Time wore on in the Colony, and they settled into a routine easier than Shulk expected. Past their initial suspicion and general dislike of strangers from higher up the Bionis meddling in their business, people were very welcoming, and once they warmed up they were downright friendly.
Weeks passed with Shulk working in the weapon development lab and the rest of their group alternating between shifts helping in the fields and the occasional hand lent in defence force training by Sharla or teaching by Alvis. It wasn’t always easy work, but for Shulk every day was interesting and he felt like he learned new things all the time.
It was...good, honestly. With a little breathing room, he felt different to before, and Reyn’s easy familiarity with the rest of the Colony meant that he actually made a handful of friends.
Dunban was a constant, of course. They went round several times a week, and a few times Dunban visited them in the house that slowly developed into a home. They’d filled it with furniture and as the weeks went by the odd piece of clutter started to creep in too; it became a familiar space, one Shulk was always happy to return to.
Despite the friendliness, however, there were some boundaries that couldn’t be scaled through familiarity and a handful of weeks. A lack of shared history was definitely one of them, and it occasionally left them searching for answers. “Dunban’s house seems very large,” Alvis commented one evening. “Did others used to live there?”
“Alvis,” Sharla warned, “that’s not really any of our business - it’s Dunban’s.”
Reyn shrugged. “It’s not a secret - he used to live with his sister and parents. They’re all long gone now; his parents died fighting the Mechon years back, long before I can remember, and his sister...well, she just sort of vanished years ago now. Everyone’s pretty sure she’s dead too.”
“Oh, that’s so sad,” Sharla said. Her face was twisted into the troubled frown that told Shulk she was thinking, as she often did, about her brother. “It must be terrible, not knowing whether people dear to you are dead or alive, but having to assume the worst. No wonder he’s so carefully put together.”
“Dunban just isn’t a sad kind of person,” Reyn said with another shrug. “He’s basically just the coolest person ever. Even if it sucks that Fiora’s gone, he just kept going on like it was nothing! There’s nothing that can get him down, because he sees the good in everything. That’s what makes him so great.” He sounded proud, even.
Sharla let out a small laugh. “If you say so,” she said. There was something else she wasn’t saying, but Shulk wasn’t inclined to ask her what it was. Even though he knew her so much better now, Sharla was a private sort of person. There were lots of things he didn’t know about her, and he was pretty sure it was because she didn’t want it known.
Bar the handful of hiccups, however, things in Colony 9 were good. It all got off to a rough start, of course, but most things tended to. Now they were settled in, everything was actually - well, Colony 9 hadn’t changed much since they moved in, and Shulk’s overwhelming first impression was that it was peaceful.
Now, he knew better than ever that peaceful was exactly the word to describe it. He could almost...he could see himself living in Colony 9. Being happy here.
It wasn’t a happy realisation, though, and any time he caught himself relaxing at the sound of birdsong or eagerly anticipating another day in the lab, Shulk was reminded that there were so many things going on beyond the confines of the Colony. In the absence of Lord Zanza and the Monado, news from the top of the Bionis was suspiciously absent. Shulk knew something had to be happening up there - but he couldn’t know what.
All he knew was that the soldiers of Colony 9 that were serving in the Bionis Army at the time the war paused had not returned to the Colony. None of them had been declared dead, but none of them had come back for any kind of leave. They were still there, as were the forces from other Colonies, and everyone knew what that meant; someone, somewhere, had decided that the war wasn’t ending just yet. Even if it couldn’t continue.
With each day came a renewed reminder that Shulk had a goal to fulfil. He had to end the cycle of suffering on the Bionis and Mechonis, and then he had to take up the mantle of Lord Zanza and make sure it stayed that way.
He didn’t want to do it. He hated that when this quest was over, he’d have to settle into the governing and politics he never asked for. He was happy to take it up if it meant that people didn’t have to suffer, but he wasn’t happy that it had to be him.
It was hard to enjoy the peace quite so much with the constant knowledge of its impending end hanging over his head. Even if the war never resumed, even if it formally ended , he would never get to know peace.
They were coming towards the end of their time in the Colony when it happened. They were in the middle of a meal, one of the last ones they were due to invite Dunban round for, and it was- good. It always was; between them, they’d managed to pick up quite a knack for cooking at least something everyone liked, so the group meals where they had a guest or two around were always Shulk’s favourite days.
He got visions fairly frequently, but they were usually trivial things. Sometimes he got up in the morning and saw that he might drop something in the lab that day, at which point he paid closer attention to his tools and his grip on them. Sometimes he picked up a vegetable and saw the expression that would grace Riki’s face when he put it in a soup.
This wasn’t trivial. This was the large, ceremonial church in Zanais. This was Shulk, dressed in a suit, in front of the altar. This was someone he’d never seen before in a dress and veil walking up the aisle.
This was Reyn, sitting in the front row, clearly not marrying Shulk but instead having to watch as Shulk married someone else.
Shulk blinked tears out of his eyes as the vision cleared, and when he looked up, everyone was watching him. “Shulk?” Reyn asked. “You had a vision, right? Everything okay?”
Everyone looked so concerned, Reyn included, but all Shulk could think about was the look on Reyn’s face in the vision when he’d turned to watch the woman walk up the aisle. “I need some fresh air,” he said, pushing his chair away from the table and almost sprinting out of the room. If anyone called after him, he didn’t hear it.
He walked as fast as he could through the evening sun of the residential district and out towards the back of the Colony. From there, he knew where he needed to go; he scaled all the steps that led up to Outlook Park and stayed there, overlooking the Colony.
Seeing how small it was from up here didn’t make him feel any better. It just made him feel even smaller.
His thoughts whirled around in useless circles while he sat there, watching the sun set around him and the stars grow brighter in the sky. No one came looking for him, and Shulk honestly didn’t know if he felt good or bad about that. He didn’t want to see anyone else right now, but…
He really needed Reyn to hold him and tell him things were going to be okay.
He sat there for what felt like an age without really feeling any better. Eventually, he heard footsteps ascending the steps. He knew it was probably just a soldier from the defence force, checking why someone was out so late, but he felt something leap in his chest anyway.
“Shulk?” It was Dunban. “May I join you?”
Shulk sighed. “Sure,” he said. There was no real point in turning him away. Was there a point in anything at all, if things were going to end up like that vision?
“You know,” Dunban said after a moment of silence. His tone was careful, but his words didn’t sound rehearsed. “This was Fiora’s favourite spot in the whole Colony. When she was a child, she used to play up here with Reyn for hours on end.”
“Tell me about her?” Shulk asked. He’d never asked Dunban about the conspicuous absence in his home, the one they all knew was there.
“I suppose you’ve heard a little about her,” Dunban said. He sighed. “She was my little sister. There are children in the Colony now who don’t even remember that she ever existed, but when she was here - she was a bright light to everyone. She was stubborn, but so caring, and she believed so fiercely in everything she did.”
Dunban stayed silent for a few seconds, and when Shulk looked over, his hands were shaking a little. He shook his head. “There’s no point thinking about it now. It’s all in the past, and it’s better to look forwards than backwards. If you look ahead, you can’t trip on the things to come.”
He looked up at Shulk, clearly anticipating a reply, but Shulk hesitated. He didn’t know if looking ahead really helped, not when the future seemed so bleak.
“What’s weighing on you that makes it so hard to agree?” Dunban asked. Shulk winced; he was so obvious.
It was easier than he expected to explain. He went through the whole thing: his feelings about Colony 9, his worries about moving on. The vision, which he knew he couldn’t share with anyone else. It would hurt too many people.
When he was done, Dunban hummed. “That is a tricky one,” he said, as if Shulk had just handed him an unfinished puzzle. “You can change your visions, yes? They’re not set in stone.”
Shulk nodded. “Yes, I can.” Theoretically.
“Well, change it then.”
“If only it was so easy,” he said with a chuckle. “I can’t see that happening. Not even in the literal sense- I more mean… A marriage is planned so far in advance. It’s not like I can’t see it coming or anything. There must be a reason I choose to do that in the future, but I don’t know what it is, and-” And it scared him to think of what must push him to that.
Dunban nodded. “It’s certainly difficult,” he said. “But you know it’s coming, and now you know to keep your eyes on your happiness, right?” Shulk nodded, unsure of where he was going. “Maybe there’s a way for you to make that vision happier, and that’s why you saw it.”
“You’re right,” he said. There was always a reason to his visions, even if they weren’t immediately evident when he had them. From the smallest thing to the largest, they had a purpose . “Thank you, Dunban.”
“It’s no problem,” Dunban said. They lapsed into silence for a while, both of them sitting there and watching the stars.
“Why did you come all the way up here?” Shulk asked. Tentatively, he hoped that Dunban came to check on him, but they would have sent someone else if that was everyone’s aim. There must have been something else too.
“I wanted to see you were alright,” Dunban said, “but I also wanted to ask you something: I’d like to come with you to the Mechonis.”
“What?” Shulk asked. Dunban had barely left the Colony in all the time they’d been here. He was by no means ill, at least not anymore, but he didn’t go out much either. “Why all the way to Mechonis?”
“Do you know what happened to my sister?” Dunban asked. After a moment of hesitation, Shulk shook his head. He knew vaguely, but not completely. People didn’t tend to talk about it. “She disappeared during a Mechon raid, never to be seen again. She’s probably dead, but I want… She was young, Shulk. Not a military threat or even close to one. Just a child without parents, in the wrong place at the wrong time. I need to know why.”
“I understand,” Shulk said. Needing answers for something that happened in the past was a feeling he was no stranger to, and if Dunban could obtain some kind of closure by speaking to the Machina, maybe finding out what happened that day, he was happy to give him that opportunity. “So long as you think it’s safe for you to come with us.”
“Don’t count me out,” Dunban said with a laugh. “I may not have my right arm, but I can still fight.”
In that moment, something fell into place. Shulk’s vision of Dunban facing down a Mechon, sword in hand...it had to be a vision of the Mechonis, just as they’d thought. When Dunban came with them, he would see a faced Mechon, and it looked unnervingly to Shulk as if he would want to strike it down.
“Dunban,” he said. Dunban looked at him, a questioning expression forming on his face. “Whatever you do when you find your answers...let it be driven by understanding rather than rage. We’ve seen enough bloodshed.”
Dunban looked at him strangely, but nodded. “Of course, Shulk,” he said, standing from the bench. Shulk stood with him, finally feeling as if he could bear seeing everyone else again. “I’ll keep it in mind.”