This is Issue #14 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
* * *
Waking up from drowning was hell.
Waking up while still tangled in last night’s bedding made it that much more terrifying. Kieron fought with the blankets, as though they were the water that held him down. When he tore himself to the surface of the bed, he was gasping, choking, screaming, sweatslick and feverish, reaching hands out, desperate to be pulled from where he was drowning, seeking Jet’s hands, Jet’s soothing voice.
Instead the door to his room banged open, and his father was there, with his pistol, looking for an intruder, going to the window, his eyes wild with fury that anyone would dare make an assault upon his house.
He checked the windows, the locks, ran to the closets, the bathroom, turning on every light, opening every door, his teeth bared in a savage display of familial protectiveness.
Convinced they were safe, and it was likely just Kieron making the racket, Ellison Brody tucked the gun away and crouched next to Kieron as he sat up in the bed, panting and disoriented. “Just a dream, Kieron,” his father said, sighing. “It was just a dream.”
“Just a dream,” Kieron said, nodding, and then felt his stomach lurch. He tried, for a long moment, to hold it in, to keep himself steady. I can’t. I can’t here. I can’t now. Not in front of him. But it was no use; returning from every slip, every witnessed death, every time he took his first breath and came back to life, his body became so violently ill, he surrendered to the brief horror of it, if only to get it over with. This time was no different. His eyes got huge as he rolled away from his father and staggered to the toilet off his bedroom, barely making it in time. He was already opening his mouth as his knees struck the tile before the bowl, and it felt like hours as his back heaved, and he rested his forearms on the cold porcelain.
There had been more than one vision since he’d left the school, but trying to hold this one back simply sucked the energy from Kieron, leaving him cold and weak, trembling, with tears in his eyes. He looked up at his father and rasped, “I’m sorry–”
Ellison stared down at his son, startled by the violence of his episode, and looked both bewildered and half-disgusted, and hadn’t any idea what to do for the boy. “I’ll get your mother,” he said weakly, and slipped off.
Kieron shivered alone in the bathroom until Delia ran in on bare feet and immediately ministered to him, wiping his face with a warm cloth, carefully making sure he was cleaned up, and then getting him cool water — then rubbing his back when the retching started all over again.
By the time the sun rose, Kieron was back in his bed, sleeping exhaustedly amidst clean sheets, and Delia was drinking a cup of darjeeling with honey and milk in the morning room, artfully behaving as though she had not spent the last quarter of an hour giving Ellison an earful for his inability to deal with his sick son.
* * *
…and because of our new delivery mechanism, I feel comfortable in relating that I have witnessed another two since our last communication. The reactions are the same, and it is difficult to hide them. I remain hopeful that we shall find some method of covering over this secret, or keeping me from being laid quite so ill. Above all else, I hope this letter found you well and left you none-the-worse…
“Ever yours, Kieron,” Jet finished aloud, and then carefully folded the paper back up and tucked it away against his skin, where he would keep it until he’d reread it enough, and then he’d stow it away with the others. He sat back in his deskchair, looking out the frosted window, a frown of worry etched over his brow. Kieron had been having awful visions, had slipped into so many bodies, had watched so many deaths, and had no one with whom he could decompress, or feel safe, and it made Jet sick to think of him shivering and miserable and alone, rather than comforted. He wouldn’t be able to articulate his terror, and so it wouldn’t truly leave him. Jet could see, from Kieron’s shaky hand, how taxed he was by his episodes, and he hoped that the holiday from school would afford them an opportunity to see one another again.
While he waited, he continued to write, and to pass his letters to Garrett, who handed them to Kieron during lessons and took back a letter to Jet, from each meeting.
* * *
“Will you require my services over the holiday break?” Garrett wondered of Ellison as he packed up.
“Ah, I imagine you would like to finish your family plans,” Ellison said, smiling apologetically.
“Yes, thank you,” Garrett said, clipped and quiet. He had, at one point, felt as though he could develop an easy comradeship with Ellison Brody, but once he’d spoken up, however briefly, against separating Kieron from Jet, he had sealed his judgment in Ellison’s mind — and that had sealed Ellison’s in his.
“We will be having extended family staying with us throughout the break,” Ellison said easily. There was a long pause, as Ellison regarded Garrett carefully, and then finally said, “You would be welcome, but you will not be required.”
“I see,” Garrett nodded, easily. “Then I wish you the best, and you should contact me again when you are ready, but I have an enormous amount of work to finish at the Academy, as well as family that I shall be visiting–” he explained, generous with his excuses, feeling as though if he were not, that he might offend. Then feeling, suddenly, quite odd that he should care if he offended the man anyway.
“–Do enjoy yourself, then,” Ellison said, and though he had interrupted Garrett, it was in an attempt to stop him from feeling put-out, and he tried to let his voice convey warmth. There was an awkward silence, for a moment, as they stood there, staring one another down. “I love my son, Professor,” Ellison said quietly, watching Garrett. “Please understand that.”
“Though I imagine it would be impossible for any two well-educated men to agree on all aspects of child-rearing I respect your authority over his care, Sir,” Garrett said. “I hope I did not offend you greatly in that regard. Your son is brilliant, and I wish, as I’m sure you do, to see that brilliance excel.”
“I do,” Ellison said, nodding. “Which is why I feel I must keep him from those elements that will weigh him down. He’s no longer a child, and should not continue with childish play.”
Garrett watched Ellison’s earnest expression as he spoke of his son, and his heart was softened, somewhat. The awkward tension between the two of them had begun to diffuse, but only barely. Garrett turned to go, then, but Kieron’s voice could be heard from down the hall.
“Professor!” Kieron called, coming out from the hallway, flushed, carrying a thick volume full of papers and notes. “You forgot your book! If I’m not going to be seeing you for a–”
But he never finished the sentence. Kieron stood there, almost having reached them, pausing in mid sentence, mid thought, mid step.
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