Vinny wiped the blood from his sword, and tried not to think about death. Slaying monsters always left him with a bitter taste on his tongue and a dry stench in his nose. When he killed, he took life to save life; like today, he happened to be passing by a scrap park (a dangerous playground mostly made up of scrounged play sets and makeshift slides) when the Aeternae came looking for a midday snack. Saving those kids helped a little, but as he scrubbed his sword clean, splattering rosy water on the kitchen floor with his rag, he still felt miserable.
He could think about work instead. That made him gag. What about the damage bill from Sal’s recent magic accident in the Market Square? He shuddered. And the cleaning – their apartment was a disaster zone, liable to be marked off as a stinking wasteland of dirty socks and garbage. There was enough to do around the place that he didn’t even want to think about the lecture Sal needed about sluffing school in favor of hunting down dark sorcerers or sleeping at the apartment.
All this responsibility pressed on him, physically grinding him into the floor. It hurt his head, and it weighed on his heart.
He shouldn’t be here. He didn’t want to deal with the responsibilities of an adult, much less a parent. Not only did Vinny have temporal needs to satisfy, he also had to be so much more.
And, Ifrit, the discipline! How was he supposed to be a good older brother if he was also the teacher, the protector, and the disciplinarian? If anything, it made him feel like a parole officer in his brothers’ lives – someone they avoided rather than confided in. Certainly Anik didn’t ostracize Vinny from his personal life, but that was Anik: sweet and soft to the core. Sal, on the other hand, seemed to maintain this personal code that left Vinny in the dark to his more secret affairs.
Can’t tell Vinny this or he’ll try to fix it. Can’t show Vinny that or he’ll try to stop it.
Vinny was trying to be an adequate replacement for the two people missing in their lives, but it was so hard. He felt totally alone.
Carelessly, Vinny pressed too hard on the edge of his sword. The blade slit through the rag and into his fingers.
He gasped and jerked his hand away, dropping the weapon and holding his injured hand close. It was a thin slice through his four fingers, not to the bone, but it stung in ringing pulses.
His fingers were bloody.
It wasn’t his.
As he stared at the bloodless cut, he felt the faint desire to scream or throw something, preferably his sword. He blinked hard and mentally counted to ten.
It didn’t help.
He started counting again.
As he was reaching ‘nine’, for the third time Anik walked in the door. Vinny almost missed it, but something flared a warning signal in his mind – most people would call it a parent’s instinct; Vinny preferred to call it a flash of Sal’s intuition.
He spoke in their native language. They always spoke their language in the apartment. It was one of the pieces from home that they could still keep alive. The words were smoother than the broken, nasally accent of Common. Just hearing a phrase or two was soothing in a way Vinny would never find the words to describe. He knew it had the same effect on his brothers.
Anik shrugged limply, refusing to meet Vinny’s eyes. “Nothing. I was just out with Naila.”
Vinny waited expectantly while Anik anxiously shuffled his feet.
“Can I go?” he finally asked.
Vinny hated these decisions. Trust Anik or press for more? Say something, or stay quiet? Be stern or be comforting? What was he supposed to do?
“No,” he decided, and got up. Vinny gestured toward the couch and waited for his brother to follow. Anik sat, drew his legs to his chest, and curled his arms around them. Vinny slumped down next to him and his weight tipped Anik against his side.
Without pretense, he softly demanded, “What’s wrong?”
The silence lingered. And stretched. And yawned out of existence until Anik confessed in a shameful whisper, “I miss Mom.”
‘I don’t.’ But Vinny couldn’t say that. He couldn’t miss anybody who could let something like this happen to their own children. Mothers were supposed to be responsible, and fathers were supposed to protect and guard against dangers like this.
‘It’s your fault. You should be here, not me.’ But he didn’t say that either.
He couldn’t. As much as he hated it, he’d chosen this life. He could be in college, dating some nice girl and facing a bright future without family responsibilities tethering him to his brothers. But when faced with that decision, he had made it very clear who he cared about more (or maybe he should say most), and it wasn’t himself.
“I walked Naila home. Did you know her mom gives her a hug when she leaves the house and when she comes home?” Anik asked rhetorically, unbothered by Vinny’s lack of response. This was Vinny after all.
“Mm,” Vinny hummed.
“Mom used to–” Anik stopped then, suddenly overwhelmed with, well homesickness wouldn’t be an appropriate word. It was too shallow for what he felt. Perhaps hiraeth was better suited. Either way, the emotion physically forced Anik to a stop, making it temporarily impossible to speak, and when he gained control of his voice again, it was a faltering sob as he managed, “She used to do that too.”
Anik’s shoulders began to shake, and he huddled closer. Vinny responded with an arm around his shoulders and propped his chin on Anik’s head.
“It’s not fair. Why…why’d this have to happen to us?” He panted a little from the quiet sobs. “I miss them…And it hurts!” He buried his face in Vinny’s bloodstained shirt. “I wanna go home.”
“I know…someday,” Vinny promised.
But they’d been in Kaigne for three years now, and he was still no closer to knowing how to get them home than he had been before he’d first arrived.
They fought for this. “Out” was their only direction in life now. A long time ago, Vinny swore to get his brothers home alive. All the little things they did while stuck in Kaigne made existing bearable, but a person could walk through paradise and still feel like a prisoner if he longed to be in hell.
Vinny wished he knew which one they were trying to get into.
A/N: I may not be a single parent, but I grew up with one. This is some insight as to what this series is all about – sacrifice and home. It’s one of the few things that gets Sal upset, but when you know the whole story, it’s really understandable.
Copyright © 2017 Dante Morose
- Hiraeth is a Welsh word indescribable in English, but you can find an official definition here.
- Learn more about Aeternae here and here. According to Giants, Monsters, and Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth by Carol Rose, they technically do exist, but under a different name. The things you learn…