The trip soon ended as they arrived in Rising. It was mid-afternoon, and the group had all fallen asleep. Var decided against waking them until he had dropped Va’il off, since he knew where Va’il lived. With all of them still asleep in the cart, Var knocked on the door he had knocked on years ago. He could hear the loud bangs that his fist made on the door, and hoped that the resident wouldn’t be too startled. It happened too often for Var to count.
“Hello? That knock is familiar,” a soft voice said from behind the door. It slowly opened to reveal Mai’ou. She looked confused, and her normally sharp eyes were very soft.
“Afternoon, Ma’am,” Var said.
“You are? I’ve seen you before. You brought Va’il back before. Va’il.” Mai’ou stopped and hung her head down. Var could hear her breath in deeply. He panicked at the sound, since he knew what would soon follow.
“Wait, Ma’am, don’t cry. Va’il, I’ve come to deliver him to you,” Var said as quickly as he could, for he didn’t want to upset Mai’ou further.
“Deliver? Deliver? Oh my, no, what do you mean deliver? My child, what condition was he in so that he has to be delivered?” Mai’ou was getting more upset at Var’s careless words.
“No, no, I mean. Wait, wait a second here.” Var moved to the cart and picked Va’il up out of it. Va’il was still sound asleep, and the journey had taken a toll on him, so he didn’t wake when being carried.
“He’s, he’s!” Mai’ou said as she looked at the sleeping Va’il.
“Just asleep, Ma’am. Just tired from the journey, nothing else. Dirty and smelly as well, I imagine.” Var handed the sleeping boy to his mother.
Mai’ou looked down at the dirty face, the bushy tail, and the hands that she hadn’t held in a while. She fell to her knees with Va’il in arm and cried, as any mother would, in a long and sobbing way. She held his head close to her chest as she wept just inches from him. He slowly breathed, and the warmth he emanated reassured Mai’ou that this wasn’t a dream. Var looked down at the couple as each tear washed dirt off Va’il’s face. He didn’t wait for thanks. Mai’ou surely would have thanked him profusely, if she wasn’t clenching Va’il in her arms. By the time she calmed down, she realized that Var had already left. She took her child inside the house, and closed the door behind her.
Va’il dreamed of a summer’s day. He stood in a field full of tiny hills and small trees, and considered what animals he should chase. The thought of rabbit stew crept into his mind, but was quickly pushed aside by the sight of pears. Then he felt the overwhelming warmth of the sunlight around him. He closed his eyes and embraced the feeling. The sweet smell of the fruit filled his nose in the dream, but it wasn’t the smell that a pear usually has. It was much more familiar, but he couldn’t describe what it was like. It was unique and pleasant, and it came from the warmth that surrounded him.
He opened his eyes, and noticed that it was dark. He was being held tightly by someone in the darkness. The dream he just had was already being forgotten, except for the smell of the pears. As his eyes adjusted to the light, he realized that Mai’ou was the one holding him, and she was the one he could smell. Why pears, he asked himself. He then fell asleep again.
The next time Va’il awoke, it was early morning. The sun had risen. He was alone in his own bed, the one he had been missing for a while. Light filled his simple room as he rubbed his eyes and cheeks. He got up as he thought about washing his face and taking a bath. Even he couldn’t stand the dirtiness that seemed to permeate him. Quietly, he left the room and entered the washroom.
“Va’il, are you up now?” Mai’ou called upon hearing Va’il’s steps.
“Yes,” he said in reply as he scrubbed his face.
“When you’re done there, I’ve made breakfast. Come and sit,” she said.
Va’il finished what he was doing, and then walked into the kitchen. He sat at the small table and stared at the braised meat and eggs waiting for him. It was an amazing sight to Va’il, since he hadn’t been eating well for the last week. He had earlier decided that fruit made a poor diet for a lupus.
“Thank you, Mum,” Va’il said very quietly. He couldn’t say anything else. He remembered that he had been very warm while asleep, but now there was a cold fear that surrounded him. He dared not look directly at Mai’ou, who had sat across from him. He couldn’t help but notice she was sitting without any food in front of her. She was looking at him. He ate quietly while she watched.
“Is it good?” Mai’ou asked.
“Good. Never again, alright?” she said with soft intensity.
“Yeah,” Va’il said. He moved each bite to his mouth just a little slower.
“I’m very lenient, you know that. I don’t mind if you go off and do things,” she said with warmth and compassion.
“It’s just, I have to know beforehand. You can go to the ends of Fervi, as long as I know more than a single sentence.”
“You don’t need to apologize, dear.”
“But I should.”
“Va’il. You’re mine.” Mai’ou stopped. Va’il was unsure if she meant to say anything more. He finally looked up. Mai’ou was staring at him intently. Her eyes were just as sharp as ever, but her expression was soft. She didn’t look upset or angry. Her hair was still straight and wet from being washed a short while ago. Her eyes did have a soft red glow around them, but the washing from earlier had erased the look she had the night before. To Va’il, Mai’ou looked normal, a realization that made his chest hurt.
“Was it amazing?” Mai’ou asked.
“What?” Va’il didn’t understand what she meant at first.
“The trip. Where you went. What happened. Was it amazing?” Mai’ou asked again.
“Oh. Hmm. Yeah. Incredibly.”
Mai’ou reached across the table and placed her right hand on Va’il’s left shoulder. She squeezed it hard as she spoke with a sweet smile.
“Good. Tell me everything later. I’m glad for you. But if you ever, and I mean, ever, do something like that again, you won’t freely get away with it. I won’t restrict you right now, since I know you respect that I don’t place many limits on you. In return, you’ve always been good. But if you do something without telling me, disappearing and worrying me and making me cry day after day, I’ll be angry afterwards. Right now, you silly boy, I’ve been too upset to feel angry. I’m just glad you’re safe, and home,” she said with tenderness.
As Mai’ou spoke, the claws in her hand extended and pierced Va’il’s shoulder. The way Mai’ou was, Va’il wasn’t sure if she even realized what she was doing. He was too frightened to cry in pain as the claws dug deeply into his skin. Mai’ou finished what she was saying and smiled. She was obviously holding back tears. Her grip relaxed, and she pulled her hand away from Va’il. Blood flowed out of each of the five holes in his skin and quickly soaked the shoulder of his shirt. Mai’ou quickly got up and pulled the shirt off Va’il. She went to work at once, finding bandages and wrapping the wounds. She didn’t look surprised to see the flowing blood, but Va’il knew better than to assume Mai’ou had meant to do that. It’s a small, far too small, punishment, he thought.
“Oh, you should get ready. But you’re still early, you can stay a while longer. The teacher will probably give you a stern talking, so you should be prepared,” Mai’ou said nonchalantly. She had thrown out the ruined shirt, and was finishing the last of the several bandages she had wrapped around Va’il’s shoulder.
“School?” Va’il was surprised to hear that word. It had, of course, occurred to him earlier that he would be returning to school after an unplanned vacation, but he hadn’t thought of it much.
“That’s right. School. You’re going. Today. Soon. Then you’re coming home after that.” Mai’ou’s tone left no room for misinterpretation.
“Right. I understand,” Va’il said obediently. Mai’ou patted Va’il’s shoulder. Va’il felt a small flash of pain that quickly subsided.