Again: thanks to everyone who has read and reviewed me in this section. You people are a big inspiration, and I'm also grateful for how thoughtful your reviews have been. Here's hopin' not to disappoint ya now.
I'm not that used to writing angst, so let me know if this is okay. Either way, I had an insane amount of fun writing it, aaaand took some… liberties with it. You'll see. This is one of the most heart-breaking moments of the game for me, y'know, although one we don't see at all, and I couldn't help but take a shot at writing it.
Needless to say, the damn thing broke my heart.
Call It Change
Warm nut bread and cool water for breakfast. Flint's timing has been perfect; awake through the entire night, he rose from his bed as soon as the first vestiges of light entered the windows, and headed for the mountains once again. Thrice a week, at first, sometimes more, until he left every day and barely dared to look at Lucas in the eyes at night. And other times, like now, he catches the villager's pleading looks and gives in, undoing his steps, always with something to give to the boy.
Today, it's breakfast. Lucas hasn't slept, either, maybe not a single night since they lost Hinawa and Claus went missing, so Flint assumes – with a heavy heart and more guilt than his shoulders can hold – that he could use something to eat.
Warm nut bread that Hinawa never even knew how to prepare, but the indescribable look in the boy's eyes scares him too much, in ways he can't understand, to ask someone to make his favorite meal. Something's gone, maybe more than he acknowledges, and he finds that he just doesn't want to come home one day and find something else missing, something incorporeal that only ever hid in the boy's eyes. So he stays with him for a while, eating in silence, and then gets up to leave.
Lucas turns his head so fast he nearly startles himself. Lowering his hat over his eyes, Flint pats the boy's head. "I'll be back soon. Be a good boy."
He's never really understood what he's implying, but Lucas seems to. Be a good boy. Be here. Stay safe. Don't wish for things that are impossible, because that means you've given up, and you can't do that. I'm sorry.
I still love you.
"I will, dad," Lucas replies, eyes downcast.
And then he's out, and Lucas can't really feel any more alone.
He opens his eyes in the dead of night and holds his breath, trying to identify the sound that awoke him. Breathing; choked, faltering. A sob. Lucas lies on his side in his bed, huddled up close to its edge even though Claus' side is empty. He swallows thickly, mumbling something to himself before a high-pitched sound escapes him. He's trying not to cry, and Flint stays awake the rest of the night, waiting for him to succeed.
When he does, his small fist has already hit his pillow angrily several times, and dawn has settled in.
"Good morning, dad."
Lucas is already dressed, and Flint has to wonder what he'll do, what he'll eat, if he'll be alone. It occurs to him that maybe the boy wonders the same things about him, and he doesn't think he could answer, so he doesn't ask either.
"Is Boney going with you?"
"Do you want him to stay?"
"I don't know."
He's passing by the table, once again on his way out, when he notices a basket with some fresh, red apples sitting at its center. He thinks someone from the village must've brought them, until he turns to his son and sees a small leaf among his golden locks, stuck near the back of his head, where the boy couldn't see it even with a mirror.
"Is that okay?"
Flint doesn't really know whether he's talking about Boney, the fruit, or something else.
And what he really wants to say is 'Thank you', but Flint's never been good with words, so he just grabs an apple and takes it with him.
A sob. A swallow. A fist against the pillow. Gritted teeth visible in the darkness.
Neither of them has slept in two days. Flint is too awake not to look at his crying son, and Lucas is too awake not to notice him after a while and meet his eyes, suddenly looking terrified.
The boy wipes his eyes quickly, lowering his head in shame, teeth still gritted. Swallow. Bite your lip. Do anything you need to stop crying, but you can't really help it. It's the way you are. And you're so ashamed.
Mornings come earlier every day, it seems, and both of them function in a clockwork manner. The sun never rises before Flint is downstairs, ready, and Lucas is getting dressed.
But he already is, today, and Flint isn't sure of what the boy is waiting for, or what he'll do when it happens.
"Can-- Can I go with you?"
The basket is full of apples this time. He grabs one, and turns on his heel. "No."
You know he's looking at you; he always gives you a certain look when you're crying, something vaguely severe but encouraging. He's not pulling you out of that hole, but he'll make sure you do come out. Once upon a time, you wanted him to watch over you like this. You wanted him to look at you and be proud of his crybaby son and, somehow, he really was. He was proud of what you were, and maybe that's why you never tried harder.
But now you do. You don't want him to see what you are; you want to be something else. Being a different person, though, is difficult, and it occurs to you that maybe you can't be an adult yet. Maybe you'll just never be brave like Claus, or reliable like Flint, or even outgoing like Fuel. Maybe you're only Lucas, the crybaby, and that's that.
"I wish I were with mom…"
You wish you were dead. You wish you were dead and didn't feel that burning guilt in your throat, you wish you could die and atone for what you've done – and what you never did – but you need someone to tell you how to. You wish Claus were dead, too, and in a way, you wish Flint could die as well so it could all be over.
So does he. But he's already living with ghosts anyway, and if it weren't for you, he wouldn't know how to tell himself apart from one.
"You shouldn't say that."
"I know," you nod, shame eating you up inside. "But I really wish that…"
His face darkens, scolding. Despite everything, he's still your father; he knows what you should do, even if he's not saying it.
After all, you think, you could use the help, and you don't know who else to ask. If there are things you can't say – fair, maybe, since there's a lot you don't want him to say either – someone should tell you why and how to keep them in.
"I don't know."
You look at him now, but he avoids your eyes. Maybe he really doesn't know what to do, and you suddenly don't think that's so bad, because maybe you'll get the answer first. That's why you nod so slowly and head to bed so early.
When his voice stops you, you almost smile.
By the time he wakes up from his restless, nearly forced sleep, Lucas is already sitting at the table, eating the last slice of a blueberry cake sent by the innkeeper's wife a week ago. There are bags under his eyes and certain sluggishness to his every movement; the day must've barely started. That's good.
"Good morning, dad."
Habit and purpose make his routine faster every time; it takes him only a few minutes to be ready and head for the door, an apple in hand again.
He turns his head to show that he's listening, despite not meeting Lucas' gaze.
"I… I'm going with you."
Something's different, yes, but nothing else is gone. Things only change. And you'd rather they change than disappear – you're scared out of your mind of that – so you let yourself look at those blue eyes, Hinawa's eyes, and nod, because things are changing.
And who knows? It might be for the best.
When he wraps his arms around you, only tall enough to hug your torso, you almost start shaking. It's foreign and forgotten and a little painful in that one way that really makes you feel like a father, which doesn't mean it's not nice, so you let him.
In a way, you wish he could've said this before. You wish you could've said this to Claus, and Hinawa before him, but Lucas has never acted like this. It's a good change.
It's enough for you.
He only accompanied you for one day, and it's the best day you remember. He followed quietly, no complaints, no crying. He helped you clear out the road and fend off wild animals. He searched with more dedication than you've ever seen on him. He smiled, once, and you almost smiled as well.
The next day, he tells you that he wants to talk to his mother, so you take him to her grave. It's not really a problem; you know he's been there many times, and so have you. You know he's cried – you've made sure to drown out the sound deep in the mountains – and, oddly, you hope he will do it again.
But he doesn't.
You kneel in front of her, as usual, and Lucas only mirrors the action. A firm hand on the ground, a slightly bowed head, something like redemption overflowing out of his small frame and into your thoughts; Lucas has always had that puzzling ability, and you don't think you'll start minding it now.
"I… think I'm gonna stay home today, dad."
You look at each other without fear, a simple passing glance for confirmation, but it means the world to you.
"Okay. I'll be back soon," the boy holds his breath, and you pause to wonder what it is that he just lost. "Be a good boy."
You wouldn't believe how proud you will be the next time you see him.