“Can we stop a minute?” Carter asked, voice soft. Gideon glanced over in time to see Carter’s gaze travelling up from his leg. Gideon scowled.“No,” he said. It sounded more like a growl, and Gideon’s chest grew constricted when Carter drew away. He hunched his shoulders, as if trying to make himself smaller, and Gideon glanced away, trying to soften. “We have to be getting close to an entrance soon.” He wasn’t sure if he sounded any friendlier than he had a moment ago.
“You’re not there anymore,” he said, voice not coming out quite how he meant it.Somehow, it made Carter smile.“We should keep moving. For a little while. Then we’ll rest, I promise,” he tried again. What if he came across as too bossy, too focused on something that wasn’t their wellbeing?But Carter nodded and didn’t let go of his hand as they set off again.
“I could be dead now,” Carter said. He made it sound conversational, and Gideon’s heart palpitated. “I mean, um. Well, you and Isha and Whisper. Finn. It was probably the safest, um. Safest place for me.” Gideon could see the second his expression dropped. He tried to concentrate on the dirt smeared across Carter’s cheek, so he didn’t have to look at his crushed look. “You really don’t, um. You really dislike me with you, don’t you? Um, really dislike… um, me.”Gideon stopped so abruptly he had to bite back a yelp of pain that tried to escape his throat. He gurgled, a strangled, strange noise that bounced off the cavern walls. Carter paused and turned to face him, and Gideon tried not to openly gape at him. “You think I don’t like you?” Gideon asked, blinking.Carter shrunk farther back into his shoulders and shrugged awkwardly. There was a distant dripping noise from somewhere else in the cave. “I mean- um, yeah? I’m really inconvenient, I don’t know how to, um, fight. You don’t like horses.” His brow was so deeply furrowed Gideon worried it might get stuck there. “You haven’t- um well, given me reason to think otherwise.”Thinking back- oh. Gideon hadn’t, had he? Had he always been so abrasive to Carter? Yes. Too cruel, too harsh, too blunt. A weapon.“Carter, I-” Gideon’s stomach turned, nausea crawling in his gut and in his throat. He tried to force himself not to look down, at the ground or at the place the brand was on Carter’s chest. “No? No, it’s- the opposite. I like you, I do, I’m just… rotten at this, I guess. Isha’s the only friend I’ve ever had? I don’t- I wasn’t raised to for this, I don’t know… I love that you love the horses so much, that you don’t know how to fight. You’re so gentle with them. I don’t know how to do that, I don’t know how to be gentle. I don’t know how-” Carter was watching him with an expression Gideon had never seen on him before and he had to swallow around a thickness in his throat. “I don’t know how to brave like you.”
“I don’t mind. I like it,” he murmured, half hoping Carter wouldn’t hear him. It sent him on a spiral anyway, pulse quickening. Vertigo gripped him and he blinked it away.Carter made a puzzled noise from the back of his throat. When he received no response, he nudged Gideon’s shoulder with his nose. “Hmm?” he prompted again.Gideon stared upwards. “I heard you and Whisper. They were saying— it was the night after you fell asleep, after the nightmare. You almost fell over, but I… caught you. I didn’t want you to sleep on the ground.” He swallowed and tried to calm his racing heart. This was so, so unfamiliar to him, and he was so uncertain of what the hell he was doing that he hated it. “They said they didn’t think I minded you doing that. I didn’t. I don’t.”“Oh.” Carter shifted again, as if caught between pulling away, shrinking back on himself, and staying where he was. He settled back down after a moment. “I… I, um. I like it too.”Even as the drowsiness began to set in and his eyelids began to droop, Gideon smiled, and rested his head against Carter’s.
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