I'm rewriting most of these early chapters because...well, honestly, they were bad.
And yes! This means I'm picking up this project again, for any of you who are still reading it. Oh the wonders of playing through the game again.
Overall Warnings: There will be occasional hints of slash here and there, occasional descriptions of violence, and also possibly descriptions of just really horrific things. Other than that it's probably just silly group-bonding-stuff. These one-shots also do not follow a chronological order, though they are loosely tied together unless stated otherwise.
This Chapter: Arc acts stupid and ends up hurt for it. Ingus is Not Happy.
His feet were sore and stinging and if the somewhat soggy feeling in his left shoe was anything to go by, probably bleeding, too. Arc grimaced under the shadow his Black Mage's hat cast on his face. It was lucky he was at the back of the group so no one would notice the slight limp he'd developed.
It wasn't their fault, after all. Not their fault at all, that Arc was weak and out of shape and couldn't handle the pain his feet were giving him. He didn't want to inconvenience them any more than he had to, and so he gritted his teeth and focused on the ground to avoid stumbling over any stray roots or rocks…or his own two feet.
He listened with half an ear to Luneth's indecipherable rambling as the silver haired warrior tried his best to annoy Ingus…and failed but managed to rile Refia up in the process. Arc felt he should do something to stop his friend, but couldn't bring himself to open his mouth. It hurt too badly. It just hurt. And he couldn't…he couldn't do…anything, it felt like. Just the thought of it was enough to arouse the voices of his past tormenters, and Arc swallowed his frustrated hopelessness as he stumbled.
Arc jerked his head up to gaze with wide eyes at Luneth, who met him with a blankly worried look, and was surprised to find that they'd stopped. "Are you alright?" his friend asked, putting a hand on Arc's shoulder. Arc desperately hoped Luneth didn't feel the jutting bone through the thick cloth.
A smile crossed Arc's face instinctively, and he tried not to notice the stares from Refia and Ingus. "Of course I am," he said lightly, trying to pass it off with a quizzical tilt of his head. "Why?"
Luneth frowned and opened his mouth to answer but Refia beat him to it, shoving Luneth out of the way and taking up a combative stance before Arc, hands on her hips and expression dark. "Why?" she said "I'll tell you why; Ingus has tried three times to ask you a question and you weren't answering!" Refia's eyes flashed with aggressive concern. "I expect the spacing out from Luneth but not from you. That's why."
Arc flinched as Luneth shouted a protesting 'hey!' only to be shut up forcefully by Refia's fist on the back of his head. Hard.
"Sorry," Arc muttered and lowered his head, trying to ignore the pained and angry shouts of his friend; "I was just thinking." Refia's eyes immediately softened.
"Hey, it's okay; just try to be a little more aware why don't you?" and with that she let her pack drop to the ground with a fwump and a spray of dust into the air. Matter settled. "Anyway, we're staying here for tonight, or so says our esteemed leader." Refia grinned at Arc and then exchanged a glance with Ingus, who was kneeling beside his own pack and had been rummaging through it with his customary solemnity. Ingus stared back unreadably before he returned to his supplies. Refia frowned, then shrugged and turned around with a sigh. "Me 'n the brainless wonder here will go find firewood," she declared, and grabbed the still grumbling Luneth by the ear as she stalked past him. "See you two in a bit!" she called over her shoulder before she and Luneth both disappeared into the shadows of the forest.
There was silence as Arc felt a wave of unnecessary panic as he tried to figure out a way to set up camp alone - with Ingus, the most observant of them all - and not give away the condition of his feet before he could look at them himself. After a moment of hesitation, he finally settled on just getting it over with and knelt down slowly to retrieve Refia's sleeping roll.
As he was kneeling, however, he was hit with a sudden wave of dizziness that caused him to trip over his own aching feet, which sent him straight into a tree and promptly spilled him on to the forest floor.
Arc groaned and tried to sit up, rubbing at his head with a shaking hand, only to find himself held down by a stronger hand on his shoulder. "Hold on, Arc," Ingus murmured, peering down at him in something almost like concern, "How many fingers am I holding up?"
Three fingers were held in front of his eyes and Arc blearily and quietly replied with the number, brow furrowing in confusion. Ingus nodded and released him and Arc raised himself carefully with his arms. He felt a hand support his back as he attempted to stand, but as soon as he placed weight on his feet they erupted with so much pain that he couldn't suppress a yelp and the immediate prick of tears as his legs gave out on him again.
Ingus caught him.
Arc felt himself lowered back to the ground and looked over to watch Ingus through tear-blurred eyes as the pain momentarily darkened his vision. Arc quickly turned away from the thoughtful but hard gaze, and blinked his pained tears away. He didn't dare reach up to scrub at his eyes.
Ingus was going to figure it out. He was going to know what a weakling Arc really was and he was going to sneer and laugh like everybody else. Or, well, maybe not laugh because Ingus didn't laugh, but definitely sneer, and snap, and maybe yell or send him back, and that was probably worse. It was worse.
Arc was scared, and because of that he was frustrated. All he'd had to do was keep them from finding out that he couldn't hold his own, and he couldn't even do that right. He was such an idiot. Such an idiotic, pathetic…
There was a hand on his forehead.
Ingus mumbled in discontent as Arc snapped his eyes to his face in surprise. "You're far too warm, Arc," Ingus muttered, tone calm enough to be almost snappish, and dropped a slight glare to Arc's own startled gaze. "Why didn't you tell us you were ill?"
Arc flinched. "I-I don't feel sick…" he replied quietly, though, now that he thought about it, he did feel a little warm and he shouldn't be surprised. He'd lost too much weight since the start of the journey and, what with the open sores on his feet, the filthy state of his shoes, and some of the terrain they'd been covering, anything could have happened.
Ingus sighed in exasperation. "Allow me to see your feet," he demanded, already reaching for the nearest brown covered appendage.
"W-What!" Arc yelped, startling out of his thoughts and snatching his foot back. "N-no, really. It's all right; they're all right!"
Ingus gave him an actual glare this time, the kind he usually reserved for Luneth. "Arc, once again, allow me to see your feet. It will be much easier on us both if you agree."
Arc opened his mouth to protest again, drawing his feet closer, then stilled, thinking about that and watching Ingus warily. Then with growing helplessness. So he didn't have a choice? There wasn't anything he could do to keep Ingus from looking at his feet without a fight, after all, and it wasn't like he could stop Ingus even then, if the knight didn't want him to. The surge of helplessness and shame hit Arc again like an aero spell and twisted something in his gut.
"Oh," he whispered. "A-all right." He uncurled his legs from where he'd tucked them close to his body and offered a foot. Ingus grunted his approval before removing one of Arc's shoes - the right shoe, thankfully enough. Arc didn't think that was the one that was bleeding. Though it was hard to tell through the-
There was a pause full of far too much sudden, charged focus to be called quiet, and Ingus's hand tightened slightly around Arc's ankle. "This is what you refer to as all right, Arc?" Ingus finally hissed.
Arc looked away from the ground to see his foot. He hadn't been able to check them over for a couple nights now, and wanted to see how bad it had become.
It was bad.
Almost his entire foot was angry and red, with varying degrees of darkness and pink depending of age and state of the sore. Some spots were leaking clear or whitish liquid and the flesh was swelling where the shoe was no longer constricting it, and Arc distantly realized it had become infected.
That explains why I'm sick…He thought absently, mostly just to think of something aside from the looming threat Ingus was presenting at the moment, and winced as Ingus brushed a gentle hand against one of the worst sores on the pad of his foot. The knight-turned-red-mage growled something under his breath and carefully set the damaged foot on his own thigh. He discarded the shoe and moved onto the left one with quick, tight movements.
That foot was worse than the right one. Blood, both drying and fresh, almost sealed the shoe onto Arc's foot. Ingus had to carefully pry it off, shoulders growing tenser with each second until the shoe was finally removed and Arc's grip was white knuckled, stark against his black tunic. The entire foot was white, red and so dark it was almost black.
Ingus actually cursed under his breath when he saw it and Arc winced. Still, nothing was said to Arc directly and the older boy reached over for Refia's pack in silence; removing bandages and antidote along with a strong smelling antiseptic and a rag.
The rag was wetted with water from Ingus's canteen, the only fresh water in the area, and then Ingus began carefully wiping at the wounds. Arc experienced a whole new level of pain, and he jerked back against the tree, chest tight with pain the forced his breath to escape from his lungs soundlessly.
Ingus noticed and his strokes became gentler, but he still didn't say anything. Occasionally he stopped to clean the rag and start again and Arc clenched his hands into fists each time, until he could feel his stubby fingernails biting into the flesh of his palm even through the heavy robe he wore. He squeezed his eyes shut to hold in tears. "Crybaby," a voice from his past murmured and Arc fought harder to hold in his sobs.
"It is all right to cry," Ingus eventually, softly, said, and Arc opened his eyes and squinted. "The cleaning of old wounds hurts," Ingus explained, but didn't look up. "Infected wounds are even worse, and it has been said that the treatment is oftentimes worse than the wound itself…so crying, right now, is okay."
Arc blinked and swallowed hard, and was surprised to feel a certain relief at the words. Arc took to crying silently throughout the entire agonizing experience, focusing hard on keeping his foot still in Ingus's hands.
When Ingus was finally done, done with wrapping the bandages and applying the stinging antiseptic and taking to the wounds with an antidote that burned, he finally looked at Arc, and his eyes were guarded and careful.
"I will give you a Cure in a little while, after your feet have had time to heal on their own. It would be bad for your body to cure you so soon, and you cannot afford to become any more ill than you already are…nor can you afford to expend the energy." Ingus's eyes flashed and Arc flinched. After a moment of Ingus watching him while Arc kept his gaze directed to the ground, Ingus nodded and stood, stretching a bit before he turned to walk away. Arc swallowed again, then tried to get to his feet to follow, shaking slightly and relieved that it was over.
Ingus went rigid as a few leaves cracked under Arc's weight.
"Sit down!" he barked, whirling around, and Arc immediately dropped. "You are in a bad enough state; you will not be adding to it. At all."
Arc stared up at Ingus, even as he shrunk in on himself, frustrated and upset why couldn't he do anything right?
"Luneth knew something was wrong," Ingus said softly, with the air of an explanation, shoulders dropping a bit as he lifted a hand to rub at his forehead. "But he didn't know what it was, and so I didn't listen to him." Arc frowned as he thought about that; then he went very, very still. He made a sharp, protesting noise as he tried to lift himself up using the tree again. He wasn't foolish enough to attempt standing, but he had the urge to make himself bigger. To make certain his message carried some weight, however slight.
"Ingus, it's not your-!"
"Don't!" Ingus snapped, cutting him off and taking a few steps closer. "We all know that you refuse to 'burden' this group, and so it falls to the rest of us to judge when something is ailing you." Ingus's hands tightened into fists and he turned his head just enough so he wasn't looking Arc directly in the eye. He took a steadying breath, and forced his hands to slowly unclench. When he spoke, his voice carried the calm weight Arc had grown accustomed to.
"You will rest and you will heal and then we will continue, but not before."
Arc opened his mouth and shut it again, then leant back against the tree and let himself slide down to curl up in its roots. He wasn't sure enough in himself or the situation to try and contradict the strongest fighter in their party.
For a moment, Ingus did nothing, just stood with closed eyes as though in meditation, then he abruptly snapped to attention and walked back to Arc. His eyes were fierce – determined - and Arc couldn't look away even as he pulled back against the tree in sudden alarm, though Ingus only knelt down in front of him and made no move to do anything else.
"If you ever do this to yourself again, Arc, you will be left in the next town we come across to recover. The persons in charge of you, and the guards of the town, will be given strict orders that you are not to leave the building until we return to collect you." Ingus's eyes narrowed and Arc felt a trill of fear in his chest as he twitched back against the trunk of the tree. He wanted to cry again, because of this whole mess, this whole mess. He didn't.
"You are not as expendable as you seem to think you are, Arc." Ingus snapped when Arc did nothing else, "and if I must, I will allow Refia to keep watch over you. Along with Luneth. And I will let you know now that the both of them will be hearing of this."
Arc flinched again.
Ingus noticed and leant back onto his heels, studying him. Arc hunched his shoulders and looked away again, only to stiffen as a hand clumsily brushed his bangs from his forehead.
"Arc." Ingus said, and Arc carefully looked up to meet the blond's blue-gray eyes. Ingus watched him for a moment, then bowed his head.
"I swear to you, Arc, by my honor and my blades, that I will do my best to insure no harm comes to you…or to Refia or even to Luneth,." He paused. "Not even yourselves. My knight's honor at stake, I vow to you."
Ingus looked up then, his eyes hard and strangely passionate in a way that was almost terrifying – and comforting, maybe, and secure – to behold. "To me, my honor is my life, Arc, my blade my soul, and I never break a vow."