Wounds Only Time Can Heal

Wooah, I have to say, the new fanfiction is really intense...with all the lines..and the pictures... I noticed there were lines between summaries before I saw the pictures- the lines werem't there before right? Right?

Am I supposed to find a picture to go with my stories? (I'm spazzing out here- I cant handle the intenseness)

Well, I'm half joking, it's not that big a deal I guess... anyway:

A one shot set just after book 4. I found this in my documents from ages ago and decided I'd bother finishing it. (That and I wanted somewhere to comment on the changes on fanfiction- yes, I work harder on stories when I have something to write in an authors note)

Disclaimer: I do not own Rangers apprentice. I can dream of it though.

Halt woke instantly, though an onlooker, if there were one, would have noticed no change in his deep breaths. He kept his eyes closed, his mind analysing all the reasons he could have woken. The ranger never woke from sleep unless there was something amiss.

And he sensed there was something wrong about tonight. His eyes flickered open as he snatched up his knives from the bedside table, kicking off the blankets and dropping to a crouch on the floor. There was no reaction in the shadows of the night, so Halt fumbled with a lantern until a flame flickered to life. The light confirmed that there were no intruders in his room.

He was about to push open the door when he heard the noise that had woken him. A whimper, barely perceptable to a normal person, just enough to wake a skilled ranger. Halt frowned, following the noise to his young apprentice's room.

Normally, he might not have woken from such a quiet noise. But this was his first night back in Redmont after nearly a year and Halt was still a bit anxious about his apprentice. It was hard not to be- for such a long time Will had been out of his reach, in constant danger. And now, finally, they were back home and all was well.

That was when he heard the scream, a high pitched, utterly terrified sound coming from within the room. Halt threw the door open, his eyes automatically searching for an enemy. There was none. His gaze drifted to the bed, where his apprentice writhed in sweat drenched blankets.

Halt sighed to himself and sat down on the edge of the bed, feeling it dip under his weight. Will felt it too and groaned, an arm reaching up to wave away some threat. Halt caught the hand and gently pressed it back down to the bed. He knew all about nightmares, of course. He'd been plagued by them before- all rangers were at some stage of their lives. And of course, having just returned from Skandia, Will was probably more suspectable than most.

The ranger pushed a lock of hair from Will's dampened forehead. He sighed to himself again, reflecting on how the horrors of the night plagued even those as young and cheerful as Will.

"Wake up, Will," he murmured, gently shaking the boy's shoulders. Will stirred, crying out in sleep and waving his arms around. Halt pinned the offending arms to the bed and waited for those usaually so lively eyes to focus and the raggid panting of the boy to cease.

"Ha..lt?" Will whispered, blinking tears from his eyes, a husky note to his voice. "Where...we are home...Redmont..." he closed his eyes, and when he opened them the weakness was gone. "Thanks for waking me Halt," he said, his smile a thin parody of his usual one. "I'm alright now, you can go back to sleep."

Halt had no intention of moving. He finally had his 'son' back from Skandia and he wasn't going to leave him alone to struggle through nightmares.

"It's hard to get back to sleep right after a nightmare," he said. "Come and have a cup of coffee."

"Caffeine won't help me sleep," Will smiled, the smile fading after a few seconds. Halt gave him a brief smile.

"No, it won't." He figured his apprentice wouldn't get much sleep anyway, but he changed his suggestion regardless. "Tea then."

Will stared down at his hands, and Halt took hold of his arm to urge him out of bed. "That was an order," he said, half joking. Will smiled and obediantly followed his mentor to the kitchen.

They sat in silence around to oak table, nursing cups of tea. Halt watched his young friend carefully.

"How long have these nightmares been going on for?" he asked. It was possible Will had been having them for some time and the others had been too preoccupied with the war to notice.

"Not long." Will muttered his cheeks tinged red. "Once or twice in Skandia. A few times on the boat."

"That's often the way," Halt nodded. "They don't really affect you until all the reality of it is over."

"Mhm," Will murmured. He took another sip of his tea. "I don't usually have bad dreams, you know," he burst out.

It took Halt a moment to understand what was behind the outburst. "Will, it's nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone has nightmares every now and again."

The apprentice didn't appear to believe him- he took another sip of tea and said nothing. It didn't escape Halt's notice that the pale hands around the cup were shaking.

"It helps to talk about it, sometimes," he prompted. Will just shook his head, a short, sharp movement.

Halt sighed. "Well, alright." He finished his tea and set the cup down. "Are you ready to go back to bed? You've got a big day of training tommorrow."

Will attempted a weak grin. "Trust you to bring up training," he said. Halt cuffed the back of his head lightly.

"Don't be cheeky," he mock-growled. With one hand resting on the boy's shoulder, he guided him back to the bedroom. "If you ever want to talk about it, I'm right here."

Will smiled up at him. "Thanks Halt," he said. "But I'm alright."

Halt let him shut the door. But the older ranger stood for some time, his back pressed against the wall, listening to the muffled sobs that came from within.

…...

It was much the same for the next few nights. Will would scream, Halt would wake him and the two of them would drink tea until the apprentice claimed he was sleepy.

But he didn't get much sleep, Halt was sure of it. Even if he didn't sense the restless soul across the hall, he could tell from the dark bags under Will's eyes and the pallor to his skin.

It caused much conflict within Halt- one part of him wanted to stop training altogether until Will has recovered, the other part took his responsibility as a mentor very seriously and refused to let him lighten Will's workload too much, as a ranger's life was a hard one and no amount of coddling would prepare Will for it.

Still, he did put in some effort to do some of the household chores, and he didn't add anything extra onto Will's practise schedule.

Now, he was reading through a report while stirring a stew. Lately, he'd taken upon cooking all their meals- usually Will did it, and he told himself when the boy was fully recovered, he would make him do twice the chores he already did to make up for Halt's participation.

The stew was smelling good, the report was...well...a mediocre report. But he found the words swirling on the pages, unfocused, and the smell of the stew drifted away from his conscious mind. Will should have been back from practise by now. He didn't want to charge over to the archery fields like a mother goose, but he was starting to worry.

When he realised he'd flipped over two pages without taking in a single word, and that the stew was starting to burn, and that Will still wasn't back, he decided to find his apprentice after all. He headed off to the archery fields and frowned. He couldn't see the boy, though the trees were peppered with arrows- most of which had hit the bullseye, he noted with satisfaction.

"Will?" he called out, and, when he received no reply, cautiously ventured into the fields, alert for any undetected enemy.

He spotted a mass of unruly brown hair poking from behind a bush and hurried over. Will was lying unconscious on the ground, his empty quiver on his back and his bow centimetres from his hand.

Halt swiftly checked his pulse, then, relieved, lifted the boy into his arms and carried him over to Abelard. He had to tell himself to remain calm, that everything was fine, and he was a seasoned ranger who would not panic in these situations. He swung into the saddle, resting Will in front of him, and urged Abelard to canter to the town.

They arrived at the nearest decent healer and Halt lifted Will down. He rapped on the door, the movement made awkward because of the boy in his arms.

A plump, motherly woman answered the door. She bowed when she saw it was the rangers.

"Hello, sir, rangers," she began politely.

"None of that," Halt dismissed her. "Just tell me what's wrong with the boy."

She bobbed her head up and down. "Put him over here," she said, indicating a low bed. Halt laid his apprentice down, somewhat concerned at the clucking noises the woman made. She disappeared behnd a door, then returned with an old man.

"This is the healer, sir rangers," she said. "I'm just an assistant."

Halt was getting frustrated at how long it was taking to get Will checked.

"See to him already," he snapped.

"What's the problem?" the doctor asked, lifting one of Will's eyelids, then letting it slide shut again.

"I don't know what the problem is, you're the healer," Halt spat. But the man had obviously spent a lifetime dealing with difficult patients and he was not cowed.

"Calm down, Ranger," he said. "Give me a minute."

The minute passed painfully slowly. Halt fidgited in his seat. He should never have listened to that one demanding side of him, he should have reduced Will's workload. It was obvious the boy had not been well, and now-

"He's fine," the healer said.

"He is not fine!" Halt eyed the healer with disbelief. "People who are fine do not spontaneously decide to collapse."

"He's just exhausted, ranger," the healer said. "And slightly malnourished. I would say he needs rest and good food."

Halt closed his eyes, relieved that there was nothing seriously wrong. It made sense- Will had barely been eating anything recently and certainly had hardely gotten any sleep.

"Thank you," he said to the healers and paid them a fair sum. He lifted Will into his arms and carried him to Abelard.

They were about halfway to the cabin when Will stirred. Halt gripped him tightly to make sure the boy didn't fall off.

"Wha's goin' on?" Will slurred.

"Nothing." Halt told him. "Everythings fine. You just fell asleep during training and now I'm taking you home." He left out how worried he had been, and how he had been near panic to find his apprentice inexplicably lying on the ground.

"Okay..." Will murmured. His eyes fluttered shut, then opened again and he squirmed into a more upright position. "I'm sorry, it won't happen again."

It took Halt a moment to realise he was talking about falling asleep in training. "No, it won't," he confirmed. "Because until I'm convinced you have recovered fully from your Skandian ordeal, there will be no more training."

"What?" Will was swaying, clearly exhausted, but he managed to sound indignant. "Why not?"

"You're destroying yourself," Halt told him, frowning. "Considor it sick leave. Anyway, I thought you'd be glad of the chance to have a break."

"Not like this," Will muttered. His ears were turning red- that was all Halt could see from his position; he couldn't see the boy's expression.

They dismounted at the cabin. Halt fed and watered Abelard and Will insisted on doing the same for Tug, though he kept yawning and swayed as he walked.

"Okay, off to bed with you," Halt shoved his apprentice towards the bedroom. The grizzled ranger poured himself a cup of coffee and sat contemplating the day. His stew had burned and he set it out for the birds- he wasn't hungry anyway. Will's reluctance to have a day off had both impressed and irritated him. It was good that the boy was so dedicated to learning to be a ranger, but annoying because he was having a day off, even if Halt had to tie him down.

Thankfully, it didn't come to that. Will slumped at the table, picking at his breakfast of bacon and eggs.

"Why can't I train?" he complained. Halt sighed.

"Because the healer said you need rest," he explained.

"I don't want to stay in bed all day," Will said. "I'm fine."

He wasn't fine. He still had dark bags under his eyes, but Halt realised he probably didn't want to sleep in fear of the nightmares. It couldn't go on like that, it was affecting his training. Will hadn't even tried to sleep the previous night, Halt had heard him slip from the cabin to go talk to Tug. He'd fallen asleep in the stable and Halt had carried him back to bed, but when he woke, the boy was already up.

Will brightened up suddenly, as if a good thought had occurred to him. "Hey Halt? Since I'm having this day off, can I invite Alyss over?"

"Alyss has her own training to focus on," Halt said. His apprentice immediately looked depressed, and he caved. "Oh all right then."

"Thanks Halt!" Will said, his usual enthusiasm returning to him. Halt turned away to hide a smile.

"How about we ride up to the castle together?" he suggested. "I have some things to report to the baron anyway."

"Alright!" Will leapt from his seat, suddenly energised, and glanced down at himself, straightening the creases in his ranger uniform. Halt rolled his eyes, reflecting on young love, and told himself the reason he surreptiously glanced at his reflection in a shiny pot was not because he might run into Pauline, but because he had to look presentable for the baron.

They saddled the horses and rode out towards the castle. Occasionally, Halt would glance at his young friend, making sure the boy would not fall from the saddle. Will rubbed at the bags under his eyes, and ran his fingers through his hair. He kept fidgeting and smoothing down his shirt.

Halt hid a smile. They reached the castle and he left his apprentice with Alyss while he talked to the baron.

"It's good to have you back, Halt," Arald said, a smile playing on his lips. "You and the boy. How is Will doing, anyway?"

Rodney was there as well, and he appeared interested in the answer too. Halt hesitated, assuming his apprentice didn't want the baron to know of his nightmares.

"He's as well as can be expected after the whole Skandian ordeal," he said, strategically avoiding any real answer.

Arald and Rodney were sympathetic. They discussed business for a while- it was nothing hugely important, as far as Halt was concerned, just some issues among the battleschool. Then he was dismissed and he headed down the stairs to Will and Alyss.

Pauline was there too and she glanced up at his arrival. Halt was always left wondering why he was so tongue tied in her presence, and why he always felt scrutinised and inadiquate.

"Halt, can I speak with you for a second," Pauline drew him to one side. He shifted from foot to foot, aware that she looked displeased. Will and Alyss weren't paying them any attention, they were busy talking to one another.

"What is it?" he put on his gruff ranger voice, and crossed his arms, knowing that the deep cowl of his cloak would hide his expressions.

"It's about Will," she said. "He seems a little...tired. I mean, are you sure you aren't overworking him?"

Halt sighed. He decided he could confide in Pauline, and rubbed his eyes wearily. "I don't know what to do, Pauline," he confessed. "I gave him the day off today but I can't keep going easy on him. He's been having nightmares- he hasn't been sleeping well and he hasn't been eating much."

"Ah, I see," Pauline nodded several times. "I can't have him disrupting my apprentice for too long either." She was smiling as she said it and Halt sensed she didn't really mind for today. "Have you talked to him about his dreams?"

Halt shook his head. "I asked. He didn't want to tell me anything and I can hardly force him."

Pauline pursed her lips. "Did you think that maybe he feels weak?"

"Weak?"

"Yes." She brushed his hand in an encouraging gesture. "He looks up to you Halt; he probably worries that you think he's weak for struggling with nightmares. You don't, do you?"

"Of course not," Halt shook his head vehemently. "Every ranger has nightmares at some point in their lives, we deal with death too much not too."

"Then you should tell him that," Pauline said and patted his shoulder lightly.

He glanced over at Will and nodded to himself.

"I'll do that," he said.

…...

It was the middle of the night and Will had woken from yet another nightmare. Halt brought his apprentice a cup of tea and they sat together on the bed, Will tucked uner the blankets, Halt perched on the edge. Outside, an owl hooted and the full moon shone through the windowpanes.

"Look, Will," Halt began, pausing when hollow eyes stared up at him. "Will, this has to stop."

Will dropped his gaze, fiddling with the hem of his blanket. "Sorry," he muttered. Halt shook his head.

"It's nothing to be sorry about, and it's nothing to be ashamed of either," he said. Will's head remained bowed.

"I understand that there are things only time can heal," Halt continued. "But talking about it will help the process."

"I don't want to talk." Will muttered. Halt couldn't help himself, he had to raise an eyebrow.

"That's a first," he said. A flicker of a smile crossed Will's lips and Halt found himself feeling encouraged. "How about if I tell you about one of my nightmares, and you tell me about yours."

"You?" Will looked up, eyes wide. "You don't have nightmares!"

"Everyone has bad nights," Halt told him. He had to admit, a part of him enjoyed the hero worship his young apprentice had for him, but he knew in time Will would have to learn his trusted mentor was as human as everyone. "I still have nightmares sometimes. But there was one part of my life when I was plagued by them, day in, and day out."

"Really? What happened?" Will's insatiable curiosity pulled him from the lingering shadow of his dream. His eyes were bright and attentive.

Halt hid a smile. "I'll only tell you if you tell me of your dreams afterwards."

Will hesitated, then nodded. "Alright," he agreed.

Halt took a moment to gather his thoughts. He shifted so he was more comfortable on the bed.

"This was back when I was young. Crowley and I had just reformed the corps. I was sent to protect a hibernian princess from the kingdom of Roslin. She was only a child- barely ten years old." He paused, his eyes dark as he remembered. Will was hanging on to his every word.

"The mission went badly. We were taken by surprise and one of her entourage turned traitor. I had trusted the man myself- I had been the one to order him to stay with her at any cost. And he killed her."

"Back at Araluen she would visit me in my dreams. I would see her, young and innocent, and she would point at me, as if blaming me for her death. And then she would disappear and it would be Crowley in her place, then my other friends at the time and my former mentor. And then Pauline." He paused to glare at his apprentice. "And if you tell anyone that last part, I'll tan your backside and tie you to the top branch of a tree."

"I won't tell!" Will quickly protested innocence and Halt nodded.

"Anyway, these dreams would plague me. I would wake up and think: what if I judge someone wrongly again? What if I'm responsible for someone elses death? What if I make a mistake?"

Will was staring at him, evidently amazed that his mentor had these doubts. Halt smiled grimly.

"I gave up on sleeping in fear of these dreams. Before long, I was exhausted and I survived the days with only wilpower holding me up. I was sent on a mission with Crowley and when it came to the fight, I could barely keep my eyes open. I was useless and Crowley saved me. It came to me then that if this didn't stop, I really would make a mistake in exhaustion. And that comparison with my normal self chased the dreams away. There were nights when I would have the same nightmare- still are- because some things never leave you, but it didn't stop me from living my life."

"Now," Halt continued, coming to the end of his tale. "Your turn."

"I just...dream of Skandia." Will whispered, his voice husky. "It's always before you and Horace came. I'm trying to run, but I can't move, and there's a great fog behind me- and I know, inexplicably, that it's warmweed, and if the fog reaches me, I will become addicted to warmweed again. So my arms and legs move but I'm going nowhere and then the fog is there and it's all around me..." Halt had to fight back the urge to kill the man who had inflicted such horrors on his apprentice, on his son.

His voice broke off, silent tears running down his face. Wordlessly, Halt wrapped his arms around the boy, and Will returned the embrace. They stayed like that, until Will's head dropped on Halt's shoulder and he started softly snoring.

The nightmares would never completely leave Will, Halt knew that from his own experiences. But they would become more infrequent and the apprentice would be able to move on with his life. There was no magic Halt could work to speed up the healing process, and no words he could say to make things better. All he could do was tuck the boy in and watch over him until dawn.

There are wounds only time can heal, and that was part of the pain of being a mentor- when all he could do was wait.