Yker sat in their room, huddled on the windowsill, leaning his head against the cold, smooth glass and hoping that the throbbing pain that settled itself into his skull for the last few hours would finally disappear.

After Tora had finished braiding his hair, and most of the patrons left the inn, the five women all gathered in the kitchen, talking about the happenings of the day, and preparing for the dinner rush. He thought that maybe that's when he started feeling ill again, though he wasn't sure. But they were so loud… He hated himself so much, because it felt wonderful to be amongst so many people, and just listen to them chat about anything that was on their minds without being afraid that someone would hurt him. But he just simply couldn't take it, no matter how much he wanted to be a part of it. It was like sitting in the middle of a cloud of flies that kept buzzing around him and buzzing and buzzing and buzzing till all he wanted to do was cover his ears with his hands and curl up in a corner to cry…

He got so restless, that Toby – who he was still holding – woke up and didn't stop wailing till his mother took him into her own arms. That just made him feel even worse, because what if the baby would never be calm with him again? Or Tora wouldn't let him hold the child because he made the little boy upset? That would have ended his calm and relaxed state of mind even without the headache.

On top of it all, he started to notice that Illa was behaving strangely. She kept glancing his way, and smiling, but there was something in the way she smiled that made Yker uneasy; like she wanted something, but the boy had no idea what. And she was always around him as the women all worked to get the food ready for the evening, somehow always managing to walk by where he stood or sat, brushing up against him, touching him every chance she got. The lad didn't know how to translate her actions, but it wasn't doing any good for the stabbing pain in his head. It made him confused and unsteady, and that was the last thing he needed.

In the end, he got physically sick of the sensations assaulting him from every angle, and to his shame, he had to run out the back door and empty the remains of his lunch from his stomach… If possible, it became even worse afterwards, because everybody tried to ask him what was wrong and they were towering over him, and touching him and talking all at once… Arae was the one who finally put a stop to the torture and ordered her girls to step back and give him some space to breathe, but by then, he was already on the verge of tears, and he would have started screaming if he would have been able to.

The innkeeper washed his face with a cold, wet towel, and took him back to their room, the worried expression on her face just making Yker feel even more awful for being so… odd.

She told him to rest, and that she would send some light dinner up with Phargo after the man arrives, so he wouldn't have to come down to the common room. The lad mustered up a wan smile in thanks, and dropped down to the rug in front of the fireplace, pulling himself into a tight ball.

The pain subsided after a while in the quiet of the room, but didn't go away; an insistent throbbing remained, making him fear the next occasion he would be forced to step out the door.

It was the first time he was left alone all day, and immediately, a mingle of thoughts flooded his mind, the most important of them; the grey.

It wasn't unusual for the dog to take to his own roads for hours, like when they were traveling the forest and they rarely saw him all day long, but then he always felt his presence nearby… and now Yker started to worry.

He collected all his remaining strength, and climbed up to the windowsill, hoping to spot the familiar four legged creature in the mass of people and animals roaming the streets, but so far, he had no such luck.

What if he can't find his way? There are so many things out there, there's no way he could follow our scent… And what if… what if he won't even recognize me? I don't look like myself, I don't even smell like myself anymore…

He held up his hand to sniff at his skin; and sure enough, all he could identify was the fragrance of the soap and the various smells of the kitchen. The realization made the pit of his stomach fill with dread. The grey was the only one who ever cared for him without wanting anything in return; he was his friend, and the thought of losing him made Goosebumps raise on his arms.

Though… I have Phargo now too.

As impossible as that seemed to him, after knowing the man for not more than a few, short days, he already trusted him. It couldn't really be explained. He felt that they had a bond, almost like the one he shared with the dog, though not that strong yet. It was some kind of an instinctive confidence, a feeling that he could count on him…

But that just made him aware of the fact, that he hasn't returned either. It was slowly getting dark outside, even from up here, he could hear that the inn was filled with customers again, which meant that it was already dinner time. But still, no sign of the man.

He thought of the two men who were after his companion, the tall one with the scar and the short, blond one who had the smile of a snake on his face. What if they found him? If they finally succeeded, and killed Phargo?

What would he do then?

Arae and her people seemed nice for now, but he remembered all too well that Malika was civil too with him back when Mikosh was still alive. She only showed her true colors after his uncle died and there was no one to protect Yker.

The innkeeper was doing a favor to a friend with looking after him… So, if there was no Phargo and no grey left to defend him, would she change the same way?

He felt a cold shiver run down his spine, and his previous nausea returned with full force at the grim prospect.

Why would it be any different here than back home?

***

Phargo muttered a string of curses as he juggled the tray full of food in his hands up the steps to the second floor. This day haven't gone well at all.

Maybe the only good news was that the secret tunnel was indeed usable, and the exit that was in the little, secluded alley was hid masterfully. At least he didn't have to worry about someone climbing through it into their room at night.

But, as with probably every neglected escape route, it was as dirty as one can imagine; by the time he saw the light of day again, he looked like a tramp who just crawled out from under a rock. Which was kind of true, but it didn't make shopping for supplies any easier, even though he had the money. There was a certain way people looked at someone who was covered in grime that had been collecting for years…

And he couldn't find the most important item on his list of necessities either; it was almost ridiculous that there wasn't a presentable weapon-smith in the whole city. Well, some might have thought that buying a sword shouldn't be at the top of his priorities, especially since he still had his trusty dagger and he was more than capable of defending himself with that, but he just felt naked without a well made blade hanging at his side. Of course, there were weapon-smiths in almost every street, but when it came to a sword, you just couldn't give up quality.

He managed to buy some other things, though; a warm blanket, since he would have to camp out in the mountains if he wanted to avoid the more traveled roads and that wasn't a child's play even in the summer, a tinder box, a warm coat, a thick pair of boots… Actually, almost everything he needed. The only other thing left was the horse. He intended to spend his whole day tomorrow searching for the best bargain, because his founds were almost gone, but he didn't want another pathetic nag that would fall out from under him halfway.

All in all, it was an exhausting day, not like marching in the forest, but tiring nonetheless. And on top of it all, he saw some familiar faces in Pathis. Not Gunnar or Luther, thankfully, but he still had nothing to cheer for. It was a guy called Gaddy, who used to be a shady informer back in Terreniel working for the Amarnons, but it seemed he changed residence since the last time they met. He was a sneaky little bastard, and he wasn't sure the scumbag didn't recognize him too…

And what do I have to come back to after all that?

A worried and fretting Arae reporting to him that Yker seemed to fall down with some kind of an illness, that's what. The brat couldn't have chosen a worse time to get sick even if he tried.

He reached the door finally, and opened the latch with his elbow, almost tripping over everything he was carrying in the process. He walked in, and quietly set the tray on the desk before looking around, expecting the boy to be asleep.

What he saw made him even more worried; the kid was sitting on the windowsill, not even noticing that the man came in, his eyes were closed, and he was hugging himself, curled up in a little ball. If that wasn't alarming enough, the lad was banging his head against the glass; not too rapidly, or with enough force to really hurt himself, but every time his skull hit the window, he clicked his tongue, like he was making sure that his head was still on his shoulders.

What the hell…?

Phargo quickly closed the door, and locked it for good measure, then began walking up to him. Yker always seemed so cautious, and skittish and just generally aware of his surroundings, that the fact that he was standing right beside him, and he got no reaction at all was in itself making him think that something was very, very wrong.

He took a deep breath and reached out, shaking the boy by his boney shoulder. The lad opened his eyes slowly, and turned his head, looking up at him with confused eyes. He blinked a few times, his gaze finally clearing from the daze he seemed to be in, and the next second, he practically jumped on him, latching his arms around Phargo's chest, and burying his face into his dirty shirt, taking him completely off guard.

"Hey, now… What… what's gotten into you?"

The man had to admit, that he was completely out of his element. His whole work depended on not trusting people and staying as objective as he could… but having a teenager cling to him for… comfort? That didn't happen too often.

"Uh… Okay, it's okay…" He murmured, digging through his mind for childhood memories to find a solution to the situation, and in the end deciding to just go with what felt natural. He hugged the boy back, a bit awkwardly, but pushed him away shortly, just after a few seconds. He took hold of the lad's shoulders and kept him at arm's length to have a better look at him.

Yker seemed pale, or more like grey under his tan complexion, with dark circles under his hazelnut colored eyes, like he was honestly ill, which made something in the pit of Phargo's stomach shift uncomfortably. He didn't look this bad even under the 'care' of that monster of a woman back in the Two Mugs.

"Did someone hurt you?" He couldn't help it; that was the first thing that came to his mind. Occupational hazard. The boy quickly shook his head, and averted his eyes. He raised a hand to his temple, and hit his palm against it a few times in explanation.

"Your head? Your head is hurting?" He didn't really need an answer, but he asked anyway. The lad nodded and rubbed his forehead squeezing his eyes shut, but still not meeting his gaze.

Phargo huffed exasperatedly, there was clearly something else too, but if the little shit didn't want to share, then he won't be playing hundred questions with him.

"Well, then we will have our dinner and have an early night, you look like you need a good night's rest." He said, motioning for the table with the tray. Yker obediently sat down, but the usual energy was missing from his movements, making the man frown.

He lit the oil lamp on the wall, since it has slowly gotten dark, and pulled the curtains closed; making sure no one had a view of the room from the outside before sitting down himself.

"You have chicken soup; mama's famous recipe." He offered, pushing the bowl to the boy, and starting to dig into his stuffed meatloaf, which was filled with boiled eggs and bacon – just the smell enough to make his stomach rumble – but he stopped himself, noticing with a roll of his eyes that the kid didn't follow his example.

"Come on! It's good, I swear! I can't remember how many times Arae made that for me when I got sick." He coaxed, and that seemed to spark some interest in Yker, since he suspiciously sniffed at the meal, and then hesitantly took a spoonful, his eyes widening as the flavors exploded on his tongue.

"See? I was right, wasn't I? Anyway… Just how old are you to be so picky with your food, even though you are as thin as a skeleton?"

The boy scooped some more soup into his mouth before putting his spoon down and raising both of his hands at first showing ten fingers, then six.

If that was true, the kid has a hell of a growth-spurt to look forward to… Hopefully.

"Sixteen? Seriously?" He got an earnest nod before the lad got back to eating – in an almost alarming pace.

"Hey, now! Kiddo, slow down a bit or you'll be sick again…" He actually had to smile a little as he shook his head in disbelief. It all just felt so strange; he never imagined that he would be sitting like this with someone, and actually… trying to take care of them.

They finished eating fairly quickly, both of them leaning back contently before Phargo rouse to his feet with a groan.

"I will get the dishes back, and have a bath. I smell like a dead sailor. You should get ready to bed soon too." He said, but just as he unlocked the door, Yker grabbed the back of his shirt.

"What?"

The boy pointed at the man, then to his own eyes before he made some gestures in the air, like he had something in front of his face… a muzzle?

"That beast? You want to know if I saw him?"

The brat nodded his head in earnest, hope written all over him. The man sighed. He was kind of afraid that this would come up. He wanted him to forget about that animal, since he wasn't sure Arae would take something like that monster too keenly, but naturally he had no such luck.

"No, I haven't. The city gates are closed after sunset, so I guess he won't be getting here today if he hasn't arrived yet. I'm sure he can take care of himself, though. The Light knows, he's big enough…" He said, trailing off, but after seeing the crestfallen face, he somehow just couldn't walk out. "Well, who knows? There's always tomorrow." He finished, patting the lad's shoulder, and closing the door behind himself.

***

Yker was looking at the door, long after the man left. He still felt a bit nauseous, but much better than he had an hour ago, even against the bad news. It's not like he didn't know that the grey could take care of himself… He just wanted him to be here.

He missed the shaggy grey fur that felt so warm and comforting when he buried his face in it, and the intelligent, calm, brown eyes that somehow understood him without words…

But Phargo was right; the dog might be closed out for the night, but tomorrow maybe he will find his way… Or he could go out and search for him! The thought made him smile. If he could convince the man to go with him, it would be even better, though he had no idea how to do it.

He wondered briefly what his companion meant by 'getting ready to bed'… He knew that Malika always changed into a nightgown before going to sleep – well, at least when she wasn't too drunk to do so – but he didn't had any other clothing. Maybe he didn't want him to ruin his shirt by sleeping in it?

Yker shrugged, and after getting out of the garment, he took the extra comforter Arae had prepared for them from the bed, laying it out on the floor in the corner. The floorboards weren't too cold; certainly warmer than the stone in his aunt's kitchen, but the added luxury of that extra layer between himself and the ground felt heavenly as he curled up on top of it. He tried to fall asleep, but as he turned a bit, his braid got stuck under his shoulder; pulling on his scalp and making him wince.

He really appreciated the way this hairdo kept his locks from getting into his eyes or ending up in a tangled mess, but he decided to get rid of it anyway, maybe he would ask Tora to do it again tomorrow…

He got comfortable once more, but despite his tiredness, his thoughts were still too jumbled to let him rest, so he ended up staring at the ceiling, and thinking about what the grey must be doing. Does he have anything to eat? Did he found a nice place for the night?

He could almost see the clear sky with the filling moon and his friend spread out under a tree somewhere snoring softly, when the door opened again.

Yker had to smile as Phargo yawned, his face pulled into a funny grimace. He looked a lot cleaner than before, and he must have gotten a razor somewhere, because now there was a definite shape to his to his beard, it looked… neat.

The man stopped and raised an eyebrow at him, which the boy didn't know how to take, since as far as he knew, he did everything as he was told.

"Are you seriously planning on sleeping there?" Came the exasperated question, making him frown. He nodded his head, confused… Where else should he be sleeping? Did Phargo expect him to go down to the kitchen?

The man sat down on the bed, taking his boots off, then flipped back the covers.

"Come 'ere." He ordered, stifling another gape, and rubbing his jaw. The boy obeyed quickly, walking up to him a bit nervously.

"What are you standing on ceremony for? Climb in; I don't like to sleep by the wall."

Yker felt his eyes widen, and instinctively took a step back.

"What?" The man asked, his eyes narrowed. "Are you scared? I don't plan on doing anything to you. Or do you actually prefer the floor?"

The lad had no idea what Phargo could do to him, but honestly? He didn't have an answer to the other question either. He started to shake his head, but then halfway, he ended up nodding, not knowing what was expected of him, and so he bit into his lip, waiting for a reaction.

His companion gave him a long, searching look, and then sighed.

"Let me guess… You have never slept in a bed, right?"

Yker looked away, embarrassed, though he didn't exactly know why.

"Oh for the Light's sake! If I didn't know where you came from, I would think you were raised by that beast in the forest…" He groaned, grabbing the boy's hand and pulling him onto the bed.

"Don't worry, it won't bite. You are supposed to be sick, and Arae would kick me in the ass if she found out that I let you sleep on the ground."

He didn't dare to move, watching anxiously as the man put the lamp out. It was dark, but he got used to the lack of light quickly. Phargo joined him, the man's eyes searching his in the almost totally blackness.

"Are you feeling better?" He asked quietly, and Yker was surprised to realize that the answer was yes. He was a bit taken aback by that; ever since he was little, the grey was only one who's presence could make the pain go away whenever he had to be too close to too many people, but it seemed that now his companion had the same effect too.

He nodded his head, rubbing his face against the pillow, the softness feeling unfamiliar against his skin.

The man looked at him with a strange glint in his intent gaze, then turned around abruptly with a huff. The boy frowned at the wide back in front of him, not understanding the reaction, but thought that he must be inconvenienced by having to share with him, so it wasn't all that surprising.

The mattress under him felt like he was lying on a cloud, making his troubles seem like they weren't that pressing, like they were far, far away…

Yker leaned his forehead against Phargo's shoulder blade and fell asleep within minutes…

The next time he opened his eyes, it was already morning; bright sunlight filtered through the heavy curtains, but as much as he wanted to get up, he didn't dare to move. Sometime during the night, they ended up spooned together; Yker facing the wall, his legs pulled up close to his chest, and Phargo curled around him, his chin resting on the top of his head, and one of his arms wrapped across the boy's stomach.

At first, the lad panicked, feeling trapped so close to someone, and he waited for the familiar throbbing to start behind his eyelids as it usually did when he was forced to be so closed to another human being. But it didn't. After he finally managed to calm his quickened breathing and concentrate on what he was actually feeling, he realized that he was… comfortable. And warm. And somehow, strangely… safe.

He was sure that it would be over if he dared to even shift his pinky, so he stayed dead-still, enjoying the situation as long as he could, and a bit afraid, that the man would be angry when he woke up, but his wondering was cut short by the body stirring behind him, and the next second, he was alone again, like that feeling of being safe has never really been there at all.

Phargo stretched his muscles with a groan, his eyes still blurry from sleep.

"Good morning!" He mumbled, and Yker clicked his tongue back at him in greeting as he sat up.

"So, how was your first night in a b-"

The question was abruptly stopped by a strange sound that seemed to come from nowhere in particular, some kind of a banging…

"Oh, to the Light!" The man shouted, jumping to his feet, and peering out the window from the cover of the curtain.

"Gaddy, you little…" He growled, whipping around, with narrowed eyes, his mouth set in a thin line.

"What are you waiting for? Get dressed, that was the alarm, you idiot!" Phargo hissed, already packing his bag.

Yker quickly pulled his shirt on, his stomach knit in a tight ball of worry and nerves.

The man stepped to the fireplace, and opened the door without trouble, climbing through the narrow entrance with a long string of curses. The boy followed, fitting much easily to the tight passage.

"Climb up a bit so I can close the door, or Arae will get into deep trouble." Came the command, so he did as he was told. A second later the dim light coming from the opening vanished, but thankfully, Yker had no problems in the dark. As soon as he saw Phargo moving, he started downwards too. The metal bars felt cold under his sweating palms, and his naked feet, reminding him that he left the pair of boots he got form the innkeeper under the bed. Not like he minded it, they made him feel stupid, like he couldn't walk…

The trip down the tunnel seemed almost endless, he was sure that the man was listening to any sounds through the walls, just like him, but they were too thick, leaving them in silence and doubt.

Suddenly Phargo stopped beneath him, swearing loudly when the boy accidentally stepped on his hand, and soon there was another square of dim light beside them.

"This is the kitchen cabinet; we will go out here, and through the back door. Come on, brat! We don't have all day, move it!" He growled, taking Yker so off guard that he obeyed without thinking.

As soon as he was in the cupboard, he heard the sound of the mechanism shifting behind him, and by the time he turned around, there was nothing there, just smooth, unforgiving stone, leaving him alone…


Hi guys,

I hope you like the new chappy! Please leave a review!

Betaed by the wonderful Maya! 3