DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to Marvel, and are
used without permission for entertainment purposes

AUTHOR'S NOTE: The sequel to the original 'Two
Princes', available at
http://members.tripod.com/~askani_2/twoprinces.htm and
hopefully the beginning of a series. ;)

Basically, for those of you who might have missed the
original story, it's a 'what-if', based around the
idea that young Nate took young Stryfe with him when
he fled Apocalypse's palace after Redd and Slym
disappeared back to the 20th century. 'Island In A Sea
Of Sand' picks up a week afterwards.

Feedback, as always, is welcomed. :)


by Alicia McKenzie


Nate cursed as the piece of tubing literally crumbled
in his hands. How the flonq was he supposed to get the
hydroponics working if he couldn't even put the system
back together? the boy thought helplessly. He'd been
at it for hours now, and he wasn't making any progress
at all.

Giving in to frustration, he tossed the tubing aside,
a little too forcefully, and a soft cry escaped him as
the movement pulled at the acid burns on his arm and
shoulder. Hunching over instinctively, he concentrated
on breathing until the pain died down a little.

"You don't look like you're getting anywhere," Stryfe
observed from the corner. His tone was a little less
hostile than Nate was used to hearing from the other
boy. At the moment, though, Nate really wasn't in the
mood to care about the difference.

"You could come over here and help," he snarled back
weakly. "But that'd be too much like work, wouldn't
it?" That wasn't really being fair. Stryfe could still
barely move around, even a week after they'd ended up
in the abandoned steading, hiding from the Dog
Soldiers. Whatever Apocalypse had done to him, trying
to steal his body, it wasn't wearing off very fast.

"Shut up. Stupid peasant."

"Stop calling me that, or I"ll--"

"What?" Stryfe was silent for a long moment, and then
finally gave a soft, cracked-sounding laugh. "You're
not in much better shape that I am."

"Shut UP!" Nate swallowed and tried to straighten,
another half-whimper slipping out. It hurt, but that
didn't matter. It had hurt to walk out to the
hydroponics bay and drag some of the equipment back in
here to work on it, but he'd done it anyway. They had
to eat. The emergency stores he'd found back at the
beginning were almost gone; there just hadn't been
enough to last more than a few days. "Either do
something useful or stop bothering me," he muttered.
"Don't know what you're talking about."

The burns hurt, but they weren't getting infected.
They weren't. They couldn't, because there weren't any
medical supplies here. It was that simple. And as for
the rest of it--he was just tired. Tired, and the heat
was getting to him. That was all. That was ALL.

"I don't know anything about hydroponics," Stryfe

"Oh, big surprise. I wasn't expecting it anyway, not
from a pampered alpha--"

"Would you stop calling me that?" Stryfe snapped. His
eyes glittered angrily at Nate from the dimness of the
corner. "You don't know anything about me."

"I know enough."

"You DON'T!" Stryfe spat. "Maybe I had more than you
did, but at least your unit just left you. No one
tried to steal YOUR body--"

"You think I should feel sorry for you?" Nate said
disgustedly, leaning back against the wall and taking
a deep, shaky breath. The flonqing thing was that he
did, in a way--just a little. Even with how hazy his
head felt, he was still sensing a lot from Stryfe, and
not just pain, but--hurt.

"I don't want your pity," Stryfe whispered harshly.

"I wouldn't worry about that," Nate muttered. He
didn't feel pity for Stryfe. He couldn't, having seen
in his mind the sort of things he'd done as
Apocalypse's heir. But he was feeling something.
Compassion, maybe? That was maybe what Redd would have
called it. Stryfe had loved Apocalypse, trusted
him--maybe ONLY him. And then Apocalypse had done this
to him--

Stryfe turned his face away, his shoulders shaking,
and Nate muttered a curse under his breath that would
have had Redd threatening to 'wash his mouth out with
soap', whatever that meant.

"I'm--I didn't mean--"

Stryfe didn't say anything, just huddled in the corner
and cried. Nate swallowed, hating himself for some
stupid reason, and turned his attention back to the
pile of parts sitting in front of him.


"--check around the back. Too good a hiding place."

"--looks like it's been abandoned, sir--"

"--have your orders!"

Stryfe's eyes flew open at the sound of voices from
outside, harsh voices speaking in the unmistakable
gutteral words of the Dog Soldiers' battle language.
His father's troops--the moment of half-groggy
exultation faded as he woke up the rest of the way and
remembered where he was, and what had happened. Sick
fear crept into its place, and he turned his head
slowly towards the corner where Nate had settled down
to sleep.

The other boy was lying there unmoving, but his eyes
were wide open, uncannily bright in the shadows. The
morning light coming in through the high slit of a
window fell across the middle of the floor, not
touching either of them.

Nate was holding the gun he'd been carrying ever since
Stryfe had woken up out in the desert with him. He put
a finger to his lips, and then sat up slowly, holding
the gun with both hands now.

#Stay down,# Nate's voice whispered in his mind.

"--are reading two biosigns, sir," one of the voices
said, closer and more distinct. "Inside here, and--THE

Before Stryfe could so much as blink, Nate was on his
feet and out the door, firing as he went. Someone
screamed, and there were answering shots, so loud that
the walls of the steading seemed to shiver in
reaction. Stryfe shielded his face as a plasma blast
came right through the door and left a scorch mark on
the floor. More weapons fire, and he heard another
scream--then, somewhere closer to the door, a grunt
and the thud of something hitting the ground.

A shadow fell across him, and Stryfe flinched at the
sight of the dog soldier who stood there, weapon
leveled and ready. He was enormous, blue-skinned and
so heavily muscled that the tiny part of Stryfe's
brain still functioning properly wondered how he'd
gotten in the door.

The dog soldier smiled toothily, tilting his head as
he looked down at Stryfe. "You're not trying to
mind-control me, 'my lord'," he said ironically. "So
the Paladin was right when he said you'd lost your
powers." The gun didn't move. "He told us we had to
bring you back in if we found you, since you were
helpless. High Lord only knows why he thinks we need
to bother--"

Ch'vayre? Ch'vayre had KNOWN that his powers were--but
he couldn't have. That wasn't possible. *I didn't see
him, afterwards, he couldn't have known. I didn't
know, not until I woke up--* Unless---unless Ch'vayre
knew they might get caught, Stryfe thought,
possibilities racing through his mind at top speed. If
he'd wanted to stop the dog soldiers from killing them
out of hand--

"Helpless," the dog soldier murmured. He had a squad
leader's emblem on his uniform. He was very, very big,
Stryfe thought, shrinking back before he could help
himself. "Just a little boy we can have some sport
with on the way back. Look how the strong've fallen."
Laughing, he lowered his gun and took a step forward,
reaching out--

Then Stryfe heard rapid footsteps outside the door, as
if someone was running. The dog soldier's head start
to turn in that direction, his features contorting
with alarm--

Eyes wide and wild, Nate swung the gun in his hands
like a club. It hit the dog soldier in the head,
knocking him to the floor. Before the stunned man
could even start to get up, Nate staggered forward and
hit him again, smashing his skull in.

The front of his clothes splattered with blood, his
left arm and shoulder charred and smoking, he looked
around at Stryfe, that wild look still on his face.

"The gun jammed," he said dully, blinking rapidly.

Stryfe swallowed. "Oh," he said weakly. "Are they--are
they all dead?"

"Yeah." Nate let the gun fall to the ground and
managed a step towards him before his knees buckled.
He barely seemed to notice the fact that he'd fallen,
and shook his head slowly as he looked down at his
left side. "It doesn't hurt," he said, starting to
tremble. "One of them shot me, but it doesn't hurt. I
guess it's because the virus and not skin. Still,
that's sort of weird, isn't it?"

What little color was left in his face faded as he
looked over at the dog soldier's body. Without another
word, he leaned over and threw up on the floor. He
kept heaving, even when there didn't seem to be
anything left in his stomach to throw up. After a few
minutes, Stryfe gritted his teeth and crawled forward.

"Stop it," he muttered awkwardly. "It's over--" Nate
moaned, doubling over and cradling his other arm, the
acid-burned one, against his chest. Stryfe bit his lip
in frustration. "They would have killed us--you, at
least." Whatever Ch'vayre had said to the dog
soldiers, Stryfe wouldn't have wanted to wager credits
on the chance that he'd have been brought back in one
piece. Not after all the times he'd seen how dog
soldiers behaved with someone--weaker.

"Shut up," Nate almost whimpered. "You'd know,
wouldn't you?" He straightened, his breath coming in
gasping near-sobs as he struggled back to his feet.
"Have to hide the bodies," he muttered feverishly,
swaying on his feet. "Then we have to go."

"Go where?" Stryfe protested as Nate leaned down and
pulled, trying to drag the dog soldier's body towards
the door.

"Away from here!" He lost his grip and his balance
both, and wound up sprawled on his back on the floor,
his chest heaving. Stryfe stared at him for a long
moment, not moving towards him.

"You think we won't be safe here," he finally said as
Nate just laid there, staring up at the low roof.
"Because they vanished here?" Nate still didn't
answer, and Stryfe looked at the dog soldier's body,
stomach twisting slightly as he considered the
problem. "No," he muttered. "They won't know, not
right away. How many of them were there?"

"Four." The answer came out in a choked voice. Nate
still wasn't moving to sit up.

"Then it was a patrol," Stryfe said, more sure of
himself now. "Patrols don't report in unless they're
sure they've found something their sector command
needs to know. They can be out for several weeks, out
of contact--"

"Can be," Nate said weakly, pushing himself back up.
"You want to risk everything on a possibility? We can
find another place to hide."

"No, listen to me, I know this," Stryfe insisted. "I
know how it works--"

"As if I'd trust you," Nate grated, swaying on his
feet and taking hold of the dog soldier's uniform

"Well, why didn't you keep playing dead and let them
take me, then?" Stryfe asked acidly.

Nate hesitated, blinking at him for a moment. "Because
I didn't," he finally said, unsteadily. "Don't know
why." He tottered, landing on the floor again. "It
doesn't matter how long it takes them to come
looking," he muttered. "They will. The farther away we
are the better. Unless you wanted them to take you
back." For a minute, Nate's unfocused eyes fixed on
him, sharpening. Questioning without saying a word.

Stryfe opened his mouth to answer, but thought better
of it. "You're--hurt," he said instead, a little
awkwardly. "I can hardly move around. You look like
you're having trouble standing up--how are we supposed
to leave?"

"Doesn't matter," Nate muttered, getting up again, his
ashen face set in a determined expression. "We have to
go." He started to pull the dog soldier's body towards
the door again, making some progress this time. "Have
to drag you, too, I will!" he gasped out, and Stryfe
flinched a little at the fierce look in his eyes.

Why was he bothering? Stryfe wondered wildly, his head
spinning as he crawled back to his corner. *He doesn't
like me, he doesn't trust me, why does he want to save
me?* It didn't make any sense.

Nate vanished out the door, but Stryfe could hear his
labored breathing for what seemed like minutes, even
as he got further away. Stryfe stared down at the
splotch of blood on the floor where the corpse had
been, and couldn't, for the life of him, figure out
what he should do.

He couldn't trust the dog soldiers. That had certainly
been true before, there was no reason to forget that
now. He didn't know if he could trust Ch'vayre, or
whether the Paladin had had something else in mind
when he told the patrols that he was helpless. *He
could have,* Stryfe told himself. There were always
plots within plots within plots, in the palace. But he
wasn't sure. He remembered--something from back at the
palace, at the end. Ch'vayre's voice, loud and

Stryfe swallowed and shook his head. He couldn't be
sure. His only alternative was Nate, who'd saved him,
but who wanted to change him, too. What sort of option
was that? Huddling into the corner, all the ugly
possibilities turning over and over in his mind,
Stryfe tried to think clearly, past the despair that
suddenly flooded back and tried to drown him.


It was so cold. The desert shouldn't be this cold.
Nate stumbled, dropping the armful of weapons and gear
he'd taken off the dog soldiers' bodies. A whimper
escaped him as he fell to his knees and tried to pick
it all back up again.

He could only really use his left arm now. The other,
the acid-burned one, hurt too much. But it would stop
if he ignored it. He was just tired, after moving the
bodies. That was all.

Tired. He should be tired. It had taken such a long
time to drag the bodies out to the hydroponics bay. He
didn't know how long; it had seemed like forever. Back
and forth, one by one, until he couldn't move his
right arm at all, and even the left felt like there
was no strength left in it. But he couldn't have just
left them out in the open, where anyone who happened
by the steading could see them. That would have told
them there was something wrong.

He gave a weak laugh as he staggered back to his feet,
having picked up as much as he could hold. Something
wrong? No, nothing was wrong, everything was fine. He
could handle this. Had to handle this--had he picked
up the medkit? He looked down at what he was carrying,
squinting. His vision kept blurring and going dark at
the edges, so it was sort of hard to tell what was a
ration pack and what was a medkit--

Medkit. What had he wanted a medkit for? He tried very
hard to remember as he headed back to the main
building of the steading. Oh, well. The weapons were
more important--he couldn't protect himself and Stryfe
with a jammed gun. Although it had worked really well
as a club, he remembered--

Really, really well. His stomach churned with nausea
and he fell to his knees again, retching helplessly.
There was nothing in his stomach to come up, though,
and after a few minutes, he didn't feel quite so sick.
Still cold. He reached up with the hand that worked
properly and rubbed his eyes, willing them to clear.

*Pick up the weapons,* he thought hazily. *You need
the weapons.* And the food. Stryfe wouldn't get
better, get his strength back, if he starved, and he
had to look after Stryfe. He'd promised Redd and Slym,
only they hadn't been there to listen. But he knew. He

He picked the guns back up and staggered onwards. It
seemed so far, but he made it in through the door
eventually, and saw Stryfe still sitting in the
corner, watching him.

"What're you doing?" His voice came out sounding
really odd, and he watched Stryfe's expression change
to something that didn't look quite right on his face,
for some reason. "We need to go, remember?"

Stryfe didn't say anything, and Nate frowned at him,
trying to focus. He wished he knew what Stryfe was
thinking, but that didn't seem to be working anymore,
for some reason. "Quit looking at me like that," he
said finally, for lack of anything better to say. "Get
up. We've got to go."

"So what's the plan?" Stryfe said slowly, never
breaking eye contact. "Just stagger out there and try
to fall against each other, so we sort of hold each
other up?"

Nate tried to hurl the weapons to the ground. Emphatic
gesture, that was what Redd would've called it. He
basically ended up just dropping them. It was hard to
really throw something one-armed. "Listen, you--you
pampered alpha--" Stryfe didn't protest the insult,
but Nate was too angry to be as surprised as he
probably should have been. "I carried you all the way
from Apocalypse's palace--"

"No one asked you to--"

"And I'll carry you across the--the flonqing continent
if I have to," Nate continued stubbornly.

"Why?" Stryfe muttered, finally looking away.

"You don't think I can?" Nate bristled. "You just
watch me, you---why what?" His head was spinning. It
was hard to change subjects in the middle of a

"Why did you carry me all the way from my fa--from
Apocalypse's palace," Stryfe said sarcastically. But
his expression wasn't as hard as his tone. His chin
was actually sort of trembling, Nate thought, watching

"Well--" There had to be a good answer to that. "Well,
because you couldn't walk!" he said finally,
defiantly. "There." That was a good reason, wasn't it?

Stryfe made an exasperated noise and looked away,
hugging himself. Was he cold too? Nate wondered
suddenly. Well, there wasn't anything he could do
about that. The dog soldiers hadn't had any extra
clothes, and he drew the line at stripping the bodies.
Besides, the clothes were sort of blood-covered

"You don't make any sense," Stryfe muttered. "Why
don't you just leave me?"

"Why do you keep saying that?" Nate asked, shaking his
head until it felt like it was going to fall off.
"Why, why, why--does it really matter or are you just
being flonqing annoying?" He leaned over to get the
weapons, and the floor tilted. That was what it seemed
like, anyway--either the floor or the world--

He fell on his arm, the burned one, and pain smashed
him down into the dark. The last thing he heard was
someone's choked scream - his own? - and then there
was nothing at all.


"Drink. You've got to drink, you stupid peasant, or
you'll die." Someone lifted up his head, forced
something against his lips. He choked on the water at
first, then swallowed eagerly. He was so thirsty--

"Not too much." The cup, or whatever it was, moved
away, and his head was laid down against something
soft. His whole body ached, and his right arm and
shoulder and cheek felt like they were on fire.

"Listen to me. I went out and got the medkit you took
off the dog soldiers. I can disinfect those burns."

He heard the words, but they didn't make any sense. It
sounded familiar, that voice. Was he talking to
himself? It sounded like he was talking to himself,
but that made less sense than whatever he was saying--

"Try to stay still." Then something cool was being
spread across his arm. Despite its coolness, it stung,
making the burning worse. He tried to pull away, a
groan escaping him, but whoever it was made an
exasperated noise and didn't let him move. "I said
stay still! I haven't--done this before, you know.
You're just making it harder on both of us."

Nate wondered why he was sounding so annoyed at
himself. Everything started to go dark again, and he
let it.



Stryfe rubbed his eyes and looked up as Nate shifted
and moaned in his sleep. *Drifted off, I guess,* he
thought hazily, moving over to Nate's side and laying
a hand against his forehead. Stryfe felt his
expression tighten. *He's still burning up.*

Flonq it, what was he supposed to do? he thought,
half-angrily, half-desperately. One of his tutors had
tried to teach him basic field medicine once, but he
hadn't paid much attention. Stryfe cursed under his
breath, remembering incinerating that particular
tutor. So maybe Ch'vayre had been right, telling him
that he needed to learn--

Ch'vayre. Stryfe kept remembering what the dog soldier
had said, that Ch'vayre had wanted him brought back
alive--if they found him. Maybe--

No. Ch'vayre might want to help, but that didn't mean
he could. Stryfe tried again to envision the sort of
chaos that had to be going on in the capital, with his
father dead, but couldn't. His imagination failed him.
As strong as Ch'vayre was, Stryfe didn't think he
could come out on top if the elite caste started to
split apart into factions, as it undoubtedly was. Too
many people didn't like his father's paladin--or were
afraid of him. It was the same thing, really. He
couldn't rely on Ch'vayre to save him.

He didn't WANT to rely on anyone to save him. But his
powers weren't coming back, even if his strength was,
a little. If another patrol of dog soldiers turned
up--well, he did have the weapons, he reminded
himself. *Don't really know how to use them properly,
though. That could be a problem.* Stryfe sighed. A
month ago, he'd had laughed at the idea that he needed
to use something as mundane as a gun to protect

"How the strong have fallen," he murmured, echoing the
dog soldier's words, and then cursing under his
breath. Self-pity. That was all it was--

Nate groaned again, and Stryfe looked down at him,
trying not to scowl. "I can't believe I'm sitting here
worrying that you might die," he muttered, a strange
mix of emotions churning inside him, making him feel
unsettled. If he'd been able to stand up for more than
a few minutes at a time, he'd have paced. "You helped
kill my father."

His father, who'd tried to steal his body, Stryfe
reminded himself despondently. That would've been
worse than death. He didn't even know what it would
have been--what would have been left of him, if the
transfer had worked.

What was left of him now, anyway? He didn't know who
he was anymore, what he was supposed to be. He didn't
WANT to call himself the heir of Apocalypse anymore,
not now that he knew what 'inheriting' would have
meant. And he wasn't sure he liked the idea of calling
himself the Chaos-Bringer, either. This was chaos,
what had happened to his life, and it definitely
didn't feel really good on the receiving end.

"Stryfe," he muttered, without thinking. "I'm Stryfe."

Another groan came from Nate. "Stupid name," the other
boy muttered weakly, and Stryfe jumped as he looked
down into a pair of feverish eyes. "Not going to call
you Stryfe--"

"It's my name," Stryfe said half-defiantly, trying to
ignore the part of himself that shouted with relief
that Nate was at least semi-awake. "I certainly don't
have anything else to call my own, anymore."

"Name for someone who's full of himself," Nate
slurred. "A-And does the sort of things you--used
t'do. NOT calling you Stryfe."

"Fine. Call me anything you want," Stryfe muttered.
"Just don't die. Stupid peasant." He really didn't
want Nate to die. He was the only one of the two of
them who seemed to have any idea what he was doing, or
how to survive outside the palace walls. Besides, as
irritating as he was, at least having someone around
gave Stryfe something to focus on, other than what had
happened back at the palace with his father. He didn't
want to think too hard about that. He might make a
fool out of himself and start crying again, or

"F-Fine." Nate was silent for so long that Stryfe
thought he'd passed out again, until he muttered
something too quiet to hear. It sounded like one short

"What?" Stryfe asked, leaning over him. "I didn't hear

"Kris," Nate muttered, his eyes closed. "Redd used
to--call me something like that. Sometimes."

Stryfe scowled. "I've got a perfectly good name of my
own. I don't want one of yours." His pride stung, just
at the idea, and he glared at Nate stubbornly.

"It's not my name," Nate shifted, sweat standing out
on his forehead and an expression of pain crossing his
face. "Just thought it--sounded all right. 'Sides--you
look like me. Maybe we're related or something."

"Not likely," Stryfe said scornfully, and leaned back
against the wall with a grumble. "Besides, Kris sounds
like a peasant's name."

"So? 'M not calling you--Stryfe," Nate repeated,
cracking an eye open and staring at Stryfe. "THAT
sounds st-stupid."

"Well, I'm not answering to Kris." Stryfe folded his
arms across his chest and glared down at him. "So
think of something else."

Nate's mouth quirked, as if he was trying to smile but
didn't quite have the strength to manage it. "Fine.
You--pick one, then."

"Uhh." What was he supposed to pick? He knew the names
of some of the other members of the elite caste, but
he certainly didn't like any of those genejokes enough
to name himself after them. And he certainly wasn't
going to pick any of the names of the menials he'd
known. He didn't know many other people, though, that
was the problem. "Bloodheart," he said defiantly.

Nate made a sound that might have been a laugh.
"Kris--sounds better."


Nate made a choked noise that was almost certainly a
laugh this time, followed quickly by a cringe. "Don't
make me laugh," he gasped out, still looking as if he
was trying to smile. "Hurts--"


"You're--t-trying t'make me laugh, aren't you?"

He was running out of soldier's names--out of good
ones, at least. He really didn't want to call himself
Anklebreaker or anything like that. "I don't like
Kris," he said sullenly.

"Maybe it'll g-grow on you," Nate suggested.

"I don't think so." Kris. What a dull-sounding name.

"But it m-might be a--good idea if you pretended you
were my b-brother. We could be--Nate and Kris
Dayspring." Nate's eyes almost focused on his face,
his expression growing sober. "The people who--might
be l-looking for you won't be looking for K-Kris

All right, so it wasn't a bad idea. Not that he was
going to admit it. "Whatever," Stryfe muttered. He
could come up with a better name, anyway. He just had
to think about it some more. "Go back to sleep."

"C-Could I have some water?" Nate asked softly.

"Yeah." Stryfe went to get the canteen, but by the
time he staggered back across the room, Nate was
asleep again. Grimacing, he laid the canteen down and
then went back to his blankets and stretched out.

He'd just sleep for a little while--just a few
minutes, just until--


Nate opened his eyes, surprised by how clear his head
was and how little pain he felt. The air didn't feel
so cold anymore, either. That was good, he thought,
his tired mind mulling over the change for a moment.

Eventually, he registered the soft noises and the
occasional curse coming from the other side of the
room. Turning his head took an awful lot of effort,
but he managed it, and blinked uncomprehendingly at
the sight of Stryfe with the hydroponics parts in
front of him, trying to assemble them, from the looks
of it.

"What're you doing?" he said, a little surprised by
how weak his voice was. It was rough, too, like he
hadn't talked in days.

"What does it look like I'm doing?" Stryfe grumbled
without looking at him. "Ask a stupid question--"

Nate watched him for a moment, trying to think, to
remember. Everything was still sort of hazy, even
though he seemed to be able to think clearly, now. He
remembered the dog soldiers, but not much of anything
past that. "What--why are we--"

"You know, you don't sound any more coherent than
before," Stryfe observed, twisting a segment of tubing
in his hands, into some sort of complicated knot. "If
I didn't know your fever had broken, I'd think you
were still delirious."

Fever? Nate blinked, digesting that for a moment. That
could explain why he felt so tired, still. He'd had
fevers before. Not many people, even in Crestcoast,
avoided getting the seasonal fevers when they went
around. "How long?"

"Almost a week."

"A WEEK?" Nate tried to sit up, but sagged back
against the blankets with a gasp. "But--we--"

"If I were you, I'd just be glad you're still alive.
You kept getting better and worse again," Stryfe
observed, rummaging through the pieces sitting on the
floor in front of him. He was very slowly coming up
with something, Nate thought bemusedly. Didn't look
like standard hydroponics, but it was some sort of
device. "A couple of times you seemed like you were
over it, and then the fever would go back up and you'd
be raving again."

"We should have been gone days ago," Nate muttered,
not quite able to absorb the fact that he'd been more
or less unconscious for a whole week.

"Well," Stryfe said in a slow, sarcastic voice, "I've
been able to walk, pretty much, for the last couple of
days, but I doubt I could have carried all this gear.
Or you. So I think you'll have to forgive me for not
leaving when you thought we should have."

Nate considered the other boy's words for a minute. He
was pretty sure there was more to what Stryfe was
saying than he could grasp right at the moment. He was
just so tired, still--

"What're you making?" he muttered, his mind drifting
away from the problem.

"A dewcatcher," Stryfe grumbled. "I think. I barely
remember the design from--one of my lessons. But if it
works, it'll be small enough for us to carry."


"Well, if you think I'm carrying it ALL the time, you
need a kick in the head," Stryfe said snidely. "After
all, I'm the one making it. The least you can do is
take a turn carrying it when we leave."

He sounded really irritated, Nate thought sleepily.
"'Course I'll carry it," he murmured, closing his eyes
again. "And we'll leave as soon as it gets dark."

"More like tomorrow night," Stryfe said. "Maybe." Nate
opened his eyes again and tried to glare at him.
Stryfe made a dismissive gesture. "Go to sleep,

Something from the last few days came back into
clarity, triggered maybe by Stryfe's hesitation over
what to call him, and Nate managed a smile. "Flonq
you, Kris."

"Don't call me that. Go back to sleep."

"All right. Kris."

Stryfe growled. "I should have left you."

"Well," Nate whispered, letting his eyes drift closed
again. "Thanks for staying, I guess." Stryfe's only
immediate response was a silence that felt somehow
surprised. Before he got around to actually saying
anything, Nate was sound asleep.