"They're saying that one day everyone will be traveling through balloon," Mia excitedly informed the other mercenaries, reading off of the printed pamphlet that had been handed out to all the viewers. She looked at the hot air balloon with suspicion, as did most of the others. It didn't look like it could fly, even though there were reports of it doing so. "How do you steer it?" She wondered aloud, handing the pamphlet to Mist to read. Soren shrugged, eyes stuck on the machine they had come to see that day. He had been reading about all of these new technologies, and while he could appreciate something like the printing press (though it didn't work on tomes) he was unable to understand something like the hot air balloon.
"It's slower than a horse, Titania. And it looks a lot more dangerous." Mist frowned as she looked at the printed pictures showing the balloon, a big red and gold thing, flying above the treetops. The basket seemed pathetically small compared to the balloon itself. "I think it won't replace the horse, though it might be a fun thing to try someday." Soren rolled his eyes as the group started to move, not wanting to be stuck in the back. Boyd nodded along to the conversation, trying to pay attention but also having his hands full with the twins. Well, Castor more than Pollux, but they both were curious about this new place with new people.
"But still, Mist. Don't you think it would be fun to fly like one of the bird laguz someday?" Rhys smiled at the idea, looking at Titania who seemed stuck on how would you turn the machine. She blinked and looked down, nodding and smiling back. "It does look slow, though… Are we sure it can even fly?" He asked. Soren sighed. He had been stuck listening to the other mercenaries prattle on for the last few days about the coming hot air balloon exhibit. Of course he already knew the answers to all of their questions, but he was in no mood to humor them. They were already spending a whole day "enjoying" themselves and going to this thing in the first place. Though, come to think of it, Soren was interested in seeing it for himself. As many reports as he could read, he wanted to know what it was like face-to-face.
"It's been in Daein before, and I've heard that it flew from one town to another," Gatrie cut in cheerfully. Both he and Shinon were surprisingly sober, considering the alcohol that was on sale just on the other side of the town square. Gatrie had been almost as excited as Mist to see the balloon, and kept claiming that one of his (many) girlfriends had either seen it, been in one, or helped build one, depending on the time of day. Shinon had been quietly observing it, and Soren couldn't help but wonder what was going through the marksman's mind. As obnoxious and bothersome as the redhead could be, he also had some of the best eyes Soren knew of (on a beorc) and his insights could be helpful if the time came when Soren needed them.
"Really? But how does it even lift? The balloon is inflated and it isn't going anywhere!" Rolf complained. Soren doubted that he'd need to know about these new machines, but he wasn't about to be unprepared. After all, there were already reports of The White Hand using fireworks to burn down warehouses and set forests on fire in Gallia and even Crimea. Someone creates something and another feels like it is his duty to turn it into a weapon. Knowing Ike he'd be dismayed to know about the tension that still existed… But there was no way of knowing that, and Soren wasn't about to linger in the past. Not now at any rate.
"Yeah, but it's being held down by ropes, see?" Mia pointed them out, jumping up and down to see above the heads of taller men ahead of her. Rolf tilted his head, having no more luck seeing than her, before Shinon sighed and rolled his eyes. The redhead was maybe the exact opposite of Mist, being totally uninterested in the hot air balloon. His sharp eyes were scanning the crowd rather than the machine, Soren noticed. What's he looking for? No one in their right mind would attack here and now of all places… Though none of the mercenaries were armed, of course. Why would they carry huge battle-axes and swords around with them in a civilian area?
"If you can't see, Rolf, go climb a tree. Or grow up some more and push your way past someone." Despite being in his twenties, now, Rolf seemed to have stopped growing at too-little feet and not-very-many inches. He wasn't Mist's height, but he wouldn't be challenging his master in the height department anytime soon. The greenette just scowled and rolled his eyes, the group finally finding a place where everyone could see comfortably. Or, well, almost everyone. Soren was almost the exact same height as five years ago, and while nobody had commented on his growth (or lack thereof) he knew he was running out of time. At least that bastard Stefan has stopped trying to recruit me. The trueblade hadn't actually contacted Soren at all in a few months. It was a bit of a welcome surprise and relief, so Soren wasn't concerned. He was glad that the man had finally given up.
"Boyd, where's the boys? I'll put Pollux on my shoulders and you can put Castor on yours," Mist offered, turning towards her husband. The greenette nodded towards Pollux, who was shyly looking around with his big brown eyes. Boyd then looked at Castor, who…. "Where's Castor? Boyd, where'd he go?" Castor was missing. Mia glanced around, as did Mist, the brunette starting to be frantic. Boyd was yelling about how the three-year old had been there moments before, holding his hand, and suddenly The Greil Mercenaries (or what was left of them) were falling into hysteria. We can defeat crazed kings and a mad goddess, but we lose a child and suddenly the world is ending. Soren couldn't help but find something mildly amusing about the situation, though he did look around and started for a busy market street, deciding it looked like something a hungry child might go for.
Boyd, meanwhile, was wandering through the crowd, using his sheer strength and force of will to push people away as he looked for a no-doubt panicking and worried child. Mist is going to kill me. Mist is going to kill me. I am going to need to write a will. I am going to die. Mist is going to kill me. That was the greenette's train of thought as he ran around, trying to look for that light green hair and familiar excited little boy. Despite events like this Boyd wasn't that bad of a father, he just wasn't cut out for three-year old twins with a combined energy of Rolf after too much sugar.
"Boyd! I was wondering when I'd run into you." Boyd stopped short and blinked in surprise, seeing his older brother with a smiling Castor on his shoulders, pulling lightly on his uncle's hair. "Kieran, come over here! Oh, no, don't attack someone!" Oscar frowned momentarily as his friend almost tackled someone who was "looking at him funny" but the redhead walked back over, hitting Boyd on the back in a rough, if friendly, manner. "Is Mist around here, then?" Oscar asked, Boyd nodding in reply. Kieran motioned for Oscar to let him see Castor, who was excited to see the redhead. While Mist had been a little worried about Kieran spending too much time with the twins, Castor loved the man and would listen to all of his stories with attention only a three-year old could summon. Pollux was more likely to fall asleep (not like Kieran noticed).
"What are you two doing here? Just enjoying a day off?" Boyd asked as Oscar carefully lifted Castor off his shoulders and into the hands of Kieran, who started to swing the greenette around and generally fool around. Oscar shook his head and pointed towards where a tall, blue-haired man and his green-haired wife were watching the events with smiles on their faces. Boyd nodded in understanding. Plain clothes aside, it wouldn't take a genius to realize the queen and her husband were at an event like this. "Ah, I see. Still, it's a sight to see, isn't it?" Boyd mentioned above Castor's squealing of joy as Kieran started to tickle him. The redhead had finally found someone with his same level of energy and enthusiasm. Oscar was about to reply when there was a loud scream.
"Everyone move away!" It was another familiar voice. What was Soren shouting about? Boyd and Oscar exchanged a look, as Kieran was suddenly all business. The redhead passed Boyd his son and the trio took off towards the sound of the shout, people gladly moving out of the way of the three heavily built men. When they got there it was already over, a small circle of people who were just watching as Gatrie tackled one last person to the ground, Shinon literally standing with one foot on another. Titania's hand was covered in blood but it wasn't hers; stumbling around was a man holding his nose and eventually sitting down, looking around at the faces of war-torn mercenaries and professional knights. Elincia and Geoffrey made their way through the crowd, someone shouting for everyone to make way for the royals.
"Whom are you working with?" Soren asked coldly, suddenly seeming a lot taller as he glared at the man with the broken nose. There was a shake of his head and Soren let out a sigh, looking like he would punch the man himself if he thought it would do anything. He noticed the royals and gave them a curt nod, which was about as social as Soren got when it came to half-strangers. "Queen Elincia, King Geoffrey. I hope neither of you are hurt." They both nodded and walked forward, followed closely by Lucia and Bastian who were both pushing their way through the crowd. Elincia regarded the citizens carefully, before smiling slightly at them.
"I would hope that this celebration is able to continue without me. Knights! Take these men prisoner! We will ride back to the capital." Elincia glanced around before quickly crossing the small circle and stopping in front of Soren, who was backed by Titania and an ever-sour looking Shinon. "Soren. Titania." Elincia nodded politely to both of them, though only Titania gave her a small bow. "I would hope that I would be able to talk with you afterwards?" Titania and Soren exchanged looks and the black-haired man nodded once. That was all the approval the redhead needed from the tactician.
"Of course, my queen."
The meeting was small, just Titania, Soren, and the two royals. Despite that the Crimean Royal Knights surrounded the entire inn, though the queen was using only one room. Understandably everyone was a little shaken by the sudden attack, though it was both poorly planned and terribly executed. Soren toyed with the idea that the three men were working alone, but he doubted that such a small group would attack such a busy, high profile event. Then again, there was no way a group like The White Hand would be so sloppy and not notice several members of The Greil Mercenaries walking around. Regardless of whether or not they had their weapons, they weren't harmless by any means.
"I would like to hire you again to help deal with these people. They are growing even more bold than before and while this was less than successful we can't let them continue." Elincia frowned as she thought about it. The White Hand had made empty threats but had been able to carry through with some of it, especially harassing laguz attempting to travel to areas outside of Gallia and the bird nation. While the anti-laguz sentiment was not nearly as bad as it used to be, that didn't mean that Begnion or even Crimea was waiting with arms wide open.
"I accept." Soren didn't even wait for Titania's approval. For most of the technical decisions she left it to him anyway. It wasn't like she was bad at it, or even disliked paperwork, but he was just much better and even liked doing it at times. It was certainly a good reason to be left alone. "I assume you want us to check some known areas and clear out any White Hand members we find?" Geoffrey blinked in mild surprise, not as used to dealing with Soren as Elincia was. Even then the queen glanced at Titania, the redhead nodding discreetly.
"Yes. I will send the knights to patrol the Begnion border, but it would help if you could cover the Daein border." There had been some arguments over the mountain range that was technically controlled by Begnion until a few years ago, when the nation agreed to let Crimea take half and Daein the other half. It created a small border between the two nations, and while it was rarely patrolled (being uninhabited mountain ranges) it was suspected that The White Hand was hiding in the caves there, though no matter how many men either nation sent there, nothing could be found. "I also would like to know if you would be interested in a longer contract, on the chance that we encounter larger resistance than we expect." Elincia exchanged a glance with Geoffrey, making Soren think this meeting had been planned for a while. "I also would like to send a telegram to Micaiah, to inform her about these proceedings."
"Yes, of course. For now, however, we will work for a few weeks to keep the border secure. We can discuss price later, my queen. I'm certain that Mist will want to go home and put the twins to their afternoon nap," Titania replied with a small smile. The day had taken a lot out of everyone, really, and Elincia looked thankful to be able to discuss payment at a later date. She nodded and stood from her seat, as did Geoffrey. They all shook hands; even Soren, though he seemed to do it more out of obligation to a good client rather than out of friendship or admiration for the two.
"I hope you have a good day, you two." With that, Soren just watched in silence as Elincia and Geoffrey walked out of the room. There was a pause and then you could hear the knights getting ready to move out. No doubt Boyd will want to see his brother off… And that includes Rolf, Mist, great…. Soren didn't like having to wait but he knew better than to try to get the mercenaries to move out. With any luck Shinon and Gatrie would be drunk in a bar, despite it only being the afternoon. And then Mia would try to convince him to stay and eat in the town instead of back at the base…
"Let Rolf and Boyd see their brother off but then we're leaving. If Shinon and Gatrie are drunk leave them; they can handle themselves." Titania nodded and left the inn, the doors slamming after her. Soren was about to follow, having no other reason to remain inside (even if he did leave nobody would make him interact with other people), when the doors opened and closed again, and a familiar woman with long blue-purple was standing in front of him, arms on her hips and a smile on her face. "Mia…" Soren trailed off, unsure of how to put it. Their relationship since Ike left had always been a little hard to describe, but even more so now.
"Hiya, Soren! Are we going to be sticking around? We should get something to eat!" But of course. Does she really think I'd waste money buying food when I can just go back to the fort and eat there? I'm not even hungry… Soren sighed and shook his head, trying to walk past her and ignore the pout that she adopted without a moment's hesitation. At this point he didn't even know if it was real or faked. If it was fake it was a very good fake. "Aw, but Sor-en! We haven't eaten out at a real café or restaurant in months," Mia complained, referring to the mercenaries in general rather than just the two of them. Soren didn't really care either way and just rolled his eyes.
"Mia. We are about to deal with The White Hand, the largest and most dangerous group of anti-laguz in the entire continent. I am not going to spend another hour in this town if I can avoid it." Soren was the kind of person who liked his comfort. He took comfort in similar surroundings and being alone and not fighting for his life every single moment. So no, while the extra money would be welcome he was not looking forward to running around Crimea again, looking for some anti-laguz fools intent on destroying a hard-earned peace. Then again, things hadn't been truly peaceful for a while… But that was beside the point.
"Now come on, let's go make sure the others are ready to go."
Soren adjusted his oil lamp, not wanting to waste any of the light but loathing to leave these reports for later, especially if the group would be moving out soon. Candles were reliable enough but didn't give off as bright a light, plus that would require him to look for something to light the candle with in the first place. He wasn't planning on staying up too late, since he would want to be fresh to get the rest of the mercenaries up (especially Shinon and Gatrie, who had decided to go for drinks and only stumbled back to the fort at dinner and passed out without eating a bite).
"Soren? May I come in?" Mia gently opened the door to Soren's bedroom and he resisted the urge to mention that she was, technically, already "in". She was the only one who decided that knocking wasn't needed when disturbing him. Well, there had been another blue-haired sword-wielder, but he was gone now. He had left a long time ago, and Soren was doing his best not to let that control him. He sighed and nodded, turning around and looking at her coolly, unsure of what he wanted to do now about her. He wouldn't deny that her friendship and support, especially in the few months directly after Ike left, had been incredibly helpful. He even didn't find her as bothersome as he used to, but… What could he call these developments in their relationship? What even was their relationship?
"What do you want to talk about?" Soren asked, doubting it was just another one of her friendly visits. Usually she talked to him during the day, when they were eating or training. They were friends. Kind of. Soren believed that was what people called it. Mia shrugged and looked around before biting her lip, wanting to say something but obviously not knowing how to put it. Or maybe she just wanted to see how he was doing after he roughly turned her down that afternoon. "Listen, Mia. I'm sorry about this afternoon, but…" Soren let out a tired sigh and yawned, standing up from his seat.
"I know, you don't like people so don't worry about it. You just need to relax more, y'know? Take some time off. Relax." Soren had heard this before, from plenty of people. And, no doubt, he would hear it more as his life went on. However he could not just "relax" when there were things to do, even if those things were just a little bit of inventory and paperwork. Payments had to be made, weapons bought, and moral kept up. When your jobs ranged from finding lost livestock to beating back groups of well train anti-laguz idiots, you never knew what you'd be facing.
"Is that all you wanted to say?" Soren curtly replied, not really in the mood to entertain someone. Now that he was away from his desk he just wanted to turn his lamp off and go to bed, not talk to Mia about something he would much rather avoid. Mia shook her head and Soren sighed, cutting her off before she could even begin. "Mia. I told you before; I don't think a relationship besides friendship would work between us. Besides, we're co-workers." And I'm not technically beorc. Not like Mia knew that, though it would become soon. "And before you bring up Titania and Mist, that's different. Boyd isn't as good a fighter and is more distracted. Rhys and Titania are almost inseparable. So no, things are changed when you're in a relationship." Mia frowned, though, at this point, Soren didn't care.
"So you at least admit that you have considered me in something other than a friend position?" Now it was Soren's turn to frown as he walked over to his door and opened it.
"That is beside the point." Mia closed the door, leaning against it, her long nightshirt and pants pooling on the floor. "Mia. We have had this conversation before and my answer is not going to change." She scowled in one of the rare times she wasn't smiling or excited.
"Then when will it? Soren, we've been dancing around this for years." Soren wished that she was exaggerating, but the trueblade was telling the truth. He just remained silent as she glared at him before letting out a sigh and rubbing the back of her head. "I guess I'll just have to wait until you get used to the idea of liking someone?" She left quietly before he could say anything else. He frowned, unsure of what he was feeling. He just walked over to his oil lamp and turned it off, getting into his bed and letting out a sigh.
Do I like her? Have I liked her for a while?... Why can't there be books on relationships?
Boyd yawned as Mist returned from tucking the boys into their shared bed, in the room that used to be Oscar's. Castor and Pollux were both completely exhausted from the chaotic day, despite having an afternoon nap. Castor was always a little more worn out after seeing Kieran, while Pollux got along better with Uncle Oscar rather than the redhead. The brown-haired young woman silently slipped into the bed next to Boyd, snuggling up next to him. He easily slung his arms around her, pulling her into a warm grasp. It was hard to believe that they were married and parents sometimes. It wasn't been easy but it certainly was fun, if crazy at the same time. Boyd knew, no matter how much be might complain to others, that he wouldn't trade his little family for the world.
"We're leaving tomorrow." Mist's voice seemed to echo in the otherwise quiet room. Boyd mumbled something that could have been agreement or complaint. He was half-asleep, not really paying attention to what was going on. "Boyd… I want to bring the boys." Ok, now the greenette was awake. Usually the mercenaries didn't all go somewhere at the same time, so there was always someone to watch over the twins. At three years old they hardly needed to be with Mist, but it was very much preferred. And, well, they got themselves into al sorts of trouble, usually with Castor getting Pollux to join him in whatever crazy scheme the greenette had planned.
"But… We're going to be fighting." Boyd shifted so he could look at Mist, who was completely serious about this. She nodded, as if telling him to get to the point. "And what if something happens to you? Or to one of them?" Boyd swallowed. He wasn't the world's best dad, he knew, but he was doing his best. And letting his entire family march up to the most dangerous group around? Uh, yeah, not happening. Mist had other plans. The brunette softly jabbed her husband in the stomach. "Mi-st! I'm being honest here! I don't want anything to happen to you guys," Boyd complained.
"I know, and nothing will. I've got you and Rolf and even Soren, not to mention the others. They wouldn't let anything happen." Boyd scowled. True or not that was beside the point.
"And what happens if we get attacked in camp and you get captured protecting them?" Mist rolled her eyes, even if she did find his worries a little cute.
"I wouldn't get captured and Gatrie and Shinon would have to drag you off the person who lay a finger on me. Relax, Boyd. Nothing will happen when I've got you around." She kissed him gently on the lips and smiled, the greenette returning it warmly. It was moments like this that made him glad that he was married.
Titania smiled as Rhys blew out the candle, letting the moonlight fall in despite the thin piece of cloth that served to cover up the window. The temperature was nice and the night was quiet so they both enjoyed seeing part of nature in the fort. The two redheads cuddled together, though it was a little hard since Rhys was actually shorter than the paladin. They were used to it, though, and easily fell into a comfortable hold that made them both feel secure. Most nights were like this, nowadays. With the marriage coming up they both agreed to wait, and even then Titania wasn't sure she wanted to have children after seeing the amount of chaos two could do.
"Are you sure about this?" Rhys asked, as he usually did on nights when something dangerous and random happened to the mercenaries, like that time a charging bull almost took Boyd out for a month, or that disastrous day when Kieran almost burned the entire fort down while trying to beat (read: impress) Oscar in cooking. Mercenary life was not easy, and Titania had already lost one person who was close to her through death. And, well, Rhys' health problems weren't exactly a secret. It was one thing to have your love die in the middle of an epic battle or at the end of a glorious career; it was a whole other to be struck down by sickness when you should otherwise be alive and kicking.
"Yes, Rhys. I'm sure. I know what I'm doing and I will have no regrets." Rhys felt her grip on him tighten just a little.
"No matter what?" She smiled, and though she couldn't see it, she knew he was too.
"No matter what." Rhys swallowed and nodded, shifting his head to kiss her softly before smiling back. "I love you, Rhys. And maybe it wasn't the easiest path, and maybe it won't be a very clean one either, but I know you'll always be there." Titania took a deep breath and let it out in a content sigh. "No matter how many times I come to you bleeding out, you always save me. You've never let me down and you never will." That was certainly true. Out of all the mercenaries the only person who needed to be healed as much as Titania was Boyd, and he always went to Mist if he could (not like Rhys was complaining).
"And I can always count on you to watch my back, right?" Rhys asked, though he already knew the answer.
"Of course, Rhys." She kissed the top of his head before shifting so they were in their original position, comfortable just lying like this. There was a moment of silence as he wondered just how lucky he was in order to get someone just this wonderful. It was not the first time he found himself thanking the goddess for her mercy. Despite the war against her all those years ago he still was able to find a place for her in his heart, though Titania's part was much, much bigger.
"I love you, Titania."
"And I love you, Rhys. Now go to sleep and relax. We're going to have a long day ahead of ourselves."
A/N; This is just an idea that I've had around my head for quite a while. It's going along at a decent speed so you should expect updates every week, give or take a few days depending on my real-life work-load. With that being said, I hope you enjoyed this chapter and will stay to read the chapters ahead. Thank you~