Anecdote LIV. Never Leave a Man Behind

Posted on Posted in Anecdotes

September 3rd, 2015

Lask landed on Falient’s ship, near the helm where the captain waited.

“Time to go,” Lask said, voice grim. He had been observing the chaos from the watch tower. “The place is nearly overrun.”

Falient gave an affirmative, and Lask went to where Quinn was helping Wyatt and Ivan double-check the supplies. Ivan was loading the machine with canisters of medicine and magic. It was no easy feat to keep a spirit alive after the vessel’s death, so Lask had called in an expert, one who had survived himself.

“Ready?” asked Lask.

Ivan nodded. “Everything’s here.”

Falient slipped his key in beside the ship’s wheel. He turned the dials on the helm, engaging the ship’s cloak, then pulled the lever to drop canvas, turning the ship away from the island and out towards the river.

As they sailed out of the harbor, Lask put a hand on his son’s shoulder. He produced a small green bottle and offered it to the boy. “Are you ready?”

Quinn nodded and pulled the stopper from the bottle. He glanced to his father, showing just a flicker of hesitation, then downed the contents in a single gulp. The combined blood and magic rushed through him even as he began to shed his human shape. It seemed to glow out from him as he shifted, light streaming across the deck. As he settled into the shape of a thin green snake, the light shone from under the edges of his scales, from his fangs and tongue, and in his eyes, until it seemed to sink into him and he appeared to be a common viper.

“Feel alright?”

Quinn nodded. Lask knelt and extended a hand to him. The boy (now a snake) slithered up his father’s sleeve. Lask walked up the deck, feeling Quinn crawl up his arm and settle across his shoulders. Lask gave a single flap of his wings and pushed himself up to sit on the bowsprit as the ship moved into the open river.

Falient looked up to the bow, where Lask had taken a perch like a pensive figurehead. The captain twisted his key, opening a portal in the water ahead of them. On the bow, Lask tightened his grip on one of the ropes, bracing himself.

The ship fell into the portal. Water seemed to rush by without touching them, and was replaced with a gust of air as the ship was suddenly falling through the open sky. Falient engaged the flight drive and the ship steadied, soaring over what was left of Barrett’s land.

Below them stretched a wasteland of death. Everything was on fire. It was as if the ground itself had been laced with gasoline and set alight. Countless bodies of Barrett’s Dark soldiers littered the ground far beneath the ship. Falient steered toward the blazing stronghold, while Lask watched the destruction roll by beneath them. His jaw tightened at the sight, glad Quinn was blindfolded by his shirt, and looked ahead, fighting the urge to leap from the ship. As soon as he left the deck, he would be visible, and he could not afford to be seen.

Falient steered the ship high into the dark pillar of smoke towering over the burning stronghold. Lask heard Wyatt cough in the thick of it. They were well above the fighting, but down below, the armies of Moloch continued to batter the place. All manner of artillery fire bombarded the walls, blowing rubble and debris everywhere. There was a cluster of enemy soldiers scrabbling at the doors, pounding them with battering rams. Some were already clambering in through broken windows high above.

Lask set his eyes on the highest tower and let go, falling from the bow. Quinn’s coils tightened on his shoulders. Lask kept his wings drawn in tight, freefalling through the searing smoke and heat. Something grazed him in the air, nicking his right wing close to his shoulder, but he paid no attention to it. His wings flared, pulling him out of the dive so he could grab a handhold on the uppermost window sill. He tucked his wings, lighting them just long enough to let them sink in. He hoped his fire hadn’t been seen through the cloud of smoke.

The window was unlocked, as Barrett had said it would be, but too small to get through just by opening it.

“Shift to my left,” he said to Quinn and felt the boy move.

He smashed his right elbow against the window, knocking the glass in. It shattered, drawing several pricks of crimson on his arm and face. He ignored them, knocking out the rest of the window, then pulled himself through into the room beyond. It was mostly empty, except for a few sparse pieces of furniture. Quinn’s tiny snake head poked out of Lask’s collar.

“He’ssss not here,” whispered the boy.

“We’ll find him,” Lask murmured, pushing him back into his shirt. He hoped Quinn wasn’t able to feel his heart pounding.

Lask approached the door and listened. He could hear the distant sounds of fighting, but the immediate area sounded clear. The door was unlocked, as Barrett said, so he stepped out onto the landing beyond.

Lask found himself standing at the top of a spiral staircase, and wasted no time trotting down. He tried to move with as much speed as caution would allow, keeping a hand on his sword pommel. He still hadn’t gotten used to having the sword on his hip again instead of over his shoulder. He heard banging and hollering from below, but as he rounded another curve in the staircase, he stopped short at the sight of a figure ahead of him.

Barrett was collapsed on the staircase, shed of his Demon form, and back in his natural body, looking like he’d tried to drag himself upward and failed. About fifteen steps below him was a door, which was beginning to splinter. He’d locked it behind him, but his enemies were eager to break it down. Something heavy slammed into the other side, and Lask heard the hinges groan. He rushed to Barrett’s side, and didn’t bother to look him over. If he was here, he was still alive.  

“Quinn,” Lask whispered, kneeling beside him. “Go down my left sleeve.”

He felt the snake moving, and placed his arm so Quinn’s head emerged near Barrett’s shoulder. The snake slithered into his other father’s collar, finding the soft hollow at the base of his neck. Keep his tail wrapped around Lask’s wrist, Quinn struck, sinking in his teeth. Barrett gave a faint wheezing gasp, but made no other sound. He didn’t even start or stir at the sudden pain. Lask grabbed his arm and pulled, hauling him up and throwing his battered shape across his shoulders, being careful to not make Quinn lose his grip. It was through his son’s magic Lask hoped to keep Barrett alive long enough to get back to the ship.

Getting his footing, Lask started back up the stairs. He could hear Barrett’s wheezing, shallow breath, and knew they were cutting it close. He jogged up the stairs, trying to ignore his already burning legs. He could feel the energy flowing out of him– the combined energy of his entire alkesh, funneled through him, through Quinn, and into Barrett– and prayed it would be enough. He heard the door groan behind them, and tried determine how he would draw his sword or cast his fire when he had to hold Barrett with both hands. As if reading his mind, Barrett’s shaking hand raised, a few green sparks darting from his fingers.

“Save your strength,” Lask told him.

Barrett was too weak to respond, but Lask thought it was good he’d been able to conjure even those few frail sparks. Perhaps Quinn had already bolstered him some.

Lask was nearly back to the room at the top when something blasted into the tower. Lask rolled, pulling Barrett under him, flaring his wings in a shower of sparks to cover them as the top of the tower was blown clean off by a well-placed round of artillery fire. Quinn was jostled loose. Stone and splinters flew everywhere. Lask’s feathers deflected the smaller debris, but he was pummeled with larger chunks of stone. He felt one crush the end of his left wing against the stairs, but didn’t feel anything break. When the barrage of rubble stopped, he lifted his head, shoulders aching. Quinn flailed, trying to regain his grip. Lask hoped the disruption wouldn’t damage the energy flow.

A thick piece of the wall had fallen on his wing, pinning it. He pulled against it, but only felt it shift a little.

“I have to let go,” Lask told the boy. “Keep your fangs in him.”

Quinn settled on Barrett’s chest as Lask set them both down for a moment. Lask braced himself against the stairs and shoved, heaving himself against the stone. He felt feathers pull with a sudden flare of pain, and knew he couldn’t risk pulling any of them out. Things scrambled below, shrieking and bellowing, trying to fight through the rubble to the top of the stairs.

Deciding he had no choice, Lask summoned his fire in one hand, and let go a huge fireball. It burst onto the stone, blasting it into red-hot pieces, freeing his wing. He hoped no one had seen the flare in the chaos. Gathering Barrett back into his arms, Lask rose, tucking his wings back tight to continue to the top. He felt Quinn’s tail coil around his wrist again, and the feeling of energy leaving him resumed.

The room at the top of the tower was gone entirely, and the stairs came to an abrupt end. Lask coughed, squinting up through the dust and smoke, but could not see Falient’s ship. He trusted it was still in place.

Pulling Barrett in tighter against him, he stepped up onto the highest point of rubble he could find, then launched himself back into the air with one heavy stroke. His wings labored, thrashing through the smoke, hauling them upward. His hands tightened on Barrett, as if hanging onto him could keep him from fading out of life.

The air was scorching, and he could barely breathe. Quinn’s grip was steadily sapping his strength for Barrett’s sake, and Lask hoped it wouldn’t drain him too much. His lungs burned more than his shoulders as he struggled to get a breath. He wanted to pant, wanted to draw in great lungfuls of air as he forced himself and Barrett upward, but the smoke was too thick. His left wing screamed at the strain, weakened from being pinned under the stone. Lask could feel his skin and eyes burning, could hear himself coughing with labored gasps as he fought his way through the air, not knowing how far he had gone, or how much farther he had to go. The world seemed to fade into nothing but a sweltering, desperate climb.

Suddenly, a gun shell fell past him.

“Come on!” Wyatt’s voice called to him. “Maybe fifteen feet more.”

Lask struggled up toward the gunslinger’s voice. He guessed Falient must have had to move the ship to align with him, lest he run right into it. He felt a hand grab the side of his shirt, and then he could see them. He flapped onto the deck, folding his wings and half collapsing. He lowered Barrett onto the deck, and Falient immediately steered the ship out of the smoke, pushing it for speed back to clearer air.

“Move!” it was Ivan’s voice.

Quinn let go, slithering across the deck as Ivan barreled up. The boy shifted back into his usual shape (minus one of his shirt sleeves) as Ivan shoved Wyatt and Lask out of the way, setting his contraption down beside Barrett. He ripped open the Luminor’s tattered shirt, revealing a pale alkesh mark in the center of his chest, amid thick bruising from broken ribs. Lask and Wyatt both started as Ivan drove a spike into the mark. It was sudden and without ceremony, and Barrett let out a choked, breathless cry, but was too weak to struggle. Lask caught a flicker of those eyes so much like Quinn’s, then Barrett seemed to pass out entirely. Lask reached for Quinn, pulling him in against his chest, though the boy had already seen. Ivan flipped the switches on the machine, and a shining gold light traveled down the tubing, into the spike, and straight into Barrett’s heart.

Ivan’s hands worked with brisk efficiency. One hand was pressed to the Luminor’s neck, monitoring his pulse. The other adjusted the dials and flipped more switches. A wisp of green appeared in the tube, mingling with the light, but not mixing. As Ivan’s hand worked, flecks of red began to drift down the tube. Lask didn’t know how the machine worked, but he knew they had prepared the ingredients with as much magic as the alkesh could muster. In the end, he could only stand by helplessly as Barrett lay on the deck of Falient’s ship, looking pale and somehow faint, as if one could almost see through him.

Quinn hunkered against Lask, and Lask stroked the boy’s hair, to soothe himself as much as his son. Lask didn’t notice Falient had drawn them a portal home until he heard a splash as the ship glided back into the harbor. Stefin and Belara were waiting on the dock.

“Giemm is in the watchtower?” Lask asked of the two on the dock, voice hoarse from the smoke.

Stefin nodded as he helped Falient tie off the ship.

“Good,” said Lask. He turned to Falient. “Could you check in with him? Tell him to alert me immediately if he has any reason to think we might have been seen.”

Falient nodded also and lowered the gangplank so the Sun Demon and Belara could come aboard. They came to the place where Barrett lay on the deck.

“Can’t move him til it’s done,” Ivan told them. “Should be another fifteen minutes or so.”

They waited in grim silence, everyone tense, half-expecting Barrett to burst into light and disappear into death at any moment– but he didn’t. When the machine had emptied its medicine, Ivan flipped off the switches, and carefully removed the spike. Blood bubbled out of the wound, and Ivan held a rag to it, pressing down with firm pressure. When the bleeding didn’t seem to slow, he waved to Lask.

Lask knelt and summoned a bolt of his fire, casting it with good aim to cauterize the wound. The bleeding stopped instantly, and the skin flushed brush red from the burn.

“It’s done,” Ivan said. “He’s in a bad way, though. If he makes it to nightfall, he will live.”

“We should get him to the infirmary,” said Lask. He looked to Wyatt. “Can you draw  a door there for us?” He didn’t admit he felt too exhausted to do it himself, but everyone knew.

The gunslinger obliged, withdrawing his key. As he drew the door, Lask kissed Quinn’s head.

“Well done,” Lask told him. “I couldn’t ask for a braver boy.”

Quinn managed a faint smile.

“Why don’t you go with Belara and get yourself cleaned up?” he said. “I’ll let you know when he wakes up.”

Quinn glanced down at Barrett with concerned wistful eyes, but gave no protest, allowing Belara to lead him off the ship.

Stefin gathered the frail shape of Barrett in his arms, and Lask followed them into Del Sayronet.

*******

Though he was exhausted and battered, Lask would not leave Barrett’s side. Stefin carried the unconscious Luminor into the infirmary, and Lask helped get him settled in one of the beds. Stefin tried to encourage Lask to go clean himself up and get some sleep, but Lask would not. The Sun Demon eventually gave up and left him alone with his stubbornness.

Once he was alone, Lask looked Barrett over more thoroughly. He was pale and ashen, and still streaked with blood, soot, and dirt. Lask went to one of the counters to fetch a few rags and a bowl of water. He pulled up a stool to sit by the bed, and took up carefully washing Barrett’s face and arms. The other Luminor did not stir, and if it weren’t for the faint rise and fall of his chest, Lask would have thought him dead.

He cleaned the wound in the middle of Barrett’s chest where Ivan had had to plunge the spike, bathing the alkesh mark with gentle hands. He had other nicks and scratches, but they were all surface wounds. He had one cut on his arm, likely from a blade, which Lask examined closely. Lask considered stitches or healing magic, but decided to wait and see how it looked in another few hours. He carefully felt along Barrett’s sides, counting a total of three broken ribs, but none seemed in danger of puncturing his lungs. Satisfied, Lask went back to washing away the streaks of soot and blood. He rubbed a salve onto the various wounds, just in case anything had been poisoned. When he was clean, Lask covered him with soft blankets, then rose and returned to the counter.

Glancing back to make sure Barrett was still sound asleep, Lask unfastened his tattered shirt and slipped out of it so he could wash up. He was covered in a fine coating of dust and soot, and had been nicked in several places by glass, rubble, and shrapnel. As he worked, the door opened and Giemm’s head appeared.

“We seem to be clear, mi lumore,” he said. “Moloch’s Demons have overrun Barrett’s keep and believe he has died.”

“Good.” Lask nodded. “Nonetheless, bring in some soldiers from Cuartan to bolster the watch tonight.”

“Of course.” The bird paused. “Would you like any help?”

“No, I’m fine. Thank you. If you can find Quinn, let him know Barrett’s still with us, and maybe looking a little better, though not awake yet.”

Giemm nodded and left him alone.

Lask finished cleaning his wounds, then located a fresh shirt in one of the drawers. Having pulled it on, he selected a soft brush from another drawer. He returned to the stool by the bed, and settled in. He studied Barrett for a moment, thinking there might have been a hint of color back in his face.

Lask wrapped one of his wings around and set about cleaning the dust out of his feathers. He made long, gentle sweeps with the brush down the length of his wings. It was soothing work, despite having to stretch. He cleaned each wing thoroughly, then decided to wrap them around himself and let them disappear, so he could fetch a more comfortable chair.

The infirmary provided him with a well-cushioned armchair, which he carried over to set beside the bed, and a soft cape. He pulled it around himself, then settled into the chair, his whole body aching. In time, he fell into an exhausted sleep, waking now and then to check on Barrett. He slept several hours, until the exhaustion had passed, then made himself stay awake.

Not wanting to seem intrusive, Lask fetched a book to occupy himself while he was waiting. He watched the time, gradually relaxing as sunset came. He had read perhaps a third of the book when he heard a change in the breathing beside him. Glancing over, he saw Barrett shift, wincing. Lask set his book aside and turned to better face his guest, saying,

“Welcome. How are you feeling?”

Barrett’s brilliant green eyes flickered toward the sound of his voice. He squinted, then blinked, opening his eyes a bit more.

“Lask…” He shifted again, trying to reach for him.

Lask reached out and took his hand, saying, “You’re safe. You’re in the infirmary of my home in Avigdell. I found you on the stairs, and carried you to Falient’s ship, where Ivan treated you.”

“Scott…”

“I’m so sorry.” Lask squeezed his hand.

Barrett’s jaw tightened, and he said, “No matter how much you expect it to happen, you’re never prepared for it.”

“I can only imagine your pain. Is there anything I can do for you?” Lask realized he was stroking Barrett’s arm and made himself stop.

“You’ve done plenty already,” Barrett replied. “Thank you.”

The two looked at each other, and Lask hated himself for his expressive face, and what Barrett could surely see. If he read anything from Lask’s eyes, Barrett did not remark on it.

“Where’s Moloch?” asked Barrett.

“Still in his stronghold as far as we know. For now, he thinks you’re dead. He’ll find out otherwise eventually, but for now we have a window of time to rest and–”

“He will come for me,” Barrett said, “Today, next week, next year. As soon as he figures out I’m alive. It’s only a question of when. It was nice to think I could stay, but we may have been dreaming. I shouldn’t put you all in that kind of danger. I should go.”

“You will not,” Lask said. “You are too weak to go anywhere, and even when you are strong again, you will be safest here. This island is one of the most well-defended places in the world. I have great magic, an alkesh, an army, and a Titan at my disposal. You know all of this. I’m sure you know there is nowhere better for you to be.”

“If I stay here, our entire family is at risk, all of those children, your tower, everything. I can go into hiding. I’ll be fine. I’ve done it before.”

“Then what was the point?” Lask inquired. “You will leave here and do what? Take another shape and try to get back to the only work familiar to you?”

Barrett’s eyes flashed despite his weak state.

“You have the potential to live centuries now,” Lask continued, “Millennia, if you’re lucky. Are you going to live in hiding the entire time?”

“What else am I supposed to do?” Barrett growled.

“Stay.” Lask held his eyes, meeting his challenge with his own. “You are one of us. Come out of the shadows and live like what you are–”

“You don’t know what I am–”

“You are a good a man,” said Lask, “Perhaps the bravest and most selfless man I have ever known. You deserve better. You belong here with the rest of your family. There is a place for you here; a place on this island, a place with your son.” He hesitated. “A place with me. I know you can feel you belong here. Don’t be afraid to trust that feeling.”

Barrett considered him in silence. He looked away, seeming to become fascinated with the weave of the blanket. After a moment, he murmured,

“Where is our son?”

“He’s here, safe. Probably nearby, I would guess.”

“What time is it?”

“About 8:00, I think.”

“May I see him?”

“Of course.” Lask smiled a little. He rose and went for the door. When he placed his fingers on the handle, he paused and looked over his shoulder. “Will you be here when I get back?”

“I wouldn’t do that to Quinn or to you,” Barrett replied. “You all saved my life. If I leave here, every one of you will get a proper goodbye.”

Lask nodded, then went out, shutting the door behind him. As soon as he was in the hallway, he spotted the owl perched on a tapestry rod just down the wall.

“I knew I wouldn’t have to look far,” said Lask with a fond smile.

The owl fluttered down, shifting and growing. It settled back into the shape of Quinn, and the boy adjusted some of his clothes. He still hadn’t perfected the art of being able to shift with his clothes on, and was missing one of his shoes. He kicked the other one off in favor of being barefoot.

“How is he?” asked Quinn.

“He’s weak, but I think he’ll be alright,” Lask told him. “He’s awake now, and asked to see you.”

Quinn brightened, and looked toward the door. Lask put an arm around his shoulders, and the boy gave him a nervous smile. Lask opened the door for him and shepherded Quinn inside. Barrett had propped himself up and was sitting with his back against the headboard. Lask could see something shake in him at the sight of Quinn. Lask led the boy across the room.

“You remember Barrett,” he said, “Your father.”

Barrett smiled at him, in spite of the circumstances. “Hi, kid.”

Quinn was silent, taking him in for a moment, studying his face. Barrett sat still and let him look. All of a sudden, Quinn leapt for him, throwing his arms around Barrett’s neck. Barrett embraced the boy tightly, breathing in the smell of him. The two didn’t let go of each other, and Lask could see the tears in Barrett’s eyes, but he didn’t let them spill.

“What should I call you?” asked Quinn.

“Whatever you want,” Barrett said.

Quinn drew back to look at him, eyes timid but expectant.

“Dad’s fine,” Barrett amended.

Quinn sat on the bed and leaned against him. Lask expected Barrett was sore, particularly with his broken ribs, but he showed no sign of discomfort from Quinn’s weight.

“Dad,” Quinn whispered, as if trying it out.

Lask saw another hint of tears surface in Barrett’s eyes at the sound of his son’s voice, but he held them back. Instead, he put an arm around the boy and pulled him closer.

“Are you here?” asked Quinn, looking up at him. “I mean… have you come home finally?”

Barrett was struck silent at the question. Quinn glanced up to Lask, not understanding his silence. Barrett’s eyes too drifted to Lask for a moment, then back down to Quinn. The boy cocked his head, resembling his owl shape.

“Your dad has a lot to think about,” Lask answered, “We should–”

“Yes,” Barrett said, interrupting him. He nodded at Quinn. “Yes, I’ve come home to you. Finally.”

Quinn’s face broke into a broad grin and he put his arms back around Barrett. Barrett tilted his head back and closed his eyes for a moment, then looked at Lask. His eyes were full of questions, and perhaps a bit of fear, but they were steady. Lask smiled a little.

“We’ll talk more about it later,” he said with a nod. “I’ll let Quinn keep you company for a while. I should go check on things. Quinn, perhaps you could see about fetching some dinner for your father when he’s ready for it?”

Quinn grinned at him, and Lask left the two alone.

***

Lask returned to the infirmary when it was almost 10:00. He found Quinn sitting crosslegged on the bed next to Barrett, showing him things he had made out in the treehouse. Barrett wore a faint smile, and his color had come back, though he still looked exhausted and ragged.

“Nearly bedtime for you, isn’t it, Quinn?” said Lask when he entered.

Quinn gave him a guilty smile.

“I’ll be here tomorrow,” Barrett told him. “Maybe in a few days I can come see that house of yours.”

Quinn grinned and hugged him again, then gathered his things from the bed and headed for the door. He paused to hug Lask as he passed, and beamed up at him. “You were right,” the boy whispered. Lask kissed his head and bid him goodnight. Quinn bounced out, and Lask approached the bed.

“Can I get you anything?” he asked.

Barrett shook his head.

“Quinn fed you?”

“As much as I felt like eating,” Barrett answered with a shrug. “He’s a wonderful boy.”

Lask smiled. “He is.”

“Thank you,” said Barrett, “For looking after him, and so well. He really loves it here, loves you, and you’ve done a lot right by him.”

“He is my son,” Lask replied. “I love him dearly.”

“I’m glad. I know he wasn’t exactly planned.”

“That makes him no less wonderful.”

Barrett gave a hint of a smile.

“You should rest,” said Lask. “Are you comfortable?”

“I’m on a feather bed in a house that smells like spice and roses,” Barrett replied. “Of course I’m comfortable.”

Lask looked a little chagrined.

“Quite a step up from my previous accommodations,” Barrett remarked, softer. “You should sit for a while. I’m used to being awake at night.”

Lask settled into the chair by the bed. Barrett watched him for a moment, studying him as if seeing him for the first time.

“What do you know about you and me?” asked Barrett.

“I know our hearts are made of the same light,” Lask replied. “I know we are halves to a whole.”

Barrett nodded, and there were silent.

“Quinn wants me to stay pretty bad,” said Barrett. “I don’t think I have the heart to tell him no.”

Lask smiled a little. “It’s always hard to say no to him. He loves you. He’s asked about you almost every day since he got here.”

Barrett gave a sad smile. “I’d hate to… bring Moloch’s wrath down upon Quinn.”

Lask shrugged. “There are Demons gunning for every spirit on this island,” he said. “We all put each other at risk. Moloch wants both you and Stefin dead. I imagine when he figures out I’ve helped you, he will want me dead too, regardless of whether or not you’re still here at that point. What’s done is done. We all have targets on our backs, and the Dark will come for each of us, no matter where we go. We’re stronger together, and our best shot at survival– and protecting our children– is right here together.”

Barrett sighed. “I think you’re right about that.”

Lask gave a resigned nod.

“Do you want me to stay?”

The question caught Lask off guard, so at first he just blinked.

“Quinn does, sure, but what about you?” Barrett asked. “Your quiet little island isn’t so quiet anymore. You’re picking up strays faster than the SPCA. Sure you’re willing to have another one?”

“I’ve wanted you here since the first day I met you,” Lask admitted. “I knew right away you…” He paused, and the two looked at each other.

Barrett nodded, sparing him from having to say more. “Then I guess I’m staying. Don’t worry, I’ll earn my keep.”

Lask chuckled. “I’m sure. I…” He paused. “I have a room for you here. I set it aside for you a while ago.”

“Did you really?”

“I hope you don’t mind.”

“No, that’s more than anyone’s done for me in a long time. How long ago?”

“Before I had my wings back. June.”

“You have been planning this a while, haven’t you?”

Lask gave a guilty shrug.

“You’re an uncommonly kind soul, Lask,” said Barrett. “Thank you.”

“Do you need anything?” asked Lask. “I can get you practically anything you might need or want.”

“I don’t need much,” Barrett answered. “Something tells me you’ve stocked that room with anything I could possibly need.”

Lask gave a sheepish smile.

“I imagine the only thing I’ll really need is company,” Barrett said. “I’ve been parted from Light-kind a long time. I’ll have to relearn how to be a social creature, and how to have friends. I haven’t had any in decades, not really. Even then, I was never good around people as myself. Probably why I wear as masks as I do.”

“You’ll learn.” Lask smiled. “And even if you don’t, we have lots of socially challenged people here.”

Barrett chuckled a little, then asked, “Am I supposed to sleep here tonight?”

“Do you want to?”

“It’s a hospital. Never did like hospitals. Probably a habit I picked up from Scott.”

“Would you like to see your room?”

“Yeah. Why don’t you show it to me?” Barrett swung his legs over the edge of the bed and got his footing. He spied the clean shirt on the table nearby and pulled it on.

“It’s upstairs,” Lask said, helping him up. “Just the second floor, but still. Will you be alright to walk that far? I could carry you.”

“I’ll be fine,” said Barrett. “I’ve gotten on the move in worse states than this.”

He headed for the door. His steps were slow, but steady. Lask opened the door for him and led him down the hallway. Barrett studied the corridor as they walked, taking in the tapestries, the iron work, the paintings. They came to the stairs, and Lask offered an arm, but Barrett had already started up, pulling himself along the railing. Lask let him go, and followed him to the hall on the next level.

“Library?” Barrett asked, motioning at the door at the top of the steps.

“Yes.” Lask confirmed. He gestured to the next door. “And that’s my room, should you need to find me.”

Barrett followed Lask along the hall until they came to another door on the left. Lask opened it for him, revealing the chamber.

It was a spacious room, with large clear windows along the opposite wall, with rounded tops. The walls were painted a deep emerald green, with rustic white trim. There was a beautiful country-style bed in burnished pine, with a white quilt, and matching nightstand. Beside it stood a dresser with wrought iron pulls. There were some vintage-style prints on the walls mounted on pallet-wood, old timey postcards and advertisements. A cast iron wood stove was in one corner, and a large claw-foot bathtub with black sides and antiqued brass feet was in another.

Barrett shook his head. “How could you possibly have known to do all this?”

“I asked the house to help me make a space for you. Mostly, I thought about the kinds of things I wanted to put in here, and the house picked the styles and colors. Once I had a feel for the look, I added my own touches.” Lask paused, deciding to leave out the part where he’d also looked into the past at Barrett’s old home at Westedge. “Do you like it?”

“It’s perfect.” Barrett’s voice was little more than a whisper. He stepped further into the room, looking over the decorations. “Some of these used to be in my room, before I went Demon. I sent it all away. I didn’t know what my house did with things. Looks like some of them found their way here.” He picked up a weathered old baseball from the dresser. “Scott and I used to play catch when he was a kid, or pretend to anyway. Does Quinn play catch?”

“I’m sure he’d be delighted to learn,” Lask replied. He remained near the doorway, not wanting to intrude.

There were a few pictures on the dresser, mostly places and people Lask didn’t recognize. Barrett picked up one of them and smiled a little.

“Scott was a good kid,” he said, “Good man. It’s going to be strange not feeling him in the back of my mind, not checking in with him.”

“I thought you might like to have a picture of him here,” Lask said. “I hope you don’t mind. I didn’t know if–”

“It’s fine,” said Barrett, looking back to the face in the picture. “It’s good. I couldn’t possibly pretend he’s not part of me, even if he is gone. Better to have him where I can see him.” He set the frame back on the dresser. “What really chaps me is he won’t even get a decent funeral. Did the most dangerous thing in the world for the sake of his country, and nobody will ever see his name anywhere or fly a flag for him.”

“There’s a garden in the forest about a mile from the house,” Lask told him. “It’s a memorial garden, where we all have tributes to people we’ve cared about and lost. Wyatt maintains it. I’m sure he’d be happy to add something for Scott. We could do our own memorial service for him.”

“I’d like that,” said Barrett, voice quiet. “Maybe you can show me the garden when I can walk that far.”

“Of course.”

Barrett moved to the windows and looked out across the nighttime landscape. “Strange to not be working while it’s dark. I don’t remember the last time I slept at night.”

“I suppose you don’t have to,” Lask said with a shrug. “Most of the activity here happens during the day, but our Dark comrades stay up pretty late sometimes.”

Barrett smiled a little. “I like that you have Demons and Runners among you here, and Lakvos infesting your house. Oddly, it feels safer that way.” He looked back to the other Luminor a moment, then asked, “Stay. Keep me company in the dark.”

Lask joined him back the windows, and put an arm around his shoulders.

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