Of the Spirits of the Forest

Part 6 of 6

And Yes, It's Actually Finished this Time

Nikerym 'Ksherea

Caeli sighed, leaning back against the wall as he set down another stick into his finished pile. There was still a large stack of twigs in front of him and he was already flagging, after only a few hours and a small stack of the little things. Connor sat on the other side of the 'finished' pile, working steadily through his own stack of twigs.

From Hamarr's reckonings, and the knowledge of the two villagers from Ulmarth, the little town in Altacia that had been raided, there were about five hundred people to transport. The little transportation spells he and Connor were making could take two or three people the distance to the capital, depending on their size, so they had to make a three hundred at the least to be sure they could get everyone there.

Kyesa's plan had it's flaws though. The energy to make the transportation spells had to come from somewhere. Eventually they had to go with the most complicated transportation spell – the one that drew energy from the people being transported, instead of having the energy already in it, so that the spirits wouldn't realize what was happening until it was too late.

The other, more pressing flaw, was that the making of the sticks would take time. Time that Tiras would have to stay captive in order to not alert the spirits of their presence. Caeli frowned and picked up the next stick, squinting at the knobby thing in the dim light from the hut. He and Connor were under the bed, mostly shielded from view by a draping blanket, in case any of the spirits decided to make a turn into Hamarr's hut.

Kyesa and Shaomi were dashing about in the dark, letting people know what was going on. Kyesa because the villagers knew him, and would trust him, and Shaomi because he had an uncanny knack for sensing the mages before they were seen. Caeli smiled a bit at that. Poor Shaomi would be going stir crazy, this close to Tiras without being able to see him.

"Take a break, Caeli." Connor said quietly as he set the next stick down, finished. Caeli frowned a bit.

"But-" He protested quietly, glancing through the small space between the blanket and the wall, out into the room. They were being ignored, for the most part. Of the dozen people in the room, only Hamarr was paying any attention to them, and he gave Caeli a warm smile when their gazes met. Caeli flushed a bit and turned his attention back to the pile of sticks in front of him. "I don't need a break yet." He finished his protestation, snagging another short twig and stripping a dried, brown leaf from it.

"Well, take one soon then." Connor admonished, setting the water skin next to him. "We can't have you expending too much energy."

"But this is important." Caeli murmured, concentrating on weaving the spell around the stick slowly.

"And so is rescuing Tiras. No one else knows their way around Catatchi territory." Connor answered, setting down his stick and selecting another without prejudice.

Caeli bit his lip and closed the spell, not answering. He didn't want to think about it really, going back there. It wasn't a particularly horrible place, but what would happen if the mages caught them –

But that wouldn't happen, because they needed to get Tiras out of there, and they needed to get these people safe and they needed to help stop the mages from succeeding in whatever it was they were planning. Caeli set down the stick and picked up the water skin, taking a quick drink before selecting another stick and beginning again.

Kyesa knocked twice, rapidly, before opening the door easily and slipping inside. None of them had been locked and barred so far, and this was no different. Kyesa smiled as he shut the door behind him. This hut looked to be much the same as the others. A few familiar faces, including Kaori, who was looking rather surprised, and a good deal of suspicious, unfamiliar people.

"Kyesa?" Kaori sounded angry actually, not surprised, and Kyesa couldn't help but beam.

"I came to visit." He announced carelessly even as Kaori passed Jenna to the young woman sitting next to her and stood.

"Are you mad?" She snapped, glaring. "Did you not noticed the patrols? The fact that we're closeted in with a number of strangers?"

"Yes." Kyesa answered easily. "We're working on that."

"What?" Kaori's anger fled at this abrupt announcement. "We, who?"

"Me, and Caeli, and Shaomi, and Connor." Kyesa expounded, with a hint of a smile. "It should only take a while more, by tomorrow certainly and then we're leaving."

"Kyesa." Kaori's gaze narrowed, dangerously. "Explain yourself."

"Well, the spirits are attacking outside the villages." Kyesa started, turning serious. "And they kidnapped Connor's brother. Connor is the mage who found me and Caeli after we left." Kyesa explained quickly. "The mages there are much nicer than the mages here, mostly. He and Caeli are working on transportation spells to get everyone out of here and to the capital down there. It's a really big city." Kyesa grinned. "It's pretty, you'll like it."

Kaori frowned. "Alright. So we're leaving? When? For how long?"

"As soon as they get the transportation spells done." Kyesa frowned back, mimicking his sister's face. "I don't know for how long, probably a while. Connor's going to explain to the regent – she's kind of like grandfather, she runs everything. She's nice too, and she'll have no problem with it, 'specially as it takes away the power base for the spirits."

Kaori nodded, still frowning a bit. "I'd like to talk to this Connor." She decided.

"You can." Kyesa nodded. "But not until after we get back to Aicatla, because it's not safe outside the huts right now."

"But you're out there." Kaori scowled.

"I have to be." Kyesa replied simply, with a soft smile. "I'm quick, and I've got Shaomi. Besides, I'm the only one of us four who would be recognized as a villager, and be able to talk to people quickly."

Kaori sighed, but smiled back. "You've matured." She laughed a bit, and Kyesa beamed.

"A little at least." He answered with a grin. A soft tapping on the door made everyone in the room stiffen, but for Kyesa, who merely darted over, gave Kaori a quick hug and dashed to the slowly opening door. "We'll be back later!" He called quietly, before ducking out the door, a flash of bright red the only thing Kaori saw before the door slipped shut again.

Leir frowned, irritated. "Of course there was a contaminant. You saw how adversely he reacted."

"The drug is pure." The healer, a mage by the name of Greih insisted, politely as he could.

"Then explain the reaction." Leir said coldly.

"There is another possible source." Greih offered, meeting Leir's eyes easily.

"Oh?" Leir asked coolly, as though he didn't care to hear it, which was exactly the opposite.

"The visions are like other forms of magic, in that they take energy. From the Seer, though, instead of outside sources. If there was a block of sorts, it could result in a physical reaction like the one we've seen." Greih answered, as though he was suggesting something atrocious.

"It's impossible." Leir scowled.

"Are you positive?" Greih asked calmly. Leir didn't answer right away.

"Go get more of your drug." Leir ordered a moment later, his eyes narrowing darkly. "Meet me in the Seer's room."

Tiras chewed his lip, concentrating as he kneaded the pillow that rested in his lap. His head ached fiercely, but he was able to ignore it as he concentrated, concentration was important. Concentrating on Connor and where Connor was and what Connor was doing and when he'd see Connor again –

Tiras was bone-weary, but even he could tell that he was in the great hall, where the great banquets and balls were held every so often when an important dignitary visited. He was leaning against Shaomi – the bright red hair was rather distracting from the corner of his eye, even as he glanced up to see Connor approaching, concern and relief warring on his face –

It was dimly lit, the woolen blanket obstructed the view to the room outside, even as it kept them hidden as they worked, piles of twigs before them and between them. Connor sighed, setting down the stick he was concentrating on and offering a bit of a reassuring smile to his companion –

The inside of the hut would've been cozy if there hadn't been quite so many people crowded in it. Tiras frowned, watching as people pulled twigs from the little pile in the center of the room, before focusing on Connor as he scowled irritably at Kyesa. The boy took on a stubborn look though.

"… need you… Caeli…Shaomi won't…"

"…my brother!"

Kyesa scowled back–

Tiras gasped as the pain in his head doubled, but managed a pained smile nonetheless. He was getting better at controlling the visions. As long as he didn't listen to anyone else he wouldn't see anything he didn't want to see.

Tiras relaxed, removing the pillow from his lap to rest it at the head of the bed again. It was only the work of a moment to reposition himself, his head landing neatly on the pillow even as he curled under the blankets, his head throbbing incessantly, but Tiras took comfort in the fact that he'd had worse. A bare comfort, but it was better than nothing. And he did eventually get out of here, so there was that to look forward to.

First he'd tried Shaomi, but only got vague scenes of the redhead, without any context at all. Tiras smiled a bit. That had been the first try. Second he'd tried to see what would happen to Jun, and all he got was pictures of a tiny baby boy and a wedding dress. Which was better than nothing, and at least there was the knowledge that Leir's threats came to nothing. Third was the attempt at Connor, the most successful yet. Tiras smiled a bit, fuzzily, even as he let the sleepiness crash onto him, weighting down his eyelids and limbs.

Caeli set down another twig, his fingers aching, and he paused to stretch them. The spell casting took no physical effort, but he found himself gripping each successive twig harder than the last, as though holding it tighter would enable him to draw from dregs of energy that were rapidly depleting.

It was a few hours after Kyesa had left to spread the news, and the pile of twigs between himself and Connor was slowly gaining ground on the piles in front of them. Caeli kept focused, he honestly didn't want to think about Kyesa being caught dashing about madly out there like he was sure to be doing.

Caeli picked up another twig at random, twirling it a bit to watch the three colored leaves swirl. Kyesa and Shaomi really hadn't been too picky where they got the twigs, Caeli mused for a moment before flushing a bit and stripping the leaves off quickly. He didn't get any further though, before Connor gently pulled the twig from his fingers. Caeli blinked dumbly for a moment, before frowning.

"Connor?" He whispered, darting a glance out at the darkened hut. Most of the people were asleep, curled in corners and sprawled over the open areas on the floor.

"That's enough for now." Connor muttered. "Get some rest, you can finish in the morning." Connor tossed a small piece of travel bread at him. "Eat that, and go to sleep."

Caeli frowned. "We're not done yet."

"In the morning, Caeli." Connor pressed, frowning back. "You're almost drained."

Caeli sighed, tugging at the tissue-like cloth that wrapped the piece of bread. "I could have done a few more." He murmured, managing to open the package. He broke the bread in half though, and gave half back to Connor, who frowned at him again. "If I'm tired, you're tired." Caeli said quietly.

"Right." Connor sighed, and took the bread, before looking past Caeli wearily. A hand slipped over Caeli's mouth.

"Shh." Kyesa whispered, even as Caeli froze in surprise. Caeli turned his head quickly, unbalancing himself in his surprise and landing awkwardly against Kyesa's chest. Kyesa just grinned a bit and wrapped an arm around his waist. Caeli blinked a few times but just straightened his legs so he could sit properly.

"How did it go?" Connor asked quietly, ever mindful of the roomful of sleeping people.

"Fine, they're set for tomorrow. Shaomi and I will run them around, there were no objections." Kyesa beamed, his teeth flashing brightly in the dim light.

"Good." Connor sighed. "Where's Shaomi?" He sounded weary and Caeli had to stifle a smile at the tone.

"He's sleeping in the woods. Something about small places and lots of people didn't appeal to him." Kyesa laughed a bit.

"As long as he's not caught." Connor sighed again, carefully moving the large basket of finished sticks away. "We're going to have to sleep here tonight."

"Under here." Kyesa confirmed. "Can't get caught." He grinned and tossed a makeshift pillow at Connor. "Caeli snores."

"I do not!" Caeli hissed, flushing. Connor laughed a bit, yawning.

"It's alright, I'm just looking forward to sleeping on a solid floor." Connor dug the blanket from his pack out, even as Kyesa did the same thing, nudging Caeli over to against the wall before spooning against him, loosely tossing the blanket over them as Caeli squirmed into a more comfortable position, tucked against Kyesa's chest.

Connor smiled a bit, but then wasted no time in moving the twigs carefully out of the way and settling in himself. He wasn't going to spend tonight worrying about Shaomi or Tiras or Maverick. He was going to sleep tonight, so he could do something about Tiras, and maybe Shaomi, so he could get back to Maverick and have everything right again.

Leir didn't bother knocking, slipping into the room easily, ignoring the blast of cool air from the wide-open window. Tiras was curled on the bed, in almost the exact same position he'd been in the last time Leir had stopped by this room. Leir frowned, and crossed the room swiftly, remembering at the last moment to remove the leather gloves from his pocket and slip them on.

"Wake up, Seer." Leir commanded coldly, threading his fingers into dark green waves of hair, mussed by sleep and yanked the boy from the pillow, easily pulling him off the bed and to the floor. Tiras groaned, steely grey eyes slipping open a bit even as he shoved himself into a sitting position, back against the bed frame.

"Do you know the first and most important rule, Seer?" Leir grabbed Tiras by the upper arm and pulled him up roughly. "You see, there is a strict set of rules that let me get to where I am today. The first one is the most important." Leir stated calmly, as though he came into Tiras' room and manhandled him every evening.

"Rule number one: you do not let discrepancies go." Leir hissed, yanking Tiras across the room and shoving him into a chair, where he slumped wearily, rubbing slowly at his arm. "Discrepancies like, why you had such an adverse reaction. To a pure drug."

Tiras blinked slowly, his brain still foggy and head throbbing slowly in time to his heartbeat. "I-"

Leir pounced on it. "You, what?" He leaned close.

"It's normal." Tiras finally managed after a moment, staring at Leir's face from too close.

"Normal?" Leir frowned. "Of course." The frown smoothed. "It would be, wouldn't it."

Tiras just stared, not comprehending.

"However, that doesn't excuse the fact." Leir's sharp gaze latched onto Tiras again. "The book doesn't mention such adverse side effects."

Tiras just blinked, not sure what he could say.

"Which led me to believe there's something different about you, Tiras." Leir frowned just a bit, but Tiras was a bit distracted as his less than sharp mind focused on the fact that Leir had just called him by name, something he hadn't done since Tiras had first gotten here.

"What is different about you, little seer?" Leir asked, almost cooed, cupping Tiras' face with one cool, leather-gloved hand. Tiras blinked, one hand raising slightly as though to cover Leir's hand, and Tiras honestly couldn't say what brought him to do what he did next, except for the fact that Leir had been wearing those gloves since the first day Tiras had met him.

Tiras copied Leir's move, letting his fingers rest against the slightly warm skin of Leir's cheek. He smiled a bit at the shocked expression on Leir's face before –

"Leir-" A whispered voice came from behind him.

"Not here." Leir snapped, brushing a hand from his shoulder, just in time as a young woman slipped around the corner, leaf green hair falling to her waist.

"Lady Azuria." Leir greeted cordially, inwardly scowling. He was getting too lenient with Cade, it seemed.

"Lord Leir." She greeted coolly, glancing behind him with a barely hidden sniff of disdain. "I would love to stay and chat a bit, but I've got an appointment in the gardens." She continued without pause. "Message me, I should like to catch up at some point."

"Of course, my Lady." Leir smiled charmingly. "I will attend to the matter myself."

Azuria smiled frostily. "Wonderful. I shall see you, then."

"Until later, my lovely lady." Leir caught a white-gloved hand and dropped a quick kiss on it, completely ignoring Cade sulking behind him.

"Until then." Azuria walked away gracefully, and Leir dutifully watched until she was around the corner before turning a frosty glare on Cade.

"You try me." He uttered the three words succinctly, before turning sharply on his heel and striding with measured steps across the tiled floor, Cade trailing behind him less surely.

"She didn't see anything." Cade muttered after a bit.

"She could have." Leir returned easily, turning a corner briskly, keying open his door easily from a hundred feet away.

"She didn't." Cade's argument was weak as he followed Leir into the sitting room that adjoined Leir's bedroom and workroom.

"You are not to touch me outside of the parameters I set." Leir turned coldly. "Or I shall consider this alliance void."

Cade frowned. "Fine." He sulked petulantly.

"I mean it, Cadeth." Leir warned. "I do not take this lightly."

"Nor do I." Cade returned, frowning. Leir easily resisted the temptation to roll his eyes at the fool, instead grabbed the front of Cade's robes and yanked him close for a deep kiss, his magic reaching out easily to re-seal the room –

Leir pulled away with a frown, automatically ripping his hand away from Tiras' face and backhanding the boy for his presumption. Tiras' head shot to one side and he curled a bit, away from Leir who scowled, truly angry. A knock at the door prevented him from doing any more damage however and he crossed to the door with the scowl still in place.

Greih raised an eyebrow when he saw the scowl – it wasn't often Leir looked that angry or menacing. He held out the vial of the medicine Leir had requested, and wasn't surprised when Leir snatched it. "Leave." Leir ordered, a flame of anger reinforcing his words. Greih wasn't suicidal, and did as he was bid, turning and meandering down the hall.

Leir jerked the lid off the vial of medicine, stalking back over to the chair, where Tiras was watching him warily. Leir grabbed the Seer's jaw in one hand, tightly enough to bruise and forced his mouth open, pouring in the entire vial without hesitation. He covered Tiras's mouth quickly with the other hand, dropping the vial without a second thought as Tiras attempted to push his hand away.

Leir just scowled and pushed Tiras flat in the chair, pinning his head to the back of the chair and actually kneeling on the boy's knees to keep him from squirming as he plugged Tiras' nose with his other hand. Tiras thrashed, and attempted to pull his arms away, but the Seer was much weakened and it didn't take long before he swallowed.

Leir stood, feeling calmer as he pulled free a handkerchief and carefully cleaned his gloves. Tiras lay limply in the chair, gasping for air after the little stunt. "Since you were obviously feeling better, I took the liberty of giving you some more of that delightful medicine."

"What?" Tiras shuddered. "No."

Leir smiled a bit, sardonically. "Don't worry, little Seer. It won't last more than a few days, and if you're good, I won't have to give you more."

"If I'm good." Tiras repeated hollowly, laughing a little. "Define, good."

Leir's smile slipped. "What did you see the last few visions?"

Tiras laughed again, though it was hollow sounding and bitter. "I'm sorry, but for some reason, oh, yes, the blinding, agonizing pain that you're telling me is going to happen again, I can't remember anything from them."

Leir laughed, amused. "Well, that's just a shame. We'll have to do those subject over again then."

Tiras smiled slowly, closing his eyes. "You could try." He murmured. Leir frowned. "Don't you think the name Valerin is a darling name for a baby boy?" He continued, relaxing back into the chair.

"Who?" Leir inquired, almost politely. Tiras cracked an eye open.

"Want to attend the baby shower?" Tiras asked, then laughed, dragging his legs up to rest in the seat next to him. Then, oddly enough, he started chanting. "Shaomi, Shaomi, Shaomi, Shaomi."

Leir frowned, grabbing Tiras by the chin again, but the boy was out – his eyes were fluttering like mad beneath the eyelids – he was having a vision. Leir's eyes widened. "Son of a bitch." He cursed, enraged. "How dare he." Without a second thought, he backhanded the Seer again, to no effect this time, except that Tiras slumped limply in the chair, knocked askew by the force of the blow.

Leir waited impatiently as Tiras saw out whatever it was that he was seeing. It was the sharp intake of air that alerted the end of the vision, and Leir wasted no time, snagging a fistful of hair and yanking Tiras' head upright.

"What did you see?" He hissed quietly, dangerously. Tiras blinked at him hazily, before convulsing once, his eyes rolling back up into his head, and he passed out, going limp in Leir's grasp. Leir cursed again, letting him fall back against the chair without caring for the awkward position that the boy landed in.

Leir scowled, then stalked from the room, resealing it after he left, and heading towards his room, sending a summons to Cade with a quick thought. He needed something to pound – or in this case, pound into – and Cade could make himself handy.

Shaomi stalked quietly through the forest. It was dark, but that was no obstacle, since he could easily see clearly with the light from the faint sliver of moon that filtered through the trees. It was ridiculously easy to walk into the territory claimed by the Catatchi mages. They seemed to be on the lookout for anyone with energy, not for mages, or for people without signatures. He didn't have to worry about the creatures either, since they weren't this far into the mage territory, and they kept all humans and mutants at bay too.

Really, the only obstacle was the mages themselves. There were a few lazily patrolling, but they were easily avoidable, since they made no attempts to be quiet and he could smell them, the only scents in the forest.

Shaomi was following the directions Caeli had given him. Caeli was currently Shaomi's favorite person in the world besides Tiras. He'd merely murmured something about being careful and not getting caught before quietly giving directions.

So Shaomi was being careful. He didn't want to get caught, because not only would it mean that he'd die, but he wouldn't get to see Tiras again, and Caeli would be rather guilty over enabling him to go. He'd left as soon as he was done helping Kyesa, not that Kyesa realized where he was going.

If Caeli was right, he'd be getting there rather soon – maybe ten minutes or more. Shaomi froze, his nose twitching, and he practically melted into a blissful pile right then and there on the forest floor. He knew that scent. Tiras.

Shaomi grinned, and felt as though half the muscles in his body unknotted at the little bit of smell that enticed him closer. The forest was luckily deserted – why patrol so close to their home base, after all? It didn't take him long to make his way through the trees and towards the large, sprawling structure.

It was a deep green color, the color of the evergreen trees that grew neatly around it. Shaomi felt a tickle of energy as he slipped through the unnaturally even line of trees, but paid it no heed, he was energy-invisible and had no magic so it shouldn't sense him.

Besides, the Tiras-smell was stronger here. The walls weren't high, or thick, and they didn't have thick windows, like Shaomi thought they would have, if they were a proper defensive keep. But it seemed that the building was built for beauty and not for defense. Which was good for him, as he slunk slowly across plush green grass towards an open window. Light flickered from within, but it was one of three rooms with an open window.

Tiras' scent just got stronger as he approached, and Shaomi decided it was just another effect of that mating thing Caeli had been going on about as he listened cautiously for a moment. There was only one person breathing in the room, so Shaomi decided that it was safe enough to risk a look.

At first glance, the room was empty, the bedsheets rumpled and half-dragged off the bed. But Shaomi kept looking, until he spotted a mop of familiar dark-green hair barely peeking over the arm of a large chair before the fire.

Shaomi wasted no time, levering himself up and over the windowsill, tumbling easily through the open window before practically dashing over to the chair Tiras was in. The fire was low enough that only dim light lit the room, but Shaomi honestly couldn't care less, hesitantly resting a hand on Tiras' knee. The mage was asleep, head pillowed on the chair's arm and legs draped awkwardly in front of him.

"Tiras." Shaomi whispered, jostling Tiras' leg a bit.

"Mmrgh." Tiras ground out sleepily, before his eyes shot open to focus on Shaomi. "Shaomi?" Tiras blinked. "Are you not here?"

Shaomi blinked back, his hand still resting on Tiras' clothed knee. "I'm here." Shaomi answered, not quite sure how to proceed. Oh, he knew how he wanted to proceed, but it would probably set off several of those touch-incited vision and Tiras' head might explode.

"How?" Tiras yawned, then gasped a bit, slumping backwards. Shaomi blinked, but didn't move to help Tiras, just waited patiently for Tiras to come back. His fingers moved of their own volition however, the fingertips just barely massaging Tiras' thigh through the cloth of his pant leg.

"Ow." Tiras muttered quietly. "You have to go."

Shaomi frowned. "What?"

"You have to go." Tiras repeated, glancing nervously at the door. "If they find you here they'll kill you. You have to come back tomorrow or something, but you can't be here tonight, and I have to be." Tiras answered, babbling a bit. "Go, go now, please, Shaomi?" Tiras pleaded, pulling his sleeve over his hand and cupping Shaomi's cheek. Shaomi sighed and nuzzled into that warm and wonderful smelling hand. "I don't want you hurt." Tiras murmured, bright-eyed, and Shaomi nodded, his hand giving Tiras' thigh a quick squeeze.

"But I just got here." Shaomi scowled half-heartedly.

"I know." Tiras murmured, trailing a clothed hand along Shaomi's jaw. "But it's too dangerous right now. If they catch you, they'll kill you."

Shaomi frowned, angry, but not at Tiras. Tiras smiled a bit. "Tomorrow." Tiras repeated, letting his sleeve-covered fingers brush across Shaomi's lips.

"I'll be back tomorrow." Shaomi whispered fiercely into the cloth-covered fingers, and wished he could kiss Tiras.

"I'll be waiting." Tiras smiled sadly, and Shaomi stood, slipping over to the window and out it before he could change his mind and jump on Tiras. But Tiras was okay, and he'd stay okay, at least for another night until they could get him out of there. Or Shaomi would personally raze the entire complex, mages or no mages. He loped off into the forest with only three glances back.

Caeli was awake before Kyesa and Connor were. He didn't move much from his little protected niche between the wall and Kyesa, just enough to grab a handful of twigs to work on while he waited for them to wake up. Kyesa stirred and mumbled something incoherently but slept on like the dead. Caeli was personally of the opinion that Kyesa's deep sleeping was what gave him all the energy that ran him through the day.

He had only managed another dozen when Connor sat up, rubbing groggily at his eyes. Connor didn't say anything, just shuffled himself up and grabbed his pack to fish out some food for them, which Caeli took without comment, his fingers stiff after the pressure he'd put on them yesterday.

It was another hour of quiet working before Kyesa woke up, his fingers first curling and uncurling in their grip of Caeli's pant leg, before he rolled groggily onto his back, barely missing the small pile of twigs that had still needed bespelling.

Kyesa smiled sleepily at Caeli, who smiled back a bit, quickly tying off his spell and setting the twig down on top of the large pile in the basket. "How much longer?" Kyesa asked quietly, watching curiously as Caeli leaned over him to snag another branch.

"I don't know." Caeli answered quietly, wary of waking any of the villagers, glancing quickly at Connor who blinked.

"Maybe a few hours." Connor answered. "You can start sorting out piles of them for the huts."

Kyesa nodded agreeably, sitting up and dropping a quick kiss on Caeli's cheek before shuffling out from beneath the bed. A moment later he was back, with a small pile of square linens, which he began to count out sticks from the basket onto. Caeli watched for a moment before snagging another twig from the pile, this one with a small pinecone and a few dozen needles on it.

Caeli had only finished three more of the little twigs when the soft tapping sounded on the door, followed by the door swinging open and shut quickly. A moment later Shaomi's head poked through the blanket between the bed and the wall, his bright amber eyes a stark contrast to the dim light of the small area.

Shaomi bared his teeth in a grin. "Hi."

Caeli smiled a bit back, if Shaomi was that happy after last night it meant Tiras was most likely fine. "Hello. Did you have a nice sleep?" Caeli asked, stripping clean another stick quickly.

"Yes." Shaomi smirked. "Are you all almost done?"

"Almost." Caeli answered distractedly, focusing on the stick for a few minutes. Shaomi nodded, flashing a grin at Kyesa, whose lips twitched up in reply, and a smirk for Connor, who didn't notice, working on his own twig.

"Oh, good." Shaomi purred.

"Should we schedule it for noon?" Kyesa asked, wrapping the second bundle of twigs he was sorting.

"Noon?" Connor frowned. "But will that give us time to get to Tiras?"

"No." Caeli murmured, rubbing his thumb over the twig he held. "But we should do noon anyway."

"What? Why?" Connor scowled. "I'm not jeopardizing Tiras' safety."

Caeli frowned, his fingers clenching on the stick in his hands. "There will be magical protections around Tiras. Leir won't let him go easily. A distraction would help."

Connor frowned. "No, we need to get to Tiras first. We can break any wards when we get there."

Caeli shook his head, relaxing a bit as Kyesa rested a hand on his leg. "Leir will notice, and he won't be the only one. There are mages all over the place, and they'll come running."

"If he gets hurt because of this, it'll be your head." Connor frowned and returned to the work before him. Kyesa smiled broadly at Caeli whose fingers were once again clenched on the stick as he slowly concentrated on finishing the transportation spell, his insides a mess.

"You're right." Kyesa murmured quietly, giving Caeli a glowing smile. "Don't worry so much."

Caeli sighed, looking forlorn for a moment before smiling a bit back at Kyesa. "I'll try." Kyesa smiled a bit more and returned to sorting the sticks.

"I'm going to go scout about." Shaomi announced, his fingers twitching as he glanced about the small room. Kyesa nodded when it became apparent that Caeli and Connor were absorbed in their sticks. "I'll be back before noon."

Tiras was trying very hard not to think of anything. But he couldn't sleep, because he didn't know when Caeli and Shaomi would be showing up, he only knew it was sometime today and he needed to be awake and alert for that. Which was why he was trying so hard to not think of anything, because if he focused on anything besides the fabric of the comforter on the bed he was going to have a vision, like the three he'd had already.

The pounding in his head did make a nice distraction though, it was harder to think of anything when it felt like his head was splitting in three. The fact that the morning's visions had been inane things without purpose hadn't really helped. Tiras sighed, attempting to relax.

The door didn't slam open, merely opened quietly, and Tiras blinked blearily. Leir looked much less rumpled this morning, it seemed a good night's sleep had done him well at least. Tiras decided that the uneasy feeling in his stomach had to do more with Leir's presence and less with the aftereffects of the drug.

Leir merely smiled, donning a pair of leather gloves before gracefully taking a seat nearby. "Good morning, Tiras." The mage greeted with a smirk as Tiras winced, the noise jarring. "You look well." Leir added, looking smug. Tiras didn't answer, focusing on fabric patterns. Rug patterns. Leaf patterns.

"Did you know, Tiras," Leir paused, his smirk deepening when Tiras jolted at the sound of his name again. "Did you know, that the drug I gave you has an antidote?" Tiras again didn't answer, he didn't really have an answer for that as he picked at the bedspread.

"It should even take away those nasty side effects you get." Leir continued smoothly. Tiras just blinked again, smothering a yawn. Leir pulled a vial much like the one he'd forced down Tiras' throat the previous evening and set it on the table beside him. Tiras stared dully at it for a moment –

- a brown-clad hip collided with the table, knocking the vial over. It rolled – clickity, clickity, clickity – until it reached the edge, where it hesitated for a moment before tumbling off and onto the thin rug. It smashed, the thin glass cracking and spilled the creamy pale liquid, where it soaked into the rug easily -

"I will give it to you, if you cooperate." Leir finished coldly, without missing a beat. Tiras allowed a faint smile to curve his lips.

"Cooperate?" He questioned, his voice raspy.

Leir smiled coldly. "Yes, cooperate. You will tell me every detail of every vision you've had since we last spoke. You will have the visions I want you to have and you will tell me what happens in them. And you will tell me why you have such adverse reactions to the visions, since it's not normal."

Tiras laughed, ignoring the ricochets of pain the action set off in his head. "And if I don't?" He asked with a hint of a smirk. "What then, Leir?"

Leir's gaze turned steely. "Then you have no use for me." Leir determined icily.

"A shame." Tiras murmured, relaxing against the wall.

"Yes, quite a shame." Leir studied him coldly, but Tiras couldn't bring himself to care, letting his eyes slip closed as the pounding in his head increased a notch. "You've seen something." Leir murmured, half to himself. "What did you see?" He demanded and Tiras' eyes flew open when a gloved hand yanked him upright by a tight grip on his hair and Tiras swore for a moment that he was going to shave his head as he squinted at Leir.

Leir scowled, a far cry from his usual composed demeanor. He released his grip on Tiras' hair and Tiras slumped back against the wall with a jarring thud as Leir paced away, muttering something to himself.

"… cannot allow these discrepancies." Leir flashed a hand out, procuring a stylus and a piece of paper from air and dashed off a quick note. The paper disappeared immediately, with a bit of sparkle and Tiras felt a trickle of unease as Leir turned to smile at him triumphantly, taking a seat in the chair again, and staring speculatively at Tiras.

Tiras just pushed away the feeling of foreboding, putting it down to an overactive imagination and reminding himself that he'd be free of this place soon, as soon as Kyesa and Connor had finished getting the villagers away.

It was a few moments later that the knock on the door jolted him awake again. There was something to be said for the uncertainty of the situation though – it managed to decrease the pounding in his head, though he felt more and more like he was going to be sick, as Leir smirked and called a quick, 'enter,' to the door.

Tiras watched with an edgy feeling of anticipation as the mage slipped into the room. He wouldn't have said he was much older than Connor, really, and he had to be the stockiest mage he'd ever seen, with broad, thick shoulders and a powerfully wide chest. Tiras wished Shaomi would hurry as Cade smirked, shutting the door behind him. He walked over to the table with a slight limp, and Tiras had to quench the urge to giggle hysterically as Cade set down a bag with a resounding, metallic clump.

Caeli sighed, setting down the last stick as Connor did the same on the other side of the last pile. Kyesa beamed and quickly wrapped the sides of the fabric together before adding it to the pile.

"Time to go." Kyesa smiled and picked up the last bundle from the floor. He was about to duck out from under the bed when the door flew open, hitting the wall behind it with a clatter. Kyesa froze, then quietly shuffled backwards and set down the bundle of sticks carefully. Caeli's eyes were wide and Connor was frozen.

"Here's your goddamn food, and you better enjoy it too." The voice seemed unnaturally loud in the quiet hut, and Caeli's eyes squeezed shut, even as one of his hands flew up to muffle the quick breaths he couldn't slow. "Eh, what's that now?"

Kyesa dropped sideways, letting his head rest on the floor so that he could see under the inch or so of space between the blanket and floor. A hand, surprisingly near and covered in scratches, scooped up a stick from the floor. "Someone's left, have they?" The voice asked, sounding rather gleeful. "Well, which one of you idiots was it?" The feet wandered away and Kyesa's eyes narrowed.

"Come on, out with it," the mage sounded less pleased. "Or I'll pick one at random. Not you, old man. I'm not an idiot." Thick silence reigned and Kyesa sat up, glancing at Connor, who pressed his lips tightly together before nodding to Kyesa. Kyesa quirked a quick smile, brushed a reassuring hand against Caeli's thigh before getting his bearings and slipping out from beneath the bed.

"I did." He announced boldly, brushing at his dusty shirt as the mage whirled. Kyesa smirked, ignoring his grandfather's glower and the cry of dismay from one of the girls in the far corner.

"You –" The mage looked rather shocked for a moment, the moment it took Kyesa to place him as the mage who had confronted Caeli and him as they'd left the village. Thom?

"Me." Kyesa added helpfully as the mage scowled.

"You're supposed to be dead." He muttered petulantly, and Kyesa laughed, amused.

"Well, that's rather convenient." Kyesa grinned, relaxing a bit. Caeli wouldn't let anything happen to him, so he was safe enough.

"How come I can't feel your energy?" Thom asked, scowling again, and Kyesa laughed again.

"It's blocked. Rather useful thing." Kyesa answered. "So, you know who has been leaving, whatcha going to do now?" Kyesa asked, smiling broadly.

Thom sighed. "I'm supposed to kill you." He said dramatically, brushing a loose, short braid out of his face.

"Supposed to?" Kyesa asked with a bit of surprise.

"Yeah." Thom scowled. "It's stupid."

"Really." Kyesa grinned. "So you're not going to try to kill me?"

Thom scowled. "If I don't, I'll get punished." He muttered petulantly, pouting, and Kyesa laughed.

"Well, it's not like I'll be upset and tell on you." He replied casually. "Here, catch."

"What?" Thom asked, automatically catching the stick Kyesa tossed at him.

"Do me a favor will you? That's a tough one, we couldn't get it to snap in half – " Kyesa smiled and Thom narrowed his eyes.

"You couldn't break the twig?" He asked, confused as he glanced down at the stick in his hand. "It's really dry though-" Thom snapped it in two. He had a split second to cast a horror-struck glance at Kyesa before he vanished with only a sprinkle of dust left in his wake.

"Well, they work." Kyesa pulled loose the blanket, exposing Caeli and Connor. Connor frowned.

"You just sent a mage back to the capital without warning them." Connor scowled.

"Yeah, but it should be okay. He'll probably just be overwhelmed and give up easily." Kyesa grinned, helping Caeli out. "It's almost noon, everyone grab a partner and a twig." Kyesa ordered, setting the bundle out and snagging his own stick.

"Connor, you're my partner." Kyesa announced. "Caeli, you have twigs? Where's Shaomi?"

"Wait a minute-" Connor scowled.

"You have to come with us. I need you to explain things to Rose and Jun and help get people settled. Caeli and Shaomi won't mess this up, they'll get Tiras back safe." Kyesa explained as Caeli carefully tucked two twigs into separate pockets.

"But he's my brother!" Connor scowled. "Take Caeli back with you, you can explain it fine without me!"

"You don't know the way." Caeli interjected quietly. Connor glowered. "You don't know the mages. You don't know where they'd keep him. You don't know –"

"I get it." Connor snapped. "Fine, go. Where the hell is Shaomi?" Connor demanded, not pleased when the redhead popped into the hut as though waiting for someone to mention him. "Go, now, and either bring Tiras back or don't bother coming back." Connor snapped.

"Don't talk like that." Kyesa said calmly, fixing Connor with a serious stare. "They will do their best and you have no right to say things like that, whether Tiras is your brother or not."

Connor frowned, not answering for a moment. "Fine. But from now on, you are to tell me of your plans further in advance. All of you. Go. We'll see you in a few hours." Connor dismissed them. Caeli didn't look at him, merely glanced nervously at Kyesa's grandfather before walking quickly over to where Kyesa stood and pulling him close for a quick, fervent kiss before darting after Shaomi, his cheeks on fire.

Kyesa smiled widely and turned to the group of gawking villagers. "Everyone set? Good. Now you don't have to worry about anything, 'cause even if your stick doesn't work right the first time, me and Connor'll be here to make sure everyone gets to the capital, okay?"

Connor frowned again, another detail Kyesa hadn't confirmed with him. "Okay, you have to be touching your partner, okay? And now, break your stick." Kyesa instructed, and a moment later the cabin was empty.

"Come on, we need to check the other cabins." Kyesa instructed, but Connor stopped him.

"They're all gone. I can feel it." Connor confirmed. "Let's go."

"Right." Kyesa beamed and grabbed Connor's shirtfront, offering him one end of the twig, and a moment later they were standing in the middle of a large group of confused and milling people, back in Aicatla.

Shaomi didn't slow as he left the forest, crossing the small patch of open, tree-free grass that stretched the area between the treeline and the complex. He could hear Caeli still behind him, but Tiras' window was still open and he didn't pause, barely aware of his surroundings as he crossed the space quietly.

He and Caeli had made their way through the forest as quickly as possible, attempting to avoid the mages where they could. There had been a few close calls though, because Shaomi kept getting distracted.

It had been about the same place where he'd picked up Tiras' scent last night that he started to catch hints of blood in the air, faint, but there. It got stronger the closer they got, and the closer they got the more distracted Shaomi became, hence the close calls.

The curtains rippled slowly with the slight breeze, but the inside of the room was suspiciously quiet as Shaomi approached the window. There were definitely three people inside, he could tell that much, and he vaguely thought that perhaps he should wait until they left, but the sense of anxiety and urgency was practically overwhelming and he put his hands on the windowsill and levered himself up, getting a good look in the room.

Tiras sagged, breathing heavily though it pained him every time his lungs expanded. He rather thought Leir must have broken a rib or five from the way his chest ached. The left side of his face had gone numb as well, which he thought was for the better, because the misplaced blow when Cade had accidentally let him slip had nearly knocked him out at the time.

Nearly, because of the spell Leir had cast on him had enforced that he was awake and at least partly aware of what was going on. Tiras coughed, miserable as his head throbbed. The metallic taste should have worried him, but he was a bit too hazy to care.

It took him a moment to realize that the next blow wasn't forthcoming, and he let his head fall back without caring that it was Cade supporting him, and keeping him from meeting the floor. Leir was staring at the windows, and Tiras felt a shiver of foreboding before something red and furious exploded nearby, knocking Cade away from him. Tiras landed painfully, letting out a gasping choke as his chest squeezed painfully.

He laid there for a bare moment, before the knowledge that Shaomi was here and fighting Cade, but not Leir, sunk in and he forced himself to sit up, his head spinning crazily and he coughed wetly again, turning in time to see Caeli slip in the window, looking pale but determined.

Shaomi hissed, pleased when the thick mage flinched. He was going to claw the mage's throat out, he decided, lunging again at the mage, who managed to duck out of the way in time, barely missing the wall, but knocking into a small table. Shaomi paid no heed, but stalked forward.

He knew his claws were out, and his teeth were at their full length, but he honestly couldn't bring it in himself to care as he advanced, the mage backing away with nervous glances backwards. Shaomi smirked, licking one of his fangs quickly before lunging again.

Cade was currently ruing the day that he'd decided joining up with Leir was a good idea, as he nervously watched the mutant with the murderous glint in it's eye. The thing lunged again, and it caught Cade's arm with it's claws, digging deep grooves into the skin through the fabric.

Cade couldn't help the pained cry – those claws were sharper than they looked, but he retaliated quickly, getting a solid blow to the thing's stomach. Which didn't stop it, and Cade found himself knocked flat on his back, his head knocking solidly against the wall. The thing smirked, looking particularly frightening as it smirked, it's fangs glinting dangerously.

Shaomi grinned at the dazed mage, shifting his weight forward to get better leverage as he got a grip on the mage's throat. Which seemed to bring the man out of his daze as he dug the tips of his claws in, and he thrashed suddenly, tossing Shaomi easily away and rubbing at his throat.

Cade lost his terror as the heat of anger rushed in and he scowled at the thing. He lunged back at the mutant, his only thought now to kill the thing and rid the world of it's presence.

Shaomi ducked easily out of the way, giving Cade a quick shot to his lower back. Cade stumbled but recovered admirably, turning back towards where Shaomi was, before stalking towards him. Shaomi didn't cower, merely circled away, looking for an opening. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of Caeli and Leir, and then Tiras, leaning against the wall and he scowled at Cade, moving forward easily.

Shaomi caught Cade with a quick blow to the chin, knocking the mage's head back. He followed up quickly with a blow to Cade's groin, which sent the man to his knees, his hands going to cup himself automatically. Shaomi grabbed hold of Cade's head and gave it a sharp, forceful turn. He smiled vindictively as he heard the sharp crack that was Cade's neck breaking and let go, leaving Cade to slump to the ground, lifeless.

Caeli followed Shaomi as quickly as he could, but the redhead was a good deal quicker as he levered himself up and into the window easily. Caeli steeled himself and followed, half-expecting but still more than a bit terrified as he slipped in the window after Shaomi to find Leir standing there, two feet from Tiras, who was looking rather worse for the wear as he coughed weakly.

Leir looked at him for a moment blankly before laughing. "Oh, this is just perfect." He announced sardonically. "Let me guess, you're here to rescue him?" Leir gestured easily to Tiras' limp form.

Caeli didn't answer, fighting down the panic that was attempting to overwhelm him. Leir had no magic, he reminded himself, Leir has no energy to do spells. Caeli glanced at Tiras and fingered the twig in his pocket. He could do this.

"Yes." Caeli murmured finally, meeting Leir's eyes. "I'm here to rescue him."

"Oh, well, how disappointing." Leir laughed again, stepping over to Tiras, who flinched away even as Leir dug a hand into his hair and yanked him upright. "Seeing as how I'd rather keep him." Leir laughed again, and Caeli stared. Leir was acting oddly. Caeli was used to cold calculation, not this half-mad version.

Caeli flinched as Leir turned cold eyes on him. "You should have stayed away, little fledgling." He laughed coldly again, and Caeli gasped soundlessly as sharp pain lanced into his head and he crumpled, cradling his head as the pain ripped through him again.

"How-?" Caeli gasped out, even as the lance of pain ripped through his head for the third time. The only time he remembered feeling pain this badly was when the magic block had fallen away as he and Kyesa had left the forest finally –

"Because I account for all possibilities." Leir answered coldly, finally sounding like he normally did, calm and in control. "I couldn't have you coming back for revenge, now could I?" Leir asked, laughing a bit. Caeli didn't answer as the white hot lance of pain returned for a fourth flash – it felt like his brains were being slowly filleted, layer by layer –

And then it stopped.

Caeli uncurled hesitantly and looked over to where Leir was scowling blackly at Tiras, who was flat on his back, gasping in wet, thick breaths that Caeli could hear from clear across the room. Caeli reached, pulling from Shaomi, whom Leir hadn't even seemed to have noticed and let out a massive blast of energy, directly at Leir.

Leir collapsed, barely falling free of Tiras, and Caeli forced himself to his feet. A sickening crack came from near the door and Caeli realized with wide eyes that Shaomi was glowing brightly with energy, even as Cade's lifeless body dropped to the ground and Shaomi turned, sharp fangs glinting. Caeli paid it no mind.

"We have to go." Caeli murmured hollowly, skirting Leir, who was still breathing, albeit shallowly. Shaomi darted over to Tiras as well, looking like he wanted to murder someone. Caeli paid it no mind, snagging hold of Tiras' arm and pulling out the stick with his free hand. Tiras was still breathing oddly, but there was nothing Caeli could do about that here and now, so he offered the stick to Shaomi, who laced his fingers with Tiras' and snapped it in two.

The first thing Caeli did was to let go of Tiras' arm and turn in the opposite direction, where he promptly threw up, his stomach churning and his head whirling at the disorientation of instant travel combined with the idea sinking in that he'd actually faced Leir and that Cade was dead.

Caeli heaved dryly, trembling ever so slightly. Kyesa was there before he finished, rubbing his back soothingly, and not complaining as Caeli turned and buried his face in his shirtfront, sobbing quietly. Kyesa just hugged him tight, pressing soft kisses to the top of his head.

Shaomi didn't like to admit it but he was worried, as he carefully cradled Tiras' head from cracking against the floor. Tiras was breathing labouredly and didn't seem to be awake any longer. There was a massive bruise across the entire left side of his face that Shaomi knew hadn't been there previously, and he wasn't sure if he could touch Tiras without setting off one of those touch-incited visions.

Someone kneeled on Tiras' other side, and Shaomi reacted instinctively, attempting to shield Tiras and hissing defensively. Shaomi almost smirked as Connor reeled backwards, obviously shocked, but the expression died as Tiras started to cough again, his eyes fluttering open, and Shaomi helped him sit up as he started to gasp for air.

A few moments later he subsided, though his breathing wasn't anywhere near normal. He smiled painfully at Shaomi. "Can I have a painkiller?" He asked with a choked laughed and Shaomi smiled back, realizing as his lips smoothed that his fangs were still showing.

Shaomi darted a quick glance at Connor, who was seemed torn between staring at him and Tiras, trying to determine what needed his attention more. Shaomi lifted a challenging eyebrow, letting his features slide back to normal. He still supported Tiras, being careful not to touch skin anywhere with the mage.

"Do you have a healer coming?" Shaomi asked, rubbing Tiras' back slightly.

"Yes." Connor frowned at Shaomi's hands.

"Good." Shaomi smirked again, until Tiras started coughing again, long wracking coughs that shook his entire frame. Shaomi frowned worriedly as his nose caught the sharp tang of fresh blood. Tiras paused, and glanced at his hands, stained bright red.

"Oh." Tiras murmured. "That's not good." Connor turned, half standing as though he was about to dash off when the doors to the large room burst open and a greying man with a white tunic and a thick bag rushed in, spotted them and hurried over, even as Tiras collapsed against Shaomi's chest.

"Tiras?" Shaomi murmured, shaking Tiras by the shoulder gently. Tiras moaned weakly, letting out a harsh cough as the healer dropped to his knees next to them.

"What happened?" The healer questioned composedly, peeling Tiras away from Shaomi. Shaomi would've protested, but the healer would fix Tiras.

"Leir had a metal half-gauntlet – covered half his hand." Tiras rasped, blinking a few times. "I think he broke my chest." Shaomi scowled, hoping the one he'd gotten was Leir. "There's a drug too." Tiras coughed, bringing up a fresh splatter of blood. "It makes me suces-susceptible to the visions." Tiras managed. "Should wear off in a few days."

"I need him in the infirmary." The healer informed Connor, with a frown as he fished out a clean length of linen from his bag. "He's bleeding from somewhere and I need my equipment." Tiras looked alarmed, swaying where he sat, though he did accept the linen carefully, wiping at the bloodstains on his hands.

"Alright." Connor frowned, narrowing his eyes as he took hold of Tiras' arm, and the healer's. Shaomi frowned and obstinately hooked his arm through Tiras' free one. Connor scowled but finished the spell. Shaomi moved to catch Tiras as he almost collapsed from the sudden disorientation, then helped him to a nearby cot, stealing pillows to prop Tiras up – the coughing was worse when he was laying down.

Tiras smiled faintly and relaxed, taking hold of Shaomi's forearm and not letting go. Shaomi smirked, even as the healer turned to them. "I'm sorry, sir, but you're going to have to leave for this part. You can visit later."

Shaomi scowled at the man and opened his mouth to say something, but Tiras squeezed his arm. "I'll be here later." Tiras smiled faintly, with only the right side of his mouth. Shaomi frowned, but nodded, freeing his arm slowly and covering his fingers with his sleeve. He brushed his hand against Tiras' whole cheek.

"I'll be back." He promised, and walked away before he couldn't convince himself to leave, Tiras' faint smile following him from the room.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Shaomi turned at the enraged voice to find Connor glowering at him darkly.

"What do you mean?" Shaomi asked politely, smiling wickedly.

"With Tiras." Connor ground out, stalking forward.

Shaomi merely smirked. "Taking care of him." He stated like it was obvious. "He was hurt, you know."

Connor scowled, his eyes narrowing. "I know!" Connor snapped, looking irate.

"Tiras…" Shaomi trailed off, glancing behind Connor to the infirmary door. "Tiras is special." Shaomi continued, meeting Connor's gaze squarely. "I'm making sure he's okay." Shaomi explained simply.

Connor frowned, his expression just a bit less severe. "How can I make sure he's safe from you?" Connor demanded.

Shaomi scowled. "It's not your concern."

"Tiras is my brother." Connor asserted, forcefully. "I'm not going to let him be given into the hands of a monster."

"A monster." Shaomi hissed. "Is that what you think I am?"

"What else do you call it?" Connor snapped, crossing his arms and scowling again.

"I'm a mutant." Shaomi answered with a scowl. "Latent magical energies or some such shit made my father, and he just passed it down. Deal with it." Shaomi bared his teeth, threateningly.

"And how do I know you won't go berserk one day and kill Tiras?" Connor demanded.

Shaomi hissed dangerously. "Tiras is my mate. I would never hurt him." Shaomi narrowed his eyes, tracing a tongue over a pointed tooth as he attempted to calm down. Tiras wouldn't be pleased if Shaomi killed his brother.

Connor didn't say anything for a moment. "If it makes Tiras happy." Connor stated as though he hadn't been trying to taunt Shaomi into hurting him. "I'll go along with it. But if you hurt him, I will personally flay you inch by inch." Connor threatened.

Shaomi smirked. "If I hurt Tiras, he'd do it himself." Shaomi commented mildly, relaxing. Connor didn't answer, merely turned and stalked off down the hallway.

Shaomi settled onto the floor opposite the door, content to wait.

Tiras woke groggy. The headache was completely gone this time though, and his chest only ached dully. Shaomi was sleeping in the chair next to the infirmary cot, the same place he'd been the last few times Tiras had woken up. Well, except for the last time, but that was likely because of Connor.

Connor, who had attempted to dissuade him from picking Shaomi as a partner. Tiras smiled, it was rather apparent that Connor wasn't thrilled with Shaomi as a person, let along the person his brother was dating. But in the end he'd thrown up his hands, exasperated, and muttered something along the lines of 'whatever makes you happy.' Tiras smiled, sitting up slowly and only getting a dull twinge for the effort.

It didn't take much to reach out to test it – only a few feet to where Shaomi's head rested on the back of the chair. Tiras brushed his fingers against soft skin slowly, waiting for any sort of vision, and couldn't help the elated smile when he got nothing. Shaomi's eyelids fluttered and sleepy amber eyes blinked at him. Tiras didn't move his hand.

Shaomi blinked and reached up, snagging Tiras' fingers. When nothing happened, Shaomi's lips curled into a wicked grin and Tiras promptly got a lap full of redhead. Tiras smiled back, amused, but Shaomi only gave him a minute before ducking down – his perch on Tiras' lap made him a few inches too tall – and kissing Tiras soundly, pushing him back down to the pillows.

Tiras promptly forgot his amusement, draping his arms loosely over Shaomi's shoulders and kissing back with as much fervor as Shaomi. Shaomi slanted his head a bit more, deepening the kiss even as Tiras pushed him back, breathless.

"Lung injury, short of breath." Tiras smiled, breathing heavily, even as Shaomi shifted off his lap and helped him sit up again.

"Sorry." Shaomi answered, not the least bit repentant. Tiras laughed a bit.

"Stay?" Tiras asked, though he knew the answer already. Shaomi smirked.

"As though you could make me go anywhere else." Shaomi answered, and Tiras smiled.

"Oh, good." Tiras murmured vaguely, easily letting Shaomi wrap his arms around his waist. "Sleep?"

"Yeah." Shaomi smiled and curled up close, both of them sharing one pillow. Tiras smiled again, letting his eyes slip closed as he curled into Shaomi as well.

Anyway, the end, and I do hope you enjoyed it. There are some unanswered questions I know, but nothing too serious. NaNoWriMo's up next, joy. (And that's so much less sarcastic in my head.)