THE GAMES OF CHILDHOOD

D M Evans

Disclaimer - We all know who they belong to and it ain't me. I'm just happy Mr. Whedon lets us play with them every so often

Rating - PG-13

Feedback - if you'd be so kind,

Pairings - none since let's see, Connor's not quite 6 and the only other human around is Holtz

Time line - Technically ATS S3 with that Quor-Toth time dilation

Summary - Holtz teaches Connor a new game.

Author's Note #1 - This is written for the Behind the Scenes ficathon. The behind the scene I chose is from this scene in "Magic Bullet"

Author's Note #2 - There will be 4 chapters to this story

ANGEL
How old were you when you realized you could track like this?

CONNOR
I don't know. Five, six. We didn't exactly celebrate birthdays in Quor-Toth. Holtz made up a game so I could practice.

ANGEL
What do you mean he'd hide things for you to find?

CONNOR
Kind of. He'd tie me to a tree and then run away

(transcript courtesy of )

Author's Note #2 - Thanks to Kat for the beta.

CHAPTER ONE

Steven woke, trying not to cry. He shoved a fist against his lips, shaking all over. The dream had been so real. The demons nearly got him. He had smelled the reek of their breath, felt droplets of drool flecking his skin. The demons were so big. The Drani demons made him feel incredibly tiny, both in life and in dreams. He knew the fear he was tasting was dangerous but he couldn't help it.

Steven shut his eyes, but still all he could see were the Drani demons. He couldn't stop the trembling that shook him from head to toe. He opened his eyes, glancing once at his father across the room. Father slept soundly. They had taken over a Hisma tree home. Once they had thrown out the Hisma demon's bedding, and rid the place of its stink, it was more comfortable than the cave they had been living in.

Steven clutched Dover to him, the leather doll stuffed with Saldre fur that he had had as long as the boy could remember. The leather was shiny and worn in spots and the fur Dover had for hair was patchy from years of being snuggled with. Steven had very few toys and Dover was his favorite, even if Father said he was too big a boy to need Dover any more.

"Father," Steven whispered but his father slumbered on. "Father!"

Holtz's eyes opened. "Steven, what's wrong?"

"My dreams..." Steven didn't know how to explain it. He never did when his dreams were haunted. He tried to explain on past nights about his bad dreams. Father always said they couldn't hurt him and he was too old to be afraid of them. "Can I stay with you?"

Holtz nodded, and Steven gathered up his bedding and Dover. He made a nest of the bedding next to his father and snuggled up, bunching his furred blanket around him and Dover. Holtz dropped his arm around Steven, holding the boy close. "You're getting to be a big boy now, Steven, almost six. You're getting too old to be running to me when you have a bad dream."

"I know, Father." Steven trembled, afraid he'd be banished back to his side of the room. "Just tonight."

Holtz rubbed Steven's back. "For tonight, but you have to learn to be brave, Steven."

"Yes, Father," the boy replied not really wanting to be brave all the time. Sometimes he just wanted his father to take care of him. Sometimes he didn't like growing up.

"The larder's getting empty," Holtz said, opening the backpack that carried most of their food supply. He handed a strip of smoked meat to Steven.

The boy munched contentedly, the strong muscles of his little jaw working. Steven turned his face into the wind, breathing deep. He sifted through the scents then pointed. "That way. Rock Hoppers."

Holtz nodded, happy with that news. The slow-witted creatures reminded Holtz of deer in looks and almost in taste. One Hopper, properly smoked, would last them weeks. "Can you take me there, Steven?"

The boy breathed deeply. This would be easy. Their scent was strong. Tracking them would be easier than the game Father had made up for him to practice. Holtz had taken to hiding bits of clothing or weaponry near the home for Steven to sniff out. Keeping silent count to mark the time, Holtz tracked Steven's progress as his skills honed. Steven received little rewards for it. His favorite was honey. Father said the bluish viscous liquid they found in the nests of the Reeciyres, a little buzzing creature, tasted something like honey of home and thus named it so. It was very sweet and favored by Rock Hoppers and Steven alike.

They readied for a hunting trip, and Steven led the way to the valley between two rocky outcroppings. They needed to get to the Rock Hoppers before the creatures could get to the rocks. Father couldn't follow them there. Holtz waved Steven forward. The boy would scare the Hoppers and try to steer them toward Father. It was easy to do. The rush that came with stalking his prey, the feel of the weapon in his hand, the smell of blood, the sense of satisfaction after the kill, everything about hunting appealed to the boy. It was his favorite thing to do.

Steven kept to the high grasses and shrubbery. He had his knife at the ready just in case one of the Hoppers decided to dart at him instead of the other direction like they were supposed to. Steven looked to see if Father was ready. He saw Holtz standing, his bow arched back awaiting his target. Oh, how Steven coveted that bow. He wanted one of his own, but Father maintained he was still too small. Steven argued long and bitterly and eventually got cobbed for being too willful. He couldn't sit comfortably for two days afterwards.

The boy popped up, screaming loudly. The horned quadrupeds bellowed and bolted. There was no way he could control all of them but he didn't need to do that. All he really needed was to get a handful of them to go in Father's direction and make sure he, himself, kept out of range of the arrows. Steven concentrated on a particularly fat one, driving her hard into Father's range.

Steven was rewarded by the sound of the bowstring and seeing the plump Hopper fall. She was still struggling to get up when he raced to her side. Managing to avoid her horns, Steven grabbed one horn, away from the sharp end, putting a foot on her shoulder. Jerking her head back by the horn, he bent down and slit her throat, standing out of the arterial spray. She stopped struggling almost immediately. He waited proudly for Holtz to make his way to their kill.

"She's so big, Father!" Steven bopped up and down, thrilled.

Holtz smiled and ruffled Steven's hair. "Indeed she is. Well done." Holtz tied a stout rope to the dead creature and started dragging it back to their encampment.

Steven fell in step with him. He took a mental measure of himself against his father. Holtz had promised him a bow as soon as his head reached Father's hip. He was so close to being tall enough, Steven could feel the bow in his hands. He got up on tip toes as he trotted and measured by hand. Father looked down at him, bemused.

"What are you up to, son?"

"I'm big enough now, Father! I can have a bow." Steven grinned.

Holtz laughed and put a hand on Steven's head. He forced the boy to go flat-footed. "Almost, son, but not quite."

Steven's chin jutted out. "But Father!"

"You're still too little," Holtz said more sternly.

Steven pouted and tramped ahead of his father until Holtz whistled him back. He gave his son a look that Steven knew well as a warning. It didn't stop him from sulking all the way back. He tossed himself to the grass and watched Father string up the Hopper. Usually Steven helped haul but he was mad, so he sat there, cross-armed, glaring.

"Do you want to dress out the Hopper, Steven?" Holtz glanced back at him.

Steven pushed his lip out further but got up.

"You do the belly. I'll open the chest once I get the fire started," Holtz said.

Once Father was occupied with setting the fire to smoke the meat, Steven hopped up and buried his knife in the cartilage between rib and breast bone, and sliced down with all his strength. Blood oozed as intestines pushed out. "See Father? I'm big enough to do it all by myself." He gestured to the carcass with his blade.

Holtz turned, in a squat over the fire ring. "Enough, Steven. I said you're not big enough to draw a bow yet."

"I am, too." Steven stomped his foot.

Holtz raised an eyebrow. "Steven, do I need to send you to cut yourself a switch?"

Steven's lips trembled. His backside twinged at the memory of the last paddling. "No, Father."

"I didn't think so." Holtz's eyes hardened just a hint. "f you're the big boy you're saying you are, you can start taking out the sweetmeats."

Steven tore out the organs with a vengeance, surrendering them to Father for cooking. He didn't get any honey because Father didn't like his attitude. That night Steven tried dangling himself by the ankles out of their tree home while holding a shirt full of rocks to stretch himself to gain that precious bit of height he needed. In the end, when he wouldn't come inside and behave, he had to cut the switch.