Of strawberries, apples and honor
(Or the one where Harry has somehow ended up in Gaia)
Harry blinked as a man crashed through a tree, rolled across the ground and came to a standstill in the strawberry patch in his 'backyard'.
When a few moments of staring didn't make the sudden presence disappear, he walked over and carefully nudged the bloke with his shoe.
"Ah, alive, are you?" he asked, pleased with the response.
Well, having a corpse falling onto his food would be far worse than a living person, no matter who or what he was. Even if the strawberries were just as squashed in either case. But if it had been a corpse, it might have put him off of eating the fruits for a while because the image would just stick into his mind whenever he saw a strawberry.
He quite liked strawberries, so he hoped this man wasn't going to ruin that with negative associations.
With a sigh he dug out one of his magic pebbles and easily cast the curative spell. A green glow formed around the groaning man and instantly all wounds completely disappeared.
The magic in this world was strange but very handy. Of course, he still had his own magic, but the magic pebbles hidden and sold around this world made certain spells a lot easier. They were generally elemental spells or those used for healing people – quick, easy, and mostly a one-size-fit-all-cure. His own magic was more versatile in what he could do with it, though, and it was only due to it that he managed to carve out a living here on his own.
Well, him, and the three chocobos he had somehow ended up with during his initial 'travels' around this strange new world.
And when he said 'travel' he meant bouncing from one city to another with the firm intention of finding one place in this world that was somewhat bearable. The people here were people – and people were essentially the same everywhere, no matter what they are capable of - but this world and its technology, government and that Shinra chocobo-crap all seemed completely screwed up to Harry.
So he had ended up here, far from any sort of human civilization and decided it was as good a place as any. People were people and he was quite due a break from any and all of them, so he decided to do the hermit thing for a while and used his magic freely to create a home.
Of course, even though a quiet life was quite enjoyable in some ways, Harry wasn't exactly one for sitting still. So when he got bored he went on a few small side-quests. He took his time to go on several long trips and discovered a lot about the monsters in this world, about fighting and about items and armour. At some point he spent a few months wandering around collecting magic pebbles, just because it was something interesting to do and not that difficult because he could practically 'hear' them through his magic.
These travels he enjoyed a lot more than his first few months in Midgard, because now he wasn't to bothered by what he came across anymore. Sure, some of it was bad, he saw and heard things that twisted his stomach: poverty, mutation, illness, propaganda and in the midst of it all a company no regular person dared stand up against. Yes, it wasn't always pretty, but now he had a home to return to, even if it was a self-made house in the middle of nowhere. And somehow things just aren't that terrible when it's happening in a place that isn't your own.
Did that make him a bad person?
Nah, Harry decided. He was just done playing the hero. Now he was just a regular selfish bloke who helped out with the little things where he could (with a hidden wave of his wand here and there), but who left the big problems of this world to someone else. Because this wasn't his world and it was someone else's problem.
His problem, at the moment, consisted of the suddenly very alive and awake man and his squished strawberry plot.
"Thank you," the man said after easily jumping to his feet. The guy was fit, and his sleeveless turtleneck let it show in his muscled arms. Well, that and the humongous blade on his back.
Harry put the magic pebble away. "No problem."
"I am Angeal Hewley," he introduced himself with a solemn nod.
The wizard raised his eyebrow, "If you say so." He didn't offer his own name in return.
The man was, surprisingly enough, not deterred. Neither did he seem annoyed or angry at Harry's reticence. That was… new. People in this world didn't tend to respond well to Harry's usual disregard for authority figures.
Maybe that was because those authority figures tended to belong to Shinra. And that government, or company, or whatever it was, was all sorts of messed up.
"Have you heard of me, then?"
Hmm, was this guy famous? "Not at all," Harry admitted, "If you are someone famous it will have to have something to do with Shinra."
Because everything in this world seemed to have something to do with Shinra, whether it or they wanted to or not. It was a fairly safe bet, because if this guy wasn't one of Shinra's… well, then he could only be famous for not being one of Shinra's. And therefore it had something to do with the bloody company after all.
Harry was quietly proud of his own twisted logic.
"I am one of Shinra's First Class SOLDIERS," there was a hint of something in his voice, something that wasn't quite pride, but close to it. Confidence, perhaps, or self-awareness.
"Good for you."
"And yet you have never heard of me?"
The wizard shrugged his shoulders casually, "I live miles away from any form of civilization – obviously I have no interest in any of it. Least of all Shinra's propaganda."
"That is a dangerous thing to say," the soldier answered slowly, with a deep frown on his face, "especially to a SOLDIER."
Harry actually laughed. His laugh had just as much to do with the strangely worried look on the man's face as his words – because he had seen the truth of those words in the towns and cities and people of this world. So it wasn't really that funny. It was worrying for what it implied about what would happen to those who spoke out against Shinra.
On the other hand, the thought of Harry being too afraid to say even this much was just plain hilarious. Yes, he had decided not to actually get involved, but staying silent on the issue? Well, if anyone asked he was more than happy to give his opinion.
"I'm not too worried," Harry finally said with a genuinely amused smile.
Angeal only frowned deeper. "You should be worried. It isn't safe to even say such things, especially not to a stranger. And if you are somehow against Shinra, then why did you help me?"
"I didn't know who you were, remember?" Harry reminded the man.
"No, but it should have been obvious to you that I was a SOLDIER," he answered, the worry had drained from his face by now, leaving behind a mostly blank face and a hint of what Harry guessed was curiosity, "Even after telling you I am from Shinra, you are still completely unworried."
At that Harry cocked his head, also somewhat curious despite himself, because if this man was going to take him out for being against the current regime, then why talk about it? Why warn him?
"Will you try to 'neutralize' me then?" the wizard asked, as curious and unconcerned as a child asking if you could stand on clouds.
The soldier blinked. "Try?"
Harry just stared at him a moment longer, but didn't actually receive an answer. But despite the sword and fit physique, this man hadn't seemed threatening in any way, and if he did try something, well the wards weren't there for nothing, so he decided to just leave it.
With a shrug of his shoulders he turned back to his house. "Well, good luck with whatever you were doing before crashing in my garden," he called over his shoulder, leaving the man standing there in clothes that were not only stained by blood and dirt, but also squished strawberries.
He walked inside. When he looked out the window a moment later, the man was gone.
Harry easily dismissed the matter with only the happy thought that his taste for strawberries wasn't ruined.
It was only an hour or so before the soldier returned. Harry could sense him crossing his passive wards and sighed.
He waited, wondering what the man would do.
Angeal Hewley just knocked on his door like a normal person – after his earlier dramatic entrance Harry was almost disappointed.
He opened the door and stared for a moment. "You look even worse than before," the wizard pointed out, "and considering that I wasn't sure whether you were alive or not when I saw you planted face-down in the ground, that is actually saying something."
"There was a matter I had to finish taking care of."
Harry had to hand it to the guy – not many people could pull off dignified when they looked half-dead.
"Right. …you might as well come in."
"My thanks, friend."
"Oh, we are friends now?" Harry replied, perfectly bland, "That is rather new. I tend to be better at making enemies. After our earlier conversation, I wasn't sure which way you would fall."
"You helped me when you had no true reason to, as far as I'm aware," Angeal answered, "It would be dishonorable of me to repay you with a harmful act, no matter what ill-chosen words you say."
Honor? Well, people were people – even in this crapshoot of a world. There was always a rotten apple or two in a barrel. He supposed the opposite would also be true – in a barrel (or company) of rotten apples, there might still be one that wasn't too bad.
Not that any of his apples were ever left to rot. He could bake a perfectly decent apple pie, after all.
Speaking of… he hadn't had any guests since coming to this world, but that was no reason to be a poor host. "Do sit down," he offered politely, gesturing to his comfortable couch (because if there was one thing Aunt Petunia had really smacked into his skull it was manners).
"Would you like a drink? Perhaps some apple pie?"
The soldier narrowed his eyes. Harry quietly met his gaze and tilted his head in question.
"Yes, thank you," Angeal finally answered.
"Tea? Water? Apple juice?"
"…water is fine."
With a little nod, the wizard fetched a glass of water, pouring apple juice for himself. Putting these items on the coffee table he went back for the pie, a knife, and two plates and forks.
He glanced up at his one and only guest and hesitated before serving the pie. The soldier looked like a mess, despite his dignity, and distinctly out of place.
"Should I offer you a healing spell first? I'm not sure you can manage to even lift a plate," Harry back-handedly offered, a hint of amusement in his eyes.
"I can handle my blade," Angeal answered firmly.
Harry stared at the large weapon that was placed next to the man on the couch. Next to that a plate would be no trouble. But that wasn't really the point.
"Ah, you're a stubborn one, is that it?" he asked, considering the man in front of him.
The soldier shook his head, "You have already healed me once as a stranger, I will not ask for a second time."
Now Harry was actually amused, he busied himself with serving the pie while he continued the conversation, "what is it about you that makes you able to accept a drink and food as hospitality, but not a curative spell?"
Harry shook his head and sat back in a chair across from the man, digging the green orb out of his pocket and looking at it for a moment. "Would it be dishonorable of me to disregard your decision and hit you with a spell anyway?" he asked curiously.
Angeal nodded once.
The wizard snorted softly, shook his head and hit the man with a second Curaga, even if using these spells so effortlessly was a feat beyond most people.
When the green glow faded, the soldier was tense on the couch, hand on his sword.
Harry put the pebble back in his pocket, casually reaching for his piece of apple pie. He took a small bite and closed his eyes for a moment in contentment. When he looked at the Shinra bloke again, Angeal was silently staring at him, but he had released his weapon.
A moment passed. "Why?"
"There is nothing honorable about suffering merely for the sake of suffering," the wizard replied.
"There is no honor in demanding aid from strangers when you have done nothing to earn it."
"It is only pride that would prevent one from asking."
The soldier didn't respond, only reached for his own pie and started eating. A long moment passed in companionable silence.
"Who are you?" Angeal asked softly, a true question instead of a demand, and Harry could appreciate that from a man who worked for Shinra, from a man who looked unbending.
"My name is Harry Potter."
The soldier pondered that in silence for a moment. "That doesn't explain anything," he finally said.
Harry snorted, "names never do."
When they were finished eating, Angeal stood and asked him if there was anything with which he might help.
"Err... no, that's fine."
"My honor demands it of me."
Harry just shook his head.
"Or are you to prideful to ask for help?"
At that the messy-haired youth paused and when he turned to look at the man there was a hint of a teasing grin that didn't actually look as out of place on the man's face as Harry would have previously believed.
"Fair enough," Harry agreed, giving in gracefully.
He thought for a moment, this man wanted to help him - he'd think of something for the bloke to do.
"There is a town to the west of here - about a week's travel away, on foot, if you take the short way. The long way around will take nearly two on the back of a chocobo, and longer if you walk. From this town I require a few supplies."
"Alright," Angeal said easily. "How do I get there?"
"You are welcome to borrow one of my chocobo, although only if you take the longer road. The shortcut through the forest west of here is a little more dangerous - if you decide to take that road, they will not be able to go any further than the first few large boulders that block the way. They cannot jump that high," Harry explained, helpfully, "The monsters in the forest are also quite a high level, so I would advise the safer option."
Not that he had ever taken the long way around unless he had to. Like the time he decided to sell a large amount of his fruit and vegetables at the market - travelling with baggage was so much easier when you had chocobo with you.
"I'll be fine on the shorter route," was all the soldier had to say to that.
Right then. "Let me write you a list. If you don't mind, could you take a small pack of apples with you? You're free to eat a few along the way."
Angeal nodded and accepted the list and a hastily packed bag of apples with an almost painfully straight back, "Where should I take them to?"
"There's an orphanage, it shouldn't be hard to find, the town is not that big. Whenever I'm in town after a good harvest I make sure to drop something off there."
"Then I will not indulge in these myself."
"Because your honor won't allow that of you?"
The look Angeal shot him was a bit disapproving, as if the man wasn't quite sure if Harry was mocking him.
"Would you like a private bag of apples than, just for you?"
Ok, so maybe Harry was teasing him just a little.
Without a word the soldier turned and left on his 'mission'.
The wizard sighed. Some people were just making it harder on themselves.
Angeal was back the very next day.
"That was quick," Harry remarked, as he accepted the groceries (not that referred to the 'items' that way in the man's hearing - Merlin, this bloke was rather serious).
"I am a First Class SOLDIER," the man informed him again, and at some point Harry should really do some research about what that meant - because this guy said it as if it was something significant.
"Right. Well, then, thanks for the help."
The big guy raised an eyebrow.
"You live alone, far from civilization, in a wilderness haunted by monsters. Is this truly all the aid you require?"
Oh boy. If Harry said 'yes' would he be getting another lecture about honor? From the stony look on the man's face that was probably a decent guess.
"Well..." the wizard hesitantly started, "since you're a First Class soldier, you're probably very good at fighting monsters, right?"
Angeal nodded sharply.
"There are a lot of monsters around here. Perhaps if you scared them off a little, they won't come near my home for a while?"
"I will do what I can," the SOLDIER assured him before he ran off again.
Seriously? Harry asked himself, wondering how he ended up playing this role. Well, since he was already going that way...
Might as well.
So while the SOLDIER was off feeling useful and honorable, Harry opened up one of the wooden trunks in his bedroom. It was filled with some of the items he had picked up during his time in this world, such as magic pebbles, weapons and potions.
He picked up the shiniest looking bangle that he had.
He lay it down on the floor and left the room, coming back moments later with a cup of tea and his wand. Then he sat down next to it and started going over the most useful, permanent enchantments that he knew.
When he was finally done with useful protections, he made up some random runes and carved them into it. Then he added a spell that made the runes glow. Just for the hell of it.
With a nod to himself he considered it a job well done.
"I hope I have been of some help to you," Angeal told him solemnly, sword on his back and ready to leave. Apparently his need for repayment had been sated.
"Actually," Harry said, "I'd like to ask one more favor."
The soldier just looked at him.
"You were rather reluctant to allow me my repayment. Yet now, suddenly you insist on asking for help?"
Harry smiled and held out a basket. "If you could harvest the peaches, that would be lovely."
Angeal stared at him silently for a moment, but after that he took the basket and did as he was asked. Huh, Harry hadn't been certain if the man would actually do it.
It was only an hour later that the soldier returned with the fruits of his labour, literally.
"Thank you," the wizard said. "Please come in for a moment."
This time Harry didn't even ask if the man wanted anything to eat or drink, he just served up a glass of water and little bowl of mixed fresh fruit. As the wizard expected, Angeal was too polite to refuse it when it was placed in front of him, despite the fact that the man had probably planned on leaving straight away.
"Why did you ask me to help with your harvest?" the soldier finally asked, "you did not need my aid for that - you would have managed it quite easily yourself."
"Well, I figured, three times is supposed to be the charm. That's how it works in the stories, anyway."
Harry hummed affirmatively. "Yes, like fairy tales? You have done me three favours. You have shown compassion when you fed the poor orphans, you have shown strength and fortitude when you defended my home and you have shown humility when you did not refuse a task of common labor. You are a good man, Angeal Hewley, so I have made you a gift."
"My actions were a repayment for what you had already done for me, they require no reprociation because they were the reprociation. As honor dictates..."
"Yes, yes," Harry interrupted with a careless wave of his hand, "you have shown honor too, alright?"
Then, more seriously the wizard said, "that is why a gift is called a gift, Angeal. It is given freely. You don't need to do anything more than accept it - because it would be very rude to refuse after I went to the trouble of making it for you."
That said, Harry unceremoniously dropped the bangle into the man's lap.
Angeal caught it easily from the air and then studied it for a long moment.
"What do these markings mean?"
Slightly embarrassed Harry coughed, "Err... well..." he bowed his head for a moment in something that might have been close to a blush. There was no way he would admit to the bloke that the runes were just random flashy decorations. "It means that when you wear this bangle, you will somewhat protected from magical harm. Magic will come to you more easily, and if you are truly in need of it, you may find some healing power in it as well."
"That is... an expensive gift."
"It is not," Harry denied, "the bangle is one I came upon while travelling. And I enchanted it for you - it cost me nothing more than what a good night's sleep could cure."
The soldier met his eyes for a long moment, the blue, almost glowing gaze rather unnerving in it's intensity. "Then I will accept and thank you once more."
"Err... no problem."
"Try not to make any new enemies," Angeal said, with a nod goodbye.
"Be careful," Harry answered in turn.
There was no doubt in his mind that neither would do as the other had bid.
People were people, after all. And Harry was more stubborn than most.
And with how Angeal had insisted on taking the shortcut and making Harry's surroundings monster-free, he had a feeling this soldier wasn't much different.
Roughly two years later, Harry was interrupted while making strawberry jam by a twinge in the wards, followed by some enthusiastic knocking on his door.
He absently washed his hands, wondering who in the world would come to his home in the middle of nowhere.
When he opened the door he found a bright eyed, spiky haired man with a sword on his back who greeted him happily. "Hiya!"
"...what are you doing here?" was the only thing Harry really wanted to know.
Without an invitation, the guy bounced passed him, into his home. "My name is Zack Fair. SOLDIER Second Class." The man turned around with a big smile and gave him a salute, "nice to meet you."
This bloke was built almost as big and muscled as Angeal, but somehow managed to convey the harmlessness and playfulness of a puppy.
"I reiterate, why are you here?" Harry asked again, somewhat bemused.
"I'm here for the trials!"
"Trials?" the wizard repeated, confused, "you must be very lost."
"I'm not, Angeal told me about it, so I knew exactly where to go."
Harry blinked, now a little curious, "Angeal sent you here?"
"Yes!" the soldier answered with an enthusiastic nod, "I asked him about that awesome bangle of his and he finally told me about where he got it!"
"Finally told you?" the wizard wondered out loud, "is there any chance you badgered him for so long that he sent you here just to be someone else's problem?"
"Erm... well... No! That's not how it went. Angeal thinks I am more than ready for the trials, so you really have to let me take them too!"
He opened his mouth and closed it again, not sure what he thought about this man and even less sure what to respond to first.
Luckily (or not?) this soldier, whose attitude was very different from Angeal's, had no problem doing the talking on his own. "Yes, the three trials! In which you must show compassion, strength, fortitude, honor and humility. I am totally ready for them and will kick ass, just you wait!"
Unbidden, Harry's lips twitched into a grin. There was something about that optimistic enthusiasm, that bright smile and those shining blue eyes that made it impossible not to smile back.
"The three trials, huh?" the wizard mused out loud, mentally going over the amount of bangles and other random stuff he had picked up still lying around in his expanded-on-the-inside-trunk.
Well, why the hell not?
"It won't be easy, you know," Harry pointed out, because that warning was a given in any sort of story of this type.
"I won't back down!" Zack Fair answered immediately, all young and brash and shining brightly.
"No, I can see that you won't," the wizard replied, smiling warmly at the man. "Well, I imagine you had a bit of travel to get here, hmm? Tomorrow we will begin with your 'trials'. For now, just settle down, will you? I'll bring you some pie."
"Pie? Really? Awesome! What kind?"
"Hmm... well, I've got some peach cobbler."