This is Issue #74 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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The skies were never as clear as Sha felt they should be on this side of Damnation Ridge; on this side of the mountain, it ought to be a damn desert, but systems from the north came down and ferried much-needed moisture to the farmlands further to the east, which meant as they scudded toward the Notch, they passed through bank after bank of thick clouds; it was like walking through the world’s foggiest city; she couldn’t see one end of her ship from the other — hell, she couldn’t see it from halfway.
She looked out the portholes and regarded the light coming in; there was enough variation — they were still moving along. She stretched, and felt Jules shift, grumbling. She petted the redhead’s hair, and leaned to kiss the top of her head.
“Thankgod you didn’t break your fucking neck,” she sighed. “I ‘magine this’d’have gone a whole lot worse f’only one of you’d made it.” Twisting her way out of the bed, she dressed, and then tucked Juliana back to sleep, smiling at her easily enough as she shut the door to her quarters, and walked out on deck, promptly walking into both Nathan and Kieron.
Kieron stumbled, and then held himself up on a railing, while Nathan half-danced out of Sha’s way, winking to her. “Morning, Captain. Sleep well?” he asked, lifting his brows.
“Your wife snores if she sleeps on her back,” Sha noted, only mock-sourly.
“Pfft, like Nate would know,” Kieron joked lightheartedly.
Nate turned to Kieron one brow lifted. “Oh?” he wondered, inviting further comment.
“Whuh–I just… I only meant–you know,” Kieron laughed. “That when she’s, you know, on her back with you she’s… never… sleeping?” The more he talked, the more Sha and Nate glanced at one another, frowning slightly, lifting their chins. By the end of it, Nate crossed his arms over his chest and looked stony-faced. Sha’s brows were lifted as though to convey a sense of disappointment and resignation all at once.
“Cadet?” Nate said.
Kieron clapped his hands over his mouth, looking shocked and apologetic. “Oh my heavens I’m so sorry,” he said, flushing red. “You just — you always joke, and we had been joking, and I–” He swallowed roughly, looking as though he wanted the boards of the deck to split open so the empty sky could swallow him whole. “I thought that… I thought…”
“You thought, what, you could make frankly shocking and wholly inappropriate comments about an officer’s wife? A wife who also happens to be a ranking officer?” Sha wondered, pursing her lips.
“I’m such an idiot, please, I’m so sorry–” Kieron said, his eyes so wide, his distress rising so high, so quickly, he could feel tears pricking his eyes. “Nate, y–Uh. Quartermaster O’Malley, I… please forgive m–” He turned, his heart in his throat, ready to run away, to hide his tears. The sheer shame of it overwhelmed him.
He bumped smack into Jules herself, who also had her arms crossed over her chest. She, however, was looking at Nate and Sha with loving disgust. “You guys are assholes.”
Behind him, Kieron could hear Sha and Nate break into peals of laughter. When he turned, shocked, they were clapping one another on the back, giggling so hard they had to hold one another up. “Did you see his face?” Sha sputtered.
“Guys!” Jules snapped, exasperated, reaching to put a hand on Kieron’s chest, to stop him from leaving. “You kackmouths nearly made him cry!” She looked over at him, apologetic and sweet, and said, “C’mon, Brody — you’ve been with these two culi for months and months, and they haven’t pranked you til now? I’m surprised you haven’t all escalated to hanging each other off yard arms in your sleep yet.”
“That’s… that’s a fucking thing?” Jet spluttered, blinking wide, shocked eyes. He nearly cried anyway he was so relieved; he hardly knew what else to do.
Sha clapped him on the back and sauntered off with Jules, still laughing, leaving him with Nate.
The quartermaster wiped his eyes and tried to stop laughing, but it took him another few minutes. After one last whoop, he sighed, and raked his hair back out of his face, to find Kieron looking at him, almost pained. He reached out and clapped him on the shoulder, saying, “Hey. Ease up, all right. No one’s offended. You’re not in trouble. I’m only faintly insulted you’d think our sex life would be that boring. On her back, really?”
Kieron blushed hotly and gritted his teeth, saying, “Jules was right; you are an asshole.”
Nate rolled his eyes, laughing, and said, “And?”
Kieron shrugged, then, and said, “Y’get used to it,” then cracked a smile and finally laughed. “The yard-arm thing, though? Don’t.”
“I wouldn’t,” Nate said. “You move too much in your sleep. I had to pin you down more than once.”
Hana, walking up, overheard the comment, and her brows went up. She glanced at Kieron, and while a secret smile curved her lips, his cheeks flushed so red the tips of his ears had to join in. “Ellie’s got a case of the sniffles,” she told them. “So I’m your Timekeeper today. Ready?” she wondered.
Nathan pulled out a watch worn through so many scuffs it looked polished again, and glanced over at Kieron, saying, “Ellie’s always got a case of the sniffles.” When Kieron pulled out a battered looking tin timepiece, he said, “Wait — where’d that come from? Didn’t you have some fancy filigree one, handed down from your father’s whatever? I saw it when we were playing Hi-Lo on the Maxima. You didn’t actually lose it to Abramov, did you?”
“The time is seven-sixteen in three, two, one, now–” Hana intoned, looking at her watch.
“Thanks, Hana,” Nate said, smiling.
“Welcome, Quarter. Keep ’em wound,” she advised.
“Nah,” Kieron said, looking disheartened. “But I think I left it there on that trip. Must be dust by now. Ellie came out the next morning and I didn’t have mine. Haven’t found it since. When she did her rounds and I didn’t have one, she gave me this. Said it was just as good, if not as pretty.”
“Kind of like you,” Nate quipped.
Kieron snorted. “You think I’m pretty.”
Nathan rolled his eyes again, and said, “Hana, do you think Cadet Brody’s pretty?”
Hana cleared her throat and lifted her eyebrows, giving Kieron a once-over. She chewed her lip, narrowing her eyes, and appeared to mull it over.
“Gah, Hana, don’t fall all over yourself in a hurry to answer!” Kieron said, looking sulky.
She rolled her eyes, laughing, and said, “You’re pretty, Brody, but you’re a pouter. You’d be even prettier if you didn’t pout. Now both of you, keep your watches wound, and don’t get me in trouble by making me late to finish this!”
When she walked off, Kieron mock-sulked at Nate, “You’re infuriating.”
“I’m an asshole, remember?” Nate said, clapping Kieron on the back. “Now wind your watch, and let’s get to work.”
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