“It’s infected,” Warrior declares. Quiet worry furrows his brow.
“We can see that, idiot,” Legend snaps.
Various dismayed mutterings start up around them.
“This seems fast for an infection. Isn’t it?”
“I don’t know, I’ve never gotten one.”
“Most monsters don’t keep their blades especially clean. We’re lucky this is the first time we’ve had this problem.”
Four moans in pain, and they all go silent.
The smallest hero rests fitfully on his bedroll, the bundle of bandages over his side pulled away to reveal a festering stab wound. He fell asleep not long after they got him situated. By the time they noticed the fever, it was dangerously high. They’ve been unable to wake him since.
“It might still clear up on its own,” Warrior continues despite the background commentary, “but it would be better if he had a potion.” A pause. “Or a fairy. Or Hyrule.”
They all look to where Hyrule lays on his own bedroll. He’s unconscious, as he has been for the past twelve hours, having exhausted himself healing them when all their potions and fairies ran out. No telling when he’d wake.
“None of those are options,” Twilight reminds them needlessly. They know. They’ve been beset by monsters since the moment they stepped out of the latest portal. They’ve yet to come across any settlements where they might be able to restock. Everyone is tired, short tempered, and worried.
“We can’t move him like this. We have to bring help to him.”
Silence. None of them are familiar with this Hyrule. Help might be hours or days away, or simply not available at all.
Four jerks and mutters, caught in a fever dream.
“We split up.” Time declares. “Separate scouting parties, groups of two. One person stays here.”
“I’ll stay,” Sky volunteers immediately. “I have experience with illness. I can keep him comfortable while you’re gone.”
The others exchange glances. Time nods, and that is that. The campsite is immediately busy as the others prepare to go. Warrior lingers next to Sky, pretending to check his sword harness. “Experience dealing with illness?”
Sky shrugs. “Yes,” he says simply, and doesn’t elaborate.
Warrior nods. Sky can see him chewing over unspoken words, picking through what he wants to say.
“Warrior!” Wind calls impatiently. “Come on, let’s go!”
“Right, right.” Warrior flaps a hand in acknowledgment. To Sky, he says, “You’re sure you’ll be alright on your own? I don’t like the idea of the camp being attacked with the rest of us gone.”
“We’ll be fine,” Sky insists firmly.
“Warrior-!” There’s a definite pout in Wind’s voice this time. Sky hides a smile.
“You should get going. The sooner you’re back with something to help, the sooner they’ll get better.”
Warrior huffs, rolls his eyes. “I’m going, I’m going.”
Everyone disappears into the trees, three groups all headed in opposite directions. Sky is alone, only his unconscious companions and the quiet snapping of the fire to keep him company. He gives himself just a moment to stand still. These past few days have been hard, and long, and he is so very tired. But he can’t rest just yet.
Four moans, loud in the silent clearing. Sky jumps, startled. Four’s eyelids flutter open. “Violet, no-”
“Four?” Sky drops to his knees, leaning over him. Four’s eyes don’t track the movement, staring unseeing into the sky.
“Blue, stop 'im,” he mumbles.
Sky strokes his hair, pulling it away from his face. “Four, it’s all right.” He runs his hand under Four’s neck, finds the hair there sticky with sweat. He pulls it up, off Four’s neck, draping it up over the pillow above Four’s head. A moment of searching in his bag reveals a spare, clean bandage. Wetting it from his waterskin, he drapes it above Four’s eyes, over the headband. Four quiets.
Hyrule hasn’t moved. Only the steady rise and fall of his chest indicates that he lives.
Sky pulls off the bandage that had been hiding the infection, trying not to look too closely at what he’s doing. He stuffs a pile of fresh bandages up against Four’s side to catch the seepage. The wound isn’t really bleeding anymore. Neither is it pretty. Better to have an infected wound open to the air and let it drain, but no reason to leave Four resting in a pile of filth.
Four begins to moan again. Sky rinses his hands and returns to his head, stroking over his hair. It’s stick-straight, damp with sweat, and flows easily between Sky’s fingers.
Four rarely seeks out touch when he’s awake, but it does seem to be soothing to him now. He quiets.
The familiarity of the situation turns Sky's mind to home. This is a habit he and Zelda have long shared for when one or the other of them is troubled or in pain. Between the aftermath of Zelda's kidnapping and Sky’s general everything, for a time it was quite a common thing for someone to find them propped up against each other, fingers threaded through each other's hair. Zelda’s is softer than Four's, but not quite so fine.
Sky settles in to wait.
Fatigue seeps into his bones now that there’s nothing left to do. Nothing to distract him from the after-effects of a long string of battles interspersed with hard hiking and little rest. He aches. When it feels as though sand is dragging at his eyelids, he gets up and patrols the perimeter before returning to his self-appointed Four-soothing duties. He gets up again to check on Hyrule, grab more bandages, and eat a quick meal, each time returning to the same spot at Four’s side when it feels like he’s moved enough to stay awake a little longer. Every time he returns he finds that Four has started muttering again, calling out for people Sky has never heard him mention while awake.
Rustling in the underbrush some untold time later has him going still and alert. He relaxes again upon recognizing Wind’s voice. He stands to meet them, Wind leading the way with a bottled fairy held triumphantly before him, Warrior following with a tense set to his shoulders that slowly comes undone when he finds the camp unchanged. Sky can’t help poking at him. Just a bit.
“See? We’re just fine.”
Warrior rolls his eyes. “Pardon me for worrying.”
Wind goes straight to Four, dropping to his knees in the spot Sky just vacated and uncorking the bottle without further ado.
“On their way. Wind called Wild after we found the fairies. He and Twilight are going to round up Legend and Time.”
Four exclaims and starts to sit up, his rucked-up tunic showing nothing but unbroken skin. He gets halfway before Wind tackles him back down to his bedroll in an enthusiastic hug. He's fine. They're all going to be fine.
“Sky don’t move!”
Sky freezes. He’s been in enough battles with Warrior by now to listen to that particular tone of voice. He scans for the danger but can’t see it.
“Back away slowly,” Warrior hisses urgently. He’s backed up tight to the side of one of Lon Lon Ranch’s outbuildings. His fingers press, claw-like, into the stucco at his hips. “I’ll be fine, get yourself out of here!”
“What is it?” Sky holds very still. He still can’t see the problem. The field is peaceful, and not in the utterly silent way that indicates the presence of a predator. The grass sways in a gentle breeze, the cuccos cluck and chuckle at each other, a foal squeals playfully in the distance. “I’m not leaving you here alone, Warrior,” he insists. “Let me help you.”
“Sky just go!”
Sky continues not to move, just in case. “What’s wrong? Where’s the danger?”
Oh. Not this again. Sky’s heart slows from it's headlong gallop. His attention returns to the cuccos, all loose in the yard. They are usually closed up in their pen, aren’t they. The gate is open, creaking slightly as it moves in the breeze. Must not have latched.
Sky can’t help the laugh that bubbles out of him. “Warrior, really,” he scolds. He approaches, confident now that it’s safe to do so. The cuccos are milling around in the open space at the side of the building, scratching for insects in the dirt.
“Sky-!” Warrior draws his name out. It sounds like he would be yelling if he dared raise his voice any further.
Sky scoops up the closest cucco, ruffling its neck feathers. It clucks happily. They’re just like tiny Loftwings, really.
Warrior makes a strangled noise.
Sky scoops up a second bird and carries them, one under each arm, back to their enclosure. He gives them extra scritches as he lets them go, making certain that the gate closes as he leaves. He returns to Warrior and repeats the exercise, slowly emptying the yard two birds at a time. Warrior doesn’t move. Not even once.
“There,” Sky says, latching the gate firmly behind the last bird. “All taken care of.”
“You’re the bravest man I know,” Warrior breathes. Sky laughs.
They’re two days out from a long, restful stay at Time and Malon’s ranch. The terrain has been gentle, the monsters far between and uninfected. Fatigue is a distant, muted thing. Sky even had enough energy to spar with Twilight after they set up camp last night.
All of which is the reasoning behind why Sky is awake in the early morning hours, having volunteered himself for middle watch. Better to get his share of this duty in now, while he’s feeling well. Building up a pool of goodwill now will hopefully lead to fewer hard feelings and less guilt on his part if he has to beg out of the duty for different, less sleep depriving chores later on. He hasn’t gotten the mean glances or mutterings of laziness from this group, but it only takes the memory of them for him to do what he can to avoid it happening at all.
A moan from the collection of bedrolls. Not an uncommon occurrence. Nightmares are a fact of life for them all. Sky’s hands go still, aimless whittling temporarily forgotten in favor of watching and listening. Another moan, louder this time. One of the bedrolls shifts, its occupant tossing restlessly.
Legend. Again. Their veteran does tend to have more nightmares than most.
Sky returns his carving knife to its sheath. He crosses the campsite with careful, quiet steps. Putting the knife away in his bag, he rummages around, fingers searching blindly in the dark. There. His hand closes around a familiar, curved handle. He draws it out, closes his bag.
Time’s eye is open. He’s watching Sky, face barely visible in the dim light of the campfire. Sky smiles, reassuring, then remembers Time can’t see it with the campfire at his back. He hums instead, in a manner he hopes conveys “everything is fine, go back to sleep,” and returns to the campfire with his prize. Legend continues to toss and turn in the dark.
Sky sets his harp in his lap. He plucks the strings as softly as he can, picking out a quiet, gentle melody. It won’t wake the others. He’s done it often enough by now to know that. Soothing music floats through the still night air.
The tossing from Legend’s direction slows, stills. Time’s eye is closed again.
Sky lets his mind relax, fingers roaming over the strings of their own accord, and stares out into the trees as the camp settles into peaceful slumber once again.
Carving is soothing. Sky likes having something useful to do even when he needs to get off his feet. It’s excellent for days like today, when his body is tired but his mind isn’t.
He loves seeing the looks on his friend’s faces when he hands them something he’s made or they find one of his little gifts tucked away in their belongings. It’s even more rewarding when they actually find some use in the things he makes. Like how the top half of Four’s hair is currently being held back by the stick and clip combination he’d painstakingly shaped. Wild is stirring their dinner with the spoon he’d carved, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed how very careful he is with it. Right now Sky is carving another, much smaller spoon for Hyrule, who’d somehow managed to snap his in half. Sky’s pretty sure it happened when a friendly tussle between Wind and Wild got a little out of hand and trampled right over Hyrule’s travel bag, but if Hyrule is going to be kind and not say anything then neither will Sky.
Wind drops down at his side. He’s taken more of an interest in Sky’s carving lately, even helping to hide the occasional gift in someone’s bag. Usually when he sits down he’ll chatter a mile a minute about whatever happens to be on his mind. Today he’s quiet. He fiddles absently with the butterfly charm on his necklace, staring into the middle distance.
“That’s pretty,” Sky comments just to break the silence.
Wind smiles, a little wan. “You can find them all over the place back home. They remind me of Aryll.”
Ah. “Missing her?”
“Yeah. And Grandma.”
Sky hums. He examines his work, deems the progress acceptable, and tucks it and the knife away. “I miss Zelda. So much it hurts sometimes. Having this helps.” His fingers brush over one edge of the sailcloth. “It’s like a giant comfort blanket I can wear.”
Wind giggles, but it’s half-hearted, fading quickly back to melancholy. “I used to have Aryll’s spyglass. I liked to imagine we were just playing hide and seek when I looked through it, like we did when we were younger. It might have been stupid to pretend, but it made me feel better.”
“I don’t think that’s stupid,” Sky says gently.
Wind shrugs. “I gave it back to her though, after my adventure.”
Sky lifts an arm invitingly, one edge of the sailcloth clasped in his hand. “I’ll share my comfort blanket if you promise not to tell the others that’s what it is.”
Wind laughs. A real one this time. “Deal.” He leans over and snuggles in. Sky wraps the sailcloth securely around them both. They settle into a comfortable silence, watching the rest of the camp.
Sky isn’t sure when exactly they both fall asleep. Only that something stirs him back to wakefulness. His eyes blink open to see Wild lowering the Sheikah Slate, a smile on his face. Wind’s hair is tickling the underside of Sky’s chin, soft breaths fanning over his collarbone.
“The sleeping heroes wake,” Legend teases. “You’re rubbing off on him, birdbrain.”
“You’re just jealous that I get Sky cuddles and you don’t.” Wind’s voice is thick with sleep. He sits up, pulling away with a yawn. Sky lets him go, shivering, trying to use the loss of heat to wake himself back up. Wind perks up. “Do I smell clam chowder?” He scrambles over to the cook-pot, as cheerful as if the earlier funk never happened.
Sky watches him go with a smile, taking the hand Twilight offers to pull him to his feet.
They’re on Outset Island, and most of their group just spent the entire day playing in the ocean, stripped down to their trousers. Sky included, though he’d made sure to take regular breaks in the shade for water and to reapply the sun-salve Wind’s grandmother graciously provided.
Not all of them took such care, and it is blatantly obvious who.
Warrior and Four, being the two most fair-complexioned of the group as well as the two who most preferred to spend their spare time indoors, have picked up minor sunburns despite reapplying the salve throughout the day.
Wild, though. Wild looks like he hasn’t used it at all. Every inch of exposed skin is painfully burned. And his scars. His scars practically glow. They’re pebbled with angry spots of red, the usually smooth texture raised and puffy.
“Wild!” Sky exclaims when he emerges from the water, wincing as if only now feeling the pain. He pokes at his scars with a bewildered expression on his face. “Wild, scars burn, you have to be careful with them in the sun. How do you not know this?”
“How would you?” Legend snaps. “There’s no deserts in the sky.”
“Exactly, the sky! High altitude, above the cloud barrier. It’s very easy to burn there.” Sky stomps down on his temper, continuing only when he’s sure his voice will come out evenly. “I know your Hyrule has a desert. What exactly did you do there?”
Wild shrugs again. “All the clothing the Gerudo make is spelled against the heat. I never burned while I was wearing it.”
“It’s fine, Sky,” Four adds, level-headed as ever. “We have enough potion right now for Wild to have some. Hyrule could take care of it even if we didn’t.”
“That’s no excuse to be careless!”
Awkward silence. Perhaps he doesn’t have quite as much of a handle on his temper as he thought. Sky winces. “That’s not what I meant,” he says weakly.
Sideways glances all around. Wild isn’t looking at him. Twilight is outright glaring at him. Sky’s shoulders hunch.
“Come on, Sky,” Warrior drops an arm across his upper back, turning him around. “Let Hryule and Twilight have their way with him. We’ll go clean up.”
Sky lets himself be led away.
Later that evening, after a somewhat awkward dinner with Sky and Wild very deliberately placed at opposite ends of the table by their friends, Sky marches up to Wild with a potion bottle full of salve clutched in one hand. Aryll showed him where to find the ingredients on the island and helped him make it while the others were distracted with dinner preparations.
He’s just glad the right plants grow here on Outset.
He holds the bottle out to a cautious Wild. “For your scars,” he says simply. “If they get burned again and you don’t have potion, or if they start to feel tight. If you like it I can teach you how to make it.” He pauses, collecting his courage. “I’m sorry for yelling.” He should leave it there, he really should. “It’s just potions can’t heal everything and you can cause long term damage to scar tissue if you aren’t careful and-” And Wild was so, so lucky to not have hearing loss or nerve damage or impaired mobility or really any long term after-effects of his injury. It kills Sky to see him taking the health of his body for granted. But this is an apology, not a lecture. Sky bites back on the rest of the words that want to come spilling out.
Wild’s startled, defensive look fades into something much more neutral. He takes the bottle. “I’ll give it a try. Thanks, Sky.” He slips back across the room to Twilight without another word.
The fatigue has been especially bad this week. Usually Sky can bear through it with a smile and a bit of extra rest taken where he can get it. It helps to focus outward, on the others. It keeps his mind off himself.
Today he’s so tired he’s barely rolled out of bed and is already falling asleep again over the remains of his oatmeal, despite a full night’s rest. It’s frustrating. He can’t help but feel angry at his body. He aches. His stomach is mildly upset, his guts sitting like rocks in his lower abdomen. Nothing terrible. It’s never anything terrible. Never anything worth complaining about. It’s just constant. He only wants to feel well. Just for one day.
“Sky?” Hyrule is leaning over him, all quiet concern. “I know we tease, but this is a little early to be falling asleep, even for you. Are you sick?”
Sky musters a smile. “I’m all right. It’s just the usual.”
‘The usual’ is the code they’ve all grown to accept for why Sky is always so tired after a battle or a particularly grueling day of hiking. Why sometimes he’s eager to join in the sparring and others he’ll pass with a cheerful wave. He doesn’t know what’s wrong with him, just that something is. That he feels better some days and worse others but it never fully goes away.
Hyrule’s expression firms. He sits down, side by side with Sky on one of the logs they’ve rolled up next to the campfire. “We both know that’s not the whole truth. Care to try again?”
“I’ll be fine once we’re moving.” Even he has never actually fallen asleep while walking.
“Sky.” Hyrule puts a hand on his near shoulder. Not hugging, but physical comfort nonetheless. From touch-shy Hyrule, it’s a significant gesture.
Sky’s shoulders slump. His smile slips a little sideways. “I’m feeling worse than usual,” he admits.
“Okay. What’s worse than usual?”
He’s really asking for details. Sky's brain is too muddled to continue deflecting. “I’m tired. Achy. My stomach’s upset. I’m fine to walk, though. I’ll be able to keep up.” So long as there’s no running. The sting of that little incident still hasn’t quite faded.
“We’re not in any rush.”
Oh no. “We don’t need to hold back the group on my account.”
“Sky. Go back to bed.” Hyrule stands, expression firm. “You want some of that tea Wild makes for nausea?”
Sky can’t quite bring himself to lay back down. It feels too much like laziness. Like being set apart from the group in a bad way. He does drag his bedroll over to the base of a tree, settling in comfortably with his back propped against the bark. He watches the others move around the camp in a kind of hazy blur. Twilight and Wild pull out their bows, readying themselves for a hunting trip. It looks like Hyrule is going with them, but he stops long enough to push a warm mug into Sky’s hands. Legend comes over, bearing needle and thread and one of Wild’s torn undertunics. He plops down beside Sky without a word and sets to mending. Time, Four, Wind, and Warrior hover around the fire, doing something industrious with their arms and armor.
It’s peaceful. Content. Sky lets his eyes slip shut, just listening. There’s relaxed chatter by the fire, the occasional muttered curse from Legend. His bedroll is warm. Someone takes the empty mug from Sky’s lax fingers. He lets himself drift, secure in the knowledge that they'll still be there when he wakes.