He awoke, and knew.
 The girl beside him--and that's what she was, nothing more than a girl--
stirred faintly as he rose, covers cascading down his body.  He looked to
her, and briefly touched her blond silk hair, watching her eyes flutter
 "You must go," he said.
 "So early?  My parents are aware..." she replied sleepily, but he leaned
over her, pinning her with his eyes.  
 "Question me?" he asked her, voice very soft, a puff of menace against
her face.  Immediately her dark eyes cringed in fear, and she let out a
small whimper.  It was the response he knew was coming, and he hated
it.  Still, he rolled over and sat up, allowing her to rise.  Nervously she
looked at his back, and then moved closer.  
 "What troubles you?" she asked lightly.  "Perhaps..."
 "Your parents didn't pay me to talk," he spat back, rising, the sheets
falling from round him as he went to bathe.  He caught a glimpse of the
girl, sheets tucked about her body like a primative shield, and the
confusion that radiated from her struck him.  He could practically hear
her thoughts--"How could one with such gentleness be such a jerk?"--
and it took control not to respond to them.  He was not normally this
cruel in the morning; however, he was not stupid enough to ignore what
he felt for some farm girl.  It was probably her eyes that had distracted
him, damn brown ones, for a moment the same brown as before...
 When he came back into the room, not quite refreshed but scrubbed a
shiny clean, she was gone.  The bed had been made, and upon the pillow
lay a sprig of violet.  He picked it up and placed it in a glass jar that
already contained many such flowers; they were receipts for the various
payments he had received.  He whispered a word to it, and then moved
on downstairs.  
 He had made the morning rounds and was making his lunch--toasted
bread--when she appeared in the doorway.  He glanced up at her briefly,
and then once again.  "Travel is good for you," he said, looking back to
the bread.
 "Well, I like getting away from you all," she replied, stepping into the
house.  There was a smile in her voice as she began to move around the
cottage, rooting through the cabinets, setting hot water over the hearth,
and finding cups.  He watched her from the corners of his eyes, noting
the darker hair, and general slimming of her shape  She hummed as she
worked, and he found her presence almost reassuring.  Nice, really.
 "What are you making?  Tea?"
 "Uh-hum.  A chamomile blend, 'cause I think you'll need it."
 He moved the toast away from the flame, looking at her.  "So, you
 "Would I be here otherwise?"
 "For a moment, I was flattered you even came to see me.  But I guess
 "Shut up.  It was my excuse," she snapped softly.  "You have to know
I've missed you a lot.  I wish...well, that doesn't matter."
 He nodded to himself and finished toasting the last piece of bread. 
Soon, they were seated across the table from each other, tea strong,
bread crumbling upon the wooden plates.
 "So, was that your wife I saw this morning?"
 "Wife?  Hell no.  Do you think I could marry with..."  Angrily he broke
off his words, and took a slug of tea.  When he looked up, her eyes
were thoughtful.
 "I'm sorry," she said gently.
 "Not your fault."
 "You know what I mean," she added, voice tightening.
 "It's been four years, you know," he pointed out.  "How am I supposed
to remember all your litle quirks?"  His fingers wriggled in front of her
as his voice wavered, and to his surprise, she grinned.
 "So, you did miss me."
 His mouth dropped open, and then became a glare.  "That was very
HER of you," he spat in defense.
 "I didn't know that my not visiting hurt you so much," she said, eyes in
her tea mug.  There was a sudden vulnerability in her voice, and in her
posture.  She was right--he had missed her.  But she...the both of
them...had been gone so long...
 So why did he still feel for her what he did?
 "So..uh...what have you been doing?" he asked, voice stumbling to
quickness.  Inside, a part of him wasn't too thrilled at this, but he 
quietly supressed it.  He was falling back into mode with her.
 "I've worked mostly in battles," she said quietly.  "I'm a healer's
assistant and weaponess, though I work mostly undetected.  They call
me Gray, 'cause I work under cover...fog-like."  She took another sip,
and then looked back up to him.  "A bit mundane, but..."
 "Mundane?  Not with the wars!" he replied.  No wonder she walks so
 "Yea, well," she replied, lips curving slightly as she she sipped her tea. 
She pushed back a strand of hair, and then focused her eyes on him. 
"What are you doing around here?" 
 "I mage for the Regions," he replied smoothly, and her eyes bolted
wide.  Her mouth dropped, closed a little, and dropped again.
 "You mage for the Regions?!" she gasped out, and then fumbled to a
stand.  Quickly, efficiently, she shed a bow and two darkly metaled
daggers.  "My apologies...I had no clue...that's insane! Absolutely
 He shrugged.  "It's not that bad. I have this house, and they pay me
well," he replied.  A small smile twitched in his eyes as he added darkly,
"If you ever bring weapons into my house again, I'll turn you into a
 "I don't doubt it," she replied, sitting down.  "And...wait.  The girl...
was she?"
 "Payment," he said drily, rising to refill his mug.  He chose a ginseng
blend, and ladled the hot water over it, feeling the incredulity from
behind him.
 "But...I don't get it.  You were never one to spoil a girl's honor..." she
trailed off, a bizarre stricekn look on her face.
 "I mage, remember?  Men of power..."
 "...will not harm a girl's honor," she finished.  "I completely forgot that
one."  She shook her head, and took another sip of her cooling tea. 
"Too bad he was weak," she muttered.
 "Nothing.  You know me, I come up with crap out of the blue," she
said, voice distracted.  There was a pause, and then she asked, "So,
when did he start paying you with women?"
 "My last months under Vegita, he told me about it," he said, returning
to the table.  "I didn't believe the egotistical idiot..." he stopped, for 
she was giggling.
 "Sorry.  Picturing you working under Vegi-sama," she replied.
 "You, too?"
 "Him and Pic.  That was a peach.  Trunks taught me a bit, too," she
said.  "But go on."
 "I didn't believe him until it happened.  I spent only six months under
Agustha, the fat coot, before she decided to leave.  Soon after, a farmer
offered me his daughter's affections in exchange for tending to his
flocks.  A two generation deal, ya know."
 She nodded knowingly, and he almost believed her.  "So I did, and the
next week, BAM! she's there.  I almost refused, she was so fresh..." he
stopped again, fist whitening at the knuckles.
 She tenatively reached across, brushing his hand, eyes dark.  "Hey, it's
all right."
 "Actually, it's not, but I don't want to talk about that.  Waking up to it
is bad enough."
 "I understand," she replied.  "Though honestly..."
 "Do you?" he interrupted, voice tough.
 She visibly flinched, and shrank back on herself.  He watched it
curiously as she tenatively looked up, relief spreading over her face. 
"Sorry," she whispered.  "Training."
 "I never had that."
 "I never got sex for payment, either," she replied sharply, but it didn't
bite too harshly.
 "Always."  She admired him for a moment, and half-smiled.  "So, are
you good?"
 "What?" he asked, voice stunned, face shocked.  
 "Hmm...maybe I should just go ask some farm girls..."
 "What to ask?  Is he gentle, or rough?  Long, short, wide, straight or
curved?  Fast, or can he wait?  Does he growl, or whisper sweetness? 
Can his eyes still break down every defense in your mind, until you want
to bow down and worship him?  Does he scream your name in the heat
of passion, or..."
 She looked up from her mug, and gave him a soft smile to see the
crimson on his face.  "That was so NICE of you," he snarled.
 "I know," she replied weakily, slumping a bit.  "You just put me on the
defensive, and I ran with the day.  And..."
 "And I've had that done to me before.  'Cept...well, anyways, it wasn't
right of me...though, to be honest, I would like to know."
 "You would??" His voice hit a note it hadn't in years.  
 She propped her chin on her arms.  "Sure.  If a woman says she doesn't
ever want to know about her male friend's sexual prowess, she's lying. 
It may not be a conscious thought, but it's still thought." 
 He grinned; a conscious reflex, so it took a bit.  The glint in her eyes
smiled back.  He rolled tea about his mouth, thinking, blocking the
world out for a moment, then grinning again.
 "What?" she asked, head half-rising.  "Last time you grinned like that,
we all got into a lot of trouble..."
 "Don't even bring that up," he said sharply.  She shrank again, and he
added, "How about you tell me about your work, and I'll tell you about
mine?  Or do we have the time?"
 "The question is not about time here.  It's about the need to fill an
afternoon, right?"  
 He didn't answer her, and she sighed.  "I'd make the time," she replied
softly.  "But...everything?"
 "What did you used to say to me?  'You can't dish dirt if...'"
 "If you only want to give pebbles.  Yea, yea," she said, voice uneasy. 
"But...well, my life hasn't always been pleasant.  Can I get your promise
that you won't blow up?  I don't even know if our friendship is that
valuable, or if..."
 "It's the past, damnit," he replied, eyes dark.  "And I won't promise
anything.  You'll just have to trust me."
 "I do."
 "And so do I."
 They spent the next hours drinking tea and telling each other about
their lives.  She learned that she was bored with most of his maging
duties, but had nowhere to go; he learned that the post battle period was
sometimes much worse than the actual fighting.  Their anger heated
many a time, but a bit of a rest and a quiet joke brought them back to a
plateau.  Bored with tea and sitting, he showed her around, still talking. 
She added tidbits of what she knew about, and the conversation never
lagged.  In fact, when she wistfully told him that she needed to go, that
there were people and things she needed to see to, he almost began to
miss her.  It was a feeling unable to be squelched readily, especially
when they hugged good-bye beneath the wing of her ancient griffin,
Raptor.  It ticked him off, honestly; if he couldn't put this down, how
would he be able to control his feelings for...her?  Part of it, though,
may have been due to the griffin; it reminded him of how much he
missed his old bronze that had brought him so far.  He had no time for a
youngling though; he was truly stranded here.
 She had just mounted up when panic, so deeply enhanced by the fading
day, brushed her features.  She rummaged her bag, and finally held up
something.  Turning, she tossed it down.  
 "Because..." she called, and then let her voice die.
 He stood staring at it long after she had gone.  It was an obsidian
carving of a dragon, tools so fine the scales were etched in a careful
pattern.  It was in an abnormal posture, wings tucked over its head as if
resting.  Yet, one eye lay open, a garnet, which stared out at you.  It
was the carving of one who'd seen dragons, who'd lived with dragons,
not just rode one for a pretty penny.  It glistened in the dusty light, and
he felt strangely wrenched as he slipped it into his pocket.  How she
knew these things...well, he had never been able to answer that.
 He looked up, and knew.  
 Twilight had fallen, an aura of clean dust filtering the fading red light
into yellow, oranges, and higher, the dark blues and purples of night.  It
was a beautiful, magical, almost pure time, a time when ancient
creatures stired, when loved enchantments worked best and curses were
broken.  It was said that if one was able to capture the dusts of Dawn
and Twilight, one could amplify the magics within exponentially.  They
were included in spells to speak with angels, or to drive away the
strangest devils.
 So, of course, she came with the Twilight.
 The mage of a place is often the first to receive news, so they may
prepare to defend their home or to help other places, etc.  Being mage
of the Regions, a great deal of news flowed to of course he
knew of the capture and taming of the Phoenix, and the assault upon the
Castle of Dreams that brought down the Nightmare Lord Tebam.  He
also knew, just because of who he was, of every small thing that bugged
her, such as the stupidity of the young and a lost night's sleep.  Even
now, he knew partially that this descent was perfect, and how strange her
old home felt.  As the mighty bird touched the ground, he found himself
experiencing a sudden double vision, watching him watching her.  He
scowled darkly and forcefully closed himself to all around him, body
trembling with anger.
 She'd been gone more time than the other, yet still he felt himself boil 
in her presence.  She didn't just dismount normally from the bird; no, she
slide from the saddle to the front of the creature, and reached for it. 
His teeth gritted, black spiral forming within, as he watched the golden-
red eye of the bird turn its liquid gaze upon her; he recognized that
look! He'd seen it a million times, from kings to peasants to beasts in the
field.  Hell, he'd even seen women wear that look.  Adoration, pure and
simple.  With a few words, they were all ready to go to hell and back for
her; with a look, she could make or break a person.  Enamoured and
forever trapped in her web...
 She stroked the Phoenix's head, and the sound it made confirmed his
 Everything in this world, he thought disgustedly.  Everything...
 She turned toward him, Phoenix flaring a bit to provide a backlight for
her.  It framed her figure in a ruddy orange glow, allowing him to see
outlines without seeing details.  She was medium height, but shorter
than him--least that hadn't changed--with hair bound tightly to her head. 
Well, there had been an attempt made to bind the hair; either the flight
overland or her own fingers had plucked forth a few strands to lay about
her face--and knowing her, he had suspicions about which option had
been taken.  She wore the modified riding outfit favored by dragon
runners, and the shape of the katana pair she wore flickered in the
orange.  There had been some minor shape changes to her, a bit more
curving here, a little straightening there, but it wasn't in the slightest 
way obtrusive.  Beneath the anger, another fire burned.  She stepped closer,
closer, and he thought a smile twinkled on her lips.  However, just then,
the Phoenix blasted into the air, a rocket of fire that blazed into the
swiftly coming night.  It caught his eye--he couldn't refuse the sight--and
when he looked back, she was inches from him.  Her eyes...they blazed
at him..brown currents, lava rock...and he felt all of himself pull together
to prepare for what lay ahead.
 "I've missed you," she whispered softly.
 The black spiral which had built within him against her, drawing tighter
and tighter, paused for a moment...and then shattered.  His body went
limp; the fire in the world died.
 "I...I hate you," he whispered.
 "I know," she replied, voice as quiet.
 He sighed.  Too damn calm, he thought, and then turned back to his
cottage.  He stopped in the dorrway, and looked into her bedroom eyes,
glinting darkly.  Everyone, he thought as he waved her in, including me.
 The candles went out.