Continued from Yet Another Face Story (Part II).
“Oh, there you are, Dag. Good morning.”
Dag became tense. Was that Face’s voice? He rose from his knees and spun. His hand darted to the knife at his side. Before his eyes Face stood, unharmed. “Wait, I thought you fell out of the window!” He furrowed his brows in confusion and stepped toward the youth.
“Yes, you did push me out the window,” the boy scoffed. “That was very rude, you know. I ought to request you quit as my bodyguard. It’s rather counterproductive for you to serve me as a bodyguard when you killed me.”
“Enough about quitting. How are you alive?” The older man scowled. “I saw blood and the place you smacked into the ground!” His eyes were wide in disbelief.
There was a moment’s pause, and then Face answered. “Well, I didn’t see an angel, so it wasn’t the normal method, I suppose.” He trailed off thoughtfully, then shrugged. “Oh well. I won’t ask you to quit. I like you, after all.” The youth’s smile was bright, as though he cared little about Dag’s attempted murder.
Face paused. “We need to talk, on the subject of liking.” His smooth brow furrowed as he thoughtfully placed one slender hand against his own cheek. Dag’s tension felt ready to explode out of his ears as he waited for the young man to speak.
“Do you hate me?” Face’s expression was a kicked puppy, staring up at Dag.
“I don’t hate you.” The first words were without thought. Dag paused and thought a moment before he continued. “I don’t hate you,” he repeated in a patient, firm tone, “I have no lust or romantic urges toward you, though. Some things you do, I detest, but I don’t hate you.”
The boy’s face fell as he pondered Dag’s words. Silence was king for a time that felt like eons. He pursed his lips as he finally came to a conclusion. “It’s because you still don’t think I’m anything but a child, isn’t it?” His expression darkened. “I’m over twenty years old, you know.”
“I’ll believe you’re a man when you act the part, boy.”
Face’s momentary existence became rage and hurt. The two emotions played back and forth on his pale face while he internally screamed and ordered Dag to explain himself or die. He couldn’t recall acting childishly, at all! “I don’t understand.” He spoke through gritted teeth in an attempt to prevent screaming the words.
The old man took a deep breath. “A man does things for himself and others. He isn’t selfish. A man is sturdy and solid. A man does not love another man as he loves a woman, nor does he try to force himself on anyone.” His eyes narrowed as he slowly made his voice more firm, as though he scolded a child instead of the leader of an army of monsters.
With a wilting expression, Face tried not to look pathetic. He straightened his back at the mention of sturdiness, but deflated as Dag told him who a man could love. He looked like a lily in an empty vase, wilting in too-harsh sunlight.
Despite this, Dag continued. “Men do not try to hurt others for their own gain. They protect people.” His voice was quieter and more gentle.
The words were a slap to Face’s cheek, and he looked away. “I need to be alone now. Go away.”
Face cut him off sharply. “Go!” He stalked to a nearby window and gripped its sill, then looked out with hunched shoulders.
With a sigh, Dag left the room. He was worried about Face as he looked down those hellishly-long stairs. With a grimace, he took the first step. Face needed to be alone, and waiting outside the door would do nothing to help him. He paused at the kitchen’s door and looked in.
To his surprise, a woman was there, washing the dishes in a tub. She didn’t notice him as he entered the kitchen and watched her, until he spoke.
“Do you want some help, miss?”
She gasped and whirled to face him, terror in her eyes. The plate she held in her hand dropped to the floor and shattered. Her flesh was carved with scars, and a fresh black eye prevented her from seeing with more than one eye. She backed up until her rear bumped against the washing tub.
“What happened to you, girl?” Dag stepped toward her. “Who hurt you like this?” He began to reach for her, but she dodged away.
“I’m just clumsy. I need to get back to work, sir.” She dodged away again as he tried once more to catch her arm. He stopped and let his hand fall. For a time, she watched him warily before she returned to her chore. With every fiber of her being, she forced herself to ignore him, even as her right leg began to tremble.
Dag knelt and began to pick up the pieces of the ruined plate. “If these aren’t cleaned up, someone will get hurt.” His voice was quiet as he glanced up at the young woman. “Where can I throw these away?”
She looked back at him, then slowly pointed to a slightly rusted bucket. “There.” Her hand trembled as she watched him carry the pieces to the bucket and drop them in. As he returned to cleaning up the smaller shards, she slowly began to relax. As he finished cleaning, she took a deep breath. “Thank you, sir. I’m sorry I’ve been rude.”
The man simply smiled. “It’s not a problem.” He stood with a grunt. “Can an old man help with the dishes?”
A small giggle finally escaped, and she smiled at him. “Yes, thank you. I always have to rush.”
Dag nodded and took over the scrubbing, while the girl dried and put away the dishes. As they worked, they spoke. Her name was Alice, he found, and she was from the conquered village he and Face were supposed to visit. Her father was an innkeeper before he was killed by monsters before Face took control of the beasts.
He didn’t push her for more information, but simply listened as she babbled on about the fate of that town. When she trailed off, he wrapped an arm around her and gently squeezed her shoulders in a reassuring hug. She rested her head against him.
From the doorway, Face’s eyes widened with rage, and he pursed his lips. He turned away from the scene in the kitchen, and returned to his room at the top of the tower.