Laët was used to being out in the wilderness but not this far from a town. His own shack was in the woods, a fifteen minute walk outside of Grey. The night sounds in the forest around them did not disturb him and the mercenary didn't trouble him so much beyond making him extremely nervous but it wasn't her fault he had little experience being around women. The real issue was that he had been having dreams, and the feeling they seeded within him told him they were going to the wrong way… which was impossible.

The monastery was west, just on the other side of the weld. They were unquestionably headed in that direction. He may have momentarily lost his faith but joining the brotherhood was what his life had always been building toward, had it not? But these dreams contradicted that. Perhaps they were trying to tell him he was on the wrong path altogether.

In his heart—since he was a child—he had always wanted to be a part of the brotherhood. He might have had many times in which he had questioned his beliefs, but surely all that had happened recently had to be taken as a sign that he should finally commit himself. He didn't want to change his mind again. Some good must come out of his waste of an existence.

"Have you ever climbed a mountain before?"

Laët took his eyes from his feet and gaped at the horizon. Snow-capped rock jutted up in front of him like giant broken teeth poking out of the earth. A sight that made him question his beliefs all over again. The sudden desire for alcohol rose within him.

"Right," Trace said slowly when he turned his gaping stare at her. "We could go around. More haven't followed so far. Unless you think time is an issue."

"I don't know," he said and then under his breath he whispered, "In the face of hardships I will remain vigilant. For all creation proves its resilience in times most dire."

"What?" Trace raised an eyebrow but he didn't explain himself. Thankfully she didn't press further beyond that single reaction.

Embarrassed by his own reaction, he turned his attention back to the intimidating mountains that loomed ahead which in hindsight did not help at all. "Around or over. That's the only option?" Hopefully around was still moving forward. He wouldn't want fate to think he was trying to avoid it, but it wasn't like he wasn't on the fence all the bloody time. The priest had admonished him for such wavering faith, but was that really his fault? No, no. He had to do this, right? This was the path and he had to see it to its end… or his end. He gulped, wringing his hands in his robes.

"No, but I don't do caves."

Her tone left little room for argument and he wasn't about to start one. Giant spiders weren't his thing and he had heard of such residing near the weld, on the western edge of Pergne lands, but had never seen one himself. He didn't wish to run into any number of those. Laët did not mind spiders of manageable size, but once they became larger than the average horse intense problems arose.

"Me neither." He was glad he didn't have to insist they avoided such things.

"Good." She seemed relieved. He wondered momentarily if she had run into such spiders herself. "So… around?"

His heart raced to think of being captured again, but the spiders, he thought…"How long will that take?"

She shrugged, a lopsided grin curled her lips, seemingly unconcerned about the possibility of more murderous men raging after them, or indeed the spiders as she hadn't mentioned those. Did she really have no fear at all?

"Probably a while but I don't suggest you try climbing a mountain in that dress."

Laët looked down at his plain gray clothes. "It's a robe, not a dress," he insisted, flustered by her words, but when he looked back up at her again he realized she was teasing him.

"It's cute," she said. He pointedly looked away before she continued. "Let me put it this way: if you're never climbed a mountain before I'd rather not drag you through it. Let's not be reckless. We'll get there eventually if we go around and at least going that way we can stop through West Bay."

"What's in West Bay?"

In all honesty he hadn't been outside Grey much. The world outside his drab town made him nervous, especially considering recent events. He wished he could have a shot or two of whiskey… maybe a mug or several of mead. Since the light entered him the smell made him sick, but that didn't mean he didn't miss trying to drink his problems away. Laët hoped that in West Bay, whatever place that was, he could find some sort of alcohol. Sickness be damned, didn't he deserve at least a few moments of fearless delirium?

"Lots of things!" she said excitedly. "And there may be a bed to sleep in if we ask nicely. I'm accustomed to at least one pillow every now and then."

Laët didn't know about staying in an unfamiliar place. He was fine with forests; forest creatures were familiar to him, but a town? He just didn't think it was a good idea. Best to press to the monastery, he thought. "There'll be beds at the monastery but I doubt they'd let you stay for more than a night."

Then she'd be on her way and he'd probably never see her again. Her job would be complete after all.

"They'd just turn me away?"

"Women are…" he cleared his throat uncomfortably, "…considered a, uh… distraction."

Astronomy and philosophical studies were the most important things. Chasteness was required of all brothers, as intimacies prevented the true pursuit of knowledge. Their days and nights would be spent in the tower or the libraries. They would follow the teachings of Brother Marcum and remain as students of the skies until their ends. It would be a wonderfully boring existence, he thought as he cast a quick look over at Trace, and there would be no women there.

Not that he had a lot of experience with women or that one had spoken to him in such a friendly fashion. He never thought one would …considering what he was: a drunk, a vagrant. A man without true conviction. Most felt sorry for him or were disgusted by him and he didn't blame them.

This woman didn't know about his past and didn't seem to judge him like the others. It only served to strengthen his indecision. Besides, she was only here to help him reach the monastery. Why did Mohan have to pick a woman anyway? It was his fault. Another test!

"I'll be quiet then." She gave a wink that made him nearly run into a tree.

"You'd be a distraction even if you were, Miss—"

"Trace," she insisted, with a smile that made him cough uncomfortably into the back of his hand.

"…Trace..." but he stopped himself from saying more, realizing exactly what it he had been implying, regardless of the truth of it. His face felt like it was on fire! She was just helping him get to the monastery, he told himself yet again. The sooner he got there the sooner she'd be out of his company. "Let's just keep walking."

"Why are those men after you? You never did say."

"It's complicated," he said and then he immediately tripped over a hidden, gnarled tree root in the ground cover and landed on his face.

Pain seared right through his skull. It felt as if the skin that covered his cheekbone was swelling immediately. He wasn't new to pain—or embarrassment for that matter—but to flounder so considering who was with him renewed a good portion of self-hatred he had been holding onto since he was a child.

Trace stood over him, laughing, "You all right?" She reached down for his hand but as soon as he saw it he made to crawl away from it.

"No!" he shouted, and actually kicked at her but thankfully he missed. He didn't want to have to explain himself but here she was, making things difficult. "Don't!" he shouted again desperately but she grabbed him anyway, ignoring his pleas.

He braced himself, waiting for the light to come, waiting for her to fall over as if she was dead. Nothing happened to her, but the throbbing in his cheek subsided completely and when he touched his face the swelling had gone. He felt a little blood, but no wound. Whatever had been there was no longer there; he had been healed by the energy he pulled out of her.

With her aid, he shakily got to his feet, all the while eyeing her curiously for the longer she held onto his arm the aching in his sore feet stopped, and although he had been so exhausted from walking for three straight days, he never felt better. Physically, anyway.

"How is it that it doesn't affect you? Everyone I've touched…"

"I felt something," she said, the awe in her tone unmistakable. She had obviously seen his injury disappear just before her eyes. "What usually happens?"

"I don't—" He was hesitant to say. What would any normal person think after all? "People fall over cold. Like they're dead."

The young man flashed in his mind. The horror Laët felt, seeing the boy's whole body go slack and fall to the ground, seemingly lifeless. Laët didn't know if there was anything he could do to stop it from happening again. He couldn't control it and there wasn't anything he could do but hide.

Maybe if that young man was dead Laët deserved whatever the Northmen had planned for him, but he would be damned if he was going to go back to that stronghold again and let Andreschi do whatever he had wanted to do. Never in his life had he imagined such things… he knew politicians to be a bit slimy... but to abduct people? Experiment on them? That was what Mohan had said. Mohan didn't seem to understand it himself, but the other one, the lanky blond one, he seemed to fear the worst. What sort of people were they? He had no idea such people even existed. They were… different somehow. He could tell.

"It kills people?" Trace asked, calling him back from his thoughts.

"By the sun!" he gasped, "I hope not!"

"It healed your face," she said, amazed, "Granted it was a small injury, nothing to worry about, but it is as if it never happened. This is why those men are after you."

He had her rapt attention now, and felt no better for it. He had feared others knowing the harm of which he was capable. He had nothing against Northmen, they were nothing but a political problem and that meant less than nothing to him, but to have harmed that young man, maybe even killed him... it was difficult having that on his conscience.

He didn't want it to happen to anyone else. Better to lock himself away in the monastery as the priest suggested. Better there than where he could hurt someone or where someone could use him to harm others. Thank whoever guided Mohan to listen and agree to have someone take him there. Whether Laët wanted to commit himself without reservation to the brotherhood was another matter altogether.

Trace did not run away, indeed in her expression he would swear he saw genuine interest, foolish as he found that.

"Have you always been like this?"

"No and I can't control it." Laët eyed her warily, watching for any signs of weakness he may have caused. "Which is why I told you not to touch me."

"It didn't do much." She smiled reassuringly, and made to pat his shoulder but quickly seemed to think better of it and returned her hand to her side. "I just feel a little tired that's all. How did this happen?"

"It's a weird story. You probably wouldn't believe me."

"Well, if that's what you're hiding you know the monastery won't protect you forever. The Northmen may not be able to touch you there but Andreschi can and will find a way to get to you. I've heard stories."

Laët swallowed hard and was afraid to ask, but he had to. "What have you heard?"

"People in the guild have been whispering. A man one of my friends was sent to … 'take care of' … just disappeared. He said he saw The Black Hood in the shadows and smelled Ehvenwood powder."

"A hood?" He didn't see how a common thug fit into this. The men that had been sent after him by Andreschi, they were formidable. Then again, so was Trace. "What does that have to do with Andreschi?"

"Ehvenwood is the hood's trademark. He works for Andreschi. We've seen him quite often in our line of work."

"So he's a mercenary?" Laët's voice was shaking. Was it shaking? That was embarrassing. He had to calm down however unlikely that was.

"He's a tracker. I don't think anyone I know has seen his face—just smelled his powder." Trace seemed sympathetic then. "At least this means he's not out to kill you."

"Right, just the Northmen." There was hardly nothing to worry about!

"Oh. Well, you've got me. Don't worry; I'm pretty tough," she said, and then yawned loudly. "Bit tired though."

"How did you even see this hood if he's so good at his job that you can't stop him from taking people?"

"What do you think? A guild of mercenaries is completely incompetent?" She paused and then laughed, "Well, okay, maybe some… and maybe most of mine, but there are a few of us that know what to look for and no one can deny smelling that powder."

"Why would he even have something like that if people could smell it on him before he got to them? That doesn't make sense." He slipped again, but thankfully instead of falling on his face he slipped backward, his back hitting tree, nearly knocking the wind out of him.

"Maybe he wants them to smell it. That's the only reason I can think of." She shrugged and made to help him up again. Laët had to wave her away. "Right, forgot again."

"I never smelled any powder anyway," he muttered, fighting the blush rising in his cheeks. Surely he was old enough that this shouldn't happen anymore. "The only ones of Andreschi's that came after me was Mohan and his weird friend."

"He has a friend that's weirder than he is?"

"We should keep moving…" Laët said, growing slightly suspicious of her now.

How could she not be affected by his touch? They had to get to the monastery as quickly as possible before anything else happened. There was something more to this woman, but he couldn't work out what. Unfortunately he didn't know how long he had to figure it out.


Roger could feel eyes on his back. They had been being watched the whole time, he imagined, though he just noticed it in the courtyard. Once Roger saw Nick go inside Asesil's house, he nonchalantly ducked into an alleyway, confident the owner of those eyes would follow. He was not disappointed.

Roger laughed; it amused him so because he knew exactly who it was and what color those watching eyes were, though he doubted he would see them under his shadowy hood. The distinct smell of Ehvenwood powder, musty and bitter, filled his nostrils when Kristani got closer. It was a tell and he had told him this several times, but he said it added to the ambiance. Fear, he had said; he wanted it to be so palpable they could smell it. It wasn't deadly—not in most circumstances.

It wasn't the powder he was imagining anyway. Kristani had some very deft fingers and it had been quite some time since he had felt them.

"Tell me you didn't come all this way for another go?"

"If I had time to spare I'd suggest you give me a proper greeting." A grin pulled his lips but Roger made sure it was gone before he turned to face the man. "But somehow I think—"

"Thinking," Roger interjected, "That's new for you. I hope it doesn't hurt too much, Kristani. You're just a watcher, friend."

It was just enough insult to get a response, but he forgot who he was talking to. Kristani didn't rise to that sort of bait. Such antagonistic conversation was best reserved for Nick or Mohan. Kristani was an almost emotionless creature; he needed some powerful incentive. Everything about him was so measured and controlled. Honestly that was what sparked the interest in the first place.

In Roger's experience when the measured and controlled let loose, so to speak, the results can prove most interesting.

"You noticed me." His face was shrouded in shadow. He never took that damn hood off. The rest of him was covered in black and a black cloak over that. That thing was a living shadow, Roger thought, noting the brief glint of white teeth when he spoke again. "I wouldn't approach otherwise."

"I did. In the courtyard."

Noticing Kristani was what had stopped him from really laying into Nick. He would admit that the poor guy had been through a lot, but Roger had never had to work so hard for anything. It irritated him to no end.

"You're not doing well with him." His tone was matter of fact, but it did hurt to hear those words.

"What you saw was nothing." Though he didn't really believe that. It made him a little nervous that he had to play it so cautious. Roger wasn't used to such things. Nevertheless, he kept lying to himself and he would lie to Kristani. Maybe if he kept it up they'd all end up believing it. "It's more difficult than I expected but I will not fail."

"Does he trust you?"

"At the moment he has no choice."

Roger shifted his weight from one foot to the other and didn't look him in the eyes. Not as if he could see them anyway, under that hood of his.

"Tsk, tsk," Kristani teased, "That does not sound promising."

"Let's get straight to it," Roger snapped, irritated by his amusement, however miniscule it was. "You're here to keep an eye on me."

"Of course. He prefers my eyes."

"I'm sure," Roger said as he sauntered over him. "Just don't say that around Maria." He cocked his head, studying what he could see of the face under the hood. What of it he could see was, of course, unreadable as ever. "How much do you know about him?"

He spoke of Nick, of course, which was what was at stake really. Having Kristani here was worrying when Nick was in consideration. Roger naturally assumed the Master would be checking up on the progress of his mission but he didn't think of who he'd send.

"I know what you were asked to do, nothing more," he said in that annoyingly even voice of his. "Unlike you I am not curious when there is no benefit."

"But you are quite good at reading people. You … notice things."

"More than you."

There was a brief glint of teeth. A smile perhaps? So Kristani was laughing at him, was he? Roger narrowed his eyes at the shadow under the hood, but was still unsure of how to ask…

"Ask your question," Kristani said after lengthy pause. Then he seemed to read the vampire's mind. It was a good thing that he really couldn't do that, however. "I fault your approach. You're too direct."

Roger was affronted. "Directness seemed to work well enough on you."

"Try subtlety," he said those words as if Roger didn't know what that meant. "It won't kill you to wait. How long has it been?"

He bit back a growl, tempted to leave him there just for asking such a question. "Don't press me on that."

"That long, eh?"

"It's not for lack of opportunity," Roger grumbled.

"I'm sure. I will be watching."

"Wonderful," he groaned, trying to appear his usual apathetic self. He didn't really care what happened to himself, but Nick... he wouldn't let him be dragged back to the safe house. "Tell me: what happens if I fail?"

"I think you know… I'll be in the shadows, haunting your every step." He backed away, seeming to disappear in the very shadows of which he spoke.

Roger snorted at that. And people said he was creepy. "Be sure to report the good stuff," he said and walked out of the alley. Dread knotted his stomach. "Nice chat."


Nick walked into exactly what he had left behind. Lent was at the desk, piles of books around him, his notebook in his lap filled with tiny, terrible penmanship hastily scribed and his nose was practically pressed into yet another book. He didn't even bother looking up from it when he entered.

"Chose to ignore me when I said it was better you remained inside?"

"What am I supposed to do, Lent? Stare at books I can't read or sit in a corner and do nothing until Thursday arrives?"

Admittedly he had been quite used to staying inside, but this place—was it too much to say the whole world?—made him antsy; he did not wish to give himself time to think about it. The more he thought about it the worse he felt.

Lent looked up then, a disappointed frown on his face. "I was just hoping you'd be cautious and take my advice."

"You have unrealistic expectations."

"What did you do? I'm assuming Roger went with you. He was no trouble, was he?"

Nick was sure he didn't mean it to sound so much like an interrogation, it was probably only to find out if Roger had behaved himself. Hmmph, he thought, did he ever behave himself?

"We met a hideous man murdering things I didn't know really existed to make lamps, took a stroll, saw a cathedral… and a statue," he droned.

He took a seat, feeling exhausted but unable to relax. They hadn't been out for long but being around Roger was very trying. Nick perked up suddenly, remembering that Roger had said Lent would know more about the statue across from the cathedral.

"Actually he said you'd have something to say about that statue."

"You saw Seamus, did you?" Lent smiled to himself. He looked up briefly from his book. "Ridiculous statue! I have no doubt he would have hated it."

"Did you know him?"

"Gods, no! That was hundreds of years ago. Tangarians don't live forever, you know." He shook his head, no doubt secretly mocking him for how ignorant he was of his culture.

Nick snorted, "Never know with you people. Roger claims to be immortal."

"He may be the exception but I'm not that old," Lent said tersely. "In fact most Tangarians don't see their fiftieth birthday. At least, not anymore." He finally set his book in his lap, seeming eager to launch into what Nick suspected was going to be a very long-winded tale. Not that he minded; he was in dire need of a distraction. "You want to hear about him?"

"Roger said you were the one to talk to about it. He really didn't say much else." In fact his version had been extremely lacking. Nick was sure he knew more, but he just seemed angry… jealous even about his genuine interest in the statue. Weird.

Lent nodded, a resigned smile on his face. "He isn't touched by the struggle of common men." Nick doubted Roger was touched by the struggle of anyone at all. "You'd think he'd at least be excited about the notoriety."

"He didn't seem all that excited about it."

"I don't know if you could tell from the statue, but Seamus was half Tangarian." There was a great deal of pride in those words and a wistful smile formed on his face as he continued.

"Some say that his human mother escaped the clutches of a Tangarian raiding party and fled to West Bay, a small fishing village on the south-western coast of Tannika. There she was taken in by a kind, elderly fisherman who had no family of his own.

She died during childbirth and he raised Seamus as his son, much to the disappointment of his fellow townspeople. This was during the tail-end of a serious war between Tangarians and Tannikans, one that nearly crippled both nations. So you could safely assume a half-Tangarian child would not be made to feel welcome in a human settlement.

As soon as Seamus was able and old enough to do so, he fled this town, but was captured on his way through forests east of the village and sold into a thief's guild called the Quickhands."

"He was sold into a guild?"

"It was common practice for orphans of war to be sold to various guilds across Tannika. If they could be molded into something useful then at least they had a place to stay, food and a roof over their heads. Better to endure life this way, than to be killed simply for belonging to a race considered the enemy."

"That's terrible!"

Lent shrugged, and although he continued in a sort of nonchalant manner, he had no wish to stray too far from what he really wanted to discuss, Nick could tell it wasn't something he thought could ever be stopped, no matter how much he abhorred the practice.

"Even today there are always guilds that can make use of wayward sons and daughters. It's not as open a practice as it was then but it still happens."

"Your king allows this?"

"It's not up to him, though I doubt he knows or cares. At any rate Seamus spent a handful of years as an apprentice and did quite well for himself."

"Your hero was a thief?"

"Heroes are mortal creatures, bound to their faults and strengths just like you or I. And he had no choice in the matter at first, did he? Nevertheless he didn't stay for long. The story goes that he was caught trying to steal the famous Red Diamond, which is silly, really because that's hardly an apprentice's job."

"A red diamond?" Nick asked skeptically. "What's so special about it?"

"People said it had magical properties, able to trap souls within it. Any mage who had this item in their possession could wield impressive power."

"Sounds like a fairytale." He wasn't sure if he could laugh or not; he didn't want to offend Lent too much, but his story was getting a bit out of hand.

"Some parts of the story may be complete fiction, I'm afraid." The elf's smile was tight, but at least he didn't seem to believe everything he was saying. "No one really knows if that thing is even real and I really doubt it myself. It's just a mythical object, created to tempt fools and entertain children. I was told this story as a child myself. Anyway, Seamus was captured."

"He was imprisoned, I take it?"

He nodded. "And of course he was dismissed from the guild."

Naturally, Nick thought to himself. "A thief and a convict. What a hero!"

Lent seemed to have some difficulty laughing off his skepticism. He muttered something Nick didn't catch under his breath before he continued. "After serving his time he wandered east, and happened upon one of Sir Mai's apprentices and saved him from bandits. "

"Another thief?"

"Does Sir Mai sound like a master thief to you?" The elf seemed to be losing his patience with Nick's interruptions and had him fixed with a cold hard stare.

"How the hell am I supposed to know?"

Nick shrugged and was tempted to hold up his hands to fend himself from Lent's weird black eyes. Lack of sleep had made the otherwise even-tempered elf edgy. Also there was Roger; he helped make everyone edgy.

"He was a mage. Jon Caster was one of his many apprentices, all famous due to their ties to him. Caster left his master's service to follow Seamus around the southern parts of Tannika, slaying beasts, delving into ruins, performing tasks thought unworthy of guards and well-established guilds. Soon enough people came to call him the 'Self-Made Knight'. Men and women began to follow him and he started a guild."

It seemed in his frustration he rushed to finish and Nick was left with half a story. He was wondering if it really mattered because this Seamus character wasn't really shaping up to the heroic statue he had seen in the courtyard.

"That's why there's a statue of him," he said sarcastically, "Because he started some adventure club with a mage?"

"There's more to it than that," Lent rushed out, no doubt trying to redeem his disappointing ending but he didn't get the chance.

The door swung open so forcefully that it hit the wall. Roger stormed through it and immediately began pacing the room, clearly agitated about something.

"Roger," Lent said in a scolding tone. "What're doing? Asesil is asleep downstairs; we don't need you throwing another of your tantrums."

Nick crossed his arms over his chest and waited for the entertainment. Although he did hope this wasn't about their argument; there was nothing more to be said on the matter. Roger barely looked up. His eyes passed apprehensively over Nick's face and then he resumed pacing. This didn't seem to be about what happened in the courtyard.

"He looks serious," he said, sort of surprised. "He's never serious, is he?"

"Very funny," Roger muttered, "Who knew you had a sense of humor?"

Lent stood from his chair. The book on his lap fell to the floor. "What's going on?" The sight of Roger wringing his hands should have been amusing, but it wasn't. If it scared him then it was worthy of being scared of. When Roger didn't say anything Lent pressed him further, "Out with it! You're making me nervous."

"There's something you should know…"

"Stop pacing!" Lent crossed the room, grabbed his arms and held him still. "What should we know? Say something."

"Let me guess," Nick interjected, "You've killed again."

"It's not that," he grounded out. He shook Lent off and resumed pacing the room.

The elf threw back a glare at him. "You're not helping, Nick!"

"Gods, the pair of you!" Roger shouted at them. He took a deep breath and said in a low voice, "We're being followed."

The smile dropped completely from Nick's face. "What!" He joined them in standing awkwardly around the sofa. Roger had stopped pacing and was watching him warily. "The villagers? Or more of your master's men?"

"Who?" Lent demanded and Roger ducked his head.

"Kristani," he said, looking defeated. "He's an observer—a tracker—for Andreschi," obviously explaining that last bit for Nick's benefit, but if it was supposed to make him feel better it failed horribly.

"You're sure he's just here to observe?" Lent demanded, but didn't give him time enough to answer. "We can't kill him. I don't want to bring the Mast—Andreschi's wrath down on Asesil. Perhaps we should go somewhere else."

Nick was beginning to panic. "What about the appointment? You said someone at the university could help me. We can't just abandon that! Who else will help us?"

He wouldn't be taken back to that place. He'd fight them if he had to… the only way he knew how. They'd have to drag him back kicking and screaming that much was certain.

"Relax," Lent attempted to reassure him. "There's no need to leave the city but we may need to leave this place."

"Let's not get his attention! Where would we go anyway?" Roger snapped. He threw up his arms, exasperated. "He's just here watching. Spying. On me specifically."

"Then why are you so concerned about it? Not everything is about you, Roger..." Lent trailed off, his eyes rounding to the size of dinner plates. "You can't be serious! You spoke with him!"

"Shit, yes," he confessed and Nick could only stare at him in disbelief. "I suppose I did. I had to, didn't I? I needed to know why he was here! What if he was after Nick?"

"Did you tell him anything?"

"No, I didn't." But Nick wasn't sure if he believed him, no matter how sincere he seemed. "Whatever he knows, if he knows anything, he learned it from Andreschi."

"Then why is he here?"

"Why do you think?"

Nick couldn't say for sure but the way he said it made him think he was holding something back. He had been listening at the door when Roger and his Andreschi had last spoke. It was clear that his master considered him a valuable possession. He wouldn't simply let him go. As wild as Roger seemed, Andreschi seemed to be the only one to keep him in check. It wasn't so far-fetched to assume his master held something heavy over his head, just in case he went too far out of line.

"I can't believe you spoke to him! You'd do well to think with your head once in a while," Lent grumbled.

Nick had nearly forgotten the elf was in the room; he tore his eyes away from Roger, trying to understand what it was Lent was implying. It took him a minute, and he wasn't sure why but it made him angry.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Roger shot him a look and paled. He must have seen Nick's shocked expression—whatever he saw, he quickly cut Lent off before he could reply. "Never mind!" he said, "He's here. Thought you should know."

"I suppose it can't be helped. If he's shows himself, and proves to be here for any other reason than what you claim—"

"He's not! Don't—I shouldn't have told you."

"Just here to watch," Lent muttered, scowling. "Don't let your pants cloud your judgment. There's much at stake."

"I don't care about him!"

"Do you care about anything?" Nick asked but immediately regretted it.

For a moment Roger looked absolutely heartbroken and as strange as it was, it hurt to see. Nick didn't say anything more—he couldn't. Although he was sure Roger was going to ruin it sooner or later.

"I promise if anything happens I'll take care of it." Roger pleaded. He seemed almost normal there, almost remorseful. Not at all himself. "Just let me handle it. Don't get in the way; that's all."

"Don't get in the way?" The elf asked exactly what was on Nick's mind. Roger might have believed he was acting the hero but this concerned them all. Lent was definitely on his side in this. Roger was being foolish and reckless. "Are you invulnerable? Do you think he wouldn't have you dragged back as well?"

"Your concern is touching."

At that Lent seemed to have to take a moment. He sighed and turned around, rubbed his temples for a few seconds.

Nick watched the vampire curiously. What was Kristani to Roger that they couldn't take any action? Just thinking about it annoyed him further, which only made things confusing so he tried not to dwell on this Kristani, whoever the fuck he was. He told himself to forget about it and move on. It shouldn't matter anyway.

Did Roger really believe he had nothing to worry about? That should be the more important question. If there wasn't anything to worry about, why did he barge in like he just found out his favorite whorehouse had shut down due to health violations?

Lent sat down, his back hunched as if he carried the weight of the whole conversation on his shoulders. "You can't kill or fuck your way out of everything," he said.

Roger seemed positively fuming. He threw up his hands and stomped back down the stairs. "You can both go fuck yourselves!" he shouted up at them and Nick heard the door slam behind him as he left.

Lent's shoulders slumped even further and he hung his head, letting out such a heavy sigh it would rival one of Roger's. "I'm sorry," he said, which was a surprise. Nick would have sworn he was going to launch into a lecture although Roger wasn't even here to hear it. "I should have known he'd never let him go."


Nick had noticed that on these little tantrums the vampire would stomp off somewhere and wait to be consoled, so he had not expected him to go far. Roger was just outside the front door to the house, sitting on the ground feeling sorry for himself. Nick shut the door quietly behind him and kicked at his thigh.

"This tracker that's watching us," he demanded, "What does he look like?"

Roger didn't look up, but a funny sort of smile ghosted across his face. "Plain compared to you… anyone really."

"That's not what I asked."

"You won't see him. He's a master of concealing himself. Anyway, he won't hurt you." Roger moodily tucked some of his hair behind one ear and began to draw in the dirt with one finger. "Maybe you should go back inside?"

"Don't coddle me. I'm not a child."

For some reason this amused him, and laughing, he stood and said, "So you're just going for a walk in the dark?" His pants were covered in dry dirt which he didn't bother trying to brush off. "You sure about that?"

"Not the best idea, I'm aware but I can't stay in that place one more second. I feel like my head's going to explode." Besides, the tracker was supposed to be watching Roger anyway… for some unspoken reason.

"I'll go with you." The grin on the vampire's face was a bit too devious for his liking.

Nick gave him a nice long stare. Just what was going on in that head of his? From what it seemed most of the time, probably nothing at all. Well, as long as he didn't say too much, at least someone would have his back walking around in this supposedly dangerous city. He had no intention of running into any number of the drunken festival packs that seemed to roam the streets… although, he thought warily as he looked around, this street seemed to be pretty much deserted. Weird.

Trying not to show his apprehension, he shrugged and took off down the street. "Fine," he said, "Try not to be annoying."

"Did you bring that knife?"

"Yes, for all the good it'll do me." He had remembered to grab it before he left Lent wallowing in his crippling disappointment. "Suppose we'll be mugged and murdered. The prospect seems better than waiting around for your master to take me."

"Patience is overrated, but if you're worried I'm here."

That literally stopped him in his tracks. Although that was exactly the reason he had agreed Roger come with him, it still pissed him off to have his shortcomings pointed out so plainly. "Oh yes, because I can't defend myself."

"No need to get tetchy."

"Then what did you mean by it? It's the way you both treat me. Like I can't do anything on my own!" He was a grown man after all. He had done so well without these people. He he'd had his pills, his miserable psychiatrist. It seemed so hopelessly stuck in the past, so far in the past that it seemed like another life. "I went along just fine before you came into my life!"

"All right." Roger shrugged a shoulder, all amusement gone from his face. "I could leave you here."

"Goodbye then." He started walking, leaving him standing in the middle of the street.

"What? Really?" Roger was aghast. "Do you have a pressing need to die?"

"No but I'm tired of you."

"You don't mean that."

Nick wasn't finished being angry by any means. "You've gotten me into more trouble than I've ever had in my life."

"Get over it." His impossibly green eyes flashed dangerously. He dared stepping closer and gave him a shove. "There's got to be something else you could do. I know: stop being such an ass."

"You're an ass," Nick said and then felt stupid. Had they really resorted to such petty insults? He felt just as childlike as Roger. The vampire was definitely a bad influence. And now he wasn't even angry anymore.

"I'm sorry, all right? Does that count for anything? What do you want?"

He raised an eyebrow at that. The list of things he wanted wasn't long, and the first thing, going home, Roger had already admitted he couldn't do. The second and third things, however, he tried not to think about too much. "

Within reason," Roger amended, "I'm not leaving you alone out here. You'll be killed… or worse."

"Nothing. Just—"

"What? Anything," he said-the tone of his voice rearranging things on Nick's list. Now that was a look of sincerity, he thought, studying Roger's face. "Seriously."

"Hmmph," was the only thing he trusted himself to respond with. He kept walking and Roger followed, confused into silence. That made the experience quite tolerable for a change. "Describe the man following us. I want to know."

"Not this again," Roger grumbled. "You won't see him. Don't trouble yourself."

Who was he protecting? "You show a surprising amount of loyalty for those who serve a man you supposedly hate."

"They don't know what I know."

He said that with such conviction that it was difficult to question. Seriousness seemed a rarity with Roger. However, his reply only raised more questions.

"What do you know?" Roger didn't say anything and remained so uncharacteristically silent that Nick was forced to try a different tactic. "Why even help me?"

"I want to. Isn't that enough?"

"But why?"

"It doesn't matter. Count yourself lucky."

"Lucky doesn't cover it," Nick said.

All of this running and hiding was tiresome. It had to end sometime. If he couldn't go home, could he really get used to this?

Roger stopped walking and looked over at him, the strangest look on his face. It was then that Nick finally realized that walking around alone with a vampire at night probably wasn't the best idea. He felt like a piece of meat when he looked at him like that. He was about to tell him to keep his eyes to himself when several thugs dropped from a rooftop and surrounded them.

"What've we got here, lads?" One of them asked.

Their faces were covered with red cloth, with holes cut out for the eyes, which shone out menacingly. Nick staggered back into Roger, taken by surprise. Roger quickly got in front of him, shielding him from view.

"Two loners, looks like, Walter."

Nick almost laughed. They were hardly loners if they were out here walking together, were they? Instead of laughing he tried to focus on remaining calm. It was quite difficult.

"Yeah, stupid enough to route through our part of the city."

The one supposedly called Walter chuckled and said in a gravelly voice, "Let's show 'em how we take care of business."

The one on Nick's left produced a knife and twisted it toward him. "Give us your gold. An' those shoes while you're at it."

"Yeah, or we'll kill you and take everythin'. Leave you naked and dead in a pool of blood in the dirt."

"This one looks weird, boss. Look at his eyes," the one next to 'Walter' said, pointing to Roger.

"Pretty, ain't they? Maybe I'll make Elsie a pair of earrings out of 'em!"

Nick, who had been grinding his teeth, staring a hole into the back of Roger's head for pushing him aside like he was some damsel in need of protection, perked up at those words and turned his angry glare at Walter. Then he pulled the knife out.

"Is Elsie your dog?" Nick chimed in, abruptly silencing the laughter of the thugs around him. Roger whirled around, shocked. He shook his head at him. Nick only shrugged, "What?"

"I'll cut you up for that!" Walter drew his finger across his throat for emphasis. "Just you see!"

Time stopped as every muscle in Nick's body tensed. He could feel the bite of his blunt fingernails digging into his palms; his jaw ached from clenching his teeth so tightly. Everyone around him, even Roger, was frozen into position. Roger's arm hung in the hair next to him, in the act of pushing him out of the circle of thugs. Walter and his boys had their blades poised to strike, all knees bent. He took one last look around until finally his dark eyes settled on Walter.

There was a crack of what sounded like thunder booming in his ears and Nick disappeared, reappearing right behind the fiend, twisting the crooked blade in his back. Time started again with Walter skidding away from him on the toes of his boots, digging little trenches in the dirt street. The force of Nick's stab sent him six feet away, right in Roger's face. All Nick saw however was his hand twisting the blade in Walter's back, then a flash of red as blood spattered his front. Everything else was blurry. Someone was laughing but it was laughter echoing in what seemed like far away. His blood was so red, Nick thought, numbly turning the blade over in his hand.

The laughter stopped, and Roger quickly moved to the side to avoid being hit by Walter's flailing corpse.

"Didn't know I could do that," Nick said. When he looked up, Roger was flushed.

"Oh my," he sighed, hand over his heart. That weird look was on his face again—the one that could easily set a house on fire. "Nick…"

"How did he do that?" One of the thugs demanded in a high pitched voice.

"Never mind! Kill the bastards!"

"Hold a moment," Roger said, "I'm painting a mental picture." Nick and the rest of the thugs shared puzzled looks. Well, all he could see of the thugs were their eyes, but by the looks of things no one was used to the vampire's reaction. "I don't want to forget a detail…" he trailed off and it wasn't until Nick watched his tongue drag slowly across his bottom lip that he understood what he meant.

It felt as if Roger had corrupted him with just a look.

Nick watched as Roger grabbed the two on either side of him by the collar and yanked them toward each other. Their skulls cracked together sickeningly, and each fell to the ground out cold and bleeding. Roger whipped around and hissed at the last thug that had been standing behind him.

The man's whole body shook. "Sorry! S-sorry!" he sputtered and took a few staggering steps back. "Don't kill me!"

"Run!" Roger growled.

The man bolted, tripping over his own feet several times as he went, disappearing into one of the shadowy side streets. The red cloth that had covered his face came loose and fell to the dirt.

Roger turned around, nimbly stepping over the bodies between them on the ground, and grabbed his chin, tipping his head up to look in his eyes. Nick blinked at him, unable to feel anything but the blood on his hands and face.

"You all right?" Nick nodded once, but didn't feel it. Whatever it was… it wasn't all right. He had just killed a man. "You can put the knife away now, gorgeous, they're gone."

Nick glanced down at the knife in his hand, surprised to see it still there, and then swallowed with difficulty. "I killed him."

"And how!" The hand that had been holding his chin rubbed down his chest. It was promptly shoved away.

"I just killed a man. This is hardly the time."

"He deserved it," Roger drawled, undaunted by being brushed off. It seemed he couldn't keep his hands off him now. "He did threaten to kill us."

"He did," Nick said carefully, lowering the bloody blade in his hand. However, he was no less calm with Roger's hands all over him.

"And screw waiting for the perfect time." He was obviously very pleased. "You're my favorite thing in the world right now."

"I wish you knew the meaning of appropriate."

"Why do people keep saying that to me?" Roger whispered against his cheek, no doubt smearing his lips with blood splatter. He was such a greedy thing.

Nick shivered, feeling his tongue lick at the blood along his jaw. After a heady and fuzzy second or two he jerked his head back. "We're surrounded by dead people," he snapped, "Stop touching me."

He was lightly slapped on the cheek and all those heady, fuzzy feelings seemed to jump right out of his ear. Nick would step on them and ground them into the dirt if he could.

"Fine," Roger grumbled and went digging in dead Walter's pockets. "Anyway there are three and only one of them is dead. Stop exaggerating. The other two are just bleeding from their heads." He paused to look them over. "A lot."

Nick stared down blankly at the dead man, face down in the dirt. "Shouldn't we do something?"

Roger just laughed at him. "You're adorable." Then he continued searching through the man's clothes.

"What are you doing?"

"Seeing if he's got any coin. He can't spend it anymore," then he added in awe-struck voice, "Hmm, you killed him." After fishing out a few coins, Roger gently guided him away from the bodies and led him further down the street. "Time for a celebratory drink maybe… and we might want to clean you off before someone gets the… apparently… wrong idea."

"You mean you?"

"Yes," he said, "Apparently…" Nick could feel him staring and tried his best to ignore it. "You know, thieves here run an everyday risk of being stabbed to death. You needn't be so heartbroken over it."

He didn't respond. He couldn't be so nonchalant about it. A man had just died at his hand—whether he deserved it or not wasn't the issue. The man, Walter, had threatened them, sure, but Nick had never killed anyone before. He had never seen time stop for him to do it either and was pretty sure it didn't for anyone else. He was bloody and achy and confused. Who was he? The absolute sickest part was … he had actually enjoyed it. In the aftermath, however, he just felt sick.


"Cheer up," Roger said, and then frowned as Nick spit blood by his feet, feeling as if he missed a golden opportunity. He gently guided him away and down the street. Guards would be along soon, they were notorious for arriving after the fact to draw the wrong conclusions. "We should be celebrating."

Nick made a pitiful noise. It was puzzling how he was stressing over this. Had he really never killed before? Roger fondly remembered his first kill. Of course the earliest he could remember was when he was brought up from the ground. It had been a dark-haired young man, mostly naked, with the muscle tone of a marble statue, and he had ripped him apart.

It had been messy. Messy and wonderful. All the best things were, he thought with a giddy half-grin, and now Nick was too. It was very difficult to ignore how annoyingly delicious he was in the corner of his eye. This sort of the thing didn't happen all the time and an inner voice told him to damn Kristani's advice and just wrap himself around him.

Subtlety just wasn't his thing, and as hard as it might have been for Kristani to believe, he had been holding back. Even Lent would have to admit, even if he would still be angry, this was holding back for Roger.

Desperately shoving all these thoughts as far down as they could possibly go, he dragged the poor man to a rather rough-looking corner tavern. He had been here before but couldn't exactly remember how long ago that had been. The sign had a wooden hand holding a carved rat, and painted crudely above that were the words 'Naked Mole Rat Hole'. The inside was miles worse than the name but no one asked any questions and there were plenty of shadowy places to sit in.

He had to drag Nick inside, and the thing groaned once he had a look around. He really needed to relax.

"Oh, come on. You clearly need a drink after all that. It'll change your perspective," Roger assured him.

The place hadn't changed much since he'd last been here. The lights were so low that even he had trouble seeing in the dark. Odd, rusty metal implements hung from the ceiling at random places, and they both had to duck for risk of serious head injury. There were hardly any people in, which made him wonder if the festival had ended for sure. Usually it lasted a lot longer but truthfully there was no telling how long it had been going on when they had arrived in the city.

The floor creaked under their feet as Roger dragged him to a familiar table in one of the tavern's more shadowy corners. A dying candle sat in the center of the table, in a semi-dried pool of its own wax. He pressed Nick into a wobbly chair and went to see if the few coppers he found in dead Walter's pockets would buy a drink or two. The bastard hadn't much coin, which was surprising. Roger and Nick must have been their first victims of the evening. It had been early after all.

"Ho there," he called to the bartender.

He was a bony looking creature with a long pointed nose and beady black eyes. He narrowed those tiny eyes at Roger's greeting as a sneer formed on his face. Roger was used to this sort of treatment.
"My delicious looking friend there," He pointed to Nick who was splashed with blood and staring blankly at the table in front of him, "…has just had the experience of his life…uh, as you can see." The barman wiped his pointy nose on a dirty shirt sleeve but otherwise remained stoically silent. "Well," Roger began again uncertainly. "He could use a stiff drink."

"For coin he can have what everyone else has: beer or beer," he said in a raspy voice.

"Some choices." He slapped a few coppers on the bar and the bartender snorted down at them. He may have been laughing but it sounded like a death rattle. "Thing is," Roger drawled with what he hoped was a believably charming smile. "He may need something a bit stronger than that. We were accosted outside and narrowly got away."

"Looks like he killed someone."

"He did, yes," Roger looked fondly back at Nick, feeling warmth growing in his chest. "I'm quite proud actually." Among other things, he thought, but kept that to himself. "He killed some thug named Walter. At least that's what his 'mates' called him."

The barman's face completely changed at the mention of Walter. Suddenly his cold beady eyes became warm and friendly. His thin-lipped scowl morphed into a great, grey-toothed grin. He reached under the counter and pulled out a dusty old bottle and three glasses. Surprised, Roger followed him back to the table where he had left Nick. Soon three glasses were poured and the barman had joined them at the table, that eater and disturbing grin stuck on his face.

Roger pushed his glass over to Nick and was pleased when Nick drank them both without protest. He coughed and winced, making the most disgusted face, and even pushed one of the empty glasses at the barman, who happily re-filled it.

"It ain't great but it's the strongest I've got, lad. Just don't keep it in your mouth for long," he said and leaned over the table at him. Nick didn't respond which seemed to make the barman antsy. He cleared his throat. "Killed Walter, did you?" Nick looked up at that, wincing. "Good on you. That man's been preying on my regulars for months. Most are too scared to come in and the guards don't give a rat's bleedin' ass."

Roger watched Nick drink the third glass with great interest.

"How'd you do it?" Another glass was poured, yet Nick remained silent.

"It was incredible," Roger answered for him. "One second he was right beside me. Then gone. That bastard was face down on the ground in the next, giant knife wound in his back."

"In a second? You're pulling my leg!" Nevertheless he seemed entertained, even pleased at hearing it. He laughed in the same raspy way he spoke, and then coughed into a dingy rag he pulled from his pocket.

"It didn't really feel like a second," Nick said in a husky, whiskey colored voice that made Roger's heart skip a beat. "It was like I had all the time in the world. No one saw me. They didn't even look at me. I stabbed him, yeah. Right in the back."

"I ain't never heard one speak like that. What accent's that?"

Nick frowned over at him. "American?"

Roger reached over and wiped some of the blood off his cheek with his thumb. It took all his resolve not to pop that thumb in his mouth; he didn't want to scare the bartender, especially after he had turned out to be so accommodating. But when he looked over at him the bartender was giving Nick the strangest look.

"Amerigan?" the barman questioned, looking way more than confused.

Roger glanced at Nick, and then had to look again, his pulse speeding up a bit. The look he was giving him! Gods, where had that come from? Bless the whiskey, Roger thought and slipped a hand under the table to grab at Nick's thigh, bless the barman.

"Anyway, I'd've tortured him first. You let him off too easy." The barman cleared his throat uncomfortably and stood, finally drinking the glass of whiskey he had poured for himself all in one go. "Well, uh," he plucked the bottle from the table and could barely look either one of them in the eye. "I'll go, uh…" he trailed off as he turned away and walked to the bar. "Fetcha cloth so you can wipe at your face."

While he was gone Roger pressed his lips against Nick's ear. "I could just lick it off you."

Nick shifted in his seat. "This isn't going to send you into a frenzy is it?"

"You're sending me into a frenzy," he said before the man returned and tossed a cloth on the table.

"There," he said, again avoiding looking at their faces. "Name's Samson. You're welcome here anytime, friend." Then he walked back to the bar without as much as a glance back at them. Something sure seemed to make him uncomfortable.

"You're drunk," Roger said, extremely pleased, and squeezed his leg. "I'm not complaining but why are you looking at me like that?"

"I'm drunk?" Nick shrugged and frowned, but he seemed to have difficulty with that. "Stop fondling me."

"You're enjoying it. There's no hiding that." He sighed heavily when Nick grabbed his hand and moved it off him. Roger reluctantly gave up groping for the moment and folded his arms on the table. "What's it feel like to be drunk?"

"You've never-? Oh, I suppose vampires can't…" Roger shook his head. "Good," he said, "…I guess. A little dizzy. It's hot in here."

Roger doubted that was the whiskey, but Nick didn't seem the type to admit the true reason so soon. "Happy?"

"Maybe," Nick said darkly. He didn't sound happy, but the man was difficult to read. "It will pass."

"You're such a grouch! Just so you know, you didn't do anything wrong. You were defending yourself." Roger elbowed him a little, as he didn't seem to be getting it. Also, he was leaning a bit too much, like he was about to fall out of his seat. "Dead Walter deserves to stay dead. Forget about him."

"I know. Still it's… kind of a big deal." He was clearly thinking about it too much. "I don't think I can be so nonchalant about it." Nick gave him a meaningful look, wavering as it was due to his obvious drunkenness.

"What? Like me?"

"Yes."

"I don't kill every bloody day you know."

"But you seem to enjoy it."

"Didn't you?"

Nick reflected briefly but didn't have an answer. He didn't seem to feel that bad about it. Did he know he was leaning so close, tempting him so much? He had to. This kind of torture was reserved for creatures like him. But Nick really didn't have to do much. It got him thinking: this was a very shadowy corner; just how much could they get away with?

"Ever get the feeling... what's it called…" Nick said as his eyebrows furrowed in drunken frustration. "Déjà vu?"

"What?" Roger had no idea what he was talking about half the time but that last bit definitely sounded like another language. "I don't—what is that you're speaking?"

"Like something's familiar. It's happened before, like in a dream or maybe…" Nick's expression changed, as if he suddenly got a disturbingly accurate thought. "Maybe in a past life or something."

Roger sat a little straighter and stared unblinkingly at him, feeling his words hit him like a bucket of cold water to the face. He cleared his throat and tried to appear casual. "All the time," he said offhandedly. "I think everyone does though."

Nick didn't seem to notice this at all, which was probably a blessing.

Roger diminished what he really felt. He got that familiar feeling all the time, many years of his life were stripped from his memory and sometimes they came back in pieces. Sometimes he would swear he knew Nick before, heard his voice, touched him.

He would also swear that Nick was more himself in this world, normal or at least normal for him, but how could he know that? That was ridiculous, of course. Maybe he was just that obsessed. Perhaps he just wanted him that much he imagined these things. It was possible he was just as psychotically paranoid as everyone said he was, except for most of the time he didn't care.

"Of course," Nick's voice was a bit shaky. He forced a laugh. "It's… stupid."

For a moment he watched him wipe blindly at his face with the rag the barman had given him. Then he said, "We don't have to go back yet, you know."

"We'll get an earful from Lent-hey! Do people generally leap off rooftops like that?"

Roger snorted at his abrupt transition. "In King's? That's not the only thing they'll do for their take. But it is the first time I've been dropped on like that here. In the dark I suppose it doesn't matter. They'll find a way."

"You're, uh… used to this."

"Yes. Everyone's either out to get me or wants something from me."

"Everyone?" He laughed so hard, bracing himself on the table nearly turned it over. "That's pretty paranoid, Roger."

"You don't want anything?"

"Um…"

Nick either couldn't or wouldn't say more, either way the laughter was right out of him. Maybe it was best if they changed the subject for now.

"I can't imagine why you'd want to leave this place." Besides, Nick was way more interesting in this place. It was clear he belonged here. He was more at home, even if he didn't want to or couldn't admit that to himself just yet. Maybe he didn't realize it. "Your world is so boring. No wonder you slept all the time."

"I slept to escape," he corrected sharply, but as he went on his tone softened. "But even in my dreams they followed me… here. I never had dreams at home, just saw things, but here…" he trailed off, staring at something only he could see.

However removed he was from his world and those stupid pills, something seriously scared him. Scared him more than being recaptured, it seemed.

"What do you mean dreams?"

"The images, the portal… the boy," he took a shuddering breath after those words left his mouth. He glanced at Roger. "… you."

"You've dreamt about me?" He didn't know how he could be more interested in this now.

"Don't get excited."

Somehow he knew he was going to be disappointed. The thought was nice however, and he couldn't help but ask. "Were we naked?"

"No."

Nick cracked the tiniest smile and Roger could almost forgive him for lying about not having naked dreams about him. You'd think after a few drinks he'd spill all his little secrets.

"Then what are these dreams about?"

"I don't know." He almost completely turned away. Talking about it, regardless of alcohol, must have made him nervous. "Sometimes I catch or see the meaning but as soon as I wake it slips away. You're different in them."

"How am I different?"

"Your teeth for one thing. The rest I don't know… like you know something. You're trying to tell me something. I don't know."

"My teeth?" Roger had barely heard anything else. He ran his tongue protectively across them. "What about my teeth?"

"They're normal. In the dreams, I mean. Human teeth. It's… unsettling."

"Unsettling?" Roger asked, suddenly thrilled to the bone. "I thought my pointy teeth put you off."

"I don't know… sometimes. Don't ask me more, please." When he looked at him then Roger felt frozen under his gaze. He held his breath. "There's something more to this," Nick whispered, and the words sent a shiver up his spine.

"Yes," he said before he'd realized he'd even spoken. "I think so…" but he wasn't sure what it was either.

Maybe it was something he forgotten. If it was, he desperately wanted to remember. Although ...he didn't even know if they were talking about the same thing or even what that thing was. Roger reached over; threading his fingers in the hair at the nape of his neck but Nick closed his eyes as if he were in pain.

"Don't do this to me."

There was so much desperation in those words that it made Roger stop short of kissing him. "You're the one doing it to me." Couldn't he see that?

Nick pushed him away and got unsteadily to his feet, using the table as leverage. The candle at the center of the table snuffed it and rolled off the table.

"Can we go?"

Roger let out another heavy sigh. "Fine," he groaned, taking his time getting out of his chair, extreme disappointment quickly souring his mood. "We can go." Irritated, he walked past Nick, ducking the various rusty implements on his way to the door.