A/N: This is a Janther Week fic, written in response to the prompt for Day 7, which was the following quote: "He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking." – Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
I found it particularly challenging to conceptualize this quote into a fic, but luckily the prompts encourage open interpretation because wouldn't it be boring if we all wrote the same thing!
THAT SAID, this PARTICULAR fic carries HEAVY AND I DO MEAN HEAVY warnings for angst, mature subject matter, and trigger warnings in later chapters. It is, in my own opinion, the angstiest thing I've written for this fandom. There is nothing graphic, but as you can probably guess from the summary, the implications are bleak. Believe me when I say that it's a dark ride; I'm making this disclosure for a reason. Additional warnings in future chapters as warranted; rating may change at some point.
This is chapter 1 of 13. Will be updated every few days until complete.
It's Jane who figures out that there is a way they can reach each other. Of course it is. It wouldn't be him; he is too wholly panicked – swamped with it, nearly out of his mind.
Because they've been captured, and they've been separated, and he's no good without her, she is the best part of him, without her he's helpless, he's… lost in the dark.
But they are, at least, thrown into adjoining cells and Jane, with characteristic resourcefulness, explores the confines of her prison by touch alone and thus discovers the little opening in their common wall.
It's down at floor-level, near the corner; only the size of a single missing stone. Gunther can't tell if it's an intentional part of the cells' design, for ventilation perhaps, or if it was somehow created by the long labor of some former occupant – and really, it hardly matters.
What matters is that, small as the aperture is, once Jane calls his attention to it from the other side of the wall, it allows them at least some modicum of contact with each other.
There's a tiny, barred window set high in his cell's single exterior wall, but it's night when they're shoved into their new… accommodations… and so as a light source, the window is useless. He follows her voice, though, and dropping to his knees, gropes for – and finds – her hand where there should only be stone.
He grabs on instantly and hard – a drowning man who's been thrown an unexpected lifeline. He realizes that he's probably hurting her – he almost has to be hurting her – and tries to make himself ease off a bit, but he can't, he just… can't. And maybe that's all right because Jane, for her part, twines her fingers through his and holds on just as tightly.
Her hand is warm in his – small, but strong. Long fingers, short nails. Callouses that he knows by heart. Scabs both old and new – a lot of new ones, given that they've spent the past fortnight engaged in heavy combat.
He loves her hands.
He loves her, although he's never actually told her so.
He's tried to; he's started to. More times than he can count. But the words just choke off to nothingness; die in his throat.
Surely if there were to be a time, this would be it. He opens his mouth, fully intending to lay it all on the line at last, but what comes out instead – to his own genuine surprise – is a gravelly, "are you all right?"
What a ridiculous, pointless, asinine question. No she's not all right, for God's sake. Neither of them are all right; they're likely both as good as dead.
Jane makes a small sound in her throat; without seeing her, he can't tell whether it's a laugh or a sob. Or maybe a little of each. "Bruised up some," she says, "but intact." Her voice is unsteady, almost as hoarse as his. She's frightened – terrified – he can hear it as clear as day. She's holding herself together, though, by sheer force of will.
"You?" she asks.
"I have had better days," he says, trying for a bit of levity, falling spectacularly short. He feels Jane's fingers tighten further about his own.
"Gunther –" her voice sounds very constricted now – "can we stay like this a while?"
"Yes," he croaks. "Yes, we can."
"Do you have a window?" he asks.
An indeterminate number of hours have passed, and his voice is cracked with disuse. He's slumped in the corner and has been drifting fitfully in and out of sleep, his hand still linked in Jane's. Weak, grey light is filtering down, now, from his own small window. He hopes Jane has the same "luxury" – it kills him to think of her locked in full darkness.
"Window…?" It takes several seconds for her to answer, and when she does her voice sounds fuzzy, disoriented. He realizes she must have been asleep too, and more deeply than himself, by the sound of it. He's sorry to have woken her. The oblivion of sleep has got to be preferable to the reality they now face.
Another pause, then, "I do… not think so," she says.
And a little piece of his heart cracks.
"Can you see anything?"
"I can feel you, though," Jane says, "and that is enough for now."
"It is. It is, Gunther. Because it has to be."
He can think of nothing at all to say to that. He simply tightens his grip.
"This is… just terrible." It's Jane, now, who is apparently trying to lighten the mood.
More hours have passed; the daylight from Gunther's window, never strong to begin with, has faded to almost nothing. Several minutes ago they'd heard footsteps in the corridor and by mutual, unspoken agreement had both scrambled away from the little opening in their common wall. There's no way of knowing whether their captors are aware of its existence or not; but Jane and Gunther are certainly not going to risk calling attention to it. That could potentially result in them being separated further, and…
That can't happen. Can't. Can not. Gunther's sanity has already slipped by at least one full notch since being thrown in here; if he loses his contact with Jane…
It doesn't bear thinking about.
But their secret – if it even is a secret – is safe, for the time being, anyway. Neither of them are anywhere near that particular corner when their cell doors clang open and their – supper, if this abhorrent slop can actually be called such – is set inside.
After retrieving the hunk of stale bread, bowl of what he supposes must be some kind of absolutely heinous stew, and jug of brackish water, Gunther had returned to his position in the corner; as had Jane. And now she's trying to make light of the situation and God he loves her for that –
Loves her so much that he aches with it.
Jane makes an exaggerated gagging sound and Gunther finds himself cracking a tiny smile in the darkness, despite everything.
"Eat it," he tells her. "All of it. Make yourself, Jane. We have to keep our strength up if we can."
"Disgusting," she says flatly – but she eats it. And so does he.
"What do you think Pepper made for supper tonight?"
Gunther opens his eyes. They had finished their sorry excuse for a meal some time ago and he's been… just drifting, since. Not sleeping, not really even dozing. Just drifting.
"Do you –" he swallows – "do you really want to torture yourself that way, Jane?"
"Not torture." Her voice is musing; distant. "It is an escape. Home is… an escape." She pauses, then adds, "they are safe there. Happy."
Gunther wonders. But he's certainly not going to sabotage Jane's coping mechanism, if that's what this is, by saying so. Never, never in life.
For him, thoughts about what Pepper may have made for supper in the warm, familiar, yeast-scented castle kitchen are on the torturous side – but he plays along anyway, for Jane's sake. At the end of the day – at the end of their lives? – there is almost nothing he wouldn't do for her.
He closes his eyes again. "Um… vegetable soup to start with. The kind that lizard of yours is so fond of."
"That crusty bread she bakes," Jane supplies, "hot enough to burn your fingers."
At the mention of fingers, he seeks hers out with his own; finds them; closes his hand around them. He thinks he hears her give a little sigh.
"Slathered with fresh butter," he adds. "More butter than bread."
"Careful, Sir Gunther," Jane says dryly. "No making yourself fat, now. I expect you to still be in fighting form when we are able to resume our sparring."
It's such a wholly unexpected comment under the circumstances that it surprises an actual laugh out of him… although it's a poor, strangled little thing. Jane squeezes his hand; starts stroking the back of it absently with her thumb.
"Roast chicken," she says.
"Dessert?" Her voice is almost dreamy now.
"Berries and cream," he answers, naming not his favorite dessert, but hers.
"Mmh." She hums approvingly, but says nothing more. A few minutes later, her hand stills.
"Jane, I –" love you, he almost says, but he clamps down on the words before they can spill free.
What's the point?
She can't hear him.