surrounding Alistair still, the one that bothered Zarik the most was how he fit into the man’s life. He knew how he felt toward the magister, and he believed the other man’s confessed mutual feelings to be sincere. Zarik had a vague idea for the future that the man wanted with him, but he was just as naïve and inexperienced about married life as he was with romance or desires. The concept of a real, full household… he hadn’t known that since he was a boy. That boy who used to climb masts, and rumble with his sisters, felt leagues away from the man he’d become under his father’s mentorship, as if the memories of his boyhood belonged to someone else entirely.
Zarik didn’t know what role, exactly, he was meant to play. He didn’t know how to introduce Alistair into his own life, he realized, as he heard about the sons and the previous partner. Anxiety had taken hold of him once again, but he pushed it back, resisting the nervous impulses, and focused on controlling his emotions as if to make up for how much he’d let himself be driven by them yesterday. He felt the palm on his shoulder and looked back at the other man. His blue eyes remained, unchanged, and so pale that light seemed to go right through them.
, he made a note of the name. Not even an arc old? Zarik blinked. He struggled with the information, to keep his expression neutral, and he wanted to blurt out so many things: he didn’t know how to raise children. He barely was able to take care of his father in his aging health. He’d stopped spending peer time with children the moment he’d left the sea and never had another friend after that point. He didn’t know how to relate to them, let alone how to guide them through life. Zarik felt ambushed. Why hadn’t Alistair told him about this before? Wasn’t this important, something he should have known about?
He supposed he should have thought to ask…
And Alistair talked with such certainty, telling Zarik what he would do, who he would be for a child who was not related to Zarik in any regard. Zarik’s brows flitted in a mixed expression of hurt and confusion. He moved away from the other man, to continue getting dressed and to gain some distance to calm himself.
Alistair turned to answer his question, finally, about the other son. Zarik paused in belting his coat, listening to the tone of voice with the words. “You thought he was dead?”
He repeated in curious confusion. “H-he was… kidnapped?”
Zarik felt himself ease some, his heart warming toward the other man again. A momentary flash gave it away as periwinkle colors flooded past the cool blue before fading back into the icy color.
Zarik finished dressing, whether Alistair explained more or not. He didn’t pry anymore; his question having been more rhetorical from his surprise. Instead, he relayed his intention to visit his father. It didn’t occur to him that the nobleman could try to refuse him and so he barely noticed the nod. He accepted the kiss to the sliver of skin on his cheek above his mask. Zarik ran a hand over Alistair’s beard. He smiled at the offer to visit Ashvane in the evening.
He paused, then his hand slid lower, gliding over the human’s form and intimately caressing the muscles. Zarik’s eyes narrowed as his hidden smile grew coy.
The blond said, “I’m sure I will like it, very much.”
He winked, then blushed from his own blatancy. He playfully pushed on Alistair’s chest, leaping backward a couple steps, and then opening the door to head out. Zarik gave a handwave and despite the weight of their morning conversation, he said in a cheerful voice, “Farewell, my strong, powerful, noble husband-to-be! Don’t go interrogating any changelings without me, okay?”
Zarik slipped out of sight, running down the hall, the staircase, and finding his way. He managed to recall the layout well enough and left Woodstock Hall, sprinting if for no other reason than all of the youthful energy he’d gathered in the farewell. His body felt so different, stranger than it’d ever felt before, but good in a weird way. There was a pleasant sort of ache inside of him that made him think of Alistair and smile, though he had to run a little slower than usual. He had so much to think about, the jogging helped him sort through it all as he started through The Gleam to return home.
He arrived quickly enough, the path between the hall and his house having been traveled multiple times yesterday. Zarik paused at the back door, then took out the bone-crafted housekey and fiddled it in the lock. The door squeaked open, a faint bell ringing to announce his arrival. He winced and shut it quietly behind him.
What he was going to tell his father… he still hadn’t decided. He wanted to confess everything, and he expected to, but only because he doubted he could get away with not doing so. He wasn’t sure how to word it though, in a way that wouldn’t cause his father to become enraged. He knew how the man would feel betrayed. Perhaps, though, he could get away with making breakfast and preparing the rest of the day’s meals, then taking off again. He could postpone it until tomorrow.
Zarik found his father at the dining table. The surface was already a mess since he’d cleaned it the prior morning. Jars of various fluids, sharpening tools, implements in the process of being fixed or put together, a few unmentionables left over from the last session, a couple dead rats nailed to a board, and the tea kettle with what looked like mud in it. He lowered his gaze, trying to hide his eyes, and said, “Morning, father.”
The hunched over, pallid biqaj grunted a wordless response. He was busy digging at something stuck in a leather paddle with the tip of a knife. Zarik picked up the tea kettle, grabbed a rag from a spot where he hid the fairly clean towel, and went to a tub of fresh water to rinse the container out. At least the tub had remained clean in his absence, so he didn’t have to go through the process of filling it up again. He listened carefully, and in a few minutes, his father heaved a hacking cough. Zarik sighed and pocketed his mask. He took off his scarf, hat, and coat, setting them on a hook.
He finished with the kettle and set it above the fireplace spit to boil fresh water. Zarik looked around, then found the blanket crumpled up in a corner. He dusted it off and set it on his father’s lap. “You have to keep this on until your cough goes away.”
“What do you know,”
muttered Zalazar. He set down the leather paddle, picked up a sharpening stone and started to glide it over the knife’s edge. “Shouldn’t you be getting back to your job?”
Zarik knew that was his father’s way to ask how things were going. He nodded, going to see what they had in the food stores and find something to prepare. While he did, he answered, “Soon. The changeling is… more difficult than I expected, as is the client. I barely was able to get any rest last night, so... but that’s why I wanted to come here now because I’ll likely be required to stay there again.”
His heart beat fast in his chest as he lied. He tried to keep an even keel to his voice and avert his gaze from his father. He set a handful of oats in a bowl, dashing sweet spices over them for flavor, and glanced to see if the kettle had started to steam yet.
Zalazar had yet to say anything. He continued to sharpen the knife in swift strokes.
In a couple minutes, which Zarik spent sweeping and cleaning up, he retrieved the kettle from the spit and headed back to the petite kitchen counter to make the oatmeal.
As he poured the boiling water, his father asked, “Why are you limping?”
Zarik’s hand shook a little and the water splashed to the side of the bowl. He quickly moved the kettle back. He focused his entire attention on preparing a cup of tea and stammered, “I… I’m n-not limping.”
“Don’t act daft. I know your gait.”
Zalazar pointed the knife in Zarik’s direction. He coughed, then asked, “Did something happen on the job? Did you screw up?”
“N-no, father, nothing, I just... I slipped on some ice,”
tried Zarik. He set the tea to steep. “The changeling is difficult, like I said, susceptible to fire-“
“As I expected,”
interrupted Zalazar. He leaned forward, scraping the knife against the surface of the table. “But what aren’t you telling me?”
Zarik picked up the bowl of oats and the cup of tea. He walked slowly, self-conscious of his steps now, toward his father. After clearing a spot in front of him, he set the items down and answered, “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to… tell you. But the changeling died. Their innards are highly flammable, and I applied too much heat, too fast. It took to flame.”
Zalazar grabbed Zarik’s wrist in a firm grip. He held onto his son and looked at him with narrowed eyes that flashed gold. Zarik looked back at him, eyes widening. The biqaj eyes, father’s and son’s, communicated to each other in rapid displays of colors. And Zarik knew he had lost the silent argument within several trills.
Zarik pulled back, trying to release his arm from the grip, but he failed. He glanced at the knife and said, “It’s… I…” What could he tell him? What else could he say? What would his father believe?
“Stop trying to craft a tale in that daft head of yours and tell me what you aren't saying. Don’t make me extract it, son.”
The warning was blatant. Zalazar turned Zarik’s arm over, pulled off the glove, and looked at the gold banded scar around the young man’s wrist. He pressed the pad of his thumb hard between the inner tendons, enough to send pain through the nerves.
“I didn’t want to bother you with it, father,”
said Zarik, relaxing in the painful grip and he took a quick breath to endure it. “I’m ashamed. I-I failed, I killed the changeling. I couldn’t bear to admit it to you.”
Zalazar’s eyes narrowed. He eased his thumb, releasing the pressure. He hummed, then let go. Zarik pulled his arm back, taking a couple steps away. The older biqaj said, “My dear son, why do you think I would be angry about that? You’re still learning. You have many mistakes ahead of you to make and likely, even more failures before you learn the craft.”
Zalazar picked up the tea, breathing in the hot steam with a restrained cough. He stood, then tossed the full cup toward Zarik.
Zarik tried to catch the tea cup on reflex, but the water sloshed and hit his exposed hand in burning droplets. He winced, but had kept the cup from breaking on the floor and clung to it with both hands. His father approached. He swiftly backed up toward the kitchen wall.
His father’s voice grew stern, intimidating, and despite the vast difference in their heights, Zarik cowered from the other man’s presence. “I raised you, Zarik, I know you better than you know yourself. Do you think you can hide anything from me when you have your mother’s eyes? And you’re still stupid enough to try and lie anyway? Have you learned nothing? Tell me what happened at the job.”
Zarik’s face paled. He said nothing. His father pointed up at him, a warning gesture, then said, “I’m disappointed in you. I thought we were long past these frail attempts of yours to keep secrets.”
He whistled in a swift, high-pitched pattern. Zarik followed the trained order, going to his knees so that his height no longer towered over his father. He couldn’t bring himself to break out of the trained response. He knelt down in the shadow of the torturer and bowed his head.
“I want to tell you,”
said Zarik in a clear voice. “Please believe me, I do. I’m not ready though. I don’t know how to explain. I wanted to visit and make sure you were well, but I need time to conside-“
“Shut it. I don’t want to hear excuses. The only thing I want to hear right now is the truth.”
Zalazar grabbed onto Zarik’s right ear, pinching the nerves around the earring.
A knock sounded on the door. Both father and son looked at each other in the moment. Zalazar muttered, “Who is that?”
“I’ll tell you what happened,”
insisted Zarik as he talked quickly. “Please don’t be angry, I- the client-“
The knocking got louder, aggressive enough that Zalazar let go of Zarik’s ear with only a slight bloody tear in the scarred flesh from the chain being pulled. His father stalked over to answer the door, but Zarik leapt to his feet. He ran past and held an arm out to stop his father. “W-wait, I’ll get it.”
Zarik turned back around, knowing his father was silently seething. He went to the door, unlatched and unlocked it and then opened it to see exactly who he thought it would be: Alistair. His eyes glistened blue-gray with etched black around the irises’ circular edge. Zarik set a hand over his right ear, where trails of light silver blood had started to trail down the slanted edge. He forced himself to say, “Y-yes?”