This is Issue #81 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
* * *
The blow connected, and the followthrough spun Kieron around on his toes like a dancer. He staggered back, his expression a bit like that of his mother’s favorite terrier upon being confronted with a mirror, and put one hand up to his eye. It came away bloody, and he looked up at Nate, stunned, hurt. “Tha’s not–tha’s not funny–” he slurred, and then he dropped to his hands and knees.
“Quarter!” came the cry from across the deck. Hana ran toward Kieron, looking shocked.
Nate took a step toward the fallen cadet, his hands still clenched in fists of rage.
Kieron flinched back, lifting a hand to shield himself. “I’m sor–I’m sorry–” he began, trying to blink the blood out of his eye, trying to clear his vision.
“You–” Nate began, choked with fury, his eyes wide and wild. “You did that to her. And you fucking joke about it–” His hand slipped to the holster at his hip, and his fingers began to curl around the butt of his pistol.
“Nate–please–” The words hurt just as bad as the fists, but Kieron had already tried to take the blame for it with Jules, and as he knelt before the man he considered his closest friend, he realized he deserved the fury. Nate said he didn’t blame Kieron, but Kieron knew better. There was no one else to blame. He went silent, and dropped his hands. He didn’t try to stop the quartermaster; he just waited for it to be over.
He closed his eyes.
A shadow passed in front of him.
He didn’t flinch.
When he opened his eyes, Sha was between him, and Nate, one finger pointing at Nate, thrust against his chest. “Don’t you fucking dare! Your wife’s a big girl — you know damned well Brody didn’t do anything on purpose!” She marched Nathan backwards toward her cabin — to keep the drama off the deck and away from so many people.
Hana helped Kieron up off the deck and turned him so she could look at his face. “Ohhh. You’re gonna have one heck of a trophy in a little while,” she said. “Get down to meds, so the surgeon can make sure Quarter didn’t crack your head like an egg.”
Kieron nodded, shamefacedly going wherever Hana directed him.
Nate tried to lean past Sha, out her door, seething at him as he went past, “She could’ve been p–”
Kieron flinched away again, wincing when he tried to close his eyes.
“Well she wasn’t!” Sha shouted back in Nathan’s face, putting her palm to his chest and shoving him inside her rooms. She kicked the door shut, so she could shout in private. “She fucking wasn’t, O’Malley and if you think for one second I will let pity stop me from hauling you down to the brig, or throwing your ass over the side if you beat on your own soldiers because you’re having a fucking tantrum, you’d better think again!”
He jabbed a finger back at her, venom in his voice. “Just because you didn’t want to have my–” He stopped, suddenly, facing down the barrel of the long pistol in Sha’s hand.
Each of them looked surprised — Sha at Nathan, and Nathan at himself, too.
“Are you fucking done?” Sha wondered, her expression grave.
He nodded, wordless.
“You can’t make this anyone’s fault,” she said lowly, withdrawing the gun. “And if you ever bring that up like that again, Quartermaster, I’ll make sure your transfer off this ship is fast enough you will need a chute but may or may not get one.” Her eyes flashed, hot and dark, glittering not with malice or hurt but pure fury. She burned bright as she snapped out the words, “I didn’t want to have anyone’s baby, Nate. If it was going to be anyone’s, it would’ve been yours, but I wasn’t ready. But we both know it was a bad time, and I made the best choice I could and I’ll be damned if you’re going to shame me for that. Throwing it in my face because you’re mad at the universe for not making you a father yet? Well how good of a fucking father do you think you’d be if you’re going to throw punches at the young men who fucking idolize you, huh?”
Nate listened along, no longer willing to be actively raging, no longer willing to cause damage. And when she spoke of young men idolizing him, he slumped, and put his face in his hands, scrubbing at it, wiping at his eyes. He cleared his throat and stood up straighter, lifting his chin and trying to collect himself. Finally, he looked back at Sha. “Captain,” he said, his voice low, urgent, “Permission to go below.”
“Denied. Stay up here. I’ll go check on that boy,” Sha told him. “You’ll be lucky if he ever gets within arm’s reach of you, Nathan.”
“Please — Sha –”
“Your Captain’s the only one here right now. Your friend is about to go comfort the kid you concussed,” Sha said. “Maybe take a little time. Get some fresh fucking air.”
“Yeah,” Nate sighed. “Yeah, I can do that,” he said, his shoulders slumping in resignation. He nodded to her, and waited for her to step aside, and let him out — he didn’t try to make any more excuses, and it was the only reason Sha even let him go.
* * *
Sha Onaya, Captain of the Jacob, the ship that had once been called the Ivory Goddess, wended her way down decks until she got to the surgeon’s room. Before she walked in, she could hear Hana’s voice, calm and pleading — and Kieron’s trembling tenor.
“Let him give you the anaesthetic, Brody,” Hana said. “That looks painful.”
“The needle isn’t–”
“No,” Kieron said. “Just… stitch it, please.”
The surgeon sighed, saying, “Son. It’ll hurt like a sonofabitch; you –”
“No,” Kieron said firmly. “Sir. Please. Just stitch it.”
“Listen to the boy,” Sha said. “And when he cries for his mother, don’t mock him, just give him the lido and move on.”
“Captain!” Hana said. “Could you please tell Brody that–”
“I’m not telling Brody shit,” Sha said. “Cadet, I’ve got it from here. Get back up to comms, or Timekeeping, or whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing.”
“Aye-aye, Captain.” Hana hurried out, without further comment.
As soon as she exited the room, Kieron laid back and sighed up at the surgeon. “You can get started,” he said, sounding resigned.
“All right, then,” the surgeon murmured. Without further delay, he proceeded to stitch the cut up. Kieron’s face was swollen, and the cut was more of a split, from Nate’s knuckle against his brow.
While Sha looked him over, Kieron sat in silence — but she could see the tears welling. “Take the fucking lido, Brody.”
“It’s not that,” he said, reaching up a shaking hand to wipe the one eye he could get to without causing trouble. “I just — where is he? I need to tell him I’m sorry. Please, Sha, he was so angry. Please, just tell him I’m sorry. Please,” Kieron said, the tears beginning to fall in earnest. “Please — he hates me. I don’t… I don’t want him to hate me, Captain. He was my friend; I need — I need to apologize.”
“You need to — what?” Sha said, sounding astonished. “He gave you a fucking concussion because he was pissed off that Jules wasn’t knocked up. How in the fuck does that translate to you needing to apologize?”
“Nathan did what?” came a voice from the doorway. Jules was standing there, looking shocked.
* * *