The journey was over. Lindis should be relieved, shouldn’t they? The guild overcame every challenge tossed at them, and their names were known all across Etria, and possibly beyond. However, the highlander couldn’t help the pit forming in the bottom of their stomach.
Everyone was obviously stumbling to some degree after a tussle like that. Ricky and Arthur, who were usually in the back lines during battles, were leading the bunch with wide grins on their bandage covered faces. Raquna trailed not far behind, unsuccessfully attempting to patch herself up and hoist her gigantic shield onto her back at the same time. Behind her was the resident medic, Simon, absent mindedly rubbing a spot on his arm that was no doubt bruised while gazing intensely at some text in the small leather bound book he usually carries. Now the highlander was usually in the back of the line while everyone was walking, but today they were further behind the others than usual. They couldn’t help a feeble smile followed by a sigh as they glanced at the determined faces of their allies.
Well, they were more than allies at this point. Lindis racked their brain for memories of their guild members. They met Ricky first, didn’t they? That’s right, in Gladsheim. After finding her, that meeting was followed by Simon, Arthur, and Raquna. None of them even knew each other’s names in their first battle together. Who knew meeting such an odd bunch of people in some ruins would probably be one of the best things to happen to them?
However, even good memories couldn’t make that nauseous feeling subside. Didn’t Simon mention at some point that the Midgard team needed to report back to the library at some point? That would mean they would have to leave. Of course, Lindis would have to go back to the highlands at some point too. Would Ricky have to be left alone in a time they didn’t know very well?
The highlander’s head started to fog up, and their breathing breathing became shallower with each step.
No, they couldn’t think selfishly like that. They didn’t deserve to think like that. They needed to calm down. Breathe in for five seconds, hold for three… Breathe out in seven… Repeat…
They shook nervously as their chest rose up and down. Ah, they couldn’t focus on breathing while walking. Wasn’t it Simon who taught them this breathing thing anyway? Chancing a look at him, they clenched and unclenched their fists. This wasn’t helping.
Simon, too, was glancing at his friends. He was amazed that Arthur was still so upbeat. He was worried that the… thing, they were up against would have been too much for a kid like him to handle. Of course, he knew that Arthur was stronger than he normally gives him credit for. He hasn’t known Ricky as long, but he had a feeling she, too, held up pretty well. He felt a little bad for allowing such young children to fight, but in a world as dangerous as this, it’s already common for kids to be training as adventurers. Besides, they’re strong. He had to admit, he was proud of them. Raquna had finally managed to cover up at least a couple scrapes and scratches at this point, although she was obviously agitated at the shield constantly slipping off her shoulder and down her arm. He had contemplated helping her, but she seemed so focused, he didn’t want to bother her.
Then he glanced back at Lindis. He furrowed his brow as he examined their face. To say the least, it didn’t take much to see that they weren’t doing very well. With a sigh, he closed his booklet and slowed his pace to match theirs.
“Hey, come on you guys! Let’s hurry and get back! Rosa and Austin’ll be worried!” the small gunner hollered to the back of the line. She was practically bouncing with every step she took, despite how tired she must’ve been.
Raquna laughed, “It’s not like the town will run away or anything, eh?”
Simon gave a quick sidelong glance at his friend trembling beside him, “Go on ahead of us, Lindis and I can catch up.”
“What, are you guys really that exhausted or something?!” Arthur grinned, “Heh! I’m still in tip top shape!”
He cringed as Ricky threw a light punch at his arm, “Ow, hey, what was that for?!”
“Come on, Mister ‘tip top shape,’ you’re just as bruised as the rest of us,” she said, a deadpan glare plastered on her face.
“I-It’s not that bad! Shut up!”
Despite their quibbling, it didn’t take much time for it to dissipate into laughter.
“...Yes, I think we’ll take our time getting back,” Simon sighed under his breath, “I think we’re all exhausted to some degree.”
Raquna, concerned, stopped and looked back towards the duo.
“Hey, are…” she clears her throat before continuing, “I mean, Is Lindis alright?”
He gave her a dismissive look and a frown, and understandingly she nodded and turned back to the kids, “Right. Come on, Ricky’s right, let’s go! They can catch up, eh!”
The protector ushered the kids on their way, as they shouted back ‘see you later’s at their friends. Simon silently thanked Raquna for understanding so quickly.
As soon as they were out of sight between the trees, Simon turned to the highlander, gently stopping them in their tracks with a soft call of their name.
They keep staring at the ground. They heard him, but couldn’t muster up a reaction. Or rather, they weren’t sure how to react. Should they be afraid? Did they make him worry? Did they mess up again?
“Is it alright if I touch you?”
They nodded, trying to calm their still trembling hands. Simon slowly wrapped his arm around Lindis, trying not to startle them, gently pulling them into sort of a half hug. Just close enough for Simon to speak softly yet still be heard, and not too close as to make Lindis uncomfortable.
They stayed silent.
Simon had seen Lindis like this before. If they were like this, usually unpleasant thoughts were on their mind. He knew he couldn’t force them to be alright, but he could at least try his best to help calm them down.
“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, but…” he sighed, “I’m here to listen.”
“I, um...” their voice quivered as they begin to speak, “Sorry, I… I’m just being selfish. Sorry.”
“You have no reason to apologize, you’re alright,” Simon pulled them closer to him, “You’re not selfish. I promise.”
Their eyes drifted back to meet his calm gaze, and they swallowed despite their dry throat, “...Sorry. I… I-I...”
“It’s okay,” he held them closer, even as their tears rolled down their cheeks. It honestly hurt to see them cry like this. He knew things like this happen, and that Lindis was actually a very sensitive person, but to see them shaking and crying...
A couple hics and sobs came from the highlander as they reached up to grab the end of Simon’s sleeve on the arm wrapped around their shoulder. The battle-worn fabric wrinkled under their tight grip, “You’re not angry with me?”
Simon blinked in surprise. Angry?
“No, of course not. You haven’t done anything wrong.”
“What do you think you’ve done wrong?”
With their free hand, Lindis rubbed the tears away from their eyes, but didn’t reply. It was natural that they couldn’t respond in this state.
“Do you want to sit down for a while to calm down?”
They nodded. Simon’s concerned frown turned into a relieved smile.
The pair sat beneath one of the shadier trees in the area, in a soft patch of grass. They were mostly silent for a while, but Lindis still gripped the medic’s arm tightly, as if they were afraid he would leave if they let go. The only noises they could hear was the wind rustling through the leaves, and the occasional rustle in the bushes that was most likely a wild creature of some sort.
Lindis was the first to break the silence.
He gave a small laugh, “There’s no need to thank me. I’m happy to help.”
Lindis nodded as they looked away. They couldn’t bring themself to say what was bothering them in the end, huh? They knew they needed to say something before everyone actually left for good, but what could they say? ‘Don’t leave, I’ll be lonely?’ ‘Can I follow you guys home?’ How about the good old ‘I don’t know how I’ll be able to function on my own now that all my best friends are leaving forever?’ That one’s a classic.
They’d think of what to say on the way back to town, but for now…
“What is it?” He brushed some stray strands of silver hair out of the way of his glasses as he looked down at them.
“After we get home, can I talk to you about something?”