Episode 19: Journey

While Hakusa was getting Rhade ready to go, Yuki was fussing over his packs, pondering if he should bring more or less clothing. He knew Kasei would laugh at him for it, but he couldn't help it. Conditions out in the Kanehr Shovasea were unpredictable, so one never knew what one was going to need. You could always guess, but things were constantly changing. Just my luck, he grumbled to himself as he tossed an extra shirt in his pack. The conditions out there are like a metaphor for my life. Constantly changing and wildly unpredictable. Someone knocked on his door and he called to them to come in. He smiled. I should also add dangerously beautiful, he added as Beka Valentine walked in and closed the door behind her.

"So I'm told that you're leaving for a few days," she said, getting straight to the point.

He nodded. "That's right. I'm going out into the desert with my sister to one of our most sacred places." He shrugged. "I'd invite you along as well, but you couldn't go in; this place is only for senshi."

"That's alright, really. I don't fancy spending a couple days wandering around in the desert with that bitch of a sister of yours. I know you care for her a great deal, but-"

"It's ok, Beka," he said with a smile. "She's a difficult person to like. Frankly, I'm amazed that Okami, Tenshi, or Yumeko hasn't killed her by now."

She walked up to him slowly, wrapping her arms around his neck. "It's not really nice to start something with a woman and then leave her for an indefinite period of time, you know."

"I'm not going to be gone all that long, Beka," he told her.

"That's beside the point, Yuki. What am I supposed to do while you're gone, hmm? Sit around waiting for you to come back? For all I know, you won't feel the same when you return. Like I said before, I'm interested in you."

"I'm still in shock about that, you realize. This is a first for me."

"I don't know about you, but I think it's high time I staked my claim before some other woman sees the error of their ways and takes you away from me."

Yuki wrapped his arms around her waist. "Possessive, aren't you?"

Beka smiled. "Just ask Harper about that," she said kissing him. She ran her fingers through his short black hair, enjoying its softness.

"Beka," he whispered against her lips. "Stop for a moment."

She pulled away from him. "Now what?"

He took her hands and knelt, kissing the inside of her wrists. "Beka Valentine, I accept your claim on me and swear to have no other for as long as you'll have me."

"What are you doing?"

He stood and kissed the side of her neck, still holding her hands. "I am yours, Rebecca Valentine. What do you wish of me?"

"Mmm. What you're doing now is fine," she said hoarsely as he kissed his way up the side of her neck to nibble on her earlobe.

Yuki pulled her close, running his hands over her waist and across her lower back, pushing up the bottom of her shirt. Beka ran her lips lightly over his cheek, pressing up against him, smiling as she felt him harden beneath her, enjoying his cautiousness. He was like a schoolboy. He'd already admitted to her that his only other lover had been a man, and a long time ago at that. Strangely, it didn't bother her at all. She brought her hands out of his hair and slid them down his arms. He wasn't as muscular as she typically liked her men, but his wiry slimness was appealing in its own way. Yuki got his hands up under her shirt and started to slide the fabric upwards, swallowing nervously. Trying to encourage him, Beka reached down and tugged his shirt up and off. His chest now bare, Beka could see a wide, angry red scar slashing diagonally across the left side. It wasn't very long, but it was still there.

Yuki followed her eyes. "Don't let it bother you," he said to her. "It's ten years old. Training accident."

Beka traced one finger over the surface of the scar. "It doesn't bother me. Scars are sexy as long as they aren't disfiguring." She bent her head to dance her tongue across his chest. Yuki threw his head back and moaned. She nibbled and kissed her way up to his throat. He let her be for a few minutes until he couldn't take it anymore. He slid her shirt off and tossed it into a corner, not really caring where it landed.

Smiling, Beka led him across the room to his bed and lay him down, straddling his groin area. He sat up as much as he could, caressing her face with a hesitant finger. Seeing that he really had no idea what to do, she took his hand and placed it on one of her breasts, moving his hand to show him how she wanted him to touch her. As his confidence grew, it showed in his touch. He reached up with his other hand to mirror his movements on the other breast, falling down to lie flat on his back so that he didn't loose his balance. Beka sat back to enjoy it, letting go of his hand entirely. As he moved his hands, she rocked lightly in place, enjoying the twin sensations of his hard maleness beneath her and of his hands on her skin.

Yuki's hands slid down from her breasts to her flat abdomen over to her hips, and up her sides. He pulled her down to him so that he could kiss her. His lips met hers in urgent, hungry kisses as his hands ran over her bared back. Beka straightened her legs so that she was lying flat on top of him, her hands cupping his face. His back arched beneath her and he moaned, whispering her name over and over between kisses. He moved his hands down to try and get her pants off. She obliged him by rolling off him to lie on her back beside him. He sat up and unfastened the belt holding them up and pulled them off. He sat back and ran his eyes over her nude body, licking his lips. It was the first time he'd seen a grown woman without any clothes on and he intended to savor the sight.

She sat up and touched her finger to his lips while her other hand slid across his chest. She leaned forward and whispered his name in the sexiest tone she knew, all the while slowly moving her hand lower, down his abdomen, to his stomach, and, finally, to his groin. He gasped in surprise, leaning forward and resting his head on her shoulder. This was a sensation that was a little more familiar to him, but coming from a woman it felt immensely better to him. It felt to him like she knew what he was doing. He'd figured that she'd been with other men before him and it bugged him a little. As her hand became more and more insistent, it was harder for him to form any coherent thoughts. His breathing became heavy and his eyes closed, enjoying the sensation.

A woman is touching me, he thought through his moans. An attractive woman who has expressed an interest in me, a woman I would never dare approach otherwise. His line of thought was interrupted by Beka throwing him back down onto the mattress and easing his leggings down over his hips. She discarded them over the side of the bed and ran her hands up from his feet, rubbing his skin in circular motions. She stopped at his waist, pulling herself up to lie on top of him, wriggling teasingly. Moaning, his hands shot up to grip her shoulders. Beka smiled and nibbled his neck, wrapping her arms up above his head.

"Beka," Yuki moaned, bucking beneath her.

"Want something?" she asked, continuing to nibble at his neck. Panting, he nodded, moving his hands to grab her ass. She rolled off him to lie on the bed, pulling him up on top of her. Figuring that he'd need some help, she guided him inside of her, enjoying his gasp of surprise. "There we go. How does it feel?"

"Like nothing I've ever felt before." Yuki looked down into Beka's blue eyes and ran a finger across her cheek. "You're so beautiful."

"You say that because you're inside me."

He shook his head. "No, I thought so pretty much since I met you. I would just never day such a thing to a woman unless she'd expressed an interest in me. As you can imagine, I'm not used to telling women what I really think. The only ones I can really talk to are other senshi. It's nice to talk to a normal woman for a change."

Beka thrust her hips upwards. "Less talk, more action."

He recovered quickly from the feeling of her moving against him and started to thrust back. It felt good. Really good. Between the physical feelings the act of making love to this incredible woman and hearing the moans of pleasure that were coming from her because of what he was doing, Yuki was happier than he could recall being in a very, very long time. She ran her hands down his back to grab onto his ass, digging her nails in to get him to move faster. A minute later it was over. He threw his head back and groaned as he came and then collapsed on top of her, gasping for breath. Beka stroked his sweat-dampened hair, holding him to her.

"I could die happy now," he whispered.

"Don't you dare," she threatened playfully. "I'm not done with you."

He looked at her in dismay. "You want more already? You do realize that I have to go soon."

Beka laughed, pushing him off in order to cool down. "Not right away, but I will when you get back. Think of it as an incentive to come back intact."

"We're on Nomaie. No one will harm me. After all, I am twin brother to the Heir herself as well as a senshi."

An expression of surprise crossed Beka's face. "You know, I completely forgot that you're a prince here."

"Not that it really means anything, but yes."

"Well, at least I liked you before I found out about all that," she said stroking his face. "You don't have to go right away do you?"

"No, but soon though," he said sadly, kissing her deeply.

"You'll just have to hurry back then, won't you?"

"Knowing that this is waiting for me? My feet will sprout wings to get me back here." He took one hand and kissed the inside of her wrist. "I am ever at your beck and call."

"So stay here."

Yuki sighed and shook his head. "Unfortunately, in this, my duty as a senshi and my duty to my sister must come first. I promise you this, though. I will always be yours. Well, for as long as you decide you want me around."

Beka looked at him thoughtfully. "That has to be the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me."

"Sweet Beka, anyone who would offer you less than complete devotion is undeserving of you."

She swatted him lightly. "You'd better get going before I start thinking that you have the energy for round two."

"I don't think I could find the energy, as enjoyable as it was."

"You'll build up some stamina the more you do it," she told him encouragingly. "You just need more practice."

He got up to search for his leggings. Finding them, he turned around and put them on, grinning at her. "Are you willing to have that kind of patience? Kasei says that I'm a slow learner."

"Oh I don't think that would be too much of a hardship," she replied, stretching out. "Besides, you look good without clothes on."

He mock pouted. "I thought you said I looked good in my uniform."

"You do, but I think you look good without any on as well," she said sitting up. "I think your shirt is over by the bookshelf."

He went and retrieved the missing garment and put it on. "Going to come downstairs and say good-bye?"

"Any good bye I'd like to give you would by your own words be considered indecent." Yuki blushed furiously. "You're so cute when you do that." She got up and put her own clothes on. "I'll come down anyways. It'll be nice to be rid of Kasei for a while."

"A couple days at the least," Yuki said nodding. "I'm just worried about being stuck out in the middle of the desert with both Rhade and Kasei." At Beka's puzzled look, he explained. "Because of the whole life debt thing, anywhere one of them goes, the other has to go. There are few exceptions to this. Because Rhade is also a senshi, he can go into the place we're going."

"I see. Well, at least Kasei is your sister; otherwise I might get jealous."

Yuki shuddered. "That's not a very nice thought, Beka. I love my sister dearly, but if you ask me, Rhade is slightly crazy."

"He's Nietzschean. What do you expect? They're genetically engineered for perfection, but all the ones I've met are a little nuts."

He chuckled, picking up his pack. "We'd best get down there. Kasei gets very grumpy when people keep her waiting."

"It seems to me like a lot of things make her grumpy."

"That's Nomaien women for you. It's a wonder we still exist as a species with the way they act."

"Let's put it this way. The men are probably just so grateful for the sex that they overlook the rampant personality flaws."

He laughed at that. "You do have a point there."

Beka and Yuki met Rhade outside of the building Yuki called the stables. He was leaning against a wall, wearing a white version of Yuki's outfit. His packs were on the ground by his feet. There was an older woman standing nearby. Beka whistled appreciatively.

"Nomaien clothing suits you well, Rhade," she told him.

"Hakusa does nice work," Yuki said casually. "I take it that Kasei decided that since you needed supplies for the trip, she may as well get you decent clothing."

"Good guess," Rhade said, arching an eyebrow.

"Not really a guess. I know my sister quite well."

"Not as well as you'd like to think some days, elder brother," Kasei said, walking up, her packs slung over one shoulder. Beka and Rhade stared at her. Where Yuki and Rhade were both wearing typical clothing for Nomaien men, Kasei was in red leather pants and tank top with her arms wrapped in her usual ribbons. Her long black hair was braided with a long ribbon. Her solid black eyes looked at each in turn. Seeing Beka, she frowned. She walked up to Yuki, sniffing. She looked him in the eyes, her frown deepening. She looked between him and Beka, shaking her head. Turning to Rhade, she said, "I see that Hakusa came through, even thought I do question her choice of colors."

The older woman standing nearby cleared her throat. "I did the best I could given the haste with which you want to leave. We don't breed men his size very often, Kasei, so it's surprising that we had even this much in storage. I could have gotten him clothing in a color you would have deemed more appropriate, but would have taken all day."

Kasei waved dismissively. "Yes, yes, I'm aware of that, though why you would keep white clothing in store is beyond me."

Rhade turned to Yuki. "Is there some significance to this color that I'm missing here?" he whispered.

"I'll tell you later," Yuki whispered back, snickering.

"Yuki, can I speak with you alone for a moment?" Hakusa asked, leading him away. She took him out of both Kasei and Rhade's hearing ranges and spoke with him for a few moments before returning to the others. "You'd best be off," she said as the stable master and two of her assistants brought out three hulking beasts that had a resemblance to Terran horses in their general shape, but their four legs were wide past the knees with no discernable hoof, their tails looked like those of the Laisheen, and they had a pair of horns on their head, curling around each ear. The one brought for Rhade was a cream color with black legs and mane, Yuki's was a dusty color and Kasei's was a dark red with a golden muzzle. Hers also had a somewhat more elaborately decorated saddle. She patted the creature on the nose affectionately, whispering things to it in her native language before mounting. Yuki followed suit.

The stable master walked up to Rhade. "My pardon, but I doubt you've ridden one of these before. Would you like some assistance in mounting?"

Rhade looked at her. "Yes, that would be appreciated," he said, swallowing his pride. It wouldn't do him any good to attempt to do it on his own and fail, embarrassing himself in the process. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Yuki nodding approvingly.

Beka walked over to stand beside Yuki's mount, one hand resting lightly on his thigh, causing Kasei's eyes to narrow. Beka ignored her and spoke softly to Yuki. He smiled and bent down to touch her hair. Kasei urged her mount over to stand beside Rhade's.

"I'm glad they chose that mount for you. He's a very docile creature and will follow ours, so you won't need to worry about guiding him at all."

"Does he have a name?"

"Danterr. In Nomaien it means Gentle. They like it when you scratch behind their ears. They can't reach there themselves."

Experimentally, Rhade reached a finger in between the curling horns and the beast's ear and scratched. He was rewarded by Danterr leaning into the scratch, his eyes closing happily. "You're not so scary, are you?"

"Sandrunners are generally quite placid," Yuki said. "Well, with the exception of that fire eater Kasei is ridding." In response, the red Sandrunner snorted and danced a little in place.

"These things almost remind me of horses," Beka said, stroking the soft fur of Yuki's mount.

"Behaviorally speaking, they are quite similar," Kasei replied. "They have a basic herd structure and are herbivores. How they survive in the wild is beyond me. It's rare to see a wild herd in these parts. They're more common in the northernmost areas." She took up the reins of her mount. "Let's get going. I know the afternoon isn't the ideal time for traveling, but waiting until morning is unacceptable. Besides, it'll be dark soon and I'd like to make the most of the daylight we have left. Laiike, Sharahase!"

Kasei's red mount turned and headed for the large gate nearby that led out into the desert. The other two Sandrunners followed. Rhade clung to the beast's neck, unused to the speed with which they moved while Yuki turned and waved goodbye to Beka. Once they were out in the sand, their mounts took off. Kasei and Yuki gave them their heads and Rhade's mount followed, matching their pace. Danterr and Hijarr, Yuki's mount, fell into line behind Sharahase, Kasei's mount. Once he'd adjusted to the animal's movements, Rhade sat up and looked around him. His mount was directly behind Kasei's. She sat bent over Sharahase's neck, moving with her as she ran. Behind him, Yuki had the same posture but didn't look as comfortable as Kasei did. Rhade did his best to mimic them but it felt uncomfortable to him, so he just sat slightly hunched over and watched as the sand dunes passed by them. The palace fell behind them quickly.

They rode for hours through endless tracts of featureless desert. Each dune looked the same to him as the last. Every so often, Kasei would nudge Sharahase off to one side. Sometimes is was for no more reason that to avoid having to go over some of the larger dunes, but at other times her reasons weren't so obvious. The sun beat down on them relentlessly. Rhade could feel his skin heating up and his need for water grew more and more urgent as the day progressed. Shortly before sunset, he started to get dizzy and sleepy. It was very hard for him to sit and he had to force himself to stay awake. When they paused for a brief rest at a small watering hole he'd never been so glad to see a tree in his life.

With some help from Yuki, he dismounted, feeling stiff from the unaccustomed position he'd had to sit in all morning. He sat down in the shade of the tree beside the cool pond. Yuki brought him a cup full of water.

"Drink this slowly," he instructed. "I know you're thirsty, but if you drink as quickly as you think you need to you'll only make yourself sick." Rhade took it gratefully, taking slow sips of the cool water. "How do you feel?"

"Hot. Tired. Stiff. Very dizzy. My head is pounding."

Yuki nodded. "Before we head off tomorrow, I'll put together a head covering from you. There should be one in your packs if I know Hakusa. Kasei and I are used to the heat and don't need water as much as you do. I'll have to remind her of that fact later."

Rhade looked around. "Where is she anyways?"

Yuki pointed out at a dune not to far away from them. She was kneeling, facing the setting sun. As they watched, she put her hands together in front of her in a prayer gesture and bowed. "She's sending the sun off to sleep. I know it sounds like a silly superstition for a people with an understanding of how the universe really works, but itís comforting. It's a part of our tradition that will never die. We know that the sun doesn't really go away, but following the ancient customs and rituals is our way of honoring our ancestors and showing that we haven't forgotten our roots."

Kasei's voice carried across to them. Rhade couldn't understand a word of what she was saying, but he guessed that it was the words that went along with the ritual. He listened to it carefully. Nomaien could be a harsh, guttural language, but there were moments were it was supremely beautiful.

"If you're wondering, this is ancient Nomaien," Yuki added. "All of our rituals are, so not many people understand the full meaning behind the words. We're taught a simple translation of them, but Kasei tells me that some meaning is lost. Come on. She'll be up there for a while, so we may as well get things set up for the night."

"We're stopping for the day?"

Yuki nodded, rummaging through his packs. "It gets very cold out in the desert at night, so it's unwise to travel unless you're desperate. The twin moons don't give enough light to navigate to dunes by at any sort of quick pace. Kasei would much rather keep going I imagine, but she's not an idiot. Besides," he said with a smile. "I bet she's just as tired as we are. She hasn't ridden for a long time. While they say that once you learn, you never forget, what they don't say is that if you don't do it often enough, you get out of practice and your body forgets what it feels like." He winced. "Same goes for me. Help me get the shelters set up and I'll start cooking our meal."

"You cook?"

He nodded, pulling a roll of canvas out of his pack and some collapsible poles. "Not very well. I'm high nobility, so my tutors didn't really teach me the finer points of it. It's edible though, which is more than I can say for Kasei's few attempts at it. Tenshi and Okami always tease her about it. Women aren't expected to know much about domestic things. That's men's work here."

Rhade shook his head and helped Yuki get the one shelter up. He figured that it was large enough for two people to sleep under. He mentioned his observation to Yuki, who nodded. "If that's the case, then who sleeps under it? There are three of us."

"To be honest, I'm not sure. Under normal circumstances, we would share it, but with the life debt, I'm not sure about that anymore. I do know that Kasei has a shelter in her packs, though. We'll work this out when she gets down here." He went into his largest pack and brought out a pot and what looked like a portable cooking stove. At Rhade's look, he laughed. "What? Where you expecting a campfire? We don't have wood to burn. Our ancestors were very big into elemental magic and they came up with contraptions similar to this one. This version uses more technology than magic. If I felt a little more confident in using my senshi powers outside of my transformation, I could easily call a fire onto the sand and sustain it, but that's not really something I'm good at. Kasei can, but she doesn't like to."

As Yuki spoke, he filled the pot half way with water from the pond and put it on the stove, turning it on. When the water reached a boil, he tossed some precut vegetables in as well as some dried meat and a package of brownish sauce. He stirred the mixture for a few minutes before putting a lid on it. "There. We'll just let that be for a little while. Ah. Here she comes."

Kasei was heading for them. She got up to the stove and collapsed down into the sand beside Yuki. "It's so nice to be out of that oven they call a palace," she sighed, looking happier than she'd been since Rhade first met her. "I can breathe out here."

"I don't know how you people tolerate this heat," Rhade said, rubbing his forehead.

"A few million years of evolution," Kasei said bluntly. "Adapt or die. Such is life. Does your head hurt?"

"It feels like it's going to split open."

She got up and walked over to her pack and brought out a cloth and a small white container. She dipped the cloth in the pond and tied it around his forehead. Next, she opened the container and dipped her finger in the clear, sticky substance inside it. "Take your shirt off."

Surprised but not asking why, he complied. She eyed his bare chest briefly before touching her gel covered finger to the side of his neck. He flinched in pain, jerking away from her. "Don't be such a baby," she scolded, rubbing the gel on his burns. It hurt at first, but the more gel she applied, the better he felt. He watched her thoughtfully as she worked. Despite her expressed dislike of him and the gruffness she showed to everyone around her, her hands were quite gentle and she went about her work methodically, getting at the worst burns first. The cold cloth on his head was helping his sore head as well.

"Turn around so that I can get at the ones on your back. Honestly, I don't know what Hakusa was thinking, sending you out here with clothes like this. They're all well and good for city dwellers, but not so good for someone going for a journey."

"To be fair, she did give me some jackets. A large part of this is also my fault. I knew we were heading out here, but I never thought to put one on."

She nodded, smoothing the soothing gel over the burns on his upper back. "It's good that you realize that you are also at fault. I'm glad to see that you aren't an idiot. There. That should do it. Those burns aren't too severe, but they'll still be difficult to sleep with. In a few days, they'll start peeling. In the meantime, make sure that you're wearing decent covering when out in the sun. These will get worse otherwise."

Rhade turned to face her. "My thanks. You have gentle hands."

Kasei blinked in confusion and blushed. "I'm only doing my job. No need to thank me for it. If I didn't help you, there's a high chance that you could get sick and, in a worst-case scenario, die. It's my duty to keep you alive, remember?"

"It's considered polite where I come from to thank someone for doing something nice. I know you weren't doing it to be nice, but I'm grateful all the same."

Yuki looked up to see them staring at each other and coughed politely, breaking the awkward silence that had fallen between them. "Dinner's ready if you'd like to eat."

Kasei sighed with relief. "Good. I'm starving."

"You're always hungry, Kasei," Yuki admonished. To Rhade, he said, "Nomaien women are perpetually hungry. If it's known why, they aren't telling. At least Kasei has an excuse with her high metabolism. She burns a lot of energy just doing normal things."

"Yuki, must you explain such things? I highly doubt he needs to know such private matters as my eating habits and energy needs."

"It's interesting," Rhade told her.

She snorted. "Rhade, you'd probably find the length of my toe nails fascinating."

With a straight face, he nodded. "You're right. I would."

Yuki snorted at the expression on Kasei's face. "You walked right into that one, little sister."

"Shut up and serve dinner before I eat Rhade out of desperation."

"I don't think you want to do that," Yuki said, spooning food into a dish and handing it to Kasei. "For starters, there's the taste. Something tells me that no amount of spice in the world will make him palatable to you. We also don't have enough fuel in the stove to cook him for the proper length of time. There's also the small matter of the bones. Sure, there's enough meat on them, but do you really want to skin and debone something his size? Think of the mess. Neither of has the proper knives to do that."

Kasei shrugged. "I suppose I'll just have to make do with whatever this is," she said, digging into her meal.

Rhade looked at Yuki. "That was all a joke, right?"

"Nomaiens have a very strange sense of humor," he replied, handing him a bowl of food. He winked cheerfully, dishing out a bowl for himself. They ate in silence. It felt awkward to Rhade, but Kasei and Yuki didn't seem to want to talk, so he ate the spicy meal, enjoying the unusual flavor of the meat. Each of them ate a second bowl before the food was all gone. Yuki collected the dishes and took them over to the pond to clean them, leaving Rhade with Kasei.

He cleared his throat. "Would you like help setting up your shelter?"

"I don't need your help."

"I wasn't implying that you did. It would go faster with two people. I helped Yuki with his so I'm familiar with how they go up now. That also reminds me. What are the sleeping arrangements going to be?"

"You and Yuki are sharing his shelter. I'm sleeping in mine. How is this difficult?"

"He said the life debt might complicate things."

"Only if you plan on going for a stroll late at night. You're close enough sleeping in the other shelter. If anything happens, I'll hear it. I'm not a very deep sleeper."

"Good to know," he said nodding. "In truth, that comes as a relief."

Kasei looked up at him. "Really? I would have thought that you would prefer sharing my shelter," she said, taking it out of her pack.

Rhade shook his head. "Don't misunderstand me. I'd love to, but I know how you feel about me. Even the room reassignment is something of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, I'm closer to you that way and that makes me happy. On the other hand, you clearly aren't comfortable with that. It bothers me that I almost regret saving your life."

Kasei nodded. "You should regret it. Things would have been simpler if I'd died then." At his horrified look, she continued. "I'm a senshi, Rhade. I would have returned in a few years, reborn into a new, whole body, one without all this pain."

Rhade picked up the poles and helped her get the shelter up. "I'm sorry for causing you more pain. It's selfish of me, but I want you to live. I know you're hurting from the things that have happened to you on Earth and I know now what your home life has been like, but ending your life isn't the answer. Sometimes, it takes more courage to continue living."

Once her shelter was set up, Kasei went inside, taking her packs with her and closing the flap behind her. Yuki finished his clean up and joined Rhade in their shelter. He patted the other man's arm comfortingly. "Deep, deep down, I think she's glad to be alive, Rhade."

"I'm having a hard time believing that, Yuki."

The two men settled down for the night, falling asleep quickly.