"Tata, can you hear me?" It was hard to keep the fear from his voice as he stood at his father's bedside. Had he always been so small? There was a part of him even now that wanted to deny the truth of it. This couldn't be the same man who had carried him on his shoulders after a full day of play left him too tired to walk home on his own. It couldn't be the man that he and Niko had bragged about to all the passengers on the train during those times they had been allowed to ride along with him. He had always seen his father as so alive, when had he gotten so old?
"Tata?" He brushed his fingers through the man's thinning, grey hair, praying all the while he would open his eyes, if only for a moment.
"I came back, Tata, I told you I would." He felt the tears wet his cheek before he even realized he was crying.
"He sleeps a lot, it's the medicines." The voice came from behind him, and he barely had time to turn around before his brother was to him and had pulled him into his arms.
"Welcome home, Luka." Niko kissed his cheeks before releasing him, aware that the other man might not feel comfortable with the act.
"He'll be glad to see you, he's been asking for you. Let's go outside, where we can talk." Niko glanced at his father as he caught his younger brother's hesitancy.
"It'll be all right, he won't wake up for a while. Come on, you can tell me about Abby and little Josip, Tata has been very proud of having a grandson named after him, he tells everyone." It took more than a little coaxing, but Niko finally got his brother to follow him out of the room and the two men walked down the hall toward the exit.
"How was your flight? I'm sorry I didn't meet your plane, I didn't want to leave him alone." Niko held the door open as they reached it, letting Luka exit first.
"It was all right, long layover in Frankfurt, but, you can't do anything about that." He gestured to a bench and at a nod from his brother walked over to it.
"Niko, why didn't you call me sooner?" Luka found himself looking past his brother at some birds settling in a nearby tree.
"What difference would it have made? You couldn't do anything for him, you have your life there, you have your wife, your son. Luka, for the first time in fifteen years you're beginning to live, Tatamade me promise not to call you." Niko took a seat on the bench as he tried to defend his actions, as difficult as it was.
"You didn't think that maybe that should have been my decision to make" It was hard not to keep the anger from his voice even as he knew it wasn't really anger that he was feeling.
"What would you have wanted me to tell him, Luka? You're the one who decided to leave, no one forced you to go." Niko's words grew colder as he began to tread into the dangerous water's of their past.
"You're never going to let that go are you?" Luka walked a short distance away as he threw the question back at him.
"Do you know how much your leaving hurt him? It wasn't bad enough he lost Danijela and his grandchildren, your leaving made it seem like he'd lost you too." Niko tossed his words back with the intent that they would return some of the pain to his brother that he felt the act had caused to their father.
"Niko, I don't want to get into this here, and certainly not now." His eyes returned to the birds, and for an instant he almost wished he was one of them if only so that he could fly away and not have to face what he knew was coming.
"You're right, look, I'm sorry, it's been a long day. Tell you what, why don't you come show me a picture of my nephew, and we'll just pretend I didn't bring it up, okay?" Niko moved to one side of the bench, freeing space for his brother to sit beside him as he offered the apology.
"I guess." Even as he made the concession, he knew the matter was not one that would so easily be laid to rest. For nearly a dozen years the argument had driven a wedge between them and in all of that time they had ignored it, no more, before he left it would have to be dealt with, they owed that much to their father.