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Just remember to hold me, 'kay?

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“Hey. D’you, like… need something?” Ace muttered, when he saw Deuce struggling to bandage his hands.

The grazes and scrapes weren’t deep, and probably wouldn’t even scar, but they were still uncomfortably spread across Deuce’s palms, and were just gonna keep weeping if Deuce didn’t do something about it.

“Let me. I have to bandage my hands for training all the time,” Jack said gruffly, and before Ace could even shoot him a look of protest, Jack was taking hold of the bandages, his larger hands surprisingly gentle and firm.

“Ah… thanks,” Deuce said quietly, exhaustion still heavy in his voice. If he was slightly shamed by the fuss, he did his best not to show it, and Jack was kind of good at that whole not-making-a-big deal stuff.

“And you’ve gotta, like… eat more, y’know,” Ace said to the table, staring awkwardly at Deuce’s bowl of half-finished soup. It was a clear, nourishing broth that Epel had brought over to their dorm. The scent of it was warm and coaxing, and if that was Epel’s own recipe, even Ace had to admit that he’d done a pretty good job.

“Here. I’ve got it,” Epel said tentatively, taking up the spoon and holding it to Deuce’s mouth. 

Right. Deuce couldn’t exactly use his hands while Jack was bandaging them. As much as Ace felt like an idiot right now, at least Epel was on it.

“Hah. Um. Okay,” Deuce looked a little apologetic as he opened his mouth to be fed. Epel seemed genuinely fine with helping, but it didn’t take more than a few spoonfuls before Deuce gave a low, embarrassed laugh, and the first years suddenly couldn’t help matching self-conscious grins.

Oh well, as long as Deuce was eating more...

“Hey… you cold?” Ace tried, frowning as Deuce attempted to hold-back a shiver. Ace had plenty of warm jumpers in their wardrobe, and him and Deuce were basically the same size-

“Spade!!” Sebek yelled, as he flung open the bedroom door, making Ace jerk in wild surprise. Yep, that heart attack, he could've definitely done without.

“This would never have happened if you had dressed in the proper camping attire for the mountains!!” Sebek announced, pointing a finger accusingly at the ailing Deuce. “But I’ve brought you the quilt from my bed, which I personally knitted myself! As you can see, it’s decorated with all the classic emblems and motifs of the Valley of Thorns!”

“Ugh. Are those supposed to have healing properties now or something?” Ace groaned, shaking his head as Sebek marched over and nestled the quilt around Deuce, thoroughly tucking in all the edges. Ace half-wanted to grumble some more, but he was still processing Sebek’s clearly overpowered knitting skills.

“Guh- oh… thank you very much,” Deuce stumbled, turning a little red now that he was snugly tucked-up in bed. Ace crossed his arms in despair. Deuce did look warmer though, so whatever, it was fine…

“You should get some rest, got it?” Jack murmured, when Deuce stifled a shaky yawn towards his lap. Jack’s face was gentle when he smiled. “Otherwise you’ll never get rid of us.”

“I’m keeping my phone right next to my pillow, okay?” Epel said sincerely, nodding to make sure Deuce knew if he needed anything, he meant it.

Sebek just kept staring at Deuce, his stern expression becoming oddly pained, before he allowed the other two to take each of his hands and drag him away.

“So… yeah,” Ace gave Deuce an understanding look, then got up from the bed too, knowing Deuce probably wouldn’t want to admit he needed rest. Ace glanced back when Deuce reached for his hand, stopping him. 

“Uh. Actually,” Deuce coughed. Weirdly, Deuce looked just as out-of-sorts as Ace currently felt. “I kind of do need something.”

Oh, right. Ace did ask him that. Ace swallowed, not feeling very capable now that it came to it. Deuce pulled his hand, and Ace sat back down at Deuce’s side.

“Can you… um. Get me some water?”

There was a glass of water right next to Deuce’s bed, but Deuce only seemed to notice it now that Ace was looking confused.

“I mean, can you help me drink it?” Deuce corrected. “I’m still a bit, uh, unsteady.”

Ace picked up the glass, squinting at Deuce suspiciously while Deuce slowly sipped from the glass Ace was holding. From the increasingly guilty expression on Deuce’s face, something was definitely up.

“Wha-? You are… so dumb-” Ace snorted, when Deuce started laughing mid-drink, and Ace had to quickly cup his free hand beneath the dripping glass. “As if you can’t drink this! Man, you’re so annoying.”

“Do you feel less bad yet?” Deuce shot back, wiping his mouth on his sleeve and muffling a half-grin.

“No!” Ace laughed, admitting it before he even meant to. “Wait. I don’t feel bad! Ugh… okay, just let me feel bad, okay? I should… should’ve…”

Ace hung his head. There was no going back now.

“I should’ve been there,” Ace mumbled, nodding to all of Deuce’s injuries. “I... wish I’d been there. I wish I’d come sooner. I was so freaking scared, and now I wish I could make it up to you…”

When Deuce leaned in, Ace felt his cheeks burning and his eyes stinging at once. He had no idea how to make this better, and Deuce was doing all the work by just gently trying to cuddle.

“Hold on a sec. I really do need that water,” Deuce whispered, clearing his throat and drinking from the glass himself. Ace frowned sympathetically, until Deuce brimmed to the most affectionate puffy-cheeked face Ace had ever seen, then abruptly squirted another mouthful right at Ace’s eye.

“THE heck?!” Ace yelled, nearly falling off the bed. “You are so, so lucky you’ve got a free pass right now, otherwise… otherwise…”

Ace made a hopelessly incoherent sound. Deuce was still sitting there, looking all pleased with himself when Ace cracked-up too. And who was he kidding, Deuce could probably take him in his sleep.

“I give up,” Ace mourned, letting himself be pulled into a hug, then throwing his arms around Deuce like that’s all he wanted to do in the first place. Ace felt like he was squeezing stupidly tight.

“It’s still me, okay,” Deuce whispered, so quietly that Ace could nearly miss it.

“Want me to play some useless videos, on my phone or something?” Ace mumbled. “I know when a ton of crazy stuff has just happened, sometimes it’s hard to get to sleep.”

“Yeah. Actually, that would probably help a lot... thanks,” Deuce said softly. Ace held up the phone, keeping it steady even after his arm was dead and aching. Deuce’s head was kind of heavy, Ace realised, now that Deuce had rearranged and was using his chest as a pillow. There was a warmth to his cheek, where it squished against Ace’s shirt, and Deuce’s grip on Ace’s fingers softened as he drifted toward sleep.

“You’ve got me, I promise,” Ace whispered. “You’ve got me too.”