This is Issue #11 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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It was but a moment, a single moment in which Kieron stumbled, staggered, fell against Garrett, but in that moment, all the fury bled from him. He stood, shakily, and looked to Garrett with wide, terrified eyes. Pulling back, he looked around the small compartment, stared around as though he had no idea where he was.
“Brody?” Garrett began. “Kieron? Are you–”
In that instant, the boy Kieron Brody had been one short year ago, soft-cheeked and bright-eyed, returned — and then some. The fury was replaced by horror and a wash of homesickness so intense it took away his breath.
“Who?” Sha wondered of him, reaching to fold her arms around him, to pull him close.
“My father,” he whispered. Kieron leaned into Sha easily, his expression crumpling. He began to cry as he held onto her. He cried for his mother, for his father, for himself, for everything that had been lost in the last year, all in vain. Kieron hiccuped, sobbing, and his words were stuttering, “I can’t — I’m not… Captain, I want to go home.”
Garrett turned to look up at Danival, who shook his head. “Not yet, Airman,” the Krieg said. “Is not time.”
Thoughts of his fellow soldiers flooded Garrett; he remembered the sound of John Ryan’s voice as he pled for companionship, understanding, needing a connection. He remembered what it was like to be surrounded by all those young men, terrified, homesick — children first, soldiers second. Overwhelmed, Garrett cried out “Damnit, Dani! Look at him! You can’t tell me he’s–”
“Stop shouting,” Sha commanded, her voice lifting just enough that it stopped Garrett immediately, and it stopped Danival from responding at all. “This? This is idiotic. I don’t know what the fuck you two are fighting about, but it isn’t about Brody, and it isn’t about going home, so fucking drop it.”
Kieron kept his eyes squeezed shut; he held to Sha, who petted his head and said, “M’sorry, Brody. We can’t go home just yet. You know that, right?”
He pulled back, wiping his eyes, looking exhausted. “I know,” Kieron said. “I know. Is there any way for us to send word back? We haven’t gone over the border — we’re not in radio silence. Has Centralis been notified of everything that’s been happening? Or is it just Kriegsland that knows?”
“No information,” Danival said, shaking his head. “We are no sharing information with Centralis,” he explained. “They are no responding to deaths, thousands of deaths adding up over not many years. They are no taking responsibility for what havoc they are wreaking.”
“Please,” Kieron said, reaching out to Danival. “Please. Send a message home to my mother. My father? Maybe it isn’t too late. Tell them I’m all right.”
The desperation on the boy’s face broke Danival’s heart, but nothing showed on his stoic face.
Garrett sighed, saying, “There’s no way to be sure you’ll stay all right, Brody. You should wait. Tell them you’re fine when it’s all said and done–”
“That might be too late!” Kieron cried.
“–because otherwise, what they’ll hear is not only were you alive and fine, but that you died a traitor, having defected to the Kriegic army. They’ll investigate your mother, because she received word from you when you should’ve already been dead,” Garrett said lowly. “Centralis has a history of… Burning bridges with allies, and your family could get caught in the middle.”
“She leaves him,” Kieron whispered. “She leaves him, because they think I’m dead, and he–” The words won’t come, but fresh tears do. Frustrated, his voice cracked as he spoke. “Damnit, Professor, you knew how it was between us. I can’t–”
“Is not his decision,” Danival said. “Is mine. I–” Danival’s words were cut off by someone knocking on the door to the room.
While Danival sighed, exasperated, and then called “Da?” his voice was drowned out by a quickly barked “Yeah?” from Sha; this was her room.
The answer back was faintly hesitant. The Kriegsman on the other side called, “General? Peredachi dlya vas.”
Danival sighed looked to the three and said, “Stay here. Is transmission for me. I am returning.” He exited the room, and Kieron was able to breathe a little more easily — the man took up so much damned space, he made Sha’s quarters feel almost claustrophobic.
“We’ll figure it out,” Sha said, reaching to give Kieron’s hand a squeeze.
Garrett lingered by the door, not looking at either of them, studying his shoes, feeling both stupid and frustrated, wishing he had some better way to go about any of it. The salvation of this one man had been taken out of his hands; he’d left his job, left everything he’d worked for, and for the most part, though he was still alive, though Brody was still alive, there had been so much loss, he wasn’t sure how to keep going. Mostly, he wished someone would hold his hand, and tell him it would be all right.
When he felt a warm hand curl around his, he flinched, turning, and was struck once more by how Kieron Brody had aged in only one year. He’d stepped away from Sha, who was now trying to busy herself doing something else in the small space, to give the impression she wasn’t listening intently.
“Garrett,” Kieron began, his expression earnest. “Thank you, for trying to save me. For trying to bring me home. I put a lot on your shoulders when I left, and it wasn’t fair to blame you for how things went.”
“Let me finish, please?”
Garrett nodded, clearing his throat. He glanced down at how Kieron held his hand, and then looked back up at the younger man, waiting.
“I’m sorry. From the beginning, I tried to make sure I could get what I wanted, get what I needed, not by asking, but by leaving no other option. My father taught me asking permission meant I’d never be outside his shadow. He tried to control me, and I refused to be controlled. But it also meant I learned a lot about how to control others,” Kieron said, sighing. “And then I up and ran away. I didn’t think what it would do to the people behind me, except for I had to keep him safe. I thought it was the right way. I thought it was the only way,” he said, glancing away, his eyes glittering. “Just like he did. I was turning into him, just like he turned into his dad.”
“When we get home,” Kieron said, clearing his throat and fiercely blinking his eyes, going on as though he hadn’t been interrupted, “I need to go with you.”
“The Harringtons.” Kieron’s expression was grave as he struggled to find his equilibrium. “You shouldn’t have to go alone — and someone has to tell them he’s gone,” he said, his voice cracking on the last word.
Garrett squeezed Kieron’s hand; nodding. “Thank you. And I’m sorry — I should have told your parents what you were planning from the start. Perhaps they’d have been able to keep you safer; I don’t know. What I do know is: you’re a good man, Kieron Brody, and for what it’s worth, regardless of what’s happened between you and your father, I do know he’s proud of you, and he loves you.”
Kieron opened his mouth to say thank you, but in that moment, Danival returned, his expression fierce.
“What is it?” Garrett wondered.
“High command has been in negotiations with Centralis over leaving Allied Nations. Is reason we are in holding pattern. A war on two fronts is to be avoided,” Danival said. “But Centralis…” He shook his head, sighing. “Centralis forbade Kriegsland from invasion,” he laughed darkly. “Forbade!”
“And this means…” Sha asked, looking bemused.
“We are going, now.” Danival shrugged.
Garrett stared, gawp mouthed for a moment, and then remarked, “You’re an entire nation of aggressive contrarians.”
“If you need labels to be understanding, Alec, then yes,” Danival said, smiling in the nearly-patronizing way Garrett always found endearing and aggravating all at once. “Is shorter to say we are going, now.”
“Well then,” Sha said, moving to hand out the drinks she’d been pouring when Danival and Garrett first showed up. “Sounds like the perfect reason to tie one on.” She lifted her own in elegant fingers. “To the ones we’ve lost.”
The glass looked tiny in Danival’s hand as he accepted it. “To Nathan.”
Garrett stared at his, almost in distrust, but then lifted it, saying solemnly, “To John.”
Kieron clutched his like a lifeline. “To Hana. To Djara. To Penny. To Jet.” He looked around at his three companions and said, “To all of them.”
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