zweihander: (what have i done what have i done)
celene ([personal profile] zweihander) wrote2015-06-17 09:01 pm
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a talk with dad

"Dad? Can I talk to you?"

It had been a year since little Caroline Clark, less little by the day, had stopped a cult from taking over her town. Nobody had cried that news. Not in that specific way, at least. The miller and his followers had washed up in the aftermath of the day the river ran red, and nobody questioned it further. Nobody inspected the wounds on the bodies, and Mr. Herne would probably have denied any involvement if anyone had.

But even daily prayer and repentance, even taking every measure she could to save her soul, could not lighten the load weighing on Caroline's heart. Every time she saw the miller's daughter around the village or lifted her blade for sparring or saw the faces of her four friends who had all been there and had all seen what she had seen and who in a second would have done what she had done for the sake of their safety and the safety of the town... every time, the memories dragged her body down a little further.

She couldn't stay silent for much longer. And the one-year anniversary was as good a time as any. She always was dramatic like that.

"What's up, kiddo?"

"Do you remember that night last year?" she started, not sure if she had to clarify. There was that time she got so drunk she came home singing horribly off-key songs about drinking drinks of drinks. There was that time she stayed up all night crying because she was worried about Maria's family and her dad had to comfort her. "When they brought me home and I was asleep." And her clothing and skin had been torn and scorched by what looked like the teeth of enormous dogs.

Her father stood up from the table where he wrote out by hand the news of the day so he could present it to the town each morning. The candlelight didn't do much, but the last sliver of the sun hadn't fallen from the sky quite yet. With gentle hands, he held Caroline close and ignored the scars under her shirt and his fingertips. "I try not to."

And Caroline hugged him back with hands she was glad to use for something positive for once. She hadn't created nearly as much music since they'd come back from the catacombs under the church. There was a lot of material to draw from, but none of it seemed worth celebrating.

"There's a lot I haven't told you about that night," she started, not letting go yet. She knew her dad would understand. "There's a lot I haven't told you in general." He had to. She couldn't lose him, too. But he was the one who broke the hug. The light was too dim to see his face, even with Caroline's (what she considered) impressive growth spurt over the past year. He picked up the candle and brought it close, and suddenly she could see that nothing on his face had changed. He still looked concerned, even in the shadows, even as he walked away from her and towards the kettle, still full of lukewarm water from dinner. It wouldn't take too long to re-heat, even if they had to start the fire again.

"I'm going to make some tea, okay, Caroline? Then you can tell me whatever you want to tell me." He smiled at her from above the candle and didn't even stop when she didn't smile back.

"You're not going to be mad?"

They walked into a separate room, one with fewer flammable pieces of parchment, and she watched her father poke at the still-glowing embers in the hearth with an iron rod. A few tiny lights in the darkness later and a larger flame began to sidle its way down a smaller piece of firewood; he placed the kettle in a harness of sorts made of metal rods and hung it over the fire for heating.

"I'm a little worried, Car. I won't lie to you." He held on to the candle and backtracked into the other room to find their tea leaves. Caroline herself rummaged through the darkness with no difficulty to find two clay mugs they could drink from. "But I figure if you waited this long to tell me, it has to be something that matters a lot to you." He looked down at her over his shoulder. "You always get nervous about things that matter a lot to you. Remember that song you wrote for Maria? You made me listen to it a million times to make sure it was perfect."

And it had been. He'd told her that a million and one times. She smiled to herself, suddenly glad the darkness was hiding her blush.

"That night when you came back all... torn up and bloody," he continued, and even though he was trying to stay casual, Caroline could tell something was wrong. "I was more scared than I'd ever been in my life. I thought I was going to lose you." And Caroline Clark, feeling littler than ever, stopped in her tracks. She'd known, of course. When she'd woken up the next morning, her father had been right next to her bed, himself asleep with her lute in his hands. Music had power, and maybe he'd needed some extra to get through that night.

She hadn't even protested when she'd woken him up trying to get the lute back and he'd hugged her more tightly than she'd been remotely prepared for. They hadn't been scars yet.

"I know you're doing some dangerous stuff with your friends," he said, walking back towards the room with the hearth. "Especially that Maragos kid. But they're your friends, Carol." He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her in for one of his patented side-hugs. "I'm not going to stop you from hanging out with them. I couldn't if I wanted to, huh?" With a laugh, he let go of her, but her heart filled with warmth to hear him remain happy. "Who knows what Khalil's been teaching you?"

They waited for the water to boil, the tension rising in Caroline's chest the entire time, and poured matching cups of tea for each other. She sat down at one side of the table; he sat across from her and put the candle down to their left. The fire still burned behind them, giving Caroline a very good view of her father's face, so she blew out the candle with a mischievous little grin and watched the smoke float to the ceiling.

And that was when Caroline told him everything. Everything he knew about from her stories—the Fae, the catacombs, the demon—and everything he didn't—the barbarians, the cultists, the miller. She never sold out any of her friends. Anything that was her fault, she owned wholly, and she left out anything else. Two counts of murder and two counts of accessory to murder, she could hear Mr. Law saying already, not to mention cruelty to animals, robbery, and destruction of property. But the smoke stopped wafting and the fire died out and her father was still there with the same gentle face as always.

He wasn't smiling. She could tell. But he reached across the table and took her hands in his.

"Caroline Cassandra Clark."

His voice was steady, but not angry.

"You're my daughter. And I know you were scared to tell me these things. But you did, eventually," he said with a tiny little smirk, "and that makes you my incredibly brave daughter. So let's call it even. I scared the pants off you, and you definitely scared them off me."

There was no way he was taking this so well. She had to be dreaming, or someone had to have messed with their tea. But they were both as lucid as they'd ever been, and once that reality set in she had to stop herself from leaping across the table and hugging her father right there.

"You did what you did because you had to. And if you didn't, maybe only one of us would be here right now. Maybe neither of us would be." Neither of them liked thinking about that. He moved on quickly. "You've grown up so much from the little girl with her head full of stories. Now you're the one writing them. And that's more than I could do."

"Wait... huh?"

He laughed again. "Where do you think you got your sense of adventure from, Car? Let me see if I still have my old songbook somewhere. I'll have to show you some of the things I came up with when I was your age." The chair scraped against the floor; he let go of her hands and stood up, and she followed suit.

"You're probably going to head out on your own soon. You're getting about that age." They'd clean up in the morning. He started walking over to their bedrooms. "Whatever you have to do to keep yourself and the people you care about safe, do it. You're a lot better at it than I am now." After a while, she'd stopped hiding her training with Mr. Herne from her dad. That explained why he'd let her do it so readily.

He stopped on his heel and turned around, bringing his daughter into another tight hug, the kind that made both people feel safe and protected as long as they were in it. "I love you, Caroline. I just don't want to see anything like that happen to you again."

Maybe they'd spend another night awake and crying. Maybe they wouldn't. They had each other, and Caroline was starting to realize that she might be the only one to have anyone else. She'd need to be more careful in the future, no matter what they had to fight against. No matter what they stood to lose, her father stood to lose so much more. He was counting on her to protect herself. No matter what.

"I love you too, dad."