Chapter 2 - Empathy and Apathy
Vaati stared through the ornate wooden frame, gazing pensively at his reflection. The fine violet silks billowed in the faintest morning breeze in a way his usual heavier linens couldn't match. Twists of golden yellows and rich blacks dance along the edges of the sleeves and collar, the colors making a lovely contrast against his pale skin and hair. He met his own carmine eyes through the glass, raising a hand to the gift he'd just been bestowed.
The mage ran his fingers across it's delicate golden curves, so intricately carved it resembled silk threads more than the metal he could feel it to be. Although it couldn't replace the legendary wishing cap he had long since lost, the way the circlet sat almost exactly the same across soft, lavender hair got the sentiment across. As much as it was influenced by the design of the object that had made him the greatest sorcerer, there was a marked difference. Vaati moved closer to the mirror, admiring the gleaming yellow stone set in the very center, accented by intricate filigrees of silver.
While the red beryl stone that had adorned his cap had been for practical purposes, the imperial topaz that replaced it held a much different meaning.
He allowed a soft, content smile to pull at his lips. Sentimental fool...
His senses came back to him sluggishly, with all of the speed of molasses in winter. It took far too much effort to will himself from the vestiges of sleep, the phantom sensations of his dream still clinging to him. He simultaneously felt like he'd slept too long and yet was still too exhausted to function. At the very least he could tell he wasn't in as much pain as before, and that all of his limbs were properly accounted for.
Despite how heavy his body felt, Vaati managed to push himself up until he was at least sitting, the blanket that was previously covering him pooling in his lap. He rubbed at the corner of his eyes, but paused and drew back, squinting in the half darkness at a soft gauze wrapped around his palm and fingers he hadn't initially noticed until it brushed against his skin. Blinking, Vaati's eyes followed the trail of bandages where they disappeared into the shadows of oversized, light-colored sleeves. They were dappled with darker patches which took him a moment to recognize as probably dried blood.
A stab of panic racing through him, he raked his fingers back through his hair, pausing when they came into contact with familiar, intricate metal loops. He let out a sigh of relief, running an unbandaged thumb over the edge of the circlet to calm himself.
Only somewhat more awake, he turned his attention elsewhere. He was in a bed, that much was certain, the blanket still covering him a dark color he couldn't quite discern yet. He ran his unbandaged hand across the sheets, fingernails barely catching on the tight, smooth weave.
The sheets he was laying on felt clean, but carried no scent he could discern. Considering almost spartan state of the room, he could see that the room was kept clean but otherwise had not been occupied for quite some time. Like how his own quarters at the Palace of Winds would become since he ended up spending so much time elsewhere. He stopped the thought right there, not wanting to dwell on any more memories at the moment.
His eyes caught the main source of light streaming in, a sliding door far across the room, different in style than the solid wooden door he suspected was the main entrance to the room (and more than likely locked, though he didn't bother to test that yet). It was paneled and translucent, a style that was familiar to him but he couldn't place just yet.
Gingerly, the mage pulled the sheets to the side and twisted, letting his legs hang over the side of the bed. A minor detail that caught his attention, his feet easily touched the floor, the bed being set lower than what he was used to. He bit his lip remembering the fond snort of laughter of someone amused at how far from the floor his legs would dangle. Enough of that.
His feet were bare, but he was still wearing the same pants as yesterday, as in poor a shape as they were. He stuck his leg out slightly, noticing the bandage around his left leg. He could see patches of it had a dried, burgundy look to it, a strip of red cord fastening it at the top and bottom. Carefully he levered himself up to his feet, wincing at the dull ache that permeated practically every inch of his body. Despite his misgivings, his injured leg seemed to hold his weight, for which he was grateful. Even if he was alone, it wouldn't do for him to fall flat on his face. Slowly he picked his way across the cold stone floor, muttering something particularly foul as he stumbled over a low table that had somehow missed his notice, towards the sliding door where he could feel the breeze coming from.
He hesitated a moment before pushing it to the side, squinting into the sunlight. His eyes watered at how bright out it was, but Goddesses, he hadn't seen the sky in so long. He took a deep breath… although the air was slightly cool, it didn't carry the dampness of early morning. What time was it? How long had he been sleeping? In and out of the sword… His eyes hadn't even quite adjusted before a strange noise caught his ears. The sound of tinkling glass?
"Looks like Sleeping Beauty has decided to join the waking world."
Vaati startled at the deep voice just behind him. The mage winced as he whipped around, the sudden movement pulling at his ribs, coming face to face with the intruder. Actually, more like face to chest, he realized, as he was only eye level with the man's pectorals. He snapped his head upwards past the the thick red scarf draped over bare shoulders to lock eyes with the same white-haired man he only hazily recalled.
"Hrmph, you're even smaller and more pathetic than I initially thought." Ghirahim said as he tilted his head, glancing down at him. "I must say, when I first saw you I was almost impressed! But you quickly dashed whatever hopes I had of a challenge."
An embodiment of wrath itself, it did not take much for the sorcerer's rage to bubble to the surface. Did this overdramatic beanpole know whose ire he was courting? "Who in Hylia's name do you think you are speaking to me like that?" Vaati growled dangerously, crimson eyes narrowing.
Vaati's first instinct was to smash the offender into the wall like a ragdoll, but when he reached for his magic, it responded sluggishly. With his reserves were drained down to barely anything, it was little more than a stiff breeze that rustled the Sheikah's scarf.
A hiss of pain escaped him as he was slammed back against the wall, the hot sting of some wound or another reopening lancing up his ribs. Ghirahim leaned in close, grinning at him with no small amount of malice. "You really are a wretched little thing aren't you," he asked. "And here I thought that maybe after a ratnap you would pose a bit more of a threat. It turns out I had my hopes set far too high that you would be anything other than a small, sad disappointment."
Vaati could only let out a gurgled hiss as Ghirahim's claws closed around his windpipe.
"Maybe I should just put you out of your misery now and save my master the trouble of running you through." Ghirahim mused cruelly.
"I really do not believe that is what the Master had in mind, Ghirahim."
Turning, the demon glared at the silver-haired boy standing in the doorway holding a loaded tray tucked under one arm against his hip, the other pushing the door shut with a click.
Cinnamon-colored eyes narrowed, though it was hard for Vaati to tell if the visceral rage roiling in them was directed at himself or at the other boy. There was a tense silence, Ghirahim's muscles coiled as if to strike, a stark contrast with the smaller of the two Sheikah whose posture was considerably more lax. Sheik, meanwhile propped his free hand on his hip and stared down Ghirahim expectantly with half-lidded eyes. Seconds ticked by and then Vaati was released with a shove and a frustrated snarl. Finally free to breathe again, Vaati coughed as he greedily sucked in air.
"If you insist on wasting your time and energy on that runt, knock yourself out. He's your problem."
The tinkling of glass shards startled Vaati as his tormenter warped away. Sheik, as Vaati had come to identify him, stayed still for a moment longer before walking the rest of the way over, setting down the tray he was carrying on the low table near the bed that Vaati had knocked his knee into earlier.
"If you would be so kind, over here please," Sheik asked, motioning towards the bed.
A shaky exhale. The mage made his way over and gingerly set himself down on the edge of the bed. Considering that the boy had just saved him (again, the shreds of his dignity bitterly remarked) he felt confident enough he wasn't going to attack him and instead looked down at the tray.
A lacquered bowl with a steaming, clear broth with bits of vegetables in it and a spoon; another bowl of what he easily identified as rice; a simple mug of the same style and an old tea pot was on one side; and finally a few rolls of bandages tucked haphazardly between the dishes which Sheik quickly moved onto the table.
Another flicker of movement and the contents of the teapot were suddenly in the mug and pushed into his open hands. Vaati barely suppressed a shudder as the warmth sunk into his fingers. He hadn't quite realized how cold he was until just then. In fact, he was so distracted that he almost didn't catch it when the other's soft voice broke the silence.
"Do excuse Ghirahim," the boy said as he took a seat at a low stool across from Vaati. "He has a habit of misdirecting his frustrations."
"And what," Vaati hissed," is that supposed to mean?" Although his memories were still a bit hazy, he now distinctly recalled the considerably larger Sheikah having attacked him as soon as he had been unsealed from the sword and could barely keep himself upright. In stark contrast was the memory of this boy standing over him protectively, voice quiet and gentle, almost caring. This was the second time the shade had stepped in and protected him.
"It means he's an asshole."
Vaati's train of thought screeched to a halt and derailed. Had he heard that correctly or was he just projecting? "Come again?"
"Ghirahim. Is. An. Asshole," Sheik annunciated, as if he was stating that water was indeed wet. Well, there went Vaati's mental image of the boy as being reserved. "A violent, overdramatic, spiteful asshole. While I admit that he is indeed one of the most loyal people I have ever met, he is also equally as aggravating and combative. Just even mention Hylia or the fact that red velvet tastes no different from chocolate and he just explodes! I rather fight a Molduga on foot than put up with-"
At the sound of Vaati clearing his throat, Sheik paused in his tirade. Their matching eyes met for a moment of awkward silence before the boy seemed to think better of it and reign himself in.
"I… assume you have some questions." Understatement of the century. Vaati did indeed have questions, a lot of them. First of off, how long-
"You've been asleep for a full day."
Well, that answered his first question. Before he could raise the second, the other continued.
"Most of the damage is on one half of your body. The largest one is the gash on your left side around your ribs. You bled the most from that one…" Sheik admitted. "There are a lot of other small wounds and I treated those as well as I could given the circumstances. It is not like we could exactly risk bringing in a doctor."
That last statement could infer various things; did they consider the monstrous mage simply too dangerous to risk a civilian medic around, or was there another reason? Vaati stored that little tidbit away for later.
Vaati made a small sound of affirmation, as the silvery haired boy was not looking in his direction to notice a nod, before turning his attention back to the warm mug in his hands. Deciding it was cool enough, he slowly sipped at the tea. It was warm and soothing on his throat, and it took him more than a moment to notice the strangely bitter taste. Familiar.
"The tea tastes strange."
"That is because I drugged it," Sheik admitted, not even looking up from where he was unraveling the rolls of bandages onto the table.
"Pardon?" Had Vaati heard that right?
"It's a medicinal tea. Your wounds were deep, so as a precaution there is a variety of Safflina in it to stave off infection, as well as something for the pain," Sheik told him as he measured out and cut through another length of linen. "However, I did leave out the sedative this time. I need you awake."
Vaati looked at the boy blankly for a moment before glancing back at his cup. That certainly explained why he'd slept through a full day even with such grievous injuries as well as a strange taste in his mouth when he'd woken up. With a sigh, he raised the concoction to his lips once again.
Sheik glanced up. Well, at least he didn't have to shove the medicine down the sorcerer's throat like a disagreeable dog. Honestly Vaati reminded him more of a mouse anyway… or a hamster. Especially the way he held the cup with both hands tucked close to his body. He shook himself out of that train of thought and looked over the medical supplies he had laid out. "When you're done with that I need you to strip."
A choking noise. "You need me to what?!," the demon squeaked between coughs.
"You know… take it all off."
"Why would you even-" Vaati asked bewilderedly, barely stifling another hacking fit from where he was sure half of his cup went down his windpipe instead of his throat.
"I need to change your bandages. Unless you want an infection, then by all means…" Sheik trailed off but soon continued. "Besides, how do you think you got wrapped up like a Gibdo to begin with?"
Oh. Vaati glared at the taller boy, face turning pink in an embarrassed blush. As poorly worded as the request was, it was not unreasonable.
"If you're feeling shy you can keep your pants."
Vaati chucked the mug at his head.
Vaati gritted his teeth as the shade worked. For the sake of his tattered pride, he tried not to flinch away when the other's fingers smeared cold ointment across his broken skin. At the very least the Sheikah kept the physical contact to an absolute minimum. Sheik worked methodically, snipping away the stained bandages and easing them from the broken skin in the spots they'd adhered. Vaati held his breath when the other had to lean in close to wind fresh bandages around his narrow torso.
After excruciatingly long minutes, the final strip of linen was tied firmly in place. He let out a shuddering exhale as he lowered his arms as the blonde leaned back away from him. He accepted a bundle of cloth handed to him with a mumbled thanks. A clean shirt, similar to the one he recently stripped out of, sans bloodstains. It was a mix of chalky and dark blues separated with white lines. Mindful of not disturbing the new set of bandages lest he have to suffer through more physical contact than absolutely necessary, the mage slipped it over his head, pulling his tangled hair out of the back of the collar once he'd gotten it pulled down. It fit him a tad loosely and pooled around his hips, obviously tailored to someone a bit taller than him. Come to think of it, it looked suspiciously close to what Sheik was wearing...
"You're healing up at least, and none of the wounds look putrid," Sheik broke the silence with, in the middle of tossing the old bandages and old shirt into a basket. "Explains why you can't use your magic, now that I think about it."
Vaati snapped his head up to meet Sheik's eyes before biting his lip and glancing away. Of course… Sheik had probably seen when he tried (and failed) to challenge Ghirahim. Sensing the mage's interest, Sheik continued.
"Essentially, all of your magical energy is prioritizing keeping you alive rather than letting you use gale force winds to assault the dumbass Interloper." Obviously the term was made in jest, but still caused the mage to raise an eyebrow. Come to think of it, he actually hadn't seen Ghirahim wearing the Sheikah eye that the boy in front of him sported.
"I was under the impression that your tall friend was also a Sheikah." Indeed, Ghirahim did indeed show some of the traits of the shadow folk that Vaati was familiar with; White hair, pointed ears, eyes that while not the vivid red of Sheik's were still along the color range that was most common among them. Wearing a similar uniform to the boy in front of him lent credence to that, sans emblem.
Sheik made a sound of sad amusement as he stood up, making his way towards the door. "You are not nearly the first to make that assumption and will not be the last. Looks the part, doesn't he? Most people wouldn't notice the difference." he paused for a moment, like he was mulling over what to say next. "In fact, you look a lot more like a Sheikah than he does, especially dressed like that." The boy's eyes traveled across the other's borrowed shirt that bore the symbol of his people.
Vaati, however, was still perplexed. Why in Hylia's name would anyone have to be waltzing around under the guise of a Sheikah. He wasn't sure if he had spoken it out loud or if the other was just that good at reading people, because a moment later, almost tentatively, he continued to speak.
"It's all for show though. Not that anyone is stupid enough to attack to begin with at this point, but having more than a single teenager guarding the royal family… " A bitter chuckle.
"Where are the rest of the Sheikah?" Vaati almost regretted his words as soon as they left his mouth. An unfamiliar sensation of guilt lanced through his chest as soon as he saw the look of bitterness and misery flash across the boy's blood red eyes.
Sheik's fingers tightened along the wood of the doorframe. The silence drug on for long enough that Vaati didn't think he was ever going to get an answer out of him. At this point he wasn't sure he wanted one.
"Couldn't you tell?" Sheik asked, voice light and airy but not quite keeping the bitterness hidden. "They're all gone. I'm the last."