If death is like the dark,
Then life must be like the light.
But some people die in the light,
And others live in the dark.
If love is like being happy,
Then hate is like being sad.
But some people love being sad,
And others hate to be happy.
If the beginning is like the start,
Then the end is like the finish.
But some people start at the end,
And end before it has begun.
- Contradox, by Nervosphere Jharell
Dinner concluded. Cohthel scurried out of the kitchen but doubted Markie and Mother noticed. Knuckling underrealm! Markie knew everything about her now, from the color of her favorite socks to the time she swears she saw a unicorn.
He did everything he could to not slam his bedroom door, but then he paced, fists clenching in and out, wanting to punch the wall and shout, wanting to run away — again — and scream Father’s name across Mortal Earth until Father himself found him.
A knock on his door. “Evermore?”
Cohthel inhaled twice to calm his hurt and rage. His deep-seeded consciousness warned lack of sleep exuberated his emotions. He hadn’t slept restfully since Atalixsphere’s egregious attack. “Come in.”
Markie dared the audacity to walk in smiling. “I’d like to go for a walk with you.” To tell you your mother behaved herself so I am not going to talk about your father now.
All that knuckling nonsense about Cohthel becoming a man would all be proved a lie as soon as Markie said his hope-killing words, proving Markie gave more importance to others, proving he didn’t believe Cohthel could handle the truth.
Cohthel almost said, “Don’t bother. I know whose side you’ve chosen.” But resisted when Markie’s smile sparked hope promising maybe, just maybe, Cohthel would learn about Father after all.
He followed Markie out.
They passed Mother in the kitchen, cleaning up after dinner in her evening gown. Happy. Smiling. Cohthel grabbed his coat off the hook by the door, stuffed both hands deep in his pockets, and followed Markie out.
They crossed the bridge.
“Remember my promise to you by the Sea of Istali?” Markie’s breath fogged in front of him. “Me saying I wanted to meet your Mother and then decide whether I would tell you about your father or keep her secret?”
Their long strides filled the silence.
“You’re mother is a remarkable woman.” His tone did not suggest a hopeful ‘but’. “Having known you face-to-face for three months, and knowing your mother primarily through letters, I can give an honest assessment about what my decision will be.”
Cohthel’s fingers curled and twisted inside his pockets, posture stooped, dragging both feet.
“But the problem is, now I hold you both exactly equal in my life. If I tell you about your father, I lose respect from your mother, and I want her to respect me.”
“I would never tell her you told me.”
“She’d find out in other ways; in your actions, change of behavior when she talked about it, tone of voice when you talked about him, that nagging to ask her questions about it. No. She’d know.
“But then there’s you. You’ve given me the opportunity I’ve never had: to take care of a young man as if he were my son. Kitannia may rule her caravan with more tact and strategy than the nine torcs combined, but she pays attention to the base needs of others, even if she claims she doesn’t have any herself. She paired you — wanting your father — with me who not only knew your father but who also never had a son. So, I come again to the crossroads I presented at the Sea of Istali. Only this time I’ve reached a decision.”
Markie stopped and turned to Cohthel. Emotions pounded through Cohthel like dusutri drums. Markie, taller, bent his knees and lowered himself so he connected eyes with him, Cohthel’s energy snapping to serious attention as the camaraderie between them held its breath before his next words.
“I’ll tell you about your father, and lose your Mother’s respect.”
Cohthel stopped himself from cheering. He chose me! He chose me! I’m going to learn about Father right now! But his joy numbed when Markie finished with;
“Or, you can forget about your father…and become my son instead.”
Shock registered first as a cold needle in his chest.
“I will ask your mother to marry me, but whether or not she accepts, I still want to be your father. The choice is yours, Evermore. You tell me what you want, and I will honor your choice. You are a man now and capable of making your own decisions.”
Cohthel barely heard his last words through the blood-roar in his ears. My choice? And Markie…Who’s the one who taught Cohthel how to sword fight? Care for others? Supported him in his stupid choices — running away from home, carrying Atalixsphere, refusing the sword Goddess of Fate had given him?
His desperate yearning after Father rammed against a man Cohthel already loved as a Father, a man already loving him as a son. Father was dead. Had been all along. This realization allowed Cohthel to finally turn and see Father’s mystery digging into him like a life-sucking Oath Ghost. Release me, he commanded, and the claws retracted. It didn’t leave. It never would. Instead it hovered, allowing Cohthel to finally feel more than just himself, to move on, to breathe.
Room for the living opened up in the now empty space in Cohthel’s life, and Markie filled it when he pulled him into an embrace. Powerful. Masculine. Fatherly. Unbidden, imagination after imagination sprung to mind: Father Markie introducing Cohthel to Markie’s friends, Father Markie taking him out hunting, Father Markie teaching him more about swords, how to win a fist-fight, how to groom a beard, and build his first house. Markie would never replace the memories, but Markie would replace the man.
“Thank you for choosing me as your Father, Evermore,” Markie’s breaking voice said against his neck.
“Please. Call me Cohthel.”