As If This Was Going to Work

He was accustomed to the darkness, to its tranquility. But he didn’t allow himself to be lulled by the light tapping of tree branches against the windows, or the subtle hiss of wind through the chimney. As he waited in the darkness of his familiar living room, he waited for one sound, an inevitable pattern he dared not miss.

There.

The muffled patter of footsteps. Slow, uneven footsteps. A sidestep to miss the creaking stair. A slight creak of the railing as a body leaned against it; overcompensating for the skipped step, no doubt. Followed, at last, by a hurried shuffle of shoes.

His daughter squealed when he clicked the light on, flooding the foyer with brightness. Robin clamped a hand over her mouth to stifle the sound, her cheeks burning crimson as she realized it was already too late. She peered through the dark strands of her hair at her father’s grim face and crossed arms and slowly backed out of her shoes.

Domerin Lorcasf was imposing even when he didn’t want to be. His years in the military honed and shaped him long before either of his children was born. He wasn’t usually ‘the colonel’ at home, but tonight he’d rather not be anything else. He cut a stern figure even in his bathrobe and slippers, long hair falling lose over his shoulders. His face might have been chiseled from stone and his dark eyes demanded an explanation even as he murmured, “Had a bad dream?”

Robin’s cheeks turned a darker shade of crimson. Her eyes seemed riveted on his slippers, though every now and then they would stray upward, only to dart away the moment they met his gaze. It had been a long time since nightmares sent her scurrying out of her room, down the hallway to his. He had always let his children crawl into the too-large king-size bed when nightmares woke them, especially after their mother passed away. But at fifteen, he doubted Robin would have admitted to any form of terror, having long since discarded it as ‘childish.’

“N…no, Daddy, I was just-“

“On your way to that early morning concert I forbid you to attend?”

She gulped. “How did you know?”

“You think I can’t recognize that defiant fire in your eyes by now? I grew up with your mother. She practically wrote the book on sneaking out of the house to do whatever she pleased.”

He couldn’t help notice that mention of her mother no longer brought a tinge of sorrow to his daughter’s eyes. Maybe it would have, if she hadn’t already been angry, but the absence still stung. It was harder to remind Robin of where she’d come from. She’d been younger than her brother, with less memory to draw on.

His daughter finally met his gaze, peering up at him with a puppy-dog face, the guilt in her large eyes undercut by her outrage at being discovered. “I just wanted to pop outside for a breath of fresh air. It gets so stuffy in here sometimes and-“

“I also found your friends in the bushes.” He jerked his thumb back toward the living room. “They’re squirming on the couch trying not to piss themsleves while they wait to find out what ‘the colonel’ is going to do with them.”

Her lips formed a small ‘o’ as her eyes trailed toward the living room, shrouded in shadow from this angle. She might just have been able to make out two heads of disheveled hair and a third face buried in the hood of a sweater.

“We won’t talk about why you had to put on a dress and makeup to go for a quick jaunt around the outside of the house.”

She inhaled sharply and he cut off her protests with a glare. “Get upstairs and wash it off,” he said in his ‘authoritative voice’ which worked just as well for army drills as it did for errant children. “Wait for me in your room and we’ll discuss this after I call your friends’ parents.”

A look of abject horror crossed her face. Not the kind born of horror movies or scary stories around the campfire, but the expression worn by all teenagers when they realized they were about to be socially embarrassed.

“But Daddyyy-“

Now.

Apparently she still knew better than to argue with that hiss as she scurried back up the stairs so quickly, he was surprised she didn’t wake her brother.

It took forty-five minutes to deliver the other errant children into the hands of their annoyed, but grateful, parents. No one wanted to receive a phone call at this time of night, nor drag themselves from a warm bed to drive across town and pluck their children from his house, of all places. Yet each of them thanked him just before delivering a withering stare to their children. Two boys and one girl, all equally bent with shame as they shuffled into the night.

Robin was slumped over the edge of her bed when he reached her room, face completely covered by her hair. He stood in the doorway for thirty seconds, waiting for her to speak, sighing softly when he realized she was trying to outlast him. He was never going to get used to the drama surrounding teenagers.

“As if this was actually going to work,” he chided more gently than he should have.

“They’re never going to speak to me again,” Robin wailed, her voice slightly muffled by the plush sheets covering her bed.

“Of course they are,” Domerin soothed, settling on the edge of the bed beside her. He didn’t lay his hand on her shoulder. She didn’t like that anymore. She’d outgrown comfort from her father two years ago, or so it seemed. “It was their own stupid faults for making so much noise outside the house. Other people’s parents might sleep through that, but you know the nature of my work by now.”

She lifted her head enough to glare at him, as if his military training had ruined her entire life. He weathered it without flinching, externally at least.

“You should know better.” His voice was barely more than a whisper. There was no anger in the statement, but there were plenty of other emotions, and he could tell by the way his daughter’s face twisted that she felt every one of them. Disappointment. Sorrow. Exasperation. He’d never been cut out to do this father thing all alone.

“It’s not fair,” Robin snarled as she straightened, tears in her eyes. “You never let me do anything exciting! You treat me like a little kid. Like I’m still you’re little girl-“

“You are my little girl.” The words were soft, but they clearly startled her. “And I don’t understand why you’re in such a rush to grow up. You might think fifteen is all the more adult you ever need to be, but I happen to know that you don’t start making logical, informed decisions until somewhere around the area of thirty.”

She looked as if she wanted to lunge for his throat with her teeth clenched and her eyes narrowed.

“Do you understand why I’m upset?” he went on with more patience than he actually felt. Sometimes, it would have been so much easier to yell. Or so he thought. But he could just imagine Else shaking her finger at him, warning him that children didn’t respond to that any better than he would, even if he did have authority on the subject.

Robin drew a deep, ragged breath. “I disobeyed,” she responded, almost mechanically. “You said I couldn’t go to the concert and I tried to go anyway.”

“And do you know why I said no?”

Again, she flashed him a wretched look, as if he had just stolen all her dreams and burnt them to ash right before her eyes. She sighed. “It’s dangerous to go out at night on my own – even though I would have been with friends – and it’s a school night.”

Domerin drew a deep breath of his own. “And do you understand how frightening this whole experience has been for me?”

That gave her pause. She opened her mouth to respond then turned her head, a gesture remarkably similar to one he often used. She closed her mouth and shook her head, her confusion evident. He knew exactly what she was thinking; nothing scares you, Daddy, nothing.

How wrong you are my little dear.

He slid to his feet. “Robin, I know I can’t tell you exactly the kinds of things I used to do,” sometimes still did, “but I have explained to you on numerous occasions that I had to put myself in a lot of dangerous places. And while I was in those places, I had to be alert, every second, every moment – waking and sleeping – for signs that I wasn’t safe, for sings that something bad was going to happen. Do you think that changes when I’m safe at home?”

Her eyes were wide now, frightened. He didn’t talk about these things often. He hadn’t ever wanted to scare them, hadn’t ever wanted them to think he wouldn’t come home when he left, though it was always a very real possibility. She’d be thinking about her mother now – and there was the characteristic hint of sorrow, of regret that always accompanied the memory. He knew it so well now and it still burned his heart every time.

“Nothing bad happens here,” Robin protested, but there was a husky quality to her voice, as though she were fighting a fresh wave of tears. “You keep us safe.”

“Yes, I do. But it doesn’t happen magically if I do it, does it? Sweetheart… when I hear sounds in the dark, sounds of people trying to scale the side of my house or scraping at the windows with stones or hiding under the back deck… I don’t know those are safe sounds. I don’t think of your friends trying to sweep you off to a night of illicit fun. I think of bad people with weapons coming to steal my babies away.”

He paused to let his words sink in and she swallowed hard, two fresh tears sliding down her cheeks. He reached out and gently brushed one away with his thumb. “You’re old enough now to understand this. Yes, I’m angry that you disobeyed me. Yes, I’m annoyed that you thought you could pull one past me by sneaking out. But most of all I’m disturbed. It scared the shit out of me, Robin, thinking there were bad people waiting outside and that you might just waltz into their waiting arms on your way to some teenaged nonsense. And if I hadn’t realized relatively quickly it was stupid teenagers poking around, trying to hide from me, I could have seriously hurt one of them when I went out there.

“We’ve talked about this, about how a soldier’s past hangs on to him, doesn’t let him go. You’ve seen how I get every year, every time one of those damn celebrations brings out those annoying little fire poppers that from the right distance sound like gun-shots.” Both of his children had noticed the way he clenched his fists and sometimes paled every time a series of them went off near the house. And those weren’t the worst triggers.

Tears streamed down her cheeks now, unimpeded. “I didn’t mean to, Daddy.” Emotion slurred her words. “I didn’t mean to do that to you!”

Again he laid a hand on her cheek, gently brushing her tears aside. “Of course you didn’t,” he murmured, his voice soft and soothing. “But sometimes that’s what happens if you don’t stop and think. Today I was lucky. Some stupid kids caused those anxieties. It doesn’t mean I’ll sleep better tonight. It doesn’t mean I’ll stop worrying for awhile. I just want you to understand that your actions have consequences, and sometimes implications well beyond what you consider.”

She hiccupped and threw her head against his chest, wrapping her arms around his middle. He drew her close, holding her until the sobs subsided. He worried he’d gone too far, piled too much on her shoulders for one night. But when she drew aside she looked calm, if exhausted.

“I’m really sorry, Daddy. I promise I’ll be more careful. I’ll remember what you said.”

“Good.” He leaned down and laid a kiss atop her head. It was probably all she was likely to allow him, even in her current state. “Now go back to sleep. You have school in the morning.”

She started to shuffle beneath her covers, but paused, grabbing his arm as he turned to go. “You forgive me, Daddy… don’t you?”

The hitch in her voice was like a knife in his chest. He took her hand between both of his and squeezed. “Of course I do. You’re still grounded, but it doesn’t mean I love you any less.”

She seemed to deflate when he pronounced her punishment, but at the last she smiled and nodded. She even let him tuck her in before he made his way out the door and back down the hallway to his own room.

The too-large bed wasn’t empty. It hadn’t been for a long time, though the new presence had never completely filled the void left by the old one. Sesha slept soundly, undisturbed by the night’s difficulties. Domerin paused as he shimmied beneath the covers to run his fingers down the man’s cheek, taking comfort from his warmth and the steady rise and fall of his chest as he curled up beside him. Sesha shifted, rolling toward the new warmth.

“Everything okay?” he murmured, his voice thick with sleep.

Domerin smiled, kissing the back of his head as he wrapped an arm around his partner. “Nothing you need to worry about. Go back to sleep.”

domerin - as if

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This week’s prompt may be one of my best (I feel like I say that a lot, but then I keep topping myself). This is a sort of ‘for fun’ Domerin that isn’t related to any of the ‘official’ ones, but was fun to write :)

Please check out what my writing partner did with this week’s prompt!

And if you’d like to participate leave a link to your response and I’ll feature it next week ;)

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