Episode 16.

CW: Mention of Violence, Alcohol, Knives.

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

Message received, loud and clear, Jed closed his eyes for a beat longer than usual, and when he opened them he was leering widely at the pair, nodding his agreement, delighted, yet a bittersweet grief pricks at him. He inhales, keeping the sob out of it, accepting their decision, clutching at his heart for them. Oh, bloody hell you two! I cannot take any more!”

“Well,” Axel was cocky, laughing. “You know, it is about time this all came to a head.”

While Kayn half choked on the cup he was drinking, Jed brayed. In disbelief, his terrible humour caused the others to join in, yet he is still aware of the tinge of sadness he could not avoid. Catching on to Kayn’s playful, shy laugh, and grateful for it, he watched him warn Axel that he was in trouble, and that he'd get what he was due. Still, once the others had taken over the chattering, his chin dropped and he swallowed hard. Looking down, hiding how his breath caught in his throat from the others as they laughed along, Tristin’s hand appeared on his knee for one small squeeze.

“Okay, Jed?”

“Aye, it’s no surprise. I knew this was coming too. I will be.”

“She'll find us again.”

“Aye.”

Axel worried anyway, and after the others had quietened, he pushed them all, intending to bait, checking that Reed saw the situation well enough too. He did, sly in indicating so, allowing the others to talk first, knowing precisely how to snare his friend. Confident the others would join in then, He began. “So, I’ve got to know now. How'd you find out about us before we did?”

“Oh my stars, I know exactly. It’s gotta be the scar in Kayn's eyebrow.” Tristin started, ready, and confusion from the others at his statement spurred him on. “After Coldwater Pond? I walked in on Axel trying to patch it up for him, while Reed was still stitching Jed back together. You should have seen them. All cute and awkward, but still annoyed and fidgeting.” He beamed at thinking of it, yet still, blank faces stared back at him. “Well, anyway, Axel was telling him off for wriggling too much, while he’d absolute zero capacity to sit still, the closer he kept getting to him. Honestly, I thought they were about to kiss right there and then at one point.”

Axel blushed, recalling. “Oh yeah! You barged in, took the linen out of my hand, stuck it on his head and made him lie down. Spoilsport.”

This story worked, and it does crack Jed open again when Kayn smirks, with a nostalgic, far away, “Oh, yeah. I do remember that.”

“You nearly didn't.” Tristin snorted. “You were so concussed I thought you were either going to kiss, or puke, and no one wants to be puked on do they? I had to do something.”

“Aw, I wish I'd been there to see.” Jed smiled, wan. “Imagine it, Issané...”

“Oh yeah, no. I don't have to. I know all about it.” She agreed. “I knew Axel was away from him while I'd taken residence in the lockup.” Lifting up her shirt, she shows the bruising there. The others wince and she turned to Axel, direct, “Yeah? He told me all about you.”

He swallowed hard at the obvious injuries she’d sustained by Kayn's hand – they weren’t pretty, and he was just as responsible himself. Kayn squirmed behind him, and so his reprimand came with sarcasm, sparing him for the time being. “Kayn, that is so sweet of you...”

Issané rolled her eyes at them both, hard enough to risk accidental transport into another dimension, while tucking her shirt back in. If not the food, at least her expression was adequately salted. “What-fucking-ever. I’ve had worse.”

Kayn felt the well aimed sting in Axel's voice. Cowed enough by it, he sniped, “Seems like I was the only one of us who saw she could fight back, though. So.” Haughty, then, he scoffed. “And I never told her anything. Never said a word about anyone...”

“Oh, no but you wouldn't have had to.” Realising he didn't know, he explained. “She can do the telepathy thing like I can.”

“Great.” He beseeched, hard emphasis on the ‘T’. “That is great. Brilliant news. Maybe now, we can have a decent game of charades again then?”

“I don't cheat at charades...”

“I never said you did.”

Reed chipped in, nipping the disagreement in the bud. “Will we get back to the saga of you two? I thought you wanted all your stories?”

“Sorry, Reed.” Axel's tone was clipped. “Is it your turn? Were you waiting? Do, please, go on.”

“I shall.” He snarked back, but taking centre stage, he cleared his throat. “I knew hundred percent you'd end up together after that time those Druids saw you were alone on the road. Remember Axel? They were really going to try it with you...”

Accused of cheating someone he'd never met out of some money, called a dirty thief and a parasite, Axel had been warned to stay the fuck away from the children and the dogs in the village, with explicit descriptions of why he, and all the other Night Elves like him should. Especially the Black ones. He and Kayn had soundly beaten the shit out of them and sat together after, putting the world to rights, but it hadn't been enough to calm him. Even at Kayn's repeated insistence that he would never believe he could do the things they accused him of. Telling him how good of a person he was. How honest. How kind. How decent he was compared to any of the rest of them out there. How they wouldn't be following him at all if they didn't believe in him.

If anything, saying those things had only wound him up even more. He didn't want the compliments. They didn't take the sting away. Axel wanted revenge. Drinking too heavily, he'd talked himself into taking his sword and end everyone who lived there in their sleep. His hatred for the people who thought they could speak to him like that – with all those throwaway slurs and accusations that meant nothing to them and everything to him – had spiralled out of control and flared, and sent him into a mead-induced meltdown. He’d screamed, loud enough to wake the dead, that if all they wanted from him were his fucking stories and songs, he would start them one they'd never forget.

”... The way you stayed outside his tent, telling him he wasn't alone and you would be there for him whatever the plan was, doing your best to talk him down. Telling him we'd all be there for him, and how none of us believed he would even think of the things they said he'd do. You fell asleep right there outside his tent, using his jacket for a blanket, your face buried into the fur of his collar, but that wasn’t it. There was something more in the way you begged him not to get himself sent to jail, or wind up dead. To keep away from the guards at all costs and keep himself safe. Something in the way you begged him to stay with you – not us. You.”

“Nah.” He wasn't having it. “Never happened – not a single idea what you’re on about.” Kayn’s flat denial of any such thing gives away that he is in on the plot. “Not something I'd do, innit.” He shook his head. “Blatantly made up.”

The prodding works. “So, you never said to him that he wouldn't need a sword, or a knife, or even to sing a single note – just a rusty violin string and some leather gloves, and that that would be just fine enough for the job?” Jed cannot resist piping up to correct him. “Because that sounds absolutely nothing like something you might say? That there,” He poked a finger in his direction, “Is pure bollocks.” Fidgeting, ever so slightly worked up – and pretending he wasn’t, arms were crossed, his heel tapping on the floor telling the truth. “That happened, and you know damn well it did. You two have practically been a couple for years without even realising, and all this... This bullshit between you... has been over a single kiss, which should have happened forever ago.”

“Well then.” Reed, cunning, pushed him that tiny bit more. “Now you have to tell us how you knew.”

“You do know that none of you are half as smooth as you think...” He points at Issané, “And I expected more from you.” He waits for her smirk before spilling his side of the story. Having nodded along with the others, he happily takes Axel's bait in the end. Eager to prove how he was the first to know, the others are glad they could cheer him again after the news they wouldn't be waiting any longer for Sal.

It is his turn for smug defiance once he’d finished his story – he knew first and kept his secret, like he'd promised. In turn, he pressed Axel back, eager to know what it was that made him finally realise, and all of them find his reluctance to admit the truth oddly adorable.

“I'm not telling any of you before I tell him, am I?”

He looked to Kayn instead, not even sure why, unsurprised by his simple, “Nope.”

Deflecting, then, Axel demanded, “Okay, okay now, I want to know how you all knew together?”

They all have the same answer. A night under the stars, Axel was still giggling to himself over some joke Kayn had made, going to bed. Claiming that he couldn’t take any more after laughing so hard, he was done for the night. All three watched as Kayn sat, still by the fire, attentive to him leaving for his own tent on his own. They'd eyed his face as he listened to him still laughing at their joke from inside it. Collectively, but still thinking they were alone in noticing, they'd despaired at his desolate, detatched expression. A face fallen from on high, the joy at making him laugh so loud leaking out of him, a gritted jaw and a hard sniff at going to bed alone took it's place, and they’d all felt for him. Once he’d turned in himself, each others faces told them they all knew, and they'd commiserated before querying what each other had seen, comparing stories together afterwards.

“Hold on, then.” Axel is wagging a finger in Jed’s direction. “I thought you said you kept what you knew a secret?”

“Well, I did for as long as I could, but it was a bit hard to, you know. Once everyone else knew and that.”

I didn’t know!” Axel exclaimed, too loud.

“And I kept it a secret from you. Job done.”

Tristin groaned aloud, pressing his forehead to his fingertips, incredulous. “That’s not how that works, Jed.”

Exasperated, Axel huffed. “And how long ago was this?” No one wanted to admit that it was longer ago than it should have been, with much vagueness and gesturing at the table. “Useless.” He shook his head. “The lot of you.”

“So... Cute...” Patting at her heart, Issané fanned her face in empathy for the pair. No, for the whole group of them.


Once the jovial mood, and the familiarity of the stories about them had died down, Reed began his plans for moving on. “Listen though, those bailiffs yesterday were too close of a call. We’ve stayed here way too long, and Issané is right. If they ran, they’ll be back, and after the arse-kicking she gave them, they'll be mob-handed. We’ll eat up as much as we can here – including you, Kayn. No arguments – and leave after dark tonight before they can send any more in the morning. We've been sitting here on tenterhooks all day waiting for you. The stars alone know why no one's come looking for us.”

The Sanguine start to plot the details of their moonlight flit. All except Kayn. As the noise of their conversation grew around him, nothing can distract him now. Burning hard, when Axel asks her if she will be okay camping all winter in the snow, she sneers at their underestimation yet again, and he sneers too. She might well survive out-of-doors in the cold, if she lives long enough to see it.

Still staring, the others' eyes off him now, unsure of how her presence made him feel, he searched himself for the perimeter of his rage. He didn't want to upset Tristin, not unless he truly had to, but he’d made himself a promise that night in camp, and his word was something he intended to keep.

This Piss-Ant, or whatever her name was, was nothing and no one to him, and she’d crossed his line on her first day. Suspicious of her forcing the issue between him and Axel, and how easy it was for her to join them, he knew no one did such any such thing from the goodness of their heart.

She would doubtless want something from them in return.


Inching up the bench to sit closer, Axel is pleased to find he is allowed to lean back against him again. Shifting positions to sit in an unapologetically comfortable arrangement together in front of their comrades, he felt him breathe in, deep, allowing the feeling to calm, and he is grateful for the way this casual exchange and easy affection could ease his man. Resting his head in the crook of his shoulder, even with this new Issané in the room, and the tension she’d created, he would still accept this.

They'd be alright.

Resting on the wall behind, he felt Kayn shift to accommodate him even better, asking for cushions to be brought – and there against him, he yawns wide again as they settle, hands interlaced, listening to the others talk over this plan and that.

This comfort together did not go unnoticed by many in the room, and a collective sigh of relief rippled the atmosphere. Closing his eyes, letting this good feeling wash over again, Axel relaxed, snug. Letting the sound of his voice fill his head while he reminded Jed of a huge dray with good wheels a few streets away, he told them it was probable they can get at it without too much bother, and he talks with them about a horse or two he'd kept his eye on this week.


The other side of Tristin, as far away from Kayn as possible, Issané read what she could. Feeling his gaze on her, she is resolute that this was as far as he was ever going to get. The cell had given her part of a way into him – yet he was still locked up tight, and all she sees of the two main emotions he flips between are eternal gratitude, and bloody murder. Not that anyone needed telepathy to see what was written on his face. Deciding things would be better if she didn’t push too deep and discover the outcome of his inner turmoil, she took Reed at his word to watch herself. The dagger secured at her calf, reassuring inside her boot while her foot swung under the table to settle her nerves, was still well within reach.


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