CW: Description of Gore, Limb Removal, Knives.
Tristin, quiet throughout the conversation at the fire between Axel and Reed, eyed the girl as she sat alone. Watching her become distracted by their subject matter, he recognised her sitting on her hands, rhythmic in the swinging of her toe, and saw the pensive look she wore. Cussing to himself – begging the stars for a reason why – he knows that for her, it’s already too late. Cautious of staring too long, he compared his weapon to her boot knife. He would skin a whole deer with his, no bother, but hers was a mean little glass blade, with an intricate mark etched into the heel. He'd never seen anything like it before, and had no idea what the emblem meant. He wanted to ask her the story behind it, but...
The weapons he held reminded him of another they’d found once, and thoughts shift from her first night in camp, to Kayn's. It was obvious he was on guard when Reed introduced him, and the girl somehow reminded him of back then. All older than he was, it wasn't so much that, more that they were all way bigger than him, and he’d hardly spoken at all that night, constant in watching, alert, gauging his safety with them. The medicines Reed gave him took hold too fast and he’d suffered a stronger than intended effect, although, even before he'd swallowed them, it seemed as though he'd rather have done nothing but slept for a year.
Back there now, he remembered talking over their latest find, passing it between them and wondering how to fix it when Reed arrived back, his new ward in tow. He knew what Kayn was thinking while he sat with them, taking his turn at looking at the blade too. He'd been there himself many times with Jed. He saw resignation in his face. If he can wake up in the morning, he knows they are decent people. If not, then never mind.
An expression he saw across the fire from him now.
A familiar question pops into his mind, as he replaced that memory with a better one. This was one day they'd remembered together a thousand times, a well-known fable from their shared history. Kayn'd told them later that he'd felt gutted he'd managed to piss them off so quickly, but said he couldn't ever form the idea why. He wanted to explain he’d taken the things because they were as much his as they were theirs, but the words wouldn't come. And although they laughed about it together now, two points still remained unanswered. He wonders again, would they really have left without him? And who would really have won out of Jed and Reed if they’d ended up fighting?
Still sour as they left, Jed was griping, insistent that he was only really annoyed about a girl he was leaving behind, the others mocking that she was no more than a figment of his imagination. Kayn was blatant in his discomfort on the subject, and they’d begun chiding him for being too young to understand. Yet he’d bit back again, not hesitant in explaining to them it was because he likes boys – and after screwing up his face at their questioning how he could know that for sure, he’d fired straight back, not shy in asking who they thought about when they, 'Cranked down in self-love town'.
Reed flatly denied ever doing such a thing, which Kayn said was bizarre, since he was the oldest of them, and Jed had deflected the attention from his flustered friend. Calmed, his earlier ruffled feathers forgotten by this new discovery, and chipping in, he told him how he might sometimes see a building with a roof that looked like a boob, or a weird hole in a tree or something. Smirking along with them, Kayn explained. “Well then, it’s the same for me. But the things I like are never girl related. Like,” He flicked a hand, “not ever.”
This disclosure provoked Jed into questioning him further. “So, you've never ever been with a girl? I mean, you don’t know until you try, right?”
Tristin’s eyes narrowed and he snorted. “As though you’ve ever been with anyone.”
Kayn grinned, and pointed Tristin's way in agreement, nodding. “How do you know you can’t fly, Jed? You’d try jumping off a cliff to find out?” Laughing, he shrugged. “I’ll pass on that one if it’s all the same.”
Amused by this, Jed piped up again. “So then, it’s possible to, you know,” He paused, uncertain, “do boys as well as girls, then?”
Kayn stopped dead to make himself understood. “You can fuck whoever you want, Jed, but only as long as they're old enough to say yes, and up for it, and only then. Don’t go sticking your dick into people who aren’t into it. That's the wrong thing to do. Check first, yeah? Make one hundred million billion percent sure they can say yes to you first. Consent, yeah? You need to do whatever you can to keep a clear conscience, and that means a no is a no – no questions asked. Other than that,” He swaggered, “all bets are off. Got it? You know what I'm saying?”
Entertained by his gesture that Jed’s mind had been irrevocably blown, Axel's grin had escaped his face at that point, and he’d laughed aloud. Speaking for the first time to tell him not to say such things, he told him how there'd only ever be trouble if he took his advice.
“Yeah? That one?” He squinted. “Looks like it.”
“Aw come on, I'm not that ba-”
“No, and you're not gonna be either, right?” He eyed the bigger boy up and down, before continuing. “To be honest, though, for me? Girls? You're welcome to 'em. I don’t think I could get past the tits, you know? There’s something... about them.” He joked, openly cringing, laying it on for comical effect. “I don’t trust the way they move.”
Reed nodded, agreeing with his expression, “Like horses.” quailing too. They laughed as he defended his position, explaining to a confused Kayn that there were other, stronger looking, bigger animals where he came from, and horses seemed plain weird to him. Like their legs were too delicate, and could snap too easily. “I don't know why but I can't un-imagine the picture of that in my mind. I have no idea why people are so ready to sit on them, let alone go off at a million miles an hour. And they bite.”
Agreeing, understanding the sentiment, Kayn nods. “Oh right, no, yeah. I'm with you. No foot, no horse. If one leg goes down, you've got to throw the whole thing out. That's a weird thing to think about, right?” He clicked his fingers while he searched for the word. “The idea is, um, uncanny for you. That's it, uncanny. Like me and tits.” Realising his mistake, he reddened. “I'm sorry,” His eye met a cocked eyebrow. “I shouldn't have said it like that.”
“How'd you know?”
“When you slipped on the riverbank yesterday from getting up. And you got stuck in the mud a minute ago. And I heard you talking before about needing a cart soon because of the terrain.”
Reed yanked up his trouser leg and rapped his knuckles on his shin. “Astute. Touchwood, we'll find one, eh?”
He brightened then, the tiny amount of kudos giving him courage. “But, I can drive! I know good horses when I see 'em too! No injuries on my watch!” Cocky, he flaunted as he turned back. “See Jed, not just any old stray bag of bones!” Asking to stop for water and rest, he blurted, “What happened to it then?” before remembering his manners, palm up in apology. “I mean, don't feel like you have to tell me if we don't know each other like that yet...”
Appreciating the extra layer of charm to his insistence – and in the mood to explain anyway – he told him the story of how he was thrown under a portcullis gate. “I lost it when I was discovered with a stolen guard badge. Axel was scamming cards for money, and I decided I'd rip him off by flashing it. Easy mark, right? Well, I legit won the first time, and I had money, so I kept going until I could read his tell, you know, intending to win it all back and leave him with nothing, or flash the badge and get him to scarper. But let me tell you – our leader is harder to beat than he looks.”
“Do you think you look anything like a junior, though?” Jed snarked. “Of course he saw straight through you.”
“What's funnier is that he still thinks he won the first hand.” Tristin passed the water to an enthralled Kayn.
“Well. Even so. I did not win the money and the badge did not work on him. So, we teamed up to scam as many people as we could.”
“Ah, now see. You should have shaved you head, Reed.” Kayn suggested. “They prefer skinheads, don't they?” He tapped the side of his head. “Should have used you noodle.”
“Not everyone has the balls to look twice under the coif. We made a lot of money.”
Reed paused, composing himself, the sudden rush of memory nauseating. Dizzy, he relived it and the next sentence made his throat dry. “I owed some Gravediggers some... ah, money.” Another pause. “They caught up to me. Well, what I mean is, they caught up to Axel first.”
“Say no more.” The boy was suitably wowed, dubbing him, 'Proper Heroic, innit'.
“You wanna see something scary?”
“Always.” He chirped.
Lifting his leg, unbuckling the leathers and taking off the wooden part, he showed him the scar.
“Tch. That's not even nearly a shock now it's all healed – it's just another ordinary injury. Zero percent on the squick-o-meter. It's weirder that you've got no leg hair, honestly.” Genial disappointment showed. “I was ready for something way worse. You're remembering What Happened Back Then, not How It Is Now.”
“Not horrible enough?” Reed obliged, although haughty at first, but more intrigued by his lack of recoil and his skill in turning talk his way. “Kayn. Close your eyes.” He leaned in, voice a low hush. “You're trapped, okay? You're already panicked because you've been found by the one person you didn't want to find you, there's guards all over the place and they're on his side. Your lungs burn from running as though they'll explode – but now, this more urgent, more searing pain takes over your whole being, and it's the worst pain you've ever known but now a million billion times more agonizing. Nerves so raw, you can hear them sing. When they lift the gate, you feel it in your ears and the back of your throat squeezes shut as the bones crack open. Your heartbeat stops when you look down, because your shin bone is coming through the skin. It's all splintered but still, I dunno, goopy, somehow? And the leg which carried you like the wind two seconds ago is now nothing but pulp. The Temple comes for you, and it takes an eternity to reach it, and this throbbing, aching, stinging pulp is now a part of your body, but you dare not utter a peep in case the wrong word, the wrong language comes out. Every cobblestone beneath the handcart breaks you, over and over again, and you are relieved, and still awake when, in the end, they bring out a saw...”
Somewhere from one of the others, a heave and a gentle, “Obbe and Sina, Reed.” The pair grin together at the reactions around them – an understanding between these two only – settling in conversation for a good game of, 'Oh, That's Nothing'. Both were genuinely relieved to be able to talk freely about the worst of what they had seen on the road.
A game little Kayn would win hands down, once camp was up and night fell around the fire.
Picking up on Tristin's thoughts, Axel is deep into his memories too. As quiet now as he’d been on that first morning, he'd been eager that this new boy should travel with them. He didn't want him to turn around and leave in the end over a minor squabble. Not saying much of anything at all, he hoped Reed could talk him round, because questions bugged him, and he wanted to ask them. This new Kayn looked familiar. Right enough, a boy from the town. And from what he thought he saw there, backed up by Reed telling him what he'd been running from, he'd have a busted hand too.
Charmed by him giving Jed the what for, he was impressed by him holding his own with them. The night before, he really had looked like he was on his eighth life. Trailing the others down the track, he remembered how he'd thought of what to say, the conversation over, the rowdier boys moved off, going faster up the hill than Kayn could, and he’d hung back, amiable. Kicking leaves alongside him, he watched as the knife they hadn’t taken off him opened and closed in his good hand as if under a spell. He liked the way he said his name, with a hard 'ck', heavy on the 'sh'. Being alone together gave him the courage to talk now that he'd listened enough – and he asks the thing which had irked him since the night before. “Can you play the violin? You look like someone I saw the other day.”
He waved his clean bandages at him. “Nah, not with this poorly paw. I doubt it was, ahhh...” He sought the word he wanted again, a linguistic trait. He spoke more than the common language too. “... specifically me. Workhouse street-rats are ten a penny in the city.” He grinned straight at him. “We all look alike, innit. Cool eyeliner, by the way. Catty. I like it.” He sniffed, and squinted. “You didn't say much back there.”
“I, um. Thanks. And sorry about that. It's just, ah, it's better to let Tris handle Jed when he's that edgy out here.”
Kayn chirped, bright. “Yeah.” He giggled. “I bet it is. You think I pissed Reed off?”
“Maybe a bit. You'll soon find out if you did. Where you from, then?”
“I dunno.” He gestured again, knife still in hand. “Around.”
“Ha! Yeah,” Axel nodded, agreeing. “Same. You sure you don’t need to go back for anything? No one’s going to miss you?”
Scrunching up his face again, considering, he laughed and shook his head. “No one apart from the guard who’s getting his arse handed to him this morning because I got away...” He patted at where the pockets of his trousers would have been, if any had been sewn into them. “Nope. This is me. I’m good.”
Thank you for reading, here's my carrd.
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