Keeping watch over the small group for the night, my eyes keep coming back to rest on the sleeping form of a teenaged boy. After a moment of considering, I look away, look back into the wilderness around the campsite.
There's a small fire going behind me, but I don't need the light to see. It's not very dark to me, my night vision having grown far better with a painful transformation. In fact, because of that transformation, I don't need to see. I would hear any threat from quite a ways off.
There's really no reason for me not to be looking at him. Only the blond girl might see; however, she pretends to be sleeping, her breathing the only thing that gives her away. There are times when I feel that I can hear too much and too well for my own good. So many painful sounds that will forever be burned into my mind...
The crying of child.
The screams of a dying woman.
I shake myself mentally, glancing over to my companion. I'd missed him, I realize. Fourteen years aren't much, not to us, but these fourteen years... It is good to have him by my side again. And I want him to protect the boy for me. I couldn't do that. There are times when I doubt that I could ever do that.
It was a shame I had to live with, yet a shame that never faded. I couldn't protect this boy. I'd nearly allowed him to die once. If there hadn't been another to save him and take him in...
There had been a time when I had thought him truly dead. Yet when I saw him alive, wonderfully alive...
I am a coward, I tell myself again, as I tell myself most every night I think about him. I can do nothing for him. He gets annoyed at me sometimes, which is more than I deserve.
I want to be his father.
It's strange, I know it is. If he knew, I wonder how he would react? Would he push me away? If he thought I was serious, it was likely. Would he just laugh it off and say I was weird again? Likely as well. Would he speak of the dwarf, the only father he knew?
Of course he would.
The role of father is not one I would fit into. Not for him. I am a companion, a friend, and sometimes less than that. He doesn't need me to be proud of him in the way only a father can be. He already has that.
It doesn't change that I am, though. I look at this sleeping teenager, this young man, and I can see him so clearly as an infant. He has grown so quickly, and into a person who it would be impossible for me not to be proud of.
I love him. Every time he smiles at me, my mood lifts. How could it not, now that it has become so dependent on his. Every time he speaks of his dwarven crafting skills or quotes one of those sayings that even he finds irksome, he shows how proud his is of the man he calls his dad. It's absurd that he would call me that name, and I don't ever expect him to. But I wish I could teach him something, a skill he would be proud of. I want to do that, to give myself the chance that someday, someone would ask who taught him that and he would speak of me, be as proud of me as he is of his dwarven father.
That man is one who does deserve respect, far more than I do. The single act of feeding the boy for years was impressive. When we were moving around, all those years ago, I had honestly feared he would starve at times. He was so small, so very tiny. He needed me. For everything, he needed me.
I want him to admire me. I want him to look up to me. I want to stand by his side and guard his back. The last one is the only one I have even a hope of achieving and I've been doing a horrible job of it so far.
I should be happy with our relationship as it is. I can't expect anything more from him. It wouldn't be fair for me to do so. I know this, and yet...
Looking away from the boy at last, I find that my old friend has been watching me watch him. Not wanting to explain myself, I turn my gaze upwards to the stars, possibly reminding him of all the nights we would count them together. For all our differences, it is good to have him with me again. When one lives for thousands of years, they want a friend beside them who won't fade away into the mists of death.
Even though I no longer look at him, I listen to his breathing, having singled it out from the patterns of his friends. He has grown so quickly, so much in fourteen years. Oh yes, he is still very much a child -- if he weren't, my hope would fade -- but he won't be for much longer. He is learning about the world. He will learn so little.
We have so little time, even should he wish to keep me beside him. Sixty years more, if I don't fail him first, we could have.
He would see that I do not age. He would see that I refuse to pass away and manage it, unlike everyone else he knows. How would he react? He would probably be thrilled first, resentful after, bored last. Is he even capable of resentment? He has to be. Everyone is.
But when I look at him, sleeping there...
He is special. I know that as a matter of course, I cannot allow myself to be attached to those with such short life spans. I was once, and I threatened to break me. This boy, however, gets through everything. He is young, he is flawed, and I love him for it. He will always be young to me. He will always be flawed, those flaws making him human, something I am most definitely not. Humans don't live thousands of years, not unless they become something else than human. Something greater and far less than human. My boy is human, and I am proud of him for it.
There is so much that he doesn't understand. Someday, he'll realize that his best friend and teacher are half-elven. I doubt he'll care. I don't know what I find so praiseworthy for him being human. Perhaps that he shows humanity's potential, the side of it so seldom seen. Perhaps because, with his acceptance of all, I wonder if it means he would accept me, the way I wish for him to do. And I wish for it so much, so selfishly.
I love him.
I want to be his father, the kind of father that he deserves.
I will always love him, and I will always want that.
I will never be loved in return, not that way. I know in my heart, not even he could look at me as a child looks at his father.
I would like to say that it doesn't matter. I would like to say that I would be satisfied, if only he were happy. He is my boy, as he is no one else's.
But, truly, I am not his father. Not in any way that matters, not in any way but that in my own mind.
Into the night air, I sigh. In a thoughtless attempt at comfort, my companion scratches the fur between my ears.
The boy already has two fathers. He doesn't need three.