I was walking, pushing, struggling forward on my own. I saw everything: my path ahead, road behind, and the mass of land to the left and right where I could never tread. I was weighed down by chains and blood was gushing from the lashes in my back. At any time I could have stopped, thrown off the devices that held me down, and tended to my wounds, but that would be going against everything I believed in -- Everything I was born for. My purpose on the planet was to redeem.

Moving forward with my strongest smile despite my body's limits, I told myself I wouldn't stop. To give in to my chains would be to fail, and that was the last thing in the world I wanted. Had to succeed, had to prevail, and couldn't give in. It was all up to me -- I was the only one who could save them.

The world around me slowed when I saw them ahead. Kaiden and Ajani were both there standing together, strong and brave, looking forward. Their gaze never faltered from whatever they had their eyes on. I couldn't see it.

I walked to their side, then to their front. They seemed to look straight through me at whatever they saw in the distance. I was relieved. It was better that they didn't know I was there. All my lashes, all my chains -- I had to bear them on my own. Their wrists were bound by the same metal that clung to me, though they didn't seem to notice. The edges were sharp and cutting through their skin. In was hard to look at.

Taking their wrists, I gently removed their bindings, and wrapped them around my own arm. I felt them clench through my flesh and blood dripped freely, but it was another burden I was more than willing to bear. I thought I had already taken all their chains when I was a child, but apparently they'd acquired more since I'd been gone. I felt myself wishing I could stay with them to protect them from the things that wanted them brought down, yet I knew I couldn't. Inevitably, I would fail them, too.

Never looking back at my friends I moved forward through the haze. It was strange how I could no longer see the path ahead. I had to question if I was about to die – which wouldn't be a bad thing if all these chains went down with me. If I had fulfilled my purpose in protecting, redeeming, and setting a new path for my beloved companions, I was more than willing to let myself take all their burdens with me into the next realm. I was ready.

I dropped to my knee. My vision was going blurry and I could no longer see the two feet beneath me. Inwardly I laughed at myself. I knew it was a pitiful way for me to end, but I was excited that all my goals had been accomplished. I prayed I hadn't failed in some way. My eyes drifted close as I waited for death to take me.

A slap to the face quickly brought my senses back. I looked up wildly, afraid, trying to determine what had delivered the blow.

His face was shrouded in the surrounding haze, but I clearly saw his arms as they made move to wrap themselves around me. But I didn't want the comfort and I didn't need it. I was strong enough not to need it. That's what I told myself, but I found I could not fight this man.

I was alarmed when he started to remove my chains. No. I couldn't allow this man to remove my work and take away my victory. I tried to stop him, but then I saw his face inches away from mine. Shocked into silence, I watched with awe as he continued to take away all of my burdens. Minutes passed before he returned his attention back to my face. In the back of my mind I wondered if he'd taken all of the chains, for I thought there were many more. Yet I felt weightless.

It was then that I realized my wounds had healed. No, that wasn't exactly right. I was just seeing things as they were supposed to be now.

He looked at me as though I were an idiot before his expression became warm and beautiful. I wondered if that was how I looked when I smiled. I was, after all, in his perfect likeness. He kissed my forehead.

Shakily, I wrapped an arm around him. I could hardly believe that I had been wrong.

I suddenly felt stupid. I should have known.

Levi awoke with a start, shooting straight up and panting lightly. He raised a shaky hand to his forehead to find that he was sweating. A million thoughts were running through his head and they all seemed to end at the same place.

He looked to his side and there found his dear friends, Kaiden and Ajani, wrapped together under their blanket to protect them from the cold of night. After all this time, they were still safe and… so was he. He wouldn't have to die. He'd told himself he would be happy to die if he was meant to, but despite that, he felt tears welling in his eyes. He didn't have to die.

He lay back down and turned his head, allowing his pillow to muffle his quiet sobs. He wouldn't have to die.

02/07/06 4:13:26 AM