Episode 22.

CW: Murder, Knives.

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Impatient, wanting rid of them all, Tristin bristled while Jed covered Issané with a reserved bundle of quilts. Reed, almost finished fussing, reassured him the healing magic was taking its full effect on her, and at last, the four made their moves to leave – the archer telling the others he will still potter a while, still vexed over his patient. But as the others walked away, Jed was incredulous, still enflamed by their behaviour. Waiting until a good enough distance was between them, Kayn allowed a smirk when he hissed at Axel, annoyed. “Heart of the matter, Axel? Really?”

“I know.” Nerves bubbled into a dry laugh as he was glowered at. “I couldn’t help it.”

“I know there’s more...”

Reluctant, squirming, he admits it. “It seems like Tris is her biggest fan after all.”


“I guess she couldn't handle Kayn getting to the point.”


“Has she been working out?” He became dire as the words came, regretting them as he spoke. “'Cause she’s looking kinda ripped... Okay, I’m done. I’m sorry. I am...”

Kayn disguised his titter with a cough, and Jed was quick to cow him. “Laugh again. I fucking dare you. If she doesn’t slice and dice you for this, and she manages to stop Tristin from throttling you, I’ll be next in line. I’ve never seen him like that, not with one of us. I don’t wish to ever see it again.” His threat came, serious, in a rare full-sentence form. “Do you understand me now?”

“You won’t.” A tremor coincided with his answer. Hearing the fullness of this assured warning, he shook his head, followed by another shiver down his spine, taking him over. “Not because of me.”

“Good. Because now you've marked her, you better fucking protect her. And you.” Jed stabbed a finger in Axel’s face, spurred on when he recoiled from it. “You little fuck. Don't you ever make him another promise you can’t keep. For fuck’s sake. As if there isn’t enough going on already...”

“Aye, Jed. I’m sorry. I am. I will tell him that.”

“And her?”

“Of course. Yes, I meant both of them.”

“See you do.” He gave him a sideways look, not believing him for a second, unsure who out of the two of them had goaded – and who had used – who worse. Exasperation at the pair winding each other up and escalating into trouble like this leached from him, and concern grew when he surveyed Kayn. Even with Axel’s arm around him, he was trembling. Small and pale, he was drawn, a sickly kid again. Hands inside his shirt, nails picked at an imaginary itch on his body that couldn’t be scratched. The shock was setting in. Worse than after the jailor. Faster this time.

Orange eyes flit to Axel, and the underlying mirth at his jokes now gone, he was as tense himself. Pinched as he was, though, the voice he gave Kayn was warm honey, a gentle hand at his shoulder, soft, imparting confidence to him. “I need to talk with Jed and Reed. You don’t have to sit out with us if you can’t. We’ll be right outside our tent if you want to lie down instead. We won’t be far, only be right outside.”

“I’ll be okay with a few furs if there’s any left, Axel. I want to hear too. If I start to drift too much, I’ll go in. Keep an eye on me?”

“Fair enough.” Axel took his hand. “But make sure you're comfortable. I won’t let you out of my sight. Promise.”

Jed caught his cue and calmed, speaking softer and slower, yet no more cheerful. “Aye, I’ll build us another fire, and we’ll wait for Reed. We'll get hot drinks then, and Axel can explain to us exactly what the fuck all that was and what the hell is going on now.”

Her injury closed, the glow stopped and eyes shut, Issané is completely out for the count. Coupled with Tristin’s stubborn refusal to move even an inch from where they'd laid her, the pair sat still as stone just in the slightest case he might harm her in some way. Flitting, buzzing, making sure he is comfortable too, Reed placed everything he needed close to hand before allowing himself to catch up with the others. New information was available to pore over, and he struggled to keep the skip out of his step, fairly sizzling with anticipation as he bothered them.

He attempted encouragement again. “She’s good, Tris. She’ll make it back to us again like Kayn did. You can probably move her if you want to make yourselves more comfortable. You did well. Acted quickly...”

“Go.” He cut him off. “I know you’re dying to. Go with them and leave us here. Let us be. Take them on to wherever the fuck they’re going without us. Don’t come back.”

“Oh? But I'll be back, and you know I will. I have to check on her recovery, don’t I? Jed was right...” He shook his head. “That’s no magic trick of hers, but I’ll need to look her over all the same. Kayn’s injury was diff—” He takes Tristin’s deep growl and well-aimed cup to his head as the hint to shut up. “Well.” Still standing out of arms reach, he tossed it back to him. “That was unkind.” Supposing that name was not what he needed to hear right now, he returned the tumbler, indignant. “Here. Got a feeling you’ll actually be wanting this, or no?”

He did want his cup. Very, very much so.

And only after drinking almost a kettle full of hot mead, did he allow himself to think about how sorry he is, and what his cowardice had cost. The damage she had suffered because of him. The way the others thought they could treat her because he could not put himself on the line and stand up for her. Worrying that this thing between them, this thing that he'd been persuaded by her to care about could be taken from him at any time. Even at a mere sentence he should have kept to himself. He'd never experienced this amount of worry about another person before, and he hated that it had taken this much to show him how weak he was against it.

And she’d be gone as soon as she’d appeared, just like that. Trying harder to remember a time when he didn’t give a shit about her, all he saw was the depth of his betrayal. They should have run from their cell together, he should have pulled her out of there and ran and ran and never checked their pace, as far away from Kayn as Hessionia would allow.

He should have trusted his instincts, said something, stood up for something, stood up for her instead of securing his own place in the group and he kicked himself for ignoring every sign he had to. Hoping someone else would sort it out instead because the was too busy had led them to this. Even if he was too afraid to fight, they could have ran. They would never have been found. It was probable that the others wouldn’t have even bothered to look. It wasn’t like he was irreplaceable. They’d be well shot of his useless arse.

His turn to sit, stunned, thoughts he'd not admitted so far swirled in his head. This is how it was for Jed. A prime example of all of the reasons why it was better to avoid falling for anyone at all – he wanted no part in the heartbreak his brother lived with, questioning if she would ever return, the first and last thoughts of his every waking day. And this is how it was for Axel too, the night in the hideout, and before at the cabin, and a hundred more times besides. How it felt to see Kayn ripped open in front of him. Broken, beaten. The balancing act between injury and death.

Thinking back to watching Axel patch his eyebrow up, a wave of annoyance at himself came for impatiently intervening between them, concussion or not. Now he understood the urge to be sure he wasn't hurt. He knew why he'd fought so hard to win him over, and why the others hadn't interrogated the vow to attack on sight to protect him. They'd all accepted and understood something he'd been missing.

These thoughts triggered another ripple of self-doubt and pity, as he watched the delicate charge giving him pins and needles, laying in his lap. Jed, infinitely more outgoing, could attract anyone he wanted to, and Axel’s authority alone made him a way more obvious choice than he was. She'd not even looked twice at Kayn the first night, and even if they didn’t know they never stood a chance, everybody looked twice at Kayn.

He wasn’t like them. He was supposed to be the one who took care of people. Make sure they were fed, well, and happy. He’d seen people starve, days and days without food. He'd seen people take their own lives because they had no other way out, and he didn’t want that for anyone he had the slightest regard for.

Reed hadn't tried any kind of meaningful way to step in either, but Reed could fuck all the way off, to be honest. He knew he openly thought of him as weak, and while they hunted together still, he'd made it clear to him that a wolf who would not fight with them was little more than a pampered dog. Another hungry belly who wouldn’t earn their keep. He valued bravery and intellect above all, and he was harsh by nature, yet he still prayed over the animals that gave their lives for their group to continue on. He still insisted upon as good a death as he could, clean kills, honouring their lives so they could easily pass over into the next. This diligence didn’t extend to injuring people, though, and Tristin couldn’t separate the two like he could. He couldn’t see a way to thanking a person for dying so that he didn’t have to. How could his life be worth that?

Because they didn't see eye to eye, Reed's judgement never sat right, and though their pact still kept them together, and they worked well as a team... There was still the quibble that Reed did not miss. And Axel was right. He was tired of looking over his shoulder because of it.

But now, with Issané in his arms, he realised the vow they'd all taken – it was never about taking another life to protect himself.

He remembered when his realisation about her had first struck him. The bollocking she gave him over an imaginary bear. But no, it was before that. The rabbit? Before... Her wind chimes. The boundary she'd set around the camp was maintained like clockwork, and as a group they'd never felt safer than they did right now. That was her doing. She valued life as much as he did, and never wanted to waste a drop, only taking what she needed. She was a Sanguine, and moreso than any of the rest of them. She'd put her own life on the line, but didn't want to kill just because. She didn't want to have to. She was running from that, as much as every Outlier was.

How could he have let that light almost go out? Twice? How could he have even threatened it and been the reason she looked over her shoulder? As if there wasn’t enough violence in the world...

He'd been too caught up in himself to find the time to warn her that Axel knew about the vision, instead taking him at his word that she wouldn't be harmed. He should have known he'd get caught up like he did with Kayn in his ear, and it was hard to decide who'd come off worse between Kayn and Issané in his grand scheme of things. And despite the magical tit for tat game they seemed to have going on, this was his own fuck up, whether she forgave him for it or not. Even if she did, could he forgive himself? Could he do that again?

Cursing himself for falling for her and thinking of a million reasons why he shouldn't, death being the main one, he pulled her closer, if only to relieve his numb arse. He’d have to come clean if they really were going be able to move on from this. Resting his chin on her moonlit hair as she slept, he is thankful that it is still warm, trying not to think about how much he needs to hear their leaders verdict too.

Glasses had finally had enough of the singing in the Inn and impressed Marima, his phrase, “Do you want to stop singing that? Because I want to stop hearing it.” rattling around in her head since she'd heard it. That and the looped memory of the aftermath of the drunk getting what he'd deserved for not shutting up fast enough which would replay at random in her head had coupled together in a way she found hard to ignore. During the scuffle Glasses had lost his specs, and she wore them on her head now, hoping to see him again and start a conversation.

The boy with all the questions had been nowhere to be seen after that, and Keziah still feared the worst, guilt disturbing her for not reaching him in time. She'd not make the same mistake again, pointedly poisoning a dagger she'd located and leaving it in an obvious but not too obvious place on the bookcase in the mage's apartments.

“Shit,” Marima breathed from her lookout position. “They're here.”

“Well timed, then. Out the window?”

“Mmh. She'll come this way too, right?”

“Lets hope.”

The blade did its job. And while he spluttered and spat and crapped his guts through his belly, Pennington whined and hissed at the thrall unmasking before his eyes. “Ungrateful bitch... This is the thanks for allowing you the scraps from my plate? Letting you sleep here and not in the street, you little rat? I may die here today, but at least I was somebody. You will live and die as nothing to no-one, just as you never have been or ever will be in all of your days. You and the rest of you fucking cockroaches. You will die alone and hated by all who meet you. Fucking dirty whore – no one will want you after this – you've just lost your chance at a place in Albion's favour with us, the absolute best you could have hoped for, you fucking vermin. You'll never be any better than that, you will never find peace, or Hessonia forbid, breed children, and if you do, you'll have to sell yourself forever to make enough coin to raise them right. And they'll know. They'll know exactly what you are. No one will want a piece of shit like you after they find out you've done this, and all who look upon you will see the devil that you are. You will be hunted down. You will get what you deserve.”

She laughed at him then, “You seem angry, my man. Maybe I dunno, calm down a little? All this stress isn't good for a man in your condition, you know?” She hunkered over him, stealing his purse while he writhed and bled. “What's the matter? You pissed that you'll never get your coin’s worth out of me now? Choke harder about it.”

Spite was the last thing he'd ever be aware of, pouring it into the first verse of a hex as she robbed him, rummaging high and low for loot, while he lay in his own viscera and shit. She wished the weird, metallic smell in the apartment would change because of it, but had little hope.

“Aww, a curse? Whatever shall I do? What is this – a muting? Original. As if I've never been silenced for the truth before. Go on then, do your worst. You've got about thirty seconds left.” She continued to rummage, humming annoyingly to show it hadn't taken effect. “Ohh... Here we go. Jackpot.” She'd found the scrolls she'd been sent to recover on the continuum theory, as well as how to heal wounds and how to turn frenetic. Searching deeper still, she found all the things he'd promised at the start of her apprenticeship, but had no intention of delivering on, about advancement in telepathy. Knew more than you thought, fuck-o.

No answer from him now, and she became transfixed on him the closer he came to the end. Watching the mage die, she paused her scan of the scrolls she is stealing, sitting cross-legged in front of him, watching his pupils dilate and glaze over to nothing, letting out her own held in breath only after his rotten last. Fuck you very much for passing so I didn't have to, Pennington. Enjoy hell.

On a corner of parchment, she scrawled a note. Flicking it out of the window before heading to the door, a shadow passed over her, cold over her grave. Shying away from the absence of light, pressed to the wall, a figure she vaguely recognised from somewhere was on the roof across the street, bow and arrow in hand.

What the fuck is he doing here.

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