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Posted: Sep 16 2017, 08:37 PM
Table of Contents
Posted: Sep 16 2017, 09:35 PM
The Lord’s Gonna Come for Your First Born Son
11 February 2007. Sable House.
“When are you giving me a grandson, Castor?”
A turn of the page and Castor looked up to meet his father’s gaze. Tarian stared unconcernedly back, a faint smile lingering about his mouth in the way it always seemed to, as though he’d just discovered something pleasantly surprising and couldn’t wait to share the news. More often than not, as the years had taught him, it was a bluff, a face to put on for company of all shades; Tarian himself would have been the first to say, after all, that the man who appeared as though he already had everything inevitably soon would. Castor considered the question in silence, returning his attention to his daughter for a moment where she sat in his lap, murmuring quiet agreement with her assessment of the tome balanced on his knee. She was young yet, for lessons of a more regimental nature, but she’d taken to the shapes of family trees, tracing their lines with her fingertip and clapping delightedly every time a name rang familiar in her memory. The more elaborate illustrations seemed to draw her eye in particular, and he’d uncovered a historical text complete with illumination for her birthday the week before. It hadn’t been his only gift, of course. Their wealth was modest in comparison to some of the other families, but it was more than enough to ensure she would never want for anything.
“I am sure I could not make such a prediction,” he responded eventually, adjusting his arm carefully around Ophelia’s waist before leaning out to collect his cup of tea. This was far from the first time they’d had such a conversation, and the answers would undoubtedly prove the same as they always did. Still, something in the air tingled at the back of his neck, a chill wind that suggested the unknown. Perhaps it was the quiet. Castor glanced up to where Octavia stood with his mother across the parlor. The two of them had been conversing in low, pleasant tones near a table at the back of the room, but Tarian’s voice seemed to have placed a damper on the casual atmosphere. Octavia glanced over at him with an expression that was strange enough on its own, and then together they both turned their eyes on Imogene.
His mother had always been a softer soul, her smile warm enough to make up for Castor’s preferred lack of expression. She did not mind sitting in silence with him, or making slow conversation, and she’d always been patient. When it came to weathering storms, she knew well how to hunker down, but to see her shoulders tilted southward now in a posture he’d witnessed on so many occasions in his childhood only thickened the sensation that all was not as it should have been. She’d turned her back to him, attention seemingly fixated on her hands where they rested on the table before her, but still, he knew what it meant to see her spine curled inward. He looked back to his father, cup hovering in the air between the table and his mouth. That same pleased smile lingered.
“Ophelia is three now,” Tarian continued as though he’d noticed no lull in the conversation and had been waiting only for Castor’s attention. “I’d say you’ve recovered enough from the perils of infancy. Imogene and myself are here to assist, if that is your concern, as are the elves. A governess would not be out of the question either. You do not need to hover over her anymore.” His tone was smooth and self-satisfied, and Castor examined his face carefully in anticipation of more to come, introducing another moment of quiet.
“Daddy, turn the page!” Ophelia insisted, smacking his arm with enough force to nearly send his tea splattering over the carpet, and Castor quickly steadied his hand, returning his cup to its saucer and obliging with a calmly murmured, “we do not hit, Ophelia.” The sound of his daughter’s voice seemed to be enough to rouse his mother from her stance of stillness, and she straightened suddenly, crossing the room with the sort of thin, wide smile she only wore beneath glossy eyes.
“Ophelia, why don’t you come play with Grandmummy?” Imogene cooed, stooping to lift his daughter from his lap and brush her pale hair back behind her ear. Ophelia treated her to a serious look in return, features pinching together in contemplation.
“Grandmummy, why don’t I have red hair like yours?” she demanded, pulling a lock of Imogene’s auburn hair. His mother extracted the strand with a calm smile.
“Because, darling, you have beautiful blonde hair like your mummy!” Imogene turned, heading cautiously for the hall, eyes careful to avoid her husband. “Why?” Ophelia demanded in her arms, and with a quiet giggle, Imogene responded “because,” prompting a monosyllabic game of question and answer that faded into quiet as the two of them disappeared. Castor watched them go before at last shutting the book held in his lap and setting it precisely on the coffee table before him. Tarian had not flinched.
“Have you even been trying,” his father continued, hands still folded exactly as they’d been, fingers threaded together across his knees. Castor furrowed his brow in the slightest gesture of confusion. There was little different and yet already two of the women of his house had departed. Octavia hovered still, standing solitary by the table, gaze fixed against a point on the wall as she listened with an expression to match his bewilderment.
“I am not going to discuss what is private between myself and my wife,” Castor responded, voice carrying a tense edge. How many times had they traveled over this same ground? It should not have phased him, but Imogene’s flight had been the passage of an albatross across the space of the sitting room, and unease had begun to stir in his chest. Tarian had not moved an inch, and that fact alone seemed to suggest that this time, his argument would prove similarly staunch. “If we are granted the privilege of a second child I will consider it a momentous addition to this family, but it is not a matter that weighs heavy on my mind.”
“Not a child, a son,” Tarian interjected sharply, catching the heels of Castor’s words and nearly drowning out the end of his sentence. Castor stiffened marginally in annoyance, eyes retreating from his father’s face to fixate on the starched fold of his collar and the contrast of bright white fabric against a rich dark jacket. Tarian was impatient already.
“I believe,” Castor responded, words slowing as though in response to Tarian’s insistence, the already methodical pace of his speech growing even more sedate, “that this conversation is tired. I have an heir, sir. Her gender will not detract from her ability to maintain this estate. It would be a disservice to my daughter to devalue her capabilities. Even if I were to produce a son. She will always be next in line.”
“You are being sentimental,” Tarian sneered, and Castor’s temper flared cold. It had been a long time since his father had accused him of such a thing, and the irritation of it touched every indignant nerve behind his shoulders. His decisions had never been rash. It was true that even after years of trying, a second child had eluded them, but why did it matter? The world was at peace and they had a perfectly healthy, intelligent, graceful daughter all their own to take over the reigns when the time came. Tarian did not appear to care, however, continuing on in a tone ripened by disdain. He was done playing nice, it seemed.
“No one is ever going to take Ophelia as seriously as they would a male heir. You know well what I’ve gone through to secure this family’s standing, and still we are smothered beneath the shame your grandfather brought to our line. You need a son, Castor, do not be an idiot, or else what do you think will happen to this estate when Ophelia marries and our name is lost to another family?”
“If it is such a concern, her children could always emulate your technique and change it back.” Castor’s voice emerged low and dark, words slipping past with a rare tone of sardonicism that underscored their bite. It should have been warning enough that a retort was not ready on his father’s lips, his relaxed figure suggesting a tension in its silence. Castor did not look up to confirm anger on his face. “I am finished having this conversation with you, sir. It is a redundancy-”
“The fuck you are,” Tarian growled. Castor was cold and his hands were still and his face was blank. “You think that’s supposed to embarrass me? You think I’m not proud of all I’ve done to keep us from humiliation? You think your life would have been so fine had I not ensured it? I am still the head of this family, Castor, and I am still your father. You think your decisions are so clever and modern. That I am too old to see how right you are. You forget yourself, son. You forget where we come from and the sort of people that can make the difference between you having any meaning and you being nothing. You have always been intent on the later. You will not be allowed to do the same to your legacy. If you are experiencing complications we will schedule an appointment at St. Mungo’s to investigate the problem, but this is not over until I say it is over.”
His mother must have known what was coming. They must have discussed it already, what Tarian intended and how he would approach things. He’d been uncomfortably suggestive in the past, but the blatancy with which he’d chosen to approach the matter now was frankly unprecedented. Castor grit his teeth in irritation. There did not seem much point in arguing, and it would do him no harm to attend such an appointment, but this was far from a situation isolated. Years of ridicule were clawing at his spine, years spent silent while his father stepped all over the backbone he’d “tried so hard” to cultivate in his son. It was more of the same, in the end.
“Tarian, darling,” Octavia’s voice drew his attention from across the room, and Castor looked up to find his wife standing tall, eyes wide but determined against her pale face, “this is all rather much, don’t you think?”
“I am not speaking to you,” Tarian snapped back without looking, and at last Castor turned to find the hard set of his eyes, accompanied still by that infernal smirk which now seemed to twist almost cruelly at the corners of his mouth. “Octavia’s temperament will need to be examined as well, of course, but surely you can at least instruct your own wife, Castor.”
“Instruct me?!” Octavia growled in indignation, brows rising as she leveled her wrathful gaze at the back of Tarian’s head. “Don’t speak about me like I’m not here. I am a part of this discussion. These are my children-”
“Shut up!” Tarian hissed, rising to his feet and turning to aim his invective in Octavia’s direction. For the first time, Castor moved, gaining his feet just as his father had. He’d had long enough to think, and his voice emerged sharp and firm.
“That is enough.” Tarian released Octavia from the heat of his gaze as Castor spoke, rounding on his son again, void of all semblance of pleasantry. His mouth had slipped into a hard line to mirror’s Castor’s own set jaw.
“This conversation is over, Tarian,” Castor continued. His father’s name felt strange in his mouth. “You are overstepping. You are not part of this decision. I will not waste time nor money on such a pursuit. Ophelia will inherit the estate and that is the end of things. Go and cool your head.” The last was too much. Tarian stepped around the coffee table with a charging wrath, half kicking it out of the way as he went, quick temper flaring hot enough to scald the air as an irritated finger rose to brandish in Castor’s face.
“This is my house! I will decide where it goes and what is to come of it! If you are so intent on smearing my name with humiliation, you can go and join your grandfather in that sad little town-home of his! You have always been weak; you think telling me no will be enough to change that? I’m surprised you could even get the word out! Good job, son, you’ve impressed me once today. You’re finally conducting yourself in the manner I expected at eleven. Now if only you could abandon the teenage attitude you’ve picked up along with it we could make something of you yet! Although that, I expect, will still take years at the pace you move. Your children cannot afford for you to waste their time dragging your feet about, so I suggest you get off your ass and do what I tell you to-”
“Stop!” Castor roared. “Enough!” But the brevity of his interjection was not enough to derail his father’s tirade.
“AND DO WHAT I TELL YOU TO DO. You are being naive! You will not compromise my estate! I would not allow it of my father and I will not allow it of you, so you get in line or you get the fuck out-”
“It isn’t ab-bout compromise,” Castor shouted back, mouth struggling to keep up with the speed of his thoughts, “you just aren’t s-satisfied without a b-buh-banner to wave!”
“‘A buh-buh-buh-banner,’ do you fucking hear yourself? This is exactly what I’m talking about! You can’t even form a Merlin-forsaken sentence! You want to know why I’m concerned? Because a sorry excuse for a man like you has no hope of teaching an heiress how to be anything worth my pride! Maybe I should be asking if you can even get it up! Maybe I should have listened to my own advice and had a second son, I just thought you could at least be of enough use to for this! Are you going to tell me you’re a fucking fairy next and you just can’t manage, because I’m not sure what else you’ve left me-”
“No one is embarrassing this family but YOU!”
They’d turned to yelling so swiftly Castor almost hadn’t understood the shift in their conversation, Tarian leaning closer until they stood nearly chest to chest, thrusting his snarling face into his son’s. Somewhere along the way, Castor had begun to lean back from the tirade, eyes flinching shut against every other coarse word, but he simply could not tolerate the proximity anymore. He was not his mother, who could sit in silence while his father railed in response to some perceived slight or other. Was there not always a threat to combate? Was there not always a slight to avenge? Castor was sick of it. His hand rose automatically, pressing against his father’s chest to push him back and grant himself the room to breath, but the contact was like a lightning strike followed closely by the thunder of his words. He did not stumble over them--he could not have fumbled a thought he’d memorized so well, a thought he’d harbored since his bitter youth. It pulsated in his mind like a reassurance, regardless of how true he felt it to be. It was something to hide behind, something he knew would sting his father’s pride, even if he never spoke it aloud. Years of frustration over his father’s betrayal, a lifetime’s worth of anger; would the man never burn himself out? Would he never set his grudges aside? The retort had been there so long, just waiting to slip out, and now, for Ophelia, Castor had finally allowed it. Tarian did not respond with words.
There was no warning for the fist that struck his face, colliding with him blind as he automatically squeezed his eyes shut. Castor’s head snapped back between shoulders held high and rigid, the room shifting suddenly beneath his feet until he felt as though the wall had replaced the floor and it was the ceiling that stood in front of him. He stepped backward, calves finding the coffee table, and then he was falling. Castor managed to catch himself on his elbow as his hip hit the carpet, immediately curling in around himself as the world finally stopped spinning. Something hot and wet and salty was spilling down into his mouth, and he raised a hand to his face, understanding it as blood as his fingers found the sting of his nose. The room was silent around him, but he could hear the roar of his pulse loud in his ears, awareness painfully slow to return to him. It struck him as odd that it didn’t hurt more, but his mind helpfully suggested that that was only the adrenaline kicking in and it soon would. It occurred to him that his father had never hit him before, but his thoughts had nothing helpful to say to that. His hand remained clamped over his nose, palm collecting a small pool of blood. Perhaps the blood had been the point. Wasn’t it always?
His breath, loud and heavy where it echoed off his wrist, reminded him that there was more than just his shock, and Castor sat up slowly. He was vaguely aware of his father standing frozen above him, but he did not look. With painful care, he climbed to his feet, eyes rising to find his wife. Octavia stood exactly where she’d been, staring at him with an expression utterly unfamiliar. No, not utterly. He had seen it once before, the morning her water had broken and the midwife had arrived to close the both of them in the bedroom. Fear.
He turned away from his wife, away from his father, rounding the settee where he’d been seated with his daughter mere minutes before and crossing the room in a collected silence, hand still clamped across his face. His shoulders shifted in indecision, angling forward and away from his body as the first of the blood threatened to escape, slipping around the curve of his palm to hang tremulous at the back of his hand and at last slide down his wrist into the dark of his sleeve. It would get on the carpet that way. He curled inward instead, other hand rising to collect any loose droplets that might fall, shaken free by the reverberations of his footfalls. With his back to the room and his hands engaged in containing his spill, the urge to disappear had grown nearly overwhelming, and her forewent the accessibility of the wide, sweeping, open stairway at the front of the house, disappearing instead into the dark hall where his mother had gone before him, fading into merciful shadow. He thought he could hear her some distance off, voice singing softly, perhaps to distract Ophelia from the sounds of shouting. Castor tensed, hoping that his daughter hadn’t had to witness such anger, a conversation she would process only with regard to the implication of its raw emotion rather than in any sort of logical context. She did not deserve the burden of it.
The back staircase wound upward, and he climbed its dusky steps to the second floor. A few more paces, each impact setting his head to pounding, and he was pushing through into his bedroom, shouldering the door open as both his hands now cupped the spill beneath his nose. The bathroom door was open and for that he was grateful, moving to the sink immediately and finally releasing the pool of crimson that stained his palms, allowing it to splash down against creamy porcelain in vibrant, energetic spatters. It did not seem so much, now that it had been allowed a wider vessel in which to collect, and with his hands held before him, he looked up at his reflection in the mirror, gazing curiously at the color that trailed down across his lips and curved below his chin, a single rolling line creeping toward the folds of his collar and tickling his neck. He brushed it away with back of his wrist, smearing it across his skin, gathering himself before at last studying his nose more closely.
The cartilage was unmistakably broken; if the fountain of blood still leaking from his nostrils had not been enough to prove that, the sick twist of it certainly was. It looked almost flattened, pushed to one side, a small cut, far less dramatic than what had taken place beneath the skin, outlining the break from above. It hadn’t truly begun to hurt until he looked at it, but the psychology of sight summoned a sharp sting across the bridge and he grimaced. The twitching of his eyebrows did nothing, however, but exacerbate the sensation, and with an ironic sort of practice, he held his face carefully still. His father had hit him hard, the force of his will driving his knuckles. He’d meant every joule of it.
Castor spat into the sink, ridding his mouth of the taste of blood, and awkwardly fumbled with the tap, nudging it with his elbow until water began to flow with too much force, splashing up onto the counter. There was enough of a mess as it was. He washed his palms quickly, cleaning them enough to nudge the pressure back until the whistling of the pipes had reduced to a calmer level, and sighed. His nose continued to drip as he cleared his hands of their stain, and he rubbed a palm across his face, rinsing his chin and wiping his mouth, fingers carefully exploring his upper lip, cautiously venturing closer to his nose until pain warned him away again. One thing at a time.
“Castor.” A voice broke the silence and he glanced up to find Octavia reflected in the mirror, hovering uncertain in the doorway. A look of shock and wide-eyed apprehension still clung to her features as her eyes roved across the glass, taking him in. He allowed her a moment to observe, hovering there dripping until warmth began to slip across his lips again and he returned to the sink. A spot of red marred the porcelain rim and he carefully wiped it away.
“What can I do,” she said, voice thin and meeker than he’d ever heard it. For long moments he offered her no answer, rinsing what was left to clean and finally shutting off the water. He reached for a towel, wiping his hands and his chin before carefully sliding it up beneath his nose to catch what had yet to clot. Somewhere, some part of him wanted to turn to her, to reach for her hand, to relax into comfort. They’d never quite fit together in the way he’d hoped they would, despite how he’d tried, but perhaps this was the turning point they’d needed all along. Their relationship was nearly as young as their daughter, after all. He shifted back to look at her, eyes glancing up to find her face. His lips parted. Perhaps they would be okay. And then Octavia spoke.
“You’re right, you know,” she said, fidgeting in the doorway, weight passing between the balls of her feet, hand rising to rub her arm in obvious discomfort. He watched her carefully through it, taking in the way irritation flickered at her brow the moment every silence held too long. “This isn’t up to him. You did the right thing… He shouldn’t have hit you, of course. It’s positively common, I mean honestly… Just tell me you aren’t going to listen to him. You don’t need to. What he’s asking… You agree, don’t you? You aren’t going to go back there and tell him yes after all this, right? Because I really think you should stand firm… Castor-”
Every pause was a gap for him to speak held only a moment too short, but in the spaces between her words, he’d begun to understand a deeper truth. What she’d seen in Tarian had not inspired a fear for him, it had incited self-preservation. If Tarian Black would bowl down his own flesh, what would he do to a relation merely proximal? Perhaps it was her womb she worried for, fearful of retribution lest she prove infertile. He didn’t care anymore. Without a word, Castor stepped forward, hand finding the door and pushing it slowly shut. Octavia’s expression changed from one of worry to one of confusion to one of surprise as she processed the action, stepping backward as the entry drew to a close, and then she was without and he was alone once more. This moment was only broken and he would find no solace in it.
Pulling the wand from his pocket, Castor turned again to the mirror, pressing the towel a little more firmly against his nose with a muted hiss before at last pulling it away. The bags beneath his eyes had begun to darken with the collection of blood, sockets bruising, but he would resolve it all. Lifting the wood to hover before his face, he paused carefully, checking the angle of the shaft and mouthing the word he would need until his tongue slipped over the shapes of it with ease. At last, with a controlled flick of his wrist, he murmured “Episkey.” A spark of magic like the strike of a static shock snapped at the flesh of his nose, and with a sickening sound like crinkling paper, the cartilage shifted, fusing back together as the cut on his nose sealed itself to nothing more than a faint scab. The bruises beneath his eyes followed suit, fading slowly away, and Castor released a soft sigh as his pain faded with them. He set his wand down against the sink, fingers rising carefully to probe at the bridge and ensure all was as it should be. It wasn’t. Castor turned his head carefully one way and then another, face softening with surprise as he registered the angle of his nose. It was not so dramatic as it had been before, but his spell had not been enough to set it perfectly back into place, a minor tilt offsetting it across his features. It was mended, yet it would never be the same.
There was silence for a time. Sable House sat still, the bones of it creaking faintly like a settled beast adjusting in slumber. It wasn’t until Castor at last drew open the bathroom door on a bedroom now empty, devoid of his wife, that anything at all seemed to move. He’d considered changing his shirt, but decided against it. He’d considered making another attempt to fix his face, but that had also been answered in the negative. His magic had done what it was want to do, and that would be the end of it. It was only a nose, after all, and he had no interest in vanity. In the new arrangement of his face, perhaps he could even find something worth cherishing.
Looking rather bedraggled in a shirt stained dark red in several places and a jacket flecked with patches of damp, Castor emerged at the top of the front stair, taking the wide, white, curving marble steps down into the entrance hall and crossing through the open archway that marked the boundary of the parlor. Tarian had, at some point, reclaimed his earlier seat on the couch where the afternoon had seen him recline so peacefully. It did not appear that Octavia had returned, but an instinct told him she could not be far, not when he held her fate in his hands. Castor entered the room where his father sat and simply stood, posture unburdened as he tilted his chin ever so slightly upward to look down his now-crooked nose at the man.
“Castor,” Tarian said after a moment’s pause, mouth attempting something of a good humored smile, voice vaguely amused. Neither expression seemed to match the subtle desperation that clung to the corners of his eyes. “Look at you. It seems you’ll be needing a trip to Mungo’s after all. Really it’s...you’ve gone a bit crooked.” Castor did not respond, studying the way his father held the knuckles of his right hand carefully in the palm of his left as though they brought him some amount of pain. The silence thickened, stretched, hovered oppressive over them, but he did not grant it relief and, for once, neither did his father. He hoped it hurt him even more than his hand.
“Get up, Tarian.”
The command came from him even and dark, a wave of sound through a room that seemed permanently muted. Tarian almost seemed to flinch with it, but his reaction was only one of surprise as he looked up at his son.
“You will collect your things,” Castor continued, “and you will leave. Mother may remain as long as she is inclined. In a few days time, we will discuss your return. Until then, I do not care where you stay. It will not be here.”
“But-” Tarian began to interject, but Castor shook his head and without even the need for interruption his father fell silent again. His gaze had locked itself on the strange angle of Castor’s nose, the distortion of it doing more by virtue of appearance than any amount of yelling ever would.
“No, Tarian. You are done. It is time I took over this family. Your options are twofold: transfer the wards yourself, or allow I take them from you. That is all. I know these halls well. I know how to make them answer me. And my time as head is well overdue. You will have one hour to collect yourself. If you have not gone in that time, I will have the elves eject you. You will not speak to me again for the duration of this time. You will not speak to me again until you are invited back. That is all.”
Though his father’s face was far from impassive, Castor could not read the expression there. He did not think he wanted to. His piece said, he turned his back on his father, eyes skimming the edges of the room as he went to find Octavia standing in the shadows of the hall. Behind her eyes, more thoughts lurked illegible, but he’d had enough of understanding for one day. He wondered briefly if his decisions would make her glad, if they would be enough to prove anything in the end, but he did not feel like asking now. With shoulders square, he slipped away.
Posted: Jan 28 2018, 07:40 PM
Though We're Tethered to the Story We Must Tell
21 May 2021. Sable House. Octavia Black.
His father's office had never before looked to him so bare.
Castor lifted the last file from the surface of the desk, packing it away with the others in its designated box before replacing the lid and sealing it with a tap of his wand. Within moments, as he removed his hands and stepped back to wait, the box disappeared, transported on ahead of him in the same fashion as the others. It had been the last of his packing, the task penultimate to his final task of the night, and Castor looked around him numbly, taking in the emptiness of a room still more than half full, cleared as though he'd never been there.
He'd inherited the space just as he'd inherited leadership of their family, the burden and responsibility of it falling on his shoulders at the age of nearly thirty. Prior to that time, the office had always been his father's, a space to be revered and traversed lightly. It was where he'd come for the worst of his punishments and the most grand of his life lessons throughout the course of his childhood years, and perhaps that the was the reason it had never felt as though it truly belonged to him. It was all of it his, by right of blood, and he had never lived anywhere else but Sable House since the moment of his birth, but still, this space he had only borrowed, and now it was time to pass it on once more.
The shelves along the wall and all the furniture he'd left behind; Ophelia would need it, after all, when at last the term ended and she returned home to find out what he'd done. It was only those possessions he'd added himself that he'd removed: files and work and gifts, his books and his cigars and perhaps a few of those ancestral tomes he could not bear to leave behind; the rest of it would remain for his daughter's use, that she might guide their family by the power of her own hand. It was certainly no longer his duty to uphold, not in light of the choices he'd made.
The past two weeks had been dedicated entirely to similar work as Castor prepared for the night ahead of him. He'd gone through the house, choosing those items it would be necessary to take and storing them away one by one in the privacy of the study. It had seemed premature to send them ahead to the house he would soon call home before all the decisions were finalized, but he could at least prepare. He'd visited Gringotts, separating out his personal assets from those of the family and transferring his salary over into a new account. The family vault would be more than enough to sustain Ophelia and her mother without difficulty, even without the addition of his pay, and in that regard, at least, there was no need for worry. There had been other tasks, however, that had been more difficult to accomplish and that he could not complete until the summer came. He hated to leave such a matter half finished, the house still bound to his name and his marriage not yet entirely taken care of, but that was the way it had to be. It was a start, if nothing else, and in the end, the way things had resolved with Rowan made the idea of departing with loose ends still flapping in the breeze a little easier to stomach.
Thursday night he'd been numb, and the dark had done nothing to illuminate the direction he should take. He'd been so certain, before, in what it was necessary to do, but Rowan had ended things between them so quickly and there did not seem any hope for going back. His words had hurt, cutting Castor in a vulnerable place until he wondered if it wasn't for the best that they part. It made no sense to be with someone who thought him such a foul creature, and indeed his past deeds only stretched dark and insidious through to his youth. Such a conclusion was not satisfying, however, when the way he felt refused to be so logically addressed, and the fact remained that he'd dismantled his life near entirely so that very little of the work remained. That was what had decided it all for him, in the end--he had started this task; why not finish it--and so Castor had returned home to clear out his wardrobe, wrapping the room in muffling charms lest he wake Octavia. It was not time to tell her, not yet, not until all of it was settled.
Friday night was to be the last, and his numbness had yet to leave him. He'd envisioned he might look forward to such a departure, once, when leaving would be a short trip to Rowan's flat and a night warm in his arms. There was nothing waiting for him now, however, and he'd never felt more uncertain of his future. He could envision nothing on the other side of the morning without even work to keep him busy, and the Ministry was little comfort at the moment anyway. He'd packed his things away in a stunned silence, each box disappearing as he finished with it, the House Elves completing the last task he would ever employ them for and transporting the lot of it ahead to his grandfather's former house. It was an old Burke estate, narrow and cramped, inside the bounds of London, left to him in lieu of his father, who had hated it anyway. It was appropriate in many ways, that he should find himself consigned there now. His father had considered it as some sort of space for banishment, a relic of the name he'd stripped himself of and a place for his own father to go to be forgotten. Castor would take a turn at banishment himself now.
Sable House was so quiet around him, and Castor could feel himself hesitating, an unsettling fear clogging his throat. One last step. One last step and the worst is over. Like a man approaching execution, he headed for the study door, stepping out into the hall beyond. Octavia was upstairs, and he climbed the steps in the foyer slowly, taking in the house he'd never quite been big enough for as he went. The journey wasn't far enough, and as he pushed through into the soft, yellow light of the bedroom, he still did not feel prepared. He occupied himself pushing the door shut, leaving it cracked a fraction, before turning to watch Octavia as she brushed out her hair in the vanity mirror. He had tried to love her, all those years ago, and for a time he'd believed himself successful, but he could understand it now that love was not a thing you could decide to feel, not truly. When it was real, it ached so that its absence became like a feeling of its own, and he could not pretend he did not know its pain.
"I need to speak with you," he said at last, breaking the silence, and though Octavia had made no prior acknowledgment of his presence, she reacted at once, dropping her brush onto the vanity table with a tense sigh and rising from her seat.
"What," she replied, voice sharp, as she moved to the credenza and removed the stopper from a decanter of bourbon. It poured, quick and amber, into a crystal glass, and within moments she'd downed it as though dying of thirst. How could he have gone so long without seeing what was right in front of him? How could he have missed this for years? He watched her silently for a moment more, taking in the impatience in her frame and how unpleasant it felt just to be near her, before his pause appeared to agitate her and she turned, throwing a hot glance in his direction. "Am I supposed to guess what you're referring to, is that it? For Merlin's sake, Castor, everyone can't always just know what you want."
"No, I don't expect it," he replied, hand curling into a fist at his side. She'd never cared for his silences. "I must tell you I have been unfaithful to you." It was easier to admit than he'd thought, the words coming blunt and even and without the rush of shame he'd anticipated. It was what it was, and this was his correction. To his surprise, however, Octavia appeared unconcerned. Her laughter was light and almost genuine, and he watched as she poured herself another glass.
"Oh. That. Feeling guilty about your little secretary, are you?" Castor's jaw tensed with irritation at the glibness of her response, but still he remained calm. It had never been an easy thing to lie to her, and he'd hardly been careful the past month. She was bound to have noticed something wrong in his actions, he'd just thought perhaps she might care a little more.
"Not my secretary, no," he said slowly, and Octavia sighed again, at last turning to look at him, glass still clutched in her hand.
"I really don't give shit who it was, darling, and I don't care." She paused for a moment, expression odd, and then her lips split into an unnerving smile, eyes wide with an expression that did not quite seem like glee. "You think I've been faithful to you all these years?"
That, he had not expected.
There was a part of him that insisted on passionate response, murmuring words of indignation and disrespect at the back of his mind, but they did not grip him. In truth, he only felt stupid, and he glanced down at the floor, uncertain of what to say. Octavia filled the silence readily.
"It might as well be expected of men like you," she continued flippantly, taking a sip of her drink. "Why not say we're even now? You can go through the motions of your apology, if it'll make you feel better. Just do me a favor and don't grovel. I really don't think I could stomach it."
"I didn't come to apologize," Castor replied, looking back at her with conviction. Perhaps he should have been apologizing, but it would make no difference now and clearly she did not care for the idea. "I intend to make it right." She was halfway through scoffing at him, but this time he did not wait. "I'm leaving you. My things have been sent ahead to Burke House. I go tonight."
She looked at him, and in that moment Castor felt he was seeing his wife in a way that he had not in twenty years of marriage. There was passion in her eyes, an expression she had never once turned on him in all their time together, and a depth that extended farther than her carefully guarded surface. This was the woman he'd known was there all along but had never quite been able to reach, arriving at last at the end of it all. And she was furious.
"You what!" she snapped, and Castor raised an eyebrow in surprise.
"I am...leaving...I...I know we have...never been particularly close, but I-"
"No, we fucking haven't," she snapped at him, and Castor could see her knuckles growing white around her glass. "Do you know why that is? Because I despise you! You think I volunteered for this marriage? And now you waltz away to you little whore like it was nothing?!"
"If you despise me, I would think it a relief," Castor muttered, furrowing his brow in confusion, but that only made her raise her voice.
"You think it's your right to decide what happens to me?!" she shouted, and Castor stared at her, stunned. "You don't ask! You come and here and tell me what you've decided to do with me the same as you've always done you fucking. Prick! How dare you do this now!"
"And when would have been preferable," Castor sneered, unable to keep the aggravation from his own voice. This was not how he'd wanted things to go, and it was not easy to face her contempt. She continued on almost as if she hadn't heard him, however.
"If only Rhion could have taught you how to thrust yourself at your little secretary sooner, perhaps that cunt wife of his wouldn't have had the chance to fucking murder him!"
The allusion to Rhion was dumbfounding, but far from difficult to understand, and Castor absorbed it slowly as Octavia knocked back the rest of her drink. She turned again to her decanter, and with a strange thrill of exasperation Castor felt himself snap, "Stop." But the curl of her lips and the tall glass she poured for herself made it clear she did not care for his disapproval.
"I could have had something," she was murmuring to herself, voice incredulous. "I could have fucking had something for myself. But now... So you're leaving me with Eirien, then. Saddling me with your responsibilities. Your house. Rhion's children." She laughed bitterly to herself, and then she was tipping her head back and dissolving into a desperate keen of hysterics. There were tears at the corner of her eyes, a product of her strange mirth, when at last she looked back at him, a grin still painted across her lips. "Go on then, go to her, why don't you. See how long that lasts before she's just as bored of you as I am."
"Him," Castor corrected, narrowing his eyes at her in challenge. He hadn't intended to tell her, and truly there was no one at all for him to go to now, but somehow he felt the fact of it might hurt her, and sure enough, her expression fell instantly. In one swift motion, Octavia drew back her arm, hurling the now empty crystal decanter at his head. He was just in time to duck out of the way, and it hit the door behind him, shutting it with a heavy thud before it clattered to the floor.
"Get out," she said coldly, and Castor saw no reason to stay.
"I will return in June," he said, pulling the door open once more. "Ophelia will hear it from me. Until then, you will tell no one." He did not have to tell her--his desires would have bound her voice regardless, and he could read the utter loathing in her expression at the thought of yet another of his secrets to guard--but it was all there was left to say. Stepping out into the hall, he slammed the door shut after him, heading for the stair again. His feet carried him down to the fireplace off the foyer, and he dipped his hand into the bag of floo powder waiting for his egress on the table. He did not want to hesitate, but for a moment in the dark he was quiet, breath labored and thin as the enormity of it all hit him. There was nothing waiting for him, nothing, and he did not know how to greet it. But there was just as much nothing at his back. Time would move forward as it always had. And so would he.
"Burke House," he murmured, stepping into the flames, and his home vanished in a flicker of emerald.
Posted: May 29 2018, 03:00 PM
No I Am Not Where I Belong
17 July 2021. The Flat.
Rowan was there.
It was so simple, a reality unquestioned, in no way out of place or unexpected. It was not as though he'd appeared or returned, it was not as though Castor had been alone; the night was only warm and dim and hazy, Rowan moving closer into his arms, breath stirring warm against his skin. The peace of it was ultimate and entirely complete, his lover's fingers wandering sweet across his chest. Only heat. Only comfort. Only sensation.
Perfect until a voice cut the quiet.
It was too loud, too out of place and perhaps a touch painful, the sound of murmuring, but Castor only shifted, settling closer to the heat in his arms and the smell of Rowan's hair. It tickled the end of his nose, and he breathed into it a soft sigh, low and pleased. It seemed to echo through his own skull, as though he'd cast a Sonorus on himself and forgotten to dismiss it; his brow creased in displeasure, and Castor opened his eyes slowly on a morning lit far too bright, nearly blinding him as its lights attempted to shine through to the back of his brain. With a hiss--that he immediately regretted for the assault it launched on his ears--Castor turned his face back into the pillow, searching again for sleep. Where had the time gone? Hadn't it just been dark? Hadn't Rowan just been...
The thought died slow, and Castor lay motionless, counting the seconds as the world around him came gradually back into focus. There was the faint sound of Muggle traffic, humming through the window at his back; there was the feeling of the sun streaming through the glass to warm him through; there were the sheets wound tight around him, holding him secure in their embrace; there was the pillow against his cheek, which still smelled faintly of sweat and shampoo and cologne. There was the empty bed. The empty room. The empty flat. There was no Rowan.
His mind understood, of course, how his dreams had deceived him, so much more vivid than they otherwise might have been by virtue of the alcohol in his system. He'd drunk until he thought he might drown, had drunk until his hands began to blur and the movement of other people around him became difficult to distinguish from his own unsteady stride. He'd drunk until he'd given himself things to regret, and then, only then, had he found his way home to collapse in a disoriented heap. He'd managed to undress, somehow, save for a cotton shirt Rowan had left behind, fished out from where he'd forgotten it at the bottom of his hamper. Castor moved his hand to touch it, aware of the weigh of it on his skin and the quality of the fabric, soft with that singular sensation of use. It seemed strange, to touch himself, as though his limbs remained disconnected from the rest of him, and he ventured slowly upward to finger the hard shape of a stone, trapped just below the hollow of his throat by the stiff collar of Rowan's shirt.
The thought drifted hollow across his mind, raw and exhausted.
It had been difficult, to adjust to nights alone in Rowan's flat, but he had not anticipated that morning could be even harder. For all his independence, all his self-sufficiency, Castor found living on his own to be deeply unnerving. He was silent to a fault, with no one home, for there was no one to be quiet for. He would not disturb anyone by the sound of his voice, but there was nothing to say regardless, and so it seemed the moment he stepped over the threshold at the end of each day, a paralysis overtook him. Speech was naught but a memory, and every motion was performed with a muted sort of tension. He set his belongings down with care so they would not disturb the air, and his steps fell light, even for all his movement, wandering in restless circles from kitchen to living room and back again as though searching for something he knew he would not find. It was like panic, but even to name it could not force the feeling to resolve, to emerge, as though he'd frozen at last but far too late, his emotion hovering just beneath the surface, shivering in the currents underneath, desperate to break through.
He could feel them there--pressed close against the ice until it seemed his chest had begun to bow and tense with the force of them--as he lay stiff and unmoving in Rowan's bed, willing away the sensations of warmth and serenity that had come to him in the cruelty of his dreams, clawing the memories desperately from his skin. It had been real for just a moment, the feeling of Rowan pressed against him, but he was far gone, and the silence would not end. The loneliness of it was suffocating, pressing him down into the mattress until he thought he might never leave, but his head was pounding and his throat stuck, raw, with every swallow, and Castor at last willed himself from beneath the sheets, jerking upright and ignoring the throbbing in his head that sent the room swimming, staggering to his feet and clutching for the wardrobe even as the floor dipped sharply sideways, dizziness threatening to over balance him.
Castor was not overly familiar with the sensation of a hangover. There was pleasantness in drink, but he'd never been inclined to lose himself in it, and any faint annoyance it had left him with in the past had been lost in the regularity of his morning headaches. For years, he'd woken with pounding in his skull, jaw aching from the way he clenched tight around himself even in his sleep. Bourbon did not make it hurt any worse, and so Castor pushed past the discomfort, fumbling his way to the chest of drawers and drawing it open. In swift movements, he dressed, discarding Rowan's shirt and pulling on his own clothes with an ever increasing sense of urgency, fingers stumbling over buttons until he was not certain he'd done them up right at all. He did not care. His steps took him clumsily into the kitchen, elbow colliding painfully with the door frame as he listed slightly sideways, but he spared it only a wince, voice curled far too tight in his throat to spare so much as a breath of protest.
Water. He knew he needed it with a distant sort of logic, and so he found the sink, fingers turning the tap until it streamed cool and swift into the metal basin, but he could not force his lips apart to drink it. Deep in his throat, his chest, his stomach, something seemed to well until he feared he might vomit, and so Castor hovered there, breathing heavy through his nose as he stared down into the drain. He could not force himself, not even as he lifted his hands from the counter to cup them beneath the stream, water splashing back to wet his shirt cuffs. It was cold. So much colder than the heat of his skin. So much colder than the sweat that had broken out along curve of his back so that his shirt began to stick. He splashed it up against his face, blinking away the droplets that clung to his lashes and stung his dry eyes. Again. Again. He scrubbed at his face with his hands. He gasped for air at last, the sound of it muted beneath the hiss of the water and loud like a cry in his ears--like a sob. He had to get out.
Castor took only the time to shut off the tap and find a towel to wipe the water from his face before he was fumbling with his shoelaces, the key to Rowan's flat clutched so tight against his palm he could feel it biting the skin. There was nothing he needed, not at this moment, not in the way he needed to be away, and so he left unburdened, locking the door behind him and hurrying out into the bright afternoon. It glared harshly at him, and his eyes threatened to close, weak against the light, but Castor simply cupped a hand to his brow and marched on. The walk was farther than he'd anticipated, and more than once, he found himself turned around, unsure of his direction. Perhaps he had not truly decided where to go. It was only when at last he relented, slipping into the seclusion of an alley and disapparating, that he knew.
He reappeared in a garden, cramped and dark despite the time of day, shielded as it was by a high, wrought iron fence lined with thick hedges. Above him, a narrow house towered, and Castor hurried up its steps, fumbling with his keys, hands shaking as he let himself in. The interior hall was cool, quiet, dim, relief, but it did not still him, and Castor shot up the stairs, taking them two at a time and slipping into the bedroom at the top. He struggled with his shoes, dropping them on the floor with his set of keys, and then, with some natural sort of instinct for hiding himself away, for retreating to darkness and seclusion and oblivion, Castor drew back the weight of the duvet and slid into bed.
Burke House had been waiting for him to return, standing tall and empty, enduring even without a master to stoke its fires, and Castor had come to it at last. It had hurt like he had not known it could, to wake and find Rowan gone all over again, to feel so betrayed by his own mind, and his breath shuddered, heavy and thin as he drew the covers over his head and wrapped his arms around his face. Rowan would come back to him, he had to believe that Rowan could come back , but until then he was lost. He would wreck himself on the mirages of his dreams, if he attempted to sail too far in the dark. He would find his hope spoiled and wasted until his heart grew too hard for fragile feelings, and then what would there be for Rowan to return to? Above all things, Castor needed him to return.
In the all-consuming silence of Burke House, humming its own melody like the faint electric buzzing that pervaded the quiet of Rowan's flat, Castor put himself back to sleep, fading into a darkness far more complete than his dreams of the morning. When he woke, night had come again.
Posted: Jun 14 2018, 04:25 AM
Meet Me in the Trenches, I'll Be Taking Cover
26 July 2021. DIMC.
How peculiar the circumstance, that as Castor lost what he'd cared for most, he found himself infinitely wealthy. How ironic his prize when he knew not how to spend it.
Did not men covet such gifts? Time to themselves, time to live, time immemorial. To be remembered forever, to live forever; they were all preoccupations of the temporal, terminating into the infinite, breaking against the rocks of immeasureability. He was a wealthy man, possessed of so much time, and what a curse it was. Midas, doomed to die by the greed of his desires, his own hands turning traitorous as he froze the world around him in a precious tableau of cold and useless stone. The beauty of such things lay in their rarity, and perhaps in his memories that stood to describe Rowan as more beautiful than ever--recollections crafted in shades of glittering sunlight and clear blue sky, the touch of his skin the texture of down and the smell of his hair all too easy to recall should he wish to lose himself in it--but the same could not be said of his abundances. There was only time, empty and expansive, stretching onward, echoed by each beating of the blood in his ears, and Castor was losing track of how the minutes fit together.
A day began. There was a sun, and somewhere beyond Burke House's sparingly windowed walls, it rose. Castor did the same. There was perhaps a meal, perhaps a coffee, and sometimes little more than a collection of long staring moments as his eyes lost themselves in some far away gaze. The fabric of time frayed. He slipped through the Floo to find himself in the Ministry Atrium. He slipped through the Floo to find himself home. There was darkness within, and somewhere beyond, the Moon touched the sky. The night came.
And each night, Castor seemed to lie awake a little longer.
There was not much to think about, really, but it sometimes seemed easier to stare into the dark than allow his eyes to close. Sometimes, he knew he dreamed. They were never as vivid as that last morning when he'd woken in Rowan's bed with the phantom of him still on his lips, but still, a distinct hollow seemed to settle in his chest upon waking, and it simply made opening his eyes all the harder. Why not fade as time? Why not sleep until it was Rowan's hand that shook him awake, and if his lover never returned to him, he would not have to know. Such thoughts tugged him downward each morning, clinging just a little longer to the warmth of his skin and sewing shut his eyes. He hated the feeling of tearing away.
The morning of his seventeenth day alone proved exceptionally difficult to escape. Perhaps he should have been energetic from a weekend wasted on rest, but the sleep had come and come and come over him in unrelenting waves so that he'd barely moved from bed in more than a day, and Monday's dawn was little better. Every bit of him ached as he dragged himself into the fireplace, remembering only belatedly that the Floo required the hoarse murmur of his voice to function. It emerged from him in a raspy whisper, raw from slumber and disuse, but the magic seemed to understand.
Sleep, rise, work, eat, visit Rowan's flat to find something more to maintain himself with--to spend one of his precious hours on a silent agony of observation, fingers ghosting careful over the soft, budding succulents in the bedroom before at last he escaped with a morsel or two to keep him going--sleep again. He knew the cycle, but still he reviewed it in his mind as he sank, slow and haggard, into the chair behind his desk, its recitation nearly like a mantra. Sleep rise work eat flee cower sleep sleep... Perhaps with something so rhythmic by which to measure his time, it would not feel so vast, for surely the metric of his heartbeat had been broken. It could not count the hour now, and Castor's focus lay only in counting the day. Seventeen. Seventeen days apart--sixteen mornings and nearly seventeen afternoons. More than two weeks since Rowan had gone. How long until he came back?
Two months was the estimate, and if those words were true, more than a quarter of the time had passed. It almost sounded optimistic, thought of in such terms, but what if it were three? Rowan was so unpredictable, and the world so large. It was better to think of how far he'd come. Seventeen, seventeen, sleep rise eat repeat, seventeen, seventeen...
If only it were so simple.
It was perhaps eight o'clock, for he thought he'd heard a bell tolling somewhere in his not-so-distant memories, when the door opened of its own accord. Castor flinched at the suddenness of its unprecedented movement, just at the corner of his eye, gaze darting up from the parchment before him as his left hand curled into a steadying fist. His first thought was perhaps an appointment he had not accounted for, and it crossed his mind that he should have consulted the schedule at his side more closely, eyes darting to the right before he thought better of the gesture, but there was no need to bother. Castor recognized the figure who appeared in his doorway, wand clutched between the carefully arranged fingers of his gloved hand, nose held high enough to accentuate his already substantial height; he was on his feet in an instant.
"You need a better secretary," Tarian Black sneered, cold eyes gliding lazily across the width of Castor's office as he welcomed himself inside. For his part, Castor was busily engaged in the retrieval of his wand, a short scramble of his fingertips locating the smooth length of his Elm where he'd set it to the side of his writing pad. With only a bit of blind clumsiness, he managed to scoop it against his palm, his eyes never leaving his father, and with a sharp twitch of his wrist, Castor drew the door shut behind him. Tarian, for his part, had already managed to locate the high back of one of the chairs set opposite Castor's desk, hands engaged in peeling off the black leather of his gloves one finger at a time where he stood behind it. Castor knew he would not sit.
For a moment, there was silence as they regarded one another.
"Greet your father, Castor, for Merlin's sake." There was a tension in Tarian's voice that set Castor's skin crawling, that made him feel queasy, with the roaring of his heart already running so loud in his ears. Anger, punishment; he knew the tone of such emotions in his father's voice by now, and there was no easy half-smirk clinging to his lips this morning--an expression that seemed to announce to the world around him that he was, in fact, in full control of which way the wind blew. Instead, a slight turn of his upper lip painted his features in a mild sort of disgust. For his part, Castor had gone as featureless as stone, and pale as though he were just as bloodless. He held his wand as he held his silence.
"One would think you'd been born mute, the amount you talk," Tarian sighed, a deep frown overtaking him. "I suppose it's preferable to that awful stuttering. I will assume you have nothing to say for yourself, then, and also that you know good and well why I've come. Trust that I would not have bothered, had I another son. But there, you see, we all have our shortcomings. I lack foresight as you lack any sort worthy character."
"You should not have...wasted your ti-" Castor began, voice pitched low and quiet, tremulous at the edges.
"No, you should not have wasted my time," Tarian cut in swiftly, clipping off the end of Castor's words. In a few short steps, he'd rounded the chair, stepping to the far edge of Castor's desk. It seemed suddenly inadequate to keep them separate, and Castor fought the urge to lean backward, away from the disdain in his father's eyes. "Such disregard. For myself. For your mother. For your wife and daughter. I have always known you were cowardly, but at least you were a man. I cannot be certain any longer when you would run away from your responsibilities. Yet still you sit here, in this office? Don't they know the embarrassment you are?" Castor said nothing, shoulders tensing as his eyes hardened at the corners, and Tarian clicked his tongue in irritation.
"I believe I was clear enough in my letter. Don't do me the disservice of lying to pretend you didn't receive it. You are to come home. We shall deal with the mess you've made from there. I daresay you've made it easier, the way you cling to your work above all else. We might say the stress of the job has gotten to you. I despise to admit such weakness in my blood, but then it's preferable to letting the rest of the wizarding world talk. It was bad enough when you'd left matters to rumor, but then you turn up in public, a drunken mess, and do your best to cross the Yaxleys. You make it hard to want you, Castor, but you are mine, and if I am to step up and take this family back from how you've torn it apart, don't believe that-"
"It is Ophelia's now," Castor interrupted, eyes narrow and jaw tight. He could not help the slight angle of his body backwards, as he leaned away from his father's rebuke, but there was no mistaking the challenge in his thin gaze. He could see the teeth grinding behind Tarian's lips as his father considered.
"You will have to kill me if you believe you have a say in that," Tarian said, each word deliberate with force. "Tell me what papers you have signed? The deed remains in my name, and it is only in will that you inherit, to do with the estate as you wish. My allowance thus far has been a kindness you do not deserve. Wills can be changed, Castor, and that is exactly the sort of selfishness you've determined to play with. It was bad enough, you sought to leave everything I worked for in such tenuous hands, but at least Ophelia holds the potential to produce a male heir of strong connection to his grandfather. Whatever your shame, your blood remains pure, and it is that I want returned to me. Let your mind wander as it wants. You sit your chair while the rest of us see to this family. Make it all the harder for us. Only don't get in the way or I swear I will erase you." Tarian's hand had risen at some point, and Castor could feel a single finger pressing hard against his chest some few inches beneath the moonstone he wore around his neck--the shape of it under his shirt hidden safely by the bulk of his collar and tie. His hand flinched upward to protect it, some instinct driving him to reaction before he thought better of giving himself away, and Castor settled for stepping back, shoulder turning inward like a shield as his legs bumped awkwardly against the chair behind him. There was precious little room to run.
"You cannot build a new face off my back, he murmured, and the air in his throat was thin. "I have done n-nothing-"
"Stop." Tarian insisted, and for a moment, Castor thought his father might reach for his arm. "Don't you dare. You know the importance of family. You know the measure of our name. We are all a part of the same body. We have so much left to lose, with thanks to men like your grandfather. Men like you. I gave you everything you have, everything your daughter has. You would undo it with your arrogance. And for what? What is so important you seek to run away? Ophelia claims you are pursuing a divorce. She cannot give me a reason why, but that certainly hasn't stopped the rest of Britain their attempts to guess."
"It's not your b-"
"Do not!" Tarian snapped, hand smacking against the surface of the desk. "Do not disrespect me with that answer! It is my business! You have me to thank for your ability to make such choices!" And it was that, more than anything, that served to displace Castor's fear. A sudden frown creased his brow as a wave of irritation washed over him, some portion of the fundament of his mind latching onto the insult that was a falsehood presented as fact. Tarian could be said to possess many admirable qualities, if one wished to twist their perspective far enough to see them, but liberalness was hardly among them. It was not difficult to remember the aspirations he'd crushed, either by the angle of his suggestions or outright demand; there was only disrespect in his attempts to still claim himself generous.
"I believe grandfather left me more choice than you ever have," Castor murmured dangerously, fingers turning the wand still clutched in his left hand. Tarian, to his credit, seemed to be reaching new levels of pissed off.
"You love what he's done for you so much, you take his name why don't you?!" Castor had to admit, the thought had crossed his mind. He had, in essence, pledged himself to discard all he'd been before Rowan, in his leaving of Octavia. Husband no more, pureblood no more...could he really continue to be a Black? Burke belonged to him in a more definitive sense; perhaps still a moniker of the pureblood community, but even a bastard could be born with such a name and just the same as the illegitimate, his ancestry tracked its way back to the seat of Burke legacy. "Black" was stolen, a prize seized for its esteem, a symbol of worth and belief and purity. "Black" held a significance beyond the circumstantial, and it was his father's name more than any of the rest of them, for Tarian had been the one to claim it. He had given it to Castor. Perhaps it was right to give it back.
Only Castor did not feel like being so accommodating at the moment, and to acknowledge his father's reclamation of his matriarchal heritage as some sort of honor would do nothing but give the man power. Perhaps even, at the heart of it all, Castor no longer believed in the virtues his father had laid out for him on soft sheets of aged vellum and brittle parchments fractured into spider's webs by the enduring light of the sun. Such notions of legacy had done little, in the end, save keep him from those things that made him happy. It was selfish and hurtful, and he'd made a poor effort to keep up his end of the bargains he'd made with himself--disappear, as though you'd never existed at all, and how could your parting hurt them--but he would try again, if only Tarian would let him. He would vanish, and the world would not hurt for his absence and it would be enough.
Belatedly, Castor came back to the world and the sight of his father's livid stare, his lips still moving in the animations of his inability to understand those choices his son dared to make. He never would understand, Castor knew, regardless of if the story fell into his lap or not, regardless of if he ever learned the truth of what had driven his son so completely from the hedge-lined path. They were creatures born of shadow, both of them, but Castor had fallen in love with the light, and he could see it now, the way it made him, the way darkness alone could never be enough.
"Your reasons Castor, damn it, pay attention," Tarian snapped, jolting Castor out of the thoughts that had taken him. Cold and even, he looked his father in the eye.
"I don't love her."
"For Merlin's sake!"
Perhaps he'd been excepting some measure of shock from his father, but Tarian simply appeared irritated, one hand rising to pinch the bridge of his nose.
"Are you so slow you've only just decided? And what did you think you were marrying her for, Castor? She is a partner, she has given you an heir, for what that can possibly be worth. I did not realize you were delusional as well as incompetent, but there again it all comes back to me. I am your father and somewhere along the line, I failed with you."
"On that I believe we agree," Castor murmured, looking away across the room. His father's voice came to him as a hiss of contempt in his ear.
"Do not test me, Castor," Tarian said, and the air felt thick with the tension between them. Neither of them could possibly come away from the morning winners, and Castor could feel the weight of the conversation drawing him down, heavy over the exhaustion he seemed to carry just beneath his skin, as though some part of him had begun to grey.
"I want you to leave," Castor said softly, eyes skimming over the shelves on his wall, lined with hefty tomes in perfect order. It was only belatedly that he realized he'd made the command a desire, but somehow, to know that he wanted it made it feel all the stronger
"You know what I came here for," Tarian replied, and then he was rounding the desk so that only a chair stood between them. Castor placed a hand on its back. Tarian pushed it to the side.
"I'm not g-going with you," Castor insisted, heart hammering with the suddenness of their proximity. "I am n-not a ch-child."
"Yet you behave like one," Tarian spat, and again, his hand rose, fingers prodding Castor's chest to drive his points home. This time, Castor did not resist, lifting a hand to cover the hidden moonstone around his throat. "I am not leaving until you see sense if I have to throw open those doors to do it."
"Is that what you fear? Will that make you see how thinly you shield your shame? Only a wooden door between yourself and ridicule! It is weak! Come out here where they can see you, then." Tarian's hand fisted into the front of Castor's shirt, and as if struggling to keep hold of himself, Castor closed his fist tight around his own collar, jerking backward so that his shoulder awkwardly struck the wall.
"Why are you so afraid to be something worthwhile! Stop running, Castor! Be a fucking man!" Tarian did not let go, and with his other hand, he raised his wand to the door, turning his gaze to summon it open. For once, Castor was faster.
"Silencio," he growled, the tip of his wand pressing into his father's throat. As though the spell had taken more than just his voice, Tarian seemed to freeze, face paling with the shock of a single word. His lips parted, and he turned back to Castor, surprise evident in his features, but not a sound emerged. Castor was just as speechless.
He'd never raised so much as a hand to his father before, let alone drawn his wand on him, but there it was, hovering steady against Tarian's neck, a threat maintained as though his body knew what to do even as his heart did not--as though he'd left himself behind.
"This conversation is over," Castor said, speaking slow into the silence he'd crafted for himself, unhurried without the threat of interruption. "You will leave. Or I will summon security. I do not imagine your...reputation would withstand an escort...from the premises. Regardless of the reason. That is what your...name earns you. Shame. And suspicion. Do not forget." Carefully, Castor stepped backward, moving beyond the reach of his father's grasp, right hand still wrapped around the pendant at his throat. Tarian seemed content to do the same, anger flickering across his face as he shifted slowly backward beyond the reach of Castor's wand. Only then did he raise his own to his throat. Carefully, he tapped the tip wordlessly against his skin, but Castor's spellwork was seldom less than steadfast, and still Tarian's lips expressed nothing but silence. The surprise on his face was evident, but Castor made no move to help him until, with a look of frustration, Tarian gestured first to his throat and then the door, outlining his intentions. Castor's wand responded hesitantly.
"You've made your point," Tarian growled, and a note of hoarseness seemed to have crept into his throat. "I have yet to make mine. I am not frightened by your silences, Castor." With a quiver of his lip, Tarian turned away, crossing to the door and pausing, hand hovering just above the knob, before he turned back to retrieve his gloves. He considered his son coldly as he slipped them back on, one by one, until he'd coated his fingers in leather-black--far too late to keep the stain from his hands. "Run away, then, and pray our world has anything left for you when you finally decide to return. You are nothing on your own. That has not changed, no matter what you believe. You are all the weakest parts of me given life. You are my curse." Tarian's look lingered, free of malice, long and earnest, as though the words did not need a weight to fall heavy. In that, he was right.
Tarian turned to go without further argument, and the door fell shut, compliant, behind him, closing Castor in with the quiet of his office, now restored. 'Let him find you,' Rowan's voice seemed to whisper into the emptiness, 'he will find me too.' Only Rowan was not there.
It was several long moments before the shiver in his veins grew content to still, but even so, Castor could feel the tingling of his palm where it tightly clutched the pendant at his throat. Slowly, he uncurled his fist, fingers slipping down into the neck of his shirt to reveal the moonstone to the light, thumb skimming gently over the subtle edges of its raw shape. It had all been for something, he had to remember, whether Rowan stood beside him or not, regardless of how alone he felt. He'd left for reasons of his own and they were worthwhile, they had transformed him, had left him a ruin of the man he'd been before. This existence was a privilege and he was a curse and in his thoughts, the line between his faith in his choices and his father's words had begun to blur.
Seventeen days, he reminded himself, and the number of it loomed large for the distances it marked and small for how far was left to go.
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