing with a warm flush as she mouthed intelligible words to herself, taking his breath away with her happiness. Would to God it should last....

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Emilia filled her lungs with the morning air, letting it calm her and reassure her that everything that was happening indeed was real. She supposed that if Iago would not tell her of his hands, likely she would not hear of the chair, either, nor the handkerchief she had tucked into her bodice... What strange and baffling mysteries they were, and it irritated some distant part of her that Iago knew and would not tell--but she could not spoil this moment, not for the world or aught therein.


Once they had reached the room, Emilia's heart quickened its pace, fueled by a sudden rush of nightmarish panic, but she held her head high and opened the door, refusing to let her demons have their way. A luminous courage filled her.


"Set you on the bed, there," she told her husband, as if speaking to a child--not in a patronizing manner, but a maternal one. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the chair in the corner of the room, battered and broken, much like she herself had been that night... She had not noticed it before, but her handkerchief was there beneath the chair, soiled with dried blood and dirt. It was desolate.


Emilia looked at it from where she stood by the table, and, glancing at her husband, slowly and gracefully crossed the room to rescue it from its mangled, wooden prison. She studied it carefully, then crossed the room again to the water pitcher. She took great care in washing away the stains until they were either gone or imperceptible, looking meaningfully toward Iago with a small, cautious smile, and then tugged the other kerchief from her bodice and washed the verdant discoloration from that one as well. She wrung out the water from both as she leaned out of the window, and then returned.


She laid them delicately on his lap: first hers, and then his. Emilia. Iago. White. Clean. Unmarred. Unblemished.


She paused, resting her gaze upon the two handkerchiefs. Then she turned around again and busied herself with the preparation of his bandages.

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Iago watched in pensive silence as Emilia carefully washed the unsightly stains from the two handkerchiefs, scrubbing the blood, dirt, and dust from her own, which had been abandoned in the corner in last night's rage, and removing traces of the green herbs from his own. He sat, still as stone and just as mute, upon the bed as she gently laid the two scraps of linen on his lap: hers, then his, cleaned and pure and unmarred. New. A fresh start.


Emilia stared at the tokens for a long while, numerous thoughts flashing through her luminous eyes, and Iago knew that she realized the significance of her action as much as he did. They both had been absolved of their stains and sins, and were starting anew with each other. Though it was only a matter of time before the taints of life accumulated once more...that day was not today.


He fixed that conviction firm in his mind as his wife turned away, rummaging through the satchel upon the table for the linen bandages he kept within. He noticed how she studiously avoided looking at that desolate corner of the room where the broken chair lay, and he winced at that, rising unsteadily to gather the pieces. Truly, it had not been so grievously smashed; the legs and braces had simply been knocked out of place.


That damage he could easily remedy, so, ignoring the way his equally fractured hands protested, he began to fit the pieces back together, feeling some measure of closure arise from the action. It was as though, by repairing the damage last night had wrought, they were both excising it from existence, creating from the unhappy fragments something, though fragile, whole and good.

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Emilia could hear him repairing and righting the broken chair, and as she glanced aside at him, she opened her mouth to bid him stop for the sake of her wounds. However, as she watched, it did not feel right for her to ask him to stop doing what he had done of his own will, and she turned her attention back to the satchel. Upon finding the bandages, she returned to the bed to wait for him to finish.


"...Was it you who made the poultice?" Emilia asked uncertainly, after a minute or two of silence. She felt as though she would soon be scolded for the foolishness of thinking such a thing, but she asked the question regardless. His back was to her as he worked, painstakingly, it seemed, and she looked upon him quietly.


It was, she felt, somewhat inappropriate to think of it at this present moment, but Emilia did anyway. She mentally referred back to the passing fancy regarding Cassio, and thought to herself proudly how she could not see the lieutenant bent over on hands and knees to fix a chair with crippled fingers. Iago was diligent when he was devoted, injury or no. There was a virtue she could speak of.


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He could feel her gaze burning into his back once more...but now the weight was tempered by a warmth that had been sorely lacking last night in favor of cool, baffled scrutiny. He found that he very much preferred distance when it was bound together with this sort of intimacy, and was rather grateful when Emilia left him to his task, if only for the sake of mending what they had thought was beyond repair.


"...Was it you who made the poultice?" she asked suddenly, a measure of hesitation lending weakness to her dulcet tones. Iago paused in his work as he pondered the inquiry, letting his weary eyes slip closed briefly before opening them again, turning to face his wife for once instead of leaving her to guess at his thoughts and flounder in her uncertainty. He could answer her this, at was the one thing he had done right, after all.


"It was," he replied, leaving it at that, "and I shall make it for you again, if you wish. To say nothing of my injuries, yours require just as much care." He made the last remark nervously, reluctant to shatter the tenuous peace that had suffused the room by recalling last night's events to mind...but it had to be done. He would not have her neglecting herself for him.

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Emilia looked at her husband warmly. There was something about the tone of his voice that made her want to comfort him; she thought she heard the timbres of guilt in his words. "...I thank you for it," she said simply, spreading her lips in a gentle smile.


His reference to her injuries brought her back to the realization that still she had not checked the bruises. She did not know that she ever wanted to; she would be much more at ease if she could let them heal unseen. She looked down, hesitantly, and cautiously ran a finger lightly over her bodice, where she knew there lay a dull soreness upon her ribs. Perhaps it was necessary for her to reveal it to herself. Perhaps it would not heal until she had seen it and admitted to its existence.


She took a breath and lifted her gaze once more, pushing the bruise in its physicality from the forefronts of her mind. She was thinking about how it felt to be struck... Though she had let herself forget the incident in favor of what was happening presently, the distant echoes of the blows and her cries still had not faded; they lingered in her mind; they lingered in this room. Perhaps that, too, was an issue that could not be settled until they had brought it to light and confessed its happening. But in like sentiment, Emilia was afraid to uncover it for fear of what she might find, for what she might learn...for what she might lose.


She knew that he was afraid, too. Both of their fears, while well-hidden, were still palpable and hung in the air. They sat in silence, Emilia primly upon the narrow bed, Iago occupied with the task he had taken upon himself.


...O, enough of it. Enough of tiptoeing so carefully around sensitive wounds that were sheltered so well they would never heal. Enough of feeling the tension in the air and sitting numbly without retaliation. She would volunteer herself as the one to fight the fear that bound them, that constricted the very air they breathed.


Hands trembling, Emilia reached behind herself to unlace her bodice, slipping the garment from her slender arms, and peeked down the neckline of her chemise to behold the bruise.

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Iago watched impassively as Emilia slipped the unlaced bodice from her shoulders, wincing slightly as she did so. He knew exactly what she was doing, though the words went unsaid, the sentiments unexpressed. She was trying to gauge the damage for herself...come to terms with the unspoken fear that choked the air in both their lungs....


He could not recall ever striking her upon the ribs; his blows had been aimed solely at her pert, comely face...but perhaps her fall had done some harm? The thought burned like fire and ice all at once, especially when he remembered how he had turned away from her last night, left her in her pain and her disturbed respite to run away and lick his wounds like a wounded animal....


Enough! He could not waste thought on himself...there was no telling what demons he would unearth if he did. Instead, he turned back to the chair, fitting the pieces together with adroit detachment before rising again, crossing the room to examine Emilia's face and chest for himself.

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Emilia looked up as she heard him coming toward her, and though his expression was void of emotion, the way he looked at her seemed to communicate concern. She felt her face flush somewhat, in response to the unfamiliar feeling of his eyes upon her in that way, and she quickly took up the bandages, blurting, "May I see your fingers?"


She immediately felt some measure of regret for the decision, in that Iago might think she was trying to shoo him away from the sight of her hurt, that his personal interest in her well-being was unwanted. In faith, it was quite the opposite, but Emilia knew not how to call back her hasty actions, nor how to prevent him from misinterpreting them. Slightly embarrassed, she lowered her gaze without waiting for an answer and, snatching up her handkerchief from its place on the bed, hurriedly brought it to the pitcher of water so that she could use it to wash her husband's hands before applying the bandages.


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The haste with which she spoke gave him the sense that she was avoiding his concern, as though it discomfited her. ...Perhaps it did; forsooth, he had not been one to express so much of it over the years. Perhaps the unfamiliarity of his look and gesture shocked her so greatly, that she spoke without forethought....


That understanding, however, did nothing to lessen the sting of what he could not help but perceive as dismissal or slight, but again, he sought to lock away the poisonous sentiment, and carefully took her hands in his own, stopping the anxious fingers from drawing the dampened handkerchief over his fractures with gentle, but firm pressure.


"In a moment," he whispered, taking the handkerchief from her. With a tenderness that he had not ever believed himself capable of, he pressed the damp cloth to the unsightly discolorations upon her face and bared chest, ignoring the faint, shocked gasp that his touch from her elicited.

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A slight shiver ran through her as he placed the handkerchief to her skin. Emilia blinked at him, her brow furrowed slightly as she discovered she was looking into his eyes. They captivated her, engrossed her like nothing ever before; she thought that surely she could fall into those eyes and never reach the bottom of that handsome gaze... Slowly, she placed her hand on top of his as he held the napkin to her skin, to both sides of her face. His touch was so gentle, she found herself closing her eyes and sinking into the kerchief in his hand.


What could she communicate to him? What in the world could she conceivably convey to her husband that could relate to him the way that he made her feel? She thought of the countless times that she had stood before him exactly as she did now, feeling anger, alienation, resentment, wistfulness...any feeling within her emotional compass, but never this one, never this compassionate togetherness.


She still could not find the proper words. "...Thank you," she murmured, opening her eyes but a little, at a loss for what else she could possibly say.

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It would be so easy to get lost in the depths of her warm, grateful gaze. Countless thoughts and emotions flickered through her mind, and all were visible in her eyes...was she aware of that? Did that openness discomfit her at all? ...Or did she wish him to read her, to view and realize, to understand the complexity of sentiment shared in the bond of looks that mere words could not express?


Emilia brought her soft, yet calloused hands up gently to rest upon either side of his face as her eyes slipped closed in astonishment and bliss, and Iago tightened his own thin fingers painfully about the handkerchief as she did, bidding the storm of his thoughts be silent, yearning to take from this tender moment only the pleasure and contentment it merited.


"...Thank you," Emilia whispered, opening her eyes but slightly, her gaze saying all that her lips left unspoken, And for once, for once , Iago's own lips spoke words based wholly in honesty and in love.


"The pleasure is mine," he replied, lending almost no breath to the statement. But the truth was there, the passion was there...and that was more than enough.


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There was a quiet sincerity in the words that, for some reason, met her with mild surprise. She smiled faintly upon him, her eyes glistening with life rekindled. However, the smile faded by the by as she realized that still, nothing had truly changed... Her husband was still a mystery to her. He frequently left her resentful and perplexed. Now, he made her feel beloved--O, blessedly adored--but still equally as bewildered. She did not want to stir the waters, faith, but she could not let herself allow this temperate humor of Iago’s to pass without receiving answers to the questions that plagued her daily.


“...Will you not tell me, then, why you are so hateful towards me?” Emilia asked carefully, in soft tones. “Why is it always I who must be made the object of your scorn...?” She paused, and added, hastily, “I prithee, do not think, Iago, that I am not grateful for this undeserved kindness you bestow upon me.”


As she spoke, she subconsciously became aware of her vulnerability. Without thought she folded her arms about her torso, feeling the warmth of her body through her linen smock as she looked up at him with wide, honest eyes. Still, though, there was something else in her gaze; a tenacious firmness lit it up from behind.


“I beg of you, do not stand and stare at me in quiet. It shall ruin me if you refuse to speak--your silence will drive me mad. Already, these past few years, it has begun to do so. I love you, husband. Do but believe that I love you. If you love me, you will tell me the cause of my ill treatment and your distempering humors.”


She suddenly remembered that she had sworn to demand nothing of him. Was it a promise broken? Perhaps a promise bent…?


Emilia clutched herself at the elbows to ground herself. The promise did not matter. If Iago would but explain himself, it would be all the better for both of them.

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O, but she was a shrewd one; of that there was no doubt. An enchantress in the extreme, bringing the dagger of her demand out deep from within the folds of her deceptive calm. Struck to the bone, he turned and staggered to the bed, sinking down with his head in his hands as her words circled through his mind like vultures.


“...Will you not tell me, then, why you are so hateful towards me?” "Why is it always I who must be made the object of your scorn...?" “I beg of you, do not stand and stare at me in quiet. It shall ruin me if you refuse to speak--your silence will drive me mad.... If you love me, you will tell me the cause of my ill treatment and your distempering humors....”


How could she ask that of him, how? Demand me nothing! he wanted to shout. What you know, you know. From this time forth I never will speak word....


...But did she not deserve to know? Did she not deserve to know truly what manner of madman she had wedded? In faith, he could not bear his own silence at times, and longed only to shout a confession for all the world to hear, condemning his lunatic self, his sins and evil deeds.... Emilia was not the world, no, but she was, perhaps, better than that...she was his destruction. She was his saving grace.


"You know not what you ask," he whispered, his voice ravaged and hoarse and broken as his traitorous heart. "But I will tell you...for our sake...."


And he did. He spoke at length, faltering and struggling with details that seemed impossible even for him to believe, but he confessed it all: all his mad, tragic glory and waste. He only hoped that she would be understanding...or else be so merciful as to leave him forever.

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As he spoke, Emilia listened, and kneeling at his feet she bandaged the marred fingers and kissed them each after she had tended to them. The look in his eyes was wild, intense; at times she wanted to cast her gaze away, but she held it there, determined to listen to his frenzied words and make an attempt to understand. He spoke of unbidden jealousy and indiscriminate resentment, and spoke of how she was the object of his fervent love and his ardent hate all in one. He described two persons he could almost physically sense that thrived within him, and as he described them, Emilia recognized each and realized that with both she had been acquainted before. He unraveled the hidden skeins of his mind to her, and though she did not, could not understand completely, there was solace in his telling her.


There were two Emilias as well, he told her, or at least there were two separate Emilias as witnessed by his two separate eyes--Emilia was beautiful, clever, sensibly pragmatic; Emilia was ugly, witless, fancifully romantic. She coaxed admiration from him in her ability to challenge; she angered him in her tendency to provoke. She was worthy and deserved exultation; she was wretched and deserved punishment. He imagined her to be lewd, promiscuous; he knew her to be chaste, faithful--


He was, however, quick to assure her that the ill-favoring light that was shone upon her was no fault of her own, and Emilia did her best to believe it, though she did not think herself blameless. She knelt in silence, like a child listening to a melancholy tale. This one, though, was woven from the threads of something that bore much more weight than a fantasy.


When the words began to trickle away into quiet, Emilia sat silently and wept without noise. Was not this a sign that the matrimony between them was patronized neither by fate nor destiny? She did not know what was to become of such a couplet, so poorly written and so at loss for rhythm and rhyme.

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Iago stared down at his bandaged hands with unfocused eyes as he trailed off into silence. He felt weary, drained to the bone, for the confessions had burst forth from him like a flood, which was now naught but a drop or two, leaving him utterly bereft.


Emilia wept silently in this heavy interim, as though mourning what she now knew to be a mad union, brought together by some devil's hand and fraught with tragedy and pain. For there could be no true happiness, he thought grimly, in a marriage such as theirs: they were doomed to revel in and cherish their tender love before some dark action (an action of his, likely as not) pushed them abruptly apart once more.


Even now, now, very now, he saw her form in two different lights. The prisoner-now-freed wished nothing more than to take her in his arms, and whisper promises of endearment and love into her ear until she calmed, but the gaoler-now-trapped longed to grab her by the shoulders once more, demand her harshly why she wept, and punish her for the doing....


But such thoughts as those had led them here in the first place, had they not? What good would it do to simply repeat that vicious cycle? ...So he only rested a hand gently upon her arm and said nothing, though he knew she hated his silence; he had spoken too much for one morning.

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Though Emilia was susceptible to the whims of her powerful emotions, her sensible self was never far beneath the surface. She allowed herself to shed the tears, but wiped them discreetly away as they fell, for she knew that no amount of tears could change anything--neither their circumstances, nor her loyalty. She began to wait until she had regained composure.


Iago had placed his hand on her arm. His hand felt warm--his hands were always warm, despite the constant coolness with which he treated her. The warmth reminded her of the person he was, the person she knew him to be, and she staunchly resolved that she would not forget that person; more importantly, she would not let her husband forget that person. Emilia was nothing if not steadfast. Iago, she felt, was her duty, and though she did not understand him thoroughly, she believed that she was the only soul in the world who had come as close as possible to doing so. Therefore, she was the one charged with his caretaking. At times, she resented this perceived task--but at this moment, no other occupation could have given her so great a sense of responsibility. The unusual tenderness that Iago had allowed himself to show her, where before it had shocked her to tears and left her a melting, weeping mess in his arms, now invigorated her with a restorer’s passion and filled her with renewed hope.


For he had opened himself to her. For years she had stood, knocking upon the door of his heart and being denied entrance--yet here, ay, here was a starting place. Their tale was a tragic one, perhaps, but could fate and destiny not be thwarted?


She exhaled, grasped his hand--minding the fingers she had swathed, of course--and stood up before him. Wrapping her arms about his shoulders, she kissed him for the second time in that morning, a slow, affectionate kiss.


“You are not alone,” she told him, pausing in the gesture to whisper to him. “I am forever by your side. Should all the world be against you, I shall remain by your side . Talk you of madness…? I shall chase it away, if I can. Speak you of jealousy? I can be much more frightening than a monster of that kind, and I shall do my best to scare it away from you.” Her eyes flashed, as if she was already comtemplating the transformation into lioness, though her fingertips caressed his cheek delicately. “...And if I cannot be of help, which indeed is the direct opposite of my ambition...know that I will not abandon my fight for you.”


She kissed him again before he could say anything that might protest against what she had already decided. Anything that Emilia had decided was nearly as good as done.


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Her words were resolute, staunchly uttered, and Iago could feel her embracing the lioness within, drawing on that barely hidden reserve of strength in light of his weakness. Yet she held him so gently, as though she were caressing a phantom, fit to disappear at any moment, needing to be coaxed and embraced with a firm, light hand to remain.


She had devotion, to be faith, too much. She knew not what sort of demon she was truly chaining herself to, in promising to stay by him always, frighten off his fears and jealousies and madness , of all things...!


As her slender fingers caressed his gaunt cheek, he longed to tell her so, warn her true before some dark fate thwarted her efforts past redemption. His coward's blood (zounds, all men had it; why should he be exempt?) itched to flee, to spare Emilia the pain of her newfound escape, before it was too late....


But you will not run , the rasping, amused voice of self-deprecation reminded him. No, you are too selfish, too weak for that. Gutless, chicken-hearted Iago indeed. Ashamed you should be, that you stay out of your own self-centered desire at the expense of her happiness and life .

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The kiss ended and Emilia gently withdrew from it. She had rather expected him to speak as she did, but he did not… She realized from the wasted expression on his face that his unrepressed confessions had left him without a word remaining. Her heart went out to him, and she continued to run her fingers over his skin warmly, allowing a comfortable silence fall between them.


After some time had passed, she stopped stroking his face and dropped her fingers instead until they pressed lightly over his heart. She held her fingers there for a moment or two before she turned aside, putting on and relacing her bodice. Without requiring even but a glance toward the looking glass on the table, she deftly pinned her hair up, creating a halo of brown curls about her head.


“Will you be well, my husband?” she asked presently in a low tone, turning to look softly toward him. “I must attend to my lady... I am quite certain she must be seeking me out as we speak.” There was a hint of regret in her voice, but she spoke of Desdemona with a sense of obligation. “It does dislike me to part from you...”

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Iago shook himself abruptly from his reverie when Emilia spoke, feeling both touched and abashed by her concern, admiring her devotion to duty. ...Yet, it was passing strange that she put the well-being of him , her husband, before that of her lady...not that he minded, misplaced though her worry was.


Remaining here (with her or not) would not have been so great a slip...but Emilia was in the right (as she often was); she had to attend to her duty, and she was not the only one. So Iago made his way over to the chair still at the table, and carefully picked up his cloak, lacing it with slow, stiff motions.


"Of course," he replied, glancing up to observe his wife as she deftly pinned her long dark curls. "In faith, the girl must be quite anxious." Desdemona, he recalled, was rather contrary in that way; quiet and shy in company, she nonetheless seemed to dread being alone, and could prove both gregarious and clingy in her comfort. That alone made him glad not to be the one to attend on her...and stabbed him with guilt that his wife had to subject himself to it.


O, fie on you , he chided himself. Talk you of guilt? To be sure, Emilia truly does not mind the office....


Shaking his head irritably, he walked silently up behind Emilia, examining her contusions in the looking-glass with a practiced, dispassionate eye.


"They fade already," he murmured. "I pray that Desdemona will notice naught, but I pray you be careful nonetheless.... Now I must bid you adieu; they likely seek me at the Citadel."