CW: Seizure Description.
Staggered by the crisis unfolding in front of him, Jed is with Kayn on the floor of the forest, the last convulsions leaving his body, while Axel, pacing, panicking, collects himself. “What do I do Axel? What’s happening to him? I don't know what to do...” Blanched and shaken, Jed's alarm radiated from him, and unsure, he hated how hopeless he was. “What's happening? What do I do?”
“It's okay. It's okay, it's leaving him, look.” Axel was talking to himself as much as anyone else. “It'll pass.” Burying his own fear as best he could, he barged through, taking charge of the situation. Kneeling beside Kayn as he became still again, he carefully felt for his pulse, broken bones, a fever. “Calm down, Jed. Here, come here. Help me. Give me something to warm him up.”
Full of worry, sniffing, he hands over his jacket. “It’s my fault. He told me to leave him alone and I wouldn’t. I should have listened-”
“Eh? No? Whatever this is, you couldn’t have caused it. Okay, Jed?” Taking charge allowed him the space to see clearly in the chaos. “Stars. Look how thin he is. He looks exhausted. So pale.” He shook his head, cross with himself. “Why didn’t I notice this? I should have. I should have seen this.” Continuing, he checks him over. “If anything, I shouldn't have nagged him to train with us. He works hard enough. Fucking hell, his shoulder is out of its socket. His elbow too. How the fuck?” Trying not to think of how much that would hurt, he concentrated on what would happen next. “Okay.” He took a breath, rearranging his thoughts. “Okay. We're going to need Reed to come out here. You'll have to get him and show him where we are. I'll stay here.” The sky had clouded, an imminent summer shower threatening to soak them, and Kayn had already began to shiver.
“Axel. This could be something I did.” Jed still worried. “I wanted him to, ahh, do something for me. He said the other day he wasn't sleeping well. I should have said something.”
“That doesn't matter.” Crows complained at the wind picking up, Kayn in agreement with them as he woke. “We need Reed. Get out of here and find him. Go, Jed. I'll take over from here.”
“Hey. You don’t have to leave this time. You can stay if you want.” Kayn was buckling his belt, hunting for his other sock, while Jed looked up from pulling his shirt over his head. “But this is the last time.”
Half dressed, arse still out, Jed flopped onto the bed, exhausted. He never liked the way he’d be thrown out after sex, the connection between them broken again, and he was glad he was allowed this time, if only for a while. He pouted, all puppy dog eyes and half-hearted reproach, checking his silver bangles were still in contact with his skin, checking for missing earrings. “Is there really someone else?”
“It’s... Ah, what's the word?” A pause, not able to find which one he wanted until he’d pulled the fabric over his foot. “Complicated? But yeah, there is. I mean,” His nose wrinkled. “at least I hope so.”
“And he's better in the sack than me? And he likes you back?”
“I hope he is! You – you're nothing but a bad influence!” He threw a cushion and laughed, laying on his belly, propped up by a hand, but his voice softened after a sigh. “I don't know about him liking me back. He might not. But I'm getting a... Vibe?” He stretched, and blustered, covering his bashful apprehension at the ridiculous word, it making his spirit fidgety. “Who even knows? Things are, like, Too new to tell. If it even is a thing at all. It could all be bollocks. You know how I like to make things up.” He is genuine at Jed's expression. “You're gonna find someone, I promise you. Someone who is all yours forever and ever. That’s what you said you wanted, isn’t it?”
“Well, I mean, yeah...”
He raised his eyebrows and nodded. “Then it’s the same for me as well.”
Jed arranged himself on the bed. He was always tired after, Kayn ever annoyed with him by the lack of aftercare. Sleep was the main reason he always wanted to stay, vulnerable himself, wanting a lookout while he drifted off. Rarely allowed to in his presence, Kayn snarkily joked that it was his own fault for having such a big dick, and to go and dangle upside down somewhere to get the blood back to his brain. It wasn't a sore point between them, and there was no bad feeling, just someone else. Not him. In letting him stick around this time, he was serious in what he’d said. Dozing off already, and even though he knew he wouldn't, he asked anyway. “Tell me who, at least?”
“One day.” Kayn puts on a mysterious voice. “One day it’ll all become obvious.”
“Meh. Secret squirrel. Then tell me a story.”
“I’ll tell you your fortune, how would that be?”
Reaching for his cards, Jed chuckled at the sight of them. Superstitious as he was, and as beautifully illustrated as they were, they held no weight in the real world. Kayn would laugh at the people who believed in them too much, telling stories at the fire about this or that fool who had taken his readings too far.
“You still do that?”
“They lap it up.” He couldn't keep the scorn out of his tone. “More likely to pay twice if there's promise of a once in a lifetime dose of extra Orcish magic. What spread?” Deft, he cut the deck as if they were no more than playing cards, and shuffled them with a snap and a sneer at his own words.
Orcish. A word they had made up to describe everything they thought they'd identified about him and his people. There was no 'ish' about it. No one could call him that. He didn't claim the word for himself, and yet, they did? On his behalf? Not acceptable. Not if they didn't recognise what it meant for him to hear it said from his own people, let alone someone he'd never met before. Not if these strangers didn’t understand the violence behind it. The up-tick in Albion Individualism meant any violence from their side was nothing to do with any of the rest of them, and so they couldn't see any problem with the personal memories they weren't privy to but invoked anyway with 'just a word'. It was funny to them, a point of pride to upset people by design. A few had made the mistake again after an initial warning, and Kayn retained a separate fee for such thoughtlessness.
“You can choose. But don’t you wish sometimes you didn’t have to go out there at all?”
“Aha. Shit Sandwich then. For my Little Shit.” Kayn mocks, but he sees his friend is still uneasy, guessing there was more to the expression on his face. “Look, I don't have to do anything, right? But you like having food on the table don't you? You like having a table to put it on? What's the matter, you worrying about me?”
He was. A coldness was settling in him – a hardness descending on his soul, and Jed knew too well what would cause something like that to happen. The world outside their little group was cruel and ugly and so were the people who lived in it, and his own fire had sparked out of his rage at discovering this truth. It changed him. The magic was strong in the pair of them but Kayn was different. He'd cut you off, freeze you out, where Jed would raze you to the ground until there was nothing left.
He appreciated the way they'd individually observed the same things about all of them out there, and Kayn was no different. Bonded together by the purposeful, bumbling foolishness of Albion (a cover for their violence), it encouraged and emboldened their followers' inept prejudices and the thoughtless slurs they 'didn't realise' they threw at them. The Sanguine despaired together at the suffering Albion was 'unaware' they were complicit in – and there was a surprise when they found out that despite the difference in their backgrounds, they used the same word to describe them all.
Kayn hadn’t called him it a second time.
The silver of his magic was beginning to show in his features – brightness to him just as his own had turned to black and a bright burning coal – but it was their gold he would not discard. Too shrewd by half, happy to lighten their purses, there was plenty spare to go along with the spite they reserved for his ‘kind’. Often coming back with cuts and bruises, there had been a whopper on his thigh that made him limp recently, and he'd joke that he couldn't tell if they loved him, or hated him. “Worrying about you? Aye, if I'm honest. When you're on your own, I do a bit.”
Glitter dazzles a trace as he rolled his eyes. “Worry about yourself. Hanged Man.” Kayn puts on another deep, faux ominous voice and waggles his fingers in the air. “There will be a sacrifice. You will change your perspective and finally find the truth, but it will cost you dearly.”
He dropped his point, letting Kayn change the subject, and his sleepy snicker is good-naturedly sarcastic. “Ha. No bother. I always get that one. And, by the way, it's not like I'm not already making one.”
“Good. ’Coz fuck knows where we'll find a virgin!” He beams, but sees through his friend's look. “Jed, the wait will be worth it. Someone will love you. All the way through. I promise.” Minding him wrestle with the frown on his face, he sighed. “Look. Don't feel bad about being bitter, you know? It shows you have pride in your heart, and pride is the second best feeling you can have.”
“Doesn't pride come before a fall?”
“Only if you're a dickhead.”
“You can have pride and be humble too?” He showed uncertainty, as though juggling the two would be an impossible task.
“Yeah, like, you do realise that two or more things will be true at the same time, right? Bears turd in the forest and the river is wet?”
Eyes already closed, he couldn't be bothered to correct him. He was close enough. “Go on then, tell me. What's the first best?”
“A kiss from someone you love, innit.” He giggled when Jed cracked a single eyelid, snorted and denied it. “There you go. See? You haven't loved anyone yet, just dick so far, so you don't know. You will though...” He pulls the other two cards and tells his fortune, the nonsense a soothing burble, demonstrating that he wasn’t alone while he drifted into sleep.
Free to leave when the snoring started, he finished dressing in as much silence as he can, and pleased with his reflection in the mirror, he walks out into the sunset. Rays still warm on his face, out the door and down the lane, he picks up his pace, a skip in his step. Around the corner, a familiar figure is walking towards him, and he fairly glows when he realises he knows who. He slowed then, sauntering. Easy as he could manage, he was anything but on the inside. “Oi, it’s you, Axel! Ha ha! You’re back then?”
He looked... Strange. Something about him was off, but he couldn’t place what. Worry threatened him. He looked pissed as hell. Or scared? Or sad? Kayn hoped to cheer him, bright in inviting him along. “I'm off out for a walk. Not going far, be back in time for food. Wouldn't mind some company if you want? I've left Jed laid out asleep, so we'd be back before dark?”
He cut him off, walking away. “No.”
“Well then. Suit yourself. I won’t be long.” Stung a bit, he sings the last of his words, covering his disappointment. “Don’t go without me...” He couldn't grasp what the problem was, but he was glad he’d returned anyway. He missed him whenever he was gone, and hoped he'd be in a better humour by the time he'd got back from clearing his head.
The thought popped into his mind as he walked, of Axel laughing and telling him off for saying that his hair was dirty blonde – or whenever it needed a trim and he described it as ratty – correcting Reed's description. Axel calling it ‘spun gold’ and telling him there was nothing dirty about it, was what made Kayn look twice at him. But it wasn't just that. It was the blush he caught when he’d joked back that it was the nicest thing anyone had ever said.
The awkward silence.
The quibble which wouldn't leave him afterwards.
Thank you for reading, here's my carrd.
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Copyright © 2021 by BB Chapman