Episode 4.

CW: Sexual Assault Mention, Knives.

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Outrunning the guards yet again, a well known hiding place is within a young Reed’s sights as he laughs, and pelts towards it. Sliding under the usual dray with the busted wheel, a mousy blonde, too-skinny kid surprises him, already beneath it. Without wasting a breath, an even younger Kayn shoves up, allowing him in, bold in spreading his weight over the top of him once he was. What there was of him.

“Hey!” Reed is sceptical, somewhat irritated by this intrusion. “What are you doing here? Go away! We'll get seen!”

Kayn wriggled, still trying to get on top of Reed's back, wanting to share the space between them. “Nah, there's room for both of us. These guards are too lazy for their own good. Run on automatic, mostly. Won't come this far in the alley. If they do, they’ll try to poke their swords around in the top of the bed. Too big to look underneath here. Far too much armour on...”

“They after you as well?” He laughed. “What did you do?”

“Stopped a street boy from getting half fucked to death. What are you in for?”

Reed showed him the bag in his hand. “Stole all this bread.” A distinct belly rumble reaches his ears, and he watched the smaller kid try to remember, or forget, when he last ate. A closer look. Deep rings under his eyes, chapped lips. Severe dehydration. Had he even heard of sleep?

The boy's response was nothing short of irritable. “Shut up. I'm trying to think...” Realising his rudeness he is apologetic, patting Reed on the back of his head, to his increasing annoyance. “Not you.” Another pause. “You're right. They're gonna find us, and you’ll definitely be the one for the chopping block if they do. Heh, turns out, you're pretty good at this.” He paused a beat longer. “Alright, then. Other side of this fence is the river. Bread'll be fine, so long as you don't go in. Aaah... What else? Oh, there's a ledge, but it's tiny. I'll try and stop you falling if I can. You ready?”

The kid's rapid breathing gave away the fear under his bravado, and Reed understood. “I don't fancy losing my head or getting fucked to death, if that's what you're asking.”

Kayn giggled. “Ahaa! It’d take'm ages, someone your size! Alright then. Let's go.”

Sure enough, studded boots threaten to come too far into the alley. Over the rails already, Reed clung to Kayn's hand as he struggled to grapple the wood behind him. Injured from the scuffle he'd been in earlier, this was something he hadn't thought to mention when devising their escape, and the taller boy – seeing tears well – clutched at the bread now inches from the water, as the weaker strained to speak. Somehow instructing him to put the sack-cloth between his teeth, he still has an unexpected amount of strength to pull him in, and making their way, hand over hand, foot over foot along the back side of the fence, Reed caught him still snuffling as he went, doing a terrible job of hiding it. At the end of the upright planks, there was a jump down onto a grassy bank next to a bridge, and there, they catch their breath.

“I did not reckon we were going to pull that off.”

The kid sniffed hard again, sucking air between his teeth, in an obvious amount of pain. “You nearly pulled my fucking hand off...”

“Ah sorry. I saw. I can have a go at fixing it if you'd like. I'm pretty good with this kind of thing. I'll bind it for you. I've got medicines back at camp.” He eyed the injury. “Pain and... antiseptic. I can stitch too. You'd be welcome if you want?”

“Camp...?” Doubt formed a tightness in Kayn’s face. “I dunno. I'm not good in groups. Or being the new one in one, ya know? Thanks and all for the nice offer, but I'm not really a camp kind of guy.”

“Are you more a stubborn little twerp, rather starve to death, let your hand rot and fall off kind of guy, then? There's no more than four of us. This is way too much bread. Almost a waste – it’ll easily mould before we'll finish it all...”

The smaller boy stood, wiping his good hand on his arse, brushing the grass off, making to leave. “Nah. Cheers though. Cool meeting you. Maybe we'll bump into each other again. Who knows?”

“There's honey.” Sure enough, Reed heard an empty yowl from where he was still sitting. When he looked up, the kid had paused in his retreat, an odd expression on his screwed up face – still doubt, but mixed now with a pinched urge to demolish an entire cottage loaf bigger than his head in one sitting.

“And mead, then?”

He shrugged. “What else do you do with honey...?” The subtle trick worked, and he watched Kayn think about all the things he could put honey on, scratching at the outgrown undercut below his bun, still wary, considering his options. Awkward, getting up from the wrong angle and catching him up, he exhaled a knowing laugh as the boy fell into step with him. “Alright then... Let's go?”

Reed had covered the boy with furs after he'd dropped off the edge of the world. Barely managing to eat a quarter of what he’d been given, saying he couldn’t fit any more in, he'd overprescribed his dose, telling the others there must have been even less food in him than he assumed. He was fretful, feeling responsible, and staying on hand through the night in case he threw it all back up again. But the next morning Kayn had left. Waking before any of the rest, sleep had made a world of difference. With a bucket, the fur he’d slept in, and the knife they’d shown him the night before – a butterfly knife they'd found in the chest of someone less fortunate than they'd been on that day – he'd gone down to the river.

Feeling much better, he'd wanted to tidy himself up. Make a better impression on them. Even if his clothes were tatty, and so there would never be some huge fairytale transformation for him, there was no reason he needed to look like shit. With no one awake to explain this to, he made for the water. Mind full of the breakfast he would eat when he got back, and returning with the gear, he was oblivious, flicking the knife while kicking at leaves as he meandered, daydreaming.

He’d stayed the night and woken in the morning, and so now, he supposed, he was one of them. Pleased twice over, it was one of the pivot pins that was a tad on the sticky side last night and he’d managed to loosen it again. Only the moons knew how long it had taken him, but he could open and close the knife in one hand, doing so as he walked, his thoughts on the wild eggs and mushrooms they said they’d kept for the morning, hoping there'd be butter for the bread that was left, dreaming of toast if there was. Until he heard shouting the closer he got. Wondering vaguely who, and why, and thinking that maybe he should have returned with some water in the bucket for them, their argumentative yelling pulled him back towards reality, and there he'd found Jed getting into his fire. Giving Reed a bollocking, he was blaming him for letting them get robbed.

”...But it’s your fault we have to find another town anyway.” Jed was yelling loudest. “That was a good town, and thanks to you we have to leave. Because of you. You're the one who let the guards see you this time, you little bellend. They could be five minutes away from us now, and you want to hang around here?”

Not intimidated by this in the slightest, Reed waited for him to finish. “Are you done? Because we're staying put for now. End of story. He'll be back, and we'll be here when he is. I honestly don't understand why you're still arguing...”

“It's your fault they're coming. That's why.” A hand raked the length of his tresses. “But the guards are the least of our worries now though, aren't they? Not only did you get spotted, now you're assuming you can bring any old stray bag of bones back with you? Half our stuff will be gone before you know what you’re about.”

“You saw him, though, didn’t you?” Reed voiced what they were all thinking. “You saw why I couldn’t leave him? Are you saying you would have done? Because,” He laughed, scoffing. “I seriously doubt it...”

Watching him walk back into the clearing, it was Tristin who'd spotted how Kayn realised they’d packed up, and were almost gone on without him. Rigid at the scene, unsure how to react, rather than argue it was obvious he felt safer walking away. Jed, however, wasn't about to let him get off unscathed. Not the only one to spot him standing there in the break in the trees at the last second, he wasted no time accusing him outright. “There he is. Get back here, you little fucking shit...”

Clear that his welcome was now outstayed, he showed him every sign he already knew too well. Processing his situation, this boy bearing down on him and yelling his head off held fire magic in his power. Might be a bit dangerous to take him on. And it wasn’t as though he could fight back this minute anyway. Dropping the things on the ground so Reed could collect them, he thanked them for their hospitality, kicking himself for doing so, and made to leave.

“Oh no. No no no. Get your skinny arse back here. You're not gonna be wriggling out of this that easy. Did you really think you'd steal from us and get away with it? That we wouldn’t catch up with you? Are you trying to end up back in the city? Is that what you want? Because you’re going the right way about it...”

Missing every hint to stop, Jed, accusing, is on edge out in the forest. Yet Reed barked then, patience gone. “Can't you shut up?” He gestured around him for support. “Can someone shut him up? Axel...? No? Tris? Anyone want to put him out of his misery?” Unclear if it was his wisest move, Axel said nothing, hands up, backing away, and Jed was fit to explode. Ignoring them both, and turning back to the boy, he insisted, “Pay him no mind. Stay with us. At the very least until this hand has finished healing itself.” He reached out as though to calm, and Kayn dodged to the side, away, a reflex. Squinting at that, he approached faster than the boy could back away, not missing his flinch as he took him by the arm. Matron-like, he disregarded that too, shoving him into a sitting position on a nearby tree stump – and crouching while he checked him over, he scolded him for taking off his bandage.

His voice was small in response. “It got wet, and then it was itchy...”

“Well, keep it dry then...” When he looked up, he'd expected tears. He didn't get them, or any sort of eye contact, but he saw instead a faint glitter under his lashes. Between them, just a nod in recognition, and he'd hidden his mirth at his discovery.

The only one to step in to temper Jed, Tristin stood in his way, persisting in getting his attention. “Look. He's returned with the gear, hasn't he? Clearly, he wasn't stealing if he came back? Why don't you ask him instead of accusing him? Look Jed. Will you look at him? I know you're uptight out here but it's no fair to take that out on him, is it?”


“Don't you think you're being a bit rough on him?”

He sulked, arms crossed and leaning on a tree, heel tapping. “Fucking... Maybe.”

“Perhaps then, you should, I don't know, talk to him?”

Genuine then, aware this kid might have felt frightened, he deigned to apologise, and explained himself. “Look, it's like this. If the weapon was missing, anyone could’ve lifted it. That means we're open to attack, especially out here. You do get that, right?”

Still Kayn snapped back, not taken in by his sudden switch in agreeableness, suspicious of it. “It’s a tool, and not a weapon, dickhead, and that means there’s a difference.” Muttering something under his breath, Jed caught it anyway, his flames fanned again.

“What the fuck was that, you little cun-? What did you call me?” He gave his brother a deadly scowl, “Did you hear that? Did you hear what he said?” Measured, shaking his head, Tristin warned him, but all that achieved was his friend elbowing him hard in the ribs, as he made to pass. “Go on, say it again.” He glanced down, heat rising. An arm still in his way. He glared at it, following all the way back up to him still shaking his head no, and took up pointing instead. “Nah, nah, nah. I heard exactly what you said. I know exactly what it means, and I fucking dare you to say it to my face.”

Stepping up efforts to restrain him, the kid answered back. “Fuck off, Jimmy Big Bollocks. I ain’t scared of a giant piss-flap like you.” He whispered to Reed and told him, “I warned you this wouldn’t go well.”

Laughing, staunch in paying no mind to what was happening behind him, and re-binding his hand, Reed was too busy telling him how it wouldn't ever heal right without. Instructing him to keep the bandage on this time, and to keep it in the sling if he can as well, he offered more pain relief, noting how avidly he took it. Advising him to take Jed at his word about watching that kind of language in front of him, he asked how old he was. It’d taken Kayn a while to remember he is the wrong side of thirteen by a hair, and they are all surprised. Roughly the same age as Tristin give or take half a year, he must have been half his size.

He seemed much, much younger.

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