Monday, April 28, 2008

Chapter 56: An Application of Horticulture

~ "This," Esther Barcelworth announced, throwing open two beveled glass doors. "Is the atrium." Jaden felt his jaw go slack and he did nothing about it.

The room was huge, positively vast, even compared with the ones they'd already seen, and it was made completely of glass. It housed entire trees contained in massive pots. For a brief moment Jaden stared up at the gleaming walls and ceiling that was a good 40 feet above him, and wondered how many birds met their death per day at its expense.

For once Esther has stopped talking, apparently content to bask in the uncouth awe that the simpletons had for this place, the atrium. Jaden moved several more steps into the indoor garden and gazed around. There were shrubs, flowers, even stretches of grass like tiny, edged-in meadows. In a bower protected by the branches of three tall birch trees, was a wrought iron table with four matching chairs. There were flagstone paths leading off in several directions, meandering between flower beds and small bunches of trees, winding out of sight, as if you could go hiking. Inside. Jaden glanced back at his team mates. Andrew looked nearly as impressed as Jaden felt. Takyle looked appreciative, but impatient.

Jaden wanted an atrium. Right now he didn't even have a house. Didn't even have an apartment all to himself actually, but he wanted an atrium regardless. He wanted birds to die because he was keeping some of the outside inside, not Esther. People like Esther Barcelworth didn't deserve to have Outside in their homes. She probably never even came in here except to show it off.

Outside was rare where Jaden came from. Sure you could go out to the streets, but that wasn't real Outside. The idea that you could have some of it in your house, where you could visit it whenever you wanted to, was beyond amazing.

"This is beautiful Ms. Barcelworth," said Takyle sweetly. "But shouldn't we be getting on to that task you'd like us to do for you?" Jaden could tell immediately from her tone that she had had enough of the rich person ceremony and wanted to get down to business. Great, and just when they finally got to something that Jaden was really interested in. He felt slightly peeved at the unfairness of it. Why couldn't she have gotten impatient when they were all "enjoying" tea together back in the drawing room? Esther Barcelworth looked slightly peeved at the idea that Takyle did not want to spend time in every single room of her house, admiring her wealth and good taste. She silently turned and walked back out into the hall.

Andrew and Takyle followed her, and after one last long, envious look at the verdant green of the atrium, Jaden trailed along, leaving the doors open behind him intentionally, in the hopes that perhaps it would allow some of the Outside to leak into the rest of the house.

"Could you build an entire house like an atrium?" he wondered as he followed the others down the hall. He didn't see why not. Then you could just sling up a hammock between two nice maple trees and that would be your "bedroom". One wall could have a hearth and chimney instead of just glass, maybe even a dutch oven. Call that the kitchen. It would be nothing short of wonderful, Jaden was just positive of that much. Plumbing might be an problem, as well as privacy, but he was sure these were not insurmountable issues.

He'd discuss it with Andrew later. Andrew had solutions. ~

Friday, April 25, 2008

Chapter 55: Le Grande Tour

~ Esther Barcelworth set her tea cup back on the cart and picked up her portfolio.

"I'd like your help with a little project of sorts."

"What kind of project?" asked Andrew. She gave him a strange little half-smile.

"Don't worry. Nothing that you all won't enjoy." Jaden just barely stopped himself from rolling his eyes.

"I'd prefer to be the judge of that," he murmured.

"Would you care to describe the task for us Ms. Barcelworth?" asked Takyle, politely. Esther rose from her chair.

"I'll show it to you if you wish."

"That would be fantastic," pronounced Andrew, tossing back the rest of his tea and standing to set his cup back on the tea tray. "Let's have a look see." Esther Bacelworth's lips tightened almost imperceptibly.

"So charming," she murmured, turning to the doors. "To begin with I'll take you for a tour of the house and grounds." She impatiently waived the maid out of her way without ever making eye contact with the girl.

"Like you might do to a stray dog," thought Jaden. He was just liking this lady less and less with every minute he was around her. And his estimation hadn't been that high to begin with.

He returned his own basically untouched cup to the tray with a clatter and hurried after his team mates. Just outside of the drawing room Esther stopped and began to talk about a painting in the great hall that they had entered via. As she droned on about a revolution or something to her captive audience of Andrew and Takyle, who were both doing a damn good impression of interest, Jaden took a look at the so called itinerary that he'd been given.

Down one margin were times, next to which, in elegant script, were written the various things they were supposed to partake in. All seemed to have one thing in common; the descriptions were impressively vague. Jaden folded up the paper and tucked it into the interior pocket of his coat. Esther finished her lecture on the painting and turned to walk into the next room. Andrew looked back over his shoulder, caught Jaden's eye, and mimed shooting himself in the head. Jaden quickly stifled a snicker and followed everyone else through the large sliding oak doors.

"This is the library," announced Esther, unnecessarily. Every one of the walls of the room was completely lined with shelves, sliding ladders attached in order to reach the volumes nearer the ceilings which had to be at least 12 feet high. The room looked quite similar to the drawing room, only it housed many more books and a lot less other stuff. It had the same large fireplace against the wall opposite the door, and similar wingback chairs, except that these were scattered all about the room, accompanied by lamps and small sidetables. Jaden gazed up at the shelves in awe. There were hundreds of books, thousands of them. A person could read for decades and not get through them all.

Esther was telling them something about the fireplace, and how the mantle was historic. Jaden ignored her and pulled a book off of a shelf near him. It was entitled 'Perspectives' and, opening it to the middle, Jaden discovered that it was a book of poetry. Nihilistic poetry apparently.

"Do you enjoy Vanderbeerge?" Esther queried, interrupting Jaden's thoughts.

"I've never heard of him, but uh, I do like some poetry now and again." Jaden answered, replacing the book on the shelf. Despite Esther's civil tone, he definitely got the feeling that she'd rather he didn't touch anything.

"You've never heard of her. Wanda Vanderbeerge," Esther corrected. Jaden smiled sweetly.

"Ah well, I'll have to remember that name and as soon as I get home I'll check my local public library and see if they have any of her work."

"Yes, you do that." Esther turned on her heel and lead briskly on to the next highpoint of the tour. Jaden was fairly sure that he'd seen her wince a little when he'd mentioned the public library in connection with the venerated Vanderbeerge. ~

Monday, April 21, 2008

Chapter 54: Socially Acceptable

~ Jaden crossed the room and bent over to look at an Eye of Horus, cast in gold and set with ivory, lapis lazuli, tiger's eye, and moonstone.

"This is crazy shit," he murmured.

"Yes, you might say that," agreed a woman's voice from the door. Jaden jumped. Andrew, in the center of the room, spun around, his hand automatically going to the hilt of his dagger. A gray haired woman stood in the doorway holding a leather organizer in one hand.

"If you had no taste," she added calmly, ignoring Andrew's reaction. "Good afternoon, Team 6." Takyle stepped around her chair and approached the lady.

"Good day to you." She extended a hand, but stopped two steps short of the woman. The lady smiled knowingly, and after the pause of a beat, she made up the distance and delicately shook Takyle's hand. Jaden remained still at the side of the room. So far the woman had not looked over at him and he wondered if she cared that he was there, out of her line of sight. Just as well if she didn't; that way if she tried anything funny, he could act without hindrance. Andrew maintained his place in the middle of the room, nodding politely when she gazed up at him.

"Afternoon, ma'am."

"Well aren't you just wholesomely charming?" she responded in a tone that wasn't quite sarcastic.

"Thanks, I do try." The woman smiled at that and finally turned in Jaden's direction. He stepped forward, giving her a quick look up and down as she did the same to him.

"You all look like you've been in a fight. What did you do?" she asked him. Jaden didn't like this woman.

"We didn't do anything," he informed her coldly.

"Oh my, and you're testy. How very pleasant for me." The lady turned back to Takyle, presumably because she was the only one of the three that acted as if she wasn't a hoodlum or barbarian. "I am Esther Barcelworth." Takyle bowed her head slightly.

"A pleasure to meet you Ms. Barcelworth. I am Takyle Marianne Carlyle, this is Andrew Vienna, and this is Jaden McAllister. Thank you for allowing us into your home."

"Certainly. Samuels informs me that tea will be ready shortly, so we may as well get started." The woman waved a hand to the chairs by the fireplace. "Please, sit." Takyle did so, and Andrew and Jaden followed suit after exchanging a look. Ms. Barcelworth took a chair and then flipped open her portfolio and extracted a thin sheaf of papers.

"I took the liberty of making each of you an itinerary." She passed each of them a sheet of heavy paper, watermarked with a crest and decorated with a scroll border. Sure enough, it was a docket planned out to the minute. Jaden looked up at a faint tinkling sound, caused by a maid wheeling a small metal cart into the room with a tea tray atop it. The girl pushed the cart up close to Esther Barcelworth's chair and then stood a step back, eyes on the floor.

"Mm, wonderful," Esther murmured, laying her portfolio on her lap in order to serve the tea. "I hope you all enjoy hot tea, if not we can make some coffee for you." Takyle quickly shot Andrew and Jaden a look. Andrew cleared his throat.

"Ah, no, tea is just fantastic, Ms. Barcelworth, thank you."

"Good," she replied. "Sugar or cream?" she asked Takyle.

"One sugar please." Esther handed the cup and saucer up to the maid to deliver to Takyle, and began pouring the next. When everyone had their cup, the maid began offering the small sandwiches, muffins, and cakes. Jaden studiously scrutinized Takyle as she effortlessly balanced the fragile bone china and selected a watercress sandwich to eat. He was up next.

Jaden focused his coordination and held the saucer rock steady, taking whatever was nearest to him off of the tray that the maid was offering. It turned out to be some sort of hard biscuit. He glanced up at her face, catching her eye for a split second.

"Thank you," he told her. She looked confused for a moment, nodded hurriedly, and quickly moved on to serve Andrew. Jaden looked back at his hands. He had a napkin and a saucer holding a cup and spoon in one of them, and a biscuit in the other, with a sheet of paper balanced on his knee. Now he was stuck. He glanced up and found Ms. Barcelworth watching him. He quickly shot a glance at Takyle and discovered that she had taken a small bite of her sandwich and then laid it on the edge of her saucer. He decided to imitate.

"Easier said than done," scoffed his mind.

"I can do this just fine!" he told his mind. "If I can solve wizards' riddles, I can do this..." He carefully raised the biscuit to his mouth, keeping the very full tea cup in mind, and took a bite off of the end, miraculously managing to keep the rest of it from crumbling all down his front. He quickly transferred the remainder of the biscuit to the saucer before something could happen. Now he had a free hand.

"Haha. I rock."

He looked over at Andrew and grinned. Andrew didn't miss the opportunity to smile back, but raised one eyebrow in a I-don't-know-why-you're-so-happy-but-it-amuses-me kind of way.

"So," said Takyle, taking a sip of her tea. "What can we do for you, Ms. Barcelworth?" ~

Friday, April 18, 2008

Chapter 53: Decorative Appeal

~ The Race Official unlocked the door at the end of the hallway and held it open for them.

"Alright, you're set to go."

Nodding her thanks to the man, Takyle stepped into the live-sim room with Andrew on her heels. Jaden looked back over his shoulder. The hallway was deserted, the other ROs and Team 5 having already made their exit. He turned back to the door in front of him and shot the RO a smile.

"Thank you." The RO nodded once.

"No problem. Good luck." Jaden stepped through and was standing in what appeared to be an ornate, wood paneled front hall. Paintings and tapestries hung the walls, the vaulted ceiling illuminated by a chandelier that seemed to be holding hundreds of real candles. A tall, very straight man with graying hair entered from a door on the right of the hall. He was dressed in an impeccably black suit.

"Good afternoon madam, gentlemen. The lady of the house will see you shortly, if you would be so kind as to follow me?" He turned on his heel and started down the hall. Without further prompt Takyle fell into step behind him, Jaden and Andrew trailing her after a second's hesitation. The butler, or at least Jaden assumed the man was the butler, escorted them to the drawing room before taking a small bow and slipping out. At least Jaden assumed that it was the drawing room. Not that he had a lot of experience in that area, but it looked like a drawing room. Takyle went immediately to a couple of easy chairs bunched around a huge fireplace and sat down. Andrew and Jaden stood in the center of the large room, looking perplexed.

The room was lined with shelves, many of which held leather bound books, the rest, covered with glass doors, contained various knick knacks, running the gamut from a large glass orb set on golden claws to a piece of a clay cone with cuneiform writing on it. Upon closer inspection, Jaden found that a good number of the objects seemed to be artifacts of some description.

"Takyle...What is this place?" asked Andrew.

"I don't know. Based on appearances, I'd say the home of a rich person. The likes of whom we'll be meeting soon according to the butler."

"What are all these things doing here?" Jaden asked, leaning down to look at a piece of red and black Greek pottery on a low shelf.

"Again, I don't know, though it has always been a habit of the rich to collect various bits and pieces of artifacts, it's just not as easy anymore."

"So, expensive kitsch," Andrew stated bluntly. Takyle gave him a sarcastic look.

"You might say that...If you had no taste at all whatsoever." She turned back to Jaden. "Many of the things in this room are probably invaluable and might have been in this family for generations."

"You talk like this is a real place..." mused Jaden aloud.

"Well we're really supposed to treat it as if it is, aren't we? And besides, it's not a reach; I've been in homes very similar to this."

"I haven't," Andrew muttered to Jaden.

"Nor I," agreed Jaden.

"That's because we're poor," Andrew stage whispered. ~

Monday, April 14, 2008

Chapter 52: Time Honored

~ It took no more than another 15 minutes for the medic to finish his work on Andrew's stomach and Andrew rose gingerly to a sitting position. He carefully inspected the bandage wrapping his torso. He glanced up at his audience and grinned, looking half his age.

"Hey Jaden, wanna sign my bandage?"

"I think that casts pretty much have that whole signing market cornered," Jaden replied. The RO that had first spoken with Takyle came over for the second time, and looked Andrew up and down.

"Well alright then. Now that you've all been taken care of, we'll talk about what's to come." He turned to Takyle. "If Team 6 wants to quit the race now, we will escort you out. If not, the committee has authorized that you be shown immediately into the next live-sim, as the amount of time used by your encounter with Team 5 was approximately equal to the time it should have taken you to get through the maze. If you'd like to talk it over for a moment-"

"I'm ready to go now," Andrew cut in, beginning to stand. Takyle placed a hand on his arm, holding him down.

"Wait just a minute. I'm not sure that we should just jump right back in." She turned to the medic. "Is it even safe for him to continue the race?"

"Yes I think so, as long as he's careful not to overstress himself or tear out the stitches." Takyle nodded.

"Was there something in here that was making us aggressive?" she asked the RO.

"I am not permitted to give you any other information about what has gone, or what might go on in the race. I'm sorry." Takyle looked back and forth between Jaden and Andrew. She looked positively torn. Jaden felt sorry for her. Andrew spoke up.

"Look, let's just go Takyle, we're losing valuable time here." She looked at him for just a split second more and then turned to the RO.

"Alright, we'll stay in."

"Excellent. Please gather your supplies." Jaden and Takyle nodded and turned to find their discarded packs amongst all the people and things in the crowded hallway. The medic held up a hand for Andrew to wait a moment and fished around in his suitcase of supplies, at last producing several small white packets.

"I can give you some pain medication in case you need it later, you're going to have to ration it though, as you'll have no way of getting any more until the race ends unless you drop out. It might cause you to feel a bit tired with slowed reactions as well, so be careful of when you take it. And one more thing; pain is your body saying you're doing too much. Don't ignore it."

"Yes sir," answered Andrew, accepting the medication. "And thank you for patching me up."

"Not a problem. Best of luck to you." The medic snapped shut his case and, followed by his assistant once again hauling the table, headed back down the hall to the door that was the emergency access to the maze. Andrew made his way down the hall and found his backpack, but not before Jaden and Takyle already had their hands on it, and were dividing the bulk of its contents between themselves.

"Um guys, he didn't say that I couldn't carry anything."

"Yeah well maybe he forgot to," said Takyle dismissively.

"I'm fine, give me my pack. The two of you can't carry everything."

"Shut up, Andrew," ordered Jaden, shooting for commanding, and as a result just sounding petulant. "We're not going to carry everything anyway. Just most of the heavy stuff." Andrew opened his mouth to complain, then seemed to think better of it.

"Thanks guys." Jaden zipped up what was left in Andrew's considerably lightened pack and Takyle stood to help Andrew pull his clean, spare shirt over his head and then slip the backpack on. He winced slightly at reaching back, but covered it quickly. "Ok then. Looks like I'm all set."

"Are you sure you want to do this?" asked Takyle softly.

"Yes I want to do this. Now let's get going before I change my mind!" Takyle nodded and Jaden stood, pulling on his own pack.

"We're ready," he called to the RO. The rest of the Race Officials and Team 5 were already going back towards the access door. The first RO gestured up the hallway to the live-sim entrance.

"After you." ~

Friday, April 11, 2008

Chapter 51: To Err is Human

~ "Could we just leave them here?" asked Jaden.

"What? Alone and all trussed up like so many sides of ham?" Andrew shook his head. "If another group came along they might get hurt." Jaden stared down at Andrew.

"One of them just stabbed you and you're worried about his well being?" Andrew started to shrug, then winced.

"Well misguided as they may have been, I wouldn't want any less if our positions were switched," he said. Jaden took a deep breath. Andrew was definitely a bigger man than he was.

"Ok, whatever you say. Well how about-" Takyle cut him off abruptly with a wave of her hand.

"Shh! Somebody's coming." Something like 30 feet down the hall a door opened. Jaden tensed. If it was another team that would decide to attack them, they didn't stand a chance. A Race Official stepped out of the door and looked up and down the hallway, caught site of the two teams and gestured behind himself to someone else, then started towards them.

"Good day," he called.

"Um, hello?" said Takyle, cautiously. Six other people had followed the first RO out of the door, carefully closing it behind them. The first man approached Takyle, while two of the others immediately knelt and began cutting the ties that held Vin and Cal.

"There's been a bit of a mistake made," said the RO to Takyle. "Long story short, these mazes for each team are all next to each other, and an emergency access door that should have remained closed was left unlocked allowing Team 5 into the section meant only for Team 6."

"They attacked us," Takyle told him.

"Yes, we know."

"And you only decided to intervene now? One of us could have died!" The RO shrugged.

"You signed waivers didn't you? It was a decision that had to be made by committee." Takyle gaped at the man.

"Oh of course. And that justifies it." He shrugged again.

"You signed waivers didn't you?" One of the other ROs in a white coat came towards Andrew followed by a young assistant who seemed to be carrying a thin folding table by its handle in one hand and a large suitcase in the other. Jaden stepped in front of them, blocking the path.

"What are you thinking to do?" he asked. The RO waved at him impatiently, as if trying to shoo away a large fly.

"Medic. Move aside," he barked. Jaden did, but he kept a close eye on them. The assistant quickly set up his table in a clear section of the hall, past where yet another RO was caring for John. Meanwhile the doctor knelt by Andrew and gingerly pulled back the bandage on his stomach. He inspected the wound rapidly, said a few words to Andrew, then waved his assistant and a woman over. The three of them carefully hoisted Andrew up and lay him on the table. Jaden felt a hand on his arm and turned. One of the ROs that had been dealing with Cal and Vin was standing beside him and without invitation began dressing the bleeding cut on his forearm.

When next Jaden checked, the medical team down the hall had re-cleaned Andrew's wound, apparently given him some sort of local anesthetic, and were stitching the gash in his stomach closed. Takyle was still talking with the first RO, and the members of the other team were all getting similar attention.

When the woman bandaging his arm was done advising him to keep it clean and dry, Jaden walked over nearer to Andrew, close enough to observe, but far enough back to stay out of the way. Andrew caught site of him and the corner of his mouth raised a little.

"I'm getting sewn up."

"So I can see."

"You were lucky," the doctor chimed in. "The wound wasn't as deep as it could have been." Andrew nodded.

"I blocked him with my arm. Not enough obviously, but I guess it helped."

"Yes it did. As it was, the blade still nicked your small intestine, but I took care of that."

"I appreciate it." Takyle came over and stood beside Jaden.

"He's going to be ok?" she asked. Jaden nodded. Takyle crossed her arms and leaned against the wall.

"I can't believe this. I didn't plan on getting killed by another team when we entered this race!" The doctor glanced up from his work.

"You signed waivers didn't you?" Takyle sighed noisily.

"Yes, I signed waivers. I suppose that means I can't complain."

"Oh you can complain all you want," the doctor told her. "Just not in a courtroom." ~

Monday, April 7, 2008

Chapter 50: Can't Get Enough

~ Andrew's breath caught painfully in his throat as Jaden swabbed up the blood oozing from the wound in his abdomen with clean gauze. Andrew opened his eyes and looked around.

"Where'd Takyle go?" he asked. Jaden glanced up from his work and looked down the hall. She was nowhere in sight.

"I don't know." He wasn't sure that he cared at this point. "Takyle! Get your ass back here!" he shouted over his shoulder. He pulled out a packet of antibacterial powder and sprinkled it over Andrew's wound, placing a thick gauze pad over that and bandaging it in place. A second later Takyle came running back into the hall from around a corner.

"Hey guys, I found another unlocked d-" She skidding to a stop several yards away when she processed what Jaden was doing. "What's happened to him?" she asked. She stepped over the other team's leader, who now lay tied on the floor, and approached slowly.

"What do you think happened to him? He got stabbed while he was fighting," Jaden answered, scathingly.

"You're bleeding too," Andrew murmured softly. Jaden remembered his arm.

"Oh it's nothing impressive. You know me, just another scar to show off with no good story for it. Not like what you got here. Now this'll make a great story for the ladies. Will you lay down and rest for a few minutes?"

"Sure. I love resting." Jaden rolled up Andrew's jacket and placed it under his head as a pillow. Andrew's mouth twitched and he opened one eye.

"Quit doting, Jaden, and go patch up your arm."

“Sure thing.” Jaden straightened up and turned to Takyle, drawing her away from Andrew. She was staring at him with a shocked and rather stupid look on her face.

“Is he going to be alright?” she asked. Jaden blinked at her.

“I don't know. He was bleeding pretty bad.” He looked her over coldly. “You were an idiot. Standing there arguing with him when he was seriously wounded. What the hell were you thinking?”

“I didn't realize he was hurt. I feel like an idiot.”

“And you look like one too,” Andrew sang from the floor. “Have you guys thought that maybe we should all stop fighting amongst ourselves and try to actually win this friggin' race?” Takyle walked back and knelt beside Andrew on the floor. She laid one hand on his shoulder gently.

"I'm so sorry, Andy. I didn't know...I didn't mean..." He raised a hand to lay on top of hers.

"It's ok, Takyle. I'm going to be fine." Takyle looked up at Jaden then back at Andrew.

"I don't know what came over me."

"Do you feel jumpy and moody?" asked Jaden.

"Yeah. Ever since we got in here," Takyle agreed. Andrew groaned quietly as he raised his head.

"So um, maybe we shouldn't be lounging around in here if it's messing with our heads, huh guys?"

"Yeah, but what about our archnemeses here?" Jaden threw a thumb in the direction of the silent Cal and Vin. Andrew rolled his eyes.

"Good question..."

Friday, April 4, 2008

Chapter 49: Consequences

~ Takyle lightly slapped Andrew on the arm again.

"Seriously." Her lips almost looked pouty. Jaden thought that she'd never seemed so girly. Well, that is, she would have if she hadn't been holding a bloody dagger in one hand. Andrew looked lost and a little peeved. That was obviously not the reaction he'd expected, or perhaps been hoping for.


"I was fine! I had him. Then you came rushing in and finished him off!"

"Well you didn't look like you had him! You looked like you were just holding your own and thinking that you were doing well. And besides, I'm not going to put your ego in the way of winning this race."

"My ego?" Takyle demanded. "I was fine! And I'm a better fighter than you'll ever hope to be! At least I could afford real lessons!"

"You were fine? So you never make mistakes do you, Takyle? If you'd slipped he could have killed you while we were all standing back letting you prove your worth to yourself because your daddy never loved you enough!"

Jaden didn't turn around from his watch over Cal and Vin, both sitting propped against the wall now, but he did flinch. Partly because of Andrew's angry tone, mostly because he was imaging the look on Takyle's face right now. It entered Jaden's mind that he hoped they had the sense to be keeping an eye on John whilst they fought it out. Then he decided that he probably shouldn't count on that.

Jaden backed up to where his pack lay on the ground and dug a small bundle of cable ties out of it. Andrew's idea, bless his soul, so prepared. He trussed Cal and Vin's hands behind them, then, as an afterthought, had them sit back to back and secured them to each other as well. As a kindness he checked Vin's wound and found it to be superficial, the bleeding already slowing. And then he set Cal's nose straight again with a quick wrench.

"Sorry," he told the man quietly when he yelped in pain. The he turned to take a look at the real fight scene. John still lay on the floor. Takyle still gripped her knife, but her arm had tensed and her knuckles were white. Jaden had never seen Andrew looking quite that mad. The fact that he was actually shouting said it all.

"We're supposed to be a freaking team here! What is it exactly that you think teams do, Takyle?"

"Apparently they cut each other down and utilize backstabbing as often as possible! At least the teams that you're on do!"

"I didn't do anything wrong! I was trying to help because I didn't want you to get hurt because I frigging love you!" Andrew stood there in front of Takyle, breathing hard. She stared at him in silence.

"I didn't need help," she muttered.

"I don't care. That's not something I can chance," said Andrew, in a much more reasonable tone of voice. "You're the one that kept friggin' telling us to always go with our gut instincts anyway!" Takyle looked down at John, then at her knife, apparently for the first time noticing the blood splattered on her hand.

"I'm...sorry." She turned and stepped over John to walk a short distance down the hall, away from Andrew. Andrew finally looked at Jaden.

"Are you ok?" he asked weakly.

"Yes, I'm fine." Jaden looked hard at Andrew's face. He looked pale. Then Jaden noticed that he was also bleeding profusely through fingers pressed to his stomach.

"Andrew, you're-"

"Yeah, I know. Hurts like hell. I'm just gonna sit down now." Andrew half lowered himself, half slid down the wall to rest on the floor. He looked over as Jaden grabbed his med kit. "I've never been much one for fainting, but I see now that it could have its advantages."

"You'll be ok," assured Jaden, sounding as if he knew what he was talking about. He carefully pulled Andrew's hand away and grabbed his knife to cut off Andrew's shirt.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Andrew demanded. "I only have two sets of clothes you know. Just help me take it off like a normal person." So he was not in enough pain to override his conservatory instincts; Jaden took that as a good sign and helped him take off his jacket and pull the shirt over his head.

Jaden used the sullied shirt to wipe some of the blood off of Andrew's stomach, as carefully as possible. Andrew bit his lip, and barely stifled a groan.

"I'm sorry," apologized Jaden. "I'm trying to be gentle." Andrew let his head fall back and closed his eyes.

"I hope you're at least planning to make me breakfast tomorrow morning, sailor."