The Serendipity of Thunderjaws
serendipity: the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.
The Thunderjaw was a surprise.
Avad had received reports of machines in the west patrolling the roads. Aloy, naturally, decided to check it out and Erend volunteered to go with her. They had expected the Sawtooths and Longlegs and the Watchers that escorted them. But the Thunderjaw, that was definitely a surprise.
"You'd think someone might have mentioned this," Erend said, taking cover with Aloy behind a dirt bank. She fired a tearblast arrow and one of the machine's disk launchers tumbled away. "I mean, it's hard to miss, you know?"
"Think you get to that launcher?" Aloy asked, ignoring his commentary.
He grinned. "You say the nicest things."
She rolled her eyes and stood up to fire again. Dashing away from cover, Erend sprinted for the disk launcher. It was heavy and unwieldy, but he braced it against his chest and pulled the trigger. The Thunderjaw staggered at the barrage, armor plating giving way to expose the vital parts inside. The huge machine bellowed and the launcher clicked, its ammo spent. Erend dropped it, reaching for his hammer when the Thunderjaw shifted, turning. Realizing what was happening even before Aloy's shout, he dove toward the side, but he wasn't fast enough. The Thunderjaw's massive tail caught him across the chest, knocking the breath from his lungs and sending him flying. He hit the ground hard, rolling to a stop against a boulder. His vision grayed out on the edges as he struggled to breathe. Don't pass out, don't pass out. Something exploded, the sound seemingly muffled and far away. Aloy.
He willed himself to move, to get up, to fight, to protect her, but nothing was listening to him. Every breath hurt, stabbing through his chest, and he still couldn't get enough air.. Frustrated, he squeezed his eyes shut with a curse. When he opened them, a face was above him, framed by fire.
Her hands were on his arms, his chest, checking for injuries. He had dreamed of her touch, but not like this.
"Erend, can you hear me? Erend!"
He nodded, trying to get the breath to speak. "You . . . hurt?"
She shook her head. "I'm going to sit you up so you can breathe better."
The world tilted. He tried to help her, but his left arm was useless and movement sent stabbing pain through his chest. At last though, he was slumped against the rock. It was easier to breathe sitting up and his head slowly cleared. Aloy was frowning at his armor.
"I need to get this off," she said.
How he wished those words were spoken in a different time and context. "If you wanted to . . . undress me all you gotta . . . do is ask," he said.
"Well, it must not be that bad if you can still make jokes."
"Who . . . says I was joking?"
Together, they worked on undoing the straps and ties of his gambeson. Erend grit his teeth as she pulled it off, being especially careful of his shoulder.
"I'm not sure I can get your shirt off," she said and pulled out a knife. Erend grimaced as she cut through the material, thankful that at least it wasn't cold, and then she was touching him again. Her hands were warm, fingers and palms calloused from years of fighting and climbing, and he wished more than anything they were in his home in Meridian instead of here, that she was touching him from desire rather than concern.
She prodded one of his ribs and he hissed at the sharp flare of pain as something shifted slightly.
"Easy," she said. "I'm almost done."
Erend lay his head back, taking shallow breaths through clenched teeth as she continued probing his ribs. At last, she pulled her hands away.
"What's the verdict?" he asked, though he could make a good guess himself.
Aloy sat back on her heels. "Three broken ribs, more probably bruised, and I'm pretty sure your shoulder is dislocated."
"Oh, is that all?" He glanced down at his shoulder, noting the bulge under the skin where the bone was out-of-joint. "That's gonna need to be put back."
Aloy grimaced in sympathy. As gently as she could, she pulled him away from the rock so she had room to manipulate his arm and shoulder.
"Relax," she said.
"I am relaxed."
She raised an eyebrow and he tried to send relaxing signals to the rest of him. He imagined being back in Meridian, sitting and enjoying a relaxing pint of ale or two with Aloy. His shoulder was definitely not out of joint and wouldn't hurt like hell when she put it back.
When he opened his eyes, Aloy was looking at him with fond exasperation. He was about to say something when she leaned forward and kissed him. Erend's mind went blank. All the thoughts and worries vanished, replaced by the feel of her lips against his and the realization that she was kissing him, Aloy was kissing him.
She pulled away, smiling at his dazed expression, and deftly popped his shoulder back into place. He yelled in surprise and pain, his ribs protesting, but once he got his breath back, the sharp throb of his shoulder had settled to a dull ache. Gingerly, he rotated his arm.
"How's it feel?" Aloy asked.
"Good. Better." She didn't meet his eyes, instead digging through her pouch. "So . . . could we go back to what we were doing before you fixed my shoulder?"
Aloy glanced at him in a manner he would have called shy except this was Aloy and she was anything but shy. "I need to wrap your ribs. And your shoulder should be in a sling."
Erend grinned. "You're avoiding the question," he said. His grin widened at the blush spreading across her cheeks.
"It seemed like a good way to distract you, that's all. Chew this." She handed him some wild ember and he obediently put it in his mouth, grimacing at the bitter taste. Pulling out a roll of bandages, Aloy began wrapping his chest.
"So first you can't wait to get my clothes off and then you kiss me? Seems like a little more than just a distraction tactic." He hissed as she pulled the bandages tight. "I mean, I get it, a big handsome guy like me, who could resist the opportunity - "
Aloy cut him off by kissing him again. "Sometimes, you talk too much," she said, her lips barely brushing his.
"So I've been told," he said.
She smiled and pulled away. "How do your ribs feel?"
"Well everything aches, but otherwise better, though I'm not looking forward to walking." Aloy grabbed what was left of his shirt and began fashioning it into a sling for his shoulder. "When we get back to Meridian, would you maybe want to go out to dinner with me?"
"Erend, we have dinner together all the time, why wouldn't I?"
"I mean, yeah, but I'm talking about dinner as in . . . well, you know, dinner. With me. As a . . . as a date." Aloy stared at him, lips parted slightly, and Erend felt himself turning red. "We don't have to, but you have kissed me twice now so - "
"I'd love to have dinner with you."
"But only after you get some rest. You need time to heal."
Erend knew he was grinning like an idiot, but he didn't care. Aloy shook her head at him and put the sling over his head, helping him settle his arm into it. As she leaned close, adjusting the knot so the sling hung at the right height, he leaned forward and kissed her again, ignoring the twinges in his ribs from the movement.
"Are you going to kiss me everytime I'm in range?" Aloy asked, quirking her eyebrow.
Erend pretended to think about it for a minute and she rolled her eyes. "Hey, I'm making up for lost time," he protested. "I've wanted to kiss you for ages now."
Aloy turned pink. "Stay here. I need to go get us a machine."
Erend laughed and then winced. "Ow."
"Idiot." There was no bite to her tone, only a fond affection. "Stay."
He watched her until she disappeared. His ribs and shoulder ached with every breath and this wasn't how he planned his day going at all, but it was worth every moment. She had kissed him. Aloy had kissed him.
He was still grinning when she came back, riding a Broadhead. Erend still wasn't used to how casually she interacted with machines and even though he knew it was tamed, he tensed instinctively when it came trotting up.
"We're not riding that, are we?"
Aloy smirked at his tone. "No, but something needs to carry your armor and weapons and it isn't going to be me," she said, dismounting.
"You know, I could probably - "
" - let the machine carry everything for me, is what I was going to say."
"Right." Aloy bundled his armor and her scrap onto the Broadhead which stood patiently, blue light shining. "Ready?"
"As I'll ever be."
She got under his right arm and helped him to his feet. It hurt like hell, but he stayed upright.
"You good?" Aloy asked, still holding his arm.
"Yeah." He took a few shallow breaths and nodded. "I'll manage."
"If you need to stop, tell me. I promise I won't judge your manliness or whatever it is you worry about."
Erend chuckled gingerly. "Good to know."
Their pace was slow, but once he was moving, Erend found it wasn't too bad so long as he kept his breathing under control and didn't step too heavily. He stole glances over at Aloy and the Broadhead walking obediently after her. She had kissed him. The remembrance brought a goofy smile to his face.
"So," Aloy began slyly, "which of your Vanguard do you think won the bet?"
"On how long it would take you to kiss me."
"You knew about that?" She smirked at him and he grinned sheepishly back. "They wouldn't actually tell me anything. You know, so I couldn't influence it." His smile widened. "Although, technically, you kissed me first."
"And you're not going to let me forget it."
"Not a chance."
Originally, I was going to fit this with a prompt in Maybe Even Two, but then it took on a life of its own and became a mostly complete story on its own. Cross your fingers that this kickstarts my muse again :)