A/N: I'm so sorry I haven't updated in a while! I hope you guys haven't been insane with anger or anything. I had to re-post this chapter, because FFNet was acting screwy when I updated the first time, and it didn't even show up on the site that I had a new chapter. So I'm trying it again; hopefully this time it'll work. Anyway, I'll stop blathering and just let you read.

Disclaimer: Don't own FFIX, but if I did, I'd make a sequel. With Kuja.

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Requiem for an Angel

a Final Fantasy IX fanfiction

by Wakizashi

Chapter Fifteen: The Heart Dies First

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Felina blew a weary sigh and took off her derby hat to wipe the perspiration from her forehead. She had long since removed her tailcoat, rolled it up, and shoved it into her knapsack, but she was still dying from the heat. Her face and neck were sunburned, and her long, white-blond hair felt limp and greasy. She desperately needed a bath.

Everyone else looked as hot and tired as she was. They had reached the forest the previous day, and after passing an uneasy night camped in a clearing, with watches taking turns every hour, they had set out again at first light in search of this portal of debatable existence. Both days had passed quickly, but they had not been without their perils. After the first yan encounter, the frequency of battles had increased. Every one of them had been injured in one way or another, and if it weren't for the magical healing properties of the medicinal items they had brought, none of them would have been able to go on.

Felina could endure all of the battles, because they kept her on her toes. It was this infernal heat that she couldn't stand. Growing up in a temperate city like Lindblum, she was accustomed to having a cool wind blowing on her face all the time. But this forest was so humid! She didn't understand how the desert could have been so dry, and the forest so wet. It seemed contradictory, even paradoxical.

It wouldn't have been so trying, she reflected, if they actually knew where they were going. But they were just wandering aimlessly through the thick, muggy woods, with no notion of where this supposed portal to Earth could possibly be. With another sigh, Felina took a drink of water from her skin-bottle. She had to keep reminding herself that they were doing this for Earth, and for the billions of people who lived on it.

"Hey, Felina." She felt a sudden nudge at her shoulder from Jack. "Let me have some of that water." Then he smiled sheepishly, remembering his manners. "Please?"

Felina passed the skin-bottle over to one of his many hands. As he threw back his neck and drank, she took the opportunity to look at him more closely. His trouser leg was torn at the knee, where a yan from their first battle had tried to gouge him with its horns. His face and neck were sunburned too, and the black kohl around his eyes was smudged. He looked absolutely exhausted, but oddly enough, she hadn't heard a word of complaint from him since they had arrived on the island. Felina smiled affectionately: he was probably just happy to be on solid ground.

Jack handed her the bottle and wiped his mouth. "Thanks, kitten."

"Don't mention it," she replied, gazing up at his profile. He really was quite handsome, for a four-armed thief. "You holdin' up there, luv?"

"Meh. I'm alive, I guess that's something to be grateful for." He scratched his head. "I've been tryin' to be more positive lately, to look on the bright side. More like you, I guess."

Felina grinned. "I noticed."

"I figure, hey, nobody's died yet, or lost a limb, we haven't run out of food or water, I'm with my friends, and I'm not pukin' my guts out." She couldn't fully stifle an amused snicker, and he generously permitted it. "What I'm tryin' to say is, things could be a lot worse."

"Good for you, Jack," she said.

Suddenly he stiffened beside her. "Frick," he muttered, looking down at his boots. "I guess I should tell you, since we're friends now, or whatever."

Felina frowned, beginning to feel alarmed. "Tell me what?"

"My real name. It isn't Jack. It's..." He sighed deeply. "It's Gilgamesh." Felina's eyes widened. "I just tell everyone it's Jack, 'cause I hate it. I'm really sorry, Felina. Sorry I lied to you--"

She started to laugh, and he glared at her angrily. "Yeah, I know it's an awful name. I've tried to forget it, tried to make myself believe that Jack is my real name, but I can't. And quit laughin', it's not funny!"

"No, no, that ain't it at all!" Felina put her hand gently on his shoulder. "I ain't laughin' at your name, luv," she said reassuringly. "I knew Jack wasn't your real name from the moment I met you."

Jack stared at her, his golden eyes wide with surprise. "You did?"

"Of course! You didn't honestly think I'd believe such an uninspired name as Alleyway Jack could possibly be real, yeah?" Jack's face fell, and it was obvious to her that that was exactly what he had hoped for. "Oh, come along, it's all right," she said kindly. "Gilgamesh ain't a bad name. It's quite distinguished, really."

He snorted. "Puh. Yeah, right."

"Well, whether you think so or not's beside the point," she continued. "If you want to be called Jack, then I'll call you Jack. Your name ain't important to me." She smiled up at him, but when she spoke, her voice was serious. "I'll call you anyfin' you want, so long as you keep callin' me 'kitten'."

He smiled back, and his eyes were warm. "It's a deal," he said softly, and Felina felt her breath catch in her throat.

"Hey, you guys," hissed a sudden voice, startling them both. Felina turned to see Zidane walking beside them, looking uncharacteristically furtive. "Sorry I snuck up on you, but I need to know something, and my group is basically useless when it comes to getting information. Kuja and Claire are acting weird, and Amarant's... well, Amarant. Anyway, do either of you know if Kuja's eaten anything today?"

Felina looked at Jack in bewilderment, but his face wore a grim expression. "No, I don't think so," he answered in a low voice.

"Okay. I was just making sure." Zidane ran a gloved hand through his sunbleached hair. "Geez. Stupid guy's worrying me half to death."

Jack nodded gravely. "Yeah, I know what you mean. He's lookin' pretty bad."

Felina's pale eyebrows drew together as she stared at Jack, then at Zidane. They both seemed to know something that she didn't. "What's goin' on?" she asked. "What's wrong wif Kuja?"

The two young men looked at each other. "You didn't tell her?" asked Zidane.

"No, I didn't know if he'd want me to. I mean, the only people who know are you, me, and Claire."

"Yeah, Dagger knows, too."

"Dagg--? Oh, the queen. Duh, of course she'd know."

"Oh, and Eiko."

"Eiko? The girl with the purple hair?"

"Oi!" They both looked at Felina in surprise. "What don't I know 'bout Kuja?" she demanded.

They cast another conspiratory glance at each other, which annoyed her greatly, and finally Zidane cleared his throat. "Kuja's, uhh... he's dying." Felina stared at him in shock. "Garland, the man who created him and me, and our sister Mikoto, built him with a limit on his life. He doesn't have much time left."

Felina didn't know what to say, or even what to feel. This was the man who had destroyed cities, killed thousands of people, and almost blown Gaia to bits. This man had been responsible for the death of her first love. She should have been glad he was dying. After all, he deserved it. And yet all she could feel was an ache in her heart for him, and for Claire.

Now that she thought about it, Kuja did appear to be a bit ill lately. In contrast with the others' sunburns, he seemed to be growing paler every day, as well as thinner. His eyes were bloodshot, and his usually glossy hair was dull and limp. And every once in a while, she saw him stifle a cough in his hand. It was true. He was dying.

"Poor Claire," she said softly. "She must be heartbroken."

"Yeah, you'd think she would be," Jack muttered, with a strangely hard edge to his voice.

Zidane frowned. "What do you mean?"

"Well, the thing is, I think I know the reason for Kuja's... you know. Lookin' like he's got one foot in the grave." He lowered his voice further, and Zidane and Felina leaned in closer to hear him. "Back in Alexandria, he basically told Claire that he had it bad for her."

"That idiot," Zidane growled. "He said he wasn't going to."

"Well, he did. And Claire turned him down."

"What?" Felina blurted loudly, then slapped a hand over her mouth. "Why?" she asked, her voice muffled. "I... I thought for sure there was somefin' there."

Jack shook his head. "She said it was because they were too different, and because they're from different planets. And I guess that's true. But I don't know. That doesn't sound like Claire to me."

"How'd you find all this out, anyway?" asked Zidane.

"Because Kuja told me, that's how," he replied. "I'm his confidential pal, who he tells all his secrets to."

The blond Genome raised an eyebrow. "I think you just lost your reputation for confidentiality, man."

"Yeah, well..." Jack shrugged defensively. "Anyway, ever since then, it's like he's fallin' apart. He doesn't eat, I don't think he sleeps... And he keeps sayin' stuff, like, how his heart has died. And I can't be sure, but it sounded like he said, 'I never thought love would kill me.' He's usually pretty morbid anyway, but this is a whole 'nother story. Bein' rejected by Claire is killin' him even faster."

Felina looked at Zidane, who shook his head silently. His concern for his brother was clearly etched on his open, honest face. "Oh, man," he finally said under his breath. "I had no idea something like this would have such a bad effect on him. But I can't say I blame him. After all, he's been hated his entire life. He's just waiting for the crappy, meaningless hell that's his life to end. And then Claire comes along. She treats him nice, she doesn't judge him for what he's done, and she gives him a reason to live. It's no wonder he fell head-over-heels for her."

"And then suddenly," Felina continued softly, "the one person that he thought cared 'bout him turns him down." She exhaled sharply. "Blimey. Can you imagine how devastated he must be?"

Jack shook his head. "We'll probably never understand how he feels. I just wonder if Claire knows what she's doin' to him."

"I don't know, but we're not telling her." They turned to Zidane in surprise. "We don't want her to change her mind just because she feels guilty. If she does decide to, it has to be because she actually cares about Kuja. But unless he starts looking really bad, we don't tell her a thing."

Felina frowned at him. "You mean, we just have to wait until she comes round?"

"I never thought I'd say this," Jack said quietly, "but I hope she does."

----

Suppressing her instinctual urge to turn and run for the hills, Claire steeled herself as the stampeding wendigo charged toward her. She pulled her bowstring taut, took careful aim, and slowly drew her breath out as she released the arrow. The point landed squarely in the creature's right eye, and it doubled over in mid-stride and crumpled to the ground, blood and gray matter trickling from its ruined head. Claire felt her gorge rising, and quickly turned away.

"Awesome shot, Claire!" cried Zidane approvingly. "I bet Rusty wishes his Pluto Knights had your skills."

"Or any at all," Captain Steiner grumbled as he came to join them.

"Yeah, I don't know where that came from," she said, blushing in embarrassment. "Just lucky, I guess."

"There is no need to be modest, Claire," said Beatrix, sliding her sword into her scabbard. "Being in a tense situation no doubt contributes to our doing things we didn't think ourselves capable of. But clearly you were born with an innate talent for battle."

"Ol' Cyclops is right," Amarant put in, much to the irritation of Steiner. "So what if you don't have any magic skills? It just means you don't have to rely on any wussy fairy spells to kick ass."

Claire couldn't help but laugh. "Thanks. I think."

Kuja, unsurprisingly, said nothing. No one could have known that he was bursting with pride.

"So when are we goin' to find this stupid portal?" asked Jack, folding one set of his arms over his chest. "We've been wanderin' around on Death Island for two days, and we haven't even seen anything that looks like a way to Earth."

"Vile Island, luv," Felina corrected him.

"I know what it's called," he grumbled. "But Doctor Tot said that that book he had, 'Some Somethings on the Something of Unknown Planets', told of some legend of a portal on an island, surrounded by ferocious beasts. Well, we're here. There's definitely no shortage of ferocious beasts. So why haven't we found the portal?"

"What I'm worried about," said Claire, "is if we'll even recognize what it is when we do see it. What if it's invisible? What if it's not even here anymore? Didn't you say that the portal to Terra isn't at that Shining Island anymore, Zidane?"

"Shimmering Island," he said. "And no, it's not. But that probably has something to do with the fact that Terra isn't there anymore." Several people cast surreptitious glances toward Kuja. "Anyway, don't worry. We're gonna find it."

"I wish I shared your optimism, Zidane," Steiner remarked. "But to be honest, Miss Giovannucci and the four-armed scoundrel make a valid point."

"Hey, what'd I do to you, Clanky McGee?" Jack said, indignant.

"Take it easy," said Zidane. "The portal exists, all right? At least one portal has to exist. Otherwise, how could Claire have gotten here in the first place?"

"But I wasn't sent to Vile Island," she protested. "I was sent to Conde Petie."

"So? Maybe that was a different portal. At any rate, this is the only portal that we know of, so we're going to keep looking for it until we find it. Okay?" There were general mumbles of assent, and Zidane's shoulders drooped. "It's getting dark. This is as good a place to set up camp as any. We'll start again at first light. Rusty, help me set up one of these tents. Kuja, you can help, if you're up to it."

Kuja didn't look like he was up to it. In fact, Claire was alarmed to see that his face was white, and he was breathing hard, like he had just run a marathon. But he joined Zidane and Steiner, the latter watching with visible displeasure, and silently began unrolling the animal-skin tents. He seemed unaware of his discomfort.

While Jack and Amarant set up another tent, Claire helped Beatrix and Felina build a fire, always with one eye on Kuja. Despite her initial decision to keep herself emotionally separated from him, she was forced to realize that she was worried out of her mind about him. He looked so pale and worn, and his cheeks were so hollow. He literally seemed to be wasting away. Not only that; he was coughing, not only at night, but now in the daytime. He was getting worse.

As she absently gathered dead branches to use for firewood, keeping the campsite carefully in sight, Claire tried to recall the last time she had actually felt happy. She found that she could not bring to mind the most recent instance. She hadn't exactly leapt for joy when she found out her planet was going to be destroyed. She certainly hadn't been too pleased when she had been informed of Kuja's past. And she had been absolutely crushed when she learned he was dying. When was the last time she had been happy?

And suddenly she remembered: that sweet, breathless, all-too-brief, heart-in-her-throat moment when she had felt Kuja's lips, warm and insistent, press against hers. At that moment nothing else had mattered: not their differences, not his "condition", not the always-present ticking clock they faced as Earth's deadline quickly neared. With that one kiss, Claire knew exactly how Kuja felt about her, and she hadn't been able to ignore her own feelings. She had been happy then.

Not for the first time, she heard Kuja's words inside her head.

"Why do you insist on playing this ridiculous game?"

"Why must you make my last moments miserable and awkward for the both of us?"

"You're everything to me..."

Had she made the wrong decision?

"Claire!" Her head shot up as she heard Jack shouting. "Claire, get over here! It's Kuja!"

Instantly she dropped the branches she had been carrying and sprinted back to the campsite, a terrible gnawing feeling in her stomach. The tents had been erected and the fire was blazing, but no one was sitting around it. Instead, they were circled around something else. Kuja.

Claire skidded to a halt and pushed her way through. Felina was kneeling beside Kuja, who was lying on his back with his eyes closed, his tail brushing weakly back and forth across the forest floor. Claire felt a surge of relief; she had feared the worst. "What happened?" she asked, her voice quavering.

"He was helpin' set up the tents, and he just collapsed," said Jack. "I think it's just malnourishment. He hasn't eaten anything since we got here. Hasn't slept, either."

Beatrix knelt down beside Kuja and slipped her arms under his. "Steiner, help me get him inside a tent. He needs to rest."

Wrestling for a moment between his loathing for Kuja and his devotion to Beatrix, Steiner finally sighed. "Of course."

Claire watched with worry as they lifted Kuja's limp form carefully and carried him into the nearest tent. She desperately wanted to follow them inside, just to make sure he would be all right. But she knew she would just be shooed away, and told that "he needed air." It was all she could do when she had seen him not to drop to her knees at his side and start sobbing into his shirt.

She knew it was all her fault. She knew that if she hadn't pushed him away, he would be eating and sleeping, and wouldn't look like Death warmed over. She knew that if she had just said yes, he would be happy, and so would she. He was killing himself over her. To her sudden mortification, she heard a sob escape her throat.

Instantly Felina's arms were around her, pulling her into a hug. Claire wept bitterly, her chin on the blond girl's shoulder, as guilt and self-loathing washed over her. She had been so thoughtless, so insensitive. It was all her fault.

"You know he loves you," Felina said softly, "don't you?"

Feeling fresh tears stream down her cheeks, Claire nodded silently.

"And how do you feel 'bout him?" she asked.

Claire pulled out of her embrace, wiping her eyes with her sleeve. "I..." She took a deep, shaky breath. "I don't want to get close to him, when I'm just going to lose him anyway."

"That weren't my question, Claire. I asked, do you love him?"

She stared into the girl's calm gray eyes for what seemed like an eternity. But Felina never got an answer to her question. At that moment Beatrix and Steiner emerged from the tent, their faces grim. "He will be all right," said Beatrix, and Claire nearly collapsed in relief. "He is resting now, but when he wakes up, he will need to eat something. Someone needs to sit with him until he wakes, and see that he gets food."

Literally everyone looked at Claire. "I'll do it," she said, needlessly.

Beatrix nodded, and she and Steiner stepped aside. Swallowing hard, Claire lifted the flap that covered the tent's opening and ducked inside. On the soft, mossy earth - for this was no fancy Coleman tent with a floor built in - Kuja lay sleeping, his dark cloak rolled up and placed under his head. He slept easily for once, his breathing quiet and even, and his face was peaceful. He almost looked like an angel, if angels had feathers in their hair.

As quietly as possible, Claire sat down beside him and simply watched him sleep. She watched the rise and fall of his chest as he breathed, the frighteningly irregular pulse in his neck, the occasional fluttering of his eyelids as he dreamed. She didn't know how long she watched him, but it wasn't until the light outside had faded, and she had lit a candle she took from her knapsack, that she heard a sudden change in his breathing and knew he was waking up. She sat back and waited.

Slowly, Kuja's icy blue eyes opened, and they swiveled around for a moment in confusion before settling on Claire. He stared at her for a long minute. Then he licked his dry lips and spoke. "I lost consciousness," he said. It was a statement, not a question.

"Yes, you did," she replied quietly. "Jack tells me you haven't been eating or sleeping. Your body couldn't take it anymore." She dug in her knapsack again and unwrapped a loaf of bread. Tearing off a piece, she held it out to him. "I'm under orders not to leave until you eat something."

Kuja eyed her skeptically. "Orders?" he said. "Whose orders?"

"General Beatrix. And she'll have my head if I don't follow them."

He sighed. "I'm not hungry," he said listlessly.

"Yeah, well, that's because your stomach is eating itself." He rolled his eyes, but Claire only pushed it more insistently toward him. "Just eat it, Kuja. Please?"

Exhaling in annoyance, he snatched it from her with a bony hand, took a bite, and chewed it with much ceremony. Finally he swallowed it theatrically and raised an eyebrow at her. "There, are you happy?"

No, Claire thought, staring into his thin, ashen face. Wordlessly, she took out her skin-bottle and handed it to him. There was a seemingly interminable silence as she watched him alternate between bread and water. "Don't have too much all at once," she finally said. "You don't want your stomach to stretch out too fast."

"I'm aware of that," he replied irritably. He thrust the skin-bottle rudely toward her, and she simply took it, pretending to be oblivious to his brusqueness. "Now. I've eaten. I've drunk. I've rested. You may leave now."

"No," she said. When he glared at her, she explained, "You're still very weak. I have to stay and make sure you get your strength back, and don't have a relapse."

"Indeed," he said sardonically, trying to raise himself up on his elbow. "You know, I can always make you leave."

"No, you can't," she answered calmly. "You're too feeble to do anything. In fact, I could tickle you right now, and you'd be as helpless as an infant to stop me."

Kuja snorted as he lowered himself back down. But Claire thought she saw his lips curve slightly in brief amusement. She shifted, trying to ignore the rocks and twigs she was sitting on. "Is there anything I can do for you?" she asked quietly. "Anything I can get you?"

The Genome shook his head, looking up at the flimsy roof of the tent. "Nothing, thank you," he replied in a dull, listless voice.

"Come on, Kuja," Claire urged, her throat tightening. "There must be something I can do." Suddenly her voice broke, and everything she had been keeping shut up inside her gushed forth in a torrent of words. "I mean, it's my fault that all this has happened, my fault that you're like this. I was wrong, I shouldn't have pushed you away. I was just so scared that I would get too attached to you, but I know that's just a stupid excuse, because I'm already attached to you, and I hate seeing you like this! God, I wish I could go back and change everything--"

Kuja sighed impatiently as he reached out and closed his long fingers gently around her wrist, interrupting her outburst. "It's all right, Claire," he said, still staring upwards. "Don't blame yourself for this. I don't."

"But I--"

He quickly shushed her. "I'm going to die eventually," he told her, sounding strangely resigned. "It's only a question of when. But I will try to stay alive long enough to help you save your home."

His hand fell away, and Claire brushed a tear from her cheek. She nodded silently.

After a moment he stirred again. "Now that I think of it," he said reflectively, "there is something you could do for me."

Instantly she leaned forward. "Anything."

Kuja's eyes were calm as they settled on her. "Tell me about yourself," he said.

Claire frowned. "Huh?"

"You made a very good point back in Alexandria," he explained, "when you told, or rather accused me of knowing nothing about you." He arched an eyebrow with a little of his old imperiousness. "Well, I wish to know. So tell me."

Caught off guard, Claire sat for a moment in silence. "What do you want me to tell you?" she asked.

"Anything. Everything." A shadow of a smile crossed his lips. "You can start with your middle name."

She felt herself smile in return. "Okay," she replied. "My middle name is Estelle." Kuja repeated it under his breath, and she continued. "I'm twenty years old, my birthday is August fifteenth, and I was born in Queens, which is a borough of New York. My parents, as you know, are Stan and Marcie, and my brother Richie is nine years younger than me. I currently live with my roommate, Sophie Evans, and I don't have any pets at the moment because my mother unwittingly killed my pet spider, Snuggles."

Kuja looked amused. "Snuggles?"

"Yeah, well... I wanted to name him something ironic. Anyway," she resumed, "I work at a hair salon in Manhattan - that's also in New York. It's a great job, but there are always a few people who refuse to trust me with their hair, because I'm young and, in their opinion, inexperienced. But enough about my work.

"Umm, well, my favorite color is orange, my favorite food is ├ęclairs, not because they rhyme with my name, but because they're really good... My favorite book is 'The Great Gatsby', don't ask me why. I think I've read it at least ten times. I can kind of play the piano, and I love all kinds of music, especially classical. I wish I could get a real piano, but I don't have the room for it, so I just have a keyboard. But you don't even know what a keyboard is, so why am I even talking about it?" Suddenly she laughed. "Sorry, I think I got a little carried away."

"Not at all," Kuja replied, gazing at her intently. "May I ask you a question?"

Claire swallowed uneasily. He was making no effort whatsoever to hide the affection in his eyes. "Guess so."

His next words were so low that she had to bend closer to hear them: "Have you ever been in love?"

She felt herself blush. For a moment she didn't answer. Then she cleared her throat nervously and nodded. "Yeah, actually," she said quietly. "I have."

At this Kuja looked away, his pale lashes concealing his eyes. "I see," he said in a deceptively neutral voice. "Tell me about him."

"Kuja--"

"Tell me."

Claire sighed, forcing down her annoyance. "All right, fine," she said. She paused for a moment. "His name was... well, that's not important. I met him by accident, and we were just kind of thrown together. At first we didn't get along. But then I started to see good things in him." Kuja's eyes were still averted, but she could tell he was listening raptly. "He was kind of a loner; quiet, kept to himself. He had a lot of self-esteem issues. But he was always very polite to me, and he had a dark sense of humor. Anyway, I kept growing more and more fond of him, and then before I knew it, I was in love."

There was a silence. Then Kuja nodded stiffly. "And what happened?" he asked.

"I... didn't want to tell him," she replied. "Because I was an idiot, and I thought it'd be a bad idea. But then I realized it was a worse idea not to tell him, because he felt the same way about me, and just assumed I didn't care about him." She sighed. "It was... complicated."

"Did you ever tell him?"

Claire took a deep breath. "I'm telling him right now."

Kuja looked up at her sharply, his tail lashing involuntarily, surprise and disbelief creeping into his pale features. Then slowly, skepticism was gradually replaced with naked hope. "You what?" he asked, sounding almost like a frightened child.

Her throat was so tight, she could barely get the next words out. "Guess what his name was," she said quietly.

He swallowed, hard. "Kuja?" he whispered.

Not trusting herself to speak, she simply nodded.

"Ohhh, little bird," Kuja said brokenly, trying to sit up. He sank back down, muttering a curse at his own weakness. Slowly, Claire stretched out beside him and placed her hands on either side of his head. Then, as gently as possible, she brought his face forward until their lips met.

For a second or two, their eyes remained open, as if they were amazed that it was actually happening; that they had actually survived all the painful hardships and misery to get to this point. And then the spell was broken, and Kuja was wrapping his arms possessively around her, stroking her back tenderly, his kisses soft and sweet. Claire took pains to be gentle with him, weaving her fingers through his long hair. In response, his tail curled around her waist, and he made a soft little sound of contentment.

And then, as if a switch had been flipped, Kuja's arms fell away, and his head sank back down onto his cloak, which had been placed beneath it. He lay motionless except for his swaying tail, his eyes closed. Bewildered, Claire felt a rising sense of panic until she grasped what had happened: he had fallen asleep.

Of course, she thought with a sigh; she should have known. He hadn't slept in days, save for those few hours during which his body had completely shut down in protest. She didn't blame him for being exhausted... though he could have picked a better moment.

Smiling, she brushed his silver hair out of his face, then leaned in and kissed him lightly on the lips. "Sweet dreams," she whispered. Standing up, she gazed down at him one last time, drinking in the sight of him, and finally stepped out of the tent.

----

A/N: Ah, finally. I hope that made up for my embarrassingly long hiatus. Maybe next time I won't take so danged long! If it looks like I'm delaying, be sure to throw something at me. And in the meantime, please leave a review! I'd like to know that you haven't forgotten about my little story.

-Waki