"Ranger scum." Michael spat as he forced the sword forward into the stomach of the young ranger. "You deserve to die for everything you and your kind have done." He twisted the sword in his gut and yanked it from his front, watching satisfied as James collapsed onto his side with a cry, too weak to support his weight any longer.
"D-Dan...iel..." The ranger whispered as he breathed shallowly, eyes sliding shut as he tried to curl in on himself. He was dying. He could literally feel the life draining from his body.
"James!" Daniel cried as he watched the ranger, his son , fall to the ground in front of his brother. He choked back a cry, a long agonized yell running through his mind. James. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Please. Please forgive me. Is there any way you can possibly forgive me? He hurried forward shoving his brother aside and dropping to his knees at the boy's side. "James." he murmured and gently brought him into his arms. "I'm sorry..." he whispered, his voice cracking in pain. The master should die before the apprentice. The apprentice is supposed to outlive the master, as a child would outlive his or her parent. It should be he who was struck down, not James. Not James. James. James. James. His apprentice. His son. His brother. What had he done?
"Get away from him!" Michael snarled and kicked James away from him, causing him to cry out in pain, before yanking Daniel to his feet and shoving him back. "Let him die! What is your issue?!"
"That's my boy!" Daniel cried, loudly, desperately wanting to help James. The ranger had curled up again on his side, eyes shut tightly as he tried to deal with the intense pain. He was dying. He knew it. He was going to die. "Please! Just let me help him! Let me take care of him! He doesn't have to die for all of this!"
That made him angry. "He is not your damn son! He killed our brother! Our brother!" He cried back. "Didn't Morgarath mean anything to you?!"
Daniel was taken aback by the question. "Of course he did Michael." He murmured quietly. "I loved him. But this isn't the right way to do things. Of course I loved him, but he was wrong. He was so very wrong." He stepped forward trying to reason with the older brother. "Please. We can't kill them. I-I want to be a ranger again. I want to help them. I was happy. Can't you understand that-?"
He was cut off as Michael slapped him across the face, stunned into silence. His brother had hit him. Hurt him. Slowly he brought a hand to his cheek to cover the blooming, stinging bruise.
"You are a fool." Michael said softly, evenly. "A ranger?" He scoffed. "Rangers are fools. Look around you, Daniel." He grinned and waved his arms around him to prove his point. "Look where they are now. Is this what you want? Do you want to perish with them?"
He was quiet for a moment. "If it means being a ranger again then yes. I'll be executed with the rest of them. So be it."
"So be it." The older brother echoed solemnly. "Goodbye brother." He murmured and held the sword in front of him again.
Daniel's eyes widened slightly. He was going to do it. Michael was really going to kill him. A soft sob caught in the back of his throat and he pulled his Saxe and throwing knife from his belt.
Michael swung at him and Daniel darted forward using his throwing knife to redirect the blade over his shoulder and thrust the Saxe into his chest. Right through his heart.
"You idiot." Daniel mumbled up at the wide eyed, surprised brother. "You never were able to beat me in a fight." His shoulders slumped slightly, and his face was grave. Kill or be killed. That was the only way to survive.
"D-Daniel...how...could you?" The older man asked, slumping into Daniel's arms. Betrayal burned in his eyes. His own brother. Betrayed by his own brother.
Daniel slowly lowered Michael to the floor. "I'm sorry." He murmured. "I'll keep the corps going. I'll help them survive and flourish. Your death will not have been for nothing." He brought his forehead close to Michael's as the older brother let his tired eyes slide shut. "I love you, Michael. Don't ever doubt that." His eyed watered as he felt the older man slowly fall limp in his arms. He was gone.
Daniel kissed his forehead gently with a soft sob before laying him down gently on the ground and turning to James, lifting the boy into his arms. He took his throwing knife and sliced easily through the ropes tying his wrists and ankles before tossing the weapon aside and ignoring the voices of the other rangers.
The boy looked up at him with tired eyes, breathing much too shallowly for Daniel's liking. "Scared..." he mumbled. "Don't wanna die..." James placed a hand over the bleeding wound, knowing it would do no good. The sword had gone all the way through to his back. "Gonna die...?" He whispered, eyes begging him to say no.
The ex-ranger gave a soft sob and began running his fingers through James' soft hair. "You're going to be okay. I promise. Hold on. Just hold on."
"K-kay..." His voice cracked and his eyes slid shut as his body wracked with small sobs. Tears began to make their way down his dirt and blood stained cheeks. James held on to the feeling of the hand in his hair and the firm grip holding him up from the ground as tightly as he could. Daniel had come back to him. He didn't save him, but he was good. He knew he was good. "I...I love you, Daniel..." He breathed.
"Don't leave me yet, James." He ordered desperately and laid James on the ground, and tore a strip of his cloak, pressing it down against the wound as he batted the ranger's hand away. "Don't you dare leave me! I just got you back!" Daniel's tears began to find their way down his cheeks at the thought of losing his son...again, voice cracking on the last word.
"N-no good D-Daniel." James flinched at the harsh pressure on his stomach. "Daniel please..." He weakly shoved against the man's had. "S-stop."
The pressure only lessened slightly to make James a bit more comfortable. "I-I can't lose you, James. I just can't. You aren't supposed to die before me. It's just not right…" He moved his hand to grip James' tightly.
"I-I'm sorry…" He murmured, stilling as the exhaustion overtook him. He was running out of time.
"I love you, James. I'm sorry." He brought his hands to his lips and kissed his knuckles gently watching as the light slowly faded from his eyes and he took his last shuttering breath. Daniel allowed a small cry to escape from his lips and shut his eyes tightly. "I'm sorry, James. I'm so sorry." He whispered and gently passed his hand over his eyes shutting them gently before placing his limp hand over the fatal wound.
He rubbed his eyes before standing and facing the other rangers gravely. All of them had been shocked into silence at Daniel's change of heart and the sudden death of their brother and fellow ranger. "I'm sorry…" He mumbled and dropped his gaze to the floor.
Gilan looked at Daniel, anger the farthest thing from his mind. James had been killed with his own sword. "Please…" He cleared his throat and began again. "Please, Daniel, just let us go." His cheeks among many of the others were stained with tear tracks. They couldn't help it.
The man gave a small nod and stooped down to retrieve his throwing knife to cut through the rope tying Will and Gilan together. After freeing them he gave the knife to Gilan before slowly trailing back towards James and his brother. He sighed. Their deaths would not be in vain. He would make sure of it. Daniel turned his gaze to the rangers as they slowly climbed to their feet one by one and rubbed at their raw wrists from struggling against the harsh bonds. It wouldn't be easy, but he would retake his vow to be a loyal king's ranger, and he would regain the trust of the corps. He would honor James and his brother, and he would help the corps and be good.
Just as he'd taught James to be.
Just as James had been.
Just as he always would be.
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