“...re already late as it is. Come on: sit him down and take the bloody bag off his head! I don’t want him suffocating too early.”
Is it time already? Have the hours passed so soon?
Sabal is shoved into a chair and the burlap sack is snatched from his head, but he keeps his eyes closed. There is no reason to see any of the proceedings--there is no honour in a death like this. Then again, he’s not sure there’s honour in anything anymore. He’s had too much time, too much. Too much time and to little to do and too much to think and some days it felt like his skull would burst from the what ifs and should haves and the violent arguments he has with himself.
If honour even exists, he lost it long ago.
“Ah, Sabal,” says The King, sounding as though he’s greeting an old friend. Sabal will not look, will not give in to the humiliation he knows Pagan wants to see. “Come on, boy, open your eyes. Didn’t anyone teach you how rude it is to ignore your host?”
There is a blade at his wrists, and Sabal takes a deep breath, readying himself for the pain he knows is about to come. The air is heady with sweet incense and makes him dizzy. He hunches over and coughs. The knife slides through his bindings instead of piercing skin.
“Oh for god’s sake,” The King mutters. Sabal wonders if the man with the knife will be punished for incompetency later. “Paul! Wake him up.”
It’s too much, too much stimulation when he is slapped gently on the cheek. Too much for his senses and his eyes finally open. DePleur stands over him, palm raised, ready to strike again should Sabal not comply.
“There now, isn’t this so much better?” Pagan lounges across from him, one elbow on the table and his hands steepled in front of his chin, dressed down to his shirtsleeves. DePleur takes a step away and sits to Sabal’s left.
There is. Food. On the table. In front of him there is a full set of silverware. Pagan has given Sabal a steak knife and cut his bindings and left himself completely open to attack. He is asking for death. Sabal would most assuredly die immediately after, of course, but he’s already marked to die tomorrow.
But what would be the point of killing The King? For vengeance? There is none to be taken. All of Sabal’s misery has been caused by his own hand. For the Golden Path? He cannot confidently say he cares about their principles anymore. Besides, Pagan has probably wiped them off the earth at this point. For Kyra? He no longer justify himself by her.
Upon receiving no reply, Pagan leans back and grins at him mirthfully. “Well, we’re all here.” He gestures to the wider room. Sabal takes the opportunity to glance to his right and blinks.
That’s. That’s Bhadra sitting there calmly, taking a prim sip from a wine goblet. That can’t be right, Bhadra is dead and Ajay-- Ajay .
“And it’s been so long since I had a proper family dinner,” Pagan continues. “Sabal, welcome. Enjoy the crab rangoon.”
DePleur snorts. Bhadra places the goblet down.
Sabal turns to her. “I thought they killed you.”
Could she forgive him? He’d never looked for her once she’d disappeared, too distracted by cleansing and power and carnal desire that it had been easier to just presume her dead. She must hate him for it, hate him for leaving her to rot with the Royal Army when she was destined to be Tarun Matara. But then he considers how content she looks here, how comfortable she seems with Pagan to her right, and how well clothed and cared for she is compared to the rest of the Kyrati youth and decides that he does not need her forgiveness. She abandoned her people to live in secular opulence, and for that she can rot in hell.
“They didn’t,” Bhadra replies. Sabal stays silent, because what else is there to say? If he is unwilling to beg forgiveness, what else is there?
It’s quiet for a moment while the others eat, and Sabal is grateful for it. There is too much noise, too much colour, too much texture and smell, too much too much. They had forbidden him incense, and now its presence makes him cough. They’d refused him company, and now, at the table with three other people, Sabal is hopelessly overwhelmed. The food, he knows, will be too flavourful to stomach along with everything else.
“So tell me,” Pagan says pleasantly between bites, as if this is a normal dinner and a normal conversation. “How was court? What was the sentence? Is it hanging? Lethal injection?”
He watches Sabal intently. Sabal’s head is spinning and he wants to throw up.
“Strong silent type: I see how it is. I already know, of course, but I wanted to hear it from you.”
For once in a very long time, he musters up some anger. Fuck Pagan. Fuck this man for doing this, for bringing him here and forcing him to dine with living ghosts and reminders of his failure. He nudges his plate of food away as a pitiful act of rebellion, and just like that, the anger has fizzled out.
Pagan puts down his fork when Sabal starts to curl into himself. “You’re looking a bit queasy, Sabal. Maybe the fresh air will do you some good.”
“Boss-” DePleur starts, rising from his chair when The King strolls to the other side of the table.
He waves him off with a muttered, “Not now Paul. Our esteemed guest is hardly in a position to try anything.”
Sabal doesn’t move. Can’t move. He wonders if Ajay is watching somehow, if he is pleased to see him so broken and laid so low. Would Ajay be proud of the way Bhadra keeps to her food not out of fear, but out of sheer disinterest for the situation?
“Come on, boy. I’d rather not force you at gunpoint.”
Would Ajay laugh at his humiliation?
Slowly, slowly Sabal stands, and Pagan wraps an arm around his, pulling him towards a door.
No, he decides, Ajay was never a cruel man.
“You know, when Ajay came back to Kyrat with his mother’s ashes, I shared a little theory of mine,” Pagan says while he leads him outside towards a small, white stucco building. “I told him that men can only love in hindsight, once too much time and distance built up. It’s something I realized when Ishwari left, and something I still firmly believe in. When I found out Ajay was gone I decided I could test my theory again. That’s why I put you in that cell.”
They stop in front of the building and Pagan leans against the doorframe, gaze elsewhere.
“It’s been twelve months and a few hundred kilometres. I made sure you’ve had nothing to do but think. So tell me, Sabal,” He turns his head and stares directly into Sabal’s soul.
“Do you love him?”
“I-” Sabal starts, but the words get caught in his throat.
Pagan pushes open the door and shoves him inside. Sabal stumbles to the ground.
“Was murdering my fucking stepson worth it to find out?”
A shrine. The building is a shrine, and there are three urns, and Sabal doesn’t even have to read to know what the one in front says. Ajay’s portrait looks down at him from the wall. Sabal clenches his eyes shut, covers his face.
“I’m sorry,” he gasps.
Pagan watches impassively as Sabal shakes. Ajay may have tempered him, but that didn’t mean Pagan was kind. He simply knew how to target his devastation more accurately.
Sabal takes no notice of the man behind him, clawing at his ribs in an effort to hold himself in, hug himself tighter.
“Get up,” Pagan says.
Sabal forces himself to his feet and glances wretchedly at the urn, the portrait. Pagan grabs his wrist and wrenches him out of the shrine. He is pushed forward again and kicked swiftly in the back, right into DePleur’s waiting arms. When Sabal rights himself, Pagan’s head eclipses the moon.
“You never answered my question, Sabal. Yes or no?”
“Yes. Yes yes yes. I’m so sorry.”
“He’s been dead for a year. It’s too fucking late.”