Two Princes: Island In A Sea Of Sand
by Alicia McKenzie
DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to Marvel, and are used without permission for entertainment purposes only.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The sequel to the original Two Princes 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. :)
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 muttered.
"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 HIGH LORD'S NAME!"
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 again.
"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 pleading--
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 knew--
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 thought.
"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 bemusedly.
"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 anyway.
"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 himself.
"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 something--
"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 word--
"What?" Stryfe asked, leaning over him. "I didn't hear you."
"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 Dayspring."
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, peas--Nate."
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.
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