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"No, Cass don't- please!"  Varian gasped, gripping the stone bars that kept him safe inside like a lifeline as he was pushed out over open air.

Cass's jaw tightened, and she tried to ignore the panic clear in his voice.  She stopped him closer than she'd originally planned, regarding him carefully.

Varian’s eyes were wide with fear, gaze locked down toward the ground far below.  His breath hitched and shuddered.

She frowned.  "Calm down, I'm not going to drop you."

He didn't answer, though she could see the way he was trembling from here.  It didn't even seem like he heard her. That couldn't be a good sign.

She should just leave it.  He'd be okay, safe in his rocky prison.  She made to turn away and caught another glimpse of his scared face.  Her resolve crumbled.

With a small sigh, Cassandra pulled the cage back inside the tower, crouching down in front of Varian.  His hands were still holding onto the cage in a death grip, eyes staring wide and blank at the dark stone floor.

His breathing was too harsh, coming fast and shallow.  She retracted the rocks from around him and he let out a panicked whine, hands clenching into fists as he was suddenly deprived of the support.

"Varian, hey, breathe.  You're just fine."

A choked sob escaped the teen, taking Cass by surprise as he curled in on himself. She couldn't recall ever seeing him cry before, and the fact that she'd caused that weighed heavy in her chest.  

He mumbled something that was rendered incomprehensible against his apron.  

"Hey, why're you so scared?"  She prompted, though she wasn't sure she'd get an answer.  She expected it to be sarcastic if she did. The lack of some derisive quip was honestly more painful than the alternative.

His shoulders shook, and she decided maybe he couldn't actually get out any coherent words right now anyway.

Cassandra hesitated, cautiously reaching a hand toward him.  He jerked when she touched his shoulder, teary eyes blinking up at her from behind his bangs.

Varian’s expression twisted, and for a second she thought he was going to say something.  But then he crumpled forward against her, clinging and hiding his face against her armor. She stiffened in surprise, staring down at his shaking form.

It had been months since she'd had this level of tactile contact with anyone.  She tried to ignore how incredibly welcome the warm weight was.

Varian was talking, but she couldn't make out the muffled words.  The occasional fragment jumped out at her. Can't, please, not again.

She slowly looped an arm around his back, a hand settling behind his head in support.

This wasn't how hostage situations were supposed to play out.  But Rapunzel wasn't here yet. She still had time to sort this out.  She'd meant it when she said she didn't want to hurt him. Though clearly she wasn't doing the best job with that.

She startled slightly when a different voice cut in.  "What are you doing? We don't have time for," the blue ghost girl's lip curled in distaste, "this."  She drifted around them, eyeing Varian scornfully.

Cass glared at her, hissing a soft, "Quiet, you."

Luckily Varian didn't seem to hear.  He was still clinging to her like his life depended on it, but his sobs were starting to settle into shaky breathing.

Blue sent her a cutting look before fading out of sight.  She sighed, dropping her gaze back to the kid.

His breathing was slowly shifting back to a more even pattern.  "I- thank you," Varian said softly, voice so quiet she almost missed it.

Her eyebrows knit together in confusion.  "Why the hell are you thanking me?" She was the cause of his distress in the first place.

"You didn't have to bring me back inside."  He wouldn't look up at her, but she could feel his pulse fluttering like a bird through their contact.

"Ya, well...  You looked terrified."  She tried to make the tone light and dismissive as she rested her chin on top of his head, fidgeting with the leather band of his goggles.  She ran over what had happened before asking, "You said not again. What did you mean?"  

He stiffened in her grip, breath hitching for a moment.  "I- it's really not... not important."

She scoffed.  "If it wasn't important, you wouldn't have been panicking like that."

"Panicking?  I wasn't-"

"Varian." Her tone had more exasperation than actual bite to it.

There was a long moment of silence, made easier for both of them by not having to look at each other.

"I've kind of... nearly fallen to my death a lot.  This..." He took a steadying breath. "This isn't the first time someone- someone I viewed as a friend- dangled me over a deadly drop."

"I wasn't going to drop you," she whispered.

"Ya, you know, you saying that doesn't make it any less terrifying!" Varian's voice was wound tight with distress.

"Who threatened to drop you?  That doesn't sound like any of Raps' friends."

"That's because it wasn't."  There was something hollow about his tone.  She found herself holding him just a bit tighter, unease curling inside her.   

"It was someone I met in prison."  He let out a bitter laugh. "And it wasn't an idle threat.  He was-" His voice hitched. "He was ready to kill me. I mean sure, I turned my back on him… but he was going to blow up a bunch of innocent people!  What was I supposed to do?"

Cass hummed in response.  "He sounds like a real piece of work."

"Ya.  I mean, I guess I should have known he was using me. Maybe I kind of did?  But he was the first person to start listening to me and I just- I needed that y'know?"

"Ya, I know..."  Her thoughts turned to Blue, currently nowhere to be seen but no doubt lurking.

"Of course, the moment I wasn't useful and compliant Andrew was ready to get rid of me."

Cass blinked in surprise.  "Andrew? That Saporian loyalist?"

"Wh- ya?  Wait how do you-"  Varian shifted back to look up at her in confusion.

"I'm the one who put him in prison in the first place."

Varian let out a small, incredulous laugh.  "He was my cellmate."

"Wait, really?  Who let that happen?"

"I dunno."

"Of course he's the sort of asshole who'd try to kill a kid,” she muttered darkly.

"It’s not like it was all bad stuff Cass,” Varian murmured, gaze lowered.

"Don’t make excuses for people who hurt you."

"I'm not!  I just- it's hard to forget someone who was your main source of... of companionship for a whole year."

Cass frowned, letting her hand drop down through his hair and back into her lap.  "So don't forget." There was more she felt like she should say, but she couldn't quite organize the thoughts into words.

Varian shifted back, wincing slightly and wrapping an arm around his midriff.  Her eyes widened slightly.

He glanced up, catching her gaze.  "Hey, it's... it's fine."

"Really?  What did I just say about making excuses for people who hurt you?"

"Cassandra...  look you didn't mean-"

"Don't tell me what I did or didn't mean to do Varian."   A flicker of blue caught in the corner of her eye.

“Lock him up again, Cassandra.” Blue hissed.  “We’ve wasted enough time on this.” She dropped her gaze, expression twisted.

“Is that really necessary?”

Varian’s expression shifted to confusion.

“He’s a distraction. You got what you needed from him, now put him out of sight and out of mind.”  Blue looked back up at her, cold gaze meeting her own. The spirit had flitted over toward Varian.

“Sorry Varian, I won’t put you back out there but we really have to wrap this up.”  She drew away from him, rising to her feet.

Blue was grinning with satisfaction behind him.  

“Cass…” He glanced over his shoulder to where the specter was, then back at her.  “Who else were you just talking to?”

“It doesn’t matter.”