Darion grabbed Tolrek, before he could do any damage to Beilon. Though Darion had been able to pacify Tolrek, it was only for a short time. Tolrek was pacing with his fists at his sides. Darion periodically blocked his path, when he would get too close to Beilon.
Tolrek was trying to eliminate the charges of rage that were coursing through his body. He was reminded of the time he’d fought Jarrick. While he’d enjoyed it, a side of him had come out that even he had found surprising. He knew that he’d also put Darion in a negative position and he was trying to avoid a repeat of those circumstances. However, his control had its limitations and the urge to throttle Beilon was rising.
Darion noted the malice that was palpable in the air around Tolrek. He was glad that they’d been given an area that was reserved for high-ranking officials. That minimized the chances for others to view the situation, especially if things became violent.
“Beilon, perhaps it’s best that you leave,” Darion suggested.
“I think that’s a good decision,” Beilon agreed, as he tensely watched Tolrek’s demeanor. “If you hear anything, please keep me updated about Ranai’s condition.”
Tolrek lunged again, when he heard Beilon refer to his mother by her first name. This time, his hands connected with Beilon. He had Beilon by the collar and was lifting the official off the ground, before Darion could even process what had happened.
Beilon stared into Tolrek’s eyes, half-mystified and half-chilled, as Tolrek’s irises darkened to a malevolent greenish black. A ripple of energy that represented Tolrek’s craving to maim surged around him. His hands closed around Beilon’s throat, as he fixated on his target, wanting to feel the life drain out of him.
The berserker, who until a few years ago had been hidden inside of him, had come out once again. This time it was stronger. Another current of energy went through the room, as Tolrek’s drive to mangle increased.
“Put him down! Now!” Darion ordered, as he gripped Tolrek’s shoulder.
The pressure he applied would have brought most to their knees but Tolrek refused to listen. Instead, he wickedly shook the official, which caused Beilon’s head to slam hard against the wall. Beilon cried out in pain as his vision blurred.
“Tolrek Marou, you do as you’re told!” Darion shouted. His voice had hit a frantic pitch, when he realized that Tolrek was getting harder to reach.
A few medical attendants came in to see what was causing of the commotion. They recoiled when they felt the dangerous pulse in the room.
“I have this under control. You can leave,” Darion said, without glancing at them. He didn’t want to risk taking his eyes off Tolrek.
Darion just managed to catch Tolrek’s fist, as he took a swing at Beilon’s face, while still effortlessly gripping the official. Darion pried Tolrek’s fingers from Beilon’s neck. Then, he wrenched Tolrek’s arms behind his back and pushed him against the wall, holding him there until Beilon was able to hurry from the room.
“Captain Marou, you will come to your senses,” Darion told him fiercely.
Tolrek breathed deeply to calm himself, as his nostrils flared with the effort. When Darion thought it was safe, he let go of Tolrek. But then Tolrek turned to look at him with eyes that were infused with viciousness.
“Tolrek, it’s me,” Darion said quickly. He backed away, holding out his hands to encourage his lover to stand down.
Tolrek clenched his fists, as he forced himself not to hunt down Beilon. He avoided looking at Darion because he was angry with his lover for intervening. After a few minutes had passed, he spoke.
“You’re lucky you and I have a good history,” he told Darion. “Never put your hands on me, when I’m like that.”
“I had to do something!” Darion protested. “I don’t like seeing that side of you.”
“So, it’s fine for the Tildari to show their strength but let someone else—”
“It’s not about that! Tolrek, you have to think about the consequences of your actions. This is not the time to be reckless. We need the resources Beilon can provide.”
“I no longer give a fuck.” Tolrek’s words were cold, matching the level of emotion in his eyes.
“Don’t even try to lecture me. And don’t you give me that disapproving look,” Tolrek responded, in the same arctic tone. “I’m not a lapdog. I’ve never been one. Not for him. Not for you.”
Darion sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. His frustration with Tolrek continued to grow; he massaged his brow, in an attempt to ease the headache that was surfacing. He reminded himself that grief was driving Tolrek.
“I’m not expecting you to be under anyone’s control,” Darion said quietly. “I’m only hoping that, at this point in our relationship, we’d have some respect for each other. Furthermore, Beilon—”
“I’m sick of hearing you say his name. You don’t work for him. Remember? You resigned.”
“I know but I was angry with him. He’d have me back.”
“Yes. He’d have you back, as a pawn.”
“I don’t think our relationship is the same,” Darion said, his tone becoming stubborn.
“If you believe he cares about you, ask him what he’s been doing to find out who hurt you.”
“Stop second-guessing everything. I want you to support whatever decision I make!”
“After what happened to you, you’re going to have to convince me that you’re making a wise choice!” Tolrek responded, his voice rising. “Regardless of what you do, my priority is to find those who killed my friends and who hurt you and my mother. You might want to get on the same page.”
“Be fair. I don’t like how you’re making this sound. I’m not rushing into action; that doesn’t mean I don’t care.”
“There’s being a careful person and there’s being a coward. Guess which one you are.”
“Oh Tolrek, you’d better watch your words,” Darion warned him. “The berserker part of you—”
“It has always been there!” Tolrek bellowed. “I just didn’t use it.”
“There’s a time and place for everything, Tolrek. I know that you’re—”
“You don’t grasp what I’ve been going through, Darion.” Tolrek closed the distance between the two of them and jabbed a finger into Darion’s chest. “Unlike you, I wasn’t raised by my parents. I didn’t have any siblings around to look out for me. Suddenly, I went from being an orphan to having a mother and a sister, with a father who was murdered. How can you possibly get how any of that affects me?”
“I’m doing my best.”
“Well your best isn’t helping!” Tolrek roared. “And, I don’t want to hear your garbage. After you spoke with Kejaro and Arjan, you were ready to set the world on fire. Maybe if you’d had your shit together, we could have gone after Meric sooner. Then, my mother wouldn’t be fighting for her life!”
Darion flinched, as the comments cut him deeply. He gritted his teeth, pushed Tolrek away and left the room.
Tolrek sat down and buried his head in his hands. He’d seen the anguish in Darion’s eyes. It wasn’t as if his lover had merely been wasting time. He had, after all, been recovering from injuries that would have killed most. Between that and the nightmares which still hadn’t gone away, it was understandable that Darion’s tentative side was depleting his confidence.
Feeling like he’d gone too far, Tolrek ached to make amends. He repeatedly called Darion’s cell phone but there was no response. Finally, he left a message.
“D, you know how I can be sometimes. Please come back…Who am I kidding? After what I …” Tolrek trailed off, when he saw that Darion was standing at the door to the private waiting room.
“When I left, I met the liaison for your mother’s case,” Darion explained, motioning to the individual who had appeared next to him. “I wanted to see if there was anything I needed to do.”
The liaison stepped forward to introduce herself. She wore an austere black uniform. The symbol emblazoned on the golden badge identified her as a senior medical officer.
“Captain Marou, my name is Osniva Kradz,” she said, as she extended her hand to shake Tolrek’s. Her grip was firm and her dark brown eyes looked directly at him. “I am the lead for the medical team that will see to your mother’s recovery. Lady Adrati is expected to be out of surgery in another hour. Sir Warel has made arrangements for her. She’ll be in the area reserved for the Prime Minister and his essential staff. If you don’t mind, I can take you and Sir Navarr there now, so that you can meet the rest of her medical team.”
Tolrek glanced at Darion and then back at Osniva.
“Thank you. I’d like that. However, will you give us a few minutes please?”
When Osniva stepped out, Tolrek immediately apologized to Darion.
“D, I’m sorry. I…”
“I’d be lost if something happened to either one of my parents,” Darion said, as he held Tolrek. He kissed him softly. “Just don’t lash out at me. That hurts so much. I’m really trying to help.”
“I know,” Tolrek admitted, as he rested his forehead against Darion’s chest. His hands slipped down to grasp Darion’s and squeeze them tightly.
It had been two days since Ranai had undergone surgery. She was resting comfortably and enjoying her visit with Beilon, while expecting her son to arrive soon. Tolrek’s entrance into her room was not to her liking.
“Why are you around her yet again?” Tolrek demanded of Beilon.
Darion cursed under his breath, stunned at how quickly Tolrek had forgotten his promises to be restrained. He stepped between Tolrek and Beilon, halting Tolrek’s attempt to assault the official.
“You have to stop doing this!” Beilon shouted. “You can’t keep trying to kill me every time you see me.”
“You must not know me,” Tolrek stated callously, as he tried to push Darion aside.
“Tolrek Devdan Adrati, you will compose yourself.”
The command was issued by Ranai and everyone in the room became still. The strength in her voice was in direct contrast with her fragile appearance.
“But Mother, I…”
“I don’t want to hear it.” She looked at Darion and Beilon. “The two of you must leave. I will speak with my son.”
“Ranai, I’m sorry for any trouble I have caused,” Beilon told her. He nodded and left the room. Darion followed Beilon, as Tolrek settled himself by his mother’s side. Darion closed the door, giving the mother and son some privacy.
“Did you have to call my name like that?” Tolrek asked, when he was alone with Ranai. His voice was petulant.
Ranai stifled a smile and tenderly stroked her son’s face.
“Now more than ever, I want you to be calm,” Ranai said. “Everything that has happened to those you love is all calculated to get you to do something rash. I heard about what happened with Beilon. I saw the bruises around his neck. You’re already making poor decisions.”
Tolrek let out a long, deep shuddering breath. Ranai trailed a finger over his brow, trying to sooth away the anxiety her son was feeling.
“The berserker side of you could become a real liability,” she continued quietly. “You have to know when it’s wise to bring it out. Your father understood that and I expect the same of you. You are an Adrati. Do not shame me.”
“Yes mother,” he responded. “You’re right. I won’t play into the hands of those who want to hurt us.”
Ranai studied his face. He was repeatedly looking at her and then glancing away again.
“What’s wrong?” she asked. “There’s something else.”
“Beilon spends a great deal of time with you,” Tolrek finally said. “What is happening?”
Ranai smiled but didn’t respond.
“Mother…” Tolrek prompted.
“Know your place, child,” she told him.
At Darion’s beseeching, Tolrek had agreed to go with him to speak with Beilon. They were in Beilon’s office, preparing to have one of their most candid conversations.
“I’m not sure if what I’m about to say will have any effect on either of you,” Beilon began. “However, I lost my wife and two children in the previous conflicts with Ersha. I’ve never really recovered. Nor has this country healed from the five wars. It needs to be whole again. Yet, there are many factions, inside and outside, trying to pull it apart.”
Beilon stood up and carefully considered his next words. He knew there might be a negative reaction, which could end the much-needed conversation but he had to speak his mind.
“Tolrek, unfortunately, you were one of the country’s many problems, when you were rebelling. In some ways, you still are one because there are many who want to continue where you left off.”
“How do you know that I’m finished?” Tolrek asked. “Besides, you should have taken better care of the Krezkas.”
“Tol…” Darion warned him. He laughed softly but promised to behave.
“We know we have made mistakes,” Beilon admitted stiffly. “I only wish that you hadn’t taken the course you did…But that’s in the past and we have greater issues. The Prime Minister is doing the best he can but he needs some ‘underground’ measures.”
Darion sat up even straighter in his chair, as he sensed what was about to happen.
“We’ve tried the usual channels of negotiating with Mekria to have Meric turned over to us,” Beilon explained, as he returned to his desk. “They’re refusing. It’s not as if they’re a particularly strong nation. We could conquer them, if we weren’t mending from this last war. However, our situation is delicate. And, I continue to see great potential in both of you. So, I’m turning to you two to do what is necessary.”
“I’d hate to see how you’d treat us if you hated us,” Tolrek ground out. Darion put his hands on Tolrek’s arm to silence him. Tolrek was about to protest, when he looked in Darion’s eyes.
“Please Tol, be still,” Darion said. “I want to hear what else he has to say. I need to understand some of the choices he’s made.”
After a moment, Tolrek gave his agreement.
Beilon glanced off into the distance and smiled at their interaction.
“Please continue,” Darion urged him.
“I’ve watched over you in different ways,” Beilon told them. “Even when I was putting your lives in danger, it was because I knew you could handle it. You represent the drive I had, when I was younger. There’s still so much to do to protect Vaironia, to help it thrive, despite how beaten down it has been by this series of wars.”
“I sense that you’re going to ask something very specific of us,” Darion said.
“Yes, the Prime Minister has authorized me to do what I think is best.” Beilon leaned forward. “So, we’re going to get Meric. That’s just the beginning. If everything happens as planned, in the next five to seven years, Vaironia will own Mekria too.”
Darion let out a long breath, imagining the future. He’d had access to important intel before but this was on a completely different scale. The magnitude of the situation didn’t seem to faze Tolrek.
“And why should we help you?” Tolrek demanded.
“Tolrek, you’re really beginning to piss me off,” Beilon responded. “I will make your death look like an accident. Given your recklessness, no one would be surprised.”
Instead of feeling intimidated, Tolrek only laughed.
“Who am I kidding?” he asked, shrugging. “We’ve already made progress in Mekria anyway.”
“I know,” Beilon replied drily. “And that has delayed some of my plans. It was my agents who shot Kejaro.” He glared at Darion. “I expected better of you. You should have told me what you were doing.”
“You should be glad about what we’ve done already, which is nowhere as invasive as my family was thinking. My parents held off taking Kyniska up on her offer because I begged.”
Tolrek smiled, as he listened to Darion’s insubordination.
“Shut up!” Darion told him, knowing exactly what he was thinking.
“What?” Tolrek asked, attempting to appear innocent.
“Anyway…” Darion focused again on Beilon. “Give us the resources we need, so that we can do it the right way.”
“Then, you will go?” Beilon confirmed.
“Yes,” Darion responded. “Until now, we’ve mainly been reacting. It’s well past time we start getting ahead of our opponents.”