Episode 30.

CW: Overt Homophobia Mention, Violence Mention, Smut.

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Finished crowing about Issané's latest victory, Kayn felt the weight of Axel's silence, knowing the look he had. Obviously ruminating over something or other, he usually tried to catch him out, knowing his tendency to drift off, he would chide him playfully for not listening properly. Not today. Something else was on that mind of his, and so he left it. And as much as he had enjoyed coaching his arse-kicking protégé, he’d savored having some type of command over Axel even more. Although that was coming to an end – the closer they came to finding their destination, the more power he wanted back.

Taking all that time together in bed had paid off, adding to the bond between them. Plus, it was revealed fairly early on that Kayn loved to go all the way down town, so there was that, he grinned to himself. Axel was also proving to be a massive tease and had a kink for hearing him beg, and finding that out had been a fun afternoon indeed. They’d eased the pressure on themselves by metering out the things they wanted from each other, talking it out, agreeing first. Although, it was still hard to get Axel to allow himself to relax enough so that he could show him what he wanted most. Between them, that was entirely another thing. Commanding by nature, but still shy, for all their open honesty, he was still wary of going too far.

Kayn snickered to himself, surprised at realizing that it was his go-getting, super-proactive mate who still had the last boundary they needed time to cross. It melted his heart as it filled more and more, the cold, empty shell that used to ache with a loneliness he'd forced upon himself, for the sake of his own protection, would now flutter whenever he looked that look at him.

And he did more often than not, recently.

And as time passed, he'd proved himself again and again that he was still virtually bombproof where he was concerned. How far that would stretch to the others, and for how long for, he didn't know. No-one else had seemed to notice that their leader had been in this extremely calm state for entirely too long.

Axel had always been direct. He didn’t pussyfoot around him, or try to protect him when he didn’t need it, or say things he didn’t mean. He never had to tell him he'd overreacted, or that he was 'only joking', or that he'd taken things too seriously again and needed to lighten up, and the more he tested that, Kayn had settled further and further into the awareness that what they had found together is one hundred per cent for real. That open honesty and lack of gaslighting was the very thing that had attracted him to him in the first place. He knew he'd be here with him, and agreed, wholehearted, whenever he told him he wished it had been sooner. All that time on the road as comrades, now, they were as one.


At least now, he could safely tell him about the injury he'd been keeping from him. He knew it was alright to explain where that trigger came from. He could tell that there wouldn’t be a bad reaction to the story if he did. The scar on his mind for a while now, he was aware it meant something to tell him about it. It meant something that he'd have seen it many times, but never once asked because he'd told him not to. Strengthening their trust was always another step closer, and he, for one, was ready.

Finally settled from the day, Kayn was quietened from babbling about this and that, and Axel leaned back, resting his head on him now. Absent, twirling at one of his coils, he repeatedly wound it between his fingers. Only Kayn was permitted out of the others, allowed to touch what he called 'The Hair'. Only he had his own level of obsessive concentration for the repetitive picking and re-twisting of it. Only he was patient enough to be gentle.

He grinned at the familiarity. Not being able to remember the last time he’d had to do his whole head himself, he did not miss the ache in his arms afterwards. Kayn was the one who kept the specially sharpened blade with the rest of his gear, in a ‘safe’ place away from certain others. For hair only, nothing else allowed to touch it, he made sure they all knew.

Wriggling to get comfortable, he spied the mark on his leg, a zing of surprise through him at it being completely uncovered. In their casualness, wearing next to nothing as usual, he could almost feel his eyes burning, resting on the blemish that marred the tender pale skin there. His contented grin faded at the sight of it, self-conscious that he would be aware of his staring. Usually he kept it covered whenever he could, although less so recently, but not tonight. It must have been a mistake. He knew he shouldn't stare, yet he hated the fact he could not take his eyes off it...

“You’re quiet tonight, Axel.”

“Mmh. Just thinking things over.”

“You have been non-stop for a while. Busy busy.” His voice came softly. “I can feel you looking at it. I know you are. The mark? That scar? It’s killing you not to know, right?”

“Only because you can't tell me.” There was little point being less frank.

“Alright. It’s not a secret, I, just... that one is hard to talk about. But I will. I’ll tell you.” A deep breath in, he closed his eyes. Knowing he isn’t looking directly at him, the half evening light of the tent giving him plenty of cover, he began by telling him how it wasn't a cut at all. In their relaxed intimacy together, in the quiet comfort, the pent-up story was ready to be shared.

“You don’t have to...”

“No, it’s alright. Just... Don’t get angry, okay? Promise me?”

“Mm-hm. Promise.”

“Okay... well.” Kayn paused, leaning over for his cup, swallowing a gulp from it. “Of course I was a kid, about six or seven, I think. Some Youth Cadets in the village near our camp gave me this... brand. They did it...” He sighed, looking for the words he wanted. “They gave me that once they found out I didn't like girls in the same way that they all did. They'd got me when I was alone, when I'd been running around in the fields near my camp, and stopped me for a 'routine check', and before I knew it I'd been tethered to a tree.”

“Fucking skinheads...” Axel tensed, squashing his reaction, letting him have room to speak. He'd heard that the Guards did this, but in all his time he had never seen it, thinking of it as an urban legend. A mere tale to warn children to behave. It was a vile act, cruel and intended to shame, but he never thought that it could actually be true. He never thought they would do it to a kid.

“They used a hot iron, the same one that was used for marking their livestock. When they pinned me to the ground, they told me that everyone should know that when my trousers came down, that was what I was. No more than an animal. ‘A pig in shit’ they chanted. They said that everyone had the right to know what I was and that they were helping me out anyway, since no girl of theirs would want to touch me after they saw it. Not that one would come near me in the first place, since I was so disgusting to them. They said I must have wanted to be marked, flaunting that I liked boys so much and this was what I deserved for not hiding it.” He sniffed, and shook his head, fingers fluttered next to his ear for a beat. “I can still hear the way they laughed when I screamed to be let go.”

Wincing, saddened by the story, he stayed silent, and encouraged him to go on. It wasn't all. There was more.

“They only stopped laughing after they’d done it.” The snort from him was bitter. “Oh no, they weren’t smiling at all after that. Something... I don’t know. Something happened to me in that moment, while they were pinning me, burning me. The ice. I didn’t feel the pain in my leg. It ran... Ah, stars, it ran right through me and made everything burn. I didn’t know what was happening until they were pulling me off one of the bigger boys, screaming like a banshee at him. I didn’t know what those silver shards in me were, or even that I could call on them. No one had ever spoken to me about it before, you know? I don’t think any off them even knew turning frenetic was a real thing. I was frightened for sure, Axel, but I went way, way past defending myself to escape. I'd broken bones and knocked their teeth loose, and not even known how. One boy... Oh fuck, I... I caught him in the eye. It was such a fucking mess...”

He sat up, and he moved to allow him, as he reached for more cider, suddenly parched. Squeezing his eyes shut, rubbing at them, willing the memory to pass, he collected himself to continue, on the edge of the bed. Beside him, patient, Axel waited for him to begin again, after another long draught from his cup. He listened as he explained how he was told by the skinhead cadets that he would be considered contaminated by this altercation, due to the unfair advantage in his fight, and how he was too far gone by now for any purity ritual to reinstate his place in his camp.

“Then, sudden as it was there, it was gone, and I was weak again, standing in my smallclothes, shivering like a baby. They tied me good and proper after that. They said they'd make sure my camp went on without me, that they'd get one of their girls to tip them off that Albion was coming so they'd move on in a hurry.” He chewed on his lip and sighed, looking down. “They said I was still small enough for the workhouses to take me in, so there wouldn't have to be any guilt... And it would be safer there than if I was allowed to stay, since it was probable that I would hurt my mother and sister.” He exhaled, sharp. “As if I could ever hurt her, or a four-year-old. A baby...” He swallowed another mouthful, draining his cup. “They all agreed that once rumours about my ice got out, Albion would come for me anyway, and it must be true that my camp would prefer their vans not burned down to the ground while they searched for me. And they did. I could see them through the treeline, but they couldn't hear me. And I watched them pack up and leave me there.”

The last part had been twisted slightly to save Axel from the truth. More than that, the reality of how his family were forced to leave him behind was something that he still could not find the words to describe. Bound for a night and a day, out of sight of the vans that he could still see, out of earshot no matter how hard he shouted, the girl with the message had promised to let him go as soon as the camp had finished packing up, and that the other Cadets were just trying to teach him a lesson and scare him. He would still be able to catch them, if he could run hard enough. Instead, when the time came, she shot his dog with an arrow, while his sibling looked out of the last van as it disappeared out of sight. Eventually breaking free, and pulling the arrow out, there was enough left in the pup to follow, at his heels where he always was, until he wasn't any more. And then he was alone.

“These Protectors that David was talking about? The New Guard? They sound like full-grown cadets to me. And if that's what we're up against-” He swallowed, chest suddenly tight. “Ripping families apart. All those kids. Eliza... Evanne...”

“You must have been thinking about what happened back then a lot lately...”

“Meadowfield was a reminder for sure, but something like that never really leaves you. You don't heal from trauma, you just live with what they did to you, and hope that no one reminds you of it.”

“I know. I'm so sorry. I thought-”

“You thought I'd been chased out.”

“No, well... more that I thought you'd run away. I never imagined the truth...” He shook his head and sighed. “Do you think you could go back to your family, if you wanted to, if we found them?”

“Nope. Too much time has passed. They'd be strangers now, and that's not for me. I don't think they'd even know me if they saw me. Finding out if that's true is too hard to deal with.” He realized Axel's manner had shifted. “Shit. You're seething.”

“You fucking bet I am. You've carried that around with you for years and years, and for what? For their shits and giggles? And now all of these new worries making you remember how much that hurt? It's not fucking fair.” A knot formed in his throat at the words he’d heard, vividly picturing the small boy alone in a field, in a forest, on the road, not knowing where to turn. Restrained from the safety of his firelight, his camp, and cast into the unknown – away from all he'd ever loved – he wished he could have taken him by the hand and led him to safety then. To somewhere he could be kept from harm for the rest of his life.

“You're trying to feel it. You want to know in your heart what that cruelty was like for me. Don't. Okay. Stop it. That pain will eat you up and completely destroy you.”

“You're not destroyed.”

“Who said anything about me? I'm talking about you. You still remember your parents. You remember how they loved you. You still have their energy in you, you know they would still be proud of you if they met you now. It shows in the way you talk about them. I'm telling you, do not let anyone or anything replace that memory. Promise me, Axel. When you look back, you still see them. When I look back, there's nothing.” He dipped his head, shy. “Well, there used to be nothing. Now when I look back, I see you.”

“Oh my god, my heart is gonna burst all the way open!” He whined, laughing, the searing zing of anger diffused into a glow. “What are you trying to do to me?”

“I know. I do know it.” He simpered back, settling into comfort again. “The way you feel is something I can feel and know and keep for myself. I know where my heart is because of you – its alive in there now, and I never thought I could have this. I'm happy. I'm really really happy.”

“And...?” He could see what he was dancing around.

“Let me say it on my own, alright? Don't force it.”

“Mmmh. I can wait...”

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