Short Story: Family of the Heart

The door to the adjoining room pushed open a crack. A head of shaggy purple hair appeared and hesitated in the doorway. When the boy shuffled into the room, it became clear that under the mop was a face streaked with tears.
(This story was inspired by the Inktober one-word prompt "precious" and would take place near the end of the as-yet-untitled Book 3.)

Unexpected Inspiration Short Story - "Family of the Heart"


Firedrake leaned forward to rest their elbows on the table and rubbed at their eyes. "I am never going to learn this. Tell me again why we didn't have you be the career spouse?"

Adair's own headache stretched behind his eyes like a rubber band pulled so tightly his brain might pop out. Trying to teach Firedrake everything he could about cartography was equal parts exhausting and frustrating. Firedrake was picking it up fast, so that wasn't the problem. Firedrake picked everything up fast. Adair would be a little jealous if not for how much he still had to cram into Firedrake's head; even with their speed, it was hard to fit seven years of study into a few weeks and Adair was pretty sure he was the worst teacher who had ever teachered. Taught. Ugh, and now his own language wasn't making sense. He still struggled for fluency in Galan and that was the whole problem, wasn't it? "Because I didn't know enough words or customs to pass as Galanvoy. I still don't. Nothing here makes any sense. Why does nothing make sense?"

From the greetings to the verbs to the food, everything was backwards. Sideways, maybe. Adair tried tilting his head to see if the words on the page would make more sense, but all it did was make his head pound more. If only there was a way to give Firedrake his knowledge of his career or for Firedrake to give their knowledge of what it was like to grow up here, then neither of them would be awake at three in the morning. For the fourth time this week. For the second week in a row. Third? This disguise felt as thought it had been going on forever and would never actually end.

Firedrake ignored his mostly-rhetorical question and continued staring down at one of their notebooks. They'd carefully filled this with the information Adair had given during what had to be the world's most confusing topography lesson. Adair hadn't realized how much he'd come to use his weaving as a crutch until he had to explain in a mundane way how it was done. He'd ended up drawing out the things that were so clear in his head because pictures worked much better for him than words, but this couldn't translate to Firedrake any more than Firedrake trying to teach Galanvoth culture clicked with Adair. The two of them were stuck. If they couldn't pull each other forward, it would mean this whole plan would fall apart.

Adair knew he was being irritable and pessimistic, but it had been three weeks without pie. Or sleep. He supposed sleep was important, too. If Firedrake had been his actual wife, she would have told him that the harder he worked, the sooner he could come home, and to take deep breaths before he gave himself a panic attack. Blythe swore by deep breaths.

Adair tried this. It didn't help. All it did was make him wish she was here.

Firedrake set the book down and took Adair's hand. They didn't say anything when Adair clutched it so tightly it must hurt. Firedrake was here and with Firedrake he could get through this. If he had to be fake married to someone in a weird culture that didn't even eat pie-- pie! Who didn't know what a pie was?-- at least it was someone who cared about him.

They sat in a silence that grew more unnatural and uncomfortable the longer it stretched on. Sol should be in the next room hammering at his latest idea. Blythe should be chewing him out because it was the middle of the night and she'd hid the hammer, how did he find it? Etri should be in here with them because three in the morning was pretty much his afternoon.

Adair was grateful when Firedrake broke the silence. "Creators, this is depressing. I never thought I'd miss Sol's constant clamor. Will you be alright or should we admit defeat and go home?"

He did want to go home. He missed Blythe and Etri and Sol and pie. But he couldn't. Not when they were this close to finding the person they were looking for. "I'll be okay. It's just... now I see why you and Ame didn't like it here."

Firedrake raised an eyebrow. It was strange seeing this without the piercing or the paint around it, but successful Galanvoy tradespeople didn't dress like dancers and dancing wasn't the kind of career available for their disguise. With a wave of their free hand, Firedrake indicated the table spread with maps, books, and the remains of at least three meals. "You're a cartographer. Surely you came here during your apprenticeship."

"Yeah, but only for long enough to pass through. I didn't know what it was like to actually live here."

Firedrake dropped Adair's hand and started pushing part of the pile into some semblance of organization. Without Blythe and Etri, the two of them were a mess. "You still don't. Do you really think this is anything like what you would experience if you were truly married to a Galanvoy? The way you would think and be if you were Galanvoy?"

Now Adair had gone and put his foot in his mouth. "I'm sorry, Dray. I didn't mean it like that."

Firedrake's "hmmm" was interrupted by a soft knock and they looked at each other in mutually exhausted bewilderment. When it happened again, a fact made it through Adair's brain fog. It was the inner door, not the outer one.

Firedrake caught on at the same time. "Ame? Is something wrong?"

The door to the adjoining room pushed open a crack. A head of shaggy purple hair appeared and hesitated in the doorway. When the boy shuffled into the room, it became clear that under the mop was a face streaked with tears. In seconds Adair was across the room with Firedrake right behind. Ametrine had been fine at dinner, maybe a little more quiet than usual, but he was usually quiet and what if they'd missed something big, what if someone had hurt him again, what if--

With Adair caught in a cycle of worry, Firedrake stepped forward and raised their arm slightly. Ametrine could be so skittish and usually shied away from touch, so it was a sure sign that something was wrong when he threw himself into Firedrake's arms.

Firedrake hugged him tightly and made eye contact with Adair, then nodded towards the kitchen. This snapped Adair out of it. Ametrine was prone to nightmares and the best way to help was hot tea and the weight of the blanket Blythe had crocheted for him. When Firedrake led Ametrine over to the couch, Adair dashed off to find what he needed. He decided that leftover tea from dinner would save time and brought the mug over to Firedrake, then wrapped the heavy blanket around Ametrine's shoulders. As soon as he sat, Ametrine leaned against him and it was Adair's turn to hold him close.

"Nightmares?" Adair mouthed to Firedrake over Ametrine's head.

Firedrake nodded, most of their attention on the mug. Firedrake had perfected heating a drink to the right temperature because each member of their family had their own preference and also the tendency to forget about tea until it had grown cold.

"Which one was it? We can scare it away by telling it truths." That had been Etri's idea. Etri dealt with his anxiety partly by thinking through potential solutions to his fears and was teaching Ametrine to do the same. Again there was a stabbing at Adair's heart because his family wasn't where they should be.

Ametrine's voice was so quiet Adair had to strain to hear. "You leave me here when you go home."

That nightmare was a new one. Fortunately it was a much easier one to chase away with truth and reassurance than the ones about monsters or Ametine's original family. Who, in Adair's opinion, might as well have been monsters.

"We promise we won't do that. You're one of us now, remember?" Firedrake reached over to ruffle Ametrine's bright hair. They had helped Ametrine dye this and it was something he refused to change when they brought him back into Galanvoth. When Blythe had made the observation that people in Galanvoth didn't really dye their hair, Firedrake pointed out that kids did strange things like this and no one would think it weird-- then pulled Blythe and Adair aside to say that Ametrine wanted reassurance that he was with a Concordian family now, not a Galanvoy one. That was all it took to convince Blythe.

Adair attempted his best reassuring smile when Ametrine pulled away to take the tea now warmed to how he liked it. "What Dray said. Where we go, you go. We promise."

Ametrine stared into his drink with an intensity that would have made the liquid boil if he'd possessed Firedrake's weaving. "Even if I'm not good enough? Or if you don't want me? You won't unadopt me?"

Adair would say he hadn't understood Ametrine's Concordian, but the boy was picking it up much faster than Adair was with Galan. "You can't be unadopted, Ame."

Firedrake shook their head slightly. But Adair had signed all the papers and talked to docents and healers and then the others had done the same. No one had said anything about giving up a kid once they were adopted. This didn't have to be said because what kind of horrible person would change their mind on this? Ametrine was a person, it wasn't like finding a vegetable you didn't like on your plate. You couldn't just send him back or toss him in the garbage.

... Oh. This was another cultural difference thing. Adair would have questions for Firedrake and probably more than a few choice words about Galanvoth once Ametrine went back to bed. "I promise we won't unadopt you and that you'll always be good enough."

"Even though I don't have weaving? All of you can do smarfy stuff and I can't and that means I can't be what you are when I grow up."

Sol would be proud to hear that Ametrine had picked up on his favorite adjective, but what kind of place put these kinds of thoughts into a kid's head? At least this Adair understood about Galanvoth. The firstborn child was always trained in the occupation of the parent who held an occupation. "You can do any of the things we do without weaving. Dray danced for a really long time before learning they had fire."

"Gee, thank you. You make me sound like I'm ancient."

Adair stuck his tongue out at Firedrake, which got a small smile from Ametrine. "And Etch doesn't use his weaving to be a sentinel. Sol would invent things even if he had to do it with his feet. Just don't tell him that because I bet he would try making things without using his hands. ... No, on second thought, do, because that would be funny to watch."

A slightly bigger smile.

"Blade's got her telepathy and stuff, but medics are as important as healers and anyone can become one. And my weaving is just a tool, like a pencil or a paintbrush or one of Sol's hammers and screwdrivers. I'm teaching Dray to be a cartographer and they can't even draw a stick figure."

Firedrake nodded and held up a notebook. "It's true. I can't. Look at this thing Addy had me draw today. Can you believe that it's supposed to be a tree?"

"It looks more like a lollipop."

Firedrake eyed it. "That's what Addy said, too. I thought it looked more like an umbrella. Is it really that bad?"

Finally a little laugh out of Ametrine. That meant they were chasing away this fear and, with luck, this particular nightmare would never come back. "But even if Dray isn't an artist, they're really good at numbers and remembering details and paying attention, which are just as useful to a cartographer. The drawing part is something you practice until you get better. That's how anything is. You do it a lot until you get really really good at it. You could do any of the things that we do, probably better."

Creators knew Adair would probably be a better cartographer if he could ever get a hang of the "paying attention" thing. A memory enhanced by weaving was great, assuming he saw the details in the first place.

Firedrake gestured in the direction of the table. Before they'd sent him off to bed, Ametrine had been drawing there while they both studied. "Precisely. I've seen your trees and they're certainly not umbrellas. You're already better than me at that one."

There was another point Adair felt the two of them should make, considering that Ametrine was going to be growing up in a different culture. "Plus you can do anything, not just what we do. We'll be behind you the whole time no matter what you pick."

While Ametrine finished his tea and thought about this, Firedrake winked at Adair. "Unless you choose to be a dancer or a musician, in which case we'll be in front of you. You'll be on stage and we'll be in the audience, you see."

Adair couldn't help grinning. It was always such a great feeling when his family beat him to a pun or a joke.

Ametrine handed the mug to Firedrake with a smile on his face. "I do like the hula hoops you got me."

"Then you'll be an amazing hula hooper with practice. Ametrine the Amazing. Your name will be on posters all over the city. Just don't let Adair draw them or it'll look like 'Amethyst the Avenging.' Whatever you do when you grow up, promise me you'll have better handwriting than he does."

It wasn't that bad. It was only chicken scratch when Adair was distracted or tired, which, okay, considering how things had been, was probably what it looked like now. When Ametrine yawned and tried to hide it, Adair nudged his shoulder. "Let's get you back to bed. I think Dray knows a few more hoop tricks they haven't taught you and I bet if you ask nice, they'll show you in the morning."

That got a bigger grin out of Ametrine, albeit a tired one. If there was one thing he loved even more than cupcakes, it was hula hoops. He was almost to the door when he turned around, wrapped in the purple and yellow blanket like a sort of cocoon. A tug pulled at Adair's heart. Maybe that cocoon would someday be an artist or a dancer or a healer or a sentinel or an inventor, but what mattered most was that what came out of the cocoon would be a kind-hearted adult. All Adair and his family could do was try their best to make up for the crummy family Ametrine had before.

Ametrine's voice was muffled by drowsiness and blanket and the closing door, but the words were clear enough to make Adair's heart leap. "Thanks, Dad and Ren."

This was different from Ametrine calling them parent names in public as part of their disguise. This was in Concordian, in the privacy of their temporary home where they didn't have to pretend to be something they weren't. Adair was caught somewhere between wanting to do a happy dance and wanting to hide forever because what if he messed this up when he caught Firedrake wiping their face with their sleeve.

Firedrake stopped when they saw Adair looking. "Don't say anything. It's just the charcoal from drawing all those stupid trees caught in my eye."

CONVERSATION

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