Episode 3.

CW: Alcohol Mention, Knives

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Issané wakes, sweet morning sunshine sticking tiny pins into her eyelids, a piercing shriek in her head telling her she is still alive. Undressed, save for a jacket, groggy and needing water, she says a small plea to herself while she comes round. It works. Amazed by a warm, clean fur covering her, she found herself still in one relative piece – and discovering her throat not severed ear to ear, she smiles. Pleased with herself, black lashes split open again, and Tristin’s face surprises her, sleeping mere inches from hers.

She swallowed hard at his proximity. Refocussed sight flicks to the bared, visible marks on him, and pondering, studying closer, she noted how they came to be. Scorched. Thought so. Some kind of fire. Her gaze followed the lines of his skin as it twists this way and that. The picture of raw, blistered flesh before its chance to heal, and an accident which would have caused him such an injury crackled through her brain, and she wonders if he'll let her touch... She wishes she were there to mend him at the time. Whoever had taken care of him had done a good job, but they were no healer. Too close to his thoughts, an overwhelming sense of burning flesh filled her mind, and she suppresses the urge to gag. Wrinkling her nose, the Paladin bandits nearby still carried an essence of singed hair – her worst smell, and she considers it better she wasn’t with them back then after all. Throwing up on him would not have made the best impression while he recovered.

Biting her lip to see if it'd stopped bleeding, it hurt, and she winced, pulling a face. A balm? That'd explain the strange taste...? Lavender with Witch Hazel? Someone here knows their way around a herbalist’s shop. Waiting for the sting to leave her, she continued the inner checking of herself. Yep, yep, and yep. Nothing broken. All good. A pair of bloody blades wouldn’t go amiss though. Bet they’ve nicked my knife. Aching from the cold and wanting warm clothes, she debated getting under his fur or staring at him some more. She decides on the latter, shivering, thinking of last night. He wouldn't cut her himself, another thing she'd got wrong, but who'd done all this?

He stirred then, and she freezes, not wanting her fidgeting to be the thing to wake him. Committing every fine detail to memory in a heartbeat, an abrupt fear zinged through her that this would be the last time they’d be so close, but, still remembering the night before, she smiled. This one's eyes. Like a sky after the homestar had set. A shade of deep indigo, shot through with the same dynamism as Jed’s. Golden speckles in his instead of fiery orange. Not fire in him. Something... else? Even without his power showing, she saw how well his flecks matched her own amber, cat-like ones. Looking at them up close and with such intent makes her grin widen more and more, and she shook the doubt from her mind. Bound to take her along with them, she'd get a second chance to show them what she’d come here for.

Jumping up out of the furs – away from the not sleeping girl in his bed roll – Tristin stalks off, fleeing at a pace. Above all, because he was desperate to piss, but also because she was watching him again. Taken very much aback by that – what was it – that stare? The mettle she had jangled his nerves, not even a sliver of fear to her. Not that she should be afraid, but most people... He yawned, and scratched at the corner of his jaw. Mid-leak against a tree, enjoying the sound of light pattering on steel helmet, he cringed when he remembered his actions the night before, and squinted in the sun. The way she examined him. She inspected him. Everyone looked – and even though he hated it, it was worse when they averted their eyes, pretending they weren't – but she saw. She looked past the scars, and saw him.

When she did, somehow without a word she told him; 'Yeah, they are really, really bad. What happened must have hurt you. You're still trapped there, but you know, you're so much more than that...' It wasn't any old vague platitude, nor mere lip service, it pinpointed exactly where he was in his own thoughts, and he did know it. He wanted out, needed a reason to break free. To let go of all that. Still, he was unsure if he had the right to feel anything like he could, yet she met him where he was, and said he must. Put it on a silver platter for him. He wanted to. He wanted everything that came with admitting so.

And then he'd gone and lost his bottle over marking her. Which plainly didn't make any sense – not that any of the last few situations he'd found himself in did. Better to keep this new worry to himself for the time being, along with all the others. He reasoned, casual as he could manage, justifying his actions to himself, turning the night before over in his mind. She'd suffered a beating, and that was no one else but his fault. Sick at ruminating on how he'd turned his back, it was pure luck which had given him enough sway to stop Kayn at all. Without luck, there was no telling how far he'd have gone. Or who would have been next on the list.

Guts churned, anxious. This new turn of events didn't sit well, too many pieces of shit hitting the fan, and leaving the camp he had no idea what he was doing in, he searched out Reed and hunting weapons on the way. They'd need food. And finding food... That he'd at least manage to do.

The site picked clean, not even a hair remained. Everything bagged and tagged now loaded into the cart, Reed was quick to commandeer Issané’s wooden chest for himself, with a fair few new weapons to bring along too. All accounted for by Kayn, sat on his driving bench, not appeased by the day or so which had passed, agitated still. The rest of the Sanguine make to leave with him, readying their horses together while Axel tries his best to make light of their situation. “Well then. That’s us done here. That's a nice cart too. Rich pickings actually, not a bad spot. On to the next...?” He gestures to the girl, sheepish. “What are we doing about this one?”

Spitting, derisive, from the cart onto the ground, Kayn is in utter disgust, and it showed. “I dunno? Tie her to a tree and starve her? Cut off a limb and make her watch rats eat it? Leave her there for the next band of boys passing by?” The Paladin bandits, now all awake, were less than pleased by the robbery in progress – Reed's knots thankfully doing their job, according to the threats they were making. “Let these boys in on the secret that she led us straight to them? It'd be easy to atone after, worth an hour in the chapel, max.”

“Fucking hell, Kayn.” Jed chips in, “Calm down. Tris will hear you.”

“Give. A. Bollocks. I don’t want her anywhere near. Don’t think he really gives a shit about it anyway, do you? Ain't looking much like it to me.” He batted his lashes at him, clutching at his heart, dripping with sarcasm. “Hardly the cutest pair of lovebirds now, are they...?”

“TRIS!” Axel cut him off, interrupting. “OI...! WHAT ABOUT THE GIRL?”

Kayn replied by sniffing back hard, preparing to spit again, until he catches the revulsion showing on his leaders face, which stops him in his tracks.

Ahead of the group with Reed, Tristin shrugs, annoyed, but by no means acknowledging them. He'd heard him. He heard them all, and they bloody well knew it. And honestly? Kayn wasn’t far wrong. At least, as much as he can make out for himself. This girl. She has... something about her. In the cold light of day, he still can’t put his finger on it – despite the time he’d spent pretending he wasn't trying to. This confusion, he concludes, is better left alone. There were a million reasons she was better off with Jed anyway.

Knowing the stubborn, resolute back facing him now, Jed, on cue, placed his hand on her shoulder. Protective now, reassuring, he knew him too well to leave her behind or do any of the things Kayn suggested, and mounting his horse, he offered her a lift into the saddle. “Come on then, you. Up here with me. You’ll be safe. Promise.” He smirked down at her when she took his hand, a cover for the guilt at her wincing in pain as she climbed. “Just don't squash my cock, okay?” Murder in his face, ominously steering the wagon away from him, he ignored Kayn’s extra dramatic flounce. A little impressed he was able to pull it off in a horse-drawn cart, he disregarded Axel’s silent, cautious warning too. Eyes rolling at the pair of them, he settled with her, checking, “Got everything?” She nods, and he tuts, handing her a small leather bag, jingling the coins she'd earned the night before, only satisfied once she'd secured it inside a pocket.

And at the night fire, the atmosphere is tense, a frost spiking the air, something they all feel, noticing that they are sitting closer to each other and the fire than usual. Discussing the direction they should take next, they eat their latest catch and drink as they listen to Axel talk. “...And Tris. You've done well with Reed these past weeks. Lots of fat purses and fat rabbits. Summer must have been alright for them up here. Might be enough for us to sell?”

“Mmm,” Jed agreed, “might be that we can get a deer to hang, which'd get a nice price.”

“We could get out of the cold for at least a few nights, then? This weather will start to freeze out here soon, so we need to find better winter gear anyway. Only a few weeks left before that. May as well do it in comfort. What do you think?”

“Aye. We’ve done okay. It’s getting colder though, you’re right. Ground frost in a few weeks, a month, maybe. I thought hunting would be quiet up here. Not too much in the way of deer, mind, but we maybe can get one or two. We must be near a bigger city, there’s been a ton of coin. Reed knows how much, since Jed here’s been so tied up lately.” Tristin looked up from his dish. “You’ve missed some cracking shots, mate...” Careless, he makes accidental eye contact with the girl. Next to his brother, her virtual sparkle at the resonance of his voice caught him off guard, and shock shut him up instantly, cutting off his sentence.

Betrayed by his nudging at her, he watched Jed whisper while he grinned along too. “See? What did I say? He's coming round... You got a full four seconds out of him then.”

She did not return any more of his smile, her face falling instead. Sitting on her hands, she wanted to use them to block the ringing of Kayn's blaring, incredulous shout.

She is not coming with us. No way. Tristin can find the bitch a cell and lock her up if he wants to, but no way is that... Thing staying with us. Nowhere near us, you hear me?”

Axel lowers his pitch, careful. “Okay Kayn. Look. We’ll find a cell. We only want a nice warm bed for a few weeks. You can look for a cell for her with Jed. Find her somewhere good, and she’ll be locked up tight. You can choose whichever one you want, to make sure. There's more than enough coin spare. Hey... Look at me? This’ll be the plan, okay?” Doing absolute fuck all to calm him, he changes tack. “Jed, what’s the next village? You remember the name of the area we’re in? Talk it over with him, will you?”

He leaves his charge sitting alone, crossing the camp to his friend with a low, “Aye, I will.” before chirping, “Here then Kayn, want to share some mead with me? Is there cider still? You still got a barrel on your cart? Show me where it is.”

High-pitched at his words, Kayn spoke sharply. “Don’t fucking treat me like a kid, Jed. I’ll share a drink with you, but don’t pretend to me that I don’t know what...” He paused to stab a finger in Axel's direction, “...that little prick is up to.” As he removed himself, his voice trailed off into the distance. “Fuck him. I’m done. No, Jed. I’m not having any more of this bullshit. Fuck him...”

Issané is wide-eyed, and Axel shifted in his seat, uncomfortable. Looking in Kayn’s direction as he left, Reed kept his voice low as his eyebrows raised in humoured revelation. “You dodged quite the arrow there.”

“Good job you weren't shooting, then, eh?”

His manner changed at that. “Err, that's not even remotely funny. Look. Why don’t you... You know... Tell him? Say you said the wrong thing. Tell him you’ve messed up, again. Tell him you’re sorry. You know, again. Tell him...” Furtive, he looked around him. “Mate. This is beginning to get well out of hand. Even Tris is breaking rules now? At the very least, this might be a good time to stop getting on at him about keeping a blade at his belt.”

Axel, mournful, murmurs. “Whatever I say to him now is going to be the wrong thing. He pretty much hates me by now.”

“Stars... You know that isn't true...” Reed’s resolve wanes, and a deep sigh takes flight at his advice going unheeded yet again – perceiving his demeanour, and leaving it. He thought about how they’d got into this mess, reminded of the first time he’d ever seen Kayn. Wishing he'd foreseen how much trouble he'd bring them since that first day, he watched his leader keep his mouth shut, and he realised how all of the words he is desperate to say threaten to escape him now. If they did, a likely chance of all hell actually, legitimately breaking loose might occur, and so, he appreciated the reason why he kept them in. Watching him blink, crestfallen, Axel shook his head, not opening his eyes again until his palms had given his face the once over.

“Tell him?” He exhaled, somewhere between a snort and a gulp. “If things were that easy...”

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