When Selen had given birth to that boy, the pale boy with the pale eyes, everyone wondered who the father was. Citro Village had all sorts, but those yellow eyes were unusual even in the tiny village.
Selen had only laughed when they asked who the father was, bouncing her baby boy on her knee as she taught him how to curl his fingers into tiny fists.
"What does it matter? I liked his father well enough and I'll love my boy more than anyone."
Erica had shook her head, toddling Sisuca clutched at her skirts and peering at the new baby with unbridled curiosity. Sisuca was already playing the little mother to 6-month old Marica and had tagged along for the express purpose of seeing Selen's new baby.
"I heard you were a bodyguard for one of the nobles in Lonomakua, is that true?" Erica asked shrewdly.
"I go where the work takes me, Erica, you know that," Selen laughed, the sound rich and alto, filled with the happiness of a mother and the confidence of a woman who could pull a wagon of Citro Tomatoes and fight off assassins with her bare hands.
Selen bounced her knee a little too high and Jale squealed suddenly, clutching at his mother's ample breasts with tiny hands.
"Ah, a strong grip in my little Jalesy, I see," Selen said merrily, her face alight. And she was beautiful, Selen, with her strong features and her dark coloring, so unlike Erica's own pale on pale. Selen who had been a farmer girl and a martial artist ever since she could remember. And Erica couldn't help but feel sorry for the man who would never see her like this. Never see his son. Never see him grow up in a cozy cottage on the outskirts of the village into a man.
Smiling, Erica hoisted her basket a little higher on her hips. "I'm glad you're staying for a while, Selen, I've missed you."
"Citro Village is my home, too, Erica. I'll always come back. "
"I know, I know, it's just that after your father passed away, you suddenly went on that trip…"
"My father was a good, strong man. I'd want Jale to grow up like him. I stayed for him, it's true." Jale made a small sound, a quieter baby than most, and Selen took him back into her arms, resting his tiny face against her neck as his eyes drifted closed.
"But, Erica, you and I have been best friends since the day we met- you've always been like a sister to me. I want my Jale and your children to grow up together and be good friends, the way we were."
"You know I'd take care of him like he was my own son," Erica said quietly, remembering that day Selen came back, obviously pregnant and at her doorstep and so strong and so brave and yet she had reached out and asked.
Selen smiled softly. "There is no one else I would trust more. Shouldn't you be going, though? To pick the herbs?"
"You're right. The sun won't be staying up for much longer," Erica said ruefully. "Sisuca, stay with Aunt Selen, okay? She'll take you back home."
Sisuca made a small face at the idea of being shepherded home but she smiled at Selen brightly, holding out her arms. "Can I see him?"
"She's just like you were, Erica," Selen laughed, leaning down a bit obligingly so Sisuca could look at Jale's tiny sleeping face, a thin trickle of drool dampening Selen's dress.
"Are his eyes really yellow?" Sisuca asked curiously. She tilted her head, dark braid falling back.
"Yes, they are. Where his father comes from, they're special."
"He's so pretty," Sisuca giggled. "I bet he'd fit in Marica's things."
"I'm not so sure he'd like that," Selen said, amused.
Erica shook her head and started down the path away from the village and into the northern plains.
She had no idea that instead of herbs, she would be bringing a baby back, that day. A baby boy with silver hair and eyes, who would change the fate of the Infinity.
"This is Jale. He'll be staying with us for a while."
Sieg looked at the pale boy with the pale hair and the pale eyes, buried under the brightly-patterned blankets on the new spare bed in his room, tilting his head. "You're quiet, ain'tcha?"
The boy looked at him and huddled under the covers even more.
"Don't you want to play?" Sieg tried again, lifting the corner of the warm blanket and peering inside.
"I don't belong here."
"But you're with us, now. Marica's momma ain't so bad. She's very nice! And Sisuca's real nice!"
"They're not momma."
"Your momma's the big lady with the blue hair, right?"
Sniffling and a nod.
"Well, she said she'd come back, right?"
Sieg smiled as a small pale blonde head poked out, damp long-lashed eyes staring up at him.
"She did," he admitted, wiping his eyes on the back of his fist once he realized he'd been crying. His momma would laugh at him if she saw.
"Your momma's plenty strong. She'll come back soon. What's your name?" Sieg asked, talking and switching topics without pause and grinning breathlessly. Marica's momma always said to smile when making friends.
"Jale. What's yours?"
"I'm Sieg. Come on, Marica's just outside. She's not bad, for a girl."
"Isn't she the girl who brought a frog to school?" Jale asked, intrigued.
"Yup! That's her! She's like my sister!"
"She looks like you," Jale pointed out sensibly.
"Yeah, but she's not my real sister. Her momma's not my real momma, too," Sieg said, matter-of-fact.
"Then who is?"
Sieg shrugged, tugging Jale's wrist outside and smiling. "I won't know 'till I find her!"
"Gotcha!" Sieg yelled gleefully, stealing a couple of cookies from the plate right under her nose while Jale tickled her from behind.
"That was cheating!" Marica complained, taking one for herself and whapping Sieg's shoulder.
"Ow! You never said we couldn't," Sieg countered, handing Jale his.
"You were supposed to wait!" Marica said as primly as she could manage. Boys. They were so stupid.
"Nuh-uh, who wants to do that? Come on, Jale!" Sieg said, swallowing the last bit of his cookie and tugging his friend's arm. " 'Rica, you coming?"
"I'm not covering for you when you guys get into trouble again!" Marica stuck her tongue out.
"Didn't ask ya to!" Sieg said quickly, halfway out the door. "Come on, Old Jamir's cat had kittens," Sieg said in stage whisper.
"She did? Wait up, I'm coming along!" Marica shoved the platter back onto the counter, running after them.
"Nuh-uh, you said you didn't want to!"
" That's what you said," Jale agreed, playing along.
"No fair! That was before!"
Sieg and Jale shared a look, identical impish grins on their lips. "Well," Sieg sing-songed, drawing the vowel out.
"You'll have to catch us first!" Jale finished, and then they took off as one, running and laughing.
The day ended with five overfed kittens, two overturned laundry baskets, three sets of dirty clothes for Sisuca to mend, and three very exhausted, scolded, and happy children, waiting for the next day's great adventure.
"Pleaaaaaaaaaaaaase?" Three childish voices chorused.
Dirk blinked, noodles slurped halfway into his mouth as two little boys and a determined little girl sat in front of him, pleading. Rubbing the back of his head, he looked at each one of them exasperatedly.
"Come on, kids, aren't you a bit young to be joining the Defense Corps?"
"But we really wanna learn!"
"And you, little missy, what does your father have to say about all this?"
"He won't mind!" Marica said firmly in the tones of a girl who would make sure it would be true.
" Jale, your mom's been teaching you stuff already, right?" Dirk tilted his head.
"Yeah, but I've got to be stronger when she visits next time!"
"And Sieg, you sure you know the right end of a sword now?"
"Yup!" Sieg exclaimed, undeterred. He pointed at the hilt of the iron greatsword resting against the bench by Dirk's side. "Hold that end first, right?"
Those three small faces looked up at him expectantly, their determined frowns so pronounced Dirk could almost see the arguments on their lips.
"Heh," Dirk grinned. He never would've thought to see three of Citro Village's most notorious troublemakers come to him for lessons. To think he used to help Sisuca manage the little brats not so long ago. Sieg had been the most energetic, even then, tugging on Marica's hair half the time and nearly falling off everything at all others.
Looking at them now, fierce and bright and well on their way to growing up, Dirk sort of thought this was how a father felt like.
But that just made him feel old.
"Alright, but you guys have got to be up tomorrow at dawn!"
"But—you'll really let us?" Sieg said, jumping up and grabbing Dirk's knee.
"Why not? Someone's gotta step in my shoes when I grow old and creaky," Dirk laughed, his brown hand tousling Sieg's pale hair. "C'mere, Jale, I know you want one, too."
"I don't!" Jale protested, but came over obediently enough and let Dirk pat his blond head. Dirk smiled at them, Citro Village's lost boys. Maybe someday very far, far away, he'd settle down and have a few kids of his own. He thought he might like that. He'd always had a soft spot for kids.
"I'm not letting you." Marica rolled her eyes, so wise and mature and not quite nine.
"Oh, too old for a pat on the head, eh, Marica?" Dirk laughed. "Guess you're all grown up, now!" Standing, he reached out and tickled her.
Marica shrieked with laughter, running away with Jale and Sieg hot on her heels.
"Don't forget to get up at dawn!"
"We won't!" they screamed back, the tickle-race quickly degenerating in an all out run.
Dirk watched them go, their faces flushed with accomplishment and excitement.
No, he wouldn't mind having children at all. But before then…
He picked up the iron greatsword, a relic of his father's past that he'd rested against the bench he'd been sitting on, carefully hefting it in both hands.
Before then, he would protect this village and those three small, promising faces, until they were old enough and strong enough to face the world on their own.
Until his dying breath.
"I'm really living here all by myself?" Sieg asked excitedly, going around the tiny cottage and opening the windows. Sisuca had come by earlier to dress it up a little- she didn't want her little boy to get homesick or cold, after all! They'd moved all of Sieg's things into the cottage already, including all sorts of knickknacks they'd picked up while trailing Dirk around on patrol.
"That's what dad said," Marica said, carrying the blankets Sisuca insisted Sieg take with him over. "Jale, you've got the cots, right?"
"Right here," Jale called, stepping inside the hut with the rolled up cot Sieg would be using for a bed slung across his back. He'd brought one extra, too. With his mom gone again, Jale was going to stay with Sieg for a while.
"I'm sure glad your house is so small, Marica!" Sieg said cheerfully.
"Hey! It's not that small, you're just getting too big and smelly," Marica punched Sieg's arm, prompting a wince. The only one who beat Marica at arm wrestling anymore was Jale.
"Nuh-uh, you're just jealous that I'm getting my own real grown-up place first!" Sieg laughed.
Jale laughed, though he kept his voice low. Ever since Sieg and Marica ganged up and tickled him mercilessly, he'd found out that his voice was changing and spoke as little as possible to disguise the fact. For some odd reason, some of the older girls in the village thought this was awfully cute. Jale usually reacted by sticking closer to Sieg.
"It's not like Sisuca's gonna leave you alone, you know."
"Aw, don't remind me!" Sieg groaned. Sisuca was great but she had a tendency to poke a little too much into a growing boy's increasingly private life-changes than was strictly comfortable from a pretty older girl. Even one who'd raised him.
"Marica, are you staying over tonight, too?" Jale asked as he set the cots down.
"Yup, I asked my dad and he said it was okay. Sisuca wanted to come over, too."
"She can't!" Sieg pouted. "Not tonight!"
Marica laughed. "That's what I said. She was really disappointed, too!"
She helped Jale pile the cots up together near the middle of the upper floor, draping the sheets and blankets over it.
"This is going to be so much fun!"Marica commented. "We can check out the woods after dark and-"
"Hey!" Sieg said suddenly. "I think I see someone out there!"
"What? Who?" Marica asked, brow furrowing. That part of the woods was pretty uninhabited. Nobody ever went there for anything.
"Let's go check it out," Sieg said, already halfway out the door.
"Wait up! ..Ugh, he never listens!" Marica sighed.
Jale shrugged, climbing out through the window. "We better go."
Sieg was hunched over someone when they found him.
"Who is it?" Marica went over first. As the Elder's daughter, she knew pretty much everyone around and she'd never seen anyone who looked like this before. "His hair's green."
"Hey, guys, I don't think he's feeling too good," Sieg said.
"He looks like he fainted," Jale observed.
The boy woke up just then. He looked like he was about their age, but his frame was just a bit larger- thinner and more angular. He was dressed weirdly, too.
Jale exchanged a glance with Marica and ran back to Sieg's new house to fetch the waterskin and passed it along to Sieg. Sieg, in turn, offered it to the boy, carefully feeding the spout into his mouth and letting him drink as much as he liked. The waterskin was empty in a minute.
Dirk had told them you could live without food for seven days, but only three without water. It would have been hard for someone who didn't know the way to find water in the forest. At least nuts and berries grew aplenty.
"Th-thanks," the boy coughed. "I haven't had a drink since I got into this stupid forest. "
"Can you stand up?" Sieg asked. "Where did you come from? How did you get to the forest?" As far as any of them knew, there was nothing around Citro village for miles and miles. Aside from Selen's visits and the occasional Wanderer, the village was so self-contained it seemed like the whole world was in it.
"Uh," the boy said, staring at Sieg with uncomprehension.
"He can tell us later," Jale interrupted. "We've got to get him to the Elder."
"Uh! No! No, no, that's okay- I- I'm fine, really! I mean, some food would be nice, but…"
Marica raised an eyebrow. "My dad doesn't bite, you know."
"Y- uh, well," the boy stammered. "It's just—I'm not sure…that's really a good idea, you know? Haha, please don't lynch me."
"Lynch you?" Sieg and Marica echoed.
"We can take him back to my house for now," Sieg suggested. "We have food there."
The boy brightened up visibly, but there was still something a little wary about him.
Jale frowned a bit. "Where did you come from?" They knew nothing about this boy, after all.
"Yeah, no need to hide it from us- unless you're a thief or a murderer or something!" Sieg laughed, rubbing the edge of his nose and hitting the issue right on the button.
"What? No- no way, I didn't do anything bad! I just had to get away because they didn't like my hair!"
"It is pretty green," Marica said.
"You don't think it's weird?" the boy asked hesitantly. "Like I-want-to-hit-you weird? 'Cos you know, if you do, I can just head for the next village, no harm done!" he added nervously.
Marica looked at Jale.
Jale inclined his head a bit. "Not any weirder than me. My eyes are yellow."
"Huh? Hey, you're right…" the boy squinted against the light to look at him. "I don't see a lot of those…"
"You've seen them before?"
"Uh, n-no, not really. B-by the way, my name's Liu-. Just Liu."
Liu's stomach grumbled loudly.
"Ah.. haha, I guess it's been a while since I ate anything, too…"
"Got it, let's go- Sisuca packed us tons of food, right?" Sieg grinned, getting to his feet.
"You can say that again," Marica said with a roll of her eyes.
"You'll like it- I promise! Sisuca makes the best food in the village! Just make sure you don't touch Marica's!"
"Hey, I'm learning! Don't listen to this guy, Liu, he's just an idiot."
Extending Liu a hand, Jale looked at him quietly.
"Th…thanks…" Liu said cautiously, taking the hand. Jale pulled him up and answered his unspoken question.
"Sieg believes you. So I do, too." And then he offered the boy a small smile.
Just a little trick he learned from a certain someone trying to coax a boy out from under the covers.
Blinking, Liu nodded, smiling back hesitantly.
Maybe, just maybe, he wouldn't have to run away again this time.
They made their way back to Sieg's new place and spent most of the afternoon eating and talking and laughing- until without them even noticing it, somehow the days started to become weeks; weeks into months; and month's into years.
Until the world was in upheaval and others collapsed and they stood, four Starbearers against the One King.
So these are basically drabbles of speculative what-was-Citro-village-like-pregame.
Erica = Marica and Sisuca's mom, for this fic. I just needed a feminine name that ended with a 'ca'. Marica obvsly inherited her looks from her.
Thinking about it, I noticed that it's really only Jale who reacts to other party members from Citro.. well besides family members. Could be wrong, though. Might just be because I use him so much. ._.; You can probably tell he's one of my favorite characters. I always wondered why he said "watch my back, Liu" (EDIT: it seems that this is a mistranslation from the original japanese "Get behind me, Liu.") and not Marica. And how in the world did Liu get all the way from Noslaw woods to Citro Village? That's like the two farthest spots on the map! He could've settled anywhere else but he chose Citro—because he was accepted there, or so I theorize.
Re: yellow eyes. Jale's eyes are a strange color. As far as I saw, only Hina has that sort of blonde and yellow-eyes coloring. Which made me think hey, maybe his dad is from Lonomakua when Selen went there for bodyguard duty. And that maybe the reason Sieg was so unaffected by Cougar's appearance is that he'd learned to not look at someone's appearance as weird (yellow eyes, green hair). And I theorized a bunch of other stuff you see here. Like Sieg and his attitude about being an orphan. Or Selen saying that she knew Jale would be fine with Sieg and Marica. Or Liu liking Sisuca's cooking. I think the crush came later if it really was a crush.
It should also be pretty obvious I like Jale/Hero. XD; But then, there are way too many people who practically want in his pants. [Classic Even The Guys Want Him]
Also, I kept typing Marche instead of Sieg. ; I like the name I gave him better, somehow.
That aside, I love the Citro Gang and it was so much fun writing these. I expect I'll do a few more, too.
EDIT: I FINALLY FOUND A VID of Liu talking about the Scribes and stuff, for the luo tao/liu fic and it turns out ELDER RAJIM took Liu in. Well, it's interpretable, but still.