Grandpa Bruenor stood there with his hands on his hips, his sharp blue eyes doubtless taking in Jack's bloody nose and Zaknafein's swollen eye. "Well," he boomed, "all settled then, lads?"
Kel'nar entered soundlessly behind him.
Zaknafein nodded and Jack said, "Yes, sir."
Grandpa Bruenor grinned, displaying his yellowed teeth. "Glad I am to hear it." He strode forward and clapped both boys on the shoulder.
Zak saw Jack flinch, but then he seemed to relax.
If Grandpa Bruenor had noticed, he didn't let on. He dropped his hand from Jack's shoulder and turned squarely to Zaknafein. "You have the key to the sword cabinet?"
Zak met his grandfather's gaze dead on, but his throat felt tight. He could feel Kel'nar looking at him from across the room. "Yes, sir."
Grandpa Bruenor raised his eyebrows, perhaps at the formality, or perhaps because Zak didn't look away. He relaxed his stance a bit. "And you didn't slice the Hayworth lad to ribbons." He slid a sideways glance at Zak's father. "Good lad."
Zak said nothing, but his shoulders stiffened. Had Grandpa Bruenor really thought …?
"Did you pickpocket the key?" His grandfather crossed his arms.
Zak's eyes narrowed.
"He's not a thief." Two silent steps, and Kel'nar was at his side. "Regardless of the mistakes he may have recently made."
Zak let out a slow breath. "I asked for it, and they gave it to me."
Grandpa Bruenor stared at him a moment longer. "Me boys gave it to ye?"
"They did." Zaknafein stared at his grandfather without blinking. "I don't know how little you think of me, but I'm not a thief. I made a mistake, didn't choose a life path." The blood pounded in his ears. He expected Kel'nar's warning hand to land on his shoulder, but it didn't. He expected a blustering tirade from his grandfather, but that didn't come either.
Instead, in his peripheral vision, Kel'nar nodded.
Then Grandpa Bruenor smiled. He reached out a hand and gently touched Zak's puffy eye. "I know ye'r not a thief, lad. Ye'r a fighter. And I'm right proud o' you for how ye handled yerself."
Zaknafein's face grew warm. Jack Hayworth was standing right there! But when he shot him a glance, the former bully gave him a crooked smile.
Zak's mouth twitched, and then he gave his grandpa a nod. Just a small one. But it was enough.
They stared gruffly at each other for a few seconds longer, and then Grandpa Bruenor pulled him into a brusque hug.
Zaknafein felt something shift inside of him. It wasn't his ribs cracking. It felt like ice melting. It felt like forgiveness.
It felt like home.
A/N: Hey, dear readers. I hope you enjoyed reading Thief as much as I enjoyed writing it. Your comments are always appreciated, and I look forward to sharing more stories with you in the future.
Thanks to JM, who taught me how to punch. Thanks to KL, for reading this first. And most especially thanks to my own Kel'nar, who is always ready to help me. I need only ask.