This is Issue #39 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
* * *
“Yes, yes,” Kieron said, trying hard but failing to not sound somewhat irritable. “I’m not in love with a woman, how fucking astounding, right? Now it all makes sense, the dandy of the Esmuth Brodys, no wonder his father didn’t stop him from running away to the scouts, man probably hopes I’ll fall out of a fucking airship, yeah?”
Nate stared, chewing on his lower lip, and moved to cross his arms and say nothing, at least for the moment.
Kieron ground his teeth, waiting for the onslaught, the sudden barrage of insults or stupid questions, the invasive curiosity or the downright meanness that had always come on the heels of knowing or suspecting or just plain deciding who must have shared his affections.
“You like men,” Nate said, but it wasn’t much of a question; his brows were up, and he kept looking Kieron up and down, as though he could discover some heretofore unknown signal that would betray the knowledge.
Kieron’s closed his eyes for a moment, sighing, and said, “Honestly, it doesn’t mean a f–“
“It doesn’t mean a fucking thing,” Nate said, shrugging as he finished Kieron’s sentence. “So what if you’re in love with a man? Honestly, I’m relieved. Means I don’t have to keelhaul you for trying to bed the woman I’m with. Or worse, watch her keelhaul you for trying to clumsily seduce a woman ten times out of your league,” he laughed. “She’s more than I can handle, and I can fucking handle anyone.”
“So you really don’t have a problem with–” Kieron began, frowning slightly. He let the sentence fade off, and his expression grew desperately uncomfortable.
“Fucking hell, Brody, if you can’t talk about it, are you even sure your louvers tilt that way?” Nate said, rolling his eyes. “Go on, say it,” he urged. “Have you ever said it aloud?”
“You’re such a child,” Nate snorted. “Have you said aloud you’re in love with this man, this boy?”
“I told my father.” Kieron’s voice was low, and he sighed as he looked away, back out off the rail and into the starry night.
Nate let the night swallow that statement and give back only silence for awhile until he finally asked, “How’d that go?”
Kieron’s reply was quiet, and sad. “I’m here, aren’t I?”
“Do you hate yourself as much as you believe he does?” the Quartermaster asked, his voice low.
“You said you’re here. That doesn’t mean he threw you out.” Nathan’s voice was just as quiet as Kieron’s, he saw no need in announcing anything.
“I don’t know what you’re trying to get me to confess,” Kieron said, his shoulders tense, his hands clenching into fists. “Are you just trying to humiliate me or something? For someone that doesn’t have a problem with it, you seem awfully interested in bothering me about it.”
“I didn’t realize I was bothering you,” Nate said. “I mean, yeah, I guess I did, really, but not like that. You’re sensitive. Fine. But I’ve already explained I don’t have a problem with it. I don’t hate you. I don’t think it’s wrong or strange. I’m not your father. I’m not whoever fucked you up at the fucked up place you ran from before you got here. I mean, you’re not an Academy graduate, I know that much. You went there, sure, but you don’t have your cadet star.”
“Missed it by a few weeks,” Kieron said. “I had to leave early.”
“Why?” It was a quiet question, gentle, but honestly curious.
“I don’t know how to explain that, without you thinking I’m seriously fucking crazy,” Kieron said, half-laughing.
“Brody,” Nate said, shaking his head. “Ah, Brody, Brody, Brody. Frankly? We’re all fucking crazy. We are crazy beyond help,” he murmured, shrugging. “Would we really be almost two miles above the ground in a giant teacup strapped to a balloon if we weren’t?”
“Well,” Kieron said, and he parted his lips to say something else, but then thought better of it.
“Come now, you can’t deny it. In this bit of tin teacup, we have weapons that can cause terrifying destruction. Even more horrific is the fact that if we mishandle them, we could make this lovely tin teacup balloon monstrosity explode and rain bits and pieces of us and it all over the Ilonan countryside,” Nate says. “And we’re doing it all on a well-established skeleton crew filled out with a flush of first year fresh recruits. Well inside enemy territory. If we aren’t completely crazy, Brody, if we aren’t all exactly addled in the brain-meats, then how did we get here?”
“I..” Kieron said, obviously unable to complete a sentence for the sudden thought. It took him a moment, but then he finally took a deep breath, closed his eyes and said, “Fine then. We’re all crazy as loons. You want to know why I ran away? The queer thing of it is, I can see–“
“I had a lover, once, a strapping Kriegsman. Man was built like a tank,” Nate said, interrupting him.
Kieron opened his eyes, and his expression warred between infuriated at having been interrupted as he was about to explain things, and pure shock at Nate’s confession.
The Quartermaster himself had a fondly reminiscent expression on his face. It faded, as he turned his own eyes back to Kieron; though the reminiscent look was gone, the fondness remained. “I just had no idea,” he explained, shrugging. “I thought it was her, because you make this… expression. Lately, after you’ve talked with her,” he murmured.
“I’d try to explain that, but I’d end up talking about secrets that aren’t mine to tell,” Kieron said, his eyes still wide as he processed the new knowledge, and tried to look apologetic.
“Hey — who do you think she came to, after she shot him?” Nathan said. “I been under the Captain since before she was Captain, going on fifteen years now,” he explained. “We don’t have secrets,” he told Kieron, wearing an easy smile.
“I wasn’t talking about hers,” Kieron said, shrugging.
“Fair enough,” he said. Nate still wore his smile, but cocked his head to the side, keeping his eyes on Kieron for a long moment, as though his gaze could make the younger man tell him anything and everything. “All right. Well, you’re still supposed to be on watch and I’m supposed to finish my rounds, but if you ever do want to finish whatever the queer thing of it is, you know where I am,” he finally said, heading away, still wearing that crooked smile.
Just before he was too far away to hear, Kieron called out, “A Kriegsman, huh?”
“I liked his beard!” Nate called back, giving a jaunty salute, and then he walked off.
* * *