Title: The Gift of Loss

Rating: G

Author: Obi the Kid

Summary: Halt deals with the loss of one close to him.

Disclaimer: These characters and their world belong to John Flanagan. I in no way claim to own them. I'm only playing in the fandom for a short time and appreciate the world and characters that Mr. Flanagan has created with his book series "Ranger's Apprentice."

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The Gift of Loss

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"How old were you when you became his apprentice?"

"Eleven. For the time I trained with him, he was…he meant a great deal to me."

Will sucked in a heavy breath. He didn't know what else to say. His mentor, Halt, wasn't known for deeply emotional conversation. In the past year of their master-apprentice relationship, Will had never been sure how to handle the more sensitive subjects. Sure, he'd wondered about Halt's past. The man was a mystery to say the least. But breaching that subject rather than just wondering about it was another story. Still, the young, barely turned sixteen year old Ranger felt the need to offer more than just quiet company.

"Crowely said he retired a few years ago. What do Rangers do when they retire?"

Halt thought for a moment. He could see what Will was trying to do, keeping the questions broad and as unemotional as possible. The effort did not go unappreciated.

"Depends, really. Some maintain a connection with the Rangers and work as consults of sorts. Some take jobs within the King's castle. Some move on and away from the life all together. Kaine was one of the latter. His feeling was that he'd given most of his life to the Rangers, he deserved to keep his remaining years as his own. He left Redmont for parts unknown, is what he called it. Traveling was his thing. I can't tell you how many times he volunteered us for extended and long-winded missions, away from our fief. I was saddle sore for years. My horse at the time, before I got Abelard, was named Caper. He was a good little horse, but I think he found it amusing that my butt was constantly numb from the long rides over rocks and mountains and any other substance that made for bad riding. Kaine was insistent that I would be stronger for it. That it would build my character and foundation."

"Did it?"

Halt shrugged. "Honestly I think it was just his way of getting me back for being a young pain the butt."

The boy smiled, then said, "Do Rangers ever come home after they've left the Corp?"

"Again, it depends. There will be those who leave and never return. Others will come each year for the Gathering. Kaine never missed a Gathering, except this last year. That's when I figured something was wrong. I wasn't aware how serious though, or I would have gone to him." The elder Ranger stopped for a time as he stared into the fire and then beyond. Always conscious of his outward emotions. He figured Will had no need to see him upset, not when they had a mission to focus on. There was no containing all of those emotions though as his words became melancholy. "Had I known…I would have had a chance to say goodbye."

His damp gaze strayed from the fire only momentarily. Enough for his apprentice to see the profound emotion there.

Will put a hand his mentor's arm, but could find no words. Perhaps none were needed.

A short time passed before the younger Ranger broke the silence. "Halt, I'm sorry you lost your teacher. I get the feeling he was a unique and strong personality. Well respected. He was part of the Ranger family and we should always mourn one of our own. Though he was most important to you. I think you'll miss him for a very long time. I miss him and I never knew him. But if he was that important in your life, then he must have been a special person. I'd like to know more about him."

The tired eyes of the grizzled Ranger blinked slowly. Halt thought to himself, not for the first time, how right it had been for him to have taken Will as his apprentice. He was a special one. Meant to do great things. Though he'd never admit it publically, especially with the reputation bestowed upon him of being a loner, Halt had actually felt a bit of loneliness from time to time. While an apprentice to Kaine, his master was insistent in his training that Halt maintain friendships. Because the life of a Ranger could indeed be a lonely one, it was important that he keep in touch with those he considered close friends. To this day however, Halt though maintained few truly close ties. Few where held so close that he felt he could share things about himself preferably kept hidden. Crowley perhaps, they'd been friends since childhood. Gilan, when a rare weak moment struck, would often learn something new and unexpected of his former mentor. Lady Pauline, as they shared somewhat of a history. No one though that he interacted with on a daily basis could claim such privilege, and those moments when he did open up were so few and infrequent that it often left the recipient of the moment dazed and confused by what they had just heard.

Will was different. Halt knew, even after this first year, that he could trust this boy with his life. He could trust him with anything, which is why he'd allowed him to share in this emotional struggle resulting from the learned death of his former mentor. And strangely enough, part of Halt longed to share stories of his past. About his days as Kaine's apprentice. About the great man - the great Ranger - that Kaine had been. He'd never felt the need or want to tell those stories before. It was a part of his life that he kept buried. The memories weren't painful, but they were his.

The boy beside him was honest in his support and in his caring about his sometimes grumpy master. He turned to look at Will once again. This time, his dark eyes were dry.

The gratitude within them was unmistakable.

A quiet signal from Tug and Abelard suddenly caught their attention. Heads held low meant they smelled something out of place.

Halt stood quickly. "Saddle up. They're onto something. Perhaps our enemy isn't as far ahead of us as we thought." Stamping out the fire and throwing the saddle on Abelard, Halt was up before Will had finished tightening the girth on Tug. And Tug grunted when the strap ended up a bit too tight. "Sorry, boy. I'll get this right eventually."

"Quickly, Will."

"Almost got it. There!" Girth correct, he pulled himself onto his horse and situated his longbow and quiver on his back before glancing at the somewhat disapproving glare of his teacher. "I know, practice, practice, practice."

Halt softened his face and pushed Abelard to Tug's side. He put a hand on Will's shoulder. "Remind me to tell you about Kaine sometime, Will. He's a man worthy of the stories and tales that I could share. And…thank you. Your quiet support is most welcome and appreciated." A rare smile crossed the grizzled face just before he clicked to Abelard. It took Will a few minutes to catch up as they weaved around trees, but when he did and they emerged from the forest, the horses fell in step together. The enemy ahead and fleeing. The Ranger's caught the other's eyes and nodded in complete trust just before Abelard and Tug blasted into a full gallop.

END