The Unseen Apprentice

1

"Hurry up, Natalia, you're going to be late!" a voice yelled from downstairs. Natalia took one last look in the mirror. In just a few moments, she would be going out to a nice dinner with Brad, a nice boy from school. She wore the diamond necklace Tex had gotten her from months ago, reminded every day of the friends and life she has.

But what happened since then? Well, as much as she wanted to stay, she had to live a normal life. As much as she would miss everyone she met, she had to return home. Her father, Victor, was nowhere to be found since, and now her Aunt Callie stays with her. She hasn't seen or heard from anybody else since, and she's made new friends. She shouldn't have to be worried with what she is anymore, now that Droid was dead.

Natalia made her way downstairs to her friend Kristen, who was holding the door open for her.

"Have fun on your date!" She said excitedly. Natalia rolled her eyes. The truth was, she didn't want any relationships now. She had acted as a chemistry tutor for Brad, and since they spent a lot of time together, he had invited her to dinner. He was picking her up, and by the way Kristen acted, Natalia guessed he was here.

"It's not a date." Natalia reminded her.

"Sure," She said sarcastically. She gave Natalia a hug before walking her out her house.

"You're welcome to chill out at my house until I get home." Natalia reminded her. Kristen shook her head and shut the door behind Natalia.

Natalia walked to the blue truck and saw Brad through the driver's window. He had dark brown hair, and he was on the school's soccer team. He had blue eyes, and his skin was a light tan.

"Hey." He said when Natalia got in the car.

"Hi." She said. He smiled and pulled out of the street.

When they got to Aline's Bistro, They sat in a booth. They sat across from each other, and there were sets of chairs and tables to the side next to them that were all empty. However, many other seats were occupied.

"Hello, I'm Mary, and I'll be your waitress for this evening." A girl with curly black hair and rosy red cheeks appeared beside them. Natalia and Brad received menus and both looked up. "Can I start you off with some drinks?"

"I'll have a Coke." Brad said.

"Water, please." Natalia said. The waitress nodded and walked off.

The time between was a lot of silence. Besides school knowledge, they had nothing to talk about.

After getting the drinks, they ordered. There was more silence, and pretty soon they got their meals.

Natalia had ordered a Caesar salad, which was green and one of her favorite's in the restaurant. Brad had the classic spaghetti and meatballs. They had started to eat, and Natalia kept glancing at the time, hoping it would pass fast.

Yes, he was nice, but they had nothing in common. Coming here wasn't the best way Natalia could've spent her Friday night. After what happened with Jake and the date that never happened, he never called again. He ignored her in the halls, and Natalia gave up. Instead she decided to forget about boys. This, to her, was a friendly dinner.

Natalia took one bite of her salad before her heart stopped and her stomach twisted. Am I imagining this? She thought. Two boys took a seat in one of the sets of tables of two to the side on an angle of the booth. A boy with blond hair took a seat. She couldn't get a good glimpse of him. What she did get a glimpse of, was dirty blond, shaggy hair. Black shirt and dark gray jeans. Green eyes that reminded her of sapphires. Tex Colaf. Sure, she'd thought of him many of the days since she left. But had she expected to see him here? She lost her appetite. The same waitress who served Natalia went up to the table. She saw the blond boy turn his head to the waitress and she saw the side of his face. Ivan.

"Is everything okay?" a voice interrupted her. She faced the table again. Brad was staring at her, with spaghetti twirled in his fork. "You seem tense."

"I'm fine." Natalia quickly responded. She couldn't keep her eyes away from the table Tex and Ivan were at. She threw up a forced smile and returned her eyes to her food. Tex and Ivan had gotten menus and were discussing different foods.

Almost at the same time Brad took a bite of one of the meatballs, Tex practically screamed.

"Oh no. I'm not getting that. The last time I had meatballs from this place I had diarrhea for a week!" People around him started to stare. Brad choked up on his food. Yup, Natalia thought. He knows I'm here. She made fists at her sides. Why? Why now?

Natalia looked at her food, and before she could notice, someone took a seat next to her. She looked up and without warning, she was almost forced to scoot down in the booth. She looked at Brad who was just as startled as her. Ivan had taken a seat next to Brad, who looked uneasily at him. Ivan was grinning, staring straight ahead. Natalia looked next to her. Tex. Great.

"Hello, guys!" Tex exclaimed. "You both on a date? How romantic." He didn't look exactly at Natalia.

"Natalia? Do you know these people?" Brad asked from across the table. Wow. That question was uncalled for.

"Well, I…" she glanced at Tex. "You could say that." She managed to say. Tex took a piece of lettuce from Natalia's plate and tossed it in his mouth. He lounged back in the booth as everybody watched him.

"So Natalia," Tex started. Nope, nothing has changed about him. "I didn't know you had a boyfriend now." Natalia coughed on the water she drank.

"I-uh, I don't know what you're talking about." She sputtered. Boy, did he have good timing.

"Excuse me, I don't know who you are," Brad said. "But we were having a nice meal."

"I am her ex." Tex said calmly. Natalia choked again. Seriously Tex? She yelled in her head. "You okay Natalia?" He asked. She felt him smiling down at her.

"You're her ex?" Brad asked. "You don't seem like somebody she would ever like. I mean, really?"

"Yes. It's true." Brad's eyes widened, as if he were stunned at the idea. Tex, taking this to offense, kicked Brad in the shin under the table.

"Ouch!" he said, leaning forward suddenly. His eyes went across the table to Natalia in confusion.

"Did-did you just kick me?" He asked her. Natalia raised her eyebrows. She opened her mouth but Tex spoke before she could.

"Wow, Natalia." He looked sideways at her. "That was really uncalled for."

"I didn't-"

"So when did you start dating?" Tex asked.

"We're not-"

"Have you kissed her yet?" Tex asked. That's when the moment of silence finally joined them as Brad struggled for words.

"I-uh I don't think that is any of your business to know." Brad said. He sat back from rubbing his sore shin. Tex nodded. We're not dating! Natalia wanted to yell.

"Well, she's very inexperienced. You will find out soon enough. Surely you were planning on planting a big one-"

"Ivan!" Natalia said, raising her voice. "Can I talk to you for a moment, please? Alone?" Ivan scratched his head and nodded. He climbed out of the booth on Brad's side. Natalia gestured for Tex to move but he remained seated. "Tex, move." She muttered. He smirked at her, with his arms crossed over his chest. Natalia rolled her eyes and scooted over him and out of the booth. He remained seated as Natalia and Ivan walked out.

"So what's your name?" Tex asked.

"Brad." He replied.

"Is it short for Bradley?" Tex asked.

Brad shook his head.

"Bradford, Braden, Bradster?"

"No. Just…Brad." Tex nodded.

Natalia lead Ivan to a corner, and turned to him. He was smiling.

"Are you enjoying this?" Natalia demanded. "Look, why are you here?" Ivan wiped away his smile.

"Are you disappointed to see me?" Ivan asked.

"Not you," Natalia said. "You honestly couldn't have picked a worse time. You couldn't have waited until I got home?" Ivan scratched his head.

"Tex and I just thought it was best to come as soon as we could. We need to talk." Natalia let out a long breath that she didn't know she was holding.

"Just…Give me some time. Brad is going to give me a ride home." She gestured towards the table.

"I don't think-"

"Please. For me." Natalia said. Ivan let out a slow breath and nodded. They returned to the table. Brad had stopped eating his food and was staring at Tex out of pure curiosity, wondering what he would do next. Tex, who didn't hear Natalia and Ivan return, looked irritated.

"Why do you keep staring at me?" he asked. He was lounging back in the booth, his arms crossed over his chest. Ivan bent down and whispered something into Tex's ear. He slowly nodded and stood up. He gave Natalia a quick glance and exited the Bistro with Ivan.

Natalia took her seat again. The waitress came by them and placed a bill on the table.

"I'm sorry about what happened." Natalia said. "I had no idea they would show up. It's so unexpected." She said. She still couldn't get over the fact herself.

"Yeah, your ex has a unique personality. I could see why you dumped him." Natalia tensed.

"Is that what he told you? That I dumped him?" she couldn't keep her mind off of the fact about the whole thing. He was here. Where had she even left things between them?

"Something like that. Shall we go?" He said, rising from the booth. Natalia nodded and rose from the booth as well.

She stepped outside of the doors and felt the sudden chills of late winter. It was windy and it was raining. Natalia thought she'd wait by the car for Brad. He was paying the bill and she already saw him start to head out the door. She rushed to the car, the cold droplets of rain already started to form in her hair. The car made two noises, letting Natalia know she could open up the door. She opened up the passenger side and was about to climb in when she realized she left her sweater at the table. She turned around and saw Brad standing before her, holding the sweater. But why hadn't he gotten in the car?

Natalia had no time to ask because Brad had rushed towards her. He pushed his lips on to hers. Filled with panic and terror, Natalia pushed him away.

"What are you doing?" she cried. He walked towards her again, gripping her neck with a painful force. She felt the back of her neck tear as he dug his nails in her skin.

"Calm down." He said. "Live a little." He kissed her again, not releasing his grip on her neck. All of this was just an act. He probably never needed tutoring. He pinned her against the car, even as she tried to push him away with all her might. Where was her Floranth power when she needed it? He grabbed the sides of her shirt at the hem and pulled it towards himself. She didn't even know where to push him away. She pushed his chest with the most force she could manage. He staggered back and in the process, ripped the sides of her shirt. She sidestepped away from the car, pulling away from him. He grabbed her arm, and a painful grip filled her bicep as he tried pulling her back. She managed to slide away from his grip and fell back from the sudden release. She landed in a muddy puddle on her side. Her hair was already drenched with rain water and mud. She screamed for help hoping someone would hear her. The parking lot was abandoned. He pulled her up and she turned away, catching a glimpse of some blood that ran down the side of her neck down to her shirt. He kissed her again, a painful, forceful kiss, and she tried with all her might to push him away once again. He started reaching his hands up the sides of her shirt as she tried to slap him away.

Suddenly he was pulled off of her. She saw him fly across the parking lot on the gravel. She collapsed on her knees, leaning against the car. Her fingers and toes felt numb from the cold air. She saw her breath pant as she saw someone in the rain picking up Brad. The person was too strong to be a woman. His shoulders were broad and he punched Brad in the face multiple times. He surely broke his nose; blood had dripped down the side of it. The boy kicked Brad one more time and he was out. Brad seemed unconscious. The boy ran over to her, his mint breath familiar to her. Tex.

"Are you okay?" He asked. His voice was filled with anxiety. He touched her bare arms, and noticed her shaking. "You're freezing, Natalia." He said. He took off his leather coat and draped it around her. Tex helped her up to her feet, and started walking her to his car. He guided her to his green truck, which, evidently, seemed to match perfectly with his eyes. His shirt was soaked with rain and it clung to his stomach.

Tex opened the car door for her and helped her up into the seat. Tears had fallen down her cheeks, but from the rain, you couldn't even tell. She felt the sudden heat of warm air fill around her from the air vents in the car. Tex hopped in the driver's seat and took off down the street. It was silent as she looked out the window. Darkness surrounded the car. She saw her reflection from the window and looked away quickly. Her face had been smudged with mud. She was soaked and her hair was drenched with mud and dirt and water. She looked straight ahead. She was still shivering, but at least she was out of the rain. Tex glanced at her nervously, but then for the remainder of the time kept his eyes on the road.

When he parked the car, he was in the side of a road. They were at a hotel. It lit up brightly with comforting lights. Tex got out of the car and opened the door for her. While Natalia had tried to run, one of her small heels broke, and they got soaked in the mud. She took them of and held them in one hand, while she clasped the leather coat closer to her in the other hand. She turned her body to the edge of the car. She looked down at her feet, and stepped down. Tex held out a hand. She stared at his hand, and only his hand. If she even caught a glimpse of his face she'd start crying. She willed back her tears and her eyes stung. She took his hand and she stared at her shaking hand in his. She thought she was doing a good job of holding back her tears, but she wasn't. She let out a cry and rushed into Tex's arms. She needed a hug, and Tex supported his hands around her back.

"It's going to be okay." He whispered in her ear. Tears fell down her cheeks. He took one look at her trembling legs before he picked her up. Just like he had before. She remembered when he saved her at Infitus, even though that was months ago.

Tex carried her through the lobby of the hotel, stopping only to push the elevator buttons. He didn't seem to care about the fact that people were staring. And why wouldn't they? Natalia would've been curious if she saw someone holding a muddy, drenched, shivering girl walking through the hotel.

He finally stopped in front of a door. Slowly, he let her legs down. Her toes hit the blue and yellow carpeting. They were still trembling. Tex took out a keycard and swiped it through a slot on the handle. He pushed the door open, letting Natalia walk in first. He shut the door behind them which created a loud bang. A living room stood before her. It had a beige carpet and a cream colored wall. There were two brown couches facing a flat screen TV. A few feet away was a oak coffee table. In one of the sofa chairs, Ivan was seated, reading a novel.

He looked up when the door shut, and his mouth fell in surprise.

"Hello-" he stopped shortly, closing the book. "Oh my," he said, standing up. Natalia's eyes felt dried up. "What on Earth happened? Are you okay?" he walked up to Natalia, and his gaze switched to Tex. "Tex, what happened?" Tex turned to Natalia. She stared up at him.

"There's a bathroom with a shower around the corner." He gestured to a nearby hallway. "I'm sure we could wash your clothes while you're in the shower." She nodded. She walked silently to the bathroom and shut the door behind her.

She got undressed and started up a hot shower. Fog had already gathered in the mirror. When she stepped in, she felt a burning prickle feeling on her neck. She peered down and saw her neck bruised and some parts stained with dry blood. The same type of mark had been placed on her bicep. She winced, and quickly scrubbed away the dirt and blood away from her hair and face.

After she showered, she had grabbed a robe that had been placed on a hook on the door. She used a small towel to twist her hair up so it could dry. She tightened the robe close around her. While she was in the shower, someone had come in and took her clothes. She opened the door and stepped back out into the living room.

Tex and Ivan were sitting on the couch, whispering things to one another. They both turned to her when they heard her come in. Tex stood up.

"How are you?" he asked. Ivan looked at her with a sad expression. The dryer in the next room made a loud sound and Ivan stood up.

"That's your clothes. They should be ready now. I'll go get them." Natalia nodded at Ivan. "I hope you don't mind that I had Tex run in and get your clothes." He said. Natalia shook her head.

"It's okay. Thanks." Natalia said quietly. Ivan nodded and disappeared in the other room.

"Take a seat." Tex said. He gestured behind him. Natalia did, and faced him. He took a seat next to her, and looked at her.

"I could've been killed tonight." Natalia said softly. "Who knows what he was going to do with me." She said.

"I should've come earlier. I should've known…" He said. He put his head in his hands.

"You saved my life." She whispered. "Thank you."

"I had a bad feeling about that kid." He said softly.

"Did you know what he was planning?" Natalia swallowed hard. "I mean, did you hear his thoughts?" Tex looked at her.

"I…" he started. "I got the beginning of it. But I couldn't focus on him. I wasn't thinking about him." Natalia swallowed hard.

"I'm back." Ivan said, coming from the other room. His gaze rested on Natalia. "Did you know that your shirt was ripped? And your pants, I can't get the huge stain out."

"Oh," Natalia said. "I can just, wear them, I guess to my house and change." Ivan gave her a look that said "really?"

"Don't be crazy. You can borrow a pair of sweatpants and a shirt that I brought." Natalia slowly stood up. "There is a pile of clothes folded on the bed." Natalia nodded. She took her torn clothes from Ivan. She looked up at him and pulled up a weak smile.

"I really couldn't thank you enough." She turned her head back in Tex's direction. "The both of you." Even though he was facing the blank TV, she knew Tex was grinning.

Ivan nodded, and Natalia disappeared into the hallway. Crap, two bedrooms. Which one was Ivan's? She peered into the first room, and it looked fairly neat. She peered in the one at the end of the hall. It looked almost identical to the first. Both had clothes on the bed. She turned into the first one, and shut the door behind her. She dropped the robe and changed into the clothes sitting on the bed. They were utterly big; she had to fold down the waist of the sweatpants multiple times before she barely saw her toes. The shirt was a blue v-neck, and it was big as well. It barely ended before any part of her chest could be seen. It was baggy on her small body, along with the pants. She found a sweatshirt next to the clothes, and assumed it would be okay to throw over her head. The sleeves of the shirt slid down her shoulders as she draped the sweatshirt around her head. It had a wide neck, and it was cut down the middle so that it became wider. She rolled up the sleeves to just below her elbows. She set her old clothes on the floor next to the night table.

Silently, she opened the door. She made her way through the small hallway back into the living room. Tex had the TV on, and the rest of the lights were off except for one stand-up lamp next to the TV. She imagined it was close to 11. She took a seat next to him on the couch. He glanced at her, and began to return his eyes to the TV. He froze and switched a glance back at her, his eyes looking her up and down. He smirked.

"Is something wrong?" she asked, pulling the collar of the sweatshirt closer to her neck.

"No. Nothing at all." He said. His eyes returned to the TV. "So apparently my clothes are more comfortable than Ivan's?" he asked. She looked down. These…were Tex's? They seemed so…big. Maybe she really was a lot smaller than him.

She should have realized this earlier, she thought. Ivan was too formal for hoodies.

"Oh!" she said, beginning to stand up. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize…" she looked down at the sweatpants. "I'll go change."

Tex grabbed her hand before she could walk away. He glanced at something by her neck, making Natalia tense. "You don't have to change." He said. He let go of her hand, and glanced down the hall. He took one more quick look at her neck, and he didn't seem to see anything. Natalia hadn't told Ivan or Tex about the bruises and she wasn't planning on it.

She pulled at the collar of the sweatshirt once again, and took a seat again.

"So what are you watching?" she asked. She was sitting to the right of him. He looked at her sideways.

"Desperate Housewives." He replied. She laughed, and stared at the TV. "Don't judge," he added. Natalia held her hands up in defense. He grinned and sat back on the couch. "Do you have any preferences?" he asked, gesturing towards the remote control. He returned his eyes at her.

"Not really." Natalia replied. He glanced down at her neck again. The side that was injured was closest to him. She stiffened.

"What is that?" he asked. He came closer and brushed his hand over Natalia's collarbone. She froze.

"It's…nothing." She sputtered. He slowly pulled the sweatshirt down her shoulder. His lips parted at the sight of the grip marks and the deep scratches on her shoulder. He ran his fingers lightly over the grip marks, sending chills throughout Natalia's body.

"Did he do this to you?" he asked, his voice suddenly serious and demanding. Natalia swallowed hard.

"I…it's not a big deal." She said. Her voice shook. He grabbed her arm, near her bicep, on the tender bruise on her arm. He meant to pull her closer to get a better look, but she quickly shrugged his hand off, wincing.

"Where else did he hurt you?" he asked. Natalia looked away, embarrassed. She returned her eyes to his. They were impaling, just like they were when she first met him. "Where?" Tex demanded. She let out a breath. She took off the sweatshirt and set it on her lap. He peered down at her shoulder again, pushing away the sleeve.

He brought both of his hands gently to the edge of her left shoulder. They slowly traced down under her sleeve towards her elbow. He stopped abruptly when she winced. He had reached the grip marks around her bicep.

He pushed down her sleeve and she flushed, thankful for the dim lighting. His hands passed over her thin bra strap, and had reached the bruise.

"Why didn't you tell me this happened?" he asked. Her shoulder was completely bare. His hands turned her arm slowly and he examined the grip around her whole arm. "Why?" he demanded. Natalia pulled her arm away from his grip, embarrassed. She pulled up the sleeve. It didn't matter that much; since the shirt was so big, the shirt sleeve slipped to the edge again.

"I-I was just….scared." She whispered.

"You dealt with that creep grabbing you and kissing you and you were scared of me?" he asked. She rubbed her temples. It was obvious that he was confused.

"Well, I was scared of him too." Natalia said. "It was my first time seeing you in months and, it's not exactly the type of thing I'd like to welcome you with." She sighed. "I-I'm sorry." She whispered.

"You have to tell me everything that happens to you." His voice cracked. "I-I need to know. I worry." He whispered. She fumbled with the fabric of the sweatshirt with her fingers. "If something happened to you…" he drifted off.

"But it didn't." she interrupted. "You saved me."

"I should've come earlier. If only I just paid attention to what was going on…" he swallowed hard. "I didn't save you." He whispered after a pause. "Look at what he did to you. I didn't save you from anything." He put his head in his hands.

"You did." She said. "He would've done much more." She exhaled a breath she didn't notice she was holding. She willed back tears at the thought of it all.

"You should probably," he said. "Get some rest. You can take my room tonight." She nodded. She was exhausted, and truly wanted to sleep. She got up and brought the sweatshirt with her. She took a few steps before she stopped and looked at him. He looked at her with his beautiful sea green eyes. She slowly walked up to him and bent down towards his face. She gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek, hardly as a thank you gift. Although that was exactly what she set it out to be.

"Thank you, Tex." She whispered. His lips parted and she thought she saw him flush. Though the lighting was dim, and she couldn't tell for sure. The last time they had been together, they'd kissed, and Natalia was entirely clueless as to where that left their relationship. She wasn't even sure what Tex thought of her. She turned away and disappeared silently into the bedroom.

2

When Natalia awoke, she was in the massive bed, sprawled out on her stomach. The sheets weaved around her legs, tangling them together like a boa constrictor grabs it's prey. She pulled herself away from the blankets, tripping over the last sheet and using the wall next to the doorway to catch herself. She peered to the side of her on the ground. A silver plain hamper sat next to the doorway. Natalia could see piles of clothes stacked in it and a duffel bag off to the side. How long had Ivan and Tex been here?
Natalia stepped out of the room and into the living room area. A sticky note was plastered to the wall with thin, neat handwriting.
"Went to get coffee -Ivan" the sticky note read. Natalia had pulled it off of the wall by the door and tossed it aside on the counter. Tex was sprawled out on the couch. His ankles down to his feet hung over the edge of the couch. His arms and head dangled off on the edge of the sofa. She heard him snoring softly and his mouth was open a little. She took a seat on a stool at the counter. The only audible sound throughout the house was the faint sound of Tex snoring.
"French fries dipped in vanilla milkshakes," Tex mumbled. His words were barely recognizable from his slurred tone. He twisted and turned slowly and then grew faster. He tumbled over off the sofa and onto the floor, waking up, alarmed. She rushed over to him.
"Tex!" she grinned. "Are you okay?" she asked. He was now on his back, his eyelids slipped halfway down his eyes. Her knees were inches from his head and she was leaning over him.
He began to grin.

"I had the yummiest dream ever." he said, licking his lips. He sat up and faced her. This was when Natalia noticed he wasn't wearing a shirt. When he fell, the blanket had went with him, covering his chest and arms. Now, it seemed to have fallen away when he sat up.
"Like French fries dipped in a vanilla milkshake?" Natalia gave him a goofy look.
Tex was puzzled. "How...how did you...?"
"I have the power to live inside other people's dreams." Natalia joked. She grinned. "You were talking in your sleep." Tex nodded at that. He stood up and walked to the fridge. He pulled it open and started drinking out of a bottle of water. She stood up and took a seat on the couch. She hated to stare but something about Tex drew her attention closer. His Adam's apple bobbed up and down as he gulped down the water. Some water had gotten past his mouth and dripped down his chin and neck slowly by his chest. When he returned the water, he wiped it away.
"When did you come back to Illinois?" Natalia asked, curious and to start conversations. He scratched the back of his head.
"Y-yesterday maybe. One or two days..."
"Or a week." Natalia said. "I mean, by the looks of the duffel bag in the corner, you seemed to be packed for a while."
"I got here-"
"How many weeks ago?" Natalia asked. She pulled up the neck part of the shirt she was wearing before it started exposing her whole chest.
"I do not know what you're talking ab-"
"Yes you do." she interrupted. "Don't lie to me. I saw a lot of clothes in the hamper." she took a seat back in the stool by the counter. He looked across the sink to her. She knew he recognized the irritableness in her tone of voice, considering she had to use it a lot. She caught his gaze at her neck and he sighed. Feeling embarrassed, she pulled the sides of the shirt closer together.
"Fine." he said. "We've been here since last week." Natalia slowly nodded. Okay, she thought. Not too long.
The door made a clicking sound before opening inward. Ivan appeared in the doorway with bags occupying both arms. Natalia and Tex rushed to help Ivan with the groceries. After setting them on the counter, Ivan kept looking down by her neck.
"When did you get that?" he asked. The sleeve of her shirt fell down to around her bicep when she grabbed the groceries. His fingers brushed against the bruise but it didn't give her the same feeling as it did when Tex touched her.
She quickly shrugged his arm away, embarrassed. On instinct, Tex took a step closer, alarmed.
"N-nothing." she quickly responded. She turned to the bags and started unloading food. Oranges, apples, grapes, she set off to the side for the refrigerator. She felt the eyes of both of the boys on her.
Unlike Tex had, Ivan dropped the issue. Natalia was uncomfortable, and he could see that. He left her alone and started putting away groceries, but he was concerned.
"So...when did you guys get up?" Ivan asked. Tex put the cream away and backed up so Natalia could put in milk.
"Ten fifteen minutes maybe." Tex said.
"You do know it's like 8am right?" Ivan said. Natalia shrugged. "Gosh, you wake up so late!" Ivan exclaimed. The tight kitchen seemed crowded with the three of them. Natalia kept bumping into Tex when shed turn to put groceries in the fridge. She'd quickly apologize and look away.
"Anyways," Natalia went on, noticing Tex's look on Ivan. It probably meant something like it was early and he'd wished to have slept later. "Tex was just telling me you got here last week." Tex shot Ivan a look and glanced down.
Ivan, who hadn't even noticed Tex, stopped and looked at Natalia with confusion.
"What? No. We got her...I'd say four to five weeks ago." Natalia's mouth fell open. Heat rushed up to her cheeks.
"And you didn't tell me you were here? For five weeks!" Natalia said, raising her voice.
"I believe," Tex started. "Ivan said four to five weeks. Not five." Natalia rolled her eyes. She slapped Tex in the face. Not too hard, but enough to surprise him. He brought a hand to his face as his mouth fell open.
"Why'd you do that?" he asked, irritated.
"Remember in Infitus when you said you'd never lie to me again?" Natalia said. It was amazing how much she thoroughly remembered from Infitus. Although, when it came to ending, she couldn't remember as much. All she knew was that Droid was dead and gone.
"Ok, let's face it. I'm not going to be truthful to you all the time. I say I don't promise anyone anything, unless I can stick to it." Tex said. He flopped around his hands in different motions while he spoke.
"Meaning...?" Natalia asked.
"Meaning we drop my promise to never lie to you again." Tex said, his voice grim.
"Why, because you already lied?" she asked.
"No. Because I'm probably going to lie many more times." Natalia threw her hands up in frustration and walked away from the kitchen. She Walked into her room and rushed to her phone. The screen was lit up, indicating a message she had received. 7 missed calls, all from Kristen. Crap. 9 text messages, all of which saying the same thing: where are you? Natalia hit the call button under Kristen's name in her phone. It rang four times before she answered.
"Hello?" a voice mumbled. He sounded sleepy.
"Kristen? It's Natalia."
Kristen's voice changed from sleepy to urgent. "Natalia? Where were you! I called you, like, a hundred times!" she exclaimed.
"I know. I just," she paused, not wanting to think of what happened. Her open hand made its way to her bruises. She felt how bad they hurt, and winced. "I had a long night."
"Hmph. No kidding. Why didn't you call?" she asked. "I was worried sick about you!" Natalia swallowed hard.
"Well, brad turned out to be a-" she paused, feeling tears weld up inside her eyes. "A jerk." she exhaled slowly. "He-he tried to," she started. She put her head in her hands, looking at the floor. "He-he kissed me." she stumbled on the word.
"And he's a jerk? I think it's cute! Totally meant to be!" she could feel the excitement in Kristen's voice.
"It wasn't in that way." Natalia said slowly. "He tried to, tried to touch me." she felt awkward saying it out loud. There was a silence on the other line.
"Oh," Kristen said softly. "Natalia, I am so sorry. I couldn't even imagine..."
"But I got helped, saved." she said. The image of Tex fell into her mind. He had punched brad in the face a good five times and made one crunching kick to his ribs. "A uh, guy I know," Natalia struggled to say. "He helped me. He took me in the night with this other guy I know." "That was really sweet of him. Natalia, I'm so sorry this happened. I should've never let it-" she stopped herself, her voice cracking. "I shouldn't have pushed you to go on that dinner."
"No. You didn't. It's fine, really. Don't put yourself to blame on this." it went silent on the other end.
"Natalia, I-I have something to tell you." she sputtered. "I...I think you should know." Natalia looked up and saw Tex in the doorway. He held his hands up in defense and gestured towards his bare stomach. He walked to the bag in the corner of the room, and bent down to get a shirt. Natalia had been lost watching Tex pull out a shirt that she didn't hear what Kristen had said. The way his hair was tossed to the side... The way his shoulder blades glided as he dug under the bag for a perfect gray shirt...
"argon." Kristen said. She snapped back into focus when that last word was said. "I know you don't believe me, but it's true. Maybe we can meet up..."
"Wait what did you just say?" Natalia said. She had been sitting in another corner of the room and was now starting to straighten her back.
"I said that...that I am a creature called an argon."
"No," Natalia whispered. She realized the terror in her own voice.
"It has been my job to protect you. We get parted into what we do for a living. For instance, there are Sendiahs,-"
"Stop." Natalia said. "Just stop." she took a deep breath. Tex gave her a strange look, the shirt he had on clung with static around his arms. "So...so you mean to tell me you're an argon too?" she said. Her voice dropped to a whisper, although Tex had caught on. He rushed over to her, holding out his hand. Natalia thought for a moment that it was to help her up, but she knew Tex wasn't like that, and he probably wanted the phone. Natalia waved his arm away.
"Yes, I am. Wait, you said that I was one too as if there were more than one...don't tell me you're an argon..."
"No." Natalia said quickly. "I'm actually something different. Rare, I guess. I'm a-" before Natalia could say what she was, Tex snatched the phone out of her hand. He held the speaker part to his chest, trying to block out any noise possibly audible through it
"What are you doing!" he whispered fiercely. "Whoever this girl is, she's an argon! Shed want to kill you if she knew who you were."
"Well, maybe not. You and Ivan don't want to kill me. And Tory." she said. "She's my best friend."
"Just because she's your best friend-"
"she said she was supposed to protect me. That's why she was sad when I told her what happened. It doesn't make sense. She never had to actually protect me..." Natalia said. Her voice was soft.

"Ugh, a Sorth. They are sent to protect the humans-one specifically. I guess she was assigned you." he pulled the phone to his ear. "Listen, Sorth. I'm not sure who you are, but we don't need your help. So carry on your day, and I promise I'll have her back within the next week. Then you can 'protect' her all you want like you did when she almost got...killed. Ok?" almost got...killed. His voice was anxious when he said that. Natalia knew what brad meant to do, and surely Tex did as well. He just didn't wish to admit it. He let out a sigh. He rubbed his forehead and nodded into the phone, as if she could see that. "Yes, yes, I know, I know. Alright. Okay, I get it. Mmhm. Oh we're at the AHB. No. K, bye." he flipped the phone shut and handed it back to Natalia. He dropped it in her hands and she looked at it.

"The thought never occurred to you that maybe I wanted to talk to her again?" she asked, standing up.
"Oh, sorry." he smirked, which made his apology less convincing. She pulled up the pants and still stumbled to the door. She cursed aloud. "Easy there, Tiger." he said, placing an arm on her shoulder to steady her. She cringed at the pressure on her bruise. He quickly pulled his hand away, his voice serious. "Oh, crap, I'm sorry Natalia. I didn't mean to." she dismissed it with her hand and stopped to lean against the wall. She wasn't facing Tex but felt his presence behind her. Her eyes stung as she willed back tears. She pressed her forehead to the wall, and she noticed tears dripping down her cheeks onto the floor. She couldn't get her mind over what happened. It still shocked her greatly. Tex lightly brushed his finger against her forearm.
"I-I'm sorry Natalia. I didn't mean to hurt you, I swear."
"It's not you." she said. She wiped away a tear under her eye and turned to him. "I still can't believe he-" she broke off. He wrapped his arms around her and she dug her face into his shoulder. She could hear his heart beating with hers.
"It's over now." he whispered. "I promise I won't let anything like this ever happen to you again." he whispered even softer.
"Never?" she asked softly.
"Ever." he replied

3

Natalia hated the lobby of the hotel they were staying at. Partly because it was crowded. Also because everyone seemed to be staring at her. She was trying to decide whether it would be worse if the people looked normal. These people, however, were not normal. Some were dressed in brown armor while others weren't.
Natalia was guided through the packed lobby with Tex and Ivan. They'd be stopping by Natalia's house-thank god. The baggy clothes were really getting Natalia frustrated. She tripped easily as it was, and now she had five inches of fabric hanging down past her feet.
Once they got out of the lobby, they passed by what seemed like a valet parking lot. Before Natalia knew it, she was sitting in the back of a blue pick-up truck. Ivan took the car wheel while Tex took the passenger side. Natalia sat back in the car without questioning them. They were being generous as it was, and she thought she shouldn't hammer them with questions.
After reaching Natalia's house, she went inside quickly. Everything was the same to her; the kitchen was clean and there were no dirty dishes. The house seemed empty, and it was only to be expected that way. Katrina had been forced by Natalia's aunt to go to a week-long camping trip as a way to get extra credit in school. Katrina refused but she knew there were no arguments against her aunt. Her aunt, on the other hand, was always out all day. It wasn't that different from when her father was here.
Natalia went to her room first, changing out of the huge clothes. She put on a pair of jeans and a red shirt-her favorite color on herself. It made her hair look a few shades darker. After that, she dressed as she would for school. Brushed her hair, brushed her teeth, the usual morning list.
She grabbed a pair of brown boots that ended a few inches below her knees and returned downstairs.
When she came downstairs, Tex seemed to have made himself comfortable. He was sitting in a stool chair and resting his feet on the counter. Ivan was on the other side of the counter, leaning over it and facing Tex. The both turned when they heard her come downstairs.
"Much better." Tex said right away. "It's better looking at you when you're wearing clothes that aren't falling off you every minute." he said. Natalia agreed.
"Thanks for bringing me home." she said. She took a seat in another counter chair.
"No problem." Ivan said. There was a long silence.
"So..." Tex said after eternity. "Have you guys ever tried French fries dipped in a vanilla milkshake?" he asked.
"That's rubbish!" Ivan exclaimed. "Who would ever-" Ivan stopped abruptly when Tex held out a hand. It was dead silent in the room.
"Why did you-" Natalia started.
"Shh!" he whispered. "I hear something." and he was right. There was a sound coming from the back door. Tex stood up and walked into the mudroom. With a quick motion, he pulled open the door. Someone stumbled in.
"What the hell?" she heard Tex say. The person said nothing. "Were you eavesdropping?" He demanded. Natalia stood up and rushed to the room. Kristen. She was looking up at Tex, too stunned to even talk. Her eyes widened when she saw Natalia.
"Natalia!" she quickly said. "Oh, I'm so happy to see you! I have been so worried! Let's go take a seat. I was so worried!" she said. She passed Tex, bumping her shoulder forcefully into his so he stumbled back a little.
Tex did not go without pointing this out.
"Hey," he said angrily. "Care to explain to me why you're here?" he demanded.
"I'm the friend." she said. Then her eyes suddenly widened. "Wait-is it, are you...Tex?" she exclaimed. Natalia dropped Kristen's hand that she had been using to guide her to the kitchen.
"Woah, wait. You know him?" Natalia asked. Tex crossed his arms.
"Maybe. Maybe not." he said simply.
"Tex," Natalia gritted.
"He tends to do that a lot, doesn't he?" Kristen asked.
"Ehem," Tex said. "Do what, exactly?" he asked.
"Well, you know. The typical stuff. She asks a question, and you give her the answer with two answers. And then she says your name-which you love to hear. You're an attention getter." Natalia's mouth fell open. How did she know all that about how he is?
"How did you know that?" she asked. Kristen shrugged.
"Let's just say I wasted a lot of time a while back." she said, looking at Tex. He gave her a dirty look before she turned to Natalia again. "So, we need to talk." Tex took a step closer.
"And so do we," Tex said to Natalia. She looked at the both of them. "Except, unlike hers, my news is more important." Kristen rolled her eyes.
"And how is that?" she asked. "You don't even know what I'm going to say." she returned her gaze to Natalia. "Come, Natalia. Let's discuss in the kitchen." she started to grab Natalia's hand. Natalia reluctantly followed, giving Tex a glance before exiting the mudroom. He followed them out and sat in the stools again.
Kristen led Natalia to a more secluded space of the kitchen.
"You know," Tex said. "Anything you tell Natalia you should tell us. After all, we saved her life unlike you. Isn't that your division?" Kristen stiffened. "Oh yeah, and I almost forgot." he started. "You lied to her about your whole life!"
"Tex, stop-" Ivan started. But it was too late. Tex stood up with anger in his face.
"Why don't you tell her your real name! Why don't you tell her why you became friends with her?" he yelled. It was dead silent.
"Kristen...?" Natalia asked softly. Her eyes were shiny. Natalia saw her reflection as a tear began to form. Her back was towards Tex. Natalia gave a warning look to Tex in the dead silence.
"You know what Tex?" Kristen asked. She faced him. "I wish you never met me! You don't deserve to be by the people you're by now. Know why? Because you're a fake. More than me, and more than I'll ever be. I do things to protect people. You do things to piss people off!" he cracked a smile.
"That's just how I am." he said. "And that's why everybody is jealous. Because I'm the only one who knows things to say."
"I feel bad for any girl who you kissed." Natalia stiffened. "You know why?" Kristen yelled. Natalia quickly looked at Tex who caught her gaze for a moment. She quickly looked away. "Because you're such a jerk and you just use girls! That's what you did to me, that's what you did to sarah, that's-"
"ALL OF YOU, SHUT. UP." surprisingly, it was Ivan. "WORK OUT YOUR SHIT SOME OTHER TIME. WE DIDN'T COME HERE TO FIGHT." Natalia never saw Ivan yell this loud or get this angry. His face was red and his eyes were filled with rage.
"Natalia, I can't be by him. I can't be by Tex." she whispered. The door slammed shut and Tex disappeared. Natalia sighed. "Are you mad at me?" she asked softly. When Natalia didn't respond, she looked down. It was dead silent. "My real name is Ava. I was sent from Zerum to protect you. So I thought instead of telling you what I am, I'd learn to be your friend. And I did. I hope you won't stay mad forever." she said. Natalia sighed.
"I'll be right back." she said. Ava nodded and watched Natalia exit the door Tex left out of.

It took Natalia a few moments to find Tex down the street, stomping angrily.
"Hey!" she yelled, starting to run after him. "Hey!" he stopped and turned. By the time she got to him, she was panting, out of breath.
"Oh, it's just you." he muttered. He turned to the road and started walking again.
"Hey!" Natalia yelled. She grabbed his shoulder and turned him to her.
"What?" he asked.
"What the hell just happened back there?" she asked. He exhaled slowly.
"You're not wearing a coat and it's freezing. You should go inside." he started walking again. Natalia grabbed his shoulder, turning him back to her.
"You didn't answer my question." she said. "I don't know what you and Kristen-Ava had, but whatever it is, it's in the past. Can't you just ignore each other or something?" Tex fell silent.
"I guess so," he shrugged. "She made me so...so..."
"Angry?" she asked. Tex nodded.
"You did the same to her, if that makes you feel better..."
He grinned. "Now that I think of it, I do feel better. She was pretty harsh to me." he said.
"Don't get the wrong idea, you were just as bad, if not, worse. I'm not taking sides. Just work. Your Shit. Out. K?" he grinned.
"All right, fine. I'll apologize, if it makes you happy." he said. He turned and they started walking back to the house.
"Yes, that would make me feel better."

When Natalia and Tex finally reached the house again, Ava was seated next to Ivan. They turned when Natalia and Tex walked in. Ava quickly lost her gaze with them.
"So, Ava." Natalia said. She grabbed Tex's hand and brought him in front of Ava. Their fingers became intertwined. "Tex wanted to say something to you." everyone looked at Tex.
"Yes." he said. "I just wanted to..." come on, Natalia thought. She squeezed his hand a little harder. Tex grinned, looking off to the side. He returned his eyes to Ava. "I wanted to apologize to you. I was being a big-"
"Asshole? You were." she said back. Her arms were crossed.
"Let's not go too far." he said. "But yes. You're right. If we both want to protect Natalia then we have to work together. Not saying I'll like you..."
"Tex!" Natalia said.
"What? It's true..."
"I agree." Ava said. "I accept your apology. But I still don't like you either." she said.
"Okay!" Natalia said, too enthusiastically. "Well then, you both wanted to talk to me?"
"Yeah!" they said at the same time. They gave each other quick glances.
"I'll talk first." Ava said. Tex rolled his eyes. Natalia let go of Tex's hand. He walked by Ivan and whispered something.
"What is it?"
"Well, I know you encountered Droid, head of the Trackon." Tex took a step closer.
"And?"
"And...He's coming back." Natalia felt like she was in an out of body experience. She knew he was planning on killing her.
"W-what?" she stammered. "Impossible. He's dead. Tex-he killed him. Tex, tell her this isn't possible."
"It is. And it's true. Apparently Droid has some kind of apprentice, someone who's giving him life again. I-I don't know who he is."
"How do you know it's a he?" Tex asked.
"He can get in everyone's head. He can talk to you in your head. You may think it's your conscience but it's him. And he told me to warn you." Natalia's legs went weak. She took a seat in one of the chairs.
"That doesn't make sense." Ivan said. "Why wouldn't he just go in Natalia's head?"
"It's because of who she is." Ava turned to Natalia. "Since you're a Floranth, everything is different about you. He cannot get in your mind, so he's been using earthlings to figure out where you are and bring you to him." Tex rubbed his temples.
"And I thought we were out of this mess." he complained.
"The best thing we can do," Ava started. "Is go to Infitus, and stay there for a while. We can tell the new head of the Trackon what's going on. She can be trusted, I'm sure."
"Alright." Ivan said, rising from the chair. "I'm going to start the car." he walked out of the door. The three of them-Tex, Natalia and Ava- stood silently for a while.
"I'll uh, go help Ivan." she said after a while. She walked out of the door.
"You're not going to try to come up with a lame excuse to leave me, are you?" Tex asked. Natalia laughed.
"Actually," she said. "I was just going to get my stuff ready. Clothes and things. But you're welcome to stay." she said. He grinned. She went upstairs and started stuffing clothes in a bag.

Tex was on her bed, eyeing the room. Natalia was in her closet, tossing some shirts on the bed she'd be bringing. "Wow, eight recital medals. First place. Nice." he said.
"Oh, thanks." she said. "I've always played piano since I was little. I still never even played on a real piano though. Electric keyboard was the only type I ever used." Tex slowly nodded.
"Was it a parents-force-you type of thing, or all you?" he asked. Natalia peered out of the closet at the keyboard, and then at Tex.
"All me. My parents had one when I was born and I used to play and when I got old enough, they signed me up for lessons." Tex got up and walked to the keyboard. There was a long stool that stretched from almost one end of the keys to the other. Tex took a seat. He hit some notes randomly, and spun on the stool to face her.
"Can you show me something?" he asked. Natalia appeared from out of the closet and took a seat next to him on the stool. She turned her head to him.
"You know the Beatles?" she asked.
"You mean those gross looking bugs?" he asked. Natalia laughed.
"No. The band. Theres a band called the Beatles." she said. He shook his head, his hair slipping in his eyes. He swiped it away. She placed her hands on the keyboard after turning it on. Part of her arm had to reach over Tex to get to the right key. She started playing Eleanor Rigby, a song from the Beatles. It was one of her favorites. She slipped her eyes closed, letting her fingers do the magic. They slid across the glossy keys making the most beautiful sounds ever.
After she finished, she opened her eyes to see Tex smiling.
"Wow," he let out. "That sounds beautiful." she smiled.
"It's not that difficult to play, either." Natalia said. She put her fingers on the keys, letting a C major chord play throughout her room. Tex brought his hands up and over Natalia's. They rested on hers, his fingers extending with hers. She moved her fingers to the next chord with his on top. His hands moved up to her wrists. Shocks echoed all over her body from his touch. His fingers wrapped around her wrists as they slowly slid up to her forearms. She turned to face him, to just look at him, but somehow she suddenly found herself in the act of kissing Tex. His lips were gentle against hers. His hands were still at her forearms, even as her hands were on his face, pulling him towards her. Adrenaline ran through her body like electricity. She peeled her head back and let her hands down. Her heart was jumping inside her chest, and she wouldn't be surprised if it exploded the next time she took a breath. Tex let his hands go, putting them awkwardly on his lap.
"I should, I should finish packing." she stammered. Her voice was shaky with adrenaline.
"Yeah." he said quickly. "You-should." his voice cracked. He tried to cough it away, Natalia thought. She stood up from the stool and returned to the closet. She was almost done packing some extra clothes. "I'll wait downstairs." he said. Natalia nodded and watched as he left the room.

4
Natalia managed to get everything she wanted to bring in a duffel bag. She walked down the stairs with the full bag around her shoulder. She grabbed a sweatshirt and headed out the door.
When she got to the front of the house, the truck was on. She saw Ivan in the driver's seat and Tex on the steps of her house. He heard the door shut from Natalia and he turned around. She gave him a small smile and walked down the steps.
"Let me grab that for you." he said. He took the bag and walked with her to the car.
"Thanks." she said. He opened the door and scouted the bag down on the far side. Natalia climbed in, and Tex shut the door for her. She was oddly touched. Tex hopped in the passenger side and Ava joined them a minute later in the backseat.
"Hey Natalia." she said. Natalia looked at her.
"Hi." she said. Tex and Ivan began a conversation about driving habits. Natalia guessed Tex was probably saying how he should be driving. Natalia grabbed a water bottle from her bag, and began to sip out of it. She took two sips before Ava whispered in her ear.
"So I saw Tex kiss you." she said. She said so quietly that Ivan and Tex didn't hear-thank god. Natalia jerked forward, coughing on the water in her throat. Everybody went silent in the car so that everybody was listening to the sound of Natalia choking. Tex looked back at her.
"Are you okay?" he asked. Natalia flushed but was thankful that there was no light in the car. The fact that she was coughing could also explain why her face would blow up. She quickly dismissed it with her hand and took a few minutes to gather her breath.
"I'm fine." she croaked afterward. Ivan nodded and they had already gone off in another loud discussion.
"All good now, Natalia?" Ava asked. Natalia gave her a look.
"How did you-I mean- I thought you-"
"I did. But then after a while I went to find you and I heard the piano playing upstairs so I went up there..." she whispered. Natalia was thankful that she was whispering so nobody else would hear.
"Well, it's uh nothing." Natalia sputtered.
"You know what? Shut up, shut. Up. You know that's not true." her voice reached above a whisper and she was now talking.
"Ava, I'd rather not discuss this-"
"You were always one for denial, you know. I mean really, did you even see what happened?" Natalia swallowed hard. It was around dinner time and the sky was getting dark.
"Can we not-"
"Someone else is going to find out sooner or later. And it may be you. It may be someone else." her eyes darted to Tex.
"Ava, please-"
"Whatever, Natalia. What. Ever. I don't care it's your special life not mine. I don't even see it. I mean just look-"
"AVA." Natalia yelled. The car grew dead silent. Natalia swallowed hard. "I'm just going to uh, try to get some rest." Natalia said awkwardly. She leaned her head against the window and closed her eyes. She tried to forget what was happening. Tried to just get away from everything and go to a peaceful place.

"Why don't you switch sides with him?" a voice asked. A light British accent accompanied the tone. "Tex. Tex, wake up." Natalia's eyes were still closed but she was awake, just barely. "Come on, switch with Ava. There's more room back there." a deep breathing was audible and then it was muffled. Natalia hears car doors open and shut. Natalia heard a noise next to her; perhaps Ava? Natalia didn't care, she was already falling asleep.

Natalia's eyes felt heavy, but she still attempted to open them. Her chin was resting on a hard surface. The surface rose up slowly, and fell down slowly. It repeated this process, along with a small breeze that flowed to her forehead. One of her arms rested by her stomach while the other lay on the surface next to her face. Her fingers were curling slightly under. She slowly opened her eyes and it was still somewhat dark. Her head was facing a window and every few seconds they would pass by a streetlight. Natalia started to move the hand that was resting beside her head, still dazed. She wiggled her fingers on a gray fabric. She heard a slow and steady beat in the ear digging into the surface. After the surface she was resting on lowered slowly, it dawned on her where she was. She wasn't resting on random fabric, she was resting on a t-shirt. What she thought was a booming sound was the sound of a heart. She looked around her without moving away. An arm was resting around her shoulder, and it was masculine. Impossible, Natalia thought. Ivan was driving, and Ava was sitting next to her.
Slowly, she craned her chin to the shirt. Her eyes followed up his chest to his neck and on his face. This, was unbelievable.
Tex.
His arm slung around her loosely, and she saw one of his shoes on the floor of the car. His eyes were closed, and his hair had gotten slightly messy. He looked like an angel. Natalia closed her eyes quickly when she heard voices in the front of the car.
"Are they up?" someone asked. It was a masculine tone, and Natalia guessed it was Ivan.
"No." a girl responded. Ava. "If you just look how they're sleeping..." she started.
"What do you mean?" she heard the sound of squeaky leather as Ivan turned to look at them. "Oh," Ivan said.
"I don't get how she likes Tex. She'll be disappointed when she finds out what kind of guy he really is." Ava said. They were talking softly, making it hard for Natalia to hear.
"We'll see," was all Ivan said. "Do you want to wake them up? We're just about here."
"Sure." Ava said. She turned and looked at them. "Psst." she whispered. "Natalia, Tex." she reached a hand back and shook Tex's outstretched knee. She patted Natalia's thigh and Natalia tried to open her eyes. She already started dazing away again. Then she felt sudden movements from under her. She opened her eyes lazily, half-expecting to be facing the car window. But no, she was wrong. Tex was looking right back down at her when they caught gazes. They were still tired, but this was enough to wake them abruptly. Natalia's eyes widened in surprise. She saw him once-when he was asleep, and it was a much more pleasant view than now. He looked strangely at her, slowly lifting his arm that rested around her shoulder. Natalia bolted upright, giving herself a strong headache. How could they ever end up sleeping with each other like that? How could they even let themselves when Ivan and Ava were around?
"Morning sleepy heads." Ivan said. She felt a smile with his tone. "Sleep well?" he asked. Natalia swallowed hard. She realized that her and Tex had been sprawled out along the whole backseat area. He sat up quickly too, dazed at the sunlight pouring in.
"What time is it?" they asked at the same time. They shot each other a look before turning away.
"Where are we?" he asked.
"Georgia. Making our way to the Cave." Ava said. Natalia started to fix some of her hair out of her tired eyes. What does she say? Was she supposed to apologize to Tex?
"So, good morning guys!" Ivan exclaimed, glancing back at them. Tex gave him a dirty look. He rubbed his eyes with the backs of his hands. "You slept like babies last night. I mean, that's what it seems like." Thanks Ivan, Natalia thought. Make it awkward.
"I was out and then you told me to sit in the back and switch with Ava." Ava was fixing up her brown hair with blond highlights.
"Yeah, me and Ivan were having some discussions and I wanted to sit in the front. It's miracle you ever listened to when Ivan told you to move." she smiled back at Tex.
"I believe you mean 'Ivan and I'." Tex said.
"I wouldn't be talking about grammar, if I were you." Ava said.
"Watch it, blondy." he said.
"I'm not blond, dumb ass. It's highlights." Ava said.
"Does it matter? You're still hideous either way." Tex said, crossing his arms over his chest.
Natalia gave him a dirty look. He looked back at her and held up a hand.
"And you." he said to Natalia. "Don't think about giving me the stupid lecture you do every day about how I should be nice to the people we're going with. I never listen, and I'm sick of hearing it." he said. Natalia wasn't even sure she'd open her mouth but now she understood. Tex was embarrassed to wake up with her-just as she-and he used his attitude to make others annoyed. Possibly to forget what they saw? Natalia could never figure out Tex. There were extremely little times when she did get everything. This includes when they kissed at the Infitus balcony. Even after that. But then the next second he turned into a complete ass. The way he touched her by the piano, the way his fingers spread to her hands, her wrists and then her forearms. At the midst of it all, they end up kissing.
"What's your problem?" Natalia asked. She was always bitter in the mornings, and it showed through this time.
"My problem? You think I have a problem?" he demanded. He looked at her a look that she never saw on him. She couldn't process its meaning to it.
"Well there must be a reason as to why you're being a dick!" she yelled. She didn't mean to, but he made her so angry.
"Grow up, Natalia. Get some maturity." he said simply. He looked out the window. Natalia turned to her window and muttered to herself.
"I'm not the one who needs it." she said back.
"How about we switch seats!" Ivan said. "I'm going to keep driving, the next hour someone else can take it. Natalia, why don't you come up here with me?" Ivan said. Natalia agreed. She wanted to slap Tex in the face. If he made one more comment, maybe she would.
Ava reluctantly agreed to the idea. She hated Tex for whatever reason, and now she had to sit by him.
Natalia settled in nicely in the front seat. She found a mirror on a shade attached to the car. She sat back and was happy that she was out of the way for a fight.
"We'll be here in about twenty minutes." Ivan said. He seemed tired and exhausted.
"Hey Ivan, do you want me to drive?" Natalia asked. "You look tired and I could probably be able to get us there in that time." she said.
"Oh, it's okay. No offense but you don't really know where to drive so I'd have to stay up and direct you." Ivan replied.
"True..." Natalia said softly. She turned back to Tex, who had his feet on the back of the driver's seat. He was lounging back with his hands locked behind his head. "Hey Tex," Natalia said. "You should drive for the rest of the way there. You know where to go, and Ivan seems exhausted."
"Me?" he said.
"No, the other Tex." Ava said. Tex gave her a dirty look.
"You don't have to, Tex." it was Ivan. "I can manage about," he paused to yawn. "about the rest of the driving time."
"Ok, I will drive. Pull over, Ivan." Tex said. He tousled his hair, pushing some strands away from his face. Ivan pulled over and Tex hopped in the front. Ivan had already lounged back in the seat and was almost asleep. Ava had started to relax as well.
"I'm sorry." Natalia said. Her voice was soft as she kept up her attempt to let Ivan sleep.
"Why are you sorry?" he asked.
"The whole situation when we woke up. I'm sorry, I didn't know I had done that or I would have not done it." Tex glanced at her, and then glued his eyes to the road.
"Well I'm not." he said softly.
"You're...not?" she asked.
He shook his head, and the hair that he pushed back was now at the sides or on his forehead.
"It was nice to wake up. Usually it's in a cheap hotel bed and I'm just wondering what crazy shit I'll be doing that day." he shrugged.
"Oh," Natalia said softly. Truthfully, she didn't mean the apology. She actually didn't even know why she apologized. It wasn't like Tex didn't put his arm around her. She liked it too. The steadiness of his breath. The strong, beating of his heart. His gentle breath against her forehead...
"What?" he asked. She hadn't even realized she had been staring at him.
Natalia shook her head. "Nothing." she said quickly. She looked down at the hand closest to her on the steering wheel. She looked at the burn mark symbol on his forearm. She shut her eyes and took a deep breath. Why was she looking at Tex? Why was she so intrigued by him?

After countless hours, they finally parked on the side of a deserted road. Tex turned the car off and sat silently for a few moments.
"We're here." he said. Natalia had been staring out the window the whole time. She opened the passenger door and exited it. She went to the backseat door and saw Ava asleep.
"Ava," Natalia mumbled. "Ava! Wake up!" she shook Ava's shoulder a few times and Ava blinked slowly.
"Mom? Is that you?" she asked. Natalia hit the side of her head. Ava sat up quickly, anger rushing to her face. "Why did you do that?" she asked.
"So you could wake up. We're here. Let's go." Ava stepped out of the car and Natalia reached in to get her bags. Tex was on the other side of the car, trying to wake up Ivan. He slapped him in the face a few times before Ivan started blinking. Natalia swung her duffel bag over her shoulder and shut the door. The four of them started walking and stopped at the edge of the cave.
"Who goes first?" Natalia asked.
"Tex!" Ava piped. "If there is some kind of loch ness monster in there and you go first it'll probably go away!"
"And why is that?" Tex demanded.
"Because you'll scare it away with your hideous looks!" Tex crossed his arms.
"How about you go first, Ava?" Tex said. "I mean, you think I'm bad looking, but look at you! Has anyone ever told you that it's not Halloween anymore? I don't get why you're still wearing that ugly mask."
"You know what? I'll go first!" Natalia exclaimed. "So immature." she muttered under her breath.
"No!" Ivan yelled and stopped her. "I'll go first. You're too important to lead us into a cave with possible," he paused, looking at Ava. "Loch ness monsters." she smiled back at him and nodded. Ivan started walking, and Ava followed. Behind Ava was Natalia, and following her was Tex. Ivan yelled something but it was echoed and lost in the cave.
"What?" Natalia yelled ahead. "What did you say?" she could barely see Ava ahead of her. She spun her head and looked behind her. Tex was cursing a few feet away as his sweatshirt ripped after it got caught on a stone. He followed behind her again. "Ava!" Natalia yelled ahead of her.
"Yeah?" a voice yelled back. "Ivan and I are at the end here, where are you?" her sight was completely black except for behind her a faint light from the entrance glowed.
"We'll be there in a minute!" Natalia yelled back. Natalia took a misstep and tripped to the side. It happened too fast for her to scream. Another thing, before she could scream happened. Tex had gotten to her side and caught her. His arms wrapped around hers, grabbing her before she could land on a pointed up piece of stone.
The only sound for a minute was the sound of both of their deep breaths, and then, "Are you okay?"
Natalia looked up at Tex. "Yeah." she said, embarrassed. "I'm fine."
"Come on guys, where are you?" a voice yelled.
"Let's go." Tex said. He held on to her arm and guided her through the cave all the way to the end.
"There you are!" Ava said, rushing to Natalia. Tex let her arm go.
"Here I am." Natalia said back. She turned to Tex. "Where's the latch?" she asked. Tex looked around the walls.
"Hm." he said, thinking aloud. "I know it's around here somewhere..." he smiled down at her. He had said just that when he brought her to Infitus. She laughed.
"You're kidding." she said. She patted his shoulder.
"What if I told you I wasn't...?" her mouth fell open.
"Tex!" she exclaimed. "You cannot be serious!"
"I found it." Ivan said. The heard a click in the darkness and suddenly the rocks began to rattle. The four of them stepped back as blue smoke poured in and the far end of the tunnel turned into a maelstrom.
"Oh...lord." Ava whispered in terror.
"Who wants to go first?" Ivan said. Nobody said a word. They all just stared into the blue swirls.
"Ivan, I think-I think you should take this one first." Ava said. Ivan stepped forward.
"I'll go, then Ava. Natalia, then Tex?" everyone nodded. "All right, here we go..." Ivan ran and jumped into the maelstrom, instantly disappearing. Ava hesitated. She was shaking in fear.
"Go!" Natalia yelled at her. When Ava didn't leave, Natalia ran in it. She knew the portal closed within minutes of being unused. She jumped in, closing her eyes and clutching her bag to her chest.

5
Natalia landed on the pavement with a thud. The weather was warm and it was breezy, making it easier for Natalia to get air in her lungs. The fall had nearly knocked the wind out of her. She threw the duffel bag to the side of her, and rested on her back. Suddenly a loud sound came from in front of her. The next thing she knew, Tex appeared and fell right on her. Thankfully he saw where he was headed, and but his knees out to catch himself. Half of his weight was on her. He pulled up on his elbows and looked at her. He smiled.
"Sorry." he said. She dismissed it with her hand. He pushed some strands of hair that the wind blew in her face behind her ear.
Another loud noise came from behind them, and before they could move, Natalia saw Ava flying in the air, about to land right on them. She had her arms out and she had the most terrifying look on her face as she landed right on top of Tex. She came from an angle, so Tex was tackled off of Natalia onto the pavement a few feet away. Natalia's mouth fell open in surprise. She sat up quickly, and rushed to their side.
Ava was now on top of Tex, moaning in pain. She put her hands on his chest and pushed herself up and off of Tex onto the ground beside Natalia. She rolled on her back.
"Ava! Are you okay?" Natalia asked. Ava pinched her eyes closed and opened them slowly.
"That hurt." was all she said. Natalia crawled on the other side where Tex lay on his back. His eyes were closed. Ivan rushed to them both.
"Tex?" Natalia asked, confused.
"What on earth is going on?" Ivan said as soon as he got over to them. Natalia looked up.
"I-I don't know! When I got here, I fell and shortly, Tex came after me. The next thing I know, Ava is flying towards us! She tackled Tex over and now he's not responding!" Natalia shook his arms. Nothing.
"Did I kill him?" Ava asked. She sat up and leaned over Tex. "Tex? You there, buddy?" she asked. She poked his cheek. Seeing no help in this, she slapped him hard in his face a few times. She laughed as everyone looked at her strangely. "What?" she asked. "It's a great stress reliever!" She put her head to his chest. They waited a few moments for Ava to sit up. When she did, she looked up at them. "He's got a pulse. He's not dead." Ava said.
"He's probably unconscious." Ivan said. "let's just get to a house for the day. I have someone's in mind." he said. With that, he flung Tex over his shoulder, carrying him like it was just a dead body. Natalia and Ava followed Ivan to the townhouses.

They reached a house that was two stories, with grey brick and a dark roof. Ivan knocked on the door a few times. After a few minutes of waiting, a girl appeared in front of the door. She had black hair, and looked awfully familiar.
"Ivan! What are you doing here?" she exclaimed. Her eyes fell on Ava and Natalia, and lingered on Tex. "What the hell?"
"Tory," Ivan started. Whoa, it was Tory! Her hair looked so much darker and she was wearing a black leather jacket and a white v-neck shirt under. "We need a place to stay." Tory peered behind her in the house, and then backed up to let the others in. Ivan came first, and went straight to the couch. He flopped Tex down on the sofa. Tory followed, her arm bumping his.
"What happened?" she asked, staring at Tex.
"Long story." he said. Natalia walked in the room.
"Natalia!" Tory yelped. They hugged.
"Hey!" Natalia said. "It's been so long!" she grinned and released Tory. "So Ivan, do you think he's going to be okay?" Natalia asked.
"Of course. He'll wake up within the next thirty minutes. Maybe twenty." Natalia nodded.
"Oh! Tory this is my friend, Ava. She's an argon too." Natalia brought Tory over to Ava. Ava was naturally shy, so she just smiled and waved.
"Hi. Nice to meet you. I've heard absolutely nothing about you!" she said, joking.
"Same here!" they laughed. "I'm Tory." Natalia left them two alone in the kitchen and went back to the living room. She sat at the end of the couch, Tex's feet just inches away.

After a few minutes of thinking, Ava walked into the living room. Natalia was there, staring at him with confusion even now. She stood up when Ava entered.
"Hey," Natalia said. Ava set put her phone on the end table by Tex's head.
"Oh wait!" Ava said before she sat down. "Tory is not going to believe what I did to Tex. I'm going to tell her!" Ava rushed out of the room and left Natalia standing there alone.
"Uh, okay," Natalia said. She took a seat again, and Tex put his legs on top of her. He was still resting, she thought. Natalia tried to push his legs gently off but he wouldn't move. "Tex, get off," she whispered. Ava's phone started to ring. It vibrated violently. "Ava!" Natalia called, trying not to wake Tex up. She pushed Tex's legs away, stumbling over them. The ringing on her phone would end soon. Natalia crawled up over Tex, pressing her knees to the sides of him. She put on hand on his chest to steady herself, and precisely at that moment, as she reached her arm towards the phone, he opened his eyes. They quickly widened. Her mouth parted in shock. How would this look to him? She reached just a little further and snatched up the phone. She receded her arm back and sat back. She was sitting on Tex's waist with the phone in her hand. He opened his mouth to say something but Natalia put a hand out. She flipped open the phone.
"Hello?" she said softly. Tex tossed his arms over his chest, his fingers delicately bumping into her knees.
"Kristen?" a voice called.
"Uh, actually this is Natalia." she said. A muffled sound came from the other line.
"Oh, Natalia! Darling, it's Mrs. Bourne." Natalia slowly nodded in the line.
"Oh, hi Mrs. Bourne! You probably want to talk to A-Kristen then." Natalia said.
"You know what? It's fine. I was actually just wondering where she was, but if she's by you, then that's okay." Mrs. Bourne's tone was anxious.
"Oh, uh okay. I'll tell her you called and everything's okay." Natalia said.
"Thanks, dear!" the lady exclaimed. She quickly hung up the phone, and the line let a long beep through her phone. Natalia closed it and set it down in front of her. This happens to be Tex's chest.
"Shit," Natalia whispered, her eyes went from the phone and crawled up to Tex's gaze, which she noticed was on her. "Sorry. You're probably wondering what the hell is going on." his gaze followed down her face to the rest of her body.
"What, happened?" he asked. Natalia scooted back down his legs and onto the end of the couch with a flushed face. She grinned.
"Well, Ava fell on you...and knocked you out. Oh, speaking of Ava, Ava!" Natalia yelled to the other room. "Come here!" She waited for Ava to come. "Anyways, we're at Tory's house." Ava walked in the room.
"Yes?" her gaze went from Natalia, to Tex who began to sit up. She snatched his phone from his chest before it fell onto the floor. "Why is my phone on your chest?" his gaze slipped to Natalia.
"Yeah, well it was ringing. So I tried calling you but you didn't come so I grabbed it. It was your mom. She wanted to talk to you but then she said since I was with you everything is okay." Ava's face paled.
"Natalia, I don't think-" her voice was small and scared. It shook, and it was barely audible.
"Tex! You've awoken!" Ivan strode into the room. His face was a light pink, like he was flushed. Tory followed shortly behind him and took a seat next to Ivan on the couch. "Did Ava explain the story of how she tackled you?" he asked.
"Natalia, you didn't tell me she tackled me. You said she fell on me." Tex said. He looked at Ava. "And you," he said. She smiled weakly.
"Remember when you yelled at me and screamed at me at Natalia's house?" Tex slowly nodded, unsure where she was going with this. Ava smiled. "And remember when you apologized?" Ava asked. Tex slowly nodded again. "Good. At least you remember that. I was wondering how much you forgot."
"So I'm guessing you're not going to apologize despite the fact that you tackled me." Tex said.
"To my defense, it was on accident. And plus, you're an ass, you kind of deserved it." she shrugged.
"Making enemies already, Tex?" Tory asked.
"Tory!" he said. She smiled and waved.
"Hey there." she said. Tex looked at them all.
"So, why are we here?" Tex asked.
"You can say the night." Tory said, looking at all of them. "Natalia and Ava could take my bedroom. Tex, you can take the couch. Ivan,"
"I can sleep on the floor." he said.
"I was going to give you the guest bedroom." she said, looking at him.
"Well, where would you sleep? One bed won't fit three ladies." Ivan said. "You take the guest bedroom." he said. He smiled. Tory blushed and turned to the rest of them.
"It is close to dark." Ava said. Natalia's gaze lingered on Ivan and Tory a little longer. They switched glances before Tory stood up.
"Natalia, you must be hungry. I'll make some dinner for us. Although you're he only one who requires food in your system." she looked at everyone else. "I'll make a huge bowl of spaghetti." she said with a forced Italian accent. She disappeared into the kitchen. Ivan stood up.
"I'll help her. It's a lot to feed 5 people." he left the living room. Ava tapped her foot impatiently on the floor.
"Can you" Tex started, irritated. "stop?" she paused, gave him a look, and continued patting her foot down. Natalia put her head in her hands. "I'm glad someone else is annoyed with Ava." Tex said, looking at Natalia.
"I'm annoyed with both of you, because of how immature you both are." Ava looked over at Natalia.
"Natalia, I wouldn't be mean to me, if I were you. I know something that can make this time so much more awkward." Ava said. She gave a dirty smile. Crap, Natalia thought. She's talking about the kiss.
"Why? What does she have against you?" Tex asked Natalia. Natalia looked at the ground and responded quickly.
"Oh, nothing." she said. "Nothing at all." she croaked.
"That's what I thought." Ava said. She sat back on the couch.
"You promised you wouldn't say anything." Natalia whispered to Ava.
"Would you like to test that theory?" Ava said, smiling.
"Ava..."
"Alright, fine. I'll stop messing with you. Only if you admit it." Ava said. Natalia leaned closer to her.
"Admit what?" she asked. Tex was staring at them both, dumbfounded.
"It's more than you put it out to be."
"I'm not putting it out as anything!" Natalia said, irritated.
"Exactly!" Ava exclaimed. They both exhaled slowly and rolled their eyes.
"What are you talking about?" Tex said, glancing at both of them.
"You should know."
"Ava!" Natalia said. "Stop."
Tex turned to Ava. "Tell me. I want to know."
"Alright, fine." Ava smiled. "I know-"
"No, he doesn't want to know." Natalia said. "Now Ava, you can shut your mouth now or I'll shove, I'll shove spaghetti down your throat." she said as Tory and Ivan came out with 5 bowls of pasta. They set them down on the table.
"Oh, sounds wonderful." she said. "As I was saying," she said, turning to Tex.
"Ava," Natalia gritted. She grabbed Ava's arm. "Stop. Please," Tex crossed his arms.
"Dinner's ready!" Ivan called. He took a seat next to Tory. Tex sat at the end, and to his right was Tory. To his left was Natalia, and next to Natalia sat Ava. They ate silently.
"How is it?" Tory asked. One hand was down on her lap and the other was grabbing at the pasta with a fork.
"Great, thanks." Natalia said. Although, the pasta tasted raw, and the sauce wasn't warm. Natalia forced a smile. What should she have expected from someone who never ate?

After dinner, it was just about bed time. Ava was already asleep in the bed, and Natalia went to the living room to get her bag. She had a pair of sweats and a shirt to sleep in. Ivan went somewhere that Natalia didn't keep up with, and Tory was in her room.
When Natalia entered the living room, Tex was in the open area. Shortly behind the couch was the kitchen, where a small fridge sat. He was drinking some water. Natalia walked quietly to her bag, and pulled out her clothes. She stood up and turned around, stopping short. If she took one more step she would've bumped into Tex. She felt his breath on her. He had on his jeans and no shirt.
"...Hi." Natalia said. He grinned.
"Hi." he said back. She started to walk around him but he caught her arm. She looked back up at him.
"Is...something wrong?" Natalia asked.
"Natalia!" Ava called lazily from the room. Natalia sighed.
"Just a second," she yelled back. "Can I help you, Tex?" she asked, looking down at his hand clasped around her arm. He released her.
"I just thought..." he smirked. "Never mind." he said.
"What?" she demanded.
"I thought you'd be all over me. From when I almost got killed,"
"You got knocked out." Natalia corrected.
"And you care. You care about me and never forgot about me when you left." Natalia tensed.
"I'm sorry, what's your point?" he smirked.
"So you do care." he said.
"No, I didn't say that. I asked what you're trying to tell me."
"All I'm saying is that I'm surprised you didn't rush to kiss me, or hug me because I was injured and you care deeply."
"I do not-"
"Oh, wait. When I woke up, let's not forget you were on top of me."
"Yeah," Natalia said. "Trying to get Ava's phone!" she said, raising her voice.
"Sure." Tex said sarcastically. "You don't stop thinking about me." he crossed his arms.
"I-you-I would just stop if I were you. I could get some proof." she said. She clutched her clothes to her chest.
"Unnecessary, I already know you do." Natalia began to shake her head and Tex took a step closer. "If you're saying no, then why, when I saw you for the first time in months, you were wearing the diamond necklace I bought? And you're still wearing it now." she went quiet.
"I'm not-" Tex reached a hand to her neck and felt around her collar for the silver chain. His hand slid down her neck and he picked up the beautiful diamond stone. The diamond swirl shimmered in the dim lighting.
"You're...not?" he smirked. Natalia grew quite irritated. She pushed away his hand, walked away without any more.

Tory's room was blue. Blue bed sheets, navy walls, the blue theme looked nice. Ava was already sound asleep by the time Natalia came back. She touched her neck, feeling goose bumps form from Tex's touch.
Natalia changed into the other clothes, and brought the other out to the living room. Natalia went to her duffel bag quickly and quietly and stuffed her old clothes in there.
After whispering curses and trying real hard to close the bag, Natalia finally completed the task, she stood up and slowly turned.
Tex.
His face looked hurt. He took a step closer.
"Natalia, I-"
"Don't want to hear it. I don't." Natalia was trying to keep the anger out of her voice.
"I thought you'd be pleased to hear my five minute speech about how sorry I am." Natalia crossed her arms and stared at him. "Let me first start off by saying how wonderful you are and how great your fashion sense his." he made a choking noise as if to stop from laughing. "And also, you've got some pretty strange friends."
"Like you?" she asked.
"Are we really just friends?" the room went silent.
"Look Tex," Natalia said after a while. "I'm tired. I'm going to sleep." she started to walk away from him but he grabbed her forearm once again. Natalia looked down at his hand. "Is this a new habit of yours?" Natalia asked. Tex released her finally after hesitant twitches. She took a deep breath. "Tex, what do you want from me?" she asked. His eyebrows furrowed.
"What do I want from you? Why would you think...?"
"Do you need the necklace back? Gotta pay off debt that you've probably spent on booze? I fell for this once and I'm not about to fall for it again." she swallowed hard. Why did she do this? It was a short burst of anger. Anger from before, and stress with what was happening now.
"What are you talking about?" he took a step back.
"Am I just one of those girls on your list who just happened to have kissed you? Now it's just an awkward space and I hate the thought..." she looked away. "How are you any different from Brad?" she asked. She saw a spark of emotion, which was different than what she usually saw. For a moment it was complete rage, and then he went normal again, expressionless. As if nothing ever happened.
"Goodnight, Natalia." he said dryly. He walked away, his shoulder bumping hers. It wasn't a soft bump; one to send her back on her heals and put a hand out to steady herself. He walked to the couch, and lay back on his back. Natalia walked to the back of the sofa and looked over at him.
"Tex..." she said weakly.
"Goodnight, Natalia." he repeated. His hands were behind his head and his eyes were closed.
"I-I didn't mean-"
"I said, goodnight." Natalia turned soundlessly towards the room.
She shuffled into the bed and tucked herself under the warm covers. All of the memories of her father fell into her mind. He had lied to her, he left her, and now he was about ready to kill her. He curled into a ball, imagining her mother's soothing voice in her ear.
"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy, when skies are gray. You'll never know dear, how much I love you. So please don't take my sunshine away."
When Natalia was a young child, her mother always sang the tune in the most delicate voice.
"Stay strong, dear." she almost heard her mother's voice talk.
"Listen to your friends." her mother's voice echoed. "He is not to be trusted." Natalia's eyes were pinched shut.
"Who?" she whispered. There was no answer.

Natalia's dream was the most terrifying she had ever had. Her father was there, chasing Natalia and trying to murder her. A vision of Droid came up, and he was alive and he was smiling like a demon. Natalia thrashed around in her father's grip as he held her chin up.
"Finish her!" victor screamed. Droid brought the knife to Natalia's throat, and swung it clean across. Her own blood stained the tip all over the knife. Blood poured down her neck with vibrant force as her vision faded and Droid laughing in her ears.

Her shoulders were tugged, and someone was holding her hand. "Natalia! Natalia wake up!" Ava was saying. Natalia was thrashing around wildly, and sweat was now plastered to her forehead. She felt a sudden lurch in her stomach and she sat up quickly.
Everybody was standing around, looking at her. Ivan's hair was a mess, along with Ava's. Tex's looked tossed around and Tory's was pretty straight. Wait-Tex? He was in here, a worried look on his face, after what she said to him? Her stomach was in knots, and Ava patted on her back for reassurance.
"I think," Natalia started, "I'm going to be sick. Natalia clutched a hand over her mouth and pushed past the others into the bathroom.

What Natalia thought was that she would be vomiting. The typical gross feeling would fill her throat and sting her eyes. But not today. No, instead she gagged over the toilet rather than actually puking. Her stomach began to bubble and lurch, but for the remainder of the time spent in the restroom, nothing happened.

Natalia walked out of the bathroom. Her limbs felt weak, because of hardly eating for days. She heard a loud discussion in the living room area.
"Why not?" Tex's voice yelled. Tory was quick to respond.
"After one dream, you're sending her away?" she yelled. "It's not even your choice!"
"Tory," Ivan's delicate voice called. "Calm down." he said.
"I don't care. I can get her out of here. And we will continue to find Droid while she remains at her house." Tex said.
"Do you honestly think she's not a part of this?" Ava yelled "This whole business with Droid and victor has absolutely Nothing to do with us! But look at you Tex! You're by her side every second!" the room grew a horrified silence.
"I want her to go." Tex said, his words like poison.
"Tex," Ivan's reassuring gentleness came.
"I WANT HER TO GO." Tex yelled. "Hatcha enyu tú fasa compeltaño. Inyu pasa norva Tory! Cine le porva ensu de forva argon o ebouse vinu." he said in an unknown language that Natalia was unfamiliar with. Then a dark, sickening voice came in her head.
"She's done nothing but bad for us. Look at what happened to Tory! None of that would have happened if she never met me and she never found out about argons." were these Tex's words? It sure seemed like it.
"How could you say that?" Tory said. Her voice was in a cry.
"I can't do this anymore." Tex said. "You hear me? I CAN'T." he paused. "We're going to get not only our selves killed, but we're going to get her killed."
"Where's the Tex I know?" Ava said, surprising Natalia. "Where are you? You never worried about getting anyone killed but yourself. You'd be telling her to cry a river, build a bridge, and get over it. Just like you do to everyone." all of their voices were loud.
"Things have changed. I changed."
"Well, unlike you, our plan won't." Ava said, crossing her arms. "Whether you choose to accompany us or not, we're going." Natalia couldn't take it anymore. She walked into the room, her eyes burning. Ava's eyes widened. "Natalia! How are you feeling?" Natalia took a seat on a sofa chair and stared at all of them. Ivan's hand grasped Tory's arm when she had been yelling. Ava quickly put down the finger she was raising towards Tex and Tex, well Tex was completely red and had thrown on a shirt.
"We weren't talking about you." Ava said. She let out a nervous laugh.
"She's sick, Ava. Not deaf." Tex crossed his arms. "She heard everything." Natalia bit her bottom lip.
"Natalia-" Tory started, but broke off. She looked at Tex. Her gaze once again rested on her. "You can stay. Don't listen to anything we say because it's your choice." she craned her head to Tex, but her voice was directed towards Natalia. "Nobody's going to make you leave." Natalia clutched her stomach, feeling awfully sick. She let out a weak nod.
"Poor thing," Ivan said. "She's as pale as a ghost." Ivan put the back of his hand to her forehead.
"Yeah Ivan, maybe you should kiss her on her forehead like her mommy does." Tex then added with sarcasm. "Oh wait, she doesn't have one. Because her mommy died when she was a little girl. Aw, poor thing." the room went dead silent. Tex's words felt like a knife in her back. Everyone noticed what was said. It showed through Natalia's expression. "Wait, Natalia, I didn't mean-" his face was soft again. He realized what he said. Natalia quickly rose from the chair and ran into the bedroom.

Natalia slammed the door shut behind her and jumped in the bed. She dug herself under the covers and under the pillows. All she's ever wanted for years was to bring her mother back. And nothing-nothing that anyone had said was as bad as this was to hear. For Tex, the one guy she thought she loved, to say that-wait. Love? Her ears began to pound as she rewound the thoughts that passed her head. No. She did not love arrogant, sarcastic, cocky Tex. But did he love her? Why should she care? It's his own problem now that Natalia was completely furious with him.
Natalia had been too lost in thought to hear the soft click as the door to the bedroom opened and closed. Suddenly, she felt an area of the bed sink down beside her. As she lay on her stomach-her nauseous stomach-a hand fell on her waist. It was big and heavy and Natalia thought for a moment it would be Ivan's. Tex's hands weren't muscular. They were lean and slender.
"Nat," a voice whispered. Masculine, Natalia pointed out in her head. She pushed the covers off of her, still remaining on her stomach with her head down. The hand was no longer big. Maybe it was the bed sheets that made her feel that way. The now lean hand traveled up her back to her shoulder. She turned her face to the boy. "I couldn't tell you how sorry I am." he whispered. The darkness that surrounded them was so grand that Natalia couldn't see the boy's image in front of her.
"You're right. You never apologize." she muttered. She guessed it was Tex, and hoped it was too. She caught herself up again. Why would she feel the desire to see him? To even hear his sarcastic, dark, cocky, and so utterly beautiful voice?
She felt his hand tense and then the bed shifted as he moved. "I'm sorry." he said. Natalia swallowed hard.
"Not good enough." she muttered. There was a dreadful silence. "If you don't mean it, don't even bother. I can tell when you're heart's in something or not. I've known you long enough." she turned on her back, staring at the darkness in front of her. He moved even closer then, his face leaning over hers, just inches between them.
"I, me, Tex Cloaf," he started. "Sincerely apologize for what I said. Honestly I was just blowing off steam. Even though I'm not a train. Don't get that crazy idea you're talking to a train. It's so impeccably-" he broke off. "Anyways, I apologize for what I said." she looked at him as his face soundlessly grew closer. "Does that fit your expectations?" he whispered. Natalia hadn't answered. She didn't have enough time to think of what to say because she already felt arms press down on each side next to her on the bed. His breath, steady and strong, hit her then. She didn't say anything then.
"I am not what you said I am." He whispered. He had bent down to her ear to say the words. "I'm not like Brad. I don't want-" he exhaled slowly. "I wouldn't use you." his soft lips brushed against her ear as he whispered. "Forgive me, Natalia." he said. He pulled up so that he was facing her again. His hair caught around his ears. She reached up a hand to his face, his soft and angular face. Natalia smiled at him. Just a smile. And that seemed like the permission he was waiting for. Her dropped his head down then, and let it onto hers, their lips meeting with each other. One of his hands that rested beside her on the bed went up around her back, pushing her up to him. Every good memory started flooding back to her. Maybe it was true. Maybe Tex Colaf had a heart.
Natalia gripped at the sleeves of Tex's shirt, making her hands into fists with the fabric. She pulled him closer, and he let her without resistance.
Natalia had to push him away, right? She felt that it's what she was supposed to do. He was supposed to be the cocky sarcastic one, not the one who apologized and kissed her. Heat rushed up to Natalia's checks and she shook her eyes open. Not much has changed in the few seconds, Tex still had one arm around her. She tore her head free, dropping her head back against the pillow.
"You shouldn't have done that." she whispered. He searched her face, taking his arm back.
"I just..." he drifted off. "I'm tired of spending every second with you acting like I don't care." Tex put a hand on hers, which was still in a fist with his sleeve. "Because the truth is, I'm done pretending. I don't want to. It's killing me inside acting like I've got better things going on than worrying about you." he whispered.
"What about Tory...Ivan?" Natalia asked.
"What about them? Why should they care? I'm not going to announce it to the world, Natalia that I can't..." he exhaled smoothly. "I can't keep my mind off of you." he took his hand from atop hers and brushed it against her cheek, tucking strands of her hair behind her cheek. Natalia began to sit up, slowly, and Tex did the same. The distance between their faces was nearly the same when she sat up.
"I just…" she started, about to lead to something, when she felt one final lurch of her stomach. Her hands tightened around his shoulders.
"Are you okay?" he asked. She removed her hands from his sleeves where the fabric was now wrinkled, and stood up quickly. She ran into the bathroom, her stomach tying in knots and twisting all over.

6

Natalia awoke in the same bed she had remembered from last night. Ava was beside her, snoring, while on her stomach, facing a window. There were shades covering the glass, making it difficult for Natalia to decipher whether it was morning, or just later in the night.

Natalia had been rolled out on her side, the bed sheets tangling around her legs. She sat up, filled with grogginess. Last night was kind of a blur at the moment, but apparently nothing big had happened to make waking up unusual. She rubbed her eyes, as if she could swipe away the grogginess in her eyes. Slowly, Natalia stood up. Her stomach ached with hunger. It had to have been a day or two since she'd eaten last.

She exited the bedroom and walked down the small hallway of Tory's house into the living room. As if she was back at the hotel, Natalia saw Tex sprawled out on the couch. A small woven blanket twined his legs, and his face dug into the pillow. Natalia took a look around the room. It was a fairly small living room, and a doorway separated the living room from the kitchen. These were the moments Natalia disliked. She was probably the only one up with no idea of what happened last night. She had nothing to do but get dressed, so that was what Natalia did.

After changing into a pair of jeans, and a shirt, Natalia quickly brushed her hair and completed her daily morning tasks. She walked out of the door to the bathroom and froze. Down at the end of the hallway stood Ivan. Now, this wouldn't have been so weird if he wasn't in front of Tory. He was whispering something while Tory smiled, staring up at him. His hand came up to Tory's face and caressed her cheek. Natalia's mouth fell open in shock as she watched. Then, the unthinkable happened. Tory leaned up and kissed Ivan. It was a long, lingering kiss. One that Natalia had experienced on the balcony with Tex. In fact, she could almost hear his tired voice in her head. What are you doing? But the sound was so far away, like he was talking from the end of a tunnel.

When Natalia thought she couldn't handle the astonishment any more, she turned away and walked back into the living room. CRASH. Natalia's forehead ran right into something which felt like stone. She cursed loudly, falling back and bumping her back into the wall. Her hand rushed up to her forehead as she tried to blink her sight back. It was fuzzy and dark, but she saw enough to see who was in front of her.

Tex.

Natalia must have bumped right into him, and hard. Her forehead throbbed even though she tried to rub away the pain. He was staring at her, lazily, but somewhat alarmed. Tex must have actually been talking to her when she heard his voice in her head. He must have seen Tory and Ivan as well.

"What the hell?" Natalia said, not trying to hide the sharpness in her voice. "What," she started, shaking her head. "What are you doing here?"

"What am I doing here? Are you experiencing a concussion?" Tex asked. He took a step towards her, reaching his hand out to her head. She quickly grabbed it with her free hand, and pushed it down.

"Don't," she started. "touch me." He let his arm down. Natalia finally removed her hand from her own forehead. "Why didn't you tell me you were behind me? Why didn't you say anything?"

Tex shook his head in confusion. "What are you talking about? I was calling your name for at least five minutes. I was asking you what you were doing. You were tuning me out, weren't you?" he crossed his arms. "Don't you forgive me from when we barged in on your 'date' to that bistro?" he asked. He used his fingers to emphasize the fact that he knew Natalia wasn't really on a date.

"What are you talking about? You never said anything to me." Natalia took a step away from the wall, removing the support she had on it.

"I was." He protested. "You weren't even looking at me. You were staring down the hallway, like everything was cancelled out because of that." He gestured down the hallway. It was obvious that he had just awoken. His hair was messy, and his eyes had dark shadows underneath as if he had trouble sleeping.

"I was," Natalia started, staring at the ground. "surprised. I wasn't expecting…" she shrugged.

"You forgot? I thought you knew all of yesterday. And last night it was pretty obvious. The way Tory was talking-"

"I just can't believe they're together!" Natalia exclaimed softly. Tex's eyebrows furrowed.

"What? What are you talking about?" he said. Natalia stepped back.

"What were you talking about?" Natalia asked. This was really one big miscommunication.

"What-I thought-weren't you just…?" Tex let out a frustrated breath. "Weren't you surprised to find out you were in Tory's house? I mean, you seemed to forget all of yesterday. I think it was the food you ate-"

"No! I knew where I was. I know. I thought…" Natalia peered down the hallway, where Ivan and Tory were now nowhere to be seen. "Didn't you see…"

Tex looked at her quizzically. "See what?"

"They were… I mean they seem together." Tex looked at her with more confusion than ever.

"Who? Who were-Natalia what are you talking about?" Natalia opened her mouth to speak but Ivan and Tory entered the room. This now made sense. Clearly Ivan and Tory had something going on. Tex and Natalia watched them enter the living room.

"Morning. You guys sleep well?" Tory asked. She disappeared into the kitchen, and returned with a bottle of water. Tex looked back at Natalia and saw her look. His eyes widened, still looking at her. He caught on. Well this was awkward.

"Yup." Natalia said quickly. She walked away from Tex and sat on the couch. It was something for her to do, although she regretted her action. The couch was a mess; the blanket was tossed all over and there were some pillows on the ground. Tex turned around, his expression full of astonishment. "You?" Natalia asked. Her voice shook. She fumbled with the hem of her shirt.

"Wonderfully." Tory replied. Tex turned pale, his eyes wondering all around the room. This only made the shadows under his eyes more visible. Because of this, Natalia felt heat rush up to her cheeks and hoped it wasn't enough to draw attention.

"So," Natalia started. Tex shot her a look. Was it-confusion? Maybe he was thinking of asking her how on Earth Ivan and Tory ended up together. The fact that Natalia knew, and now Tex, was overwhelming. "What are we doing today?"

"Natalia," Tex started quickly. She slowly craned her head in his direction. "Can I talk to you, for a quick second? Alone?" Tory gave Natalia mischievous look. Although, she really had no idea what Tex was talking about and that it was actually her. And it seemed Tory hadn't forgotten the first time Natalia and Tex actually kissed. She had the wrong idea.

"Oh, uh sure." Natalia replied, standing from the couch slowly. Natalia followed Tex down to the start of the hallway. Knowing Tory was no longer able to see them, Tex grabbed Natalia's elbow and rushed her to the end of the hallway. They turned to an open room, which turned out to be a guest bedroom. He brought her to the bathroom and shut the door behind him. She tugged her arm free, rubbing her elbow to emphasize the fact that he should not be grabbing her. Tex spun around from the door and faced Natalia.

"Yes?" Natalia asked, looking up at him. She felt his breath brush against the tip of her ear, making strong chills envelope her shoulders and neck.

"Please, please, don't tell me you saw Tory and Ivan together." Natalia, shrugged, and faced the mirror. It was slightly frosty, but she could see both of their reflections. Tex was still staring at her.

"Fine. I didn't see them together." Tex's eyebrows rose, which Natalia stared at in the mirror, entertained.

"Really? You didn't?" He asked. Natalia faced him again. He was unusually close. He quickly stepped back a few steps, staring at his feet. His eyes crawled back up her body as Natalia replied.

"Of course I did." She said. Tex let out a frustrated breath. He ran his hands through his hair a few times, which Natalia had desired to do. His smooth, silky hair…

"Then why did you say you didn't?" he asked. His front bangs were now pushed back, exposing his forehead. Natalia could only wonder what happened last night, after she insulted him. Her memories went black from there.

"You told me to not say Tory and Ivan were…together."

"You know what I meant." Tex snapped.

"What's your problem? Are you still mad at me for last night?" Natalia demanded. Tex took a step back.

"What are you talking about?" he asked. His hair began to slowly slip back down his face.

"When I said you were like Brad. I apologized, didn't I?" Natalia tried to search his face. Tried to find some expression that gave away a hint of what happened.

"You don't remember anything after that?" he whispered. Natalia shook her head.

"Did I miss something important? Did something happen?"

"Nope." Tex said quickly, opening the door of the bathroom. He started walking out, not looking to see if she followed.

Natalia had found her way back to the living room, where Tory, Ivan and now Ava were. Ava's hair was a mess, and her eyes were lazy. She was sitting on a stool, leaning over the counter, talking to Tory and Ivan who were on the other side of the counter. They all looked over when they heard Natalia enter.

"Hey, we were just talking about last night. I'm so sorry about what happened!" Ava said. Natalia took a seat next to her and gave her a confused look.

"What do you mean?" Natalia asked.

"You know, with Tex. And we heard you gagging over the toilet. I never knew dreams could do that to someone." Ava pushed back some of the knotty hair on her head.

"It wasn't her dreams that made her throw up." Ivan said. "I think it was the food that we made. It isn't exactly what I thought it was." He shrugged and looked at Natalia. "Sorry."

Natalia shook her head. She leaned forward on the chair. "What about Tex?" Natalia asked.

"He was horrible. I can't believe he talked to you like that. About your mother…" Natalia's head shot up. She stared at Ava with big eyes.

"What?" she asked, shaking her head. "What about my mother?" Why couldn't Natalia get any type of memory from last night?

"Remember? When you walked in on us and Tex having an argument?" Natalia started at her blankly. Ava continued with, "And he demanded that you leave? And what he said about your mom, just rubbing that in your face. Didn't he say something like…?"

"He said 'aw, poor thing. Why don't you kiss her forehead like her mommy does. Oh wait, she doesn't have a mommy. Because her mommy died when she was little. Poor thing.'" Ivan finished. Natalia's face burned. Her cheeks got hot and she heard a loud pounding in her ears. Now she remembered that. She walked in and heard the argument herself. She ran away into the bedroom and must have fallen asleep like that.

"Natalia, are you okay?" Tory asked, noticing Natalia's expression. She dismissed it with her hand, and walked away from the counter. She paced quickly into the living room and down the hallway. She stopped abruptly in front of Tex, who was pulling a blue shirt over his head. He stopped when he saw her. That selfish jerk! When she asked what happened, he simply said nothing. He opened his mouth to say something but Natalia's hand was faster than his words. She slapped him in the face as hard as she could, with all of her hate.

Tex stumbled back from the impact, and his mouth fell opened from the shock and confusion. From not being able to physically hurt him, this was progress. His cheek was a light pink.

"Well hello to you too." He said, after regaining his composure. Natalia made a fist with her hand and threw it at his fact again. It picked up speed and momentum until Tex caught it with his hand quickly. He twisted it down, making Natalia yelp out in agony. "Damn it Natalia, what are you doing!" he exclaimed. She pulled her arm away.

"Asshole!" she yelled. She swung another punch and Tex ducked out of the way just to miss it.

"What is your problem!" he yelled, catching her foot as she tried to bring it up to kick him. She stumbled to the side, and Tex caught her shoulder to straighten her. He dropped her leg and let go of her.

Tears had made their way to the inside of Natalia's eyes. She rubbed at them before they could slip down her face. Tex reached his hand out to her face.

"Stop, Tex. Stop." Tex's hand froze, and broke down to his side.

"You want to tell me what's going on?" he asked.

"You should know." She snapped, struggling to keep the tears away from her eyes. "After all, according to you, nothing important happened last night." In the backs of Tex's eyes, something flickered; remembrance, maybe? Something came up. But in the next instant, it was gone.

"Yeah, nothing happened." His voice cracked.

"You insulted me, my family." She took a step up to him. "You mocked my mother. You laughed at her death like it was some kind of joke." Tex's lips parted. Caught ya, Natalia thought with rage.

"I…"

"You what Tex? For once, stop with the lies!" Tex quickly brought his hand up to the back of her head. Before Natalia could react, Tex pulled her head to his. His face smashed hers, and they melted together. His lips attached on to hers, as if with super glue so there was nothing she could do to pull away. She let out a surprised gasp, and Natalia's lips parted under the pressure.

Tex's other hand came around her back, pulling her even closer-if that was possible. Every space between them was covered; stomach, legs, chest. Natalia didn't return his touch. All she did was stand there, letting Tex wrap his arms around her. He shouldn't be kissing her; she just tried to punch him. If Natalia didn't have that melting desire for him, she would've slapped him in the face. But this was Tex. Beautiful, stunning, and down-right gorgeous Tex. Natalia willed herself not to break and melt like she usually did under his touch.

Finally, Tex released her. He took his hands away from her head and back, and stared at her eyes. His breath was faster than usual, Natalia noted. She swallowed hard and returned his look. She blinked slowly a few times.

"Is kissing me your substitution for explaining what you said last night?" Natalia asked sourly. Natalia crossed her arms. It hurt being this bitter, when she really wanted to rush to his arms, and have him tell her that it was all a lie that Tory made up. Tex took a hesitant step back.

"What?" he said. "You don't… That didn't help you remember anything?" he asked. Natalia shrugged. She was so lost in the way her insides burned with a passion.

"What would that help?" Natalia asked. She turned pale, and froze. "We didn't… did we do anything?" Tex shook his head quickly, starting to turn and walk away. Natalia grabbed his arm before he took two steps. "Tex."

"No." he said simply. His look was uneasy. Her grip tightened, and he stared at her hand on his bicep. "Is this a new habit of yours, Havens?" he asked. He began to smirk.

"It can either stay there, or slap your face." His grin widened. Natalia shrugged and added, "Your choice."

After a long stare, Tex finally replied, "Fine. We k-"

"Natalia, we're all ready to go when you are." Ivan interrupted. Natalia sighed.

"Okay." K what? What was Tex going to say? He wasn't going to say kiss was he? It made terrible sense.

Natalia released Tex's arm, ignoring catching his gaze. She felt the wonderful shade of green from his eyes on her. Ivan walked back into the living room, disappearing behind the wall.

"What were you going to say?"Natalia demanded. She needed to know. Tex started walking down the hallway, Natalia on his heels.

"You didn't tell me what you saw this morning, so I won't tell you what happened last night." He said.

"Do you want another slap in the face?" Natalia said, sharpness making its way to her tone.

"What will it take for you to understand that when you do that, it doesn't hurt me?" Tex entered the living room, picking up the pillows on the floor that were near the couch. Natalia began to help, and started folding the massive blanket.

"I slapped you very hard a few minutes ago." Natalia said. She paused, and looked at him. "You stumbled back because of the impact. I've gotten stronger since you saw me last." Natalia put the folded blanket on the couch.

Tex laughed, crossing his arms and looking down at her. "Oh really?" he said. "I just felt bad, so I made it look like it hurt. I emphasized the smack of your hand. Although, I must say, you did catch me off-guard." Natalia smirked.

"Yeah, right. You just don't want to admit that I'm strong." She picked up the last pillow and tossed it on the couch. She swiped her hair impatiently from her face.

"Punch me." He said back.

"What?"

"You think you're so strong, so clever, so punch me right in the face. If you can, then I'll admit that you're strong." Natalia made a thinking face, taking a few steps closer.

Quickly, Natalia raised her fist up to his face. The first hit was easily blocked by Tex, and when Natalia swung the other arm, he grabbed it. She backed up, readying herself for another blow. They took slow steps, circling each other. She threw another punch, which was easily blocked. Ava was watching from the sidelines, rooting for Natalia.

Natalia took one final try, and Tex purposely let it an inch in front of his face before he caught her wrist. He grinned. "And you were so close." He said.

"Hey," she said. "I'm still clever. Got cat-like reflexes, you know-" Natalia was interrupted by a sudden movement in front of her. Tex lunged at Natalia. His arms quickly went around her waist and lifted her up. He carried her over his shoulder, Natalia's legs dangling beside his head. Her arms flopped around has he walked around the room, carrying her. At first she let out a scream, alarming Tory from the kitchen. Then the only sound you could hear after that was laughter from Tex, Natalia, and Ava.

"Oh my gosh." Ava said, clutching her stomach. Tex turned to face her, Natalia still in his grip. She twisted her body to look at Ava. "Natalia, your face," she paused regaining her breath. "That was hilarious!" she exclaimed.

"Cat-like reflexes?" Tex asked, peering over his shoulder at her. She began to twist, and suddenly his grip was switched. His hand under her bent knees, and his other hand supporting her back.

"You know," Natalia said casually. "a dead cat's reflexes." She grinned. Tex let Natalia down on her feet, just as Ivan and Tory entered from opposite doorways of the room.

"Ready?" Tory asked. She wore a leather jacket over a white shirt and dark jeans. Tex tensed, probably filled with awkward confusion. Natalia followed everyone out the door.

Natalia stopped at the bottom of the steps of the Trackon. Despite the fact that Droid used to be here, the building always seemed stunning. Memories from months back floated into her head. Tex, carrying her up the stairs. Tex, dancing with her at the party. Tex, kissing her on the balcony. Every memory included Tex, and as crazy as it seemed, they went through a lot together. Natalia guessed that was why she carried so many memories back home with her. Because of Tex, everything between them was memorable.

Natalia glanced at him now, really taking in the sight of seeing him again. She thought she never would again. The worst part was that they kissed, three times, apparently. That was more than Natalia had ever imagined getting close with him, in that way. But something pulled her closer, and Natalia wasn't sure if it was the gleaming of his eyes, or the angular structure of his jaw, or the shape of his broad shoulders. Maybe it was all of it, but the truth was, Natalia never really knew.

"Tex, are you sure you want to go in there?" Ivan asked from his side. Natalia shook her head free of her inside thoughts and willed herself back into focus. "I know there are a lot of crazy memories here…" he looked at the building.

"Dear me," Tex started. "Can't you ever do some worrying for yourself? Protecting any secrets, perhaps?" Natalia shot Tex a dirty look. Ivan quietly backed up, ignoring his comment.

"Let's all go." Ava said, taking a step forward. Tory visibly shuddered. Natalia couldn't blame her; the last time Tory was here, she had been chained up, with daggers and chains pinching her body.

"It's okay, Tory." Natalia said, reassuringly. She patted Tory's shoulder. She faced Natalia, and smiled.

"I know." She responded softly.

They made their way up to the steps, approaching the door. The five of them stood amongst one another, in no specific line. Natalia was up towards the front. She grabbed the metal knocker on the door and smashed it against the metal pallet, sending a long, sharp cling, through the air.

After waiting silently for a long moment, the door swung open. In the doorway stood a tall woman who looked in her late forties, or early fifties. She had dark hair that has started growing gray by the roots of her hair. She wore a long blue cloak with a darker blue dress underneath. She looked down upon the teenagers.

"Well, hello there." She beamed. "You must be Natalia Havens, the Floranth, I hear." Her gaze rested upon Natalia.

Natalia nodded. "Yes. My friends brought me here. We came to inform you of some terrible news." The woman's face fell. She looked at everybody else as if it was the first time noticing their presence.

"Toby Colaf." She said, ignoring Natalia. "Boy, has it been a while since I've seen you." Tex grinned, straightening his shirt.

"I'm doing fine, if I do say so myself." She smirked, and rested her gaze upon the others before returning her eyes back on Natalia.

"Very well." She said. "My name is Isobel Darnwell. You must address me by Madame Bell, now that I am in a very high position of authority." She turned around, and disappeared into the main hallway of the Trackon, not looking back to see if they followed.

Madame Bell led the group into a main dining room area that was unfamiliar to Natalia. The table was a dark wood, and had eight chairs. Madame Bell took one at the end, taller among the other chairs, and carefully watched the rest of the people take their seat. Natalia took a seat in the middle of Tex and Ava, while Tory and Ivan sat on the opposite side, next to each other.

"So, what is it that you desire to inform me of?" Madame Bell asked.

"Droid, the man who's after Natalia, is rising back from the dead by the help of an apprentice!" Ava said eagerly. It was nerves sending her on to the quick tone of her voice.

"Ava," Tex said, peering past Natalia over to the girl next to her. "You can't just blurt it out like that." He sighed, and turned to Madame Bell. She raised her eyebrows to him. "Madame Bell, this information we are going to tell you is extremely important."

"Hm." Madame said aloud. "Does it have something to do with the former head of the Trackon coming back with the help of an apprentice?" Tex's eyes widened.

"How did you know?" He asked in a sarcastic amazement. Madame Bell straightened her posture.

"Do not get smart with me, boy." She said. "Would you like my help, or not?"

"Yes." Natalia said quickly, interrupting Tex before he could say anything. She put a hand on Tex's shoulder. "Please don't mind him. He can be quite a package, sometimes." Madame Bell only smiled at this.

"You're lucky you've got your girlfriend to watch your mouth for you." She said, passing gazes between Natalia and Tex. Why did everybody assume this? Natalia quickly retreated her hand, and pushed it onto her lap.

"We're not," Natalia protested. "together." She cringed with irritation. "Him and I, we're not like that." Madame Bell laughed, making Natalia's cheeks boil a bright red.

She felt Ava's eyes on her. "I'm not having this argument." Madame Bell said sharply.

"It's not really an argument," Tex started. "if we have the right answer." Madame Bell looked around the table, as if Tex hadn't spoken.

"So what do we do?" Tory asked. "About the apprentice, I mean." She said. It was the first time Tory opened her mouth since they entered, and Tory looked slightly pale.

"Ah, yes." Madame Bell beamed. "I shall locate where there has been unusual activity. The bringing back of a life that had such high authority is quite a unique process." Madame rested her long, wrinkled fingers on the table. "I suppose you are all willing to destroy this apprentice, no matter the cost."

"Anything to keep Natalia safe." Ivan stated. Madame Bell nodded with a dark smile.

"Yes, of course. We must use her as a weapon. A lure, if you may call it. How much experience does she have?" Madame asked, looking at everybody.

"I've trained her." Tex said, his tone making him sound accomplished. "She knows the basics of using Naves." He shrugged. "She won't be needing to fight, considering the fact that all of us are going to be staying by her." Tex kicked his feet up on the table in front of them, just a little way from Madame Bell's interlaced fingers.

"Very well." Madame said. She glared at Tex's sneakers on the table. "Toby, if you would be polite-"

"For once." Natalia muttered under her breath. Madame and Tex glared at her.

"I do not respect the fact that you are interrupting me, Floranth." Madame Bell said. "You will not disobey me, nor anyone above your command. Rules aren't made to be broken. Right, Tex?" she looked at Tex, her round eyes gleaming.

"Huh?" Tex said, letting his feet fall from the table from Madame's boney hand pushing it off. Tex had seemed lost in thought, and his eyes had rested on Natalia. "I heard you say something about rules being made to be broken." Natalia let out a small laugh. Pathetic. She thought. Tex was just being his normal self; cocky, arrogant.

Madame stared at Natalia with a terrifyingly blank expression. "Do you find this funny, Floranth?" Natalia couldn't help but notice the sharpness in her tone. "Does this entertain you?"

"No, ma'am, I just-"

"Enough." Her tone was imperative. "I must watch carefully over you two." Natalia opened her mouth to apologize, but suddenly the doors of the room burst open. A girl, no younger than Natalia stood in the doorway. She had sweet golden hair that flopped around the sides of her head. She wore ragged jeans and a dark maroon shirt. "Ah, Emma. Welcome our guests, Ava, Tory, Ivan, Natalia and-"

"Toby. Toby Colaf. Yes, I've heard much about you." Her silver eyes glittered with delight as she watched Tex.

"I'm sorry, who are you?" Tex asked, not hiding the sharpness in his tone.

"This is my daughter." The Trackon head said. "Treat her well or I will make sure you suffer-"

"Mother." Emma muttered. She rolled her eyes at Madame Bell, and stuck her gaze on Tex as she talked. "Hello. I'm Emma. You may have heard of me before. Have you, Tex? You look awfully familiar." She crossed her arms, smiling and blushing.

"No. Although, if I have, I probably would have remembered you. Something so hideo-"

Madame Bell cleared her throat.

"Something so beautiful." Tex corrected, glaring at Madame Bell, who smiled at his fix.

"You're too sweet!" Emma exclaimed. She rushed over to their side of the table. Emma grabbed Tex's bicep, and pulled him up from the chair. "I can show you to your rooms!" she said. Natalia watched with raised eyebrows as she squeezed Tex's arm. "My, my." She started, half to herself. "Do you work out? You've got really big muscles!"

Tex let out a nervous laugh, clearly aware of the creepy girl.

"Yes." Madame said, remaining seated. "We will meet again when I've got all of the information ready for you." She watched as Tory, Ivan, Ava and Natalia followed Tex and Emma out of the door.

Natalia walked next to Ava, shortly behind Emma and Tex, who were lost in conversation. He mostly nodded along as Emma talked about all of the things she heard about him, and different topics.

"So this is the Trackon." Ava beamed. "I never thought I'd take one step into this building, ever." She laughed. "Now I'll be sleeping in a room like a hotel." Natalia grinned and nodded. She was too lost in thought about what Tex and Emma were talking about-not that she was concerned. It wasn't like Natalia was jealous or anything…

"We're here!" Emma said, removing the arm that she had hooked around Tex's so she could open the door. She turned to Ava. "This is your room! Enjoy." She pushed the door open for Ava as she slowly stepped in the room. Emma shut the door right behind her and gathered Tex's arm once again, who flushed when him and Natalia caught gazes.

Natalia walked this time with Ivan and Tory until both of them got their rooms. Natalia walked awkwardly behind Tex and Emma. Now, she was talking about the history and architecture of the Trackon which Tex made more than obvious that it was boring. He kept glancing back at Natalia, and she could only wonder why. Tex tried to remove his arm and preoccupy it with shaking out his hair, but afterwards, Emma still grasped his arm. Now, his hair was tousled and his look was irritated. They made their way to a bedroom that was far away from Ava's.

"Well, Natalia," Emma said, looking back at her. Natalia thought they had completely forgotten about her. Natalia stared at her blankly. "This is your room." She pushed the door open. Natalia, filled with exhaustion, stepped in the room without a word. She turned around, but the door was already slammed shut, and Tex and Emma were probably at the end of the hallway, still with hooked arms. Natalia flopped on the bed, and fell into a deep sleep.

"You think you're going to live?" he screamed, and after that followed a manic laugh. His image was deeply shaded, but Natalia recognized the voice to be masculine. "I will tear you to pieces, one limb at a time. And all who love you will be around to watch and suffer, just like I watched you kill Droid."

With swift movements, the boy came forward and lunged at her, ripping apart her arms. Her hands fell to the ground as Natalia screamed out. Her knees collapsed from under her, and Natalia just caught a glimpse of Tex in front of her. He was screaming, trying to run towards her, but chains surrounded him.

Many dark voices filled her head until they made Natalia's ears pound. She watched her separated body parts being thrown into a fire, and a burning pushed into her head, making Natalia scream.

Natalia bolted upright in the bed. She was in her clothes from earlier that day, and she was still atop of the covers. She took a long look around the room. It was all green, reminding Natalia of Tex's sapphire eyes. She smiled at the thought, glancing at the green wardrobe, vanity, and bathroom attached to it. Natalia got off of the bed, suddenly feeling weak and exhausted. She walked to the door of the room and knelt down. Her bag was nowhere to be seen inside the room. She must have left it in the dining room.

Natalia exited her bedroom, and disappeared down a long hallway. She tried to remember the path that they came from, but she had no clue. She turned down long hallways, and down numerous staircases.

After long periods of time trying to find her way through the dimly lit hallways, Natalia took one sharp turn. This resulted in her stumbling over feet and legs. Her arms stretched forward to prepare to fall onto the ground, but instead, they grasped something else. A torso. Natalia looked with confusion at the image in front of her. Somehow she wasn't surprised. Tex.

"Tex?" she asked, regaining her posture before she let go of his shirt. She looked up into his eyes that were gleaming green now.

"Good afternoon." He said, with a sarcastic cheerful tone. Natalia's head throbbed with exhaustion and pain. "What are you doing here, wondering these halls? They lead to Madame Bell, you know."

"Oh!" Natalia gaped. She shrugged. "I left my bag in the room we were at a couple hours ago. I was looking for the room." Natalia sighed, dazing away at the wood paneling on the walls. "What are you doing here?" she asked, returning her lazy eyes to his.

"I went for a walk. I needed to clear my mind from being mesmerized by that hideous Emma girl." He rubbed his forehead. He was wearing an open sweatshirt over a dark shirt and a pair of black pants. "I could help you find your way to your bag." Tex offered, beginning to walk down the hallway with her.

"You don't have to." Natalia said guiltily. What she really wanted was to rush into his arms, which began to become a desire of hers whenever she saw him.

"It's no problem." Tex said. They made their way down the long hallway.

"Sorry I bumped into you." Natalia said. She had found her bag in the corner of the room, and they were now walking up the stairs. Tex grinned.

"It's okay. I bumped into you too." He replied. He kept glancing at her after every few steps, just to look at her.

"It's not! Natalia protested. "I need to learn how to walk." She laughed.

"Just like you need to learn your cat-like reflexes." Tex said, smiling at her. They reached a dim hallway with many doors on either end.

"Exactly." Natalia said. Natalia stopped in front of the door that she remembered to be hers. When she approached it, she turned around to face Tex, and leaned back against the closed door. "Thank you." Natalia said.

Tex took a step closer to her, placing both of his hands next to Natalia's head on the door. "No problem." He said. Tex smiled, moving closer. Natalia, without bending down, dropped her bag from her shoulder down onto the floor.

At last, Tex's lips finally brushed hers. They were smooth, and they made Natalia melt. She felt his nose on the side of her face as he moved closer. It started as a light brush of a kiss, to one long, lingering one. After he kissed her once, he pulled his head back to look at her. It was so hard to push away Tex like she knew she should. All of his interactions with her made her want to scream. She felt as if she was turning to liquid when he kissed her. But she couldn't fall for him. She couldn't. Not when he was just as friendly with her as other girls. She wouldn't be used like that.

Tex's eyes slipped closed again as he bent towards her again. Natalia willed herself to turn her head side-ways, so that his lips brushed against her cheek. Natalia let out a deep breath. Tex backed away in confusion, taking one hand off of the door behind her to turn her face towards his.

"Is everything alright?" he asked. He sensed the anxious feeling she had. He probably saw the desire in her eyes, but she shook her head. No. Everything was definitely not alright. He leaned forward slowly, his forehead meeting with hers. "You can tell me anything." When Natalia said nothing, his finger trailed down the side of her face. His lips touched hers again, this time with a pressure. It wasn't one brush of the lips. His mouth rested on hers and for a minute, everything was gone. All of the horrid feelings she had, replaced with warmth. But then that second was gone, all of it. Natalia tried making a noise. Tried to say no, but the sound was drowned out by the kiss.

Natalia felt his sweet lips delicately press hers harder, probably unaware that Natalia was trying to push him away. She brought her hands up to his chest, beginning to push him away. She pushed harder until Tex stumbled back slightly. He quickly removed his hands from the wall and her face, and took a few steps back.

"Did I hurt you?" He asked. His voice was full of concern. Natalia quickly shook her head, feeling heat rush up to her cheeks.

"No." she managed to whisper. "I can't deal with this anymore." She said softly. Tex looked at her with confusion.

"Deal with what?" he asked. "Deal with being at Infitus again? I'm sure we could try to bring you home-" Tex babbled on nerves, and Natalia quickly interrupted.

"Not that, I can't deal with you." Tex looked taken aback.

"Me?" he asked, bewildered.

"You kiss me, and you have before, and yet you're a flirt with other girls. Is it me? Am I doing something wrong?" Natalia asked. She felt suddenly light-headed.

"You? Natalia, no. Nothing is wrong. What do you mean?" he asked. Natalia shrugged.

"I just thought, that when you like someone, like I like you, that they don't get together with other people. I didn't know people who kissed-more than once-just acted casual like that. And if I did, I never would've let anything happen between us-"

Tex said, "Natalia, I haven't gotten together with anyone. What are you talking about?" He took a step closer urgently. "I haven't thought about anyone but you since we first kissed in that store." In that store. He was talking about the time where he had pretended that Natalia was his girlfriend and the clerk at the end of the day made them kiss. Natalia's face softened.

"Well, if you feel like that about me, why don't you act like it? With other girls,"

"Deep in my heart, I'm concealing things that I'm longing to say. Scared to confess what I'm feeling-and terrified you'll slip away." He paused, and walked closer to her. "There is no other girl that I care about as much as you." He said.

"I-I'm sorry." Natalia sputtered after a long silence. She felt her throat choke up. He brought his slender hand to her cheek.

"Don't be." He whispered. "I want to apologize for making you feel unimportant." He thought for a moment. "Let me, let me take you on a date. I want it to be official between us, my feelings for you." Natalia swallowed, and softly shook her head.

"You don't have to. I-I was overreacting-"

"You have every right to push me away." He interrupted. "Even though nobody may be there, it will make things official between you and I." he whispered.

"A-are you sure? I mean, you don't have to-"

"I want to." He smiled. "Meet me by my room tonight, and I have the perfect place to take you." Before Natalia could respond, he bent over and kissed her cheek. It was soft and sweet, and it left Natalia with a feeling she never had before: Love.

7

Natalia glanced at the clock in her room. It was about nine o'clock at night, and Tex wanted her to come around then. She stepped out of her bedroom, and quietly walked down the hallway. She had brushed her hair, fixed her makeup and switched to a nicer shirt. Natalia hadn't taken one look in the mirror since, and it was all because of the nerves.

Natalia never went on a date with Tex. Up until now, she didn't even know he actually really liked her. And now, she realized that she really liked him.

Natalia stepped down a staircase quietly. This was finally it. He was actually going to take her to a nice place. This boy was Tex, the one who intrigued Natalia ever since she met him. Now she'd be actually officially doing something romantic and nice.

Tex had never been so nervous. He had brushed his hair, and was now starting to change his shirt. He should be thrilled and excited, and he was, but just thinking of Natalia made his nerves jump. He wanted this night to be perfect. He wanted to finally tell her the feelings he's had since he met her. He could only hope that she felt the same way.

Tex was now in the jeans he was going to be wearing. He paced around his room, digging through his drawers to find a shirt. He tossed his old one aside, in the direction of his hamper. He sat down on the bed filled with frustration. He stared out the window. It was dark out, and Tex couldn't see much. He saw his reflection off the window from the lighting in his room. Someone was behind him. Natalia?

Tex quickly stood up and spun around, facing the door where a girl stood. Emma. Tex wished to be left alone by her. She was very unattractive to Tex, and she grew to be really annoying.

"Hey there, Toby." She smiled, walking straight towards him.

"Emma, I'm getting dressed. The door is that way-"

"Must I leave now?" she asked, approaching him. Her eyes looked him up and down.

"Yes." He said. "You must." He started taking steps back, but the girl gripped his arm. She started pulling him towards her.

"You look stressed." She said, her insane voice making him nervous. "I could make you so much less miserable."

"I'm not miserable." Tex snapped, tugging his arm free.

"That's only what miserable people say." Emma smiled, stepping closer to him. She gripped his bare shoulders, and tried to pull him closer. Tex quickly raised his hands over hers, trying to pry hers free.

"Well, in my case, I happen to be very happy. Except you're here." He didn't bother trying to hide the sharpness in his tone. He had to get going.

"Oh, Toby. You're so funny." Emma smiled.

"Please. Leave me alone-" Tex's words were quickly drowned out. Emma had rushed closer. Her lips were on his.

Natalia made one last turn down a hallway and made her way to Tex's door. It was slightly open, and the lights were on. Natalia swallowed down nerves and gently pushed the door open. She took two steps into the room before she froze.

Tex was there, yes. Natalia had expected him to be there. What she didn't expect was to see Emma there. The most outrageous part Natalia didn't expect was to see them kissing. Emma had her hands on Tex's shoulders. Natalia noted that he wasn't wearing a shirt, and his hands were on her shoulders, his knuckles white. He was making unexplainable sounds, shaking his head.

Natalia's heart dropped one thousand stories down. She watched, her face blazing red, as Tex pulled away from her, removing her hands from his arms.

"What the hell-" He was yelling at Emma, but then quickly stopped short. Emma was staring at Natalia, grinning. Tex followed to where she was looking and his gaze rested on Natalia. His mouth fell. "Natalia-"

"Shut up." She interrupted. The backs of her eyes burned as she willed her tears back. "Shut up." She spun around and quickly rushed out of the door.

Tex's heart beat fast, blood zipping through his body. He was filled with utter hopelessness. Natalia had slammed the door shut behind her, rushing out of the room. He could tell when she was on the verge of crying, and this was one of those times. He spun to Emma.

"You're not even aloud to be with her. It's against argon beliefs." Emma said. Tex shook his head, filled with rage. "That's why you and I are going to be together."

"I'd rather die." Tex replied. "Natalia, she-"

"She doesn't understand our love." Emma beamed, looking at the door.

"Emma," Tex yelled. "GET OUT." Soundlessly, Emma laughed, disappearing out of the room. Tex threw on a shirt. He wanted to lunge at Emma and scream at her until she became deaf. He realized how awful it looked to Natalia. He was in the middle of changing, which could look wrong to her. What may have looked like him holding her tightly was really him trying to pry her away. She stuck like glue, and he tried to shake her free from him. He tried talking even, trying to say stop, or no, anything for her to break away. But it was no use.

Tex quickly rushed out of the room and down the long hallway. He ended up taking another route so he would avoid Emma. Tex turned down into a big room that seemed somewhat like a library. It was filled with books and chairs, and in one of the seats sat Ivan, reading a novel. Tex would have turned around if Ivan hadn't spotted him. Ivan looked up.

"Tex," he called. "What are you doing here at this hour?" he closed his book and set it on the end table.

"I can't talk." He said, trembling as he made his way to the end of the room.

"I'm back!" Tory exclaimed from behind Tex. He jerked his head back, and saw Tory standing with two mugs of what seemed like coffee. "I got a chef to make a cup of coffee-" she looked from Ivan to Tex. "Oh, hi Tex." She said, turning a bright red.

"I can't talk now." Tex said, although he wondered why Tory and Ivan were together. They were so different, so how could they be in love? Well, Tex couldn't be one to talk, either. Natalia was completely opposite of him-caring, nice, everything that Tex wasn't. The truth was, he loved her for all of those reasons.

Natalia busted through the door of her bedroom and slammed it shut behind her. Tears dripped from her face down on the floor. How could she ever have thought Tex was interested in her? She passed a mirror in her room and froze. Her makeup was smudged under her eyes, and she hadn't really paid any attention to how nice she thought she looked. Well, before the tears, that is.

She rubbed the makeup free from her face, so that she didn't look like a raccoon. Natalia sat on the bed, willing herself not to cry. This time, though, she could not help it.

Natalia tried to pinch away the memories of what she just saw, but they got worse. It wasn't until someone knocked on the door did she sit up quickly. She pushed away the tears, and cleared her throat.

"Who is it?" Natalia demanded, staring at the door in front of her.

"It's me, Tex. Natalia, I really need to talk to you." Natalia's body burned with mental pain. She crawled back into the bed and sat up against the headboard.

"Go away." She yelled to the outside of the door. The door slowly opened, and in the darkness of the room, Natalia saw Tex close the door behind him. "I did say go away, not come in."

"You deserve an explanation." Tex said, approaching her. His voice was soft, guilty.

"What I saw is the only explanation I need. You can be on your way now." Natalia shooed him off with her hand.

"Natalia, it really wasn't what it looked like."

"You kissed her, and you enjoyed it. I get it, please don't talk to me. I don't want to think about you any more than I already have." Natalia whispered. She crossed her arms, and rubbed at her eyes, attempting not to spill a tear.

"No, no, no." Tex said rapidly. "I didn't kiss her. I was trying to push her away because she was kissing me." He sighed. "I was in the middle of changing-trying to find a nice shirt for you-and she came in."

"There are things that people can do called telling them to leave." Natalia said sharply.

"I did. I was trying to, but she kissed me, and I was really trying to push her away, trying to tell her to stop." He said softly. "That is the truth. I swear to you, Natalia." He whispered.

"I keep thinking that you're different. That you actually have feelings. I actually thought you liked me-"

"I do like you." Tex interrupted.

"We try to hide our feelings from everyone." Natalia said. "Maybe it just isn't meant to be-"

"I would do anything for you, Natalia." Was this the Tex she knew speaking? "I'm sick of hiding my feelings. I'm tired of acting like I don't care about anything." Tex sighed.

"You do? You've just never said anything before-"

"I've said nothing because there is nothing I could say to describe how I feel as perfectly as you deserve it." Tex sat on the bed, across from her.

"I was afraid to like you. To love you." Love. That was a strong word. But it described just how she felt. "I thought you just never liked me-"

"I've always liked you." He whispered. The room fell silent.

Tex must have moved closer, because suddenly, in the darkness, she felt his lips press into hers. It sprang Natalia awake, filling her with adrenaline. She moved closer to him on the bed, and he brought his arms around her. He pulled her towards him, and she let him, letting herself feel what she had wanted to for such a long time now. She felt his heart beating with hers, as his hands pushed the hair in her face back. Natalia ran her hands up his chest where they met with each other at the back of his neck.

Tex let his mouth fall from hers, their kiss breaking. Natalia followed him back, not wanting to let him go. She felt him smile on her lips, and the hands that had let her go returned around her back.

"I don't care what anybody thinks anymore." Tex whispered in between kisses. Natalia stopped and stared at him.

"You don't?" she asked.

Tex kissed her lightly on her lips. "No. How we feel is the only thing that matters. Not anyone else's thoughts." Natalia smiled at him, and rushed into his arms again.

Natalia woke up the next morning, filled with warmth. She never had this feeling before. Last night had been a terrible misunderstanding with Tex and Emma. Natalia knew the truth; Tex had explained it to her. That was all she needed; the real truth. After they kissed for what seemed like a beautiful eternity, Natalia suggested that he left. It was getting late, and Madame Bell would not be pleased to find him walking about the Trackon at late hours. Natalia sat up and began to get ready.

When she finished, she opened the door to the hallway. She was going to find her way to the dining room they met in with Madame Bell yesterday.

When Natalia reached the dining room, Madame Bell was seated in the chair, along with the rest of the group which included Ivan, Tory and Ava. Oh, and Tex. His eyes lit up as soon as she entered the room. He was wearing a white shirt and a pair of dark jeans. They all turned their heads to Natalia when she entered. How late was it?

"So, the sleepy head finally decides to wake up, huh?" Tex said. Natalia took a seat in one of the chairs. Tex sat across from her. Tory watched them, a peculiar look on her face, as they locked gazes.

"Well, I'm here now." Natalia said. She turned to Madame. "Is there any information you can tell us?"

"Why, yes." She switched gazes between each of the people. "It seems that to bring back Droid, this apprentice needs you." She looked at Natalia, "Well, this person was clever, but not quite clever enough. It seems that he can be located in his working station in Hawaii." Natalia's mouth parted in surprise.

"Hawaii? Why so far away?" she couldn't help but asking.

"Do not ask me, Floranth. I do not know. But if we can destroy his working station, then we can destroy any chance of bringing Droid back." She rose from the chair. "You shall be sent to Maui, Hawaii in a resort. There, you can be on the watch for everything that happens. It is reported that he would be around there, and I will arrange special protection for you." With that, Madame Bell rose from the chair and began to stride out of the room.

"Wait," Natalia said. "How would we get there? We don't have plane tickets." Madame turned to her and smiled.

"Don't be silly. You may use a Portal. I'll have one ready for you." She spun on her heels, and disappeared out of the room, with her long purple dress trailing behind her.

"We're going to Hawaii!" Tory exclaimed, looking around the room.

Ava looked pale. "We're going through a Portal." She muttered.

"Well, this will be fun." Ivan said, smiling.

"Am I the only one who knows why we're going there?" Natalia asked. "We don't want Droid to come back. It's not exactly fun and games." Tory glanced at her.

"I'm sorry. We don't usually travel. Well, I don't. I've never been out of Infitus." She sighed. They began to stand up.

"Really?" Natalia asked.

Tory shrugged, walking out of the door with her. "It wasn't my parent's plan for me to explore the world. There's different groups of people for that. Sendiahs don't travel. Ask Tex." Natalia glanced behind Tory at Tex, who was in a conversation with Ivan.

"That's simply why I wore white. Dear me, can't you just embrace my choice of clothing? You're so dark and boring." He stopped talking when he noticed Natalia and Tory staring at him. "What?" he asked.

"Oh , nothing." Tory replied, reaching the doors.

When the five of them reached the Portal, Madame Bell was there.

"There will be no joking around. We have a deadline. You must find some clue by the end of the week at least." She said. Then, without another word, she began pulling each one of them into the Portal. Natalia followed Tex, and behind her were the rest of the group. Natalia pinched her eyes shut as usual, falling into the blue maelstrom.

Natalia had never been to Hawaii, and it didn't help that neither did anyone else. Natalia opened her eyes when she felt warm air hit her face. Tex landed on his feet and his back was towards her. Natalia fell into him, and they both fell to the ground. She didn't even know she was screaming until they landed and she was out of breath.

She pulled herself up on her elbows, and stared at the back of Tex's head. "Oh my God!" she exclaimed, getting off of him. "I'm so sorry!" She crawled off of him, onto the unusually green grass. It was soft on her hands. Tex swung on his back, and sat up. He dusted the grass and mud stain off his shirt.

"This better not stain my shirt." He said. Natalia sighed in relief. She would've felt horrible if she knocked him out a second time.

"I'm sure it won't." she replied. Tex stood up, and turned to face her. He reached his hands down and grabbed Natalia's. He pulled her up on her feet so easily that he actually pulled her closer to himself. Natalia tensed under his arms, aware that Ivan was watching.

"Are you okay?" Tex asked, ignoring everybody but her. Natalia began to relax, remembering last night. They shouldn't care what other people think. They had feelings for each other, feelings that neither Tex nor Natalia could explain.

"I'm fine." She replied, and smiled. He still held her while Tex returned her smile. Finally, he let go of her, something that Natalia wish he had not done.

"Is that where we're staying?" Tory asked, pointing at a tall building. Natalia took a step back from Tex, and turned to the place she was pointing at.

Before them, rested a tall, beautiful building. It was almost a yellow color, and slightly golden. A driveway itched around the building where cars were lined up for valet parking.

"Hate Portals," Ava was muttering under her breath as she stood up and dusted the grass off of her pants. She looked up at the building. Ava's mouth fell open. "Oh my…"

"What are we waiting for? Let's go." Ivan started walking through the grass, still unsteady from the Portal. Natalia bent down to get her bag, but it was nowhere to be seen. She looked all over as Ava and Tory started following Ivan. Tex rested his hand on her shoulder.

"I got it." He said. Natalia looked at him. Yes, he was holding her bag around his arm. "I can carry it for you." They started following Ivan who was now many steps ahead.

"It's fine, I can." Natalia reached around his shoulder but the bag was secure.

"How much stuff do you put in here? It's too heavy for you." Natalia grinned.

"Don't you remember when I slapped you in your face? You need muscles to do that." Tex shook his head as they crossed the street towards the hotel.

"Miss Havens, we've got a special room for you and your friends." The manager said, approaching them. "Follow me, please." He wore a gray suit and he was bald. He made his way to the elevator while everyone followed him. "We've been alerted from Madame Bell that there is someone trying to kill you." He said, pressing a button next to the elevator doors. Natalia read the nametag on his coat: CARL.

"Yes." Natalia said.

"Well, we've got security and special persons here to protect you." They exited the elevator when it got to the fifth floor. Natalia followed Carl to a green door. Carl pulled out a card and swiped it through a special slot.

"Thank you." She said, as they filed into the room. It had a colorful orange rug, with red curtains and a yellow wall. There were many doors leading to different rooms.

"This is your keycard,"-he handed it to Natalia-"and there are five rooms in this suite. If you need anything, just call the front desk." They nodded and said thank you as Carl left.

"This is amazing!" Tory said, rushing over to a door. Ivan looked around the room, examining the balcony.

"Beach view." He pointed out.

"I love this place!" Ava screamed, looking at the bright, colorful decorations. Natalia opened one door to a room.

"I'll take this room, I guess." She called back. She examined the blue room. It was bright, and the rug had green swirls mixed with blue and purple. The door softly closed from behind Natalia, and she spun around, startled.

"Did I scare you?" Tex asked, smiling. Natalia smiled, shaking her head.

"You just startled me." She replied. Tex put her bag on the bed, and turned to look at her. He brought his hand up to her cheek. Gently, Natalia began to bring it down. Tex's facial expression softened.

"Are you alright?" He asked. Natalia slightly shook her head.

"This is just…" she drifted off, trying to find words that weren't hurtful. "Weird."

Tex stared at her blankly. "Weird?"

"You know…weird." She exhaled with a shaky breath. "Don't you find it awkward that we've been acting this way and just yesterday I slapped you in the face? Do you see where I'm coming from?" Tex shrugged, pacing around the room.

"I guess so. If you saw my position…" he lost her gaze, and he stared around the room. "You know what? You're right. You're absolutely right." With that, he walked to the door, and turned back to her, his hand on the knob. "Friends." He said, and shut the door behind him.

8

Natalia slowly walked out of her room after a while. Was Tex mad at her? He seemed to have come to a point of realization. But what realization? She filed into the living room where Ivan and Tory stood, whispering. Tory reached up to him, but quickly stopped, and switched her gaze to Natalia.

"Natalia, hey." She said, taking a few steps back.

"Oh," Natalia said, starting to turn around. "I'm sorry, I'll leave you alone-" Tory turned a bright red. Oh, Natalia thought. They didn't know Natalia found out. This just turned awkward. "Uh, where's Tex?" Natalia asked. Ivan, who now leaned up against the frame around the TV, smirked.

"Tex?" Tory said, confusion showing through her expression. "Why-well-wasn't he just with you?" Natalia threw her hands up in frustration.

"He was, but he-well-I think I got him angry. He stormed out of the room, and now I don't know where he went." Natalia sighed.

Tory took a few more steps away from Ivan as Natalia entered. She sighed. "Well, I don't know. I was just-I was, telling Ivan-"

"Please stop lying." Natalia said. Tory's face grew a bright red.

"I wasn't, I-I'm not-"

"Tory," it was Ivan. He caught her arm. "Just forget it. She knows." Tory's eyes widened to Ivan, and she turned to face Natalia.

"Well, I am quite tired-"

"It's noon." Natalia interrupted. After a long silence, Natalia blurted, "Look, I know you and Ivan are together." Ivan slowly released Tory's arm.

"You…do?" Tory asked.

"Yes. I saw you at your house, the other morning. In the hallway…"

"Nobody was up." Ivan said, thinking to himself.

"Well, I was. And Tex-"

"Wait, Tex knows?" Tory interrupted.

"Well, he didn't see anything…" Natalia drifted off.

"So he doesn't. Good. Natalia, please, don't say anything-"

"He already knows." Natalia sputtered. She sat down on the couch. "I turned away when I saw you both, and I ran into him. And, well it just got confusing and complicated from there." Natalia fumbled with the edge of the couch to push away nerves. Tory slapped a hand to her face.

"Tory, it's okay." Ivan said, reassuringly. "Look, I'm sure Tex is worrying about other things." He nodded his head over to Natalia, who watched, eyebrows raised.

"Well, you're right." Tory said, glancing at Natalia like she didn't know Natalia was fully aware that they were talking about her.

"You do know I'm right here, right?" Natalia said, staring at the both of them.

"Well, you already know what we're talking about." Tory said, waving her hand away. Natalia stood up.

"And what's that?" Natalia asked.

"Well, you know, the whole thing that happened when I walked in the room when your father came." Tory replied.

"That was months ago!" Natalia exclaimed. "Not two days!"

"You're right, you're right. Not two days, one day." Ivan laughed, putting his head in his hands as he watched Tory. Natalia made fists at her sides.

"Nothing is going on between us-"

"Don't say that. Don't you say that." Tory's expression grew serious. "I heard about your little date that was supposed to go on."

"Well, Tory, we didn't end up going on a date. So don't be talking-"

"But he still went over to your room." Tory said. She started taking slow steps over to Natalia. "Tell me, then, what you did, if you didn't go on a date."

"For your information," Natalia protested. "We talked."

Tory laughed. "You're a horrible liar."

"It's true!" Natalia protested. She felt suddenly sick. Tex was disappointed in her, and he had every right to be. Tex had been the one to tell her that he was tired of hiding his feelings, and Natalia truly did too. She looked at what she was doing now. So much had changed. She remembered coming back from the store at Infitus, she remembered the party-well, most of it. She remembered being so annoyed with Tex, and now she was afraid that she loved him. And everything was perfect between them just moments ago. Then Natalia destroyed it.

"Yeah, talked for probably one percent of the time."

"Tory, leave her be." Ivan interrupted. Tory glared at him. "She didn't press you to confess everything like you're doing to her." Ivan looked at Natalia, whose head was spinning. "Natalia, are you okay?"

"She's right." Natalia whispered finally. She took a deep breath. "About all of it." She looked at Tory. "You hear me?" Natalia asked, raising her voice to a yell. "You're right. I kissed him. I kissed Tex. I don't even care who finds out anymore!" she wiped away a tear. "I just ruined everything that we had, and it was completely my fault." She took a deep breath. "It was all me, and I ruined it. We kissed at your house Tory. You happy now that I finally admit it? We kissed at the Trackon. You think I care anymore? I-I love him!" her voice cracked off as Natalia braced herself against a counter on the wall. "I think I'm going to be sick." She sputtered, rubbing her temples. Natalia's stomach twisted over.

"Natalia…" Tory started weakly.

"Please, Tory. Leave me alone." She pinched her eyes shut. "Oh God," she repeated to herself softly.

Tex turned down 720 North Wilonna Road. He glanced behind him to see if anyone was following. To see if Natalia was following. She wasn't, and Tex was relieved and disappointed at the same time. He rushed under the roof of the building just before it started pouring. He passed through the door and approached the man at the front desk.

"Mr. Abbal is expecting me." Tex said to the man. He was dressed in a navy coat with matching trousers. This was formal compared to Tex, who was dressed in a white shirt with dark jeans, and a gray sweatshirt over his head. His hair was slightly tousled from using the hood to keep himself dry from the rain for as long as possible.

"Yes sir." The man replied. His voice was deep and somewhat friendly. "Up that staircase over there. First door to your right." Tex nodded, and dug his shaking fingers into his pockets. He felt a prickle on his left hand as he poked something on the inside of his pocket. He had already forgotten that he took Natalia's brush from her bag when she wasn't looking. The bristles were pointed, and most likely a strand of hair was stuck somewhere on the brush.

When Tex reached the room, he knocked twice before disappearing inside. It was Mr. Abbal's strict rule. He shut the door behind him to the usual dim office lit by a fireplace and torchlights on the cream colored walls.

"Toby, you've made it." Mr. Abbal's voice echoed. Tex looked around, unsure as to where the voice was actually coming from. Mr. Abbal appeared in front of him out of a secret door behind the bookcase. Tex had gotten a brief look once, but Mr. Abbal had strict rules against going inside. "I was worried you'd get caught up. You know, you just got here today." He winked. Tex took a seat in one of the sofa chairs in the corner of the room.

"Let's just get through our business, please." Tex said, pulling down the hood of his sweatshirt.

"Very well. How are you holding up? Is Isabelle as lovely as ever?" Mr. Abbal asked. His smile always gave Tex chills.

"I'm fine." Tex lied. The truth was, he was crashing to pieces on the inside. If only there were never a rule against argons and another species being together…

"You look exhausted. Would you like some Razel?" Mr. Abbal asked. He picked up a glass cup filled with green liquid.

Tex shook his head. "I need to be getting back soon. I'd really like to have this be over with." Mr. Abbal nodded.

"Yes, of course. Do you have what I asked for?" Mr. Abbal reached a strong hand over the coffee table to retrieve the items Tex brought. He looked quite young to be a genius to find the apprentice. Tex even looked older than him. And Tex was really only 17.

Tex pulled out the brush from his pocket and handed it over to Mr. Abbal. "This was the only thing I could find with the time that I had. I hope you can get enough from it." Mr. Abbal took the brush, smiling down at it.

"Yes, this would work perfectly. I can assure you that the Floranth will be protected by my own creations. You will not be disappointed." Mr. Abbal stood from the chair across from Tex and reached behind his desk to put away the brush.

"Thank you. If there is anything else I could do-"

"Actually," Mr. Abbal started, making his way over to Tex. "There is one thing…" Mr. Abbal had made his way behind Tex, injecting a needle in his neck. Tex's vision frosted all around, and as he tried to stand up, he sank back down filled with weakness.

"What did you do?" Tex asked, hearing his own voice from miles away. He heard mumbling, but it was drowned out by a pounding in his ears. Within seconds, Tex was collapsed on the couch.

"Natalia, are you feeling any better?" Ava asked, walking into the room. She froze as she walked in the doorway. "My God, it's dark in here." Natalia spotted Ava reaching for the lights.

"Don't," Natalia said. "turn on the lights." Natalia buried herself under the covers of the bed, as if it could get any darker. Ava crawled into the bed beside her, on the covers.

"I don't know what happened to you!" Ava exclaimed. She felt Natalia's forehead. "Hm. You aren't that hot. Are you sure you are getting the flu?"

"The flu? Who told you that?" Natalia asked. She was able to barely make out Ava's image in the room.

"Tory told me you were feeling very sick and that you thought you had the flu." Oh, Natalia thought. Natalia rubbed her eyes, which were probably red from her constantly touching them to hold back tears. It was the first time Natalia had ever said she liked Tex, let alone love. Ava still had no clue as to what happened, and Natalia thanked Tory for not telling her.

"Oh," Natalia said. "Yeah, I just need some sleep."

"Is there anything I can get you?" Ava asked. "Soup? Water, even? I heard the pineapple here is to die for." Ava said cheerfully. Natalia let out a small laugh.

"No, I'm okay. But thanks."

"Alright." Ava said. She crawled off of the bed, and past the foot of the bed to the door. She stopped and peered down at something by the foot of the bed. "Natalia?" she asked, retrieving a piece of paper from the floor. "Is this your handwriting?" she held up a piece of paper that had scribbled down: 720 N. WILONNA RD. "Natalia?" But it was too late. Natalia had already fallen asleep, filled with exhaustion and disappointment.

Tex awoke in the same chair that he had passed out on. He tried to stand up but his limbs felt weak. He lifted his head, just as Mr. Abbral turned to face him.

"Ah, you've awoken! I knew it'd only take about forty-five minutes." Tex felt his neck with a weak hand. An indentation, about the size of the eraser of a pencil sunk in at the side of his neck.

"What…" Tex gagged on the disgusting taste in his mouth. Before he could spill over the couch as well as himself, Mr. Abbal rushed a bowl in front of Tex's face.

"Your body just isn't used to the drug. You'll be alright." Mr. Abbal walked to his work counter, pulling out a skinny dagger and a small empty vile.

When Tex was finished, his stomach crumbled and his insides burned. "You drugged me?" he asked.

"Well, technically, yes. But it is to help the Floranth. You see, Toby, I need the blood of her first love." He tapped on a page in a book with over five hundred pages. "And you fill the spot."

"How did you-I mean, why do you think-"

"Do you really think any person would just sacrifice anything, including themselves, to protect someone else? The opposite sex in this case."

"Well, you're saying how I love her, but you don't really know if she actually loves me."

"Oh she does." Mr. Abbal said. "She may not admit it to you yet. She may not even admit it to herself yet. But deep down, she knows, as well as I." Mr. Abbal walked over to Tex, who could still barely move.

"What…what are you doing now?" Tex asked, attempting to inch away.

Mr. Abbal laughed. "Don't worry, Toby. I'll ask you first, before I do anything. Like I said, to help locate this apprentice, I said I needed the blood of her first love. Which is you."

Tex slowly nodded.

"The drug took down the protection of your usual flesh. Usually this dagger would give no impact to you. It would barely affect you. But the drug takes down the protection. Don't worry, it is temporary. It'll take a few days before you actually regain your strength. Now is when I need to get your blood. When it is newly unprotected." Mr. Abbbal brought the dagger over Tex's heart. Tex brought up his hand quickly, grabbing Mr. Abbal's arm that held the dagger.

"What the hell?" Tex asked, looking at his hand. "Are you trying to kill me?"

"I said I needed blood." Mr. Abbal looked at his hand. He sighed. "Would it be better if it was here?" Mr. Abbal lowered his hand so it was on his upper gut, towards the left.

"Yes. That is fine, just get it over with." Tex said, letting go of Mr. Abbal's hand, and clenching them into fists at his side.

"Remember, this is going to be painful, because it is not how you usually are hurt." Tex dismissed it with his hand. Mr. Abbal's hand swiped downward, and a long, deep gash filled the space that he said he would cut. The pain sprung Tex awake, and he didn't stop himself from yelping out in agony. It felt like needles being hammered into his skin. The difference was, the pain didn't go away like it usually did, and it didn't hurt nearly as much as it did now. Tex watched through a foggy vision as Mr. Abbal took the blood away from his wound and secured it in a glass vile.

Tex cursed under his breath as Mr. Abbal sealed up the vile, and placed it on a special rack behind his workstation. "Are you done now?" Tex asked, looking down at his shirt that was now torn on his left upper gut across that side of his body. Tex sat up, wincing. He wiped away the blood that started to stain his white shirt.

"Yes, Toby. You take it easy now, alright?" Tex sat up, slightly stunned. "Be careful. You might just want to go to sleep when you get back to your resort." Tex nodded slowly as the world spun around him. He got to his feet. Mr. Abbal stopped him when he got to the door. "Toby, I trust you will not tell anyone, not even the girl. It is dangerous for anyone but you to know. This apprentice can hear news quite quickly and this is the only secured place." Tex nodded, although he hardly understood what the man just said.

Tex made his way down the steps, zipping up his gray sweatshirt, and throwing the hood up to protect himself from getting soaked in the pouring rain. He smelled things differently. It felt more dense, and harder to breathe without his argon powers. After every movement followed a wince from the pain of the wide cut in his side. Why hadn't it occurred to Tex to ask for stitches, a bandage, anything?

Natalia began to feel restless after sleeping for a while. She sat up in the bed, and yawned. She had slept nearly the whole day since Tex had left. Slowly, Natalia got up off of the bed and found her way to the door.

When Natalia stepped outside, the room was pitch dark. The pouring rain outside made the room feel gloomy, and Natalia had to turn on a few lights to see in front of her. Natalia sat on the couch in the living room, and turned on the TV. The news was already on, so Natalia decided to watch that, and keep it on.

Nerves jumped inside Tex's bones as he approached the door of the hotel room. He hadn't brought a keycard to use, and he leaned up against the doorway, using the frame as support to hold himself up. He was still terribly dizzy as he knocked on the door. He knocked loudly, and waited. He laughed at his own clumsiness, and for some reason, felt happy. He felt as if he'd had too much to drink, and got in a big fight at a bar. He rubbed his hand over his eyes to try to clear his vision, and just as he brought his hand down, the door opened slowly. There she was.

Natalia looked beautiful at any time of day, Tex thought. He could tell she had just awoken from a nap by the way her eyes looked. Usually they were a nice, bright silver. Now, though, they looked slightly dull. He couldn't help quirking his mouth into a smile. He loved the way she looked.

"Tex?" Natalia had asked, repeatedly now, as Tex just stared at her. "Where were you?" Tex pushed off of the wall, walking into the room. Natalia slowly backed up as he came closer. He shut the door behind him. He took a deep breath. Flowers, he thought.

"Did somebody buy flowers?" Tex asked, sniffing around the room. Then he remembered. Natalia always had the smell of fresh, blooming flowers. His smile widened. He didn't know how he always managed to pull over a straight face when he saw her.

"Tex, what are you talking about?" She asked. Tex bent forward, digging his face into Natalia's warm neck. Natalia gasped in surprised, and jumped back. When Tex looked at her, her cheeks were a dark red, and her face was filled with confusion.

"I love when you say my name." he whispered, grinning. He shut his eyes, leaning his head forward, towards her. "Say it again." His happy moment was interrupted by a tingling sensation on his cheek. His eyes flew open. She had slapped him. Her eyes were wide, and she was staring at him. His cheek felt like it was falling off. She really had gotten stronger. "Ow! So that's what it really feels like!" Tex exclaimed. He put his hand to his cheek, rubbing it.

"What the hell is your problem?" Natalia yelled. Tex took a step back. The slap had snapped him back into focus. Suddenly, he started feeling pain again. His gut burned, and his cheek stung. He unzipped his jacket, and took off his shoes. "Is that blood?" Natalia asked in disbelief. Tex froze. He looked down at his gut, which now stained around his shirt a darkish blue.

"It's not-"

Natalia pulled away his hands as he tried to pull his sweatshirt over his shirt. She looked at the ripped fabric. Her hand slid under his shirt, suddenly warm against his skin. He winced as her fingers trailed around the cut.

"How did this happen?" she asked. "Why aren't you healing? How did it protrude your skin?" Tex took her by the wrists and pulled her hands up around his neck.

"Natalia." He whispered. He smiled at her. The worrying she had for him; maybe she really did love him. He pulled her towards him, at first for a long embrace, but he couldn't help kissing her. Her lips were always soft, just how they were now. Natalia made a small sound, not expecting for him to kiss her. He let go of her wrists and brought his arms around her. Her small body fit perfectly against his. Each time he kissed her, he always listened to the steady beating of her heart. Her strong, steady heart. He started giving her small, gentle kisses off to the side of her mouth, then to her cheek, down to her neck, where her skin was soft and delicate. Tex felt Natalia's hands trace down his shoulders, her small fingers grazing his neck.

Tex's hands began to trace down her back, and clung to her hips. His kisses were now into her left shoulder, slowly trailing down. He felt Natalia's hands go to the side of his face and pull it up to hers again, leaving the sleeve of her shirt pushed down. Within seconds, his lips returned to hers and she pressed against his with a harder force. Tex took a step closer, her hands now on his chest. They clung to the fabric of his shirt at first, and then they released. Tex pushed his hands through her hair. The waves twisted around his hands as they slipped through and trailed down the back of her neck. Natalia's hands reached his stomach, and it was a miracle she could touch him because of how tightly they were pressed together. Her hands accidentally brushed against his fresh wound. They weren't exactly gentle, either. Tex winced, their kiss breaking off. Natalia backed up quickly, looking down at his cut.

"Did I hurt you?" Natalia asked. Tex grinned, pushing some strands of loose hair from her face.

"It's funny hearing that question from you to me." He said. Natalia smiled, but it was a guilty smile. She pulled up her shirt sleeve and walked closer to Tex. "I'm not supposed to be doing this." He whispered. He wasn't. He shouldn't want Natalia. He had practically ruined her life. No matter what she said, he had a hole in his heart from ruining her ordinary life. She wouldn't be where she was today if he'd been more careful. She had almost gotten killed, and it was all him to blame. So maybe he should just push her away. He had to make her hate him. It felt like when all he wanted to do was protect her, she just got hurt. But every day, when he took a moment to look into her eyes, he failed to do what he'd planned. It was a weakness so grand that he could never get over.

"What do you mean?" she asked, her expression softening.

"Come here." He whispered. He wanted to kiss her without a worry in his mind just one time. One time was all he needed. Tex didn't want to worry about his feelings. He didn't want to worry about loving her. He wanted it to be so free, so lively. He wanted to hold her hand in public, he wanted to be able to kiss her on the sidewalk. But Tex could never feel that way. He was supposed to be the jerk who was arrogant, and careless. The one who knew he was the best Sendiah that existed. He was supposed to be the one who was annoyed by every single thing Natalia did. But for some undefinable reason, he was just the opposite.

Tex knew he had trained since he was seven to be a fighter. He never thought himself as good. He always looked for improvements. His posture was bad, the blade wasn't level, all kinds of things were wrong about him. Tex made it visible that he was careless, and he made it visible that he was arrogant, and selfish. But he sometimes questioned himself. Why did he want to feel the exact opposite? He was never selfish, and he never wanted to care about himself. When Natalia came into his life, Tex was on the verge of throwing away his whole act. Everything he'd known. Everything Droid had taught him when he was growing up. Loving is hating, Droid would say. But Natalia gave him the choked up feeling in his stomach that he'd never known of. Every single thing Natalia did made him lose every part of his fake identity every second. He'd managed to pull off some acts to make himself worse for her, but he usually forgot. And now he was standing here, staring at her so intensely that all he wanted was her. He had never desired for anything as much as he desired her.

He touched her forearms that were by her sides. She brought them up to his face, holding it in her tiny, soft hands. Tex always crumbled in to her touch. It was as if one thing would never quite be enough. He stepped towards her, even though they couldn't possibly get any closer. She backed slowly into the wall, pulling Tex with her. He kissed her forehead gently. He felt as if she was glass; so delicate, yet stunning. It seemed as if she hadn't wanted the gentleness. She wrapped her hands around his neck now, pulling him harder, and harder towards her. His lips pressed into hers, and the smooth curves of her mouth slid onto his.

Natalia let out small noises, surprise, or realization of the whole situation. He loved her. And all he wanted was her.

He started kissing her neck once again, trying to gather all of her up. She let her arms rest around his shoulders, her breaths fast and strong.

"What happened to you?" she whispered. Her voice was shaky as his kisses lowered. He didn't stop. He wanted to gather all of the moment as much as he could.

"Everything is perfect right now." He managed to say. He pulled his head away from her collarbone and started giving her light pecks on her temple and cheeks. She stared up at him.

"I'm sorry about what I said earlier. About things being weird. I didn't mean it." She whispered. She reached up and kissed him on the lips, gentle, and soft. She thought she made him angry. Tex wanted to laugh at the ridiculous thought. He had realized how much he was failing to be the strong one, and he had to push her away. Get her angry with him. But now the thought seemed merely impossible.

"No. You were absolutely right. I shouldn't be doing this with you." Even if he wanted to pull away from Natalia, the feelings he had made him attach on to her.

"Why do you keep saying that?" Natalia whispered. She looked at him with big round eyes. "Don't keep saying you shouldn't be with me. I want to be with you." He kissed her softly, and she pulled him towards her, this time harder. He put his hands on the wall beside her, using them to support himself against her. The wall dug in on his knuckles, giving Tex a pain he'd never felt before. Natalia's hands explored his body swiftly. They swam up his chest and hooked around his neck, pulling him closer.

"Shit!" A voice interrupted. Tex jumped back so quickly from being against the wall with Natalia that his head throbbed. This was also with the help of Natalia's hands pushing him. They looked behind them to a tired Ivan, who spilled milk over his shirt. "What is going on here?" Ivan whispered. It must have been nighttime, because he was in a pair of pajama pants, and a loose gray shirt.

"Ivan, what are you doing up?" Tex asked. Ivan only crossed his arms.

"What are you doing up?" Ivan asked. He motioned to his wet shirt. "I was trying to get a drink of milk. Then I hear some slamming on the walls-"

"There was no slamming." Natalia said. He face was bright red, and she quickly pulled up her shirt in which the sleeve fell.

"Well, I heard some loud noises, and I was afraid someone was breaking in." Ivan corrected, looking at Natalia. She put a hand to her head.

"It's getting late." Natalia said. She turned to Ivan. "I'm sorry we made you spill." Natalia said. Ivan dismissed it with his hand, and began to walk into one of the bedrooms. He stopped short and stared at Tex's wounds.

"Tex, what happened?" Ivan looked from Natalia to Tex. Oh.

"Natalia didn't do that." Tex said quickly. "I…I got into a fight at a bar." Natalia shot him a dirty look.

"You were at a bar?" she asked. "You're not even old enough!" Natalia took a few steps back.

"I…" he tried to dig up an excuse. Natalia had to hate him. He was dangerous for her. All he did was get her to the brink of death. "A gastron approached me." He sputtered.

"Which one is the truth?" Ivan asked. When Tex grew quiet, Ivan asked, "Neither of them?"

"It's complicated. I can't tell you. But it's okay. Everything is fine." Tex pushed away from the wall he was leaning against.

"Well, fine. But do me a favor. Next time you guys decide to…" he motioned to the both of them. "You know, just, try not to make it sound like someone's trying to break in." Tex flushed. Natalia turned away from Ivan as he started walking back to a bedroom. Tex looked at Natalia.

"Goodnight." She said quickly, without looking at him and disappeared out of the room.

9

Natalia woke up from the sun peeking through the closed shades of the bedroom. She sat up in the massive bed, her legs tangled with the sheets. She got up, and grabbed her bag. She approached a bathroom door. She would've opened it if she hadn't seen a light out of the bottom. She heard someone behind the door curse out loud numerous times, and the sound of metal falling on the ground. Natalia knocked softly, and the person stopped, and everything went dead quiet.

"Come in." his voice was irritated. Natalia pulled the door open, almost dropping her bag in astonishment.

Tex was sitting on the counter, his legs hanging off the edge, leaning over himself. The sink was filled with water that was steaming, and there were bandages, some stained blue with blood, and other plain white ones. Tex had his shirt on the floor, leaving his upper body exposed. He was holding tweezers, some loose thread and a bandage lay on his lap. He looked up when he saw her, returned his gaze down, and froze. She saw his arms tense. He looked up again, as if not believing his eyes the first time.

"What are you doing?" Natalia asked, her voice filled with edge. He looked down at himself, his cut that was spilling his blood over his stomach.

"I…" he dropped the tweezers on the counter next to him. "I'm not doing anything." He exhaled slowly. "Do you need the bathroom?"

"You know, lying to me doesn't exactly get you points on my good list." Natalia set the bag down on the floor. Tex jumped off of the counter.

"There's a list?" Tex asked, grabbing a bandage from behind him in the sink and cleaning the blood around it. Natalia nodded.

"Sure there is." She replied. She put her bag on the closed lid of the toilet, and began to pull out the clothes she'd change in to.

Tex stopped and looked at her. "Which side am I on now?" he asked, beginning to grin.

"I haven't decided yet." She said simply. Tex laughed.

"Let me know when you figure it out." He said. She dug to the bottom for her brush, except she couldn't find it.

"Where is my brush?" Natalia asked, searching her pockets.

"I don't know." He said, defensively. "Use your comb." Tex took a damp steaming bandage out, and wrapped it around his stomach. It covered the length of the cut, and went around his whole body, covering some of his back and his stomach. He cursed as he tightened it, and got some tape. The blue already started to bleed through the bandage slightly.

"Tex, maybe you should go to the doctor for that." Tex stiffened.

"I'm fine." He gritted, grabbing his shirt and disappearing out of the bathroom. He slammed the door shut behind him, leaving Natalia clueless to the sudden anger he had.

Natalia stepped out into the living room wearing a short sleeved shirt and a pair of pants. She hadn't been exactly planning on going to Hawaii, or any place warm. Natalia stepped out into the living room where she disappeared into the kitchen. She grabbed a drink of water, shutting the fridge door after retrieving a bottle. She took a few sips before putting it on the counter. She played with the cap for a few moments until she spun around.

She hadn't realized Tex walked into the room. She gasped in surprise, slapping a hand to her head.

"Are you amazed by my stunningly good looks?" Tex asked. Now, this was the boy she knew. He was always full of himself, just like he was now. "Look, I wanted to apologize. I was rude and I-I guess I shouldn't have snapped."

Natalia slowly nodded in response. Tex took a hesitant step forward, smiling. "Why are you smiling?" she asked.

Tex shook his head. "Nothing."

"You're smiling for a reason." Natalia said, stepping towards him. It was a small step; she was still a foot away from him.

"Can't I smile just because I'm happy?" he asked, pushing his hair back.

"You can," Natalia started, "but we both know that's not the case." He grinned.

"Oh is it now?"

Natalia thought for a long moment. "Yup." Tex reached his hand out. Natalia stepped back, hitting the counter with a sound. She flushed. Tex took a quick step back.

"I…I'm sorry." He whispered. Natalia swallowed hard.

"I just…" Natalia put her face in her hands. "I don't get you."

"I know. I've been acting strange lately…"

"I just don't ever get you." Natalia watched him cautiously as he took a step toward her. "What happened last night?"

"I…I'm sorry." He whispered. He looked down. His eyes looked more of a pale green. "I just…Yesterday was the first day, ever, that I actually did what I'd wanted to for so long." Natalia's expression softened.

"Really?" Tex took a step forward, looking more confident.

"Yes." He reached his fingers up to her face. They traced the outline of her jaw and moved up to outline her lips. "A part of me is dying inside. Ninety nine percent of me wants to be with you. The other one percent knows I can't." By now his other hand came up, touching her cheeks, his hands soft against her skin.

"Why do you keep saying that?" Natalia whispered. Her breath caught. "You can't keep saying that."

"Why? Because it's the truth? Natalia, if there was nothing keeping me from kissing you right now, I would have already done it. A hundred, a million times." Natalia tried to exhale smoothly, but her voice was caught with adrenaline.

"Then kiss me." Natalia whispered. Her eyes followed his mouth move as he spoke. After he had finished, they finally crawled up to meet his eyes. "I don't care what's stopping us from being together. We shouldn't care, if we..." Love each other. Tex's hands pulled away from her face, dropping down to the counter behind Natalia. It felt as if he were hugging her, without wrapping his arms around her. She felt his body push against hers as he kissed her. She reached up for him, bringing her hands around his neck. One of Tex's hands came off of the counter around Natalia's back. She felt his heart pounding, just as fast as hers. The door to the kitchen opened, but the sound was so small that neither Natalia nor Tex heard. His lips pressed gently into hers. Natalia still got the same fuzzy feeling that she had when they first kissed. The feeling drowned out all of her problems, making her never want to let him go.

"Excuse me." A lazy voice said, filled with irritation. Tex jumped back quickly, extremely startled. They both had been so lost with each other that they hadn't noticed a tired Ava urging them to the side so she could grab a drink of water. Natalia's hands ripped away from Tex's neck as she let out a gasp. They stared at Ava, who got a cup and was filling it with water. She was muttering things under breath. Natalia couldn't hear or tell what she was saying. Ava backed up, leaning against the counter, staring at them. "Wow, you don't even say good morning to me." Natalia was too stunned to talk. Her mouth was dropped open in shock. Ava's hair was a complete mess. Natalia glanced at Tex, who was staring at Ava. "Why do you keep staring at me? It's getting weird…" Ava started to drink the water, closing her eyes. It was silent as she took a few sips. Ava froze, her throat stopping drinking. Her eyes flew open as she pulled the cup back quickly, coughing on the water in her throat. "What the hell!" she yelled. Her hands went to her mouth as water spilled down her chin. She coughed nonstop until she took deep breaths of air. "I-what-you-"

"Don't be mad." Natalia interrupted quickly. Ava stared at her in confusion. She looked from Natalia to Tex.

"I knew something was getting fishy between you two!" she said, pointing a finger. "I mean, I thought, before we left, it was just a simple thing. Dismissed easily, like Tex and I dating. But then I walk in and see this!" She crossed her arms. Natalia stood, still shocked. That was why they hated each other so much. Tex and Ava used to be together.

"You and Tex….used to date?" she looked to the both of them. Both of their expressions were unidentifiable.

"Don't switch the subject on me, missy! I caught you, not the other way around." Ava said. "I can't believe…"

"Ava, please." Natalia said.

"Please what?" Shockingly, it was Tex. His expression was hard, and unfriendly. Natalia took a deep breath and shrugged. She looked at Ava.

"Are you angry?"

"Well-" Suddenly the whole room started to shake. Natalia steadied herself on the counter behind her while Ava and Tex staggered, unable to grab on to anything. The door behind Ava burst open and three Gastrons piled in. They were growling, whispering things in an unknown language that Natalia didn't understand. Tex looked at Ava, and they stared at each other for a long moment.

"Give us her," one of them whispered, the biggest of all. They had a mouth with spiking yellow teeth. There were about three rows.

"Screw you." Tex gritted. Natalia called his name, giving him the usual glare, which he shrugged away. Ava spun around finally, whipping out a small dagger that neither Tex nor Natalia knew she had. She stabbed down at the tallest one, using it as an anchor to swing herself on its back. She pulled out the dagger and stabbed at its neck repeatedly, dark red blood spilling over her dagger.

Tex jumped from where he once stood onto the next biggest Gastron. He stabbed at it with his Sharn, sticking the glowing dagger in its eye. The Gastron screamed out, slashing blindly in front of it. It succeeded in slashing Tex, reopening the wound Natalia saw him with from the other night. Tex screamed out, but not giving up. He pulled the dagger away from its eye and stabbed it in the heart. The Gastron turned to crystal, and with one final blow from Tex, burst into a dark liquid. Tex's shirt was ripped vertical from just below his pectoral muscles down to the hem of his shirt. He barely noticed as him and Ava advanced to the last Gastron. Before they swung at it, Tory burst into the room, a blade in her hand. She slashed down at the Gastron, who blocked the blow. Ivan appeared shortly after with a knife. Him and Tory slashed the Gastron until it fell to its knees, spitting blood.

"Please," it gagged. Natalia remembered getting bit from the Gastron at Infitus. Natalia shuddered.

"Who are you?" Tex demanded. "Why are you here?" he yelled. He aimed the Sharn at the Gastron's neck, pressing harder after every breath it took.

"A message…" it sputtered, dropping to its side. "For…" Me, Natalia thought. The Gastron stared up at Tex as it said, "you." Tex backed up, his mouth parted in surprise.

"Me? Why me?" he asked. When the Gastron attempted to breath, Tex yelled, "Why me!"

"Your…brother." The Gastron's voice was barely a whisper. "Samuel."

Natalia could see Tex's face burn with desperation. "He's dead." Tex spat.

"No." the Gastron shook his head. "The apprentice took his body. To rebuild, reform-"

"No." Tex said, his voice was in a cry. "You tell them to leave him alone! I'll go myself! Where are they? Who is he?"

"It's…." the Gastron began to raise its finger but it was too late. The life had slipped away from it, and the Gastron turned to crystal and exploded into liquid. The room was dead silent except for Tex's heavy breathing.

"Tex…" Tory whimpered. She took a step towards him but stopped abruptly. Tex threw the dagger, as hard has he could, into the wall, letting out a scream. Natalia jumped back, startled. After a while, he slowly made his way to the wall, pulling out the dagger. He looked at it, barely grinning.

"My brother got this for me." She said. He turned it over in his hand, and looked at the hilt. "The Colaf Crest is on it." He spoke barely above a whisper.

"Tex…" Natalia started. Before any of them said any more, the door made a small noise behind Tex. He didn't have time to spin around as five more Gatrons pushed through the room.

The first one immediately saw Tex and swung outward with its claws, leaving two slashes, deep and long along his back. Tex stumbled forward from the impact. Natalia spun to the counter as she heard a battle start. The coffee table made a snapping sound as Ava was thrown atop of it. Natalia grabbed a butcher's knife, and she spun back to the scene.

Tex had gotten up, and he was standing between her and a Gastron, injured. "Get out of the way." Natalia said, shoving him aside. He stumbled over, dropping the dagger. His blue blood spilled down his shirt on both his front and back. Natalia aimed towards Gastron about the size of her. She flung herself at the thing, and stabbed at it numerous times. The Gastron pushed her back, and Natalia dropped the knife, falling back.

She smacked her back into the stove, and crushed to her knees. Her head snapped back, making her neck ache. She began to stand up, clutching the stove behind her. Tex threw himself at the monster, stabbing at it with his Sharn. It was squirming, so Tex stabbed his Sharn in its fat neck, and threw himself over the back of it. The Gastron struggled as Tex rested over its back, attempting to strangle it.

"Natalia!" he screamed, right when she got up. He pulled the dagger from the Gastron and threw it towards her. Natalia reached her hands out, aiming for the hilt and-

Natalia felt sudden power coarse through her body from the dagger after successfully catching it. She ran to the Gastron, stabbing at its heart repeatedly. It fell over, turning to crystal for a moment before bursting to liquid. Tex fell on the ground, banging his shoulder painfully into the lower cabinets. Natalia dropped the dagger, taking deep and long breaths.

"Are you okay?" he asked, getting up. He made no attempt to hide the pain he was in, for it was so great.

"Am I okay?" she echoed. "You're asking if I'm okay?" Natalia felt a pain prickle in the back of her neck. No. she thought. I'm not.

Suddenly, the room burst into chaos. The wall next to Natalia exploded inward, and a swarm of gastrons-about fifty of them-pushed through, right for Natalia. She heard Tex scream something, but Natalia felt like she was out of her body. This was it. She was going to be killed, right here. The gastron closest to her pulled out a bow and arrow, aiming a what looked like dart, right at her. The gastron pulled the string back, and let go. Natalia couldn't help but stare as the dart sailed right through the air, and hit her neck within seconds. Natalia dropped to the ground almost instantly, the dart releasing a poison into her body. Her vision blurred, and everything turned to blackness as the last thing she saw appeared in front of her: Tex.

10

Natalia had never felt so weak.

It took her multiple tries to peel open her eyes. She felt extremely chilled from head to toe. She hadn't even realized she was uncontrollably shaking until she managed to open her eyes to her hands. They were tied in front of her with rusted wire, cutting off her circulation. She tilted her head up straight, and found her feet tied to the legs of a chair. She was seated on a wooden, cheap chair, facing a dark room, the window just behind her. She could barely move, and barely speak. It was then that she heard loud footsteps echoing through the small room. It was damp and frigid.

Natalia heard the flick of a light switch as overhead lights dangling above her revealed the room around her. She sucked in a breath as she saw a large box in front of her. It almost looked like a casket, made out of steel. It was opaque, and Natalia had one small guess as to what may be in there. Or who.

Natalia scanned the room. It almost looked like a cellar that was above ground. The walls were dirty and stained. But they looked like cement. Natalia saw only one door, which was across the room. On the other side of the casket was another chair. Natalia could barely make out his broad shoulders and the silhouette of his face.

It was Tex.

Natalia hadn't noticed that tears were falling down her cheeks. Tex had his head down, and she noticed he was tied up the same way as she. He began to slowly move, his head looking around the room, and then to the casket in front of him. Natalia tried to yank free the rusted wire, but it only made the wire cut into her hands, and made blood trickle down to her fingertips.

"Tex…" Natalia whispered across the room. Tex jerked his head up and stared at her. He was muttering things under his breath.

"We have to get out of here." He said. His tone was nothing less than urgent. He thrashed around his arms, trying to loosen the wire, but he got cut, and blue blood drizzled down his wrists.

"My hands are tied. And my feet." Natalia said, looking around herself for anything she could use to help get out.

"I shouldn't be this weak still." Tex said. "Why is it taking this long?"

"What did you do?" Natalia asked. Tex, who was inspecting his injuries, looked across the room at Natalia.

"It's complicated." He said, reluctantly.

"Stop lying." Natalia said. "For once, Tex, stop lying." Natalia managed to keep her voice firm.

"I-"

"Good evening, everyone!" a voice came from the darkness. Natalia looked around, and she and Tex both watched as a man appeared in front of them. Natalia's mouth fell open. "Well isn't this fun?"

Tex spit at the ground in front of him. "Go to hell." The man turned to Tex, his back facing Natalia. He leaned over the chair to Tex.

"I can torture you, just remember that."

"I don't care how much pain you try to put me through. It just shows how weak you are to chain me up and not actually fight me." Something was achingly familiar by looking at the back of the boy. Natalia couldn't quite put her finger on it.

"You think I need to hurt you to make you suffer?" the boy asked. He let out a dark laugh, and straightened. He turned and started walking over to Natalia. That was when she saw it. Through the heavy British accent, Natalia saw Jake. Jake, who had asked her out to a date, and then ignored her after she had ditched him. Natalia's mouth fell open in astonishment.

"Jake?" She let out. He made his way over to her as if she'd never spoken.

"Hello, Love." He said, smiling. It was an evil, dark smile.

"You're…British?" she asked. He grabbed the back of her neck, and stood to the side, facing Tex. Natalia yelped out at the unusual strength he'd gained.

"I am certain I can find other ways to torture you, Tex." Tex jerked up-right in the chair, suddenly alarmed.

"Let her go." Tex said through clenched teeth.

"And what are you going to do about it?" Jake asked. Tex didn't do anything, but instead started calling Jake the worst names that Natalia had ever heard. "Careful, mate. One more word, and this hand will cross her face." Jake raised the hand that gripped the back of Natalia's neck.

"Jake, you wouldn't." Natalia said, looking up at him.

"That's not my real name, darling." He said, grinning down at her. "Really, it is Jonathon. But I figured I'd switch my identities and make you interested in 'Jake'. But instead, you blew me off for him." Jake, or, better Jonathon, motioned to Tex.

"Sorry to burst your bubble, but Natalia doesn't go for psycho maniacs, like you." Without warning, Jonathon's hand cracked across Natalia's cheek. Natalia's head turned sideways from how hard he hit her. She let out a scream from the unbearable pain that hit her cheek. Natalia was sure her cheek was a dark red. She heard Tex yell out to her. "God, I'm sorry!" he yelled. "Don't hurt her! I-I'll do anything. Just, don't hurt her."

"Aw," Jonathon started. Natalia let her hair fall into her face as she bent her head forward to hide the tears that stung in her eyes. "Love. Two people who've strong feelings for one another. Isn't that sweet." Jonathon took a small step and was slightly in front of Natalia. "Well, Tex. If you haven't already figured it out, love is evil. It can ruin everything you've ever known." Jonathon let out a long, sickening laugh. Natalia looked at Tex through the strands of hair that fell into her face. She caught him looking back at her. They haven't discussed the feelings they had completely, let alone the love they had. Well, the love Natalia had. Jonathon's hand came from the side and pulled Natalia's face up to look at him.

Natalia jerked away from his touch. "Don't touch me." She demanded. She heard Jonathon laugh as his laughing grew closed to her ear.

"You're a stubborn little thing, aren't you?" he took her jaw between his fingers again, turning her to face him. When she faced him, his mouth hovered just above hers. She tried to jerk away, but his grip was firm. He leaned forward and forcefully kissed her, his eyes turned to Tex. Natalia shook her head, trying to free herself from his grip. It wasn't until a moment later that he finally released her. Natalia glared at Jonathon, who was staring at Tex still.

"Asshole!" she yelled. She caught Tex's expression, and saw his hands in fists, his knuckles white. More blood was pouring out from the intense struggle he went through to try to get them free. His jaw was set, his eyes dark and angry.

"Do you like how that feels, Tex?" Jonathon asked. He was grinning at Tex. "You hopelessly watch from the sidelines as you see the one you love kiss someone else? You want to do something, but you can't?" Tex made no comment. "Well, I have been dealing with this ever since Natalia met you. As soon as she found out about our world, and I had to work with Droid, I watched her fall for you, unable to take her from you. I had to watch her fall in love with you. Do you know how excruciating the pain of watching that happen was?" His face turned angry. "It was about a thousand times worse than what you just saw."

"You know nothing about love. You're a monster-"

"And you know what love is?" he asked. Tex and Natalia exchanged looks. "Lord, you're only seventeen!" So this was it. He really was seventeen. Natalia had almost been convinced that Tex was much older, like he said he was. But really he was just a year older; just a year less immature.

The door that Natalia had been staring at broke open. Natalia's father, Victor, had been thrown into the room. He stumbled forward, falling onto the ground. Natalia sat up quickly, instinctively moving her hands to get up. The wires dug into her skin, making her wince. Victor looked more shaken than ever, and he struggled to get up. His eyes went straight to Natalia. A look of sorrow and guilt passed for one second, and then he looked at Jonathon, and let out a nervous smile.

"Ah, welcome to the party, Victor. We are so delighted you could make it." Jonathon waved to him. Victor straightened his coat, and looked at Tex, disgusted.

"What's he doing here?" Victor asked.

"He got caught in the mumbo-jumbo. He's part of the ritual." Jonathon said. He began to uncover the box between Natalia and Tex.

"I told you, we can't complete the ritual. There is nobody Natalia loves." Natalia watched Jonathon, as he laughed.

"Victor, I'm sure Droid cleared this with you." He motioned to Tex and Natalia. Victor stared at him blankly. Jonathon sighed, irritated. "Tex plus Natalia equals heart." He made a heart with his hands. "Got it?"

Victor gave Natalia a look of anger. "Natalia, I thought we went over this. You're too smart for him. You don't love him. You don't love Toby."

"You know, dad, I'm getting really tired of people telling me who I love." Jonathon let out a long laugh.

"Dad? She really still thinks you're her father?" Jonathon laughed again. "Natalia, perhaps you need a lesson. Your mommy, Joan, cheated on 'daddy'." He glanced at Victor. "Victor is not your father, he's just been undercover so that we could get close to you and kill you." Tex seemed to have been the only one who noticed Natalia's exploding heart. Victor was never really her father? She wasn't a Havens, then, was she? Who was her father, if Victor wasn't?

"My mother…"

"Victor killed your mother so that you would be directly his. Then that was when I came along, and tricked you into thinking I liked you." Jonathon said. He pulled a drape that hung over the casket off and there was one more casing.

"But…you said that you watched hopelessly from the sidelines as you saw me fall in love. You watched me fall in love as you said you loved me." Natalia whispered. "Why would you trick me into thinking that? Don't you have a sense of humanity?"

"Droid is my father!" Jonathon exclaimed suddenly. "I owe loyalty to my own blood! You, on the other hand, betrayed your family!" He pulled open the casing that revealed a bunch of smoke. He pulled off a necklace that had a stone on the chain. He dangled it in front of Natalia. "You see this? This is a family pendant. My family pendant. I remain loyal to the most important thing."

"How did I betray my family?" Natalia asked.

"Oh, you have no idea, do you? Well stop asking so many questions! We've got things to do!" The fog settled and Natalia let out a gasp as she saw Droid lying in the box, his eyes closed.

"Oh, Droid. Be ready to welcome life again." Victor said, peering over the box at Droid. He glanced at Tex. "Jonathon, carry on to your business." Jonathon grinned, and walked over to Tex.

"Let's go, kid." He said, untying Tex's feet. Tex jumped up, and wacked his hands on the back of Jonathon's head, making Jonathon fall to the ground. Tex loosened the wires surrounding his wrists as he bolted over to Natalia. He grabbed at the wires at her wrists as Natalia tried to warn him Jonathon was behind him. Tex turned around just quick enough to catch Jonathon's dagger before it hit his stomach. Jonathon laughed. "You're so weak." He said. Tex struggled as the blade came closer to his chest. "Though I need your blood, it doesn't mean you need to be alive for me to get it, just so you know." Jonathon grabbed the back of Tex's neck and spun Tex towards the coffin-like box, leaning him over it. He gagged at the sight of Droid.

"I get the freezer thing to preserve his body. But really? You couldn't do anything about the smell?" Jonathon grabbed Tex's bloodied hand with his free hand and brought over the box, just inches away from Droid's unmoving head. Jonathon created a new cut in the center of Tex's palm, making him wince, and clenched his hand up in a fist. In seconds, Natalia saw his fist drip blood onto Droid's lips. Nothing happened, and Jonathon sat Tex back, chaining him up as Tex struggled. He turned to Natalia.

"Now all we need is your blood, and Droid will be up in minutes!" Jonathon exclaimed, making his way to her.

"Jonathon, are you sure? It seems quite simple…" Victor said doubtfully.

"Doubting my skills, father?" Jonathon asked, grabbing Natalia, and pulling her up from the chair. Father? So Victor was really Jonathon's father. Natalia winced as he gripped the back of her neck and brought her over the box. "I know what I'm doing." Instantly, the smell of rot filled Natalia's nose as she leaned over Droid's unmoving body. She gagged, her stomach twisting and flipping. "Shut up." Jonathon demanded. He grabbed her hand, and created a cut in the palm of her hand that was identical to Tex's. Natalia let out a yelp of agony as Jonathon made the cut slow and deep. She heard Tex struggling in the chair, and she could've sworn she heard him get one of the wires loose.

Natalia watched her own blood drip down right on Tex's, which made Droid's mouth twitch. The blood of hers and Tex's dissolved into Droid's skin, the color of his face returning slowly. Jonathon let out a manic laugh, cheering as Droid's body slowly twitched. Natalia watched in astonishment as Droid's eyes finally peeled open. She let out a cry as his mouth curved into a demonic smile. Natalia pushed back, and attempted to run, but Jonathon had an unnaturally firm grip on her. She watched as Droid sat up, and walked out of the box casually, as if he never died.

His gaze rested first on Tex. "Toby," he called, filled with delightedness. "Funny to see you here. Now you can watch as the Floranth dies and the gastrons take control over every bit of your worthless world." Tex let out a humorless laugh.

"It's funny how you think this is just going to happen like your opening a door." Tex said, looking up at him. He hadn't stopped his attempt to get free. Natalia seemed to have been the only one to notice he had gotten his feet free, and was now focusing on his hands.

"What is that?" Droid said, peering over at Natalia. "The Floranth. And what's this?" Droid asked, taking out a dagger from behind him. "A flawn."

"Those are extremely rare. That's surely fake-"

"Is it?" Droid asked, bringing the blue and silver shimmering dagger to Tex's cheek. It traced across his high cheekbone, sizzling into Tex's skin, blood staining the tip of the dagger. Natalia let out a yelp in Jonathon's arms, trying to shake herself free. Tex screamed out, jerking his head away from the flawn. "Are you sure?" Droid asked, smiling. He walked over to Natalia, whose back was facing Jonathon. He held her still as Droid pointed the dagger at her throat.

"Kill her, father." Jonathon said, sounding happy and manic.

"Mmm. Tex, would you rather see Natalia's throat sliced open"-He aimed the dagger at Natalia's throat, sending chills throughout her body-"or, would you like to see the dagger stab through her heart?" Droid touched the dagger to the tip of Natalia's shirt, just above her heart. The fabric sizzled, creating a small hole in it.

"Go to hell." Tex said, raising his voice.

"I'm sure I was there about five minutes ago." Droid said thoughtfully. He turned back to Natalia.

"Since your love, over there, cannot decide, I will let you have the choice." Droid said. "Throat, or heart?" his smile burned into Natalia. It was appalling to think that at one moment she thought he was kind.

"Screw you!" she yelled. Droid laughed, the sound he made echoing all over the damp and frigid room.

"I don't believe that was an option." He said. When the room rested in a small silence, before Droid said, "Fine. I gave you a choice. Now I've got to choose." He thought for a moment longer. "The heart it is. I want to get this over with." He held up the dagger. Natalia pinched her eyes shut. She heard the sound of Tex's growing struggle in the wires. Her heart pounded hard in her chest, and Natalia finally came to the realization that in a few moments, it will no longer be pumping. It will no longer work, and she would be dead. Her sister would live without her, not knowing what ever happened, and she will never know of the unnatural world they live in. The roomed reached a silence as she felt Jonathon's grip tense on her. Suddenly, the room exploded into chaos.

Screams were let out in multiple locations of the room. By the time Natalia opened her eyes, she found herself on the ground, laying on her side. She had been so scared that she hadn't even felt the impact of falling. Moments later, she saw someone pass through her vision. She was wearing dark colors, which almost seemed invisible against the dim walls. Natalia quickly got up and inspected the room around her. Tex just reached her from across the room, and what she saw as dark colors was Madame Bell. Ivan and Tory burst through the doors, Ava just behind them. They instantly went to Jonathon, grabbing him, and asking Madame Bell for directions.

"Are you alright?" Tex asked, his hands inspecting the wounds on Natalia's body.

"I'm fine," Natalia tried to say calmly. She wasn't fine. She was anything but fine. She looked around the room just to see Droid running out of the door. "Droid!" Natalia gasped, and Tex spun around to catch Droid running out the door.

"Stay here." Tex said, starting to run out the door. Natalia found herself following Tex, right on his heels. She wouldn't stay. She was going to help Tex kill Droid once and for all. Tex pulled out his Sharn, which had been in his belt. He hadn't been able to reach for it before, but now he made sure he took it out now.

Natalia followed Tex out the doors and they stopped abruptly, looking around. It was now pouring rain, thunder and lightning making the storm feel worse. Wind pushed Tex's hair to the side of his face, and Natalia caught his gaze on something ahead. It was Droid. They ran over to him, and Droid had now pulled out a long dagger.

"You thought you would get off easy?" Tex demanded. "You killed my only family. Prepare to die slowly, and painfully." Droid let out a laugh.

"She's right there. I can still easily kill the both of you, and take control like my plan was." Tex spun around and faced Natalia, suddenly looking angry.

"I told you to stay there." He said. His tone was surprisingly sharp.

"I don't care. This is my fight just as much as it is yours." Natalia said back. Tex turned back to Droid, who just swung the sword towards him. Tex brought up the dagger just in time to catch the sword from slicing him in half. The two weapons created a spark together, and Tex staggered back. He was clearly still out of his usual strength.

"I don't need to kill you. Just move out of the way so I can get my business done." Droid said. Tex lunged at Droid, grabbing at his neck.

"Over my dead body." He gritted.

Droid shrugged and said through a tough voice, "If you say so." Droid pushed back Tex, who was now soaking in the rain. They all were. She heard Ava yelling after them from the door of the room. Tex tried to regain his posture, but Droid had already advanced on Natalia. Tex threw his Sharn, aiming at the arm Droid had brought up to stab Natalia.

Natalia let out a scream as Tex's Sharn sliced right through Droid's wrist, separating it from the rest of his arm. This had to have been the first time she heard Droid scream of agony. Blood started pouring out of his wrist, which Droid put pressure on with the sleeve of his coat. He then started letting out screams of anger as he picked up Tex's Sharn. Ava had reached Natalia and Natalia started taking the dagger out of Ava's hand. The world started becoming dizzy from the freezing cold and the water making Natalia's hands shake. Natalia finally spun to Droid when Ava wouldn't let the dagger go. Natalia turned in time to experience the biggest emptiness her heart had ever felt. She gasped so loud that Droid even heard it, and started laughing.

Droid was standing there, in front of Tex, with Tex's own Sharn inside Tex's chest. Right on his heart. Ava and Natalia bolted over to them and Tex fell back, his blood being washed away from the rain. Ava advanced on Droid, and she didn't hesitate to decapitate him just as he turned to her. But Natalia didn't care. She dropped down on the pavement next to Tex, his eyes slowly rolling behind his head.

"Tex!" she yelled, putting his head on her lap. Her hands held the sides of his face close to her. She heard him mumble small things, but it was so soft that she could barely hear him.

"I'm sorry…" he whispered. Natalia shook her head in response. No. Tex was not dying. He wouldn't be dead. The image of his own Sharn sticking out of his chest made Natalia shudder uncontrollably.

"Don't die." She whispered. Tears fluttered down her cheeks. "Keep your eyes open. Stay with me!" Tex's weak hands came up to her face, pushing away the tears that spilled down her face. He was extremely pale. Tex pushed away her soaked hair that fell in her face, his dull eyes remaining on hers.

"I've wanted to tell you something ever since I've seen you again in months." Tex whispered hoarsely. Natalia tried to keep from trembling. "I love you, Natalia. I've always loved you." He whispered. Natalia could not help the fact that she was practically sobbing. He reached up to her and kissed her. The kiss was so light, but it held the most meaning in the world. It was completely obvious now: Natalia had truly loved him.

After a moment passed, the hands on her went stiff, falling back to his sides. His lips froze, and his head dropped back. He was dead.

"Tex," she whispered. She shook him by the arms. "Tex, wake up! Don't leave here, please! Don't die!" Natalia sobbed. A strike of lightning created a small light in the stormy streets. Suddenly, a pair of strong arms went around her. She jumped, but remained by Tex's side.

"Lord, Natalia you're freezing!" Ivan said, before he realized that Tex was gone. "Tex, get up-oh. Oh. Oh my…" Natalia was sobbing uncontrollably. "Natalia, get up, Hun."

"Tex," she murmured. Ava approached them.

"Natalia-" She broke off. Ivan picked her up by her arms, and started walking her over to a building. Natalia tried to shake free of him.

"Stop!" she yelled. "Stop, stop, stop!" She thrashed around, turning to Tex's body, which was now limp on the street. "I have to be with him! He-he told me he loved me!"

"He's dead, Natalia! Do you hear me? Dead. He's gone." Ivan turned Natalia back to the sidewalk, but Natalia quickly spun again. "Natalia!"

"Get away from me!" Natalia screamed. She punched Ivan hard in his jaw, stunning him. His grip loosened, and she yanked free of his grasp. Natalia ran to Tex again. She tried to press his wound down to stop blood loss. Natalia knew it was too late. But she couldn't leave him. Not like this. She wouldn't.

Suddenly, Natalia felt strong, and broad arms encircle her, pulling her away from Tex. Natalia tried to pull away, and felt a painful prickle into her neck. She looked to her side as her vision blurred, to a hand holding a syringe needle. She collapsed into the arms, which was the last thing she did after she stared at Tex's body. Within seconds, the darkness closed in on her, and she was out.

11

Natalia's eyes felt heavy. She wanted to flip them open to the sight of Tex leaning over her, telling her everything was alright. Of course, she knew it wasn't. But Natalia ached for the day to have been a dream. Natalia curled her fingers into her palm, squeezing fists. She opened her eyes to a blurry room with harsh lighting. A hospital room.

"Natalia," Ava whispered. Natalia jerked her head to Ava's direction. Ava's image became clear. Ava was sitting in a chair next to the bed Natalia was in. She had a worried look painted across her face. Natalia looked down at her own clothes, which were still damp on her body. This meant two things: She hadn't been here that long, and what she remembered was true. Natalia's throat hurt.

"Where is he?" Natalia whispered, sitting up. Her arm was attached to a IV tube, which she ripped away, swinging her feet off of the table.

"Natalia…" Ava said, rushing to her side. She pressed Natalia's shoulders. "Lay down, Hun."

"Ava," Natalia said. Her voice cracked. "Where is he?"

"Natalia, Tex is dead." Ava said, her voice barely above a whisper. Natalia's heart fell. She shook her head, standing up. She pushed away Ava's arms.

"Natalia." Tory's voice came from the door. She approached Natalia and Ava. "Lay down, Nat." Nat. Only Tex had ever called that before, only once. Natalia's eyes stung as she pushed her way to the door.

"I have to go-I…He told me he loved me." Natalia said, her voice cracking.

"He's gone. His body must have crystalized, and turned to liquid, just like every argon. You have nowhere to go." Tory said, holding Natalia's shoulders.

"I need a walk. I'm going for a walk."

"You're back in Illinois, Natalia." Ava said. Both girls watched Natalia walk out the door. She nodded, but her mind wasn't on them. It was on Tex. Toby Colaf. He was dead. Natalia walked down the street to her house. She walked up her driveway, walking around to the back of her house.

Natalia still couldn't believe that the table that Tex had used to put the Naves on was still set up. It was now just a bare table next to the tree, but it held so many memories of hard training, laughing, and just being with Tex. She remembered when he'd had a note on the nave saying: USE ME. BEHIND YOU. Natalia smiled at the memory. He saved her life. He'd saved her and what had she done? She got him killed. Natalia curled in on herself, folding into the grass below her. She stared up at the sky, thinking that somehow, somewhere, Tex was up there. Smiling, and at peace. He died a young Sendiah, but also an unbelievably strong one.

He was cold. So, unbelievably cold.

He hadn't shivered so much in his live. His hands shook, not only in this chilled feeling, but in realization. Where was he? He was on his back, laying on a cool, metal surface. It reminded him of when he was a boy, and him and Sam would be running around. Of course, his brother was the wiser one out of the two; and he would be the one on his back while his mother inspected his cuts from the Silver Bushes. Even though his skin was tough, and his muscle protected him, his mother always worried about injuries. But this experience was different. He felt cold and ill, and alone.

He opened his eyes slowly, one at a time. The room wasn't as bright as he'd thought it'd be. In fact, it was dimmer than he was comfortable with. He sat up, his back finally warming up off of the metal surface. He was wearing dark jeans, but his shirt was gone. Not on the ground, or on the counter nearby, but gone. He looked around the room. A couch rested not too far away, and a coffee able sat in front of it. Behind him was a door, and it creaked open, filling him with a dark fear. He heard steps come through to the room, where a figure stood.

"Who's there?" He asked, trying not to sound terrified. "Where am I?"

"You're in hell." The deep voice replied. A long laugh echoed through the room. "Your face…" he chuckled. "I'm kidding."

"Who are you?" He called back.

"You never were one for patience, where you, Toby?" the voice asked. A man appeared in front of Tex now.

"How do you know my name?" Tex asked to the man standing before him.

"I went through your memories." The man said. "It was the only way I could save you."

"I died." Tex said, feeling his bare chest. Sure enough, when he reached his heart, there was a long scar over it. He looked down and saw a red slice where his heart was. "How is this possible?"

"Don't you recognize me?" the man asked. He was tall, with long dark hair. He had broad shoulders, and hands smudged with dirt. He looked like he was maybe thirty, but Gords slowly aged.

"You're the Gord. The one who made my Sharn." Tex said in utter realization. "The one that made my Sharn have special powers."

"I don't like to brag about my skills, but yes. I've done all that. And I saved your life." The man bent down to a cabinet and pulled out a gray shirt. He tossed it at Tex, who lifted it up to figure out its size. "Here. Your shirt was stained with blood, so I tossed it in my scraps pile. There's an extra." Tex pulled the shirt over his head.

"What did you do?" Tex asked, observing his arms. Yup, everything was how it was before he died.

"No need for long details of that."

"Why did you help me?" Tex asked.

"You are quite the curious one, aren't you?" the Gord said. He pulled out a syringe needle from a drawer, and brought it to Tex's arm.

"What's that?" Tex asked, ignoring the Gord's comment and jerking away from the needle.

"A teddy bear." The Gord replied. "It's a needle. Look, now that you've rejoined the living, you need an injection to regulate your systems." Tex watched the needle protrude through his skin. As the Gord did this, he said, "So, you've some very fascinating memories."

"You looked through my memories?" Tex demanded. The Gord shrugged.

"It was the only way to save you. I didn't think you'd mind." The Gord pulled out the needle and set it aside. He put paper towels on Tex's bleeding arm. "So this Natalia girl, she's special to you?"

"Special? Just special?" Tex echoed. He shook his head in realization. "She's everything."

"Mmm?"

"She's strong, and, and brave, and everything that someone could ever be." He lowered his eyes.

"Do you love her?" Tex paused at the question.

"With all my heart." He whispered.

"Well, you know what I think, Toby?" The Gord asked. "I think you should spend less time here with me, and go to your source of everything." He patted Tex's shoulder.

"Thanks, but I can't." Tex said.

"Why so?"

"I…I ruined her life. She almost got killed because of me. She was ignorant of this world, and I ruined her chance of a normal life. I've done too much to her." The Gord washed his hands.

"Do you consider the possibility that you're just going too hard on yourself?" The Gord asked, looking at Tex.

"She just deserves better."

"She deserves you." The Gord said. "Maybe you didn't realize how she looked at you, but I did. I've witnessed all kinds of love. I know it when I see it. And I see it."

"Really?" Tex asked. "I feel like I'm forcing her. Like, like I am loving her, but she's too weak to get away from me." Tex whispered.

"Believe me when I say this, Toby. If she didn't love you, she wouldn't be sobbing right now, thinking you're dead. She wouldn't have let you kiss her when you told her you loved her. She's anything but weak. She knows what love is, and it's because of you." The Gord grabbed a pair of sneakers, and put them on a table next to Tex.

"I guess I just never looked at it that way." Tex said, shrugging.

"Don't torture yourself, and don't torture her. She wants you; it is clear. And likewise, I see that you want her." The Gord smiled. "I'm a sucker for love."

"I couldn't thank you enough." Tex said, putting on the sneakers.

The Gord smiled. "I worked for your mother, you know."

Tex froze. "My… mother?"

"She was always worried about you. You and Samuel. You used to see me all the time when you were young, but I left town. I watched you boys grow up into fine looking men." The Gord smiled.

"Sam was always the wiser one."

"Don't put yourself down so much, son." Tex shrugged.

"It's true. I was the drunkard"-The Gord coughed, and cleared his throat, staring at Tex-"and Samuel was too smart for that. I picked up girls who were practically prostitutes while Sam found the warm-hearted, caring ones." The Gord looked somewhat disturbed.

"You were a bad child, weren't you?" he asked.

Tex shrugged. "I guess it was because I knew I could never be as good as my brother. I was a typical bad boy on Zerum."

"Do you miss your family?" The Gord asked softly.

"Sometimes I wonder if I'd still be the jerk that I was when I officially lost everything. Then I met Natalia, and I couldn't even act right. My head was so jumbled up." The room was silent for a while.

"Well, I think you'd better be heading off." The Gord said finally. "Best of wishes to you, Toby."

"I owe you something." Tex said. "What is it? What can I do?"

"Just…remember something, Toby." The Gord said through a soft tone. "Everyone has a fair turn to be as great as he pleases. I hope this will help you."

Natalia had started walking again. She didn't even know where anymore. Her steps were soft as night approached. She turned around, to walk back in the direction she came from. She knew she came from her house, so she'd head there now. Natalia walked through the foggy streets, until she was on her block. She saw a figure looming in the distance. A broad person, walking in her direction. She'd seen many people walk past her, but something about this was off. She kept walking, her pace slowing slightly. The figure seemed to have seen her, and started rushing towards her. Natalia let out a scream as the person approached her. No. It couldn't be. Natalia was going crazy- she was sure of it. Was Tex really in front of her right now?

"Natalia!" He yelled, though he was in front of her. She looked up at him.

"Just an illusion." She murmured aloud. She walked past Tex, who grabbed her arm. Illusions didn't touch people, did they? Unless they weren't illusions…

"Nat." he said, more calmly this time. Natalia was so overwhelmed with joy that tears started falling down her cheeks before she even turned to him. When Natalia faced him, he saw the tears falling down her face. "I'm real. I'm here." Natalia touched his face. Raindrops started lightly falling, landing on Tex's cheek. She traced her hands up his face, feeling his cheeks, his jaw, his lips.

Natalia let out a cry of happiness. "You're here." She whispered. Tex brought his hands up to her face, wiping away the tears that fluttered down her cheeks. His hands trailed down her jaw to her neck, holding on to each other. "How is this possible?" she asked.

"A Gord. The one who made my Sharn. He-he saved me. I don't know why, but he saved my life." Natalia shivered as his hands held on to her collarbone. "He knows about you. He knows how I feel about you, and he-" Tex took a deep breath. "He knew that all I wanted was you."

Natalia smiled, so happy that this nightmare had ended. "I love you, Toby Colaf." She said, barely above a whisper. He bent down to her, smiling, and kissed her. Even the softest touch sent prickles up and down Natalia's spine. He held her face in his hands, guiding her mouth to his. Tex's nose brushed smoothly against the side of hers. Natalia's eyes squeezed shut. This was it. Tex wasn't dead. He was alive, and he loved her.

Tex's hands left her face and circled her back. He pulled her to him with such gentleness that Natalia felt like liquid. In between kisses he said, "I love you, Natalia Havens. I have always loved you, and I will always love you."

Tex bent down to her, kissing her cheek, her forehead, the hollow of her temple, and then covered her mouth with his. Natalia was sure she'd made sounds of happiness, though she didn't care. He held her tightly against him, making Natalia filled with a joy that he might not ever let her go.