Another wee morsel from another chapter in final Book 4. Unedited and subject to change. ~550 words.
After the enormous bronze doors swung open, a group of armor-clad, helmeted guards marched into the vestibule before they separated into two rows to stand at attention along each wall of the grand entrance hall. The midday’s bright sunlight momentarily blinded Max’s vision; he rubbed his eyes and squinted into the glare.
The child’s fingers trembled in his tight grasp; Max glanced down and squeezed Victor’s miniscule hand to reassure him.
“Is it time, Maximouse?” the boy asked nervously in his sweet, high-pitched voice. Although he was only a few months past his first year of life, little Victor had learned to walk and talk earlier than most toddlers his age. Despite the child’s innocently comical mispronunciation of his name, Max never corrected him. From the first moment he’d heard the silly, precious word, he’d decided ‘Maximouse’ was a nickname he would treasure for the rest of his life. Every time Victor repeated the nonsensical appellation, Max pictured his beloved Nicomedes and his beaming smile and Nic’s adoration for his precious dormouse pet. Nic wasn’t gone, Max had finally realized. He lived and laughed and loved in Max’s huge heart. The blond was now part of him. Forever. Max’s memories had made Nicomedes immortal.
Max leaned down and playfully tapped the pointy tip of Victor’s tiny nose. “Yes it is, darling. Remember how we made special offerings to our household gods this morning? Remember why we’ve dressed in our most fancy clothes, my dearest Victor? Your father’s home.”
Squeezing Victor’s hand again, Max briefly closed his eyes and silently thanked all the gods for his patron’s safe return.
After barreling into the atrium, the man’s splendid, majestic silhouette slowly removed its tall, plumed silver helmet; a flood of auburn curls spilled down and over his shoulders. A beam of light from the opening in the hall’s roof illuminated Dom’s hardened features. He looked older. And colder.
After handing the steward is helmet, the Commander extended his upturned palm and Domina dutifully shuffled over in her bulky layers of expensive gold and green fabric.
She rested her hand in his and said, “Welcome home, Gaius.”
He merely nodded, and pressed his forehead against the back of her hand before stomping over to where Max and Victor stood.
“Welcome home, Commander Fabius,” Max blurted out and bowed, but Dom said nothing in return. Only another silent, expressionless nod.
With a grunt, Dom squatted in front of the toddler and narrowed his ferocious, steely brown eyes, looking straight into Victor’s mesmerized, wide blue eyes. Although the child was shaking from fear and awe, the brave boy with the long, corkscrew blond curls didn’t cry or try to pull away.
“Greetings, Marcus Fabius Victor,” Dom barked without blinking.
Victor glanced up at Max. They’d practiced all morning for this moment. When Max smiled at the cherub and nodded his encouragement, Victor released his tight grip on Max’s hand and straightened his short spine.
Still in a crouched position with his elbows resting just above his bent knees, Dom's scowl disappeared, replaced by the broadest, deepest dimpled smile Max had ever seen. The entire atrium lit up from the Commander's unabashed, pride-filled love for his courageous young son.
And every breath of air left Max’s body. All was well.
Dom was home.