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Inevitable

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So let go
Just get in
Oh, it's so amazing here
It's all right
'Cause there's beauty in the breakdown

 


 

 

“We don’t have to talk about that, Kaladin.”

Kaladin frowned lightly and shifted in his seat. Wasn’t talking about Elhokar’s death the whole point of this?

The therapist had spent almost the entire hour talking about trivial things, such as Kaladin’s likes, dislikes, and hobbies—none of which were his favorite topics to begin with. Though it had been annoying, he had put up with it under the assumption the guy was just trying to break the ice. But forty minutes was long enough. It was time to talk about the reason he’d decided to see a therapist in the first place.

“I understand why you’ve suggested the topic,” the man continued, as if he could see right through Kaladin, “but I don’t think you’re ready yet.”

“Fine.”

Kaladin didn’t even need to see a therapist anyway. He’d only agreed because literally all of his friends had expressed concern at one point or another and he was tired of being asked the same questions over and over again. Honestly, this was a waste of time and money (neither of which Kaladin had much to spare).

He glanced at the clock—ten minutes left.

“How about you tell me a little about your family,” the therapist suggested.

“What do you want to know?”

“Whatever you want to tell me.”

And what if the answer was, “Nothing. I want to tell you nothing”?

All of this personal stuff was pointless. The guy didn’t actually care about him. Instead of pretending to be friendly, why not cut to the chase? It would make both of their lives easier.

Kaladin chose to say nothing and tapped his foot on the carpet.

The therapist tapped his pen against his notepad.

The clocked ticked.

After an awkward stretch during which the therapist smiled inanely back at Kaladin’s frown, the second hand rounded the face of the clock and mercifully brought them to the end of the hour.

The therapist gazed at Kaladin for a moment, eyebrows raised expectantly, as if he thought Kaladin might suddenly blurt out some personal information. When no such exclamation was forthcoming, he sighed and tapped his pen to his notepad one final time before rising to his feet.

“Maybe next week, then.”

Kaladin scoffed. “Sure.”

As if there would be a next week.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Oh! You showed up.”

“...Yeah.”

Not that Kaladin had wanted to. He just didn’t like giving up on things—therapy included. He figured he would attend a few more sessions before he threw out the idea of therapy altogether. If the sessions didn’t seem to be benefiting him by that point, he’d quit without any guilt.

“Well, let me just clear my schedule!”

Kaladin watched as his therapist said these words and then stared vapidly at his empty desk, looking somehow confused at its existence. He had just been sitting there staring out of the window before Kaladin had been let in by the assistant—the man hadn’t even been pretending to work.

“I seem to have misplaced my planner. No matter; I never write in it anyway, so I’m sure my schedule was perfectly clear.”

Kaladin raised his eyebrows, but held back from making the point that just because something wasn’t written down on a piece of paper didn’t mean the man was actually free to make new appointments whenever he pleased. If Dr.—what was his name again? Kaladin was pretty sure it rhymed with Freud, which was rather on the nose and made Kaladin suspect it wasn’t his real name at all—wanted to double-book himself, that was his problem, not Kaladin’s.

“Have a seat, and we’ll get started.”

Kaladin closed the door behind himself and took a seat in the large, comfortable chair across from the one the therapist settled into.

“So, how have you been?”

“Fine.”

“How about your friends? Are they still worried about you?”

“They always find some reason to worry about me. So yes.”

The other man cocked his head. “Do you think they’re wrong to worry?”

Kaladin shrugged. “I think they’re overreacting. When someone is killed, it’s normal to be upset.”

“Even if that person is a stranger?”

Kaladin paused. Hearing of a stranger’s death could be upsetting, yes. But usually he wouldn’t dwell on it the way he was with Elhokar’s death.

Part of it was that he felt somehow responsible, like he could have prevented it if he’d just acted sooner. Another part of it was the way the whole thing had happened; Elhokar had watched his wife be murdered and then, while protecting his young son, he had been viciously stabbed to death right in front the poor kid. Kaladin couldn’t help thinking of the boy having to witness his father and mother being murdered so violently, nor of him becoming an orphan at only seven years old.

Despite Elhokar’s flaws and his misguided actions, the man hadn’t deserved to die and his family didn’t deserve to suffer.

“Why do you think his death has affected you so much?”

“...I don’t know.”

The unhelpful answer hovered between them as the therapist tapped at his notepad, apparently unsatisfied with the way the session was progressing.

After several long seconds of silence, he asked, “Have you ever heard of the Rorschach test?”

“Yeah, it’s where you look at inkblots and describe the image you think it makes.”

“Right.” The other man nodded. “Now, I don’t care much for inkblots. They’re too stationary, too symmetrical. But I have a similar test. Will you let me demonstrate it?”

Kaladin shrugged. “Sure.”

He’d always thought the test was kind of hokey—there was a reason he was going into medicine, rather than psychology. But he figured it was a way to pass the time and, if nothing else, it might help him open up.

The therapist—Hoid, that was his name—stood to turn off the lights before crossing the room to the window. He drew the shades most of the way closed, leaving only a glimmer of light to slip into the room, and asked, “Do you have asthma?”

“No?” Kaladin frowned at the question, unsure where it came from. And why was the man making the room so dark?

“Good.”

Hoid strode back to his desk, opened a drawer, and pulled out an ornate metal box about the size of Kaladin’s palm.

“Frankincense,” he said, by way of explanation. Then he opened the box, took a pinch of what Kaladin thought looked like rocks, and dropped them into a bowl on his desk that Kaladin had overlooked before.

Immediately, a thin, white smoke began to rise from the bowl.

“Sit closer, Kaladin.”

Kaladin pulled his chair closer, as requested, noting that Hoid moved to stand just behind him over his left shoulder.

“Tell me what you see.”

The smoke swirled languidly upward from the bowl on the desk, creating strange shapes in the dim light. Each shape was only half-formed before it shifted into something else.

 “I don’t know.”

“Don’t think too much about it. There are no wrong answers.”

“It’s moving too quickly.” It was hard to pin down any one image...but then, “Wait.” As he stared, the shapes began to flow together, almost as if the smoke was playing out a scene. “I can see a boy...running.”

Something about the brief flash of the scene reminded him of chasing after Tien, years ago, his heart thundering as loud as his feet on the concrete.

The smoke curled and unfurled. Each new shape seemed to portray an innocuous moment of Kaladin’s life: sitting patiently with Tien and watching a caterpillar wrap itself up in a cocoon; his mother’s hands, covered in dirt as she planted flowers; his father’s scant smile as he told Kaladin he’d done well in the clinic that day; Moash’s eyes shaded by his messy hair as he gave Kaladin that look he’d reserved just for him.

Kaladin dutifully relayed each scene, though he didn’t mention that he recognized the events or the people in them.

The smoke writhed and twisted and began playing memories Kaladin wanted to forget: Tien, bloody and unmoving on the sidewalk; his mother wiping away tears after arguing with grandma over the phone; wrinkles on his father’s forehead as he looked over bills and worried about making ends meet; Moash standing over him with a kitchen knife.

Kaladin told himself it was the motion and smell of the smoke that made his head swim and his stomach turn. He clenched his eyes shut against the images and said through gritted teeth, “I can’t—  I’m done.”

Hoid said nothing, but a moment later sudden light permeated the thin skin of Kaladin’s eyelids. He blinked his eyes open to find that Hoid had pulled up the blinds to flood the room with sunlight and cracked the window to let in the fresh air. The smoke in the bowl drifted innocently upward in a steady stream, and Kaladin wondered how he’d seen anything in it at all before.

The other man removed the incense from the charcoal and returned to his seat—which he’d moved closer to his desk, near Kaladin—to resume the conversation.

 “Who was the boy?” Hoid asked. Kaladin had been sure that he’d been superficial in his descriptions of the smoke, and yet the other man’s bright blue eyes seemed to see right through him, as though he was fully aware of everything Kaladin had seen and what it had meant.

“Who said he was anybody? It was just the picture the smoke made.”

Hoid tapped at his notepad. “This only works if you’re honest with me, Kaladin.”

Kaladin swallowed and looked away. “He was my brother. I was a witness to his murder.”

“Thank you. I’m sorry you had to see that.”

Kaladin raised his eyebrows, expression flat as he met the other man’s eyes. He didn’t need any platitudes.

“And the man and the woman you described?”

“My parents.”

Hoid jotted this information down. “Who was the last person? You were the most agitated when describing him.”

Of course Kaladin would have been, it was the wound that was most recent, a newly-formed scar still tender to the touch. “He’s the man who killed the president. And he’s my ex-boyfriend.”

“I see. Do you blame yourself for Elhokar’s death?”

“Of course I do, because it is my fault. I know I could have stopped Moash from killing Elhokar.”

“It’s easy to see how you might put the burden on yourself, but you’re wrong, Kaladin. It wasn’t your hand on the knife.”

“For all the good I did in preventing his death, it might as well have been.”

Hoid laid his notepad in his lap and folded his hands over each other. “It’s important to recognize which consequences were caused by our own actions and which were not. Let’s look at the tragedy of Elhokar’s death. I’m sure you’ve thought about it a great deal; how exactly would you have prevented it?”

“I should have told someone sooner—as soon as I found out.”

“Okay. Let’s say you had made your call to OATH the same night your boyfriend told you he wanted to kill the president. You would also have broken up with him at this time, I assume?”

“...Yeah.”

Somehow, it already felt like this scenario featured a different person. For Kaladin to have reported Moash so quickly, this version of himself would’ve needed to have no faith in the person he was with. He would’ve needed to be able to readily accept that someone he cared for was capable of doing something awful. He would’ve needed to be disloyal enough to immediately turn Moash in without so much as a moment of hesitation, without a moment of regret for the loss of their relationship. He would’ve needed to be so callous as to instantly forget everything Moash had meant to him up to that point. Needless to say, this hypothetical Kaladin wasn’t very realistic at all.

“So it would have been pretty obvious to Moash and his group that you weren’t okay with their plans. It would have been logical for them to conclude you would tell the authorities. At that point in time, would you have been prepared to become a target yourself? Would you have known you needed protection?”

“I...” Kaladin frowned. The truth was, up until the moment Moash had lifted the knife over him as he lay broken on the floor, Kaladin hadn’t believed the other man would ever have tried to kill him. It never would have crossed his mind that his life was in danger. Perhaps that other, unrealistic version of himself would have known better, but the real Kaladin had been naïve. He shook his head. “No.”

Hoid tapped his pen against his chin and looked towards the ceiling with a hum. “So you’d (most likely) be dead, OATH still wouldn’t have found anything during their investigation, which means Moash’s group would still have been free to carry out their plans, and Elhokar would still have been assassinated.”

Well, when he put it that way...

“Do you still believe his death was your fault?” Hoid asked. “Perhaps we could put our heads together and spend the next thirty minutes coming up with a realistic scenario in which you were able to prevent his death. Perhaps. But that doesn’t change the fact that you were not the person who set these events in motion, and you were not the person who drove them to their conclusion. 

“You can feel sympathy for Elhokar. You may even truly empathize with his grieving family, as you’ve gone through the same thing they’re going through. But you must understand, Kaladin, that you can feel these things without placing the blame on yourself. They are not necessarily inclusive of each other.

“Do me a favor and take a breath.”

Kaladin did so, breathing in slowly through his nose.

“Bigger.”

Kaladin opened his mouth and breathed in deeply, feeling his ribs expand, his heartrate slowing.

“One more.” Hoid waited for him to do so. “Good. I want you to do that whenever you find yourself thinking something is your fault. Just take ten slow, deep breaths and think about whether you really had any power to stop it—whatever it is. If you can’t come up with anything good by the last breath, I want you to let it go. I want you to admit that it wasn’t your fault. Okay?”

He made it sound easy.

Kaladin knew it wouldn’t be.

“Okay.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“How about we play a game?”

They were ten minutes into their third session in as many weeks and Kaladin wasn’t talking enough today, apparently.

“It’s called two truths and a lie. Have you heard of it?”

Kaladin shook his head.

Dr. Hoid clapped his hands once then rubbed them together eagerly. “The premise is simple: each person takes a turn telling two truths about themselves and one lie, and the other person must figure out which statements are true and which is the lie. Now, because this is your therapy, we’re not going to talk about me. Instead, I’ll make three assessments of your character and you tell me which (if any) are right and which are incorrect. Then you’ll provide three statements about yourself and I’ll make my guesses as to which two are true and which one is false. The most important rule is to be honest in your answers. If you can’t do that, we’ll need to find something else to do. Ready?”

“Sure.”

“Okay. I’ll start off easy. You’ve never had a good relationship with your parents, but you care deeply about your friends, and you’re loyal to a fault.”

“The first one is wrong.”

“Oh?”

“I haven’t talked to my parents in a long time, but I used to have a good relationship with them. I just...I let the time go by too long. And now I feel like I need a reason to visit them.”

“I’m glad to be wrong about that one.” Hoid jotted something down on his notepad. “Why did you hesitate to visit them?”

“Because of what happened.” Wasn’t that obvious?

“You’re referring to Tien’s death?”

Kaladin nodded stiffly.

Hoid took more notes and Kaladin expected his therapist to follow that line of conversation and ask more questions, but instead he held out his hand, palm up to the ceiling, and said, “Your turn.”

Kaladin cleared his throat. He’d always found it difficult to talk about himself, so this should be fun. Unfortunately, now that the topic of his brother had come up, it was the only thing on his mind. “I don’t know how to talk to my parents without Tien there. I think about him almost every day, and I feel guilty on the days I don’t think about him. It’s been years though, and I wish I could move on—just forget about him.”

“Come on, Kaladin, give me more of a challenge than that. The last one is a lie. No one who cares about a loved one would want to forget him. Forget the bad memories? Yes. Forget watching his tragic death? Absolutely. But the person himself? It can’t be done, and you don’t want that.

“Here are my next three guesses: You want to remember your brother, not just because you loved him, but because his memory hurts. You blame yourself for his death and you believe you should suffer for it for the rest of your life. You haven’t gone back home because you think your parents will try to tell you otherwise.”

Kaladin shook his head. “They won’t tell me otherwise. Tien would still be alive if it wasn’t for me.” He closed his eyes and took a shuddering breath at the confession. “They know it.”

“Remember our last session, Kaladin. Take a breath now and think about what you really could have done.”

Kaladin grudgingly did as requested, but it didn’t help. His thoughts were too negative. He’d held onto the guilt of Tien’s death most of his life. It would take more than a simple breathing exercise for him to start thinking differently about it. He let out his last breath in a huff. “I don’t want to talk about Tien anymore.”

Hoid’s disapproving frown rivaled Kaladin’s. “We need to talk about your brother, Kaladin. I won’t force you before you’re ready, but understand that I won’t let you brush this aside forever.”

“I know.”

“Good. Shall we continue?”

After that discussion, Kaladin felt raw, exhausted—and they were only fifteen minutes into the session. At least Hoid was letting him change the topic. “I want to be a doctor because I want to make my father proud of me.” He fished around for some other things to say—this was a lot harder than Hoid made it look. “He doesn’t know I’m gay, and I haven’t really come to terms with it myself yet.”

Hoid searched his face for a moment before responding. “The last one is a lie. You may have trouble accepting other things about yourself, but your sexuality has never really meant much to you. In fact, my guess is that sex never meant much to you in general, so your sexuality was almost an afterthought for a long time.”

Kaladin blinked. How had he guessed all of that? They’d only had two sessions so far. Was Kaladin that easy to read? Had he said something telling during the last two sessions?

“My turn!” The other man laced his fingers together and rested his chin upon them, pinning Kaladin with a scrutinizing look for several long moments. “You find it difficult to trust other people....” Another long look under which Kaladin forced himself to sit still. “Someone you trusted hurt you.... You were in love with them.”

Kaladin couldn’t control the bitter frown that twisted his lips at these words. “I wouldn’t say in love.”

“So the first two are correct.”

Kaladin looked away, but nodded his head in the affirmative.

“Why wouldn’t you say you were in love?”

“I don’t think I even know what love is, so how could I have ever been in love?”

The other man hummed and Kaladin tried not to read too much into the sound. So what if he’d never been in love? He’d barely had three potential romantic interests in his life, and those had all been within the last three years. Was he supposed to just fall in love with every guy he fell into bed with?

“How close was this person to you?”

“I think it’s my turn—”

Hoid held up his index finger. “Ah! Not until I understand how I got it wrong. If you would, please, oblige me.”

Kaladin huffed and crossed his arms, avoiding eye contact. “Moash.”

“So I was close.”

“I wasn’t in love with him.”

“Was he in love with you?”

“No.”

“Did he tell you that?”

Kaladin laughed darkly. “Actually, he told me the opposite. Right before trying to stab a knife through my heart.”

“An excellent metaphor for a relationship ending, Kaladin. I didn’t peg you for the poetic type.”

“I was being literal.”

“...Ah.” A pregnant pause. “That’s quite a betrayal.”

Kaladin shrugged a shoulder and gazed at the floor. He didn’t want to see pity in his therapist’s eyes.

When Kaladin didn’t provide any further information, Hoid said softly, “Your turn.”

“I think no one understands me, not my friends or my family. I think maybe I’ll never find someone who can understand me and maybe that’s because I’m not supposed to be loved. Sometimes I don’t believe in love at all.”

Hoid smiled widely. “Good job, this one is hard.” He interlocked his fingers except for his two index fingers, which he touched to his lips as he thought on Kaladin’s words, bright blue eyes narrowed and piercing. “You see, this one is harder because thoughts change so frequently. Perhaps each of these has crossed your mind at some point, but which ones stuck? Which ones solidified beyond a passing speculation to become lodged in your very being?”

Kaladin slotted his fingers together in his lap and squeezed in an effort not to fidget under the examination. Hoid was right; he’d thought all of those things before. Sometimes they each came back around to make an appearance, to make him doubt. But two of them recurred more often and he believed in the truth of them a little more than the other.

“The first one is true,” the other man said finally. “I’ve gathered enough from other things you’ve said concerning your friends. And, for the record, I think you may be just a little bit correct. They care for you very much, but they don’t quite know how to handle you, not as a whole. However, each of them individually seem to be able to nurture one or two unique aspects of your personality. It’s why you’ve all been together for so long. You’re very fortunate, Kaladin. I hope you appreciate them.”

Kaladin nodded brusquely. “I do.”

After another moment of silence, Hoid said, “The last one is true as well, though I noticed you were careful to begin your statement with ‘sometimes’. You aren’t a true cynic. You’re an optimist hiding behind pessimism. You’re a closet romantic but you lean on the side of staying realistic, and therefore hopeless. Sometimes, you don’t believe in love, but sometimes you believe in it poignantly. Which leads us to the lie.”

Kaladin swallowed and waited for the analysis.

“You actually made two statements here, but I’ll let it slide because they’re both very interesting. Part one: you’ll never find someone who can understand you. Why is this a lie?” Hoid held up his hand. “Wait, don’t tell me.” He grasped his chin and tapped it lightly. “It’s a lie because you’ve already found this person...but it’s also not a lie...because you summarily lost that person. Are you referring to your ex-boyfriend again?”

“Not really.” There had been a time when Kaladin had thought Moash had understood him, and perhaps he had in some ways, but in other ways—important ways—he absolutely had not. “But you’re right, otherwise.”

Hoid raised his eyebrows, but didn’t press further. Instead, he moved on. “The second part...the second part you don’t believe at all. You know very well that you not only deserve love, but that you are already loved, if not in all ways.”

Kaladin nodded. He’d never say those words aloud, but he knew his parents loved him and he knew his friends loved him too, in their own ways. He also knew that everyone deserved to have someone who loved them, himself included. He wasn’t that depressed and self-loathing.

“Okay, one more round, then we’ll be done for the day.” Hoid waited for Kaladin’s nod of agreement before saying, “You have a strong moral compass, you’re a passionate person—and you put that passion into everything you do. Because of that you can be impulsive.”

At the last one, Kaladin laughed. “No. I’ve done just one truly impulsive thing in the last three years. I really wouldn’t call myself impulsive.”

“And what was it you did?”

“I—” Kaladin cut himself off. Hoid was his therapist. Would it be terribly awkward to talk about this? He supposed they had already touched on the topic briefly, and they were both adults here. “I had sex with a complete stranger.”

“And that’s unusual for you?”

“Yes.... I lost my virginity to him.”

“I see.” Hoid paused, as if he was considering the idea of asking more, but eventually he said, “Perhaps we can come back to this topic another day, when we have more time.”

“Sure.” Kaladin shrugged, self-conscious but trying to play it off. In truth, he was relieved that Hoid wasn’t going to pry. For now.

“We have ten minutes left. I believe you have one last turn to take.”

With a sigh, Kaladin sat up straighter and said, “I don’t like this game. I think you’re a hack. I’m not some broken person that needs fixing.”

Hoid tutted. “Cheating, Kaladin. There weren’t any lies in that one.”

A small smile touched Kaladin’s lips as he met Hoid’s eyes. “It was the second one.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Spring blended into summer, and Kaladin finally graduated with this doctor of medicine degree. He hadn’t told his parents and he hadn’t invited his friends, so he didn’t bother looking for faces in the audience as he walked across the stage. (He’d only participated in the ceremony so he’d have a picture to give to his parents.)

So when everything was over, he was understandably surprised to see almost the entire Bridge crew—as well as Hobber and Dunny, who both looked a little out of place beside the boisterous Bridge men—waiting for him outside the auditorium. He couldn’t keep the incredulous smile off his face. “What are you guys doing here?”

“Kaladin, we would not miss this thing,” Rock professed. “We have been waiting many long years to watch you walk across the stage—we are all proud of you.” He wiped a tear from his eye and gathered Kaladin into a bone-crushing hug that Kaladin didn’t bother to resist.

His heart swelled at Rock’s words. He hadn’t realized he’d feel lonely walking at graduation without anyone he knew in the audience; seeing each of his friends’ familiar faces meant more to him than he could say. They each took a turn giving him a hug or a pat on the back or a quiet congratulatory word. Then they insisted on taking him out to celebrate.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“How did your graduation go?” Hoid asked at their next session a few days later.

“Really well.” Kaladin smiled again at the memory.

“I’m glad to hear it.” The other man’s accompanying smile certainly appeared genuine. “What are you going to do next?”

“Well, I have a month before my residency starts at Kholinar Regional. I put in my two weeks’ notice at the Bridge, and I thought...” Kaladin hesitated.

“Go on,” Hoid prompted.

“I thought I might go back home.”

He’d delayed the return visit so long, he wasn’t sure what kind of reception he would get. It had been eight years since he’d seen or spoken to his parents. Was he going to just waltz back into town as if nothing had changed? What if they didn’t live at the same house anymore? Or what if he came back and found that they’d been doing just fine without him—hadn’t even missed him at all?

“I think that’s a wonderful idea, Kaladin. And I think now is the perfect time to do it.”

The perfect time was probably accurate; he’d be so busy soon, working 80 hour weeks for the hospital, that if he didn’t go now he might not get a chance to do it for another five years.

“...Yeah.”

“Remember what we talked about, Kaladin. Remember the truth you told me—they love you. That doesn’t change just because they haven’t seen in you in so long.”

Right. He took a deep breath and nodded his head.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Two weeks later, Kaladin clocked out from his shift at The Bridge for the last time and was immediately tackled by Lopen, whose shirt was soaked from the dish pit.

“This is it gancho! How do you feel?”

“Uncomfortably wet,” Kaladin grunted.

“Ha! At least you can go home and change now. I still have three hours here.”

“Did you want something?”

Lopen grinned. “Nope, just seeing you off. You won’t forget us, right, gon?”

Kaladin gave the other man a smile and clasped his shoulder. “Of course not, Lopen; we’re brothers. Bridge men are for life.”

“Hey, hey, we should all get tattoos or something,” the Herdazian responded with a toothy grin.

“I’m not sure that look would work for me, but you go ahead.” Kaladin patted Lopen’s shoulder and made his way to the exit. “I have a flight to catch, but I’ll let you guys know when I’m back in town.”

“Tell your folks the Lopen says hi. Oh, and bring us back some good souvenirs!”

“Sure thing, Lopen,” Kaladin lied breezily. With that, he stepped out of the building feeling light as air, like a punished man at last released from a heavy yoke.

It was time to go home.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Though Kaladin wanted to surprise his parents, he decided it would be best to call first. He sat on his couch and punched their number into his phone, Syl perched on his folded knee for moral support. As the phone rang, he silently prayed his mother would be the one to pick up.

“Hello?”

Kaladin breathed a quiet sigh of relief as he heard his mother’s voice. “Hi, Mom.”

There was a gasp on the other end of the line, and Kaladin felt a stab of guilt. He should have called years ago. “Kaladin? Oh, honey, you sound so grown up!”

Kaladin let out a huff of laughter. “Yeah, it’s been a while—”

“We thought...” He heard a small hiccup, and the sound was a hand twisting the knife.

“I’m sorry, Mom. I should’ve called sooner.”

“Never mind.” Her voice was watery, but he could just picture her standing there waving off his words. She breathed deeply and when she next spoke she was once again composed, though a little sniffly. “It’s good to hear from you. How have you been?”

“I’m good... Actually, I have a week free and I thought I could come up for a visit. If...if that’s okay.”

“Of course, dear. Why wouldn’t that be okay?”

“I dunno, Mom.” Apparently, talking to his mother again was turning Kaladin back into the teenager he’d been when he’d left home. “I should have visited before, but—”

“Oh, hush. Don’t worry about it. You’re coming now, aren’t you? That’s all that matters. Are you flying out?”

“Yeah. My flight is in a few hours, actually.”

“Oh! Well, then we’d better get ready for you. Call me when you land and I’ll pick you up at the airport.”

“That’s okay, you don’t have to.”

“I want to and I’m going to. Just call me, okay?”

Kaladin sighed. “Okay.”

“You haven’t changed at all, have you?” Hesina’s tinkling laugh drifted into his ear through the phone. “I’ll see you in a few hours honey.”

“See you, Mom.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The flight was only three and a half hours long, the perfect amount of time for an in-flight movie—if they’d had one. But because Kaladin was flying into the tiny, municipal airport in Mourn’s Vault, the plane was an older, nearly outdated model. Instead, he’d taken an amazing nap through the entire flight and had woken up just as the plane landed, promptly, at nine o’clock.

As promised, Kaladin called his mom while he waited at baggage claim only to find that she was already waiting for him in the arrivals area—and really, he should have expected that; Hesina was always one step ahead of everyone.

Mere minutes later, he walked out of the airport and over to a familiar minivan—he was surprised the thing still ran after all these years.

“Hi, sweetie.”

Kaladin spared a smile for his mother and returned her tight hug. He and his parents had never really hugged much when he was younger, and it was odd to be doing so now, but he understood that she missed him. He could give her this.

“Thanks for picking me up,” he murmured into her hair—grayer than he remembered it being. The sight of it reminded him that he didn’t have all the time in the world to be with his parents. The morbid thought came on so suddenly it almost knocked the wind out of him. He could have lost her, too, while he was away in his self-exile over Tien, and he wouldn’t have even known. God, he was an idiot.

“Of course.” She squeezed him one more time before backing away, hands gripping his upper arms as she looked him over. And if her eyes were misty, Kaladin made no comment on it. “You’ve gotten so tall, my goodness!”

He was nearly two feet taller than she was. It was almost comical.

“Oh!” she exclaimed before abruptly pulling him in again for another hug and he laughed. She’d always been more free with her emotions. Tien had gotten that from her.

“Come on, Mom. I think we’re holding up the line.”

“Right, sorry.” She pulled away and grabbed his suitcase, which he then helped her load into the van. “Did you eat already? Are you hungry? We could pick something up on the way.”

“I ate before the flight.”

“Okay. Just let me know if you change your mind.”

They buckled up and pulled out into the sparse departing traffic. For the next few minutes, Hesina focused on driving, making sure she was taking the correct turns to get onto the freeway, while Kaladin tried to calm his nerves.

It was stupid that he was nervous, really. Lirin was stern, but he would surely be happy to see his son. Kaladin kept telling himself this, but some part of him worried that his father would still be disappointed somehow.

“I don’t want to make you repeat yourself, so I won’t ask you what you’ve been up to just yet. Let’s wait until we get home so your father can hear. Have you been well, though?”

Kaladin bit the inside of his cheek before plastering a smile on his face. “Yeah. I’ve been good. Just working and going to school. Keeping busy.”

“Good!” Hesina’s grin turned sly as she said, “We have a surprise for you.”

He blinked and frowned over at her. “What?”

“Oh, you’ll see,” she sang.

“You know I don’t like surprises,” he groused. And yet something warm fluttered in his chest at the idea.

His mother just laughed knowingly.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Turns out Kaladin’s parents did still live in the same house as they had when he was a boy. At ten o’clock, the quiet neighborhood was already fast asleep, the streets deserted and all the lights out—save for porchlights and streetlamps, which bathed everything in a copper glow. Nostalgia struck him hard as he rolled down his window to take in the balmy summer night. With the wind in his hair, he could be riding his bike down these streets with Tien, racing each other home.

Home...After all these years.

As Hesina pulled into the driveway, Kaladin noticed she’d planted some new flowers by the mailbox. Of course, “new” was relative; she could have planted those the day he’d left home, for all he knew. Still, it was nice to know she still gardened.

His mother again tried to help him with his luggage, and again he politely eased it out of her hands to carry it himself.

“Don’t worry about being quiet. Your father is waiting for you.”

And the nervousness was back—Kaladin had somehow managed to forget about this meeting during the drive. He took a deep breath and followed his mother up the walk to the front door.

He waited anxiously as Hesina unlocked the door and pushed it open. As the two of them stepped inside, she called out a cheery, “We’re back!” as if she and Kaladin had just been out running errands for a few hours and not that she was entering with a son who had gone missing for years without any form of correspondence. “Is everyone still awake?”

“...Everyone?”

Whatever Kaladin had been expecting when he entered his childhood home—pretty much just his tired father and maybe some signs that his parents were mildly depressed—it certainly wasn’t a sleepy preschooler with a mop of messy black hair and startlingly familiar features.

“Kaladin, this is Oroden—your baby brother.” Hesina nudged the boy forward while Kaladin stared, speechless. “Oroden, this is Kaladin. Say hi.”

“Oh, my god,” Kaladin said, at the same time Oroden said, “I’m not a baby.”

He looked so like Tien and yet decidedly nothing like him at all. His hair was darker, his skin paler, his mouth more serious. And yet his cheeks held a rosy hue and his brown eyes were lit with unsullied optimism. It hurt to see him—to know he existed where Tien did not—but along with the pain in his chest, Kaladin felt a tremendous warmth. This was his brother. And he was beautiful.

Kaladin slowly set down his luggage and reached out a hand to shake (he remembered well that kids perpetually wanted to be treated like adults, until the day they finally were adults). “Hello, Oroden.”

The boy took his hand and looked up at him with his too-big eyes. “You’re really tall.”

Unexpectedly, Kaladin laughed, and all at once found his eyes burning, brimming with tears. Try as he might to hold them back, they were soon rolling down his cheeks, even as his smile remained.

A tug on the hem of his shirt had him wiping his eyes and looking back at the boy, whose round face was pinched with concern.

“Do you want a hug?” Oroden whispered, as if they could keep this embarrassing moment between the two of them. It was kind. His brother was kind.

Kaladin nodded, knelt down on one knee to put them on equal footing, and gathered the boy into his arms. He felt a little silly for crying in front of his much younger brother, and even sillier for having said brother comfort him, yet the idea that he had a brother to be embarrassed in front of again overwhelmed any real embarrassment he might have felt over the situation. “It’s so good to meet you. I’m sorry I took so long.”

“It’s okay.” Oroden patted his back in a motherly way. “Mama said you just needed time and you would visit when you were ready.”

Kaladin met his mother’s eyes over Oroden’s shoulder and tried to convey his feelings—an odd mix of gratitude and shame, love and sorrow. He couldn’t quite smile and felt like he was somehow silently pleading with her. Perhaps she understood anyway, because she just smiled at him warmly, eyes shining with unshed tears of her own, one hand clutched over her heart.

After a moment, Kaladin pulled out of the hug and dried his face. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome!” Oroden beamed, apparently proud of his good deed.

Hesina stepped in and ruffled the boy’s hair. “Alright, sweetie, let’s get you off to bed.”

“But I wanted to talk to Kaladin.”

“You’ll have plenty of time to talk to him tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day. He’ll be with us all week.”

Oroden pouted, considered it, and then nodded (though a little dejectedly). “Okay.” He took Hesina’s offered hand and smiled again. “Goodnight, Kaladin. See you tomorrow.”

“Goodnight.”

Kaladin watched the two of them leave before finally turning to face his father. He felt suddenly sober, as though a bucket of cold water had been thrown over his head. “Hey, dad.”

“Finally remembered us, did you?” Maybe it was meant to come off as a joke, but Lirin’s words fell flat and Kaladin grimaced.

“I just wanted to—” Kaladin cut himself off and leaned down to open his suitcase to retrieve his diploma. He straightened back up, cleared his throat, and held it out stiffly. “I wanted to be able to show you this.”

His father furrowed his brow and reached out to take it. He looked down at it for a long time, not saying a word, and Kaladin began to feel anxious. Had he been mistaken? Had Lirin not wanted him to follow in his footsteps after all?

When Lirin looked back up, he didn’t smile, and Kaladin felt his stomach drop. But his father’s next words had his heart leaping into his throat.

“You didn’t have to wait for this to come back to us, Kal.” Lirin paused, almost appearing uncomfortable, before he continued. “I know I never told you this enough when you were a boy, but I am proud of you. I don’t need to see a diploma to be glad you’re my son. I suppose it’s my fault you thought I would. I pushed you hard and asked a lot of you. I didn’t really let you just be a kid. I think...I think losing Tien and losing you, in a way, made me realize how important that was. I know it’s too late to fix that for you, but I’m trying to get it right with Oroden.”

This unexpected heart-to-heart with his usually reserved father threw Kaladin for a loop. These were words he had never thought he would hear, sentiments he had never truly believed his father felt for him. The moment was surreal, and he might have stood there, frozen, for the rest of the night but for his mother’s timely entrance.

“What do we have here?” she asked, gliding heedlessly through the tension in the room to take the document from Lirin’s hands. “Oh, Kaladin! This is wonderful!”

She pulled him into a brief hug—and since when did his family hug so much? was this a new development for Oroden’s sake?—before looking back down at the diploma with a wide smile.

“Do you have any pictures?”

“Um, yeah,” Kaladin mumbled, and rummaged in his suitcase again for the envelope with photographs of him in his cap and gown.

She took it from him eagerly. “You look so handsome, dear. Can I keep these?”

Kaladin willed away his blush at her comment. “Yeah. I only got them to give to you. I figured you would want them.”

“I do!” she laughed. “I’m going to frame this one and put it on the mantle. And Lirin, how about you take this one to keep on your desk at work?”

Lirin, looking over her shoulder at the photos, nodded in agreement. “I’ll put that right next to Oroden’s soccer picture.”

“He plays soccer?” Kaladin asked. He wanted to learn as much about his brother as he could while he was here. He’d couldn’t actually make up for lost time, but he could certainly try.

“Mhm. He’s in the youth soccer club,” Hesina answered. “He’s so cute in his little uniform, haha.”

Kaladin really hadn’t known what to expect when he’d walked into his childhood home—two aging, poverty-stricken parents mourning over a dead son and living their life in a lonely, quiet way, perhaps—but what he found was so far beyond his imaginings. They’d picked up the broken fragments of their hearts and they’d pieced them back together. The cracks were still there, yes, but their hearts were whole again. His family was happy, and Kaladin was ready to be happy with them.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Kaladin woke before sunrise the next morning to the sound of a bubbling pot of coffee and the sizzling of bacon in a frying pan. The unfamiliarity of his waking surroundings was disorienting, and it took him a moment to remember where he was. He’d slept on the pull-out couch, seeing as there wasn’t a guest bedroom and his parents had gotten rid of the extra bed in his and Tien’s—now Oroden’s—room. It wasn’t too bad, as far as pull-out couches go, though his feet did stick out at the end if he straightened his legs.

Once he got his bearings, Kaladin rolled over to face the kitchen (separated from the living room by a half-wall) to find Hesina moving quietly about the tiny space as she made breakfast. He watched her silently for several minutes, just taking in the reminiscent scene and breathing deeply around the guilt squeezing his lungs, like Hoid had told him to do. Before ten seconds had passed, he’d come up with several dozen ways he could have changed his relationship with his family over the past eight years, and he filed this guilt solidly under My Own Fucking Fault.

He’d missed his mother. It was in a different way than he missed Tien, but it was true all the same. She was a steady person—despite her bouts of whimsy—and a constant comfort to those around her. Had he kept in touch with her, maybe the past few years wouldn’t have unfolded quite the way they had.

His fault.

“Want any help?” Kaladin found himself saying a moment later.

“Oh!” Hesina jumped and turned to face him with a smile. “Good morning, honey. I don’t need any help, but I could use some company. Why don’t you grab a cup of coffee and sit with me?”

With that, Kaladin slid out of bed and joined his mother in the kitchen for the first time in eight years.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Talking with Hesina was easy, even for someone as taciturn as Kaladin, and the conversation flowed naturally from one subject to another.

Lirin joined them after about ten minutes, just as the food was finished, and took a seat with a plate and the newspaper.

“Morning, dear. Morning, Kaladin,” he greeted with a nod to his son and a kiss for his wife. He was fully dressed, save for his shoes, and Kaladin realized belatedly that he would be going to work today. Obviously. It’s not like Kaladin had given him enough notice to schedule time off at the clinic. “I was thinking, if you wanted, you could come to the clinic and show me what you’ve learned.”

Kaladin’s gaze darted up to look at his father, surprised at the invitation.

“Now, I couldn’t have you do any surgeries without your license, but maybe you could make a preliminary assessment of some of the x-rays and tell me how you’d go about it. And you could observe, of course.” Lirin shrugged, a little awkward but obviously trying. Maybe he really meant it last night when he’d said he wanted to be a different sort of father.

“Yeah, I’d– I’d like that.” Kaladin cleared his throat and sipped from his coffee (his father did the same and his mother chuckled at the two of them). “Uh, but I didn’t exactly bring anything nice to wear. I didn’t think I’d need it.”

“I could take you shopping today,” Hesina offered, “and you could go in tomorrow.”

Kaladin bit his tongue on the protest that he was a grown man who didn’t need to shop with his mother. She understandably just wanted to spend time with him in any way she could for the brief time she had. It would be callous of him to refuse the simple request just to save himself from embarrassment. So he smiled and said, “Thanks, mom. That would be great.”

The sound of small feet pattering across the floor heralded the entrance of a sleep-tousled six-year-old.

Oroden froze at the end of the hallway and looked to the kitchen with wide eyes before breaking into a grin. “Kaladin! You’re still here!”

Kaladin blinked, not exactly expecting the attention. He’d thought he would have to work a little harder to get his brother to like him. Their parents must have told Oroden about him. It was the only explanation for his easy acceptance of Kaladin’s sudden presence. “Yep. Still here, just like Mom said I would be.”

“Good.” The boy ran over to stand beside him, practically bouncing in place. “’Cause you can’t leave until we do all the stuff on my list.”

“Your list?”

“Oroden, sweetie, have a seat and eat your breakfast.” Hesina directed, setting a plate for him and pouring some orange juice.

Obediently, Oroden took a seat and grabbed his fork, but continued talking. “Yeah, I made a list of all the stuff we’re gonna do.”

“When did you make that?”

“He’s been making it over the past few months,” Hesina supplied, confirming Kaladin’s suspicions. “Or rather, he’s been dictating it to us and we’ve been writing it down.”

“I believe there are now forty-three items,” Lirin added in the manner of a person commenting on the day’s weather forecast.

Kaladin choked on his coffee. Forty-three?!

This kid was going to kill him.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“This one is nice.” Hesina held up an ochre colored shirt beneath Kaladin’s chin and leaned back to get a look at him.

He glanced down at the shirt and then up to meet his mother’s smile.

“It brings out the gold in your eyes.”

“Okay, sounds good,” he mumbled, looking away as he folded the shirt over his arm. This was the third shirt she’d picked out for him and the third compliment she’d given him—the blue shirt went well with his dark hair and the orchid colored shirt complemented his skin tone. Kaladin had been more focused on the floor than the clothing racks because every time he turned around she was telling him how handsome he was. He wouldn’t say he was embarrassed of her, or of being seen with her, but he would really appreciate it if she would stop talking about his appearance. His only solace was Oroden who, in the manner of all young children, drew the spotlight away from Kaladin and onto himself every chance he could get.

“What about me?” the boy asked, tugging on Hesina’s pant leg. “Is yellow my color too?”

Hesina mock-gasped, looking scandalized. “Oh, goodness no, dear. Olive is your color.”

Oroden sounded out the word, face serious. “Olive... Can I get a olive shirt, mama?”

“Of course, honey. If we can find one in your size.”

They shopped around a bit more until Kaladin determined he had more than enough. By the time they meandered towards the checkout line, Oroden had slowed down a bit, obviously tired of walking, so Kaladin picked him up to sit on his shoulders and wrapped his hands around the boy’s sock-covered ankles.

“Wow! I can see everything up here!”

Hesina laughed at Oroden’s reaction and Kaladin let out a chuckle of his own.

“Lirin can’t really carry him around much, with his back as it is,” Hesina confided. “So when Oroden sees other kids getting rides, he feels a little left out. I’m afraid you won’t be allowed to put him down for the rest of your visit.”

Kaladin shrugged, intentionally exaggerating the motion, which caused Oroden to let out another whoop of excitement. “He doesn’t weigh much.”

The fond smile his mother gave him pulled a smile from Kaladin as well, and the two of them stood there in line at a retail store just smiling at each other for almost half a minute. It was the most boring good memory Kaladin had ever made. But, in a way, he was glad it was boring, because he didn’t want to share it with anyone.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

As they walked out of the clothing store, Hesina’s cellphone rang. She fought with her purse for a moment and finally pulled the device out just as it had stopped ringing. She looked at the missed call record and frowned. “Sorry, honey, I need to call them back. Do you mind?”

“Not at all.” Kaladin was already carrying all of the shopping bags, but one, which he took out of his mother’s hand now. “Oroden and I can find some trouble to get ourselves into.”

“Oh, hush.” She swatted his arm even as she lifted the phone to her ear and began to walk away.

A tug to Kaladin’s hair signaled that Oroden wanted attention. “Where’s mama going?”

“She had to call someone back. We’ll meet up with her again in a few minutes.”

“What’ll we do while she’s gone?”

Kaladin walked into the next store on the right, a sort of spiritual healing store full of candles, incense, jade beads, and yoga mats. “How about we explore? I bet there’s all kinds of mystical artifacts in here.”

“Really?”

“Sure. Like...see this?” Kaladin picked up a ruby gem, about the size of a dime, which was encased in a sphere of glass and passed it to his brother. “This is for catching lightning. Leave it out in a thunderstorm and it will glow for a week.”

Oroden didn’t make any response, and of course Kaladin couldn’t see his expression from where the boy sat on his shoulders. But he also didn’t immediately hand the gem back, so he must have found it interesting, whether he believed Kaladin’s story or not.

“Ah,” Kaladin walked over to what appeared to be a bison horn, “and this is a piece of a claw from a giant, man-eating crab. This one must have been a baby.”

“How do you know?”

“Well, look at the size. These crabs can grow as tall as a house, and their claws get a lot bigger than this.”

“Wow, this is so cool! Can I get down so I can look at everything?”

“Only if you promise not to touch anything without asking first. Some of the stuff in here is pretty dangerous.”

“Okay, I promise!”

Even so, Kaladin kept a close eye on him, and anything that he worried the boy might break just so happened to be cursed.

Hesina found them about fifteen minutes later.

“Of all the places for you two to go...”

“Mama, mama, look!” Oroden ran over and held up a copper bracelet with an etching that depicted a Clydesdale. “It’s a ry—uh, a rysh...”

“Ryshadium,” Kaladin supplied. He’d probably given Oroden a different made-up word a moment ago, but who was keeping track?

“Yeah, a ryshamum! They’re the biggest and smartest horse in the world and if one of them likes you it means you’re lucky.”

Hesina hid her smile behind her hand. “My, you’ve been getting quite an education today, haven’t you?”

“Kaladin knows lots of cool stuff.”

“I bet he does.” She dropped a kiss to the top of Oroden’s dark head. “Are you hungry yet? Wanna get something to eat?”

“Yeah!”

Kaladin was surprised to find it was already one o’clock in the afternoon. “Sure.”

“Alright then, let’s go.” Hesina took Oroden’s hand in her left and looped her right arm around Kaladin’s waist while he continued carrying the bags. She seemed to glow with joy as she walked through the mall with her sons.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

As they sat down at a table with their food, Kaladin couldn’t hold back his concern any longer. “What was the phone call about? Anything serious? Should I be worried?”

“Oh!” Hesina laughed. “No, honey, it was just one of my clients.”

“Clients?”

“Well, after Oroden was old enough for daycare, I realized I didn’t want to be a stay-at-home mom. I went back to school and got my bachelor’s degree. I’m a business consultant.”

She looked almost as proud of herself as Kaladin felt. His mother was the kind of person who could do anything she put her mind to and he’d always felt she wanted more from life than just being a mother—not that she resented motherhood in the slightest. He was glad to hear she’d finally gotten the chance to do something solely for herself.

“That’s great, Mom.”

“Mhm! It’s challenging and some days I don’t get much sleep, but I do enjoy it. Plus the income has really helped us get to a stable place.”

“Dad still undercharging his patients?”

“Of course he is,” Hesina laughed, “and I love him for it, but now he can do it without feeling guilty.”

“Good.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

In the days following, Kaladin went to the clinic with Lirin for an hour or two, which started out a little awkwardly but grew more comfortable as the days went by.

Though he’d seen his father in action many times years before, seeing him now, after going away and learning so much, it was like seeing Lirin work for the first time and really understanding how skilled a surgeon he was. Not only did Kaladin see his father in a new light, but he realized he’d changed as well. As a teenager, Kaladin had thought he knew everything, but being in Lirin’s clinic again really put into perspective just how much he’d learned at Kholinar University, and how much further he had to go.

Once Kaladin left the clinic, he spent a majority of each day with Oroden, crossing activities off his brother’s list—which turned out to be less of a chore and more of how-to guide on bonding with Oroden and learning the things he liked. Most of the items were small, like having Kaladin push him on the swings, play soccer with him, or take him for ice cream. Kaladin managed to postpone the bigger things—like building a treehouse or taking him to the zoo—by convincing the boy that they needed to save some things for when they saw each other next time.

When the two of them arrived home in the afternoon of the first day, Kaladin proposed they make dinner “as a surprise for Mom and Dad”, at which point he learned that Oroden greatly enjoyed surprising people. So they did it again the next day, and the next. On the third day of coming home to a hot meal, Hesina declared she had become spoiled and Kaladin wasn’t allowed to go back to Kholinar. Kaladin almost wanted her to mean it. The week was going by so quickly.

At the end of the night, Hesina and Lirin tucked Oroden in, but he boy insisted it must be Kaladin who read him a bedtime story (this ended up being the request every night—apparently it was on his list). Kaladin actually enjoyed putting on silly voices that made his brother laugh (though he’d deny everything if any of his friends were to find out). How long would Oroden want bedtime stories? When Kaladin visited again, would they be able to do this, or would Oroden have outgrown this phase by then?

When Oroden fell asleep, Kaladin snuck out of the room and happened upon his father in the living room. To his utter bafflement, the two of them talked for a solid two hours the first night, and continued to have lengthy conversations each night after, while everyone else in the house slept. For the first time in his life, he felt like he really saw his father for the man he was. Perhaps it was part of adulthood, but he’d learned more about his parents in this short week than he’d ever known the fifteen years he’d lived with them. They weren’t just his parents, they were real people, with real lives and concerns and dreams—obviously he knew all that before, but now he really understood it. He felt close to them in a way that he never had before.

It had really been a busy week.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

On the last day of his stay, a Sunday, Kaladin managed to wake up earlier than Hesina so that she ended up being the one sitting at the table and sipping coffee while he made breakfast.

“I usually garden on Sundays,” she mentioned as he set a plate of food in front of her. “Oroden is my little helper, but there’s plenty to be done. Would like to join us?”

“Yeah, that would be nice.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

When Hesina had said she gardened on Sundays, Kaladin hadn’t realized she meant all day. Though, in all honesty, he was glad of it. The manual labor was relaxing in a way; he didn’t really have to think about anything or worry. Carrying the bags of mulch and fertilizer for her was an easy task, and as for the rest of it, he just followed her directions—with Oroden gently correcting any of his mistakes.

The three of them were pulling weeds out of the flowers around the base of a tree in the backyard when Kaladin realized he didn’t remember seeing the tree before. “How long has this been here?”

Hesina didn’t lift her eyes from her task, the contented smile on her face freezing in place. “I planted it after Tien died.”

Kaladin frowned. She must have it wrong; he’d lived here for a year after the incident. He would have remembered that.

“I’m not surprised you don’t remember, sweetie. You were...you were off in your own head a lot those days, almost like you weren’t really there with everyone. Like we were all ghosts to you.”

“Mom—”

“Don’t worry, Kal. No one blamed you for it. We all had our own ways of coping.” She took his hand in both of hers, gentle, but calloused, with her neatly trimmed nails packed with dirt. “But look at you now—look at all of us. We turned out alright, didn’t we?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I guess we did.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

That afternoon, the entire family drove to the airport to see Kaladin off. As he exited the car, he felt a desperate urge to get back in and tell them to drive home. It felt like he’d only just arrived and now he was leaving again.

“I’ll visit again as soon as I can,” Kaladin promised. There was no way he would let his absence be longer than a year this time.

“We can come to you, as well,” reminded Lirin. “I’ve always wanted to see Kholinar, myself.”

Of course. Now that Kaladin would actually be in touch, they could find him and visit him. It could be a two-way street again.

“Yeah. I’ll let you know when I get some time off. Or maybe, if I can’t get enough time, you can all just stay over and see the city, even if I have to work.”

Hesina pressed a hand to Kaladin’s left cheek and kissed his right. “That would be lovely.”

“Kaladin!” Oroden’s cheeks were redder than usual, but the boy was resolutely holding back his tears.

Kaladin kneeled down to his height to give him a hug. (It made no sense to Kaladin, but he was pretty sure he was going to miss hugging his little brother most of all.)

“You’re the coolest big brother ever,” Oroden confided into Kaladin’s neck.

“And you’re the best surprise I’ve ever had,” Kaladin whispered back.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It had been a little over a month since Kaladin’s last therapy appointment, mostly due to his new schedule, but Hoid picked up the conversation as though only a few days had passed.

“How was your visit?” he asked, and Kaladin understood now that the man actually did care about the answer.

“It was really good.” Kaladin couldn’t help the smile on his face at the memory of that week. “My parents had another kid, so...I’m a brother again.”

“Wonderful! Do you have a brother or a sister?”

“Brother. His name is Oroden. He’s a handful, but he’s a good kid.”

“You seem happy.”

The words mellowed Kaladin’s smile, but didn’t erase it. He’d left his family that week feeling like a piece of him that he’d lost had been rebuilt, like he was more whole than he had been in a very long time. “I think I am happy,” he concluded. The feeling was foreign, but not unwelcome. “I guess I should thank you.”

“Not at all. You took my advice at times, but this was not my doing. You are in control of your own happiness, Kaladin. Don’t ever forget that.” Hoid set aside his notepad—without having written anything down—and said, “I think it’s time we parted ways.”

“But—”

The other man held up a hand. “You don’t need me anymore. You’re in a better place than you’ve been in years.”

“But what if I...relapse or something?”

“Unlikely, though I won’t say you can’t schedule an appointment with me if you feel you need one. But I believe our regular appointments are no longer necessary.”

That sounded fair, and Kaladin actually agreed with that assessment.

Hoid stood and Kaladin followed suit to shake hands.

“Thank you for talking with me, Kaladin. I’m not allowed to pick favorites, but if I was, you would be my second favorite.” This declaration was delivered with a rhapsodic smile and a pat on the back.

“Um, thanks?”

“No, thank you. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever actually like any of my clients again.” Hoid ushered him to the door. “Alright, well, keep in touch,” he said with a wink, and promptly closed the door in Kaladin’s face.

For all that Hoid may be good at his job, Kaladin walked away with the idle thought that maybe his therapist should see a therapist.