sideways: [o] I am a tree (►city life has crumbled)
[personal profile] sideways
Title: Needful Places
Rating: G
Series: Bungie's Destiny (Shin Malphur, Jaren Ward)
Wordcount: 3232
Summary: Jaren's back in Palamon after a longer absence than usual, and Shin has a realisation coming.
Remarks: This is still some of the nichest bullshit I have ever written, outside of original stuff knowingly written for an audience of one. At least it's a good step towards the motto of Be The Fandom You Want To See In The World or, in this particular case, Write The Sappy Found Family Formed By A Semi-Immortal Timeless Warrior And A Wide-Eyed Town Kid (Inherently Backdropped By Regretful Knowledge Of The Coming Tragedy) You Want To See In The World. Because Palamon continues have all of about five mentions in canon, I'm continuing to run with the details cobbled together for Paterfamilias.

He hears Jaren’s back from Tate, who is wearing unbearable smugness on her freckled face to have wind of it before him. Being that Shin has a pail of nails in one hand, a hammer in the other, and the heavy eye of his father hanging over him, it’s not the most timely of news.

He is sure Tate knows this too.

Five minutes later, a less heavy hand descends to swat him over the back of the head. It comes unseen and lands unheard, and he jumps nearly a handswidth clear of the ground.

“You’re halfway to a hazard like this,” his father says wearily. “Get gone before you nail a finger to the wall.”

That shames him, a little, but when he tries to turn back to his task with a focus worthy of it Ban plucks the pail from his hand and pushes him away, gently enough that Shin knows he’s not truly in the black. He makes sure to catch his father’s eye as he goes, at least, and knows Ban sees the gratitude there by the small twist of a smile beneath a beard made shades lighter by its coating of sawdust.

He shakes his own hair out two-handed as he cuts across the court, and doesn’t realise he’s running until he sees a grin on more than one passing face. There is nothing unkind in them, but Shin slows all the same, seeking a more manful stride. Palamon reads his heart as easily as his father, and for the most part that’s a comfort; there’s still pride to be taken in how he follows its pull.

Luck finds Jaren in the first place he thinks to look: standing in his doorway, accepting a bucket from a young water-carrier with the same grave respect Shin has seen him offer a guard fresh off a long night’s watch. The Hunter is already stripped down to the waist in the lighter suiting he wears beneath his armour, but not yet garbed in the Palamon style that marks him as truly settled behind the gates. A streak of something dark runs from jawline to ear, and thick scrapings of mud are still wet on the stone by his door.

As the carrier turns on her heel, Jaren looks up and over and catches Shin’s eye with so idle an ease it seems almost deliberate. His eyebrows lift though, briefly, and then he tilts his head in silent invitation as he moves inside, leaving the door open behind him.

A smile of Shin’s own tugs at his lips as he follows.

The burdei is cool and a little musty in the wake of its owner’s absence, the earth-smell strong, and Shin curls his toes against the wooden floor and hoods his eyes as he waits for them to adjust to the shadows. It is simple to spot the marks of Jaren’s travel: the bed’s blanket, unruffled by recent sleep, and the collection of armour and weaponry strewn across the table. There are never any packs.

At the far end, Jaren tips a portion of water into the basin atop his wood-stove, his Ghost flittering over his shoulder – Shin nods once when the bright gaze swings towards him, and after a moment it bobs slightly in seeming return – and then goes to one knee to place his bare hand inside. No matchlight nor flint goes with it, and yet when he rises again there are young flames visible, licking eagerly along the tinder. It’s not a trick oft shown, but Shin has seen it done plainly: a long dry twig pinched between two fingers that burnt to ash from the inside out. For weeks afterwards he’d laid hands on curlings of shaved wood and littered his bed with sticks and leaves, trying to will that golden heat through them, until his father had exasperatedly told him to take his nest-building to a crag if he wished to be a proper eagle.

Jaren dusts his hands together once, flicking a look over Shin from top to toe – and then his eyes crinkle in that warm way they have, and Shin feels his smile broaden past intention even as he takes the quick steps needed to close the distance and punch a fist indignantly into the Hunter’s hip.

“Six days!” he tells him. “Anyone else and we’d have held a silence for you by now.”

Six long days, as they ever seem to stretch when Jaren is away. Town always feels the absence of its own, of course, but Shin’s household isn’t made of the wandersome sort and though he knows it isn’t truly a new thing, has always known just how he came to be the last and only Malphur, the waiting feels it.

“Six?” Jaren says. There is a twitch of a frown, but the self-directed sort, as a moment later he adds, “Huh. Yes. Suppose it was.”

Like near a week past the gates is hardly worth the count. “Was it meant to be seven?”

“Was meant to be whatever it took. Your da let you off early?”

It’s a fair guess – he’s still months away from being allowed to shadow for militia-work, and his father often gets first call in the meanwhile – but Shin squints askance until Jaren lifts a hand and, with a quick ruffle of Shin’s hair, looses a shower of that cussedly stubborn sawdust.

Shin pulls a face, swiping roughly to keep it from his eyes. “Might be me that needs the bathing,” he says, and gets a look that maybe remembers staring down nine guns.

“Touch my hot water, we’ll have words.”

“We’re not already?”

“This would be the kind usually followed by a silence.”

Shin grins, and then admits, “You do look due.” This close, there’s no missing the dirt under the nails, scuffed across a knee, folded into the creases of his skin. Jaren’s a neat man, but he’s a practical one too, and its presence tells plenty on its own.

Turning his hands over for examination, Jaren hums rueful agreement and scratches at a patch on his wrist. “Feel due. Was it housing, fencing?”

“Hole in one of the stores needed patching quick.”



Jaren’s eyebrows wing upwards at that, like he knows there’s a story in the making, but Shin doesn’t have enough of the details to tell it; only knows as much as he does from the disgruntled muttering after the fact. Something his father said in response comes to mind instead. “Shows we’re a town you can make mistakes in again.”

“Guess so,” Jaren says dryly.

“And what about you?” Shin starts to say, starts to reach the question of the past week – where has he been, what has he done, what drew him out beyond the gates at so urgent a pace that he was nearly gone before Shin even knew he was going – but there’s softly warbled birdsong like naught heard off a tree branch, and they both turn their heads to see Jaren’s Ghost spin its aftsegments and flick its eye pointedly towards the basin.

There’s no steam curling above it yet, but Jaren nods to the Ghost and lifts his hand to Shin, two fingers raised; a militia signal to halt and hold position. It’s a stalling, not a dismissal, and Shin paces back out of the way without having to be pointed, choosing the edge of the bed to settle on. Gets an appreciative quirk of a smile for it too, as the man reaches up to pull a line of curtaining across, tidily dividing the burdei and cutting off any passing view from the door.

That like for privacy has never seen Jaren at the steam baths, at least as far as anyone tells it. It’s a like that would suit somewhere with rooms, instead of the same small place he’d taken as guest-house those many months past. He could easily do better for himself, household or no; Shin believes he could move into the hall itself and no one would say he hadn’t earned it.

“Does me well enough,” was all Jaren had said on the matter.

Shin taps his foot against the floor, once and once more, and then pushes himself up again. There’s soft rustling from behind the curtain, something heavy clunking to the ground. It draws his gaze to the gear already laid out: neatly laid, with the care of long practice. Jaren’s belt is hung over the back of one chair, but the holster is empty and the Last Word lies quietly on the table.

“Hello,” he tells it, keeping his voice low.

The wooden grip feels just the same beneath his fingers, and though he’s always liked its weight he doesn’t lift the piece. Just runs his thumb up along it, over the curve of the hammer and the sleek arrow etched in gold on the cylinder. Still the nicest iron Palamon’s ever seen; likely the nicest it’ll ever see again. Certainly looks nicer than Jaren does right now.

“Was it quads you were after?” he says, louder.

“Hm?” comes Jaren’s voice, and then, “Oh. Aye, did come across quads,” only he uses his word for them, the City word. The one that means losing your way.

“I thought you were saying you wanted to take Mel with you next time you had to go hunting.”

“Wasn’t hunting with purpose.”

Meaning quads weren’t why he’d left; Shin huffs vexation toward the table. With anyone else he’d think he was being talked down and around in circles, but Jaren’s never pulled that, not the way so many adults do. Just answers questions a little too straight sometimes.

Shin pats the top of Jaren’s helmet, his reflection a blurry smear across its dusty visor, and opens his mouth to pick out the question with the answer he wants when the chest-piece next to it shuts his jaw again with a snap. There’s trail-dust all down it like the rest of the gear, but something far darker has marred its surface. He knows this armour like he knows the carvings on the Aruda household door: a pattern of triangles usually sits over Jaren’s left breast, painted in earthy bronze. They’re gone. Something has scoured them away - something hot, something penetrating, something that burned.

He knows that kind of scorching.

Slowly, halfway to disbelieving, he reaches over and curls a finger down into the blackened spot, expecting any moment to hit resistance, find the point where the shot was pushed back and the flesh behind it spared. It doesn’t come.

The armour is lighter than it looks, so it’s easy to pull it upright, set it on some invisible chest. Easy to put it at an angle that makes unmistakable the hole punched straight through – twice over, with a parallel circle marking the exit on the back.

A clean shot.

In the next moment there’s a sharp whistle from his right and he starts, badly, the chest-piece thumping flat onto the table as he whips around to find the eye of Jaren’s Ghost fixed on him, narrowed and watchful. A second later the curtain whisks back; Jaren’s in nothing but suiting and pants now, bare-footed with water dripping off his chin, but his eyes are eagle-keen as he flicks his gaze between the damaged armour on the table and Shin’s face.

Whatever he sees there has him immediately lift his hand to pat it against his chest. Over his breast, where the markings usually sit, firmer than he’d be able to if he was hiding a wound like that.

“Shin,” he says, and Shin pulls his gaze up to meet those dark eyes, calm and steadying. “It’s alright. You hear me? All’s well.”

He heaves out a breath he didn’t even know he was holding; feels the edge of the table digging into his side and tries to straighten. The tips of his fingers are buzzing.

“I know,” he says, but it comes out flat as pounded snow trout and Jaren’s eyebrows tug together. Before Shin can so much as clear his throat, Jaren’s pulled a strip of towelling off its hook and is walking away from the stove and basin. He points, firm, towards the bed, and goes for one of the chairs himself, swinging it out from under the table with one foot.

Hesitantly, Shin drifts sideways as directed, sits himself down on the exact same spot as before, bunching up the blanket in his fists before making himself let go and placing his hands on his legs instead, like his father does for talks that carry weight. Jaren’s eyes are on him all the while, even as he’s patting the last of the wet off his face. Concerned, but patient. Letting Shin choose the direction this goes.

He draws in a deep breath. Finds his question. “What happened?”

“Run-in with Fallen,” Jaren says, and then abruptly makes a face. It’s not much – a lopsided tightening around the mouth, a half-shake of the head – but when he casts his eyes upwards in frowning speculation, Shin realises that Jaren knows well his own tendencies and is trying to step around them now. Trying to find the true beginning of the story. “We caught a signal,” he says eventually, “from another Guardian. A new Guardian, close enough to reach on foot.”

Shin straightens, heart fluttering. “They were found near here?”

“Mm. Surprising.” At Shin’s slightly offended look, he clarifies with, “It’s a big world, and strange as it may sound, this part’s not so far out as to be unknown to the Ghosts. Would expect anything worth finding to have been found by now.” He glances towards his own, who merely blinks back at him. “But I guess I should know better. Ground shifts. People move. Someone came up.”

“So the City sent you after them?”

“No, didn’t need to. Common courtesy to lend a gun.” Jaren idly folds the towel in two, drapes it over his shoulder like a domestic doubling of his cloak. “This isn’t a good area for it. Too many Fallen, too few ways to get arms or transport. Not much of the old world around here that hasn’t been already picked through by somebody or another. I knew I was closest, could get to them before the City could send anyone out specific, so I went. Sure enough, there were Fallen on her trail by the time I got there. We ended up bunkering down a while to hold them off.”

“For six days?” Shin says, aghast. Maybe awed. It’s hard to tell what the knot in his chest is.

Jaren actually laughs at that, a flash of open-faced brightness that’s there and gone quick enough to be missed by anyone not already looking at him. “No, nothing close. Was maybe a fourteen hour stretch before someone else came through, chasing the same signal. Helped clear enough room for us to part ways safely. She’ll be settled in the Tower – if she’s not already out on patrol. I came back here.”

Bare bones as they are, Jaren’s words paint a bolder picture than half the stories brought through Palamon’s gates. Shin has seen Jaren Ward on the hunt; has seen the Last Word speak its piece to call silence down on those who would do harm. Fourteen hours is only lesser when compared against six days.

Strange to picture another like Jaren. Impossible, in truth, but the Guardians of the Last City must stand on some common ground. He half wishes he could have seen her to maybe find it in turn. “If she was that close, why didn’t you bring her to town?”

Jaren just raises an eyebrow, and suddenly Shin knows why it took six full turns of the sun for him to return.

“No. That’s not the rule. That’s not how we work anymore,” he says, insistent; his fingers are gripping the fabric of his pants now, and this time he can’t make them let go. “We could- we would have helped.”

“Not a fight Palamon needed,” Jaren says calmly.

“It’s not about our need!”

“Maybe so. Not a fight Palamon could handle, then.”

Shin reels back a little. “And you could, alone?”

“I could make sure I came back alone, with nothing on my trail.”

“That’s little better than Loken’s law-”

“Loken’s lack was compassion, not caution.” As uncompromising as the words are, Jaren’s tone is uncommonly gentle. “Nor can I be said to lack faith. When comes someone in need, I know Palamon will do right by them. I was not in need.”

The armour on the table might say otherwise, but then so too does the man sitting across from him tell a story by simple token of being there, upright and breathing, as no one who takes a wire rifle shot through the chest tends to be. He’s always known Jaren to be more.

“That day. In the court.” It’s vivid now, and he thinks it will be vivid forever: standing at his father’s elbow, knowing that the town’s future is chambered in one of the guns. “Loken couldn’t really have done to you as he was intending, could he?”

Jaren looks at him for long enough that he knows the man understands what he’s asking.

“Depends if he knew what he should be aiming for,” he says at last. “But no. I didn’t figure he could.”

Any man at threat of his life might manage to do well for others in the process of defending it. Jaren had not been in need when he faced Loken down.

Shin rubs his palms against his legs, smoothing out the crumpled fabric. “It a secret?”

“Not one I work to keep.”

“Does it hurt?”

“Which part?”

Shin shrugs a little helplessly. “Any of it?”

“Well.” The Hunter tilts his head thoughtfully and rubs his knuckles briefly against his chest, over the memory of the moment. “I never much enjoy this bit.”

Shin nods, since there doesn’t seem to be anything else to do. Looks up through his lashes and knows he sounds scolding as he says, “Six days is still a long time.”

Jaren’s eyes crease in silent humour. “Spent part of one up a tree.”

“You never.”

He touches curled fingers to his lips, the sign of honest truth, and Shin can’t help but laugh a little. “And that doesn’t count for being in need?”

“Palamon meets many needs.” He lifts the shoulder still covered by the towel. “Hot water being but one.”

“The hot water that’s well into boiling now?”

Jaren says, “Yes,” with such deep resignation that it’s plain he’s been hearing the soft sound of bubbling too, and Shin feels a burst of warmth in his chest for this Guardian who walks wild trails to keep trouble from their gates and forgoes his bath to keep trouble from Shin’s heart.

“We’d have helped,” he says again, needing him to hear it, and Jaren pauses just before rising, hands braced on his knees. Pauses and meets Shin’s eyes, long enough for him to see the same warmth reflected.

“I know,” he says. “Not a wolf alive who doesn’t know the value of his pack.”

And then he drops his towel over Shin’s head with some murmur about sawdust as he passes and neatly sidesteps Shin’s attempts to kick at his ankles, and Jaren’s back, Jaren’s back, Jaren’s home.
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