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Chapter 16

I remember feeling kind of fuzzy inside – as if my head was stuffed with thick, pink cotton balls. Then a short, strange moment of clarity. I must have said something, what I don't know, but the next thing I remember were men laughing - then nothing.

I must have passed out again.

I remember waking up in a strange bed hurting all over – whishing for the cotton-ball feeling to return. If this was what my patients went through I could finally understand why about half of them had begged me to put them out of their misery. I for one was praying for somebody – anybody – to just pull the trigger.

Groaning I tried to move my throat but it was dry and un-cooperating. Somebody said my name then a small straw was being pushed between my lips. Water. Gratefully I took a few sips longing for more but the part of my brain that wasn't trying to painfully worm its way out of my skull knew that I would just end up throwing it all up if I took too much now.

It felt like a benediction. It was just water, maybe with a dose of painkillers mixed into it, but to me it felt like the gods' ambrosia. It slit down my throat like honey, wetting it, making it able to move again. My dried out mouth filled with salvia, my encrusted lips were finally able to open.

"Where …" I tried again. "What…"

"Easy there." It was Albuin, not Dev. Where was Dev? "You gave us a mighty fright, Rea."

#Where is Dev?# I tried again, this time on the fourth Plane. #Where are we? What happened – I …?# I remembered. It was like a flash, short and rather painful. #That man, he tried to... He thought I was a monster, he … he tried to kill me, didn't he?#

I would, never again, underestimate a human.

"And nearly succeeded too. That was pretty stupid of you, you know. You went out all alone - with your powers out of control."

#I expected Dev to chew me out for that, not you.#

"I'm not going to stay quiet when you're doing something so fundamentally stupid." He was silent for a moment. Then: "You're my little sister, right?"

Something in his tone penetrated my haze of pain and drugs. #Are you all right?#

He gave a short laugh. "You ask me that now? You should worry about yourself for now."

#You know what I meant. You – what in all the ….?! Thrice damned Fates, that's not right!# I had opened my eyes to look at him.

"Okay … No need to curse at me. You can worry, of course you can. But, I mean right now you should concentrate on getting better and not my iss-"

"No," I croaked and reached for his arm, or rather what I assumed was his arm. #I can't see.#

Everything around me was black. Pitch black. I couldn't even see shadows. Suddenly I could feel myself hyperventilating. That human man had shot me in the head hadn't he? What if he'd irreparably injured something … what if I'd never … no, no, I had to calm down. There was no such thing as irreparable, I reminded myself. Dev had been injured worse before and he'd always recovered without having as much as a scar left to tell the tale.

We shared the same blood after all. My blood. Healing blood.

It would be all right. Eventually.

I tried to remind myself of that, I really did, but it was hard to stay positive when your world had been cast into darkness. Literally.

I felt the air move before my face and guessed that my brother was waving his hand back and forth in front of my wide open eyes. It irritated me and I tried to swat it away, but I must have missed by miles since my hands hit his face instead.

"Damn. You're really blind."

#No shit Sherlock.# He was getting under my skin. Suddenly I only wanted to be left alone.

"Sher-who? Never mind, you're going to be all right, right? You've got that healing blood, don't you? And you weren't even hit that hard … no, that didn't come out right, of course you were hit hard … but … I mean, not on your head. Oh, shit, I'm sorry Rea, I'm rambling. Seems I'm rubbish at dealing with all this." He gave a nervous chuckle. "You're going to be fine."

#I'm tired,# I simply said, and it must have sounded a bit cold. #I need to sleep.# As if to emphasize my point I closed my useless eyes and weakly pulled my blankets up higher.

I could hear him sigh and he stood up from where he'd sat on the edge of my bed. Then he bent down again, hesitated for a moment before lightly kissing my cheek. "You are going to be fine." He whispered.

After he left I did sleep, after all I had been tired - that hadn't been a lie.

The next time I woke I felt slightly better even though I didn't dare open my eyes – afraid of the devastation I'd feel if there still was only darkness. Instead I tentatively took inventory. It was frustrating to keep my powers in check and on the task at hand and so it took me a long time to scan my whole body. Something that normally would have only taken seconds. Frustrating indeed.

The final count was at the same time devastating and heartening. Heartening because Albuin was right, I would be fine. Devastating because the healing process would be a, excuse my French, total bitch.

My brain hadn't had enough oxygen at one point or another when I'd been unconscious resulting in a complete failure of the cells inside my primary visual cortex. Meaning my eyes were just fine – my brain just couldn't translate their information any more. I estimated two or three days for the cells to regrow.

There was a small hairline fracture on my skull but it was almost closed by now leaving only a hellish headache behind.

The flesh wounds in my chest were almost healed. My heart it seemed had stopped beating for a few minutes, resulting in the oxygen shortage in my brain, and my right lung had collapsed. Fortunately for me both organs had already fully resumed their work while I had been unconscious. It didn't stop them from hurting like hell on a cold day though.

What worried me, aside from my eyes, was the fact that the tenth thoracic vertebra of my spine had been partially shattered interrupting the central nervous system. I couldn't feel my legs. I couldn't even move my toes. I was, for the time being, paraplegic from the waist down. It was a good thing that I could control my bladder and bowel with my magic – as arduous as that was with me still being on my period and liable to send something flying instead of keeping myself from wetting the bed – but I would be needing a lot of help in the next few days until I'd healed up enough to move around with crutches.

I knew it would take me at least a week, maybe longer, to fully recover – injuries concerning the central nervous system were tricky especially when the only thing I could really rely on was the healing ability of my blood.

What a fucking mess that was.

"You can say that again." It was said in an undertone, more a quiet sigh than anything else, but my ears – at least! – were working just fine.

#I was wondering where you were.#

#Around# He sounded tired. I could hear him moving around – he had been farther away from my bed than I had thought. #I tried to reach Dad.# He sounded closer now, somewhere near my feet. Vaguely I felt the blanket covering me move.

#Why?# Somehow I felt insulted. As if Dev was insinuating that I couldn't take care of myself and therefore he needed to call in another healer.

#You know why. Albuin told me about your eyes.#

#I can heal myself just fine.#

#You know you can't heal yourself! Your blood heals you, but you can't actively influence it - and even if you could normally, right now your magic's so out of control that…# He took a deep breath. #All right, I'll stop.#

I remembered something he'd said just before the attack. #You promised you would grovel.#

#I did, didn't I?# He sighed and I felt the mattress dip when he sat down somewhere near my waist. #Listen, Rea, I'm just worried. You…# Another deep breath. #You scared the shit out of me.# I felt him move and thought he might have reached for me but I never felt his touch. Suddenly he jumped up again and I could hear his agitated pacing. #I didn't mean to …# He hesitated. # Question your ability as a healer. I just thought we could use the reinforcement and it sure wouldn't hurt if you'd heal faster. It doesn't matter anyways, he isn't coming.#

#He isn't?# It wasn't like Papa to leave us alone with our messes. Normally he was the first one to ride to the rescue.

Dev just made a non-committal noise, before sitting down next to me again. #How are you feeling?#

#Do you want the glass half empty or the glass half full version?#

#I can handle it.# Could he? I wasn't so sure. He never took very well to me being weak. Maybe it reinforced his believe that I didn't belong on missions. #Tell me Rea. I know most of it by now anyways.# His tone was light and I knew it was meant to reassure me, maybe overplay the weight of the situation. It didn't.

And suddenly, suddenly the strange numbness that had coated my feelings like a wet blanket since I'd woken up dissolved and an overwhelming sense of what had happened flooded through me.

I had almost died. A human man had almost killed me. Never had I felt my own mortality that clearly. It terrified me.

I gasped for air. All of a sudden my throat felt dried up and tight again. My eyes opened wide. I could see shadows now - somewhere in the back of my mind I did realize that - but the almost shapeless darkness that still surrounded me only served to increase my mounting terror.

I couldn't breathe. Cold sweat broke out all over. I couldn't breathe.

"Rea!" Dev sounded alarmed but he still wouldn't touch me. Why wouldn't he? I wanted him to. No, the realization broke through my panic; I needed, longed for him to just touch me.

In a spasm my arms flew up, reflexively reaching towards where I thought he sat.

Somewhere inside of me I knew it was wrong. I knew that I should hate him for what he'd done. But what had it been that he had done?

I couldn't remember.

I could only think that I loved him and that I had almost died and that I needed his arms around me to tell me that everything was all right. And I needed it now.

Dev made a choked sound. #I don't think that's a good idea, flea.# He sounded pressed. Why was he holding himself back?

I could feel tears pricking my eyes and the panic overthrew me again. "Please!" I rasped out.

A shudder went through him and the bed but I felt him moving forward until my outstretched hands almost touched him. "All right, flea." He whispered "But don't say I didn't warn you." and grabbed my hands.

Energy shot through me, hot and raw. All my nerve endings came pleasantly back to live and for a second, like a flash, my eyes worked. Then it settled down into a low, insistent hum. Darkness descended again. Only this time it felt warm … fuzzy. And I realized it wasn't raw energy that flowed through me.

It was desire.

And if I had felt anything below my navel I surely wouldn't have been able to stand it but as it was … as it was I felt awash in mellow, gentle pleasure that for the first time in a long time assured me that I was truly and utterly alive - and that that was a good thing.

"Ah." I hummed, my throat finally working as it should. "I see."

Dev groaned. #I… gave you my blood.#

"You did?" I asked, not really hearing a word he'd said, instead I tried to tug him closer. I needed to feel more of this.

He resisted. #This isn't … a very good idea.# He sounded so strained I almost took pity in him. Almost.

"You said that before. Come here."

He did. Only a little bit closer, only until I could feel the shudders running through his body, before he stopped. Very abruptly. #I didn't … think, you'd want to … touch me … after what I … did.# He tried to distract me. #You know … not telling you … about Max … and trying to … kill him.# And rile me.

I knew he did.

And if I had been in any normal state of mind it would've worked too.

But I wasn't.

And it didn't.

With strength that I hadn't realized I still possessed I tucked at his arms again. It must have surprised him as well for he lost his balance and would've fallen on top of me if not for his fast reflexes.

"I promise I'll kick your ass and then give you the cold shoulder for that later." I whispered. "But right now, I know a better punishment."His arms under my hands were bundles of steel cords, the hands on both sides of my shoulders clenched and unclenched. I used my firm grip on him to pull myself up until my face almost touched his. His hot, fast breath beat against my lips. "Something that will feel good to me and," feeling adventurous I sneaked my tongue out and licked his lips, "and be torture for you." It was pure luck that it was actually his lips I touched and not something else, half- blind as I was, but it had the desired effect.

Dev reared his head back with a groan. "Don't…" he moaned, "don't do that."

"I want you to hug me."

"No…" He groaned, but I could feel his resistance grumbling.

"I want you to lie down next to me and hold me. Nothing else."

His laugh was short, forced and tortured. "I wouldn't try … doing anything … else."

I smiled and wrapped my arms around his neck, pressing my breasts against his torso. "But you want to."

"Oh god," he leaned his head back, "yes. But … I … won't."

Slowly I let myself sink back onto the bed, taking his now largely unresisting body with me. When my back hit the mattress I moaned contently. "This feels good."

Dev's shoulders were still tense, hard as stone. "It's … maddening." Smiling I buried my face into his neck. Suddenly his arms tightened around me and he rolled us until he was on his back and I was tugged into his side, my head on his right shoulder. #Why isn't it driving you crazy too?# His heart was beating so heart his torso vibrated.

#Because I'm a woman?# I quipped.

I could very well imagine the look he was surely giving me and for once I was glad to be half blind. "Why, Rea?" I knew he was trying to sound stern but it kind of lost its edge when his words ended in a moan.

I sighed and just to show my displeasure I pressed myself harder against him. It worked. He groaned. "Promise me you won't get mad."

"Anything." It was a breathless, uncontrolled gasp that I was sure he hadn't meant to let out. The control I had over him pleased me immensely.

Reaching up, I trailed a teasing finger up and down what felt like his collarbone. "You really, really won't get mad?"

His hands flexed on my waist. "Stop…" he ground out, "stop being … such a … tease."

I laughed, snuggling further into him but pulled my teasing finger back. It seemed I had succeeded in distracting him.

"You didn't … answer my question … Rea."

Or not.

Sighing I decided to just get it over with. Hard and painful. "My tenth thoracic vertebra is partially shattered."

"Your…" He took a deep breath, seemingly fighting for control. #You mean to say, that … you … you're … paralyzed?#

"Paraplegic, actually."

He was silent for a while, processing the information. "So, you're … telling me" he whispered finally, hoarsely, "that you … don't feel anything … down … there."

"You can say the word you know."

Dev groaned again. "I'd rather … not, right … now."

I couldn't help teasing him again. After all I had promised to make this a torture for him. "Come on! Don't be a prude. Say it: V-A-"

"Shut up!"

It tore through the pleasant haze around me and I flinched. "Don't talk to me like that."

He backpedalled almost immediately. "Oh god, I'm sorry." His hands were on my face now, caressing my cheeks. "I'm so sorry. You can tease me all you want." He carefully tucked me closer until I was almost lying on top of him. "Is this … better? Or do you want … me to go away? I'll do … anything, I promise."

"You can't talk to me like that Dev."

"I know, I'm sorry."

"No," I stared ahead into the shadows that surrounded me and wondered how I should say this. "You always do that. You're hot one moment and the next you're cold. You lose your temper so easily. I know that this is how you are and I have accepted that. I've gotten good at predicting your moods too." Again I stopped before I took a deep breath. I had never really said this; had never even truly put it into words in my own head before. But now, with the darkness surrounding me and the pleasure still buzzing inside, I felt calm and save and clear. And I needed to say this.

"But that is not okay. It doesn't make it okay. I don't want to ride this emotional roller-coaster anymore. I don't want to feel like an abused wife anymore when I'm not even your wife or girlfriend or anything. I just want my best friend back. I'm tired of waiting for him to come out from behind all those … thousand and one barriers you've erected around yourself.

"I understand why you have to act like you do around others. I understand why you put on those masks. We all do that. But it hurts when you do it with me. Why can't you just let yourself be yourself around me?"

I felt him swallow. "I … do … I am."

"No," I said forcefully, "You never do completely. There's always something or another that you hold back, even when we're using our mental bond, even when we … especially when we're having sex. You might lift a thousand of your barriers but there's always one still between us and the rest is at the ready to snap back into place in a second. Even when you're sleeping!"

He was silent, but his grip on me had tightened. It seemed he didn't know what to say. Then he whispered: "I'm a warrior, Rea, a killer. I can't effort to show my weaknesses to the world. I have to be on guard. Always."

It hurt - even with the pleasure lulling my emotions it felt like a sharp, painful stab. My voice wasn't stable. "Even with me? Why can't you trust me?"

"Rea, you… " He swallowed again. "You're the only person I completely trust."

I closed my eyes. "It doesn't feel like that to me, Dev."

Suddenly his hands were on my face again, lifting it until his forehead pressed against mine. Even through the shadows I could see the green of his eyes. "But you're also the only person who can hurt me. You can completely destroy me with just a word. And I'm terrified of that."

"So you hurt me instead."

He didn't apologize. "I'm a selfish coward, Rea. You wanted to know what I hide, right? That is what I'm like, deep inside. Afraid and terrified and selfish."

I could feel him staring at me. I wanted to protest. He was anything but a coward. He was always strong - irritable, yes, selfish, yes, and a complete asshole, oh yes. But he'd never been a coward. And then it hit me.

He had done what I'd asked him. He had lifted that last barrier of his.

And for the first time since I'd brought him back to life ten years ago he allowed me to see what he truly felt like inside.

He was insecure. Dev Cone, the brave, cocky, smart bastard was insecure as hell. I would have laughed if I hadn't felt like crying.

He had no right to make me feel like that.

With a barely suppressed sob I reached for his face. He caught my hand and pressed it against his lips.

"I don't know what I should say to you." I admitted my voice a bit raspy. "I …" I moved my hand from his mouth up his face and into his hair. "It's okay to feel like that." I let my fingers slide through his hair, combing it gently. "It's okay. But don't make me feel like shit because of it."

His body moved until we were both on our sides, facing each other. Then he drew me in again, practically folding himself around my body.

This time whispered his apology into my ear. Once, twice. "It's like a reflex," he admitted. "I can't suppress it."

"Learn to do it." My voice was weak and a little shaky. "Because I really don't know how long I can live like this."

He froze. For a few seconds his whole body just stopped moving. He didn't breathe. His muscles didn't twitch anymore. His heart stopped its rapid beating against my chest. Then he simply pressed himself against me so close that there wasn't any air left between our bodies. His breath was beating fast and hart against my neck where he'd buried his face. #I'll do anything. Anything you ask of me. Just don't leave.# There was something wet on my neck. #Don't ever leave me.#

My hand was still combing through his hair. I sighed. #I won't.#

It seemed to placate him since his grip slackened slightly leaving more room for me to breathe. His heart was still beating wildly and his clothing was almost soaked through with sweat.

It really must have been a torture for him to be so close to me and not to be able to do … anything.

"So," I cleared my throat. #You gave me your blood?#

He laughed, rearing his head back, his whole body shaking with the almost comic relief that flowed through him. "Don't … remind me…" he gasped in between chuckles.

I frowned, but somehow couldn't help the smile that crept onto my face. #That bad?#

#At first? No. I mean it was bad that I had to give it to you in the first place, but the…# he searched for the right word, # … donation, I guess, wasn't bad at all. I didn't get to appreciate it though since I had to keep myself from panicking the whole time.# He smiled against my neck. #The … side effect appeared a few hours after. We'd just…# he cleared his throat, clearly embarrassed. # Ehm, … sobered up … and I wanted to change your bandages. I had to … ask … Albuin to do it instead.#

I didn't know which information I should process first. That he had to sober up or that he had actually let my brother touch me.

I went with the former. #You got drunk?#

There was a dry chuckle. #Completely wasted. Would've destroyed everything around us, if I didn't. Kind of roped Albuin into it too.#

Another astounding piece of information, just thrown into the room. Just like that.

#You didn't destroy anything? Not even the settlement?# The Dev I knew would have lost total control after what had happened to me. I had actually dreaded breaching that particular topic. How many people had died because of my own carelessness?

He grew silent for a while and for a second I feared his barriers had gone up again. But he gently shook his head, just the ghost of a movement. #I almost did. I almost … destroyed this world and all the neighboring worlds as well. But …# He took a deep breath. #Somehow, in all that madness I remembered that you … you wouldn't want me to. That just sounds stupid,#

#No,# I moved my head a little bit and kissed the side of his face. #It doesn't#

#I killed that human, though.#

#I guessed as much.#

#And I'm not sorry.#

#I know.#

#But I'm really sorry I lied to you … about your brother.#

#Okay.#

#And that I tried to kill him.#

#Okay?#

#I couldn't do it though. Kill him, I mean. I would've been able to. But I didn't do it.#

"Huh?" What was there to say to that?

#I told him that already, you know. He said I wouldn't have been able to kill him either way.#

#Right.# That did sound like something Albuin would say.

#I was jealous. I just thought you'd like to know. I was jealous and insecure and threatened. And it isn't an excuse.#

#It isn't.#

#But it's the truth.#

#Okay.# I took a deep breath. #Okay.#

#But you haven't forgiven me.#

Another deep breath. #No.#

#That's fine.#

And, surprisingly enough, it was.

^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^v^

"We can't get out of here."

I had fallen asleep not long after our little heart to heart and only woken again when Dev had moved away from me. Just slightly, just a few inches but it was enough to startle me. Instantly his hand returned to my back, rubbing slow circles.

He was talking to Albuin, who was walking up and down my room like a caged tiger. "I know," he growled.

"How?" Dev seemed amused. "You tried to run?"

"No, none of your business … You really shouldn't be so close to her."

The bed shook a little bit when Dev laughed. "Jealous?"

Albuin growled again. "Presumptuous ass." Were it just my overzealous senses or had there been just a hint of affection in his voice. My eyes flew open.

"Well, well," Dev bent over me, "now you've gone and woken up the princess." His hand moved from my back to my face, caressing my cheek gently. "How are you feeling?"

I could only stare. He smiled. "You can see again."

"Mhhm," I mumbled then I closed my eyes again. The light was blinding me.

"She can … you can?" Albuin had moved closer as well. "See, I told you it would …" He stopped and when I slowly, tentatively opened my still over sensitive eyes I vaguely saw Dev glaring at him. I glanced back at Albuin; his jaw had hardened and just for a second he looked down to the side. But it was only for one moment before his gaze met Dev's levelly. "You really shouldn't be so close to her," he said once more.

This time Dev wasn't amused. "We've already established that."

Albuin crossed his arms. "Then why aren't you moving away?"

Dev's hand was still rubbing circles on my back but his body next to mine had grown tense. "We've come to an understanding, her and I."

It didn't seem to placate my brother. Instead he sounded suspicious. "What kind of understanding?"

"You'd like to know would you not?" Did Dev have to sound so taunting?

I groaned, reaching for his arm. #Dev, stop it.# But he shook his head never looking away from Albuin. His voice was hard when he said aloud. "I want to hear this, Rea." He cocked his head. "Why do you want to know? It's none of your business."

"Shut up asshole." I took a surprised breath when I heard the usually reserved Albuin cursing so openly. "You know why you shouldn't be so close to her and don't you make me say it."

"Oh," Dev seemed to relax. Still, his taunting never stopped. "But I want to hear it. No need to get all prissy about that."

I could not believe the nerve of the guy. It was just hours, mere hours, after our heart to heart and here he was trying, actually trying, to start a fight with my long lost brother at my sickbed. My sickbed.

Apparently Albuin thought so as well. Exasperated he growled. "Tell me you aren't serious. How fucked up can you get?"

"Call me masochistic. Tell me. Why don't you want me near Rea, eh? Is it making you itchy? You're feeling uneasy, aren't you? Insane with jealousy? Green-eyed? Queasy in the pit of your stomach? Itching to just tear me –"

Albuin exploded. Simply exploded. The room shook with the force of his indignation.

"You insensitive little prick! I can't believe … You told me yourself that it wasn't good for her if you touched her right now! That it'd hurt the two of you. Some business about blood. Didn't you?! …. What the hell are you goading me for now? … Want me to tell you? Do you, eh? Do you? All right, I'll tell you, you freaking bastard. I'm not jealous. I'm – I was – concerned. Can you believe it? … Concerned for a right bastard like you. No, I wasn't jealous. I was insane!"

"Now," Dev leaned back and smiled. "It wasn't that hart to admit, was it?"

I stared at the two of them. "Don't tell me…," my voice was thick with disbelieve, "How in all the hells did you two fall in love?"

It shut them up. Completely and utterly.

Albuin sank heavily into the chair next to my bed and Dev had stopped his caressing hand on my back.

"This is not a time for jokes, Rea," my brother admonished in such a condescending voice that for the first time since Sol's revelation I truly felt like I had an older brother again. And, not for the first time, I wondered how exactly I was supposed to feel about that.

I couldn't even begin to imagine how he must've felt.

"Are you in any pain?"

Confused I turned towards Dev. "Wha-?"

I could feel him through our connection, he was trying, and successfully so, to sense my feelings. "You seem to be," he murmured, "that pain medication we gave must have worn off. Maybe you need another dose."

I frowned. "Huh?" Then a realization began to slowly dawn at the edge of my consciousness. "Are you…"

He was already motioning towards Albuin. "The bottle on the table by the fire, can you get it for us?"

"Wait, wait, wait," I held up a feeble hand. "Are you trying to drug me?"

He raised an eyebrow. "Of course I am. You're in pain. And unlike you I can't charm it away. You need to take that medication."

That nerve … "You know I don't need it as long as you … as long as we're close. The pleasure keeps the pain away. You know that!"

Dev frowned. "I can't stay with you the-" At almost the same time Albuin interjected, "Wait, what the hell are you talking about?"

"You promised me that you … oh, … oh" my eyes widened as the realization bore fruit and I – sitting up shakily while only supporting myself with one hand - pointed an accusing finger at Dev. "I know what you're doing. I know it."

He had the audacity to look confused. "I'm not doing anything," he said calmly. "I really think you should take that medication. I can't stay with you right now, I need to make sure-" He faltered for a moment, as if something had almost slipped out that he hadn't meant to say, "- that that Magician didn't tell anybody about us."

"I know what you're doing," I repeated, determined. "What you've been doing since the moment I woke up again. You're trying to distract me."

"I'm not-"

"Yes, you are. You purposefully started that, that show with Albuin. I don't know if he was in on it or not –"

"I didn't-" Albuin tried to protest, but I ignored him.

"- but it sure was entertaining. And then, when you realized that you had to leave you tried to drug me. That was really clever, really it was –"

"Rea," Dev tried to placate me, "I think you should-"

"-since it both served to distract me and would let you leave my side. I'm sure you've been talking to each other on the Planes. I can't feel it 'cause me Magic's gone haywire but I know it. I know you've been continuing that conversation you had before I woke up."

"Flea," Dev reached out and caught my face between his hands, almost instantly the pleasure came over me again and I had to fight it down to keep focused. Apparently he had the same problem; pressing his eyes close together he screwed up his face as if he was in pain. "This is …" He took a deep breath. "Calm down, Rea, calm down. It isn't good for you to get upset."

"It isn't good for me?" I almost exploded. "Who was it then who upset me? Eh!"

"Shh," his fingers began to caress my cheek, "I'm sorry, flea, I'm sorry. I just wanted to protect you. I didn't mean to upset you. I didn't mean to."

Suddenly I felt tears mounting to my eyes and cursed my overly emotional state. "You promised," I couldn't help but snivel pathetically, "You promised me."

He really looked guilty this time. #I was just trying to protect you.# He repeated through our bond.

#I don't want you to protect me like this. I don't need you to protect me like this. I can judge for myself what is too much for me and what isn't. I'm the doctor here and not you.#

He shook his head. #But what am I supposed to do, when you collapse? What am I supposed to do, when you-#

#You'll catch me, won't you. But first you got to let me fly.# I closed my eyes. #My god, that sounded way too corny.#

He smiled. "It sure did." But he soon grew serious again. "All right, I get it. We won't keep you out of the loop anymore. But," He bent down to catch my eyes with his, "I will monitor you and the second you're starting to upset your health we'll stop and you'll get some rest. All right?"

Albuin looked at us with an unreadable expression. "So we're going to tell her, after all?"

Dev shrugged and moved so that he could sit against the backrest of my bad; grabbing me underneath my arms he hauled me into his lap, clasping his hands in front of my stomach.

It sure was … nice.

Albuin only raised an eyebrow before sitting down in his chair again. "I thought we should've told you right away, Rea," he told me.

Dev, behind me, snorted. "Stop sucking up to her."

Albuin bristled. "I'm not-"

Exasperated I raised my hands. "Guys! Seriously. Now, what the hell aren't you telling me? We can't get away from here?"

Dev looked down at me. "So you did hear that," he murmured.

Albuin, however, explained. "This world seems to have been cut off since we arrived here – maybe even because we did. Anyways, there's no way to communicate with any other world or to open a portal."

"So, we can't get away from here." I sad again, only this time it was a statement.

"And nobody can get to us." Dev added. "I tried reaching this world's Guardian, but he seems to be away."

I frowned. "Who is it?"

"Loki," Dev sighed.

"Oh," my eyes widened. "Isn't he in disgrace again? Mychael replaced him."

"What? When was that decided? Mychael wasn't supposed to …" Dev grew silent again, deep in thought.

Albuin looked confused. "What are you talking about?"

"Loki is the Guardian for – you do know what a Guardian is, right?"

Albuin looked at me with an expression that bordered on offended. "Who do you take me for? My father told me. They're the higher ups in that damnable holy hierarchy, serving as intermediated between God and his subjects. But," here he pinked a little, "I didn't always pay attention to their inner intrigues. It seemed mundane."

"You do know," Dev had taken his patronizing tone again, "that one should know ones enemy better than ones friend, right? It helps you stay alive."

I couldn't help but roll my eyes at him in exasperation. "Dev…" I sighed and he shrugged - not the least bit apologetic - but at least he kept quiet. "Thank you very much," I muttered, "Anyways Loki is the Guardian for several neighboring worlds. This world, Ixchel, and yours, Astraea, both fall under his jurisdiction. But he isn't …" I searched for the best word. "… known for his integrity." Behind me Dev snorted and I couldn't help but smile. "Frankly, he's quite the prankster. So, from time to time, when he goes too far with one of his jokes, he falls in disgrace for a while and one of the other guardians takes over his worlds."

Albuin nodded. "And this Mychael, took over this time." He glanced at Dev. "Why does this upset you?"

Dev waived the question away, still that thoughtful expression on his face and instead asked me once more: "Why didn't I know this?"

"Because it happened while you were unconscious. I guess Papa didn't think it necessary to tell you after that."

He nodded silently. "I guess I was a little bit preoccupied at that time – since you'd just been kidnapped and my brother had tried to split my skull open with a rusty pan."

"Don't tell me, you're still holding a grudge because of that?"

But he wasn't listening anymore. Instead his thoughtful expression slowly turned thunderous. Alarmed I tried to turn around. "What –?"

"Mychael took over for Loki, right?"

"Yes, why is that-?"

"And Kun belongs to Loki's realm too, doesn't it. In fact it's right next to Ixchel."

My eyes widened. "Weren't there Dragons the last time we-"

Dev's eyes were dark. "Yes. And remember how we didn't report it -"

" - because Luka wanted to study them without the Guardians interrupting him. Dev…" I looked at him wide eyed and disbelieving. "What did we do?"

"We couldn't have known that Mychael would replace Loki so soon."

Albuin looked a little lost again, but most of all he seemed irritated. "Can you please, for once, remember that I'm kind of left in the dark here."

Dev sighed and tucked me closer again. The warmth of his body soothed me but the buzzing of the pleasure seemed fainter now and did nothing to chase away the fear and guilt that had crept into my stomach. "Mychael and Dragons don't go well together," Dev was explaining to Albuin now. "He was originally created in order to kill them and even though that hasn't been his purpose for a long time now Dragons still fear his essence and they panic when he's in the same world as them."

"Which is the reason why he isn't allowed to set foot in any worlds where Dragons live. Since there are so few it hasn't been a problem for him until now."

"But since we didn't report the Dragons living in Kun he now became the Guardian of their world and of course he must have visited it." At this Dev frowned. "It does make me wonder why he didn't affect you. I mean with all that Dragon blood running through your veins."

Albuin seemed only lightly offended. "I'm not a Dragon," he simply said.

I ignored them, biting my lips in thought. "So you really think," I whispered, "you really think that this world is caught in a Dragon Mare?"

Dev's face was set in grim lines. "It adds up, Rea. The humans going insane and suddenly developing inhuman powers if they sleep outside of their electrical shield, the general paranoia, us being unable to communicate with anybody outside of this world or build a stable portal and last but not least the fact that the Magicals who lived here," he moved his right hand in a great gesture, indicating the room we were occupying, "fled this planet and probably Ixchel all together in a great hurry." He shook his head and repeated. "It's the only thing that makes sense."

I swallowed hard and closed my eyes. Mychael must have, deliberately or not, frightened a Dragon so much that he had closed himself of in a nightmare like dimension of his own making. A Dragon Mare. "But why here?" I murmured. "Why not on Kun?"

Dev didn't know the answer. "Maybe Kun's got the same problem and one of the Dragon's fled here. Or maybe the Dragon was here to begin with - maybe he had come out of curiosity, maybe he lost his way, or maybe he didn't even have anything to do with the Dragon's on Kun – and Mychael surprised him here, where he was alone and defenseless. Who knows. Besides, that's not the point."

No, it wasn't the point.

The point was that in this world, probably on this very planet, a Dragon had gone insane with fear - and with him this whole world.

A Dragon's nightmare, indeed.


A/N: Okay, first of all. I didn't edit this. I simply didn't have the time. Frankly I probably shouldn't even have written this chapter right now since I'm supposed to be working on my bachelor thesis but I had to take my mind of that one for a while ^.^…

Second of all, anybody who wonders about Mychael and Loki, they are mentioned very briefly in Chapter 1. They are of course the Nordic God Loki and the Archangel Michael. Michael is also known as the Dragon Slayer in the catholic and orthodox tradition – which is what I meant by saying that he was created to kill dragons.

And lastly, I unfortunately don't have the time at the moment to answer my anonymous reviews – I have to put you guys off until next time. But know that I really love you for reviewing! Reviews always make my day and keep me writing^.^! While on the topic – I don't know if I answered all the reviews I got for the last chapter – they were really, truly, awesome, though; I kept smiling for days ;-)) – since my life got pretty busy so please yell and kick my sorry ass if I forgot you!

Once again, thank you all for reviewing – I was blown away!

~I-think-therefore-I-am