“I’m tired, Dee,” Sys said at last, raising his head. His eyes were red and puffy and his face almost as white as the bandage around his head. “My head hurtss sso much and I can’t… I can’t ththink. Pleasse, I need to… jusst need to…”
“You don’t need to think, Sys. You’re still not well. Jo’el, is there somewhere he can rest?”
“Of course. Follow me.”
Dee picked Luke up into his arms. The little boy was trembling and crying softly. He buried his face in Dee’s hair and clung to him, with his arms around his neck. With one arm firmly holding him, Dee used the other to help Sys to his feet and hold him close against his side, steadying him when he would have swayed. Sys turned up to him a face that was pale and streaked with tears but with an expression in his eyes and smile on his lips that spoke only of love.
“Ththank you, Dee. I don’t know what I would do without you.”
“You’re a strong man, Sys. You’d do fine. But I am here and as long as I’m here I will protect you and care for you in any way I possibly can.”
Sys’ smile turned bashful and he rested his head on Dee’s shoulder for a moment, before they walked towards am impatient Jo’el. He led them to a little suite, just off the main hall. There was a tiny bathroom, with a toilet and washbasin, an only slightly larger bedroom and a third room with a sofa a chair, a screen in the wall and a chest on which were laid out basic provisions… a kettle, packets of dried tack, biscuits and various powdered food and drink.
Gratefully, Sys sank onto the sofa and Dee set Luke on his feet. The little boy ran straight to the sofa and climbed up beside his father, snuggling into his side. Sys put his arm around him, wincing.
“Give me a minute, baby. I want to speak to Jo’el. I’ll be right back.”
Sys looked up, wearily, and nodded with a somewhat anxious smile.
Jo’el was hovering outside, knowing that Dee would be looking for him. “Where is Sysan?”
“Gone back to his home planet.”
“How did you find him?”
“It wasn’t easy. I tracked him down through a series of contacts.”
“Why did you look?”
“Because, for some ridiculous reason I happen to be fond of you… and ever fonder of that absurd snake.”
Dee smiled, uncertainly. “That’s not exactly what I meant but… thanks… I guess.”
“I thought that it couldn’t hurt. I went through others, as I said and made sure there was no way I could be traced if things went wrong.”
“How do you know you can trust him?”
“I don’t.” Jo’el turned thoughtful. “I’ve been in this business for a long time and I’ve learned to read people; their reactions, their expressions, the things they say and how they say them. There was genuine joy in the faces of the people I spoke to, Dee. I’ve seen, via a photo-link, Sys’ mother, father, sister… and Sysan. They were so happy to know that he was safe and well. They wanted to come right then, but I made them wait. I made them convince me. They told me about the situation on their planet and that they were sure it would be safe for Sys to be in contact, or even go back. I met him before I let him anywhere near you, before I even let him know what planet you’re on. I’m as sure as I can be that he’s genuine; that he’s telling the truth.”
Dee scoured Jo’el’s gruff face. He could be an ornery bugger and was as hard as they come, but he’d always played straight with Dee, and Dee had always known he had a soft spot for Sys. Who could blame him? With a smile and a sigh of relief Dee nodded and laid his hand on Jo’el’s thick shoulder. A look of mutual understanding passed between them and then Jo’el strode off on some errand or another, bellowing orders at someone.
Opening the door softly, he slipped back into the room. Luke was half asleep, as Sys toyed with his hair. They had both stopped crying, although Sys still looked pale and stressed. He tried to smile at Dee, but it came out as a grimace.
Dee sat on the arm of the sofa and slid his arm around Sys’ shoulders, resting his cheek on top of his head. The mane of bright blue hair was soft and, despite everything they had been though, smelled good. Dee could feel the tension thrum through Sys’ body and sighed
“You should rest.”
“Rest? How can I rest with all these thoughts in my head?”
“If I know you, you’re thinking yourself round in circles. I’ve spoken to Jo’el: he was the one who got into contact with your family. He used all his contacts to find them.”
Sys, jerked, his face tilting up, causing Dee to draw back sharply. “He did? Why?”
“Because he likes you; God knows why.”
For a moment, Sys looked shocked, then his face softened into a smile. “He’ss a good man.” Then he sighed and the smile faded again. “What shshould I do, Dee?”
“Whatever you want to. I’m behind you 100%.”
“I know but I…”
“Fathther,” Luke said sleepily. Sys, smiling softly, looked down into his son’s tense face.
“It’ss alright, Luke, baby. It’ss going to be fine. We’ll work it out.”
“I like him, Fathther.”
“You like who?”
“The man withth purple eyess. He’ss a bit sscary but he’ss a good man; I can feel it. But if he makess you ssad I will hunt him for you.”
Sys gaped, and then pulled Luke close. Resting his head on his son’s Sys sniffed as his eyes leaked again.
“It’ss okay, Luke. Ththere’ss no need to hunt anyone. That man iss your uncle and we will ssee him again ssoon. I’ll make ssure he doessn’t sscare you nexst time.”
Satisfied, Luke tucked himself back in to his father’s side and hissed softly to himself. Sys raised his eyes to Dee’s again. His face was calm now, but so, so sad. Dee ruffled his hair and he sighed.
“Right,” Dee said after fifteen minutes of watching Sys fight sleep and Luke succumb to it. “You two are going to bed.” Effortlessly, he scooped Luke up into his arms and carried him into the bedroom. Luke stirred and hissed, but didn’t wake. After tucking him beneath the covers he went back for Sys who was still sitting on the sofa, staring into the distance with a frown on his face.
“You, too,” Dee said, gently.
“There’ss too much going on insside my head. I couldn’t resst.”
“You’re almost asleep, Sys. I don’t think it’s going to be a problem.” Sys’ eyes were dazed when he looked up, and they pulled at Dee’s heart. “You really need to stop stressing. Things will happen as they are supposed to happen. What’s upsetting you so much?”
“I’ve lived for eight yearss believing I can’t go home. I’ve yearned for it, Dee. I’ve ssat and cried, remembering my family and ththe way ththey betrayed me. I never knew. I never knew what ththey’d gone ththrough, how ththey tried to get to me. I feel sso guilty. And I’m sscared.”
“Scared? What are you scared of?”
“That I won’t be what ththey exspect me to be. I’ve changed, Dee. I’ve changed a lot. I’m not the ssame persson I wass before and I’m sscared ththey won’t like me now.”
“Sys, you’re the most beautiful person I know. Of course they’ll like you now.”
Sys tried to smile but it was a pale one. “I wissh I could believe you, but you don’t know my parentss. Ththey’re good people. Ththey’re important people and ththey have a reputation to keep up. I’m a sstranger now, a sstranger who wass exssiled and who lived on anothther planet for eight yearss. I won’t be like ththem anymore.”
“No, you’ll be like you and that’s what they’ll see, Sys; that’s what they’ll love.”
“Are you ssure?”
“Of course I’m sure. Did you see the way Sysan was with you? He was so happy to see you.”
“Yess. Oh I don’t know. I don’t know how to feel, what to ththink. I’m sso tired, Dee, sso…” He sighed and leaned against Dee’s side, trembling slightly.
“You need to sleep, Sys. You’ll feel much better after you’ve had a good sleep. I would say a good night’s sleep but I have no idea what time of day or night it is.”
Sys looked around, dully and shrugged.
Dee got up and held out his hand. Smiling sadly, Sys took it and allowed Dee to pull him to his feet. He swayed and Dee wrapped his arms around him, pulling him close. With a tired smile, Sys tilted up his face and accepted a soft, tender, kiss.
Resting his head on Dee’s shoulder, Sys simple allowed himself to be held, listening to the steady beat of Dee’s heart, feeling it vibrate through his chest. Dee was stroking his hair and it felt so good. So go…
Dee was caught by surprise when Sys’ whole weight fell on him and he tightened his arms quickly, to stop him sinking onto the floor. That Sys had passed out didn’t surprise him at all, though. He’d been running on empty for a while. Lifting Sys into his arms, he carried him into the bedroom and tucked him into bed, next to Luke.
Looking down at his sleeping lover and son, Dee was swept with a feeling of such love and tenderness it almost knocked him off his feet. He wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen in their future, but he knew that whatever it was they would face it together and they would be alright.
Suddenly feeling exhausted himself, he went back into the living room and fell fast asleep on the sofa.
Dee had no idea how long he’d slept. He was woken by Luke, who’d recovered his high spirits.
“Dee… Dee wake up, I’m bored.”
“Go wake your father and bother him.”
“Fathther issn’t feeling well. He ssaid not to bothther you but I’m ssoooo bored.” He looked at Dee with his wide eyes, his lips trembling until Dee laughed and ruffled his hair. “And I’m sso hungry my sstomach hurtss.”
That clinched it. As soon as Luke mentioned he was hungry, Dee’s stomach growled. “Alright, pain in my neck. Let my just check in on Sys and I’ll take you in search of food and adventure.” Luke grinned broadly.
Dee slipped into the bedroom, leaving the door open slightly, so there was some light and he didn’t have to switch the main light on.
“Sys, are you awake?”
Dee eased himself down onto the bed and stroked Sys’ hair. “Luke says you aren’t feeling well.”
“Liar, you sound awful.”
“Hmm… my head hurtss.”
“I’m not surprised, after everything that happened… yesterday?” He laughed. Who knows when it was? “You completely exhausted yourself and you weren’t well to start with.”
“Neithther were you,” Sys murmured.
“I was, and am fine. You’re the idiot who tried to bash his brains out. You should rest as much as you can.”
“What about my family?”
“They’ve waited this long, they can wait for another day. Sleep. I’m taking Luke in search of food and adventure. Do you want me to bring some back for you?”
“Adventure?” Sys teased.
Sys frowned. “I’m not hungry but, maybe I will be when you come back.”
“I’ll bring you something, then. I had better find you asleep when I get back.”
Dee leaned down and kissed his forehead, lingering for a while, brushing his skin with his lips, moving down to kiss his eyelids, cheeks, nose, and finally his mouth. Sys sighed and let his lips part, accepting Dee eagerly.
Shifting, so that he was half lying on Sys, Dee made the kiss more urgent. For all that he said, he was still shaken about all that had happened and he needed the warmth of Sys’ love.
“Eeew. Not again? Do you two EVER sstop kissssing? Come ON, Dee. I’m hungry.”
Dee raised himself on one hand, and smiled down at Sys, who smiled back. “Go to sleep. Promise?”
“Promisse,” Sys said, with a tired smile. With one final kiss, Dee rose and badgered Luke out of the room.
“Get out, evil child. Your poor father’s lying on his sick bed and all you care about is feeding your stomach.”
Luke froze, the laughter and excitement draining out of him. “Iss my fathther really ill, Dee?”
Dee could have kicked himself, remembering how worried Luke had been, while he and Sys had been unconscious.
“No, Luke; he’s just very tired and sore. He’s going to be fine. We all are.”
After giving Dee a hard stare through slitted eyes, Luke nodded and recovered his bounce, dragging Dee from the room.
They had a great time, exploring the facility and, to their immense relief, the grounds. There were enclosed gardens at the back of the house that were safe and secluded. Luke ran about, exploring every nook and cranny, while Dee sat on a stone bench and watched with a fond smile. He drew deeply on a cold can of beer and leaned back against the sun-drenched wall.
Despite everything that had been going on, he found that he was relaxed and happy. Who knew where they would be tomorrow, but right now they were warm and safe and relatively comfortable and, as long as they were together, that was enough for him, at least for now.
“Dee, Dee…” Luke ran up, breathless. “Ththere’ss a little wood ththing. It’ss not big enough to hunt in but it ssmells sso good. Come ssee.”
“Ah, Luke, I’m tired. Don’t you EVER stop bouncing around? I’ve just sat down and it’s warm and...”
“Come ON, Dee.”
Smiling, Dee allowed himself to be dragged off the seat and through the gardens to what was, in fact, a little wood thing. It was little more than an acre of mainly scrub, but there were trees and it did smell good. Dee closed his eyes and breathed in. There was water somewhere close, he could smell it and, between the water and the trees, it brought tears to his eyes.
As if sensing his mood, Luke sidled up to his side and took his hand. “I misss home, too, Dee. Thiss iss exsciting, but I’m ssad I can’t go home. All my ththingss are ththere.”
“We’ll make new things, Luke, and we’ll find a new home.”
“Can we live by a lake again? Withth lotss of treess?”
“Your father loves trees too, Luke, and lakes… I wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else.”
Luke pouted. “Why are you alwayss doing what Fathther wants?”
“Because I love him, Luke.”
“You love me too.” Dee smiled and bent down, giving him a one armed hug and kissing the top of his head.
“Oh yes, crazy little person, I love you, too. I love you more than I could ever express.”
“But you love him more.”
“In a different way. You are the most important thing in my world. Your father IS my world.”
Luke frowned. “Grown upss are sso weird.”
“Yes, little person, yes we are.”
When they got back, Sys was sitting on the sofa, reading a book. When they opened the door he looked up, then got to his feet and held his arms out for Luke to run into.
“How are you feeling now?” Dee asked gently and Sys smiled.
“A lot better. I sstill have a headache, but it’ss not too bad now. And…” He took a deep breath and sighed. “I’ve decided ththat I am going to go home to ssee my family.”
“Are you sure?”
Sys nodded. “I have to know. I can’t go ththrough the resst of my life withth what if’ss and might have been’ss hanging over me. I want to get it over ass ssoon ass I can. Jo’el iss organissing a transsfer ththiss afternoon.”
“That soon? Are you sure?”
“Yess. I can’t handle the sstress of ththinking and worrying and trying to work ththings ththrough in my head. I’m never going to work anyththing through until I’ve been; I’ve sseen.” Dee nodded and gripped Sys’ shoulder. Sys gave him a weak smile. “Dee. I want you to come withth me sso much.”
“Of course I’ll come with you.”
“No. I don’t ththink it would be a good idea to take Luke, not ththiss time. I want you to sstay and take care of him.”
“Are you sure? You want to go alone?”
Tight lipped, Sys nodded. “You don’t mind, do you?”
“Of course I don’t mind,” he said, taking Sys into his arms. “I’m just worried about you, that’s all. You’ve not had an easy time of it these last few days.”
“I’ll be alright. Ththey’re my family, Dee.”
“I know but…”
“Pleasse, Dee. I need to do ththiss by myself.”
“Sys, the only thing I worry about is you. You’ve been struggling so hard with this, and I know it’s been on your mind for such a long time. I want to protect you and, if you go alone, I can’t do that. But I know… I know how strong you are, and I know that you are more than capable of looking after yourself… and I also know where you are going and if you don’t come back I will tear the planet apart piece by piece if I have to, to find you.”
A look of pure gold broke over Sys’ face and he hugged Dee close, rubbing his cheek against his chest. Luke burrowed between them.
“You two are ALWAYSS doing ththat.” Sys batted him gently across the head and Luke looked up and grinned.