Kieron’s mood improved drastically after finding the letters; though he was wounded beyond belief at his father’s actions, though he was furious beyond words, he showed none of it, and simply soothed himself by reading and re-reading the letters he’d found. He knew Jet had been worried about writing anything that could get either of them in further trouble; he traced over the words and doodles, laughed at the stupid jokes, and felt himself less disconnected than he’d been in weeks.
It felt like a thousand thousand years since the night Hoyt Redwell knocked him unconscious for saying those vicious things about that summer day at the family lakehouse.
“You’ve been improving. Your mood has lifted,” Garrett noticed, one afternoon.
“Recently heard from an old friend,” Kieron said guardedly.
Garrett nodded, quirking a brow. “Ah, you’ve gotten letters, I presume?”
Kieron cleared his throat and worked on carefully resolving a calculus error before he looked up at Garrett and said, “Yes, my father had been …holding them for me.”
Garrett’s expression grew thoughtful, and he said, “There was some speculation, I am certain, that he might not appreciate it. That’s resolved, then?”
“Entirely,” Kieron breezed, then gestured to his proof. “It was a matter of forgetting the sign, as usual,” he said, changing the subject.
“Why so it was,” Garrett said, nodding. He felt awed, pleased for the boy, who would likely be able to come back to the Academy, if his father had finally managed to let go of his worry for the boy and his friends.
* * *
“Good evening, Professor.” Ellison shook the man’s hand, smiling warmly. “How’s my son doing, with his studies?” Kieron stood nearby, grinning easily; he lifted his brows in an expectant expression, proud and hoping to hear enough to brag about.
“He’s doing phenomenally well,” Garrett said, pumping the man’s hand, his cheeks flushed from the cold. “Couldn’t be more proud,” he said, and he let the butler take his overcoat, and stepped from his snowy boots into a set of proffered house slippers, for his stay.
Kieron positively beamed. Maybe his father would relent, after all. Maybe he would see that the episode was only a brief blip, that he was well enough to return to the Academy.
And then Garrett kept talking.
“I think what’s made the biggest difference is you, and how you’ve enabled him to talk to Jet again,” he said.
Kieron’s expression shifted from delight to shock, and then fear. He turned to look toward his father just as his father cocked his head to the side and turned to look at him. “Oh?” said Ellison. Kieron was the only one in the room who knew the shift in Ellison’s tone was dangerous. He looked back to Garrett, hoping the man would meet his eyes, giving a tiny headshake, pleading with everything he had. Shut up, shut up, for the love of everything, shut up!
“The two of them have obviously bonded over their years at the Academy, and it’s not hard for anyone to see they’ve been influential to one another’s success–” Garrett said, looking slightly startled.
Ellison released his hand and swung an arm around to grab his son and march him down the hall, fiercely. “What an interesting thing to hear,” Ellison said, his voice full of forced cheer. “Let’s keep talking — my office, yes?”
Kieron looked over his shoulder at Garrett, his expression panicked, his heart thundering in his chest.
Garrett went after them, worry now plastered over his features. “Sir I–”
“Come along, professor. It’s even warmer in my office. Lovely fireplace. Brandy. I’m sure you can use the table in there to work with Kieron,” Ellison boomed. Ellison shifted his grip on Kieron carefully, turning his face back toward the way they were walking. In a much lower voice, he said, “No, no, boy. The professor can’t help you with this.”
Once they got into the office, Kieron’s father released him, and walked toward his desk. He opened the drawer, and pulled out the two bundles, and set them on the desk in front of Kieron, then wordlessly walked away to the liquor cabinet, where he pulled out a crystal decanter, and poured a glass of brandy with a heavy hand, knocked it back, poured another one, and drained that as well. He cleared his throat as he set the glass back down, and returned to stand near the desk.
“Kieron, my son, when your mother and I first learned of your condition, we were bound and determined to save you. We explored and thought of every opportunity, but until your recent episode at the Academy, not once did it occur to us to send you away,” Ellison said, his jaw working as he looked to the fire.
“I am… beyond grateful, father,” Kieron said, glancing to Garrett. The professor stood there, looking faintly helpless, watching awkardly. “Truly, I know that you’ve done so much for me; I’ll never be able to repay you.”
“If I did things for you merely to be repaid, I’d be a terrible father.” Ellison began to pace, sighing. “Son, I do for you because it is what fathers do. But this last time, your stay in the Academy, the friends you’ve made… In the course of your life, and in dealing with your condition, I have had to make many hard decisions, some of which I’m sure you’ve disagreed with. Some I can look back on, and know I might have done differently, but couldn’t have, at the time, based on what I knew to be true.”
“I understand,” Kieron promised, trying not to be impatient or frantic. “I trust you,” Kieron said, nodding, and it was that statement that turned Ellison’s head. He looked to his son, and his expression was pained and loving, all at once.
“Then trust me now, and forgive me later, for this,” Ellison said, and he picked up the bundles, and tossed one into the fire, letting it flare up and burn fiercely. The envelopes lettered in Kieron’s gentle hand blackened and crisped, fell to ash quickly.
“NO!” Kieron shrieked, throwing himself toward the fireplace. “No, no, Father!” It was only Garrett’s quick movement that caught Kieron; the boy was held firmly in the professor’s grasp. Tears fell, and Kieron dashed them angrily from his eyes, gasping through his panic.
Ellison lifted the other bunch, to throw them in, as well.
Kieron fought against Garrett’s iron grip, but finally sagged, panting. “Father, why?” he begged. “Can’t you at least tell me why?”
Ellison sighed, and the hand that held the letters dropped to his waist. “Kieron, first, you have to understand that the life we live was born on the backs of sacrifice. That it wouldn’t be possible for you to live in luxury if I’d gone off half-cocked and done whatever I wanted, when I was your age. Luckily, I listened to my father, even when I didn’t want to. Even when I thought it would end my world.”
“I don’t understand,” Kieron said, relaxing only a little, his eyes ever going to the bundle in his father’s hand.
“You have a responsibility to this family, son, and it is to keep the line going, keep the business, going, find a beautiful girl and make an honest woman of her. Have children. Get them involved in the family business. Follow in the footsteps of your father, my father, his father — the legacy we’re building is something larger than ourselves,” Ellison said, an almost feverish need on his face. It wasn’t delight — it was something darker than that, something heavier.
“I can… I can do that,” Kieron said. “Sure, it… I’ll make you proud of me,” he promised, his heart in his throat. “Any-anything, Father, just–”
“End it, Kieron,” Ellison said, gruffly.
“He’s a friend! It’s just friendship!” Kieron struggled to keep himself from sounding too frantic.
“It’s a dangerous relationship, too full of fancy. It’s kid stuff. You’re becoming a man, son, and you need to cut away those pieces that will hold you down.”
Kieron’s expression was stunned; he cleared his throat, saying, “End… end it? I don’t–” He looked up at his father, a plea on his face that he couldn’t find the words for, his expression going stricken. Don’t. Don’t make me. Don’t do this. The knowing look on his father’s face, the love and hardness in his eyes didn’t make it any easier, any less horrifying.
“I’ll burn these, and you’ll just hate me, like I hated my father for making the hard choices,” he says. “That Harrington boy is what’s causing your sickness to–”
“Sir–” Garrett began, flushed, looking angry. “You can’t possibly believe–”
Ellison turned a baleful eye on Garrett, and spoke carefully, calmly, through gritted teeth. “One word from me, Garrett, and your tenure will be revoked. You thought the Redwells could be a bone in your throat? Don’t cross me. And don’t you dare do a single thing to drag this out any longer than it ought. Tonight’s session is over. Go back to the Academy. We’ll send for you again tomorrow.” He turned his gaze back to his son, and the expression was a mix of so many things: love, hope, determination. He did not turn away to make sure Garrett exited; he knew the man would.
Kieron pled, watching Garrett go, “I’m not sick, Father. I’m not, I–”
“I love you, Kieron. I do. You are my son, and I love you. But this is for the best. I swear to all I know, this is for the best,” Ellison said. “I don’t want to, but since it’s come to that, I’ll tell you what my father told me: If you have to hate me for awhile to become the man I know you can be, if you have to hate me while I save your life and make sure you can hate me for a good, long time… I’ll do it.”
Kieron grabbed for the stack of envelopes, tears in his eyes, but Ellison held tight. “Don’t–” Kieron begged. “I’ll end it,” he sobbed through gritted teeth, bowing his head. His father sighed heavily as he released the bundle, and Kieron walked to his desk, and sat down. He picked up a pen, and carefully wrote out ‘Return to Sender’ on each and every letter, dashing tears from his eyes as he did so. When he was done, he tied the bundle back up, and thrust them out at his father, saying, “There. It’s done.”
Ellison took the envelopes from his son and nodded. “Good. Good, I know it’s hard, son. I know,” he promised, reaching to embrace him, to kiss his forehead as he had not done in some time. “This will pass.”
Kieron stood silently, leaned into his father, and didn’t ask if he still hated Ellison the first.
Both of the Brody men watched the fire, and felt an echoing burn in their chests.
Ellison wondered if his son would ever forgive him for denying him his only friend.
Kieron wondered if his father would ever forgive him for refusing to be denied.