This is Issue #144 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘DeathWatch’ then go to ‘#0 – A Beginning’ and read from there, or go find the issue # you remember, and catch up from there!
* * *
“What are you doing here?” Danival wondered, trying to dispel the surprise from his face. He put both his hands atop the desk, laying them out flat, stilling them, stilling himself, an obvious air of shock still clinging to him.
“I’m here for a favor,” Garrett said tentatively.
“Anything in my grasp is yours,” Danival said, without hesitation.
Garrett remained tentative. “I need you to get me out to the front. I’m looking for someone. Two young men who shipped out last year with the scouts. They weren’t of age. With all the ships down — ”
Danival looked stricken, briefly. “We’ve lost eleven scouting ships, two resupplies, and a prototype for high altitude bombing, Alec. The skies are dangerous, and the ground isn’t any better. I’m… I’m not sure it’s the best idea,” he said. “In fact, we’re retreating to regroup. You wouldn’t have any support. You know the Kriegs are pulling out to form their own offensive. It’s going to leave the eastern front a mess.”
“All the same,” Garrett said quietly.
“Alec,” Danival sighed. “You’re–”
Garrett lifted the pistol and set it down on Danival’s desk.
* * *
Panting, Garrett held the gun, and watched The Krieg with wide eyes. He trembled, his finger just out of the way of the trigger, and kept glancing at it, and back up at the man sitting down at the desk. “…what now?” Garrett murmured.
“You tell me,” The Krieg said quietly. “We both know you loved Ryan — whether or not you had any relationship with Fields,” he said. “Will you be able to keep that part of yourself hidden? Secret? Not something you show to anyone — never trusting another man with those feelings, never holding hands, never feeling another man’s embrace, another man’s mouth on your skin. Are you able to deny yourself this?” he asked, staring at Garrett.
Garrett’s shoulders slumped, and his head tipped forward as tears gathered in his lashes. “I want to say yes,” he whispered, “but if I were able to do such a thing, I’d never have been found out in the first place. Everything… everything is ruined.”
“Everything,” the Krieg agreed, nodding. “Completely ruined.”
Garrett nodded, looking crushed. He thumbed the safety off the pistol, and lifted the thing, pressing the muzzle against his temple.
The Krieg’s eyebrows lifted, and he looked at Garrett cautiously, narrowing his eyes. “Corporal,” he said warningly.
* * *
“You… still have it,” Danival said softly, reaching to run his fingers over the smoothly polished wood and brass bolt action.
“Do you remember what you said to me? When you gave it to me?” Alec wondered, watching Danival’s hands with no small ache in his chest.
* * *
“You will always have that option, Corporal Garrett,” The Krieg said. “But if you choose it now, all other options are taken from you. Choices made in desperation are rarely well thought out.”
“I don’t have any other options. Sir,” Garrett said, looking at his superior officer. “You know what I am. The rest of them suspect. I can’t go home like this.”
A shadow passed over the Krieg’s face, and he rose from his desk, coming about to stand in front of Garrett. “If you feel you cannot go home, Alec, perhaps it is time to find a new home.” He reached up to carefully turn the pistol away from Garrett, to push his finger behind the trigger.
“How do I do such a thing?” Garrett wondered. “How… am I supposed to walk away and keep breathing?” he said. “I cannot go home. I cannot stay here. It’s absurd.”
“What’s absurd is the notion of ending your life out of fear,” the Krieg sighed. “There is another choice.”
“You don’t know–” Garrett began.
The Krieg interrupted him by pulling the gun from his hand and setting it aside. He folded Garrett into his arms. The younger man stiffened, holding his breath, terrified. He didn’t relax until the Krieg spoke again, quiet and earnest. “I know,” he whispered. “I do know.”
* * *
“I do,” Danival said, nodding. “As I recall, it was the beginning of a long… friendship, wherein I often had to convince you I knew better than you,” he said, smiling, his eyes shining. “You kept it?”
Garrett rolled his eyes with humor, shaking his head. “Only a Kriegsman would think of a sarcastic suggestion of suicide as the beginning of a friendship,” he said. “And, yes, I kept it. As a reminder I’d always have that option, but it was my last option,” Garrett said, looking down at the gun, reaching to slide his fingers over the brass bits. “I need your help, Dani. And maybe I shouldn’t have asked for it; you don’t owe me anything — in fact, I owe you, I–” His words caught in his throat, briefly. His eyes met Danival’s, and for a moment, he could see something almost afraid there, naked and young and vulnerable with grief. “I never should have–”
“Alec,” Danival sighed, turning his eyes away for the space of a breath, cutting off the apology before Garrett could begin it. “It would still be suicide. Use my gun, or use the guns held by Ilonans. We’re not at a place of any advantage. And considering the missives I’m getting about the Alliance, we won’t have an advantage for a long while; regrouping after these losses will cost us so much time.” He shook his head and opened his mouth to speak again, but was interrupted by a knock at the door. “Come in,” he said, and Garrett took the chance to fully comprehend Danival’s expression, tight, exhausted, guarded.
The young soldier who came in handed over a sealed message, looking grave — the markings from it declared it was sent directly from Kriegic Homeland High Command.
The general dismissed the messenger and once the door was shut again, he opened the missive, eyeing Garrett now and again as he pulled the sheets out and scanned them. His face grew grave, pale. He folded the papers back up and looked back at up Garrett for a long while, his pale eyes searching the other man’s face, scanning the new lines, the new scars, learning him in that brief stretch of silence. He crushed the papers in his hands and said simply, “I’ll get you to the front.”
Dizzied by the sudden change of heart, Garrett wondered, “What? What happened?”
“High Command has officially demanded I return,” Danival said quietly. “I’ve got two weeks to transfer my command, then the ships are coming in to recall every Krieg in the forces.”
“I’d seen the news release,” Garrett said, frowning slightly, not understanding the gravity on Danival’s face. “But what else, Dani?”
“It’s the last option for us both.” Danival’s face wore no fear, only concern; there were too many considerations all of a sudden. He closed his eyes and took a long, slow, deep breath, calming his heart. It made him able to say the words aloud without stumbling. “They want me to lead the invasion from the north, Alec.”
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