"Are you kidding me?" Nick couldn't stop himself from yelling. Roger had been on him since they left that dismal place, saying over and over again about choice and what needed to be done. There wasn't a gray area for this kind of thing. He had just killed someone and the fact that the vampire was acting proud about it rankled him. There was nothing to be proud of! Defending himself was one thing, he could deal with that maybe.

Roger was talking but he wasn't listening. He kept seeing it over and over in his mind. He had killed someone.

A distant voice requested loudly, "Please be quiet!"

What should he have done? Why did that happen? He was there, he saw it in his mind. Roger and the others were frozen in action. So what? It was a reflex? Something dark inside him was doing this. On and on the vampire chided him for chiding himself and he was insane. Why the hell was he even brought here? What was going on with him?

Roger grabbed onto him as he tried to hurry away. Shit, he didn't even know where he was going. He pushed at him, hoping to knock him back. Why did he come out here?

"I don't care if he deserved it or not," he shouted into Roger's face, "I didn't want to get involved!"

"That's not what I saw," he drawled, seeming not worried at all by all this and that just made it worse. Roger pulled him closer, "I appreciate you defending my eyes, not that I would allow them to be turned into some bitch's jewelry."

Why didn't he let Roger handle it? What made him do it? "I didn't want to kill anyone!"

"Oh, get over it."

"Be quiet!" Where the fuck was that voice coming from?

He rounded on Roger, his hands clenching and unclenching in the cold air—he didn't know what to do with them but he wanted to do something. "Get over it? What—what's wrong with you?"

"He was trying to kill us," he said simply, as if it was simple. As if life could be taken just like that. As if anyone had the power to decide.

Again the distant voice cried, "Will you please be quiet!"

"I can't just go around killing people!"

"Loads of people do!" He clapped his hands together. "You could be like them."

He was joking. Nick had figured it out now. How could anyone be so flippant about something like this? He closed the distance between them and grabbed him roughly by his shirt. "Would you want that?" Nick fixed Roger with such an intense stare, twisting his hand in the front of his shirt. He pulled him close so he could see it in his eyes, whatever it was that was driving him to do these mad things. Those eyes, so green it hurt, Nick wondered, could they see what he was? "Would you want that?" he repeated lowly, the words sounding so pathetically desperate; they seemed to echo in his ears. Something clouded his vision, a shaming wetness that he had to blink away.

"Oi!" footsteps pounded toward them, "You! Noisy citizens!"

Nick released his hold on Roger's shirt immediately and took a couple of steps back. A man stepped out of the shadows, and by the way he walked so authoritatively over to them, and his silly uniform (all black with silver buttons), Nick guessed he was what passed for police here. He tried to look everywhere but right at him.

"I've told you!" the man shouted, pointing a finger at them both.

Roger turned toward the voice, striking a defiant pose. He looked over at the man like he was intruding, and he was, Nick thought, but he didn't want anymore trouble tonight. "What's your problem?" the vampire snapped.

"Roger…" Nick warned. He reached over and tugged on his jacket. They needed to be anywhere but here.

"IF you 'ad noticed the festival's over so keep it down! We're tryin' to do an investigation!"

"Yeah, sorry," Roger muttered, brushing Nick's hands away. He tossed a look over his shoulder at him but Nick couldn't guess what it meant.

Investigating? The word finally hit him and it twisted something in his gut. Nick settled his eyes on the man who stood so ramrod straight there in half-shadow he might as well have had a stick up his ass.

"W-what are you investigating?" He asked weakly, feeling a bit nauseous.

"Don't get involved," Roger said out of the side of his mouth.

"None of your soddin' business!" the man took long strides forward and Nick was tempted to shy away, hide his face, but then another poked his head out of an alley way and called, "Hey! One of 'em's waking up!"

The man jerked his head toward the new voice and nodded before returning his attention to Nick and Roger. "Just keep it quiet you two. And get inside before we think you're up to somethin'!"

Roger pulled on his arm but Nick shook him off and followed the policeman when he went off down the alley.

"Nichol—Nick!" Roger went after him.

Nick wasn't really thinking this through, he thought. He had just wanted to know if they had found the man, the body of the man that he killed but when he got there he realized what a bad idea it was… or could be. There were five of them standing by the bodies. Nick supposed the two Roger had knocked out had just been lying out cold this whole time. The policemen, whoever they were, must have dragged them out of sight but for what reason Nick couldn't fathom.

One of the ones Roger had knocked out was awake now, and one of the policemen had him at the collar. He couldn't hear what they were saying.

"You can't stab the city guard," the vampire whispered beside him.

"It doesn't matter any more. I don't think I can just do that again."

"Why?"

"Well, I think I left the knife there for one!" He gestured wildly not really knowing where it had all taken place. His mind had been on other things at that moment.

Roger sighed heavily, and the silence stretched and Nick still wasn't close enough to hear what was going on, but he daren't move any closer than where he was now.

"Why are we here?"

"You followed me," Nick grounded out, eyes fixed on the men grouped in the alley.

"Because you're an idiot, Nick. What are you doing?"

Nick slapped a hand over his mouth and pulled him behind a large pile of streamers. There was a lot of colored paper left over from the festival. Confetti, streamers, even a large paper head about the size of a car laid abandoned, crunched up and damp, looking like someone had thrown up on it. The alley was so cluttered you couldn't see the back of it, and by the looks of things the policemen had dragged the three bodies there to have their private interrogation for that reason.

"If they're having an investigation why did they move the bodies?"

"What do you think the city guard does to cutthroats, gorgeous? What do you think they'll do to us if they notice us here?"

Nick looked at him then and he opened his mouth, groping around in his mind for something to say. Finally he settled on, "Arrest them? Take them away? I don't know." When all Roger did was stare at him blankly, it suddenly dawned on him. "You're joking."

"Nick, if I was joking wouldn't I have a smile on my face or something? Do you see a smile? Any indication on my person that I find this of all things to be a humorous situation?" Roger put a hand on his shoulder and shook him gently. "Darling, you were doing them a favor."

"I'm not a killer."

"No, you're not," Roger insisted, but his sincerity didn't win him over. "We should go."

"Why did they bother telling us?"

"To them we're just noisy citizens and we should do as they said and make ourselves scarce." Nick glanced back the uniformed men apprehensively. "What do you want to do?"

"I don't know."

"You want to talk to them?"

"Oh, God, no."

Roger jerked his thumb in the opposite direction. "Then let's move away."

Yes, why were they here? They were here because Nick never saw the man's face. Not even his eyes, as they had been shadowed. He had never given a real thought about other people; at least not in so long that he forgotten that they had lives outside of being on the edge of his narrow vision and understanding. They were normal and he was …something else, more than just emotionally distant. Here it seemed he was constantly discovering something new about himself. Most of the time it was frightening but this was something he needed to see. He needed to see the face of the man he killed. Had it been real?

He looked back at them, seeing the one who had the man by the collar drop him back onto the ground. A knife was drawn, Nick could see the flash of silver from where he crouched.

Roger went from gently nudging to trying to outright drag him away from their hiding place. "Nick," he said and squeezed his hand. "You don't want to see this," he pleaded.

Nick laced his fingers in his and numbly allowed himself to be taken out of the alley, down the street and back to Asesil's door in silence.

Just inside the door he was surprised when Roger's arms went around him, held him close, pressing his cheek onto his. He didn't really know what to do with this, and it wasn't until a minute or so passed before he hesitantly returned the embrace. Nick was by no means relaxed and his entire body stiffened, feeling Roger's lips over his pulse. His touch was cold, his palm like ice on his back, rubbing under his shirt. Nick held himself completely still, his heart pounding in his chest.

"Shh," Roger whispered, "It's all right."

Nick pushed away a fraction, and although he hadn't meant to, he clumsily crushed his lips against his. From somewhere inside him a voice spoke up, telling him this was a very bad idea, but that voice was temporarily silenced because it felt right. Somehow Roger's tongue had gotten into his mouth and no rational thought could be formed. Everywhere Roger touched his skin felt like it was on fire, and he wasn't sure that was a good thing. It meant he didn't really mind that this was happening, though it scared the shit out of him, but that didn't mean that those weren't his own hands in Roger's hair, holding his head still while he licked and moaned shamelessly into his mouth. He had done this before but when exactly he couldn't remember, and that didn't matter because it was happening now.

He let Roger's head go, and he heard it thud against the wall behind him. . Had they done this too? He couldn't remember that either, but the taste of his skin was so familiar… He felt on the verge of understanding something vital, chasing impulse and feeling as if it might uncover meaning and reason. Why not? Everything he felt just drew him deeper; one more step and there'd be no escape. All he had to do was let go.

He wasn't too far gone to hear a deep familiar voice call his name, then Roger's, and break the spell that held them together.

"Curses," the word was whispered on his hair. Roger sighed against him, pressing his lips in a quick but fierce kiss against his. "Foiled again."

Nick's eyes tried to focus in the darkened hallway, but the activity had made his vision all blurred around the edges.

"Get in here," the voice said, not so much inviting as demanding.

Nick walked on what seemed like borrowed legs to the kitchen; he heard Roger follow not too close behind. The shadowy hallway must have hidden something from view, but if Lent didn't have to yell to get their attention, what had he heard?

"Sit," Lent said in a pleasant voice, but the smile dropped when Nick hesitated. "Sit," he commanded, and turned back to the stove.

"How'd the reading go?" Roger teased, taking seat himself. He rested his feet on the table and leaned back comfortably, hands behind his head.

The air smelled like mint and lavender, a weird sort of cool fog rolled from the pot Lent was stirring. It collected on the floor, coiling around their chairs. Noting the tension in Lent's shoulders, Nick took an exaggerated deep breath of the air.

"What's that you're making?" he asked. He had wanted to simply comment on it, but with that one deep breath he was suddenly feeling like lead. Rather than panic, he sunk into it, slumping back in his chair as a charming, definitely artificial but attractive sense of peace took over his mind.

"It's his calming draught," Roger said, taking a deep breath. He had a dazed expression and the smile splitting his face was bright and silly. "He's having a fit, look!"

He looked at Lent seething over the stove. "I don't know why I'm doing this. It's perfectly natural to become frustrated. I have poor source materials, that's all," his words rushed together, "Just let it boil until it splashes all over the bloody place…" he looked back at them, jealously, "What have you two been doing? I never thought I'd have to say this to you…" he pointed at Nick.

"Your pot's boiling over," Roger offered, somewhere beside him on a cloud. Nick rolled his head over to look at him. Roger gave him a languid smile, and Nick almost remembered something. Like Roger himself was reaching out of some shadowy part of his mind, a memory that wasn't quite his. Those odd eyes held his breath and for a few short seconds they were the only people in the room. Roger reached over and ran one finger down the bridge of his nose. "Never mind, I like the beard." Then he turned away and jumped out of his chair. "Lent!" he shouted, "It's boiling over!"

Nick looked over just in time to see Roger leap over the table and slap the elf in the face. Lent looked dazed by this for a moment, and then balled up his fists. He punched him hard, and Nick heard something snap as Roger was sent to the floor cheekbone first.

"Shit," Nick muttered, shocked but too weighted down to move.

"I thought you were hysterical," Roger said, rising up from the foggy floor, rubbing his cheek with a goofy grin on his face. "Mind the pot."

Lent turned and checked the pot, still obviously hysterical to Nick but he wasn't about to test him, and Roger put an arm around the elf's wide shoulders with difficulty.

"You're right," Roger said patiently. "It's perfectly normal to get frustrated."

"And you're no help."

"Does that surprise you?"

"Why are we here?" Lent suddenly asked. He turned around and dropped the pot on the table.

Its contents sloshed over the side, splashing Nick's bloodied shirt. As things were clearly getting tense, Nick took another deep breath and slid a little lower in his chair.

"We're here to help him, yeah?" the elf rushed out, "We're going to get him on track to get him out of here."

Roger's laugh was infectious; it made Nick's lips twitch. "Here, what do you mean, here?"

"Out of our bloody hair!" Lent shouted at him. "You get your answer and you disappear," he said to Nick. He dropped a heavy palm on the table and leaned in, breathing angry air in Nick's face. "I've risked a lot bringing you here and all I've done since is waste time while you offer yourself to whatever stranger is willing to bite or cut your throat."

"What the fuck are you talking about?" Nick asked and immediately regretted it.

"Didn't I tell you to stay inside?" Lent hissed in his face and he cringed, squeezing his eyes shut. The elf moved away, staring pointedly at Roger. "And you! Drawing attention to yourself, trying to get us all dragged back or worse—I should never have come here. Not with you. Where the hell is Mohan?" he dipped a spoon into the translucent purple goo in the pot and shoved a spoonful in his mouth. Around it, it sounded like he said, "Should geddim over here, from wherever he's gone, and 'ave him dake you away, you willful liddle ship!"

"What did he say?"

"I think," Roger said slowly, "He was calling me a willful little shit."

Lent's shoulders began to sag and after a second or two he dropped heavily into chair. "I am hysterical."

"Still have that scowl on your face," Nick mumbled, slightly relieved when Lent cracked the barest of smiles.

Then his inky eyes widened at his bloodied shirt. "What happened to you?"

Nick looked down, clutching at the material. It was going to be something trying to explain this to Asesil. He looked back at Lent's narrowed gaze and managed a weak shrug, blanching at the hard expression on the elf's face.

"Nick killed someone in the street." Roger's grin was so completely unapologetic. Nick snorted and was sobered very quickly by Lent's disapprovingly glare.

"No," Nick agreed with genuine seriousness. "It's not funny. It was—"

"Unavoidable. We were under threat of death," the vampire interjected, but Nick barely heard him under Lent's scrutinizing look.

"You… killed someone?"

"He was going to make earrings out of his eyes." He pointed to Roger, laying the blame on him.

"That's… disgusting," the elf said, stunned. He stared at Nick so long it seemed as if Lent knew more about him from that look than anything else. "How heroic," the tone was flat, suspicious. He dipped his spoon into the goo again. "Tell me what happened."

Nick tried to sit up in his chair and failed. "Can you get me a spoon?"

It didn't take long to explain what had happened, and Roger helped, offering the occasional over-exaggeration or unnecessary comment. During the conversation Lent's gaze never moved from Nick's face. He studied him with those void, black eyes unblinkingly, and would intermittedly consume more of the purple shining goo from the pot on the table.

Unnerved by this, Nick smartly did not to mention Roger's wandering hands, and quickly ended the tale just before they had been interrupted by the city guard. And his brain almost shut down when his mind went to the shadowy hallway. He wet his lips nervously and focused on the table.

"Was he still there? The body?" Lent asked and Nick and Roger shook their heads, both curiously fine with omitting that part. "I've often wondered. In the Shakes sometimes bodies like that disappear after less than a minute cold on the street. They take everything, clothes, gold, jewelry. Teeth. Dump the naked stiff in the river."

Because Nick couldn't live with that image in his head he said, "The guard got there first and dragged the bodies off."

"Oh, well," Lent said, placing the spoon on the table delicately, his hands shaking. "That's that then."

"Yes," Roger said, amused. "That's that."

A foot nudged his under the table and he looked up, narrowing his eyes at Roger. "Lent, we're fine. It was someone random. They didn't know us."

"But Kristani is watching. I don't think he's just watching Roger. Though I couldn't find a reason why you'd be so damn interesting. The appointment approaches, Nick. Why don't you think about that instead?" Lent rose from the table, pulling the pot of goo to his chest, and while he strode out of the kitchen he called over his shoulder, "I may be able to connect it all yet…. with more calming draught and a good night's sleep. Excuse me."

Nick dipped a finger in some of the goo that had sloshed on the table. "More like a goo than a draught."

"He cocked it up, obviously. Over-cooked slop," Roger said, taking in the state of Asesil's kitchen. She wouldn't be thrilled to see the mess Lent left, Nick thought. "He's probably built up a tolerance living with Maria."

"She's the one who shot him."

"Oh?" The vampire leaned forward, his eyes glittering in amusement. "That was bound to happen."

"Are they-?" he began but he had a hard time picturing it. Lent was a very large muscular man—er, elf, and Maria… well to Nick she's always be the tiny shaking, frightened girl with the crossbow.

"No, no, she won't have him. I'd say he's better off without her but look at what we've done to him."

"What we've done?"

"You, really. I've just been tagging along."

"Then what do you do when you're out there on your own?"

Roger chuckled darkly. "I know how to cover my tracks, the watch will never come upon what I've left over."

"I haven't seen a dead body since my parents died. Never really understood the value of human life until they were gone. Years since their death I've let the world pass by me and I was… untouched. I always thought death was something peaceful—" Roger snorted at that, but then Nick sat up in his chair and held him still with a look. "It's something I looked forward to."

Something like pain flickered across the vampires face, but it was gone as soon as it came. If he hadn't been looking right at him, he wouldn't have noticed.

"All things come to an end," Roger said offhandedly, "Sometimes violent, untimely ends."

"Does any of this cross your mind when you murder them?" Nick again imagined Roger at someone's throat in some dark alley somewhere.

"Why think about death all the time?"

"I think about it a lot lately."

"What do you think about it?"

Nick didn't miss a beat. "I don't want to suffer a violent and untimely end."

"Well said."

"Do you murder them? Your victims?"

"It's wasteful to let them die, Nicholas." Nick fixed him with a hard look and Roger quickly, with a teasing smile, corrected himself. "Nick, sorry. Would you salt the earth after reaping your harvest?"

He stared at the vampire sitting next to him, not registering the lie he had just been told. "Then what do you do?"

"If I didn't know better," Roger murmured under his breath. He turned to face him fully. "What do you think I do?"

That was the question wasn't it? He didn't like to think about it. He did, but he didn't. Nick swallowed with difficulty, feeling as if he was biting down some of his own fear. "Bite them, I guess," he said with hesitation. "Wouldn't they tell someone?"

"If they've entered into an agreement with me, they won't risk it by telling."

"What do you mean by agreement?"

"Consent to be fed upon." He said it as if it was obvious.

Nick stared at him, trying to picture it in his mind. "So you just walk up to people and ask," he said incredulously.

"Sometimes they come to me."

"Knowing what you are," Nick said to that smug look on his face. Roger looked positively proud of it. "That you're a killer."

"I can't hide from everyone. There are those that know me on sight even if I do my best to remain unseen."

"And they just offer themselves to you? How would they even know what you are?"

"You did, or at least you knew something was different. Some people, if they are of the right mind, can notice little details."

"Your eyes," Nick said, to which the vampire nodded slowly. "Your teeth."

"Most people are too busy looking at everything else." Then Roger gave him a brilliant smile.

"What do you—oh, that's…" Nick looked away, frustrated. The only person with whom he could have a serious conversation was currently upstairs having a meltdown. "When do you stop?"

"Come on. I'm just having fun."

"We've had enough fun—" Nick's words were cut off by the mischievous glow in Roger's eyes. How could Roger do that to him? Roger had some kind of weird hypnotic energy there, Nick thought as he stared into his eyes. Or maybe it was Nick; he was weak for him. He struggled a bit but eventually managed a frown.

"Hmm?" he hummed, reaching over to drag a finger up his thigh. "I disagree."

It seemed Nick couldn't look at him and protest at the same time. He turned his head and shoved Roger's hand off him. "I need to concentrate on the appointment."

"Don't go feeling guilty because of Lent's outburst. You don't need to dwell on it."

"You're a distraction."

"Thanks."

"That wasn't a compliment."

"How will you prepare for this appointment?" Roger threw up his arms in frustration and Nick wondered what right he had to feel that way when Roger himself was the most frustrating person, vampire, whatever… he had ever met. "Do you even know what something like this will entail?"

"Do you?"

"No, but I can assume. It's a research center run by mages. Let me guess…" The vampire hummed to himself for a second, causing Nick to groan because he knew he wasn't going to get a serious answer from him. "… they'll probably poke you with sticks until they find the answers you're looking for."

"I get it."

"Good. Don't think about it."

"Does anything ever frighten you?"

"No," Roger said and he could tell it was a lie, though the vampire did his best to make it seem convincing. He seemed to be doing that at lot, Nick was beginning to notice.

"I won't let anyone lock me up again."

"It won't be like that." Roger's hand grasped his shoulder and squeezed gently.

"So after this, I'll just be out of your hair. On my own. How am I supposed to find my way back?"

"It doesn't have to be that way." Roger said mysteriously. "Lent was just angry. He didn't mean that you'd be abandoned."

Nick snorted to himself at the thought, because that's exactly what he had wanted to do. Once the appointment was over, he wanted to leave these two as far behind as he could put them. It wasn't something that seemed rational, and a large part of him was trying to talk himself out of it. Sure, in his own world he had been on his own successfully… more or less. He could do it again, provided he found a place to stay and the Master, Andreschi, as Roger had called him, suddenly forgot he was still after him. That was the best argument ever, his inner voice supplied cruelly, but if he figured out how to use what ever mysterious power he had to his advantage he might have a chance to escape him on his own.

Andreschi couldn't be infallible. There had to be some way to escape him. Lent and Roger seemed ready to do this, even if now after a couple of weeks, things were become strained and uncertain. Nick wasn't going to begrudgingly accept being captured and suffer whatever had been planned for him. Whether alone or not he wasn't going back there, and if he couldn't go back home…

The words sunk into his mind, begging to finally be considered, and seriously this time. This place, although it took some time getting use to the idea, was undeniably real. He'd been here before. As strange as it sounded some part of Nick felt as if he'd taken in the air and could tell by the taste. The truth of it was in his senses, an instinct told him this, even if his rational mind balked at the very idea. Something wasn't true because it felt true. Something wasn't real because of the way it made you feel, he chided himself. These notions were enough to remind himself that he wasn't normal, something in his off mind was having fun at the expense of the rest of him.

What if he couldn't go back? What would happen then?

Nick had never gotten too far into the thought of the future. Whenever it graced his thoughts something twisted inside him would ask him if it mattered, since his parents' death his days and nights had been nothing but a blur of sun to moon interchanging. He had been just waiting out his life until it was over. The hallucinations were startling interruptions, and meant nothing more than something to further separate him from everyone else.

The dreams that he had here had changed his mind about that last part. Nick was starting to believe that somehow these things meant something, and only he could figure them out. But he had never been good with puzzles, even glaringly obvious ones. Someone had once told him he was too into his mind, couldn't focus enough to solve it. That hadn't made him feel any better. There wasn't anything that could help him make sense of it all. His parents and doctors had tried everything. And yet somehow, just being here was helping things fall into place. At least it seemed so, however slowly that was happening, even if all that was discovered scared the shit out of him.

It made him question who he was; did he even know? Could he even handle all this?

His tired eyes settled on Roger's, intently watching him. The vampire's thin arm reached out, fingers smoothing back the hair falling on his forehead. "What do you think about when you go away like that?"

"About what happens after this."

"Are you psychic?" the vampire's voice was dangerously low; he was making fun of him.

Nick didn't grace this with an answer, as he'd had enough of Roger's teasing words and now he was just tired, feeling the weight of the day and earlier evening press down on him. He had literally gotten away with murder. To say he wasn't use to that kind of excitement was an understatement, but he'd survive, he thought. He'd have to find some strength to get through it all. Stabbing cutthroats and stupidly making out with fanged captors in darkened hallways. What was he thinking?

He drew himself up out of the chair slowly, still affected by the mist dissipating on the floor, not the mention the whiskey he had consumed earlier in the evening. Emotionally he could finally say that he was just tired, and what Lent had mentioned, a good night's rest, sounded like one of the safest things to surrender to.

"Good night," he said, his gaze latching onto the disappointment in Roger's eyes. His brow furrowed, not really sure what that meant, and went upstairs before he decided to stay and find out.

Some things were probably better a mystery anyway.

"Changed my mind about that patchy beard," Roger called up to him angrily, now at the foot of the stairs. "Did you hear me?"

When he emerged from the bedroom the next morning Asesil was sitting on the sofa in the adjoining room, one hand on her belly and the other on a leather case sitting on the cushion beside her. Lent stood when he entered the room, and moved his chair out, turning it around. He slapped the seat of the chair with one large hand. There was no good morning this time; there was only, "Sit."

"What is this?" Nick asked suspiciously.

Asesil stood with difficulty, and brushed off Lent when he tried to help her. She turned and gave Nick a bright but mischievous smile. She smoothed down her dress with one hand and the leather case was in her other. She gestured to the chair.

"Come on, grumpy," she coaxed.

"What's going on?"

Lent grabbed him by the arm and pressed him into the chair. "She's shaving the vagrant look off you."

"I can shave myself," Nick insisted fervently, shamed by the nervousness betrayed in his voice. Asesil laughed behind him, and when he turned to look he saw her opening a small leather case on the desk, moving Lent's notes and books aside. She removed a straight razor and unfolded it.

"We have an appointment to keep," Lent explained, squeezing his shoulders a bit too tightly, enough to make him wince at the force of it.

"You can move away now, Lent, I don't think he'll run off."

"Want me to do it?" the elf asked but she shook her head and tipped Nick's head back.

"Just get me some water."

Lent left them alone and Nick found his eyes staring at where he once stood.

"The oil," she said, rubbing it into his beard, "Will warm on your skin but the water will be very cold, I'm afraid." His jaw tightened, his body flinching under her gentle touch. "Be still," was the warning, "I could very well slip and cut your throat." He flinched again when the razor came into view, held firmly in her delicate fingers. She deliberately held it in front of his face as she set down whatever held the oil she had applied to his face. "I'm sure you think you could do this on your own but I've heard what you get up to with blades."

"I didn't mean to—"

"Don't talk," she said, and his Adam's apple bobbed nervously on his throat. She swiped the blade closely along the surface of his skin. One long clean scrape. "Lent told me you were harmless, and then this morning Roger told me that was not the case. He's prone to exaggeration, but then I found my husband's shirt, the one I had lent you. Bloodied."

"I'm sorry."

Asesil waited until he finished these words and followed them with another scrape of the blade. "I wondered who you might be. Traveling with Roger and Lent, I just assumed you were one of them."

Whatever Nick may have said to this was cut off by Lent returning, placing a basin of water on the desk. He removed the books and stacked them on the sofa, well out of harm's way.

"All right?" he asked, his coal black eyes settled on Nick, and though Nick pleaded with him silently, he just smiled. It was a toothless, unsympathetic thing that made him hate him just a little. "I'm going to rouse Roger. We have a big day ahead of us." With a final grin he opened the window and climbed out and up.

Asesil bustled over to shut it as the cold air rushed in, making Nick's skin prickle. When she turned back to him her hazel eyes narrowed at his face. Her scrutinizing look wasn't cruel; it was genuine curiosity. He shifted uncomfortably in the chair nonetheless, and turned his head away.

"You're not with them, are you?"

Nick didn't know what to say. He was and he wasn't. There were so many secrets in this place, and surrounding the two that brought him here. Asesil, it seemed, was kept in the dark though he knew more than she did, he didn't know enough to make sense of things. Nick was with them, but he was also kept on the outside. Lent hadn't answered any questions, hadn't offered more than protection. No one gave him answers.

After a moment of tensed silence she returned to work, shaving his face in carefully close strokes of the blade, and he withstood it, hands shaking in his lap.

"What is this appointment?" She rinsed the blade, the sound of her wiping it dry was deafening.

"They're taking me to the research center. Roger said they're going to poke me with sticks." He said it dryly, not trying to joke but she laughed anyway. The act did nothing to ease his distress.

"Mages are addle-minded. It must be the magic. I've never trusted it," she said, her voice was softer now as she concentrated on her work. "I would imagine their tests run a bit deeper than poking you with sticks, though that may be a last resort." The blade swiped close again. "Nervous?" He nodded minutely, his eyes trained to her fingers in his periphery. "I would be too. I've seen the students that come out of that place."

His hand jerked up and closed around her wrist. Asesil didn't flinch, didn't twist in his grasp, but she moved around him just enough so he could look her in the eye.

"Almost done." Her words were barely a sound. He could tell from the way she was looking at him she wasn't afraid. There was pity in her eyes, he thought. Something that made him feel less, lower, and he couldn't stand it. This was exactly why he had avoided people in the past. He didn't need her judgment.

"I can finish this," Nick said firmly and released her. "Do you have a mirror?"

The sun had been up for a couple of hours. The gray clouds had parted, and there it was a golden god shining his face down on the city. Roger closed his eyes against the rays, letting the people bustling below in the streets become white noise. The air was cold, even colder on the roof, and he missed his lamps, his room… even his tacky plastic chair, but this, he thought, his face turned up to the sky, there was nothing like this.

Some things came very close.

Blood the life, the sun a god, watching over its creation with gentle contemplation. Give them warmth, give them light, give them life, as was said by the Brotherhood. Sun worshippers, they were called nowadays but that wasn't really true. They were scientists, philosophers, theorists. They searched for meaning in the sky, but Roger found meaning in his reverence. His lamps, though they sustained him, could not compare. Nothing was as constant, although he knew one day it would set this whole world on fire. Life was cycling, he knew that too. The end was never really the end. Something was always beginning.

In the power it gave off he felt the veil lift and everything was so startlingly clear. Commune with the god and you hear his voice… a half-remembered poem he had heard so long ago. Roger heard the voice in his mind, relived the memory. You believe this, don't you? What does it say to you?

The religious said that gods didn't speak, they did, and whatever it was they did they went about it in subtle ways. As the times changed, so did their actions, growing subtler but with deliberateness through their lives. The religious weren't very many now, and the gods were called upon in reflex, consulted in dire situations. They had become a last resort. People for the most part had come to realize that they must depend upon themselves, and Roger could respect that. He knew they had taken for granted as people often do, things that were given freely. He had done so himself many times, but never with this. This one spoke but he didn't use words.

"Roger!" Someone called out to him, shouted more like, and Roger tried to ignore it but he felt himself slipping.

Does the god speak?

"Yes," he said to the memory, feeling the chill leave his body fully. True peace was found in things like this. Unconsciously he began to hum a melody, feeling it rise up from a distant place inside his mind, one he couldn't touch.

Feels like a song. It wants me to remember. It won't let me go. Not until we're finished.

"Stop humming and help me up!"

Roger's trance broke, and opening his eyes the fog returned in his mind, a frown formed on his face. He hated being disturbed. He cocked his head, taking in his surroundings. Roger was on the roof of Asesil's home, here in King's, shivering with cold slate at his back. Unsteadily he turned his body, slipping on the slant slightly as he searched for the one who disturbed his worship.

Lent's bald head peeked over the roof, one muscular black arm holding onto something that shouldn't be able to withstand his weight. He almost laughed at him as he struggled to maintain his grip on the edge.

"Aren't elves limber creatures? No, my first memory of you, breaking beakers on the floor."

"You surprised me," Lent said, reaching up, "I didn't believe vampires existed."

"They don't," Roger said, the omission jerked out of him by something deep within, leftover from the clarity during his communion with the sun.

"Take my hand, Roger."

"With pleasure," he drawled sarcastically, and hoisted him up on the roof by his side. "What's on the agenda today, brother? Searching for meaning in your books?"

"Don't call me brother."

"The Master holds that privilege, does he? What do you think he's doing now, hmm?"

"Don't. Let's get off this roof. I hate high places like this."

"Two stories and you're off your head. Some Tangarian you are," Roger spat, beginning his descent without him. "I've seen your people climb trees, stand on mountains, pray on the roof of the Red Palace. You have gone native, friend."

"Wait," Lent said, and the vampire paused half way off the edge of the roof, taking the same hold Lent had gripped. The elf leaned down carefully. "We're going to the research center today. I have my reservations about you going but I don't think I could keep you from it."

"No."

"There should be some rules."

"No."

"You will not offer your prejudices or disrespect the man we're meant to see. You will not interfere because you know this is important to him." By him he meant Nick, Roger could guess that much, though he doubted Nick cared that much about it. Roger had tried to keep him distracted. "And you'll help me down," Lent added, which made him laugh at him then. "Please."

"Fine, if you're serious."

"Yes."

"And it's for him."

"Yes."

"Agreed, but hang on, they've shut the window on us."

Roger swung himself down to look through the glass and saw Nick with his hands on the window, pushing the panes out. He completely forgot about Lent once he saw Nick had shaved that patchy thing away.

"H-hi." Nick said, still holding on to the latches of the window.

"Hello." Roger climbed in, unable to take his eyes off him. He didn't even notice Asesil in the room, silently watching them as he grabbed that face, running a thumb over the cut just under his nose. Silly thing couldn't shave without cutting himself to save his life. He put his lips to the little cut, then his tongue, feeling something close to what he had felt on the roof. Commune with the god and you hear his voice.

Nick was kissing him, one hand on the latch and the other on the side of his neck, a firm hold so he wouldn't move away. He needn't worry about that, Roger thought idly, feeling the melody again, finding it on Nick's insistent tongue. It sent something like an electric current through his body, and he felt like he knew everything he needed to know. All the pieces fell together so perfectly. He didn't even feel the cold air anymore, just Nick's blunt teeth on his lips, his breath in his mouth, and he seized the opportunity to work his hand down his bare chest, somehow not surprised at all that it sent a shiver through him though he was warm now. So warm.

He wanted to eat this man.

"Ah-hem." Asesil mocked a cough from the sofa. "Cough, cough… and so on."

"Roger!" Lent yelled down at him from outside.

Just like that Nick let him go. He looked shocked, and Roger was too, because whatever held them was gone now. The window was hanging open with Nick's hand still on the latch, and Lent's leg was dangling down, kicking in at them. Roger recovered quickly and smirked, a practiced look, and turned away before anyone could see it disappear. He yanked at the stupid elf's leg.

"Stop squirming and let me help you." He glanced at Nick. "Help me drag the son of a bitch in, will you?"

Together they dragged the giant thing in, Roger resenting the elf even more now that he knew how heavy he was. The shooting pain in his shoulder renewed yanking the bastard in. He gritted his teeth and tried not the think about how much it hurt deep in his shoulder where those jagged wooden pieces jabbed at his muscle. He was shot days ago by that silly Merrigold, Merriweather, whoever he had been, and the pieces still hadn't worked their way out. Roger was glad he had killed Merrisomething.

When Lent was inside he went over and clutched at the desk, breathing heavily as he bent over at pressed his forehead on its surface.

Roger snorted. "You're overreacting."

"Rich, coming … from … you." Lent's words were spoken through hyperventilated breaths.

"At most you might have broken an ankle or something. Anyway, nothing vital so calm yourself."

"This is why Mohan's angry all the time."

"Asesil, you want to jump in here?" When Roger looked over at her she was staring at Nick, who had his back turned on them all. "Asesil?" She shook her head, obviously miles away, not even acknowledging him.

"I need a shirt," he heard Nick whisper and Asesil promptly stole him away downstairs.

Roger was left staring dejectedly at where they had just been. "What the—what's happening here?"

Lent clapped him on the back a bit harder than necessary. "Run a comb through your hair, wild man, and remember your promise. Don't mess this up."

A/n: I'm sorry it's been so long between updates. I still haven't gotten my computer back which has all of my notes for this story. I'm having to work with handwritten notes and the memory of how I wanted this to go. I put up another story tentatively titled From Guardsman Blackwood which includes Roger and a bit of Nick in his previous incarnation in Tannika. Roger doesn't remember his past with Nick in Rare Kinds, so pieces of it will be told from other people's point of view. Anyway, thanks for reading and sorry about the screwing formatting. The computer I'm borrowing seemed to have effed with things in my file :(