This is Issue #70 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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As he roused, Kieron felt himself held in warm, strong arms. He muttered sleepily, his lips muffled against a stubbled jaw. Breathing in, he smelled leather and sweat, and he frowned as his own embrace tightened, trying to comprehend what he was sensing, what was going on around him. He was blissfully warm, and aware of a tight heaviness in the pit of his belly. “I have to piss,” he mumbled. “Jet,” he said, releasing his embrace. “Leggo,” he murmured, and he carefully began to detangle himself, yawning as he put a hand to the warm hip laid to his. He opened his eyes to pale dawn creeping in the portholes, and then suddenly he stiffened, his breath caught. “Nate?”
“Shit, and here I thought you’d forgotten my name,” Nate chuckled, releasing Kieron easily, rolling back. He laid in his own bed, languid and watchful, without a care. “Watch your step. Floor’s cold,” he warned easily.
“Uh-” was all Kieron could manage for a moment. “I’m… I’m not–”
“Go. Piss. I’m not going anywhere. It’s early enough I don’t need to meet the Captain for another half an hour,” Nate told him. “We can talk, or not talk, when you come back,” he offered.
“Uh-uh… uh,” Kieron stuttered, blinking and feeling rather flummoxed. “Okay? Okay. Oh… kay. Sure.” He nodded, slipping out of the bed, and then commenced making pained noises as his feet hit the cold boards. “Gah!” was the most coherent utterance; he immediately withdrew his feet and tucked himself back into the blankets.
When his body fit against Nate’s, the quartermaster curled him close without hesitation, saying, “Told you the floor was cold.”
Kieron went still for a long moment, and then said, “I’m not cold anymore.”
“Do you want me to let you go?” Nathan asked. His breath was warm against Kieron’s cheek.
“I — uh. I don’t…” he whispered, his voice shaky. “Half of me wants to freak out right now, and half of that’s because I actually do have to take a piss,” he said. “Other half of that’s screaming that I’m a cadet, and you’re my superior officer, and this isn’t a hypothermia situation, and it’s not an emergency, and what the fuck am I thinking?”
“Shh–shhh, fuck, Brody, it’s not that complicated,” Nate laughed, sounding anything but concerned. “If you’re warm enough, then you put on fresh, dry clothes, and deal with your wet ones. I’m not looking for an early morning shag, n’if I were, I’d be inviting my wife to my bed. You’re lovely and all, but you’re a bit young and inexperienced for me. I’ve already done my experimenting. I don’t want to be with anyone else who doesn’t know what they want, yet. Besides, storm’s passed. We’re likely to be headed back toward the Ridge soon. Maxima done fucked everything up, truly. S’a lot to get done before we dock. Paperwork and planning. Debriefing. Then it’ll be up to the uppers to see if you have to put in for a completion or if this’ll count as a full tour, all things considered. So you’re fine. You’re still naked, but you’re fine.”
Kieron swallowed fear and pride and anxiety and hope all at once, and struggled not to choke on them. He laughed, pulling away, and said, “Well, thanks for making sure I didn’t make that awkward.”
“My pleasure,” Nate laughed, shaking his head.
Kieron slipped out of the bed and said, “I’ll have to steal some dry clothes, though–”
“That set of drawers,” Nate said nodding to one corner. Once Kieron began to dress, Nate got up to do the same. He felt the younger man’s eyes on him, and said, “Got any questions, or just can’t help but stare?”
“Shit — sorry, I.. that’s a lot of tattoos. And scars,” Kieron noted.
“I earned the scars. And tattoos,” Nate said, shrugging. “Most of the airmen have ’em.”
“Scars? Or tattoos?” Kieron’s half-smile was almost cheeky.
“Both,” Nate said, smirking in response. “Tattoos are just scars on purpose. Something to remember yourself by. You should see Sha’s,” he said, his expression taking on a faintly marveling tone. “On second thought–” he said, looking surprised at himself. “Don’t even mention I said that. I’m not looking to get keelhauled.”
Kieron shook his head as he said, “Neither am I; consider it forgotten.” He laughed with Nathan, and finished dressing himself. The clothes were looser than his own, but if necessary, he could simply wander back to his bunk and put on his own fresh ones — at least this way, he wouldn’t be naked or shivering wet on the walk there. He brushed his hair and teeth, but kept looking back at Nathan, eyes searching for details, taking in the pink and silver weals that sprawled over his back, knotted at his shoulder, tightened the skin on the outside of his left thigh. And as for tattoos… Knots and buckles, gears and pulleys, springs and dials, anchors, birds, bullets, swords, maps and compasses — the lines in black and navy were a patchwork against his skin, hidden easily beneath his uniform, designed to be showing only occasionally, when work allowed for a cuff to be rolled back, or a collar unbuttoned.
“Seriously,” Nate said dryly, turning to look at Kieron, dark eyes twinkling, “You got anything you want to ask me?”
“Nothing that wouldn’t come across as desperately personal,” Kieron said easily enough, shrugging. “You’ve been… I don’t want to be rude.”
“I’m offering, Brody. What, you think I’m fucking shy?” he said, laughing loudly as he spread his arms to show himself off. “M’not always proud of the things I’ve done,” he said. “But I’m not ashamed of the man I am,” he says to Kieron. “So if you’ve got a qu–”
“That heart,” Kieron blurted.
“The Kriegsman,” Nathan answered quickly enough, before Kieron could even point to which one, but Kieron noticed the faintest change in Nathan’s manner.
“…what was his name?” Curiosity hung heavy in Kieron’s voice; he didn’t know anyone too much like himself, like Jet. He didn’t even know if he felt what he felt, or what it meant, or how it worked, but the love held between two others… that was more accessible, at least.
Nathan’s ears turned the faintest shade of pink. He answered, “Danival,” and smiled faintly as he continued to put on his clothes.
“You loved him?” Kieron said, holding tightly to his uniform jacket.
“I still might,” Nate said, shrugging.
“Maybe I’ll get one,” Kieron said, after a moment.
“A Kriegsman?” Nate teased, and finished getting dressed.
Kieron’s eyes rolled; he laughed as he said, “A tattoo. Thank heavens I have a spare pair of boots.”
As they headed out of Nathan’s chambers, the quartermaster leaned close in the doorway, his body heat easily felt against Kieron’s skin. “One more thing,” he said, cocking his head to the side as he blocked the doorway.
Kieron’s breath caught as he looked up at Nate. “Yeah?”
“Earlier,” Nathan said, “you were talking about how much of you wanted to freak out.” He paused, but then said, “That’s only half, all told. S’the other half want?”
Swallowing roughly, Kieron answered in the only way he could: honestly. “I… have no idea.”
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