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

Chapter Text

To say Tommy was not in a good mood was an understatement. He had gotten up at the ass crack of dawn, too early in his opinion, to go hunting of all things. Tommy didn't even like hunting. He would much rather spend his time exploring caverns or pranking Wilbur.

Speaking of Wilbur, that prick was the reason he was in this situation, to begin with. Wilbur had been prattling on and on about how he took down a huge stag while returning from his recent expedition, almost double the size of the one Tommy had taken down last spring, and gods would Wilbur not let Tommy forget it.

If the residents of the castle thought that Tommy didn’t have an off button, they obviously hadn’t heard Wilbur when he was determined to get under Tommy’s skin.

It had only been a day since Wilbur had returned, and Tommy already wished he was out visiting the villages that made up the outskirts of their kingdom again. Every encounter he had with Wilbur, the older prince never failed to mention that fucking stag, and Tommy was losing patience fast.

It all came to a head at dinner the previous evening. Wilbur was being insufferable as usual, egging Tommy on from across the table beside Technoblade. Tommy gripped his fork tighter as Wilbur flicked yet another scrap of food at him.

Wilbur had just finished ranting about how ‘delectable’, whatever the fuck that meant, the meat from the stag that he had single-handedly taken down tasted. Phil, amused and not at all annoyed at hearing the story for the fifth godforsaken time, had just smiled from the head of the table. Technoblade looked as unbothered as usual from his seat at the emperor’s left. Pricks.

Wilbur flicked another piece of meat across the table. It hit him square in the face. Tommy’s patience, already strained to begin with, snapped.

He stood abruptly, chair skidding across the quartz floor behind him. Angrily, he threw down the napkin that was in his lap onto the table, relishing in his family’s shocked faces. "That's it, you prick! Tubbo and I will bring home a stag larger than you've ever seen, you hear? You'll eat your words, bitchboy!" Tommy seethed.

"I'll bet you 50 gold pounds you won't." Wilbur jeered, reclining back on his wooden chair and swiping his hair out from his face. His eyes met Tommy’s, a challenge shining playfully in his whiskey-colored orbs. Oh, so that’s how he was gonna play this.

Tommy grinned, making sure to show off his canines. “Double it.”

“Boys,” Phil warned, disapproval bleeding into his tone. Tommy ignored him.

“I’m heading out first thing in the morning. Don’t send for me.” With that, Tommy stormed out of the Great Hall. He ignored Phil’s calls for him to come back, elbowing past the guards positioned at the door as he went in search of Tubbo.

To say Tubbo wasn't keen on being chosen to accompany Tommy was an understatement, but Tommy had pleaded with him, and Tubbo had finally agreed on the condition of Tommy sneaking him a basketful of his favorite tarts. It was a cheap price, given how Tubbo detested hunting on a normal day, so Tommy was not going to complain. Tubbo had always had a soft spot for animals, but the chill that was present in the air made things much worse, so much that even Tommy was regretting his hasty actions. Even his warmest cloak had trouble keeping out the frigid cold.

To make matters even worse, there was neither hide nor tail of any creatures in the forest. Tubbo had reckoned they were smart, hiding away in their burrows or dens of wherever the hell they lived. Tommy didn't particularly care, he just wanted to kill something.

"Why are we even out here, this is stupid!" Tubbo complained from behind him, stomping over a tree root behind him. Tommy turned, shooting him a withering look.

"This would go quicker if someone stopped scaring away all the wildlife."

"We haven't seen any wildlife all day and you know it," Tubbo shot back.

"Well we probably would've if you weren't scaring em' all away before we got within fifty meters, you prick!"

Tubbo snorted, falling quiet as he focused on following behind Tommy as he sped up, gripping his loaded crossbow tightly in his hands. He would bring down a stag larger than Wilbur’s and prove to him that he could, weather and wildlife be damned. He could do this.

His optimism lasted until they reached the foot of the mountain a few minutes later without seeing any signs of wildlife. Even the birds had fallen silent, the only noise was the occasional gusts of wind that swept through the forest.

Tommy shivered, grumbling to himself. He was about to turn around to rant about the unfairness that was currently his life, had an arrow not sliced through the air, embedding itself into a tree barely a foot from his nose, sparkling softly with enchantments.

"Tommy!" Tubbo cried out, racing up the path towards him and gripped his arm tightly, pulling him back as another arrow flew by, barely missing him. The momentum threw Tommy off balance, and both he and Tubbo fell to the ground in a heap.

Scrambling, Tommy stumbled to his feet and unsheathed his sword, scanning the mountainside frantically for where the arrow had come from. Almost absent-mindedly, he reached back to grab Tubbo's shirt and pull him up, making sure he was close behind him.

"Show yourselves!" Tommy called out, praying that his voice didn’t shake. It did. Fuck.

A snap that came from above him drew Tommy’s attention, and three men stepped out from behind the foliage, sliding down the small cliffside and onto the trail in front of them. They were all wearing chainmail across their chests. One with a scar above his eye and a wicked grin had a crossbow aimed at them. The other two had their swords drawn and were lazily approaching them.

"Those crossbow shots were warnings, Tommy. If they were aimed to kill, you would've been dead on the spot." Tubbo whispered. Tommy felt him slide a dagger from his belt.

He chanced a glance back at Tubbo. "Chances we can take them?"

Tubbo snorted, eyes locked on the approaching enemies. "Little to none, without a good amount of luck."

Tommy snarled, adopting the battle stance Techno had drilled into him growing up. "State your business, bitch!"

The man in front, the leader, Tommy decided, laughed loudly, stopping around ten feet in front of them. A wide smile spread across his face. "You're in no position to make demands, boy. We've got the power here."

Tommy could feel Tubbo clutching the back of his cloak tightly. He had to play it safe. Not only was he at risk here, but Tubbo was as well. The thought of one of these men hurting Tubbo was unthinkable to him.

"What do you want, you prick, besides stalking kids. Which is sick, by the way. You guys are sick." He bit out, ignoring Tubbo's hiss of warning that antagonizing them probably wasn't the best idea.

"You best shut up if you know what's good for you," the man, the asshole, Tommy resolved to refer to him as, cautioned, taking another step closer.

"Try me, bitch."

The man shrugged, a smile making its way back onto his face as he stared at something over Tommy's shoulder. "Suit yourselves."

There was a snap of a branch from behind them, and Tubbo cried out as he was ripped from Tommy's side.

"Tommy!"

Tommy whirled around. A fourth man had snuck up behind them, and Tommy cursed himself for not noticing sooner. He lunged towards Tubbo's captor.

The man, obviously not expecting his quick reaction, threw Tubbo to the side, barely able to bring his own weapon up to block Tommy's attack.

The two became locked in a dance of sorts. Tommy deflected an oncoming blow before spinning, sending his foot into the man's chest and knocking him to the side. He turned back towards where Tubbo was last, and his eyes widened.

In the brief moments he spent incapacitating the fourth man, the other swordsman had managed to grab Tubbo. His friend knelt on the ground with a hand wrapped tightly around his shoulders, with the other hand fisted tightly in his hair, jerking his head up. He had a knife to his throat.

Tears welled up in Tubbo's eyes.

"Let him go," Tommy warned. He was surrounded like a cornered animal, leader, and the one wielding the crossbow advancing much too close for his comfort. Not that he was even close to comfortable with this situation, anyway.

"Toss over your valuables and we'll consider it." The leader chuckled sharply. "Start with your sword."

Tommy hesitated. He knew he couldn't take then, not with it being a two on one, and especially with Tubbo being in the position he was, but he didn't want to give up his only chance, however slim it was.

"No, Tommy d-ah!" The dagger dug further into Tubbo's throat, blood beginning to trickle down from the wound. A warning.

"Now, boy, I ain't gonna ask you again."

Tommy gritted his teeth but did what they asked, throwing his sword on the ground and kicking it towards the leader. The leader whistled, leaning down to pick up the weapon.

"This is some fine craftsmanship. You got the royal crest embedded in er' too. Where'd you get your hands on this? You steal this shit?"

Scoffing, Tommy shook his head. First, these bastards assault him and Tubbo, then they accuse him of theft. Anger coursed through Tommy. "Hell no, bitch. It's mine!” Tommy fumed, defensiveness seeping into his tone. “I don't need to steal shit!"

The man raised his eyebrows, and a faint voice, that sounded suspiciously like Wilbur, echoed in his mind. You fucked up.

"This sword er', with the Antarctic Empire crest engraved into it, is yours?" The man said suspiciously, eyes boring holes into Tommy.

"Uhh," Tommy faltered, cursing himself for not thinking this through. What would Techno do in this situation? God, Techno wouldn't even allow himself to get into this situation. He would've never given up his weapon, to begin with. Tommy was screwed. "My father gave it to me."

"What, your father the king or something?" The man challenged. Tommy hesitated for a second too long, desperately trying to think of an excuse they would believe. "God's above, he is, ain't he?"

"No?" Tommy began, but it came out more like a question. The man let out a surprised whoop of glee.

"Alright men, change of plans. We’re taken this one with us!"

The other man lunged forward, grabbing Tommy's arms and wrenching them roughly behind his back before he could react. Tommy thrashed, trying to throw him off, but he was easily overpowered as the man he had knocked down earlier assisted in restraining him, wrapping his wrists tightly in leather cuffs.

"What should we do with this one, Schlatt?" The one holding Tubbo asked roughly.

The man, Schlatt, paused, glancing at Tubbo. "Not really in the mood to drag two kids through the forest today. Knock him out. If he makes it back to the empire, he can tell the king his son’s been kidnapped. If not, no skin off my back."

Tommy froze, panic lacing through him. They were just gonna leave Tubbo here! A part of him was grateful that he wasn't being taken with. The other part was terrified of his best friend being unconscious and defenseless in the forest.

Tommy's eyes met Tubbo's frantically. "Tubbo! No, stop!'' Tommy managed to get out before the handle of the dagger came down on the side of Tubbo's head. The man let Tubbo's body crumple to the ground.

"Tubbo!"

Tommy shook, kicking behind him in an attempt to free himself and get to Tubbo's side. A small stream of blood was visible on Tubbo's hairline, making Tommy's stomach twist violently.

A foot connected harshly with his back, and Tommy gasped as he fell to the ground harshly, the arms holding him aiding in holding him down. He winced as a knee dug into his spine, pinning him to the dirt. A hand seized clumps of his hair painfully, forcing his cheek into the cold soil.

The man, Schlatt, spoke something that Tommy didn't catch, too focused on recovering from the sudden change in position, his eyes remaining locked on the collapsed form of his friend.

Something heavy knocked into the back of his head, and the world around him began to blur and dim, before finally fading to black.

Chapter Text

The first thing that Tommy became aware of was the gentle swaying. A pang of confusion spread through his hazy mind as his consciousness returned slowly, his lethargic mind slowly becoming receptive to his surroundings.

His hearing returned next. He could barely make out male voices among the clattering of hooves on rocks, though they were faint enough that he couldn’t understand what they were saying. Tommy’s first thought was that he had fallen asleep on one of his brothers again while out on the trail with his family, as it was not an uncommon occurrence. He was about to surrender to sleep once more, content when he felt pain pulse along the back of his head. That’s not quite right.

Realization shot through Tommy's veins suddenly, nerves buzzing underneath his skin as though lightning had struck him. His eyes shot open, blinking sluggishly in an attempt to clear the blur from his vision. He was strewn across the back of a horse on his stomach, tied hands dangling in front of him. What the fuck.

Don't panic. Don't panic, panic isn't gonna help you. Tommy's mind supplies. He shifts slightly, forcing his ankles apart to see if they were tied together. They were.

The horse beneath him jerked, slipping slightly on the rocky trail they were currently on. Tommy groaned, squeezing his eyes shut at the wave of nausea that swept through him. His head pulsed in protest to the rapid movements.

"'Ey, boss. I think the kid's awake." A gruff voice called out from Tommy's right. Tommy opened one eye, ignoring the pain in his head as he looked up slightly. His eyes met green ones. "Oh, he's definitely up. How ya feeling?"

Tommy blinked, not expecting his kidnappers to care. He glared up at the man, the crossbow one, he realized. "Go fuck yourself." He spat, dry throat protesting the action.

A sharp laugh drew his attention. The rider, Schlatt, if he recalled correctly, slowed his pace, white horse falling in line with Tommy's. He smirked down at him.

"I'd lay off the kid, Punz, or he might bite ya." Schlatt drawled, reaching down to grab Tommy's chin, fingers digging into his skin roughly as he forced his face upwards. Tommy's head spun, dizziness overpowering him for a moment. His face must've shown how awful he felt since Schlatt frowned. "How hard did ya hit this kid?"

"Hard as I always hit 'em'" A new voice from behind them grumbled. "As long as it knocks em' out it shouldn't matter."

A part of Tommy wanted to yell at the man that yes, it did matter. He felt like shit, but after his slip up revealed that Phil, the man who raised him, was the king, he held his tongue. Can’t afford to mess up like that again.

Tommy paused, panic rising once again as his last thought set in. Shit. They knew that he was a prince. Oh, he was so screwed. Royally fucked, as Wilbur would say. God, Wilbur would never let him live this down.

Tommy licked his lips. "So what's the plan here, fellas? Ransom?" He asked, forcing as much confidence into his tone as possible. It wasn't much. "Usually kidnappings go for a ransom, or at least I've heard. Haven't been kidnapped before. Till now I suppose."

Schlatt stared down at him, his expression unreadable. Tommy shifted, uncomfortable. He didn’t think he said anything wrong, but being caught in Schlatt’s void stare made him feel like prey about to be devoured by a wolf. "I don't think ya hit em' hard enough, Ponk."

Tommy bristled but held his tongue as the men chuckled.

"'Fraid I can't tell you that yet, kiddo. You'll find out soon enough." Schlatt said lightly, almost taunting. "Can't have you spilling any secrets."

A sliver of hope formed inside his stomach. "So I'll be going home soon?"

Schlatt scowled. "The hell did ya get that idea?"

"Well, who the fuck else would I be spilling secrets to?" Tommy fumed.

Schlatt smiled, a predatory glint in his gaze. "Kid, you're not gonna get the chance to spill secrets to anyone. 'Specially not your family." Schatt taunted. "If everything goes to plan, you won't be seeing them for a long, long while."

Fear wormed its way into Tommy's heart as he stared into Schlatt's eyes. Schlatt paused, tilting his head as he examined him. Tommy willed his heart to stay in his chest.

Schlatt's smile seemed to get wider. "I'm gonna enjoy every second of breaking you."

Fear gave way to anger at that, and Tommy balked, pushing past nausea and pain that rolled over him as he fought to raise himself. "You're a right bastard, you know that! Break me, what the hell! You're never gonna break me, bitch. You'll never have a cha-"

Tommy's head jerked to the side, rant cut off as the back of a hand smashed into his cheek. A wave of nausea crashed into him, and he choked, heaving what little breakfast he had eaten down the side of the horse's coat. The pulsing pressure in his head seemed to increase, to the point where it almost felt unbearable.

Faintly over the ringing in his ears, he could hear raised voices arguing. He tuned them out, focusing on willing down the pain. He forced himself to remember the breathing pattern Phil had helped him do whenever he was panicking, or when he was younger, throwing tantrums.

His breathing was interrupted when hands pulled him backward off the mount, setting him down roughly on the uneven ground. Tommy stumbled back, gasping as his arms were forced away from his body. A rough rope was wound around his wrists, digging into the leather cuffs already in place.

"What..?" That was all he could manage before his voice cut off. His throat burned, the vomit adding to the dryness and making it burn. Ponk grunted, pulling a piece of cloth from his pocket and stuffing it into his mouth roughly.

Tommy choked as the makeshift gag was tied behind his head, eyes shooting daggers at the man. Ponk never even made eye contact with him leaning down to slice the ropes that bound his ankles. Tommy really hoped it was because he was intimidated by him.

"Done." Ponk said, releasing his arms before returning to where Schlatt was holding the reins of his horse. As he passed Punz’s horse, he handed the other end of the rope to him, nodding in acknowledgment as Punz thanked him.

"Sorry kid, you're walking, now," Schlatt said, sounding not at all sorry. He clicked his tongue, urging his horse onwards. Punz turned his horse to follow, jerking the rope attached to Tommy's wrists roughly.

Tommy stumbled, bound hands digging into the small, sharp rocks as he barely saved himself from falling onto the rocky trail beneath him. The rope jerked again, no gentler, but this time Tommy didn't fall. Barely.

Red spread across his cheeks at the treatment. It was humiliating, being dragged behind them by a rope like he was a misbehaving dog. He was a prince, for god's sake. A big man, not an animal! Had he not been gagged, he would’ve protested violently. Or he told himself he would have, as he currently barely had the energy stand, let alone walk.

With his head spinning and stomach threatening to revolt again, Tommy followed the horses as they began to ascend the side of the hill, following the trail as it passed between rock formations. Badlands? Tommy had never been there personally, but there were only so many giant rocky biomes nearby. He hoped they were nearby at least since he had no idea how long he had been unconscious.

What would his family say when Tommy didn’t return? Would they laugh at how Tommy couldn’t successfully take down a stag like he said he would? Would they feel annoyance for having to bail him out of trouble again?

God, what would Tubbo say? Was he even alright? His chest tightened at the thought that no, he might not be. Tubbo could be dead for all he knew.

Why did he have to rise to Wilbur’s bait? None of this would’ve happened if he hadn’t let his pride talk for him, dragging him and Tubbo into harm's way. Now Tubbo could be laying on the forest floor, dead or dying, and exposed to the elements. Tommy choked down a sob. This was all his fault.

The rope around his wrists jerked once more, pulling him from his thoughts. A small part of him was grateful. He glanced up into Punz’s callous eyes before averting his eyes.

He would get out of this mess somehow. He was Tommy Innit, for god's sake. He could do this. He would make it back to Tubbo and his family if it was the last thing he would ever do.

Tommy firmly pushed down the thought that it might be.

 

-----------------

 

Technoblade had a headache, and Dream was not helping it.

The knight had burst into his quarters, interrupting his high priority paperwork, buzzing with energy that Techno refused to acknowledge that he was jealous of. The day was in full swing and Techno still hadn't properly come to terms with being awake.

Dream had messed up his neat piles of paperwork, dined off his food, and seemed to delight in being such a nuisance that if it weren't for their friendship friendly rivalry it would have landed him in the stocks. So Techno did the only thing he knew would help both of them.

He set aside his paperwork, grabbed his sword, and dragged his knight to the training grounds.

Techno thrived when engaged in combat with Dream. He was one of the only opponents capable of parrying Techno’s blows. Dream was quick on his feet, dancing around him with an ease and grace that spoke of countless years of experience, something obvious to Techno despite Dream never formally opening up about his past to him.

The two had dueled until the sun was high in the sky and the bells began to toll. The crowd, consisting of both knights and castle staff, that they always drew began to disperse, returning to their other duties now that their entertainment was gone.

Dream's energy had subsided slightly but was still way too high for Techno's liking. It was almost like they hadn't gone head to head for two hours if the one-sided conversation was any indication. But alas, Techno didn't have any more time to waste training, as much as he wanted to. He had to finish his reports before the council meeting with his father and brothers in a few hours.

The two were making their way across the courtyard, feet clicking on the quartz floor. The courtyard was one of Techno’s favorite places within the castle. Vibrant green vines wrapped loosely around stark white pillars. Leaves adorned the overhang above them, adding a natural feel. He would hang around here more, if the place wasn’t constantly filled with people.

"Sire!" Someone called, and Techno bit down a sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose in annoyance before he recognized the voice of Tubbo. The two had never interacted much, with him always hiding behind Tommy when he was around.

Techno turned, eyes scanning the crowd around them for the source of the disturbance. Tubbo had never directly initiated a conversation with him before, which was odd. Techno knew the two had gone hunting earlier after Tommy had stormed out after dinner, but he hadn’t thought much of it. It wasn’t his business.

Tubbo emerged from behind a group of young women, shoving through the group and calling an apology over his shoulder. He stumbled across the courtyard towards Techno.

When Tubbo reached him, the first thing Techno noticed was the dried blood on his temple, a streak of red bright against his brown locks. His clothes were dirty, which wasn't that unusual, but the fear in his eyes made Techno's unease rise. This didn't bode well.

"Tubbo, are you alright? Is that blood!?" Dream asked, reaching out to cup Tubbo's face towards him, examining the wound.

"I'm fine, honest." Tubbo panted, running a hand through his hair. He turned back towards Techno. "Please sire, it's Tommy. He needs help."

"Where is he?" Techno asked, mind beginning to run through the possibilities of what his younger brother could have done now. Had he fallen in a ditch somewhere? Did he upset one of the locals and need someone to bail him out again?

Tubbo choked, eyes overflowing with tears as he began to sob. Dream met his eyes as he wrapped an arm around the distraught child, rubbing his back and whispering reassurances.

Techno shifted, feeling out of place. He could handle emotional moments with his family relatively well, but outside of them, he had no idea how to comfort others. Luckily Dream was here to pick up his slack.

"Tubbo, please, we need to know. We can't help Tommy if we don't know where he is." Dream said softly. Tubbo wailed.

"I don't know where he is; that's the problem!" Tubbo choked out, burying his head into Dream's chest. The knight hugged him closer, tucking the younger under his chin, brows furrowed in concern.

Techno knelt down in front of them, placing a hand on Tubbo's arm. "Tell me what you remember, Tubbo. I can't help if I don't have any information."

Tubbo nodded frantically, wiping his tears away roughly with the back of his hand. "We were hunting, and these men came out nowhere and shot at us." Tubbo babbled. "One held me at knifepoint," he pointed to the thin red line on his throat that Techno hadn't noticed before. "He had Tommy drop his weapon, and found out that Tommy was of royalty. They, they took him, sire! They took Tommy and I couldn't do anything about it!" Tubbo sobbed again, turning away from Techno and into the comfort of Dream's arms once more.

Techno knew he shouldn't be surprised. The fact that they were royals made them targets. Not only that, but there was growing unrest in the kingdom. More thieves and bandits roaming around. The rational part of him knew that there was a possibility of something happening to anyone who left the castle walls. He had heard about it, seen it happen firsthand. But another part had refused to acknowledge that it could happen to Tommy He cursed his oversight.

Techno looked at Dream, who seemed as shocked as Techno was feeling. He met Techno’s eyes, tilting his head slightly, his face carefully blank as he watched his superior. He was waiting for Techno’s orders.

“Inform the Emperor and gather his council,” Techno instructed, barely managing to keep his growing rage from his tone. “We’re holding that meeting Now.”

Chapter Text

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.