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Borrowed Life

 
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Nick Allen
Young Wyrm
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 06, 2016 10:49 pm    Post subject: Borrowed Life Reply with quote

(<3 to the player of Averia for writing with me, once again.)

Rhydin

November 1st, 2033


Nick lay comfortably back in his world. It was a small thing, not the comfort and truth was he?d never been uncomfortable even through his journey backwards. He?d wanted to wake up first, he hadn?t wanted to sleep at all, but that rolled into a thousand other things that would surely be labeled as trouble. Dreams there were a few, mostly twisted things that had him looking up at Addie unable to say the things he?d wanted to. He wanted to tell her that it was all right, he knew what he was doing and that he?d done it for her. He wanted to ask her to forgive him, but things just did not come to him. Despite the dreams, he was aware the moment that Avy had left his side.

The sensation spilled through his dreams, her warmth lost to him left him feeling cold and pushed him back into the darkness. Had it been that bad? There?d been no torture, no abuse of any sort. Someone else would have laughed in the same situation, problem is that it was Nick?s hell. Perhaps it was one shared by many, the feeling of being alone when all he craved was to feel someone close. Left with only the thoughts within him. Left? abandoned? insignificant and soon forgotten. His world, it was pretty small and things moved quickly. He was mercury circling the sun. Cold, it was so cold there but he could fix that. He could make it less cold, maybe make it his own.

Skin warmed, its temperature rising from deep within him. Nick?s core was a blazing inferno, it was even hotter than that. He could melt steel if he allowed himself to do so. Something needed to be done about the cold though. He stoked the flames, breathing life into them as he had learned so long ago. It was easy here, the fire had become his only companion. Its voice was the only thing not muted within that odd realm. Fire could be so compelling, it spoke sweetly offering everything if only he would hold nothing back. It was a seductress with infinite skill, and it was easy to give in to her in this place. Why was he holding back?

Nick didn?t have an answer. He knew that he was, that something kept nagging at him about the entire situation. What about Alex and Avy? What about the shower, the room, the bed in which they laid? Did those ever really exist? You?re dead, remember? She wanted what she knew he could provide. She wanted the Phoenix.

Nick?s skin warmed even more. Heat radiated from him, he remembered how it went, just keep getting hotter until he couldn?t hold it in anymore. The fire, she pulled at his senses pleading with him to keep going. She knew what they could do together.

She knew what they could do! It was that which had him trying to backpedal. She knew, because it had happened. She didn?t care who she hurt to get it. It had all happened, and now he struggled with Lady fire as he had when he was a kid learning how. ?I won?t!? Nick?s voice seemed protracted again. Had it been real, or just some sweet dream meant to torment him? Could he take the chance that it wasn?t? Avy?d been there, hadn?t she?

Her silver eyes were fresh in his mind, the diminutive frame of her body was there also. The darkest hair he?d ever seen, was it truth or just a memory? The Averia he?d encountered seemed uncertain, less composed. She seemed about to fly apart, that had never been Avy had it? The argument was working. Nick had been about to turn up the heat again, but stopped himself.

She knew, the fire knew what he could do. She knew about Alex, about Averia, and even about the shower he?d taken. He turned his efforts once more against the fires within him. It was always a struggle when they truly wanted to get out. It hadn?t happened in so long though that Nick was out of practice in keeping them at bay. The beautiful bright eyed face of Averia flashed before him again, only now he was hurting her. He pushed harder, yet still he struggled to gain ground. It was obvious now that having tasted absolute freedom, Lady fire wanted it again. Nick reached for the image of Avy. He wanted something too, and his desire was stronger than the mindless fires within him. He would reach the girl, hold her again. Nothing could keep him from his? ?Avy??

It wasn?t as though she had wanted to leave his side but Alex had only been able to make so many excuses before Avy?s phone was sent skittering across her desk by a slew of messages wondering just where she was at and why she wasn?t out of bed yet. At the very least she had left it on silent so hopefully it wouldn?t wake the young man sleeping in her bed. She stood at her desk, just in front of a window that poured morning sunshine into her bedroom, her thumbs working over the device?s screen in a rapid fire volley that traded messages with her twin and with the staff tasked with looking over the Caelum twins with Claire gone. That her mother hadn?t yet returned was nothing unusual but Averia couldn?t help but be curious about her departure?s alignment with Nick?s return.

?Crap.? She muttered, reading over the next message to come in. Negotiations were not going well when it came to getting out of their lessons. Behind her, she could hear Nick tossing and in the moment, she wanted nothing more than to go back to him, consequences be damned. Finally, between Alexander and Averia managed to strongarm their way out of morning lessons via group text. It meant Alex could go back to bed and it meant Averia could go back to? her name slipped from Nick?s lips, turning her around to face him. He looked fitful and not even halfway back to bed she could feel the waves of heat rolling off of him like the height of summer.

Undaunted by the immense warmth, she climbed up onto the bed to retake the place she had left empty at his side. Rather than lay back down, she set a hand against the center of his chest. Featherlight, cool fingers providing firm reassurance of her presence. Though it had been some time since she felt the stirring of the barely restrained fire within him, there was no forgetting its pull. How unfair that it would try to rage when he was vulnerable. The thought set a furrow to her brow and a frown to her lips as she leaned down to brush a cool kiss to his feverish forehead. Could an old battle be won by old tricks? She closed her eyes and focused to find out.

Nikolai, My Nikolai. I?m here, come back to me. Soft words sought to penetrate his conscious, past the formidable barrier erected by a strong mind and a spark on the edge of becoming a wildfire. He was stronger than the fire, they could tame it together.

It?d been months since he?d felt her this way, longer since she?d been so needed. He?d been Niko then, and he was again. He felt small in the vastness that was around him, something had changed though. He wasn?t Niko, he wasn?t Nick either that much was clear. It was strange that for all his efforts to be the latter he wanted to be what the voice in his mind had just called him. Her Nikolai, he struggled to reach the apparition that was Averia, further evidence that this place was not real. He was able to move, if not quite freely a little at a time.

Nick?s progress was slow at first, but the closer he got to Avy the faster he was able to move as his mind threw off the illusion of encumbrance. She was there with him, as she had been before. Now, like then he took her hand gaining strength in the act of doing so. Unlike then, he began to realize the reason no one else ever had a chance to catch his interest. Who else would understand the struggle within except for her. There was an intimacy that he?d never been able to see before, let alone have the desire to share with anyone else. Nick liked the feel of having her here with him. She was a presence that could take his mind off of the struggle. So often that had been the key. His fight only made the fires stronger, focusing on Avy, there was nothing to feed the fires. She stole the air from them in the same way she could make him breathless without even trying.

Nick?s eyes shot open, he tried to sit up but met the resistance of her hand. It wasn?t much, it didn?t have to be. He was disoriented, forgetting for a moment that he?d slept in her bed. His hand covered hers, warm flesh meeting cool. It brought the entire night back to him, all the things he?d said and a few he didn?t. ?I?? He didn?t know what to say, thank you did not seem nearly good enough. Pushing himself up against her hand until he was close enough to feel her breath on his face he kissed her lightly. ?Do you even know how much I?ve missed you??

Bright eyed but obviously concerned, argent gaze peered down at him as he worked his way back toward consciousness. Seldom had she had to watch him fight it in his sleep and in the moment, he looked much younger than he was. She wanted to push more, to wriggle her way into his head until she could coax him back to her. For all of that desire, she soon got to set it all aside as he awoke with a start. Her shoulders slouched with relief and instead of the frown she had worn so prominently, a smile soon lifted the corners of her mouth. That smile grew further when he sat up to kiss her. That was something she could get used to.

?Umm?? She glanced down, bit her lip to hide a smile, then peeked back up at him through a veil of dark lashes like raven's wings over silver eyes. ?Not nearly as much as I have missed you.?

It wasn?t fair how easily one look at those shrouded eyes, the bite of a lip, and sweet affirmation could leave him unable to think straight. He should have some kind of witty comeback for Averia, but Nick?s mind was scrambled by her instead. Perhaps if he?d known that he had the same affect on her it would be different. He?d noticed her hastily covered look of concern though it was lost in the haze between awakening and remembering where he was, or more importantly who was with him. It would be a concern that he shared. One that he wasn?t sure how to alleviate. ?I did something, when I thought I was lost forever. It?s changed me, or something inside of me.?

He?d made her a promise to omit nothing. Had this not happened, he likely wouldn?t have remembered to tell her until much later. There was certainly enough happening in the last few hours that something so little as what happened in between took a backseat to the here and now. Or maybe that hand on his chest, and her head on his shoulder had driven everything from his mind. It was probably the latter. Nick couldn?t really help reaching for her, in part to make sure once more that everything was real. The rest was his desire to just touch her. His thumb rasped its way along her jaw once more, it had been hours since he?d last done that. He raised her hand from his chest, kissing her palm, eyes closed as he brought her hand around to his cheek and began telling her how he?d coaxed the fire within him. How that might have been the thing that told Alex where to look for him. How free he?d felt when he let himself go to the whims of the flames. Now it seemed like a poor choice, except that if he hadn?t then he might not be here with her.

It was a lot to lay at Avy?s feet, even with his attempts to distract her by nuzzling her hand. ?I don?t know if I can put it back into its box, or I don?t know what. I needed you then, I?ll likely need you again and it?s a lot to ask for. I am though, asking hoping that you?ll say yes. Afraid you might not, though I?d understand that. I think maybe I have this all backwards. Aren?t I supposed to be protecting you from this? Leaving to keep you from getting hurt? The thing is, I don?t know if I can do it without you. I don?t want to try. Besides, if I did that it would mean that somehow I didn?t respect what you can do, or care enough to let you make your decisions. I?m afraid that?s just not me.?

?Nikolai, stop,? she said gently, her hand turning in his grasp to graze her fingertips against his cheek. Her thumb swept a path along the structure of his cheekbone as her own mouth pursed and pulled to one side. A part of her wanted to kiss each of his words away, to smother them until his worry was but a distant thought. The rest of her knew that as satisfying as that would have been, it was a legitimately looming problem that needed to be addressed sooner rather than later. Averia set her hand against his cheek, gentle in her touch like he was breakable and her bow worn hands were just the thing that might ruin him.

?Before I answer, I?d like to ask you a question first.? Her chin lowered as she demurred another look into the realm of serious, pushing away the incessant need to kiss him and touch him and hug all of his cares away in favor of looking him dead in the eye. ?How long have we known each other? And of that time, how long have I tried to help you in any way I could?? A beat. ?So that?s two questions, but still.?

Dark gaze found light, a shine to his eyes that came from his smile at her. Did he purposely pull out his I?m adorable grin for her? No, that had never been a conscious thing it just happened when he was feeling particularly good. ?Since before we could tell the difference between boys and girls. And I can?t count the number of times you?ve helped me. You did it without my asking, and I relied on you. The only difference between now and then is, I want to do it right. Back then I didn?t understand that it was coming. I didn?t have time to actually ask, though I would have. Now I do, and even if I suspected that you would want to. That doesn?t mean I have the right to simply expect it anymore. You?re too important to me, and there are ways that I would like to take advantage of you. That isn?t one of them. I didn?t ask Alex to save me, he just did it and I just did it for Addie. It is what we do for each other. The asking, is just me saying to you that rather than be forced to decide in the moment because I don?t know it?s coming, I know it?s coming, even if I don?t know when, and there?s no one I would rather have with me.?

She had on that serious face, and his had gone soft. Would they always find themselves at opposite ends of the spectrum? Not always, Nick realized that almost before he asked himself the question. They certainly hadn?t been that way last night. ?It?s just going to take me awhile to get used to thinking of us, like this. I don?t know what changes, maybe that we get closer in a way?? He couldn?t quite continue, color found his cheeks because he heard one word, phrasing. ?You?ve got me rambling. I would love to know how you manage to do that.?

Nick would have to give her just a moment here. She was trying to resolidify her brain after it had melted into a puddle at the mention of the ways that he would like to take advantage of her. It was enough to suffuse a tint of rosy blush to her cheeks, bridging her nose and inching toward her ears. As much as she might like to think about that, she gently cleared her throat and forced herself to focus again. Her fingers curled a soft path to his jaw before the knuckle of her index finger bumped the underside of his chin.

?I? I don?t know? but I like when you ramble. It?s, um, it?s cute and it makes me want to kiss you just to see if it stops but I?m afraid it will stop and then I won?t have an excuse to kiss you anymore. And now I?m rambling? so? ummm. Hmm.? She snapped her mouth shut intentionally, cutting off her insecurity hard enough to rattle her teeth. It gave her three beats exactly to compose herself. ?Before all of this, you were my friend. That?ll never change and as such, just as I always have, I will do anything I can to help you. I promise.?

?You don?t need an excuse to kiss me. I think it?s more like, needing a reason to stop kissing.? He bit his lip before he said more. They were friends, that wouldn?t change just because they?d become more. Maybe that?s where his head had gone wrong. Nick didn?t know what to expect, and right now it was hard for him to deny that same draw that she had. ?I?m glad that we?re friends, and that we?re more. I?ll still do whatever I can to help you too.? That promise did not supercede the pinky swear ritual they?d already done. Seriousness aside, for now, he tried to figure out how long they?d slept. It couldn?t be that long, Avy had a schedule that was rarely broken.

?Why haven?t the guards broken down the door and hauled me to the edge of the property yet?? Nick?s legs curled inward as he leaned on the hip closest to Avy, and put his arm across her. His hand planted heavily on the bed next to her, intentionally close enough that his wrist rested against her thigh. ?Or you know, the politics teacher knocking on the door and demanding you go?? He hadn?t considered what he should do yet. He couldn?t hide in Avy?s room forever, despite how appealing doing just that sounded right now. He followed the lines of her face, the flush skin somehow made her even prettier. His eyes rested on her lips for a moment.

?I could look at you all day.? That had been meant to stay inside his head. The words seemed to have their own ideas about living though. He did his best to look like he had intended to say it all along. He was supposed to be the cool one.

?Umm? well,? she began, a smile catching hold of her mouth to curve it into something that bordered on the edge of excitement. ?Mom?s not here because they were able to get through to Nosgoth? so she?s there, doing stuff, I guess. We have to stay here. Alex convinced our cadre of tutors that he?s sick and I?m taking care of him. At the very least we?re out of morning lessons.? She shrugged a little and gave him a few moments to let the weight of what she had said sink in. For over two years, Nosgoth had been lost to Rhydin and everywhere else. To have it accessible again meant something somewhere had gone right.

?So? I guess I?m yours for a little bit, I mean, unless you have somewhere else to be.? Averia caught herself midway, adding on the correction just to tack on an air of nonchalance like she didn?t care if he had other things he needed to do. That was a possibility right? Surely he couldn?t stay there all the time even if she wanted nothing more than that.

Nick was frozen in place, that smile of hers could do that to a man. To this one it had happened more than once. Still, somehow much of what she was saying made it through. Aunt Claire was gone to Nosgoth. Maybe that was what he?d done? It had to be, or what was it all worth? No lessons either, did that mean no interruptions? He could get so lucky. ?More than for a little bit, but I think you?re talking about how much time you have free.? Sometimes the devil felt like it would jump inside of him and affect his smile, turning it decidedly wicked. ?I have other places I?ll need to go, but not yet. There?ll be time to go there when you can no longer hold the training off.?

Certain things hadn?t occurred to him in the short time he?d been back. Much as he?d like to, he didn?t think he?d be allowed to pitch a tent in Avy?s room forever. ?I have a lot still to do right here. I?m pretty sure I made promises to you.? There had been something making her a royal mess. Nick had been trying to hard not to do just that through the things they?d both needed to say. Now he was beginning to realize just how little time was left before all hell broke loose. That of course, is assuming that someone finds him here. Problem with that was he no longer really cared if they were caught together. His hand was at the back of her head and pulling her in for a greedy kiss before he could think twice and change his mind. Maybe she expected something so typically Nikolai.
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Averia Caelum
Young Wyrm
Young Wyrm


Joined: 30 Jun 2015
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 06, 2016 10:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

(18+ for adult content)

?More than for a little bit?? She repeated, almost breathless by the remembrance that she was, in fact, his after all. Not just for the next few hours but until he decided he didn?t want her to be anymore. There was no restraining the smile that blossomed, a brilliant thing that rivaled the warmth of the sun streaming through the eastern window. For all that the star child had grown up being compared to the moon to Alexander?s sun, Nikolai somehow brought out a sheer radiance that could have lit the dead of night. ?You?re welcome to stay as long as you need.?

Averia would gladly fight anyone that said otherwise. She was about to tell him that too when he pulled her in and stole her breath away all over again. Gone were the thoughts of standing up to whomever might try to tell her that Nick had to go and in their place were a number of increasingly troublesome ideas. Troublesome and messy. The grin that pulled her lips could be felt through the crush of his mouth to hers, impossible to dim despite a burgeoning tangle of lips and tongues. Well, maybe not impossible. She quickly found out when a heavy trio of knocks rang out against her bedroom door.

?Lady Averia? Are you awake yet?? Came a muffled call from the other side. Shortly after, the door handle jiggled. Averia?s eyes widened as she pulled back from Nick, her gaze shooting across the room first toward the door and then toward any prospective escapes. The closet and the bathroom were too far and there was no time to get Nick out through the window but the high back of the bed served as an ample blockade. Her desperation saw her grab at the front of Nick?s shirt and with a hard shove, she pushed him onto his back, swinging a leg to settle on each side of his ribcage so she could sit upright while keeping him down.

?What? I?m awake.? She called back, one petite hand dropping to cover Nikolai?s mouth without looking down at him. The door handle twisted the rest of the way and slowly it opened. Halfway open, Averia caught sight of who was calling. Olympio Emeritus was one of a number of tutors employed by Claire and Noctis to educate the twins, the whole team of which followed back and forth between Rhydin and Lucis as Averia and Alexander did. Though none lived within the New Haven manor, several lived on the grounds so it wasn?t a surprise to see him standing there.

?I thought you?d be up and moving by now. Is everything all right?? He asked, sweeping his gaze across the bit of her bedroom that he could see. ?Your bed is askew.?

?I wanted to watch the sun come up. Morning lessons are off, Alex is sick. I?ve been up taking care of him.? She lied, her hand tightening on Nick?s mouth. Not once did she look away from Olympio, mostly because she didn?t think she could keep a straight face if she looked down. The well dressed tutor frowned, looking at the young woman as if trying to decide whether that was an acceptable answer.

?You don?t want to get behind. Are you sure you don?t wish to come down for breakfast and a few lessons?? He sounded suspicious, Averia was certain of it. Her cover story was going to crumble at any moment, she had to think quickly. There were sayings about desperate times and the measures taken and so it was with only the slightest bit of guilt that she locked her eyes upon Olympio?s, swallowed once, and put the entirety of her focus into what she was about to do.

?Everything is fine but we will not be attending lessons today. You may excuse the other teachers on my mother?s authority and we will recommence tomorrow morning at the normal time.? Though her tone carried an air of authority, what she did was far more subtle. Each word came with a quiet ministration of the man?s conscious perception, subtle manipulations that when added up resulted in a slightly out of focused look from the teacher. Averia watched, feeling him out mentally to make sure her work was sound. ?Do you understand??

?I understand. You will not be attending today, the other teachers are excused, we will reconvene tomorrow morning.? His inflection had flattened out as he reflexively repeated her directions. Averia let out a soft breath of relief, her hand slackening in its hold across Nick?s mouth.

?Very good. I will see you tomorrow Sir Emeritus. Please shut the door on your way out.? She instructed. Olympio obeyed, backing up and pulling the door closed behind him. As soon as it latched, a whoosh of an exhale deflated the princess and finally brought her gaze back down to the boy she was perched upon. It was right then that she realized just how compromising of a position that was, her cheeks flushing with crimson as she pulled her hand away. ?Um? sorry.?

It was simply a few knocks, but Nick reacted like someone had just fired a shotgun. He had a quick vision of just that, someone decidedly parental on the other side of the door with aims to keep trouble, named Nick, from their Averia. His heart started to pound at his ribcage even as Averia pushed him down and pinned him into place. She knew him too well. Why else would she put her hand over his mouth if not to keep him from coming clean? At first he tried not to struggle. This would have been a simple thing until he noticed exactly what their positions were. It only took a moment, but he did try to change it if only for her sake.

The more he tried to change things the tighter she seemed to hold on. That too would have been fine if it were simply her hand. Nick found out first hand the strength of Avy?s legs as she (likely by instinct) adjusted her grip as she would a skittish horse. One thing that was a relief, though some part of him said he was a fool, she?d at least switched to a slightly longer skirt. He had his doubts that he could have kept any focus if she hadn?t. He looked up at her with dark eyes that had gone wide. That reaction came as he watched her do a thing she?d rarely done.

Nick tried a little harder to sit up, he?d rather be caught than see her get into worse trouble for that. No, that wasn?t quite true. He?d have rather that she hadn?t needed to in order to be able to spend the time with her that they both wanted. This wasn?t the same as convincing his father that he hadn?t really been grounded, even if it was just as much for him. It was something he hadn?t expected. He knew it was wrong, at least in principle, but there was something about her that made him not care in the least. She was dominating poor Olympio, she was commanding and powerful and? so damn sexy doing it.

Nick stopped his attempts to break free as that final thought washed over him. If he couldn?t stop it, and truthfully he hadn?t tried nearly as hard as he should have. He could at least take advantage of their position. Avy?s performance was commendable, he could detect no hint of a falter in her as his hand ran along the outside of her thigh. That was something that her thoroughbreds would never be able to do. [i]Sorry[i], she had said to him at last. Nick just gave a slight shake of his head, lip pinned between his teeth. ?I?m not.?

The tension that rose in her thigh in the wake of the pass of his hand was the only telltale sign that the touch had registered. She had to force herself not to think about it, not to give in to the need to shiver. As soon as the door shut and she looked down, it suddenly became incredibly difficult to think. After a few moments though she managed a mischievous smile tinged with a touch of shyness.

?I just didn?t think the first time I?d be on top of you I would be smothering you with my hand to keep someone from finding out you were here.? It was the truth at the very least, even if it sounded uncharacteristically inappropriate coming from Averia. She should have moved to let him up, it was the right thing to do, wasn?t it? It was, but she didn?t move from her throne, no matter how temporary it may have been. ?But I think I bought us more time.?

?Are you telling me that I can?t be too loud, when you?re on top of me I mean.? Where that comment had come from he didn?t know. Somewhere in the back of his mind where he thought about that kind of thing often most likely. She probably should have kept her hand over his mouth to keep it in. He?d blame it on other things, like the feel of her well toned thigh when she tightened it against his touch. Nick had half expected her to move when the door had closed. She hadn?t yet, and that was probably a recipe for trouble if he?d ever seen one.

Nodding and losing himself once more in her smile, he knew she?d bought them time. Time for what was the question he was asking. Nick knew what he wanted, but maybe that too had a lot to do with where she was perched. There were still a thousand subjects to talk over, maybe only two or three, but he was drawing a blank on those. That was more of a relief than even getting to say the things he wanted to about them. He tried to coax her down to his level again, a hand to her back and gentle if greedy pressure meant to give her the cue. ?You bought the time, what are you going to do with me now??

She was quite suddenly at a loss for words, rosy cheeked and trying not to choke on the remnants of whatever clever comeback she might have had for him. Her breath caught in her chest, somewhere between the hammering beats of her heart and when she finally answered it was with a girlish giggle and an aversion of her eyes. ?That?s not exactly what I meant, but now that you put it that way, yes. Maybe. Perhaps. For now at least.?

It took very little persuading and pressure to the small of her back to draw her down but positioned as she was, it made for quite the awkward curl of her spine. A shimmy of her legs along his sides helped remedy it, bringing her to sit a little lower on his frame so that she could properly lean down toward him. Her smile grew with each inch she came closer until it was a full grin for a fraction of a second before she touched a kiss to the very tip of his nose. ?That?s a good question? I hadn?t exactly considered that but, um, I?m open to suggestions.?

Leave it to Averia to find a way to distract him away from herself. It might have been his fault, overestimating exactly how much she could bend. That didn?t stop the sensation of her legs moving along his sides from causing his heart to miss a beat, or the sudden swallow he couldn?t quite stop. Anywhere else, and he?d have used his sudden confusion to do something spectacular. They were essentially trapped in a room where he didn?t have tricks to fall back on. He?d started this, figuring that it would end with his cheekiness.

Nick had a suggestion, even opened his mouth to try and say it aloud but his face betrayed him turning red and pulling his mouth closed soundlessly. In true fashion he fell back to action over words, holding onto Averia and rolling them both over with a twist of his hips and torso. He searched her face, looking for anything that might stop him. She could, he knew that about her, if not using her mind then physically, though a word would suffice. The voice of Alex, that had somehow become his conscience was cut off promptly by his own telling it to shut the **** up. ?Just one that comes to mind.? The words finally falling free a bare breath before he kissed her again, hoping there would be no knocking interruptions this time.

Her first instinct was to adjust as he rolled in order to keep from toppling but then it clicked in her head that she needed to go with the motion. In much the same way she may have when jumping from a rooftop to the ground below, she rolled with him, relaxing until she was beneath him. There she was breathless once more, caught at a loss for words, and stuck in a predicament she didn?t quite know how to handle. The unshakeable Averia Caelum was thoroughly out of her element and for once, she didn?t hate that fact.

Neither protest on her part nor knocking interruptions came but rather she tugged at his bottom lip with her teeth and tried not to grin around it. ?Just one?? She mumbled teasingly as she released her hold on his lip and slipped her arms around him.

What came next, she never expected. A slow burn that built into a tangle of limbs, a collision of bodies that was unlike anything she had ever experienced before. It was a morning of firsts for them both, equal parts awkward and uncomfortable, sensual and exhilarating. Imperfect, but perfectly so. It may not have been just like in the movies or how it was supposed to go in her head, there was no candle light and sweet nothings, no perfectly in tune rhythm that overrode the awkwardness, but there was Averia and there was Nick and that was all she needed. For just a little while there was no worry of diplomacy lessons and weapons training, royal politics and the less than subtle conversations about the sort of arrangements expected of someone of her station.

Weak, he had died, bled out bit by bit and not felt this weariness to his body. Still joined with the dark haired beauty that was Averia, Nick slumped, his body still over her but there was nothing that was keeping his weight even partially from resting on her now. No elbows and knees, or stiff armed press of the mattress, there was only Nick, and Averia. His body spent, his head resting on her shoulder, Nick?s lips found the will to press loving kisses along her neck. There were things he probably needed to say, but being in her arms was enough. It was heaven and that was more than he deserved. ?This is going to sound stupid, but, I?ve loved you Averia. Before this, before coming back. Before going, but none of that was clear to me until I was without you. Until I was realizing it, and there was nothing I could do about it.? Nick drew breath, it was like breathing new life into the fires within him. ?You don?t have to feel the same. But I walked through death for this. Time?s too short for me to think I have the time to say it.?

The onslaught of new sensations proved too much to bear, racking a fresh shudder through her frame beneath him. She clung to him as if she might drift into the sky and fade away for as high as she felt in the moment. He had filled her with the sweet ache of a battle well won. His weight over top of her was a comforting thing, bearable if it meant having him near. She didn?t want him to move so she could still savor the feeling of him even as motion became stillness and panted breaths. Her shaking arms wrapped him up, holding him to her as he peppered her neck with kisses that, for all of their heat, induced little chills down her spine.

?Nick, Niko, Nikolai.? She hummed each variation as if it were the most glorious of hymns, salvation born of her tongue and left to tickle the edge of his ear with her words. ?Look at what you?ve done. You?ve made a mess of me. And you know what?? Averia smiled, her eyes closing as her body slowly relaxed. Slipping her hand down his arm, she sought his hand to lift it and set it over her sternum, pressing just enough for him to feel the thump of her heart. ?Ninety per minute. Five hundred forty per hour. Twelve thousand, nine hundred sixty per day. One million, one hundred fourteen thousand, five hundred sixty in the time you were gone alone. Each beat for you. It?s always been you, my love.?

Nick loved the sound of his name coming from her in any form. She was right though, he had made a mess of her. Head to toe he?d done his best to leave her less than perfect to those who had higher expectations from her. He looked at her, a smile playing with his mouth. She was perfect though, a disheveled mess that had begun in pristine condition. There was no better mark that said she was his, in his mind. He?d begun this knowing that there was always something special about Avy for him. It?d just seemed friendship, even if it was different than anyone else he?d call friend. It had grown as he realized that she was out of reach for him. She?d been that before, but it was always temporary. The Lucis weeks, difficult as they were, they did end, bringing them back to him.

These thoughts and more careened through his skull as he lay there atop Averia. She?d made him chuckle by using his words against him. She?d done so much more by offering him the word that he?d been needing, but unable to show her properly. Unless you count the wanton abandon they?d displayed for one another. Nick knew the truth, and it was beautiful. ?Can you get away today? Not now, later. I don?t want this to end right now. I?ll need to go to the forge, I don?t want to do that alone. I?ll need someplace to stay until I?m ready to go there.? It was just one more thing he didn?t want to do alone. If Averia wouldn?t go, perhaps Alex would. Someone needed to.

?Yes.? She said without hesitation. Where once she may have waffled on whether such a thing was feasible, there was a conviction in her answer that said she wouldn?t let him down. As her hand rubbed along his back, grazing welts and skin alike, she turned her mouth to touch a soft and lingering kiss to his temple. She could taste his sweat on her lips, a reminder of the passion he had poured into what was likely the best sort of trouble he had ever got her into.

?You can stay with us as long as you need, you know that. We?re here.? Mumbling the assurance against his skin, the edge of her index finger traced a particularly intense scratch with equal parts pride and regret. He was hers, she had no doubt about it, so why did the mark upon him tug a private smile across her lips. She was still trying to figure that out when she pushed his hair from his forehead. ?But I?ll need a shower first? once my legs start working again??

Nick?s eyes shut at her affirmative answer. He needed the kiss she pressed against him. Needed the words to tell him that he had a place to go if he needed it. He needed them all, wasn?t sure what he?d ever done to earn them but was grateful to have them all the same. Her lingering attentions to his back may have made him aware of the depth of her clawing. Her touch stung a bit, but it was a nice thing, something he wore like a badge. More importantly it had come from her hands. There was nothing those hands could do to him physically that he wouldn?t wear with some pride.

Nick reluctantly slipped from his place and laid on his side. ?You can shower, or we can.? He moved in closer to her, wrapping still shaky arms around her. He pressed his lips to her, they could feel the heat even through her damp and tangled hair. ?I may stay here for a while, long enough to figure out what I?m supposed to do now, and then arrange to do it.? He could have gone to Belglade, but it seemed so far away from him now. He was certain he?d be welcomed there, yet selfish as he knew it was. Avy wasn?t there, she was here. ?I haven?t even begun to consider what I tell people about my going missing.? He wasn?t even sure if there was anything he needed to know before heading back into the real world.

A soft hiss turned into a low groan as he slid off of her. It made her feel woefully cold and no sooner was he on his side did she turn toward him to savor his warmth once more. Each movement resulted in a dull ache within her muscles, a pleasant reminder of what he had done to her. She closed her eyes and nestled against him, content despite her proclaimed need to clean up.

?We?ll figure it out, whatever you need.? She said softly, lifting her chin to look up at him. Though she had grown up looking at him, it didn?t compare to the fond look she wore as she traced every line of his face, memorizing every plane and contour until he was etched in that moment upon her mind forever. After a few moments, she quirked a hesitantly shy smile, a blush creeping back into her cheeks before she got the chance to pose her follow up. ?You, um, can come with me? if you want? um, to the shower, that is.?
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Nick Allen
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 06, 2016 11:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Borrowed shoes, somewhere in the Lucis Manor a guardsman would discover that the sneakers he wore for physical training were missing. These were not the only thing borrowed for Nick though, the clothes he wore and even the life he now lived were just as borrowed. Getting out had been surprisingly easy, though he shouldn?t have been surprised. The small hand with fingers tangled into his may have looked delicate, but one touch would tell another story. Avy?s hands were strong, despite their size, and their rough texture easily a match for his own. In that moment it was perhaps the only thing that matched for him. It was enough, more than enough really. The closer they got to the forge, the more he depended on that well concealed strength to hide also the tremble in his that had nothing to do with the temperature.

Opening the door felt so familiar, even after months away it happened almost by reflex. It was as though nothing had changed, until certain things were realized. The fires that had lived since before he was born were gone, spent coals in a cold hearth told enough of a tale. The warmth at the heart of this place had gone, and what returned was only half of what it used to be. There was no more ring of hammer, or song sung low over heated metal. Weapons still lined the racks, covered in oil cloths. Andrea?s doing no doubt, preserving the finish to blades that would have pulled the moisture from the air and begun to rust. Opening the door had been familiar, but Nick was reluctant to step through it. To do so with the place in this condition would be to finally admit that what he?d witnessed was real. He wasn?t sure he wanted that reality, except for the one thing still grounding him firmly to the present. His present, and his future.

Brimstone scents still lingered faintly pushing itself free through the open egress at them. Nick let out the smallest of laughs as the smell touched him. It was like his father had just brushed his hand through his hair in a touch light as a feather. ?I remember being little, sitting in his lap. There was always that hint of this place on him. It was kind of how I knew it was always him, even if I were half asleep and he picked me up off the floor.? The tiniest of confessions from him said aloud to the only person with him. The grip that still remained firm, combined with the sharing of a memory was enough to have him stepping inside.

Silence was a strength of hers, one she offered to him as he spoke softly. When he stepped through the door, she didn?t let go of his hand though she slid behind him to move inside in single file. Once inside, Averia took her place at his side, close enough for her arm to align with his but not so close to keep his progress from continuing. It had been a sobering stroll over after they had made their escape from a window and down a trellis, dimming the glow of a morning well spent. She still ached in all of the best ways save for the dull thud of her heart with each step that took them closer to the empty forge. In Nick?s absence, she had only come close to it twice and each was a reminder of just how much had been lost. Today was no different but at the very least she had Nikolai back. She let the door shut behind them and gave his hand a gentle squeeze.

?Really you shouldn?t sleep on the floor? it?s terrible on the back?? She whispered up to him, hoping to add a tiny bit of levity to a solemn moment. It felt so empty, the building, the forge, all of it. What could she say otherwise that would take the sting off of such a visit. Kruger wasn?t here and there was nothing she could do to change that so for now, she offered her presence in the here and now as if that would somehow offer some fractional counterbalance to terribly upset scales.

Nick gave her an amused look. ?That doesn?t explain the ache I?m feeling now.? His muscles were sore, made so in the best way possible. The walk had loosened some of it up, but he relished every twinge. ?I?m not sure what I?m doing here, I need stuff I guess.? He felt a bit lost, the space before him begged to be occupied, but he couldn?t seem to find the heart to even light the fires. He moved finally, heading for the door to the upstairs. Even that place was different, still tidy, but there were months worth of dust coating the tops of tables and counters. He could stay there he knew, it was likely that he would once he?d figured out what it was he was supposed to be doing now.

Nick lead her through the place to the room he?d so often occupied. ?How much should I bring? A few days?? Maybe a week at most, there was no sense in overloading themselves for the trip back. Once in his room, he was able to let go of her hand, only to turn and look at her. ?I?m glad you?re here, this place would just seem haunted if I were alone.? The room was a reflection of its occupant. The walls holding posters of people doing dangerous things taken from obscure angles. One heavy dresser with a large mirror on top of it, and a closet in disarray with a sliding door to keep it from view. The bed, a double that his father had been forced to get when Nick had gotten too tall for the single, was still unmade from the last time he?d slept in it. He probably should have cleaned it out a long time ago, but there always seemed to be plenty of time. Now it just seemed like he?d used it all up. Part of him knew that he would have been lost without her there, and that words didn?t seem to be nearly enough to show it. He stepped towards her and folded her into an embrace that put her head in that spot on his chest that seemed to be reserved just for her.

?You do need stuff.? She confirmed with a nod. Closure was one of those things but Averia wasn?t sure if he would find it here and if he did, she doubted it would be upon his first visit back. Surely it had been quite the long and trying couple of days for him. Though concerned that it might be too much for him, she still kept pace, steadfast in her need to catch him should he crumble. When he let go of her hand, she dropped it to her side before tucking it away into a pocket to keep from fidgeting. Such a distraction was needed only for the few moments it took him to wrap her up again and with ease she slipped her arms around him tightly, as if doing so would squeeze all of his broken pieces together again.

?There?s nowhere else I?d rather be right now, Nikolai.? She mumbled against his chest, inhaling deeply of the odd scent that came from the stolen clothes and the man that wore them. Leaning back, Averia tipped a look up to him, the pull of her mouth quite clearly indicating that she was likely chewing on the inside of her cheek or lip. ?However much you think. We can come back if you need it? whatever you need. However much time. A little, a lot, whatever.?

Lilac found its way comfortingly to Nick, a benefit offered by being close to Avy. Knowing how it had gotten there lended him some strength as well. He started small, opening the closet and rifling through until he found a knapsack that until a few years ago had been a constant companion to him. There were still old notebooks and papers inside of it, the skeletal remains of his school years. These were dumped onto the bed, revealing numerous pages where he?d doodled while paying no attention to the teacher. More than a few of them resembled the dark haired beauty across the room. ?First things first though. I need to get out of this.? He meant the mish mash of clothing that had come from Alex and someone who?s feet happened to be the right size.

The shoes would be the first to go, if only because they were the least comfortable of the makeshift ensemble. ?I should probably leave enough room to take it back though.? He was pretty sure that he had more of Alex?s clothing in his closet, but that had been left there by his friend on those nights when he?d been allowed to stay. Removal of the shirt would display whatever remained of the mornings activities to their maker. He should have been surprised at how easy it was to do that in front of her. Would have been if he didn?t know that he?d always been taking his shirt off for her. He grabbed a handful of occupied hangers and just dumped those on the bed as well. Looking back at her for a half a second, in part to see if she was looking, Nick considered what he needed to ask. ?Am I going to need something? you know, nice to wear?? That particular brand of clothes was in pretty short supply, unless you counted things that were god awful to look at.

?It?s not really your look.? She agreed. He was all motion to her stillness as she stood just inside his doorway, her hands once more tucking away as he rifled through his things. If one didn?t know better they might assume that a whirlwind had already made a mess of the place but Averia knew better. Much like Alex, Nick had a way contrasted her own practiced neatness to an almost infuriating degree. Typically. Today it was endearing and she found herself watching each and every move he made as if it were the first time seeing him.

?I can carry something if you need me to.? Offering with a light shrug, she tried to ignore the dryness of her mouth that came when his shirt came off. It was only reflex but she nearly averted her gaze for the sake of being polite until her mind and the marks on his back quickly reminded her that there was no reason to look away. Raking her gaze over him in much the same way her fingers had earlier in the morning, she didn?t glance away in time to avoid being caught staring. At the very least she had the presence of mind to shut her slack jawed mouth, her teeth rattling with the sudden close. ?Umm?? Averia blinked, processing his question a little slower than normal. ?What? Oh. Um. Whatever you want, Nikolai. I don?t know why you would and after everything you?ve been through I think you?d be hard pressed to find anyone who might argue.?

Avy was probably right, about the clothes and her ability to carry things. Not that he had wanted that when he asked her to go with him. It seemed like she was already carrying and keeping him together. ?Just the basics then.? A second bag was produced, one more suited to carrying gym equipment than anything else. It was the keeper of his shoes, several different types of free running shoes were inside. It made him sigh a bit to look at them. ?It?s funny, I ended up leaving a bunch of things behind at Addie?s place. I wonder what she ended up doing with them.? He pulled a well worn pair out and dumped the rest onto the floor, neatness only counted if you were not trying to get back out quickly. He was tempted to make a joke about her keeping them so she had some real clothes to wear. Instead he just shook off the thought and continued packing.

The dresser was raided next, socks, boxers and pants were all removed and stuffed less than neatly into the larger bag. ?I haven?t asked yet, been avoiding it I guess. Where is he? His body I mean, do you know?? That question, it had been more than avoidance. He hadn?t wanted to think about it in any regard, knowing that to do so would have brought this all into reality sooner than he was ready to face it.

?Knowing her she likely still has it all? she never was one to get rid of things.? She said softly. Addie had always been the sentimental sort. It wouldn?t have surprised Avy had Addie turned his shirts into a tie quilt or something crafty like that. Such things were seldom within Averia?s comprehension but it made Addie happy so whatever. What she didn?t point out was that going off of what she was told, it had been only two days for Addie too and likely facing such a thing still wasn?t high on her priority list. Some part of her wanted to help him pack but she thought he might need the movement, a sort of physical closure if such a thing existed.

?He?s, um, he?s with Miss Annabeth.? Reluctant to say it, it had taken her a few moments to choose her phrasing. Her teeth raked over the plump pulp of her lower lip, still swollen from where his mouth had found hers over and over, first in bed and then in the shower. ?Mom visits every other week, I think, when she goes to see Aunt Serah.?

?He?d have wanted it that way.? Nick had hoped that was what happened, but been almost afraid to ask. It may have surprised him a little that her mother visited so often at least. Things were building inside him. He?d heard what she said about Addie, and while he understood that no real time had passed for either of them, he?d been dealing with this time issue for long enough that he understood that it was two days, and seventeen years. Mind boggling details, but in a way it made it easier for him if he thought Addie had plenty of time to deal with things on her end.

Nick sat on the bed and looked at her. ?I just feel like I?ve made a mess of everything.? It was true that Nosgoth had opened once more, but the trail of devastation in his wake was vast for his little world. He held up his hands, asking in that way for her to come closer. They were nearly done, with this trip at least. There was still a long way for him to go before he could really call the place home again. When she came to him, his head would go to her chest and he?d once again draw a bit of strength from her presence.

?Oh Niko?? She murmured, crossing the distance between them in only a few swift steps to come to a stop in front of him as he sat. Even though she stayed on her feet, she wasn?t all that much taller than him so she hugged him close, her hands stroking over his hair and down his back soothingly. ?I? gods, I?m sorry. You did the best that you could with what you had. Was it ideal? No. But rarely is life ideal. You were put in an impossible situation and you did what you could. That is? so much more than I could have ever asked of you.?

Grazing her nails along his scalp, she curled her fingers to catch around his ears then along the sides of his neck until she could tip his chin up to make him look at her. Far removed from the emotional reunion of the night prior, her gaze was steadfast, as cool as steel and just as strong. Her petite palms cupped his jaw to allow her thumbs a short path to stroke along his cheeks. ?You were so brave.? She whispered, bending enough to press her lips to his brow. ?And clever.? Another kiss touched to the tip of his nose. ?And heroic.? A third brushed the corner of his mouth where her lips lingered for the length of a soft sigh. ?I?ll never be able to say I am sorry enough, nor will I ever be able to thank you for what you did, but I?ll do everything I can, give everything I can to try.?

Her words were soothing, and he listened to them all as she did her best to ease his conscience with the kisses and nails through his hair. Nick took a deep breath, in another place he?d be tempted to take more from her. Right now he just wanted to be done and get away. ?I didn?t do as much as I wish I could have. Addie?s not here.? He let it be done with that, she already knew the rest anyway. ?I think I have enough, just let me put on some shoes and we can go. Maybe when your mom comes back she?ll take me out to see him.? He?d need to go, a lot of him wanted to go, just not now.

It had been the right thing to do, asking her to come along. He only hoped he?d be able to do as much for her someday. Maybe not this specific thing, he didn?t wish that on anyone. But something just as big maybe. ?Do you think he went someplace else? Someplace other than I was I mean.? Nick hadn?t seen a soul, even if Alex had. So far as he knew he was in that place all by himself until his friend had showed up. There was much he didn?t know about the abilities of the twins. Not a huge surprise considering that he had just figured out that there was a lot to his own that he didn?t understand. ?I?ll probably need to see some people over the next few days. I?ll go when you?re training or something.? He let her go long enough to pull his shoes over his feet without bothering to untie them and stand up. The bags were lifted, offering her the smaller back pack before nodding that he was indeed ready to be away from this place.

?No, but you did what you could and that?s what matters.? Averia pressed one more kiss to his forehead and let him go. It wasn?t as though she thought he would want to linger here long anyways, so she took a hasty step back to give him space for whatever he needed to do. While he did, her teeth worried at her bottom lip, gaze studious upon each minute change in his expression. She could have read him like a book, if she wanted to, but it felt wrong prying. So she let herself wonder.

?The end is what we make of it, it differs for everyone. What you might have experienced is wholly different than what I would or Addie would or your father would.? She explained, the beginning of a much longer ramble that would surely have gone on and on and on except the subject shifted, she caught herself, and quickly hushed, nodding. The offered pack was taken and slung up onto a shoulder in much the same way she would have pulled on a quiver. ?You do whatever you need to do, Nikolai. And if there?s anything we can do to help? just ask, okay??

Anything It wasn?t the first time he?d been promised as much by someone from Avy?s family. Nick knew that it was something he could count on. He knew by instinct that she was right about the end. It helped to hope that those who?d gone ahead of him were in better places. His fate had probably been tied to the act that sent him there. He started from the room and the apartment, needing more than anything to just be away from there. Closure wouldn?t come from an empty building, it may come with a final meeting even if it was one sided. What more could he ask for than what he?d already received? Time from Averia, a life borrowed though it may be from Alex. All that really remained was to face her mother again, to see what if anything she remembered. Would she tell him, or would she ask for all the information and keep her thoughts to herself?

Once they were free of the place, and Nick had put the lock back on the door he took Averia?s hand. A small pull to bring her back to him so that he could bend low and kiss her. ?You do so much for me already. I wouldn?t want to be here without you. I don?t want to be anywhere without you, as cliche as that sounds.? He looked down the block towards another building that he knew was important to both of them, though for much different reasons. ?We should go, before I?m tempted to just spend the rest of the day doing this.?

Little could be said that would come close to making things better but where she lacked in words, she made up in presence and as he slipped out of his room, she was quick to follow but a step behind him. Her feet barely even creaked upon the stairs for how lightly she moved, almost like air in the ease of her steps. Free of the stifling grief of a forge long left empty, she gladly embraced his proximity when he tugged her back to him, her chin lifting at much the same time she rocked up onto her toes. Her mouth curled into a smile as he kissed her, her cheeks flushing with the newness of it all.

?Then don?t go anywhere, just stay with me.? She murmured, dropping back onto her heels. Averia knew better than to follow his gaze, as though refusing to look down the street toward the Owl would suddenly make it not exist. Instead she slipped her hand back into his and tugged him in the opposite direction. After all, she didn?t want them lugging his stuff around all day. ?Not that I?d mind if you did that all day? I just figure someone?ll eventually figure out that we?re missing, ya know??
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Averia Caelum
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 06, 2016 11:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Someone would figure it out, though the we part of that could only indicate Alex in his mind. Nick didn?t believe anyone but the twins knew he was there. If they had known, then the entire morning would?ve been different. How his friend would take what happened he could only speculate. Bad was the word that came to mind considering their conversation on the way back to the manor. He was moving at the first bit of tension from Averia?s pull. He had no idea what he was looking for down there, maybe an answer to a question he had no words for. His eyes drifted over her, for once not caring that she might see him. Things were different now, even if they hadn?t really changed all that much.

Distance from the shop eased the feeling in the pit of his stomach, and the ache in his chest. Nick freed her hand in favor of putting an arm around her instead. It was a life of ironies, she made him feel like the world was his. Not so strange really, he?d always known she was a bright spot even when his life seemed to be all good things. Having his own things, just a few of them really, was another positive in the here and now. Nick had only just understood how good it was to be in his own shoes. ?We?re not in that big a hurry are we? I am growing kind of fond of this pace. I?ve got a lot of time to make up for, ya know? Months, years even.? Nick used any excuse to look at Averia, to touch her. Stand and waiting for a traffic signal so they cross that was a good time to kiss her.

?Years? Why years?? She asked softly. Bashful in a way she couldn?t quite account for, she hid the smile across her face with a dip of her chin. Every other step bumped her hip against his, a comfortable sort of thing despite its awkwardness. For all that she was a hurry up and go, go, go, sort of girl, there was something soothing about the leisurely pace he so claimed to be enjoying. Her worry about the consequences of everything was easily pushed aside at the stoplight when his mouth touched hers, once more sending her heart into a tizzy at much the same time her stomach decided to do flips. It was a feeling she wasn?t sure she would ever get used to. It also served as a jarring point of contrast for the overwhelming wave that washed over her all at once. The light changed, encouraging them to walk but all of the sudden there was no moving her feet. It was as though the whole world crumbled all at once, like a cord in the distance had snapped and she was only now feeling the reverberations. Without realizing it her hands had tightened on the front of his shirt, her mouth drawn from his when she couldn?t breathe.

?I? Nick?? His name ached on her tongue. Averia brought a hand up, her fingers touching to her cheek, wet with tears that had no discernible source. From there they brushed across her lips, leaving a streak of saltiness that meant little when compared the lingering imprint of his mouth on hers. It was like a double exposure, the clearer image of his kiss layered over a ghost of the same, an echo of what was. Breathe Averia, she reminded herself, forcing herself to exhale through the crushing grief that wasn?t meant to be her own. ?Addie??

Understanding took its time to click into place. Nick wondered what he?d done wrong, maybe he was pushing too hard. Maybe she was finally starting to regret what they?d shared. Watching Averia cry was like the knife in his chest once more. Despair when she?d said his name was almost enough to have him apologizing, though he wasn?t sure what he was sorry for. It was the last word that locked into place what was happening. He wasn?t sure if he?d ever seen it before, not like this at least. Two days, or nearly that at least, was about what it had been before. He?d gone back, and missed the event by about the same. It wasn?t something he?d expected to witness, somewhere in the bliss they?d found he?d forgotten that she would know soon.

Nick?s arms were around her at once. His voice in her ear trying to soothe her, to tell her that he was here. That Addie would be all right, though that was something he didn?t really know for sure. He believed it though, she was stronger than she had been before she?d left them. ?I know, I?m sorry.? How long would it last? The moment, the memory of it, were they fleeting or something Avy would need to carry like the pack over her shoulder? He hated what he?d done to them both, if only he could have found another way that made as much sense he?d have taken it. There were tears in his eyes as he thought about Addie, alone on a rooftop with the shell of him. ?I hurt her bad? and now you? just don?t hate me for it.?

Her fingers clutched at his shirt, tightening and relaxing repeatedly as she tried to calm herself down. It was such an overwhelming thing though that it made her head spin and her heart lodge in her throat. Her legs shook and briefly she worried they may give out on her. Such a change from only a few hours prior when she giggled and blushed over such a thing. Try as she might, she couldn?t force her lungs to take in enough air, each sharp inhale and puff of an exhale serving only to exacerbate her panic. The past two times she had been drowned in emotions that weren?t her own they had come with the sudden start of her own consciousness into the realization that briefly, however short that may have been, that Adelaide?s had ceased. A breath, just a breath, maybe two even, that was all it took each time but it was enough to widen her eyes and tense every muscle in her body in anticipation.

?Gods, I can?t breathe,? she murmured, waiting. But whatever she waited for never came. There was no sudden stop to the pain, rather it tapered to a dull, indecipherable ache, a longing in her soul that seemed far from sated if such a thing were possible. For all that it still hurt, it was a strange sort of relief because it meant simply that she was alive. Addie survived whatever had wrenched Averia?s heart so suddenly. Though her lip quivered and her hands shook as she dropped them from his chest, she managed to take a deeper breath and after exhaling it, took a second and a third. ?She shouldn?t be alone? I?m gonna kill Kane for leaving her alone??

?She won?t be alone for long. I? Her mother?s there, she?s got Ro, and the squad and your mom and my dad.? There were others that would be there for her. ?Everything will be okay. She just needs to be able to reach out.? Nick hoped that she would, there was no guarantee to any of it. She did have a support system if she only chose to take it. There were words he hadn?t said, that she might pick up on. No mention of her own father, and Nick still wasn?t sure what the real issue between them was. He had Addie?s take on it, it was the only one he needed.

His fingers touched her face, wiping at the track of tears that stained it. ?I wish there were a way to tell her that everything is okay. She told me she doesn?t have the same kind of connection though. Might have something to do with who you are, or you know the way you can get into people?s minds.? He looked at the place her hands had just abandoned. He could still feel the outline of them on him. It only made him miss their presence that much more. ?Maybe she?ll figure it out someday.? He would stand there with Averia forever if she needed him to. ?Is that how it always is?? Nick needed to know if only so that he could be better prepared the next time.

?But she?s a step out of time. She isn?t meant to be there. Her very presence alone in such a time creates a paradox in and of itself. And that prick left her alone.? It wasn?t often that such vitriol spilled from her lips. Unlike her mother, she had learned to temper the fire on her tongue and formulate her anger into more articulate words but this, this was something else. Her chest still hurt as her lungs worked to replenish her blood with oxygen anew but some of it she was certain was the lingering ache of a strained connection. There were missing names on the list, ones that she noted to ask him about later, but there were also names on the list he gave that weren?t here. His father and Addie?s mother first and foremost. It threatened to choke her up again but she managed to tamp it down with a series of deep breaths.

?I don?t think that I could get to her from so far? if she were closer maybe but she?s just? seventeen years is a long time, Nick.? Her chin lowered as she looked down at her hands. Averia had turned both of them palm up, searching the lines until she found just what she was looking for. Her left hand turned over to point to her right palm. Where the rest of the lines in her hand went with the motion of the muscles, a single straight line stood out amongst the rest. It would have been easy to miss but up close it soon became clear that it was a scar rather than her skin?s natural contouring. Averia didn?t scar. She pointed it out with her left index finger. ?We didn?t know how it would work when we tried to make the bond? I still don?t really understand it but the best that I can guess is that it formed an empathic blood link. Together it?s quite strong but this far apart, it?s like? echoes, I guess. Only the really intense things make it through. That one? that one wasn?t as bad as the others? but those I thought I may very well die.?

?He did leave her alone. I don?t pretend to understand it, or him, except that in a way I left her alone too.? Different reasons and motivations. He did that for her as much as for himself, probably more so. Had he known that he?d be standing here with Averia, then Nick would have told that to Addie. ?Maybe it?s inevitable though, there is not here and hasn?t been here since long before Addie went back.? Time was convoluted, a morass that could cloud his mind but he had come to understand that much at least. There was not here, which he believed was the issue of returning.

He looked at the line she pointed to, something he?d not noticed before. Then again he hadn?t been this close to her before and been comfortable looking at her. It would have given too much away, to both of them. ?It?s going to be all right, I think Addie needs the link to work that way. She knows that you?re better able to handle what comes than she would be if the reverse were true. She does get things, sometimes. I don?t think it?s like what I just saw though. I can?t imagine what it?s been like for you, if that one wasn?t so bad? or not like the others at least.? Nick was now starting to see why Avy had needed someone to do something. He dropped his bag and held onto her, not caring who saw or what they might think about it. ?I?ll be here for the next time, and the one after that.?

?Your reasons were different. From what your letters implied, he was alive and well.? She muttered darkly, still stewing on just how many different ways she would have made the man suffer had she been close enough to get her hands on him. It set her jaw into a tense line, her brows furrowing. The tension bled into a frown as she finally looked back up at him. How could be all right. Addie was seventeen literal years away and Averia could do nothing to help her. Her only attempt had ended with Nick?s father dead, Nick dead and then not, and Addie evidently devastated.

?I can take it. I can handle it, it?s fine. I just? I was scared that? that something had happened. That we gave up everything only for it to all be for nothing. I laid my hand out and it wasn?t good enough?? The words caught in her throat, cracking with the shudder of a breath. Her teeth worked against her bottom lip, her countenance set harder than steel. How did she have the right to be happy, to bask in Nick?s return, when her best friend was a world away, lost to her grief. Averia swallowed and set her eyes on his. ?Maybe there?s another way. I can find it.?

?I?m sure there?s another way. I?m just not so sure that Addie will want to come.? Nick wasn?t ignoring what she?d said. Her words had been an echo of his own thoughts. ?That doesn?t mean I don?t want you to try. By all means try, I?ll be there for that too. Just go into it knowing that Addie?s been adapting to her time and place, there?s as many things to keep her there now as there are here. Things she won?t have here are still there. In some strange way, we?ve lost her, but she hasn?t really lost us.? He hoped he was making sense. He?d been there and seen that Addie managed to be happy, for the most part. There were things that might draw her here, but what would the repercussions be to bringing someone from the past forward?

?I?ll help you find it if I can, a way there that won?t bring an army down on us.? Maybe it had to happen from someplace that wasn?t Rhydin? Yet another good question. Someone probably knew a way, but they likely weren?t telling. That was the real factor, the biggest obstacle to them. He really would do anything for Averia, anything except leave her, or let her go without him. ?Have you got something in mind already??

?But? why wouldn?t she? We?re here. Her friends, her family? it?s us? it?s always been us, Nick?? She looked up at him, her eyes wide. In the moment she looked younger than her eighteen years, just a girl who didn?t understand where her best friend had gone. Averia didn?t make friends easily. It was hard when she and her brother were shuttled back and forth between realms and the little time they did get was spent doing what was expected of her. In Lucis she was untouchable, placed high upon a pedestal to be admired but never handled. She was the future of the kingdom, a queen to be, the chosen of the Astrals to lead her people. Alex may have carried the Lucis name but she the next of the Lucii. In Rhydin she could pretend she was normal but even there she was weird by most standards. Too quiet, too shy, too prone to getting into people?s heads. Born and bred of a well known face in the community but never quite living up to the radiant light her mother cast upon all who came near. Averia was the moon, content to reflect her light under sparing circumstances, and if she were the moon, Addie was the sea that Averia called to her, a constant companion and a contented give and take.

?No? I don?t?? Avy frowned. The tide had never been lower. Though she had hinted at it, she didn?t want to say aloud that sending Nick and Kruger had been her Hail Mary of sorts and all it had done was get them both killed. Only by the grace of, well, her brother, did she get Nikolai back. How much more could she give? She licked her lips and took a deep breath, her lungs still aching from the panic of moments before. ?But I?ll find a way. Somehow.?

?I don?t know? Addie?s the same, but not the same. She?s been through more than even I know. She?s probably torn in two directions at once. Hard to say which side will pull her to it.? It was the best explanation Nick could give. Avy?s momentary lapse into an earlier version of herself had him wanting to remind her of who she was now, to erase the disappointments and anxieties that seemed to have captured her. He entwined his fingers with hers, and slid both hands behind her back. He wanted nothing to come between them as he held her close until the determination returned to her.

?You?ll figure it out, I believe that you above anyone else are the only one capable of it.? What would it take though? How much of Averia would it require. He wouldn?t try to stop her. If anything Nick wanted her to succeed, but she might need him to distract her from the quest from time to time. He?d use every tool he was given in order to accomplish that. His world had grown smaller since he?d been gone, the girl in his arms had become its center. ?I?ll be there with you when you do.?
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Nick Allen
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 09, 2016 9:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The walk back to Underwood Avenue was far more solemn than their departure hours earlier, at times punctuated only by the even steps of their paired stride and rustle of her skirt against her bare legs. As they got closer to the compound-like manor on the city?s northeastern coast, the slower Averia?s steps became, the hand in Nikolai?s tugging him back to match. Going home meant facing the day and for all that her chest ached with the remnants of whatever twinge of a connection she had felt to Addie, she still didn?t want their walk to end. Along Underwood Avenue there were exactly thirteen manors, six on their left and seven on their right, and at the very end of the dead end road was number thirteen. The high stone walls were broken only by an even higher wrought iron gate. Beyond, the manor combined Renaissance revival styles with a late nineteenth century Classical approach. It was beautiful by most standards, even if the rear of the house was far less formal, sitting upon a small hill with terraced gardens and a fountain that cascaded down the hillside. Though it was impossible to see from the front gate, it offered an impressive view of the waterfront behind the house.

For all intents and purposes, it was like a small palace. For Averia, it was like a prison. She didn?t want to take Nick back there but she didn?t want him to go anywhere else. Such a conflict drove her to linger just beyond the short sight of the pair of armed guards that stood post at the gate. They could sneak around to the back, scale the wall and climb the trellis back to her bedroom. But that would imply that they had something to hide. The last thing Avy wanted to do was hide Nick now that he was back. Instead she took a deep breath, peeked up at him, and carefully let his hand go. While she may not have wanted to hide him, she couldn?t stroll through the gate hand in hand with him just yet. Once she caught his eye, she took a deep breath and started for the gate. At her approach both men snapped to attention, their crisp posture matching their fresh pressed uniforms. The Lucian insignia glinted in the early afternoon light as they saluted.

?Hi boys.? She said, exasperated. Almost nineteen years of such behavior didn?t make it feel any less awkward when people saluted the princess in front of her friends. A wave of her hand put them at ease and one tapped out a series of codes to open the gate for them.

?Your Highness. Mister Allen.? He intoned as the gate swung open without so much as a squeak. The latter seemed tinged with hesitation, his gaze sweeping over Nick as if he didn?t quite believe the boy was there. Avy was quick to pipe up when she noticed.

?Thank you, Gallio. How is Calavia? Surely ready to burst, no?? She patted the guard on the arm, drawing his attention away from Nick.

?Any day now. I?ve got my bags packed and everything.? He smiled.

?Then I?ll bid you premature congratulations and hopefully we?ll see the three of you at the Trinity Ball perhaps. Good day, gentlemen.? She returned the smile and quickly hurried through the open gate, gesturing for Nick to catch up. Quickly. Before they got suspicious and put the kibosh on that.

?Enjoy your day, Your Highness. Say hello to your mother for me.? Gallio called. Though she glanced back, she couldn?t quite hide the look of horror when she looked back to the house looming before them. With the gate closing behind them, she found her feet rooted to the spot.

?You don?t think she?s back yet, do you?? A soft whisper meant only for Nick?s ears. She wanted to reach for his hand for reassurance but caught herself, instead tucking her hands into her jacket pockets.

At first, Nick hadn?t seen the slowing of their pace as anything more than the desire to enjoy the new closeness they?d found. That was before they?d gotten close to her home. He?d begun to feel it then too, the knowing that they couldn?t be quite so open, or not open at all in actuality. Maybe it was a mistake to try to live there and hide what was really going on. He didn?t want to go anywhere else though, certainly not back where they?d just come from. Not yet anyway. No, Alex and Averia were his closest friends. It made sense that he would choose there over anyplace else. He stayed quiet as she spoke with the guard, he?d been there enough times to be recognized, even if it had been months since his last visit. He did pick up his pace through the gate, letting it seem as if he were only trying to get through before it started its swing closed.

Instinct had taken over, when it appeared she was going to reach for his hand, his was waiting. It was then jammed into her pocket, Nick did his best to cover by switching arms with the bag he carried. He?d heard the guard, and how he spoke. It wasn?t a when you see her kind of request, but a you will because she?s here. He looked over at her whisper, and gave a single nod. He at least was sure it was so, because he was only ever going to be allowed a few hours of bliss in any universe it seemed.

?It?ll be okay, I mean, she?s probably been doing too much and is exhausted. She may even be in bed sleeping now.? His whisper was returned to her, though as he continued it clearly lacked any real conviction that this would be the case. ?Besides, we didn?t do anything wrong.? He believed that, because walking up the drive and talking to Avy it was easy to believe. Staring down her mother on the other hand, Nick often felt the conviction of every sin he?d ever committed real or imagined. He tugged the bag upward and around behind him, carrying it over his shoulder for the final leg of their journey. He didn?t know exactly how to tell Averia, but part of him was looking forward to seeing her mother.

?Right, right.? She nodded and took a deep breath. Even if she couldn?t quite convince herself of what he had tried to reassure her, she still felt a little better that he was at her side while she faced it. It seemed as though the trek to the manor took ages, stretching on and on and on in anticipation of a conversation she didn?t want to have. What if her mother knew? What if Alex had told? What if, what if, what if. The list went on and on. Eventually though they reached the front door without incident. It seemed there was no more activity within than there had been prior to their departure. Or so Averia thought. No sooner had she opened the door did she find herself staring into the less than amused face of her mother.

?Mum, you?re home!? It was all she could do to look genuinely surprised, wiping the dread off of her face so that she could look excited despite the fact that Claire was looking past Averia to the boy behind her. ?What?d you find??

?Mmh? nobody told me Niko was back.? Deftly avoiding Averia?s questions, she looked between the pair before settling her gaze on Nick. Up close, Avy thought her mother looked tired, her eyes red as if she had been crying or hadn?t slept. It worried her but she said nothing about it. Instead after a moment Claire stepped aside to let them in. ?When did that happen??

?Um, uh? last night.? Averia mumbled, feeling much smaller than her larger than life mother. A too-observant look again pinged between them.

?No wonder Alex doesn?t feel well this morning. Avy, would you go check on him?? There was something in her tone that said it wasn?t a question. Avy picked it up immediately and scooted toward the manor?s stairs, pausing just long enough to offer Nick an apologetic look for leaving him.

Nick knew he hadn?t convinced her. He couldn?t really convince himself of it so how could he possibly manage it with someone else? He wasn?t shocked that Claire was on the other side of the door. The way things had gone lately it was a given that was where she?d be. He did look down though, not because of anything he felt guilty over. Nick had felt on odd pull to his mouth, a smile that he did his best to hide from view. It hadn?t been that long since he?d seen her last, not like Alex or Averia. She?d lost her seat as overlord, but left him the option to train at the gym. In his head he was having a problem distinguishing that Claire from the one whose gaze was piercing the pair of them now. The stifled grin? He?d come by that honestly enough, a remnant of the elder Allen if unlike him he hid his away.

The entire conversation was moving too quickly after the leisurely stroll back from the forge. Reality was crashing in again, and he?d forgotten to pack a raincoat. Nick?s gaze lingered on Averia for a moment as she was sent away. He wanted to wink, to give her some sign that he wasn?t going anywhere, not without her at least. The bag in his hand was unexplainably heavy now. He set it down at his feet, giving himself a moment to breath before lifting his gaze to Claire and doing his best to keep himself from grinning like a fool again.

?I? It?s good to see you again, C? O.. Aunt Claire!? Great now he was stuttering, time was too confusing, especially when those involved looked exactly the same as they had nearly two decades ago. ?I was hoping I could spend a few days until?? Nick gave a wordless little shrug, having lost the ability to tell her the why of his request. A breath and a swallow had him ready to try again. ?I mean, Avy offered, and she probably should have asked first, but you weren?t here to ask and I could really use someplace to think.? It was all true, but it was also in part an attempt to divert her from any questions delving into what had actually happened.

?Breathe, Nikolai, I?m not going to yell at you.? Yet. She turned away from the stairs in favor of the formal living room just off of the entryway. On the way in, once she was certain Nick was going to follow, she dragged a finger along the room?s door jam, a cantrip ensuring that even if Averia came back downstairs she wouldn?t be able to eavesdrop. ?I am, however, going to make you sit down and talk to me.?

Once in the living room, she stayed standing but gestured toward a seat for the younger man. Rather than drop her hands, she crossed her arms, levelling a weighty gaze upon him, studying the nuance of his posture and nervousness. ?You shouldn?t be here. But you likely already knew that, huh??

Nick followed after her, leaving the bag behind though he couldn?t really say why. ?You mean, I need to go someplace else?? He, didn?t think that was what she meant by any means. In fact the moment she?d said the words his thoughts flew back to where he was supposed to be. Despite all that going on in his head, he managed to sit without incident. ?It?s just weird, the last time I saw you, you?d have prefered me to call you Claire. Which I had a problem doing anyway.? When in doubt, ramble. Maybe if enough oddball words made it out of his mouth then he wouldn?t feel a need to just crumble under that look of hers.

?I won?t say the way back wasn?t precarious, or hard. It was, but I am here.? He just couldn?t help himself, and it was likely she already knew that about him. He worked to keep from saying anything more, but that just ended up pulling his I?m adorable grin out. Might as well be holding a sign that said, I have things I?m not telling you.

?That isn?t what I mean.? She answered. He knew just what she meant and in the moment he was given the sort of I know what you did look that parents were notorious for. The rambling though she listened to. In her experience it was often when he let out the most without realizing it. ?Time?s a tricky thing but I would have thought that Averia would have explained such a thing before you left?? A small frown caught her lips, her other thoughts set aside momentarily. ?How are you doing??

?I?m fine, as long as I don?t stand still too long, or find myself alone.? The last part Nick hadn?t been since he?d returned, unless you counted the shower. He didn?t really, because there was the added distraction of it being Avy?s shower instead of Alex?s. ?You don?t look great, but I?m sure you?re more than aware of that too.? A quickly hidden word that could mean several things. It may have worked well too if he hadn?t felt the need to check his shoe laces to see if they were tied.

?You know me pretty well, I do too, and I?m liable to say a lot of things that you may want to know, or might prefer not knowing. I shouldn?t be here, but I am. What that does to things, I don?t know. I do know that at least I?m not stepping on anymore butterflies.? He chewed at his bottom lip for a while before finding a way to relax a bit. ?So I could ask what you do know, and fill things in, or you can do the I know what you did so just admit it thing, knowing that I will eventually.?
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Averia Caelum
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 09, 2016 9:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

?Mmh,? she made a sound in her throat to acknowledge his answer. It was a feeling she knew well even if she seldom spoke of it. Though Kruger?s death had been a blow, she had had several months to come to terms and tuck it away, perfectly compartmentalized to those looking in, but after losing Serah years prior, she knew the sting of grief. It had a nasty habit of sneaking up when she least expected it. He wasn?t wrong either, she knew she looked like she had been through Hell and back and truthfully she had, but anything she said to him would assuredly get back to the twins and that was the last thing she wanted at the moment.

?Do you remember when you kids were little and you?d play that the floor was lava so you had to hop all over the furniture instead? The entire floor is butterflies, same for the walls, the ceiling, and the furniture. Every step you take can change everything and it?s certainly no game.? Claire sighed, unfolding her arms to tuck her thumbs into her pockets. ?Those are both options, yes. I know some things but there are blanks, sure. I know that if I stare at you long enough you?ll start rambling. But as intent as I am to hear it, I?ve been up for forty-eight hours and would like to see my pillow sooner rather than later. So let?s start with this, did you accomplish what you set out to do??

Nick?s eyes traveled around the room, he looked at it differently now remembering the leaps from couch to plush chair. She was right about that too, he couldn?t deny it. Who knew what thing he might do that would start time careening to the left or right once more? At least they?re our butterflies. He looked at her, she did look tired. At least he?d managed a few hours just after dawn. ?I think this way works pretty well.? Nick considered her question, not so much looking for a way to leave things out as trying to figure out what had been the original goal.

?No, I managed to do one part of the original goal. I made sure that Addie was okay. The check on her part, but?? Parts of this were going to be hard for Nick to admit. He was talking now, for whatever that was worth, he wasn?t one to stop. He leaned forward, elbows finding knees and looked at Averia?s mother. ?I didn?t leave her safer, and I couldn?t bring her back with me. I?m pretty sure I made a mess, or maybe a lot of little messes that amount to the same thing.? Nick?s gaze dropped to his hands, one of those rising to push through his hair. When it returned to her, he was wearing what should be a familiar look at me grin. ?But I accomplished a few things too. No question about that. I just hope I got the last one right. The one just as Addie sssaid goodbye to me.?

As he looked about, her gaze remained steadfast upon him with the ever present weight of what could only be judgment. It held notes of concern and fatigue in equal parts, spread thin over a framework of nearly twenty years of knowing the young man before her. To her he was still just a kid, as much her responsibility as the twins upstairs. He answered and she rocked onto her toes then settled back on her heels. ?Any time we play with time, we run the risk of making messes. More often than not, that?s exactly what happens and it is why I told Averia and Alexander for so long that we couldn?t go after Adelaide. Already the times deviate enough, it was,--and still is,-- quite possible that the time Addie is in will no longer align with this one and we will never see her again.?

Because, you know, the kids didn?t already feel bad enough about what had happened. Claire?s cheeks puffed then deflated as she exhaled slowly, steadying her thoughts and her hands to cool her head and her words. ?She was sent for a reason? she would be dead by now if she hadn?t been. The Darkwing boy too. At this point? I?m not even sure she would want to come back.? It spoke volumes about what she didn?t want to say and in the moment time seemed to catch up to her, weighing her shoulders down and darkening the circles around her eyes. ?What was the last one??

Nick?s foot pulled back towards the seat, and his heel began to tap. That question was less simple to answer for him. He pressed his hand against the arm of the chair and pushed himself up quickly, suddenly feeling the need to look at things in the room that he?d seen countless times before. He ran his fingers along the mantle over the fireplace, letting the pads follow the carved lines. ?She had something that attached itself to her. It had been slowly taking her into darker places. The last thing I tried to do was free her of it. I don?t know if it worked or not. I wouldn?t know how to tell honestly, not from here at least.? He wasn?t looking at her as he spoke, knowing that he would give away the how just in his expression. ?That was two days ago or so, the last time I saw her. At the very least she didn?t try to do the thing that had caused it in the first place. So maybe that?s something.?

Nick let his hand fall away from the mantle, and shoved it into his pocket. It wasn?t quite enough to hide the clench of his hand. Jeans were over rated, but they did have a few advantages that his looser style lacked. ?I don?t like lying, Aunt Claire, or talking in half truths. I just think that some things have less power if they?re known. Somewhere there?s a you that already knows everything, or at least the important parts.? He turned then, looking for her, his smile had long since disappeared and the lesser known serious expression was on his face. ?I don?t know if that makes sense to you. I had to go a long way, in order to get here. When I began, this is the last place I expected to be.?

?Attached to her. Hmm.? Behind her lips her tongue ran over her teeth thoughtfully. He got up to pace and still she remained in the same spot, her gaze following him and his fidgeting. It was just as she figured, if she gave him enough time his mouth would get to going and she wouldn?t need to ask many questions. It was precisely why she had sent Averia away. Divide and conquer.

?It makes sense. It does. That I don?t know it in its entirety tells me quite a bit as well. We, each of us, exists in an infinite number of moments. Hop a line or two and you could be an entirely different person. It?s why it becomes such a precarious thing to mess with it all?? Her lips pursed to prevent a frown. ?When your letters came I thought that perhaps you?d make it back. And then I saw the look on Averia?s face when she read the first and I feared the worst. But you?re here. We?ll deal with whatever may come. Now, Niko, what else do I need to know??

?That you were right I suppose, to fear. Given the same options, I can?t see myself making any other choices. Of course, that?s really just this me isn?t it? I?m more concerned with how I am here. That?s the thing to watch for really, that the balance has remained. Even if that makes this life a borrowed one. I?ll make the most of it.? If this were a different time, a different Claire he?d have asked for something strong. ?I haven?t asked much, Avy said that my father is with Annabeth, so thank you for that. I was hoping to go the next time you go. There?s a lot of things I still need to say, even if he can?t hear me.?

He might be trying to change the subject before names were extracted along with the deeds that had been done. It might even work, if she were tired enough. ?I?ve had time, so it?s not quite so fresh, until I go someplace that he?s supposed to be. I stayed away from him there, for one reason and then another. At first, I just couldn?t look at him, then I didn?t have any idea what I would say. Hey? you don?t know me but? In the end, I kind of knew he?d try to stop me in the most ridiculous way possible. I couldn?t let that happen either, cuz I needed him growing up. I guess, I just went with the next best thing. Addie, and a few others.? Nick didn?t say her name, and now he was starting to understand a little more about that too. He did look at her and chew on his lip once more. ?That?s pretty heavy? Someone needs to tell a joke.? Where was Alex when he needed him to say something completely inappropriate?

?I wouldn?t expect you to. Nor your father. I could have stopped you both if I thought it would be better that way.? She said frankly, her cheek caught between her teeth as the ground back and forth. Hesitant as she was to ask her next question, it had to be done. Claire sighed. ?Which one did it? Did Averia bring you home??

There was a balance to look after and debts that were created when such things were done. If one of the twins had been the one to bring him back, Claire had to take steps to counteract the effects, lest her children be forced to pay for things they might not understand. Still she tried not to worry Nikolai, the boy had enough on his plate. That he already knew about his father?s ultimate fate and even her visits to the smith made her curious but there was time later to figure it out. ?He may not have known you yet but a parent always knows. Always. But to lose him twice? I suppose I cannot say that I blame you there. You?ve a lot of your father in you like that.? Freeing a hand from her pocket she pushed it through her hair, working through tangles and who knows what else. ?You?ll have to forgive my lacking humor? it?s been a long couple of days.?

?Wouldn?t that just put Avy and Alex in danger if you interfered? Not what I would want, or my father. He?d have just waited til your back was turned and do something anyway.? There was another question in him about the whole thing, or at least the end of it. ?The thing I would want to know is? how he knew. I didn?t let anyone know that it was happening until the final letter, and that should have come too late to stop me. I never said where I was going.? He?d managed to answer her question, without giving up names. How many he?s could Nick possibly be referring to?

?I don?t expect you to laugh, Aunt Claire. It?s not really funny.? There was at least one question she hadn?t asked, one he wasn?t sure he was ready to answer. Why he?d chosen that road. Perhaps she just chalked it up to him being an Allen and that was reason enough? Reality, he was like his father, but his motivations were different. ?Is there more that you have to ask?? He peered at the door they?d come through, wanting to be through it. Some part of him though was always going to wait for the next question.

?Keeping you from going to begin with wouldn?t have impacted them.? Claire?s eyes narrowed, the cogs turning. Just what did he know about her choices and how they could hurt the twins. But her curiosity gave way to a flicker of devastation. Alexander. Her precious wild child, of course he would be the one to do it. Avy was much too careful. ?Damnit.? She hissed through her teeth, her gaze ticking toward the ceiling. ?Damnit, damnit, damnit.?

Deep breath. In, out. The whys of things were trivial, what mattered was that it was done. In. Out. ?I?m sure I?ll have more questions once my brain is working properly.? And she?s had a chance to tan Alex?s hide. She didn?t say that though. ?But for now you?re free to go? and Niko? If you?d like to stay here while you re-acclimate, you?ve always got a place. Okay??

?Some things about you don?t change no matter what time or place. Not just your face I mean. Not the questions either. Thank you, even if I?m not really sure what I did to deserve it.? Much as he wanted to get back to his friends, there was likely to be a little hell to pay for giving up information again. ?I?m thinking that Alex is going to be a little upset next time he sees me. Still, tell him I?ll be out front uhm? on the stairs.? That was probably code for doing dangerous things on them.

?I have one regret, I never did find out if I made her proud.? That was about all the sentiment he could take for a while. Nick hurried toward the door, glad that Claire hadn?t asked the hardest question of all. That would probably come later, after she?d had the chance to make her brain work properly. He didn?t want to hide it from her, but there?d been enough revelations for one talk. Not surprisingly, none of those had come from her.
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