It was nearly one in the morning by the time Tepin got back to his hotel room, and all he wanted to do was crawl into bed and sleep for about eight hours straight. He gazed longingly at the bed, knowing that it would be awhile before he could turn in for the night.
Hanging his jacket on the hook by the door, he walked to the window and drew the curtain back. The view wasn't anything special, just a fairly busy street lined with small businesses and restaurants. The street was wide, with little “islands” separating the directions of traffic.
He let his mind wander back to his conversation at the hospital with Taz. Back there, he'd shut his emotions down so he wouldn't have to feel anything. He was better at shutting his emotions down completely than he was at hiding them, and it would have killed him to have Taz, a near stranger, see those feelings. So he'd become a robot.
Now, though, he was alone, so it was safe to feel. Not that he really knew what he was feeling, anyway. But that was okay, because he had time to figure it out.
He smiled as he remembered the look of determination in Taz's eyes as he'd asked about the king of Hotep's money. He admired the hell out of Taz for doing something he clearly didn't want to do, all for the sake of his family. It was something he could relate to. He'd do anything for his own family.
At least he knew one of the emotions he felt. Admiration.
Tepin was pulled from his thoughts when his phone buzzed in his pocket. He frowned. Who was calling so late? He took his phone out and... Dekklahn. It was Dekk calling this late. He briefly contemplated letting it go to voice mail. Instead, he answered just before the fifth and final ring.
“Hey, Dekk,” he said tiredly.
“Where have you been,” his brother replied tersely.
“At the hospital with Taz. Why?”
“The hospital?!” Dekk said, his voice almost shrill. “What happened? Are you okay?”
“Relax,” Tepin said, amused. “It wasn't me.”
“Thank the gods.” His brother's relief was palpable. “Was it Taz?”
“No. It was Taz's kid brother.”
“Taz has a brother? There are two princes of Hotep?” Dekk asked, incredulously.
“No,” Tepin said, laughing. “Dane—Taz's brother—belongs to the Langleys, not King Bakhoun.”
“And the Langleys are... the commoners King Bakhoun entrusted Taz to?”
“Is the kid okay?” Dekk asked, and Tepin knew that the concern in his brother's voice was real.
“He had to have open-heart surgery,” he said, suddenly very tired.
“What's wrong with him?”
“Congenital heart defect. He has holes in his heart.”
“That must suck. I hope he gets better.”
“So do I.”
They lapsed into silence, and Tepin's mind wandered. He wondered what it would be like to be married to Taz, a man whom he knew very little about. Would their marriage be in name only? Or would they be intimate? Would they get along? Or would they eventually hate each other? Gods, he hoped not. He did not want to hate his own spouse. He could handle a loveless marriage, but only if there was at least a little respect, and maybe even friendship. A marriage full of hate...? He shuddered at the thought. He would do his damndest to make sure that didn't happen.
Well then, he thought dryly, I have a lot of work ahead of me.
“Hm...?” Tepin was chagrined to realize he hadn't been paying attention and had missed what Dekk was saying.
“I said,” Dekklahn said, his haughty tone exaggerated, “that Mother called me a few hours ago. She was near hysterical that she couldn't reach you.”
Tepin grimaced. He loved his mother, but sometimes she could be way too overprotective.
He sighed. “I will call her when I get off with you.”
“Good. Then I'll let you go.”
“Taz agreed to our marriage.”
“That's great!” Dekklahn said, enthusiastically.
“Yeah... great,” Tepin replied, his voice subdued.
His brother instantly caught on that something was wrong. “But...?”
Tepin smiled, a small, almost pensive smile. “Figures you'd pick up on my lack of enthusiasm.”
“Yeah, well, I know you. You're my brother and I love you. Now spill.”
He seriously contemplated not answering. He wasn't sure he wanted his brother to know his insecurities. But... maybe if he used Dekklahn as a sounding board, he'd feel better about the marriage.
“We don't love each other, Dekk,” he finally said. “We don't even really know each other. He only agreed to marry me so he could use King Bakhoun's money to pay his brother's hospital bill. I don't really mind that, because, as I said, we're not in love. I understand his motive. What I don't understand is why our union is so damned important.” Tepin was unable to keep his frustration from leaking into his voice. He started pacing the ten steps from the window to the end of the bed.
“I overheard Mother and Father talking before I came here,” Dekk said, haltingly.
His heart skipped a beat, and he stopped pacing. Was he finally about to get an answer?
“What were they saying?”
“I didn't catch all of it, but... I think it was about money.”
“Money?” Tepin was dumbfounded. He'd thought they had plenty of money.
“Mother thought Father was spending too much on our army.”
“But that makes no sense!”
“She never was one for violence.”
“That's true,” Tepin agreed. Their mother had always done her utmost to resolve any and every problem with words. He sighed his frustration with this whole situation.
“Shokran gazillan,” he said, quietly.
There was a moment of silence, then Dekklahn said, “'Night, Tep. I'm going to bed.”
“Alright. Good night.”
Tepin sank down onto the edge of the bed. His exhausted mind was going about a million miles a minute, running through question after endless question, trying to put all the elusive pieces of the puzzle together to make a coherent picture.
It wasn't working.
Admitting defeat left a bitter taste on his tongue, but he was too exhausted to think anymore. He wanted to crawl under the covers, but he had one more phone call to make. His mother answered on the first ring.
“Where have you been, Tepin?”
Tepin winced at the shrillness of her voice. She had to be really worried to sound like that. He actually found himself feeling slightly guilty. The guilt pissed him off, though, because, damn it, he was twenty-five years old. He shouldn't have to call his mother every time he was going to be out of touch for a few hours.
He looked around his hotel room, from the utilitarian dresser and TV, to the white, slightly dingy walls, to the open door leading into the bathroom. He prayed for the patience he'd need to deal with his mother.
“Taz's brother, Dane, went to the hospital. I went with him to see if he was okay.”
“How long does it take to see if somebody is okay?”
“Momma, he had to have open-heart surgery, which is very dangerous, and can take quite a bit of time to perform.”
“Oh,” she said, her voice slightly deflated, her ire completely gone. “Is he okay?”
“He was resting comfortably when we left.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Next time you know you are going to be out of touch, call me,” she said, briskly. Her voice softened. “I was worried. I know I worry too much, and I tend to smother you kids, and I'm sorry for that. I love you.”
Tepin sighed, but said, “I love you, too, Momma.”
“Good night, Tepin.”
“Yes, habib albi?”
“Taz agreed to marry me.”
“Of course he did. Who wouldn't agree to marry you?”
Tepin knew the question was rhetorical, so he didn't answer.
“When should I expect you two here?”
“Not for a while. He does not have a passport, and that may take some time.”
“Make sure you tell me when he gets it, so I can prepare for your return. I want to see you before you marry him, and move to Hotep.”
“I know, Momma. We'll come see you, I promise.”
“Good. Now get some sleep, habib albi.”
Smiling, Tepin said, “I will happily get some sleep. Love you.”