The next week felt surreal. Sean felt thrown off-kilter by the appearance of a father he’d never known about and hadn’t expected to like. He also hadn’t expected Rakcigion’s absence to hurt as much as it did. His mom was far more practiced at dealing with the loss. However, she too had difficulty. It had been years since she’d seen the love of her life and all she’d gotten was a few hours with him.
Sean spent the week wavering between asking his mom about his dad and not wanting to know any more because he was sure that it’d hurt more. His mom seemed to be wavering along similar lines, wanting to tell Sean about his father but also not wanting either of them to hurt more.
In the end, they decided to distract themselves and attempt to enjoy the rest of their holidays. They did go zip-lining wherein Sean’s mom had no problems at all and Sean somehow got stuck halfway along the line and had to wiggle like a stuck fish in order to get moving again. They tried jet skiing again and to Sean’s delight he actually didn’t fall off this time.
Slowly, they were getting back to their usual modus operandi and Sean started to think he’d be able to actually be able to deal with the unexpected curveball life had thrown him. Of course, that was when his father showed up again.
Sean was lazing on his surfboard, rocking gently beyond the breakers while his mom sunbathed on the shore. He had shades on and his head was resting on his board when there was a rush of water from beneath him and then a voice said:
Sean jumped, screamed and fell off his board. When he surfaced Rakcigion was laughing.
“Jerk!” Sean splashed water at him. “Why did I miss you?”
“I really didn’t think I’d scare you that badly,” Rakcigion said through his laughter. “And I missed you too!”
“Sean?!” His mother yelled across the waves. She’d obviously heard him scream.
“I’m fine!” he shouted back. Then he hissed to Rakcigion. “What are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be gone like the entire year or something?”
“Well,” said Raige, “I may have twisted some facts when I spoke to my sovereign.”
“Wait what?” said Sean. “You lied to your sovereign? About what?”
“I failed to mention the part where I stepped foot on land but I did mention I met you when you fell off a cliff.”
“You told your sovereign that you met me?!” Sean said. “Isn’t that not the smartest idea?”
Rakcigion waved a hand. “It’s fine. That’s not the point.”
“What is the point?”
“The point is that I may have made somewhat of an impassioned plea, and kinda used that soft spot he has for me in order to pull a string or two. Or a cable rather.”
“To do what?” Sean was thoroughly confused now.
“To visit,” said Rakcigion, “And to tag along.”
“Visit?” said Sean blankly. Then his brain caught up. “You mean like Atlantis visit?”
“We’re not Atlantis, but yes.”
“Atlantis is real?” asked Sean momentarily distracted.
“Atlantis was real, they’re gone now,” Rakcigion said carelessly.
Sean’s mind caught up with the rest of what his father had said. “Tag along?”
Rakcigion gave a wry smile. “Remember when you asked if there was ever a time when I’m not working?’
Sean blinked and then said, “What so I’m a ‘bring your kid to work day’?”
“Bring your kid to work month,” Rakcigion told him. “You can barely see enough if you only spent a day. Besides this is The Circuit. You’ll be seeing a lot…if you decide to come.”
Sean blinked. Then he turned and yelled, “Mom!! Get here!! Dad’s here!”
Rakcigion burst into laughter. When Sean’s mother had gotten in far enough though he ducked into the water and cut a path to her. He surfaced next to her, laughed at her surprised squeak and then grabbed her and dragged her through the water far faster than she’d ever be able to do on her own.
When they surfaced next to Sean, she was breathless but laughing. She smacked her husband but threw her arms around him and kissed him hard. Sean promptly averted his eyes and wondered if he’d ever get used to the sight.
“What are you doing here so soon?!” Zaira asked Rakcigion when they finally came up for air.
“Well…” said Rakcigion. “I may have gotten permission for Sean to accompany me on The Circuit.”
“On the what?” said his mom. “Wait Raige you told your sovereign that you met him?!!!”
“It’s fine!” Rakcigion said hastily. “No really Zaira it’s fine.”
“He lied and said he only met me at sea,” Sean helpfully informed her.
Rakcigion shot him a look but then cringed at the one his wife was giving him. “Relax,” he said weakly.
“What if he finds out!?” Zaira hissed.
“I’m pretty sure he knows already,” said Rakcigion, “He just doesn’t have proof, so we’re good.”
There was a pause and then Sean said, “I am never going to understand mer-society.”
“You and me both,” said his mom. “Now, what is this Circuit, Raige?”
“Right,” said Rakcigion. He curled up his tail so Zaira could sit in the equivalent of his lap. Sean rested his elbows on his board and kicked lazily, waiting for his father to explain.
“So, my sovereign isn’t the only sovereign under the ocean. There are a couple more and they all have their own territories that they rule over. Together they rule over the majority of the oceans and seas. However, there are spaces between each territory that are unruled and are left that way so that those more temperamental and territorial creatures can live there. Not everyone likes to live under the rule of a sovereign. And since taxes are a reality, not everyone can afford to.”
“I can’t believe taxation exists under the ocean,” Sean said to no one in particular.
“So, what does this have to do with you?” Zaira asked.
“I’m an investigator, a detective of sorts. Usually, my jurisdiction ends where my sovereign’s does. However, since there are no sovereigns in the unruled bands, there is no law there, no justice. The Circuit travels to these areas once a human year to sort out grievances among the people living there as well as to work on cases that may cross territories.”
“You mean like if a killer crossed state lines?”
“More like if a killer crossed countries,” Rakcigion replied. “Look, a lot of things happen in the unruled bands simply because there’s no oversight, and those things are often aimed at ruled territories. If no one patrolled them or even just listened to some of the things that the people there noticed, we’d be in deep shit.”
“But if it’s so important, why do you only do it once a year?” Sean asked.
“Power,” said Rakcigion. “They’re the unruled bands. My sovereign claimed the right to give justice to those who wanted it in the unruled bands but the other kingdoms don’t want us patrolling more than that because they’re afraid we would try to claim those bands and expand our territory.”
“Oh,” said Sean. “And you want to take me on this Circuit?”
“Yep,” said Rakcigion cheerfully.
“It sounds dangerous,” Zaira said.
Rakcigion shrugged. “It could be boring as hell. Some years are like that. Besides Zaira, I’ll be there the whole time.”
His mom pursed her lips. “I still don’t like it.”
“Is it a onetime offer?” Sean asked.
“Possibly and probably,” Rakcigion said. He tilted Zaira’s head to face him. He didn’t say anything, just looked at her and after a moment she sighed.
“Sean,” she said turning to face him, “It’s up to you.” She raised a hand when Sean would have protested. “This is a part of your heritage and I won’t take away that from you. There are things that you can and things that you probably should, learn down there.”
“But if I go,” Sean said softly, “You’ll be up here alone.”
“I’ll be fine,” said his mom.
“Yeah but this is our time,” Sean said, not wanting to leave her.
“I have you for the whole year,” said his mom. “I’m not going to be selfish if you go. Besides, it could be an interesting father-son bonding time.”
“You just said it could be dangerous,” Sean pointed out.
“I know,” said his mom. “I know. But if you want to go, I won’t stop you. Besides, Raige knows that if anything happens to you, he’s a dead merman.”
“Literal food for the fishes,” Rakcigion agreed.
“I…. okay, this may come as a surprise but I do not know what I want to do.”
“The circuit leaves in two days,” Rakcigion said grinning, “So I’ll need your answer then.”
“Um okay?” Sean said. “Wait…” he trailed off unable to find a way to ask what he wanted to know.
Rakcigion smiled. “It’s okay if you say no,” he said softly.
Sean deflated. “It’s not that…”
“I know Shenaragle,” his father replied. He turned to Sean’s mother and kissed her lightly. “See you soon love.”
“You too,” she murmured and then Rakcigion let go of her and swam the short distance to Sean and hugged him.
“See you in two days junior,” he said cheerfully and then he was gone faster than Sean could follow.
“I don’t know if to hate him or love him,” Sean said thoughtfully.
“I have the same problem sometimes,” his mother sighed.