Summary: As far as Remus knows, the situation with Shane is totally normal. Sure, it sucks, and he would love to not have to deal with getting beaten and scrutinized as often as he does, but that's just the way things are. There's no other way around it. Which admittedly might create some problems when he gets fed up enough to run away. (Trigger warning for abuse.)
Even at seven years old Remus was well aware that people like his brother more than him.
Part of it was the looks. Roman had never chipped his teeth or gotten cuts on his face or grinned in a way that was just a little bit creepy (even though that was the fun part). Part of it was also probably personality. Roman was friendly and agreeable in ways that Remus wasn’t. Roman never got looks that amounted to “when are you going to leave?” Roman also never had to see Shane.
Shane had told him many times that people liked Roman more than he did, but he seemed to have different reasons than the ones Remus had come up with. According to him, Roman would make a far better soldier because he knew how to shut up and do what he was told in a way that Remus had never been able to comprehend. And this was just what happened to kids who didn’t do what they were told. That was Shane’s job, after all. He got a high rank for it too. According to him The Light have really cared about crushing dissension. But that didn’t change the fact that Remus probably would have been more willing to listen to his reasoning about Roman if the bruise on his face wasn’t screaming it’s protest.
But he was right about the fact that far more people liked Roman than him. Remus was mostly okay with that, because there were three people he was pretty sure liked him well enough. One was Roman himself, and the other two were their new and closest friends, Patton and Logan. Patton and he didn’t always get along perfectly, since he didn’t love the way Remus always roped him into plans to steal food from the kitchen; but he never got the impression that Patton liked Roman more than him. And Logan was fun to talk to about weird stuff. Remus could tell him about the rotting carcass he found outside, and while Patton and Roman would both be grossed out, Logan would ask him all sorts of questions as to what he thought the animal was, what it looked like, how decomposed it was at that point.
And then of course, Roman. Even if Roman had loved himself more than Remus (which frankly wouldn’t surprise him, given the size of his ego), Remus would have loved him anyway, because he was Roman. And Remus had to protect him. There was nothing saying Shane wasn’t just as likely to hurt Roman if he fucked up. Remus couldn’t let that happen.
Which is why he was pretty sure this was a bad idea.
Remus followed Logan and Patton out the door and onto the roof, pulling Roman behind him and not letting go of his hand. Stealing food from the kitchen was one thing, but sneaking out at night? Remus took a deep breath. He wasn’t going to look like a coward and voice concerns about getting caught. That was Patton’s job. Besides, he could always say it was his idea. That had convinced Shane to leave his brother alone in the past.
And Logan was right. Shooting stars looked really cool.
“Look, look!” Logan cried, far more excitement in his voice than usual. “That’s Aries!”
“I thought we were out here to look at shooting stars,” Patton said, sitting down next to where Logan had plopped himself down on the roof.
“We are, but I just learned how to find that constellation!” Logan called happily. Logan had found a contraband book on astronomy recently and had not stopped studying since. He’d begun to teach the rest of them too. Remus was finding it interesting enough that he kept listening.
“Alright.” Logan pulled that contraband book out of his jacket and set it open on the ground in front of them. “So shooting stars aren’t actually stars at all.”
“What?” Roman asked around a yawn. “Why’re they called shootin’ stars then?”
“Because that’s what they look like! But actually, they’re chunks of rocks burning up in the atmosphere!”
Remus’ eyes widened and he leaned over Logan’s shoulder. “They’re on fire?”
“They are!” Logan called, beaming at him. “They almost always burn up before they even hit the ground, but the burning is what lets us see them!”
“That’s awesome,” Remus said, looking up at the chunks of burning rock falling through the sky. “What happens if they don’t burn up?”
“Uh… I don’t know. I haven’t gotten to that part in the book yet,” Logan said, looking down at the textbook in his lap. “I think it makes some kind of crater.”
“Tell me when you get there!” Remus said, leaning against Logan’s side and looking down at the book too.
“Will do,” Logan said, smiling over at him. Remus grinned back and they both looked up at the stars above the four of them. Patton was watching, but he still looked exhausted, and Roman lasted another second before he leaned against Remus’ shoulder and fell asleep. But Remus and Logan would be up for many hours yet.
Remus, after the discovery that astronomy included things like burning rocks flying through the sky and explosions out in space, joined Logan far more often for stargazing and sessions to read his book. That was good for a long while, long enough that Remus could now name all the constellations and was able to use the stars to navigate if he had to. Roman and Patton joined them on quite a few stargazing sessions as well, but they often fell asleep in the way that Logan and Remus never did.
By the time Remus turned 11 it had been several years since the two had needed the book, but that didn’t mean that Remus didn’t remember what it looked like, and he recognized it instantly when Shane dropped it on the table in front of him.
Remus had weekly meetings with Shane, bi-weekly if he happened to seriously fuck up that week in some way. He hadn’t thought the book would be coming up in tonight’s meeting. He looked at it for a second and decided that it was safest to not say anything just yet.
“This was found in Logan’s room,” Shane said. “Do you recognize it?”
Remus wasn’t sure why he was being asked this question instead of Logan, but he wasn’t going to complain. If there was a way to get Logan out of this safely, he would take it. He nodded.
“So you’ve been studying contraband books,” Shane said, his voice dropped to a dangerous low. Remus squeezed his hands together under the table. He wished Shane would sit down. It wasn’t usually a good sign when Remus was sitting and he was standing.
“It was my idea,” Remus said.
Shane raised his hand, and Remus had a second to brace himself before he was smacked across the cheek. He held back a wince. Those never put Shane in a better mood.
“Do you think I care whose idea it was?” Shane asked. “Logan would at least have an excuse. He’s going to be a strategist. He needs to know how to plot locations, and stars are a helpful tool for that. You are a soldier. Strong. Silent. Replaceable. You don’t need to think. Understand?”
Remus looked down at the table and nodded. Oh, he’d forgotten about the way he’d folded in so many of those pages. It had driven Logan crazy. He’d complained that Remus was going to ruin the only book they had. But the book looked almost fine today, so Logan was obviously wrong about that one.
“I don’t want to hear about anything like this again,” Shane said, picking up the book and setting it down in his bag. “Get out of here before I decide you deserve worse.”
Remus climbed up from the chair and walked over to the door, thoughts buzzing through his head. He shut the door after him. He wasn’t sure why Shane talked to him if the book was found in Logan’s room. Wouldn’t that kind of automatically make it Logan's fault?
Remus shook himself slightly. He shouldn’t be complaining about getting a chance to take the fall for Logan. He would much rather it be his fault than Logan’s. But didn’t mean the fact that he was the only one yelled at didn’t still rub him the wrong way. Remus would blame that for his next decision of heading straight for Logan’s room and shaking him awake.
“Who’s there?” Logan asked, reaching for his glasses on his bedside table.
“It’s me,” Remus said, picking them up and handing them over to Logan. “You wanna go stargazing?”
Patton and Remus didn’t have a ton in common, but Remus found some fascinating things to learn in the fact that Patton was training to be a doctor, so he got to look at super gross injuries all the time. Remus would tag along sometimes to see how to treat a broken bone, or a nasty stab wound, or a concussion.
Sometimes Patton treated him when Shane was a little too rough. He felt like a safer person to go to than any of the actual doctors. Remus was pretty sure Patton just thought he was clumsy. He wasn’t expecting that to change, like it ended up doing one night when they were both fourteen.
It had been a bad night. Remus wasn’t sure he could make it until morning without some kind of medical care or he’d be up all night in pain and unable to sleep. He made his way to Patton’s room and knocked on the door before walking in.
Patton was rubbing his eyes and sitting up in bed as Remus made his way over to sit down.
“Hey, it’s me,” Remus said, as Patton grabbed his glasses and put them on. “Can you—”
“Oh my goodness, Remus! You look terrible, what happened?”
“I fell down the stairs,” Remus lied. “I think my nose is broken.”
“Oh no,” Patton said, throwing the covers back and taking Remus gently by the arm, pulling them both out of his room and towards the medbay. Remus winced and decided not to tell Patton he was holding the area where he was pretty sure a bruise was already forming.
They had this kind of thing down to a science at this point. Patton grabbed the bruise cream and bandages, wrapping the cuts that Remus had and putting the cream on the areas Remus pointed him to.
“There’s not much I can do for your nose,” Patton said. “It’s not broken in any way I need to adjust, so you’re just going to have to not touch it and wait for it to heal.”
“Yeah, okay,” Remus said, knowing very well that Shane would not be holding up that idea.
Remus glanced up.
“This is far too many injuries for you to have gotten from falling down the stairs.”
Remus bit his lip. “It was the big stairs. The ones on the third floor.”
“Remus,” Patton whispered. “Did someone do this to you?”
Remus didn’t say anything.
“Who?” Patton said, and Remus had to do a double take at the sudden amount of anger in his voice. “Remus, who did this?”
“I’m sorry,” Remus said on instinct.
“It’s not— Remus, it’s not your fault,” Patton whispered, sounding two steps away from horrified.
“But I was the one who messed up in training,” Remus protested, looking down at his bandaged hands. “And James got hurt. So now— now I know what he felt like.”
Patton was silent for a few seconds too long, and Remus was about to look up again when Patton took his face in his hands and raised it for him.
“Remus, who did this to you?” he said, and the anger on his face took Remus’ breath away. He whispered Shane’s name and realized a second after that he definitely shouldn’t have done that.
“Please don’t tell anyone,” he said suddenly, pulling Patton’s hands down from his face and clutching them desperately. “Patton, please.”
“Remus, you— I can’t let this keep happening,” Patton said. “I can’t see you like this and do nothing.”
“Sure you can! I do nothing about this all the time! It’s easy!”
“Remus, no,” Patton said, shaking his head. “I can’t.”
“Hey, it’s gonna be alright,” Patton said, reaching out and pulling Remus into a hug. “I promise, okay?”
Remus shook his head, bumping it into Patton’s. “But—”
“It’s okay. It’s gonna be alright, okay?”
Remus didn’t say anything else. He clearly wasn’t going to change Patton’s mind on this. Patton ended up checking him over one last time and then they both went back to bed, Remus with a very uncomfortable feeling in his stomach. He should have just gone to bed and sucked it up until the next morning. It would have been fine. Dammit, he was such a wimp.
Remus didn’t have any idea how much he’d fucked up until Shane found him the next morning. He grabbed Remus by the arm with no warning, and dragged him back away from the direction he’d been heading in while Remus tried not to whimper from the pain. Shane had to have known that was a bad spot to grab.
When Shane finally stopped they were outside the meeting room. He yanked the door open and threw Remus inside. Remus thankfully landed before his head reached the table leg, but that didn’t mean his still-sore body wasn’t screaming what the fuck are you doing at him.
“Remus!” called a familiar voice, and that is when Remus realized exactly why he was here.
He pulled his head off the floor half a second before Shane grabbed him by the hair and yanked him up the rest of the way.
Remus yelped and reached up on instinct. Shane slammed his head down on the table and Remus barely managed to stop the cry that escaped.
“Stop! Stop it!” Patton exclaimed, and Remus heard his footsteps running over towards the table. He managed to move his head to look over when Shane shifted to look in the same direction.
Shane snapped his fingers, and a guard grabbed Patton and held him back.
“Now, Remus,” Shane said, getting much closer to Remus’ face. “Would you like to explain to me why Patton told a supervisor that I am hurting you?”
“You—” Patton started.
Shane lifted up and slammed Remus’ head down again, glaring towards Patton the whole time, and Patton whimpered and stopped talking.
“Well, Remus?” Shane asked.
“I— I needed help,” Remus wheezed. “After last night, so I asked him to help me and he guessed that—”
Shane reached forward and pressed hard on Remus’ nose. Remus screamed and tried to get out from under Shane’s hand, but he couldn’t get anywhere, and Shane just waited until he stopped moving again to remove his hand from his nose.
Yeah, Patton was definitely crying in the background now.
“You have known for years that you’re not allowed to tell anyone,” Shane said. “And you told him that I was hurting you, as if everything I’ve done has not been to help you improve.”
“I— I didn’t—” Remus said weakly, and cut himself off when he realized he was being an idiot. A second too late, though, because Shane now moved forward slightly and slammed his free elbow into Remus’ nose.
Remus shrieked, and though Shane finally let go of his head, he couldn’t find it in him to do much other than curl his hands around his head and wait for the pain to stop.
“This is what is going to happen if you tell anyone again,” Shane said. “Do you understand?”
Remus nodded, whimpering out an apology, although he wasn’t sure if Shane was talking to him or Patton.
“Good. Somehow it seems you can do that right,” Shane said, stepping back from Remus. Remus waited until he heard two sets of footsteps retreating and a door closing to move.
He’d barely managed to lift his head when Patton was in front of him, still crying, and gently started looking over Remus’ head while whispering apologies over and over.
“Patton, I’m fine,” Remus said. “It’s okay, you don’t need to—”
“Yes I do,” Patton said weakly, looking at the spot where Remus’ head had been slammed against the table multiple times. He sniffed and wiped at the tears coming from his eyes with his free hand.
“You’re— you’re gonna have a bump there,” Patton whispered. “But I don’t think you have a concussion. I— I have to realign your nose.”
Remus nodded, trying to show he wasn’t mad. “Okay.”
Patton started to reach for his nose, then stopped halfway and buried his head in his hands.
“It’s okay,” Remus said instantly.
“I’m so sorry,” Patton sobbed, moving to wrap his arms around Remus. “I was— I was trying to help I thought— I thought—”
“It’s okay,” Remus said again. “Patton, it’s okay. I’m used to it.”
That was apparently the wrong thing to say, because Patton just started crying even harder. It was another minute or so before Patton finally pulled back, still crying but looking back at Remus’ nose again. “This is going to hurt,” he whispered.
Patton snapped something back into place and Remus screamed through his teeth but managed not to move in case Patton wasn’t done.
“Don’t— don’t touch it okay?” Patton whispered. “And try not to let Shane touch it. Just until it heals.”
Remus mumbled some kind of affirmation, and Patton dropped his hands to his sides, then lifted one up to wipe his tears again.
Remus wasn’t sure quite what to say. After a moment he just turned back to Patton. “Let’s go eat breakfast.”
Patton nodded, wiped his eyes one more time, and they both headed out of the room and towards the cafeteria. Patton managed to stop crying on the way there, and he stopped in a bathroom on the way to the cafeteria to wipe his face better. Remus waited outside and they headed in together.
Roman and Logan were already in the middle of one of their many debates by the time the two of them walked up to the table.
Roman noticed them first, being opposite Logan who had their back to them, and glanced up with a smile. “Oh hey, what’s going— oh holy shit Remus what happened to you?!”
Remus wasn’t sure what to say anymore, as there were too many things Roman could be talking about. “I, uh…” He sat down next to Logan as he tried to come up with an answer.
“He’s fine,” Patton said, moving over to sit next to Roman. “I just helped patch him up a little bit ago. He fell down the stairs.”
Patton became Remus’ go-to person for help if he needed it after his meetings with Shane. Shane never seemed to say anything about it, though he’d threatened Patton a couple times about what would happen if he told anyone.
Patton had promised he wouldn’t, though, and Shane seemed to believe him when Roman or Logan went on knowing nothing about what was happening. Overtime, the lying seemed to get easier for Patton, in exactly the way it started to get harder for Remus.
He’d never felt like he was lying when no one else knew. It was easy to give his excuses when he had to convince three people, in a way that it suddenly wasn’t when he felt like he was conspiring with Patton.
The other side of it was that Patton genuinely made things easier. He helped Remus when he was hurt badly enough, and after a while Shane seemed to approve of the way Patton wasn’t telling anyone anything.
But the way Patton improved things almost made Remus feel guilty. Patton didn’t deserve to be dragged into his mess. If Remus had been dealing with this for more than a decade at this point and still couldn’t get anything right, maybe Shane had the right idea and he needed some kind of rougher punishment. He wasn’t going to tell Patton that, of course. Patton would just start crying again or get that look that meant he wanted to murder whoever made Remus feel that way. And Remus wasn’t exactly sure he wasn’t supposed to feel that way.
Besides, his least favorite change just proved how much he couldn’t handle all of this, because somehow his brain had decided the worst part of the whole thing was the way Shane was now having him explain everything he’d done wrong himself. He said that at this point Remus should have been old enough to understand what he did wrong. And he was probably right, but for some reason Remus left every session where that was all they did feeling worse than if Shane had broken his nose ten times. At least when he was beaten to pulp he had a reason for feeling like a worthless piece of shit. Why did he feel worse when all they did was talk? There wasn’t even anything for Patton to help with. He should be fine.
He tried to take solace in the fact that at least Logan and Roman didn’t know, because sometimes the way Patton looked at him like he was a kicked puppy hurt too. He still got to stargaze with Logan, and he’d sat in on a few strategizing sessions before. He made suggestions to Logan afterwards that he said he could use as long as he never said they came from Remus. Logan seemed baffled by this request. He always called Remus’ contributions brilliant, and Remus wasn’t sure why he kept lying. Was he just trying to make him feel better? That didn’t seem very much like Logan.
Roman… he didn’t want Shane to affect his relationship with his brother, but he couldn’t say the way Roman seemed completely at ease around Shane didn’t bug the hell out of him sometimes. There were times he’d considering finding a way to tell Roman for half a second before the voice in his head starting screaming at him what a terrible idea that was.
Remus was twenty-three when he realized Roman just didn’t care.
It had been a really awful night. Patton was still in the process of wrapping a cut on his arm from where Shane had been doing target practice with those new knives that had been made. It hadn’t even done anything more than nick him, but Remus hadn’t been able to stop shaking since. He felt like a weakling.
Patton had been murmuring quiet reassurances the whole time, and it at least created a peaceful enough feeling that Remus was starting to calm down.
That feeling broke completely in half when the door banged open and Roman ran in.
“Oh good, you’re both here!” Roman called.
“Yeah and what the fuck are you doing here?” Remus snapped, whirling around as his heart leapt into his throat. “Can’t you see we’re busy? Get out!”
Roman jumped in surprise and jerked backwards. “Jeez, what the hell Re? What’s your deal, I haven’t even told you why I’m here yet.”
“Hey, it’s okay,” Patton said, pulling Remus back down. “Careful, you’re going to tear the bandages.”
“Bandages?” Roman asked. “Shit, what happened?” He walked forward in concern as Remus turned back around, still trying to calm his shaking hands as Patton started to wrap the bandages again.
“Knife practice,” Remus muttered. “Just got nicked.”
There was a second of silence, and suddenly Roman laughed.
Remus turned to look at him in surprise. “Seriously, that’s it?” Roman asked with a smile. “Dude, you fell down the stairs and broke your nose as a kid and were still in training that afternoon.”
“Roman,” Patton said, sounding surprised and a little angry.
“Okay, okay, sorry,” Roman said, waving his hands dismissively. “But honestly, Remus, you would think with everything you go through you’d be used to it by now.”
Remus’ hands stopped shaking. He turned and looked at his shoes as Patton finished wrapping his cut. “Did you need something?” he muttered.
“Oh, yeah! Logan said he could spot the start of the spring constellations last night! He told me to come get you two and then we’re gonna raid the kitchens to celebrate! Stephanie had a birthday last week, there’s gonna be cake!” He sung the last word in a lighthearted tone that meant that was the part he was really looking forward to.
“We’ll be right there,” Patton said, half paying attention as he gave the bandages one last look over and then moved to put the medical supplies away.
“Awesome! See you there!” Roman called, and turned and jogged out the door.
“You alright?” Patton said quietly, even as he headed for the door too, clearly assuming Remus was going to follow.
“I’m fine,” Remus said finally. He stood up and started to follow Patton. It was just a tiny knife nick. Stop thinking about it. “I… I need a minute.”
Patton turned again. “You want me to tell them you’re taking a rain check?”
Feeling even more like a wimp, Remus nodded.
“Okay.” Patton gave him a small smile. “See you at breakfast, Remus.” He walked out, leaving Remus alone.
“You would think with everything you go through you’d be used to it by now.”
Remus squeezed his eyes shut. What the hell did that mean? What the hell was that supposed to mean?
Remus stopped walking as a thought struck him. Did… did Roman know? That sentence certainly suggested it. Remus thought about all the times he walked back into their shared room late at night bruised, bleeding, or miserable. Roman would look up at him, ask him if he was good, and go back to what he’d been doing like that decided that, and that was if he was still awake.
Oh, fuck. Of course he knew. Remus was such an idiot. How could he not have known?
…Why didn’t he care?
Remus could think of countless times throughout the years that he had taken the fall for something Roman had screwed up. Roman would get a firm talking to and a warning while Remus would take the brunt of the punishment, just so he wouldn’t have to. And Roman didn’t even care that he’d done that? He just expected him to be used to it?
Remus made it over to the door and looked out to the right, the direction Patton and Roman had gone in. Patton had caught up to Roman and they were both rounding the corner, Roman laughing and Patton starting to smile.
Remus looked down and took a deep breath. Then he left the room and ran in the other direction.
He wasn’t entirely sure where he was going, but his feet seemed to have some kind of plan that his brain didn’t, because he kept sprinting through the halls and didn’t slow down. It was a goddamn miracle that he didn’t meet up with any guards. He had caught the tail end of the morning shift and the beginning of breakfast, which was probably the main part of it.
He made it to the exit, and finally stopped. There were guards there now. Someone was climbing into one of those mechanical vehicles they were testing, the kind that looked like the horse-drawn carriage of Remus’ childhood without the horse. That meant there was a place to crouch on the back of it.
The guards walked off after making sure everything was secure. Remus waited until they went around the corner across from his not-really-a-hiding-place, then ran for the carriage and jumped on the back before he could really think about what he was doing. He looked behind the carriage as it exited the doors, and stood up as they approached the guards by the gate.
“Bodyguard,” Remus said, nodding at them as they passed and thanking his lucky stars this carriage was closed. They nodded back, and the vehicle started into town.
They’d made it to the edge and Remus hopped off, taking a breath. And then he realized what he’d just done.
Holy shit. Remus looked around, trying desperately to come up with a plan. He needed to get away from this village, and fast. And he needed to make sure The Light couldn’t track him. That meant he needed clothes.
Clothes, clothes… ah ha. House. He could try out a little thievery along with his escape attempt. That shirt and cloak looked like they would work well. And then if he could find the docks everyone talked about being nearby, he could add stowaway to the whole thing too.
Yeah, this could work. This was working.
Time to become a clothing thief and not think about the way that your brother doesn’t care if you get hurt or not. No big deal.
It took Remus barely a couple minutes to realize what a crime it was that he had not been on a pirate ship before today.
Okay, granted, it may not be fair to call these people he had never met pirates. He had no real way of knowing if they were. Technically he had never seen any of them, as the second he’d managed to sneak past the crew he’d hidden beneath the deck in what appeared to be a cargo hold, and pushed a number of boxes against the door so that no one could open it. He had then proceeded to look out a window in hopes of watching them cast off, only to then discover that apparently this particular potentially-pirate ship could fucking fly. Well, he’d figured the propellers he’d seen on the back had to be used for something, but holy shit.
“I should have left The Light years ago,” Remus breathed to no one, craning to look out the window as much as he could. This would no doubt be a much more awe-inspiring experience if he could have been on the deck to watch the ship launch into the air holy shit, but it was still incredible to watch the water and the village that he’d left behind grow smaller beneath him. He had originally planned on staying on this ship just long enough to make it to another village or other land of some sort, but Remus felt it was safe to say that plan was now under thorough revision.
The ship leveled out in the air after a couple minutes of soaring upwards and Remus staring out the window grinning like he was seven years old again and Logan had just found the contraband astronomy book.
He wasn’t sure how long the journey was going to take if they were airborne, but now that he was actually gone and reasonably safe so long as no one discovered him, Remus could move on to the next problem on his list— food.
He was pretty sure he’d passed a kitchen on the panicked rush down here, but getting there when no one else was would be the issue. Obviously he’d have to wait until after everyone was asleep, but that unfortunately left him who knows how many hours of staying down here and craning his head out the window.
Remus sat on a crate and leaned back against the wall of the ship. Or he could always sleep. He definitely needed some way to regain energy, and if he didn’t have any access to food, sleep could do.
Remus looked warily at the door he’d blocked. He was fairly confident in it holding, but that didn’t mean he should take a stupid risk.
He tucked his legs underneath him. He supposed whether or not taking a nap was a smart idea depended on whether or not the people on this ship would instantly kill him if they discovered him.
…And he supposed that probably depended on whether or not these people were pirates.
Roman would probably be able to charm any of them and barely have to try. He probably wouldn’t even have had to steal civilian clothes like Remus had. He wasn’t a terrible actor if he tried, but he rarely had the attention span to actually do so, and most of his efforts there were already taken up by hiding so many things from Roman and Logan.
Maybe he should have brought Roman along.
No, he decided barely a second later. Roman apparently would have snitched or called him out for the coward he was being, running from Shane like it was something he wasn’t supposed to be able to handle.
Remus stifled a yawn and gave one last glance at the door before deciding it was worth it and he needed to sleep. He shifted so he could lean against the wall in a more comfortable position, and fell asleep as his eyes barely slipped shut.
It felt like a couple seconds later when someone called “What the fuck is this?” and Remus jerked awake. The door on the other side of the room was open partially.
“Dammit, who moved the boxes in front of the door again? If it was fucking Steven—”
Remus climbed down off the box as quickly and quietly as he could and ducked behind the one next to it. He took a couple second to take deep breaths to try and shake off being woken abruptly.
He had mostly calmed down by the time the person at the door managed to shove the boxes away from it and enter. He had at least calmed down to the point that he could breathe quietly. The person across the room was grumbling about killing someone named Steven later, and sounded so angry that Remus took a moment to offer his condolences to this Steven person that he had never met.
He heard the person fumble with some boxes on the other side of the room, and felt a slight bit of relief for as long as it took for the person to then cross the room and open the box right about his head.
Remus held his breath and waited for a good ten seconds as the person rummaged in the box above him. Eventually the noise stopped.
Please be putting the lid back and leaving, please be putting the lid back and leaving, please be—
Remus looked up and met gazes with a person who looked a mixture of surprised and angry at what was happening right now.
“Might I ask who you are?”
“…I was hired by the captain to check the cargo hold for spiders,” Remus said.
“Oh, I see. What’s the captain’s name?”
The person above him did not look amused. They turned halfway behind them and called out. “Jackson! We have a stowaway!”
Remus leapt up and launched himself off the wall and over the person’s head. He could thank training for that. Before the person could react he was sprinting towards the door and the person who had shown up in it, who Remus imagined must have been Jackson. He slid down onto the ground and between his legs, then leapt up again and ran for the stairs he’d seen earlier. He sprinted back who must have been the crew, but caught enough of them by surprise and managed to elbow the others into the wall or leap over their heads. He made it to the stairs and got up them in a couple large strides… where he was now stuck on the deck of a ship in mid air.
How exactly had he expected this plan to go again?
Remus was going to make a last desperate dash for the crow’s nest (that’s what it was called, right?) when he was finally snatched up by the hood of his cloak that he’d stolen because it made him look like a peasant. He was severely regretting that decision now.
“So,” said the person, who had shifted so he now had him by the arm. He spun Remus around so they were both facing the rest of the crew that was emerging from below deck and walking around from the other side of it. “Would any of the crew of this ship, who are supposed to check for stowaways before we launch, like to explain what exactly this person is doing here?”
Remus heard another firm set of footfalls behind the person who was holding on to him. He turned to see who couldn’t have been anyone but the captain. He was wearing one of those hats that Remus always thought was stupid, and a long cloak. The way he stood also made clear that he had authority over everything happening right now. The snake tattoos on the side of his face were a little unorthodox, Remus thought, although he supposed he had no real way to know.
“No? No one wants to speak up?” the person holding Remus asked, and Remus looked back over at him. “Well, I suppose I’ll have to ask the stowaway himself. Care to explain?”
The person turned to face him. He had the same look that Shane did whenever he was clearly viewing Remus as stupid for not speaking up yet.
…He was not doing this again.
Remus reeled back slightly and spit in the person’s face.
There was a moment of stunned silence, and then the captain burst into laughter behind them. Remus and the other person both turned in shock to face him.
“Janus!” the other person snapped, wiping Remus’ spit off his face.
“Oh, that was brilliant,” Janus said. “You,” he pointed at Remus. “You have the audacity to— oh, I like you.”
Remus wasn’t quite sure what was happening right now. Clearly the other person did, as he was now looking remarkably irritated. “Janus!”
Janus continued to laugh for another couple seconds while the other person continued to glare. “This is why Dad doesn’t fucking respect you!” he yelled.
Janus gasped in a way that was clearly not offended in the slightest. “I am wounded.” He glanced over at Remus. “You’re coming to my quarters. We’re having a chat.” He then glanced at the crew behind them. “And everyone else, get back to work! I’m not paying you to stand around and stare at stowaways who spit in Virgil’s face.”
Everyone else on the deck clearly wasn’t nearly as intimidated by Janus as he thought they were, because they reacted as if that wasn’t worrying of any kind, and took their sweet time ambling either back below deck or back to whatever job they’d been doing before.
Janus turned back to Remus, and Virgil finally let go of his arm. “Well then?”
“I’m not going to go into a closed space with you,” Remus said instantly. “You could stab me and drag my guts out through my stomach.”
Janus raised an eyebrow. “Heard some nasty stories about pirates, have you?”
“So you are pirates. Nice to know. Still not going into any enclosed spaces.”
Janus shrugged. “Fair enough. Come on, we can talk up here.” He turned and started towards the back of the ship, where two sets of stairs on opposite sides led to the wheel. Virgil took a step closer to Remus and raised an eyebrow. Remus stuck out his tongue and followed Janus back to and up the stairs. They stopped in front of the wheel, which Janus adjusted slightly before turning to face Remus again, as Virgil leaned against the barrier to the rest of the ship that was behind the wheel.
“So,” Janus said, raising an eyebrow. “How did you manage to not be found?”
“I hid in the cargo hold,” Remus said, because there was no real reason to hide such a thing. “Shoved a bunch of boxes in front of the door. It’s not my fault your crew sucks at figuring out when someone’s sneaking past them.”
Janus raised an eyebrow, looking more amused than anything else. “You should watch yourself. Insulting a captain’s crew while standing three feet from him is generally not a smart move.”
“Neither is spitting in the first mate’s face, and you didn’t seem to have any issues with that,” Virgil grumbled.
“Well don’t look at me like I’m an idiot then,” Remus snapped before Janus could reply. “I managed to avoid getting captured by all of you long enough to take a fucking nap in the cargo hold.”
Remus expected Virgil to scowl or snap back, but all that happened was that he gave him a curious look. “What gave the impression that I thought you were an idiot? It can’t be easy to sneak past an entire crew, even if they are preoccupied with a launch.”
Remus wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that. Virgil had done the look. The look always meant he’d done something stupid.
Somehow, Virgil seemed to understand what Remus was thinking about. “That’s the tone and look I use when the crew is being stupid,” he said. “You were just caught in the crossfire. It had nothing to do with you. I barely even know you, how could I have an opinion of you?”
That… was a fair point.
“Well, you know, other than the fact that you snuck onto my ship when we weren’t expecting you and stowaways aren’t generally something you want,” Virgil continued with a casual wave, like his last sentence hadn’t even mattered.
“It’s my ship,” Janus said, shooting Virgil a not-at-all-irritated look. “And I decide how we feel about stowaways. Besides, I like this one. He spit in your face.”
“Wow, love you too, Jan,” Virgil grumbled.
Janus turned back to face Remus again, raising an eyebrow. “Where are you from?”
The answer came to Remus’ mind and a million memories ran through his head in half a second. Raiding the kitchens as a group of four, even as Patton whispered every time how this was the last time he was doing this. Tackling Roman in training, or away from the good breakfast food, or just because he wanted to. Stargazing with Logan pointing at stars and naming them. Wednesday night meetings with Shane, filled with berating and bruising, coming back to his room with injuries to hide from his brother. Going to Patton the miracle nurse when his injuries were too bad to ignore. And then the very recent and still painful memory of Roman brushing off Shane like he wasn’t a big deal when he apparently knew everything Shane did to him.
Remus considered for a second saying this. He could probably cover everything with something along the lines of “Well, I grew up in The Light and I had this supervisor who would hurt me all the time which is of course very normal because my brother and my friend knows about it and never seemed to think it was a big deal, but I apparently can’t deal with it anymore without being a pussy, so I ran away and now I’m here. Wait, you guys don’t hate soldiers from The Light, do you? Because if you do I probably shouldn’t have told you that.”
Yeah. Yeah, bad idea. He might have been famous for those, but he didn’t really want to walk the plank today. Wait, was that actually something pirates did?
“I,” Remus said instead. “Grew up in the rural town of Buttfuck Nowhere.”
Janus raised an eyebrow. “Does this town of yours have an actual name?”
“You probably haven’t heard of it, it’s called Potsfield,” Remus said.
It seemed to convince Janus if his small nod was anything to go by. “Potsfield?”
“Yeah, town that’s truly going nowhere. I’ve had a very tragic life. You know, house burned down when I was a baby, grew up in an orphanage with no family or siblings of any kind, decided I didn’t want to die in obscurity, started traveling from town to town looking for some way to make a name for myself, ran out of money and needed a ride, and here I am.”
Janus nodded again. “Uh-huh.” He glanced back at Virgil for a minute. Remus couldn’t tell what he was thinking.
Virgil shrugged. “Hey, you’re the one who said this is your ship.”
“Okay,” Janus said. “Well, that was clearly the most bullshit story I have ever heard.”
“What? No, I—”
“Relax. I’m not going to make you share your past if you don’t want to. But if you’re going to stay here—”
“That’s an option?” Remus interrupted in surprise.
“If you want to. Virgil can show you the ropes.”
“You’re sticking me with training duty?” Virgil asked, sounding more than a little irritated.
“Oh, you’ll get along swimmingly. Look at how great your first impression was.” Janus looked back at Remus. “Would you want to stay here?”
“You have a flying pirate ship. Who wouldn’t?”
Janus laughed. “Fair enough. But my point is, if you’re staying here, we need to know you won’t bring anything else with you. You don’t have to share your past if you don’t want to, but is it going to bring any kind of danger?”
“No,” Remus said instantly. He hadn’t been anything other than a base level soldier, who knew no important information of any kind. “No one from my life is going to care that I’m gone.”
Janus nodded. “Alright. Then I don’t see any issues with you staying here. Virgil can help show you how to do some jobs on the ship, and lunch is in a couple hours. We can talk more then, because there’s a couple other things we’ll have to—”
“Janus!” a voice called from down below. “The stowaway moved all of the cargo around!”
Remus winced and looked back over at Janus, who thankfully looked more amused than irritated. “Alright, Virgil will be there in just a second to help!” he called.
“I hate you,” Virgil said, glaring at Janus, even as he headed down to help the person who had called up to him.
Remus glanced back at Janus, who was moving back towards the steering wheel. He wasn’t quite sure what to do next since Janus had just sent the person who was supposed to train him down to the cargo hold to fix the mess he’d caused. Which was weird. Remus was supposed to clean up his own messes and get beaten up when he inevitably did something wrong.
Remus blinked as a thought struck him. If he had snuck onto these people’s ship and hidden in their cargo hold, and they’d welcomed him onto their ship and were apparently going to let him stay without raising a single hand against him, maybe… maybe they wouldn’t?
The next second Remus wanted to laugh. That was ridiculous. Just because they hadn’t done so yet didn’t mean they wouldn’t reach that point eventually. It was fine. Remus was used to it anyway, he could take it. The more important part of this morning was the fact that he… wasn’t in The Light anymore.
Holy shit. That was going to take some getting used to. He was going to have to spend some time thinking about that. He wasn’t even sure where to start.
Remus looked across the ship and into the sky beyond. Below them was water, around them were actual clouds. He took in the wind blowing his hair back from his face, the sunlight shining off the water below, the birds flying next to them, how clean the air felt. He took a deep breath and decided that he very much understood people’s love of sea air. He could get high off this shit.
He was pretty sure Janus was watching him with amusement from nearby, but he couldn’t really find it in himself to care. He was away from Shane, away from The Light, away from the place that had made him spend his life in darkness and pain.
Remus took a deep breath of cold sea air.
So this is what freedom felt like.