I own nothing.

As for where I got this random idea, Rhys is one of the three characters who can talk to/be talked to by Shinon in Tor Garen without getting shot. He builds support points quickly with Shinon in Radiant Dawn (source: ). I've always wished the most jerkish and most saintlike member of the Greil Mercenaries had a support, so I made Rank A myself.

Parched

For the third time that night, Rhys realized that his head was pounding.

Which was not an uncommon occurrence, especially when he should by all means be asleep and resting up for the siege tomorrow, not puttering around half-awake looking for something that he was obviously never going to find. He had never functioned well this far past his bedtime – his eyesight took a turn for the worse, and he was sure his hand-eye coordination would be simply abysmal if he had the time or the patience to test it. Plus, the darkness made everything look distressingly similar.

A painful, stabbing dryness in his throat reminded him why he'd dragged himself out of bed in the wee hours. He knew that a gratuitous amount of freshwater was being stored somewhere in the camp; it was just a matter of figuring out where one might hide such a thing, and whether or not he would make it long enough to find it before either collapsing from exhaustion or turning around and allowing his weaker self to steer him in defeat back to his tent.

It was through no fault of his own that Ike seemed to have an unhealthy obsession with working his army to the bone. Even someone without quite as much of a penchant for high fevers would be complaining about the thorough lack of sleep they were receiving before the assault … not only did his passing out on the front lines leave his reckless companions with very little hope once they secured their first fatal wounds of the day – Kieran in particular came to mind – but it was also rather embarrassing to be carried off the battlefield in a dead faint while the others marched away like war heroes.

Rows upon rows of identical tents did not make it any easier to spot the supply tent, although Rhys's memory, already a bit bleary, told him that it was somewhere between his and – Oscar's? No, perhaps Titania's. She always did like to be close to the weapons in case the need arose. Maybe it was Mia's? Oh, goddess, no. The last thing he needed was her leaping out of bed to 'spar' with him because she heard him tiptoeing past her tent…

He came to a junction and experienced the first symptoms of the turning-back mentality he had feared he might adopt. But he was sure of it now; it was either that large brown tent to the left, or that equally as large but somewhat more lopsided one to the left of that one. And if it were neither of those, then it would have to be that one with the large bloodstain on the flap.

If worst came to worst, he reasoned that he might orient himself between Boyd's and Ilyana's tents by comparing the volume of their snoring.

As he cast one last scrutinizing glance in a full circle from his position, just to make sure that everything did, in fact, look the same, Rhys's eyes – slightly more awake, now that he had been walking in a cool breeze for some time – shifted past the path before him and lingered for a moment, mind warning him in an instant that there was something amiss.

Something was moving ahead.

It wasn't an alarming motion, although the sight of it did send Rhys's stomach into what felt like a small series of backflips; it was a small, nearly unnoticeable activity, a spot of blackness shifting far away; vaguely human-shaped, and approaching at a slow, shuffling pace.

It was tall – tall enough to be Oscar, perhaps even Haar, if one were not privy to the wyvern lord's peculiar sleeping patterns… tall, thin, vaguely ominous, weaving slightly now that it was closer. Rhys watched intently, painfully alert, observing with curiosity the uneven, staggering movements, the odd glint of light off of a deep red color and the worn surface of jade leather… and stopped short, a small bubble of uncertainty wavering in his stomach.

He should have known. It was really a shame that their only proficient archer was also the only person in the entire company reckless and irresponsible enough to be out after midnight with an important battle the next day.

The swaying shape moved ever closer. Although his parched mouth demanded the water he'd gotten up to retrieve, Rhys's baser instincts told him to turn around immediately and go back to sleep before he got himself into an even less pleasant situation.

Shinon did not like him. In fact, the archer had told him many times, to his face, every time with a sneer that only became more self-satisfied when he finally destroyed the smile that Rhys worked so hard to maintain… no, he didn't want to deal with Shinon's lack of manners. He was too tired to not get angry, and if he got his blood pressure up now, he would definitely wake up tomorrow with a splitting migraine. And possibly a few arrows in his chest.

The priest had already made to turn around and head back in the direction of his tent when a voice slashed through the air.

"You," Shinon mocked blearily from the darkness, and Rhys's insides twisted a little as he looked down and remembered with both embarrassment and apprehension that even in the blackness, his robes were bright and noticeable. A peacock would be better equipped to avoid someone at night.

He didn't answer, and wondered if he could perhaps keep walking and make it out of the archer's range of sight without harm. Perhaps if he was lucky, he would not be sick all over the grass and make himself even more of an easy target…

A small gagging noise, like a hiccup, followed in the silence.

"Show yerself," Shinon continued, his words oddly inarticulate, "show... show yerself or I'll feather you so fast that… you won't know what's coming…"

The thought of being 'feathered' by someone who could expertly honor the threat sent a queasy squirm through the length of Rhys's spine, and he put his hands up in alarm. "Shinon! That's a bit – a bit extreme. It's only me."

Shinon only uttered a soft 'huh' in reply, and Rhys wondered if he'd spoken loudly enough. He sincerely hoped that the archer was not drawing his weapon, for if he had ever expected to die – not that the thought made him at all happy – it was on the field, going out with some foolish, glorious bang as he tried to heal someone out of his reach, not impaled by a friendly arrow in the middle of camp.

"Shinon, please, I know we're not on the best of terms, but honestly, that's hardly reason to – oh my! What are you – "

"Thock!" the archer mumbled thickly, hands poised as if to release a bowstring, "… right in the throat."

Heart thumping painfully in his chest, Rhys moved forward until the light allowed him to see more clearly. "Shinon? Are you all right? You sound – wait. Where's your bow?"

Shinon was not aiming his imaginary weapon at Rhys. Instead, he had targeted a faraway tent-post, right arm still drawn back, fingers closed peculiarly around the empty lack of an arrow in his hand as he prepared to loose another bolt towards whatever make-believe creature lurked ahead.

At least, Rhys hoped it was make-believe. Having already feared once for his life tonight, he didn't fancy repeating the process.

For the first time that night, the red-haired archer turned unfocused, grey-brown eyes to him and wobbled slightly as he squinted, as if trying to make out an indiscernible image. Rhys leaned back slightly at the peculiar gesture, and it occurred belatedly to him that Shinon, paragon of virtues that he was, was probably drunk.

Of course… that would mean that the pungent odor he smelled on the archer's breath must be strong alcohol of some kind. And all the bobbing and weaving, and hallucinating and firing imaginary bows, perhaps that was another effect of intoxication? Goodness, he needed to get out more.

"Oh, you," Shinon slurred suddenly, making Rhys jump slightly, "I know you. Wish I didn't."

Tactful as usual. Rhys did not know how to deal with a drunken man, but if he was indeed as inebriated as he looked, then the priest should have no trouble simply brushing him off and walking away. And his throat was still dry and uncomfortable; perhaps he could even go on and get that water if he took another, longer route back to his tent…

It would have been a perfect plan, had Shinon not suddenly pitched forward with a loud groan and collided in a stupor with the very alarmed Rhys, who was much too surprised to react, and doubted he could have provided much resistance anyway. He felt nearly embarrassed as they both toppled to the ground that he, while perfectly sober and aware of his surroundings, was still lightweight enough to be knocked down by a raving drunkard.

His immediate concern, after the untold agony of hitting the ground back-first, was that Shinon's elbow was crushing his lungs, and with a small grunt of unease, he managed to push off the archer's dazed weight long enough to scramble quickly to his feet and brush the dirt from his robes. Goddess, he looked so light and graceful, too; moved like a swan on the battlefield… perhaps increased body mass was another odd side effect of heavy drinking.

"Ugh," Shinon muttered, rolling onto his back and pressing the heels of his hands to his eyes. "Head… should'na had that... that last pint…"

"No," Rhys said, "no, you shouldn't have. Good night, Shinon."

Unsurprisingly, Shinon did not loudly protest his leaving. Turning around and adopting as calm a disposition as he could in a futile effort to slow the pace of his heart, Rhys decided to abandon his water entirely and simply go to bed thirsty, dirty-robed, and agitated. To think – his proud streak of nausea-free days spent in the middle of a roaring din of death and blood had been ended by a chance encounter with an unpleasant person.

Rhys had only made it a few steps back before another muted groan from the supine archer made him pause. Shinon began to mutter indecipherably, and from the throaty, guttural noises he was making, he appeared to be very close to throwing up. The momentary worry struck the priest that he didn't appear to be mobile enough to turn onto his side, and if he did decide to be sick, it would certainly be terrible and repulsive if he were to choke on it and suffocate.

"Shinon?" Rhys called softly after a pause, and when the archer didn't respond, "Shinon, are you… oh, goddess. Will you be all right?"

The only response was a lackluster 'pfeh.'

Rhys was sure now that he had seen Shinon like this before… a long time ago, but he had a feeling that abuse of hard liquor was to be expected of him. In fact, didn't Gatrie always talk about 'hitting the tavern,' those vulgar places full of smoke and ale, and – goddess forbid – tavern wenches?

Was this what Shinon did on a regular basis? It was impossible that he enjoyed this kind of thing; he looked so miserable; so pathetic, lying there helpless and unable to move…

Rhys experienced a moment of queasiness – simply shameful, to be thinking that kind of thing about someone so unfortunate. What was he thinking, regarding a comrade in such a degrading manner? Shinon couldn't help the way he was. So he'd had an eventful night. It was done with; there was no sense berating and demeaning him just because he'd made an error in judgment.

But truth told, he did look rather shameful, like a perfect example of where a life of vice could lead a man – and that was what people would say the next morning, when they began to emerge from their tents preparing for the siege. Rhys normally tried to distance himself from that kind of malicious talk, but he did know something of human nature: they'd walk past him and look at him with disgust, because goddess knew no one in the camp liked him all that much… he'd probably have a headache, too, the kind Rhys knew people got after drinking too much the previous night… and an entire night on rough, cold ground? Even if he didn't catch pneumonia, he'd be sore and uncomfortable all day.

And the way people would be rumoring mercilessly about poor drunk Shinon, passed out on the floor like a hopeless cad, can't control his problem, burden on the company and all… it couldn't feel very good to be talked about like that.

Disobeying the inclinations of his drooping eyelids, Rhys doubled back and crouched beside the fallen sniper, trying to work out in his head what might be the best way of getting Shinon to his feet without any major structural damage to himself.

"Come on," he said softly, prodding Shinon's shoulder as he grumbled in feeble protest, "please get up."

"Go'way." All one word, slurred together. Lack of expression or tone made it hard to decipher.

"Just come with me to your tent," Rhys coaxed, "then I promise I'll go away."

Pretending that the ensuing grunt had been 'right ho, friend, away we go,' Rhys managed to sling the sniper's left arm around his shoulders and straighten into a halfway-standing position. He feared he might burst into tears as his back and knees burned in protest, but Shinon somehow decided to take mercy upon his feeble benefactor and took up some of the slack himself. So aided, Rhys managed a quasi-manageable position, in which it did not feel as though the sniper's entire weight were focused on his right shoulder.

Now… where was Shinon's tent?

Rhys oriented himself towards Ike's small pavilion at the head of the camp and began trudging west in a stillness broken only by the occasional grunts of his nearly comatose human baggage.

A while passed as they slogged awkwardly along, not quite in companionable peace but not in unpleasant silence either. Then again, there was hardly another way to describe time spent with Shinon that was not peppered with insults and sour moods. If Rhys was lucky, Shinon would remain coherent enough to do his own walking, but groggy enough not to be able to form the stinging words he was so good at crafting.

"So," the archer began abruptly, shattering Rhys's hopes. "That was… really… I'll tell you wha' that was. That was… wha'sat word? Begins with'an 's'…"

He hunted for the word, and then proclaimed proudly, "…fun."

"You know you shouldn't be out this late," Rhys admonished quietly, despite the knowledge that whatever well-meaning words he uttered would be completely forgotten in the morning.

The solid point of Shinon's chin lolled on his collarbone as the archer rearranged himself. This was unfortunate, as Rhys bruised easily, and would probably have something tomorrow to show for his efforts.

"Wha' bout you?" Shinon retorted, swinging his weight around as if trying to make it as difficult as humanly possible for Rhys to support him. "You're… out late. Li'l Rhys, out all alone at night…"

"I was just getting a drink!" Rhys protested.

"So's I," Shinon fired back shrewdly, and the priest paused. Sharp argument for a dull man.

"All right," he conceded. "But please, be quiet until we get to your tent… I don't want to wake anyone up."

"Damn it!" the archer exploded suddenly, executing another wobble that threatened to take them both to the ground again, and Rhys felt his heart undergo a strange, nauseating fluttering sensation. Not the palpitations again; they never went away once they started, and he couldn't exactly lie down in his current state.

"Shh!" he pleaded as he tried to steady his buckling knees, "Not so loud; the others are trying to sleep – "

"Screw th'others!" Shinon raged, in a tone that had, if possible, increased in volume. "Goddess damn. I hate you."

"I know," Rhys sighed, "come on… please move… I want to go to bed."

"Y'know what I hate 'bout you?" Shinon continued boisterously. Rhys was suddenly afraid that someone might decide to emerge and ridicule his good-natured idiocy in helping someone who obviously did not want the help.

"D'you?" he continued fiercely, "d'you know what's so… so hateable 'bout you?"

Hateable. Hate-able? Was that a word?

"I'd – I'd rather not – "

"I hate," the archer interrupted, and Rhys wondered what had been the point in asking him in the first place. Shinon took a while to decide on the right words, but before long finished in an aggravated drawl. "… tha' there ain't nothing about you ta' hate."

Rhys nearly dropped him. "What?"

"You 'eard me."

Rhys simply couldn't think of anything to say. The bewildered silence extended.

"I try… so hard," Shinon persisted, swaying a bit and nearly losing his footing. "But yer not... not like Ike. Naw… can't hate poor li'l Rhys…"

"Surely you're joking."

"Simple Rhys," Shinon continued bitterly and obliviously, "never a bad bone in 'im, virtuous to the last, like some kinda saint… Rhys, Rhyyyyys… wha' kinna name'sat anyway… no vowels, dammit…"

Rhys was a bit affronted when he had deciphered Shinon's mumblings. It was a pure Crimean name, thank you very much; no strange Gallic lengthenings or Begnionic abruptness like, say, 'Shinon.' The very nerve of some people.

"Yer so fu – yer so damn weird," Shinon complained hazily, and with another sigh, Rhys readjusted his grip to relieve his aching shoulder and tried to move faster without tripping over the archer's dragging feet.

"… look at you," Shinon slurred with no small touch of contempt, "all… pasty and scrawny…"

"Yes, you mentioned that," Rhys murmured.

"Ikey's lost it, stupid little whelp," Shinon seethed, "puttin' a skinny softie up where the big boys are fighting. Idiot pup's got no right…"

Shinon spared the breath for a hiccup and a cough, which was nearly violent enough to throw Rhys off balance and bring them down yet again. Luckily, Shinon's arm managed to stay fastened around the nape of his robes, and saved him from a painful incident.

"Yes, thank you, but as you can see, we're hardly making progress – "

Shinon continued obliviously, head drooping over Rhys's shoulder. "… 'fit were up to me, I'd keep you off the field. But noooo… you always gotta be up there, bein' a hero, savin' people, blah blah blah… gives me a damn headache."

"Shinon, can you please – oof! – do some of the walking yourself? I can hardly lift a heal staff as it is…"

"Why?" the archer demanded with narrowed eyes.

"Er," said Rhys, confused, "because I'm very tired, and you're quite heavy?"

"No, idiot," he snapped. "What the hell's so great about Ikey and his misfits, anyway? "

"Oh… well… that's not fair, is it – ?"

"What's the deal, eh?" Shinon persisted groggily. "What's so great that you gotta go all suicidal an' get yer ass kicked on the front line, just to make sure they don't get 'emselves killed? Self-preservation, man. You don't have it, and… and it pisses me off!"

The archer uttered a derisive 'hmph,' and gave an extra-dramatic slump. "Hell with'em, s'what I say. They ain't worth your time."

"What? How can you – " Rhys paused. "Well… I suppose I really shouldn't be surprised you feel that way. Ike once told me you wouldn't tell him you smelled smoke if he were on fire."

"S'not right," Shinon complained, "s'not right at all. Guy like you… gettin' cut up and bloody just cause yer a damn goody-goody 'n don't know your own limits…"

"You know, I do it for you as well," Rhys pointed out, "a lot more often than the others, if you think about it."

It was true – Shinon had the strange ability to rub people he'd never met in the wrong way. Perhaps it was that he simply oozed smugness and arrogance on the battlefield, especially after achieving a spectacular headshot or some other gruesome accomplishment, but Rhys had no doubt that even Boyd and Kieran, easily the two most hasty and irresponsible members of their company, would have to join forces to surpass Shinon in number of injuries and terminal flesh wounds.

"Besides," he added when Shinon made as if to complain further, "they're my friends. You have friends, right? People you care about? You might not admit it, but… you'd probably do that too, for your loved ones."

"Pah," Shinon scoffed, "where the hell d'you get this crap. Loved ones. What a damn joke."

Rhys flushed in the darkness. "… if you say so… you really shouldn't be so full of hate."

"You stupid saint," Shinon snapped, "they're not your fu – not your damn 'loved ones.' Ike's takin' advantage of you, s'what he's doing… exploiting your weakness. Your damn niceness. Using your good nature to 'is own advantages. Nothin' valiant about that, eh?"

"Don't say things like that. I don't understand why you don't trust Ike, but – "

"Shut up," Shinon snarled, and Rhys fell abruptly silent, feeling awkward and slightly afraid. "'Sa simple thing, Rhys. Don't be thick. Stop layin' down and lettin' 'im hurt you. Don't let 'im drag you down with'im when he gets careless, just to save 'is own stinking hide…Goddess! Yer stupider than you look… I'm saying stop throwing yerself out there. Stay 'hind us, like yer supposed to… keep those robes clean. Blood doesn't look good on white."

"Goodness," Rhys mumbled, trying to fight down a sudden pang of queasiness.

"I ain't kidding," the archer persisted, swinging around to jab a clumsy finger into Rhys's chest, "stoppit. Makes me mad. Gets me all ansty; can't draw the bowstring when I'm antsy… gave me a damn ulcer th'other day when you ran up all outta nowhere an' tried to stitch me up in the middle of a damn wave…"

"That's hardly something to complain about," Rhys interrupted, batting away Shinon's hand. "And if you honestly want me to get off the vanguard, then please… try not to get gutted quite so often."

A moment passed in silence.

"What're you babblin' about?"

"Well," Rhys began apologetically, "I don't know if you've noticed, but… Ike isn't really the problem. He isn't nearly so careless with himself as you are. I mean, even Kieran knows to get out of the way when someone runs at him with a machete…"

Shinon paused contemplatively, and Rhys prayed to Ashera that the archer would not be offended and take a swing at him – he'd already tackled him once by accident, and would probably squash him like a fly if he actually took the time to aim and wind up.

Instead, Shinon turned his head to Rhys with narrowed eyes, sending his way a whiff of something vulgar, and tottered dangerously.

"So…" Shinon wavered, "you're saying… that the reason you throw yerself around on the field like a damn fool… is me?"

"At the risk of simplifying the – er, the issue, I suppose that's true. Oh, but it's not that I think you're reckless, or lacking in judgment, or anything!" Which he was. "I'm glad to be of service and all – "

"So lemme get this straight," Shinon said groggily, expertly ignoring him, "…if I quit gettin' speared and shot and whatnot all the time… you'll quit bein' stupid, and stay outta range?"

"Well, if that's how you want to put it, then – "

"Deal, kid. Shake on it."

"I doubt you have the dexterity to coordinate a handshake, Shinon – " The archer had already extended a swaying hand. Rhys sighed and took it tentatively. "All right. Couldn't hurt, I suppose. I will miss the puncture wounds, though. Eh, maybe not…"

"That ain't funny," Shinon snapped. "Where the hell's my damn tent… been walkin' too long."

"Just a little further."

True to his word, Rhys assured that the next minute saw them standing before a half-fastened tent flap, which he recognized by the large taped-up slash on its right side. He lowered Shinon precariously through the opening before stooping through himself, and immediately had to dive to catch the archer as he lost his balance.

Shinon went down before Rhys could slow his descent, hitting the hard tent-floor with a loud thud. Deciding that it was the best place for him and that he could cause no further harm to himself, the priest searched the room with squinted eyes, eventually spotting the shapeless blob at the other end that was a fast-asleep and loudly-snoring Gatrie.

Amazing… the man called himself Shinon's best friend, and yet simply couldn't be bothered to check up on him when he didn't turn in that night.

There was a rolled-up canvas sleeping bag leaning against the tent-wall amidst a myriad of derelict bows, mangled bowstrings, and a clutter of broken arrows, and Rhys could only assume that this was Shinon's side of the tent. After he had unrolled the bag to some semblance of a place where one might be inclined to spend the night, Rhys turned to the archer, who had staggered to his feet by grabbing a handful of the tent wall.

"Stop that," Rhys chided, "you'll make it collapse. Gatrie wouldn't be very happy, would he?"

Gatrie would probably sleep through it.

"Come on… easy, now. Over here…"

Thanks to the priest's aid, Shinon sank, not crashed, to the ground, extending his hands like a blind man and feeling before him in the darkness for the sleeping bag.

"Head hurts," he complained dully.

"I know," Rhys replied gently, "perhaps next time you'll be less inclined to ingest quite so much hard liquor."

"Uh," Shinon groaned, and pressed two fingers to the bridge of his nose. "Hey, Rhys… aren't you s'posed to be able to… y'know, do something 'bout it?"

"About what? Your headache? Well – first of all, I don't have my heal staff; I left it goddess-knows-where on the other side of the camp. And I'm not very good with internal maladies; you know that. Besides, what good would it do you? You'll never learn that way; I'd be doing you a disservice…"

He was cut off by another soft, long-suffering moan from Shinon. "Argh. Feels like my goddessdamn head's splitting open…"

The archer loosed another grunt and turned onto his side with a quiet 'whatever', muttering deliriously, one hand clasped over the back of his neck, fingers still pinching the bridge of his nose, an expression of helpless discomfort contorting his features.

Rhys's heart softened, and he stopped Shinon against his better judgment. "No, wait… I suppose it really wouldn't serve any purpose to… to leave you in pain."

Shinon didn't reply. Rhys could only assume that pride would not let him acknowledge this service, and encountered no resistance when he placed a palm over the archer's forehead.

He closed his eyes and concentrated on focusing his magic without the aid of either his staff or the inflamed forces of the battlefield to aid the process. It was strange and frightening to have such a small source of magic upon which to draw – he wished that he could be half the mage Soren was; then it would not be so daunting to rely on his own meager reserve. He usually carried his staff religiously, strung up on his belt like a sword, and felt terrifyingly vulnerable when faced with the difficult task of gathering and expending the energy he would probably need just to get back to his tent.

"I'm sorry my hands are so cold," he said quietly, just loudly enough to be heard and not to throw off his concentration, "I haven't been feeling very good myself, lately…"

"Then get outta here," Shinon muttered.

Rhys shushed him, and a moment later felt the healing magic bridge the gap between his palm and Shinon's forehead. Assaulted for a split-second by empathy of the archer's piercing migraine, he focused on dispelling the angry red wisps of pain flitting through his mind, and broke the connection as soon as he had dulled the ache to the best of his ability.

"There. That should hold you over until you fall asleep…"

There was no answer. Shinon was already out cold.

The vague thought struck him that the archer's clothes must be dirty from spending so much time on the ground, and that he had neglected to take off his boots, which must be simply caked in dirt and mud and goddess knew what, but at the same time came the thought that he had already done more than he should for his hapless comrade, and was most certainly not going to add the embarrassment – and possible danger of violence tomorrow – of undressing him.

Rhys got to his feet, flinching as his knees, hampered so long by Shinon's added bulk, readjusted to his feather weight, and made his way once more to the tent flap. Only when he had to stoop to clear the entrance did he realize how truly exhausted he was, although the trauma of dealing with Shinon had probably numbed him to the fatigue.

However, much more gratifying than the sudden weariness was the absence of dryness or discomfort in the back of his throat. He was no longer thirsty. Strange – he'd never known his healing magic to have a personal effect.

Burdened once again by the lack of sleep, his deteriorating consciousness began to dwell on some of their other chance encounters – say, the countless times he'd had to pull arrows out of Shinon's shoulder, when the red-haired archer had not sworn nearly as violently as he did when others came to perform the act; the select times he had wrenched the bow from Shinon's very hands to prevent yet another brawl and had come away curiously unscathed; even a few instances he could remember in which Shinon had shoved him roughly out of the path of a crossbow bolt when he'd gotten too close to enemy lines in a desperate bid to save the archer's life.

Assailed once more by a gust of cold air, Rhys shivered, hugged himself, and began the agonizing trek past hundreds of identical tents back to his own sleeping quarters.

End