This is Issue #65 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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Sha’s expression was nothing but shock for a moment, as his words registered.
“Sha,” he begged, reaching for her. “Sha please.”
“What? Jacob, no!” Her expression was horror; she pulled back, shaking her head. She looked stricken as she tried to stroke his cheek, wanting to calm him. “I can’t — I’m not going to –”
“Please,” he sobbed, and then he spasmed again, his head tossing back, his mouth opening wide in a yawning shriek. His breath left him in short, sharp, whistling bursts that sounded as though something kept snapping wetly far within him. The twists his mind had navigated for years, the fits his brain had had… his body was trying to cope with them, now, and the strain of it was simply too much.
When the next seizure came for him, he curled forward. His teeth clacked together against his tongue, and he felt the meat of it give, and blood fill his mouth. The scream then was choked as he reached for one of the guns at her hip, fingers scrabbling. “Beeze,” he frothed, coughing. The word was as mangled as his tongue, lolling heavily, wet against his teeth. Please. “Za–” Sha. He pawed at her, his eyes rolling as another wave of pain came, crushing, grinding, twisting his body, contorting him in a fashion that left him crippled, dropped to the deckboards.
All the while, Sha shook her head, her eyes wide and wild, her heart thundering. She finally made herself freeze, heart and mind in conflict as her body trembled, trying to pull back and hold him closer all at the same time. “Jacob,” she begged, tears in her eyes, horror on her face. “Don’t ask me that. Don’t ask me to do that, how can y–”
It was then that Kieron had the strange feeling of being himself, and not himself — within and without, all at once. He could remember how he saw Jacob (himself) trying to strangle Sha (himself), and he felt Jacob’s hands reach for her. His hands reach for her. His hands reach for himself. Jacob’s hands reach for him.
Time seemed to slow down, and Kieron tried his damndest to focus through the pain, but all that was clear was the voice inside his own head.
I have to make her understand. I have to make her see.
Kieron couldn’t figure out if they were his thoughts, or Jacob’s. He trembled as his palms slid against her cheeks, as he turned to spit blood, and opening his mouth felt like fresh hell against his half-severed tongue.
“Jacob?” she whispered.
She still sees her brother.
His hands tensed, and Kieron felt his thumbs shift. He tried hard to keep himself still, still believing that somehow he was meant to stop the horror he had already witnessed, meant to allow Jacob his death without hurting Sha. Still, he could hear Jacob’s wailing, his own wailing, inside and outside his head.
She has to see a monster.
Kieron held fast, and tried to gently rub his thumbs over Sha’s cheeks, to wipe away her tears. I–we–he loves you. Your brother loves you.
Kieron was sweet.
Jacob pushed to drive them through her eyes.
“No! NO!” Kieron tried to howl. With his ruined tongue, it was less true words and more a gargled shout of fury and fear; he pulled his hands back, putting them to his own face.
Sha screamed aloud, recoiling at first from the way his hands tightened, but then reaching for her brother’s hands as he tore at his own eyes. The two of them were locked in a horrific embrace; she could not control his violent flailing — he couldn’t get free. She could only watch as Jacob mutilated himself, and in her shock, when he stopped gouging at his own face, she did not stop him as he tore at the straps holstering her gun to her hip.
Kieron pulled the barrel of the gun from her thigh and shoved it into his mouth, biting hard against the iron, breathing wetly around it, staring up at her with a bloodied gaze. Please, he thought. Please. Please let this be over. Please.
His hands shook as he struggled to reach for the trigger, trying to work his fingers against the catch, scrabbling at the hammer. Something. Anything. Give me a way out of this.
Kieron was Jacob was Kieron was Jacob was watching her and pleading, flailing for control of the gun, staring up at her.
Sha met his eyes, and finally stopped fighting him, her shoulders slumping as she bowed her head. “Oh, Jacob,” she pled.
He looked up at her in fear, in horror, shuddering, gagging against the barrel of the gun, feeling the sight scrape the roof of his mouth, tasting the acrid foulness of gun oil even over the copper of his own blood.
She slid her hands over his, watching him, trying her hardest to not sob her heart out.
He watched her watch him.
She kept her eyes on his face, kept her fingers touching his.
He didn’t know who he was anymore. He had no idea who he was, or when this might end — it was too much. Everything he knew and everything and everyone he loved smeared together and wouldn’t come apart again.
A fresh paroxysm of misery washed over him, and he began to keen; the blood in his throat ran over his chin as his eyes grew wide and his body grew rigid. One more intake, but it caught halfway through. His lips darkened as he could no longer draw breath. For a moment, there was silence, and Sha tightened her hand at the trigger, replacing his finger with hers.
“I love you,” she whispered. “I love you, Jacob. I’m so sorry. I love you.”
I love you, too.
Kieron stared up at Sha, nodding almost imperceptibly, hoping she knew how he loved her, how he had only wanted to be free of the pain of it. How he knew she’d done what she could.
How he loved her, even as (especially when) she pulled the trigger.
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