“What are you doing?” Darion asked, as he went to stand next to Tolrek. Najrina rubbed against Darion’s legs, letting him know she’d missed him and he petted her affectionately.
“I’m researching your parents,” Tolrek answered, yawning and stretching. He’d spent the last few hours in the study, gathering details about Ryam and Saha. He and Darion would be visiting them later that day.
“That’s a little…unsettling,” Darion murmured.
“It’s nothing sinister,” Tolrek responded, laughing. He stood up to face Darion. “Your parents are high-profile. I need something interesting to discuss with them.”
“Well, I don’t want to embarrass you.”
“Tol…” Darion stared sentimentally at him. Then, his lips curled into a teasing smile. “It’s much too late for that.”
Tolrek rolled his eyes, knowing he’d opened himself to that joke. Darion chuckled. He pulled Tolrek close and gave him a series of quick playful kisses, making his lover smile.
“Take a break,” Darion said. “Kyan and I want to show you what we bought.”
He’d returned from an errand with Kyan. They’d spent most of the morning out shopping for clothing, toys and other items. Tolrek had been pleasantly surprised, when Darion had suggested the outing, as a way to bond more with Kyan. He appreciated the effort Darion was making and definitely didn’t want to take it for granted.
“D, I know Kyan suddenly became a part of our lives,” Tolrek began. “Even so, we’ll be able to handle the challenges.”
“I was nervous, at first,” Darion admitted. “But I have a niece and nephew. I’m not a complete novice.”
“This is different. We’re still learning about what all three of us can do. Unlike Kyan and I, you’ve had decades to figure out your abilities. That doesn’t mean there can’t be surprises. You did say that your scientists don’t know what causes your power. Our situation isn’t what any of us imagined.”
“I’ve thought of how we can make it work. For the time being, let’s focus on the good things happening for us.”
Tolrek followed Darion out of the study, with Najrina trailing after them.
Tolrek wasn’t sure how Darion’s parents would greet him. While Darion had been recovering, Tolrek had briefly spoken with Ryam and Saha, on several occasions. However, he’d thought that meeting them in-person would be daunting. No amount of assurance from Darion had lessened Tolrek’s nervousness.
As they welcomed him into their home, the Navarrs quickly set him at ease. Ryam firmly shook Tolrek’s hand and nodded, looking him directly in his eyes. The silent exchange represented gratitude for taking care of Darion. They settled into the living room, starting a conversation about light topics. Ryam and Saha had returned from a trip off the planet, having gone on vacation to one of the empire’s other territories. As the adults conversed, Kyan tried his best to behave but, eventually, he began to fidget.
“Is there a backyard? Can I see it?” he whispered. “Is it bad for me to ask?”
“No,” Darion assured him. “I’ll take you there.”
While Darion led Kyan outside, Tolrek continued speaking with his parents.
“Thank you for taking care of our son,” Saha said. “We know he can be stubborn.”
“I appreciate that you trusted me,” Tolrek responded. “Also, I’m sorry the situation with Meric caused a rift between you and Darion. If I’d used your resources faster, you might not have had to intervene.”
“Tildar’s considerations changed,” Ryam stated. “Once we confirmed significant details about the experiment, we needed Meric to fill in some pieces. We could no longer be diplomatic about acquiring him.”
“Good riddance to that traitor,” Saha said, her voice acidic. “The important issue right now is my son’s health. How is he?”
“He’s dealing with the fallout,” Tolrek answered. “The nightmares still happen, from time to time.”
“If there’s anything you two need from us, please ask,” Saha told him. “Sometimes, Darion can be stoic, especially when he’s in pain.”
“So I’ve learned,” Tolrek said, smiling.
“What about Kyan?” Saha asked. “Suddenly you and Darion are raising a child.”
“Yes and Kyan is very much a mystery to us. We’re certain he’s my son. He was part of the experiment. Apparently, he and the others were kept underground most of the time. So, being able to get out into the sunshine almost anytime he wants is important to him.”
“Ledano is quite bold with its actions,” Ryam said, gruffly. “I wonder what DNA they’ve used from other regions. I’m sure, by now, that you’re aware of Darion’s powers. We can’t have an ability like that going unregulated. Though Darion was strictly trained, even he can have difficulty controlling it.”
“And then there’s your ability, which Kyan has,” Saha added. “Your family is a volatile trio.”
“You’ve already raised a volatile trio,” Darion teased his parents, as he returned to sit next to Tolrek. “After Ashrom, Aleena and I, you should be able to give us tips.”
“Will Kyan be all right?” Saha asked.
“Yes, Mother. He’s settled in the garden. Father, he saw the edge of the markings on your neck. He had more questions about Tildar and says he wishes he’d get markings too.” Darion smiled fondly. “Anyway, it’s a perfect day to him. He can sit in the sunshine and stare off into the distance.”
“Sometimes he does that for almost 30 minutes,” Tolrek told them. “It’s too soon to delve deeply into what’s going on in his mind but it will have to happen.”
“Perhaps he’s processing how his life could have been and adjusting to his situation,” Saha mused. “Darion was often a contemplative child.”
“Speaking of Darion’s childhood, I came here for the embarrassing photos and stories,” Tolrek said, leaning forward in his seat. “Ashrom recommended I ask about the rash incident, where —”
“Stop it,” Darion ordered him, making his parents and Tolrek laugh.
Darion, Tolrek and Kyan spent several more hours together, with Tolrek managing to learn much about Darion’s youthful adventures, despite his lover’s complaints. Tolrek and Kyan was able to connect with the Navarrs in the way Darion hoped. He hadn’t taken anyone to meet his parents in over a decade. He relaxed and watched the interactions, pleased that some of the people most important to him were together. Eventually, as day turned to night, they did have to leave.
They would be returning to Vaironia in the morning. Before leaving his parents’ home, Darion promised that he’d return to Tildar for his grandfather’s ceremony.
Beilon finished the briefing with Darion. They had spent part of the morning going over the next steps for Vaironia. The VSB still needed to find more of Meric’s collaborators but Beilon was optimistic about their progress.
“I don’t think it’s possible to be anymore pleased,” Darion said.
He’d noted the somewhat smug expression on his mentor’s face.
“Well, I took quite a large gamble. It’s all finally working out.”
“You took several large gambles,” Darion reminded him.
“True. Meric and his faction working against me slowed down my progress. We still need to root out those who aren’t loyal.”
Under the authority of Prime Minister, Beilon’s staff would continue the sweep of Vaironia’s territories, punishing those who had collaborated with Meric. His main priority was to look up and out, guiding Darion and Tolrek as liaisons with the Tildar Empire. They would focus on Ledano, with the short term goal of rescuing those impacted by the experiment and the long-term one of wringing retribution from Ledano for its actions. With enough maneuvering, Tolrek’s connections to the berserker clans would be the most effective part of their assets.
Darion was preparing to leave for another meeting, when Beilon stopped him.
“I know you don’t like me asking but are you well enough for the next phase,” Beilon said.
“Yes,” Darion assured him. “Why would you believe otherwise?”
“I still think about you being injured. Maybe if I’d done things differently…”
“You might not have been able to prevent the attack. Meric had his agenda. We still need to determine the strength of his network.”
“You’re right,” Beilon said, his voice quiet. He sighed, as he began to gather a few items. “I’ll walk with you to the elevators. I’m going home to my Ranai.”
Darion looked at him in surprise.
“I made her a promise,” Beilon told him, smiling. “I need to keep her happy, if only so Tolrek doesn’t threaten my life again.”
“He has been incredibly compliant lately,” Darion said, chuckling.
A few months later…
Darion, Tolrek and Kyan had returned to Tildar to attend the Remembrance Ceremony for Darion’s grandfather. They were getting dressed in one of the guest rooms of Melrena’s home.
Darion made the final adjustment to Kyan’s vest, which was part of the traditional formal apparel for Tildari children. Darion and Tolrek wore an adult version of the same outfit. While their suits were all black, the one for children was a vibrant blue with silver accents.
“I look amazing,” Kyan said, as he turned around in front of the mirror. “It’s the nicest thing I’ve ever worn!”
Darion chuckled at the youngster’s awed expression.
“Thank you, Darion,” Kyan told him, shyness coming into his voice.
“You’re looking sharp,” Darion teased him. “Let’s finish getting ready and then we’ll head to the ceremony.”
Tolrek smiled, as he saw the two of them interact. He’d been putting ceremonial apparel on Najrina too but had paused to admire his lover. Darion had formally adopted Kyan the previous month; any lingering doubts Tolrek had about Darion embracing fatherhood were gone.
After a few more minutes of preparation, they were heading towards the door, when Prymar and Ziilin knocked on it. Having met Kyan several days earlier, the children had become fast friends. Darion and Tolrek followed the chattering trio and Najrina to the garden, where the ceremony would be held.
The other family members and their partners had arrived. As his father, mother and siblings had done before him, Darion touched his forehead to his Grandmother Melrena. Then he took his place beside his sister, kneeling on one of the cushions.
In front of everyone, a hologram of Grandfather Vadim was the center piece of the memorial display, with incense burning at either side. Each family member paid respect, bowing and placing a metal disc into a golden bowl. Engraved on each of the discs was the name of the relative making the offering, the offeror’s relationship to Vadim and the year of the honoring ceremony. Those who were not related by blood added a small multicolored ribbon with their names on it to the bowl. Once the ceremony was over, the items would be put in a capsule, to become part of the family shrine.
When all of them had made their offerings, Aleena began to sing a traditional Tildari song about love for those departed and the hope of seeing them in the afterlife. Other family members joined her, with their emotions creating an intricate vocal tapestry. Tolrek was stunned by the beauty of Darion’s voice. He’d never heard his lover sing.
At the end of the song, Melrena spoke.
“Vadim wanted balance in all things,” she said. “We’ve been quiet and somber, in expressing how much we miss him. Now, let’s enjoy a party in his honor.”
It didn’t take long for the children to fill the household and garden with laughter. Darion dodged the blur of them, as they raced by him. They’d changed out of their clothes and were heading to the beach. Prymar was leading the charge, followed by Ziilin, Kyan and a rambunctious Najrina.
While Tolrek enjoyed the loving family atmosphere, the cheerfulness didn’t completely fill his heart. The reality of his immediate family’s situation was a stark contrast to that of the Navarrs. He wondered if anyone had ever done a similar ceremony for his father. Not knowing where his sister was still weighed on his mind. He was also saddened that his mother wasn’t able to return to their homeland yet.
Darion was in the middle of a conversation with the other adults, when he noticed that Tolrek had slipped away. He excused himself and went to find his lover. Tolrek was standing on the bluff. He looked out over the water, watching the waves of the vast ocean. Darion went to sit on a nearby bench. He remained quiet, giving Tolrek his time to ponder.
“I’ve promised my mother I would take her back to Ledano,” Tolrek finally spoke.
“Don’t you have some work to do, before that happens?”
“Certainly. I thought I could use some help.”
“Then you plan on causing problems in another sector? You want to upset as many people as possible, don’t you?”
“It’s a life goal,” Tolrek responded, chuckling. Then he became serious. He went to sit next to Darion.
“D, I enjoyed meeting your family,” Tolrek began. “It was just kind of difficult for me. I crave a strong connection to Ledano. There might be so many people related to me.”
“Anyway, I thought the tribute to your grandfather was touching. It was powerful to feel how much he was loved. I especially liked how everyone added their name to the bowl.”
“That part is done at Tildari marriage ceremonies too,” Darion said quietly, his words heavy with meaning. His eyes flickered to Tolrek’s for a moment. They smiled at each other, feeling pleasantly shy and surprised at their bashful reactions.
“I’m sure we’ll get to that,” Tolrek said, his tone matching Darion’s.
They sat side-by-side on the bluff, a comfortable silence building between them, as they listened to the waves.
Darion grasped Tolrek’s hand and affectionately squeezed it. Tolrek glanced at him and then a knowing grin spread across his face.
“Ah, there it is,” Tolrek noted, as he peered into Darion’s eyes. “It’s that look.”
“What do you mean?”
“The one where you’re excited and making the best plans for us.”
Darion smiled but didn’t admit to anything.