Episode 14.

CW: Drug Use, Alcohol.

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

The dawn's first sun rays filter through the window, waking Kayn from the most beautiful dream he’d ever been in. He lay still, savouring the moments in the greyscale before waking, a favourite part of the day. Warm and cosy, safe here, protected, every time he woke like this, which wasn't often, he always wished he could stay a few minutes longer.

Floating in the sweet spot between reality and peace, he remembered the distant voice from the dream he’d been having. A voice he couldn't place. A hoarse, scarce whisper, which told him everything he’d ever wanted to hear his whole life. That someone will love him, truly, for all he is, because his past didn’t matter, and the future was theirs for the taking.

Serene, he wished it were true, but sunlight refused to let him concentrate on the voice in his head – and this was odd to him because he'd specifically chosen the room where the sun set in the evenings. He remembered, because he'd argued about it. There shouldn't be any rays here. Was it morning? It felt like it was. Burying his face into the crook of his elbow, and shifting his position by reflex, it made his leg stretch and his toes wriggle outside of the furs.

Cold. Definitely morning. He retracted them in an instant. Determined to stay warm and get back to the harmony of that voice, he shoved his face deeper into the black, but somehow, this wasn't right either. But that arm... is... underneath me?

Thinking himself still too deep in sleep, but confused and disorientated – certain he is waking, and needing to know exactly what and where things were – he forced his eyes open, but only by just enough to check his surroundings. First squinting against the brightness invading the space between his lashes, they widen more and more in surprise. He knew the ring on the hand resting on his arm, recognising the familiar pattern of stones. The unmistakeable band of emeralds in their channel setting. Reed...?

The girl, the knife and the night before flashed through him. Was he injured enough for Reed to stay? But no, that wasn’t right, because he didn't even wear that lucky charm any more. And then the hoop of fine ebony that always lived next to it. Never mind that the skin on the hand itself was Black. How'd he been baffled by that? Of course Reed's trinket now belonged to-

Breath froze in his chest. Stare fixed on the jewellery in front of him, terrified of breaking the spell he was caught in, he dare not move a muscle, and the realisation came. The chest heaving against his back is the reason he is so warm and comfortable. For a second, his heart sank, and he rehearsed the well-worn act that always played out whenever they woke too close to each other like this. Yet strong arms tighten, and warm lips land on the spot behind his ear. Not quite a kiss, and not quite... anything else. Another impulse closed his eyes, and a deep rush of relief took over when Axel nuzzled at him again.

When his voice came, it was a whisper. “Obbé and Sina... Oh my fucking stars, you’re alive. Fuck's sake, Kayn... Fuck.” He allowed his own breath to return, a small sob catching in his throat as he squeezed a tiny bit tighter. If he spurned him, or felt trapped and lost control, and started screaming at him for crossing this boundary, at least he’d done that much. Done enough to let him know. Lips still pressed to him, hushed, he sighed. “Can you look at me...?” Loosening his embrace enough to allow his small spoon to turn back and see him, as he did and looked up at him, bright silver burned into deep onyx, making his heart beat harder than he ever thought possible. Here it was, right now. No escape. “You could have been killed...” Aggravated, his voice came harder than he wanted, but he couldn't stop himself, not now. “I don't want to do any of this without you with me. Do you hear me? With me, Kayn. This is the last fucking time I worry about you like that. Never. EVER. Do anything that dangerous ever again, right? You don’t get to leave me here alone in the world without you around in it too now. Understand me? You hear what I’m saying? That blade could have been poisoned. Anything...”

Irate, the strength of his glare made Kayn shy away, tucking his chin down into his chest, and seeing the linens applied to his body, remembering the sting the blade left him with, the memory of being too close to the end of his life again alarmed him instantly. Surrounded by Axel now, he knew the voice from his dream. Shaken, desperate to avoid the sheer power of this emotion, he is dangerously close to drowning in it all the same. Caught between looking up at him, and down at the dressings on his newest scar, he shrank back even further.

“Hey. No. No you don't. Look up here. Look at me.” Tilting his face back up, it hardly takes the knuckle under his chin, and Axel finds himself stunned to discover tears. “Me and you, yeah?” Pulling him in, intending only to comfort, still unsure, and yet a tiny murmur escapes him as Kayn shifts, up, reaching enough to make his lips meet his.

Slow, a hand meandered, tentative, from where it lay on his chest. Snaking around his waist and up the small of his back, he reciprocated his hold, wanting him nearer. Pressing closer still, the realisation came that he is calmed, and it is that which makes him uneasy again. He pushed away a touch, not looking up, his eyebrows knit, as he bit at the lip where Axel had been. Realising why he was so confused before, and unsure of what Reed might have given him, it came to him that he was still slightly buzzed. “Is this... like, for real? I need to know.” He trembled at the idea it might not be. “Everything's hazy. I can't tell.”

“Real?” He blinked. “Wow, I fucking hope so...” Seeing the uncertainty in him saddened him a little. He'd always check twice if something seemed too good. Enough people had fucked him over in his time, and so now, automatic scrutiny was his way. They wouldn't play games or make jokes. They couldn’t afford to, and the trouble they would cause wasn't worth dealing with. He wiped a stray tear from his pale cheek and ran fingers through his hair. Smiling, he didn't stop himself from acting on the urge to kiss him on the forehead, his heart full when Kayn relaxed into him again. Touch would help him, he knew. “Kiss me again.”

The look that spread his face after, made Axel giggle. Expression spectacular, he shone. All for him. His favourite. Satisfied after long minutes of checking his kisses are real, energised by them, Kayn pinned him to the bed – and climbing on, sitting atop, he crowed into his face. “I fucking knew it! I knew I was right about you!” One brief moment of triumph, arms over his head like he'd finally won a long fought battle, he laughed at his own victory dance, clapping. He flapped, and fingers flexed, before grabbing his shirt and bouncing him on the mattress, and he cackled again at his blush, while Axel’s laugh comes, broken, as he repeatedly squashes the air out of him. “Kayn... They’re gonna... think we’re... doing it...”

He cut short his song about being right all along, and crowed once more in pure showmanship. “Ahaa! Let them, then!” Stopping anyway, joy and disbelief were still plastered across his face. Gentled though, considering, his head tipped to the side, and a sweet smile widened at his looking back at him that way. A slow blink mellowed him again, and he sighed a tiny sigh. Grip loosened, his hand found its way to the back of his collar, and hot butterflies rippled through Axel, while he met his easy gaze. As he rose with them to sit, Kayn paused a beat with a half-smirk, before whispering, “Let's just kiss some more, yeah?”

Waiting for his reaction, he gave him the kiss he’d saved up for all this time. When it was returned, it made him murmur, and cuss and whisper his name. Some minutes later, when he pulled away, he pressed his hand to his mouth, sniffing slightly, waterworks springing.

Axel’s eyes gleamed too, still shy, all the warmth in the world to them. “You okay?”

“Happy tears.” His hand flapped in front of his face while he looked up to the ceiling, sniffing harder. “Fucking finally, some happy ones...”

“Come here.”

Still sitting on him, still in his lap, recovering their composure, snug in their embrace, the boys soothed each other as all the feels hit them. It wasn’t long before mirth returned, and smothering him in kisses again, Kayn punched the air with a victory yell one last time. The tiny gesture of Axel pushing him off, having had enough bouncing and guiding him back down to the bed was all it took. A lion swatting at a rowdy cub, Kayn understood well enough what the gesture meant. At the cue, tenderness returned, and, content there, Axel leaned over him again.

He loved it when he was like this, bursting with delight, and even better when this reaction was all because of him. He hadn’t seen him this ecstatic in so long and the reward of seeing him fizz and buzz again was almost too much, and when he’d calmed enough to, he held him close. “I thought I'd lost you for good this time. Do. Not. Okay? I mean it. Never put yourself in harm's way like that again. Please... This death-wish of yours... It's got to end here, understand me? This is it, Kayn. Me and you. Forever. It’s real. We are. I promise, okay?”

He can barely nod his agreement, shining and beaming with him, wanting Axel back. Wanting him to know he did beyond any shadow of a doubt. Words stuck in his throat, but he willed them into being the best he could anyway. “We're getting the fuck out of here.” He nodded. “Us.”

Spending most of the morning and afternoon talking, and kissing, and laughing together, as the day faded again, the intensity in Axel’s focus on him returned. His gaze could make Kayn weak – weak and hungry – as though he’d been starved of him his whole life. On his back, he nuzzled at him, resting a hand excruciatingly high inside his thigh. His mind blazed, everything he wanted to say but couldn’t a tangle behind his eyes – when anxiety peaked and he froze as a thumb strayed a touch too far. At this pace, they would go too far. This would be too much. Too soon for them.

Halting him, grabbing his hand, he stopped what he was doing, and Kayn could not meet his eye again. “I want... Truly, but...”

Shivering, tense, rattled, eye contact impossible, Axel saw. Taking his hand away from there, deft, he moved to cup the back of his neck, into safe territory again. Still tense, a trace of the burned out cabin was in Kayn's expression. That fear again. He could almost smell the acid smoke of their hideout as it burned to nothing, still hear the horses screaming while he freed them. The flames of that night were at his back again as he looked at him now. So close to admitting he wanted to have this bond together all that time ago, the hint on his face – the same look he wore that night, the same look whenever they'd ran from the guards – was one he’d not forgotten in a hurry. Nor the feeling of the way he shook in his arms once he'd seen it.

It was after the fire that Kayn had changed for good. He knew what he was telling him now. He'd heard him, drunk and ranting enough times. He knew what he couldn't say sober. He knew he didn't remember much of the night itself, just the fallout from it, and he was careful how he picked his words.

“Listen... I know I haven't done this before. I haven't been with a boy. Not like... That. But Kayn, you've got to know that this isn't some experiment to find out if I want to do this or not. Or an exploit to brag about, or some drunken fantasy to act on and forget later. That's not me. You know that, don't you? You know I'm not going to use you to play games or act coy and deny we are together. Like, this was never going to be some one-time only thing between us? I won't pray you away tomorrow or scrub myself clean to forget you exist. Kayn, I am serious about how I feel about you, and this is real. I need you with me, I want to be yours, and I need you to be mine. The stars know I have come too close to losing you, far too many times, and I will not risk that again. I can’t do that. You are a part of me, and I know you don't know this, because I've been a dickhead, but you have been for a long time now. So, that means we've got all the time in the world to be together, yeah? There is no rush for this, and we'll go at your pace for as long as you want. You are in control of this. Of us. Of me. You're in charge, right? You tell me what to do. What not to say. What is okay... and when to leave you alone.”

He shifted to place a hand on his chest, over his heart, to impart solace to him again. Ice or no – powerful as he was – Kayn still demanded the reassurance that he would be safe wherever he went, and his brow furrowed while his eyes glistened with tears and he bit his lip. The next words faltered before they came, but that could not stop him saying them this time. “You... You're a part of me.” He patted at him. “In here. But if you're unsure, it's not about me or what I want. You know us. You know what to expect, and you know how it feels when something's wrong. You know me. You will always know where you are with me, and I won't ever turn away from you when you have something to say about it not feeling good. Believe me when I say this; not me, nor anyone will ever hurt you again, as long as you live. Never. I swear on my grave.”

The word 'never' came from deeper inside. It made Kayn feel exquisite, sweet and delicate, as Axel's certainty about them moving on together dissolved the last of his apprehension. The kiss that came after was bliss, and told him all he needed to know. For all the ferocity in the delivery of his words, the thumb that stroked his brow was soft as a feather. If he could tell him... If he could trust him with everything... His eyes closed, and a tear joined his as he finished what he was saying. “Please. Show me what I need to do to make you happy. Show me what you need from me when you're not. Your safety? It’s all I want.”

Kayn reached up to kiss again. He wanted to reply to everything Axel told him, wanted to tell him how he felt exactly the same way too, but those words would not come. They might, and he was grateful he understood that already about him and could be patient for them, but he still cursed his brain for severing communication when he needed it most.

He would show him.

He could do that.

Darkness fell, and comforted by night returning to the corners of their room, Axel is half asleep already. Quietened, lighting candles, Kayn begged, silent, into the glow of them that admitting his whole life – allowing it to be known as fact – wouldn’t overload him and cause him to think himself into a corner and fuck this up before they’d even begun. The secret he’d blocked him from seeing for so long was out – and doubt which felt like rot was already setting in.

Please, let me have this. This one good thing. He said I was his. He said the words aloud. I am his. He said so. He said forever, and I felt him kiss me and it was real. He was there this time. He was. It was real. He wasn't going to leave me behind. We'll go on together. He said so. Eyes shut, he willed this unease from his heart. Pushing the idea away that he wasn't awake. That this was all a trick of his vivid imagination. Fighting an urge to use the flame in front of him to prove he wasn’t lying to himself, he is sure enough the bite of his new scar means he isn’t dreaming.

Or worse. Or worse. What if...?

“Kayn?” Axel yawned sleepily. “Mmmh. Come back to bed...”

Turning, so slowly and half afraid, to where the sound came from, Axel is propped against the oak headboard, exactly where he'd left him, leaning back on the inordinate amount of cushions he insisted he needed. Wrapped up to his neck in furs. Still twinkling at him, drowsy and beyond precious, he was nesting, getting comfy, ready for rest. With him, together, and on purpose this time.

This is real.

But was it? He wanted to touch to be sure. He couldn’t always rely on what he saw and heard to be true. Fighting the struggle to focus, he knew some of his thoughts were abundantly capable of taking him over. Words he knew had been spoken, but no one else had heard. Missing pieces that filled themselves in. Things that were there, suddenly... not. Letting thoughts run wild could easily distort what he knew damn well was in front of him. Telling him to be on high alert when he should feel protected. Telling him things were just fine, when they were anything but. This was how life was for a kid on the road, alone and without family, an easy target. He’d tricked himself into thinking Axel had claimed him before. Holding him close. Telling him everything would be okay... He needed an anchor into this world. He needed to know that it was okay to feel this secure.

Climbing onto the bed, cosying up himself, he is glad there was still enough mattress and furs between them that they could be comfortable. His fidgeting was annoying, he knew. But, in all of the hundreds of times they’d fallen asleep together in the back of the cart, or shared a quilt, hammered on mead by the fire, Axel said he never noticed, explaining that it was because he grew up on a boat – and nothing was ever still on a boat. But a bed was different, and he didn't want to disturb him after what must have been a long night's watch.

Looking at him drifting off now, Axel’s eyes are closed, and sleepily, he was apologising again for being such a dick. “I wish I’d known sooner, you know? I mean, I knew what I wanted, but I wish I was sure this would work out. I... I didn't want to mess up again, and so, I ended up messing up even worse.”

“Outside Dill’s?”

“Stars, Sal gave me so much shit for that, you don't even know... And then Jed interrupted what I really wanted to say.” A sigh, that memory chased away. “So much of the trouble I caused could’ve been avoided, if only I could have been more honest. But coming to terms with... Everything...” He looked up. “I’m sorry it took me so long, you know? I wish I could have been this sure about us earlier and I’m sorry I wasn’t. Too caught up in myself to see you were right there in front of me. But this is us, isn’t it? Me and you? That’s gonna be alright, isn’t it?”

Kayn's hand slid under the covers, seeking the place he knew Axel’s would be under his pillow. Lacing his fingers between, instead of leaving it beside as he’d always done, he watched the smile fade from his face the further and further he fell into sleep. Seeing him anew and absorbing the feeling of his heart swell, secret tears still pricked at his eyes. This was real. “Mmhm, Axel. Me and you.”

Little more than a breath escaped him in response, and he turned over, pulling him into being the big spoon – wanting his turn for comfort, he needed his reassurance that he wouldn’t go out into the night again. Arms around him woke him enough for one last sentence. “Please. Don’t go looking for him any more...”

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