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fearless child, broken boy; tell me what it's like to burn

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Tommy had little memory of what happened when they arrived. He vaguely recalled being dragged through a cobblestone hallway lined with torches, legs so weak that Punz was basically carrying him. 

 

By the time he was thrown into the cell, he was already out.

 

Tommy didn't know how long he had been unconscious. There were no windows in the room, only cold, damp stones lining the walls. The wall in front of him had a set of iron bars, connecting an adjacent room with a small wooden table, complete with a set of two chairs inaccessible to Tommy. On the table sat a candle, its soft, flickering flame the only source of light. Another table was placed in the opposite corner of the room with another candle. Shadows made up most of the room, dancing hauntingly in time with the soft light.

 

Not only was it almost entirely dark, but it was quiet

 

No matter how much Tommy strained his ears, he couldn’t hear any signs of the men who had taken him. The only sound was the faintest trickle of water, making a quiet plop as the drops fell to the ground.

 

At first, Tommy was grateful for the silence. There were no loud noises or sharp movements that made his head scream in protest. He was able to lay still and recover, allowing his mind to wander and process all that had occurred. All in all, it wasn’t terrible. 

 

It got old quick, though. 

 

Tommy knew he was an ‘overactive child’ as Wilbur called it. He had trouble sitting still and was constantly attempting to converse with someone. His family knew the only time he was ever quiet was when something was incredibly wrong, something he couldn’t hide behind fake smiles and strained laughter.

 

Being left alone in a musty dungeon definitely qualified as incredibly wrong.

 

The only way Tommy knew time was passing was when someone brought him food and water, a lanky teen who introduced himself as ‘Ranboo.’ A stupid name, in Tommy’s opinion, and he had voiced as much. Ranboo never seemed to rise to Tommy’s quips much, only offering either a strained chuckle or short sentences in return.

 

Tommy hadn’t minded too much, too busy scrambling to eat the slices of bread and nuts that Ranboo provided, along with a small waterskin. Ranboo would sit at the table by the back wall, reading over a small notebook that he always brought with him. 

 

The longer he was in confinement, the more Tommy became grateful for Ranboo’s quiet companionship. He was the only other person, or being, rather, since Ranboo didn’t quite seem to be ‘human’ by his standards. It was too dark for him to get a good look, but Tommy was fairly confident that humans' skin colors weren’t split halfway across their faces with perfect symmetry. He didn’t think so, anyway.

 

The two fell into a kind of routine, neither interacting with each other more than necessary. Well, in Ranboo’s case, at least. Tommy still tried.

 

Currently, Ranboo was sitting in the chair he always sat in, one leg crossed over the other as he scribbled into his notebook in the candlelight. Tommy picked at his bread distractedly.

 

“Why hasn’t Schlatt visited me yet?” Tommy mumbled, breaking the silence. He leaned his head against the iron bars of his cell, rolling the dough between his fingers. He wished Wilbur were here to yell at him not to play with his food.

 

Ranboo hummed distractedly, turning the page in his leather book. “He’s probably still waiting for orders.” 

 

Tommy sat up, narrowing his eyes at the taller teen. “Orders from who?”

 

Ranboo froze, pen suspended in the air. A blot of ink fell onto the middle of the page, unnoticed by the hybrid. Ranboo swallowed nervously. “Oh God, I probably shouldn’t have said that.” He hesitated, and Tommy could see the growing panic behind his eyes. “Oh, yeah, I definitely shouldn’t have said that. Just forget I said anything.”

 

“Ranboo.” Tommy urged, sitting up onto his knees. He placed the bread back on the plate beside him and leaned his forehead onto the bars, icy metal relieving the ache in his head. He watched the teen carefully. “Ranboo, orders from who?” 

 

“I- I really shouldn’t say..” Ranboo stuttered, shifting in his seat. He clutched the book to his chest, fingers running along the edge of the pages. 

 

“Ranboo, I’m begging you, man. You gotta give me somethin’.” Tommy pleaded. Ranboo looked conflicted, so Tommy continued. “Please. If Schlatt’s getting orders from someone, then that means my family could be in danger. Please.”

 

“They wouldn’t like it if I did..” Ranboo insisted weakly. “I’m sorry Tommy, but I can’t.”

 

Tommy sighed roughly, sliding back to lean on the wall. He was too tired to fight Ranboo on it now. He tilted his head back, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Look man, I get it. Gotta cover your own back. Can’t blame you for that.” He paused. “It’s not like I could tell anybody even if I wanted to,” he mumbled. 

 

Tommy heard Ranboo stand hastily, shoes clicking on the stone floor as he paced, but kept his eyes shut. If Ranboo wasn’t going to help him, he didn’t feel like giving him any more of his time. 

 

“Tommy.” 

 

Tommy ignored him. He knew he was being childish, but he couldn’t help himself. Ranboo was the only person who would give him any information at all. He knew he couldn’t push him, shouldn’t push the only one that showed him a shred of sympathy in this place, but this was his family at stake. 

 

Ranboo sighed, and Tommy heard him approaching the cell bars that separated them. He cracked his eyes open, watching Ranboo squat down from the corner of his eye.

 

“Tommy,” Ranboo began hesitantly, “look man, I’ll tell you what I know, alright? I don’t know much-”

 

“That’s fine!” Tommy cut in, sitting up, wincing as his head protested violently. He gripped the iron bars, leaning as close as he could to Ranboo, excitement overtaking him. “I don’t care, just tell me!”

 

“I am, I am, calm down,” Ranboo chuckled nervously. “Look, I’m only telling you because if I were in your position right now, I would hate to be left in the dark on stuff like this. But you can’t tell anyone I told you, alright? Like, Schlatt or Ponk or whoever.” Tommy nodded eagerly.

 

Ranboo sighed. “All I know is that Schlatt’s waiting for word from someone in the Antarctic Empire. He wants to know this guy’s opinion on what to do with you. The guy has power, I think, with how worried he is about what he’s gonna say.”

 

The idea of someone with power in the same area as his family made his stomach roll violently, but there wasn’t anything he could do at the moment. He felt useless. No, he was useless.

 

“Someone with power?” Tommy reiterated quietly, scowling. “So there’s a traitor, someone who wanted me gone? Did they tip Schlatt off that Tubbo and I would be out that day?” If they had, then they would be a huge threat. The two had head out early in the morning with only the night to prepare, if this mystery man had a chance to not only get access to that information but also relay it, well, nothing good could come of that.

 

“I'm not sure. I mean, Schlatt kinda kidnapped you without telling them.” Ranboo chuckled awkwardly, not seeming to pick up on Tommy’s internal crisis. “Said he couldn’t help himself, ‘gotta take every opportunity to get ahead’ and all that.” 

 

“Well, that’s stupid.” Tommy blurted, rubbing his face in relief. “If you’re working for somebody, it’s kinda rude to do something like kidnap a guy without telling them, especially if you do it for your own selfish reasons.” 

 

“I mean, he’s not really working for this guy. It’s kinda like an alliance of sorts? I don’t really know too much about it, sorry.” Ranboo scratched the back of his head, eyes flickering to the lit candles on the table.

 

“God, this is all so confusing,” Tommy whined, leaning back, “it’s messing with my head!”

 

“I mean, I don’t think it’s that complicated,” Ranboo countered. “Schlatt’s waiting for word from a powerful man in the Antarctic Empire before he visits you. That's it.” Ranboo paused. “Actually, I don’t think it’s complicated at all.”

 

Tommy groaned loudly, “I have brain damage, you prick! There’s something wrong with my brain! They hit me in the back of my ‘ed and now it won't stop hurting and shit!” 

 

“That sounds suspiciously like a concussion,” Ranboo pointed out. “You said they knocked you on the back of your head? Turn around and let me see.”

 

Tommy nodded, shifting around so he was kneeling with his back to the bars. He ignored the discomfort of feeling so exposed, refusing to think about how easier Ranboo could sink a dagger into his back. “Make it hurt any worse and I’ll make sure you never see the light of day again,” he mumbled, allowing his eyes to slide shut. Fatigue was overtaking him quickly, settling into his bones.

 

He felt Ranboo’s fingers gently prod at his head, moving his hair to the side. Tommy hissed when Ranboo pressed down too hard, a mumbled curse falling from his lips. Ranboo muttered a distracted apology.

 

“You’ve got quite the lump here,” Ranboo noted, prodding the spot one more time before leaning back on his heels. “Turn around again for me?”

 

“Tell me something I didn’t already know,” Tommy muttered, complying. Ranboo hesitated.

 

“Can you, uh, look behind me for a sec? I wanna check your eyes,” Ranboo muttered. At Tommy’s confused look, he continued, desperation bleeding into his tone. “I have problems with eye contact, it makes me really uncomfortable,” he confessed softly. “This would go a lot smoother if you just didn’t meet my eyes.” 

 

“Whatever works best for you, man,” Tommy muttered, eyes moving to watch the candle behind Ranboo, who thanked him quietly. 

 

“It’s pretty dark, but your eyes look kind of dilated. One sec.” Ranboo turned, grabbing the other candle on the side table by the cell door, bringing it up to Tommy’s face.

 

Tommy flinched back, hand coming up to shield his eyes. The light from the open flame made the area behind his eyes scream in protest. 

 

"Too bright?" Ranboo questioned softly, and Tommy shook his head in conformation. "I figured it would be. 

 

"Why the hell did you do that, then?!" Tommy protested. He cracked his eyes open when he heard Ranboo return the candle to the table. 

 

"You know nothing about concussions, do you?" Ranboo lectured, tilting his head as he considered the younger teen. "How do I know more about this than you do, and I have memory problems?"

 

"Well I mean, I know some stuff! I just didn't think I would ever have to use that knowledge!" Tommy exclaimed, crossing his arms across his torso. He felt like he was being lectured by Wilbur, and Tommy hated when Wilbur lectured him. It made him feel all dumb and shit. He frowned. "Wait, what do you mean 'memory problems'?" 

 

Ranboo stopped fiddling with the candle, laughing awkwardly. He turned quickly, grabbing his book from the back table where he was sitting previously. "Don't worry about it. I have to go for now, but I'll be back later, alright?" Ranboo called, making his way towards the iron door. 

 

"Ranboo, wait!" Tommy pleaded, but the other teen was gone, footfalls echoing down the corridor, leaving Tommy alone once more.

 


 

By the time Tommy got another visitor, the candles were almost fully gone, only a few centimeters of the once taller white pillars remaining. 

 

Tommy was laying on the floor of his small cell, wrapped tightly in his cloak. The blue fabric acting as the only thing between him and the icy stone. He was curled up on his side, arms tucked to his core, holding the edges of the cloak in place. 

 

The sound of footsteps against cobblestone caught his attention, and Tommy opened his eyes just as the iron door burst open, revealing Schlatt and Ponk, who held a torch. Dull pain spread behind Tommy’s eyes at the sudden influx of light.

 

Ranboo trailed behind them, clutching his book tightly. He looked stressed, and Tommy could barely see beads of sweat on his forehead. The iron door slammed shut behind them. Ponk placed the torch on the holder on the wall where they arrived.

 

Tommy sat up slowly, watching the group with cautious eyes. "To whom do I owe the pleasure, gentlemen?" 

 

Schlatt chuckled, grabbing a rusty key from his belt, moving to unlock the cell door. It clicked open. Schlatt moved back, waving his hand at Ponk, who stepped forward into Tommy's cell.

 

"Nothing personal, kid, just gotta ask you a few questions is all." Schatt began as Ponk lifted Tommy up roughly from the floor. Tommy cried out, head spinning as he desperately clung to his cloak as Ponk ripped it away, throwing it on the floor by the door.

 

"I recommend you make this easy for us," Schlatt drawled calmly, pulling one of the seats from the back and moving it directly in front of the cell. He sat, lifting a bottle of what Tommy guessed was whiskey to his lips. "If you don't, then I'm not responsible for what happens."

 

Ranboo grabbed the other chair and Schlatt’s nod, setting it down in front of Tommy. Ponk forced him into the seat. Tommy instinctively struggled when his arms were wrenched behind his back, but Ponk’s grip was like iron, not lessening in the slightest.

 

Schlatt looked bemused as he watched Ranboo tie Tommy’s ankles to the legs of the chair, while Ponk wrapped a thicker rope tightly around his upper arms and around the back of the chair. 

 

Once Tommy was sufficiently restrained, Ranboo returned to Schlatt’s side, standing behind him and against the wall. He clutched his book to his chest. He at least has the decency to look sorry, Tommy thought. 

 

“Now then, let’s get this show on the road, shall we?” Schlatt commanded, leaning forwards. A smirk graced his lips. “Let’s begin with the guard rotations.”

 

“What?”

 

“Now, now, don’t play dumb, prince.” Schlatt spat. “What time do the castle guards rotate? It’s a simple question.”

 

Tommy’s head spun. He had expected Schlatt to want something from him, but guard rotations of all things? If he had a source as powerful as Ranboo said he did, he should already know.

 

Tommy licked his lips nervously. “They rotate on the top of the hour.” 

 

Schlatt stared at him with narrowed eyes. He sat back in his chair, crossing his leg. “So you told the truth. Interesting.”

 

Tommy sputtered. “Why would you even ask me something you know the answer to?” 

 

“To see if you would tell the truth or not. You see, it’s vital that you’re honest with us.” He smiled. “I’d be a shame if I were to find out that your information isn’t correct.”

 

Tommy’s mind shot to Tubbo and his family. “What would happen if it isn’t?” He asked nervously. He feared he already knew the answer.

 

“Oh, I don’t know. I’ll have to tell my contact in the Empire that you’re unwilling to work with us. I’m sure he could find a way to tempt the truth out of you.” His grin morphed into one more manic. “Preferably with those brothers you seem to love so much. Or that boy you were out with.”

 

Tommy’s heart constricted painfully. He forced down his fear and held his chin high, unwilling to show the twisted man in front of him how afraid he truly was. 

 

Rage boiled in his gut, and Tommy reveled in it, letting his anger overtake the overwhelming anxiety clawing at him. It was one thing to threaten his safety, but it was another to threaten those close to him. 

 

Bastards. If I hear that you’ve gone anywhere near them, I’ll be sure to kill you myself, do you hear me?” Tommy snarled. Schlatt studied his reaction with dark, soulless eyes. 

 

“Oh, you’re every bit as amusing as I thought you would be, prince.” Schlatt purred, and Tommy barely had any time to prepare before Ponk’s forearm pressed down on his throat, forcing him backward against Ponk’s chest and the back of the chair.

 

Tommy choked, struggling against his bonds as he fought to breathe. Through the ringing in his ears, he could faintly hear Schlatt’s boisterous laughter echoing through the chamber. 

 

After what could have been anywhere from a few seconds to a minute, Ponk released his grip. Tommy panted, gulping down precious air. Ponk’s hand came down roughly on his shoulder, as he knelt down to whisper directly in Tommy’s ear. “I wouldn’t be so cocky. Next time, I might not hold back.”

 

“Now then,” Schlatt’s declared, drawing Tommy’s attention once more. “Allow us to continue, shall we?”

 


 

Tommy’s head rolled to the side, sharp pain stabbing through his already sore jaw at the force of Ponk’s punch. If he wasn’t already sitting, he had a feeling he would have collapsed from the waves of pain and nausea that crashed through him.

 

Ponk really hadn’t been kidding about not holding back.

 

“Eyes up,” Schlatt commanded, and Tommy sluggishly raised his head, meeting his captures eyes. He swallowed down another wave of pain. “Good. Now, I only have one more question, then we can call it a day. Pretty good deal if you ask me.” 

 

Hope flickered in Tommy’s chest at the thought. He had no idea how long Schlatt had been interrogating him. All he knew was that the man had downed two full glasses of whatever concoction he had Ranboo serving him. So it had been at least ten minutes, he guessed.

 

The door banged open suddenly, forcefully swinging so hard it crashed into the stone wall behind it.

 

Tommy saw it in slow motion. He watched as Ranboo jumped in surprise, the pitcher he was pouring from falling from his hands. It landed on Schlatt’s lap, alcohol splashing out and completely soaking his capturer’s trousers.

 

A heavy silence filled the room. Schlatt slowly reached down, removing the pitcher from his lap with careful fingers. He looked up at Ranboo who stood frozen above him in terror. 

 

Schlatt’s fist tightening on the pitcher was all the warning given before he slammed the metal container into Ranboo’s head.

 

“Stop!” Tommy exclaimed before he could stop himself, struggling against his bonds with renewed vigor. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from Ranboo’s cowering form huddled against the wall.

 

“I’m sorry! I- I swear I didn’t mean it! The door-” 

 

“I ask one thing of you!” Schlatt roared, cutting Ranboo off. He stalked toward the taller boy, grabbing a fistful of his shirt and pulling him down until his face was inches from Schlatt’s. “I only ask one goddamn thing, and you manage to fuck that up, too! Can you even do anything right?!”

 

Ranboo stuttered, unable to form words. Schlatt scoffed, pushing the teen away roughly. He grabbed the notebook off the table, holding it in front of Ranboo tauntingly.

 

“This here is a privilege. I didn’t have to give it to you.” 

 

Ignoring Ranboo’s pleas, Tommy watched in horror as Schlatt began ripping up the pages from the notebook. 

 

“You don’t deserve this.” Schlatt snarled, letting the scraps of the notebook fall to the ground. Ranboo fell to his knees, hands shaking as he frantically collected the remains.

 

Schlatt stood over him for a long moment, before turning, gesturing for Ponk to follow. A shiver went down Tommy’s spine when Schlatt’s enraged gaze fell onto him. 

 

“Don’t get too comfortable boy, you’re not off the hook yet.”

 

With that, Schlatt and Ponk left the room, slamming the door behind them. Tommy flinched, eyes ringing for a few moments at the noise.

 

Tommy shyly looked up at Ranboo from his place on the chair. Ranboo was still kneeling where Schlatt left him, one hand touching his temple where the pitcher had hit him. Tommy couldn’t see his face

 

“Ranboo” Tommy uttered softly. He wanted, no, needed to know if the other teen was okay. If he was being honest, the way the other was acting was worrying. He had grown so attached to Ranboo’s easy silences, the tension in the air now made him want to puke. 

 

The only indication that Ranboo may have heard him was the subtle flex of his fingers, stretching out briefly before clenching into a fist. That wasn’t reassuring at all.

 

Tommy wet his lips. “Ranboo, man, are you alright?” he asked again, leaning forwards like it would give him a better angle of Ranboo’s face. “Talk to me, man, you’re worrying me.”

 

"God, would you just shut up!" Ranboo blurted suddenly. His hands pulled at his hair. Tommy stared, shellshocked.

 

"What?"

 

"No, God, sorry. Not you." Ranboo muttered, turning around. His eyes were wild, but seemed to soften slightly at the sight of Tommy. "Do you, uh, want me to let you out..?"

 

Tommy huffed, smirking at the hybrid. "That'd be helpful, yeah."

 

Ranboo entered the cell, unsheathing a curved blade from his belt. He crouched behind Tommy, and Tommy felt him beginning to saw away at the thick rope between his wrists.

 

"Remember when I said I had memory problems?" Ranboo began, and Tommy nodded. "Well, that notebook was where I wrote all my memories. Without it, I forget things. Important things." 

 

Tommy hummed. "That's fucked up." At Ranboo’s silence, he quickly added, “that he destroyed your book, not that you can’t remember shit.” Glancing over his shoulder at Ranboo, he noted that his cheek was becoming swollen. "Are you alright, by the way? He hit you kinda hard."

 

Ranboo looked up at him, surprised. He paused his sawing, reaching up to touch one finger to his cheek. "Oh, yeah no. I'm good. Thanks, though.” Ranboo continued sawing, and with one last grunt, the knife burst through the binding. "Also, I'm sorry I couldn't warn you this was happening today. It was a bit sudden, Schlatt had us come straight here after his meeting, I didn't have time to get away."

 

Tommy waved off his apology, flexing his now freed hands. "Don’t worry about it, big man. What meeting?"

 

Ranboo moved to Tommy’s side and began working on freeing his right foot. "The man I told you about earlier came to visit. Instead of writing as Schlatt expected, he came to talk to us in person. Scared Schlatt half to death I think."

 

"What did they talk about?"

 

"Generic stuff, mostly.” Ranboo huffed softly. “He yelled at Schlatt for taking you without his consent. They argued for a bit before he agreed that taking you was in the plan's best interest."

 

"What plan? Why are there so many plans, man? I can’t keep up!” Tommy complained, running a hand down his face, frowning when it came away bloody. He could deal with that later.

 

"You know, maybe I shouldn't be telling you all this." Ranboo glanced back towards the door as if Schlatt or someone else would come bursting through. "Especially not here, anyway."

 

“Just tell me one more thing, ok? Do you know who the guy was?" 

 

"I've never seen him before. That doesn't mean too much, though. Schlatt just started trusting me enough to tell me his plans." Ranboo froze. "Oh God, I'm gonna get in so much trouble for this, aren't I? And he just started to trust me!"

 

"Not if he never finds out you told me,” Tommy reassured. “But Ranboo, this is important. Really, really important. Do you know the name of this guy? Or at least what he was wearing?" Tommy urged. “Anything at all that could identify him?”

 

"I don't think anyone actually addressed him by his name. If they did, I don't remember, I'm sorry."

 

Tommy sat back, crossing his arms. He couldn’t be mad at Ranboo, the guy had memory problems, but it was still frustrating. "Helpful."

 

Ranboo frowned, contemplating. "If it helps, he was in nice clothes? And it was under his cloak, but he had an axe, I think. A big one."

 

“An axe?” Tommy hummed, “That’s something I can work with. Not too many people are handy with axes.”

 

Ranboo cut through the final rope and stood, extending his hand to Tommy. Tommy grabbed it gratefully and stood.

 

“Thanks, man, really. You didn’t have to cut me free.”

 

Ranboo smiled gently. “I don’t agree with how they’re treating you. I’d hate myself if I left you there like that.” His smile slipped slightly. “I do have to keep you locked in here, though.”

 

Tommy grimaced. As much as he hated to face it, Ranboo was right. He couldn’t just let Tommy roam around freely, as much as he wished he could. “It’s fine, man. Do what you gotta do.”

 

Ranboo hesitated, studying Tommy’s face to see if he was genuine. He must have accepted whatever he found, because he sighed, leaving the cell and grabbing the comically large key Schlatt left on the table. He locked the cell, leaving the other chair in with Tommy.

 

“I should be going before anyone gets too suspicious. I’ll be back with dinner, alright?”

 

Tommy grinned. “You better!”

 

Ranboo grinned back, and with a final wave, took the torch from its holder and left the room, leaving Tommy in the dark once more.