Not many things escaped Eleven's attention, but he wished he had noticed his partner's declining stamina sooner than he had.
Eleven thought it strange when Erik's knives have been hitting lighter, and how he had been lagging a fair bit behind the main group, despite usually being right behind Eleven on the road. In battle, Erik's attempts to evade the crashing of a hammer, or a swing of a fist, had all failed. But when confronted by a huffy Veronica, he redirected the attention, teasing her for being uncharacteristically worried, then promply cutting the conversation short before they could get back to her point.
Serena had even noticed he had been getting more roughed up than usual, and his distant eyes told a different story than his reassurance that he was fine, don't worry about it. Out of wide-eyed concern, had asked the party to stop by the nearest town while fibbing up a believable excuse to do so.
She knew Erik would have denied the prospect of stopping in their tracks because he was having an off day, but if she had a different reason to ask, he wouldn't argue if it was just a quick stop. After all, he couldn't debate the necessity of medicinal herbs, and knew there was a shop with them aplenty just in town.
So, the party changed courses to beeline for Hotto. As they climbed the stairs, Eleven made a point to stick close to Erik, whose legs were slightly wobbling under his own weight. When Erik slipped on a rock he didn't see, it was Sylvando who caught his arm with a flash, before Eleven had processed what happened. With a startled groan, Erik pulled his arms back to himself defensively, but was pulled close by Sylvando's longer arms.
"Honey, you are in no condition to go anywhere!" Sylvando chippered, pressing the back of his hand to Erik's glistening forehead with motherly concern. If Erik's little fall hadn't snagged everyone's attention, it was Sylvando's booming voice that continued to vertebrate in his ears.
Erik was a breath away from protesting, but Rab had chimed his opinion first, "Laddie, ye do look a wee pale. What say we stay in town for the night? The rest will treat ye nicely."
Despite Erik's denial, the party went along with that idea in the end-- everyone suddenly wanted a break from the road. Eleven couldn't help but shy away from Erik's growing frustration, and wished he knew what to do or say to make him feel better. So he cautiously watched from a painful distance, as Erik was put under house arrest at the Inn, to Serena and Veronica's insisting.
Eleven had an evening to burn away, so he decided to check up on his friend after he ran his errands.
He knocked on the door to his and Erik's room, and was met with silence. His brow furrowed only slightly as he cracked the door open, feeling a cool breeze on his cheeks as he poked his head in. The window was wide open, and no Erik in sight.
'They should have known better than to leave an escape artist unsupervised', Elevn thought to himself bemusedly.
He had an inkling on his friend's whereabouts. He remembered his mother Amber once telling him, 'The best way to cure a fever it to burn it away'.
His suspicion was confirmed at last when he stepped into the sauna's changing area, where he spotted a wad of olive and red stuffed clumsily in a cubby, with snazzy orange boots cast aside sloppily. Eleven took his time to undress and slip on the bathhouse shirt and trousers, leaving his folded pile next to Erik's, which he habitually straightened out for him.
He opened the door to the men's room, where he found Erik, leaning over himself on the bench, his face fevered from the steam. Eleven closed the door behind him quietly, unsure if Erik had heard him come in. Eleven pattered over the wet floorboard to take a seat next to Erik, whose breathing was stressed.
"Oh... hey." Erik pulled his head up to peek over at the brunette. He forced his usual smirk, and slowly leaned back upright. Eleven's eyes raised in alarm when he saw just how red and sweltering his brow was, the moisture dripping down his cheeks and collarbone. His hair, usually spiky and well kept, was under the spell of the sauna steam and had lost its shape. If he weren't hiding a fever, he would have looked...
"Man, I can't believe they tried to keep me in that stuffy room." Erik was quick for his attempt at a distraction, "What'll do me good is doing anything but that." When Erik saw the rare disbelief on Eleven's face, he moved his leg to cross his other. Eleven noticed how calloused his heels were, and spotted a nasty bruise from an earlier fight that Erik had walked off. He knew it happened because he tried to ignore his growing fever, and Eleven only felt guilt for not stepping in sooner.
"...I'm sorry for being so huffy about it. I guess I'm not in my best shape after all." Erik looked away, scratching the back of his head, before running a palm over his face to massage his temples.
For some reason, Eleven felt an urge to bring his hands behind Erik's sweltering back, pressing circles in the tight knots that kept the thief so stiff. The poor thing almost jumped at the contact, but melted into a lean when he realized his friend was by his side, doing his best to help him feel better. It was awkward, and Eleven was surprised at himself for doing it without prompt, but they were alone, and Erik would be lying if he said he didn't like the feeling.
"...We have the place to ourselves again... takes me back..." Erik's eyelids half drooped when he started reminiscing. "Remember when it... was just the two of us, on the run?"
Eleven found a sweet spot, near Erik's lower spine, and kept pressing into his muscles. Eleven noticed his back was tense, it felt like he was massaging stone. But with every circle, he slowly and tenderly worked his way to lowering that guard of his.
Eleven wished to tell his friend he could let loose, but when he opened his mouth, a wave of shyness overcame him and he kept silent. Why was his heart beating so erratically? Every small groan or moan that escaped Erik's lips during the massage, it tempered something ticklish in Eleven's chest.
His hands moved to his shoulderblades, where his thumbs dug in to rub out the exhaustion from the road. Erik had to bite his lip, he wasn't used to physical contact, lest it have been abuse. This feeling, however, was warm and inviting, loving, even, and he couldnt tear away from the sensation. He knew he was touch starved, but too proud to admit to it. It was making him...
Slowly, without realizing it, his weight shifted as he leaned back, resting on Eleven's warm chest. His eyes had closed, his shoulders releasing from an invisible vicegrip, and with an elongated sigh, he almost purred. "Feels... really... nice."
And all too quickly, his breathing hushed into a light snore.
It would have been a tender moment between the two of them, but Eleven was alarmed by how burnt Erik felt-- his arms were almost buzzberry red from the heat. He was sweating profusely, he had to get out of the sauna.
Quickly, but gingerly, Eleven scooped his frail friend from the seat and held his light body in his sweating arms, Erik's head leaning into his chest, Eleven's heart beating even faster with the way he rested. Eleven had to carry him out, and sadly noted that Erik was still undereating.
On the way to the changing room, Eleven got a taste of the cool night air, and it quickly dawned on him that the sauna hours were almost over. He couldn't wait very long for Erik to wake up, with how sick he was, so he took it upon himself to change him as gently and quickly as possible.
Eleven propped Erik to sit against a wall, removing his outfit from the cubby, and got to work.
A wicked blush spread across his ears when he slowly slid the unconscious Erik out of his shirt. His usual outfit was always a tease, with a loose lacing barely covering his toned and lean chest. To see Erik half naked and glistening with mist was giving him an intense case of shypox, to which he wondered why it was so difficult to not look away without feeling his heart go patter-patter.
What was wrong with him?! He's blushing mad over his sleeping body!
The worst of it was yet to come, however. His face went from tomato to cherry when he brought his hesitant fingers close to Erik's exposed waist. Was it... no, it wasn't okay to do this normally, but he had to get him back to the Inn as soon as possible.
He gently undid the lacing, and closing almost both his eyes, slid his trousers down. He was surprised Erik remained out of it this far, and increasingly embarrassed when he discovered the location of his missing pair of boxers.
Eleven didn't blame the poor guy for borrowing them, and decided the next time they go shopping he'd buy him his own underwear.
He slowly peeled the wet clothes off his thin legs, and promptly replaced them with Erik's usual blue trousers. He pulled his green tunic over his head carefully, doing his best to not stir him. Erik was a light sleeper, so it was alarming when he remained out of it for this.
Eleven pulled his arms through the sleeves, and decided it was passable as was. He put his own clothes back on in a hurry, shy from the thought of Erik seeing him bare, and he carried his friend out of the building with the bathhouse owner ogling at him with alarm, gossiping with his wife.
When Eleven made it back to their room, he rested Erik down on the clean sheets, setting his boots and scarf aside. He pressed his hand against his neck, still burning from the fever and now the sauna. The cool night air from the window wouldn't be enough-- Eleven had to take his tunic off again.
Erik's nose picked up the smell of stew. He was sore all over-- his arms felt like they were on hot iron, his back sticky from being exposed to the bedsheets, and his head fuzzy and spinning. He sat up with a head rush when he realized he had passed out, to greet Eleven's soft smile from his bedside. A bowl of steaming broth was set at the tableside, next to a red book Erik fuzzily read to be titled 'When the Doctor's Away'.
Erik pinched the bridge of his nose to keep the world from spinning. Eleven sat down in a chair beside his bed, unsure if he should pat his shoulder or leave him be.
"What... how long was I out?" Erik moaned, and his answer was the sun's rays shining from the window. His stomach grumbled, he missed last night's supper. His eyes drifted back to the bowl of food, steaming in Eleven's hands. He was holding a spoonful of it, looking back at him with his beautiful teal eyes. He got the feeling Eleven wouldn't let him go without eating the entire serving-- and it was a lofty serving! He was starving, but didn't want to eat too much either.
So in silence, Eleven spoonfed his feverish friend, minutes passing in between each bite. Erik leaned back against his pillow when he took a breather, covering his eyes with his forearm. "Sorry I've.. if I was a burden to everyone."
An apology? Erik really must be out of it. Eleven sat the bowl down, half finished, and scooted up on the bed to sit up next to the smaller man. His legs brushed up against Erik's, and he tried to not think much about it and instead focused on rubbing his back-- and when Erik's response was to turn around to give him the arm space, he pressed his thumbs along his spine once again.
"Ahh--!" Erik gasped, tensing at his cool fingers, but relaxed once again to let him work his magic. It was weird, the kinks and sore spots were only an underlying pain to his fever, but when Eleven pressed his palms into his back, digging out the invisible pain, the fever felt a million years away. Eleven was surprisingly good at it-- he didn't take him to be the type of guy to know how to massage.
Eleven, meanwhile, was hiding his growing blush behind his locks. Every time Erik squeaked, or moaned, or pressed closer to maximize the feeling, he felt an intense heat build on his face and somewhere below. He was doing it to help alleviate his pain, yes... but why was he feeling a sense of pleasure from it?
Erik sank to be level with the bed, his eyes drooping again as his fever eventually reclaimed him. He snuggled into a fetus position, his back now pressing up against Eleven as he hugged his pillow.
Eleven's fingers traced his forearms, lightly moving and seeking areas to massage. He hadn't noticed from the night before, but Erik's body was covered in all sorts of faint scars. His eyes widened in horror and sorrow-- no one deserved that kind of pain, and especially not someone as kindhearted as Erik.
He recognized one that was recent-- the scar Jasper left him in Gondolia, right over his heart from the killing spell. He was grateful to Yggdrasil that he had survived that... and hated himself for not being able to help him sooner.
Without thinking, his arm moved to rub that spot, wistfully. Erik was too dazed to mind the unprompted touch, but knew what Eleven was thinking when his hand traced the fresh scar-- it was shaped like fire, just off centered and served as a grim reminder of who their enemy was, and how dangerous their journey had been made to be.
"Hey... can ya promise me something?" Erik mused, and Eleven carefully listened to every word.
"If I do something like that again... don't leave me behind. No matter what I say then... I can't stand the thought of being separated from you."
Fever talking or not, Eleven pulled Erik into a tight hug, his breath passing over Erik's collar. Over the course of this adventure, he had really grown to like Erik. He was always watching out for him, always having his back... to hear him ask for something so simple in return, it almost broke his heart.
They rested there for several minutes, enjoying each other's warmth, before Eleven finally replied,
"You better go back and save her, you hear? Save us all!"
"This isn't goodbye, not by a long shot!"
"See you on the other side!"
His voice cracked, and he slumped to the ground when the light vanished, and along with it...