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The Eye of the Storm

Andrew looked up at his attacker. The lantern light barely reached his face, but Andrew would have known him anywhere. "Nate-"

"What the hell are you doing in my house? In my room?"

"I was looking for you! I wanted-"

"Andrew, I don't give a damn what you want, but I want you out of my house."

Andrew sighed softly, struggling to his feet, almost forgetting to grab his lantern. His left arm hurt where he had landed on it, but it didn't feel broken, just bruised. Knowing Nathan, he was lucky. As soon as he was standing, however, he found himself being dragged out of the room, and forcibly seated on the worn couch. Nathan shut the door to his bedroom behind them.

Andrew again glanced around at the main room. The only difference now was a wet black coat, carelessly tossed over the back of the single chair at the small table. The puddle under the window had grown, as well, creeping over the floor. Nathan noticed it at about the same time as Andrew; he ignored it, instead sitting on the couch next to Andrew.

"Talk. Now. Before I kick you out."

Andrew sighed softly, staring at the floor. "Nate...." He paused, searching for words. "I'm sorry."

"Nice try," Nathan said coldly.

"Nate, I mean it. I don't want to be enemies."

"Well, you're a few years too late, got that? Now get out."

Andrew looked up at him. "No, I'm not. We can still be friends. Just..."

"Just you arrest me, and I attack you, right?" Nathan scowled, standing up. "Look, Andrew, just go home before the storm gets worse, all right? You won't want to be out in this."

"I don't care!" He was on his feet as well, in front of Nathan, doing his best to keep eye contact. "I don't care about the storm, I care about being friends with you. Got that? I would stand in the rain all week if it meant you would listen to me."

Nathan was silent for a moment. Then, slowly, he sat down. "Fine. Talk. You have five minutes."

Andrew sighed, but remained standing. Five minutes...he wasn't even sure if that was enough time to think, let alone explain himself. "Nate," he finally said, "I really don't want to be enemies. I mean, we were friends when we were younger, and it didn't matter who was from where, right?"

"That's not the issue, Andrew. The issue is that I'm a thief. You're a soldier."

"So? I won't arrest you, and you won't fight me. We'll just...leave each other alone."

"And how would that work? What if someone saw us together, off-hours? And don't say we'll avoid each other. You know that wouldn't work."

"I...." Andrew sighed again. "Nate, I don't know. But I don't want to hurt you. Or let you get hurt." He glanced at Nathan. The cut across his forehead was still there, but only faintly; it had already, somehow, faded to almost a scar. He must have stopped at a healer before coming home.

Nathan shrugged. "Andrew, it won't work. Just give up, OK? Now go home before the Dragons-"

"It hasn't been five minutes," he snapped. "At least give me that."

"Hm. Fine."

Andrew was again lost for words. He had expected more argument; maybe, he thought, Nathan had known that. "Look, I'll go if you want. But...I don't care if you fight us. I refuse to arrest you. All right?"

Nathan said nothing.

"Fine." Andrew turned to go. "Then it's settled."

He had almost reached the door before he heard Nathan's voice. "Andrew..."

He glanced back. "Yeah?"

Nathan sighed. "Don't....don't get yourself killed walking home, OK?"

Andrew nodded. "Thanks. You be careful out there too, OK?"

He nodded. "Fine. Just...go on. I don't like thinking of you guys out there too late."

"OK." Andrew slipped out, shutting the door behind him, already trying to press the memory of the apartment out of his mind. How long had Nathan lived there? And why was there no sign of anyone else living there? What happened to his sister?

The rain was coming down harder. The thunder was more frequent now, though he hadn't noticed it inside; he was barely a block from Nathan's apartment when the first lightning flash lit the sky. He was glad that he had remembered his lantern, or he would have been stuck in the darkness.

The streets were empty; even the usual thieves, beggars, and drunks had found some sort of refuge from the rain. The loneliness was unnerving, but also comforting; if he was along, he couldn't be attacked, because there was nothing there to attack him.

Lightning flashed, and a gunshot sounded; Andrew instinctively dropped to the ground, but nothing happened. He slowly stood up, looking around. No one. Of course, he realized, it must have been thunder. He was jumpy, that was all. Shaking his head, he started again on his way back to the guardhouse.

Pain exploded in his side. He cried out. The lantern was rolling away, at his eye level, and somehow he knew that he was on the ground. His hands were wet with rain, but warm rain. No, blood, hot blood, but the rain was washing it away, even as more and more kept coming.

Footsteps approached, running, splashing through puddles. Someone yelled, and more thunder. No, that one was a gun, he thought, but it was hard to tell anymore. The rain had stopped. No, not stopped, just left him alone. It pitied him. No, someone was blocking it. Someone was speaking. Someone was trying to pick him up. He pulled away in pain.

"Andy. Andy, hey, talk to me. Hey! Andy, look at me, OK? Don't close your eyes, you'll be OK, I'll go- no, no, I can't leave, I'll...where's your dad?"

"Guardhouse," he managed.

"All right. All right. We'll find him, OK? You'll be OK." The person had finally maneuvered him to a sitting position, and was holding him close. The warmth was nice, comforting. Something had been draped around his shoulders, Andrew realized. A blanket? No.

A coat.

A wet coat.




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