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Shimmering Scales

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  When he and Malon have kids, he hopes they don't have this many.  

  Nayru knows he loves his boys, but they can get a bit much sometimes. They can get loud and overwhelming, and as a man who’s used to traveling primarily alone, with maybe a fairy trailing behind him or his trusted mount, it’s a bit overwhelming. He’s not used to being around people so much, Malon and Talon are his only consistent company and even then, the work they share means that often times it’s only him and his thoughts as he mucks, mends and tends things around the ranch.  

  Sometimes, when the boys get especially rowdy and playful, it’s just nice to get a moment of quiet to himself. Between Sky and Twilight, he knows that nothing overly chaotic will go down, and he trusts the boys to keep each other in check.  

  So, when they come to the Pup’s Hyrule, their battle in this world over and most of their number restless as they wait for the next portal to arrive and whisk them away, Time allows his boys their space, and with a quick exchange with the only two he can trust to  not  burn something down (at least while the younger ones can still see them) he heads off into the forest to get a little space to himself.  

  Of course, he can’t really go far, not if he needs to hurry back, but he doesn’t really need to. His destination is Lake Hylia, which is only a short distance from their camp, maybe ten or fifteen minutes, and, when he gets there, he allows himself to actually breathe for once.  

  Wild, Warriors and Wind had been locked in a game of cards when last he left, the champion soundly beating the other two both at cribbage while Wars bemoans his poor luck, and Twilight and Sky were discussing wood carving with Hyrule, with the occasional comment from the smithy, who is only too happy to throw in something related every so often as he looks up from his book. That leaves himself and Legend, and he’s long since learned that the vet was one to disappear for his own space when possible.   

  He’s not overly worried. Legend has items and experience that far outmatch most of their group, and if he runs into trouble Time has little doubt that he’ll be able to get himself out of it to at least gather reinforcements, if not handle the issue by himself.  

  A deep breath of relief escapes him as the eldest of the heroes pulls a few items from his own bag. The boots are a familiar if not welcome weight as he slips out of his armor and dons the tunic and cap of the Zora, his breath bubbling softly as he steps into the lake before him with a contented sigh.  

  The cool water floods over the top of him, tugging at his hair and bubbling in his lungs, but it’s doesn’t burn the way that it should. He breathes easily beneath the rippling surface of Lake Hylia, the Zora tunic granting him freedom beneath the waves.  

  There is little sound beneath, only the muffled noise from above the surface, the flow of the water and-  

  Time’s ears prick forwards as a single blue eye turns to search the space around him.  

  Someone is singing.  

  It’s a haunting sort of melody, one that draws you in and makes you dazed, and Time finds himself stumbling over his own feet as he searches for the source. It is not a Cursed song, nor anything powerful from what he can recall, in fact, it’s almost familiar. It sounds similar to something he hears hummed about their camp at night while the boys take watch. He’d never been able to place which of the young heroes hummed the lilting melody, but he’s let it carry him off to sleep many a time before. Only this song, the one that twines about his head and whispers in his ears and makes his feet trek closer and closer to its source, this song is different, it’s haunted and Broken, and it is sung in a Voice.  

  Not a voice like most of those above the surface have, but a Voice like a fairy or spirit might have. One that pulls at your very soul and sings in your mind, un-hampered by wind or waves, able to carry across miles to be heard by those that it Sings too.  

  Heavy feet trod faster.  

  He’s under no spell, but he is a Link, and by now he has learned that all of their kind are blessed or cursed with courage and curiosity both, and to be without the latter is simply unthinkable for the young-at-heart hero. Something –the forest imp in him maybe- tells him to find the Voice, find the Singer.  

  He’s only made it part of the way across the lake, hasn’t even left the shoreline properly, when the song stops. Unease creeps over him as he looks around, alert and ready for trouble, only to see nothing but the peaceful stillness of the lake bottom around him.  

  There! His mind supplies as something pink flits in the corner of his vision, and he’s whipping around to come face to face with-  

  Long tangled hair drifts in the waves as glistening scales reflect the light pouring down through the waves. Too deep too dark eyes stare at him in shock for a brief moment, and then-  

  The creature, the thing, is gone in an instant. Whipping away as it’s glimmer fades into the waves around him, speed no doubt granted by the brilliant tail of the thing sending it rocketing out of his grasp before he even has a chance to speak.  

 

  He tried to follow it. He does! But quite soon the adult part of his mind is reminding him how dangerous the thing could be, and that he still has his boys to return to back on the surface. It’s been exactly thirty-two minutes and thirteen seconds since he left them at their camp, and by now they usually would have sent someone to check and make sure that whatever member of their party had strayed off was alright.  

  Removing his boots is all it takes to float to the surface, despite the fact that he still holds the things in his hands, and it’s with no small amount of relief that he realizes that the bank of the lake is free of other heroes.  

  Time gathers his things together, wringing out his hair and clothes before returning to his normal gear and heading back to the camp.   

  Smiles and chuckles greet him as the young heroes tease.  

  “Go for a swim, Old Man?” Legend quirks a brow, staring up from his place by the fire.  

  Time doesn’t answer him, but he does shake his head violently enough to spray the younger heroes with water, earning shouts and shrieks from them as they try and shield themselves from the wet. “Seriously, Time?” Warriors moans, wiping lake water from his face. “What are you, a dog?”  

  Time smirks at the captain and, to everyone's surprise (which produces no small amount of delight for him), he barks.  

 

  “What sorts of people have you met in your adventures?” Sky asks a couple of days later, head cocked to the side as he watches his brothers. “You all talk about so many races, but I don’t think I've heard of most of them.”  

  “Well,” Wild smiles, there’s a glint in his gaze that isn’t quite mischief, but it’s a warning to be wary anyway, because they all know what a crack-pot their cook can be at times. “There’s Hylians, of course, and Sheikah, Yiga, Gerudo, Rito, Gorons, Zora and koroks! You’ve probably already met the Sheikah, since you mentioned knowing an Impa during your journey, and the Yiga are an offshoot of that group.”  

  Twilight blinks and stares, Warriors furrowing his brow as he two older heroes stare at the younger, but Wild seem entirely unaffected.   

  “Gerudo are a desert people. They’re  really   tall , and  extremely  strong! Most of their race have long red hair and slightly darker skin than the people around Hyrule. They are a society of all woman, with only one man being born to them every hundred years. They worship the goddess Din for the most part, and live out of an opulent city set in the desert where they specialize in the crafting of weapons and jewelry, and the farming of exotic plants.” The champion then proceeds to run down traits and knowledge about the other races, matter-of-factly, as if the details he is sharing are things that  everyone  from the surface knows.  

  “Wow.” Sky laughs as Wild finishes. “I had no idea.”  

  “There’s also the minish.” Four adds. “And the Wind Tribe, who are sky people, of course.”  

  Sky looks curious, but Four says nothing more, instead gesturing to the other heroes to share their thoughts, which they do.  

  “Terminans.” Time offers. “Very similar to Hylians.”  

  “Ordonians.” Twilight adds with a fond smile. No explanation is needed.  

  The others all nod along, but Legend rolls his eyes. “Humans, like, non-Hylian humans, Shifters,” The vet stares upwards with a light scowl as he ticks the races off of his fingers. “Technically they’re humans too, but Wild counted the Sheikah and Gerudo, so there’s also the Lorulians, Labrynninians, Holodrumese folks, Hytopians, Drablanders, Subrosians, Catalians-” Legend frowns. “I could swear there are more but I can’t really recall.”  

  Time, for whatever reason, he can’t really say why, cocks his head. “Any water people other than Zora?”  

  The vet snaps his fingers. “Mer-folk! Thank you, Time. I guess fae and animal folk count on that note.”  

  There’s a scoff and Warriors is leaning forwards with a smirk. “Fairies and animals, sure, but mer? Seriously, Legend? Have you even met a mer before?”  

  “Many times.” The veteran drawls, cocking a brow in the captain’s direction. “On multiple adventures. What about you, cap? Jealous you couldn’t snag one for your guild of brides?”  

  Warriors blusters about indignantly, earning laughter from the others as Legend smirks, but the man recovers quickly enough. “I do not have a guild of brides! That is- that is utterly disgusting!”  

  “Could have fooled me.” Legend teases, sipping some water from a flask.   

  “Give him a break.” Twilight snickers, shoving the vet playfully.  

  The unfortunate thing about Twilight’s shoves though is that the ranch hand doesn’t seem to know his own strength, and Legend is small enough that the light push is enough to send him scrabbling to not hit the ground. More laughter rings about their camp, but this time at the vet's expense, as Legend topples over into the dirt, spilling his drink and failing his arms as he goes.  

  “Yeah, yeah, laugh it up.” Legend huffs, pulling himself back up and dusts off his clothes, scowling at the water spilled on him. “ Great .”  

  “Oh, come on, you came back soaked to the skin earlier, what’s a bit of water going to hurt you, huh, vet?” Warriors ribs, smirking.  

  Legend shoots him a half-hearted glare.  

  “Legend,” Time starts slowly. “How would you describe the mer?”  

  The vet pauses, gaze resting maybe a moment too long as his hands as he brushes off the hem of his tunic. He’s already done so and there’s really no reason for him to do it again, but he does anyway. “What you’d expect.” He shrugs haltingly. “Hylian on top, fish beneath. Tail, long hair, that sort of thing.”  

  The old man hums. Legends ears twitch, nose shivering slightly as violet eyes flit over their group. “Care to expand on your sky people story, Four?”  

  “I’m good.” The smithy replies lazily.   

 

  Time would pass it off as a strange one-time thing, he would, but there are... other factors at play.  

 

  They’ve traveled to Four’s time, fighting off monsters and solving puzzles the same as they’ve always done. The boys are taking some downtime, playing hide and seek, and just like the last time, Time takes himself down to the river they’ve made camp near and dons his Zora gear.  

  He isn’t expecting to see the creature, the mer, again, much less hear them singing -after all, this is a Hyrule far before his Pup’s- but there the creature is. It- or they- frolic in the water, chasing fish and singing softly. The tune is lighter than the last one he heard, a different song entirely, but there is no denying that it is the same mer.  

  Gold flecked, petal pink scales shimmer beneath the twisted lights that invade the water, hair of the same colors flowing in the current as long fingers, tipped with pointed claws, reach out to swipe at the fish swimming wildly away. They don’t catch anything, but Time hears it giggle anyways, the tune of its voice bubbling in merriment as it rolls like and otter and turns to explore some other part of the river bed.  

  The cursed curiosity of a hero niggles in Time’s mind. How is the same mer from before in this timeline? Ages before Twilight would even be born? And why do they play and explore as if they’ve never seen this river bed before in their life?  

  Long claws pull through sand, and although their hair blocks their face from his view, he can still hear the warble of delight as the creature removes something sparkling and bright from the river bed. The mer floats in place, turning the item over in their hands curiously before whisking it out of sight and returning to their search.  

  A mer that likes treasure, huh? Why is he unsurprised?  

  His own soft laugh startles them, and for a half of a moment, golden ringed, violet eyes, wide and bright and full of shock, meet his own.  

  The mer is gone before he can make a move.  

 

  He asks Legend about it the next day. As they travel along the path towards the nearest town, Time falls back to ask the vet more about mer.  

  “Do mer like treasure?”  

  Legend starts, eyes wide as they meet his own, and something in the back of his mind is nagging him that the look in the vet’s eyes is somehow familiar. “What?”  

  “Do mer like treasure?” He repeats himself.  

  Legend stares at him, blinking slowly as they continue along the path, but eventually the vet shakes his head and answers. “Depends on the mer. They’re people too, Time, they can have varying interests and hobbies. There is no standard for mer. None.”  

  “Don’t they all swim at least?”  

  Legend’s gaze is flat. “There are disabled Hylians aren’t there? Not all Hylians can walk, and not all Mer can swim. Some just choose not to because they don’t like it!”  

  Time frowns. How does the vet know so much about mer culture? “How do you know this?”  

  The vet shrugs, eyes darting away. “I’ve been a lot of places and met a lot of people. Mer are no exception.”  

  “I thought you hated swimming and the water?” Wind breaks in, falling back to join the two of them with an odd look on his face. He looks like a puppy and it’s killing Time not to ruffle the kid’s hair.  

  “Didn’t always.” Legend returns, smiling wryly down at the sailor. “But enough of that. The real question here is if you’ve ever met one, sailor.”  

  “A mer?” Wind furrows his brow, looking away with a soft sigh. “The water in my world isn’t safe for the people who lived in it. There’s hardly even any fish in most places. The Zora in my time had to adapt to the air instead in order to survive.”  

  Awkward silence falls over them, the vet looking guilty for a half a moment before he settles a hand on the kid’s shoulder. “The goddesses aren’t always fair,  Maliit , it’s not your fault.  

  Time hums his agreement, heart aching for yet another young hero and a world that suffered for Time’s failure to have properly saved it.  

 

  He sees the mer again. Not just when he’s in the water himself, but when he’s keeping watch during the night or on occasion when he goes fishing with Twilight. The Pup says nothing about seeing gold and pink beneath the water, but Time finds himself watching it all the same.  

  It darts beneath the dock they’re fishing on one time, and when Twilight’s line gets a tug, the rancher pulls it up only to find the one of his boots dangling from the other end.  

  Time can’t help it, he laughs.  

  So, this mer is a prankster, huh?  

  He takes to seeking them out, trying to catch their attention or try to talk to them, but nothing works. The minute that gold and violet eyes meet his own, petal pink scales flick deftly in the waves and the mer is swimming away.  

  But Time isn’t dumb.  

  He knows that the same mer cannot reasonably exist across all of time, not with all the changes that come to the world with each hero. He knows that this being is somehow following them, and he’s got a rather good idea exactly how it’s happening.  

 It’s a long shot, but he knows for a fact that Legend is always gone from camp before he sees the creature, and enough times startling the vet when asking about mer has taught him that the expressions between the two are the same. All he knows on the mer’s face is shock, but the vet’s eyes glimmer the same shade of violet, even if they are different in size and shape, and the petal pink hair that the vet comes out of the forest with one evening after their group was separated is uncannily similar to the shade of the mer.  

 

  They’ve made camp again, and rather than climbing into the water when he catches a moment alone, Time settles on the shore, not in the mood to be in the water but in need of its calming song. The air has been tense the past few days, and Time welcomes a brief moment to relax, forcing himself not to think of the gaping wound in his Pup’s side or the ragged breath that wheezes between the rancher’s lips.  

  Twilight will be fine, he reminds himself. Hyrule and Warriors had worked together to tend the wound and while it would definitely leave a scar, the danger of losing their beloved friend and brother (and maybe son?) is not so high anymore.  

  He welcomes a free breath, away from the hurt gazes of his boys as they try and process that their beloved canine friend and the rancher are one and the same. A chance to think without having to stop those who were out of the know from bombarding those who were in it with questions.  

  He’s glad to be free of the questions himself.  

  Legend seems to be too, if the glint of pink beneath the waves is to be believed.   

  He doesn’t approach this time, doesn’t try entering the water to speak. He’s tired and he wants his space, and he imagines Legend would like his own too. So, instead, he sits on the bank, feet trailing in the water and ocarina on his lips as he plays softly.  

  The tune is a sweet one, one he’d written himself that lilts and dips softly, very nearly perfect for a dance, but far more suited to a night by a fire or watching the sunset. And sunset it is, fading light stretching out across the water, glinting of the surface and reflecting off of gold and pink-  

  He stops, eye wide as he turns towards the flash in his vision.  

  Gold and violet stare back at him, framed in curling pink as Legend freeze half-way through pulling on his tunic again.  

  Gold fades just as the scales disappear and leave the vet siting on the shore, tunic still bunched around his shoulders and violet eyes wide with fear as he regards his leader.  

  “I won’t tell.” Time forces, turning away his gaze and returning his focus to the instrument in his hand. He doesn’t play, but he doesn’t look up either.  

  “It’s an item.” Legend forces, strained. His voice is still tainted with whatever power had shifted him between forms, and it’s sweeter and more melodious than normal. “I found it on my third adventure. Got cursed.”  

  “Like the rancher?” Time hums softly, not having to look up to know that Legend is shifting nervously, foot tapping madly at the ground beneath him.  

  “Yeah.” Legend huffs.  

  “Okay.” And he does look up them, calm and as open as he can make himself seem as he meets the vet’s gaze.   

  “Just okay?” One brow cocks as Legend crosses his arms.  

  “Just okay. It’s your secret, Legend. I can’t change what I’ve seen, but I won’t tell the others either.”  

  Legend nods, wary bit willing to accept the words, if only for now. “If you say so.”  

 

  They’re on their way back to camp, Legend carrying an armload of fish and Time carrying both of their bags when the vet stops and glares at him. “I don’t want to hear any jokes, alright? I get enough of those from Twilight and Sky.”  

  “They know?” The old man tilts his head in question.  

  Legend flushes, ducking his head and setting off again at a speed some might label a scurry. “No. Hurry up, these fish are gonna rot!”  

 

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  Waves lap around his head and it’s all Time can do to break the surface, coughing and hacking as he struggles to remain above the water.  

  The portal had come at the worst time ever, and no one had been ready to be dropped into the center of the ocean.  

  Lightning crackles overhead as waves swirl and crash about him. The ocean rages and Time is again reminded how small Hylian’s are in the face of Mother Earth herself.  

  “Boys!” The shout rasps from his throat as he spins to look about, praying to every deity he knows that he’ll find the rest of them safe and sound, or at the very least together. Never mind that Twilight still can’t walk, much less swim. Never mind the smithy’s shattered arm and Wild’s fear of the water. He can’t panic about those right now, he has to find them!  

  “Over here!” Sky’s voice answers him. The Chosen Hero clings to the shivering form of the smithy, both are soaked and trembling, but they’re managing to stay above the waves.  

  “My Hyrule!” Wind calls out as Time strikes out towards them, and the sailor continues once he’s close enough to see that at least four of his boys are safe. “We’re near land,” Wind nods in a random direction and Time wonders briefly how the sailor even knows that. “It could be a challenge in these waves, but we can make it. Have you seen the others?”  

  Hyrule looks up at him hopefully, the water-logged traveler fighting madly to stay above the water but succeeding despite the waves. Time reminds himself to help the boy learn to swim more effectively later, and more importantly how to properly tread water, but for now he focuses on answering Wind. “You're the firsts. We’ll have to hope the others are alright, getting y’all to safety is my first concern.  

  “But Wild!” Hyrule splutters, choking on some water as Time swims over to give the traveler someone to cling to. Freezing fingers latch ahold of his armor as teeth chatter, the waves are neither kind nor warm and with their health as it is he’s certain someone is going to end up with a cold when this is all over. “And Twilight! A-and Legend and Wars! They’re out there somewhere!”  

  “We have to hope Legend and Warriors can help the other two. We can’t do them any good if we’re fighting to stay above ourselves.” He tries to same calm, but his own mind and heart scream with the same message that Hyrule’s voice does, and it's all he can do to push it down.  

  Thunder rolls overhead and waves beneath as they push off towards the shore, each of the older heroes aiding a younger one as Wind guides them all towards the supposed island.  

  Time has never been so relieved to see sand in his life, and as Hyrule pulls himself up the beach and Wind helps Sky to settle Four, Time can only pray that he’ll find his way back again. “I’m going to look for the others. Wind, stay and help Sky.” The sailor looks as if he wants to hesitate, but he knows better than anyone how a small body can be lost to the waves much easier than an adult. “Make a fire, warm up as best you can. Keep an eye out. I’ll come back if-  when  I find the others.”   

  He stops only to shed his armor and don his Zora gear, but a single dive beneath the water is enough to tell him that it’s for naught. Wind wasn’t joking about his water being toxic, and a single breath of the stuff leaves Time heaving as soon as he breaks the surface.  

  His chances of finding the boys have lowered considerably.  

  Nayru above, don’t let anyone have sunk beneath!  

 

  Time swims for all he is worth, pushing past weariness as he battles each and every wave. And he’s just beginning to lose hope when he catches sight of something silver reflecting in the water as lighting flashes above.   

  “Time!”  

  Blue whips around to meet its twins as Warriors comes to swim beside him. “Have you found any of the others?”  

  “Wind, Sky, Hyrule and Four.” He breathes back. “You?”  

  The captain looks rueful but nods to his side. “Legend.”  

  Time can’t help but start as Legend’s eyes peek above the surface. Golden and violet are glassy in the pale face of the vet, but they’re there and that means that Legend is alive.   

  “I’ve officially met my first mer.” Warriors sighs, but there’s worry in the captain's voice and face both.  

  “Split up.” Legend’s voice rasps, and there’s none of the melodic song that Time is used to hearing from this form of the vet.  

 Legend is pale, far too pale.  

  “What’s-”  

  “Wind’s world.” Warriors tells him. “Water here is toxic.”  

  The water is toxic. The water, which mer have to breath to stay alive, is toxic.   

  Time’s gaze shoots to the vet but there’s only a flick of gold and pink as he disappears beneath the waves. Warriors groans.  “He keeps doing that! I swear, I have no way of knowing if he’s even still there, but he still insists on disappearing like the little shit he is.”   

  Usually, Time would scold his brother for such a tone, but he knows that Warriors is just sacred. He’s terrified, and it leaks into his voice and his actions, and the only way that the soldier knows how to hide the fear is by biting back with venom, not dissimilar to the vet’s own actions.  

    

  They swim together, searching and calling out for the two missing heroes. Hope is beginning to fade and Time can feel a gnawing fear eating away at his heart as he thinks of the gaping wound in his Pup’s side and the likelihood that Twilight would even be able to swim with it.  

  His pup’s chances aren’t high.  

  “Look!” Warriors shouts over the storm, jerking him from his thoughts as his eyes follow the captain’s pointing hand.  

  Pink bobs on the surface, backed by bedraggled and soaked black fur as Legend hauls Twilight’s limp form through the water.  

  “Pup!”  

  He’s taking the lad from Legend as soon as they’re in reach, and Legend seems to sag in relief as the weight is removed from his shoulders. “Was with Wild. Bring him to-” The vet wheezes and ducks beneath the water for a moment, coming up with a pained expression on his face. “Bring to shore. I’ll get Wild.” He gives them no time to respond, tail flicking as he disappears beneath the waves again.  

  Time and Warriors exchange a glance and head back to shore, supporting the weight of the rancher between them.  

 

  Wind and Sky have managed to get a virtual bonfire going on the shore, and the sailor has laid what blankets and bed-rolls he’s found of their equipment in front of it, allowing their dampened things to dry as he and the other three heroes bundle together for warmth.  

  It’s with a cheer that they all greet Time and Warriors as the two emerge from the ocean, and Time can’t help but smile a bit in relief at seeing them all safe again. Only a little longer and Legend will be back with Wild, and then he can rest easy knowing they’re all out of the storm.  

  Rain still patters against already soaked skin and cloth, but with the fire flickering before them Time can’t bring himself to care over much.  

 Hyrule’s fingers shiver as they slide over the wound in Twilight’s side, cleansing it from the poisonous water that has soaked into the bandages, and while Twilight grits his teeth and winces, he’s at least conscious enough to do so, and that alone brings some peace to the others.  

  Warriors informs the others of the whereabouts of their two missing brothers, and Time helps to settle Twilight on one of the warming bedrolls. It made still be wet, but it’s better than getting sand in the pup’s wound.  

 

 They wait in tense silence, bundled together to share heat as nervous gazes watch the shore. Wind hasn’t stopped muttering under his breath and Four isn’t doing much better with his half-formed sentences and steady murmurs.  

  It’s only when Wild’s golden hair can be seen on the shore that they all release a breath of air.  

  Cornflower blue is wide and glazed, likely from shock, but it doesn’t stop the champion from reaching back into the waves to pull out his companion.  

  Legend is a mess.  

  The veteran gasps and splutters for breath once he’s free, skin a sickly shade of white and eyes just as glazes as Wild's own as the two cling to each other, and when Wild stands and drags them both up, Legend is leaning heavily against the shaking champion, and it’s only through sheer luck that Time and Sky get there in time to catch them before the duo collapses back into the waves.  

  Wild curls against Time’s chest, fingers shaking and eyes blank as the man carries him back to the fire. Legend doesn’t even stir, lying limp in Sky’s hold as the Skyloftian bustles back to join the other heroes.  

   

  Nothing is said about the glistening tail that fades into legs once Legend is warmed and dried, and even if anyone had dared the stern gaze of the first of their number would have been enough to silence them.  

  Violet blinks hazy and distant beneath the warmed fabric of Sky’s sailcloth, but they are all safe. They are all safe and they are alive.  

  “Thanks to Legend.” Wild whispers when he comes to, head resting against Times collar bone. “Without him I would have never got Twi back to shore.”  

  “Three cheers for the vet.” Wars forces a smile, and while the cheers are heartfelt and thankful, they do nothing to lighten the mood.  

  Legend doesn’t even seem to hear them.