And Hardships Unnumbered

She didn’t know how long she’d been staring at the screen.

Her eyes followed the black lines her hand had drawn some time before, trying to make sense of the jumble. Every iteration she tried moving from her mind to the computer never seemed to come out right.

How many schematics had she gone through since starting this process? She couldn’t remember. All she knew at this point was it had become far too cumbersome to try and draw them on paper, having nearly filled a notebook with potential sketches. The computer was better, even if she could already feel her eyes twitching as she tried yet again to arrange the circuitry in a way that would work.

To some the illustrated mess might have looked like some sort of twisted puzzle, or even a maze. In some ways it was.

She’d seen a movie once, when she’d been younger, where a girl had to traverse a labyrinth to get to the center and save her baby brother. Right now she felt a certain kinship with that story, though she was designing her own labyrinth and it was her father trapped at the center she was trying to save.

The pathways, circuits, and wires of her father’s tech were familiar. She’d spent years learning them. But having to take the old and meld it safely with the new had been proving far harder than she’d imagined. She was building the maze up around herself and kept getting stuck along the way.

Once again she hit a dead end, cursed, and used the stylus to erase the work on the screen. Her floor might as well have been covered in crumpled up paper for all the progress she was making. She laid the stylus down with a little click, pressing her fingers against her eyes and trying to rub some life back into them. They were dry and tinged with red, aching slightly from nights with little sleep and too long staring at complicated pathways and bridges without blinking.

By this point, even stepping away from the computer didn’t help. She’d been seeing circuits in her sleep for the past several days.

A shaft of light shot across her desk, momentarily obscuring the screen, as the office door opened and Daniel entered. Had anyone else tried to come in right now she would probably have chased them away with a snarl. But not Daniel. She would have been a hermit by now if not for him. She’d been turning down invitations and other social engagements from friends so she could get more work done. Her exercise routine had suffered, and so had the time she’d been able to spend with Henderson. She felt guilty when she heard him whimpering by the door, trying to quietly beg for a walk, but she couldn’t leave the work undone.

She’d seen the downturn of her boyfriend’s lips when she crawled out of bed every morning, grabbed whatever food was at hand, and went right back into her office, sometimes without bothering to shower. So far he hadn’t said anything. He was worried, she could tell, but he knew how important this was to her.

So he’d started doing small things to make her take breaks, like threatening to unplug her computer if she didn’t come to bed or warning her that he’d start singing if she didn’t come out on a short walk with him. She knew him well enough to know he’d follow up on those threats and, despite a few glowers at the beginning, she’d given in. It was a somewhat convenient way to assuage her guilt over taking so long and it had been enough to keep her semi-human.

This time he came bearing something she could already tell smelled wonderful. Her stomach growled a lecture at her. Glancing over at the clock she winced when she realized how late it was. Somehow she’d managed to miss lunch, and it was nearing dinnertime now. She thought she’d eaten something that morning. Coffee for sure, at the very least.

Her desk was a mess, covered with papers and printed schematics with red pen marks all over them. Half dissembled implants were strewn among the mess along with a smattering of her tools.

Daniel made no comment about the state of the place, just gently shifting one of the piles aside to make room. The tray he’d brought bore a bowl of hearty stew, some fresh crusty bread, and a big glass of water in one corner where she could easily reach it. He didn’t seem like he was going to poke her to come eat with him tonight, and she was somewhat grateful for that.

She was hungry, but instead of going for the food she turned and slipped her arms around Daniel’s middle before he could leave, drawing him in and pressing her head against his stomach. He was warm, and smelled faintly of cinnamon, and at the moment she felt like she needed the contact more than she needed to fill her stomach.

“Long day?” He asked without hesitation, slipping an arm around her shoulders while his other hand brushed gently over her dark hair.

“At this rate I’m going to need a case of these damn implants to get something that works,” she said, her voice sounding bitter to her own ears.

“You’re not going to need that many, babe. You’ve got this. There’s probably no one else who could make this work.” He spoke with such an assured certainty. She wished she could match his faith in her.

“I’ve been banging my head against these schematics for days now, though. I feel like I’m so close but each time something is off and it just slips out of my grasp. Like I keep thinking I’ve finally found right the path but each time I hit a dead end and realize I’ve taken a wrong turn.”

“Wrong turn? Like in a maze?”

“Yes, it’s frustrating. Only it feels like I’m the one making the maze and I’m still getting lost in it. I know daddy is willing to be patient but I feel like I have a deadline.”

She let out a heavy sigh, and for a few moments Daniel just held her in silence. His fingers brushing through her hair helped soothe her frazzled nerves a bit, but not quite enough to allow her to relax.

“Sounds a bit like that movie. The one with the girl in the maze, and all the puppets, and the dancing baby.”

“You know that movie?” She asked, shifting a bit so she could look up at him, surprise on her face.

“I mean, I do have two sisters who were very fond of the leading man. Plus it’s a pretty cool movie. Though I admit I was more amused by the farting swamp at that age.”

His words drew a hearty laugh from her, momentarily alleviating the funk that had settled over her in the past few days. It felt good to laugh and she squeezed Daniel’s middle in a silent gesture of thanks.

He smiled down at her, then arched a brow in thought.

“If you’re trying to find your way through a maze, why not leave yourself some breadcrumbs?”

“Breadcrumbs?” She arched a brow.

“Yes, sort of like way-markers. Isn’t that what the girl in the movie did? She used lipstick marks on the floor so she knew were she’d been. You know, if you get a certain part of the way through and realize you’re lost, you wouldn’t have to go all the way back to the start.”

Robin’s brows furrowed. “I mean, I can’t just-”

But why couldn’t she? There had been parts of her schematics that had worked, at least up until a point. Why did she have to scrap everything each time and start all over? Had she worked herself up that much she’d been running headlong into the same wall over and over?

“Y-you might have something there. I kept getting so frustrated each time my designs weren’t working out like I wanted that I just scrapped them. I swear I had the delete key almost on autopilot. There were even aspects I kept returning to over and over in each iteration, so there must be merit in them.” She could even picture them now, shining bright like beacons. She might not be able to see over the walls, but they could at least let her know she was going in the right direction.

“There is always merit in your designs, babe. Sometimes it just takes a little while for you to realize when you’re in the thick of it.” He smiled down at her and she felt a warmth spread through her, drawing a soft smile of her own to her lips.

“Sometimes I do get caught up in things. Honestly, Daniel, what would I do without you?”

“Probably better,” he said, the hint of a grin quirking his lips as he teased.

For all of his desire to prove himself to everyone out there, he always surprised her with how humble he could be with her.

“Oh don’t you even start that with me, Daniel Barrett. Are you questioning my choice in men?” She tried to give him a sharp look, but it was quickly subsumed by laughter and this time she thought the lighter feeling would stick around.

“Thanks, babe,” she said, after her laughter had subsided, wanting him to know just how grateful she was for his help. He had the patience of a saint sometimes.

“Anytime.” Daniel leaned down and kissed the top of her head.

She reached up and took gentle hold of his collar, pulling him down so she could press a kiss to his lips, letting it linger a few moments before she let him go.

Daniel looked far happier than he had when he’d come in and, letting his fingers brush across her cheek, excused himself so she could get back to work.

She finally took up the food he’d left, feeling more energized than she had in days.

Thinking back she remembered the girl in that movie hadn’t made it to the center of that labyrinth on her own. She’d had companions that had helped support her along the way, that had remained steadfast even when everything seemed lost.

She felt grateful each day to have someone who cared for her so much, and who was going to help her save her father. It was only a matter of time until she got to the center and her father would be on his feet again. That would make it all worth it, in the end.


Love and Light



Crescent’s ears perked up, starting slightly when his name broke through the reverie he’d been lost in. He’d been staring out the great windows in Seibel Abolan’s quarters, momentarily lost in the field of stars that lay in the void just beyond.

“I’m sorry,” he said, turning toward his host with a sheepish face. He felt his cheeks heat, though thankfully the color was obscured by his fur. “Sometimes I lose myself a bit, and I must say you have a fabulous view.”

Seibel handed him the cup of tea he’d been preparing, giving him a smile that told him without words that all was well. It was reassuring. When he thought about it, he realized it said something that he was comfortable enough with this man for him to have drifted off in the first place.

He took the cup with a soft thanks and watched as the grey-skinned man poured one for himself. He could see the appeal in a man like this; he was certainly attractive, despite what some would have called detractions in his bionics and the broken horn. Each movement Seibel made was smooth and deliberate, and he found it somewhat mesmerizing to watch.

He’d invited Seibel with them to the market, but this was the first time he’d really gotten to observe him without distraction, having followed Domerin’s suggestion to get to know him better. He’d been rather surprised when the man had invited him over for tea.

“I understand” Seibel said, his calm smile not faltering. “It doesn’t matter how old I get, the stars always fill me with wonder. My people say they’re the lanterns of the Divines, hung when the universe was new to light our way to the heavens.”

“That’s a beautiful sentiment,” Crescent said, a smile touching his lips. It was rather poetic, another surprise from this man. “Do you believe it?”

Seibel seemed so taciturn at times; he could picture him being the religious type. He lifted the steaming cup to take in the scent, appreciating that the gentle notes didn’t overwhelm his sense of smell.

“I did, when I was young, but not so much anymore.” The man’s voice was soft, tinged with a sadness Crescent hadn’t expected.

“Why not?”

A somewhat sad smile came to the man’s lips, and for a moment he was reminded of Domerin in his more melancholy moments.

“It’s a bit different when you’re flying past one of those lanterns in a spaceship, though it’s surprisingly still easy to believe they were made by the Divines. But, I turned from the Word because my people have used it as an excuse far too often to justify war. Our high priests send men and women out into horror and death from the safety of their temples, never knowing it themselves.”

“That’s awful!” Crescent shook his head, disbelief on his face. Domerin had always made sure he was in the trenches with his people; it was a core of who he was. What sort of cowards hid in a temple while their people died?

“It is. We’ve been involved in this conflict almost since the beginning. Countless lives have been lost chasing divine right. I used to buy into all that bullshit, do you believe that?”

The question caught him off guard, but the slight upward play at the corners of Seibel’s lips put him at ease.

“It’s easy to believe what everyone else around you does.”

“That it is. I signed up to fight as soon as I was old enough, and was off planet mired in mud before a year was out. I was good at it too, much like Domerin is. But war isn’t glorious and I saw no divinity in it. I fought for a very long time before it eventually chewed me up and spit me out like it does with everyone it touches, and I was left missing half my face. That’s how I met Domerin.”

Crescent stared at him a few long moments. Seibel was blunt, that was for sure, but he could appreciate that. “I’m sorry you had to go through all that. I’ve been quickly learning what war does to people too. Even when they’re not directly in it’s path, like Domerin. It’s hard to imagine fighting for so long, like you and he have. For my people life is hard, fast, and short. We had territory scuffles but I couldn’t even conceive of a war like this. It wasn’t until I met Domerin that I even knew anyone could live as long as his people do. Sometimes I forget he’s got centuries behind him and he’s seen things I can barely contemplate. I’ve always thought I must have looked like a baby to him when we first met.”

He looked down a moment, but when he met Seibel’s gaze again the man had that same calm smile on his lips.

“Many species like ours look down on shorter-lived races, and treat them like children, but Domerin would never have seen you that way. When you live as long as we do it’s easy to forget what it’s like to be young. The years to begin to blur together and you struggle to find meaning. But that is not how Domerin sees the world. He cannot, after what he’s been through, though I tend to think he would still be searching even if he’d never had his accident.”

Crescent couldn’t help but offer the other man a smile. At first glance Seibel looked like such a tight laced person, but he really wasn’t. He could see why he and Domerin got on so well.

“I feel the same way, actually. I used to worry a lot about what people thought of me. I didn’t even know what a toaster was when I was taken from my planet, let alone how to get along in the wider galaxy. But Domerin’s confidence in me helped me get past that; he was far more patient with me than I think most would have been. I owe a lot to him, and I’ll never forget that.”

Seibel’s smile edged up more toward a grin.

“From what he tells me, he owes a lot to you too. The Kattar must be more stubborn than all the other species in the universe to break through to that man.”

Unlike at dinner, Seibel’s comments and humor were more understated today, but there was a glint in his eye that suggested joking and Crescent took it for what it was.

“We are known for being recklessly determined sometimes,” he said, giving a hearty laugh over the rim of his cup. He hesitated a moment, then went on, his furry brows knitting slightly. “You… don’t mind what I am?”

Seibel gave him a quizzical look. “Whyever should I? I don’t care that you’re new to the wider galaxy, or that you have fur. You’re clearly a man of intelligence and Domerin speaks highly of you. I need no further assurances. Besides, I consider that you came to see me in your natural form to be a compliment. I imagine you keep that secret very close, outside of the Dragons, and it’s clear you trust Domerin’s word about me. It tells me a lot about you, that you don’t feel the need to hide yourself in front of me.”

The man’s words brought another small bout of heat to his cheeks, but he smiled in the wake of it.

“I do keep my secret close to the chest, but I know Domerin would never say I could change in front of you if he didn’t trust you. He’s been more supportive of what I am, and of my people, than I could ever have asked.”

“I hope you know I also extend the same support. If your people ever need a haven they are more than welcome here. I would be happy to host them. There are jobs aplenty and this is as safe a place as any to become acclimated to living among others.”

A great sense of warmth grew in Crescent’s chest as the man said that and for a moment he didn’t know what to say. He knew Domerin and Seibel shared many of the same values, but such an offer was something he’d never expected. The man had gained his respect, that was for sure.

“T-thank you so much!” He managed around a lump of emotion in his throat. “I’m frankly overwhelmed. Having seen your station I fully believe it would be a good place for the Kattar to learn. I’ll have to mention it to Domerin.”

“Please do. I think he’ll be open to the idea.”

“I think he will be too.” Crescent went a bit quiet then, still a bit overwhelmed. He took a long sip from his cup and used it to gather himself, looking over at Seibel as the man sipped from his own.

“You haven’t hidden yourself from me either, you know, and I appreciate that.” He went on when Seibel gave him a quizzical look.

“During the tour, during dinner, and at the market, I could tell you were being yourself. You weren’t trying to put on some show for me, or try to impress me, and most importantly you didn’t try to test me, to see if I was worthy of Domerin. You trusted him about me, like I trust him about you. I just wanted to thank you for that.”

Seibel seemed to get his meaning, a soft smile touching his lips that warmed his eyes and expression. “You don’t have to thank me. I was lucky, I got to know Domerin before he had up all the walls that he does now, but I know how high and thick they are. All joking about stubbornness aside, I know you must really care for him if you were willing to court him as you did. He deserves to be loved that way, by someone who genuinely cares about his well-being. If he thinks you worthy of his love, then I trust that you are.”

Crescent looked down a moment, taking that as great praise coming from someone like Seibel. He was so very glad Domerin had such a good friend in his life.

“I do. Really care about him, I mean. I know he’s been through a lot of things I can never really understand or fully relate to but I love him no matter what. The things he went through are a part of his life and I would never try to deny part of who he is. But, I have to say, I’m really glad he has someone like you in his life. Someone who understands in a way I can’t. He- told me the two of you got each other through some really rough times, and I’ll be forever grateful for that, as I’m sure he will be too.”

“He was there for me when I needed him too,” Seibel said, looking across the space at him, something slightly hard to read in his gaze. “But, to be honest… I don’t know that I could have ever given him what you can. Even what you and Robin did for him after he lost his bionics. I wish I’d been there, but I don’t know if I could have kept him afloat to see the other side.”

Seibel trailed off, but Crescent got the feeling he had more to say, and so waited patiently until he went on.

“Domerin and I… we both walked through hell and came out the other side. That changes a person. In our case we were both broken in different ways, and I still do not consider myself to be whole. Sometimes something is taken from you, and you never get it back. I was already on the battlefield while Domerin was still young, while he lost a loved one long before I did. We understand each other’s pain in a way that doesn’t need to be spoken with words, but I do not know that Domerin and I can heal each other. Two broken halves can come together and create something, but there are still always going to be leaks. We both understood that too.”

Seibel’s words were spoken so calmly, but they held such weight, threatening to bear down on him. But he’d learned from Domerin that you had to roll with it, even if you couldn’t carry it fully by yourself.

“I never thought I could simply swoop in and fix all of Domerin’s problems,” Crescent said softly. “I wasn’t even trying to fix him. I just wanted to be with him and help make him happy in whatever way I could. If that meant just sitting with him when he was hurting then that was what I’d do. Over time, things started to get better. They aren’t perfect and there are plenty of bad days. There will always be cracks and imperfections, but that’s just part of life. If I can use what I have to help stem the leaks and close those cracks, I will see it done. I happily give Domerin all my love and I consider myself a lucky man that he gives me his in return.”

He worried for a moment he’d said too much, offended his host, but the ghost of a smile touched Seibel’s lips, and it grew after a few moments.

“You know, I can see what Domerin sees in you. You’re like the lanterns that hang in the vast darkness of space. There are followers of the Word who eschew war and those who use the stars as excuses to sate their own agendas. They say the great lanterns were given to us by the Divines to show us the way to devotion, great deeds, and, mostly importantly of all, to love. That was to be the Word we spread. Perhaps you are Domerin’s lantern, here to lead him out of the darkness toward a brighter day. I’d like to believe that, anyway.”

Once again Seibel managed to leave him speechless. He hadn’t been sure what to think when Domerin had first introduced them and when he’d revealed that they’d been lovers. But he could tell Seibel was a good man. He would know it blindfolded and he could understand why Domerin felt such a kinship to him. He thought he understood now why he said Seibel was like another part of him.

His love cared very deeply for this man and he knew now he could never sever what the two of them shared. If Domerin wanted him to help share his joy with Seibel, he would do it. He felt comfortable welcoming him into their relationship, to try and help the ache both men seemed to feel so keenly to go away, even if only for a time.

He didn’t know much about Seibel’s beliefs or if what he said was true, but he could be their lantern, if they needed him to be. Love was something he’d found with Domerin, and he had more than enough to go around.

“So would I, my friend,” he said, giving Seibel a genuine smile. “So would I.”


A sudden shock of pain tore Seibel from the gentle, dark abyss he had been floating in for who knew how long. A low groan sounded from a battered throat, and as his eyes fought to open the world swam in front of his vision, leaving him feeling dizzy. Not that there was much to see, wherever he was.

What had happened? He remembered resting, someone calling for help. Then… Oh god. The men had grabbed him, then there’d been nothing but the wind pouring around his ears and sharp pain with each jolt and bump of their bike. He must have passed out, as he had no idea where he was now.

The edges of his vision were murky, though he realized with some relief that it was only because of the dim lighting in the room, instead of some damage to his precious eyesight. The sharpest edge of the pain had began to dull, though now it radiated through his body, not offering much respite.

He focused on his breathing, trying to ease it from quick and shallow to something slower. As the moments passed he was keenly aware of the sweat soaking his skin, the uncomfortable heat crawling through his body, and what felt like something else sticky under his shirt.

He didn’t have much time to contemplate it, however, as a figure leaned into view, half blocking out what little light he could see. Blinking up at it did little to help.


“Not much of a doctor, are you, running out of your safe place at the first sign of someone in trouble? Pretty stupid, if you ask me.”

The voice was familiar, but didn’t immediately register. He said nothing, trying to order his mind.

The flat of a hand connected sharply with the side of his face, momentarily chasing the thoughts from his head, leaving a painful sting in its wake.

“What are you, deaf? I asked you a question.” The figure leaned down over him, taking a hold of the front of his shirt and giving him a sharp shake. The pain it caused his still healing body drew another soft groan from his lips.

“The hell kind of people does Lorcasf surround himself with? Are you made of glass? I swear to-”

“He doesn’t look all that good, boss.” A second voice, far more timid, rose up. Its owner came into sight, leaning down over him. These hands were far gentler as they undid the top button of his shirt and drew the fabric aside, revealing the bandages that lay underneath. “I think he might be hurt.”

“The hell?” The first figure brushed the second aside and half-ripped his shirt open. In the light he could see the face twist and contort. Hands took hold of him, roughly pulling his shirt off his shoulders as he was suddenly turned onto his side.

He cried out as his wounds roared to life anew, his vision swimming. It hurt to be in this position, but they held him firmly still, twisting his body as someone began poking and prodding across his back.

“Look at this, Samon, he’s covered all over in lashes.” Fingers pushed against his bandages, inflaming one of the lash marks Domerin had given him. He bit back a cry.

“Seems an odd state for a doctor to be in, boss.” A calloused touch ran almost lightly over exposed skin, across one of the faded scars on his chest. This wasn’t Domerin’s careful touch, but he hadn’t the strength to pull away from it.

The two of them talked over him, as if he weren’t there, his pain growing by the moment. But, instead of running from it, he pulled his mind in, focused on it. He’d learned this precious lesson under Domerin’s care; how to use pain, to let it help him. He wrapped himself in it like a blanket, honing in on every moment, every detail he could catch.

He focused on their voices, and he finally recognized the first one, and just who he was dealing with. Zemo. The very man Domerin had been hunting. A sinking feeling settled into the pit of his stomach. All Domerin’s concerns had come to naught, as he’d been foolish enough to leave the caravan, practically throwing himself into danger.

“-eird, boss, he’s gone all quiet. Is he okay?” The second voice sounded somewhat concerned as he came back to the moment. The pair turned him, laying him down finally. The floor here was hard, but cold, and that helped numb his now half-exposed back somewhat.

Zemo leaned over him, eyes fixed on him. “He’s still breathing. But what do you know? It looks like good old Domerin Lorcasf likes to beat his people. I knew there had to be something wrong with that bastard. Looks like he’s been beating this one for a good long while, now hasn’t he?”

The man clearly expected an answer but he remained silent. He saw no reason to give this mad jackal anything more than he’d already gotten.

Zemo frowned, and laid the palm of one hand atop his shoulder. Then he pressed down hard, grinding the heel of his hand into his skin. Fire blossomed inside him and he cried out before he could stop himself, but even that didn’t make the man stop. He kept the pressure on for several more seconds before pulling back.

“I expect you to answer me when I ask you a question, old man.”

His body trembled, but not out of fear. This was too much, and he knew it. Domerin had been right that he couldn’t handle more than resting. But despite that he turned his eyes to Zemo and just narrowed them. This man was not Ilinir, not Domerin, was no agent of the faith, and had no authority over him. He was dirt under his heels as far as he was concerned.

Zemo let out a growl of frustration and thumped a fist into the center of his chest, not hard enough to take his breath but enough to aggravate his wounds. And he didn’t stop there. With a look of grim glee the man jabbed fingers into his bandages, took hold of his shoulders and squeezed, slapped his back. The moments stretched into what felt like a small eternity, as the pain threatened to overwhelm him.

Screams eventually tore from his lips, unable to stop them, his vision darkening until he was sure he’d pass out. But he still refused to give the bastard anything more, and would never beg for mercy.

“Boss, wait! Wait!” The other voice called out, sounding half panicked now, but fearful too. “H-he’s old, boss, remember? We need him. Lorcasf won’t give you what you want if you can’t give him back his doctor. Look at him, I think he’s probably learned his lesson.”

That, finally, seemed to calm down his captor enough, though Zemo was huffing and puffing, clearly trying to get his rage under control. For a moment he looked as if he wanted to start beating his companion instead, but he finally stilled and his expression became cool. A look of relief passed across the face of the man he’d called Samon.

“At least the old fool knows who he’s dealing with now, don’t you, doctor? You can see just how much Lorcasf appreciates what he’s got if he treats you like this. But, you know, you don’t have to go back to him. You don’t have to go back to being his slave, and whatever it is he does to you. I can take care of you too.”

Seibel was awash in agony, not even having the strength to narrow his eyes. He laid still, focusing on his breathing once again, and trying not to fall into whatever dark pit wanted to swallow him up.

Zemo, at least, seemed to realize this and he pulled to his feet with a dismissive huff.

“Just something to think about, old man. Lorcasf has brainwashed you, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You have other options.”

The two men stepped away, and he heard the thud of a door, and the turning of a lock, though in his state there was no chance he would be going anywhere. But the sound of it couldn’t help but remind him of another lock, another chamber, a different pain.

No matter how much it hurt, the pain Domerin bought him was always welcome. He reveled in the sharpness in the moment, and the ache that he carried around with him afterward was like a warm blanket. It was soothing, familiar, comforting.

Not a day ago his god had turned his eyes upon him, and brought him back to his truth path. Now, some godless heathen had despoiled that divine pain, had tried to make a mockery of it. It filled him with anger, and it hurt in a completely different way. The physical pain had started to fade to aches, but it still hurt inside.

What would his god say to this perversion of his penance?

He closed his eyes and Domerin’s face filled his vision. Despite his torment, thinking of him helped to ease the tension in his body somewhat. He thought back over their recent session, how harsh Domerin was and how gentle in turns. His caresses, the bite of his knives, his soft breath against his ear, fingers tight in his hair. It was all one, hard and soft, dark and light, pain and pleasure.

He thought of the man binding his wounds, tending to him so carefully, carrying him to rest. It was everything his faith spoke of to build a person into a better version of themselves. Zemo’s harsh treatment only made that all the more clear to him. How could any man hope to achieve the perfection he had already experienced?

The realization soothed him somewhat and his breathing became easier.

Domerin would come for him. He knew it as much as he knew the sun would rise. He would not allow a member of his caravan to be stolen away like this, not by the very man he’d been hunting.

He sent a silent prayer to Ilinir to watch over and deliver him. He would ask forgiveness, if it came to that, but for the moment he finally allowed oblivion to take him for a time, welcoming its sweet embrace.

Rude Awakening

Crescent had retired to his quarters not long after the two masters had left the gathering. Usually he looked forward to night-time, but this day had left him tired and more than a little confused. Travel was new enough but the obvious tension between Domerin and Master Abolan had been rubbing unpleasently against him all night, and he found he tossed in bed, instead of falling into his usual easy sleep.

Ire for the guild master was not new, but perhaps it had been the naked way their host had called him out that troubled him so. Either way, he couldn’t let himself dwell on it. They were in for a full day tomorrow and he would be in no shape for anything if he didn’t get some sleep.

He didn’t know how long he was out for before he started awake, every danger instinct inside of him flaring to life. His eyes went wide, straining against the gloom of the room for any speck of light. His hand shot down, quick as a snake striking, closing instantly around the blade he’d tucked between the mattress and bed frame.

Someone was here, and for an assassin that meant a quick reaction, or a quick death.

He swung as he caught motion out of the corner of his eye, though his blade met nothing but empty air. His blood was pumping now, breath quick, eyes darting back and forth as he searched for the intruder. It took everything inside of him not to let the feline erupt from below his skin.

He drew in a few breaths, trying to calm himself. It wouldn’t help if he lashed out wildly, and so he stilled, feeling out whoever had intruded. He could almost feel eyes upon him, though he couldn’t yet pinpoint where they were coming from.

He crouched, ready to spring, when there was a soft click.

Light flooded the room, momentary blinding him in the sudden brightness, as the overhead light came on.

He blinked, on the defensive, but no attack came.

When he could finally see again his eyes widened when he realized who was standing across from him, and for a moment he stared, dumbfounded.

“Master Abolan?”

He was confused and shaken, nearly vibrating from the lingering adrenaline. He was very keenly aware that if the master assassin had wanted him dead he wouldn’t have woken up at all. That bothered him, more than he wanted to admit. But if attack wasn’t on his mind why hadn’t he roused him with the traditional signaling touch?

“Crescent, isn’t it?” The man asked, arching a brow, sounding as if he were reading the mail rather than standing in his room in the middle of the night.

He shifted in bed, drawing the covers a bit closer around him. He was the furthest from shy but for once was thankful he hadn’t slept naked. The question didn’t fool him for an instant. This man was well aware of who he was. He willed himself to breathe and returned the knife to it’s place, taking a moment to compose himself before speaking.

“That’s right, master. Is there something I can do for you?”

“Yes, there is. I must speak with you. Now.”

It wasn’t a request, and he didn’t dare argue, not after seeing how unforgiving the man had been that day.

He would move to get up, but the other man held up a hand, and he paused.

“Right where you are is fine.” He would take a seat in a plush chair that rested near the bed, watching him with that single eye of his. It was impossible to tell what he might be thinking, and he sat very still, as if still expecting an attack at any moment.

When it came, it was not in the shape he expected.

“You’re good, young man. I was only in the room a few minutes before you sensed I was there. Fast too.”

But not fast enough. The unspoken words hung in the air between them. He wasn’t sure what to say, but the older man went on.

“But, you were not raised in the guild.”


“You’re much too old to be such a recent graduate.”

That was true, but he got the feeling there was more to it than that. Why would Master Abolan be here otherwise?

“Yes, quite good.” The man went on, as if he were talking to him. “It’s not easy for those raised outside of the guild to make it through the training, let alone to excel. But then again, the former master always did have a very good eye for people. I don’t think he would have made you the offer he did unless he was sure you were up to the challenge.”

Crescent quickly clamped his jaw, and set his face to its most neutral, not letting anything through. He didn’t know what the master was on about, but there was only one person left who knew about that deal, and she wouldn’t have talked.

“Master, I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about. Is it possible you have the wrong room?” He tried his best to sound innocent, confused, hoping not to offend.

But Seibel didn’t seem put off, instead a knowing smile touching his lips.

“I understand your hesitancy, but lying will do you no good here. I know you made a deal with the former master, where he offered to buy your contract if you promised to help Master Lorcasf. I knew you’d taken the deal, but lost track of you after that. I must admit surprise that you made it through your training at all, let alone so quickly.”

Crescent bit his tongue. He didn’t want to speak of this but the the other man had details he shouldn’t, unless perhaps the former master had told him about it. One of the masters had whispered that the old man hated Domerin because he’d been appointed heir instead, and stolen his chance to be the guild leader. But if that were true, why would the old master have told him in the first place?

He supposed it didn’t matter right now. Seibel was looking at him expectantly, and he didn’t want to get to the point where the man started demanding.

“I didn’t ask for any special favors, if that’s what you’re suggesting. I worked and fought just as everyone else did.”

“I’m sure you fought very hard, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t benefit from the desires of the old master either.”

“If I did it was indirectly. With all due respect, I know guild law as well as you, master, and I swore loyalty to it when I joined.”

“As do we all,” the man returned, his tone sharp, holding a slight warning edge. “But that stops no one from also looking after themselves.”

Crescent bristled under the not so subtle accusation. He again willed himself to breathe, and shifted back to a tactic he’d used many a time back in his old life

“I’m afraid I’m a bit lost, Master Abolan. May I ask what it is you’re getting at?”

He infused it with as much innocent curiosity as he could. Unlike the nobles and johns back at the brothel, the man across from him clearly wasn’t taken in by the act, but if he wanted to accuse more he was going to have to come right out and say it. He was gambling, but didn’t think the man wanted to go that far.

A tense few seconds passed in silence, each of them looking at each other. Crescent refused to look away, refused to cow or crack.

Finally, after what seemed like a small eternity, Seibel smiled.

“Nothing at all, young man; merely pointing out facts. It’s good to know you’re so dedicated to the laws. We don’t have enough selfless assassins like you.” Though, by his tone, Crescent didn’t get the feeling the other man much believed him.

“As you say, Master Abolan.”

The older man regarded him silently for a few moments more, though it was impossible to gauge his thoughts.

Finally the man smiled again, but it didn’t reassure him, instead making him clutch the covers a bit more tightly. He was sure he’d seen the feline smile like that, just before pouncing, only this time he was the prey. It was not a comfortable place to be, not when the man after him was so high ranking.

“Well, this has been a most illuminating discussion, but I’m sure you’re eager to get some rest. You’ve a long day ahead.” He shifted, moving to get up.

“Are you going to tell Master Lorcasf?”

Seibel stopped at the sudden question. The way his grey eye bored into him made him wish he hadn’t spoken. He couldn’t charm or sweet talk this one, and that made things all the harder.

“Now why would I do that, Crescent? I’ve no reason to tell him, do I?” The man arched a brow, but a chill went down Crescent’s spine. Another word hung in the air, unspoken but ready to drag him down.

Yet. He had no reason to tell him yet.

For the first time in a long while, true fear bloomed in his chest. He was sure everything would be over if Domerin found out the truth. The man would never forgive him for that and, worse, it would break him. No matter how strong he acted, or how much he tried to avoid it, Domerin was, in some ways, more fragile than he would admit.

Master Abolan hated Domerin, and he would not allow him, or anyone, to use their relationship to hurt him. It was only knowing the old man would mop the floor with him that kept him in place when all his instincts told him to attack.

“No, Master Abolan,” he said, trying to keep his voice level, “there’s nothing he need know.”

“Very good. I’ll try my best to see that he doesn’t find out. I look forward to the rest of your visit, Crescent. It should prove to be… enlightening.”

Domerin & Crescent – Deployment

“You don’t need to be honest with me.”

Crescent turned over in his sleep, instinctively nuzzling closer to the warmth in the bed next to him. Hazily, his mind told him something was slightly off and pulled him to wakefulness. His eyes shifted immediately to the clock, where the display read 1:45 am. It wasn’t the time that was off, but the fact that Domerin was no longer under his arm.

The other man was, perhaps, one of the very few people who could move around without waking him, but unlike some nights he hadn’t gone far. Domerin was still in bed, but sitting up with his back straight, and his hands resting in his lap. He was close enough Crescent could still feel his warmth, but he looked in a world of his own.

Some light filtered in through the windows as he shifted to look at the man’s face. Even in the low light he could see the tenseness in Domerin’s jaw, but more telling was the fact that the other man didn’t stir when he pulled himself half-up beside him.

“Can’t sleep?”

Domerin didn’t reply right away, staring across the space at the far wall, lost in thought.

Brows furrowing a bit, Crescent reached out a hand to run it across his lover’s bare leg. “Domerin. Are you all right?”

The other man seemed to come very quickly back to himself then, looking over at Crescent with a flash of surprise in his dark eyes.

“I’m sorry. Did I wake you?”

“Of course not, darling. But are you all right? Can’t sleep?”

Domerin’s momentary silence told him there was something. The other man didn’t need to sleep as much, but usually he laid in bed by his side or went to do work.

Despite the silence he didn’t press, letting Domerin speak when he chose to.

“I’m being sent out on assignment in a week. We were briefed just today.”

Was that all that was bothering the other man? Assignments had always been part of Domerin’s job.

“I’ll miss you while you’re away. Where are they sending you?”

“It’s classified. I can’t tell you any of the details.”

“Well, that’s all right. You don’t need to be honest with me, Domerin. You never did when it comes to work.” Crescent kept his tone light, not wanting the other man to think he was mad at him.

But, unlike usual, the other man’s mood didn’t lighten. Domerin turned to face him and there was something dark and pensive in his blue eyes.

His humor vanished, replaced with concern for his lover.

“Domerin? What’s wrong? This is hardly the first time you’ve gone on assignment since I’ve known you.”

“It’s different,” he said, shaking his head. “We’ve only been together, properly together for, what, a few months? I don’t know how long I’m going to be gone, or if I’ll even be able to check in with you. It’s going to be a dangerous one.”

Domerin hesitated, unable to say more than that, and for a moment he looked wretched.

“What if I don’t come back?”

The man’s words struck him. It was true that this time was different. They weren’t just casually sleeping together anymore. After far too long, they were properly dating, a proper couple. He’d never thought he’d be happy in a relationship like this, but with Domerin it all felt right.

The other man had waited so long for this, and now he had to go away, not knowing if he’d be coming back. No wonder it was troubling him.

Crescent shifted, moving to sit next to the other man. He slipped an arm around his middle.

“You can’t let that get to you, Domerin. I won’t lie to you, it’s going to be a lot harder seeing you go than it ever has been, just as I can tell it’s going to be a lot on you to go. I don’t know what I’d do if you didn’t come back, but I’m with you knowing that’s a possiblity. I know the risks involved. It doesn’t change how much I love you.”

Domerin leaned a bit into his touch, and he gently rubbed a hand across the man’s dusky skin.

“That’s good to know. I guess, after Kail, part of me still worries, even if you’re nothing like him. It was such a production every time I had to go away. He always made such a big deal out of it.”

“You wont ever have to worry about that with me. You have a duty, and the last thing you need is more stress and worry on top of everything else. I understand how important your job is.”

“Thank you for that, Crescent. It does help. And I hope I didn’t make you think I thought of you like Kail.”

“Of course not, darling.” He assured, lightly nuzzling Domerin’s arm.

The man smiled, briefly, but Crescent got the feeling there was still something else troubling him. He waited, not pressing him to speak.

After a time, those blue eyes were turned upon him again. He met them as they searched his face and he tried to project all his love through his eyes.

Lifting his hand, Domerin brushed calloused fingers gently down Crescent’s cheek.

“I have never resented what my duty asks of me. I would never turn my back on my responsibilities. I do neither now, but… I can’t help but want more time with you. Part of me wishes I wasn’t going.”

There was a tinge of guilt in the man’s voice that Crescent had never quite heard before.

“I’ve always known each mission could be my last, but every part of me wants to come back to you.”

Crescent reached up to gently brush his fingers across Domerin’s cheek in return.

“There’s nothing selfish about that. Who wants to leave their loved ones behind? I doubt even the queen would fault you for feeling that way. You’re hardly the only solider to feel guilty about having to leave and do their duty.”

“No, I suppose not.”

“I know you, Domerin Lorcasf. No matter what, you’ll do the job you are sent to do, and you’ll do it to be best of your ability. I want you to come back to me too, but you shouldn’t feel guilty for how you feel.”

“I hear you,” Domerin said, a bit more of a smile finally touching his lips. “I won’t forget. Besides, it’ll be nice to come back home to someone who isn’t going to spend the first week I’m back fussing all over me.”

Crescent couldn’t help but chuckle.

“I’ll fuss, but in a very different way. A man has to welcome his lover home properly.”

He leaned in, slipping his arms around Domerin. The other man responded and gathered him up into his arms. For a time they just sat together, enjoying the quiet and the warmth.

Eventually he leaned his head up, to press a light kiss to Domerin’s jawline.

“And, at the very least, we have an entire week to make all sorts of good memories for you to take with you.”

“I see no reason to wait.” Domerin said.

Crescent could see the hint of a smile on his lips as the other man drew him back down onto the bed.

Separate Truths

Everybody knows – A different universe

The office was blissfully quiet. The constant whir of the ship’s machinery formed a familiar and comforting background hum. The only other sounds to break the silence were the soft tapping of fingers on keys, and the occasional creak of wicker.

Crescent was curled up in his basket at the foot of Domerin’s desk, resting as the man did his work. He was dozing when he heard Domerin grumble softly, and give a sigh.

His ears perked up, swiveling toward the sound, and he lifted his head to look at the man. Domerin was frowning at his display.

“Bad news?”

Domerin knew how easy he was to wake by now, but it was never an issue because he always fell back asleep seemingly just as easily. It was normal for a kattar, and didn’t bother him.

“Not like you’re thinking.”


“It’s a message from one Laran Imril, asking me if I wouldn’t do him the great honor of visiting to train his kattar. He’d be ever so grateful.” Domerin’s voice took on a slightly mocking tone at the end.

“Another one? You’ve been getting an awful lot of those lately.” Crescent’s ears swiveled back slightly. After helping that first, they’d known this was likely going to happen sooner or later, but it seemed word had really started to spread.

“Oh yes, and this one’s a prince too, on some world or another. He made a point to impress upon that. He has six kattar, considered royal pets. Apparently there was an incident,” the man let the implied quotes hang in the air a moment, “involving a trainer they brought in, and he recently heard about me and my skill.”

Domerin’s expression turned a bit stormy, the man more expressive than he might have been in other company.

“Six kattar is a lot…” He didn’t want to push, but it was rare to find more than two or three in one place.

“It is, Crescent, but we can’t just drop everything with a job coming up.”

“I wasn’t suggesting that. I’ve never questioned that the larger job comes first.”

Domerin was silent, lips touched with the hint of a frown.

Crescent could sympathize. This decision was cut and dry, when you looked at it logically, but it wasn’t so easy when you took in the big picture.

He hopped out of his basket, moving to gently bump his head against Domerin’s arm, lightly nuzzling him in one of his ways of offering comfort. After a few moments Domerin’s gloved fingers slid behind one of his ears, rubbing gently. He always hoped petting him helped soothe the other man.

“Sometimes I wonder if this was the right way to go about things,” Domerin said after a time, his voice soft. The man was looking down at him now, his eyes a bit dark.

“What do you mean?”

Domerin sighed. “In the email he said my name was brought up at a party, and that every one knows me as ‘the kattar whisperer’.” There was a hint of disgust in his voice when he said it. “The guy you could call in to bend your animal to your will. A real miracle worker.”

Crescent grimaced. Two-legs really didn’t understand things that weren’t like them. He gave Domerin a sympathetic look.

“I can’t say I’m surprised. We knew this wasn’t going to be pleasant when we decided to go forward with it. I just try to remember it’s for a good purpose.”

“Of course, and I don’t regret doing this. That still doesn’t mean I’m comfortable being thought of like that. Everyone knowing I’m a grumpy hard-ass is one thing. This is quite another. They might as well be calling me a good slave trainer.”

“That’s true.” Crescent’s ears laid back against his head for a moment, and he laid his hand on Domerin’s arm. “I’m sorry, Domerin. I know that can’t be easy.”

“It’s not, but my name has been tarnished before. I can take it.” The man looked very tired for a few moments, though.

Crescent moved to stand, and slipped his arms around Domerin’s neck, leaning close to him. The other man smoothed his gloved fingers over the fur of his arm a few moments later, looking contemplative before he went on.

“Things are changing, in ways even I didn’t expect. I had a message come through last week from a company I’ve worked with before, saying they don’t want to continue our association, since I’m promoting the exploitation of exotic pets, as they put it.” A wry smile touched the man’s lips for a moment. “I guess it’s good at least some companies have ethics.”

“I didn’t realize it would have an impact on the company like that.” They couldn’t always go anywhere to get what they needed, and losing a contact could be a blow. “I never wanted to make things harder for you.”

Domerin shook his head.

“Don’t let it worry you. That’s just how things go, and you well know I couldn’t have stood by and done nothing.”

Crescent did know, and he thought all the more of the other man for it. He gave the man a gentle squeeze.

“Even so, you’re not in this alone. I know the sort of man you are, and so do the others. If you are the kattar whisperer, think of it like this: among us, you will never be the whip, the rope, the bars of our cages. You’re the hand that’s helping give us the key to freedom. Time will reveal all, and we will never forget your name. For now, we will whisper it to each other, in our own tongue, from ear to ear, until the day comes when we can speak it aloud.”

Domerin looked up and him, and the hint of a small smile had touched his lips.

“Thank you, Crescent, it does help to hear you say things like that.”

“Its only the truth,” he returned, nuzzling the top of the man’s head lightly. “Everybody knows that.”

Luka – Very Few are Left

Very few are left

The hospital halls were white, and stark. The air was cool, perfectly temperature controlled, and a slightly acrid smell permeated the air, a byproduct of stringent cleaning. He was always somewhat amazed at how you could walk into almost any medical facility in the world and find the exact same things, no matter their purpose. This place was a last stop for the elderly, living out the remainders of their lives. He was sure there was some life here, but at the moment the hallways were mostly silent.

No one had seen him enter, and no one saw him making his way down the long hallways. This was personal business, and no one needed to be privy to that. He’d come here searching for someone it had taken him a very long time to find. Part of him had been sure this one had been lost, but he had been relentless in his search. It had taken years to bring bring him here. He stopped in front of a room with a nameplate on it. It wasn’t the name he’d known the man under, all those years ago, but there was little doubt in his mind this was who he was seeking.

He opened the door, and stepped into the small room beyond. Sunlight streamed in through a window, the sound of birdsong somewhat muted through the glass. There was an empty bed, dresser, some small touches that made it look homey. No pictures though, he noticed. A man like that had never had need of a family. There was a man inside, sitting at a table, a jigsaw puzzle set out in front of him. He was shuffling around peices with a withered hand.

He was old, and it showed, likely in his 80s by this point, though time had not been kind to him. He looked even older, weak and wrinkled. Such a change from the strong frame and powerful hands he remembered. Once the door had closed he allowed himself to be seen once again, a lean, small figure, garbed from head to toe in white. He likely would have looked like a ghost to some, or death itself to others.

He turned red eyes to the man at the table, who finally seemed to notice he was there. Somewhat milky eyes took him in, but there was no recognition in them. That wasn’t all that surprising, he looked rather different than he used to. It wasn’t his appearance he was hoping to catch him with.

“Who is it?” The old man’s voice sounded like something sharp being drug across a bed of small stones, no doubt from a lifetime of smoking. He remembered the acrid stink of cigarettes clinging to a white coat sleeve as it passed close over his face, like a curtain.

He shook away the memory and sat down at the table across from the other man. The jigsaw was half finished, a placid pastoral scene. How old had be been before he’d realized that places like that actually existed? His childhood had been blasted facades and twisted metal, bare hallways and locked doors. It didn’t matter now.

“A visitor, Mr. Andreas.” He said, fixing the man in his red gaze. “Or, should I call you Dr. Gudelj?” There was again no moment of shock, no gasp, not even a hint of recognition. Had this man lost himself in his own cover story? That displeased him. He wanted him to know who he was, before he did what he’d come here to do.

“Doctor? No, I’m an electrician. Was an electrician. I worked on many buildings. Over decades. I was very good. Why are you here? It’s not dinner time yet. Why do you look so strange?”

He was silent a few moments, before answering. He’d come expecting fear, and a sharp mind he could threaten. Another tactic, then.

“I’ve come to tell you a story, Mr. Andreas. That will explain how I look. If you’ll indulge me.”

The old man seemed unsure, a little frown touching his thin lips, but eventually he nodded. “So long as you’re done by dinner.”

He nodded, settling in his chair as much as he would allow himself to. “This was a very long time ago. Nearly twenty years. It was somewhere far away, that most people in this fat country will never have heard of.

There was a group of scientists, and researchers. All of them had been dismissed from the wider world for what they wanted to do. And their disregard for ethics. They went underground, where there were no rules or review boards to govern them.

They found a place, filled with war and death. Where they could pick through the ruins of bomb blasts for subjects. Who would miss the dead? Or the half dead?”

He paused, searching for signs of recognition. None came.

“They were free to do as they liked with those they took. The hallways were filled with despair, pain, madness. How many did they dismantle or break in their quest, do you think? Imagine being helpless, tied down, the bright light in your eyes. They speak of you as if you are not there.

Imagine days, years, of torment, being warped into whatever shape they feel you should take. Those that went in rarely came back out again. Or, if they did, they did not emerge as the same people.

But, one escaped, after being there for a very long time. One became strong and, after many years, came for those who were still alive. It was not easy. These were smart men, used to hiding. But they inadvertently taught this one all the patience in the world, and filled him with a desire to see their blood run free.

Very few are left. The cunning ones, or the forgotten ones, like you. I’ll not be stopped by anything. Another decade, perhaps, and I’ll have you all.” He paused. His throat hurt. He wasn’t used to speaking so much at once.

The old man was looking at him, a bit of a frown on his lips. He’d long since stopped working on the puzzle, clearly not liking the tale. The visitor couldn’t help but bear his teeth slightly, displeased with the reaction. If the old man couldn’t remember what he’d done, then perhaps he could show him. There was nothing left for it, though it galled him to have to do this. He let his guise drop. The white skin and red eyes melted away. He stood there, revealed, in all his horror. The creature returned to his Dr. Frankenstein.

The old man saw. He saw the yellowed, spotted skin, dry and brittle like aging parchment. Saw the wild black hair, streaked with grey. One perfect, beautiful blue eye took him in. The other was a milky white. The face was the worst of it, crisscrossed with marks, and sutured lines that had healed into still visible, thin scars.

For good measure he even pulled off his gloves. One hand was that same yellow, the nails greyish, the other was formed of a shiny black metal. Prosthetic fingers curled neatly around the fabric. It was the best current science could offer, cutting edge. He’d learned you could get what you wanted if you went to those outside review.

“I am Luka Petrovic, Dr. Gudelj. One of many you took apart.”

For a moment it looked like the man recognized him, and then his eyes went suddenly wide. “You!” This was the reaction he’d been looking for, and a grin split his lips and he stood, looming over the old man.

“I will not allow you to live out the rest of your days here.” The old man scrambled up, pushing his chair back and hurried across the room, as if trying to run away. Luka hadn’t tried to stop him, not thinking there was anywhere he could go, but the old man had pulled a remote from his bedside, and pressed an alert on it, no doubt to call the nurses.

He cursed softly as he heard footsteps in the hallway and made himself invisible again, as nurses rushed inside. The old man was frantic now, crying and pleading about a ghost, as the nurses worked to calm him down.

Luka retreated to a corner. He was patient, he could wait. It took a long while, but the nurses managed to calm the old man down and, with assurances of dinner soon, left him be.

Luka waited awhile before he appeared again, crossing to the bed where Gudelj was laying. There was once more no recognition in the old man’s eyes. It was just as well. He’d wanted him in full preservation of his facilities, but sometimes you had to settle for what you were given. It would have to be enough that the man had known him before his end.

He did him the one courtesy of not disappearing again, as his delicate, but deceptively strong hands, wrapped around the slender neck. He wouldn’t bother bloodying his knife on this one, if he even had any blood left to spare in that body of his.

He squeezed with practiced ease, and the milky eyes were wide, panic within them. The old man was too weak to fight it off. It would have felt somewhat poetic, if Luka could appreciate such things, how their positions were reversed. He hadn’t know why he’d been so tormented all those years ago. Let the old man die with the same question in his mind.

It didn’t take long before he eventually gave in. He could tell when the life had left him, and he stepped away. He didn’t bother to close the staring eyes. He felt a sense of, not peace, but a sort of rightness, and contentment. There was one less, and he could put that particular ghost behind him.