sideways: [tftb] gortys smiling (►we should be together)
[personal profile] sideways
Title: Paterfamilias
Rating: G
Series: Bungie's Destiny (Jaren Ward)
Wordcount: 2042
Summary: Shin had three fathers in his life. Two of them overlapped.
Remarks: I had a hard time pulling the pacing together and it's very talky (surprise surprise) but I think it hit the notes I meant it to.

The gunslinger cuts a sharp silhouette where he is perched; little moon to light his features, no clouds to soften his edges. Hunting nights they call these in Palamon, and not with any fondness; too often they have brought the scrabble of claws and swords against their gates, or a fearful cry cut short from the woods. Hunted nights would tell it more true.

Behind Ban, torches still burn about the hall as the crowd breaks slowly, small groups dragging their feet for hushed discussions as they exit the hall. Tonight they have set as sparse a watch as they ever dare when the moon is so thin, and let the torches stay lit longer – Palamon’s direction rests in more than one set of hands for the first time in seven years and few would willingly miss it.

No one set the gunslinger to a watch-post, but then Jaren Ward has never waited for them to voice their need.

He tugs his coat tighter around his shoulders, defending against the autumn chill that seems intent on reasserting itself now that he has parted from the press of warm bodies. A slick of frost already coats the ground, cracking under his boots with each step; the first herald of the heavy snows that will bow the branches and whiten the sky. Time was it would mean a caging. Hard to say what winter will mean for them now.

The silhouette doesn’t stir as he draws closer, and at first he thinks he might have managed to catch Ward unaware. It’s an unmanning thought, and he is still trying to thread together the words for a greeting when the soft hail reaches him.

“Who goes?”

“Ban. Ban Aruda of Palamon,” he calls back, and in the next moment feels foolish for it. He is approaching from within the gates; why should he feel the need to mark himself so? Perhaps for the same reason that he finds himself adding, “Shin’s father.”

He sees the head nod, dimly. It’s not an inviting nod, however; there is a heaviness to the gesture like the weight of expectation – and just like that, he knows his need has been read. Before Ban can say anything further the silhouette detaches itself, stretching briefly to full height before dropping as silently from the platform as to be a shadow in truth; but it is a man that lands not three paces from Ban, lean and light-footed and, for once, with a face unshaded by hood or helmet.

Ban’s hands helped shape the platform that Ward has so easily abandoned, so it is with personal affront that he flicks his eyes up towards it, but disapproval dies in his throat the moment he finds something gazing back. He has just long enough to wonder if it is Ward who is seeing him or something wholly separate and independently aware – long enough to wonder which option it is that curls so cold down his spine – before the Ghost turns away to face the shadowed woodland. Serving watch as readily as its man.

“How fares the council?” says Ward, close by, and Ban turns his head sharper than he means to.

“As well as it might,” he says stiffly, once he finds his tongue again. “Lot of changes to be made. Leaves many an end to be tied, and it will be more than a night’s work.”

The gunslinger dips his head as if such a scant summary says all it needs to. There is no offered apology for felling Loken, and in a way that makes it easier; it leaves no obligation to apologise for the silent watch Palamon held as it happened.

A full few seconds pass before Ban realises that is the beginning and the end of the man’s response. Not one for idle talk, they have learned. Not mean with it in the way of the taciturn, nor uncertain in the way of the shy, but wielding his words as he wields that piece of his: with experience and precision, the pauses as purposeful as the sound.

He is holding to pause now, and Ban wets his lips.

“Like to be a cold night,” he says. Curses himself for a coward. “You have what you need?”

“I do.”

“Good. Good.” In truth, little of Ward’s garb has changed in the months he has spent in Palamon, but then little of what they have to offer would match it. There are old, worn marks across the chest-piece that speak to shock-blades turned aside, and though the ochre cloak currently bundled at his neck seems scant protection at a glance, it weathers better than even well-spun mohair. “Did occur to some that with Loken’s last… Well, you’ve still guest-rights. To trade and beg favour, for the length of your stay.”

“As was my understanding.”

As well Ban knows, and Ward knows of his knowledge. He is doing this wrong, trying to push against the grain, and the gunslinger cannot be shaped in this way.

So he says, “Shin wished to be sure you knew.”

He sees the flicker of interest only because he is looking for it. “Aye?” says Ward. “And how’s the kid?”

“He’s abed. Or should be,” he concedes sourly, as many a father has privately admitted to the fickleness of their authority before. A night like this tests it most of all.

Ward puffs an exhale that might be a laugh.

And that of all things, that small sign of affection, finally pries the brittle words loose. “I’ve marked it, you know.” Ward tilts his head very slightly, and Ban forces himself on. “I and others. You’ve an eye on Shin, more than you have on the rest of us.”

It’s not a question, and Ward does not give an answer. Just meets Ban’s accusing gaze evenly, waiting.

Why,” he says, harsh and half-hoping.

The gunslinger looks up, briefly, to where his Ghost lingers on the platform, and the hope scalds his heart to blistering.

Ward says, “He’s special.”

I know, Ban wants to say; wants to slash a line between them with the words. I’ve known him special since I claimed him from the orphan’s line, small and feather-haired and wearing too much understanding in his mother’s eyes.

“Don’t take my boy,” is what leaves his tongue, and the words whisper a plea instead of making a stand; he drops his eyes immediately, shame a sodden weight in his chest. It is a fearful asking and, worse, a selfish one. They’ve all shared dreams of that distant paradise: the god-shadowed city, where the light of old civilisation burns bright and a hundred Wards sit watch on cloudless hunting nights. Unfathomably safer than their simple mountain bounds.

For that alone, he cannot make his plea a demand.

There is a long, low sigh, and he lifts his gaze to see the gunslinger close his eyes briefly behind the cloud of his own breath.

“Not my choice,” says Ward. “Now or two hundred years hence – a light like that won’t be left to rest.” When his dark eyes open again, they are not unkind. “None of us choose. Neither the duty nor the waking to it.”

The back of Ban’s neck prickles. They all try not to think too hard on what they know of those the Traveler calls. Ward moves, blinks, breathes; none have dared touch him to know if he beats warm, but he walks enough like the living to walk among them. It is a far cry from some of the darker rumours.

He says instead, “And if it had been your choice?”

“The waking? Or the duty?”

“They don’t seem as separate as that.”

Ward smiles, as quick as his draw. “Maybe so.” He stands silent for a while, long enough for Ban to know the answer has been well-considered when it comes. “I don’t regret it, Ban Aruda of Palamon. Hard to say what I would have chosen without knowing the man I was, but I don’t regret.”

Long words, from Ward. It is hard to feel the privilege in it. “Is that so much to ask?’ he says hoarsely, his fists clenched stiff by his side. “That he have the chance to know what kind of man he will be? To at least give him that much time? To at least give us…”

The gunslinger cocks his head, and Ban’s words trail off.

“You misunderstand,” Ward says, and though his tone is mild Ban takes a half-step back. Something more thoughtful creeps in as he continues, “If not as much as you might. I should like to stay.”

Ban blinks as the entire conversation seems to upend itself about him. “You- Beg pardon?”

“I won’t fight what your council decides. It is your right, as it should be. As it should always have been.” He lifts his chin slightly, gesturing back towards the hall, or perhaps the entire township. “But if Palamon would have me, I should like to stay.”

A long pause.

“To stay,” he echoes, and Ward raises his eyebrows at him patiently.

Before and after he was Shin’s father, Ban was many things: Vela’s son, water-carrier, third gate militia, woodworker. These parts of him immediately know the worth of this offering. These parts of him have known it since Jaren Ward stood ringed by the town, at the end of nine guns, and read the support in their silence.

The man of Palamon knows their gates are already opened to him. The father of a boy still holds wariness close.

“Would they not demand your return?” he asks, for all that there may not be sense to the asking. Who ‘they’ are is a concept barely grasped; what they might desire is deepest mystery.

“Duty’s better worn as a cloak than a collar.” It’s an unusually flippant response for Ward, and perhaps he senses it, for he adds, “We’ve no magistrate as you would understand it. For that matter, no magistrate as someone used to fair-minded treatment would understand it. We fight the darkness. Where and how we do so is the choice we make.”

There is such a weight to the way he says it: the Darkness. More than the shadow of ill-feeling that can sour a man’s spirit, and more than even a man such as Loken had earned. “Are we to be your battleground, then?”

“Only for the battles I carry with me. Palamon…gives me heart. And anymore, I am learning the value of such a thing.” For the briefest moment the gunslinger’s gaze strays and something indiscernible shifts in his face; a tightening of lines, a deepening of the night’s shadows; traces of a distant sadness like a regret held on someone else’s behalf.

“Home has a way of doing that,” he hears himself say, and has the satisfaction of seeing Ward’s eyes flick to him quickly.

“Maybe so,” he says. “Look. Your boy’s well-raised, Ban Aruda of Palamon. I wouldn’t take that from him even if I could. And he’s special. Can’t tell you when or how that will catch up to him. But as much as I am able, I’d have him grow to be the man this home makes of him. Wager it’ll be someone well worth meeting.”

A string of long speeches indeed, and somehow Ban knows this is the last of them. There is relief, yes, that loss need not happen tonight; hope has kindled again in a quieter form, to know something higher, something more is meant for Shin. Yet Ban is selfish still, and there are many ways to lose a child.

One is to dig fingers in tight until inevitably blood is drawn.

“Tomorrow,” he says. Reaches for courage; finds it. “Come to council tomorrow. I’ll make your appeal.”

Ward doesn’t thank him. In a way, that makes it easier.

He does offer his hand, and when Ban takes it with only a beat of hesitation between, he finds a firm grip, a gunman’s crook to the fingers, and something warm beneath the coarse weave of the glove.

“I’ll see you then, Ban Aruda,” says the gunslinger, and again there is that lightning flash of a smile, recognisable more in the afterimage than in the moment. “Shin’s father.”
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