Taryn’s father had scars like constellations, overlapped like tidelines on the beach, washing his arms in curls of red and brown and white. His mother’s arms were the same shade of tan from fingertip to elbow, slowly fading as it reached her shoulders, touched only by the sun. But she didn’t have any fire in her hands, like Taryn and his father. She didn’t have this ice under her skin.
Taryn had known all his life he would have scars, too. He just hadn’t known that before they would lay flush against his skin, they would bleed, and they would throb like fresh bruises deep in the muscle.
He winced, trying to wipe the blood away from his skin. It welled up from a strip two inches wide, as if he had skidded across the rug on his shoulder, not burned himself. A moment ago, he thought it had stopped, but every time he washed it away, red seeped back, gathering into thick drops.
When the door clicked open, he caught the hiss and roar of the training hall outside. His father stepped inside, shut the door, and it faded back to the deep, spaced out thunks and claps.
Sitting on the bench, Taryn twisted away. He leaned his hurt shoulder back, hiding the blood.
“You didn’t have to come,” he said. He wished the whine wasn’t quite so close to his tone. “Bettric didn’t have to call for you.”
His father shook his head a little, gently ignoring him. “How bad is it?”
Taryn hesitated, then turned so that he could see the long run of scraped skin from his elbow to his shoulder. Then he lift his arm so he could see the tail end, twisting back on itself on his forearm.
His father’s eyebrows rose. It looked like sympathy, but Taryn couldn’t help thinking he was also impressed. He glanced behind him for one of the stools that was usually stored up against the wall. Picking one up, he dropped it next to Taryn’s foot, and when he sat down, they could look each other straight in the eye. His father took the cloth out of Taryn’s hand, dropped it into the bucket of water as his feet and stirred it with his fingers to rinse it through.
“Does it hurt?” he asked.
“Yes,” Taryn said. That was a stupid enough question, and he said it flatly enough, that the whine disappeared.
His father smiled at him. Then he wrung the cloth out. “Numb still?” he asked. “And hot?”
Taryn nodded slowly. “It gets worse?”
His father paused in the middle of wringing the cloth back out. Glancing up, he seemed to be deciding whether or not to lie. “No,” he said finally.
Taryn glared at him.
Carefully, his father pressed the cloth into the blood on Taryn’s arm. He picked it up, and pressed it down again, carefully not to slide it along the skin. Over and over, slowly, warm hands and cool cloth, and the blood thinned, then disappeared. Taryn watched him work as if it weren’t his arm, weren’t his blood. It didn’t hurt so badly when he did it.
“Do you know what you did wrong?” his father asked after a few moments.
That was a stupid question, too. His father laughed at how quickly he said,”yes.”
“Good,” his father said, still on a chuckle. “Then this will be what it’s supposed to be: proof of lesson learned.”
Taryn glanced sideways. One white scar came almost all the way down the back of his father’s right hand. Another, darker, curled just beneath the cuff of his sleeve. “That’s what yours are?”
“Every single one of them,” his father promised. He met Taryn’s eye seriously. “And proof that I tried. You don’t earn these sitting around.”
Taryn held his gaze carefully. “Earn them,” he repeated.
His father’s mouth twisted into a low smile. Nodding, he held Taryn’s eye just as carefully.
After a moment, he dropped the cloth back into the bucket and pulled a small jar of oil out from under the bench. It hurt a little while he smeared it over Taryn’s arm, but Taryn forced himself to hold still. He sucked in a breath, then let it out. He was staring at the floor when he realized he was looking at anything. His father had pulled out a roll of thin, white bandage and he was lifting Taryn’s arm to begin wrapping the cloth around his shoulder.
“It’s not that bad,” Taryn murmured.
His father grunted quietly. Taryn wasn’t sure whether he was agreeing or being charitable by not snorting.
“You really didn’t have to come,” Taryn said.
His father didn’t hesitate, wrapping the bandage down his arm. “I’m your father,” he said. “It’s my right to be here.” And he turned just enough to fix Taryn with a smile that was all pride.
Taryn couldn’t help but return it.