“You can sleep here,” Daniel opened the door to the guest bedroom, “It’s all a bit dusty though…”
“I am used to particles created by the Mist,” Saari replied.
“So it’s not regular dirt?”
She shook her head.
“Well, I know under the covers should be clean.”
Saari reached out and touched the bed. “It is unlike anything I felt at home. It is… How do you say… It gives in to the touch?”
“Yes, soft. I believe… I am used to harder surfaces. Everything is stone back home. Lord Qaitax provided me with cloth blankets. That was the best he could do, but everyone lived that way. Beds were not like this…”
“Is it too soft?”
Saari pressed her hand into it.
“I do not know. I would have to find out…”
“Then if you’re tired, you should get some rest.”
Saari turned to the boy, “You would be comfortable with me in your home?”
Daniel shrugged, “You said Qaitax is your dad, or something, right?”
“He is my parental figure. He raised me.”
“That’s a dad. So… I guess that makes us… siblings?”
Daniel chuckled, “We have the same dad now.”
“Oh… So we do…”
“Are you okay with that?”
They stared at each other. Daniel’s neck craned upwards and Saari’s craned downwards. She was at least twice his height and nearly thin as a rail.
“Well…” Daniel sighed, “I don’t think we have a choice. I mean, they’re technically not the same…”
“I suppose not, but they act as one,” Saari replied.
“Does that weird you out at all?”
“Uh… Does it bother you that your dad and my dad are, like, fused together now?”
Saari took a deep breath. “At first, I hated it. So much so that…” she remembered Sylus’ thoughts on her honesty. “That I… Tried to stop it from happening.”
“I’d’ve probably done the same.”
“Well, I’m kind of protective of Dad. Guess that sounds weird, but we’ve been through a lot and I don’t like him taking any shit from anyone.”
“I am the same with Lord Qaitax… I have defended his will for generations and when I heard an outsider was becoming involved in our affairs…” she sighed, “I was not thrilled.”
“When Jeron and I found out about Qaitax, we weren’t happy either.”
They both sighed.
“At least they’re both still alive, right?” Daniel perked up.
“Indeed. That is what is most important.”
“Yup. Well. I’m tired,” Daniel yawned, “My room is across the hall if you need anything. You know where the bathroom is. Let me know if you need any help”
“Why are you all so accepting of me?”
The question caught Daniel completely off guard.
“Well, Jeron and I have seen some things,” he turned back to her, “Really strange and scary things. But they weren’t all bad. You met Quip. He’s a void spawn and he’s our pet. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him. I guess…” he thought a moment, “I guess we figured out that just because something isn’t normal to us, that doesn’t mean it’s bad.”
Saari slowly sat on the bed.
“How are you so okay with us? We’re, like, aliens to you, right?”
“I truly only know you by your voices and actions, but as the outsider, I have felt welcome.”
“Well that’s good,” Daniel smiled. “Like I said, my room’s across the hall and back towards the living room a bit. Let me know if you need help with anything.”
“Same to you, Daniel.”
“Good night, Saari.”
“Good night, Daniel.
“Come on, Quip. I know you haven’t been here before, but this is my home. You can sleep on the bed if you like.”
Saari could hear the spawn making happy yelps from out in the hallway.
She had lived countless lifetimes. Watched people come and go. Endured exile and banishment from her species. Watched helplessly as they died. Always feeling empty and distant. Lord Qaitax was the only thing that gave Saari any feeling of comfort. She was so certain that after his merger with Sylus, that she’d lose that comfort. But now, on this alien world, surrounded by people she’d only just met, Saari was at peace. She knew her Lord was in good hands and she knew she was safe in this place with these people. How could complete strangers across space and time accept her unlike her own people did? It still confused her, but she knew how mortals could be, so perhaps there was no point in trying to understand it.
Daniel Synclaire laid in bed. His bed. The first time he’d slept in it since before his father had left. Everything felt so distinctively different. He’s waited for years for his father to return. And yet, here he was and the boy felt nothing but anxiety. The world felt so different. Not like it did before and not like it did while he was away. It was completely different. Like he was no longer living his own life. He felt disconnected and distant. Maybe that would change once his father was well again and they had time to talk, but right now? Daniel would have preferred to return to his sleeping bag in Jeron’s bunker. That was normal now. That was safety and comfort. Even with his spawn lying at the foot of the bed, he didn’t feel at home. He felt like a stranger in his own life.
His cell phone buzzed. It was a text message from his father to a group chat shared with Jeron. The timestamp looked like it had gotten the zalgo treatment.
“I love and miss you both so much…”
Daniel felt like he was going to burst into tears. He couldn’t sleep. He had to get up. He had to speak to his father.
“Dad?” he stood in the doorway to the master suite.
“A-are you awake?”
A light came on from beside the bed as a tendril slowly withdrew from the lamp. Sylus was struggling to sit up, so his son approached him.
“Dan…” Sylus whispered, “You’ve grown… Haven’t you?”
Daniel nodded, biting his lip.
“How long was I gone, Dan? How many birthdays did I miss?”
“I’m twelve,” he sniffed.
“Twelve?!” his gaze turned to the ceiling as tears filled his eyes, “You must hate me.”
“I ran away… I said I wouldn’t ever do that, but I did…”
“You came back! That’s what matters. We knew time would be different. We didn’t expect you to be back the next day…”
“I was really hoping it was slower on my end…”
“How long were you gone?”
“Consciously? I think three days. Unconsciously? I have no idea. I may or may not have taken a vacation in Qaitax’s stomach. No idea how time moved in there.”
“You were eaten alive?” Daniel’s eyes widened.
“Y-yeah… Hey Dan?”
“T-technically… I-I died.”
“Well,” Daniel seemingly bounced back to his spirited self. “You missed my birthday and I missed your funeral. At least there’s time to try them both again in the future.”
Sylus snorted, “You want me to die, then, do you?”
“No, but this time, if you do, I won’t miss it.”
“You’re sharp and I’m not sure I like it…”
“C-can I… hug you?”
“I just don’t want to hurt you or upset Qaitax or something…”
Sylus turned himself as much as he could, arms outstretched. Daniel leaned in, wrapping his arms around his father’s neck. He couldn’t hold back the tears anymore.
“I missed you so much, Dad…”
“I missed you, too, Dan…”
“Jeron took good care of me, but it wasn’t the same…”
“He did a good job, though, right?”
Daniel pulled away, wiping a tear from his eye, “I’m still here, aren’t I?”
“Oh, hey… Uh…” Daniel looked back down the hall with a sniff, “I think you should hug Saari, too.”
Sylus gave him a confused look.
“Qaitax is her dad. Like you’re my dad. Her dad should hug her too, ya know?” he sniffed into his sleeve, “I think it might help.”
Sylus rubbed a thumb under his son’s eye, “I think you’re right. But Dan… All of this… It’s a lot. Just… Tell me if you need some breathing room. I’ll understand.”
“Dad, I’m not the one bedridden for a week. I think I’ll have time to get used to it at my own pace. But you should let Qaitax talk to Saari. I think she needs it. She’s alone and scared… Kind of… like I was…”
Sylus gazed at his son intently.
“When you first left, I was so scared, Dad. I felt so alone and afraid… Jeron helped, but… I… Dad…”
“I’m so sorry, Daniel…”
“Don’t be,” the boy sniffed, “If you hadn’t gone, who would’ve chased Henley off? Oh, that reminds me, we have a lot to catch you up on. Whole new breed of monster showed up since you left. They’re tricky, but Quip can get em with a bit of work.”
Sylus grinned from ear to ear.
“I always missed you, Dad, but I got used to you not being there… Now you’re back and I don’t even know how to feel…”
“It’s a lot, Dan. A lot has happened in the past twenty-four hours. For all of us. Once I can get up off my fat ass, we should all sit down and catch up.”
Daniel nodded with a smile.
“You must be exhausted,” Sylus ran his hand down the side of his son’s face, “Get some rest. Tomorrow will come before you know it and we can start fresh.”
“You should sleep too,” Dan sniffed.
“Oh trust me. As soon as you’re out that door, I’m going unconscious again.”
“Did I wake you up?”
“Well, yeah, but you’re more than welcome to. Can’t be sleeping all the time. Besides, you had something on your mind. I’m glad you shared it with me.”
“Please don’t… Do this… again.”
“Run away… From us. You can run away from Izzy, from Henley, from monsters and demons, but… please don’t run away from me…”
“I don’t want to lose you again…”
“Dan… You won’t lose me ever again. I’m sure there’ll be times you won’t want me around, but I’ll always be here. And I will never run from you and Jeron again.”
“I mean, I get why you did it, but still… Please don’t.”
Sylus nodded, “You have my word.”
Daniel gave his father a quick hug. “Thanks, Dad,” he breathed.
“No, thank you.”
They lingered in the embrace a moment longer before Daniel stepped away again.
“Okay, back to bed,” he sniffed, “Good night, Dad.”
“Good night, Dan.”
“I love you…”
“I love you, too.”
Sylus smiled and waved at him weakly as he left the room. Clinging to the door, he turned to his father one more time.
“Y-you look good, Dad.”
“Really?!” Sylus was shocked enough that he almost found the strength to bolt out of bed, but the searing bain of torquing is sutures put an end to that.
“Yeah,” Daniel smiled, “Really.”
“Can I at least pay you to get a new hijab?”
“No,” Aria waved him away, “It’s fine. Really.”
“You’re really sure?”
“I am. You will call me if you need anything, right?”
Jeron threw his hands in the air, “What choice do I have? You’re the only doctor I know much less one willing to actually help us.”
“Oh, that reminds me. I’m not glowing or anything am I?”
Jeron stared at her a moment, “Not that I can tell.”
“Good. Then this can remain our little secret.”
“You really mean to say that a tentacle monster and a woman with horns for eyes didn’t scare you off?”
Aria shrugged her shoulders, “As far as anyone is concerned, the Mist is the unknown. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. Everyone seems civil enough. If you want me to be 100% honest? Yes. I was a little uncomfortable if not a bit afraid, but it was definitely worth it and, by the end, I was over it. Which is what life is about, isn’t it? Growing and learning? Overcoming fears?”
Jeron shook his head with a smile.
“So you may refer to me as you primary practitioner, if you so desire. It would be an honor.”
“Let me pay for a new hijab…”
“No thanks,” Aria hopped into her car, “I’ll see you next week. Text me if you have any questions are concerns.”
“See ya later, Aria,” Jeron sighed.
With a nod, she turned on her car and left the hospital parking lot.
Jeron just stood a moment in the darkness shaking his head. What was he going home to? The past two years had become the norm and now everything was completely flipped upsidedown. He was just getting used to living like some post-apocalyptic survivor. Cut off from the rest of the world left to fend for himself, and a kid. What was happening now? Sylus was back and he brought a void demon and an alien back with him. What was going on? What could he do now? He wasn’t in control now. Sylus was. Everyone would defer to him and Jeron would just slip back into the background. He’d be lying if he didn’t admit he’d miss having full control of the doomy situation in La Sombra. Maybe if he spoke to Sylus… Aired his concerns and grievances…
“He’d probably think I was insulting him,” he scoffed.
It was then that his phone buzzed and a text message came through. It was from Sylus to Daniel and himself. The timestamp was garbled.
“I love and miss you both so much…”
Jeron felt a fire burning in his eyes.
“Goddamn you, Sylus…”
Holding back a myriad of emotions, Jeron got back into his truck and headed back to the Synclaire house.
Stepping inside, he dropped his keys on the coffee table in the tiny living room. A familiar growl met his ears. Quip appeared skulking out of Daniel’s bedroom, tendrils writhing in a threatening manner.
“It’s me, boy,” Jeron sighed, “I’m home.”
Quip immediately stood down and approached him with his customary goofy smile on his “face”.
Jeron took a few moments to scratch and pet the spawn’s head. The creature started making its weird purring/growling sound that signified it was content.
“Everyone in bed?”
Yes. Everyone sleeps.
“Good,” Jeron sat down on the couch.
No sleep with Master?
Jeron glared at the creature, “What would give you the idea that I would?”
You used to…
“Things are different now, Quip.” Jeron laid down on the couch, pulling the blanket that hung on the back over himself.
“Go back to sleep, Quip.”
With that, Quip retreated into Daniel’s room.
There was no denying that part of him did want to be near Sylus, but another part of him was so full of anger and confusion that the idea was horrifying. There was so much that needed to be said, so much that had to be discussed before he could ever begin to entertain the idea of a relationship again. For two years he’d wondered how this day would feel and none of his little thought experiments had prepared him for this. All he knew was that it was going to take him time to get used to this. He really did hope Sylus would understand. As strange as everything felt, he still held Sylus’ feelings in high regard. The only person who’d been there for him after he lost everything. He hoped, deep down, that if love was no longer an option, that he’d at least consider remaining friends.
Sylus meant a lot to him, but with Sylus now came Qaitax. An otherworldly being he knew nothing about. A complete stranger. How could he love someone who wasn’t always the same person? How could he tell them apart? How did he feel about everything he might ever do with Sylus being shared with this creature? What if it was watching them, him, through Sylus’ eyes? How could he function like that? How could he love like that? Jeron shook his head. They’d have to talk, but as much as he wanted to have that conversation here and now, it wasn’t the time. So he choked back his anxiety and anger and forced himself to sleep. He knew it would be a while before they could have that talk and it drove him nearly insane. He wanted it all figured out now. Not later. What was he supposed to do until then? How was he supposed to act with Qaitax watching? Perhaps he’d just start there. It was a fair enough point of discourse and nothing too intense. He’d go from there. With whatever he’d learn he’d piece together his feelings about Sylus and their future together.
Yes. That was what he would do. A little bit at a time rather than one big discussion. It would be better for both of them. It would give them both time to make sense of things and come to terms with all the changes. But how much had actually changed? Jeron didn’t even know how much of Sylus was still Sylus. Sure he did a characteristically dumb thing, but that wasn’t all that made Sylus who he was… How much of the man he knew and loved was in that body?
Again, Jeron closed his eyes tightly, they’d have to talk.
The sooner the better.
Until then, Jeron knew his heart would ache. But what was a few more days in the face of years? Time, after all, was relative.