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She strips him of his guard, of his control and of the skin he uses to face the world, and he could weep from the relief of it.

She’s playful and strict and oh so careful, oh so determined, and that guidance, that determination are everything he needs. Because he doesn’t resent them for it, and he wants to lead them, he does, he wants everyone to be safe and for the world to live, for his friends to reach their goal and come home, for his parents to have a home to go back to, but leading has never come naturally to him, and he’s not sure why they asked. There is too much of him that feels raw and brittle still, too many times when the choices were not his, not really, and how can he lead them when he could never even lead himself. How can he carry the world on such fragile foundations, on the broken remains of treacherous ice pillars?

She strips it from his shoulders along with everything else, and for once he doesn’t have to choose (choose for the world before he is even allowed to make a choice for himself), to be strong, to be whole. She loves his broken shards still, plays with them with blunt tenderness, and every time she rakes her fingers through them, a bit of the pain catches on her skin and falls away, torn out of his heart and laid to rest.

Being toyed with doesn’t feel the same when the player is building.

He doesn’t think the others would understand. They know how to deal with people, not automatons’ scrapped parts. Ivan, maybe, who watches more than he speaks, and has learnt to tell people’s thoughts from their eyes if he cannot touch their minds. Maybe it is something about their element, that they can catch people’s hearts when they drift, just like he and Isaac, no matter how many worlds have separated them, are still able to walk to the ends of the world without needing a home, because their roots are still burried somewhere.

She pulls at his pain, at his shaky thoughts and his too-heavy feet, and ties them together, intricate, beautiful knotwork to be taken apart next time, and then crafted again, stronger.