Tolrek massaged Darion’s shoulders, understanding the stress that his partner was feeling. Darion let out a long sigh.
“Vaironia has too much going on right now,” Darion said. “Even if things were perfect, it wouldn’t be wise to take these actions. It could get crushed between two empires. We don’t know the full power of Ledano. It might not react well to what Tildar has planned.”
“Ledano made this an issue, when it used DNA from Vaironian and Tildari citizens,” Tolrek reminded him. “That was incredibly arrogant, and trust me, I know arrogance.”
Darion laughed softly, then groaned with pleasure, as Tolrek deepened the massage. His strong fingers worked their way up his lover’s neck, releasing the last bit of tension.
“Thank you, Tol,” Darion murmured. “Now let me take care of you.”
They switched positions, as Tolrek lay on his stomach and reveled in Darion’s touch. With everything happening, it had been quite a while, since they’d focused on each other. Even now, most of their conversation had turned to international events, instead of just being about the two of them.
“Your hair is outside regulation length,” Darion teased, as he pulled at a few strands of Tolrek’s hair.
“I’ve been a little busy,” Tolrek responded drily. “Besides, it’s just barely outside the allowed parameters.”
“There’s a barber shop on the second level of the security compound. We’ll go there tomorrow and take Kyan too. We can’t have him looking like a wild child.”
“Alright,” Tolrek agreed, laughing. “Speaking of Kyan, will you help me, D?”
“With what exactly?” Darion asked, already guessing at what Tolrek would say next.
Darion paused the massage and Tolrek sat up to face him.
“If Kyan wants to stay with us, can we do that?” Tolrek avoided Darion’s eyes, in case they were filled with disapproval. He didn’t want to deal with what a disagreement on this issue would mean. He’d already considered the possibility that their relationship could end because he was quite serious about taking care of Kyan. “He’s my son, Darion. I don’t understand what all of that means; I’ve never had anything like a normal family but…”
Darion took Tolrek’s face in his hands.
“I understand. Our lives are very complicated but we’ll make room for him. He won’t be left behind. We’ll petition the Tildarian and Vaironian government. Kyan’s situation is quite unique; so we might have to show some serious deference to get what we want.”
“That sounds so calm and reasonable,” Tolrek said. “If I were still a rebel, I could just take Kyan and destroy everyone who wanted to get in my way.” Tolrek grinned widely, when Darion gave him a look of warning.
“I’m not under any impression that you’re completely docile,” Darion responded. He glanced at his watch. “Now let’s go get that haircut, before you totally sidetrack me. We have dinner with Ashrom and he hates whenever someone is late.”
Tolrek rubbed Kyan’s closed-shaved head and they laughed. Standing side-by-side in the mirror with their freshly-cut hair, the resemblance between the two of them was even more remarkable.
Darion was getting his hair cut but he could see the reflection of them. They chatted back and forth, their bond growing. While Darion liked seeing that, he also had his worries. He’d never been particularly focused on having children and it wasn’t a topic that he and Tolrek had discussed. He wasn’t sure how he felt about the entire situation. It was all quite sudden. The only thing he was certain about right now was that he wanted to remain with Tolrek.
Tolrek caught Darion’s eyes in the mirror and smiled.
“We’ll be fine,” he mouthed, knowing the direction of his Darion’s thoughts.
During dinner with Ashrom, Darion and Tolrek spoke of the circumstances with Meric. Tolrek expressed anger at the audacity of the former Vaironian official, which had impacted him in unexpected ways.
“I can understand how you feel,” Ashrom said.
“No, you cannot,” Tolrek said coldly, as he put down his knife and fork. “Everything I thought I knew about my background was wrong. The Vaironian government used me as a pawn and then as a scapegoat, forcing a rebellion. Meric engineered the deaths of my closest friends and put my mother in danger. Long before any of that, he’d stolen my DNA to create a child, as part of an experiment. You couldn’t possibly understand my level of fury. If it wasn’t for Darion, I…”
Darion covered Tolrek’s left hand, which had formed a fist on the table. Then, he squeezed Tolrek’s arm to soothe his lover, who refused the attempt at comfort. Instead, Tolrek stood and left the dining room, going out to the balcony. Not even the crisp night air of the empire’s capital could cool his fevered temper. He took several deep breaths, as he tried to get himself under control, gripping the marble banister of the balcony. A chunk of it crumbled and fell to the manicured lawn below. His eyes traveled the length of the balcony’s banister and saw that various cracks had appeared through it.
“Let’s give him a few moments,” Darion said. “These past few years have been incredibly challenging for him.”
“You played your part,” Ashrom reminded him, a critical edge to his voice.
“As did you,” Darion shot back. “You should have told us about Kyan earlier.”
“Careful, little brother,” Ashrom clipped out, as he pinned Darion with his fierce gaze. “The Behadan favors our family, which is why she permits me to be quite open with you. Do not abuse the privilege, as you won’t get whatever you want. We are more equipped to deal with the repercussions of Ledano’s decision than Vaironia ever could be. It’s not as if I should bow to your judgment, especially since you chose a country that caused you to squander your talents.”
Darion bit back a series of vile curses, as Ashrom looked at him with raised eyebrows, daring him. Darion opted to control his temper and focus on how to help Tolrek.
“You would have kept Kyan from Tolrek?”
“We would have eventually informed you but, let’s not forget, there are other lives at stake. Meric brokered deals for Tildari DNA too. We needed any information we could get about what he did, mainly how Ledano’s experiment is structured and who were his conspirators. Kyan proved to be helpful with some of those matters and we’ve been careful not to strain him. I’ve overseen his well-being and I find it insulting that you think he’s nothing but a pawn to us.”
“Ashrom, I didn’t mean to suggest that—-”
“The reason I’ve kept Kyan at the security compound is that I felt it was the safest place for him,” Ashrom continued, overriding his brother. “We didn’t have an understanding of his abilities, he was with Meric and we didn’t know how compromised he was. I couldn’t let him be in contact with just anyone. Surely, you can reign in your emotions enough to understand all of that.”
Darion bristled at the cutting remark but remained quiet. Ashrom stood up from the table and went out to where Tolrek was on the balcony. Tolrek watched him warily and Ashrom noted the furious energy around him.
Ashrom held up his hands to show that he meant no harm. He was about to speak of Kyan, when he noticed the chunks of missing bannister and thick cracks running along the rest of it.
“What the fuck have you done to my property?” Ashrom demanded.
“It was that or your head,” Tolrek said, laughing.
“You’re paying for it,” Ashrom grumbled. Then, he became serious. “I am truly sorry about how everything has happened. I’ve already made arrangements for Kyan to be with you and Darion. You won’t get a fight from me about him going into your care. The Behadan has given her approval.”
“Is everything alright out here?” Darion asked, as he leaned against the door to the balcony.
“No,” Ashrom told. “Tolrek destroyed my bannister and neither of you are leaving Tildar, until I get reimbursed.”
“He’s always been quite a costly Pet,” Darion teased.
“Hey, watch it,” Tolrek complained. “I haven’t been a Pet for years now!”
Ashrom watched the interplay between the two of them and chuckled.
“Tolrek, before I forget, I also wanted to tell you that Kyan can leave the security compound,” Ashrom mentioned. “He can begin staying at my place. He’ll still be monitored but it won’t be as intimidating. I think he’d like that.”
“That would be a great idea,” Darion agreed. “We need to acclimate him to being around more people.”
“I’ll make the arrangements in the morning,” Ashrom confirmed. Then, he changed the topic. “Tomorrow, we’ll also deal with your main reason for coming to Tildar. We’re going to speak with Meric. There may be some final remarks he wishes to make.”
Ashrom gave Darion a pointed look, with those few last words. Tolrek couldn’t discern what the expression on either of their faces meant but surmised that something significant had been communicated.
The next morning, before meeting with Meric, Ashrom pulled Darion aside for a few minutes. Ashrom had pulled Darion far enough from Tolrek for their conversation to be private. Tolrek waited by the interrogation room, curious about the brothers’ conversation.
“Yes, I understand what I must do,” Darion said quietly to his brother.
“It is never an easy task but on this occasion, it is warranted,” Ashrom responded. “Hundreds lost their lives in the attack Meric engineered. Even if there had been only one Tildari injured or killed, the empire would still want him dead.”
The two were speaking of what was to happen in the near future.
Ashrom clasped Darion’s shoulders. He knew that the punishment for Meric was deserved and, as many believed, long overdue. Yet, he understood that passing sentence on another was not a task to take lightly, not by Tildari standards. So, he removed the empathy from his voice and reminded his brother of the responsibility.
“This is no place for Vaironian sensibilities. Our Esteemed Kyniska approved the disposal of Meric months ago. She has no concern about the methods.”
“Then I will carry out the order.”
“I expect no less. Why waste more resources housing, clothing and feeding Meric? We’ve already found a few of his collaborators, here and in other places.”
“I will prepare myself for the judgment.”
When Ashrom and Darion finished their conversation, they went back to Tolrek. Darion signaled that they were ready to talk with Meric. As Tolrek followed Darion into the interrogation room, he noted the strange ripple of dark energy around Darion but didn’t say anything. He correctly surmised that Darion’s anger was rising because of having to deal with Meric. However, Tolrek hadn’t grasped the exact magnitude of fury coursing through Darion.