This is Issue #49 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!
* * *
“…and so we’ll be jumping,” Sha explained. “Think you’ve got it in you? I know Garrett wants to make a strong case for leaving you here.”
Kieron looked down at his hands, and then back up at Sha, sighing heavily. He raked his hair back out of his face, scrubbed at his eyes with both hands, and smiled at her, pained. Shrugging, he said, “I don’t know why you’re asking Captain. I’d jump even if you wouldn’t give me a chute. I’d just have to figure it out before I got to the bottom.”
Sha snorted, rolling her eyes. “You’re killing me, cadet. You won’t do anyone any good if you’re all ‘Boom, Splat’ on the ground. I know you want to save Jules. We will. We’ll chute off this safe ship, and drop down into that forsaken city, and we’ll find her, and then we’ll get you home–”
Kieron frowned, pausing. His expression faltered from determined as it occured to him he doesn’t quite know what home is, anymore. He saw his father kill himself. His mother was still in need of care when he ran from home. He’d never really expected to go anywhere but the Allied Forces militia. He joined the scouts. He was in the war. He looked back down at his hands, frowning at them, and then back up at Sha and blurted. “I left to save someone. I left, because he would’ve died if we stayed together. So I left, but then he ended up with the Ilonans, and they killed him anyway.”
One brow went up, and Sha watched Kieron with intent.
“I wasn’t going to go home, Captain. I was going to die out here.”
“Okay, now I’m going to punch you,” Sha quipped, trying not to roll her eyes.
“What else am I supposed t–”
Sha grabbed the front of Kieron’s shirt in one fist, and gave him a rough shake. “Are you fucking kidding me? Your little friend di–”
The rage that bubbled up in the back of Kieron’s throat was mostly his own. He was somewhere between insulted and miserable and self-pitying with a thick layer of resentment; somewhere in the back of his mind some strange bell constantly tolled — he’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone — but when it was pulled to the front, when someone mentioned it in such a casual, even scoffing manner… every ounce of fury and hatred he bore his father for taking so much of his time with Jet away came back. His lips peeled back in a snarl as he moved to shove Sha away.
As his hands came up, however, Sha’s other hand came around quickly; she slapped him in the face, staring him down. “Don’t you fucking dare, cadet. Don’t you dare.”
Shocked, Kieron gaped at Sha, blinking his blue eyes up at her. “You hit me.”
“You were about to do worse; I can still see that anger in your eyes.”
You can’t see it in my eyes. You can smell it. Because you’re an animal. Because you’re a filthy animal. Kieron’s expression shifted again; he bit back the anger, swallowing it down carefully. “I’m sorry, Captain,” he said gruffly.
“Damn right you are,” Sha said. “You’re miserable. You’ve lost people. You’re not the only one, cadet. You’re far from the only one. And I’d be lying if I didn’t remind you you’re going to lose more. If we get out of this whole? It’ll be beyond miraculous. And after that? We’re going to end up facing investigation and possible court martials for how all of this went down,” she said.
“You’re not making this sound like much fun,” Kieron sighed.
“I’m not your mother. Don’t complain to me, Brody. You picked this. You’re not at fault for everything, but you have to own your own shit.” Her dark eyes were firm. She looked down at her hand, which was still tightly holding his shirt, and she let him go, smirking at herself, shaking her head. “You get the difference, right?”
“Yes, mom.” Kieron’s voice was still a sulk.
Sha rolled her eyes again. “Sometimes I forget you’re still a baby.”
“You keep calling me a baby, I’m going to call you old lady,” Kieron grumbled.
“Call me anything but Captain and I’ll tell Danival you need to get keelhauled.”
* * *
Danival stood in the doorway for quite some time, awaiting Alec’s acknowledgment of his arrival.
Alec kept his nose buried in a sheaf of notes.
Finally, Danival cleared his throat quietly.
“…something I can do for you, General?” Alec wondered, sitting in the quarters he’d been given, busy reading.
“You are taking notes… on the notes?” Danival’s voice was a low rumble, curious.
“Mm,” was Alec’s response.
Coming around to stand behind Alec, Danival watched him grow more and more tense, more and more jumpy, ready to turn and yell.
At last, Alec spun in his chair and stood up, irritable. “What are you d–”
“He’s awake,” Danival said quietly. “He is well.”
The fury that had risen in Alec simply melted away at the news. His shoulders slumped, and he looked up at Danival, pained. “Are you certain?” he wondered quietly. “The boy is–”
“He is no more a boy than you, Alec. He is a man, and you must give him leave to be broken, and to be remade. Tam ne sil’neye, chem kosti lomanuyu, istselyal,” Danival said firmly. Healed bones are stronger than those never broken.
Unable to resist correcting, Alec looked up at Dani, saying “Actually, there’s no evidence to suggest that broken bo–”
Danival pulled Alec into a bearhug, burying Alec’s face against his chest. “Shutting your mouth now, lyubovnikonflikt.” He stroked Alec’s hair, his palm warm again the younger man’s nape.
“I don’t love arguments!” Alec contradicted, pulling back, defensive.
Danival lifted one brow, smiling patiently down at him.
“Danival, I’m so sorry,” Garrett whispered, leaning hard into the other man. “I thought I had… I thought I had dealt with all this. I thought I had let it go. I thought I’d …grown.”
“Wounds bide their time. They are wanting to be felt before they are becoming scars.” Danival’s voice is low, gentle; he held Alec without judgment, without flinching, even as Alec’s shoulders began to shake, and he began to cry, tears staining the front of Danival’s uniform. “You are older now, and grown, Alec. But is no shame in feelings. No weakness.”
“Doesn’t sound like a very Kriegic thing,” Alec snuffled, chuckling to himself.
“Is taking very brave man to love with his whole heart, Alec. Is taking much strength,” Danival promised. “I was not brave when I was younger. Only shortly before meeting you did I learn. Too late for some things, too soon for others,” he shrugs. “Life is not guarantee of joy; only guarantee of chance of joy.”
Alec let Danival wipe away the tears on his face, let him stroke his hair, let him hold him. The sheaf of notes was set aside, and Alec let his heart feel, smiling up at the man he’d walked away from so many years ago, as the ship sailed on, further south, a promise of strange vengeance in the distance.
* * *