AN: This story was written for the livejournal community Sunday Snuggles ( http : // community . livejournal . com / sundaysnuggles / ). It was written as a short story, meant to be between 800-1000 words, but running over a little bit because I can be verbose at times. So if it seems to end abruptly, that is why. I just figured that since people liked it there, and since I am so horrible about updating here, I'd post it as an apology for being a crap updater. If you like this one and want to check out the other one-shots I've written for the comm (right now, there are het and slash, including a zombie nerd task force, sentient Christmas decorations, super morally-ambiguous anti-heros, and gateways to other worlds; not all in the same one, mind you, because that would be a crack overload even for me), you can go to the Sunday Snuggles lj group and search under the tag "author : demonrubberduck". You can also check out all of the great one-shots by all the other contributors. It's a lot of fun. Check it out!

Relucant Hero

Van wasn't sure what about himself made him a fairy-magnet. He eyed the elf that had just spoken to him.

"Look, whatever it is you want me to do, I'm not interested. It's a big forest; go find some other sap." He had wood to chop and he really couldn't afford to get sidetracked again today.

The elf hopped down from his perch and smiled. "What if there was a beautiful princess involved?"

Van swung his axe at the tree. "Every king within magic-horse riding distance has offered me his daughter's hand. I figure if she's hot, rich, and not taken, there's something going on that I don't want part of. Besides, I've got enough to deal with as is." Princes became king, and fuck him if he was going to be responsible for a whole kingdom. He was barely afloat caring for his three siblings.

The elf frowned. " Treasure? Lots of shinies?"

"I've got a shed full of dragon treasure. The folk around here have no use for it, so it's worthless to me." Even if he'd wanted to cash in on all the treasured he'd picked up from rescuing this maiden or slaying that monster, there was no one outside of the capital who would take it off his hands

"Oh. That's a problem, isn't it?" the elf murmured to himself. He sat down on Van's woodpile and struck a thoughtful pose.

"What about a magic axe to ease the strain on those bulging muscles?" he offered sympathetically.

Van snorted. "Care to guess how many magic golden axes I have gathering dust at home? They can't cut wood, so at the end of the day, I'm still stuck with this old thing." He held up his worn-down steel axe.

He took another swing, then turned to the elf and cut him off before he could make another offer. "And I don't need the eternal gratitude of any forest creatures. I could spend the rest of my life tossing grain into meadows and I would never have to worry about sorting it myself. I am COVERED for animal connections. What I don't have is wood to trade for tonight's bread, or for medicine for my sister's cough, or for my brothers' jacket. I have work to do, elf, so find someone else." He gave the tree another savage swing.

The elf cocked his head. "I thought treasure solved all those problems for you humans."

Really, Van should have just kept working, but his nasty habit of not being able to ignore people flared up.

"It would, if I could take them to the capital to sell it. But I can't leave my siblings unattended for that long, and the journey is too dangerous to take them along. There are bandits, and dragons, and toll-trolls, and tourist traps. So I'm stuck here."

The elf leaned back on the woodpile and lounged as if it were some sort of couch. "So, what you're saying is, you're going to keep angsting and cutting down trees and working out those delicious biceps simply because you can't find a babysitter?" He waited until Van shrugged his agreement.

"Problem solved. I'll watch the little bratty darlings for you," the elf proclaimed, giving Van his best Cheshire grin.

Van raised an eyebrow. "You think I haven't learned not to trust your kind with children? I've had to rescue more spirited away babies than I have princesses."

The elf pouted, showing off his perfect lips. "I promise I won't steal them?" he teased.

Van shook his head and turned back to his tree. This was going nowhere fast.

"I'll let you seal the doors with iron," the elf's voice had dropped his playful tone, and now he stood, staring into Van's eyes with all seriousness.

Van took a step back. "And what do you get out of all of this?" he asked. Elves never wanted nothing, and if he wasn't looking for an opportunity to carry off Van's sister and brothers, he had to be after something else.

The elf smiled. "A boon, to be declared upon your return. Before you protest, I promise it wouldn't involve any siblings or unborn children or anything of that sort."

Van opened his mouth to say no. He'd had his fair share of rash promises and they always backfired. But before he could object, the fairy pressed a finger to Van's lips to shush him.

"The medicine from the doctor's in the capital will heal Marianna's cough much better than anything that hag will trade you, and think of the coats you could buy for the boys. And you could have your heart's content of good steel axes. Consider it."

Van blinked, and sighed, and nodded. He didn't even bother asking how the elf knew his sister's name.

……

"Marianna, Jonas, Kenneth, this is…" he paused. "Cedar," the elf supplied.

"Cedar is going to watch over you for a few days. I'll be back as soon as I can. Now, as soon as I shut the door, remember to lay my axe in front of the door. I don't want anyone to touch it again until I get back. Understood?"

He'd gone over this all with his siblings as he had packed for his journey, but it didn't hurt to review it one more time now that Cedar had arrived for duty.

"Watch them carefully, elf," he growled as he shut the door. Cedar just smiled at him through the window and blew him a kiss. Van was pretty sure he was going to regret this.

…………………………….

Four days later, Van trudged back into the forest. The treasure in his cart had been swapped for supplies and goodies, and he felt an overwhelming sense of relief at the store of medicine he now possessed, but both ways had been filled with hardships and would-be thieves and tax collectors. He could not wait to get home.

The first thing he noticed when he swung open his door was the lack of axe blocking the way. The second was the absence of his family. His vision turned red.

"Oh, back so soon?" a smooth voice called from the doorway behind him. "We had hoped to surprise you."

Van turned, and there was Cedar, with Kenneth perched on his slender shoulders and Jonas' hand in his own. Marianna stood beside with a basket full of berries.

"Where is my axe" he asked, deceptively calm. Marianna pointed to the hearth, where it rested.

"It seemed terribly dangerous to leave it in the floor, and we wanted to go out and pick berries," she said. Van picked up the axe and pressed the flat of the blade to her hand. She didn't flinch. She hadn't been replaced by a changeling child.

Cedar winked at him. "See, I promised, didn't I? Do try to breathe; the flushed, murderous look does nothing for you." Van took a deep breath and sent them into the kitchen to wash their berries.

"Name your boon, elf." The creature hadn't stolen his family, but it would still be best to get him paid and on his way as soon as possible.

"I'd like to stay here."

Van blinked. "Come again?"

"Oh, I plan on it, darling," Cedar said. "I want to stay here with you. I've watched you for some time, and it seems terribly more convenient to stay here than to steal the children away and have to worry about baby-proofing my tree. If I stay here, I can borrow the kids from time to time to show off to make my friends jealous, and I can have the authentic human-child rearing experience and the chance to seduce their older brother."

"You want to babysit and seduce me?" Van repeated, to clarify.

"It's an elf-thing. You wouldn't understand," Cedar replied delicately. "So, yes?"

Looking at Cedar's flawless elfin face and his lithe body, Van thought he might understand just the tiniest bit. "I suppose." He'd given his word, after all. And a good hero, however reluctant, always kept his word.

-------

Thanks for reading!