This is Issue #46 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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“How long do you suppose until the next time you come jumping aboard my ship?” Jules wondered, kissing Nathan. Her wild hair blew in long curls in the damp wind; she kept tossing it back out of her face, her lips curved in a smirk as though acknowledging its impudence.
Abe, who was talking to Sha, paused the middle of his sentence to say “–Is not your ship, Yana–” with the humored amusement of someone who’s said the same thing a thousand thousand times, and then continued on talking with the other captain.
Jules rolled her eyes, grinning up at Nathan. “Fine,” she mock-huffed, shaking her head. “How long do you suppose until the next time you come jumping aboard the ship I let Abe keep?” she asked.
“Not too long,” Nathan said casually, as though this were the easiest thing in the world — the whole of it was betrayed by the way he pressed to her, his arms around her, his eyes never leaving her. “I’ve got a deal with some of the belly boys. They’ll throw shit out of the hold when no one’s looking, so we run out of supplies soon and have to find you. Don’t go far, okay?” He stroked her cheek, sliding his fingertips over the pink round of her smile, smiling right back.
“I never go far,” Jules said. “You’re the adventurous one, remember?”
Kieron felt a hand on his shoulder, and turned to see Sha, who had come over with Abramov. She squeezed his shoulder briefly, and leaned to whisper, “I know it’s hard, but don’t stare too long; you’ll go blind from the too-fucking-adorable.” Kieron blushed, shaking his head, and moved to pick up the things he was going to bring back aboard the TS Jacob.
Crew members from the Maxima were finally coming back, which meant it was time for the last of those from the TS Jacob to head home — fast friends had been made over the past four days, and old friendships were renewed. Even if it was only a few months until the next resupply, there was no guarantee it would be the Maxima with which they rendezvoused.
Nathan was the last man left as the technics on either side began to dismantle the bridge connecting the ships. Kieron stood at the rail with Sha aboard the TS Jacob, watching he and Jules say their goodbyes, and he wondered, “How do they do it?”
Sha watched for a little while, but then turned away with a fond smile as Nathan bowed his head and kissed Jules on the nose. “Frankly, I’m surprised every time he comes back aboard,” she says. “Pleased, but surprised.”
“If I could see–” Kieron cleared his throat, feeling his eyes sting. It was hard to get the words out; he couldn’t even say Jet’s name aloud. He could taste it on his tongue, but he couldn’t speak it. “If I could see him again? I wouldn’t. I love it here, Captain, I really do. But I’d leave in a heartbeat if he wasn’t staying with me.”
Sha nodded, understanding.
Horns sounded, signifying the last of the rope bridge being dismantled; one lone rope looped through Nathan’s rigging harness, and it grew taut as the ships began to slip away from one another. Hands clutched; the quartermaster of the TS Jacob and the quartermaster of the Maxima held to one another for a moment longer, until the rigging pulled him up and away. For a moment, he lifted her from the deck, taking her with him. He kissed her mouth in one long, last goodbye until he gently set her back down, boots on the deck, her upturned face shining with tears that had fallen from both their eyes.
The ships separated more swiftly, then, and the Maxima disappeared into the clouds, pulling away.
Nathan climbed up the side of the ship as Kieron helped to haul him in. When he got to the rails, he stared off into the clouds. “I love you, Jules!” he called down.
From the white emptiness came the reply, “I love you, Nathan!”
The ships were moving now, truly, well and away, and still he called. “I love you, Jules!”
She answered back, shouting to be heard over the noise of the engines and the wind, and her voice seemed far. “I love you, Nathan!”
“I love you,” Jules!” Nathan cried.
“–ve you, Nath–” The sound of Jules’s voice faded into the hum of the wind. Kieron listened for it, but not as hard as Nathan did, gripping the rail and leaning forward.
“I love you, Jules!” he shouted back, almost breathless, willing her to hear.
Nathan leaned further forward, his nails all but digging in to the rail. There was agony on his face as he strained to hear. Finally, as though he heard, when Kieron had simply assumed they were too far away, he called again.
“JULES!” Nathan yelled, and the cords in his neck stood out; . “JULES, I LOVE YOU! JULES!” His voice broke from the rough cry, and he leaned over so far he swayed against the wind. “JULES!”
Kieron reached for him, but it was Sha that put a hand to Nathan’s shoulder. He felt his own heart break to watch Nathan close his eyes and bow his head.
“She knows,” Sha promised.
Nathan slid back from being on his tiptoes, to let the heels of his boots touch the deck, and his shoulders slumped, as though in defeat. He wiped the tears from his eyes and turned away from the railing at last, not looking at anyone as he walked toward his quarters.
Sha followed him, one hand at his shoulder, the two of them in matched step. She said nothing, and neither did he.
Kieron watched everyone go back about their ship duties; he did not try to follow Nathan or Sha, but instead ended up going for his own bunk. For once, he hadn’t drawn any surprise duties, but was going to be able to crawl beneath his blankets and strive for sleep.
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