"It's quiet there, now everyone's gone" I told Royston over coffee one day, a few months after the attack on Ke-Han.
"Really?" he said. I didn't blame him for being impressed; a quiet Airman was a rare occurrence. That is, until recently. "You must love that!"
"Who are you trying to convince?" He frowned at a woman's choice of clothing as she passed. "Terrible, terrible."
"Bad color," I agreed, "And it is nice. Just creepy, sometimes. I'm not used to no one arguing, or playing stupid ass games, or Merritt's boots not being in the door. Know what's worse?"
"The fact that that poor woman doesn't know orange clashes terribly with her hair?" he teased before turning back to me, giving me his full attention. "What is it?"
"You're going to think I'm stupid," I smirked, already knowing what he was going to say.
"I already think you're stupid, or at least unrefined, old friend, so no danger there," he teased again, making me chuckle.
"Alright, alright," I said. "For whatever cracked reason in the back of my brain, leaving the Airman empty just seems...wrong somehow."
"Oh. I think I understand. You've been there so long..."
"I don't think that's it," I said, distracted all of a sudden by a flash of white across the room. Royston used that moment to peck on the glass to get someone's attention.
"Adamo? Still with me?" he asked, waving his hand in front of my face, snapping me out of my thoughts.
"Yeah. Still here," I said, swatting at his hand. He laughed. "I thought I saw... I don't know. I'm going crazy."
He smiled sympathetically, and didn't comment. He understood what it was to lose comrades in arms.
"So," I said, changing the subject, "how's the kid?"
"Ask him yourself," Royston said, gesturing over my shoulder, and I turned to see Hal, with Balfour in tow, walking toward us.
"Hey, kid," I said, turning sideways in my chair to see him. "Balfour".
"H-hello sir," Balfour said, turning a nice shade of pink. Hal grinned widely at me and shot me a wave as he went to greet Royston.
"What do you two want?" I offered. I was answered by two blushes and two garbled responses. I shook my head. "Nonsense," I grunted, guessing their protests "I'm buying. What do you want?"
Hal, after some encouragement from Royston, asked for tea. Balfour, however, didn't cave so easily.
"I-that's very nice of you, sir, b-but it's quite alright. I'm not thirsty, and it's not really...I mean, you shouldn't feel you-"
"Balfour." I said, leaning forward so he couldn't avoid eye contact even if he tried. I could be a stubborn son-of-a if I wanted.
"Y-yes sir?" he asked, eyes wide.
I thought a moment. "Mint tea good?"
His face went red, telling me I guessed right. "Th-that would be wonderful."
I ordered both drinks and some biscuits with marmalade, making both young men protest frantically that they weren't hungry. Their lie fell through when Balfour's stomach growled loudly.
"You really aren't eating much, are you?" I asked laughing. He blushed even more, dropping his eyes to the table and fiddling with a fork. "You're not." I wasn't teasing anymore. It pissed me off for some reason that he wasn't eating. "Why not? Trying to kill yourself?"
"No! N-no. That's not it at all. I-I'm not that stupid! It's just..." he trailed off, glancing at Hal. I followed his gaze.
Hal's face matched the color of Volstov's flag. "He practically forced me, I swear!"
"He skipped lunch," Balfour said forcefully, looking to me for reinforcement.
"I had to study!" Hal looked toward Royston, and I got the sudden sense that he thought we were ganging up on him.
"That's no excuse."
It was the first real argument that I had ever seen Balfour have with anyone. He was upset with Hal for skipping lunch, more than I had ever seen him before, and it made me feel a little better knowing someone was going to take care of the kid, whether he liked it or not. It was nice he had someone at the Versity who was not only his friend, but cared. Royston couldn't look after him all the time. But, some small part of my mind asked, who was going to take care of Balfour? I ignored it. He was an Airman, after all. He didn't need anyone to take care of him.
Royston quickly settled the argument when he placed a hand on Balfour's arm and thanked him, causing him to blush again.
I thought then that it was very strange that the others would tease him about his manners, when, in reality, he was probably the strongest man I'd ever met. I guessed they never saw this, this intensity, this selfless anger. For once, he wasn't fidgeting nervously or stuttering, and, though his voice never went above the natural din of the coffee house, it was strong. This person sitting next to me, telling Hal off for skipping lunch, this was no "woman" like they called him. This was a man. A very—
"What do you think, Adamo?" Royston asked, snapping me out of my thoughts again.
"What?" I asked.
"Hal was telling us about a play that's showing at the theatre down the road. What do you think? It's a comedy."
The kid looked at me all puppy-eyed and begging and I'll be damned if there was any way I could have said no to that, even if I wanted to.
Balfour and I walked home together that night since Royston had grabbed a hansom to take Hal home.
"Um.." he said when we stopped at his road, "This may sound a little weird to you, and you can laugh at me if you want, but, well, it's just that—"
"You don't want to go home, do you?" I asked, cutting him off before he could go into a nervous ramble, as he usually did. He was scuffing his feet and tugging his gloves and sleeves and this made me notice that his jacket was a little looser than it should have been, though why it even mattered was beyond me.
"Well, no, I don't. It's just—Well, you see, my house, its too—compared to how the Airman was, it's just too...too—"
"Quiet?" He nodded "Yeah, I understand. Airman's like that"
"Oh" he said quietly, blushing slightly "I suppose it would be, wouldn't it, with all of us gone."
That seemed to bother him, and he started shaking all of a sudden, so I walked closer and placed my hands on his shoulders. It probably was a mistake on my part, but I couldn't bring myself to care, especially when he moved closer and buried his face in my shirt and started crying. I just held him close as he cried for Anastasia, and Amery, and all the friends—well, more like fellows—that he had lost, and tried to be as strong a man as he seemed to think I was.
But I wasn't a strong man, and I was shit at being comforting. The only reason I even tried to be comforting was because he was crying into my damn shirt and there wasn't anything else to do.
He straightened after a bit, wiping his eyes on his sleeves. "I'm sorry. I-I shouldn't have done that. Your shirt is not a tissue" he chuckled quietly. "It's just-"
"I understand. It's okay." I jerked a thumb over my shoulder, completely thrown by the outburst. "C'mon. That is..if you don't mind going to the Airman"
"I-I don't mind. I just don't want to be alone. Not tonight"
"I understand," I said, searching for other words as he fell into step beside me.
"Sometimes...it's hard to believe they're gone, isn't it?"
"When we were at the coffee house, before you came, I thought I saw Ivory. Real weird." I nudged his shoulder. "You aren't the only one having trouble getting used to them being gone."
"You?" he asked softly, the question obviously not meant for my ears. He blushed, proving me right. "Um, I mean-"
"Here" I handed him what was left of the popped corn. I didn't want his apologies or clarifications. I knew what he meant. It was too clear. For whatever reason, he thought I wouldn't have trouble adjusting just because I was the Chief Sergeant. He never knew how long it took for me to stop expecting to see Amery on Anastasia or when his door opened. I lost nine of my men over in Lapis all at once. It was no surprise that it would take me a bit getting used to them not being around.
But I shouldn't have told Balfour, that much was clear. He said very little the rest of the way to the Airman. I doubt he would have come any further if he weren't so desperate to not be alone.
I opened the door to the Airman and went in. It was, as always, too damn quiet; not a living soul there except the two of us. I said nothing as I went into the kitchen to grab a beer. When I turned around, Balfour was standing in the door, playing with his gloves. It didn't surprise me that he was there. What surprised me was that he was looking straight at me with a stubborn look on his face.
"You shouldn't be here alone" he said.
"What? I should leave, then? And leave the place empty? Not happening."
"That wasn't what I was saying."
"Then what were you saying?" It irritated me that anyone would say that I had to leave that place, especially Balfour. I figured he would understand, if anyone.
"I was thinking that ma-maybe," he dropped his gaze to the floor and his voice was barely audible, "Maybe I could stay, too?"
"Stay?" That wasn't what I expected. "Why?"
"Well, like I said, y-you shouldn't be here alone, and, well, I don't want to be alone either. It makes me think too much about the others. I figured I'd stay, you know. It's not a new thought, really, I was thinking about it—"
"You're rambling, Balfour."
It threw me a bit that he was willing to live in the Airman after all the hell he'd been through. Then, I suppose he knew that nothing was going to get me to leave. What I still didn't get was why the hell he wanted to stay here with me instead of staying with Ghislain or one of the others. "I don't see why you shouldn't live here. I just wanted to know why you wanted to be here"
He looked up and smiled. "Because...because you shouldn't be alone. If you'll forgive my impertinence, sir, you need someone to talk to, and so do I, really. This place is just too quiet. Like my house."
"Too damn quiet," I agreed. "And it would be nice having y—having someone around."
"That's what I thought." He looked out the window as the bell tolled midnight, yawning as if it was some sort of signal.
"Got 'Versity in the morning?" I asked.
"Mhmm," he murmured sleepily.
"You should get to bed, then."
"Yeah," he said, walking out. He stopped in the doorway. "Oh, uh, th-thank you, sir."
"No," I said, realizing only then just how well he knew me. "Thank you."
His ears were red as he walked out the door.