Shiki tightened his arms around Rahas’ shoulders as he readjusted his arm he had hooked under his knees. He looked down at the sleeping dark hunter resting in his arms. His cheeks were slightly red, stained with streams of now dried tears. He had cried himself into exhaustion before promptly falling asleep against him, in his arms.
When the crying first started, Shiki felt that they were perhaps the only tears he had released in years. He may have shed one or two here or there, but not in the way he needed. They’ve been building since he was a small child. He wasn’t allowed to show any weakness. He wasn’t allowed to cry.
Shiki sighed and shook his head. It broke his heart to see the feisty child he knew, he raised, sob so loudly, to break so hard. But…at least it was with him, in safety, with company. He wasn’t alone.
He had been through so much. He was…relieved that he was safe here in Lagaard. When that blue haired dark hunter told him that Lynus and Rahas had taken residency in Lagaard and that Taksony was officially dead, he could scarcely believe it. He wanted to, but he had grown cynical over the years.
But…he had to see. What did he have left to lose?
He was convinced to make his way to Lagaard when Avith made a throw-away comment of Hamza and Gerald’s names. If Gerald was still alive, he had to find him. He had to see him again.
He could never imagine that Gerald was still alive, that he had taken in and raised his son, and that his son had made friends with Rahas and Lynus. It was like…a dream. He thought it to be a dream, honestly, until he found Gerald. And seeing his face, though having aged over the years, the relief in his expression brought it all home to him.
Heh, home. God, he hadn’t have a place he would called home for years.
Nudging the door to the tearoom open with his foot, Shiki was relieved to see that Gerald was still standing with Hamza, and that Lynus was there as well, waiting for him. Farley was there as well, sitting patiently in front of the fireplace. And they all immediately looked up when they heard Shiki step in. Though they wore expressions of surprise and concern on their faces upon seeing Rahas sleeping in his arms, they didn’t appear shocked.
Shiki didn’t say anything as he carried Rahas over to the couch in the centre of the room and laid him down gently, resting his head on a pillow. He lingered where he stood and took in the sight of his former student.
The kid had grown quite a bit these past few years, hadn’t he? What’s with the hair covering half of his face? Emo phase? Tisk. He was going to push that hair back, even if he had to cut his hair himself.
But…he was glad the kid threw a punch at him. It was a relief to see that he kept his feistiness.
When he first met Rahas, first introduced to him as his new teacher, Rahas was…a shell of a child really. There was no other way to describe him. The complete opposite of his own precious son. A child soldier. A mindless puppet. A kid who knew no better.
It broke his heart.
And made him determined to turn this kid into a person, into a rebel.
It wasn’t easy, to be completely honest. The kid was quiet, sullen, withdrawn. Hard to talk to, let alone communicate with. He was, however, unnervingly obedient. Though he would glare and seethe at the orders, he still completed them with a sense of caution. He had been trained to obey all orders, if he didn’t submit or didn’t complete the task to the satisfaction of the one barking the orders, he would be punished.
Punishment…god, Shiki hated that word so fucking much.
Taking the blows that were meant for Rahas was easier and far less painful than having to listen, to watch as the small child tried to reign in his cries and stop himself from withering from the pain.
But, day by day, Shiki was able to gain the child’s trust through their continuous training. He really began to open up and become rebellious when Lynus was forced into their hell a year later.
Lynus, the poor kid. He was so scared, so small. So innocent. So vulnerable. While neither Shiki nor Rahas belonged in that hell, Lynus was completely out of place. He was so timid, so gentle, so…caring. He truly didn’t belong there at all.
Rahas saw that as well. And it gave him a reason to grow stronger, to become stronger. He had something, a goal to hang on to. It wasn’t ideal, having him obsessed with someone, but at least he had something, someone to focus on rather than concentrating on the uncertainty and suffering around him.
Shaking his head again to rid himself of the memory of a small, tiny Rahas getting frustrated and hitting him with his small hands, showing emotion for the first time from his mind, Shiki took a step back to allow Lynus to step forward. Immediately, the carrot top was crouched by Rahas’ side on the couch and was inspecting him carefully. And standing at the back of the couch, looking over in concern was Simmons, his son.
Simmons had been so surprised and greatly concerned by Rahas’ break down, but the understanding boy didn’t ask questions or demand answers. He quietly followed Shiki back to the tearoom, staying close, keeping a watchful eye.
“Is he all right?” Simmons asked Lynus with genuine concern on his face.
Lynus lifted his head up and smiled gently at him. “He’s just sleeping,” he answered as he idly ran his hand through Rahas’ hair. “He’s been holding that in for quite a few years now. He’s exhausted.”
Simmons simply nodded his head as he focused his gaze upon Rahas once more.
Shiki was honestly relieved that his son got along well with his adopted sons. Ironic or perhaps poetic justice that the they would become friends here in Lagaard. Though how and why, he would love to know.
“You were a bad influence on him,” Hamza suddenly said to him, causing Shiki to look over at the war magus to find him with his arms folded across his chest, a truly amused look on his face.
“You’re welcome,” Shiki jokingly returned. “I hope he’s managed to conquer every window Lagaard has to offer.”
The twitch at the corner of Hamza’s mouth told Shiki that Rahas was indeed fond of making a break through the window at any convenience. He taught him well~
It was nice how easily he was able to fall back into the life of Lagaard, into the small remnants of his life.
But…Now that he was back he was unable to prevent a sense of guilt from creeping into his chest. Perhaps he could have returned sooner? Returned to his son and Gerald years ago?
But he argued with himself that he couldn’t. Not only did he believe them to have been killed alongside his beloved wife, but his early return may have pulled them deeper into danger. Taksony may be dead now, had been that way for nearly a year, but the bastard was still alive when Shiki was no longer of any use to him. Had he known that Shiki managed to crawl out of Yggdrasil labyrinth alive, he would have made sure he, along with anyone around him was dead for good. In the most brutal of ways possible most likely.
Shiki was about to ask Hamza how he came into contact with both Rahas and Lynus when his gaze fell upon a lone redhead standing in the corner of the room, looking rather awkward, his gaze focused in mostly on Lynus. And he felt his heart leap into his throat when the redhead seemed to realise he was looking at him and turned his own gaze toward him curiously.
He…had eyes similar to those of Sandra’s. And he appeared to be a landsknecht, too.
Lynus looked up at him before he glanced over at the landsknecht. He seemed to realise something, either Shiki’s curiosity or surprise, and he smiled at him as he made his way to stand next to the man with the red hair.
“This is Axel,” he introduced. “He’s…”
Lynus then paused as he turned his gaze toward the red-haired landsknecht, to look at him with a soft expression for a silent moment. A smile, one that was filled with utter fondness and loving tenderness appeared on his lips. And as he turned to look back toward, a light flush dusted across his features.
“He’s my everything,” Lynus said, his voice sincere and gently, but resolute all the same as he leaned against the redhead’s chest.
Shiki immediately understood what he meant. And as his gaze flickered toward the one named Axel, he saw the same loving tenderness. An arm was immediately wrapped around Lynus’ tiny waist and had pulled him close to him. He could see so easily that Axel regarded Lynus the same. He regarded Lynus as his whole world.
It was truly beautiful to see. He wasn’t at all disappointed that he couldn’t fall into protective dad mode and run off any admirers with a shotgun.
“You look so happy,” Shiki murmured. “I’m relieved. You deserved this happiness.”
Lynus didn’t reply, he simply granted him a beautiful and somewhat relieved smile as he rested his head back against Axel’s shoulder. He tilted his head back to look at his landsknecht and Axel looked down at him before leaning forward and pressing a soft kiss to his forehead, Lynus closing his eyes at the tender touch, the two of them completely uncaring that there were others around them.
Shiki got the sense that they were affectionate all the time, regardless of who or what was around. And something else told him that the landsknecht wouldn’t be easily scared off, anyway. No matter, he still had Simmons and Rahas to defend.
“They are members of my guild,” Hamza explained.
“Ah, Reckless?” Shiki asked with a half-smile.
However, his smile abruptly disappeared when Hamza’s face fell into a pained expression and Gerald shook his head. Shiki felt his stomach clench in concern, in fear. Something happened, didn’t it? He had been…gone for too long. There was so much that he missed.
“I’m afraid only Cedric and I are all that is left of Reckless,” Hamza eventually confided, swallowing back the lump in his throat.
Shiki wanted to ask how, why, what happened, but held his tongue. He…may learn the full truth later. Not now. Maybe when it was just him, Gerald, Cass, and Hamza with Cedric at the bar. Like old times.
Hamza managed to give him a polite smile. “I…well, I am the leader of a new guild. The Guardians. Lynus and Rahas are members.”
“Ah,” Shiki uttered. Though he felt saddened by the demise of old friends, he was relieved that his kids had been under the watchful gaze of someone he knew and trusted. “Nice to know you’ve been looking after my kids.”
Hamza raised an eyebrow at him, though his smile soon became more genuine now. “Your kids, hm? Well, Rahas certainly takes after you. Just more of an emo brat, really.”
Shiki snorted in amusement. “Again, you’re completely welcomed.”
The room however quickly fell into silence when a low groan from the couch drew their attention. Shiki immediately turned around to see that Rahas was clutching his forehead and had his eyes squeezed shut. Slowly, he blinked them open and tilted his head to the side, to…look up at Simmons.
Simmons smiled a relieved smile as Rahas seemed to stare blankly up at him. “Are you feeling better now?” he asked. “You’ve been holding that back for years, haven’t you?”
Rahas made no attempt to respond. In fact he furrowed his brow in confusion. But then he abruptly sat up, his eyes wide as he frantically searched around the room. Everyone became quiet as Rahas’ gaze fell upon Shiki and a flicker of disbelief mixed with realisation appeared in his eyes.
“Y-you’re real,” he croaked out.
Shiki grinned at him before leaning forward to ruffle the dark hunter’s hair, purposely pushing back that stupid emo side bang thing he had going on. “Of course I am. Far too handsome to be a mirage, don’t you agree?”
Rahas said nothing in response and surprisingly allowed him to push his hair back. He just stared at him for a long, silent minute before his face creased into a relieved but confused expression. “Where the hell have you been?” he finally asked.
Ah, fair question. He was sure it was on the lips of everyone else in the room.
But he didn’t really want to explain, to describe the night he was taken. He didn’t exactly want to remember how he was threatened, how they trapped him, how they said they would murder everyone and destroy everything he loved if he didn’t cooperate. And how, not wanting to chance his wife or son’s life, he agreed.
Or how…he learnt that they carried out those threats regardless of his cooperation.
Not with Simmons in the room. He didn’t exactly know that he had been held captive and then dumped to die in the labyrinth in Etria. He might try to explain to him one day, just…not yet.
Instead he focused his attention on what was relevant.
“Believe it or not, but the ones known as Avith and Zalaph both played parts in my survival and return,” he said.
There were a few gasps of surprises along with mumbled curse words from around the room. Ah, so Avith had made his presence known in Lagaard? Wonder what kind of shitstorm he caused.
That blue haired dark hunter had always been a wild card. But Shiki felt that he wasn’t as bad as he made himself to be.
Only when Avith intervened in his so-called execution did he realise how unpredictable but non-malicious he really was. Not only that, but he truly was an unconventional genius. The way he interfered, the way he allowed Shiki to escape with his life; he made it appear that he had done absolutely nothing to aid him. He tricked the guards into believe that he was loyal, tricked them into believing Shiki was dead, misleading them in such a manner so it wouldn’t appeared he was fooling them at all.
He was quite intriguing, really.
A smug little shit, but interesting nonetheless.
However, he wasn’t all that surprised that Lynus seemed incredulous as he clutched to the shirt of his landsknecht. He was a gentle soul, a tender-heart who was truthful and honest. He wore his heart on his sleeve. He was someone who was sincere and lovingly mindful of others. He didn’t understand the mindset of those who had deceitful intentions or unpredictable motives.
Shiki understood, though. And from the look of begrudging annoyance on Rahas’ face, he understood too.
Avith had a soft spot for Lynus. Shiki was fairly certain a few of the guards did as well. But their fear of Taksony was stronger, so they obviously couldn’t show any of that fondness to the gentle medic.
He would no doubt learn of Avith and Zalaph’s stay in Lagaard at another time. Right now he needed to explain what happened to him.
“As per usual by Taksony’s methods, I was thrown into Etrian’s labyrinth and expected to…stay there,” Shiki continued, his face turning dark as he remembered how those bastards literally let him loose without weapons or armour, and fucking laughed as they taunted him to run. “Seventh floor, I believe. Where a powerful monsters lurk in herds. They were hoping that I would just happen to stumble across its nest and meet my demise. No one would question it, you know?”
Thankfully, he wasn’t stupid enough to head in the direction the guards were trying to herd him in. A shortcut they obviously weren’t aware of. It was enough to hide himself away, but…not enough to save his life. There was a monster waiting on the other side. It had lunged at him. It went…dark after that.
That must have been when Avith or Zalaph intervened. He wasn’t sure, but he…heard a familiar voice. Two of them. Talking to each other.
“To be honest, I don’t know how Avith interfered,” Shiki said as he shook his head. “I don’t even know why he did, but that smug little bastard was the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes and found myself in a chamber like structure, still surrounded by the foliage of the labyrinth, but there with a healing spring nearby.”
Shiki fell quiet as memories of him just lying there on the ground, the grass tickling his exposed back and arms, staring up at the canopy of trees and surrounded in an almost unbearable humidity. He honestly didn’t remember what happened. He remembered seeing a yellow, insidiously large scorpion and an intense pain in his left shoulder. His next memory was looking up at the tall trees and hearing the sound of a steady dripping water source.
“Drink up, old man,” Avith had said to him and he crouched down next to him, grinning that smug, almost feral like smirk of his. “Best to change your class when you get out of here. Dark hunters might start being the ones who are hunted.”
Shiki hadn’t a clue what that meant, what he meant.
When Avith and Zalaph left him alone, a part of Shiki just wanted to…fall asleep and never wake up. What was the point of living if he was alone? But another part of him was stubborn, not wanting that Taksony bastard to claim another victim. It wasn’t until he felt the soft nuzzle of a wet nose against his cheek that made him open his eyes and loll his head to the side to see a scrawny wolf pup did he make his decision.
He wanted to live.
“Farley found me soon after,” Shiki continued with a small smile on his lips, his gaze flickering over to the said wolf. “Scrawny little thing he was. Quite ill. Gave me a reason to…fight back, I suppose.”
A small part of him wondered, though; did Farley find him? Or was he…led to him by another? By someone who knew that Shiki would only live if there was something, something to live for?
“You’ve been in Etria this whole time?” Lynus was the one to ask him softly.
Shiki turned to regard him and idly trailed his right hand along his left arm. “I had…a few injuries and needed to keep a low profile. After all, they frequented that labyrinth often. I…didn’t see them, but I had heard of rumours regarding mysterious and unfortunate deaths of unknown victims.”
…He wished that he could have been strong enough to save others.
“I trained myself to become a ronin,” Shiki said. “Because of certain…injuries, I wasn’t able to use a whip.”
Lynus’ gaze immediately flickered over to Shiki’s arm and furrowed his brow in thought. He appeared to be inspecting his arm with his eyes along, at a distance. He…wouldn’t be that Miracle Medic he had heard rumours of? Ah, honestly, he wouldn’t be surprised if he was. Even as a small child, his gentle healing was incredible.
But…gossip wasn’t always a good thing.
“How do you know Lynus and Rahas, though?” Simmons suddenly asked, pulling both Shiki and Lynus from their thoughts.
Shiki paused for a moment. “They were the reason why I was in Etria,” he replied slowly, feeling a sense of regret when Rahas visibly winced from the couch.
Simmons looked at him for a moment before he…nodded his head and offered an all too understanding smile. “Well, that’s ok. If you were there it was because Rahas and Lynus needed you more than I did,” he said with a sheepish shrug of his shoulder. “I missed you being my dad, but I’m ok with it if you were busy being a dad to Rahas and Lynus.”
The room fell into silence as they all regarded Simmons with expressions of surprise. Simmons, thankfully, didn’t seem to notice as he leaned forward to unexpectedly poke Rahas on the cheek.
“My dad is the best dad, huh?” he said to him.
Rahas had been completely caught off guard and stuttered for a few moments. “Y-yeah. The b-best…L-like a real dad…”
Simmons beamed at him.
And Shiki had wanted to tease Rahas about calling him dad from now on, but he found himself pausing. There was plenty of time in the future to tease and rile the dark hunter up. Right now, he was curious as to how and why those two exact opposites became friends.
Before he could ask, though, Hamza unexpectedly clasped a hand onto Shiki’s shoulder and leaned in to whisper something to him. “He’s trying to court him.”
“As in dating?!” Shiki spluttered in surprised as his gaze immediately whipped around to look at Rahas with wide eyes.
Rahas immediately snapped his head up to look at him in return, his eyes just as wide but there was also a surprising dusting of red on his cheeks. “No!” he yelled as he leapt to his feet. “Fuck, no, don’t even go there!”
Too late! Shiki was already laughing out loud. Good god, this was…
“We’re not dating!” Rahas all but shrilled.
“Don’t be rude, Rahas,” Lynus chided lightly while Axel coughed to cover up a laugh.
“What’s dating?” Simmons asked aloud with his head tilted to the side in confusion.
“Dating is something that occurs after you have successfully courted someone,” Hamza was the one to explain with a shit-stirring grin on his lips.
Simmons looked…thrilled at the prospect while Gerald sighed and ran his hand over his face in an exasperated manner.
This…all of this…this is exactly what Shiki needed. What Simmons needed. What Rahas needed.
“This is fucking perfect!” Shiki yelled as a wide, obnoxiously mischievous grin appeared on his lips, and he proceeded to loop an arm around his son’s neck and dragged him closer. “Simmons, my boy, do I have some tips for you. You’ll have Rahas courted in no time. Just leave it aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaall to me~”
Naturally, Simmons looked ecstatic at the prospect once again, not truly understanding what was really going on while Rahas just bristled and hissed like an adorable feral cat at Hamza. And the war magus just regarded him with that knowing, mischievous smile of his.
Shiki had missed so much. So many terrible things had happened while he was gone. But this…this was beautiful. Right now, it was perfect. And he knew that he was going to do whatever it took to stay here, with his son, which Gerald, with everyone, and share their lives with them once more.
He…he was home now and he was going to stay.