It had been on the most normal, jaw-droppingly boring day that Ban had discovered something he never would've expected.
It really had been a boring day, no doubt about it. The King had kept the Captain busy all morning doing paperwork for damages done in line of duty (and definitely not from arm-wrestling), King and Diane were spending the day out together on some stupid errands, and Merlin was working one of her experiments with Escanor and Gowther. He'd been bored stiff all day in the absence of his fellow Sins. Even going stealing hadn't held much fun, not when there was no King to needle him for doing it. The most exciting thing that happened that morning had been the mailman tripping as he'd delivered their mail (a letter for the Captain, packages for Merlin, and more books for Gowther). It had been that boring. When the Captain finally came back after the paperwork was all done, he'd been raring to go drinking or sparring or something, and the Captain had looked more than willing to oblige.
But then he read his letter. And he'd frozen into place.
Not that it was really any of his business or anything but he couldn't help but notice. The Captain's expression in the moment he'd opened the letter... it wasn't anything he'd ever seen before. He might've only known him for a year, so far, but he just knows that it wasn't normal, not for him.
"... Let's go drinking some other time," Meliodas calls out, at last. His voice sounded stiff to Ban's ears. "I'm going out. Errands. Don't wait up, I'll be back by tomorrow."
They're best friends. Of course he noticed.
"Cap, where you goin'?"
"I'm going out," he repeats. He tries for a smile but it comes out as a grimace that just looked unnatural on his face. "I won't be long. I should be back by tomorrow morning."
He just looks at him, eye to eye. "Captain," he says simply. "Tell me."
Meliodas stops in his tracks. For a few long moments, he says nothing, only meeting Ban's gaze, before finally giving in, words almost whispered: "I'm going to a funeral." His voice was kept carefully neutral. His expression was blank of all overt emotion, but his eyes were dark, and his hands were balled into fists at his sides.
He closes his eyes. "... I'm sorry," he says, and he means it. "Was it a friend of yours?"
His jaw was tight. "Something like that," he mutters. His knuckles were white. "I really do have to go, though."
It's not really any of his business but.
Meliodas' hands were shaking, his expression was stiff and lifeless, and it was all wrong.
He reaches out and touches him on the shoulder. "... Mind if I tag along?"
The Dragon's Sin doesn't make any move to remove his hand. "... Do what you want."
And so he does.
There, as it turned out, was a place called Izema, a small village south of Liones. It wasn't that far. They make their way on foot, walking at a steady pace, Meliodas silently leading the way. They stop only once, at a flower cart where, as his funeral offering, the Captain bought a posy of carnations, all in different colors. Aside from that one exchange, Meliodas doesn't speak, and Ban doesn't try to.
They arrive only a scant few hours later, cresting over the hill that hid the village from view. From that vantage point, they had a good view of the cemetery—and the one new grave visible in it. There, Meliodas stops in his tracks, staring straight ahead at the cemetery and the graves dotting its expanse. Ban stops shortly after, peering over his shoulder with some curiosity. Almost without meaning to, he whistles at the sight.
"Looks like we missed it, Captain."
There was an eclectic mix of people still lingering inside the cemetery, but, for the most part, people were already leaving, most of them headed by a woman in clerical vestments. Ban surveys the people still inside, notes a giant of a woman with dark blue hair, tawny skin, and bright green eyes, a tiny sprite of a boy with fairy wings held in an ancient-looking grandmother's arms, and a young woman with fluffy dandelion-yellow hair set in a braid. He notes their features, their appearances, and those of the woman on the portrait placed before the grave, her bright green eyes in particular. A metaphorical bell soon rings in his head. "... she your family, Cap'n?"
"My daughter," he says simply. The carnation stems had gotten crushed in his grip. "She was a hundred and twelve last year."
He doesn't show much of a reaction but the knowledge is more than a little startling. "I didn't know you had any kids," he says. Then, with a more teasing lilt to his voice: "Who'd have thought a scrawny little kid like you could have a family already?"
He got a punch on the shoulder for his troubles, though one without any real force. "I've been alive for a long time, you know!" he snaps back, puffing out his chest. There was a sag to his shoulders and his voice had lacked his usual verve. "A... really long time."
By unspoken agreement, they wait until the last of the lingerers leave the before making their way over to the new grave. It was small and neatly made little plot, a waist-high obelisk of freshly-cut stone with a framed portrait leaning against it, and flowers covering the entirety of where the body lay. While the arrangement was simple and probably inexpensive, it was obvious that the woman buried had been well-loved. Ban kneels to survey the gravestone. The name on it simply read 'Triss'.
"It's been a long time, Triss," Meliodas says gently. He places the carnations onto the gravestone, arranging them neatly around the name. "I can see you've done well for yourself."
Not knowing what to do, not knowing what to say, Ban kept his head low as his friend spoke softly to the grave, doing his best not to hear. There were things he knew were supposed to remain private. Instead, he knelt to study the portrait on the grave, that of Triss, the Captain's daughter.
She didn't look much like him, he noticed that immediately. She was an ancient-looking matron of a woman, her bun a stark, dry white and her face deeply wrinkled. If he hadn't known beforehand, he would've sooner thought she was Meliodas' grandmother or even great-grandmother than his daughter. Her features looked stern and solid but her smile was warm and her eyes, a clear, familiar shade of green. He didn't know her—had never even heard of her until today—but he had a good feeling she hadn't been all that bad of a person.
Actually, knowing her dad, he was sure of it.
"... Y'okay, Captain?" he asks, many minutes later, after Meliodas had been silent for some time.
The set of his shoulders looked tense to Ban's eye. "... I'm fine," he replies shortly. "Just... give me a few minutes." He flashes him a quick smile, as if in reassurance, but it does no such thing. It looks small, sad, pained, and utterly alien on his face. "It's just... it's been a long time."
A cold breeze blew past, ruffling their hair. For a moment, that is the only sound that can be heard.
"What was she like?" he eventually asks. "... you don't have to tell me, if you don't want to."
He shakes his head, a faint, sad smile on his face. "Triss? ... She was a good girl," he says reminiscently. "If you met her, you couldn't help but love her. And she was always helpful, always trying to be useful. But she could be awfully cheeky, too. I remember, she got into so much trouble back when she was just a kid. Man, her mother and I didn't know what to do about her back then! But... she was our pride and joy."
He looks at his friend from the corner of his eye. "... and who was her mom?"
"Betha," he replies. This time, his smile seemed honestly happy. "She was an incredible woman," he says, and there's a reverence in his eyes, something almost worshipful. "She was the bravest, best person I know. I wish you could've met her," he adds, wistful. "Back then, she could knock 'em back with the best of them!"
Back then. "What happened to her?"
His smile falls. "Bandits," he says simply. "Tried to rob our house. I was away with Triss at the time and she was alone. By the time I got there, she was already... " his voice trails off and his hands clenched into fists. Because they were friends, Ban knew enough to look away. "Triss was only two years old."
He looks at him from the corner of his eye. "... Did you get them?"
A flicker of cold fury burned in his eyes. "Of course," he says quietly. Then, the darkness faded from his expression and he smiled, neither a large one nor a humorous one, but a genuine one all the same. "... after that, I raised Triss by myself. She was a real handful!" His smile turned fonder, showing more honest joy, a wistful pride. "But I think she turned out alright." He looks to the portrait of the ancient-looking woman, smiling as he arranged the flowers before it. "She turned out so beautiful, I almost can't believe it..."
"... You're a good dad, aren't you?" And there is maybe just a hint of surprise in his voice. But then, his friend is a good man. He's not sure why he sounds surprised.
Said 'good dad' only gives a tiny shrug. "... I don't know. But I tried my best, each time."
Ban kneels down to place a long blade of grass folded into a six-petaled flower in front of the gravestone as his own little offering, before touching his friend briefly on the shoulder, eyes fixed on the name on the grave.
"Knowing you," he says, looking straight ahead. "You were great."
"Was she like you, Cap?" he has to ask, to which he shook his head.
"She was a normal human girl," he says. "An ordinary human girl, just like her mom. My Triss didn't get anything from from me... aside from her eyes." Then he puffs out his cheeks. "That's probably a good thing. Her mom's amazing, better than I could've ever been. Still, if... if she could've gotten anything from me..." He looks at the grave, hands balling into fists. "I would've wished she'd gotten... I wish she could've lived. Even just a little longer."
For a moment, the two of them say nothing. They stand there in front of the gravestone in a not-quite-comfortable silence, Ban's hands stuffed in his pockets as he looked skyward while Meliodas looked at the grave before them, his hands clenched into fists at his sides. If Ban noticed the shake in the captain's shoulders, he was good enough not to mention it. At last, when the sun had long-since set and the sky had become speckled with the first stars of the evening, Ban spoke:
"Do you need another minute?"
Meliodas lets out a quiet huff of laughter before shaking his head. The front of his shirt had gone damp, as had the cuffs on his sleeves.
"I'm good," he says softly, the words all one exhale. "We should go back."
They're in no rush. They make their way back slowly, walking side by side. The night was calm and quiet.
"If you ever get another letter like that one," he begins carefully, eyes fixed on the horizon as it stretched out before them. "I wanna tag along."
"Look, Captain, if you really don't want me to come with you, I won't force it."
Without once stopping or looking back, he looked out onto the horizon and shoves his hands into his pockets before continuing.
"... Thing is, though, if it were me in your position, I wouldn't want to be alone."
So Ban stops, too. Lets him have a minute.
Then, finally, with a smirk, he adds:
"After all, knowing you, you're gonna want to hit a bar around this time and there's nothing more boring than drinking alone."
There's a moment of silence but then, Meliodas laughs, loud, hard, and true, for minutes on end and when it's over, there're tears in his eyes and he's wheezing from the lack of breath. "Can't... say you're wrong—pfft!—there! Haha!" He then punches his friend lightly on the shoulder then starts to walk again, wiping the tears from his eyes as he did. "Great idea, though! What do you say we go now?!" His grin might've been a tad manic but it was genuine, and it was a relief to see. "I know a great place that's on the way!"
"Best idea I've heard all day," he drawls, grinning as he followed from behind, hands now in his pockets. "Your treat, of course."
"What, are you kidding me? I just lost my daughter," he declares, and, for a moment, there's hitch in his throat and a gleam in his eyes, but the moment ends and Ban chooses not to comment on it. "Your treat, this time!"
"That's low, Captain," he drawls, but, in his head, he's calculating how much alcohol he can buy with the money he's got in his pockets and he honestly doesn't care how much he's going to have to spend. "But okay."
They crash the nearest bar they find and drink the night away and then some.
It's many, many drinks later, when even Meliodas had finally gotten redfaced drunk, that Ban finally makes his own request of him.
"Tell me more 'bout her, Cap~" he slurs, nursing the one bottle of hard liquor he'd managed to drain. He'd gotten woozy after the first sip—not that that had stopped him from finishing the bottle. "Y-Your girl. The kid. Your girl kid, I mean."
Meliodas, who was seated on a literal pile of similarly drained bottles, two emptied casks, and at least sixteen spotless tankards, blinked woozily at his friend and swayed a little on his seat. "Y'mean Triss or s-shomeone else? 'Cause I have—I've got more than one, can you believe it? I didn't believe it at all when my first was born."
"Kakaa~ You've got a big family, already, *hic!* you bastard?! Never woulda believed a puny-lookin' *hic!* guy like you coulda had one already. Tell me 'bout her! Tell me bout aaaall of 'em, then!"
"S-sure *hic!* thing! Ju-just so you know, my kids are all amazing. And I've got tons of *hic!* pictures of 'em all back home," he slurs right back, grinning dopily, before knocking back another cask and draining it dry. "I'll tell you aaaall about 'em!"
Of all the secrets he had, the fact that he had children was one of the best hidden.
It's in a moment of weakness that he entrusts it (entrusts them) to Ban but he never once regrets it.