"I feared you will not understand..." Death sighed. "That's why I asked you to leave for a while, so I could figure out what to do and how to explain. For me, love was a feeling I had with my fairies. There were three of them, and I cared for them more than for anything else in the world, and they cared for me. But they were killed. And I killed the one who killed them, because I was mad with grief..." He bit his lip with the pain of talking about it. "Something broke in me then. I don't think I can love again. Love to me now is an expectation to force myself to feel something I'm not able to feel or hurting the one who loves me... it's a choice between two things that suck. That's why I don't want to be love. Love always expects to be loved back... Care doesn't."
"I wonder if we actually got it right in the play..." Senecio murmured. "I can imagine why he would feel that way. I'm starting to get a bit unsure if it's a good idea for him to see it..."
Xia listened intently, seeming to grow more understanding, although not
" Xia was afraid Worth won't understand. But... Death asked Xia poorly. He asked what is love. He did not ask what Xia actually wants. And it is not expectation. It is... a dream. " She whispered. She looked up at him. Her big blue eyes were deep, and Death could see a trace of loneliness and pain in them, unhidden from him, this once." Xia... Understands Svarik. He... He didn't mean it... But he did send Xia away, like she was worth nothing. Xia was made for him... But he sent her away... Something in Xia broke then." She lowered her head as if in shame, using his own words." Xia finds it hard... But she wants to have, what her birth promised her, but failed. Not unrequited love. Not fondness. A true, real bond. Worth... Worth While is silly, thinking he made Xia sad by sending her away. No... " Tears welled in Fox's eyes." Xia... Just... Thought she found it. Not like she expected at birth, but... It felt real to Xia. Svarik... Only was bound to me by fate. But Xia choose you all by herself. Worth, for Xia... Bond is much more than love. Xia is sad that she... Did not make a true friend, after all. Xia... Is as alone as she was the born. " She looked up at him with a trace of vulnerable hope." Y-you... Understand... How lonely it feels to be born out of nothing, for no one... And how hard it is to belong when you are belongless... don't you?"
" I understand why you may think that, but... I don't." Tide commented thoughtfully." Whether you got it right or wrong - I think both is good. If it is right, it will be emotional and lead him to reflect on it better, if it is wrong, it will lead to frustrations and lead him to examine himself to find the right answers. That is, with little help. I do hope to help him cope whatever it is... "
Death shivered in pain. "I understand... It hurts... I'm hurting you because I can't give you what you are dreaming about... Just like I hurt others. I tried to pretend, to avoid hurting them, but that only leads to more hurt. That's why I'm afraid of being loved. It never, ever, led to anything else but hurt to those who did... You had me for someone else than I really am. You had me for Worth, and I'm not."
"Remind him though, that he can leave anytime he wants," Senecio said. "We can free a room in the theatre if he would like to have some privacy."
" No. " Xia turned sharply to him, and she was tearful, but her look was fervent. She laid her little paw over his hand. " Xia... did not have you for anyone else. She did not, okay? " she pressed his hand. " Xia had you for you. Xia did not love you for being Death. Xia... loved every moment with you. Every cuddle, every caress, every smile with Death was sincere. It is not a problem Death can't laugh... Xia could laugh for both. It was important that Death was wise but soft. Smart, but not harsh. Quiet, but tender. Xia loved everything. And... even in his illness... Xia was happy. She... Kept dreaming. How lovely it would be... Drinking tea, and eating cookies with him... Lying down, and watching stars while he sleeps... Being friends, forever. Death... is wrong. It is not true, that he only brings hurt. Being with Death brought much joy to Xia. Xia enjoyed his silence and his talks. You... are cruel to both of us. Claiming such lies. " her voice trembled. " Xia was so happy with you. She is only sad now, that you do not want her. She was never sad at your side. Never. And... You did not kill your fairies. If they felt anything like Xia, they were happy for every moment with Death. Do not... say such terrible things. That you only bring sadness. As if your bond was nothing, just because it is over. To them, it had to be everything. For them, it was forever... "
" Oh, that's a great idea. You always have lovely ideas. " Tide beamed with the thought, nodding slowly. " I will make sure to let him know. Oh, my, I really wouldn't think of that. It would be horrible, wouldn't it? " he seemed embarrassed. " If he thought he has to watch till the end even if it got too much... I sort of think it's obvious he wouldn't, so I would not get an idea to tell him up front... "
Death withdrew his hand, not moving further away than that physically, but apparently retreating into himself. "Friends... is okay..." he whispered. "But love is too demanding. See? I say I don't want love and you say I don't want *you*..."
"It's one thing knowing that you can leave anytime and other knowing you actually have a private space you can retreat to. I think I'll ask Lartes if we could use his room. He's a decent guy and he's playing a Spirit warrior, so he won't be needing it during the play. It would be more comfortable than empyting some storage room."
Xia withdrew her paw as well with his reaction, but he did not look away from him, not this once. She clearly was not ready to accept his truce, not yet.
" Friendship... is the same as love. It is just less demanding to Death under a different name. Xia would not mind the different name... if Xia could trust you to mean it. Do you? Or do you pretend, to make Xia feel better? It is so simple. Do you.. want her or not? Say the truth. " she demanded, with a piercing look, and rising anger. " If you tell lies, Xia will not forgive you. If you just say the problem is you, Xia will not listen. If... if your fairies could see you right now, they would surely be as disappointed as Xia. Xia is disappointed, that Worth speaks so low of himself. They... did not deserve, for you to call whom they loved the most, Worth Less. Does Death think they would be happy, seeing you like this? " she required all her strench to keep a firm, unwavering face. " Friends have to love each other. Uncle Tide wants to be your friend, Uncle Cern and Emil wanted to be your friends, Xia wants to be your friend... only you do not want to be your friend. You don't want anybody to be your friends. Would they be happy? "
" If he's a good guy, then yes. Can we stop by to ask him when we go bring the kids breakfast? I'd feel better knowing for sure before I can offer it to him. "
"They wouldn't be happy. They wouldn't be happy because they are dead. If they weren't dead, they would be happy because I would have no reason to think low of myself. But they are dead and I do," Death said shakily. "And friendship to me is... drinking tea and eating cookies and watching stars together... but not being dissappointed if you want to drink milk with someone else instead or read a book in another room."
"Decent," Senecio said. "Used to just lock his door and not go out much..."
" But Xia... did not want to drink milk with someone else instead or read a book in another room. Xia wanted to drink milk with you. " the creature whispered, keeping eye contact with her big, sad eyes, not breaking it, with more softness now. " Xia understands Worth does not expect love... But what if he gets it anyway? How can Xia and he befriends if he does not allow Xia to be herself? Please... imagine if Xia was in place of them. " she whispered, in her innocence, not understanding the full depth of what she was asking, only trying to speak to him on his terms. " If you forbid them to love you out of fear, what kind of bond would that be? Wouldn't they feel terrible, being forced to pretend to feel different than they really feel? Just like it hurts Worth, to pretend to feel different that he truly feels. So, why can he not understand how Xia feels? Xia wants to be Xia. And Xia wants to know what Death really thinks of her... And no vague answers. No pretty lies at all... "
" I wonder why... " Tide sighed. " I really look forward to that new building you came up with... By the way, was that why I've seen our real estate agent buzzing around the mansion? It's been a while since we bought something big, well, not counting the theatre, Hans did that all on his own. "
"If I forbid them to love me out of fear, they wouldn't be dead!" Death blurted out, visibly distressed. "
I'm not lying and I'm trying to be as clear as I can. Let's stay with milk... what if *I* wanted to read a book instead, not you? I like drinking milk with you, but I want to know that if I would decide to read a book instead, you wouldn't be dissappointed and hurt by it..."
"Yes, that's highly probable," Senecio nodded. He finished his pastry and stood up to get the meal for the apprentices of Janus.
It was clear Xia wanted to speak about the other thing, about love - to her, that was the problem, and that was something she couldn't help but be upset by, as she didn't understand why Death insisted on denying it. But she took a deep breath, lowering her head, and trying to come up with the clearest, most honest reply.
" The world seems wonderful to Xia... When with others. But when on her own, it... Is terryfying. " She whispered, looking away, and recoiling a little, as she explained quietly." It... Will take time. Xia does not... Know when it will not feel... This dreadful. But when it does not... Yes? Why would Xia not let Death be Death? Xia used to leave his tent when asked before, did not she? But... This is different." She sulked, refusing to look at him, crossing her arms vulnerably." Death... Was not... Honest. He did not ask Xia to leave because he was busy. He asked her to leave because he was uncomfortable with her staying. " She shook her head." Xia... Is not stupid. It is one thing.... Xia... I want to go read a book now. It is other thing... Xia... Whenever you ask, I will want to read a book instead. It... has to be a reasonable measure. Because, if Death would always want to be reading books when Xia pleads for company... It would not be friendship. It would not be personal time for Death. It would be... An excuse to not be with Xia. It is important difference..."
Tide helped him carry the lunch boxes, keeping them warm as they got back to the theatre.
"You are asking me for a promise or a reassurance but I can't give it to you. I am not able to love. If you need love, find someone else, please. I can help you find someone. I want you to be happy," Death said pleadingly. "I sent you away because I wasn't ready to talk about it yet."
They got back to the theatre and Senecio brought the meal to Janus.
Xia sighed bewilderedly, seeming rather shaken - every time she felt things were getting a little clearer, getting more tangled again, always returning there, to the matter of love.
" Why... Why come here, then? " she asked tearfully. " If all Worth wanted was to keep pushing Xia away, he could have done that all while staying in the room... "
" Alright. " Jake finally stepped in, and drew attention to himself, as the talk seemed to be getting in endless circles, even to him who didn't understand half of it. He turned to Xia. " Little one? Please, I am sorry for interrupting... Mind if you tell me what is going on? Please, tell me why are you sad, I'll talk to him after I get your side... "
Xia was unsure, but Jake knew the sign language, and that encouraged her, especially since she knew Death doesn't know it so she could speak freely. She also wasn't that good at it, but it was enough for her and Jake to communicate with signs, and the cook came closer, and they spoke like that for a while.
" Thank you, little one! " Janus seemed delighted when he has seen the actor bringing it. " Please, do part it equally among the kids, if it is not hard for you... My hands are full and dirty, and human food should not be contaminated. " Indeed, Being's hands seemed far from clear, and there seemed to be lot of papers and metal parts around, so he would definitely need to clean up.
After a while of talk, Xia nodded, seeming to agree with something. They, the cook turned to Death.
" Alright... As I assumed, the talk is going quite in circles, and you're both just hurting each other more. Love as you call it is off the table, okay, but she says you did say you are fine with the friendship instead, right? We just need to make sure your definitions of friendship match, so that you both know what to expect of each other. You both need to know what to expect, so you are not disappointed. We need to create your own definition of whatever your relationship is going to be. I will mediate this myself this time. So, the first question first... " he looked at Death meaningfully. " Did she assume right, that you do want to keep whatever you have so far, and not end it now that it grew from helping you into something personal? You do want her in your life, right? "
" He's regenerating... " Janus murmured, a little uncomfortable before the kids for that, as he seemed to feel a little guilty for bringing him to such sorry state still. " I doubt he'll wake on his own, little one... When they are recovering, Spirits sleep a lot. Should I call him? "
" Okay, I get you... but hear me out. In practice, it's highly unlikely things will change much. But she doesn't trust you really mean it after today, so you'll have to be a little more concrete in this, alright? " Jake said slowly. " The point is that neither of you is unsure. So, let's first start off small, and broad, so we can figure out what you actually have, okay? Xia, would you go first? " he asked little creature gently. " What does your dear uncle give you, that you find precious and hope to keep? Broadest things first," he asked in words, and then in sign language too, repeating until she understood, determined to be a good moderator between them. The animal was hesitant, but it replied in the end.
" Xia... Feels... Tends to feel very hungry for touch," she whispered in the end, slowly, accepting Jake's role and speaking her feelings as clearly. " But with unc-... But with Death, she never felt starved. He never made it a big thing, he just cuddled her as he slept, caressed her, and petted her all the time, like it was natural. Xia... enjoyed the attention. The touch of his hands... It felt... real. " she gulped. " If it was real for Death, and not a pretence... Xia would want to keep it... "
" Okay. Bye Janus, see you later! " he greeted the Being, and then, he followed Svarik curiously to meet the new man.
"I'm not too fond of being touched," Death murmured. "But giving a touch that's welcome feels nice." He sighed. "I don't know how to explain to her... I care for her, but I fear not as much as she would like me to. I care for her like a good teacher cares for pupil that he is fond of, not like a parent does for a child. If she would want to go, I'd let her go and be just a little sad but proud. She had no parents and no teachers though, so I don't know how to say it. She expects more from me and I don't want to hurt her... I enjoy her care for me, but I do not need it to care for her."
Senecio led him to the lodge first. "This is where you will sit," he said. "It would be good if you memorized the way from here to Lartes's room." He led him through the corridor and entered a door obviously not meant for the spectators. There was another corridor and several doors in it. He knocked on one and after a moment, a short man opened it hesitantly, in a narrow slit.
" Why can't you conceive that she feels the same, then? She enjoys your care for her, but she does not need it to care for you. She cares for you regardless. " Jake smiled a little. " It's no wonder she's frustrated, with that attitude... Listen, Death, I don't need to tell you this, but it's quite simple... She is a child. Parentless, teacherless. You said it yourself. Maybe she will want to go one day if after some time you do not return the intensity of her feelings - but she does not want to go now. Would you accept a child to just pack up her things and go to a wide world in a quest for love? Damn, even I was hesitant, and I am grown up. She doesn't know enough of the world and needs the support of us adults. Do you... really think it's a good idea to try to push a Being less than a month old to grow up in one day, with a slap to her face? " the cook asked with a bit of sad fascination. " If you are a teacher, it would be poor behaviour of you. How do you expect a pupil to grow mature enough to go his way if you refuse to teach him and insist instead they should find someone else all of a sudden after they are already comfortable with you? That's just pretty bad teaching practice... "
Tide looked at him curiously, but he understood the hesitance. He knew he may seem intimidating, so he didn't move much, but knew introduction was due.
"Hi... I don't think we officially met... I am a Tide. Hans's friend and Senecio's boyfriend. " he said with an apparent trace of delight, letting actor stay in front of him. " You are Laertes, yes? " he bid shyly. " Would it be alright if we spoke with you shortly? "
"Because she needs and deserves more love than a teacher can give, and she expects it from me," Death said. "And I don't understand what I did wrong. A slap to her face? All I did was sending her away for a while so I could discuss it with you. I tried to do it as nicely as I could, an sent her to spend some time with her other friends, but she didn't want that. I never said I don't want her or something but she put that into her mind. If she did not want love from me, she wouldn't be so upset about it. But she wants love and so she sees rejection where there's none. That's what love does..."
"Lartes," the man corrected him. "What do you want?" he asked, not inviting them in yet.
"We just wanted to ask if we could borrow your room during the play. Some guests might get distressed by it and could need a private space to collect themselves."
The man considered it for a moment. "Will you pay?" he asked.
" No, that's what a sudden unexpected change in routine does. It brings uncertainties. Geese, aren't you a stubborn one? " Jake seemed a little conflicted, as if deciding over something, before he spoke up again - this time, surprisingly, on Spirit language, speaking fluently, although with a heavy accent, not wanting Xia to understand them. " Listen... If until now you hugged and cuddled her, had mature conversations with her, spent time gladly with her, and then suddenly today, you questioned why she wanted to be with you, was reluctant to caress her, tried multiple times to send her away from her, what is that, if not a slap to the routine? Please, give me a bone here to work with... You can't forbid her to love you, so why not do the second best thing, and just tell her that you really do want her in your life, that she is making a difference in it, that having her is a preferable option? Love to you is something painful, but love to her is something needed for friendship. When you told her before sending her away that you will never love her, to her it sounded literally like you told her you don't want to ever be friends with her. "
" Do you need money so much you'd refuse to do a good deed if I said no? " Tide asked, tilting his head a bit. " I thought Hans was giving most actors overtime bonuses... Honestly, I'd rather save every penny to spend on dates with Senecio, but if money is needed, I'll pay. " he smiled a little tiredly, as he explained. " Please, though, do not overdo just because I agree in advance. I'd really like to use your room because Senecio recommended you. There are a lot of creeps around here, but he says you're trustworthy... "
"Oh... I did not understand that," Death said anxiously. "I couldn't really interpret her reaction so I thought, if she didn't love me before and didn't act like this either, and now she says she loves me and acts that way, so that's what love does and I don't like the difference it makes..."
"I'm saving for something," the man said.
"I know," Senecio nodded. "A third of your pay for this play on top?"
" People just don't sit down and suddenly decide they love someone. You just get closer to someone, and such feelings can grow depending on the circumstances. " Jake whispered speaking on Spirit language still while he could, despite Xia seemed to grow anxious, not understanding them." Like you grew fond of her, she grew attached to you, too. It feels good for her to be paid attention to and tend to someone, it feels good for you to have someone to pat and cuddle with when anxious and to tend to her in turn. Why couldn't it be a nice friendship? You both just speak too different languages, that's all. Friendship needs ingredients, and there are different kinds. Best way to reassure her is to just discuss with her what ingredients you can offer to each other to make it work... It's... Like a soup." He blushed a little. " Soup is still soup, even if ingredients are totally different from the recipe you may have tried before. You can make a soup without pepper, even if it makes taste more intense. You just have to add other things instead... "
" Okay, if Seine thinks it's a fair prize, deal." Tide agreed simply." I am just, I'm, terrible at maths and bigger transactions. Can someone calculate the sum to me? I can pay now if I have enough with me, or I can tell Hans to arrange it if that is alright. "
"I don't think I have enough ingredients," Death shook his head. "She should play and learn and so far all I've offered her was watching me sleep. I'd like to be like a teacher to her but IdonA't know if I even have energy for that. And I just freaked out when she started talking about love. I don't know how to explain that to her without explaining all about Riversong."
"It's okay," Senecio said. "I'll withdraw that from the theatre budget. It's a courtesy for an important guest, after all."