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I'm Only as Strong as the People Around Me

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Varian was screaming again. It scared Quirin how this was no longer a cause for panic.

 

Varian often worked until late hours, so hearing him walk about, getting snacks, the occasional distant boom of an experiment gone wrong had once been common sounds. It used to be that Varian screamed only on two occasions: one, when he was an infant who needed his mother. Two, when something startled him and he squeaked like an exploding tea kettle. 

 

Now, there was a third reason: nightmares. 

 

Quirin knew a lot changed in his son in the months he was gone. Seeing a loved one trapped in amber, just out of reach, it was bound to traumatize him. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the only trauma Varian had gone through.

The first night after their reunion, Quirin awoke to Varian’s blood curdling screams sometime around midnight. He hadn’t heard Varian yell like that since a particularly nasty alchemy accident burned Varian’s hands so badly that he couldn’t write for a month. But Varian had gone to bed; so what was the cause for his son’s distress? 

The first time Quirin entered Varian’s room after being set free was terrifying. To find him clawing at his sheets, gasping for breath, tears running down his son’s freckled cheeks, Quirin feared Varian was actually dying. It’s not that Varian never had nightmares before. Varian was still a child, and children had nightmares, no matter how happy their life is (not that Varian had an idyllic childhood; it’s hard to have one without your mother). But this was different. Varian’s nightmares had always been quiet. He’d never screamed, only whimpered. And when he woke up, he’d quitely pad into Quirin’s bedroom and lay down with him. In the past, Quirin only realized his son had a nightmare when he woke up to Varian curled up beside him. 

This was not a childhood nightmare, with boogeymen and shadows and monsters. These were the screams of someone experiencing untold suffering, forced to relive past events in their mind, perhaps even worse. 

That first night, he desperately shook his son awake, demanding to know what was wrong, begging his darling son to tell him what horrible dream he had. Varian initially refused to say, they had yet to sit down and discuss everything that happened in Quirin’s absence. He only told Quirin the contents of his nightmare after he caught his father up on Varian’s misdeeds. 

“I dreamed that my plan worked too well,” He’d said, after finishing his story. “That I’d freed you, but I killed the queen and princess. You were so angry with me, you disowned me…” Varian had trailed off, tears streaking down his face. “Please, please don’t disown me. I know I can’t ever make up for what I’ve done, but I’m trying so hard.” 

Quirin remembers brushing his son’s tears away, pulling him close, and softly saying,

“There is nothing in the world that would make me disown you. I love you, and I trust that you’ve gotten over your anger.” He had pulled away, only to place a kiss on his son’s forehead. “I’m so proud of you for that.” Varian’s smile had been so bright that day. 

 

Now, as Quirin trudged down the hall to Varian’s room, he was at a loss. Varian’s nightmares had become so frequent; but only when home in Old Corona. 

He had visited Varian in the capital the other day. His research into the Demanitus scroll had unfortunately ended in disaster, but Varian was eager to clean up the chamber and start a new project. He stayed in the capital every other week, with a room graciously given to him by the Princess, who Quirin suspected Varian saw as a pseudo-sister. 

He spoke with the Princess, asking her if Varian was getting enough sleep when at the castle. Some nightmares could render Varian unable to sleep for days when home, and it worried Quirin to no end that his son didn’t have support for nights like those.

The Princess had raised an eyebrow, and said,

“I always find him sleeping in the strangest places, but once I or someone else helps him back to his room, he’s out like a light. Some days he’ll miss breakfast because he’s still sleeping.” Her face had etched into a worried frown. “Why? Do you think he’s sick?”

Quirin had assured the Princess that no, he wasn’t sick, but now, Quirin had a sneaking suspicion. 

Something about sleeping at home caused his nightmares.

Breaking out of his thoughts, Quirin finally rounded Varian’s bed. Just like all other nights, Varian was locked in some gruesome nightmare, his face echoing pure pain. As Quirin shook his son awake, taking him into his arms and shushing him, Quirin couldn’t help but wonder. 

 

Why can’t my son find peace in Old Corona?

-

It wasn’t that he was afraid to tell his dad the truth… No wait. That was exactly it.

Varian was afraid to tell his dad the truth.

He was afraid to tell his dad that his nightmares were no longer about him. They were no longer about failing to save his father from the amber, for Rapunzel’s decay spell to kill them both, or for the amber being broken, only to have the queen or king encased instead. They weren’t about Cassandra either; not about her dropping him where Lance couldn’t reach, or him failing to find the fourth incantation, resulting in Rapunzel’s death. They weren’t even about his time in prison, at the mercy of the Saporians as they beat him in their shared cell; dreams where they dropped him from a balloon, laughing about how easy he was to manipulate.

No. Now the dreams involve Varian himself becoming trapped in amber. They involve him struggling, desperately trying to beg someone, anyone . Telling them to go find Rapunzel, only for the people of Old Corona to walk away, or to jeer, or, like last night; to throw more liquid amber onto him. His father, the royal family, they were never there. The dreams never continued beyond Varian’s imprisonment, but he knew if they did, it would entail his loved ones mourning. Wondering where Varian could be, why no one in Old Corona knew where he was, but he was right there, I’m here, please help me, they did this to me-

 

The point is that Varian is now afraid of Old Corona.

 

It wasn’t like Varian wanted to be afraid of going into Old Corona! He’d grown up there, made some friends (albeit when he was 6 and not “that freaky kid with his magic juice”). But now, the fact remains that Varian, as much as he’s trying to make up for his misdeeds, did a lot of bad things to the people of Old Corona. He may not be in prison anymore, but there’s certainly a lot of people he knows would not mourn his sudden arrest. 

And it’s not like the people of Old Corona are hiding their anger either. They’re not outright jeering or throwing rocks at him anymore, he had been officially pardoned when he stopped the Saporians. But that’s not to say he’s been accepted back into the town. It’s not hard to notice how everyone moves out of his way whenever Varian goes into town. Or how parents will hide their children behind them whenever they see him. No one has confronted him head on, and for that Varian is greatful. He knew it’d either end with him bloodied on the pavement or accused of assault if he tried to protect himself. 

 

Which is why he plans on spending as little time in town as possible today. Just in and out of the glassblowers. Ruddiger had accidentally knocked over some of his glassware the other day. Luckily, they were empty, so the only loss were the glasses themselves. Stepping into the shop, he saw the glassblower, Karrin, talking to an elderly patron. Otherwise, the building was empty. Varian doubted his dad would be happy to hear that he was relieved at how no one else was around (it was kind of amusing how Quirin had once wanted Varian to lead Old Corona one day. That was about as likely to happen as his hair stripe turning into a snake.) It meant that no one could give him any trouble for continuing his alchemy after all that had happened.

Calmly waiting for the woman in front of him to finish her purchase, he looked down at his shoes to avoid the glare she gave him as she left. Now, it was just him and Karrin. 

“Hi Karrin,” Varin began, resting his fingertips on the counter. “Could I get a few glass jars, and 2 beakers?” He drummed his fingers lightly to the beat of a song he heard Rapunzel sing a while back. Hopefully, after he finished up in Old Corona, he could head to the capital a bit early. He hated leaving his dad all on his own out here, but he knew how happy Varian was to be working on projects with his friends. He had a few new ideas up his sleeve, and was eager to get them up and running at the castle before anything bad happened.

Karrin didn’t say anything, merely pulling out a damp rag and began wiping down the table. A few seconds passed, and still Karrin didn’t say anything. 

It was strange, to say the least. Karrin was a busy man, what with blowing glass and all. But Karrin was a real stickler about communication. The man would literally be breathing into a bottle and still pause to help a shopper. 

“...Karrin?” Varian tried again. “You feeling ok?” 

Still no response. Karrin didn’t even look up to acknowledge that Varian was in the room.

 

Then he realized.

“Are you… ignoring me?” Varian stepped back, letting his arms fall limp to his sides, clutching his hands into fists. 

 

Karrin looked up briefly, and then back down to his rag. The counter was spotless now, and yet he kept running the cloth over it absentmindedly. 

“I didn’t even do anything to you!” Varian exploded, raising his arms above his head in a fit of anger he hadn’t felt since he made amends with Rapunzel. “I’ve bought something from you like, once a month since I was nine!”

Karrin paid him no mind, and began rapidly rubbing the rag back and forth, as if there was a tough stain on the counter.

Varian’s arms dropped, and his shoulders sagged. He couldn’t do anything; if he tried anything remotely suspicious, Karrin would surely accuse him of a crime and leave him to the mercy of the rest of the town. What good was it to try and make amends, to try and return to how things used to be? Sure, he wasn’t liked by everyone before, but Karrin was always willing to help him. Hell, sometimes Karrin gave him special discounts if times were tough. He was the one person in town, outside of his dad, that actively encouraged his scientific endeavors for a while. And now, he refused to even acknowledge Varian’s existence. 

 

He felt the familiar burn of tears building up.

 

“Fine.” He sighed. “If you don’t want me as a customer anymore, that’s fine.” He rubbed at his eyes. He would not cry over this. Varian was a teenager now. He could handle rejection.

But this is rejection from an entire town, Varian thought bitterly. This isn’t some petty crush. 

Turning on his heels, Varian walked out the door, stalking down the road. He ignored the glares and whispers of everyone around him, angrily wiping the tears as they came. As he approached home, he saw his dad was in the process of filling barrels of apples for distribution. Ruddiger was at his feet, gladly accepting the scraps of imperfect apples that were tossed his way.

“Varian!” his dad called, raising an arm in greeting, a kind smile on his face. Varian didn’t stop, running up the steps into their house. He grabbed his overnight satchel, and some extra food for the road. Coming right back out the house, he missed the concerned look his father sent his way. Ruddiger scurried up to Varian, and the boy kneeled down to let Ruddiger onto his shoulder. 

“Where are you going?” his dad called, cupping his mouth with his hands to reach his son’s ears. 

“To the capital.” Varian responded, not looking back, but raising his arm in a wave, trying to appear as nonchalant as possible. “I need to get some stuff for my lab, and I can’t get it here.” Not a lie, but not the whole truth either. 

He didn’t dare turn to look at his father, for then he’d see the tears now freely running down his cheeks. 

-

At the bottom of the castle, where the criminals of Corona sat, in the farthest cell at the end of the row, a man was plotting.

He’d heard the miserable guards praise the newest addition to the castle staff, how he may have once been a criminal, but, like the Crown-Prince-to-be, has redeemed himself and is gladly helping the other members of the castle prepare against Corona’s greatest enemies. How he had stood up to the traitorous Cassandra, despite having his own invention used on him. 

Inventions, huh . He mused. Doesn’t that bratty behavior sound familiar. 

The man grinned and stretched as he rose from the cold floor. Sauntering over to the cell bars as the sentry strolled by, he wasted no time in shooting his hand out, grabbing the man by the face ,and slamming him up against the entrance to his prison. His smile was feral and borderline disturbed as he used his other hand to pry the keys from the guard’s waist, ignoring his muffled pleas for help. In one fluid motion, the man stepped out of the cell, swung his hips, and pushed the guard into the cell he once occupied. He locked the bars with a flourish, swinging the keys in time with his hips and he sauntered out of the room. 

“Perhaps I should pay my old friend a visit,” he muttered under his breath, slinking into the shadows of the palace walls, escaping so easily one could tell he’d done it before. 

 

“After all, traitors to Saporia pay with their lives.”