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Poldark fic: No Rest for the Weary (1/1)

December 4th, 2015 (11:27 am)

feeling: hopeful

Title: No Rest for the Weary

Disclaimer: I do not own Poldark.

A/N: A fill for my exhaustion square in hc_bingo. Beta by sockie1000 and set early in the season before Ross/Demelza is a thing.

Summary: He will work, he will toil, he will fight -- and by the sweat of his brow, he will keep death at bay. Even if it kills him.


The work is never over.

It is ironic, perhaps, that Ross spent so much of his youth in less reputable pursuits. His penchant for making trouble instead of making do was what put him in this predicament in the first place. There has always been work for him to do, but by putting it off, he has made the task almost insurmountable.

The house is in disrepair; the land is in ruins. The mine is decrepit, and his tenants are starving. His uncle wasn’t wrong in saying that there wasn’t much left for him here, though his motives had been less than pure. It would have been easier to take the money and start his studies and become someone new.

It’s a funny thing, however, to nearly lose your life. It makes you want to live it more than ever.

Ironic seems to be an apt description for Ross Poldark.

It’s an irony he can’t quite appreciate today, bent over in the steaming fields. This is the last one he has to tend to, and the ground is uneven and without shade. The day is the hottest yet, and even when he removes his shirt, he finds little reprieve from the persistent heat.

Across the field, Prudie stands up with a moan. “It’s too hot, it is,” she says. “Feels like we’re in the devil’s kitchen!”

“Hell itself was made for sinners,” Jud says. “There’s no god who would condemn an innocent man to this.

“Then ask God why he persists in making the sun shine so brightly,” Ross says, chopping at the brush again. “And do not complain to me about the weather.”

In the other direction, Demelza wipes at her brow. “This heat will make a man sick,” she says. “And it’s not even midday.”

Ross looks at her, perturbed. “You wish to join them in their slothfulness?”

Demelza is not cowed by his terse words. “I only wish to remind you that this kind of heat can make a man crazy,” she says. “We’ll have to break early.”

“We will not break at all,” Ross says, working his way up the line. “This work is long overdue.”

“Indeed,” Demelza says. “So what is the quarrel with waiting one more day?”

Ross stands up, studying her more closely now. “Because too many things in my life have been put off,” he says. “One more day may as well be a lifetime. I will no longer squander either.”

Demelza nods, resolutely. “Aye,” she says. “Then more reason to take care of yourself.”

He steps closer to her, staring her down. “You are right in this much,” he says. “My welfare is my responsibility. Not yours. Your only responsibility is to do as I say. Is that understood?”

Unflinchingly, Demelza nods.

“And you two?” Ross asks, turning back toward Prudie and Jud. “Any other complaints you wish to venture?”

Prudie huffs a melodramatic sound while Jud grunts a disapproval even as they both start back in on their task. Ross looks back to Demelza, staring at her until she, too, picks up her hoe and starts to work again.

He is the last to follow, but he swings his tool twice as hard, just because he can.


It is not just that there is a lot of work to do.

It is that it is hard work, indeed.

He does not indulge the complaints of his servants, but he knows they are not without cause. Working the land is hard under the best of circumstances, and the hot sun makes it a nearly miserable cause. It is clear to him that success will be long in coming -- if it comes at all. This very well may be a futile effort, and his toil may amount to nothing.

But he will try.

With every last bit of his strength, he will try.

It is not a vanity that makes him persist. Ross has no need for the pleasantries of his class, and he finds the blind self obsession of his peers to be utterly off putting. No, Ross does not work to prove himself in their eyes, for their opinion means very little to him.

Ross works for his own satisfaction. He works because he has breath in his body and blood in his veins. He works because he was once left for dead, and in a war where so few of his kinsmen returned home, he does not understand why he was granted the privilege. More than that, he seeks to find value in a life that seems so much better off without him.

Ultimately, Ross seeks to prove the value of his toil, as if he is seeking to redeem that which everyone has already grieved. It is a hard thing to see your own life slip away from you, even while you still breathe.

By that comparison, this toil means very little. The heat, the sweat, the ache -- it is a reminder that he is alive.

And he is a force that will be reckoned with.

Elizabeth can marry another; Francis can take his bride; his uncle can watch his progress warily. His servants can let the ground go fallow, and the townspeople can whisper about him behind his back. It matters not to Ross. He does not need their approval any more than he needs their love. He can carve out a life for himself -- he will carve out a life for himself.

There is a lot of work to be done. Every last bit of it is hard.

And all of it is very, very good.


It is Demelza who finally speaks. “Reckon it’s midday by now,” she says.

Ross squints at her in the sunlight but doesn’t stop. “So?”

“So,” Demelza says, rolling her shoulders. “If we’re going to eat--”

“And who said we were going to eat?” Ross demands.

Demelza is unaffected by his tone. “You hired me to be your kitchen maid,” she says.

Ross scowls at her but stops his labor for a moment. He scans the field. “We’re over half finished,” he observes.

Demelza nods. “We made good progress.”

“Not good enough,” Ross says. “I want this finished before sunset.”

“All the more reason to eat,” Demelza says. “The body needs food for this kind of work. Jud and Prudie are already feelin’ sick.”

Ross casts them a knowing eye. “Their feelings are always convenient,” he says. “Makes it hard to give them much stock.”

Jud glowers at him, and Prudie chuffs.

“I myself admit to feelin’ a bit faint,” she says. “The water is nearly gone--”

“Then drink until it is used up,” Ross says. “We continue on, and anyone who does not wish may return to the house -- and keep going.”

Jud and Prudie mutter to themselves, and Demelza inclines her head.

Ross sighs, frustrated at his own sentimentality. “Go, then,” he orders quietly. “Fetch more water from the well so you all may refresh yourselves.”

“And you, sir?” she asks in that way of hers, somehow being entirely compliant and defiant all at the same time.

He gives her a hard look. “You care for your position,” he says. “And I will care for mine.”


The sun rises towards its apex in the afternoon sky and still, Ross does not waver. He still remembers how life used to be. He remembers the flush fields of his father’s estate and running through the rows of a bumper crop. He remembers a warm hearth in the winter, and the smell of breakfast when he was tucked between his sheets in the morn.

He remembers other things, too. Like his father’s raucous laugh and the races he always won against Francis. He remembers the taste of Elizabeth’s lips on his and the soft pads of her fingers as they traced along his face. He remembers the reckless dares of his youth and the promises he still had not broken.

There is much of Ross’ life that he can’t reclaim.

But this.

This he can.

He can’t bring back his father, nor can he marry Elizabeth as he so often dreamed, but he can restore the estate. The fields will be plentiful once more. If it is hard work, then so be it. At least it is possible.

That is what matters to Ross.

“Lord,” Prudie wails. “I’m burning alive!”

“Too hot, it is,” Jud mutters.

Prudie sags heavily onto a fence post. “I will fall to ash in this heat; there will be nothing left.”

“Then the furnace would be hotter than hell itself to consume all of you,” Ross says crudely.

Jud pulls himself up, face red and glistening with sweat. “This is cruel, that’s what it is,” he says venomously. “T’ain’t fit--”

Ross waves his hand through the air, shaking his head. “Ah, then be done,” he says. “Your chorus of complaints is hardly worth your pitiful contribution to the task.”

“We burn our hides all day,” Prudie says. “And this is the thanks?”

“It’s criminal,” Jud says, pointing a malicious finger at Ross.

“Then be done,” Ross says against, more insistently now. He gestures off toward the house. “Go in; be merry or be miserable. I care not.”

Prudie tuts mulishly but still gets up off the post. She feints a little, allowing Jud to take her by the arm as they head back.

“T’ain’t fit at all,” Jud seethes as they go, stealing backward glances that Ross wholeheartedly ignores.

He’s still working, cutting through the brush with fresh vivacity when he’s keenly aware that not all have deserted him.

Pausing again, he wipes his brow and cranes his neck to look at Demelza. She’s stopped at the fence as well, taking a drink before running her hands through her sticky hair.

“You have no complaints for me?” he asks in accusation.

She shrugs, wetting her fingers before rubbing along the back of her neck.

“You don’t want to join them?”

Demelza strides back toward the field, picking up her tool once again. “Your labor is my labor,” she says. “I know my place, sir.”

With that, she does not wait for further instruction but instead starts to toil once more. The metal head glints in the sunlight as she cuts her path with renewed ferocity.

She is something else, Demelza Carne. She doesn’t fit into any of his memories, but he can’t say that he regrets her presence. She’s difficult, of course, and she’s not nearly obedient enough, but loyalty is something you can’t buy.

And integrity is something you can’t train.

Ross needs both, it seems.

Now more than ever.


The field is one of the larger ones on the property, mostly because it covers the surrounding hillsides. There is a particularly steep side, turned with rocks, and when Ross digs them out of the earth, his hands are left scraped and bloody. It seems somewhat as a fruitless project, and he wonders why his father never set his mind to doing it while he was alive.

The answer is obvious, of course. His father never cleared this portion of the field because he was too lazy and short sighted to think of the benefits of the extra land. True, it’s not a lot of ground, but Ross knows that if he intends to make a living for himself and his tenants, he needs every scrap of ground he can muster.

His father had never been shrewd in business, even if he had been good hearted toward those beneath him. He had had a basic appreciation both for his station and for his responsibilities, and Ross could remember tilling the land with his father when he was very young. That had changed over time, when his father had closed the mine. There is something particularly sad about a man with a title and no money to live up to it, and his father did not bear loss well.

Pausing, Ross looks back over the land. His father has only been buried for six months. He’d spent the last year of his life struck down by illness. But this level of disrepair is more than that. People have such a limited view of death, but Ross knows better than anyone that it is not just a gravestone. It can be an affliction of the soul, laying waste to one’s mind, body and spirit.

That is what happens when one loses their purpose. It was the fate his father had suffered after the continual losses in his life.

It is the fate Ross fights against, even now.

For he has defied death in America.

And he will beat it back here.

He will work, he will toil, he will fight -- and by the sweat of his brow, he will keep death at bay.

Even if it kills him.


He is dogged in this pursuit, and his muscles learn the pattern as he works the ground. He ignores the ache in his bones and the pull in his muscles; he sees through the sweat as it runs into his eyes and lets the blood on his hands stain the ground beneath him. He is singularly focused.

Except for this.

It’s quiet at first, a small sound on the stagnant air. But as the afternoon continues, it gathers strength until it is a strong, lilting tune across the countryside.

When he can bear it no longer, he stops and looks at Demelza.

She’s still working, her pace consistent but no match for his. She stops periodically, taking a sip of water and wiping her brow before she starts singing again.

“Must you do that?” he asks.

She picks up her tool again. “We have to drink or we’ll fall ill,” she says airily, humming a note. “You should have more yourself.”

He ignores her suggestion. “Not the drinking.”

Her face quirks with a smile. “The work? But that’s the whole point--”

“The singing,” he says gruffly. “Must you sing?”

She looks up at him, genuinely surprised. “It passes the time--”

“Work passes the time,” he says. “The singing is nothing but a distraction.”

She has the audacity to laugh. “Why, you act like work is the only thing--”

“It is the only thing,” he says. “It is the only thing that will save this land, this property and all the lives of everyone who lives here. Including you.”

Demelza sobers. “I understand the value of work, sir,” she says. “But I can’t forget that work is how we live. It’s not why we live.”

She’s not wrong -- God help him, she’s surprisingly wise in some things -- but Ross can’t abide by it. He doesn’t even know why it bothers him. Her voice is pleasant and her song is sweet, and Demelza is pleasing to listen to. Her simple joy in her station is inspiring, if he’s honest, and she’s a capable, dedicated worker with whom he has few functional complaints.

In so many ways, she is a piece that doesn’t fit, and sometimes Ross finds interest in that. Sometimes he finds humor.

Sometimes he doesn’t know what he finds, except another facet of his life lingering just beyond his control. She’s different, Demelza. She’s not a part of any picture he remembers, and he doesn’t know what to do with her at all.

“Go inside,” he says, turning back to his chore.

“But the work--”

“Is not your concern,” Ross says. “Go inside.”

She shakes her head, stubborn to the core. “My work is with you--”

“Your work is to obey me,” he says sharply, eyes flashing toward her again. “So go inside or you can go back to your father. The choice is yours.”

Her eyes register the hurt, and she ducks her head in a small sign of deference. “Yes, sir,” she mumbles, dropping her tool in the brush as she heads back to the house.

He’s being too harsh with her, and he knows it. He considers calling her back, but he does not know what he would say to her. Would he offer her an apology? An explanation perhaps?

No, the best thing he can offer her is a reprieve, if not from the work, then from him. This isn’t about her.

This is about Ross and the life he is trying to resurrect.

Thus determined, he sets to work again.


Guilt is a petty thing, and regret is hollow. Yet both carry the force of God, driving like stakes into the ground. In this, he feels like he is trying to dig out of his own grave sometimes, but every stroke only buries him deeper.

Ross has lived a life steeped in regret and not short on guilt. Building a future is so much harder when trying to transcend the past. For it looms behind him, ever larger with each passing day.

What had he squandered? His foolishness sent him to war and his fickle fate brought him back, putting everything he wants before him but denying him to ever touch it again. This is apt punishment, perhaps; his penance for a life poorly spent. He hopes if he can make amends, if he can give better to others than he has received, then perhaps fate will be satisfied.

Because Elizabeth’s smile was a dream that kept him alive, and now it is a nightmare that tortures his nights. The irony is not lost on him, that she is the one who saved his life and now she is the one who threatens to ruin him all over again. He’d had it all planned: their engagement, their wedding, their life. While it is true, he would never be able to offer her the manor and the status that Francis could, he would give her more. Every breath in his body would have been devoted solely to her, and he would not have ceased his labor until providing everything she wanted.

They would have been happy, Elizabeth and Ross. She’d always been destined to be a Poldark.

Just not like this.

The sunlight blinds him, and the sweat is like salt in his mouth. Exhaustion threatens him, but he knows not how to quit. There has to be a reason, he tells himself. There has to be a reason he survived and so many others perished. There has to be a reason that he has found himself so close to the life he wanted and forever removed from it.

There has to be a reason.

And Ross will keep working until he finds it.


He works.

He toils and labors and strains. He pushes and pulls and razes.

And yet his progress is slow and tedious. For all the effort he is giving, he feels no further than when he began. Maybe it makes no difference -- diligence or slothfulness, focus or whimsy -- maybe Ross is simply destined to fail.

“Sir,” a voice cuts through his thoughts. “Sir.

He stops with a lurch, and when he lifts his head, his vision grows dim. Breath hitching, he has to narrow his eyes to make out the sun swept figure standing in front of him.

Demelza tilts her head. “Sir?”

He blinks several times, trying in vain to clear his head. He swallows, but his tongue is thick.

“You should come in, sir,” she says. “You look not well.”

He licks dry lips, and it is only in stillness that he feels the weight of exhaustion in the length of his limbs. “‘s done,” he says with a heavy drawl.

“You can’t do a week’s work in a single day,” Demelza says. “You’ve done more than anyone ought.”

Shaking his head, he tries to move his tool back into position but the motion threatens his balance, and he struggles to steady himself.

Demelza steps forward, reaching out to help.

He jerks away at her touch, her fingers like ice on his arm. “Mind yourself,” he hisses.

Demelza doesn’t not retreat, though. “Sir, you’re ill,” she says. “Come inside so you can be refreshed.”

“But the work--” he starts but finds himself unable to finish.

“Will still be here tomorrow,” she replies as a matter of fact.

He wants to protest, and he wants to fight. This is in his nature, and it is more than inclination. It is at the heart of all he is, to work until there is no strength left in his bones.

It’s just not occurred to him how soon that moment might come.

“Sir?” Demelza asks but she sounds distant now. Her face becomes blurry as the sun halos about her head. “Sir?”

Ross’ consciousness lets go in a rush, and he’s falling faster than ever with his life slipping through his fingers as he grasps at nothing and darkness closes in.


Ross dreams.

A vast woodlands, saturated with the blood of his brothers. A barren field, marked with a cross where his father is laid to rest alongside his mother and all those who have gone before. The coastline stretches with rocky cliffs, and Elizabeth dances along the edge. Her hand, trailing back, reaches for him. He runs and runs, but he cannot catch her.

He flounders, stumbling off the side of the rocks into the crashing waves below. Churning and dark, the waves threaten to consume him.

There’s a gaming table and a well worn deck. His money is hot in his hands as he throws it on the pile. He never sees who wins as the water crashes over him again.

He pulls and fights, but the weight of the water is too much. His fingers bunch into a fist, and he lashes out. Flesh on flesh, he hears bone crack before the blow is returned, hard across his jaw. He can’t remember why he’s fighting.

He can’t remember.

Elizabeth, ribbons in her hair and curls in the wind. She laughs, a crystalline sound that tinkles like a bell over the wind. Her hand still reaches.

Ross grasps water; he holds nothing. A fistful of dirt as he screams in agony.

The forest cries out, and it’s his blood, he realizes.

It’s his blood.

There are fallen soldiers in the forest. There is a grave in the field. There is a game he can never finish and a fight he can never win. There is Elizabeth.

There is Elizabeth.

When he is dying, when he is at his end. When he is bleeding, when he is drowning, when he fading away.

There is Elizabeth.



Consciousness is a painful, cruel thing, and the merest flicker of awareness elicits a groan. This is unfortunate, as far as Ross is concerned, because the effort to make such a noise is almost more than he can bear.


Already invested in the process of waking up, Ross struggles to open his eyes. The fact that it is work works in its favor, for Ross can be perverse in his inclinations.


His vision is hazy, but Demelza is easy enough to see. Her red hair is wild on her head, and her wide eyes bespeak a certain kind of panic that is not suited to her.

“Sir, can you hear me?”

Ross furrows his brow, but when he opens his mouth to speak, he realizes that it will be no easy task.

“Answer me, sir,” she pleads. “Can you hear me?”

Her voice is loud, and it does nothing to assuage the pounding in his head. “Yes, yes,” he croaks, sounding more sickly than annoyed. “You’re sitting right in front of me, there’s no need to yell.”

She visibly deflates. “Oh, thank goodness,” she says. “You’re awake.”

This much is obvious, although Ross cannot particularly remember why he was asleep. He’s tired, hot and mostly clothed, and although he remembers his work in the fields, he cannot fully account for his current predicament. “What happened?”

This is clearly not what she wants to hear. Her worry turns to annoyance. “You passed out, that’s what,” she says. “Worked yourself into exhaustion, you did. Sun sick, too.”

Looking back, Ross can see this as a viable explanation for how he currently feels. He’s tired in a way that he scarcely can describe, and the exhaustion has settled into a soreness throughout every bone and muscle in his body. Even now, he can feel the burn of his skin, and his parched tongue yearns to be quenched. He hasn’t felt this poorly since waking up half-dead in America.

He gives Demelza a cursory look. His doctor had been more capable in the war, but not nearly as fair to look at. She lacks refinement and grace, but there’s something about her that Ross can never quite place. Where so much of his life is a fleeting memory, she is a vivid reality.

"They were ready to bury you, they were," she continues, sounding astutely worried. She looks younger somehow and still wise beyond her years. "Jud and Prudie. Had the grave half dug."

Ross shifts, making a face as a deep ache lances through his tire muscles. "They're not so bad."

"No?" she asks with an incredulous and unrefined snort. "Maybe not when you're around to keep them in check, which is why you have no business working yourself into exhaustion."

He sighs, wincing as he props himself up a little more on the pillows. He’s tired, this much is true. Far too tired for her hysterics. "I'm fine--"

"You passed out in the heat," she says sharply. "You were damn near insensate for the better part of a day. I sent that old hag to fetch a doctor, but I ain't seen no sign of either of them."

"Nor will you for quite some time," Ross says with a small grunt of his own. "I have no means to pay a doctor."

"Yet you have the means to forfeit a day of work?" she asks.

He narrows his eyes at her. She’s a cunning thing and far smarter than anyone would give her credit. She lacks the education and the refinement, but those are faults not of her own making. This is perhaps the greatest reason why he could not leave her to her father: she cared not for power or esteem but personal satisfaction.

And somehow, she’d come into all three under Ross’ roof. It made her exceptionally good as a housemaid.

The problem is, now that she’s started to learn, it’s clear she has no intention of stopping, nor does she have the common sense to gauge her station before she speaks. It’s an issue of self control with her. Ross would find it damnable if he did not suffer from the same affliction.

She heeds his silence, bowing her head as she presses her lips together. "I know it's not my place--"

"No," he returns firmly, for as much as he respects her spirit, he also knows it is his place to control it. "It's not."

"But I think you're stupid," she blurts.

The bluntness of it shouldn’t surprise him, not after all this time. But he is tired and her candor is more pointed than it usually is.

Any other servant would be fired for the offense.

And any other master would indeed take offense.

But if Demelza wants reason, then Ross will give it to her.

"I have a responsibility to this land," he says. "If I don't work it, then who will?"

"Aye, that's the point," she says, even more emboldened. "If you go off and die, then what will happen to it? You're no good to anyone dead."

Most people would take the fear of death quite heavily, but Ross is no such person. He’s been to war, and he’s faced his own mortality. Even now, he lives the life of a ghost, reclaiming a life that was counted as loss. His birthright has been downtrodden; his true love has grieved and moved on. Ross Poldark is the only soldier whose homecoming was almost entirely in vain.

To be frank, Ross knows he’d be good to everyone dead. It’d make Elizabeth’s life better; it’d surely lighten Francis’ load. Even Jud and Prudie would prefer him dead and buried in an unmarked grave on foreign soil.

Scowling, he rolled the tension in his shoulders. "I didn't hire you to have an opinion."

"No, but if you want to fire me for it, then so be it," she says for she is the only one who has no patience for his brooding. "A dead master is no better than a dumb one."

He looks up at her again, torn between amusement and perplexity. She is a brash child, and her disposition is that of stalwart rudeness when she should be the picture of servitude. Poor, uneducated, badly mannered -- and right all the same.

Quizzically, he tilts his head. “Did you care for me, then?” he asks, looking around his quarters for the first time. The room is tidy, and the floor glimmer in the sunlight coming through the window. There is a basin by the bed with a wet cloth folded in it. Closer still is a cup, perched within reaching distance of the chair pulled close to the side of the bed.

Under his scrutiny, she stiffens. "I needed help getting you inside."

"But you cared for me here?" he presses.

"Wasn't like you were in no position to do it yourself," she says defensively, studying her hands.

He has always liked this about her, that she does not seek praise. Jud and Prudie are too keen to claim good deeds that they have not done, and her modesty in this is her strongest virtue. Though, he expects it is not modesty. He suspects that she simply does not realize that her good heart is not common among most people.

For she does have a good heart, along with her strong mind.

And there is something more, perhaps. Something in her strength and tenacity. She holds a strong will, fighting against fate in a battle she has no right to win. Maybe this is why he still does not regret helping her, for he recognizes something in her struggle. She is the embodiment of his belief that hard work and earnest effort will be rewarded, that there is, despite all odds, hope.

"Then I suppose I owe you thanks," he says finally.

At that, she startles badly, looking absolutely afraid.

"For saving my life," he continues.

Looking vexed, she plays with the hem on her apron.

"I have found myself in need of friends, and those I count on are few and far between," he says. He pauses to gather a breath, letting out wearily. "You may not be a very obedient servant, but I suspect you are far better at friendship than I could ever pay you for."

She knits her brows together, anxiously tucking her hair behind her ear. "Does friendship pay my wages?"

He chuckles. "No, girl," he says. "It does not."

"Then if it's all the same, I'll take your employment and not your friendship," she says.

"That's a shrewd choice," he says.

Before he can continue, there's a sound at the door.

She stands up, hurriedly. "That must be the doctor--"

He opens his mouth to call for her to stay -- better still, to ask the doctor to leave -- but she's already out the door. Even in his bedridden state, he hears her exchange words with Jud, nearly hissing at Prudie before the even and exasperated tone of the doctor breaks them up.

Ross sighs as he settles back in his bed, a bit more comfortably now. Now that the doctor is here, Ross will have to find something to offer for his service. It is unfortunate and inconvenient, but it’s not Demelza’s fault. Given the circumstances, she did the most prudent thing possible. Her loyalty is paralleled only by her resourcefulness. He is hesitant to admit it to her, but Demelza had done the right thing, of course, no matter what admonitions he could think of. The truth is, under Demelza’s care, he feels more than a little replenished. Yes, he is tired, but the bone-deep ache is fading, and he suspects he will be ready to return to work tomorrow thanks to her.

He hadn't had a chance before she hurried out to tell her that those two things aren’t polar opposites. She can be a good servant and a friend.

And more, Ross considers. He’s not sure what, and he’s not sure how, but there’s more to Demelza Carne. With her, there’s more to his land, his fortune, his business, his life. It’s not a certain thing, what the future will hold. It may not be what he wanted; it may not be good at all.

But for the first time since his return, he’s eager to face it and make it his own.