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Apples and Sugar

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Alfyn never knows what Therion is thinking. 

At times, Therion is cool, aloof, and smug. Other times, he just looks sad, a melancholy look on his face. 

Then, there are his apples. 

He always looks...different, when he has his apples. They’re red, bright, and a dark contrast against the colors Therion wears, the white of his hair, and the tan of his skin. They’re sweet, unlike the words Therion throws in other’s ways, and horribly expensive in the Clifflands. 

Therion always has his apples. His sweet, crunchy apples, bruised all over but still so red. Gods know where they come from, how long they’ve been under his mantle. 

Therion is a picky eater. He doesn't accept dinner invitations unless he orders the food himself and, as he found out one night at the tavern, hates eggs. He’ll never understand how someone can come to hate eggs so much, but Therion is Therion, and he has no right to judge. It doesn’t help that the only meat Therion eats when they travel together are the animals he handles himself. 

And yet, he never turns down an apple, no matter who it’s from. 

Well, the only person he knows who has offered Therion an apple is himself, but usually the thief turns him down and walks away, unless he’s giving him medical treatment. Or an apple. 

He’ll finish it off to the last bite, eat around the corners of the core before throwing it away, and he always has a somewhat satisfied expression, when he does. 

The look on his face when he sees an apple is one Alfyn doesn’t quite understand, either.

It’s like a mix of sadness and happiness, all at the same time. But no matter what, he’ll never turn down an apple, or lack the contented face when he finishes one.

Alfyn has used apples to try and get closer to Therion. Multiple times, in fact. 

Well, it’s more of make-Therion-accept-his-friendship than get-closer-to-him , but he admits that he really, really wants to get to know Therion. 

How could he not? 

His first meeting with Therion had been in Clearbrook when he asked to accompany the thief out of the Riverlands (though he didn’t know he was a thief, at the time.) He declined, obviously, but after a bit of begging and revealing he was an apothecary, he was allowed to be his travelling partner for the time being. 

He was mysterious, even back then. Secretive, quiet, and with an underlying sadness Alfyn only ever saw glimpses of.

They’ve been travelling for some time now, and have even attracted a bunch more travellers. Primrose asked to accompany them while in Sunshade, and Alfyn appreciated the company. Therion hated it, at first, but later found out that the dancer wasn’t as loud and talkative as Alfyn, and didn’t seem to mind. 

Now, back in Clearbrook, Therion is missing. 

They’ve decided to spend a bit of time in Clearbrook to gather supplies before heading to the Woodlands. They were already running out of food and were in desperate need for cool air, after braving the harsh sun in the Sunlands. 

Alfyn offered to let the others sleep in his house instead of the inn, since they’re all (save maybe Therion) low on money. He has a lot of extra bedrolls to spare, and he doesn’t mind sleeping on the floor. 

He didn’t want to bother Primrose while she was staring at her dagger longingly, and he had started to wonder where the thief was, so he ventured out into the village to look for him. He couldn’t have gone far, and Clearbrook is quite small, so it should be easy enough to find him, if Alfyn tries hard enough. 

The tavern is closed for the night, and even Zeph, who Alfyn knows stays up late, is asleep, the light in his house shut. 

He’s just about given up on looking when he notices a purple blur on one of the rooves. 

Actually, it’s on top of his roof. How did he even get up there? 

Alfyn has a way to access the roof of his house from the inside, but last he saw the thief was outside. Maybe he pulled one of those hardcore thieves moevs that he reads in the books where he jumps onto a building and runs along the rooves? Maybe. Isn’t Therion a master thief? He wouldn’t put it beside him. 

He passes by Primrose when he enters his house, still sitting in the dark and staring at her dagger. She tenses when he enters the room, but relaxes a bit when he waves and heads upstairs. She’s just as mysterious and quiet as Therion, but Alfyn doesn’t mind. People have their secrets, their nightmares, and Primrose doesn’t seem like a bad person. Alfyn knows he has nightmares, and he hasn’t even left Clearbrook for more than two months. 

He climbs up onto the roof via a ladder that he has leaning against the wall, pulling down a hatch to open a door and stepping onto the roof. He used to stare at the stars with Zeph a lot when they were kids. 

Therion is leaning over the edge, legs dangling and scarf wrapped tightly around his neck, the ends swishing lightly with the night breeze. 

Of course, he notices when Alfyn approaches. Therion is very observant, and the apothecary isn’t exactly known for being stealthy. That’s Therion’s thing. 

“Hey, you still up?” Alfyn asks, sitting beside the thief, though making sure to put a respectable amount of distance between them. Therion turns to look at him, and Alfyn notices the red fruit in the thief’s hands. Another apple, though it hasn’t been devoured yet. “How’d ya get up here?” 

“I have my ways,” Therion supplies. It’s not very helpful but, again, Therion has his ways. They’re just not methods Alfyn knows of yet, or ever will. 

Therion’s eyes are trained on the village, listening as owls hoot and the flowers sway. The water, clear and reflecting the moon’s light, almost reminds him of the thief’s eyes green turned turquoise under the water. Raging during a storm, but with precious life living underneath, alive, though hidden, untouched. 

The life under the water is always prettier than people care to see at face value. 

There are so many good things to be found under the water. Cattails, mosses, flowers, and many of them are gentle and helpful. 

Apples are hard on the outside, but bear seeds to create more life on the inside. Alfyn likes to believe Therion’s heart is like one such apple, bruised though he may be, and like the raging rivers during a storm that calm to give life afterwards. 

Therion takes one big bite out of the apple, a crunching sound echoing out as he sinks his teeth into its hard exterior. 

“You sure do like your apples, huh?” Alfyn says, leaning his elbow against his leg and head against his palm. Therion raises an eyebrow at him. He has that face again—the sadness and happiness, melancholy and joy. Alfyn wishes he understood more about him, the true meaning behind that look.

“Got a problem with that?” Therion asks. Alfyn shakes his head. Not at all. The thief has the freedom to eat whatever he wants. Who is Alfyn to stop him?

“No, just thinkin’ that you’re always eatin’ them,” Alfyn explains. 

“They’re cheap, in the Riverlands.” Therion takes another bite out of his apple, sharp eyes trained on the dirt beaten road. There’s nothing remarkable or special about the path, but Therion looks at it longingly. Maybe he wants to get off the roof. Though, if he really wanted that, he would’ve already done so. It’s not like he’ll stay in one place just because he has company. In fact, Therion always tries to push him away. 

“Yeah, but they’re pretty expensive in the Clifflands, yeah?” Nothing grows there, in the reds and oranges of their cliffs and the barren roads. 

“Not when you’re a thief,” Therion says. Well, that makes sense. He could’ve just stolen them. Alfyn doesn’t like stealing; he’s been told time and time again to condemn thieves, but Therion never came off as just a thief. There’s something to him that sticks out, like an apple in the pile that’s bigger and brighter than the rest. Sweeter, too. 

There he goes again with the apple metaphors. 

“Do you always steal the apples?” Alfyn inquires. Therion goes back to staring at the gap in his apple's red exterior, pale yellow insides with bitten edges. 

“Nowadays, yes.” Therion’s grip on his apple tightens. “I usually only pay at the tavern.” 

“Oh, I see.” His words hinted that there was a time where he didn’t steal the apples. He would’ve liked to hear stories of those times. He knows Therion won’t tell him anything though, and he respects that. He doesn’t want to force people to talk about things they’d rather not speak about. 

“When you steal,” Alfyn starts, “what do you do with the stuff? That you steal, I mean.”

Since traveling with Therion, he’s never once seen him pickpocket another. Of course, it could be that Alfyn never noticed. The entire point in stealing is that no one is supposed to notice that you did. The thief always comes back to the inn with a jingling pouch of leaves, though.

“I sell them,” Therion says. He turns to narrow his eyes at the apothecary. “I don’t want to keep something that isn’t mine.”

That was a surprising thing to hear a thief say. 

But said thief is Therion, and his words make sense to Alfyn. 

“Do you ever…” Alfyn pauses, watching as Therion takes another deliberate bite out of his apple. He watches as his jaw shifts to chew the fruit. Therion turns to glare at him, raising an eyebrow that’s demanding him to continue. 

“Do you ever think about the people who you steal from?” he finishes, gauging Therion’s expressions for slight shifts and twitching eyebrows, 

“This is starting to turn into an interrogation,” Therion grunts, though Alfyn can’t detect any malice behind it. The apothecary is about to let out an apology, but the thief cuts him off.

“No, I don’t,” he answers, playing with the chain of the Fool’s Bangle. He doesn’t miss the bitter expression on his face when he does. “What’s so special about rich bastards who make life a living hell for those in the slums?” His distaste for people in power is evident in his speech.

Alfyn admittedly doesn’t know much about all of that. Clearbrook is a small village, and everyone is friends with everyone. The head of the village is an elderly man he always makes medicine for, and he’s always kind to people. His daughter runs a general store, and they always give people discounts whenever they owe a favor.

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand why Therion bears hatred for the rich. He’s seen the people in the slums of Boulderfall and Sunshade, begging for money and something to eat as the rich laugh from the sidelines. It makes him sick. 

 “So, you only steal from the rich?” 

“What do the poor have that’s worth stealing? They’re already just barely getting by,” Therion says. Well, fair point. Alfyn is…pretty poor, if he’s being honest, and Therion took a good look around his house and pointed out that everything he owned was old and useless to him. Everything except his salves. It was a fair thing to say. The apothecary usually spends what little money he has on drinks. 

“Things like apples come in bunches. A missing one or two won’t make a difference,” the thief says. “It’s the rich who deserve to be stolen from.”  

“Now, now. You shouldn’t say things like that.” Even if it’s true goes unsaid. “I’m sure there are rich people who are trying their best to help others.”

“If there are, I haven’t met them,” Therion growls under his throat. 

“What about that lady who asked you to get the dragonstones?” Alfyn suggests. “Lady Cordelia? Is that her name? Isn’t she nice?”

Alfyn regrets his words as soon as they leave his mouth. Therion turns to glare at him, posture like a cat’s ready to punce, an expression of pure anger pointed his way. Though it isn’t anger at Alfyn—it’s anger at the one who made a fool of him (such is the name Fool’s Bangle,) who forced him to retrieve family heirlooms he never wished to retrieve. 

“Don’t even start,” Therion demands, gaze like green fire. Alfyn nods frantically. 

“Shucks, sorry. I won’t bring it up again, promise.” 

Therion sinks down into his scarf soon after, anger still present in his expression, though somewhat dampened. He turns the apple around in his fingers. 

“People in authority couldn’t care less about the people in the slums, even if they were sick and dying and had children to care for,” Therion says, taking another large bite out of his apple. The way he said it sounded personal. While it had nothing to do with selfish authoritative figures, Alfyn went through the exact scene Therion just described, just a year ago. He doesn’t know what he’d do if he had to go through that experience as a child, with no medical knowledge, knowing that people in authority could have done something, and yet didn’t 

“You know, my ma died just around last year,” Alfyn informs, looking onto the beaten path Therion seemed so interested in just a few minutes ago, “she’s resting over in the graveyard just a short walk’s distance from here.”

“I’m still devastated, even now, but my friend Zeph was there for me.” Alfyn points over to the house across the bridge. “And after that, I started contemplating going on a journey. Then I met you and Prim. Seemed so long ago already, though it was just last month.” Therion isn’t looking at him, but still, he continues. 

“I like to think maybe it was my ma watching over me that led us to meet. I’m sure she would’ve loved ya, if she were still here.” He turns to smile warmly at the thief. The apple in Therion’s hand has already started to brown. 

“Don’t think your mom would’ve wanted you associating with a thief,” Therion says. The apothecary shakes his head. 

“But you’re not just a thief. You’re you,” Alfyn says. Therion offers a confused expression. 

“How does me being me make a difference?” he asks. 

“Well, I don’t know much about you, but you come off as a great guy, Therion. I’d say that’s a big difference.” 

“A lot of thieves come off nice at first, then they’ll turn on you later and you’ll wake up to find all your shit gone.” Therion takes another bite out of his apple, then another. He’s got that melancholy look on his face again. 

“But people who are actually bad don’t intentionally try to act bad, do they?” 

Therion turns to narrow his eyes again. He swallows the fruit in his mouth. “What are you trying to get at?” 

“I mean, you say that people who come off as nice could be bad, right? But if the person is actually bad, would they try to convince others that they really are bad?” Alfyn asks. Therion hides away in his scarf and stares at his apple again. He doesn’t have a response. 

“I doubt all thieves refuse to steal from the poor, either,” the apothecary says. He gives Therion the most sincere look he can muster. “You’re a good guy, Therion. I don’t know why you’re denying it.” 

Therion meets his eyes. He’s faltering, having a hard time doing so, but he meets his eyes for once. Then, he looks in the direction of the graveyard. 

“You’re a weird guy, medicine man,” he says. He takes another bite out of his apple, chewing for a long while before swallowing. “I’m sure my mom would’ve liked you, too, if she were alive.” 

“Shucks, I’ll take that as a compliment, if ya don’t mind.” Alfyn chuckles, moving just a little closer to the thief, though still keeping distance. Therion doesn’t like being too close to people. 

“Your ma, huh? What was she like?” he asks, staring up at the sky. He wonders if their moms are watching. They probably are. He likes to think so, at least. 

“Terrifying,” Therion says, a slight smile on his face. It’s faint in the dark, but there’s enough light from the moon that he still catches it. It suits him, happiness. He wants to see him smile like that more often. “A good person.” Then, he looks down at his apple. “She liked apples.” 

His expression dims soon after. 

“She didn’t deserve to die,” Therion says, mimicking Alfyn as he stares up at the sky. The stars are bright tonight. 

“No one does,” Alfyn says. Everyone deserves to live; everyone can redeem themselves, bring out the good in their hearts. He’s sure of that. 

“I’m not so sure about that,” Therion says, though his eyes are still trained on the night sky. “Though she…she really didn’t deserve to die.” 

His eyes are sad, and he lies back, holding up the apple in his hand and turning it around. His mouth is a straight line, his eyebrows creased just a little, and Alfyn catches the sadness in his eyes. 

“Then why don’t we visit her?” Alfyn suggests. “Her resting place.”

Therion turns to look at him, then avoids looking at him like the plague no sooner.

“She doesn’t have one,” Therion says. “She was cremated.”

“Oh,” Alfyn exclaims softly. He turns to frown. “Sorry for bringing it up.” Therion grunts. 

“Doesn’t matter. She’s dead anyway,” Therion says, sitting up to take another bite out of his apple. 

Awkward silence follows, and soon enough the only thing left of Therion’s apple is the core. He throws that away to who knows where. For once, he lacks the contented expression when he finishes the red fruit. 

"If she doesn’t have one, why don’t we make her one?” Alfyn suggests suddenly. 

“Huh?”

“Your ma doesn’t have a resting place, right?” he elaborates. “Why not make one?” 

Therion eyes him, eyes wide and shock evident in his features. Alfyn smiles warmly at him. 

“…Where would I even make the grave?” Therion grumbles, looking away. At least he’s not against the idea. Everyone deserves a resting place, whether they were a bad person or not. 

“What about where you guys lived?” Alfyn suggests. 

“…That place is a shithole,” Therion says, sighing soon after. “She always wanted to move, but we never had money.” 

Alfyn hums. Then, an idea comes to mind. “How about here?” 

“Here?” Therion asks, turning around to face him. The thief frowns. “I don’t belong here.” 

“Maybe you weren’t born here,” Alfyn says, “but you’re welcome here, all the same.”

“I don’t have the right to force you to make the grave here, but there’s a lot of empty land around here that no one owns. You could make it there.”

Therion stares, face shocked and obvious questions on his tongue. He doesn’t ask any of them. 

“I know you’re always travelling and stuff, but…” Alfyn smiles. “If you want, you can make your home here, to visit when you’re tired after travelling. Must be better than always having to sleep in an inn.”

He won’t force him. He won’t ever force Therion to do something he really doesn’t want to. But everyone deserves a place to call home, right? 

Therion is quiet for a long while. It’s getting really late, the moon starting to sink lower into the sky, though it’s yet to be dawn. 

“Maybe,” Therion finally says. “I don’t know about living here, but I’m sure she would’ve liked to live in a place like this.”

Alfyn positively grins, watching with eyes almost squinted from the intensity of his smile. Therion then stands, heading for the open hatch back to the house. “Maybe, once I get this damn bracelet off.”

“Thanks.” With one last glance, Therion tries for a smile at the apothecary. “If I ever decide to settle down, you’ll be the first to know.” 

Therion then disappears back into the house, leaving Alfyn to stargaze on his own. 

He’ll be the first to know, if Therion ever decides to settle down. For some reason, that makes him really happy. Really, really happy. 

If meeting Therion was something he ma led him to do, he’ll be sure to sing her praises and thanks the next time he visits her grave. 

He hopes, and with one last thankful gaze at the stars, he closes the hatch behind him and climbs back into the house. Therion is already tucked into his bedroll. 

His dreams that night are warm, happy dreams, and hopes Therion’s small smile the next morning means his dreams were just as warm.  

He hopes Therion settles down. He hopes that red apple will become a constant in his life.