CW: Starvation Mention.
“Hey. Hey, wake up. It's okay, it's okay. It's only me. Shit, look what he's done this time. Easy... Sit up. How the fuck are you still alive? Here, sit up. Drink this. Go on, it's alright, Reed made it. It tastes rank but it will help. No, no, all of it, The bits in the bottom too...”
Unable to keep himself away, Tristin is with Issané close to every day. The one who'd removed the jailer – to both of their surprise – and re-lit her torches, he brings food and hot water. Reed had made sure to send him along with medicines and instructions for her cuts and bruises. Although doing his best to patch her up, he cannot understand how she is capable of withstanding Kayn's onslaught without sustaining a more serious injury. Staying close for as long as possible, the half light of the cell giving him courage to, the dark hides him, inside and out. His guilt, anxiety and shame is diminished, and rare if he speaks at all, she seemed grateful he wasn't afraid to sit in the silence with her. They'd kept apart from each other when he'd first began to visit. Now, something in the way she was at ease would spark a feeling he couldn't place, but would linger long after he left.
Something forgotten. Something he wanted back.
Locking the door behind him, shutting them both inside, his foresight pays off with the oddly, irregularly timed Kayn outside, uselessly screaming obscenities at the mere planks of wood in his way. They hid in the dark together, waiting for him to subside – his ice filled her with a terror which would exhaust, something he understood well, and encouraging her to rest, she does, her head in his lap, his arm around her. The fixture remained untried, but that did nothing for his clamorous, and desperate rage, and Tristin puts out the torch flames while Issané covers her ears in the gloom. If he ever did come through the door, he'd be in for a surprise.
Still concerned, though, he saw how he is getting worse, and venting his worry for him to her, he explained how they were unsure of his tolerance for remarks on his behaviour, before giving it a few minutes to be sure he has gone, and leaving too. To help him. Telling her that he needs someone with him. That he shouldn't be alone.
What Kayn had goaded into her was wrong on all counts except one, and she understood it. His loyalty to his Sanguine Outlier brothers was unbreakable, and he would never set her free.
In the weeks following his return, Axel had been unwavering in his support, sorry for withdrawing it, yet still keeping himself very much in the background. Determined not to leave again, it had been a mistake to in the first place. And while he watches, Kayn becomes more and more agitated, filling him with concern at how disconnected he was becoming from them. Some days his ordinary self, the clouds had passed. Some days, long hours were spent on the hard bench at the window, staring at trees until dusk fell and all the birds in the sky had stopped their display team practice. Offerings of furs and cushions for comfort would go unnoticed, ending up on the floor. These quieter days were often interspersed with sudden, explosive demands for absolute silence, and he would seethe until he got his way.
Things in the hideout are indeed getting out of hand as Reed promised him they would, and he wished he knew how to help him better, but he didn't and couldn't find a way, and no wonder the others were looking for a way out by now. What kind of leader would let this happen?
In truth their entire pact was unravelling before his very eyes. They were so far off track, and all his Sanguine boys were acting in a strange manner. Tristin sneaking off. Reed quiet and deep inside himself. Kayn lashing out at them all. Only Jed seemed to see him spiralling too, worried about another attack, and standing with him, he is solemn when he gives his report to the group.
“Our luck may be running out here, lads. Shame, this town was rich pickings too, but all things must come to an end. The coin has dried up and the bailiffs and law might show up at any time. We've stayed too long in one place. We've got most of what we need. Dunno about you, but I'm not waiting for anyone higher up to knock for us. It's time to shift it.”
“Okay.” He nodded. “Time to leave then. We've made enough of a killing here. We'll go in a couple of days, or as soon as we can, ah, redistribute the last of what we need. Whichever is sooner.” Axel's tone works to placate Kayn's mood. It stops his pacing, and the relief in the hideout is palpable. “Find us food, the last of the gear, and horses. Start today, and we'll be out of here by the end of the week.”
He'd a beat to be pleased before Kayn snapped, meaning every syllable. “Good. That whoring little cunt in the cell can starve to death.” He let out an almost relieved snort. “At last.”
Searching his memory, it takes Axel a full minute before he can place who he is talking about. In worrying for him, he'd forgotten her, his mind full of so many other things.
But taken aback at his level of vitriol for the innocent, Reed is openly shocked. He should know better, but this isn't out of character for him now, he supposes, and so he steps in. If Axel wasn't going to... “Hang on Kayn. That's not-”
Kayn's response is to smack him hard in the jaw, flooring him. “Fucking tell me what to do, will you? I'll wipe that smug little grin straight off your face. Fuck you.” Standing over him, he points into his face. “Don't you EVER speak to me like that again. Telling me to hang on. Who the fuck do you think you are?”
Calm, commanding, Axel shakes his head. “Stand down.”
He does, glaring at him, shaken, wound tight. Reed, also glaring, is trying to tell him with the mental power not in his repertoire that he is letting him go too far, and while he reads his message still, he said nothing, as Kayn refocussed on Tristin, ready to fight.
“Fuck it, anyway.” He threatened, meaning it, “She can die in her sleep, just as I told her, and I won't even have to get my hands dirty. This is perfect, in fact.” His quarry disappeared, not absorbing his words, too busy bolting for the exit. Muttering obscenities, before spinning on his heel and slamming his own door, seconds later, his jacket is on and he is heading out in the opposite direction, full of disdain, venomous.
“Wait. Kayn... At least tell us where you're goin-”
“You know exactly where.” Bitterly sarcastic in his usual song, he wouldn't be surprised if they did this time. Words soured in his mouth, and so he spat them out. “Don't go without me.”
The room quiet again, Axel helped Reed up from the floor and setting him at the table, he checked him over while Jed pours a drink, staring hard, accusing too. It is all he can do to look to the ceiling, blinking hard. “Don't. Please, just... Don't say it.”
Learning of their plan to dispose of her, Issané plotted her escape while he slept. He'd talked for hours through the night, trying to convince her to leave, telling her everything, going back years, and worn himself out doing so – yet nothing he'd actually said made any difference, but the way he spoke?
Going over her own arrangements, she forms them now. Over, and over, and over again, determined not to fuck it up this time, she'd walked through the streets in her mind while he snores. It was good of Kayn to give her a guided tour before locking her in. She'd thought of little else since.
And after he wakes, her heart breaks a touch. Visibly distraught, being the last of them to close the door on her, his back against the wall, elbows on knees, the heels of his hands were glued into his eye sockets, obviously blocking out yet still failing to ignore the gravity of what he is about to do. She wished there was a way she could reassure him as she listened in.
Coming here was a mistake. Staying the night an even bigger one. I'll be responsible for killing her when even Kayn himself couldn't. Is this his plan? Is this what he wanted all along? To force my hand and collect his payment? Jed should be kicking the door down. If any one of them would attempt a last-ditch rescue it would be him. Why isn't he here? How could Axel let this happen?
Standing, daylight from the open doorway shone on them both, her before him, doing nothing. Torn between freeing her and the pact he swore with his brothers, nothing has broken his faith in them more than this. She was innocent, and her death would be on his hands. No one else's. They all recognised that this was a boundary for him, so why were they all intent on breaking it? He pictured her demise, seeing her in her last moments, her spark extinguishing, and it frightened him to think of how he could go against them now. All he ever seemed to be able to do was follow them and fuck things up, and this is where taking that path had got him.
The only thing between her and her freedom, she will not run – not even looking at attempting to. She really did appear to accept this destiny and this alone shredded him to pieces, as he tries to explain again. “We're leaving. You're staying here. In the cell. I can't let you escape, it's more than my life is worth. Mine and yours. But you could fight though. Fight me. I'd tell them you won, and then you'd be free, but you have to leave a mark. Something big. Something I can show them. Kayn would never find you. I wouldn't let him. You'd be safe. Well... I mean... You'd be alive.”
As he wills her to struggle against him, to fight for her life, she can do little more than stand there herself. Rooted to the spot, her heart is having trouble beating again and this was becoming a regular problem. Even more so as he shifted his weight from leaning on the wall to stand in the sun, showing his full face and talking to her, direct. Emphatic, this was the guy that Jed had described. Eyes wide, she fails to keep a smirk to herself. A sudden thought popped into her mind to ask Reed if he had a medicine for this sudden fever in her.
“This isn't fucking funny. You're going to starve. To death. You do know what that means? You're going to fucking die. Fuck knows how you managed to stop him from killing you so far, but starving? You won't win that...” Not hidden any more, his shame gone out of him, it was replaced by a bravery which had always been in his spirit, awakened again. He felt compelled to inspire that same conviction in her now. “Look. Okay. I should have stopped him sooner. The way he was talking, I knew whatever was in his head was getting bad – but, it's so hard to know what will make him worse or not. We don't know what to do.” He looked at the floor, searching for anything to claw his way back from defeat. “I should have tried harder to talk to him. Done more to listen. I honestly did think you'd some trick up your sleeve or something, but that's no an excuse. I thought Axel would step in, but he left us instead. What I mean is... he came back, but things didn't get any better. They're worse. Kayn is getting worse.”
She looked stunned, but he saw that she wasn't afraid, yet he knew she wouldn't fight him either, and he couldn't grasp why. “Stars. This is such a mess. And it's no one else's fault but mine. Listen, can't you see I'm trying to make this right again? But I can't do it for you. You've got to DO something!” He wasn't backhandedly hinting like Reed had tried to the night at the camp. He wouldn't make her jump through hoops for his help. He'd told her he would give her the win on a silver plate. What more did she want? Realising the long forgotten spark ignited in him was his own strength, he implores her, wanting her to feel this courage too.
“Please. You've got to fight me. You can do this – I won't hurt you back, I swear. Please.” His jaw set while he calmed with a few breaths. Getting irate wouldn't convince her. “Look, you've got to do something. You have to fight me, and it has to be the truth. I can't lie to them, I can't do that, because they'll know. They'll know and we'll both be dead. All I can do is stand in their way for you now. I'll tell them you beat me, and you'll get a head start, and you can get away from here. Away from us. Because, you're going to die here if you don't fight this minute and get gone from this cell. You know that, surely? You'll die, girl. You will. You're going to starve, and then you'll be dead. Why can't you see that?”
Realising that the end might be what she wants after all, and that he cannot force her hand either way, he nods, accepting. “We are leaving, and I have to go. I can't help you any more than this. I can't...”
Still refusing to try to escape, he trails off, accepting the truth that he cannot help her if she will not help herself. Cursing himself to hell, the old jolt he feels, the tiny first flickering of it, goes out. His own fight gone again, power leeches out of him, and guilt returns in spades. He would live this way from this minute until his last day. She will die at his hands because he wasn't strong enough to pull her from the cell and go against his brothers. He chooses loyalty over whatever the fuck it was that she made him feel, closing the door and hating himself for checking the catch locked shut behind him.
Thank you for reading, here's my carrd.
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Copyright © 2021 by BB Chapman