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A Poorly Crafted Lesson

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There’s—there’s blood. There’s a lot of blood and Rune is—Rune is fine. Rune is fine. Brand. It’s Brand’s blood. One of the Tower’s men is walking toward Brand and Rune hisses. He doesn’t think that’s what makes the man back off. He can feel his skin heating up, the Atlantean Aspect stealing over his features. Rune spits out, “Nobody touches him.”

Rune isn’t so far gone—close, but not quite there—that he doesn’t catch the Tower’s nod toward his staff out of the corner of his eye. It should piss Rune off that his orders need to be seconded, but he doesn’t have the emotional capacity. Not after the last six months. Not after the last hour.

Rune holds his hand out for the key to the restraints keeping Brand locked to the post. He makes certain not to allow his hands to shake. He’s already shown enough weakness for one…lifetime. Even an Atlantean lifetime.

Brand starts when Rune touches one of his hands, swallows frantically. Rune wants to say something calming, but he knows Brand wouldn’t want it, not now, with so many others watching them. Brand had spat fire and venom and hatred the entire time, which had made it worse for him, but Rune—well, Rune wishes he could say he’d done the same when they’d, ah, when he’d, well. He wishes he’d been that strong.

Brand’s wrists are a mass of blood against the restraints. It isn’t so much that Brand struggled as that he’d…fought. It's the only word Rune can think of, and it seems synonymous. It isn’t. Rune does say, “It’s me,” quietly, short and simple.

Brand says, “Oh.” His voice is hoarse despite the fact that not a single scream made it past his lips. He’d bitten straight through the skin of his arm in order to muffle the sounds, keep them contained, but he’d done it.

Rune gets both Brand’s hands free and eases him off the post. Brand stands there, knees locked, the shadowed remainder of the tears he’d shed silently marking his face, muscles trembling minutely. Rune is too close not to see it, the jump-jump play of them beneath Brand’s skin. Brand sways slightly and when Rune moves in to make sure it’s nothing more than a sway, Brand whispers, “I—I can’t walk. Move.”

Rune tosses his head back, holding it higher than he has since That Night, and slips his arm over Brand’s lower back, where there’s less damage, probably in deference to his kidneys being there. Brand still makes a noise in the back of his throat, and it’s all Rune can do not to turn around and kill everyone, or die trying. Brand wouldn’t thank him for that.

The rooms they’ve been given are not, objectively, that far. They are more than far enough, however, with Brand’s weight—almost entirely dense muscle—depending on Rune, and the desperate need not to collapse, not to show any further vulnerability. By the time Rune has gotten them there and safely lowered Brand face-first onto the nearest bed, he’s shaking and almost sick from the effort involved.

He needs to get a healer. He doesn’t have any sigils in which to store healing spells. “Brand, I need to go find a healer.”

“N-not yet.” Brand finds Rune’s wrist and clamps on, squeezing tightly enough to hurt. Rune appreciates the pain, it’s grounding, a point of connection.

“It’ll—you’ll have scars.”

“Yeah,” Brand says, more a sound of exhaustion than agreement. “Don’t…don’t go.”

Rune wraps his free hand over the one Brand is still using to hold Rune in a death grip. He thinks, I’m sorry, thinks, I won’t go far, just let me help, thinks, you need something for the pain. What he says is, “No. Not going anywhere. You know that.”

“Mm,” Brand says, but it’s less than certain, and his hand doesn’t loosen even minutely.

Rune wants to cry. Instead he says, “I’m here. I’m—I’ve got you. I’m here.”

And he stays.