Ike's teeth are clenched and he lets out a soft hiss of pain as he bends forward, stumbling a step. Soren can see all of this from where he stands, some several feet away. Worry swells in his breast when he sees Ike's hand come away from his torso covered in blood but Ike waves the injury away.

"Make sure the other one doesn't get away," Ike gasps, looking up through the hair that has escaped his bandana.

The surrounding area is quiet and Soren doesn't like it. His gaze drops to the bandit Ike already felled and he looks around at the shadows thrown by the trees and their skeletal, leafless canopy. They weave a dark web in the tall grass.

Soren doesn't know where the last of the bandits has gone because the coward melted away into the forest when Ike struck the killing blow to his partner. Holding the magic tome close to his chest, Soren turns in a half circle. He hears the sound of footsteps behind him before he sees anything and when the bandit lunges out of the brush at him, he hears Ike calling out his name even as he turns to face his enemy fully. Wind magic slashes through the bandit in a graceful arc, cutting him down where he stands. The javelin in his hand sails past Soren as the bandit crashes to the ground.


The javelin connects with a nearby tree and bounces harmlessly off. While it clatters to the ground, Soren moves toward Ike, who is busy wiping his blade on the back of his opponent's tunic.

"Your wound," Soren says, a hesitant hand rising. He half wants to touch Ike's shoulder but Ike shrugs off the wound and grins at Soren.

"It'll be fine," he says. "I've survived worse than this."

His smile and his voice are both tight. Soren frowns. He can't get a good look at the wound because Ike's hand is pressed against it but it looks like a long slash across the abdomen. Even Ike can't be stupid enough to believe that it's just a scratch. Because his face is so pale, Soren fishes out a canteen filled with water and hands it to Ike.

"Thanks," Ike says as he tips it back and drinks greedily. The water splashes over his chin and onto his chest. When Ike hands the canteen back, he tries to reassure Soren with his smile but Soren isn't buying it.

They are traveling alone and without somebody like Rhys, Ike's injury can prove dangerous-even fatal. Soren harbors no illusions about Ike's mortality, although he sometimes feels that Ike does. He can't tell if Ike is trying to hide it to spare him or not but sometimes he wishes Ike wouldn't bother. It's just the two of them and he feels there is nothing to hide.

"Let's head back to the inn," Ike says. He even starts to hobble in the direction of the small town they are currently staying at but Soren isn't having it. Before he can demand that he take a seat, however, Ike leans heavily against a tree. Now that he's closer, Soren can see the amount of blood Ike is losing and it's terrifying. While Ike slowly takes a seat with his back against the tree, Soren drops his satchel onto the ground and kneels beside Ike.

"Let me see it," Soren says and when Ike doesn't immediately move his hand, Soren places both of his on Ike's arm. He doesn't put up much of a fight as Soren peels his hand away but he does laugh weakly.

"So. How does it look?"

"Fixable," Soren says, though that doesn't make it any less worrisome. Soren knows a lot of things but he's no healer and he doesn't have any such staves on him. He does have thread for mending clothes, however. But he's afraid he might seal in dirt if he sews Ike up now. "Can you make it to the stream?"

Ike's gaze roves to the stream about a hundred feet away.


That doesn't stop Soren from helping him there. The sound of the water in the stream is peaceful but they don't have time to chit-chat about it. Soren looks over his shoulder, still expecting another onslaught of bandits. Funny how all they want is to remove themselves from trouble and they keep finding it, up close and personal.

Ike seems tired but still cheerful as he gives Soren a cheeky grin.

"What are you smiling about?" Soren asks, half distracted as he helps Ike sit comfortably beside the stream-or as comfortably as he can manage given the circumstances. The muddy ground is soft and he predicts they will be carrying much of it with them when they move on. He can already see it caking his boots and Ike's cloak.

"Oh nothing," Ike says and Soren hates it when other people do that. It's tolerable coming from Ike but still annoying. Ike laughs and Soren looks at his wound, still worrying over it. Laughing can't be doing it any good.

"Here, I'll get my clothes," Ike says and Soren watches as impassively as he can for a few seconds before he remembers that he still needs to gather the items to sew Ike's wound up. He doesn't feel one hundred percent enthused about the coming task. He knows he has a steady hand and that it needs to be done, however and he's thankful that he happened to have any sort of thread at all.

While Ike removes his cloak and tunic, Soren focuses on weaving the thread through the needle and tying it off. His hands are every bit as steady as he knew they would be; he's usually good in a crisis.

"I think it's actually a pretty shallow wound," Ike says and Soren looks up to see him observing the wound himself. Soren can't tell how deep or shallow it is from where he is, sitting on a smooth stone about three or four feet away. There's still a lot of blood and Soren remembers that the bandit's weapon looked less than pristine.

"It still needs to be washed," Soren says, a disapproving frown on his face.

"Yes, sir."

Together, they manage to clean the wound as best as they can. Soren still doesn't like it. The stream probably isn't that clean but they are miles from any water pump that he knows of. Ike seems relaxed and Soren doesn't know whether this puts him more at ease or makes him more anxious. Should he be chastising Ike for not taking the wound more seriously? He lowers his head, concentrating on the wound itself. Now that he can see it, he sees that Ike is correct. It's not overly deep but they cannot leave it gaping open or it may very well become worse. He doesn't know what he'll do if it becomes infected. They'll have to get Ike to a real healer as soon as they can.

"Hold still while I sew you up," Soren says.

"I might not." Ike grins. "Ticklish."

"Since when?"

He doesn't know how he sounds so calm or how his hand truly stays steady because on the inside, his nerves are so jangled. What if Ike had died out there? He bites down lightly on his lower lip. Memories of Stefan's words about their branded blood haunt him even now but he could never make Stefan truly understand what Ike means to him. Did Stefan even have somebody like that in his life? If he did, surely he would have understood where Soren stood before he made such an offer. He doesn't want to think on that. He hates that he spends so much time in his own head.

Sometimes, though, Soren wishes he had taken that offer. Not because he doesn't care about Ike, obviously, but because he does. Yet there is nothing that can stop him from sticking it out with Ike until the end. Soren has no true label for what he and Ike are because none of the words that exist feel right, none of them convey all that they are, all that Soren feels when they are together. Words, even after Soren gained the ability to wield them like weapons and walls, words have always been inadequate when it really counts.

Soren is generally about the big picture and he knows that one day he will be left standing without Ike. He doesn't care to contemplate it too deeply, though he can't help that he does on occasion. When he can't sleep at night, when they travel in silence, when he waits for Ike to finish with the bath or the chamber pot. When he is alone. Even had he taken up Stefan's offer, Soren can't imagine that he would be happy living that lifestyle. Whatever time he did have with Ike, he wanted. Greedy and selfish as it was, he wanted every moment. Even if the end result was the same, living with Ike until Ike's conclusion was better than living with the constant wonder. What if he had gone with Ike? What was Ike doing now? Did Ike think of him? Did Ike miss him? Was Ike even alive?

Now he doesn't have to wonder.

"Hey," Ike says and Soren feels his fist knock gently against his forehead. "Don't think so hard. I'm still here, you know."

"I know," Soren says, his voice soft. He ties off the end of the thread but it's still a little long so he has to cut off the tail end. "I know you're still here."

Ike touches the side of his face. There is blood on his fingers and Ike winces a little when he realizes it. His tone is sheepish though his lips are quirked up on one side in a funny half-smile.

"Sorry about that."

"There's nothing to be sorry for." Soren's smile is tentative and perhaps a little secretive; he doesn't like to smile much. He hardly ever finds anything to smile about. Ike pulls him slowly closer until their foreheads touch and Soren closes his eyes.

"I'm glad you're here," Ike says and Soren lets the sound of his voice wash over him.

Soren is afraid to open his eyes but when he does, Ike's gaze is still on him. For a heartbeat, for two, for three. He isn't counting anymore when Ike's thumb traces the line of his jaw and their lips meet. The touch is fleeting and gentle and Soren's hands are hesitant when they reach up to slide over the skin of Ike's chest. They inch up to his broad shoulders. His muscles are relaxed.

"Your hands are warm," Ike says with a hint of humor in his voice, his lips brushing against Soren's as he speaks. Soren tilts his head and Ike kisses him again, slow, leisurely. He takes his time, as if savoring the contact. Soren knows that he is.

"You should put your clothes back on," Soren says. Ike's skin is a little cool to the touch and he hates that he wants nothing more than to warm it in that instant. A part of him argues that it's logical enough but it really isn't. "Just some friendly advice."

The last thing they need to do is forget their surroundings-and Ike's recent injury. Ike seems to think the same thing; his rueful gaze drops down to his own slashed torso. He lightly runs two fingers along the angry red skin, now sewn together with black thread.

"You did a good job, Soren," Ike says. "Thanks."

Soren is already standing. "Are you well enough to move?" He doesn't want to start mucking around in emotions and he can tell by the look in Ike's eyes that he wants to. Rough-edged as he is, Ike is still better at it than Soren is.

"Yep." Ike stands up and Soren senses there is something more that he wants to say. He doesn't. Instead he leans forward and puts his arm around Soren. He braces for his weight but Ike isn't doing it for help. He is doing it for comfort.

"It'll take more than that to kill me," Ike tells him. "I promise."

Soren hopes that it's true and wants it to be true but logically, he knows that anything can kill him. Sickness, infection, weather, accidents, another battle. But he loves Ike's optimism and he wishes sometimes that he could feel that way and really believe it at least once in his life.

"I'm going to hold you to that."

He can't tell if Ike believes him or not. He just smiles and Soren wonders what he's thinking.