Onni/Reynir - “I might forgive you if you help me bring her back”
Onni’s Haven lay in twilight, the sort Reynir imagined might shadow a Finnish forest after sunset in winter. The water lilies by Onni’s regular spot, the rock ridge on the water, were withered to a sickly brown. Frost clung in sharp slivers to the edge of the water, and the air smelled thick and acridly cold and humid all at once, like a warning sign that raised the hair on his arms, that the weather was going to turn on him any second.
It was a relief - the only relief, probably - that the awful smell of burned hair and skin that Onni’s haven had been full of after the battle night was gone.
He couldn’t shake the feeling that it clung to himself, though. Even in his dream-self. Even though his real body had been watching from the cat-tank while… while… while.
Reynir screwed his eyes shut, rested his hands on his knees, and hunched over to fight the tears that came rising up his throat like nausea. Mingled with it came… shame, and terror, he realized, and when he managed to get himself to rise again, his face was wet.
When Reynir opened his eyes again, Onni was standing between the trees across the water, watching him.
He turned and walked away. Slowly, one foot before the other, with exaggerated care and determination - Reynir recognized the walk; it was the way Emil had walked when they’d set out, like someone who didn’t trust the ground under his feet to not suddenly crumble below him, or didn’t trust his knees to hold him upright, or come home alive.
“Ah, On- you’re - wait?” Reynir reached out, despite the distance. His feet wouldn’t move. Onni had almost vanished into the gloom without looking back once. It felt terribly final. More tears came, and when Reynir had managed to blink them away, Onni was gone.
He went to the rock ledge and curled in on himself, and spent the night there.
He’d make it right somehow.
What he could still make right, anyway.
He’d make it right somehow.
* * *
The next time he came - he’d nodded off on a rest stop after marching half the day, although Sigrun conceding defeat had been the reason they stopped, and that in itself was worrying - Onni seemed to be waiting for him.
He sat in his rock ledge with his arms crossed, but the terrible blankness on his face was even worse than the anger from last time. Most of all, Reynir thought as he sat a distance away and stared at the water with him in silence, Onni looked tired.
“How aren’t you still - your owl?” Reynir asked after a stretch of forbidding silence that made him want to run away. “You don’t look like you got to rest enough.”
Onni didn’t reply, though he gave Reynir a look like he was considering an answer. The water scratched on the needles of ice growing on the waterline. Only now, how hadn’t he seen it sooner, damnit, what kind of person was he, really? - Reynir noticed how red Onni’s eyes were. He’d been crying.
Of course he’d been crying.
Reynir could easily remember the first time he’d looked into Onni’s eyes. They’d been immeasurably sad and terrified then, now they held barely anything. He’d change that, somehow. He wanted Onni back, grumpy as he’d been, but he also wanted back Onni’s hand on his braid, Onni stealing his cake, Onni self-satisfied, Onni pressing Reynir against the rock wall to bring their bodies together…
“I’m sorry.” Reynir hung his head to not have to look at Onni any longer. “I know it doesn’t change anything now - it probably never would have, telling you - I know magic is useless against the Rash, even if I don’t know anything else about it, and if it were any different in Finland, I’m sure Lalli would have done it… and that’s why T-… that’s why your sister didn’t want you to know. She said you didn’t handle it well, being uncertain. But I… lied to you before that. That wasn’t her fault. That was all me.”
“You knew.” Onni’s voice was a rasp, and for a moment he hung back, motionless and shaking. “You knew!” Then his hands were glowing, tightening on Reynir’s throat in a choke-hold that could have killed him if he didn’t relent.
For a second, before instincts won out, vanished him from under Onni’s hands and jolted him awake to cough himself raw, Reynir considered letting Onni do just that.
* * *
Reynir’s heart beat high in his throat that night, when he made his way across the water another time, and fear made his feet sluggish - or perhaps it was the distance, which seemed greater to him than it had before. He stopped at the edge of Onni’s haven for long enough to feel like something out there was watching him, terror like an itch in the back of his neck, and that finally drove him inside.
If he had to die, he’d rather die at the hands of someone he cared about.
Onni was not there. Reynir wondered what he was doing; it was late, and Sweden, especially as far North as where Onni was, would be darker earlier. He ought to be asleep, and Reynir couldn’t shake the image of Onni sleepless in some bed that wasn’t even his own.
Not long after, the mist at the edge of Onni’s haven parted to let the owl in. The back of Reynir’s neck prickled again, with the same feeling of terror as before, when it fixed him with unblinking eyes and, landing on a stretch of level ground, became Onni, falling to all fours in utter exhaustion.
Reynir was at his side before conscious thought made him reel back with a hand already on Onni’s shoulder.
“I won’t kill you. I’m too tired.”
Onni sounded it, too, and moved like his every bone ached. Reynir decided to take it for as much of an apology as he was likely to get, and sat on a rock to wait, while Onni forced himself into a sitting position against the sloping bole of a pine tree. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes, drew his knees up, and wrapped his arms around them.
“Can we… talk?” Reynir ventured after a while. Onni had not tried to kill him, and had not even told him to leave, or not to come to him at all. Knowing Onni, that could mean anything.
Silence stretched between them. Eventually, Onni sighed.
“Tell me what happened. Tell me why. How.”
“No one told you? T-Tuuri…” even saying her name sent a jolt through Reynir’s heart. He breathed in through his nose, in spite of the tears that came back. “Tuuri talked to Torbjörn the morning after it happened.”
“I have only been awake a day, and I left before anybody could tell me. I am waiting for the ferry to Pori this moment. For what I mean to do, I need to be with my own gods, not in a foreign country.”
“I see,” Reynir said, though he didn’t see anything at all. “What do you mean to do?”
“I am going to bring Tuuri home. Tell me what happened.”
* * *
They clung together long after Reynir had finished speaking, and they were spent in more ways than one, after Onni had come to him, demanding and desperate. Reynir only hoped that he had told Onni everything, or at least all that he knew. He’d promised to speak to Mikkel the moment he woke up. Onni would need some time to make it all the way to Keuruu, where he first needed to find more mages who might support him, and it was entirely possible that he might still fail, and be doomed to something worse than normal death.
“… but you know I have to try it. I cannot be alone.”
Reynir hurt just thinking about it, and his bare skin lifted in goosebumps. He wanted to say that Onni was not going to be alone, that Reynir was going to stay with him if Onni wanted him to - but he could tell that none of that was the right thing. They’d never go back to what they had been, before his lie.
Before Tuuri had died.
Onni had said as much, rough and bent over Reynir’s naked back. “Do not take this for forgiveness.”
Unspoken, with it, but Reynir understood in the way Onni’s fingers dug between his ribs, the way his body tensed against him: Not even if she returned. Not even if Onni returned, whether he succeeded or failed.
He pressed his lips into Onni’s hair, held more tightly on to Onni, and refused to wake even as someone in the waking world shook his shoulder.
It felt like a farewell, even though it shouldn’t.
* * *
“No mage in Keuruu is going to help me. They all have reasons to live; no one will come with me.”
Onni sounded defeated, more than before, when they next met, where his plan before seemed to have given him a measure of comfort and purpose. Reynir had tossed and turned in the bed in the shelter they had reached earlier in the same day, knowing nothing was between him a stretch of forced idleness until the ship arrived. Especially now that Onni was preparing for the journey he was going to take - into Tuonela, trick the ferry girl into believing he had died, finding Tuuri, avoiding - or defeating - the Swan that guarded the Finnish underworld, and others of the death god’s kin - he had tried to make himself stay away from Onni’s haven to keep from distracting him from anything important that he probably didn’t understand.
And then Onni had come to him. When Reynir had come into his own haven, Onni had been there on the hillside, uneasy without a forest to shelter him, and watching the dream-sheep with bewilderment. Reynir’s dog lay at Onni’s feet.
The words came to Reynir’s lips unbidden. “I’ll go with you. I know I’m useless, but… I want to help. And I don’t have the same magic you do. Maybe…”
“You can’t help me.” Onni pushed himself to his feet and gave him a pained look. Reynir’s dog did not budge, and Reynir drew heart from that. “How often do I have to tell you?”
“Look… I know I made a mistake,” Reynir said. “I know you can’t forgive me no matter what I do. But if I can do anything, even if it’s just because my magic is different and your rules aren’t the same as mine - even if I don’t really know a lot about what’s supposed to be impossible for me… I want Tuuri back, too. She was my friend.”
Onni looked as though he was about to take wing, keeping himself in his own earthbound shape with difficulty.
“I am not going to forgive you. I do not want to forgive you for keeping Tuuri’s infection from me. But if you help me bring her back, I might.”
Reynir rose from the grassy knoll of rock he’d been sitting on, too, hurried over, and grasped Onni’s hand, lifting it to his mouth. A muscle tensed in Onni’s arm, and Reynir thought he might pull away, but when he did not, Reynir laughed despite himself and said, “I don’t care if you do or not - no, that’s not true. I care. But it’s not why I want to do this. Let’s go.”