Long Awaited Reunion
The rain had let up but the thunder continued to roar in the distance. But Gerald paid it no mind. He was too busy looking at the back of the head of the man that had his wrist held securely in his hand as he pulled him through the silent, near empty streets of Lagaard. He couldn’t bring himself to look at anything else, not even down at the wolf with bluish-silver fur. Only the man in front of him.
The hand who had a hold of his wrist belonged to Shiki.
He was alive. God for ten years, ten whole, pain filled years he was missing from his life. He didn’t want to accept that he was dead, but a part of him had. A small part had given up hope of ever seeing his beloved friend ever again.
But…he was alive. He was alive…
There was…there was something he had to know.
Without a single pause in his steps, Shiki was heard uttering a low, miserable sigh. One of pain and yet acceptance as well. “I know, Gerald,” he said softly. “She’s gone.”
Gerald clenched his jaw tightly as his heart dropped into his stomach. “How?” he managed to utter.
Shiki stopped walking and pulled Gerald to a stop next to him, though he kept his back to him, he made absolutely no attempt to remove his strong grip around his wrist. In fact his hand tightened ever so slightly, though subtly trembling. “...Her right hand,” he murmured, his voice barely audible, even in the too quiet streets at night.
He then slowly turned to face Gerald and he could see that the pain of what he had learnt of happened to his wife was still fresh in his eyes, in his memory.
Her hand…the one that was missing. Had he seen it? Was it shown to him?
He would have reacted violently, Gerald was sure of that.
“What the hell happened to you?” he found himself asking instead.
Unexpectedly, Shiki lifted his other hand and gently cupped the side of Gerald’s face, his eyes filling with pain once more. But it appeared to be a different kind of pain. “...I thought everyone was dead,” he said softly as he thumb brushed over his cheekbone. “Including you.”
Gerald furrowed his brow in confusion and concern. Why? Who told him something like that? Where did he go? Why did he leave? Damn it, there were so many questions he didn’t know where to start!
But they…had to wait for the moment, for a moment. There was something else he needed to tell Shiki.
“Simmons was attacked, too,” Gerald said in a pained and regretful tone. “He received a head injury. He...doesn’t remember much. He might not...remember you.”
Again, another flicker of pain appeared in Shiki’s red eyes, yet not as profound as before. “That’s ok,” he said as he kept his hand on Gerald’s cheek and smiled crookedly at him. “As long as he is alive.”
Gerald was interrupted when Shiki abruptly pulled him into a near bone crushing hug, his face buried in the crook of his neck. Startled, Gerald fell still, his chin on Shiki’s shoulder and head tilted back ever so slightly to allow him to stare bewildered up at the dark night sky.
“The last few years haven’t been kind to me, either,” Shiki murmured against the side of Gerald’s neck and his arms tightened a fraction further, not enough to hurt Gerald in anyway, but certainly prevent him from removing himself from the embrace. “But they’re over now. I’m back. And I’m staying, I promise.”
Gerald closed his eyes as he thought about the deep scars he had seen on Shiki’s arms and chest. Clearly, the man had gone through physical hell. But it was also clear, distressingly so, that he had gone through mental and emotional hell as well.
“Just tell me what happened,” Gerald requested as he snaked his arms around to rest his hands on Shiki’s back, swallowing thickly when his fingertips brushed over yet more scaring.
Shiki was silent for the longest moment as he continued to hold him, his face still buried into the curve of Gerald’s neck. “…You know of a man called Taksony?” he unexpectedly asked.
Gerald opened his eyes, though his brow furrowed as he turned his head as far as he could to try to look at Shiki. “Yeah, I’ve heard of the bastard. Why? What does he have to do with anything?”
Once more, Shiki fell silent before he emitted a low chuckle that was honestly unexpected and startling. “...Apparently the bastard needed a dark hunter to train one of his soon to be soldiers.”
Gerald drew in a sharp intake of air, his eyes widening. What? No, that couldn’t…Did…was he saying that someone from Etria had ventured all the way to Lagaard to kidnap him? Was his reputation of being a highly skilled dark hunter that notorious?
“Yeah,” Shiki murmured, almost as if responding to Gerald’s jumbled thoughts. “You can imagine how well that worked, right? Apparently my rebellious nature is contagious.”
Though there was a slight smirk on Shiki’s lips as he pulled away from him, Gerald could only look at him in disbelief and bewilderment. He believed him, of course he did. Shiki had never lied to him and despite their ten years of separation, he refused to believe that Shiki would ever lie to him, to his face.
But for Shiki to have been kidnapped…it was too surreal. He was a highly skilled dark hunter, explorer. Gerald had heard stories and gossip of that bastard Taksony, about how power hungry he was and how he had enough money to make people bend to his every whim, but why would he go after a notorious flighty dark hunter like Shiki? It didn’t make any sense!
…Maybe it did, but Gerald refused or simply couldn’t consider it?
“Did…you escape?” Gerald found himself asking as he stared wide-eyed at the man in front of him.
A wry half grin slipped across Shiki’s lips and he shook his head slowly as he took a step back, letting his arms fall away from Gerald to rest idly by his sides. “No,” he admitted as faraway look appeared in his eyes. “I was no longer of any use. They threw me into the Etrian Labyrinth.”
Shiki suddenly smirked as he revealed his left arm, the one that was covered in thick bandages. He looked at it as he flexed his arm a few times. “Hah, dumbasses thought they could get rid of me so easily, though not unscathed. But I have to admit that I had a little bit of help.”
Help? It wouldn’t have been that ‘obnoxious blue-haired dark hunter’ he mumbled about earlier?
Again Shiki fell silent as he dropped his arm to his side again and he tilted his head back to look up at the sky as his eyes fell half-lidded, recalling his painful memories. “Hah, not that I was overly grateful at the time. I thought…everyone was dead, so why should I still be alive?”
Gerald felt a lump of pure heartbreaking emotion lodge in his throat and he tried desperately to push it back. “If Simmons hadn’t survived,” he found himself muttering. “I wouldn’t be here either.”
Shiki quickly turned his attention and gaze back to Gerald, and though he offered him a small understanding smile, his eyes still looked haunted. “…Thank you for raising my boy,” he said before his smile turned slightly mischievous, the type of smile Gerald was more accustomed to. “Ah, should that be our boy now?”
Gerald felt a sudden flush to his cheeks, but he chalked it up to the alcohol still affecting him and the coolness of the night. “Don’t joke like that.”
Shiki’s grin took on more of a mischievous glint. “Sorry, sorry,” he said, not at all apologetic, before his smile faded and he turned his gaze to his surroundings, looking at the buildings and streets with that painful, faraway look in his eyes once more. “I’m just…relieved to be home. I’ve missed a lot, haven’t I?”
“Yeah, a lot has happened,” Gerald said, though in no mood to discuss it all there in the street, not after what he had just learnt. Shiki would be dismayed to learn what happened to Guild Reckless. He didn’t need to have more tragedy forced upon him. Not right at this very second. It may be better if Hamza was the one to tell him, although it would hurt the war magus as well.
“There’s plenty of time to learn, though,” Gerald said instead.
“I need to see my boy,” Shiki said simply as he turned his gaze, those red eyes that had haunted Gerald’s dreams for eyes, back toward him once more.
“Yeah,” Gerald said simply as he began to walk forward. “He’s been waiting for you.”
“Yeah,” Shiki murmured before he made a soft clicking noise with his tongue. “Come, Farley, not much further now.”
Having forgotten about their canine companion, Gerald turned his gaze toward the wolf to find that he had immediately placed himself by Shiki’s side. And when he turned his gaze back to Shiki, the man was motioning for him to stand by his other side.
To which he promptly did. Side by side, they silently walked together, taking the same path they had done many times ten years before, to the place they had laughed and made so many memories together.
As they walked up the stone stoop and through the front door to finally reach the security of being inside, Farley quietly following without prompting, Gerald felt a mild spike of fear appear in his chest.
He honestly didn’t know how Simmons was going to react. It had been ten years and he had received a terrible head injury nine years ago. And Shiki had changed a bit, not only in appearance, but in personality. Completely understandable, of course, but would Simmons immediately recognise him? Or would he need prompting? Time to adjust to the thought that the new man in his life was actually his father?
There wasn’t really anything they could do to prepare, was there?
As Gerald mulled over whether or not to be the one to enter Simmons room and bring him out into the living room, or have the reunion in the privacy of his room, the door to Simmons’ bedroom opened and out stepped the object of his thoughts. With messy hair and bleary eyes, Simmons staggered out of his room, as if looking for something to drink when he stopped to look at him.
“You were out longer than usual, Gerald,” Simmons said instead, surprising the older gunner.
…Had he been waiting up for him? Hah, of course he was.
Before Gerald had the chance to respond, Simmons’ gaze abruptly turned to Shiki and he heard the former dark hunter draw in a sharp intake of air. Shiki immediately recognised Simmons, he looked so much like his mother after all, but Simmons…
Simmons shakily took a step forward, his mouth dropping open before he uttered, “...Dad?”
Gerald wisely took a step back when he heard Shiki give a half chuckle, one that was filled with relief and undeniable happiness.
“Y-yeah,” he murmured, his voice thick with emotion as he took a step forward, his arms lifting from his sides in preparation to embrace his son after so long. “It’s me, I-”
Whatever Shiki was about to say was abruptly forgotten when Simmons suddenly lunged forward to stand right in front of him. He then flung his arms around Shiki’s neck, his face pressed against his shoulder, and as his weight collided against Shiki’s, they both fell to the floor with a loud crash. Shiki automatically made a sound, as if the air suddenly rushed from his lungs and Gerald felt a sense of concern by how hard the two of them fell.
But he became still when another noise echoed throughout the room. The sound of a soft sob.
“I knew you would come back.”
Breathing in shakily, Shiki wrapped one arm tightly around Simmons’ waist as the other slid up to entangle his fingers through his hair. “...Yeah, I’m back. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.”
With his face still pressed against the curve of Shiki’s shoulder and his arms still around his neck, Simmons nodded as he continued to cry softly.
Gerald should probably leave them alone; they were father and son, after all. They needed their time alone, to sob and wail about how much they missed each other. They deserved it. But…Gerald honestly didn’t want to let Shiki out of his sight. Not even for a second. Not again. He didn’t want this to be a dream.
It couldn’t be a dream, could it? If so…then never let him wake up.
“Gods,” Shiki muttered as he raked his fingers through Simmons’ hair. “You’re so much like your mother.”
Gerald half expected Simmons to pull away and ask where Sandra was if she wasn’t with him, but instead Simmons simply nodded his head and continued to hug Shiki tightly.
…That boy knew more than he let on, didn’t he?
A few minutes past silently as the two family members continued to simply hold each other. Slowly and reluctantly, Simmons finally began to detach himself from his father, pushing back to rest on his heels of his feet to kneel on the floor in front of Shiki. And Shiki sat up, obvious tear stains on his cheeks as he reached out to ruffle Simmons hair, the blue haired landsknecht wiping his also tear laden cheeks with the back of his hand.
Honestly, Gerald was fairly certain he was crying now as well. Yeah, he was. There was no point in denying it. He was…so relieved. God, so relieved.
“I’ve missed you, my boy,” Shiki said as he leaned forward and pressed his forehead against Simmons.
Simmons nodded his head as he continued to wipe messily at his cheeks. He then drew in a deep breath as he dropped his hand from his face. He lifted his chin and gave Shiki the biggest, brightest smile Gerald had honestly ever seen.
“Dad!” Simmons said as he placed his hands on Shiki’s shoulders. “I’ve got so much to tell you!”
Shiki was startled, but only for the smallest of seconds before he too smiled broadly and ruffled Simmons’ hair roughly. “I bet you do,” he said. “Then let’s talk. All night if we have to.”
“Yeah!” Simmons said, more energetic than Gerald had seen for a while as he leapt to his feet and impatiently tugged Shiki to his own.
Shiki released a loud and somewhat relieved laugh as he let Simmons pull him up. The moment he was standing tall again he clasped Simmons by the shoulder and made that clicking noise again. As soon as he did, the sound of claws scampering across the floor followed. “Before that, I have someone for you to meet,” Shiki said as the patient wolf stopped at his heel and he motioned for Simmons to regard the canine as well. “This is Farley.”
Simmons’ expression immediately brightened as he crouched down in front of the wolf and held out his hand for the wolf to smell. “Hi Farley,” he greeted, not as loud as he usually did.
The wolf looked at him for a moment, somewhat cautious probably. But his ears weren’t back and the fur on the back of his neck wasn’t raised. He did seem to be twitching slightly, as if holding back.
“Go ahead,” Shiki suddenly said.
And as soon as he did, it was like a switch had been flipped. The wolf abruptly made a sound like an excited ‘yip’ and leaned back onto his back legs so that his front paws flailed out toward Simmons. His placed his hands on Simmons’ shoulders and excitedly began to lick at his face, his tail wagged so hard that his butt was wiggling as well.
The laugh Simmons released as he fell back onto his butt, Farley still covering his face in sloppy kisses was a sound Gerald had never heard before.
“I found him in Etria’s labyrinth,” Shiki explained as he placed his hands on his hips, making no attempt to pull the obviously excited wolf pup off of his son. “He was a tiny little thing. Four years old now, but still a great big puppy.”
Simmons looked up at Shiki to smile goofily at him, still playing with Farley, scratching his ears and rubbing his stomach. “Is that where you were all this time? Adventuring?”
Shiki paused for a moment as that haunted look appeared in his eyes once more. But it soon dissipated and he smiled widely. “Yeah, kid. Got a little lost, you know? Deeply lost…”
…If he had thought everyone was dead, then he was very lost indeed.
“Heh, I do that too,” Simmons said as he turned his attention back to Farley and ruffled his fur playfully. “Gerry says I’m like mum.”
Gerry? It had been a while since Simmons had outright called him that.
“Yeah, she had a terrible sense of direction, didn’t she?”
“Did you find Farley for me?”
“Absolutely. I thought of you the moment I saw him.”
Simmons laughed goofily at that before an unexpected…mature expression appeared on his face. His eyes fell half-lidded as he smiled softly and leaned forward to rest his forehead against that of Farley’s, the wolf pup settling down immediately as if reacting to him. “…I’m glad dad’s back now. He can make Gerry smile again.”
Simmons had whispered that, but it seemed to echo around the room. Shiki immediately glanced over in Gerald’s direction, but embarrassed Gerald looked away and roughly scratched the back of his neck.
…Damn it, the kid was more observant that Gerald gave him credit for.
“I’ll be sure to try to make everyone smile from now on,” Shiki said, his voice filled with determination before he made a sound of realisation, as if he had just remembered something. “Speaking of which, do you know anyone called Rahas or Lynus?”
“Hm?” Simmons murmured as he tilted his head to the side and Gerald felt his brow furrow again. He remembered Shiki mentioning Rahas and Lynus before. How did he know the two?
“Of course I do,” Simmons replied with that large, goofily happy grin of his. “Rahas is my friend and he trains with me sometimes. And Lynus is really nice; he heals me without giving me those boring lectures.”
Shiki appeared momentarily surprised before relief washed over him and he smiled. “Ah, really now. They are here…”
He sounded so relieved. But why?
“Do you know them, dad?” Simmons was the one to ask.
“Ah, yeah,” Shiki said as he idly trailed the fingers of his right hand over his right arm. “Met them a few years ago. They’re…good kids. I’m glad they’re safe now.”
There was that pained, faraway look again…
Shiki quickly brightened, however, and reached down to pull Simmons to his feet. “Well, I’ll speak with them tomorrow,” he said as he took a hold of Simmons arm with one hand while the other unexpectedly reached out to snare Gerald’s wrist. He then proceeded to pull them both toward the couch in front of an unlit fire place, and with an almighty tug, pulled them both down with him.
Simmons sat on Shiki’s right as Gerald all but fell against his left. Shiki released his hold on their arms to instead slink them around their necks to tug them even closer toward him, holding both Simmons and Gerald in such a way that they had no choice but to rest their heads on his chest.
“Tonight, I want to hear all about your adventures and exploits,” Shiki said as he rested back comfortably into the couch. “Don’t go leaving anything out now.”
Simmons released another genuinely happy laugh and immediately began to launch into telling Shiki about how he started his own guild, and how far they’ve gotten into the labyrinth. All the while Shiki kept his arms around the both of them, occasionally reaching out to ruffle Simmons’ hair while he idly twirled a strand of Gerald’s hair around his finger.
And as Farley unexpected rested his head on Gerald’s lap, prompting the gunner to idly scratch him behind the ear, Gerald felt himself relax, to feel a sense of contentment for the first time in ten years.
Though he did not know where Shiki had been all that time and how much he had gone through, he was sure of one thing; he was glad that Shiki was back. That he was alive. And he knew, beyond doubt, that Shiki wasn’t going to be up and leaving anytime soon.
In one night, his life had changed again. But this time it was for the better. No doubt about that.