Derek’s been on the road for thirty-nine days and now that he’s arrived, he can’t move. He knows he must, that his sisters and his household await him on the other side of the door, but the aching wound that’s become his heart knows what’s missing and it won’t let him take those final steps.
Parrish’s hand comes down on his shoulder, warm and steady as always. “Need a drink first?”
Derek shakes his head, knowing all the wine in Rome won’t make anything easier in the long run.
“You know, I haven’t seen my wife or my daughter in six years,” Parrish muses. “And I can’t leave until you’re safe inside, so…”
“You’d use guilt to force me to it?” Derek asks, settling his hand on his short sword.
Parrish grins. “Only because it always works so well. Come, let me forge the path for you this time.”
He reaches for the door, but Derek stops him, fingers digging into the muscle of Parrish’s bicep. “Don’t.”
Derek takes a steadying breath and unsettles the latch, letting the door swing inward to reveal the dark atrium and the domus that lays quiet beyond it. He’s known this house since birth and always found it welcoming and bright after being away. This time, however, all he can see are the rooms his parents will never again inhabit.
A light appears from one alcove, and a figure steps forward, tall and graceful, and Derek nearly goes to his knees because she looks just like his mother the last time he saw her.
“Derek?” Laura asks softly, coming forward until she can shove the lamp in his face.
She’s older and even more lovely than the last time Derek saw her, but he can’t find the words to match the fondness in her eyes, so he bows his head and mumbles, “Forgive me for being away so long.”
“Don’t you dare,” she spits, grabbing his chin in her warm fingers. “Don’t pretend like emotions are beyond you. You’re not a soldier within these walls, you’re my brother and we will mourn together, as we should.”
Derek’s throat betrays him and loosens the sob he’s been holding in since he received the news of his parent’s deaths over a month ago. He hears Parrish back away and slip out the door, and then he collapses into his sister’s waiting arms.