It was strange, Bell reflected, glancing in the direction of Kaoru's retreating back as he returned to the others with the remains of his catch. He set down the roughly constructed axe for a moment and wiped his forehead before the sweat froze and became uncomfortable.

He doesn't want the others to know he comes here.

It could make sense in a normal way - because Luna had made the decision, and everyone had agreed to abide by it, except for him. If they found out Kaoru came by, gave up part of their scarce food supplies for someone who'd chosen to break away for a short time…

For their survival…

Kaoru didn't think like that, though. Bell picked up his axe again, feeling his arm muscles protest painfully and doing his best to ignore the exhaustion setting in. Kaoru did what he wanted - he didn't worry what others said about him or to him, as long as he accomplished what he felt he needed to. It wouldn't bother him that people knew he was doing something, even if most of them were against it.

It was strange to think about, though - that kind of attitude. Bell thought about the regard of others a lot - thought about how he was seen or how he was thought of. He was learning, now, to do what he had to even if it meant going against the opinions of other people, creating bad thoughts in their heads about him - but in the end, he supposed, he was still hoping that they'd see the good in what he was doing. That they'd understand, and think well of him again.

Somehow, that didn't seem to be what Kaoru was after.

The tree fell after one more solid hit to its base; he stopped thinking for a moment to move and crouch down beside it, at a better angle to hack its branches away.

Most of the time, it didn't seem like Kaoru wanted to be acknowledged - Bell had to admit that he thought that sometimes. He never made an issue of what he did, never said much about himself, didn't show off what he could do unless he couldn't avoid it. He kept to himself and scorned recognition, keeping as much distance between himself and it as he could.

As if he was alone in a private world that none of the rest of them could possibly understand, and only emerged when they needed him - retreating once more when he'd satisfied that need and the benefactor offered gratitude.

But he's a person, just like all of us. Bell finished with the branches, and contemplated the tree for a moment - bare of everything but its core, now much smaller and less magnificent than it had been standing tall and straight with the leaves and twigs to hide it. There are some things that are true about everyone - some things you can't get rid of.

He was fairly sure a need for validation - in some way - was one of them.

Sometimes he just wasn't sure about Kaoru, though - he was fooled, maybe, by the way he brushed people off and spent hours by himself, or how he never joined in on conversations. But somehow, it didn't surprise Bell when he found things done for him that he'd been struggling with, that weapons had been made for all of them even after they'd been told to look after themselves… That Kaoru stopped by with fish every day, even if it didn't look like he could spare them, and helped him out in complete silence until he absolutely had to leave to rejoin the others.

Comfortable silence, Bell thought. Kaoru just didn't feel the need to fill the air with noise. But there was a sense of common purpose - companionship.

It was a good feeling.

Tucking his axe under one arm, Bell painfully lifted the tree to drag it with him. He felt weak and a bit light-headed, but he still had enough strength to keep going, for now. The tree felt heavier than it should've, but that was all right.

At other times… he thought that Kaoru wanted their attention more than any of the others. That maybe he hid what he did because he wanted to find someone who cared enough to look for his efforts. Maybe he sought out solitude because somehow he desperately wanted someone to come looking for him with a need that could equal his own.

Maybe he wasn't an exception to that rule, after all - what others thought of him was as important to him as it was to everyone else.


It was as he was peeling away the bark that was the tree's last defense that it occurred to Bell that maybe Kaoru shied away from praise and rewards because he was trying to earn regard not from the others, but from himself.


The End