Harrison knew it was stupid to be mad. They hadn’t meant the comments as anything other than compliments, but still. They didn’t understand. They hadn’t lived through what he and Lynx had. He heard the steps in the distance behind him, Ryker judging by the slight limp he still had, and for just a second he thought about putting up a veil. It would be so easy to disappear, use his magic to hide and go back to the camp later like nothing happened. But he was tired of putting on airs. He thought of the others at the camp, how they saw Lynx and himself. They didn’t know how sometimes kind words could cut deeply. Perhaps it was worth letting Ryker in, just a little bit.
As he waited deep in the shadows of the trees, he could see the small glade they had found earlier, Lynx’s body going through the methodical steps of one of the thousands of kata she had trained in. Harrison frowned, wondering if the past haunted her when she trained, as it sometimes did for him. He heard the scrape of boots on dirt but he didn’t turn as Ryker approached, his friend’s voice a little unsure.
“Hey Harrison. Look I’m sorry if Jesse offended you. He didn’t mean -“
“He didn’t.” Harrison cut the apology short, his voice harsher than he meant it to be. He took a breath his voice softer as he repeated himself. “He didn’t offend me.”
“Honestly, sidekick was an understatement for you. I mean, you can fight better than any of us. You can literally make the most realistic illusions I have ever seen. Like rivaling sci-fi holograms. And you can become invisible!”
Ryker’s voice still held all the awe of someone who had just learned magic was real. Harrison grinned as he pointed at Lynx and Ryker made a surprised noise at her presence, his voice conceding as he looked back at Harrison.
“Ok well, better than most of us. But to be fair, I don’t think anyone is better than Lynx.”
Harrison felt sadness dimmed his smile, knowing her skills were earned in
“That’s true.” Harrison paused trying to collect his thoughts as he considered Jesse’s words. “In your world, back on Earth, you have this concept of superheroes and sidekicks. Do-gooders who go around saving the innocent and restoring balance to the universe. Sidekicks are just as much a hero as their counterpart, despite people thinking they are weaker or less skilled. They both are these blazing beacons of light and hope that will come in and save the world from the evil that lives there. But those things don’t really apply to Lynx and me.”
Harrison motioned for Ryker to follow, inching closer to the glade, stopping within the shadows where there was a good view of Lynx but where he could keep out of her earshot. Keeping his voice in a soft whisper, Harrison pointed to Lynx and asked, “Jesse said that Lynx was a hero but tell me - What do you see? Really look before you answer.”
He watched Ryker frown at him then looked over to where Lynx had her back to them, her honey-colored hair mirroring the coming sunset in its long braid. She had discarded her Kevlar shirt and armor, a sports bra and the Kevlar pants that hugged her form causing Ryker to blush, confirming Harrison’s suspicions. Her shoulders and back were all lithe muscle, her movements precise and measured – not a motion wasted or extra energy spent in her swordplay. She spun towards them in a series of strikes, Ryker sucking in a breath as he noticed the long, dark scar that marred her flat stomach.
Harrison flinched at the noise, even though he had expected it, keenly aware of how awful the wound was. He crossed his legs and sat, motioning for Ryker to do the same as his gaze shifted from the scar to the tattoo on her left shoulder, the twilight kitsune bringing a sad smile to his face. He looked back at Ryker, who was still staring in wonder at Lynx.
“Well, what do you see?”
Ryker jerked his head back to Harrison, for a moment the question forgotten and he paused before answering.
“You know, when I saw her that first time back at Jesse’s bar, I thought she was easily the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. And then she saved me from that bearish demon, a heroine that was better than any movie character. But,” Harrison arched an eyebrow as Ryker hesitated, the latter hurrying to continue,” but she is hard, withdrawn from others. I mean she is clearly a badass warrior/survivalist but it’s like - like she can’t ever let her guard down, even around us. Like she can’t or won’t let anyone close to her or else something will shatter inside her. And then there are times when I think that her anger is more, at herself almost, or something that we can’t see. She reminds me of my dad, haunted by war and the ghosts of something that no one but he could see.”
Harrison was surprised. For someone who hadn’t know her for very long, Ryker was fairly perceptive when it came to seeing into Lynx’s persona. He pointed a finger to Lynx, her figure darkening into a silhouette as the sun dipped further behind the horizon.
“You all aspire to be just like these heroes you have, but I think that you forget – the greatest heroes are almost always forged from the darkest pasts. They rise up from their despair to protect those around them, to spare others the agony and heartache that they themselves endured. They are someone who takes their pain and molds it into strength. They take the pieces of their broken spirit and mold it into a a driving force to do what is right, regardless of what happens to them. They don’t want praise or adoration because they don’t see themselves as a hero. To them their actions are penance for their past in hopes that no one will ever have to live as they had. Lynx is a hero. So much so that it would take a thousand nights to tell you of all the good she has done. Not that she would ever see it that way.”
Harrison watched as Lynx straightened from a particularly brisk set of strikes, leaning down to exchange her sword for staff, taking a moment to rest between exercises. He looked back to the tattoo, where the fox spirit seemed to be standing on a ledge. He didn’t think anyone still alive had seen it close enough to know the ledge was actually another scar, a blade aimed for the heart and deflected at the last minute into her shoulder. About how in his reaction of blind rage, Lynx had not flinched away, only wrapped her arms around him as the blade dug in. Harrison thought about that moment, of all their missions before and after that and how she had never treated her any differently. He shook away the memory, the bitterness of it harsh in his voice.
“I am no sidekick. I am just a weaker, bumbling companion who does nothing more than assist here and there. I am the one that cracks jokes to cover for my incompetence. The one who needs to be saved, even if he doesn’t deserve it.”
Harrison conjured a doll sized image of Lynx as she stood in front of them now, ignoring the distressed look on Ryker’s face. He tailored her outfit to the dark battle gear Ryker was accustom to seeing, her dark clothes covering her corded muscles.
“This is what most people see. A young, invincible woman with an attitude problem.”
Harrison muttered and shifted his fingers over the image, changing it to show Lynx as she was now, the only alteration he made was to exchanged her pants for shorts. Ryker watched, confused and yet still fascinated by the magic that, until a few weeks ago, he had believed only existed in stories. Harrison watched him look from the miniature version of Lynx to where the real one had resumed her training then back again. Harrison pointed at him.
“You see more of Lynx’s true self than most. She has her reasons for being the way she is, but under that armor, she is still human and you see that – and you don’t judge her. You don’t give up when she is being particularly irascible, or downright cruel. You can see there is something more under all those shields she has. Now, whether that is because you’re falling for her and are possibly bias, that’s a whole other thing.”
Ryker spluttered at the comment, Harrison grinning as the dark-haired boy flushed and fumbled to reply.
“Th-that is not, I am not-“ Ryker took in a deep breath, trying to compose himself as Harrison snickered. Harrison glanced over at Lynx, where she was starting to collect her gear. He did not want to be caught spying on her, and even though Ryker was there he would be the one to incur her wrath if they were found. However, Ryker’s next words froze him in his tracks.
“What do you see, when you look at Lynx?”
Harrison looked over, Ryker’s question soft, his eyes cautious as if he knew this was a delicate question. Harrison bit the inside of his cheek, stopping his first reaction to spout out a wise crack to get them moving. But something stopped him and he found he wanted to share this burden he carried with him. After all, Ryker was very much his father’s son, and his father had kept Harrison’s secret well. Harrison hesitated for just a fraction of a moment before changing Lynx’s image a final time. Harrison kept his face a neutral mask as he rotated the image, Ryker’s eyes widening in horror.
The small version of Lynx was riddled with scars, almost every bit of exposed skin covered in wounds. And even some of those disappeared under the hem of her clothes, leaving Ryker unable to fathom just how horrible her past had been. Harrison tried to keep his voice even.
“I see every battle that pushed her to her limits. Every time she returned battered and nearly broken. Every sacrifice…”
A dozen or so of the scars glowed crimson and Harrison’s voice broke in unimaginable pain.
“I see every time I failed her.”
Ryker looked over at his friend, unsure of what to do. He expected to see tears rolling down Harrison’s face but in the near dark it was impossible to tell. He looked back at the image of Lynx, at a complete loss of what to say. Harrison cleared his throat, the spite in his voice vivid as he spoke.
“I am weak and useless.“ He paused, his voice regaining its composure as he tried to find the right words.
“We were both raised in a cruel place, created out of a darkness that I don’t think we will ever be able to totally shake. I was the lucky one back then, and when I met your dad, he helped me to see that I could be more than what my past had made me. But Lynx – she has always been the one to walk alone in the darkness, for so long that she has wrapped herself in the shadows, unable to see what she truly is. Because if she could just turn around, she would see what your dad did, what I do wherever we go. She takes on the darkness, everyone’s darkness, by herself and leaves this trail of blazing light in her wake. Being back here, in this world, I can only see how I never-”
The sound of a twig snapped and both men looked up to see Lynx, now fully dressed and gear in hand, heading there way. Harrison whispered a curse, the image of Lynx vanishing as he pushed Ryker towards the path. He shoved Ryker harder, stumbling a little as he made Ryker swear he would not tell the others what he had said or showed him. When they had put enough distance between themselves and Lynx, they slowed down, both lost in their own thoughts. Lynx would be pissed if she found out what Harrison had told Ryker, even though he had not mentioned specifics. Lynx walled away her past for a reason and Harrison wondered if he had made a mistake in telling Ryker as much as he had.
He could tell Ryker was falling for Lynx and he didn’t think it was just infatuation. He treated her differently than anyone else. He didn’t let her haughty attitude dissuade him from talking to her. He was chivalrous without being chauvinistic. He treated her as someone precious without demeaning her abilities. And even if she wouldn’t say it, maybe hadn’t realized it herself, Lynx was slowly responding to him. Or at least she wasn’t biting his head off anymore.
Harrison collided with Ryker’s back, squinting ruefully at his friend as full dark blanketed the woods. He could see the soft glow of the firelight from their camp up just around the corner and wonder what had caused Ryker to stop. He heard more than saw Ryker turn, the older boy’s voice contemplative.
“I think the truth about sidekicks and heroes is there isn’t any difference. Your strengths may be in different abilities, so your roles and actions are different depending on the situation. But just because one person is the better fighter, that doesn’t diminish the importance of the other person’s skills. You know the risks of what you do and you accept them anyway. You fight back because you don’t want anyone else to end up like you did. So, it’s the people you help that get to decide if you are worthy of that admiration, of being deemed a hero. I don’t know what happened in the past, all those,” Harrison felt Ryker twitch next to him as he continued, “all those scars. I don’t know how they came about or how you were involved. Lynx would have known your part and the repercussions of her actions, and she judged that the benefits of her actions outweighed the consequences anyway.”
Ryker put a reassuring hand on his friend’s shoulder, his words heavy with earnest.
“I think you are wrong about yourself. Lynx would not care about someone so fiercely if she did not think they were worth it. And I think you are more of an equal to her than any other in our group. You are her partner, her family. Every decision that Lynx makes; you are the first person she looks to for input. Whenever she goes out and needs back up, you are the first one she thinks to take. She trusts only you with all the intel missions. I have only ever seen her really sleep when you are on watch. I can only hope that someday she puts that same amount of trust in the rest of us that she puts in you. I don’t think you realize the amount of tension she has when you are off on your own, or the relief in her face when you make it back safely. And I am certain that any inadequacies you think you have, are only in your imagination.”
Ryker squeezed Harrison’s shoulder and started towards the camp light, Harrison stifling a sob and grateful to the dark for hiding his tears. He wanted to believe that everything his friend said was true. That he wasn’t just some minor person in Lynx’s life, when she was the one person in this world he could never let go. Ryker had called Lynx his family, something Harrison deeply wished were true. He knew how she felt, after what happened to her family. And while she did not wish to get close to anyone, he had always secretly regarded her as his sister. Hearing it from someone else sparked an ember of hope that maybe, just maybe, that wish wasn’t as far-fetched as he thought.
He took a minute to compose himself, wiping the tears from his eyes and returning to his carefree demeanor. He walked back to the campsite, the light blinding him before something buckled his knee and he found himself laid out on his back. He blinked up in shock at Lynx, anger tight across her face as her purple eyes were glaring at him in annoyance and – and Ryker was right. There was relief as well, though the sharpness in her voice would say otherwise.
“Baka kitsune! Less than a week since the harpies’ attack and you think that its wise to just wander the dark by yourself?”
Harrison gaped, unsure of how to respond but comforted by the old pet name. She let out a disgusted noise, grabbing him by the scruff of his shirt and dragging him to the campfire where the dishes from their dinner sat waiting to be cleaned. Lynx pushed a brush into one hand and a dirty pot in the other.
“Maybe a little manual labor will make you think twice before you worry the others.” He watched her stomp off to where her sword lay, picking it up to hone the blade. He looked over and noticed the others were avoiding the incident completely, though Ryker raised a brow in “see” gesture. Harrison looked at his task then back to Lynx, the words leaving his lips before he thought better of it.
“Hey wait, I did the clean up yesterday.”
No one spoke, Lynx slowing looking up from her blade, her icy glare galvanizing him into motion. He could feel her eyes on him and only when he heard the sound of stone on steel did he allow himself to grin.