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Hidden Sunlight - 10. Shield Of Spirit

Yay! Hidden Sunlight has reached Chapter 10! In celebration: the chapter has more than 50% extra than normal :) That's roughly 4000 more words for your reading pleasure. Woohoo! How about that? :D

As a little boy, I'd had a very active imagination. While my life developed the way it did, lapsing into fantasy that encompassed all manner of things was common, a symptom of my isolation that flourished into a refuge of the mind. Anything that brought with it a sense of being part of something grand, adventurous, something magical, was craved and absorbed. Maybe it was pirates and treasure hunting, maybe it was an alien invasion, maybe it was sorcery and dragon-slaying.

My love affair with books and all other media that fed my desire for escapism had only grown as I reached the double digits of age; my taste in content grew ever more varied and rich. The worlds were more vast, the background more detailed and opulent, the heroes more conflicted and the villains so devious, insidious. The innocent black and white had become a cynical gradient of possibilities, a smudged continuum of greyscale. Yet even as the wide-eyed childish dreams morphed into the complex and dubious fantasising of adult concepts and emotions, my enthusiasm did not fail. My imagination was still my safe harbour and it stood, a mighty wall of protection shielding me from what I could not ever fully escape; the immovable facts of reality.

So it was that as I pulled apart the tent entrance just enough to get a good view of the camp site's exterior, it occurred how much my current life was beginning to mirror my old imagination. It has all the sorts of things I'd conjure up; a strange unknown future, a mysterious foreign planet, an unexpected and poorly understood world-changing event ... and action! Hostile mutants everywhere, people fighting anything and everyone just to survive. Only, I'm living it, not dreaming it. The ups and downs are more intense, the world more messed up and violent and cutthroat than I would have thought.

The outside was unchanged from when I'd seen it a couple minutes ago. No one was visible except Ledder, sitting in the gun mount. There was no sign of Le Renard or Jankowski, nor of the as-yet-unintroduced Klaus. This would be the part where we sneak out and get away undetected but ... this isn't imagination and it probably won't work like that. Ledder was facing away from the tents, complacently fixed on the best angle to provide visual cover of the approaches. His view included the road as it swept past, extending in a panorama upward to the right and downward to the left, a wide sweeping parabolic curve. We were camped on a fairly small stretch of flat grassy ground and I recalled that behind us was a continuous craggy rock cliff-face. It was vertical and impassable, while opposite the road, the ground immediately tapered off quite steeply into more rocks and trees, equally as difficult to travel.

Okay, so this place is closed in by the terrain and the only real exits are being watched. There's no chance running along the road in either direction because we'd be spotted before we get a dozen metres. Dammit. There had to be something else. I thought back to my bathroom break and what I'd seen. The line of the cliffs stuck close to the road on the rightward incline, but to the leftward decline, I remembered them diverging. There was an opening hemmed by trees between the cliff and the road, and the land is probably no more sloping than the road itself. So if we can get out of this tent, stick to the cliff and get to those trees without Ledder seeing us, then ... just maybe. First things first though; I need those fucking keys.

Crouching low, I slid out the entrance, keeping my eyes firmly planted on the guard. The entrance to the next tent was only a couple metres, but my nerves danced with every little shift of Ledder's head. All he needed to do was look my way and the game was up. Zero explanation was possible for me being outside without Riley. My uneasiness only increased as I sneaked into the second tent. Not because I thought I'd been seen, but because the first thing that greeted me was Jankowski, and I nearly jumped in shock.

Whoa!

He was asleep, eyes firmly shut, but his face was pitched directly at the entrance as if he were waiting, ready to wake up at the drop of a hat and jump to action. The interior was laid out the same as the other tent, only with a third cot in the middle and a bunch of equipment and supplies piled on the floor. Briefly I considered if I should take one of their weapons but that idea didn't make sense. Too bulky to carry, a rifle would just slow me down. Plus, shooting will make lots of noise and it'll only encourage them to shoot back, making death that much more likely. No, if Mira is the assassin, I'm the ... spy? The thief? Stealth, not force. Instead, I ignored their stuff, tiptoeing across to Riley's jacket, draped on the left bed. Crouching, with agonising slowness, I slipped my hand into the pocket and closed it completely around the entire keyring, making sure to capture the whole thing so it wouldn't move and jangle.All the while, my attention was rivetted on the sleeping soldier.

That's right. Stay in dreamland. I stood, straightening with the prize clutched firmly and noiselessly. No change. Exactly how I want it to stay. As I stood, stepping away from the bed, the jacket snagged on my pants leg and before I could move a muscle, it slumped off the side, onto the floor.

Shit.

The sound seemed like a bomb blast in the comparative quiet of the tent. Jankowski snorted, not opening his eyes. "Go back to your bitch, fuckin' perv." A mutter, low and breathy. "Tryin' ta sleep." Turning onto his back, he rolled over to face the wall.

Okay, just .. back out. Easy as can be. I didn't know if he was sleep-talking or half-awake or what, but my nerves were wired and my pulse was through the roof, hitting a tempo that should have been reserved for hyperactive field mice. Not staying in here for another second.

I returned back to our tent, Ledder still no wiser to my trip as he lounged at his post. Inside, Mira was waiting patiently on the bed. Okay, so feet first for mobility. There were more than a dozen keys on the ring. Half of them were too big for the lock, and the other half were all identical make. Dammit. So it's one of these. Thankfully, the very first key I tried unlocked the padlock on his feet. Immediately, Mira stood up, the chains loosening and falling off his ankles as he straightened. A little stiffly, but that was expected. Stretching his lower legs, our eyes met and he gave me an encouraging look.

I've almost got you free. Just the hands to go and then-

"Riley, where the hell is the canteen?"

Jankowski's voice cut through from outside, close by the entrance, irritable and freshly woken. Oh ... FUCK. "You keep this shit up, Klaus ain't gonna be happy. Tell me where it's at."

He isn't the only one who won't be happy. I dumped the keys into Mira's hand and darted to the front corner of the tent, just on the inside of the entrance. As I passed the field chair, I picked up the frying pan from under it, from where the dead soldier originally left it.

Right outside, not more than inches away, he spoke again. "Riley? Answer me, freak." Then a pause and I heard him mutter to himself when no response was given. "Fuck it." The tent flap moved and he stepped through. I waited until he was fully inside, the beginning of an exclamation of shock emerging before I acted. "What the hell is g-"

THUNK.

The pan was small but it packed a wallop. Jankowski was as big as Riley; none of the men I'd met so far had been lacking physical mass, except perhaps for Le Renard. It caught him across the side of the face but resoundingly, his body twisting as he fell to the floor. I gripped the handle with nervous intensity, hovering over him, pulse still thundering as I waited to see if he would get up.

If you so much as twitch ...

He didn't. Unconscious or dead, I didn't care. I looked back at Mira and he nodded approvingly and indicated towards the exit. His expression was serious and crystal clear: 'let's not wait around, we need to get out of here right now.' Then it softened slightly and ... a smile. My heart fluttered and my spirits jumped. It gets me every time. I love when he smiles. Feels like he's opening himself to me. It was a reinforcing boost, that little bit of courage that I needed.

"Okay," I whispered. "Let's go."

-o-0-O-0-o-

Reaching the treeline turned out to be easier than I'd anticipated. As nerve-wracking as it was to be creeping along in broad daylight, Ledder was still boredly doing as he was meant to: watching the roads. It seemed he was prepared for the long haul of guard duty as it didn't appear he had moved at all since the first time I'd seen him. This worked to our advantage. It was only at the final second that the flawless execution of our escape took a turn for the worse. Just before we ducked away through the trees, I took a last glance at the gunner's nest and in that exact moment Ledder shifted in his seat, casting a ranging look over the camp and the road and trees, a look that swept across everything and finished precisely on ... me. His eyes went wide, incredulous disbelief and shock.

The game was up.

"Mira -- run!"

All pretense and subtlety were disposed of. We took off at a sprint, Mira leading the way. The trees weren't too dense to slow us and the descent of the slope wasn't sharp enough to limit running speed. Towering straight trunks flashed past, a montage of wood and fir needles as we put some distance between ourselves and our captors. It wasn't going to be long before Ledder was on our heels. No time to pause. Gotta move!

Unexpectedly Mira slowed and then abruptly came to a stop. What's going on?! I skidded to a halt, and turned to see him leaning against a tree. His fingers were digging into the bark and he was bent over slightly. His face was pale and drawn; there was a desperate repression of fatigue and pain going on, but it wasn't enough.

He's hurt, remember? They messed him up. Amazing enough that he can stand, you can't force him to run ... but ... we need to get away.

Fuck!

I glanced up the slope to the edge of the trees. The break between grass and forest was still clear, not yet any sign of the enemy. Ledder will be in view in probably a few seconds, there's no way he'll not give chase. Then to Mira. I could see it in him; he wanted to go on, he knew we had to, but the physical injury and exertion was crippling and it wouldn't let him.

There was only one solution.

Pulling him around behind the nearest big fir, a thick tree trunk, I looked him in the eye. "Stay here, out of sight. Hide." His gaze argued with me, pleaded, refused to give in. "No. Mira, trust me." My whisper was rapid, urgent. "For me. Do it for me." He tried to stand, to join me, but I pushed him against the trunk, a gentle but forceful hand on his chest. Listen to me. Please just do it.

Stepping away from the fir, I cast a glance up the slope and right on cue, the soldier appeared over the ridge. In a millisecond his eyes had found me and then was crashing down between the trees in pursuit. I wasn't hanging around to wait and was gone, dashing off into the forest.

Come on, you big stupid goon. Follow!

The ground was uneven and strewn with dried deadwood and a blanket of needles. The clustering sameness of the trees seem to continue indefinitely, an oncoming rush of dark green and brown. My feet flew across the surface and though the forest floor was begging to trip me with one of the million little obstacles it possessed, I moved with an agility I didn't know I had. There was a determination, a desire to succeed that pushed me onwards and gave me focus.

Catch me if you can.

I might not have been very physically strong, but I had always been a good runner. The only real sporting activity I had been allowed to compete in at school was track running, sprints and long-distance. I had always been held back by sub-par muscles and an unfriendly respiratory system, but with the problems of the Demming's genotype erased, there was no longer any limitation. The air filling my lungs and the wind on my face was a new type of freedom, and I was going to show them I had what it took and they didn't.

Let's see if you can match this!

Without losing speed, a sudden left turn, cutting across so sharply that it was nearly a right angle. I heard Ledder swear as I tore off in the new direction, a grunt of effort from behind me as he tried to maintain his bearings and at the same time, not lose any speed. Not so easy, is it? He had closed a little of the distance between us since the start, as the sounds from behind me indicated. He wasn't losing or gaining, the persistent ruckus of his chase neither receding nor advancing, a reminder that I couldn't slack off. Not going to give you anything. You'll have to chase me 'til your heart fucking explodes from trying keep up, and I'm NOT letting you have even an inch.

I was going to outlast him.

There wasn't much detail that I noticed outside of what I needed to see to keep running. Yet, this landscape seemed vaguely familiar, and shortly after that feeling of familiarity, there was proof. On the periphery of my vision, some distance away, I glanced and saw a break in the trees, a clear steep escarpment leading back to the rocky cliffs. The same one that I had climbed not too many days ago into a cave. A beautiful sweet girl had been with me, the same one who had drugged me and tried to rape me.

Holy shit.

The shock and joyous relief of the realisation that I was no more than a couple of kilometres from the Andropov estate was massive. Unfortunately it also distracted enough to make a small but crucial misstep, which, at the speed I was going, became a rather big error. My left foot skewed on the skittish coating of the undergrowth and suddenly I was out of control, my momentum unchecked. Balance lost, I tripped, tumbling, and flew spectacularly, missing a tree by the smallest margin. Ground loomed in a spinning whirlwind of vertigo and I hit it, my shoulder taking the brunt of the impact and I rolled forward. Slightly winded but basically unhurt, I came to my feet, ignoring the scratches on my arms and turning to run. Keep moving! Must keep moving!

The only problem: Ledder was too close.

A grasping hand fastened onto my ankle as I tried to take off again, but the soldier was pulling me back. Instantly, I was floored, the metaphoric rug gone from beneath me. His face was red, the exertion taking its toll, and he looked really pissed. "Sneaky little fuck!" he snapped, hauling me across the ground as I struggled, trying to wriggle from his grasp. "Think you're gonna just run off, huh?"

I answered him by wrenching my ankle free and kicking at his face. My foot smacked into his jaw and he let out a grunting cry, jerking from the impact. Fucking clown. Free, but only for a second and before I could move, he had me by my arm and was slamming me onto the ground. Suddenly his weight was on top of me. A knee was across the ribcage and his hand squeezed my neck, strangling. Furiously, I pulled at his grip with both hands, but his spare arm brushed my attempts off, easy as swatting flies. He lifted my head up and banged it back on the dirt, emphasising his dominance. Leaning down close, Ledder held the choke in place and I could smell his breath, an unpleasant combination of halitosis and alcohol that did absolutely nothing to help the quality of my breathing.

"I wish I could just kill you right now," he sneered, "but ... orders. I'll just have to settle for a fun old asskicking once we're all reunited back at camp."

The hand squeezed tighter and I tried again to loosen it, my fingers clawing at his grip. "What's the matter?" He mocked. "Uncomfortable?"

Then, right out of the blue, another voice.

"Hey asshole! Your attention please!"

What the ... ?

Ledder looked up above my head and in the direction of the voice, as surprised as I was.

"Who ar-"

Sshh-PLK!

A bolt sprouted from Ledder's head, accompanied by a puff of air from the proximity of its passage. The shaft vibrated for a second, protruding out his cheek from where it had impaled him. The same look of angry confusion was frozen on his face and his hand lifted off my neck as the body toppled sideways onto the ground.

Who?!

I sat up, coughing and turned around to see my mystery saviour. It was none other than ...

"Carlos?"

He was winding the crossbow back and fitting another bolt into it as he walked casually across to me. Notching the string in place, he offered me his hand and pulled me upright.

"Shay -- are you okay?" Concern was readily apparent and his eyes scanned my neck. "He didn't really hurt you did he?"

"I'm fine. It's just ... " I stopped, the sudden relief of being safe hitting me, making me want to burst into tears. Dramatic entry or not, I- ... I'm so fucking happy he's here. The emotion welled up and I took a breath, pushing it back. Hid it with a smile, though Carlos wasn't blind and he must have known I was shaken. "Just, I never thought I'd be so glad to see a friendly face."

He smiled in return, an odd thing to see on a person that I remembered mostly with an ill-tempered scowl. "Well, I couldn't let him bruise your pretty face, could I?"

Pretty face? You can joke about that as much as you want if you're going to nail assholes like this in the skull with deadly projectiles. I was about to reply and then another voice broke through the short-lived sanctuary I'd experienced, demanding and ready for business.

"Drop your weapon. Now!" Jankowski was a couple dozen metres away, his rifle trained on Carlos. Not even a minute of peace. We both stopped dead still in fright and he immediately repeated his ultimatum. "Drop the fuckin' bow unless you want me to put a hole in your fuckin' chest. Comprende?"

"Yeah. I understand." The boy crouched slowly, placing the crossbow by his feet.

The rifle lowered, though he didn't stop pointing it at both of us. His face was red from where I'd hit him with the frying pan, and I knew he'd never let his guard down around me again. He was definitely ready to make good on any of his threats. "First Riley and now Ledder. I should have known you were as dangerous as the other one."

I'm not afraid of you and I'm going to make it out of this, just like I made it out of your stupid little camp. "You're next," I told him, jaw rigid and eyes glaring. "He's out there and he's going to come for me."

"I'm counting on it," he scoffed, derisive and scornful. "He's welcome to drop on by in his condition. I'll snap that skinny runt in half. Fuckin' weak little children. Who do you think y-"

With sudden whiplike speed, the chain coiled round his neck several times, incredibly precise and blindingly keen. For a second it lay loosely and then it tightened as it was pulled backward, applied pressure constricting it around Jankowski like a metallic noose. He was hooked backward off his feet, already grasping at the links as Mira loped across to his prone form. With Jankowski busy attempting to unravel the chokehold of steel, he braced himself with a foot on the man's chest, unobstructed. Securely gripping the other end of the chain, Mira hauled upwards, winding it hand over hand, yanking tighter and tighter. Jankowski dementedly tore at the bonds, eyes bulging, snorting and spluttering as he was very surely and unavoidably asphyxiated. The boy's shoulders tensed and he gave one last monumental heave skyward, throttling the deadly leash into a crushing fatality. The gurgling sounds cut off and the hands slackened, the struggle terminated.

Wow.

Mira let go of the chain and dropped onto his knees next to the body. He turned his head to me and that was all it took; without even thinking, I was moving to his side, already drawn to him. There was that same 'I'm sorry I went against what you wanted, but I'd do it all over to keep you safe' sentiment as I'd seen in the basement of the LPHC, crossed with an immense weariness. His store of energy ablated away by wounds and exhaustion, he could only lift his hand as we sat together, his fingers sliding up my neck and winding through my hair. A soft peaceful exhale and he relaxed, all the stress just vanishing out of him.

A lump formed in my throat. I don't even care if you didn't listen, in the end. You came when I needed you. You always do. You saved me, saved us, yet again. My knight in shining armour.

My miracle.

Carlos' hand was on my shoulder. "Come on, let's get you guys out of here."

It was time to go home.

-o-0-O-0-o-

When we arrived back at the Andropov Villa, the first thing that greeted us was a very surprised Lily. As soon as we entered the lounge, she gasped, rushing around the furniture to hug both of us together, one under each arm. She looked tired and under strain, but the relief was obvious. Wow, she was very concerned about us.

"I was so worried," she said, letting go, a hand still on a shoulder each. "After what happened, I really was afraid we'd never see you again."

"Me too," I managed. Sometimes I wasn't sure, myself. "It was- ... rough. Really rough."

Lily squeezed my shoulder, then glanced at Mira. Her attitude changed instantly when she saw just how beaten up he was, and she bridled, a steely note entering her speech. "Oh, that -- it just isn't right." Anger and sadness resonated in equal parts as she looked him up and down.

Yeah, I know how you feel.

"Damn savages. No decency and no humanity. We need to get you clean and then I'll see about some first aid." Then, to Carlos, her eyes narrowing accusingly. "You. If I wasn't so pleased to see these two back safe, I would have a few words to say to you."

A few words?! What's this about? The older boy held up his hands and nodded his head meekly. "I am sorry. You are right to be angry. It was worth it though, to help them."

Huh? What was worth it?

"Yes, well," she uttered primly, "that may be your saving grace, but nonetheless, I will deal with you later. I want you to take Mira and make sure he bathes, I'm not going to dress anything until he's clean. You know where the bathroom is."

He gave her a funny 'who, me?' look and she glared back at him. "Yes, you. I need to talk to Shay and Mira needs to be taken care of. Make yourself useful." Then when he didn't shift, she told him again, her tone hardening. "Now, Carlos." Mira looked at me questioningly at the mention of his name, only half aware of what was going on. He looks like he's in a bit of a trance, I think all the conflict has definitely worn him down. I nodded in affirmation and he acquiesced, allowing the other boy to lead him out of the room.

"Come on, let's sit."

I took a place beside her on the couch, allowing myself to enjoy being able to sit, comfortable and worry free, for the first time in a couple of days. There were a few moments of thoughtful silence before Lily spoke. I got the feeling that she wasn't really sure where to begin, and frankly, I related to that more than ever. It's been an eventful couple of days. A messy, crazy, scary couple of days.

"Shay, it's worth repeating, I am so pleased you're both back here alive, even if not totally unscathed." A pause, then she continued talking, softer and emotional, a side of her I'd never really seen before. Lily had always seemed very logical, very focused on the facts of reality. I know she has a compassionate side, but right now she seems on edge, so moved by our return. "Dimi was so angry, so very upset. He was beside himself. He thought that he, well, that he had failed you, put you in unnecessary danger. He bears that guilt, of riding away and leaving you at Lorentz."

There's no other way to say this. "Lily, it wasn't his fault. He couldn't have known armed men would find us, and if he tried to stay or fight, they'd just shoot or capture him too. I don't blame him for anything."

She looked at me for a good long second, biting her lip, wearing a remorseful frown. "Really? You mean that?"

"Yes." My voice was as earnest as I could make it. He did what he had to and she needs to know it. "There was nothing dishonourable or stupid about how he acted. It was the right thing to do."

"I'm glad you think that." She gave a genteel nod. "He was so upset, he got drunk when he arrived back here. He hasn't done that in maybe ten years. It really got to him, what happened."

Come to think of it, where is Konstantin? I haven't seen any sign of him since we got back, not even a hair. Nothing to indicate where he's at, and she is speaking in the past tense. Oh god, I hope nothing happened -- it couldn't have, could it? "Uh, where is he anyway?"

"Well," she clasped her fingers together and sighed. "This is the next bit I need to explain. Of course, the first thing he did when he'd sobered was examine the Lorentz data, the analysis of your biological attributes. Now, he didn't explain what he found to me all that well before he left -- and don't worry, I will get to that soon enough -- but I got the main crux of what he was saying."

Well, this is the bit where I find out how 'unique' I am, or whatever. Let's hear it. "Go on."

"I hope you're ready for it." She swallowed nervously, looking me in the eye. "It's like this. He told me that you are 'genetically perfect.' Not just free from the problem you were born with, but free from any problems at all. All the little genetic flaws and tics that cause physical health issues and are normally present within a person? Gone. Your DNA has not just been fixed of the problem you were born with, it has been improved."

What?! "Im-improved?"

"Yes." She nodded. "You have been scrubbed clean, genetically speaking, of all the bad things, or at least as far as Dimi could tell. The analogy he used was modifying and tuning a car engine so that it runs superior to what the manufacturer intended. The information about your metabolism, your respiratory, immune and nervous systems, your muscular and skeletal frame, and so on, all points to you being in absolutely impeccable health. Your blueprint has been redrawn, remapped; smarter and more efficient than before."

"How?" I croaked. "Why?! I- ... I guess while I was asleep? I can't think of any other way."

"That's what he thought. He said the genetic virus must have gone beyond the instructions it was given to combat the Demming's genotype. He thinks it went into overtime, working on you for the full 200 years you were in suspended animation, not just the single week. It means you are quite literally the best-put-together and healthiest human being who has ever lived. That isn't an exaggeration. It's a medical fact."

Wow. I ... don't even know what to say to that.

"There is more," she continued. "On its own, this does not explain how you could have survived the suspended animation process indefinitely. More importantly, Dimi was baffled to discover that it also is not enough to prevent the Sharpe virus from infecting you. Even if just a carrier, so far it is impossible to prevent it embedding itself in the host. Actively, it is so aggressive and subversive to our bodies that even your 'impressively flawless genome' as he called it, would not be able to do anything. Lastly, he believes it is still in your body. Yet another impossibility." She gave a wry half-smile. "I think we need to make a list of the laws of nature you've broken. You know, sort of a running tally."

That's ... incredible. Albans was quite clear that the genetic virus would be gone from my body after the treatment was done. He didn't tell me exactly how, just that it was temporary. It was hard to get my mind around the fact that it had done more than just cure me, it had permanently changed me for the better. Wait a second though. How do either of these two know about 'the instructions' the virus had? Where could they possibly have learned that from? "Why does Konstantin know anything about what the genetic virus was, uh, 'programmed' to do? Why does he think it's still inside me?"

"The Lorentz data didn't explicitly tell him it was still working within you, but there were certain signs, chemical markers, that are only produced by the sort of genetic agents that are involved in ongoing artificial manipulation. The 'programming' too, it was a natural assumption, you don't set something loose in a person's body like that without regulating the changes it can make." She shrugged. "Also, this may be a bit of an aside, but did you wonder how Dimi knew your date of birth and so on, that led to this being blown wide open?"

That was something I'd forgotten completely about. Now that she mentions it. "I did wonder, but it had slipped my mind with, um, everything else."

"So," she gave a mischievous grin, "it's really rather simple. His ancestor, a man named Fyodor Andropov, came to Lucere probably around about the time you were a little boy. He went into private partnership with a certain Mikhail Volkov, who he had worked with in the public health sector in, uh, Volgograd, I believe it was. That name I'm sure you know; Mikhail created the research foundation and built the medical centre here. Anyhow, once we gained PDN access, Dimi activated the remote Volkov server and found, along with a lot of other miscellaneous stuff, the patient records. Out of curiosity, he looked up Fyodor's own file. Imagine his surprise when he found 'Andersen, Shay' right above the Andropov entry in the alphabetical listing."

Oh. Well, that explains that.

"He also found some of their procedural requirements and documentation around how they were developing the genetic side of their medical treatments, the 'programming' we were just discussing. It wasn't big on the specifics, since that sort of exact information would be more securely stored, but it told him enough about your cure to understand the design limitations. The treatment you were subject to was engineered with strict caps on it that were meant to ensure it would not act outside of the scope of your condition. Not unlike computer programming, although rather more complicated; there were very definite boundaries."

Suddenly, it all began to make sense. Konstantin realised that the genetic virus within me had evolved or mutated. Somehow, it changed itself and in the process, it had changed me too, into a 'genetically perfect' human. He also knows that it doesn't explain the most important thing: Sharpe immunity. I bet he figures the real reason for that is most likely to lie somewhere in the way the genetic virus evolved while I was in the Hoffstadt chamber. To judge how it changed, he'd need to see the virus as it originally was versus how it is now, inside me. To compare the two together. Only, he couldn't do that, since he didn't have access to either of them.

What would the Russian do then? Where had he gone?

Well, think about it. A guy like Konstantin, his moment of despair at failing me would be quick and then that endless wellspring of faith would come back into play. I know that man well enough now, nothing keeps him down and he has a foundation of stone. He told me himself; he sees providence in unlikely places, in things that 'defy the chaos.' So, he would believe very stubbornly that I was going to come back alive; that God would do the 'working in mysterious ways' trick. Meaning: the 'updated' version of the genetic virus inside me would find a path back by itself. That left Konstantin to go after the original virus, to seek a copy of the 'code' in preparation for when he next met me. There's only one place he could find that.

"He went to Volkov, didn't he?"

"You don't miss much, do you? It was pointless trying to persuade him not to," she lamented. "He left this morning. Absolutely determined. Enough about that though. What happened to you? What happened to Mira? How did you escape from those men?"

Don't really want to think about that. "If you don't mind, I'd really rather not talk about it." Mind unexpectedly adrift, my hand came to my mouth and I absently bit my fingernails, my eyes shifting across the floor. An odd feeling was in the pit of my stomach, a disenchanted confusion. "I had to kill someone. It's the only reason we got away."

"Oh, Shay." Her response was soft and sad, but I continued quickly before she could say anything more.

"I had to do it and I- ... if ... if I didn't, it would have been so much worse. I don't feel sorry, they were thugs and they deserved it. I'll probably have to kill again if I'm going to survive. It's just ... I don't want to become like that. To become desensitised to it because I'm justified. I don't know how other people feel, even if it's your life or someone else's. I knew I had to do it, I knew it ... but it felt strange. Horrible, after I've had time to think."

Lily gazed out the lounge door, away towards the garden. "You know, when I was seventeen, me and Dimi's brother were picking fruit near the apple trees just outside the fence when a bandit attacked him. We'd been piling the apples onto a blanket, weighted down at the corners so the wind wouldn't mess it up. I had to smash that man's head in with a brick or his brother would have died." She looked back in again, bringing herself to the here-and-now. "I might not look like much and I do spend most of my time here on the estate where it's safe, but I can handle myself when I have to. That, though? I never wanted to do that to another person. Not something I'd care to repeat either, but ... it saved him. That's how my conscience lives with it."

Oh. That story made me see her in a whole new light. That's powerful stuff. It made me wonder something else too. "Um, I've been thinking for a while, and I hope you don't mind the question but ... are you and Konstantin ... ?"

Lily looked at me blankly for a second and then it clicked. "Oh, you mean together? No. I love him like a sibling, not like a partner. We grew up together, shared our childhood. No, it was Vasili that I truly had eyes for. I do miss him." A heavy sigh and her eyes grew misty, unfathomably sad; her voice soulful and slow. I didn't even have to hear the details to know that whatever happened had left a profound mark on her. "Very much, some days. What I wouldn't give to see him again."

Then she smiled, brightening up. "But, you know what? Believe it or not, meeting you two has made me feel better about that. I see the love you share, and it's unconditional. Pure."

The love we share. Pure? Konstantin described Mira as 'the one I love' too. I didn't know why I felt so jittery talking about this, but I did. It's almost like I'm scared that if I try to grasp it too hard it will just slip away. That's not true, and I know it. Maybe I'll feel a bit more sane if I tell her. "I've never said this before to anyone else, but I think I do love him." I took a shaky breath. "It's so strange to even just say it out loud and tell you. I love him," I repeated. "I'm in love with him. I don't even know what that really means, the whole 'romance' and being with someone bit, let alone the emotions. I've never felt anything close to this before."

Her smile broadened in appreciation, with a touch of humour crinkling the corners of her eyes. "Dimi is much better at this kind of moral support than I am and would probably articulate it like a scholar, but I will say this: living at this island of civility in a feral world means I haven't seen much true romance either." Then she looked at me levelly, an honest but kind sobriety there. "You and Mira together seem like the most natural thing in the world. You fit together like a hand and glove. I don't want to go so far as to spout clichés about being made for one another, but it is poetry to watch. Very rare and very special."

Completely stumped. Maybe what we feel for each other is pretty special if other people can tell just by seeing the two of us together. "I- ... uh, thank you. I don't know what to say."

Lily didn't get to respond, as Carlos stomped into the room. The top he was wearing had a big splotch of wetness across it, and one of his legs was soaked. His eyes were fuming.

Uh oh.

She raised an eyebrow, a querulous look that teetered between explanation and wanting to laugh at him. "He's not being helpful," grumbled Carlos. He sniffed and folded his arms crossly over his chest. "Shay's his boyfriend, he should do it."

What did he- ... ? My jaw fell open and I could feel my face going red, my mind going blank at the same time. I ... uh ... what- ... what do I say?!

He snorted. "I'm not stupid. You think I don't see how you act with each other?" He paused a second. "I am surprised though."

Huh?

A smirk. "Surprised that Sofia could get you to notice her long enough to flirt with you."

What the ...

"You know," chimed in Lily, an unusually devious look crossing her face, "I did wonder that myself. To get him to stop daydreaming about his sweet prince? She must have been very persuasive. He does daydream a lot, I've seen it."

"That's true, I have too. Well," shrugged Carlos. "She was a -- what is the English word -- a 'tomboy'?" He shot me a sort of smug grin and a cocky glance. "Maybe that's what did it."

Oh my GOD.

"You guys are ... ugh!" I stood and stalked out of the lounge in embarrassed frustration.

So unfair, ganging up on me.

I could still hear them laughing as I walked away down the hall.

-o-0-O-0-o-

When I found Mira, he was resting casually against the towel rail, dressed only in my boxers and that same ripped shirt. The shower was going, spraying lightly against the wall, probably just recently turned on. It seemed like an aborted attempt to get him to wash himself had happened, and as I entered, shutting the door behind, Mira perked up immediately. I shot him a cautionary look.

"You were trying to get rid of Carlos deliberately, weren't you?" Reticent for a second, then he gave in and nodded a little too quickly, his eyes brimming with a naughty charming glint. Oh god, he totally was. He splashed him just to piss him off. That's too awesome, after the grief he and Lily were giving me. I bit back a grin. "Lily was right though, you do need to get clean so we can help you heal. Okay?"

Mira shook his head, refusing.

"Yes," I berated him. "You need to!"

Another head shake. What's his issue with this?

"Mira," I complained. "I don't know how many ways I can say it. You st-"

A finger pressed on my lips, silencing me as he stepped close. His face hovered next to mine, exploring it with his eyes and willing to touch, but holding back. Mysterious intentions were nothing new with this boy, but then he whispered to me, fully aware of the brain-addling effect his voice would have.

"We." He breathed the single word, obliging and inviting, a grazing of warm air across my cheeks. We. My mind churned the pronoun over and over in a stuttering loop. We? 'We need to.' Plural. Not 'you.' Not singular. Us. Him and me. Together. In the shower.

Together?

Addled was right, and I was only refocused enough to pay attention again when I realised he was stripping my shirt off me, his own lying discarded on the floor next to our pants. Down to boxer shorts only, I just went along, speechless and obedient. I ... uh ... yeah. Huh. Is this happening? A hand slipped into mine and then he was pulling me forward. I found my voice and I couldn't help the stammer if I tried, but nervously blurted it out anyhow. "Y-you- ... uh, no, I mean ... we ... need t-to be, um," I swallowed anxiously, finding the next word so hard to say. "To be, uhh, n- ... naked. To shower."

Mira gave me the calmest most matter-of-fact smile in the world. It still amazed me how he could produce a single look or show the smallest subtle change in his face, and through it, his intentions and heart's wishes would speak to me, would sing a chorus. There were sentences, a paragraph of his thoughts and feelings in the detail. Lily was right about his eyes being expressive; not just that, his whole face is expressive to me, but I think I'm the only one that can read it. The only one that can tell what he means. What he was saying to me right then was plain: 'we're not going in there naked. I know how freaked out you would be, so that can wait for another time.'

Oh.

Of course, he was right. The nervous awkwardness diminished, stopping at our boxers became no more than an antsy discomfort, a sort of mild thrill. See, Shay? This isn't so bad. You don't have to be weird about it. He had winced a little when we first stepped into the spray, but once we were both under it, the water having doused us, he let go. Plucking the soap out of its holder, he expectantly pressed it into my hand.

I did tell him he had to be clean, not like I can refuse. Then I reprimanded myself for using such a weak form of self-deception. Who am I kidding, I want to do it. Hesitantly at first, then with some confidence, my fingers lathered, rubbing across the caked bloody spots on his chest, his stomach, his arms. Mira's skin and his muscles felt so supple and the touch was electric, my fingertips torturing my nerves with the sensation.

It awoke in me again that glorious emotional hum, a vibe that paired itself with the pleasurable physical movement. As I worked, I lost myself in it. He did too, as at first his eyes were adoringly watching my face as I tended to him, a favourite thing of his to do, but then his head tilted back a fraction, and his eyes half closed. I could barely hear over the running water but there was a faint soft buzz of happiness coming from him, a blissful thrum, almost like a cat purring as it was stroked.

He's really loving this ... and so am I. Moving up to his shoulder, I delicately probed the sharpeling wound from the LPHC and began to wash it too. It was then that I realised something quite astounding that I'd entirely missed, as I'd been too engrossed in the unexpectedly enjoyable task of lavishing attention on 'my miracle.'

He's not hurt.

Mira had no wounds. More accurately, he did have wounds, but not any longer. Only the dried bloody stains were left, and once they were cleaned off, there was skin. I glanced down over where I had already been and there weren't even any scars. Undamaged, unmarked, just flat, clear, healthy skin.

What the ...

My gaze flicked to his shoulder. That string of bruises is gone. There was an abrasion on his collar bone and scrapes on his neck. All gone. When I considered it, there was only one visible injury left and it was the one I was currently wiping down. The sharpeling cuts are closing up too, even after those assholes opened them when we were captured. In fact, this is far better mended that it should be, given what he's been through. Oh my god. His body has healed the damage already.

Healed, in such a short time, by itself.

That sort of regeneration was incredible. If his body can do that then what about ... ? I wonder if- ... if I ... have it too? Somehow, asking the question seemed unnecessary. A gut feeling, a very sure kind of knowledge just materialised and stood up in my mind. Of course I do. Mira is what he is because of me, and for some reason I have the very strong feeling that I'm not the only one around here with a 'flawless genome.' Having a body that heals from wounds far more quickly than a normal person wouldn't even surprise me at this point. I know I do. I just know it.

But wait, there is a way to tell. Mira doesn't have any scars where he was wounded so that means I wouldn't either, if I was the same. Slyly, I glanced down at my left calf, to the spot where the sharpeling had jabbed my leg. The puncture mark hadn't been deep, but it was definitely wide enough to have left a scar, and now that I thought back, I hadn't really noticed it at all after the first day. Sure enough, there was nothing there at all; as if I had never been hit. No scar, no scab, no discolouration, nothing.

It's ... true.

I must have been more stunned than I thought, more swallowed by the revelation than I realised, as the next thing I could recall, he was taking the soap from me. Then the shower was off and we were outside the stall, but not going for the towels. The bath was filling instead and as I tried to concentrate again, I managed to speak, equal parts protest and query, but I didn't get very far.

"Mira, we just had-" Stopped again by an interrupting finger to my lips, then another look, an adamant-encased one, unyielding but promising all at once; 'that was just preparation for this bit, where you get to relax. No arguments. Just go with it and trust me.'

I didn't argue.

I trust you.

The water was deliciously hot, and though there would have been room for both of us next to one another, he nudged me to get in first. Indicating for me to lie back, stretch out and recline full length. I did so, and he was climbing in next. Facing as I was, he lowered himself and sank gently onto my lap. Pulse flaring at the closeness I knew was incoming, he lay back on top of me. Cushioned by the water, his back cleaved to my chest, his legs matching mine as if I were a submerged human-shaped chair. My arms slid instinctively around his sides, clasping over his stomach. His own arms sandwiched mine, hands meeting in the same spot, a central confluence where our fingers entwined, sealing us in that embrace. Last of all, his head came back to lay beside mine at the bath's end, finally stopping to rest.

Relax.

The soothing heat; the still quiet atmosphere; the continuous touch, from head to feet, of this most ridiculously perfect and beautiful boy, in such an intimate way. My boy. It was all just so right. The tension, the stiffness and soreness of my body, the aches and hurt; it drained away. I felt eased, centred and thoroughly at peace with the world. Not a thing was wrong with that moment.

I don't think I've ever felt happier than I do right now.

Mira turned his head and I did the same. My eyes met his and locked together, completely harmoniously engaged, just as the rest of our bodies were joined. I gazed at him and he at me, both reveling in it, both basking in the shared attention.

Then, he spoke to me.

Not with sound, with vibrations in the air. As unnerving as his speech could be, this was with his eyes, an entire conversation of colourful hope, that flowered in my mind. It was no fantasy on my part, nor any kind of lovesick delusion. The communication was as real as the sleek softness of Mira's belly under my thumbs, the wispy tickling of his sodden hair on my arm. The blossom was an elaborated piece of poetry, an explanation, a confession, an expression of love; spoken with eminent authority using emotions only, and as Mira did, without uttering a single word.

Yet, I heard it all.

You saved me, in all the ways you can save a living spirit. Once, the world was a torment and my days were slavery and death and hatred. Then you saved me. You freed me. You gave to me life and purpose and my vision is filled now with a more perfect world. My will shall destroy any real malice that does assail you in body. Thus, when the incarnate evils of this land assail your spirit also, I will take that burden from you, to make you whole. For this is my strength, to guard the sunlight hidden within you and make that such horror shall never darken you. It is my duty, eternally so, and it is my covenant. It holds true because I love you, to my core, and I always will.

It shattered me.

I was, quite literally, everything of importance to him.

As fucked up as my life had been so far, it had just reached a new plateau.

From here, there was no going back.

He is mine ... and I am his.

For minutes, we lay without moving, joined in some inexplicable way soul to soul. A complexity was revealed in him that I never knew existed, and at the same time a profound simplicity. It confirmed and expanded everything I knew of him. It told me that the reason we were lying here, now, linked in body and heart, was because it was unconscionable to him that I be damaged emotionally, mentally, over the horrors of Lucere.

This was his way of undoing pain, shielding my innocence and healing the wounds that the eye could not see.

I really don't know how long we stayed in that dreamlike state, but it was finally broken by a knock at the door. Lily's voice echoed through from outside. "Shay, dinner will be ready shortly and I'd like to take a look at Mira before that. Please don't be too much longer."

Reluctantly, he let go, gripping the bathtub edge and pulling himself out of the water. I don't want to get out either, Mira knew I needed this 'therapy' even if I didn't. He always seems to know what's best for me. I can't stay in the water though. I sighed internally and watched him as he stood on the bathmat, dripping water. Reaching for a towel, he turned, giving me that adoring, brilliant smile, the one that made me feel weak every time I saw it, and promptly buried his head in the fabric and began to dry off.

It was an ideal opportunity to admire him while he was distracted. My eyes meandered across his upper body. This is the first time I've been allowed to take a good long look at him ... um ... without a shirt. There wasn't much meat to him; he was slender, but had some definition. Not that much, but not too little either. His shoulders and chest were broader and more masculine than mine, firmer where I would be softer, lithe and proportioned just right where I would be average. Limber and athletically understated where I would be ... uncoordinated and girlish. If I was to guess at his physical age, I would have said only a few months older than me. I've never thought about topless boys before but ... I'm getting better at admitting what I like. I don't think other people would consider him all that special, but to me, he's a perfect ten in all my physical categories. Maybe the way I feel is making me biased but I can't pick something I don't like and I'm trying.

I really was trying. Then, completely without thinking about it, my eyes roamed down further as he rubbed obliviously at his hair. The elegant tapering V of his lower stomach and the graceful line of his hips fed into the boxers. Normally quite tight since they were my size and not his, dripping wet they stuck to his body, from one side to the other. Everything was outlined in stark relief, the material adhering faithfully to the shape of his skin.

In an instant, my mouth had gone dry and breathing irregular. My face flushed as I realised I was staring at that gentle swelling curve of cloth, where the crooks of his thighs met. Staring at the uniquely fascinating contours of that little bump. Only, 'little' didn't seem quite right. The containing texture was well filled out, the boxer cladding seeming to cut tighter than it should have done. Ample and sensual were better descriptions, and all I could think of was how it seemed to push out generously in all the right places, and to very faintly jiggle with each twist and stretch of his torso muscles as he worked the towel with preoccupied vigour.

I could feel my body responding and I looked on in helpless fear, unable to tear myself away and stop the burgeoning physical attraction. What the hell is wrong with you Shay? Flushing turned to a hot burn of embarrassment and my heart thudded erratically as I struggled to control my desire. The boy you're in love with has just shared his soul with you and made you feel like the most important thing on the planet, basically worthy of his respect and worship ... and all you can do is lust after him and stare at his crotch?

Pathetic.

He deserves better than that from you.

Standing, water cascaded off me as I followed Mira out of the bath. Get your towel and pray that he doesn't notice anything before you can cover up. The towel rail was just behind him, and as I reached past, head lowered so he couldn't see my eyes, his free hand shot out and encircled my wrist.

I froze.

His face was angled down, and I knew he must have seen. Of course he saw, he's extremely observant. He's going to know how you sullied this amazing moment and that you're to blame, for cheapening him. Disgusted with myself, I turned my head further down and to the side, ignoring the gentle hold on my wrist. He didn't move, didn't react.

Why did you have to go and ruin it? You should be ashamed.

There was a long silent pregnant pause.

Then, all at once, he acted.

Mira turned fully towards me, towel thrown to the floor. His hand rose to my face and pulled it abruptly to face him. Both arms together came down, slid around my hips and clamped onto my butt, a cheek in each hand. In a swift burst of movement, he pulled me to him, our bodies mashing together, mouths colliding hungrily and hotly. His tongue was invading, thrusting between my lips and I was yielding, then responding in kind. Urgent, carnal; there was a sudden need that demanded indulgence. His hands squeezed, a heavy stroking massage that my hips gyrated into, begging for more. I moaned into the kiss, fingertips grasping in feverish desire at his shoulder blades as our lips fought together playfully, frantically seeking purchase. Wet, slippery and full of dancing hormones, we went at it headlong, delicate romance thrown aside for a moment of starving bare sexual fire.

Head swimming, heart sounding an excitable drumbeat, trembling, panting, we pulled back. Holding my gaze for a few seconds, we both calmed our breathing, our chests still rising and falling as if we'd just finished a marathon. Then, he gently pushed me away from him, enough to create a little space between us. His eyes jumped to mine again and then flew downwards, indicating to follow.

Oh ... um ... WOW.

Next to my own painfully obvious arousal was ... his. There was a massive tent extending from his crotch, a triangle of silky fabric stretched so tight and extended so far out it seemed ready to rip the boxers open and burst free. Shifting his hips ever so slightly, it brushed stiffly against mine and Mira let out a very soft involuntary exhalation of pleasure.

My eyes came back up to his face, amazed, even more turned on ... and more than a little impressed. The embarrassed burn I had worn turned now to a rosy blush and I tried not to grin too widely. Actually, fair to say, um, proud, that I get to have him. Leaning forward, his forehead rested against mine and he delivered the real message, the whole point of it: 'see, now I've got it as bad as you.' Then, a giggle. A real honest-to-heavens giggle from Mira. A mirthful addendum followed, he blinked slowly and sorta shrugged at me; 'if I have to do that every time you're scared of showing your excitement to me, to teach you a lesson? I can live with that.'

So can I. Unable to control it, his own giggling triggered the same reaction in me. Infectiously, soon neither of us could stop and even as our physical stirring waned, the amusement kept on. Our awkward embrace devolved into a sort of a loose hug and stopped only when Lily politely knocked on the door a second time, requesting that we hurry along.

I really didn't care though. Right then, I was on top of the world. It didn't matter how stupidly I freaked out I got or whatever other crises of self-confidence cropped up, he always knew how to get me past it.

Life was beautiful.

-o-0-O-0-o-

Dinner provided a chance to catch up on just what everyone had been doing while Mira and I had been in captivity. Lily did not mention anything about her investigation of aemfid, preferring to remain tight-lipped still. The exposé of Mira's alleged recuperative power and the logical contention that I almost certainly enjoyed the same advantage was received with little surprise. She warned us that if we developed the ability to shoot lasers from our eyes or turn invisible, that she wouldn't bat an eyelid and would capitalise fully on being affiliated with a person wielding superpowers.

That led to me asking her that if I ended up able to fly, would she mind if I built a fort of some kind on the roof?

She told me she'd think about it.

It was revealed that Carlos had in fact stolen the repulsor bike, sneaked back to his old camp and retrieved his hunting crossbow, then rode to Lorentz. He hadn't found the exact location of the compound where we'd been imprisoned but he had set a watch on the roadways in the area. Luck had been with him and he picked up the vehicles moving west, the same ones carrying us. Trailing them until they had coincidentally pitched camp very close to the Andropov estate, he staked out the site until I had made a break.

Lily's anger lay in the theft of the bike, the breaking of trust, but it was balanced out by the fact he had aided us in our escape. Privately I thought it was a very cool thing Carlos had done; regardless of the fact that he'd stolen from them, traipsing around Lucere on his own with only a crossbow for defence was extremely ballsy. My respect for him more than doubled and my dislike of his moods and the annoying habit of teasing me decreased.

The issue of what to do about Konstantin also arose. She told us that he had intended to be gone for at least the day and was quite uneasy that he hadn't returned. She also told us that she knew I would want to find him and that she had no intention of stopping me, as Volkov was less dangerous than other places we'd been. So long as I took Mira whom she considered to be indestructible, for all practical purposes, she would be happy.

For me, that was a given. Anywhere I was going, he would be following, come hell or high water. There wasn't anything I could do to stop that.

That was how I found myself outside the Volkov Medical Centre. After a comfortable night's sleep with my miracle wrapped possessively around me, during which I dreamed, for the first time not of giant evil sharpelings out to finish me but of soaking wet boxer shorts instead, there we were.

We parked the bike in a copse a short distance from the building and began to explore the interior. I was not expecting to find Konstantin so easily, and when we ran into him on the second floor, it was a happy surprise for both of us.

"Shay!" His voice boomed around the corridor and he was next to me in a couple of strides, picking me up in a gigantic bear hug. It didn't seem to cross his mind to ask how I was here or what I'd been through to make it. Providence indeed. A man of science, but some things are most definitely left to the hand of fate. "My dear boy, I cannot express how glad I am to see you." He put me down and grasped my shoulders. "I feared the worst and I prayed that my less-than-worthy conduct was deserving of some absolution."

"I've already had this conversation with Lily," I told him. "You didn't do anything wrong, okay?"

"I hope so," he replied, his voice softening. "My conscience does not feel the same way, but there must be a kernel of truth to it, since you are here." He gave a laugh, a gruff tone of acceptance. "That is no matter, and can be dealt with later. Come! We have been attempting to break into the computer systems here, but they have proved quite resilient so far."

'We have been attempting' ... ? "You're here with someone else?"

"Indeed I am."

Carlos and Mira trailed us as we were ushered through into one of the administrator offices. Most of this was beyond them, putting them more in the roles of glorified escort and observer than anything else. We were greeted by the newcomer, Konstantin's new associate. He was tall, well built and ... incredibly handsome.

That's definitely no understatement.

My immediate thought was to compare him to famous actors from Earth, all of whom were long dead at this point, but still fresh in my memory. A chiselled jaw and cheekbones, a nicely proportioned face and musculature sculpted and strong. Dressed casually in an unusually stylish leather jacket and combat pants, lace-up boots. Ash blond hair ruffled roguishly to one side, he walked with the confidence of the self-assured, those who know precisely their place in the world and that they intend to occupy it. He looked like something off the cover of a magazine and I felt like I was meeting a celebrity as soon as he extended his hand to me.

"Hello. You must be Shay."

The accent was English itself, refined and cultured. His voice was charming but not ingratiating, reasonable without condescension, and despite the fact he was a complete stranger, I found myself at ease giving him that handshake.

"Yeah, that's me," I confirmed. "What's your name?"

"I'm Miles," he told me, an open, affable smile on his face. "Miles Hartley. It is rather a pleasure to meet you."

Miles Hartley.

Why was there the feeling I'd heard that name before? He was somehow familiar even though I'd never met the man. I thought back. I hadn't encountered many people on Lucere so far. None of them were named Miles. There can't be anything to it, I guess. Just imagining something where there's really nothing.

Then, a phrase jumped into my head, out of nowhere.

It had a French accent. It was cold and unfriendly. It spoke with a deliberate sadistic authority and I owed the speaker a debt still that had been paid to his men but not to him in person. Not yet. The phrase was difficult for me to forget, as it had been the dismissive reasoning around which approval was given to rape me.

'Hartley only said alive, nothing else.' I remembered very clearly Le Renard smirking as he spoke those words to Riley.

Konstantin didn't know it. He had been taken in by this man, the bait bitten and swallowed.

Hartley.

Miles Hartley.

The commanding officer.

We had walked right into a trap.

Three things:
First, an apology to Myr (for being patient with my frequent stupidity) and to all other subscribers also; if you got chapter notification spam from me, that was a little thoughtless stupidity on my part.
Second; yes, Mira did use the keys to unlock his padlocked hands (with no assistance) while Shay was running from Ledder. He's just that damn flexible.
Third, wet boxer shorts + sexy boy = :wub:
You can find story discussion here. :)
Copyright © 2013 Stellar; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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I can't even explain in words how much I am loving this story (even though i can't say the same thing for the cliffhanger at the end of this chapter lol).

I absolutely love it when i read the interactions between shay and Mira. Their innocence is like a breathe of fresh air from all the other things I've read here. After every end of a chapter, I am always left craving for more. please update soon! =]

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Damn, I thought since the chapter was so long it would take some time to get through it, but you write so gorgeously. Again the end of the chapter came way too soon. This is probably my favorite chapter so far, so full of action, romance, drama and revelations. And a cliffhanger as well. Probably the best story I've ever read on GA, can't wait for more.

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On 09/18/2012 08:30 PM, RobV said:
Damn, I thought since the chapter was so long it would take some time to get through it, but you write so gorgeously. Again the end of the chapter came way too soon. This is probably my favorite chapter so far, so full of action, romance, drama and revelations. And a cliffhanger as well. Probably the best story I've ever read on GA, can't wait for more.
hey Rob. What you say is very flattering! A lot of work went into this one but I think I'm very satisfied. It represents a milestone really and concentrated effort. It's progressing how I want it to at the moment and I'm happy with that.

 

I'm glad you enjoyed it -- don't forget to like any/all parts of the story you enjoyed :)

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On 09/18/2012 04:18 PM, murakisdoll said:
I can't even explain in words how much I am loving this story (even though i can't say the same thing for the cliffhanger at the end of this chapter lol).

I absolutely love it when i read the interactions between shay and Mira. Their innocence is like a breathe of fresh air from all the other things I've read here. After every end of a chapter, I am always left craving for more. please update soon! =]

aww thank you :) I make no apologies for cliffhanging though :lol: Dramatic suspension, it needs to be injected here and there.

 

Mira is just so enjoyable to me and I think out of anything I've written so far (I have a number unpublished) his characterisation and relationship with Shay are to me the most fulfilling and genuine thing. It is thrilling to not find serious fault, as I am my own worst critic.

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Very nice! (I'd write more now, but I really need to get to bed. you kept me up!)

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For a fleeting moment I pictured an indulgent possibility of Shay, Mira and Carlos all being involved in some great big affair, but of course Mira would only frustrate the poor boy in the shower, and enforce Shay's attendance for some 1 on 1 therapy. :)

You are crafty in your ability to craft plausibility into the plot when everything seems a little too far fetched. I refer to the sudden appearance of Carlos during the escape scene. I was thinking at the time, 'Oh no, just a little too convenient Stelar,' but forgive me my snappy assumption as things developed into a thoroughly realistic possibility, and enhanced my own respect for Carlos. I'm sure this boy has his own crush on Shay! :P

So they have walked right into the hands of the major big brass goon ey! Miles it would seem is on a one way trek to pain and hurt! Has he not learnt these boys don't play games by now? Jeeeeesh the good looking nut needs to get his head read. ;)

And I see how Konstantien has been busy. I am interested though to learn how he came to meet up with Miles, and where is this all leading. :P Oh how the story unwinds.

As ever Stelar a fantastic instalment to this tale. The personal relationship between the two boys is beyond words really. Thoughtful, sensitive and moving, the words flow into a lagoon of tranquil perfection. The description of the scene in the bath is so right. The cute way that Mira steadies Shay's uncertainty. The growing relationship between these two is a pure joy to experience. My fav chapter to date, and well worth the wait, but, ah hell, you know what I'm going to say.

Next chapter tomorrow??? ;)

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Interesting ending to the chapter. I suspect Mr. Miles Hartley will be discussed further in the coming installment!

This was a very fast reading chapter which is testament to how well done I consider it to be!

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A dynamic chapter, and a joy to read. The whole thing

cuts to the core of every kind of emotion, and then there

you left us hangin' off the cliff again...hearts a'beaten like

hyperactive field mice!

 

The first paragraphs tell much about Shay, and how his

imagination and dreams have shaped his actions in these

situations he keeps finding himself in, -only it's real.

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On 09/19/2012 03:04 PM, Daddydavek said:
Interesting ending to the chapter. I suspect Mr. Miles Hartley will be discussed further in the coming installment!

This was a very fast reading chapter which is testament to how well done I consider it to be!

Miles Hartley is quite an .. interesting .. man.

 

Thank you. :)

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On 09/19/2012 12:49 PM, Yettie One said:
For a fleeting moment I pictured an indulgent possibility of Shay, Mira and Carlos all being involved in some great big affair, but of course Mira would only frustrate the poor boy in the shower, and enforce Shay's attendance for some 1 on 1 therapy. :)

You are crafty in your ability to craft plausibility into the plot when everything seems a little too far fetched. I refer to the sudden appearance of Carlos during the escape scene. I was thinking at the time, 'Oh no, just a little too convenient Stelar,' but forgive me my snappy assumption as things developed into a thoroughly realistic possibility, and enhanced my own respect for Carlos. I'm sure this boy has his own crush on Shay! :P

So they have walked right into the hands of the major big brass goon ey! Miles it would seem is on a one way trek to pain and hurt! Has he not learnt these boys don't play games by now? Jeeeeesh the good looking nut needs to get his head read. ;)

And I see how Konstantien has been busy. I am interested though to learn how he came to meet up with Miles, and where is this all leading. :P Oh how the story unwinds.

As ever Stelar a fantastic instalment to this tale. The personal relationship between the two boys is beyond words really. Thoughtful, sensitive and moving, the words flow into a lagoon of tranquil perfection. The description of the scene in the bath is so right. The cute way that Mira steadies Shay's uncertainty. The growing relationship between these two is a pure joy to experience. My fav chapter to date, and well worth the wait, but, ah hell, you know what I'm going to say.

Next chapter tomorrow??? ;)

haha, I love your reviews, they're very full of descriptive words :D

 

There will be a reason for almost everything that gets written, although random lucky events and chance do play a role here and there of course. Miles is certainly nothing to be taken lightly.

 

Thank you for reviewing me. :*)

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On 09/20/2012 07:10 PM, Stephen said:
A dynamic chapter, and a joy to read. The whole thing

cuts to the core of every kind of emotion, and then there

you left us hangin' off the cliff again...hearts a'beaten like

hyperactive field mice!

 

The first paragraphs tell much about Shay, and how his

imagination and dreams have shaped his actions in these

situations he keeps finding himself in, -only it's real.

I get accused of cliffhanging an awful lot! Of all the chapter endings, I think maybe 4 or 5 I'd put in that category .. which .. uh .. actually is about half. Okay, so maybe there *is* some truth to that after all :lol:

 

Shay was very much an introvert before all this took place; both by his personality type and the circumstances in his life that forced him into a self-contained shell. Incidentally, I don't cover it in the text, but I envision that he didn't just read fiction either, but pretty much anything he could get his hands on that caught his eye.

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On 09/19/2012 12:47 PM, Myr said:
Very nice! (I'd write more now, but I really need to get to bed. you kept me up!)
Thank you ^_^ Distracting anyone from sleep = success!
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Rut Rho, Shaggy....Are you going to give Shay and Mira a break? LOL One disaster to another. If you get me to sit any further on the edge of my seat then I am going to fall off ohmy.png . I also keep fearing that every time that Mira defends and protects Shay that he will get mortally wounded. That is a rather disturbing thought. If you couldn't gather by my previous comments along with this one...I am thoroughly enjoying the story. Thank-you and keep up the great work!

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Jeez for every little close time the boys get you amp it up with danger. Im surprised the Konstantin was so easily sucked into this, he always seemed a bit wary especially when it came to shay. Now how are they going to get out of this.

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On 05/20/2013 12:51 PM, Daithi said:
Jeez for every little close time the boys get you amp it up with danger. Im surprised the Konstantin was so easily sucked into this, he always seemed a bit wary especially when it came to shay. Now how are they going to get out of this.
Konstantin's trust of Hartley comes from a prior meeting that occurred before Shay had shown up. He has no reason to disbelieve the man or suspect him of foul play because there has been no cause, to that point in time.
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The saying was, physician heal thy self, I guess now its.......... . This was a great chapter, thank you. You went and did it to us again, out of the frying pan and into the fire.

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I am so glad that i am reading the completed story and don't have to wait for instalments. That would be maddening. Great story and great chapter (or should it be the other way around)

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On 09/19/2013 12:11 AM, Rndmrunner said:
I am so glad that i am reading the completed story and don't have to wait for instalments. That would be maddening. Great story and great chapter (or should it be the other way around)
Awww, haha! I'm glad you are enjoying it! :) Thanks for stopping by.
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On 04/14/2015 10:11 PM, Celethiel said:
Wet boxershorts + boy = :wub:

you know it ;)

lol. i can safely say i am in love with your characters :D

:D thank you!
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Well, I was a little taken back, another person? seemed too fortuitous?
I just hope that this doesn't endup taking a life? None can be spared.

 

Ashley D

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On 11/28/2015 12:33 AM, Ashdaw said:

Well, I was a little taken back, another person? seemed too fortuitous?

I just hope that this doesn't endup taking a life? None can be spared.

 

Ashley D

If you are referring to Hartley, his appearance is definitely not a coincidence.

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This chapter is just wonderful filled with terror, murder and unending surprise. Hope and wondering Paison, moments with Mira so great!

God no it's  Miles Hartley!

Once again I must thank you for sharing this story!:thankyou::worship::worship::worship: 

Edited by Albert1434
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