Author’s note: with luck this will be the last chapter without pictures, I’ve fixed the aging problem but ran into some other issues but they’re fixed now, too. Unfortunately my fix for the aging problem will take time. I thought about trying to get pictures for this but figured I’d rather get the chapter out now instead of waiting a few more days.
Warning: cussing in this chapter.
“This place is going to self-destruct in a few moments, I suggest we leave.”
Jay Redding rubbed her temples, glaring at me. If she expected an apology she would have to wait a long time. I didn’t want to speak, though I felt bad for knocking her out. I didn’t recognize her even after the redness left my vision however I did recognize Uncle Kay when he wheeled himself out of the back room. No clue how I didn’t recognize his essentially identical twin but I didn’t really care. Simba and Emilian had come downstairs just as Jay woke up and Uncle Kay tried to apologize for something or other.
“I helped set it up,” Jay continued speaking. “We have ninety seconds after the alarm ends to vacate the premises.”
“You helped rig this place to blow?” Simba asked.
“Not by my own choice. If you could not tell, cat, we are prisoners,” Jay sneered. She stumbled behind Uncle Kay’s wheelchair, carefully grabbing the handles.
“When will the alarm end?” Emilian ask.
“Within a minute or two,” Jay replied. “I suggest we go.” She wheeled Uncle Kay out and over the dead faerie. “I never liked her,” Jay said in a distant voice.
“Is everyo-one dead?” Uncle Kay asked.
Emilian answered, “Yes. We have killed them all. It was not our intention however by the time Akua, Simba, and I reached the open room Zaid had… ah, ended the life of the woman who seemed to be in charge and the others were reaching for their wands.”
“We decided to end the fight before it truly started,” Akua added as we got into the elevator. She pressed the ground floor button and we began going up. “At least the lift works despite the alarm. That is, at least, a–“
“He’s dead,” I whispered and she went silent. “I don’t fucking care about the elevator.” The doors opened and I stepped out just as the alarm stopped. I froze and glanced over my shoulder at the others.
“Well, this is a situation,” Jay said and stated forward with the wheelchair, jerking to a stop as one of the wheels got caught on something.
“We can run fast, let one of us carry him,” Akua offered.
Jay looked as if she might say something extremely rude but Uncle Kay spoke first. “Th-th-that’d be h-helpful, th-thank you–I’m s-sorry I c-can’t…”
“It is fine,” Emilian said, easily scooping Uncle Kay out of the chair. Then Emilian took off in the blink of an eye. Akua began jogging slowly alongside Jay who ran. I shoved the sword at Simba and went towards the storage room instead of the nearby west exit.
“Zaid!” Simba yelled but I just burst into the big storage room instead.
I slipped through the blood and nearly tripped a few times. But I got to Goose without any real problem. He lay on the floor, none of the blood near him. Like a beacon of purity amongst the devastation. Tears began pouring out as I knelt down, carefully picking him up. He felt both incredibly heavy and incredibly light at the same time. I carried him out, crying hysterically as I went. At the doorway someone picked me up and speedily took me and Goose away from the building seconds before it exploded.
Akua set me on the ground and I knelt there with Goose’s head cradled in my arms as I screamed and screamed and screamed.
“I’m so sorry… I am so, so, so sorry… I should have been able to prevent this… I should have been able to stop them… to stop her… I should…”
My voice broke as tears came yet again. I bent forward, pressing my head against the grave marker, fingers clutching at the rough stone. Here Lies David Baroque, it proclaimed in fancy writing. Son, Husband, Father. It didn’t matter that we were never married, he was husband to me enough for his parents to want to put it on the stone with my permission. Then under his date of birth and date of death–too close together–were the words, You will forever be remembered.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” I clutched the stone, sobbing more. It had been two weeks. Two long, agonizing weeks full of pain and blurriness. Reeny and I stayed with Grams, Malik, and Simba for heavy protection due to the information that the warehouse place hadn’t been the top of the ladder.
I spent most my time in bed, clutching Goose’s pillow which had been brought with us. Grams took care of Reeny. The first time I saw her all I saw were Goose’s ears and nose and lips. I couldn’t look at her for an entire day, the pain was just too much. But then her cries for her daddies made me realize how shitty I was being and I ran to her, holding her and cuddling her and kissing her, doing my best to calm her down. She asked for Daddy Goose and I told her Daddy Goose was gone. She didn’t quite understand but she cried with me, both of us crying ourselves to sleep that first night, one of my arms around her and both of hers around me.
Uncle Kay and Jay had stayed with Pa and Dad for a few days. One of the first things Jay did was drive to a storage garage place where a lot of their things were being held and made some sort of concoction to erase the fine wrinkles that had been on their faces. They went from looking forty to looking younger than me. She also bought a new wheelchair for Uncle Kay. Then worked with Grams a bit, to tell her everything she knew about the people who murdered Goose.
“I’m trying to care,” I told Goose’s gravestone. “Grams wants to talk to me about what she learned but–but I don’t care, I don’t want to deal with it. I’m so tired, love. Every morning I wake up I think you’re next to me–or maybe in the bathroom or getting changed or fixing breakfast. Then every morning I remember and I–I can’t do this, Goose, I can’t do this.” I began crying again, fresh tears soaking into the dirt that covered his coffin.
His funeral had been a decent size. His parents, coworkers, friends, and all my family. Even Vilkas and his family came in. I had been scared to see Mr. and Mrs. Baroque but they just hugged me tightly, not blaming me–which they should have.
“It is my fault,” I said, rocking back and forth on my heels. “I’m sorry, Goose. I should have… done something different… I should have ran in there with everyone and just… just–done something different…”
I had blamed the others are first. Deep down I didn’t but in my anger and pain I blamed them. I yelled at Simba for not getting there sooner. I screamed at Akua. I punched Emilian, or tried to. I nearly broke my hand doing so. None of them got upset that I blamed them. They all just apologized, showed up to pay their respects at his memorial service, and waited for my anger to subside.
“Reeny is doing okay. She asks for you all the time though. I keep telling her you’re gone. She thinks you’re home. Since we’ve been at Grams. I took her back yesterday and she went into every room looking for you.”
I couldn’t really ease our daughter’s confusion and sadness, as much as I tried. Then again, I couldn’t ease my own confusion and sadness so that might’ve been why.
“I have to start work again soon. I could probably ask for some more time off but maybe it will help, maybe it will…” What, get my mind off my dead lover? When two weeks before he had kissed me goodbye to go to work? When two weeks ago I watched as he fell to the floor in permanent silence? Two weeks couldn’t do a damn thing, two months, two years… two lifetimes… two eternities…
How could I ever, ever deal with this…?
He reread the letter for the zillionth time, carefully pressing the creases out as he looked at the very neat, rather prim handwriting.
Goose was murdered six weeks ago. Zaid is in a state unreachable by everyone. Everyone is worried. He seems to be at the edge of an emotional cliff and won’t let anyone near him. I don’t know if you’re willing to come back or if he’d even be willing to talk to you but I don’t know what else to do.
Max folded the letter back up and stuck it in his pocket, looking at the house. The moment he read the letter in Egypt he booked a flight back to Midnight Hollow. He barely ate, barely slept, thought only about getting back to Zaid. But now that he was here he wasn’t really sure what to do. His own pain from losing Zaid still felt fresh but Zaid still lived. How could he console someone whose lover died? Max had never been very good with empathy or compassion. But for Zaid he’d do and try anything.
He remembered his own losses. Elizabeth, Charles, and John. He went through years of grief after each one. Why would Zaid even be willing to talk to Max? Or anyone, for that matter? He didn’t blame Zaid for wanting to just sink into grief for a decade or two.
But… Zaid wasn’t immortal. He didn’t really have decades to spare.
Sighing, Max went to the door and rang the doorbell. The house generally looked the same except for a couple toys scattered in the side yard and a sandbox. The little elfling he never met. Zaid’s child…
Max swallowed as footsteps approached. He put on a slight smile as the door swung open. “Hey, Zaidy-boy.”
Zaid stared at him for several seconds of shocked silence. His eyes were sunken in with dark circles and bags underneath, his cheeks looked a bit hollow, and his skin pale. He kinda looked like a zombie.
Then finally Zaid reacted. He punched Max right in the nose and slammed the door shut.
Max stumbled back, clutching his nose in pain. Blood dripped between his fingers. Damn, he packs a punch! Max thought then a slight swell of pride knowing half the reason Zaid was as physically strong as he was was cause of him. “Owwww,” he moaned, looking back up at the house.
A face stared back at him from one of the windows. A little brown face with big green eyes and pointy ears on either side. Max stared back, feeling extremely weirded out at the fact he was looking at Zaid’s kid, that Zaid even had a kid. It weirded him out when it happened and it weirded him out now.
Then she slithered out of view and Max turned his attention back to his nose. He figured the best course of action would be to go back to Gretchen’s place so he applied a bit of healing magic to his nose and then headed off.
“I suppose punching you is better than merely slamming the door, at least it shows some emotion. You can try again later, he’ll let you in eventually.” Gretchen sat down, pushing a glass of milk towards Max who quickly began gulping it down. “I am so glad you’re back. We’ve all missed you. Once he calms down, I am sure Zaid will be happy too.”
“That’s all I really want,” Max said, looking unhappily at his empty glass. “Was he happy? When I wasn’t here? Be honest, all right?”
Gretchen set the entire carton of milk down and Max tugged it over. “Yes,” she finally answered. “He and Goose were very happy, especially after Reeny’s birth. Even when they were tired from working, cleaning, raising a toddler they just… content looks on their faces.” Gretchen paused then added, “He did miss you.”
Max closed his eyes, a familiar ache inside his chest. “Glad he was happy. Hopefully he can be happy again. Do normal humans get over this sort of thing? Death of a–a lover? Husband? Were–did they ever get married? No? Mm. I figured they would be.” He opened his eyes and glared as Malik Blair came into the room. They lived together. Max didn’t like that very much but he’d do his best to deal with it. Jealousy didn’t sit well with him. He didn’t mean to be jealous or dislike people who were close with the people he cared about but it just… he didn’t find it easy being close with someone and when those someones grew close with other people Max had this irrational fear his someone would prefer their company over his.
He sighed, trying to get rid of those thoughts. He fought them all the time. He didn’t like being alone but somehow he always found himself being alone. And always would, Max thought miserably. Immortals always did. Whiskers and cream I am so selfish. He felt like dirty litter sitting there thinking about himself when Zaid had lost his world. “I hate myself.” He buried his head in his folded arms.
“We’re all angry about something right now,” Blair said, putting an arm around Gretchen. “I think it’s too soon for Zaid to think about anything but his own grief r–“
“Yes, I agree,” Gretchen said a bit stiffly. “However he has a two year old he needs to think about as well. Chance, Specter, Lumie, Gladdy, and I are all doing our best to help him take care of Reeny but she needs her living daddy right now. And her daddy needs someone. He’s rejected everyone except you, Max.”
“He punched me!” Max wailed. “That sounds like rejection to me.”
Gretchen put her hands on the table and leaned in close. “As I said, a punch is better than absolute silence, inattention, ignoring. He’s not spoken to anyone in weeks except the occasional word to Eirene, he’s not reacted to anything in weeks except for punching you. Noah told me last time he visited he played with Reeny for two hours while Zaid just sat in complete silence staring at the empty fireplace.”
“I’ll let him go beat me up, then.”
“I’m not asking for that. I’m only asking for you to try to get to him.”
“…sorry… so… sorry…”
Max walked through the grass, keeping his distance. Part of him wanted to run over to Zaid, the other part of him wanted to run away. Far away. Back to Egypt, maybe, to hide from all this.
Zaid knelt in front of Goose’s grave, rocking back and forth on his heels as he talked. He had replaced the day old flowers with fresh ones when he got there and then he had crouched down to talk for nearly half an hour before Max decided to try to get closer.
He padded along, tail twitching from nerves. He wished he could turn into a different colored cat, so he could try to give Zaid some comfort. He wasn’t sure exactly what Zaid would do seeing him… but instead of throwing a punch or yelling, Zaid just stared with bleak, red-rimmed eyed. Max meowed quietly and crept forward.
Zaid reached out, taking hold of the furry body and began crying into his back. Max kept still, doing his best not to purr. He wasn’t pleased or happy at all but his cat body wanted to purr at the feel of someone he loved holding him. He twisted a bit and licked at the tears on Zaid’s face before snuggling closer. Zaid rocked back and forth again, this time clutching Max and crying instead of talking.
But eventually he did begin to talk. “I killed him, Max. I killed him. It’s my fault. It’s all my fault he’s dead.” Max bumped his head against Zaid’s chin. “I don’t know what to do. I can’t sleep. I–I started working again but they made me take more time off because I collapsed during one of the classes. I have to take medicine to sleep. I have nightmares. Every morning I wake up expecting him to be there.” Max nuzzled him gently, flicking his tail around one of Zaid’s arms. “It should have been me.”
Zaid fell silent again and after a moment Max wriggled free and turned human. “It’s not your fault.”
“Yes it is!” Zaid snarled, hands curling into fists.
Max took a quick step back, own hands up in defense. “Fine, you shot a bolt of electric magic into his chest stopping his heart.”
Zaid’s fist connected easily with Max’s jaw, but not as hard as he had hit him the previous day. Zaid cursed loudly, stumbling in the mud. Then he dove, bringing Max down onto the ground and repeatedly hitting him without too much oomph. Max blocked the blows without trouble until they weakened and then he reached up, wrapping his arms around Zaid in a hug. “It’s not your fault,” Max said as Zaid began crying again. “It’s not. You didn’t do it, you did nothing, you can’t put the actions of someone else on yourself.”
“If I d-d-didn’t–if I w-wasn’t with him he’d b-be alive.”
“That is true.”
Zaid wrenched away, getting to his feet, swaying a bit. Max got up as well, brushing the dirt from his clothes. “Asshole,” Zaid hissed.
“Hey, Zaidy-boy, I ain’t gonna lie and say what you said isn’t true. But it still doesn’t make it your fault. Let me ask you something, you know all those kinda cheesy, sad stories where a kid asks for a certain Christmas present and the parent goes out to get it and dies from a wreck? And the kid blames themself for allllll their lives? Well, if something like that happened with your kid, would you want her blaming herself?”
“That is not what happened!” Zaid stuck his finger in Max’s face, his cheeks growing bright red from anger. “Don’t talk about my daughter, you don’t even know her.”
“You’re right, I don’t,” Max said, staring past the finger at Zaid’s eyes. “But you shouldn’t blame yourself.” He stepped past Zaid and knelt down in front of Goose’s grave. Mixed emotions filled his tense body but he just reached out to touch the stone. “I’m sorry.”
“You hated him.”
“I never hated him. Didn’t trust him and was jealous, yeah. But I didn’t hate him.” Max rose back up, turning back to face Zaid. “I would give anything to change what happened. I would… give anything to bring him back to you.” Max flipped his bangs back, running his fingers through his hair. “Look let’s go back to your house. Get some food in you since you look like you haven’t been eating. And you can get some rest. Where’s the kid?”
“With my dads…”
“Good. Come on.”
Despite his state of mind he drove steadily, taking them back to his house. All the lights were off and Zaid didn’t bother turning them on as they went inside. He cursed in pain as he stepped on some toy but Max nimbly avoided the obstacles. Toys everywhere, it was worse than a dog owner. Max looked over at a photograph and went over, picking it up.
“How old is she now?” Max asked, staring at the trio.
“She turned two on March eighth.” Zaid went for the hallway, through the dining room and into the kitchen. Max set the picture down and followed. “She calls me Zay and him Goo and when she wanted both of us its Zaygoo.” He reached up to a cupboard, unlocking it so he could tug a bottle of wine down. “He got this for us… ’bout a week before he was killed. We each drank a couple of small glasses before having sex for apparently the… the last time while listening this really weird CD full of… drums and wind instruments.” Zaid uncorked it and began downing the half-empty bottle.
Max folded his arms, not stopping him. After the last of the wine disappeared down Zaid’s throat he threw the bottle on the floor, the glass shattering. “You not going to stop me?” Zaid asked as he reached into the cupboard to fish out a small bottle of champagne and one of those travel size bottles of rum. He looked at them then dumped the rum in a glass. He rummaged through the fridge and filled the rest of the glass with orange juice.
Max watched him drink this. “Why would I stop you?” he asked, leaning against the counter. “Though if you drink too much I’ll stop you so you don’t get sick. I could go get you some beer.”
“Yeah… th-that’d be nice.”
Max left the house, making sure he had his passport with him. He went to the nearest store and got a pack of Zaid’s favorite beer–least, his favorite beer from when he was in college. He brought it back and Zaid went through four of the bottles before finally slowing down. Max cleaned up the broken wine bottle, grumbling to himself about having to clean. He liked things to be clean but he hated cleaning.
“You know… I thought… he’n’I be t’gether for… like… ever…” Zaid took a long gulp then began stumbling out of the room. “Bring the others, yeah? Only had three not… why do I feel bluzzy… blurzy…”
“You had half a bottle of wine and a scurvy medic,” Max pointed out, following Zaid with the remaining tthree bottles of beer. “Very quickly, I might add. And four bottles of beer. Not three. When you drink stuff super quick you tend to get a bit tipsy, plus I have the feeling you haven’t eaten, barely slept…”
Max fixed a tuna sandwich and dumped some potato chips onto a plate, making Zaid eat as much as he could which really was only half the sandwich and about three-fourths the chips. Max figured that was good enough for now–he didn’t want Zaid barfing it all up right away–and ate the rest of the sandwich.
Then Max took Zaid to the bedroom, wanting him to get some rest. Zaid stopped just inside the doorway and stared at one of the desks, at the open violin case. He stumbled over and ran a finger over the wood. “He played… so weell… he c-coulda been… like… a really good… music-shin. He din’t play much but when he did t’was like… like… you know?” Zaid finished off the bottle and took a fifth from Max’s hand. “The shashion liked him. When the–the–head–comperser retired they were gonna… give the… thing.. the–the–the thing to G-Goose, you know?
“I’m sure he was very talented,” Max said softly.
Zaid peered into Max’s face, blinking. “I love him.”
Zaid finished the remaining beer–all eight bottles in total–staggering around the room. He almost fell over and Max caught him, sighing. Zaid’s eyes were completely unfocused as he slid his arms around Max’s neck and kissed him. Or tried to. Their lips brushed for a split-second before Max realized what was happening and pushed Zaid away without much trouble. “No.”
“You…wwant me?” he whimpered. “You… you did… you wuh… want… me…”
“No, Zaidy-boy. You’re completely smashed and blind with grief,” Max said gently, pulling him to the bed. “You’d hate yourself even more in the morning and I know perfectly well it’s not really you trying to do that.” He pulled back the covers and put Zaid in, stripping him of all his clothing except boxers. Zaid’s eyes were mostly closed. He fell asleep before Max even finished tucking him into the bed.
Max sat next to him, staring down at the sleeping face. “I’m so sorry, Zaid. I really am.” A few tears dripped out of his own eyes. He bent down to put a kiss on the top of his head before turning into a cat and curling up at Zaid’s feet, not getting any sleep himself.