Disclaimer: I don't own Fire Emblem. I just like playing with the characters.
Summary: FE6,7. One-shot. Hugh encounters a strange old thief named Legault, and an even stranger wanderer without a name.
Pairings: None. (unless you count Legault's shameless flirting...)
Rating: T, for language (wash that mouth, Hugh!) and violence.
Notes: This takes place in the same fic-verse as the rest of my FE6/7 fics, two years before the start of FE6, but is mostly standalone.
The Gray Men
This was a shit inn, decided Hugh. A shit inn in a shit town in the shittiest kingdom in all fucking Elibe.
"Aw, come on, just for tonight? I'll pay you back, I promise." He put on his most charming smile for the pretty girl wiping down the tables. It was one he'd practiced and put to good use before.
"No is no," said the girl, without even sparing him a glance. "I'm sick of you penniless vagrants dropping in and trying to take advantage of me. I'm running a business here, not a charity!"
He tried another tack. "Come on, please? It's just that I don't have any money right now; I spent it all buying medicine for my sick grandma --"
Damn it. Looked like he was going to have to sleep outdoors. Again. At least the weather wasn't going to go to shit on him. Probably. Did it rain in the middle of summer in Bern? Besides, he still had an unused Fire tome on him, though it was a pretty dumbass thing of him to do, wasting a spell just to make a campfire. Granny'd kill him for it if she knew -- even if it was just some cheap anima tome. Come to think of it, she'd probably kill him for even thinking about utilizing anima magic in the first place. Crazy old bat. It'd been a year since she'd kicked him out, and the memory of her yelling at him (or even worse, blasting magic at him) still haunted him. Sometimes.
Not that he was afraid of his own grandma or anything like that. Not at all.
"Hey, miss. I'll pay for him."
Hugh looked up, startled. He had no idea when the other man had approached; he hadn't even noticed his presence until he spoke. It kinda creeped him out. The guy was smiling, sure, and even Hugh had to admit that that sure was some charm he had there, but there were distinct scars on his face, and Hugh was pretty damn sure the man was hiding something beneath that cloak of his. Mostly he just couldn't stop staring at the man's hair, though: it was long, a weird pale ashen purple, and pulled back in a ponytail. Kinda girly, almost, if it weren't for the scars and the faint lines of age.
Then again, Hugh had never been one to turn down a free meal. (He couldn't afford to. He'd run out of money within the first month after he left on this training journey or whatever, and it had all been downhill since.)
The girl looked at them suspiciously. "Sorry, but as I've been trying to tell this idiot here, there are no rooms left. Either he pays to sleep in the stables, or he gets out."
"No problem, miss. He can share a room with me."
The stranger winked at him, and Hugh, after a moment of shock, opened his mouth to protest, but then, wisely, changed his mind.
The girl raised an eyebrow. "Fine," she said after a while. "But you'll have to pay double the price."
With a practiced flourish, the stranger produced a pouch out of nowhere. "This enough?"
The girl opened the pouch to look -- and, to her credit, did not gasp or show any other sign of surprise. Hugh, on the other hand, opened his mouth again before remembering, again, one of his Granny's most useful (and most often repeated) pieces of advice to him over the years: "Keep your damn mouth shut, and maybe you'll come off as less of a fool than you truly are!" (He shuddered inwardly at the recollection.)
Because the gold in that pouch? Was way more than enough.
The girl nodded stiffly. The stranger flashed a quicksilver grin, then immediately headed toward the stairs. Hugh followed, a moment later, rather stupidly, feeling rather like a lamb being led to slaughter.
"Uh. Thanks, but uh... Why?" A sudden suspicion struck him. "You're not planning to mug me in the middle of the night or anything, are you?"
A certain incident with a certain little brat a few months ago came to mind. It had been back when he'd just started his time on the road, and had been feeling -- well, he hated to admit it, but he'd been kinda lonesome for company. He could hardly remember a time when he'd been on his own. It had always been his Granny and him, and sure, you'd think just two people would be able to lead a pretty quiet life, but... The silence had been overwhelming, after the years of yelling and shouting. So he'd welcomed the kid's company at first, even if he was just a brat.
Damn thieving brat. Hugh knew better now. Kids sucked. How the hell was he supposed to go running back home to Granny now, after losing that Nosferatu tome she gave him? (Not that he was planning to, or anything. But it was good to have the option, at least.)
"Well, I suppose I've always had a weakness for a pretty face."
Hugh bristled. "What?"
"Besides, if I wanted to mug you -- not that you seem to have anything worth stealing -- I'd have gotten away with the loot already by now, you know." The man hefted a strangely familiar tome in his left hand.
"Hey! That's --"
The man laughed as he moved to return the Fire tome, before something peculiar seemed to strike him, and his hand paused in midair. "Hm? A mage, I see."
Hugh snatched the tome back. "Yeah, something wrong with that?" he said, somewhat defensively.
"Oh, no. Not at all," replied the man. He seemed to be contemplating something as he looked at him, and Hugh fought the urge to fidget under his scrutiny. "What's your name, kid?"
He bit back his retort -- the man was paying for him, after all -- and said, "Hugh. And you?"
The man smiled again, but it was different from the earlier, breezy grin he had offered -- instead, a smile slow and wry, almost haunted.
"Legault," he said, and melted into the shadows of the room.
They ended up traveling together. Legault was a strange fellow, but he had no shortage of money, and knew his way around. Hugh kept his big mouth shut about the source of the money, which was questionable, and put up with the man's teasing and oddities much as he had put up with his grandmother. The man was friendly enough, anyway. Chatty -- which was a huge change from the frustratingly close-mouthed plainsmen from the past few months -- though Hugh noticed that he never said much about himself. That in itself wasn't too weird, though. Plenty of reasons a man might want to keep silent about his past. And it really wasn't any of his business. Yep, best to just keep quiet and stay out of trouble.
About a week later, they were settling down to camp for the night when Hugh realized that Legault seemed a bit more tense than usual.
But the man shook his head, eyes shadowed in the dim glow of the setting sun, then smiled as if to reassure him. "It's nothing."
Hugh raised an eyebrow, then shrugged. "If you say so. Dinner's ready."
"Oh? Sounds good. You're a pretty good cook, you know. Make someone a good wife someday."
When he turned in for the night, Hugh noticed that his companion remained awake by the campfire, but did not question the other man further. Instead, he drifted off into a deep but uneasy slumber.
He awoke right before dawn to see the man's silhouette still frozen in the same position.
"Legault?" He rubbed his eyes, uncertain.
"Awake now, are you?"
Hugh sat up nervously. "What's going on?"
Perhaps due to a deeply ingrained sense of obedience (not that he would ever admit it), Hugh stilled, despite his confusion. A rustling sound, then silence. And then, suddenly, a dark figure crashed into the clearing, and collapsed. Hugh cursed and scrambled backwards, shaken out of his wits. But Legault was on the person in an instant, a knife glinting in his hand.
"Name your business," said Legault, and there was an edge in his voice Hugh had not heard from him before. He hesitated, his sense of self-preservation battling with a vague sense of obligation. At last, the recklessly softhearted part of him won out, and he lit a torch and approached.
Then he stepped back in shock. The stranger -- a man, he could see now -- was bleeding. "You... you're hurt!"
"Stay out of this, kid," hissed Legault.
"Stay out of this."
The stranger mumbled something. "... the Hurricane...?"
Legault stiffened. "Who are you?" Still holding the knife against the man's throat, he motioned for Hugh to come closer with the light. "No..." Hugh saw his fingers tighten around the grip of the knife. "No. It can't be. You... you're working for Bern now?"
The man laughed weakly, shaking his head. "Not yet."
"They put a bounty on me."
Legault relaxed visibly, but did not move from his position. "Ah. So we're in the same boat."
"Not quite. They don't want me dead."
"Lucky you." Legault released his hold at last, and the man, with some effort, sat up. He was tall and gaunt, but otherwise plain, unremarkable, his faded features shrouded by the ragged green cloak he had wrapped about him.
"You're going to trust me, just like that?"
Legault hesitated. "I trusted you once. We all did." Then he stood, turned. "Come on, Hugh, we're getting out of here."
Hugh gaped at his retreating back. "Hey, wait just a moment. Are you telling me we're just going to leave him here?"
"Hurry it up, kid."
"You're a fucking bastard," Hugh said incredulously. "Look, I may not know what the hell is going on here, but this guy here, you know each other, right? And he's hurt and you're just going to fucking leave him?"
"Don't be ridiculous," snapped Legault. "Bern's on his tail. You think I can afford to stick around here? It's not his life at stake here!"
"Yeah? Well, go ahead then. I don't care. I'm not gonna leave him."
"You -- you're even more of a fool than --"
"Heh. That's what Granny always says."
At last, Legault shook his head and sighed. "Just can't leave a fool alone, can I?" He stepped back into the circle of the campfire.
"You're gonna help then?" asked Hugh, hopefully.
Legault ignored the question. "Either way, we'd better get out of here." He turned to the man, who was now struggling to stand. "How far behind?"
"Few hours. About a score, mounted." After a moment, the man added, "Horse. Not wyvern."
Hugh gulped, the enormity of the situation finally hitting him. Sort of. "A score --"
"Oh, that's nothing then," said Legault, sounding far too cheerful for the situation. "You got any vulneraries, kid?"
"Uh. Yeah. Right here."
The man turned to look at Hugh for the first time. "Hugh, was it?" He furrowed his brows -- whether in pain or in thought, Hugh could not be certain (what was it with the weird way people were studying him lately anyway?) -- then relaxed, smiling. "Thank you."
"Eh, it's nothing. What's your name?"
For some time the man did not reply. "I have no name."
Somewhere in the distance, Legault said, "Just call him Mark."
Hugh glanced at the man questioningly as he applied the vulnerary to his wounds. The man nodded slowly. "Mark... yes. I suppose that will do."
"Um. Okay. Nice to meet you. I think."
Legault materialized at their side again, laughing. "You're a good kid, Hugh."
"Jeez, would you cut it out with the kid stuff?" grumbled Hugh, finally unable to take it any longer. Maybe it was just the situation getting to him. Or something like that. "I'm twenty already, you know!"
"And I'm pushing fifty."
Hugh stopped in his tracks. "... No way. Wait a minute. No way! You're kidding, right? Right? My granny's like seventy and she's ancient! You're just pulling my leg again, aren't you --"
The only response he received was more laughter, this time from both men.
"How'd they catch up to you anyway?" asked Legault, some hours later, as they rested on the outskirts of a forest at the foot of the mountains. "I always figured you were too wily for them. That, or you'd died long ago. Haven't heard of you in years."
The man called Mark shrugged. "I'm only human, after all. Got too much faith in human nature, perhaps."
"Well, well. I suppose that is a weakness. One that our boy Hugh here shares with you, though."
"It's true though, isn't it?"
"No way! I'm not that dumb, you know."
Mark smiled, but said nothing.
"I suppose you know about Zephiel, then?" said Legault then, abruptly.
"Zephiel?" interrupted Hugh before his brain could kick in. "Hey, isn't that the prince -- wait, king of Bern? Something like that. Er." He had enough of that sense of preservation remaining in him to shut up before he could make things worse.
"I've heard the rumors," Mark said quietly.
"Well, they're true. Some eight years ago, the Marquess of Ostia sent his little spies over round to these parts. Came to me for help, but never came back out."
"I'm sorry," said Mark.
"Don't be. That's the path they chose, wasn't it? Me, now, that's none of my concern. I just try to survive. Not that easy, you know -- don't think the prince ever quite forgave the Black Fang, and I don't blame him -- but, well, I'm used to it. I deal. I live."
"... I know."
Legault regarded the other man for some time. "Yeah, I suppose you do." Then he looked up with a start. "Shit -- they caught up already?"
"What?" exclaimed Hugh, jumping to his feet. Sure enough, he could see dark specks on the horizon, approaching steadily.
"Into the forest!" said Mark, gripping at the wound on his side, face pale but otherwise calm.
"Understood," said Legault, and grabbed Hugh immediately, dragging him into the woods. Mark followed.
"I miscalculated. Forgive me. You shouldn't have involved yourselves for my sake."
"What's done's done. So, what are your orders?"
A heavy weariness settled over Mark, and Hugh was struck by how gray and old he suddenly seemed. "I gave that up long ago."
"Well, you've got no choice now, do you?"
"Yeah, Captain. I'll follow your command too, all right?" said Hugh, confused but eager to help.
Legault laughed, and even Mark seemed amused. "Mark here's no captain, kid."
"Thank you, all the same," said Mark. "I take it you can fight, then?"
"Y-Yeah! Of course! I'm a mage of incredible prowess! Just watch and see!"
"A mage?" repeated Mark, frowning slightly.
"Yeah, something wrong with that?" Why did people give so much of a damn about the kind of magic he practiced, anyway? Granny was one thing, but out in the big wide world, it was elder magic that was despised and shunned, wasn't it? And good riddance, at that. After that kid had lifted his Nosferatu, he'd admitted to himself at last what he had suspected to be true for a long time by then -- that he would never amount to much of a shaman, never live up to his father's legacy, despite his grandmother's wishes. He'd always had more affinity for anima anyway. Picking up that Fire tome at that shop in Bulgar had been almost like -- like homecoming, in a way, except that made no sense considering what waited for him at his home.
But Mark shook his head. "Sorry. No. I was just surprised. Are you armed, Legault?"
"Sure. I'd feel better with a sword, of course... but then again, men like me aren't meant for battle anyway, eh?"
"Eh. You sure?"
"Men like me aren't meant for battle either."
"Heh. Suppose you're right."
There was shouting in the distance. Mark closed his eyes, and began to outline a plan to them.
"Who is that guy anyway?" asked Hugh, panting. "He's brilliant!"
He wasn't sure how long they'd been running through the forest. It seemed like forever, though it couldn't have been long. The sun was still high overhead. But at least they'd managed to avoid any major confrontations thus far. The only men they'd come across had been picked off easily by Legault after Mark had managed to get them separated from the main group. Hugh hadn't even had to do anything yet, really. Other than run. And now they were heading for the mountains bordering Lycia, for an old hideout Legault had mentioned. They'd run the risk of bandits there, of course, but better bandits than organized bounty hunters, and if they could make it to Lycia, perhaps they would be able to seek refuge with one of the marquesses there. Mark was certainly talented enough to be accepted into their services, and maybe Hugh could get hired along with him, and maybe even Legault...
"Why isn't he working for anyone? I bet even Etruria could use someone like him! Think of all the money he could be making -- all the chicks he could be scoring --"
"You're better off asking him, kid," said Legault, gesturing towards the man, who was some distance ahead of them, despite his injuries. "Money and fame aren't everything there is to life."
"Yeah, tell me that after you've gone through a whole week without food other than moldy scraps you got by begging just 'cause you're broke."
"Aww, you poor thing. Was that what you had to resort to before I came along?"
"Oh, shut up. Seriously, though. I don't understand. A man like him..."
"Why do you think Bern is after him in the first place?"
"Say," said Legault. "Speaking of which, got a girl waiting for you back home?"
"Huh? Hey! What does that have to do with anything?"
Legault only laughed. "I've known some damn pretty girls, you know. Those snobby Etrurian ladies aren't anything to speak of once you've gotten to know some real women. There was my friend Aisha from Missur... and that beauty from Pherae -- now she was a looker, that lady knight. Lovely and dangerous. Just my type. Too bad she was taken! And oh, there was that pretty wyvern knight too..."
"What? You mean women actually ride those big scary things??"
Legault began laughing so hard that he choked. "You really are a dumb kid, aren't you?"
"No! I thought it was like with pegasi, you know? Only girls can ride pegasi because they're all nice and gentle and stuff? Oh, just forget it." His explanation clearly wasn't helping any. In fact, it just seemed to be making things worse.
Up ahead, Mark halted, and Legault finally sobered. "You okay?"
"Fine," said the man, though his breathing was harsh and labored. "Keep going."
Legault looked doubtful, and Hugh stepped up to offer the last of his vulneraries, when an unfamiliar voice stopped him in his tracks.
"Not so fast, Black Fang trash!" A group of unmounted men emerged from the shadows of the trees, weapons drawn.
"A trap?" growled Legault, reaching for his sword. "You tricked us."
Mark shook his head. "Never. Please... trust me."
"What now?" mumbled Hugh, counting the number of enemies under his breath. Ten... Fifteen... Twenty. "We're screwed. I don't wanna die here! Hell, I don't even know what the fuck Black Fang is, come on, this is so unfair..."
At his side, Legault dropped his sword, letting it clatter to the ground. "Hey, kid," he muttered. "Said you could fight, didn't you?"
But it was too late. Legault stepped forward, hands raised. "All right. Look. You've caught us. We surrender."
The leader nodded. "Hn. So you'll come quietly then?"
He flashed that quicksilver grin of his, that dangerous, brilliant smile. "Of course."
Hugh shivered. Behind him, Mark muttered, "Now!" Faster than his eyes could blink, Legault disappeared into a blur of gray and flashing steel. Shouts. The clang of metal against metal. Hugh stood frozen, stunned. Then, remembering himself, he drew out his tome and began to chant... The spell missed, but started up a small blaze. The men scattered, howling in pain from Legault's swift strikes, batting desperately at the fire. Mark grabbed Hugh's arm, and they broke into a run.
Moments later, Legault reemerged at their side, twirling bloodied knives in his hands. "Well. That should slow them down a bit."
The edge of the forest neared.
Mark stopped midstride. "Legault. I have a request for you."
"What are you doing?" demanded Hugh. "We've got to keep going!"
Mark shook his head, and Hugh was again struck by the ashen shade of his skin and the lines on his face, the silver in his dark brown hair.
"Do it, Legault," whispered Mark. "At this rate, we'll all be caught. You know as well as I do. You know who I am. You and I... we are the same. Nothing but gray old men."
Realization dawned on Hugh at last. "What are you saying! No, you can't --"
Mark smiled. "It's not much of a life, you know, living like this, day after day. I've played my part already. I have no desire to return to those days... Responsibility is a heavy burden. Using people like pieces in some game. Children playing at war..."
"You're nothing but a coward," said Legault quietly.
"But after all, I too..." Legault stepped forward, paused. Then he shrugged. "Well, I suppose I've got enough blood on my hands already."
"No!" shouted Hugh. He hesitated. "No. Let me. Let me do it."
Both men turned, startled. "Something get rattled in that pretty little head of yours, Hugh?" said Legault.
"No," said Hugh. "I... I understand. But if you've gotta do it, wouldn't it be better... this way?" He gestured at the forest around them, unable to find the words to express what he wished to say.
Mark looked at him strangely. "I see. Yes. Very well."
It was Legault's turn for confusion. "Mark, what --"
Shouting -- their pursuers had found them again. Mark dragged himself forward, arms raised in a gesture of surrender.
"We're not falling for that again!" shouted the leader, motioning his men over.
Hugh took a deep breath. And all the world turned red.
Hugh knelt at the side of the road, heaving. The stink of burning flesh clung to his nostrils, to the back of his throat. In the distance, he could see the smoke rising thick into the air.
So this was what it was like to kill someone, he thought.
"It always ends like this, doesn't it?" murmured Legault, standing beside him. "I just can't save anyone. Every damn person I ever try to help..."
Hugh did not respond. He didn't think he could. The caustic taste of ashes scorched his tongue. Legault continued to mutter to himself, whispering an endless list of names.
"There was a girl, you know. The sweetest little angel the world ever knew. Had quite the talent for magic, too. Just like you, come to think of it. She... Funny how life works out, doesn't it? True love, whatever. I never believed such things could change the hearts of men so deeply. Shows how little I know, eh? The Angel of Death and the angel who changed us all. Happily ever after... I wonder if I ever believed in happily ever afters. I wanted to, for them. For them, I would have believed in anything. Heard nothing from them for years. Thought everything was going well. Thought maybe, maybe... And then one day she shows up at my door. Uncle Legault, Uncle Legault. Please won't you help me find him. Oh child, why do you go seeking for Death? Cherish what you had. Return to your children, your little boys. There is nothing you can do now. But she always was stubborn, that child. Thought she could take on the world, all by herself. Oh, she found him, all right. She found him. And there was nothing I could do. Even tried looking for their kids. Never found them. I guess she'd learned a few things herself, from the rest of us. And I figured that if even I couldn't find them, they were probably safe from everyone else as well... Still, I should have stopped her. Should have gone with her. Gone with them, instead of sending them to their deaths. Mark was right... he was always right. What use does the world have for killers? For makers of war? Ah, for his kingdom is a field of corpses..." He trailed off into a long, still silence. At last, he said, "Don't know why I'm telling you all this, kid."
Hugh choked out, "For my pretty face?"
After a brief moment of surprise, Legault let out a sharp bark of laughter. "That may just be so, kid. That may just be so."
Hugh stood, somewhat shakily, and they continued down the road in silence.
"So... What'll you do now?"
Legault shrugged. "Keep surviving." After a moment, he said, "You?"
"I'm getting the hell out of this shithole, man. Maybe head over to Etruria or something. Where there's actual civilization. Meet some girls, find some stinking rich employers..."
The old thief laughed again. "Well, good luck, kid."
"Don't mention it." The man paused. "... Your father would be proud of you."
"My father -- ?"
But the man was gone.
For a long time Hugh stood there, mind roiling. At last, he shrugged. As he walked on, he began to whistle a wordless tune.