The Greatest Gift of All
By Bishop Sasarai
Shinon hated the holidays. He hated everything about them; the stupid carols Mist and Rolf and everybody kept singing in the halls, the way everyone seemed immensely more cheerful—which translated to immensely more annoying to Shinon—and the way that everyone insisted on getting each other stupid little gifts. Which meant that Shinon had to get gifts for everyone else, because he was sure to receive them, and he would be called a scrooge and a blackheart if he didn't get them all something in return. The part that made Shinon even more grouchy was the fact that though he knew exactly the sorts of things to get everyone, he hated how they would get all sappy and sentimental when he gave them their gifts, saying things like, "I knew you had a heart in there somewhere, Shinon!" This sort of talk embarrassed the hell out of him. He didn't like being known for a soft heart. Rather, he wanted to be known as a good archer and mercenary. There was nothing more needed from him.
Consequently, because it was the damn holidays, Shinon had gotten together quite the pile of gifts in his closet. There was a sweater in Oscar's favorite color he'd gotten for very cheap several months ago. There was powder and cleaning supplies for Boyd's precious ax. There was a bow he had made himself for Rolf. There were various trinkets and useful doo-dads for the girls; but nothing that would suggest he was thinking of them in a romantic sense. Shinon hadn't wanted to get Ike anything at all, but he'd managed to find one of those stupid little food baskets for him at the last moment. Soren, of course, got books. Rhys got one of those stupid little tea basket sets he was so fond of. And Gatrie… Well, Shinon had taken the gifts out and spread them out on his bed, staring gloomily at the procession and feeling quite let down.
He couldn't think what to get Gatrie, and tomorrow was Christmas.
Shinon had assumed Gatrie would be the easiest person to purchase a Christmas gift for, and so had left him to last. Not to mention, if Shinon ran out of money, Gatrie would be the most understanding. Still, Shinon had no intentions of giving him nothing. He couldn't do that.
He had thought about simply taking the man out for dinner, but that was no good. He would look like a cheapskate bastard, and everyone would say he'd never take Gatrie out for dinner; he'd end up making Gatrie pay. Besides this ringing with truth, Shinon had also been feeling fairly restless around Gatrie lately. As a result, he'd been drinking far too much the past few days, feeling a strong desire to be inebriated rather than fess up to himself a longing for the thick-headed knight whose room he unfortunately shared. Plus, going out to dinner with just Gatrie at this point would feel too much and too uncomfortably like a date, though they had done this often enough in the past.
Shinon had a hard time pin pointing the exact moment he'd started to realize he had developed feelings beyond that of friendly companionship with Gatrie. It seemed the two of them had shared a room together, constantly saw each other in various states of undress, and fought side by side or alone together on missions for forever, but this length of time of no such feelings made no difference on how strongly he felt them now. And it rightly put Shinon in a terrible mood. He did not want to have feelings for anyone, least of all his girl-obsessed moron of a roommate.
Shinon spent a great deal of time training his eye and aim. He oversaw Rolf, grateful for the distraction the little brat—he thought this of him with great affection—provided him from those penetrating thoughts of Gatrie. And the more that he dwelled on those thoughts, the more he realized that he could pinpoint the moment quite clearly. He'd merely wished to stomp the memory from his mind.
It seemed one night he had a vivid dream of the two of them; naked and pressed to one another, breath coming in short gasps, feelings of incredible pleasure washing over him. He'd woken up feeling breathless, and also mortified. He'd sat up quickly, his face burning hot in the darkness of their bedroom. He could hear the soft snoring of Gatrie in the bed across from him, and for some reason, even this most casual of noises caused another wave of lust to engulf him. He had glared over at Gatrie's sleeping form, barely a lump in the dark, and cursed the hell out of him. It had taken what felt like hours for him to calm his excited body and drift back into sleep. The whole time, he kept reliving moments from the dream, usually the more erotic parts, which only served to make him wake up all over again. He dared not touch himself, either, because that would only mean giving in to that stupid dream, and he refused to do so.
After that dream, which had taken place a few weeks ago, Shinon had become decidedly more distant to Gatrie, who seemed very confused by this sudden change in Shinon's behavior. The poor, stupid fellow merely wanted to chat amiably with him as he always did after breakfast, and Shinon had irately shooed him away, saying he had to concentrate on his aim. Even after Gatrie had protested that Shinon had no need to improve his aim, Shinon had missed the target altogether and knocked out one of the windows of the fort. That had cost him a huge argument with Mist about cleaning it up and paying for it, which resulted in the loss of wages for Shinon that week. It had all been very irritating.
After that incident, Shinon had taken to drinking heavily every other night, it seemed. Nobody could understand why, they knew he drank heavily around the date of Greil's death; he had taken it very hard, and being as emotionally stunted as he was, he was still dealing with it inappropriately. But it wasn't that time of year, and nobody could think why he was suddenly getting plastered so regularly, least of all Gatrie, who they all seemed to be going to in query. Gatrie, in turn came to Shinon, wondering why just as much as they all were. He couldn't understand why he didn't know, after all, of all the people in the Greil Mercenaries, Gatrie had considered Shinon his closest friend, and thought it ran the same for Shinon.
Shinon hated how that stupid dream and the new feelings got in the way of an old friendship like that. But he could see just how much trouble would ensue if he were to give in to what his body seemed to demand, and that was Gatrie's body under his. Gatrie would certainly take exception to it, and what was Shinon to do then? He'd have only Rolf to turn to, and Rolf was a dumb little kid. It was true that Shinon had an especially soft spot for the kid; he loved how pure and dumb he was. And he found himself thinking right after that, that Gatrie was just as pure and dumb as any kid. It must have been this that made him so appealing. It didn't help that Gatrie was achingly handsome, as well. No wonder women used him so frequently, Shinon mused once, gazing at Gatrie one night over dinner. He was dumb enough for them to walk all over, but not bad looking in the bargain. A real damn catch, he was.
Shinon had turned away from watching Gatrie to find Soren's shrewd eyes on him, and this put him in a foul mood straight away. He knew how Soren's mind worked. If the little creep didn't already know, he would deduce it in only a short amount of time. And if he told Ike… Shinon stabbed his meat with such ferocity that Boyd laughed at him and asked if he'd had a bad day. And Mist jokingly replied that all Shinon's days were bad. This only made Shinon all the more crabby. He shortly left the table, wishing to knock the table and its contents on the ground.
Outside, Shinon swore in every colorful word he knew, and he kicked the boot cleaner beside the door, which only made his foot sore, which caused more swearing. A moment later, Gatrie appeared in the doorway, looking after him with his brow furrowed, one hand on the doorjamb, the other raking his blonde hair back.
"Shinon? You all right?"
"Oh, just dandy!" Shinon said, swinging back to Gatrie with murder in his eyes and very nearly punching his best friend in the face. Gatrie only looked somewhat taken aback, for his credit. He was more used to Shinon than anyone else. "I've got bad dreams haunting me, my aim is getting worse, my work performance is shot to hell, I've got people laughing at me right in front of my face and my foot feels like I've dropped a twenty pound weight on it! But no, I feel just dandy! No, no! I feel all right. I'm all right, Gatrie."
Shinon stormed savagely away from the Greil Fort, marching off to the outskirts of it, Gatrie, of course, hot on his heels.
"Go away, will you?!" Shinon slashed a hand violently in the air, trying to shoo Gatrie off. But loyal dog that he was, Gatrie wasn't going any where. Shinon could see it by the set of his face. "Fine, stay. Remain. Have fun."
Shinon kept walking until he was well outside of the Greil Fort, and he finally stopped at a bend in the road. He sat on the large stone that stood conveniently beside a sign proclaiming this village was that way and that village was this way. He crossed his arms and sulked in silence for a long time, wishing he had something to drink. Even as he was thinking it, Gatrie was thrusting it under his nose. Shinon took it gladly, its top was already off, and Shinon took several long gulps of it before lowering it again.
"What's wrong, Shinon?" Gatrie wanted to know.
"Nothing's wrong. Everything's wrong. The Goddess hates me. The universe hates me. Everyone damn well hates me."
"You do make it easy."
Shinon fumed at this, taking another long, angry swallow, and then several more besides. The thought of Gatrie jumping on the HATE SHINON bandwagon had never before occurred to him, and the prospect didn't sit well with him now. He suddenly jumped from the rock and thrust the bottle into Gatrie's hands, wavering only slightly as he started off down the road again. Gatrie hurried alongside him, lightly grabbing his elbow as he kept pace with the tipsy Shinon.
"Shinon. The fort's that way."
"So? What if I don't want to go back to that miserable fort?" Shinon felt only a little tipsy. Still, he was surprised he was feeling so tipsy so soon. He peered at the bottle in Gatrie's hands, grabbing it to steady it and read it. He couldn't concentrate on it. "What's it say?"
"Right. Right, nice. Thank you, Gatrie," Shinon said sarcastically, clapping a hand on Gatrie's shoulder and swaying again. Gatrie put out a hasty hand to Shinon's waist to steady him. "Now I'm gonna be plastered. Thaaank you."
His head lolled across Gatrie's rather pleasant smelling chest. Gatrie was pulling Shinon around to go the opposite way down the road. Shinon stalked down the road to the fort, feeling that if he was going to have to go back, he could do it on his damn well own. He took several strides before feeling his stomach contents upsetting. He slowed his walk. His stomach was still revolting. By now, Gatrie had caught up. He knew the look Shinon was displaying very well. He backed away a few steps, and sure enough, Shinon was on his knees, vomiting in a bush. Gatrie was sorry he'd brought the alcohol by now. He knelt beside Shinon and placed a hand on his back.
"It's okay, buddy. You'll be all right."
Shinon stayed where he was for a long moment, his back and shoulders, every part of him really, tensing under Gatrie's friendly touch. It didn't help when Gatrie began making soothing circular motions. Shinon smacked Gatrie's hand away and stumbled to a standing position.
He started walking to the fort again, but Gatrie could see he wasn't going to make it very far. Just before Shinon passed out, Gatrie caught him and he ended up having to carry the drunken archer on his back all the way back to the fort.
When Shinon woke the next morning, sunlight was piercing his eyes, and he squinted up at the too bright light, shading his eyes and then rolling over on his side. He felt awful. His mouth was dry as if he'd slept with a cotton ball in his mouth. His eyes were also dry and probably red, barely wanting to open at all. His stomach was sore and his foot still ached from when he'd kicked the boot cleaner. Most painfully, his head was pounding like there was some small creature in there trying to get out. Shinon winced and closed his eyes once more.
A few moments later, he felt someone prodding his shoulder, and he forced his eyes open once more. Rhys stood before him, a tea kettle in hand. Behind him, Gatrie held a tray with some food and cups. Shinon closed his eyes again, groaning as he placed his hands over his eyelids.
"Leave me alone."
"I think not," Rhys said, gently disapproving. "You're going to have to stop this, Shinon. You're going to kill yourself…"
"And what's so bad about that?" Shinon snarled, opening his eyes again and nearly causing Rhys to fall back in shock. He certainly hadn't been expecting Shinon to behave as an ill mannered rabid dog. Still, he looked so worried at Shinon, that Shinon felt bad for scaring him. Shinon looked over at Gatrie, who was not even looking at Shinon, but down at his tray of goods. Shinon's gaze came back to rest on Rhys.
"Fine. Whatever. I'll stop." For now, he added silently as his eyes slid back to the bright sunlight shining through the window. "Just give me some of your damn tea."
Rhys obediently poured Shinon some tea as he requested so politely, and he set it down on the little chest of drawers that sat beside Shinon's bed. Shinon didn't take it immediately. Rhys watched Shinon for a moment, concerned for Shinon, for this behavior was more extreme than usual. He at first though Shinon might be coming down ill, but seeing Shinon's strange expressions, he thought perhaps it was instead something emotional. They all knew of Shinon's moodiness, but Rhys suspected this moodiness came from Shinon being a highly sensitive and emotional person who hid it behind irrational anger and annoyance. He didn't think he could do anything for this type of thing except speak with him.
"Shinon… If you need to talk…"
"Yeah, yeah. I know, you're here for me."
Rhys didn't take offense to this rebuff, and instead smiled kindly and somewhat sadly at Shinon. Shinon wasn't even going to consider lightening his burden. Rhys turned away and patted Gatrie on the shoulder.
"Make sure he drinks it," was all he said, before leaving the two alone in the room. Shinon refused to look at Gatrie at all. He seemed to sit there sulking a long time, before grabbing the tea and gulping it down in much the same way he'd done the vodka last night.
"I drank it. Stop standing there and staring at me stupidly."
Gatrie placed the tray he'd been holding down on the little dresser beside the now empty tea cup and he sat on the edge of Shinon's bed. He sat there in silence, which made Shinon very uncomfortable. He finally prodded Gatrie's leg with his toe.
"What's your problem?" Shinon asked, actually wanting to know, but managing to make it sound like an insult rather than concern. Gatrie distractedly reached over and grabbed Shinon's ankle to stop him from prodding him again.
"Shinon, seriously. I've been asking you all week. What's going on?"
Shinon stared at Gatrie's hand on his ankle, then yanked it out of his touch and sat up more. He reached a hand up and realized his hair was overly mussed. Great. He looked as if he'd let a pack of rodents nest there, and he was still not resolving anything. The morning was looking dour already.
"Nothing's going on," Shinon replied, trying to smooth his hair without being obvious about it. Gatrie wordlessly handed him his brush. Shinon was annoyed that he was so obvious, but he started brushing his hair, nonetheless.
"I know you, Shinon," Gatrie said, very seriously, as he turned and pierced Shinon with his gaze. "And I know you'd usually complain about everything to me. Instead, you're drinking, trying to handle whatever it is without my help. Why don't you just tell me? You've never been afraid to tell me what you were thinking before."
That's because I wasn't thinking about you inappropriately… Shinon thought resentfully, as though it was all Gatrie's fault that he was having perverse dreams in it with him as the star. The very thought of those dreams brought a flicker of red flame across Shinon's face. Gatrie was not so stupid that he didn't notice this. He sat up straighter, and he seemed excited.
"Oh, I know what it is, Shinon!"
"And what is it?" Shinon asked, quite sure that Gatrie would be way off.
"You've fallen in love!"
Please review. I am of the type who feels more inspired by the comments of readers, good or bad. Also, this is part one of a planned three part story!