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Ha. 

He should have bet on it his silver cutlery; he would be drowning in riches.

“ ...or somewhere far away.” Cab chose words like picking coins from strangers’ pockets without making sure no guard lurked behind the corner. There was tautness in his upright posture, a readiness to scurry away. Yeah, he was as subtle as a fist in the eye.  

“Really, though?”  Einan arched an eyebrow at him. Not waiting for an answer, they brushed the dust away from their cloak in his direction. Apparently, they wasn’t the one to gloss over the obvious and play pretend when no one tipped for that. Rags could drink to that. 

“We found out you are the Master of Four only when we stumbled upon the guards. Four hadn’t come right away when we have met you,” Somhairle reminded in a quiet voice, and that sounded wise and reasonable.

Except they all did a piss-poor job of not looking at Rags.

He snorted; or tried to, the sound died in his throat and then came out half-assed, a hybrid between a snort and a wheeze.

Inis glared at the wall in front of her as if refraining from glaring at him.

Somehow that was what hit him.

Heat splattered across his neck and cheeks, and he pressed his lips to not blurt some inappropriate joke.

He wished someone else would say it aloud. Or shout, even, pointing a finger at him and trying to compete with his gutter talk. Anything but this poorly veiled bullshit.

Huh. Here he thought, he could take it all in a stride, shrug off humiliation and shame like dirt after sleeping in a ditch.

…Just fuckin admit it already. 

Yes, they had made a mistake, all fruitless searches for Five were pointing to that.

 Rags wasn’t the one meant to be here. He was a fraud, a dirty rat street with no business in their lives, and now they all knew it.

They could say it. He had known it all along, from the moment the fae prince looked twice at him, to this, licking wounds together without a mirrorshard in their hearts forcing them to. Sharing this awareness of each other and their part in reaching a common goal, togetherness

Frickin hilarious. Like that story about a thief putting all his eggs in one basket, the last heist costing his hand and livelihood - only to find out that his loot was more fake than forever young Queen’s tits.

Except it was a story about a thief stinking up the place for a free ride and everyone else believing he was here for the reason. Fighting and healing together, and sharing meals. 

The free ride wasn’t even free, was bumpy and meant tortures and led to no treasure he could hide in the pocket. He would laugh but his mouth refused to move. His gaze stuck to the wall as if trying to dig a passage to a fae treasury, a taste in his mouth acrid.

 

Why the hell did they just sit here and pretend that it wasn’t the conclusion they all had arrived at?

 

...Maybe they didn’t need to say it. Maybe they had already said it in that wordless connection they shared and now wanted to bloody spare his feelings.

Something grew in his chest, rising in his throat, and he snickered, then laughed out loud. 

He could feel their gazes turning at last to him, but he didn’t offer an explanation nor a witty comment.

Poor bastards, as if they could say him something he hadn't already said himself. 

For a flicker, he felt more like his old self - desperate, and alone, and having nothing but a cheeky smile and quick fingers to face the world with. 

It used to feel like freedom.

Now it left him feeling bitter. 

There was something unhinged in the way he felt, and he didn’t like it a bit. That what happened when you let your guards down and let all those unnecessary feelings wiggle their way in.

Then a cool hand landed on his shoulder. 

Tal.

He had refused to think about his presence beside him. Frickin-of course, that was a damn impossible task from the start.

 “We shall not stop in our attempts only because other parts were found more easily. Five is meant to be found.“ As always, Tal spoke on the matter with certainty leaving no room for error, with quiet confidence making Inis’ features soften and Cab’s shoulders relax. 

Tal believed in him.

For a beat, Rags was split between an urge to curl into him, and shove him, make him stop

Then realization dawned on him.

He took it the wrong way.

Maybe it wasn’t about believing in Rags.

Maybe it said more about Tal than about Rags.

 This is the kinda being Tal was - not losing to despair, anger or doubts, always on the lookout for a person needing the most help. Believing in ideals and serving them, a warrior prince of a lost kingdom. Needing to have them to operate in a world that killed most of his people and fed on the last.

 He needed to believe that Rags was someone destined to find him.

 With it, kissing Rags could seem right, like the beginning of something beautiful, precious, holy -

Rags felt as if someone had poured a bucket of dishwater on him. 

There was a line to things he could steal.

And Tal’s - this- this crossed it.

He was utter shit.

 

After that, making the decision was as easy as falling off a log. With Rags out of the picture, it should be simpler to focus on finding a rightful Master of Five. As once Inis had said, there was nothing remarkable about his looks, and without the fae prince hovering over his shoulder, or a mechanical beast of his own to stalk him, it would be a child's play to blend in into a crowd of beggars and commoners in the lower town.

He left under cover of a night like a thief he was.