It was long past dark by the time Shin-ah guided everyone back to the camp they’d abandoned in a hurry earlier that day. Yun gathered up the slashed tent and hauled it over to the campfire. He spread it out, surveying the damage. The previous Seiryuu had sliced through the tent, but Yun quietly picked up a corner and started mending the tears one by one.
The silence around him was so dense that no one could quite work up the nerve to approach the young boy. It had taken a while for him to calm down once he had found them in that dark cave, but his quiet now was almost worse. It seemed obvious to all of them that the tent was damaged beyond repair. Still, Yun wrenched the needled through the cloth, stitch after stitch.
Shin-ah murmured a string of endless apologies all night for the trouble he’d caused, even though Yona and everyone else reassured him that it wasn’t his fault. Zeno mused that this was the most he’d ever heard the quiet dragon talk.
Jae-ha approached Yun after a while and gently suggested that they could buy a new roll of canvas tomorrow. He had spotted a town not far away while scouting earlier. Yun’s head snapped up, “Oh yeah, and how do you plan on paying for that, you rare beast?” Shin-ah’s litany of apologies grew slightly louder.
As everyone began to realize getting Yun to stop was a lost cause, they began to settle in to sleep. The hush was only broken by Hak teasing Kija that he would have to get used to cuddling up with bugs again.
Even though regenerating usually left him worn out, Zeno couldn’t quite fall asleep as he lay next to a restless Shin-ah. After a while, tossing in and out of sleep, Zeno noticed a silhouetted figure hunched over the campfire. The moon had sunk low in the sky but Yun was still where they had left him.
Zeno got up and sat down next to the boy. The shredded tent was spread over Yun’s legs like a blanket. He was scrunched over the section he was working on, eyes squinting in the flickering light of the fire. Zeno could see that some of the smaller rips were repaired but a few of the larger patches had already begun to pull apart again.
“Zeno doesn’t think we’ll be able to we’ll be able to fit many of us under what will be left of that tent when you’re done, lad,” Zeno said gently.
Yun clenched the cloth in his hands and for a moment, Zeno thought he might reopen the tears he’d just mended. But after a breath or two, Yun’s grip slackened. Instead, he set the tent down and jabbed one hand out towards Zeno, “Give me your sleeve.”
Zeno was confused for a moment but he knew better by now than to question the stubborn boy. He held out his right arm. Yun grabbed it by the wrist and brought it closer, inspecting the sleeve’s ragged, blood-encrusted edges. Zeno had forgotten that he’d sliced through it earlier in order to regenerate and gain the strength to break out of the previous Seiryuu’s cave. Amidst the commotion of cleaning up their wrecked campsite, he’d only had time to quickly splash off the dried blood on his arm.
Yun trimmed off the frayed edges and turned the fabric up under. “This is the only spare robe I have,” he said.
“Zeno is sorry!” He smiled and half-expected Yun to snap on him like he had on Ryoukuryuu earlier
Keeping his eyes down on the sleeve, Yun said, “Ruin this one and you’ll be forced to wear one of Kija’s extra robes.”
Zeno couldn’t contain a burst of laughter, the boy’s straight-faced joke catching him off-guard. Yun frowned and yanked Zeno’s sleeve to keep him still. “Zeno isn’t cut out to be the Hakuryuu,” Zeno said.
Yun was silent as he worked his way around the cuff. Only the crackle of the fire punctuated the silence between them. “I don’t know if I’m cut out for any of this,” Yun muttered.
“What do you mean, lad?”
Yun kept his eyes down, “I mean that… I stayed up night after night sewing this tent. Now I’m trying to mend it even though I know it’s hopeless. But what else can I do?”
“No one will blame the lad if he can’t fix it,” Zeno said softly. “Besides, everyone has gotten quite used to sleeping outside.” He glanced over his shoulder at their companions, all fast asleep.
But Yun shook his head, “It’s not just that. I’m not like you dragon warriors, or the Thunder Beast. Healing, cooking, navigating – that’s all I can do to help!” Yun yelled. He looked away from Zeno into the campfire. His voice wavered when he spoke up again, “You all throw yourselves in front of me and Yona, protecting us. And you get hurt. And all I can do is heal you afterwards, to clean your bloody clothes.”
It was so easy to forget just how young the boy was for how much they depended on him, Zeno thought. Yun performed minor miracles regularly and picked them up after each battle. But he wasn’t unaffected.
Yun turned back to Zeno’s sleeve and resumed hemming it, his grip tight to overcome the slight shaking in his fingers. “Even Yona now… even she is fighting and getting stronger. I can treat your injuries and wash your clothes, patch them up, cook, but in a battle I’m useless. When Shin-ah… I mean, the previous Seiryuu attacked us earlier today I couldn’t do anything.”
Yun’s voice was heavy, “I have nightmares, sometimes, about when Yona and I stowed onto Yang Kum-ji’s ship. When they captured us on the deck, I dream about what could’ve… what would’ve happened if Jae-ha hadn’t saved us.”
Zeno recognized the look of someone folding into themselves, overcome by the weight of memory. The lad was too young to wear this look. Yun continued in a whisper, “Kum-ji’s men grab Yona after she launched the firework. They have a sword right up under her neck and I’m pinned down on the deck and yelling and screaming but I can’t move and I-“
Zeno reached out for the young boy’s trembling hands. Yun’s head snapped up, the touch releasing him from the endless loop of his nightmares. Zeno kept his eyes down on their upturned hands, his thumbs gently rubbing circles on Yun’s wrists until the shaking subsided. “Do you remember when the nadai drug lord ambushed us at the hot springs in Shisen? And they attacked the young miss? And Miss Tetora was stabbed?" Yun gave a small, uncertain nod.
“That wound would’ve been fatal for Miss Tetora. Zeno wasn’t sure she would survive.” Zeno could feel the muscles in Yun’s hands relaxing. “But when I called the lad into the room, you began treating her without a moment of hesitation.
“You heal like someone who has trained for years, but you’re the youngest of us all." By the time they had arrived in Shisen, the Ouryuu knew that Yun was skilled in medicine, among many other talents. But even after all his immeasurable years, Zeno watched awestruck that night as the young boy worked without hesitation to save the woman. “Miss Tetora is alive because of you.”
Yun was quiet for a moment, considering what Zeno said. “But what about you?”
“Zeno?” he said, surprised.
Yun took a deep breath to steady himself before speaking, “So maybe I am good at healing and can protect everyone in that way. After all, I am a handsome genius.” He flashed a quick smile. “But you can heal yourself. What am I supposed to do then? Am I supposed to just sit around and watch you get…” Yun’s words caught in his throat, “Watch you get…”
He couldn’t finish the sentence but he looked Zeno in the eyes, “That’s not fair.”
Zeno couldn’t say anything. He was so used to silently watching over everyone from a distance, in the world but apart from it, that he was still getting used to anyone being concerned over him. Eventually, Zeno replied, “Zeno doesn’t mind. It was hard at first, but if he has these powers then he wants to use them to help the Miss, the lad, everyone.” He smiled.
“But that doesn’t make it right,” Yun said. “Just because you have these powers doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to get injured over and over again.” He hesitated for a moment. “I can tell, from your face, that it must still hurt.”
Zeno flinched. The lad was a sharp observer indeed. “The lad does help Zeno though, just by being there. And by helping Zeno look after everyone else so Zeno doesn’t always have to… get hurt.”
Yun’s mouth twisted into a frown and he crossed his arms over his chest. “That’s a crap deal.”
Zeno laughed, “How about this then? Zeno promises to not get himself injured any more than necessary, so the lad won’t have to worry.”
“Somehow I don’t think that’ll actually help much,” Yun muttered under his breath.
Zeno was quite for a moment before speaking up again, “Zeno actually thinks the lad is the bravest of us all.” Yun started sputtering a denial but Zeno continued, “How many times has Zeno seen the lad step in front of the young miss to protect her? If the lad gets injured, his body can’t regenerate. The lad doesn’t have any special powers. Not even a weapon.” Zeno could feel his smile slip slightly. “But still, the lad puts himself between the young miss and harm. That is much braver than anything the rest of us could do.”
Yun blushed, unable to look at Zeno. Instead, he just gestured for Zeno’s arm to finish mending the torn sleeve.
When Yun finished, Zeno made a show of examining the mending. “In return for such fine work, Zeno will help the lad repair the tent!”
Yun sighed, moving to put away his needle, “You don’t need to – you were right. It’s pointless.”
“Nonsense!” Zeno chirped. “The lad shouldn’t give up so easily on things he’s put so much hard work into.” He picked up the section Yun had set down earlier and held out his hand for the sewing needle. Yun hesitated. “Don’t worry! Zeno has learned a thing or two about sewing over the years.”
“What a pain,” Yun relented and handed over the needle.
Turning his attention to the mangled canvas, Zeno said, “It’s been a long day, the lad should go get some rest.”
Yun replied, “It’s fine. I’ll supervise you.” Zeno chuckled but accidentally pricked himself with the needle. He could feel the force of Yun’s glare.
Before long, they fell into a comfortable silence.
When the Happy Hungry Bunch finally came to a town a few days later, Yun handed Zeno a purse and swore he wouldn't fix his clothes another time if he ruined them. "I don't want to wash any more bloodstained clothing," he said.
But Zeno knew this was the lad invoking the only protection he could over Zeno. You're not allowed to get injured again. I may not be able to repair you but I refuse to repair your clothes.
Zeno doesn't stop smiling for the rest of the day.