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Stricken to the Bone

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"You think we could?" Thom whispers. He shakes his head; his mouth firms. "I'm coming with you." His tone brooks no argument.

Alanna stares.

***

Somehow, they persuade Coram. Alanna's never quite sure how.

***

Duke Gareth's progress report freaks Alanna out more than anything. "Father might overlook the wrong name, Thom, but he won't overlook the wrong number!"

"Alan, calm down," Thom says lazily. "I've already taken care of it."

He raises his hand. Dangling between two fingers is a sheet of parchment. A purple spark sets it smoldering away into ashes.

"How'd you get it?" Alanna asks.

Thom just grins.

***

Alanna doesn't swim, so Thom doesn't, either. Instead, they sit and plot pranks together while the other pages play.

The others learn to leave them well alone.

***

Thom handles the Sweating Sickness. Of the two of them, he has always had the more powerful Gift.

Alanna is ridiculously relieved. She doesn't know what she would have done had Thom not been here, but she's reasonably sure she wouldn't have liked it, either way.

***

They try their damndest to keep Alanna out of Roger's magic class, but unfortunately, people know Page Alan has the Gift, even if he never uses it.

Alanna never uses it in class, either. Roger assigns her as much punishment as he can, a baffled light in his eyes, and Thom watches them warily the whole time.

***

Thom is never quite sure what to make of George.

George is never quite sure what to make of Thom; it is the other twin his Sight leads him to, but George accepts that the siblings are nigh-inseparable.

The only time he ever meets Alan alone is when the boy breaks into George's room and tells him he's a girl.

The very next morning, George is accosted by the other twin, who really is a boy, and who is very, very angry.

"I won't tell anyone," George swears.

"You had better not," Thom snarls.

George thinks it is alright, just this once, to be terrified of a twelve-year-old.

***

When the squires take their trip to Meron, it is Alan's presence that Jon requests.

Thom has long since accepted that his sister is the more popular one, the one with actual friends, and that the others only put up with him because they like Alanna. Still, Thom rather hates Duke Gareth, in that moment, for agreeing to it.

So Alanna goes off to Persopolis and slays monsters with the Prince, and Thom goes with the other pages to Naxen in the summer. It is the longest time they spend apart from each other while they are pages.

I could have burned out those revenants before Alanna even got near the place, Thom thinks, trying not to be bitter.

***

Prince Jonathan takes on Alanna as his squire.

Thom gets stuck with Roger. Thom knows precisely why, too: Roger has figured out that the twins are hiding something, even if he has no idea what it is.

Thom eyes Roger; Roger eyes Thom. They are both a bit too paranoid for their own good.

It isn't until much later, when Thom slips into his sister's room at a very awkward moment, that Thom learns the prince knows what they are hiding.

***

Alanna is somewhat surprised that Thom never falls for Delia's charms. Delia's a bit surprised, too, as is pretty much everyone else. Delia's managed to charm everyone else, after all.

The rest of the court racks it up to something about Trebonds.

Alanna knows better.

***

The whole fiasco at the Drell is something Roger never quite gets over. It is one thing, after all, for a plan to fall through; such is life, and one simply plans better next time.

It is quite another to be rudely awoken by your squire, who is holding a dagger to your throat.

"If you ever think about harming Alan again," Thom hisses, "I will know, and I will kill you."

Roger believes him.

***

It's just an ordinary day at the palace when Alanna finally figures out just why Delia's never snared Thom.

They are all, the whole group of them, hanging out in the library. It is the first time in a long time that all of them have been together like this.

Thom, as usual, grumbles out something snarky when Raoul tries to take his book away. They can all see Thom's temper start to fray, and Alanna is just about to intervene when Alex leans over and ruffles Thom's hair.

Thom, to general surprise, subsides.

Nobody else seems to think anything of it, but Alanna knows her twin. Thom never allows casual touches.

***

It hurts to be suspicious of her own twin, but Alanna really has no choice. Thom is Roger's squire, has been for a while now, and he has grown close to Roger's previous squire, at that. He seems to have less and less time for her, these days. They are drifting apart, and it terrifies Alanna: it is supposed to be them against the world, them against Roger, and instead Alanna is more and more alone.

She knows what Roger is planning, they both do, and Alanna wants desperately to snatch her brother away from Roger's clutches, but all she can do is watch as Roger binds Thom closer and closer to him.

The thing that really throws Alanna off, more than anything else, is that she has lost her confidant. She tries reaching out to Myles, reaching out to George, but though both men listen gravely to her concerns, it is never quite the same.

***

Roger tries, subtly, to kill Alan a few more times.

"I know where you sleep," his squire reminds him.

Roger stops trying.

***

Alex nearly kills Alanna in a practice bout.

Alex never knows why he tried it.

Alex knows damn well why Thom leaves him.

***

Roger keeps finding his poppets melted into the carpet.

The morning Thom decides to wake him by throwing the fountain bowl at his head, Roger resolves to try a new strategy.

***

By a weird twist of fate, Thom's Ordeal is first.

He comes out whistling. "'s not so bad," he tells his disbelieving sister.

***

Thom is a liar, Alanna thinks later.

***

Thom should have known Alanna would do something stupidly heroic right after earning her shield.

She stands tall before Their Majesties, throws the evidence of Roger's latest murder attempt at their feet, and tactlessly shouts her accusations to the world.

...So much for subtlety, Thom thinks.

***

Roger, of course, challenges Alanna to a duel, in yet another attempt to kill her. Clearing his name, Thom knows, is only a secondary concern.

Thom watches the sweep of Roger's blade, and knows with a stunning clarity what is about to happen.

He is too far away to intervene.

***

Roger in particular is being extremely melodramatic about the revelation. As Alanna goes to straighten herself out, Thom steps forward, murder in his eyes.

Roger is nothing but swirling ash by the time Alanna returns.

***

King Roald is furious. Alanna doesn't think she has ever seen him angry. She could have gone without seeing it now.

He very nearly sentences Thom to hang, right then and there, but his wife and his brother-in-law are both right next to him, hands over his mouth and dragging him away, before he has a chance to say anything.

***

In the end, it takes the combined efforts of the Queen, Duke Gareth, Jonathan, and Duke Baird to stop the king from ordering Thom's execution. Nobody is quite sure why Baird involves himself, but Alanna is vaguely relieved that he does.

The price Roald exacts for Thom's life is Alanna's shield.

Thom looks furious enough to finish Roger's work for him, but Alanna was already expecting this. It is not hot rage that fills her heart when she sets her shield and Lightning at Roald's feet; it is cold sorrow.

She bows, and walks away without a backward glance.

***

Alanna goes south and somehow becomes a Bazhir shaman. The whole adventure is too convoluted to explain, so she never bothers.

Thom is a knight of the realm, now, and cannot go with her.

***

Alanna goes following Halef Seif's map, and she's never quite sure why. It seems like knight work, to her, and she is no longer a knight.

But the Chamber thought I was, she thinks, and maybe that's the reason she soldiers on.

***

Jon hands her back her sword and shield at Myles' townhouse, just before the coronation.

"My father was an idiot," he says by way of explanation. "You'd better come tomorrow as a knight, or I really will take them away," he adds.

Alanna could almost kiss him.

***

Thom, in an astonishingly bizarre twist of fate, is Jon's Champion.

Gary, laughing at the expression on Alanna's face, takes her aside and explains, "It's the only way Jon could think of to keep Thom on something of a leash."

Thom graces Gary with a truly vile glare.

Alanna laughs.