Author's Note: A one-shot that expanded into something a little too long to be a one-shot. I hope you enjoy this leisurely ambling story!
"Dickson! Good to see you made it back in one piece."
Dunban leans against the wall, arms folded as he watches some of the other Defence Force soldiers unload goods from two heavily laden pack Armus under Dickson's instruction. Dickson always brings back all sorts of strange things from his travels, but this is the first time Dunban's seen him with two armus worth. Dunban tends to leave all this technical stuff to Dickson, so he regards all this in only passing interest; Dunban isn't one for research. On a day as good as this, Dunban can usually be found training - building his strength and stamina - rather than in a lab where so many of the Equipment Research and Development scientists spend their days. Even Dickson, who gets out more than all the other scientists put together, has his days when he just doesn't set foot outside.
Dickson doesn't even turn around when he replies in his usual gruff tone, "If you've got enough energy to yammer away, you've got enough energy to help out."
Laughing, Dunban walks forward to stand beside Dickson, not exactly helping just yet. Not that he can help even if he felt like it; there are other Defence Force soldiers in the way. Meanwhile, Dunban casts his gaze over the Armus, patiently standing still while Homs fuss around them. All the goods carried by the Armus are in some kind of bag or packaged away in a crate, making it difficult to determine their specifics. Dickson's past trips usually resulted in new ether cylinders and machinery for the Equipment R&D Department, so Dunban suspects this trip is no different. Nevertheless, he still asks, "Did you find anything interesting?"
The ghost of a smirk flickers across Dickson's face. "…You could say I did." He nods in the direction of a long, flat box being carried off into the Weapons Development Lab. "A real interesting weapon from a tower on the Bionis' shoulder." He turns to face Dunban. "I got lucky. When I entered, I found everyone in the previous expedition dead."
"Dead?" A frown crosses Dunban's face and his hand goes to his chin. "What from?"
Dickson just shakes his head and shrugs. "Who knows? They looked starved, but they still had food in their packs. No injuries, either. I wasn't about to wait around to find out what did them in."
An unknown enemy is much more difficult to fight than a known one. Given how Dickson often travelled solo, it had been a reasonable decision. Dunban doesn't say anything for a long moment, but when it becomes clear Dickson isn't going to say any more, he verbally prods his older friend, grinning. "So, are you going to tell me about this new weapon?"
Dickson lets out a short bark of laughter that sounds more like a cackle than anything else. "You'll see for yourself soon enough." Dunban can see the side of a wide smirk, even as Dickson turns his head away to keep an eye on two Defense Force soldiers carrying something bulky away. "I might even let you be the first one to try swinging it around."
Given the past attempts to wheedle Dickson into things - all of which had ended in miserable failure full of regrets - Dunban doesn't attempt wheedling Dickson into showing him the weapon now. Sholders slumping, Dunban's gaze wanders, eventually falling onto a small child, who is peering around one of the Armu's hind legs. Even at this distance, Dunban can see that the child's looking around, eyes wide in awe. Children aren't allowed in the Military District, and the fact no one else seems to have spotted the child causes a frown to flit across his face. It just isn't safe for a kid of that age to be playing around Armus, domesticated or not.
Leaving Dickson's side without a word - Dickson seems preoccupied right now anyway - Dunban approaches the child, who quickly hides behind the Armu's leg as soon as he spots Dunban's approach. As Dunban draws nearer, he can see the child is a boy dressed in colony clothing that hangs loose at the arms and legs. While the boy quietly peers out from behind the Armu leg, curiosity getting the better of him, Dunban observes how his light blonde hair catches in the sun and how pale he looks compared to the Homs living in Colony 9. Seeing the slight tremble running through the boy's body, Dunban crouches and speaks in a gentler voice than usual. "Hey... Kids aren't allowed in the Military District, you know. Have you lost your way home?"
The child shrinks away and silently shakes his head, eyes wide.
"Oh yeah," Dickson calls out, causing Dunban to turn his head in response. Dickson isn't even looking at them as he speaks; he's too busy gesturing to give directions to where the Defence Force soldiers should take the next batch of goods. "Found this kid in that tower. He was the only survivor from that expedition before me." Dickson pauses and glances up at the clear blue sky, exhaling in a half sigh. "I just couldn't leave him there to die like his parents did."
Dunban arches an eyebrow, amusement in his voice. "Getting soft, are you?" Dickson may be gruff, but Dunban's seen him provide services to strangers… albeit often at a price. Would he leave a child to die? Unlikely. But it's more likely for Dickson to leave the child with someone else rather than bring him all the way back to Colony 9. Dunban's attention goes back to the child, who's gone back to half hiding behind the Armu's leg. "It's all very well to save a child..." he says more seriously, standing to properly address Dickson, "but what will you do with him?"
Dickson waves a hand dismissively. "I dunno. Maybe I'll keep him around. Kid took apart my telescope while I was asleep, once."
Trying hard not laugh at the mental image of this shy boy rummaging through Dickson's things while he was snoring away - his amusement shows up as a grin twitching at the corner of his mouth anyway - Dunban says, "You couldn't have been happy about that."
"Yeah, I yelled at him." Of course. Dickson starts gesturing vaguely with his right hand as he speaks. "And then the next day he gives it back to me the same way it had been before he took it!"
Dunban glances back at the child. "You mean he fixed your telescope after he broke it?"
Dickson shoots Dunban a frown, impatience lining his next words. "You've got to clean out your ears. I never said he broke it. He dismantled it, like what you see us do in the lab."
To be honest, Dunban isn't certain which one is more impressive; his incorrect assumption or the actual truth. Dunban's competent enough at using machinery, but the only way he knows how to take apart something is to break it. So for a child at such a young age to be able to both take apart something and fix it… Now he can see why Dickson has brought the boy back to Colony 9; Dickson has always been complaining he needs an extra set of reliable hands around the lab, something difficult to come by, when the other scientists have their own research projects to focus on. Still… Dunban's a little sceptical; Dickson may be a good friend but he's just having a difficult time imagining Dickson raising a child. A reallydifficult time.
Trying not to think too much about what it'd be like to have Dickson as a father figure, Dunban asks, "Does he have a name?"
Dickson shrugs. "I haven't the foggiest. I don't think the kid knows, either. I figure someone around here'll give him one."
Dunban glances uneasily down at the boy while Dickon's attention is back on the unloading. Is it really going to be okay, leaving this child in Dickon's sole care? His instincts tell him no but he's not about to take the boy from Dickon's guardianship either, especially when he has Fiora to look after, too. Patting the boy on the head - causing him to make a small whining sound - Dunban nevertheless makes a silent promise for the years to come.
I'll look out for you, too.
Canon Notes: Dunban was likely a soldier in the Defence Force for longer than 12 years before canon (this prologue being set 14 years before), as evidenced in the pink Heart-to-Heart between Dunban and Sharla, Revisiting the Past, where Dunban mentions he got an earful from Vangarre after the Mechon attack 12 years ago.
In the green Heart-to-Heart between Dunban and Sharla, A Gift for a Loved One, in response to Sharla calling Fiora and Shulk a handful in one of the dialogue trees, Dunban says, "They were and they still are. I'm Fiora's guardian AND I have to keep an eye on Shulk."