Darion was focused on Tolrek, hoping that his lover would be on his best behavior. They’d been invited to have dinner with Tolrek’s mother. An unexpected guest was Beilon and the tension had steadily grown, as the evening continued.
When Ranai left the dinner table to check on the last dish she’d prepared,
Tolrek skewered Beilon with a fiery gaze. Darion paid close attention to Tolrek, wanting to make sure that his lover didn’t do anything unreasonable. Tolrek’s interactions with Beilon could still turn unexpectedly volatile.
“Did you give Mother this idea?” Tolrek questioned the official.
“Not at all,” Beilon responded smoothly.
“Then she wanted us to have dinner?”
“You don’t have some greater motive?” Tolrek pressed.
“No; I don’t.” Beilon took a sip of his wine, knowing there would be more to the interrogation.
Tolrek studied him for a moment. Then, he decided to use more aggressive tactics, to get a stronger reaction from Beilon.
“Have you fallen in love with my mother?” Tolrek asked bluntly.
“I honestly don’t know but it could certainly happen,” Beilon replied calmly.
“Do you think she loves you?”
“I’m not sure about that either,” Beilon admitted. A hint of annoyance surfaced in his voice. “I’m also unclear why any of this is your business.”
“You’re responding because you don’t want me to ruin this dinner party,” Tolrek replied, laughing derisively. Then he narrowed his eyes. “I’ll make such a nasty fucking scene. You’ll get at least half the blame from Mother.”
Beilon sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. There wasn’t anything he could say in denial. Or, rather, anything that he should say. A whole series of fury-driven comments went through his head; however, he’d already promised himself that he’d reign in his temper to please Ranai. When she’d suggested that they dine together, he’d thought it would only be the two of them. He’d reacted as pleasantly as he could, once he’d arrived at her home and realized that was not to be the case. Still, he did have limitations to his control and he was happy when Ranai returned from the kitchen.
“See. I knew it wouldn’t be so bad,” Ranai said, unaware that her son had made yet another attempt to infuriate her lover. “You two can be in the same room, without throttling each other.”
“Yes, as long as you or Darion are present,” Beilon responded, smiling fondly at her.
Ranai looked around the table at her guests and sadness overcame her.
“I wish Sheyla and her husband could be here too,” she said.
“We continue to search for information on them,” Beilon assured her. “We’re not giving up, Ranai.”
“Kejaro has taken the lead on finding them,” Tolrek explained. “Arjan is with him and I’m sure they’ll learn what’s happened.”
Ranai looked off in the distance, as she fought the urge to shed tears.
“Just how much am I supposed to take?” she asked, her voice squeezed with pain. “How much do I need to lose, before life can run smoothly?”
Beilon rose and went to her. She stood and he held her in his arms. Darion gave Tolrek a look of caution, warning him not to trample on the tender moment. Though he was highly annoyed at the show of affection, Tolrek remained quiet. He averted his eyes from his mother being held by the Vaironian official, who he still didn’t completely trust. For the remaining time at his mother’s dinner party, he focused on not making a scene. Despite the veil of calm Tolrek used to cover his emotions, Darion could see the strain he was under. He periodically reached under the table, gently stroking Tolrek’s knee to comfort him.
On the drive home from the dinner, Tolrek was sullen.
“You need to be a good son,” Darion chided.
“I am a good son!”
“You know what I mean,” Darion said. “Why would you begrudge your mother some happiness?”
“That’s not the issue,” Tolrek protested. “You clearly don’t understand. So, can we agree to disagree?”
“No, because you’re wrong.”
“Argh! If being annoyed with you was life-threatening, I’d be dead already. I really don’t like you right now.”
“As long as you continue being in love with me, we’ll be just fine.”
Darion squeezed Tolrek’s thigh suggestively and gave him a lecherous smile. Tolrek smacked his hand away, causing Darion to laugh. They rode in silence for a few more minutes, until Tolrek felt compelled to speak again.
“D, I just don’t want my mother to be with Beilon. Why him? Of all people?”
“I don’t know,” Darion said in a flippant, teasing tone, as the car drove into their gated community. “Maybe the universe hates you.”
Despite his irritation, Tolrek couldn’t stop himself from laughing.
“That could be why I became attracted to you,” he struck back.
When Darion and Tolrek went back to the house, Darion talked Tolrek into a late night swim in their pool. Tolrek was floating gracefully and serenely by Darion, causing his lover to smile. Darion’s smile slowly faded, as his mind went back to the issues that remained unresolved. He looked up at the night sky, thinking of the rest of his family on Tildar. He still hadn’t spoken to his parents, since the argument. While he had no intention of apologizing, at least in the near future, the disagreement still hurt his heart. His circumstances were mainly grinding on his patience, as even now Meric still wasn’t under his control.
“Hey there,” Tolrek said, interrupting Darion’s thoughts. “I know where your mind went but let’s remain in the present, for the time being.”
He wrapped his arms around Darion’s neck and kissed him deeply. When their kiss ended, Darion sighed.
“I’m sorry I became melancholy,” he said. “We’re in limbo and so much of that is my fault. Maybe my father is right. If I’d made different decisions, then maybe Meric would be in our custody and we’d have the answers we want.”
“D, as much as you try, not everything goes your way.”
“I know, Tol but…”
“Even Beilon was surprised by much of what Meric did, though he’s known Meric much longer than we have. And Tildar is an empire with resources that Vaironia couldn’t imagine. They maneuvered around us and we’re in no position to go take Meric back, not without having them drop the hammer on us. They lost people in the explosion and the empire isn’t particularly forgiving.”
“All of what you’re saying is true and yet…”
“You’re still hurting because your family was part of that process,” Tolrek said. “I know love. I want to fix it all for you, for us, so that we can move forward with our lives. One day, it will be finished.”
“And what will you do?” Darion asked, wanting to focus on a brighter future.
“When Ledano becomes safe, we’ll take my mother back there,” Tolrek said, his eyes holding a solemn promise. “After the civil war, things aren’t likely the same as when she grew up there, but her setting foot in her homeland again is very important to me. She does the best she can here but I know something is missing for her. I see it in her eyes; I hear it in her voice, when she talks of being Ledani.”
“You said we’d take her back…” Darion noted.
“Of course,” Tolrek responded. “I want you there too, as I discover my roots.”
Darion pulled Tolrek tightly to him, glad that Tolrek was speaking of a future where they were still together. Tolrek held Darion’s face in his hands and gave him a gentle kiss.
Their quiet moment was interrupted by Najrina launching herself into the water. She’d finished with her nightly prowl in and around the property. She’d then decided there was no better place to be than in the pool with her owners.
“I know she does things like that on purpose,” Tolrek said, as he blinked rapidly. He’d been blasted with most of the water from her jump.
Darion laughed, as the hettira paddled proudly by them, leaving no doubt that she was a schemer.
“Let’s go,” Darion said, leading the way out of the pool. “It’s time we get some rest anyway.”
After leaving they pool, they were relaxing in the living room, when Beilon called them. The news they received filled them with excitement.
“The Behadan and our Prime Minister have come to terms, regarding Meric,” Beilon explained. “I need you both in Tildar.”
“When can we leave?” Darion asked.
“As soon as possible; I have a shuttle ready.”
An hour after Beilon’s call, Darion and Tolrek were on their way to Tildar, with Najrina in tow. During their flight, Beilon briefed them on what else he’d learned.
Tildar had been able to gain significant information from Meric, as well as others who had been detained with him. Darion and Tolrek were to meet with the Tildari representatives. In addition, Kejaro and Arjan had recently been released from Tildar’s custody and allowed to go to the Vaironian embassy. They’d had a run-in with some members of the Tildari Special Forces, while doing recognizance close to the border of Ledano. The situation involving Kejaro and Arjan required smoothing over, as it could affect just how open the Tildari were with what they’d learned about Meric.
When Darion and Tolrek arrived at the Vaironian embassy in the capital of Tildar, Kejaro and Arjan were waiting for them in one of the conference rooms. The expression on both of their faces was grim.
“Are you two alright?” Darion asked. Darion took note of Kejaro’s black eye and busted lip. Arjan was on crutches.
“We’ll be fine,” Kejaro told him. As if she doubted his word and wanted to complete an inspection, Najrina circled both him and Arjan. They smiled and affectionately patted her.
“There was an altercation with some Tildari agents,” Arjan explained.
“Beilon told us,” Darion said. “Why weren’t you given access to a QikMed?”
“We refused,” Kejaro responded. “We wanted you to see for yourself what those fuckers did. I wasn’t about to let them kick our asses and then erase the evidence of it. That’s adding insult to injury!”
Tolrek laughed softly and shook his head. He and Kejaro were of the same mind.
“Anyway, we’ve had much worse injuries,” Arjan mentioned. “So, let’s get to the main reason for your visit.”
When they settled themselves around the conference table, Kejaro began to relay what they’d learned.
“We have some unpleasant news,” he said.
“Is it about Sheyla and her husband?” Tolrek questioned, bracing himself for what he might hear.
“Well, we’re not certain if they’re alive. The most we know is that she’d found him; they were trying to leave Ledano but they may have been killed in a border skirmish.”
“We learned about the skirmish from a Tildari merchant,” Arjan stated. “She’s one of the few who’s permitted to trade in Ledano. The country is significantly restricting entrance to outsiders.”
“Naturally that’s because of the most recent civil war,” Darion said.
“No,” Arjan stated emphatically. “It’s more complicated than that.”
“What do you mean?” Tolrek’s brow furrowed, as he thought about the possibilities.
“There are four main factions and they’ve been collaborating to manipulate the news about the country. Ledano’s most recent civil war ended almost five years ago.”
“Then, what’s the purpose of them feeding rumors about a current one?” Darion asked, as a feeling of dread began to grow in him.
“They absolutely need other nations to stay the fuck away,” Kejaro stated bluntly. “They’ve been hiding a genetic engineering program.”
“Tolrek, that might have been the real reason your father was killed,” Arjan said. “The experiments are on those Ledani with your type of abilities.”