"You're the only one qualified for the position."

Marlin suppressed a sigh and wished heartily for one of the nurses to come in to take his blood pressure or something. They were constantly interrupting him during the day and night for his blood pressure or meals or something. Why not now when he really needed them?

The messenger from the First House went on. "There isn't anyone else suited for the job. It requires someone with your level of mastery. The others are too young."

"I'm recovering from a healer's examination," Marlin said, waving a hand down at the hospital bed he sat in. He'd just had a healer look at him a day and a half ago. You didn't have a healer in to look at a papercut. You had to be in dire need of healing. He wasn't even cleared for a wheelchair yet!

"You'll be released in four days. You can recover just as well at the 28th as your room at the 4th. They'll assign someone to you to take care of your needs."

Wonderful. He wasn't going to be left alone to heal like he wanted. Marlin sighed. He'd known from the moment the man had shown up that he'd be saying yes. It was a choice of having a parade of people trying to persuade him or going ahead with what they wanted and hopefully get some rest.

MMM

Marlin looked up from a magazine a nurse had given him as someone slowed near his door and walked in. "Hello," Barric said, pausing by Marlin's bed. "You've sure gotten yourself into a mess this time."

"Come in," Marlin said. He waved a hand at a chair. The gray-haired man was in his early sixties and probably needed to sit. "Have a seat. How have you been? How's the 4th? Good. Thank you for inquiring about my health. I feel fine."

Barric snorted at the sarcasm. "Yes, I already said all that. You got assigned one of the worst messes I've ever seen a House in."

Marlin grimaced. "How bad?"

"The 28th has been without a Head of House for the past month," Barric said plainly. "And from what I know, they may as well have been without one for the past three years." He sighed and gave Marlin a sad look. "Not what I would have wished for you."

Marlin shrugged. "I was born with the qualities of a Head. I knew I'd leave your House sometime." He shifted, trying to find a more comfortable position. "So what am I walking into?"

"A place full of scared people," Barric said bluntly. "You're going to have to walk on eggshells with them and that's just the start of my warnings for you."

MMM

Barric left when visiting hours were over and he had given Marlin plenty to think about.

Marlin had heard about Hegi and his House a month ago. It was a major story for a few days and he'd heard some things about Hegi being crazy. Then he'd gotten sick with the flu that had ended him up in the hospital. It had gotten worse which had led into pneumonia.

In short, he'd been a very sick person.

A healer had been called in and now he didn't have the flu or pneumonia. But he had the aftereffects of being healed. The tiredness, the inability to focus on one thing for very long, the longing to sleep so much it could be called hibernation...

The doctors and healer had prescribed rest. Bed rest, then wheelchair rest. Thankfully, no physical therapy would be needed since the healer would come back to work on his legs. He'd been getting up for short trips.

Hegi had been the Head of the 28th House for over twenty-five years. No one had noticed it, but his House had slowly been declining for the past few years.

Hegi had gone insane.

He'd become paranoid that people were after him. He couldn't and wouldn't give a reason. He spied on people, woke families up at night pounding on their doors or walking into their rooms, shouted and flew into a rage at nothing.

His House kept it to themselves. They hadn't known what else to do. Their Head of House was angry with them and they didn't know why. They felt betrayed by him, but also sad. They wanted to have done something other than what happened.

Hegi had gone in for his physical and lost it in front of the doctor. They'd taken him away and put him in a padded room. There was hope that he'd respond well to the medicines, but he'd never be Head of House again.

Marlin nodded to himself. Leaving the 4th, the House he'd been raised and trained in was a little unsettling, especially now when he was healing. But from what Barric had said, he was going to a good House. A little... unguided, but a tight House. They didn't want to lose each other. They were a family like the other Houses. They belonged together, worked and lived together. It was another reason they hadn't done something. Hegi kept them as a House. Without him, what would happen?

That was why Marlin was going there. The First House had found the 28th a candidate. Marlin was capable of being the Head of a House and they'd sent someone to talk him into taking this House.

He wasn't really excited over the idea. He smirked at himself. More like the nervousness in his stomach was going to give him an ulcer. But he'd known since he'd demonstrated the power to be a Head of House when he was young that this would probably happen.

MMM

On the day of Marlin's release from the hospital, a young man walked into his room. Marlin eyed him for a moment. Under thirty, he decided since he was bad with ages. Brown hair that needs to be trimmed. He estimated that the younger man was at least as tall as he was and heavy enough not to be knocked over if Marlin leaned on him.

He approached the bedside and held out a hand. "Hi, I'm Kyren," the man said, introducing himself. "I'm in the 28th and I'll be helping you around, sir."

Marlin reached out and shook his hand. "Marlin," he said. "How long have you been at the 28th?"

"Two and a half months."

Marlin nodded. From what he knew about why the 28th needed a new Head of House that said plenty. This young man had had at least a month of Hegi's leadership. "Has anyone told you about my requirements?"

"No, sir. Just that you'd need the help."

Marlin grimaced. "I've had a healer's examination," he said shortly. "I can't walk very far, though they've had me in a walker a few times. I can maneuver a wheelchair or they wouldn't let me out of here. The list of things I can do is very short. I can talk, read, and sign paperwork. I can also get myself to the bathroom and feed myself, so you don't need to help with that. Almost everything else is out of my range for the next week."

"After that?"

Well, what do you know. Someone with brains enough to plan ahead. "Very little walking at first. The doctor wants me to take a walker home with me. I'm arguing against it, but they'll try to pack one anyway. They've told me I'm going to be sleeping more than usual." Marlin tilted his head up as the distinctive sound of shoes came closer and slowed.

A nurse smiled at the two of them as she came into the room. "Are we ready to leave, Mr. Arrasuric?"

"Very," Marlin said dryly.

MMM

Marlin waited to grimace in pain until Kyren stopped the car in front of his new House and got out. This car ride had been more exercise than he'd had in days and his stomach didn't feel very good. The young man had been glancing at Marlin so much that he was wondering how they'd stayed on the road.

Kyren opened the door for him and Marlin levered himself up using the card door to lean on. He took the step necessary to get himself into the wheelchair and Kyren left the car in front of the entrance for someone else to put away. "We decided not to mob you when you first arrived, sir. So it's just going to be you and me," Kyren said, pushing the wheelchair towards the front door.

But there will probably be a few curious people looking at me on the way to my room, Marlin reasoned. The pain didn't stop him from taking a cursory look at the building. They'd driven up a long horseshoe driveway. It was late spring, so someone had done well with the blooming flowerbeds. The front was a brick building and he wondered if the rest of the house was also made out of brick.

They got close to the entrance and someone ran out to open to open one side of the three double doors. The woman kept her head down and didn't meet his eyes. Marlin gave her a nod anyway and Kyren moved inside.

It was the same on the way to his room. There was the odd person who had to catch a glimpse of him, but they all ran away as soon as he turned his head in their direction. Kyren didn't mention it and neither did Marlin.

Kyren pushed the wheelchair right up to the bed and Marlin managed to do a controlled fall onto the mattress. Kyren's eyes went wide and he moved around to help his prospective Head of House, but Marlin shook his head. "I'm fine. Just a little tired."

Kyren nodded quickly. "Do you want to go to sleep? Or have something to eat?"

Why is he so eager to please, Marlin wondered. "A glass of fruit juice, please. Any kind, but with a straw."

"Right away." Kyren moved out of the room like his tail was on fire.

Marlin shook his head and pulled the extra blanket at the bottom of the bed up. He hadn't been here five minutes and already the strangeness of the place was getting to him.

Kyren came back a few minutes later to find his Head of House sound asleep. He put the glass down on the nightstand and hesitated. Should he wake him? Marlin had asked for the drink, but now he was asleep.

He shrugged. The man probably needed the rest more. He'd wake up on his own if he was that thirsty.

Kyren left the room quietly and closed the door behind him. He didn't have any instructions from Marlin on what to do next.

So I guess I'll warn everyone away from his door so he can sleep. He shrugged and went to spread the word.

MMM

Marlin frowned as he woke and sat up. He pushed the blanket back and pulled the wheelchair a smidgen closer. There was a bathroom attached to this room and he needed it.

Once he'd used the facilities, he came back and looked at the glass of juice. He brought the straw to his mouth and sipped at the drink. It was room temperature and he wondered if it had been cold when it had first arrived. How long had he been asleep?

He glanced at the metal clock standing on the bureau and saw that a little over an hour had passed. This napping stuff has got to stop, he thought. I feel like a five-year-old. Without the excess energy.

Marlin turned the wheelchair around and started pushing it toward the front door. It was after one o'clock. Maybe the mess hall would still have something cooking or they'd make him a sandwich.

He opened the door and his eyes fell a few feet. He frowned at the small dark-haired woman sitting on the floor opposite his room and wondered why she was there.

She had been staring at the door and her eyes flickered up to his. "Good afternoon, sir," she said softly. "Do you need me to get you anything or would you like me to call for Kyren?"

He stared for a moment. I'm recovering from a healer's examination, but I don't need to be watched this closely. On the other hand, he would like to obey doctor's orders and not tire himself. "Kyren, please."

Even at his gentle tone, she leapt to her feet immediately and started moving at a fast walk down the hall. This House is not normal, he thought, grimacing. They hide, they're acting scared, they're timid...

Kyren came around the corner a few seconds later and walked toward him. "Yes, sir?"

Skipped the pleasantries like 'hello', Marlin noticed. "Is the mess hall still serving lunch?"

"Yes," Kyren answered. "Anything you want we'll get it for you. Do you want to go now, sir?"

"Kyren, take a breath." Marlin grinned and chuckled at the young man. "I'm not going to keel over just because I'm a little hungry."

"All right, sir," Kyren said cautiously. He went to take the wheelchair's handles to push Marlin to the mess hall.

"Who was the woman watching the door?" Marlin asked.

"Jasea," Kyren told him. "We weren't sure when you were going to wake up, so we posted a watch. She's gone with a few of the others to bring your things inside. We'll help you put them away if you want."

Marlin nodded. Obviously he wasn't going to calm down. Not if he kept talking a mile a minute. "That would be helpful. Is there a bookshelf in the room?"

"There will be by the time you get back," Kyren told him. Marlin frowned at that and didn't ask for anything else.

They went down a few hallways and then they were there. The mess hall had long wooden tables with benches and chairs split evenly at the halfway point instead of small round tables that only a few could sit at comfortably. The first half of the table had chairs and the other half had benches.

Marlin nodded. That was good. Some of the older people didn't bend too well for benches and with his wheelchair it would be difficult to sit. It was a large room and easily capable of seating two hundred.

And at this time of day, there weren't too many people around, Marlin noticed. The early crowd had been and gone. The lunch crowd had left or was leaving. It was the late people who were just arriving now.

Marlin looked at the board on the wall that said what they were serving. They were probably out of most of the hot food. A sandwich or a salad would be better. He mentioned it to Kyren and the man pushed him to the cooler.

He picked up a plastic-wrapped chicken salad sandwich and a small salad. He wasn't thrilled about eating the salad, but the hospital had told him to try to eat better. He found some ranch dressing and Kyren got the necessary utensils.

Kyren automatically pushed him to a table and Marlin started unwrapping his sandwich. There had been several empty seats the wheelchair would have fit at before they got to this one and Marlin found himself curious about it.. "Any special reason I'm sitting here?" he asked quietly.

"I'm sorry, sir. If you'll tell me where you'd like to sit?" Kyren looked around to see what other seats were available.

Marlin shook his head. "This is fine."

Kyren's eyes shifted around the room, but he came back to Marlin with an answer. "It's where the Head used to sit."

Marlin nodded, concentrating on the salad now. "I see." Probably no one has sat here since he left a month ago, Marlin thought.

Kyren was fidgeting now. He didn't know where to put his hands, so they'd been on the table, at his sides, and in his lap in the last few seconds. Marlin sighed and stabbed at his salad. "Kyren, what did the previous Head of House like to be called?"

"Head or sir."

Marlin inclined his head. "Either of those will work. Head Marlin is also acceptable."

"Yes, Head Marlin."

He chewed on his salad for a while and pushed the empty container away. "Is there anything planned for this afternoon?" Kyren shook his head. "I'd like a short tour before heading back to my room if you or someone else has the time."

"It would be a pleasure, sir."
MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM

New story! More chapters are at my webpage, dreamwidth blog, and livejournal blog.