Then and Now

I’ve come across this writing exercise several times but recently it struck a spark of inspiration. The idea is this; describe your character twice. Once to fall in love and once to be repulsed. I don’t tend to have my characters describe themselves, I usually have other characters describe them. These three elements were the inspiration for this scene.

This was also inspired by my most recent table top gaming session, so it ties into this plot.
. . .

Daniel Lorcasf – he wasn’t quite used to wearing that last name yet – had been uneasy since his wife received the invitation from the Immortals inviting them to celebrate her father’s return. He was forced to admit, in the silence of his own mind – he would never dare speak such thoughts aloud – that he had mixed feelings about the man’s return.

On the one hand, Daniel had watched his wife suffer the absence of her father for ten years. He may have been the only one who ever witnessed her resolve waver. In the dark quiet of the ship’s night cycle, with her abandoned work littering the bedside table and her stomach growing rounder with the child she carried, she had cried into his shoulder, mourning a loss she dared not let herself admit while there were others present. He had seen her glance toward her father’s empty place at the dinner table and caught her pausing just outside the door to his quarters. More than once, Daniel found her in the commander’s office, just off the bridge, a room no one had dared reclaim with Robin still around. She’d been sitting in his chair, sliding her fingers across his desk, and when Daniel entered she had glanced up and asked what he thought her father was doing at that exact moment.

It turned out the answer was probably repairing a badly damaged ship stuck in shunt space but, at the time, Daniel hadn’t known what to say. He had settled on thinking about you because, sappy as it sounded, he wanted to believe that Commander Lorcasf had been wondering about his daughter as much as she had been missing him. Now he wasn’t so sure.

And for all that he was glad Robin’s sleepless nights and constant anxiety were about to come to an end, Daniel still had a hard time seeing her father as anyone other than the cold-hearted, arrogant mercenary commander he had first believed him to be.

Even after he learned Domerin Lorcasf had the skill to live up to the stories about his feats of strength and bravery, Daniel hadn’t liked him. Domerin wasn’t the kind of man to swagger – and in some ways that made Daniel hate him even more – but something about the way he dressed his people down while passing a bright red stress ball between the fingers of his right hand had always set Daniel’s teeth on edge. He understood it was supposed to help with the pain of the commander’s bionic implants. Daniel believed that pain was real, even if he could never manage to see any indication of it, but he couldn’t help thinking of that stress reliever as a spectacle, as showing off.

He had never liked the way Domerin Lorcasf reached decisions about delicate and deadly situations within a matter of seconds, as if he hadn’t paid any attention to the details offered to him. But what galled Daniel most was how often those seemingly off-hand, spur-of-the-moment decisions turned out to be right. He had almost started to believe that Domerin might be something like the perfect solider, until he disappeared into shunt space ten years ago, leaving no trace of what might have killed him.

When Daniel thought of meeting the commander again, he recalled how Domerin’s icy blue eyes stared through him, as if they could not only see the depths of his soul but tear it out of his body and toss it aside. He recalled the harsh crack of the commander’s voice when he delivered one of his stinging lectures and the nonchalant way he ordered his people into terrifying situations, as if no amount of suffering affected him.

Daniel had never figured out how a stone golem like Commander Lorcasf helped to produce the warm, passionate woman he had taken as his wife. He had spent many nights reminding himself that it was her name he had taken. Not her father’s.

Now that Domerin was back, a lot of things were going to change. Most notably, Daniel was going to have to get used to sharing the same room with the commander again, and he sincerely hoped he remembered how to do so without swallowing his own feet every other minute. He was prepared for a lot of uncomfortable questions, possibly even having to run laps in full combat gear for daring to marry the commander’s daughter while he was absent. Daniel could certainly escape while he was on duty, but there’d be no dodging his father-in-law considering how close Robin was to her father, and how much time she had spent without him.

Which was one of the reasons Daniel’s heart ached when he glanced across the room. The crowd seemed to part, as if sensing his gaze, allowing him an unobstructed view of his wife’s arms resting on her father’s shoulders. Her hair was pink at the roots and purple at the tips, a hint of the black starting to show through at the very top of her head. There were tiny gears on her earrings – a gift for their second wedding anniversary. She had silver and gemstones but she almost always wore those; not because he had given them to her – though he hoped that added some value – because they reminded her of the hours she spent tinkering. Whatever else she was, she would always be an engineer.

Daniel had expected his wife’s presence to utterly dwarf her father’s, but he hadn’t anticipated the way Domerin would be dressed. The fine silk clothing, the absolutely extravagant depiction of a white dragon embroidered onto his jacket, with the face in the center. The eyes were blue as the old Earth sky at noon and surrounded by glimmering scales. In its claws, the creature grasped two swords, the blades somehow managing to look sharp even if they were made of thread.

But mostly, Daniel hadn’t expected that Domerin Lorcasf knew how to dance.

He had seen the commander fight, of course, both on the battlefield and in the sparring ring. Had witnessed his lighting swiftness and his tiger-like grace. But Daniel had also spent enough dinner and movie nights with the commander to know that he moved with a strange stiffness everywhere else, as though some force were constantly trying to pull him off his feet. So how did he glide across the dance floor, swooping and spinning with his daughter as if it cost no effort what-so-ever?

As Daniel watched, Robin grinned and murmured something to her dance partner. Daniel was too far away to hear, and had never been good enough at lip reading to make a guess what she might have said. Not that it mattered; he was her husband, not her keeper. The shock was the way Domerin’s lips formed an identical grin. The light laughter that shook his shoulders before he murmured something in return. Their circular movement put the commander’s back to Daniel for several seconds, but a hint of the smile lingered when his face became visible again. Daniel hadn’t realized the commander could smile either. Or laugh, for that matter.

The song ended and the commander slid to a halt. He laid one arm on the small of Robin’s back and made a sweeping motion toward where Daniel sat at the bar, perhaps offering to escort her back to her husband. But she shook her head and seized her father’s arms, clearly demanding another dance. He hesitated for a moment before he relented, perhaps done in by the wide-eyed glance that accompanied Robin’s plea.

Domerin’s natural confidence shone in everything he did, but this was the first time Daniel noticed his contentment and the ease with which he displayed it in his daughter’s presence. For the first time, Daniel had caught a glimpse beyond the serious mask the commander wore when he was working, to see the reality that lurked beneath.

Was this really the same man who disappeared ten years ago? The man who had once told him off – rightfully, Daniel grudgingly admitted – for being a hotshot during his training exercises? The same man who always seemed ready to tear Daniel in half for having the audacity to gain his daughter’s interest? What had changed?

It was with a distinct sinking of his stomach that Daniel recalled the conversation he and Robin had on the shuttle flight over. The one where Robin informed him that her father had not been gone for ten years. Not from his perspective. The shunt jump that had kept them apart for so long had only been a matter of hours for Domerin Lorcasf.

And since the man he was looking at, the man moving across the dance floor with his wife, was only a few weeks older than the man Daniel had last spoken to, it probably wasn’t him who had changed.

When Robin and her father started to laugh again, Daniel looked away, shifting to hide his discomfort. He was wrong about everything; he had seen the softening of the commander’s face before. Had seen him laugh and joke with his daughter, and with others. Had seen all the tell-tale signs that he was a man and not a cold, hard killing machine. He simply hadn’t wanted to believe it. Unfortunately, that was only going to make this reunion all the harder.
. . .

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