They were spending the evening in the library, companionable and quiet, Sanadhil and Dozilva reading, Arek writing at the desk. San was the first to cock his head, listening to something the others hadn't noticed yet. He rose abruptly from his chair and went to investigate, not saying anything to his partners. Arek glanced to Dozilva, mildly puzzled. "Where's he going?"
"I don't know," Dozilva told him. She thought she could hear her mate's footsteps going towards Xan's room, but their second-eldest was supposed to be out tonight, and knowing him, might not be back before morning. There was a knock at the door, but seemingly no answer. Then the door opened and for a moment both of them could hear the faint but distinct sound of sobbing. They glanced at each other, worried.
"I'll go see what's wrong," Arek told her, not taking the time to walk up the stairs, but teleporting to outside Xan's door instead. He almost ran into Sanadhil, who was just coming out, looking pale and shaken. "What's happened?" Arek asked under his breath.
San just shook his head. "You need to help him," he managed to say, and Arek could tell how upset he was, how close to the breaking point. He nodded, putting a hand on Sanadhil's shoulder to reassure him.
"I will," he promised. "You... go to Dozilva, she's still in the library. I'll take care of him." He kissed his mate's brow and then stepped into their son's room, bracing himself against whatever he was about to face.
He'd guessed perhaps he would be dealing with youthful heartbreak, but this was much worse. Xandhil was curled into a fetal ball on the bed, naked and sobbing, and Arek took in at a glance the fresh, blistering burns in patterns of fingerprints and lips, the singed feathers, the bruises and drying blood on his pale skin. Xan looked up at him, blue eyes ringed with red, helpless and desperate, and Arek's maternal instincts drove him to his child's side to kneel beside him and stroke his sweat-tangled hair. "Xan," he told him, "I'm here, let me help."
Xan nodded weakly, so Arek quickly cast a healing spell, probably more powerful than was really needed but he wanted to be on the safe side, to take away his son's physical pain. The livid burns faded, diminishing to faintly shiny spots like weeks-old scars. More than that, though, Xan drew a deep, shuddering breath and then seemed able to breathe easier - Arek wondered if he'd had a broken rib, or other internal injuries, but now wasn't the time to ask. He moved up to sit on the edge of the bed, offering Xan his embrace, and Xan moved into it as he had when he was a little boy, afraid in the night or upset about childish matters that had been easy enough for a parent to solve. Arek had no idea if he could help his son now, but he could at least be here for him. He held Xan close until his sobs slowed to little gasping hiccups, then drew back from him slightly, holding him by the shoulders. "What happened?"
The story came out of Xan in bits and pieces - a bar in Pearl, a fight, Justen's rage surging out of control, and then, Arek gathered not just from the little Xan was able to tell him but from what he'd seen in that first moment, there had been sex so rough it had left him burned and torn open. "But he did it for me," Xan kept saying, and Arek nodded, stroking his hair, but not yet fully understanding.
"You didn't ask for that, though, did you?"
"I... I said yes, and I didn't stop him even when it h-hurt," Xan stammered. "I still wanted him, even like that, and I still liked it... some of it..."
"Maybe you two need to pick a code word either of you can use to stop things when they're going further than you want," Arek tried, but Xan shook his head.
"It wasn't like that, it wouldn't have worked, he wouldn't have heard me... it was like he was somewhere else." Xan was shivering, and Arek drew him close again, wrapping his wings around him to keep him warm.
"Has this happened before?" he asked, anxious over what the answer might be, wondering whether Xan could have hidden other times, maybe, if they were less severe...
"No. And I'm not leaving him," Xan muttered stubbornly, voice muffled, "so don't say I should."
"I wouldn't," Arek reassured him. "It's your choice, and I'll support you either way." He hesitated a moment before saying, "You love him, don't you."
Xan gave another hoarse sob and nodded against Arek's chest. "I love him so much, and I can't tell him because he doesn't love me back, and I'll just scare him away, and how can I be this afraid of losing him when I don't even really have him, when he fucks everyone else he meets and laughs about it and expects me to do the same?" The words tumbled out of him in a torrent, clarifying several things that Arek had wondered about his son's relationship.
"Do you know for sure he doesn't love you?" Arek asked, but was met only with a stony glare as Xan lifted his head. "All right," he sighed. "I'll take your word on that. I just mean, sleeping around with other people doesn't necessarily mean he doesn't... And," he added, wondering if he was giving the worst advice in the history of parental advice, "hurting you doesn't necessarily mean he doesn't love you either. From the way you told it, he must feel something for you or he wouldn't have reacted so strongly. I'm not saying his reaction was right," he said quickly, catching the wary look on Xan's face, "just that it sounds like it came out of a desire to protect you, even if it got sort of... twisted."
He tried to imagine what Justen might have been grappling with, but it was difficult - Arek had been a demon of desire, not of vengeance, and this sort of reaction was rather outside his experience. He could imagine, though, how the need to defend someone could bleed into the urge to possess them, and he knew well that there was a fine line between anger and lust, one that could become blurred under stress even in people who weren't half-demons.
"Is it okay to keep loving someone who hurt you?" Xan asked, looking at Arek as though he expected him to have all the answers in matters of love. In this case at least, he wasn't wrong.
"Yes," Arek said firmly, thinking of Phedre and her razor and the sound tendons made as they were severed. "It might... change things, but love doesn't just get erased so easily. And if the pain starts to outweigh the love, you'll be able to tell, as long as you keep loving yourself too." That had been the part he'd always struggled with, but he didn't want to tell Xan that. "It doesn't go away, not entirely, but things can still be good again afterwards." He didn't say 'until they weren't, until I found someone better for me' - he knew Xan wasn't going to want to hear that tonight. He paused, considering whether he ought to warn Xan, and decided it was best to do it now. "He might do it again, though. You shouldn't be surprised if he does."
"I wouldn't be," Xan said. "I'd be ready to handle it next time... more ready, anyway. If there is a next time," he added, sticking his chin out with a stubborn look that mimicked his father's so closely it made Arek smile despite himself.
"All right," he said, giving his son a kiss on the forehead. He unfolded his wings, a bit reluctantly, and replaced them with a blanket. "Let me get you some water, so you can have a drink and wash up," he told him, going to the basin near the window and finding it was fortunately full. He brought Xan a cup of water and a wet cloth and handed him both. Xan drank thirstily, draining the liquid, and then eyed the cloth, glancing to Arek.
"Do you need help?" Arek asked cautiously.
"No, Dad," he said, embarrassment in his voice for the first time that evening. "I'll do it, just... turn around or something, please."
Arek busied himself gathering the wadded-up clothes that were lying on the floor, smoothing them out. It was a pair of loose trousers and one of Sanadhil's old tunics, one he probably hadn't worn in fifteen years at least, blue-green silk with a subtle pattern in the weave that resembled stars. Arek remembered it fondly. Now it was torn and singed, but he thought it could probably still be mended with Dozilva's magic. He would take it to her, he decided, and see what could be done. At least that way Xan wouldn't have to see it lying on the floor in the morning as a reminder.
At last Xan gave a little cough and said he was finished. Arek took the bloodied cloth from his outstretched hand, trying not to imagine, tucking it under the clothes so that neither of them would have to look at it. Xan lay down again and Arek helped get the blankets straightened out over him. It was plain he was exhausted, and Arek fervently hoped he would drift off quickly and sleep without dreams. He knew he would have to talk to Justen too, having long ago promised the boy's parents he would provide advice or assistance with any matters related to his demonic heritage - he was fairly confident this incident qualified. But Xan didn't need to know about that right now, and it could certainly wait until tomorrow in any case. There was still a distraught Sanadhil to deal with tonight too...
"He was upset after," Xan murmured drowsily before Arek left. "But I told him it was all right. I think I made it better, a little."
Arek bit his lip, trying not to show how much his heart was aching for his son, how much he wished he could shield him from this pain and all the others he was bound to face in his life. "I'm sure you did," he told him. "Sleep now. We can talk about it more tomorrow if you want." Xan was enough like his father that he would probably never raise the subject again, but he wanted to leave the door open just in case. "I love you, Xan. We all do."
Xan's reply was muffled and dozy. "Love you too." Arek slipped out of the room, remembering nights not so long ago when he'd stayed up late with a teething baby, a feverish toddler, a scared little boy, when he'd finally been able to sneak away from his son's bedside in the small hours of the morning, desperately hoping he was sound asleep at last. This leaving was harder in so many ways, but, he reflected, at least he didn't have to tiptoe.