Author's Note: Thanks for the suggestion about the previous chapter, JW, you make an excellent point. I made a note to change it when I go back for editing.
As always, I'm open for any opinions and suggestions anyone would like to offer. Thanks and enjoy!
Izeri woke screaming, for a minute caught between nightmare and wakefulness, trapped in the blackness of Dark's dungeon, fighting against the werewolf. Kicking, scratching, arms flailing, he screamed again, trying to get away from the chains that bound him, from the hands that grabbed him. His elbow struck something that jerked away with a pained curse.
"Damn it, Izeri, wake up!"
Izeri froze, heart thundering in his ears. He blinked, squinting as Charias' bedside light came on, revealing the room that he and Charias shared. Tangled in the blankets, Izeri sat up, pushing sweat-damp strands of hair back from his face. It had been so real. Dark had him, holding him down, putting him in chains, getting ready to rape him. He glanced over at Charias, the shark sitting on the edge of the bed, the broad expanse of his back to Izeri.
"Charias? Are you okay? Did I hurt you?" He reached out, putting a hand on Charias' shoulder, and was surprised to realize that he was still wearing his sweatshirt. Charias had taken his jeans off, but apparently didn't want to wake him or risk hurting his arm by removing the shirt.
"I'm fine," Charias said, reaching up and patting his hand. "What about you? Are you okay?"
"I guess," Izeri said, wishing Charias would look at him. "I was dreaming about Dark."
"I thought so. Can I turn the light back off?"
"Yeah, okay," Izeri said, his stomach twisting up into knots as the blackness swallowed them again. He felt Charias turn, sliding his legs back into bed, and let the big human draw him close, wrapping him in warm, safe arms.
"Dark isn't going to hurt anyone else, ever," Charias whispered. "If Fehkir doesn't find him, he'll die in the forest, a feast for the crows and wolves and those giant spiders."
"What if he doesn't?" Izeri asked. "What if I didn't hurt him as badly as I thought? What if he comes after us?"
"He won't," Charias said. "Dark is a coward, sneaking around, drugging people, abusing the helpless. He's also clever, if he's gotten away with it for so long. He's too scared and too smart to come after us. He knows he doesn't have a chance."
"But if he doesn't come back here, what will he do? Where will he go?"
"He'll head for Braevern ry Maas, and he'll try to sneak off the planet, but he'll be captured. You'll see. But I'm still betting on Fehkir. You should have seen the look in her eyes when I told her what we found. She takes the protection of us students very personally. She will not rest until he's caught."
"That makes me feel a little better," Izeri said, snuggling closer to Charias' warmth. "Maybe I can keep my dreams from beating you up." He hesitated. "Are you sure I didn't hurt you?"
"I'm fine," Charias said again, but of all people, Izeri knew that didn't answer his question. Pulling away, he reached over and turned on his lamp, the golden light spilling across the bed. "You didn't know what you were doing," Charias said as Izeri turned back.
Izeri gasped, his gut clenching at the sight of the dark red welt under Charias' eye. "Did my elbow do that?" he asked, remembering the impact. He'd been fighting Dark, fighting for his life... He pulled the covers back, looking for more wounds, and a soft, agonized sound escaped him. He reached out, fingertips tracing the angry scratches on Charias' chest, shoulders, and neck, several just shy of drawing blood. "Oh, Charias, I'm so sorry..."
Charias caught his hand and raised it to his lips, brushing a soft kiss on the back of his knuckles. "It's okay. You didn't know." Izeri still felt like shit.
"Maybe we should move the beds apart, just until the nightmares stop."
"No," Charias said, shaking his head as he drew the blankets back up. "You're not the only one having nightmares. I keep dreaming that I can't find you, I can't protect you. In the dream, I can hear you, screaming, being hurt, but I can't find you..." He blinked hard, his black eyes suddenly bright with tears. "So when I wake up, I need you right here beside me, so I know you're okay."
"Even if I beat the crap out of you?" Izeri asked, trying to lighten the mood so he didn't choke on the lump in his throat. Charias chuckled, or tried to, the sound equally close to being a sob, and wrapped his arms around Izeri, pulling him back under the covers.
"I'm glad you're so tough," he whispered, resting his forehead against Izeri's. "Maybe I don't need to worry about you so much."
"You're the one that I worry about," Izeri replied, reaching up to brush his fingertips along Charias' cheek, just below the mark. "You're lucky I didn't-" He stopped, sitting up and running his hand over their blankets. Dry. He glanced down at the floor, where his jeans lay in a crumpled pile. No snow.
"What is it?" Charias asked.
"My glamour. It didn't do anything. Nightmares used to make it snow, or thunder." And nothing had happened when he was trapped in Dark's dungeon. He'd nearly struck people with lightning under less stressful circumstances. Had he lost his glamour completely? "What's going on in there? What did you do?"
Don't blame me, Vek said, sounding defensive. Glamour is your thing. I never had control of it.
"Control..." Izeri repeated. Could it be? Concentrating, he stared hard at the empty air above the foot of their bed, drawing in moisture from the room, cooling the air, stirring a wind, and he felt his wing ridges respond, a tingling heat emanating from the delicate organs. He wished he had his shirt off, so Charias could tell him what his wings looked like, but as the tiny flurry formed at the foot of the bed, crystalline snowflakes dancing in the lamplight, he knew. The snow lasted for only a moment, the swirling breeze dying, dropping a dusting of white on the bed, but it was a moment longer than any other time he'd tried to call his glamour since he'd been changed.
"Was that what I think it was?" Charias asked.
"Yeah," Izeri whispered, suddenly out of breath. He felt so tired again. Reaching out, he wiped the melting flakes off the bed and dried his wet hand on the front of his sweatshirt. "I have control of my glamour again. Sort of." He still couldn't use it like he used to, but at least he didn't have to worry about summoning blizzards while he slept. And maybe someday...
"That's great," Charias said, burrowing farther under the blanket. "Maybe next time, though, could you summon a warm wind instead? It was already cold in here."
"Sorry," Izeri said with a chuckle. "It was the first thing I thought of." He turned off the light and started to lie back down, but the front of his shirt was damp, and he'd never particularly liked sleeping in his clothes. Carefully, he extracted his injured arm, then stripped the sweatshirt off over his head and let it fall to the floor. Feeling a lot less confined and a lot more chilled, he snuggled down next to Charias, trying to shake off the shivers that raced over his skin. "You're right; it's freezing in here. Don't they heat this place?"
"Yes, but the heating spell is as old as the school," Charias said, draping an arm over Izeri's side and drawing him closer. "It takes a little longer each year to kick in. They've had mage technicians out to look at it, but the spell is so old, no one knows how to fix it. Eventually, when it fails completely, they'll have a new spell put on the buildings, but that kind of magic is expensive. Until then we'll just have to keep each other warm." He felt the brush of warm breath on the back of his neck and a soft kiss just below his ear. He smiled into the darkness.
"In that case, I hope they never fix it."
He slept fitfully, waking several more times in the dark with his heart racing, his breath coming in broken, ragged gasps, but at least Charias didn't have to fight him off again. He took comfort in the strong arms that surrounded him, holding him close, and closed his eyes, taking deep breaths until the shadow lifted from his soul, if only until the next nightmare arrived.
Then, suddenly, it was light outside his windows and he was alone in bed. Sitting up, he glanced around the room and reached out, pressing his hand into the dent in the mattress beside him. Not quite cold. Throwing back the covers, he swung his legs out of bed, shivering as the chill air wrapped around his body. He grabbed his jeans up off the floor, his arm aching as he struggled into them. The flesh burned beneath the gauze, radiating hot, throbbing waves of pain down to his fingertips, and he gritted his teeth. It wasn't that bad. He could wait for Rhoem to get back from his vacation.
He was out of breath by the time he got his pants on and zipped, a cold sweat damp across his brow. He stood up to go look for Charias and staggered as the room spun around him. Grabbing the edge of the bed, his sat down before he could fall down. His heart was pounding, racing in his chest, each beat in time with the hot throbbing in his arm. The gauze felt too tight, constricting across the wound, but he knew they'd wrapped it loosely. Something wasn't right.
Izeri jumped as the door opened, looking up as Charias eased inside, like he was afraid Izeri was still asleep and didn't want to wake him.
"Oh, you're awake," Charias said when he saw him. "We missed breakfast, but- Are you okay?" He rushed to Izeri's side, letting the door swing open, forgotten. "You're gray as ash." He reached up, pressing his hand to Izeri's forehead. His palm was like ice. "You're burning up. I'm taking you to the infirmary."
"No," Izeri protested, pushing Charias' arm away to keep from being picked up. "I don't want them to know."
"Damn it, Izeri, when are you going to stop being ashamed of this?" Charias asked, surging to his feet and towering over him. "When it kills you? There are worse things in the universe than being a Were."
"I know, I just..." He didn't didn't know how to explain it. "I've been hiding it for so long-"
"Holy shit, you guys, where have you-"
Izeri turned toward the door as Jakil stuck his head into the room, the young mage's eyebrows rising as his eyes grew wide, taking in the sight of Izeri. Izeri's first impulse was to hide his arm, to act like everything was fine until Jakil went away, but it was clear that it was already too late for that.
"Are you okay?" Jakil asked, taking a step into the room. His gaze shifted to Charias and Izeri tensed, ready to defend the shark should Jakil start making accusations. Izeri glanced up at Charias and their eyes met. He could see an idea dawning in the dark gaze and he knew he had to speak first.
"We're fine. We went for a swim. We just got back and we're tired, that's all." It was a terrible lie and he was sure everyone in the room knew it, but it was the best he could come up with. he had a feeling his fever had something to do with that.
"And your arm?" Jakil asked, stepping over to the bed and sitting down beside Izeri, neither acknowledging the lie nor challenging it. He'd been spending too much time with Maika; he was starting to act like a faerie. He gave the bandage on Izeri's arm a closer look. "That doesn't look good. Do you want me to-"
Charias took a breath to answer, and Izeri knew exactly what he was going to say.
"No, no, Jak; it's fine," Izeri said. "You just barely got out of the infirmary - I don't want to cause a relapse or anything." Standing over him, Charias let out his breath in a huff and crossed his arms over his chest, but thankfully said nothing. This wasn't about Izeri hiding or being 'ashamed' that he was a Were - Jakil already knew. Izeri didn't want him to get hurt again.
"Do you have broken bones? Internal bleeding?" Jakil asked.
Izeri shook his head.
"Then it'll be fine," Jakil assured him. "Let me see." He reached out, taking Izeri's arm by the wrist, and began unwinding the gauze. Izeri opened his mouth to protest, but hesitated. Charias was right; he needed medical care. He couldn't wait for Rhoem. But Jakil...Was it really safe? Izeri remembered how frail he looked in that hospital bed, so pale and still. He couldn't bear the thought of putting him back there.
The last layer of gauze lifted and Izeri drew a shuddering breath, quickly looking away from the ragged tears in his flesh, red and swollen as fresh blood welled up.
"What did you say happened?" Jakil asked.
"I was bit by a wolf," Izeri answered. Jakil's head jerked up, a frown creasing his brow, and Izeri peered at the aching wounds, trying to figure out what Jakil was upset about.
"A wolf eel," Charias said and Izeri glanced up at him, trying to figure out why he was talking about fish. "We were swimming near some rocks and it came out and bit his fin." He gave Izeri a pointed look. For a second, Izeri felt like he was missing something, then it was like the fog around his brain lifted and he realized what he had said, and how lucky he was that Charias has managed to cover for his slip. He wasn't sure if it was the fever, his hunger, or the fact that he was still really tired, but obviously he wasn't thinking clearly. He needed to keep his mouth shut and get Jakil to leave as soon as possible, before he said something Charias wouldn't be able to smooth over.
Jakil gently turned Izeri's arm over, looking at the puncture wounds on the underneath side. "Oh, I've seen pictures of wolf eels - ugly sons-of-bitches."
"Nasty, too," Izeri said, his voice soft. "Really, Jak - I'll be okay."
Standing over them, Charias drew a breath, probably to argue, but he didn't get a chance.
"Don't be a martyr," Jakil said, looking around the room. "This'll only take a minute. Do you guys have anything with aloe in it? Sun cream, healing salve...lubricant?
Izeri felt his face heat up as he fought the urge to slap Jakil. He never should have told him that they were having sex. He couldn't even look up at Charias, but he could imagine the furious look on the tall human's face, wondering just how much Izeri had told Jakil.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Jakil said. "Are you guys not- I guess I just assumed..." Charias said nothing as he turned and walked away, and Izeri felt his stomach knot up. But Charias didn't leave. He walked to his dresser and pulled out a small, half-empty jar of lubricant, which he handed to Jakil. "Thanks," Jakil said, twisting off the lid. Izeri watched him use the tip of his finger to draw a complicated string of runes on Izeri's arm, his black skin glistening beneath the aloe.
Suddenly, Jakil drew a slow, deep breath, his eyes closing as a terrible and profound sadness etched lines into his face, making him look far older than he should have.
"Are you okay?" Izeri asked, reaching out and clasping his hand. He could feel Jakil trembling.
Jakil glanced at him and let out a tight laugh. "Yeah, fine. Just lost in thought for a moment."
"Oh," Izeri said, letting go and pulling back. For a moment, he'd thought Jakil had realized the truth about him, but that was stupid and self-centered. Jakil had enough of his own problems he probably didn't give Izeri a second thought. Izeri glanced up at Charias, and suddenly realized that Charias had lied for him, had helped to keep Izeri's secret when it would have been so easy to let the truth come out. He really was an amazing human.
Izeri looked back at Jakil. So was he, risking further injury to his soul in order to help Izeri. Maybe he could handle the truth. Maybe he deserved it anyway. Izeri opened his mouth, then closed it again. Maybe he should wait until after Jakil healed him. Not that he thought Jakil might refuse to help him if he knew, although it was a possibility, but just to keep from distracting him. He looked down at his arm, absently tucking a stray lock of hair behind his ear. He needed to say something; the silence hung over them, heavy and oppressive. He took a bracing breath as Jakil reached over and placed his palm flat against the rune drawn on Izeri's arm.
"We are," Izeri said, and even though he didn't look up, he could feel Jakil watching him. "You assumed right, Jak, I- I just...didn't know you knew." Even though his and Charias' sex life was none of Jakil's business, it was the only thing he could think of to say. His brain felt like mush.
"Well...I didn't know," Jakil said, "but with the way you two act sometimes, I was more surprised to think that you weren't."
Izeri forced a smile, which turned to a grimace as he noticed a dark drop of dried blood on his jeans. Was it his, or Dark's? It could have come from the ladder; that was covered in blood. He scratched at it and brushed the brittle brown flakes onto the floor.
"Just relax, now" Jakil said. "This might feel a little strange, but it shouldn't hurt."
Izeri thought about telling Jakil that this wasn't the first time he'd been healed by a mage, but Jakil already knew that – Jakil had been the one to heal him after Charias had saved him from drowning in the ocean. So Jakil was probably just talking to keep that uncomfortable silence from returning. Or he could have been nervous. The last time he'd done magic, bad things had happened. He took a deep breath, his eyes going unfocused and distant, and Izeri saw him shudder, a hint of something – fear or pain, maybe – flashed across his features. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.
Izeri glanced up at Charias, not sure he could trust his own thoughts and feelings, muddled as they were by the fever. Charias stared at Jakil, his brow furrowed as he chewed the corner of his lip, then he stepped over to the bed and sat down beside the mage. Jakil jumped, blinking like he'd been awakened from a dream, and looked back over his shoulder.
"What are you doing?" Jakil asked as Charias reached for him.
"I was going to help," Charias said, his tone icy. "It's what we practiced in that ridiculous Cooperative Learning class, isn't it?"
"Oh...right," Jakil said, but he didn't sound like he welcomed the help. After a moment, he nodded. "Thanks."
Charias placed his hands on Jakil's arms, reaching around him from behind, almost like an embrace, although neither of them looked very comfortable with the arrangement. Jakil's hand where it rested against Izeri's arm began to glow, shining with a bright, green-gold light. Suddenly, Jakil gasped and Izeri glanced up, searching the mage's face. Was something wrong? Was the magic too much for him? Jakil gave his head a small shake and mouthed the word later. Izeri supposed that meant he wasn't in trouble.
Taking a slow breath, Jakil closed his eyes. They all sat utterly still, energy prickling through the room like lightning about to strike. Without warning, Izeri felt a rush of magic race through his arm, his torn flesh knitting together, healing with barely a scar. It seemed so easy, but clearly it wasn't. A fine sheen of sweat gleamed on Jakil's brow and his breathing was fast and ragged.
"Are you okay?" Izeri asked as Jakil pulled back, Charias's hands sliding off his arms.
Jakil nodded. "Yeah, it's just harder to control now, after..."
Izeri grimaced. After what he'd done for Maika. "So, did Maika have anything to say for himself?" Izeri asked, absently rubbing a hand over his arm. Had Maika even deigned to speak to his at all? "Did he have an excuse for not coming to see you?"
"Oh, shit," Jakil whispered, his eyes growing wide. "You don't know- You weren't here- Great Maele, you're never going to believe what was going on." He glanced over his shoulder at Charias. "Well, you might. Just don't say, 'I told you so', okay?"