Tir McDohl was not one much for socializing. He preferred to stay out of the way where people couldn't see him, where he wouldn't get close to anyone, and where he didn't have to do any talking. That said, if it were his decision, Tir absolutely would not be joining the Dunan Army in Genkaku Castle at all. He would be back in Gregminster, quietly waiting for Gremio to get over an illness so the two of them could resume their travels and leave the war conflict behind until it was over. But no, Riou's party had shown up—with Kasumi, why did she have to be there?—things had happened, and soon enough Tir was convinced to come along.
That, and his damned sense of duty was acting up again.
Tir sighed and looked up at the castle. Riou had had things he needed to do, and the former Liberation Army leader sympathized. Being the figurehead for a massive rebellious movement meant you were busy all the time, with little to yourself. Before he had gone, the leader of the Dunan Army pointed Tir in the direction of the dorms, letting him know which floors had available rooms. Apparently all Tir had to do was talk to Emilia in the library, as she was the record keeper for that sort of thing.
Genkaku Castle was impressively large, more like a small town than a military base. Tir didn't feel any sort of rush when it came to getting a room; he had time for that yet. The morning sun was still in the air, and he wanted to walk around the castle a bit more. Strolling was much more pleasant when nobody in the entire area knew who he was. Tir had always gotten more attention in Gregminster and other cities in the Toran Republic than he altogether wanted. He would take this time to enjoy being anonymous.
He began to walk down the wide main street, glancing into the windows of all the shops in the area. The Dunan Army had everything they needed, which was good for them. They didn't need to import goods and supplies as often as the opposing army did, and didn't need weapon shipments as the blacksmith was right down the street. The soldiers had access to an armory, skill trainers, dojos, and a Rune shop. Tir noticed with a shock that Jeane was behind the counter of the Rune shop, and quickly ducked out of her line of sight. He shuddered as he imagined her pale eyes boring into him, even through the windows of the building.
He beat a hasty retreat, continuing down his path until he reached the end. Tir wasn't in the mood to see the dojos and the library, so he figured he might as well get familiar with was inside the castle. After all, that's where he would be spending most of his time when there weren't any war battles to fight. As he walked into the large entry hall, Tir stopped dead in his tracks.
People he knew from Toran were running around everywhere. He wouldn't be able to take five steps inside without being recognized, and that was the last thing he wanted. Maybe if he stuck close to the wall? That might work; the shadows would serve to disguise him.
Tir crept his way towards the main stairs, feeling slightly ridiculous. What had his life come to that he had to hide and skulk around old companions? The Soul Eater sensed the large, new crowd of souls curiously, and its bearer clamped down on it with an iron will. His right hand flashed in a brief pain as the Rune made its disappointment known, but Tir ignored it. He wouldn't have the Soul Eater thinking it was faced with an endless buffet entirely for its taking.
The Soul Eater was precisely the reason he was hiding in the shadows as if he had done something wrong. If Tir got too close—emotionally or physically—to someone he used to know, he didn't know how the Rune would react. It might flare out before Tir could stop it and before anyone else could blink, the body of the victim would be hitting the floor.
Tir rubbed his right hand absentmindedly. He could worry about that later, as he had no intention of letting things like that happen before he even got past the entry hall. He worked his way up to the stairs, seeing Meg in a dark corner fiddling with some wheeled barrel. He smiled a bit to himself; that girl never stopped working on her inventions if she could help it.
His small amusement stopped suddenly as he reached the top of the stairs. Sitting there, in the same position in front of the same big rock looking as though he might have just been transplanted from Toran Castle, was Luc, Leknaat's apprentice.
Tir's shock faded into something similar to relief. The Soul Eater had never held any particular interest in Luc, possibly because the wind mage was a True Rune bearer himself. If anything else, Tir was one of the few people Luc could tolerate. The two had a sort of kinship born from struggling with a magic they were unfamiliar with. Tir would call the younger boy his friend, and vice versa, if the both of them weren't so averse to becoming overly familiar with others. If anything, Tir figured it was nice to have someone in the castle that understood his feelings and thought process.
Luc had caught Tir's eye the same time the former general spotted him, and the two stood staring for moment in surprise. Then Luc shifted his position and said,
Tir nodded. "As are you."
Luc stretched a bit and glanced around the entry hall, distaste evident on his face. He hadn't aged a bit since Toran, but the former general supposed that was to be expected. "Wars are stupid."
"Mm," Tir hummed, loosely crossing his arms. "They're all over the place. Avoiding them is becoming increasingly difficult."
"At least you have the option of trying," Luc said bitterly, his expression falling into outright disgust. "I have scores of better things to be doing than guarding a tablet, but Lady Leknaat—"
The young man was interrupted by a loud, boisterous voice that rang throughout the hall and sent Tir's stomach plummeting. "Hey! There you are!"
Even without turning around Tir knew exactly whom the voice was addressing. With a heavy sigh, he turned to face it. Before he could pivot all the way around, he found himself crushed underneath a huge muscular arm.
"Riou wasn't lying!" Viktor practically shouted with a wide grin on his face. Behind him, Flik rubbed his eyes, looking exasperated. Tir didn't say anything and instead just stood limply as he waited for the larger man to release him. Though he wouldn't say it out loud, Tir was happy to see them. He hadn't heard anything of the pair since the retaking of Gregminster, and hadn't been sure they were even alive. Tir was glad of the confirmation.
However, he was not a fan of the physical contact. He ducked out from underneath Viktor's heavy arm and backed away, straightening his shirt.
"You're noisy," Luc complained. "Take it somewhere else."
Viktor scowled at the wind mage. "Well you're just a ray of sunshine, as usual. What gives? It's like you don't want people being happy."
"Like I said," Luc answered, his voice cold, "take it somewhere else."
"Fine, fine," Flik said, stepping in before the conversation could become an argument, "we're leaving. Let's go, Viktor."
The latter turned to Tir, smiling once more. "Hey, we have a lot to catch up on, huh? What do you say we go to Leona's and down a few?"
Tir hesitated, but in the end decided just talking a bit wouldn't do any harm. He allowed the two men to lead him to a small, restaurant-like area that was filled with tables. A bar was set up on the opposite side of the room, and though it was still only early afternoon, some people could be seen sitting at the counter with large mugs of ale, save for one woman who was sipping Kanakan wine out of the bottle.
They took a table in a corner of the room, Viktor jumping to the bar to grab some drinks while Flik and Tir waited. The Blue Lightning sighed, looking worn. "He's going to be drunk before long."
"It's only one in the afternoon," Tir replied monotonously. Flik rolled his eyes and flashed him a grin as Viktor hurried back, three mugs in his giant hands.
"Right," he said, plopping down into his chair with a groan. "So what's up?"
"Hm." Tir thought about the question. "Not much. There's a war going on, but that's it."
Viktor scowled. "You know what I mean. Where have you been? Everyone was really worried when you and Gremio just up and vanished off the face of the earth."
Tir put his chin in his palm. "Speak for yourselves. The majority of us from Toran had no idea you two were even alive. I myself wasn't sure until just a few minutes ago."
"I told him to send word that we were fine," Flik sighed. "He never did it. So, sorry."
"It's not like we could tell you, anyway!" Viktor chipped in, "You were long gone!"
"I apologize," Tir said softly. "I couldn't stay there."
Flik and Viktor exchanged a glance. It was clear to both of them that Tir had changed, that much had been evident even during the Toran war. He had started out fairly quiet and thoughtful, but still had an air of cheerfulness and an overall friendly demeanor. Now, three years later, Tir still didn't look a day over sixteen, but his attitude had altered dramatically. He was still quiet, but much more so, and closed off, not seeming to want to get close to anybody, physically or emotionally. It was obvious that Tir desired nothing more than to stay away from people.
"How come?" Viktor asked suddenly. Tir looked up in surprise.
"I mean, how come you couldn't stay there? The Republic probably still needed you, because it was still getting over the war. People looked up to you and expected you to lead the place. So why did you take off?"
Tir stared at him, dark eyes wide. He swallowed nervously and said, "Maybe it's selfish, but I couldn't be tied down like that. No, it's definitely selfish. I...would have been there forever. Look at me, I don't get any older. I'd never leave... I would have hated it. I even hate the very idea." He sighed heavily. "Lepant is doing a much better job than I ever could. Leading an army and leading a country are two different things."
There was a long beat of silence, after which Flik nodded with an understanding look. "That makes sense to me." He smiled. "You are just a kid, after all."
After a moment, Tir faintly smiled back.
Just then, the door to the bar burst open and Meg stumbled in, breathless. Her brown eyes scanned the room until they landed on Tir, and when they did she let out an excited squeak and rushed up to him. "It's true! You're here! There was a rumor going around but I didn't really believe it so I came looking for you and I found you!" Behind her, the odd barrel she had been tinkering with earlier buzzed suspiciously. Meg gave it an absentminded kick.
"Hello," Tir muttered, feeling instantly uncomfortable. The feeling increased intensely as more familiar faces dashed into the bar, more than Tir ever expected. Tai Ho, Yam Koo, Apple, Templeton, Stallion, Hix and Tengaar (Tir noted with amusement that Tengaar was still dragging her boyfriend around like a rag doll) as well as Viki, Futch, and assorted others. They were all excited to see the former leader of the Liberation Army, and somehow the whole thing turned into a reunion party that lasted late into the night. Even people he had never met showed up at the bar, having heard the stories of the famous young general.
And although Tir sensed she was staying safely out of sight, he knew Kasumi attended as well.
It was past midnight when he finally excused himself. It was probably far too late to get a room at this point, so Tir figured he needed to find a place to sleep that wouldn't be too uncomfortable. The inn would be an obvious choice most of the time, but it too had closed an hour or so ago. He sighed and rubbed his eyes, feeling more exhausted than he had since the war ended. His plan to avoid the others had fallen to pieces around him.
The Soul Eater pulsed gently, feeling around the large congregation of souls in the room. Tir clenched his fist as he let himself out the door, shutting out the noise of the drunken party within. He slumped against the wood, letting the moonlight from the entryway to the building wash over his body. It was quiet out here, peaceful. Spending the night outdoors didn't seem like such a bad idea. He had done it plenty of times during his travels with Gremio, after all.
Gremio. This whole thing would be so much easier when he got here. Only when he was alone did Tir realize how much he relied on the older man, how much more relaxed he felt when he had the moral support Gremio provided without question. Well, he would arrive within the next few days, so Tir only had to hold out until then.
He stood, brushed off the back of his clothes, and began walking around the premises. It wasn't like earlier that day, when the town had been bustling with inhabitants. It was completely silent, save for the chirping of cicadas, and the occasional rustle of trees as a light wind blew. It was cool but not cold, and the sky was clear and bright with stars. Tir loved it. Maybe he would have to go to the observatory someday.
It was so still, however, that Tir knew someone was following him. He knew who, also.
The ninja appeared out of the shadows, looking guilty. They hadn't spoken since that incredibly awkward night in Gregminster, when she had attempted to make conversation with him and he sat there like a dead furball. Tir still felt terrible about that, but at the time he didn't have anything to say.
But now he did. He was ready.
"I'm sorry, Master McDohl," Kasumi said, eyes downcast. "I didn't—"
"I'm sorry," Tir interrupted, feeling a strong need to remedy the situation. "I'm sorry I didn't say anything back then. I...couldn't."
She stared at him, her pale violet eyes reflecting the moonlight. "Master McDohl..."
"You don't have to call me that. Just Tir is fine. I'm not the leader of an army anymore." Tir pulled of his bandanna and ran a hand through his hair, a nervous habit. "I...was... I was happy to see you that time, Kasumi."
"Mas...Tir?" Kasumi looked confused, and even somewhat hopeful. Tir felt a pain stab in his chest as he remembered what he had to say.
"Kasumi...please don't try to get close to me." He squeezed his eyes shut, not wanting to see her expression. "You were there during the war, I know you saw. The Soul Eater... if we got close to each other, you would end up dead. I would never be able to forgive myself."
"Well, what if I don't care about that?"
Tir's eyes flew open at her sharp tone. She stood with her hands on her hips, looking irritated. "I'm sorry, what?"
"I said, what if I don't care?" Kasumi's arms dropped to her sides and she came closer to Tir, now with a sad smile on her face. "It's like you said. I was there during the war. I saw. And I don't care. Tir McDohl, I like you. If you like me back then you shouldn't care either."
Shocked, Tir took a moment to find his voice. "When exactly did you get so assertive?"
"I didn't." Kasumi's smile widened. "You're just being stubborn so I have to match the effort."
"Kasumi, you understand your life is in danger, right?"
"What part of 'not caring' do you not understand?"
Tir did like her. Ever since Toran. When he thought to all the people he had left behind after the war, without a single goodbye, Kasumi was always the one he felt worst about. If he didn't have a damn cursed True Rune, nothing would stop him from confessing his feelings right then and there. Hell, Kasumi had just done it, why couldn't he?
Soul Eater. Right.
He groaned, and Kasumi blinked. "What's wrong?"
"I have too many problems." Tir rubbed his eyes.
Kasumi bit her lip, all bravado gone from her expression now. "I would like to help you. If something is bothering you, I want to hear about it."
"And I want to tell you. It's just...complicated." Tir walked over to the wall of the castle and sat against it, looking up at the moon. "I'm not sure about anything right now."
She looked at him a bit strangely, then joined him next to the cool stone. "Well, you know, it doesn't seem like either of us are particularly tired. We have all night. Do you think that's a long enough time to spill everything to each other?"
Tir looked from the brightness of the moonlight to her pale features, and didn't see much of a difference. "If there was anyone I would feel alright with, it would be you." He made himself comfortable. "We're going to be here a while."
Starts off with social awkwardness and ends with MCSUMI!
Soul Eater is such a cockblock. True Runes have no sense of romance.
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