Haden closed the door behind Talan and Felise as quietly as he could. The movement brought his gloves into view. They were filthy, sticky with blood. Haden’s stomach wrenched and he ripped them off, followed by his rapier and sword-belt, his armor, and his boots. He leaned his face against the wall, shaking, then slowly crossed the room on bare feet and sat on the bed next to Cerellis.
Haden found himself tucking his feet up under his legs, the way he’d sat when he was a child, listening to his father’s stories for hours on end until he’d fallen asleep and Felise or one of the maids had come to carry him off to bed. His hand trembled as he reached out and stroked Cerellis’ thin hair, extending a tendril of psionic power in the hopes of finding something, anything left of his father’s mind. The effort made him shake more; his faint powers were all but exhausted. Very slowly, Cerellis blinked and his eyes seemed to focus.
“Dad?” Haden whispered.
“You haven’t . . . called me that . . . since you were a little boy,” Cerellis breathed. “I missed . . . I think I missed it.”
“Not since you turned me over to Mother,” Haden said bitterly, then cursed himself mentally. He hadn’t meant to say that. What was the point? It was too late. It had probably been too late years ago.
“Yes, I know. I probably . . . shouldn’t have done that . . . she hurt you so much . . .”
“What?” Haden gasped, sitting up straight in shock. “You knew? You knew about that? You knew what she was doing?”
“Yes . . . I knew . . . I may be . . . old, but I wasn’t . . . blind.”
“And you just let it happen?” Haden’s throat was tightening; he felt like he couldn’t force enough air past the terrible constriction that had seized his windpipe. “How could you do that to me?!”
Cerellis’ hand rose an inch or two and fell on Haden’s knee. “How could I . . . do anything else?” Haden felt sick. He wanted to recoil, to run from the room, the house . . . the city. Pain flared behind his eye and he slumped, dizzy. “You don’t really . . . know your mother . . . Haden. It’s not . . . your fault. It was my . . . fault. I was never strong enough . . . or wise enough. You were always so much . . . stronger, than I was . . .”
“Dad, what the hell?” Haden burst out. “Me?! Strong?! That’s a joke. She walked all over me, almost turned me into a monster . . . she did turn me into a worthless bum! That’s what I am! Worthless! And you had . . . you had to keep on saying you were . . . proud of me . . .” Haden ground the heels of his hands into his eye sockets, struggling to hold back useless tears. Cerellis’ hand gripped his knee for a moment then fell slack again.
“My poor son . . . I am proud of you . . . you don’t know what it was, to watch you struggle with her . . . my son, my beautiful son . . . I kept telling myself . . . I had to stop it . . . you couldn’t take it . . . but you did . . . she couldn’t beat you . . . and if you could keep taking it, then I had to . . .”
“I . . . but . . . but why?!”
Cerellis blinked slowly. “Because . . . I loved her, and I couldn’t . . . I couldn’t give up on her as long as there was a . . . chance, there was any chance . . . she could be saved.” He sighed. “You never knew . . . you always saw her as strong, powerful, in command . . . but when I met her, she was so little and frightened . . . so very frightened . . . she still is . . . anything you endured, she endured tenfold at the hands of the fiends that were her masters . . . but there was something else there, too. I didn’t want to let you be hurt, Haden, but I knew it would . . . destroy her . . . if I turned against her . . . for your sake. I loved both of you . . . so much . . . how could I choose between you? I don’t expect you to understand or forgive. I know . . . you’ve never been in love . . .”
“Yes I have,” Haden choked out. “I am.” He tried to take a deep breath, but it caught in a sob.
Cerellis smiled very slightly. “I’m glad . . . maybe you will be . . . happy. I’d like to think of you being happy . . . after I’m gone . . .” Cerellis lay still for a long moment, long enough that Haden’s chest seized with fear. “I hope . . .”
“I hope . . . that you’ll be able to . . . remember me . . . fondly, son. That it . . . wasn’t all . . . for nothing . . .”
Cerellis seemed to smile faintly once again. “And . . . take . . . care of your . . . mother . . . for me . . .” The old celestial’s eyes closed. He still breathed, faintly, but Haden could tell that his mind had gone at last.