A few weeks after the explosion, the worst of Darion’s injuries had healed but he remained in a secluded wing of the hospital, with a protection detail assigned to him. He’d been removed from the regeneration tank and was allowed to rest comfortably in the standard hospital bed, though the tests to monitor any remaining damage continued to be frequent.
As his recovery progressed, Darion still had a series of visitors; families, friends, coworkers. While he appreciated their support, there was really only one person he wanted. Yet, he also felt a bit of ambivalence. He didn’t want Tolrek to see him in the manner he was. However, he also yearned for comfort from his lover.
Whenever he was able to sleep, instead of having restless days and nights, his dreams were filled with Tolrek. He thought he was still dreaming, when a familiar sound came to his ears. He tried to tell himself that he was wrong, as he believed thinking Tolrek was nearby would only make his loneliness worse.
“Open your eyes,” Tolrek coaxed.
Darion ignored the voice; not wanting to look and find that he was imagining that Tolrek was there.
Tolrek tried again to get Darion’s attention. When there wasn’t the expected response, Tolrek gently brushed his hand along Darion’s cheek.
“D, I didn’t come back here to have you ignore me,” Tolrek said quietly.
Tolrek had requested special permission to take leave from his duties. No matter how much Darion tried to shut him out, he was determined to check on his lover’s health. However, Darion was refusing even to look at him.
“Put your pride aside and stop pretending to be asleep,” Tolrek ordered him.
“Why are you here?” Darion asked, finally opening his eyes. Frustration was clouding his voice, now that he realized he was not dreaming.
“I needed to find out how serious you were about recovering. We have things to do.”
“What do you mean?”
“We’re going to handle those who hurt you. And then, I’m clearing the path for my mother’s return to Ledano.”
“So you only have those minor goals in mind,” Darion said drily. Despite his initial frustration at Tolrek seeing him in this condition, he couldn’t help smiling. Tolrek hadn’t changed. He was still a force of nature that was determined to get his way.
“Yes but let’s not dwell on that right now.” Tolrek kissed Darion lightly.
A broad grin stretched across Darion face. He pursed his lips, requesting another kiss. Tolrek smiled and quickly obliged. Darion grunted in frustration and Tolrek chuckled, knowing what had caused his lover to express annoyance.
“I’d have put some tongue into it,” Tolrek assured him. His dark-green eyes sparkled with a bit of mischief as he added, “But I don’t want to set off your monitors.”
“I’m not breakable,” Darion said, laughing. Then he groaned in pain, which undermined his earlier comment. He tried to downplay the intense aches by nonchalantly stating, “I’m just off my feet for a while.”
“It’s a good thing your seal was completely released. Your injuries might have been much worse.”
Darion reached for a glass of water. He flinched as his entire body twinged again. Tolrek brought the water to his lover and positioned the straw against his lips and held the glass for him. When Darion was no longer thirsty, Tolrek placed the glass on the table again.
“Listen D, you don’t have to pretend for me,” Tolrek said quietly, as he placed a gentle hand on Darion’s forehead. “I know you’re tired. Get some more rest. I’ll stay with you until you fall asleep.”
“What about your responsibilities?”
“My pilots would be insulted, if they heard you,” Tolrek responded, laughing. “They continue performing highly, whether or not I’m on the battlefield. That’s how I know I’m an effective leader. A little time away won’t cause a problem.”
“Then you can really stay for a while?”
“Absolutely.” Tolrek settled himself in a chair next to Darion. “Now, close your eyes.”
“How are things at the front?” Darion asked.
“I thought I told you to go to sleep,” Tolrek said.
“Are you trying to be bossy?” Darion laughed softly. “You wait until I’m prone to give me orders?”
“I’ve been ordering you around for over three years,” Tolrek teased. “I’ve just used unique methods.”
“We’ll talk about this later,” Darion said, as another round of fatigue carried into his voice. He slowly closed his eyes. Tolrek reached for his hand and held it, as Darion slid into the most peaceful sleep he’d had in months.
After making sure Darion was sleeping soundly, Tolrek went to speak to the two individuals who guarded him.
“Thank you for taking care of him,” Tolrek told them, shaking each of their hands. “I really appreciate it.”
“Of course, Captain,” the guard in charge stated.
“We’re honored, Captain Marou,” his companion added.
“Great!” Tolrek exclaimed. Even with his next words, he kept his tone genial. “With that said, I’ve already had both of you checked out. Don’t think about switching your allegiance. Should you fail at your jobs, you’ll have to contend with me. I have every bit of confidence that you’ll do the right thing.”
Both guards balked and quickly assured him that he had no reason to worry.
He didn’t try to ease the concerns that remained in the eyes of the guards. Instead, he began to walk down the hallway away from Darion’s room. He was now intent on meeting a contact that Darion’s father had located.
On his way out of the hospital, he encountered Beilon, who was just entering the building. The official had been heading to Darion’s room, wanting to attempt again to speak to him. He’d been rebuffed numerous times, since his first conversation with Darion after his injuries. However, he was still hopeful that Darion’s mindset would have changed.
“Fancy seeing you again,” Tolrek commented.
“Captain Marou.” Beilon gave him a curt nod. “I didn’t know you were on leave.”
“Darion’s a priority for me,” Tolrek replied simply. Then he raised a pressing question. “Supposedly he has always been a priority for you; so what resources are you using to find out who hurt him?”
Beilon glared at Tolrek, offended by the question.
“You overstep your bounds,” the official told him. “Your question insinuates that I don’t care.”
“After your maneuverings over the past years, I’d be a fool not to ask.”
“Captain, are you returning to the front?” Beilon queried, refusing to dignify Tolrek’s earlier question with a response.
“I will be shortly,” Tolrek said. “But I had to see Darion.”
“How is he?” Beilon asked.
“Still hospitalized, after you allowed a security breach that maimed him,” Tolrek responded coldly.
“I thought our security measures for the capital were excellent,” Beilon remarked tightly.
On most occasions, few people could annoy him. However, it never failed that, even after all these years, Tolrek and Darion could more easily push his buttons.
“Clearly you were wrong,” Tolrek clipped out. “But what matters now is what you’re going to do about what happened.”
“I have my methods,” Beilon assured him, opting not to go into detail. “Right now, I’m going to try to speak to Darion again.”
Based on the official’s choice of words, Tolrek picked up on the fact that Beilon and Darion were not on good terms.
“I won’t blame him, if he shuts you out for good.”
“As always, you’re unfiltered, Captain Marou.”
“Oh no,” Tolrek assured Beilon, his voice going dangerously low. “Unfiltered is what I’ll be when I find those who hurt him.”
Beilon watched him depart down the stairs, wondering how much damage Tolrek would cause. He’d definitely seen the light of determination in Tolrek’s eyes.
“The last time we spoke, our conversation did not end well,” Beilon reminded Darion. “I hope that’s not the case again.”
“I’m not the only negotiator,” Darion reminded him.
“Yes but you’re the best we have.”
“What purpose do I really serve, now that the situation with Ersha is getting under control?” Darion mused. “Oh wait; you want me to continue to be a pawn, so that you can get a foothold in Ledano.”
“Why must you act like this?” Beilon asked, his voice weary. “Was I wrong to have high expectations of you? Was I wrong to respect your capabilities?”
“Maybe if you’d had greater trust in me all of these years, things would have worked out differently,” Darion responded, his voice filled with sadness. “As it is, I question everything you’ve ever told me. Whether I start valuing your opinion again is left to time.”
“I have had many interests to juggle. And, I fully admit that I might not have made all of the right choices,” Beilon stated. When he spoke again, his voice was filled with regret and sadness. “I never imagined you would be injured…I hope you understand that I see you as the child I’ve never had.”
Darion tried not to be moved by what he heard. He turned his face away as tears came to his eyes. Beilon gently rested his hand on Darion’s shoulder for a few moments and then he left, still unsure if Darion would ever speak to him again.
It had been two months since Darion had been discharged. As he looked out at the ocean, he thought about the good news that had reached his ears just that morning. The war with Ersha had officially ended the previous week, with the final sections of Ersha surrendering. Darion had received word a few hours ago that Tolrek would be returning permanently.
He was trying to get rid of his nervousness, which had arisen at the prospect of seeing Tolrek again. He balanced on his crutches, as he wondered how awkward their reunion might be. He turned his head when he heard noise behind him; it was Tolrek.
“D…” Tolrek said, embracing him tightly.
“I know I’m not like how I was…” Darion began.
“I should hope not. You needed to become a better person.”
Darion stared at Tolrek, incredulous. Then he began to laugh like he hadn’t in almost a year. Tolrek watched him, enjoying the pleasure on Darion’s face. However, he soon grew serious.
“I want to find those who hurt you, Darion,” he admitted. “I can’t stand knowing what they’ve done. And even more, I won’t accept letting them get away with it.”
“I don’t want you focused on vengeance. Just be with me.”
Tolrek was wounded, surprised that Darion would reject his assistance.
“Then you’ve accepted what happened?”
“Of course not. It’s just that there might be more to what happened than what we think. Your friends were killed and there was an attempt on my life. I believe that those acts had an overarching goal. I need to figure it out.”
“And will you let me help you?”
“Yes but we have to do things at my pace.”
“I don’t agree with that. Let’s have a race on the beach. Winner determines the strategy.”
Darion looked down at the crutches he was still using.
“That was a bit crass,” he said to Tolrek.
“Crass? You mean like that video you made?”
“Will you forever remind me of that?”
“Yes, if it serves my purpose.”
“I think you’re looking at things the wrong way,” Darion responded, a smile playing across his lips. “Besides, making that video was one of the highpoints of my life.”
“D, you’re still recovering from the explosion. Don’t make me cause you to have a setback.”
The negotiator laughed and rested his head on Tolrek’s shoulder.
“How I’ve missed you,” he murmured to his lover.