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Witbound

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“Wait!” I cried, and in shouting the word, I woke myself. Nearby, the Fool sat up, his hair tousled. I blinked. My mouth was full of salve and wolf hair, my fingers buried deep in his coat. I clutched him to me, and my grip sighed his last stilled breath out of his lungs. Nighteyes was gone. Cold rain was cascading down past the mouth of the cave.

 

     I was not sure what I heard first: his wordless sob or the sound of the parchment falling to the sheets. What I felt first was the despair that lanced through him, and I knew what he had just read. For a long time, I had dreaded writing of the death of my brother. Pain lanced through me to think of him at all, and long after the rest of my story was recorded that piece of my life was missing from the middle of it. Despite the years that passed before I wrote it, the details of it never faded from my mind. I am not sure I wanted them to.

     He was there when it happened. Then, my cry had pulled him from the depths of slumber, just as his now pulled me from my ruminations. He had known what I had felt then, but he had not understood. By the time my gaze snapped over to him, he had curled in on himself, his hand clapped over his mouth. I know he wept as truly as he would have if he read of the death of anyone I loved. I knew he wept when he read of Verity’s death in my memory, even though he had witnessed that as well. But the sharpness of his sob had pierced me to my very soul, and all the despair I had felt at Nighteyes’ departure rose in me then.

     I gathered my Beloved into my arms, but this only drove my sorrow into him. As soon as it had returned to me, it had been directed to him just as strongly. My arms around him only trapped the despair within him as he clung to me sobbing. My own tears ran unchecked, but it was clear that he was the worse for wear. I had felt this before. I knew how to deal with it. He did not. I lamented to think what would happen if I—when I—died before him. Would he last through my death, if merely the memory of my blood brother had done this to him? I realized then what he meant when he spoke to me of the bond between Prophet and Catalyst being dangerous. Could it be that I had shared too much with him? For now he had just felt the lancing pain of being separated from one’s Wit-beast, nearly twenty years after it had happened.

     I looked down as I realized he had stopped sobbing. His tears flowed silently now, his golden eyes staring straight ahead. He barely breathed, and he did not speak. I felt a fresh jab go through me and almost in the same instant another sob burst from him. He buried his face in my chest and cried, clutching at me with that strength that always surprised me. Our sorrow echoed off each other, and it was with a pang of guilt that I realized what I should have done. I reached behind me and gently detached his right hand from the back of my tunic. Curling his silvered fingers into a fist, I held his hand to his chest. He kept it there when I let go. The link between us was muffled, but not silenced. We could, at least, distinguish our thoughts from each other. He looked up again, his eyes dry but his cheeks wet, and stared at nothing again.

     After a time, I put a finger to his jaw and turned him to look at me. I whispered his name and he sniffled, finally blinking. He assured me he was still there, but I knew he spoke more than that. I had kept him from retreating into his shock and despair—no, my shock and despair—just as he had kept me from that ledge the first time I had felt such effects. Exhausted, he slumped against me, closing his eyes. My own slid closed as I ran my fingers through his golden hair. We were safe now, but nothing, I knew, could ever fully keep that pain from either of us again. His awareness of Nighteyes’ long-past death had broken down that last wall between us.

     We fell asleep as one.