This is Issue #12 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
* * *
It was beyond agony, to have to wait. Jet could hardly concentrate through the last of his classes, and when he was finally released, it was all he could do, to not simply run for his room. When he got in, he locked the door immediately, and grabbed up the wastebasket, fishing the letters out and putting them on Kieron’s bed. He slit them open carefully, his heart racing madly, his skin broken out in gooseflesh. He felt almost giddy to pick out the sheets and see Kieron’s lettering. The letters themselves were lighthearted, much as his own had been, speaking of the days’ activities, and people he had seen, though in Kieron’s case, the only people he saw outside of his family were Doctors, and Garrett.
Jet felt a swell of gratitude for the man who had so blatantly lied to the Headmaster, who saved him from himself.
When he went to dinner, he walked right over and sat with Garrett, who was reading through papers as he absently ate something on toast–whatever had been given him at the line. “I wanted to–” he began, struggling to keep the ridiculous grin from his face.
“Stand up,” Garrett said mildly, not looking at him.
“Sir?” Jet said, bright-eyed and still riding high on the joy he felt, knowing he could stay in contact with Kieron.
“The Headmaster knows you’re not on my favorites list, Harrington. You’d do well to finish dinner–somewhere else, go to meditations, and then go directly to your chambers for the night,” Garrett said, still never looking at Jet.
“Y-yes… yes sir,” Jet said, his voice cracking as he stood up, collected his food, and moved a table over, slunk down. He had thought Garrett’s ire wasn’t real, and perhaps that was still true, but it hurt to be chastised in front of others, no matter the reason.
Dinner dragged on, but then it was time to slip off to evening vespers. The dim light in the chapel cast all of the meditating cadets into strange shadow and relief; Jet could barely concentrate, and it made the time pass with agonizing slowness.
When it was over, he hurried back to his room to dive back into the letters, to touch each of them, to breathe in the smell of the paper, the ink, Kieron’s touch.
He took out fresh paper and pen, and began anew, pouring himself into the letter, so carefully restraining anything his father might find, anything anyone might cause trouble for.
When he was done, he pulled all the letters close, reading them over and over and over again, and took them into his bed, falling asleep to the crinkle of their paper whispers.
* * *
Ellison Brody had little reason not to trust his son. For the whole of his life so far, Kieron had been obedient, wanting to please both his mother and father. He worked hard to be the cadet and scholar they so obviously wanted and prepared for, and his only shortcoming was the illness that gripped him seemingly out of nowhere. The only taste of defiance Kieron had ever shown was over the letters, and Ellison had seen the boy submit.
But he also knew what it meant to truly lose something as precious as he feared the Harrington boy might have been, to Kieron, and so now and then, he wondered whether his victory had been complete. His fears were not allayed when next he saw Garrett before the tutoring session, and Garrett spoke up. “Please, forgive me, sir, but I wanted to ask you about Kieron returning to school. I think he might do much better there, finish his recovery more quickly,” he said.
Ellison pursed his lips and wore a look of calm, but crossed his arms over his chest. “He is recovered, Professor. The idea was never to return him to the Academy. Too much distraction,” he said. “Don’t put ideas into my boy’s head, Garrett. He has been through enough, and he has put certain things behind him.”
“I see,” Garrett said, frowning slightly.
“Make sure you do,” Ellison said archly, and gestured for the professor to go on his way.
During tutoring, Kieron was as lackluster as he had been in days, staring dumbly at a page without responding for nearly ten minutes, when Garrett leaned over and tapped the pages. “We are studying calculus. I am sorry if it bores you,” he noted.
Kieron didn’t respond, staring down at the page. He might has well have been sleeping.
Frustrated, Garrett shifted to close his book, saying, “Perhaps I should–“
“I’m sorry,” Kieron said. “I never should have done that.” Something wet dripped to the page.
“Brody?” Garrett wondered, reaching across the table, tilting Kieron’s face up. His fingers came away wet with tears.
Kieron wore shame heavily, and Garrett could see it curling his shoulders like an unwanted mantle. It took Kieron more than a moment to gather enough courage to speak. “Forgive me, Professor. I used you. I knew… I knew that if I told you about the letters, you would say something to my father. I knew he’d force my hand,” he whispered. “I didn’t mean to make him angry with you.”
Garrett nodded slowly, a strangely pleasurable comprehension dawning. He couldn’t help but smile as he said, “He made you sent them back. Returned to Sender.” His expression was half-amused, half astonished. He was right. The boy was brilliant.
“It doesn’t matter,” Kieron sighed, confused that Garrett wasn’t furious, but despairing, either way. “It’s been weeks. Jet hates me, or at the very least, I’ve hurt him–“
“Shh,” Garrett said, feeling triumphant in his own right. “Here,” he said, and offered over a book, saying, “Focus on this, instead, yes? I’ll go, I’ll give you some time to rest — maybe you weren’t ready yet. But you read that book, all right, Brody? And you’ll be fine.”
“Yes, sir,” Kieron said, nodding dully.
“I’m not kidding, Brody. Read the damned book,” Garrett said lowly, and then he packed up his things, and left the boy sitting there, looking more than a little stunned at Garrett’s snap.
Once his tutor left, Kieron wandered back up to his room, and threw himself on his bed, still holding the book. After awhile, he opened up the book and rolled his eyes; why would he care about a treatise on war games? How would it make him feel better? He tossed it on the floor, and put his hands to his face, pressing the balls of his hands into the hollows of his eyes. When the treatise hit the floor, however, there was a flutter of paper, and he sat up quickly, suddenly worried he’d ruined a valuable book. Instead, he found an envelope, addressed to him.
His heart thundered as he got up and locked his door quietly, then moved to open the letter, while sitting on his bed. Out fell several pages, in Jet’s hurried hand. Kieron uttered a cry of surprise and delight, and had to carefully quiet himself so that his parents would not ask him what had happened.
His hands trembled as he held the letter, reading it over and over and over again, his heart racing.
Your letters came all at once, and I had despaired, not realizing your cleverness.
I shall not underestimate you again. Know that I am well, and my only true complaint is the lack of you.
I may have actually meditated during vespers in your absence.
Hoyt Redwell has been expelled.
Are you well?
Please write back, and tell me if you will be returning, and when?
He was so elated, his mother remarked on his vitality at dinner that evening, and Kieron found he could not even be angry with his father, now that he was able to talk to his friend again.
The boys sent letters back and forth through Garrett for days. They still were uncertain in their writing; they spoke of nothing of consequence, fearing retribution if Kieron’s father should find out, though they well knew that even without speaking of Kieron’s visions, the boys being in contact with one another would cause an all-out firestorm of fury.
Kieron excelled in his tutoring, and Jet excelled within the Academy. Kieron had visions, still, his episodic fits coming in small bursts. He knew, usually, when they were coming, and did his best to be away from anyone and everyone, so that he could recover in peace. He wrote of them to Jet, but only in the guise of dreams, and only in small doses — he did not want Jet to worry about how often they happened, at times.
The days rolled by, bringing them further into the dark of winter, closer to term break, for the dark season holidays, and the young men even made plans to be able to visit on the break; their steadings were close enough that a run through the woods would let them see one another, after so long.
All was bliss — at least, for a time.
* * *