I deserved it. Everything they did. I wanted it; the beatings, the water torture, the shackles…. It reminded me of Dacian. Every time they came to take me, I could hear Silas fighting, our bunk-mates struggling to keep him back. Each time was worse than the last, yet I remembered less and less. Silas nursed my wounds, though I could never fathom why. All my life, I lacked in true friends… it was ironic that I would find one here. He fought hard for me, and every time they came, I let them have me.
“Dacian is dead, Felix,” muttered Silas one evening as he set my broken forearm with a heart-stopping crack.
A howl burst from my throat, thunking my forehead against the table with a sob.
“G-Go to hell….”
“Not saying it won’t make it less true.” His words mirrored the ache in my arm, though he was oddly tender as he wrapped and splinted my swollen limb. “I understand that you loved him—”
“Love him, Silas. Just because he’s dead doesn’t mean my love died with him.”
“Fine. But it’s beside the fucking point.” His eyes burned, even as I worked not to look at him. I knew he was locked on me. “Dying here won’t bring him back.”
I knew that. But wasn’t it my greed for a formal marriage that got him killed? At least before I sought that formality we had each other.
“We deserved it.” I tried to clear the hoarseness from my throat, but the screaming had all but done it in. As it cracked around those words, I wondered if it really was hoarse, or if it was tears. My face had been beaten numb, so it really could have been either.
“Fuck off! You didn’t deserve any of this shit!” Silas snapped, snatching our tin rain-collecting cup and hurling it against the wall.
“I meant a wedding, jackass… We deserved a wedding,” I muttered after the shock of his outburst wore off. Rubbing my eyes with my good hand, I slumped back on the bed and cradled my arm.
“Oh.” Silas blinked owlishly at me, settling back on his crate. “Well. Right. Yes. You did deserve that. S’what I was telling you before. But really, though, Felix… Fight back a little.”
“You fight when they come for me.”
“Bullshit.” He plopped on the bed and laid beside me, both of us sideways, our legs hanging over the edge. “Your face is bleeding a little.”
“It always seems to be lately.” Glancing over, I watched him. Silas, an uncultured orphan from the streets of my father’s city. My only friend in the world now.
“They’ll be back tomorrow. Promise me you won’t just let them do whatever they want to you….”
I wanted to curse at him and go to sleep like I always did. Who was he to be making demands of me? It wasn’t that long ago that my fate had been the gallows, and I welcomed it. I could see no reason my life should be spared in favor of this hell.
“Believe it or not, you stupid bastard, people actually give a shit what happens to you.”
“People? Or you?”
He rolled his eyes and rolled himself to his feet, crossing the room without a word. Effective means of dodging the question. Silas had as many bruises and bandages as I did, it was baffling how he could move so easily.
“Fine, you win. I’ll fight while they’re beating me next time. Because we all know how far protesting gets you.” I tossed a bread crust from the table at him, bouncing it off the top of his head.
Unfazed, he turned toward me, eyes dark and hollow, more somber than I’d ever seen him. “Just do me this and pretend, for once, that you want to be alive….”
My mouth dropped open, I could feel it as I stared dumbly at him. I could only nod. In the short few weeks I’d been here, Silas had tended my wounds, coaxed me to laugh, and stayed beside me in the dark. Selfish, spoiled man that I am, I felt all this time that he was doing it for me. In that moment, I felt stupid and cruel. I wasn’t the only one in the dark.
“I do want to live.” Using my good arm, I shoved myself up, every bruise and muscle screaming in agony. “I let the helplessness control me. I’m sorry.” I still don’t know if I actually was sorry. I just knew that Silas needed to hear it. Taking his hand, I gave it a weak squeeze.
“I don’t want to die here, Felix…” He let his head drop back against the window, rattling the pane.
“You won’t. We won’t. You’re as stubborn as a gods be damned goat, Silas. You’ll live through this whether you want to or not.” Nudging him with my elbow, I was pleased to earn a small smile.
“That so?” He lifted his head and gave a laugh, tears running down his cheeks.
“That is so. You need to be alive to help me crush my father and take his estate.” Those words left me and I hadn’t the faintest idea where they came from.
“What?” Silas stared, and I grinned at his surprise.
“You’ll help me, won’t you? We’ll split the profit.” The idea hadn’t even come to me until just then, after it left my lips. But it was brilliant.
“You’re going to get yourself killed.” He glared, but only for a moment. My grin must have been infectious, because in seconds, I watched the same one grow on Silas’ face.
“Well?” I asked, squeezing his hand one more time.
Glancing down to our clasped hands, his eyes flickered once again to mine.