This is Issue #82 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
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“Jules, don’t–” Kieron began, trying to sit up.
The surgeon growled irritably, finished the last stitch, and cut the threads. The jagged wound went from his cheek to his brow, rounding past his left eye, which was blackening considerably. The dark threads closing it marked the line of the scar Kieron would most certainly have, within a few weeks’ time.
“He fucking what?” Jules said, her face white, her cheeks red.
“Did that,” Sha snorted, jerking her thumb toward Kieron. “Was pissed you were cursed instead of knocked up.”
The surgeon stepped out of the way, revealing Kieron, uniform rumpled, knees torn, with a black eye and a split cheek and brow.
Jules looked mortified, and then furious. She stalked toward Kieron so fiercely, he flinched back from her touch. She paused, then, pained, and moved more gently — more slowly, and reached to cup his face, to gently run a thumb over his unbroken cheek.
“Please,” Kieron whispered. “I’m so sorry, Jules. So what if I didn’t know? It’s still because of me,” he said.
As the tears fell from his eyes, she brushed them gently away, fingertips pressed to his skin. Her greyblue eyes searched his, looking at the distorted pupils, and tears welled up in her own. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “He’s a right terror when he’s heartbroken; most of us know t’get out of his way and let him be — just not get caught up in it. Isn’t fair y’had no idea. It isn’t fair he–”
Kieron ducked away from her touch, clearing his throat. “It’s fair,” he said. “I don’t know what’ll happen to you, J– Quartermaster O’Malley.”
“Kieron Brody,” Jules said, leaning in to kiss his forehead — an entirely un-military maneuver. “I’m alive. You fair brought me back from the dead. Whatever else happens, if you were the cause of it? You were the cause of that, too. If Nathan’s angry at you, he’d best remember y’saved my fucking life, because y’did that too, y’know. I’ll tell h–”
“No,” Kieron pled. “No! I’m sorry but no,” Kieron said, trying to be firm. “Would everyone please just… just leave it be?” he begged.
Watching the whole thing, Sha looked pained, hating to see her crew fight, hating to see them torn up. “Up to you, Brody. You’re a grown up,” Sha said, shrugging. “Everybody out. Not you, cadet. You’re going to stay to be observed. Resting, but no full-on sleeping.”
“I’ll stay with him, Captain,” Jules offered. “You don’t need two Quarters right yet,” she said, smiling faintly.
“You got it, Jules. But don’t push it. Don’t need the two of you falling over and knocking heads,” Sha said, nodding to them both.
Once she and the surgeon himself left, Kieron swung his legs off the table, and moved to get up. Jet, he lamented in his head. Where are you? What happened to you? I haven’t seen you in so long. I haven’t heard your voice. I never should have left you. I never should have. Could you ever forgive me? A hundred thousand thoughts flew through his mind, cluttering him up, getting him spinned around.
“Brody,” Jules began. “Th’fuck d’you think you’re doin?”
“I don’t want t–” His expression greyed out, and his hands went whiteknuckled against the table. His throat worked as he swallowed back nausea, breathless as he closed his eyes.
Jules put her arms around him, startling him with her strength as she held him up. “Shut your mouth, cadet Brody; lest you sick into my hair, and we’re not that close yet, y’ken?”-
A pang of longing tore through him. He remembered Jet’s arms around him, holding him, and the desire to go back — to turn back, to somehow wrench himself out of time and talk sense into that younger version of himself. “I’m not –” Kieron began, his breath hitching. “I don’t know if I–”
“Cadet,” Jules said. “Listen to me.”
“I need Jet,” Kieron blurted. “I feel like I’m caving in. Like any sense of control I ever had is gone. I’m lost, without him, Jules,” he said, spilling the words out. “He’s been with me for years — he was the first person that ever… he believed me,” Kieron murmured, lifting his eyes to look up at Jules.
She nodded, understanding enough to not say a word, but let him talk.
“Not at first — he called me crazy,” Kieron laughed, pained. “But he was kind. He was kind, and when I was sick, he stayed with me. When I was afraid, he was strong. He made me eat, and sat with me while I tried to sleep,” he breathed, fingers reaching to curl against Jules’ flight suit, to clutch her as though he were trying to keep himself from floating away. He pressed his cheek to her shoulder, as though to ground himself, gritting his teeth against tears. “He stood up to my father,” Kieron said. “He climbed in my bedroom window to save my life after my father forbid our contact. He–” Kieron’s voice cracked, and he struggled to retain his composure as he tearfully said, “He loved me.”
“He still does,” Jules promised. “No way a little time and distance changes something that big,” she said, folding Kieron into her arms and holding him tightly. “Poor Brody,” she chuckled. “Don’t y’worry. My Nathan turned around this whole ship right for you–”
“He did that before he knew. Before he had any idea that I–”
“You saved her life,” came a voice from the doorway.
Kieron froze, glancing over his shoulder, and squirmed free from Jules’ arms, his heart in his throat. “Quartermaster I–”
Nathan’s eyes flicked to Jules, and then back to Brody. “Are you feeling well?” he wondered politely.
“–yes?” Kieron said, baffled. He couldn’t read anything on Nathan’s face — it was nearly as though some stranger were wearing a Nathan-mask. He turned away, shivering; looking at Nathan made his heart hurt in a way he couldn’t define. He felt more ashamed in disappointing the man than he did his father, and his shoulders slumped as he cleared his throat, ready to be snarled at again.
“Could you give us a moment?” Nathan asked.
What? Kieron turned and stared for a moment, obviously lost. Stuttering his affirmation, Kieron carefully walked away, giving Nathan a wide berth. “I’m… okay. Sure,” he said to himself, nodding. He hurried off, glancing behind, more tense than he knew how to handle. He headed for the main bunks, not knowing what else to do with himself, certain that Sha would be irritated if she saw him topside before the next day, knowing he should hide for his own sake. He walked about in circles, trying to articulate what he would say to Nathan, how he would apologize — what he would do to prove he was sorrier than he’d ever been (excepting the time he ran away, that got him into the whole mess) until he got dizzy.
When he got to his bunk, he was exhausted and still angry with himself. “Yeah,” he muttered, pulling off his boots, “I’m a fucking grownup, all right.”
Heedless of previous advice, he laid down in his bed, and closed his eyes.
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