KIN

Warning: The following contains adult language.

Jackson Blue bolted upright with a gasp. The early morning sunlight peered through the shutters, bouncing from the beads of sweat drenching his temples. The dragon morph raised a hand to his brow, fingers resting firmly against his cerulean face. That same dream again, he thought, grazing his stubbled cheek with long nails. Once again, he had awakened lying in a pool of his own sweat, feeling as though someone was gripping his throat from the inside. The stench of burnt flesh stung his nostrils even now; the deafening cacophony of screams rang faintly in his pointed ears. It left him feeling pathetic—guilty, even. "Stupid fucking dream."

In one swift move, he pulled the damp sheets aside and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. He sat slouched over as he regained his composure; his wings draped over his shoulders like two leathery curtains. He reached for the nightstand, swiping a pack of cigarettes from its surface. Why did he feel guilty? Because he knew what caused those screams, why he smelled burning flesh. He just wasn't about to admit it to anyone, not even himself—not after he had made it this far. He tapped the pack of cigarettes against his palm. Secrets existed for a reason. This secret was best kept in the grave he buried it in years ago. He removed a cigarette and licked the tobacco end, which began to smolder instantly from the heat of his tongue-a typical skill for a chain-smoking Emberkin such as himself. Taking a drag, he stared ahead blankly. "Just stay dead," he muttered to the emptiness of his room, finishing his morning cigarette quickly before hopping into the shower.

He wiped the post-shower mist from the mirror, staring back at himself. The screams momentarily got louder, the air saturated with the fleshy stench-or was it the steam?-as he looked directly into his own violet eyes full of guilt. Remorse. Shame. Glaring, he splashed his face with cold water. Just try to ignore it, he thought, dabbing at his face and small beard with a towel before rubbing the towel vigorously over his short, blonde locks.
Why now? he wondered. Why have these dreams now, for two weeks straight, when he had gone almost ten years without the hauntings of his past? Something wasn't right. He wasn't one for gut feelings, but right now he was trusting every tug of his insides that told him to expect the worst.

As he dressed, there was a knock at the door. On the other side of the door stood everything he lived for now, the one and only reason why his past was simply that-the past and nothing more.

"Mornin', Dewdrop," he said with the slightest of smiles. He wasn't one to smile very often, for he didn't have much to smile about aside from the little blue fox girl standing before him. Besides, it was hard enough to smile with his dream still lurking in the back of his mind. But Dewdrop-his ward, his best friend, his very reason for existence now-always seemed to bring that unfamiliar yet satisfying tug to the corner of his lips. The fox tipped her head curiously, holding up a notepad with "Are you all right?" written on the front page.

"Yeah, I'm fine, Dew. Just had a bad dream again, that's all." The two slowly headed for the stairs together, Dewdrop turning to the next page of the notebook.

"You should talk to Dr. Valentino," she scribbled down.

"I'll be fine, Dew. Really." The last thing he wanted to do was discuss his dreams with her shrink. He didn't like doctors, no matter what the field. There was always something about the doctors in his life that led him to distrust every single one. Maybe it was the butchers he'd come across, or the ones focused more on lining their own pockets with gold than their patients' health. No, he would sooner go mad than talk to a stranger about something as

personal as the visions he'd been having every night. The memories... "Did you have breakfast yet, kiddo?"

Dewdrop shook her head, gesturing with the notepad. Smiling, she hopped down the stairs ahead of him and disappeared around the corner. Jack followed at his own pace, hands in his pants pockets. As he turned the corner, the smell of eggs and toast immediately filled his large nostrils, relieving him of the stench lingering from his dream. The gurgle of the coffee maker replaced the shrieks ringing in his ears. Thank the gods, he thought as he took a relieved seat at the table.

Dewdrop poured him a cup of coffee-black, just as he liked it. Plain. Nothing special. Bitter. Despite the temperature, he drank it down as though it were water. It was only natural that an Emberkin like himself wouldn't mind the heat. His tongue, after all, could light a cigarette; there was no way hot coffee was going to burn him. Rather, the coffee got hotter as it traveled down his throat and into his fiery inferno of a stomach, where it would probably rise to a steady boil. Jack wasn't sure exactly what it would do, but that was his logical guess.

She waited and poured him another cup almost immediately after the first, as though she expected to do so. Once the eggs and toast were ready, she served him with the sweetest of smiles. The dragon thanked her quietly. Dewdrop fetched her own eggs and toast and joined him at the other end of the table.

"Did you sleep well?" he asked her, keeping the conversation to "yes" and "no" questions so as not to interrupt her eating. She nodded, starting with the toast. "Do you have an appointment with Valentino this afternoon?" Again, she nodded, taking another bite. "How's that going?" She paused, looking up at him with her mouth full. She glanced hastily to her notebook, which drew out a chuckle from the dragon's throat. "I'm just kidding, Dew. Keep eating." She grinned sheepishly, cheeks full like a hamster's. His lips drew up into a smile as well—small, but enough to remind him how much he loved her. Since the day they met, she'd been nothing less of a precious treasure in his life. Everything about this girl—from her short, lilac locks; to her big fanned ears; to the long manicured nails she'd paint with a different design each night, just for fun—brought joy to his life. A joy nothing could replace and everything could destroy. He had to protect her, keep her safe. That meant hiding everything from her, as much as he hated to do so. It just wasn't fair to her, but it was a necessary effort. The truth would hurt her more than the lie.

"Better hurry up with those eggs, Dew, or you'll be late for school," he said from behind his mug, sipping the contents now. She nodded, dipping her toast into the runny yolk and taking a satisfying bite. Jack loaded his toast with the eggs and ate both together. Once finished, Dewdrop hopped up, stashed her plate in the sink, and grabbed her bookbag from the chair. She stepped over to Jack and planted a quick kiss on his stubbled cheek. It was what he enjoyed most about her-that she loved him unconditionally. There were no questions asked, no suspicions, no doubts...just pure, unadulterated kindness and caring.

"See ya after your appointment," Jack called as she stepped over the threshold and onto the porch. She turned, giving a wave before pulling the door shut. Jack finished his breakfast quickly before leaving the house as well.

Sarah Morgan (pen name Sari NeoChaos) has been creating since before she can remember—quite literally! As a child, she used toys to make up stories; as she got older, she wrote down her creative thoughts; now, with a college degree in English under her belt, she works full-time as a technical writer and editor while writing creatively on the side. She lives in Colorado Springs, CO with her boyfriend, their two dogs, three cats, and two chinchillas.

Read more and learn more about Kin at .com!

Kin and its characters©ChaoStudios, LLC.