A/N: So this is my second attempt at rewriting Just Out of Reach. I'm just going to keep trying until I get it right haha. I took a little break from this account to write other things, about six months, I think, and my other ventures went pretty well, so I'm feeling confident enough to give Kieran, Fidele, and Terence another try. I'm sorry that I'm flaky and inconsistent and indecisive. I hope you're not tired of me, because I will never be tired of you. Shall we embark on another adventure together, and hopefully make it through this one?


Chapter One: Cat and Mouse

This was a different sort of caravan than the others that Terence had raided over the past couple of years. The three wagons trailing behind a pretty regal looking carriage did not appear to be loaded up with food or weapons or other goods that the king typically collected as taxes, nor did they fly the king's banner overhead. For three days now, Terence and his band had been stalking the parade of armed guards escorting the luxurious coaches, but not once had anyone so much as cracked open the tarp protecting their cargo. And without confirmation of the prize, Terence couldn't just barge on in there and steal the loot. It might not even belong to the king; for all he knew, it was just a few innocent rich people making a move across the country.

"We can't just keep following them," Cataline said to Terence, fed up with three days doing nothing but remaining silent in the distance, trying to catch a glimpse of something. "We need to go and scout it out already and determine who and what this caravan is."

Terence wholeheartedly agreed. He nodded. "I'll go and check it out tonight. Once they stop and the sun goes down, I'll go take a peek at their precious cargo."

He was pretty curious about this thing. Whoever these travelers were, they seemed to be purposely avoiding any of the nearby villages, remaining on a side trail just at the edge of the wooded foothills which grew into mountains looming not too far off. There were other roads to take that would lead the caravan through populated areas where they could spend the night at an inn, rather than pitching a tent as was becoming the routine. The suspicious secrecy had Terence excited that maybe there was something bigger on the line than just another tax caravan.

Either that, or the king was just starting to take extra precautions with his booty after losing so much of it to the White Phantom and his fierce brood.

Terence passed the remaining hours until sundown wearing a lopsided smirk at that idea.

"Don't go getting yourself noticed," Cataline warned him after his announcement that it was about time for him to head for that little camp and see what was up with this quiet caravan. "I know how good you are at that."

"Only when I want to be noticed," Terence replied. "I'm also perfectly capable of being a ghost."

"You should take Shina with you," she said, nodding down at the exceptionally large and vaguely wolfish black and tan dog at her side.

"She deserves a rest. She's been walking all day," Terence said, waving off her suggestion. The dog was perfectly obedient, but even so, this was a stealth mission and yelling out commands to a dog wasn't exactly ideal when one was trying to be sneaky.

"Suit yourself," Cataline shrugged. "You have three hours before we assume you've been captured and come looking for you." She was the older sister; doubting Terence was her job, regardless of how capable he was.

Three hours was more than enough time. Most of it would be spent traveling: a mile or so down the trail, and then Terence would take to the forest once he was within plain eyesight of the camp to avoid being seen. After about fifteen minutes of navigating through the woods, when the sounds of the party began reaching his ears, he ditched his horse to spare some of the noise the robust animal would make tramping through the dry autumn foliage.

On foot, he reached the tree line and thus the edge of the campsite right on schedule. From the cover of darkness and a few trees, he could make out a handful of armed guards basking in the glow of a fire burning in the heart of a gathering of six small tents and a larger one. A big tent meant someone important was here. Someone with a title a bit loftier than just Captain of the Guard, who would generally be in charge of escorting the taxes. Had they sent someone who could actually provide Terence with a halfway decent challenge this time? A smirk tugged at the corners of his lips.

Resisting his gnawing curiosity about the inhabitants of the lavish tent was a chore for Terence, but his mission was first and foremost to determine what goods were being transported. Identifying the escorts of the loot was a secondary task that Terence would definitely make time for once he had a look at those wagons. They were parked at the eastern edge of the circle, where probably two dozen horses were tied and munching lazily on a supper of dried alfalfa hay.

After shooting one last quick glance about his surroundings and taking an inventory of as much of the campsite as he could see from his place, Terence broke cover and bounded four long strides across open grass until he could crouch behind one of the smaller tents. He sat still there for a few moments, listening to all the things happening on the other side of the shelter. There were two conversations happening, one at the fireside that he wasn't able to decipher over the pair of closer voices that were discussing what Terence guessed was a delicate matter judging by their hushed tones.

"This is absurd," one of the men said. "I can't believe Fidele would risk so much for this. If the rebels come, I'm not dying over a bunch of books."

Books? Terence had to choke back a scoff. Those wagons could not be full of books. If so, this guy was right; that was absurd.

"You speak as though Fidele is actually the one in control," the second man replied to the first. "Even if he could see past his affections, it isn't as though he could say anything to stop this."

Whoever this Fidele guy was, he must have been pretty whipped if he was doing all this for some books. Terence smirked to himself as he leaned forward a bit, anxious to hear more about who was really pulling the strings here. If those wagons truly were full of books, the only thing saving this entire mission from being a bust was figuring out if the one who had Fidele wrapped around their finger was anyone important.

"The p—"

Whatever the man had to say was interrupted by a loud call from the center of camp. "The stew is ready!"

Even though it was probably a benefit that dinner was served and everyone in camp would be distracted for a bit, Terence couldn't help but be mildly annoyed that it had to be served right at the very moment he was sure they were about to spew some valuable intelligence. But there was no time to waste bemoaning the cook's poor timing.

While the party was distracted by the chow was the most opportune time for Terence to snoop around the cargo and see if it truly was a huge shipment of useless books hiding under the canvas. He peeked around the edge of the tent he was behind to make sure the coast was clear before darting out of cover and into the shadow of the closest of the wagons. Keeping half an eye out for anyone wandering away from the dinner gathering, he went to work pulling apart the knots keeping the flaps at the back of the wagon from flowing open and exposing its contents. If it was just books, Terence didn't see any need for all this secrecy. They could've just left the wagons open to the air and then he wouldn't have had to go to all this trouble just to find out what they were hauling.

But, Terence had to admit, it did make things more interesting. If they hadn't been so protective of their precious books, he wouldn't have been drawn down here and presented with the very interesting question of the identity of the travelers.

After a few seconds of fumbling about a bit clumsily in the lack of light, the bottom fasteners came loose and Terence was able to spread the flaps of the canvas enough to peek inside. It was too dark to really see anything, though, so he thrust his arm through the small opening and fished around until his fingers met a solid object. Felt like leather on the outside. As Terence ran his fingers along an edge, he felt the uneven leaves of parchment stacked on top of each other. It must have been over a hundred sheets, for the stack to be so thick. That was enough to convince Terence that he had in his grasp a book. He pulled it out of the wagon even despite already knowing what it was.

Terence didn't know how to read, and he hadn't seen many books in his days, so perhaps curiosity compelled him to flip open the leather cover. The writing began immediately on the first leaf of parchment. It looked like a hefty time investment, tattooing all those intricate curls and hashes on the page. Patience wasn't exactly Terence's strong suit, but he could manage staying silent and still if he had a clear purpose. If he was hunting something—or someone—Terence had the discipline to wait for the right moment. But the obvious finesse that writing a whole book would take? Forget it.

He continued flipping through the pages, searching for something worthwhile in this book, until he found a picture. It appeared to be a diagram illustrating something about birds. Fairly useless information, as far as Terence was concerned. So, this was what nobles did, then, while everyone else was out breaking their backs just to bring home the perfect amount of food for the king to steal for himself. They read books and learned useless shit about songbirds. Terence scoffed and tossed the book carelessly back into the wagon. He was finished with this lame mystery; it was time to focus on the last potential for any excitement on this mission.

Who exactly was commanding this curious little caravan? Terence's mossy green eyes found the big tent heading up the campsite. That was where he needed to be if he wanted to find anything interesting. He moved noiselessly along the outside of the wagon train in the direction of the lavish tent, keeping all his senses alert for any danger.

Just as he darted from the cover of the middle wagon to the one that was closest to the big tent, what sounded like it might have been delicate murmuring reached Terence's ear, freezing him in place crouched down behind the wagon's wheel. A second voice, deep but not loud, like distant thunder, confirmed that there was indeed someone nearing his hiding place. He lowered his head to peer beneath the bed of the cart to find two pairs of feet headed toward.

As the aura of lantern light slipped underneath the wagon, threatening the shadows that kept Terence hidden, the deep voice spoke a string of unintelligible words. He'd never heard the language the man was speaking, heavy with rolling consonants, occasionally broken apart by low vowels.

Were they foreigners, then? The guards certainly weren't. So then, Terence was dealing with foreigners travelling with men dressed in the uniform of the King's Guard, and to top it all off, flying no banner. The plot continued to thicken.

Terence wanted to see these people so fucking badly that he could hardly convince himself to duck out of the light's reach as the pair approached to rear of the wagon to access the cargo. If he hadn't been dressed for battle, he might have just shown himself, pretended to be a friendly fellow traveler who happened upon their camp. But he was adorned most shockingly at the moment, since he had been prepared for a fight. His platinum hair was woven with beads and black paint was smeared across his eyes; there would be no mistaking his purpose if anyone saw him.

The voice that had barely reached Terence's ears to warn him that he was no longer alone composed a response for its deeper counterpart. His crooning was soft and a bit cold, like snowflakes floating on a gentle winter wind that flushed cheeks pink with delicate caresses. Even with no idea the meaning of the words, they whispered over Terence's skin and coaxed his hair to stand on end, while at the same time lulling him into a brief daze.

His dreamy state only lasted until the serenading stopped, though. The rumbling voice spoke once more, reminding Terence that he was still in a potentially dangerous situation, and he had to take care not to be spotted.

While the mysterious pair were occupied with searching the bed of the wagon, Terence took the chance to slip away unnoticed, but only as far as the large tent. Now was the perfect time to check it out, since the inhabitants were busy elsewhere. It was fairly clear to him that the two he had left back at the cart were in command of this caravan; they were the two that stood out amongst the lot. Aside from the fact that they were speaking a foreign language, they actually seemed to have some kind of interest in the books, which probably meant they could read. Literacy was far from common, generally a skill confined to nobility and royalty. Regular soldiers didn't give a damn about books, as demonstrated by the guards' apparent distaste for this mission.

As a shadow, Terence slipped into the shelter and took in a quick scan of everything within sight. There was a curtain hanging down, separating the tent into two rooms. In the center of the first room, a candle burned gently atop a table which also played host to a roll of parchment and a jar of ink. It was a short table without any chairs, meant to be knelt at. Terence approached, to get a better look at the paper, but was disappointed to find that it was marked with words and not any sort of map.

Well, shit. If he wasn't able to find any further clues as to the identity of these travelers inside this tent, Terence was kind of at a loss as to what else he could do to, short of capturing someone and demanding answers. He passed through the divider to the back room and found two beds of thick cushions and fur blankets, one with a book nestled amongst the comforts. Another fucking book. A treasure trove of knowledge, yet still useless. The only thing that sparked even the slightest interest was a smooth square board with a sort of map drawn on it, dotted with small place-markers.

It wasn't a map, though. Upon squatting down for a closer look, Terence recognized it was a game board, similar to one that he and Cat used to play with when they were younger, until he realized that he would never be able to beat her at it and quit playing. Baedluck, as it was called. Imagine that. The nobles enjoyed the same entertainment as the lowly peasants.

Unfortunately, as amusing as that thought was, it didn't bring him any closer to answering his questions. There didn't seem to be anything in this tent worth noting.

At that point, Terence easily could have justifiably left, returned to his friends, and told them that this caravan wasn't worth their time. It really wasn't necessary that he find out who these people were. He was by then purely searching to satisfy his own reckless curiosity. Curiosity, which had gotten him into plenty of trouble in the past, and was far from finished leading him astray.

As he pondered what exactly was the best move for him in the given situation, Terence bumped one of the figurines on the game board with his foot, toying with it as roughly as he could without completely knocking it over. He wasn't ready to give up on this yet; things had been slow lately, and he was getting maybe a little desperate for excitement. Too desparate, though? He felt like it was just about time for a big break, but that could have been his boredom talking. Was he trying too hard to make something out of nothing?

Was there such a thing as trying too hard? Terence kicked the playing piece with a bit too much gusto and toppled it over with a small clack. No, there wasn't such a thing as trying too hard. He knew all too well that opportunities didn't come to those who waited; they were granted to people who worked for them, who left no stone unturned in their search for a chance.

Luck, good or bad, wasn't something that Terence believed in. Triumphs and failures were the result of either good choices or mistakes, respectively, as Terence saw it. When he heard the sound of a delicate voice drifting through the seams of the tent, Terence wasn't sure yet if it was a reward for making the right decision, or a punishment for foolishness.

Undoubtedly due to the tent flap being pulled open to allow the sound in unhindered, the voice grew clearer—though still not loud by any means. Terence backed up toward the rear wall of the tent, beyond the candle so as not to cast a shadow forward and alert anyone to his lurking presence in the back room, and took a quick recap of his surroundings to see if there was any other way out besides the front door. It didn't look like it, unless he wanted to start slicing things up. He didn't have any reservations about cutting his way out of this predicament, of course, but…well, now he had an excuse to initiate contact. Terence held off on drawing his blade and making a slashing escape.

The deep voice responded to its softer counterpart, but the quiet one said nothing back. Only silence followed. Did they decide against entering the tent, then?

Terence waited a few seconds. A few seconds, which felt like a few hours. But he dug up a bit of discipline and stuck it out. Just long enough, as it turned out. He was on the verge of letting the pins and needles get the better of him when a shadow appeared on the curtain separating the front and rear room. Only one shadow, and it was shrinking quickly as it moved—without even the slightest rustle of noise—closer to the divider. Well, at least Terence knew that, if it came down to it, he'd win in a fight against this little sprite.

For now, though, Terence didn't have any plans to allow things to come to blows between himself and the intruder. There wasn't a way out for Terence that wouldn't announce his presence one way or another, so he might as well use the situation to his advantage if at all possible. He was going to get the information he wanted directly from the source.

It was all a matter of timing. Terence had to hold his place until exactly the perfect moment to avoid revealing himself too soon and giving his victim the chance to run away, or waiting too long and allowing time for a scream. When he saw four slender fingers slip through the slit in the curtain to grasp the fabric and pull it aside, Terence rushed forward in a few bounding steps and wrapped his prey up in strong arms before he even had the chance to really see who he was capturing. While one arm trapped the slight frame across the stomach, Terence's other hand made sure to clamp tightly over his victim's soft-spoken lips before any sounds, however small they may have been, could escape them.

There was hardly any struggle from the little fellow Terence had trapped. After one small bout of squirming, almost as though to test out the strength of the bonds, he determined them inescapable and accepted his position as captive, not relaxed, but not fidgeting either.

"Good choice," Terence commended his apparently wise prisoner with a smirk into the silky black ponytail that was at just the right height for him to breathe in the scent of. He couldn't identify the thick aroma underneath the hair's natural oils. If there was a pleasant version of the scent of dust, Terence supposed that would be it.

"Now," Terence went on, lowering his head a bit to speak into his captive's ear. "If you can understand what I'm saying, go ahead and nod your sweet little head. If you can't, you're not much use to me and I'll just have to snap your neck and get out of here." The threat was completely false, but Terence wanted to eliminate any ideas about pretending not to understand if he truly could.

For several seconds, he received no response. But eventually, the dark head slowly dipped in a tiny, reluctant bob.

"Perfect. I think we should meet face-to-face and introduce ourselves. How does that sound?" Terence suggested. Not that he was going to receive any kind of answer. His hand remained heavy over his prisoner's mouth. The little guy must have been aware that he didn't have a choice; he didn't even try making a sound against Terence's hand.

"I want you to keep in mind that I could easily kill you about twenty different ways right now. That way, you won't do anything stupid like screaming or running."

Terence was willing to bet, after the way the mind under that ponytail had seemed to take the time to calculate everything, that there would be no rash actions from his prisoner. As a test, he gradually eased up the pressure he was pushing down upon the captive's mouth. No desperate attempts to cry for help. Even as Terence's hand dropped away completely, there wasn't a peep to be heard.

"I'm starting to like you," Terence smirked. "You seem pretty smart." He released his hold on the other's body and moved around to bring himself face-to-face with his prisoner.

If anyone was going to be stunned at this first impression, it should have been the little raven-haired runt, not Terence. But Terence hadn't prepared himself to be confronted with the cutest fucking thing he had ever seen. The wavering flame of the candle only illuminated half of the face before Terence. Only one eye the same dark, glossy color of leather armor that flickered open in round surprise for half a moment before blinking away any signs of astonishment. One high and regal cheekbone. One half of a straight nose, rounded at the tip. One half of a pair of plump ruddy lips, determined to remain straight and closed, giving nothing away. Terence wouldn't mind one bit if he ended up having to pry a few secrets from that mouth.

"So are you pouting about getting caught, or that I let you go?" he asked waggishly, taking half a step forward to eliminate most of the distance between himself and his captive. "Because I don't have any problem taking you with me when I leave."

Terence's prey retreated a step. He was younger than Terence by a handful of years, two or three at the very least, judging by his scrawny limbs and the smoothness of his jaw. Late teens, possibly eighteen, but that would have been pushing it. If Terence had to put money on it, he would have aged the pretty little thing before him just shy of seventeen.

The teenager himself didn't seem to realize his youth, though. His words were a delicate warning, of the same variety that might be issued to a fool who was undoubtedly going to ignore such advice. "Your actions have proven you enough of a fool that it truly isn't necessary for you to continue speaking," he said to Terence.

"I'll let you do the talking, then," Terence smirked. "You can tell me about yourself: who you are, where you're going, what your type is…"

Every move that he made, the raven made the opposite, leading him in a reluctant little waltz about the close room. This subdued chase about the tent was turning out to be kind of fun. No matter how Terence tried, this little rabbit wouldn't allow himself to be cornered, not even stumbling once as he backpedaled and sidestepped gracefully over the game board, in between the beds, around the candle.

"Who I am is not your business, where I'm travelling is no concern of yours, and you haven't the right to know anything else about me," came the cool response to Terence's request.

That sounded to Terence like the little morsel had just decided not to cooperate. He wouldn't have had it any other way. Sure, he would have been all right with it if this lovely creature had just collapsed into his arms and begged Terence to take him away. But he liked a challenge more than he liked things to be easy.

"How can you know what concerns me if you don't know what kinda business I do, Sweetheart?" Terence asked, his lopsided smirk growing until his lips split to reveal teeth.

Terence had done enough playful chasing. It was time to advance to the next stage of this little game the two of them were engaged in. He'd released his plaything only for the fun of recapturing it, like a cat toying with a mouse before devouring it.

Without giving his mouse a chance to confirm or deny his knowledge of Terence's business, the hunter went in for the kill. Terence lunged straight through the distance the youth had managed to keep between them. Before any defenses could even be raised against his sudden attack, Terence seized his target by the waist and drew him in until their bodies were pressed together once more, face-to-face this time.

If the captive was afraid, he hid it very well. There may had been another fleeting flash of shock in his dark eyes, and his lips may have parted to let out a gasp that never reached Terence's ears, but the same instant that the tell-tale signs of fear appeared, they were erased so quickly that Terence had to wonder if they had really happened. The little doll was still settled quite comfortably in his severe and rather unimpressed state.

The only thing that gave him away was the skittering of his young and delicate heart, and that wasn't enough for Terence. He wanted to see more. He wanted to shatter any notion of poise and restraint.

"Maybe I'm a good guy. Maybe I just want to help you, make sure you get home safely," Terence said, securing his hold on his prisoner with one arm so that he had a free had to lift up to the side of the pretty face before him. His index and middle fingers each found one of the thin braids woven into the dark strands, starting at his hairline just above his right ear and forming a path back along his head until the base of his ponytail, where they melded indiscernibly with the rest of his fine, straight hair. "Maybe I'm just here to offer my services to you. I'd be willing to negotiate a pretty reasonable price."

"How generous of you." Thin fingers took hold of Terence's sturdy ones, sternly, yet somehow still delicately, and extricated them from amidst the slippery dark waterfall. Terence could have easily shaken off the soft grip, but he didn't. He went along with it, and allowed his hand to be guided to a harmless place at his side. "However, I'm not in need of any of your services. I already have a personal bodyguard, and he is quite capable of taking care of anything and everything. In fact, I'm certain he'll be making an appearance any moment now, so if you plan on escaping, you're running out of time."

Terence hadn't actually forgotten about the mission that he was on. He'd just gotten a little bit distracted. But all this talk about escape reminded him that he was under a time-constraint. Getting information from someone so small really shouldn't have taken so long. Terence should have been able to scare it out of him without having to really try. He should have just taken hold of that little hand and twisted the fingers to the point that they threatened to snap and then demanded answers lest he splinter all four of those brittle twigs.

Instead of taking the more efficient route, though, Terence continued along the intricate bends of the more interesting road.

"That would be Fidele, I'm guessing?" he smirked. Information about Fidele, who was obviously an important player in all of this, would help shed a little light on things. "You're the one that Fidele's hot for, then. Not that I can blame the guy. I'd be willing to carry a whole lotta books myself to get a little gratitude from you."

The shallow chest pressed against Terence inflated with a bit more urgency than the calm rate that had been established when they first came together.

"Surprised to hear that?" Terence asked.

"What surprises me is that you seem to know of Fidele, yet still you would dare lay your hands on me."

Terence didn't really "know of" Fidele. But he was kind of interested in the implication that merely knowing of this guy Fidele should have been enough to deter him. Terence himself was a pretty fearsome individual. He could think of only three people he knew that were taller than he was, and none of those three had the muscle mass that he did. He'd yet to meet anyone who could beat him in a fight, and that should have been obvious just by looking at him. How impressive did Fidele have to be if Terence was expected to be worried about him?

Terence should have expected to have that questions immediately and decisively. He had overstayed his welcome, wasted too much time chasing his mouse.

"Kieran," was the only of the rich, deep river of words slipping through the curtain that Terence could understand, and he didn't even have time to realize that he had learned his captive's name before the sheet was parted and he was caught with his hands all over Fidele's beloved.

And Fidele lived up to his reputation. He was bigger than Terence in every sense of the word. He was taller, he was broader, he was thicker. He was so big that no one would believe Terence when he told them about this.

An unintelligible roar burst forth from Fidele as his eyes and his brain connected to make sense of the scene before him. His sword was in his hand and he was surging forward before Terence could even make a witty remark about the situation.

With only a split second to take action, Terence cast his prisoner aside and whipped out his own weapon. He was barely able to throw his blade up in time to ward off the killing blow Fidele brought down upon him, and he had to use his second hand to brace his guard from being smashed straight through. When he tried to push back, his foot's grip gave way and slid backward.

Even through a jaw clenched with concentration, one corner of Terence's lips crept upward in the hint of a grin. This was going to be quite the challenge.

He wasn't going to be able to knock Fidele back, so Terence eased up and rolled one shoulder backward as he stepped off to the opposite side, dodging Fidele as he stumbled forward under the sudden lack of resistance. His massive foot kicked over the candle clumsily as he fought against his own momentum to stay on his feet.

Neither Terence nor Fidele had any attention to spare the fallen candle, though. Terence rushed at Fidele immediately, hoping to catch him before he was able to catch himself. Fidele was nimbler than his size let on, and managed to get his feet underneath him in time to fight off Terence's slashes that came at him fast and fierce as lightning strikes.

Back and forth their swords clanged and clashed, their fight taking them all over the tent. Terence drove Fidele to give up ground, forcing him to take a step back right into the pile of blankets. He lost his footing and while he flailed to keep his balance, Terence went for the kill, thrusting his sword toward his opponent's unguarded gut.

To avoid the stab, Fidele threw himself to the ground, but he lost his weapon in the process. Knowing he only had a split-second to even the odds if he wanted to live, he sprung not away from Terence, but toward him.

Fidele barreling into him was the last thing that Terence expected. The other man's solid shoulder drove straight into his stomach and blasted him backward. He landed on his back, the solid ground forcing the air from his lungs. Fists were flying at him, each punch meant to smash his skull in. If he didn't stop those blows, it wouldn't be long until one of them split his head open.

Terence slammed his knee into Fidele's side repeatedly, trying to give back at least a fraction of the damage he was being dealt at the moment, but it didn't seem to have any effect on the giant. A set of boulder-like knuckles caught him on the mouth, splitting his lip open and allowing a flood of blood to gush forth.

The knee wasn't working, and Terence couldn't catch Fidele's wrist. There was only one thing left to do. Terence reached up, forcing his arm through the path of Fidele's swinging fists, and grabbed at the man's throat. Not to strangle him. No, Terence dug his fingers into the flesh and clawed about, trying to get a hold of Fidele's trachea with every intention to tear it right out of his body. It had become that kind of fight, the kind of fight that wouldn't end until one of them was nothing but a bloody corpse.

Unless something more important than two fearsome warriors beating each other to a pulp happened to pop up. Something like a beautiful set of pipes calling for help.

"Fidele!"

The distressed cry stopped Fidele's fist mid-punch.

It also stopped Terence's grasping fingers.

Both fighters whipped their heads in the direction of Kieran's call.

The sight of a robust flame trapping the boy in a corner of the tent was enough to erase any and all other thoughts from Fidele's mind. He leapt to his feet and scrambled for anything to put the fire out. There was no water available, though, and by this point the flames were too high to try and smother with a blanket.

Terence didn't have any bright ideas, either. He looked around in hopes that something would spark a fire in his brain to help put out the one that was threatening to eat up his new crush, who he absolutely did not want to die a fiery death before they'd even gotten to make out.

Before Terence was able to come up with any brilliant plan—which was probably for the best, since Kieran would probably have been actual toast by the time that happened—Fidele made a hero of himself. He found his sword and then hurled himself forward, directly through the barrier of flames. On the other side of the fire, he swung his arm and sliced a slit through the canvas wall of the tent and shepherded Kieran to safety, all while being on fire himself. Terence had to hand it to the guy; that was some serious dedication. Cute as that boy was, Terence wasn't quite sure he would have been willing to light himself aflame to save him.

One thing Terence was sure of, though, was that he had better take this chance to escape. Fidele might have forgotten about him for the moment, but there were fifteen other soldiers in this camp that were undoubtedly wise to his presence by this point. After picking up his sword, Terence followed Fidele's lead and cut a door for himself to slip out of unnoticed.

A glance over his shoulder as he hurried for the safety of the forest saw soldiers with buckets running to put out the fire, while Fidele, unfortunately looking like he was just fine, got to his feet. Terence couldn't see Kieran; he was wrapped up too safely in Fidele's arms. That was all right though, because Terence would make sure that the two of them met again.

It wasn't but a few minutes before Terence had reached the small clearing where his horse was waiting for him patiently. He hopped up into the saddle easily, and gave the mount a poke in the ribs with his heels, keeping up a steady gallop until he was sure that he was a safe distance and he wasn't being followed.

Terence's mind was galloping at about the same speed as his horse as he tried to catch up with everything that had happened back there. A teenage boy with a bodyguard of that caliber, with that kind of devotion…he was someone important. And Terence was looking forward to finding out to what extent. He was looking forward to resuming his hunt, and he was looking forward to finishing up his business with Fidele. Smirking was a bit painful with his swollen lower lip, but Terence still managed to keep up his trademark expression as he trotted into the campsite where his sister and the others were anxiously awaiting his return.

So anxiously, in fact, that they were all lounging around the fire drinking and chatting lazily.

The first one to notice Terence was the dog. Shina perked up at the sound of horse hooves, and was on her feet heading for Terence by the time his shadowy form began to take shape.

"We were just wondering if maybe we should come after you," Cat called, not bothering to get up and meet him.

"Don't insult me," Terence replied as he dismounted. It wasn't as easy as jumping up into his saddle had been an hour ago. Now that his adrenaline rush had faded away, he was starting to feel all those hits he'd taken.

A man, not quite Terence's age but definitely older than the teenager Terence had just been dealing with, met with Terence as he started to lead his horse to be tied up with the others of its kind. "Let me—what the fuck happened to you?"

"Thanks," Terence smirked, accepting the unfinished offer and handing over the reins to the other man. He didn't elaborate regarding what happened to him, he just gave the guy a knock on the back to convey his gratitude and then sauntered to the fireside.

"Terence!" Cat exclaimed as the firelight illuminated the state of his bloodied face. "You were seen?"

"I'm fine. Thanks for asking," Terence chuckled, dropping down next to her.

"You at least won, right?" asked a lazy looking fellow. He was stretched out on a log on the other side of the fire, although stretched out wasn't saying much of his short and stocky frame.

"When did you guys lose all your faith in me?" Terence responded, accepting a bowl from the last of his companions, a dark-haired man who had yet to speak. "Of course I fucking won." That wasn't a lie. Terence had been on the verge of winning when the fight ended, so it counted as a win.

"What happened?" Cat demanded impatiently.

"I got in a little scrap," Terence shrugged through a half-full mouth.

"So you were seen," Cat concluded, shaking her head. "Now they know we're following them. We've lost the element of surprise. Were you at least able to find anything out?"

"They're hauling books," Terence said.

"Books?" Pips echoed from across the fire.

Cataline folded her arms across her chest and huffed. "Well, I guess it doesn't matter that you've been seen since there's no point in attacking them."

"We're still going after them," Terence informed her. "There's more we need to find out."

"I'm not wasting my energy on some wild goose chase just because you're bored, Terence. We're going home," Cat said, just as the one who'd tended to Terence's horse returned to the gathering and sat down.

"It's not a wild goose chase," Terence replied. "We need to find out who these people are. They may be worth killing." Not that Terence was planning on killing his little mouse. Just Fidele.

The dark-haired man entered the conversation. "Or they may be innocent travelers," he pointed out quietly.

"You too, Addy?" Terence asked, throwing his hands in the air. "Does anyone here trust me anymore?"

"I'm with you, Terence," said the horse-tender with a smile.

"Your judgment is brash and based on impulse," Cat said bluntly. "If you want to convince me, you'll have to provide solid facts. What did you see to give you the idea that we need to expend resources on this mission?"

Terence had to get Cat's approval, because they were co-commanders of this group. No action could be taken unless they both agreed on it. Unfortunately, she made her decisions exactly the opposite of Terence's way. She was logical, meticulous, and always prepared.

"In charge of that caravan is a kid. Maybe sixteen or seventeen," Terence said.

If it was possible, Terence had just made his argument less persuasive. Cataline scoffed. "A teenager commanding a caravan of books? You really are bored out of your mind, aren't you?"

"You want to kill a teenager?" Adamir asked Terence.

"No, I don't want to kill a teenager!" Terence snapped. "Just let me finish, assholes. There's a kid down there leading a damn caravan. Think about that. What kid do you know that has the authority to do something like that? He's got a bodyguard that's bigger than any man I've ever seen, too. Normal teenagers don't have free reign over two dozen of the King's Guard and giant bodyguards."

Cataline squinted her hazel eyes at Terence as she chewed the inside of her lip, like she was trying to see into his mind and get a better view of what he'd witnessed in that camp. "There was no one else that might have been in command?" she questioned him suspiciously.

"I was in their camp. It was the kid, the bodyguard, and the soldiers. No other nobility or royalty in sight," Terence assured her.

A thoughtful hum buzzed from Cataline's closed lips. She was smarter than her brother when it came to planning and strategizing. She was smart enough not to see signs that weren't there. But sometimes signs were there, just very well hidden. There was a thought brewing in her mind, one that she wasn't going to be too optimistic about, but also one that she had to pay attention to. Sixteen or seventeen years old was the proper age...It was a pity that Prince Kieran was so elusive to all the people of his kingdom that no one even knew what he looked like. However, there would be ways to tell if the boy Terence had seen was as important as her brother thought.

"Fine," she decided. "I'll agree to try and find out who these travelers are. But since you've gone and been discovered, we'll need to plan this very carefully. You have to do what I say, Terence."

"Yeah, yeah," Terence agreed, waving her off dismissively. "You go ahead and make your little plan. Just make sure you let me handle all the good stuff."


A/N: I'm super nervous about this, you guys. This is the third time I've tried to write this story. I love it so much, but I just can't seem to get it right. Hopefully I've got it this time. Let me know what you think. I miss you and I want us to be best friends again.