It struck Odir that just hours ago he would have taken his brother’s behaviour to be jealousy, but it wasn’t. It was love. Where yesterday he would have seen the lack of it, the absence of it as something that satisfied him, he now saw it all around him.
Jarhan’s features changed at Odir’s lack of response. ‘You do know that nothing happened—?’
Odir seized the change in their conversation as a distraction, to protect his mind and his heart from thoughts of Eloise. Instead, he dragged forth feelings and emotions about his brother—reactions and thoughts he’d kept at bay for hours now.
‘Why did you not tell me? I would have been there for you, Jarhan. I would have helped you in any way I could.’
Incredulity and anger shone in his words and Odir didn’t care—he didn’t care that his words betrayed his feelings. If tonight had shown him anything, it was that secrets and lies only destroyed.
‘What could you have done?’ his brother asked, removing his hands from Odir’s shirt and shrugging in a helpless way that broke his heart even more. ‘Would you have told the people of Farrehed? Would you have told our father? Torn our country apart because of your loyalty to me? Or would you have been forced to ask me to keep it a secret? To ask me to be something I am not?’ Jarhan stepped away and turned his back to Odir. ‘I could never put you in that position.’
‘Because you didn’t trust me to make the right decision?’ Odir asked, terrified of his brother’s answer.
‘No,’ Jarhan said, turning back to face him. ‘Not at all. I know what decision you would have made. You would have stood by me and watched our country burn. Watched everything you had ever wanted for Farrehed go up in smoke because you love me.’
And there it was—simply said and simply accepted. This love that Odir had fought so hard against ever since the loss of his mother, ever since the change in his father. Despite all that had befallen them, his younger brother had not been tainted with that same despair.
‘There may be a time in the future,’ Jarhan continued, ‘when what I am—who I am—will be accepted by our country. But not whilst our father sat on the throne and certainly not right now. And that is my sacrifice to make. That is my duty, my cross to bear. Not yours.’
Odir threw a curse out into the room. He had been so arrogant, so consumed with the need to protect the people of Farrehed from his father’s wilful neglect, selfishness and paranoia, that he’d thought all the weight of that duty had fallen solely on his shoulders. He hadn’t even seen how his brother had made his own sacrifices for duty, how he’d borne it on his shoulders too. How strongly he’d carried it.
Odir forced his sluggish mind to work. To pick up the threads of his earlier thoughts on how he would shield his brother from the harsh realities of the impact, of how this news would be taken by the people of Farrehed.
‘It’ll not be easy, Jarhan. It’ll not be accepted fairly by the more traditional members of our society,’ he warned. ‘But I will be there if you want to...to come out?’ he said, struggling with the terminology.
Jarhan’s face cracked into a smile. ‘Come out?’
‘You know what I mean,’ Odir said, feeling a faint flush of awkwardness colour his cheeks.
It wasn’t the subject that made it so, but talking to his brother like this. They hadn’t done it in years. And it soothed him, it washed over just some of the hurts of that day.
‘Whatever your decision—and it is absolutely your decision—I’ll be there. Standing beside you.’ He pulled Jarhan into a hug. A hug that he took strength from.
‘What happened with Eloise?’ Jarhan asked from within the embrace.
‘I let her go.’
There were so many answers to that question. Because he couldn’t willingly put her under the public microscope. Because he knew that his focus would have to be on Farrehed for the next few months. Because he couldn’t abandon her as her mother had done. Because he couldn’t use her as her father had done.
But beneath all that only one answer rang loud and true.