Chapter 8--Partners--

The others held their ears as the slamming hand on the guitar created a painful hiss of cacophony. Tyrell bit his lip and struck the cords again, tearing his fingers and the pick across the bridge with a savage swipe. Gayle had stopped playing and was watching Tyrell as Maren winced. Cyrus quit tapping his drumset and shot Tyrell a frustrated glance. But Tyrell, with his eyes closed in concentration, missed the look and brought his fingers against the cords again, causing the guitar to shriek in discord. As his fingers slid across the taught strings, the flesh of his ring finger scratched against the sharp edges, welling up with blood as the cord bit into the skin.

Tyrell was completely unaware of the pain in his hand as he prepared to deliver another stroke to the guitar. All he knew was pure blinding anger. Last night had left so many questions in his mind and nothing he could think of seemed to provide a decent answer. How could Lucian just confess to Kat like that? They had only just met! It was crazy! The more he thought about his sister coveting the frolicsome teenager to herself, the more infuriated he became. Kat had no right to screw up his friendship with Lucian.

Forget the fact that Lucian was actually a Guardian, much like the cantankerous Dominic! The thing that mattered here was the throught his confession he had given Kathryn exclusive rights to his affection. It wasnít fair! First Kat had taken Maren, then she had made a mild play for Cyrus, and now she had Lucian under her wiles. Couldnít she ever just leave things well enough alone?

He couldnít understand why he was so irate about the idea of Kat dating Lucian and that only served to anger him more. To make things worse, he couldnít even talk to Angelique about his problems since she had been pretty much out of it since the group had returned from the confrontation with Fang. So he was left to himself to wallow in his own consternation and ponder what were Lucianís real intentions.

"Tyrell!" Cyrus yelped, bringing the boy back to reality as his eyes snapped open and he stared as the tailpiece of his guitar, which was now streaked with a line of blood from his finger. Gayle ran from the room, grabbed a washcloth from the kitchen, and proceeded to pat it along Tyrellís hand as the boy set his guitar on the ground. Cyrus stepped away from his drumset and raced over to the pair. He stared at Tyrellís bleeding finger and then at the stained instrument lying on the ground. "Tyrell, what in the hell are you doing!"

"Iím sorry, Cyrus. I guess I just struck the cords too hard," Tyrell lied while Gayle continued to clean off his hand. He tried to pull away from her as a loud sound drew his attention to Maren who had thrown his microphone to the floor and was glaring at the boy in rage.

"My ass!" Maren argued as Tyrell blinked his eyes at the furious youth and then yanked his hand from Gayle. "You didnít strike the cords too hard, Arteme. You werenít paying freaking attention to a thing that you were doing! You might has well have sliced off your finger for all you were noticing."

"But Ren..." the other boy began as Gayle shook her head to signal him to stop before he really got himself in trouble.

"Heís right, Tyrell," she sighed, turning to look at Cyrus who was standing a few feet away, awaiting an explanation. "You werenít paying attention. You havenít been paying attention this whole time. Weíve been sounding horrible."

Cyrus lifted his head and added, "We donít have time for this, Tyrell. We have a concert to prepare for and youíre interfering with the dynamics of the band by not focusing. Youíre supposed to be controlling the tempo and instead youíre off in some daydream. If youíre going to be like this, then why are you even here? Youíre just wasting our time."

Tyrell stepped back in shame and looked back at Cyrus with big sorrowful eyes. "What are you saying Cye?"

"Heís saying that if you donít want to practice, you should just get out!" hissed Maren crossing his arms over his chest.

"Look guys, Iíve been under a lot of stress lately. You know, Maren. And I just find it hard to focus from time to time, but that doesnít mean I donít want to play. Iím sorry for what happened today and I promise it wonít happen again."

"Tyrell, maybe you should just take a break for a while and come back when youíre in a better state of mind," Gayle suggested, touching the boyís arm comfortingly.

"But Iím ready to play now! Seriously, guys! Iíll pay more attention! Iíll work harder! I need this today more than anything. I need to get my mind off of some things," Tyrell pleaded, pushing away from Gayle and walking up to Cyrus. He grabbed a piece of the older boyís shirt and tugged at the lapels. "Please, Cye. Give me another chance!"

Cyrus looked down at the begging boy and then turned to Maren who looked somewhat repentant and then to Gayle who lowered her eyes from his view. After a moment, he sighed and removed Tyrellís hand from his shirt. "Hereís what weíll do, Tyrell. You take the day off and organize your personal issues. Then, tomorrow weíll try to practice again and see how you are. And if youíre still out of it, I suggest you forget about the gig. Weíll just have to find another one later. Deal?" he proposed as Tyrell nodded his head gratefully.

"Okay. See you guys tomorrow then," replied Tyrell as he gathered up his things and walked out the door.

*~*~*~*~*~*

 

Not to far away, another group was having their own type of argument. Tashira paced through the study, kicking miscellaneous objects that her brother had thrown to the ground during his various computer projects. She delivered a particularly fierce kick to a pen that sailed up and nailed her brother in the back from where he was leaning at the computer desk, sifting through various web sites.

"Cool it Shira," he warned as he glanced down at a story detailing the purchase of the old art showcase building that they had fought in the other night. Another well-placed kick from Tashira sent a rolled-up ball of paper zooming toward his skull. It connected with a soft thwap, causing Lucian to spin his chair around and glare at his sister in exasperation. "I said cool it! Youíre acting like this is my fault."

"Well, I donít know what else to think. What in the hell made you say that to her?" his sister fumed, stopping her kicking to lean against the wall and stare at her twin.

"Iíve told you a thousand times Shira! I donít know!" growled Lucian, rubbing his temples as images from the other night seeped into his mind.

"What do you mean you donít know? How can you not know? Youíre the one who said it?" Tashira persisted.

"I mean just that. I donít know. I donít know why I said it. I donít know why I felt I had to say it. I donít even know why I even opened my mouth."

"Speaking of opening oneís mouth..."

"Donít even go there, Shira," Lucian cautioned, an aggravated look appearing in his dark eyes. "I donít even want to think about...that."

But the mental memory still replayed in his head like a slow version of some bizarre romance movie. He had kissed her. He had kissed Kathryn Arteme, on the lips, without any reason whatsoever. Lucian couldnít even begin to fathom what sort of insane mental process could have lead to such a reckless action. He didnít even feel anything special for this girl. After all, he had just met her. Why the hell had he decided to kiss her all of the sudden?

As for his confession, it hadnít even sounded right. ĎI think Iím in love with you.í If it really meant anything to him deep inside, wouldnít he have just said, "I love you?" The other way sounded so disjointed and forced, almost as if it was an involuntary statement caused by some outside force. It certainly didnít portray any true feelings. So what was the deal?

His only explanation lay with the presence of that name. Danae. Whenever he saw Kat, that name always took hold of his mind. It was as if he became a different person all together when he was around her. He had no control over anything, let alone his emotions. It just didnít make any sense at all.

"Tell me the truth, Luce. Is this just some new form of your danger kick? Toying with young girlsí hearts?" his silver-haired companion inquired, giving him a stern look.

"What? No. This has nothing to do with that. What fun would that be? Messing with emotions isnít dangerous. Itís just annoying and loaded with heartache. Even I am not that messed up, sister."

"Well, you could have at least warned me that you were going to confess to her."

"Like I knew. It just sort of happened. I didnít even have any real idea what was going on at the time. It was like I was possessed or something," her brother explained, his voice becoming soft and distant.

"Possessed? Luce, are you serious?" Tashira cried leaping up from the wall and running over to her sibling.

"Maybe. I just donít know anymore. This whole Guardian business has everything so messed up to begin with. And what was up with that stupid wolf that suddenly showed up out of nowhere? I thought we were the only Guardians, Shira."

"Perhaps weíre not as alone as we thought," Tashira responded soothingly, running her fingers through Lucianís sweat-dampened hair. "You know, I was thinking. Maybe we should try looking for other Guardians. That way we wouldnít have to deal with all this by ourselves. We could have partners."

Lucian smiled and tilted his head back, gazing at Tashira with laughing garnet eyes. "But Shira, youíre my partner. We donít need anyone else. Weíve always worked together. Other people would just get in the way."

"I was just saying it might make things a bit easier," the girl responded leaning against the boyís chair.

"Even if it could, how are we supposed to find others like us?"

"Well, we know that the wolf you met the other day is probably a human Guardian since you say you could read its thoughts and you can only use your telepathy on humans. So maybe these could help us out," Tashira prompted, lifting her necklace from her throat and dangling it before her brotherís eyes. The simple opal stone attached to the end rocked back and forth in an almost hypnotic pattern as Lucian shook his head.

"Shira, this is silly."

"Donít knock it until you try it!" she snapped jerking the necklace away. "Besides youíre always looking for the next biggest challenge, the most dangerous task. Why not this? You get the opportunity to brave the elements and encounter the missing Guardians."

"Hey sis, weíre in the middle of nowhere. Yeah, thereís a bit of open land past the school, but basically there arenít any elements to brave. How am I supposed to find this exciting or even remotely dangerous?" the boy pointed out, turning back around on the chair and returning his attention to the computer screen.

Tashira smirked and then brought herself close to his face and tilted her head toward his ear. "Maybe not. But perhaps you may find a Guardian who is. You know a fighter like you who could show you what real danger means."

Lucian sat up in his seat and leaned his head back, considering the thought. A Guardian who also enjoyed the taste for danger. He had never met anyone else who shared his unusual hobby. It might be interesting to see if it was really possible to find someone who might be able to present a danger strong enough that it would satisfy his thirst. Then, maybe he could live a normal existence, at least normal for a boy who was destined to guard a group of powerful teenagers, and Tashira could stop fretting about him every waking moment. He knew how much his danger-junkie mentality worried her.

"All right, Shira you win. Where should I start looking?"

*~*~*~*~*~*

Dominic stifled a whimper as the act of him walking caused a stitch of pain to develop in his side. The injury from yesterdayís fight with Fang was still there, a testament to how stupid that other Guardian had been in his attack. "And Tyrell chose him!" grumbled the boy as he limped along the path.

He planned on returning the city as soon as possible. Tyrell should be able to manage a few days while he got his affairs straight back at the apartment. His first down payment was due and would have to find some way of making some cash over the next few days or the landlord would toss him out. Not that he would mind much, he had spent the last four years without a solid place to live. Of course, that was when he was masquerading as Wolf and therefore didnít really need a home since he could just hang out in the wild. Being Dominic Solanis, the senior at Carthala High, was much more difficult.

At first, he had thought he could play the boy by day and the wolf by night and still avoid the whole mess of getting a permanent place to stay. Then, he had realized that the process of his reverting back to the wolf would be a bit troublesome since he had to find an isolated place where nobody was around. Erik had proved the error in this move. He or rather she had caught him while transforming and had managed to escape with the knowledge. This was a definite problem.

After this minor fiasco, Dominic had decided it would be more pertinent to find a regular human dwelling. He had spent most of yesterday searching for one that was under a reasonable price, missing school in the process and probably building up loads of work to do when he returned tomorrow. It had also caused him to nearly forget about watching the Keys, thus resulting in his being late the previous night. Fortunately, he had managed to find a suitable apartment that charged the minimum amount. Today he had spent wandering around the area and trying to locate a decent job to help him pay for his new staying. Yet another missed day of class that he would have to deal with upon his return. He sure was shaping up to be a pretty lousy student.

Coming to the fork in the road, Dominic was about to turn left when an unusual sight caught his attention. Standing in the center of the field, staring back at him with intense jade eyes, was a medium-sized wolf with fur the color of rusted blood. Its slender proportions and lean face told him that it was a she-wolf. Knowing it was strange for a wild wolf to be seen so close to the city, as he had never known any to come up when he was traipsing about in their guise, Dominic turned from his direction and studied the silent creature. Her tail rose and fell against the ground as she opened her jaws, revealing a stunning set of white teeth much like his own when in wolf form.

Interested, the boy took a step toward the animal, half expecting it to bolt at his approach. But the she-wolf didnít even blink as he made his way toward her. The only sign that she even noticed was the way her narrow green eyes watched his every step with intent, falling upon the sun amulet upon his shirt. Her fur bristled a bit as Dominic got closer but still she didnít move or make any threatening gestures. A pink tongue rolled over her teeth as she panted, a low gentle sound. Then, when Dominic was in touching distance, she suddenly leapt to her feet and dashed off.

Too stunned to give chase, Dominic stood where he was, watching the animal leave. As if offended by his refusal to follow her, the she-wolf paused and bared her teeth, emitting a warning snarl. Dominic made another attempt to move close to her and she took off again. This time the boy followed her at full speed.

The pair raced past privately owned acres of land and through farm areas and finally close to a fairly large steep hill. Growling at her chaser to hurry up, the she-wolf clawed her way up the hill, Dominic trailing behind in pursuit. He intended to find out what this creature really was. He could hear her powerful paws crunching against the hillside and her claws scratching against the dirt as she made her way up. Dominic, not used to doing this sort of work with shoes and hands, had to use all his strength just to pull himself along. His feet dug into ground and tried to catch himself with his hands whenever he fell due to the hillís uneven surface. A few times, his hands scraped against the hard ground, catching a few jutting rocks and sending small shots of pain through him.

After about fifteen minutes of exhausting climbing, the wolf reached the top and fell to her haunches, waiting for Dominic to catch up. Dominic groaned as he pulled himself over the crest and rolled to the side just yards from the patient she-wolf. He brushed the dirt off his clothes and stood up. Wiping the sweat from his forehead, he looked at the she-wolf quizzically.

"Well, you brought me all the way up here? Now what do you want? Are you another Guardian like that fool from yesterday?" he questioned as the wolfís eyes began to gleam with an odd hint of excitement.

<Not quite.> She replied in her own tongue, which Dominic was able to decipher due to his time spent around various wild creatures as a wolf.

"Then what are you? And how can you understand human speech?" Dominic pressed, growing apprehensive about this whole situation.

The she-wolf flicked out her tongue in the form of a laugh as she cocked her head to the side. <Poor unassuming Sun Guardian. I am much more than a mere human.>

"What?"

<I am known as the Chimera, Lupe. And I was sent here to finish you off for both my master and those hopeless brothers. They just canít manage to get rid of you by themselves. Once you're out of the equation, coercing the Keys into revealing the whereabouts of the Cruce shouldn't be that hard. Too bad, the other Chimera are too sloppy to handle a brute like you. But as I always say, never let boys do a womanís job.> added the she-wolf, crouching down on her paws as her burgundy fur rose along her back.

Dominicís head shot up as he began to back toward the edge of the hill, knowing that he had placed himself in a very dangerous position. He couldnít climb down the hill in time and rolling would probably just cause him to break something. The boy glared at the wolf and put a hand to the sun amulet resting along his neck. "I donít have time for time this," he growled in a slightly shaking voice as he prepared to call his sword.

Suddenly, the she-wolf lunged at him, clamping her jaws down on his right shoulder and dragging him to his knees. The force of her bite all but paralyzed his right arm and he felt his hand fall limply to his side. Dominic hissed in pain and tried to move his other hand toward the amulet but the arm was still stiff from the combination of hard climbing in addition to its previous injuries a few days before. The wolf tightened her hold, rearing up on her hind legs and pushing against the boyís chest with her paws.

<Donít try anything stupid, Sun Guardian! Youíll just make me have to hurt you more.> Saying this, she tore her teeth even deeper into his flesh, scraping at his stomach with her jagged claws. Dominic tried to hold back his screams as he was thrown on his back by the power of the Chimera. Her claws ripped at his skin, creating angry red marks. Suffocating as she pressed against his chest, Dominic desperately tried to force her off him, kicking at her sides since his arms wouldnít move far enough to reach her. As if in response, the she-wolf growled through her teeth and used her back legs to swipe one of his legs in a back kick. The power of the kick sent jolts of agony through Dominicís thigh as his spine bowed in pain.

He fought to stay conscious as he glared at the Chimera with glazed violet eyes. "If you want to kill me, why not go for my throat?" he challenged in a bitter tone.

The she-wolfís eyes sparkled in delight as she regarded his question. <Silly boy, because then it would all be over too fast. This way I get to have fun.> She moved her teeth along the juncture of his neck and shoulder. <You know I was going to end this less painfully, but then you had to go and fight back. I do so enjoy spirit.> She licked the junction in a languished motion and then sank in her fangs. This time Dominic couldnít hold back his cries as he let loose an animalistic scream.

*~*~*~*~*~*

"Shira has got to be kidding," Lucian said to himself as he walked along the dirt path. "Iím never going to find anything here. This IS the center of nowhere."

He had been walking for nearly three hours now and still hadnít found anything. Yet the glowing globule against his chest continued to release a steady brown hue against his red silk shirt. Supposedly the damn thing was only supposed to react to signs of the Chimera or other Guardians. Tashira had added the last part herself, saying that her opal had seemed unusually bright when they ran into the wolf the other night. Fed up with this whole stupid idea, Lucian snatched his necklace from his shirt and stared at it with dull garnet eyes.

"And Iím beginning to think you are useless," he complained as the ruby gem pulsed with a faint light within his hand. He allowed it to slide back to its normal resting-place against his breastbone and then sighed. It seemed to be getting brighter. But why?

Deciding that if he just went home now, Tashira would claim that he hadnít looked hard enough and give him a fuss about it. It was better he wander around like an idiot for another couple of hours and then return. Since this was the case, standing here wasnít doing any good, so he might as well follow his worthless beacon to wherever it was urging him to go.

After a couple more minutes of pointless wandering, he finally reached a spot that overlooked a high hill. Through the distance, he could hear the sound of drowned-out screaming. Unnerved by the yells and wanting to know what was creating them, Lucian put a hand up to shield his eyes from the sunís glare and peered out into area. From what he could make out, two forms were struggling with each other on top of the hill. The smaller one had forced down the larger one and was holding it to the ground. Something about the whole scene disturbed him as he lowered his hand from his forehead. Looking down at his chest, he realized that his globule was now glowing a darker red and starting to burn against his skin.

Hoping to prevent any harm to himself, Lucian whipped the necklace out of his shirt and held it in his palm, the warm essence searing his fingertips. The boy stared at the burning object in his hand and then back at the hill. It was decision time. Either way someone up there needed help and if the globule was any indication, one of them was a Chimera. Tashiraís assumptions aside, he knew for a fact that the globule always shone dark red whenever a Chimera was nearby.

But now that he had decided to help, Lucian had an obvious problem. The hill was a good ways from him, in walking distance. Now from jumping distance, it wouldnít be insane to presuppose that a well-placed jump would land him on the hill. Of course, there was the height to worry about. Lucian had always delighted in diving off steep drops, but never this steep. This was going to be a high jump and anyway Lucian looked at it, he was going to get hurt in the landing.

Lucian paused for a moment, weighing his options. Then another sharp scream snapped his attention back to the hill. He called out his sword and started to back up. Who was he to shirk from the idea of a little danger? He lived for it, didnít he? And he had to admit, it couldnít get much more dangerous than this. At least, Tashira was right.

Allowing the junkie mentality to take over his general reasoning and common sense, Lucian continued to back up until he had given himself a decent runway. Then, gripping his sword and reminding himself how much pain he was going to be later, he took off down the strip and leapt from the edge.

*~*~*~*~*~*

It was a good jump but unfortunately, he misjudged his position. Instead of crashing into the ground right next to the fighting pair, Lucian slammed directly into the she-wolfís curved back, crushing her onto her semi-conscious prey who shrieked as the action forced the wolfís claws further into his skin and cut off his air. Lucian groggily grabbed a tuft of the she-wolfís fur and rolled her off the choking youth. His head was throbbing and he could barely see straight as he shoved her limp body away from him. The impact of the bodies had all but knocked the breath out of him and his arm, which had struck her back, hurt like hell. Correction, his whole body felt like hell. It had hurt a great deal more than he had assumed.

Blaming the creature for his misery, Lucian kicked at her for a moment to see if she was either dead or unconscious. It didnít matter to him which it was, as long as the wolf didnít get up within the next ten minutes that it would take him to get the hell out of there. He smirked, as something growled behind him and lunged, throwing him to the ground, face first. His shades flew off his face, cracking as they hit the dirt.

"Okay! What the hell?" swore the red-haired boy as he pushed himself off the ground and whirled around. As he did, a hand shot out and grabbed his throat, slamming him on his back this time. Lucian yelped and snatched at the hand around this neck as his eyes fell upon the most enthralling sets of pure cold amethyst that he had ever seen.

"Who are you?" a testy voice demanded as the grip on his throat tightened and another figure loomed over him.

"Get off me! Ack! Rape!" Lucian shouted as the other figure instantly released his throat and pulled back in shock. The red-haired boy slugged his assailant across the cheek and scrambled to his feet, muttering, "Hah. Gets them every time."

Rubbing his cheek roughly, the other figure, a young boy with jet-black hair, glared at him. "What sort of twisted sicko are you?" he snarled as Lucianís eyes slanted in indignation and he pushed at the other youth.

"Me? You were the one putting your hands all over me and practically trying to kill me! You...You...Hey! Donít I know you?" Lucian stopped as he again ran his eyes over the raging boy before him. Those eyes. Such a pair of mesmerizing eyes would be hard to forget. He knew he saw him before. As he stared at the other, he noticed that the dark-haired youth seemed to be studying him as well, the same meticulous shift of his violet eyes tracing Lucianís entire form. Finding the situation amusing, Lucian laughed with his customary cat-like rumble as the other boyís eyes darkened in realization.

"Youíre that bastard who screwed up my duel with your pointless babbling! You tried to kill me!" Dominic hissed while the other youth held up his hands in a pacifying gesture while trying to turn his head to the side to get a better view of the person threatening him.

But as Dominicís purple orbs began to bore deep into his own crimsons, a sudden glimmer of recognition flitted through their depths and the garnet pools widened with interest. He smirked for a moment before bringing down his hands leering over the injured youth.

"I knew I remembered that face. Who could forget that startling pair of amethysts searing through me? Youíre that guy who attacked that transvestite chick! And hey, I didnít try to kill you. I just wanted to make sure you didnít hurt the Keys in your fight," he added, shaking his head in a superior motion. Then he shrugged half-heartedly and ran his fingers through his dark red bangs. "You know I was kind of looking forward to our fight. Too bad, I guess weíre not allowed to fight now since weíre both Guardians and all."

"Screw that! Bring it on!"

"Oh sure, you want me to kick your ass now?" He glanced down at Dominic shooting death glares at him and took in the Guardianís present condition. The boy chortled under his breath and then murmured darkly, "I donít usually fight the helpless."

Dominicís eyes took on an almost animalistic light as he glowered at his rescuer, rearing back his good hand to strike the boy. "Why you little..."

"Hey! Hey! Now, is that any way to thank someone who just saved your life?" yelped the red-haired youth, jumping back a few paces.

"Bastard! You could have crushed me! What sort of dumbass jumps on top of a wolf when itís leaning over somebody?" snarled the Guardian as he ran a hand across his neck and shoulder, checking to see how bad the wound was.

"Okay, so maybe I could have planned that better. But you have to admit, I did get that monster off you."

"I didnít ask for your help."

"Oh really? How about I just leave you here to handle the she-wolf when she gets up again, huh?" sighed Lucian as he crossed his arms over his chest and rolled his eyes in Dominicís direction.

"I can handle her," spat Dominic as he tried to get back on his feet, his arms screaming in agony as he attempted to use them to support his wait. Seconds later, his arms gave out and he crashed back into the ground, groaning under his breath.

"So I see," remarked the other boy, turning his head to the side while sliding his eyes back to watch Dominic. His companion tried again, only with the same results. He rolled over to his back and clutched his throbbing arm, cursing to himself about how he would have to find another way of approaching this problem. Lucian listened to the griping youth for a moment and then shook his head. He walked over to the injured boy and held out his hand. "Here, maybe I can help."

Dominic narrowed his eyes and slapped at his outstretched hand, fiercely jerking his head to the side and staring at the ground. "Donít touch me! I said I donít need any of your help!"

"Will you forget about your lousy pride for a sec? That crazy wolf-thing is going to wake up in a few minutes. Do you honestly think you can fight her off in your condition? Come on, let me help you up at least."

"Get away from me!" roared Dominic, rolling to his chest once more and giving one last attempt at getting back on his feet.

"Stubborn ass!" Lucian groaned as he reached over and grabbed the back of the other boyís right arm. With a mighty tug, he pulled Dominic to his feet. Dominic stumbled under the motion and fell forward as the younger boy caught him by the shoulders. "Careful."

The dark-haired boy furiously shoved Lucian back and steadied himself on his feet, sending livid glances back to the other.

A few seconds later, the other boy recovered from his surprise and stared at the Guardian in a calm and collected manner. He cocked his head to the side and gave Dominic a playful yet disapproving look. "Temper, temper. Now I can see why that girl seemed so pissed at you."

"Shut up!" grumbled the dark-haired youth as he walked away from the annoying teen, noting that he was probably younger than he was, which might possibly account for his childish behavior. "Iím in enough pain as it is, the last thing I need is an annoying brat like you making it worse."

"Weíre not familiar with the term Ďgratitude?í Are we?" Lucian asked as he kept a steady distance from the already infuriated teen. Then he changed his direction to look down the steep hill that they should start descending if they wanted to get away before the wolf woke up. "By the way, how do you propose we get out of here? You donít look like youíll be that good at climbing with those injuries."

"Iíll manage."

"Why did I even ask?" murmured the red-haired boy.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Lucian watched Dominic as he winced and began to make his way down the hill, taking careful steps some of the time and at others making foolhardy leaps. Now this guy was something new to Lucian. A boy who didnít seem to fear anything and retaliated to all problems with the use of extreme violence.

The young boyís eyes glistened with intrigue as he began to follow the other. His common sense warned him against getting too close since Dominic was obviously not entirely stable. But his wilder side, the side that made him go looking for trouble, was delighted by the idea. Here was his chance. A chance to discover something far more dangerous than he had ever tampered with. The guns, drag races, hacker systems, and fire had all been fun. But his interest in them had always waned after the first few experiences. Dominic presented him with a chance to pursue something that might be able to hold his interest for a considerable while longer. Such a volatile youth should provide quite an amusing challenge, the perfect fix for his deadly addiction.

Too caught up in his musings, to pay attention to what he was doing, Lucianís foot slipped on an outcropped rock and he tumbled down the hill. His arms scraped against the rocky surface as he tried to find something to grab onto. Then, just as he was about to roll across a particularly nasty looking rock, something snatched his arm. Lucian looked up to see Dominic holding him back while looking at him with an irritated expression. The red-haired boy used the moment to plant his feet back on the ground and bring himself to a stable standing position.

"Thanks," he replied to Dominic who just released his hand and continued to make his way down the hill.

"Pay attention next time!"

*~*~*~*~*~*

When they finally reached the bottom, both Lucian and Dominic stood for a moment, panting heavily. Dominic took another breath and then gazed at the hideous teeth marks at the top of his right shoulder. Wanting to get the limb to stop hurting as soon as possible, he rolled up his sleeves and rotated the limb methodically. Lucian watched him for a moment as he plopped onto the ground and smacked his sweaty bangs from his eyes. As he stared at the dark-haired boy, his eyes came across the stunning picture of a gray wolf tattooed on his upper right arm. Gasping, he turned his head in a hesitant motion, to see if Dominic was still eager to tear into him. Then, he cleared his throat and lifted his head.

"Just out of curiosity, does that nifty little tattoo there reflect your user name on computers? You know like a screen name or something?" Lucian prodded as Dominic lowered his eyes to acknowledge the question.

"Why do you want to know?" he responded, seeming as if the query had disturbed him.

"Oh, just because I met someone on the computer the other day while I was working on a program. Does the name Wlf14 ring a bell?"

"I should have guessed that you were that arrogant hacker! Why did you want to break into Carthalaís security systems?" Dominic bit back as he gazed at the red-haired youth with distaste.

Lucian chuckled and twisted a few ends of his ponytail around his finger. "Iím guessing for the same reason as you. I wanted to get into the school without the uncomfortable process of dealing with officials whoíd want to speak to my parents. And I needed to keep an eye on the Keys."

"Why wouldnít you want people to speak with your parents?"

"Kind of hard when you donít have any," the younger boy responded with a slight grin. "How about you?"

"Itís none of your business," snapped the black-haired youth, rolling down his sleeve and pushing his shirt collar farther from his shoulder, where it had become stained with seeping blood.

"Not fair pal! I told you about me. Now itís your turn," whined Lucian staring down at his globule, which he had previously changed from the sword before descending the hill.

"Like I care. Besides, what have you told me about yourself? I donít even know your real name and I can bet itís not Daemon."

Lucian fidgeted with his necklace while staring at the older boy in mirth. "Got me there. My nameís definitely not Daemon. Itís Lucian. Lucian Ambrose." He waited for Dominic to offer his name as well and after a few moments of silence, Lucian tilted his head to the side and glared at him in frustration. "Come on! I just saved your life. The least you could do was give me something."

"So you want my name in exchange for your services?" Dominic growled, storming over to the redhead and presenting him with a searing gaze.

"God, do you have to make it sound like itís some sort of torture? But if thatís the way you want to put it, then fine. Sure, I would like your name in return for my saving your butt back there. So what is it?"

"Dominic Solanis."

"Dominic?" gaped Lucian as he leapt to his feet at the name. "Tyeís Dominic?"

The older boy snarled and grabbed his wrist, wrenching him toward him with an angry tug. He bared his fingers down on the redheadís flesh and glared at him in fury. "What the hell do you mean by ĎTyeís?í Iím not his frigginí property!"

Lucianís garnet eyes shone with surprise as he winced under the pressure being applied to his wrist. He pulled it back with a sharp jerk of his arm, but Dominicís hold refused to lighten and he remained in place, just inches away from the other boyís chest. "Oww! Let go! I didnít mean it like that, you freak. I was just saying that Tyrell was the one who told me about you. Oww! I said let go!" He scratched at the fingers encircled around his wrist and pulled back again. "Damn it, I said let go!"

Looking down at him in disdain, Dominic lifted his fingers and watched Lucian topple to the ground from the momentum of his pull. Lucian whimpered as his back slammed against the solid surface and he pushed himself upright. Dominic was sneering at him, coldly. "So he told you about me, did he? Must have been an interesting conversation."

"Oh believe me, it was," Lucian answered in a dry voice as he massaged his wrist with his other hand. "Jeez, did you have to sink your frigginí nails into it? Man, look at those marks. Itís a definite bruise for sure. Shiraís going to kill me."

"Whoís Shira?"

Lucian glared at him for a moment, contemplating whether or not he should respond to his inquiry after the way Dominic had just treated him. Then again, if he was going to be around this guy for a while, he might as well get used to his mood swings. The younger boy removed his fingers from on top of his wrist and laid his hand back on the ground. He shrugged his shoulders and turned his head to the side. "Sheís my twin sister. Actually her real name is Tashira. But I call her Shira for short because it used to annoy her when she was little."

"Is she a Guardian as well?" Dominic continued, averting his eyes from the darkening flesh on Lucianís skin. It was beginning to develop an odd shade of purplish-blue from the parts where his fingers had caused it to rub up against the tiny bones in the other youthís wrist. Angered at his actions, Dominic tried to return his focus to his aching arm so that he didnít have to look at the mark he had inflicted.

"But of course. Sheís known as Phoenix. I used to joke about how the name fit her since sheís such a birdbrain. She didnít like that too much though."

"I canít imagine why," the older boy said with a roll of his violet eyes.

"All right, enough with the sarcasm already. Howís your arm?"

"Shouldnít you look to your own injury?"

Lucian seemed to shirk at the words and then a devilish smile crossed his face. Here was his chance to test Dominicís temper and see if he really was half as dangerous as he pretended to be. He shifted his crimson eyes back to the older youth and leaned his head to the side, gazing at Dominic in anticipation. "Now wouldnít that be the one you gave me?" he teased in an absent tone.

As Lucian had expected, Dominicís eyes flared at the accusation and he scowled at the redhead, his wild hair falling over his eyes and very much resembling his other bestial form. "Shut up!"

His only response from Lucian was a delighted laugh. Seeing that he now had the older boy in the perfect position, Lucian continued his provocation, chuckling as he mused, "Whoa! Are we snappy? Youíre far too tense, you know that? Hmm, now what can we do to ease all that unnecessary stress? Letís see." He tapped his finger against the side of his neck for a moment, searching his brain for something that would really get under Dominicís skin. Then, his eyes lit up as he flung his hand back down. "Oooh I got it! A nickname."

"What?" Dominic raged, still not too happy at seeing Lucian revel in his displeasure.

"Letís go with Nicky? Cool, donít you think?" the younger boy proceeded, undaunted by the otherís response. To tell the truth, he was quite enjoying it.

"What the hell are you going on about now? I donít feel like listening to any more of this ridiculous babble of yours."

Lucian pretended to pout and fiddled with the ends of his ponytail some more. "Once again Nicky, you have a real lousy way of showing your gratitude."

"Youíve got a nerve addressing me by that kiddy name, especially when weíve just met. I know nothing about you," pointed out Dominic as he fought with the urge to give Lucian another physical lesson in curtsey.

"Hey! What do you think all that stuff I told you a few minutes ago was? A lie? Give me some credit, Nicky," Lucian argued, making sure to put a large emphasis on the name at the end. He grinned mischievously as Dominic kicked some dirt at him and then smacked his first against his open palm, clearly trying to threaten the other boy.

"Donít call me that!"

"Call you what? Nicky?"

The older boy struck his palm even harder this time, his eyes slanting ever so slightly. "Iím warning you."

Lucian giggled in delight. The game was set and now it was up to him to make the deciding move. Of course, he could always back out now and try again later. That would prevent Dominic from going psycho and knocking the crap out of him. But where was the fun in that? Maybe he could make the game last just a little longer and then bail out if things got really bad.

He pushed a strand of dark red hair behind his ear and glanced up at Dominic with a look of pure joviality. "All right, I wonít say it again...Nicky."

Dominic lunged at him and clamped his fingers down on Lucianís collar, yanking him to his feet. His eyes darkened with a menacing quality as he lifted his hand to punch the younger boy. But before he could move, his eyes fell down to the bruise appearing on Lucianís wrist and he tossed him to the side with a curse. Not expecting to be thrown to the ground, let alone thrown so roughly, Lucian crashed down on his ankle. A wave of pain shot up his leg as he felt something in his foot twist to the side. He gave a light yelp as he hit the ground and fell on his waist. Uninterested in the boyís piteous whimper, Dominic turned around to leave, hoping to get a decent distance before the aggravating youth could get up.

Following him with his eyes, Lucian attempted to leap to his feet but the swollen aching in his ankle grounded him the second he shifted his weight. "Damn," he panted as he felt the tender tissue by his foot. "This was not supposed to happen. I guess I underestimated him." The red-haired boy pulled down his sock, then patted his ankle again, running his fingers over the strained muscles inside and feeling the soft patch of flesh, indicating a sprain or at least a twist. He tried to move it again as agony raced through the injured area. This time Lucian hissed and shut his eyes, leaning back his head to clear his mind of the nagging pain.

*~*~*~*~*~*

 

Hearing the hiss, Dominic swerved his head to the right, pausing in his exit to take another look back at the boy. He sure didnít look like he was faking an injury now. That sound was real. A closer inspection of the redhead made it clear that Lucian was truly suffering. Dominic felt a rush of guilt overtake him. How come he always had to react like such a jerk whenever something got to him? The younger boy might have been extremely annoying, but that still gave him no reason to seriously hurt him. Lucian had given him a hand earlier. His eyes flickered at the injured boy for a moment and then he quickly turned away.

But Lucian noticed the older boyís gaze and couldnít help but feel a slight hint of concern despite the fact that Dominic had tried to make it look nonchalant. Now it was his turn to feel guilty. He had deliberately provoked Dominic into attacking him, even if he didnít expect the older youth to actually follow though with it so suddenly, and now Dominic seemed as if he thought himself responsible for Lucianís condition. The red-haired teenager raised his head and offered his companion a reassuring smile.

"Iím fine."

Dominic turned back and glanced at the younger boy skeptically. He ran his eyes over the swollen ankle, noting the way the tendon seemed to jut a little to the right. "Who do you think youíre fooling? Itís messed up and at least seriously strained."

Lucian dropped his futile smile and tried once more to force himself upright only to fall again. "Guess youíre right," he concurred, rubbing the injury gingerly. "But you donít need to worry. Itís my own fault. Guess making that last ĎNickyí comment wasnít such a hot idea, huh?"

The older boy cringed under his words as he lowered his eyes. He ran a shaking hand through his hair as he tried to decide how to respond. He was at somewhat of an impasse. Part of him wanted to get out of there as soon as possible, leave the boy, and forget this whole mess ever happened. Yet another part insisted that he at least make sure the boy would be all right since Lucian had helped earlier.

"Can you get up by yourself?" he asked, stepping toward the younger boy, but still not meeting his eyes.

"Sure! Oh I can handle this easy," assured the red-eyed boy, once again perking up and flashing a confident smirk. He shifted a little bit to the side as more shivers of pain arced through his foot and lower leg. Wincing from the action, he raised his eyes back to Dominic and sighed, "On second thought, maybe I could use a hand."

Dominic regarded the youth for a moment and then shook his head in a criticizing fashion. "And you called me stubborn," he grumbled as he trudged over to Lucian and thrust out his hand violently. "Here."

Lucian stared at him for a moment, surprised that the boy had actually agreed to help him. Then he lifted his hand up and grasped Dominicís wrist for better support. "Thanks Nicky."

"Didnít I tell you to stop calling me that?"

The older boy yanked him up quickly, sending a tiny jolt of pain down his arm. But Lucian wasnít aware of the pain. He was more interested in the huge wound on the other boyís right shoulder and the way it was remaining stock still, almost as if it would be painful to move it. Dominic released his hold on the younger boyís hand but continued to steady him against his left shoulder.

"Whoa Nicky, maybe you should look at this," Lucian suggested in a concerned tone as he reflexively touched the bleeding joint.

The exact instant the hand made contact with his shoulder, Dominic hissed in pain. The dark-haired youth had to use all of his control not to throw the other boy back to the ground, though he did push him back a bit.

"Sorry! Sorry!" sputtered Lucian, feeling stupid for touching a sensitive part of the older boyís skin. He should have known better. It was like trying to free a fox caught in a bear trap. Even though one tried to help, the animal would still snarl and snap at oneís fingers with its teeth. It wasnít that the creature was ungrateful, but it simply couldnít comprehend that one wished to help it. Dominic apparently shared the same scenario.

Lucian kept his hands to his sides this time as he studied the torn flesh. "Jeez! Talk about my injury, your shoulder looks like itís been through a meat cleaver!"

"This isnít your problem. Leave me alone or Iím going to drop you back on the ground," Dominic threatened, moving his left hand over to cup the wound.

"Seriously Nicky, you shouldnít go anywhere without first taking care of that wound. You know, back at my house weíve got some fairly good first aid supplies."

"I can handle this by myself. I have already explained that I donít want nor need your help, Ambrose."

The younger boy stiffened at the title. "Ambrose? Whatís the deal with that? I told you my name is Lucian."

"And my name is Dominic, not Nicky," retaliated Dominic with a flash of his amethystine eyes.

"Yeah, but Nicky suits you. Ambrose sounds like a girlís name," griped Lucian.

"And the problem is..."

"I am NOT a girl!"

The older boy smirked at his companionís reaction and raised his eyebrow. "You sure whine like one."

"Nicky!" growled the younger boy, glaring at the other ominously.

"Besides, Nicky sounds like a little kidís name."

"Yeah? Well, Dominic sounds like some Latin tyrant."

Dominic shrugged and shifted his eyes as he tossed his head back. "Fine with me."

"Youíre a freak."

"And this coming from a fellow freak," the older boy said curtly as Lucian pulled away from him and continued to walk, limping on his hurt foot. Dominic glanced at him and crossed his arms over his chest in a critical posture. "What? Not having fun anymore, Ambrose?"

"Iíll fight with you later, Nicky. Right now I just want to go home and ice my ankle," Lucian called back in an exasperated tone.

"I suppose youíre going to walk back?"

Lucian curved his head over his shoulder and grinned at the older boy. "Of course not. Iíve got a car. How about you?"

"I was going to walk," Dominic replied with a flat tone. Why didnít he ever think to get a car? He was old enough to drive and he had even done it a few times. A car sure would save a lot of time he spent walking around, looking for houses, jobs, and Tyrell. He turned his attention back to Lucian who had paused and was staring at him in thought.

"So where are you staying anyway?" the red-haired boy inquired as Dominic ignored the question and rushed ahead of him. Growling in vexation, Lucian bit his lip, to keep his mind off the pain in his ankle, and hurried after him. "Hey! I asked you a question!"

Realizing that the youth wasnít planning on giving up chase, Dominic slowed down and shot a look back at him. "In some apartment a few miles from here."

"Apartment? A few miles? And youíre going to walk? Thatís crazy Nicky!"

"Damn it! I told you to quit calling me that! And what I do with my life is no business of yours."

*~*~*~*~*~*

As Lucian listened to his words, he was suddenly filled with a wonderful idea. One that would insure his ability to get his newest fix with Dominic for at least a couple more days. That would give him enough time to learn what truly got to the older boy so that he could use it to rile him up and then escape again, unscathed. His danger-junkie side smiled at the notion of spending more time around the unpredictable youth.

He limped up to Dominic and placed a hand on his uninjured shoulder. "At least let me give you a ride. Or better yet, why donít you stay with me and Shira until your shoulder heals. I hear apartments have quite unsanitary conditions. Plus, itíll save you some money."

"Why would I want to stay with you?" snapped Dominic, slapping the otherís hand from his shoulder and quickening his pace.

But Lucian would not be deterred. He kept after him, continuing his suggestion. "Not just me Nicky. Me and my sister. Weíve got a huge house. Thereís plenty of room for an extra person for a few days."

"Oh? And what do I own this honor?"

"Forget about it. Youíre a Guardian just like us and itís our job to look out for each other. Also, Shiraís been dying to meet another Guardian and seeing you would just make her day. Donít you want to do something good for someone else?"

"No," the black-haired youth responded, not looking back at the other boy this time.

"Well too bad Ďcause I saved your life and you just handing me your name isnít going to cut it. I want some serious payment."

Dominic turned to Lucian and gave him a revolted glance. "What sort of perverted ideas did you have in mind, Ambrose?"

Lucian made a face and wrinkled his nose in nausea. "Uck! Not like that! Yeesh, what do you take me for? Anyway, what I meant was that I think you owe it to me to make my sister happy after how I helped you out with that she-wolf."

"Do I now?"

The younger boy nodded his head sternly and shot his companion a warning glare. Dominic sighed and pondered the proposition in his head. He didnít have any concrete money to pay his apartment off just yet and finding a job with his current injuries was not going to be easy. Those two facts made Lucianís offer seem fairly reasonable. But then, there was the actual realization that agreeing to the offer meant that he would have to subject himself to Lucianís constant company until his shoulder mended. That made the whole thing seem very unappealing.

He stood before the redhead for a few moments, making his decision and then finally he shrugged his shoulders in an indifferent gesture. "I guess a few days of your pointless chatter couldnít kill me."

"So youíll do it?" Lucian asked, seeking confirmation as Dominic nodded his head reluctantly.

"But only until my shoulder gets better. Then, Iím gone."

"Deal!" quipped the younger boy as he shook Dominicís hand, sealing the bargain. "Guess that makes us partners for the time being, Nicky."

"I suppose," drawled Dominic as he watched Lucian release his hand and then wander up and down the street.

"Now weíve just got to find the car. Where did I park it again?"

Dominic groaned and shook his head. "I just know Iím going to regret this," he muttered to himself as Lucian grabbed his hand and dragged him off to find his missing vehicle.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Comments: They make an interesting pair, donít they? And poor little Lucian isnít as stable as he pretends to be, is he? Just wait until Tashira meets Dominic.

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