Exhausted, Pike dragged himself back into the lodge of the Go-Backs. This had been a disastrous day for the Wolfriders. Not only was One-Eye dead, his body now appeared to be missing, too. Both Clearbrook and Scouter had been inconsolable, Scouter at least comforted a little when he found out that his wolf had not been killed after all. Clearbrook, however, was a walking wreck. Treestump came into the lodge shortly after Pike, supporting the mess that was once proud, controlled Clearbrook. Pike could not bear to look at her.
And that wasn't even the worst. Somewhere in another room, Cutter was struggling for his life. Pike didn't dare think about what would happen if he died today as well. Nodding a greeting at Redlance and Nightfall, who both still looked extremely nervous, Pike once more took up his post at the door to the room where they'd taken Cutter. Earlier they'd all heard their chief howl in pain, but all was quiet now. Pike hoped that was a good sign.
Shortly after, Leetah walked into the main room with a very familiar, black-haired elf at her side. All the Wolfriders who could still walk stormed up to the tired healer, who told them that Cutter would live. They all sighed in relief, too tired and beaten to even ask where Rayek had suddenly come from. Leetah made her round, healing gashes and broken bones, until even Moonshade was fit to stand up again. She did not have the energy to heal them completely, though, leaving Nightfall's arm slightly injured before she collapsed in Rayek's arms. He carried her back into the smaller room, to Cutter, looking a bit sour while he did so.
When they knew that their chief was going to live, the Wolfriders relaxed visibly. Redlance and Nightfall accepted some pelts from the strange new elves and went to sleep somewhere a bit farther off. Strongbow and Moonshade cuddled together under the pelts they'd been given earlier, and even Scouter managed to get some rest, hugging Dewshine so close it seemed he wanted to melt into her. Treestump and Clearbrook sat in front of the fire, sharing a silence that only two who have been through the same ordeal can share.
Pike felt suddenly very lonely.
While the others went off in pairs to comfort each other, he was once again alone. Unbidden thoughts of his beloved father, Rain, assailed him. His father had always been his great comfort, the only elf in his life that he had ever been really close with. When Rain died, Rainsong was the only close family he had left and she wasn't here today, either. The death of One-Eye had shaken him to the core, as had the terrible fight and the ugly things he'd been forced to do to survive. He just wanted someone to make him feel like the there was still something beautiful in the world, like love and warmth, without feeling like he was interrupting something private.
Suddenly, the hide door to Cutter's room opened again. Skywise walked out, closely followed by Rayek, who marched off without making eye contact with anyone. The stargazer looked as exhausted as Pike felt, trudging into the room without looking where he was going. One of the Go-Backs gave him a pelt, which Skywise took with a confused look on his face, as if he didn't understand what he was supposed to do with it. Then he seemed to regain his senses for a moment and went off to the side, huddling under the pale brown fur. His eyes didn't close, though - the white-haired elf stared into the fire from a distance, looking haunted and a lot older than a few hours earlier.
It occurred to Pike that he may not be the only one in need of comfort.
Careful not to disturb any of his sleeping tribemates, Pike went over to Skywise. The stargazer greeted him with a nod and a faint smile that somehow made him look even sadder. Biting back his own sorrow, Pike sat down close to his friend.
"I can't imagine that's very comfortable," he said, trying to sound light, indicating Skywise's blue metal faceguard.
"Oh, yeah," Skywise mumbled, "I kind of forgot..." When he started to fumble with the fastenings on the back of his head, Pike offered, "I'll untie it."
Pike gently made his friend sit up a little straighter, so he could reach the thin leather straps. When the faceguard was off, he also loosened his friend's belt, dropping it together with the sword next to the faceguard. He noticed that Skywise was trembling slightly and impulsively embraced him, wondering how the stargazer would react. The other elf immediately wrapped his arms around him, hugging back fiercely. He reminded Pike of the lonely, white-haired child who had sometimes sought out his elder's company for a hug just like this one.
"It's alright," said Pike softly, unsteadily, doing his best not to burst out into tears, "He's gonna be okay. You fought so well today..."
"I was so sure I was gonna lose him," Skywise whispered, "Like we lost One-Eye."
As the terrible images came flooding back, Pike could no longer hold back tears. He held the youngster even closer, weeping softly into his shoulder. The soft sobs that rocked Skywise's body told him the stargazer was doing the same thing. Pike felt so incredibly exhausted at that moment that he let himself slip to the ground, pulling the other elf down next to him. For a time he was content to just lie there, holding on to his friend as if he were a lifeline, trying hard not to remember.
When he awoke, some time seemed to have passed. Apparently Leetah and the twins had emerged, but left Cutter to rest on the Go-Back leader's furs. An animated conversation started around the great central fire, Wolfriders interrogating Leetah about Cutter's condition. Pike looked at Skywise, whom he still held, only to see the stargazer looking past him and listening intently to what Leetah was saying. Pike understood immediately.
"Go to him," he said softly to his friend, "Go see how he's doing. Tell him I said hi."
Skywise smiled gratefully. "I will," he whispered and hugged Pike close a last time. Then he stood up and hastily went to the anteroom, his blue leather tunic falling open and billowing after him. With a sigh, Pike stood up too and went to the fireplace. Leetah and Nightfall were now talking quietly among themselves and Rayek had appeared.
"Seems like you did some growing up out there in the desert, eh?" Treestump was saying to the black-haired Sun Villager.
"If you like," Rayek replied a bit crossly.
Pike joined them, squatting on the edge of the fire. "But how did you end up here?" he asked, his curiosity piqued. He felt a lot better already.
"Not as messily or unintentionally as you did!"
Of course it turned out he wanted to share his story only with Leetah. As the two walked out into the snow, the twins following shortly behind, Treestump rolled his eyes and mumbled something. Then he looked at Pike.
"You okay, lad?" he asked gruffly, but with concern in his eyes.
Pike nodded. "I found some comfort in the company of a friend," he said vaguely.
"I'm glad." Treestump came to him and gave him a quick, fatherly hug. "We're all gonna need plenty of that in days to come. I'm sorry that I wasn't there for you like I should be as your elder, but..." He shrugged a bit awkwardly and went back to Clearbrook, who already looked a bit better, or at least not as if she could plunge headfirst into her own death any moment. Clearly she found at least some solace in Treestump's company.
Now that the worst was over, Pike knew that the entire tribe would be open to him again. Only when grief and horror were at their worst did the couples really wish to be alone with each other, he knew, leaving it now open to him to go to them whenever he liked. Still, he hoped that Skywise would come comfort to him that night.