Aether bleeds a deep red. It’s something Albedo can’t help but commit to memory, a color he tucks away in his mind. Something deep inside of him has the urge to sketch such an ugly picture, a violent cut in the middle of his sketchbook.
It’s like a switch flips, and Albedo goes on autopilot. The treasure hoarders are quickly dealt with, and Albedo gets to work.
When Aether wakes up, he notes the color of the tent above him and the blankets tucked tightly around him. He’s lying in the camp that he was first led to, a makeshift alchemy lab in Dragonspine. He tries to blink himself awake, move his arms out from the blankets, but grogginess overtakes any sort of panic that might have been there otherwise.
“Albedo?” Aether croaks.
A form quickly appears and looms over him. Aether’s vision adjusts as the blanket is pulled from under to give him more space to move.
“Sorry about that, I had to keep you warm.” Albedo’s voice is low and gentle. It bounces off the walls of the cave and reverberates through Aether’s bones.
“What happened after…?” Aether starts to get up only for Albedo to push him back down.
“A snowstorm started, you wouldn’t have been able to take it with those injuries. Here was closer.” Albedo starts adjusting the pillow under Aether’s head, gently tugging it and moving the blanket over Aether’s form. He must have needed to do something with his hands. “I gave you a concoction I made, so your wound is mostly healed. But you need to rest.”
“Is that why I feel like my head’s underwater?” Aether groans and presses a hand to his forehead.
“A minor side effect. It should fade soon.” Albedo finally pulls away from fidgeting over him and sits at the edge of the cot, by Aether’s side.“I had to work quickly, I’m sorry I couldn’t find a more comfortable solution.”
Aether lowers his arm, then pushes the blankets away to touch Albedo’s elbow. “Thank you for saving me.” He squeezes it weakly once.
“Why did you take that hit for me?” Albedo says suddenly. Aether can’t read his expression.
The answer is obvious. “Because you were in danger.”
“I would have been fine.” Albedo’s stare is unwavering.
“I still don’t want to see you get hurt.”
“I’ve taken worse hits and recovered, you know that.” Albedo pointedly stares at the tender flesh on Aether’s side, an angry red from it healing too quickly. “I don’t want to see you get hurt either. You shouldn’t have done that.”
“Yeah, well, I already did it. We’re past that.” Aether waves the conversation away and carefully sits up. It’s only then he takes a proper look at Albedo in the dimly lit campsite. The campfire roars and crackles in the freezing air of Dragonspine, its light commanding shadows to dance across the tent, across the dirt floor, across Albedo’s familiar form.
“I’ve never seen you with your gloves off.” Aether notes the hand by his side.
“I needed sterile hands to treat your wound.”
Without thinking, Aether takes Albedo’s hand in both of his. He examines Albedo’s palm and traces a finger on each of the creases, following them as they reach the side of his hand, to his pinky, to his wrist. He knows that he’s staring.
“Why did you take that hit for me, Aether?” Albedo asks him again, almost pleading.
“Because I care about you.” He answers easily.
Albedo isn’t sure what he wants out of this line of questioning, perhaps afraid of where the conversation is going, and what it would mean.
An impulse starts at Albedo’s gut and creeps up through his chest, up to his shoulders, down his arms, and gently, he pulls Aether into a hug. Aether responds by wrapping his arms around him too. Albedo nuzzles his face into Aether’s hair and closes his eyes. Warmth blooms from Aether, or perhaps from the fire, but regardless, Albedo is rooted in place.
Outside, the storm rages on.