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This is dark. Don't say I didn't warn you.
He huddles in the corner, shaking, but even with his head buried in his arms he can still hear the screams. The hair hanging over his eyes is red, and the eyes which burn through that crimson curtain are also red, but his tears are clear. He's too old to cry, his brother would say. But his brother is screaming, outside the door.
He's used to yelling. It's part of his home, part of his life, like pain, like fear. His father's claws are sharp, when he is embraced, and there are scars crisscrossing his back. The earliest are from before he could talk or walk, but they taught him that hurt and love can be the same, sometimes. His earliest memory is of the woman he has always known as mother, gently rubbing salve into the scratches. He can remember the pungent herbs, and how it stung, and she sang to him until he stopped sobbing.
When he burst in here to hide, he knocked over her table, and now the musk of the ointment rising from the broken jar sounds like his mother's music. She gave but one shriek, minutes ago, and now all he has left of her voice is in his thoughts, that quiet song. The stone wall against his back chills him through his thin shirt. He's been growing too fast, this spring, almost a man's height by now, and his wrists stretch far beyond the cuffs.
His sister patched the shirt, when a warrior pushed him into the brambles. They wouldn't waste new clothing on a halfbreed, and she and her friends giggled and whispered when they saw the tattered tunic. But that night when she thought he was asleep she came with a needle and clumsily repaired it. The thread is the wrong color and the stitches are too big, but it stays on him as he runs his errands in the castle. The last time he was permitted outside he picked a posy of lilac and left it on her pillow.
Now the stitches and cloth are dyed the same shade as his hair, and the freshest stains are hers, dripping from her hands as she shoved him away, shouting for him to run.
In the corner, he curls into a ball, as if trying to fold himself within himself, until he disappears. His brother is no longer screaming, but the deep, angry bass of his father resounds through the stone walls. His father broke his arm last time they fought and called him weak when he choked on the pain, but he's stronger now, and wants to fight him again. Someday he will be strong enough that his father will call him son like his brother is called, even with his pathetic heritage. He can already best any of the boys in the castle; they've finally learned to keep their distance and hold their tongues around him. He may be just a servant, but they know better than to cross him, when he doesn't care enough about a whipping to bother avoiding the lash.
In the corridor outside, he tripped over two he often wrestled, with their open eyes blind and their open mouths mute, and their chests mangled ruins.
His father's roar is cut short, like a lid has been slammed over it, and now there is silence. He doesn't breathe, for that might be heard. But he can't stop the beating of his heart.
The door opens, and torchlight spills in. There is a man there, so much smaller than his father, with round human ears like his own. But this man's hair is dark and his eyes are dark and the tears pouring down his cheeks are red.
"Father," the boy whispers, and then, "Mother," and then, "Mommy," and he really is a baby, like his brother would have said. He's bawling in front of this stranger.
"I'm sorry," the man says. "I'm sorry it hurts." He sways as if he's drunk, walks like he's sleeping, and his voice is kind, sadder than any memory the boy has. "It hurts to live without, but so much worse to have. To lose. But there's nothing to be done, not now. All that's left that I can do is this."
He raised the knife, so much gore that the blade is black, and the boy has no breath left even to sob, can only stare up at the man with an animal's blank terror.
"You're already bleeding," the man says, "how strange. Your eyes are blood..." He falters, loses his footing on the fragments of the medicine jar and falls to the stone floor, heavily. When his head comes up, his eyes are green in the candlelight.
"But this is all I can do."
The boy tried to run, like he used to run from the other boys, like he runs from his father's blows and his sister's laughter. But the man catches him, the way his brother tackled him in their game of tag, five summers past, playing in the last snow on the mountains. And when the knife enters his chest, it stings no more than his mother's hands, smoothing her salve over older injury.
It hurts, but he's used to pain. There's darkness, and then there's light, and then he isn't crying anymore.
Because I love Hakkai, but Cho Gonou scares the hell out of me.
Love to know what you think!
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