Episode 12.

CW: Alcohol, Knives.

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image shows the letters C, I, T, B, in bold green type.

The disruption in the background continued, and still with a hand on his knife, Tristin's vigilance improves ever more at her advance. Kicking a stool out of her way, wiping her own blood from her mouth and wincing at it, she stretched slightly as her inevitable bruising started to ache. A scene of stolen leather two sizes too big, streaked now with Kayn’s blood, and a mess of thick black hair which stuck up all over the place, chaotic and untamed. Ear points stood out either side of her blunt fringe and bob, her look framing dark, amber eyes, now backlit with the faintest of glimmers.

Collecting the blades she’d dropped, annoyed with herself for having done so, Issané stomps over to her astounded onlooker. Both swords under one arm, she rubs her hands together, avid in cleaning them thoroughly. Glitter falls as she does, leaving a trail on the floor behind her, amethyst now where deep claret had met with electric blue, and dropping said weapons on the table, she picks up his cider, swilling her mouth with it, spitting into the fire, grim.

Yet another cracked rib or two. I'll have to recharge before repairing them.

Axel's door closed for the last time, and suddenly the silence between them was the single-most quality of the room. Staggered by the last half an hour, he manages to collect himself and sit again only after she approves. Perching herself on the bench next to him – crossing her legs off the floor and lolling back, easy against the table – she looks straight at him, her expression slowly changing from sullen irritation to bright amusement. Then she grinned, wild, right at him.

Gradual himself, plucking up the courage to face her, when he does she is brazen, reaching up to tuck long strands behind his ear. She flips his hair over his shoulder, revealing all he’d been hiding with it, and his response is faint in disbelief. “What? Like... What? But...” He croaks, “You... How? I mean... Did I? I couldn’t have?” Eyebrows knit again as he squints through one eye. “How long have I been drinking?”

Beaming wider, if it were possible, Issané liked confusing people and loved a good awkward situation better, especially if she’d been the one to cause it. Patient, she waits for him to get his words out.

“What do we even call you?”

She lunges at his hand. Snatching it, she traces the letters of her name out on his palm, and a single eyebrow furrows again when he shakes his head. Remembering he is left-handed, she grabs at that one instead, pulling at it, still patient, as she traces and retraces the letters, signing them too. Nodding as he gets the message, she mouths the syllables, using hand signals, and heavily emphasizing the accent at the end.

Her proximity is dizzying to him, and he feels fuzzier, as if he’d drank that one drink more. He recognised the shapes in his mind. Murmuring them to himself, she holds her own palm up and by reflex, he is soft as he smacks at it. The face she gives him then – complete with two thumbs up – lights him up inside.

He'd not read the letters since he couldn't, but he’d heard them. No, not hearing, it was more like... Feeling them? Sort of like the way he could catch the odd word of whatever Axel was engrossed in if he walked by or sat still long enough. Thinking it sounded, no, felt amazing anyway, and still a bit hammered, he concentrated hard on his cup. “Are you hurt?”

“Nah,” she lied. “It'll be alright. I've had worse...”

“Issané, will he die?”

She ducks then, peeking up, straight into his downcast eyes, indicating her no, and he feels the sincerity this time, a held in breath escaping in a rush.

“Oh thank the stars. You’ve healed him, then?” He clicks, nodding with her. “And that's how you survived.” He realised more. “Ah, and the jailer too, then? Actual Magic. I knew there was something about you...”

“Yeah. Don't tell Kayn...” Her hands signed. She didn't add, That his instincts were right, or, That I said thanks, but she thought it anyway.

“Bold of you to assume I had the balls to...”

She nods, arms crossed and he begins to apologise again for not stopping him from visiting her. Yet, the more he tries to find the words, she places a hand on his arm, a glance away, and shakes her head. She doesn’t need to hear him say it. She'd heard enough.

His hand on top of hers, he gives it a squeeze, and it is tiny, by comparison. Compounding his failure to keep his promise to watch her – mark or no – and voice hoarse, he speaks again as his head filled with the vision of her, listless on the piss stained flagstones, the light leaving her. “I really thought I'd killed you. I thought you'd be dead for sure by now. Wow, am I glad you're not.”

“Funny that. Me fucking too.” She glared then, hard, and he was by no means excused.

He got it. She wouldn't let him off the hook after any old half arsed apology. She didn't want anything more than for him to understand how fucked up his actions were, and the real, material harm he'd caused. He was going to have to sit with what he did to her, not only that but breaking his own code for someone else's sake, and finally come to terms with how he felt about himself.

Without her explaining anything to him.

He'd be allowed to build trust with her again after thathe'd not forget in a hurry, either. “I'm... so-” A flash of amber warned him, and he searched for better words. “I could have done more to help you and worried less about myself. I should have before and I didn't because I was afraid to. I won't fail you like that again, Issané, because you deserve better.” He would follow her lead, grateful to have that much.

Looking awkward at admitting this aloud, she doesn't notice. “Yeah? Good. Remember you said that in the morning then. And yeah, you fucking should have done more to stand in his way. Even if it wasn't for me, then at least for him.” No malice to her reply, there was no forgiveness yet either. “But...” She wriggles her hand out of his grasp, holding up an index finger, and indicated he should wait. Hunting around in the pouch of a leather kit belt strapped to her thigh, after a good minute or so's rummage through every pocket on her – while pulling out the most random collection of things he had ever seen – she produces the cell key. Returning it, gleaming brighter at him, she is cocky. “...turns out, you weren't completely useless, anyway.”

He almost chokes at the sight of it. Thinking it was still in his jacket pocket, he is surreptitious, with a long, low, “Gi’ssaat.” as he snatches it away from her. Sneakily, he hides it again, not wanting them to find out it was up to him that she’d escaped after all. He smirks at his mistake, assuming she was incapable. Gathering the courage to look her over, he grins wider and wider back at her as he does, mirroring her expression. “I’m not getting that knife back then, am I?”

Issané unsheathed and flipped her weapon, impressive in catching it in the air, before tracing her mark on it, and he knows the answer to his question. Watching him nod, she thinks back to Jed’s chatter in the saddle. He was close, but he’d missed off a few things in his description. Impossibly adorable, being one of them, and gigantic dork being another.

The hearth roared by the time Jed emerged from Axel’s room, Tristin by reflex pouring a huge cup of cider, with more than an inkling he'd want it. Joining them, he eyeballed Issané hard, and taking that appreciative swig, he looked to his brother. A leer spreading his face when she stifles a giggle, he threw his head back, eventually crowing too in disbelief when she beamed with him, Tristin’s snickering along amusing him even further. “Well...”

Realising she has rendered him speechless, she nudged Tristin in the ribs, pointing at him, and he does not miss that he has nothing to say.

“What’s the matter? She finally managed to shut you up?”

“Well, naw. It’s no that... It’s just... Well, fucking hell.” He drank again, grateful for the warmth. “What was all that about?”

Issané looks to Tristin, entertained that he is evidently unsure of where to begin. A nod his way with a slow blink, she indicates to him he should talk for her. That she'd allowed him to. She trusted him with this. “Simple tit for tat. He had it coming and got what he deserved. She'll not speak aloud, Jed. She’s been muted.”

“Oh really? Yeah, we know that one. Don’t speak, or can’t?”

She spelled ‘cursed’ on the table, checking Jed is receiving her message loud and clear when she poked out her tongue and pointed at it, showing she still had it. He read the message, but struggled to grasp again how it'd be that someone could physically stop themselves from speaking, spell or not. While he stared in wonder, she looked to Tristin, then to him, then back to Tristin. With the tiniest hand signal, she pointed, and with the same hand pinched her lips together, resting the same hand under her chin to show she'd finished talking.

“Bloody hell, Could you imagine? A curse like that’d kill him!” He guffawed and Issané’s sight blurred a touch, distracted by the cozy sound of him filling her head. She is understood, yet Jed is incredulous at the accusation.

“Oi! Anyone would say I talk too much!” He pouted, draining his cup. “Muted, then? Ha! I'd reckoned the reason you didn't speak to me that whole time in the saddle was that I was scaring you. What a load of shit!” He shook his head. “That is a good one!”

“Yeah, I made that same mistake too. I wouldn’t worry about it.”

“Doesn’t look to me like there's much that does scare you.” He eyed her, suspicious, until he realized what it was she was hiding. “But you should ask Reed for pain relief if you need it. He's got the good stuff.” He poured another cup, settling down. “Now then, I don’t suppose you’ve got a name?” By impulse, he is looking at the table again expecting her to spell it for him. Instead, she nudges Tristin, letting him say what he has learned.

“It’s Issané. With-an-eh.”

She signed while he spoke, his finger ticking the accent in perfect time with her, as she concurs with him.

“Is that right? Issané? And how do you know?” Brash, he teases. “Spelled it out to you, did she?”

He can still feel the contours of where she'd traced into his palm and the glow she left him with. “Aye. She did, that.”

Squinting in his sly way, but satisfied enough, Jed leaves it at this. There are a thousand other questions, but he does not miss his brother’s unusual, much smoother tone. A little shyness there. Or the... what was it about him? Was it... a smile? He was smiling?

Looking at them both together is enough to tell him all he needed to know, and so he dropped his line of questioning for the moment. He'll get his answers, but later. “Shit, I thought you’d be interested in me after being so nice to you on the road.” He watched Tristin, ignoring the face she was pulling. “Maybe I should have busted you out of that cell. You two will be teaming up then?”

They shrug, considering it, nodding, not opposed to the idea.

“Shame I suppose. Welp, It’s not me, but you've chosen well.” He gestured the pair, unable to resist a final dig. “You win some, you lose some.” Lowering his voice, he leans in to Tristin. “Oh, but get this. It looks like those two will finally get some by the end of the night. Provided, you know, he ever wakes up again. Axel is in pieces in there.” He leant back, gently blowing a strand out of his face. “Worse than ever before.”

“It’s about bloody time though, isn’t it?” Pleased by this, Tristin sighed himself, relieved. “I mean, you did see the way he looked then? It wasn't me imagining it?”

“Mmm, right? I've seen that face too many times before on the pair of them. Stars, I hope this is for the last time, and an end to the shit between them.” He scratched his head. “Or rather, a beginning. Heh, not fast enough for poor old Reed though, who, incidentally, I’ll be stuck with now. Thanks for nothing by the way, Issané.” He paused, drinking as they roll their eyes while he realised his rhyme, braying at it. “That wee bellend getting in his way, though? What did he think would happen?” Shaking his head again, he changed tack. “It was obvious we’d be helping those two into bed together somehow. But no way in hell did I ever picture it going quite like this...”

Raking his hair through, he admonished. “Axel and Kayn? Now, there’s a hornet's nest if ever there was one.” He turned to her, serious. “I hope you realize what you’ve done, kicking at it like that. And you’d better start pleading hard to whatever it is you believe in that this turns out for the best.” Careful, gauging her again, his wry gaze moved to her blades still quite rudely on the table, then to his brother who hadn't told her to put them away. “And thank fuck for all that blackout back in the camp.” He took another long but measured drink from his cup, draining it. But that’s none of my business.

Reed exited Axel’s room for the last time, where he'd been nursing Kayn, reassuring Axel, and dipping in and out every so often for more linens and clothes to keep his patient warm. Done with his work, and tired from it, aching, he approached the table working at a crick in his neck. “He’ll live. Whatever illusion it was cutting him, or healing him has done the trick. Not as good as my stitching, mind. But sufficient enough.” He sat himself, grateful for the plate Issané offered to him, avid in eating from it. “He should be awake by tomorrow.”

“That wasn’t a bloody trick, and you know full well it wasn’t.” Jed is defiant. “I’d watch your mouth if I were you, or you’ll be out of a job. Or worse. Isn’t that right, Issané?”

Ignoring him, she tried to meet the medic's eye, yet he was having none of it.

Still chewing his first mouthful, hungry as he was, he was unimpressed by her fare, absorbed in pouring himself a cup, avoiding her. In the end, he cannot resist, re-appraising her and the position it meant they were now in.

His mind reeled under the surface. She was armed in the camp. Should he have taken her out then, when the opportunity was there? Would he still be here by this time if he’d done so? Would Kayn blame him for what she’d done if Axel couldn't rein him in? Would she be able to keep her mouth shut or not? In half a second he saw as plain as day all the alternate endings of this particular thread, and he decides, for now, it is best not to pull on it. The look she conveyed was one of unmistakable care for his well-being. The warmth of it provoked the feeling as it washed over him again that he'd seen her before the camp... She was hurt herself, that much was clear, yet she still wanted to know if he was okay. She gave a shit about him. It was true he wore the same split in his lip she would be all too familiar with.

Swallowing his mouthful first, nettled by her concern and it's intrusion, he is at full snark when he speaks. “Staring? Pretty rude of you. Cat's-paw got your tongue or something?”

She held her hand up, splayed fingers quick at forming a fist, blocking the others from beginning to speak for her. They took the hint, and she spelled out 'muted' on the table to him.

“Oh, now, that is actually quite interesting. Is it selective, or did you suffer some kind of trauma?”

She spelled 'curse', and stifled a yawn. This had been a week.

“Cursed? Not pretending to be Deaf then?”

Irritated by this, Jed has a hand on her shoulder to stay her advance, and she is firm in signing to Tristin to tell him that Deaf people aren't cursed, but she is, adding, “And even if I wasn't, I can use my hands whenever the fuck I don't want to speak, you got that?”

Reed is haughty at her correction. “Well, a curse then. That’d explain why you dropped your knickers for us all. But that’s none of my business. How old even are you?”

Jed struggled with not telling Reed that that was exactly what he had said, but Issané reads it anyway since his thoughts are as loud as his mouth. Annoyed again by their judgement, she smacked him in the arm. Furious, tracing letters into the table, she points for him to read. “Whoah, hang on. Slow down. I can’t go as fast as tha-”

She glowered at him, impatient, telling him to watch her mouth as well as look at the table, and he deciphers her message. “Okay... She says... There’s nothing wrong with getting a bit of cock, but if you don’t like it, then mind your own fucking business.” Even he blushes, radiant, hand clasped over his mouth at her audacity, before dissolving into laughter, which Tristin cannot evade, joining him. No one spoke to Reed like that. And there was no possible way she'd have known.

Reed, however, is not amused in the slightest, and Issané, arms crossed, is defiant, glaring back. She challenged him to take another shot, a jerk from her chin daring him to tell her what to do again. Punching Jed, a little too hard this time, she told him to relay the bit he'd missed, and let him know she is well into her eighteenth year. Two years younger than Tristin. Well above age.

Hassled by the laughing, he cut them off. “Yeah. Because all of this is just so funny, right? In all seriousness for you though, my dear, Kayn will hold on to his grudge for a long, long time. Issané is it? If you’re going to stick about till you're nineteen, I would watch your back if I were you. If, no, when that one has had enough of you, not even Axel will be able to stop him from wiping that look off your face.” She raised her cup in a mock toast at him, and Jed snorts again. “Your funeral then.” He shook his head. “But, if you choose to live, I’ll teach you the proper hand-signals to use for the common here. We'll all understand you so much better that way.”

This offer had been dramatic in its failure with Kayn before. Frustrated with him after some time in a shutdown, he’d mentioned the possibility in passing. The consequences from that obviously hadn’t taught him any lessons, and Issané is beginning to understand what it was that had earned him his split lip.

While Jed sucks air through his teeth in disbelief, and Tristin opens his mouth to correct him, she is quicker with a clenched fist. A wider than ever grin accompanies it, along with her middle finger, and all three understand. This is the signal to shut the fuck up.

“Oh ho-ho, I like this one.” Jed is still grinning. “She’s going to fit right in. If she survives. Speaking of which, shouldn’t we haul those bodies inside? Six, weren’t there? Armed too? You’ll have to step up your game Tris, or she’ll beat your personal best. I wonder if there was any money on them?” He turns to her. “What were their weapons like?”

She wrinkled her nose in doubt. They wouldn't still be out there. She'd only beaten them badly enough to run, and they'd be long gone by now. It meant they'd be back, if they weren't too proud to admit who'd whipped them so hard, but they had no gauntlets or helmets, their weapons just for show, so it was unlikely. They could scavenge anything that'd been dropped, maybe, but there wouldn't be much left to them. It wasn’t as though they were guards or anything. Shaking her head, she sticks her thumb out pointing it to the floor in front of her. “Nothing but shit.”

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