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The Way of Things (3)
Fri Nov 13, 2009 5:49am

The old man's voice had grown weak, a bare, rasping whisper that drifted fitfully through the halls of his home, but Ben could still hear him. He rose to his feet from where he had been packing away papers for storage and transport and walked swiftly to the man's bedroom, pausing in the doorway.

"Blast these tubes," Sulemann groused. "Blast those doctors. Blast this whole thing."

"Did you require anything, Mr. Sulemann?" Ben asked,

"No!" He fell silent for a moment, then, "What I require is that you remove these tubes and let me get back to my work!" He sank back against his pillows, though, looking thoroughly drained.

Ben remained silent even after he was spent, and Sulemann glared at him again. Then his expression softened, as though he hadn't the energy to keep even that effort up.

"Benjamin," he said, "sit and talk to me."

"Very well, Mr. Sulemann." He made his way to the edge of the bed and sank to the floor, still, after all this time, without a chair that fit him comfortably.

The old man watched him, expression testy for a moment, then his features once again relaxed, and he turned his gaze to the ceiling, eyes closing as he gathered his thoughts. "Benjamin, you have been present in my legal dealings, and you know the disposition of my will, correct?"

"Yes, Mr. Sulemann."

"I fear they may try to make things difficult for you, but if they have any respect for my wishes at all --" He paused to snort, dismissing the statement entirely. "In any case, I have set aside some money outside the confines of the will. Not much, but safe from any grasping hands."

"If you wish, sir."

"I do wish," Suleman said, expression growing testy again. "My work aside, I have never been terribly concerned with matters of the soul, Benjamin ... but I feel that mine would not rest easy if I didn't give you some recompense for twenty-five years of loyal service."

Benjamin tilted his head, and Sulemann's hand lifted to slap the blanket that covered him, though the effort was little more than a lift and a drop.

"Look at me, Benjamin!" he said, fixing him with a stare that was no less piercing than it hand been twenty years prior. "Do you seriously think I could have stopped you had you decided to simply walk out the door? You are a creature with freedoms. The only thing binding you to me is a piece of paper." He sank into his pillow again, gasping, and fixed his employee with a somewhat more tremulous glare. "For pity's sake, Benjamin, I'm a dying man. Must you drive me to such extremes?"

The bear smiled -- or at least formed his nearest approximation. "I apologize, sir."

"In any case," Sulemann continued, once he had caught his breath, "your -- retirement fund, as it were -- is with your belongings, along with a small bonus."

His eyes closed, face drawn and weariness making the lines that marked his long life seem all the deeper. "I hope you will consider continuing the work we've done, though I fear that decision may be made for you. Even if you don't, I hope -- well, I hope you will make use of it."

"I ... will try," Benjamin said, hesitation entering his voice for the first time in the conversation. "You have always treated me fairly, Mr. Sulemann."

Sulemann snorted. "'Fairly,' indeed." A low sigh escaped him, barely any stronger than his regular breathing. "Well, you'll make your way, Benjamin. You're quite capable."

Benjamin's lips curved for the second time into the barest smile. "I do try, Mr. Sulemann."

"Of course you do." He leaned back again, eyes drifting closed almost as if against his will. He was silent for several minutes, his breathing the only sound in the room as Benjamin watched his thin ribs lift and drop with the effort.

His brow wrinkled. He had known his master was aging -- had known he was old -- at the start of his employment, but even so he found it strange to see him this way. Mind trapped in a wasted body, wasted body trapped in a bed of tubes and wires.

He was about to get to his feet and let the man continue sleeping, when a thin hand flailed out toward him.

"Stay with me for a bit, won't you, Benjamin?" the old man said, voice barely a murmur. "I find I'm very tired, but I would like your company for a little longer."

"Of course," Ben said, and he reached out to clasp the bony appendage gently in his much larger, paw-like grasp.

Sulemann smiled, gaze turning briefly to his longtime assistant. "You have always been ... too kind to me."

Ben shook his head, but by then the man had closed his eyes. He didn't open them again.

Even so, the bear sat a long time with the man he had called master, murmuring only, "Good night, Mr. Sulemann," when his breath at last stopped.

  • Rare and Priceless (2)Benjamin, Fri Nov 13 5:46am
    "Benjamin! Come here at once!" Ben paused at the familiar bellow, setting down the vase he was carrying -- a priceless antiquity, irreplaceable and full of historical significance, he was told --... more
    • The Way of Things (3) — Benjamin, Fri Nov 13 5:49am
      • Greener Pastures (4)Benjamin, Fri Nov 13 5:55am
        "Well, at least you're going out with a bang ..." Ben glanced up at the undeniable note of misery in his manager's voice, and he smiled, zipping the duffel he'd been packing. "You'll find someone... more
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