Chapter 25


Du'shan's face was so stern, so serious, so deadpan that Nyr could not help but laugh and look away.

"What is so damned funny?" the Arcadian demanded.

Nyr shook his head, trying to stifle his laughter and look properly ashamed. "I'm sorry. I really am. You're just so--" A bit of laughter sneaked past. Nyr clamped his hand over his mouth to hide his smile, though he expected it was evident in his eyes.

Du'shan sighed loudly, rubbing his face with both hands. "Do you want to do this or not?"

"No, I do. Really. I promise I won't laugh again." Biting his cheeks, Nyr forced himself to look straight ahead at his friend across the table. "Okay, so, my turn?"

Du'shan nodded, arms crossed over his chest, neglecting the playing cards laid out in front of him. "Let's see what you've got."

Nyr took a few deep breaths to center himself and then looked across the table, locking eyes with Du'shan, and gave him best impression of Du'shan's poker face.

Du'shan seemed to startle even himself with his laugh. "Sands, Nyr, what the hell kind of face was that?"

"Yours! You can't whine about me laughing at it now."

Du'shan shook his head as his lips quirked in amusement. "That was not mine. I try to look vaguely dangerous and perceptive. That look was constipation and pain while pouting. Never make that face again."

Nyr rubbed at his reddening cheeks, amused despite his own embarrassment. "Well, I doubt anyone would know I had a good hand if I looked at them like that."

"Nyr, I don't think anyone would play with you if you looked at them like that."

"Well, then, what's wrong with my face the way it is?"

Du'shan reached across the table and took Nyr's cards from him, shuffling them back into the deck. "I can tell when you've got a good hand. Everyone can tell. You get this little smirk and you can just tell you're excited and think you might win. And when your cards are bad, you look disappointed. There's no way you're going to beat me one on one with a face that readable."

Nyr's cheeks burned. "Well stop looking at my face and look at your own cards. I can't help it if I get excited."

"Sure you can. I do."

Nyr wasn't going to even bother pointing out the obvious difference between the two of them. Du'shan was generally quiet and impassive, so of course he knew how to mask his emotions. Nyr would have felt quite confident in betting the man masked his emotions far more often than he expressed them.

The cards snapped across each other as Du'shan shuffled. "I guess poker faces are a little too advanced for you. We should try to teach you how to lie first."

Nyr balked. "You've got to be kidding me."

"I was there when we introduced you to drinking and gambling, so I might was well be the one to teach you the rest of the important stuff."

"Important stuff? Drinking and gambling aren't important, they're vices." Nyr frowned at him. "And don't say it like that, you make it sound like I took them up like hobbies."

"There's a beer in front of you and I'm shuffling the deck. I wouldn't argue the point too hard." Du'shan put the deck down without passing out the next hand. "And they are important things. When you first drink, you do so with friends because they will take care of you while you learn your limit. When you gamble, you learn how to keep your emotions in check, which can help to keep people from walking all over you if you wear your heart on your sleeve all the time. And you do."

"But--"

"It's not a bad thing. Honestly, I'd be pretty pissed off if something happened that made you less trusting. I'd rather you wary than hurt, though. So the least I can do is teach you how to lie and how to tell when someone else is lying."

The worst thing about Du'shan when he drank was that he was very quiet. The second worst was that when he did talk, he did so with brutal honesty. Nyr watched as Du'shan downed his third beer and looked down at his own--his first of the night. "You know, I need to draw the line somewhere when it comes to the things I let you talk me into."

"Well, considering the fact that I'm probably the only person you know who's going to tell you to your face that being naive and idealistic isn't always a good thing, I wouldn't recommend drawing that line just yet."

Nyr shook his head. "I'm a bad liar. I know that. And so does everyone else. But that means no one doubts my sincerity or looks for hidden meanings in my words. I wouldn't trade that level of trust for anything. Besides, someone has to be an idealist when there's so many fatalists around."

"Realist."

"You're not a realist." Nyr shook his head, smirking.

"Whatever. You knew Riyad Shihar would succeed because you have blind faith in him. I knew he'd succeed because I am aware of his education and his family background." Du'shan pointed a finger at his own chest. "That's being a realist."

Nyr sighed and accepted defeat. There really was no arguing with the man, especially when he might be right. Nyr looked over at the clock. "When do you think they'll be back? Ath'ran cut off communications almost an hour ago. I don't remember it taking this long when they got there."

"You're just anxious. They'll be back soon." Du’shan flicked a hand of cards to Nyr one at a time, then straightened his own and looked them over. "Just keep playing and the time'll fly faster."

Nyr nodded and looked down at his cards. He had a king and two aces among the other, less substantial cards.

"Damn it, Nyr. What did I tell you about your face?" Du'shan sighed and laid his cards back on the tabletop. "I fold."

Before Nyr could respond, the front door opened and the sounds of familiar voices filled the air. The cat, hidden under the table on Du'shan's lap, flew across the room towards the door. Nyr thought he heard Du'shan mutter about an ungrateful beast as he stood and collected the cards and trash.

"How was he?" a sweet, feminine voice asked. Cross walked into the kitchen and crossed the room towards the table and Nyr. Beside Nyr, in a bassinet set up on the table, Sem was sound asleep. "He didn't give you too much trouble, did he?"

Nyr shook his head, smiling as he watched the young mother check her son over. "He's an angel. Any baby you don't have to worry about waking up on accident is God’s gift. He fell asleep almost two hours ago and that was that."

"You brought Sem with you?" Surge asked as he joined her.

Cross rolled her eyes, hands planted on her hips. "Well, who else was I going to get to babysit him?"

Surge frowned but said nothing. Ash was cradled in his arms, purring as Surge stroked his back. The four of them made a cute family: mother, father, baby and pet. Nyr wondered if there was a chance of that--if maybe even Sem's parentage was staring him in the face. It wasn't proper to ask, though, and regardless, Surge and Cross were obviously people who cared deeply for each other. A real family or not, Sem was not lacking in affection. And neither was Surge. That thought, more than anything, made Nyr happy. "It's good to see you again, Teyen. I'm glad everything went well."

Surge blinked at him and smiled the tiniest bit. "And you, Fa--Nyr. Uh...thanks for getting Ash."

"It was no problem. Du'shan and I were happy to help in any way we could."

"Nyr and Du'shan always get the fun assignments," Riyad remarked, plopping down on the table beside Nyr. He reached over and found Nyr's half empty bottle of beer and claimed it as his own, taking a quick drink. "They got to go get your cat while Jin and I researched Maxwell. Then they get to stay behind and babysit a sleeping baby and a cat while I went to negotiate with a megalomaniac. Where is Jin, by the way?"

"Out," Du'shan told him. "And if you want the fun jobs, I suppose you'll be taking over reading and transferring Alan's books, then?"

"Not on your life." Riyad chuckled and pushed his hair out of his eyes. "For our first major act as the Protectors of Antiquity, though, I’d say we did a great job. Let's not make a habit of it or anything, but we did good."

"Sweetheart, Teyen practically had the situation under control by the time we got there." Cross said mockingly. "And as I recall, he did more of the rescuing up there than you did."

"Just like a woman to break my heart and my confidence." Riyad sighed. "It's still a victory, my love. Allow me this moment of celebration."

"If I must, darling."

"Thank you, angel."

Surge's look of confusion and mild discomfort was shared by most of the others in the room.

"Well," Julian interjected, standing beside Surge. "Now that we're done congratulating each other, I guess it's time to head out.” He looked at Surge meaningfully.

Surge just looked confused, eying him, and then the other people in the room, with calculating coolness. “Shouldn’t I see Cross home?”

"Oh." Cross pursed her lips together. "I'm not going home tonight, actually. My mom lives near here and I told her Sem and I would spend the night. I can ask her if you can stay too, but I don't know how she'd feel about Ash."

“The cat’s not a problem,” Julian put in.

Surge eyed him for another moment, but as he opened his mouth to speak, the door crashed open. It wasn’t hard to guess who had come home, but the violence of the entrance made their heads turn and hearts lurch. There was the sound of something hitting the floor in the entryway and a gasp of pain. Nyr was on his feet and running towards the greeting room before he’d made any sense of the evidence.

"Jin!" someone called, and Nyr wasn’t totally sure that it wasn’t himself. The man from Xifeng recognized his name though and looked up. There was no relief in his eyes at making it home, just a deep sadness and desperation.

"I-I had to..." he stammered, sitting up with help.

Beside him, looking less beaten up but just as shaken, Nyr recognized Rabbit through the mostly dried blood streaking his face. His wounds didn’t appear to be fresh, but Jin was bleeding from a number of lacerations. Rabbit had one arm wrapped around the smaller man, suggesting that they’d had to help one another walk from wherever the attack had taken place. Rabbit detached himself from Jin and pulled himself to his feet. He crossed the small distance to the sitting area, and collapsed on the couch while Nyr took his place next to Jin, assessing the damage. The lacerations turned out to be knife wounds.

"Rabbit, what happened?" he heard Julian ask.

"Greg Waters. Asshole'd been living in this apartment complex the whole fucking time. He took the place hostage, so I came. Fucker's a quiet son of a bitch. Jumped me. Next thing I know, him and Jin are trying to kill each other." He heard Rabbit spit and looked back to see the ring of blood now spreading on the floor. "Jin won. Obviously."

Nyr looked up at Julian. "Can you help them?"

Julian looked hard between the two and shook his head. "No. I'm sorry."

"What do you mean you can't?" Riyad asked, helping Nyr support Jin. "You're the Healer. Isn't that what you do?"

"There's a crime scene upstairs, complete with evidence that places Jin there. If I heal his wounds, people will get suspicious because the blood had to have come from somewhere and wounds aren't supposed to just disappear. Right now there's an open and shut case that says Jin killed Greg in self-defense and if I destroy any evidence that helps prove it by healing him, I make a simple inquiry into a messy investigation, which you don’t want." Julian's voice was hard but his eyes were regretful. "Believe me, if I could just walk around and cure everyone without there being hell to pay for it, I would. But no good deed goes unpunished and the last thing any of you want is more police involvement than you're already going to get."

Rabbit scowled, sighing in resignation. "Ain't that the truth.... I'll handle what I can, though. If I can cut the media out of it, the rest will blow past pretty easily. Least I can do, honestly."

"Thank you, Rabbit." Ath'ran sounded distant and tired.

"Don't mention it. You'll have enough to worry about with Jin. I got the feeling that wasn't the first time they'd met. And I know what Greg does to his friends."

"You don't know, so just shut up!" Jin's shout was shrill and panicked. "You only know the worst of him! He was mine, so just shut up!"

Nyr set his jaw and stood with Jin in his arms. The smaller man didn't fight him. He didn't have the energy to. Nyr began to walk towards his medical room, passing Ath'ran as he did. "He'll be okay. There are some deep cuts, but overall the bleeding's deceptive. I should be able to take care of it with the provisions we have here."

Ath'ran nodded his agreement and let them pass. Nyr walked down the hall, careful not to jar Jin too much. He laid him on the bed and helped peel his soaked shirt off, taking in hand a sponge and antiseptic and quickly cleaning of his wounds. Aside from a few sharp hisses, Jin remained quiet. Tears dripped down his face into his hair, and even though he offered no explanation, Nyr knew he wasn’t crying because of his injuries. He had no idea where to being to console him or what exactly he needed consoling about.

It took the better part of half an hour to strip him of his tattered clothing and wash and dress his wounds. One arm was broken--a defensive wound judging by the other lacerations in the area--but there were no stab wounds that penetrated deep into the skin, and the lacerations were far from life-threatening. Jin was silent and complacent, moving when Nyr instructed and staying still the rest of the time while his deeper cuts were stitched closed. Nyr would have rather he were fussing at him about how it hurt or joking about scarring or anything other than being so fearfully quiet.

There was a knock on the door behind him and Nyr looked over his shoulder to see Du'shan in the doorway. He arched a brow at Jin and cocked his head to the side; Nyr read the expression as querying whether he could leave Jin alone for a minute. He nodded, pulling a blanket over Jin to keep him comfortable. "I'll be right back. Just rest while those pain relievers start to work. I'll carry you to your room in a minute."

Jin nodded a little, looking up at the ceiling with sunken eyes. Nyr paused for a moment and then left him to his thoughts, joining Du'shan in the hall. He closed the door behind him, sure that the conversation was not one Jin would want to overhear.

Du'shan waited until the door was completely closed before speaking. "How is he?"

"Physically, he'll be okay in a couple weeks." Nyr didn't go into detail as to the other ways a person could be unwell. "Is everyone still here?"

"Surge left with Julian, since we have our hands full. Cross and Sem left about the same time--Riyad's seeing her to her mother's--and Rabbit said he'd be out of our hair in a minute, but he's resting on the couch right now." Du'shan looked at the door as though making sure Jin wasn't peeking around the corner at them, spying on the conversation. "You realize what he said, right? What Jin said?"

"I heard him, yes."

"I don't think there ever was a girlfriend upstairs, Nyr. I think it's always been Greg."

Nyr nodded, leaning against the wall. He'd gotten that impression as well.

Du'shan continued. "I don't keep up with the news all that much, but I remember that name. It was a big deal a while back. Greg Waters kidnapped, raped and murdered a lot of people, right?"

"Yeah, that was him." Nyr sighed, his mind going places he wished it wouldn't, that he'd done well to keep it from while he patched his friend up.

"Do you think--"

"Yes, I do." Nyr gave Du'shan a determined look. "But for whatever reason, he's upset over his death. The last thing we need to be doing is delving into it too far and telling him how to feel. The fact that Greg's dead and Jin's safe is enough for now. If he feels like explaining the rest to us someday, that's his choice. Nothing's different, nothing's changed. We're just going to be here for him."

Du'shan nodded, still looking at the infirmary door. Over his shoulder, Nyr could see Ath'ran talking to Rabbit, who was looking more alert and rested in just the short amount of time he'd been there. Nyr excused himself from Du'shan and walked over to them, pausing to listen to their conversation before making himself known.

"--thought he was going to kill me, too. Had a knife out, standing beside Greg, looking at me. I don't know...one minute it's both of them against me and the next Jin's got his knife lodged in Greg's back. That was all it took. Greg lashed out at him, shouting about betrayal, but it only lasted as long as he did. I was kind of in and out, though. Head wound from the alley."

"Nyr can see to you in a minute, if you'll wait."

"Thanks, but no. I'm fine. Sort of...cursory. I wouldn't mind a roll of bandages, if you have any to spare, though. Saves me a quick trip to the store, anyway."

Ath'ran nodded and, noticing Nyr, gestured him into the room to join them. "How is he?"

"Jin's fine. I'm moving him into his room once the pain killers kick in." Nyr nodded to Rabbit, gesturing to his head. "Looks like you might have a concussion. You really should wait and let me check you. It won't be any trouble."

"No, thanks. I just sort of really would like to be back home. I've had worse and bounced back. Just a roll of bandages, please."

Nyr nodded, no longer caring to ask him the questions he had, and walked back to the infirmary for his patient and the bandages. The latter he handed to Du'shan to take out to Rabbit, while he took Jin into his arms and walked him to his room, setting him down on his mattress as gently as possible. The pills had definitely kicked in; Jin's expression was peacefully blank.

"Do you need anything?"

Jin shook his head. Nyr pulled the blankets up to his waist so he could either push them down or pull them up with ease. He sat on the edge of the bed, taking the man’s un-bandaged hand in his, stroking it gently with his thumb. "I'm going to stay here while you sleep. You just let me know if there's anything I can get you."

There was a ghost of a smile on Jin's face for a second, and he squeezed Nyr’s hand before his eyes closed and he drifted into what Nyr hoped would be a dreamless sleep. The young man had seen enough of nightmares in his waking hours; it would be a blessing for darkness to embrace him and allow his mind and body to rest. Perched on the edge of his bed, Nyr held his hand and prayed.