This is Issue #10 of DeathWatch, Book II: tentatively called Heart Of Ilona, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find DeathWatch, the first in the series, or start from the beginning of Book II!
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He knew it was coming, but it was a sucker punch, every time.
The body that received him shuddered, and he staggered, trying to straighten up, to look around. He was pacing in a dimmed room with a dying fire, a glass of something in his hand. He brought it to his lips and swallowed it down.
The man with the whisky on his tongue relished the burn, and went to pour himself another.
When he’d emptied the bottle into his glass, he went back to pacing, and slowly emptied the glass into his throat.
His vision was already blurred enough by whisky that Kieron didn’t bother trying to figure out where he was.
Finally numbed, the man went and sat behind a great oaken desk, and picked up a letter. The handwriting was elegant and looping, precise and beautiful. He would recognize the penning anywhere. His own thoughts drifted to his mother, at the same time the body’s thoughts drifted to his wife.
Kieron had never imagined his father feeling so exhausted, so full of regret.
He settled himself more fully into the moment, trying to read the letter, but the eyes were still so very blurry. He wiped them, then, and they were clearer; his hand came away wet, and he stared at the tears for a long time, before finally looking back to the page.
You must know by now that things cannot be repaired. To continue on as though they could would be playing a childish game of pretend, and we both know how you cannot stand childish things.
While I will be forever grateful at how devoted you were in my restoration, and while there is still love in my heart for you, it is eclipsed by the loss of our son.
You believed him weak, and I let you convince me of it when I should have stood by him. I could see in him the man he would have become, so much like you, and so much like me as well. Your strength, your stubbornness, my patience, my kindness. In an attempt to make certain he did not err as you had, did not suffer as you had, to grow into someone respected and followed, you became the father you hated. You destroyed him. Our boy is gone, and I am certain that your passion for ‘curing’ him was at fault.
I am not returning to our city home; I have left for my family estates, where I will busy myself with my gardening and my reading, and perhaps after a time, re-enter society. I have sent word to my barristers to draw up the papers finalizing our separation — there is no need to drag this out and make a spectacle.
I wish you the best, El, honestly. Forgive yourself, if you can, and I shall try to do the same. Please know that he loved you as best he could, and wanted only for you to be as proud of him as he was of you. As much as you fought, I know in his heart he would not want you to suffer. If anything, let his death and our parting serve as closure.
Unsteady, drunken hands fumbled with the papers, dropping the letter Kieron now saw was tear stained. The next piece of paper was emblazoned with Allied Nations seals, and was formally addressed to both Ellison and Delia. Kieron saw his own name within the letter, and felt his heart stutter, agonizingly skipping beats.
…gave his life in the line of duty, as every cadet knows they may be called to do. Though we mourn his loss with you, we are proud to have had him serve with us, and we ask to present you with the enclosed medal. It is far too small a thing to memorialize such a great loss, but it is bestowed with the greatest of respect. Though his remains rest in foreign soil, we will not rest until we have brought your son home to you. At any time you are willing, a full-honors funeral service would be coordinated with you at your pace, at which time you will also be given any other posthumous awards to be granted. Please know you are in our thoughts and…
Kieron felt his father’s hands carefully fold the paper back up and set it aside. He bowed his head and wept openly, and the raw agony that moved through him touched Kieron in a way that allowed only for pity.
I died. I’m dead, he thought. I’m dead, and gone, and Mother left you, and you’re all alone. He didn’t feel fear that his own death was simply a fact of this moment, didn’t wonder at it; when he walked aboard the gangplank for the TS Jacob for the first time, he knew quite well that after training, he could suffer any number of awful fates, and more than once, he felt a terrible satisfaction at the grief it would cause his father.
Now, however, as he felt that grief, he loathed himself for his part in their quarrel. He would never have given up Jet, never have changed his mind, never have capitulated, but all the same, he realized that the part of his father that pushed him so hard was the part that loved him so very much.
I’m so sorry, Father.
He felt Ellison Brody shiver, and nod, as though the older man had somehow heard that thought. He sat up, wiping his eyes, and opened the drawer of his desk, pulling out thick reams of paperwork, as well as some new stationery. Kieron watched as he signed documents, initialed pages, and then pressed his seal into them, setting them aside to various parts of his desk.
The stationery he used to write a letter. Though his penmanship was not as elegant as Delia’s, it was clear and sharp, even as Ellison’s gaze was fogged, and his heart was unsteady. Kieron read the words as they came; Ellison wrote quickly, as though possessed to get the words out as fast as possible.
I will never forgive myself for what I have done. I do not deserve forgiveness. Our boy was beautiful, and perfect, and I ruined him utterly out of fear and shame. I strove to nurse you to health so that you would be able to have the strength to leave me; I could not bear to abandon you if you had need of me still. It steels my heart to know you are well, and that you shall be well.
The house, the business, the country estates, the vaults, the patents… Everything is yours. You were so very young when we were wed, perhaps it is presumptive to even think it, but I dare say you will find another man who may deserve you. Who in fact may give you a child and not take it from you, as I did. Or perhaps you will never share your heart again. I should not guess, but whatever it is, I hope it may bring you joy. The holdings will provide for you no matter how you wish to live.
I would give my life to bring him back, D. I would give anything.
Kieron felt his father’s heart finally calm, felt it slow and grow steady. He was reminded, in an instant, of the reason he was sitting in some dark recess of his father’s soul, watching these moments.
The finality of it struck him, and he felt something in his own heart flinch.
Ellison Brody opened the bottom desk drawer, and retrieved a shining revolver, and a small box of bullets. Slowly, carefully, without hesitation, he looked at the chambers, loaded the gun, spun the cylinders, and snapped it back into place.
No, Kieron begged. No, please. Not this. Not like this.
Kieron’s father set the gun down, and for a moment, Kieron was overcome with relief and confusion. Had it worked? Had he influenced the man’s decision?
Ellison withdrew from his pocket his watch, and clicked open the case. Inside, within the cover, rested a picture of Kieron at the Academy in his uniform. He’d spent good money on that picture, hoping to elicit some measure of approval, but when he’d presented it to him, even as his mother beamed, his father had scolded him for such a useless display of vanity. But there it was, in his beloved watch.
His own shame and misery mixed strangely with Ellison’s love. Kieron found himself startled at the depth of the feeling he could taste from his father’s heart.
I had no idea you loved me as you do. Would it have made the difference?
He wondered if his father believed his mother’s words.
Did you have any idea how much I love you, in return? Would it have made any difference?
The older Brody carefully pulled the picture from the watch. He wiped his eyes and looked at it in earnest, fingertips tracing the lines of Kieron’s eyes and smile. He pressed the picture to his lips and then simply held it in the fingers of his left hand.
In his right, he picked up the pistol, and put it in his mouth.
Everything in Kieron fought, struggled, screamed. He could feel the cold metal against his teeth, taste the acrid gun oil on his tongue, feel the weight of the thing in his hand.
Ellison Brody looked at his son’s face for the last time, and pulled the trigger.
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