Durbe exhaled slowly as he felt the ocean breeze, a faint smile coming to him before the moment was ruined by Alit screeching, “Beach Day!” from behind him as he jumped out of Gilag’s van. Wincing, Durbe’s smile tugged into a frown, though his expression softened as Alit hightailed it to the sand and began setting up his towel.
A hand on Durbe’s shoulder pulled the ex-knight’s attention to Rio standing next to him, the young woman looking out into the ocean before sharing a look with him. “We’re here to enjoy ourselves, ok? Make sure you relax.”
“You say that now, seeing as I’m here with Vector and Alit?” Durbe asked, a rare playful smirk gracing his lips.
His grin was matched by Rio’s own. “You’re fine.”
“No, he has a point.” Ryoga stepped out of Gilag’s van, folding his arms as he closed his eyes, tilting his head from side to side in thought. “At least, when it comes to Vector. At least Alit’s tolerable.”
“At best, Alit’s tolerable.” Durbe corrected, looking at Ryoga.
Ryoga opened his eyes and looked back at the other male, smirking at his comment, but saying nothing as he went to the back of Gilag’s van, helping Gilag and Mizael unload.
“Just try to relax?” Rio asked, taking her hand off Durbe’s shoulder to turn and go help unload the van as well. “Here, come help us unload.” She watched as Durbe nodded, and the two walked around Gilag’s van to help their fellow ex-Barians, minus Alit who was already sunbathing and Vector who was sitting atop the seawall, unload the van.
It didn’t take long for the group of five to set up their temporary beach stomping grounds, abundant with towels and umbrellas, as well as with a small grill Gilag was manning.
Durbe soon found himself sitting on a towel on the sand, staring out into the ocean with a vacant look on his face, his knees brought up close to his chest. He absentmindedly watched as the waves lapped at the sand, his mind calling back to a similar sight: the first time he treaded the land of Poseidon’s beaches. He remembered having Rio and Ryoga – then Merag and Nasch – at his side.
The faint smile that formed on his lips was the same as the smile that came to him the moment he’d stepped out of Gilag’s van and felt the ocean breeze. He felt nostalgic for a land long lost, for the land that took him in as one of their own. The breeze was not unlike the one that seemed to always be persistent in Poseidon, strongest when by its ocean.
The salty smell of ocean air, mixed with the scent of grilling meat and fish also tugged on Durbe’s sense of nostalgia, reminding him of the vendors in the kingdom of Poseidon selling their meats and other foodstuffs. Of how he’d browse the stalls in the square and share good coin with those vendors, delighting in their regional delicacies, hearing stories from them and learning of their daily lives.
He wondered how many of them fared after the war.
The thought must have been prevalent on his expression, because Mizael’s voice came from nearby, the dragon tamer sitting underneath an umbrella, gazing at Durbe with some concern on his face. “Durbe?”
Durbe blinked and turned to look at him, brought out of his musings by the sound of Mizael’s voice. “Huh?”
“Are… you alright?”
Durbe felt Rio shift from her sunbathing spot next to him, and could feel her gaze on his back. “Yeah.” He murmured, turning back to the ocean, ignoring Rio as best he could. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Durbe…” Rio’s voice came warningly, and Durbe chuckled softly, shaking his head.
“I’m fine, Rio.” He insisted as he rested his chin on his knees, not gazing at either her or Mizael, simply watching the waves continue to lap at the sand. “I just…”
Rio blinked, pushing herself up to sit. “Just what?”
“I miss home.”
Both Rio and Mizael were silent, not sure what to say.
“I probably shouldn’t call it ‘home’,”Durbe murmured, watching as Ryoga and Alit splashed around in the water, amusing one another with their oceanic antics, “I was a guest, an outsider, not a native. But this beach makes me think of Poseidon.”
“You may not have been native to the kingdom.” Rio said, a small frown tugging at the edge of her lips as she tilted her head slightly, wanting Durbe to look at her, “but for you to have considered Poseidon your home would have been an honor for Ryoga and I. It still would be an honor to us both.” She placed a hand on his knee then, and spoke gently, her frown melting into a smile. “We considered you no less than family, even back then. You meant the world to us. To have heard you considered our home your own as well? We would have been elated.”
Throughout all this, Mizael was silent, merely watching the two interact.
“I feel the ocean breeze, smell the salty air, and knowing you and Ryoga are by my side, I can’t help but think of the people of your kingdom.” Durbe picked his head up from his knees, sighing as he finally looked at Rio. “I think of the orphanage we visited while you were making your prayer rounds, of the children we met. I think of the fishermen who would sell their catches, of the hunters who would do the same. I think of the knights and council and servants of your castle. I wonder what life befell them after the war.”
“Durbe…” Rio’s expression softened, and she gave his knee a gentle squeeze, but before she could say anything further, Alit and Ryoga approached, the two dripping wet from their time in the ocean.
“That food smells good!” Alit exclaimed, a bright smile on his face. “Gilag’s doing a great job on the grill!” Though both he and Ryoga slowed to a stop as Durbe, Rio, and Mizael turned to look at them, and both young men could deduce they walked in on something. What exactly, they were unsure, but it was something nonetheless. “Is everything ok?”
Ryoga noticed Rio’s hand on Durbe’s knee and frowned slightly, noting the gentle concern in Rio’s expression. “What’s going on?”
Durbe opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off by Rio, who gave a bit of a sad smile. “Did you know that Durbe considered Poseidon his home?”
Blinking at her words, Durbe felt a slight rush of embarrassment rise to his cheeks as Ryoga’s eyes widened ever so slightly, almost unnoticeably so. “Did he now?”
Rio nodded, taking her hand off of Durbe’s knee and sitting crisscross on her beach towel. “He misses it.”
Durbe’s mouth was suddenly dry, his cheeks heating up further as he cleared his throat and attempted to save face. “I merely was saying the beach made me think of the kingdom.”
“Of our younger days, walking the shoreline?” Ryoga asked, his expression unreadable.
“That too, among other things.” Durbe responded.
Ryoga smiled sadly, nodding ever so slightly. “I understand. I feel the sand and water at my feet, feel the ocean breeze on my back, and can’t help but think of a kingdom that no longer exists.”
Alit shot Mizael a concerned look, like he wanted to say something to help, but Mizael merely shook his head, raising a finger to his lips in a ‘quiet’ motion.
“Your kingdom was breathtaking, you know.” Durbe exhaled through his nose, closing his eyes for a moment. “If I relax, if I close my eyes…” Durbe’s body unwound from its curled up position, letting his hands fall to his sides as his legs straightened out, “it feels like I’m back.”
“It was your kingdom too.” Rio murmured, placing a hand atop one of Durbe’s.
“You belonged there, Durbe.” Ryoga said, moving to sit on the towel on the other side of Durbe, opposite of Rio’s side. He crossed his legs and faced Durbe, taking the ex-knight’s free hand in one of his own. “You may not have been born of Poseidon, but you belonged there, you fit in as through you’d been part of the kingdom all your life.”
His eyes still closed, Durbe squeezed the twins’ hands, and in his mind’s eye, they were back on Poseidon’s beach, Rio in her priestess clothes, Ryoga in his armor, and himself in his own armor. Mach was there too, standing a few paces behind them. The sun was setting beautifully on the horizon, the ocean a lovely pink-orange from the light of the setting sun. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
He couldn’t hear the hustle and bustle of the fishermen that should have been hard at work, pulling in their haul for the day. Couldn’t hear the cacophony of children running and playing in the nearby square. Couldn’t hear the sounds of vendors peddling their goods.
And it hurt.
Because they weren’t there, none of them were. They weren’t on Poseidon because Poseidon died long ago, like how he’d died long ago. Only he got another chance at life after that. Poseidon didn’t.
But he still had Rio and Ryoga by his side, still had that bit of home with him, still had his memories… still had his heart, their hearts.
And that was enough.