Shiloh wasn’t wrong. She was right, about most everything but especially about what she’d said about him, and Gideon hated it. Hated that Shiloh was getting upset with him for perfectly valid reasons, that she had every reason not to want him around Carter, and that she was right.
Storming off into the denser forest was the wrong plan, Gideon soon realised, as thorns and sharp branches grated against his skin and tore at his clothes. His arm, the one he’d fallen onto during the first coterie ambush, was already full of scraps and cuts, reopening the healing abrasions and smudging faint red lines over his skin. Nothing bad, nothing that hurt so much, but it was messy, and they didn’t have time to stop and clean it up.
They didn’t have time to be stopping to argue either, but what was he supposed to do? Gideon knew he was right about one thing, and that it had to be him that went after Carter. Shiloh wouldn’t be in there for five minutes before she got caught, there wasn’t a chance he was about to let Finn sneak in even if the only person Finn liked was the one who was they needed to liberate. Whisper- Gideon wasn’t sure what to make of Whisper, but he was sure they wouldn’t be able to handle what came at them down there. Magic or no magic.
And since Isha had to play distraction, Gideon was the one left. He knew he could do it, had done far worse than getting someone out before even if it was the Dragon’s Associates, who knew how he operated. Of course, Shiloh wouldn’t give him even half a shot. All because of the stupid thing Finn had said.
Gideon ducked beneath a gnarled branch of a tree bent over so far, he could nearly touch the upper part of the trunk. Which, considering his height, was impressive. He kicked over a sprig poking out of the ground and it snapped in two, for good measure. Then, chest seizing and twisting, he sat down, bracing himself against the tree, and stared into the foreboding darkness of the forest.
The canopy was so twisted together, it blocked out the light of the sun. The air was damp, musty, and a part of Gideon already wished he was back out in the open air, where he could breathe properly. He’d spent so much of his life not breathing properly, down in stuffy caves full of smoke and sweat, he felt he could stand in open meadows the rest of his life and never know what it was to truly breathe.
It was why he treasured the missions, if only to get above ground. The marketplaces were his favourite, with so many colours and smells. He’d only thought maybe if he had enough of that, it would overpower the monochrome existence that clung to him like a second skin.
His hands were shaking, and he resolutely stuffed them in his lap. He ground his teeth together, breath coming out in short, angry puffs through his nose. It had been better, it had. He wanted – Isha would kill him if she knew – something to take away the edge, to sharpen his mind and his body so he could think, truly think, and do something more than sit around on his hands while Carter sat somewhere in the coteries’.
His heartbeat echoed in his ears, and his tongue felt like lead in his mouth. He wanted to be at his best, and he was forgetting about the endless nights awake and hot and wanted to scratch away his own skin. His stomach was clenching- it scared him. He thought it’d been better, he’d barely spared more than a few thoughts, a few longings in the dead of night. The only time it had gotten bad was the first time he’d seen Adrienne again, during the second ambush.
He heard the crunch of leaves behind him and immediately, his hands found the hilts of twin short swords at his back. Gideon pressed himself against the trunk, trying to stifle his harsh panting.
“Just me.” Gideon let out a long breath and let his muscles loosen. It was Isha. He let go of his sword hilts and let his quivering hands fall back into his lap, tucking them away like they were there for safe keeping. “Gideon, you’re going to have to tell me where you are.”
“Behind the bowing tree,” he said, and his voice was raspier than he’d expected. He hadn’t been crying, but it almost sounded like he had been. Or like he had some sort of wicked hang over. Gideon couldn’t decide if that would have been worse than the situation at hand or not.
Her heard the leaves crunch and a twig snapped before Isha ducked beneath the low-hanging branch and peered down at him. She had to duck, unlike him. She had several inches of him, because of course she did.
Blonde hair curtained her face, which was paler than normal, as she frowned down at him in consideration. Or maybe consternation. It was hard to tell with Isha. Then, her brows softened, and she slid to the ground beside him so that their shoulders were touching. She must have been able to feel his shivers through her jacket – why was she even wearing a jacket? He was warm and there was nothing on his arms.
“Let me guess, you don’t want to talk about it,” Isha said, after a moment. He watched her, but she only stared out into the trees. He could feel his brow twitch, and she nudged his foot. “If you scowl any harder, you’re going to pull a muscle.”
He pursed his lips and finally looked away. He opened his mouth to speak, but his mouth was dry. Tremors ran through his body again and he let out a shuddering breath. No, he didn’t want to talk about it. Not even a little. But Isha had also seen him in much, much worse fits before.
“I hate that she’s right,” Gideon grumbled. Maybe if he said it quiet enough, Isha wouldn’t hear, and they could pretend they weren’t having this conversation right now. Isha stiffened against him, and he scoffed. “Don’t bother fighting it. You know she is. I just-” he tugged at his curls in frustration. “Can I get any worse? You know I performed my best missions… like that. It helped. Carter needs all the help he can get-”
“Shut up,” Isha snapped. “You were not better, you were different. So, it stimulated you, but you were also so angry all the time. You’d take a swing at anything that moved, Gideon. You-” she kicked his leg. Hard. He winced and avoided looking at what kind of expression she on her face. Her tone was strangled though, and he could feel the tension wrap around them like coils. The kind of tone she used when she was gearing up for one of the bad fights, where they’d shout as loud as they could without ever stopping to truly hear each other. “You were scary like that. Do you really think-”
“I’m sorry,” Gideon said, under his breath, pushing his hands hard into his thighs to try to stop them from shaking. “I’m sorry. I know. And I know Shiloh wouldn’t let me in fifteen feet of Carter if I relapsed. I don’t want to, it’s-” he could feel Isha’s gaze, searing, against his cheek now and cringed. “I’m sorry. You were always there when I needed it, even when I was dumb and violent and desperate.”
Isha was silent for several moments, but she had relaxed again against his shoulder. Gideon tried to suck in deep breaths, tried to think of anything but the way he was trembling. He tried to think of Carter, how he needed to pull himself together for him before the coteries – Adrienne and Jemima – did anything irrevocable to him.
“You were pretty dumb. You still are,” Isha agreed. He finally glanced over to see the faintest smile playing on her face, crinkling at the corners of her eyes. Then, she nudged his shoulder, and Gideon let the tension seep away from him. She wasn’t mad. “You’re getting better at apologising, too.” She shook her head. “Carter is good for you, and it’s- I’m frustrated at Shiloh. Truth or not, she’s being unreasonable. You don’t deserve that.”
Gideon was… unsure what to make of that. But Isha was considerably more perceptive than he was, seeming more knowledgeable about him than he was. He didn’t want to think about it now, anyway. That was something for later. Never. “It’s not as if I’m helping,” he pointed out, which was fair regardless of whose side Isha was on. “I mean, it’s not like Whisper knew about what was going on with Carter. We didn’t even get it, Finn did, because he’s-” Gideon gestured vaguely and made a disgusted noise from the back of his throat. Then, dropped his hand. “What if she really didn’t know, Isha? What if the protective instinct went both ways, and Carter hid it from Shiloh because he didn’t want them to be without shelter?”
Isha considered him, then sighed and ran a hand through her hairs. She tucked her legs up to her chest, spreading them out to take up as much room as she could because Isha was not one to be constricted. “Maybe so. And I’m not saying you’re being a darling about it either, you certainly aren’t helping the situation by provoking her. But that doesn’t negate that fact Shiloh’s singling you out. She won’t even get worked up when I’m the one shouting at her.”
“It’s not like she has reason to put faith in me,” Gideon said bitterly. He wasn’t shivering anymore, not badly anyway, and his lungs didn’t feel so congested anymore. Thank God, truly, for Isha.
She pinched him, and Gideon couldn’t even bring himself to feel less grateful for her. “We had just been let out of a mouldy cell and you were throat deep in withdrawals. You were miserable. Does Shiloh even know how that started?”
“She wouldn’t believe me if I told her I didn’t start it willingly. She’d think I was making excuses.” She wouldn’t believe him if he told her they’d just gotten a new shipment of khat in, and Vasile didn’t want to test the quality on anyone valuable. It wouldn’t be a loss if the runt of the litter died or got sick.
“That’s why I said she’s being unreasonable.” Isha shrugged. “She needs to stop seeing it in black and white. And she needs to stop making remarks about it when she never even tried to help you through nursing off it.”
Gideon didn’t say Shiloh wasn’t obligated to do anything for him. That Isha had never been, either, because he owed her his life at least fifty times over at this point after everything she’d done for him. Instead, he opened his mouth to make a remark about how it was her beliefs, she didn’t have to change them for Gideon, when his gut twisted.
What would Carter think about it? How much of the same beliefs would Carter share with his sister?
“Gideon?” Isha asked. He had grown still beside her, and he knew he was likely staring into the shadowed thicket beyond with some kind of severe expression, because he did that unconsciously a lot. She shifted against him, and he could hear her open her mouth with an intake of breath-
She never did get to respond. A shout rang out through the trees, from somewhere behind them. Another, something indistinguishable but it sounded like a name, a warning. Gideon sprung to his feet and Isha was right beside him.
They didn’t even exchange another look before they were sprinting through the forest back towards where they had left the others.
word count: 1,996