"So are you the latest guild to take him in? You could do a lot better than that loser!"
"All this kid can brag about is the number of guilds he's joined! Oh, right, that's a bad thing."
"Are these your friends, Karol? You could do a lot better than these losers."
"Wh-what did you say?"
There was a hand on his mouth, and the voice at his ear that had whispered so threateningly quiet "If you make even one noise…" was definitively Tison's.
Karol's body quivered as he felt himself be pulled out of his bed. His mind was blank. All he could feel was fear.
Tison's claws were digging at the skin of his cheeks, and Karol willed himself to not whimper, recalling Tison's warning. The older man moved with experienced stealth as he stole him away from the room. Before he knew it, Karol was being thrown to the streets of Dahngrest, and here is where he finally dared to mutter a tiny whimper of pain, as his body made a hard impact with the ground.
Bad mistake, he thought a moment later.
"You little brat!" the other hissed heatedly—and there was a roar in Karol's ears, but that was just the stinging pain of his head as Tison's hand gripped his hair back, so tight and so menacing and it hurt!
"I'msorryI'msorry!" he wanted to whisper, but he did not dare make another noise.
He closed his eyes tightly, withholding his whimpers of pain as Tison pulled him up to his feet by his hair. "Get moving!" the other growled, voice gruff and annoyed as he began pushing Karol to walk forward.
Karol followed in trepidation. (He already knew what this was about. He hated this but he couldn't turn away from it, not again. His heart ached painfully but then—)
Another growl came from his left. Karol's eyes managed to get a glimpse of Repede, fur stiff and teeth bared. Karol gulped, feeling defeated and helpless—he shot the dog a look that said 'It's okay!', 'Please don't!', and above all else: 'Don't tell Yuri.'
It seems to have quieted him up, Karol thought, glad Tison had not noticed the exchange. But he did not feel relived at all. Not when Tison's grip was tightening to the point that Karol thought he might lose some of his hair. He felt tears prickle at the corner of his eyes, but he refused to let them fall. He did not want to seem weak. Again.
The walk felt longer that it actually was, perhaps because the streets of Dahngrest were remarkably quiet for once. He wondered where everyone was.
Would Nan be there? he thought a moment later, wondering if he would have to face her in this state. He felt even more miserable thinking about it. He was snapped out of his thoughts as his knees collided painfully with the floor. He let out a quiet gasp before biting his lip. But the blow did not come.
"Here's the brat, Chief." Tison's voice sounded mocking, but it was his words that made Karol's head snap up. He cringed at the look of his Guild Master. It was not one of disappointment but one of resignation, as if he was calling him worthless. Karol's hands tightened painfully. He was not going to cry!
"It seems like our information wasn't wrong," Clint murmured. His large bulk towered over Karol, making him feel even more insignificant.
Karol stayed silent. He wanted to say so many things, wanted to apologize and tell them what had happened, but in the end, everything sounded like excuses, even to his own ears. His eyes were glued to the ground, and they would've stayed there if Tison had not kicked him on the side.
He cried out in pain, not having expected the blow, which only earned him a second one. "What do you have to say for yourself, you brat?" Tison growled, patience short as always. Karol responded on instinct as he tried to think of how to redeem himself to them.
"I'm sorry, Chief…" Karol began, but cringed and shut up at the look on Clint's face.
"You made us waste our time looking for you, runt." Clint growled in irritation. "What did you think you were doing?" the Chief demanded, his voice promising pain if the answer wasn't satisfactory.
"I… I was…! But Nan said—she said I had been…!" Karol's voice trailed off, the words stuck at his throat. He did not want to acknowledge them, did not want to make them come true. Anything! Anything but that!
There was a long silence, in which Karol felt his world begin to shatter. His heart wailed loudly at his ears, and his tears threatened to spill. Is this how it was going to end? Was he going to be abandoned again?
Why couldn't he be stronger? he thought self-deprecatingly. Why was he so weak?
Tison snorted at his side. Clint's eyes narrowed, making Karol cringe once more. "That girl does not have the jurisdiction to speak in my place." Karol heard him say, and his eyes widened. Was he dreaming?
The pain at his side reassured him otherwise, and his heart soared as he felt hope resurface through his chest.
"I bet that's just another lie," Tison interrupted as he spat scathingly. "Know what I heard from the others? I heard you were bragging about running off again 'cause you 'couldn't stand that girl's nagging.'" Tison's voice mocked, as if pretending to be Karol, before hissing, "You cocky little shit!"
Karol cried out again as he felt Tison kick him again. This time the blow made him crash to the ground painfully. Karol whimpered and pushed himself up from the ground, but Tison's heavy boot on his back prevented him from sitting back up.
"I really didn't mean that, I swear!" Karol cried out, begging for them to take him back. Why had he said that back then? Why couldn't he keep his stupid mouth shut? he thought, frustrated and angry at himself. "I've been looking all over for you guys, I really have!" Karol tried to convince them.
Tison snorted, doubtful of that. "What should we do with him, Chief?" He smirked darkly. "He's failed the guild after all." He laughed, pressing his foot harder on Karol's back.
Clint's expression was hard and unreadable. He narrowed his eyes slightly. "Do what you want with him," he commanded, voice uncaring. "I don't have time to waste with this pathetic runt."
Clint's voice echoed in his mind. Karol didn't know whether to feel happy that he hadn't been kicked out of his guild, or horrified and hurt by the rest of the implications.
He didn't have time to decide. Tison's voice was laughing delighted, in a way that sent shivers all over Karol's body. "You got it, boss!"
Yuri woke up alone.
It was still night, and Karol wasn't at his side, but that wasn't unusual. He's probably in the bathroom, Yuri thought to himself with a slight frown.
There was, however, a sense of discomfort nudging at his stomach. Like something wasn't right…
And there was something scratching at his window.
With a bit of a lazy groan, Yuri sat up and ran a hand through his hair. He glanced at the window, only to be startled by the sight of Repede. Feeling a whole lot more alert than before, Yuri stood up and rushed to open the window. "What's the problem?" he asked, his tone apprehensive.
Repede was whining; a rarity. He seemed agitated, though Yuri was not sure what the problem was. "Someone's in trouble." It was more like a statement than a question. Repede bit his sleeve and pulled, as if telling him to hurry up and follow him already.
Karol was taking long to come out from the bathroom, Yuri thought a second later. The unease in his stomach grew by this realization, and he headed towards the bathroom with long strides. "Karol?" he called aloud, but there was no answer.
The bathroom was empty.
And then he remembered what had happened when they had arrived at Dahngrest this afternoon. He cursed, before picking up his sword and running out of the inn.
Tison picked Karol off the floor by his shirt, pushing him harshly against the stone wall. Karol moaned in pain as his head met the wall in a rather painful collision. That stung, he thought dazedly.
"You should be grateful, you stupid little runt." He heard the other hiss at him, before slamming him back against the wall again. His head protested over the rough treatment, making it hard for Karol to listen to what Tison was saying. "A worthless kid like you is lucky to have been taken in by us!" Tison shouted as he continued his mistreatment.
Karol breathed heavily. His ribs ached, and he knew they were going to be bruised come morning. He felt the tears slip past his eyes, down his cheeks.
A growl. "Are you listening?" Tison's hand, his claws, connected painfully against his cheek. The skin broke open and bled painfully, and Karol couldn't help but to sob.
"I am!" He protested, voice weak. He whimpered a small sorry when Tison reminded him he wasn't allowed to speak. "Sorry won't cut it this time brat." He heard him hiss into his ear before—
Within a span of another five minutes, Karol was practically broken. His clothes were ripped by Tison's blades and he had wounds all over his body. Tears rolled down his cheeks as a sob shook his body once in a while. Tison crouched down, a wide grin stretching across his features as he observed his handiwork.
"So brat. I never heard you say it," he said, his eyes glinting with maniacal happiness. "Even after you ran off countless times, failed everything we assigned you to, and insulted one of our members, we still accept you in the guild. No matter how pathetic you are, we still keep you."
Tison gripped Karol's hair and yanked his head back, exposing his neck. "I haven't heard you say thank you yet."
Karol let out a cry of pain and fear. He felt the cold metal of Tison's blade against his sensitive neck. "Th-Thank you…" he cried weakly, the tears starting again.
Tison smirked before running the sharp blade down Karol's jawline, leaving blood in its wake. Karol whimpered in pain as his body trembled uncontrollably. "Don't worry." Tison's voice turned sickly sweet. "I take good care of my toys…"
At his words, something inside Karol snapped. Was that all he was? Was he that low?
…Yes… He couldn't even... fight back. He was nothing… He needed his guild. He needed them in order to be something.
But at the moment he had given up, something miraculous happened. Suddenly, Karol no longer had a blade against his neck, but instead, Tison had one at his. Karol slowly looked up to see the one person who truly cared. The person who mattered.
Yuri's face was dark and a lot scarier than Tison's face was. But Yuri was on Karol's side. So he wasn't scared of him. A brief part of him wondered if this was the same face he had given Ragou and Cumore before he…
"What the fuck do you think you're doing…" Yuri spoke slowly, his voice dangerously low. Tison gritted his teeth, going pale for a second before he straightened up suddenly, head butting Yuri's chin. He turned to swipe his blade at the long-haired male.
This left a long diagonal gash across Yuri's chest but he swung his sword back at Tison as though it wasn't even there. Karol was hypnotized by their fight for a few moments before he felt something tug at his sleeve. He looked over and it was Repede. Yes… He could escape with Repede. He could run and be gone before Tison even-
"AUGH!" As strong as Yuri was, he wasn't a match for Tison just yet. Karol watched in horror as Yuri staggered back with every blow Tison dealt. If Yuri couldn't beat Tison, Karol had no chance. He had to run. He had to run away…
Tison struck Yuri again.
Run away to safety!
Yuri was up against the wall and Tison lifted his knife, ready to stab.
"NO!" Karol ran forward with new found strength and grabbed Tison's arm, tackling him to the ground. The man's head struck the ground with a sickening crack and he immediately went unconscious.
"Yuri...? Are you okay?" Karol asked softly. Yuri pressed his lips together and immediately scooped Karol up in his arms, running off back to the inn, Repede trailing behind him. The dog made sure no one followed them, and as they entered their room in the inn, Repede stood right next to it, standing guard. Yuri laid Karol down on the bed and grabbed his bag. He pulled out an elixir and a few gummies.
No use waking Estelle at this hour of the night. He'd only worry her.
Neither of them spoke while Yuri sat Karol up, making him drink the elixir and he used the gummies for his own wounds. Karol watched Yuri, feeling his body regain its strength gradually.
"Yuri…?" Karol spoke softly.
"Hm?" Yuri didn't look at him as he applied the last of the gummies.
"You've apologized enough today, Karol," Yuri said sternly. "You shouldn't say sorry for things that aren't your fault."
"But, Yuri... I... I've been nothing but trouble for you since I joined and… I just…" Karol murmured. Yuri finally turned around and looked at him, his expression unreadable.
"Yeah, Captain. You've caused plenty of trouble," Yuri said evenly.
"When you helped heal the tree in Halure. Yeah. That was a bunch of trouble." Yuri's voice stayed even. "And at Ehmead Hill when you helped us defeat that Gattuso with the flowers. Loads of trouble, Karol. When you constantly cook for us and make us meals, completing the map for us, recording monster information." Yuri looked at him straight in the eye. "Yeah, Karol. Loads of trouble."
Karol listened and his eyes welled up with tears. "Yuri...!" he whimpered and he ran forward, wrapping his arms around Yuri's waist and burying his face into the man's chest. "Yuri…" he sobbed.
Yuri wrapped his arms around Karol's shoulders and nothing else needed to be said. Karol smiled happily as tears rolled down his cheeks. His chest burned with a fire that couldn't be put out. Karol, for the first time in a long while, was wanted.