Eggs sizzled in the frying pan. Cast iron scraped across the stovetop burners. The smell of melting cheese and sauteeing vegetables filled the air. Violent tinted sunlight came in through every window. Ice cubes clinked as they settled in a glass of water as droplets slid down the outside, pooling on a linoleum counter. Plates were set out on the island ready for four people. Napkins folded with utensils placed just so on their surface.
“Jeron?” a bleary-eyed boy appeared at the bottom of the stairs.
“Morning, Dan,” he turned to him and smiled.
“You’re making eggs?”
“Omelets, specifically,” he stepped aside and leaned the frying pan so Daniel could see it.
“Smells good,” Daniel muttered before sitting on his stool at the island.
“I’m almost done. Why don’t you go collect Saari and your father?”
“Hm?” the boy groaned a bit.
“Hmmm…” he grumbled as he got off his stool.
It would be a few moments before Daniel came running back down the hall.
“Oh for fucksake…” he dropped the pan and turned off the heat.
He followed Daniel down the hall to find Saari standing rigidly upright in the master bedroom.
“What’s going on, Saari?” he glanced between her to where she was looking.
Sylus was sitting upright in the bed, eyes closed, a thin line of smoke seeping from the corner of his lips.
“Goddammit, Sy. You fuckin’ with us?” Jeron stomped up to the bed, “You’re scaring the damn kids!” He took Sylus by the shoulders and shook him. A deep groan came from within him. “This isn’t funny, Sylus…” Jeron was nearly snarling.
Sylus’ eyes slowly opened, but they weren’t his eyes behind the lids.
Jeron immediately let go and took a long step back.
“What’s wrong now?” he scoffed, trying desperately to distance himself from the situation.
“We are hungry.”
“I-” Jeron bit his tongue, “I’ve been making you food every day!”
“It is not enough… We are hungry. We need more…”
Jeron sighed as he pinched the bridge of his nose. Shaking his head, he left the room.
“Dad?” Daniel slowly approached him, “Are you okay?”
Qaitax rolled his head around slowly before closing his eyes without a word.
With a sigh, Daniel followed Jeron out of the room. Saari wasn’t far behind him.
“I really just wanted to make everyone a nice breakfast,” Jeron sighed as he unloaded the entire massive omelet he’d made onto a plate, “I can try to make something nice later…”
“It’s okay, Jeron,” Daniel sat back on his stool. “Dad needs to eat.”
“So do you. So do both of you!” Jeron motioned to Saari as she loomed next to the couch. “You two need to eat and you need to eat a lot better than canned corn and beans!”
“I like the canned corn…” Saari muttered.
Jeron pinched his nose again. “Let me just… Sacrifice everyone’s breakfast to an eldritch abomination.”
“Dad’s not an abomination, Jeron…” Daniel’s small voice followed him up the stairs, “Please don’t say that…”
Jeron could feel his face heating up. “I-I’m sorry, Dan…”
He made his way down the hall and into the master bedroom. Once more, his eyes were closed and the smoke was still seeping from his lips.
“Here!” he shouted as he dropped the plate on Sylus’ stomach. “Eat.”
His eyes slowly opened again. Once more he was met with Qaitax’s gaze.
“Eat. Stop scaring everyone and eat.” Jeron motioned to the plate.
Qaitax slowly looked down at the plate as he slowly sat upright. Jeron watched as his arm flinched as if he was trying to lift it. His gaze narrowed with concentration before he growled and let himself fall back against the headboard. He closed his eyes tightly as his breath grew shallow.
“Th-ank you…” he whispered.
Jeron stood a moment at the foot of the bed. He had two options. He could walk away and leave Qaitax laying there like that, but he knew Sylus would find out and he wasn’t sure he had it in him to defend that kind of behavior. Or… He could help Qaitax eat which wasn’t something he was entirely fond of.
Without sitting up again or opening his eyes, Qaitax tried to lift his arm again, but it was no use. He huffed and groaned a bit.
“Do you need help?” Jeron finally spoke up.
The voidlord shook his head.
He winced a bit before shaking his head again.
Jeron sighed as he pulled a stool up to the bed. “Let me help you, you goddamned monster.”
Qaitax leaned away from him. “We do not need your assistance. We have already imposed on you enough. We would rather resolve this on our own than incur any further ire.”
Jeron sat a moment in silence. Leaning forward on the stool, wringing his hands in his lap, he took a deep breath. “You really expect me to be angry?”
“When we are weak, we are a burden. When we are a burden, we cause upset. We will resolve this on our own. We are capable though it will take some time.”
Jeron pinched the bridge of his nose, “Look… I said it to Sy, so I guess I should say it to you. I’d rather you let me help than continue to struggle needlessly. I can help, but I won’t force myself on you. You have to ask for it. Right now, I know you need help, but I’m going to wait until you admit it.”
“I am not Sylus,” Qaitax finally rolled his head to face him. “You have made it clear you have no intention of assisting me in any way.”
“I did no such thing!” Jeron balked, “I told you that my relationship with Sylus was between us and I didn’t want you involved. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t going to help you! Come on, Qaitax… Sylus is in there somewhere, right?” The voidlord nodded slowly. “Then I have to help you. You have to let me help you.”
Qaitax closed his eyes tightly as he once more tried to lift his arms. Defeated, he let them drop down onto the bed. A small sob came from him.
“I am so weak…” he breathed, “I do not like being this weak… I know we are weak in general, but being trapped like this?” he shook his head, “I need help. Please… Help me, Jeron… Please…”
With a nod, Jeron stood up, picking the plate up off Qaitax. “What do I have to do?”
Qaitax shook his head again, “Tilt it into my mouth.”
Jeron shook his head. He wasn’t entirely fond of any of this. Feeding Qaitax wasn’t something he ever wanted to do. But, then again, he was feeding Sylus, too and he did like doing that so…
“Oh fuck me,” he breathed as he brought the plate to Qaitax’s lips. “Open wide,” he sighed.
Qaitax did as he was told. A long, suckered appendage slowly slithered out of his mouth and slowly began dragging the contents of the plate inside. Jeron was mortified and disgusted. It slithered around the plate, cupping bits of egg and slithering it back into his mouth. After a few mouthfuls, Qaitax just opened his mouth. With a heavy sigh, Jeron tilted the plate allowing what was left to slide into his mouth. It took him a moment to chew it a bit but with one big gulp, a breakfast for four was gone.
“That was horrifying,” Jeron sighed as he dropped the plate to his side.
“It was delicious. I have never tasted anything so complex…”
“Just eggs and veg,” Jeron shrugged. “Besides, we ate out just the other day! You’ve tasted food before!”
Qaitax shook his head. “Sylus was with you. I tasted nothing.”
“I am doing all I can to uphold our agreement.”
“I-I see… So… You’re really not there when…”
Qaitax shook his head. “Unless we are in dire circumstances or I am summoned, I keep very much to myself.”
“I see… I-is it lonely?” he had no idea where the question came from. As far as he thought he was concerned, he didn’t care.
“Not at all. When the day is done, Sylus spends some time with me and we talk about things.”
Qaitax sighed, “Mostly his feelings about things and how his day was.”
“Do you have feelings about things?” Why was he asking? He didn’t exactly give a shit.
“I… I do not know. I am still taking everything in. So long as I know Saari is well, I am content.”
“Hmm… Well, I’ve gotta go make breakfast for the kids. You know where to find us whenever you’re ready to get up.”
Qaitax nodded before settling back and closing his eyes once more.
As Jeron entered the living room, he found Saari and Daniel sitting at the counter eating bowls of cereal.
“Guys!” he cried out, “I wanted to make you breakfast! Not make you eat that sugary crap again…”
“It’s okay, Jeron,” Daniel turned to him, “We can have a nice big breakfast when Dad’s feeling better. He is gonna feel better, right?”
Jeron sighed. “He’ll be fine. I’m sorry guys…” he made his way into the kitchen to clean up, “I just wanted to do something nice for everyone…”
“You helped Dad!” Daniel piped up, “That’s important.”
“Not at your expense it isn’t…”
Saari dropped her spoon in her bowl. “They come first.”
Jeron glared at her.
“Whether you like it or not, without them, we are nothing. They must always come first. Sylus and Qaitax take priority in all things. We must all accept this.”
“Bullshit,” Jeron threw his towel into the sink, “If he keeps crippling himself by not getting his shit together, we can’t be expected to keep picking him up!”
“He is unwell!” Saari stood up, slamming her hands into the countertop, “I am unwell. Am I unworthy of your care and protection? I would understand that for I am no one to you. But does your hatred for Lord Qaitax truly outweigh your care for Sylus? You cannot pick and choose. You must accept both or neither. They are not well and they need help. If you would like, I will take over their care. I have spent my entire life doing so. I have no reason or need to stop.”
“Aren’t they some kind of god or something?” Jeron scoffed, “Why the hell can’t they take care of themselves!”
“You misunderstand what they are. They are something between mortal and void spawn. They are neither and yet they are both. Is a Lord a god? Perhaps to us mortals, but even they are fallible and capable of defeat. Just as…” Saari cut herself off and sat back down on her stool, “You do not understand and you do not desire to.” She stood up again and returned to her room.
“Dad needs help, Jeron… You don’t have to do it alone. We can help. Let us help, please?”
“So I’m supposed to just let him eat us out of house and home? I get he has unending wealth and hunger or whatever, but the rest of us need to live, too…”
“Well… That’s where we need to start, I guess… What we eat isn’t good enough for him so we need to talk to him to figure out what he does need and if its something we can help with. It probably won’t be since he’s a void thingy he probably needs void thingy food.”
“Which is what?” Jeron snorted. “How are we expected to know what ‘void thingies’ eat? We’re human. We eat human food. It’s up to him to figure-”
Daniel slowly turned on his stool to face Nine sleeping on the couch.
“Oh good god…” Jeron groaned as he returned to cleaning. “Go check on Saari, Dan. I didn’t mean to upset her…”
“I know,” Daniel slid off his stool and wandered away.
Jeron continued cleaning up in silence. Anger, frustration, and disappointment all fighting for control of his mind. Who was he so pissed off at? Sylus? Qaitax? Himself? He leaned on the sink closing his eyes tightly. Tears were welling in his eyes. The weight of the world began settling on his shoulders. The kids, Sylus… He had to take care of all of them… Just like he had to care for his mother… And look how that turned out… He caught a sob in his throat.
“God give me strength… I don’t think I can handle this on my own…”
Jeron spun around to find Sylus leaning on the armrest of the couch in his boxers and a tank top.
“You keep telling me I can’t do it alone so why should you?”
Jeron stood there in the kitchen, completely frozen in place, tears slowly rolling down his face.
“I… I’ve put a lot of stress on you. Both at home and in public. I know that, Jeron. And… I’m sorry. I really am. But… But you were right. I need help. I’m so broken and messed up right now and… and I know you are too.”
Jeron caught another sob.
“No one is doing so great right now and we can’t go around trying to hide it…”
Jeron’s gaze began to wander as he tried to look anywhere but at Sylus. Closing his eyes, he could smell the distinct scent of petrichor moving closer to him.
“We are all not okay.”
His voice was right on top of him. A sob finally escaped his lips.
“And that’s okay.”
Jeron slowly opened his eyes to find Sylus standing before him with a slight smile on his lips.
“But,” he sighed, “Like you said, it’s not okay to try to go it alone. Especially when there are people who care so…” he took another step closer, “Don’t.”
Jeron began shaking his head uncontrollably. He didn’t know what he needed or what he wanted. All his life he cared for other people. He never really thought about what he needed much less what he wanted. Who even was Jeron Miles but a culmination of impressions left behind by the lives he affected? He took a step forward of his own.
“What do you need, Jeron?”
Their eyes met and their gazes locked.
No words could pierce the fog flooding Jeron’s mind, but he knew he couldn’t hold back the oncoming storm for much longer. Without much in the way of a thought, he leaned into Sylus, resting his head on his chest.
“I’m scared,” he finally sobbed.
“Why are you scared?” Sylus wrapped his arms around him.
“That I’m not good enough…”
“Not good enough?” Sylus pulled him closer, “For who? For what?”
“For anyone or anything…”
“Why, though?” Sylus chuckled. “You take such good care of all of us. You keep me in check when I should be able to do that myself. You’re full of so much love, Jeron… I-is it that… You don’t feel it in return?”
Jeron tilted his head up to look once more into Sylus’ alien eyes. “I-I don’t…”
Sylus sighed deeply. He lifted Jeron into his arms and carried him into the living room. The man wasn’t in much of a position to fight back as all the energy had been completely drained by his own internal darkness.
“Up, Nine,” Sylus gently commanded the spawn. Without any resistance, the creature nodded and moved to the floor.
Sylus sat Jeron on the couch, lifting his legs onto it. He pulled down the blanket and wrapped it around him.
“Let me make you some coffee and we can just spend the day relaxing, okay?”
Jeron’s gaze narrowed. Sylus leaned in and kissed him on the cheek.
“You treat me so well, Jeron. Let me do the same for you.”
With a shaky sigh, Jeron finally let himself settle down and relax. Closing his eyes, it seemed as though time passed instantly. The next thing he knew, there was a cup of coffee on the table next to him and Sylus was sitting on the couch with his feet in his lap, slowly rubbing them idly. He looked around himself trying to find something to be concerned about. Haurex. Haurex would be back someday. They couldn’t afford to rest like this…
“Someday, yes,” Sylus replied to his thoughts, “But not today. So don’t worry, Jer,” he turned to him with a smile, “Just rest.”
“You’re not a burden…”
“I am when you don’t talk to me, Jeron. I can’t avoid the fact that I’m weak as hell and I need a lot of help sometimes and I’m lucky I have you, but… I need you to talk to me more. Tell me what you need. You’re so good at internalizing…”
“What can I say? Years of trauma and scarring.”
Sylus chuckled, “That I can understand. How about this…”
Jeron sat up a bit.
“You told me to find a hobby. How about you find something you want to do, too. A hobby or a life goal. Whatever it is, I’ll do everything I can to make it happen.”
Jeron had a vague idea of what Sylus was referencing, but he wasn’t ready for that.
“I-I’ll start playing guitar again,” he breathed, “Mom always liked when I played for her… I wanted to play at her funeral but Dad wouldn’t let me…”
“Then play! Play for her, Jeron.”
“I… I kinda liked playing for you, too…”
Sylus grinned from ear to ear.
“You remember that, right?” Jeron leaned up a bit more.
“It wasn’t that long ago for me, I’m more surprised you remember…”
“It’s one of the few memories that I held onto. Sy… As much as I thought giving up was the best thing to do… I couldn’t… Even if you never came back, there was no way I was going to forget you… You made me the happiest I’d ever been.”
“Wow, old me set some pretty high standards that I really hope new me can live up to,” Sylus laughed.
“There’s no old or new you. Just the same you changed over time. And…” Jeron sighed, “Change doesn’t have to be a bad thing…”
“Yeah?” Sylus chuckled.
Jeron pulled his feet away as he struggled to turn himself around. Once his back was leaning comfortably against Sylus, he finally replied: “Yeah.”
Sylus wrapped an arm across his chest.
“No more ‘sucking it up’, Jeron. We don’t do that here.”
With a deep sigh, Jeron pressed himself closer, “Then I expect the same from you.”
“I’m trying, Jer. I truly am.”
“I know… I’ll… do my best, but I can’t…”
“I’m not asking for any promises. I’m asking you to live by your own words for once because they’re good words to live by. So try, Jeron. Try to care for yourself a bit and tell me if/when you need something, okay?”
The sound of an old movie on the television filled the silence until the pitter-patter of crystals hitting the roof joined in.
“How fitting,” Sylus sighed, “I still love the sound of rain, even if it isn’t exactly rain anymore…”
“It’s weird but…” Jeron sighed, “I’m getting used to it. I used to be so afraid of that sound. It meant those things would be everywhere…”
“The Watchers… Haurex’s creepy bird minions… Things were horrifying and they seemed to be the loudest when it was raining…” Jeron rolled over onto his side, his head resting on Sylus’ stomach, “But… With you around, its a lot less frightening.”
“Don’t worry about it right now, Sy. Like you said, the day will come, but it’s not today.”
Sylus closed his eyes with a smile.
“You do, however, need to start getting your shit together. Can’t have you scaring the kids like that…”
“I know I know… I’ll… Figure it out. Qaitax already knows what to do I’m just putting off listening because, quite frankly, I’m a bit horrified.”
“Well you let me know if I can help at all,” Jeron’s words were beginning to slur together.
“Oh, don’t worry. It’s nothing all that difficult. Just requires getting over some… rather personal insecurities. Which, now that I’ve made such a mess, I’ll have to just push past.”
“If you wanna talk about it…”
“When the time comes, maybe. But for now, let’s just relax a bit. This morning was kinda stressful for everyone.”
Jeron sighed with a tired nod.