To my readers,

Don't you feel brilliant when you get something mixed up? I'll edit chapter eight to fix the names of the towns and the name of Ash's mother tomorrow. I think I've got it right in this chapter, if I don't could someone give me the names of the town Giovanni has his gym and the proper spelling of Ash's last name, thanks.

Kasan Soulblade

The guilty and the innocent

Chapter 9

Crimson Dreams- Giovanni

The walls were black, the floors thick crimson. He stared at the room a long moment, took in the black and red glory, before him. The crimson letter with its black backdrop stared back at him. Three strokes made the "R" three generations for it to rise and three for it to fall. There was a nice symmetry to it all. They of course sat behind him, or did he sit to his back to them? It didn't matter, only this moment mattered, this last moment. He caressed the arm of the chair, sorted the last of his business, walked the final mental avenues of regret, shifted through the folders that existed in his head to see that indeed all debts were cleared. For once they were, and he smiled into the crimson laced darkness, stroked the leather for a long moment to just savor the softness under his touch. He would savor these last few moments in this room, leave them wreathed in his fire so they would never forget. These last few moments of peace were his, and he would never forget it. He sighed, drank in the dark with his eyes till it burned. The dark was his, as would be the crimson.

He had made them wait long enough.

He let go of the peace, gripped the arms of his chair, one last fleeting caress, and then allowed his feet to push off of the softness that was a thick rug exotic rug of Arcanine pelt under his chair. He turned, slowly, slightly melodramatic his slow turning, yet he liked their tension. He liked seeing the anxiety on their faces ease into impassive expressions that masked a mind being slowly devoured by their fear.

"Gentlemen," he whispered softly, and they flinched, all who entered this room flinched when he spoke in a whisper. "I understand you are all busy with your various operations in Kanto, Joto, and the Isles, but this is a pressing matter that requires your immediate attention. This is a matter of filling in a position of high rank."

Excitement flashed in every eye, there was only one man's death who could cause a gap significant to lead to the gathering of the Rocket heads. Only one man's death besides their 'beloved' leader.

"My second met an unfortunate accident this morning."

He was stating the obvious, but they hardly cared, dreams of attaining greater power filled their eyes. He might have smiled mentally, might have allowed himself a mental iota of humor at the irony of this situation. He could have dropped this announcement and left one gun in the room and let them do the work for him. Unprofessional that, so he'd do it himself. He had not done this route in a long while, had employed a different tactic several times these recent months. He had been quietly killing off valuable members, then letting those remaining turn on each other for the position. The leaders were the skin of the foundation beams, and when the skin was stripped away there was only the rot left and exposed. They were turning on each other now, like a pack starving Houndour thrown a bone they turned on each other to gather that which the master had stripped of all but the Ghastly of flavor. The heads would not know this, or would shrug it off, a series of small insignificant in fights and murders were the norm for such an organization. But insignificant or not they added up, and had one of the heads bothered to talk to each other they might have found the timing a little ironic. They might have been justly worried instead of lost in the animal rapture of budding ambition. He watched those empty soulless men shiver under the ecstasy of the power he offered one of them; he wanted to see it go its natural course before he acted. Pleasure faded, died into scheming, plans gathered and were formed in those dead eyes and hid away.

He looked at them, loomed over them in his large backed chair, it was almost a throne. Almost but not quite. He smiled at them, saw their scheming and approved, or so it was in their minds that the smile meant approval. Little did they know he smiled when he planned, when he savored the plans and the goals and felt them come together with a beautiful click in his mind.

"Now," He brought up is glass, sipped at the crimson wine.

The crimson was now his, the black of treachery and hate and the death that followed passionate murder had been his. It was now his birth right to grasp the crimson and so he had, and they would drown in it a warm wet red death.

The red was his at long last.

"This brings a few problems. If I leave you to your own devices you'll all kill each other. Despite how much that would appease your underlings and give them the chance to fight and kill amongst themselves I mustn't allow that. This could very well destroy us, and the Rockets must survive long after our deaths, after all who would keep the weaklings in line if we weren't here?"

They laughed at that, it was a running joke. The strong take from the weak and they were the strongest of all.

Yet he had met a weakling, had fought a supposed weakling, had been victorious by virtue of mercy, and that fights unexpected conclusion had decided many things for him.

The strong would pass and the weak would inherit, they would be free of the shackles that the corrupt slapped upon their limbs, they would be freed, and they would have the world.

Better that then this crimson and black order with a pulse of blood and death, he let his gaze sweep along the scarred faces of those around him. Some sported physical scars; others had scars in their eyes, in their souls, marks from a bleeding out of emotion, of life, of passion.

We are the machines that ran the world, the soulless calculating abominations, and it is time the gears stopped turning.

He would be the one to make it stop; at long last he could do as he dreamed those foul dreams where the world ran red and he sat on a bloodied throne.

The crimson was his.

He pressed a button on the table in front of him; cries rang out from around the gathered Rockets. Steel clasps bound arm to arm, and leg to leg. They thrashed against the chairs, a few cursed as they could not move an inch from the chairs. He stood, rubbed the pale band of skin around his middle finger, pulled a gun from his belt and slowly loaded it in front of them. He walked to the first man, he couldn't even recall the bastard's name and didn't much care for the oily features. So he watched, almost entranced as the barrel of the old gun spun back into its proper place, he lifted it up, pulled back the safety, there was another click and he smiled at the weapon. It was perfection, old and tried and loyal and true, he could ask for no better partner in this task.

"Please Boss, please, ya wouldn't kill yer ol' buddy."

"I have one friend, and only one, in this I spare him and the world he loves any more pain."

He didn't bother with more talking, pulled the trigger and watched as the first die. Certain no man could function with his skull's contents scattered about the room he turned to the second Rocket and listened to the animal pleas, to the animal cries that came from a cornered monster.


"Dad!" A woman's voice nearly screamed at him on the other end of the line, she was pale, shaking.

"Sweetie, calm down, what's wrong?" He tried to sooth, to calm her, but her hysterics were beyond that.

"Dad... turn on channel eight, you have to do it now!"

She was inconsolable, so he promised he'd turn the TV on now and she only hung up when she could see he was walking towards it. He spared a moment to hunt up the remote and go to the prescribed channel, stared blankly at the burnt out house and hit the sound button. Before even five seconds had passed he wished that his daughter hadn't hung up, as it was he was alone. He let the remote slide through his numb fingers, sank weakly into the couch and good thing it was there or he'd had been sitting on the floor.

"…vanni was found dead in his basement of his Viridian west side home. Police came on the scene, the heads of Team Rocket were found dead along with Leonardo Giovanni. Having served as a leak to the police on and off for years he confessed to the agent that he had proof that the Rockets were suspecting him to be a double agent. He called up the said agent at seven a clock this morning to say 'all accounts have been settled' and after that enigmatic message dropped out of sight. Fearing for his life the agent along with a group of police officers stormed his home and went down to the lower levels. Inside they found a grizzly scene of nineteen dead men and women in Team Rocket uniform pinned to their chairs and all sported fatal gun wounds delivered at point blank. One of the Rockets appeared to have freed himself and there was proof of a gun fight. It was determined that Mr. Giovanni was killed by a gun shot through the heart, the Rocket's leader, identified by the insignia ring on his left hand, had died of blood loss from a wound taken in the fight. Before bodies could be recovered a freak explosion went off setting the room aflame, the mansion was burned to ash before fire fighters could arrive in the scene…"


He smiled, satisfied, it was a good harvest, a good crimson gathering. He leaned back on the throne, skin slicked with blood, their blood, and took a deep breath to settle his edgy nerves. Bits of human, mainly shards of skill and grey matter were tossed around the room like a macabre child's toys. They slumped forward or were thrown back, still, limp, dead. At last they were all dead.

He looked about him and decided that all was good.

He set the bomb's timer to three hours that was enough, and wasted a second of that time to catch his breath. It had been hard heavy work to do this, his hands hurt, were an interesting mix of hurting and numb. He took a large draw from his glass to take the edge off of the pain, then abandoned the red streaked leather chair.

He picked his way over one of the bodies in an orange suit, looked at the brown hair tangled in the widening crimson pool. Nudged the face down corpse with a boot.

"You were always a fool, honor was your undoing. Or at least that's how it'll go down in the history books. You'll get your blaze of glory and a blaze for good measure. No proof for all the questions and no answers for all the quires. They'll make us a hero for that."

He decided to cut an hour off the bomb's time, just to be safe, it'd take an hour for them to get permission to get here, an hour for them to get to this room, just enough time for them to see the flames come. He took the glass and wine bottle with him for good measure.


"Professor Oak."

Oak looked up, stared at Ash's somber face. He knew then, Leo had told the boy the truth before he left as well. Oak offered his arms and Ash fell into his embrace, burrowed himself into his mentor's arms and cried.

"I don't know what to think, I don't know what I should even feel!"

Oak felt a fist close over his heart, Leo had said those same words to him. It had taken a week, a week after his Father's death to say those words and crumple into his arms. All Oak had done was let the boy cry himself out in his arms, held him up, and when he was strong again had let him stand on his own.

That had been his mistake, had he offered some words he might have been able to stop this, to pull Leo out from his father's poisoned grasp. He had thought his words poor, and they were, perhaps they were even wrong, but he did not check them this time as he had so long ago.

"I once knew two men Ash. There was a trainer, a Gym Leader, he was hard but compassionate. Capable of caring for his Pokemon and for others, he had a deep passion for what he did and a wisdom that those who live in hard times gain. When the time was needed he could properly ram a lesson home to other trainers who were making deadly mistakes, and he did so. Other accused him of malice, but he was not malicious, he could be vicious, but there is a difference. He was a good son, loved his mother and father deeply, but that love was perceived as a weakness by his father and so it was stripped from him. The son turned on the father and though the father died the son lived on with a troubled mind but was still a good man at heart.

The other was troubled, seeing purity die every day of his life. He was beat for showing love and happiness and… when there was someone who could have pulled him out of it that person fled from that task. And because of that failure of the man who saw and did nothing all goodness in this man seemed to die. The man became cold, calculating, and incapable of expressing love, so much so he could no longer recognized it in others. He gave up on the world, gave up on the good that exists save one spot of light in his childhood. He held to it even though he'd looked so long and hard in the dark and saw the myriad colors in the black shadows that the light must have burned.

The first man's name was Leonardo.

The second man's name was Giovanni.

They were two men, and one man, and all the same."

Ash shivered in his arms, but did not pull away from his touch, Oak held him for a long time until the child had cried himself out. He draped an arm over the boy's shoulder, gently lead him to the study, it was a quiet place small and private where no one would enter if the door was closed. He firmly closed it, even as Ash sat on the leather chair that Leo had once favored. Swallowing his pain at the sight Samuel took his accustomed seat across from the leather chair, a battered but plush faded green chair.

"Do you want to know something Professor, he told me… he was the head of Team Rocket and I didn't believe him."

"He wasn't."

Oak leaned back into his chair, stared at his pupil.

"When he comes here he… forces himself to forget the Rockets, he let's go of being the "Boss" when he walks on these grounds he isn't Giovanni, he's just Leo the trainer from Viridian and my old friend. He might have been the "Boss" or maybe just some high ranking Rocket, but here, he's just Leo. It's all I want to remember him as. Giovanni died Ash, he told me that he would die if he fought them, and I never believed that, I told him that there was some way out, and there was, there was only one way out and in the end he took it."

"I… don't get it… was he a hero or… or a Rocket?"

"Nether, he just was, and… I think that's how he'd want it. He never could abide with hero's, called them… a few things that if your mother ever heard me hint about in your presence would mean I'd be eating soap laced food until I died."

Ash chuckled, albeit wearily.

And at that sound Oak knew that everything was going to be alright.


Jenny shook her head, pulled a lock of blue hair from her eyes. There was no way to tell men from ash, the fire had spread quickly, and her few moments glance in that room before it turned into an inferno had been all that they'd had. No officers were dead; they'd cleared out, and had waited, watching the house burn.

"We can do something about this!" She had yelled at her senior.

"I'm not going to risk people in that, your orders are to stay here and keep the civilian and gawkers away, that's all."

"But if we don't then no one will know the truth!"

"I have orders from HQ on this." The older man softened at the pain in her aqua hued eyes; patter her shoulder to offer a sliver of comfort. "Sometimes we don't know the truth; we aren't supposed to know the truth. This is one of those times."


They came with a Persian when the week was out. He'd just been able to begin his routine again, to be able to work again and they brought him the Persian. He never had shared Leo's hate for the 'blue coats' as he termed them, but he almost did at the callous disregard they had shown him. They had stormed into his office, gone through all his notes, and ripped his home apart looking for hints, information. And the interviews, he grew to hate those with an unholy passion. They prying questions that seemed not only to profane his grief but ridicule it by dragging him through thoughts of better times and then the officers began to almost scream at him that Giovanni was a Rocket and that thinking fondly on him was wrong. The pouncing on every irregularity in his stories, the endless picking apart of his words and analyzing, the accusations, oh God it was hard to survive sane through this. They had brought the Persian in that week, a week after the service, after the questions, and now looked at him in accusation. They had found nothing, he was a friend, an ignorant old fool who knew nothing, and they accused him for not seeing what signs Leo had given him that he had ties with the Rockets.

"You gave him his Meowth, it's in the records, and we need to know if this is his. Rumor had it that he fed his Persian valuables, we will need you to check its stomach for…"

"He loved his Persian." Samuel hissed to the officer. "He wouldn't risk his Persian's life to hide a diamond, or some stupid object. He never risked anything he loved."

The officer's glared at him, told him without words that they doubted Giovanni could love anything.

God, a mere accusation, a mere acquaintanceship with Leo and they were trying there damnedest to bring him down even though they were all told that Leo was just a minor backer of the Rockets.

For all they knew he wasn't even tied into them deep, and the fact that he'd turned his coat on them and paid for it with his life meant nothing to them.

He took the still Persian from their arms, held it tenderly.

"I'll check the markings, I won't cut it open. You can get someone else to do it."

"You are the residential Pokemon sc-"

"And you." He glared at them. "Have given me no peace, have harassed and threatened me, I have no reason to help you and I wont cut open Leo's Persian, he doesn't deserve that."

"It's dead."

"He was a friend, how would you feel if I handed you a knife and told you to cut open your friend to see what he ate as his final meal? I told you what I'd willingly do, and unless you are going to file an order to make me do it I won't even look at a knife sideways while you're in my home."

He carried the Persian to his lab, gently set the far too light creature onto one of the recently sterilized long tables. He stroked the sides, felt for the scars, and went very still for a heartbeat, then forced himself to continue. He parted the fur, looked for the discolored sports, opened the mouth and studied the jaws and studied the soft tissues within.

"It was poisoned."

The officer that had escorted him wrote that down.

"Is it his?"

"As far as I can tell, it is."

"If he cared for it like you said, somewhat funny he'd poison it."

Oak stroked the length of soft white fur, smoothed it back and could not feel the scars, for there were none.

"Considering what the police or anyone else would have done to him, he would have probably figured poisoning to be a gentler way."

"We aren't monsters, the Rockets are."

"Frankly," Oak stroked the Persian then gently handed him to the officer. "I can't see the difference right now. I've done as you told me, and I'd appreciate it if you left me alone now."

"He didn't protect anyone doc, he took everyone with him and they call him a hero for that."

"That's what happens, when you equate heroism with violence officer."

The man gave him a long look, wondering if he'd been insulted maybe, but the man didn't ask whatever questions he might have had. He dumped the Persian in a small bag, zipped it up, and carrying it like he would a bit of trash excused himself from the lab and from his home.


"It's ironic." Officer Jenny said rolling the small item in her hands, the black banded ring with its crimson letter. She stood in front of her 'boss' of sorts. Stared at the aging man and wondered at the many breeches in protocol that had occurred as the house had burned down. "A Rocket plays the vigilante so he is forgiven; the innocent man gets questioned like he is the guilty. Why are you doing this!" She stood, looking the older man in the eyes. "Why are you letting them do this, get away with this, in the police force?"

"We have out reasons." The older man looked pained. "I understand that this looks like a denial of justice, but the media is right Leonardo Giovanni has been our line into the Rocket's for years."

"You're letting him go; they'll make him a hero."

"They can do what they want, he's dead now so they can say and do what they want."

"It's not the truth."

"Sometimes the truth has to be sacrificed for the greater good; I don't like it as much as you do Jen but that's how it is."

"The ring is glass. The most valuable treasure, supposedly carved from an Onyx's heart and the carved letter etched with the remains of a Persian's gem… It's glass."

She stood, set the ring down.

"If we don't ask questions, what makes us not turn into them, what makes us different from the Rockets?"

"Sit down Officer; obviously you're going to take a hand as vigilante if you aren't told. You've got Pallet town as a permanent station, so I guess I'll have to tell you before he does."


"The man you're going to be protecting for the rest of his life, take a seat Jenny, this is going to take a while."


"Delia, thank you for having Tracy over for these last few days."

"It's no problem Samuel, no problem at all. I take it things are a little more settled?"

"Yes, I think that will be the last of it, thank you again, you can tell Tracy it's safe to come out from hiding under Ash's bed now. The last of the investigators have left Pallet and wont be back to question me ever again if their disgusted expressions told me anything."

"You're sounding better." Delia smiled warmly, the sparkle in her brown eyes though seemed a little subdued. Oak figured it was worry for Ash however, but the fact that he seemed to be getting better should have brought her back to her old self.

She'll feel better when Ash is completely recovered. It was just a mother's worry, that's all.

As if to confirm that thought she gave him a long look.

"Have you been eating that chicken soup I sent you?"

"Yes, Delia." He smiled, it wasn't quite a lie, he hadn't eaten at all today, but when he did eat he normally did have the soup she gave him. He had nearly lost his eyebrows and his arms when she came tromping on the heels of a group of very rude police officers to bring him two massive butter tubs filled with frozen chicken soup. One of the officers had demanded to know her business; she thanked him for being a dear and gave him one of the tubs to carry. Humming she'd brushed past them all, cleaned up his kitchen. Cleaning done she turned on the stove, set a large chunk of frozen gold that sported flecks of white and green in a pot and had kept him company while the soup cooked and the police searched his home yet again.

"And have you been going to sleep at a decent hour?"

"Yes Delia."

"And have you been changing your underw-"

"Ms. Katchum!" He blushed and she laughed warmly as in her end. They could both hear Ash gasp in horror as the dreaded underwear question was asked to Professor Oak. It was good to hear Ash laugh again, which he had started doing as he looked over his mother's shoulder and saw Samuel's red face. Tracy joined in, and they all were smiling. It would be good to have Tracy back here, it would be good to have company, and now that the police weren't going to be coming again anytime soon it would be safe to have them over.

Protecting them by keeping them away, it was an insight into what poor Leo had to do all his life. It had been hard to listen to the silence, to hear that silence punctured by only hostile voices, after enough of it little wonder Leo started to feel strained and had gone emotionally cold. The silence and the hostility found a place in the heart if it had it's way long enough.

"My last guests were messy." He said tactfully referring to the police. "I'll need a day or two to clean up. Tracy can come back in a few days and…"

"Nonsense, we'll come over and help you clean up!"

"Delia, I can…"

She gave him this flat look, put her hands on her hips, and her eyebrows arched together like looming Persian's ready to pounce on a kill.

"We are coming over bright in the morning to help you clean Professor Samuel Oak, it'll take you weeks if you tend your Pokemon and try to clean at the same time what would take us all of five hours."


"No buts! Have your dinner and go to bed, we'll be by in the morning around nine!" Then she smiled evilly and then hung up on him cutting off his protests.

He always imagined it to be rather frustrating being hung up on; he learned just how frustrating it was first hand.

Stubborn, conniving, and vengeful, woman, he chuckled a bit at his thoughts. God he was starting to act and sound like Leo.

"So long as I don't start to look like Leo, I don't have a problem with it." Samuel grumbled, picking up a pile of notes that had been hopelessly mixed up with the all the other piles around it. He toyed around with the sorting, but he was tired and couldn't quite put his heart into it. There were contradictions, and those contradictions weren't in the stories he had told the police. Leo had said "don't believe them till they find my Persian", they had found a Persian, yet that Persian was not Leo's.

What did it all mean?

His stomach growled and he put a hand over it to muffle the noise. Well if nothing else he knew what that meant. It was time to get some of Ms. Katchum's soup and watch it defrost over the stove.

The soup was good, he wasn't a fan of soups however since he ate them when he was sick and had come to associate them with being sick. Which of course he probably wouldn't do if he bothered to make them when he was feeling alright but… He sighed, set the half eaten bowl aside and went up to get a glass of water. He returned and was startled to see a very large white four legged Pokemon sitting at the table gleefully lapping up the soup he had left unprotected.

"Why did I ever let you keep a Persian here Gary?" Oak muttered to himself, trying desperately to remember the nickname his Grandson had given the thing. "Hey, get down from there… Puss!"

The Persian turned at the sound of his voice, and the crystal slit eyes glittered with humor at the name. Because it wasn't Puss, Gary's Persian did not have crystal hued eyes; Gary's Pokemon had crimson slits for eyes.

"Perrr!" The Persian sat, one paw hovering over the soup, the long white tail curled around the base of the bowl. The whole posture screamed 'My soup! It's all MINE!'

"I don't think you want to bother with that Samuel, heaven knows where that mouth has been."


Samuel turned, dropped the glass, and stared at Leo who was leaning weakly against the shadowed wall. He stepped out from the shadows, used the table as a prop to walk forward, he was shaking from exhaustion. Leo pulled out a chair; it scrapped loudly across the tiles, and creaked alarmingly when he threw himself into it.

"Don't worry if you didn't see me come in, I had an acquaintance's Alakazam teleport me in, favors called for past services rendered you might say. If you're going to pass out you might want to be sitting when you do it." Leo said, favoring him with an interesting mix of concern and weary humor. "God knows I can't catch you right now considering the state I'm in."

Samuel managed to drag himself to the chair, and let his les buckle, he stared a Leo, not able to believe.

"They said…"

"I told you not to believe them." Giovanni snorted. "They say a lot of things. They wanted to turn you against me, ran you through the interrogating process like me. They didn't have the POW edge on you, so you got off a little lighter then me." Leo hissed in pain, stared at the ceiling through half closed eyes.

"You aren't…" Samuel squeaked.

"I wish I was right now… can't break skin but by God they can still cause pain…. Don't!" Leo croaked seeing Samuel meant to touch him to see if he was real. "Don't touch me… I've got more bruises then I can think about right now."

Samuel stared numbly at the battered man, and now that he could see Leo, could think about what he was seeing he saw the bruises on the face, the swollen lip, and the obvious pain Leo was in.

"How did you… they had a memorial service last… you're here but…"

"So they did…" Leo hissed but managed a pain filled laugh. "Rather funny watching your own funeral, by the looks of it no one knew quite what to say. I knew… after… what you said… that it would be safe to come here for a bit."

Samuel had spoken at the funeral, the only friend, the only one to care out of a long line of business partners, acquaintances, and family on Giovanni's Mother's side. They'd all wanted money, all wanted profit, and he was the only one who hadn't shown any interest in the wealth. He actually had insulted everyone present by saying all this opulence would have been an insult to Leo, the fact he used the familiar name rather then the formal, that too had insulted them. Exhausted, angry at being pushed around by the police and others who thought they knew Leo… he had abandoned his planed speech and had let them have a good piece of his mind. Out of all of them, perhaps he was the only one who had cried.

"You… made me think you were…"

"Did I?"

No he hadn't he'd all but warned him…

"The room, the Rockets, the fire, you…!"

"Later, not now…" Leo put his head gingerly on a pillow of crossed arms. "Hate to ask… but I need a place to stay…"

"The police…" Samuel knew Leo wouldn't do anything to put him in danger, but in his condition he might not be thinking straight.

Leo flashed him a grin, a weary grin of dark satisfaction. "I… am a business man…. I cut them a deal… they couldn't refuse. It's over… it's finally over…" Leo chuckled. "God, I can hear Raphael rolling in his grave now… screaming in fury."

Leo was passing out on the table, it seemed cruel to get him to move, but if he fell asleep there he'd probably topple out of the chair. This man, this murderer, this villain and hero, was his friend. Samuel stood, the shock was fading so that he could function a little, it wasn't as long as painful as the other shock had been, because under that shock was pleasure. He was happy to know Leo was alive. And even if he was not necessarily in prime condition he would eventually become well. For now that was enough. He managed to walk to Leo, and offered the weary man a hand.

"You turned down my couch once well you're not turning it down now."

Leo smiled, for once it wasn't a bitter twisted smile, and for once it wasn't guarded or restrained.

"Provided… I can… walk that far, I'll take that offer."

"I'll have Persian hit you with a thunder bolt if you look like you're not going to make it."

Leo grunted, but took the hand and allowed Samuel to pull him to his feet and all but drag him to the less then elegant bed. Elegant or not it would serve, and he was honestly weary of elegance anyways. Purring Persian hopped onto his belly and rested his head on crossed forepaws. Reaching out with a shaking hand Leo stroked that silken head. He sighed, let his arm go slack, and closed his eyes. For once he dreamed of something besides the crimson throne and the world that ran red with blood.

The crimson was his to take, he had taken it, and for now he had let it go. It was still a part of him, but not the preying monster that intruded on his dreams and that was a welcome change.