Zéhirmahnn had always been curious. Even if he knew this particular trait often dragged him into all kinds of trouble, this itch in the back of his mind always had to be scratched if he wanted to sleep peacefully at night.
So when the itch manifested itself while he washed the group’s dishes with his half-devil of a companion, he didn’t think twice.
“- Say, Wrandrall…
– Hm ?
– Why do you never take your cape off ?”
That’s all it was. A simple question. Nothing to fret about. And yet, a crash and a high-pitched yelp followed.
The fire elemental turned around, startled, then dropped whatever he was scrubbing in the stream. Wrandrall was doubling over, holding his hand in pain, glass shards littering the grass beneath him.
He was bleeding.
Zéhir’s protective instincts kicked in and he ran toward his companion, worry overcoming his mind, but as he reached out to Wrandrall’s shoulder, the cambion took a step back and growled at him, his eyes clouded by pain and…
Fear. Wrandrall was scared. Of… him ?
The elemental stared at him in disbelief, his hand still hovering uselessly in front of him. He didn’t know how to deal with this ! Wrandrall was scared by a lot of things, but never, never him. He’d never seen him so defensive and jumpy.
With the way he was holding his bleeding hand against his chest, he looked like a cornered animal.
Zéhir decided that the safest way to handle this situation was to stay perfectly still, until the other regained control over his emotions. That strategy paid off, for after a few minutes of silence and ragged breathing from both parties, recognition flashed on the hybrid’s face. Followed by shame. His green eyes widened and regained their familiar gleam.
“I- I’m sorry.” he stuttered, losing his defensive stance. His usually tan face was pale. “Sorry. Y- You know I don’t deal well with pain.”
“Well that’s the understatement of the century.”
Zéhir refrained from saying that out loud and let out a sigh. He beckoned the halfling with a swift movement of the hand. “Come,” he said softly, “I will take a look at it, but we have to wash the blood away first.”
Once the hand was clean, they sat down on the grass so that the elemental could look for remaining shards in the wound. For a moment, only the halfling’s occasional hiss of pain disturbed the heavy silence.
Then Zéhir broke the spell.
“What happened ?”
At those words, Wrandrall went stiff, his gaze fixated on the clawed fingers inspecting his injuries. The elemental felt something heavy settle in his chest; whatever Wrandrall was hiding, it was bad. Bad enough to completely shut down when the subject was brought up. He cursed himself. “I’m sorry I asked, it was insensitive of me. It’s obvious you don’t want to talk about it. I won’t bring it up again.”
The halfling looked up at him, eyes wide. “No, please, don’t be. You couldn’t have known.”
Zéhir nodded sadly. Of course he would forgive him. He always did.
The wound was shard-free. The fire being fetched some gauze in his backpack and proceeded to gently wrap it around Wrandrall’s hand.
But that itch in his brain was still here, stronger than ever : was he hiding something under his cape ?
Zéhir wasn’t stupid, he knew the halfling’s incredible strength. But he also knew he had control over that strength. What could have possibly made him lose it and shatter that glass ?
Unaware of the other’s trail of thoughts, Wrandrall let out a sigh. Gods, he was so grateful the others were gone to fetch wood, otherwise they’d tease him for sure.
Not that it would be the first time though. He WAS a coward after all. He would often run away from a battle and let the others fend for themselves, or freeze in terror, forcing his companions to get him out of harm’s way.
He hated being that way. But he had spent his entire childhood running, hunted by humanoids and demonic beings alike, who only saw him as a hybrid abomination. That kind of trauma never healed.
Heh. He and Zéhir weren’t so different in that regard. With the elemental’s red skin, hair and eyes, he was basically a walking target.
What could he say, red scared the kids away.
Shaking himself off his reminiscence, he felt pretty small and useless. Especially with his seven-foot tall friend leaning over him, nursing the hand his stupid self hurt by accident.
At least he was taller than the average human. Then again he was only half human.
“Does it hurt ?”
The half-devil looked at Zéhir, then at his hand. Oh, right.
“Not as much as before, but-” He grimaced. “It goes up and down, like it’s pulsing.”
“That’s normal. It’s going to be that way for a while, so please refrain from using this hand until it’s healed.”
The half-devil hummed in acknowledgment, his emerald eyes hidden under his dark bangs. Then, to Zéhir’s surprise, he slowly reached out to the leather straps on his side, the ones holding his chest armor together.
“- Wait, Wrandrall ? What are you doing ?
– Showing you.
– What ? But I thought-
– It-It’s fine. You’re my friend, I… I don’t want us to dance around the subject any longer.”
The elemental watched in bewilderment as Wrandrall got to his knees. The cambion turned his back to him and fumbled with the straps, unfastening them one by one. His heart thumped against his chest; there was no coming back from this. Was he making a mistake ? He was scared, he wanted to stop everything and run.
But he didn’t, not this time. A few moments later, the black leather armor fell to the ground, along with the cape.
Zéhir blinked, unsure how to react. For one, the chest piece was just that, a chest piece. There was nothing to protect the back of the person who wore it. Why would Wrandrall, scaredy-cat Wrandrall, leave his body exposed like this ? He looked up and oh, oh, okay, that was why.
There was something under his shirt. Something quite big if the size of the lump was anything to go by. The Zorlim couldn’t fathom what was hiding under the black fabric, or what was going on on Wrandrall’s head for that matter : he was trembling slightly, hands clenching the fabric of his pants.
“Zéhir ?” the hybrid asked, voice strained. “Could you help me ? I-I cannot take it off with just one hand.”
The son of Fire couldn’t move. Wrandrall sounded like he was about to cry, and knowing him, he probably was. Whatever was on his back, he must have hidden it for a reason ! Wasn’t he crossing a boundary here ? Shouldn’t he let this go, to protect him ?
“It’s fine,” encouraged the other. “I trust you.”
A warmth bloomed in Zéhir’s chest : if Wrandrall was ready to trust him with his biggest secret, he would embrace it. And he would protect him at all costs. So he grabbed the black fabric with his big, gentle hands.
And he took the shirt off.
At first, all he could see was black. A darkness he couldn’t comprehend, covering the right side of his companion’s back and oh gods it had just moved. Twitched, to be more precise. What was that thing ?
Then, his acute eyes distinguished folds, edges, a smooth texture, and he let out a gasp.
It was a wing. A jet black, leathery wing vaguely resembling a bat’s. White stripes – bandages, he realized – were holding it closed against its owner’s back. Said owner was silently clutching the grass, shoulders hunched.
Zéhir was stunned. He couldn’t describe what he was feeling right now : surprise, disbelief fascination, it was all coming together in a jumbled mess.
Well. That explained. A lot. Including the missing back armour. And now he knew that cambions DID have wings. Could cross that off the bucket list.
“Keep it together.” he thought. “Be a good leader. You’re not the one who needs emotional support right now.”
“- For how long have you been hiding this ?
– Long enough.”
Zéhir couldn’t see the hybrid’s face, but he did hear the tremor in his voice, no matter how hard he was trying to hide it.
Sadness overcame his features; Wrandrall had trusted him enough to reveal this huge, painful secret, and he was grateful for it, but he didn’t know how to respond. This was huge, he didn’t want to say the wrong thing and hurt the halfling, who was obviously expecting a reaction from him.
The elemental opened his mouth, ready to say something supportive, but stopped and frowned. Something wasn’t right. It was staring him in the face, he knew it, yet he couldn’t put his finger on-
Then it hit him.
“Oh for the love of-”
He wanted to slam his skull against a tree : how could he have missed that ?!
“You… only have one.”
Wrandrall didn’t respond. Right, he should have expected it.
The fire being leaned to the left, trying to get a glimpse of the other’s expression, but noticed something else instead : an irregular patch of white on the shoulder blade. A scar.
Zéhir stared in growing horror. No need to be a genius to figure out what had happened.
The left wing had been cut right off.
“You asked me once why I was so weary of humans.”
The elemental jolted out of his reverie. His companion was looking at him over his shoulder, eyes shining with unshed tears. “This. Is why.”
Zéhirmahnn was frozen. Time, space, his own heartbeat- everything seemed to have stopped in this exact moment.
“Who- who did this to you ?”
‘Angry’ couldn’t even begin to describe how the elemental was feeling. He could feel his -already high- body temperature rising, his powers threatening to lash out and burn everything around him. Wrandrall was his friend, his partner. He might had only been for a few months, but the way his green eyes sparkled in wonder at the simplest things, that head tilt he did whenever he was thinking about something complex, the tiny fangs highlighting his smile… even his cowardice was kind of lovable. He was just so endearing.
Despite his twentieth spring approaching, he was still but a child, a child who grew up too fast in order to survive. Yet someone had hurt him, in a way he could never really recover from. Zéhir let his claws hover above the scar, afraid that, somehow, a single touch would make Wrandrall cry out in pain.
The halfling shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. I was too young to remember his face.”
Zéhir clenched his fists, turning his gaze away.
“- I’m sorry.
– What for ? You weren’t here when it happened. You’re not the one who did it.
– Why did you show me ?”
Wrandrall blinked, confused. He turned around to properly face the other, visibly calmer now that he knew he wasn’t getting killed or rejected.
“- I told you. I trust you.”
– But why ? Why me ?”
The cambion rolled his eyes. “Well, mainly because you didn’t try to kill me when my true nature was revealed. The others wanted to skin me alive then.”
That much was true. With his own devilish appearance, Zéhir wasn’t one to judge a book by its cover. He sighted, cooling down a bit. “Thank you for telling me.”
The hybrid smiled sadly and grabbed the black shirt laying beside him, with intent to put it back on. But before he could do so, Zéhir caught his wrist in a hurry.
“Wait.” he started. “Please, let me take a closer look.”
Wrandrall blinked, taken aback by the strange request, but complied and let his devilish companion settle down behind him.
Once he got comfortable, the elemental took a glimpse at the bandages; they seemed to be excessively tight, and judging by the wear at least a week old. He frowned worriedly.
“He straps it down for days at a time ?! That cannot be healthy.”
“- Do you always make the bandages this tight ?
– Uh…yes ?
– When was the last time you took them off ?
– Maybe a week ago, while you all were sleeping ? I don’t remember…”
A heavy silence followed.
Zéhir solemnly placed his hand on the other’s shoulder.
“- Wrandrall. You have to take them off, right now, and never bind it like this again.
– What ?!
– It’s pressing dangerously on your ribs and cutting off the blood in your wing, it could become necrotic.
– No, no wait-” The halfling shook his head, in a daze.
“- I don’t care about that. I don’t want anyone to see it.
– I hate it ! It’s the reason I’ve been running for so long !
– Wrandrall. Look at me.”
The half-devil complied, reluctantly.
“I understand, I’m not asking you to show off your wing to the world. What i’m asking is for you to take better care of yourself.”
“You don’t have to hide it all the time, and you shouldn’t. Not like this. We can find another way to hide it from strangers if you want, but when it’s just us, I want you to treat it like any other part of your body. With care.”
The cambion’s lips stretched in a self-deprecating smile.
“Why would you want to see it ? It’s ugly. It shows what I really am.”
Zéhir felt sadness at those words, but managed to hide it with a dismissive wave. “Who cares about how I feel. Your well-being is much more important.”
“Besides, I like it.”
Wait, what ?
The young halfling was staring at him with shock and bewilderment, his mouth agape. Zéhir blinked stupidly for a moment.
Then thanked the gods for his crimson skin, for without it his sudden blush would be as obvious as a whale in a pond.
“Oh, sweet embers. I said that out loud, didn’t I ?”
“You-” Wrandrall gulped, his mouth dry. “You do ?”
His emerald eyes were like the night’s sky, filled with more stars you could ever count. He probably never expected that anyone would want to look at it. Zéhir felt a pinch of sadness at that discovery, but saw the opportunity and took it.
“Yes, I do. In fact, can I take off those bandages so I can look at it ?”
The hybrid tilted his head and nodded slowly, too dumbfounded to talk.
Zéhir gently put him down on the grass, sat cross-legged behind him and proceeded to cut the bandages with his claws, while being very mindful of the raw skin under it. Once the last strip fell down, the leathery wing shuddered with the rush of blood coming back to it. Wrandrall grimaced.
“- It’s a bit painful…
– I can imagine, given the time it spent tied down like that. Can you extend it ?
– I think so. Just give me a minute.”
After a few minutes of soft grunts and heavy breathing, the wing slowly extended to its full length. It was still shaking a bit. The elemental observed it for a moment, then turned to look at the hybrid; he was staring at it with mild disgust.
How could he look at himself in such a way ? Zéhir would have none of it.
“May I touch it ?”
Wrandrall looked up at him bashfully, and muttered a quiet “okay”. The elemental nodded, and slowly reached out to the dark grey membrane with the pulp of his fingers. When it made contact, Wrandrall drew a sharp breath, making Zéhir pull back immediately.
“Is something wrong ? Did I hurt you ?” he inquired worryingly.
The halfling shook his head in a frenzy, an indescribable expression on his face. “No, no I’m okay. I was just taken aback. I’m not used to- to this.”
The other squinted, doubtful, but seeing the gleam of in the green eyes of his companion reassured him. “Alright. I’ll keep going then.”
The other nodded stiffly and turned his face away.
Once again the elemental placed his palm against the membrane : it was soft and warm. He could feel the veins beneath it, pulsing in sync with the cambion’s rapid heartbeat. The wing kept making little jolts, like it had a mind of its own, but Zéhir knew it was simply reacting to Wrandrall’s emotions. It was probably the reason why he strapped it down all this time; he didn’t want it to fly open every time he got scared or surprised, which happened quite often.
He gently traced the muscles, looking for any sign of discomfort on the hybrid’s stance.
He found none. The demon’s son was actually enjoying the attention more than he expected; the sensation of warm, careful hands on his wing was sending weird shivers down his spine. It felt like being tickled, but different. A good kind of different.
The tan skin of the right shoulder blade darkens gradually around the base of the wing. To Zéhir’s amazement, a blunt claw was sitting along on the leading edge. “It looks trimmed, so it used to be really sharp,” he theorized. “Could he use it to climb, like bats do ? Or to fight ?”
He observed the different membranes, separated by thin and flexible bones. The wing itself was about five feet wide, impressive-looking, but still too small to lift someone with Wrandrall’s stature. By binding it during his growth, Wrandrall had prevented it from developing properly.
The fire genasi sighted in regret. The hybrid could’ve been an amazing flyer, with two huge, beautiful wings, had the circonstances been right. But he now understood why he felt so strongly about this part of his body; it wasn’t much use on its own. He couldn’t fly, use it to defend itself, or even wrap it around himself for comfort. It was a liability. Wrandrall had probably wanted it gone for a long time but couldn’t bring himself to get rid of it.
The fire elemental shuddered; he couldn’t even begin to imagine how painful it was to have his wing cut off.
“It’s probably full of nerves.” he thought before stroking the base of the black appendage.
Something weird happened then : a sound slowly filled the air, deep and rhythmic. Wrandrall had closed his eyes, his face serene, and if the vibration Zéhir felt under his hand was anything to go by, this unique sound was coming from him.
When it stopped, Zéhir nearly stepped back in awe : the half-devil had purred and he couldn’t believe it. Apparently Wrandrall couldn’t either, because he was now facing him and covering his mouth in pure embarrassment.
“I- Oh gods, I- I have no idea where that came from,” he stuttered. “I didn’t even know I could do that !”
Oh, dear. Zéhir had to keep his imagination under control before he started picturing his companion with cat ears and whiskers.
Oh, who was he fooling, it was way too late for that. The cuteness of the situation was just too strong. Oh well, he tried.
Trying to act nonchalant, he gently grabbed the top of the wing and tested its flexibility : close it, open it, and close it again.
“It’s all stiff, you should flex it around a little. Every day, ideally.”
Wrandrall frowned, still a bit red. There it was again, this caring but implacable tone. It seemed as Zéhir was merely suggesting, but no, he was commanding.
“- So you’re serious about this.
– Of course I am. This wing is a part of you, you should embrace it.”
Wrandrall sighted. Zéhir was right, as always. But how could he embrace the very thing that made his life a living hell ? That made him a target in the eyes of most ? Even worse, what if his travel companions started to look at him in disgust or pity ? He didn’t think he could handle something like that.
As he observed the hybrid musing over his words, the son of fire came to a decision and cleared his throat.
“Tell you what,” he started. “Maybe we can reach a compromise. Here’s what I propose : when there’s nobody but our group around, you let your wing out. Try to stretch it daily. When there’s a possibility that someone might cross our path, just hide it under your cape, you can tie it down only when we’re in a busy area. In fact, I will do it for you, to make sure it’s not dangerously tight.”
Wrandrall stayed silent, but something in his stance told Zéhir he wasn’t completely opposed to this idea. It was a start.
Zéhir gave the wing a gentle stroke. “How are you feeling ?”
The hybrid seemed to think for a moment, and smiled.
“I’m okay. It’s uh, nice actually.”
Zéhir smiled in return and let go of the wing, letting it close against the hybrid. The wind had picked up, he didn’t want it to press on the still fragile, oversensitive body part. For now at least.
“Well, you better get used to it then.” His smile became a smirk. “Because I WILL make you love that wing just as much as I do.”
“Oh embers, what am I doing.”
Wrandrall stared at him, then let out an airy chuckle. “Zeh, are you… flirting with me ?”
Huh. Was he ? He observed his black-haired companion. Sitting cross legged, lean chest uncovered, leathery wings fluttering gently in the breeze, a lingering blush under his mocking, but hopeful eyes…
Okay, yes. He did. And he wanted to protect this bundle of adorableness.
“Mayyybe ?” he responded playfully. “Now…” He stood up and offered his hand. “Come. We need to get back to the camp or our elf friend will lecture us again.”
Wrandrall frowned. He seemed disappointed. “Wait, are you going to brush this off, just like that ? In case you didn’t notice, I mean you probably did because you’re smart and I’m stupid and it’s a bit obvious that I like you and oh no I’m rambling like an idiot now-”
The rest was unintelligible mumbling.
Zéhir smiled fondly and ruffled the cambion’s unruly hair. The two horn-shaped tufts of hair flattened under his palm and the other went silent under the ministration.
“I am not brushing it off,” he stated. “I am merely suggesting we get back before the others do, and I would like to know what you intend to do.” He extended his hand once again, Wrandrall grasping it gingerly. The elemental helped him to his feet, his face growing serious. “You don’t have to hide from me, and I don’t think you should hide from the others either. The sooner you tell them, the better.”
The black-haired hybrid mused over it for a second, fidgeting.
“- I know you’re right, and I’d be relieved if I did tell them. But… what if it goes just like last time ?
– They won’t do anything to you.
– How can you be so sure ? They still call me ‘devil’s spawn’ sometimes.”
Zéhir rolled his eyes. “You know that’s just teasing. They will probably be more curious than anything. Besides, they know I do not allow fights within the group.”
That much was true. Wrandrall remembered the times their travel companions’ arguing was cut short by Zéhir’s fiery temper. He took a deep breath.
“You’re right, sorry. I’m just nervous. If you’re by my side, I’ll tell them when they arrive.”
He picked up his black shirt off the ground with his good hand, folding his wing against his back.
“Wait,” Zéhir interrupted him. “Don’t put it back just yet. When we get back, I’ll accommodate your shirt so your wing can pass through. I’d like you to be more comfortable.”
The half-devil blinked, then stretched his lips in a teasing smile.
“So I wasn’t mistaken. You DO have a sewing kit in your backpack.”
Dang it. He should have reorganized his stuff in the privacy of his tent the day before.
“Oh. You… saw that.” He cleared his throat. “Hey, everyone has interests. You can’t help but pet every stray feline we come across.”
“- But they’re all so cute !
– The last one was a lynx cub. Its mother almost bit your head off.
– It was still cute !
– Not as cute as you.”
Wrandrall stared at the smirking elemental for a second. Then his face went crimson. “Oh my gods, Zeh !” he wheezed, hiding his face in his hands.
His companion only laughed and ruffled his hair once again. “Okay, okay, I’m sorry.”
The cambion looked up, flustered. “No you’re not….”
“Yeah, you’re right.” The taller one shrugged dismissively. “Come on, let’s head back and take care of that wing of yours.”
The half-devil took a peek at his folded appendage, and sighed. “Alright,” he said with a pout. “But I still don’t like it you know. It’s way more trouble than it’s worth.”
The Zorlim smiled. “Then allow me to change that.”